Saturday, May 12, 2018

WSJ: Mbah-a-Mouteball: How the Rockets chased value to challenge the Warriors

may 10, 2018 | ben cohen | | post LINK
One of the many peculiar things about being a professional athlete is that your colleagues know exactly how much money you make.
In the 10 years that he’s been an NBA role player, Houston Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute has never been paid as much as his peers. He’s earned less in his entire career than James Harden earned this year alone. As a free agent last summer, he was on the open market longer than most players before he finally signed a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum salary, the least that any NBA team could offer.
“Everybody could’ve gotten him,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said, “and we did.”
He’s been so useful that it has since become clear Mbah a Moute was deeply misvalued by the league. To put it very simply, when he’s on the court, his team is better. And yet D’Antoni can’t fault other teams if they couldn’t understand why. “To be honest with you,” he said, “I didn’t know it, either.”
And what exactly was it that he didn’t know about Mbah a Moute?
“That he’s one of the best players in the league,” D’Antoni said.

Which sounds like an odd thing to say about someone who averages 7.5 points per game coming off the bench. Except he’s precisely the sort of player the Rockets knew they would need against the team they knew they would need to beat.
The Rockets and Golden State Warriors have circled each other like sumo wrestlers all season long, and now they’re colliding in the Western Conference Finals, a series between dominant, intelligent, carefully built teams responsible for many of the stylistic innovations that have defined the modern NBA. The Warriors are the reigning champions eyeing a third title in four years. You may have heard something about them. But the Rockets were constructed specifically to beat the Warriors, and they established themselves as the biggest threat to their budding dynasty by winning the most games in the NBA this season. They became good enough that Golden State losing is at least theoretically possible now.
This is a matchup with valuable players, most valuable players like James HardenStephen Curry and Kevin Durant, and one player who is crucially valuable in his own quiet way: Luc Mbah a Moute.
Every decision in basketball is a reflection of what NBA teams value and why. Because they’re constrained by a salary cap from spending indiscriminately—this is not baseball—they have no choice but to find value in unexpected places. And they win championships by doing more with the same amount of money. The embarrassment of riches otherwise known as the Warriors, for example, only exist because Curry was on a bargain contract until this season, at which point Durant agreed to his own sweetheart discount.
But it has never been more imperative to chase value on the margins in this era of talent consolidation across the NBA. There is a premium on effective, affordable players, and stealing a niche player on a minimum deal can be as important as picking the right star player for a maximum salary.
Which is why every team would take a Luc Mbah a Moute.

There was a simple reason the Rockets targeted Mbah a Moute, a 6-foot-8 forward who could guard anyone, after they paired James Harden with Chris Paul last summer. It was almost entirely because they were obsessed with the Warriors. They didn’t need to crunch the numbers to know they would probably have to play Golden State on their way to an NBA title—this being the Rockets, they crunched the numbers anyway—and that meant it wasn’t enough for them to merely improve. They had to improve in a way that increased their chances against the Warriors.
They were convinced that Mbah a Moute could help. Golden State’s small lineups feast on mismatches, but there is no team capable of starving them like the Rockets. And that’s by design. Houston can surround Harden and Paul with the versatile, interchangeable players required to switch on defense and survive against the Warriors—players like Mbah a Moute. In two games against Golden State, Mbah a Moute was positional silly putty. He defended Klay Thompson on 33 possessions, Durant for 23 possessions and Curry for 13 possessions, according to NBA tracking data.

Mbah a Moute, a Cameroonian who went to UCLA and bounced around five teams in five years before this season, was secretly good at lots of little things for a long time until those very things made him valuable.

He moved the ball, spaced the floor and was perfectly happy to guard the other team’s leading scorer. But one reason he was overlooked is that he did not shoot. He was good at not shooting, but not shooting wasn’t an option in Houston, where he’s been encouraged to shoot more than ever. “People thought I wasn’t a good shooter,” said Mbah a Moute, who is shooting 36% on 3-pointers this year, “but it’s because I was never really in a position where I could shoot.”
Houston saw the potential in Mbah a Moute that other teams ignored. It was not an accident that he signed there when he could have signed anywhere. “No, no, no—that one we went after hard,” D’Antoni said.
Rockets executives were on the phone with Mbah a Moute and his agent every day until he agreed to a deal. As he called around the league, general manager Daryl Morey heard so much praise about Mbah a Moute from coaches, executives and former teammates like Paul that he actually got worried. “It was almost too much raving,” he said. “I was, like, it can’t all be this good. It’s been even better.”
Mbah a Moute felt the same way as the Rockets. He was a little baffled at how badly they wanted him, especially because they already had P.J. Tucker, another undervalued wing player they prioritized last off-season.
“You just signed P.J.,” he said, “and I think we do the same thing?”
But what Houston realized was that it couldn’t have enough players like Tucker and Mbah a Moute.
“That made sense to me,” Mbah a Moute said. “I felt I could be a complementary piece of the puzzle.”
Houston’s big free-agency moves: Chris Paul (not pictured), Luc Mbah a Moute (left) and P.J. Tucker (right). PHOTO:ERIC CHRISTIAN SMITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS

He was a positionless player before position became a dirty word, and when the game evolved, he took advantage of the ideas that have reshaped the league. Mbah a Moute was suddenly a market inefficiency. What he did was in high demand, and yet he was still available for cheap. That was all the incentive the Rockets needed to pursue him.
It worked out spectacularly well. 
The Rockets set a franchise record for wins in a season. Their offense was more explosive than last year’s, when it was one of the most explosive of all-time. Their defense went from mediocre to elite under the influence of Paul, Tucker and Mbah a Moute, whose defensive rating was the lowest on the team.
He now finds himself in line for a richer contract because it turned out that D’Antoni calling him one of the league’s best players was positively D’Antonian: It may have sounded wrong, maybe even ridiculous, until it was right.
In fact, of the hundreds of player combinations that logged more than 1,000 minutes together, the Rockets had the single most productive two-man lineup in the NBA, a duo with a better net rating than even Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
This pair that annihilated other teams: the likely most valuable player James Harden and Luc Mbah a Moute.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Men's Basketball Signs Two Standouts to NLIs

Moses Brown
Tyger Campbell

Bruins will welcome Moses Brown, Tyger Campbell to Westwood in 2018-19.
LOS ANGELES – The UCLA men's basketball program has received signed National Letters of Intent from high school seniors Moses Brown and Tyger Campbell on the first day of the regular signing period, as announced Wednesday by Steve Alford, The Michael Price Family UCLA Men's Head Basketball Coach.

Brown and Campbell will enroll at UCLA in 2018 and begin their freshman seasons in Westwood during the 2018-19 academic year. Brown and Campbell join a trio of high school seniors – Jules Bernard, Kenneth Nwuba and David Singleton – who signed with the Bruins in the fall of 2017. All five will be freshmen at UCLA next season.

Brown, a 7-foot-2 and 240-pound center, excelled at Archbishop Molloy High School in New York (Queens) and has been rated as high as the No. 18 player in his high school class by Most recently, he scored 11 points and had five rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes off the bench in the annual McDonald's All-American Game in Atlanta on March 28.

"Moses is an incredibly talented player who carries a great demeanor," Alford said. "He's a humble, hard-working young man who wants to get better, and he comes to us from a tradition-rich program at Archbishop Molloy High School. We believe he has a tremendous future. You just don't see young guys very often with the size, length and ability that Moses has. We're looking forward to watching him develop in our program, and we're confident that he will be a difference maker right away."

Campbell, a 5-foot-11 and 170-pound guard, helped lead La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) to a 23-4 record last season, as his high school team ended the year ranked No. 6 in USA Today's national top-25 rankings. Originally hailing from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Campbell has been rated as high as the No. 72 player in his high school class by

"Tyger has really impressed us, both with his ability to see the court and as a playmaker," Alford said. "We like him because he's a winner and brings an unselfish attitude, and we think he will really add to our team's backcourt. Tyger really understands how to run a team, and he plays the game the right way. We are looking forward to having him join our team this summer."

UCLA's National Letter of Intent Signees

PlayerPositionHt.HometownHigh School
Jules BernardGuard6-6Los Angeles, Calif.Windward School
Moses BrownCenter7-2New York, N.Y.Archbishop Molloy HS
Tyger CampbellGuard5-11Cedar Rapids, IowaLa Lumiere School (Indiana)
Kenneth NwubaCenter6-10Lagos, NigeriaHuntington Prep (West Virginia)
David SingletonGuard6-4Torrance, Calif.Bishop Montgomery HS

Brown was named the Most Valuable Player of the CHSAA (Catholic High School Athletic Association) in New York City, having averaged 26 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks per game as a senior. He registered a season-high of 37 points and finished with at least 20 points in 15 contests. He has also been ranked the No. 20 player in his high school class, nationally, by and No. 21 by
Campbell averaged 15.5 points and 7.2 assists per game in 25 contests as a senior at La Lumiere. He shot 42 percent from three-point distance during his senior season. Campbell, who helped lead La Lumiere to the 2017 Dick's Sporting Goods High School Nationals title, has also been ranked No. 79 in his high school class by and No. 99 by
Bernard, Brown, Campbell and Singleton have been nationally ranked among the top 100 players in their high school class by, and
Season tickets for UCLA's 2018-19 men's basketball campaign are available, starting at less than $19 per game. Fans can place a $99 deposit within the next week and receive a free 2018-19 team-signed Under Armour basketball. Call (310) 206-5991, email or click here to reserve the best seats in Pauley Pavilion.

Friday, March 16, 2018

UCLA half-&-done in the tourney. Bows out in the First 4 with a loss to the Bonnies, 65-58

Team high turnovers 20, Aaron Holiday 20 pts. Thank you & good luck, Seniors. See you all in Nov!

For more on the game, go to UCLA Men's Basketball (link).

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

More on UCLA vs. St. Bonaventure match-up

OC Register:
UCLA basketball slips into NCAA Tournament, will face St. Bonaventure in First Four

UCLA scrambles to start NCAA Tournament run in Dayton

Los Angeles Times: 
UCLA will face St. Bonaventure in an NCAA tournament play-in game on Tuesday

What a long, strange trip it's been for UCLA

Here's how UCLA matches up with St. Bonaventure

Daily Bruin:
Men’s basketball scores No. 11-seed spot in NCAA Tournament

NCAA Tournament 2018: UCLA vs. St. Bonaventure live stream, TV channel, time, date

Buffalo News:

UCLA Ready to Face St. Bonaventure in Dayton


UCLA (21-11) will face St. Bonaventure (24-7) on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.

Story Links

DAYTON, Ohio – The Bruins (21-11) secured a No. 11-seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament and will face No. 11-seed St. Bonaventure (24-7) in a "First Four" matchup on Tuesday evening. Game time at University of Dayton Arena is 6:10 pm PT (9:10 pm ET). UCLA arrived in Dayton on Monday afternoon before heading to UD Arena for an early evening practice.
The winner of Tuesday's "First Four" matchup between the Bruins and Bonnies will travel to Dallas to face No. 6-seed Florida (20-12) in a first-round meeting of the NCAA Tournament this Thursday.
Venue: UD Arena (13,409)
Game Time: 6:10 p.m. (PT) / 9:10 p.m. ET
Television: truTV
TV Talent: Spero Dedes (play-by-play), Steve Smith (analyst), Len Elmore (analyst), Ros Gold-Onwude (sideline)
Radio (UCLA Sports Network from IMG): AM 1150
Radio Talent: Josh Lewin (play-by-play), Tracy Murray (analyst)
- UCLA will make its 49th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and its 11th trip to the national tournament in 14 seasons. The Bruins have compiled a 21-11 overall record after having gone 11-7 in the Pac-12 Conference (tied, third place). Last week, UCLA defeated Stanford before losing to Arizona in overtime in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
- The Bruins are entering this season's NCAA Tournament having won eight of their last 12 games. Through games played Sunday, March 11, UCLA ranked No. 31 in the nation in rebounds per game (38.8) and No. 44 in three-point field goal percentage (38.3%). The Bruins continue to lead the Pac-12 Conference in each of those categories.
- Now in his fifth season as UCLA's head coach, Steve Alford guided the Bruins to three Sweet 16 appearances in his first four seasons in Westwood. This will mark Coach Alford's fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament while at UCLA and his 11th tournament berth at the NCAA Division I level. Alford has led UCLA to at least 21 victories in four of his five seasons.
- Most recently, Aaron Holiday scored a career-high 34 points in back-to-back games – at USC (March 3) in the Bruins' regular-season finale and versus Stanford (March 8) before logging 15 points in a semifinal loss to Arizona (March 9). UCLA lost to top-seeded Arizona in overtime on Friday, 78-67, after tying the game in the final 10 seconds of the second half.
- The Bruins posted a 14-2 mark at home this season, with their only losses in Pauley Pavilion coming against No. 25 Cincinnati (Dec. 16) and to Colorado (Jan. 13). Away from home, UCLA compiled a 7-9 mark with four of those victories coming on a neutral court. UCLA will enter the NCAA Tournament having played its last five games away from home.
Aaron Holiday (20.3 ppg, 5.8 apg) secured first-team All-Pac-12 honors and All-Defensive Team acclaim and Thomas Welsh (13.0 ppg, 10.7 rpg) was named a second-team All-Pac-12 selection (10-man first team, five-person second team). Kris Wilkes (13.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) was one of five student-athletes to secure Pac-12 All-Freshman Team acclaim.
Aaron Holiday enters the NCAA Tournament as the Pac-12's leading scorer (20.3 ppg) and ranks No. 2 in the league in assists per game (5.8). He led all Pac-12 players in scoring in conference play (21.7 ppg, 18 games). Holiday totaled 30 or more points in four games and reached the 20-point plateau in 18 of the Bruins' 32 games. He had entered his junior season having scored 20 or more points in three previous games (all in 2016-17). He currently ranks sixth among Pac-12 players in 3-point percentage (43.3%), third in most 3-pointers made (84), fourth in free throws made (157) and fourth in free throw attempts (190). Among players in the "Power 6" conferences, only Holiday and Oklahoma guard Trae Young rank among the top two in their league in both scoring and assists (through Saturday, March 10).
20 AND 5
Since the Pac-12 began to regularly record assists (1983-84), five players have registered at least 20 points and five assists per game. Holiday could become the sixth player if his pace continues. No UCLA player has averaged at least 20 points per game through a full season since 1994-95 (Ed O'Bannon, 20.4 ppg as a senior, leading UCLA to the NCAA title).
No UCLA guard has registered 19.0 ppg or more in a season since Reggie Miller averaged 22.3 ppg as a senior in 1986-87. Bill Walton (1973-74) is the only previous UCLA player to have logged at least 19.0 ppg and 5.0 apg in one season. As a senior in 1974, Walton registered 19.3 points, 14.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
MORE ABOUT Aaron Holiday
Aaron Holiday, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, not only leads the Pac-12 in scoring (20.3) and minutes per game (37.6), but he has played in all 125 minutes for the Bruins in the last three games. In fact, Holiday has played every minute in five of the Bruins' last six games, sitting out for just 43 seconds (first half) in the team's loss at Colorado on Saturday, Feb. 25. Holiday has not been subbed out of a game in nine contests this season (all versus Pac-12 Conference opponents).
- Holiday has scored a team-best 651 points this season, the most points in any season by a UCLA player since Kevin Love tallied 681 points as a freshman during his lone season in Westwood (2007-08). Love averaged 17.5 points per game that year. In addition, Holiday ranks No. 5 (tied with Jason Kapono) for most three-point field goals made in one season. Kapono also made 84 three-pointers as a junior in 2000-01 (Bryce Alford made a school-record 117 three-pointers last season).
- Holiday has averaged a Pac-12-leading 37.6 minutes per game this season, which ranks No. 12 in the nation (through games played Saturday, March 10). Only Reggie Miller (38.3 mpg in 1985-86) and Pooh Richardson (37.6 mpg in 1988-89) have logged more minutes per game in one season at UCLA (minutes played became a consistently recorded stat at UCLA in 1978-79). Holiday's 1204 total minutes this season currently rank No. 10 on UCLA's single-season minutes list.
- Through the Bruins' last six games, Holiday has played all but 43 seconds and has averaged 26.0 points per game. In addition, in that six-game span, he has registered 6.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 47.3 percent from three-point territory (26-of-55). Holiday made a career-high 12 field goals on a career-high 25 total attempts in the Bruins' 88-77 win over Stanford last Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
- Holiday's 12 made field goals in the win versus Stanford (March 8) were the most in a game by any Bruin this season. Last season, TJ Leaf made 14 shots on 18 attempts in a win at Washington State (Feb. 1, 2017). Holiday's 25 shot attempts against Stanford (March 8) were the most by any UCLA player in a game since Trevor Wilson took 27 shots (13 made field goals) against Arizona in a Pac-10 Tournament game (Tempe, Ariz.) on March 11, 1990.
- One of two UCLA players (along with Thomas Welsh) to be selected to the All-Pac-12 Tournament Team, Holiday averaged 24.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the Bruins' two Pac-12 Tournament games. Holiday entered his junior season having averaged 11.4 points in 68 games the previous two years (28.9 minutes per game, prior to this season). Holiday shot 41.4% from three-point territory during his first two seasons (92/222) and has shot 43.3% from three this year (84/194).
MORE ABOUT Thomas Welsh
Thomas Welsh, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, enters the NCAA Tournament ranking No. 4 on UCLA's career rebounding list (1020 rebounds, two behind David Greenwood for the No. 3 spot). Welsh has totaled 343 rebounds this season, which ranks No. 11 on the school's single-season list. He has totaled more rebounds in one season than any UCLA player in the last 10 years (previously, Kevin Love had 415 rebounds as a freshman in 2007-08).
- Standing 7-feet tall and hailing from Redondo Beach, Calif., Thomas Welsh is one of just two players in the Pac-12 (along with Arizona's Deandre Ayton) to have averaged at least 10 points and 10 rebounds per game. Welsh has logged 13.0 ppg and 10.7 rpg, while Ayton has tallied 20.3 ppg and 11.5 rpg. Welsh has totaled at least 10 rebounds in 21 of the Bruins' 32 games. He is one of just six players in school history with at least 21 double-figure rebound games in a season.
- Welsh went nearly three full seasons before he ever attempted a three-point shot. In fact, it wasn't until the 31st game of the Bruins' 2016-17 season (Welsh's junior year) in which he attempted a three-pointer. He made his only attempt in that win over Washington State (March 4, 2017) before opening his senior season. Welsh has made at least three 3-pointers in seven games this year, sinking a career-high four 3-pointers in two games (at Cal on Jan. 6, vs. Stanford on March 8).
- A two-time second-team All-Academic Pac-12 selection (2015, 2016), Welsh ranks No. 3 on UCLA's all-time blocked shots list (please note, the blocked shot statistic has only been tracked at UCLA since 1978-79). Welsh will enter the NCAA Tournament having tallied 143 career blocks. The top two spots on UCLA's career blocked shots list are occupied by Jelani McCoy (188) and Dan Gadzuric (184). McCoy played at UCLA from 1995-98, while Gadzuric starred at UCLA from 1999-02.
- Welsh has totaled 29 blocks this season and has recorded at least one block in 87 of 131 games played. He has registered at least two blocked shots in 33 career contests. Welsh logged a career-high five blocks in UCLA's season opener versus Monmouth during his sophomore season (Nov. 13, 2015). As a freshman (2014-15), he finished the year with 39 blocks. Welsh registered 32 blocks as a sophomore and 43 during his junior campaign.
UCLA has gone 2-5 this season against teams that advanced to the 2018 NCAA Tournament's 68-team field. The Bruins registered wins against Arizona and Kentucky, and dropped one game each to Arizona State, Arizona, Cincinnati, Michigan and Creighton. UCLA is the only Pac-12 team in the East Region. The Bruins do not have any previous opponents (from this season) in the East Region.
The Bruins have compiled a 2-0 all-time record against St. Bonaventure. UCLA and St. Bonaventure faced each other in Dec. 1973 and Dec. 1974. The Bruins downed the Bonnies in Pauley Pavilion, 111-59, on Dec. 22, 1973. The following season, UCLA earned a 78-62 win over St. Bonaventure in a neutral-site game played on Dec. 27, 1974, in College Park, Md.
The Bruins have gone 0-4 against Florida, with each of those four contests occurring in the NCAA Tournament (within the previous 12 seasons). UCLA lost to Florida in the 2006 NCAA title game, 73-57, in Indianapolis (4/3/06). The Bruins dropped a 76-66 decision in a semifinal of the Final Four the next season (3/31/07). Florida earned a 73-65 win in the Round of 32, four years later (3/19/11). Four seasons ago, the Gators registered a 79-68 win over UCLA in the Sweet 16 in Memphis (3/27/14).

Team reaction to Selection Sunday 2018

UCLA Secures No. 11 Seed in NCAA Tournament


The Bruins will play St. Bonaventure in a First Four game on Tuesday (6:10 pm, PT) in Dayton, Ohio.

Story Links

LOS ANGELES – The UCLA men's basketball team has earned a No. 11 seed in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, as announced Sunday afternoon.

The Bruins (21-11) will face No. 11-seed St. Bonaventure (25-7) in a First Four matchup in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday (6:10 PST). The winner of that game will take on No. 6-seed Florida (20-12) in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday. The other matchup in Dallas on Thursday will be No. 3-seed Texas Tech (24-9) versus No. 14-seed Stephen F. Austin (28-6).

UCLA has advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 49th time in school history and will be making its 11th appearance in the national tournament in the last 14 seasons. The Bruins compiled a 21-11 record and an 11-7 mark in Pac-12 play (tied, third place).

The Bruins are entering this year's NCAA Tournament having won eight of their last 12 games. Most recently, UCLA upended Stanford, 88-77, last Thursday before losing in overtime to top-seed Arizona, 78-67, in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Led by first-team All-Pac-12 selection Aaron Holiday, the Bruins rank second in the conference in scoring (81.9 ppg) and have led all Pac-12 teams in rebounds per game (38.8), three-point field goal percentage (38.3) and defensive rebounds per game (28.5). UCLA's 9.4 three-pointers made per game rank second in the Pac-12.

This season's tournament selection marks the fourth year in five seasons under Steve Alford, The Michael Price Family UCLA Men's Head Basketball Coach, in which the Bruins will compete in the NCAA Tournament. In three prior trips to the NCAA Tournament under Coach Alford (2014, 2015 and 2017), UCLA has advanced to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals).

Holiday leads all Pac-12 players in scoring (20.3 ppg), while senior Thomas Welsh ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounds (10.7 rpg). Welsh secured second-team All-Pac-12 honors and is one of five finalists for the 2018 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award.