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The Weirdness of the NBA GM Survey

harryreardon
ANALYST
Feature
145   //    07 Oct 2018, 05:52 IST

The NBA preseason has begun, and with the beginning of the season comes the annual NBA GM survey. The league’s best decision-makers sit down, make their predictions, and show their insights into how they view the league.

Many predictions, whether made by GMs or others, will certainly be wrong or look absurd in hindsight. As one example, 43% of NBA GMs in last season’s survey thought that Oklahoma City made the best moves in the summer of 2017 even though the Westbrook-George-Carmelo trio went nowhere. Just 11% picked the Houston Rockets, only for them to come as close as any team has to knocking out the Durant Warriors.

But many GMs’ choices for this upcoming season look bizarre even without the benefit of hindsight. Here are some of the more peculiar answers, and what those answers mean for the state of the league.

The Disappearance of Karl Anthony-Towns

The survey notes that four different players received at least five votes on the question of which player GMs would most like to start a franchise with, with Giannis Antetokounmpo earning the most votes. But the most fascinating result is that Karl Anthony-Towns received zero votes, even though he received the most votes for this same question in last year’s survey.

It is not hard to understand why this happened. KAT was supposed to have a breakout 2018-19 season but stagnated as Tom Thibodeau inexplicably chose to give the ball more to Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague. He then struggled in the playoffs mightily against the Rockets and Clint Capela.

KAT may be in a more difficult position than was assumed in 2017, but GMs should not forget his incredible potential and offensive versatility. If Minnesota can fix itself, hopefully by not trading Jimmy Butler, this could be a team which actually fulfils its expectations.

Defense

Every NBA analyst knows that assessing a player’s defensive impact is much harder compared to assessing his offensive impact. But even with that caveat, there are some real headscratchers in the “Defense” section of this survey.

Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard tied with 37% for the question of “Who is the best defensive player in the NBA,” with other votes going to Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant. But Joel Embiid, the player who finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season, received zero votes. In fact, Embiid received zero votes for best interior defender using a VPNbase, which is made even worse by the fact that Dwight Howard’s corpse and DeAndre Jordan received votes.

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This is by far the most mysterious result in this survey, and it is difficult to figure out why Embiid was overlooked. Are GMs disappointed by how the 76ers fell flat against the Celtics in the playoffs? Do they find Embiid overhyped with his social media posts? Even if you subscribed to the outdated idea that more blocks equal better interior defense, Embiid still has more blocks than either Jordan or Howard.

League Reform

The final question in this year’s survey was “What rule (regarding play, Draft/Lottery, playoff format, etc.) most need to change?” The reform which received the most votes was that NBA playoff seeding should change to a 1-16 seeding format instead of the top eight seeds in each conference. This received 18% of the vote, followed by changes to the draft lotto with 14%.

These changes are easy to understand and commonly talked about, but fans should be disappointed that these two earned the most votes. The teams that voted for these changes likely did so not out of a high-minded interest for what would be best for the league, but rather a shortsighted greed to press for whatever reform would benefit their team at the time. Teams like San Antonio, Minnesota, or New Orleans would benefit from a 1-16 seeding, while teams which have no hope for the playoffs hope that the lottery odds will change in a way which favors them.

Those two reforms are frequently discussed, but there are other reforms which would benefit the league that earned fewer votes. Changing intentional fouling would create a faster-paced game and prevent the end of games from turning into a free throw contest. Changing draft eligibility would likely end the nonsensical one-and-done policy, letting young players develop faster in the professional leagues as opposed to college basketball. Limiting the schedule and number of games would reduce injuries, though there are reasonable concerns for how this would impact records and such. Unfortunately, the popularity of changing playoff format and the draft lotto only signifies the NBA’s disinterest in real, lasting reform.

Should you trust your GM?

There are additional strange answers in comparison to the big ones listed above. More than 1 GM listed Stephen Curry as the best shooting guard in the league. A single GM picked DeAndre Ayton as the biggest draft day steal even though he was the #1 pick. 

Whether they are in the country, or streaming from outside USA, fans should not look at these answers and conclude that all GMs are stupid. It is likely that some GMs may have passed this assignment on to some lower-level employee to fill out. And other GMs gave more reasonable responses such as picking Gobert as the top interior defender or Giannis as the player of the future. Yet despite these caveats, the NBA GM survey is a great avenue to understand how GMs think, and how their worldview may differ from the fan or journalist who despite their passion are not part of the NBA world. 

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