lunes, 23 de julio de 2018

How the Spurs worked magic (again) and the Raptors made a mistake.


(Photo via ClutchPoints)

The 2018 NBA offseason will go down in history as one of the weirdest ever. There was not the huge variety of free agents we will look at in 2019, with Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, and Marc Gasol, among others as leaders of one of the most loaded free agent classes in NBA recent history.

The 2018 NBA offseason will be mainly remembered as the summer in which LeBron James shook the entire NBA landscape for the third time in his career by choosing a young, developing Lakers team that many are doubting will even be able to make the Playoffs.

LeBron's move to Los Angeles, as high as its impact is on the league, was expected. But this summer we were also witnesses of a move that no one could predict, a rare type of trade in which legitimate NBA superstars changed conferences. Yes, we are talking about the Kawhi Leonard - DeMar DeRozan trade, which ended a ridiculous and confusing process started by Leonard's misterious injury, about which the NBA universe still can't reach common ground, and a collection of scandals, speculations, and theories around it that ended with the former Spurs superstar being dealt to the Toronto Raptors.

DeRozan was on the other side of the spectrum. Drafted in the 9th position in the 2009 draft by a Raptors team struggling to be competitive, he quickly became the face of the franchise along with Kyle Lowry, and ever since he was drafted he hasn't done anything but consistently put up solid numbers and performances, become an ambassador for his team, the city of Toronto, and even the country of Canada, and of course establish himself as an NBA top 15 player.

DeRozan's quiet leadership, low maintenance, and contribution to the team was perhaps why this trade was so shocking. From the Raptors' perspective, the team consistently bumped into LeBron James at some point during the Playoffs, the most recent one being a sweep in the Eastern Conference semifinals that resulted in the firing of Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey. Casey's firing was an indicator that Masai Ujiri, the Raptors' General Manager, is not settling for the anteroom of the NBA finals. Trading DeRozan, the icon of the franchise, does nothing but confirm Ujiri's ambition to take a step further and eventually reach the coveted NBA Finals with the Golden State Warriors (or any other elite Western Conference team) still as the favorite to win it.

The Spurs, unfamiliar with the concept of rebuilding, didn't hesitate a bit when they saw the opportunity to send their spoiled superstar to Toronto (whether they chose Toronto to send a final message to Leonard, whose preference was Los Angeles, remains a fascinating theory), and all they had to really sacrifice (in addition to a heavily-protected draft pick) was Danny Green, a collateral casualty in this process who has proven to be one of the top 10 shooters in the game and a consistent perimeter defender, a commodity in today's NBA, even though he will become an unrestricted free agency in 2019. In exchange, they receive DeRozan (again, a top 15 player), and Jakob Poeltl, a solid 22 year-old rotation player who fits in perfectly with the Spurs' philosophy.

Bill Simmons discusses in one of his latest podcast episodes that star-for-star trades usually work for one of the teams in the equation, and are a total disaster for the other one, the latest example being the Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas trade which, despite Irving´s injury, produced an extremely benefitial situation for the Celtics while proving to be a major mistake on Cleveland´s part.

In this case, the team that seems to come out on top of this trade are the San Antonio Spurs. With Kawhi determined to leave, they had no other option but to let him go. Keeping in mind they were the team with the pressure to do the deal, they actually come out as clear winners of the operation. DeRozan will be the same consistent player, an extraordinary teammate that will predictably establish himself as their new top scorer. At age 28, he is the new cornerstone of a veteran Spurs team that desperately wants to take the last shots at an extremely difficult NBA title before Gregg Popovich, the team´s heart and soul, retires.


(Photo via ClutchPoints)

The Raptors, on the other side of the equation, come out as clear losers to me. While DeRozan hadn´t been able to deliver in decisive Playoff games, giving him up is a decision that will prove to have a high cost for them. I am a firm believer that the Raptors just needed a couple of upgrades to get to the top of the East, especially this year that LeBron is not there anymore. Instead, they´re betting on Kawhi, who, yes, is one of the best 5 players in the NBA when healthy, but whose health after a major injury is a huge question mark. Personally, I´d rather have a consistent top 15 NBA player like DeRozan than a questionable (injury-wise) top 5 player like Leonard, whose degree of fitness after a severe (and extremely misterious) injury is yet to be determined.

I have read that "this is a trade the Raptors had to make". With Leonard coming back at 100% of his abilities, the Raptors´ ceiling is the NBA Finals against a Warriors team that is still unbeatable. That ceiling doesn´t seem far from the previous one they had with DeRozan. And what is the point of making a trade if it doesn´t help you get to the next level and eventually win a championship?

At this point, nobody even knows if Leonard will be the same player he was before his injury. On top of that, Leonard´s contract expires next summer, forcing the Raptors to convince him to stay in a team in which, at least initially, he has no interest playing for, with his mind set in sunny Los Angeles.

There are speculations that the Raptors could trade Leonard mid-season if they sense that the team isn´t going anywhere with him, or that they have no chance to re-sign him. This might actually be the best solution if things go south, with the risk of messing up that potential trade and wondering what would have happened if they had kept him, and viceversa if they end up keeping him.

If the Raptors end up winning the championship, I will inevitably have to swallow my words, but the uncertainty of Kawhi´s health status and his 1-year contract make me think that the Raptors gave up too much for too big of a risk in a decision so polarizing that can end up being the most brilliant or most disastrous trade in their history.

martes, 19 de junio de 2018

Una mente maravillosa



(Foto: https://uproxx.com/dimemag/luka-doncic-2018-nba-draft-scouting-report-euroleague-strengths-weaknesses/ )

Volvemos a esa época de la temporada NBA en la que se terminan los partidos y comienzan a configurarse las plantillas de cara a la próxima campaña. El primer paso para los equipos, con diferentes objetivos en mente, es realizar una elección inteligente en el draft, la noche en la que los mayores talentos provenientes en su mayoría de la liga universitaria pasan a ser las grandes esperanzas de los franquicias profesionales de la NBA.

El draft no sólo está compuesto por jugadores de la liga universitaria americana. Todos los años suele haber unos pocos jugadores provenientes de ligas profesionales europeas que deciden apostar por dar el salto a la mejor liga del mundo. Nunca en la historia hemos visto, no obstante, un jugador con las credenciales que presenta Luka Doncic, uno de los jugadores referencia del Real Madrid con tan solo 19 años.

El salto de Doncic a la NBA era cuestión de tiempo. Tras esta temporada 2017-2018 en la que se ha proclamado campeón y mejor jugador de la Euroliga y va camino de hacer lo mismo en la competición nacional (a cierre de este artículo el Madrid lideraba en la final de la ACB al Baskonia por 2 victorias a 1), Doncic ha alcanzado la madurez necesaria para medirse a los mejores del mundo.

Se han elaborado innumerables artículos, vídeos, entrevistas y análisis del prodigio esloveno detallando qué es lo que le hace tan especial. En mi opinión, dejando aparte su talento, que está fuera de toda duda, la mayor fortaleza de Doncic es su mente, su inteligencia tanto sobre la pista como fuera de ella. Consciente de sus habilidades, es capaz de tomar la decisión adecuada en la mayoría de las ocasiones, mostrando una tranquilidad y una asimilación de las jugadas impropias en un jugador tan joven. Al contrario que en temporadas pasadas en las que se adivinaba claramente quién era el chaval de 17 años, actualmente se puede confundir a Doncic con un jugador veterano en su plenitud simplemente juzgando sus decisiones.

Fuera de la cancha, en el aspecto más puramente psicológico, Doncic ha tenido que aguantar la presión de saber que estaba bajo la lupa de gran cantidad de equipos de la NBA, sabedor de que, en esta era en la que los ojeadores cuentan con todo tipo de métodos y tecnología para evaluar a los jugadores, incluso los que están físicamente fuera de su alcance, su juego y su rendimiento eran analizados al milímetro, y de que cualquier fallo podría hacer que su valor en el draft disminuyera. Doncic no sólo ha mantenido su progresión, sino que ha sido el líder del campeón de Europa en gran cantidad de partidos, realizando jugadas clave en momentos decisivos de la temporada.

En este videoanálisis de Luka Doncic estudio precisamente esa mente maravillosa, esa capacidad para leer el juego, que combinada con sus evidentes habilidades en diferentes facetas del juego le hacen uno de los jugadores más "golosos" para los equipos que tengan una elección en el top 5, que es el rango en el que se espera que sea elegido. Con todos vosotros, la mente de Luka Doncic, una mente maravillosa.




jueves, 24 de mayo de 2018

Pólvora mojada

Os presento mi segundo videoanálisis de partidos de NBA. En esta ocasión se trata del cuarto partido de la serie Warrriors - Rockets que se llevaron los de Houston por 95 a 92. En este nuevo vídeo analizo las claves del partido y cómo Houston fue capaz de llevarse una valiosísima victoria a pesar de jugar fuera con un 1-2 en contra en el marcador global de la eliminatoria. Estas fueron las claves del encuentro:



1. El desacierto de las estrellas de Golden State en el último cuarto. En otras palabras, la pólvora ofensiva del magnífico equipo de San Francisco se mojó (también por méritos de la defensa de Houston) y los actuales campeones sólo fueron capaces de anotar 12 puntos en el último cuarto frente a los 25 de Houston, que siguió un ritmo anotador constante. Esta irregularidad anotadora de los de la bahía les costó el partido pese a llevar una ventaja de 10 puntos al inicio del último cuarto.

2. Los malos emparejamientos defensivos de los hombres altos de Golden State frente a los polivalentes "bajitos" de Houston. Los Warriors se encontraron con problemas serios para defender a un quinteto de Houston que suele estar formado por jugadores muy rápidos y con buena mano para el tiro exterior, lo cual hace que tengan que defenderles muy de cerca. Es entonces cuando los Rockets se aprovechan de su mayor velocidad o talento ofensivo con respecto a sus defensores "grandes" para llevar el balón hasta el aro o sacarlo para un tiro exterior. Golden State deberá hacer un mejor trabajo en cuanto a cambios defensivos de cara a futuros partidos, especialmente teniendo en cuenta la versatilidad defensiva de todos sus jugadores excepto Kevon Looney y Jordan Bell, que fueron los grandes responsables de las grandes anotaciones de Houston, sobre todo de James Harden y Chris Paul. Probablemente estaríamos hablando de un resultado muy diferente si estas jugadas las hubieran defendido Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, o incluso Shaun Livingston, muy efectivos en defensa debido a su combinación de velocidad y envergadura. En este aspecto, los Warriors acusaron notablemente la baja de Andre Iguodala por lesión.

3. Tendencias del partido, parciales por cuarto. El equipo de Houston se sintió más cómodo en el intercambio de golpes que tuvo lugar de cuarto en cuarto, con marcadores muy desigualados en cada periodo. Con el precedente de haber perdido el primer cuarto por 9 puntos y haber ganado el segundo por 16, pese a perder el tercero por 17 los de Mike D´Antoni fueron mucho más regulares en el último, aprovechando esta pólvora mojada de los Warriors, que sólo anotaron 12 puntos en los 12 últimos minutos, para anotar 25 y llevarse el partido.

martes, 15 de mayo de 2018

Cómo ganar por 25 puntos

Desde el momento en el que los Boston Celtics pusieron el 21-7 en el marcador en el primer cuarto frente a los Cleveland Cavaliers en el primer partido de las finales de la Conferencia Este, la máquina verde del maestro Brad Stevens no tuvo compasión de unos descoordinados Cavaliers, demasiado acostumbrados a las actuaciones salvadoras su "rey", LeBron James, que gracias a la excelsa defensa de Boston no fue capaz de tirar del equipo él sólo.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yAIWPuPSyo

Este es el primero de la que espero sea una serie de varios videoanálisis de partidos de la NBA realizados por mí mismo en los que analizo detenidamente, pero a la vez de manera muy básica y comprensible (al menos esa es la intención) las jugadas clave de cada partido. El objetivo de estos vídeos es el de explicar de manera sencilla y eficaz las jugadas más importantes del partido y desterrar en cierto modo la moda de otorgar excesiva importancia a la estadística en el baloncesto. En el caso de este partido, defino tres claves fundamentales que decantaron el encuentro claramente a favor de los de Massachussets:

1. "Mismatch" Korver - Brown: se trata de un evidente desequilibrio defensivo entre Kyle Korver y Jaylen Brown en el que el jugador de Boston se ve muy favorecido debido a sus condiciones atléticas, infinitamente superiores a las de Korver. Brown fue el máximo anotador del partido con 23 puntos a costa de un Korver que aporta minutos muy útiles a su equipo en ataque, pero se ve totalmente sobrepasado en defensa al tener que lidiar con un jugador tan fuerte y rápido como Brown.

2. Al Horford, desequilibrante: el ataque de Boston se basa en constantes bloqueos con Al Horford de los cuales surgen variantes para resultar impredecible y descolocar a la defensa. El dominicano es un buen tirador de tres puntos, además de ser muy rápido y poseer un buen manejo de balón para su estatura. Lo más importante, no obstante, es su capacidad de leer el juego y de tomar siempre la decisión correcta, ya sea optando por el tiro, el posteo, o la distribución de balón a sus compañeros. En este partido, Horford destruyó a los Cavaliers a través de estas tres opciones, sacándole el máximo partido a su emparejamiento en defensa con Kevin Love, un jugador físicamente inferior y con grandes limitaciones en defensa.

3. La mediocre defensa de Cleveland: en el vídeo se aprecia de manera muy clara la actitud pasiva y la falta de concentración de los de Tyronn Lue en defensa. Brazos caídos, posición defensiva muy mejorable, falta de contacto visual con el atacante, descolocación... Los fallos son muy numerosos, y ante un equipo jugando al máximo nivel como Boston Celtics cualquier error pasa factura, tal y como demuestra el marcador.

lunes, 2 de abril de 2018

Why NCAA athletes should receive better compensation





As another fantastic, vibrant and upset-filled NCAA March Madness tournament comes to an end, it is a good time to reflect on one of the hottest debates in sports in the United States: whether college athletes should be payed or not. I am "recycling" a paper I had to write for school last year, stating my opinion on the issue and defending why NCAA athletes should receive better compensation. Here it goes:

Shabazz Napier is currently a basketball player for the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA. He led the University of Connecticut men´s basketball team to the NCAA title in 2014. In the spring of that year, shortly before the Miami Heat drafted him, he told the media: “there are... nights that I go to bed and I am starving" (Majerol, 2014), referring to his time as a college athlete in Connecticut. Whether that testimony was accurate or exaggerated, Napier´s words brought awareness to the unfair situation of many college athletes who struggle to make a living despite millions of people all around the world recognizing them as stars.


Photo: NBA.com

Even though professional sports continue to be dominant, college sports in the United States have considerable following from fans from all around the world. It is a tremendously lucrative industry for athletic programs, media networks and television stations, such as ESPN or CBS, which broadcast games and report about the competitions, and all the people who work in high-profile collegiate athletic programs, especially for major teams which, contrary to professional teams, save considerable amounts of money by not paying players, as CNN Money reports: “men's college basketball teams earn money selling tickets and merchandise, but the bulk of their profits come from TV deals. Their profitability is helped by the fact that players don't get paid beyond the scholarships they receive. That's why the profit margins for college basketball are significantly higher than they are for pro teams. In fact, more than a dozen college teams have profit margins above 50%” (Isidore, 2015). Despite these remarkable profit margins, none of that profit is returned to the athletes.   

Paradoxically, the main characters of the game, the ones who perform on the biggest stages, are forbidden to receive any kind of compensation for their performance, yet they are expected to perform at the highest level, with millions of people watching and with the reputation of their universities on the line, while balancing their commitment to the team and their academic responsibilities. Many of them, like Napier, are in dire financial conditions and do not have enough resources to live, while they still deal with the pressure that comes with being a nationally known figure. While each university should be able to regulate their own payment policies, players should be able to benefit from their value by signing deals with third parties like sponsors, or negotiate on their image with television networks.




Historically, collegiate athletic programs are built on their success and recognition, which come from the amount of achievements they accomplish and their greatness, as well as the players that take part in these programs. Regardless of the resources that each university dedicates to their athletic programs, success is the ultimate measure for a school´s recognition and popularity. Winning makes players want to play for certain teams. Therefore, the most successful programs are able to recruit the best prospects in the world. Players on the team play a large role in the team´s success, attracting other prospective players who are interested in playing for that university. By succeeding on the court, college athletes pose tremendous value for their universities as they allow their programs to stay competitive by attracting new prospects. Players are not only responsible for doing their best for their teams, but also, “due to their ability to raise the university´s profile and add to the profitability of a school´s athletic programs, exceptional athletes are of great value to universities” (Beamon, 2008). As Beamon explains, players are the main assets that athletic teams have to become both more popular and profitable.

On the other hand, coaches and technical staff are generally the ones responsible for the recruiting and scouting of new players. However, players have a responsibility to put their teams in a position of maximum visibility and recognition for fans, prospective players, the media and other important audiences. This relationship between player and team is one of the primary reasons why high-level athletes are paid fortunes to do their job. It is not just because of the great demands of their environment, but also because they are ambassadors of a bigger brand: their team. Players have to be regarded as the main components of any team in any sport. Outstanding players not only provide visibility and recognition to their universities by excelling at their sports, but they are also relevant financial assets for them. In an analysis performed by Business Insider in which they used “the NBA´s most recent collective bargaining agreement in which the players receive a minimum of 49% of all revenue, each school's men's basketball revenue was split between the school and the athletes with the players' share divided evenly among the 13 scholarship players” (Gaines, Yukari; 2017), in order to calculate the financial value of college basketball players. The average value for a Division I player turned out to be $ 170,000. For some top programs like the University of Louisville, each of its basketball players is worth $ 1.72 million on average, with a total revenue of $45.6 million generated by the basketball team (Gaines, Yukari; 2017). This study helped prove the remarkable financial value of college basketball players for their teams.

Not only are players financially valuable for their institutions, but they are also largely responsible for the success of their team. Like professionals, college athletes are demanded to perform to the best of their abilities to help their team win. While coaches and other staff are also relevant pieces, none of them are as important as the players. Coaches are considered full-time employees, and they have all the benefits that come with employment. Athletes, however, work similar amounts of time and don´t get nearly as much compensation as their coaches do.

For example, Jim Boeheim, the coach for Syracuse University men´s basketball team, is paid $ 2.1 million per year (Fairburn, 2016). Boeheim, who is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, is recognized as one of the best basketball coaches in history. However, he wouldn´t have been able to develop that reputation without the help of his players. Similarly, Mike Krzyzewski, the top-paid college basketball coach in the country, earns an annual salary of $7 million, according to Fairburn. This salary reflects what Krzyzewski has accomplished in his position and his importance for Duke University men´s basketball. However, their players were the ones who won the games. While both of these coaches have been responsible of recruiting and developing high profile players and assembling highly successful teams, it was the players who worked for them who got the job done on the court to achieve team goals. Coaches are essential for teams, but it is the players who ultimately execute the coach´s game plan.



Photo: SB Nation

In today´s highly competitive sports atmosphere, athletes have to make a full-time commitment to practice, play and participate in team activities while still doing the best they can with their classes. While universities provide personal assistance and tutors specifically for their student athletes to succeed academically, this help is useless considering they cannot give athletes what they demand the most: better financial and overall conditions. Not only is their time extremely limited due to the high volume of activities they have to participate in, but their energy expenditure, their sacrifice and dedication to stay in shape and perform at the level they are required to is much greater than any other student´s time and sacrifice dedicated to their responsibilities. Additionally, they have to deal with the pressure of thousands of spectators watching them every night and being the subject of the criticism of many people. Professional athletes are paid to do this because the demands for an elite athlete are the greatest that can be found in about any professional industry. The same happens with college athletes, but they are not considered employees whatsoever, and they should, according to Robert McCormick, a law professor at Michigan State University and a former attorney for the National Labor Relations Board under President Carter (Cooper, 2011): “There are more demands put on these young men than any employee of the university… These young men are laboring under very strict and arduous conditions, so they really are laborers in terms of the physical demands on them while they’re also trying to go to school and being required to go to school,” (Cooper, 2011). By pointing out the sort of conditions student athletes have to endure, the author also highlights the differences between a student athlete and a regular student. McCormick also analyzes how the players´ performance and consequent happiness is directly linked to the coach´s decisions. For example, if a player is not performing well and doesn´t fit into the coach´s plans, he is essentially “fired” for not doing his job according to what the coach expects from him. Players who don´t have the opportunity to play significant amounts of minutes for their teams are forced to transfer to other schools in order to continue practicing their sport. This is similar to working for a company that does not value its employees and forces them to move out so they can receive the appreciation they deserve.

The fact that coaches have such a significant impact on the life of their players is also something to be considered, as their status and reputations depend on someone else´s opinions, trust and confidence in them. Players are under constant criticism and scrutiny from fans, media outlets and, more importantly their coaches, who have the authority to ultimately impact their future in a relevant way.

Parallel to all of these issues, this conflict of players not being able to perceive benefits from their activity stems from the unilaterally-imposed measures of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the NCAA, which regulates a significant portion of the college athletics industry by controlling many of the top-level athletic programs. The NCAA strives to be an institution that sets the rules for combining sports and academics in a sustainable and purposeful way, prioritizing academics over sports, which are regarded as a complementary activity. According to the NCAA, college athletes are “amateurs”. In other words, they do not practice their sport professionally. Instead, they are “student-athletes”. According to the NCAA policy, “amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority. In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second” (NCAA, 2017). For this reason, the NCAA strictly prohibits players to receive financial compensation for their athletic activity, as well as any relationship with professional sports or agents (NCAA, 2017). 

The NCAA has very specific policies on which type of compensation athletes can receive, which is essentially narrowed down to scholarships from their schools: “Article 12.1.1.1 prohibits any direct or indirect salary, gratuity or comparable compensation (…) Even if such an award is permitted under the rules governing an amateur, non-collegiate event in which the individual is participating” (Mueller, 2004).  The NCAA clearly states in its eligibility requisites that a player is not eligible to be an NCAA athlete if he or she has ever “taken pay, or the promise of pay, for competing in that sport” (Summary of NCAA eligibility regulations, 2017). Ironically, college sports generate hundreds of millions of dollars every year, yet players are the ones who receive the least from the value they create. This hypocrisy can only happen in a “billion dollar non-profit organization” (Collins, Torre, Brennan, 2016).

Schools, however, are allowed to offer prospects a certain number of scholarships to pay for the cost of attending their institution in order to attract them. While this means a great opportunity for athletes to receive education from prestigious institutions while being able to play sports in internationally known teams, it is still not enough compensation for what the athletic activity entails, especially for those athletes who compete in a high profile sport, like football or basketball, in which a majority of teams generate a significant amount of revenue. Being able to attend college without having to pay the high costs that come with it is a privilege, but it is still not enough, especially for those athletes who come from low-income communities and struggle financially, like Shabazz Napier, the star of the University of Connecticut men´s basketball team, who, despite his high profile, suffered from financial scarcity.




Despite its focus on academics, the NCAA seems to be unaware of one of the most glaring issues in college sports. Most college athletes will not have the opportunity to play sports professionally once they graduate from college. These athletes, therefore, will be focused on finishing their degrees in order to have more professional opportunities while competing for their varsity team. However, there will always be a significant number of athletes who have the necessary talent and skills to be able to play sports professionally. These athletes, especially the ones that are highly sought-after by recruiters, see their college years just as a necessary step towards the NBA or the NFL, between others, and not as an opportunity to receive higher education.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in “one-and-done” players. These are usually highly recruited players who go to college for just one year, in order to fulfill the NBA´s age eligibility requirements of 19 years or older. The problem with “one-and-done” players is that they do not represent what a student athlete should be. They cannot fully benefit from the college experience by attending it for just one year. Often times they do want to attend college and be college athletes, but the possibility of making considerable amounts of money drives them to join a professional sports league.

Due to the lack of economical opportunities for college athletes in the United States, some players even choose to play in other countries and earn money before going to the NBA instead of going to college. Emmanuel Mudiay, currently a point guard for the New York Knicks, chose to play in the Chinese league before going to the NBA because he could start earning money. More recently, Darius Bazley, a no.9 ESPN Top 100 high school recruit, decommitted from playing for Syracuse University next year to enter the G-League, the NBA´s development league. While Bazley´s move is unprecedented, it wouldn´t be surprising to see more players snub the NCAA and take an alternative path to professionalism. 

In a video for ESPN, Jay Bilas, a college basketball expert who played for Duke University, says “NCAA president Mark Emmert often says the one-and-done rule forces players to go to college, yet when the issue of compensating college athletes is approached, Emmert is quick to say nobody is forcing athletes to go to college and accept the NCAA´s unilaterally imposed terms” (Collins, Torre, Brennan, 2016).

Consequently, allowing athletes to use their value to their advantage and receive compensation would motivate them to build a successful college career, both on the court and in the classroom, and not rush to the NBA in order to start earning a high salary. Compensations for college athletes would also provide the NBA with players that are more prepared, both to play basketball and to manage the extraordinary amounts of money they will eventually handle when they become part of a professional roster.

It is often argued that one of the reasons why college athletes are not allowed to receive compensations is because paying them would go against the educational values of sports, leading these athletes to misspend their money and mishandle their success and therefore their careers. If an athlete is truly capable of having brands or third parties interested in sponsoring him, it is no secret that he has the potential to play sports professionally. Therefore, he will have to manage considerable amounts of money sooner or later when he takes the step to the professional leagues. Money is actually the reason why these athletes decide to leave college, giving away their education in order to enjoy better financial conditions.




In any case, if making money while being a student is the issue, it is worth noting that virtually any student can earn money while they study by working either with an on-campus or off-campus job. College athletes, however, do not have this possibility for two reasons: they are forbidden to do so, and their time outside of practice or the classroom is extremely limited due to their obligations. In an episode of his podcast “The Vertical Podcast with J.J. Redick”, JJ Redick, former basketball player at Duke University and now a professional basketball player for the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, hosted Jay Bilas, another former Duke basketball player who is now a basketball broadcaster for ESPN, to discuss the way in which the NCAA restricts players from earning a salary. Bilas explained that, ironically, there are several ways for any regular student to make money, while college athletes see how the NCAA forbids their access to these financial opportunities.

“If money got into the way of education, or was somehow, as they say, ´antithetical´ to what education is about, then they would limit what any student could earn, or any scholarship student. So if you are in a music scholarship, you can cut a record, you can appear in the Tonight show, you can make money however you want. If you are an actor, an actress, you can do whatever you want, it doesn´t affect your status as a student, so no other student is limited in any way…Why would we have a unilateral wage ceiling on only one class of person, that being an athlete?” (Redick, Bilas, 2016).

This conversation between Redick and Bilas puts the current situation of college athletes into perspective, especially compared to the general economic background and culture of the United States. In a highly liberal, capitalist economy based on liberalism, freedom, and competitiveness, an organization like the NCAA is preventing college athletes who generate millions of dollars from receiving any percentage of that value in return. The solution is to allow the universities to have their own policies regarding athletes´ salaries, and let the players make profit from third parties like sponsors or jersey sales. These players have to deal with criticism from outside sources and with the pressure of striving to be a high-level professional athlete. But on top of this, the NCAA utilizes them as advertisements, making profit with their names and personal brands by selling jerseys or using them as an attraction for sponsors while banning them from earning money in any type of way. While the scholarships they enjoy are something to be thankful for, they are not enough to prevent athletes from struggling financially.  


References 

Beamon, Krystal K. (2008). “"Used goods": Former African American college student-athletes' perception of exploitation by division I universities”. The Journal of Negro Education, 77(4), 352-364. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25608704


Carlson, C. (2017). “Value of Syracuse basketball player exceeds $1 million a year, according to business insider”. Syracuse.com. Retrieved from http://www.syracuse.com/orangebasketball/index.ssf/2017/03/value_of_syracuse_basketball_player_exceeds_1_million_a_year_according_to_busine.html

Collins, C., Torre, P. S. & Brennan, E. (2016). “The one-and-done conundrum”. ESPN. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/16237629/ten-years-nba-one-done-rule-no-less-controversial

Cooper, K. J. (2011). “Michigan state law professors say div. I college athletes qualify as ‘Employees’”. Diverse. Retrieved from http://diverseeducation.com/article/16071/

Fairburn, M. “Where does Jim Boeheim rank among highest-paid coaches in NCAA tournament? (2016)”. Syracuse.com. Retrieved from http://www.syracuse.com/orangebasketball/index.ssf/2016/03/where_does_jim_boeheim_rank_among_highest_paid_coaches_in_ncaa_tourmanet.html

Gaines, C., & Yukari, D. (2017). “The average division I men's basketball player is worth $170,098 per year to his school”. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/college-basketball-player-value-2017-3

Isidore, C. (2015). “Most profitable NCAA teams”. CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/16/news/companies/ncaa-most-profitable/

Majerol, V. (2014). “Should college athletes BE PAID?” New York Times Upfront, 147, 14-15. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1566173803?accountid=14214

Mueller, K. (2004). “No control over their rights of publicity: College athletes left sitting the bench”. DePaul Journal of Sports Law & Contemporary Problems, 2, 70-293. Retrieved from http://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1081&context=jslcp

NCAA. (2017). ”Amateurism”. NCAA. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/amateurism

NCAA. (2017). “Summary of NCAA eligibility regulations - NCAA division I, (2017)”. NCAA. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/2016-17_Summary_of_NCAA_Regulations_2016_17_20160531.pdf

Redick, J. J., & Bilas, J. (2016). “Jay Bilas joins JJ Redick (J. J. Redick Trans.)”. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved from https://art19.com/shows/vertical-jj-redick/episodes/ab7cee6c-a90d-4a42-b050-7e46d654c711


miércoles, 31 de enero de 2018

Position-less basketball

Basketball has always been a game of sizes. Taller people have an advantage to play it over shorter people just because they are closer to the rim and their size gives them an edge to grab more rebounds and score more points. On top of that, taller players often boast a larger wingspan that makes them better defenders and, overall, better suited for the game of basketball.

But throughout history, we have seen rare examples of players under six feet that have made it to the NBA. A mejority of these players were extremely athletic, with at least a decent ability to shoot the ball and an outstanding control of the ball combined with court vision, quick feet, talent, and other factors. The combination of all of them made up for their lack of size.

But these short players, regardless of their offensive talent, are usually a liability on the defensive end. One of the most recent and evident examples is Cavaliers´ 5´8 point-guard Isaiah Thomas, the third top scorer in the NBA last season, now coming back from an injury and trying to figure out his place on the struggling Cavaliers. The Celtics, Thomas´ former team, thought it was worth it to have him on the court last season because Thomas´ contribution on offense surpassed his below-average defense. The Celtics even designed a whole system around Thomas, their go-to scorer and playmaker, to the extent that some think that Thomas´ MVP-caliber performance last season was a result of that system built around him rather than a consequence of his talent. I personally believe that´s not the case. Systems aside, Thomas is one of the fastest and most talented players in the league, and even though he obviously benefitted from Brad Stevens´ system, his individual ability is the primary reason for his success.

Thomas, however, remained a liability on defense, which Stevens, one of the best coaches in the NBA, made up for with elite defensive players like Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. The Celtics ended the regular season on top of the Eastern Conference but their starting lineups with Thomas posed a threat for them defensively. Although the Celtics are going through a slump as of now, their defense this season is still one of the best in the game despite losing Avery Bradley. Replacing Thomas for Kyrie Irving in their starting lineup is a big reason why. Although not exactly a defensive specialist, Irving´s bigger frame makes him a tougher defender than Thomas. And to get to our point, the Celtics are now one of the first teams to implement position-less basketball. This past summer, while still shaping his roster, coach Stevens said that  "I don´t have five positions anymore. Either you are a ball-handler, a wing or a big."

In other words, Stevens´ (and the majority of NBA teams´) goal is to develop a high level of "switchability", which is the ability to switch defenders on opposing players after a pick-and-roll or any type of rotation with the goal of minimizing the impact of that defensive switch. While there are still ballhandlers, shooters and low-post players on the offensive end that somewhat preserve the traditional basketball positions (although they are becoming less important on offense as well), it´s becoming more and more common to see "everybody guarding everybody", this is, for example, a small forward switching on to a big one with no hesitation and not even as a result of an advantage generated by the offense, but because it is more effective as a solution to reduce rotation time and to prevent the opposing team from generating mismatches they can take advantage of.

Modern basketball, and more specifically the NBA (this shift is yet to have as big an impact in international basketball) is progressively losing "player diversity". The days of big men specialized in rebounding or defense or the tiny point guards who came in as microwave-type bench scorers are soon to be gone. Instead, the league is getting more physical, players´ sizes are getting more uniform, and from a young age players are required to learn how to do "a little bit of everything". NBA players are transitioning from being specialized pieces that mixed together create a car (their team), to being mini-cars themselves, firefighters, swiss knives capable of doing whatever the coach wants to get out of them rather than developing a singular aspect of the game.

While some fans are already missing traditional basketball with its five positions, as it should be, this era of positionless basketball couldn´t be more fascinating. We´re seeing ponit guards get to the rim like never before, and bigs shoot and make threes as if they were free throws. Like everything, it has its pros and its cons.

This does not mean, however, that NBA teams will not get interested in certain types of players just because they are big or small. DeAndre Ayton, one of the top prospects for the 2018 NBA draft, is a traditional center. However, some of his skills make him extremely valuable to any basketball team, even the ones who want to implement position-less basketball: he is extremely athletic (that always adds points), he can shoot from three (now we´re getting into positionless basketball), and he has outstanding lateral quickness, being able to guard smaller players, as well as being a terrific rim protector. The two aspects that set Ayton apart are his ability to shoot the ball effectively from long distance and his great defense on smaller players off pick-and-rolls or similar plays, which are the bread and butter of the NBA. These two characteristics are exactly what we mentioned as key components of position-less basketball, the ultimate weapon for NBA teams.

miércoles, 23 de agosto de 2017

El terremoto de una noche de verano




Mañana del miércoles 23 de agosto de 2017. Me despierto y estiro el brazo para alcanzar el móvil, que marca las 9:55 de la mañana. Buena hora para levantarse en vacaciones. Como de costumbre, activo el WiFi para pasar de esa ignorancia mañanera ante el mundo exterior propia del recién despertado al ajetreo de mensajes y notificaciones llegadas durante la noche.

La noche anterior me había acostado con las noticias sobre las negociaciones entre los Boston Celtics y los Cleveland Cavaliers para traspasar a Kyrie Irving a Boston a cambio de Isaiah Thomas. "Imposible", pensé como aficionado a unos Boston Celtics enamorados de Isaiah Thomas por todo lo que ha supuesto para la franquicia verde estas dos últimas temporadas. Estaba convencido de que Thomas no se movería, no sólo por su estelar rendimiento deportivo, que ha devuelto a los Celtics al lugar ganador al que pertenecen, sino también por su excelente relación con la directiva y con la ciudad de Boston. Una relación de la cual me había enterado a través de mucho leer y escuchar sobre la NBA.

Thomas, elegido en la última posición del draft del 2011 y, pese a mostrar su talento ofensivo prácticamente desde el inicio de su carrera, fue dando tumbos por diferentes equipos mediocres que no supieron utilizar su talento, hasta que Boston apostó por él y le entregó las llaves del equipo. Thomas demostró entonces el jugadorazo que es, sobre todo en esta última temporada en la que ha sido el tercer máximo anotador de la NBA y ha liderado a los Celtics hasta las finales de la Conferencia Este. La simbiosis Isaiah Thomas - Boston Celtics funcionaba a la perfección para ambas partes: los Celtics confiaron en Thomas otorgándole minutos y responsabilidad y construyendo un equipo ganador a su alrededor, y este respondió con creces, convirtiéndose en el icono del equipo y de la ciudad, volviendo a poner a los Celtics en el mapa de los mejores equipos de baloncesto del mundo.

Por la otra parte, sobradamente conocida era la petición de traspaso que Irving había comunicado a su equipo, los Cleveland Cavaliers, por una serie de desavenencias con la directiva y por el papel secundario del base en el equipo, siempre a la sombra de Lebron James. La situación de Irving, uno de los mejores bases de la liga, era ya insostenible en Cleveland, y los Cavaliers se veían obligados a traspasar a su segunda estrella cuanto antes si querían evitar un infierno en el vestuario durante la temporada. Esta parte del traspaso cuadraba, pero no la otra de Thomas y los Celtics, por los motivos que he explicado anteriormente. Y es fácil saber que en la NBA, una operación de traspaso nunca se lleva a cabo si tan sólo una de las partes está interesada. Lógico y evidente.

El "problema" es que los Celtics, al contrario de lo que yo pensaba, sí estaban interesados. Esta mañana, cuando activé el WiFi en el móvil, ocurrió. Notificaciones de aplicaciones de NBA, mensajes de amigos sorprendidos por el traspaso, redes sociales llenas de mensajes y fotos sobre la operación... El traspaso se había hecho realidad. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic y la elección del draft de 2018 de los Brooklyn Nets, hasta entonces propiedad de los Celtics, irían a Cleveland a cambio de Kyrie Irving.



Se trata de un traspaso de una magnitud aún desconocida porque los resultados están por verse, pero desde luego monumental y "terremótica" por la calidad y la relevancia de los jugadores traspasados y sus destinos. Boston y Cleveland, los dos mejores equipos del Este y los dos mayores rivales de esta conferencia, se estrechan la mano para intercambiarse piezas fundamentales antes de que comience la temporada.

Claves del traspaso

- Boston se hace con Kyrie Irving, insatisfecho con su situación en los Cavaliers por las operaciones de la directiva y, sobre todo, por verse como actor secundario por detrás de Lebron y no como estrella principal. Irving pasa a ser la estrella de los Celtics, reforzados tras la llegada de un agente libre de lujo como Gordon Hayward, pero también debilitados por las salidas de Avery Bradley y, sobre todo, de Isaiah Thomas, entre otros.

- Cleveland se hace con Jae Crowder, figura hasta ahora fundamental en los Celtics, sobre todo en la faceta defensiva. Fue Crowder precisamente uno de los encargados de frenar a Lebron en las últimas finales de la Conferencia Este, en la que los Cavaliers dieron pocas opciones a los Celtics, derrotándolos por 4-1. Ahora Crowder se antoja como suplente de lujo de Lebron, o incluso como titular para formar una dupla temible en ambos lados de la pista junto a Lebron.

- Cleveland se hace con Ante Zizic, procedente del Darussafaka Dogus de Estambul, equipo que ha disputado la Euroliga esta temporada. Es un pívot de 2,13 y 20 años con todo el futuro por delante que ha firmado 9 puntos, casi 7 rebotes y un tapón por partido en Euroliga. Aunque los Cavaliers habitualmente juegan sin un pívot puro y esa estrategia les ha funcionado hasta ahora, la llegada de Zizic podría cambiar esta tendencia, y el jugador croata podría disfrutar de minutos y desarrollarse en Cleveland hasta convertirse en un jugador cuyo techo desconocemos.

- Cleveland adquiere a Isaiah Thomas, hasta ahora jugador franquicia de los Boston Celtics y cuyo traspaso ha sido totalmente sorprendente. Su situación contractual (el año que viene tendrá que renovar su contrato y los Cavaliers tendrán que efectuar un desembolso importante o de lo contrario será agente libre) y la preocupación de Boston por su lesión en la cadera durante las series contra los Cavaliers parecen haber sido los principales motivos para deshacerse de él.

- Cleveland adquiere también la elección del draft de los Brooklyn Nets en el draft de 2018, hasta ahora perteneciente a los Celtics. Los Nets serán, posiblemente, uno de los peores equipos de la NBA, lo que significa que los Cavaliers tendrán, seguramente, una de las posiciones más altas para elegir en el mencionado draft. Esta es la pieza clave del traspaso y, en mi opinión, la que hace que los Celtics salgan como perdedores del traspaso, por ser un elemento de futuro  importante, una potencial futura estrella de la NBA.

¿Qué equipo sale ganando?

La actuación de cada uno de los equipos esta temporada será un indicador muy claro de quién será el ganador del traspaso, pues todas las predicciones apuntan a una final de conferencia Cavaliers - Celtics. De darse esa final, el ganador tendría la batalla psicológica ganada frente al otro equipo y la sensación de haber salido ganando de este traspaso. No obstante, la victoria en una final de conferencia tiene un valor escaso si finalmente el equipo no vence en la siguiente ronda, las finales de la NBA, que previsiblemente volverán a jugar los Golden State Warriors como ganadores de la Conferencia Oeste. Por mucho traspaso e incorporación que se haya producido este verano en la NBA, nadie ha conseguido acercarse al nivel de los Warriors, al menos viendo las plantillas sobre el papel.

En teoría, los Celtics salen perdiendo de esta operación. Pierden a dos de sus estrellas y a un importante recurso para el futuro del equipo, la elección del draft de 2018 de los Brooklyn Nets. Aunque si se confirman los temores de los Celtics sobre la salud a largo plazo de Thomas y este no vuelve a su mejor nivel, y por el contrario Irving termina de explotar como superestrella de la NBA, el ganador claro serán los Celtics. Esto sólo son especulaciones personales, y las variables son infinitas. Como en cualquier operación, sólo el tiempo acabará determinando quién es el ganador y quién el perdedor del traspaso, si es que acaba por haber un perdedor. Sólo con el tiempo podremos evaluar la magnitud de este terremoto de una noche de verano.