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Saturday, March 18, 2017

NBA Primetime Saturday Night is NOT Fantastic

This is the first time that I have ever written a game recap while the game in question was still in progress--but I am so furious with the NBA in general and the Cleveland Cavaliers in particular that I do not need to see the outcome of the disgrace otherwise known as L.A. Clippers versus Cleveland Cavaliers (junior varsity edition) to provide analysis of the most pertinent aspect of this game: simply put, this game is a mockery of everything that used to be great about the NBA, including the concepts that there is value in competing hard and that it is important to care about the fans whose money and interest are the league's backbone.

The Cavaliers' Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy but they are sitting out tonight's game to "rest." They are all expected to play tomorrow night against the L.A. Lakers. Tonight's game has major significance in the standings for multiple teams: the Cavaliers are fighting for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder are battling for the fifth seed in the Western Conference and the playoff fates of several other franchises could be affected by this game as well.

By sitting out his best players, Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue is essentially providing a gift win to the Clippers, who are coached by Doc Rivers--one of Lue's mentors. If one didn't know better, one could assume that the Cavaliers (and possibly the league office) are manipulating the standings/playoff matchups. Some people have accused the NBA of this for years but I always defended the league, in part because Commissioner David Stern always took action when any team or player stepped out of line--but that has not been the case since Adam Silver has become the Commissioner.

The problem goes even deeper than manipulating the standings at the top of the pecking order. ABC's Jalen Rose brought up a great point during the halftime show: not only are contending teams "resting" players but teams that are jockeying for position in the NBA Draft Lottery are "shutting down" high paid veterans.

By "resting" healthy players, various teams (and possibly the league, which is doing nothing to police this activity) are manipulating the playoff seedings and they are manipulating which teams will have the best odds to obtain the top pick in the draft.

How is this any different than a fake sport like professional wrestling, where the outcomes of each match are scripted?

Meanwhile, Commissioner Silver is doing his best Bud Selig impersonation.

If I am Russell Westbrook, I am furious tonight. He is putting up triple doubles at a record-setting pace and almost single-handedly carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder to a playoff berth but now former Doc Rivers assistant coach Lue is just giving a win to the Clippers, a win that could cost the Thunder the opportunity to avoid playing one of the top three seeds in the first round of the playoffs.

If I am Thunder fan who buys season tickets, I am furious tonight that my team could be negatively impacted by this nonsense.

If I am a Clippers fan who saved my money to go to one game to see LeBron James, I am furious tonight.

If I am a Clippers fan who had to buy other game tickets as part of a package to get a ticket to this game, I am furious tonight (ABC's Jeff Van Gundy rightly called this tactic "bait and switch" and said that any other business engaging in such a practice could be found liable for fraud).

I am a devoted follower of the NBA for well over 30 years and I am furious tonight. If the NBA does not take seriously its regular season, its playoff seeding or its Draft Lottery then why should anyone else?

I will reiterate what I wrote last week when the Warriors and Spurs perpetrated a similar sham on the paying public:

1) All ticket buyers for this Clippers-Cavaliers game should receive a full refund from the league, with the cost split evenly among the the two teams; these teams are franchises representing the larger organization (the NBA) and as business partners they are equally culpable: the Cavaliers are culpable for resting healthy players and the Clippers are culpable as the home team for selling tickets to and profiting from this fiasco. If the Clippers don't like having to pay half of the cost, then they should take legal action against their business partners for devaluing the product.

2) The NBA should refund whatever portion of TV money it received for selling the rights to the game to ABC, with that cost again split among the Clippers and Cavaliers.

3) None of the healthy players who sat out should receive a game check; if they want to rest on company time, then they can do it on their own dime--and if they object to being unemployed for a day, then their union should file a grievance against the teams and/or the league for artificially manipulating the sport's competitive balance. The forfeited game checks should be pooled together and donated to help out people who are truly involuntarily unemployed.

4) Both teams should be fined at least $250,000 each, with the specter of larger fines looming if this offense is repeated.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:17 PM

66 comments

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66 Comments:

At Sunday, March 19, 2017 2:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about this issue.

On the one hand, as a fan, this absolutely does suck. Watching NBA games is something that always costs me some money (don't have TV, so I have to go out or pay League Pass when applicable).

This season I've already paid to see a few games that turned out to not have any of the star players playing for at least one of the teams, and I was incredibly disappointed, to put it mildly.

On the other hand, though, I do get that it's an exhausting, taxing season, and that as a coach your goal is to win a title.

For most teams, this means you need to play your stars as much as possible, because the playoffs aren't a sure thing, or even if playoffs are likely, seeding is crucial.

If you're the Cavaliers, Warriors, or Spurs, health/freshness of the players is probably more important than those (debatable, certainly, but it's at least not an absurd thought if you're the coach of one of those teams).

Finding the right balance between optimizing your team's chances of competitive success and satisfying the fans is not a trivial thing.

I also get that in "the good old days" players persevered through much worse, more taxing conditions; however, I don't think "people used to put up with worse" is a good counter to "I don't think the current schedule is conducive to health/longevity of the players".

I know that's not a core argument, but it comes up often enough I thought it was worth addressing.

Ultimately I think many of the popular suggestions to address this have merit.

Requiring teams to announce rest days some number of days in advance makes some sense, but I'm not sure how helpful it really is to the fans who pay to see the stars play. I mean, who's buying GS Warriors tickets merely 4 or 5 days in advance of the game? to see the stars play, you basically have to pay for your tickets far sooner than any heads-up window that would be reasonable.

Asking the players to forfeit their game checks is quite reasonable as well, although again, I'm not sure how helpful it would actually turn out to be.

At their levels of income, missing a few game checks would probably still be seen as worth it to get the rest. Maybe not, and maybe they really would care about the money that much, but I'm skeptical for now.

I think the best option is indeed to structure the schedule to remove the motivation for this behavior (in general, this is more effective anyway, when it's possible; instead of just trying to penalize some unwanted behavior to add a negative consequence that has to be weighed against the positives, remove the core motivation).

Fewer games more spread apart makes good sense to me. It also has the nice side-effect of effectively making each game count for more, providing another motivation to always play your best lineups (of course, this effect would be fairly small, most likely, but it's a bonus).

Obviously all the money implicated for owners/NBA/TV is the big hurdle there. It won't be easy, but I do think it should be done.

Just my $0.02.

 
At Sunday, March 19, 2017 5:11:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

It's a minor step, but Doc Rivers recently suggested making sure no "marquee" television games are back-to-backs. That doesn't do anything for local fans/people who bought tickets, but it at least guarantees more quality matchups on primetime.

It's obviously a bandaid on a bullet hole, but it's the kinda baby-step the NBA might actually take (as opposed to cutting games/extending the season, which they should do but won't).

 
At Sunday, March 19, 2017 10:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LAC fans might be slightly less furious since they won. Getting in that #4/#5 matchup is looking better and better in the West with KD out. Does anyone know when is he scheduled to come back?

And chalk another loss to a James-less CLE team. 0-6 now, he must be MVP.

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 12:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

A Clippers' fan who bought tickets for that particular game hoping to see LeBron, Kyrie and/or Love could be happy with the win yet disappointed about not seeing those All-Stars.

I hope that last comment was sarcastic. OKC would be awful if Westbrook missed a game; the Thunder can barely withstand when he sits for six minutes.

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 12:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree a LAC fan would be disappointed if they wanted to see those 3 AS play.

Yes. I keep hearing from lots of people about how valuable James is, especially pointing out CLE is 0-6 without him as a huge selling point. There's some things James has going for him, but I don't buy it CLE's record without him as one, and missing games shouldn't help you more winning the MVP. As I pointed out to Nick on another thread, there's a lot of things going on in the games James sits contributing to CLE's struggles. That CLE team vs LAC would probably be the worst team in the league. But, almost every team would be considerably worse without their best player, let alone their best 3 players.

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 2:39:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

My point when I've brought up Cleveland's record sans- James is not that that, in and of itself, qualifies him as MVP, but that the argument that "his supporting cast is so good they'd make the playoffs without him" doesn't have a ton of evidence behind it. Neither Love nor Irving ever made they playoffs as their team's best player, and for three years now Cleveland has been abysmal when he sits (even when Love/Irving don't). He's the only significantly plus defender on the team, and he makes life a lot easier on offense for everyone else, Irving and Love included.

The main reason he should be MVP (in my opinion) is that he's the best two-way player in the league. "Value" is hazily defined (deliberately so) but I'd say "guy who instantly makes you a title contender and can win any given game by himself" is pretty damned valuable. Westbrook is #2 on my ballot at the moment, but for all his incredible numbers, I don't think he makes you more likely to win a game/series/title than James does.

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 4:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think 6 games sporadically placed throughout the season, several without Irving and/or Love as well and most the 2nd game of back-to-backs, can tell us whether CLE would do well or not without James. It's definitely a small sample size, and not even a good sample at that. A good sample would be 6 consecutive games, maybe only 1-2 2nd games of back-to-backs, and with Love/Irving both playing. If we saw 20 straight games with Love/Irving playing while James sits, then yea, we could get a good idea of how good CLE is sans James, but that's not remotely happening.

Not sure how well CLE would do without James, which we'll never know for this season. What I do know is that he has one of two casts in the league with AS at the #2/#3 spots on his team with many other quality role players after that. The focus shouldn't necessarily be on what CLE could do without James, but rather how well CLE's cast plays with James. Neither Irving nor Love had much help on their teams before playing with James, except maybe Love's last year in MIN. I wouldn't want either one as my #1 guy, but they've clearly established themselves as AS-caliber players for most of their careers.

James has only been on title-contender teams with great casts, and sometimes can't even make the Finals with such teams.

It's hard to ignore previous seasons, but James' past should have no bearing on the MVP for this season, which is for regular season only. What I see is that RW is playing better than James this season. Not sure how much team success should be factored relative to your casts, but it should be considered some. James has a much better cast in a weaker conference than RW, and CLE only has a 6-game advantage over OKC.

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 5:41:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't wanna get into an extended thing about this, but if you want a larger sample size of how good/bad Cle is without Lebron, look at his On/Offs (which factor in every minute of the season). They're outscored by 9 pp100 while he's on the bench and outscore opponents by 9.5 pp100 when he plays. 99% sure that's the biggest gap in the league (RWB's team loses by 10 when he sits, wins by 5 when he plays), and it's certainly the biggest among MVP candidates.

Moreover, though, you and I value different things for MVP. There is no consensus definition of what's important, so neither of us is right or wrong.

For me, Lebron's team playing at a title-contending level when he's on-court and a lottery level when he's off it means more to me than RWB's louder raw numbers. It's not that RWB's cast isn't worse (they are) it's that Lebron is even better. He's still the best offensive player in the league (IMO, I'm sure some will differ), and he's one of the ten best defensive players, and he just has the biggest impact of anybody. His mere presence on the court changes the geography on both ends, even when he doesn't have the ball. Nobody else can really say that at the same level.

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 9:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't buy into on/offs or +/- or whatever you want to call it much, but I know this your stat you live on. There's a lot more going on than just that. Hard to know exactly what's going on just by looking at this one stat. What we do know is that James has a ridiculously gifted cast, and I think he's greatly underachieved this season. He should still be in the MVP conversation, though. I don't think we value things very differently for MVP. It's more our conclusions. It's interesting to see you put RW #2, especially since you keep saying he's a bad defender. Baby steps.

RW's cast isn't even close to James' cast. And being only 6 games behind CLE in the tougher conference is a much bigger accomplishment so far. RW/KD are at least 2 players who have surpassed James offensively. I'd take KD's defense this year over James. James is still a quality defender, but hasn't been an all-league defender for a few years. Leonard's the best two-way player in my opinion, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's better. Leonard definitely has a strong case for MVP, and I'd say stronger than James.

 
At Tuesday, March 21, 2017 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Again, I'm not interested in a prolonged debate, but I will comment that if you don't know the difference between +- and On/Offs, then I'm not surprised you're unimpressed by the latter. I do know the difference, and I think that so long as it's placed in the proper context, On/Off rating is a decent measure of how "valuable" a given player is to his team (particularly for starters and especially for stars). It has flaws- every stat does- but when it backs up the eye-test and isn't muddied up too much by lineup chaos or way above average bench guys, it's handy.

As for RWB, I still think he's a poor defender. But he's worth, what, 50 ppg a game on offense just on points and assists (plus probably another 20 on secondary actions)? If there was a defender scoring 0 ppg but blocking 25 shots a night or whatever, he'd be high on my list, too.

Everything else, you have an opinion I disagree with. I've learned from experience that trying to debate opinions with you is utterly fruitless, so we'll just have to agree to differ.

 
At Tuesday, March 21, 2017 1:40:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Did you see Pop's comments re: rest? Any thoughts on his argument? If anyone can make the "resting these dudes extends their careers" it's the guy who kept Duncan on-court and in the playoffs 19 straight years, and the guy who's currently trotting out a mostly fossilized Manu Ginobili in still-somehow-productive minutes.

(The obvious answer, of course, is changing the schedule, but given that that's not happening, it's hard to fault Pop's position here from a pure coaching perspective, IMO)

 
At Tuesday, March 21, 2017 2:10:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I think Kobe/Duncan/Kareem are interesting guys to look at there.

Kobe played more minutes than Duncan, but a lot fewer games, and had a hard time staying on the court late in his career. You can't fault Kobe's work-ethic/training, and he was certainly getting the best medical/diet treatment possible... but you have to wonder if playing a more Duncan-y workload in the back half (especially that season where D'Antoni ran him into the ground) would have extended his prime and/or career? Granted, wild horses probably couldn't keep Kobe on the bench in any season where they were even sniffing the playoffs, but that's not really the question here.

Kareem didn't really have rest games, but he did average about 8mpg fewer in the 80s than the 70s (not exact number, that's me eye-balling it).

Lebron's a really weird case, as he plays massive minutes per night (top 2 in the league last I checked, and the other guy's been out for weeks with an injury), but occasionally skips a game. He's also got a pretty unique body-type (not that Kobe/Kareem didn't, I guess), so maybe he's too much of an outlier to factor in?

We talk a lot on this site about how many more minutes/how much tougher the schedule was back in the '60s/70s/80s here, but then how many of those guys had careers longer than 14 years? Of David's Pantheon, West/Baylor/Bird/Russell/Wilt/Magic*/Oscar all clocked in at 14 or fewer seasons. Exceptions are Doc (16) and Kareem (20) both athletic anomalies who got lucky with injuries and cut their minutes as they aged, and Jordan (15), who took almost five years off over the course of his career, and almost 6 if you count missing most of '86 injured.

*Obviously rest/injuries not the reason here.

Then you look at his post-Pantheon guys... Kobe (20), Duncan (19), Shaq (19), Lebron (14 and counting, probably close to 20 by the end). All those guys were still relevant in year 17*, at least, on a restier schedule with lower minute totals. There's something to it.

*Except Lebron, obviously, but the odds look good he'll still be competitive in three years.

If you wanna look at it in terms of games instead of seasons, Lebron's already jumped the whole original pantheon except Kareem, Doc, and Jordan in games played (and he'll catch Jordan early next year). There's not a single 60s guy in the top 20. Only four of the top 20 in GP played a single minute before the mid 80s. 13 of 'em played into the 2000s.

I don't know. I'm not making a case here, just looking at the data we have in light of Pop's comments.

Like, yeah, it sucks for us as fans, but it does look like giving guys more rest (whether by cutting their minutes or giving them nights off or both).

 
At Tuesday, March 21, 2017 3:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, I've yet to see an advanced stat that's good for completely ranking players in basketball. A lot of these individual advanced stats have some merit and can sometimes be sort of close to reality, but there's just no way to know that for sure. If you have, then great. But, it seems like you're living on this stat way too much. I'll leave it at that. I agree with some of your thoughts at least to some extent which I've mentioned before. You have a lot of over-the-top opinions, should be no surprise there's so much disagreement with you and almost no middle ground, which I've rarely seen with you and David as well when both of you have your debates on differing opinions, Dragic in particular.

 
At Tuesday, March 21, 2017 5:31:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Greg Popovich. It does suck to save up your money and miss out on seeing the stars play. Happened to me, ironically, with Kobe Bryant on three separate occasions. (Btw, live can be fantastic, but from an analysis standpoint, I prefer watching games on television. Unless you sit in the press box, or courtside, there’s so much that is missed going to a live game…and I no longer have credentials and certainly can’t afford to sit courtside).

But, I think looking at the big picture shows a much more compelling reason to sit players for a few games every season. Keeping guys healthy for the playoffs, and then, extending their careers, is surely far more valuable than playing 5 extra games per season. Valuable to everyone -- the franchises, fans, and the league. I mean, I know NBA players get a cut in a way of the overall BRI, but my understanding is that a guy like Lebron can play 19 playoff games, and won’t see a penny more than if he’d played only in all 82 regular season games. Please correct me if I’m wrong. If I’m right, then penalizing players their game checks for one regular season game, especially when they are generating millions upon millions of dollars for the far more lucrative playoff games—seems shortsighted at best, and petty at worst.

David, if a star gets hurt due to a preventable injury...because he either tried to play through it or as the result of a crazy 8 games in 8 cities across 11,000 miles over 13 days schedule...should season ticket holders than be reimbursed for an entire season? Isn't it the job of the owner and GM of any team, to protect the team’s assets above all else? Without stars, ABC Primetime isn’t possible in the first place.

Going back throughout the history of the sport, there are stars we missed out or whose careers were cut short because of bad medical advice/poor science/this stupid ass mentality of "toughness" that people like Karl Malone try and equate to first responders and police officers...Pistol Pete. Fat Lever. Isiah Thomas. Penny. Grant Hill. Brandon Roy. T-Mac. etc.

Michael Jordan played 82 a whopping nines times, but he had three extended layoffs (injury, retirement 1, retirement 2) throughout his NBA career. We see what happened to Kobe Bryant when he tried to play all 82 every season for 20 years, plus add in Olympic responsibilities etc. His body broke down.

Pop was able to extend Duncan's career through 19 seasons and never missed the playoffs. I mean, if a doctor tells you to rest or get hurt...and then another doctor tells you to rest or get hurt...isn't it stupid to not rest?

Defending young guys in their primes sitting like Curry, Thompson and Green is tougher for me to do, though from the Warriors perspective, I completely understand wanting to preserve the asset that is Curry, who already suffered through multiple ankle injuries early in his career and at his best, is the NBA’s premiere draw in terms of watchability. He’s also the most underpaid player in the NBA by a mile…so…

I understand resting Lebron...who has had a workload unlike any player in basketball history (I get that there was differences in travel, racism, etc back in the day...but purely from a basketball games perspective...no one has done what Lebron has done).

There is no easy solution. But punishing players/teams seems like the exact opposite of what should be happening. We criticize these guys for everything from how they live their lives, to what they eat, to what they post on social media, to, yeah, their failures on the court. Trying to preserve their bodies so they can…you know…play more games…seems backasswards.

This is on the league to fix.

 
At Tuesday, March 21, 2017 6:42:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

As an amendment to my previous comment: The Cavs earned $2.6 million for winning the finals, that was split between the players.

http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2016/06/02/nba-playoff-bonuses-warriors-cavs-in-line-for-payday.html

@Nick, thank you for providing that information. I was unable to do heavy research for my reply. I think it is telling that outside of Kareem, Doc and Jordan, the best players in the history of the sport played 14 or fewer seasons. I mean, instead of Bird averaging 80 games a season for his first seven years, wouldn't we all trade an extra couple of years of the Legend...if he averaged only 76 games a season?

I think the trade-off is well worth it.

 
At Tuesday, March 21, 2017 9:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Commissioner Silver has also pushed Donald Silver, the most odious owner in pro sports, out of the league; has renegotiated the players/owners revenue split without a lockout; has put the NBA on the right side of history in myriad ways; and has presided over the league's most entertaining era in decades.

I agree that player resting and outright tanking are becoming problems, and he needs to address them: but let's not be overly melodramatic either. He's been a good commissioner, the league is in the arguably best shape it's ever been in, and David Stern had plenty of warts.

 
At Tuesday, March 21, 2017 11:21:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Anonymous-

FWIW re: Davis vs. me on Dragic, our predictions for his numbers this year were nearly identical. David had him at 16-18 points, 5-6 assists, I had him at 18-20 with 6-7 assists. On wins, I had him at 46 and David had him at 36 (he's likely to split the difference almost exactly there). Where we disagree most is how he ranks relative to his peers, and whether or not he has a significant impact beyond his raw numbers; I think he does, David thinks he doesn't. It is likely that one of our positions will eventually change, either David's if Dragic authors a few strong playoff runs, or mine if he's unable to elevate future teams. This year is difficult to parse either way, given the dramatic difference in MIA's first and second half performances (2nd worst team in the league first 41 games, 2nd best or so since), and I suspect David and I will disagree on how to parse that, but agree that basing *too* much off of this particularly bi-polar season is probably a mistake.

I can certainly be fairly immobile on some positions (as can we all), particularly when I'm, you know, right, but I like to think when someone introduces an idea or evidence I wasn't already aware of, I consider it before deciding whether or not to change my position. Where you and I struggle is that we fundamentally interpret the basic tenets of the game, and especially defense, so differently that we may as well be speaking a different language most of the time. I have presented my evidence, you have presented yours, neither of us found the other's case particularly compelling. That's ok.

Lastly, it should be clear from my overall remarks that On/Offs are far from my only reason for taking James first; they're merely a quick-and-easy counterpoint to the tired "he has a stellar supporting cast!" argument that gets trotted out about a team that performs at a league-worst rate during minutes he sits. While many of his supporting cast may be current or former All-Stars, at this point in their careers they're all effectively parasitic and the team capsizes whenever he's out. You can quibble with the validity of On/Offs all you like, but the reality is that the team is outscored by a little less than 9 points per 48 minutes when he's riding the pine; that is not the mark of a great bench/supporting cast, especially given how CLE tries to stagger his/Kyrie's minutes in most games.

Given the vagaries of what defines "MVP" I try not to overreact to differences of opinion on that particular category, and I could see perfectly reasonable cases for Lebron, Westbrook, and Leonard that I wouldn't have any real issue with. Even Durant's case as "best guy on the best team" is fine if that happens to be someone's #1 qualifier for MVP (it isn't mine). For my personal definition of "value," Lebron's still in a class by himself.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 12:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did Kareem/Kobe/Duncan comments come from? Maybe wrong thread. Anyway, Duncan really didn't play that many more games than Kobe. And he only overcame Kobe in games over the 3 final seasons of each of their careers. Duncan bested a hobbled Kobe 212-107 for regular season games here. Every player pretty much gets the best possible diet/treatment available, not just Kobe. If D'antoni has Kobe only play 30mpg or less, then Kobe has no other choice than to do it. Duncan was just in the perfect situation to be able to play lower minutes and be a role player because of his great teams, unlike Kobe. One minute of action for Duncan isn't the same as one minute of action for Kobe. Guards/wings have to do so much more on the court and run more. This is one reason why more bigs, if good enough, have longer careers.

Jordan, I think you're right about # of games played and minutes played as both being relevant, as I think you mentioned on another thread. But, I don't think 4 less games by Bird each year would extend his career any. And Father Time catches every player differently, regardless of diet/treatment. I think what affected someone like Wilt the most is that he played such high mpg for his entire career. I'd predict his career would've been prolonged should he choose to keep playing, but at some point, players have enough as they age, etc. Wilt seems like someone who wouldn't have played much longer than they did even if he was healthier at the end of his career. It's hard to say how much impact improved diet/treatment has. But, it's long been known that taking good care of yourself is going to help you play your best. Certain guys like Kobe/James among others have always seemingly taken great care of themselves. And certain guys can play through pain better than others.

I don't like it when coaches sit healthy players. I wonder how much these players object to it. They're not going to play them only 15 minutes though. If they play, it's going to be usual minutes, which is probably one reason why they just decide to rest them completely. Though, they should just play them a few less mpg over the entire season. I'm sure this happens in most other sports, too. Tennis is a year-round sport pretty much and worldwide, but some healthy players go months without playing. Baseball players get rest days. It's not going to stop.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 12:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, I've been reading you/David's Dragic debates for 3-4 years now. Maybe I missed something, but I've yet to see either one of you budge from your initial stances of how you rate Dragic, regardless if your predictions of him were fairly close for 2017. There's no middle ground. You give mountains of data, but on/offs is your primary point, which seem to favor Dragic a lot, but I've yet to see little of that in reality. This is one reason why I don't read into a stat like this much. You like debating with David more, that's the main difference. Though Jordan likes our debates more, so don't deprive him.

I guess David and you fundamentally interpret the basic parts of the game much differently, too, as I find his and my opinions on evaluating players are quite close usually in general and particularly on players with a great offensive/bad defensive game like Irving, Lillard, and Thomas. Harden is about the only player we disagree greatly on. I still think of guys like West, Baylor, Russell, Oscar as all-time greats, but I'm not as high on them for various reasons I've previously mentioned. We disagree some on James, but not much. I usually don't agree much with your assessment of James, but I have him in my top 10 all-time, which I think is higher than you, so that says something. I actually value defense more than you at times. I haven't heard David pipe in about individual offense vs individual defense. I wonder what he thinks. I know he thinks both are very important as do I. Though if someone thinks Lillard, Irving, and Thomas are AS-caliber players as I think he does(but maybe not), it should be obvious that that person would think much more highly on individual offense. I know you'd prefer a two-way player over a one-way player to lead a team, who wouldn't? But, what I asked many times which you've dodged the question is why we see so many one-way offensive players leading teams and sometimes teams to the playoffs, but not really vice versa? I can't think of one team in the nba where their best player is a one-way defensive player.

All I'm seeing for your argument for James as MVP is that CLE is supposedly really good when he plays and supposedly really bad when he sits and some hypothetical that you're buying James in the playoffs(which has nothing to do with MVP) more than you're buying RW. I just don't buy it. It's similar to what I said about RW before. In the playoffs, James will average 40mpg+, so he's playing basically the entire game. When he plays, his cast does great. It's debatable how much of that is contributed to James. RW has a much worse cast, though still much better than Kobe did in 2006. And they're terrible without him(mostly because they have no other playmaker, which you need), but with him, I think it's actually a solid cast, though not good enough to win.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 1:44:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Anonymous-

I'm not gonna get into a "who does David agree with more" argument with you. That's... kinda sad, honestly.

I enjoy debating with David because he often brings up things I didn't know or introduces a new way of looking at something I haven't thought of. I have a pretty solid historical grounding, but he certainly has a better one (especially for guys in the '60s). He's also had a lot more firsthand access to players and coaches than I have. Through talking to him, I've come to appreciate Kobe Bryant's help defense a lot more and trust individual D-RTG a lot less, just to name two examples.

Moreover, if you've been following our back-and-forths as closely as you say for years, then you also know they're full of me asking questions about players I'm less versed on, or his take on things that seem weird to me, or even in the midst of our disagreements, what it is that he's seeing that I might be missing. I respect David's expertise and like to benefit from it when I can. It's why I come here, frankly.

You, on the other hand, tend to mostly just shout the prevailing groupthink on most topics. You're admittedly a bit harder on James than most mainstream pundits, though I'm not sure why. I usually gain nothing but frustration from arguing with you, though (partly this is on me; I'm a little OCD and usually can't help but take the bait when really I should know better by now). I already know what you think because, often, it's pretty nearly what most of the media thinks. RWB/Harden/whomever are awesome! James' team is stacked! Offense is king! Even when I agree with you, it's boring; I already agreed with the three hundred other people who felt that way. On top of that, you and I are so far across the ocean from each other on basic things like "what's defense mean?" that it's nearly impossible for us to have a substantive back-and-forth when we can't even agree on what sport we're watching. When you say things like "I don't even know who Dan Roundfield is" by way of trying to dismiss him from a conversation about defensive forwards, I'm then forced to ask myself: what's the point?


That you also seem to delight in trying to antagonize me doesn't make it a whole lot more fun, either. That you constantly misquote me, toss up straw-men, or try to argue points I never made (something David has complained about as well) makes it even less fun. So, you know, if you want to have substantive conversations, just be more interesting or more pleasant to talk to.

Sorry if that scanned mean, that isn't my intent. It's not really easy to explain why you don't enjoy someone's company/conversation without coming off that way.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 3:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Yes, I saw Popovich's comments. I understand that there is some evidence suggesting that rested players are statistically less likely to be injured but, even if that is the correct conclusion to draw, I have seen no studies or information that can accurately make such specific connections that Popovich or you are making--such as a hypothetical rhetorical query along the lines of, "Would you rather see Tim Duncan in all 82 games or see him in 76 games per year in a career that lasts five years longer than it otherwise would have lasted?" I am not convinced that the choice is quite so binary or that the sole (or even main) reason that players from previous eras had shorter careers is because they did not "rest" when healthy. There are so many variables/factors that go into this: the players in the 1960s had (in no particular order of significance but just listed off the top of my head) less sophisticated equipment (particularly shoes but also such things as the evolution of knee braces, etc.), less sophisticated medical treatment/training routines, more difficult travel schedules, a rule set that permitted much more aggressive contact (which obviously could lead to injuries) and probably less healthy diets. In addition, many players in that era retired "early" because they could not become set for life by playing basketball and thus they wanted to get started on their next careers (in their early to mid-30s they were already a decade behind colleagues who started their corporate careers right out of college); to cite just one example of this, Paul Arizin (a member of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list) retired in 1962 rather than move to California with his Warriors team, because he was already making more money at IBM than he was in the NBA. It could be argued that modern players extend their careers because, even if they take a relatvely "reduced" salary (as Duncan and Nowitzki have done late in their careers) they are still making far more money than they could by doing anything else.

Specifically regarding Popovich and Duncan, it is worth noting that the last time Duncan was the best player for a Spurs championship team was 2007 (Parker won the Finals MVP but I would have voted for Duncan). Did the "resting" really preserve Duncan and add to the Spurs' success or were the Spurs successful because of their ability to draft, sign and develop players, most notably Kawhi Leonard (who won the Finals MVP for the most recent Spurs championship team)? The "resting" Spurs have won a lot of regular season games but only one championship, much like Tony Dungy's "resting" Colts in the NFL; in contrast, the non-"resting" Patriots won five Super Bowls and Phil Jackson (who did not "rest" players and whose stars played heavy minutes) won 11 rings as a coach.

I like Kerr's recent comment better than Popovich's. Kerr said that he would be willing to accept a salary reduction (but only if everyone else does) if the league trims the schedule to 76 games and eliminates some of the back to backs. That is really the point: Popovich and LeBron James (who declared that he has done enough to earn a rest day now and then) seem oblivious to the fact that their enormous salaries are paid for by the fans (who buy tickets, cable TV subscriptions, DIRECTV subscriptions, merchandise, etc.) and thus they owe it to the fans to actually go to work. If Popovich really believes that this is a health issue, then he should have no problem giving back part of his salary in exchange for a lighter workload--and his team/players should follow suit.

I think that it is crass for teams/coaches/players to expect to rake in all of this money from the fans and then have the gall to put a second rate product on the floor.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 3:56:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I don't disagree with most of that*, really. I just do think there's a fair argument that the players, at least the highest-usage ones, probably would/do benefit from more rest, regardless of the ethics of it.

*I'm not quite sure I agree that Kawhi was the most important Spur in '14, but I'd have to check my three-year old eyetest against some research to be sure, and that's probably a longer discussion than either of us are up for after that Baylor/Hakeem marathon anyway. The only other thing I'd quibble with is the "guys retired earlier to chase other careers" argument as I don't think it applies specifically to the Pantheon level guys who- sans Magic- had all seen pretty steep production decline by the time they hung it up.

I fully agree that they should cut the season a few games, and I'm pretty well positive that they won't. Given that reality, I think it's fair to ask them to at least try and put their best product on the floor when the most eyeballs are on it, even if that still screws the hometown fans when Lebron or whomever sits out a random roadie in the midst of a 4-in-5 or what have you. I do agree guys should probably have to forego their paycheck if they're sitting out for any non-injured reason.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 4:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

1) I am pretty sure that the three times Kobe did not play when you had tickets he was injured, not a healthy scratch. Kobe played hurt plenty of times as well; I got a close-up look at Kobe's mangled finger when he had an avulsion fracture (which is when a ligament is torn so violently that it rips away a piece of the bone): it was purple, swollen and nasty looking but he played through it.

MJ played through back spasms that were so bad that he needed help after the game to get dressed and make it back to the team bus.

When LeBron says on the one hand that he is "chasing the ghost" (meaning MJ) and that on the other hand he "deserves" a day off, I cannot reconcile those statements. LeBron has not caught Kobe (let alone MJ) and LeBron's career-long pattern of oddly indifferent playoff games/resting when healthy/entering self-described "chill mode" are incompatible with chasing MJ or Kobe, let alone catching those guys.

2)It is worth noting that Grant Hill played when he was seriously injured (which has nothing to do with resting when you are healthy).

3) Do the stars make ABC Primetime or does ABC Primetime make the stars? Stars come and go and the league continues to thrive; the league does a great job of turning basketball players into global icons. Henry Abbott and Dave Berri wrote a bunch of nonsense during the most recent work stoppage, suggesting that the players should form their own league and not have to answer to the owners. Does anyone in his right mind really think that it is so easy to just build a multi-billion dollar business out of thin air? Without ESPN and SI and TNT, would any of us outside of Akron ever heard of LeBron James? Maybe nowadays he could have gone viral on social media but even 10-15 years ago that would not have been possible.

The teams, coaches and players have developed such a sense of entitlement that they have lost touch with the reality of why/how they are making so much money.

4) LeBron does not have a "workload unlike any player in NBA history." He ranks 31st on the ABA/NBA career list for minutes played. He ranks seventh on the ABA/NBA career list for MPG. He ranks 98th on the ABA/NBA career list for games played. James obviously is moving up the charts for total minutes and total games but let's not crown him as the sport's all-time iron man. He has been durable and of course he has been productive but he also has admitted to entering "chill mode" at times during the regular season.

5) I am not suggesting that players/teams should be punished for attempting to preserve players' health. If this is in fact a health issue, then the league and the Players' Association should agree about how to make the schedule more healthy. Players just sitting out and collecting hefty paychecks while laughing and joking in front of fans who paid a significant portion of THEIR salaries hoping to watch said players play is a terrible solution.

Derrick Rose said that he was concerned about being able to play with his kids when he gets older. Perhaps that is a valid concern, in which case he should retire now; unless he has squandered all of his money, he has already been paid far more than the vast majority of people will earn in their entire lifetimes and if he invests that money conservatively he can live a very comfortable lifestyle without ever having to work again.

Contrary to Bill Rhoden and Andre Iguodala, these players are not "slaves" being compelled to work in the field for their "masters"; the players are actually conglomerates unto themselves, fully capable of exercising more choices and options than most of the rest of us could ever dream of having.

If LeBron wants to "rest," that is fine as long as he also accepts not being paid for not playing and if the team announces it in advance, refunds the tickets (home or away) for any disgruntled fans and makes appropriate financial accommodations for its broadcast partners.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 11:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, you're again missing the point. I'm not bringing who 'such and such' agree with more as an argument, just stating what's happening. If you want to make it an argument, then go ahead. You seem to be trying to having some type of higher complex over me. All I was saying is that player evaluations between David and I are much closer than yours and his. I only bring him back because you've repeatedly said how you respect his opinions a lot and make it a huge point to do the complete opposite with me.

There's maybe a few instances where you might have changed your opinion on something, but these are rare and not much. You still greatly undervalue Kobe's defense for one. Maybe you value it very slightly more now, but not enough to affect your evaluations of him. And it's not just you, but the majority people are rarely swayed more than a couple of notches from their initial views on a particular subject usually, that's just the way it is usually. Correct me if I'm wrong and I haven't read through all of your lengthy Dragic posts, but I've yet to see you or David budge from your initial Dragic positions.

Why are you confused I'm harder on James than the pundits, who often think he's the best thing ever which I obviously don't? Contrary to what you think, I don't trust the media much. I've been saying RW has been great for years, while the media continually underrates him, until maybe this year(we'll see with MVP voting). How exactly is that regurgitating what the media says? In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. What I've seen from Harden as well listening to many real nba experts(coaches, former coaches, etc.), that he seems to be one of the top players in the game. He's putting up amazing stats(probably better than RW if you factor shooting efficiency) and leading a team void of another AS to top 3 in the league with a suspect coach. If you think differently, then fine. I've said many times how the MVP voting is often bad, which is completely media driven. I value Kobe much higher than the media, and so on. You keep distorting my words. It's unfortunate you're continuing to act like this.

I don't disagree with you just for the sake of it, but that's what it seems like you're doing with me often. I'll remember one time I was talking about Baylor and made some mention of the general consensus of his subpar defense, which might actually be wrong. You chimed in that I must not value rebounding much. However, you've said on numerous occasions about how you don't really consider rebounding part of 'defense', but it's own separate category.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 12:17:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@David, I said ironic because it was Kobe. I am keenly aware of most everything Bryant put his body through as I made the Lakers (and the NBA) my religion for 20 years. He is my favorite player specifically because of everything he endured to get on the court (and succeed).

To your point #3…that’s a good question. It’s a chicken and egg argument. Stars do come and go…but the stars are the ones that people pay to see. Each era, the progression of the NBA’s elite stars has propelled the league to greater and greater heights.

Lebron does have a workload like any other player in NBA history. Six straight trips to the finals as the team’s clear cut best player and five stints with the National team beginning his journey at the ripe old age of 18. True that his counting stats don’t equal the most, but seventh on the list of mpg at 32 years of age…is staggering no? You’re right, he’s not the iron man. But, he’s leading the league in mpg this season. I’m still struggling to see why he should be the one to give back his paycheck for missing a game due to rest.

I fully agree with all of your point #5.

As for Derrick Rose, I don’t care one iota about him or his clueless, foolish, ignorant comments. I think he represents everything wrong with the NBA. So, I’d just as soon wish him well leaving the game. He didn’t deserve his MVP. He didn’t deserve the contracts he’s signed (and will sign in the coming offseason). What he does deserve is jail time for his…loose definitions/misguided understanding of consent that led to despicable actions…and if not jail time, certainly our contempt.

For our discussion here, we are talking about NBA greats. Curry, Lebron. Kobe. MJ. And burgeoning stars (that do things the right way) like Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook. IMHO, Rose is the furthest thing from that and has no business in this conversation.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 1:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

It is my contention that any starting player (not just LeBron) who is a healthy scratch for "rest" should not be paid. If the players don't like that solution, then they can either play when they are healthy or they can collectively bargain with the league to change the schedule. Also, although you have not mentioned this, I don't buy the idea that LeBron wanted to play but Lue sat him anyway. LeBron checks in and out of games when he wants to, so if he wanted to play then he would have played.

Not to be pedantic but you wrote that LeBron's workload is "unlike any player in basketball history" but that is not true by any metric. Many other great players have played more games, minutes and/or minutes per game. His workload is high but not unprecedented--and, unlike the other great players with high workloads, he has "rested," entered "chill mode" and so forth.

Rose was an MVP and one of the faces of the league for a while. He is still one of the highest paid players. I brought him up as an example of someone who is complaining about something that is easily solved: if he is worried that playing a full schedule will harm his future health then he can retire now and live off what he has already been paid.

My point is that--even if one buys the premise that science has proven the value of "rest" as NBA teams are employing the concept--there has to be a better solution than star players getting paid to sit on the bench laughing and giggling while fans who paid hundreds or thousands of dollars to attend that one game are out of luck (not to mention the billions of dollars--the money that pays the salaries of LeBron, Rose et. al.--spent by the league's TV partners to broadcast JV games in primetime).

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 1:14:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Anonymous, you're probably right about bird. Back issues seem to be a genetic thing anyway. I just used him as an example. You're larger point about Wilt is correct, but I still think there is something to the number of games played in succession and the increase in injury risk. It's both logical and scientifically proven.

Regarding changing one's opinion on here. You've done a solid job of evolving my opinion on Harden. While I still believe his playing style will ultimately fail to win a championship (as the best player) sans extraordinary circumstances (like multiple injuries to players on other teams), his overall play, endurance, and team success shouldn't be brushed aside as fluky. I made the comparison a couple of months ago on here, but I still think Nash is a great comp. Same system, same one-way player impact. There are some differences of course, Harden's cast isn't as star heavy, but it's definitely deeper and Nash was more efficient, but less dangerous/impactful as a scoring threat.

@David, being pedantic is a good thing. I'm currently working with lawyers and have come to truly understand the meaning. :) I may have snuck a little Bill Waltonesque hyberbole into my comment about Lebron's workload.

I am mostly in agreement with any worker not getting paid for not working (and, giggling on the bench isn't called for at any point in my opinion). But, I remain curious as to your thoughts about the playoffs. There is some additional pay for deep runs into the postseaon, but the money doesn't equal the top players' paychecks. I think this should also be addressed as the added games with no additional pay, actually means that a player's salary decreases in value the more valuable he becomes (if he makes a deep run, or wins a championship).

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 8:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Regarding Adam Silver, I did not say that he has been a bad commissioner but rather (1) it was premature for the media to elevate him above David Stern before Silver had even accomplished anything and (2) this "resting" phenomenon is an opportunity for Silver to either become great or to fall short of the mark.

Addressing your specific points:

1) Sterling forced himself out of the league. Even if a mannequin had been commissioner Sterling would have had no future in the league after all of the evidence became public.

2) Stern had the best record in the major North American sports for a long time in terms of avoiding work stoppages--until there was a work stoppage. It is early in Silver's tenure to assume that he and the players will always see eye to eye. This is a honeymoon period right now.

3) I am not quite sure what you mean in terms of "putting the NBA on the right side of history" but I do know that under Stern's leadership the NBA was at the forefront of all sports leagues in terms of minority hiring of coaches/executives, community service, its drug abuse policies and many other areas.

4) "Most entertaining era in decades" is a subjective assessment. I think that the 1980s were more entertaining. Today's NBA has added many expansion teams since that era and the result is that talent has become diffuse: there is no way that the 73 win Warriors were as good as the 72 win Bulls (as we can see by the fact that the Warriors ultimately did not even win the title) and at the bottom of the league now we have some truly awful teams. Almost every season in NBA history has at least one awful team but now there is an epidemic; even worse, as the season winds down as many as seven or eight of these terrible teams are outright tanking in the hopes of obtaining the rights to draft 19 or 20 year olds who are 2-3 years away from being productive.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 11:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan, largely agree about the resting issues. At least the NBA is talking about this now. Keeping Wilt at 38-40mpg for each season seems like an obvious no-brainer as a better plan. His coaches were a bit reckless with overplaying him.

And I completely agree about Harden, and I also seriously doubt he could win a title as the guy, though we've seen lesser players do it before in recent years. He's super durable, while scoring a lot and playing heavy minutes(2 things I value a lot), while never having a 'rest' game, I think. He's been putting up special #'s for many seasons now, even before D'antoni. I still think he's performed fairly well in the playoffs and was a major contributor for OKC making the Finals in 2012, but certainly not as good as he has in the regular season overall. The Nash comparison is good, but sure, some differences. The main thing I see is that Nash's cast was easily good enough there in the mid-2000s through 2010, while Harden's cast going up against GS/SA/CLE has almost no chance, especially since he'll have to most likely beat all 3 along with a tough 1st round opponent. I don't think any team in the league for that matter could do that, though.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 11:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

I understand the point that you are making about playoff bonuses but the reality is that the superstar players who propel teams to deep playoff runs are generally receiving a disproportionate share of their team's salary cap. Moreover, the players vote how to allocate the playoff shares, so if they want to give LeBron 20% of whatever the Cavs make for their postseason run I don't think that there is any rule stopping this.

I just don't see a valid connection between your inference that superstars are underpaid for the playoffs and the idea that resting healthy players is good/necessary. Those seem like two separate issues to me.

As a side note, I am surprised that no one has commented about what I consider to be a major issue: the not so subtle use of "rest" to manipulate playoff seedings and the "seedings" at the bottom of the standings (for the Draft Lottery). Tracy McGrady and Jalen Rose recently made the exact point that I made in this article: it sure looks like Tyronn Lue intentionally threw a game to his buddy Doc Rivers, because logically speaking it would make more sense for the Cavs' stars to play in the first game of the back to back (and presumably beat the talented but struggling Clippers) and then rest those players against the Lakers, who the Cavs should be able to beat even short-handed.

This is a major issue for the integrity of the NBA, at least as severe as the Tim Donaghy fiasco. Right now it looks like the NBA's worst seven or eight teams are tanking by "shutting down" key players, while several of the top teams are "resting" key players in ways that can and will affect playoff seeding, which could affect which teams make the playoffs and how far certain teams are able to advance.

Rose added another layer to this, noting that prior to playing the Cavs the Clippers had rested some players versus Utah. Did Doc Rivers know in advance that his good buddy Lue was going to give him a win on Saturday, so Rivers could afford to rest his guys?

I can't prove that this happened but the sad thing is that this is credible. Rivers and Lue laughing and hugging at midcourt after the game was a bad look for the NBA. If you blow my team's doors off, I am not hugging you at midcourt after the game no matter what kind of friendship we have; we can be friends later but at that moment I am giving you a wave or a quick handshake and I am heading back to the locker room with my team.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Wilt and the other stars of his era did not want to sit, unlike LeBron and most of the stars of this generation.

I am not sure that the minutes shortened Wilt's career. He jumped to the ABA to be a player-coach but lawsuits prevented him from playing for a full season; he coached that season but after a year of inactivity he decided to not play anymore. There is no reason to think that he was not physically capable of playing in 1973-74 and possibly beyond, if his career had not been interrupted.

Harden's durability is impressive. That is one thing that I always question when a player is elevated from sixth man status to leading man status: is he durable enough to withstand the extra minutes without getting hurt and/or having his standard of play decline? I tend to believe that players are coming off of the bench for a reason and that most players who are given much heavier workloads will not thrive. John Havlicek and Paul Westphal were two exceptions from previous eras and Harden is a modern exception.

I still think that Harden's numbers are inflated by the system but he is obviously having a very good season, at least offensively. I disagree with your assessment of his playoff career up to this point and I expect his play to decline in the playoffs this year as well, though perhaps not as much as in the past.

Regarding Harden's supporting cast, this is pretty much as good as it is going to get for him if he wants to be the main guy and put up video game numbers: he is surrounded by players who are content to fill various roles (defender, rebounder, spot up shooter) while he monopolizes the ball. He brooded and complained when he played with Durant/Westbrook and with Howard, so adding a star to the mix will not increase Houston's chances of winning a title, because Harden will brood and his play will decline if he has to share the spotlight.

Morey wants his team to shoot nothing but threes, layups and free throws and he has pretty much achieved his ideal roster with the ideal leading man for that system. We'll see how much postseason success results from this analytics-driven experiment but it is important to understand that--unlike Golden State's stars or Cleveland's stars or San Antonio's stars--Harden does not want another leading man on the scene. In that way, he is similar to Melo and Marbury and Arenas and Francis--but when the Rockets are eliminated, then we will hear Harden complaining that he needs another ballhandler or another shooter or another something. I have rarely heard Harden ever take responsibility for a loss or talk about what he needs to do better; it is interesting that when the Patriots lose, Bill Belichick (perhaps the greatest NFL coach of all-time) will typically say that he has to coach better--and I have heard other top coaches and top players make similar comments but coaches/players who have never won a championship seem to be very quick to blame everyone but themselves for the losses.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 1:04:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Sorry to jump in so late, but I believe Poppovich started the resting healthy players trend because his top guys also played on their national teams during the summers, which added to long playoff runs. He moved Ginobili to the bench, keeping his minutes low, allowing him to play over 30 minutes only twice in 14 seasons. He also controlled Parker's as well even though he was much younger. Parker played the most minutes in his career as a 26 year old (34.1 mpg).

Then Poppovich started resting Duncan as he got into his mid thirties - he cracked 30 minutes a game only once after he turned 34 years old. And he was one of the last superstars to play all 4 years at college.

It was understandable when Pop did it in the past, stretching the back end of those guys' careers, but these days, other coaches are resting guys under 30 years old who don't play in the summer, or heavy minutes if at all.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 11:13:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

"As a side note, I am surprised that no one has commented about what I consider to be a major issue: the not so subtle use of "rest" to manipulate playoff seedings and the "seedings" at the bottom of the standings (for the Draft Lottery). "

David,
I'm not going to dwell on it, even though I think seedings and especially drafting balls are manipulated long, long time now. And Tim Donaghy fiasco was just the tip of iceberg. The rest is most likely swept under the rug for now.

While playoff seedings have some meaning (2nd round loss is a bit better than 1st round exit), I very much doubt tanking is viable strategy. I don't think any tanking team advanced even to conference finals yet (didn't check though). And random balls pretty much prevent getting top seed most of the time, other times teams blunder their picks regardless (Greg Oden anyone?), while SAS get good or at least usable players regardless of pick thanks to excellent organization.
In general I think influencing standings with "rest" matters much less than you present.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I'm sure Wilt could've played more years, but at what impact? I'd also suspect if he had played fewer minutes throughout his career, his impact at least later in his career would've been greater.

The only #'s that have really increased for Harden this year are rebounding by 2rpg and assists. Like I said before, if he moves to PG from SG on any team, his assists are going to increase a lot, but agree probably not a 3.7apg jump from 7.5 to 11.2, but probably still north of 10apg. His offensive rebounding has increased barely(0.9 in 2015, 0.8 in 2016, 1.1 in 2017). HOU averages less offensive rebounds/game this year than in 2016, so I don't think the increase in 3's by HOU as a team is helping them with more long rebounds.

There might be some truth to what you say about adding another star to Harden, but he's in a much different situation now. He was a bench player, clearly #3 in OKC. He's now clearly #1 in HOU, and there's only a handful players that could supplant him from that spot. He wanted to play more minutes more than anything else, who wouldn't? Regardless of who HOU added, Harden would still be able to play high minutes.

And regardless if you're right or not about Harden wanting to share the spotlight, that doesn't change the fact that HOU's cast isn't very comparable with the top 2-3 teams in the league, and his #2(probably Beverley) is a role player.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 5:06:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@David, I think overall, we agree that changes need to be made as it is hurting the NBA brand and product. I also find your take on the potential ramifications of playoff seeding to be a major issue that needs to be addressed as well.

The connection I’m trying to make between superstars being underpaid for the playoffs and superstars resting during the season is based mostly off of your assertion that healthy players that sit for rest should forfeit their game checks. Look, sitting a player is the coach’s decision. In the case of the Warriors and Spurs, it’s often a GM and/or organizational decision. So, to put the onus on the player seems a bit unfair regardless. A player (like Carmelo) isn’t supposed to complain if he gets benched in the fourth, so if a coach decides to rest a player, the same standards should apply.

But my point is that players like Lebron add additional mileage to their bodies and extra games in the playoffs, after carrying their teams to the postseason. While ownership rakes in more cash, as does the league and the NBA’s business partners (via TV deals) – the player is left with a comparatively paltry sum for his efforts. As we’ve been discussing, during the playoffs, players play even more minutes than the regular season.

So, if the point of the regular season is to get to the playoffs and win a championship, why is it the player’s fault if the organization decides to sit him in the middle of the season for rest, in order to preserve his body for the playoffs? Furthermore, why should he have to forfeit his game check, when he is the main reason his team gets to the playoffs, where every other hand – the organization, the League, and the NBA’s sponsors –nets a huge payday?

I fully agree that players shouldn’t be giggling with each other and drinking lattes while sitting on the bench while resting (or in general), but outside of bench etiquette, I don’t believe the resting epidemic is the fault or responsibility of the players.

Now, talking about resting, or making comments like Rose about needing to preserve his body...I have zero tolerance for. Again, I've made my disdain for Rose pretty clear. Most of it is because of the ignorance he clothes himself in.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 6:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

I agree that it is fair to say that Popovich is the father of the movement to use/abuse "rest" as it is currently being used/abused.

In the past, some coaches may have restricted the minutes of their stars in the last game or two of the season if all of the playoff seedings were set but that is a far cry from benching healthy players with many games left and the seedings up for grabs.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 8:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

I agree with you that tanking for draft picks is not really an effective long term strategy for building a winning program. My point is that once a process is tainted/not transparent--whether that process is playoff seeding or the determination of who gets which draft picks--then that is a serious problem. In other words, whether or not one game in the standings ultimately helps the Clippers much, if there is a widespread perception that Tyronn Lue just gave a game to his buddy Doc Rivers then the entire integrity of the NBA regular season and playoffs is brought into question.

If Adam Silver is not very troubled about this, then he should be.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 8:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

In Wilt's last season he finished fourth in MVP voting, first in rebounding and first in field goal percentage. He was still an elite player.

Harden has either run off or run away from star players who were productive both before and after playing with Harden, so I am comfortable saying that Harden does not want to play with star players who are anywhere close to their prime and who, consequently, are not content to sit in a corner and wait for Harden to stop dribbling/shooting to pass them the ball.

Beverley is an All-Defensive Team caliber player who also rebounds and passes well, so he is not a slouch, but Ariza, Gordon and Anderson are probably at least as valuable.

Anyway, the point is that this team is built around Harden's wishes and Morey's theories: three point shooting specialists, big guys who dive to the hoop but do not "clog the lane" by posting up and some defensive specialists to compensate for Harden's defensive weaknesses. For the way that Morey, D'Antoni and Harden want to play, this is close to a perfect roster; maybe if they could find younger versions of Ariza and Nene they would do it but other than that I suspect that Morey is quite pleased with himself and that he believes this team can win it all.

My point is that Harden and Morey cannot run Howard out of town and then later complain that the team lacks a second star or lacks the necessary size to win in the playoffs.

I don't believe that a team built this way will make it to the WCF, barring some major injuries to other teams or some very unusual circumstances. Howard was a major factor in Houston's WCF run but he is gone and Morey is disinclined to ever acquire a similar player again, at least as long as D'Antoni and Harden are calling the shots.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 8:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

If I believed that LeBron, Duncan (in past years) and the other healthy stars who are "resting" were truly doing so against their will then perhaps I would be inclined to agree with you--but I am certain that if LeBron wanted to play then he would have either played or he would have instituted a palace revolt resulting in Lue being fired. We have seen that script before.

I don't have a problem with a coach taking a healthy player out if the player is not performing well. I don't have a problem with a coach enacting some minutes restrictions. My problem is with healthy players sitting out and yukking it up in a way that makes the game--and the season--look like a farce.

Anyway, if LeBron "rests" five times and loses five game checks he still will be paid a disproportionate share of his team's total salary (plus his playoff bonus)--and he will earn millions more from endorsement opportunities that only exist because he is a famous NBA player. I don't think that this economic model is unfair to LeBron. Again, if the players don't like it then they can collectively bargain for something else or they can go the Abbott/Berri route and form their own league; I'd love to see them try that, with Abbott and Costello (I mean Berri) as the co-commissioners. That would be a real lesson in economics.

 
At Friday, March 24, 2017 4:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Wilt's last season he finished fourth in MVP voting, first in rebounding and first in field goal percentage. He was still an elite player.

============================

Also worth noting: he played 43.2 MPG for 82 games. We're not even talking about 20-25 MPG veteran-coming-off-the-bench status.

 
At Friday, March 24, 2017 11:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure who Harden ran away from. He was traded to HOU. And do you seriously think someone like Kobe or James would accept being 3rd option and a bench player for their careers? If not, then why should Harden accept it? All he's trying to do is maximize his abilities and become the best player possible, which wouldn't have happened in OKC. I don't know why you fault the guy for doing this. I'm not sure who he's ran off other than possibly Howard, and that's more on Howard than anyone else. It's all been known Howard's been a big baby and he hasn't been happy anywhere he's been.

Beverley is a very good player, but he's still a role player and not close to making an AS team. HOU has some other nice pieces, too, but the same would be said about any of their other players, at best. When you have stacked teams like GS/SA/CLE in the league, it's happening, especially since they have to beat all 3 to win the title probably. If there were in CLE's shoes, and only had to beat one of the top 3 teams in the league, then it's much more likely that they could. And I don't know if this the way Harden dreamed of playing. This is Morey's approach, and Harden goes with it. Howard was hardly a star, and was a bad fit in HOU. A healthy Capela has looked better than Howard in HOU's system, that says a lot about how good/bad was Howard.

 
At Saturday, March 25, 2017 12:15:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

"All he's trying to do is maximize his abilities and become the best player possible"

that made me laughing out loud... considering his defensive (non)efforts

 
At Saturday, March 25, 2017 1:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Harden had the opportunity to re-sign with OKC and be the third option for a team that would have had an outstanding opportunity to contend for championships for the next 10 years. He could have been OKC's Manu Ginobili. Instead, he made it clear that he had no interest in doing that and that he would leave (i.e., run away from playing with Durant and Westbrook), so OKC traded him to avoid losing him for nothing.

Harden ran Howard out of Houston. Howard was by far the best player on Orlando's 2009 NBA Finalists. Injuries and age have slowed him but he is still a very good rebounder/defender and someone who can score 15-20 ppg if given the ball--but Howard's defensive mindset and his desire to play in the paint on offense conflict with Harden's basketball world view, so Howard had to go. So, Harden cannot play with a premier small forward, a premier point guard or a premier center. I feel comfortable saying that he does not want to play with another star/co-star, so therefore I don't want to hear complaints/excuses from him or his fans when Houston repeatedly falls short in the playoffs.

Harden made very clear what he wanted and now he has it.

As for Kobe and LeBron, they have repeatedly proven that they can be the best player on a championship team. If Harden can do that, good for him--but in my reckoning he is nowhere close to Kobe or LeBron and I would not take him over Westbrook, Durant, Leonard or Curry, either.

By the way, you knock Baylor for not winning a title but when I mentioned Harden in that thread as a player who you pump up despite never winning a title you said Harden is not at that level so the comparison is not valid--but now you are comparing Harden to Kobe and LeBron. So, what is your position? Is Harden a legit MVP-level player who should be compared with Baylor and Kobe and LeBron or is Harden an All-Star? I have made it clear that I consider Harden an All-Star but not a franchise player--not a guy who can be the best player on a championship team. You seem to vacillate on this issue.

 
At Saturday, March 25, 2017 1:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

You are correct that, at most, Harden has only worked on the offensive parts of his game--and I am not entirely convinced that he is a different/better player now than he was before; he is just being given the opportunity to monopolize the ball, which he could not do to the same extent when he had one or more All-Stars on the court with him.

Harden chased the money and the stats. If he can win on his terms he will be happy with that but he has no interest in being part of a winning program where he is not the star; he would rather lose but be the star. He has made that very clear.

Maybe he really believes that he can be the best player on a championship team; maybe he is right to believe that. If that happens, I'll admit that I was wrong--but I am not at all concerned that this will happen. Harden is not going to win a championship playing the way he is playing for a team constructed this way, nor is he going to have a Baylor-esque run of seven Finals appearances in a decade.

 
At Monday, March 27, 2017 6:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's simply ridiculous to say that Harden "ran off' from OKC: as another poster noted, OKC wouldn't pay him the contract he quite obviously deserved. That was their short-sighted, penny-wise choice, not a comment on any disgruntlement on Harden's part.

You can ding him for valuing money (and have, many times), but almost every young star looking toward their first big payday takes as much money as they can get. And why shouldn't they? They didn't decide where they were going in the first place--they were drafted.

But anyway, that's a very different argument than saying he couldn't handle playing with stars. I'm kind of amazed I need to point this out to you, but I guess I shouldn't be, really--your arguments about Harden necessarily grow more tortured by the year.

 
At Monday, March 27, 2017 7:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Let's deal with facts, not opinions or speculation:

1) Harden was offered about $1 million/year less than the max by OKC; in exchange for taking slightly less than the max on a deal that was worth more than $50 million overall, Harden would have had the opportunity to play with two MVP caliber teammates and potentially challenge for the championship for a decade or more, a la Manu Ginobili. Miami's Big Three players took slightly less than the max in order to play together. San Antonio's top players have also taken less than the max. Dirk Nowitzki has taken less than the max. Other star players over the years have done similar things in order to enable their teams to sign other stars or other key players.

OKC was not "penny-pinching" but rather trying to figure out a fiscally responsible way to build a championship team, along the lines of the San Antonio model. Unfortunately, Harden did not want to be Ginobili and Durant would rather join the Warriors than try to beat a team over which he had just enjoyed a 3-1 lead.

2) Harden often pouted and complained about his role in OKC; he did not like being the third best player (i.e., he did not like playing with other, better stars). Harden similarly pouted and complained in Houston when he played alongside Dwight Howard, a former MVP candidate and All-NBA First Team performer.

Based on these facts, it is fair to state that Harden has run away (or forced his way out, if you prefer that description re: OKC) from playing with other star players. He wants all of the money, all of the shots and all of the glory. Of course, he has every right to make those choices and have those preferences--but his fans/media supporters should not make excuses now, five years from now or 10 years from now when Harden has no playoff success to speak of in Houston other than the one fluky WCF run. That is the path he has chosen for his career and he has already had multiple opportunities to take a different path.

My arguments about Harden are not "tortured"; they are based on facts and evidence.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 3:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, Harden also had the opportunity to sign a max contract and be a much better player overall. OKC gave him exactly one day to decide, didn't sound like they really wanted him. Top 5, even top 10 players, just aren't going to accept being the #3 guy, nor shouldn't they. It's odd to hear you criticize Harden like this, but then you've also said you dislike KD going to GS to play with more great players than OKC had. Which is it? It's fine if you don't agree with Harden's decision to want out of OKC, but guys like Kobe/James would never accept being #3. I'm comparing Kobe/James to Harden only in the sense of their mindset, which I'd want every player to have this type of mindset, though obviously very few can live up to it. There's countless other examples, too. Regardless if you think Harden could/should be a #1 guy on any team, Harden wanted this role. Harden's obviously not as good as them, but I don't blame a guy for wanting to be the #1 guy and trying to become as good as possible and taking the challenge. Baylor wouldn't be making any Finals if he replaced Harden given the current NBA, unless he could average 50 and 25 and that still might not be enough vs GS. Oscar made no Finals before joining Kareem and only made the playoffs half the time, so I don't think that's a fair comparison bringing up Harden must make 7 Finals.

Who exactly is putting Harden on top 10-15 status all-time? I'm confused why you even made that comparison between Harden/Baylor. As I've mentioned many times before and which should be obvious, Harden's never had a West-type player except maybe his last 1-2 seasons in OKC when he was 21. Baylor entered the league at 24. Baylor had much better teams than Harden has had overall, and played with arguably 2 top 10 players all-time. If Harden had these types of casts, we could then possibly make a comparison, but he hasn't. I don't pump up Harden, you pump down Harden. I haven't seen anywhere except here that someone doesn't think Harden should be in the conversation for MVP at worst. Unless you think James' cast isn't that good, isn't it interesting HOU has a 4-game lead over CLE currently? I'm confused why you'd be so confused why people think Harden deserves MVP over James or at least in the conversation. I think there's an argument to be made for both.

Do you think RW and/or KD would accept being the #3 guy and coming off the bench like Harden did? Manu is a 2x AS and 0x MVP candidate. I know you think he's an apt comparison to Harden, but he's not. Dirk only took less money in the twilight of his career, and he's still making 25 mil this year. Bosh/Wade were later in their careers when they joined than Harden was when he went to HOU. Bosh tried to win as #1 guy but he wasn't good enough nor was TOR getting the players to join him, easy choice for him. James left a great situation which he bailed on his team in the playoffs. I seriously doubt Harden is against playing with other stars, but maybe you have some insight into his mind. Howard was a terrible fit with HOU and was his usual whiny self. We already see how little impact he had overall in HOU with Capela basically being more valuable to HOU than Howard was and Howard's current team where's he clearly not the best player either is struggling in the weaker East.

It's quite telling how much you dislike Harden, especially when you continue to describe his WCF run as 'fluky,' you like to belittle him as much as possible. You once said Harden's play after the first 3 games of the 2015 WCF was horrible, despite having 2 great games in that 3-game span.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 3:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beep, Harden's most likely going to finish top 3 in MVP for the 2nd time and make first-team all-nba for the 3rd time in his career. Do you think any of that would be remotely possible if he stayed in OKC?

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 6:47:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@anonymous, I agree with a lot of what you are writing. In my mind, Harden has carried a very solid and deep cast to the third seed in the west. But he doesn’t have an all-star teammate, and while he has the perfect coach for his playing style, his coach hasn’t done much other than rack up a bunch of regular season wins and a couple of runs to the WCF. So based on statistics and team success, there’s really no denying that Harden should have a seat at the MVP discussion table.

That said, my reason for not believing Harden is a top-10 guy (even though he is an MVP candidate), despite his crazy numbers and his team’s record, is that he has glaring holes in his skillset that will, as David continues to point out, be exposed in the playoffs. His run to the WCF was fluky, and he did disappear in crucial moments during that run. I don’t believe Harden really wants the responsibility/burden of being the alpha, though he does want the glamour and fame. The proof is in his development. Harden hasn’t improved on anything but volume over the past nearly half decade as the go-to guy. He’s added a little bit of a post game, but he is still careless with the ball, has consistent issues with effort on defense, and hasn’t really added any new dimension that wasn’t there four years ago. All of the best players added to their games, especially throughout their primes. Jordan, Bryant, James, Curry. Which is why I liken Harden to Nash. Neither is/was a top-10 guy, as their weaknesses were too glaring. Nash couldn’t play defense on anyone, and Harden is too careless with the ball and relies on gimmicks far more than any superstar I can remember. But both were able to carry and elite offense and rack up regular season Ws.

And yet, Harden is the same player he was four years ago. He just gets to dominate the ball a lot more now. That attitude, coupled with his lack of development and off-court antics (Kardashians…)—fairly or not—paint a certain picture of him. Which is why, yeah, it would kind of be a travesty if he wins the MVP because he will probably not make it out of the second round, and isn't one of the 10 best players in the L. So, his success is largely a smoke screen--an inventive, necessary one that D'Antoni, Morey, and Harden should all get credit for perfectly creating--but a smokescreen nonetheless.

@David, I know we harp on Harden here a lot because he’s currently an MVP candidate, but a lot of your commentary regarding his decision-making and career goals, would be better reserved for other players—like Reggie Jackson or Eric Bledsoe. While both of them were traded as well, it was no secret that they too wanted to be starters (Jackson complained so much it rubbed his teammates the wrong way). And, now that they are starters, both of their teams are terrible and they both have proven to be unable to shoulder the load as not only a star, but as a starter. Bledsoe due to injuries, Jackson due to a lack of talent/ability. They both left contending teams. The Clippers could absolutely use Bledsoe right now. They’d be a far more serious contender. I know a lot of other moving parts went into both of those deals. For example, the Clips got Redick as a result of that trade. But still…it’s apparent neither Bledsoe or Jackson are even all-stars, let alone potential MVPs, and both of them wanted more.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 7:15:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

Please stop reminding me that of Dragic, Thomas, and Bledsoe... my team kept Bledsoe. Has any front office had a worse trade deadline in recent memory than turning two All-NBAish PGs and a top 3 pick into Brandon Knight and two (probably) middling first rounders?

Also, while I agree with most of what you're saying re: Harden/Nash I think there's an important distinction in that while Nash was bad at defense, Harden is apathetic. Nash tried on that end and sucked, Harden visibly loafs. I'm speculating here, but I imagine that may be part of why Nash's teams generally had great chemistry (Amare vs. Marion drama aside), and nobody much seems to like playing with Harden.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 7:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

As Jordan correctly pointed out, Harden has not become a "much better player." His defense is worse than it was in OKC. He has not added much to his offensive skill set but under D'Antoni's system he has the ball in his hands all of the time so of course his numbers are gaudy (I predicted this before the season).

Regarding Durant, I am puzzled that a great player whose team enjoyed a 3-1 lead in the WCF would defect to the team that ultimately won that series instead of trying to finish the job the next year. I cannot picture Doc or Bird or Magic doing something similar in the 1980s (I understand that the free agency rules were different back then but I don't believe that any of those guys would have left their respective teams even if they could have easily done so).

It would have been better for the sport if Durant had stayed in OKC and we would have had the opportunity to see GSW vs. OKC again--but I do not question that Durant's motivation in leaving was to win a title, even if I believe that he could have done so in OKC. In contrast, I don’t believe that Harden left OKC with the primary goal of winning a title.

I can certainly "blame" Harden for having what you call a Kobe/LeBron mindset (I don't believe that those two have the same mindset but that is an argument for a different day) when it is not warranted. This is called "delusions of grandeur."

Harden is not good enough to be the best player on a championship team unless he has a whole lot more star level help than he is willing to accept.

If Baylor played in today's NBA, he'd be scoring 35-40 ppg, grabbing at least 10 rpg and averaging 5-8 apg (depending on the system, coach and teammates). You do understand that Baylor is essentially the same size as Harden but stronger, faster and a better leaper, right? Baylor was scoring 30 plus ppg (pre-injury) and grabbing tons of rebounds in an eight or nine team league when he had to face Chamberlain, Russell and other HoF centers 10 times a season, so he would have a field day scoring and grabbing rebounds in today's NBA with few real big men who can play, a bunch of guys his size who lack his rebounding instincts/desire and rules that prohibit defenders from touching him.

Ginobili finished in the top 10 in MVP voting twice and finished 11th once. He was a top 10 player in the league for a while even when he was the second or third best player on a perennial contender. If Harden had stayed in OKC and played well for a contender then he certainly would have received accolades.

I am not "confused" about why Harden is considered an MVP candidate; he has gaudy offensive numbers for a team with a good record, so of course he is considered a candidate--and I would not be surprised if he wins. I just disagree with the notion that he is a better basketball player than Westbrook, James, Durant, Leonard, Curry at the very least.

A fluke is an unusual occurrence that is not likely to be repeated. I am not going to argue about articles that I wrote during the 2015 playoffs; those articles speak quite eloquently for themselves. If Harden is fortunate enough to ever again be the first offensive option for a team in the WCF, then we can debate whether or not 2015 was a fluke. It is a fact that Harden was on the bench (or playing poorly) during key stretches of that fluky run; you act like if he had one or two good games that somehow validates his overall performance level, which was the same as it usually is during the playoffs.

So, we have some interesting things to watch:

1) How well Harden plays in the 2017 playoffs.
2) How far Houston advances.
3) If Morey can ever trade for another star or convince a star to play with Harden--and, if that happens, how Harden reacts.
4) If Houston ever makes it to the WCF with Harden as the number one offensive option.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 7:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Beep can certainly speak for himself but my answer is that you are asking the wrong question. The point is not how many accolades Harden could have received had he stayed in OKC but (1) what are his goals and (2) how good he really is. My contention is that (1) Harden is not a player whose primary focus is winning championships and (2) despite his gaudy numbers he is not the best player (or even one of the top five players) in the NBA.

Take Harden off of Houston and substitute a replacement level pg in D'Antoni's system and that pg would average 15-20 ppg/8-10 apg--and Houston would still be a 50 win team. D'Antoni has proven that you can win in the regular season in the NBA by playing this way.

Take Westbrook off of OKC and substitute a replacement level pg and OKC would be a lottery team. OKC is just awful when Westbrook is out of the game--and OKC essentially needs him to notch a triple double to win.

What Westbrook is doing is just incredible and it is mindboggling not only that there is an MVP debate but that it seems as if Harden is considered the favorite.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 7:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

Unlike Harden, no one is overrating Jackson or Bledsoe. In fact, Jackson has received a lot of fully justified criticism. It seems as if even the media and casual fans have a good handle on those situations. I focus my attention on the greats of the game and on players who I consider to be significantly underrated or overrated.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 8:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I know that you consider Dragic to be an All-NBA level player but do you think that he will receive any All-NBA votes this season? I suspect that the All-NBA guards will be Westbrook, Harden, Curry, Thomas, Irving and Wall (not necessarily in that order). DeRozan will receive consideration, along with (in no particular order and I may be leaving someone out) Paul, Lillard, Klay Thompson and Lowry and a few others. Maybe Dragic gets a stray second or third team vote from a Miami writer or broadcaster.

I say this only because it seems a bit odd to lump Dragic and Thomas in the same category, when Thomas will likely be on the All-NBA Second Team (and possibly a top five MVP finisher) and Dragic is not even an All-Star. The voters certainly make mistakes (I am often critical of them) but I don't think that too many informed observers would place Thomas and Dragic in the same category now.

I don't rate Harden as high as many do but I have always classified him as an All-Star and I realize that in this system/this league he is an All-NBA performer (he almost made my All-NBA Third Team in 2013, his first year in Houston). So, I am an outlier with Harden--but I was ranking him 16th when the media had him eighth or 10th and now I am ranking him in the top 10-15 when the media have him in the top five, in contrast to you putting Dragic in the top 15 in the league (All-NBA) when GM surveys, All-NBA voting, All-Star voting, etc. often do not put Dragic in the top 10 at his position, much less top 15 overall.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 8:50:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

A week ago, I expected him to get a few votes but not make the team. He's been slumping lately, though, whether because of Waiters' absence or his foot injury (probably a little of both), which will hurt him. If the Heat make the playoffs, he'll still get a few votes.

Regardless of what you think of Dragic, he made an All-NBA team the season before they traded him, so he certainly counts for the purposes of the comment I made (namely, that the Suns traded away all their good assets for flotsam and jetsam).

If I were picking the All-NBA guards this year, I'd go Westbrook/Wall, Curry/DeRozan, then probably Harden/Thompson. I am aware this is not how things will shake out, but those would be my honest picks if the season ended today.

I have Dragic as the fifth or sixth best PG in the league in a virtual tie with Kyle Lowry. I think RWB/Wall/Curry/healthy Paul are all better than he is.

I do not think he is a top 3 PG in the league this season so I would not put him on the All-NBA team, and I don't recall saying he was a top 15 player (I would have to sit down and make a list).

However, he has made an All-NBA team in the past, and has presided over the greatest regular-season comeback in NBA history this season despite playing on the most injured team in the league (and with no All-Stars, All-NBAers, or All-Ders), so I certainly wouldn't be upset if he somehow made it. His numbers aren't as gaudy as say, Lillard's, but I'd posit that his impact is demonstrably greater.

As we've covered before, for me, their complete ineptness on defense disqualifies guys like Lillard/Thomas/Irving/Harden from being top-tier in my opinion. Some of those guys are better than Dragic on offense, but all other things being equal, I'd much rather have Goran on most teams*. All other things are not equal, so some of those teams are doing better (and some are doing worse), but on pure skillset I remain unconvinced that any of those players are better than he is.

*I would put Harden ahead of him for All-NBA purposes given their respective seasons, but I'd much rather have Goran in the playoffs, and in general. As you pointed out, I also think Houston would probably still be a 50+ win team with Dragic instead of Harden, assuming similar health.

Additionally, he has an effect on his teammates not captured by his assist numbers. I predicted before the season that the crappy journeyman players that joined the Heat would improve; indeed, all five of them (Babbitt, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, and Willie Reed) are having career-best seasons. You will say this is a coincidence, or credit it to the Miami staff (who do deserve some of the credit, for sure) although the same thing happened in PHX, and when those players decline absent Goran later on your will likewise claim it is a coincidence (even though it also happened with Phoenix).

So, TL;DR: I wouldn't put Dragic on the All-NBA team this specific season, but I still think he's the fifth best PG in the league, and the performance of both himself and his teammates this season is almost exactly what I predicted it to be (though of course I did not expect Miami to lead the league in injuries). I also certainly think he's better than Bledsoe, which was the context in which I mentioned him.

 
At Tuesday, March 28, 2017 8:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

You continuously belittle Harden's production by noting, and I quote from three posts up, that "he has the ball in his hands all of the time so of course his numbers are gaudy."

But of course, Harden does not have the ball in his hands any more than Westbrook does. According to NBA.com, they both possess the ball about the same amount each game (Harden is #1 at 9 minutes a game; Westbrook is #3 at 8.8 minutes per game, a grand total of 12 seconds difference).

Yet Westbrook's statistical accomplishments are apparently unimpeachable in your view, while Harden's are hardly worth anything.

This discrepancy in the way you judge the two players is of course but the smallest corner of your enormous bias. But it's worth pointing out nonetheless.

On a different subject, you've said many times that a team with Harden as its best player would never get past the first round in the playoffs. That's already happened of course, but you managed to deny reality that other time. Do you stand by that now? And is Harden the best player on his team this year?

 
At Wednesday, March 29, 2017 12:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Westbrook's usage rate is a matter of necessity; he has already demonstrated the willingness and ability to blend with another star while playing a major role in four WCF appearances (and one Finals appearance) in a six year stretch--unlike Harden, who wants to dominate the ball and prefers to be a solo act without any other stars by his side. The funny thing is that Westbrook's performance in the clutch this season raises the interesting question of whether the Thunder's problem in recent years, contrary to the media storyline, is that Durant should have been deferring to Westbrook as opposed to insisting on receiving the ball in isolations while Westbrook watched.

I have repeatedly stated that Harden is, at minimum, an All-Star level player, so your assertion that I am dismissing his numbers as "hardly worth anything" is patently absurd and only serves to conclusively prove your bias and your inability/unwillingness to actually take what I write at face value. You repeatedly misquote me. I would be very interested to see if you can find anywhere that I stated categorically that Harden would "never" win a first round series. What I actually have stated repeatedly is variations on the theme that a team with Harden as its best player will struggle to consistently advance past the first round. Harden has been in Houston for four full seasons and he has tallied three first round exits. So far, I have been right and I stand by that assertion.

"Consistently" could be generously interpreted as at least more than half of the time or more reasonably interpreted as a clear majority of the time. Either way, Harden already has three first round exits in Houston, so to refute my contention he needs at least three more playoff runs that do not end in the first round--without, of course, any more first round exits.

Like LeBron James, Harden has the coach and the supporting cast that he wants, so he is no position to complain that he does not have enough help. He rejected the opportunity to keep playing with Durant and Westbrook, so it will be ironic if either of those players' teams send the Rockets home; Westbrook's Thunder probably do not have enough weapons or commitment to defense but if they face the Rockets and can keep things reasonably close for three quarters then I like Westbrook over Harden in the fourth quarter.

Based on his stat line tonight versus the Warriors, Harden seems to be rounding into playoff form: 5-20 field goal shooting with six turnovers and his team outscored the Warriors by two when he was on the bench but were outscored by nine when he was in the game.

It will be a travesty if the media gives the MVP to Harden but it would not surprise me.

 
At Wednesday, March 29, 2017 5:58:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

"Beep, Harden's most likely going to finish top 3 in MVP for the 2nd time and make first-team all-nba for the 3rd time in his career. Do you think any of that would be remotely possible if he stayed in OKC?"

Of course not, he would probably gather all 6th man awards instead. But what does it matter in the grand scheme of things? And I mean rings here.

He chose money, glory, stat padding and accolades and that's OK, good for him. But Bryant, Jordan, Westbrook and the like prefer to win, so imho you can't possibly hint at similar mindset. I would tend to agree if you compared his mindset to that of Lebron James though, except Harden doesn't quit in playoffs as far as I can tell, but simply lacks talent in comparison. As for as his skills, he didn't much improve since leaving OKC and it's been a couple of years now. I think he's at his peak at the moment, and won't improve anymore.
He has much more talent and system that highlights it, more than any other "looter in the riot" so far, thus his regular season success and playoff failures.

 
At Wednesday, March 29, 2017 12:33:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

"Westbrook's Thunder probably do not have enough weapons or commitment to defense"

Really? I feel like outside of RWB himself their starting lineup are all pretty engaged/talented defenders. Gibson isn't the guy he used to be, but he's still solid, and Oladipo/Roberson/Adams are all well above average at their respective positions.

If anything, I think their problem against Houston would be your first point, getting enough offense out of those guys, not slowing the opposition (especially if they hide RWB on Ariza or if the matchup against his former teammate motivates him to be his best self on that end).

Now, yes, their bench lineups are gonna get nuked by Eric Gordon/Lou Williams, but in the playoffs how much is OKC really gonna play its bench anyway?

I'm not *quite* sure I'd pick OKC to win a potential series, but I'm certainly not sure I wouldn't, either.

 
At Wednesday, March 29, 2017 4:44:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

"It will be a travesty if the media gives the MVP to Harden but it would not surprise me."

David,
the award should be named Most Media Player. I think coaches and players only should vote for MVP (with exclusion of their teammates). The idea that anyone else (especially media members with agendas) could possibly have reasonable take on that is preposterous. Thus I don't value this popularity contest much, if at all.

 
At Wednesday, March 29, 2017 6:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Both Donovan and Westbrook have recently stated publicly that OKC is having problems defensively. That is not only true in general but it is also true specifically versus the Rockets, who almost scored 80 points in the first half versus OKC on Sunday.

 
At Wednesday, March 29, 2017 6:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

I agree completely with your first comment regarding Harden's priorities.

Regarding players voting for the MVP, we saw this season when the players voted for the All-Star team they did not always take the job very seriously and/or objectively. I am not sure what the best answer is; the players certainly know enough to make the right selections but do they care enough and can they overcome personal biases?

 
At Wednesday, March 29, 2017 8:44:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David:

Gotcha. Haven't watched any OKC lately, and wasn't aware of those comments. Last few times I watched them, starting lineup (minus RWB) played good D, bench stunk, they usually won anyhow.

And, yeah, they shouldn't be allowing 80 to anybody. Who was on Harden, do you remember? I'd assume Roberson, but I'd also assume he'd be able to slow him down at least a little bit. Or was Harden not the primary factor in the big half?

 
At Thursday, March 30, 2017 2:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Harden had a solid game (22 points, 12 assists) but the bulk of the scoring damage was done by Lou Williams (31 points, 7-8 three point shooting), Trevor Ariza (24 points, 6-8 three point shooting) and Eric Gordon (24 points, 4-9 three point shooting). Allowing those three players to shoot 17-25 from three point range is just awful.

Westbrook had 39 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds but every time he led a mini-run to make the score respectable the Rockets hit a few three pointers to retake command.

Successfully guarding the Rockets requires a commitment to stay in front of Harden and contest his shots without fouling while also staying attached to the Rockets' three point shooters. Harden shot 2-8 from three point range and 4-5 on free throws, which should be winning numbers for the opposing team.

It would be an understatement to say that collectively the Thunder did not properly execute whatever rotations they were supposed to execute on defense. We will probably always disagree about Westbrook's individual defense but I think that even you can concede that Westbrook could not possibly be primarily responsible for the disastrous numbers cited above; he could not be failing to guard all of those players at once.

An interesting thing about Westbrook is that even though he is fiery and gets technical fouls (like Bryant did at times and like Pippen did as well--perhaps my least favorite part of both of their games), he does not tend to go off on his teammates during games no matter how poorly they are playing. Bryant and Jordan would lash out publicly, while Pippen was very much an encourager (several of his teammates personally confirmed that to me, even saying that during film sessions he would take the blame for their mistakes).

 
At Thursday, March 30, 2017 2:24:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David:

Yeah, for sure. It's not RWB's job to cover the entire 3-pt line. I'm sure he wasn't defensively brilliant, either, but that's a team failing.

Weird. Earlier in the season they were a decently sharp defensive team. Maybe just worn down by big minutes/crappy bench?

I honestly think RWB is a pretty decent leader, with the caveat that he may not be ideal for guys who want the ball (*cough*Harden*cough*) more than he's willing to give it to them. My main gripe with him as a tippy-tippy-top guy is his relative performance on defense. To a much lesser extent, it'd be nice if he either shot fewer threes or made more of them. His turnovers are crazy high, but his workload is also unprecedented, so I'm not sure how hard to be on him for that, if at all.

There are other, smaller nits to pick, but they're really tiny nits and beside the point. Honestly, the only big wart on his game for me is his defense. Everything else are the same kind of warts just about any non-Pantheon (and a few Pantheon) level player has. Shaq couldn't make FTs, for example.

 
At Thursday, March 30, 2017 5:09:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

David,
regarding technical fouls there're other aspects as well. It takes the burden off their teammates, maybe even encourages them to play better by showing some passion. On the other hand some techs are questionable to laughable (Tim Duncan laughing on the bench, Rasheed staring at the official without a word), so it's hard to blame them. I'd dare to say Rasheed got quite a few of them due to his reputation more than anything he actually did, kind of "just in case".

 

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