• Few writers have churned out more thoughtful analysis of teambuilding strategy in the last year than SB Nation's Tom Ziller. On Monday, Ziller used a sample of teams -- half of which just missed the playoffs, the other half drawn from the bottom of the standings -- charted over a five-year term to remind us that tanking is what you make of it:
As it turns out, there's little homogeneity in how teams in either category turn out. Check out how clustered the teams are in the base year — the best non-playoff teams right under .500, and the worst teams around .300 and lower. Five years later, they are all over the place. The bulk end up just a bit better or worse than .500 — the fat part of the league's bell curve. Five years out, five teams are considerably better than average and seven teams are considerably worse. Of the five superior teams, three began awful. Of the seven inferior teams, five began as one of the best non-playoff teams. (Call this the lesson of the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been dedicated to staying away from the bottom of the standings, but who were not able to keep the tank away.)
...it's not universal: Again, look at how scattered the once-clustered teams become by Year 5. Tanking doesn't always work. The treadmill doesn't always fail. And this brings me back to one of [Henry Abbott's] comments on a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately. It came in conclusion to a point about how the success of the Bulls, Celtics and Rockets after drafting Jordan, Bird and Hakeem respectively are exceptions to the argument against tanking as a path to success.
"[E]ven the exceptions are really just examples of extreme luck followed by extreme success in team-building."
• The narrative regarding the strength of the Pacer bench has largely died down, but C.J. Watson has been lethal for Indiana in fourth quarters, especially.
• Blame Ricky Rubio for Minnesota's losses in close games if you'd like, but the Wolves have actually managed to avoid turnovers rather well in the clutch this season. The bigger problem, it seems, is an overly simplistic approach of feeding Kevin Love and Kevin Martin for late-game shots.
• The most frequent free throw shooters in the NBA, visualized. Good news for the Raptors: DeMar DeRozan has surpassed the likes of Chris Paul, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Eric Bledsoe in free throw attempts per minute. Bad news for the Sixers: Tony Wroten's free throw percentage, which... yikes.
• In praise of Luol Deng, as player and gentleman.
• In light of a season thus far marred by injury, Howard Beck of Bleacher Report makes a great point: The teams at the top of the Eastern Conference have a unique ability to address minor, nagging injuries at minimal cost:
The Heat have the luxury of being judicious. Their identity is well established, and they know what it takes to make a deep playoff run. The withering state of the Eastern Conference helps, too.
Barring a serious injury of their own, the Heat are in no danger of slipping in the standings. They can claim no worse than the No. 2 seed by default. Although, as Battier said, “You never have wiggle room. If you have a cushion, you want a bigger cushion. And you have to be greedy when you have a chance to create separation in the standings.”
• The Mavs' official Tumblr has begun churning out Photoshopped images of their various All-Star candidates paired with very meme-able dogs. Ingenious.
• As a footnote in the swap of Jerryd Bayless for Courtney Lee, the Thunder snuck into the deal to include Ryan Gomes and cash considerations while netting a few immaterial draft picks. What's curious, though: Gomes (who was subsequently waived) and the cash went to different places. While Boston agreed to take back Gomes and help the Thunder create more room under the luxury tax line, it was Memphis that managed to score a cool $1.1 million from OKC's pocket for their part in the transaction. Not a bad get for the Grizz in a deal that was originally reported to be a one-for-one swap.
• Learn a bit more about James Nunnally, who will be an Atlanta Hawk for the next 10 days at the least. Nunnally was the first player called up from the D-League following last week's D-League Showcase, and claims to model his game after 3-and-D prototype Bruce Bowen.
• At Cavs the Blog, Patrick Redford set the stage of what would become one of the most embarrassing and lopsided games of the 2013-14 season: The Kings' 44-point razing of the Cavaliers on Sunday.
The game clock wasn’t functioning for the first four seconds of this afternoon’s game. The refs quickly stopped the game and basically started over from scratch, running the elapsed time off the clock. Maybe, in the alternate universe where that Kings possession continues uninterrupted, the Cavs play coherent basketball and push hard for longer than a quarter and change. Maybe the stoppage dammed their energy and they were unable to get it flowing again. Maybe the team was swapped out for very convincing lookalikes in the first quarter when my TV died for five minutes, because Cleveland was run out of the worst gym in the NBA by one of the worst teams in the NBA.
• Another talented marksman making use of the shooter's hop: Pacers guard George Hill. • Philadelphia's season is rooted in talent acquisition and player development, making it all the more sensible that the final few spots on the roster would be a revolving door. There's lots to like about the work that Sam Hinkie and his staff have done already with the stripped-down Sixers, but I particularly appreciate the team's interest in sizing up as many fringe prospects as possible.