Vivek Ranadivé made his fortune by finding a way to digitize and speed up the delivery of information to Wall Street decision-makers. He's the kind of businessman who likes to look for any advantage he can find — “If you have just a little bit of the right information a couple of seconds or minutes in advance, it’s more valuable than all of the information in the world six months after the fact" — and since helming the local ownership group that purchased the Sacramento Kings from the Maloof family for $534 million in 2013, he's sought to prioritize that pursuit of a new edge in virtually all facets of the Kings organization.
In Ranadivé's vision of the future of his franchise — and, indeed, of the league as a whole, in what he pitches as "NBA 3.0" — basketball is the premier global sport, the NBA its premier league, and the Kings one of its most competitive and forward-thinking teams. He wants to embrace technological advancements in fan experience, player interactivity, game presentation and arena design. He wants to gain a major foothold in the massive and largely untapped Indian market, and took a big step in that direction this summer by signing 7-foot-5 center Sim Bhullar, making the former New Mexico State big man the league's first player of Indian descent. (Bhullar has since been waived by the team, but will join its D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns.)
Ranadivé wants a beefed-up analytics department, going from crowdsourcing the research into which player the Kings would select in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft to hiring "Basketball on Paper" author and recent ESPN stats guru Dean Oliver to a front-office position. He wants to be ahead of the curve on other analytic breakthroughs, enthusiastically pushing to be "one step beyond what anyone else is doing" on efforts to monitor and track players' health, to the point where his general manager, Pete D'Alessandro, sounded a little bit like a science-fiction movie villain in a recent ESPN the Magazine feature: "'The holy grail,' D'Alessandro says, 'is sequencing and understanding the genome.'"
This, clearly, is an owner who wants his front-office executives and coaches thinking outside the box as they try to turn things around for a Kings team that's finished under .500 for eight straight seasons. Ranadivé's latest proposal, though, will likely strike most hoops lovers as going at least a little bit too far. From Grantland's Zach Lowe:
Good news, though: The Kings are going to be entertaining! Owner Vivek Ranadivé has pitched the idea to the team’s brain trust of playing 4-on-5 defense and leaving one player to cherry-pick, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. The Kings aren’t actually going to do that, but their D-League might, and it shows Ranadivé is committed to pushing boundaries in his search for an offbeat brand of “position-less” ball.
As you might expect, early responses to this news nugget suggest that Ranadivé's idea is even less popular than his plan to curb tanking by setting up the lottery based on teams' records at the All-Star break.
On one hand, it'd be difficult for Sacramento to be much worse on defense with four players than they've been with five. As I wrote last week in our Kings season preview, Sacramento ranked 23rd among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession last season, and has finished no better than 19th in any season since 2005-06. And you can kind of understand the attraction of an easy bucket here and there for a club that ran in the middle of the pack in both pace and fast-break points per game last year and tied for 19th in offensive efficiency last season despite having a trio of 20-point-per-game scorers on the roster in DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas. I mean, it's not like we're talking about tinkering with the San Antonio Spurs' title-winning model, here.
On the other hand, though ... I mean, come on.
Any semblance of offensive spark — a bit of ball movement, a good dribble-drive, a smart cut, a competent outside shot — would seem set to decimate such a defense, far offsetting any offensive boost you might get from having one man hanging. Maybe you could get away with a four-man box zone if you fielded a team full of Paul George and Anthony Davis clones, all long arms and quick feet and impeccable balance enabling them to make up for a persistent deficit ... but this Kings roster doesn't look to have a plus defender, let alone a quarter of them, plus backups. Beyond that, though, think of the mental element: What coach or player would want to be tasked with killing off a 48-minute penalty every night? (Come to think of it, maybe this is a ploy to get folks on board with the 44-minute game.)
The answer, of course, could be, "The coach or player who wants to keep his job." As Lowe writes, the Kings aren't going to do this at the big-league level, but could use the D-League's Bighorns as a laboratory for experiments, much like the Houston Rockets have done with the breakneck pace and 3-point bombing of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. (Remember, the Kings just hired David Arsenault Jr. — former head coach at Grinnell College, the small Division III Iowa school best known for producing absurd box scores — to run the show in Reno.) Granted, that whacked-out, damn-the-torpedoes approach to offensive basketball seems like four-corners/picket-fence stuff when compared to co-opting an offensive strategy more commonly seen in youth-league and rec-center-pickup games than in organized play, but hey, if the guy who signs the checks says that's what he wants, then somebody's going to try it ... even if it seems like just about the worst idea you could concoct.
It's worth remembering, though, that it's just an idea, and that while Ranadivé might have floated it, it's not like the Kings are going to take the floor this year and just start cherry-picking. And when you've been as bad as the Kings have for as long as they have been, maybe a little bit of crazy's just what the doctor ordered. From Greg Wissinger at Sactown Royalty:
What I take from this is that Vivek remains committed to seeking out any and every opportunity to exploit the game. Remember, Vivek's first exposure to basketball was coaching his daughter's rec league team, where Vivek implemented a full court press and took an untalented team to the league's championship. This is what Vivek does.
Vivek can toss out ideas. He's the owner. It's his prerogative. Personally, I'll start to worry if he begins meddling to the point of overruling the brain trust. Until then, we can sit back as the league laughs at the ideas Vivek throws out.
And as long as such reports are more the exception than the rule, and Ranadivé's interest in being part of basketball operations doesn't extend to firm insistence on such flights of fancy, we'll all be able to keep laughing. Especially after we shout out "VIVEK!" after cheating away on defense and taking in a Hail Mary outlet pass for an easy deuce during our next pickup game. Everyone'll enjoy that.
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