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Monday, April 06, 2015

Can Advanced Basketball Statistics Really Bridge 50 Years of NBA History?

Oscar Robertson is the only player in pro basketball history who averaged a triple double for an entire season (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg in 1961-62; he also averaged an aggregate triple double over the course of his first five NBA seasons). Russell Westbrook is having a great 2015 season (27.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 8.6 apg) but is it really accurate--or meaningful--to declare, as Tom Haberstroh recently did, that Westbrook's statistics project to 46.9 ppg, 14.6 apg and 12.2 rpg at the NBA's 1961-62 pace of play? I explore this issue--and the limitations of "advanced basketball statistics" in general--in my newest article at The Roar:

Can Advanced Basketball Statistics Really Bridge 50 Years of NBA History?

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:23 PM



At Monday, April 06, 2015 10:46:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

100% agree.

It's also silly to adjust numbers for pace because increased pace necessitates more sprinting and therefore quicker fatigue.

ADDITIONALLY there are a lot of rule changes and general sea changes that muck up a 50 year leap. Robertson had no three point line, and referees called some things more and others less in that era as opposed to today. Robertson perhaps had more of a strength/size advantage over most guards he played against, but Westbrook has a speed advantage against every guard in the league not named Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, and maybe John Wall or Eric Bledsoe... and of those, none are elite defenders (though Dragic and Bledsoe are both above average in their own ways).

You can compare some things across eras, for sure, but pace-adjusted stats are not one of them, at least not over an era gap that wide and spanning that many contextual changes to the game.

At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 10:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's silly. Nothing wrong in trying to compare eras. David's premise is right on, but pace needs to be accounted for; however, there isn't some special formula to know exact numbers.

Westbrook has a speed advantage over everyone by a decent amount. I know you like Dragic, but he's nowhere near as fast as Westbrook. Parker isn't that fast, but he's wily and quick with the ball. Without the ball, he's very slow like Nash.

Big O was awesome, but then again, his teams only won more than 48 games once, until he joined Kareem. It's obvious that there's no way someone could average 50ppg, etc., today. The pace was so fast early on and with players not being able to shoot a lick, team/individual scores were still so high. Rebounding totals as a result are very high.

At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 3:13:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


In a dead sprint Westbrook is probably the fastest guard in the league, but in terms of moving within a half-court offense I don't think he's as quick as Parker or Dragic. In the open court he probably is, but that's less what I was getting at.

At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 3:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You talk about speed initially, now you mention speed and quickness. While they are related, they are different things. Someone can be quick, but not necessarily that fast.

Westbrook is probably the most athletic player in the league, save James perhaps, since he's bigger/taller. It seems like you're basing your speed/quickness argument at least somewhat on what type of offense these players' teams run. It should be quite obvious Westbrook is much faster and quicker than Parker or Dragic. All 3 have the ball a lot. You ever see Westbrook crash the boards with reckless abandon? His jumping ability certainly helps, but he gets there so fast as well. Dragic and Parker are poor examples for coming up with another player(s) to compare Westbrook with. Wall is better. Westbrook at any point can just blow by anyone defender, whether in open court of halfcourt. Parker/Dragic can't do this even remotely to the extent Westbrook can. Like I said before, Parker is wily and quick, and uses his guile and moves to get into the lane. Compared to Westbrook though, he looks slow. Westbrook just blows by people by often overpowering them for the most part. Westbrook is much more athletic and much younger than Parker. Athleticism is mainly measured by size, speed, quickness, and jumping ability.

Now, defensively can be a bit different. Nash was quick, not really that fast, with the ball. Without ball, not nearly as much. Defensively, much less so. Defensive is reacting to the offense. So, naturally you're not going to look as his quick. You can't just run to the left when your man is going to the right.

At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 5:16:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I agree that Westbrook "overpowers' people with superior strength; that has nothing to do with how fast he is. I don't agree that he moves as quickly as Parker or Dragic. His top speed is higher (i.e. a full court sprint) but it seems to me that both of them are a little faster from a standstill or changing direction (you'll notice that while Westbrook is awesome when he gets to the rim, he just as often pulls up for bad midrange shots he can only kinda make when he can't get around his man). It's a minor enough point that I don't much wanna bicker about it, though.

My overall messaging was that there are enough different variables between Robertson's era and Westbrook's that simply trying to compare them based on pace adjusted stats is stupid.

At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 9:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need to watch Westbrook more often then. Nobody can get to the rim every time. He gets to the rim a lot more than any other player though. His midrange shots are a killer aspect of his game. They're usually about 15 ft. around the elbow, which is an easy shot for almost every nba player, and he's almost always wide open. His defender doesn't want to get beat to the rim, but his defenders almost always have 1-2 bigs behind him. Parker and others wouldn't even be able to get shots off as often as Westbrook does.

Comparing players amongst different eras concerning pace isn't stupid. Yes, there's many other variables to consider. But, pace is huge, as long as you realize there isn't some special formula. Guys like Wilt/Oscar and others back in the day would often more higher mpg, but usually the # of years of their career were shorter than a lot of the guys today. Westbrook would most likely have better stats if he played in the 60s, and Oscar would obviously have lower stats if he played today just based on differences in pace alone amongst many other variables.

At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 10:32:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Among 106 players NBA.com counts as both "guards" and "starters' who average at least one attempt from 145-19ft, Russell Westbrook's FG% ranks 77th. He makes 35.8% of them. I'm comfortable calling that "crappy".

And I watch him plenty.

As for getting to the rim, he's absolutely one of the best, if not the best; he's very fast, very strong, and has the ball all the time. But he shoots more midrange shots than all but 4 qualifying guards. He also shoots the most from 5 ft (8.5 FGA per game) among qualifying guards (he kinda shoots really a lot generally) but a full quarter of his shots come from the 15-19 foot range.

Dragic and Parker don't shoot as much, but they shoot a much higher ratio of paint shots to midrange. Westbrook's ratio is just under 2-1.

Dragic shoots 5.6 shots at the rim per game, as opposed to 1.4 from 15-20, exactly a 4-1 ratio. Total, he shoots nearly half of his shots per game at the rim. Westbrook shoots about a quarter of his.

Parker... I'm actually wrong about this season, turns out. Huh. Weird. Has he been hurt this year? I kinda try to avoid watching the Spurs (hate them!) as much as possibe till playoff time.

Mea culpa.

Considering that Westbrook is obviously stronger and bigger than Dragic, he really should get to the rim a lot more. But he doesn't (adjusted for FGAs, at any rate). Both get a lot of their "rim" points in transition (because they're faster than everyone else), so i think that largely cancels out. There are a lot of other variables that could be affecting this, but I don't think Dragic has appreciably better handles or screeners relative to Westbrook, so I'm gonna go ahead and blame it on quickness.

At any rate, I still feel like Dragic (evidence backs me on him) and Parker (pure eye test in the face of statistics) are quicker than Westbrook is, though of course Westbrook is bigger/stronger/all that other stuff. He's also much better than either of them this season, but just because he's awesome doesn't mean he's the best at everything. He's a crummy midrange shooter, and it's ok if he's only the third or fourth quickest guard in the league. He's still probably coming in third in the MVP voting (albeit probably behind two other, slower guards).

That's gonna be my last post on that particular subject because, seriously, who cares who's slightly faster.

But as for pace- I suppose we'll have to agree to differ. Using pace to adjust stats from one era to another ignores so many other variables that it's essentially meaningless, in my opinion. But you're entitled to yours, as well.

At Tuesday, April 07, 2015 11:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We agree about pace adjusted numbers.

I have no problem with someone doing the mathematical exercise of exploring what a player's numbers might look like in a different milieu with all other factors being equal, as long as the person doing this acknowledges that all other factors are not in fact equal. That is what Haberstroh and others either do not understand or do not want to admit because it undermines confidence in the kind of statistical analysis that they make their money providing.

The Westbrook speed/quickness discussion is interesting to some extent, though only tangentially related to my article. I don't think that there is really any metric by which Dragic belongs in a conversation concerning Robertson and Westbrook. Robertson is in the Hall of Fame, Westbrook is on track (barring injuries) to land there as well and Dragic most likely has already peaked (and would have a lot of work to do to even sniff the Hall of Fame).

I will add my two cents, anyway: Westbrook is significantly quicker/faster/whatever word you prefer than Dragic. I am confident that in a straight-line race, either dribbling or running without the ball, Westbrook would blow Dragic away; I am also confident that if those two players did some kind of NFL-combine style drill to measure quickness Westbrook would also prevail.

I have a question for you. Here are two stat lines, both authored recently by starting guards in close victories against a sub-.500 team:

33 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, +2 +/-

28 points, five assists, four rebounds, -1 +/-

Which line is more impressive to you? Based on our conversation in a different thread, you place a lot of emphasis on game to game +/-, so I would expect you to say that line two is worse because that player's team did better with him on the bench in a game against a sub-.500 team.

At Wednesday, April 08, 2015 2:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

First, i agree and said as much that Westbrook's top speed is faster.

Second, if you've paid any attention to me at all you'd know that what i think counts the most is context; straight box scores and numbers in a vacuum are your bag, so that exercise isn't interesting to me.

Third, I'm not interested in rehashing the Westbrook argument. The only point I was making was that Westbrook is faster than all but maybe a few guards in this league, and I listed Dragic was one of the few examples who might be comparable/quicker. I'm sorry that has offended the Westbrook Fanclub, but I've watched both players play a lot and I'm pretty comfortable in that assertion.

At Wednesday, April 08, 2015 10:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't offend anyone. It's just funny to hear you talk about Dragic being faster/quicker than Westbrook, when 'the real evidence' doesn't back you.

Just because Westbrook shoots a certain % from a certain range doesn't mean it's a 'crappy' shot. As you said, it's about 'context.' And I don't believe that just because you miss a shot, that that shot is a bad shot, and vice versa. Westbrook could shoot 0% from point blank range, and everyone on those could be a great shot, because he's putting pressure on the defense. He'd probably get fouled a lot, and he most likely drawing 2-3 defenders every time, allowing his teammates much easier chances at easy putbacks.

At Wednesday, April 08, 2015 10:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't know what you mean about "straight box scores" being "my bag." You have posted a number of comments denigrating Westbrook's performance this year based primarily on +/- box score numbers, despite the fact that even advocates of those numbers state that you need at least two years' worth of such stats for the numbers to be meaningful. I rely primarily on the eye test but I also use box score numbers and even "advanced" numbers; I place all of that information in a larger context when I evaluate players, teams and coaches.

As you may have figured out, the stat lines I quoted belong to, respectively, Westbrook and Dragic in their most recent games against Charlotte. You made a big deal of saying that Westbrook's triple doubles against sub-.500 teams don't mean much because of his +/- numbers in those games. I expect that you will naturally apply the same reasoning to Dragic's negative performance against Charlotte and state here, for the record, that Miami beat Charlotte despite Dragic's negative performance. The fact that Dragic scored his Miami-career high in points while accumulating a negative +/- rating must mean that he is selfishly pursuing his own stats at the expense of winning, right?

Your reference to a Westbrook fan club is very curious coming from someone who wildly overrates Dragic. As I noted before, a recent poll of NBA players, coaches and executives ranked Dragic 12th among point guards. All of the evidence suggests that Dragic is a good, solid player, not someone who should even be in the conversation with Westbrook in terms of skill set, athleticism or anything else. Bringing Dragic up in a thread originally focused on Robertson and Westbrook is a "fan" thing to do, not an objective, analytical move. No one who objectively analyzes basketball is drawing some lineage that reads Robertson, Westbrook, Dragic.

You griped about Dragic's role in Phoenix but he has the same role in Miami, even with Bosh out. Wade is the dominant ballhandler, while Dragic stays on the perimeter or serves as a secondary ballhandler. No one is giving Dragic the keys to the car and having him carry a franchise the way that you think he can because no one else shares your estimation of his skills.

Before you even say it, yes Pat Riley will probably re-sign Dragic to a large deal. Dragic is an upgrade over Chalmers and that is the way the NBA marketplace works. After Dragic gets that large deal, he will continue to put up the same good, solid numbers that he has been putting up and he will likely never be the number one option for a playoff team.

At Wednesday, April 08, 2015 11:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I brought up Dragic because he was relevant as one of the only players in the league who's comparable to Westbrook in terms of speed.

As for plus minus, if you'll think back you'll recall my actual comment was that for someone who is as ball-dominant and accounts for such a large percentage of a team's offense- like Westbrook on the current iteration of OKC- it's a lot less noisy. It is suspicious when a player who's putting up triple doubles regularly is losing the game while he's on the court and winning when he's off it.

As you pointed out, Dragic is not the first option for Miami; his team has other players who run the offense for long stretches. Therefore, his -+ is a bit noisier. But I'm also still not interested in arguing that Dragic's performance this season has been comparable to Westbrook's; Dragic has obviously had a disappointing season.

It's true his role in Miami so far has been similar to Phoenix, which is disappointing because we know from last season what he's capable of when given the keys. Maybe this will change with a full training camp or as Wade ages, but if not it'll be disappointing.

As usual, though, you've got me arguing something completely separate from what I actually brought up... my point wasn't even about Dragic, I just mentioned him in passing to help illustrate how few players are even in Westbrook's ballpark in terms of speed.

At Thursday, April 09, 2015 2:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are most likely the only person on Earth who thinks that Dragic's speed is comparable to Westbrook's.

Google fastest player in the NBA and see if anyone--players, bloggers, scouts, coaches, fans, Dragic's parents--believe that Dragic should even be mentioned in the top 10 or top 25 in this category.

Dragic's ability to use his body to shield the ball and finish at the rim has nothing to do with speed/quickness. I have played with guys like Dragic before; they are tough and they are crafty but they are not fast or even quick (Dragic has some quickness, though not nearly as much as you seem to think).

You argued that Westbrook's individual numbers are tarnished by his +/- numbers. You argued that Phoenix did not know how to use Dragic but that the Heat, led by Riley, would know how to do so. You argued that Dragic is an impact player whose departure has hurt Phoenix (though the Suns were slumping before he left) and helped Miami (though the Heat will probably miss the playoffs). If Westbrook had scored 28 points with a negative +/- then you would have said that his individual stats don't matter, so you should apply the same reasoning with Dragic.

What Dragic was "capable of when given the keys" was leading a team to a berth in the Lottery and making the All-NBA Third Team after half of the top guards in the league suffered injuries. Hey, Dragic had a career season last year, no doubt about it but he is best suited to being the second, third or fourth best player on a playoff team. If you are right that he was PHX' best player last season, then he proved that he is not good enough to be the best player on a team that advances very far--and, as I predicted, we are seeing the same thing now that Dragic has switched teams. Are you now going to argue that Riley and Spoelstra are guilty of misusing Dragic?

At Thursday, April 09, 2015 4:23:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I still think Dragic is quicker than Westbrook- albeit not by much- and if I'm wrong, then it's odd that he gets to the rim proportionately more often than the bigger, stronger player. Westbrook's faster in a dead sprint, but there's a reason Westbrook settles for as many long twos (and dumb threes, considering his percentages) as he does, and it's because he can't get by his guy as often as some other players; I contend that Dragic is one of them. Perhaps I'm wrong about why- it could be a skill thing, or that Westbrook just gets tired carrying such a load for his team, whatever- but on the eye test level it seems to me that Dragic accelerates faster and is more able to rapidly change direction. I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again, but I don't think I'm wrong here.

As for Miami, unlike Phoenix, he's taking a backseat to a player who's actually better than he is right now (Wade). He's also been playing hurt with both a bruised tailbone and back spasms, and has been complaining of feeling "slow". Despite all that, he's jacked up their offense, mildly improved their D, increased their fast break points significantly, and produced basically the same winning percentage as Bosh did. This in spite of the fact that during his short sting there, his three best co-stars (Wade, Deng, Whiteside) have been in and out of the lineup and his power forward rotations features a fossil, a D-leaguer, and a washout. He's doing fine. He's not better than Westbrook this year, but he's still very good.

As for last year, demean it all you want, but he put up a historically great shooting season on a terrible team (PHX since trading him, with essentially last year's roster, only stronger at the 5 and 4 & with Beldsoe healthy: 10-14) and missed the playoffs by a game. He plays one-two more games that year (he missed around 12 with ankle issues IIRC), or if his number two is healthy more than half the season, they make the playoffs in one of the most competitive conferences ever. The fact that he didn't make the playoffs last year is a bummer, but it doesn't reflect poorly on him; Westbrook and Anthony Davis are two of the ten best players in the league this year by any metric, but one of them is going to the miss the playoffs, too.

Back on the Miami issue, my suspicion/hope is that with 1) health, 2) training camp, and 3) a more viable pick-and-roll partner than Haslem or Beasely, he'll have a significantly improved season next year. Time will tell. But the characters he bares the most statistical/contextual relevance to suggest it's likely we haven't seen his best yet.

Annnnnd here i am back to defending Dragic.

TL;DR: We can agree to differ on quickness, but there's some reason Dragic takes more of his shots at the rim than Westbrook does, despite being a better shooter from basically everywhere on the floor.

At Thursday, April 09, 2015 11:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, how could you even think about arguing Dragic is quicker and/or faster than Westbrook? I think the fact that you chose Dragic as an example as one player who is potentially quicker/faster than Westbrook tells all of us that your bias is clouding your judgment. There's lots of other PGs quicker/faster than Dragic.

And just because you get to the rim or don't doesn't mean you're necessarily quicker. There's lots of other things involved. Are you drawing multiple defenders, using screens or not, who's guarding you, is it a fastbreak or not, what offensive system are you running, post-ups, curling off a screen, getting offensive rebounds or loose balls for layups. Didn't Andre Miller and even Mark Jackson get to the rim a lot? Maybe I"m wrong about them, but both of them weren't very quick for PGs.

Westbrook isn't a very good 3 pt. shooter, but he doesn't shoot very many dumb 2's contrary to what you're saying. Nobody can get to the rim every time or even half the time for that matter. I'm having trouble thinking of another player who gets to the rim more than Westbrook, other than some bigs who only touch the ball 2-3 ft. from the rim.

And Nick, I have no idea where you're getting stats from. You're right that Dragic is at 5.6 FGA/game at close range. But, even if he upped his total FGA/game, that doesn't mean he's going to get more at the rim. You do realize this, right? It's like the stat gurus who thought Tyson Chandler was some offensive machine for a few yeas, because his efficiency was off the charts. He basically only shot dunks, pt. blank layups, or layups off of off. rebounds. That's great if he knows his limitations, but there's only so many of these shots available per game.

Westbrook is actually 6th in the NBA in FGA/game within 5 ft. at 8.5. Dragic at 5.6. Tony Parker is at a measly 3.9. The next PG behind Westbrook is Carter-Williams @ 5.9. And these stats don't account for shooting fouls at the rim when the player misses the FG, which I'm bet Westbrook has more of these than any of the above players or any other PG in the league.

I'm looking at the top 30 PGs voted by nba personnel again, and putting Dragic @ #12 seems a bit generous. Hard to really argue he's better than any of the top 11, unless you take Rose out of there because of injuries.

I agree that PHO was good last year, maybe in the 10-12 range of best teams in the league. But, Dragic was hardly the only reason for PHO's success. He's a solid player, but I wouldn't want him as a #1 or #2 on a contender. He has more of a chance in the East, but unlikely he ever makes an AS team, and snuck in for 3rd team all-nba last year, which will likely never happen again.

At Friday, April 10, 2015 2:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As Anonymous rightly pointed out, there are a lot of factors that affect "getting to the rim" besides speed and/or quickness.

Your analysis of Dragic's impact confuses correlation and causation. Just because some things are correlated with Dragic's arrival in Miami/departure from Phoenix does not mean that Dragic caused any/all of these things.

Watching Miami last night--and analyzing Dragic the way that you regularly critique Westbrook--I would note that Dragic rode the bench when the Heat made their 19-4 end of first half run, he was on the court as the Bulls opened the second half with an 11-0 run that ultimately propelled the Bulls to a come from behind win and Dragic's 15 points were padded by two buckets in the final minutes with the game out of reach. There is no visual or statistical evidence that Dragic has done any of the things for Miami that you assert. The Heat are 11-13 in games that Dragic has played since arriving from Phoenix.

Dragic's Suns went 4-5 down the stretch last season with a playoff berth on the line. His Heat are similarly fading this year with a playoff berth on the line. There is no indication that Dragic can be the best player on a playoff team and certainly no indication that he is even close to being as good/impactful as you believe.

Davis or Westbrook will miss the playoffs in a season during which they both put up MVP caliber numbers. Dragic missed the playoffs while putting up good numbers last year and solid numbers this year.

If Bosh returns next season, Dragic will be no better than the fourth option on that team behind Wade, Bosh and Deng. Dragic may be fifth behind Whiteside. Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Derrick Rose (if healthy) are just three East guards who are better and quicker than Dragic. Dragic's All-NBA Team appearance is going to look like a fluke when he retires.

At Friday, April 10, 2015 9:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll just add that there's also been very quick/fast guys in the league that can't get to the rim that much either. Shannon Brown comes to mind. I'm sure there's countless other examples. Just because you're very athletic doesn't mean you can get to the rim frequently. The same could be said vice versa, in that unathletic players by nba standards potentially can get to the rim quite a bit.

At Friday, April 10, 2015 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I fee like I end up having to say this in more and more threads these days, but this'll be my last post on this one, too.

You're deliberately misrepresenting my position again- I've been very clear about why I value +- with a ball dominant one-man show like Westbrook vs a secondary star on a team that divvies up the offense like Dragic. As soon as the agenda becomes solely about winning the argument as opposed to trying to at least understand/recognize what the other guy is saying and see if it scans, or why it doesn't, with your own perception then there's no point in continuing.

Wade and Spoelstra have both credited the offensive boost to Dragic, and while Miami is 11-13 with Dragic that's about the same win percentage they put up with Bosh- who we both agree is pretty great. Miami's current problems are the injuries to Dragic/Wade/Deng/Whiteside and the gaping bleeding sore of a hole at power forward, not a lack of talent. Their six best players are all varying degrees of hurt; they're lucky they're winning at all.

Dragic has been just ok in Miami from a statistical perspective, and he's been visibly slowed by a bruised tailbone and back spams, though he's still shooting very well overall. I'm quite certain that if he stays in Miami next season (and stays relatively healthy) his numbers will jump.

You're right that the Suns went 4-5 down the stretch last season, but you left out the critical bit of information that Dragic was hurt that entire run, missing several of those games and playing on one leg in others. Considering the amount of excuses you make for OKC that are injury based, that seems like an odd detail to ignore, especially considering how crap the Suns are/were without him.

I don't disagree that Dragic will probably never be the best player on a title team- if he did, it would be a team more like the '04 Pistons or '79 Sonics- but I do think he could easily be the second best. Whether or not he gets the chance remains to be seen. I do think that- when he's healthy and involved, at least- he's one of the best guards in the league, and he's now got a two year sample size of guys playing better with him than without. You don't seem to place much value on that, and that's fine, but I do.

These arguments have begun to seem more like you want to tear down out of Dragic because you're annoyed that I don't like Westbrook as much as you do- though I still think he's great, despite what's got to be nearly or below a .500 record without Durant this season. That being the case, I think I'm just gonna take a moratorium on commenting on anything that's about Westbrook or Dragic for a while; I like talking basketball with you, but I don't like being insulted, and I really don't like this new game of trying to get me to argue positions I haven't taken. I started this thread arguing that Westbrook is one of the fastest guards in the league, and found myself backed into arguing whether or not Dragic can contribute to a title team.

At Friday, April 10, 2015 6:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, I agree David seems to contradict himself sometimes or doesn't apply the same standard to every situation, though he's usually right on. The latest being some of the injury stuff relating to OKC compared to Suns, etc. I don't buy any of your PHO injury excuses, other than perhaps Amare in 06 as I don't buy David's OKC injury excuses to Ibaka last year. Those PHO teams were stacked, and Nash should've made several finals if he was good as you and some others make him out to be. Ibaka is a crucial part to OKC's success, but he played like a #4 and Harden was probably OKC's 2nd best player in OKC's series win against SA in 12. SA was better in 13, and much better in 14 as well. However, you often just don't get plain facts straight. Even this latest example with Westbrook not getting to the rim much, which is why you think Dragic and a few others are quicker/faster just because of this. Wherein the stats say Westbrook gets to the rim a lot more than any other PG in the league. And his shots at rim aren't only 1/4 of his FGA, they're almost 40% of his FGA.

It's nice of you to say Westbrook is fast, which would be obvious to a blind person. However, I commented to that comment of yours because you're saying others are faster, and some of the players you use as examples aren't even close to being as fast as Westbrook. And slow players can still get to the rim. Speed and getting to the rim don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.

Dragic has been a good player each of the past 2 seasons, and probably would be an AS if the nba had a 2nd AS game consisting of the 25-48th best players. He's one of the reasons, but hardly the biggest, for MIA's success, which at 11-13, isn't really success. And don't forget his current team has a much easier schedule playing in the East.

OKC is 5-10 without Westbrook this year. All 5 wins were against bad teams. They're 37-26 with him. Durant or no Durant, Westbrook is proving his worth. Is he doing better than Curry or Harden? No. If he didn't miss any games? Maybe.

At Saturday, April 11, 2015 12:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are 100% correct. Even if Nick's numbers were accurate, they still would not prove the quickness and/or speed of the players in question.

At Saturday, April 11, 2015 12:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not misrepresenting your position, deliberately or otherwise.

When Westbrook ran off his string of triple doubles, you said that they did not impress you because of Westbrook's plus/minus numbers. You have also said that Dragic is good enough to be a first option player, that Phoenix performed best when he was the first option and that Miami has improved primarily because of Dragic. If Dragic has as much impact as you suggest, then plus/minus surely should be applied to him the same way that you apply it to Westbrook. After all, you assert that Dragic has improved Miami at both ends of the court and helped multiple players become more productive. Yet, Dragic's conventional stats are nothing to write home about and NBA insiders consider Dragic to be the 12th best pg in the league according to a recent poll. If plus/minus does not show Dragic's alleged impact then you really don't have much factual basis for all of the stuff that you are claiming.

I am responding to the arguments that you are actually making and the implications thereof, not the arguments that you may think you are making.

In law, it is important to make the prima facie case first and then cite possible defenses. The prima facie case against Dragic being as good as you think he is starts with the fact that no one who follows the sport closely ranks him as highly as you do. It continues with the fact that his Suns faded down the stretch last year and missed the playoffs, a story that seemingly is being repeated in Miami now. You asserted that Dragic would shine after a change of scenery but he is having the same results--individually and collectively--so far in Miami that he had in Phoenix.

Now, maybe there are defenses/excuses/explanations for the factors in the prima facie case--but if you are going to make excuses and rationalizations for Dragic, a guy who has not won anything in the NBA and who you regard much more highly than people in the know, then you should be prepared to make the same defenses/excuses/explanations for other players as well.

My analysis is not based on what you think of Westbrook. I have said the same things about Dragic from the first time you brought him up here and nothing that he has done or I have seen has changed my well-formed opinion of Dragic. He is a good, solid player--nothing more.

At Saturday, April 11, 2015 1:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


All I said about Ibaka is that his presence could have made a difference, based on OKC beating the Spurs in the previous playoff encounter and based on the very specific ways that Ibaka impacts that matchup.

Nick is making a bunch of excuses for Nash's stacked teams not winning a title or even reaching the Finals for a decade. There is no comparison between the point Nick is attempting to make and my very measured comment about Ibaka.

At Sunday, April 12, 2015 1:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You posted a comment that should have gone through but for some reason has not appeared, though a copy of it arrived in my email inbox. Here is the text as I read it (I will respond later):

See, the fact that you're treating this in legal terms is proof that you're missing the point; lawyers argue to win, and if that's all you're doing then there's little point in doing it. I argue to reach common understanding, or to learn, or out of curiosity. I like arguing, but only if it seems like the other person is remotely openminded; I've learned stuff in the past arguing with you, and I like to think perhaps I've at least tested some of your thinking.

I have no interest in "winning" an argument; I usually just want to see why you- a writer who's opinion I respect- see things differently than I do, and to try and explain why I see them the way I do.

But you are misrepresenting my position and you know it. I've said several times in this thread that the reason +- is a valid tool for looking at Westbrook is that he's a ball dominating first option (right now). Dragic isn't. If Westbrook were sharing his possessions with Wade and Deng it'd be a dumb way to evaluate him, too. But you already know that, you just choose not to acknowledge it. In the other thread, you keep trying to argue about Steve Nash's MVPs instead of arguing about injuries, or explaining why an injury to a third banana on a team with two MVP level guys is more significant than an injury to a second banana on a team with one at most and maybe zero. You want to win, you don't want to engage, and that's not much fun, at least for me.

You also seem more interested with dismissing my arguments- calling them "excuses"- than interacting with them. You've not once acknowledged that the Heat are doing exactly as well with an injured Dragic as they did with a healthy Bosh, you've ignored the very relevant fact that these two times Dragic has "failed" to make the playoffs he's been injured- and enough so to miss games during the stretch run.

So, since I like talking basketball with you, I'm just going save us both some aggravation and avoid talking about these two particular players with you for a while; we obviously disagree, and you're not interested in having the same conversations I am. No biggie. See you in the playoffs.

At Sunday, April 12, 2015 2:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, just out curiosity, where do you rank Dragic amongst current PGs?

If Dragic is as good as you make him out to be while playing alongside another AS SG plus some other good players in a weak conf., they should be doing better. I don't think Wade is all that great, but he's AS caliber. I would put Bosh not much better than low AS caliber. Dragic probably isn't much worse than him.

Westbrook has nobody even remotely close to AS caliber. I like OKC's cast as long as they have Durant and Westbrook healthy. With only one of them, they're obviously going struggle.

I don't agree with pretty much anything you say about +/-. Maybe there's some other +/-. But, I checked out the +/- leaders on nba.com, and the leaderboard is littered with full-fledge role players. And pretty much the entire GS roster is at the top. This is a highly volatile stat to say the least.

At Sunday, April 12, 2015 3:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, additionally, you once said Harden was HOU's #3 behind Howard and Ariza. And you possibly think he might be even lower than that. I would think even David, who greatly dislikes Harden, would say he's at least an MVP candidate this year. And most of David's critiques of Harden have to do with his ongoing battle to discredit most of the stat gurus and Harden's ugly-looking game, which should have nothing to do with evaluating players. I only mention Harden to challenge your opinions of Dragic mostly. You seem to value players you like(Dragic, Nash) a lot higher than they should be and players you dislike(Kobe, Westbrook, Harden) a lot lower.

At Sunday, April 12, 2015 6:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I rank Dragic about fifth among current PGs (Behind Curry, Paul, Westbrook, and probably Wall, in about that order), though he's much better with the ball in his hands than out of them. He's an above average defender and an elite scorer- first among guards in FG% and shooting Blake/Lebron numbers at the rim. He's a very good/not quite great passer, and most importantly he gets good results out of his teammates. He's been hurt most of his Miami run, but hopefully that's a temporary condition.

I think Miami's lack of success has to do with a lot more things than just "how good is Dragic?" They've got sub-replacement level options at the 4 with both Bosh/McRoberts out, and all four of their best active guys- Wade/Dragic/Deng/Whiteside, in about that order- are varying degrees of hurt. Additionally, they're dealing with a bit of a square peg/round hole situation in trying to incorporate Dragic on the fly into an offense that isn't really built for a penetrating/scoring point guard; Dragic's game is different from anyone they had at the beginning of the season, and even from anyone they've had in the last few years. The other problem they've got is that they've played something like 30 different starting lineups this year; there's no sense of continuity or chemistry.

With a real training camp behind them and somebody with a pulse playing power forward, I expect Miami to be an upper-tier Eastern playoff team next year, assuming reasonable health. If I'm wrong, I'll re-evaluate. Assuming Bosh is even slightly healthy, look for he and Dragic to be one of the top two or three points per possession PnR pairs in the league.

To your point about Westbrook's supporting cast, you're right that it's unimpressive- and consequently so is their record. Even if we ignore the post-ibaka injury games, his record without Durant is nothing special over the course of the season- in fact, IIRC, it's a little worse than Dragic's record with an equally unappealing supporting cast last year. I still think Westbrook is better than Dragic this year, but- and I'm not interested in debating this further but just as an answer- he's regressed significantly defensively and despite some incredible individual numbers his team hasn't accomplished anything of note and has mostly just beaten bad teams.

You're also slightly misquoting me about Harden- I said his on court/off court numbers were third on the Rockets behind Harden and Ariza- those numbers, incidentally, have since skewed in his favor. They're also by no means absolutes, though they can be a handy tool in evaluating how integral to a team player X is. I still don't think he's a very good defender- though he's a better one than he was last year- and I don't think his game will hold up against a smart defense in the playoffs. I don't think he should win the MVP, and I'd probably put Curry and Paul on the first team ahead of him.

Pt 1/2

At Sunday, April 12, 2015 6:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Pt 2:

Finally, as for players I "like" and players I don't, I disagree. I hate Tim Duncan more than anyone in the NBA, but I freely sing his praises as a player- the fact that I used to consider trying to frame the guy for tax fraud to keep him out of those mid 2000s playoff series doesn't change that. You and David seem to be upset when I criticize Kobe, but I'm always quick to point out I think he's a top 10-15 all-time guy; I just think there's a small tier above him where the Duncans, Ervings, Jordans, and Jabbars live. Westbrook I've discussed to death, but the short version is that he reminds me more of Marbury than he does of Robertson. Nash, I admit, is a hard player for me to evaluate because he IS a bad defender... but he's such a cosmically impactful offensive player who singlehandedly guaranteed a league-leading offense in his prime that I struggle to figure out what's worth what with him. Dragic, I think, is a potential superstar who needs to play in the right system; let him run pick and rolls and push the tempo all day, and you'll have an elite offense, and unlike Nash or Harden, he doesn't hurt you on the other end. Stick him in the corner to shoot spot up threes, and he's just a less effective Kyle Korver.

At Monday, April 13, 2015 12:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really think Dragic is the 3rd or 4th best PG in the game? And he's never made an AS team. From the way you talk about him, it seems like you think he's better than Nash was, given that you think he's an elite defender and you hold individual defense extremely high. Dragic for MVP?

Dragic isn't listed as a PG at espn. Just scanning the listed PG stats and including Dragic at 16.4ppg, he's the 12th highest-scoring PG in the game, which isn't elite by any measure. Other than FG%, his #'s don't look anything special compared to the other top PGs in the league.

Completely disagree about Westbrook. Even tonight, which he absolutely dominates, OKC loses to mediocre IND. Dragic probably wasn't even the best player in PHO according to most, or at least quite close with Bledsoe.

You did mention Harden was significantly behind Ariza/Howard for +/-, implying he was clearly HOU's #3. If that's not what you meant, fine, but nobody else could've known that.

You might hate Duncan, but I seriously doubt you have Duncan more than Kobe if you're honest with yourself. And from listening to media/fans, etc. talk about Duncan, I get the sense that even if most hate him, they respect him a lot more than Kobe and are much more willing to give him his due. This is one of the few sites, if lone site, where accurate analysis of Kobe is given. He's not a media darling, and unfair hate is rained down on him from pretty much everywhere else.

My main issues with you about Kobe is that you don't get all your facts straight about him and you give him the double standard often as well, especially concerning the 04 finals and his defensive prowess. Somehow Kobe lifting his team there on a bum knee and losing is worse than Duncan losing in 2nd round. Explanation of what really happened has been given time and time again, don't want to rehash it.

Don't want to hate on Dr. J. He should probably be in top 10 of all-time somewhere, not sure where, but #1? Kobe is by far the most underrated player in nba history to me. David disagrees and thinks it's Dr. J. Regardless, they both are very underrated. What if I said Jordan was just top 15 all time? Nobody is going to like that. Jordan may very well be best player ever, though it's not an absolute, but if you're honest and analyze players correctly, Kobe is ridiculously close at worse. Given individual and team success, putting Kobe as low as you do is very odd.

At Monday, April 13, 2015 1:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not trying to "win" for the sake of winning but I am trying to discover the truth and to do that I subject my own analysis and the analysis of others to rigorous review. I am open minded and willing to change my view if the evidence suggests that I should and/or if someone offers a compelling argument.

I am not misrepresenting your position about plus/minus. Perhaps you did not originally explain clearly what you actually meant or perhaps you have changed your mind at some point but in previous conversations you made a big point of saying that Westbrook's individual numbers this season--which are historic and have only been matched by Robertson and Jordan--do not impress you because of Westbrook's plus/minus and because of OKC's record against good teams this season sans Durant. Your analysis of why Dragic is/was/could be a great first option makes no mention of plus/minus. Either Dragic is/was/could be a first option or he is not. You can't make him a first option when it suits you to do so and then make him a lesser option otherwise. I don't see him as the first option (or likely even the second option) on a championship-contending team. I don't know of any knowledgeable basketball person who ranks Dragic as highly as you. No team for which he has played even attempts to utilize him the way that you think he should be utilized. Either you understand his game way better than anyone else in the NBA or perhaps you need to reconsider your position a bit.

Nash's MVPs are relevant because you present him as a dominant offensive force who was good enough to be the best player on a championship team. I think that he was a healthier, more durable version of Mark Price. No matter who got hurt or who was healthy or who got suspended, Nash was not going to win a title if he was the best player on his team. So, the particulars of each of Phoenix' losses don't interest me the way that they interest you as a Phoenix fan who lived and died with every game and with the injustices that you think befell your team. Nash was a bit underrated in Dallas and then he became a bit overrated in Phoenix.

Durant and Westbrook, when healthy, are two of the top five players in the NBA. They have already led their team to three WCFs and one Finals in a short period of time. There is every reason to believe that they are a championship-caliber one-two punch. It is obvious that losing Westbrook early in the 2013 playoffs killed their opportunity to make it to back to back Finals. I believe that a fully healthy Ibaka could have made a difference in 2014. Ibaka played a key role in OKC's win over San Antonio in the 2012 playoffs. If you or others disagree, that is fine. I never said that OKC was an absolute lock to win if Ibaka had been healthy. None of this changes my basic premise regarding Nash's Suns and the Durant/Westbrook Thunder: Nash was not going to win a title under any reasonably foreseeable scenario with him as the best player, so the particulars of what happened do not matter that much to me; the Thunder are a legit contender and therefore losing Ibaka is more relevant. Extreme example to make my point clearer: if the best player on the eighth seeded team blows out his knee, that matters to him and his team and fans of his team but it does not really affect the race for the championship--and that is how I feel about the Suns' tales of woe: a team led by a 6-3 (at most) point guard who plays no defense is not going to win an NBA championship, period. How many championship teams in NBA history have been led by short point guards?

At Monday, April 13, 2015 1:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your obsession with Dragic is bizarre. He is a solid NBA point guard. He is efficient and crafty. He is not a franchise player. I have "interacted" with your arguments to a great extent; I have written more about a solid NBA point guard than I ever expected to write (I prefer to focus on the league's great players for the most part) but you have some inexplicable fascination with someone who insiders recently ranked as the NBA's 12th best point guard.

Dragic did not replace Bosh. Players have moved in and out of the lineup, some players have gotten healthier and there are always vagaries concerning the schedule, traveling, etc. Dragic's role on the Heat is to stand on the wings and wait for Wade to do something. Once in a while, Dragic gets the ball in the open court and tries to make something happen. No one is giving him the keys to the car or even running a steady stream of pick and rolls with him as the focal point.

You and I discussed this before Dragic left Phoenix and you declared that the next team to get Dragic would use him properly and showcase his skills. I predicted that wherever he ended up he would do the same things he did in Phoenix that made him a solid point guard. The reality is that Dragic switched teams and all of the evidence so far shows that I was right. Dragic's role has not changed, his stats have not improved and the Heat are a losing team with him in the fold. You seem to be in denial of reality.

At Monday, April 13, 2015 2:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Harden is an MVP candidate in the sense that most of the voters perceive him to be one. He is an All-Star caliber player whose GM and coach give a lot of freedom to dribble and shoot. Gilbert Arenas did similar things before injuries and foolishness ended his career. Monta Ellis put up similar numbers for a time and there are other players who, given the same freedom, could do what Harden is doing.

Harden's numbers in Houston are a bit better than I expected; I thought that he would average 23-25 ppg, 4-5 rpg and 5-6 apg. However, I still don't think that he can be the best player on a championship team and I still think that his game is not well-suited to being a first option player in the playoffs.

You are right about plus/minus. It has some limited utility in evaluating five man lineups if you have a lot of data about those lineups but it is not very meaningful for ranking individual players. I used it in some of my articles about Team USA's FIBA games years ago but I also watched every minute of those games and could thus tell the reader about each player's positive and negative actions. Otherwise, the numbers are very random. Take a recent Miami game: Chalmers hits a halfcourt shot at the buzzer, which means that every Miami player on the court gained three points and every opposing player lost three points.

At Monday, April 13, 2015 2:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Regarding the "stat gurus," I will repeat a comment I posted in a thread at The Roar: Since Morey arrived, the Rockets have won one playoff series in seven years. They also missed the playoffs three years in a row before acquiring Harden, who is such an incredible "stat head" discovery that he has led the Rockets to back to back first round losses. If Morey were not a media darling, someone might point out that the emperor in fact has no clothes. The New York Knicks are indisputably one of the worst run franchises in pro basketball and during Morey’s tenure in Houston the Knicks have won the same number of playoff series as the Rockets have. Of course, Houston is better than New York this season but in terms of advancing in the playoffs for the past seven years Houston has been nothing special.

At Monday, April 13, 2015 2:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I completely agree with this part of your response to Nick: "My main issues with you about Kobe is that you don't get all your facts straight about him and you give him the double standard often as well, especially concerning the 04 finals and his defensive prowess. Somehow Kobe lifting his team there on a bum knee and losing is worse than Duncan losing in 2nd round. Explanation of what really happened has been given time and time again, don't want to rehash it."

I don't know who is more underrated between Dr. J and Kobe. Dr. J is more well-liked than Kobe but I don't think that Dr. J's all-around greatness is fully appreciated. His ABA years are discounted and his NBA years--including leading the 76ers to the best composite record in the league over a seven year period and becoming the first non-center to win the MVP since Oscar Robertson--are vastly underrated. Kobe is both disliked and vastly underrated.

I agree with you that Nick's rating of Bryant seems very low and that Nick does not apply the same standards to the Bryant/Westbrook portion of his analysis that he does to the Nash/Dragic portion of his analysis.

At Monday, April 13, 2015 2:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I value your opinion, David, which is why I can't understand the denigration of Harden so much on this site. You talk about how special 25/5/5 guys are. I've heard absolutely nothing from any other nba source, whether competent or not, that is saying Harden isn't a legit MVP candidate at worse, whether these people are voters or not, and most have no agendas. Doug Collins, JVG, a lot of players, the media, etc., are all saying Harden is big-time, except you. And most of your critiques of him have little or nothing to do with actual playing. I know he has some limitations, but who doesn't? I don't like talking about him, but he deserves his credit. While Nick's obsession with Dragic might be bizarre, which I have no problem with except with him vastly overrating Dragic, I could say the same about your obsession with downplaying Harden. I don't believe in him in the playoffs either. However, his team is going to win 54-55 wins, and won't even have homecourt advantage likely, that's important to remember as well.

I don't believe much in Morey either. I think he was, but not nearly as much now regarding to being a media darling. However, he found himself a perennial top 5-10 player currently in Harden, a top center in Howard, and some good pieces to go around them. The West is just super competitive. GS has blown up this year, SA is a million guys deep with 3-4 stars. If you're not going to get Westbrook, Durant, or James, he's done a very good job with his current roster. But, in the end, it's up to the players. He can't play the games for them.

I don't think Arenas was ever elite, but he was close and on the verge of coming elite before his injuries. However, there's some big differences between him and Harden so far. Both have 3 AS appearances. Harden is now an MVP candidate 2 years running, Arenas never really was. Harden will be making his second 1st team all nba probably, Arenas only made 2nd team once. Arenas never led his team to more than 45 wins, and he played with Jamison, who made AS in 05, and Hughes when he was good, who was close to making it in 05 as well. Harden's already led his team to mid 50s 2 years in a row, and without anyone even resembling an AS for most of this year, and in a much more competitive conf.

One thing about Kobe that I've never heard about other players is that he rarely gets any credit at all for winning his 1st 3 titles, which is wrong. Though, most have him rated higher than Shaq, as they should. He was playing like a big-time player then, Shaq was just better. Duncan, even Jordan, would've been 2nd options to Shaq from 00-02. And Kobe was only age 21-23 those 3 years. Duncan seems to get a lot more credit for being a 2nd or 3rd wheel as a non AS for SA's 2014 title. Kobe only had 3 real chances to win a title as 'the guy' with 04 possibly as well, though most of his team fell apart from injuries mostly or old age(Payton). How many chances has Duncan had as 'the guy'? Multiple digits for sure. Same with Magic. Jordan and James have had lots more, too. Very different situation for Kobe compared to most of these guys.

At Monday, April 13, 2015 8:58:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


My rating of Dragic is being called "bizarre" and the claim seems to be that people who know about the NBA disagree with me. I said I think he's the fifth best PG in the league; last year, he ranked fourth among PGs in All NBA votes (Westbrook was out). While I'm not a huge believer in the importance of All-NBA nods, this suggests that people who know about the NBA rank him about where I do. I've said repeatedly I don't feel he was as impressive this year due to a role change, and that he needs the ball/to play in the pick and roll to thrive. There's been a strong correlation this season between his usage and his team's success, and that's no coincidence. He's the most efficient perimeter scorer in the league besides Curry, but he hasn't been utilized as a first option this year for whatever reason. Perhaps more impressively, his efficiency doesn't dip when he's the first option/primary focus of opposing defenses. This is a guy who's going to make half his shots no matter who he's playing against, and who's capable of single-handedly winning a basketball game when he's feeling it. That he's a B- to B+ level defender (depending on the matchup; he struggles with stronger guards who can abuse him inside) is nice gravy, as is the - statistically supported- fact that he's one of the deadliest points per possession PnR players in recent memory.

We know that as a first option he's good for about 48 wins (though he missed 12 or so games that season) in a loaded conference without any other All-Stars. You can claim Bledsoe's great if you want, but his numbers stink since Dragic left and he missed half that season.

It's fine that you disagree with me, but there is evidence for what I believe, even if you don't find it as impressive as I do. I hope that Dragic playing off-ball so much in Miami is more of a function of necessity (not having time to redesign the offense on the fly) or his injuries than it is a longterm plan; if he's standing in the corner, his value decreases significantly, particularly because he's one of those oddball players who shoots better from three off the dribble than spotting up (see a 5% 3ptfg% difference from last year to this).

Look for him to bump up his scoring and assist rates next year when he gets to run PnRs with Chris Bosh all season. I'd still take him over any of the one-way scoring guards the media loves (Irving, Lillard, Parker) who only score more because they shoot more and don't contribute on the other end.

Pt 1/2

At Monday, April 13, 2015 8:58:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

pt 2/2

As for Kobe and Westbrook, I'm sorry that any criticism is seen as "unfair." I'm far from the only one who feels Kobe half-assed defense the second half of his career, or that he played very poorly and deviated from a winning formula in '04. Yes, a healthy Karl Malone would have helped. Feeding the monster that had won you three titles probably also would have helped.

Little things are all that separate Kobe from guys like Duncan and Erving for me, but those little things are there; he can't seem to accomplish anything without Phil (Duncan has some luck here in that we have no sample of him without Pop to compare), he doesn't influence the game without the ball as much as either of them did with their rebounding/rim protection, and he never got as far as they did without an All-NBA level player in tow; his supporting cast in '09 and '10 was certainly thin. but Pau was better than the second best player on the '76 Nets, '80 or '82 Sixers, or the '03 (and arguably '05 and '07) Spurs.

Doesn't make Kobe not great; it just makes Doc and Duncan slightly greater in my eyes. I rank Kobe roughly even with guys like Magic, Oscar, West, Wilt, and Moses; that's pretty damned elite company. I just rank Jordan/Russell/Doc/Duncan/Jabbar a head above.

Westbrook I feel like I've covered to death. Let's see him win something, ideally as the first option, before we crown him the best player in the world.

At Monday, April 13, 2015 9:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even making 3rd team all-nba last year seems a bit generous for Dragic, but he played well last year, much better than last year. I don't think Bledsoe is great. Not sure if he's better than Dragic, but not sure if Dragic is better than him. Several PGs were hurt last year, too.

Westbrook, Paul, Irving, Curry, Wall, Lillard, Teague, Lowry were all AS this year; and I can't see Dragic making it over any of them regardless of conf. Conley could've very easily have made it. Rose/Parker have been hurt, so time will tell on them; though Parker is back and playing well. A lot of people were screaming for Knight to make the team, and he's at #24. It's a deep position. Didn't hear a peep about Dragic deserving an AS nod. Just don't see it.

Still not getting even the facts straight about a lot of stuff Kobe.

How can you blame Kobe for Phil being his coach for most of his career? When could Kobe have done anything when Phil wasn't his coach? 18yo Kobe, or how about crappy 2005 Lakers team Kobe, or maybe Dantoni run Kobe into ground old-man Kobe? Are you actually serious about that argument? And you wonder why I call you out for having a double standard against Kobe.

Duncan had Pop. Russell had Auerbach. Wait, Jordan had Phil. What exactly did Jordan do without Phil? Can't wait to hear that one. Magic had Riley.

You should re-watch Kobe move without the ball on offense, especially drawing so much defensive attention. It's unfortunate you can't see Kobe's defense as it is. Very few, if any, nba experts agree with you though. Obviously old-man Kobe wouldn't be able to play as good of defense as he did when he was younger, as is the same for any other player. Especially, when he's needed to carry the offense like he was needed in his prime.

Pau might be better than 4-5 #2s on title teams, but that's very few teams in the 70-year history of the nba, not really saying much. However, Kobe's overall cast from 08-10 is extremely weak compared to past champs. Kobe might have had a better #2 than Duncan did for a few of his titles, but barely, and Duncan certainly had the edge after that.

Yea, let's talk about Westbrook winning something. How about Dragic actually make the playoffs as a #2 or #3. I'm looking at OKC's lineup for tonight. And other than Westbrook/Kanter, that's a sorry team. Other than Westbrook, everyone else is having to play up at least 2-3 spots.

At Tuesday, April 14, 2015 2:40:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Again, I currently have Westbrook ranked ahead of Dragic. Neither's won anything as a first option, and in fact their winning percentages in that role are similar (Dragic's is actually slightly higher, but let's chalk that up to a deeper team/better coaching/weaker competition/small sample size/whatever explanation you prefer). I think Dragic is a bit better than you and David are giving him credit for, and I think Westbrook's a bit worse. I think Westbrook's the third best PG in the league right now- or maybe second; Paul's kind of hard to evaluate as his numbers don't scan with his results and his team's chemistry always feels just a little off- and I think Dragic's better than the Irving/Lillard/Parker/Lowry brigade; Dragic scores more efficiently and plays better D, and he's a better passer than some/most of that bunch. I love Conley and might rank him sixth, but I think Dragic's a bit better on offense (I think Conley is better on D, but the margin's closer).

As far as Kobe goes, again, I think it's a small margin. The Phil argument I meant more as a comparison to Doc- who won regardless of who his coach was- and called out Duncan as a bad comparison thereof. Kobe's team cratered in '05; it was hardly an All-Star team, but it also wasn't really any worse than his '06 or '07 teams, and arguably better. The difference was Phil. And yes, with "Old Man D'Antoni" he got worn out and only made a seven seed... but that was a stacked- if topheavy- team, and say what you will about D'Antoni the guy's proven he can do better than that with a less talented roster- although that Lakers team was obviously poorly suited to his system and it's on him for not adapting.

By contributing off the ball I meant more the rebounding/threat of shot blocking/pick setting, but you're right that Kobe moved very well off the ball. So did Duncan and Doc.

Moreover, if I had to bet my life on a basketball game and I could only pick one guy to play on my team, I wouldn't take Kobe over Doc or Duncan. I feel like Doc was more consistent on both sides of the ball- and more versatile overall with his rebounding and shot-blocking- and I've mentioned before how much of a cosmic game changer Duncan is on defense while still being an A+ talent on offense. I just don't think Kobe tops either.

You can call my criticisms unfair of Kobe if you like, but I feel like guys like Jordan/Erving/Duncan/Jabbar don't have the same "ifs" and "buts" for me. Yes, I'm picking nits, but at that level picking nits is all that really separates these guys. I'm sorry this is so upsetting/offensive to you, but saying a guy's in the top 10 or 15 is a compliment in my book. Saying he's not better than the very best is admittedly just my opinion, but i consider it a fairly well-formed one.

At Tuesday, April 14, 2015 1:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There were 9 AS-caliber PGs this year, 8 made the team(Conley didn't). Parker/Rose could've, but both hurt some. Putting Dragic at #12 is best-case scenario for him. Westbrook hasn't had a chance to be a 1st option on a good team yet. However, he's been better than Durant this year when both healthy. Not sure of games played with Durant and/or Ibaka, but OKC is 37-27 when Westbrook plays and 5-10 without him with all 5 games against bad teams. Harden is a top 2-3 player in the league this year to everyone except you and David. If he can be a very good 1st option on back-to-back 55 win teams, a healthy Westbrook certainly can.

You're overvaluing coaching too much, plus giving the double standard to Kobe while not the applying the same logic to most of the other greats. Kobe was phenomenal in the years without Phil as well. Even at 34 in 2013, he was an MVP candidate.

Kobe's teams from 05-07 were absolutely worthless. The fact that he willed them to 2 playoff appearances and nearly beat the stacked Suns in 06 shows how awesome he was. The 13 Lakers were good, not great, offensively, but very poor defensively. It was a typical Dantoni team. He isn't that good of a coach. Looked at how good his players have been for most of his coaching career. He should've had more success. He was terrible in 13. Kobe played great. That team was an old team, that's not going to work in the nba. You need to get some youth in there, like SA does now, if you have aging stars. I doubt LAL beats SA in 2013 1st round. But, without Kobe, LAL lost each game by double digits with an average deficit of 19ppg in the 4-game sweep. They were absolutely destroyed.

Duncan has had a steady coach and franchise every year of his career. Kobe has many ups and downs. Much different situations. Kobe's teams are 4-2 vs. Duncan's teams in the playoffs. Duncan has had much better teams overall and still has had worse playoff success. I've told you this before and you won't accept it. It's the truth though. 2x Duncan has had #1 seeds that failed to reach the finals, including losing in 1st round once. This has never happened to Kobe.

Kobe is #1 in nba history in 1st team all-nba and #1 in total selections. He is #1 all-time in 1st-team all defense and #2 all-time in total selections. He is #2 all time in AS appearances. Dr. J may very well have deserved more all-defense selections, but he only made 1 1st-team defense while in the ABA. It doesn't make sense to put him ahead of Kobe in this regard. Kobe is the premier wing defender in nba history. He was great defensively at an earlier age than most great defenders. He was a great man and help defender. Some guys like Bowen were only great man.

Kobe is probably one of the top 10 most athletic players ever. He is, however, the most skilled player ever. He would excel in any system and on any type of team, and has shown that. Duncan has the size advantage, but he is nowhere near as athletic. He's closer skill-wise than athleticism-wise, but still lacking. I seriously doubt Duncan would excel on bad teams or as well in any type of system, but we'll never know for sure on that.

At Tuesday, April 14, 2015 4:10:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Nothing you're saying about Kobe is untrue... but for me he just didn't do as many things as well as Doc, and his achievements don't wow me as much. Doc could also guard more positions (early in his career, he'd guard some 4s or the occasional 5), and was a monstrous shotblocker- his career average of 1.7BPG would be good for 13th in the league this year, and his career high of 2.4 would put him even with Serge Ibaka for 3rd. He's 22nd all time (and they weren't recorded his rookie season, so probably higher), and the shortest guy ahead of him is three inches taller than he is. The next 6'6 guy on the list is...Charles Barkley, at 111th. Kobe is tied for 186th. He's also 7th in steals (Kobe's 15th).

His career average for rebounding (8.5) would lead all SFs this season, and his career high (15.7, admittedly in an uptempo era) would lead the league. At 6'6.

Kobe was a better longrange shooter than Doc- though only by three percent, and neither were especially good (though Kobe had a few good-ish years), and perhaps a better passer (hard to evaluate; Doc played off-ball more than Kobe did, both were great passers). But Doc was a more efficient scorer overall, and a markedly better rebounder and shot blocker.

Doc made the Finals with three completely different teams/coaches in '74, '77, and '83 (plus twice in the transition years between '77 and '82 and a second time with the Nets in '76). Nobody else in basketball history has dragged three completely different casts to the Finals except Wilt and Shaq, perhaps the two most dominating individual forces in basketball history during their prime years. Shaq and Wilt generally made the Finals with at least one other All-NBA level talent beside them; Doc made 5 of his 6 Finals appearances without one. The one time he had one in '83, he swept one of the most dominant teams of all-time in the Magic/Kareem Lakers (who played in the Finals both the year before and after, so it's hardly like they were slumping).

We can quibble over whether Doc or Kobe was a better defender and at their peaks it may well be a wash; the difference is that Doc kept playing defense into his twilight years while Kobe openly took on the "DH" role somewhere around '07 or so. Yes, he made All D teams, but even his own coach thought that was pretty silly in his later years.

On top of all that, Doc put on what's probably the best Finals performance in basketball history in '76 against a loaded Nuggets team while being guarded by perhaps the best perimeter defender of all time in Bobby Jones.

I just don't see anything beyond the ephemeral that Kobe has on Doc; I see a lot Doc has on Kobe.

As for Duncan, I've explained before how much of a cosmic defensive game-changer his mere presence is. At this point, you either accept that or disregard it, and there's little point in spilling more ink on it.

Kobe great. He might be the 7th or 8th best player ever (though gun to my head I'd probably say 10th or 11th). But I don't think he's *quite* at the level of a Doc, Duncan, or Jabbar.

At Tuesday, April 14, 2015 5:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

One little fun mathy sidenote:

If we approximate Doc's steals for the one year and two playoffs they weren't recorded based on surrounding averages, he jumps to third all time, slightly ahead of Jordan (or slightly behind, depending on what averages you want to use).

At that point, the only two guys ahead of him are both PGs with 20 year careers (Stockton and Kidd).

Do the same average for blocks, he jumps to #15, making him the second player besides Hakeem Olajuwon to be top 15 all time in Blocks, Steals, and Points (Hakeem, a beast in his own right, is also top 15 in rebounds; Doc's 32nd).

Even more fun, his career playoff rankings: 8th in blocks, 9th in steals, 7th in points, 13th in rebounds, and 20th in assists. Most of the guys ahead of him on all these lists played their careers with an extra playoff round, too.

God, Doc was the man.

At Tuesday, April 14, 2015 9:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Dr. J was so great defensively(or as great you're saying he is-especially in comparison to Kobe), he should've made more defensive teams. Magic supposedly could guard all 5 positions, though I seriously doubt this, and he wasn't a great defender. If Dr. J could supposedly guard centers early in his career at the same size as Kobe, then Kobe certainly could've done the same in the same era. Bruce Bowen was an elite defender, but never had many steals/blocks. Steals/blocks aren't necessarily great determinations of defensive prowess, especially blocks which don't end possessions. Kobe leads 12-1 in defensive teams over Dr. J. Even if we're generous and say Dr. J. should've made 6-7 teams which might very well be true, that's still no comparison to Kobe. Stats were just higher for much of Dr. J's era than compared today, especially his early years. His team's pace his rookie year was 117. The average pace today is around 91-93.

Don't really understand the consistency issue with Kobe. Not taking into account his 6-game stint in 14, he has 15 straight years of averaging at least 22.3ppg. Counting 2014, he still had 14 straight years. No other player has ever done this. Plus, he's always getting you at least 5rpg and at least 4.5apg. His FT % are always above 80%, except 1998. Someone like Duncan is all over the place with his FT%. All this while playing in a much slower era and in a much more athletic era.

At Tuesday, April 14, 2015 11:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Fun new argument! I like this one, and it's fun to dig at the data a little bit to see how it scans with the eye test. It scans pretty well, I think.

If you value All-Defensive teams that highly, there's no arguing with you. I personally don't, and I've seen Doc and Kobe both play a lot. I think Doc's a better defender, personally, but at their apex at least an argument can be made.

Also, level of competition matters some when looking at stuff like that. I think Doc could have/would have made more All D teams if he'd played in Kobe's era, where star power mattered more and guys like Eric Snow, Larry Hughes, Kurt Hinrch, and Thabo Sefalosha- who are all fine defenders, but hardly all-time greats- were sneaking on. Oh, and Kobe. Doc was competing against guys like Bobby Jones, Dan Roundfield, Michael Cooper, and Sidney Moncrief. It's not exactly an apples to apples comparison.The best defender in one year may only be the tenth best defender in another... but he's still a great defender.

Moreover, the bottom line is that Doc helped protect the rim, and Kobe didn't. Anyone in the NBA will tell you that a great shot blocker affects a lot more shots than the ones they actually block, both by changing shots and intimidating opposing players out of taking them. Kobe didn't do that, Doc did. Both were deadly off-ball hawks (Doc slightly deadlier) but even if we give Kobe the nod as the superior man-to-man defender- which I don't, for the record- Doc just had more of an overall defensive impact because of his shot blocking and, if you count it as part of defense, rebounding. Doc's got a 5 point better career D-RTG, if you care about that stuff, and played for a top 5 defensive team in '74 (1st), '75 (2nd), '76 (1st), '77 (4th, despite starting defensive non-factors George McInnis and World B Free), '79 (2nd), '80 (1), 82 (2nd), '83 (5th), and '84 (4th). Kobe, despite a longer career and a coach that gives a crap about D for most of it (along with some elite rim protectors, including 11 seasons with a top ten shot blocker- Doc had five, (none higher than 5th) plus himself twice), played on exactly 3 top 5 defenses in his career, and only one #1 (in '00, when Shaq decided to prove a point and swatted 3 shots a game). It's worth noting that Doc essentially played for three different teams, too, but never spent more than a year away from the top 5 in that twelve year span, and captained the league's best D three times.

Pt 1/2

At Tuesday, April 14, 2015 11:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Individually, Doc had eight seasons with D-RTG below 100. Kobe had 1, at 98, which would have been only the sixth best D-RTG of Doc's career. Kobe's next best was a 102... which would have tied two other Doc seasons for the 10th best of his career; the only higher seasons he had were the final three years of his career.

After his first two seasons, Doc never played for a team in the bottom half of the league defensively. Kobe did six times, not counting the last two seasons where he barely played (we won't hold those against him).

But sure, a popularity contest decided by vote is more important than a player's team's actual defensive performance.

I question Kobe's defensive consistency much more than his offensive. Kobe'd agree with me, too. He's been pretty open about loafing on defense since about '09 or '10 or so.

Doc could guard bigger players in part because of his crazy shot blocking ability; if guys muscled past him, he still had a chance to swat their shot from behind. Kobe never had that talent, which is why you never see him guard anyone much bigger than he is.

TL;DR the only evidence for Kobe being a better defender than Doc is All-Defensive Team nods, which are fundamentally subjective and context-dependent. Doc was an objectively superior shot blocker, rebounder, and generated more steals. Doc's teams- despite fewer supporting shotblockers- were consistently and significantly better defensive outfits than Kobe's, regardless of supporting cast on either side.

If you want to argue Kobe vs. Doc, there are probably ways to do it... but defense probably isn't one of the better ones.

*The one caveat, of course, is the one that started this thread. We are to some extent comparing across eras here, so there may be some noise that can't be helped. Since we can't have the argument without ignoring that, I'm ignoring it :)

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 1:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


When Harden left OKC, I suggested that he is an All-Star caliber player who is ill-suited to being the best player on a championship-caliber team. I compared him to Manu Ginobili. I think that Ginobili could have left San Antonio a decade ago, received a max contract and averaged 23-25 ppg as the best player for a team that won 50 games and lost in the first or second round of the playoffs.

Harden is completing his third season in Houston now. He has scored a little bit more than I expected but in only one of those three seasons has he shot better than .450 from the field (he shot .491 from the field in his final season with OKC as the third option and supposedly he is a better player now than he was at that time). Kobe Bryant shot at least .450 from the field in 12 seasons and in 10 of those seasons he averaged at least 25 ppg, including his back to back scoring titles (35.4 ppg, 31.6 ppg) when Nash and Nowitzki stole his MVPs (Bryant averaged 19.9 and 22.5 ppg in the other two seasons, both of which were early in his career). Bryant won five championships during those 12 high scoring, efficient seasons.

When I wrote my 25-5-5 article in 2008, the feat had been accomplished 66 times by 24 players in NBA-ABA history. Each of those players made the All-Star team at least four times. The list of 25-5-5 players is headlined by Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Harden has posted his first such season this year. It is an impressive accomplishment but he is probably the worst player on the list and almost certainly the worst defender. I expect his Rockets to lose in the first round for the third straight year (maybe I'm wrong about that).

I think that LeBron James deserved every regular season MVP since 2009. He is the best all-around player in the NBA right now. If the MVP is going to go to the best player on the best team then Stephen Curry should win. If the MVP is going to go to the best player on a team that has no chance of winning the championship this season then it should go to Westbrook. Anthony Davis is obviously a better all-around player than Harden, too. So, how many "legit" MVP candidates am I supposed to list in a given year? I would not rank Harden ahead of any of those guys, at the very least. I still think that Harden is an All-Star caliber player who is not good enough to be the best player on a team that advances past the second round.

Morey is not a terrible GM--but he supposedly was going to fleece old school GMs left and right by using "advanced basketball statistics" to find hidden value. Everyone knew that Harden is a very good player. Morey believes that Harden can lead the Rockets to a title. I think that Morey is wrong. I think that Morey knows a lot about spreadsheets but not quite so much about how a championship basketball team is actually built. I see no evidence that Morey has any kind of advantage over other GMs. He has been running the Rockets for almost a decade and has yet to build a team that won a single playoff series. The media kills "bland" coaches and GMs who don't give them sound bites but because Morey is active in social media and befriended certain media members I guess he will receive a 20 year pass to build a team that can win one playoff series.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 2:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Julius Erving-Kobe Bryant discussion is very interesting. I think that both of you have very well stated the respective cases for Erving and Bryant. I'll throw in a few comments/observations.

I wrote my four part series about Erving's playoff career to illustrate just how underrated he is. People talk about the Final Four in college basketball but Erving made the Final Four in pro basketball 10 times in 16 seasons. He won three championships and on five other occasions his team was eliminated in the Final Four by the eventual championship team led by a Hall of Fame center. During Erving's era, it was all but essential to have a Hall of Fame center to win a title, which makes Erving's success all the more remarkable. In this modern era of no handchecking and no dominant big men he would have a field day. Erving was one of the best and most consistent Finals performers in pro basketball history.

It is very strange that Erving only made one All-Defensive Team. I have spoken with Bobby Jones and Billy Cunningham about those Philly teams. They were defensive-minded (other than perhaps the 1977 squad with McGinnis) and Erving played a key role in that defense.

All that being said, Kobe Bryant is also an underrated player. Erving was and is popular even among people who don't rank him as highly as he should be ranked but Bryant is hated by many people for a variety of reasons. I find it hard to directly compare Erving to Bryant because the contexts of their careers are so different. Erving played college ball and then played in the ABA before arriving in the NBA. Bryant came to the NBA straight out of high school. Bryant had an NBA player for a father (ironically, Bryant's dad was Erving's teammate) and was nationally known as a teenager, while Erving emerged from obscurity. Erving played in a more physical era dominated by Hall of Fame centers, while Bryant played in a more perimeter-oriented era. Erving pushed his teammates but was easier to get along with than Bryant.

I think that Erving and Bryant are in a select group of players who can legitimately contend for the mythical best player of all-time title but because the contexts of their careers are so different it is hard to prove which player is greater. I think that both of you have made some good points in support of your preferred candidate.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 2:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your rating of Dragic is bizarre, no matter how many numbers you take out of context and no matter how many different standards you apply to him compared to other guards. Dragic had a career year last year and he still could not make the playoffs. He was not an All-Star but after almost every great guard in the league got hurt he made the All-NBA Third Team. Gilbert Arenas made the All-NBA Third Team twice. Michael Redd, Stephen Marbury and Eddie Jones made the All-NBA Third Team. None of those guys were good enough to lead a team to a title but all of them were better than Dragic is or is ever likely to be. I can't stand the way Marbury played but even he was good enough to at least be the best player on a team that makes the playoffs. If Dragic were even close to as good as you think he is, then the Heat would have made the playoffs. Dragic spent nearly a third of the season there and they were right in the hunt when he arrived. Yes, losing Bosh obviously was a blow but you think that Dragic is an All-NBA player. Do you really think that if the Heat had added Curry or Westbrook or Chris Paul or Tony Parker they would have won less than half of their games in a similar time span? Westbrook has been to multiple WCFs and one Finals as an All-Star/All-NBA caliber player. The comparison is just fanciful, no matter how you frame it or what context you try to create to justify it.

The fact that you put Westbrook--who is putting up historically great numbers--ahead of Dragic just for this season hardly proves your objectivity.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Without getting back into the whole thing of it, the "didn't make the playoffs" argument isn't very strong. Westrbrook's had a career year this year, nine more games as Dragic did last year, and might not make the playoffs, either. Unlike Dragic, he got to play 29 games of this season with the second best player in the world, yet he's going to post a worst record than Dragic did last year. He also got 64 with Ibaka, who would have easily been Dragic's best teammate last season. Teammates matter, and the 2014 Suns didn't have much to boast about (nor do the '15 Thunder).

As for this season, would adding Parker/Westbrook/Curry have gotten Miami into the playoffs. I don't know; are they healthy? Dragic's been in and out of the lineup with back spasms and a bruised tailbone, and he's complained of feeling "slow." The argument is purely speculative and while he hasn't performed as well as I expected him to, I think he's likely to play very well next year, though of course there are many variables. Still, playing alongside Michael Beasely and Henry Walker at power forward would make it tough for anybody to win games. These are sub-replacement level options.

It's absolutely true that he had a career year last year- but I think (and you disagree) that he's likely to match or surpass that performance moving forward. I've been over the historical comparisons to Petrovic/Nash/Ginobili before, but the short version is that all of those guys started to peak around the same time Dragic did and had similarly few miles on them when they did, allowing them to peak (minus Petrovic for obvious reasons) their mid 30s.

Putting Parker ahead of Dragic is silly. Dragic is a better finisher, scorer, defender, and passer than Parker, he just doesn't get to play with Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. He's usually a better long range shooter, too, though admittedly Parker's having a career year from deep this season and Dragic's slumped a bit since being stashed in the corner.

Similarly, I don't know why you'd take a Lillard/Irving type over him; they score more because they shoot more, but they do it less efficiently while playing crappier defense. We know from last season that Dragic can maintain (or, if we're talking about long range, raise) his efficiency as the primary option, so the "if he had to do as much as they do he couldn't do it" argument holds no water.

Pt 1/2

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Bottom line, Dragic is underrated fora simple reason, and not a "bizarre" one. Players are judged on results, and he so far hasn't been put in a position to have great results; he won 48 games despite three injuries and basically no help (look at the dumpster fire the Suns have been since losing him) and missed the playoffs mostly because he was hurt down the stretch, missing a close game against SA, and playing on one leg in critical losses to Dallas and Memphis (where he shot and scored significantly below his season averages, including going 0-8 from 3); a healthy Dragic probably swings at least one of those games (he's been lights out against Dallas especially the last two years), and the "playoff" argument evaporates.

Put Westbrook on that Suns team last year, give him the same injury issues, and you're getting roughly the same results. The team's starting center is currently playing 9.4 mpg as a backup in Milwaukee, their starting 2 for half the season can't get off the bench in sub 500 Phoenix, and their starting 4 starts for the 3rd worst team in a historically bad East. Their best player's numbers, over his last 10 games: 14.5 points per game on 39% shooting. That's not an aberration, either; for March he was only at 43% and boasting 4.4 TOs per game.

Ultimately, the argument against Dragic is contingent upon ignoring his idiotic role change and bad injury luck. When playing as the primary option, he's better than all but a handful (about four) guards in the league, and the numbers bear that out. If you asked Parker/Westbrook/whoever to just stand in the corner and watch, their numbers would suffer too (yes, Westbrook would still get rebounds; that's part of why he's great). If they busted their tailbones, their numbers would suffer too.

There's nothing "bizarre" about understanding context. What's bizarre is ignoring it.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 10:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Overall, Harden has been more efficient shooting in HOU than in OKC. I think FG% and TS% are both relevant, but TS% is better to be used as it incorporates every aspect of shooting. His TS% each year in HOU is better than Kobe ever had in any season.

The problem I have with you about Harden is why do you constantly have to tell us he's so bad? Morey might be a media darling, but Harden isn't. His game isn't aesthetically pleasing, unlike Curry, who is a media darling. Also, I haven't heard one peep from anyone nba-related in any sense or even just fans that don't put Harden at worse in the top 3-4 players in the league this season other than you and Nick. Find me a coach or GM, anyone, who agrees with you that Harden isn't even a top 10 player. You know Kobe rarely got the deserved credit in the media, but he still had a lot of backers and a lot of people actually him his deserved credit. It wasn't like 99.9% were saying Kobe isn't that good, and less than 10 people saying otherwise. Don't you think that's bizarre that absolutely nobody agrees with you about how lowly you value Harden? Maybe I'm wrong and there's some out there, but I haven't heard it. Several commentator's opinions that you value so much like Collins/JVG are the saying the same, and the list goes on and on. Even if Harden averaged 40ppg, shot over 60% and led HOU to 70 wins, you'd still say James deserves MVP. For the past 3 months, yes, James has probably been better, but the season is 6 months long. Harden hasn't missed a bunch of time, been more consistent for the entire year, and has elevated his team to higher success, albeit with a worse cast and in a more competitive conf. You do actually realize all of this, right? If you still think James deserves MVP, fine, but it's not nearly as black/white as you make it out to be. On paper, James is the perfect basketball player in history, however, we all know that doesn't always pan out.

Nick, your player analysis overall is very weak at best. David loves Dr. J, so he's trying to stay out of it. Let me repeat: 12-1. It's not like it's 12-10. And don't act like Dr. J. could've made more defensive teams in Kobe's era, which is a more athletic and defensive-minded era. Dr. J probably was a great defender. But, you're not going to make only 1 defensive team if you were truly one of the all-time great defenders, especially in an era where defense is much more of a commodity than today. Your analysis of Kobe in every aspect isn't good, especially defense. D-RTg is a poor parameter to use, especially when the stat was invented well after Dr. J had retired. I think Boozer was elite in this regard when in CHI. There's a lot more 'evidence' to suggest how great Kobe was defensively, as I already mentioned. I think all-defensive teams are voted by the coaches, as compared to DPOY and MVP by the media. But, even if the media were voting for him, that would further my case as they didn't like him overall and punished him in their voting. I value the real experts voting a lot more than the non-experts voting. Actually being courtside watching/hearing what is going on each game is a lot different than watching on TV or even up in the stands somewhere. The players and coaches all knew Kobe was a great defender for most of his career. You don't accidently make 12 def. teams. You're really searching for something when you say my only evidence is 12-1 in favor of Kobe. And even if it was, that's pretty glaring. If you want to say Dr. J. was better, fine, and maybe you need to use your imaginary defense specs to help you on this, but defense shouldn't be used in Dr. J's favor.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Part freakin' three, 'cause you got me fired up now.

Over a month, Westbrook put up numbers that only Oscar and Jordan ever did. Awesome.

Over a season last year, Dragic put up numbers than only Bird or Lebron ever topped, and you were quick to poopoo that. I agree that putting up those numbers doesn't make him Bird or Lebron... anymore than Westbrook's numbers make him Oscar or Jordan.

Fact: Dragic has a higher win percentage as the primary option than Westbrook.

Fact: If you adjust the numbers for the injured, off-ball, this season version of Dragic to Westbrook's USG%, he scores more while still turning the ball over less (Westbrook still gets a little over half an assist on him, though).

Fact: If you do the same exercise with healthy last year Dragic, he outscores Westbrook by 4 ppg and beats him in assists.

Fact: Those numbers don't take into account Westbrook's superior stamina; there's no guarantee Dragic could handle that load physically, which is one of the two main reasons I take Westbrook over him.

Fact: Durant is better than anyone Dragic has ever played with.

Opinion: Ibaka is better than anyone Dragic has played with post-Nash.

Fact: Westbrook's results without Durant (some Ibaka): 21-19.

Fact: OKC's record with 29 games of Durant, 67 games of Westbrook, and 66 games of Ibaka: 44-37

Fact: PHX's record last year with 76 games of Dragic, 43 games of Bledsoe: 48-34

Fact: PHX's record this year without Dragic: 10-20

Fact: Dragic couldn't get Miami over .500 while banged up.

Fact: Neither could Chris Bosh. The problem isn't Dragic.

Look, you can make the "can't make the playoffs as a first option argument" if you want, but then the same applies to Westbrook. You can make the "incredible statistical feat only matched by two of the best players ever" argument, but then it applies to both.

I take Westbrook over Dragic because of better rebounding and stamina. But stop acting like I'm an idiot for noticing that Dragic gets pretty good results when he's healthy. Even this year, his winning percentage in PHX is better than Westbrook's winning percentage in OKC...and there's nobody on PHX as good as Ibaka or Durant.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 1:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I brought in D-RTG because you're unmoved by steals, blocks, the testimony of Bobby Jones (arguably the best defensive forward ever) Billy Cunningham (championship winning defensive minded coach and player), or David (professional basketball writer who's an expert on Doctor J). You're similarly unmoved by the results of every team he played on, despite a rotating supporting cast. There is literally no on-court evidence that impresses you, nor any sourced testimony. I resorted to D-RTG hoping that, in concert with the orgy of evidence described above, it would pierce your "All Defensive Teams Are All That Matters!" fortress.

If you're right that Bryant's era is more defensively minded, then explain the following:

Bryant's best defensive team: Allowed 92.3 ppg in 93.3 possession (roughly league average pace that season). Shaq, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, AC Green all well above average to great defenders. Best defense in the league that year. DRTG of 98.2.

Doc's best defensive team:
77 76ers: Allowed 106.2 PPG on 108.3 possessions per game. DRTG of 97.6. 4th best defense in the league. Played noted terrible defenders George McInnis and World B Free major minutes. No great defenders besides Doc and Caldwell Jones (who wasn't as good in '77 as Shaq was in '00, to put it mildly).

So, if the 4th best defense in 77- facing one of the most talented years ever, as teams had just added all the best players from the ABA to their ranks- is better than the 1st best defense in 2000, which era do you think is more defensively minded? All told, Doc played on 6 teams that allowed less than 1 point per possession; Kobe played on 1. The era argument works in my favor, not yours.

As I've explained above, Kobe had better rim protection overall behind him, as well as quite a few good permitter defenders over the course of his career- Eddie Jones, Ron Harper, Derek Fisher (young), Rick Fox, Robert Horry (guarded 3s and 4s), Trevor Ariza, and Ron Artest. He played with elite shot blockers in Oneal, Gasol, Bynum, and Howard. Yes, he had poor D backing up in '05-07 but that's a fraction of his career, and Doc dragged similarly lax defensive outfits in the 70s to strong defensive showings.

As for my "poor" player evaluation, if you're right about that, then David's must be too. I agree with about 99% of his player evaluation; I agree with him about 97% on guys like Kobe (I think he's behind about 7-10 guys that David thinks he's tied with) and Westbrook (i think he's the 2nd or 3rd best guard, David thinks he's the best), and the only guy we're really very far apart on is Dragic- either I'm overrating him or David's underrating him, or more likely, something in between.

What I actually think is going on here is that you haven't seen much Doc, so you're clinging to the only evidence you have- All-Defensive teams picked by different coaches against different competition. And don't forget Phil himself doubts their validity as it applies to Kobe.

Oh, and getting off defense, if we're talking eras? Doc might be the all time leading scorer if he'd played with the hand check rule or the floor spacing that the modern NBA allows; this is a guy who could average 30ppg back when teams were crowding the paint and clobbering anyone who got into the lane; imagine what he'd do if no one was allowed to touch him when he drove and half the other team was glued to their men 20 ft from the hoop.

'1976 Doc might have been able to average something ludicrous like 45-50 today.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 2:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, how do you like the double standard applied to Dragic a little bit? Probably not a whole lot, huh? Something you should work on in the future. I agree with 95% of what David is saying about Dragic, and his bottomline on Dragic's ability is 100% right on. However, Dragic leading his team to 48 wins last year was very good. But, you're underrating his cast quite a bit, though. PHO was 28-15 with Bledsoe, and 20-19 without him. And PHO seems to be tanking late this year as the playoffs are out of reach. Westbrook's current cast isn't very good. Even with James playing hard for the entire year with Westbrook's current cast for the entire year probably wouldn't make the playoffs in the West. Dragic is currently anywhere from 2nd to 4th best player on the Heat, and he'll drop to 3rd to 5th when Bosh comes back next year if he remains in MIA. Regardless of who's behind him, if he's as good as you say he is, and at best he's barely a 2nd option this year, then MIA should be doing better. It doesn't all add up. At best, he's the 10th best PG in the league. There's no other way around it. I repeat, make an AS team first, and then we can talk. He plays in the weak East now, no excuses if he remains in the East. The media/coaches or whoever else aren't hating on Dragic either. Actually, people were screaming for him to make the AS team last year and he still didn't.

It's surprising to hear you hold Oscar so highly when he only won over 48 games as a 1st option for 9-10 years and had very little playoff success as compared to how lowly you rate Westbrook. And Oscar's #2 for most of those years is in the HOF.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 3:16:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

So... Dragic went 20-19 without Bledsoe. Westbrook is 21-19 without Durant. Are you telling me Markieff Morris is better than Ibaka? Is he better than Kanter?

The double-standard is where?

My argument- the entire time- has been that Dragic has been misused this year by taking the ball out of his hands. Give the guy the ball, and he gives you 20ppg on 50/40ish shooting, with everyone around him having career years.

Every single one of his teammates from last year has seen their numbers drop. Miami's offense goosed from 30th to 10th when he arrived, though it's slacked off a bit since with injuries.

And, speaking of double standards, let's apply it to the guards "over" him. How many games is Parker winning with last year's Suns team? He can't guard 2s- which Dragic had to do half the season- he can't really guard 1s- which Dragic did the other half, and he's a crummier shooter and finisher (who, again, is admittedly much improved from three this year). Irving? He didn't make the playoffs as a first option in the EAST last year, I don't think he's doing it in the West. Who else is "ahead" of Dragic beside the four guys I already put ahead of him? Conley won one more game last season but I think Gasol and Z-Bo are a little bit better than Plumlee and Kieff. Lillard's a defensive sieve whose team features arguably the best PF in the league right now and- usually- one of the best 2-way 2s out there in Wesley Matthews. Rondo? Maybe in 2010, but now he can't shoot, barely defends, and has all but ruined a Cinderella Dallas team.

And I'm underrating Goran's teammates? Bledsoe's been crap without him- and if they are tanking, that started about three games ago, not 30- Kieff is a tire fire on D who's scoring 1.5 more ppg this year- on 3 more shots. That puts him at a whopping 15 ppg for the season, and he's a power forward who gives you a whole 6 rebounds per game on an uptempo team playing 30 minutes. And he's their second best guy behind the aforementioned turnover machine Eric Bledsoe. Alex Len is promising, but not actually any good yet. Green is averaging one fewer shots than last year for four fewer points. Tucker's already just ok 3 pt shooting has dropped four points with Dragic setting him up. Frye has been demoted to the bench on the third worst team in the East, averaging 4 fewer PPG than last year, when he and Dragic led the league in Points per PnR. And Plumlee can't crack 10 minutes as a bench cog for the Bucks.

PLUMLEE, FRYE, AND GREEN STARTED FOR THIS TEAM LAST YEAR, AND THEY"RE AVERAGING A COMBINED 54 MPG AND 22 PPG. Between the three of them, they've lost 13 PPG without Dragic. The margin of points fewer they're scoring without him is literally more than half of what they're scoring. They stink; Dragic just tricked you into thinking otherwise.

Literally the only one of Dragic's teammates from last year who's on a team that's doing better than Dragic's new team is Miles Plumlee, and he's playing nine minutes a game.

Even Bledsoe, easily Dragic's best teammate in PHX, has seen his scoring and efficiency both drop despite a role increase in Dragic's offense. He's seen his turnovers leap, though.

At a certain point, you're just ignoring the evidence.

Pt 1/2

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 3:16:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

For the billionth time- Dragic's having a bad year, but he's having a bad year because he's being asked to stand in the corner and shoot spot up threes instead of running an offense. It's a lot like why Kevin Love is having a crappy year; he's being asked to do stuff other than what he excels at; Love, though, gets to play with Lebron so at least his team is still winning. He's just scoring 8.5 fewer points while they're doing it. Did Love suddenly decline on offense? Or he being used in a way that's not optimal for his production?

Dragic's numbers on drives, in transition, etc. are all right where they were last year, he's just not getting the ball. I don't know why this is such a contentious observation.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 3:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Crap, forgot to address the Oscar jab.

First, disclaimer, my knowledge gets weaker on anybody who peaked before about '74 or '75.

That said, I think of Oscar a lot like I think of Kobe- transcendent talent, solid top 10-15 guy, needed a top 5 (seasonal) big guy to help win titles.

He did lead one Cincy team to 55 wins, but you're right that he had a lot of 40something seasons. The league was a little different, then, though, as there were like six teams and he had to play Boston and Philadelphia a million times each year. Literally, he played Boston, Philly, and St Louis (with Pettit) or NY (with Reed etc.) 50 games out of each year. That makes it a little tougher to win a ton of games. And that's before he has to play Jerry West and Elgin Baylor ten times.

The talent density in that era was ridiculous; there were only a couple bad teams each year, as opposed to know where 15 teams suck and another 7 or so are just ok.

You think Westbrook's winning 55 games if he has to play the Spurs 20 times, the Warriors 15, and the Grizzlies 15?

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 9:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love is playing poorly this year, but he's been injured for most of the year. To his credit, he seems to be fighting through it as much as possible. Reminds me of Howard in 2013. Howard was clearly not right for that season, but played through it. His usual impact certainly wasn't there. Playing with James isn't the easiest thing for some players. Bosh and Love are the 2 main examples. They've each had to taken backseats to him, despite what most people will tell us that James is a pass-first player and is such a great teammate. Love has made several AS teams and is a much better player than Dragic when healthy, but you don't want to build your franchise around him. If Love was healthier, he'd be playing better. If he was an elite player, he'd be playing better. Neither is true for this year. Dragic is the PG, he doesn't need anyone giving him the ball. The best player he played with in PHO was Bledsoe. Love is playing Irving and James, both much better than Bledsoe. Not really a good comparison. Elite players in their prime don't take backseats to non AS or low-level AS.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 10:38:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Dragic and Hornacek have both stated repeatedly that Hornacek wanted Dragic to stand in the corner to space the floor for Bledsoe and Thomas. The (bad) thinking behind this was that of the three, Dragic was the best shooter (true) and therefore would be the most dangerous off-ball (also true). Unfortunately, Bledsoe isn't very good at running an offense, and Thomas is really only in it for himself, so taking the ball out of Dragic's hands made the team less dangerous, not more. It also hurt the offensive numbers for literally everybody who was on the team last year in points, fg%, and/or turnovers.

Whether or not Dragic's coach misused him has nothing to do with whether or not he's an elite player; D'Antoni misused Kobe and Pau, the '77 76ers arguably misused Doc (having him defer to other, crappier scorers, though they still made the Finals because, well, Doc), Terry Porter misused Nash ("Yeah, best fast break runner ever, what if we slowed down the offense and ran half-court sets?), and Carlesimo misused Durant (go play 2 guard!). Everyone I just listed is better than Dragic, so it's not like being an elite player precludes you from being misused by your team.

That said, Dragic's biggest failing as a player is probably his willingness to defer; he wants to be Steve Nash, but his best possible destiny is probably closer to Drazen Petrovic. He's basically unstoppable as a scorer out of the pick and roll or in isolation, but he's too willing to give up the ball and sometimes tries too hard to get other guys involved- basically the opposite of the trap Westbrook sometimes falls into, actually.

It makes sense for him to defer to Wade for now; Miami is Wade's team, and the offense is built around him, not a PG. Expect to see more Dragic next year, though, because Spoelstra's a pretty smart guy and Wade's getting old.

I never said Dragic was perfect. I just said he was better than Kyrie/Parker/Rondo/Lillard/whomever else you put between him and Wall (my pick for fourth best). I have yet to see any compelling evidence that he isn't. The "he didn't make the playoffs last year" argument is especially silly, because that record was good enough to make the playoffs in all but, like, three seasons in NBA history; he just had the dumb luck to play in one of the toughest Western Conferences ever. Heck, it woulda been good for like a four seed in the East last year.

Chiming in on the Harden thing briefly, I'll say this for Morey: he did a great job building a team to maximize Harden's strengths and minimize his weakness. Two great perimeter defenders to cover for him on D, lots of rim protection and rebounding, and enough shooters to keep defenses from overcommitting to him.

At Wednesday, April 15, 2015 10:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

PS: Dragic's been playing hurt since at least early March; if that's an excuse for Love, it's an excuse for him. And I'm not sure Love is as much better than Dragic as you think he is; Love's never made the playoffs as a 1st option, either, nor has he gotten a team to the 48 wins Dragic did. Hell, he's never gotten a team to 41 until he teamed up with Lebron. He's also an actively bad defender. Love is basically the classic good stats/bad team guy, and is now that he's on a good team, basically Ryan Anderson + 3 rebounds.

Careful, before you defend him with excuses about injuries and bad teammates; Dragic's got the same excuses.

At Friday, April 17, 2015 4:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are the one who said that you would be more impressed by Westbrook if he actually won something. Westbrook has been an All-Star/All-NBA performer on three WCF teams and one Finalist. He has already won plenty, especially compared to Dragic's paltry playoff record.

I don't think that there is anywhere to go with Dragic right now. We are all entrenched in our positions. Dragic has had one borderline All-Star season (during which he did not make the All-Star team but did sneak onto the All-NBA team after many, many guards were injured) and has spent half of his career coming off of the bench. Phoenix, Houston and Miami have had the chance to feature him the way you think that he should be featured but none of these teams have done so. NBA insiders recently ranked Dragic 12th among NBA pgs. You attribute everything remotely decent that happened first in Phoenix and now in Miami to Dragic, even when there is little to no proof that there is causation behind the correlation. Isaiah Thomas left Phoenix the same time that Dragic did and Thomas also went to an Eastern team fighting for a playoff berth. The difference is that Thomas actually played a key role in helping his new team reach the playoffs, while Dragic did not help his new team reach the playoffs. There is just as much evidence that losing Thomas hurt Phoenix and helped Boston as there is that the Dragic deal had the impact you assume that it did.

You no doubt can produce some "advanced" numbers that prove that Dragic is 10 times better than Thomas but if you are going to call out Westbrook for supposedly not winning anything it is pretty weak to just excuse away Dragic's inability to take any team to the playoffs in any conference.

At Friday, April 17, 2015 4:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This is the wrong time of year to advocate for Harden, as all of his supposed efficiency is about to go out the window--just like it has in the playoffs for the past several years.

I ranked Harden as an All-Star caliber player three years ago. I expected him to score about 23 ppg and to consistently lose in the first round of the playoffs. He has scored a bit more than I expected but other than that he is who I thought he was and he has not yet made his mark in the postseason. I already explained my thinking about this year's MVP race and will not repeat myself.

Sure, based on his scoring average Harden can be viewed as an All-NBA player--but he is not the kind of player who can lead a team to a championship and he is much better suited as the second or third option on such a team. If he had stayed in OKC he would have had a better chance to win a ring. None of my contentions about Harden have been proven wrong yet, other than the fact that he is scoring a bit more than I expected.

If Harden put up the ridiculous numbers you mentioned then of course I would tout him for MVP and I would say that I was wrong about his potential--but none of those things have happened. He scored a lot, he has a better supporting cast than people want to admit and he probably is about to lose in the first round yet again.

By the way, the Rockets are 28-12 with Dwight Howard this season, including 5-2 down the stretch when they secured the second seed. Without Howard, they would not have home court at all, let alone be the second seed--but even with Howard, I still think that Houston is going to lose in the first round.

At Friday, April 17, 2015 9:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, HOU is 28-12 with Howard and 28-14 without Howard. Yes, having Howard down the stretch probably helped HOU get that extra 1-2 wins, but he was still playing low minutes and not at AS capacity.

Fine, Harden can't lead his team to a title. That has little to do with the regular season. Isn't it bizarre no nba insider or non-nba insider other than Nick doesn't agree with about Harden's prowess about what he accomplished this regular season? To me, it seems like James is the only player left in the playoffs who you think can lead his team to a title. If Tony Parker was able to last year, lots of players could do it. The 2014 Spurs are another outlier though. They didn't have one player leading them. They had a bunch of experience and a bunch of stars, with a very deep cast and quality coaching leading then. For better or worse, injuries or not, Harden was a current elite player this season, unless you're only saying there's 1-2 elite players in the league. Harden was definitely top 5 this season any way you slice it. He has to show something in the playoffs, though.

At Friday, April 17, 2015 10:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not making excuses for Love, he's injured and playing poorly by his standards this year as I already said, those are facts, and playing with James isn't that easy for a lot of players. Nice try, though. I've never been that high on Love, like David is/was. However, he's a 3x AS and has made 2 2nd team all-nba. He's still playing and contributing this year. He's not an elite player and is currently a 3rd wheel. All I'm saying is that if anyone agrees with you about how great you think Dragic is, then Dragic is a borderline elite player at worse according to you, and his teams wouldn't relegate him to 'standing around,' especially when the best player he's played with this year is old Wade, who couldn't even lead his team to the playoffs in the East. Nobody believes you about how great Dragic is, especially his former and current teams, who you know, should actually know how good he really is.

Love didn't have anywhere near as good of teams as Dragic did these past 2 years. However, if Love were elite, he should've won more in Minny.

At Friday, April 17, 2015 4:59:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I mean, not making any playoff noise is part of why I have Dragic at 5th instead of higher. But it's also silly to ignore the existence of Kevin Durant; if Dragic played on those OKC teams they certainly would have still made noise in the playoffs. Dragon's results as a first option are basically the same as Westbrook's- better, depending on how you weight games with/without Bledsoe/Ibaka- so the fact that Westbrook has thrived playing alongside the league's second best player while Dragic started alongside Miles Plumlee and PJ Tucker is less compelling to me.

As for "every guard getting injured" the only one who's better than him that didn't make the All-NBA team ahead of him was Westbrook. Paul was hurt but still made the team. I suppose Wade, but he wasn't "hurt" so much as "old". Wall didn't beat him, but Wall played all 82 games and wasn't the same player defensively last year that he is now.

The argument for me, I guess, has at this point morphed away from Dragic vs Westbrook- I conceded that one months ago- and into "Goran vs everyone between him and Wall." I'm curious why you'd rank guys like Irving, Lillard, or Parker ahead of him. None of the guys ahead of him (and below Wall/Westbrook) have been the best player on a team that performed as well as his crappy Phoenix team, none of them compare favorably with his shooting numbers, and most of them are bad defenders. Conley has perhaps the best case but playing beside an All-NBA Center and All-Star Power Forward (and All Defensive wing), he won all of one more game than Dragic last season.

As for Thomas, I don't need advanced numbers to point out that the Suns were better last year, without Thomas, than they were this year with him. I'm pretty comfortable assuming, then, that their post-trade decline had more to do with missing Dragic than missing Thomas. Thomas could score, but in the Phoenix system he was too much of a liability as a defender, and his mere presence on the court forced Bledsoe to guard 2s (not ideal), and sometimes forced Dragic to guard 3s (even less ideal) and, in a couple truly stupid games, Green to guard 4s (literally two different crunch times against the Clippers saw Green lining up opposite Griffin).

That said, as a Husky, I'm glad to see Thomas thriving in Boston. I've actually played with and against him, and it's extremely satisfying to see him play well at that level.

At Friday, April 17, 2015 5:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Love's Minny team was stronger at at 5 (Pekovic over Plumlee), 3 (Brewer over Tucker), 4 (Love over Frye), and half the season 2 (Martin over Green) than Dragic's, so I don't agree with the idea that if his team were as good as Goran's he'd have won anything.

Miami does agree with me about Dragic; they gave up two unprotected first rounders for him and they're about to give him a max deal or near-max deal. It is difficult to completely re-tool an offense midseason, which may explain his limited role in Miami; I expect more out of him next year.

Also. for someone who places so much value on All Defensive Teams for Kobe- to the exclusion of literally all statistical, historical, or anecdotal evidence-you seem oddly unmoved by Dragic being voted by the league's coaches as the league's fifth best guard last season. That's basically exactly where I said he belongs.

At Friday, April 17, 2015 5:07:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Chiming in again on Harden, I'd take all of the following this year over him in a heartbeat:

Davis, Cousins, Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Curry, Paul, James, Westbrook, Duncan, Wall.

I'd strongly consider taking Thomas, Butler, or Leonard over him as well. Probably others I'm not thinking of, too.

At Saturday, April 18, 2015 4:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you only have 10-15 players ahead of Harden. He actually cracked your top 100, that's amazing. Given all the guys on your list, only Curry has a case for actually accomplishing more during the regular season. On paper, sure, other players look better than Harden or others, but the game isn't played on paper For example with Cousins: he might very well be the best center in the game now, but why doesn't that result in more regular season success? His team is absolutely awful. They might not be a West playoff team given his cast, but they should be awfully close if he truly was a current great and/or better than Harden. Past great centers in their primes very rarely, if ever, even miss the playoffs.

I'll go back to what really started this thread, and that's you proclaiming several players are faster than Westbrook, including a couple who aren't even close to Westbrook's speed. When you aren't able to evaluate even the simplest attributes in player comparisons, how could you be a reliable source for any other comparison? That's something you need to ask yourself.

At Saturday, April 18, 2015 4:32:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

*Thompson, not Thomas. Jesus, autocorrect.

At Saturday, April 18, 2015 5:54:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Cousins was in and out of the lineup all year and plays on a mostly awful team lacking any real defensive punch, and featuring both a notoriously meddlesome owner and a rotating carousel of incompetent coaches and point guards. Hard to win that way. Harden plays on a very well run team with a clear gameplan and strong defensive personnel. Say it with me now: context matters.

If you find the idea that some people are quicker in the half-court so impossible- although both I've heard on-air announcers and studio personnel refer to both Parker and Dragic as the quickest guard in the league many times- then I could see why my opinions are of no value to you. Perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps I'm merely explaining myself poorly, or perhaps I'm right. Regardless, once you resort to arguing about *me* instead of arguing about basketball, I'm much less interested in continuing the debate; there's nothing interesting to be gained from it.

I would, however, point out that what I'm arguing is at least debatable and hard to conclusively prove; your arguments about today's game being more defensively focused now than in the 80s is statistically, demonstrably false by basically every metric we have. Hell, floor-spacing offenses and the hand-check rule have made it quite literally impossible to play defense as well as in the 80s; does that mean you can't be taken seriously on any other basketball related topic, or does it just mean you were wrong about something?

That said, if I'm so wrongheaded, there's little reason for you to continue debating with me regardless. Sorry my opinions are so upsetting to you.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 3:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Dragic has spent half of his career so far as a reserve. His stint as a "number one option" is essentially one year in Phoenix; the Suns were so impressed that they asked him to stand in the corner and then ran him out of town when he was not content to do so.

Different people can have different evaluations of players. Experts don't always agree on anything, not just basketball. However, Dragic's own coaches clearly do not think of him as a first option player or else he would be in that role. Dragic's role in Miami is not going to change much next year unless Wade, Bosh and Deng all get hurt. If that happens, Dragic will be the number one option by default and Miami will miss the playoffs by a greater margin than this season.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 5:48:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Well, I certainly can't argue that that's been his role most of this season. I'm not terribly impressed by Hornacek's coaching this year- see previous comment about Gerald Green being assigned crunch time defense duty on Blake Griffin or Dragic being asked to guard Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant (both real things that happened for meaningful stretches of gametime this season)- but I do think Spoelstra is a solid coach. My suspicion is that Dragic will be more involved with a training camp behind him/Bosh to run PnRs and PnPs with, but ultimately time will tell on that and we'll just have to agree to differ in the meantime.

That said, if Miami is paying him 20 mil (and throwing away two first round picks) to sit in the corner, they're idiots. Dragic is an average-ish spot-up shooter (though a lethal "rhythm" shooter), and you can find guys who are as good as he is defensively for about half the price (Patrick Beverly's a superior defender and makes less than that). One has to assume that if Miami is serious about paying him, they'll want to get their money's worth- the way to do that is to give him the ball. We saw last year that he can co-exist with one other ball-dominant perimeter player. So as long as the perimeter offense is built to cater to both he and Wade instead of just Wade, he figures to have a strong season. He may only score 17ish PPG, but Miami's offense will rank in the top 10 and Bosh/Whiteside/Deng will all benefit from the attention he draws. Despite his low usage rate this year, Dragic was fifth in the league in "free throw assists" despite playing most of the season on a team ranked 21st in FTAs. He's also one of the best in the league at drawing defense into the paint before a kickout to a chain of perimeter passes (granted, the Morris Brothers and PJ Tucker can be counted on to miss the looks created from that sequence, but...). Miami was the league's worst offense even with Bosh this season; that won't be the case next year.

All that aside, you didn't really answer my question: Why wouldn't you take him over the Parker/Lillard/Irving/Lowry "less efficient scoring PGs who also play less defense" crew? He scores less than most of them but only because he shoots less; he's got the highest FG% and EFG% in the bunch, and that's in a down year (as a first option, it was even higher, which is unusual). He's got lower assist numbers, but that's at least partially a function of lower usage and crappier teammates, and it at least comes with the lowest TO rate, too.

I've caught a lot of flack in this thread for placing him 5th, but I'm failing to see a clear cut "better than he is" guy after Curry/Paul/Westbrook/Wall.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 6:37:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Fun other Dragic stats I just stumbled across: driving stats.

He's first in FG% on drives. I like this stat, because it removes fast-break points from the "FG% at the rim" number (he's at just under 70% on that, closer to 59% here). He literally shoots better off the drive in the half court than any other basketball player on the planet. Even in a down year, he drives 10 times per game; for reference, Westbrook drives 10.1, so this isn't a sample size issue.

He's 7th in team PPG on drives (this factors in assists and FTs as well as points the player scores himself), but where it gets real interesting is when you correlate that with drives per game (otherwise Reggie Jackson wins because he drives way more than anyone else). The seven players ahead of him on that front all drive more than he does, some by as many as three drives per game.

Here's the points (including FTs and assists) generated per drive for the league's top guards (and one special guest for reference):

Harden: 1.34 PPD
Curry: 1.33 PPD
Lillard: 1.26 PPD
Lowry: 1.25 PPD
Irving: 1.24 PPD
Wade :1.24 PPD
Dragic: 1.23 PPD
Lebron: 1.20 PPD
Paul: 1.2 PPD
Westbrook: 1.17 PPD
Parker:1.13 PPD
Wall: 1.10 PPD

Now, it's worth noting that all these numbers are pretty close- and it should be no surprise that flop-happy Harden leads all comers here- and there's certainly a "who are they passing to" effect in play, so it's easy for the numbers to get muddy. However, you couple with this with Dragic's FG% on the drive (best in the league) and you remember that his passes are going to guys like Michael Beasely or Markieff Morris while the guys ahead of him are passing to Klay Thompson and Lamarcus Aldridge... and you start to realize that Goran Dragic might be the most dangerous off-the-bounce player in the league.

Or, you disregard that last paragraph, and he's merely the seventh most dangerous off-the-drive player in the league. He's a better perimeter shooter than three of the guys ahead of him, and he's a better defender than all of them except Wall and maybe Curry (Wade's peak D is better, but he only brings it about 1 outta 4 nights at this point in his career).

I'm not crazy. I can't begin to explain Jeff Hornacek's choices (Spoelstra, I think, just didn't have time to draw up a new offense), but Goran Dragic should have the basketball. He's an absolute killing machine with it.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 1:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Something does not add up, despite all of the numbers you cite. If Dragic is as good as you say, how come no one in the NBA realizes it?

Whether or not he gets offered a $20 million contract is not dispositive. Plenty of NBA players are overpaid, partially because the CBA requires each team to spend a minimum amount of money. The true value that a team places on a player is reflected in minutes played, role on the court and so forth. In those areas, it seems that Dragic's teams view him as a good, solid starting player.

Parker is obviously a more proven player than Dragic, a high level performer for multiple championship teams. The other guys you mentioned are more difficult to guard than Dragic and cause more problems for opposing defenses. I believe that your comparisons and analysis regarding Dragic and these players vastly oversells Dragic and somewhat undersells these players. You either are not looking at the right numbers or all of the numbers or you are not interpreting the numbers correctly.

It is interesting that Dragic excels in the somewhat obscure stats that you mention but I don't think that those stats are the best ones with which to rank players. There are any number of reasons that a player may not be as good as a supposedly less efficient player. Otherwise, Tyson Chandler would be the best offensive center in the league based on his high FG%.

I don't know what else to say about Dragic. No one seems to agree with you and no argument sways you. Even the fact that the change of scenery that you were sure would revitalize his career has not worked has not given you pause.

Bottom line: I do not believe that Dragic is wholly or substantially responsible for the team impact that you ascribe to him and I do not believe that the individual stats in which he leads are particularly relevant.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 2:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"Something does not add up, despite all of the numbers you cite. If Dragic is as good as you say, how come no one in the NBA realizes it?"

....the coaches voted him onto the third team last year and a championship caliber organization just traded 2 1st rounders for him and is about to pay him like a top tier star. I think it's safe to say somebody in NBA realizes it. The argument about "teams have to spend X amount of money" doesn't apply either, since Miami is already over the cap. And again, if all they want is a 35% corner three shooter who can play some defense, they can get it a whole lot cheaper.

"The other guys you mentioned are more difficult to guard than Dragic and cause more problems for opposing defenses."

You're welcome to say so, but you'll be hard-pressed to find evidence that supports it. Irving's Cavs last year were the 22nd ranked offense in the league, and Irving scored. 0.5 more PPG than Dragic on 4 more attempts. Lowry's Raptor's were the 10th ranked offense; Dragic's Suns were 8th, and his second and third best players weren't as good as Deng/Derozan/Valunciunas/etc. Parker and Lillard's teams outranked Phoenix, but neither of them were their team's best player; the Suns rankings would likely have improved with Tim Duncan or Lamarcus Aldridge in the middle.

As for the other numbers, you know it's not the same as Chandler's FG%; Dragic creates most of his own opportunities, well over half his shots are unassisted, and those driving numbers speak to someone's ability to score against a set defense. In fact, his "catch and shoot" numbers are worse than his "had the ball for at least 6 seconds before shooting" numbers, which also speaks to a guy scoring against the defense, not just in on easy opportunities.

I don't understand why you think Dragic is easier to guard than those guys, as last year he put up scoring numbers better than all but one of them- Irving- while maintaining his efficiency as the opposing D's primary target every night.

Yes, Tony Parker has won more. Tony Parker has also played his whole career with one of the seven best players of all time and perhaps the best coach. Put Dragic- at his 2013-2015 levels, anyways- on those Spurs teams and they win at least as many titles, and maybe more.

You're right that we're both entrenched in our positions, but I find your entrenchment confusing. No amount of evidence seems to sway you even a little; isn't it possible that Miami got him because they see something in him? Is it possible that the coaches voted him onto the All-NBA team because he's a great player?Your primary defense at this point seems to be that Dragic was misused this year, but I don't know why it's so hard to accept the premise that 1) his first coach was making a lot of questionable choices, and 2) his second coach wasn't able to completely re-invent his offense for Dragic during the stretch run of the season while Dragic (and most of the rest of the team) was injured. If. for the sake of argument, you allow those premises, would you still rank Dragic 12th, and if so why? Isn't there a chance that an NBA player could spend a season being used in a less-than-ideal fashion? A real NBA coach thought Kevin Durant was a 2 guard once! Stranger things have happened.

You're a very sharp basketball mind, David. How easy do you think it is to completely change up a team's offensive system mid-season with an inconsistent lineup? What makes you so sure they won't actually use Dragic's talents next season when they have Bosh available for the deadliest Pick-and-Pop since... well, since a while ago, at any rate.

After this one, I'll try to let it lie. I keep trying to leave this argument, but I actually feel like we're getting to a point closer to understanding each other, which IMO is the best outcome of any disagreement.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 2:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

One last bit, as I want to address this comment;

"I do not believe that Dragic is wholly or substantially responsible for the team impact that you ascribe to him "

What would it take to convince you in this case? I feel like this case kinda makes itself: literally every player Dragic has played with over the last two years has played substantially better with him than without him, with the lone and understandable exception of Isiah Thomas. Frye, Green, Tucker, Plumlee, Bledsoe, and the Morrii all saw their numbers decline when they separated from Dragic, and Deng, Wade, and Whiteside all had their best offensive stretches of the season with him, in spite of injury. Moreover, win percentages with and without him:

PHX with (2014): 59%
Without (2014): 43%

PHX with (2015): 56%
PHX without (2015): 33%

MIA with Dragic: 46%
MIA with Bosh: 43%
MIA without Dragic or Bosh: 44%

Those Miami numbers aren't sexy, but the fact that the team couldn't win with Bosh, either, suggests the problem has more to do with injuries than any one player; Miami literally closed the season with all of its six best guys varying degrees of hurt (Bosh and McBob out, Wade knee, Dragic back & tailbone, Whiteside hand, Deng knee), and still put up the same winning percentage it did when its team was relatively healthy.

Additionally, both Miami and PHX scored and defended better with Dragic than without him. At this point we have a two season sample size of Dragic's presence on the court correlating to more wins, better offense, better defense, and better shooting and scoring numbers from virtually all his teammates. At what point does it start to become convincing?

At Monday, April 20, 2015 4:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The media votes for the All-NBA Teams, not the coaches. The coaches used to vote for the All-Defensive Teams but now the media votes for those as well. The coaches select the All-Star reserves. The media chose Dragic as Most Improved (valid) and chose him once as an All-NBA Third Teamer with Kobe and a host of other contenders out/seriously limited (in production and/or games played). The coaches have never selected Dragic as an All-Star. As mentioned here several times, a recent poll of coaches/execs ranked Dragic 12th among NBA pgs. Dragic's role may have changed but his stats are not wildly different from his All-NBA Third Team campaign.

It feels like we are arguing and seeing different things. You see Dragic excelling in certain individual stats and his teammates doing well by certain measures alongside him and then you conclude that Dragic should be ranked as a top five pg. I am not convinced of the relevance of the stats that you cite, nor am I convinced that he is the reason that his teammates performed at a certain level.

Before Dragic went to Miami, you predicted that if he changed teams PHX would get worse and his new team would improve. PHX got worse (though not much worse than their fade last season) but Miami did not improve. Meanwhile, Isaiah Thomas departed PHX the same time that Dragic did. He went to Boston and became the team's leading scorer as the Celtics surprised many observers by moving up to the seventh seed, passing Dragic's Heat along the way.

Any analysis asserting that Dragic was solely or primarily responsible for PHX' rise with him or fall without him must account for Thomas' role as well. To deny that Thomas had anything to do with PHX' success--especially in light of his contributions to Boston's playoff push--is faulty analysis. Also, Thomas' ability to help Boston immediately--when Boston is a young team with an inexperienced coach--cuts against your belief that it was too much to expect Miami's championship coach and veteran-laden team (Wade, Haslem, Chalmers have championship experience) to figure out how to incorporate Dragic's allegedly elite-level game.

At Monday, April 20, 2015 5:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I can see that argument, at least. My mistake on the All-NBA teams, I thought they were chosen by coaches.

For Thomas, I watched his Suns run, and because of the lineups Hornacek deployed him in, he was too much of a defensive liability to positively contribute, and his inability to play off the ball well made him an awkward fit with Dragic and Bledsoe even at the best of times. The team generally got beat with him on the floor. That being the case, I'm comfortable not assigning much credit for their relatively ok play, especially since before the trade they were on pace for a worse record than last season, despite the addition of Thomas and healthy Bledsoe; I attributed this, rightly or wrongly, to reducing Dragic's role in the offense, and playing dumb, defensively inept lineups that asked Dragic to guard 3s, Bledsoe to guard 2s, Green to guard 4s, and Tucker or Morris to guard 5s. So, based on my watching the team religiously, I'm confident saying that Thomas was a net negative for Phoenix. It's telling that he was traded even after they traded Dragic, and for no assets much worth talking about. So Phoenix clearly didn't think much of him, either.

He is playing very well in Boston, on a team that allows him to dominate the ball and can cover for him somewhat defensively.

To the other point- teammate performance- I guess this is really our critical difference, and if you don't see the impact then I can understand valuing Dragic lower (although maybe not so low as 12th). For me, the fact that to a man his guys both last year and this year played better with him than they have (at least recently) without him paints a clear picture to me.

Finally, while I expected more in Miami, I didn't factor in the necessity of rebuilding the playbook to accommodate him; he plays differently than anyone Miami has had in the last ten years, and their system will need to be tinkered with to fully incorporate him. I think considering his injuries, and the general snakebitten state of Miami in general, it's too soon to judge his stint there with much finality, and I think that even playing in as limited of a role for as bad a team as he did, he had an immediate and positive impact on their offense. Yes, they went sub .500, but imagine how much worse they'd have done without him; even with Bosh, they couldn't break .500, and I'd argue that Bosh is a no-argument elite player.

In simpler terms, I'd take Dragic's season as a first option over any and every Lowry, Irving, Parker, or Lillard season. Pair him with Lebron, Duncan, or Aldridge and I suspect he'd match or exceed their PG's results, as he's a more complete and efficient player than any of them.

I suppose next year will be the really telling one for Goran; was this season the fluke, or was last year? I think it's this year, as even this season his per-possession or per-shot or usage-adjusted numbers are right where they were last year; given the ball, he's one of the league's deadliest scorers, if not one of it's most aggressive (which I think is his biggest flaw). Paired with Bosh next year, I expect him to lead to Miami to a top 3 seed.

At Tuesday, April 21, 2015 2:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is hard to believe that Thomas was a net negative for PHX and then all of a sudden in Boston he became an impact player.

The Suns got Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first round pick for Thomas; they got a 2017 first round pick and a 2021 first round pick for Dragic. Who knows what a 2021 first round pick will be worth but it seems to me that a solid rotation player plus a first round pick next year has about the same practical value as a first round pick two years from now and a first round pick five years from now.

PHX going through a slump at the end of this season is hardly surprising. They gave up two good players (Thomas, Dragic) and did not get back many assets that could help them right now. The point is that Thomas had an immediate impact on his new team, while Dragic did not. I know all about Dragic supposedly "goosing" the offense but when I say "impact" I mean that a player is putting up great individual numbers or he is having an obvious, tangible impact on the team's record or both. Dragic put up solid numbers and the Heat did nothing special. Thomas became his new team's leading scorer, pushed them into the playoffs and finished second in the Sixth Man voting.

Dragic is not one of the NBA's deadliest scorers; he is a good, efficient player when he has a defined role. He can put up 16-18 ppg and about 5 apg. Those are not the numbers of an elite point guard.

Derek Fisher and Mario Chalmers won championships while paired with all-time great players, so I have little doubt that Dragic could have done so as well--but he would not have been filling as important a role as Parker did in San Antonio or as Irving is now for the Cavs or as Lillard does for Portland.

Your case for Dragic is based on selectively interpreting certain stats, ignoring other stats and disregarding any counterfactual information. If Miami is a top three team in the East next year, it will primarily be because Wade is relatively healthy and Bosh returns to form. Deng and Whiteside will also have to play well. Dragic can fill a nice role on that team but no one is giving him the keys to anything. Dragic can afford to gripe about his role in PHX but I am pretty sure that when Spoelstra sticks him in the corner with Pat Riley's approval he will keep his mouth shut. Dragic can make some plays when Wade is doubled or on the bench but no one is going to put Wade in the corner so that Dragic can run the show. You are dreaming if you think that is going to happen on a significant number of plays. If Wade gets hurt/retires and Dragic is running the show in Miami then look for the Heat to struggle to get the last playoff spot, just like Dragic's teams have struggled (and failed) to get the last spot two years in a row.

At Tuesday, April 21, 2015 10:47:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

And here I thought we were getting close to understanding. Couple things:

The pick PHX got for Thomas, is Cleveland's top 10 protected #1 in 2016; basically guaranteed to be a bottom five pick. The two they got for Dragic are Miami's top 7 protected in 2017 (unprotected in 2019), and unprotected in 2021 (which won't come till Bosh and Wade are retired/way past their primes and could be very high). Both Miami picks figure to be much more valuable than the Cleveland pick.

Thomas is absolutely playing great, but he's playing for a team more able to cover for his deficiencies. He's passing more (good!), and he's got a better defense behind him (12th in the league). I watched nearly every game he played in Phoenix, and while he won a few by getting hot, he was more often a liability on both ends of the court who shortcircuited the offense and compromised the defense- a problem exacerbated by the idiot smallball lineups Phoenix would try.

As for PHX's slump, considering they were better last year with Dragic as a first option than they were this year him as a second, I'm more inclined to attribute it to his leaving than a general late season decline. Their slump at the end of last year was mostly about Dragic playing on one leg and Bledsoe not being up to the task of picking up the slack, so in that way, they're similar.

"Dragic is not one of the NBA's deadliest scorers; he is a good, efficient player when he has a defined role. He can put up 16-18 ppg and about 5 apg. Those are not the numbers of an elite point guard."

First of all, those numbers are basically the career averages of Tony Parker.

Second... did last season just not happen? He averaged 20.3 and 5.9 for a team that would have been a playoff team basically any other season (including this one), and averaged like 23 and 6.5 when Bledsoe sat. If by "defined role" you mean "first option" then I agree. As a secondary player he averages, like you said, about 16-18 and 5... which are basically Parker's career numbers, although Dragic gets them on fewer touches than Parker does.

Arguing that Dragic would have a "smaller role" on Portland or San Antonio makes no sense. Of the three players, only Dragic has ever been his team's first option, and he's a better scorer than either of the others by basically every metric (though LIllard's best season he scored about half a point more than Dragic's, he did so on two more shots).

What capability is it you think Parker or Lillard has that Dragic does not? He's shown an ability to be a 50/40 guy on a 48 win team (with basically no help)- that's good for a 6-8 seed in the West basically every season but the season he did it, and good for a 3-6 seed in the East basically any year. He's also an obviously better defender than either of them (though, granted, that has more to do with them being spectacularly inept than it does with him being all that great).

He's a guy who, as a first option, averages 20 on 50/40, scores over 70% of his points unassisted (higher than Lillard or Parker, btw), sees teammates put up career highs, and still plays defense. I don't know what part of his resume he needs to improve for you to "get it." You can accuse me of picking stats selectively, but what stats am I ignoring? The guy's elite at basically every scoring stat there is.

At Tuesday, April 21, 2015 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I'm gonna make my final statistical case for Dragic here, then I'll drop it till next season because it's starting to feel like nothing he's done or could possibly do would sway you; you've offered no evidence in favor of Parker/Lillard/Irving, just claiming that they win more (while playing with All-NBA teammates) and that they "put more pressure on the defense" without bothering to produce anything that shows that.

First, Dragic:
1) One of three players ever to average 20 on 50/40 with 5.9 assists. The other two are Lebron and Bird.
2) Shoots 70% at the rim, and 60% on drives. Both these numbers lead all guards, and the drives number leads all players.
3) Shoots over 50% overall, leading all PGs.
4) .577 TS% (same as Lebron)
5) As first option, scores over 70% of his points unassisted.
6) His team last year, when healthy, projected to be a 57-60 win team (based on win percentage), despite starting Miles Plumlee and PJ Tucker.

Winning Percentages as First Option:

'14 Dragic: 59% (35 /75 games w/ Bledsoe)
'15 Westbrook: 53.6% (23/41 games w/Ibaka)
Parker: N/A (basically never plays without Duncan)
'15 Lillard: 30% (10/10 games w/ Matthews)
'15 Irving: 25% ( 12/12 games w/ Kevin Love)
'14 Irving: 29.4% (75 game sample size)

I'd argue that Love, Matthews, and Ibaka are all better than Bledsoe, too, and Dragic had Bledsoe less than the other guys had them.

So, yeah, if you ignore last year, and don't care about shooting percentages, and don't care about teammate performance- Green, Plumlee, the Morrii, Bledsoe, Frye, and Tucker all having career years last year, declining this year, and declining further after being traded or Dragic being traded- then Dragic's not that impressive. If you ignore his win percentage as a first option- good for a playoff spot basically every year except the year he did it, and in fact more wins than the 1995 or 1978 NBA champions (and the same as the '75 and '69 champs)- If you pretend Lamarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant have nothing to do with the success of their PGs, then yes, those PGs look better than Dragic on sheer wins and losses. If you totally ignore USG%, or touches per game... if you ignore his late season injuries last year and this year... THEN you can make a case against Dragic.

On the other hand, if you pay attention to any of that stuff- let alone all of it- he's pretty clearly a top 5- or hey, room to differ here, maybe top 7- PG. You can't say he can't score; 20 ppg on 50/40 with 70% of it unassisted is just bananas; in fact, nobody else has ever done it (making an educated guess to exclude Bird here, as we don't have the unassisted numbers for his era, but those teams passed a ton and he got a lot of looks off of McHale's post-ups and DJ's playmaking).

So, maybe some of those stats are noisy, or unimportant. But look at the number of them! Every bit of data we have tells us he's a historically elite scorer. His percentages actually rise the longer he has the ball, so it's not like he's just getting easy cuts or transition buckets, either; he's at his best when he's attacking the defense. You can criticize his aggressiveness (fair), his fragility (injured down the stretch of the last two years) or even his passing (really ought to average another assist or two with how easily he gets into the paint), but to denigrate him as a scorer you have to ignore literally every bit of evidence we have.

There's no meaningful statistical metric we have that suggests Irving, Lillard, or Parker is better than he is; they just get to play with All-NBAers, while he got to play with a bunch of career benchwarmers- several of whom, by the way, went right back to the bench this year.


At Tuesday, April 21, 2015 11:51:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

You can attack his "missing the playoffs" but teams have won the title with fewer wins; it was just a historically insane West.

You can attack his numbers this year- still good, by the way- but it necessitates ignoring his role change.

You can assume that he wouldn't have gotten that role change if he weren't great- but sometimes NBA coaches do dumb stuff, and considering the guy who changed his role tried to guard Blake Griffin with Gerald Green, well....

You can claim in advance that anything Miami does next year won't be because of him- but we saw what they looked like- and relatively healthy at that- without him for 2/3s of the season before he got there, and it was sub 500. They make the playoffs next year, it's because Dragic's the difference. Well, him or McBob, I guess.

TL;DR It's pretty hard to argue that Dragic isn't an elite scorer- or at least, isn't capable of being one. Couple that with a two year sample size of his teammates peaking in his presence, above average (though not elite) defense, and all the little things he does, and it's pretty dumb to rank him 12th. Or, you know, lower than 5th.

At Wednesday, April 22, 2015 10:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In Parker's All-Star years, he usually averaged about 18-22 ppg and 6-7 apg; in other words, he has had multiple seasons that were better than Dragic's one, possibly fluke, year in which the Western coaches did not select Dragic to the All-Star team and in which the media put Dragic on the All-NBA Third Team in the wake of Bryant, Wade and Westbrook each missing substantial portions of the season due to injury.

I won't "argue" against any of the things you mentioned, because I don't think that you are open to such arguments anyway, as I have made such arguments here and in other threads to no avail. Nothing that I have seen convinces me that Dragic is largely or wholly responsible for the team-wide effects that you attribute to him. I think that PHX' relative success in 2013-14 can be attributed to playing a quirky three guard system and catching teams by surprise--both with the system and in terms of people expecting the Suns to stink--but eventually teams caught on to the Suns' system and to the Suns actually not being terrible.

You have a lot of excuses for why Dragic had little impact in Miami--something that I predicted, by the way--and yet the same factors did not stop Thomas from becoming Boston's leading scorer and taking them to the playoffs ahead of Dragic's Heat. Thomas had to adjust to a new system, new teammates and a new coach and Thomas also had a back injury, just like Dragic.

There must be some reason that none of Dragic's teams use him the way that you think that he should, that the coaches have never voted him to the All-Star team and that the recent poll of coaches/execs ranked him 12th among PGs. At this point, though, I don't think that there is much that either of us can say to move the needle on our conversation regarding Dragic.


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