By Rob Mahoney
The NBA's annual GM survey -- a questionnaire in which team executives make predictions and voice preferences on a laundry list of league-wide topics -- never disappoints. Embedded within run-of-the-mill polls over division winners and award favorites are odd omissions and baffling inclusions in all sorts of miscellaneous categories, each made all the more fascinating by the notion that an NBA decision-maker was somehow behind them. General managers catch plenty of heat for costly signings or draft picks gone wrong, and an exercise like this one would seemingly corroborate some of the public's doubt; we can't say with certainty that the GMs themselves aren't delegating this survey, but their vote is made, in a sense, to be representative of league-wide management's collective view.
This year's installment was released on Monday and is as ripe with intrigue as one would expect. Here's a look at some choice responses from the survey, bolded in some cases for specific reference.
Note: GMs are not allowed to vote for their own players on this survey, thus ruling out some direct favoritism in regard to single vote-getters -- and explaining some of the dissenting context in landslide victories.
Which is the best defensive team in the NBA?
1. Chicago -- 40.0%
2. Miami -- 26.7%
3. Boston -- 23.3%
4. L.A. Lakers -- 6.7%
5. San Antonio -- 3.3%
The Spurs did manage to wind up in the top 10 in defensive efficiency last season thanks to a late push, but San Antonio spent most of its regular season campaign (and postseason) trying to figure out ways to mask its defensive limitations. This is a team that literally lost out at a chance at the Finals because of its failings on D, and yet due to strong coaching and a sterling reputation, they find themselves lumped in with the NBA's elite defensive outfits. If the Spurs were/are as good defensively as this lone general manager seems to believe, then they'd stand defiantly against the surging Thunder and remodeled Lakers as the Western Conference favorites. That's clearly not the case, though San Antonio's offense is prolific enough to at least make it a credible dark horse.
Which player is the most athletic?
1. LeBron James, Miami -- 62.1%
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City -- 20.7%
4. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City -- 3.4%
At first glance, there's nothing particularly notable about the responses to this question -- which are more or less on the money in a league where there are countless acceptable answers. Yet things get silly when these results are juxtaposed with the responses to a different question in the survey:
Which player makes the most of limited natural ability?
1. Kevin Love, Minnesota -- 34.5%
2. Shane Battier, Miami -- 10.3%
3. Marc Gasol, Memphis -- 6.9%
Also receiving votes: Ryan Anderson, New Orleans; Matt Bonner, San Antonio; Nick Collison, Oklahoma City; Roy Hibbert, Indiana; Jared Dudley, Phoenix; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Danny Green, San Antonio; Chuck Hayes, Sacramento; Kris Humphries, Brooklyn; Paul Millsap, Utah; Steve Nash, L.A. Lakers; Steve Novak, New York; Luis Scola, Phoenix; Anderson Varejao, Cleveland
Considering that the "limited natural ability" framing is merely a stand-in phrasing for (based on the other candidates and the responses of previous seasons) a lack of traditional athleticism, Durant's inclusion on both lists is pretty striking. He's very clearly a supernatural athlete, with a combination of length and quickness that can really only be matched by James. Toss in quick reflexes, productive instincts and a soft touch (more of an innate quality than many seem to think), and it's hard to understand what limitations this particular voter sees Durant thriving in spite of.
Who will win the 2012-13 MVP?
1. LeBron James, Miami -- 66.7%
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City -- 30.0%
3. Carmelo Anthony, New York -- 3.3%
Anthony is completely out of his league on this list and is frankly taking up a spot better re-allocated to the likes of Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. Yet what's horrifying is how realistic a possibility Anthony's rise in the MVP race actually is; supposing that the Knicks sort through some of their rotational overlap and technical issues to earn a top-two seed in the East, Anthony's pre-scripted story of maturity and redemption (which would undoubtedly include a full-time move to power forward) would likely charm voters into including him on their eventual ballots. We're dealing with events that are months away and inescapably hypothetical, but Anthony's reputation and market do position him to sneak into the MVP discussion, if only by narrative force.
Who is the best international player in the NBA?
1. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas -- 72.4%
2. Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers -- 10.3%
Another list with some fascinating outliers. Nowitzki and Gasol are rightfully at the top of this list, and there are spirited, founded cases that can be made for Nash, Ginobili, and Parker to at least have their names referenced in this discussion. Yet how Ibaka and Kirilenko stumbled into a designation well above their respective games is beyond me; Kirilenko would have been a stretch for this honor when he was at the absolute top of his game, and Ibaka has yet to fill out his game enough to be a viable candidate. All of those mentioned are excellent players, but when asked to define a singular international talent to designate the best in the league, why settle for the sixth or seventh best?
Which team will win the Atlantic Division?
1. Boston -- 66.7%
2. Brooklyn and New York -- 13.3%
4. Philadelphia -- 6.7%
Boston is a clear favorite in the Atlantic, but it's completely fitting that the Knicks and Nets -- budding foils that they are -- wound up with identical cuts of the vote.
Which player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments?
1. LeBron James, Miami -- 50.0%
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City -- 20.0%
3. Dwight Howard, L.A. Lakers -- 16.7%
4. Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers -- 6.7%
It's no coincidence that the four players on this list just so happen to be the four best players in the NBA. After all, disruption is often the final hurdle for contending teams; though it's valuable in itself for a team to be able to execute their own gameplan, transcendent play comes from the ability to force an opponent to compromise theirs. Having a star of this caliber is the most straightforward way to achieve that goal, a point which general managers understand all too well.
Who is the best power forward in the NBA?
1. Kevin Love, Minnesota -- 30.0%
2. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas -- 23.3%
3. LeBron James, Miami -- 16.7%
4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland -- 10.0%
5. Kevin Garnett, Boston, and Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers -- 6.7%
Also receiving votes: Tim Duncan, San Antonio; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers
James was also voted the NBA's best small forward, and likely could have made a run at point guard. Positional versatility is alive and well, and James -- though so reluctant for so long -- has become its official champion.
Who is the best center in the NBA?
1. Dwight Howard, L.A. Lakers -- 93.3%
2. Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia -- 6.7%
It's good to see that one of the league's silliest debates has emphatically been put to rest. The difference between Howard and Bynum may not be a gulf, but Dwight is nonetheless definitively better in almost every aspect of the game. Even Bynum's greatest strengths are a virtual draw, and that's giving the Sixers center the benefit of the doubt in areas that he remains untested. A season as an offensive centerpiece in Philly should make Howard converts of those final true Bynum believers.
What was the most surprising move of the offseason?
1. Steve Nash to the Lakers -- 39.3%
2. Bynum/Howard/Iguodala trade -- 17.9%
3. Knicks not matching Jeremy Lin offer -- 14.3%
Also receiving votes: Jeff Green's contract, Luis Scola amnestied by Houston
Green's signing may not have been as significant of a move as the others listed here, but something needed to be said of Boston going out of its way to pay well-above-market-value for a player coming off of heart surgery, one who may not have been all that good in the first place.
What was the most underrated player acquisition?
1. Andre Iguodala, Denver -- 16.7%
2. Jason Terry, Boston -- 13.3%
3. Courtney Lee, Boston -- 10.0%
4. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans, Andrei Kirilenko, Minnesota, Brandon Roy, Minnesota, Lou Williams, Atlanta -- 6.7%
Also receiving votes: Ray Allen, Miami; Marcus Camby, New York; Gerald Green, Indiana; Grant Hill, L.A. Clippers; Chris Kaman, Dallas; Kyle Lowry, Toronto; O.J. Mayo, Dallas; Darko Milicic, Boston; Steve Nash, L.A. Lakers; Alexey Shved, Minnesota
There's not a lot to poke fun at here (aside from a fairly hilarious Darko inclusion); instead, this question should draw attention to just how many quality moves were made this offseason beyond the headliners. Bonus points to Minnesota, Boston, Dallas and Atlanta (among others) for doing consistently strong offseason work despite not acquiring any All-Star caliber players.
Which player is the best finisher?
1. LeBron James, Miami -- 66.7%
2. Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers -- 10.0%, Dwyane Wade, Miami -- 10.0%
Which one of these things is not like the others? Not only does Evans stand out as the least remarkable player in a list of All-NBA talent, but he's also a merely solid finisher on a list of layup artists and power dunkers. Evans isn't bad around the rim by any means; per Hoopdata, Evans converted 64.6 percent of his attempts at the basket -- nearly two percentage points above league average. That's quite good, and in a more functional offense, Evans might be an even more consistent finisher. But with all of these other alternatives in play (not to mention Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Manu Ginobili, and handfuls of others), what on earth made one of the league's GM call to mind Tyreke Evans?
Who is the best perimeter defender in the NBA?The bulk of the GMs did a fantastic job in isolating six of the best perimeter defenders working today, but the "also receiving votes" section provides both reason for optimism and concern over delusion. Considering that Bryant still somehow finds his way onto the league's All-Defensive teams despite the regression in his performance and effort on that end, the fact that he only pulled one vote in this survey is a sign of some progress. But when the laterally limited World Peace and the merely solid Gordon and Jones flank Bryant as honorable mentions, one has to wonder if there's any net positive in this kind of collective wisdom at all.
1. Tony Allen, Memphis -- 33.3%
2. LeBron James, Miami -- 26.7%