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Thursday, September 17, 2020

L.A. Lakers Versus Denver Preview

Western Conference Finals

#1 L.A. Lakers (52-19) vs. #3 Denver Nuggets (46-27)

Season series: L.A., 3-1

Denver can win if…Nikola Jokic is the best player in this series to the same extent that he was the best player as the Nuggets defeated the Clippers in seven games in the second round. In that series, Jokic led both teams in scoring (24.4 ppg), rebounding (13.4 rpg), and assists (6.6 apg) with shooting splits of .515/.395/.815. Jokic outplayed 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (24.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 5.9 apg, .442/.359/.872) overall, and particularly when it mattered most in game seven (16 points, 22 rebounds, 14 assists for Jokic; 14 points, six rebounds, six assists for Leonard). Jokic is a gifted scorer who is one of the best passing big men ever. He is not a great defender but he is solid enough--both in his individual matchup and in switches--that he is not a liability, plus he is a tremendous defensive rebounder. 

Jamal Murray was great versus Utah in the first round (31.6 ppg) but he struggled initially versus the Clippers before finding his way as the Nuggets recovered from a 3-1 deficit. The Lakers' strength is upfront with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, so it is very important for Denver that Murray decisively win his matchup.

L.A. will win because…LeBron James and Anthony Davis should be the two best players on the court. James' resume speaks for itself, but what is perhaps most remarkable about the four-time regular season MVP/three-time NBA champion/three-time Finals MVP is how dominant and durable he still is despite his age (35) and years of service (17). Perhaps only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and Karl Malone have played at an equivalent level this deep into their respective careers. Davis is a potent scorer, excellent rebounder, solid passer, and elite-level defender; when he is focused and when he is attacking the paint at both ends of the court he is as good as any player in the league.

It is fashionable to ridicule the Lakers' supporting cast; that is standard operating procedure for the James-adoring media: if James wins then he can be portrayed as a basketball superhero--and if he loses, he can still be portrayed as a basketball superhero who carried a supposedly ragtag group farther than any other mortal could have. The Lakers have a first ballot Hall of Famer coming off of the bench (Dwight Howard), a Hall of Fame caliber guard coming off of the bench (Rajon Rondo), a championship-tested "3 and D" swingman in Danny Green, a potential future All-Star in Kyle Kuzma, and several other solid role players. Compare that group to the 2002 Lakers; Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant won their third straight title despite their third leading playoff scorer (Derek Fisher) shooting .357 from the field. Compare that group to the 2009 Lakers; Kobe Bryant's supporting cast consisted of a player who had been a one-time All-Star prior to joining the Lakers (Pau Gasol), with the third option being career underachiever Lamar Odom, the fourth option being career journeyman Trevor Ariza, and the fifth option being Fisher, who shot .394 from the field during that playoff run. Bryant molded that group into championship form; Gasol is a future Hall of Famer in large part because of the time he spent playing with Bryant, and most of the other Lakers' starters would not have started for the other elite playoff teams of that era. In contrast, Anthony Davis proved to be an elite player before joining forces with James, and the rest of the roster includes several established veterans and several young, upcoming players. It does not in any way diminish James' individual greatness to tell the truth and state that James has more than enough help to win a championship, and he has more help than many other stars have had during their championship runs.

Other things to consider: There is no excuse for the Lakers to not win the 2020 championship. The other three top contenders--the Milwaukee Bucks, the L.A. Clippers, and the Toronto Raptors--have already been eliminated. This means that the Lakers will not have to face either of the top two teams from the Eastern Conference, nor will they have to face the second seeded team in the Western Conference. James and Davis should be the two best players on the court the rest of the way during the playoffs and, as noted above, their supporting cast is more than adequate. The delayed postseason with no home court advantage has been filled with oddities--including the nominal "road" team winning all seven games in the Boston-Toronto series, and both of the top seeded teams in the Eastern Conference failing to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the current playoff system began in 1984--but the chaos has worked out perfectly for the Lakers, who have been relatively drama-free as their rivals have dropped off one by one.

James has proven more than once that he has what it takes to lead a team to a title, but he has also proven more than once that he can shrink under the pressure on the biggest stage. Although he played a pivotal role in Cleveland's 2016 NBA Finals comeback from a 3-1 deficit, he has a tendency to be a frontrunner, and it will be interesting to see how he responds if the Lakers face real adversity at any time during the 2020 playoffs (a 1-0 deficit versus a vastly inferior team such as Portland or Houston does not count as real adversity).

During the 2020 playoffs, the Nuggets have twice looked lethargic while falling into 3-1 holes only to rally to win the series. At one point, Coach Michael Malone resorted to publicly pleading with his team to play hard. The Clippers have been roasted for turning it on and turning it off, but the Nuggets have displayed inconsistent effort and efficiency throughout the 2020 playoffs. However, the Nuggets are also a talented team that has ranked among the Western Conference elite for the past two years, and they have proven that they can stay calm under the most dire circumstances and conditions. If their effort and energy level is consistently high then they could make this series very interesting. I predict that the Lakers will win in six games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:57 AM

41 comments

41 Comments:

At Thursday, September 17, 2020 4:29:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Marcel

Im 10-2

In playoffs i only got clips over nuggets and bucks over heat

Lakers are winning this series

Cause of lebron and ad

I dont think Kareem or jordan was as good as bron at 35

The nuggets cant guard him or ad

They got big bodies for Jokic so they dont have to double team him ad howard mcghee can do a solid job

Jamal murray is good but i expect lakers to be able to bottle him up this series.

Lakers shoot well enough. Big enough. Score enough. Defend well enough they should win

Since 2011 bron never lost a series he was favored in and he came back from a 3-1 (finals) and 3-2 deficit ( conf finals)

I trust lebron and ad

He will win his 4th ring and cement himself as top 3 all time

 
At Thursday, September 17, 2020 8:06:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Looking at the Lakers-Nuggets matchup. It does look bad for the Nuggets, because the Joker will have to fight three long, athletic bigs with fantastic defensive instincts.

And just exactly who are the Nuggets putting on LBJ? Harris? Get outta here. Grant? Too skinny. Millsap? Too old and slow.

That means the Nuggets will have to double-team both LBJ and Davis, cuz the Joker can't guard either one.

Even if Murray continues to scorch the nets, making Lakers fan wistful for Avery Bradley, it's the 2009 rematch. Same result.

Lakers to the Finals. And neither the Heat nor the Celtics will put up much of a resistance to a seventeenth title of the Lakers and the fourth title for LeBron James.

 
At Thursday, September 17, 2020 10:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I am not sure where you publicly posted your predictions prior to the playoffs. I am 8-4 with my publicly posted predictions. I expected going in that the "bubble" playoffs would be strange, but they have been even stranger than I expected.

Jordan was a regular season MVP, Finals MVP and NBA champion at 35.

Abdul-Jabbar was All-NBA First Team and fourth in regular season MVP voting at 37. He was All-NBA Second Team, fourth in regular season MVP voting, Finals MVP, and NBA champion at 38. We'll see how things end up for LeBron at 35 (this season) and then if he can match what Kareem did three years past that point.

You pick LeBron every year--if your predictions had been right then LeBron would have six or seven or eight titles by now--so it is no surprise that you are picking him now with all of his main rivals eliminated from the playoffs. The Lakers should win the title this year, and that would be a great achievement for LeBron at this age. LeBron is in the Pantheon regardless of what happens this season. I am not sure who is in your top three, but I don't think that winning one more title moves LeBron past anyone he has not already passed. Four titles leaves LeBron one short of Kobe, Duncan, and Magic. Unless you already rank LeBron ahead of one or more of those guys, being one title short of them does not change LeBron's ranking.

 
At Thursday, September 17, 2020 10:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

The matchups favor the Lakers, if LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain committed to attacking the paint and do not drift into passive play.

The Lakers absolutely should win the title considering the opposition that remains. From my standpoint, failing to win from this position would detract more from LeBron's legacy than winning one more title would add. LeBron is already a champion, and it is unlikely that he will match or pass Magic, Kobe, and Duncan (five titles each)--but another failure to win a title with a stacked team and favorable matchups would not be a good look for LeBron. If LeBron were a declining player then perhaps he could be given a pass, but we can see that he retains elite athletic ability. Roger Federer fans like to give him credit for every title he wins as an older player while excusing every title he does not win, but you can't have it both ways; if a player is playing at an elite level--regardless of age--then he must be judged by that standard. I give LeBron credit for being an elite player at this advanced age, but I also think that it is as reasonable to expect him to win the title with this team at 35 as it would be to expect him to win a title with this team if he were 25.

 
At Friday, September 18, 2020 5:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tanguy;

Lebron has been a team-hopper star-chaser and stat padder nearly all his life.

While I respect him for his body of work and some incredible assists,he is no Kobe or Jordan with all due respect to everyone.

Dwyane Bosh AD RR DH DG Javale all clustered for basketball reasons that nullified Chris Paul going to side up with KObe.

So 80 percent is rigged towards LeBron and even James Harden to a degree.

This is sad.

Thanks for this awesome blog David.You are usually spot on.

 
At Friday, September 18, 2020 5:45:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

David, I had a conversation with a basketball junkie the other day. He claimed that this is the third peak version of LBJ.

At 25 years old, LBJ was at his athletic peak. At 30, LBJ reached his skills peak. And now, at 35, we are seeing him at his IQ peak. He isn't as athletic as he used to be 10 years ago, and not quite as skilled (sharp from the floor) as he was at Miami.

But he has seen more situations than ever, and is capable of changing his register from game to game, from series to series, at a level no other player in league history ever managed.

 
At Friday, September 18, 2020 10:07:00 AM, Anonymous Ali said...

I think that its not the amount of titles that will push LeBron to top three of the Pantheon (personally I have Kareem as number 1, I think he was a much better player overall than Jordan who I have as number 2), but the circumstances under which he won. If he wins this fall, then he would have one championships for three different franchises as the lead guy. He won the Cavs first championship and will have one the next Lakers championship in a Pandemic under very strenuous circumstances (it is very easy to check-out mentally and give up, see the LA Clippers).

I could see LeBron ranked as top three or two (personally i think he is better than Jordan as a person and as a player but I can understand people ranking Jordan higher). If Lebron is able to win 5 championships and surpass Kareem in total NBA points by the end of his career then would rank LeBron as number 1 all time.

 
At Friday, September 18, 2020 12:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lebron's durability is incredible and he's had a very accomplished career but overall this 4th title (if he wins it) does little me for. Among the Pantheon caliber players with at least 4 rings he has taken the longest to get there while having perhaps the most favorable circumstances to get there

The odds are so favorable this year with no Durant, Kawhi, Curry, Giannis in his way (arguably the rest of the top 5 when healthy), to go along with having by far the best "sidekick" out of that group (arguable top 5 himself), that losing this postseason hurts far more than it helps him

We'll see,if the bubble has taught us anything it's to expect the unexpected

 
At Friday, September 18, 2020 1:01:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...



Marcel.



I dont make my picks on ur page but that the only 2 i got wrong

Kareem was 35 in 82 that was year 13

Kareem was 39 in year 17 in 85-86

Either way bron was better at 35 in year 13

And alot better in year 17

Bron first team all nba



And 2nd in mvp


Bron has no rivals

Bron haters tried to elevate leornard who overrated and gave up a 3-1 lead to a inferior team

And giannis who won 5 playoff games and lost to a inferior team on paper

Brons rivals

Jordan

If u think kobe more skilled ok

But bron career better than kobe

And anyone else and he still writing his legacy


 
At Friday, September 18, 2020 3:40:00 PM, Blogger Al Fahridi said...

Bryant too was first team all nba in his 17th year (epic year, ended with a terrible injury) - just for the record.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2020 12:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous/Tanguy:

You're welcome. Thank you for your support of my work.

I agree with you that even though LeBron deserves credit for his accomplishments and longevity there is no denying that every time things got too tough for him he jumped ship to what he considered to be a better situation.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2020 12:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

I think that the notion you and your friend expressed is an oversimplification. LeBron's peak happened circa 2012-2016, when he won three titles in five years. Prior to that, he lacked some essential elements in his game/mindset. Since that time, his physical skills have declined a bit, though he is still an elite athlete. I am not convinced that his basketball IQ is appreciably higher now than it was during his peak years. Obviously, he has seen more and been through more, but his innate basketball intelligence has not changed. His basketball IQ has always been high; his shortcomings are psychological--i.e., mindset--as opposed to cognitive. He recognizes situations, but may not always be equipped to act on that recognition.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2020 1:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ali:

LeBron has won championships by jumping from team to team. That is the "circumstance" that should be most remembered. I am not sure if the 2020 title should be awarded more significance than any other title. Circumstances have conspired to knock out most of the Lakers' main rivals. Do the Lakers deserve extra credit for surviving--if they survive long enough to win the title--or would this title be tainted by top seeded teams disappearing without being able to utilize the home court advantage that they earned during the regular season? This playoff season resembles the NCAA Tournament, which often produces somewhat random results. The best team rarely wins the NCAA Tournament due to the one and done format. In the 2020 NBA playoffs, the postseason started late after a truncated season and--as mentioned above--home court advantage is meaningless. I am not sure how to prove this statistically, but I suspect that it is much less likely that the best team wins under this set of circumstances than under the normal set of circumstances.

I tend to avoid ranking the Pantheon players, but I would not rank LeBron ahead of Jordan or Kareem. Jordan was more consistently dominant at both ends of the court, he had no skill set weaknesses, and he was several levels ahead of LeBron psychologically as a competitor.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2020 1:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree that LeBron not winning a title under this year's favorable circumstances would hurt his legacy more than winning this title would help his legacy.

The funny thing is that a credible argument could be made that LeBron's "sidekick" this year is at least as good of a player as LeBron is now.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2020 1:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I believe you if you say that those were your picks. I am just saying that I never saw them in advance, nor did I see any analysis regarding your predictions. I posted my picks and my analysis.

I would not take LeBron this year over Kareem in 1982. LeBron now versus 1985 Kareem is a closer call. Let's see if LeBron wins the title and the Finals MVP.

You say that LeBron has "no rivals." His contemporaries Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant won five titles each. Duncan beat LeBron 2-1 head to head in the Finals. Kobe won two of his five rings during LeBron's prime. Prime LeBron--teaming up with two future Hall of Famers--lost to Dirk Nowitzki in the NBA Finals. LeBron's contemporary Kevin Durant beat LeBron 2-1 in NBA Finals. If LeBron had managed to clearly surpass all of his contemporaries then we could discuss LeBron versus guys like MJ, Kareem, Russell, etc., but LeBron still has work to do regarding his own era before we make comparisons to the greats from previous generations.

As a LeBron fan you should be careful about making Kawhi Leonard comparisons. By age 28, Leonard owned two NBA titles and two Finals MVPs. LeBron was 0-2 in the Finals by age 28.

Giannis is a better two-way player now than LeBron was at a similar stage of his career. Neither young LeBron nor young Giannis shoot well. Giannis is a better rebounder than LeBron ever was, while LeBron is a better passer. Obviously, LeBron has the better overall body of work, but young Giannis is comparable to young LeBron.

LeBron's peak value never passed Kobe's peak value. As noted above, LeBron has work to do in his own era before the Jordan comparison can even be taken seriously.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2020 1:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Al Fahridi:

Good point. Kobe as a 34 year old in his 17th season made All-NBA First Team and finished fifth in MVP voting. Had he not ruptured his Achilles, there is every reason to believe that he could have maintained that level of play for at least a couple more years.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2020 2:29:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...



Marcel

Kareem was 35 in his 13th year he came in 4 years before cause he went 4 years of college in lebron 13th season bron was better

Lebron also better tham kareem in his 17th year And everybody in nba history


Kawhi overrated him having more rings than bron at same age is irrelevant cause they came in diff circumstances.

Kawhi cant even play 60 games a season no mvp and his. Career stats wont come close to bron nor will he age as well as bron he missed a season to injury already and missed significant time before with injury.


Giannis never led team to finals young bron did and young bron can shoot better than giannis.


Also giannis got bottled up by toronto and miami lebron lost to 08 and 10 celtics which was a all time great defrnsive team.

Young bron would avg 35ppg vs miami or toronto especially in today nba

Stop talking bout Giannis


Kobe

Bron has kobe in every statiscal category

More points
More mvp
More rebounds
More assist


I love kobe god bless his soul but as far as career goes lebron is better and only jordan is his rival

Lebron bigger stronger more durable than kobe

He passed alot of kobe records and accolades

I dont get the kobe argument as far as goat

Its jordan bron maybe kareem in goat convo

Kobe in my top 5 but not better than bron or jordan

Tim duncan

Great but there no argument over bron

Bron the most talented and durable player ever

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2020 11:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Whether you want to compare the current version of LeBron to Kareem by age or by seasons played, I am taking Kareem in both cases for the reasons I mentioned above.

Please carefully read what I wrote. I did not say that Kawhi is better than LeBron. I said that any LeBron fan should be wary of making that comparison, though, because Kawhi just entering his prime has already accomplished things (specifically, two titles and two Finals MVPs) that LeBron had not accomplished at the same stage. Kawhi is only one title and one Finals MVP away from LeBron even though LeBron is much older and has played for much longer.

Giannis has put together back to back regular seasons that are incredible, and that are certainly not any worse than what LeBron did at a similar stage of his career. You are correct that Giannis' playoff resume is lacking to this point.

Just stating that you disagree is not the same as presenting a valid, logic-based argument.

Kobe beats LeBron in the most important category: five championships to three. LeBron has played on handpicked, stacked teams and he still has not caught Kobe. Kobe was a better leader, and he had no skill set weaknesses. LeBron is such a prima donna that he was almost left off of the 2008 Team USA squad, per reporting by Wojnarowski. Kobe was the leader of that team, and he took over in the final period during the gold medal game. We saw that when Kobe and LeBron were on the same team Kobe was the alpha dog. I don't care about LeBron's stat-padding when comparing Pantheon players. LeBron has proven to be more durable, but Kobe did make the All-NBA Team 15 times (a record LeBron just broke this year) so he was pretty durable as well.

Tim Duncan anchored five championship teams. He only lost twice in the Finals, while LeBron is 3-6 in the Finals. Duncan's teams beat LeBron's teams 2-1 head to head in the Finals. There certainly is an argument for Duncan, and dismissing that with one sentence does not refute the point.

LeBron is in my Pantheon, and I put him there early in his career before he had won a single title. I have great respect and appreciation for LeBron. I don't like singling out one player as the greatest player of all-time, but if I were to do so LeBron would not be my choice. The case for LeBron being the greatest 35 year old or greatest 17 year veteran is stronger than the case for LeBron being the greatest player of all-time, just because the pool of MVP-level 35 year olds or 17 year veterans is pretty small.

 
At Sunday, September 20, 2020 6:00:00 AM, Anonymous Cyber said...

Regarding LeBron's 07 finals app, the Pistons were slightly better at best and would almost certainly had won that series if any one of Ben Wallace or Larry Brown had still been involved with that team

I feel like that appearance has given LeBron a ton of "immunity" from his supporters regarding what he accomplished before his first championship, but the reality is that it wasn't much different from what Iverson/Kidd did, Kidd being a guy who with the Suns barely did any kind of damage in the PS. 07 Cavs were a good enough team to make the finals but obviously not good enough to win against a West playoff team, literally going winless against the one WC playoff team they did face

Giannis is only 25 and has already made an ECF and a 2nd round trip, his 1st round losses were competitive vs teams that were far better than his teams. His story is still being written but it's really not much different from LeBron's career up to his age 25 season

My thing with LeBron is that even though he's very accomplished and has been able to sustain his greatness for a long time he's also had so many blemishes in his career, I don't believe his GOAT case is anywhere near as strong as it's made out to be by the media.The elephant in the room regarding LeBron is that he's feasted on a historically bad conference for most of his career, is often looking for the path of least resistance, needed another superstar (who isn't getting the same media love that Pau was getting despite being significantly better) to finally make the PS in the West, and is a mixed bag as far as skillset (the streaky jumper, the ball monopolization) and mindset (leadership, effort level, front running) goes. And he's probably the only top 10 caliber player where all of this applies to him

He's done enough to be in the GOAT discussion along with several others, but he hasn't done enough to last very long in such a discussion

 
At Sunday, September 20, 2020 11:57:00 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

It's unfortunate that many people seem to limit the "GOAT" debate to LeBron versus Jordan. LeBron's career and legacy deserve to be compared to that of Jordan but the arguments used to put them on the same level and especially the ones used to elevate James over Jordan are beyond flawed. Jordan has six rings and LeBron has three but some people utilize this bizarre math where somehow LeBron's rings are worth more than one each. Not all rings have the same historical value, Kobe's five rings have more value in this regard than Derek Fisher's five even though they were one the same team, but the maximum value of a ring is one. If people want to say that LeBron's 2016 ring is worth more than one then how many is Olajuwon's 1995 ring worth? I would say that was an even more improbable and impressive championship run than James in 2016 so it is insanely hypocritical to only apply this favorable double standard to James while not giving other all-time greats the same benefit, not that this double standard should be used at all. No other player in the history of the game has had people try to argue that their rings are worth more than one each and if James truly is the "GOAT" it shouldn't be necessary to hold his ring count to a lower standard than that other all-time greats.

 
At Sunday, September 20, 2020 11:27:00 PM, Anonymous Ali said...

Michael, I understand your argument (and I certainly agree that people seem to limit the "GOAT" debate) but I would ask then why is it that Bill Russell's 11 rings don't rank him higher than Jordan's 6 and place him as the GOAT? Jordan is legendary but I think people romanticize his strengths/flaws to the extent that they act as though Basketball began and ended with Jordan. Not saying you do this, but i get tired of people saying Jordan was 6-0 and that is the be all and end all in the GOAT discussion. Often I think media Bias regarding Jordan causes him to be placed higher than other pantheon individuals such as Kareem and Russell who have just as strong arguments to be ranked the best ever.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2020 12:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Cyber:

I agree with you that Giannis' accomplishments by age 25 are similar to LeBron's accomplishments by the same age.

LeBron puzzles me more than any other truly great player. The positives about his career are well-documented, but you rightly note that he has more negatives that just about any other player who is in the greatest player of all-time conversation.

I prefer not to select one single greatest player, but I agree with you that if one were to do so objectively then LeBron would not be that player.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2020 12:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Michael:

You are correct that limiting the greatest player of all-time conversation to just Jordan versus LeBron is wrong. I am skeptical that it is possible to objectively select one single greatest player, but even if it were possible to do so LeBron would not be that guy. LeBron is not even the greatest player of the post-Jordan era, let alone the greatest player of all-time.

Anyone who retired prior to Jordan's prime tends to be shortchanged in these discussions, because most commentators lack the necessary historical knowledge and context. Bill Russell was the best player on a championship team in virtually every season of his basketball career from high school through college, the Olympics, and the NBA. He is the greatest individual winner in North American team sports history (and probably in sports history period, but perhaps there is a greater winner from some other continent that I don't know about). The "rings" conversation that pretends that Jordan holds the record with six is hilarious; Russell owns 11 NBA championship rings. Of course, Kareem also won six rings.

Russell's teams dominated Chamberlain's teams head to head, and Russell's teams obliterated everyone else. Kareem did not have an individual or team rival who had an edge over him for a sustained period (Moses Malone had some success against Kareem in the early 1980s, but Malone won one title in that decade while Kareem won five titles in the 1980s). No individual or team had an advantage over Jordan.

In contrast, Duncan beat LeBron 2-1 in the NBA Finals, Durant beat LeBron 2-1 in NBA Finals, Kawhi has split 1-1 versus LeBron in NBA Finals, Nowitzki went 1-0 versus LeBron in NBA Finals, and Paul Pierce went 2-2 versus LeBron in the playoffs. LeBron does not have an edge against any truly great player who he has faced more than once in the playoffs. The Magic-Bird debate went back and forth during the 1980s, but when Magic finished 5-4 in the Finals (including 2-1 head to head versus Bird) compared to Bird's 3-2 Finals record most people outside of Boston understood that Magic had established himself as the superior player. Championships are not the only way to measure basketball greatness, but they do matter, and LeBron has not dominated his own era, let alone put up championship numbers comparable to the greatest winners ever.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2020 12:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ali:

As I mentioned in my previous comment, many great players are shortchanged when the discussion is artificially and wrongly limited to Jordan versus LeBron.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2020 9:33:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I’ll put my hand up and say that Russell’s 11 of 13 is the most absurd statistic in sports, and tragically unrecognised. If you want to talk about statistical outliers and records that will never be repeated in ANY sport this has to be one of them. I have competed in a sport at an international level, and there were competitors I thought of as gods and untouchable who had 3 year stretches of dominance.

Dominating for over a decade is mind blowing. Russell’s number of championships is untouchable, let alone if you plot it as a percentage, 11 of 13! That’s 85%. If you play for 10 years you need to win 9 to beat it.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2020 11:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andrew:

Russell's incredible NBA success represented a continuation of a career during which Russell also won titles in high school, college, and the Olympics. Russell won a championship in virtually every season he played basketball from his teenage years through his mid-thirties.

 
At Wednesday, September 23, 2020 4:31:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Looks like LeBron has not really played up to his abilities again so far in this series. The Lakers barely got by the Nuggets in Game 2 and squandered a chance to take a commanding 3 - 0 lead by not playing with requisite energy in Game 3. The only Lakers player I've seen that has played with consistent effort, game to game, is Rondo.

 
At Wednesday, September 23, 2020 12:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Keith:

If not for Anthony Davis' game two buzzer beater, the favored Lakers would be trailing 2-1. It is funny that LeBron fans are talking about him being the greatest player of all-time, but LeBron is arguably not even the best player on his own team.

 
At Wednesday, September 23, 2020 2:12:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...



Marcel



Olympic teams?

Idc bout that


Bron arguably the best nba player in year 17

Kobe and jordan wasnt playing near this in year 17

Bron career is better than every player in nba history other than jordan

He may be all time leader in points and top 3 in assists all time as a forward

Most basketball experts rank him number 2 all time i got him number 3.

His first finals run team was comparable to iverson and kidd but they didnt win 4 rings after so what immunity u talking bout?


Game 2 lebron had 20 im first half

Ad had a dominant second half with gw shot

They gave away like 10 draft picks 3 players for davis he 27 and in prime. Im supposed to give him a cookie for that?


Yall bron haters always tell half the story on him and hold him to this ridiculous standard.

Goat convo a career award not if he always every second of the game the best player on his team

The fact he in best player in nba convo in year 17 shows his greatness

Plus he was unquestionably best player in nba 12 years in a row only jordan maybe could say that

David cmon





 
At Wednesday, September 23, 2020 2:33:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

David,

In game two, that last play, Lebron didn't move. Didn't try to get open. Didn't try to get the ball. Didn't try to post up. Not sure what the exact play was, but AD wasn't the primary option (as they didn't need a 3). It was supposed to go to Lebron. Rondo acknowledged this in his postgame as well.

I think that pretty much encapsulates the head-scratching issue with Lebron. He didn't want it. With the game on the line -- seemingly comfortable with his visually appealing 26/11/4 on 50% statline -- he didn't demand the ball. It's like, he'd "done enough", including a couple of Sportscenter worthy blocks, that missing that game winner would only hurt him. So...he became passive.

I can't think of another pantheon player, other than maybe Shaq or Wilt (due to freethrows), who wouldn't want the ball. And certainly no one in the pantheon up for consideration for GOAT.

Lebron does some crazy, incredible things when A) His team is dominating (for his entire career, he's been a front runner) B) expectations aren't there. When young Bron led his team to the finals, there were no expectations. Down 3-1 in 2016, no one thought he'd be able to come back.

It's beyond easy for me to sit here and say this, infinitely harder to actually do (especially for someone who has had GOAT expectations since he was in junior high), but... if Lebron could just play without the weight of expectations, he would be the GOAT. Instead, he's let narrative, and...fear of failure? hold him back. Hence the 3-5 Finals record, and his complete limp attempt to get the ball in crunch time in game 2.

Also, I'm not so sure AD is better than Lebron as he suffers from timidity/passivity as well. He had 2 rebounds last night. 2! Neither Lebron nor AD come out each night to destroy their opposition. Not like Shaq and Kobe. So, while it can possibly be argued that AD+LEbron is more "talented", they are no where close to as dominate, and thus, not nearly as successful.

 
At Wednesday, September 23, 2020 9:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

It does not matter whether or not you care about Olympic teams. The Olympic teams provided vivid examples of LeBron's leadership and mentality compared to Kobe Bryant's leadership and mentality. What we saw during those situations reinforces and confirms what we have seen during LeBron's NBA career.

I have already said that LeBron may be the greatest player at his age/experience level in NBA history, though I would still give an edge to Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar--but being the best "old" player is not the same thing as being the greatest player of all-time. Also, compiling the largest career totals does not automatically make one the greatest of all-time. Do you think that Emmitt Smith is the greatest running back of all-time?

I don't care how you think that "most experts" rank LeBron. I base my rankings on what I see, and what I know.

LeBron is in my Pantheon, and he I put him there early in his career. Calling me a LeBron "hater" just betrays your lack of objectivity about him. You have always overrated LeBron, predicting that he would win six or seven or eight championships. He has played on stacked teams and won three titles. He should thank Ray Allen every day for hitting that shot in game six, or he would only have two titles.

If you are right that LeBron has been the best player for 12 straight years, then it is even more of an indictment of LeBron that as the best player on stacked teams he only has three titles. How did all of the supposedly lesser players win more titles than LeBron? That just makes no sense. Kobe won two titles with Pau Gasol, a one-time All-Star before he joined the Lakers. LeBron won two titles with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He won one title with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. He did not even reach the Finals with back to back 60-plus win teams. If you are right that LeBron is the greatest player then you have to also say that LeBron is a choker, because if he is that much better than everyone else then he should have more to show for it.

 
At Wednesday, September 23, 2020 9:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

LeBron is undeniably a great basketball player, but he also has an uncanny ability to pile up big numbers that do not correlate with his impact on winning. I agree with you that he has an odd tendency to shrink from big moments, even though he has also at times risen to the occasion in such moments.

LeBron is paradoxical, and he puzzles me in ways that no other great player puzzles me. Some people who saw Wilt play in person said that he put up big numbers that did not impact winning, and I did not completely understand how that could be true until I watched LeBron up close and in person (I am not saying that I necessarily agree with the criticism of Wilt, but I now understand how it "could" be applicable).

LeBron is actually 3-6 in the NBA Finals (not 3-5). Most of the elite pro basketball players who reached the Finals multiple times have at least a .500 record (notable exceptions include Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor). Russell was 11-1, Kareem was 6-4, Jordan was 6-0, Kobe was 5-2, Duncan was 5-1, Magic was 5-4, Shaq was 4-2, Bird was 3-2, Dr. J was 3-3 (including the ABA--which should be included), Oscar Robertson was 1-1. LeBron fans argue that he carried some subpar teams to the Finals, but the counterargument is that if LeBron is as great as his fans say then after reaching the Finals he should be able to impose his skill/will four more times to win the title.

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Al Fahridi said...

I am sorry to repeat myself, but Bryant in his 17th year was selected to the firt All-NBA team, fifth in MVP voting, had a stretch of several games were he played the full 48 minutes - just in order for his team to get to the playoffs. Then in game 73 or 74 he got the achilles injury. This is not to take away anything from Lebron's great year and incredible durability.

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 2:11:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

David,

You are correct of course! Lebron is 3-6 in the finals. Regarding your big stats, low impact comment, Charles Barkely echoed that same sentiment the other night as well regarding Lebron's triple double in their game 3 loss. I agree with you completely. Been bringing him up a lot lately, but Jimmy Butler is a perfect example of a guy who impacts winning without stuffing the stat sheet.

@Al Fahridi,

Keep preaching brother! One small correction though. Bryant played 78 games that season. So, it was that fateful game 78 that he hurt himself. Amazing that in his 17th season, Bryant played 78 games! And, yet pre-Clippers collapse, talking heads were gushing about a 28-year-old Kawhi Leonard as being "better" despite never having played in 75 games in a single season, let alone all 82.

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 4:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have to remember it's not exactly # of titles won, it's your circumstances. Russell is the best winner in NBA history, but he played on stacked, AS teams most of his career with by far the best coach at the time. Russell was never higher than his team's 3rd option on offense. Wilt dominated him individually, but obviously the rest of their teammates/coaches were heavily skewed in Russell's favor. And Russell's teams barely won several times. Havlicek went on to win 2 more titles without Russell in his older years, too. Old Wilt took on the role(defender, rebounder, not focal point of offense as much) Russell had for his entire career, and did it better than Russell.

James is highly overrated and a ring chaser. But, his given his individual and team accomplishments, he's at least in the convo with Kobe, Jordan, and Kareem.

Saying a player had this record vs another player in the Finals is too simplistic. Duncan leads 2-1 over James, but James obviously was much better in 2 of the Finals, but that was James' prime and not Duncan's. In 2007, James was just 22 while Duncan was in his prime still. Duncan's team was much better, and Duncan didn't exactly light the universe on fire that series either averaging just 18ppg on .446 shooting. Kawhi was still a role player and several years away from making an AS team when they met in the Finals, too.

I'd also add Russell not wanting the ball late in games. He was a poor FT shooter, and only 3rd or 4th option on his teams at best. Duncan also could be in there. He was often passive at times and not a good FT shooter either. I seem to remember a lot more of Duncan's teammates hitting big shots than Duncan. But, it's just tougher to give the ball to a true big man late in games. They're often poorer FT shooters, and can be double teamed easier down in the post.

I think looking at the all the role players or borderline/low-level AS players that have outplayed James in the playoffs is more meaningful. The list is long: Parker, Rondo, Terry, Iggy, Kawhi(pre-AS). It's hard to rate James often since his stats are often so good usually even when he has highly subpar games. James gets vindicated for everything ever since he won in 2016 with Cleveland, and has been elevated to saint status with Jordan now, unfortunately for both.

As far as Finals' records, I'd definitely rather take 3-6 than 3-3 or 3-2. I see your point, but 9 Finals way better than 5 or 6. And if we count ABA for Dr. J. which is fine I guess, gotta remember we're counting 2 winners and 4 Finals teams. so there's double dipping going on.

And obviously James had a cakewalk in the East more years. Last year, he didn't even make the playoffs. Now has another phenomenal cast. Davis is inconsistent too, but overall he's better than James now and much more athletic currently.

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 7:23:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...



Marcel


Carmelo was a great Olympian and u bash him as nba player so u dont really care about olympics im assuming u reaching for a kobe argument


Lebron leadership about to lead 4 diff teams on 3 diff franchises to a nba title so idk how his leadership gets questioned

Also u pick the warriors to beat cavs in 2017 and 2018 im sure u picked them in 2016 and 2015 over cavs too. So how can u blame bron for losimg series u didnt expect him to win even tho he played great in the 3 series he lost?

Lebron was a pantheon player 10 years so u gotta say that its pretty obvious.

Bron critics tho reach or pick and choose on bron cause its hard to make a legit argument over him by anyone but jordan or maybe kareem magic


U call bron a stat padder but he one of the most winningest players in nba history regular season And playoffs. Stat padders dont typically win much


Kobe not better than bron when it comes to stats or accomplishments or high level play for the longest. That why most basketball people got lebron above Kobe

The fact u bring up the olympic teameams u conceded this. Also 3 of Kobe rings came as second best player

Lebron won all his rings as best player

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 8:03:00 PM, Anonymous Cyber said...

Game 3 had a very interesting sequence in the 4th that reaffirms what many of us skeptics have observed from LeBron. LeBron had a decent but not spectacular performance heading into the half, he played bad in the pivotal 3rd Q which contributed to the massive Denver lead

And then about midway through the 4th Rondo began making huge defensive plays that set LeBron up for some easy baskets. Keep in mind they were way behind when this happened. Stats would have you believing that LeBron was the primary reason but anyone that watched knew Rondo was responsible for the comeback

But then the game was close and those easy sequences weren't available, LeBron turned the ball over and missed at least 2 shots in the clutch, Murray took the big shots for the Nuggets and made them and all of a sudden Nuggets were in control

The outcome no longer in doubt, Lakers behind by at least 10, Lebron gets an easy layup with barely any resistance. 13 4th Q points on 6/8 shooting, but he missed the 2 most important shots

Very deceptively "great" game, it was far from a great game to anyone that watched and this has been a common theme for LeBron throughout his career. My belief is that he's so talented, so physically dominant that when there's little resistance or pressure he'll attack and he'll typically make the shot, and that's how he'll usually end up with these deceptively great games

I'm also confident that the "experts" that rank him at #2 are unaware of this tendency or want to hide behind his deceptively great stat lines, on the surface it looks easy to make a good argument placing LeBron that high (3x champ, 3x F MVPs, 4x MVP, 30k points club, all those all-nba/as appearances, and all these flawed advanced metrics place him top 2 with Jordan) but it doesn't take much to see how flawed his overall body of work is and how misleading box score data can be. Adding on to the Ray Allen 3, if Green were not suspended or if Kyrie hadn't made that shot it's hard to see him not be 1-8 in the finals which is a better reflection of his finals play than 3-6 would let on

I would also like to cosign 2013 Kobe as another greatest year 17 and/or 34+ candidate. The injury robbed us of what might have been a special PS, I'm also certain Kobe would have thrived with AD far more than he did with Dwight; the numbers may not reflect it but Dwight this year had a more positive impact than he did in 2013 even though he's clearly declined since, he's more mature and more embracing of his role than he was in 2013. If only he had this approach back then. I would not take him over age 34 MJ but I would at least take him over LeBron this year

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 8:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Al:

Yes, Kobe in year 17/age 34 was one of the top "old" players of all-time.

Jordan:

Yes, players and ex-players know the difference between making winning plays versus just putting up stats. LeBron is capable of doing both, but he has spent a lot of his career just putting up stats.

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 8:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree that circumstances should be considered. I have written--at this site alone--thousands of words analyzing the circumstances of these players' careers in depth. After more than 15 years of doing that, I am not going to attempt to describe all of those circumstances in the comments section of one article.

Regarding Russell, he is the greatest winner of all-time in North American team sports. He dominated in his era, and he would be dominant in any era. The league was smaller during his era, so many of the teams were "stacked" with multiple Hall of Famers, and each team played each other team more often than teams play each other now.

I agree with you that head to head Finals record--like everything else--should be looked at in context; again, I provided that context in the articles on this site, so I won't repeat everything here.

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 8:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

When did I ever say that Carmelo Anthony was a great Olympian? Carmelo Anthony is an overrated Olympian, and an overrated player. Here is one short article that I wrote about him: Is Carmelo Anthony an Elite Level Player? It is easy to search this site to find more of my articles about him.

I brought up the Olympics as one example. I have written thousands of words analyzing Kobe, LeBron and the other all-time greats. I saw Kobe and LeBron in person during their primes (and I saw them play against each other multiple times), I spoke with them, I spoke with their teammates and opponents, and I am a historian of the game. I may not be right about everything, but there is always a well-founded, objective basis for any assertion that I make.

You are a fan. You are entitled to like whoever you like, but just because you like someone does not make that player the greatest player of all-time.

You and I have been debating about LeBron for 15 years or so. You are set in your opinion. You predicted that LeBron would win six or seven or eight titles. That is not going to happen. If he gets his fourth title this year a good argument could be made that he is not his team's best player. I picked LeBron to win playoff series before it was fashionable to do so and I wrote about his "accelerated growth curve." It is ridiculous to call me a LeBron "hater" just because you disagree with my take on his career. I have objectively analyzed his game for his whole career, and I will continue to do so. I picked against LeBron's teams in the playoffs more often after he choked in 2010 and 2011. When he faces a great, tough-minded player, I am not confident that he will win consistently.

I wrote an article stating the case for greatest player of all-time status for each Pantheon member, so I am not going to repeat all of that analysis here. LeBron is in the conversation. I don't understand your obsession with placing LeBron ahead of everyone else.

I am so tired of the Kobe-LeBron comparisons, particularly since you don't address the points I make but just keep throwing the same stuff against the wall. Kobe won two rings as an older player with one-time All-Star (prior to joining the Lakers) Pau Gasol. LeBron has won three rings in his entire career despite playing with Wade, Bosh, Irving, and Love (we'll see if he wins a ring with Davis). If LeBron is as great as you say he is, why does he only have three titles in 17 years despite hand-picking so many Hall of Fame teammates?

 
At Thursday, September 24, 2020 9:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Cyber:

I agree with your observations about LeBron.

There is no question that Kobe played at an MVP level in year 17/age 34. Perhaps I made an arbitrary choice when initially defining "old" as 35+ and/or year 17+, but I think if we lower the age to 34 then there are a few other players who merit at least some consideration. Dr. J at 34 (in his 12th season because he did not jump straight from high school like Kobe and LeBron) finished 6th in MVP voting while averaging 22.4/6.9/4.0/1.8/1.8 on .512 field goal shooting. Of course, Kareem and Jordan were also very good at age 34.

Among 35 year olds, Wilt Chamberlain also deserves to be mentioned: Finals MVP, third in regular season MVP voting, led the league in rebounding and field goal percentage.

 

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