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Thursday, January 26, 2017

LeBron James Blames Everyone but Himself for the Cavaliers' Recent Skid

LeBron James has an interesting take on personal responsibility: instead of looking within himself, he looks around to find the person(s) responsible for whatever he believes is not going right. On the rare occasions that the New England Patriots lose, Coach Bill Belichick invariably says that he did not coach well enough. Belichick understands that, in order to achieve maximum success, responsibility inevitably begins at the top. That is true leadership and that is one reason why Belichick's players are so loyal to him and play so hard for him--a facet of Belichick's coaching success that most media members have never understood simply because they are too focused on being offended that Belichick rolls his eyes at their stupid questions. Belichick is not trying to be popular in the media; he is trying to lead his team to championships.

James thinks about things quite differently. "We're top heavy as s---," James declared of his Cleveland Cavaliers, who have lost two in a row and five of their last seven but still sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. In case anyone missed the point, James explained that the "top heavy" portion of the roster consists of himself, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, while the other players are--in James' view--not particularly good. James urged General Manager David Griffin to not be complacent. James publicly told Griffin that he is not doing a very good job and he offered very specific instructions about what kinds of players Griffin needs to sign as soon as possible.

To his credit, instead of meekly accepting James' ungracious public attacks, Griffin fired back, noting that the Cavaliers' front office is not complacent but that he has observed some complacency on the court--a not so thinly veiled shot at James' admitted tendency to shift into "chill mode" during the regular season. Don't be surprised if James decides to sit out a few games in the very near future as a power play to suggest to the Cavaliers that they are nothing without him.

Keep in mind that the Cleveland Cavaliers have the highest payroll in the league over the past three seasons. It is not like owner Dan Gilbert is pinching pennies and assembling the roster as cheaply as possible. Not only that, we all know that James put this team together. The Cavaliers kept the players he wanted and shipped out the players he did not want. The Cavaliers fired a head coach who had led them to the NBA Finals the year before in order to promote a coach who better related to James. This is not meant to suggest that James has been a bad behind the scenes general manager--but it is meant to suggest that James has no right to act like he had nothing to do with putting this team together just because the Cavaliers have hit a rough patch three months before James feels like playing hard on a nightly basis.

Let's look at Cleveland's current roster. Irving was the Rookie of the Year (2012) and an All-Star before James returned to Cleveland. Love made the All-NBA Second Team in 2012 and finished sixth in the MVP voting that season. When you have three max or near max players, there is not a lot of money left for other players--but the Cavaliers did open up the vault for Tristan Thompson (who is represented by LeBron James' friend) to the tune of more than $15 million per year. The Cavaliers were bidding against themselves, as it is doubtful that any other team would have paid Thompson that much. If General Manager James thought that the Cavaliers were too "top heavy," perhaps he should have suggested to Thompson that he accept a little less so the Cavaliers could have more money to spend on other players. Or maybe James could have accepted less than the max (that idea apparently only occurs to the media with regard to Kobe Bryant's contract).

Griffin recently acquired Kyle Korver, who made the All-Star team in 2015 and who has led the league in three point field goal percentage three times. The team's eighth man in minutes played, Richard Jefferson, twice averaged more than 22 ppg in a season and he was a starter for two NBA Finalists. Yes, Jefferson is 36 years old but he is only playing 19 mpg; he is a wily veteran who has shown that he still has some bounce in his legs.

The Cavaliers have spent a ton of money to surround James with two All-Stars in their primes, a (recent) former All-Star, a role player who is represented by James' friend and several other specialists who have been hand-picked by James. Does James think that a $127 million payroll is a sign of complacency? How much talent does James need around him so that he feels like he can contend for a championship?

One fascinating aspect of this is how the media either supports James' criticisms or, at worst, simply deems these outbursts as the inevitable price the Cavaliers must pay for signing James--a price that most say is well worth it. That take is only acceptable if it comes from people who apply the same reasoning toward other superstars--for instance, Kobe Bryant.

Center and point guard are historically the two most important positions in basketball. During Bryant's prime, his L.A. Lakers surrounded him with Kwame Brown at center and Smush Parker at point guard. During the 2006-07 season, Brown split time at center with Andrew Bynum, a second year injury prone player whose conditioning, work ethic and maturity left much to be desired at that time. Bryant carried the Lakers to back to back playoff berths in the tough Western Conference but he was understandably frustrated by how horrible his supporting cast was. Some fans encountered Bryant in a parking lot and Bryant, unaware that he was being recorded, accurately described how poorly Andrew Bynum was playing. Bryant's comments became a huge national story and were cited as proof that he is a bad teammate and a bad leader. The reality, as Bynum told me years later, is that Bryant was a tremendous mentor for Bynum. Bryant helped mold Bynum into an All-Star. How many players have developed in that fashion while playing alongside James? James likes to team up with already formed stars such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

It is also worth noting that Bryant did not publicly blast his general manager and his teammate to the national media but rather he let his guard down while talking to some fans. The Lakers later added one one-time All-Star to the mix, shuffled around some of their role players, and--behind Bryant's extraordinary play--advanced to three straight NBA Finals, winning back to back titles in 2009 and 2010.

James thinks that his current team is "top heavy"? Do you remember who was the eighth man in mpg for Bryant's 2009 championship team? Luke Walton, an injury-prone career journeyman. The seventh man was Jordan Farmar, a young player who was not even in the league three years later. Heck, the third man was starting point guard Derek Fisher, who would not have started for any other championship contender in recent memory. When the Lakers won the 2010 title, their eighth man was Farmar and their seventh man was Shannon Brown, who just two years earlier had been the 15th man for James' Cavaliers (who are still mocked as a team that was supposedly bereft of talent and depth).

Yes, Bryant had a private moment of frustration (that was then publicized because the fans recorded his off the cuff comments) after two years of playing alongside subpar teammates during his prime but he also took it upon himself to mold the Lakers into a mini-dynasty in the next three seasons. Years later, Bryant joked that the Lakers started Parker at point guard because they were too cheap to sign a true NBA caliber starting point guard--but when Bryant was going to battle with Parker he was not berating him in the press the way that James has indicated that everyone on his team not named Irving and Love is essentially worthless.

Speaking of Bryant and the Lakers, boy it sure is a good thing that the Lakers no longer have that Bryant albatross around their necks. Now all of their young players can show the world just how great they are and just how much Bryant's selfish gunning held them back. I mean, at the very least they can roll over a bottom-feeding team like Dallas, right? Dallas owner Mark Cuban loves "analytics" and has expressed theoretical support for tanking, so it is reasonable to assume that his Mavericks are at least considering heading into the tank pretty soon. The rising Lakers should have no problem with the Mavericks, right? Hey, wait--that must be a typo: Did Dallas really beat the Lakers 122-73? I know what happened; the Lakers are still so traumatized by the way that Bryant selfishly outscored Dallas 62-61 after three quarters of play several years ago that the mere sight of Dallas uniforms induced post-traumatic stress disorder. Yeah, that's the ticket, because no matter what happens the key narratives much stay intact: LeBron James is a great teammate who is a pass-first player (even though he publicly belittles his teammates and ranks fifth in pro basketball history in career points per game), while Kobe Bryant is a bad teammate whose selfish gunning cost his team (even though Bryant won five championships and was annually his team's best playmaker despite playing in a system that does not produce high individual assist averages).

It really is OK to acknowledge that James is a great scorer who likes to shoot the ball. Those indisputable facts do not in any way diminish the equally indisputable fact that James is a great passer. It really is OK to acknowledge that Bryant's strong-willed ways might not be everyone's cup of tea but he was a great leader and champion.

Regarding James' recent public comments, maybe James is a master motivator who has the pulse of his team. Maybe James will lead the Cavaliers to another championship; that certainly would not surprise me. My point in comparing the media coverage of James' career to the media coverage of Bryant's career is that the media members who killed Bryant for his alleged basketball sins are hypocritical for twisting themselves into knots to try to justify words from James that they would declare to be unacceptable had Bryant uttered them.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:08 AM

104 comments

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104 Comments:

At Thursday, January 26, 2017 3:26:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't think anyone disagrees that the media treats James differently than they treated Bryant. The more interesting question may be "why?" I have my suspicions, but I'd be curious to hear yours.

While I agree that Cleveland has a lot of talent and Lebron is being characteristically immature, it is worth noting that Lebron's specific complaint is that the team lacks playmaking, and he is not mistaken there. Kyrie Irving is a score-first PG averaging fewer than 6 APG on a team where he gets to pass to Lebron James and Kevin Love, and the team's third and fourth best playmakers from last season are currently injured and in Milwaukee, respectively. It is also probably worth noting that for all the talent they've assembled, Cleveland has gone 4-18 in game James has sat in since his return. Mostly, I think that's more because the team's other two leaders are allergic to defense, and because Kyrie Irving (as we saw before James got to town) is a low-efficiency option when he's the defense's primary priority, but Lebron is probably right that having another playmaker on the team would make life easier not only for himself, but for Irving/Love/Korver as well (though there are certainly better ways for him to approach that concern).

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2017 12:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And this is one reason why I rarely say or think James is the best player in the nba, other than 2012-2013. Ever since then, he hasn't been the best player for any regular season, and has been outplayed in the Finals by 2 role players at the time (Leonard in 2014 and Iggy in 2015). He probably was the best player in the 2016 Finals by a hair, but was fortunate GS choked a 3-1 lead away.

Nick, James just doesn't have a lot of talent. He has an extraordinary amount of talent, and that goes for every year starting in 2009. No team is perfect and can always get better, I get that. But, he's being a baby and throwing everyone but himself under the bus because he's struggling. But, if James thinks he doesn't have enough help, think about what every other team/player/coach in the nba is thinking. He's playing with an AS PG who played like an MVP in the 2016 Finals who's playing 35mpg. How much playmaking does he need? And Irving averaged more apg before James than with him. He's a scoring PG, his assists are fine, and he was doing fine before him. The only other team in the league who's best player can say they're playing with 2 other AS in their primes is KD. Plus, CLE can go a solid 10 deep even without Smith. Not many teams can say that either.

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2017 6:37:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Great nuance in this post David. You had to be careful writing this to not come across as "lebron bashing," which I don't think you did. Maybe Lebron's comments will act as a kick up the butt for some of his less well known team mates to step up, or maybe it won't. It is important to recognise how different players get treated by the media though.

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2017 7:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

The cynical response to "Why?" is that there is money to be made. The anti-Kobe Bryant media coverage generated ratings and page views. The "stat gurus" who positioned themselves as objective experts who were debunking the allegedly false beliefs of old school GMs--and the media members who touted the work of those "stat gurus"--discovered a very profitable niche. The notion that Steve Nash and/or Chris Paul were better players and better teammates than Kobe Bryant resonated with many people, even if it was demonstrably wrong.

LeBron James built the Cavs' roster and Dan Gilbert enthusiastically let James ring up a record-setting payroll on Gilbert's figurative credit card. It is hypocritical and disingenuous for James to now complain about this roster.

It is true that the Cavs have not been great when James has missed games but there are many potential explanations for that and, in any case, if James built a roster that it entirely dependent on him to perform well that was a choice he made. James won't play with anyone who would be a threat to share the spotlight, so the flip side of that is James has to be willing to carry certain responsibilities.

James has more talent and depth around him right now than existed on many championship teams.

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2017 7:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with your points about James to some extent but James is the best all-around player in the NBA. He scores, rebounds and passes at a high level and he is capable of defending all five positions. His propensity to take plays off or even take games off is puzzling and disconcerting but there is no denying his talent. I would take Westbrook over James in the MVP race this particular season just because of how hard Westbrook plays all the time (which is resulting in record-setting productivity) but I understand that James at his best is better than Westbrook at his best.

I agree with you completely that James is surrounded by an immense amount of talent and he has been surrounded by a ton of talent for the better part of the past decade.

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2017 7:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andrew:

Thank you. My take on LeBron James has always been nuanced, because I readily acknowledge his greatness but I am perpetually puzzled by his attitude and demeanor. I don't "hate" him but I wish he were more driven to tap into every last ounce of his talent. He coasts and paces himself in a way that Jordan and Bryant never did. Maybe some people think that this is shrewd self preservation but I find it frustrating to watch. I felt like I understood Shaquille O'Neal, even though he also frustrated me: Shaq did not want to work hard all year long and he was big enough/talented enough to get away with that for many years. LeBron James works really hard on his game and he works hard to stay in shape (unlike O'Neal)--but James rests during games and takes games off. Shaq's training habits and practice habits were poor but even Kobe will readily admit that Shaq always brought full effort during games (subject to whatever limitations Shaq had because he was out of shape at times).

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2017 8:15:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't disagree that Lebron is out of line. But I think he's correct about identifying the team's biggest need, and I do think adding a playmaker would increase their chances of repeating.

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2017 11:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I mostly agree on how you evaluate players by skillsets which is generally a good way to go about it, but I think you're too hung up on that. There's more to it than just that. On paper, James is probably the best player ever via athleticism/skillset combined, but that's certainly not the case in reality. Evaluating what he's capable of doing and what he actually is doing are two entirely different things. Sure, most people would take him over anyone else if given a choice, but we should be evaluating him on how he's actually playing, not how he could be playing. I haven't seen him playing like the best regular season player nor have the greatest impact of any player for awhile now. That includes the postseason as well, save for maybe 2016. Not sold he was better than RW or KD last posteason, but he had the better team. And best all-around player doesn't equal best player either. He has great versatility defensively, but he hasn't been an all-nba defender for a few years. RW has clearly been better than James this year and has had a much larger impact, regardless if James is a better all-around player, and I don't think it's particularly close.

Nick, adding KD and Curry would certainly help CLE's chances as well. But, is it really necessary to say that though publicly? Lots of players would help CLE or any other team or any team in history for that matter. If he feels like he needs to say these things, he should be talking privately with CLE's front office. I don't understand why he whines so much during his career. Kobe's best playmaker outside of himself for much of his career was Derek Fisher or Smush Parker. Oh, how terrible it is for James to have an AS SG or PG to play with.

 
At Friday, January 27, 2017 12:03:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

David,
Appreciate this article. Andrew and good old Nick also shared very good (balanced) insights. Been a long time follower of yours. Please allow me to share some sentiments...
David usually writes when he feels something is wrong with the prevailing narratives, either by mainstream media or by online hacks who have an agenda. He also writes about players who DESERVE to be evaluated (either in comparison with his pantheon members or with their current peers). And imho, he is usually correct.
I admire LBJ for all that he has accomplished, and he has generally lived up to the hype surrounding him when he was a high school phenom. We cannot say this for a bunch of other hyped phenoms. BUT david is right to call him out, and call his sycophants out for his failures or misgivings also. If LBJ calls himself the chosen one, or aspires to be the GOAT, then it is also fair when we put him under certain standards.
This, our dear friend david, has done well.

 
At Friday, January 27, 2017 12:17:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

Honestly, how much more playmaking do the cavs need???
Screen harder for your teammates. Run harder for your teammates. Does james do that as much as curry does?
3 fulcrum for the cavs' offense is more than enough... didnt gsw draft and develop curry, thompson and green? Why doesn't james instead teach/inspire his younger (allegedly inferior) teammates and get them ready for the big games ahead. Is that not leadership? Why throw them under the bus at the first sign of adversity? Isn't that a frontrunner mentality? Isn't that not cowaridice? Why blame your employer when he has already the highest payroll in the league for 2 years running?
Mentally strong people look inward and figure things out. They don't assign accountabilities elsewhere (that is what politicans do as opposed to servant leaders).

 
At Friday, January 27, 2017 2:47:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jackson-

I think it's partly an issue of fatigue. Lebron is leading the league in minutes (and Kyrie is 15th), and almost every offensive action is initiated by one of them or the other. That's a heavy physical load, especially in the regular season, and doubly so for someone with Lebron's miles on him. He's just played in six consecutive Finals, a position no other player has been in since the 1960s. The dude is exhausted, and it seems he fears that if he continues at that pace he might not have enough gas come playoff time while his semi-inevitable foes Curry and Durant will be comparatively fresh.

I don't endorse the way he's going about trying to get some relief at all, and agree with all David's complaints about his mentality, but I don't disagree that it would help his team if he got it, nor do I disagree that his team is understaffed with playmakers.

That all said, there are of course other solutions. Lue could stagger Lebron and Kyrie's minutes more, they could run more high-post old-school Minny type actions for Love, etc.

But the team *does* have a playmaking deficit. Every other contending team has four or five guys that can create at least a little offensively. Cleveland has 2 or 3, depending on if you count Love.

 
At Friday, January 27, 2017 5:39:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Living on the west coast, don’t get to see Cleveland play that much. Why do they need another playmaker? Isn’t this a Lue thing? I mean, why can’t he design offensive sets that make other weapons on the team into playmakers? Liggins had a number of double-digit assist games in the D-League. Shumpert may not be able to create off the dribble all that efficiently, but get him in motion towards the hoop and he can make plays. Run screens for Korver and spread it with Frye…And why would we not count Love? Why can’t the Cavs run the offense through him at the high post, or even in the post?

”Get me another point guard” seems so…overly simplistic and not all that intuitive. And, yeah, whiny as hell. The best and/or most effective point guards understand the rhythms of the players on the team. At the mid-season point, will adding a third string point guard really help all that much?

@Nick, who do you consider contenders? The Dubs. Ok. The Spurs. Not sure who the 4-5 playmakers are. Kawhi, Parker, Ginobili…Murray? (The thing with the Spurs is that Pop does exactly what I was talking about above. He understands and highlights the best assets of all of his players and puts them in the best situations to succeed.) The Raptors? Lowry, Derozan, Joseph…The Celtics? Thomas, Horford…The Rockets? They have Harden and Gordon. And, we’re seeing how the team has struggled without Gordon the past 2 weeks. The Clips do and don’t as they’re banged up, and not all that convinced they’re contenders. The Jazz? Hayward…Utah doesn’t even have an actual point guard.

Lebron has a wealth of talent on his team. Creating offense is on the coach.

Now…playing hard and playing defense…that’s on the players. All of them.

 
At Friday, January 27, 2017 6:50:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

You make a good point Jordan.

Could they have more playmakers, Nick? Sure. But they have an amazing group of playmakers already. I don't understand why they can't just run sets for korver, give the ball to love in the post etc. I must admit I think this whole situation is bizarre, I've never seen a star with a team as good as Lebron's whinging like this.

Benefit of the doubt: Lebron understands this and is just trying to motivate his guys to step up. Calling people out publicly is a pattern for him (see Love past two years).

 
At Friday, January 27, 2017 6:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

By contenders I mostly meant SA and GSW, who I think Lebron is measuring himself agains. On GSW, four of their starters + Livingston and Iguodala call all run the offense for a few minutes when called on. SA can run through Parker, Ginobili, Mills, Leonard, and sorta/kinda Aldridge (they use him as more of a fulcrum than CLE uses Love). Almost every CLE possession relies on either Lebron or Irving to initiate, though, and I think that's wearing them down (based on Lebron's minutes and comments).

Of those other teams you mentioned, though, most have at least a third if not fourth ball handler who can handle at least second-unit creation duty. Maybe not TOR.

As for Love, I said above the Cavs COULD run stuff through him...but they don't. Assuming that's a coaching call, hard to say for sure, but as things are, it doesn't take much of the load off of Lebron & Kyrie.

I don't disagree that he's being whiny, I just agree with his analysis of where Cleveland's current biggest weakness is. They're down three playmakers from last year in Delly (walked), Smith (hurt), and Williams (retired), while their biggest rival just added Kevin Durant. I can see why he might be sweating.

 
At Saturday, January 28, 2017 10:16:00 PM, Blogger Eric Reives said...

I think the Cavs are fine. They just need to play better defense. Their defense has been terrible since the start of the year. That was proven when they lost to a Pelicans team that played without Anthony Davis. There aren't any playmakers available and the Cavs have no trade chips available. They might be able to add a veteran point guard that's rehabbing. That's about it. The Cavs offense could evolve a bit more by emphasizing Love's passing ability in the high post, much the same way Rick Adelman used him.

Kobe's always had a tumultuous relationship with the media. First problem was patterning his game around MJ. Then the media believed that Kobe ran Shaquille out of town. His criminal case/lawsuit didn't help either. This was further ingrained into the media when Shaquille won another ring. Kobe supposedly quit during the playoffs against the Suns. His lost against the Celtics in the finals added fuel to the fire. I remember Kobe scored 61 in Madison Square Garden the Lebron scored 50+ points and had a near triple double. The articles printed after those performances confirmed how the media covers Kobe and Lebron.

 
At Sunday, January 29, 2017 8:09:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

About LeBron coasting through the regular season, well he is putting up basically the same stats that he always does. But then again maybe the stats do or don't prove he's coasting.
Maybe he just doesn't have to go all out during the regular season anymore for his team to win. He's not trying to win MVP.

Most likely the Cavs will be back in the finals.

Maybe LeBron was just trying to motivate his guys to do better, but should have done so privately.

Caosting could get a player fresh for the playoffs. After Duncan won his sixth or seventh season he was great but coasted during the regular season. It paid off.

 
At Sunday, January 29, 2017 1:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

AW-

Strong point. Pippen/Shaq/Kobe all did it to varying extents as well (mostly on D, which is where Lebron is mostly doing it). Jordan only recent "dynasty" guy who seemed to go all out every night after first 2-3 titles.

Wasn't watching live during most of Showtime/Bird (though I've watched a lot since) so hard to speak as confidently, but felt like Kareem/Bird in that category as well. Never saw McHale take a night off, though. Magic didn't play all that much D even when he was trying, but his offensive effort seemed consistent.

Russell famously took "coasting" approach during '69 season, too. Difference here is that Lebron is much louder about it/media way bigger + active than in previous eras.

 
At Sunday, January 29, 2017 7:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe/Jordan went hard as did Shaq in games, but nobody can go 100mph for every second playing 36mpg+ for 82 games in a season. That doesn't necessarily mean they're coasting, though. What James does at times is much different.

AW, it's not about trying or not trying to the MVP. Every player should be trying to do their best. If you happen to win MVP, then great.

Yea, maybe James was trying to motivate his teammates. Regardless, he handled it very poorly.

You might be right about Duncan coasting. He always had an old-man game, but his effort level certainly wasn't on par with players like Jordan/Kobe/Westbrook even with lower mpg. Duncan also had a much more complete team around for more of his career than someone like Kobe, so he could afford to coast. Look at 2013 when Kobe tore his Achilles. He was a legit MVP candidate that season, and needed to play high minutes just to claw his team into the playoffs. If Duncan played 15-20mpg, SA would still be a top seed most years.

 
At Sunday, January 29, 2017 10:45:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Anonymous, I agree with your point about Kobe/Jordan going hard, but not being able to do that for every second of every game, year after year. Bryant played all 82 four different seasons, and played at least 80 another two years. Wade, he of the calling out his younger teammates in the media, has done that exactly zero times. Wade's never even played 80. Lebron has played 80 and 81 games once each. Jordan played all 82 a remarkable 9 times.

As for Duncan, it's true, especially later in his career, that he took games off and "coasted", but it's also true that he took less money--especially his last four years in the NBA where he took a significant decrease in what he could have potentially earned (and was worth). So, in many ways, he earned the right to take that time off.

Shaq and to a certain degree Lebron, want to make the most money. But, didn't and haven't really taken the full weight of the responsibility of that money. Shaq "healed on company time", failed to come into Lakers camp in shape (after their first chip), and never improved in the deficient areas of his game.

Contrast that with Bryant. Whatever one thinks about Bryant, his contracts, his ball-hoggery, his demeanor--he always went out to earn his money. He felt he was the best player in the NBA, wanted to be paid like it, and then went out to make sure he did everything he could--play through injury, lead the league in scoring, add new elements to his game every single off-season, practice harder than everyone else on his team, etc.-- to ensure that he earned every penny.

Lebron is a mix. He works on his game, has improved, but has proven time and again to unburden himself of responsibility. His most recent comments are just another example of this.

 
At Monday, January 30, 2017 1:12:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

I normally agree with most of what you write, but I think it's borderline laughable to suggest that late-period Kobe did "everything he could" to earn his money when he was openly referring to himself as a designated hitter. Kobe, at a certain point in his career (I'd say 2009ish, but could be off a year or so in either direction) stopped meaningfully playing defense in the regular season, except perhaps in close fourth quarters, and made no secret about doing so. As mentioned in my previous post, he's in good company there, but given that he started coasting defensively by his own admission, I think it's a bit of a stretch to put him in with Jordan, who killed himself night after night on both ends.

Certain readers will interpret this as me "hating" on Kobe Bryant, but again, every dynasty level guy but one did it. Putting in those extra miles season after season will wear you out; much as we as fans may not like, it's probably smartest to find ways to lighten your load in the regular season. And, speaking of, while Jordan didn't take games off, he did take almost two seasons off, so... yeah. Nobody can keep going 100% year after year if they're making it to the Finals every time. Bodies just aren't built that way.

 
At Monday, January 30, 2017 12:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan, great points, except not sure about Duncan. If you think Duncan 'earned' his right to coast, then that shows the difference in mentalities for him compared to guys like Kobe/Jordan. I also never blame a guy for trying to make as much as possible, unless you're turning down big money like Sprewell did to fish for more I suppose. Duncan was still making a lot of money. He also only earned 2 AS appearances over his final 5 seasons. His salary seemed reasonable to me, though he should've tried to earn more. SA would've put together great casts around him regardless.

Nick, it's laughable to think Kobe didn't do as much as he could to put LAL in contention for a title every year. He was 1st team all-nba every year until he tore his Achilles, and made his last all-defensive team in 2012. I'm sure he wore down and couldn't go as hard when he was younger, but he wasn't coasting. He also played 265 more games than Jordan did, playoffs included; 407 more games if we don't include his WAS days. Jordan certainly couldn't go as hard either his last 3 years in the league than when he was younger. Maybe harder than Kobe, since he was much fresher and played much fewer games. Neither coasted.

 
At Monday, January 30, 2017 1:48:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Nick

While I don’t recall Kobe ever admitting to coasting (or calling himself a designated hitter…he did refer to himself as a free safety quite often), I never meant to insinuate that he went all out on the defensive end—especially as his career winded down.

While he, Jordan and Payton have the most first team all-NBA Defensive selections (9), I am the first to admit that he "earned" the last few of those on reputation and there were other guards solely dedicated to defense like Tony Allen/Bruce Bowen/Iggy etc. who were far more deserving.

What I meant by doing whatever he could to earn his money is this: Fusionetics (what Nash and Grant Hill did in Phoenix); underwent therapy round the clock in order to play his final season; went to Germany to receive orthokine treatment; had surgery the day after he snapped his Achilles to try and make it back to play as many games as he could the following season; played through a torn labrum; played an entire season with an avulsion fracture in his finger on his shooting hand during a season in which he also won the Finals MVP; practiced earlier and longer and harder than everyone else (google Kobe’s work ethic); improved an aspect of his game every offseason; went out of his way to learn from greatness in not just the NBA, but across sports, entertainment, and business. He read books, intensely studied film (he would have specially edited film delivered to him before games), stayed on top of new medical procedures, etc. etc.

For the record, I don’t view you as a “hater”. And, you’re absolutely correct – Jordan took off 1.5 seasons between 3 peats, and actually missed nearly an entire year his sophomore season. Then took another 3 years off between playing all 82 with the Wizards in his final season. I also don’t believe Jordan went “all out” on defense. He did, after all, play with arguably the two greatest defensive players all time at their respective positions in Pippen and Rodman for his second 3-peat. I can’t think of any other superstar who had that luxury.

@Anonymous, exactly. Your point about the number of games played is crucial. I’d go even
further to say years played. As mentioned above, Kobe worked on his game in the offseason. Practice. Lifting. Treatement. Working out. Games. And two Olympics. All of that adds up.
Lebron has done this too, to an even greater extent with six straight finals appearances and multiple Olympics/Worlds.

To me, Lebron's coasting is not the issue. It’s his whining and seeming distaste for accountability.

 
At Monday, January 30, 2017 3:11:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

I agree with pretty much all of that. Thanks for the clarification. Kobe's round-the-clock work-ethic in general was unimpeachable, it was just his late-career effort on defense which was lacking (and, as mentioned, understandable).

There are pantheon or near-pantheon level guys who gave consistent defensive effort to the bitter end (Doc, Olajuwon) but they weren't playing in the Finals with the same frequency. Doc, for instance, played in a lot of Finals, but rarely back-to-back, and never back-to-back-to-back.

Jerry West may be the exception, I just haven't seen enough of his 70s regular season play to say for sure. David might be better informed there. In West's case, though, he had Goodrich around to shoulder some of the offensive perimeter burden he used to carry, so perhaps it's an apples/oranges comparison regardless. Jordan might have slowed down a bit on offense if he'd had a young T-Mac or whatever riding shotgun.

That's an interesting point about Jordan's D. He certainly wasn't asked to guard the other team's best guy very often, but I don't remember him taking plays off or walking back in transition the way Kobe did. I guess what I mean is that he put in 100% effort on the assignment he was given, at least to my recall. That said, 1998 was a long time ago, so it's possible I just don't remember him loafing down the court in a mid-February game against Minnesota or whatever. Kobe may suffer from recency bias in that comparison, as I've just seen a lot more of his warts a lot more recently.

I agree 100% with your point on Lebron. I don't mind him taking his foot off the gas a little in the regular season, I mind his near-constant bitching and moaning (though I still agree that he's right that team probably needs another ball handler to beat GSW, I also don't think there was any reason for him to take that to the media).

 
At Monday, January 30, 2017 5:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan, it's all related. I doubt James' teammates are coasting through the season any either, but if he's going to whine, either in a dignified manner or not, then he needs to own up to his shortcomings. It makes no sense for him to whine, while he takes off games and coast through other games during the season if he's displeased with his teammates.

James has always seemed like a poor leader to me. And yes, poor leaders can still win. Just think of all the help he's had during his career, and he's very fortunate to have even one title. If the officials don't mess up at the end of game 2 in 2012 Finals, OKC probably gets it to OT at least. Odds are in their favor to win that game if that happens. That series would've been different if the case, hard to come back down 0-2. SA messed up at end of game 6 in 2013 Finals; otherwise, they win. And GS was up 3-1 last season. Such small differences.

Totally correct about Kobe and then some. Even if Nick is 100% about Kobe's defense or lack thereof, he's still doing everything he possibly can that his body allows him to continue playing many years/high minutes before it breaks down and he has a major injury(see 2013 Achilles tear). James, Duncan, Shaq, etc. never did this entirely.

 
At Monday, January 30, 2017 7:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Shaq's resume as a loafer/coaster/whatever you want to call not being in shape/not giving 100% effort is beyond dispute. LeBron's work ethic is better than Shaq's but LeBron will quit during playoff games, which I never saw Shaq do.

I don't know how Pippen's name can possibly be brought up in this context. He played hard at both ends of the court. Even in his twilight years, he was the most important player on a very talented Portland team. His physical skills declined in the wake of 1998 back surgery but I have never heard anyone question Pippen's effort level.

Similarly, Bryant is notorious for giving maximum effort throughout his career both in practice and in games. His Achilles literally collapsed under the strain of all of the dead weight he was trying to carry to the playoffs. Jeff Van Gundy made an interesting comment during a recent telecast; media members (and he could have included "stat gurus" and fans) simply do not know more about a player's defensive ability than coaches and players. I consider myself a well educated media member but I do not know more about NBA defense than those who make their living coaching basketball. I have spoken to many such people over the years and their opinions of Pippen's defense and Bryant's defense are very, very high. My eye test confirms this view. Bryant was the signal caller for the Lakers' defense, which is very unusual for a guard (big men have a better view of the whole court on defense and thus usually anchor a team's defense).

 
At Monday, January 30, 2017 8:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

It is my recollection that after the back surgery Pippen began to much more "pick his spots" defensively, but I confess that it has been a long time since I have watched much regular-season Portland Pippen (or the Chicago Pippen that followed), so it is certainly possible I am mistaken or my recall is flawed.

I will take Kobe at his own word that he was an offensive DH. I assume Van Gundy would be ok with that. Whether or not Kobe is the signal caller for his team has less than nothing to do with his lack of interest in transition in the last third or so of his career. I am not questioning his defensive skill set (which was stellar) but his defensive commitment in his later years. I am similarly questioning the defensive commitment of Bird, Shaq, Lebron, and Kareem, as well as the workload commitment of Duncan and Wilt. Guys who play in a ton of finals need to find ways to conserve their bodies in the regular season. Kobe's way was to punt on transition defense and defer the most dangerous offensive assignment most nights to Artest/Ariza/whomever.

 
At Tuesday, January 31, 2017 12:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

It would be fairer and more accurate to say that Pippen left a lot of his athleticism on that operating table, which is not uncommon with back surgery (look at Larry Johnson pre and post his back woes). Pippen played hard and played smart until the end but he could not do the things that he did pre-injury. I actually talked to Pippen about this very subject near the end of his final season with the Bulls and he was keenly aware of how limited he was physically after the surgery but he told me--with a mixture of pride and defiance--that he felt that when he played he still added "value" even though he was not as dominant as he had been. People I talked to around the league at that time echoed Pippen's self-assessment. Pippen is one of the most respected players among his peers, both teammates and opponents. He is vastly, vastly underrated by many media members and fans, for a variety of reasons, but coaches, players and scouts praise him. Pippen did not have the consistent midrange jumper that Jordan did--and that element made MJ a far more reliable fourth quarter scoring threat than Pippen--but you could actually make a case that Pippen was at least as good if not better than Jordan in many other skill set areas (rebounding, passing, one on one defense, help defense). Pippen was also taller, bigger and rangier than Jordan. I am not saying that Pippen was better than Jordan but when basketball insiders compare those two players the observations that I noted above are often mentioned.

 
At Tuesday, January 31, 2017 1:04:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

You don't need to sell me on Pippen. I've taken a lot of flack from people on this very blog for ranking him as one of the ten greatest players ever. I just recall (and admittedly vaguely) a less consistent defensive effort on his end late in his career (which, as repeated above, applies to pretty much every player in that position and is not meant to diminish him in any way).

There is a devil's advocate case to be made that Pippen was better than Jordan, and while I am not a believer in that particular argument, it is worth noting that Pippen's '94 Bulls team outperformed every Jordan team without Pippen.

 
At Tuesday, January 31, 2017 1:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I am not sure what Kobe "DH" quote you are referencing or in what context that quote arose.

I don't recall Kobe loafing in transition defense during the latter part of his career and I am not sure how either of us can convince the other in this regard. There is not a "loafing in transition" stat.

Bird was committed but limited. The Celtics always hid him and they could get away with it because Parish checked the top post threat while McHale could guard any frontcourt position in his prime.

It is true that Kobe saved lockdown mode for the last few minutes or possessions as he aged, but that made sense when he had another excellent wing defender (like Ariza or Artest) on his team. Why should Kobe have to score 30, run the offense and guard the top opposing threat when he had someone else who could guard the top threat for at least the first 43 minutes?

There is a difference (both semantically and in a real world sense) between picking one's spots and loafing. Kobe may not have been in attack dog mode defensively for 48 minutes toward the end of his career the way that he was when he was younger (and when he played for Team USA) but that does not mean he was loafing or he was a liability.

The Achilles injury changed a lot of things, including Kobe's gait and even his base on his jump shot. Scoring 60 points with that body is one of the most amazing things Bryant ever did and it is even more amazing that he got off 50 field goal attempts; people who act like 60 points on 50 shots is terrible just don't understand basketball or how remarkable Bryant's feat was on so many levels. I honestly did not think that Bryant could score that way after watching him fighting his body for most of the season. That game was not significant in the way that championships are significant--or even in the way that his sustained excellence in 2006 and 2007 with a garbage cast was significant--but it was amazing on a number of levels. The 81 game was a virtuoso in his prime, while that 60 point game was a proud warrior refusing to succumb to Father Time.

 
At Tuesday, January 31, 2017 1:41:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

The "DH" quote came up more than once, though I can't recall which season* (Kobe loves to give himself short-lived nicknames or catchphrases). Unfortunately, turns out Googling "DH" or "Designated hitter" with any sports icon results in a millions of unrelated stories as too many publications lump all their sports stories into one article, so I cannot reproduce it verbatim here.

* I *think* it was 2012, but wouldn't swear to it.

Contextually, it was usually Kobe explaining why he felt that it was his teammates' job to carry the defense and his job, as a DH, to score in bunches. Every time I saw him mention it he did so with a smile, playfully, BUT it nonetheless reflected his play during that era.

In lieu of the exact quote, here's an example of Kobe being lazy in transition, from before his Achilles injury.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uclidlGFhzI (2012)

Here's a slightly different take, with him shot-watching, then jogging back as his man gets an open three (though to his credit, he does turn on the jets right before Thompson shoots, the three seconds of loafing before that render the late effort).

https://youtu.be/yxCUutqpkNw

You are probably right that we will not agree about his transition defense. But I think you would agree that Kobe in '03 was putting in a more energetic defensive effort night-to-night than Kobe in '12.

And again, this not damning. This is not even really criticism; everybody in Kobe's weight class did it. But it did happen, and Kobe pretty much admitted it.

"Why should Kobe have to score 30, run the offense and guard the top opposing threat when he had someone else who could guard the top threat for at least the first 43 minutes?"

I'm not saying he "should" have, anymore than Jordan or Duncan or whomever should have. This conversation began with someone else's observation that Lebron is far from the first great to have a "chill mode," and my realization upon thinking about it that almost every dynasty-level guy had some variation thereof. Kobe's was guarding less-threatening opposing players (he was almost invariably on Raja Bell and Bruce Bowen vs. PHX and SAS, for instance) and jogging in transition. Duncan's was reduced minutes/shots. Bird's seemed to be trying to see how many possessions he could go both ways without crossing a three point line. Russell's was to take a few hundred fewer shots per season.

I'm not singling out Kobe, but he, too, eventually had to find ways to try and conserve his body for the playoffs.

 
At Wednesday, February 01, 2017 1:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I don't recall that quote and I followed Bryant's career very closely. Even if he said that or some variation on that I doubt he meant it the way that you are interpreting it. The negative narrative about Bryant's late career defense is favored by "stat gurus" (who always attacked Bryant to pump up the players favored by their metrics, such as Chris Paul) and by fan bloggers who created attention for themselves (and sometimes got hired by major media outlets as a result). This narrative does not fit what I observed, nor is it echoed by NBA insiders whose opinions I respect.

The two clips that you selected do not prove your case at all. What was Bryant supposed to do in the first clip? He was trailing behind Allen and did not have an angle to block the shot; a soft foul could easily result in a three point play considering Allen's outstanding free throw percentage. I also wonder how many fouls Bryant had at that juncture; getting into foul trouble would have outweighed the value of potentially thwarting one shot.

In the second clip, Bryant took a shot in the deep corner and his defender (Thompson) started heading up court as Bryant landed. Bryant made an effort to catch up to Thompson in transition but in that flow Thompson likely was someone else's responsibility; when your man leaks out then a teammate is supposed to help you. Even if you believe that Bryant could/should have run harder on this one play, this hardly proves that he made a habit of loafing in transition for the last several years of his career.

The idea that Bryant loafed on defense for the latter part of his career is a lazy conceit that is unsupported by evidence--and it is not mitigated simply because you made criticisms (justified or not) about the habits of other players. Whether or not other players did various things to conserve energy does not justify calling Bryant--one of the sport's great competitors--a loafer.

 
At Wednesday, February 01, 2017 2:10:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I can already tell we are not going to agree here so I will respond to your points then abandon the argument (I should, after all, save my energy for future arguments about Goran Dragic, Lebron James, RWB, or some other currently active player).

In the first clip, Kobe Bryant (who has longer legs and better athleticism than Allen) is even with his man until about the three point line, at which point Kobe gives up on the play and Allen outpaces him. I do not know if Kobe could have blocked that shot but he certainly could have managed a (safe) contest or possibly intimidated Allen into a back-pass or pull out. If you think that Ray Allen with the ball is faster than Kobe without it, I suppose he'd done all he could. I don't think either of us think that, though.

In the second clip, Kobe has already landed when Klay starts running, but Kobe does not give chase (and it's a jogging chase) until Klay has already taken four or five steps. When Kobe realizes that Klay is getting the ball and about to embarrass him, he turns on the jets, but by then it's too late. I don't know who's responsibility you think Klay is in that camp (the only one not on a more immediate/further up-court threat is Bynum, who is busy trying to help the cement-footed Blake take away the much faster Curry's lane to the middle). But even if the defensive scheme there *did* make Klay Bynum's man, the fact remains that Kobe shot-watched for about three seconds while six other guys started running, then jogged until he saw a shot about to go up.

If you object to the term loafing then let us instead call it "something less than maximum effort." Your war against stat-gurus is one in which I am usually on your side, but the mere fact that one of them said something does not make it automatically untrue. They were also not alone in that criticism. Zach Lowe, for instance, a writer who has likewise often been critical of the stat-head movement and is well-respected for his basketball acumen by coaches such as Jeff Van Gundy and Steve Kerr, frequently questioned Kobe's defensive effort over the last five or six years of his career, and rightfully so.

Kobe was a great player. One of the greatest, and arguably the single most competitive (though I'd probably vote Jordan). But to suggest that he brought anything near the same level of intensity to regular season defense in the back end of his career that he did in his younger days requires some fairly creative mental gymnastics, and my initial judgment- that he, like every other great dynastic player, found ways to give his body a rest during the grind- remains valid.

 
At Wednesday, February 01, 2017 2:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I don't know if there is a basketball player alive who ran at 100% speed on every play of every game of his career. Taking two Bryant clips as "proof" of a fairly broad assertion is far from convincing. I did not say that Bryant could not outrun Allen. I said that it did not appear to me that Bryant had an obvious way to make a play without potentially giving up a three point play. I would also be interested to know how many fouls Bryant had at that point. Risking a foul there would not have been a very smart play and Bryant was never a great shot blocker (his defensive acumen was based on positioning, guile and quickness, not shotblocking).

Even if I agree with your interpretation of the second clip (and I don't), how does that prove that Bryant "loafed" for years? Bryant was not Harden, who regularly gives no effort and is out of position so much that you could make hours long videos of his terrible defense.

I did not trust or believe your anti-Kobe take on his defense before you cited this "evidence" and the fact that you find this "evidence" to be meaningful/credible only makes me trust/believe that take even less.

I have not seen a credible take that proves that Kobe "loafed" on defense. I agree that his defensive impact declined but this coincided with age/injury. Bryant made the All-Defensive Team (selected by coaches) until his defense declined and then he stopped making it. The first year that Bryant did not make it is also the first year that I wrote that he did not deserve to make it. I wonder about the motivations of writers who focused a disproportionate amount of time and energy to "prove" that a shooting guard who played for two decades and suffered a serious late career injury did not defend as well at the end of his career as he did in his prime.

Lowe's time would be better spent analyzing why LeBron, at the height of his powers, demonstrably quit during several pivotal playoff games. I saw one of those games (versus Boston) firsthand and I have written about it often. Of course, it is a better career move for Lowe to criticize an unpopular fading star who was about to retire than it is to criticize the face of the league.

 
At Wednesday, February 01, 2017 10:03:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

i'm done arguing about this, but as a point of clarification I was at no point suggesting that Kobe's level of defensive effort was anywhere near as poor as Harden's, only that it was inferior to Young!Kobe's.

As for Lowe, he *did* talk about Lebron's bizarre performance against Boston, and IIRC even grilled Mike Malone (an assistant coach on that Cavs team) about it on-air. It's been seven years, so my memory is fuzzy on exactly how much he covered it beyond that, but It is actually possible for a writer to be critical of both Lebron and Kobe. Heck, it's preferable; neither is beyond reproach. He has not repeated that accusation with the enthusiasm or frequency that you have, granted, but then his coverage tends to be more focused on a given season and less on legacy/historical comp.

 
At Thursday, February 02, 2017 12:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I know that you did not equate Kobe's defense with Harden's but sometimes it seems like you feel that if you say something negative about several players then it is OK to say something negative about Kobe even if the evidence does not support it. Yes, Harden is a lousy defender and Bird was limited, etc., but pointing out those evident truths does not provide "shelter" for unjustified knocks against Kobe.

I disagree with your assertions about Kobe regularly "loafing" on defense and if those two clips are your best evidence that Kobe "loafed" you have not even begun to prove your case.

Good for Lowe if he actually critiqued LeBron.

By the way, I don't believe in being "critical." I believe in objectively evaluating players and teams. My focus is often drawn to players who I think are underrated and players who I think are overrated, so perhaps it seems like I never criticize the former and I am too critical of the latter but what I am trying to do in both such instances is balance out what I perceive to be imbalances in the mainstream media coverage of such players. For instance, Mike Wilbon went through a period where he was obsessed with the idea that if Kobe shot more than X amount of times this caused the Lakers to lose. Wilbon never considered that maybe Kobe shot a lot in those losses because no one else on the team wanted the ball or could make a shot. Wilbon confused correlation and causation regarding Kobe's field goal attempts and the Lakers' record. That nonsense was worthy of an article. After writing such an article I did not feel compelled to search for some deficiency in Kobe's game and then write about it for the sake of being "critical" and "balanced." When LeBron surpassed Kobe as a regular season player, I had no problem stating that (some Kobe fans disagreed with my assessment but that's OK).

 
At Thursday, February 02, 2017 12:52:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

My opinion is not "unjustified" just because you disagree with it, David. I have articulated my justification, though it certainly does not have to convince you. I watched an awful lot of Kobe over his career, including the back half, and I saw a dramatic decline in his defensive effort in the late 2000s, especially in transition (and secondarily when recovering from a help assignment). I do not care nearly enough about this argument to comb through hours of game tape and compose a comprehensive reel of those moments. I did a single cursory search for "Kobe bad defense", and submitted the first two videos I found as illustrations of what I had already mentioned, not as some sort of absolute "these prove everything" declaration.

I did not intend to start yet another protracted argument about Kobe Bryant (I brought him up only because he was a relevant dynasty-type player who, in my view, similarly found ways to conserve himself as did the other players discussed), and don't care to continue one. I disagree with your assertion that Kobe did *not* loaf just as vehemently as you disagree with mine, but I do not feel that yours in unjustified or biased, only that either we recall things differently (and either or both of us could be mistaken to some extent, memory being what it is), or that we interpret the same data differently (as we sometimes do). Our understandings of the two videos above suggest the latter.

You perceive my opinion here as unjustified. I suppose that's fine. I perceive yours as mistaken. But, in my eyes, my opinion is justified by having watched Kobe take plays off, and by having heard him admit to considering himself an offensive DH. That being the case, I would not consider my opinion to be "knocks" particularly when the context in which it was offered was, effectively, "all the best players do this, the human body can only take so much, it's not really something to be ashamed of." Despite what you may think, my intent was to illustrate that point, not to maliciously slander Bryant (as you seem to believe).

In general, I've grown loathe to bring up Kobe on this blog as anything less than praise seems to be interpreted as a mean-spirited attack and lead to the least enjoyable arguments we have (in which neither of us gain anything). I brought him up here only because omitting him seemed like an insult (he certainly belongs in a list of greatest dynastic players).

That hopefully laid to rest, I also was not implying that you are not capable of being critical, though re-reading my comment I see how it could have been taken that way and I should have worded it better. My intent was to suggest that not all media members take sides between Kobe and Lebron as you sometimes seem to believe they do. While you are right that many media members are know-nothing stat heads, exceptions do exist.

I agree with your dismissal of Michael Wilbon. He's a clown.

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 12:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I called your opinion on this particular issue "unjustified" because it is an extraordinary claim (Kobe, one of the greatest perimeter defenders of all-time, "loafed" on defense, as opposed to Kobe declined with age/injury) and, as Carl Sagan said in a different context, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The coaches were putting Kobe on the All-Defensive Team well past the point that you claim Kobe loafed. On a per minute basis, Kobe's steals and defensive rebounds were fairly consistent throughout his career (I fully understand that those numbers are incomplete metrics at best but if Kobe "loafed" as much as you suggest then there should be some statistical footprint to mark this). As you are well aware, I don't put much credence in "advanced basketball statistics" but I looked at his defensive win shares and those numbers were rather consistent until 2013-14, when Bryant played in just six games after rupturing his Achilles at the end of the previous season. That is a later career decline than you assert and it correlates with Bryant's most serious injury, as I have been insisting.

Kobe's DRtng is all over the map but his three worst numbers (other than his injury-hit 2004-05 season) are from his post-Achilles injury campaigns. I have never suggested that Kobe was a great defender after that injury. It was apparent that Kobe was laboring at times just to get up and down the court.

So, the evidence suggests that Bryant's defense declined later than you assert and that this decline correlates with a serious injury that nearly ended his career. In the absence of more concrete, convincing evidence, I feel comfortable saying that your opinion on this particular issue is "unjustified" because it is unsupported by evidence.

I would also add that there is a semantic and real world difference between "loafing" and "conserving energy." I have no doubt that Kobe conserved energy like all superstars have to do at times. That is different than suggesting that Kobe spent "the back half" of his career not putting forth much defensive effort.

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 12:45:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

It is supported by evidence you choose to disregard; you haven't seen Kobe refer to himself as a DH, you don't remember all the times he walked up the court in transition, and you're unmoved by his frequently (though not always) poor defensive On/Offs.

However, if calling it "conserving energy" will end this pointless argument about the inclusion of one name out of seven or eight on a list, let's call it that and be done with it.

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 1:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

If you can find the quote and provide the context, then perhaps I would consider it evidence. Shaq called himself the Big Cactus and the Big Shamrock and the Big Aristotle. What, if anything, do those quotes prove about his effort level as a player? Even if Kobe called himself the Big DH (or whatever he said), how would that be proof that he loafed not on one or two plays but for the back half of his career, including years when he made the All-Defensive Team as selected by the coaches?

You act like you watched more of Kobe's games than I did and/or watched them more closely. I doubt that either is the case and I had the additional advantage of seeing at least some of those games from press row with access to scouts/assistant coaches/head coaches/other players in real time to refine my thinking/observations. My coverage of the NBA--especially during the period when I regularly attended games with press credentials--was deeply informed and influenced by my conversations with NBA lifers. Many of those conversations/interviews are available on this website, while others were off the record or just unpublished but when I speak about Kobe's defense I feel like I have a well informed perspective. Same thing regarding Pippen, who will never be held in as high esteem by the public/media members as he is by the game's insiders.

Your assertion in previous threads that Kobe gambled too much is at least worth debating, though I think that you pushed a somewhat valid point too far--but I don't buy this "loafing" bit at all. Harden loafs. He stands in one spot and lets his man just cut to the basket. He stops at halfcourt to argue about a call while the ball is still in play. His idea of help defense is pointing at someone else on his team and blaming that guy for the defensive breakdown. These things happen in almost every game, not just one or two isolated (and debatable) clips. That is what it means to loaf on defense. I know that you did not say that Kobe is as bad as Harden but the reason I bring Harden up is to cite an example of what real loafing looks like.

Unless I misread your earlier comments, you are asserting that Kobe was loafing as far back as the Lakers' second run as championship contenders. Doc Rivers described Bryant at that time as perhaps the best help defender since Pippen.

Again, the dramatic decline in Bryant's defense can be pretty well pinpointed to post the Achilles injury. I agree that in the season or two before that he had slipped from elite status but I disagree that he was loafing.

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 1:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't know or care which of us saw more Kobe games. I'm confident suggesting we've both seen hundreds, which ought to be enough.

I think it is well-documented by now that I am largely unmoved by Defensive Team selections, particularly for older players (who often stay on the team a few extra years due to reputation more than actual skill). You yourself have questioned Bird's All-D selections, so I think we can agree that they are not a be-all end-all.

But here I'm starting to argue again, and I don't want to. If the term "loafing" is your objection, I'll rephrase it as "conserving energy."

If you'd like to talk about something a bit less beaten to death, though, I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of the following:

1) How big of a deal is the Kanter injury for an OKC team that was already getting killed during bench minutes?

2) How long before the Houston-train derails? Anybody they're likely to face in the first round you think they can actually beat?

3) Do you still feel that 2014 was a "fluke" season for Goran Dragic? He's putting up almost exactly the same numbers (-1 point, +1 assist) this season, despite being a half-step slower and playing about a quarter of his games injured.

4) Is Washington or Boston remotely for real, or are both just Cleveland fodder?

5) If you had to pick a team to upset GSW this year, who would it be? Cleveland seems the easy pick to me, but I can't shake the feeling that sooner or later Lebron is going to run out of gas (especially given his latest circus).

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Diverting away from the current discussion of Kobe but LeBron is so confusing as a person. Everytime he seems like he's finally wholly matured and knows what he's doing, he takes two steps back and it's 2010 again. I thought he was playing and doing very well at the beginning of this season leading from the Finals. Obviously, in 1984, Bird came out and said his teammates "played like sissies" to goad them into playing better but he also didn't do it in the middle of the season and didn't imply his teammates were dead-weight and needed to be replaced.

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 5:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Bird received three All-Defensive Second Team honors early in his career, when he was at least an elite defensive rebounder. I do question those selections but Kobe was a perennial selection, usually to the First Team, and I do not agree that he was chosen based on reputation. His last selection was to the 2012 Second Team, which corresponds to my rankings as well.

I cited other evidence, too, so my case is not built exclusively or even necessarily primarily on All-Defensive Team voting, though I am not as dismissive of that voting as you are (particularly when the coaches were the voters).

Here are brief thoughts about your questions (some of these issues will be explored in future articles):

1) Kanter was a top Sixth Man of the Year candidate on a team that lacks depth, so his injury is a major problem. The Thunder have great difficulty competing when Westbrook is not in the game.

2) The Houston train has already shown signs of wobbling recently. I am always skeptical of a Harden or D'Antoni team in the playoffs.

3) The 2014 season remains his best season. He is playing a little better than I expected this season but not dramatically better. The Heat were terrible at the start and now they are playing very well. We'll see how they finish the season. The Heat's rise does not seem to correlate with Dragic's play but rather elevated play by Waiters and others.

4) Boston could challenge Cleveland. Washington is probably a year and a player away from threatening Cleveland in a playoff series but the Wizards are dangerous, as I predicted that they would be.

5) San Antonio and Cleveland are the only teams that can beat the Warriors unless the Warriors totally collapse or suffer serious injuries. No one else can beat the fully functional Warriors.

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 5:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Keith:

Bird made a comment during a playoff series referring to one game. LeBron, Wade and Butler questioned the value and/or heart of their teammates overall. I see a big difference there.

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 6:37:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Thanks for responding to everything! I agree with you for the most part on 1,2, 4, and 5 (though I think on the right night a larger team like Memphis or Atlanta could put a scare into the Warriors, I don't really think they could do it 4 times in 7 games). Predictably, we see # 3 a bit differently.

RE: Miami, their improved play has to do with a lot of things, many of which hinge on Dragic (in no order, they all matter):

1) Dragic is healthy. When he is healthy, they are .500 (and improving). In the 12 games in which he has either not played (8) or played hurt to the point where he could not finish the game (4), they are 1-11.

2) Waiters has improved his efficiency considerably. He has credited his improved perimeter shooting to the coaching staff and his improved finishing inside to Dragic taking him aside and teaching him his "cold shoulder" move.

3) Having Waiters + Dragic active and healthy at once. The team is well over .500 (11-7) when they start together. I admit that while I expected Waiters to improve, I did not expect this degree of improvement on either end or for him to become the starter (though presumed-starter Josh Richardson's injury plagued season certainly helped open the door for that).

4) Winslow being hurt. Early in the season they seemed determined to try and turn Winslow into something he is not (a ball-dominant creator), but he stopped the ball, cramped the team's spacing, shot horribly & often, and generally hurt their offense on every front. The Heat are 4-14 when he plays and 16-16 when he sits. Him being out means the ball runs primarily through Dragic, and secondarily through Waiters, and the offense has been much better at in that system (last I read they were roughly a top 8 offense during January. Winslow was injured on December 30th.

Fun fact: with a healthy Dragic and no Winslow, Miami is 19-15 (winning at the 46 win clip I predicted, though I expected Winslow to play better and Waiters to play worse, so it's more amusing coincidence than validation).

5) While Waiters is playing well, Dragic has put up superior numbers in points, assists, rebounds, FG%, 3pt FG%, and FT% during their win streak, so it is difficult to credit the streak primarily to Waiters, though he has certainly been MIA's second best player during that run. Obviously Dragic benefits from having a second competent scorer on the court (assuming it is not a stylistic clash ala Wade), but Goran has clearly been their engine, and Waiters would be the first to tell you so.

6) Chemistry. Whether it has something to do with who is out or not, the Heat are playing together and seem to love each other. They are making the extra pass (and the extra defensive effort) on defense in a way that they were not earlier in the season. Waiters is openly deferring to Dragic (and coming up with funny couples' nicknames for them), Whiteside is paying Johnson's fine, and in general everybody seems to be on the same page and playing for each other.


1/2

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 6:39:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

7) Stability. Miami has played 18 starting lineups already this season (that's a little over one every 3rd game), as they've been by far the league's most injured teams, but during this win streak they have played the same lineup 8 times (+1 game without Whiteside), and their best/most-used lineup is currently 8-2, and against a pretty difficult schedule (including wins against HOU, ATL, and CHI, as well as both wins and losses vs. GSW and MIL).

8) Schedule. Miami played, according to ESPN and other schedule-rankers, the hardest SOS through the first half of the season. Combined with their injuries, this left them in quite a hole, but they have a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way (though they do play Toronto and Cleveland a lot), and may improbably sneak into the playoffs if their best four players (Dragic, Waiters, Whiteside, and James Johnson) can stay on the court.

9) Role-players. As I predicted, unremarkable journeyman players Waiters, Johnson, Ellington, and Reed all look the best they've ever looked since coming to Miami (and all four are likely to be overpaid this off-season). Much of the credit for this belongs to Erik Spoelstra and the training stuff, but some of it probably belongs with Dragic, too. Waiters, Reed, and Johnson have all at different points credited their offensive improvements to playing alongside Dragic, at least.

Circling back to Dragic, I struggle to see how one could consider his 2014 a better individual season (though a healthier, better constructed team did win more games) when he is putting up roughly the same numbers and a much better defender than he was then. He is scoring 0.4 ppg less (though that will likely disappear if he remains healthy), but is averaging more assists & rebounds. These numbers also fit with his improved numbers in the back half of last season, suggesting that 20 & 6 on 50/40/75 is roughly who he is with the ball in his hands, and your much-repeated 15-5 is who he is standing in the corners.

Of course, there's a lot of season left to be played yet, and it could make either case stronger. Barring another major injury, though, the softer back-end schedule favors Dragic & the Heat to continue to improve their winning % (though the playoffs are less of a foregone conclusion).

I am likewise very curious to see if Harden and Westbrook keep up the monster numbers they've been sporting thus-far as we hit the traditional "dregs" of the season, and if HOU, like OKC before them, sees their excellent early injury luck turn on them. I'm obviously not an OKC fan, but as a lifelong PHX fan I have a lot of sympathy for a thin rotation losing a key player, and I hope it doesn't cost them the playoffs.

 
At Friday, February 03, 2017 7:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Addendum for reference:

Dragic's monthly scoring splits:

Nov: 15.6 41% FG, 33% 3pt
Dec: 21.1 47% FG, 44% 3pt
Jan: 21.6 51% FG, 42% 3pt
Streak: 23.3 54% FG, 51% 3pt

I'd argue the streak kinda does correlate with his performance. That three point percentage is probably unsustainable, but the rest of it isn't, and even a 10% drop there is basically just one ppg.

 
At Saturday, February 04, 2017 12:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I will only add two more points:

1) Waiters has always had All-Star talent but his attitude and coachability have been issues. He is getting the ball more in Miami than he did when he played with OKC or Cle and thus his attitude has improved, at least for now.

2) Over the course of the long 82 game season, most teams and players have ups and downs. Overall, with the season about 60% complete, Miami is about where I predicted and Dragic has performed slightly better than I predicted; I predicted 16-18 ppg and 5-6 apg for a sub-.500 team and he is currently averaging 19.9 ppg and 6.8 apg for a sub-.500 team. He is also attempting more shots than he ever did before and he obviously has the ball in his hands a lot and I am typically wary of making too much of guys who are the top scorers/playmakers on bad teams unless their numbers are just through the roof. If Dragic were putting up 25-8-5, then I would say he is doing work regardless of the team's record but even an awful team will usually have one guy who puts up 18 or 19 ppg just because the shot clock necessitates that someone must shoot--and before Harden's fans jump in here, I never said that Harden is not an All-Star or even an All-NBA caliber player (in some seasons) but I do not believe that he is better than Westbrook, James, Durant, Curry, Kawhi Leonard and a few others, so I would not have him in my top five for MVP.

If we only look at small snapshots of particular parts of the season, then LAL was 10-10 at one point and the Wizards were garbage. Now, the Lakers are who I thought they were and the Wizards are a playoff team. So, nothing that I have seen from Miami or Dragic drastically alters my opinion at this point.

At this point, we are rather far afield from the original subject of this article and this comment thread, so I will save any further thoughts that I have about Dragic (and the other questions you raised) for future articles/comment threads.

If anyone else wishes to respond about this here until I have posted an article/comment thread discussing Dragic/the Heat, that is fine and if the subject generates enough interest I may at that point chime in as well.

 
At Saturday, February 04, 2017 2:13:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Your point about sample-size is fair and well-taken, but it is equally important to factor in context. Miami is 500 when Dragic is healthy, and they have had many more injuries than either of originally expected; had we been told before the season that Miami would lose over 200 man-games to injury by the 50th game of the season, I think we both would have slashed our win predictions pretty dramatically. As mentioned above, I also expect them to win at a higher rate the second half of the season (barring further injury) given the softer schedule and their relative health (they only have three rotation players out with injury right now! For them, that's stellar.).

"but even an awful team will usually have one guy who puts up 18 or 19 ppg just because the shot clock necessitates that someone must shoot"

I think this argument would carry more weight if Dragic were not getting his points so efficiently; if he ups his shooting percentage by 3 points (semi-likely if he can stay healthy) and his scoring 0.1 points (a near mortal lock barring injury), he will become just the fourth player in NBA history to record multiple 50/40/20 seasons (the others are Larry Bird, Drazen Petrotvice, and Kevin Durant). He will become the second (behind Bird) to do so twice while also averaging at least five assists. That's a bit more impressive than the "looter in a riot" low-efficiency scoring you expect on a bad team. In point of fact, it's *more* impressive given that he is not surrounded by guys like Westbrook or McHale to take some of the defensive pressure off of him. While Waiters is certainly playing well, I think you will agree with me that he is not quite in that ballpark as a secondary option.

As for Waiters, he has been getting the ball all season, but played horribly until mid-January, so I don't think that is the only factor. An improved finishing game (taught to him by Dragic), and improved perimeter shot (fixed by the coaching staff), and improved chemistry with Dragic/Whiteside are the three primary reasons he is currently playing the best ball of his career. He is also playing the best defense of his career, which isn't directly relevant to what we're discussing, but still worth noting.

Before the season you said one of the things that would change your opinion of Dragic were if he were to put up multiple 20-ppg seasons; he is on the verge of doing just that. Given their injuries, it seems unfair to put the onus for Miami's poor record chiefly on Dragic (particularly given that they've the win percentage of a playoff team when he's healthy) as opposed to the much more obvious problem of "they literally have not had their projected starting lineup for a single game and are starting both Luke Babbit and an undrafted rookie out of necessity." Does any team in the league start a weaker player at the 4 or the 3*? Dragic is doing a decent job of making, as you like to put it, "Chicken salad out of chicken sh*t," but even a master chef can only do so much if you keep stealing his ingredients during meal prep.

*Credit to McGruder, he has actually been pretty good the last eight games or so. Much less so the 40 games prior to that.

Even if Miami goes .500 the rest of the way and misses the playoffs, it is still something of a (dubious) achievement to set the second-longest (or longest, if they win their next two games) win streak ever by a sub-500 team, and especially for one that is not starting their intended 2, 3, or 4 (though it is my opinion that said win-streak would be impossible starting their intended 3, but that is hardly the point). Doubly so given the level of competition during that streak; only two of their opponents so far are out of playoff contention, and obviously GSW and HOU are quality wins.

 
At Saturday, February 04, 2017 2:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Separate topic:

Regarding the Lakers, you've made a lot of comments about how bad they are this year, but given that they stand to lose not one but two first round picks if the do not score a top-3 lottery spot, I think it's fairly liking they are less "that bad" and more "tanking." I do not think they'd be a playoff team regardless, but I do think they'd probably be a bit better than they are. Luke Walton is a pretty smart and small-ball friendly coach, and it strikes me as odd that he insists on playing Luol Deng at the 3 in spite of Deng being pretty obviously better as a 4 these days. I don't think the Lakers want to instill a culture of losing like the 76ers, so I doubt they are openly tanking, but strategic choices like that make me wonder if they aren't at least widening the door for themselves a bit.

 
At Sunday, February 05, 2017 7:32:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Have you been watching the Lakers? They are not tanking. That team and coaching staff are trying hard for wins.

With regard to Dragic, is he a top 5 point guard this year? I'd expect you to say yes, I only ask because the point guard position is blowing up this year. It would be possible for your statistical predictions to be correct (20 points etc) but for Dragic to drop even in your own point guard rankings.

Kyrie, lillard, Lowry, Isaiah, curry, Westbrook, harden (are we counting?), wall, Chris Paul. I know I'm still missing names there but if you drafted today is Dragic going ahead of any of these guys? That position is so stacked now, and these numbers are coming so easy for these guys it is honestly hard to put Dragic's stats into any kind of context.

You say "one of three including Larry bird yada yada yada," but then Westbrook is averaging a triple double and hardens numbers are video game like. In the context of this point guard explosion, are dragic'a numbers this year a kind of halo effect? Or in other words are point guards in general having fantastic years because of some evolution in the game.

I don't mean this to say Dragic isn't a good player, I just find it interesting how far the goal posts have shifted for top 5 pg consideration. You might be correct about dragic's end season stats, but he could blow out both you and davids predictions and still just scrape into top 5 point guards, and it would be debateable!

 
At Sunday, February 05, 2017 11:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points Andrew. I think to Nick's credit that he's been more right about predictions for Dragic this season, though I don't care much for predictions and it's basically a moot point. However, MIA is terrible, though they still may squeak into the playoffs. If Dragic is as good as Nick claims he is, he has more than help enough to make the playoffs given the East isn't very good and the 8th seed is currently 23-28.

PGs fairly clearly ahead of Dragic are Irving, Lillard, RW, Paul, Curry, Thomas, Wall, Walker, Conley, and Lowry. All these guys are more-or-less AS caliber. That's tough for Dragic being 11th at best, just the way it is. Dragic may have moved up the overall list this year a few spots, but I wouldn't say much. And I still don't think he's the best player on his team. He has a C who's leading the nba in rebounding and averaging 17 and 14, while being fantastic on both ends of the court. Whiteside isn't prime Dwight Howard, but don't know many teams who can say they have a player like that.

The only real difference I see with Dragic is that he's somehow improved his 3-pt shooting dramatically to his credit. He's forced to shoot more this season, so he should be scoring more. His TS% this season isn't much better than his career average, though.

 
At Sunday, February 05, 2017 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Good question Andrew.

I would still definitely take Dragic over Lillard, Irving, and Thomas, all of whom are defensive sieves. Thomas and Irving are hidden somewhat by playing on strong defensive teams, but my philosophy of "two way players are better" has me pretty confident there. All of those guys score more than Dragic, but he scores much more efficiently, plays better defense, and seems to get more out of his non-star teammates.

I would easily take Wall and Curry over Dragic. I would take Westbrook over Dragic in most cases, but for certain rosters I may take Dragic given Westbrook's poor defense. Westbrook is a (much) better rebounder, a better passer, and a higher volume scorer, but on a team that already had solid scoring/rebounding I would probably prefer Dragic's superior defense and efficiency. Nonetheless, I'd rank Westbrook ahead of him.

Chris Paul is tricky. When healthy, he's probably better than Dragic (though he has begun to slow down somewhat on defense) by a hair, though it's worth nothing that statistically Dragic's numbers are a little better than his this year. The bigger issue for me is I just have less faith in Paul's ability to stay on the court, especially as he ages. I would probably take Paul over Dragic for a given game, but I would take Dragic over Paul for a season, if that makes any sense.

Harden, if we consider him a PG, is basically an extreme version of Lillard/Thomas/Irving above. He is better offensively, but still a nightmare defensively, and while his regular season statistics are eye-popping, my suspicion is that they will once again prove to be smoke and mirrors in the playoffs. On that particular Houston team I would take Harden, as it is built specifically to his specifications, but on any other team I'd prefer Dragic's superior defense and less gimmicky/sloppy offense.

You did not mention the three guy that might actually push Dragic out of the top five for me in the next year or so: Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, and Kemba Walker. Last year I had Lowry/Dragic in a virtual tie for for fifth (behind Paul, who I've since knocked out of my top five). All three are two-way players, though none are stronger on both ends than Dragic. Dragic was able to mostly shut down Lowry and Walker in the playoffs last year when he could stay out of foul trouble, while they were not able to do the same to him (Dragic had something of a bi-polar playoffs, but won both his individual matchups), which makes it a little easier to give him the edge by an inch. Conley is probably a better defender than Dragic, and is one of my favorite offensive orchestrators beyond the box score (nobody's better at knowing when to feed who), but he relies a lot more on his teammates for his offense and can't independently break down the D for a bucket the way most of these other guards do.


1/2

 
At Sunday, February 05, 2017 12:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

2/2

So, if I had to rank PGs right now? Probably:
Curry, Wall, Westbrook, Dragic, Lowry, Conley, Walker, Paul, Harden, Irving, Thomas, Lillard

A lot of those are virtual ties, though, and I would be more comfortable ranking them in tiers:
Tier 1: Curry (MVP level super-duper star)
Tier 2: Wall, Westbrook (Can be the best player on a title team*)
Tier 3: Dragic, Lowry, Conley, Walker, Paul (Could be the best player on an extremely balanced/deep title team ala '04 Pistons or '77 Sonics, better served as 2nd best player on a title team)
Tier 4: Harden, Irving, Thomas, Lillard (Best served as a second or third banana on a title team. Killer offense, can't be trusted on D. Think Tony Parker.)

*I don't actually think Westbrook can lead a title team until he improves his defense, but he's played solid D in spurts before so it is certainly conceivable, and his offensive numbers are so eye-popping you can't really put him any lower than tier 2.

I'm sure the usual "offense is god" crowd will take exception to my placements (especially of Harden/Thomas), but that's how I feel. I think the guys in tier 4 give up more extra points vs. the tier 3 guys than the margin in their respective scoring. Harden may give me 8 more points than Conley or Dragic, but I suspect he costs me about 20 on the other end (or whatever).

I could go into more detail about things like efficiency, effect on teammates, and turnovers, but this is already a long answer to a short question. I hope it's a satisfying one!

 
At Sunday, February 05, 2017 12:15:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: The Lakers

I didn't make my point clearly enough. I don't think they are tanking in the traditional sense, and I agree they are playing hard, but I think they have certain rigid strategic structures that handicap them (Deng at the 3, too many Mozgov minutes) and would be fairly easy to fix if they felt like fixing them. I think they are trying their best to win under pre-set handicaps they've given themselves. I am of course only speculating here, but my guess would be that the thinking here is to hedge towards protecting their picks without instilling that loser-mentality that can plague tanking teams.

 
At Sunday, February 05, 2017 12:43:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

"You say "one of three including Larry bird yada yada yada," but then Westbrook is averaging a triple double and hardens numbers are video game like. In the context of this point guard explosion, are dragic'a numbers this year a kind of halo effect? Or in other words are point guards in general having fantastic years because of some evolution in the game."

I forgot to respond to this previously.

Harden and Westbrook are both isolated cases of somebody being given the ball *way* more than everyone else in the league, it's just odd that it's happening in the same season. In Westbrook's case it's by necessity, while in Harden's it's by design, but I suspect there have been other players since Oscar who could put up similar numbers given the same usage (Magic, for example).

As for Dragic, given that even in the context of this explosion the only other PG likely to hit those numbers this year is Curry (who will also be doing it for the second time), the best player at the position in at least 20 years, I think it's still plenty impressive. It is relatively easy to either score 20 points or to score efficiently, but historically few players have been able to do both. Additionally, given that Dragic has done it before (and none of these other PGs have) I think it's easier to see it as "this is who he is" and less as "he's benefitting from whatever zeitgeist." Just my opinion, I'm sure some would disagree.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 5:12:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

With regards to the Dragic/Bird stat, I have no intention of looking into it, but I get the impression these days that a lot of "stat mining" is going on (see: anything on ESPN ever). It seems like every other day someone is doing something that only "insert short list of greats" have ever done, but it is always a different collection of stats.

What I mean by stat mining, is that in my field which is medical, it is well known that if you manipulate the things you are measuring enough post hoc you can produce an effect that isn't real from just about any study. A lot of stats that get thrown around ESPN seem like that, they are absurdly specific and it is hard to know how real it is.

That is just my general unease with these kind of stats. I'm not saying Dragic isn't a good player, but when you start saying things like "only player since Larry Bird etc" the implication is that Dragic is like Larry Bird in some way. And he is with regards to that stat you showed us. But what does that association really inform us? Without independently proving that that set of stats is in some way linked to winning or basketball greatness what do those numbers mean?

I'm not picking on you Nick, I think Dragic is a great player and we all do it. I only bring it up because you are receptive to these kind of criticisms. What do you mean when you write that stat down? Because Dragic isn't Larry Bird, and he also isn't Steph Curry even if he has more seasons with those numbers than Steph. He is a special player but you can just watch the Heat to know that.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 9:52:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I think the value in that stat is less "he's as good as the other guys who did that" and more "only really good guys have very done this, it isn't easy to do, and a lot of the guys people take over him can't do it." Obviously Dragic is not as good as Bird or Curry, but I think that particular stat has value because it demonstrates that he can score in volume while still scoring efficiently which most guards... can't. I also think it's doubly impressive because he does not have a ton of offensive firepower beside him to attract defensive attention, while everyone else who has ever done it have played on stacked teams (Bird and Steph especially). I think it's triply impressive because he'll be the first guy to do it with two different teams, which suggest it's less a flukey system thing, and more a Goran Dragic thing.

Unlike a lot of the "only X has done this" stats (looking at Harden and Westbrook especially here), it is also not pace/usage dependent, and therefore a bit more era agnostic.

Honestly, it seems more necessary to employ stats like that in support of Dragic on this specific blog because of a certain habit of my interlocutors to suggest Dragic is just an ordinary "good starter." I submit that "good starters" don't put up those kind of numbers, and history bears that out. Everybody else who's done it has been an All-Star, and everyone who's done it twice has been an MVP; it's definitely not a "good starter" accomplishment.

I also like using it as a point of comparison to guys like Irving/Lillard/Thomas who score more only because they shoot more; too many people are snowed by seeing "oh, Player X has more points than Player Y." But not all points are created equal (a great FG% is a lot less impressive on a big who just finishes lobs inside than on a guard like Dragic who creates most of his own action), and I would rather have a guy who gets me 20 points on 15 shots than a guy who gets me 24 on 20. A lot of guys can score in volume; relatively few (and TBF, Harden is one of them) can do it efficiently. Given the league average of 1.08 points per possession, those five shots that Dragic isn't taking are still likely to put up another 5.4 points or so for his team (probably less on early-season Miami, more on current Miami), while also getting other guys involved and making the offense less predictable.

That said, I do wish Dragic would shoot more like 20 FGA per game, as his win-rate when he does is usually pretty high (and his efficiently doesn't meaningfully drop). This season, for example, his team is 3-1 (6-1 total since coming to MIA) in those games and he's averaging 29.5 on 56% (+ 56% from 3). If there's a good knock against him on offense, it's probably that he sometimes tries a little too hard to be Steve Nash, and he's not. A little more aggressiveness and he could probably *could* average 25 a game or whatever, but that just doesn't seem to be his style.

As for the specific origin of that stat, it is one they trumpeted a lot during Dragic's '14 season, which is when I first became aware of it. It is certainly something only star-caliber players have done, so I kinda like mentioning it on this blog where it is sometimes fashionable to suggest Dragic is not a star in the way that Lillard/Irving/etc. are.

It is also worth pointing out at this point in the conversation that there's no guarantee he'll pull it off. He's still 2% FG and 0.2 points away from doing it, but barring further injury it strikes me as likely that he'll make it, given their softer schedule down the stretch and that he's consistently been putting up those numbers whenever Winslow has been out (and Winslow is out the rest of the season).

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 9:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

" Without independently proving that that set of stats is in some way linked to winning or basketball greatness what do those numbers mean?"

Apologies, my previous response may have been kinda rambly, but this is the key issue. Those stats do link to winning somewhat (no one's ever done it in a losing season, though Dragic may break that this year), and in general scoring 33% more points than you take shots is pretty lights-out efficiency, especially when leading your team in FGA. It's proof that Dragic is a big-time offensive player who defenses can't figure out how to slow down* and who uses his possessions better than most of his peers. Mentioning the other players who've done it places it in historical context, and makes it clear that scrubs don't do it. Like Bird/Curry, it shows us Dragic can get his without using up too much of the offense and in spite of being the defense's primary priority. I think that's a lot more impressive than, say, Damian Lillard averaging 26, which six other guys are doing this year, and most other years. Anybody can put up 26 if you let him shoot enough.

*Steve Clifford has a decent anti-Dragic scheme, but it only works if MIA isn't making their threes.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 10:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone has players they like/dislike and have bias, whether they try to eliminate it or not is always going to be there at least a little. And this isn't just with you, Nick. I question anyone who differs greatly from the overwhelming majority among the real nba experts(past/present players, coaches, GMs); not the fans/media as much, but when the fans/media are wrong, it's usually not by much, and nobody can completely agree either.

Saying that, look at the AS rosters. I don't count Harden as a PG, but since you and Andrew are, there's 8 PGs who take up the 24 AS spots, and the coaches picked 5 of them(4 from the Eastern conference). You have the 2 frontrunners for MVP by pretty much everyone only #3 and #9 for your PG ratings. I'm trying to see what only you can see while the nba greatly disagrees with you, but I'm not coming close.

I chuckled when you said 'I would Westbrook over Dragic in 'most' cases'. Most?

You list Tony Parker as Tier 4. Tony Parker was the best player in the 2007 Finals, and the best player overall for the 2014 SA title team. Maybe he really is only Tier 4 in reality according to your tiers, but that's very interesting to think about.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Anonymous-

I'm fairly certain all of the issues you just listed are yet another case of the different way you and I value defense. All-Star teams historically skew towards big shiny offensive numbers and that's fine, but looking purely at skill-set and impact, I feel good about where I've most of them ranked. Harden perhaps deserves a tier of his own between 3 and 4, as his offense is so over the top, but beyond that, guys are where they belong, I think.

If you truly think Tony Parker was better/more important than Duncan in '07 or '14 I don't know what to tell you. We're on different planets there. I don't particularly think he was even the second best player on either of those teams, let alone the 1st. In the '07 playoffs, Duncan scored more points on fewer shots, rebounded at an All-Star level, and played DPOY-level defense. Parker... averaged a little under 6 assists and played his usual crummy defense. In '14, Parker averaged 1 more point on 3 more shots, played his usual terrible defense, and racked up less than 5 assists while Duncan played All-Defensive level defense, led the team in rebounding, and actually had a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Parker (who was particularly sloppy in the playoffs that year).

Put another way, even totally discounting his garbage defense, Parker's playoff numbers in '07 and '14 are across-the-board worse than Goran Dragic's regular season numbers this year. They're only very slightly better than Dragic's relatively poor playoff numbers playing against type in a half-court system from last year. By your logic, does that mean Parker shouldn't even be an All-Star?

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 1:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Nick, that's exactly my main point. It's not just me; it's nba coaches, GMs, players, etc.(you know-the real experts-not you and I), and David agrees with me and them normally, except for an occasional rare case. I question others who think much differently as well when I disagree and when the overwhelming view is contrary. You could be right, but I've yet to see it or hear a remotely close argument for your case. And this isn't an example of where do we rate a player like James? Everyone has him in their top 5 somewhere, and most everyone says he's the best player in the nba even if they think he doesn't deserve MVP. Whereas, you seem to put Harden at least 30-40 spots lower than he really is and RW at least 5 spots lower, but not really sure, and seems like you put Dragic roughly 30 spots higher than he really is.

You have to ask yourself why the coaches are valuing players the way I value them more-or-less and not the way you value them. Even if we were to rate players remotely the same, which we don't, our value on them would still be much different. The eye test, coaches and GMS, etc. all back me up on this. My overall rating of players is pretty much right on par with the nba(AS teams, all-nba teams, coaches, etc.).

I didn't say Parker was better than Duncan in 07, just that he played better in the Finals, though I'm still not sure if Duncan maybe deserved Finals MVP. We'll never agree on 2014, but that was Parker's team then. And then Leonard emerged as the future leader in the playoffs.

Yes, Dragic has better numbers this year than Parker did in 2014, though I doubt SA would've won with Dragic instead of Parker. You seem to claim I and others get too giddy for numbers sometimes, but it seems like you do just as much if not likely more. 2014 SA is an outlier title team where nobody was remotely close to elite status, similar to 2004 DET. I know you'll argue a 60yo Duncan retired for 20+ years would still be elite, but he wasn't for many years at the end of his career. All the 1st round losses on stacked teams cannot be ignored. I'm not sure what my logic about Parker is. It's more than just numbers, and I didn't say Parker deserved to be an AS in 2014 either, not sure if he should've been but probably, and I would've taken Parker over Dragic in 2014.

What I see from Dragic is he had a nice season 3 years ago. PHO unfortunate being in West, but still missed the playoffs in 2014. Dragic has only looked borderline AS to me in 2014 only, and that wasn't for the entire season. He's only won one playoff series as a starter, and that was in the East. I'm still not convinced he was any better than the 3rd best player on MIA last year either. MIA, even with all of their injuries greatly underachieved for the first half of this season. They're doing great now, but they'll be lucky to make the 2nd round if they make the playoffs, which they'll be lucky to do that, too. Thomas, who played with Dragic in PHO, has emerged as a much better player. You'll disagree, but the nba doesn't. I'm sorry, but except for rare cases, the nba chooses the best 12 players from each conference for AS teams. I completely agree with the selections this year. Maybe semantics for Gobert instead of Jordan, always disagreements for #11-12 spots though. Dragic has had 2 years now in the weaker conference, and still hasn't made the team. He had every opportunity to beat TOR last year, who was hardly a true contender, and was benched in favor of Richardson many times. Maybe it does to you, but this and his overall track record doesn't scream elite player or AS to me.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 2:40:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

*sigh*

I value defense more highly than most. Defensively strong teams win more often. Offense is easier to quantify and sexier to watch. Tony Parker is only considered great because he played with Tim Duncan. Duncan's incredibly defensively valuable (please note SA is 5 points worse defensively than they were with Old Man Duncan last year). At this point I feel like an aging musician playing his greatest hits.

Why do coaches value guys differently than I do? I don't know. Some of them don't; in the last two weeks, both SVG and Kerr referred to Dragic as "one of the best guards in the league." But my player evaluations have worked out pretty well for me as a gambler, and I'm right about the outcome of X way more often than I'm wrong. I would not be a very good coach, and do not mean to suggest that I would be, but I am also not often proven wrong (and when I am, it's frequently because somebody got injured or suspended).

All-Star nods tend to most closely correlate to 1) scoring and 2) winning records, so I'd say those are the two things the coaches mostly look at. I don't think any coach loses sleep worrying that he didn't make the right picks for the All-Star team, and I doubt any of them spend more than a couple minutes making their picks. They've got better stuff to do than overthink the roster of an exhibition game, and an offense-leaning AS is more entertaining for casual fans anyway.

I also don't think Dragic deserved to make the AS team this year (though he did in '14). He had an injury-plagued early part of the season and plays on a sub .500 team. You can be a great player and not be an All-Star. Happens really a lot, actually.

Isaiah Thomas is not a better player than Dragic, he's just a better scorer (and even there mostly as a function of volume). He's a fatal flaw in his team's defense, which is why they get outscored while he's on the court in the fourth quarter despite an otherwise stout defensive roster and Thomas' lights-out fourth quarter scoring. Lillard, Harden, and Irving can all look forward to their team's D having to cover for them in the playoffs, and Lillard (if they make it) and Harden can look forward to losing in part because of that. Irving has the benefit of playing with an actual MVP player and a strong-ish defensive roster, so he will continue to have his weaknesses somewhat masked and likewise continue to be overrated. He will also likely continue to put up roughly a .250 winning percentage when he plays without Lebron.

If your belief is that the NBA mostly chooses the right All-Stars (or even All-NBAs or MVPs), and that that's the best metric of who's good, or that somebody like Thomas or Lillard is better than a legitimate two-way player, then please stop replying to my comments, because we're speaking entirely different languages and wasting each others' time. Unlike with disagreements between David and I (or even you and David), there is no common ground here on which to build, there is no shared understanding of the sport, we are aliens to one another. It is fruitless. You dismiss defense (which I value extremely highly) and overall skill-set while I am largely unmoved by AS nods, scoring totals on high-usage, or media accolades. I am not going to learn anything from you and you are not going to learn anything from me.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 4:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you do value defense more than most. What we've talked about in the past and given your 2nd sentence in your last post: 'Defensively strong teams win more often', tells me we're quite very similar. The key word is 'teams.' Team defense is very important, but individual defense remains much less important than individual offense. That's been the case ever since basketball was invented, and remains today. The coaches back me up every year with their selections. Guys like Lillard or Irving might not make it every year, but they'll make it at least sometimes, and guys like Roberson/Tony Allen won't even be considered. You might disagree with the coaches' selections, but to basically claim they have no idea what they're doing is a bit much.

None of the all-time greats are bad offensively, and most are amazing offensively, but several are quite subpar defenders. There's no Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier, or Tony Allen even approaching an all-time great list let alone an AS team. There's exceptions like Rodman, who is a fringe HOFer that made it, but he's certainly not approaching the elite elite.

Parker would be a HOFer on any team. Obviously winning 4 titles helps his case. But, he was a legit Finals MVP and played huge roles(usually the 2nd best player) on teams that finished near or at the top of the league every year he's played.

Almost every coach is going to say something good about opposing players. And I don't disagree with SVG or Kerr if they said that. Dragic is one of the top guards in the league, but what does that exactly mean? He's probably in the 15-25 range somewhere, which is still top half of starting guards in the league. I seriously doubt either one of them thinks Dragic deserves an AS spot, though.

Wait, you think Dragic is the 4th best PG in the league and in some cases a better fit than RW, and not AS worthy? I'm confused. And yes, I suppose you could be a great player and not be an AS if more greater players are ahead of you in your conference which shouldn't be the case in the East, but certainly not an elite player unless you miss a lot of time like 2015 RW. In 2014, Dragic probably ended up around 20 give or take a few spots as he put together a stronger 2nd half of the season that year. I'd also be interested to hear which team(s) Dragic would help more than RW if they traded places with the other starting PG.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 4:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harden has made the playoffs every year in HOU, including a WCF, and probably 3 50-win teams. The only other AS he's played with was 2014 Howard. He puts up huge numbers which get dismissed quickly in here; but these can't be ignored lightly. Dragic has yet to approach any of this. Dragic is a better two-way player, but he's clearly not a better player, other than in your opinion. Harden has some defensive efficiencies, but at times he's an excellent defender. He's forced to guard PFs a lot, and he often does a good job. He's a high steals and defensive rebounding guard. He's 15th in the nba in DRPG, which is amazing. RW is 8th. He's certainly doing something on the defensive end. Irving, Lillard, and Harden have all come up huge in the regular season/playoffs much more than Dragic has ever dreamed of.

Nick, there's no common ground between you and David on Dragic anymore than between you and I that I've seen so far. When you have extraordinary claims without much evidence, I'll pipe in at times. I do believe AS are correct at least 90% of the time. I'm confused why you think so differently and seemingly completely dismiss these teams. There's always disagreements about the last few spots every year, but unless a player is hurt and misses a lot of games early in the season, to my knowledge I've never seen one of the top players in the league not make the AS team. According to you, Dragic is one of the very top players in the league, but he's never even made it once. Obviously, you would have to dismiss AS selections the way you value Dragic.

Again, for the 100th time, I don't dismiss defense. I probably value team defense higher than you and I value individual defense a lot, too, but obviously not as much as you. The experts in the nba seem to agree with me a lot more than they agree with you, and it's a lot more than just AS nods. That's why I ask you to think why the overwhelming majority is so much different than your views on many players. And Dragic's track record doesn't really support him being elite or near-elite status. I know David values guys like Parker, Lillard, Thomas, RW and Irving a lot more than you do, too.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 5:44:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Dude, I'm not engaging anymore. Rant at your leisure, I suppose, but to me it's clear we're just not going to agree. I am not even saying I'm right (although of course *I* think I do), but it's crystal clear that the way the two of us understand the game is so completely different as to make argument immaterial.

Also, you know, you just said James Harden is "at times an excellent defender," so... yeah. If that's how you feel, I'm not as sure we merely disagree, but I actually think there's a non-zero chance that David's blog is some sort of inter-dimensional wormhole, and the two of us are watching two totally different, parallel universe NBAs without realizing it. Do the Suns still suck in your world? If not, I might actually wanna visit.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 6:10:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Nick, I think the main problem with Dragic is health. Outside of 2014 (and even then he only played 75 games), he’s been plagued by injuries that have derailed his seasons in one way or another. I’m hoping that he remains healthy throughout the rest of this season to see what he can do. To back your point, when he’s been healthy and the lead guard, he’s produced at an all-star level. But, Anonymous and the larger NBA isn’t wrong in how they’ve valued his overall output, because his overall output has been so disjointed over the past four seasons (thanks to injuries and Wade).

@anonymous, While some of what Nick writes can come across as outlandish, I don’t think siding with the general NBA storyline is why most of us come to 20SecondTimeout. I come here to get away from that. And while David often cites things like All-Defensive Teams and All-NBA Teams, the majority of what David offers insight into, is storylines that are grounded in fact, research, and basketball knowledge, that aren’t widely adopted in the mainstream media.
Along those lines, what I believe Nick is trying to do is utilize his skills – the eye test, advanced stats, his NBA/basketball knowledge, etc. – to think outside the box. To find hidden value where the vast majority of others don’t see it. A “Spursian” approach to player evaluation. I appreciate his insight (as I value yours as well). I remember he once listed Pippen as a top-10 NBA player of all time. And while, not many people would agree with that assessment – I think he represents himself well in defending that position.

I don’t know if Dragic is a better player than Harden. Offense, especially in today’s NBA, is more valuable. On top of that, what Harden is doing is historic.

But being historic and being vital to winning aren’t necessarily the same thing. (For the record, in a vacuum, what Dragic is doing is historic too).

Westbrook puts up a triple double, that has largely meant a win. Harden’s numbers have a bit hazier correlation. If you look at the last month (Jan/Feb), outside of Harden’s crazy ass 51-point triple double, it hasn’t really mattered what kind of game Harden has had. Wins seem to correlate more with the kind of game Eric Gordon has. That’s just some food for thought. Not an indictment. But that jives with the eye test and the idea that defense does matter. Scoring a ton of points can often rack up wins during the regular season (hi Steve Nash), but it’s the postseason that truly indicates a player’s real contributions. Which, is why your point about Westbrook is well-received (at least by me). We haven’t seen how Westbrook will do in the postseason sans Durant.

1/2

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 6:11:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

What I do know is that Nick has built a compelling case for Dragic based off of fact, eye-test, stats, etc. He’s really not doing any gymnastics to make the case either. I mean, the Heat are on a 10-game winning streak, and the 14 Suns, who many thought were going to be a lottery team, won 49 games and just missed the playoffs (largely because Dragic was hurt towards the end of the season, which goes back to my first point up top).

People wonder why the Spurs continue to find “hidden gems” in the draft. But, it’s thinking outside the box and looking for talent/skill/basketball acumen in places other aren’t looking, have enabled them to be a perennial 50-win team and have, as you often state, “stacked teams”. I believe Dragic is a hidden gem of a player, who combines maximum efficiency, with the proven ability to run a (near playoff team), and produce on a basic and advanced statistical level. He just hasn’t had the platform, chance, supporting casts, flashy game, to become a mainstream media storyline. And, it is my belief that coaches/commentators don’t have time to truly evaluate each player and, on top of that, tend towards siding with the popular mentality.

2/2

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 6:18:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Nick and @Anonymous,

My point was that both of you are not wrong. A case can be made (which Nick) has done, that the value Dragic brings (when he (healthy) plays) is akin to a top 5-7 point guard and worthy of an all-star selection.

At the same time, because Dragic has not been healthy, he has not actually contributed as a top 5-7 point guard, which is reflected in his lone 3rd team all NBA selection, and zero all-star selections.

Both of you bring unique viewpoints to this blog. It'd be a shame if you stopped debating each other.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 6:33:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Speaking of the Spurs...if they could somehow replace Tony Parker with Dragic...

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 9:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

Thank you for the kind and level-headed words. I generally find arguing with Anonymous frustrating for a variety of reasons, especially on topics we've covered to death (Duncan, Harden, defense), but I'm glad someone at least gets something out of it.

Also, please don't give Pop any ideas. Dragic winning titles but doing it for the Spurs would break what's left of my tiny little heart. That's like a monkey's paw scenario for me.

PS: There is an interesting (probably false) rumor going around of Miami trading Winslow/TJ/picks for Paul Millsap, which I think would actually turn them into a sleeper playoff threat. We'll see if there's any smoke over that fire. Even if it did happen, there's a chance the adjustment period of teaching Millsap the playbook or whatever could cost them the playoffs.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 11:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, it's truly puzzling what you're saying sometimes. You have a lot of extremes, and I was just responding to some of them, sorry if that put you over the edge. And btw, we're not that far off concerning Duncan. I have him 5th or 6th all-time probably.

I'm not even saying Harden is a plus defender, but I've seen him block DeRozan one-on-one and just snatch the ball out of the air for one example. How many guys in the nba even have the capability to do that? Maybe not many plays like this, but he is much better than he gets credit for in here, but this is losing battle. JVG would agree with me. Again, he's 15th in the nba in DRPG, think about that. Zero defenders don't do things like these.

Jordan, I don't really think so with some of what you say. The overall theme I hear from David is while he doesn't always agree(who does?), he generally agrees with the real nba experts and values their opinions. Some guys like Paul are pumped up by the media and that's different, and as we've seen for many years with Paul, he's not quite that good. He's played with 1-2 AS and has had great teams for many years, and still hasn't made the WCF once. He doesn't put up video game-type #'s, and is a tiny player. When he's healthy, which he often isn't, he was usually a top 10 player to me, which is what David seems to believe, but not entirely sure. The difference between how he and the media rate Paul doesn't seem that big, usually just better than RW with the media or just worse in here, though RW is much better now.

Gordon is vital to a team with 1 star like HOU, no doubt, especially if he's their #2 playmaker. I'm not surprised they would struggle without him, should be expected. Outside of CLE, SA, and GS, it's going to be super difficult for any other team to have a chance. A gimmicky team like HOU would have at least a fighter's chance if they're completely healthy and their 3-pointers are falling. Can't see any other team having a chance unless big injuries happen.

I guess Nick has won a follower of his Dragic views. His stats are nice, but so are a lot of other PGs. Think about it, there's 8 PGs in the AS game, and Dragic isn't one of them, and Nick doesn't think he should be either, so I'm really confused on that how he rates him the #4 PG in nba and that doesn't equate to making the AS team by his standards, not the current voting process standards. How are so many people missing his true abilities? That's what I keep asking. Maybe you're right about the injuries. If he wasn't injured as much, he'd maybe be 2-5 spots higher for me and maybe a low-level AS, but not that's the case. Though, Nick is still rating him with elite status as a PG even with the injuries and 11-30 start, and I seem to remember him saying Dragic is an overall elite player in the past, though I'm not sure how many players he typically gives elite status to at a time, seems like 20ish. He's been in the league for awhile now, too. He isn't inefficient, but he's actually not that great efficiently for his career. Even with his superb shooting pct. this season, he still only has a TS% of .575, which is good, but not great. His only great efficient season was in 2014, which I think we kind of agree on him that season. I think Dragic would've made the Eastern AS team that year, just not the more stacked Western team. He's been in decline for the 2 years after that, until a solid season in 2017 so far.

 
At Monday, February 06, 2017 11:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also Jordan, do you realize Nick rates Dragic just below RW, who has been the MVP of the nba so far this season? Can you really see any team in the nba being 11-30 at the halfway point with RW?

For the record, I don't just look at AS teams and all-nba teams and that's that. I don't always agree with everything, but generally do with the overall consensus. I think they're important and we shouldn't just dismiss them. They're part of the nba history. The very top players always make the AS game, unless injured. I've never seen otherwise. Players 18-24 or something similar might change every year, though. Dragic is a good player and would make my 2nd AS team of players 25-48. I can't put him ahead of any of the 8 PGs in the AS game either. Thomas, Lillard, and Irving are all fantastic PGs. Dragic has the edge defensively, but not much else. Nick continues to think I completely disregard defense which I've said I don't many times. The question I often ask him is to tell me what great defender/zero offensive player like Bruce Bowen or Andre Roberson could be the best player on any playoff team, let alone any team period. Look how bad DAL and LAL are this year. Neither one of them would be the best player on either of those teams, would they? Maybe a Ben Wallace would, but I still couldn't see either of those teams making the playoffs. Whereas, we see supposedly bad-defensive guards leading teams to the playoffs every year. Just one reason why I value individual offense much more than individual defense. Though, I value team defense more than team offense probably.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 8:54:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

*deep breath*

This is a dumb way of looking at things, but just as a point of companion:

Damian Lillard's record as the best player on his team: 60-62 (.491)
Kyrie Irving's record as the best player on his team: 64-127 (.335)
Goran Dragic's record as the best player on his team: 155-191 (.445).

Granted, that's mostly weighed down by 2013, where he wasn't what he is now, and '15-16, where he was hobbled by bone-head coaching choices. You cut those out, do just this year and '14 where he actually was a proper lead guard, it jumps all the way to 66-54 (.550). You can call that cherry-picking if you want, but picking just Irving or Llillard's best two seasons to even it out doesn't meaningfully help their numbers.

I wanted to put Thomas in there, but I don't actually think he's ever been the best player on his team, so I couldn't. It's hard to overstate the degree to which he hurts Boston's D.

I don't wanna dwell on those numbers, because they ignore an insane amount of context, but they should poke a hole in the "these other guys are always leading their teams to the playoffs" nonsense. Irving's never made the playoffs as the best player on his team, Lillard's done it once on a flukey jump shooting team that won 4 fewer games than Dragic's '14 outfit, but was lucky enough to play in a softer year. Thomas has only done it either once or zero times depending on who you think Boston's best player is. Westbrook is about to do it for the first time, and Harden's done it 1-3 times depending on how you feel about Howard.

Even that, naturally, ignores a lot of context.

The Bruce Bowen thing is a straw-man false equivalency, as my argument is not "a one way defensive player is better than a one way offensive players" but "a two way player is better than a one way player." Anonymous loves to shout about how nobody ever built a successful team around a defense only guy, but then can you name a successful team that was built around an offense-only guy? If you can, I'm betting the other four dudes were killer defenders to cover for him. If you did the same around a defensive player (surrounded him with offensive guys), Anonymous would just insist one of those guys was the best player, instead. But this is one of the things that frustrates me (and David's mentioned it as well) most about Anonymous: he'd rather argue about what he pretends you believe than what you actually said.

1/2 or 3

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 8:56:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Moving on...

Even allowing the premise, which I disagree with for the record, that Irving/Thomas/Lillard are better than Dragic offensively, if they are it's by a pretty thin margin. The gap on defense is much larger, and half the game is spent there.

Dragic, in terms of wins, has done ok, but he's been held back chiefly by three things:
1) As Jordan pointed out, Dragic is pretty good at getting injured at the absolute worst times.
2) Coaches wasted two years trying to make him play like Kyle Korver (Which is ironic, as this year he's actually 2nd in the league in 3pt shooting and could probably fill that role now. Still be a waste of him, but he'd be better at it).
3) With the exception of last year (where #2 was in full force and he still had some decent success, coming a Whiteside injury away from the conference finals), he's had pretty garbage supporting casts.

That leads me to another point. He's really good at making garbage look good. The four guys he started most with in '14 are Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, Channing Frye, and Miles Plumlee, none of whom are starters this year, and none of whom have had nearly as good of a year since. This year, as if by magic, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, and Willie Reed all look the best they've ever looked.

Dragic has an impact beyond his own stat-line, which has always been one of the lynch-pins of my argument. He doesn't score as much as Irving/Thomas/Lillard, because he doesn't have to. He gets his more efficiently, and uses the rest of his possessions getting the most out of his teammates. This doesn't always translate to assists, as the ideal Goran offense involves a lot of him penetrating, drawing 2-3 defenders, then rapid-fire ball movement till someone open gets the ball, but it *does* get results.

Now, Miami has a bad record still on account of, you know, 200+ man games lost to injury (which, let's be real, would knock most teams out of the playoffs regardless of talent), but even with that obstacle, this year (when healthy) Dragic is 21-19. That's a 43 win clip (and rising), which, considering his team replaced Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and Dwyane Wade with Willie Reed, Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, and James Johnson, is not a bad fall from last season's 48 wins.

Playing with the team's preferred (and most-used) staring lineup, he's 10-2.

Anonymous likes to boil things down to end results or wins and losses devoid of context to make his points, but that teaches us nothing.

As for Anonymous' constant shouting about what the "experts" think, that's literally a logical fallacy, and not an argument that convinces me of much. Especially since in most cases, at least a few of the experts disagree as well. Also, guys like Mike Wilbon count as "experts" if you ask the NBA, so... yeah. As Jordan noted, if we cared about the groupthink, we probably wouldn't come here.

Plus, it's the NBA. Even the experts are wrong as often as they're right. Just look at their playoff predictions any given year. Or some of the contracts they give out. Top-level NBA professionals drafted Anthony Bennet #1. The Suns gave Tyson Chandler a four year monster deal. Experts are dumb a lot of the time.

If you look at skillset, and contextualize on-court impact, Dragic is loads better than the one-way guys. It's a smaller margin with Harden, who *is* a great rebounder, and is putting up cartoon video game numbers, but we know from experience that Harden is playoff garbage, and his gimmicks don't work when it counts.

This also isn't a bias thing. You'll notice the guys I have about even with Dragic are guys like Dragic: two way guys who don't have glaring skillset weaknesses, who try hard on both ends.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 8:57:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Let's talk briefly about usage, while we're here.

Westbrook: 1st in the league, 41%
Harden: 5th, 34%
Thomas: 6th, 33.9%
Lillard: 9th, 30.2%
Irving: 19th, 29.1%
Dragic: 42nd, 26.4%

Yes, those other guys score more than he does. But they use up a *lot* more of their team's possession doing it. Per shot, Dragic outscores all of them, he just takes fewer shots.

Also, everybody please take this opportunity to remember that Anonymous just said he doesn't think Dallas would make the playoffs if they added Ben Wallace. Dallas is currently just three games out of the playoffs (and that's with Dirk playing in only half their games). That should tell us exactly what Anonymous thinks of defense, in his own words, and it's that kinda view that makes arguing the guy feel completely pointless. He just explicitly suggested a multiple-time DPOY is worth less than 3 wins. So what's the point in trying to reason with him? Dude is watching a different sport than the rest of us.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 11:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree Dragic was the best player on any of his teams other than 2014(not even sure on that if Bledsoe doesn't get hurt) and probably 2015(with PHO). But, even if he was every year from 2014-2017, I've seen a lot more from Irving/Lillard in the regular season and playoffs each. You realize Irving played like an MVP in the 2016 Finals, right?

I'm confused what you're saying Nick. You insist individual defense is way more important than most, including nba experts. I see examples every year where offense-only players not only are the best players on their teams, but lead their teams into the playoffs. I don't remember this happening for defense-only players. Winning a title is another matter with a one-way player as your best player, but I've seen it happen recently, too. I know you'll disagree, but Dirk wasn't a good defender when he won, and Parker was the best player on 2014 SA. That's 2 examples just this decade. And James or Kobe would've won a title at some point even if their defense was bad. NBA experts continue to rate guys like Irving, Lillard, and Thomas much higher than Dragic as do I. That's why I question what you're thinking. It's one thing if you had these 3 PGs close to Dragic just ahead or just below, but you have Dragic not only 'way' ahead of them, but just below RW, and you said you'd take Dragic over probable-MVP RW in some situations. There's no middle ground with you. I wish you were more sensible in your ratings, then we could have better arguments. It seems like you're the one seeing things nobody else seems to be able to. I give credit to Dragic for a great game last night and his best game of the season probably. But, that would only be an average or slightly above average game for RW or Harden.

I've heard all of your Dragic arguments before, and I'm unswayed to move him higher than 9th at best as are the coaches. And as I've explained who I think nba experts are several times before, you should know I don't count Wilbon as one.

Things I see and what the real experts seem to see as well, is that Dragic was only voted 12th best PG after the 2015 season. I don't see him moving up or down more than 3-4 spots 2 years later. I think you're the hung up on his defense quite a bit. Maybe you'd have more a point about it if he were an elite defender, but he isn't.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 11:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GM predictions are a lot different than after-the-fact, and I'm not talking about predictions. The draft isn't a science, and nobody will completely agree. But, after watching players play a full season, and evaluating how good each player is, they come up with overall similar conclusions usually. GMs have voted Harden best SG 4 years running. I see the same thing, too. That's why I question when someone not only disagrees, which is understandable and there's cases for other players, but especially when they strongly disagree and rate him much much worse. And we actually don't know Harden is playoff garbage. He's played integral roles on 3 WCF teams, though he does have many ups and downs. I know you probably consider Butler better than Harden, but do you really think Butler has done more as his team's best player than Harden?

I understand you have similar players rated similarly to Dragic, but you have to admit your Dragic evaluation raises a huge red flag. And if you think high usage is bad, then Dragic needs to shoot more if he could score as much as those other players. If Dragic's team is so depleted and he's such a phenomenal offensive player, then he's had every opportunity to score 30ppg, but he's barely over 20ppg.

I actually didn't realize DAL was so close to the playoffs, though I was referring to normal years where the 8 seed is typically at least a .500 team, and sometimes needs 50 wins in the West to make the playoffs. Dirk is old and a shell of his former self. For this season, yes, I might pick DAL with Wallace to make the playoffs as the 8 seed and then get crushed, but I still wouldn't be surprised if they didn't make it either. Wallace would help their defense, but he'd hurt their offense quite a bit. Under normal years, I'm not sure. And I'm not sure even prime Wallace would be better than Barnes this year. The gap between Wallace/Barnes in their offensive abilities would be larger than the gap in their defensive abilities.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 12:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One additional thing I'll add about coaches' picks for AS games: the coaches don't need to spend time looking up stat sheets or watching lots of film to make their selections because they already know all of this stuff. They watch these players courtside and they watch lots of film prior to games. They're not making silly, absurd picks. I can't remember them making one ridiculous pick or even kind of bad pick. Nick, I bet you'd feel similarly about AS teams as I do if they more closely coincided with how you rate players, but they don't. Offense is just much more important than defense when evaluating players. When we rate players via skillset, 80-90% of that is via offense. And I know this is painful for you to admit, but that's how basketball works and has always worked. The very best players all-time are top notch on both ends obviously.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 2:31:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Anonymous, I did say that Nick says some things that are “outlandish”. I don’t think Dragic is in the same category of talent as Westbrook. Dragic can’t do what Westbrook is doing. Buuuuuuuut…“value” is a far trickier concept to define. And, we have to put Miami’s record into the proper context. Dragic has missed 8 games, of which the Heat went 1-7. Nick lays out the exact record 21-19 when healthy. Again, this is a knock against Dragic, as he can’t seem to stay healthy, but the record shouldn’t be a knock on his value when he takes the floor. And, I agree with you that all-star selections and what the coaches/GMs/mainstream media thinks, have their value. Absolutely. But, like everything else, they should all be taken in context. Meaning, just because they are true, doesn’t exclude something else from also being true. That goes with rating players (which is always going to be subjective to a certain degree no matter how objectively one goes about trying to approach it).

@Nick, the problem with your usage of usage is that it’s a real valuable skill…that sometimes gets painted negatively (intentionally or not). High usage takes stamina and effort and ability. It takes consistency and willpower, and the cajones to go out there night in and night out and be counted on to drop 25 plus. If Dragic needed to put in 35% usage instead of 26, it is very likely that his defense and/or his efficiency would take a tumble. And, it is an almost certainty that he would be injured even more.

That’s what’s amazing about Harden (and RW). He’s been efficient offensively (outside of the turnovers), despite shouldering such a heavy workload (and what makes a guy like Kobe Bryant even more amazing, since he did so, while also playing defense during his prime). Most importantly, Harden’s remained healthy, night in and night out (knock on wood).
While one could make the argument that Westbrook (and the Thunder) may benefit as a whole if he lessened that usage and concentrated a bit more on defensive assignments (and give guys like Sabonis, Adams, Abrines, or Roberson the chance to spread their offensive wings a bit more). It weakens your position on Dragic (imho) to throw those numbers out there as if they prove something. All they prove, as Anonymous points out, is that Dragic has never raised his usage rate.

I actually think the reason he’s sneaky good is because he’s been so damn efficient with the amount of possessions he gets. He doesn’t need a bunch of possessions to produce wins.
I’d love to see what RW, Harden, and Dragic could do if they all swapped teams for several weeks each. To see who would benefit the most.

@Anonymous, I’d say Dikembe Mutumbo is a good example of a defense only dude who was the best player on a playoff team. Maybe Alonzo Mourning, though he was still a 20-point scorer. You put Mutumbo on Dallas (and maaaaaybe the Lakers), and they’re definitely a playoff team. Especially with Carlise and with the sudden proliferation of shooting the team has on the wings.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 9:49:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan, rather than keep arguing in circles with Anonymous, who is going to ignore things like "context" and "defense" let's instead look at how he argues, and why it isn't much fun for me to participate anymore.

His first paragraph is a whole bunch of opinions with no evidence. They range from silly (Bledsoe was better!) to ridiculous (Irving's 27/4/4 with no defense in the Finals was like an MVP!).

His second paragraph continues to pretend my argument was about defense-only players vs offense-only players. It never has been, and never will be. They're similarly flawed in opposite directions; you don't hear me championing Tony Allen as an MVP candidate. Then he goes on to claim a bunch more ridiculous things, also without evidence, like "Dirk sucked at D that year he won the title starting for a top 10 defense!" or "Tony Parker was the best player on that team with Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard!" He then insists Kobe and Lebron would have won titles without playing defense, which is definitely not true in Lebron's case, and probably not true in Kobe's (though it's possible he could still have won one/some as Shaq's second banana). Again, he offers no evidence. Then, apparently oblivious to the irony, he uses my argument that while I usually would take RWB, there may be some rosters (which in my original post I indicated would have to have other players already filling the roles in which Westbrook excels) on which I would take Dragic to suggest that "there's no middle ground with me." He then claims I rate Dragic "way" higher than anybody else. I have no idea what his basis for that is, but given the coaches did put him on an All-NBA team and that both SVG and Kerr recently called him one of the best guards in the league, I'd say at least some experts are in my ballpark.

Hs last paragraph of his first post, he claims to see what the experts see, that Dragic was only the 12th best PG in the league after the 2015 season. Given the dumb way he was used that season, I probably roughly agree with that. He claims he can't see moving him up more than four spots. Fair enough. I have him in a virtual tie with Lowry/Paul/Conley/Walker, so depending on how you wanna stack that deck, you can get him as low as 8th (which is where Anonymous' comment implies he roughly belongs). But remember, I'm way off base, I have him *way* higher than all the experts, and there is no middle ground with me.

He also at no point mentions or acknowledges that since 2015, Dragic has improved significantly as a defender and midrange shooter, has added a floater to his game, and jacked up his three point shooting to Curry-esque percentages (though of course not Curry-esque volume). In the interest of fairness, he's also dropped his finishing percentage from "easily the best finishing guard in the league" to "one of the best finishing guards in the league" and lost a picosecond or too off his first step. He's also seen some of his defensive metrics slip a bit this year, though I'd posit that's more because he often finds himself guarding larger players in lineups with Waiters/TJ (including last night vs Minnesota, where Wiggins happily shot over him several times).

1/ Probably a lot, sorry

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 9:49:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

He spends the first paragraph of his second post going back to the appeal to authority, which has its place, but is not an argument unto itself, and tends to work better with a specific authority than just "the experts." He also seems to think the GMs are both unanimous in their views and unimpeachably right, which is probably while all their teams are about equally good and way more than three or four well-run franchises win titles per decade.

He then insists James Harden, who has career playoff numbers as his team's best player include 41% shooting and 4.4 turnovers per game alongside laughably bad defense has "ups and downs" as a playoff contributor. Then he asks me if I think Jimmy Butler has done more for his team. That's a fair question, and statistically he certainly has not. But I do think you could maybe win a title with Butler as your best player (there are some leadership questions there), and I don't think you could win one with Harden. The idea that Harden is in a team built to his strengths while Butler currently (and historically) plays on one built against his is not considered.

He then tells me that "if I think high usage is bad" (I don't ) then "Dragic should shoot more." That sentence doesn't really hold together well, but he goes on to imply that Dragic is failing because he isn't scoring 30. This ignores both that I have even in this thread suggested that, yeah, Dragic should probably shoot a little more, but also that using those possessions to instead feed his famously temperamental supporting players and keep them engaged is possibly a better use of a possession. It completely discount the roll of a coach or a system in determining how much a player shoots, as well. It also, as many of Anonymous' comments do, seems to conflate "greatness" with "scoring." Gilbert Arenas was a great scorer. But he was not a great player. There's a lot more to the game than point totals.

He then tries to back off his ridiculous Ben Wallace claim, but can't quite help himself, claiming that the loss of Barnes' offense would largely offset the loss of Wallace's defense. In his eyes, a DPOY is worth about as much as a 20 PPG PF who makes his threes at a sub-league average rate and can't break 6 rebounds per game. Therein lies our central conflict, of course. We'll come back to that.

In his final post, he makes the novel observation that if the coaches picked the guys I think should be All-Stars to be All-Stars, then I'd put more stock in All-Star teams. He is right there. On a similar note, the sky is blue. He then claims that offense is much more important than defense when evaluating players, and that "we" rate skillset 80-90% on offense. I take exception to that (I strive for 50/50, though I lean a little more towards offense for smalls and a little more towards D for bigs). I suspect David would too (If I had to guess, I'd say David goes about 55/45 in favor of offense). Every coach in the league*, I imagine, would laugh 80-90 out of the room. He then insists that "that's how basketball works and has always worked," even though the winningest player of all-time was a limited offensive player who dominated the league on defense, and even though scoring champions have 24 titles since 1983 and DPOYs have 27. If you spot the scoring champs a decade, then it's a tie.

*Maybe not Mike D'Antoni, bless that crazy mustached bastard.

In fact, if you go back to 1960, scoring champs have won 39 titles. If you wanna put it in terms of players who've won titles instead of titles won, then 12/19 DPOYs have won titles and 14/26 (since 1960) scoring champs have won titles. While I forget the exact numbers, in a similar argument years ago we learned that title teams are more likely to have All-D players than top 10 scorers.

In general, DPOYs are more likely to win titles and win slightly more of them.

2/ Hopefully only 3

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 9:50:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

As I seem to be segueing accidentally back into argument mode (can't help myself), I'll briefly point out one of the holes in Anonymous' already anecdotal "I see lots of offense-only players advance to the playoffs" argument: there are way more players who are better on offense than on defense. It's what kids grow up practicing, it's what gets you on sports-center, it's what gets you glory.

Another: that comment assumes Anonymous is unimpeachably right about who those teams' best players were. I suspect we'd disagree on some of those.

Another quick point before I continue: Anonymous seems to view defense as binary; his comments suggest a non-spectacular defender like Dirk is just as "bad" as a historically awful one like Harden or Thomas. That's not so much the way it is.

Anyway, circling back around, it's not fun for me to debate Anonymous in the same way it is for me to debate David. David supports his arguments with facts, data, analysis, and context. We often disagree about how to weight some of that (particularly the context and analysis), but I can always see the logic in his position. Anonymous shouts claims with little or no support beyond raw totals (almost meaningless without context) or rankings, relies on the popular narrative, argues against silly strawman points nobody made, and ignores most counter-arguments and most context. His insistence that Dragic needs to score more, or that he should be winning more, or whatever completely ignores his/MIA's injury history this season, their gameplans (running things through Winslow presumably in an attempt to develop him in the early season), and their system (predicated not on maximizing a single scorer ala OKC or HOU, but on ball movement and creating a balanced attack).

None of this is to say he's necessarily wrong; maybe he's not. After all, all those experts he talks to agree with him, you know. Maybe a team of Lillard/Harden/Anthony/Love/Brook Lopez would waltz to the title, laughing at all the silly teams wasting their time on dee-fenz.

But his brand of analysis is one I don't find particularly compelling or fun to engage with. When I argue with David, I feel like I'm engaging with someone who sees things differently, and I'm curious about why (and there have been times when he's persuaded me), and I'm likewise curious if he sees/considers all the same things that I do. When I argue with Anonymous, I feel like I'm explaining things to someone who has already made up his mind not to believe in them, and rarely brings to the table anything new (since most of what he believes in what ESPN believes). Someone who believes defense is 10-20% of a player's value is not someone with whom I can fruitfully discuss basketball, because our understandings of the sport are irreconcilable. With David, our differences are more player-to-player or situation-to-situation.

Think of it like the difference between a Beatles fan who likes the Stones arguing with a Stones fan who likes the Beatles vs. a Beatles fan who likes the Stones arguing with an Enya fan who thinks the Beatles are historically insignificant.

I don't mean anything personal by it, I just don't get as much out of it, and it's frustrating to repeatedly engage in the same arguments with someone who ignores counter-points, rarely looks much beyond the box-score/list of accolades, and just fundamentally disagrees about what the game actually is.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 10:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

Crap, didn't see your latest reply until I'd finished that novel above.

Re: Usage

You're not wrong. I definitely think it's impressive that Westbrook is doing that, and I'm not remotely confident Dragic could maintain his efficiency at 41% usage. I do think he could probably maintain it at, say, 32%. Usage is a bit misleading by itself, as it only counts shots, FTs, and TOs. In terms of touches, Dragic is a lot closer to (and even ahead of some) of those guys, but he spends those possessions creating for others (even that doesn't necessarily translate straight to assists). He leads the league in drives (and shoots well on them), but usually uses those to create a kickout opportunity or switch for his teammates to exploit. He is not as good of a passer as Westbrook, and would not match his assist total even on the exact same number of possessions but I imagine he'd easily eclipse Lillard/Irving's scoring given that he hits at a higher clip, and increased usage historically leads to better percentages for him, rather than worse. Partly that's 'cause he's a rhythm player, and partly that's (I think) because he figures out what works/what doesn't the more he shoots.

I am not sure he's much better of an offensive player than Thomas, but he's comparable, and so much better on D that I still think he'd make Boston a much stronger team.

Also, like I said above, it's probably fair to ask him to shoot a little more. But asking him to use 40% of the possessions would be a great way to make sure Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside start bitching about touches and slacking on D.

My point in bringing up usage is not that it's a bad stat, but that criticizing Dragic for not scoring as much as those guys ignores that he doesn't shoot as much as they do, and that the fact that he isn't shooting as much as they are is not necessarily a bad thing; system/teammates/context play into that a lot.

Re: Swapped team

This is fun!

Harden/RWB

HOU would get better (RWB is a bad defender, but he's leagues better than Harden) and RWB might break the APG record. He's not quite as efficient as Harden, but he's a better rebounder, passer, and defender, and less reliant on the refs.

OKC would get worse. Harden's worse at everything but shooting, and OKC doesn't have the perimeter threats to give him the room to operate.

 
At Tuesday, February 07, 2017 10:26:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Harden/Dragic

Miami would get way worse. They're a great defensive team and an OK offensive one, but Harden would put a giant hole in their greatest asset. He'd score more than Dragic, and probably freeze out Waiters and possibly Whiteside. HIs lazy attitude would drive Spo up the wall, and there's even money James Johnson would take a swing at him. He also probably wouldn't have taught Waiters how to finish (though he may have taught him how to flop).

HOU would probably get a little worse. They're built specifically to maximize Harden, and D'Antoni's never really been a Dragic believer. Their defense would improve, and the other guys would probably see their FG% go up, but they'd miss Harden's rebounding and foul-drawing. Playing Beverly/Dragic together would waste one of their defensive talents on an oversized assignment who could just shoot over them. That said, inhabiting the Harden-role, Dragic would probably see pretty major jumps in his scoring and assists. There's also not a great pick-partner for Dragic on the roster, though a Dragic/Anderson PnP is perhaps an interesting idea. Dragic would benefit from HOU's spacing (and vice versa), but ultimately I think they shed a few wins when he inevitably gets hurt.

I do think they'd have better playoff luck with Dragic than Harden, though. Dragic's efficiency drops a little in the playoffs (or at least did playing Robin to Wade), but it goes from "stellar" to "pretty good," and he can contribute even when his shot's not falling. Harden in the playoffs is a volume scorer who doesn't do anything else very well, and a giant flashing "exploit me!" button on the other end.
RWB/Dragic

Miami would get a little worse or stay about the same, I suspect. Westbrook's efficiency would go up with better shooters around him, but we've seen how Waiters plays beside him and it's not a great fit. His defensive apathy would rankle Spo, and his rebounding is less important in a starting lineup with Hassan Whiteside (though still valuable). They'd have to completely overhaul their current offensive scheme for him (he's not the shooter to just slide into Dragic's role), and while Spo is a next-level defensive coach and a good offensive one, it can take him a while to figure out how to best maximize players on O (see the Big 3 era, Luol Deng, and Dragic). I'm also not sure how Whiteside would respond to RWB's hyper-intense personality, which is not RWB's fault, but still a factor.

OKC would also get worse. Dragic needs shooters to be at his best, and OKC doesn't have them. He'd have great PnR chemistry with Adams, and his assist totals would go up between that and the necessarily increased usage, but he's not the rebounder RWB is, and not as good at creating easy looks for non-shooters like Roberson. Their defense would probably improve, but they do still play Kanter a lot. Ultimately, every team would just pack the paint against him and dare Roberson/Oladipo to make 3s. That doesn't work as well against RWB thanks to his athleticism and ability to draw fouls.

Dikembe, Mark Eaton, Ben Wallace, or Dennis Rodman are all examples of one-way defensive players who'd instantly make Dallas a playoff team. It is easier to hide one offensively weak player (particularly a big) than a defensively weak one (though of course it is possible to hide either). Guys like Bowen, Raja Bell, or Shane Battier are examples of great (but not DPOY great) defenders with a single offensive skill who'd similarly probably bump Dallas into semi-contention.

 
At Wednesday, February 08, 2017 10:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan, good points. It seems that I find at least half of what Nick says as outlandish. The way he rates players he likes(Nash, Dragic) vs players he typically doesn't like or nitpicks certain aspects of their game(Kobe, RW) differ quite a bit from reality. I know he'll probably throw in Duncan as an example of a player he dislikes rating higher than most, but I'd disagree with that notion based on how he talks about him. He dislikes him only because he played on SA. Duncan's a player he couldn't root for, but respects him as much as possible. He doesn't nitpick Duncan for ridiculous things like he does with Kobe.

As for Dragic, yes, he has provided some good arguments and some not so good. There's nothing I see to elevate him above #9 for PGs. NBA personnel and coaches seem to agree with me. Actually, Nick seems to agree with me as he said he didn't think Dragic deserved to be on the AS team. Now, he probably he doesn't think some other PGs do as well. And maybe he only thinks 3 PGs deserve to make the team, not sure. Even with a 21-19 record, that seems like MIA is underachieving, and that's with a 12-game winning streak, which is an anomaly. But yes, those 8 games missed should be factored in, which I do count. Evaluating players via team success can be tricky, but it shouldn't be completely ignored. I don't see Dragic evaluating his team or past teams(other than part of 2014) to garner AS selection.

Dragic has nice stats, but not eye-popping stats, and his stats pale in comparison to many PGs. Nick's dreamed scenario for Dragic probably won't happen, and even if it does, averaging 20ppg and 6apg on good shooting isn't amazing. His efficiency is good but not great either even with high FG and 3-pt pct. Harden and Thomas just to name two have much higher TS%. I don't buy into all the efficiency talk sometimes, but if we're going to look at that, .583 is good but hardly great. And you're right about usage.

But when Nick says stuff like Dragic would be a better fit than RW in some situations, and rates Harden only the #9 PG and other AS PGs below that, something needs to be said. None of this makes remote sense. I agree Dragic is sneaky good, but certainly not sneaky great. He might actually have a chance for 3rd team all-nba this season. It seems 2017 is mirroring his 2014 season, and his team will probably miss the playoffs again. I didn't see him help MIA in 2015 even make the playoffs, and I've seen Thomas become much better after they both left PHO in 2015. These are just two reasons why Dragic shouldn't be in the conversation for the very top PGs.

 
At Wednesday, February 08, 2017 10:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mutombo is a good example, except Mutombo was still a plus offensive player for most of his career, so that doesn't fit my scenario. I bring this example of one-way offensive players vs one-way defensive players to show that offense is clearly more important individually. We see small guards as supposedly one-way offensive players being the best players on numerous teams and often leading their teams to the playoffs. I don't see that with one-way defensive players. There isn't a team in the nba today prime Tony Allen could be the best player on or prime Bruce Bowen. As for centers, yes, I admit there might be examples where one-way defensive centers could be the best player on a particular team and possibly even make the playoffs. Even when on 2017 DAL, Ben Wallace is the ultimate example and he might be more valuable than a Harrison Barnes, but Barnes seems like he'd be the better overall player, so I'm not even sure on that. But, I also see examples where some players are viewed as elite players in nba history that were supposedly minus defenders(Bird, Magic, Baylor). Russell is the only elite player that wasn't elite offensively, but he was still certainly a plus offensive player. If Magic or Kobe or Jordan didn't play a lick of defense or very rarely, they'd still be viewed as an all-time great and would've each won titles, though probably not as many.

 
At Thursday, February 09, 2017 5:53:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Nick, I appreciate all of your analysis. Obviously, I feel you continue to make a compelling case. One aspect I wanted to discuss further is shot creation. I’ve watched enough of Dragic to confirm your skillset analysis of him in terms of driving, finishing, shooting, and hitting open shooters/rollers/cutters. That said, I feel his ability to create shots is not all that prevalent, and certainly not dominant.

I think this is what offensively separates players like Lillard/Irving/Thomas from Dragic. I agree that Dragic is better at defense, efficient scoring, driving and kicking, but he lacks the ability to create his own shot. All three have proven the ability to get his shot off in difficult situations. And Lillard and Thomas have the proven talent and ability to get to the line and draw fouls (hence the higher TS% for Thomas and the comparable TS% for Lillard). I think of the three, Irving is the worst, though the collective general opinion seems to believe he is the best. I think this is mostly due to the magnitude of the shots he’s made (the Finals, big game against the Warriors, etc.). But, despite playing with the best player in the world, he has the worst TS% of the four players. Despite his (at crucial times) dazzling play, I still view him as the worst of the four…who also has a history of injury. Lillard, at his best, is the poor man’s Curry. He also has that “intangible” leadership quality. If he had a 3-D shooting guard and a proper rolling big man, he and his team would be doing a lot better.

Perhaps I undersell how badly Thomas affects the overall Celtics defense, but his ability to create his own shot, create for others, get to the line (almost 9 times per game), shoot a high percentage, and take over during fourth quarters, certainly reflects the point I believe Anonymous is trying to make about offense over defense. I don’t know if the Celtics would be as successful with Dragic. The defense would improve, but who else on the team can get that must-need bucket? Horford? Bradley? Smart? Perhaps with an improved defense, that bucket getter wouldn’t be needed as much. But winning teams all need that that guy who can get his. I’m not sure Dragic is that guy. Which, when discussing the best point guards in the league, should be taken into consideration.

I think this is one of the abilities that make Harden (despite his defensive apathy) and Westbrook MVP potential candidates. (I don’t want to get back into the Harden discussion. I hate the way he plays. Am not a fan of his overall attitude. Think that his success is a function of the team built around his specific skillset. Am not a fan of the fact he has not improved the weak areas of his game. And, believe he will again struggle in the playoffs. Etc. etc. That said, his team success, added to his individual achievement, make him a legitimate MVP candidate (I just threw up in my fingers typing this)).
Just wanted to hear your thoughts regarding how you view Dragic’s ability to create shots for himself in crucial situations.

On a random side note. I used to work for a Japanese American newspaper and covered a player, Takuya Kawamura, who was trying to come over and play in the states back in 2009. He went to the Triple S Sports camp put on by BDA Sports in El Segundo, Calif. Dragic was there. I remember getting to see him play up close (this was still back when everyone thought he was the worst player in the NBA lol). He didn’t look all that impressive. He got to the hoop and could barely dunk. His shot wasn’t falling that day. My point is…it’s amazing how far this dude has come. Also…that initial rep has hurt him. I think a lot of teams/media/etc. still view him as a bit player, or even worse, that sh*t guy the Suns drafted who could barely even play.

 
At Thursday, February 09, 2017 6:16:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@anonymous The Heat have a terrible roster. Let’s get that straight. Especially with the season ending injury to Justice Winslow (though, Nick says that actually has helped the team). No other point guard that made the all-star team has as terrible a team as Dragic.

As good as Kemba Walker was early on in the season, his team has stunk the past month and he’s not playing well. On the flipside, the Heat have surged and Dragic is putting up MVP numbers in the month of January/February. In four games in February, he’s shooting 72 percent on 3s…65 percent overall. In January he put up 21, 6, 4 on 51/42/76 percent shooting. I mean, the Heat are only one win behind the Hornets. What has Walker done better than Dragic outside of play more games and score a couple more points? Sure, playing actual games is valuable. I don’t mean to discount that. But, in this case, Dragic has significantly outplayed Walker, especially in 2017, as has his team, with significantly less help. And their respective teams are basically even in terms of records.

And, how about Irving? Rating Dragic ahead of Kyrie Irving…will be met with all sorts of resistance. I know and I’m not going to try and argue one way or another as it is fruitless. But, looking at it as objectively as possible. What has Kyrie Irving done better than Dragic? He’s shooting worse from the field and 3…significantly. He’s a better freethrow shooter, but shoots less freethrows. He has a far worse TS%. He records less assists. Records less rebounds. While he records .2 more steals, there is no question that he is a far worse defender. And, to top it off, he’s missed just as many games to injury.

What he’s done better is a slightly better Ast/TO ratio. Scored 4 more points. And, oh, play with another all-star and the best all-around player in the L. Dragic has played with four guys who wouldn’t start for any other team…my sh*tty Lakers included.

 
At Thursday, February 09, 2017 6:27:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@anonymous I don’t know how you consider Mutumbo as a plus offensive player. He scored efficiently, but he was not a post threat and in his prime, averaged around 12 points a game. How do you view someone like Dominique Wilkins? Steve Nash? I’d say, and have said (regarding Nash), that these types of players are comparable to Harden. Neither won a title. Were they elite players? Nash will make the hall of fame due to his efficiency and all of the assists he racked up. And, Harden could too if he continues to play like he is. I don’t believe anyone is saying that Harden isn’t elite. I just don’t think he’s a top 10 player elite and I don’t believe he can be the best player on a championship team. I think he brings too many negatives to the table, with too many glaring holes in his game, to be considered a top 10 player. That doesn’t, nor should take away from what he is doing offensively with a tailor made team built specifically for his gimmicky game.

 
At Thursday, February 09, 2017 9:06:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

Dragic's shot creation is a funny thing. In 2014, he played a bit more ISO-ball and liked to beat guys off the dribble with his lightning-fast first step and herky-jerky dribble moves. He doesn't really do that anymore, though I can only speculate as to whether that's due to a decline in athleticism, due to a decision by Spoelstra, or possibly as a means to conserve energy (as he can put up similar numbers without doing it and is a more physical defender now than he was when he was in PHX).

I disagree that he can't create his own shot, however. He has a pretty solid stepback jumper he uses to get open from both midrange and three (and hits a good clip on), he's got excellent ball-fakes inside (part of why he shoots such a high percentage at the rim), he's added a floater to counter defenders who backpedal against him, and he can stop on a dime as well as almost anyone in the league.

Does PnR play count as "creating your own shot?" Because if so he's one of the best in the league. It does require a decent screener, but he can certainly do it when he wants to.

THAT said, he either does not have or does not use the one-on-one breakdown iso skills that Irving/Thomas have. Both have a wider array of dribble moves (Dragic has a few, but Thomas has seemingly dozens and Irving is not far behind), and Irving has a physical advantage against most defenders that Dragic does not. For a single offensive one-on-one possession, I would probably not take Dragic over Irving or Thomas (although historically Dragic does put up a pretty good clutch FG%). For a single PnR (Dragic's bread and butter), I absolutely would, assuming equivalent screeners (It's amazing how much easier it is to run the PnR when the other guy is Lebron).

However, since he's a better defender than either, a more efficient scorer than Irving (and a comparably efficient one to Thomas), and seems to be able to turn role players into the best versions of themselves in a way that neither Thomas nor Irving have exhibited, I would still very comfortably take him over either overall. I also feel he's more dangerous off-ball than either of them, where he's a much more willing/aggressive screener, cutter, and general nuisance for the defense.

It is also worth noting that he looks for his shot a bit less than either of them. He leads the league in drives and is one of the best shooters off the drive, but still kicks out at a very high percentage. Whether this is a strength (get other guys involved!) or a weakness (be more aggressive!) is a matter of context and interpretation.

1/2 or 3

 
At Thursday, February 09, 2017 9:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Back to Thomas, you mentioned that he "takes over during fourth quarters." It may interest you to know that prior to their last few wins, the Celtics had been outscored this year during fourth quarters while Thomas is on the floor. While he is a transcendent late-game scorer, he is also a giant, flashing red vulnerability on defense (and given how good the rest of his teammates are defensively, that poor net-rating in 4th quarters is *really* damning for him). The first and primary thing is that he's just too small to meaningfully stop a good drive or to effectively contest a shot against most guards, but he's also not especially smart or committed on defense.

It gets more damning. Thomas plays 8.6 minutes per 4th quarter. During this time, the Celtics outscore opponents by 0.2 points per game (a fifth of a point). During the 3.4 minutes he sits, they outscore opponents by an average of 1 point per game. They play better in 4th quarters without him (though they play better in the final minute or two with him). Math those out to full quarters, it's +0.3 (rounded up) with Thomas, and +3.5 without him. This ignores tons of variables (especially fouls situations, which effect Thomas quite a bit as a penetrating guard who loves shooting FTs), but is still not what you wanna see for your supposed closer.

In general, the Celtics D-RTG is 10 points better when he sits than when he plays, and their overall On-Off, thanks to his bad D, when he plays is only +0.5 per 100 possessions. By contrast, Smart (his backup) is +7 per 100 and Crowder is +12.

Don't get me wrong, Thomas is a *killer* late game scorer, and his clutch numbers are better depending how you define "clutch" (though still not stellar).

Now, full disclosure, Dragic's On/Offs aren't any better (and in fact his overall score is worse), but On/Offs as a metric kinda rely on some degree of lineup stability (especially on defense) to be able to tell you anything, and Miami has had... basically none. There also not great for comparing across teams. But I felt I should mention it for completeness. If we want to try and use them anyway, when you limit to the win streak, Miami is about 4 points better when Dragic is on than off. Ditto if you instead limit it to January. So, basically, healthy!Goran has good On/Offs, unhealthy Goran does not. Not exactly shocking.

Dragic's basic 4th quarter numbers are much better (+1.5 vs. +0.2) while Miami gets outscored by about half a point in the three minutes he doesn't play. Bathing it out the same as we did for Thomas, he's +2 for a full 4th quarter, and MIA is -4 without him for one. His overtime numbers are also better (+3 vs. +1.7, or +6 vs. +1.7 if you consider double-overtimes separately).

If we wanna just look at the streak (where he has a healthyish, Winslow-less team around him), Dragic is +4.4 in 4th quarters. If we look at January instead, it's +5.4, so it's not just the win streak. His clutch splits during the streak are a ridiculous +7.4, but that's admittedly a bit of cherry-picking.

So, while Thomas gets the highlight moments, there's little evidence he helps his team any more in the 4th quarter than Goran does. He *does* put up better numbers in (definition dependent) clutch situations, however, so that's definitely a point in his favor.

2/3

 
At Thursday, February 09, 2017 9:26:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

A quick note on Harden: I would probably take him over Dragic in the regular season, particularly while playing on a Mike D'Antoni team that can run tired teams off the floor almost by accident. A big part of my beef with Harden is that his game does not translate when it counts; it's a gimmick. His defense is even more exploitable in the playoffs where teams gameplan specifically against it, and his offensive efficiency nosedives.

Jordan, if you're going to take up my sword (and please don't feel obligated) in the argument with Anonymous, I would suggest that, as a working definition, any player who averaged under 10ppg for their career should probably count as "not a plus offensive player." There's no real NBA player who never got a steal or a point, and therefore no *truly* one way players (even Tony Allen is a good cuttr, and even Harden takes a charge every once in a while), but for what we're talking about here, that's probably a serviceable definition. Incidentally, Mutombo would count by that metric, as would Wallace, Rodman, etc.

 
At Thursday, February 09, 2017 9:32:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Bonus, mostly meaningless, fun fact I just learned, in light of all the All-Star chatter:

Miami now has the longest win streak ever for a team without an All-Star.

 
At Friday, February 10, 2017 12:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dragic might be better than Walker. But, I'd still have Conley/Lillard over Dragic. Ranking Dragic any higher than the #9 PG in the league makes little sense to me. MIA doesn't have a great roster, true. But, Whiteside is an AS-caliber C(though didn't make the game, but probably would've on a better team) who leads the nba in rebounding last time I checked. Waiters is a good player and they have other decent players, too. I want to see where they end up first by regular season's end. Even with all that's gone down with injuries, they seem like they've underachieved to me and I'd take Whiteside over Dragic, who puts up big numbers as a C and is a great defender, and just had a 30/20 game.

21/4/6 is hardly MVP caliber. That's probably not even top 5 among PGs only. And that's only for a stretch, though that's his averages roughly for the season, too. Many players can play like MVP caliber for spurts, Dragic included, but not for the long haul, Dragic also included. His shooting pct. other than FTs is good maybe great, but his TS% isn't great(though still good), which is a better indicator of shooting. Like I said earlier, Dragic just had his best game of the year vs MIN, and that game would've only been an average or slightly above average game for RW or Harden.

I wouldn't say Irving is that much better than Dragic, but it still seems pretty clear he is, especially what he did in the playoffs last year. It's a lot more than just stats, but looking at the stats only I'd take Irving who averages 24/3/6 on .568 TS% vs 20/4/7 on .583 TS% for Dragic. Dragic has dramatically upped his percentages very recently and I can't his 3 pt. shooting anomaly to continue. Irving was putting up similarly good #'s before James and that was at ages 19-21 compared to 22-24, big difference, while playing on garbage teams before James joined him. I'd expect his scoring to decrease with James while efficiency increase, but his scoring has only really increased this season and his efficiency has only slightly increased from his 3 earlier years. His assists should've increased but they haven't. I don't think playing with James has benefited him as much as you suggest.

 
At Friday, February 10, 2017 12:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mutombo averaged 16.6ppg his rookie year. He had quality scoring averages through his age 35 season. His offensive rebounding was off the charts. Bill Russell wasn't much of a post threat either. Nobody is saying Mutombo was a great offensive player, but he clearly held his own on that end of the court. It's more than just scoring, but his scoring alone puts him above average offensively as a C other than his twilight years.

I never said Harden would lead a team to a title, in fact, I've said he won't. But, he's also never had a realistic chance. Wilkins was better than Harden, but again, he had to go up against teams whose best player had much better casts. We already know before the season began this season that's it's going to be GS/CLE, unless something really strange happens. Maybe SA could squeak in there, but Leonard's done a horrible job as SA's #1 in the playoffs so far.

I won't get into Nash too much. I know you and Nick love him. I think he's highly overrated, though. Unlike Harden and others, Nash had many chances to win titles, and he played with multiple AS on 2 different teams and never made the finals once. He was arguably only the 3rd best player on 2004 DAL which lost 4-1 to SAC in the 1st round at age 30, an age almost every player is past their prime and don't really get any better while receiving 0 MVP votes. Then, he goes to PHO in 2005, barely improves his stats on an offense-happy team and wins MVP at age 31. He was never in the top 10 in MVP voting before 2005. Red flag? Harden was in top 10 in MVP for 4 straight years and almost won in 2015 before D'antoni. MVP voters are often clueless, but not so clueless to elevate someone who's maybe the 20th best player in the league to top 5 or winning MVP. I think Nash deserved to be in the top 10 somewhere in 2005, not exactly sure where, but he shouldn't have won. PHO had a lot of options besides Nash, and his #'s weren't MVP-type #'s.

 
At Friday, February 10, 2017 12:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I'm similar to David in giving elite status to players. It's basically just the top 5ish in the league. 6 so far this season: RW, Harden, KD, James, Leonard, Curry. There's a lot of backlash on Harden in here, but he's led his team to another stellar regular season again without another star. Is Beverley his best teammate or maybe Gordon if he's healthy? That's saying something, right? 4th best record in the league without another teammate even remotely close to being an AS. Sure, I wouldn't take him over KD or James, but then again, he seems to be playing better so far throughout the regular season than them. I don't know what people are looking for regarding him. The West is stacked again. With the exception of GS, I wouldn't be surprised of any of the other teams losing in the 1st round and that doesn't take away from the regular season for any of them should they. As long as Harden stays healthy for a few more years which looks very likely, he'll be a mainstay on the AS team and in top in MVP every year for awhile while making all-nba routinely. He should reach 20,000 points easily, so I'd think he'd make the HOF easily, but still early in his career, so who knows.

The only players I can say definitely that can be the best player on a title team are James and KD and I suppose Curry. But, Curry did nothing until his cast became great. He seems worn down in the playoffs every year, too. And he needed Iggy to outplay James in the 2015 Finals. I suppose Leonard could, but look at how much help he's had and has only won one playoff series in 2 years. I'd like to see guys like Wall or Harden have that much help and see what they could do, and that includes coaching. So, it's not really a negative to say someone can't be the best player on a title team. We've seen Dirk, who wasn't really a top 5 player when he won it in 2011, and Parker in 2014 be the best players on title teams this decade. There's certainly a lot of guys out there who could if these two did it. Unfortunately, the league has changed, and there's 3 teams at the top, well, maybe just 2, and everyone else is looking way behind. Teams like BOS or UTAH might give anyone fits, but actually winning it all or even making the finals? Highly doubtful.

Nick, please. And Mutombo averaged 10+ppg every season through age 35. He just happened to play forever and almost another 400 games averaging around 3ppg. Who cares what he's doing in his twilight years? Even if you say he's barely a below average offensive player, that's a far cry from being a one-way player, unless your definition of one-way players is being just below average somewhere on one side of the ball, which wouldn't be my definition. Wallace/Rodman would be.

 
At Friday, February 10, 2017 6:36:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Without getting into an extended back-and-forth about it, let's explore the idea that Whiteside is the Heat's best player/should have been an All-Star.

First of all, his numbers ARE eye-popping, and he is undoubtedly one of the Heat's three best players. But there's a lot of context to sift through.

Yes, Whiteside shoots very well, but he's largely incapable of creating his own shot. About 60% of his FGM are assisted (or about 8.6 of his 17 ppg). Another 4.9 pts come on 2nd chance points when he gets offensive rebounds. Another 2.6 comes on free throws (mostly off of potential assists or rebounds). He scores just under a point per game that is neither assisted, a putback, or a free throw. So while he does put up good scoring numbers, he's extremely reliant on his teammates to create those points for him. He is not a back-to-the-basket or face-up threat in any meaningful way, and while he takes jumpers, he makes them at low rate.

He gets 3.4 ppg on assists from Dragic (not counting FTs), and between 1 and 2 each on assists from Johnson, Johnson, and Waiters.

As ever, not all points are created equal, and a Hassan Whiteside point has a lot more in common with a Deandre Jordan point than a Demarcus Cousins point. Yes, he can score... if you have the playmakers to empower him to do it. But he can't get you points on his own. He basically needs the ball right at the rim with advantageous positioning, which is why almost all of his points come off rebounds or assists. Without Dragic/Waiters/Johnsons feeding him easy looks, he'd be essentially a rich man's Reggie Evans offensively.

He's also one of the worst passers in the league. For the season, he's got 32 assists and 102 turnovers. His career high is 3, a number he's reached exactly once. In 169 career games, he's had more than one assist all of 13 times, and 68 assists total. He is a historically unwilling passer.

For all that, he's still hugely important to their offense, and they're much better offensively when he's on the court than off it (though not to nearly the same extent as Dragic/Waiters). He's by leaps and bounds their most dangerous roll-man (well, him and JJ, but for different reasons), he's a constant lob threat, and he's a lethal offensive rebounder.

1/3

 
At Friday, February 10, 2017 6:37:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Speaking of rebounds, he is leading the league, and he *is* a great rebounder, but context again matters. He plays for an excellent defensive and poor offensive team (usually; lately they've been better, and his rebounding during the streak has been lower as a result), both of which provide bonus opportunities for rebounds. He also plays beside a rebound-anemic 4 in Luke Babbitt. Compare somebody like Steven Adams, who averages a fairly paltry rebounding total, but shares the court with above average rebounders at three positions, including a WAY above average rebounder in Westbrook. Whiteside is still a better rebounder than Adams, but if you swapped their teams, I suspect their numbers would be much closer. Compare:

Other Miami starters: 12.8 rebounds.
Other OKC starters: 25.4 rebounds.

Even if you remove RWB's monster boards, the remaining 3 OKC starters still outbound the remaining 4 MIA starters (and it's not like Whiteside is stealing their boards; Dragic & Waiters are putting up career highs, and Babbitt is 0.2 under his career average).

There are only so many boards available, and naturally a player with better rebounding teammates will average fewer rebounds (see for example: Minny Kevin Love vs. Cleveland Kevin Love). Whiteside is still a great rebounder, but his numbers are a bit inflated, and guys like Drummond/Jordan tend to outbound him in individual matchups. Even Jonas sometimes bullies him on the glass. For as strong as Whiteisde is, he's not consistently willing to be physical.

2/3

 
At Friday, February 10, 2017 6:42:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Finally, onto Whiteside's defense. He is an excellent, world-class, top-shelf, *additional hyperbole here* rim protector, but an iffy overall defender. He is a poor post-up defender (guys like Jonas Valunciunas and Al Jefferson eat him alive), a poor PnR defender, and he struggles to guard any big man who can shoot from more than 15 or so feet. He also struggles to defend in space.

Incidentally, the team is about 4 points better defensively with him off the floor... though again, On/Offs are pretty noisy on a team with Miami's lineup chaos. Still, they're still over 3 points better defensively during the streak, and were better defensively without him last season, as well. Don't overvalue that- he's playing mostly against starters, Reed mostly isn't- but it's still worse than you'd think/want.

Much like the rebounding and scoring issues, that is not to say Whiteside is *bad*. He's awesome! Rim protection is super important, and his mere presence intimidates would-be drivers into settling for jumpers. He's just flawed and a little overrated on that end.

So... should he have been an All-Star? Depends. If you're going off raw numbers, probably. If you're going off team success, definitely not. If you're going off who the best players are at a given position, I don't think Whiteside is one of the league's four best centers. He's probably not one of their seven best, either. At minimum, I'd take Boogie, Marc Gasol, Horford, Jordan, and Gobert over him, and there's at least a case to be made for Pau, Adams, Jonas, Nurkic, Dwight, Embiid and Drummond, too.

I'm not sure exactly where I'd rank Whiteside as a center, but it's hard to put him any higher than 6th, which isn't getting you into the AS game (especially when you factor in quasi-centers like Draymond, Davis, or Aldridge).

Within the Heat, he's probably their second best player for the season, and third best during the streak. They've gone 2-3 in games he's missed, which isn't great, but isn't much worse than their overall win rate, either. Suggesting he's more important to the team than Dragic is certainly a thing you can do, but it's a difficult one to back up (particularly because unlike Dragic, he has a pretty good backup). The evidence just isn't there.

 
At Friday, February 10, 2017 1:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Not related to anything, but the first question in this mailbag is amazing and I would love to hear everybody's takes on it:

http://www.foxsports.com/nba/story/nba-history-james-harden-hakeem-olajuwon-mailbag-question-021017?cmpid=feed:-sports-CQ-RSS-Feed

 
At Thursday, February 16, 2017 6:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

It would be interesting to see prime Kareem in this era. If he were transplanted to the Lakers he would find no one willing and/or able to feed him the ball in the post but he would be an intriguing fit with the Bucks: Kareem ran the floor very well and was an excellent passer, so he would fit nicely with that squad--and even more so if the Bucks actually utilized him in the post, which I think that Coach Kidd would figure out how to do.

Olajuwon-Harden might look good on paper to some people but in the real world it would never work. Harden does not want to play with great players; otherwise he would have stayed in OKC and he would not have run Howard out of town. Lisa Leslie once said during a TNT broadcast that if she had played with a guard like Harden who did not pass her the ball after she rebounded and ran the court then she would have blocked his shot! People don't remember how hot-tempered Olajuwon was when he was young. If young Olajuwon had played with Harden, there is a good chance that Olajuwon would have had an altercation with Harden. Olajuwon would not have just laughed and joked and accepted things like Howard did.

 
At Friday, February 17, 2017 12:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I seriously doubt Harden doesn't want to play with great players. He just didn't want to have such a limited role given how great he was and now has become, and that's understandable. Why would you fault a player for wanting to become as good as possible, which he couldn't have achieved in OKC? He's much too good to be a third banana, and KD/RW/Harden didn't complement each other very well, which was part of the problem. And now we fault KD for going to GS and wanting to play on an AS team. Can't have it both ways. Regardless if Harden ran Howard out of HOU, Howard wasn't the answer nor a good fit for HOU, so that was a good thing. We've already seen how much better HOU is now with no-name centers replacing Howard. Who cares what Lisa Leslie said? And sounds like she'd have an issue with Kobe, Jordan, Iverson, etc., if you think Harden won't pass the ball. You realize Harden leads the nba in assists, right? He's more than willing to pass the ball. If Howard had reliable post moves and could dictate the offense more in the post, he would've had the ball more. But, at least 80% of his offense is being spoon-fed the ball for easy shots, which Harden gladly did when given the opportunity, but it's super difficult to get dunks every possession.

 
At Friday, February 17, 2017 11:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

1) I think that we can agree that the three best players Harden has played alongside are Durant, Westbrook, Howard. Harden fled from Durant/Westbrook and he ran Howard out of Houston. Now, we can disagree about whether or not those are "understandable" choices by Harden but it is pretty clear that playing alongside great players is not a high priority for Harden.

2) Harden is not likely to win a title as "first banana," so if winning a title is a high priority for him (and I don't think that it is) then he should consider being at least a "second banana."

3) Durant is "faulted" not for wanting to play with great players but for fleeing from a championship caliber team that was up 3-1 on the Warriors in order to join the Warriors. It is hard to picture Magic or Bird or just about any other truly great player joining the enemy after losing a hard fought playoff series to that team. GS-OKC could have become a rivalry for the ages.

4) Speaking of "having things both ways," since you so often wax poetic about the magical 40 some game regular season stretch during which Houston did OK without Howard, you should also note well that the only time Harden has advanced past the first round of the playoffs in Houston was with Howard playing a very dominant role as a rebounder/defender. Before you are so quick to say that Houston is better off without Howard you might want to wait until May/June, because that statement is going to look silly if Houston gets bounced in the first or even second round.

5) Yeah, who cares what Lisa Leslie thinks? She's only a Basketball Hall of Fame member. What could she possibly know about basketball? I rather doubt that she would have an issue playing with champions like Kobe and Jordan or a guy like Iverson who left everything on the court while carrying the 76ers to the NBA Finals--but she would have an issue playing with a guy like Harden, the 21st century Stephon Marbury, who wants the whole show to revolve around him.

Do you realize that Stephon Marbury outdid everyone but the Big O in terms of 20-8 seasons? Do you realize that some individual statistics are meaningless because they have nothing to do with elevating a team to the championship level? The way that Harden plays is highly unlikely to result in much playoff success, as we have already seen during his first four full seasons in Houston.

This is fun for me, though, and nothing new; I won a lot of casual bets with people who could not believe that the Bulls would win 50-plus games with Pippen as the best player and I have been proven right about overrated guys like Marbury, Arenas and Melo. Many told me that I was off base in suggesting that the Lakers made the right choice by keeping Kobe over Shaq.

One guy tried to convince me that Tyrus Thomas was the next great player in the NBA. Of course, I am wrong sometimes but I am rarely spectacularly wrong and these Harden discussions are going to be hilarious to reread in another five to 10 years--right around the time that the media will start to figure out that Harden is not a champion and the media will turn on Harden, much like what has happened to some extent with Melo (though Phil Jackson's intemperate comments are clouding the issue by making Melo a sympathetic figure; Jackson's analysis of Melo is correct but his manner of communicating this analysis is completely tone deaf, not to mention baffling coming from an executive who is presumably trying to work out a trade involving Melo).

 
At Monday, February 20, 2017 5:28:00 AM, Anonymous Kenny said...

I agree with you. The same writers that criticized Kobe for "stopping the development of the young players" are the ones that said the exact thing with Jordan during his last year with the Wizards. What did the Wiz win the season after MJ retired? Nothing. Same will happen with the Lakers. It's very sad that "experts" don't realize how lucky they are to be watching first row pantheon players like Kobe and MJ. Give me those two any night over the current generation of players that only know how to shoot threes and dunk the ball. That's not the basketball I grew up watching. Do you enjoy watching today's NBA?

 

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