20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Friday, October 05, 2018

2018-19 Western Conference Preview

Walt Frazier recently declared that Kevin Durant's Golden State championships should always have an "asterisk" attached because Durant joined the Warriors instead of trying to beat them. Frazier made an excellent point; Durant deserves full credit for how well he has played as a Warrior but the reality is that he joined a team that had already won 73 regular season games and a championship (in different seasons) and such a squad obviously did not need Durant.

I understand that under the current free agency rules Durant had the right to sign with whatever team he wanted to sign with and I understand that he felt like his individual resume/legacy would be bolstered by winning multiple titles as a Warrior--but I miss the days when a star player and his team would embark on a journey toward a title that would take several years and involve overcoming a variety of challenges. I think of Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons, and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. Championships forged in the crucible of years of battle just seem more meaningful than championships won by signing up with the best team. Durant and Warriors' fans may feel differently and they are entitled to feel that way--but old school fans are equally entitled to their feelings about the matter.

The rich got even richer this summer, acquiring All-Star DeMarcus Cousins as an inexpensive (by NBA standards) one year rental. Cousins is recovering from an Achilles tear and the Warriors obviously do not have to rush to bring him back, but when Cousins returns to action the Warriors will have a rotation consisting of five All-Stars, with a former All-Star and Finals MVP coming off of the bench. You could take Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry plus any one other All-Star out of the lineup and the Warriors would still be a serious championship contender, if not the outright favorite. This team is simply not going to lose a playoff series unless/until the players get bored, get injured, get old or leave via free agency.

I have always enjoyed watching greatness and I enjoy watching the Warriors' basketball mastery but I would have enjoyed this era more if we were watching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook versus the Warriors as opposed to the Warriors just dominating. Golden State versus Oklahoma City should have been a rivalry for several years in the Western Conference Finals. Basketball fans have been robbed. If you are too young to remember, find some footage from the Eastern Conference Finals from 1980-82--Julius Erving's 76ers versus Larry Bird's Celtics--to get an idea of what is missing from today's game.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers battled the Warriors in four straight NBA Finals, winning one title in 2016, but only one of those series went to seven games. Watching those series felt more like watching a coronation than watching a championship bout. James' departure from Cleveland to play for a rebuilding L.A. Lakers team means that the Warriors may not even have to deal with the best player in the game en route to their next title, and if they do face him then he will not have the experienced supporting cast that he had in Cleveland.

The Utah Jazz finished fifth in the Western Conference last year but they closed the regular season by winning 29 of their last 35 games and then they performed very well in the playoffs. They don't have a realistic chance to beat the Warriors but they could beat any other Western Conference team in a playoff series.

The Houston Rockets finished with the league's best record last season but this summer they did some subtraction by addition, acquiring the aging and one dimensional Carmelo Anthony after Anthony's less than stellar one year run in Oklahoma City.

Many self-proclaimed experts considered it a foregone conclusion that Paul George would join LeBron James with the Lakers but George did not even meet with the Lakers before re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder. George actually prefers playing with Russell Westbrook to playing with LeBron James! That development has shocked the media into silence; I cannot recall watching, hearing or reading a single report that directly stated that George chose Westbrook over James as a teammate, but there have been plenty of reports that accuse Westbrook of not being a good teammate, or at least suggesting that it would be difficult to play alongside him.

For quite some time, the mainstream media narrative about the Lakers has been out of whack and out of touch with reality. Supposedly, no great players wanted to play alongside Kobe Bryant--never mind the fact that both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard arranged to be traded to the Lakers to play with Bryant. Imagine if a player of Paul George's caliber had been a free agent at that time and had not signed with the Lakers. The mainstream media outlets would have endlessly speculated that George did not want to play with Bryant--but when George spurns James' Lakers, that hardly registers as news.

Another narrative that made no sense was the idea that in his final years Bryant was "holding back" the supposedly talented young nucleus that the Lakers had put together. After Bryant retired, we all saw the full capabilities of that nucleus, and those players are either gone or will be filling secondary roles to James. What the Lakers have done after years of wandering in the wilderness is acquire a great player who they hope can fill Bryant's shoes not just in terms of individual production but in terms of delivering championships.

Year two of Westbrook playing with George should be very good for the Thunder, particularly with Anthony out of the picture. Westbrook is going to miss the start of the season as he recovers from knee surgery but assuming that there are no lingering effects from that procedure the Thunder should again be a top four team in the Western Conference.

This preview has the same format as my Eastern Conference Preview; the following eight teams are ranked based on their likelihood of making it to the NBA Finals:

1) Golden State Warriors: What is left to say about this team? The Warriors are now competing against history, not against their contemporaries: how many titles will this team capture and how should the Warriors be ranked among the greatest teams of previous eras? Those questions are more intriguing--and relevant--than trying to figure out who the Warriors will beat in the Western Conference Finals and how many games that series will last.

Durant is a great player and he is a better player than Curry; the fact that the Warriors could win a title without Durant does not mean that Curry is better; the Warriors could also win a title without Curry. Durant has been the best player in the past two NBA Finals, outdueling James and outperforming Curry. The safety net of talent that exists around Durant makes it a little difficult to compare him to players from other eras who did not enjoy such a luxury but there is no doubting Durant's greatness.

There is speculation that Durant might leave the Warriors at some point to "validate" his greatness by winning a championship with a lesser team. Only Durant knows if he thinks in such terms but I would say that ship has already sailed. If Durant wanted to beat the Warriors, then he should have stayed with the Thunder. Durant indicated that obtaining the easiest path to the championship was his top priority, so it would be hypocritical and vain for him to go to another team now. He might as well ride out this wave and stack up as many championships as he can. The main person who doubted that Durant could lead a non-super team to a title was Durant; going to another team would just prove that Durant is so sensitive to public opinion that he would sacrifice his own beliefs to try to prove people wrong. If Durant believes in his heart that abandoning the Thunder was the right thing to do, then there is no reason to seek greener pastures now.

2) Utah Jazz: The Houston Rockets may win more regular season games but the Jazz--when healthy--are better constructed to make a deep playoff run. The Jazz beat the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and then took home court advantage away from the Rockets before Houston rallied to win three straight. Utah's nucleus is young and improving, led by rising star Donovan Mitchell and 2018 Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Utah ranked first in points allowed and sixth in defensive field goal percentage. The Jazz may have scoring droughts from time to time, but their opponents will not score very much during those droughts.

3) Houston Rockets: Rockets fans may believe that the team was one Chris Paul injury away from reaching the NBA Finals but Daryl Morey clearly felt that the roster needed some tinkering. He replaced defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute with Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has a career-long pattern of rarely advancing very far in the playoffs; he is a shoot-first (and second and third) player whose efficiency is declining and whose willingness/ability to contribute in other areas decreases each year. Even if they had stood pat, the Rockets would probably not have won 65 games again; that was an aberration and they are due to regress to the mean. Adding Anthony, though, will probably subtract about 10 wins, while also making this team a less potent playoff force.

James Harden and Chris Paul will once again put up gaudy regular season numbers in Mike D'Antoni's system. The Rockets will win around 55 games, and then they will lose a hard fought second round series. Let's take any Chris Paul excuses off of the table right now. The Rockets re-signed him to a four year deal averaging $40 million per season knowing full well that he is (1) undersized, (2) aging, (3) injury-prone and (4) tends to wear down in the playoffs even if he is healthy. If any combination of those four factors contributes to Houston's playoff demise, that is not bad fortune but rather a predictable outcome, as is Harden having some terrible playoff games mixed in with his boxscore stuffing games.

4) Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder will probably be better this season than last season, as Westbrook and George will be even more in tune and the overall chemistry sans Anthony will be much better. However, even if the Thunder win 52 or 53 games they still will probably not pass the three teams listed above: I expect the Warriors to win around 60 games, the Jazz around 57 and the Rockets around 55. Coming off of knee surgery, Westbrook may get off to a slow start by his standards and he probably will not average a triple double; look for his rebounding to drop perhaps to the 7-9 rpg range, while his other numbers stay about the same. The Thunder do not have quite the talent or depth of the teams ranked ahead of them but if everything comes together just right it is not out of the question that the Thunder could make it to the Western Conference Finals (assuming, of course, that they avoid playing the Warriors in the first two rounds of the playoffs).

5) L.A. Lakers: The Lakers won 35 games without LeBron James last season and an MVP caliber player should be worth at least 10-15 wins. After failing to acquire Paul George or Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers have assembled an eclectic supporting cast around James. This team is not a championship contender, but any squad with James and at least a few competent players is going to make the playoffs and possibly put a scare into a first round opponent. At some point, James is going to age and decline like every great player before him but there are no signs that this is going to happen in 2018-19.

6) Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets missed the playoffs by one game, losing to Minnesota in overtime in a de facto one game playoff on the last day of the season. The Nuggets will not cut things so close this time around. Nikola Jokic (18.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 6.1 apg in 2017-18) has superstar potential and just needs to keep developing his already impressive skills. Jokic joined Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett and Russell Westbrook in the select group of NBA players who have averaged at least 18 ppg-10 rpg-6 apg in a season. It should be noted that George McGinnis also accomplished this in the ABA in 1974-75 when he shared regular season MVP honors with Julius Erving. Denver has a solid nucleus of players around Jokic--including four-time All-Star Paul Millsap--and a good coach in Mike Malone.

7) Portland Trail Blazers: Portland surpassed several more heralded teams to finish third in the tightly-contested Western Conference last season but the shine of that great season was quickly tarnished after New Orleans swept Portland in the first round of the playoffs. One should not make too much out of a four game sample size compared to an 82 game sample size but it is reasonable to wonder if maybe the Trail Blazers were not quite as good as their seeding suggested, a notion that gains further credence when considering that Portland only finished one game ahead of the sixth seeded Pelicans. I am not necessarily suggesting that Portland's record will decline significantly, just that Portland will probably win 45-46 games and slip a few spots in the standings.  

8) San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are in uncharted territory. For two decades, the torch has been passed smoothly--from David Robinson to Tim Duncan to Kawhi Leonard--but now the franchise has experienced unprecedented upheaval and turmoil. The relationship between Leonard and the organization completely collapsed, resulting in Leonard being shipped to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is a very good player but he is not as good as peak Leonard and DeRozan's playoff resume lacks Leonard's championship pedigree and Finals MVP award. It is difficult to believe that a Gregg Popovich-coached team featuring DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge would miss the playoffs, but it is also difficult to see this team as an elite squad. The Spurs are not going to win 50 games or contend for a title but they will keep alive their incredible streak of playoff appearances dating back to Duncan's rookie season in 1997-98.

The rest of the Western Conference is a mixed bag, with some teams that could be dark horse playoff threats and some teams that are just awful.

As noted above, I expect the Lakers and Nuggets to emerge as playoff teams this season, which means that two of last year's playoff teams would miss the cut.

The New Orleans Pelicans upset the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round last year but lost DeMarcus Cousins (who did not play in the postseason due to injury) and Rajon Rondo, who played a key role in the team's late season surge and postseason run. The Pelicans finished just two games ahead of eighth seeded Minnesota last season and I think that the Pelicans will miss the playoffs by a small margin this time around.

The unresolved Jimmy Butler saga could tilt the balance of power in many ways. After the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired him last year, I wrote in my Western Conference Preview that Butler "should be worth at least 8-10 wins in the standings." The Timberwolves jumped from 31 wins to 47 wins  and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Butler has made it clear that he does not intend to play for Minnesota but the Timberwolves have yet to trade him. It will be difficult for the Timberwolves to get fair market value for him under these circumstances, so I feel confident predicting that this team will not make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. However, if Minnesota manages to get some meaningful assets in return for Butler then the Timberwolves could possibly battle for the eighth seed--particularly if the team finally takes to heart Coach Tom Thibodeau's emphasis on defense, which has largely fallen on deaf ears during his tenure, even last season when the team improved in the standings.

The team that acquires Butler should move up in the standings.

The Dallas Mavericks did a lot of tanking to have the opportunity to draft Luka Doncic. Doncic has looked good during the preseason and the Mavericks--with Rick Carlisle's excellent coaching--are not a bad sleeper pick for the eighth seed but I predict that they will fall short this season.

All of the main cogs of "Lob City"--Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan--are gone now and so are the chances of the L.A. Clippers making the playoffs in 2019.

The Memphis Grizzlies got rid of Coach Lionel Hollins after Hollins led the team to the 2013 Western Conference Finals. Hollins disagreed with management's basketball philosophy; Hollins is an old school basketball lifer who was the point guard and third leading scorer on Portland's 1977 NBA championship team, while the front office is populated with "stat gurus" who value "advanced basketball statistics" over any other decision-making tool. Five years later, it is not too soon to conclude that it would be an understatement to say that Memphis management's overall philosophy and specific decisions have not turned out well: Hollins' 2013 squad set a franchise record with 56 wins, while last year's team went 22-60. After Hollins' departure, Memphis lost in the first round three times and the second round once before cratering in 2017-18. Somewhere, Hollins must be laughing about the time that a certain Memphis front office executive came onto the practice court to give instructions to a player, an encroachment to which Hollins responded by rather emphatically stating that the executive should leave the court immediately. Memphis' emphasis on analytics was described at the time as "forward-thinking," which is comical since it resulted in a decisively backward movement in the standings. The Grizzlies and their "forward thinking" brain trust will again be watching the playoffs, not participating in them.

Phoenix and Sacramento will once again assume their now-customary positions at or near the bottom of the standings.

**********

Note:

I correctly picked six of the eight 2018 Western Conference playoff teams. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

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

2006-2018 Total: 83/104 (.798)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 1:40 AM

20 comments

20 Comments:

At Friday, October 05, 2018 3:55:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

"Durant is a great player and he is a better player than Curry"

I don't think that's even nearly a fact, though it's certainly a defensible opinion. But give me the guy who, by dint of stepping on the court, pretty much guarantees you the league's best offense over a mercurial forward who (occasionally) costs his team by going into iso-zombie mode.

Durant is a better defender than Curry (though he is also a tremendously overrated defender while Curry is a somewhat underrated one) but he is not nearly the passer, creator, or ball-handler Curry is. Curry is provably a better shooter than Durant but it is perhaps an open question who is the better "scorer." A reasonable case could be made in either direction, but both men are capable of putting up 30 on a whim, beating elite defense, and drawing fouls, so the difference in either direction is marginal.

All great players create opportunities for their teammates, but I would contend that Curry creates more (and better) opportunities than Durant does, both by dint of his superior vision/passing and his greater defensive gravity; it is perhaps telling that as much of a win of an addition as Durant was for the Warriors, their average O-RTG in the two years they've had him is about identical to their O-RTG the year before he arrived.

This is reflected in their On/Offs, as well; in general, the Warriors offense was 5 points better per 100 last year with Curry than with Durant (122 vs 117). When Curry played without Durant it was 116, when Durant played without Curry it was 108.

Surprisingly, the team's D-RTG with just one or the other also significantly favor Curry (99 vs 105), though I hesitate to read too much into that as Draymond played more minutes with Curry than Durant, and Draymond is the team's best defender, and he, Klay, and Iggy are all much better defenders than either Durant or Curry. It does, however, undercut the notion of Kevin Durant: elite defensive presence.

Additionally: Curry has proved he can definitely be the best player on a title team. Durant has only proved he can be arguably the best player on a title team.

TL;DR- While a case can be made for Durant based on superior size, defense, and/or playoff role, it's far from cut-and-dried and I at least would take Curry's superior offensive impact and proven ability to win without another MVP.

 
At Saturday, October 06, 2018 1:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I love Curry's game and I was high on him from the start of his career. I did not expect him to become an MVP-level player but I knew that he was going to be a lot better than most people seemed to think.

I agree that Durant is perhaps a bit overrated as a defender and I definitely agree that Curry is somewhat underrated as a defender.

Other than that, I would take a different approach to comparing/evaluating players.

Durant's size and length are major advantages over Curry. Even if we would posit that their skill sets are equal, I would take Durant over Curry based on size.

That said, I do not think that their overall skill sets are equal. They are equal as shooters, Durant is a better (and more versatile) defender, Curry is a better passer and Durant is a better rebounder (obviously straight up, but I would also say relative to position). The major difference (again, other than size, which should not be minimized--no pun intended) is that Durant can go toe to toe with LeBron James at both ends of the court and prevail. The Warriors probably did not need to acquire Durant to keep winning titles but since Durant joined the team he has been the Finals MVP both times. This last time was closer but I agree with the voters who chose Durant over Curry. Curry has three rings but no Finals MVPs. On that stage and in those matchups, Durant is deadlier at both ends of the court.

The regular season offensive efficiency numbers at the team level have a lot to do with the fact that the offense is built around Curry. It was Curry's team before Durant arrived and to some extent it still is Curry's team, particularly in the regular season--but in the playoffs and particularly deep in the playoffs, it is evident that Durant is more valuable.

Perhaps the best thing about both players is that they are not engaged in senseless feuding regarding whose team it is; they are just stacking up championships and letting outside observers debate who is more valuable.

I understand the case for Curry and it is plausible but I would still take Durant.

 
At Saturday, October 06, 2018 4:17:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

David,
Incisive commentary on westbrook/lbj/Kobe, and u r right in calling media out for that. Kudos, David.
I am still eagerly waiting for ur pantheon series updates though.
This is no ass-kissing, but I hope to see the day u r recognized in the hall of fame as a contributor. U know i have been reading ur articles for a long time, back when u were brash (a bit abrasive when responding to comments), and age (wisdom) probably took a lot of the edges off. But still an excellent writer and basketball analyst.
I hope u have more time to write again this coming NBA season.

 
At Saturday, October 06, 2018 4:22:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

"Unknown" was me (I was using a different than usual computer and it couldn't seem to sort out my Google identity).

I agree with much of what you said but I disagree with a few specific points;

1) They are not remotely equal as shooters. Curry has a faster release, a much deeper range, and the ability to catch-and-shoot on the move. Durant is not only inferior but significantly inferior in all three of those categories. Despite the much higher degree of difficulty of Curry's three pointers given all that (Durant's are mostly either spot-up or pull-up attempts, with his shoulders squared and little momentum to contend with), Curry still shoots at a marginally better clip from deep.

Durant is a very good shooter. Curry is probably the greatest shooter who has ever lived.

2) I agree that size is a meaningful advantage for Durant and I agree that their skillsets are not equal, but I disagree about which player has the superior kit. I think Durant has a significant advantage as a rebounder, a tiny advantage as an isolation scorer, and a minor advantage as a defender*. I think Curry has a sizeable advantage as a creator, distributor, and a decent one as a shooter. I also think Curry has the higher basketball IQ.

*This is an oversimplification. When Durant is playing his best defense he is a better defender than Curry but he is not a consistently stronger defender than Curry and I would argue that Curry has fewer lapses/off nights on that end. Essentially, Durant has the higher defensive ceiling but the lower defensive floor.

3) I agree that the offense is built around Curry, but I would offer a few relevant observations;

- If the offense would be better built around Durant, they'd build it around Durant.
- It is built around Curry because his unique floor-spacing impact significantly increases the space available to his teammates, an Durant is a primary beneficiary of that space.
- We have seen plenty of offenses built around Durant, and they are historically not as effective as offenses built around Curry, even given the presence of another elite offensive talent in RWB (and able supporting offensive talent like James Harden, Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka, etc.).

1/2

 
At Saturday, October 06, 2018 4:22:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

4) When talking about Curry's spacing, it can be difficult to put in context how meaningful it really is. I am reminded of this Backpicks piece on Reggie Miller: http://www.backpicks.com/2018/01/18/backpicks-goat-29-reggie-miller/

I do not agree with every conclusion in that article and certainly disagree with the author's conclusion regarding Reggie's place on the greatest players of all time list, but I do think he makes a compelling case for the not-captured-by-the-box-score value of Reggie's spacing, movement, and gravity.

All of that applies triply to Curry, who is an even better and quicker (in terms of release) shooter than Miller, and has a wider offensive skillset to compliment those skills.

Since you are happy to disregard the regular season in favor of playoffs, let us look at Durant's playoff numbers in OKC vs. GSW. Since joining Curry, his PFG% is up 6%, his P3FG% is up 5%, and his scoring is identical, but on nearly two fewer attempts and one fewer free throw per game.

On the other hand, Curry's numbers pre-and-post Durant , have seen a much smaller changes. His overall PFG% is up about 3% (though keep in mind his previous numbers are somewhat diminished by injury in '2017), but his three point shooting is unchanged, and his scoring is basically what it was in the two years pre-Durant.

Curry makes Durant a lot better than Durant makes Curry.

None of this is to say there isn't a case for Durant over Curry; you've made it quite admirably above. But I don't think it's as open-and-shut as the phrasing in the article suggests, and for my money I'd take Curry every time and feel very confident about it. Their resumes without one another would probably be enough to convince me even without all of the above (and all of the above would be enough to convince me without their respective individual resumes, too).

 
At Saturday, October 06, 2018 7:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I disagree that Curry is a "significantly" better shooter than Durant. Durant may not have quite the range that Curry does--though I am not sure about that--but Durant's height and length give him some compensating advantages as a shooter and as an offensive weapon in general.

I would say that the offense is built around Curry because (1) he is a point guard in a point guard driven league and (2) the team already won a title with Curry before Durant arrived. I am not convinced that the offense would be worse if it were built around Durant. There simply is no reason for GS to drastically change things at this point.

It is worth repeating that Durant has won two Finals MVPs while playing in an offense built around Curry. Curry has three rings and no Finals MVPs.

It is not surprising that Curry's numbers have not changed much. He probably had already maximized his skills and capabilities before Durant arrived, while Durant had not had the luxury of playing in an offense like Golden State's. If Curry had gone to OKC then the offense likely would have been focused on Durant and it would have been very effective.

Maybe the case for Durant is not "open and shut" but from my standpoint there is a clear distinction in Durant's favor, however small you might believe it to be even when everything is construed most favorably for Durant.

 
At Saturday, October 06, 2018 7:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson888:

I appreciate your support and your kind words. HoF recognition would be great but I am focused on trying to get HoF recognition for great players who have been ignored. I am delighted that I have had the chance to share the stories of Roger Brown, Mel Daniels and Artis Gilmore, each of whom finally got inducted. It is also important to me to correct misperceptions of players such as Julius Erving, Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant.

I have always thought that my work speaks for itself. Perhaps over time there will be a greater appreciation for the depth and breadth of content at 20 Second Timeout.

I am not updating my Pantheon but I am working on a series about the Top 50 players of all-time. I will post Part III as soon as I can but I am not sure when I will finish it.

 
At Sunday, October 07, 2018 2:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not going to defend Durant's decision to join a team that had just embarrassed his team in the WCFs but I do think that the pre-Durant Warriors were more flawed and in need of his services than most people want to acknowledge. The 2015 and 2016 Warriors were a historically great regular season team, a good playoff team overall but they were less than impressive at the Finals level. They needed six games to beat an injury-depleted Cavs team in 2015 after falling behind 1-2 and their disastrous 2016 Finals performance is widely considered the biggest meltdown in sports history. If not for Iguodala's career defining series in 2015 they may have gone 0-2 during that time. Too much is made of their regular season success and they proved to be shaky and uneven on the Finals stage. Their playoff record in the two years before Durant arrived was 31-14 and it skyrocketed to 32-6 in the last two years with him. I agree that Durant cheated the game by denying fans a long lasting GSW/OKC rivalry but I don't think Golden State's acquisition of him was nearly as gratuitous as most people think.

 
At Monday, October 08, 2018 11:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has Curry even been the 2nd best player in any of his 4 Finals appearances? And someone said it above, but Curry is very lucky to have 1 ring pre-KD, if not for Iggy being Finals MVP in 2015. KD was much better than Curry before his GS days, and now with the team oriented around Curry more, it's still very evident KD is better, especially when we see what happens in the playoffs. KD has been the best player in each of the past 2 Finals.

If KD had never joined GS, I'm not convinced Curry(even with the superior cast he has compared to the rest of the league) could or would ever lead a team throughout the entire playoffs. Yes, he was the best player overall on GS in 2015, but we didn't see that in the Finals. He needed one of his bench players to outplay James for goodness sake. Look at the amount of help he needed to win in 2015.

 
At Monday, October 08, 2018 12:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I understand your general point and it is almost always true that but for this or but for that things could have turned out differently, but the reality is that Durant joined a team that had already (1) won a title and (2) set the all-time regular season wins record. Of course, he made the team better and he also provided a margin of error for injuries, foul trouble, etc.

As a fan and as a basketball historian I would have much preferred to watch GSW versus Durant-Westbrook powered OKC as opposed to Durant joining GSW. I understand that it is not Durant's job to make fans or historians happy but that is my take.

Regarding your second comment, I don't think that Curry has been even the second best player during any of his Finals appearances. He is a great player but Durant is better, and the difference becomes clearer the further that the team advances in the playoffs, culminating in Durant winning back to back Finals MVPs.

 
At Monday, October 08, 2018 4:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, of course KD joined a great team 2 years ago. But, I just don't value Curry as highly as most do. His cast has been ridiculously amazing, easily the best the past 4 years, he wears down and gets injured yearly, and rarely is the best player for any particular game in any of his Finals appearances, let alone for even one entire series. Rarely do these traits apply to a true 'best player on a title team candidate.' Curry is certainly a great player, but it's sure nice to have a teammate duel/outplay James as well as being able to guard James effectively in all 3 of his team's title runs.

It would've been nice as a basketball fan to see KD remain with RW to battle GS and the other top teams in the league. However, KD has now positioned himself to be much more highly regarded by most basketball historians/fans.

 
At Monday, October 08, 2018 4:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I would say that Curry is an elite player (All-NBA First Team caliber) but that he is not as valuable as Durant for the reasons listed above. In general, it is difficult for players in the 6-3 height range to be as valuable as players who are significantly taller and bigger. Size matters in the NBA. Once you get into the 6-6 range and taller, a player can have enough size and durability to be as valuable or more valuable than a bigger player who is also highly skilled--particularly in today's game, when the value of a big man (or, at least, the extent to which a big man's size is effectively utilized in the paint) is not as great as it had been in previous eras.

 
At Monday, October 08, 2018 4:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like that you mentioned the "LeBron is the ideal teammate/Westbrook is a toxic brat" narrative that seems to be impervious to any kind of factual counterargument. If anything, the opposite is probably closer to the actual truth. Westbrook gives everything he has on the floor and bends over backwards to avoid throwing his teammates under the bus even when the media actively goads him into it. The definitive evidence that he is a bad teammate appears to be that he has lost his temper a few times on the court and he sometimes has questionable shot selection.

James, on the other hand, has an extensive list of incidents that suggest he can be a less than ideal teammate which include:

- Storming off the court without shaking hands after losing the 2009 ECFs and then ducking the media, leaving his teammates to answer for their disappointing loss.

- Quitting on his team and defending it by saying that he spoils people with his play.

- Using phrases such as "ran out of talent" and "top heavy as s--t" when referring to his team's available roster.

- Kyrie Irving forcing his way off the Cavaliers saying that he didn't want to play another minute with James.

-Last season both the second option and head coach of his team had to take an extended absence mid-season due to stress-related health issues.

The toxicity that James can bring to a team is greatly outweighed by his positive contributions but he has proven numerous times throughout his career that he can be very difficult to deal with. The same cannot be said about Westbrook.

 
At Tuesday, October 09, 2018 12:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Yes, the narrative about James being a great and/or beloved teammate is preposterous and the cracks in that narrative have been visible for years--as you pointed out--but members of the media who crave access to James and his camp just will not report this stuff accurately.

I am not sure that James' "positive contributions" "greatly outweigh" how bad of a teammate he is. James is a great player whose teams are always going to do well until old age kicks in, but he is 3-5 in the Finals, he has quit multiple times and every star who plays with him has to accept declining stats and status. James could wear out his welcome pretty quickly at the end of his career if he keeps the same attitude while his skill diminish.

I would go into battle on the basketball court with Westbrook any day of the week. He plays hard, he is demanding the way that a great leader should be demanding but, as you correctly noted, he will not throw his teammates under the bus no matter how much the media tries to goad him into doing that. Even when Westbrook's supporting cast was mostly garbage, he stood up for those guys.

 
At Tuesday, October 09, 2018 12:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding Hollins/MEM, I'm not saying MEM is making smart decisions at all, but they were never able to acquire an elite player or anyone near elite, meaning they have almost no chance to truly contend. But what they did for several years, which is very hard to do regardless of whatever strategy their front office wants to employ especially in a super-small market, was acquire several very good/near AS-caliber players. Let's be honest, nobody really wants to play in MEM. Joerger doesn't seem like a great coach by any means, and he was able to lead MEM to 2 50-win seasons.

Since you're using Hollins' record with MEM compared to MEM after Hollins as evidence of MEM's bad strategy, I don't see that as much evidence, if any. Depending how much value you place into MEM's WCF run in 2013, MEM seems to have done better from 2014-2018 overall(even though 2009-2013 MEM won more playoff series) than they did from 2009-2013. A lot of these playoff series wins depends who you play and who's healthy for each team. If CLE/GS are facing each other in the 1st round these past 4 years, CLE would've had quite a few 1st round losses. One extra playoff appearance and one extra winning season sans Hollins. If RW doesn't get hurt in the 2013 playoffs, MEM doesn't make the WCF either, where they were swept by SA.

Nobody's winning with that 2018 MEM squad. When Tyreke Evans is your leading scorer, you're in big trouble, and he only played in 52 games. Their 2 remaining star/near-star player were an aging Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, who only played in 12 games.

Hollins also has a pitiful 48-71 record after his 2009-2013 MEM days, and just 62-117 overall outside those 5 days, which is even worse. It did seem odd that MEM fired Hollins after 2013, but nobody picked him up in 2014. And only BRK picked him up for 1.5 seasons in 2015 before they fired him. I don't trust MEM's thinking, but I don't trust Hollins much either, if I want to build a championsip-level team.

 
At Tuesday, October 09, 2018 12:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Memphis improved its regular season record during each season of Hollins’ tenure and then reached the WCF in his final season. The team fell off the map within two years of firing Hollins.

Hollins spent some time working in the media and then was hired by the dysfunctional Brooklyn franchise.

My point is that Memphis supposedly is using cutting edge “advanced basketball statistics” to make all hiring decisions (front office, coaching staff, players) and the results are not impressive. I never expressed an opinion about Hollins being a championship caliber coach.

 
At Tuesday, October 09, 2018 3:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you aren't, but it sure sounds like you're implying MEM made a mistake by firing Hollins, which when we look at all the facts as I previously mentioned above, it's hardly a black/white situation. And MEM hardly fell off the map 2 years within firing Hollins. They won 50 and 55 games the next 2 seasons without him, and still managed winning records and playoff appearances the next seasons after that. And there isn't a coach in history who could've came close to making the playoffs with last year's MEM squad.

Unless something really really bizarre happens, MEM has no chance ever of winning a title. It's probably the worst or 2nd worst destination in the NBA for starters along with being one of the newest NBA franchises in the league. They're not going to attract any big-name stars let alone be able to keep them around likely longer than their rookie contracts if they acquire them through the draft. For all the disadvantages they face, they've had a very good 8-year run until last year. I disagree that the results haven't been impressive.

Every team, including SA, uses advanced stats in one way or another, not just MEM. I'm sure MEM would love to have Curry and KD, but that's not going to happen. Regardless if you're an advanced stat or guy, you still have to be able to acquire the players. MEM is one of 6 teams to have made the playoffs at least 7x in the past 8 years. Only SA has made it each of the past 8 seasons. I'm not saying I agree with MEM's decisions, but with what they've had to work with, it sure seems like they've done a decent job over the past 8-9 years. Hollins firing was unfortunate, but he wasn't going to lift them to the WCF again unless something strange happened like major injuries occurring on the other contenders. Obviously, they need to start getting some more star players again and hopefully round out their roster with some quality role players, just like every other team in the league needs to do.

 
At Tuesday, October 09, 2018 3:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

This is not about market size or the likelihood of Memphis ever winning a title or every detail of the circumstances about Memphis reaching the WCF. Houston's run to the WCF a few years back (not last year) was much flukier and much less likely than Memphis' run but, again, that is beside the point.

The point is that most of the success that Memphis has enjoyed took place prior to the current regime taking over. The current regime has fired coaches, signed (or not signed) a variety of players and the net result--in three years--is a decline from the best season in franchise history (including a WCF appearance) to being one of the worst teams in the league. Whatever "advanced basketball statistics" the Grizzlies are using, they need to look at some different ones or they need to look at hiring different people to interpret those numbers.

 
At Wednesday, October 10, 2018 12:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depends how much you think their advanced stats thinking has to do with their decline. Even if you think it has a lot to do with it, there's lots of additional factors involved. I already mentioned the success post Hollins, and it's highly arguable they've had more success overall post Hollins than during Hollins' reign. And obviously HOU's WCF wasn't a fluke since they backed it up with another WCF run last year and the best regular season record.

 
At Wednesday, October 10, 2018 12:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The use/misuse of "advanced basketball statistics" is a major, if not primary, factor in the team's dramatic decline from WCF to Draft Lottery status and the thought processes of the team's "stat gurus" have been well documented. Media members who fawn over these "stat gurus" have praised the team's so-called progressive and forward-thinking approach, notwithstanding the backward movement in the standings.

I am not sure how a Lottery record five years removed from a WCF appearance represents progress in your mind, but you are entitled to your opinion.

Regarding Houston, six of the top eight rotation players (in terms of minutes played) from the previous WCF team did not play for the Rockets last season. The team changed coaches as well. So, yes, the first appearance was a fluke and would not have occurred again without significant changes. Morey understood that, which is why he made changes (not that I agree with every change but I would be the first to say that he has made some smart changes).

 

Post a Comment

<< Home