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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

San Antonio Versus Oklahoma City Preview

Western Conference Second Round

#2 San Antonio (67-15) vs. #3 Oklahoma City (55-27)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Oklahoma City can win if…Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant play at an All-NBA First Team level and the Thunder reverse their season-long pattern of collapsing in the fourth quarter.

Westbrook has clearly been the MVP of the first round, posting playoff career-highs in several categories (26.0 ppg, 11.2 apg, 7.8 rpg, .463 FG%) while leading all players in assists and ranking fourth in scoring. During the regular season, Westbrook ranked second in the league in assists (10.4 apg), fifth in steals (2.0 spg) and eighth in scoring (23.5 ppg). Stephen Curry is the only other player who ranked in the top 10 in all three categories. Westbrook posted 18 triple doubles, the most by any player in one season since Magic Johnson had 18 triple doubles in 1981-82. The Thunder went 18-0 when Westbrook had a triple double. Westbrook notched the second fastest triple double in NBA history (18 minutes) and he reached triple double numbers in less than 30 minutes on five different occasions. Westbrook is the engine that makes the Thunder go and a good case could be made that he is the best all-around player in the NBA. Perhaps the greatest thing about Westbrook is the tremendously high energy with which he consistently plays.

Durant has bounced back from his injury-hit 2014-15 campaign to regain his status as one of the NBA's elite players. He tied Westbrook for team-high honors with a 26.0 ppg average during the Thunder's 4-1 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the first round but Durant shot just .368 from the field in that series. Durant ranked third in the NBA in scoring during the regular season (28.2 ppg, his third highest average in a nine year career during which he has won four scoring titles) while shooting .505 from the field and averaging a career-high 8.2 rpg.

San Antonio will win because…the Spurs are an efficient team that minimizes errors and mental mistakes. Every possession matters in the playoffs and the Spurs figure to waste fewer possessions than the Thunder. The Spurs are smarter, more efficient and better coached than the Thunder. Oklahoma City's advantages--besides the force of nature that is Russell Westbrook--are youth, explosiveness and size. This series will likely depend on fourth quarter execution, a strong suit for the Spurs and the weak link for the Thunder.

The Spurs' system does not encourage or permit any one player to put up huge individual numbers but Kawhi Leonard is absolutely an elite player even though his statistics do not jump off of the stat sheet. LaMarcus Aldridge is a top notch power forward even though his first round numbers (14.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg) are nothing special.

Tim Duncan is in the old-David Robinsion phase of his career; he rebounds, he defends and he is a presence in the paint but he is a limited player who can only be counted on for limited minutes. If he played for any team other than San Antonio he likely would have retired several years ago but instead he has gracefully accepted the reduction in his role and status much like Robinson gracefully accepted a reduction in his role and status when Duncan first joined the team.

Other things to consider: Stephen Curry's status is up in the air and LeBron James is far from a sure thing in the NBA Finals, so this series could very well turn out to be the de facto 2016 championship series.

The Spurs efficiently swept the undermanned Memphis Grizzlies, but it is puzzling that media members placed so much emphasis on Memphis' injuries when the Grizzlies have actually not been serious playoff contenders for a while due to their inability to consistently generate enough offense--and that has been true regardless of what lineup they use. The Grizzlies made it to the Western Conference Finals in Coach Lionel Hollins' last year with the team (2013) but have been first round fodder in two of the three subsequent seasons. Even at full strength, the Grizzlies would have finished no higher than fifth in the West standings this season and likely would have lost in the first round of the playoffs. It is unfortunate that several of their key players suffered injuries but it is silly to act like these injuries actually changed the balance of power in the league.

Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban has been successful overall during his tenure in the NBA but he has also said and done some stupid things. His assertion that Westbrook is not a superstar may have been intended as some kind of gamesmanship as opposed to being an objective player evaluation but it is still an idiotic statement--and the "reasoning" behind that statement (that if Westbrook were a superstar then he would have led the Thunder to the playoffs last season) is ridiculous: in 2014-15, the Thunder won the same number of games as the eighth seeded New Orleans Pelicans but the Pelicans had the better tiebreaks--and the Thunder went just 5-10 in the 15 games that Westbrook missed, which strongly suggests that Westbrook is a superstar who almost singlehandedly carried the Thunder to the playoffs.

Perhaps Cuban is trying to deflect attention away from his own team, which has now lost in the first round of the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and in seven of the past 10 seasons. Cuban supposedly used analytics to conclude that the best choice was to break up his 2011 championship team but the idea that you can make your team better by making your team worse is silly; just ask the Philadelphia 76ers, who have turned losing into an art form without making any tangible progress toward building a good team.

It is interesting that Cuban gets a pass from the media while the Thunder are often blasted for supposedly making a huge mistake by not retaining the services of James Harden. Harden was never going to be more than a third option in Oklahoma City and in his final year with the Thunder he performed terribly in the NBA Finals while also making it clear that he wanted to have an expanded role and would sulk if he did not get it. Since Harden arrived in Houston, the Rockets have repeatedly lost in the first round (other than one fluky Conference Finals run that will not likely be duplicated during his time with the team), while the Thunder have remained a championship contender when Durant and Westbrook have been healthy. The Thunder are the only team in the NBA that has advanced to at least the conference semifinals in five of the past six years and that run includes three trips to the Western Conference Finals. It is good for Daryl Morey that he loves Harden so much, because he is likely stuck with him for many years to come; I doubt that any team that has a legit All-NBA First Team player would trade that player straight up for Harden. The Thunder would most assuredly not be better off if Harden were on their roster and sulking about Westbrook being the focal point of the team's attack.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:19 AM


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At Wednesday, April 27, 2016 11:43:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I agree about Cuban. I don't think OKC has a real shot without injury help.

I disagree about Westbrook; he is not a good enough defender to be "the best all around player in the league." He's a strong contender- behind I'd say Curry and Lebron- for best all-around offensive player. It's incredible to me that he might actually be the league's best passer these days, after being a kinda garbagey one just three or so years ago.

Defensively, he's a weird beast because he is capable of- and sometimes plays- excellent defense. The first third of the season especially he was much more disciplined than we're used to seeing him. But he blows a lot of rotations, bites on most fakes, and seems to be more concerned with making the big play than the right play. He's also oddly flummoxed by picks sometimes, often changing his mind mid stride about whether to go over or under, or attacking them at nonsensical angles.

He's especially bad in crunch time situations; OKC's predictably crunch time offense is only half of the problem- if they could keep the other team from scoring, they'd still be fine. Smart teams, though, attack Westbrook and trust him to do something impulsive and/or dumb to compromise the defense, and more often than not he obliges.

He has all the physical tools to be a great defender, but so far we haven't seen him put it together when it counts.

If you count rebounding as part of defense instead of its own third category, then he grades out as a plus defender because he's the best rebounding guard in the league, but he's still a liability both in the PnR and in rotation. If OKC (or wherever he eventually ends up) wants to win a title, he's going to need to learn how to play under control at least on that end (if he wanted to get his shot selection under control and stop shooting so many 3s he can't make, that would also help, but that's 4 or 5 possessions a game; his defense matters for like 60).

He's got all the talent in the world, but it won't translate to titles until and unless he combines it with discipline.

At Wednesday, April 27, 2016 11:50:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I'm also not sure that Cuban and Morey quite get a "free pass." If I recall, even Simmons was killing him for busting up the title team, and the media I've followed this year have all pretty much turned on Morey.

I think it's fair to criticize OKC for a lot of things, but I'm not sure the Harden trade is anywhere near the top of that list. The Kanter signing is a much bigger screw-up, in my opinion, and not getting rid of Brooks either a year earlier or a year later was pretty dumb,too.

Also, they got rid of Harden- what four years ago?- and they still don't have a competent shooting guard on their roster? The league's lousy with playable guys at that position; even bottom feeding teams like Phoenix and LA have depth at the 2; Presti should have been able to find something better than the Waiter/Roberson pupu platter by now. There are guys who aren't even in the league right now who'd be an upgrade; does Mikhail Pietrus not have a cellphone? He's no star, but he plays defense and can make an open 3, which is really all they need at that position.

At Wednesday, April 27, 2016 7:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Spurs to me win this series y'all barring injury to a key player in 6. I like them to close out the game better and okc is not well coached. I think pop will put his team in the proper position

I rank Westbrook 4th in the league. Behind curry LeBron durant. I like Russell he is still erratic at times tho.

Okc will probably break up after this and kd will go to the Lakers or stay in okc

At Wednesday, April 27, 2016 8:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Westbrook can't keep his man in front of him

At Thursday, April 28, 2016 12:08:00 AM, Blogger HP said...

I have Curry - LeBron - Kawhi/Durant ahead of Westbrook. I value Kawhi's defense and post game enough to put him equal to Durant and, depending on the matchups, ahead of him.

What do you guys think of Paul George?

He's been, if not the best player of the playoffs, one of the best 3. He's limited Derozan and played defense at a level close to Kawhi on one end. On the other end -on a team on which he's the only above average playmaker and scorer- he's made a Pacers offense that was one of the worst in the league threatening enough to almost knock off a 2nd seed in Toronto. All by virtue of the varied ways in which he attacks defenses and his ability to garner so much attention.

LeBron has allowed Kyrie and Love to flourish in the playoffs by not handling the ball so much. I saw some stats that say his time of possession of the ball is down significantly, and it seems to have unlocked his two other stars. Maybe that sat down with Lue worked.

At Thursday, April 28, 2016 12:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I do count defensive rebounding as part of defense. A defensive possession is not complete until the rebound is controlled (unless there is a turnover, obviously).

There is some merit to some of your critiques of Westbrook's defense but I still contend that he is better at that end of the court than you suggest.

Westbrook is producing assists at a Steve Nash-like rate and he is an elite scorer and he is rebounding from the point guard position like Magic Johnson/Jason Kidd. I understand that Curry is playing at a phenomenal level and he would receive my vote for MVP but when you really look at what Westbrook is doing compared to any point guard in history it is clear that he is not being fully appreciated. Jason Kidd's triple doubles were usually of the 15-10-10 variety; Westbrook scored at least 20 points in nine of his 18 triple doubles, including one with 24 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists and another with 25 points, 19 assists and 11 rebounds. He also had a game with 48 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists while shooting .472 from the field and playing all but 25 seconds, which is about as good of a stat line as anyone can post (and OKC won the game).

At Thursday, April 28, 2016 12:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


KD may leave OKC, depending on what happens in the playoffs, but I doubt that he would go to the Lakers.

At Thursday, April 28, 2016 12:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Those are reasonable rankings but I think that a good case can also be made to rank Westbrook higher than you did.

Paul George is an excellent player who is having a great postseason. My only hesitation about ranking him with the other guys in this discussion is that he has not performed at that level consistently for as long as they have but you are correct that right now he is playing about as well as anyone else in the playoffs.

At Thursday, April 28, 2016 4:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


If the main reason you think Westbrook is a good defender is rebounding, I can respect that. I tend to think of rebounding as its own separate category- blame years of growing up on NBA videogames that list it separate from offense and defense, I guess- and so while I view him as an excellent rebounder, I consider him to be an overall mediocre defender.

He's different than most mediocre defenders, who are just kinda a stable "meh," in that he's usually either making great defensive plays or profoundly terrible ones. Very Jeckyll-and-Hyde on that end.

He's mostly Jeckyll and only rarely Hyde on offense, but it's hard for me to consider him at the same level offensively as James or Curry, who are both just so much smarter about what shots to take and when. There's just no excuse for shooting four 3s a game when you're making less than 30% of them, and he often shoots them with defenders in his eye and plenty of time on the clock. His 2pt% is good, but it's lower I'd expect given his athleticism and finishing ability; he could stand to be smarter about when to shoot inside the arc, too.

Don't take that to mean he's not a great offensive player; he is. But I don't think he's in the second tier below the truly tippy-top guys, especially as a scorer.

At Thursday, April 28, 2016 10:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

*I do think he's in the second tier. I also think I've gotta learn to proof these better.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 12:07:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

I just tweeted this:
Welp. Even the Memphis Grizzlies put up more of a fight in the previous round. So much for #Chokelahoma.

It seems like Coach Poppovich is the living incarnation of Tywin Lannister. He played this season smart, purposefully not showing his full hand to prepare better for the playoffs. He identified the OKC Thunder's substandard pick-and-roll defense, but he didn't exploit it.... until the second round.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 12:37:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

It's always smart not to overreact to one game, but if you were gonna overreact to one game, that'd be a pretty good one to overreact to. As I expected, so far OKC looks completely outclassed by SA on both ends, and Pop smartly went right at Westbrook in the PnR en route to the highest scoring playoff game in Spurs history.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 1:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I didn't expect the margin of victory--no one did--but I did expect San Antonio to outexecute OKC. OKC has a lot of talent that is not properly organized. Donovan is not an improvement over Brooks at either end of the court.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 1:24:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

I was wondering who Pop would put Kawhi on. He put Leonard on Westbrook. My guess? To sow discord between Westbrook and Durant. They both have massive egos and KD should take it as an insult that Pop is guarding him with the inferior defender instead, even though Danny Green is actually the better perimeter defender. In other words? Both Westbrook and Durant are mentally weak and Poppovich is targeting their minds on purpose.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 2:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't think that Durant and Westbrook are mentally weak, at least not to the extent you are suggesting.

The strategy of putting a bigger wing on the point guard defensively after not doing so in the regular season did not originate with Popovich. Phil Jackson did this with Scottie Pippen and sometimes Michael Jordan versus Mark Price, Mark Jackson and other point guards during the postseason. That does not take anything away from Popovich, who did a masterful job, as usual.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 12:33:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

All of the talk that Durant will leave OKC. He's considered a top five player in the league. Westbrook is considered by most to be a top five player in the league. I would think in a sense his best bet would be to stay in OKC.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 1:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


I agree that OKC is talented and poorly organized and that Donovan is not a meaningful upgrade over Brooks in any way I've been able to detect; early in the year their defense seemed improved but it has since regressed to sub-Brooks levels.

I think their problems go beyond coaching, though. The team is not intelligently assembled- it's frankly ridiculous they still don't have a real 2 guard- and they don't have a good crunchtime lineup. They only have post scoring when they either play Kanter- who compromises their defense too much to be viable against the best teams' best lineups- and/or when they slide Durant to the 4, which also hurts their D (albeit less so) and their rebounding.

They have no dependable options off the bench on the perimeter- though Payne seems like he could be, Donovan is bizarrely allergic to playing him- and they, like Cleveland, have relatively few players who are meaningfully above average on both sides of the ball, instead featuring a roster of mostly one-way specialists.

Kanter is pointedly not worth his contract, though he is a good scorer and rebounder, and is probably fine as a 6th or 7th man.

I think the swing rotation is the most indefensible part of their construction, though; the league is littered with guys who can play competent defense and make open 3s- which is all OKC needs from that position- and yet despite sporting an attractive roster and guaranteed play time they don't have any of them. I am not saying they need a Danny Green level guy- though that would be ideal- but even a Josh Richardson/Courtney Lee/Matt Barnes/E'twaun Moore type player would do a world of good on both ends. It is not, I think, a coincidence that they made the Finals when they had someone kinda like that- Thabo- and I honestly think they miss him more than Harden, though once teams figured out how long it takes Thabo to actually shoot they began playing off him knowing they had time to recover, and he became a lot less of an asset.

As good as Durant and Westbrook are, they are still only two players. Ibaka and Adams are both good enough to start for a title team (and in fact, are probably good enough to be the 3rd and 4th best guys on one, respectively). But if they somehow won a title, Andre Roberson or Dion Waiters would be one of the worst players to ever start on a title team, and their bench would be one of the thinnest to ever win one.

That's a tall order, even with better coaching, and doubly so in a world with Golden State and San Antonio.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 1:14:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


Depends. Is OKC going to get him a real coach, 2 guard, or bench? Because it will be difficult to win without. Even allowing that he and Westrbook are top 5 players- I don't think Westbrook is quite there, and you could make a decent case against Durant being better than any of Lebron/Curry/Kawhi/George/Aldridge/Paul (though I probably wouldn't want to have to make it)- they cannot do it alone. Shaq and Kobe were top 5 players on the the same team at the same time but they had a Hall of Fame coach and a good cast of strong role players; their worst starter at the time was Derek Fisher, then a solid defensive point guard who could make open shots (which is exactly what OKC needs at the 2, incidentally). Two-way forwards like Horry and Fox may not have been stars, but they were net positives on both ends of the ball; I'd rather have either of those guys than someone like Kanter who only helps me one way and hurts me the other.

Durant will have his pick, destination wise, of at least Washington, Miami, LA, and San Antionio. Some put GSW on that list, though I'm dubious there. If his only goal is to win a title, GSW and SA are his best options. If he wants to win a title but also wants to be the unquestioned best player on his team, then Miami or Washington might make more sense. If he wants to maximize fame and fortune, LA. If he wants to hang out with Westbrook- and he might, Westbrook is great and they're friends- he'll stay in OKC.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 2:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OKC can easily live with 13 and 8 in 21mpg off the bench in Kanter. Very few teams have this luxury. Kanter is overpaid a bit, but so is Dragic and many other players, and in the financial structure of the nba, this isn't that big of a problem. OKC's biggest problem isn't overall depth or talent, it's the team meshing well together. Durant and Westbrook are clearly top 5 players. Westbrook, at worst, is right behind Durant now in. But, Durant and Westbrook both don't seem like guys who can be leaders on a title team, and their lacking of a more complete skillset and overall basketball intelligence as someone like Kobe hurts them and their team. OKC had a real coach, SG, and bench before and still haven't won. As good as Durant/Westbrook are, they sure do seem to need a lot of help. SA will probably win easily, but this should be a competitive series, even if it's a sweep. All the games should be close. Aldridge was a big addition for SA, but he flamed out in the 1st round in 5 games to MEM last year. OKC had very good depth before, but their roster seems to have gotten worse over time.

Sefolosha at his best, has barely been an average nba player. With Westbrook out in the 2013 playoffs, Sefolosha was still only 7th in mpg in a 4-1 loss to MEM, and could barely find the court in the 2014 WCF.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2016 12:15:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

There is some real, beautiful poetic justice to San Antonio losing a game because Manu Ginobili, king of flops, didn't get a call he actually deserved. Sometimes it really is Shakespeare, kids.

That said, it's not a great sign for OKC that they held 4 of SA's starters to 14-46 shooting, they shot 8 more FTs on the road, Adams had his best rebounding game of the year, Durant/Westbrook both had really good nights, ... and they won by 1 on a pretty major (however karmic) no call. As a Spurs hater I'm hoping this at least goes 7 (as a Seattle resident I'm not actually allowed to root for OKC, but I hate SA more; life is hard), but it's hard to envision OKC getting another one unless they have one of those nights where they shoot 30+ FTs. Hope I'm wrong, suspect I'm not.

At Tuesday, May 03, 2016 11:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, there's no guarantee SA would've scored if Waiters was called for a foul or inbounds violation, not sure what would be the right call. SA had a great opportunity to score with plenty of time left, and blew it after Waiters threw it away.

Also, if you watch the entire replay, Ginobili stepped out of bounds when guarding Waiters on the inbounds before Waiters pushed off. So, the correct call should've been a delay of game or technical on Ginobili.

OKC played harder and smarter overall. Both teams made many stupid mistakes. One could easilys say that it's not a good sign for SA if Aldridge goes off like that and they lose at home to a team that just absolutely crushed two days earlier. OKC still had 18 TOs and their offense struggled a little overall. They have lots of room for improvement, and now just have to hold serve at home.

At Thursday, May 05, 2016 9:14:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

The point people are making about ginobli stepping on the line is silly revisionism. In any given throw in a player will do that and it won't be called because it is hard to see and he barely touched the line. Complete red herring. Technically correct, but in practice barely would ever get called.

Waiters on the other hand probably committed a technical, which potentially gives sa a tie game with a chance to win it.

At Friday, May 06, 2016 1:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew, how is it revisionism? Ginobili did step on the line. Nobody disputes that. Whether it is called or not, is another point. And just because it isn't called normally, doesn't mean letting it go is correct. The nba should be reviewing every play of the game if they're going to review the last minute. I'm sure both teams had many infractions that weren't correctly called throughout the game.

The bottomline is that SA made 3 infractions at the end there, so they have no room to whine about the officiating. Plus, they had a great chance to win at the end and blew it, that's on them.

At Friday, May 06, 2016 4:01:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


In principle I agree, but also if anybody deserves to get screwed by the refs at least once, it's Ginobili.

It'll be interesting to see if the refs overcompensate in game 3 or 4, not that they need to. I'm not sure OKC can win a game without at least slightly favorable officiating (if both teams are allowed to play physical D, OKC is screwed; if both teams are not allowed to play physical D, they at least have a shot. If only OKC is allowed to play physical D, they have a pretty good shot).

Game 3 prediction:

OKC gets out to a hot first quarter, but at least some of San Antonio's starters rally, Aldridge continues to flummox OKC, and SA wins both the fourth quarter and the game.

At Saturday, May 07, 2016 8:58:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

@Nick F
Solid prediction tho LaMarcus Aldridge cooled off once he fell and had to leave the game. He kept hitting tough turnaround shots but Leonard dominated the game.
Quite telling that Duncan & Ginobilí got less than 20 minutes in a key playoff game.

At Saturday, May 07, 2016 4:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like whichever team has the best player for each individual game, that team wins, so far anyway, which seems logical. Aldridge and SA in game 1. Westbrook and OKC in game 2. Leonard and SA in game 3. Aldridge has only won one playoff series prior to this year. And his game is almost entirely jump shots, just can't see his shooting prowess to continue.

Just as I thought and what we've seen so far, if Westbrook and Durant play like the top 2 players in the series or even one of them with the other one close, which hasn't quite happened, OKC would probably win. They're more than capable of doing this, but they have to bring it every game. Leonard and Aldridge have more room for error, though, but Leonard/Aldridge have been the better duo so far.

Duncan looks like a liability out there, and is having trouble making point-blank layups. West/Diaw getting more crunch-time minutes. Ginobili only played 11 min in game 1. He averaged 19.6mpg for the season, and 18.3mpg for the playoffs. I don't think his 19 min in game 3 is a red flag or anything.

At Saturday, May 07, 2016 4:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


Yeah, Duncan's finally starting to show signs of slippage. OKC's athleticism is tough for him, and it's not clear he can play against GSW. I still expect him to have at least one big throwback game/moment in the playoffs, but I'm shocked at his low rebounding numbers and relative inefficiency.

He's still a major player defensively, but for the first time in my basketball watching life, he looks mortal. Hopefully somebody finally puts the stake through his heart, because I'm sick of watching that guy win.

GInobili probably still has something left in the tank against a less-athletic matchup (i.e., any team but this one), but also I hate him so hopefully he misses every shot he takes for the rest of his career and never gets another call.

At Saturday, May 07, 2016 6:11:00 PM, Blogger HP said...

@Nick F


Wow, i had heard your comments about Westbrook's defense before, and agreed that he was overly aggressive and sometimes cost his team points, but after reading that article i'm just astounded.

About 31 points scored by the Spurs can be attributed to "ripple effects" of a defensive mistake's by Westbrook. That's just astounding, and in such an important playoff game no less.

I know he probably isn't THAT bad every night, but this is a good reminder that just because someone has "all the tools" and looks like they could be a good or great defender, it doesn't mean that they are even close to being one in reality.

At Sunday, May 08, 2016 12:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...


Thanks for sharing that. Nice to see someone put the effort in there, but yeah. He seemed like he'd improved earlier in the season, but he's back to being a tirefire on that end. Guy's got all the talent in the world, he's just dumb as a post most of the time. Put, say, Mike Conley's brain in that body, you'd have something really special.


Thought I replied already, guess I didn't. Short version is, I'm pretty shocked at how cooked Duncan looks. Maybe somebody torched the magic painting he had in his attic, I don't know. Still, like all great immortal horror beasts, I'm sure he'll rise at some point in the playoffs for one last big scare.

At Sunday, May 08, 2016 10:14:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Ginobli did step on the line but barely and no ref would be able to see or call such a minor infraction in real time, there is too much else going on. It is similar to the other Spurs infractions, a lot of those are just general play that a ref rarely if ever picks up in real time. Kawhi pulling the jersey is good defence in my opinion, and if you go back and watch some of the eras that didn't have instant reply you will see much worse than that.

Technology means we can identify a lot more fouls than we used to be able to. Fouling and not getting caught is part of the game though (see MJ's last shot) so people conflating these subtle fouls with what Waiters did are being ridiculous in my opinion. Waiters foul was stupid and obvious and would/should have been called. Ginobli barely stepping on the line or tugging a jersey are different because the former is inconsequential and the latter is a smart move.

Using technology to make the refs overly judicious so they pick up EVERY SINGLE FOUL risks changing the sport. In my opinion there should be fouls in the last minute of the game, the key is being smart about it and not doing it stupidly directly in front of the refs. The first time I saw MJ's last shot I definitely did not see his offensive foul, I rarely saw Reggie Miller grabbing and holding but if you look carefully he did it almost every attack throughout his career. The list goes on and on.

At Sunday, May 08, 2016 11:07:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I should add that I don't think the last minute should be replayed or anything ridiculous like that and I do agree the Spurs had their chances to win. My opinion is that the format of playoff basketball (7 games) is the best way to even out the refs good or bad calls. What you lose in one game you'll get back in the next. The vast majority of the time the best team on the floor wins.

At Monday, May 09, 2016 2:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew, you make a good argument, but I don't buy it. And who cares if Ginobili barely stepped on the line or easily on it? He did step the line. Like most games, basketball is a game of inches. The nba officials are great officials, but they screw up a lot still, and the game is too fast-moving with 10 players, there's no way they can see everything. However, Ginobili committed a violation, and it should've been called. If you believe that it's a rule that shouldn't really be called, then that has to do with the rules committee, not the officials. And how many times/game is someone closely guarding the inbounder? Probably less than 10, at most, and almost never does someone step on the line. Stepping on the line rarely happens, and I actually see it called sometimes. Also, the official was looking down, 2 feet away from Ginobili, he should've seen. That is the main reason why he missed the Waiters push probably. Also, it seems like the clock started early, and a fan grabbed Adams' arm during the last play, lots of stuff going.

If fouling and not getting caught is part of the game, then why do you have a problem with Waiters pushing Ginobili? Can't have it both ways. If it's a smart play because you don't get caught, then Waiters made a smart play. I don't think Waiter's push is much different than Kawhi holding Durant either, which is probably worse. And who really knows for sure if Ginobili didn't flop? He's lost all credibility with all of his flopping throughout the years. If something is inconsequential in your view, then why is it still a rule and violation? You can't just interpret the rules to your own liking, need to be consistent. Just because someone gets caught once every blue moon for a certain violation doesn't mean that violation should just be ignored. Like I said before, the bottomline is that SA or its fans have no reason to cry wolf about the last sequence in game 2. They committed more violations, and were lucky to have such a golden opportunity to win game 2.

Durant gets player-of-the-game honors for game 4, and OKC wins. A different top player each game so far in the series. This is how playoff series usually work when both teams are fairly equally matched. Whoever has the best star(s) wins the series. Durant/Westbrook both could be playing much better, too, and missed a great chance to win game 3, and it's not like Leonard/Aldridge aren't playing well. OKC has figured something out, but it's most likely up to Durant/Westbrook to outperform Leonard/Aldridge, which they should be able to do.

At Monday, May 09, 2016 3:46:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Well, OKC's starting to make me look dumb. Did not see that coming from Waiters (on either end), and Kanter even had a few moments defensively.

Also, when did Adams get so good at cutting? I haven't seen that out of him before, but turning himself into a factor on offense makes that predictable OKC offense a lot less predictable.

Game 5 Prediction: Spurs. They'll be at home, they'll be motivated, and it's unlikely Waiters is going to keep up that level of play. Westbrook's a disaster against SA defensively, Durant can't do THAT every night, and Kanter's probably played his best game of the series already.

At Monday, May 09, 2016 10:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OKC is scoring 99ppg, well below their 110ppg for the regular season. You'd think they'd score less against a good defensive team, but not this much less. They've only reached 100 once in 4 games. Kanter averaged 16 and 15 during regular season vs SA, and 13 and 8 overall for the season. He's only at 9 and 6 for the series so far. He has a lot more to give. His defense looks solid, though. Waiters is more than capable of making wide-open shots. Ibaka is playing poorly. Durant is putting up good numbers, but he's been a bit shaky. Westbrook is getting good looks, but he's shooting terribly. OKC has lots of room for improvement. They need to continue to play hard.

SA should still win series. They're getting contributions from everyone in their rotation except Duncan. But, it has been about the stars so far. So, maybe OKC can win if Durant/Westbrook outshine Leonard/Aldridge.

At Tuesday, May 10, 2016 11:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I picked the Spurs to win this series because I expected the Spurs to execute better than the Thunder down the stretch more often than not in close games but I have also said throughout the season that the Thunder are capable of winning the championship if they stay healthy and play correctly. Even if the Spurs win the next two games to take the series (which could happen, because the Spurs are a great team), we have seen more than enough after five games to prove that the Thunder are capable of winning this series; that refutes the idea that the Thunder "need" Harden and it refutes Nick's idea that the Thunder's roster is fatally flawed with too many "one-way" players.

The Thunder are following the blueprint that I listed in my preview: Westbrook is dynamic, Durant is productive, the Thunder are using their size well and the Thunder are not falling apart in the fourth quarter. If they do those things at home in game six then they will advance and have a great chance to win a championship.

It was interesting to observe the body language and demeanor of the Thunder players after game six; Doug Collins often talks about watching how players walk off of the court after a big win. You could see Durant motioning to his teammates to just walk off of the court and you could see that there was very little celebrating. That is a great sign for the Thunder, at least from Collins' perspective: it means that the Thunder expected to win this game (so there is nothing to celebrate or be overly excited about) and also that they realize they still have to win one more game to advance.

When the Thunder kept blowing fourth quarter leads during the regular season I was not sure if this moment would ever come but I never doubted that they were capable of this kind of win.

At Wednesday, May 11, 2016 12:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Westbrook takes over game 5 and OKC wins.

Rarely what teams do in the regular season changes in the postseason. I'm not sure OKC is necessarily doing that great down the stretch of games, but they're not falling apart like they did for much of the regular season.

I don't think anyone necessarily believe OKC needs Harden, but they sure could have used him for the past 4 years, especially when Durant or Westbrook have been hurt. They're still searching for that 3rd scorer and you can see how valuable that type of player could be for them in this series even though they're up 3-2 now and in past series. They've still only won 4 series in the past 4 years. But, they are exposing SA a bit, and you can see the pressure getting to Pop, Leonard, etc. A lot of pressure on Leonard now and Aldridge to a lesser extent. If SA loses, Leonard will have led stacked SA teams to just 1 playoff series win in 2 years, and that was against a MEM team playing mostly D-leaguers.

At Wednesday, May 11, 2016 12:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Harden would hurt OKC more than he would help. His defense is horrific and he is a poor leader. When Durant and Westbrook are healthy, Harden would be a sulking third option who would choke against elite teams in the playoffs; when Durant and Westbrook are injured, Harden would be as ill-suited to lead OKC past the first round as he is to lead Houston past the first round. These assertions are not speculative; they are based on Harden's performance and actions.

Put more simply, Harden does not want to be Ginobili and he is not good enough to be Curry or Westbrook.

OKC and Miami are the only teams to make it to at least the second round five of the past six years. Durant and Westbrook have yet to win a championship but they have led the Thunder to at least some degree of consistent playoff success in the tougher of the two conferences. With full health, they likely would have already made multiple Finals appearances and possibly would have won a title.

At Wednesday, May 11, 2016 1:27:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Hey, I fully admit that so far I've been wrong about this series. However, I wasn't wrong about the "one way players" thing so much as Adams, Kanter (kinda/sorta), and Waiters have all suddenly turned into two-way players after being decidedly one-way through he regular season. Waiters particularly is looking like the guy who went near the top of the draft, not the two-way embarrassment he's been most of his career. I didn't see that coming; if I did, i probably still woulda picked the Spurs, but I woulda picked them in 7. Kanter's not embarrassing himself on D, and Adams has become an off-ball cutting nightmare that demands defensive attention he wasn't getting in the regular season.

Mostly, though, it's Waiters giving them an actually viable 5-man lineup for the first time since Harden left.

I also expected Duncan's traditional "It's the playoffs so I'm five years younger now" routine to rear its head by now, but Wade appears to have stolen this year's dose of whatever special juice enables that. He looks the worst I've ever seen him, and hopefully this is the last ride for the Jason Vorhees-esque murder beast that is the Duncan-era Spurs.

Durant's playing the best defense of his career. If he brought this kinda effort every night, they'd have won 65 games, easy (not that it's fair to expect this kinda effort every night).

OTOH, Westbrook may be playing the worst defense of his career, but Tony Parker is missing open, OPEN crunch time shots, so it doesnt' matter, at least tonight, and Westbrook remains a cannonball on O (although, as usual, his shot selection leaves much to be desired). He's also sneakily become perhaps the league's second best passer (behind Lebron), which really, really helps make up for the other stuff.

At Wednesday, May 11, 2016 8:29:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

It is hard to see how it has come to this for the Spurs. Kawhi does not demand the ball and neither does Aldridge. Why is Parker taking those shots open or not? GSW are going to eat whoever wins this series alive if the play doesn't pick up.

At Wednesday, May 11, 2016 2:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harden would really hurt OKC more than he'd help? You might want to look back at OKC's only finals appearance in 2012 and look how Harden picked up for Westbrook's poor play in the WCF. Harden struggled some in the finals, but as a 3rd option coming off the bench he did enough if Durant outplays James. He takes it easy on defense sometimes, but when engaged(which he does need his coaches to tell him), he plays decent defense. If he had a coach like Pop, he would play good defense, and he did when in OKC. Harden's put up great #'s in the playoffs, albeit with sub-standard shooting overall, and has led his team to the CF. I'd say this is the first year that Westbrook has led a team to the playoffs. If you make excuses for Westbrook last year, then let's be consistent and do the same with everyone. Leonard has also yet to lead his team to the CF, and he's had a lot more to work with than Harden.

Harden shouldn't lead OKC, but if OKC kept him, which they should've even if to trade him for other pieces, OKC would've probably at least made the WCF in 2013 at worst, probably would've made at least the finals in 2014, and would've actually made the playoffs in 2015.

If it was Harden instead of Westbrook on OKC last year, you would've hammered Harden for not making the playoffs. Instead, Harden leads HOU to the WCF and you still hammer him nonstop. If Harden was shooting as poorly as Durant/Westbrook have for this year's playoffs along with their high TO rates, you'd be hammering him, instead you only have praise for Durant/Westbrook. I like Durant/Westbrook, and think they're top 5 players for the past several seasons, but let's do something please. Historically, when 2 top 5 players team-up, those teams dominate usually. This is taking a long time for them. Harden's #2 in HOU is maybe a top 25-30 player. There's not much of a comparison when Durant has Westbrook and vice versa.

At Wednesday, May 11, 2016 2:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One-way players don't suddenly become two-way players overnight. Plus, Durant/Westbrook should be a better duo than Aldridge/Leonard and have been so far. OKC might only have 7-8 viable guys, but we've seen LAL only need 6-7 guys with Kobe. It's doable. Donovan was smart to stop playing Payne, who's horrible, and only play Collison/Morrow if absolutely necessary. Foye is actually giving them a little, which has been enough so far. Durant/Westbrook need to play more minutes, though. Actually, Aldridge/Leonard are only at 38 and 35mpg, too. Maybe the coaches want them more rested. Roberson is awful offensively, but his defense has been big. OKC can live with that.

It looks like Duncan has aged 10 years overnight. He's had a lot underachieving years throughout his career and several early-round exits late in his career. He surely doesn't want to go out like this, but it's going to be up to his teammates to save him.

Andrew, agree about Leonard, but disagree about Parker. Parker is a future HOFer who's made many big shots before, and he's a great midrange shooter. Leonard has the skills to be 'the man' late in games. I'm confused why he didn't go get the ball, unless that was the gameplan. He's probably a top 5 player in the league, but he needs to act like it more late in games.

At Wednesday, May 11, 2016 4:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OKC/MIA have had several superstars/stars on their teams each year for many seasons now. This is quite rare. And it requires some luck as well staying healthy enough to make the playoffs each year. But, if you want to spin it another way, only 6 teams have made the playoffs each year for the past 4 years: SA, LAC, MEM, HOU, GS, and ATL. Interesting how 3 of these teams get constantly hammered here. Some points are valid, but each of these teams deserve a lot of respect. HOU did nothing for years, and they had T-MAC/Yao playing together for several of those years. They still might not do anything for the near future, but Harden's already accomplished more than either one of them by making a CF.

Harden isn't suited to be #1, but he's certainly not suited to be a #3 coming off the bench like Ginobili is either. But, if HOU can't obtain another top player, then Harden has to be their #1 guy. And how many legit #1 guys are there really in the league? James and Curry. Durant maybe. Westbrook's a special talent, but he's a PG and I have my doubts. The only PGs to lead their teams to titles are Magic(6-9), Thomas(on stacked teams), Curry(on a stacked team), and Billups. Durant/Westbrook have underachieved so far. Leonard is a top guy, but not sure yet if he's geared to be that guy who dominates at will, and he might only have 1 series win in 2 years as the #1 guy, and he's had killer casts. That's quite the underachievement, though there's still time for him to turn this series and the rest of the playoffs around.

At Thursday, May 12, 2016 1:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Presumably, the "hammered" teams are LAC, MEM and HOU. Let's briefly reexamine what I have said about each:

1) LAC: If CP3 is as great as many people say that he is, then with a championship coach and an All-NBA First Team caliber teammate plus a solid supporting cast he should at some point make it past the second round. Injuries obviously put the final stake in LAC this year but if you are honest then you realize that LAC was going out no later than the second round this year, again. I have spoken the truth about LAC.

2) MEM: The Grizzlies cannot score enough or consistently make enough outside shots to be a true championship contender. Like the Clippers, injuries hindered the Grizzlies this year but, again, if you are honest you understand that the Hollinger PER plan has failed to improve MEM.

3) HOU: Harden is not a "foundational player" and with Harden as the number one option the Rockets will consistently lose in the first round of the playoffs while Harden scores a lot of points with a poor FG%. So far, I have been right about this team, too. Harden has been in Houston for four years, he has yet to shoot well in the playoffs and his team has lost in the first round three times. The WCF run was a fluke; that is obvious based on Hou's ppg differential and I can assure you that it is extremely unlikely that Harden will again be the leading scorer for a team that advances to the WCF (and that scoring is deceptive, because Harden was often on the bench in key moments as Howard, Smith, Ariza and others did the heavy lifting).

I don't mind if someone disagrees with me but at some point you might consider acknowledging that my predictions about these teams have been remarkably prescient.

Why don't you say that I "hammered" Atlanta when I did not predict that the Hawks would have the best record in the East again or when I predicted that the Cavs would easily beat them? Atlanta's run last year was not as fluky as Houston's but it was somewhat aberrant and I correctly predicted Atlanta's regression the same way that I correctly predicted Houston's regression.

As for Westbrook, OKC tied for the eighth best record in the West last year and missed the playoffs based on a tiebreaker. OKC went 5-10 when Westbrook was hurt. He was arguably the best player in the league during the second half of the season. I can't imagine that any GM (other than perhaps Morey) would take Harden straight up over Westbrook.

When Durant and Westbrook have been healthy, they have repeatedly made deep playoff runs; they are now one win away from their fourth WCF appearance in six years and other than the injury-riddled 2015 season they have posted 60, 59 and 55 wins sans Harden. MVP-level players are typically worth 15-20 wins; there are exceptions and there are situations with mitigating factors (the Bulls did not collapse sans Jordan but Pippen is vastly underrated) but essentially OKC has replaced Harden with ordinary players without having a dropoff.

It is very important to understand that Harden is a team cancer. This was becoming evident during his last season in OKC and it is obvious now in Houston. He is all about himself and his numbers. Honestly, even if he improved his defense I am still not sure he would be worth the trouble unless he changed his attitude.

At Thursday, May 12, 2016 1:36:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...


I agree with most, maybe all of that (I think there was one year where Memphis had a puncher's chance at the title, but then one of their players chanced a punch).

I'm generally considered to be "too hard" on Westbrook on this blog, but yeah, he's lightyears better than Harden. Both suck defensively, but Harden sucks way more and Westbrook is occasionally brilliant on that end, and semi-frequently puts together entire quarters or even games of not being a giant liability (unlike Harden). Westbrook is better than him at just about everything on offense as well, with the twin exceptions of flopping and three point shooting.

At Thursday, May 12, 2016 11:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot about this, but your first article for theroar was how ATL could win the title last year. To say ATL or 28 other teams won't win the title isn't hammering them. You can only choose one team. It's the way you talk about them. ATL would've been gone by 1st or 2nd round in the West last year probably, too. They deserve respect for reaching 60 wins and the ECF, though. You talked about them in a good light. Every team has its issues and no team is perfect, but you talk much differently about certain players/teams you respect more. More journalists probably do, but doesn't make it right, though.

About OKC, and I've said this many times. The bottomline is that they still haven't reached the finals without Harden, and they're the only team with 2 top 5 players. Also, Harden didn't compliment Westbrook/Durant the greatest. All 3 need the ball a lot. Ibaka isn't as good as Harden, but he compliments Durant/Westbrook better. You need players of different sizes/skills in your lineup usually.

If Curry joined OKC, he would certainly help them, but not nearly as much as he could help another team without a top PG. OKC's defense would be worse and they're already scoring 110ppg, so offense isn't a problem. Curry's not going to be spotup shooter Thompson/Green compliment Curry very well, and neither one of them needs the ball much. It's almost the perfect storm for Curry. Curry was the undisputed leader/best player on GS last year. But, he was arguably only the 3rd best player in the finals. Without Iggy, who comes off the bench, GS probably loses to CLE. That's how much help he needed. Only SA and maybe CLE can even approach the amount of help that Curry has.

At Thursday, May 12, 2016 11:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't like Paul, but before he came to LAC, LAC had made the playoffs once in the previous 14 years. They've now had a winning pct. equivalent to 50+ wins in 5 straight seasons.

LAC record for 2016 with Griffin: 22-13
LAC record for 2016 sans Griffin: 31-16

Griffin's good, but why is LAC doing better without him then?

At Thursday, May 12, 2016 4:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's too bad you feel need the silence me because I don't subscribe to your Harden-bashing agenda. What's the point of all of this? How is this furthering our knowledge of the nba or anything for that matter? This hate isn't good and unnecessary, which you've said many times about other players. If you said something like: Harden will never lead a team to a title and is only a top 15 player. Ok, that's reasonable and could be expected. However, many HOFers have never led a team to a title, including several in your pantheon. Saying stuff like he's not even an AS and giving him no credit for keeping HOU elite with Howard along with back-to-back 50+ win seasons clearly shows your bias against him.

It's too bad, most of your writing is very good, but this type of stuff is making it much harder to read. You already have a perception of how a situation will unfold in the future and often are right, but rarely do you deviate from that perception, regardless if it's true or not. Predictions are fine, but not necessary, but don't let them get in the way of what's really happening just because you want to be right almost all the time. Your Harden predictions are clouding your judgment some.

I have yet to hear any solid evidence to support most of your claims of him. The coaches, JVG, players, Doug Collins, media, etc. are all in pretty much agreement with me. It's possible everyone could be wrong, but this wrong? Harden may never be an AS again, who knows, who cares. That doesn't take away what he's done the past 4 years. Even if he's a terrible leader/teammate, he's led HOU to the WCF along with elevating them much higher than where they were before he came to HOU.

At Thursday, May 12, 2016 9:15:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Anonymous, I'll let David defend himself but to my mind you are putting a lot of words in his mouth I can't remember him say. The key to these discussions is nuance. I agree that Harden is not a top 5 player and could not lead a team to a championship. He is an all star level player. I also agree that if he was willing to sacrifice his touches and "stats" he would be able to have a career like Ginobli.

Having a career like Ginobli is no knock. Ginobli has had an excellent career and is a favourite player of mine.

My problem with all these constant arguments throughout NBA is people are constantly taking reasonable criticism as attacks. There seems to be no room for nuance. Yes, there does exist unreasonable criticism at the extreme end (see: Kobe Bryant), but saying that you think James Harden is an all star and not a top 5 player is not an unreasonable position. So what if you think Harden is a top 5 player and I don't? Maybe I will be wrong and next year Harden will carry the Rockets to the finals. What you should appreciate about David is he makes predictions and sticks by them in print form. If you don't agree then make a prediction about how well Harden will go in the next few years and stick by it, I would hazard to guess that Harden won't go to the WCF ever again as a lead man though.

WRT Westbrook I think he is somewhere around the top 5 players in the NBA. Off the top of my head I've got KD, Kawhi, Curry, Lebron a step above Westbrook. He is probably number 5 with CP3 and Draymond Green another step behind him. I like Westbrook and think he is an excellent player but I don't think he is as smart at picking his spots as those top 4 guys. Sometimes he just explodes and it is amazing, sometimes he tries the same thing and tanks. I agree his defence is inconsistent at times as well. If I ranked some of the top defensive plays of the year, Westbrook would have a few plays in there. He seems to make some great plays at the end of games. Unfortunately he isn't always concentrating and when you are guarding 1s and 2s in the NBA these days that often leaves you open to open 3s which can kill your team.

At Friday, May 13, 2016 12:38:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I didn't see the game, but looking at the box score the thing that jumps out at me is the free throw disparity. Somebody who watched the game, was it iffy ref-work (the bane of this year's playoffs, you could make a case that either Toronto or Miami should already be eliminated depending on which games you wanna pick on, but the right team has only won two or three of those so far) or was OKC really just that much more aggressive than SA?

Either way, OKC has vastly performed my expectations, particularly on defense (looking at you, Waiters and Kanter), and Donovan deserves a lot of credit for getting him team to play their ball of the entire season just when it counts the most. I still think they're roadkill against GSW, but then, obviously, I've been wrong before.

At Friday, May 13, 2016 1:24:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I agree they are roadkill.

The obvious lesson from this series is you cannot give a team with players as good as KD or Russ any chances, you need to crush everyone you can in the playoffs. It felt like the Spurs coasted a bit, I just didn't see the Spurs we saw in the regular season.

GSW in 5. If it is close OKC could take it like they did today. Kerr will want to crush these guys and move onto Cleveland who are looking like the favourites against all odds.

At Friday, May 13, 2016 3:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are not being "silenced." You have cut and pasted the same tiresome "stop bashing Harden" comment numerous times and it has appeared on this site in a variety of threads. Two things that I will not tolerate here are (1) profanity (not an issue with you but it has resulted in some comments not seeing the light of day) and (2) completely misrepresenting what I have posted. Your comment above is the last comment in category 2 that I will post here; I will correct your misrepresentation of my position one last time and after that I will only engage with you on this subject if you bring something substantive to the discussion and if you refrain from misrepresenting my position.

I do not have a "Harden-bashing agenda" (or an agenda to bash anyone else, for that matter). I have presented a well-reasoned case that Harden is an All-Star level player but not a "foundational player." Feel free to disagree with my position and feel free to attempt to justify an opposing view. Calling me a "Harden basher" adds nothing to the conversation.

Here is the link to the post I made after OKC traded Harden to Houston:

Quick Thoughts on the James Harden Trade

Here is a key quote from the article: "If Harden had accepted the Thunder's very generous offer, he could have become this decade's Manu Ginobili--a respected member of a championship team who likely would have made the All-Star team more than once while never having to fully carry the load."

You keep saying that I deny that Harden is an All-Star caliber player when the reality is that I specifically stated that he is in fact an All-Star caliber player and I made it clear that I would have expected him to make the All-Star team even as a third option in OKC. I absolutely expected him to make multiple All-Stat teams in Houston; in fact, I believe that is why he left OKC, because he prefers personal glory to team success.

Next point: Houston's winning percentage increased from .515 to .549 in Harden's first season in Houston. That is equivalent to about three wins in an 82 game season. The big jump came the next year, when Dwight Howard joined the team.

Third point:

Last year, in an article titled NBA Potpourri: James Harden, David Blatt, and The New York Knicks' Mess, I wrote, "I never said that Harden is a bad player. He is a good player; he just is not an elite or "foundational" player. If Manu Ginobili had left the Spurs early in his career he probably could have scored 25 ppg, made several All-Star teams and received some All-NBA selections--but Ginobili never was an elite player and neither is Harden. Ginobili elected to take less money, stay in San Antonio and fill a major role on a championship team behind Tim Duncan and Tony Parker; Harden chose to seek more money and, in his opinion, more glory. It will be interesting to see how that works out for Harden, Morey and the Rockets.

In 2013, I gave Harden serious All-NBA consideration before tapping Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry as my choices for the league's six best guards."

In other words, three years ago I considered Harden a fringe candidate for All-NBA status, though ultimately I did not include him in that grouping.

At Friday, May 13, 2016 3:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Final point: My consistent assessment of Harden is that (1) he is overrated by media members, (2) he shoots a poor percentage that gets worse during the playoffs, (3) his assist totals are inflated by the system the Rockets use, (4) he is a poor leader and (5) his defense is horrific. Based on those five reasons, I do not believe that Harden can be the best player on a legit championship contender. Therefore, I predicted that as long as he remained Houston's best player the Rockets would consistently lose in the first round. In Harden's four Rocket seasons, the Rockets have lost in the first round three times. Two years ago, the Rockets had the point differential of first round fodder but in a close race they snatched the second seed and had an unlikely run to the WCF. During that run, Howard came back from injury to be a dominant force in the paint, while players like Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza made key contributions; Harden repeatedly sat on the bench as the Rockets made big runs in key games. If you believe that this one fluky run means more than three first round exits, so be it.

The only prediction that I made about Harden that has not been correct is that he has received All-NBA First Team honors from the media. In my opinion, he did not deserve those honors--but if it somehow makes you happy that media members overrate Harden, then good for you. Media members have also overrated Gilbert Arenas and Carmelo Anthony, among others (and they have underrated players such as Kobe Bryant and Scottie Pippen). Player evaluation is not an exact science--and the way that the media evaluates is not even scientific at all.

Finally, you should note that I actually picked Houston to finish fifth in the West this season, so if anything I overrated Harden and his team, because they ended up eighth.

At Friday, May 13, 2016 3:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Here are some points regarding Chris Paul:

1) 6-0 pgs generally do not lead teams to championships. CP3 has been touted as an MVP candidate for a decade and many media members supported him over Kobe Bryant during Bryant's prime--but although CP3 is very good he has never been as good as peak Bryant or peak James and CP3 consistently wears down during the playoffs, which is part of the reason his teams flame out by the second round.

2) CP3's assist totals are likely inflated and if his totals were accurate his "advanced basketball statistics" would not rank him quite so highly (I tracked CP3's assists in several games a few years ago and those articles are easy to find by keyword searching this site for Chris Paul).

3) Several years ago, the Clippers went 13-7 when CP3 missed 20 games. Sometimes, teams can survive limited stretches without All-Stars or even All-NBA players.

4) The season before CP3 joined LAC, four of the team's five top rotation players were 22 or younger. In his first season with the team, two of those players improved (Griffin, Jordan), while the team also added veteran Caron Butler to the mix. So, the team around him improved; this was not just a case of him joining a sad sack team and singlehandedly making it a playoff squad.

5) If CP3 were as good as his media supporters suggest, then he would have more playoff success on his resume.

My position on CP3 is that for several years he was the best pg in the NBA. At his peak, I would take him over Steve Nash (who should not have won any MVPs, let alone two). However, I reject the notion that CP3 ever belonged in the MVP discussion with Bryant and James, the league's two best players during CP3's prime.

I am not bashing CP3 or the Clippers; I am correcting what I perceive to be consistently incorrect evaluations of CP3 and his team in the mainstream media.

At Friday, May 13, 2016 11:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew, this has been going before Harden even joined HOU. And my main problem with all of this is the constant negativity, and it is constant. Even if David is 100% perfect, why continue all of this? Harden was possibly top 5 in 2014, and definitely in 2015. Other than that, no. But, the way David speaks of him lowers him to top 30-40 status often, if not worst player in the league given his cancer comment. If his name was Westbrook, Durant or James with some of the accomplishments he’s done, he’d be written about in a much better light.

I don’t think we can just dismiss the media or players entirely. You mentioned last year about people belonging to the Harden cult. Are the players really apart of his cult or Doug Collins? Almost everyone, including basically the entire nba including many you respect you could easily see how valuable Harden was to HOU last year. Just because HOU and Harden didn’t perform the way you’d like to see from a star player/team shouldn’t take anything away from their WCF run. A team you hold in high regard, the San Antonio Spurs, were 1st round fodder to Paul and LAC last year. Just be consistent. You didn’t bash SA or Leonard last year after their 1st round exit, and I doubt you will this year either.

David, fine, you wrote a few passing obvious, positive notes about Harden a few times. These are easy to overlook after all the other negativity written about him. I don’t like all the negativity about players, which you’ve said the same yourself before. The Paul stuff kind of continues, but not as much which is fine. I’m not a Paul fan, but he deserves a lot more credit than you give him. Paul should never have won an MVP, but he deserves to be in the consideration this year. I agree he should have more success if he was as good as many claim him to be.

At Friday, May 13, 2016 4:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew, a few more things. Don't you find it odd that Harden is the most-talked about player on this site now, and it's not for good play? For David's GS/POR preview, more space was given to Harden than any other player, and he's not even playing in the series. Similarly, but not quite as much, it was the same for the OKC/SA preview. Unless I missed something, nothing substantial about either IND/CHO nor any player from IND/CHO were mentioned in the TOR/MIA preview, as was the case for DET/BOS in the CLE/ATL preview.

Do you ever hear ATL's ECF run last year described as fluky as is the case with HOU last year, which we've heard about 100x by now. I'm not saying that it wasn't, but why is this the case? What's the point? I know David's been constantly trying to shed light on how pointless advanced stats are mostly, which I mostly agree with. But, do we really need to bring down players at the same time that have nothing to do with how others view them according to advanced stats?

Do we ever hear that guys like Blake Griffin, Paul George or Jimmy Butler(who didn't even make the playoffs this year) won't lead a team to a title? Think about some of this. Sure, these 3 guys I"ve mentioned along with Harden will likely never lead a team to a title. But, why is Harden and Paul to a lesser extent singled out so often? Lately in the nba, the only teams winning titles have 2-3 stars along with phenomenal casts. It's super hard to see anyone else or any other team even having a chance. But, at the same time, the playing field is equal given the casts. GS looks phenomenal with or without Curry. I still contend they're at least a top 5 team in the league without Curry.

At Friday, May 13, 2016 7:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


By what metric is Harden "the most talked about player on this site"? He is certainly not the most talked about player in my articles. If people mention him in comments and then I respond, that's different.

Reread the GS/Por preview; I explained why Harden was relevant. Reread my playoff previews from the previous decade and you will see that I often (but not always) mention prior series/eliminated teams in a preview.

Atlanta overachieved a bit last year, which I mentioned at the time, and this season the Hawks had about the amount of success that I expected (tied for third best record in East; I picked them to be second). More to the point, no player on their team is being vastly overrated by the media.

It is my opinion that Chris Paul and James Harden are overrated. One of the themes that I have often explored here are which players are overrated and why are they overrated, along with the flip side of which players are underrated and why are they underrated (Bryant and Pippen are underrated, in my opinion).

In his prime, Paul was an All-NBA First Team level player--but there were always at least two or three players who were clearly better than he was, so I disagreed with the idea that he belonged in the MVP discussion. I disagree with the idea that he belongs in this year's MVP discussion.

Harden is an All-Star level talent but he is best suited to be the third best player on a championship team. Unfortunately, he thinks that he is the best player in the NBA. If I were a GM I would not want him on my team because it would be difficult to build a championship team around his limitations and ego. In that regard, he is similar to Carmelo Anthony, Stephon Marbury and Gilbert Arenas; those three guys are/were All-Stars but I would not want them on my team.

I predicted that Harden would score a lot of points in Houston and lose in the first round, year after year, and that is what has happened three times in four years. In the other year, the Rockets had the point differential of a first round loser but they advanced to the WCF. You do some research and find out the last time a team with the Rockets' point differential advanced to the Conference Finals. Point differential has always been a stat that I value and it indicates that Houston's performance was fluky/unusual/not likely to be repeated.

It is unfortunate that basic facts simply explained are so upsetting to you. I don't mind if you disgree with my player or team assessments but please quote me correctly when you disagree and please bring something more to the table than calling me a "Harden basher."

At Friday, May 13, 2016 9:21:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I agree CP3 and Harden are overrated but I think they are coming back to Earth. The issue I had with CP3's rating is that Hollinger and co. would call him the best PG ever, and it would often be in the context of sniping Bryant. I don't hear that much anymore, and if CP3 retired today he would definitely be HOF but no-one is putting him in the same league as a Magic/Isaiah.

Anonymous, I think unfortunately the last decade of basketball has been one of extremes when it came to some of the major voices in basketball (see: ESPN). Players like Bryant were demonised and players like CP3 and Harden were lionised without actual (or likely potential) achievement. I'm all for handing out plaudits, CP3 is of course an excellent and talented PG, but can't we hold the best PG ever articles that were being spat out of ESPN until he actually does something more than having a great PER? I can't imagine what Magic/Isaiah/Payton were thinking reading these absurd opinions when they had worked so hard for their success.

That is the context of the talk regarding Harden and CP3 and it is important to understand that. No-one is talking about Blake Griffin because I haven't had to sit down and hear ESPN tell me how he is a better power forward than Tim Duncan. I remember reading an article about Wade and Lebron in the late naughties which discussed how they were all obsessed with efficiency. Meanwhile Bryant/Duncan/Garnett and co were inefficiently winning championships.

There exists a generation of players who I believe were swindled by ESPN and stat heads. They were sold this idea that these advanced stats matter more than watching the game. So we had these players who looked amazing on paper, but weren't winning the championships. Bill Russell is a victim of this movement because his stats aren't up to par, which is a terrible shame. Basketball should have been the least likely sport to succumb to the "stats are everything" movement because of Bill Russell. The guy won 11 championships against the most absurd stat machine in the history of any sport. Instead I think we got to this point where we decided that the championships almost don't matter as much and this is crap. This isn't the 100m sprint. This is a team sport and the beauty of the sport is the beauty of the team. Compare watching the Spurs/Warriors with the Rockets and you should understand why people are sceptical about Harden.


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