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Friday, March 13, 2015

Russell Westbrook is Proving that He is the NBA's Best Guard

There have not been many players who, by consensus, reigned as the NBA's best all-around guard. Oscar Robertson and Jerry West fought for the crown in the 1960s and early 1970s. Magic Johnson controlled the top spot for most of the 1980s. Michael Jordan at the very least challenged Johnson in the late 1980s and then Jordan took over in the 1990s. After Jordan retired, several players (including Jason Kidd and Tracy McGrady) vied for the title before Kobe Bryant emerged as the standard bearer. Bryant's career is winding down and during each of the past two seasons injuries have kept him off of the court for substantial periods of time and reduced his dominance when he was healthy enough to play.

Late last season, I suggested that Russell Westbrook is "poised" to inherit Bryant's spot. It is becoming increasingly evident that Westbrook is in fact the new Kobe Bryant, in mind and spirit if not quite in body, and that Westbrook is the proper heir to Bryant as the NBA's best all-around guard. Westbrook will likely never surpass Bryant's peak value because size matters in the NBA but Westbrook's attacking mindset and his ability to overcome both doubters and physical ailments show that he is very much built from the same mold as Bryant.

Westbrook has already earned four All-Star selections and three All-NBA Second Team nods but in the second half of this season he has taken his game to a new, almost unprecedented level. Westbrook averaged 31.2 ppg, 10.3 apg and 9.1 rpg in February, joining Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average 30 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a calendar month (minimum 10 games). During a five game span starting February 24, Westbrook ranked in the top five in the league in scoring (38.2 ppg, first), assists (9.8 apg, third) and rebounding (12.4 rpg, ninth).

He also became just the fourth player in NBA history to have at least three straight 40 point--five rebound--five assist games. Elgin Baylor did this for four straight games in 1960-61, while Michael Jordan (1988-89) and Wilt Chamberlain (1963-64) did it for three straight games each. Baylor also did it for three straight games during the 1962-63 season.

Westbrook has performed at a high level throughout the season and he is the only player in the league who ranks in the top five in scoring (27.3 ppg, first), assists (8.3 apg, fourth) and steals (2.1 spg, third).

Westbrook's critics say that he shoots too much, that he is selfish and that he does not play a winning style of basketball but the Thunder's record states otherwise. The Thunder are 30-19 with Westbrook this season (.612 winning percentage), including 12-5 since February 1 as the team began making a late playoff push despite being without the services of 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant for much of that time (the Thunder are 6-4 in the most recent 10 game stretch that Durant has missed). The Thunder are just 5-10 (.333 winning percentage) without Westbrook (that record includes some early season games that both Durant and Westbrook missed).

The reality is that no matter what individual numbers Westbrook puts up or how many championships he wins, he will never satisfy all of the naysayers; after all, Bryant's five championships and numerous individual records/accomplishments have far from silenced his vocal critics. Those who understand basketball, though, appreciate how Bryant prepared for and played the game and that same respect should be extended to Westbrook as well.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:22 PM

101 comments

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101 Comments:

At Friday, March 13, 2015 9:03:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Without getting back into the whole thing or comparing him directly with anyone, I offer (for your consideration as much as anything else), the three main reasons his recent run doesn't impress me as much as it does you:

1) He's 12-10 for the season without Durant, I believe. While his recent record (against mostly crappy teams; the only playoff team he's beaten is slumping (1-9 in their last 10) Toronto) is better, that's largely small sample size theatre (despite what I'd argue is a pretty decent supporting cast at this point), which brings me to...

2) He really hasn't beaten anybody good without Durant. He's been picking on lottery teams and non-playoff teams (and even then it took him overtime to beat Philly), but the Suns (a borderline playoff team before they traded their best player and obvious lottery bait now), the Bulls (missing their starting backcourt), and the Clippers all beat him; the Clippers rather decisively, with Chris Paul outplaying him on both ends of the court.

3) His plus minus throughout this run- minus the one-sided beatdown on Denver- is bad. Many (maybe most? Too lazy to check) of the games they've won, he's actually posted negative +-. Now, granted, that's a noisy stat a lot of the time, but it's a lot less noisy if you're your team's best guy and primary option; your team should be better with you on the court than off it.

None of this is to say he isn't great. But I don't think he's "best guard in the NBA" great. Reasonable men can still differ, but Paul's team's been winning without his best co-star and against better competition and Curry's team is steamrolling everybody but stinks whenever he sits (in spite of what looks on paper to be a pretty stellar supporting cast). Only real way to put Westbrook ahead of them this season, IMO, is on raw numbers... but most of the evidence says that Paul and Curry are doing more to help their teams win than Westbrook is this year.

Also, FWIW, Westbrook's been phoning it in on D throughout this recent stat-binge (note Canaan hanging 31 on him), and even when he's trying he's a serial gambler who bites on every pass or pump fake. Curry's nothing special on that end either, but Paul's apparently (according to some recent study) the most effective perimeter defender in the league in terms of OPFG%.

I'd say this year Westbrook's been a solid- and largely indisputable, with Wall's recent slump, Dragic's reduced role/impact, and Irving/Lillard/Parker's complete indifference to defense- third best guard in the league (cue the Harden defenders...now). I'd like to see him beat a team that's any good before I crown him anything higher than that.

 
At Saturday, March 14, 2015 12:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Westbrook is now 13-10 sans Durant, counting OKC's win Friday night. Let's keep in mind that Westbrook is coming off of multiple knee surgeries and is currently playing with a dent in the side of his head. He is showing fortitude and toughness, in addition to an incredible array of skill set attributes. No other guard in the NBA has his combination of scoring ability, rebounding ability, passing ability and raw athletic explosiveness. Perhaps his defense has suffered a bit as he has stepped up to singlehandedly carry the offensive load in a way not seen since Kobe carried Smush and Kwame to the playoffs but it is odd to nitpick Westbrook's defense while ignoring his Big O-type offensive numbers.

My understanding is that even the people who believe in and rely heavily on plus/minus concede that it does not have much validity in sample sizes much smaller than one season, so I think that Westbrook's plus/minus numbers even in all of his games this season--let alone just the ones sans Durant--do not provide much meaningful data.

What we do know is that Westbrook is putting up scoring/rebounding/assist numbers that have not been posted by a guard since the Big O.

An MVP case could be made for Curry on the basis of the "best player on the best team" theory but Curry is not a better or more dominant individual player than Westbrook. Curry is a better shooter than Westbrook but he is not better than Westbrook in any other skill set area.

NBA defense is team-oriented, so I would hesitate to say that any one player is responsible for the entire scoring output of his positional counterpart on the other team. Some defenders are terrible and some are exceptional but few are so great or so terrible that they are singlehandedly responsible for the entire output of one particular opposing player.

Where one ranks Westbrook in the MVP race this season depends on how many games one feels that a player has to play to qualify and also how one feels about a player from an eighth seeded team receiving the award. However, I feel comfortable saying that on an all-around skill set basis Westbrook is establishing himself as the best guard in the league. I doubt that, all things being equal (in terms of the salary cap, etc.), that most GMs would take any guard over a healthy Westbrook right now (or even a Westbrook with a dent in his head).

 
At Saturday, March 14, 2015 3:00:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Perhaps you know more about plus/minus than I do but my understanding has always been that it is dubious in evaluating bench players, role players, or even stars that share the court with other stars (albeit in all three cases because it tends to inflate their numbers, not decrease them), but is somewhat trustworthy when evaluating a single high-usage star. I'm not knowledgeable enough to die on that hill, so perhaps I'm mistaken.

My bigger point, though, is that Westbrook- sans Durant- is not even putting up a playoff caliber win percentage; while I applaud his video game statistics, his toughness, and his competitiveness, the bottom line is that Chris Paul is presently winning more with a similarly absent co-star and a roughly equivalent supporting cast (though i'd argue Paul's coach is a bit better and his cast slightly deeper, I think Ibaka has more value than Jordan and Kanter has much more value than any of LAC's other bigs).

Curry, for his part, puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense without even having to score; he has the same sort of catastrophic gravity as Korver in Atlanta, only coupled with the ability to handle the ball at an elite (or near elite) level as well.

I am not "ignoring" Westbrook's statistics; his statistics are incredible. What I'm questioning is his overall value, as so far those statistics have translated to a pedestrian win percentage, and more importantly, a losing record against +500 teams. I'd like to see him beat anyone who's likely to be in the Western Conference playoffs, or any Eastern Conference playoff team that's won more than one of their last ten games. I don't think either is an unreasonable ask.

It's troubling to me that Phoenix (sub 500 since the trade) and Philly (famously tanking) took OKC to overtime while Westbrook put on his offensive stunt show (and Phoenix even won!). I'm not questioning his athleticism; he's easily the most athletic guard in the league and it isn't particularly close (Bledsoe or maybe Wall is a distant second). I'm questioning the effect he has on his team; while you'd expect his offensive dominance to create opportunities for his teammates- and indeed, his assist numbers are proof that it sometimes does- it's odd to me that they seem to do their best work whenever he hits the bench, and that even on nights when he throws up 40/15/16 or whatever, his team loses the game when he's on the court and wins it during the seven or eight minutes he isn't.

My suspicion is that it's not entirely his fault; he has a team full of young and/or moody players and it's likely that they "check out" a bit when he's dominating the ball. I've watched Waiters in particular wave his arms like a jackass when he thinks he's open while Westbrook is mid PnR with a favorable switch.

Still, he can only work with the tools he's given and i wonder if he'd get more out of his teammates on defense if he threw a few extra shots their way on the other end- even if they miss, it's commonly accepted basketball lore that most players play harder on D when they feel they're "getting theirs" on offense.

Those last two paragraphs are mostly speculative, but they're my best attempt at explaining some paradoxical numbers. Regardless, if I'm picking the "best guard in the league" I'm not taking the guy who hasn't beaten a good team as the number one option even if he's averaging 100.

(split for length, apologies; didn't mean to go this long but want to be sure to explain myself well)

 
At Saturday, March 14, 2015 3:00:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

(pt 2)

Last year, I felt that when healthy Westbrook was better than Paul (whose own team did fine when he went down, and who seems rejuvenated on D this year) and about even with Curry (who has since improved as both a defender and ball handler). This year, Westbrook's offensive numbers have gone way up but his defense has slacked and he's so far yet to prove that he can beat anybody worth talking about as the number one option.

His individual achievements are spectacular and deserve applause. But his win percentage, record against good teams, and +- do not tell the tale of a guy with legitimate claim to the "best guard in the league." title over Curry or Paul this season, IMO.

 
At Saturday, March 14, 2015 4:04:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Nick, you are right that he is posting bad +/- numbers over his last 10 games. That said, how would you argue his supporting cast is good? Which SC of the West's playoff contending teams is worse than the Thunder's?

Overall talent, maybe the Pelicans are worse, but 1-5, the Pellies are much better even without Holiday and Anderson.

Anthony Davis has Tyreke Evans looking like it's 2011 and Eric Gordon looking like it's 2012, and Omer Asik.

The only other playoff team, to even consider is Houston, and I would argue that despite popular opinion, Houston has a sneaky terrific roster.

Terrence Jones is playing like an in-his-prime Ibaka with a better offensive game. The rest of Houston's cast is filled with talent. Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza, and Patrick Beverley were all starters for 40+ win teams last year. And Montiejunas has played better than say, Steven Adams. Houston also has Josh Smith, who is quietly looking like the multi-functioning swiss army knife he was a couple seasons ago.

Morey ball may not have produced much, but this Morey collected team sure does have a lot of talent. People who believed in Jones and Monty have been justified. Morey himself felt the team was better despite losing Asik, Lin, and Parsons in the offseason.

There's no question about the other teams. Even without Matthews, Portland's supporting cast is better. Same with Dallas. Same with the Clippers. I'm not saying OKC's cast is terrible. With Durant, the team is loaded, but subtract him, and they don't stack up well against the other Western playoff contenders.

Another point about Westbrook, look what he's done for Enes Kanter, who has drastically improved his shooting (55-49) and upped his points (15.9-13.8) and rebounds (9.4-7.8) in nearly the same minutes (28.7-27). This from a guy whose struggles on defense are blatant and whose former team traded him (like Smith) before ripping off a 9-2 record over its last 11 with wins against Houston, Memphis, SA, and Portland.

 
At Saturday, March 14, 2015 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I agree that OKC- sans Durant- has a weaker supporting cast than most of the upper tier Western Tier, but a worthwhile comparison is the Clippers as they exist right now, with no Blake Griffin. I'd take Ibaka ahead of Jordan (Jordan's a much better rebounder, but Jordan's a liability on offense while Ibaka's an asset), and I'd say Kanter is leagues ahead of every other big on the Clippers roster. Jamal Crawford is, though defensively inept, a little better than any of Westbrook's supporting perimeter guys, but the Waiters/Singler/Morrow/Augustin collection is not materially worse than Crawford/Reddick/Barnes/whoever the Clippers last guy is.

I might also quibble about NO's supporting cast or the current state of Houston/Portland/Dallas, but that's not especially my point. If anything, having a weaker supporting cast should mean that Westbrook posts positive +-, not negative. Against Philly, he was -12 but his team still won, for example.

I don't mean to suggest he isn't great; only that so far he hasn't had any wins worth boasting about, and his statistical dominance hasn't translated to an impressive winning percentage.It also continues to be strange to me that +- paints his impact as negative relative even to his other teammates during many of these games. That being the case, it's hard for me to rank him above Curry or Paul who are both creating a lot of winning for their basketball teams; Paul especially is doing it under similar circumstances.

The Kanter point is a good one, and I wasn't aware his numbers had spiked that much. Good on ya, Russ.

I'm also, as ever, more concerned with defense than most pundits, and Westbrook's been borderline indifferent on that end during this stretch. He's also been extremely turnover prone (9 per game over his last three games). Again, this isn't to suggest he's bad- or even not stelllar- only that Curry and Paul seem to be doing more to help their teams win basketball games, even if they're posting less impressive box scores.

 
At Saturday, March 14, 2015 6:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

Overall, I agree with your assessment of the various supporting casts that you mentioned.

I am often critical of Morey but it is true that he has put together a solid roster around Howard and Harden; I am just not sure that Howard and Harden are the right leaders to take a team to a title.

 
At Saturday, March 14, 2015 6:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I think that plus/minus is only useful in large sample sizes and/or with a lot of good observational evidence to back up/refute the numbers. I used plus/minus in some of my Team USA articles a while ago but I also made very detailed observations to explain what the numbers meant.

Chris Paul was the best point guard in the league at one time but even at that time he was a bit overrated (the comparisons to Bryant and James were more than a slight reach) and I think that he is clearly overrated now. The "stat gurus" love his game and talk about how much value he adds but he has been playing alongside a legit top five player and has yet to make it to the WCF. Paul's assist numbers are also consistently padded (which may be true of other players as well, but assists are a big part of why Paul's advanced stats look so good).

Like many talented small guards, Paul wears down at the end of the season/in the playoffs and he can be trapped effectively by bigger players from teams that have the right game plan and the discipline to use that game plan.

LAC went 13-7 without Paul last season and people began to realize that Griffin, not Paul, is the best player on that team. LAC is 9-6 without Griffin this season. I don't think that those numbers alone, out of context, are enough to construct a whole argument for or against a particular player's value (those numbers mean something but not everything) but if you are going to throw out all of Westbrook's individual brilliance and just look at his W/L numbers then it is worth noting that Paul is hardly leading LAC to anywhere special sans Griffin this season--and Paul has a proven championship level coach, plus familiarity with his teammates.

My reasoning regarding Westbrook is that his combination of all-around skill set strengths plus explosive athleticism puts him in a different category than any other guard in the game today. I don't believe that Westbrook's numbers and/or style of play are selfish or that they are diminishing OKC's chances of winning. I think that your reasoning involves a lot of faith in plus/minus and a lot of assumptions about Westbrook's teammates. Instead of assuming that Westbrook and his 30-40 ppg triple doubles are the problem, maybe a better assumption is that he is carrying a bunch of players who are not quite as good as you think or at least are not yet fully used to playing together.

 
At Saturday, March 14, 2015 10:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I'm not accusing Westbrook of being "the problem," I just find it interesting- and mildly concerning- that so far his video game numbers haven't correlated to overall on-court success. If you ignore plus/minus then it becomes easy to blame the team's inability to beat good teams (or to decisively beat bad ones) on his teammates. Since you're ignoring plus/minus in this sample size, it makes more sense for you to claim Westbrook is the best guard in the league. I'm not ignoring it, and I think if the sample size should be ignored for plus/minus then it may as well be ignored for triple doubles and basically everything else; after all, it's only ten games or whatever, right?

I was under the impression Paul's record without Griffin was better than that, so perhaps I'm overrating him slightly. The big "advanced stats" in his favor that sway me have nada to do with assists, though, and those are things like the fg%, shot frequency, turnover rate, and PP100 of the guy he's covering; at least three of those he leads the league in (AFAIK "turnovers against" isn't a tracked stat anywhere publicly available, though I assume Paul does well in that as well given his steals numbers and how tightly he tends to body up on his matchups).

http://grantland.com/features/department-of-defense/

I don't know how Westbrook does on those numbers except that he's not in the top five, but watching him play I assume he's somewhere between somewhat above (crazy long, active, and athletic) and mildly below (inattentive and a serial gambler who's never met a pump fake he didn't bite on) average. Half the game is played on defense, though, and in the case of a point guard, a very large percentage of defensive time on the court is spent guarding the ball handler. This stuff counts.

Also, I mostly agree with your criticisms of Paul both last year and in the playoffs. Neither, though, convinces me that Westbrook is better than Paul is right now, this very second. By the end of the year it's possible, even likely, that Paul will wear down, but for the moment if I had to bet my life on a pickup game I'd take him before I'd take Westbrook, and the ten turnovers Westbrook coughed up against him the other night would make me feel a lot better about my choice.

Westbrook remains amazing, and is an easy All-NBA choice this year, but for my money, I need to see him beat a quality basketball team or three before i'm as impressed as you are. It wouldn't hurt his case to shore up his D or stop giving the ball away, either. So far this run reminds more of that time Gilbert Arenas scored 60 or whatever it was than it does of Jordan or Kobe in their primes; really impressive, but ultimately largely meaningless.

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2015 2:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

There is an inherently small sample size of triple double games, 40-5-5 games, etc. One either believes that such games have some significance--as an indicator of a player's versatility/dominance/unguardability, etc.--or one does not believe this. It would not make sense to wait until Westbrook has 82 triple doubles before mentioning the rate at which he is cranking out triple doubles.

Westbrook ranks in the top five in scoring, assists and steals for the season, which is the biggest sample size we can use in terms of comparing him to active guards while using the most current data. He is also the top rebounding guard by a wide margin.

I agree that Paul outplayed Westbrook in their most recent encounter--but in his next game, Paul had 11 points and seven assists in a 30 point loss to Dallas. In the game before the Westbrook showdown, Paul scored 2 points on 1-6 field goal shooting (though he did have 15 assists, many of which were probably even legitimate) in a win over Minnesota. The Clippers are 2-3 in their last five games.

Any of the critiques that you so readily lob at Westbrook can be easily and more accurately fired in Paul's direction--and Paul is not putting up historic individual numbers, while Westbrook (whatever you may think of his style of play) is putting up historic individual numbers.

By the way, the previous time that OKC faced LAC, OKC won by 23. Westbrook played a team-high 32 minutes and was +18; Paul played a team-high 35 minutes and was -20. Durant played and Griffin didn't, so that makes a difference of course, but it makes no sense to take Paul over Westbrook on the basis of one game in the midst of a 2-3 LAC run. Perhaps Paul was really excited for that game, conserving his energy in the previous one and having no energy left for the next one. Maybe Paul gave up two games just to have the head to head bragging rights over Westbrook.

I don't really believe that, but it makes about as much sense as suggesting that Westbrook is chasing numbers at the expense of wins. His team clearly needs for him to do a lot just to be competitive. I don't hear his coach or his teammates complaining about how Westbrook is playing or what he is supposedly not doing.

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2015 2:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Regarding defense, I agree with you that it is important but I disagree with how you seem to evaluate it. Let's take OKC's recent loss to Chicago. On the last play with the score tied, Westbrook doubled Gasol in the post, Gasol passed to E'Twaun Moore and Moore hit the game-winning three pointer. As that shot went down, I could almost hear you screaming, "Bad gamble by Westbrook."

The problem is that if you were screaming that then you were not looking at the whole picture. With the score tied, does OKC want Gasol taking a shot in the paint for the win or does OKC want a guy who averages less than 10 mpg and has made 10 three pointers ALL SEASON taking a three pointer? I think that the answer is obvious without even asking Scott Brooks what the defensive coverage was supposed to be. Even if the coverage was supposed to be something else, Westbrook's instincts at the time led to the best percentage play but Moore hit a big shot anyway.

I interviewed Bobby Jones, one of the great defensive players in pro basketball history, years ago and I asked him about "gambling." Jones, who was a great ball thief but also considered a very sound defender, told me that the way his 76ers played he, Dr. J and others were encouraged to gamble and that such gambles were built in to the system. If the gambler did not get the steal, other players were supposed to rotate until the gambler got back into position.

Unless you interview a particular coach or are very familiar with a team's defensive scheme, you don't really know who--if anyone--botched a particular play. Sometimes, everyone did their job and the other team still scored. It could also be that the guy who you think did his job actually was supposed to leave his man and help.

So, you can watch all the games you want and mock Westbrook's seemingly failed gambles to your heart's content but in many of those cases you have no way of knowing for sure if the resulting baskets are truly his fault or the fault of a teammate who did not rotate properly.

I'm not saying that I know in every instance, either, but based on what I know and what I have seen my opinion of Westbrook's defense is not nearly as low as yours.

Westbrook is not James Harden, lost in space and having no clue where he is supposed to go or what he is supposed to do. Westbrook is aggressive and I am sure that not every one of his aggressive defensive moves is correct. But, frankly, you are in no position to discount his historic overall numbers just because it seems to you that he is gambling too much or because certain individual opponents scored a lot or because the plus/minus numbers speak to you in a certain way.

If Westbrook were hurting the team as much as you think in the ways that you suggest, his coaches would do something about it and his teammates would be griping.

Harden has been shamed into at least paying some attention on defense. Gilbert Arenas, Carmelo Anthony and other one dimensional stars have been called out by teammates, coaches, etc. None of that is happening with Westbrook.

Which teams does Westbrook need to play well against (in terms of plus/minus) and/or beat in order to impress you? I think it would be nice to establish that beforehand, so that there is no waffling after those games. Last month, Westbrook put up 34-10-5 against the Dallas team that just smoked Paul and LAC. OKC visits Dallas on Monday. Does that game "count"? What about the Bulls today or the Hawks next Friday?

I think that what Westbrook is doing is pretty special and that he has done a great job vaulting OKC into the playoff race despite Durant being out and despite battling injuries throughout the season.

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2015 2:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I'm tapping out of this argument as you're once again doing that thing where most of your arguing involves exaggerating or misrepresenting what I said. I didn't say Westbrook was hurting his team, I didn't say he was selfish. I did call him an All-NBAer and the third best guard in the league, though, which to me at least suggests I think he's pretty damn good. I'm not discounting his numbers, and have lauded them repeatedly in this thread. But I don't much feel like defending points I didn't make. Westbrook's great, but your opinion of his greatness is higher than mine. Sorry that seems to upset you.

Bottom line, I just don't think his numbers- in and of themselves- mean as much as you do. I think defense counts more than you do, I think Westbrook is worse at it than you do (though nowhere near as bad as you seem to be suggesting I do; he's leagues better than Harden), and I don't think his video game numbers have thus far accomplished anything impressive in terms of the outcomes of the games he achieved them in. If he were as good as you seem to believe he is, his team would be winning more and he'd probably have several rings.

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2015 4:17:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Nick,

This is why I love you. Look at that nugget of a story you teased out of David in his last post. Thank you. I love the site, but the comments section can be just as good.

You, yourself have a lot of intelligent commentary, which is why I typically only ever respond to your comments.

Still, I have to disagree with your assessment of Jordan.

First of all, the Clips are 7-3 in games that Jordan has gone to the line 10 or more times. The Clips beat OKC, Chicago, Memphis, SA, Houston, Phoenix (with Dragic), and Indiana and lost to the Cavs, Nets, and Blazers. Every team that has sent him to the line 15 times or more has lost. His free throw shooting isn’t the debilitating problem you make it out to be. It makes the actual game nigh unwatchable, but it has been much more positive than negative for the Clippers this year.

Which means, DeAndre Jordan is an offensive nightmare. Dude is shooting 71.6 percent on the season and leads the league in rebounding by a full rebound.

Since Griffin went out, Jordan has averaged 15 points (68%), 17.5 boards, 1.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game. His ability to leap over other players makes him a constant lob threat. The fact he posterizes people adds to that. This devastating combo of efficiency and ability, means he creates craters in defenses that Paul can navigate through. With Redick (6th in 3pt% and 8th in makes), Crawford (2x sixth man), and Barnes (37% from 3 this year), the luxury of Jordan finishing 70 percent of every shot he puts up, makes him what everyone wants Dwight to be. Yes, I went there. He’s athletic enough to cover wings for stretches and big enough to bother post players (limited Boogie to 6-19) and way out +/- Marc Gasol in both their matchups sans Griffin. Though not as otherworldly as superman Dwight was, he’s not that far off athletically and remains taller and longer.

Ibaka has similar qualities defensively and is probably a better shotblocker (he gets more), but he’s only 6-9, not as athletic, and nowhere near Jordan in rebounding. Offensively, he is an elite freethrow shooter at power-forward (though only gets to the line 1.7 times) and he can stretch the floor by converting 37.6 percent of his threes.

But better offensively? With Durant out, Ibaka is averaging 16.7 points (53%), 8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, and 0.5 steals. Even taking Ibaka’s best year (either 13 or 14), it’s clear Jordan is the better player. Quite possibly much better.

You can point to Chris Paul’s influence (I’d point to Doc), which is true (both ways), but look at the effect Westbrook has had on Kanter. Kanter looks like a lottery pick with lots of upside again, instead of a soon-to-be-rich-because-the-market-for-bigs-is-dry overpaid bust.

The truth is, Ibaka’s offensive repertoire is limited. He’s very, very good at what he does, but he’s not Chris Bosh scaling it down to fit in with two superstars. He’s Ibaka scaling his game to fit in with Westbrook, Durant, and at one time Harden—something he’s done his entire career. That’s why he’s a great fit with Westbrook and Durant, but not so great with one or both of them out. He’s only 25, so he can still get there. But this year? He’s not better than Jordan. Not even close.

I do agree with you that Westbrook’s +/- numbers are pretty shocking. In four of his triple-double games, his +/- is zero or negative (the awful -22 against the Clips). But here’s another example of how +/- can be really noisy. Against the Sixers, he had by far the best +/- (-12) of the starters (-17, -21, -21, -22). He also played 42 minutes, which means he played a lot with a bench unit led by an on-fire Waiters that slaughtered Phillie’s D-League bench.

So, if the starters give up -20 points in the game, then the bench comes in and gets rolling with Westbrook still in there. Then Westbrook sits because Philly sends in its craptacular bench that a rolling OKC bench destroys…That whole sequence shows up as -12 for Russ but that doesn’t really tell us the truth.

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2015 4:25:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

(cont.)

I’m born and raised in Los Angeles (the Valley actually). Been a Lakers fan my whole life, a Clippers fan since third grade.

Chris Paul is the best point guard of all time. He knows how to play the position better than anyone in the history of the sport. But size absolutely matters in the NBA. I’ve seen him come up short too many times because, well, he’s short.

It's true pulls off the most complicated, technically beautiful, artful, smart, wicked, moves possible. He outsmarts opponents and refs with witty pump fakes and lean ins and subtle shoves. But he needs to do all of that in order to ultimately be successful. And in game seven, after getting pounded by Gasol and Randolph and pestered by Tony Allen for 266 minutes stretched across seven games, it’s a lot harder to pull off that perfect move or to fake out the ref.

In the playoffs (especially the NBA finals), you need to just be stronger than the other guy. Kobe outmuscled the entire Boston team for 15 boards. That was will. They won despite his ghastly shooting. Paul can outthink anyone in the NBA—players, coaches, refs—but he can’t outmuscle everyone. That’s why he can’t be the best player on a championship contender. And that’s why I wouldn’t pick him over Westbrook. (If you put a gun to my head I’d say the same about Curry. Buuuuut, his ability to make it from literally anywhere on the court is almost like having Batman’s gadgets to defeat Superman).

Brodie be outmuscling every other guard in the league and taking his lunch money.

David,

I agree that Harden can’t be the best player on a championship contender for much the same reasoning I have regarding Paul, though to a lesser degree because Harden is physically larger and stronger.

I’m interested to see Harden’s career arc. Kevin Martin, who I see as a very similar player, had three excellent seasons in a row only a year older than Harden right now. Better percentages, worse distributor, similar defense (Harden’s obviously better, but still very similar foul-inducing, freethrow shooting, three-heavy that’s it attack). He then started getting hurt because of his style of play. Harden’s sturdier than Martin for sure, but Wade’s body (bout the same size) couldn’t handle it, and while he’s still very good, Lebron left for a reason.

The Rockets are an excellent squad built around the specific skill set of Harden. He is a distributor and does his offensive game, while the rest of his team spreads the floor and plays defense. Every player on the team is rangy, athletic, and can defend. Brewer, Smith, Ariza, Jones, Beverley. It’s the perfect Harden team and it’s going to be the reason Harden wins as many MVPs as Kobe Bryant. It’s also going to be the reason why we lament this fact 30 years from now.

 
At Sunday, March 15, 2015 6:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read this same article last year. Anyway, Westbrook definitely has the best combination of skills/athleticism of any guard, if not the entire league. And while I like how this is the way David grades players and agree with it, this still doesn't necessarily say that Westbrook is the best guard/player in the game. There's more to the game.

A lot of Nick's critiques are quite bizarre and sometimes doesn't get the facts straight, but he makes a good point about OKC's record sans Durant. Westbrook looks like the best player in the league right now; however, why not more team success? This is something we need to look into more. Sure, OKC has some different players recently, and it's been an up-and-down season with injuries, but they've still underachieved. In the 16 games Westbrook didn't play/barely played, OKC is 5-11 with all 5 wins against bad teams; however, Durant didn't play in a lot of those either. They are 32-18 in the other 50 games, which is a lot better, but not extraordinarily better, especially since Durant was playing in a lot of those games.

Westbrook is definitely putting his team on his back, but he's not elevating his team to more success than the way Curry/Harden are. I would take Westbrook come playoff time over those 2, but he has yet to put together even one regular season establishing himself as the one true heir to Kobe. It's still up for grabs. Maybe after this postseason, but we're not there yet. Sure, injuries are the main reason for that, but why should they be ignored?

Curry has a great cast, but this great? Nobody would've thought that. Harden's playing without Howard for most of the season and who's his #2? I know Nick might tell you that Harden is the 3rd best player on the Rockets. Interesting how that 3rd player is the team leader leading them to so many wins the past 2 years. Is he an all-time great? Certainly not, but he's playing great ball right now. Plays within himself, never in a rush, and very efficient and productive. He's not a great defender, but he's a solid defender and has shown he can be great at times

Individual offense has always been more important than individual defense. You can be a great off. player and dominate, whereas even if you play perfect defense every possession, your team could be horrible defensively and/or your man could still score you. Team defense is what is really important. While having one terrible defender on the court won't help your defense much, coaches and defensive schemes can hide this player or at least allow him to do as well as he can. Players and team offenses are just so good today. A bad individual defensive player could be a very good team defensive player.

Jordan, I love how that 'best PG of all time' can't make it out of the 2nd round for his career.

 
At Monday, March 16, 2015 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Nick, part of my post got cut off. Just wanted to wrap up the +/- talk on Westbrook with the fact his 41st through 49th points and 10th assist of that Philly game sealed his team’s victory in overtime. Also, it was his first game back after fracturing his face…

Anonymous, that’s exactly my point. Pundits look at Paul and recognize a skillset that separates him from all other point guards in NBA history. As Nick has pointed out, he’s a combination of elite offense and defense that blends high efficiency with big boxscore numbers and an unmatched feel and mind for the game. But he can’t get out of the second round because of biology. Which goes back to David’s point. Size matters.

On to a couple of your points.
Comparing Curry’s supporting cast with Westbrook’s current cast is fruitless. There’s little question that Curry has the better coach and an elite group of players around him. You could make the argument that Draymond Green is just as valuable to the Warriors as Ibaka is to the Thunder. And yet, Green may be the fourth or fifth best player on Golden State. Bogut and Igoudala are two of the best defensive players at their respective positions. An argument can be made that Klay Thompson is the second best shooting guard in the league. In fact, the GSW’s second four may be just as good as the current Thunder’s starting four. Lee/Kanter, Iggy/Singler, Livingston/Roberson, Speights/Ibaka. For the Thunder, the only clear advantage is Ibaka. The rest all skew towards the Warriors.

You are right to point out that individual offense is more important than individual defense. Still, even if Harden is one of the top five offensive players in the league, if he hurts the team on defense, then his value is significantly reduced. Westbrook may gamble too much and may not be focused, but when he is, there isn’t any other point guard that can match his intensity. Harden can play solid defense when he needs to, but he can’t ramp it up to elite levels. That’s the difference that physique and athleticism play. And that’s the main point of this whole discussion.

 
At Wednesday, March 18, 2015 5:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree about Paul then. He's a more complete player than Curry, but Curry(while certainly worse defensively than Paul, though is no liability) has been better than Paul this season.

GS is deeper than OKC. However, it's really very close. I'd rather have OKC's bigs: Adams, Kanter, Ibaka, McGary, Collison over Bogut, Ezeli, Lee, Green. GS has much better SFs in Barnes/Iggy. But, OKC's stars are much better than GS's stars. However, OKC can't stay healthy. Overall, GS has a better cast, but OKC's definitely good enough for Durant/Westbrook to win, if they truly are that great. Unfortunately for them, it's not a matter of if one of them will get hurt, but when, Ibaka included. This is 3 years in a row. Though, I don't think OKC beats SA last year even if Ibaka is healthy for the entire WCF. And don't agree about coaches. Brooks has lots of experience and is nowhere near as bad as most make him out to be. Kerr is a rookie coach, who was handed an amazing team. Let's see what he does in the playoffs first.

Westbrook is a beast defensively. He might take plays off, but who doesn't? He's 90% of OKC's offense now, and nobody has a motor like him. He's almost always hyper drive.

Harden may have hurt his team some defensively the past 2 years, but not really this year. And HOU still finished with the 5th best record last year. So, while some may some he was a zero defensively and may have been, it didn't really hurt his team that mcuh, and he still led his team to a very good season last year. And he's doing the same this year, mostly without Howard.

Sure, if you're going to rate players, James/Westbrook are better than Harden. However, are they elevating their team to success moreso? Westbrook possibly has a case, without Durant, but OKC's cast is at the very worse marginally worse than HOU's cast when not including Howard/Durant. Westbrook isn't elevating his team higher than Harden is, respective to who they play with. And James certainly isn't. I don't like how the 'MVP' is some different definition each year. Best player and most valuable player are just synonyms. I feel like it's one in the same, though not always. Comparing players strengths/weaknesses on paper, James/Westbrook are better than Harden. However, overall for the entire season, they haven't played better. Maybe that has primarily to do with their missed games, not sure, but that's a moot point, since they did miss those games.

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 9:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

The Harden-Martin comparison is a good one. Two factors in Harden's favor thus far are superior durability and a media-friendly narrative, namely that the media loves to praise Harden in connection with Morey's alleged wizardry based on "advanced basketball statistics." I don't think that Morey has done a terrible job but I also don't think that there is any evidence that Morey has some kind of huge advantage over other GMs. Morey has made some good moves and some bad moves and he has built a team that almost certainly will not make it past the second round of the playoffs. I would not be surprised if Houston loses in the first round (I am waiting to see who they play before I formally make that prediction). If Houston loses in the first round again (or even if Houston loses in the second round) then I am not sure how "valuable" Morey and Harden are relative to all of the hype about, respectively, Morey being a "stat guru" and Harden being some kind of new wave player who is so efficient offensively (based on a very particular definition of efficiency).

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 10:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I think that Harden's supporting cast is being underrated in order to make the case that Harden is the MVP. Ariza and Terry have previously been role players on championship teams, Beverly is an excellent defender, Josh Smith has All-Star caliber talent and several of the lesser known role players are quite solid. The idea that Harden is out there all by himself is a misnomer.

The Rockets also went 22-10 with Dwight Howard and 23-12 so far without him. They are better with Howard than without him, contrary to the narrative that is being promoted about the Rockets being just as good without Howard.

A lot of media members like the Harden story and are pushing for Harden to be MVP but Harden is not the best individual player nor are the Rockets a top two team in their conference, let alone the league, so from a historical standpoint it is more than a slight reach to give him the MVP. LeBron James deserves the award on merit, while Curry has a case as the best player on the best team.

The Rockets are 4-4 in their last eight games and Harden is shooting .397 from the field during that stretch, so maybe the media will be forced to ease up on campaigning for him to win the MVP. Harden shot well in December and January but he has been about a .400-.420 shooter prior to and subsequent to those months. He seems to be rounding into his typical playoff form now (i.e., subpar FG% leading to an early exit).

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 10:37:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't wanna get sucked back into the Westbrook argument, but as far as Harden goes he's improved from a terrible defender to merely a mediocre one; he still isn't very good, and he's still hurting his team. The media has been bamboozled- because he is probably three times the defender he was last year- into thinking he's become an elite defender, but let's say for the sake of argument that last year he was a 13/100 defensively; three times 13 is only 39, and he still rates an F.

Those numbers are pretty arbitrary, but my greater point is that while improving from abysmal to merely bad is a massive leap, he still ended up at "bad".

That all said, that Harden/Martin comparison isn't quite fair; Harden is much larger/stronger (as David is fond of saying, size matters in the NBA) and is a dramatically better passer and rebounder. I agree that Harden is dramatically overrated, but I also think he's significantly better than Kevin Martin ever was; when Martin was the first option for his team, they didn't make the playoffs.

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 3:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I agree with you completely about how "bamboozled" the media is regarding Harden. If the media fawned over Kobe Bryant the way that they now fawn over Harden then Bryant would have won several MVPs in a row, both for carrying Smush/Kwame to the playoffs and then for carrying a good but not great team to three straight Finals. Harden is leading a solid team to a solid playoff seeding and he is being treated like some kind of basketball messiah.

I would take peak Harden over peak Martin, without question, but "stat gurus" overrate Harden for the same or similar reasons that they overrated Martin. Both players attempt a lot of free throws and make a lot of three pointers. Harden is bigger, more durable and more versatile than Martin but neither player could/can be the best player on a championship team and both players are much better suited to being the second or even third option.

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 4:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Harden/Martin comparison is a ridiculous comparison at best. OKC basically gave away Martin for nothing. Martin has had little success individual or team success at his other nba stops, especially relative to what Harden has done in his 3 years in HOU, including lifting the wolves to what, 14 wins this year.

If Harden was so indispensable, he wouldn't have led HOU to 3 straight playoffs now, and would've be averaging 25/5/5 throughout his HOU career. A 3rd or 4th wheel doesn't lead a team to 55 wins, and now on pace for at least 50 wins again this year, and mostly without Howard.

Nobody is saying Harden's cast is bad, but is clearly not as good as most of the other contenders, at least until/if Howard comes back. Who on HOU could be a legit #2 or even #3 option on a title team? Is Ariza their 3rd best player after Harden/Howard? When's the last title team had anyone for a #3 as bad as Ariza? Not that Ariza is bad, for a true #3 he is. He's more suited to be a #5(which he was with LAL), possibly #4

GS has guys coming off the bench which would be Harden's current #2 right now with Howard down in Iggy or Lee. Of course GS has a better record with as good of a team as they had. Look at what DET and ATL did after Josh Smith left? I think he deserves as much criticsm as he got, but there is something there. GS just has more pieces than anything team right now, but they only have 1 true star, who I wouldn't quite call a superstar yet in Curry, though he's close. More of a team effort with them. Curry has played like a top 5 player this year, but not quite the top.

James hasn't been the best player this year. On paper, he might be the best player, and while he's one of the top 3-4 players this year, he hasn't elevated his team more than say Harden or Curry. While GS might be the most complete team, CLE is still very deep and probably the most talented team, and has a cupcake schedule compared to the West teams.

HOU has currently the 4th best record in the league, 1 game off of 3rd. Historically, whether right or wrong, the MVP has gone to the best player on a top 4-5 team, so no, it's not really a reach to give him the award. He's played awesome, without Howard for a lot of the season, and still maintaining the 4th best record in the league, and in the much tougher conf., while only missing 1 game.

 
At Thursday, March 19, 2015 5:50:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

...didn't Cleveland lose all-or very nearly all- of the games Lebron didn't play? Despite having two other alleged stars? In what way exactly has he not "elevated his team"- which missed the playoffs so badly last year they got the number one pick, by the by- more than Harden or Curry?

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 3:06:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Anonymous and Nick (kinda),

I stated that Harden is better. But no comparison (or unfair)? Besides the very blatant style of play—an offensive attack that focuses on 3s, drawing contact to get to the line, and layups—they put up very similar numbers.

I think win shares, DRtg and ORtg reward players on a winning team, so if you play for a terrible franchise, your advanced metrics will depreciate how people who read numbers value you. Martin spent three of his best seasons (the same age that Harden took over the Rockets) on Kings teams that featured Ron Artest, Mike Bibby, John Salmons, Brad Miller, and Shareef Abdur Rahim as the rest of the “talent.” Harden’s played with Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones, and Patrick Beverley (and Jeremy Lin, Trevor Ariza, and Josh Smith, all former starters on playoff teams).

Despite the advanced numbers discrepancy due to team winning percentages, in Martin’s first year as the lead dog, he put up 10.7 WS on a losing team. It’s not Harden’s 12.8 (on a winning team), but it’s also not “no comparison”.

When Martin has played on a halfway decent squad, his advanced numbers are all comparable to Harden’s. When Martin has played with real talent, he’s won and his teams have performed nearly as good and/or better than Harden’s. The Thunder won more games with him as the sixth man (71 to 73 win%), and in their first season as lead dog in Houston, Martin went 43-39 while Harden went 45-37. Martin had an immature Kyle Lowry and a prime Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes, while Harden had young Chandler Parsons, year-after Linsanity, and Omer Asik’s first season as a starter.

Their numbers:
23.5, 3.2, 2.5 on 44/38/89, 9.5 WS
25.9, 4.8, 5.8 on 44/37/85, 12.8 WS

Once again, Harden is better. But projected per 36-minute:
25.9, 3.6, 2.7 Martin
24.4, 4.6, 5.5 Harden

Both sets of numbers are “comparable”, but those projected numbers (which I despise by the way) look very similar, especially considering Martin’s slight edge in percentages. In fact, Harden and Martin on a per 36-minute numbers basis are nearly identical through their age 26 seasons (Harden through 25). The two main differences are Harden is a far better assist and steals-getter (the two most arbitrary value stats). While Martin has a slim edge in percentages.

Me comparing these two players is completely acceptable, if not downright mandatory. Hell, Harden just dropped 50 points tonight. Martin’s career high? 48.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 3:09:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

(cont.)
This notion that Martin wasn’t very good is wrong. He wasn’t “a looter in a riot.” Sure, he put up big scoring numbers on bad teams, but he put up terrific numbers in both starting and bench roles on good teams too.

Prime Martin was an excellent and efficient (though gimmicky) shooting guard that could have been the 3rd or 4th best player on a championship caliber team.

Harden is a better, more dynamic (though still gimmicky) shooting guard that can be the 2nd or 3rd best player on a championship caliber team.

In 2008, Martin led the 38-44 Sacramento Kings in scoring at 23.7 on 46/40/87 percentages.

He only played in 61 games though. Which is my larger point about even bringing him up in this conversation about the best guards in the game today. Harden can quite convincingly be compared to Kevin Martin. To me, this is a knock on Harden as “MVP” of the league. It also has me question if this is the best we’re going to see from Harden.

He and Martin have very similar styles of play and Martin spent the years Harden is about to enter, hurt all the time.

Harden is much sturdier, and has enjoyed the most whistle happy perimeter-favored officiating in the history of the league, but he’s already had knee and back issues because that style of play lends itself to injury—no matter how crafty he gets with flopping, flailing, and tumbling to the floor. Furthermore, Euro-stepping, his go to drive move, has torn down its share of legs, ankles, and knees (Wade, Ginobili, Rose, Rondo).

Harden needs to develop a real postgame (not this fadeaway Kobe thing) with counter moves (like Kobe’s actual post game) and also greatly improve his midrange shooting (like, yeah Kobe). I thought for sure he would work on his midrange this past offseason, seeing as his inability to hit from midrange was the reason the Rockets lost a winnable series last playoffs (despite pundits prior to the start of their matchup with Portland, saying he and Howard were the best two players in the series). It has been his undoing the past three postseasons, the last two ending in the first round.

But not only did he fail to improve, he’s actually gotten worse. From 3-10 feet he shot .395 last year and is at .310 this year. From 10-16 feet, he went from .463 in 2014 to .437 in 2015. To me, this indicates an individual that either thinks he doesn’t need to work on anything different because what he does works so well (and it does, during the regular season), or an individual who is getting worse in spite of lots of practice. The other scenario is the Kevin Martin scenario of injury setting in.

The thing about efficiency is that its value erodes away with wear and tear and/or must be mitigated with a reduction in minutes or change in roles.

None of those scenarios are all that comforting, because his style of play is a proven failure in the playoffs and needs to be fleshed out if he ever hopes to accomplish anything of significance, let alone lead a team to a title.

This could be Harden’s high-water mark. If it is, we’re going to all look back 10 years from now and wonder why he won the MVP.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 4:17:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Anonymous,

You are not giving Houston’s team any credit at all. Ariza is certainly not the second best player after Harden. Corey Brewer is better than Ariza and has been playing like an elite small forward over the past month plus (much, much better than Iggy). And he’s probably fourth or fifth best (even without Dwight).

Terrence Jones is probably the second best player and he’s much better than Lee (Donatas Montiejunas might be better too) and overall is more valuable than Andrew Bogut especially since he plays more minutes. Jones is a legit two-way player that can make threes and take power fowards off the dribble. And his defense has been on the Serge Ibaka level as a starter.

Yes Josh Smith was a horrible fit with Detroit. But he’s been a terrific pick up for the Houston Rockets. Especially off the bench where his skillset remains ideal for how Houston plays basketball. Since his arrival, all of his numbers are on a per-minute basis equal with his career averages. Smith is only 29 for goodness sake. He was a miserable fit as a small forward on the Pistons, but now that he’s back in his comfort zone as a power forward, he’s playing like an upper echelon player again.

Remember how two years ago everyone thought Paul Milsap was a nice replacement for Smith, a lot cheaper but not quite as good? Neither player got that much better or worse. Smith just got plugged into a position that highlighted all of his games flaws, while Milsap got placed in a system that highlights all of his skills.

Situation and systems are key for players and their value.

Smith still does all of the maddening things he’s always done (dumb shots, bad shots, and dumb passes), but other than slightly eroded athleticism, he’s still doing the same stuff he was doing when people were arguing taking him as a top-3 pick in fantasy.

Houston also has veteran leadership. For a team with playoff aspirations, proven veteran leadership is key.

Unlike the Golden State Warriors, whose only player to make it past the second round in the playoffs is Leandro Barbosa, the Rockets have guys that have played crucial roles in winning NBA championships—Ariza and Jason Terry.

Dwight and Harden have both made it all the way to the Finals.

Even the back end of the bench is now stacked with KJ McDaniels, an all-world athlete who was proving himself to be quite the offseason pick-up, not even getting off the bench with the Rockets.

The Rockets don't have popular names on their roster, but whoever thinks this team's supporting roster doesn't stack up well with any other playoff team's support cast, is simply misinformed or is going off of memory. Where this team isn't as strong, as other contenders is at the top. Harden and Howard are both better suited as second options (as discussed above).

By the way, the Cavs are 2-9 in games Lebron has sat, including a terrible 5-game losing streak that continued into James return game.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Awesome points, Jordan. My argument about Harden/Martin was more that Harden does things besides scoring (passing, rebounds) at a much higher level than Martin, and that he's a harder defensive matchup because of his size. They're certainly comparable scorers, though, as you've pretty much proved.

That said, that Kings team you described had some real talent on it, and I might take it over Harden's first Houston team.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 10:51:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

These Harden/Martin comparisons need to stop. It's understandable why Harden was traded from OKC, but OKC was robbed in that trade and they have nothing to show for it.

If I remember corectly, after Harden arrived in Houston, David believed Harden would max out as a two or three time all star at most.
Well as of now Harden is a three time all star, one time nba third team, and on his way to his second straight all nba first team. He is one of two choices (along with Curry) that will win mvp. So he has exceeded David's expectations.

Some of the guys around Harden do have value, but Harden has been putting the Rockets on his back. It's not fair to act as if he doesnt deserve a lot of praise for his team having a top four record.

If you feel he's overrated, fine. But dont talk of him as if hes not a top ten player at least.

Houston's gm giving Harden that contract paid off big time.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 11:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody is saying Martin wasn't good. But, look at his entire career, individually and team-wise. He's never really been in consideration for the AS team. He put up some good #'s, much like Ellis in GS, and while they were both good players, definitely not stars. Harden's already a 3x AS, 3rd all-nba, 1st all-nba with another coming this season probably, plus leading a team to 3 straight playoffs and likely 2 50-win seasons. And he's just entering his prime.

Harden may win MVP, and if he does, he'll probably be one of the worst players to win. However, his stats are phenomenal this year. I know it's more than stats, but across the board, he has the best stats in the league, plus his team is currently 4th best in the entire league and his #2 has been hurt a lot. There's a few other guys with strong cases, but let's stop acting that if Harden wins MVP it's some type of travesty. And a lot of this has to do with his unaesthetcially-pleasing game. Who cares if his game is ugly? It works, and it works extremely well. Maybe it'll be different in the playoffs, but the MVP is about the regular season.

I am giving HOU's cast credit, as I've done numerous times before. But, compared to GS, they're certainly inferior. If you think Brewer is better than Ariza, fine, and that might be true. But, that speaks more clearly how inferior Harden's cast is to a lot of the other contenders. What was Brewer, 4th man in MIN? Wow, he sure did a lot for them.

When healthy, which at least a couple of teams will be; GS, SA, OKC, CLE, and CHI all clearly have better casts than HOU does. CHI/OKC don't seem like they'll be factors in the playoffs because of injuries, though.

James might be playing his way to #2 on my MVP list. But, let's be honest Nick, his team is phenomenal. Miller, Marion, and Varejao can't even find the court for one reason or another, and they're still super deep. They're so good, they can afford to play Thompson instead of Love in a lot of the 4th qtrs. Their starting unit is amazing. They can go a solid 12 deep right now, and they're the most talented team in the league. Love/Irving have also been injured some this year. Sure, they have some new faces, but it's not like their top 3, which is no other team in the league has btw, were playing with scrubs. And Love struggling this year has more to do with James than anything else. While he was overrated some in MIN, and should've elevated his MIN teams more if he was truly a top 5 player, MIN just plain-out stinks this year without him, and they have some decent players there still.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 2:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

I completely agree with your comments and analysis regarding Harden versus Martin.

Regarding Martin's play this season and his impact for Minnesota, it is worth noting that Minnesota is 10-21 when Martin plays and 4-32 when Martin does not play. The Wolves are bad even with Martin but that does not seem to be his fault since they are positively, historically awful without him.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 2:40:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Anonymous,

Let’s be honest. You don’t know jack squat about the Cavs.

Miller, Marion, and Varejao can’t find the court because they can’t physically play. All of them have been injured. Varejao has been done for the season since Christmas (torn Achilles)...He’s a huge reason why the Cavs struggled as he was the team’s only true center until the trade for Mozgov and the acquisition of Kendrick Perkins.

The late flurry of player acquisition by the Cavs front office is what has saved the season. Getting Iman Shumpert and JR Smith, along with Timofey and Kendrick have bolstered a shaky Cavs bench. Honestly, Kyrie Irving and Love are two of the most overrated players in the league. Both of them were touted as top 10-15 players (Irving was once compared to Chris Paul while everyone kept saying Love was a top-5 player) and yet neither of them could elevate their teams to any sort of success. Lebron is the league’s best player and he’s also the reason the Cavs have won anything this year. Once again, he’s missed 11 games and the Cavs lost 9 of them.

As for the Wolves, they have struggled this year because their three best players have all missed significant time with injuries: Martin, Rubio, and Pekovic have missed a combined 119 games (36, 46, 37). The Wolves struggles are not because Love is gone. Injuries have derailed their season. Even the young guys have been beset by injury…Shabazz Muhammed who was having a breakout year is done for the season with a finger injury. Anthony Bennett’s dealt with various ailments. The good news for the Wolves is that the injuries to their starting vets opened up playing time for the young guys (namely Wiggins, Muhammed, LaVine, and Dieng) to really shine. Next year, starting fresh with health, this team is going to be 10 deep, one of the most athletic teams, and thus very scary.

As for Houston. You really aren’t giving them enough credit. Even now, the Rockets have better depth than the Thunder, Cleveland, and Chicago.

I said Brewer is better than Ariza this season because you said Ariza was the second best player after Harden. This simply isn’t true. You don’t mention Jones, Montiejunas, Beverley, or Smith. Let alone Prigioni, Terry, and McDaniels. Prigioni was starting (albeit on a terrible Knicks squad), but was starting nonetheless. He’s a solid, if unspectacular player, but he’s like Houston’s 9th or 10th best player. McDaniels, who was looking like a mid-level signee this offseason, isn’t getting off the bench on Houston.

Jones is better than any big on Cleveland not named Love. And, you could make the case that his skillset (because he’s a two-way player) is more valuable to a playoff contender than Love’s skillset. Montiejunas and Mozgov are very similar, only Donuts is four years younger than Timofey. JR Smith / Brewer. Smith is a weapon offensively, while Brewer has an all-around game that makes him a perfect glue guy. Ariza or Shumpert? I’d take Ariza. Terry or Deladova?

Houston’s cast is not worse than Cleveland’s.

And, is San Antonio’s supporting cast really better? Is Diaw or Baynes or Aryes better than Josh Smith? Ginobili is elite, when healthy, but he’s limited with injuries and minutes. Is the Clippers supporting cast better? The Clippers are running out Hedo Turkoglu 13 minutes a night. He got 33 minutes against Sacto. Is the Grizzlies depth any better than Houston’s? A 37-year-old Vince Carter who is shooting 34% is getting 16 minutes a night. Just cuz he’s Vinsanity, doesn’t mean he’s still, you know, Vinsanity. Name recognition doesn’t mean anything in the reality of actual games.

I’m not saying one way or another definitively about any of the playoff contenders, but to boldly proclaim that all of these other teams have a better supporting casts than Houston without any evidence is not productive.

Sure, Golden State has a better cast. They’re probably the deepest team in the league—hence the best record. That said, their bench guys would NOT be starting on Houston.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 2:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

What OKC has to show for the Harden deal is that the Thunder posted a better winning percentage in each of the next two seasons after getting rid of him. Considering that the Thunder were already quite good with Harden and that it is mor difficult for a 55+ win team to improve than it is for a lesser team to improve, the idea that OKC made a huge mistake by getting rid of Harden is not supported by the evidence.

Sadly for OKC, injuries killed them in the playoffs in both of those seasons and will likely kill the Thunder in this year's playoffs as well.

Would OKC have withstood those injuries better if they still had Harden? One may be tempted to say yes but if OKC had kept Harden then they likely would not have Ibaka and there would also be the issue of Harden not being happy as the third option when the Thunder are at full strength. Harden wanted to be a max contract, first option player--and he got what he wanted, which has so far included two first round losses and will likely include some more first round losses in the years to come.

If Morey's goal was to make a splash and impress the media then he succeeded but if his goal is to build a legit championship contender then he has not succeeded because Harden is not capable of being the best player on a championship team.

Harden is a very good player who is being given the green light to put up big offensive numbers. There are about two dozen other guys in the league, at least, who could put up similar scoring numbers if given the same or similar opportunities. Most of those guys, including Harden, should not be considered MVP candidates. Gilbert Arenas was mentioned as an MVP candidate but he should not have been. Monta Ellis can score 25-27 ppg in the right system but he is hardly a legit MVP candidate. As mentioned in this thread, a healthy Kevin Martin can score 25 ppg. Harden is bigger and stronger than those guys and consequently he rebounds better but the Harden for MVP talk is way out of hand.

Harden probably will make the All-NBA First Team even though the two best guards in the league right now are Westbrook and Curry.

We will see how long Harden's body holds up in light of his playing style and, more importantly, we will see how well Harden's playing style correlates with playoff success. Most guys who consistently draw a lot of fouls are either unstoppable post players or they are skillful penetrators whose speed forces defenders to foul them; those two skill set translate well to postseason play and those kinds of players can still score in the playoffs even if the referees swallow their whistles. Harden flails his body wildly and often does not even seriously attempt to make a shot; if he gets the call that works out great, but otherwise it is just a fastbreak in the other direction. Harden has no midrange game, no postup game and no way to score other than flailing in the paint or getting on a hot streak from three point range. Again, he is given unlimited license to play this way in the regular season so of course he is putting up big scoring numbers but that does not make him better than Westbrook and Curry, let alone an all-around beast like LeBron James who can dominate from multiple positions in multiple ways. If you put LeBron James on the Rockets with those other defenders and three point shooters the Rockets would have the best or second best record in the West. If you put Harden on the Cavs and had him competing with Irving to see who can shoot more and defend less then the Cavs would be fighting for the seventh or eighth spot even in the East.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 3:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Nobody on the Cavs' current roster who is playing significant minutes (other than LeBron James) has had a major role on a playoff team. The Cavs have talent but they do not have talent that has proven the ability to win. The Cavs also have a rookie coach who is struggling at times to understand the NBA game. When James has not played this season the Cavs have been awful. They are not close to being a playoff team without him but with him they have a good chance to win the East.

Harden's team is not the best team and Harden is not putting up the best numbers, at least not in terms of what matters. Curry is a better shooter and playmaker, Westbrook is just flat better all around and Harden cannot seriously be compared with LeBron James.

During Shaq and Kobe's prime years the MVP voters gave MVPs to Garnett, Nash (twice) and Nowitzki. None of those MVPs made sense at the time and they make less sense in retrospect. Garnett needed to be paired with two HoFers to win a title and cover up for his offensive and crunchtime deficiencies. Nash gave up as much at one end of the court as he contributed at the other and never reached the Finals despite playing with a slew of All-Stars. Nowitzki is an all-time great and the only player from that group who proved capable of being the best player on a championship team but he was not the best player in the NBA during his MVP season and he led the team with the best record to a first round playoff loss. If Harden wins the 2015 MVP that will rank right up there with some of the worst MVP choices ever, particularly considering how many worthy candidates there are this season.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 4:41:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

The mvp award is a regular season award. It has nothing to do with what happened in the playoffs in previous years or what happens in this year's playoffs.
It was not a mistake for thunder to trade Harden. They had no choice.
Harden exceeded expectations of only maxing out as a three time all star.
If the Rockets win a playoff series this year, I guess you'd say they have to win a title right away for Hardens contract to be justified.

Harden is a top ten player. Kevin Martin shouldn't even be compared to Harden. If Martin was as good as Harden OKC would have done what it took to hold on to him or not let him go for nothing.

About the Cavs roster, yes Love and Irving dont have playoff experience. But those guys are like top 15 players. Prior to this season I agree that Kevin Love was overrated though.


Lots of people always talk about the experience a coach or player has. If you don't have experience you have to get a start somewhere.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 6:49:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

AW,

That's like...your opinion man. Back it up with something and/or read everyone's post thoroughly. For example, what makes Harden a top 10 player? Why is he better than Kawaii Leonard? Leonard plays both sides of the ball. Offense he's very good. Defense he's one of the top five perimeter defenders in the league. Even if Harden was the best offensive player in the league (he's not...Curry or Lebron), as Nick has pointed out, he's still a massive negative on the defensive side of the ball even though he's improved from his disastrous 2014 campaign.

Nothing you've written is backed up with any sort of evidence or commentary. You've just made statements.

I think the rest of us are interested in having a discussion. I'd be interested in reading why you believe what you believe, despite the fact I totally disagree with everything you've written.

“It was not a mistake for thunder to trade Harden. They had no choice.” This is not true. They had a choice. They decided not to pay the luxury tax.

“Harden exceeded expectations of only maxing out as a three time all star.” Depends on who you talk to. Morey would disagree with you. Harden would too. Check theDreamshake.com or Red94.net. Them peeps will disagree with you too.

“If the Rockets win a playoff series this year, I guess you'd say they have to win a title right away for Hardens contract to be justified.” Not really. Harden’s making $16 million. I’d say he’s earned that and then some. Kobe Bryant is making $24 million. I'd say he hasn't earned that.


“Harden is a top ten player.” Why? I don't see it.

“Kevin Martin shouldn't even be compared to Harden.” Why not? Similar style, similar results. Harden is better and more dynamic. But they are very similar players.

“If Martin was as good as Harden OKC would have done what it took to hold on to him or not let him go for nothing.” But…OKC didn’t do whatever it took to hang onto Harden…who they lost for nothing. In fact, it was the exact same situation. If they kept Martin, they’d have gone into the luxury tax.


“About the Cavs roster, yes Love and Irving dont have playoff experience. But those guys are like top 15 players.” What makes them top-15? Neither plays defense and this year, Love’s numbers have plummeted across the board.

“Prior to this season I agree that Kevin Love was overrated though.” Wait...what? This is Love’s worst season since his sophomore campaign. Why was he overrated in other years as a top -15 player, but is a top-15 player this year?

Nick,

You are probably right about taking the Kings over the Rockets in those specific years. Though, Miller missed 20 games and was backed up by Kenny Thomas.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2015 7:59:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan saved me a lot of time. So, you know, basically what he said.

He's dead on about choosing to let Harden go; OKC absolutely, positively, could have legally kept both players (and if they wanted to, could have paid both of them more) and still made a profit. They looked at Harden- who's probably not worth 16 mil a year as a bench guy in a vacuum- and chose to role the dice that they could more-or-less replace him. They failed- Martin was as close as they got, and as discussed Harden's better than he is- and now they've probably missed their window. Would they have won with Harden? I don't especially think so, but they'd have certainly had a better chance.

Now, as for the Cavs... Irving is a one-dimensional scorer who's only recently started pretending to play defense. Love's an excellent scorer who's currently not really scoring, and a great rebounder who- this season- hangs out mostly 20 feet from the basket. If you care about two-way ball, neither is a top five player at his position, let alone a top 15 player in the league. The rest of the roster is mostly old men who do one thing well, or guys they just picked up in a trade who didn't look like very good basketball players until Lebron James started passing them the basketball- or they're JR Smith, who's both!

Harden's a top ten offensive player, at least in the regular season. You can even make a case for Harden as best regular season offensive player (I'd disagree, but I wouldn't laugh you out of the room). Unfortunately, he's probably not a top 100 defensive player, and I think you need to be to be seriously considered for MVP.

Now, let me contradict myself while I argue with David. Nash was also a bad defender (though, to his credit, mostly stood in the right place and made the right rotations, just dangerously slow laterally and not very physically strong). However, he was such a uniquely special offensive player- lead the league in assists in addition to being statistically the best shooter ever- who made everyone around him significantly better. Marion, Stoudemire, Bell, Thomas, Barbosa, and probably a dozens other all became deadly beside Nash and fell off almost immediately after leaving him- though to Stoudemire's credit, in his case it was mostly injuries. For five years, having Steve Nash- regardless of who else you had- guaranteed you the best offense in the NBA.

So, considering he took one of the worst teams in the NBA and turned them into the best (regular season), and considering that Kobe missed the playoffs, Lebron wasn't superhuman yet, and that everybody forgets about Tim Duncan whenever he's not in the Finals, it was fine that Nash won the MVP in '05. Shaq was probably an equally valid pick, but the turnaround in Phoenix was about as dramatic as possible. I'm fine with that one.

"06 is harder to defend, but it made a pretty great story and it's true that taking him off that team would have taken them out of the playoffs (they ended up as the 2 seed, IIRC).

 
At Saturday, March 21, 2015 2:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

In general, I think that a reasonable rule of thumb regarding the MVP award is that if a player is not good enough to be the best player on a championship team then he probably is not the best player in the league.

Nash was a great player but I can't picture a realistic scenario in which he is the best player on a championship team. I could see him being the second best player behind a dominant big man or the second best player behind an all-around wing player like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant but Nash is just too small and defensively challenged to be the best player.

Similarly, I cannot see Harden being the best player on a championship team. If Harden remains healthy and continues to receive the green light then I can see him averaging at least 25 ppg for a few more seasons but it is unlikely that he will lead the Rockets past the second round, much less lead the Rockets to a championship.

 
At Saturday, March 21, 2015 4:47:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Eh, Nash would have likely won the title in '07 if not for the Donaghy game and the Stoudemire/Diaw suspensions, so I don't know that i buy that reasoning; Phoenix had the momentum (and home court advantage) coming out of game 4 but lost game 5 without their starting front court. Even game 6- mostly a clean Spurs win- has some speculative value there as the Suns were exhausted and emotionally deflated from playing what was essentially a six man rotation in game 5.

You take out the Donaghy game- hard to say what would have happened either way in that one without a referee actively fixing the game- and the Stat/Diaw suspensions and I think it's reasonable to say that Phoenix had at least a pretty decent chance to beat SA, and would have easily trounced Utah and Cleveland after that.

I'm not sure Phoenix would have won- though I'd tend towards yes- but it's at least close enough that it's easy to imagine a scenario where Phoenix makes- and wins- the Finals that year. By a similar token, the Suns had more severe and numerous injuries in '05 an '06 than OKC has had in any playoffs, and the '10 Lakers series could easily have gone the other way if Ron Artest doesn't make the play of his life... or if Amare Stoudemire's mother hadn't been arrested the day before the series.

Nash never did get it done, and his lack of defense is probably part of that, but if we're making excuses based on injury or bad luck he's got a much better case than anybody on OKC.

I'd also argue that Nash was better than the best player on the '04 Pistons by a wide margin, and probably better than the best player on the '79 Sonics as well (though I love DJ).

That all said, I agree with you about Harden. He's similar to Nash in that he's a largely one way player, but he's not the transcendent "everybody around me is 25% better than they are without me" sort of one way player that Nash was.

 
At Saturday, March 21, 2015 3:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

One could say the same or similar things about Nash and the Suns that you say about Westbrook/Brooks and OKC, namely that if Nash were really that good then somehow, someway he would have led Phoenix to at least one title despite injuries and other hurdles.

In addition, the Mavs gave up on Nash and then within Nash's prime they reached two Finals and won one title without adding another superstar to play with Nowitzki. I cannot think of another occasion in NBA history that a team gave up a two-time MVP in his prime and went on to greater success without him and without even adding another great player. Just like OKC replaced Harden and kept right on winning 55-60 games, Dallas replaced Nash and not only stayed as good but actually became better.

Nash was a great player and he was very fun to watch but he is overrated. He is Mark Price with more favorable media coverage--and I love Mark Price, Mark Price is one of my favorite players and I think that Mark Price was underrated but Price no more deserved two MVPs during Jordan's prime than Nash deserved two MVPs when Shaq, Kobe and Duncan were in or near their primes.

For someone who values two way players as much as you do (and I also value this), I am a bit surprised that you just blithely state that Nash was better than Billups and DJ. If Nash was better then at the very least I don't think that his superiority was as clear and convincing as you seem to be suggesting.

 
At Saturday, March 21, 2015 4:18:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

I’m going to piggy-back off of Nick a little on the Nash topic. When you are the lead engine (Marion was like the suspension and radiator) for four of the top seven offensive teams of all time, then yeah, the MVP is definitely in the discussion. I’d have chosen Bryant in 2006, but Nash and the Suns made history in 2005 with arguably the greatest offensive team in the history of the league (top 3 at worst, based on offensive rating, adjusted for era, pace, etc.). They won 62 games and made it to the Western Conference Finals before getting punched in the mouth by SA.

That kind of historic precedent, the greatest offense ever (or top 3), is certainly worthy of MVP consideration. Especially since Nash was the fulcrum to the whole operation. Did he really deserve back-to-back MVPs? No. Not with Kobe putting up his insane 2005-06 season and Duncan anchoring the best defense in the league in 05 (and leading his team to a championship). Duncan probably got robbed in 05, and Bryant in 06.

But orchestrating one of the greatest offenses ever in 05 can’t be ignored, even if Nash’s defense was terrible. (In his defense, he had zero big men to help defensively, and his coach didn’t care about defense at all).

Which brings me back, one last time, to James Harden. Even if you consider Harden to be the best offensive player in the league right now, he’s not doing anything historic and neither are the Rockets. The Rockets are probably going to win 53-56 games this year. Their offense is top of the middle of the pack (even with Dwight last season, they were fourth). And they’ll probably get bounced in the first round because Harden’s style is a gimmick. He’s not MVP worthy in any sense. He’s not putting up a historic individual season like Bryant did. He’s not even the best player on the best team like Derrick Rose was during his (unworthy) MVP season. He’s not the best player in the NBA (as Nick and David have pointed out regarding his still pretty awful defense). All he is, is an offense-only player putting up great numbers on a really good team.

 
At Saturday, March 21, 2015 11:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I admit that Nash is the outlier in my "top 40" or whatever all time players. He's definitely a mediocre defender at best (though probably slightly better than his reputation), and he won nothing of note.

That said, he's unique in NBA history in terms of sheer offensive impact. He had a nine year run leading the top offense in the league... and he changed teams during that run. That's ludicrous, and unlike most guys who get this tag, he truly made his teammates better. That's worth a lot.

He was better in Phoenix than in Dallas- like Kobe and others, he benefitted from the hand check rule quite a bit on offense- but Dallas did, before winning a title, add a top three rim protector (Chandler), another elite, if aging, PG in Jason Kidd, and a variety of other value pieces like Terry and, ironically, Marion. They also made a pretty significant coaching upgrade. It's true they didn't add another star of Nash's magnitude, but they added plenty of pieces, and Dirk made a jump.

I'd contend that if you give Nash prime Tyson Chandler anywhere between '05 and '10, he probably snakes a title, too.

I didn't mean to suggest he was WAY better than DJ or anything; for certain rosters I might take DJ over him, even. Billups I'm less high on, but was also very good.

My perspective on prime Nash was always this: if you have a guy who guarantees you the league's best offense no matter which loose parts you leave him with... just surround him with excellent defenders and you'll win everything. Phoenix never did that, for whatever reason (Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, and Hill were all excellent wing defenders but Phoenix never had meaningful paint protection), and Nash never won... yet, the ghost of '07- including a game the referee has admitted to fixing and a dubious suspension that wasn't equally enforced (Duncan left the bench in the first half but was not reprimanded- still looms). It's very likely Nash could have won the title as the best player on the title team. That was my main point.

My point in mentioning the injuries was much the same as yours- if you're going to give Westbrook slack for OKC's injury history, then Nash deserves at least as much (and probably more) for his back, Amare's knees and eyes, Marion's ankle, Joe Johnson's face, and Raja's knee. But as far as making excuses goes, the bigger issues for Nash are his front office, the Donaghy game, the suspensions, and Amare's mom getting arrested, probably roughly in that order.

Mostly, though, I was just making the point that it's silly to say Nash could never have been the best player on a title team with how close he came in spite of some pretty wonky luck in '05, '07, and '10, and when he's (in my opinion) better than some guys who were the best players on their respective title teams.

 
At Sunday, March 22, 2015 1:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Addressing your last point first, I don't think that Nash is as good as the best player (or, in some cases, the second best player) on any of the teams that won championships during his career. That is the number one reason he did not win a championship. He was not better than Shaq, Kobe, Duncan, Billups (or Ben Wallace, if you believe that Wallace's defense and rebounding made him Detroit's best player), Wade, Nowitzki, LeBron. Again, some of those teams (particularly the Shaq-Kobe Lakers) had two players who were better than Nash. That is the number one reason that Nash did not win a title; he was the best player on his team in most seasons and he was not better than the best player on the teams he had to beat to win a title.

The Suns' front office provided Nash with finishers, three point shooters, depth and excellent wing defenders. Nash's lack of size and his bad defense were hard to overcome. Think about what you are saying: Nash helmed the best offense in the league and the Suns could not make it to the Finals. Why was that? Their offense could not generate enough points to overcome their defense--and a big problem with their defense was Nash.

We may never know what really happened with the Donaghy game or how many other games may have been affected. Bad calls, sadly, are a part of the sport. Based on watching a lot of Spurs-Suns games, I think the fact that Duncan was greater than Nash was the biggest factor in those series. Switch those two players and the outcome switches no matter who the referees were.

The suspensions are just an excuse. The NBA has had that rule for years and the NBA suspended Patrick Ewing--one of the 50 Greatest players--in his prime in a big playoff series. The league does not want players who are not in the game to step on the court during a confrontation, period. If you step on the court, you risk a suspension. Whether or not someone else may have gotten away with it is irrelevant. Some people get away with speeding but if you speed and get caught that is no excuse. Keeping your composure is part of being a champion.

I'll be honest. I follow the NBA very closely and I don't even remember Amare's mom being arrested. I do remember Joe Dumars winning a Finals MVP after his father died. I remember plenty of players overcoming personal hardships and other challenges. Sorry, but whatever happened with Amare's mom had nothing to do with Nash not winning a title.

 
At Sunday, March 22, 2015 3:34:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

First, let's get this out of the way: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/playoffs/2010/news/story?id=5200331

Amare's scoring numbers were ok, but he didn't look himself and was even less engaged than usual on defense. His rebounding was also atrocious in that series with, if I recall, three games with 4 or fewer rebounds.

You're entitled to your opinion that Billups was better than Nash, but Billups won- when he did- with All-Star or All-Defensive level talent at all five positions. Give Steve Nash that Pistons team and I'd bet loads on them.

As for this comment: "The Suns' front office provided Nash with finishers, three point shooters, depth and excellent wing defenders," why don't you go ahead and tell me about the championship team that didn't have any good interior defenders or rebounders. Go ahead, I'll wait... but I can save you some time, if you like: there isn't one. Let's just look at those that played in Nash's prime, in the name of brevity:

'10 Lakers: Bynum, Gasol, Odom
'09 Lakers: Bynum, Gasol, Odom
'08 Celtics: Garnett, Perkins
'07 Mavericks: Tyson Chandler (did they still have Diop backing him up? if they did, that's another guy better at guarding the paint than any of Nash's teammates).
'06 Heat: Shaq, Mourning
'05 Spurs: Duncan (just one, but a helluva one)
'04 Pistons: Wallace, Wallace, McDyess

And so it goes through the history of the NBA, from Shaq back through Olajuwon (or, if you're a Chicago guy, Rodman and Grant), on back to Kareem and Parish and Moses, through Sikma and Hayes and Cowens and Reed, all the way back into the heyday of Russell and Chamberlain, and finally back to Mikan.

There's never been a title team that had as poor rebounding or interior D as Nash's Suns, and that's reason #1 with a bullet they never won a title. Nash's defense was bad, but it's pretty far down the list; when you have other good perimeter defenders, it's easy to hide a guy like Nash. He usually guarded a Bruce Bowen or a Derek Fisher, not a Kobe or a Parker.

Also, if I may pick a nit- when exactly did the Suns provide him with "depth"? The Suns were deep exactly once- in '10- by which point their two best perimeter defenders were gone (though Hill was pretty good, Richardson and Barbosa were not).

My point is that Nash was absolutely good enough to be the best guy on a title team- but every title team needs a degree of rebounding and paint protection that Phoenix never had. Despite that, the Suns lost in '07 in 6 games- one of which the referee confessed to fixing, another of which saw them without their two best paint players.

You can defend the legitimacy of that suspension all you like- it isn't really the point- but you can't reasonably suggest the Suns weren't harder to beat with Stoudemire and Diaw healthy, especially since they waxed a pretty similar Spurs team in '10 despite downgrading from Diaw to a very raw Robin Lopez and from Raja Bell to Jason Richardson. And they swapped out All-Star Shawn Marion for a game-but old- Grant Hill.

(TBC)

 
At Sunday, March 22, 2015 3:36:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

It's true that I don't know who would have won that series if Donaghy didn't fix game 3 or if Amare and Diaw had played in game 5- but it's odd to suggest that the Suns- who won the two games where nothing weird happened (game one saw Nash sidelined with a bloody nose for several minutes during a close fourth quarter)- didn't have a chance in that series. Phoenix actually was beating SA for most of game 5, too, before the fatigue of playing a six man rotation caught up with them.

That all said, I totally agree that Duncan was/is better than Nash. I also think he's better than Shaq, Kobe, Magic, Garnett, or Lebron. If the team with the best single player always won, Duncan would have three or four more rings. My argument was that Nash was good enough to lead the right team to a title, not that he was a top five all time player.

TL;DR- If you think Nash's defense is the reason- or even a top five reason- why Phoenix didn't win a title, you didn't watch those Phoenix teams very much. Interior D, Rebounding, Depth, Mike D'Antoni, and Tim Duncan (with injuries in sixth) are probably the five biggest reasons PHX didn't win.

PS: "I think the fact that Duncan was greater than Nash was the biggest factor in those series. Switch those two players and the outcome switches no matter who the referees were." So, then, Nash's Spurs would have swept Duncan's Suns in 2010? Don't forget, Nash won the last round in that rivalry, and pretty decisively at that.

 
At Monday, March 23, 2015 12:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Reading that article refreshed my memory and I do recall that incident now. I don't see what relevance it has for that series in particular or Nash's legacy in general, though. Stoudemire's mother was in trouble with the law off and on for many years and I don't think that incident was even the worst one.

I don't follow your point regarding Nash and Billups. Most of your comments seem to be in favor of the idea that Nash is just as good (or nearly as good) as any of the players who led teams to championships during his career. Then you say that Billups only won because he had a stacked team and that if Nash had been blessed with a stacked team then he would have won, too. So does that mean you think that Nash only could have won with a stacked team? The '79 Sonics and '04 Pistons are outliers; they are the only teams, at least in my estimation, that won titles without having a legit MVP caliber player. If you are saying that Nash could have won a title as the best player if everything broke just right and he was surrounded by tons of talent, then I probably could go along with that. If you are saying that Nash was as good or nearly as good as Shaq, Kobe, Duncan, etc. and only failed to win a title because of Stoudemire's mom's DWI and other random situations then I disagree. Maybe you are saying something in between that and feel like I am misstating your beliefs.

I believe that Nash was a very good shooter/passer in the Mark Price mold. He would have been a great second best player on a championship team. He was not quite good enough to be the best player on a championship team unless he played for a deep team in 1979 and Bill Walton got hurt or unless he played for a deep team in 2004 and the Lakers experienced various injury, aging and off-court issues.

 
At Monday, March 23, 2015 12:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

As you are fond of pointing out, Nash's Suns were built to be an offensive juggernaut. Their playing style and personnel moves reflected that. D'Antoni would not have wanted a dominant defensive big man with a limited offensive game and probably would not have known how to use him if he had him. I could go along a little with "blaming" D'Antoni for Nash not winning a ring in the sense that I don't think D'Antoni's style is a championship style but since you praise Nash for what he did with that offense I think that you are trying to have things both ways. If Nash and the Suns had Shaq or Duncan then of course they probably would have won at least one title--but then they probably would not have led the league in offense and Nash would not have been the team's best player.

Sorry, but I don't think that adding Tyson Chandler would have made Nash a champion. Nowitzki scored, rebounded, passed and was at least an average defender who used his seven foot height and his length to some benefit during his two Finals appearances and one championship run. Nash shot efficiently, passed well and was a defensive liability.

You say that every championship team had a defensive presence in the paint and that is probably true but I would say that an even bigger issue is that the best player on those championship teams you mentioned put in work at the defensive end of the court--even Nowitzki, who may have been the worst defender among the best players who won championships in recent years. Nowitzki certainly bought into the idea that defense is important and that the team needed to have a defensive mindset. I don't think that Nash did that. The Suns always thought that they could run teams off of the court and hit enough threes to make up for all the layups they gave up--and, not surprisingly, that faulty approach never worked.

I never heard Nash lobbying for the team to have a better defensive mindset. Maybe I missed this or maybe he did it behind the scenes but he never demonstrated it with his play. It is no coincidence that Shaq, who could be indifferent on defense at times (and who could sometimes get away with that because of his size and talent) played his best defense during his championship years.

I don't want to get into a contest about who watched more Suns games and at this point I don't have the time to do an indepth analysis of the Suns' depth during those years. I will just say that I watched all of those playoff games and series and I wrote about many of them here or elsewhere. My impression at the time, which has not changed, is that Nash was not good enough to be the best player on a championship team and that his defense was a serious issue.

As for the 2010 series, winning the "last round" as you put it does not matter. This was not a 15 round championship bout in which the last round decided the title. Duncan and the Spurs pretty much handled Nash and the Suns for several years, beating them head to head and winning multiple titles. I love the Julius Erving 76ers and I think that the 1983 team might be the greatest single season squad in history--but winning the "last round" versus the Lakers in 1983 did not make the 76ers the team of the decade or prove some larger point other than that the 76ers were really, really great that year. The Lakers took two out of three in that matchup and they also took two out of three versus the Celtics. The Lakers were the team of the 1980s--and there is no doubt that the Spurs were better than the Suns in the 2000s, all excuses and explanations aside.

 
At Monday, March 23, 2015 4:11:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I'm definitely not saying he's anywhere near as good as Duncan et al. The comment I took issue with was that he wasn't good enough to be the best player on a title team; stick him on Billups' Pistons and he wins easy. Heck, give him just about any of Derrick Rose's Chicago teams and he probably wins a title, too.

I do think the Suns would have won in '07 if not for a truly epic streak of bad luck- the Donaghy game, the bloody nose, and the suspensions, none of which can be blamed on Nash- but I don't really think they would have won in '10; Amare played like crap and I do think his mother's arrest affected him- regardless of her track record it still can't be easy to watch your mom get arrested- but that Lakers team was very good. I do think they'd have had a better shot if Amare had brought his A-game, which I think is a reasonable claim regardless of whether he played poorly because of his mother or for some other reason.

So, yes, I'm saying something in between. I don't think Nash needed a "stacked" team or for things to break "just right", but he needed some interior help in terms of rebounding and rim protection that he just never got, and he needed better luck than he had.

I only have my personal player rankings really sorted through about 20, but if I were to estimate I probably think Nash is around the 30-35th best player ever; maybe lower, I haven't done the list. He's a solid two or three tiers behind Duncan or Doc, but I'd still usually take him over Billups or DJ, and I think if the Suns weren't morons they absolutely could have won a title- maybe even several- with him during his prime.

As for the 2010 Spurs series, my point wasn't meant to suggest that the 2000 Suns were- on balance- better than the 2000s Spurs. But the 2010 Suns were better than the 2010 Spurs; I was mostly just picking on your "if you switch Nash and Duncan the series outcome reverse" comment because it was silly.

Again, I do think Phoenix- or at least Nash, if you wanna put the blame for the suspensions on the Suns- got robbed in '07, but it's not like I think that Spurs team was bum, either. Even if Donaghy hadn't fixed a game, even if Nash had been able to close game 1, and even if Stat and Diaw had stayed on the bench, SA might still have won the series. My personal opinion, having watched that series and basically every other Suns/Spurs game in the last fifteen years, is that if you played that series out 100 times Phoenix would probably have won about 70 of them, but I certainly can't prove that. I think claiming that they lost fair and square is pretty bunk, though; between Donaghy and the suspensions, the Suns really only got to play 3 or 4 "real" games in that series. Moreover- and for me this is the real kicker- the Suns won the only two games where they didn't have some weird outlier working against them, whether it be their best player being kept off the court by a technicality (Game 1), a crooked ref (game 3), missing two starters (game 5), or exhaustion (game 6). I think that's the most telling bit.

As always, reasonable men can differ, and probably will.

 
At Monday, March 23, 2015 4:16:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

PS: Back on the original topic of this thread, if Westbrook played every game like he played today- engaged on both ends, picking his spots, getting his teammates going early, not forcing (most of) his shots- you and I would bicker a lot less. Really enjoyed watching him today.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Maybe Nash could have won a title with the '04 Pistons in Billups' place but, again, that would mean winning a title with one of the outlier championship teams in NBA history. Most championship teams are led by an MVP caliber player, if not one of the NBA's 50 Greatest players but the Pistons were an unusual team that had a bunch of really good players but no Top 50 guys and, arguably, no MVP caliber players. I would not rule out the possibility that Nash could have won a title with the '04 Pistons but I am a bit skeptical and, in any case, even if that is true I don't think that it invalidates my larger point, namely that in most years and in most situations Nash was not good enough to be the best player on a championship team. I would not have expected the Pistons to win the way that they did, but Rasheed Wallace proved to be an important piece acquired at just the right time and the Pistons also benefited greatly from the Lakers losing Malone and Fisher to injuries and Payton to the sudden onset of old age.

Maybe the Suns lost in '07 because of "epic bad luck" but Nash and most of his teammates were reasonably healthy and not terribly unlucky for a stretch of several seasons and never won a title--and the Mavs won a title after replacing Nash with Terry and the ghost of Jason Kidd, something that you dismiss but I think has some meaning in this discussion and cannot be entirely credited to Tyson Chandler and Rick Carlisle. The Mavs did not miss a beat without Nash. When Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, Moses Malone and other MVP-level champions left one team for another the teams that they left got worse, at least for a few years. The Lakers won two titles a few years after discarding Shaq but the Lakers had Kobe and they at least added a one-time All-Star to replace Shaq. The Mavs replaced Nash with a Sixth Man Award caliber player and a Hall of Fame pg who was on his last legs and no longer an MVP caliber player.

I don't think that the 2010 series has much relevance in the context of this discussion. The Spurs won titles before that year and have already won a title since that year, while Nash never got one. I think that if you swap out Duncan for Nash straight up during that era then the Suns win at least one title and the Spurs win no titles. That was the point that I was making. I am not sure what that swap would have meant for one particular season out of context of everything else and I was not even thinking in terms of specifically the 2010 series. Duncan won a title with Avery Johnson as his starting pg, so I am sure that he could have won a title with Amare, Marion, the rest of that cast and just about anyone at pg. Put Nash on the Spurs sans Duncan and the Spurs may lead the NBA in offense--for whatever that is worth--but they sure are not winning a title or winning at least 50 games every year the way that they did with Duncan.

As you say, reasonable men can differ but I think that Nash played long enough and with a good enough set of teammates that we got a pretty clear picture of just how much help he would have needed to win a title.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

He is fun to watch--and an amazing talent.

According to Elias, Westbrook recently joined MJ and the Big O as the only players to average 30-10-9 over a 20 game stretch in a single season. I think that 20 games--a fourth of the regular season--is a good sample size for those kind of numbers and the company that Westbrook joined is obviously impressive.

Westbrook is having a remarkable season and if he had been healthy for the whole year he might deservedly be running away with the MVP race. I think that he is validating much of what I have predicted/said about him in the past year or two.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 11:32:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I think we're largely quibbling over degrees now: Nash was good enough to be the best player on a title team, but it would have to be a strong, balanced team around him.

That said, two little points:

1) The Dallas argument is silly. Not only did they add elite rim protection in Chandler, but Dirk improved significantly (particularly on D, as you've pointed out), and they changed coaches. Oh, and the ENTIRE ROSTER rolled over except Dirk. That Mavs team was stronger at the 5, 4, and 3 than the team Nash left, and deeper besides. They changed coaches (and systems) from Nelly (AKA senile D'Antoni) to Carlisle (who took an elite Spurs team to 7 last year with Dirk and a bunch of spare parts). It was for all intents and purposes a completely different team; it's not so much saying a team won a title after their star left as saying a star's running mate won a title with a different team without him. Kobe/Shaq is actually a more apt comparison... though Kobe at least still had the same coach and point guard when he won.

2) While the 2000s Suns were very talented, I can't think of a single PG that would have won more with them than Nash did, given the same breaks. Not Cousy, not Thomas, not even Magic- although at least his rebounding would have helped a bit. None of those guys won without great interior D, and none of them were the shooter Nash was- which was essential to that team's success and spacing.

Bottom line: Nash is by no means as good Duncan, but it's also not fair to say that he wasn't good enough to be the best player on a title team; he just wasn't good enough to be the best player on every title team, and he wasn't good enough to win a title with that fun (but flawed) Suns team, given the breaks they got.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 11:58:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

One last point I forgot:

"Nash and most of his teammates were reasonably healthy."

Incorrect. Amir missed all of '06 and large chunks of other seasons for knee surgeries, as well as another long stint for a detached retina. Nash had recurring back issues that generally worsened late in the season. Marion had ankle injuries twice in the playoffs, Joe Johnson broke his face in '05, Raja Bell's knee went out on him in the '06 playoffs, etc. The Suns had very very bad injury luck until the last year or two of their run; one of those seasons was punted by a bad coaching change (Porter), and the other they made the WCF and put up a pretty good fight against LAL.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of what I'm reading is ridiculous excuses from Nick. How does Amare's mom getting arrested have anything to do with anything? And you might want to check out Amare's stats from the series. He actually played very well. Sure, he played little defense, but this has a lot to do with the fact that he had to play C, which isn't his normal position, Dantoni doesn't know anything about defense, and most importantly your leader, Nash, doesn't care one thing about defense.

It's interesting how you value individual defense so much, but yet think Nash is clearly a top 40 player all time. Am I missing something? He might be the worst defender I've ever seen in the nba.

The Suns were good enough to win a title for several years, if they were able to win in an outlier year or if Nash could be the best player in every series, otherwise, not happening. Sure, if Parker of Billups could be the best player on a title, Nash could be too, and lots of players as well. But, generally speaking in nba history, this is very unlikely. Rarely does a team without a top 5 player win the title.

Nash had lots of chances and played with AS and often 2 AS for a lot of his career, and never made the finals. The Mavs got better by basically replacing him with Jason Terry. The main reason he seemed so much better with the Suns is because of Dantoni and his system. They were very fun to watch and excelled in the regular season, but not so much in the playoffs. You have to play at least a little defense to win. The "bad luck" arguments is just sour grapes. Even in 2010, his cast outplayed Kobe's cast in the WCF. His 2nd unit at times outplayed the Lakers' starters, that's how good and deep his cast was even then. The difference was Kobe, plain and simple.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:32:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

*sigh*

Nash is a bad defender, and I've never disputed that. However, there's a statistical argument that he's the best offensive player of all time; for me, that's good enough for top 40 or so (probably; again, I haven't sat down and made a list). Something to be said for a guy who can guarantee you a top 10 offense for a decade.

As I said above, I don't really think Phoenix would have won in '10, only that they'd have had a better chance with an engaged Amare pulling down more than 4 rebounds a game and at least making an effort on defense.

As David and I both mentioned- it's more-or-less unheard of to win a title without rim protection or rebounding. The Suns had neither. While Nash was a bad defensive player, he was a low impact bad defensive player against most teams, as PHX would just hide him on a Bruce Bowen or whoever in the corner- you know, just like the Spurs do with Parker in crunch time.

Worth noting here is that the Suns were a mediocre defensive team, not a terrible one- they usually ranked between 12th and 15th in the league. They got KILLED inside, but their perimeter D was generally very good thanks to Marion/Bell/Hill taking all the hard assignments while Nash/Barbosa napped in the corners.

And, since I'm assuming this "anonymous' is the same one complaining about my comments on Kobe in the other thread, if you need to hear it from me: Kobe was obviously better than Nash. No one is disputing that.

All that said, the "bad luck" excuse applies for the '07 Suns if it applies to anyone. The referee is literally in jail for fixing basketball games. Doesn't get much shadier than that, and that's before bringing in the suspensions.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 6:40:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Nick,

I concede that Nash’s MVP is defensible (more so than say, Derrick Rose’s, or Harden’s when he wins) because he helmed one of (if not THE) best offenses of all time and along with D’Antoni really shaped the way the league has evolved over the past decade.

But this whole argument of whether or not Nash was good enough to be the best guy on a championship team is moot. Was Karl Malone good enough? Charles Barkley? Gary Payton? Perhaps, but all of them had their chances and just met up against a better player(s).

Is Nash better than Duncan? Kobe? Dirk?

While I love Nash and got no purer bliss in watching hoops then when he captained the Suns ship for his eight glorious seasons in the desert, I’d have to agree that he just wasn’t good enough to be the lead guy. Because, well, he wasn’t good enough.

As much as it pains me to say this, he’s like James Harden in many ways. Nash had a set gameplan and that was what he continued to go back to, year after year after year. It worked beautifully in the regular season, and often worked against certain kinds of teams in the playoffs, but the entire offense was set up on the premise of being undersized to exploit the offensive mismatches (as David and Anonymous have pointed out). Adding a defensive-minded center (other than maybe Hakeem or David Robinson) would have radically altered the entire team dynamic (and would have made Nash the second best player). If you exchange prime Chris Bosh (excellent jump shooter, 3-point shooter, freethrower, excellent defender) with a prime Amare, might have been the solvent to lead the Suns to a championship parade. Then again, Bosh wasn’t ever close to Amare as an offensive juggernaut or finisher and he, like Amare, is not a dominant rebounder. Many of the same issues would remain.

Back on point, different teammates created some different looks, but Nash’s basic game continued to be the same. He probed the defense, found open shooters, or cutters, and ran the pick-and-roll (with STATS) more aesthetically pleasing than Stockton/Malone. He was the top model of efficiency (the most efficient shooter of all time) and typically had a pretty good AS/TO ratio. The thing is, he never got better at the areas of his game that needed work. Much of that had to do with his physical stature and part of it had to do with a lack of a defensive system. But the rest was on him.

Nash travels the world, hosts soccer (futbol) camps, creates television shows, etc. He’s done this his whole career. I know MJ and Kobe and Magic (ahem) all had their extracurricular activities, but all of them also improved their game in areas of weakness. Nash never really did that. He just improved at what he was already ridiculously good at. Just like Harden (adding a couple more rebounds and an assist is just counting stats. He’s not really improved any area of his game. His defense this year is just a bit more effort compared to a complete lack of any effort last year).

He also didn't have that extra mode to take over and dominate on a consistent basis. I've written this before, but sometimes taking bad shots (and being able to make them) are a huge psychological advantage for your team/fans. Criticize Kobe all you want for chucking up bad shots (his teammates might've hated it during regular games) but when the stakes were highest, those same teammates didn't want anything to do with the ball.

Injuries, tragedy, weird things happen all the time. Celtics fans will point to Kendrick Perkins getting hurt in 2010. Lakers fans will point to Malone’s injury in 04. The Kings will point to the Donaghy game. Etc. etc. etc.

Nash was a once-in-a-generation talent (far more impactful than Mark Price David, though you make an apt comparison like Harden/Martin), that was the lead guard that ushered in this new era of basketball. But his biology (and bad luck) and his inability to be better than the guys that beat him, really are the reasons why he didn’t win a title.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 11:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same could be said about Nash making an effort on defense. Amare did only average 6rpg in the 2010 WCF, but that led the Suns, and LAL only averaged 3rpg more for the series. Defense wasn't a priority for Dantoni or Nash, so how could you expect anyone else to play defense?

Rim protection aside, if Nash actually played even above average defense and/or even approached to be as good as Kobe or Duncan, his casts were easily good enough for him to win at least one title. He played with 1-2 AS and very good casts for most of his career, and never made the finals even once, let alone win it all.

In 04, he had Dirk, Jamison, Twine and Finley as a starting unit plus a decent bench including future AS Josh Howard, and lost 4-1 to SAC in the 1st round. This wasn't just Nash's fault. But, just think about that. 2 players(Dirk/Nash) who combined would win the next 3 MVPs playing with 3 former AS players who all could still play well plus another future AS could only manage 1 win in the playoffs. This should be evidence enough for how bad the MVP voting was from 05-07. DAL immediately got better after Nash left as well. Even though Cuban might lament not resigning Nash after 04, it seemed like the right decision at the time and still does today. Going from a 2nd wheel on a team like that performing so poorly to a 2x MVP immediately on another team. It doesn't make sense.

I think Mark Price is an apt comparison to Nash. Price was a 4x AS, 3 3rd team all nba and 1 1st team, and would've likely had more, but he was often injured and didn't have that long of a career. Martin really isn't to Harden. Martin hasn't even approached making 1 AS team. Harden is still only 25, and has made 3 AS, 1 3rd team, and 1 1st team with another most likely again while being in the MVP consideration 2 years in a row.

I think most people liked Nash in DAL, but the main reason he became so loved by pretty much everyone in PHO was because of the system. PHO was a fun team to watch, and the PG starts it all. Once Amare entered his prime, he was the better player though. Nash deserved some credit for PHO's success, but certainly not any MVPs. If he was truly MVP worthy playing on so many great teams that he did, he would've won at least 1 title.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 12:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

We are quibbling over degrees to some extent but the degrees matter, too. There is a difference between saying/believing that Nash was good enough to be the best player on a championship team, period, and saying that he could have been the best player on a championship team if everything broke right and he had just the right teammates.

The more I think about it, the less I can picture Nash taking Billups' place on the 2004 Pistons. That was a defensive-minded team that played half court basketball; Nash would not have fit in at either end of the court. I am not necessarily saying that Billups was better than Nash individually but Billups was definitely a better fit for that team. Of course, if you can't plug Nash into the Pistons then you start to run out of teams on which he could have been the best player and won a title, which would take you back into the Amare's Mom, etc. excuse swamp.

In Dallas' first season sans Nash, the Mavs won six more games and went a round further in the playoffs. Their top five scorers were Dirk, Finley, Stackhouse, Josh Howard and Jason Terry (who spent most of the season starting at pg in place of Nash). The previous season's top five scorers were Dirk, Finley, Jamison, Nash and Antoine Walker. So the Mavs swapped Nash for Terry, kept Dirk and Finley and replaced Jamison/Walker with Stackhouse and Howard. So, you are right in the sense that the Mavs made some changes but the changes were hardly Earth-shattering--and the biggest change was that they gave up a player who is in your all-time top 40 for a role player. If Nash has as much of an impact on winning as you suggest then the Mavs should not have improved by six wins and one playoff series by making those moves.

I don't have the time or inclination right now to break down each Dallas roster from 2005 to 2011 but the reality is that the Mavs essentially gave up Nash for Terry and got better. This is not a ringing endorsement for the idea that if you put Nash on Detroit or prevent Amare's Mom from getting arrested or change other things then Nash would have won a title.

The 2000s Suns were like the 1980s Nuggets; they scored a lot of points, won a lot of regular season games and made it to the Conference Finals but they were not likely to win a title unless every possible break went their way. When the margin for error is that small, it makes little sense to suggest that if you change four or five things then they would have won. They needed everything to go right and that rarely happens for any team.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 1:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Again, I don't have the time or inclination to break down every Phx roster but in 2005 the Suns had every key rotation player except for Joe Johnson, their third-leading scorer and presumably fourth best player (behind Nash, Amare and Marion). They lost 4-1 to the Spurs in the WCF. If you are going to say that Ibaka could not have changed the OKC-Spurs series last year then you are going to have to be consistent and say that the 2005 Suns were healthy enough to win if they were truly as good as you think.

In 2006, Nash lost to his old team Dallas in the WCF. Yes, Amare was out but the rest of the roster was intact and Diaw served as a very effective replacement for Amare. Terry started at pg for Dallas and the rest of the starting lineup was Dirk, Howard, Diop and a committee (depending on matchups). It sure is odd that Nash never made the Finals in Dallas but just two years after he left his old team beat him in the WCF and advanced to the Finals. I wonder what you would say if Westbrook's career followed that arc. Would you defend Westbrook or would you say that this proved that Westbrook was not a winner and could not beat top level teams?

I just don't think you apply the same standards to guys you like (Nash, Dragic) and guys you don't like (Kobe, Westbrook). Everything that Nash and Dragic do is wonderful--and their teams only lose for other reasons--while Kobe and Westbrook are supposedly selfish and not interested in winning, even though Kobe won a lot more than Nash and Westbrook has won a lot more than Dragic.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 1:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Speaking of Westbrook, the actual subject of this article, a recent survey of NBA execs, coaches and players ranked him number one among current NBA pgs (Dragic came in 12th):

NBA personnel rank top 30 point guards

I don't think that any knowledgeable people in the league rank Dragic as highly as you do and I don't think that any knowledgeable people in the NBA believe that Westbrook's flaws outweigh his positives to the extent that you do. That survey may be a small sample size but I would be surprised if the results changed even with a bigger sample size.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 1:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

Was Nash really "far more impactful" than Price? Nash had a longer and healthier career but before Price tore his ACL he led the Cavs to the ECF, where they lost to Jordan's Bulls in the middle of the Bulls' first three-peat. That is the same "impact" that Nash had in Phx: a great regular season and a solid playoff run culminating in a loss to a team led by a greater player.

I am pretty sure that if I posted their career per game averages without listing their names you would have trouble telling them apart--not that stats mean everything, but Price was a lot better than many people think/remember and about 10 years ago Nash went from underrated to a bit overrated. The comparison is even more apt when you consider that Price did not play in a system like D'Antoni's and Price was among the first/best to "split" the screen/roll at a time when the big guys did not hesitate to lay some wood on little guys who embarrassed them in the open court. No one could lay a hand on Nash on the perimeter, which is important to remember when comparing his numbers to Price's.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 2:48:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Couple things:

While I like Nash and Dragic more than Kobe or Westbrook and openly admit it, I've never claimed either is better than Kobe- neither is. I freely admit both of their flaws- Nash's defensive vulnerability and Dragic's lack of aggressiveness, respectively- you just don't get as upset about that because you don't have the investment in those players that you do in Westbrook and Kobe, who in your eyes do no wrong. We both have players we like, but that shouldn't stop either of us from being objective.

I didn't mean to suggest that PHX should have won in '05 or '06, only that they weren't as healthy as you suggested. Also, in '06 they also lost Bell partway through the playoffs, leaving them without anyone quick enough to guard the Mavs wings (as they were playing Marion on Nowitzki). That series I do think they would have won if healthy, though that's purely speculative and they would have had a very hard time covering Shaq in the Finals regardless (though they could have perhaps exposed him in transition on the other side, the net advantage would have to go to Miami).

I'm still not interested in- and haven't been all season- having the Dragic vs Westbrook argument, though I keep getting lured in. My actual opinion is that it's too soon to tell, and that while Westbrook puts up gaudier box scores he doesn't seem to have any more of an impact on winning yet. I also think that while Westbrook does more right (rebounding, gaudy scoring numbers), he also does more wrong (dumb shots, defensive gambles, turnovers).

To clarify, since you seem to like arguing positions I haven't taken:

I don't think Nash is as good or better than Kobe. I have Kobe at least 20-30 spots ahead of Nash, which is a pretty big number of spots, really. I think Kobe is a transcendently great player who, early i his career, occasionally- perhaps unwittingly- played in a way that was detrimental to his team's chances. It's ok to criticize a great player; I also think Magic was a shoddy defender, Wilt was a headcase, Moses should have won more than he did, and Shaq should have given a damn; doesn't mean they're not transcendent talents and pantheon level superheroes.

I don't think Dragic is better than Westbrook now. in the other thread I believe I listed Westbrook as the third best PG in the league behind Curry and Paul. I am curious to see which is better in the long term, and while I agree that most GMs today would take Westbrook, I'm not sure I agree that doing so is wise; his is a style of play that lends itself to short careers and so far his tenure as a number one option has yielded unimpressive results in terms of winning percentage. If he starts more consistently playing like he did against Miami- giving a damn on defense and actually playing thoughtfully on offense- I'll have a lot more faith in him as a viable top guy.

Speaking of Dragic- and hopefully without inviting another protracted argument about nothing- Miami's O-RTG and D-RTG have both improved with him, even relative to when Bosh was healthy. Offensive improvement is no surprise, though the degree of the jump- from 30th in the league to 10th- is higher than I'd have guessed. The defensive improvement is probably at least as much due to the emergence of Hassan Whiteside (though of course that began a while before Dragic got there), but still impressive considering how good of a defender Bosh is and how much trouble Whiteside has staying on the court. Wade and Deng are also both playing their best ball of the season, though I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 12:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I never said that Kobe and Westbrook "do no wrong." I have said that they were and are, respectively, the best guards in the NBA. I have analyzed their skill set strengths and weaknesses in comparison with other players. I have also pointed out, regarding Westbrook, that NBA insiders have a much higher opinion of Westbrook and a lower opinion of Dragic than you do. I think that if you told any NBA GM that you consider Westbrook versus Dragic to be too close too call you would be laughed out of the room. It is not too close to call. In that recent poll of NBA insiders that I cited, Westbrook finished first and Dragic finished 12th. That may not be dispositive, as lawyers like to say, but it is a nice piece of evidence about how Westbrook is viewed around the league by people who should and do know basketball.

You are hedging your bets a little bit by referring to Westbrook's style of play possibly shortening his career but the reality is that Westbrook was a remarkably durable player until Patrick Beverly made a borderline dirty (and completely unnecessary) play by diving into Westbrook's knee when Westbrook was calling a timeout. Westbrook has recovered from that injury and does not seem to have lost any explosiveness. He missed time this season because of a broken hand and being kicked in the head (accidentally) by a teammate, injuries that will not affect his longevity and have nothing to do with his style of play.

Check out what Larry Bird recently said about Westbrook:

"He attacks, he's fearless and he plays the way it should be played, so I'm all for him. I hope he wins 10 MVPs in a row. I just love players that compete on a nightly basis and really take the challenge to their opponents."

Unless Bird thinks that Dragic should win 11 MVPs in a row, I am pretty sure Bird does not think that comparison is too close to call.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 12:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

You have knocked Westbrook for putting up stats without winning this year. I know that OKC just got waxed tonight by the Spurs but coming into that game OKC was 18-6 since February 1, the second best record in the league. Most of that was done without Durant, a lot of it was done without Ibaka and most of it was done while integrating new teammates into the rotation. Most of it was also done while Westbrook had a dent in the side of his head. During that 24 game stretch, Westbrook averaged about 31-10-9, which is almost unheard of in NBA history over an equivalent stretch of games. At some point, you cannot keep saying that Westbrook is not leading them to meaningful wins; even if OKC's schedule over more than a fourth of the season was too easy for your taste, the bottom line is that Westbrook has almost singlehandedly lifted this team to the top of the league over a significant period of time. If you want to say that you are being objective then you have to acknowledge those facts. OKC has been an elite team for two months and Westbrook has clearly been by far the most important factor in OKC's rise. To say otherwise is just to refuse to acknowledge reality. Whatever you, rightly or wrongly, think that Westbrook could do better, he is doing enough very well to carry his team in adverse circumstances.

Wade is playing better right now because he is healthy. It has little to nothing to do with Dragic, because we have seen Wade put up similar or better numbers for a decade when he was healthy. Wade will also likely get hurt again soon and his playing time/numbers will go down, regardless of what Dragic does.

The Heat are 8-7 in the 15 games that Dragic has played since joining the team and 2-1 in the three games that he missed. They are 32-38 overall. So, regardless of the stats that you love about offensive efficiency, the Heat have merely gone from a slightly below .500 team to a slightly above .500 team since Dragic arrived, which is not surprising: he is a good player but not the kind of player who is going to dramatically change a team's winning percentage. Most of the marginal improvement during this 15 game stretch is attributable to Wade getting healthier.

If/when Bosh comes back, of course the Heat will be better--but that will be because Bosh is their best all-around player, not because of Dragic. If/when Bosh returns, if he returns to his former level he will be the team's best/most important player, Wade will be second and then Deng, Whiteside and Dragic will be somewhere on the next tier. Whiteside is younger than Dragic and has more upside, while the other players are all bigger and more versatile than Dragic.

It's OK to just say that you loved watching Steve Nash and really wanted him to win a title. It is OK to say that Dragic reminds you a lot of Nash and that you hope that Dragic keeps improving and has a nice NBA career. I just think that your analysis of Nash and of Dragic has more to do with really liking them as opposed to analyzing/understanding where they fit in the pecking order of point guards/players.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 1:56:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I've freely admitted- more than once- that Westbrook is playing significantly better than Dragic this season. My argument has always been that I'm not sure which one I'd rather have going forward. Westbrook reminds me more of Marbury and Arenas than he does of Kobe, and Dragic reminds me of Nash, Ginobili, and Petrovich. I'd rather have any of the latter three than either of the first two. I also think (though I hope I'm wrong) Westbrook's about as good as he's going to get, but I think Dragic has one more mini-leap in him.

You're massaging the OKC numbers a bit with stuff like "most of that was without Durant" and by ignoring earlier losses in the season when Westbrook played and Durant did not, but you're right that what he's doing is impressive. I think Curry and Paul have been more impressive over the run of the season, and I find it odd that Westbrook has mostly struggled to beat good teams (though the Atlanta and Miami wins have softened me some on that). I've been reading you for about three or four years now and have never seen you criticize Kobe or Westbrook, but perhaps I missed something.

Your Miami argument is a little tricksy, since Miami was sub 500 with Bosh and is now over 500 without him; obviously this is not because they don't miss Bosh- many/most of their losses are chiefly attributable to the absolute garbage they're playing at PF (a three man rotation that recently logged a combine stateliness of 5.5. pts a 4 rebonds per game over give games). They've lost to good teams since acquiring Dragic; with him in the lineup they've lost exclusively to playoff teams with one exception (NO or OKC, depending who makes it), and they've also logged impressive wins against killers like Cleveland and Portland.

You can call it marginal improvement if you like, but considering that they have him instead of an All NBA Power Forward- the only real basis there is for comparison, as Bosh was there literally till the day they traded for Bosh- that's a pretty good improvement. I do agree that Bosh is better than Dragic in a vacuum, but it's impressive nonetheless that Miami is doing so well with Dragic in spite of Bosh's absence.

You can claim the improvement- again, in spite of the absence of Bosh- is due to Wade's health, but Wade has been healthy most of the season but is playing by far his best ball since adding Dragic. Wade himself credits it partly to Dragic, and partly to a new training regime he started this season that he learned from Ray Allen. At any rate, Whiteside and Deng have both also improved their offensive numbers with Dragic, and again, the Heat leapt from 30th ranked offense with Bosh to 10th with Dragic.

Moreover, watching the games is a good way to see the impact Dragic has. He gets defenses out of position, and he pushes the ball to create opportunities; Miami's averaging about 7 more fast break points per game since adding him. Probably just because Wade's healthy, though.

You're right that I like Nash and Dragic, but part of why is that they have a tendency to bring out the best in their teammates. I think there's value there, and my favorite Westbrook game of the season is the one where he got Kanter and Morrow going and blew out a good team (he scored 12), not the one where he scored 49 or whatever and eked past Philly.

Just because I value different things more (team performance, context) and other things less (raw numbers) doesn't mean I'm not objective. I hate Tim Duncan with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, but I defend him unfailingly because he's a near-perfect basketball player. I critique Westbrook because as great as he is, he could- and should- be even better. I critique Dragic (needs to be more aggressive, needs to get his threes back up above 40%) and Nash (couldn't guard me), too. It just only riles you up when I critique Westbrook or Kobe. Who, again, are both great. Kobe, particularly, is an easy Pantheon pick.

TBC

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 2:24:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

(part 2)

That all said, it seems silly to trivialize Miami's offensive numbers jumping by 20 spots with Dragic sans Bosh and to completely dismiss his role in that. Miami lost their best player and improved their winning percentage against a brutal schedule stretch (10 of 16 games with him were against potential playoff teams). It seems an odd coincidence that Wade would suddenly be healthy, Whiteside would suddenly be scoring, and Deng would be shooting the best he's shot in years without some common link.

Just for funsies, Westbrook's OKC record vs good teams: 5-11.

There is perhaps some small humor in that we both think the other is biased in favor of the guys he likes. The difference is that I don't pretend my guys are perfect; Hell, I don't even pretend they're better than your guys. They're just better than you give them credit for.

FWIW, Dragic's win percentage as a primary option: 59.2
Westbrook's win percentage as primary option: 57.5

Not trying to restart the argument, but the most important stat of all doesn't seem to think it's as one-sided as you do. And Ibaka- who Westbrook had for most of that- is better than anybody else on PHX last year. Bledsoe's better than anybody else on OKC, but then Dragic only had him for half that run.

Still, right now Westbrook is better. But it doesn't mean Dragic's not great.

Far be it for me to argue with Larry Bird. That said, if Pat Riley gives Goran Dragic a max deal this offseason- very likely, by the way- are you going to argue with him? I'm pretty sure he knows what he's doing.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 10:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

What I am saying is that the nature and manner in which Westbrook is outplaying Dragic indicates a yawning gap that is not likely to ever be closed (barring a significant injury to Westbrook).

I don't think that I "massaged" any numbers. During Westbrook's Big O type run of 24 games, OKC posted the second best record in the league despite Westbrook overcoming some injuries, despite Durant and Ibaka missing games and despite new players being integrated into the rotation.

I am not sure what you mean by criticizing Kobe or Westbrook. I try to analyze players objectively. I don't think that I have "criticized" Nash and Dragic. Saying that Nash plays like Price is not a criticism. Saying that Dragic is a good but not great player is not a criticism, unless one takes the perspective that I am undervaluing those players to such a huge extent that the analysis/comparisons are completely invalid; that is how I feel about some of your comments regarding Kobe (mainly just the stuff about the '04 Finals) and Westbrook and perhaps you feel that I have devalued Nash and Dragic to that extent.

I maintain that Miami's recent slight improvement is mainly a product of improved health for Wade and Deng. I have no explanation for how/why the timing of that improvement seems to have coincided with Dragic's arrival but most of Miami's recent wins have looked like the Dwyane Wade show with Dragic playing a supporting role.

I think that Kobe brought out the best in his teammates as much if not more than Nash. There is a lot more that goes into that than offensive ratings and assist totals. Ditto for Westbrook, who is hardly surrounded by great talent right now.

I don't know how you are defining "good teams" so I have no comment about that stat. The same goes for your "first option" comparison; I don't know how you are defining that term or what relevance it has. Westbrook has been a perennial All-NBA performer and during that time his teams have won 55-60 games and made one Finals trip. Dragic's team success is much more limited (and I realize that he has not played with a Durant-like player).

Riley is going to offer the deal that he thinks is best for Miami overall. He may pay Dragic more than Dragic is objectively worth to keep him in the fold. My point is that Bird, Riley and other GMs would not take Dragic over Westbrook--and it would not be a close call, whether one is looking at this season, previous seasons or projections into the future (Westbrook is so much better that I think he is worth taking the chance that his career might be shorter than Dragic's due to injury).

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I've watched about half of the Miami games and I agree that Wade is generally their closer- which makes sense, since Wade is a great player who knows the offense. That said, Dragic seems to more often run the offense over the first three quarters. Two interesting notes:

Against Cleveland, Dragic generated 26 points on 19 drives; more than the entire Cleveland team. Those 26 points would not be there without him.

Miami lost to Boston with Dragic out but Wade healthy. Last night, with both Wade and Whiteside out, they beat Boston. Obviously this is only two games, but it suggests Dragic has a bit more value.

When talking about "bringing out the best in their teammates" I'm also talking about things like field goal percentage, scoring spikes, etc. I agree that Kobe makes his teammates- and especially big man teammates- better, but I think it;s pretty silly to suggest that he has more of a team-wide effect than Nash did; Kobe's never captained the league's best offense; Nash did it nine years in a row despite being traded in the middle of it. While some of Nash's teams were very good, the starting lineup for the '06 Suns was Nash, Bell, Marion, Tim Thomas, and Boris Diaw; offensively, not exactly a murderer's row. It's also difficult to separate Kobe from Phil in these conversations, whereas Nash's ability to improve his surrounding cast spans four coaches, and therefore is a little easier to credit to him rather than his coach.

It also doesn't help Kobe that Pau Gasol- a player I've seen you cite often in similar situations- is playing about as well at 34 on a team with no Kobe-level captain as he did with Kobe at 28-30, and significantly better than he played with Kobe the last few years.

But obviously Kobe is the better player than Nash overall.

(Cont'd)

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

As for my numbers, "good" teams in the case of Westbrook's non-Durant record were defined as teams over .500. "As primary option" was simply games in 2014 on the Suns for Dragic, and games without Durant in 2015 for Westbrook. While Westbrook's record is good over this recent stretch against mostly easy competition, his record over the course of the season without Durant is significantly less impressive.

Really, if we unpack my criticisms of Westbrook down to their basest level, they're a lot like your criticisms of Nash: I don't think he's good enough to be the best player on a seriously contending team (and his record without Durant speaks to that), and I don't think he plays good enough defense (though he's obviously a much better defender than Nash). I also don't think Dragic is good enough to be the best player on a seriously contending team, but neither do I think- based on the careers of the guys Dragic's game most reminds me of- that he's hit his ceiling yet.

I'm not terribly interested in Westbrook's success w/ Durant in this case; I do think Westbrook is probably good enough to be the second best player on a title team, though I don't think that even healthy OKC is quite good enough to win a title.

As for Dragic, he may well be Miami's third best player next year- and almost certainly will statistically. But Miami will be (assuming some health) a top ten offense and (assuming retention of Deng and no regression from Whiteside) probably a top ten defense next year and seriously contend. We know what they looked like without Dragic this year, and even with Bosh it was sub .500 ball. The guy is obviously a major, major asset and his teams' performance when they give him the ball- particularly compared to when they don't- suggests that giving him the ball is a pretty reliable way to win basketball games.

Or we can keep pretending that the difference between Bosh-Miami with Wade averaging 19 a night and losing more games than not and Bosh-less Miami with Wade averaging 23 and winning a is just that Wade- who missed last night's game because of injuries- is healthier now and it's mere coincidence that Dragic happened to show up right when that happened.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 3:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea, well Nick, if Nash was so awesome about bringing out the best in his teammates, especially moreso than kobe, then why couldn't he make even one finals? He played with another HOFer in Dirk for a lot of years plus other AS, past AS, and future AS in DAL. Then, goes to PHO and it's same thing. Amare would make the HOF if he could've stayed healthy for a few more years, and did just fine without Nash in his lone healthy year in NY. Marion did perfectly fine before Nash. Johnson becomes a big-time star after leaving PHO. I'm sorry, but the 06 Mavs didn't exactly upgrade much compared to the 04 Mavs. Some pieces got switched around, but it was basically Terry replacing Nash. And who's their supposed rim protector - Diop? Even without Amare, if Nash was anywhere as good as you proclaim him to be, the Suns should've won that series.

I don't believe Nash really improved much after joining PHO. Players turning 30 just don't do that. He remained where he was his last few years in DAL, in the 10-20 range amongst current players at the time. Those PHO teams were filled with stars. Nash's stats didn't improve that much. It was just a great, fun system. More possessions/faster pace, and Nash being able to dominate the ball a lot more than when he was in DAL, allowed him to have slightly better stats.

Regardless if you think Nash brought out the best in his teammates offensively, and let's just say that's true for argument's sake here. If it is, then you have to admit he brought out the complete worse in them defensively. You can't have it both ways.

Pau has woken up a bit this year, but his #'s are only slightly up compared to last year, sans Kobe. He's still shooting under 50%. I don't think that comparison is that valid since Kobe was out last year. And Bulls, while they've had some injuries, are a very deep team with a very good coach plus several other stars,a nd they haven't exactly caught the world on fire, even in the East. Noah is playing like their 3rd or 4th best player, and he was #4 in MVP voting last year.

Pau continually needs to be told to be hard and stop settling. He's a very good player and probably will make the HOF, but he was an overall average at best #2 team for most past title teams. He was a 1x AS and 0-12 in the playoffs before joining Kobe. And he would've missed the AS game this year if he remained with LAL or most likely any team in the west.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 5:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

The '06 Suns roster against the Mavs (6 games):

PG: Nash
SG: Raja Bell (1 game healthy, 3 games on one leg)
SF: Marion
PF: Tim Thomas
C: Boris Diaw

Bench:
Leandro Barbosa (that's good!)
James Jones (um...)
Eddie House (uh...)
END OF LIST

That team got to the WCFs on Nash's back. The other team had Nowitzki- who's probably better than Nash- and, you know, actual centers and power forwards. The Suns played a 7 man rotation twice, and had no business even being in that series, and yet they might have won it with a healthy Bell and/or Kurt Thomas (let alone Amare).

Marion, Stoudemire, Bell, Diaw, and Thomas all had their best seasons with Nash.

And... how did he bring the worst out in his teammate defensively? Bell made All-Defensive teams (I think Marion may have as well), and the Suns routinely naked around 12-15th in defensive rating. Their bad defensive reputation is overblown; they lost because they couldn't rebound, and they couldn't stop guys like Duncan and Pau. Their perimeter D was actually very good, in spite of Nash. Bell never made another All D team after leaving, btw, though he made one both seasons before he did.

Marion had three of his four All-Star appearances with Nash (despite leaving right as he was entering conventional "prime" age for forwards), his career highs in both shooting percentage and ppg.

Amare did play well in NY, but again, his best shooting and scoring seasons came with Nash. He had to shoot 19 times in his best season in NY to score the same number of points he scored in 15 attempts in '08 in Phoenix, and his best season in NY saw him shoot a lower percentage than any of his PHX seasons (3 games in '06 exempted).

Bell, Barbosa, and Tim Thomas all did nothing of substance after leaving Nash. Daw stunk for years before finding a role as the seventh or eight man on the Spurs; a little different than racking up triple doubles as a starter. J-Rich, Dudley, and Hill all similarly immediately regressed.

I don't know exactly what you're trying to argue with me; Nash captained the best offense in the league no matter who his teammates were, and almost all of his teammates (Joe Johnson exempted) had their best seasons playing with him. Most of them credited him for their success, too.

As for Pau, his scoring is the highest its been since 2011 (and higher than two of the Finals years), his rebounding is a career high (despite sharing the floor much of the year with Noah, a great rebounder in his own right), and his BPG are way above any of his LA seasons. His shooting percentage is slightly down, but some of that might be because the Triangle is an ideal fit for a guy like Pau and Thibs' offense is... notoriously bad. He's obviously not worse for playing without Kobe, is my point. Based on '2012, if anything he's worse for playing without Phil.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 5:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Postscript on Joe Johnson, while I have a second:

He shot by far his best 3 pt percentage (.478 on 4.5 attempts per game) with Nash, and his second best FG%. He did improve with age (being 22 when he played with Nash), but he was definitely better with Nash in '05 than without him in '04.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 6:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the problem that you don't get. If Nash was the main guy for the best offense in history, and now you're saying their defense is good, which helps my case even more. Where's the hardware to show for all of this? It doesn't add up. If he/they were so good, then can you actually make one finals and win something, please. I know you have lots of excuses, which I don't buy for the most part. Amare not playing in 06 was a big loss, but for all of the other years Nash played on star-studded teams, which he did often, no. David also doesn't buy into your excuses. Which puzzles me why he thinks a 3rd wheel in Ibaka missing only 2 games last year was such a big factor and a legitimate excuse for OKC, even though OKC showed indication they could even remain competitive in SA.

Nobody is saying Nash didn't help his teammates play better. But, when you say stuff like comparing Kobe to Nash in this regard to even suggest it is 'pretty silly,' it sounds like complete homer bias. There's absolutely no reason Nash didn't win 1 or multiple titles based on how highly you view him given how good his teams were for most of his career. Also, why didn't Dirk shoot better with Nash, etc? Nash had a lot to do with PHO's team/individual success, but I still think it was much more system than anything else. Nash had stars all around him for several years, but yet he always came up short, and his previous team actually got better. Losing a 2x MVP should drastically make your team worse, but yet they got a lot better. Doesn't add up.

Pau is better this year than some previous years, but that has little to do with/without Kobe. Kobe didn't play last year. Pau had much better off. reb. and shooting pct. immediately when joined the lakers. He also had to play alongside Odom/Bynum and great rebounding guard in Kobe. His rebounding is better than the previous 2 years, but I don't buy he's rebounding his best ever. It's a different team and overall worse rebounding teammates with CHI. He was also hurt some in 13/14, and had to adjust playing with Howard in 13, affecting his stats. He wouldn't have made the AS team in the west. And even considering the injuries CHI has had this season, they should be better.

JJ was also a better player in 06 without Nash. Though, I'm sure playing with Nash helped his FG pct.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 9:42:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Anonymous, this'll be my last response to you on this thread as we've wandered a mile off the path I can only feel so compelled to convince you that Steve Nash was a great basketball player who made his teammates better; watching basketball really ought to have done that for me.

Pau's 2010 (best LAL season) rebounds: 11.3
LAL's rebounding stats: 44.3 RPG vs 42.2 for average opponent. +2.1 RPG, with Pau accounting for about a quarter of their rebounds.

Pau's current season: 11.8 RPG
CHI's rebounding stats: 45.7 RPG vs 43.5 for average opponent. 2.2 margin.

CHI 2014 (no Pau): 44.1 RPG (still more than Pau's LAL team despite playing a slower pace) vs. 41.3 opponent (+2.8 margin).

Pau rebounds basically the same percentage on Chicago- despite playing 2.5 fewer minutes a game- then he did in LA, and yet he ends up with more rebounds. More than that, the fact the Chicago W/O Pau was a better rebounding team than LAL W/ Pau is pretty damning. By straight margin, they were actually a better rebounding team without Pau, too... but that also makes the "Pau had better rebounders with him in LA" argument pretty silly.

TL;TR Pau's teammates are objectively better rebounders in Chicago than they were in LA, yet he rebounds more here.

Now, as for Nash.

1) I believe he probably should have won in '07 but was stopped by factors beyond the control of him or his opponents- crooked referees, bleeding faces, poorly timed suspensions.

That said, I believe it's almost impossible- to the point that '07 would have been the first time it ever happened- to win a title without good to great rebounding and interior defense. Phoenix had neither (though they had very good perimeter defense). Also, much like it's easy to criticize Elgin Baylor for never winning a ring until you realize that he'd have had to beat Bill Russell to do it, Nash had the misfortune of running into Tim Duncan and/or Kobe Bryan in the playoffs seven times over six years. Both are better players than he is, and both had better coaches. They also often had better support.

They both had rebounding and interior D, too.

To his credit, he beat them three out of seven times, but sadly he beat them the wrong three times.

It's possible for Steve Nash to be a great player without winning a ring. Same as it is for Elgin Baylor, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, and- for the moment- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Every bit of available data tells us that Nash made his teammates better, but you're welcome to ignore that.

As for Dirk- this may blow your mind, so stay with me- sometimes young players get better. He's an All-Time great in his own right, and he played with Nash before Nash was really the player in question (though still good enough between the two of them to own the league's best offense a couple of years). I'll take the ten guys who peaked with Nash over the one guy who didn't, thanks.

 
At Thursday, March 26, 2015 9:54:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

PS: 12-15th best defense isn't enough to win the title. Since 2000 only two teams have won a title without a top 10 defense, and both had two top six or seven players.

2006 Heat (12th ranked defense, but all their vets woke up in the playoffs)

2001 Lakers: (21st ranked) Had prime Shaq and Kobe and curb stomped the entire playoffs. They actually did play good D in the playoffs, and were top 10 defensive outfits the year before and after. I don't remember the '01 season specifically, but my assumption would be that something was up during the regular season to throw their defense off that much.

Phoenix never had two of the best ten players in the league, therefore they needed a top ten defense.

 
At Friday, March 27, 2015 4:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, nobody is saying Nash was a good player or didn't make his teammates better; just not anywhere near the extent you think. Sure, you can be great without winning a title. But, when your previous team gets better than without you immediately, and you've had as great of teams as he had during his career, then I'm not going to pump up a guy who is small by nba standards, not very athletic, and can't play a lick of defense.

In 00, Nash was 25, certainly prime age, maybe 6th man with DAL, which failed to make the playoffs. An age which Kobe was playing already in his 4th finals.

In 01, at age 26, he was 4th man on DAL, only averaging 9ppg in a 2nd round loss to SA.

In 02, 3rd man, losing to SAC in 2nd round.

In 03, 3rd or 4th man, losing to SA in WCF.

In 04, finally a #2, though playing miserably in 1st round loss to SAC 4-1.

In 05, he loses in WCF 4-1 to SA. Amare dominates with 37 and 10, but Suns defense makes Ginobili/Parker look like legit MVP candidates. Sure sucks to have a #2 like that, or JJ/Marion as #3/4.

In 06, he loses to his old team, DAL, who is supposed to get a lot worse since they lost a 2x MVP, though the complete opposite happens. Also, they lucked out in the 1st round against a sorry LAL squad.

In 07, with Amare still dominating and Marion also averaging a double/double, lose to SA in 2nd round.

In 08, with rim protector Shaq, they lose 4-1 in 1st round to SA, with Parker dominating Nash.

In 09, Suns don't even make the playoffs.

In 10, Nash plays like the 4th best player in the WCF, losing to LAL 4-2. LAL can go a whole 6 deep with Farmar/Brown only playing to spell the starters some. Machine lets some ongoing feud with Dragic get in the way of LAL winning, almost costing them the series. The Suns 2nd unit at times outplays LAL's starters.

How many good/great chances does the guy need? I think David is right that if everything was absolutely perfect, Nash could've had a remote chance to win a title. But, when does that happen? Pretty much never.

Nash wasn't just losing to SA/LAL. He was also losing to DAL/SAC, and even in a 1st round to SAC. All those teams were good that he played, which is no different than any other team in any other year overall, but if this guy is as great as you make him out to be, and sometimes not even the 1st or 2nd best player on his team, and a supposed legit 2x MVP, how do his teams do so poorly? We have years of evidence now, and it doesn't back up your theory of how great you think Nash was.

You not only have Kobe and Duncan, but Dirk, KG, Webber, Shaq, Yao, T-mac, Amare who were better than Nash when they were healthy and in their primes from 00-10, and I'm probably missing a few others. I'd even throw in Pau/Paul certainly for a few years, who were better than Nash. he just doesn't measure up to these players very well, and it shows with his team's failures. If you want to nitpick about a rim protector, go ahead, but doesn't change anything. And having Shaq didn't help anything. But, if they would've gotten someone like this, then there's drawbacks, too, especially to the offensive system they ran. With Shaq, they played slower.

And Nash had better teams than Kobe for several years, and even Duncan. It's just that they were better players and played defense.

 
At Saturday, March 28, 2015 12:24:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

David,

By "impactful" I meant upon the league itself. Rightly or wrongly, his style of play made a large ripple throughout the league. You are correct to compare Price and Nash. Price was a better defender though not as efficient or creative on offense.

Anonymous,

I've been reading this debate with great interest for the past week. I am an admitted Nash fan and had been tending to lean towards Nick's viewpoint.

But that very eye-opening last post of yours really changed my perspective on Nash.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

If these comments go on like this, I'll never have to read ESPN again. lol

 
At Saturday, March 28, 2015 12:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

When you say that Nash beat Duncan and Bryant three times, you are counting two Phoenix victories against a Lakers team that started Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and Brian Cook. Kwame and Smush's "resumes" speak for themselves. Cook started 46 games for the 2006 Lakers and 28 games in the rest of his 12 year journeyman career. The fact that Bryant pushed Nash's stacked Suns to seven games virtually singlehandedly--and came within one missed Lakers' defensive rebound of knocking off the Suns in game six--speaks volumes about the huge gap between Bryant and Nash. Give me a break about Nash being better at improving his teammates than Bryant. Bryant carried a craptacular team to the playoffs two years in a row. If you switch Bryant and Nash during those seasons, Nash would have won about 25 games max with the Lakers and Bryant likely would have won at least one championship.

You mention Pau Gasol. What was Pau Gasol's career arc before he joined forces with Bryant? One All-Star selection and not a single playoff win. Now, Gasol will likely be selected as a Hall of Famer. Gasol's FG% and offensive rebounding increased when he joined the Lakers because of all of the defensive attention Bryant drew. When Bryant got hurt and started missing huge chunks of games, Gasol's stats went down. This season, Gasol joined a strong team with a former MVP (Rose) and a top five MVP candidate from last season (Noah), plus several other talented players. There is not a lot of pressure on Gasol and he is talented enough to put up solid numbers in such a situation--but Bryant elevated him to being a champion and a future Hall of Famer.

Before Dragic joined the Heat, I said that I thought that he was a good, solid player who would put up about the same numbers elsewhere that he did in Phoenix. After 17 games with Miami, Dragic is averaging 16.4 ppg, 5.5 apg and 3.7 rpg. His FG% is slightly up, as is his FT%, but his 3FG% is down. He averaged 16.2 ppg, 4.1 apg and 3.6 rpg in Phoenix this season. Being able to pass to Dwyane Wade is surely helping Dragic's assist totals a bit (and Wade's presence is likely opening up other players to receive assist passes from Dragic as well) but right now Dragic is doing the same things in Miami that he did when you think he was misused in Phoenix. Also, the results in the standings are about the same. Phoenix was mediocre and fighting for the last playoff spot with Dragic and Miami is in the same spot now with Dragic in the East.

Dragic is not an impact player in the way that you assert.

 
At Saturday, March 28, 2015 12:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

You are right on target about Nash.

Regarding Ibaka, when he was healthy OKC handled the Spurs in the 2012 playoffs, with his defense and ability to open up the court as a stretch four playing a major role. When he came back in the 2014 playoffs OKC got right back in the series. I believe that a healthy Ibaka would have made a difference but of course there is no way to prove this.

 
At Saturday, March 28, 2015 2:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, the last time OKC 'handled' the Spurs was when they had Harden as a 3rd/4th man. And SA was much better in 13 than 12, and even better in 14 than in 13. I don't buy the injury excuse, especially only for 2 games, when it happens to a #3 or lower player. If it's to your one of your top players, yes, that'd be different, especially with OKC, since they have 2 top 5 players and rely so heavily on each.

I'm starting to believe OKC needs everything to go almost perfectly to win a title now, especially if we're going to think their #3 missing 2 games was the key factor in losing against SA. The main reason OKC got back into the series was having 2 home games. Even if you think Harden wasn't that big of a factor OKC getting to the finals in 12, it's been 3 years now, and they've haven't been back.

Let's put it in perspective. Harden was only 22 in 12. Most players would still be in college. He wasn't playing at an AS level yet either, though it was obvious he was going to be a very good player. He played awesome in the SA series, and was probably OKC's 2nd best player. Westbrook struggled that series. Harden struggled in the finals some, but he's only a #3/4 for OKC. James was just the best player in the series, that's the main reason why MIA won. Harden didn't play much in game 1. And then had 2 bad and 2 good games in games 2-5. He definitely gave enough as a #3/4 option for his team to win.

Compared to the LAL 08-10 teams, where Bynum was Kobe's #2 before Pau arrived, making him #3, though he was injured so much, he was relegated to a #5/6 best player on the team. But, he was on/off injured for all of their finals runs. He didn't give more than Harden did in 12, and LAL still did perfectly fine.

Definitely having a healthy Ibaka for the entire series would've helped more, but I think it's still a far stretch to think he would've helped them enough to win the series given how the series went.

OKC seems to need their entire team at 100% to even have a chance. How often is that going to happen? Probably never. While Durant and Westbrook are clearly top 5 players, Ibaka's a solid #3, and the rest of the their team is very good, there seems to be something missing. Maybe it's just going to take them a bit longer. If they stay together, I think they'll get there. But, the West is still stacked.

 
At Saturday, March 28, 2015 2:47:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I seem to be outnumbered here, so I suppose I'll concede for now. I'm confident time's going to prove me right about Dragic, but as long as you're unwilling to give him any of the credit for the improved play of Miami's other three good players- or acknowledge that while they're record hasn't been amazing, it's improved over what it was even with Bosh against a brutal stretch of schedule despite Dragic playing hurt- then there's nowhere for us to go. Your dependence on raw box score numbers is disappointing, though.

As for Nash, as long as everyone keeps trying to turn my position into "Nash was better than Kobe" instead of "Nash made a bigger difference in his teammates' performance than Kobe" - an assertion backed up by the numbers, by the way- then there isn't much point arguing it. Pau's putting up Laker-era numbers without Kobe, Ariza's best years came without Kobe, Shaq did fine without Kobe. The only meaningful players that seemed to have significantly better with Kobe than without are Lamar Odom and Derrick Fisher.

I will say that calling the '08 version of Shaq a rim protector is giving him an awful lot of credit... but I'll also point out that playing with Nash briefly revitalized Shaq's offensive career.

Another point on the "who improves their teammates more" question: how many of Kobe's teammates peaked with him in non-Phil years? Are you sure you're giving credit to the right people here? Because Kobe was still there when Pau stank. And he was there in '05 when Butler and Odom stank.Or in '13 when Dwight had his worst season in six years. I don't see any evidence of Kobe making his teammates better without the greatest coach of all-time... but Nash got career years outta guys with three different- and, let's face it, unimpressive- coaches: D'Antoni, Porter (ick!), and Gentry.

I also stand by my position that you can't win a title without better interior D and rebounding than Nash ever had; anyone who can prove me wrong is welcome to do so. But part of the reason Kobe couldn't win with those Kwame teams is that he didn't have anybody to rebound the basketball or protect the rim; even though Kobe was brilliant offensively, you still need somebody to help control the paint. Without exception.

Heh, I said I was conceding at the beginning of this but look at me now, getting sucked back in. I'll stop myself before I get all the way back on the merry-go-round.

Kobe is still significantly better than Nash. So's Duncan. And I've never said differently.

 
At Saturday, March 28, 2015 11:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure David is disrespecting Dragic that much, though maybe a little, it's just that you seem to overrating him quite a bit. While Wade is certainly no superstar anymore, he's clearly better than Dragic. Dragic is already 28, and I don't see any future AS games for him. He did have a nice late flourish last season to make 3rd team all-nba, but it's not unlikely that will happen again, certainly not this year. The PG poll had him at #12, and that seems about right. He's in the 2nd or 3rd tier of PGs.

It should be obvious that Pau played his best ball with Kobe, and it happened immediately, too. Ariza was only 22-23 with LAL. Overall, yes, he got better as a player, naturally, after 09. However, other than 2014, his shooting was much better in 08/09 with LAL than any year since. And he was absolutely money in the playoffs for LAL. I lost count how many times he was wide open with Kobe drawing double/triple teams.

Really-only Fisher/Odom did better with Kobe? You might want to look into it more. Howard was hurt all of 13. Given that, he actually played well. You're seeing what you want to see, which isn't the truth, for the most part. Pau was basically a nobody before joining Kobe. Then, he becomes the 'most skilled big man' in the game and people screaming for him to win at least one finals MVP. He somehow becomes an elite/near-elite player for 3 years. Most of that thinking by people is to denigrate Kobe, but Pau certainly played his best ball with Kobe. If Pau supposedly is playing his best ball of his career this year, then that would be mean he's an elite player(top 5-8) or at very least near-elite player. If that's the case, and given all the star power in CHI and in a weak East, CHI should be a much better team this season.

To my knowledge, every single player on the 2010 LAL title team was out of the league within 3 years except Kobe and Pau. Fisher barely played in 2013, and did come back in 2014 to play a limited role with OKC. Farmar has come back for the past 2 years as well, but is having trouble finding much playing time. Brown was still mostly a bench player for PHO in 12/13, which were mediocre and bad teams, and has only played 34 games for the past 2 seasons, all of this during what should be the middle of his prime, just to name a few examples.

 
At Saturday, March 28, 2015 11:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And if you discredit Shaq for being a rim protector, then you can't count a lot of the other 'rim protectors' on past title teams. I wouldn't call Laimbeer in 90, any of the Bulls' big men, or Bosh or whoever on MIA over the past 25 years. The common denominator on pretty much title team is that the best player is a real elite player primarily that plays both ends. Also, each team has at least one very good big, regardless if they're better offensively or defensively. Nash had Dirk, Marion who usually played PF, Amare, Shaq, and even Pau/Howard with LAL as star bigs. I can't think of another player who played with so many star players during his career other than the early BOS teams. Those PHO teams were built on offense with Amare playing C. They wanted a smaller team that could run on offense, and didn't care that much about defense. It's a different style, but an irrelevant excuse against Nash not winning a title.

If you want to talk about injuries or lack of a rim protector, look no further than to Kobe. Bynum was hurt more than healthy if he was actually able to play, and if Pau is their only other even relatively decent defensive big, that's not saying a whole lot. If Malone doesn't get hurt in 04, LAL might very well win. Bynum/Ariza(2 starters for LAL in 09) are hurt in 08. BOS was healthy and could go 12 deep in 08, while LAL had Fisher as their 4th man, and basically nothing after that. That stuff happens, though. I can't remember any significant injuries hurting the Bulls much during their 6 title teams, they seem like the exception.

Kobe's 06/07 LAL teams weren't good because they only had 2 guys that should be in a contender's rotation. Smush shouldn't even have been in the nba. He couldn't make PHO in 05, and in 08 he barely plays for the 2 worst teams in the league, then basically gets kicked out of the league, and he was probably LAL's 3rd/4th best player. To say their interior defense was a problem is understating and oversimplying all of their problems. They had issues just figuring out their issues.

 
At Sunday, March 29, 2015 3:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I suggest that you go back and watch the 2012 OKC-Spurs series again, focusing on the last four games. Ibaka was a major factor at both ends of the court. His outside shooting and interior defense were major problems for the Spurs. Maybe that would still have been the case in 2014 if he had been healthy and maybe not but it is far from outlandish to suggest that the outcome may have been different if Ibaka had been healthy.

I don't understand where you get the idea that OKC has to have everything break right for them to win a championship. Obviously, every team that wins a title has things break right for them to some extent but the Thunder have been hit particularly hard by injuries since the 2012 Finals. Westbrook got hurt during the first round in 2013 and missed the rest of the postseason. In 2014, Westbrook was still recovering--he missed half of the season--and Ibaka was not quite right during the Western Conference Finals. This season, Westbrook has been in and out of the lineup--though he has excelled in the past two months--and Durant will be out for the entire postseason.

OKC's recent playoff runs are first round loss (2010), Conference Finals loss (2011), Finals loss (2012), second round loss (2013) and Conference Finals loss (2014). They have made it to at least the Conference Finals in three of the past four seasons despite their injuries. If Durant comes back healthy next season and Westbrook stays healthy there is every reason to believe that OKC can contend for the title.

 
At Sunday, March 29, 2015 3:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

You often say that your words are being twisted but I don't think that is the case here. You are insisting that Nash did a better job of lifting up his teammates than Kobe Bryant and that if certain things had broken right for Nash then he would have/could have led a team to a championship. I and other commenters are pointing out evidence that these assertions are flawed. The discussion is not just about Bryant being better than Nash, though you get in a lot of not so subtle digs about how Nash is a better teammate than Bryant; the discussion is about whether or not Nash was good enough to be the best player on a championship team. You believe that he was, while several of us are more than a bit skeptical. That is not twisting your words; that is just disagreeing with what you are saying.

The teammates that you say Nash improved were pretty good players before Nash arrived and/or were pretty good players without Nash when they were healthy/not old. Stoudemire would have been a perennial All-Star with or without Nash had he not injured his knee. Marion was an All-Star before Nash. Grant Hill was a perennial All-Star before Nash, etc.

Let's look at Bryant. Shaq had the best years of his career with Bryant. Gasol had the best years of his career with Bryant. Bynum had the best years of his career with Bryant. Odom had the best years of his career with Bryant. Kwame Brown had the best years of his career with Bryant. The list goes on and on, from the sublime (Shaq) to the ridiculous (Kwame) and everywhere in between.

More to the point, Bryant did not just improve the stats of his teammates; Bryant lifted his teammates to five championships and that will always be more impressive and meaningful than all of the stats you cite about how efficient Steve Nash's offenses were. As Anonymous pointed out, if you are right that Nash was the engine behind the best offenses and that Nash was not that bad defensively then why did Nash never win a title? You can fiddle with the numbers however you want but your case just does not add up. How did the allegedly selfish guy win five rings and the allegedly consummate teammate win none?

When Michael Jordan was initially criticized for not making his teammates better, he said that you can't make chicken salad out of chicken bleep--but I think that what Bryant did in 2006 and 2007 came very close to making chicken salad (or at least something edible) out of a bunch of chicken bleep. Of course Phil Jackson deserves credit, but if you talk to Bryant's teammates and to knowledgeable people around the league they will tell you the enormous impact that Bryant had. The best player always sets the tone for the team.

Another default complaint that you lodge is that I am relying on box score numbers. I cite box score numbers to amplify my points but I am not relying on them in the sense that you are implying. I watch players, I evaluate their skill sets and I draw conclusions. Dragic is a nice, solid NBA guard. Informed NBA observers rank him 12th among point guards and that sounds about right. The idea that he belongs in the same conversation with Westbrook--last year, this year or in some imagined future--has no basis in reality. You said that Phoenix was misusing him and that if he landed elsewhere he would shine. The raw numbers show that he is playing the same minutes and doing the same things that he did in Phoenix, as I predicted. Maybe you think that the "advanced numbers" say something else and maybe you think that he has mystical healing powers that cannot be quantified that have cured Wade and Deng but the numbers and the eye test do not support your assertions.

 
At Sunday, March 29, 2015 3:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Your recitation of Bryant's impact on his teammates and his teams is right on target. You are correct to note that no one considered Gasol an elite player before he landed in L.A. but then after playing with Bryant he earned the unofficial title of the most skilled big man in the NBA. I have no doubt that Jackson had something to do with this, as Nick suggests, but anyone who followed those teams knows how hard Bryant pushed Gasol on and off of the court to be more aggressive and use his abilities.

Nash had more talent and depth around him for most of his prime Phoenix years than Bryant had in L.A. and still could not win anything. As you mentioned, several of the main rotation players on L.A.'s championship teams were out of the league or barely hanging on to jobs not too long after Bryant pushed, pulled and carried them to titles. Even a guy like Derek Fisher, who had a long and solid career, was hardly a top tier player at any time--and when the Lakers won in 2009 and 2010 Fisher was probably the worst starting point guard for any of the West's playoff teams. Bryant won back to back titles with a one-time All-Star, a versatile but flaky Odom, a constantly injured Bynum, journeyman Ariza/past his prime Artest and a cast of role players who did not/would not get much run anywhere else before or after those title runs.

 
At Sunday, March 29, 2015 5:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've said Ibaka playing entire series could be a factor, just very unlikely based on several things. SA was much better in 14 than 12, plus no Harden for OKC. And OKC showed no indication of winning in SA with or without Ibaka, plus they lost game 6 in OKC. Yes, if Ibaka plays games 1/2, OKC could've won the series, but I stand by thinking it would've still been unlikely. I also don't buy into Nick's excuses for Nash's failures, some of them warranted and some not, which you agree with also, which is why I take issue with you saying Ibaka missing 2 games so often as a legitimate excuse.

What I'm saying is that it's been 3 years now since OKC has been to the finals. Usually when a team finally breaks through to get to the finals and then stays together, especially with how good OKC seems to be, it's taking awhile for them to actually win it all. Injuries have been a problem, but most teams deal with injuries. The Cavs #4 Varejao is out for the season this year, and they'll probably make the finals at worse. Granted, the East is a joke, but still. Kobe's #3, Bynum, barely played during their runs. I mean, if we're arguing over OKC's #3 missing only 2 games as the reason they didn't win a title last year, it's getting serious and this is why I say everything seems to need to be perfect for them. Missing Ibaka for 2 games isn't to be taken lightly, however, the rest of their cast was very solid and should've been able to fill the void. If that's the only thing they had to worry about, they're lucky. It seems like they don't have a backup plan for even the slightest hiccup. Obviously, Durant and Westbrook need to be healthy, but this is starting to seem less and less rare. The West is always so good, and there's going to be at least 1-2 true contenders to worry about, plus there's no cupcakes even in the 7/8 slots. They'll have to win 4 tough series, which is very hard to do. I do think they'll eventually win it all if they stay together.

 
At Monday, March 30, 2015 2:17:00 AM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Nick,

I disagree with your assessment of Pau and Bryant. The reason Gasol fell off after Phil left had nothing to do with Bryant and everything to do with Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni. In the Princeton offense, Pau was relegated to standing 17 feet away from the basket (on offense) 90 percent of the time he was on the floor. And D’Antoni just didn’t like Pau and thus underutilized, mishandled, misused, and then benched him.

But, in the last month of the season, after Bryant demanded that management make up their minds on Pau, Bryant hijacked the offense and went back to what had worked best which ended up propelling the Lakers into the playoffs. He worked the ball to Pau. Gasol, once again a focal point of the offense, put up far better numbers than he had the rest of the season running the Mikes’ offenses. The Kobe/Pau-ignore Dwight- offense had Gasol putting up 17.5, 12, 6.6, 1.3 on 51%. Those are all-star numbers. Before that, he had been averaging 12, 8, 4, 1.5 on 47%.

The most telling part is that the Lakers struggled running through Nash and Dwight (albeit with plenty of injuries mixed in), but were outside of the playoffs. Then, with Kobe and Pau running the show, the Lakers stormed back in the standings and finished out April with a 7-1 record with victories against every Western Conference playoff team (except a loss to the Clippers) and New Orleans.

Last year, Gasol as the number one option, had the second worst season of his entire career while playing with a bunch of scrubs.

Gasol’s ideal running mate is a ball dominant guard that draws lots of doubles and jacks up lots of shots. He works well playing off of Aaron Brooks/Jimmy Butler/Derrick Rose. His best teammates have been a defensive minded big backing him up (which is why Noah works so well) and a ball-dominate shooting guard. Kobe/Odom, Navarro/Marc, and what the Bulls had hoped was Noah/Gibson and Rose/Butler.

You’re right he’s having a great season. Especially the past three months. 20/12/3/2 on 55%. It’s the reason why I don’t understand the Lakers not offering him a Kobe-sized extension (in size and length). Two more seasons to play it out in Los Angeles. Sorry we pissed all over you to appease an unworthy tool on the downside of his career. We’ve got Julius Randle who will benefit greatly from you. We traded for Jeremy Lin. We’ve re-signed Nick Young. In two years, when the cap skyrockets and the Lakers can offer max deals to a couple of free agents, we will retain you at a lower cost, but you will be the main selling point. A 7-foot big, with limited injury-history, that rebounds (especially offensively) and is a (over)willing passer, and oh yeah, works best with a ball dominant player. I mean, if the Lakers keep their pick this year or get a lottery pick next year (when the chances of them being awful again are high), isn’t that set-up along with the allure of Hollywood, enough to attract say, KD? Lebron? Both? The rest of the class is deep, but other top targets are Love, Hibbert, Conley, and Horford.

 
At Friday, April 03, 2015 1:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

All I am saying is that going down 2-0 is completely different from earning a split on the road. OKC handled the Spurs in 2012 and if OKC had grabbed home court advantage early in the 2014 series then things might have been a lot different. As Tex Winter used to say, "Everything turns on a trifle." I am not saying that OKC needs so much to go right to win a title. If they could have their top two players reasonably healthy for an entire season and postseason and if they could have Ibaka's shotblocking and ability to space the floor I think that there are a lot of spare parts that could play in spots 4-8 in the rotation. They don't need Harden and I think that Harden would have been a problem because he wants to be the number one guy and he was always going to be the number three guy in OKC.

Most teams that stay together and win titles are fortunate enough to keep their top two guys healthy. OKC has never been healthy since 2012. Either Durant or Westbrook or Ibaka (or multiple guys) have been out or limited or just coming back from some injury. It's not like OKC's Finals run was a million years ago--and OKC made it to the WCF just last year. Chris Paul has never made it to the WCF. Nash never made it past the WCF. I would not bet on seeing Harden in the WCF as a first option player any time soon. What OKC has accomplished in the past several years is impressive, particularly considering the injuries.

 
At Friday, April 03, 2015 1:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

Your Pau Gasol analysis is right on target. There is nothing more to add on that subject.

 
At Friday, April 03, 2015 7:01:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Not trying to start another argument here- and I've bowed out of the ones I was in to begin with- but I'm genuinely curious what you, David, see as the difference between OKC missing out due to injury the last few years vs Phoenix's injury issues in '05, '06, or their suspensions in '07? If Westbrook and Durant are both good enough to be the best guy on a title team- a position I believe you hold, correct me if I'm wrong-why is an absent teammate an acceptable excuse for them but not for the Suns? The Suns were never at full strength during the Nash/Stoudemire/Marion era, and were often down more than just one man. Even if you count Nash as being a legit MVP-level guy, they had one, not two; I just don't see why it's an excuse for one team and bad luck/misfortune for the other. Both teams even beat the Spurs exactly once when healthy- OKC 4-2 in '12, PHX 4-0 in '10, so it's not like one team could beat SA and the other couldn't.

I just don't see what the distinction is.

 
At Monday, April 06, 2015 2:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

That is a reasonable question.

There are several differences between OKC from 2011-2015 and PHX during the Nash era (2005-12).

One big difference is that OKC has already made it to the Finals once, something that Nash never accomplished.

A second difference is that Nash won back to back MVPs, something that has been accomplished by a select group of players--and everyone in the group except for Karl Malone won at least one championship, with most members of that group winning at least two championships. Nash is an outlier among two-time MVPs.

A third difference is that OKC has made it at least to the WCF in three of the past four years, missing only when Westbrook was taken out by Patrick Beverly. Nash's Suns made the WCF three times in eight years, never advancing past that round.

If you want to compare the Stoudemire injury in 2006 to Westbrook being out in 2013, I can accept that. However, in 2005 the Suns were down 3-0 to San Antonio when Joe Johnson got hurt and they lost the series 4-1.

I don't buy the suspension excuse in 2007. As I said before, if you speed and get a ticket it is not a valid defense to say that other people speed and get away with it or that the speed limit is a stupid rule. Everyone in the NBA knows that if you leave the bench during an altercation you are subject to a suspension. Patrick Ewing was suspended in a similar situation previously. Amare lost his cool, broke a rule, was caught and was punished.

I think that Nash received two MVPs that he did not deserve, that he had a very good supporting cast around him for the better part of a decade (don't forget the Dallas years, too--the Mavs made it to two Finals and won a title after he left) and he never even made it to the Finals.

 
At Monday, April 06, 2015 8:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I'm not arguing the validity of Nash's MVPs anymore- and, as I said above, even I only think he should have won one. I don't really see what it has to do with the comparison between the two teams' injury/playoff records.

I am arguing that it's something of a double standard to give OKC a pass on the injury front without doing the same for PHX.

Your info on '05 is incorrect; Johnson was injured in round 2 against Dallas, though he tried to play through it in some games. Similarly, while Nash (back) and Marion (ankle) both played, they were both playing hurt.

'06 is obvious.

'07, regardless of cause, the fact is that PHX was without its two best big men for a critical playoff game against a team they'd been largely outperforming up that point, losing on a close game 1 when injury (nose) keep their best player off the court in the fourth and a blowout game 3 that the referee later confessed to fixing.

The "OKC made the Finals" argument is semi-compelling, but in 2 out of 3 Nash/Stat/Marion years, PHX lost to the eventual champ; that that team happened to come out of the West instead of the East doesn't really make a difference IMO. They also made 2 outta 3 WCFs in that span, and the only one they missed, they again missed by losing to the eventual champs.

One again, I'm not arguing that PHX should have own or that Nash's MVPs are legitimate; I'm just arguing that they have at least as much claim to the injury excuse as OKC does, and it seems odd to say OKC's had bad luck but Phoenix wasn't good enough to win. It seems to me that either both teams weren't good enough to win, or both teams had bad luck that derailed their chances.

The teams are similar, too, in that both teams were offensive juggernauts with- in my opinion- underwhelming coaching and only 1-2 high level defenders. While OKC did have the critical rim protection element, they also had weaker perimeter defenders (no Marion or Bell analogue) and shared PHX's difficulties on the glass.

Finally, for all my supposed bias against Westbrook, I'd argue he's a better #2 than Amare or Marion, and OKC still hasn't been able to win despite having fewer total missed playoff games from their top three or four guys than Phoenix- and for some of the same reasons PHX couldn't do it, namely that injuries suck, coaching matters, the Spurs are really good, and you don't win the title if you can't rebound the basketball.

 
At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 12:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

My main point about Nash is that he was not good enough to be the best player on a championship team. You seem to think, tentatively, that he was--if everything broke right. In general, I think that the MVP should be capable of being the best player on a championship team. Maybe there have been one or two exceptions but in general I think that the list of MVPs looks like a list of players who did (or could have) lead a team to a championship.

Nash had at least a decade when he was surrounded by a championship caliber supporting cast. He did not make it to the Finals even once. Every single year of his career he was at least two series away from winning the championship. Even if we say that 2006 maybe, possibly could have been Nash's year to win a title, the fact that he did not come particularly close on so many other occasions supports my take.

I don't think that the Joe Johnson of 2005 was an important enough piece to carry Phoenix past the Spurs and the Pistons that year.

My point about the suspensions is that self-inflicted wounds are something that great players can overcome. If someone throws the ball away or fouls out by committing a silly foul or takes a bad shot, that is when the franchise player/MVP is supposed to step up and carry the load.

The fact that PHX lost to the eventual champion means something but the losses were not particularly close (none went seven games) and this does not mean that there were not also other teams that could have beaten PHX as well. Detroit in 2005 would likely have stymied Phoenix, to cite just one example.

I think that if Beverly had not taken out Westbrook then OKC could very well have returned to the Finals and won a title in 2013. There is no way to prove whether or not I am right but I like a Durant-Westbrook one-two punch more than a one-two punch involving Nash and his defensive liabilities.

The bottom line is that Nash was never going to be the best player on the court during his era in a high level playoff series and that made it very unlikely that he would ever win a championship as his team's best player. I believe that Durant (and even Westbrook, when healthy) can be the best player on the court in a high level playoff series. I hope that Durant's foot injury does not lead to a Bill Walton/Grant Hill/Andrew Toney career arc. OKC can win a championship with the Durant-Westbrook duo and they do not need Harden to do so. We'll see what happens.

 
At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

So, if I'm understanding correctly, your argument is that injuries are an acceptable excuse for OKC because you believe they're a better team? It is worth noting that none of their losses are especially close either- none went 7 games. Much like PHX, they were eliminated once in five games by the eventual champs (Miami). Their other two losses came in 5 games to Memphis with one of their two best players injured (PHX lost in 6 to Dallas without Amare and mostly without Bell), and in six to SA (just like PHX in '07).

If you turn the argument into "Is Nash better than Durant" you'll win, but the actual question is "why are injuries an excuse for one team and not the other." The fact that OKC is so much more talented on top should make injuries, if anything, less of an excuse. When Ibaka missed two games last year that should theoretically hurt OKC less than missing Amare hurts PHX, as PHX didn't have two MVP level guys still on the court. Yet you seem to think injury is an acceptable excuse for OKC because their best guy is better, but just an excuse for PHX because Nash was sub-par defender.

You may be right that PHX would have lost to DET in '05 (I disagree, as while Rasheed Wallace was very good he was no Tim Duncan in terms of being able to exploit PHX's defensive softness inside, and Billups always struggled to guard Nash), but I'm curious why you think OKC would have beaten Miami in 2013, considering they got beaten in 5 games the year before and curb-stomped in the closeout game. I know you're down on Harden- and I am too- but did Durant and Westbrook improve so much in that one year to not only make up for his departure but also to go from not being able to beat Miami twice to being able to do so four times?

For my money, I don't think injuries are an acceptable excuse for either team- although as an aside I do think iffy suspensions and crooked referees might be, considering what happened in the games where neither were a factor. It seems like the distinction for you is that you don't think Nash was as good as Durant, but in my opinion that hurts your argument, not helps it; if your best guy is better, you should be more able to resist injuries, not less. Durant without Westbrook lost in the second round in five games to a team that didn't make the Finals; Nash without Amare lost in the third in six, and might have won without another injury to a starter in Raja Bell.

Just seems like a double standard, and I don't understand the logic in saying "OKC had better guys still on the court, so injuries mattered more to them."

 
At Thursday, April 09, 2015 2:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

No, what I think is that Nash was not good enough to lead a team to a championship. All of the talk about injuries and Amare's mom and everything else is just a sideshow to distract attention from the reality that, regardless of how much fun it was to watch Nash and how highly PHX' offense ranked, if Nash had ever won a championship he would have arguably been the worst player to ever be the best player on a championship team. Or, to put it more simply, it was very unlikely that Nash was ever going to be the best player on a championship team. I don't blame Nash for not leading a team to a championship; he was not good enough to do so. I blame the media for giving him two MVPs that should have been given to more deserving players who had better seasons than he did when he won those awards.

Despite what you say, Nash had a lot of talent around him throughout his prime and he did not get it done. He never even reached the Finals once, so he was always at least two series away. Durant and Westbrook have already led OKC to one Finals and three WCF appearances; they have already exceeded what Nash did with Nowitzki, Stoudemire, Marion, etc. and Nash played with some combination of those guys (plus other talented players) for much longer than Durant and Westbrook have been together.

I don't know if OKC would have won it all last year if Ibaka had been healthy or if OKC would have won it all in 2013 if Beverly had not taken out Westbrook--but since OKC has already made it to one Finals and three WCFs and since Durant and Westbrook are now both top five players when healthy I feel comfortable saying that OKC has a legit chance to win at least one title if Durant and Westbrook have another healthy postseason run together.

Even if PHX had enjoyed perfect health, I don't believe that PHX would have won a championship because Nash was always going to be outshined by a true MVP-level player. That is why Nowitzki ultimately won a title with old Kidd/Terry and without Nash; Nowitzki actually is (or at least was) good enough to be the best player on a championship team.

No player or team enjoys good health and good breaks every year but Nash had a long, mostly healthy career and he played alongside many All-Stars; he helped those All-Stars, sure, but they also helped him. Nash had many opportunities to win a title and he never got it done. That is the bottom line.

 
At Thursday, April 09, 2015 4:36:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

So, the injuries are an excuse for OKC because they have better top players, but they're not an excuse for PHX, who had comparable overall results (lost to the champs twice, missed second best player one year, mostly healthy one year, not very good at rebounding, iffy coach & depth), because they didn't, and because the media gave Nash MVPs he didn't deserve.

Seems silly to me. Amare was at least comparably good to Ibaka (albeit on opposite ends), and unlike Ibaka, was the second best guy on his team. Considering he missed critical games in 2 out of 3 years we're talking about, that seems like enough of a caveat to me. OKC was fully healthy once (that's once more than PHX, btw) and they made the Finals and got summarily stomped by the champs in 5 games.... much like PHX with 3/4 of their best guys playing hurt against SA in '05.

Like I said, I don't think either team deserves the injury excuse (the only year PHX can really whine about is '07, when a lot more was going on than injury), but it seems ridiculous to grant it to OKC last year when their two best guys were 100% but deny PHX who had an injured Nash/Marion/Johnson in '05, no Amare in '06, and all the shenanigans in '07 (bloody nose, Donaghy, suspensions, etc.).

I mean, if we allow that Westbrook and Durant are both top 5 players and that matter so much, shouldn't they have been able to beat the Spurs anyway? I'd argue Duncan was a top 5 guy last year, but I'd be in the minority, and you'd be hard pressed to argue for any other Spur, let alone two. If you've got two top 5 guys, missing your third for two games shouldn't be enough to cost you a series, right? I think Kobe and Shaq would have been fine without two games from, say, Glenn Rice or Rick Fox. Jordan and Pippen probably could have survived a series without two games from Rodman or Grant. Why couldn't OKC?

That all said, this looks like another conversation doomed to go in circles, so I suppose we'll have to agree to differ again.

 
At Friday, April 10, 2015 2:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

We are going in circles, so I will just summarize what I believe, bullet-point style:

1) Nash was not good enough to lead a team to a championship, as demonstrated by failing to do so despite playing with some very talented players for more than a decade. Baylor, Barkley, Ewing, K. Malone at least made it to the Finals once (and none of them won two MVPs).
2) Name another two-time MVP who left a team that within two years made it to the NBA Finals. It should be devastating to a franchise to lose a two-time MVP caliber player.
3) OKC has already made it to the Finals once and the WCF three times, so I feel comfortable saying that if things break right for the Thunder they can win a title.
4) Ibaka is a Defensive Player of the Year caliber performer who can also stretch the defense by making jumpers. He had a major impact when OKC beat the Spurs in the playoffs. He is an important player and he is particularly important in that matchup because the Spurs' bigs do not want to and/or are not able to contest his outside shots/deal with his defensive prowess.
5) Serge Ibaka is more valuable to OKC than Fox or Rice ever were to the Lakers.
6) Since OKC already beat the Spurs in the playoffs with a healthy Ibaka, it is not such a reach to say that a healthy Ibaka might have made a difference. You are making assumptions about things you think that Phoenix could have done that never actually happened.

 
At Friday, April 10, 2015 3:23:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

David:

I think you overestimate Nash supporting casts over the years and underestimate impact of his coaches a lot. I'm pretty sure if you swapped Tony Parker with Nash, he would have won a title with SA. I think he was good enough for that.

That said I agree he wasn't good enough to carry any team to championship, he needed right team and right coach, and he didn't get them over his career.

As for injuries, I think you're not fair comparing PHO 2nd option with OKC 3rd option player. Imo you also overestimate impact Ibaka could have vs SA. Spurs last year were a bit different team than 2012 (much improved Leonard, improved Splitter and addition of Diaw) and were too motivated to allow OKC to win with or without Ibaka.

 
At Friday, April 10, 2015 8:43:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

1)
First, point of order, Malone did win 2 MVPs. And none of them had to get by the Popovic Spurs to make a Finals. Nash's entire prime overlapped with two better players/teams in the same conference; he may not have made the Finals, but he lost to the team that won it many times, usually in competitive series. He also didn't have a teammate that was as good as West, KJ, or Stockton, nor did he have a coach on the order of Riley or Sloan. And, you know, none of them had a ref fix their games.

2)
See, now you're arguing MVPs again, which isn't the point. Whether or not Nash deserved his MVPs has nothing to do with whether or not his team was injured. Yes, Dallas did a great job rebuilding, but that- much like Nash's emergence- had as much to do with the '04 rule change as it did with Nash leaving. All of a sudden, Dirk could drive (and so could Howard/Terry); total game changer. There's also a pretty big difference between Dallas Nash and Phoenix Nash.

3)
Nash made the WCF I believe also 4 times; the difference is three of them he lost to the champ. Both PHX and OKC beat SA exactly once, though PHX did it in a sweep and OKC did it in 6.

4)
He's important, sure, but he's less important to OKC than Amare was to Phoenix; Amare was Phoenix's best scorer, best screener, sadly their best rebounder, and even more sadly probably their best rim protector. OKC still functions at an elite level on offense without Ibaka, and he's basically a replacement level rebounder. His rim protection is nice, but losing your third best guy is a lot less than losing your second, especially if 1 and 2 are both alleged top 5 players.

Also, DPoY? Really? He's a one dimensional shot-blocker who's just ok on rotations and bites on every pump fake. He also struggles against physical post-up players. Awesome weak side shot blocker, but I wouldn't put him in the Noah/Gasol/Duncan stratosphere.

5)
Probably. But my point was that if you have two top 5 guys the lower guys don't really matter; if anything that proves my point more: Shaq and Kobe were fine without an Ibaka level third banana, why can't OKC win missing two games of one?

6)
And since Phoenix beat SA with a healthy Amare, wouldn't it be fair to speculate they could beat them with a healthy Amare and better third best player (Marion vs. Hill)?

Sorry, didn't mean to perpetuate this, but I'm genuinely curious about what distinctions you're seeing here other than grinding the "Nash isn't an MVP" ax. If Nash isn't that good, it helps my case, not yours: they are MORE vulnerable to injury if their best guy isn't as good as the top two on OKC, not less.

 
At Saturday, April 11, 2015 1:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

If we swap Nash for Parker then Nash would have been the second best player with the Spurs, which supports my point that Nash was not good enough to be the best player on a championship team.

I would further say that if you swapped Nash for Kobe post 2005 (when Nash won his MVPs) then Kobe would have won at least one title with Nash's squads and Nash would have won zero titles with Kobe's squads.

I don't know how "motivated" each team is/was. I do know that Ibaka presents a major matchup problem for the Spurs. If Ibaka had not missed two games and if he had been fully healthy I believe that he would have had a big impact on the series. I cannot prove that, but my belief is supported by the evidence of what he and OKC did the last time he was healthy versus the Spurs.

 
At Saturday, April 11, 2015 1:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

1) Silly error on my part regarding K. Malone, though I could argue that the error really was committed by the voters who chose Malone over Jordan.

2) If Nash was as good as you think, then he would have won more in PHX and Dallas would have suffered more in his absence. We are not talking about an injury-shortened career. Nash had plenty of chances to win a title and you cannot excuse away every single failure to do so.

3) Irrelevant. The length of series in different years against different casts and the ultimate success of the teams that beat PHX or OKC has nothing to do with anything that I have asserted. Durant and Westbrook have been together half as long as Nash had great supporting casts and they have already made it one Finals and three WCFs.

4) Ibaka has made the All-Defensive First Team (selected by the coaches) for three straight years. In the past three years, he has finished second (losing by just four points), third and fourth in DPoY voting. He has led the league in total blocks four times and in bpg twice. So, yes, I feel comfortable calling him a DPoY candidate and I feel comfortable saying that he is a very important player for OKC.

5) See above. Ibaka is an important player for OKC. They let Harden go to keep him and rightfully so; when healthy, OKC has been as good as anyone even without Harden.

6) The Suns lost to the Spurs three times, beat them once and never made it to the Finals while the Spurs won two titles during Nash's prime. You place a lot of weight on 2010 for some reason and then you ignore the rest of Nash's playoff record. Do you think that the Lakers and Spurs were 100% healthy during their title runs? Kobe Bryant played through an avulsion fracture on the little finger of his right (shooting) hand; that thing was swollen, purple and disfigured but it did not stop Bryant from dominating. I saw that finger up close and still don't understand how he could dribble and shoot a basketball with it, let alone do so at a high level. You talk about Nash making players better. Key rotation players for Bryant's title teams included guys who hardly played elsewhere (Shannon Brown could not even get on the court with the Cavs) and who struggled to even stay in the league after leaving the Lakers (Vujacic, Farmar). If Kobe had played with Stoudemire, Marion and the rest of that crew they would have won at least one title. Put Nash on the Lakers post-2005 in place of Kobe and the Lakers don't get past the second round.

 

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