NBA March Madness in July
The Dog Days of the NBA offseason are upon us and fans must now progress through the 7 stages of grief at their own pace. I’m currently in the “Bargaining” phase as I try to find a way around paying $200 for League Pass this upcoming season. It’s understandable if you found yourself in “Depression” immediately following the NBA Players Association Awards (hopefully the first and last annual award show of its kind). Wherever you are in your grieving, one thing is certain: NBA fans are accustomed to a constant barrage of games, trades, drafts, rumors, etc., - how are we supposed to cope during these doldrums?
How does a hypothetical March Madness-esque tournament that pits NBA players from the same alma mater against players from rival schools sound? I know what you’re thinking: Tom that would take a lot of effort. Who would have the kind of time to put something like that together? You’re in luck because between this and watching Daredevil on Netflix, I did little else this past week. But, before we see which college reigns supreme in today’s NBA, we need to establish some ground rules.
The tournament will consist of 9 Teams seeded at the discretion of the selection committee (yours truly) a. Dion Waiters is not allowed to play (sorry Syracuse but hopefully you’re accustomed to sitting out tournaments
Maximum of 8 players per team
A player must have played in at least 55 games during 2014-15 season for a player to be eligible for the tournament
a. Kevin Durant Corollary: If a player has made an All-NBA team in the past 3 seasons, but missed this season’s 55 game threshold, the 2013-2014 statistics will be used for that player
Rosters are selected based on Minutes per Game this past season.
a. Top 5 players in Minutes per Game (MPG) is the starting unit regardless of position (position-less basketball!!)
The play-in game and First Round only counts the top 6 players from each roster
a. Each ensuing round adds the next player on the roster in terms of MPG
b. This rule was incorporated to stress the importance of depth as the playoffs progress. The Clippers proved this year that a solid starting 5 plus Austin Rivers could make its way out of the first round. As a team gets deeper into the playoffs / tournament depth begins to pay its dividends.
Did I overcomplicate this? No. (the Selection Committee has spoken)
Let’s take a look at the bracket and the rosters for each team:
Now that we understand who is playing and how they got there, there’s only one more thing to discuss: How does this work? Well, I’m glad I asked myself. When trying to decide which statistic would be most indicative of player performance, I could not decide between Win Shares (from Basketball Reference) , Real Plus / Minus (RPM), and Wins Above Replacement (both from ESPN.com). So, in a moment of sheer mathematic brilliance that would have made Einstein blush, I decided to add them together. Heady stuff, I know. The sum of these three advanced metrics is a player's “Tournament Score” (TS) and the sum of a team’s Tournament Score is that team’s final score for the round. Enough semantics – let’s get to the games.
Box Score – Arizona vs. Kansas
Analysis: NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala is used to having a far more talented cast of characters around him in games. In this inaugural play-in game, AI was unable to bring this woeful Arizona squad to victory. Jordan Hill’s net -4.51 stands out as a particularly embarrassing statistic. On the other side, Kansas’s Markieff Morris was able to single-handedly outscore the Arizona squad. The wily veteran Paul Pierce was able to eke out the second highest score for Kansas, while Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, clearly still has some work to do, scoring only 1.72 points. Kansas will face 1 seed Kentucky in the first round.
Game 1 – Kansas vs. Kentucky
Analysis: This was not pretty. This Kentucky team is the 1 seed for a reason. I’m not saying Calipari is a great *coach* or has a knack for player development, but man that guy can recruit some talent. Anthony Davis led all scorers with a monstrous 38 points. He was helped by his prolific teammates John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe.
Game 2 – UCLA vs. Texas
Analysis: Kevin Durant’s MVP campaign from 2013-2014 (remember the Durant Corollary) nets his team a monstrous 43 points. LaMarcus Aldridge and Tristan Thompson combine for ~34 points and this Longhorn squad is able to knock off a strong UCLA Bruins team led by fashion icon / basketball psychopath Russell Westbrook. Rumor is that Kevin Love pouted for much of the game when Westbrook did not pass him the ball and it led to much passive aggressive behavior in the locker room. Westbrook, however, does not understand passivity in any aspect of life, so Love’s discontent was entirely lost on Russ.
Game 3 – Wake Forest vs Florida
Analysis: Florida’s balanced squad featured Al Horford, Chandler Parsons, Bradley Beal and Joakim Noah all scoring in double figures, but it was not enough against this battle-tested Wake Forest team. Chris Paul and Tim Duncan combined for nearly 65 points, and proved to be too much for the Gators.
Game 4 – UNC vs. Duke
Analysis: The greatest rivalry in college basketball also turned into the greatest hypothetical first round match-up. We actually had to score to the tenth decimal place to decide a winner for this one. The Tar Heels were led by unlikely star and advanced metrics darling Danny Green with 24 points. A newly refocused Ty Lawson chipped in 15 points for UNC. Duke was led by Kyrie Irving with 23 points, but the Blue Devils balanced attack fell just short in the end.
Game 1 – Kentucky vs. Texas
Analysis: Not even the arrival of Rajon Rondo could slow down the Kentucky Wildcats in Round 2. Cory Joseph and his new $30 million contract were not enough to turn the tide in favor of Texas, despite Durant’s second huge game in a row. Too much Anthony Davis. Too much Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe. Kentucky will proceed to the finals where it will await the winner of the next game.
Game 2 – Wake Forest vs. UNC
Analysis: In the second battle of North Carolina teams, UNC was unable to prevail this time, despite a strong bench effort from Tyler Zeller. Wake Forest is undermanned, with only 6 eligible players on their entire roster, but that was no matter as the Demon Deacons prevailed. Chris Paul is accustomed to having a thin bench having played with 5 and a half NBA-caliber players on this past year’s Clippers team. Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu each scored in double figures to complement the greatness that is Chris Paul and Tim Duncan. Wake Forest will meet Kentucky in the finals.
Box Score – Kentucky vs. Wake Forest
Analysis: Anthony Davis and the Kentucky Wildcats continued their rampage in the first annual Hypothetical NBA March Madness in July Tournament (hopefully for the 2nd annual tournament the Committee lands on a catchier name). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist provided a huge punch off the bench for this already dominant Wildcats team. Ultimately, Wake Forest battled hard, but with only 6 eligible players, could not match the overwhelming depth and talent of the Kentucky alumni. Stay tuned for All Tournament honors.
All-Tournament First Team:
Anthony Davis (MVP)
All-Tournament Second Team