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Friday, April 13, 2018

2017-18 Playoff Predictions

Before I make my annual playoff predictions, I will offer some comments about the 2017-18 NBA season.

This season's biggest story is the Houston Rockets, who finished with the best record in the league by far--65-17, six games ahead of the Toronto Raptors and seven games ahead of the defending champion Golden State Warriors. To put that in perspective, in each of the last two seasons, the Warriors finished six games ahead of the rest of the league.

The Rockets had a better season than I--or just about anyone else--expected or predicted. Much of the praise and attention is focused on James Harden, the presumptive regular season MVP. Harden had an exceptional season: he won his first scoring title by averaging a career-high 30.4 ppg and he ranked third in assists (8.8 apg). However, Harden has put up big numbers before and that has not led to this much team success.

The big difference for Houston is team defense. The Rockets are mediocre in defensive field goal percentage (.462, 16th in the league) but they force a lot of turnovers and thus they have vastly improved in points allowed: last season the Rockets ranked 26th out of 30 teams in points allowed but this season the Rockets vaulted to sixth in the league in that category. Mike D'Antoni-coached teams are always going to push the ball, score a lot of points and shoot a lot of three pointers but this may be the first D'Antoni team that takes defense seriously.

There is still a misconception in some quarters that Golden State's recent success is somehow a vindication of D'Antoni's "Seven Second or Less" Phoenix Suns teams--but, in fact, the Warriors took a much different approach. D'Antoni's Suns just tried to outscore teams and were largely indifferent to defense, while the Warriors individually and collectively are great defensively.

Chris Paul has always been a feisty, combative and effective defensive player despite his small statute. His mentality has had an impact in Houston, along with the addition of other tough-minded defensive players such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. Clint Capela has blossomed into an All-Star caliber center for this era, a mobile big who runs to the rim on offense and who rebounds/plays defense.

The Rockets have shown over 82 games that they have enough talent to win it all. It will be very interesting to see how they do in the playoffs, especially considering the less than stellar postseason resumes of D'Antoni, Harden and Paul.

The second biggest story of the season is the under the radar individual excellence of Russell Westbrook, who won the 2017 regular season MVP after becoming the only player other than Oscar Robertson to average a triple double for an entire season. Westbrook just pulled off an even more impressive accomplishment: he averaged a triple double for the 2018 regular season to become the only player in pro basketball history to average a triple double in consecutive seasons (or two seasons at all).

I picked Westbrook's Oklahoma City Thunder to finish third in the West, so their fourth place finish in a very competitive conference is not terrible or surprising but some people talk like this team is a major disappointment. The reality is that last season Westbrook absolutely carried a talent-bereft team to the sixth seed in the West and this season he carried a more talented but still flawed team to the fourth seed. While the Thunder only added one win to their 2017 total, their relative standing in the conference improved.

Westbrook averaged 25.4 ppg (seventh in the NBA), 10.2 apg (first in the NBA and his fourth straight top four finish--not bad for a player often derided for allegedly not keeping his teammates involved) and 10.1 rpg (tenth in the NBA for the second year in a row, a remarkable feat for a 6-4 point guard). Westbrook improved his FG% from .425 last season to .449 this season, though his three point field goal percentage and free throw percentage both declined (from .343 to .298 and .845 to a career-low .737 respectively).

Westbrook is understandably resentful that he has been accused of artificially chasing certain statistics: "A lot of people make jokes about whatever, stat-padding or going to get rebounds. If people could get 20 rebounds every night, they would. If people could get 15 rebounds, they would. People that's talking or saying whatever they need to say, they should try doing it and see how hard it is. Since everybody wants to be talking, I'm tired of hearing the same old rebound this, stealing rebounds, all this (stuff).  I take pride in what I do. I come out and play, and I get the ball faster than someone else gets to it. That's what it is. If you don't want it, I'm gonna get it. Simple as that."

Westbrook's teams have always performed much better when he gets a triple double than when he does not, so even if it were true that Westbrook is "chasing" numbers that alleged "chase" has helped his team; the Thunder went 20-5 this season when Westbrook posted a triple double and 28-29 when he did not. In other words, when Westbrook is not playing at an Oscar Robertson Pantheon level, the Thunder are just a mediocre team.

The third biggest story is the unexpected rise of the Toronto Raptors to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The Raptors went 51-31 last season before being swept in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers and it seemed as if Toronto's contending window was closing or closed. Instead, the Raptors posted the best record in franchise history (59-23) and secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history. Fringe MVP candidate DeMar DeRozan led the way but he had a lot of help from a deep and versatile supporting cast. There will be justifiable skepticism about this team until it proves that it can maintain this performance level in the playoffs but the front office, coaching staff and players deserve credit for an outstanding season.

The fourth biggest story is the puzzling Cleveland Cavaliers, who finished fourth in the East despite the gaudy statistics posted by the seemingly ageless LeBron James. Ever since James returned to Cleveland, it has been obvious that he has a major say in the composition of the coaching staff and the roster. James always has "his" guys. Yet, the Cavaliers stumbled through this season while playing some of the worst defense ever for a team that fancies itself to be a championship contender. James' individual numbers look great (27.5 ppg, career-high 9.1 apg, 8.7 rpg) but his defensive effort has been subpar for most of the season and the Cavaliers actually went through a lengthy stretch of games during which they performed better when he was on the bench than when he was on the court.

James' extended run of individual greatness and team success is incredible but this has been an odd season in an often paradoxical career; James is so talented that he can consistently put up tremendous numbers regardless of circumstances (including age, injuries to his teammates, etc.) but team success does not always result from his efforts. He has been a dominant player on stacked teams for most of his career, so winning three championships is both an accomplishment but also perhaps something short of what should be expected of him.

Here are my first round predictions:

As noted above, the Toronto Raptors had a great season but in the past four years (since they became a playoff contender after missing the postseason for five straight years) they have only made it past the second round once. The Washington Wizards seemed to be poised to be one of the East's top teams but chemistry issues and an injury that caused All-Star John Wall to miss 41 games pushed them to the bottom of the conference's playoff pack. The Wizards went 2-2 against the Raptors during the season. Wall's late season return could make this series interesting but ultimately the Raptors are a well-balanced and focused team while the Wizards play in fits and spurts. Toronto will win in six games.

After finishing with the best record in the East last season, the Boston Celtics did a major overhaul with the goal of assembling a roster that can beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. Newly acquired Gordon Hayward went down with a season-ending injury in the opening moments of the first game but the Celtics still had the best record in the East for most of the year before being passed by Toronto. Losing All-Star Kyrie Irving for the stretch run and the entire postseason is a devastating blow but Boston is a well-coached, fundamentally sound team that should be able to get past a young Milwaukee team that features rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo (26.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 4.8 apg) but ranked last in the league in rebounding and is not stout enough defensively to win a playoff series. The Celtics will win in five games.

Let's get one thing straight. The Philadelphia 76ers have not proved that tanking works; they only started to become good after they fired the tanking guru and put a real GM in charge of the team. That GM--Bryan Colangelo, the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2005 and 2007--changed the franchise's losing culture and assembled a legitimate NBA roster. The 76ers went 52-30 this season and set a franchise record by closing the campaign with a 16 game winning streak, breaking the mark set by the 1983 NBA championship team led by Moses Malone and Julius Erving. Pump the brakes on the idea that this team is even close to being as good as that team, though; it is sad to say that at least six of those 16 wins came against teams that are tanking at least as much as the 76ers were just a few years ago.

The 76ers' first round opponent, the Miami Heat, remain an inconsistent and hard to figure squad. Last season the Heat started out 11-30 and closed 30-11 to miss the playoffs on a tiebreaker. This season, the Heat--with a playoff berth at stake--limped to a 12-9 finish but ended up with the sixth seed thanks to even more desultory closing runs by the Wizards and Bucks. The 76ers and Heat split their season series 2-2 but on paper the surging 76ers should make quick work of the Heat; the one caveat is that the 76ers lack any meaningful playoff experience. The 76ers will win in six games.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the worst defensive team in the playoffs. The Indiana Pacers are perhaps the most surprising team in the East and they handled the Cavaliers 3-1 in the regular season. All that is well and good but do you want to pick against LeBron James in the first round of the playoffs? I don't. The Cavaliers will have some embarrassing defensive lapses but they will beat the Pacers in six games.

The final seedings in the Western Conference were not determined until the last day of the regular season. The Rockets had already lapped the field a while ago and the Warriors were safely ahead of the  rest of the pack but teams 3-8 finished two wins apart, with three teams tying at 47-35 and two others going 48-34.

Houston manhandled Minnesota in the regular season, sweeping the series 4-0. I don't trust D'Antoni, Harden and Paul in the playoffs but I am not foolish enough to think that an eighth seed that needed an overtime win on the last day of the season to even make the playoffs is going to threaten them. The playoff history of Houston's main trio is so checkered that I would not be surprised if they stumble out of the gate and lose one of their first two home games but the Rockets are so much better than the Timberwolves that even if that happens it will not change the outcome of the series. Houston will win in four games.

A healthy and focused San Antonio team is a serious threat to the Golden State Warriors, as we saw during last year's playoffs before Golden State's de facto playoff MVP Zaza Pachulia delivered a cheap shot to Kawhi Leonard from which the Spurs still have not recovered. The Warriors took the season series 3-1 and they will beat the Spurs in five games.

During last year's playoffs, Portland was first round 4-0 roadkill for the Golden State Warriors but this season the Trailblazers seized the third seed and homecourt advantage in the first round. New Orleans' Anthony Davis has been on a tear since DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles but Davis has exactly zero playoff game wins so far in his career; that run of futility figures to end soon: he will get a win against Portland (and probably two) but not four. Portland will beat New Orleans in six games.

In one game, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a threat to anyone, including the Rockets and Warriors. Unfortunately, the Thunder often play down to their competition and they close games about as smoothly as a jalopy going uphill after a wheel fell off. If Carmelo Anthony or Paul George are isolated at the end of a playoff game with the Thunder trailing, I am turning the TV off; if George and Anthony do what they are supposed to do--carry some weight in the first three quarters so that the Thunder can build and maintain a lead without running Westbrook into the ground--then the Thunder could make some noise. Westbrook will play hard 100% of the time--which should go without saying about all NBA players but sadly does not go without saying--but I just don't trust this squad when the chips are down. However, homecourt advantage and some late heroics by Westbrook should be enough for the Thunder to beat the Jazz in seven games.


Thus, I expect the second round matchups to be Toronto-Cleveland, Boston-Philadelphia, Houston-Oklahoma City and Golden State-Portland. The Cavaliers have eliminated the Raptors in the playoffs the past two years, winning eight of the 10 games, but it is hard to picture a team as bad defensively as Cleveland making it past the second round. The caveat, of course, is that James and the Cavaliers are capable of flipping the switch like no other team. This series is a great opportunity for Toronto, though. James has a long track record of quitting as an underdog when physical and/or psychological pressure is placed on him. If Toronto takes care of business at home in the first two games then the Raptors could advance and that is what I expect will happen.

If the Thunder can get a split in Houston then they can really put pressure on D'Antoni, Harden and Paul--but the Thunder will probably go down 0-2, rally to tie the series and then fall in six games. I never thought that I would pick a D'Antoni-Harden-Paul squad to get past the second round but this seems to be their year.

Boston-Philadelphia is one of the NBA's great historic rivalries. This looks like it will be a seven game war but I like Boston’s defense and veteran toughness making the difference in game seven at home.

Golden State should be at full strength by the second round and that is too much for Portland, who will fight valiantly before falling.

The conference finals--the NBA's version of the Final Four, though no one calls it that--will be fun as always. A full strength Boston team probably would have won the East this year but with both of their All-Stars sidelined the Celtics' playoff run will end in Toronto.

Houston should beat Golden State. The Rockets have homecourt advantage, they have health (barring something unforeseen happening) and they should be more hungry than the two-time champions--but I just cannot pick D'Antoni-Harden-Paul to win a conference finals until I see it happen.

The Warriors are gunning for their third championship in four years but it seems like they have almost been an afterthought this season. They will not be an afterthought after they beat Toronto in six games in the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant will capture his second straight Finals MVP.


Here is a summary of the results of my previous predictions both for playoff qualifiers and for the outcomes of playoff series:

In my 2017-2018 Eastern Conference Preview I correctly picked six of this season's eight playoff teams and I went six for eight in my 2017-2018 Western Conference Preview. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2017: East 5/8, West 7/8
2016: East 5/8, West 6/8
2015: East 5/8, West 7/8
2014: East 6/8, West 6/8
2013: East 7/8, West 6/8
2012: East 8/8, West 7/8
2011: East 5/8, West 5/8
2010: East 6/8, West 7/8
2009: East 6/8, West 7/8
2008: East 5/8, West 7/8
2007: East 7/8, West 6/8
2006: East 6/8, West 6/8

That adds up to 77/104 in the East and 83/104 in the West for an overall accuracy rate of .769.

Here is my record in terms of picking the results of playoff series:

2017: 14/15
2016: 12/15
2015: 10/15
2014: 13/15
2013: 14/15
2012: 11/15
2011: 10/15
2010: 10/15
2009: 10/15
2008: 12/15
2007: 12/15
2006: 10/15
2005: 9/15

Total: 147/195 (.754)

At the end of each of my playoff previews I predict which teams will make it to the NBA Finals; in the past 13 years I have correctly picked 15 of the 26 NBA Finals participants. In five of those 13 years (including 2016 and 2017) I got both teams right and twice I got both teams right and predicted the correct result (2007, 2017). I correctly picked the NBA Champion before the playoffs began three times: 2007, 2013, 2017.

I track these results separately from the series by series predictions because a lot can change from the start of the playoffs to the NBA Finals, so my prediction right before the NBA Finals may differ from what I predicted in April.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:27 AM


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At Saturday, April 14, 2018 12:42:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

A few thoughts on the season and some of the remarks above, specifically about Harden, Westbrook, and James.

* At this point, Harden's doing more good for his team than Westbrook. The system he's in minimizes his defensive shortcomings to the point where he might actually be more defensively valuable than RWB (though both still suck), particularly when they hide him on PFs where his large frame and quick hands make him almost a defensive asset, and his offensive production is straight up superior. Kills me to say it, as I hate Harden's attitude/the way he plays the game, but it is what it is. He's the MVP this year (though if James had played hard all season I'd take him, and there's still probably ten guys in the league I think are "better" than Harden in a vacuum).

*Related story, while it's true Lebron was a lazy defender this year, he wasn't any lazier than RWB, who played hard on that end for about two weeks to start the season then quit, as usual.

*I've said before that RWB raises a team's floor while lowering its ceiling; I think this season was pretty good evidence of that. His team added Paul George (a top 5 small forward), Carmelo Anthony (a one-dimensional 10x All-Star), and Patrick Patterson (a starting-caliber PF last season) and won... one more game than they did last season. Meanwhile, former RWB teammates continue to thrive all over the league, and for all his alleged lack of help last season, his old running mate Victor Oladipo may knock him off the All-NBA Second Team.

RWB is a physical marvel with an incredible skillset, but there's little evidence he makes his teammates better, and his defensive apathy, inefficient shooting, and crunchtime predictability put a cap on exactly how good his team can be. Last season he had the excuse of having "no help" but this year he's gote help and yet his true shooting percentage is actually down 3%.

He's starting to look a lot more like Stefon Marbury than Kobe Bryant, to my eyes. Which is a bummer, because he has the physical gifts and the raw talent to be basically faster, shorter Kobe.

At Saturday, April 14, 2018 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Onto the actual playoff matchups...

Worth noting is that this is the first first round ever where I don't want to gamble; I could see every single matchup in the opening round go either way, which hopefully will make for some good basketball.

*Raptors should be able to beat the Wizards... but they're the Raptors. I figure this series will be more competitive than it should be, but Toronto probably wins out in the end.

* I think Milwaukee might upset Boston. Stevens is an incredible coach and the Bucks have a lot of problems, but I don't think Boston is well set up to defend Giannis, and without Irving or Hayward to run the offense they're likewise poorly suited to take advantage of Milwaukee's slipshod defense.

* Philly/MIami should be a blast. Miami's had a second straight snake-bitten season, but seem to be getting healthy (minus Waiters). Dragic has had serious consistency issues all season, whether due to age, injury, or fatigue, so their fortunes here probably depend on whether or not the lighter playoff schedule allows him to be the best version of himself every night. If Embiid were healthy I'd take Philly, but I think his absence opens the door just enough for Miami to steal home court and the series, given their edge in playoff experience and coaching. That said, if it goes 7, Philly's winning. That crowd will be rabid.

* Indiana probably can't beat Cleveland, but it'll be fun to watch them try.

* Houston should beat Minny in the battle of the two coaches in the league who most overwork their stars, but never bet against Harden's ability to poop the bed in the playoffs. Mbah a Moute being out matters, too. I think Minny actually steals this if Jimmy Butler is fully healthy, but I don't think Jimmy Butler is fully healthy yet.

* Warriors without Curry are very mortal. Very, very mortal. Especially against Pop. I'm very on the fence on this one, but I think there's probably just enough pride left in Golden State that they'll get it together and win a close series... but I think if SA can get to 3 wins, they'll also get to 4. I don't trust GSW's mental toughness without Curry's big clutch momentum swings.

* Blazers should be able to beat the Pelicans, but there's at least a chance AD goes full Hakeem on them and wins the series by himself.

* Utah has a good enough defense to beat OKC, but I don't know about their offense. If Rubio keeps shooting well and Mitchell doesn't have any rookie jitters, I like Utah to win, but failing that I see OKC prevailing in a bowling shoe ugly brickfight before getting embarrassed by Houston or Minny in the next round while RWB shoots sub-40% and leads the team in attempts.

At Monday, April 16, 2018 7:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


1) Harden has had an outstanding season, playing at a higher level than either of us previously believed that he could. I am not convinced that he is doing more than Westbrook or that he is more valuable than Westbrook. As you noted, Harden is in an ideal system to maximize his strengths and hide his weaknesses. I also think that Houston has a better roster than OKC, even though OKC may have more star power on paper; Melo has always been overrated and PG is a bit overrated as well, while Chris Paul is a first ballot HoFer, Eric Gordon is a perennial Sixth Man Award candidate and Capela is an All-Star caliber center in today's game.

2) We seemingly will always disagree about defense in general and the defensive capabilities of certain players in particular (Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook, to name just two), so I don't have much to add here because I don't want to go around in circles.

3) Westbrook is not remotely like Marbury in any way. Westbrook is a vastly superior player on an individual skill set basis and Westbrook has enjoyed far more team success. Westbrook was an All-Star/All-NBA caliber performer for multiple teams that reached the WCF.

At Monday, April 16, 2018 10:14:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

1) I would probably still take RWB over Harden in a vacuum (though I am much less certain about that than I was a year ago), but in their current systems I think it's fair to say that Harden is having more of an impact. As for rosters, I don't think Capela is better than Adams (and in fact plays very similarly), and at this point in their careers I think Paul George is better than CP3 (and unlike CP3 has been the best player on a Conference Finalist). You are right that Melo is overrated, but he is still probably a better player than Ryan Anderson. I would agree that Houston has a better bench, but I think OKC has a much stronger starting lineup (particularly when Roberson is healthy). OKC's bench is unremarkable, but not awful, either.

2) Fair enough. I do find it odd that you are able to recognize and critique much of the exact same bad defensive behavior from Lebron that annoys me about Westbrook, however.

3) I do not mean he is literally only as talented as Marbury, but he reminds me of Marbury in that, at least post Durant, he posts statistically impressive stat lines but does not seem to make his teammates better, or impact winning the way you would expect numbers like those to impact winning. Also like Marbury, he does not put in the same amount of effort on defense or when he is off-ball on offense as he does when he has the ball.

He is stronger, faster, and more technically sound than Marbury. But we have seen him average triple double for two seasons now without cracking 50 wins. Last year is perhaps understandable (if we assume that Oladipo and Sabonis both got orders of magnitude better over the offseason and their shortcomings last year have nothing to do with RWB's style of play), but this year he had a top 10 center, a top 4 SF (top 5 when Leonard is healthy), and an admittedly overrated 10x All-Star and yet did not meaningfully improve on that performance.

Until he commits to defense and/or finds himself in a custom-made perfect system for hiding his warts like Harden did, I don't think he'll be making any more WCFs. I also think Marbury probably could have made an WCF himself on a team with Durant/Ibaka/Adams, so I hesitate to laud RWB too much for WCF appearances as a second banana.

I am not yet convinced you can win anything with RWB as your best player, now matter how many statistical records he sets. Perhaps "best player" is the wrong term here (there's at least a devil's advocate case that Paul George is a better overall player), but I am not convinced you can win anything RWB as your centerpiece. He renders your crunchtime offense predictable, leaves your defense exploitable, and seems to be able to depress the enthusiasm/effectiveness of talented teammates as often as he elevates weaker ones.

At Monday, April 16, 2018 4:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When did Capela become an AS-caliber center?

Is Capela better than any of these centers: Drummond, Jordan, Cousins, Howard, KAT, Davis, Embiid, Jokic, Love, Vucevis, Adams, Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Horford, Gobert?

That's 15 guys. I could see a case for him when added to this mix, to be around #10-12 range at best, but probably is in the #12-14 range. When there's only 4-6 centers in the AS game, and I don't think he's particularly close to making it currently, that's not exactly AS caliber. I like his game and he's getting better, but just a glue guy and always will be. He plays the fewest minutes out of all these guys, and that's with a team that's pretty thin at the center position after him.

At Monday, April 16, 2018 4:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RW is an amazing player, but have to mostly agree with Nick about him, other than the defense part some. I'm not seeing him making his teammates much better, if any, rather pretty much the opposite. He had a lot more help last year than we realized. And did 1 win better this year with his new, improved cast. Oladipo led IND to 48 wins this year, same as RW, and just outplayed James in game 1. Who's his 2nd best player: Young or Bogdanovic? Solid players, but hardly anywhere close to AS caliber.

The results haven't been there for RW as the #1 guy team-wise, but maybe he'll do something in the playoffs this year that will surprise us. For all the talk in here about Harden not doing this and that, Harden has a much better track record as his team's #1 guy so far, and seems to make his teammates much better than RW does. RW deserves credit for making 4 WCF, but almost any player of starting PG ability could've done that at least 1-2x with KD and the cast OKC had for several years, plus with Harden picking up his slack in the 2012 WCF to make his lone Finals. HOU does have a better roster than OKC, but 17 games better? And OKC's starting lineup looks better, which means a lot more in the playoffs when rotations are shortened.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 7:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My main answer to all of your negative points about Westbrook is that when he reaches a triple double the Thunder win at an elite rate and when he does not log a triple double the Thunder win at a Draft Lottery team rate. That strongly suggests that his supporting cast is really not all that good--regardless of how it may look on paper--and that his team needs for him to perform at a Pantheon level in order to win. Now, some of this may be the result/fault of the coaching staff not using the correct rotations or maximizing the talents of all of the players, but Westbrook--unlike Marbury--is clearly not just chasing numbers at the expense of wins. For instance, Marbury was renowned for getting upset if a player who he passed to did not shoot--even if the next pass resulted in a team score--because Marbury's primary reason for passing was to accumulate assists.

I am not convinced that Durant, Harden or Ibaka are necessarily better without Westbrook but their opportunities have changed after they were placed in different situations and/or roles. Regarding Oladipo, he did not look like a star before he arrived in OKC, either; he may just be a late bloomer and there is no evidence that Westbrook was somehow holding him back. I am quite sure that Westbrook (and Donovan) would have been thrilled if 2018 Oladipo had shown up during last year's playoffs, particularly when Westbrook was on the bench and OKC was outscored approximately 100-2 (those are not official numbers but that is what it felt/seemed like).

It is funny sometimes what is said about players unless/until they win a title. Go back and read the Jordan Rules by Sam Smith. Bill Cartwright lamented about Jordan that Jordan was perhaps the greatest athlete he had ever seen but that Jordan simply did not know how to win. That was all of about two years before Jordan led the Bulls to six titles in an eight season span. Jordan sure must have learned/changed a whole lot in those next two years! Or, maybe, Jordan's teammates improved and the new coaching staff had a better idea how to maximize everyone's talents.

I once wrote an article about the laughable way that every year some writer would assert that Kobe used to be selfish but now he has changed (which was at least an improvement over True Hoop's drivel...). Kobe did not suddenly learn how to win in 2009; while it is true that Kobe added to his game every year, he was an All-NBA/All-Defensive performer during the first championship run and then his team success suffered a bit until the Lakers put at least minimally competent teammates around him.

When Westbrook had a good team around him, he was an integral part of multiple WCF runs. He took last year's Thunder as far as anyone else (other than maybe LeBron) in today's game could have taken them. We will see how far he takes this year's Thunder.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 7:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I said that considering the way today's game is played Capela is essentially an All-Star caliber center because he shoots a high percentage, he rebounds, he defends and he is excellent at setting screens/diving to the hoop.

Regarding the specific players who you mentioned, in today's game and considering their respective roles on their teams, Capela is better than Drummond, Howard, Vucevic and Adams for sure. He is clearly not better than (not listed in any particular order) Davis, KAT, Cousins, Love, Jokic or a healthy Embiid (but Embiid is often hurt and sometimes the most important "ability" is durability).

A lot of this is context specific; Capela is not better than prime Howard, nor is Capela suited to being the best player on a championship team--but as the main big on a run and gun "modern" team he plays his role to near perfection.

My larger point is that I disagree with a narrative that would suggest that Harden is taking a bunch of stiffs and magically transforming them into a title contender. Houston is deep and talented, with a playing style that is suited to the roster's strengths and weaknesses. I am not sure that this is a championship recipe but it worked a lot better in the regular season than I expected and it worked well enough to convince me that Houston has enough talent to win a title (though I don't expect the Rockets to win one); the Rockets are not some charming underdog being carried by "The Beard" but rather a 65 win team whose season would be disappointing if it does not result in a deep playoff run.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 11:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Capela is definitely not better than Drummond. Drummond's a 2x AS, and I seriously doubt Capela is getting or would get much serious consideration for the AS team, even in the East. Plus, HOU is probably the perfect situation for Capela to maximize his skills. He's still 1 of the 3-4 worst centers offensively that I've listed. His defense is solid, but solid enough to overtake many, or any, of these guys? It'd be hard. Not sure about Howard/Adams either.

Love would be 1 of the guys I'd say Capela might be better though, but it's close.

The other guys you didn't mention: Cousins(clearly better), Aldridge(clearly better), Gobert(comparable offensively, way better defensively), Jordan(very comparable-probably a little better), Marc Gasol(looks better, but possibly not).

Minutes played is still a key stat, and Capela ranks last amongst all these guys. Capela is in the perfect situation, and still #10 at best. I understand what you're saying about him and mostly agree about his skills, but bottomline is that he's still several guys away from being a fringe AS-caliber center.

HOU has a nice squad, but it's still a bunch of career role players, Paul(who's never done much in the playoffs even as a #2 guy behind Griffin), D'antoni(whose had a lot of shortcomings as a coach-but somehow is getting his team to play great defense this year), and then Harden. Obviously, this team should be doubted for now. However, HOU shouldn't beat be expected to beat GS, even at full strength, even if Curry doesn't play. And Anderson/Mbah a Moute(2 key guys) are currently hurt, too. GS will have better coaching, more talent(KD/Thompson/Green trio is still way better than Harden/Paul/Capela trio), and comparable with team depth. HOU will only have homecourt advantage, if these 2 teams meet. GS has a much easier path to the WCF, too. MIN would've been the #3 seed if Butler was healthier during the regular season. Then, OKC/UTA will be tough 2nd round opps for HOU. Kawhi-less SA, then POR or NOP doesn't scare me much. OKC is one of the few teams in the league that more-or-less has the recipe for a title: a top 5ish player with 1-2 other AS-caliber players plus some decent role players after that. Another underwhelming regular season for RW in the alpha dog role, but OKC could beat anyone.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...


I do not disagree with you at all about Harden and Houston.

I do disagree that Capela is "for sure" better than Adams. Capela is a little faster and more agile but Adams is stronger and more seasoned. Both are deadly on the roll (Capela can jump a little higher to finish lobs but Adams has better touch around the rim and is probably a slightly better screener). I don't think either is an All-Star but I think in a league that more properly valued defense (beyond blocks and rebounds in the box score) they'd both be candidates.

Regarding RWB's former teammates, I think it's pretty clear that Harden is better now but it's fair to argue that would have happened no matter where he played (at least his refining of his three point shot/iso game, if not his monster numbers). I do think Durant is a little better but would attribute that to a coaching staff that's forced him to diversify his game some, particularly on D. Ibaka I think is about as good now as he was in OKC.

On the other hand, I think Kanter is playing much better in NY, despite being on a much worse team (and getting more defensive attention without RWB and KD around). I think Oladipo is obviously much better but I do not think that is 100% only about RWB (more on coaching in a second, plus he's in better shape). Sabonis however is obviously much improved and it's mostly a product of him being allowed to do literally anything besides "stand behind the three point line and wait for RWB to kick out to you" which was his role in OKC and a waste of his talents.

Melo is demonstrably worse in an off-ball role. Paul George is still very good but it's perplexing to me that his FG% has actually gone down since joining RWB and becoming every defense's second priority rather their first.

Coaching is a factor in most if not all of those cases, but so is usage; players like to get the ball. In the RWB-centric OKC ecosystem, guys mostly only get the ball at the end of an RWB set, but they rarely get to play "their" game. Very rarely did OKC run sets to get them involved/maximize their talents. Having said that, Houston's system is similarly Harden-centric but seems to bring the best out of his supporting cast.

Ultimately, I would stop shy of saying RWB makes his teammates worse. But there isn't much of a case that he makes them better, either, and that's confusing for a player with such high passing numbers (and I don't just mean assists; on a per-pass level, his targets convert at an above league-average rate).

I do think that his defensive apathy is somewhat infectious. Oladipo, Sabonis, Durant, and even Kanter (to a lesser extent) have improved their effort on that end since leaving his side. That may be a culture issue as well but RWB is certainly not helping.

I do not need RWB to win a title for me to hold him in the same kind of esteem you do. I do need him to play consistent defense and/or trim some of the fat from his offensive game (dumb early-clock 3s and no-prayer out of control layups against multiple defenders, mainly). As-is, while he's obviously an upper-tier star, he brings enough negatives with him that I think any team with him as their best player has a built-in ceiling. I don't think any team, with RWB in his current form as their best player, could win a title (or at least not without a lot of help from the injury gods).

I feel the same way about Harden, incidentally, although I think his offensive game is pretty complete (pending whether or not it crumbles against playoff D again) and his defense probably has further to go (though Houston's staff has done a great job of minimizing that weakness).

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 1:17:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...


I forgot to address your point about RWB's win rate when he records a triple double. It is impressive, but I think does little to prove anything beyond that his teams do better when he plays better; the same is true of almost any star. I imagine Stephon Marbury's teams likely won at a better rate on nights when he had 25-10 than not, too. I suspect (though this is harder to measure with box scores) that OKC wins at an even HIGHER rate when RWB plays hard/smart on defense for an entire game, or in games when he shoots fewer stupid early clock 3 pointers that almost never go in.

That RWB's teams have thus far been unable to crack 50 wins or the 2nd round of the playoffs (though the latter is likely to change this year) with him as the #1 guy suggests that no matter how good they are when he's at his best, he is not at his best often enough for them to be a true contender.

My case has never been that RWB should stop getting triple doubles; it's that the mere fact that he gets triple doubles does not immediately make him a perfect player beyond reproach, and that for his teams to win at the highest level he will either need to improve his game or add a teammate who's better than he is. Even in a Harden-like perfect situation, smart upper-tier playoff teams would still target his weaknesses and likely come out on top.

Triple doubles are an interesting statistical milestone but a player getting 20/10/10 is not necessarily any better than a player getting 20/11/9 or a player getting 30/15/4. They are not the be all, end all that some media personalities like to pretend they are. Fat Lever and Rajon Rondo have more career triple doubles than Steph Curry, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant, but nobody in their right mind would take them over any of those guys.

Back on RWB, he has, at the moment, a reasonably strong team around him. It could be stronger, but a (supposed) top 5 player should be able to make some hay with an All-NBA-ish level SF, a well above average center, a decent but unremarkable two-way wing (Brewer), and a declining 10x All-Star who, while overrated, is not completely without value. Patterson

I don't buy the Jordan comparison because Jordan's teams were generally knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual Eastern Conference champs, stacked All-Star teams that were each dynasties in their own right. Before winning the title, his teams made it to the ECF twice and the and the semis twice (losing to Boston or Detroit each time), suggesting both improvement and the ability to at least compete with the very best.

I believe if OKC is to win anything of note with RWB as their best guy, he will need to become a stronger defensive player (Jordan was elite on that end) and/or improve his offensive efficiency (Jordan was elite at that, too) and/or get the best out of his supporting cast (Jordan was pretty great at that, as well). If he starts doing those three things and still can't win 50 games or make a Finals appearance, then the issue will clearly be coaching/not enough support. But for now, at least part of the problem is that RWB, for all his value, does too many things that hurt his team on both ends, and that's at least part of why they're not winning as much as they probably should be.

I'll also note that in spite of all of that, I think there's a non-zero chance they make the WCF this year. Utah can't score and most of my criticisms of RWB similarly apply to Harden, at least in the playoffs.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 5:28:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Looks like my sentence about the supporting cast got cut off, but should have read "Patterson, Felton, and Grant are not world-beaters they are perfectly respectable bench players."

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 6:33:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...


You are right. Jordan and Westbrook are not equal. And, yes, Jordan was a much more efficient player than Westbrook. The arguer in me wants to talk about competition level, athletic ability, team-specific roles, etc. during Jordan’s time, but I’m perfectly content in settling on our common ground and moving on with our lives. Or, at least onto other fun topics. My segue into...

I think the Shaq thought experiment is a fun one. And, for the record, I don’t know if he could do it, but I’d love to see Embiid give it a go against Shaq. Embiid is like a taller, stronger, better Rasheed Wallace. In fact, there’s several centers that I think would at least make it interesting, before probably failing. I’d be curious to see how the Stifle Tower would respond or an antelope/gazelle like De’Andre Jordan or a stretch, semi-bulky, uber smart Marc Gasol. But, yeah, not too many guys in today’s NBA that could even pretend to guard Shaq. Oh, I may be interested in seeing Draymond “kinda today’s Rodman (as a defender)” Green give it a go too. He’s got the wingspan, the quick hands, and the low center of gravity that would at least give him a fighting chance. He’d be a problem for Shaq to guard too.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 8:49:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Nick, where do you pull Westbrook's supposed defensive apathy being infectious from? The Thunder have been a top 10 defensive team this year and last year as well.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 10:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...


Totally fair question. My opinion comes from chiefly a few things:

1) How much worse they got defensively once Roberson went down this year; they were elite when they had Roberson/George/Adams, allowing them to hid RWB/Anthony on the other teams' two weakest players. They were much worse defensively once Roberson went down (roughly league average). IIRC they were 1st or 2nd when Roberson went down (and their D-RTG with him on the court would have led the league by over 4 points if a team put it up all season).

2) D-RTG and related stats factor in defensive rebounding as part of defense, which is fair, but not really what I mean when I refer to an individual player's defense or lack thereof (I think of rebounding more as a neutral third category, like special teams in football). OKC has been a great rebounding team (in large part thanks to RWB) which factors heavily into those considerations, but doesn't factor into my criticism of lazy transition or rotational defense.

3) Oladipo was a better defender both before and after playing with RWB than he was with him. Sabonis has improved significantly without him as well, though that may just be a second year player making normal strides.

4) Eye test, mostly. RWB doesn't consistently bust his ass to get back in transition and neither do his teammates (except usually but not always for Paul George). Teams tend to follow the lead of their best players, and I worry that RWB treating defensive effort as a luxury rather than a necessity enables his teammates to approach it the same way. Some of them have the motor to bust anyway (Adams, Roberson) but others don't/didn't (Oladipo, Melo, etc.)

I should note that it isn't totally fair to put this all--or even mostly-- on RWB; it's not literally his job to force his teammates to play defense, but when we're comparing him to guys like Jordan (who would chew out a teammate who didn't get back in transition and almost always got back himself) it becomes relevant.

FWIW, Harden doesn't do any of those things either, but Houston has surrounded him with high-motor defenders (plus Chris Paul, who brings some of that Jordanesque "motivation").

At Wednesday, April 18, 2018 10:15:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Addendum to the above: OKC's D-RTG without Roberson on the court this season is 110.7, which would be about 23rd in the league over a full season.

Their rebounding has stayed strong, so the dropoff is almost entirely due to shoddier pre-shot defense. A lot of that is on RWB (and the bench, which has few strong defensive players).

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 12:04:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

James Harden, 2018 MVP, somehow just went 2-18 with a +1 in a playoff game his team is winning by 24 w/ 2 minutes to go.

Minnesota held the Rockets to 37% shooting, completely neutralized Harden, and still found a way to get blown out.

Thibs needs to learn how to install a coherent offense soon or his head coaching days are likely numbered.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 1:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Houston is a perfect situation for Capela.

Regarding Drummond, in my estimation he is what Kenny Smith sometimes calls "a looter in riot," meaning a player for a poor team who puts up individual numbers that are not particularly meaningful.

Capela exceeded 13 ppg, 10 rpg and 1.8 bpg this season. That may not look that impressive but since 2007 there have been just 22 such seasons (including his). Howard did it seven times in that time span, Anthony Davis five, Tim Duncan twice, Pau Gasol twice, Whiteside twice, Drummond once, Bynum once, Gobert once. That is pretty good company for Capela, who is still young and improving.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 1:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what you have to worry about for HOU and Harden, and their philosophy offensively. They're very volatile since they rely heavily on 3's; however, it's a great sign for them struggling so much offensively and able to win by 20.

MIN's defense is showing up, but I think it was mostly show Harden missing shots he normally makes. Harden had the best game one in the league, but then couldn't find his shot in game two, but he still had a huge impact on the game. He continues to setup teammates well, could've easily had 12-15 assists. However, he actually played great defense in game 2. Only one game, but he's contributing in several other areas when his shot isn't following. Harden actually grades out very well in most areas on defense. The problem is that he often doesn't try much in transition defense, and his lowlight reel looks really bad which clouds people's memories.

I wouldn't read into +/- too much. Joe Ingles had the best +/- in game 2 in the UTA/OKC series, and he had a terrible game. RW is -6 for the series, as is James in his series.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 1:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I pretty much agree with you about Capela, except about rating him as an AS-caliber center, even in supposedly down years in nba history for centers.

For all the talk about 'Harden being in the perfect situation", I don't really understand, or don't quite understand the implications at least comparedly to other stars. Harden was putting up huge numbers before D'antoni, and has played for several different coaches in HOU. I agree he's a good situation in HOU, but most star players are on their respective teams. The main difference when D'antoni arrived is that Harden switched more to the PG role on offense. Naturally, he'll get more assists then. But, that's no different than RW(who is a PG, plays PG, and dominates the ball) or James(who's essentially his team's PG and most offensive plays are run through him). The rest of Harden's stats have remained very steady compared to pre-D'antoni.

You can't honestly tell me guys like KD or Curry aren't in perfect situations either. While they might have to sacrifice a little from their individual stats, that's a dream as a player. And James has had stacked teams for about a decade now, until kind of this year, which is primarily his fault, since he likes to meddle in everything. And while Harden may have fumbled about playing with another star at one point, maybe with Howard(who was a bad fit in HOU and has been a headcase at most of his stops in the nba btw), he's now welcomed Paul and seems to love playing with him, even though they're both ball-dominant, very similar players.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 2:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Part of the edge that I give to Capela over Adams is age/athleticism. Capela is bouncier and still improving, while Adams has likely peaked.

I agree that triple doubles--or any other one stat/combo stat, for that matter--are not the b all, end all in terms of player evaluation. However, Westbrook is getting "big" triple doubles--he is an elite scorer, not a 10-15 ppg guy, in addition to being an elite rebounder from the pg position (very rare, really something that only Oscar and Magic have done consistently). If Westbrook were really selfishly chasing numbers as some of his critics suggest, then his team's effectiveness would plummet in those games when he gets his biggest numbers; since the opposite is the case, I conclude that his big numbers have at least some correlation with winning.

Harden's ability to lead Houston to 65 wins this season has surprised me and I won't completely know what to make of this until after the playoffs are over. It is fair to say that he is better than I thought/expected but I also think that he has a very good supporting cast and I still believe that the D'Antoni system/Harden style of play is not conducive to deep playoff runs.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 2:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am pretty sure that OKC would have zero or near zero percent chance of winning any game--let alone a playoff game--if Westbrook played as poorly as Harden did.

Harden's supporting cast is outstanding, but that does not fit the media (or "stat-guru") narrative about Harden and Morey.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 2:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Plus/minus can be noisy but if one actually watches a particular game and knows what happened/why it happened then plus/minus can be useful.

Capela is an All-Star caliber center in this era but he is not an All-NBA caliber center (yet) nor is he an All-Star lock; as you noted, there are several players who can perform above or at/near his level in a given season.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 2:41:00 PM, Blogger Nathan Wright said...

I caught some of game 1 -- it looks like Harden is still the one-trick pony he always was: a glorified one-on-one player who can't really dominate or control a game even on his hot-shooting nights. Also a complete non-factor on defense. They don't make MVPs like they used to.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 3:05:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...


I agree with most of your last few comments.

I disagree that OKC couldn't win a game like that one against a team like the Timberwolves, assuming Paul George had a good night. OKC has enough strong defenders (and Minny's offensive philosophy is wonky enough) that a decent PG game should be plenty for them to beat the T-Wolves on a night like last night.

Let's not forget, Paul George is not far removed from being the best guy on teams capable of winning 50+ games. He is plenty capable of stealing a game more-or-less by himself against an underperforming opponent.

I do not disagree that a game in which any star player shoots 2-18 is very difficult for his team to win, particularly in the playoffs.

I agree that Harden has a very strong supporting cast, particularly in terms of depth/complimentary roles. I don't think OKC's cast stinks, either, though. George is excellent (if inconsistent), Adams is a top-10 center, and Brewer is a useful two-way wing. Anthony is a mess this season, but still capable of big numbers or plays on the right night. Patterson, Felton, and Grant are all perfectly cromulent rotation players, though I do think OKC is somewhat missing a classic change-of-pace 6th man like Houston has in Gordon.

I would take OKC's starting lineup (especially with Roberson healthy) over Houston's, but I would take Houston's bench over OKC's.

I don't think the talent gap is especially wide between the two teams, but I do think Houston does a better job of putting its guys in the best position to succeed; OKC continues to struggle to figure out how to get much value out of anyone besides RWB who needs the ball (Oladipo last season, Melo this season).

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 3:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Perhaps if "Playoff P" (or whatever George is calling himself) shows up, OKC could win with Westbrook shooting 2-18 from the field but considering that OKC struggles to win half of their games in which Westbrook does not post at least 10-10-10 they don't figure to win many games in which Westbrook contributes so little.

I like Houston's depth much more than OKC's and I think that Houston has better togetherness/camaraderie. I am surprised that Harden and Paul get along as well as they seem to do. Paul has seemed to alienate or at least agitate a lot of his teammates, as has Harden. Maybe they both know that their best chance to ever win something is to do it together.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 4:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, Capela is at the very best, the 10th best center in the league, and that's in the perfect situation for him currently. Harden spoon-feeds him 8-10 points almost every game. Maybe you rank him a little better overall, not sure. You mentioned 6 guys better, but then didn't mention Aldridge/Horford/Gobert/Gasol and a few others at all, so I suspect you feel similarly. Given that about 5-6 centers make each AS game more-or-less, this doesn't add up to Capela being an AS-caliber center. Even on the best team in the nba, he didn't make the AS team, which is often slightly easier to make on elite teams. I like Capela's game, and he's a solid role player, but it's going to be hard for him to ever make the AS team.

When your team and star player play elite defense and hold the opposition to 82 points, it's pretty hard to lose regardless of how poorly your star player shoots. I've seen similar games with Kobe and others before, too. Probably won't happen on a regular basis, but does once in awhile. RW's has had plenty of very subpar shooting games that have resulted in team wins, too.

RW's cast isn't that bad, and is very comparable to Kobe's casts when he led LAL to titles in 09 and 10. For argument's sake, let's say 2010 Kobe and 2018 RW are equal. George is probably better than Pau as a #2. I'm taking Adams/Melo/Brewer over Odom/MWP/Fisher. Then it's an injured Bynum/Farmar/Brown/Vujacic vs Felton/Patterson/Abrines/Grant, which is very comparable, not sure who has the better bench. Regardless, both casts very close. RW has a good enough cast to win or at least make some serious playoff noise. He's kind of in the same boat as James these past few seasons. Very gaudy stats, but they don't lead to as much regular season success as they suggest. James has figured it out more in the playoffs than RW has though. RW has plenty enough help to win more than 48 games, and whatever the talent gap between HOU and OKC is, it's certainly not a 17-win difference if we say RW was better or even equal to Harden during the regular season.

Nathan, that's a pretty awesome one-trick pony, basically single-handedly winning a playoff game when basically only one of his teammates(Capela) shows up, though Green/Nene did ok in limited roles.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 4:30:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...


I don't think Houston can win a ton of games where Harden is 2-18 either, to be fair. Most nights they probably can't count on 24 from Gerald Green or a complete non-effort from the opposing offense to bail them out.

I agree with you for the most part re: depth and chemistry... but Paul/Harden probably deserve some of the credit for that camaraderie, as the leaders of the team.

I was not as surprised as you that they got along *this* season... it usually takes a season or two for Paul to wear out his welcome, and for Harden to turn on his sidekick/coach/whomever. It will be interesting to see if they remain such good friends in the seasons to come, especially if they don't have a successful postseason run this year.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 5:19:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

The eye test from last night's game against the Utah Jazz seemed to tell me that the Thunder generally have a hard time creating their own shots when Westbrook is not on the floor. Somewhere in late 3rd quarter/early 4th, Westbrook had helped the Thunder rack up a 10 point lead. He went to the bench and after a while it wilted down to a 1 point lead.

Defensively, I watched Westbrook a bit and a concession to Nick's corner: there was at least once he seemed caught out of position and had to rush to close out on someone's 3 point attempt and he made maybe two ill-advised shots from deep. Besides that, he seemed defensively solid with overall good effort, a couple of steals, a defensive play that would have been recorded as a block if the targeted player had not been fouled beforehand, and good defensive rebounding that allows him to ignite fast breaks or find open players further up the floor.

I would say I find his hyperactivity/energy level to be very infectious, so I imagine his teammates do too. Melo disappointingly completely bricked the last few shots at the end of the game though.

At Thursday, April 19, 2018 11:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of talk in here about +/-. But, OKC actually did ok when RW was on the bench in game 2. RW was -5 in game 2, while OKC was -2 in the 11 minutes he sat, which really isn't that bad with most teams who have star players, and can definitely be overcome. OKC really fell apart when Melo sat. +4 with him in 38 minutes, but -11 in the 10 minutes he sat.

RW didn't have a good game in game 2. And rookie Mitchell is arguably outplaying him so far through 2 games, which shouldn't happen. Melo missed some late-game shots, but so did RW. The game was definitely within his reach to win. One problem with RW that still continues is that he can't play enough minutes, if needed. He's only 4th in the series in mpg. 37mpg isn't going to cut it, he needs to be at 40mpg+.

At Friday, April 20, 2018 3:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back to RW, and I mostly agree what Nick was saying about RW's triple doubles. It's not about the actual feat of the triple-double, it's about playing very well. Whenever a star player plays extremely well, their team will almost always have an excellent record, RW is certainly not alone in this area. The same goes for James, Harden, KD, etc.

It's no secret RW does chase stats, but again, a lot of star players do. Whether you like it or not, is your opinion. He was clearly hunting rebounds in OKC's 82nd game. It's a fantastic milestone to average a triple double for a season. But whether he got 16 rebounds or not in the 82nd game, I don't think it had much to do with the outcome of the game. He sacrificed scoring to hunt for rebounds, which arguably was more of a detriment to his team. Luckily for him, his team picked up his scoring slack and did great. Jumping over teammates at times to secure a rebound doesn't additionally benefit his team any. The lineup MEM put out there was shameful.

RW shouldn't be too resentful. The media voted him MVP last year on a team, in hindsight, looks like it underachieved quite a bit. The 3 main guys who left OKC in last offseason(Kanter, Sabonis, Oladipo) are all playing much better than they did last year with RW. I still think RW could do something special as 'the guy', even though it's looking more and more bleak. There's no reason why he can't easily make the 2nd round this year, and at least come close to the WCF.

One note on D'antoni. When he was with PHO, his 2 best players(Nash/Stoudemire) had little interest in playing defense. Even if the other 3 starters are solid defenders, it's hard to be a great defensive team if that's the case. Maybe he didn't worry about defense that much, but even if he did, it's hard to see PHO being much better defensively than they were. PHO actually ranked from #13-#17 from 05-08, so they were an averageish team defensively during that time period, but not terrible. They fell off defensively in 09-10 though. GS, in recent years, does have more rounded star players than those PHO teams, but they're also deeper and more talented. Curry and KD are both much better than Nash or Stoudemire ever were, too. Plus, the top teams that PHO had to go up against(SA, DAL, and LAL) in the 2000s are definitely better than the teams GS has had to go up against in the WC playoffs since 2015. 2017 SA might've been the one exception if Kawhi was healthy, but he wasn't. And maybe 2018 HOU will be a formidable foe, but hard to say that about them yet.


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