From league-altering trades to the most impactful coaches to the overall teams to beat, find out what general managers had to say about the best and worst of their NBA rivals.
October means marzens and festbiers fairly falling from the sky. Full-on conference play in college football. Christmas music, if you’re a dead-end sicko. Indeed, as the leaves turn and a polite zephyr grows nippy, the universe is in all kinds of motion.
It also means the Association is on its way back into our lives, and to kick-start the countdown clock to a new season’s tipoff, the hoops stork left the annual bundle of joy known as the NBA GM Survey on our doorsteps this week.
There’s much to parse in this year’s omnibus of front-office precepts, but we’re not here to overload you with every last detail. Rather, we’re laser-focused on the responses and observations that shine the brightest spotlight on how the ever-evolving business of basketball really works, especially as it relates to roster construction and how organizations allocate less-than-unlimited funds to optimize their march toward the all-important Larry O.
Let’s jump in.
Key Facts From the 2023-24 NBA GM Survey
Is There a Smarter Investment Than Erik Spoelstra?
Among active coaches, the most accomplished overall is surely the Spurs‘ Gregg Popovich. The most accomplished over the past decade is Steve Kerr of the Warriors. But neither cracked the top two when general managers were asked to name the league’s best coach here and now.
And the vote for No. 1 was a dramatic sort of landslide — give it up for Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat.
Coach Spo took the top spot in four of the five categories for which he was eligible:
- Who is the best head coach in the NBA? Spo 73%, Tyronn Lue of the Clippers second with 10%. The Heat boss also took top honors in 2022 at 52%.
- Which head coach is the best manager/motivator of people? Spoelstra 37%, Kerr 23%. Kerr was No. 1 last year with 38%.
- Which head coach makes the best in-game adjustments? Spoelstra 43%, Lue 30%. Lue won this one last time around with 55%.
- Which head coach has the best defensive schemes? Spo 40%, Taylor Jenkins of the Grizzlies 13%. Spo was No. 1 with 34% in 2022.
That’s about as resounding as it gets, and yet another feather in Pat Riley’s cap.
From a value-creation perspective, consider that Erik Spoelstra doesn’t crack the top three on the list of the NBA’s highest-paid coaches, and that his annual salary is only modestly more than that of veteran wing Caleb Martin, who averaged fewer than 30 minutes and 10 points per game in 2022-23.
That’s some serious ROI for MIA.
Offseason Transactions: What GMs really think about GMs
When was the last time this many elite-level difference-makers changed teams in such a way that shifted the balance of power in the NBA here, there, and back again? Bradley Beal is a Sun, Damian Lillard is a Buck, Jrue Holiday is a Celtic, and nobody is quite sure how to handicap the race for the title.
With that in mind, exploring a few key questions regarding how NBA general managers evaluate each other’s decisions regarding roster construction and when (and when not) to smash the #WinNow button all the more intriguing:
- Which team made the best overall moves this offseason? The Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics are in a dead tie at 23%, with the rebuilding Blazers in third at 17% after stacking assets to the sky in moving on from Lillard.
- Which player acquisition will make the biggest impact? Right on cue, Milwaukee’s swoop for Dame takes a prohibitive 47%, with Holiday’s arrival in Boston (13%) and Beal’s move to Phoenix (10%) well behind.
- What was the most underrated player acquisition? Two former Celtics lead the way, revealing just how much NBA GMs favor defense: Memphis acquisition Marcus Smart (17%) and new Maverick Grant Williams (14%)
Of course, only one team will ultimately #WinNow. Knowing when to pull the trigger vs. keep the powder dry is truly the whole ballgame — when next year’s GM Survey rolls around, the front offices that walked this tightrope most effectively without mortgaging their long-term futures will be the ones topping these lists once again.
Other key observations from the 2023-24 NBA GM Survey
- The title race is wide open. When asked to predict a champion, the defending Denver Nuggets tied with the ascendant Boston Celtics at 33% apiece.
- There’s one clear choice for franchise cornerstone. General managers backed Denver’s Nikola Jokić both to three-peat as MVP (43%) and as their pick for the No. 1 player they would choose to build a new team around (33%).
- Superstars on the rise: Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards (23%) and Detroit’s Cade Cunningham (20%) are the top picks to have breakout seasons in 2023-24.
- The most versatile of them all? Sure, value on the court can be calculated in a ton of ways, but Mavericks star Luka Dončić placed second in the vote for best point guard, tied for third for best shooting guard, and third for best small forward.
- Stout as they come: Giannis Antetokounmpo (40%) was an overwhelming pick for best overall defensive player, while the Celtics (47%) took top honors for best defensive team.
- It’s good to be king. The Nuggets are seen as the most exciting team to watch (30%), the team with the best home-court advantage (37%), and the most efficient offense (34%).
- Some teams are just confounding. The Philadelphia 76ers (30%) are considered the team whose level of success this season is the most difficult to predict.
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