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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rockets Outlast Thunder and Advance to the Second Round

The Houston-Oklahoma City series was like the movie Groundhog Day; everyone knew the plot but no one had the capacity to change it: Russell Westbrook almost single-handedly delivers the lead to his team, his team immediately squanders the lead when Westbrook rests and then an exhausted Westbrook tries valiantly (but inefficiently) to carry his flawed team to victory. The final result: Houston 105, Oklahoma City 99 in game five, meaning that the Rockets won the series four games to one.

Here are the numbers that really tell the story: Oklahoma City 22, Houston 16 in the first quarter before Westbrook takes a breather--and Houston 27, Oklahoma City 27 when Westbrook reenters the game. Houston led 51-44 at halftime and pushed that margin to 61-50 in the third quarter before Westbrook unleashed an incredible scoring barrage. When Westbrook finished, he had scored 20 points in the quarter and the Thunder were up 77-72. Westbrook sat for the first 2:45 of the fourth quarter and when he returned to action Houston led 86-81. The Thunder's best strategy when Westbrook sits is apparently to just accumulate 24 second shot clock violations, because running time off of the clock with neither team scoring would actually be more effective than permitting the opposition to race up and down the court to the tune of 14 points in less than three minutes. That 2:45 stretch of futility, projected over 48 minutes, works out to something on the order of 224-64!

Let's not forget these numbers, either: 47 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists. That was Westbrook's line on the road in an elimination playoff game. As I write these words, numerous "experts" are drafting articles to tell you just how poorly Westbrook supposedly played. I hope that anyone who visits this website is too smart to read that nonsense, let alone believe it.

The Thunder outscored the Rockets by 12 points when Westbrook was on the court and they were outscored by 18 points during the six minutes that Westbrook rested. Before anyone talks about Westbrook's fourth quarter shot selection, please mention that his starting small forward, Andre Roberson--the team's second leading scorer in this series--shot 14% from the free throw line in the series. In the waning moments of game five, Houston's star player James Harden was chasing Roberson to intentionally foul him and Roberson was trying to avoid being touched. It looked like a game of tag had broken out in the middle of the playoffs.

This series was billed as a battle between the two leading MVP candidates. By the end of the series, you could tell that even Houston's fans do not really believe that James Harden is the MVP. Sure, they serenaded him with the almost mandatory home crowd "MVP" chant but I don't think that I have ever heard a quieter or less enthusiastic such chant. It sounded like they were saying, "Yes, James, we love you and in our hearts you are our MVP but we know the real deal."

Harden had a playoff line that is fairly typical for him: 34 points on 8-25 field goal shooting and a -6 plus/minus number. Yes, sports fans, the Rockets were actually outscored while Harden was in the game. "Take that for data," as Coach Fizdale might say. This is not unusual for Harden's Houston career; we saw the same phenomenon during Houston's fluky run to the 2015 Western Conference Finals, which is why then-Coach Kevin McHale benched Harden with the season on the line in the fourth quarter of game six versus the L.A. Clippers. Harden shot 5-20 from the field in that game six and 7-20 from the field in game seven, so his 8-25 bricklaying in game five versus the Thunder should not surprise anyone. Rest assured that this "productivity" will continue in the second round but the outcome of the games will be different.

Harden is very talented--but if you watched this series and still believe that he is in any way a better basketball player than Russell Westbrook then there is something wrong with your understanding of basketball.

Westbrook averaged 37.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg and 10.8 apg in this series. The 6-3 point guard led both teams in those three categories. Harden averaged 33.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 7.0 apg while playing in a system tailor-made for him and while surrounded by an armada of shooters. Harden is bigger and stronger than Westbrook but Westbrook averaged 39 mpg while Harden averaged 37.4 mpg. Neither player shot particularly well from the field. When Westbrook sat, his team was immediately and decisively destroyed. When Harden sat, the Rockets sailed merrily along without missing a beat. Switch those two players and keep everything else the same and Westbrook's team would have won in a sweep with each game decided by double digits; put Westbrook in D'Antoni's system and surround him with shooters and the possibilities are mind-boggling: 35 ppg and 15 apg is not out of the question.

The amazing thing is that even though the Thunder are almost completely inept when Westbrook sits they may actually be just one player away from winning 55-60 games and being a legit contender; based on what we saw in this series, if the Thunder had one player who could either create his own shot or create good shots for role players while Westbrook sits for 12-15 mpg then Westbrook could play 34-36 mpg at optimum efficiency. It is apparent that Westbrook is not prime Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or LeBron James in terms of stamina but that is understandable considering that those guys are between 6-6 and 6-8, while Westbrook is 6-3. I tend to be skeptical that a 6-3 player can lead a team to a title--and the few guards in that size range who led teams to the Finals did not shoulder the responsibilities ("usage rate," in modern parlance) that Westbrook does.

That being said, Westbrook is unique and it is silly to assert that a player who can average 30-10-10 in 34 mpg cannot lead a team to a title. Westbrook just needs one teammate who can competently run the offense for a few minutes and who can take pressure off of Westbrook when they are on the court together.

Congratulations to the Rockets; you struggled to put away a deeply flawed team that many people did not even expect to make the playoffs in the first year after Kevin Durant's departure. The reward for beating the Thunder will likely be a showdown with the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs will not repeatedly foul Harden beyond the three point line, nor will the Spurs go through huge scoring droughts. However, Harden will likely again struggle to shoot better than .400 from the field and for the second consecutive series he will likely be outplayed by an MVP candidate (Kawhi Leonard).

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:43 AM

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99 Comments:

At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 3:27:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Westbrook put up one of the greatest seasons of all-time and it unfortunately ended early. At least he went down swinging. You are correct in saying that he is not Jordan, Kobe, or LeBron. I'm not entirely convinced that he isn't playing at a level of let's say, Jerry West in his prime though. However it's hard to compare him to guys like that. How do you think this team would have done if replaced by the Pantheon perimeter players? I'm not sure if any of those guys would have won this series though a bigger player like LeBron could have made it more competitive perhaps.

It's funny that you say the Thunder are 1 player away from winning 55-60 games. Would that player be... Kevin Durant? Check this out - the main rotation for OKC in the playoffs last year was:

Kevin Durant
Russell Westbrook
Serge Ibaka
Steven Adams
Dion Waiters
Andre Roberson
Enes Kanter
Randy Foye

4 guys from that rotation are still on this team. The difference? Durant, Ibaka, Waiters, and Foye. Let's call Waiters/Foye and Oladipo a wash. The absence of Durant and Ibaka is staggering. I really hope that the Thunder's management can pull off some offseason moves to upgrade this roster. They aren't getting anyone to bring what Durant (a MVP) brought, but hopefully they can get close. The Warriors are annihilating teams without Durant. They didn't necessarily need him for the team. They needed him off the Thunder to prevent them from potentially terrorizing the Western Conference for the next few years. It's sad that he left this team in shambles and it speaks volumes about his character and competitive spirit.

Westbrook is a winner and he deserves a team around him that can help him compete for championships and I hope that one day his critics can appreciate his game. Kobe's retirement was a sad day for me because he along with Bill Russell and Larry Bird are ultimately my favorite players of all-time in some kind of order. Russell Westbrook has joined that group for me.

I also hope that the Harden vs Westbrook debate is over even though there shouldn't have been one in the first place. Harden is not a superstar in this league if the refs are not giving him those garbage calls. It is not hyperbole when I say that he is literally the biggest offensive fraud in basketball today and maybe of all-time. Here is a telling stat that I've not seen anyone talk about. If you look at all of the all-star perimeter players in recent memory, only James Harden has had more made Free Throws per game than made Field Goals in a season. Literally - look it up. I cannot remember finding one season by any perimeter player that had more made free throws per game than made field goals and yet Harden has done it every year that he has been a starter. He plays to get fouls and I hate watching him play basketball.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 11:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kyle, regardless of what you like/dislike is moot and shouldn't affect how you or anyone else evaluates a player. The way Harden plays is very smart and very efficient. I don't know what calls you referring to. I didn't really see any bad calls in favor of Harden during the series, and he doesn't get anymore than any superstar would. RW got his fair share of 'cheap' calls, too. A lot of the fouls Harden draws look cheap, but he knows how to draw them, and upon replay, they are clearly fouls. I lost track how many times I saw Roberson or Gibson complaining about a call, and then when seeing the replay, they clearly committed the foul. Lou Williams does similar actions. Maybe from an aesthetic point of view it isn't good, but it's smart basketball. FTs are the easiest way to score points. That stat you brought is actually not really a bad thing. Interesting way to spin it.

RW's inability to play high enough minutes as most superstars in the past have been able to play cost his team. He had a tremendous series, but 39mpg for the series wasn't good enough. I still don't know why he can't play more minutes. His body must not be up for the challenge. That's a problem with smaller players.

The main problem with OKC when RW goes out is their defense, not their offense. Their offense surely does struggle, but OKC is giving up video-game like scoring when he sits, and that's primarily due to the other starters, who are all good defensive players, sitting at similar times RW is sitting. That's a big problem. Adams/Oladipo's minutes needed to be staggered. If RW is out, then Adams and/or Roberson need to be in the game every minute RW sits.

David, RW struggled again shooting in game 5(15-34) particuarly in the 4th(2-11). He kept shooting dumb shots in the 4th, as Nick as alluded to. His shooting was much worse than Harden's for the series. If it is silly to assert a player averaging 30/10/10 cannot lead a team to a title, isn't it also silly to assert a player averaging 29/8/11 while being quite a bit bigger and much more efficient cannot also do the same?

It's interesting how poorly you write about Harden still. He averaged 33/6/7 on very efficient shooting for the series, only had one subpar 30-point game, and played half the series with a bum ankle. Harden also went against a much better defense than RW was going against. He had Roberson on him 99% of the time, while RW often had Gordon/Williams guarding him. Beverley/Roberson are both all-nba caliber defensive team players, but Roberson is much bigger. Roberson's taller than Harden. RW is bigger than Beverley, and can overpower him much easier than if he had a taller player on him.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

A few quick closing thoughts:

* RWB is obviously much better than Harden, but Harden probably suits the team he's on better than RWB does.

* Many of these posts have been comparing RWB to Kobe or Jordan, but from my point of view the more apt comparison would be someone like Allen Iverson- a hyper competitive and undeniably talented volume scorer who ultimately just isn't efficient enough to do it all alone.

* I am undecided if RWB is the kind of guy who could be the best player on a title-winning team. On a perfectly assembled roster with six to seven supporting players who all play good defense and shoot 40% from 3, and at least one who can run the offense when he sits, absolutely, but that is probably an unrealistic scenario. It will be interesting to see if his game changes as he ages/gets better help; Kobe and Jordan did not win titles in their most statistically dominant seasons, and it is conceivable that RWB's career may follow a similar arc. I don't ultimately think it will- Kobe and Jordan were lightyears ahead of RWB as defenders, and considerably more efficient, and OKC is poorly equipped to meaningfully upgrade the roster in the next couple years before RWB's athleticism declines (though of course he may modify his game to compensate for that decline and extend his window).

* Much has been made of how useless RWB's teammates were, but given that he shot 39% for the series it is hard not to wonder what things would have looked like if he'd focused more on setting them up/letting them run post-ups or what have you to save some gas for the fourth. RWB is the best or second-best passer in the league, but his preference has always been to score; I wonder what a more pass-first version of RWB would look like/be capable of.

* The one thing Enes Kanter is supposed to be able to do is score, but he shot 38% against a bunch of decent-not-great opposing bigs. He's also probably the worst defensive big man in the playoffs. Worst contract in the league?

* Oladipo played fairly well at home and abominably on the road. Still, he showed flashes, and can probably grow into a legitimate fringe-star. He probably doesn't make a ton of sense in this version of OKC's offense though (where he's mostly used as a floor spacer despite not being an especially good one), and would be better suited on a more motion/cut oriented offense. He's probably OKC's most interesting trade chip, and the only one besides Adams with much if any value (albeit probably less than he had before the playoffs).

* Related to many of the above points: if OKC is to improve without upgrading the roster, they're going to need to start running a lot more plays and a lot fewer ISOs/single action PnRs. This isn't a knock on RWB; their role players just aren't the kinda guys who thrive in that scenario. Running more sets to turn Adams/Oladipo/etc. into factors on the offensive end would help take some of the load/defensive attention off Russ, and likely bump up his FG% in the doing, even if his shot attempts stayed the same.

* Pat Beverly is a lot better than his contract.

* Houston is almost certainly mincemeat against whoever they play next.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 12:05:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Forgot to mention:

* Great series for the Brazilian Karl Malone (his words, not mine). He probably got himself overpaid for the next 3-4 years on those last three or four games. The Carteiro delivers, at least in Texas and Oklahoma.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 4:03:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Anonymous:

Not once have I ever said that Harden doesn't play "smart" basketball. It certainly is "smart" and "efficient" to bait the referees into calling a foul for you on every single play. It certainly is "smart" and "efficient" to cock your head back and flail your arms on pretty much every possession regardless if you're actually looking to score. If that is "smart" and "efficient" then I need to reevaluate if "smart" and "efficient" basketball actually wins championships.

"I didn't really see any bad calls in favor of Harden during the series, and he doesn't get anymore than any superstar would." ... I'm not sure if we watch the same basketball games.

"That stat you brought is actually not really a bad thing. Interesting way to spin it." ... When a stat of yours is different from EVERY other prolific perimeter player and can be clearly be pointed to as a reason why you under perform in the playoffs and be viewed as overrated by intelligent basketball minds then you are either:

A.) Incredibly unique, misunderstood, and concrete evidence can be found that this trait wins championships.
or
B.) Not a superstar perimeter player.

You choose.

"RW's inability to play high enough minutes as most superstars in the past have been able to play cost his team. He had a tremendous series, but 39mpg for the series wasn't good enough. I still don't know why he can't play more minutes. His body must not be up for the challenge." ... If that's what you got from this season and this series then good for you.

While the Thunder were pretty mediocre on defense at times this season and during this series, their lack of a quality 2nd play-maker was the bigger reason they lost. Revisit the 2015 series where LeBron and the Cavs lost to the Warriors. Regardless of how much defense they played, they did not have a 2nd quality play-maker to make the series more competitive.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 4:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's interesting we're talking about RW being able to lead a team to a title, and he was the best player in the nba during the regular season, and even though he shot like garbage in the playoffs and had several forgettable 4th quarters, he played extremely well overall. I think it's pretty obvious he could, but his track record as 'the man' isn't very good, but neither is Leonard's. RW's size is a problem for him being able to play high enough minutes, but give him comparable casts to any star player he faces in the playoffs, and I'd expect him to at least come very close to winning any of these series at worst.

Pretty much the only player in the nba that looks like he would be the best player on a title team under fairly normal circumstances is James. And James has a much easier route to the Finals playing in the East and has always had a very good cast for awhile now. Curry was the best player on GS in 2015, but his body seems to break down every postseason and Iggy certainly outplayed him in the Finals, not to mention GS was and still is an all-star team(not a normal circumstance), a luxury no other #1 guy has. Durant has only made 1 Finals, and that's when he had 2 future MVP candidates as teammates. In the 4 seasons after their 2012 while playing with RW, they've failed to reach the Finals. RW in his 2 years as 'the man' has missed the playoffs and lost 4-1 in the 1st round. Though if OKC were in the East and they didn't have to face CLE until the WCF at the earliest, I'd expect them to make the WCF.

It's interesting that HOU beating OKC 4-1 here is being downplayed so much. MEM is a more flawed team than OKC is, and SA is struggling more to put them away than HOU did with OKC. If you squint really hard, MEM has maybe 6-7 reliable guys, and 40yo Vince Carter is their 4th best player.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 4:35:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

Westbrook is better than Iverson and Iverson has said so himself. He is a far better all-around player and that's not up for discussion. I was a huge Iverson fan during him prime and watched many of his games.

Westbrook can be described as:
1.) A smaller 80s Michael Jordan with lesser defense, but better rebounding and more willing passing.
or
2.) A smaller, more aggressive LeBron with a lesser basketball IQ and probably not as gifted passing.

I question why you believe that Westbrook cannot win a championship as the best player on a team when many believed that he was the best player on the Thunder last year. They were one game away from their 2nd trip to the NBA finals. It's funny because many believed that 80s Jordan could not win as the best player on a team... until he did. Many believed that Kobe could not win without Shaq... until he did. The question is not if he can win, but if the Thunder can get him some help before he declines.

A pass first Westbrook would not have been in the sixth seed so your question is moot. Westbrook's 30 point triple double average is the only reason they are a playoff team in the first place. Pass first players excel on teams with quality scoring options. This team does not have any outside of him. Pretty much no one whom watched more than a handful of OKC games this year is asking this question.

"Oladipo played fairly well at home and abominably on the road. Still, he showed flashes, and can probably grow into a legitimate fringe-star" ... I literally laughed out at this. He is a quality sixth/seventh man at best as I keep saying. Go to any forum with a lot of informed Magic fans or Thunder fans and they will vehemently disagree with you. You do not sound as if you watched more than a handful of games that he's played in.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 7:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

Re: Iverson or Jordan

I would take RWB over Iverson, but I think he's much closer to Iverson than he is to Jordan. You clearly disagree, but Jordan was one of the best defenders in the league, a more efficient scorer (who could score in a lot more ways), and a competent rebounder and gifted (albeit not RWB level) passer. RWB is at best unremarkable on defense, and at worse actively hurting his team (as you've not doubt noticed, opinion on this differs); given that Jordan is a contender for the greatest defender of all-time at his position while also being the greatest offensive player of all-time at his position, I rank RWB as much closer to Iverson- a dynamic offensive supernova, but not an all-time two-way factor.

I do not think it is simple to say that RWB is a more willing passer than Jordan (and certainly the title-winning version of Jordan) was. Their positions and roles are different, and RWB as a PG with no secondary ball handler certainly makes *more* passes as a function of being his team's only initiator, but I do not know that he makes as smart of ones. Jordan famously made Finals-determining passes to John Paxon and Steve Kerr; RWB struggled to bring himself to pass to Kevin Durant in crunch time.

Sadly, we do not have player tracking data that gets as granular from Jordan's era, so I can't see for sure how many passes he made per game/how many touches he got. My suspicion is that he probably passed on a similar or higher percentage of his touches to RWB, but I can't prove that.


Re: Best player on a team

I mentioned in my comment that with the perfect team around him he could. I think is is unlikely he gets that team, and I think he may be somewhat more difficult to build around than most "best guy on a title team" type players, given his preferred style of play. I also disagree that he was the best player on OKC last year, or any year before this year (though I do think he was better this year than last).

Re: Oladipo

Condescension aside, I stand by my analysis. He's a very athletic player with a high (though heretofore unreached) skill ceiling, and he (usually) plays hard on both ends. I don't write off third-year players unless they're truly awful, and Oladipo was far from that. You've talked quite a bit about how OKC's lack of shooting hurts RWB's FG%, and I agree, but the same is true of Oladipo; the paint is packed for everyone on that team, and Oladipo is miscast as a perimeter gunner. He'd be much better off filling a role similar to Chicago era Luol Deng; a jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none type who thrives as an off-ball threat cutting to the hoop or coming off screens to pop a quick midrange jumper, and can serve as functional secondary ball handler for an offense already in motion.

He is not a primary ball handler type (as Orlando tried to use him) and he is at least not yet the 40% shooter he'd need to be to be especially effective in his current role. His overall skillset, however, remains strong.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

Obviously if the Thunder had Durant--and reasonably good health--they would win 55-60 games. My point was that with the way Westbrook is playing now all the Thunder really need is a bona fide number two option who is also capable of running the offense for 12-15 mpg while Westbrook rests. If OKC traded anyone on their roster (other than Westbrook, of course) for Lou Williams, OKC would have swept Houston.

Westbrook is now like prime Kobe, though their playing styles differ. What I mean is that both players can lift garbage supporting casts to the playoffs and can take good but not great supporting casts deep into the playoffs.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

All of the following are true regarding Harden/fouls in the Hou-OKC series:

1) When Harden drives, he often flops/flails/entangles his arm with the defender's and then throws his head back as if he has been shot. Sometimes the refs fall for this nonsense and sometimes they don't. When they don't, Harden looks very silly and he is not particularly effective. For whatever reason, the refs did not fall for this stuff as much in the first quarter of these games as they did in the fourth quarter. I will not speculate about why that might be the case but I know what I saw.

2) OKC committed some incredibly dumb fouls against both Harden and Lou Williams. As I have said many times before, the correct way to guard Harden is with "high hands." Don't reach and don't give Harden the chance to try nonsense.

3) Houston, from the owner to the coach to the players, complained about a large number of calls that were clearly and indisputably correct. Jeff Van Gundy talked about this and even asked retired ref Steve Javie if players lose credibility with such complaints.

Westbrook occasionally flops--usually on three pointers late in the game if his team is trailing, kind of as a desperation move--and I don't like it but it is not a regular part of his repertoire.

Both teams complained a little too much for my taste but Houston whines more than just about any team in the league--and with less justification.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:28:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

We agree. I was just pointing out that it's funny that we always say a team is 1 guy away from contention when really they just had that guy. While we agree that Lou Williams being on OKC would have been a quick sweep, I'm thinking more in terms of OKC landing a legit fringe all-star level talent to go with Westbrook ala Gasol to the Lakers. Lou Williams would only make the Thunder the 3rd best team in the West.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Westbrook averaged 38.9 mpg in this series, more than any other player on either team. The notion that he is hurting his team because he does not play enough minutes is ludicrous. Perhaps this issue has some relevance if you want to compare Westbrook to peak Jordan and peak Bryant but it is not relevant when comparing Westbrook to his peers, all of whom he vastly outperformed this season.

Harden averaged 37.4 mpg in this series. In his eight playoff seasons, he averaged less than 38.9 mpg in six of them and his playoff career mpg average is 34.3 mpg.

Westbrook's playoff career mpg average in seven appearances is 37.8 mpg. Westbrook has been to the Conference Finals four times.

So, even if I bought the nonsense that you are selling, it would not help you when trying to diminish Westbrook compared to Harden.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:35:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

I'm not sure why my 2nd comment looks like a big wall of text. I'm adding it again with the proper spacing...

Anonymous:

Russell Westbrook's shot selection in the 4th quarter was due to a combination of fatigue, frustration, and a lack of other scoring options on his team. Has he always had the greatest shot selection? No. However, it did not help that him launching up contested 3s was sometimes the best available shot.

Speaking of their stat lines - Westbrook averaged 31.6/10.7/10.4 for the season and during the series he averaged 37.4/11.6/10.8. On the other hand - Harden averaged 29.1/8.1/11.2 for the season and 33.2/6.4/7.0 for the series. Westbrook's number actually increased during the series while Harden's declined.

Now the casual fan would point to Harden's increased PPG. Make no mistake about it - it's fluff. He averaged 10.9 free throw attempts during the season and made 9.2 of them per game. During the series in which he received more garbage calls - he averaged 14.6 attempts per game and made 13.2 of them. There are those 4 extra points.

Westbrook got 2 more points per game from his free throws. That's still leaves an extra 3 points per game that his points per game increased by. Last time I checked, when a player's stats stay the same or significantly increase in the playoffs, he showed up to play. However, when a player's stats significantly decrease in the playoffs then he did not play to his expectations based on what he did during the regular season or his regular season stats were fluffed in the first place. I say that loosely because there have been a few documented cases where that is not necessarily true. However, this isn't one of them. Harden plays in a system that increases stats and he cashed in his benefits during the regular season. He is not a player that can effectively put up those numbers in the playoffs and still help his team win games. Westbrook gets his calls too where he's looking to get fouled and so does pretty much every other star player. I'm not a fan when he does it, but it isn't nearly as flagrant or consistent like Harden.

You say that Harden played against a better defense, but Harden did not have to go 1 on 3 most of the time because of his lack of shooters. Westbrook's greatest asset in his scoring is driving to the basket. The Rockets took that away from him by packing the paint because the Thunder do not have quality shooters to stretch the floor. Harden was able to drive pass Roberson pretty much any time he beat him off the dribble because the Thunder's defense could not leave the Rocket's shooters spacing the floor.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

My stated position has always been that for an elite perimeter player to lead his team to a title he should shoot at least .450 from the field. Both Westbrook and Harden fall short in that regard. The question then becomes does either player do other things well enough to compensate?

Westbrook posts 30-10-10 triple doubles over the course of an entire season and during a playoff series while facing a team who could focus their entire defense on him because he did not have a viable supporting cast. I consider him a net positive defender. Based on those factors, I believe that Westbrook could be the best player on a championship team even if he does not improve his shot selection and/or shooting percentage. Should he improve both? Of course, but that will be difficult to accomplish with his present supporting cast.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

If you think that Mem is more "flawed" than OKC then you need immediate drug testing.

Other than Westbrook, name one OKC player who would crack Mem's playoff rotation.

I agree that Mem is "flawed" but Mem actually has legitimate players in its rotation.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:49:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

Do you think that the Pantheon guards: Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Oscar, West could have won this series if in Westbrook's position? What about the Pantheon forwards (a little harder to compare)?

As far as the guards, the questions I find myself asking are:
1.) Magic - could he score enough?
2.) West - he's actually smaller than Westbrook at 6-2 185lbs.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Last two points about minutes:

1) Westbrook ranked eighth in the NBA in minutes played in 2016-17. He does not play as many minutes as Kobe and MJ did but the NBA has a different attitude about minutes now. For this era, Westbrook is an iron man, both in terms of minutes and in terms of not missing many games (other than when Beverley took a cheap shot to Westbrook's knee in the playoffs in 2013). Westbrook has led the league in games played four times and in three other seasons he played 82, 81 and 80 games. He missed games in 2014 and 2015 at least in part due to the aftermath of Beverley's cheap shot/the recovery from that injury.
2) Westbrook rarely misses games and when he is on the court he is rarely if ever in what LeBron would call "chill mode." I would rather have 81 or 82 games of Westbrook at slightly reduced minutes then 75 games of him at whatever you consider to be non-reduced minutes.

 
At Wednesday, April 26, 2017 8:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Regarding Harden being "hobbled," I have played basketball for decades, covered it for almost 20 years and once worked as a licensed personal trainer. Obviously I did not examine Harden personally but I did not see any evidence that his range of motion, explosiveness or mobility were impaired in any way. I can guarantee you that, however hobbled Harden might be, Westbrook and every other rotation player in the series was equally hobbled at this point in the season.

This was probably one of the better series of Harden's playoff career and yet everything we saw reinforced my analysis of his game: his team often does better when he sits (which is very unusual for a supposed MVP candidate) and in every playoff series he has multiple games in which he shoots poorly, turns over the ball too frequently and does not contribute enough in other areas to balance out those deficiencies.

I predicted that as long as Harden was his team's best player his team would not consistently advance past the first round. He has been in Houston for five years and has lost in the first round three times. Unless you define consistently in a very strange way, I was right.

Your retelling of Westbrook's resume is bizarre. Westbrook has been the best or second best player on four WCF teams during a six year run. Only injuries prevented that from possibly being six for six. Harden was the best player on one WCF team and he was benched or ineffective during key stretches of that run. Over the course of a decade, a large number of teams make one CF appearance but that does not mean that those teams were really contenders. Let's see if Harden ever makes it back to the WCF as his team's best player. In the unlikely event that it happens, he almost certainly will be riding the bench in the key moments on the way there.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle_

"Do you think that the Pantheon guards: Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Oscar, West could have won this series if in Westbrook's position? What about the Pantheon forwards (a little harder to compare)?"

Oh man, these kind of questions are catnip to me.

Jordan- Yeah, he's winning. None of Houston's guards are big enough to handle his post game, and he's lightyears ahead of RWB as a defender. He'd probably switch onto Harden in the fourth and straight up turn him off, which frees up Roberson to contain at least one of the Gordon/Williams two-headed monster. Probably wins in a sweep.

Magic- This is the one I'm least sure about. His size would be a massive problem for HOU inside, and he's getting those OKC role-players as many easy buckets as they can take (especially Adams). On the other hand, he's not the guy to stay in front of any of HOU's guards, so they'd probably have to switch defensively onto Ariza. I think they probably win- he's not getting RWB's 37 on 30 or whatever, but he's probably getting 27 on 18 and averaging 15-17 assists- but it's close, and if HOU can figure out ways to force him onto Harden/Williams/Gordon defensively, they might be able to nuke him. Ultimately, I think a Magic-run offense is a lot more efficient than an RWB run one, even if his personal scoring output is lower, and they squeak by in 7.

Kobe- Might depend if his three ball is falling. He's got an almost Jordan-level post game, but it was definitely possible to bait him into his share of dumb 3s, and teams that had success against him in the playoffs tended to use a similar scheme to HOU's (packing the paint) and daring him to shoot over people from outside. That said, he's also a great defender and most of what I said about Jordan on D applies here, only slightly less so. I say he wins in 6 or 7.

Oscar- Another tough one. He has the post-game that RWB lacks, but he didn't have an outside shot (though he might if he played in an era with 3s), and he wasn't the same kind of transformative defender that Jordan or Kobe is. He's big, but not as big as Magic, I feel like he might take a swing at Patrick Beverly after four games. I think he loses in 7, but wouldn't die on that hill.

West- He would annihilate this Houston team. Their entire strategy was to pack the paint, but Jerry was a lights-out shooter. He's also one of the very short list of guys who've shown they can average 40 in a playoffs series without too much trouble/loss of efficiency. Throw in a three-point line and a hand-check rule and he's feasting on these guys. Patrick Beverly is a great defender, but West had monster series against KC Jones and Walt Frazier, among others, so I don't think Bev is gonna be able to stop him. He's not *quite* the rebounder RWB is, but he's still a way above average one for his position. His APG aren't quite at RWB's level, but that's equally a function of assists being tougher to record in his era and his sharing possessions with Baylor/Goodrich. On top of that, he's one of the 10 or 15 best defensive guards of all time, and a surprisingly good shot-blocker for his size (by all accounts; they weren't really tracked in his career). This HOU team is especially poorly conceived to deal with him, and he probably wins in a sweep.

1/2 Forwards incoming

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Forwards-

Baylor- His game was pretty similar to Russ', albeit with a bit more of a post game/more rebounding, and no 3 point line to be seduced by. He was bigger than Russ, though, which would have been tough for Houston. He's too strong for any of their defenders, at least in my prime, and he probably puts up similar scoring and superior rebounding numbers to Russ. He wasn't super efficient by today's standards, but he wasn't inefficient for his era, and under modern rulesets (and against this particular team) I feel pretty confident he could shoot in the neighborhood of .450. He wasn't a special defender, but at his position vs. HOU wouldn't really need to be. Still, the packed paint strategy *could* conceivably work on him, so it probably comes down to whether or not he's getting to the line. I'll say he wins in 6, but could probably be convinced.

Doc- Yeah, he kills these guys. He's a more efficient Baylor who can shoot from further out (though he certainly wasn't a deep range deadeye, he could make 'em when open at least) and plays superhuman defense. He had a post game he could use to bully all of HOU's perimeter players and even a few of their bigs (he'd destroy Anderson inside), he was a monstrous rebounder when he needed to be, and while he never put up RWB type assist numbers he probably could if he had to (he was lucky enough to always play with a competent PG, which in this scenario OKC would not have). He could lock down Harden in the fourth if need be, and was an awesome help shot blocker besides, which might slow down some of what Williams and Gordon were doing. I take him in a sweep.

Bird- Similar to West, he'd nuke this Houston defense. If they try to pack the paint, he'll just rain threes on them. If they change it up and try and more traditional defense, he can abuse Ariza inside with his post game and next-level passing. He's got all the same advantages Magic had in this matchup, but the long ball is a critical addition. He's again not a defensive killing machine (at least not on the order of Jordan or West), but he's a decent one, and it matters less against this Houston team at the forward position than it does at the guard. Sweep.

Lebron- He's better than RWB at literally everything, doesn't get tired, and can throw up triple doubles whenever he feels like it. Houston doesn't have anybody who can guard him even a little bit, and he's got a proven track record of producing even when his supporting cast is meh (2007). He's shooting well enough from three this year that packing the paint isn't a viable option, and even when that shot's not falling he's beaten plenty of better defensive teams employing similar strategies. That said, he doesn't always take things as seriously as he ought to, so he could potentially drop a game. For whatever reason, he tends not to have those lapses in the first round, though, so I'm saying a sweep, but wouldn't be shocked if he dropped game 3 or 4 due to lack of focus.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 4:12:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

I may be thinking short sighted here, but I think you overestimated the abilities of some of the Pantheon players.

Jordan - Depends on which Jordan we're talking about here, but no one on the Rockets is stopping him. No one. However, even if he averaged 45 points, Jordan is not making anyone better on the Thunder than Westbrook did. I'd argue that Jordan was even more selfish than Westbrook. The worst roster he ever played with was probably one of those mid 80s teams and Jordan had virtually no success albeit he did play the Celtics twice. Orlando Woolridge was a far better offensive player than any player on the Thunder and Doug Collins as a coach is leagues better than Billy Donovan. 90s Jordan is a different story, but there is no evidence of Jordan being successful without Pippen or Phil so again I am not convinced that he could overcome the talent difference between the Thunder and the Rockets. At best the Thunder lose in 7, but I doubt he'd get that far. It's laughable to think they'd sweep the Rockets.

Kobe - Same. The coaching disparity between Phil and Donovan is Grand Canyon massive. Lamar Odom, thought inconsistent, is far better than player on the Thunder. It's not close. He averaged 19 points against that Suns team. Kobe would average 40+ and guard whomever, but is still losing in 7 at best, but I again doubt he'd get that far.

Magic - Very hard to analyze here. He never played on a bad team. Magic's talent was making the guys around him better. Easily a better play-maker and post player than Russell. Here's the thing though - Magic played with at least one hall of famer every year of his career. The most points he averaged during a playoff run was 25. The most assists was 15 a game, but that was on those loaded mid 80s teams. He averaged 12 on the early 90s Lakers and that's with James Worthy on the team. I'm very confident in saying that Magic is not averaging significantly more assists than Russell did and obviously won't come close to the points. His post game is not going to kill the Rockets anymore than Russell's penetration because the Thunder do not have good shooters. The Rockets win in 5.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 4:44:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

It's a little harder to compare these two because they played in completely different era's so anything we say is far more speculatory than the other guards.

Oscar - During his prime, in the playoffs, his averages were 30/9/9. Like Russell, he was not renowned for outside shooting and defense. Unlike Russell, he played a slower game. Like Magic, his post game will not be any more effective than Russell's penetration was because the Thunder have no shooters. I am not going to pretend that I know a lot about those 60s Cinncy Royals because I am not old enough to have watched them. What I do know is that in each of their runs, they had at least 4 players other than Oscar score in double digits. How much of that is due Oscar's play-making and the faster pace style of play back in the 60s I am unsure. However, Jack Twyman and Jerry Lucas are both Hall of Famers - far better than anyone on this Thunder team. The leading scorer on this Thunder team was Andre Roberson whom is a prime candidate for the worst shooting perimeter player of all-time at 11.6ppg and an extremely inconsistent Victor Oladipo at 10.8ppg. Oscar is not doing anything of relevance that Russell did not.

West - Easily the best jump shooter of these guys and far better defender than Russell. He could put 40+ on these Rockets. Russell is a better rebounder and it is arguable who is the better play-maker, but I'm going to lean towards Russell. I'll give West the same chance as Jordan and Kobe - at best he could get it to 7, but the Rockets may close them out earlier.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 5:07:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Call me crazy, but I think the player that has the best shot of winning this series is an engaged LeBron.

I don't think Doc or Baylor are as good scorers, play-makers, or defenders as Jordan and Kobe so I don't need to waste time explaining why they aren't winning this series.

Bird never played with as bad as a team as the Thunder. I don't recall him averaging this many points over a series.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 6:03:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

A think there are two or three key things that dictate our disagreements here:

1) I think you think the Rockets are a lot better than I do. They were able to win because they were able to limit RWB's efficiency (particularly when Beverly was on him), but three of their four wins were narrow victories. Replace RWB with a more efficient player, and even if they don't shoot his volume- let's say they take twenty shots instead of thirty- those other ten possessions are not automatic write-offs; OKC as a team had an O-RTG of 89 with RWB on the bench during this series. Even if we assume those ten possession are at that crater efficiency (they wouldn't be; having those Pantheon guys just on the court during those ten possessions attracts a lot of defensive attention), it's still about 9 points on top of whatever that player produces (and West/Kobe/Jordan/Baylor would all likely still outscore RWB, as might Doc/Oscar/Lebron).

2) I think I care more about defense in this case than you do. Those Pantheon players don't necessarily need to match RWB's offensive numbers if they bring something to the table defensively; I think it's exceedingly likely that most if not all of them would contest considerably more than the 5 shots per game RWB contested in this series. Several of them could likely have ruined Harden's good nights, or at least his fourth quarters, and almost all of them would have performed better containing Beverly/Gordon/Williams/whomever. In a related story, it's not a big deal if Jordan gets, say, five fewer rebounds than Russ if he also forces eight more misses and/or turnovers*.

*If we're getting into this sort of math, it's also worth noting that OKC's scheme calls for everybody else to box out for Russ on rebounds (justifiable; their offense is arguably best when he's going coast to coast). Assuming the same scheme, it is likely most of the Pantheon guys would see higher-than-their-usual rebounding returns.

3) A combination of the above: I think you overestimate that Rockets defense. It was well-suited to containing RWB (particularly with Beverly on the court) but is not a top-to-bottom great defense (18th in the league). They have no elite rim protection, and their only All-Defensive caliber player is too small to guard most of the Pantheon players (and the only guy smaller than RWB is a lights-out shooter). They allowed a very limited OKC team whose best player was shooting in the 30s to score 104 points per game; guys like Doc/Jordan/West/Bird could conceivably have averaged 40 on 50% (or 50% TS in Bird/West's cases) while still taking way fewer shots than RWB did.

1/2

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 6:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Ultimately, Houston's defensive strategy was to pack the paint and dare RWB to either jack up perimeter shots he can't make or drive one-on-three, but the only Pantheon guys that might take that bait are probably Jordan (who was so deadly he could go one on three and still score efficiently) or Kobe (who could conceivably get hot from range and torpedo the whole strategy). What are they going to do against someone like West or Bird?

I also disagree that OKC's lack of shooting precludes the efficacy of Jordan/Doc/Magic/etc's post-games. OKC may not have shooters, but they're packed with great cutters, and all those Pantheon type guys are great at hitting their cutters. If you double Magic or Bird in the paint, they'll simply pass over your guard or around your center to a streaking whomever. If you double Kobe or Jordan at the elbow, they can similarly find a teammate working downhill. RWB doesn't have a meaningful back-to-basket game, so HOU didn't need to worry about that high-post or low-post playmaking; theirs was a defense structure to challenge penetration.

Basically, I think all of the Pantheon guys had an asset- be it size, perimeter shooting, or a back-to-basket option- that would have somewhat mitigated HOU's defensive gameplan, and most of them are significantly better defenders than Russ besides. Obviously I do not think it would be a walkover for several of them (and some may even lose), but the Rockets are ultimately not all that good, and I think the greatest guards and forwards of all time could probably carve up a Mike D'Antoni defense more or less at will, and could certainly score easily enough against defensive units featuring James Harden/Ryan Anderson/Eric Gordon/Lou Williams/etc.

The Rockets are *not* the same teams that beat Jordan or Kobe in their various playoff defeats. Even trying to compare apples to apples with a D'Antoni team, the mid 2000s Suns that beat Kobe a few times would absolutely nuke this Houston team. They're a very vulnerable 3 seed.

*I should clarify that I assumed each Pantheon guy would be in their prime. 80s Jordan or early 2000s Kobe is a much more interesting question. I still think their defense, size, and relative efficiency would ultimately be the difference, though. Again, these games were close.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 6:53:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

Didn't see your last comment till just now.

Doc averaged 37.7 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 spg and 2.2 bpg in the '76 Finals while being guarded by arguably the greatest defensive forward of all time. I can't find his FG% for that specific series but he shot 53% for the playoffs that year and his team won despite the other team having the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best players in the series, so safe to say it was fairly high. He was a way better rebounder and shot-blocker than either Kobe or Jordan, and at least in their ballpark as a defender.

As a scorer, Doc also had series at 37.8, 32.1, and 30.3. I'm quite sure he shot well over 38% in all of them.

Doc is arguably the greatest player of all time. These Rockets are nowhere near as good as the Denver team he beat in '76 (and with relatively little help). He'd murder them.

Baylor I think has some of the worst odds of a Pantheoner, but would be helped by playing the SF position; he's simply too large for Beverly to guard. Ariza is a very good defender, but Beverly is better, and Baylor's athleticism would probably be a tough cover for the aging Ariza.

Bird's highest scoring series was 34.7ppg on .565 shooting (17.25 shots per game). Every coach alive would take that over RWB's 37.4 on 30.4 shots without blinking. As mentioned, Bird is also a much harder cover for that Houston D. At anywhere near RWB's usage (47) Bird would likely top his assists as well. There's a fatigue argument to be made, but Bird's style was much less taxing physically than RWB's full-speed clang-and-bang drives, and any additional exhaustion would be largely mitigated by the reduced minutes-load he'd be playing under in today's game (Bird generally averaged in the low to mid 40s in playoff minutes).

RWB is great. But he's not a top 10 guy yet, nor especially close. Guys who shoot 38% and play mediocre defense may not be able to beat this flawed Rockets team; the best 15 guys of all time (give or take) would probably have a better go of it.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 6:54:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@everyone

I think one aspect in the RW vs. Harden debate that is being largely overlooked, especially talking about teammates wanting to or not wanting to shoot, etc. is the fact that the Thunder are made up of a bunch of dudes 25 and under, while the Rockets have experienced veterans that have been key cogs on playoff teams and/or filled the role of go-to option at some point. We know guys like Anderson, Williams, and Gordon want to shoot. They’ve all averaged at least 18 points for a season before. Ariza and Beverly have hit big shots in the playoffs. Nene too. None of the Thunder have anything close to that experience.

@Kyle

Very interesting point about Harden being the only elite guard that has more freethrows made per season than field goals made. I think if one stat can capture the essence of a player (for the record, no one stat actually can), this comes the closest to capturing Harden. Hopefully, he is the outlier and does not create a generation of disciples. With the game having completely shifted to the perimeter, the NBA will be in a better spot if the upcoming generations emulate Curry.

I agree with a lot of what you write, but regarding Oladipo, I tend towards Nick’s analysis. Oladipo is in a less than ideal team situation for his exact skillset and is only a third year player. I’m not ready to write him off as a sixth man at best. However, one would have to jump through plenty of mental loopholes or he’d have to have make enormous strides to see a future where he is the second best player on a championship team.

@Nick

Obviously, this is a fun exercise swapping Pantheon guys in for Westbrook.

Do we really know if Jordan, West would still be “lockdown” defenders in today’s game? MJ wouldn’t have Pippen to guard the best winger for 40 minutes. There’s no more hand checking. The league is full of elite athlete guards (unlike back in MJ/West’s day). The league-wide trend (led by the Rockets and Warriors) is to spread the floor nearly out to the half court line which means a lot more defensive ground to cover (tied to stamina as well). And every successful offensive team runs multiple picks to pinpoint the exact mismatch they want. You see elite perimeter guys like Kawhi become irrelevant on a large majority of plays. This goes back to a topic that Anonymous is smart to point out regarding offense over defense, especially in today’s NBA.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 6:56:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Kyle, yes. Bird and Magic were surrounded by Hall of Fame talent throughout their careers. They’d have all of zero of that on the Thunder. Would they have been as good without those other players? Who knows? But both would struggle mightily on the defensive end as the Rockets would run multiple picks until they were the ones who would have to guard Harden. In that situation, they are toast. Also, with zero spacing and other offensive threats, they’d both lose a lot of their efficiency advantages over RW too.

@Kyle, Odom is “without question” better than anyone on the Thunder? I averaged 60 Lakers games watched per season for the duration of the 2000s, and Lamar was one of my favorite players. But, without question better? Maybe for one or two games, but the other four games, he’s probably about as good as Alex Abrines. Odom’s best skill was his rebounding, followed by his ability to defend both the post and the perimeter (he was an elite pick-and-roll defender). Also, on this Thunder team, Odom wouldn’t average 18. He’d have zero spacing and his jump shot was janky busted. If you think this Thunder team is worse than Kobe’s 06 squad…I think you need to revisit that 06 squad.

I also don’t believe coaching really matters all that much with these two teams in this exact situation. D’Antoni is a good coach (COY?? Maybe?) in that he puts his players in the best position to highlight their strengths, but it’s not like the series was a chess match.

Jordan and Kobe proved that they could be an offense unto themselves and wouldn’t be running the Triangle. The one advantage I’d say Kobe had over Jordan (despite their comparable career %) is from beyond the arc. Kobe took more threes (Curry broke his 3-point game record). Of all the Pantheon players, it would appear to me that Kobe, West, Jordan and Doc, would have the best shot of winning against the Rockets. But, as you pointed out, it would be close.

While I won’t call you crazy, I disagree with your assessment that Lebron has the best shot. He’s already proven, a couple of times, that as the guitar solo in a band built specifically to highlight that solo, he’s shied away from the challenge. 09 and 10 Cavs. On a team that actually exacerbates all of his weaknesses: no secondary scorer to lighten the burden (both scoring-wise and mentally), no floor spacing, its best offensive players are post players, and a bunch of young guys that make young mistakes (like stupid fouls), it would be the perfect storm for him to pull one of his disappearing acts. Especially considering he’d have the media’s and fanbase’s sympathy regarding the quality of his teammates.

Oh, and be prepared now for David and Nick to eviscerate you regarding your casual dismissal of Dr. J. :)

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 7:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

One last thing I forgot to respond to-

Russell is probably a better rebounder than West, but not by the margin you'd think. West's career RPG are depressed by playing beside Baylor/Chamberlain his whole career, but he was certainly a very strong rebounder for a guard, and his best rebounding season would be RWB's second best. It is not inconceivable he could rack up 10 or so boards on that OKC team against that HOU team.

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 11:57:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

Those are all good points, and several of my answers can only be speculative.

Here are some things West and Jordan would still be great at, regardless of era: moving laterally, knowing when/how to help, making crisp rotations, picking the right moment to erupt for a steal or a block, etc. Whether or not they could thrive physically in this game is mostly speculative (though these discussions lose a lot of their entertainment value if we assume they can't); I tend to think they could (if they played today, they'd have the same training/diet/rest advantages everyone else does). Jordan could dunk from the free throw line in his era without those advantages, and 97% or so of the guards in the league today still can't do that, so I tend to think he'd still have an athletic advantage. West is harder to postulate, but he certainly had superior conditioning (guys today are gassed after 40 minutes of a slower paced game, West could play 44 a couple times a week with way shittier travel/diet/rest).

What is harder to predict is how ably they could adapt to the more spread-out game that exists today, but both were hyper-competitive and super-smart, so I tend to think they'd manage. There are still elite, awesome defenders in today's spread out NBA, and I don't see any real athletic advantages for guys like Tony Allen or Pat Beverly over West or Jordan.

At the very least, I feel like they could offer more resistance to guys like Williams/Beverly/Gordon than RWB did, regardless of whether or not they could do a better job on Harden than Roberson (who did well) did. Guys like Allen, and even some lesser defenders (like, say, our old friend Goran Dragic) have gotten very good at navigating those screens in a way that allows them to insist on being a factor with only a minor assist from their big; Leonard is a bit beefier and has a little more trouble with that one specific thing (but is defensively monstrous otherwise), and plays in a system that doesn't mind if he can't clear every screen.

As for offense vs. defense, I totally disagree with Anonymous' perspective on it. Offense is sexier and easier to track, but defense is at least just as important. I am tentatively open to the idea that it's somewhat less so for guard than a big, but even that I'm unsure of. Ultimately, I sincerely believe that we as an audience gravitate to offense over defense because it's easier to notice and track, and shows up in the scorebored. I don't think this is unique to basketball, either.

For example, I am not a huge football fan, but I can probably name thirty or forty quarterbacks. I don't know that I could name ten defensive players, nevermind at a single position.

As another example, I'm betting most casual NBA fans could name 15-20 MVP winners if pressed (with a few educated guesses thrown in). I'm betting they can name considerably fewer DPOYs.

Nonetheless, in a previous argument with Anonymous I tried to look for historical trends, and I found All-Defensive players much more likely to make or win the Finals than top 5/10 scoring leaders or even All-NBAers. Without digging into the nitty-gritty of it, my suspicion is that the average Finals winner starts more quality defensive players than quality offensive players*

*The Showtime Lakers are one exception that immediately springs to mind, but they had Kareem in the middle, and a DPOY as their 6th man, plus Jamal Wilkes/Kurt Rambis/AC Green/etc.

1/2 or 3

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2017 11:59:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Now, sure, a team of 5 Bruce Bowen types won't get anywhere (to use a certain poster's favorite straw man), but neither would a team of five Iverson* types. You need some of both, but I think in most cases (NOT all cases), a good defensive player impacts more possessions per game than a good offensive player on most teams.

*This isn't a perfect example; while undersized and not consistently engaged on that end, Iverson certainly had his moments defensively. But, then, I suppose Bowen also made some big threes; nobody's *completely* one way.

Less controversially, I think a great team needs a minimum of one transcendent player at each end; OKC has many good defenders, but no All-D level ones (YMMV on Roberson). Certainly replacing RWB with a comparable or superior offensive player who is also an elite-tier defensive presence would help their odds vs. Houston.

Flashing back to your final point: "You see elite perimeter guys like Kawhi become irrelevant on a large majority of plays." If you had to run a screen, maybe slough him off, use some energy, and eat up 8-10 seconds of your shot clock before getting into your sets proper, he's far from irrelevant. He's also now denying you an entry pass to your big-man (and lingering close enough to the pain to challenge if you decide to drive) and menacing at least another one or two of your passing lanes. He is absolutely still relevant, and you're going to end up with a much worse shot than if you'd been guarded by, say, Rudy Gay and just got to run your regular shit that you practiced all season.

2/3

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 12:08:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

A few peanut gallery thoughts on your last post, even though it's not aimed at me :)

* Bird and Magic are so hard to figure out because of their casts. That said, Bird didn't need much space to operate, and he's so much taller and/or quicker and/or stronger than anybody HOU could throw at him, he's getting his shot off whenever he wants to. Magic can probably bully-ball his way into post position, and is too good of a passer to double safely before he gets there.

Defensively you're mostly right, but the one upside both have is that they're actually fairly well-suited to denying Harden his two favorite things. They're enough bigger than he is that they can play a step or three off him at the three point line and still contest, and that allows them room to backpedal some (compensating for their speed disadvantage) if he tries and hopefully bait him into a mid-range shot. Both were also not terribly foul-prone (and as you may have noticed, super-duper stars rarely get in much playoff trouble regardless, even if they are committing a million fouls).

I think Bird's outside shooting pretty well nukes HOU's defensive system, but I agree that Magic would be in for a fight.

* On coaching... as a Suns fan, I can tell you that D'antoni is a brilliant offensive coach, but tends to be slow to adjust on defense (and usually only makes one, maybe two, serious adjustments per series, at most). I don't think he'd be able to draw something up to deal with most of these guys. Against Kobe, his solution was "let Raja play him," which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, but the closest thing to Raja on HOU is Bev who's too small to guard most Pantheon dudes.

* Lebron is weird, but his disappearing acts tends to come against physical defensive teams that throw both a talented perimeter defender (Pierce/Marion/Bowen) at him and an elite interior guy (Garnett/Chandler/Duncan) behind them. HOU has Ariza (not strong enough) and Capela (just not that guy). He'd be fine.

* Re: Doc. Dammit. I've become predictable. I hope my comment above lived up to expectations :)

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 12:55:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

1.) The Thunder this series with/without Russ:

G1: -25 on, -6 off
G2: +11 on, -15 off
G3: +3 on, -1 off
G4: +14 on, -18 off
G5: +12 on, -18 off

Some of those Pantheon players would probably log more minutes, but unless you think that they would build larger leads than Westbrook did, no player is overcoming that large of a hole. I think you're overlooking this.

2.) I've long held the belief that individual defense is overrated. A lot of fans and analyst get caught up in the offense vs defense thing for individual players, but it's truly not 50/50 unless you're a big. Ask any informed basketball fan/analyst who the greatest defender of all-time is and they'd probably say Bill Russell. Here's the thing - Bill Russell wasn't even believed to be the greatest 1 on 1 defensive big by many back then. Nate Thurmond was that guy. Bill Russell is the greatest team defender of all-time whom was also an excellent 1 on 1 defender. No one is going to be a lock down defender carrying the load that Westbrook had to carry.

3.) I don't think I overrated the Rockets defense. I just realize how bad the Thunder's offense is.

4.) Doc was not close to Jordan and Kobe as defenders and that's not even debatable. His defense got better as he aged, but ABA Doc was not known for defense. It's not close. Also, Doc has zero argument for greatest player of all-time. He's at best the 2nd greatest player of the 70s (behind Kareem) and you can argue where he ranks amongst the Pantheon forwards (I personally would not rank him over LeBron or Bird). I'm not super high on Baylor either.

5.) Bird is without a shadow of a doubt is a better player than Westbrook. He's not overcoming this series though. Bird is one of my favorite players ever, but he had some suspect series in his day.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 1:43:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Jordan Ikeda:

Excellent point on the ages of the players in the Thunder's rotation. I think I mentioned that before in another thread, but you are absolutely on the money.

I have never been a fan of James Harden. I am very reluctant to take many people's opinions about him seriously because he is extremely overrated. Below is a link to a post by a guy on RealGM named "richboy". He described Harden better than pretty much anyone I've ever seen or spoken to and he's right on the money. I think every basketball fan with an opinion on James Harden should be required to read this post:

http://forums.realgm.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=1556419&start=220#p54834688

I try to be unbiased when analyzing players. I've played, watched, and studied basketball for decades and I think that he is the first player that I've ever hoped lose every game (outside of Karl Malone).

Regarding Oladipo - I watched a lot of Thunder games and this year and caught him playing for the Magic. He's not that good. He's a sixth/seventh man at best, but I will eat my words if it turns out that I'm wrong. Don't hold your breath expecting him to get much better though.

Regarding Odom - I too followed the Lakers religiously during Kobe's career. Odom was extremely inconsistent and I was frustrated when people suggested that he was an all-star; he wasn't close. However, he's easily better than anyone on this team. I agree that he's not averaging 19 on the Thunder, however, no player from this Thunder team is getting 19 on that Lakers team. He actually averaged only 15 during the season, but 19 in the playoffs. That 06 team was dreadful though. I never said which team was worse. I think that they are in the same ball park. However, Billy Donovan is not a great coach... at all. Phil's impact on that team at least helped. I could argue that Billy Donovan actually makes this supporting cast worse with his horrific rotations and adjustments. We disagree about their impact. Phil game-planned to slow down the pace vs the Suns and it somewhat worked. Donovan's game plan was to ride Westbrook until the wheels fell off.

We agree on Bird and Magic.

As far as Jordan, Kobe, West - I agree with your questions about their individual defense having impact. There's no doubt in my mind that they could put up 40+ on the Rockets. The problem is that it has never proved to win a series with bad teammates, especially not this bad. Kobe himself only averaged 28 and 33 in 06/07 respectively vs the Suns in the playoffs. Jordan won 1 playoff game until Scottie Pippen was drafted. We can speculate all we want, but there is no proof that either of them are building leads higher than Westbrook did just to have it surrendered away.

Regarding LeBron - I said engaged LeBron for a reason haha. He has a tendency to disappear. I'm not convinced that even he could have won this series, but he is virtually a bigger Westbrook with a higher IQ and more stamina. I by no means think that his chances are significantly higher than either of the Pantheon players though.

Regarding Doc - I did not mean to casually dismiss him. He's without question a top 15 player of all-time and like David and Nick, I'm annoyed that he is one of the forgotten/disrespected all-time players. I think my point was more so that I see little to no argument that he was better than Jordan or Kobe at anything that would matter in this series so if I wasn't giving them great chances, then he pretty much would have no shot either.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 1:52:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

1) "Some of those Pantheon players would probably log more minutes, but unless you think that they would build larger leads than Westbrook did" I 100% believe they'd build larger leads. They're mostly better players on both ends, why wouldn't they? We're acting like RWB had the greatest series ever here, and while his raw box score numbers are eye-popping, he also shot 38%, turned the ball over 6 times per game, and generally ended up exhausted and ineffective by the endgame. There's definitely room for improvement.

Fun fact: an average RWB 3 pt attempt in that series was worth .795 points. An average RWB-on-the-bench possession was worth .89 points. Let's go ahead and say most of the Pantheon guys aren't taking bad threes they can't make, and score, say. 1.0 points per possession on those 9.8 possessions (a low estimate for them). That almost swings the series by itself.

2) I mean, all the guys I lauded for their defense were A+ team defenders, too. I also disagree that "No one is going to be a lock down defender carrying the load that Westbrook had to carry," partly because none of those guys would need 30 shots to get to 37 points against that Houston team, partly because we've seen a handful of them do it before (West, Jordan, Doc at least).

3) I agree OKC's offense stunk. But I definitely think it'd be better with the greatest players ever running it, and it was almost good enough to win 3 of the 4 games they lost anyway. It's not like OKC was getting blown out most nights.

4) ABA Doc made the All-ABA defensive 1st team as a forward in a league with Bobby Jones and Dan Roundfield, so beg to differ there. He's the only perimeter player ever who pretty much doubled as a rim protector, he could guard four positions (probably five against that HOU team, sans maybe Nene), and retired as the all-time leader in steals (though others have since passed him). Nevermind for a perimeter guy, he's 22nd all-time in blocked shots (8th in playoff blocks), and at his peak swatted 2.4 per game (that would have been second in the NBA this year). He was almost always faster, stronger, or both than whoever he had to guard. I don't know how much Doc you've watched, but he's absolutely a comparable defender to Kobe/Jordan, though he was naturally better at some things and worse at others.

Both David (in his Pantheon articles) and I (in various threads) have covered Doc's potential case as GOAT before, so I won't go over the whole thing here, but it's a damn strong case.

5) I mean, I'm suggesting he'd need to be, like, four to five points impact per game better than RWB. I think that's a pretty reasonable ask. This is an oversimplification, but basically, if he shoots the exact same percentage as RWB did, except makes one more three and one more two per game (which would still be a clip way below his playoff career averages), OKC wins that series.

Now, sure, if he has an off series, maybe not. But I'm not really seeing the kind of defense that would give him an off-series. He's being covered by either Ariza (too small) or Anderson (hahahaha) for most of it, and it's not like Houston's team D is anything special.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 2:02:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

I don't know how much stake you put in advanced defensive stats (and I'm not crazy about the ones we have that go back far enough for Doc), but for what it's worth he absolutely murders Jordan/Kobe in Defensive Win Shares, Defensive Box Plus Minus, and Defensive Rating. I'm not saying those stats tell the whole story (they absolutely don't) but they all seem to agree he was at least *pretty goddamn good* defensively.

He also averaged over double the blocked shots per game of Kobe/Jordan for his career, whatever that's worth to you.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 2:05:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

West was a good rebounder for his position, but he never averaged more than 8 in a league with significantly more rebounds available and less atheltic players. He's actually smaller and less athletic than Westbrook. While I wouldn't rule out him getting 10 rebounds a game, it's not likely.

I think you overrate defense. While it's awesome that some star perimeter players are great defenders, no perimeter player has lead his team to a championship because of his defense. I have always believed that as long as your star player does not need to be hidden on defense, then you're good. Defense for your star players is always a plus, not a requirement. It is more important for your bigs. Regardless of what you believe, the defense brought by even Dwight in his prime is far more effective than whatever any perimeter player would bring.

5 Gervins are beating 5 Bowen nine times out of ten. Good offense beats good defense almost every time. I substituted Gervin because it's not fair to compare a 5'11 guard to a 6'7 forward.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 4:06:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

Bout to go to bed for the night, so I'll respond to just this one point now and others later:

"5 Gervins are beating 5 Bowen nine times out of ten."

I probably agree with that. But on the other hand, I bet you 4 Bowens and 1 Gervin would beat 4 Gervins and 1 Bowen.

You definitely need at least one guy who can go on offense. But you need at least three or four who can play on defense. For what we're talking about, replacing RWB with a guy who's as-good-or-better on offense and way (in most cases) better on D is going to have an impact.

I do agree that generally bigs have more of an impact defensively than wing guys, but there are exceptions. Pippen, Leonard, Bobby Jones, Frazier, and Doc could all take over games with their defense. I've probably forgotten a few others.

Doc is an especially interesting/unique case as he could more-or-less serve the same function as a big when needed thanks to the combination of his speed and shot-blocking ability.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 5:22:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

1.) Agree to disagree. I'm not convinced that any player is building significantly larger leads than Westbrook did, especially every game. They're all better players, but that doesn't always translate to the scoreboard.

2&3.) Westbrook was not just responsible for scoring. He was the only ball handler, only playmaker, and led the team in rebounds. Jordan, Kobe, nor West were ever the only ball-handlers on their teams or led their teams in rebounding. I think you're completely missing that. There was not a possession for the Thunder that Russell had a chance to not have to create or score and rebound the ball 11 times a night. No player is playing A+ defense with that load. You're either completely underrating Westbrook, overrating these other players, or ignoring how bad it was to be the star on this team.

4.) Doc was not a good man defender until later in his career. He received his All-ABA Defensive honor once in the ABA and never again in the NBA. I don't want to sound like I'm bashing him because he's one of the classiest players to have ever picked up a ball, but his defense is not comparable to Jordan/Kobe. The block numbers you reference are more of a reflection of his signature chase down blocks (which he mastered) and weak side defense than anything.

I've been reading this blog since 2005 I believe and have read over 90% of the articles posted. I've always held David's opinions in high regard because he is one of the few basketball writers whom knows what he's talking about more often than not. I don't ever recall David flat out saying that Doc is the GOAT or even inferring it. Kareem is the greatest player of Doc's era by his own admission. I do not care to get into a side debate on Doc's place in the pantheon, but pretty much no unbiased basketball historian is going to have him in the top 5. That's not a knock on him whatsoever - he's clearly in the Pantheon, but any case putting him higher than that is homerism and revisionist history at worst. The only players whom have a serious, non-biased argument for being the GOAT are Jordan, Russell, Chamberlain, and Kareem. Any other player's case is full of what-ifs and a ton of speculation. A case can be made for Doc after that, but I personally would struggle to put him over Magic, Bird, Duncan, and Kobe. I've never been super high on Oscar as many old-timers, but almost no one who lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s is taking Doc over him either. The Pantheon has all of the super greats, but there's also a clear totem pole within the Pantheon as well.

5.) I've never been an advanced stats guy. I've seen acronyms like VORP, RPM, PIE, CARMELO, etc.. and couldn't tell you a lick about what they mean. I can go make up a formula right now and it'd be no worse than some of that stuff. In the old days, guys used to take the box score and add up points, rebounds, assists, and sometimes steals and blocks. Those were advanced stats back in the day haha. PER is garbage. In my opinion, nothing will ever beat the "eye-test". Basketball is too dynamic to expect numbers to reflect accurate data about this game.

To be honest, any time someone starts an argument with an advanced stat or the foundation of their argument lies within advanced stats, my brain immediately tunes them out. It must be the way that I'm wired or maybe that I've been around this game too long to accept "advanced stats" as any credible source for data on how good a player is... especially defensively.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 10:51:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

I'm not sure you really believe that even 4 Bowens + 1 Gervin would have a chance vs 5 Gervins. There wouldn't be a chance. There is absolutely no way that happens. You are severely overrating the impact of a one on one perimeter defender.

If you changed your argument to include Mutumbo, Ben Wallace, or even Dwight Howard vs a team with let's say Enes Kanter or Andrea Bargnani in some capacity then you would be on to something. Defense from a big is far more important than defense from a wing. Bruce Bowen could NEVER impact the game like David Robinson and Tim Duncan. It's not close... at all.

I think you're taking the sayings, "Defense wins championships" too seriously. Team defense wins championships. Strong defensive bigs win championships. The offense from your star perimeter players will always be far more important. History does not agree with you my friend.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 1:40:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

I've had most of these arguments already with Anonymous, and don't have the energy to go through them all again. You are entitled to your opinion re: defense, but there's not a single title team that doesn't have an elite perimeter defender on it (though there are several without an elite perimeter scorer), so history is at worst undecided.

That said, of course Bowen couldn't impact the game like Duncan (arguably the second or third greatest defensive factor of all-time) or Robinson (arguably in the top five). That's like saying Gervin (to borrow your example) couldn't impact a game offensively like Chamberlain could: duh, but that doesn't mean he wasn't awesome.

Regarding RWB's playmaking and rebounding vs. Pantheon guys: in most cases I'm of the opinion that those guys would at least approximate his assists, and the ones who wouldn't would largely make up the difference with fewer turnovers (it's also worth remembering that all of them but Kobe and Lebron played when assists were much less liberally interpreted, so it is not an apples-to-apples comparison). In the case of rebounding, several of those players (Doc, Bird, Magic, Baylor, Robertson) could likely match or exceed his totals, and I feel that the ones who couldn't would more than make up the difference of two-four rebounds with a improved defensive performance and/or efficiency.

You're clearly much higher on RWB's series than I am; I think he did the best he could in an awful situation, but I do not think he played an unimpeachably perfect series that couldn't possibly be topped by the greatest of all time. This was a beatable Houston series and an RWB with a polished post game who deployed that instead of 9 threes per game would probably have won. None of the Pantheon guys share RWB's love of dumb early clock threes (Kobe comes closest, but he at least made them at a better clip).

I largely agree with you about Advanced Stats (and mentioned as much), I just offered them as a quick snapshot that Doc was obviously affecting the game on that end.

Speaking of, I couldn't disagree more with your interpretation of Doc's defense. He'd make a point of asserting himself as a shot-blocking threat early in the game and would have guys looking over their shoulder for him all night. It is not a coincidence that every team he played for his his prime was a top quality defensive outfit, regardless of other personnel, even when surrounded by poor defenders like Mcinnis, Dawkins, and Free. Like all great shot-blockers, Doc changed many, many shots he didn't actually block, and intimidated opposing players by dint of being on the court. I would rank Doc as a top ten all time defensive Small Forward, slightly behind Pippen/Bobby Jones/Havlicek, but clearly the best of the not the best. Jordan may be the greatest defensive 2 of all time so I would rank him ahead of Doc positionally but he could not guard as many different types of players as Doc could, nor could he protect the rim, so I would hesitate to say he brought more defensive value overall. If you count rebounding as defense (I don't) then Doc's case would only be stronger.

David's Pantheon articles are built on the premise that everyone in them has a legitimate case as the greatest of all time. I disagree with some of those cases-- particularly Baylor's-- but that is a stated element of the Pantheon. David generally declines to rank players within the Pantheon (though it seems he at least has Shaq below Kobe and Kobe below Jordan), but I doubt he sees making an argument for Doc as the greatest as illegitimate or silly.

I disagree with your dictum of who does or does not have a legitimate case as the GOAT. For whatever it's worth, my top four are Doc, Duncan, Kareem, and Jordan, in roughly that order. I'm not interested in debating them, though, as it's clear you and I have a similar ideological divide to Anonymous and I.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 4:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan/Nick, yes, teams can take out elite defenders out of the play sometimes. Didn't really think about that before as a point to rather have an elite offensive player than an elite defender, but makes sense.

The question I've often asked Nick, and which hasn't really been answered yet is why do we see so many teams led by one-way elite offensive players and not elite one-way defenders? Unless you're named Nick, I don't think anyone would say Lillard isn't POR's best player, Irving wasn't CLE's best player before James, or Thomas isn't BOS's best player. There's other examples, too.

And Nick, I know you've repeatedly said it's not about choosing offense or defense, but rather have a player who excels at both, which is obvious, and not what I've asked. Our debate isn't an eliteish two-way player vs an elite one-way player. It's about offense vs defense. Both are extremely important. But, when it boils down to choosing what you'd rather see from your best player, what we see in reality is that it's clearly better to have that player excel on offense. There's always some outliers like Ben Wallace once in awhile. Can anyone really see Bruce Bowen, Dennis Rodman, or Bobby Jones leading a team to a title? Can you name me a today team that Bowen would be the best player on ?

Roberson's an elite all-nba defender. What team could he be the best player on? I don't see any one-way defender today being able to come close to being the best player on a team. On the other hand, Nick has often mentioned RW is a one-way offensive player and is actually his pick for MVP. So, while he often mentions individual defense is as important as individual offense, his thoughts on RW say otherwise. I'd be interested to know where Roberson or Tony Allen land in his MVP ladder. Or even guys like Gobert and Beverley, who are actually both plus offensive players.

Kyle, good points overall from your last few posts. And yes, 'TEAM defense wins championships.' Also, 'INDIVIDUAL good offense beats INDIVIDUAL good defense.'

And generally, defense is more important to have from a big. But, there's always exceptions like Kobe and Jordan who were capable of completely taking over a game defensively.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 6:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Interesting discussion. I'll pass on the question of five Gervins versus five Bowens because neither type of team ever has been constructed or ever will be constructed. Regarding Pantheon players being swapped for Westbrook in this playoff series, he are some bullet points:

1) Doc is the only Pantheon player who actually led an undermanned squad to a playoff series upset--and he did it twice: versus the Spurs and the Nuggets in 1976. He was the best player on the court but both opposing teams were deeper and more talented. It is certainly reasonable to suggest that 1976 Doc could have led OKC to victory over Houston.

Regarding Doc's place in the greatest player of all-time discussion, I have refrained from ranking the players in my Pantheon (other than stating that MJ is the greatest shooting guard of all-time; Kobe gave him a run for his money but did not quite catch him) but I also have said that a credible GOAT argument could be made for each Pantheon member. If you look up what credible writers/coaches/scouts said during the primes of each Pantheon member then you know what I mean. In the early to mid-1970s, Adolph Rupp, Pete Axthelm, Peter Carry and Pat Putnam wrote or spoke in those terms about Doc. Doc and Kareem were the only then-active players voted onto the NBA's 11 man 35th Anniversary Team. Doc had only played four NBA seasons at that time and had yet to win an NBA MVP or NBA title, so the voters either very highly valued his ABA production or they very highly valued those four years about which Bill Simmons and others often speak disparagingly.

2) Magic never played with such a bad roster in college or the pros. He brought out the best in good/great players but any suggestion about how well he would have done with OKC's sad sack roster is pure speculation.

3) Bird led an undermanned ISU team to the NCAA Championship Game but in the NBA he was always blessed with talented rosters.

4) When Jordan was surrounded by lesser talent he put up huge scoring numbers and went 1-9 in the playoffs, though of course he faced a strong Milwaukee team plus Bird's Celtics (twice) and not Harden's Rockets.

5) The rules and playing styles were so different in the 1960s that it is difficult to intelligently speculate about what would happen if you put Chamberlain, Russell, Baylor, West or Robertson on 2017 OKC. That being said, Russell is an intriguing case. I get the impression that many people under the age of 30 or 35 perceive Russell to be nothing more than a glorified Rodman or Mutombo or (Ben) Wallace but in Russell's two-plus decades of competitive basketball he led his team to a title virtually every year (high school, college, Olympics, NBA). He was NOT just a role player. He defended, rebounded and passed at a very high level. He ran the court like a gazelle. He was a solid scorer for a Celtics team that did not need him to score very much. If he played for OKC he would shut down Nene and all dribble penetration. That would enable OKC's wings to play the three point shooters tightly without fouling. OKC's offense would struggle without Westbrook's scoring and playmaking but the Russell effect should not be dismissed out of hand.

6) Kareem is perhaps the most underrated Pantheon player but I can't see prime Kareem leading OKC to victory over Houston. Who would pass the ball to him in the post? Prime Kareem is more likely to get suspended for punching Patrick Beverley than he is to lead OKC to a series win.

7) LeBron would average 35-11-7, lose in five games and spend most of the post-game press conferences talking about how much he is taken for granted.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 7:57:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Nick, I brought up athleticism regarding Jordan/West not to question theirs, but to point out their competition. Jordan would be the top or at the top of the athletic food chain in any era. West too. My point is, that the rest of the NBA is a lot more athletic than the guys either of those two faced (I know at least David strongly disagrees with me on this)—especially point guards. It’s a point guard dominated league that lets them palm the ball and take extra hops/steps/etc. to create space. I don’t know about West, but MJ was a beast defensively because he could put his hands on/forearms into you and was just, you know, way stronger and more athletic. He wouldn’t be able to do that now and I don’t recall him being able to navigate screens (a la Chris Paul and Leonard), which I’ll posit is the number one most critical aspect of playing defense in today’s game against point guards (that and not fouling).

Regarding offense vs. defense, I remember one epic convo between you and Anonymous where you brought up the historical trend of All-defensive players being more likely to make the finals (and found this extremely compelling evidence). I also see Anonymous and Kyle have responded, so I’ll just add my two cents regarding the fallacy I see in you using football as an example. Of all the sports you could have picked (I’d have picked hockey…maybe soccer…even baseball with the catcher), football is not the one. One defensive player in football can’t match the effectiveness of an elite quarterback even if he’s “quarterbacking” the defense. You won’t find any football pundit, even Ray Lewis himself, who would argue against this notion. And football is a sport where the defense can actually put points on the board!

You may be right that an elite defender can affect the game of basketball on more possessions (your point about Kawhi is very accurate), but I’d add the following caveat. There isn’t any such thing as a truly elite one way player. I believe this is where you and anonymous derail (as I see it). Harden is a terrible defender (mostly because he’s apathetic), but even he gets a couple of steals a game and can sometimes be a sturdy roadblock in the post. Nash took (or tried to take to the detriment of his back) a couple charges a game and at least tried to navigate around screens (again…to the detriment of his back). And, like you mentioned, Bowen was a deadly threat from three. They all contributed on both ends. But, there’s no way anyone is taking Bowen over Harden. The name of the game of hoops is to put the ball in the hoop, so it makes logical sense that a primarily elite offensive player would be able to impact the game moreso than a primarily elite defensive player.

Oh, and you lived up to your rep! lol.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 7:58:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

@Kyle, Thanks for sharing that link. That was a decimation of Harden with real stats that made me ill. I’ve disliked Harden ever since he left OKC. I haven’t been able to watch as much hoops this year, and rarely ever watch Harden (because, well, I abhor his entire gimmicky game), but Anonymous coupled with Harden’s historic statistical season (and the presence of Mike D’Antoni whom I kinda love), had me feeling a bit like a hater. That post by richboy…helped my world make sense again (my understanding of the NBA world that is).

Regarding Odom, I do agree with you. He is better than anyone on the Thunder. I guess, I look at the Thunder team and see potential (which is why I’m not giving up on Oladipo yet). And, I know what peak Odom gave (though, what his potential was…was Giannis lite). So, I reacted to “the far better…it’s not even close” part of your comment. I will say I think Steven Adams has the potential to be better than Odom was. The adjustments he’s made as a 23 year old (all the little hook shots and 3 foot floaty, whatever you call those shots he hit this season) and his incremental improvement from the line, as well as his improved understanding of spacing and moving to the right spots without the ball, make me believe he could be a top 10 center in the next couple of years. And that’s saying something with all the crazy ass centers coming up right now.

As for Lebron, he is a bigger Westbrook with a higher IQ and more stamina. But, he’s not mentally dogged (tenacious) like RW. In this situation, I think the mental approach one has is more important than any physical advantages. That’s why Jordan, Bryant, West and Doc (imo) have a better shot than even an engaged Lebron who is bigger, stronger, with arguably just as big of an IQ as them. I mean, Lebron is the best player in the world. Was the best player in last year’s finals…but he still needed Kyrie to hit the big shots.

There’s nobody on OKC that wants those shots (or can create them). Love him or hate him, Westbrook is willing to take those shots and live with the consequences. Same with Jordan, Bryant, Doc, and West. I'm not convinced about Lebron.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 8:40:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Anonymous:

We agree on virtually all your points. Great explanations on expanding what I was getting at.


Nick:

You are completely skating around the point that Russell was the ONLY ball-handler for this team. No other Pantheon player played on a team that they were the ONLY ball-handler. A lot of those guys don't even have the ball handling skills to be that type of player. If your rebuttal is that oh well they would have a capable PG to handle the ball, then you're changing the argument. Part of the reason that Westbrook was so overwhelmed was because that he was the only option. If you give him a ball-handling SF like Doc, Baylor, or Bird would get a capable ball-handling PG, then the argument changes. I think you're missing that.

I'm not interpreting Doc's defense; I watched it first hand. Doc isn't close to being a top 10 defensive SF. Your're completely making that up. No credible basketball historian believes that. I'm not sure how you can even be considered a top 10 defensive forward when you made an all-defensive team once... and even that is debatable because he may not have made it had the leagues been integrated one year earlier. Look I know you love Doc, but you're engaging in revisionist history my friend. Take it from someone whom witnessed these players.

The premise that each of the pantheon players has a case for GOAT is fine, but all it means is that these X amount of players were the best. As I've stated, Larry Bird is one of my 3 or 4 favorite players of all-time. Bird's peak was virtually as good as it got... until Jordan showed out. Many believed that Bird was the GOAT, but in reality he had virtually no argument over Russell, Wilt, or Kareem. It was all hype. Kobe is also one of my favorites, but he has zero argument for being the GOAT. None. I'm OK with that. As I said, the Pantheon singles out the best, but there is also a clear totem pole. I'm sorry, but any argument that seriously states that any player other than Jordan, Russell, Wilt, or Kareem is the GOAT is fudge at best. I don't want to come off as if I'm dismissing anyone's opinions, but I've heard all of the arguments, seen most of the Pantheon players play, and lived through the times. You are entitled to your opinion, but like I said, almost no credible, non-biased basketball historian has Doc in their top 5 and it's a super stretch to have Duncan there, but his case is better than most. I understand that you like Doc, but that does not change the reality that his case as GOAT is not great. At all.

 
At Friday, April 28, 2017 9:01:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

Doc was rightfully voted to that 35th Anniversary team - no doubt about it. At the same time you had people whom felt he did not deserve to be ranked over Hondo. That was after the 1979 season. Virtually no one felt that he was better than Kareem at the time. Doc accomplished nothing from 1980-1986 that gives reason to vault him even as equal to Kareem. Kareem was better before Doc got in the league and Kareem was better when Doc left. That's just the truth and any denying that is revisionist history. Doc's place in history is that of arguable greatest small forward, but you aren't going to find many people whom rank him over Bird. LeBron is making a case to be there as well. I don't want to sound like a Doc hater because I'm far from it. He's one of the dismissed treasures of basketball history and I've argued for decades with some whom did not rank him amongst the super all-time greats. However, he nor many of those other Pantheon players have legit cases to be the #1 GOAT. If an argument that 76 Doc was better than 61 Baylor, 64 Oscar, 70 West, 86 Bird, 87 Magic, 92 Jordan, 08 Kobe, or 13 LeBron then that's fine. I don't agree, but there lies a legit argument. He certainly has a case on that front.

I agree on your other assessments for the Pantheon players.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 12:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

I have literally written tens of thousands of words about Doc that appear on this site, so if you are interested in my analysis of his career you can read those articles.

Specifically, this article addresses some of the issues raised in this thread regarding the GOAT conversation and Doc's place in it: Why Julius Erving Belongs in the Greatest Player of All-Time Conversation--and Other Pantheon-Related Issues.

The link that you provided about Harden is right on the mark. "Richboy" makes the point that I have said for years: Harden is a top-15 player who has convinced the "stat gurus" that he is a top five player. "Richboy" compared Harden to Lillard, while I have often compared Harden to Ginobili, who was also a top 15 player in his prime. Ginobili could not have led a team to a title but he was perfectly suited to be the second or third option on a championship team. That is what Harden is, no matter how much he is hyped up and no matter how much his stats are inflated by playing for D'Antoni and by fooling the officials.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 2:23:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

You've done a superb job of writing about Doc's career. I've been reading your blog since 05 or 06 and have read over 90% of your material. I've always held your opinion in high regard. I remember reading that post and you were right on the money with a lot of your points.

I'm not dismissing Doc from the conversation nor any other Pantheon player. My point is more so that if you had to objectively name the #1 guy, the players with the most concrete cases are the four players I named. Here are some examples of why the argument that everyone in the Pantheon cannot be legitimately argued as the GOAT:

1.) You were absolutely correct in saying that Jordan > Magic > Bird. To argue that in any other order will take a lot of what-ifs, excuses, and speculation. I don't feel the need to expand on this. Majority of the basketball community is inline with this order.

2.) Same applies for Jordan > Kobe.

3.) Jerry West by his own admission said that Oscar was the guy of his era and pretty much everyone else from that era agrees. To argue Jerry West or Elgin Baylor as the GOAT is silly. No one for any significant period of time felt that either was the GOAT in a league with Russell, Wilt, and Oscar getting every MVP in the 60s.

4.) I've already covered the Doc vs Kareem thing. Doc by his own admission conceded that title to Kareem. If someone feels that 76 Doc is better than any other player at their best, that's fine and a strong case lies within that claim. However, just as Jordan is unanimously seen as the GOAT of the late 80s/90s, you would be extremely hard pressed to make a serious argument that Doc was the GOAT of his era when a player was better than him both before and after his professional career. Any other serious argument would require a ton of speculation and what-ifs.

As far as my personal opinion, you're going to have a hard time convincing me even that Wilt or Kareem is #1, but they most certainly have better cases than everyone else. To me, it's Jordan or Russell. I'll give a breakdown in the next post...

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 3:26:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Starting with the shot-clock error and forward, obviously the 5 guys are Russell, Baylor, Wilt, Oscar, and West.

Russell vs Wilt - I can go on and on about this, but to sum it up, I lean towards Russell. Wilt was most certainly the more dominant player and that's not debatable. You can also argue that Russell had the better team from 1960-1965 - maybe even 1966. The problem I have is that after Wilt and the Sixers destroyed the Celtics in 1967, they lost in 1968 and he lost to Russell in 1969 with that Lakers team. Something has to be said for a guy that almost always wins when he has the better team and when he is the underdog. Wilt did his career no favors by only capturing one title in 4 years after Russell was gone (albeit those were some really good Knicks teams and Jerry West was hurt in 71). Something tells me that Russell would have continued to win had he not retired, but that's speculation.

Baylor vs Oscar vs West - I am not old enough to have watched the younger version of these guys. From what I've gathered, Oscar is seen almost unanimously as the best perimeter player from that era. These days Jerry West is usually seen as better than Baylor, but during the old days it was not as clear. I would personally take West, but it's debatable. To be as objective as possible, it does not make sense to take any of these guys over the two bigs of the 60s.

They all were done by 1974 so let's say by 74 my personal order would have been: Russell > Wilt > Oscar > West > Baylor. As I said though, you could swap Russell and Wilt or West and Baylor. Some felt that Oscar's all-around play could be the reason he ranked over the bigs, but with more evidence from the all-time perimeter players that would come years later, we'd see that thinking as flawed. To do anything different with this order, you would have an order that most basketball historians would have disagreed.

Let's move along to Kareem and Doc. Believe it or not, most people ranked Doc behind Baylor. It was not a widely held belief that Doc was even the GOAT SF because even as I said, by the time of the anniversary team, Hondo was held in higher regard by some. Whether that was because of his rings, because he was a white superstar in a growing black sport, or Doc's lack of living up to his ABA self is up for debate. I don't recall my beliefs at the time. However, Kareem was the one believed to be the GOAT, or at least the GOAT of his era. It was either him, Russell or Wilt (or Oscar for the few that thought he was #1). I personally never believed Kareem to be the GOAT though. He was not a rebounder, passer, or defender than Wilt. The scoring is debatable. Kareem's career was also pretty underwhelming in the 70s. At least Wilt had to go through Russell.

My thinking as of let's say the early 80s: Russell or Wilt > Kareem > Oscar > West/Baylor/Doc in some order.

Then you have Bird, Magic and Jordan. We know this story. The special thing about Jordan and Russell is that their teams owned entire decades. The 80s Lakers came close, but they were manned by two GOATs and the decade was shared with the Celtics.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 3:26:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

My perspective as of the start of the 21st Century:
Jordan/Russell > Wilt/Kareem > Magic > Bird > Oscar > Doc/West/Baylor

I arrived here because the object of the game is to win and Russell did it better than anyone. Jordan's Bulls won 6 through the 90s, but there isn't a ton of evidence to suggest that they would not have won at least one more in the 90s had he not retired twice. I lean towards Jordan as #1 only because he was able to win more than anyone not named Russell, but also dominate individually over his entire career more than anyone not named Wilt.

Wilt is next because if you took all of these guys at their peak, put them in a gym, and lined them up one by one then you would choose Wilt first. He is the only player that can be objectively ranked top 3 all-time in scoring, rebounding, and defending. Then amognst centers, he can be ranked objectively as top 3 in passing. The ONLY reason Wilt isn't unanimously #1 is because Russell won WAY more in the same era and Jordan won more in his era while displaying a somewhat similar level of scoring over his career and defensive dominance from his position.

I said already that I take Kareem next because of the totality of his career. He was somewhat underwhelming though in his prime in terms of winning. He was leadership heavily criticized during the 70s and even early 80s. The second half of his career is somewhat inflated because of Magic. Kareem would not have played 20 years nor won 5 more titles had he not played with Magic. However, you cannot take away from what he accomplished. It's funny because if Magic and Bird had longer careers, their cases would be stronger against Kareem. If Kobe or Duncan were more individually dominant, they would have stronger arguments over Kareem. Had Oscar, West, and Doc been able to lead their teams to multiple championships as the best player, then they too would have great arguments over Kareem. The problem is that Kareem both dominated a decade individually as the best player virtually from start to end and he also achieved a boat load of accolades and championships. Everyone else either weren't as dominant individually or did not achieve comparable success.

I tend to go with a cluster of Magic, Bird, Duncan, and Kobe next. They all won multiple titles as the lead guys, but did not have a long term hold as best player in the game for almost a decade like the other guys.

Then I go with a cluster of Oscar, West, Doc, Baylor. They all had individual years where they could arguably be claimed for best in the world, but never won a championship as the lead guy.

I'm not entirely sure how I rank Shaq and LeBron is still playing. I'm not saying that my line of thinking is the word of Gospel - it isn't. However, I've been around this game for a long time and try to be as objective and unbiased as possible. This is the best I could arrive to. If I had it my way, Bird would be over Magic and Kobe would be over Jordan. However, objectively, they are not.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 3:45:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Glad you enjoyed the link on Harden. That post and your covering of his game have done the best job of exposing Harden. Below is another super high quality post on Harden by the same guy; he's right on the money.

http://forums.realgm.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=1556419&start=440#p54845890

Also, here's another link I meant to share with you guys as well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEkTUVnhGZ0

This video covers some of the silly techniques he uses to bait the refs into giving him calls. There's also a guest appearance from Ronnie Nunn, a former NBA referee of 19 years, whom gives some insights from the eyes of referee.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 6:14:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

Good point about football. I didn't think that through sufficiently.

I agree with you that there are no truly one-way players. I've mentioned that before in previous arguments with Anonymous. My ultimate position has always been that a two way player is much better than a one way player (which is relevant to these Pantheon vs. Russ arguments), but people I argue with try to turn that position into defense > offense and I sometimes end up taking the bait; the success rates and such I bring up are meant to indicate that defense has a similar or greater success rate re: titles to offense, regardless of traditional narrative. I personally think the two are of roughly equivalent value, but as this thread can attest that is an idea that meets with a lot of opposition.

I have previously explained in some detail that I don't think a one-way player has ever really been the best player on a title team. The closest case would be either Russell (who was not a great scorer but did everything else on offense very well), Magic (who was at least a very strong rebounder, and played with other players who have a case for being "the best" on each individual title team), Bird (who was a very smart if somewhat slow defensive factor, and like Magic was a great rebounder with many strong two-way teammates) Ben Wallace (who likewise had several teammates with comparable "best" claims), or Dirk (whose defense that year tends to be underrated by his critics). So, while I don't think Bruce Bowen could lead a team to a title as their best player, I also don't think Damian Lillard or Gilbert Arenas could, either. Russ exists right on the edge of that for me, at least in his current form. He is similar to Magic in that he is at least a stellar rebounder, but he may need a Magic-like team to get over the hump. The closest he got was in '12, when he played with another MVP-ish player and a stacked supporting cast; that is one of the two possible recipes for a title team for Russ (the other would be essentially a super-charged version of Harden's HOU team with better defense), IMO, though of course if he expands his defensive game that list will get longer.

Kyle-

I disagree with your assessment of Doc's defense and your grandstanding about who does or doesn't have a legitimate all-time case. You are entitled to your opinion but it is not one I find especially credible.

Regarding ballhandling, I am of the opinion that all of the Pantheon players we are discussing, perhaps except for Bird, would be fine functioning as the lone ball handler for OKC, and would not need a bonus PG. Bird may need Oladipo to help bring the ball up the court sometimes, but I think he could certainly handle the offense well enough once into the front court.

I think RWB played the best he could play under the circumstances, and his output was certainly impressive. I do not think he played the best anyone could play, nor do I think he did anything that is beyond the conceivable for the greatest players ever.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 6:21:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

When I was discussing Jordan I was assuming "peak" Jordan. I agree with your assessment of 80s Jordan and am much less confident he would win the series than 90s Jordan (though I think that Bucks team and obviously that Celtics team he lost to are much better than Harden's Rockets).

I disagree with your Lebron assessment, mostly because Houston just doesn't have as good of defensive options against him s they did against RWB. Even with the paint packed and Beverly on him, RWB actually shot pretty well from 2 (45%); I think Lebron could pretty easily exceed that by dint both of being stronger, more skilled and versatile as a scorer, and being covered by a "merely" very good defender (Ariza) instead of an elite one (Beverly). He is also a much better three point shooter and defender (when he wants to be, granted, but as we've seen he tends to turn it on when it counts). So, I think he could probably make the team 4 points per game better or what have you.

I agree with you about Magic, and the fact that he universally had so much support throughout his career makes me a bit more skeptical than most of his GOAT case. We've talked about this before, of course. At any rate, you are right that any argument here about Magic is especially speculative, but then this whole exercise is speculative, so I'll forgive myself.

That said, if we're talking '09 Lebron, I probably agree with your assessment.

Re: Harden

I've always been on David's side with this. I think Harden is a talented offensive gimmick player, but he's not one of the league's five best players in my eyes and in point of fact in most cases I would much rather have somebody like Klay Thompson (although for this specific custom-built Houston team, Harden may be a better fit).

I do not see any reasonable case for taking him over RWB.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 6:40:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re:

Doc vs. Kareem

They are two of my top three players so I think the margin between them is razor thin. In general, I think everybody in my top seven has a solid case for GOAT, so I tend not to quibble if someone prefers, say, Kareem over Doc or Russell over Jordan, and that list moves around within itself occasionally anyway.

I would take Doc's best year over Kareem's best year, but it is undeniable that Kareem had a longer period of relevance as he played four more years. There is no "right" answer as to what is more valuable between longevity and peak, but for me personally what puts Doc a half-inch ahead is that unlike Kareem he did not seem to need elite support to contend and never had a stretch of relative--and I stress relative here, we're still talking about the greatest center ever this is not a knock on Kareem or an implication that he did something "wrong"-- under-achievement like Kareem's '75-'79 run, in which for all his individual brilliance his teams won only eight total playoff games, and only one outside of the first round.

David-

Thinking about longevity vs. peak led me to a question I don't think I've asked you before. Are there any players you think had Pantheon-level stretches, but missed out because those stretches were too short, either due to injury or some other cause?

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 11:51:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

Your last few posts had not posted when I responded. It is interesting to see how you reached your conclusion, but your methodology does not sway me.

One chief point we disagree on is the importance of rings. Yes, the goal is to win but basketball is a team sport. You say Doc, for example, only won one ring (he actually won three, 70s ABA was just as good if not better than 70s NBA), while Jordan won 6 and Russell won 11. This is true, but Jordan won zero without Scottie Pippen, who would easily have been Doc's best teammate from 1972-1982, and Russell generally had a top 3 PG, a top 2 SG, and two All-Star caliber forwards as well as a deep bench. Let Doc spend the first thirteen years of his career playing alongside, say, Walt Frazier, Pistol Pete, Spencer Haywood, and Nate Thurmond or whoever and he's probably got 11 rings, too.

Ultimately context matters.

On a related point, not all eras are created equal. It was much harder to win a ring in the 60s or the 80s (as you had to overcome at least two All-Star teams to do it) as opposed to the 90s or 2000s. The best team Jordan beat for a title was probably the '93 Suns or the '96 Sonics. Can you see either of those teams beating any Eastern Finalist from the 80s? I can't.

On the other hand, could you see the '86 Celtics losing to any Western Finalist from the 90s? They'd demolish Magic's Kareem-less Lakers, Drexler would have only been the third or fourth best player in the series for either of his Blazers teams, the Suns wouldn't have been able to guard anyone in the BOS front court, Hakeem may have been the best guy in the series but Bird/McHale/Parish/DJ would be 2-4 (or 2-3, then Drexler, then DJ in '95), the Sonics would get annihilated on defense, the Jazz would be trying to stop Bird with Byron Russell and relying on Malone to overcome his traditional playoff slump against a McHale/Parish/Walton three headed beast. The '99 Spurs might have the best chance, but they were structurally pretty similar to the '86 Rockets team Boston beat, and did not have an elite defensive SF to throw at Bird or the kind of bench depth to deal with those Walton lineups.

All the above doesn't even get into things like coaching and injury luck, but I think you see my point: rings can't be your primary metric, because nobody wins or loses alone.

I try to evaluate guys by skillset, impact, and success, in roughly that order. Doc has an unimpeachable skillset, despite your dismissal of his defense. His impact is similarly incredible, as any team he played on was instantly considered a Finals threat until about '85 or so, and he tended to play excellent ball in the playoffs. His success, given the context of his career and the teams he had to play against is similarly laudable; three titles, with three more Finals appearances, and basically all of his playoff losses coming against stacked teams*. He lost to the Lakers and Blazers in the Finals on teams trotting out Daryl Dawkins or Caldwell Jones against apex Walton and Kareem. Those Lakers teams featured star players at four positions and deep benches with future DPOY Michael Cooper and former MVP Bob McAdoo.

*1984 is weird, but by that point Doc was starting to slow down anyhow.


1/2

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 11:52:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

The 76ers would come into the 82 series with a small advantage at the 2 guard (I'd take Toney over Nixon but Nixon was still an All-Star caliber player) and a big one at SF (though of course Jamaal Wilkes is a 3x AS and great defensive player as well), with a massive disadvantage at the 1 (I love Mo Cheeks but Magic was clearly better) and the 5 (Kareem is perhaps the greatest center, Daryl Dawkins likes to dunk while Caldwell Jones was a capable defensive big whose offensive game had long since eroded), and basically no chance against the Lakers bench.

I realize now I've forgotten to mention Bobby Jones, who I love, but his defensive impact was somewhat muted against the Lakers; Jones was a world-class defensive forward, but most of the Lakers' offense came from their center and guards.

In '82, the Lakers had five guys averaging 16 ppg or more in the Finals. The 76ers had two (Doc averaged 25). Blaming Doc, rather than the wider Philly organization, for losing that series is... short-sighted. Bird/James/Baylor/Jordan/whomever would have had the same problems.

In the spirit of the original debate about RWB, what forward can you put in Doc's place during his prime that's going to win more of those series? Because I can't think of one.

As for your frequent comments about "most people thought," I don't find that argument remotely compelling, either. If I cared what the groupthink said I wouldn't be a fan of David's, and I might have picked Harden for MVP. The basketball audience, as a collective, is generally pretty dumb. I am persuaded by watching guys play much more than I am by hearing what other people think about how they play.

Your opinions are your own but they are not unimpeachable facts, no matter how emphatically you like to state them, and I find little of your reasoning behind them particularly convincing.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 3:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

Just out of curiosity, do you have any credible source that ranks Havlicek ahead of Doc? I don't think I have ever seen Havlicek ranked ahead of Doc.

The Ronnie Nunn video was great. As Nunn noted, the play when Harden dribbled with his right hand, locked his left arm with Gibson and then pretended to be shooting after the whistle had blown was (1) clearly an offensive foul and (2) not a natural shooting motion even if it had been a foul on Gibson.

As I have stated before, all of the following can be (and are) true:

1) Harden suckers referees into making incorrect calls
2) Harden's opponents sometimes commit stupid fouls
3) Harden is good at drawing legitimate fouls

The bottom line, though, is that if the referees did not let Harden get away with the stuff he gets away with then Harden's numbers would suffer. As someone wrote in one of the links that you posted, Harden is a 21-25 ppg scorer masquerading as a 30 ppg scorer due to the incorrect foul calls (he also gets a boost from D'Antoni's system).

Every time I see Harden trick a ref, I think back to a classic Dave Cowens story. Cowens was called for a touch foul against a guard and he disagreed with the call, so the next time the same player had the ball Cowens just laid him out and growled, "Now, that's a (bleeping) foul!" To put it mildly, Harden's style would not have been very effective (or healthy for him) in previous eras--nor would the refs in previous eras let him get away with it. I recall an NBA video about one of the Philly-Lakers Finals matchups and it depicted a pre-game meeting at center court with the team captains (Doc, Kareem) and the refs. There was some question about contact or over the back calls and the ref said something to the effect of "You have to jump to get the rebound." The gist of the comment was that if a player is just standing there and the player behind him is actively trying to get the ball then incidental over the back contact will not be called as a foul but if the player with inside position is going for the ball and contact is made then a foul will be called. The point is that the referees were not going to reward passive play or reward a player for trying to get a foul call as opposed to actually playing ball.

Harden is a talented player. I wish he would just shoot, pass or drive instead of always trying to fool the refs--and I wish the modern refs would be more diligent about their craft and more aware of the ways that Harden is tricking them. I'd hate to think that the league doesn't care because it wants to promote the freewheeling style that Houston plays.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 3:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Regarding players who might have made the Pantheon had they been blessed with better health and/or had they sustained their peak level for a longer period, an obvious choice is Bill Walton. Maurice Stokes was held in awe by his contemporaries before he suffered a debilitating injury. Some other possibilities are David Thompson, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. All of those players had comparable talent/physical gifts to the Pantheon members but they lacked health/durability and were not able to sustain peak performance for long enough to merit Pantheon consideration.

Just to be clear, none of those players even came close to making my Pantheon.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 3:28:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

I cannot find any old articles from that time with mentions of Doc in which I'm referencing. I used to go back and read old articles from the Sports Illustrated Vault, but I cannot find them on that site anymore. Google search used to be good at finding old newspaper articles too, but all that old stuff is no longer available for some reason. I'm speaking from memory at this point.

It was not an uncommon belief from credible NBA opinions at the time to take guys like Kareem, pre-injury Walton, Chamberlain, Hondo, Frazier, Cowens, and even Maravich over Doc. Now some of those were pretty crazy, others were justifiable. How much of that was NBA vs ABA bias is debatable. It helped that guys like Hondo were white. White superstars received more praise during those times when they stood out. Doc clearly ranks over all of those guys other than Wilt/Kareem at this point anyway. These views are obviously from the 70s. I think my point is more so that Doc was never revered as the undisputed best player in the world or GOAT except his all-time 76 year, but even then Kareem was alive and highly regarded.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 3:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Thanks. Walton, Hill, and Thompson are the three I was thinking of specifically as guys who had that kind of production just not for long enough. The other ones I was thinking of were Connie Hawkins, Bernard King, and possibly Rick Barry (you know by now how highly I rate Barry, but he certainly wasn't the same athlete after his knee injury, even if he was still an All-NBA caliber performer). I did not know Stokes was considered at that level, but my knowledge on most 50s guys is pretty minimal anyway. T-Mac is another great one who just didn't occur to me for whatever reason, possibly because he was generally overshadowed by Kobe in his prime (at his best, T-Mac was at least passably comparable to Kobe, but his Orlando teams were nowhere near as good and got nowhere near the coverage of Kobe's Lakers).

Another guy I was thinking of was Artis Gilmore, who seemed pretty Pantheon-y until about 1980. He played only 48 games that year, though I can't recall for what specific injury (I think knee?), and was never quite the same after. He was still a productive player, and put up some crazy good rebounding and FG% numbers even after, but never had quite the same explosiveness and eventually got saddled with the "Rigor Artis" nickname.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 4:03:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

Just to be clear - I do not believe ranking players in any sport is a science. There aren't many "wrong" answers, but there is a certain level of objectivity once must attain in order to be consistent if that is one's goal. Here is the most important thing that I've learned when dissecting all of the arguments over my years: perception is reality. Other than homerism, speculation is the most dangerous tool available to us. It is important to distinguish what we *think* would've, could've, should've happened vs what did.

I do not want to drag out the Kareem vs Doc thing. It is arguable whom was the best player at their very best, but very few are taking Doc. Kareem was the best version of himself in 1977. You are correct in pointing out Kareem's underachievement years, but Doc also did not live up to his ABA self. I have never been super high on Kareem because for all of his individual brilliance, it did translate to team success without the two greatest PGs of all-time. However, here is the difference between speculation and reality. I *speculate* that Kareem would not be a six time champion without Magic/Oscar, but, the reality is that he is. That cannot be taken away. I will not try to convince you because that is not my goal. I think this started because you suggested that Doc is arguably the GOAT and my rebuttal was that he himself has stated for years that Kareem was the greatest of his era and virtually every great basketball mind from that time is likely to agree with him. Was Doc better than him some years? Sure. Was Kareem better than him in both 1971 and 1986? Undeniably, and even most of the years in between. That is the reality my friend.

 
At Saturday, April 29, 2017 4:23:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

I think you misunderstood my stance on rings. I am by no means the type of guy to count rings and let that be the end all. However, as I alluded to in my last post, speculation vs reality is a dangerous game to play. One reason that Magic is considered by most to be greater than Bird is solely because his team won in college and he has two more rings than Bird in the NBA. Two of those came at the expense of Bird's teams.

Now, me being a Bird guy, I remember arguing that the Lakers would not have beat the Celtics in 1985 without Kareem, a guy whom most considered both greater than both Magic and Bird. Check the irony in that - Kareem was a huge reason that Magic got 1 more up on Bird, but Kareem > Magic/Bird anyway so why should this even count. Here's the thing - that was the reality though. Magic is 3-1 vs Bird when it counted. I can speculate all I want, but that is what happened.

Russell's teams were 7-1 vs Wilt's when Wilt's team was worse and when Wilt's team was better. We can speculate all we want, but that is the reality. Nothing can change that. Check this out - Wilt was .800 against every single team in his playoff career except the Celtics. Take that how you want, but that suggests that Wilt Chamberlain with his all-time records would be the GOAT had Bill Russell not existed. That also speaks volumes about Russell.

I could go on about the winning for other players, but I won't. You are correct in saying that injuries and luck are involved and should be taken into context. However, those are things that we cannot change. Maybe some of these Pantheon players suffer career ending injuries in a parallel universe; that is not our reality though. We cannot speculate numerous elements of a player's career and then extrapolate those made up scenarios to suggest they were better than what they actually achieved.

Also, when I say "most people thought", I am referring to credible basketball minds. We agree that the basketball community is ignorant as a whole.

 
At Sunday, April 30, 2017 12:12:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

Thank you for explaining your reasoning. I disagree that speculation should be ignored/avoided, as without it we're left with relatively little. It is possible to speculate intelligently, and I try to do so. Any comparison between players, particularly of different positions or eras, necessitates at least some speculation and extrapolation, anyway.

I disagree that Kareem was better than Doc "most years in between," though of course this is a debatable point. I certainly agree that Kareem's career was longer, which unlike many of the things you insist are objective facts actually is one, but I also think there are several undeniable truths that matter just as much as their respective ring totals:

* Pundits are fond of claiming Doc never lived up to his ABA numbers, but then Kareem also put up his best numbers while the leagues were divided, just on the other side of the fence.

* While Kareem had more title success, he was not a guaranteed playoff appearance, missing them twice. Doc never missed the playoffs.

* Kareem won all six of his titles playing alongside another Pantheon level player, and won five of them playing on virtual All-Star teams (the sixth team had "only" two other All-Stars). Doc won two of his three titles on an otherwise unremarkable Nets team, and reached the Finals several times with strong but far from Showtime level support (including beating Larry's stacked Celtics in '80 and '82).

* Kareem could sometimes wilt against A-tier centers (although there are some exceptions), while Doc tended to bring his best against Barry/Bird. Kareem is unimpeachably great but there was a type of player who had his number (hyper-physical yet skilled centers). Erving did not have a similar weakness, and when he lost it was generally because the other team was stronger at positions that weren't his.

* Obviously a great many other things factor into this, but it is worth noting that for their careers Doc had a (slight, to the tune of a single playoff game) winning record against Kareem, despite the fact that Kareem had the better supporting cast for most of their overlap and that it included the weakest years of Doc's career towards the end. They ended up 13-13 in the regular season but Doc was up 11-8 before 1984, which I think most people to consider the first year outside of Doc's prime (1983 was the last time he'd make the All NBA 1st team).

1.2

 
At Sunday, April 30, 2017 12:14:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Ultimately, I do not think the fact that Kareem (and other popular picks ahead of Doc) had better luck with their supporting casts and/or faced weaker competition (Jordan's Bulls ain't winning six titles in the 80s) has any bearing on who the better player was. That being the case, I prioritize skillset and impact over results. I prefer Doc's by a hair. There a variety of nits to pick with any player, but I find Kareem's nits a bit more damning than Doc's, as well.

As for Doc claiming Kareem is better than him, Doc is a famously humble individual. It would be out of character for him to anoint himself as the greatest of all time, though over the years both Shaq and Lebron have picked him for that (technically in Lebron's case I believe he said he was one of the three best, declining to pick between he, Jordan, and Bird). Say what you will about Shaq but Lebron is well regarded as an obsessive basketball historian and knows quite a bit more about the game, I'd wager, than you or I ever will. Of course there are plenty of similarly qualified people who feel Doc is not the greatest, but it's worth noting that at least a few of the most qualified people see him in that light.

I mention all this not as much to make the Doc vs. Kareem case (like I said before, anyone in my top 7 is a perfectly fine pick), but to illustrate that there are arguments and context that go beyond basic results. Everything matters in these sort of analysis, and that includes the contextualization of whatever success a given player did or didn't have.

As an interesting aside, while Chamberlain's pick for best player ever is bizarre (Meadowlark Lemon), he mentioned in that same comment that "Most people would say Dr. J or even Jordan." Based on that remark, it seems from Wilt's POV, at least, that seeing Doc as one of the greatest was far from uncommon or unusual in the circles he traveled in.

On a related note, I've always been intrigued by Rick Barry's idea that you should not rate players against players of other positions. If we go by that theory, I would have Oscar, Jordan, Doc, Duncan, and Kareem as the best at their respective positions.

 
At Sunday, April 30, 2017 3:08:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

You make good points - all points that I've heard before. Kareem was never one of my favorite players. At a point in my life I thought that he was overrated in some sense. The thing is that he both dominated the game at the individual level for a whole decade and he accomplished everything any player could. That cannot be changed. At different points my life I believed Russell, Wilt, and Jordan to be the GOAT. Never has Kareem been that guy for me. He is the "gateway" to the #1 spot in my eyes. If you are individually dominant over a decade and have a laundry list resume comparable to his, then you can be argued as #1. Doc simply does not.
Even if you twist and turn everything like you have, Doc's argument over Jordan, Russell, Wilt is moot. He has negative 100 case.

I'm not sure how old you are or if you lived through those times, but I did. Doc was Kevin Durant to Kareem's LeBron if you will. He was rarely seen as the guy whom would be remembered as THE GOAT. He was always destined to finish as one of the guys mentioned when talking about the Pantheon members - not the #1 guy or #2 or #3 for that matter.

I'm not sure if you or David have ever visited the Insidehoops forum before. I have never posted there, but I've read through threads for about a decade now. It's hard finding old-timers like myself with firsthand knowledge of the game and some of these Pantheon players, but JMT and La Frescobaldi are two posters whom used to post several years ago. They are very clearly guys whom remember the NBA in the 60s based on the very many posts I've seen from them over the years. I encourage you to read their posts from this thread:

http://www.insidehoops.com/forum/showthread.php?t=248941


I think there are more threads with some great insight on Doc from that time, but there are two solid opinions on him.

I do not care to get into LeBron's perspective on basketball history. LeBron showed his lack of understanding of basketball history by declaring that every team should retire number "23" because Jordan was the GOAT just to turn around and take a massive dump on basketball history by choosing to play with Bill Russell's number.

Wilt long believed that he himself was the greatest. Wilt's ego was massive. The only time he ever picked a player that he felt was comparable to him outside of his era, was when he spoke about young Shaq. The only reason he did that was to remind everyone what he would have done had he played in later times. By picking anyone outside of his era, he felt that he would bring his stature down in people's eyes. He more often that not claimed that Russell was the GOAT in his later years. There are many documented interviews where he did not even choose Doc for his all-time team (Russell too), like this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdd2biHVlyA

I've always been fond of Rick Barry's line of thinking when saying it's hard to compare positions. As I said, I do not want to discredit any Pantheon members. I've talked about all of these players for decades. I've seen them all whether in their primes, or later in their careers. I am not sure when you formed your opinions on these players. I view David's stance on "Any Pantheon member can be argued as the GOAT", as a politically correct way of saying "These players are the cream of the crop and absolute best basketball history has to offer". No one worth their two cents on basketball history is taking some of these guys as number one. No one. I understand that you love Doc, many do. Understand though that saying he is the arguable GOAT isn't "wrong", but there is far more evidence to suggest that he isn't than to suggest that he is. The same applies for majority of the 14 Pantheon members.

 
At Sunday, April 30, 2017 4:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

I continue to be unconvinced by your claims.

"The thing is that he both dominated the game at the individual level for a whole decade and he accomplished everything any player could."

Doc absolutely dominated a decade, from '74-'83, in which he won three titles, played in six Finals, won 4 MVPs, made 8 All 1st teams (1 second), and won 2 Finals MVPs. Over the same stretch, Kareem won two titles, four MVPs, played in 4 Finals, made 5 All-First teams (3 second), missed the playoffs twice, and did not win Finals MVP for either of his title wins. Their respective playoff records over that span:

Doc: 87-52 (clearly his team's best player 9/10 times)
Kareem: 52-33 (clearly his team's best player 4/8 times)

You may notice from those numbers that Doc won more playoff games during that decade than Kareem even played, despite the NBA playoffs being a round longer than the ABA playoffs some of those years.

Now, Kareem certainly accomplished more before and after that decade than Doc did, but I am not sure what accomplishment you feel is missing from Doc's resume.

He also, of course, put on the single greatest Finals performance in basketball history in '76, which ought to count for something.

I am not interested in reading your favorite forum posts. I am sure any or all of us could look hard enough and find people who agree with us.

David is one of the smartest basketball minds I'm aware of, and I imagine he'd take issue with a comment like "No one worth their two cents on basketball history is taking some of these guys as number one. No one." but perhaps I am wrong.

You are free to dismiss Lebron James' opinion of basketball history, but in general he is regarded as a pretty passionate historian of the game. He is also obviously very knowledgeable about basketball himself. I am not saying he is right about everything or even most things, but I listed him (and Wilt) as proof that there are certainly people more qualified than you or I who see Doc as a GOAT contender.

Frankly your arguments hinge on completely ignoring context beyond results (and ignoring many of those as well) and on stating "facts" you've built based on premises that I find deeply flawed, and appealing to group think to back yourself up. I find these cases completely empty and unconvincing. I also don't find you personally especially credible based on your comments about Doc's defense; I have seen Doc play somewhere between 200 and 300 games, possibly slightly more, and your analysis seems completely at odds with what I've seen (and what his peers said, as David has oft reported on).

You are entitled to your opinion, but you're not making much of an impact on mine. I'm also pretty tired of this argument, so I'll bow out for now. Cheers!

 
At Sunday, April 30, 2017 6:11:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Nick:

My goal is not to convince you, but more so give you a different perspective. I'm not sure why you insist on limiting the comparison to 74-83, but do whatever works for you. Also, no one seriously thought that Kareem was not the best player on his team until the 1982 or 1983 season.

I did not say that any post from any site was my favorite. I've been around long enough to form my own opinions with my own ears and eyes. I simply pointed you to other individuals whom were able to do the same. David himself inferred several times on this site that he has vacillated between Wilt, Russell, Kareem, Magic and Jordan for that GOAT title. He even said so specifically in the comments of this post:

http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2008/07/julius-ervings-all-time-starting-five.html

I remember reading that myself. His point is that it's hard to make an accurate list with so many great players. David is a very informed, intelligent guy and though he states that many of these players have arguments, he also recognizes that some cases are clearly better than others. Saying Tim Duncan is easily the greatest PF of all-time and arguably the greatest of his era is completely different from saying that he was better than anyone to pick up a basketball or that his career was better. The latter is a very difficult case to make if there is one in the first place. The same applies to guys like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Kobe Bryant. Their cases are extremely weak. Must I go on?

I did not dismiss LeBron basketball's acumen. I simply stated that he has several times showed his lack of in-depth understanding of the careers of some players. He is free to believe what he wants, but being the best basketball player right now or at any point of time does not make his opinion more valid than individuals whom actually lived through some of those historical times. Bob Ryan or LeBron? Chick Hearn or Shaq? Whose opinion on said players is going to be more credible?

My arguments hinge on what I've seen with my own eyes and the opinions of other intelligent individuals whom have seen the same with their own eyes. Like I said - I don't know how old you are, but the opinion of a lot of these Pantheon members is more credible from a old timer than a millennial who knows little about these players past a excel spreadsheet, Wikipedia page, and a couple of old grainy videos from YouTube.

You seem to have a strong liking of Doc. I speculate that is why you hold him in such high regard and also look past his faults more than other Pantheon players. That's OK and you are also entitled to your opinion as well. I seem to have your ruffled feathers with some healthy discussion so I too will bow out. Cheers!

 
At Monday, May 01, 2017 12:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back to Bowen being able to lead a team to a title. That's a lot different and a huge step forward from being able to even be the best player even on the worst team in the league, which is what I was asking. Leading a team to a title is much different than just being able to be the best player on any team. BKN was the worst team in the league this year, and Bowen still wouldn't have been the best player on that team.

I'll ask again, but can anyone see Roberson or Bowen being the best player on any current team today? For as great as Roberson is, Harden still played awesome.

Except for Bill Russell, all of your typical best players on title teams are great because of their offense first, then possibly defense second, though strong defense isn't always necessary from this best player.

Jordan, obviously no player even is completely a zero on either end of the court. Bowen could do one thing offensively, and that was shoot 'wide-open' corner 3's fairly well. He shot 2-3 of these/game on 25-30mpg, which isn't very high minutes for a guy who supposedly should be leading teams to the playoffs. He's definitely in the conversation for the worst offensive player all-time. Even though Roberson shoots worse from 3, he's much more athletic, much more active offensively, and his eFG% is actually higher than Bowen's was.

Nick's defensive all-nba selections to top 5-10ish scorers isn't comparing the same thing for several reasons, primarily because teams could have multiple all-defensive selections, but they're not going to have multiple top 5 scorers. Should be comparing all-nba selections, not top 5 scorers, if anything. But, what we see from 'best players only' on title teams is much different. Offense continues to reign heavily.

I think we're getting caught up too much on who could/couldn't be the best player on a title team. Curry is a little guy who wears down in the playoffs while playing with an AS-loaded team. James has a cakewalk to the Finals in the East compared to the West. Just imagine how much more difficult he'd have it going through 2-3 tough series just before the Finals. RW has one playoff win in 2 years as 'the guy.' Nobody would expect him to win a title either of those years, but we should expect more than that from the supposed best player in the league. KD has had stacked teams for almost his entire career, and has only reached the Finals once, and that was with 2 future MVP candidates. The amount of help these guys(James, RW, KD, Curry) need and have is unreal. Really hard to imagine anyone else even having a chance, regardless of how good they are.

 
At Monday, May 01, 2017 5:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Points of clarification:

Anonymous has apparently forgotten that I *did* do that same exercise for All-NBA (although of course that is a two-way award while All-D is a one way award, the voting certainly skews towards offense). Here are the (updated) results:

Since '69 (48 seasons)

All-NBA 1st titles: 39
All-NBA 2nd titles: 18
Total: 57

All-Defense 1st titles: 54
All-Defense 2nd titles: 17
Total: 71

Statistically, title teams are much more likely to have an All-Defensive first team player than an All-NBA first team player, and virtually equally likely to have a 2nd teamer from either team. Even if you throw in the third team (11), teams are more likely to have an All-Defensive player than an All-NBA player.

For bonus points, here are the ring totals for the top 10 in each category (although All-NBA has a massive advantage here having existed for an extra decade or so and having a third team):

All-NBA first: 33
All-NBA total: 33 (notably NOT the same 33, though)

All-D first: 35
All-D total: 36

Also, as a point of clarification, despite Anonymous' claims, Top 5 scorers have been on the same team 10 times that I'm aware of since 1965, just about once every five years , most recently in 2012. I think they've only won the title once, though, in 2001. By contrast, All-1st D teammates have won the title 12 times over a shorter span (since the team didn't exist till '69).

 
At Monday, May 01, 2017 5:41:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Postscript:

In case anyone was wondering, All-NBA 1st teamers have been teammates 12 times since '69, winning the title 3 times (Doc/Moses '83, Jordan/Pippen '96, and Shaq/Kobe '02).

Those numbers go up a bit if you back-track it into the 60s and 50s (Celtics and Lakers, mostly), but that muddies up the comparison with All-D since it didn't exist at the time (though it's probably safe to posit that at least Russell, Havlicek, K.C. Jones, and Sanders would each have racked up a few appearances, further tilting the title count in All-D's favor).

 
At Monday, May 01, 2017 6:11:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Realized I left out the ABA teams and have a little downtime, so I figured I'd see if they follow a similar pattern:

All ABA 1st team titles: 7
All ABA team titles: 12
All ABA 1st team teammates: 1

ABA All-D team only existed from '73 on (but had 6 slots for two years) and had no second team, but...

ABA All D 1st team titles: 4
All D teammates: 2

The math there is a little more pro All-league vs. pro All-D (though teams still averaged 1 All-D player per title), but the sample size is pretty crazy small, and if you limit it to the four years All-D existed, the All ABA team ends up with 3 1st teamers winning titles, another 3 second teamers winning titles, and no incidents of All-1st teammates winning titles, for a worse ratio of first teamers winning (3/4 vs. 4/4).

ABA top 5 scorers titles: 4 (Hawkins, McGinnis, and Doc x2)
ABA top 5 scorers teammates: 2 (no titles)

Only 4 out of 9 ABA champions had a top 5 scorer (despite the smaller size of the league, only 9-11 teams per season), interestingly. Title teams averaged 1 All-D guy while it existed and a little under 1 All-ABA 1st team guy (7/9).

I'm glad I did this because it was interesting, but I think the ABA sample size may be too small to meaningfully matter for comparative purposes. Four years is not super long, even if the results do largely mirror the NBA results.

 
At Monday, May 01, 2017 7:43:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Last fun thing since I apparently can't stop:

Since '69, teams that won without:

All-NBA 1st: 13
All-NBA 1st or 2nd all: 6

All-D 1st: 12
All-D at all: 6

Top 5 scorer: 26

That narrows the gap quite a bit; basically, title teams are about equally likely to have at least 1 All-NBA or All-Defensive player, but they're considerably more likely to have multiple All-Defensive players. Slightly less than half of all title teams (since '69 anyway) have a top 5 scorer.

For funsies, here's the stats for all the "big 5" stats:

Top 5 PPG: 23
PPG Leader: 8
Multiple Top 5 PPG: 1

Top 5 APG: 9
APG Leader: 2
Multiple Top 5 APG: 1

Top 5 BPG: 14
BPG Leader: 2
Multiple BPG: 0

Top 5 RPG: 19
RPG Leader: 6
Multiple RPG: 0

Top 5 SPG: 8
SPG Leader: 3
Multiple SPG: 1


Other weird things I noticed:

* Nobody respected the '95 Rockets or the '78 Bullets, which I believe are the only two titles teams with nobody on either All-NBA or All-D 1st or 2nd teams (though Hakeem made the All-NBA 3rd team).

* Kareem somehow won the MVP in '71 without making the All-NBA 1st team (which was Nate Thurmond), presumably because of who was voting on each thing.

* Having a top scorer was pretty rare until Jordan hits, then he/Hakeem/Shaq combine for 11/12 year with a top 5 scorer (including the lone double-top-five title winner w/ Kobe). Jordan accounts for 6/8 times the league's scoring leader won the title (Shaq & Kareem are the others). All eight times they also made an All-D team (Jordan 1st, Shaq/KAJ 2nd).

* The assists are almost exclusively from Lakerland, mostly from Magic (4) but also from Norm Nixon (2) and Jerry West (1). Oscar & Walt are the only non-Lakers with a top 5 APG finish in a title year (1 each).

* Most of the RPG/BPG entries come from '94-'07, thanks chiefly to Hakeem/Rodman/Shaq/Duncan.

* In a couple of categories (PPG & APG), removing one guy (MJ or Magic) DRAMATICALLY changes things. Everything else is more evenly distributed than you think, though Duncan/Shaq both definitely have a lot of BPG/RPG appearances in their title years (Kareem weirdly doesn't, especially for RPG).

* Having a great steal-generator doesn't really seem to correlate strongly with postseason success. Makes sense; even the best guy at that is effecting 2-3 possessions per game tops. A shotblocker, by contrast, is probably changing or discouraging 10x as many shots as he blocks.

* Extremely rare to win a title with two guys in the top five for the same stat. Three times total.

* More title teams than you'd think have nobody in the top 5 for anything. Weirdly, they're most frequently Celtics teams ('81, '84, '08). The others are NYK ('73), SEA ('79), DET ('89 & '90) and DAL ('11)

* Shotblocking seems to be about as common as rebounding; we don't have #s from '69-'73, but Russell. Wilt, and Kareem all seem safe bets, and I wouldn't rule out Reed (or maybe even Debusschere) for those two Knicks years.

 
At Monday, May 01, 2017 8:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Last little stat-spasm for now:

Of 23 players who've made at least 10 All-NBA Teams, 4 have never won a ring Malone (14, 10 1st), Barkley (11, 5 1st), Baylor (10, 101st), and Stockton(10, 2 1st).

Only 5 players have made at least 10 All-D teams, but they all have rings (and four of them have at least 5). Of 18 players who've made at least 8 All D teams, only two have not won a ring: Chris Paul (8, 6 1sts, technically still could) and Norm Van Lier (8, 3 1sts).

If you look at All-NBAers who've made at least 6 teams, there are 46 total. 10 more do not have rings (or 14 total), though Durant and Carmelo could technically still get them (and Durant probably will). If you expand it to 5, that adds another 9 (23 total). If you go with 4 timers, it goes up to 31. At 3-timers, it goes up to 46 (we'll stop there for convenience).

By contrast, if you look at All-Defensive players with at least 6 selections, only 6 don't have rings. At 5, only 12 don't. At 4, only 16. And at 3, only 27.

Now, that's pretty stacked but it's a little unfair to All-NBA, as they've been around longer and have a third team sometimes. Let's try it with just 1st team selections (and nobody who only made teams before '69).

All-NBA 1s team >7 selections, 0 rings: 2
All-D 1st >7 selections, 0 rings: 0

All-NBA 1st >5 : 6 (3 currently active)
All-D 1st >5 : 1 (currently active)

All-NBA 1st >3: 9 (3 currently active)
All-D 1st >3: 10 (3 currently active)

It normalizes a bit once you drop down to 3-4 selections, but the guys who make repeated All-D teams are almost guaranteed to win a ring. If Chris Paul wins a ring (unlikely, but not impossible), every player to make at least 5 All-D 1st teams will have one.

Anyway, this isn't proof of anything in-and-of itself but it is an interesting aberration that happens to support what I already believe (namely that defense is underrated by almost everybody and award voting foolishly trends towards offensive players, while titles tend towards defensive ones).

 
At Monday, May 01, 2017 11:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

I have made it very clear that, with a few exceptions (such as tapping Jordan as the best SG ever), I am not ranking players within the Pantheon but that I believe that a legit GOAT case can be made for each player. I never excluded Doc from that discussion, as one of your comment implies that I did; you merely quoted out of context I comment that I made about how my views on this subject had evolved over the years, from picking various players at different times as the GOAT to believing (as I still do) that there are several players who each could claim that title depending on how certain criteria are applied.

I previously linked to a Pantheon-themed article that I wrote in which I briefly listed the possible GOAT case for each Pantheon member, so I will not repeat all of that content.

Regarding Doc, it should be obvious that if you take the first five years of his career seriously--and you should--then his total of four MVPs, three titles, 30,026 points, etc. ranks him right alongside the best of the best.

As for Doc's comment about Kareem, I believe that you are misquoting him. What I recall Doc consistently saying is that Kareem is the best player he ever faced, not that Kareem was better than he was. Doc does not like comparing players and he certainly is not apt to toot his own horn. He told me that he can't win, because if he brings up the ABA numbers then he sounds bitter but if he drops the issue then many people won't rank him alongside Jordan, Magic, Bird, etc.

Doc told me that it bothered him when he worked at NBC and while he was on the set the network would show graphics that left out Doc's ABA numbers.

In his heart of hearts, Doc--like most if not all Pantheon members--believes that he is the GOAT. Read his autobiography and you will realize that Doc feels, justifiably, that he is underrated.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 1:21:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

I was not challenging what you have stated before, nor did I insist that you don't believe that Doc has a valid case for GOAT. My point was more so that even before you arrived to your current Pantheon, you recognized long ago that some cases were better than others. That point remains true today because you believe Jordan > Kobe > West, thus you personally would not argue Kobe or West as the GOAT. There are several other examples.

My entire debate with Nick was based on the fact that just as you and virtually 99% of the basketball community believes Jordan > Kobe > West... 99% of the basketball community also believes that Kareem > Doc. I never stated that Doc does not have a case for GOAT - he does. However, his case is weak compared to a select few players Pantheon players. The same applies to Baylor, West, Bird, Shaq, Duncan, and Kobe.

I am not misquoting Doc at all. He's stated for years that Kareem is his GOAT. I remember him saying that as far back as the 90s. Here are two videos:

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=13943522
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJn5MEZ_zUg

I've heard him say on several occasions that you can only call someone the greatest if you played against them. Of course Doc thinks that he's the GOAT. All of these guys are ultra competitive and believe they were the best. I'm not sure if you noticed, but a lot of great players tend to hype up players they played against. What that does is indirectly elevates their era, thus elevating them.

I've heard Doc say that he feels underrated. I read some of his autobiography as well. He's said so on several occasions and I agree with him. Doc should most certainly be mentioned along with those guys and sometimes he isn't.

Listen - I've been around this game for a long time. I don't need anyone to justify Doc's or any of the other Pantheon player's cases to me. I think this started simply because I insisted that Doc is one of the GOAT's, but his case as #1 is not nearly as great as Jordan, Russell, Wilt, and Kareem. That is by no means a controversial statement. I've run into a lot of great basketball minds in my day (old heads). Trust me - that is as close to a consensus that we'll ever get. The rest of the Pantheon members were great in their day. I've seen and remember them all except young Baylor, Oscar, & West. The case for the rest of these guys are fine, but very few of these guys are being called the GOAT... maybe Magic.

Saying they have a case is one thing - believing it is another. One can believe that 61 Baylor, 64 Oscar, 70 West, 76 Doc, 86 Bird, 87 Magic, 92 Jordan, 00 Shaq, or 06 Kobe was the best year of any player. That doesn't mean that they necessarily believe that guy is the GOAT. If that's the case then pre-injury Walton could be argued in that group as well. Red Auerbach was calling Bird the GOAT in the 80s... until Bird's prime was done. Jerry Sloan called him the GOAT in 1981. It's easy to call a player the GOAT while a guy is in his prime. You're in amazement. I myself got caught up in the hoopla. Very few of these guys were being called the GOAT towards the end of their careers and afterwards. That is miles different than judging a player during his prime when it's easy to be short-sighted with players that played before them and players that are currently playing against them.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 1:46:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Since Doc has come back up, I would be remiss if I didn't add to my previous stat-flood that in '74 he led his team to the title while leading the league in scoring, and finishing 3rd in both steals and blocks.

In '76 he led the league in scoring while finishing 5th in rebounds and 3rd in steals (again winning the title).

Worth noting that in both seasons, he finished Top 7 in all five major categories (he almost did it again in '75, but finished 8th in rebounds). AFAIK, no other player has achieved that feat (though I think Hakeem got 4/5 a few times), certainly not while leading the league in scoring, double certainly not while winning both the MVP and the title, and triple-certainly not twice.

He also narrowly missed being the only player to finish Top 5 in all five categories by a little under one rebound and less than one tenth of one assist per game in '74.

David, do you know if Doc ever recorded the rare "Five by Five?" It seems likely that he would have, most likely in the ABA.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 1:54:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Nevermind, just looked it up.

He was the first player ever to do it in the NBA (though it's pretty likely that Bill Russell did it before they started recording steals/blocks), the second shortest player to do it ever, and the shortest to do it without overtime (Jamaal Tinsley did it in double OT).

Doc's statline for that game: 28/7/10/5/5

I guess my question then, David, is do you know if he had any additional 5x5 games in the ABA? Again, it seems likely... but Basketball Reference's game-finder only has individual AST/TRB/BLK/STL stats from '83 on, so I'm not sure how to check.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 2:06:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

Regarding your Pantheon article - you only reinforced exactly what I've been saying.

Baylor:
"Baylor's peak value is as high as any other player's, but ultimately his lack of durability and his failure to win a championship make it difficult to rank him ahead of every player in pro basketball history."

Bird:
"Even if one bought the hype that as of 1984-86 Bird was the greatest player of all-time (a questionable proposition in any event), it is evident that Magic surpassed Bird and also evident that Jordan subsequently surpassed Magic, making it difficult to now suggest that Bird is the greatest player of all-time."

Shaq:
"O'Neal accomplished a lot but he left too much of his potential untapped to be considered the greatest player of all-time. He was not more statistically dominant than Chamberlain, he did not come close to winning as many titles as Russell and he was not as multifaceted or durable as Abdul-Jabbar."

Duncan:
"Duncan had a dominant stretch in the early to mid-2000s and his role on the last two San Antonio championship teams is underrated but it could at least be argued that he has not been the Spurs' best or most valuable player for eight years. An excellent case could be made that Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time (the best way to attack that premise is to argue that Duncan has actually been a de facto center for much of his career). Duncan is a model of all-around consistency and I would take him over any power forward (and most centers) but his peak value does not quite measure up with the peak values of some Pantheon members."

Kobe:
"Bryant is the closest thing to Jordan since Jordan retired--and that is no small accomplishment--but it is difficult to argue that Bryant is better than Jordan."

You yourself stated that the case for GOAT is difficult to make for a lot of these guys. In some cases you did a better job of showing why some of the player's aren't the GOAT. In your article, Jerry West's pros are pretty much the less accomplished version of Jordan's.

I would say that your article does a better job of proving my point than anything. Sure, each player on that list was great during his time and even at some point arguably the best in the league, but arguing most of these guys as the GOAT is extremely difficult, if not logically impossible. That's all I've been saying and that is evident to anyone that has been watching this game for 50 years.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 2:14:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Did some more digging because I have a problem, apparently.

Apparently Doc recorded the alleged first ever 5x5 while he was in the ABA (in '76), with a stat line of 31/19/5/5/5. That means Doc not only has the third most 5x5s ever (assuming he doesn't have any other forgotten ABA 5x5s, as 1 more would push him into a tie for second and four more into a tie for first), he also has the 5x5 with the most rebounds (19) and two of the top six scoring 5x5s (4th and 6th)... or, to put it another way, the two highest scoring 5x5s NOT by Hakeem Olajuwon. Doc has the 2nd most assists in a 5x5 (10), a distinction he shares with three other players.

Speaking of Hakeem, he has not only the highest scoring (38), the top rebounding (19, tied with Doc), the 2nd highest assist (10, tied with Doc and Batum), the three highest block (12, 12, 10), the 2nd highest steal (7, behind Kirilenko) 5x5s, but he also has six total, double that of anyone else, and recorded one of them during a monstrous quadruple double of 29/18/10/12/5, which has gotta be right up there for greatest single games ever played.

Beside my last question about forgotten ABA Doc 5x5s, David, I guess I'll ask if you know of any playoff 5x5s? I couldn't find reference to any, but it seems like they could have happened, particularly either in the ABA or before we started recording blocks/steals.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 10:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, you filled up a lot of space, but still failing to miss what I'm asking you, and you never addressed the Bowen/Roberson supposedly being able to lead teams, possibly lead teams to the playoffs, and even possibly leading teams to titles. We see some of these things happen every year in the nba with one-way offensive players, and even sometimes bad defenders leading teams to titles. I could be wrong, but I don't know any examples of one-way defenders being the best player on any team currently, and can't remember the last time such a case happened.

A team having more great defenders than great offensive players hardly proves (actually doesn't at all) that 'individual' defense is more important than 'individual' offense or even as important, and not what I'm talking about at all. In fact, I'd probably expect it on title teams. That main guy, who almost always is phenomenal offensively, almost always needs a bunch of help to win a title, and often the best way to do this is loading up on defensive players to complement him.

If you could somehow explain why guys like Thomas/Lillard, who are tiny PGs, can lead teams to the playoffs and actually a #1 seed for Thomas' team, and how Roberson, who's an elite defender with decent size, is only the 4th or 5th best player on OKC, I'd like to hear it.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 10:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I was not aware that Doc was a member of the 5x5 Club. Where did you find those two box scores and which games are those? FYI, My info is he posted 31-19-5-5-4 (blk) in game six of the 76 Finals.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

His NBA one is listed on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_(basketball)#Five-by-five

Apparently it was on Dec 5, '79 vs. the Spurs.

The '76 one doesn't have a date on it beyond the year, but I found it referenced here: http://nbahoopsonline.com/History/Records/5x5.html

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 12:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Interesting. When Tinsley and Kirilenko posted their 5x5s Erving was not listed as a member of the club. Box score data with steals and blocks from that era is hard to find.

Unless Doc had a 31-19-5-5-5 line in the regular season (seems unlikely to have that exact line twice), I think the ABA mention is wrong. I don't have the source in front of me but I wrote that Doc had 31-19-5-5-4 in game six of the ABA Finals. I remember double checking all of that before I wrote it.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 12:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

The top five rankings in multiple categories in multiple seasons, which I have written about before, is remarkable. That kind of versatility combined with four MVPs and the associated team success put his resume in elite company.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 1:38:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Yeah, I can't speak to the accuracy of the ABA line or the site it came from. I know that sometimes in that era there were multiple sources of truth (or relative truth) so it is possible that the official scorekeeper may have had one stat-line while a given network/paper/whatever may have had another. It is also possible that the box score immediately after the game was recorded one way, and then changed later upon review (I know Lebron and Hakeem have both "lost" triple and quadruple doubles in similar cases).

I wish I still had the VHS tapes of the ABA Finals (I believe I had 4/6 games including G6), so I could go check myself, but unfortunately I do not. It would be pretty cool if Doc put up the first ever 5x5 in the final game of the ABA, though, leaving that league with one last innovation on its final day.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 7:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

You are entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to misrepresent my opinion. The article of mine that you are quoting is titled Why Julius Erving Belongs in the Greatest Player of All-Time Conversation--and Other Pantheon-Related Issues, so it is very odd that you are attempting to quote that article to somehow prove that I don't believe that Erving belongs in the GOAT conversation. The fact that my views about the GOAT conversation have evolved over time proves that I have put a lot of thought into the matter.

Your mischaracterization of what I wrote is so bad that I considered not posting it at all. The article's format presents pros and cons for GOAT consideration of every Pantheon member. To just quote from the cons without making it clear that I had pros for every player is very disingenuous. Not everyone is going to click on the link to read the entire article.

Doc has generally referred to Kareem as the best player he faced. Doc does not typically single out one player as the greatest ever. Doc also has an all-time starting five that always stays the same and does not include Kareem; those are the five players that inspired him the most (Wilt, Russell, Oscar, Elgin, Jerry West). The totality of Doc's statements about pro basketball greatness--and not just the clips you selected--reinforce my view that all of the Pantheon players should be appreciated, as opposed to one being singled out.

Regarding the Simmons clip, Simmons trashed Erving in his book, and he took unfair shots at Erving, apparently based on one Curry Kirkpatrick SI article from Erving's most injury-plagued season. If I were Erving, I would not even give Simmons the time of day. Simmons is more of an entertainer--if you find him entertaining--than a basketball analyst.

Since you misquoted my article, here is what I actually concluded in that article regarding Erving:

Erving deferred to his teammates and coaches, particularly in the NBA, in a way that most other Pantheon members did not. Erving has been lauded as a great teammate and there is no doubt that--based on how he played in his first five years--he was willing and able to do more when called upon to do so. Should Erving have been more assertive with the coaching staff and management, a la Magic Johnson in 1981 or Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant at various stages of their careers? It is hard to fault Erving in light of all that he accomplished, though. His peak value is top shelf and his durability is impressive as well. If he had snagged one more NBA MVP and if the Sixers had captured the 1981 title (instead of blowing a 3-1 lead against eventual champion Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals) then Erving would likely be viewed differently by the casual fan and the uninformed commentator. However, based purely on the merits of what Erving accomplished a good case can be made that at his best he was better than anyone else.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 8:40:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

I'm not sure how you concluded that I misrepresented your opinion. Please reread my comments and pull out where I said that you do not believe Doc to be in the GOAT conversation. No such statement has come from my fingertips. I said that he is several times. I'm very anxious to see this statement of me saying such.

Also, no quote that I listed is one of your cons. They are all from the "Analysis" section for each player. Once again - my point from the start has been that the cases for some players are clearly stronger than others. That has not changed. By quoting your article, I showed that you stated the exact same thing. I'm not sure what you're missing here or what you're even trying to argue.

I just showed you two videos of Doc calling Kareem #1. I'm not sure how you can disagree with concrete evidence of him saying such. Did I agree with you that internally Doc probably believes himself to be the greatest? Yes. Did I agree with both you and Nick that players try to not definitively rank the greats? Yes. However, these are two videos of him saying Kareem is the guy. I'm not sure how you can just toss that to the side, unless you're saying that Doc was disingenuous in the videos. If Doc did not think so highly of Kareem, then he could have easily said another player. He played against Oscar, West, and Wilt in exhibition games and Bird, Magic, and Jordan in the NBA. There was nothing stopping him from saying any another player. His top 5 is referencing the players that he admired in his youth and inspired him.

"The totality of Doc's statements about pro basketball greatness--and not just the clips you selected--reinforce my view that all of the Pantheon players should be appreciated, as opposed to one being singled out." ... We absolutely agree on this. That does not change the fact that some cases are better than others. Are you singling out Jordan by calling him the GOAT SG or are you basically saying exactly what I'm saying - that his case is better than any other SG?

Bill Simmons is a terrible person to get a credible opinion on a lot of players and a lot of things regarding basketball. I did not point you to the videos for his opinion. His bias and tendency to create silly stories out of inaccurate events is clear.

1/2

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 8:42:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

2/2

I did not even mention Doc at all in my second comment. Not once. I quoted sections for players regarding Baylor, Bird, Shaq, Duncan, and Kobe. I also referenced Jerry West. My point from the beginning has been that the case for a select few players are better than others. Those players for me are Jordan, Russell, Wilt, and Kareem. That is Mount Rushmore if you ask me. Yours may be different. It will be different for other people. If you ask a lot of people whom have lived long enough to watch majority, if not all of these guys, then they would probably have the same as me, or probably not. That isn't the point. It does not mean that I like those players the most. None of those players make my favorites Mount Rushmore other than Russell.

By quoting your writings, I showed that even you recognize that the cases for some players are better than others. How much better is up for debate, but you yourself in your analysis section stated so and you were correct. I did not once say that you do not believe Doc to be the GOAT, nor that you do not believe any other player to be the GOAT. Your article clearly states why it's hard to make serious arguments for some of those players.

I'm not sure how you're interpreting this debate, but you clearly aren't understanding what I'm trying to convey. Whom the #1 is extremely debatable and comes down to preference. However, the case for some is better than others. I don't see how this has spiraled to this drawn-out conversation. My point is not controversial whatsoever.

This has not been a Doc bashing session at all. I've spent just as much time pointing out Kobe and Bird's weak cases and those are two of my three favorite players ever. There are probably some people out there that have them as the GOAT and that's fine. However, one would be delusional to not recognize the many holes in the cases for those two guys. The same applies to Doc and any other player just as I've said for a hundred times.

That does NOT mean that I believe you to not have Doc as the GOAT and I have no clue how you arrived to your conclusion. If I must say it again in plain English... Julius Erving is in the GOAT conversation.... However, I and very many people recognize that his case for #1 is more flawed than several other players.... at the very minimum of four Pantheon players.

Replace Julius Erving with any other player except the 4 that I named, and the same statement would apply. The text from the article you linked says the exact same thing that I've been arguing.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 9:03:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

I apologize if you took my comments as purposely trying to misquote you. That was not my intention. I was using your writings to back up my argument that some cases are clearly better than others. How you took that as my way to discredit Doc or misquote you, I’m not sure. However, it does not matter at this point.

As I stated, I do not rank players definitively either, but it’s clear to me that a hierarchy exists. I would be lying if I said that all of these guys are equal. They aren’t and nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve laid out an outline of that hierarchy and why I look at it that way. You, nor anyone is being forced to agree with it. However, it would be disingenuous to deny such when we all recognize that there are clear holes in a lot of these cases.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 10:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I do not know of any playoff 5x5s. I have not done extensive research on this particular subject but I did look into it a little bit back when Kirilenko did this, which was also around the time that I updated my earlier article about pro basketball's 100/100 Club (for steals and blocks).

I am pretty sure that Doc did not have five blocks in game six of the 1976 ABA Finals and I doubt that he had another game that year with exactly 31-19-5, so I am bit skeptical of the unsupported 31-19-5-5-5 claim. In Pat Putnam's SI article about the first four games of the '76 Finals, he notes that Doc had seven blocks in those games. We know that Doc finished the series with 13 blocks, so he had six blocks in the last two games. My recollection is that he had two in game five and four in game six. I have reliable box score data for the series but I don't have access to it at the moment; I will attempt to check out the archives this weekend.

As for the 1979 Doc game, I suppose that it is possible but I have never seen reference to that 5x5 anywhere other than the source that you cited.

Whether or not he accomplished these 5x5s, Doc had some incredible performances and those performances are spread out over a long period of time/two different leagues. That is the larger and most important point.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2017 11:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

These are my thoughts about your comments about Doc in this thread:

1) You are asserting that it is ludicrous for anyone to state that the GOAT could be anyone other than the players you think deserve that title; in contrast, I believe that a strong case--yes, a strong case--can be made for any Pantheon player. A lot of commenters here pick on Baylor as the supposed weak link but he had the three greatest consecutive seasons of any SF in pro basketball history. Then he blew out his knee but he was still the league's best SF for the better part of a decade. So, a case can be made for him. As I noted in my article, depending on which factors one most highly values, a case can be made for any of these players.

Just because I said that it could be "hard" to make a case does not mean that I think it is impossible or that it is ludicrous to do so. I feel like your selective quotes twist the plain meaning/intent of the article.

2) I am not interested in a "battle" of video clips and/or quotes. Most people who have been quoted about this subject over the years have said different things at different times; my articles attempt to look at this issue logically, objectively and consistently.

3) I have never compared MJ to West. That is all you. I also have never classified West as a shooting guard. I would say that he was either a point guard or a combo guard. The only reason that I have, reluctantly, stated my opinion about MJ and Kobe is that so many commenters here kept saying that I am claiming that Kobe is the greatest player of all-time. I never said that and in fact my opinion has always been that he never quite caught MJ; however, I also would say that a credible case could be made that Kobe surpassed MJ.

When I wrote about Kobe, I always compared him to his contemporaries. The only exception is that when he had a second three-peat of Finals appearances I noted that "old" Kobe was at least comparable to "old" MJ but I added that in my opinion MJ's overall resume is stronger.

Regarding Bird and Magic, I personally never thought that Bird was the GOAT or that he was better than Magic, but many people believed both of those things in the 1980s. Very early in Bird's career, Cousy said something to the effect of "Everyone is going to say it in five years but I'll say it now; Larry Bird is the greatest player to ever play this foolish game." Was Cousy objective or correct?

I recognize that a case can be made for Bird but I personally don't find it compelling, just like some of my readers don't find the case for Baylor to be compelling.

4) Unless one dismisses ABA numbers and awards, Doc has to be considered at the very least a top five player: 30,000 points as a two-way player, four MVPs (and the only player who won MVPs in two leagues), three titles, six Finals, 10 Division/Conf. Finals, never a losing season, etc. The numbers, the narratives, the skill set--everything is there. Now, if you lop off nearly one third of his career then the case is harder to make but that would be true of every other Pantheon member as well.

So, when you dismiss Doc you are implicitly also dismissing the ABA and I completely reject that notion.

 
At Wednesday, May 03, 2017 12:25:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

David:

1.) I think we are arguing semantics on the words "strong" and "hard", but we can agree to disagree. I read that article when you first published it and may have read it with a bias as I am reading it now.

You are using the word "ludicrous" when I think that you should be using the word "odd". I think that it's "odd" and "unusual" for a non-biased, well-informed individual to have any other player as the GOAT other than those 4. As I stated, I can remember as far back as the mid-60s. I have been active in the basketball community since then. I do not recall any seriously publicized list that had any of these other players (except Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird) as the GOAT. The Bird talk was during his prime and as I explained, it's easy to be high on a guy during his prime. It makes more sense to compare a guy to the other greats once he is at the end of his career.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I also do not recall any well known basketball mind call any other player other than Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Kareem, or Oscar the GOAT AFTER the player had ended his career. I turn 60 this year and I have never ran into an unbiased individual with clear knowledge of the greats call anyone other than the guys that I've named the GOAT.... AFTER the guy's prime was over.

Now that does not mean that I am disagreeing with what you're saying. I think that you're asserting that I am down right dismissing anyone whose opinion doesn't align with mine. With seeing all that I've seen, an old mind like mine grows curious to why someone would believe that any other player truly deserves that title while not undermining and dismissing the credentials of other players. An argument is one thing, a conclusion is another.

2.) Fair enough, but I have never seen Doc call any other player, but Kareem the #1 guy. Take that as you will. I agree that many guys are inconsistent with what they say on camera (Gary Payton in that video is a perfect example).

3. You are correct. I assumed that you ranked West as a shooting guard. That is my mistake. West was absolutely a combo guard. I think most people classify him as a shooting guard because he wasn't nearly as ball dominant as a guy like Oscar.

Regarding the Bird argument - I was a huge Bird fan. I hated the Lakers. At a point in time, especially the mid 80s, I found myself calling Bird the GOAT. It was more out of love for my favorite player though. Auerbach considered him the GOAT during his prime and then rescinded that sometime around the early 90s. He then said Russell or Jordan depending on the context of the conversation. Cousy said Jordan was "by far" the greatest in the 90s. It was easy to fall for the Bird hype because he was really, really, really freakin good. Virtually everyone got off that train though.

 
At Wednesday, May 03, 2017 1:14:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

4.) I dismiss your premise that Doc has to be considered a top 5 player unless his ABA numbers and awards are dismissed. I look at it a couple ways:

I do not take the championships and awards for either league in the early-mid 70s at face value. Why? Logically, only one MVP is given out every year. It is disingenuous to say that both Doc and Kareem won MVP in 1976 and then count them equally to other players. How many more MVPs would Russell and Wilt have had they been in different leagues in the 60s? What about Bird and Magic in the 80s? Now that isn't Doc or Kareem's fault. They played where they played. However, things like that need to be taken into account.

Next, the ABA's stars were equally as good as the stars in the NBA. However, anyone from that time would tell you that the average ABA players were clearly inferior to the average NBA players. That's not debatable and clearly evident to everyone from that time. That again was not Doc's fault, but it is undeniable that he achieved those feats in an inferior league (not vastly, inferior, but clearly inferior). Now, does that mean that I don't count his 30K points, etc.. No. Doc would have probably hit 30K regardless. However, unless you believe that he would have won every MVP from 1974-1976 and would have achieved the exact same team success including two championships had the leagues been integrated earlier, then I don't see how those accomplishments should be taken at face value.

Anyone who completely knocks off his ABA career is a moron. However, anyone that completely takes every single aspect of his ABA career and counts it 100% is equally as foolish. Doc was clearly the 2nd best player of the 70s, but I do not think that he would have won as many MVPs and championships. I could be wrong though and am not afraid to admit that.

With that said, I do not think that his resume and skill-set warrants an automatic top 5 spot even if his ABA accomplishments are taken at 100% face value. Without making this longer than this needs to be:

Jordan: Scored 30K points as a two way player in four less seasons, five MVPs, 6 titles, six finals, etc..

Kareem: Scored 30K points as a two way player in two less seasons, 6 MVPS, 6 titles, 10 finals, etc...

Russell: Did not hit 30K or even 20K, but would have received about 10 DPOYs, has 5 MVPS, and he's easily greatest winner ever by a long shot with 11 titles and 12 finals.

Wilt: Scored 30K points as a two way player in four less seasons and lost 4 game 7s by a total of 9 points to Russell and the Celtics while having a 0.800 win percentage against everyone else. Unless you think Wilt loses to the field like he did to Russell (not likely with his .800 win percentage and extremely close games with Russell) or that any other player would have beat Russell more than Wilt, then Wilt clearly would have had more team success had Russell not existed. Also, he's the only player that is arguably a top 3 scorer, rebounder, and defender ever amongst all players while also being one of the greatest passers ever at his position. He owns the record book.

So unless you think Doc's resume and skill-set is clearly superior to everyone else, but these guys, then he cannot be considered at the very least a top five player. Unless I'm wrong here, please correct me.

 
At Wednesday, May 03, 2017 1:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Getting back to your earlier question about players who might have made the Pantheon if not for injuries or circumstances beyond their control, I agree that Connie Hawkins is a name worth mentioning.

I would not put Bernard King or Rick Barry into that category, though. Barry did have a knee injury in the ABA but he came back to still be a dominant player, leading Golden State to the 1975 championship. I don't believe that the injury affected his ability to play at a high level. He had a great career but just not quite a Pantheon career in my estimation. As great as King was at his peak, I am not sure that he was (or would have been, had he stayed healthy) quite at the Pantheon level.

 
At Wednesday, May 03, 2017 2:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

Doc has always said that Kareem was the greatest player that he personally faced. Doc tends to not give a definitive answer about who the greatest player is, preferring instead to spread credit around and say that certain players deserve recognition. His point about Kareem to Simmons seemed to be more that Kareem has to at least be mentioned. Doc was befuddled that anyone would not mention Kareem in the conversation. I agree with that.

Baseball has two leagues and two MVPs every year. You are diminishing the ABA, even when you say that you are not.

I am not sure that we would agree about how to define a "great basketball mind." I respect any well thought out opinion but I also believe that I understand the game at a high level. My Pantheon articles are well thought out and as objective as it is possible to be.

I don't think that any of this is "clear" other than that a legit GOAT case can be made for each Pantheon member. I have not ranked my Pantheon members before and I am not going to be goaded into ranking them now.

We are just going in circles at this point, so I consider this portion of this thread closed. Let's return our focus to the 2017 playoffs.

 
At Wednesday, May 03, 2017 12:24:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

FWIW (without starting a prolonged argument about it) I'd offer a few bits of context on ABA vs. NBA:

1) The ABA had the superior inter-league record, despite Doc winning two games for the Atlanta Hawks in '72 vs. ABA competition.

2) I disagree that the average ABA player was weaker; the fact is that the NBA was much more diluted (14-18 teams during the ABA's existence) vs. the ABA (11-9 teams), particularly during Doc's peak (the NBA had 16 teams in '74, and 18 in '75-76, while the ABA had 10 teams in '74 and 9 in '75-'76). Even if fifty of the best eighty players or whatever were in the NBA (and they probably weren't, we'll get to that), they were distributed among way more teams.

3) In '77 9/24 All-Stars, 4/10 All-NBA players, and 4/10 All-Defensive players were recent ABA immigrants. Those numbers were virtually the same in '78 & '79 as well, so it wasn't some kind of merger bump. That being the case, which league do you think was denser? The league with 13 All-Stars split among 18 teams, or the one with 9 All-Stars split among 9 teams? The one with 6 if the best 10 players split among 18 teams (1 for every three teams, basically) or the one with 4 of the best ten players split among 9 teams (just under one for every two teams)? In the seven years following the merger, the NBA MVP was a former ABA player 4 times. Dr. J, Maurice Lucas, George McGinnis, and Moses Malone were the best or 2nd best players on a Finals team eight times in that span (plus ABA immigrants Rick Barry and Charlie Scott won the title just before the merger in '75 and '76). In fact, every Finals from '75 to '83 featured at least one ABA star as the best or second best player on his team (and often at least two).

4) Was there a single NBA team between '72 and '76 that was significantly better than the ABA Pacers, Colonels, Nets or Nuggets besides that legendary '72 Lakers team that was also better than every other NBA team of the decade? All of those ABA teams would have contended for, and quite possibly won, NBA titles during that same era.

All that in mind, I'm not sure I agree that the NBA was the tougher league at the time. In fact, I think it was probably the easier mark, with more diffuse talent and a little less athleticism at the top (who is the shooting guard that's as athletic as David Thompson? The forward who could keep with Doc? The center that could keep up athletically with peak Gilmore or young Malone? Was there a PG was physically powerful as Warren Jabalii?).

Also, if we're making the "those MVPs/titles should count for less, there were two leagues" argument, then Russ/Wilt's MVPs/titles should count for less because there was less competition; neither of those guys were playing with 2-3 other All-timers in an 18 team league. Jordan's should probably count for less too as the league over-expanded and the average level of talent dropped league-wide (he was the only 90s guy who spent his career with another top 20 guy). That's a slippery slope that rapidly turns any cross-era argument into nonsense, and it can be used against virtually anybody depending on how you want to frame it.

 
At Wednesday, May 03, 2017 12:28:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Re: Potentail Pantheon guys

You know how I feel about Barry, but I probably agree about King. I was just curious.

Are there any foreign players (Sabonis, Oscar Schmidt, whomever) who would have merited Pantheon consideration with either longer peaks or more significant NBA runs? And what about Gilmore? Do you think his peak value was high enough (we can agree that his play declined pretty sharply pretty quickly, though he remained an All-Star he was far from an MVP)?

 
At Monday, May 08, 2017 12:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Sabonis and Schmidt were great but I can't think of a foreign player who merits serious Pantheon consideration.

I wrote for years that Gilmore was the best eligible basketball player not in the HOF but he is not a Pantheon level player.

Regarding 5x5s, I checked the archives and the SI Julius Erving retirement issue lists him with two blocks in game five and four in game six. A post by Al Hoffman at APBR years ago has the same numbers.

 

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