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What the 2016-17 NBA GM Survey results really mean

Charles King/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire
Charles King/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

The results of NBA.com’s annual GM survey are in.

But, like:


Topical, huh?

Seriously, though, a bunch of percentages and rankings give us the raw stats, but there’s much more to learn by translating those numbers into meaningful conclusions about the way NBA executives are thinking. What’s changed? How have priorities shifted? What do execs know more (or less) about than they did in training camp a year ago?

Let’s talk revelations.

Revelation 1: Stephen Curry should be pissed.

Steve Kerr earned the highest percentage of votes (63.3 percent) for “Which head coach runs the best offense?” Gregg Popovich came in a distant second at 16.7 percent, and Rick Carlisle tied Mike D’Antoni in third with 6.7 percent.

Let’s review Kerr’s offensive scheme:


Amazing strategy, right? I mean, let’s credit Kerr for keeping bodies moving, not getting in the way of his team’s considerable talent and railing about carelessness whenever the turnover bug reaches epidemic proportions. But it’s not like he’s drawing up 40-foot heaves off the dribble in practice.

Hey, Steph, do that thing where you dribble around like you’re on bath salts and then throw one up without looking! Remember: Execute!

Kerr is a fantastic coach, and he deserves recognition for his team’s top-rated offense. But let’s not kid ourselves about the biggest reason for Golden State’s success.

(Note: Kerr himself always deflects credit on issues like this.)

Revelation 2: The term “underrated” has lost all meaning.

Who was the most underrated player acquisition?
1. George Hill, Utah – 24.1%
2. Jeff Teague, Indiana – 13.8%
3. Andrew Bogut, Dallas – 10.3%
4. Serge Ibaka, Orlando – 6.9%
    Victor Oladipo, Oklahoma City – 6.9%

George Hill and Jeff Teague were basically traded for each other. So were Serge Ibaka and Victor Oladipo.

Either general managers are almost comically split on the relative values of those four players, or we need to retire the term underrated for good. It’s inherently tricky to begin with, as most of its meaning is tied to broader perception. You wouldn’t say something was underrated unless you were sure everyone else thought less of it than you did. And once something earns the underrated label, it immediately stops deserving it because, by definition, somebody’s saying “it’s good!”

Just ask Mike Conley, a perennial fixture atop the NBA’s “most underrated” list who also happened to sign the biggest contract in history this summer. Is he still underrated?

This is frustrating. What’s next?

Revelation 3: GMs are insane.

What bench player makes the biggest impact when he enters the game?

  1. Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers – 46.7%
  2. Andre Iguodala, Golden State – 40.0%
  3. Zach Randolph, Memphis – 6.7%

Also receiving votes: Mike Dunleavy, Cleveland; Manu Ginobili, San Antonio

Jamal Crawford? The guy with the on-court net rating of plus-2.3 and the off-court net rating of plus-9.2? Yeah, he makes a big impact. That’s true. I guess maybe the survey wasn’t specific enough about the impact being positive.

Andre Iguodala improved the Warriors’ net rating by five points per 100 possessions last year. He swung the 2015 Finals by starting. Let’s all try to imagine Crawford doing something like that…Oh, wait, nope! Anytime you imagine Crawford, all he’s doing is yo-yo dribbling in advance of a pull-up mid-range jumper.

Fortunately for these executives, they’re not alone in their delusion. Crawford’s perfect embodiment of the old-school bench spark-plug trope has suckered enough awards voters to earn a record three Sixth Man of the Year awards.

Revelation 4: Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka stink. Apparently.

General managers pegged the Oklahoma City Thunder as the fourth-best team in the Western Conference. Getting there was a little fuzzy—the question asked GMs to rank their top four West teams, and OKC got more first-through-fourth-place votes than everyone but the Clippers, Spurs and Warriors—but the sentiment is clear: GMs regard Oklahoma City as the conference’s fourth-best team.

OKC lost KD and Ibaka, arguably the two best floor-spacers at their positions. Durant is an MVP in his prime. Ibaka is one of maybe three players who can defend the rim and stretch the floor on offense at elite levels. Losing those two guys is a huge deal regardless of who replaces them.

Yet if trends hold, it’ll take a minimum of 53 wins to secure that No. 4 spot in the West. That’s how many victories the fourth-seeded Clippers earned last year, and in each of the previous three seasons, it took between 54 and 56 wins to secure that fourth-best record.

The Thunder won 55 last year with Durant and Ibaka. So, apparently, losing them is worth maybe two wins. That’s the logic here.

Go home, general managers. You’re drunk.

Revelation 5: Anthony Davis is yesterday’s news.

If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota – 48.3%
  2. Kevin Durant, Golden State – 20.7%
  3. LeBron James, Cleveland – 17.2%

Also receiving votes: Stephen Curry, Golden State; Anthony Davis, New Orleans; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City

Last year: Anthony Davis – 86.2%

From 86.2 percent of the vote last year to the “also receiving” category this time around, Anthony Davis’ days as the top franchise cornerstone are done.

In addition to general managers seriously souring on Davis after an injury-riddled and disappointing campaign, the results here also tell us Towns is the next in line. We mostly knew that, of course, as Towns may already be a more complete threat than Davis ever was.

Also interesting: General managers seem to be thinking short term these days. Listing Durant and James, two players currently at their peaks, suggests a greater focus on the present than this category usually reveals. In a way, this makes sense. GMs rarely have the luxury of a long timeline, and immediate success is the best way to stay employed.

If anything, it’s surprising that the winner in this category is always the league’s most promising young talent—and not its best current player.

Revelation 6: Avery Bradley knows where the bodies are buried.

Who is the best defensive player in the NBA
1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio – 66.7%
2. LeBron James, Cleveland – 10.0%
3. Avery Bradley, Boston – 6.7%
    Draymond Green, Golden State – 6.7%
    DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers – 6.7%
6. Hassan Whiteside, Miami – 3.3%
Last year: Kawhi Leonard – 27.6%

Sorry, what?

Bradley is a terrific perimeter defender, but I must have missed him defending the rim, suffocating point guards and playing center for the best lineup in the league despite being shorter than Klay Thompson.

What kind of leverage does Bradley have on these voters?

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