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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Westbrook's Intensity Stood Out in Otherwise Desultory All-Star Game

NBA All-Star Weekend was filled with verbal and video tributes to Kobe Bryant but the best and most fitting tribute to Bryant in his farewell All-Star Game is the way that Russell Westbrook played en route to becoming the first player to win outright MVPs in consecutive NBA All-Star Games: Westbrook poured in 31 points on 12-23 field goal shooting while grabbing a team-high eight rebounds, passing for five assists and swiping a game-high five steals in just 22 minutes. This is not just about numbers, though. Westbrook played like he actually cared who won the game and like he actually takes pride in competition. That kind of relentless attitude is what sets Bryant apart from his peers and is an example of why Bryant has said that Westbrook reminds him of himself.

It is poignant that, after 20 seasons, Bryant is no longer physically capable of playing with that kind of intensity for extended stretches; Bryant had 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 26 minutes and TNT's Shaquille O'Neal noted that when he asked Bryant during the contest when Bryant was going to take over Bryant gestured to indicate that he could not do that. Before the game, Bryant told TNT's Craig Sager that he hoped for a game with competitive spirit in which the West emerged victorious. Sadly, not only can Bryant no longer push himself to the ultimate limits anymore but he also cannot force the next generation of elite players to push themselves to the ultimate limits.

The All-Star Game is an exhibition event but it is not supposed to be a farce. The Western Conference's 196-173 victory over the Eastern Conference featured fewer moments of real competition than a contest between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals. Numerous records were smashed but the video game numbers lose meaning when there is no defensive resistance. Two of the most telling records set are most three pointers made by both teams (51) and fewest free throws made by both teams (four). Players repeatedly jacked up uncontested shots from several feet behind the three point line and when they were not doing that they drove the lane for uncontested dunks.

The All-Star Game looked like a funhouse version of the style of play embraced by "stat gurus": dunks and three pointers. The usage of the three point shot evolved significantly from the 1960s through the mid-2000s and in the past few years the usage of the three point shot has increased more dramatically than it did in the previous several decades. That is not necessarily a bad thing; simple math proves that a 40% three point shooter accumulates the same number of points in 100 shots as a 60% two point shooter (something that I used to say, in vain, during the late 1980s when the three point line first showed up in rec league games and my old school teammates thought that I was shooting too many three pointers). The three point shot is a powerful weapon when correctly used but in order to win a championship a team must still be able to attack the paint (this is now done less by post up and more by dribble penetration or passing) and a team still must be able to play excellent defense. The Golden State Warriors are not dominating solely because of their great outside shooting; if all they did was run and shoot three pointers then they would be the Mike D'Antoni Phoenix Suns, not a squad threatening to win over 70 regular season games and claim back to back championships. The key strategic concept to understand about three point shooting is that it involves more variance than post up play; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his prime was going to score in the paint and command double teams night after night, with little variation, but even the best three point shooter is going to have some awful nights beyond the arc: this season, Stephen Curry has shot .273 or worse from three point range eight times this season, which works out to once out of every six games. When the three pointers are not falling, a player and his team must be able to rely on dribble penetration/passing to score and they must play sound defense.

The style of play featured in the All-Star Game is not aesthetically pleasing nor is it winning basketball. It is possible to play hard, play the right way and still be entertaining: Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and their peers did this in the 1980s. Those All-Star Games were fun to watch and featured highlight reel plays but there was at least some defensive resistance.

I reject the idea that the current All-Star are trying to avoid injury and save themselves for the playoff push. This was about wanting to look cool and not wanting to put your reputation on the line by playing hard against a great player and either missing a shot or having a shot made against you despite your best effort--and it was the opposite of the kind of thinking that helped these players become All-Stars in the first place. I asked Erving about this mentality years several years ago and his response should be posted in both locker rooms prior to every All-Star Game, if not every game period:

Today's game, some of these All-Star Games, players have figured out a way to allow guys to dunk the ball and not have it perceived as the guy dunking on somebody. When I was coming up, you rarely could dunk on people and people did not want to get dunked on, it was almost like being 'posterized' if somebody dunked on you. Guys tried their best not to let anybody dunk on them. Sometimes they would just grab you rather than let you dunk. That seems to be lost somewhere in what I see with a lot of the high wire act performances. It is almost like, 'I'm going to let the guy dunk. And I'm going to get far enough out of the picture so nobody is perceiving this as me being dunked on or being posterized.' I don't understand the mentality of just letting a guy go in there and throw it down and applauding it, if he's wearing a different colored uniform. It's just playing to the crowd but I think that the crowd would respect and appreciate a play being made when somebody is trying to contest it. I think it makes for a great photo-op and a great poster if somebody is there. I remember being in Madison Square Garden and going up for a dunk and Lonnie Shelton was there and my knees were up on his shoulders. He was trying to draw a charge, I guess. Looking at that shot, when somebody is there, it is poetry in motion. Just throwing the ball up and going through the motions, I guess guys don't want to get hurt. I like watching the dunk contests--but I don't like a game to turn into a dunk contest with no defense. That does nothing for me. 

The best part of the 2016 NBA All-Star Game happened in the final minute when the Western Conference displayed some pride and did not just part the lane to let Paul George break Wilt Chamberlain's single-game All-Star scoring record of 42 points, a mark that has stood since 1962. It is great to see that George has fully recovered from the devastating broken leg that could have ended his career but it would have been a disservice for him to wipe out Chamberlain's record by hitting a bunch of uncontested shots.

LeBron James, who should be the best player in the league (a mantle he has ceded to Stephen Curry) and who should set an example of competitiveness for his peers, made wild, low percentage passes and attempted to throw a lob to himself off of the shot clock. He finished with 13 points, which was just enough to eclipse Bryant by one point for the NBA All-Star Game career scoring record (291 points); little mention was made of this during the telecast and no mention was made of the fact that Erving still holds the ABA-NBA record with 321 points.

Perhaps the one positive thing about the recent spate of All-Star Games featuring subpar defense is that such performances expose the falsehood that NBA teams do not play defense during the regular season; clearly, if that were the case then the regular season scoring totals and shooting percentages would be much higher.

There is no doubt that the league has many very talented athletes who also possess elite basketball skills; it is a shame that the best players of this era do not take more pride in excelling at both ends of the court and at challenging themselves by playing hard against their peers.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:51 PM



At Thursday, February 18, 2016 1:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fully agree that the ASG has become an embarrassment at this point in history.

But how do we solve that problem?

Do you think it is first, possible, and second, likely that association intervenes, has a serious word with the players about how seriously they should take the ASG, and turn things around? I have hard time seeing how the problem could be fixed otherwise.

At Thursday, February 18, 2016 7:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe they should introduce defenders in the dunk comp :)

At Friday, February 19, 2016 1:43:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

it has to go to the point fans won't watch it...

At Friday, February 19, 2016 8:05:00 PM, Anonymous SpaceGhost said...

Good article, but I feel like you are too critical on Carmelo Anthony. I have been following him for quite some time but I feel as if he gets harshly criticized since he's been in New York. He may not be a vocal leader but he is definitely unselfish and leads by example and action--- especially this season where he's been a great asset to NY.

Even Kobe himself has said that Carmelo is one of the most talented players he has ever played with. Their playoff battle in 2009 was one of the most underrated series' I have seen, and they both guarded each other and battled with passion.

At Sunday, February 21, 2016 9:34:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

thanks for continuing with your analyses of the NBA. Will you blog on today's match between the Cavaliers and the Thunder, assess both teams' performance and the direction they're going, etc., etc.?

It was only one game, but the Cavaliers have blown out both the Thunder and the Spurs in their last 10 games. I've noticed that when the Thunder encounter defensive pressure, they fall back on isolation ball, often with Westbrook over-handling the ball, and their defensive coordination breaks down.

At first, Westbrook started out awesome, finding open teammates, but by the second half he starts forcing shots. There must be a better way to incorporate the talent into an offensive system that can control defenses and get easy looks for everyone. Westbrook lacks a consistent long range jumper. In today's NBA, if the point guard doesn't have a reliable jumper, he must be surrounded by great shooters. Sadly it looks like Westbrook is this generation's Allen Iverson. A waste of great talent.

At Monday, February 22, 2016 8:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is certainly possible to fix the problem; all that is required is for the players to take the competition more seriously, which was the case for many years. The question is how to convince the players to do so in an era when the players grow up as AAU buddies and make so much money that the prize for winning the game is not much of an incentive (in previous eras, players wanted to win All-Star Games and playoff games not just for pride but also because the bonus money made a difference in their day to day lives).

One possible idea is to increase the bonus money for winning the All-Star Game, with the proceeds donated to charities chosen by the players (the players don't personally need the money but maybe if they could make more money for their charities/foundations they would play harder).

At Monday, February 22, 2016 8:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, the mascot did not provide much resistance :)

At Monday, February 22, 2016 8:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are probably right that if the TV ratings are high then the powers that be will not feel much incentive to improve the quality of the product.

At Monday, February 22, 2016 8:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not mention Carmelo Anthony at all in this article, so your comment is oddly placed here.

Anthony may very well be one of the most talented players who Bryant has played with but that does not mean that Anthony has a championship mindset.

Anthony may have attempted to guard Bryant on switches during the 2009 playoffs but Anthony did not have much success at that end of the court. Bryant averaged 34.0 ppg on .481 field goal shooting in that series, while Anthony averaged 27.5 ppg on .407 field goal shooting.

At Monday, February 22, 2016 8:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am currently in my last semester at Law School, so I am unable to cover the NBA to the extent that I previously did.

That said, I have some general comments about the Cavs, the Thunder and your take on the game (which I did not see in its entirety). I agree with Charles Barkley that if the Cavs play Golden State in the Finals the Cavs should not go small. No one should go small against Golden State because no one plays small ball better than the Warriors. The Cavs seem to believe in Tyronn Lue more than they believed in Blatt but we'll see what happens under live fire in the playoffs. There is no question that the Cavs have enough talent to win a championship but the jury is still out on Lue and on whether or not LeBron James will remain fully engaged during an entire playoff run.

Westbrook is the new Kobe Bryant; he gets the blame when OKC loses, yet he is belittled as a so-called Robin to Durant's Batman (as Bryant was derided when he played with O'Neal) even though an excellent case could be made that Westbrook is the team's best player now. OKC's problem is not on offense; OKC's problem is on defense. If OKC played better defense then they would not repeatedly blow fourth quarter leads and they would not regularly give up more than 110 points.

I hesitate to blame a 23 point loss on a player who scored 20 points on 7-15 field goal shooting while amassing nine rebounds and 11 assists offset by just one turnover. The two glaring areas in the box score are that OKC gave up 68 points combined in the second and third quarters and that OKC's bench shot 9-27 from the field overall.

Westbrook is hardly wasting his talent; he is at worst the second best guard in the league behind Curry.

At Wednesday, February 24, 2016 1:13:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


We've already discussed the Cavs and their viability as a title team, but for anyone who missed that thread my contention is that while they may be good enough to win a title in most years, they are not equipped with enough two-way players to beat either the Warriors or the Spurs- who are both stronger than the average NBA Finalist- if those teams are healthy.

I did want to chime in on OKC. I agree that their primary weaknesses are defense and a weak bench. Westbrook has made strides defensively this year; he still has some bad habits, but he's gone from a poor defender to an above average one; he is not their problem (although he and Kanter remain completely incapable of defending the pick and roll together, more of the fault there belongs with Kanter). A case could be made that Westbrook would be even better if he made better choices offensively, but that's picking nits; he's easily one of the best five offensive guards in the league, and he's better than most of the rest on that list defensively. There is no player without room for improvement.

Unfortunately, though, OKC has only two players on whom it can reliably count to score, and only perhaps four who are competent defensively. As a team, they are woefully top heavy and feature really only one above average guard. I think that the money spent on Kanter would have been much better spent on a few role players, but then it would have been somewhat more difficult to recruit players for whom they did not already possess Bird Rights. That said, I'm of the opinion they should have let Kanter walk and gone into this offseason with the kind of cap room that could potentially recruit an Al Horford type (assuming Durant stays).

Kanter's also a deceptively bad rebounder; he racks up decent individual numbers, but he doesn't really box out and the team struggles to win the glass when he plays. OKC's normally a stellar rebounding team, but they could be even better if Kanter would do the job.

Finally, the other big weakness for OKC is turnovers, on both ends. They give up a lot of them, but they struggle to generate them; that's the problem with top-heavy teams; no matter how great those top three guys are, they just can't do an entire game's worth of winning by themselves every single night.

At Wednesday, February 24, 2016 11:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop, Westbrook has been a very good/great defender for years now. Westbrook's clearly a top 5 player, and arguably the top player in the game currently.

Say what you want about Kanter, but he's giving OKC 12 and 8 in less than 21mpg off the bench. Every team in the league would take that, even if he's a complete zero defensively, which he isn't. OKC's big rotation is Ibaka, Adams, Kanter, and Collison, which is very solid, and at worst is close to as good as any other team's big rotation. Other than Kanter, these other 3 are defensive minded first, so defensively OKC is well off concerning their bigs. Kanter is only 3rd in minutes amongst these 3 and 7th man on the team relative to minutes. If Kobe or an engaged James had a cast like Durant or Westbrook currently had, they'd find a way to win a title. Though OKC probably have to go through GS and SA. GS will only have to beat one of them, huge advantage there.

If you want to say Kanter isn't as good as his rebounding #'s indicate or just a solid rebounder, but not necessarily elite, ok, that might make at least some sense. But, when you say he's a deceptively bad rebounder, that is completely in left field. Again, Kanter is under 21mpg, but he's still 29th in the league in rebounding(nobody ahead of him averages less mpg), and he's 5th in RP48. Many great rebounders 'didn't really boxout', like Rodman/Reggie Evans. There's more than one way to get the job done. If OKC isn't winning the glass when Kanter is in there, this has little to nothing to do with him.

CLE was without Love and Varejao and mostly without Irving for last year's finals, and were still up 2-1, and that's with James missing several FTs and several clutch shots in a game one OT loss, while also getting noticeably tired out late in games. So, your contention that CLE isn't good enough to win a title currently isn't based on prior/current evidence. If James can play like an MVP for an entire series, then his cast is good enough for him. We didn't see that last year, and I suspect we won't see it this year either. Again, we see a role player, Iggy, outplaying James for large stretches of the finals. Iggy joins heralded role players like Jason Terry and Kawhi Leonard(who wasn't yet a star-actually just made his first AS team this year), as players who have outshined James for large stretches on the biggest stage.

At Wednesday, February 24, 2016 2:34:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"Stop, Westbrook has been a very good/great defender for years now."

Actually, by the numbers, this has been the first year in his career where his team has been better defensively with him on the court than off of it. This despite being backed up at various points in his career by such defensive luminaries as DJ Augustin and old Derek Fisher.

He's always tried hard on that end, but he used to gamble too much/get his lunch eaten on every screen/bite on every fake or dribble move. He's gotten smarter, and is picking his spots better. It's made a huge difference.

"even if he's a complete zero defensively, which he isn't. "

Yeah, he is. He's the worst defensive player in the league getting the kind of minutes he's getting. Teams are running up a 108.4 O-RTG whenever he's on the court (about equivalent to a top 6 offense) and scoring at a bottom 10 rate when he's off it. Those numbers are even worse than they look, considering he's generally out there with one of the defensively gifted duo of Ibaka and Adams and OKC still can't guard anyone when he hits the floor.

"If Kobe or an engaged James had a cast like Durant or Westbrook currently had, they'd find a way to win a title."

Assuming they get to keep one of Durant or Westbrook, maybe. But probably not this year, given how bananas dominant the Warriors and Spurs look. But both peak Kobe and peak James had a greater impact defensively than either Durant or Westbrook, and that manners on a thin team like this.

"But, when you say he's a deceptively bad rebounder, that is completely in left field"

Looking into it a bit more the numbers aren't really on my side here, so I'm left with just the eye-test. Let's split the difference and say he's better than I thought, but that- kinda like Kevin Love- on any possession where he doesn't get the rebound, his man often does, because he doesn't box out. Rodman did box out, and there's a reason Reggie Evans never gets consistent minutes despite putting up cartoon rebounding numbers.

"CLE was without Love and Varejao and mostly without Irving for last year's finals, and were still up 2-1, and that's with James missing several FTs and several clutch shots in a game one OT loss, while also getting noticeably tired out late in games. So, your contention that CLE isn't good enough to win a title currently isn't based on prior/current evidence."

Couple things.

1) Last year's GSW =/= this year's GSW. Almost all of their best guys have had big jumps this year, Curry included. That's why they're gonna win 70 something games.

2) Your point assumes that Irving/Love make them materially better against GS, and I'm not sure I agree. Those guys are so vulnerable defensively against that particular Warriors team that I don't think they really move the needle. Cleveland was able to contend early by bullying the Warriors with size, and playing tough, physical defense. Love and Irving don't play tough, physical defense. They barely play any, in fact.

3) They still lost last year, against a weaker Warriors team who took a few games to figure out their "Green at the 5" small-ball destiny. This year, the Warriors are coming out of the gate with that murder lineup in their back pocket.

At Wednesday, February 24, 2016 10:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree more with Anonymous' take than Nick's. Cleveland definitely has enough talent to win a title and Kanter is a valuable role player who, like all role players, has strengths and weaknesses.

One thing that concerns me about OKC is how often they blow leads. In that regard their execution reminds me a little of early 90s Portland. There is a great video clip of Chuck Daly coaching against them in a timeout and saying something to the effect of, "This is a team that is known to fall apart and make bad decisions at the end of games."

At Thursday, February 25, 2016 12:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shows how you how worthless whatever these 'numbers' you're citing defensively are. Defensive metrics will remain almost impossible to draw any definitive conclusions from.

Yes, Kobe or sometimes James were better than Durant or Westbrook, but my point is valid, and by you saying that, that furthers my point. If either Durant or Westbrook can play at an MVP level and maintain that play, regardless if they aren't elite defenders, which they're both very solid defensively nonetheless, their cast is certainly good enough to win, especially if they both play like MVPs. SA has nobody that's anywhere near as good as either of them. GS is still beatable. Durant or Westbrook are elite players if healthy. OKC will probably win 60+games or get very close. When teams do this, they are elite teams and have good chances to win the title, regardless of what the other great teams are. Maybe last year's ATL team doesn't really fit this mold, but they had a chance to at least make the finals if they maintained their level of play throughout the playoffs with someone playing like an MVP.

The bottomline is, regardless of whatever excuses or non-evidence you want to cite, last year's CLE team was good enough to win the title, even with their injuries. James didn't maintain MVP-level play and tired out late in games, as well as getting outplayed by super-sub Iggy for large stretches of the finals. If James plays better, doesn't tire out, stays completely engaged, and outplays Iggy every game; which all these things are quite doable and frankly should be expected, especially by someone is supposedly the 3rd best player all-time, then CLE probably wins the series. The same goes for Curry. Curry got his act together as the series continued. But, if Thompson and/or Green get injured or if either or both don't play well(which neither really did), then it's on Curry if he's not maintaining a high level of play. If someone like Delly is going to cause him so many problems at times, nobody can complain about his cast.

You have Kanter up to below average now? Yes, just looking at the numbers could be misleading, but I've never seen a guy with that good of rebounding #'s not only be a very good rebounder, at worst, let alone a poor rebounder(according to you). I never mentioned how good of a rebounder I think Kanter is, and I'm not sure he's an elite rebounder, but he's pretty darn close since joining OKC. And of course his man is probably going to get the rebound if he doesn't, he's a center. His rebounding pct is also high @ #4 in the league for regular players. Maybe his rebounding rates dip if he's a starter and/or plays more minutes amongst other variables, but probably only slightly at worst. And even if you're correct in saying he doesn't boxout well, and let's say his man gets too many rebounds, ok, that could be a problem, but it still doesn't change the fact that he's a great rebounder. He's still rebounding at a great rate.

And everyone boxes out at times. Rodman, maybe not as much as Evans, but he'd sacrifice defense for rebounds for sure. Except later in his career, Rodman was a decent offensive player and very athletic. Evans was indeed a phenomenal rebounder, but not that athletic and a complete liability offensively. Also, Evans wasn't anywhere near as good defensively as Rodman. Evans had a nice long 13-year career. His boxing out or lack thereof had little to nothing to do with his lack of minutes. If it wasn't for his rebounding, his career would've been cut much shorter, if he even would've had an nba career. He was pretty much 100% concerned with securing as many rebounds as possible. For an undersized PF to rebound like he did, and do it without regularly boxing out is amazing, and shows you that you don't have to do the fundamentals always to succeed.

At Thursday, February 25, 2016 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"Cleveland definitely has enough talent to win a title"

Sure they do. And when they don't, I'm sure it'll just be because they didn't believe hard enough.

"Shows how you how worthless whatever these 'numbers' you're citing defensively are. Defensive metrics will remain almost impossible to draw any definitive conclusions from."

Let's field test those numbers with some of the best and worst defenders in the league.
Tim Duncan: Teams are five points worse when he's on the floor.
Kawhi Leonard: Teams are 4.5 worse against him.
Deandre Jordan: Teams are 2 points worse against him.
Tony Allen: Teams are 3 points worse against him.

Damian Lillard: Teams are 3 points better against him.
James Harden: Teams are 2.5 points better against him.
Ene Kanter: Teams are 5.5 points better against him.
Dwyane Wade; Teams are 5.4 points better against him.

It's almost like those numbers consistently reflect what happens, or something. Now, yes, they get noisy with bench players, or people with way better than average defensive backups, but Westbrook is neither of those. Those numbers also aren't super precise in comparing players across teams, but they do a good enough job painting a picture of how guys perform defensively for their team; historically Westbrook's been bad, now he's good. Good for him.

"If either Durant or Westbrook can play at an MVP level and maintain that play, regardless if they aren't elite defenders, which they're both very solid defensively nonetheless, their cast is certainly good enough to win, especially if they both play like MVPs"

Not if they don't up their game defensively. My whole point with admitting that Kobe or James could maybe win with that cast (in a weaker year) is that Kobe and James gave the same kind of offensive value, but also made more of difference going the other way. Durant and Westbrook are both good defenders; at their peak, Kobe and James were great ones.

"The bottomline is, regardless of whatever excuses or non-evidence you want to cite, last year's CLE team was good enough to win the title"

That's probably why they won it, then. The reality is that they stole two games before GSW figured out they couldn't handle a small lineup, then got torched, losing the last three games by an average of 14 points. This year's team is no better equipped to deal with that, which is why GSW ate their lunch in both games this season. Yes, they can win a title if all the better teams suffer injuries, but so can literally any playoff team. CLE/OKC can't beat GSW or SA healthy, because on their entire roster they have, like, two or three two-way players (maybe four for OKC, but they make up for that by only having five useful players period). CLE can't play championship level offense and defense at the same time, and- shock!- champions generally can.

Re: Kanter

The difference between you and I is that i'm happy to admit when I'm wrong; like I said, the numbers suggest he's better than I thought. That said, he'd be even better if he actually bothered to box out.

Overall, you're arguing that both OKC and Cleveland are title contenders. I look forward to watching them both get waxed by SA or GSW (and with the wrong matchup, either might not even make it to GSW or OKC), and then hearing you explain how they were actually good enough, but *fantasy excuse X goes here*.

At Thursday, February 25, 2016 2:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what advanced #'s you're citing nor do I care, but I know Boozer was an elite defender at least once according to a highly-defensive stat. And there's countless additional examples like this. So many variables and moving parts in basketball. Individual advanced stats are almost worthless stats. 5-man units are the stats you should be looking at, but then by doing that, you and others can't individualize anyone, and that's most people are concerned about, regardless if it's a good way to do it or not.

Whether you believe that CLE was good enough last year or this year, it doesn't change the fact that they were, at least last year, and they look better this year as well. I've already explained to you several times just how close CLE was last year, and that's with James certainly not playing as well as he could. I don't think CLE will win, but that's primarily because of James not playing as well as he once did as well other factors including him not being entirely engaged. Also, Curry is a better player than he is currently.

OKC can certainly beat anyone, as well as CLE. Will they is another matter. GS/SA look like the top 2 teams right now, but a lot of basketball/injuries left. And there's key injuries every year in the playoffs. CLE and OKC look lots better than last year as well. And SA is usually a huge question mark. Maybe 1st round loss, maybe champs, who knows, especially in a highly competitive WC, and with no elite players on their roster.

The nitpicking you make about two-way players often doesn't happen in reality. Of all 5 title teams that Kobe played on, how many two-way players were on them? 2, maybe 3? I don't completely believe in OKC, but to say they can't win a title with 2 of the top 5 players in the league plus a very nice cast around doesn't make sense. And I've never been a believer in James. But, he has 2 stars around him plus a very good cast. He also plays in the East and his main competition is TOR, so that's about as easy of a journey to the finals as one could hope for. And once you get there, anything can happen. Whoever comes out of the West will probably be more banged out and have more energy sapped out of them, so if CLE can steal game one, which they should've done last year(which would've probably put them up 3-0 and almost guaranteed them the title), then all they have to do is hold serve at home, and they're champs this year.

At Thursday, February 25, 2016 2:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what I'm wrong about, concerning Kanter anyway. All of his rebounding #'s suggest he's an elite rebounder, and I still haven't said he actually is an elite rebounder, though he may very well be. And how do you know he'd be a better rebounder if he boxed out more? Maybe this is the case with the majority of players, but not necessarily everyone. It's like Kareem's skyhook for example, if the other 99% of players tried it, they'd probably stink at it, but not Kareem. Being more fundamental might work for Duncan, but it wouldn't work as well for Shaq. Reggie Evans would just go after the ball usually and would often get it, if he decided to be more fundamental and boxout more, he'd most likely be a worse rebounder. Though, this raises other questions. For example, if he did boxout more, would his team get more rebounds, though he'd probably get less? Maybe, maybe not.

I wouldn't need to make an excuse about OKC/CLE. And I'm not making excuses for CLE in last year's finals either. I'm not sure what you're talking about. The only excuses I hear are coming from you about CLE not winning. You're doing a 180 here. Even if GS/SA win, which is likely, given how good their records will likely be, it still doesn't change the fact that OKC/CLE are legit contenders. If James, Durant, and/or Westbrook play like MVPs or at least match Curry in MVP-level play, depending on how good Curry plays, all of their teams have good chances to win the title. OKC/CLE each have at least one superstar, very talented/deep teams, good offensive and defensive players, good bigs/mediums/smalls. I can't remember seeing a team that wasn't a legit contender with all of these things. Maybe OKC/CLE are missing something, but they definitely have a chance. They look just as good or pretty close to the 96 SEA, who definitely had a chance against 72-win CHI.

At Thursday, February 25, 2016 3:58:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

The stat I'm using is on/off court numbers. Context does matter, which is why I pointed out that Kanter tends to play alongside otherwise solid defensive players, and that OKC's normally a great defensive team but becomes a shitty one whenever Kanter plays.

Boozer's never had great on/off numbers defensively. In fact, he's had consistently terrible ones his entire career. Every team he's been on post-Cleveland has been better with him off the court than on it defensively, and the numbers bear that out. Whatever stat it is that said he was great is irrelevant in this conversation; not all stats are created equal.

You wanna talk about 5 man units? Let's look at 5 man units. Spoiler: they say the same thing.

Of the 7 lineups that have played enough minutes to be listed on the NBA's stats site, Kanter features in OKC's worst 3, and 4 of its worst 5, defensive lineups. He does not feature in either of their best defensive lineups. In fact, the only "good" defensive lineup he features in is their garbage-time lineup of him, Collison, Augustin, Singler, and Waiters, which has played only 52 minutes all season and is the least-used of the listed lineups.

The three lineups he's played the most with all recorded D-RTGs that would easily be worst in the league (OKC's starters, on the other hand, would be about 3rd in the league).

Now, as for Westbrook, as I said he's done well this year. Last year, though...

He stars in OKC's worst three defensive lineups.
His only two positive defensive lineups both include defensive specialists Adams, Ibaka, and Roberson, along with either Durant or Perry Jones.

Let's factor out Kanter, though, and look at the year before:

He's in by far their worst defensive lineup (9 points worse than the next crappiest!), and there's nobody else to blame that one on as the others are Ibaka, Adams, Durant, and Sefalosha.

He's in their third and forth worst lineups, too, though the third one is a weird smallball lineup that's not really his fault.

The only "good" defensive lineup he played real minutes in featured Durant, Sef, Perkins, and Ibaka. They played good D, but such godawful O (thanks Perk and Sef!) as to be ultimately a losing lineup. They played "good" D mostly by slowing the pace to a crawl and rebounding well.

Let's look at the year before that next:

The year before that, he was in their worst 4 lineups. Again, he appeared in only one "good" lineup- the same one from 2014- though that year Perk was a step faster and Sef hadn't lost confidence in his shot yet, so they actually pulled their weight on O. Actually a really solid lineup, albeit still the only especially competent defensive lineup Russ participated in.

It's weird how all those 5 man stats say the exact same thing as the on/off numbers I've been citing, right? Almost like they both just kinda look at what happens when given players are on the court, or something?

At Thursday, February 25, 2016 3:58:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Now as for two-way players...

I don't mean two-way stars. I mean guys who don't hurt you on either end; a good D&3s guy still helps you on offense by spacing the floor. Kobe's Lakers teams had a bunch of guys like that, including but not limited to, Shaq, Pau, Bynum, Odom, Ariza, Artest, Fox, Horry, Young Fisher, Ron Harper, and Horace Grant. Old Fish was slow defensively, but at least created a few turnovers by flopping like a fish and knew where to stand.

Cleveland has Lebron. Smith, Williams, Irving, and Love are all punchlines defensively, and defenses cheerfully cheat off of Shumpert, Mozgov, and Thompson, who lack the offensive skills to punish them for it (though both Mozgov and Thompson are good offense rebounders).

OKC is closer to the mark; they have Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Adams. That might be enough, if they had any kind of a bench. The problem they run into is that Kanter and Roberson are their only other players who even really do a thing, and both are so bad on one end or the other that they go a long ways towards neutralizing themselves, especially against playoff-level competition.

I agree with you that if the best teams in the league get injured, then crappier teams can win. Heck, if Lebron, Durant, Curry, and Duncan all go down, the Clippers or the Raptors could win!

Regarding last season's Finals you are, as usual, ignoring context. Cleveland bullied GSW with size, GSW figured out a counter-move, Cleveland was helpless. Cleveland doesn't have the personnel to play small against GSW with any success, and their bigs aren't good/fast enough to get away with playing big. Sure, you're not wrong that if Lebron had put up even more than 36/13/9 on the series, they might have had a shot, but that seems a bit much to ask, even for him. Suggesting he was "outplayed" by Iguodala is silly, though Iggy certainly did a great job on him.

If they'd had Irving and Love, they likely would have lost even faster, given that neither of those guys is remotely competent navigating picks, and GSW runs one of the most pick-heavy offenses in the league. There's nowhere to hide players who are 0s defensively against GSW; you just can't beat them without playing well on both ends.

Also, "if CLE can steal game one" seems like pretty wishful thinking to me, given that the Warriors haven't lost at home yet. But while we're playing that game "If Devin Booker averages 76 for the rest of the season, the Suns could sneak into the playoffs maybe!" Wishing is fun.

Since you've posted again while I've been writing this, let's do another one to address your last point:

"If James, Durant, and/or Westbrook play like MVPs or at least match Curry in MVP-level play, depending on how good Curry plays, all of their teams have good chances to win the title."

Yes, if guys who haven't been playing as well as the best player all season suddenly start playing as well as the best player, then they have a better chance to win. Not, like, a good one, given that OKC's still got at least four of the next six best guys in the series, but a better one.

As for "excuses" I'm not making excuses for CLE: they lost because they aren't as good, and can't counterpunch GSW's small lineup. You're claiming they could have won if Lebron played better, which sort of ignores the reason they actually lost that series.

Finally, my definition of "legit contender" is "a team with a decent chance of beating every other team in a 7 game series, without relying on injuries". Yours is, apparently "a team that I can imagine winning if a bunch of really improbable stuff happens." Agree to differ.

At Thursday, February 25, 2016 4:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Oh, one last point, because I missed your comments about '96 SEA.

'96 SEA was loaded with two-way players- unlike Cleveland- and had one of the very best defensive players in the world who happened to be the right size to match up with CHI's best player. Neither Cleveland nor OKC have one of the best ten defensive players in the league (Ibaka is a valid pick, but he doesn't make my personal list), and neither have a defensive PG good enough to meaningfully bother Curry enough to win. On the other hand, GSW does have the three headed defensive monster of Thompson/Iguodala/Green to throw at Lebron/Durant/Westbrook.

SEA also didn't have a massive stylistic disadvantage against Chicago; Cleveland can't successfully play their best lineup against GSW, and neither can OKC.

It's also worth remembering that Pippen was playing hurt in that series. With the right injuries, yes, anybody can win.

Oh, and kinda most importantly... Seattle lost that series in 6. I didn't say either team would automatically get swept. I said they couldn't win.

At Friday, February 26, 2016 10:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nope, Boozer was an elite(top 5) defender at least one year with CHI.

Nobody said Kanter was a good defensive player. Basketball has lots of variable and moving parts. Even if the sample size is big enough, which it often isn't, who's he playing with/against, etc? What if he plays exactly 30 seconds each game with the same 4 other guys, and they get outscored by 1 point each game. That lineup would be awful advanced stat-wise, but it tells us basically nothing. OKC has a great defender in Ibaka plus other very good defenders. They could easily hide Kanter if he's really that bad, like . Nick, you nitpick and deal in extremes too much. OKC wouldn't being paying Kanter so much and bring him back this year if he was as bad as you think he is.

I'm sorry, but if you're including hobbled Bynum who averaged 7 and 5 for the 09/10 title runs, Fox, Horry, Fisher, Harper, and Grant; you're missing several of players from CLE/OKC. Mozgov should clearly be included. And if you don't think Delly is, you should look at his stats compared to Fox/Horry/Fisher. He was punking Curry at times last year, he plays solid defense, and has a high 3pt pct.

Who cares if Duncan goes down? SA looks better without him, and is an elite team without him. What is he 5th or 6th option now?

Right, I miss context and you don't. And that's the thing with James you and most of his supporters continue to miss. He puts up these crazy statlines sometimes, but there's so much more to the game than that. He puts up 27/19/10 in game of the 2010 2nd round, but he looks disinterested and isn't giving full-out effort in that game. He's shooting 50x/game pretty much in last year's finals and missing a lot. Kobe would killed by the media if he did that, but James is encouraged to shoot even more. Kobe wouldn't have tired out or cramped up in finals' games or not be engaged for stretches. James doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, but unlike Kobe, he doesn't have strengths to several parts of the games, FTs and a reliable outside shot being 2 of them, which cost him game 1. Maybe Kobe possibly could shoot 6-10 FTs, but very rarely, and James 6-10 was probably mainly because he was too tired and FTs isn't a strength for him.

You might want to rewatch the latter part of the finals if you don't think Iggy wasn't better. For someone who weights individual defense so highly, it's bizarre to hear you discredit Iggy here. Iggy was a defensive superstar in the finals, and put together a very solid offensive game. Without him, GS loses. For him to steal the MVP from Curry tells us how good he really was. It's similar to Kawhi in the 2014 finals. James was better in games 1/2 and possibly better overall, but Kawhi outplayed him over each of the final 3 games.

At Friday, February 26, 2016 11:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GS might be better this year, but they have the same guys. CLE looks a lot better, and is at full strength. This is kind of a joke if you think adding Love/Irving, 2 stars, makes CLE worse off. GS isn't invincible. They were supposedly invincible last year as well, and were in huge trouble in the finals.

You're always going to have a favorite. There's at least 3-4 legit contenders every year, and almost every team who gets 60 wins or knocking on 60 is going to be a legit contender. OKC/CLE have more problems than GS, sure, but they both can certainly beat them. Maybe GS gets lucky not having to play SA last year. If they do, SA could definitely have won. GS was clearly better than HOU last year, but they still had to squeak out the first 2 games. A wrong bounce, a bad call or two the other way, and HOU very easily could've been up 2-0 going home. I think us a society we often make too much about winning/losing. The differences are often extremely slim, and when officials are in involved, the better team often loses. Game 1 was within reach and in James' hands last year, that had nothing to do with his cast or lack thereof.

We're talking about this mainly because of declaring CLE's cast not being good enough, and we've already seen at 2/3 strengths that it is. James was often only the 3rd best player in the finals last year, that's not going to get it done. It starts with your best player. He wasn't willing to do everything possible to win, and I'd suspect that will be the case this year as well. If he is and doesn't get it done, ok, that'd be different, but that's not what happened.

There's always injuries. Doc Rivers often said nobody beat his C's at full strength. Who cares? That's not reality. The Lakers were without Bynum in 08 and Ariza barely played. Jalen Rose commits that dirty play vs Kobe in the 2000 finals. LAL still wins. And on and on. Got to play through it. LAL probably wins if they're at full strength in 04. Hard to find any finals team that is at full strength for the entire finals.

At Friday, February 26, 2016 12:50:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"Nope, Boozer was an elite(top 5) defender at least one year with CHI."

Dude, I just looked at the stats. His *best* on/off defensive score in Chi was in his final year there, where the team was "only" 3.2 points worse per 100 possessions with him. HIs worst was around 9.

"That lineup would be awful advanced stat-wise, but it tells us basically nothing."

Which is why I only included the lineups with a large enough sample size to appear on the list, and pointed out which he played the most with. You're the one who brought up five man lineups (I prefer on/off numbers; easier to contextualize) I was merely using the stat you suggested. That is happens to back up both the eye test and the other stats I was already using is probably just a coincidence.

"I'm sorry, but if you're including hobbled Bynum who averaged 7 and 5 for the 09/10 title runs, Fox, Horry, Fisher, Harper, and Grant; you're missing several of players from CLE/OKC. Mozgov should clearly be included. And if you don't think Delly is, you should look at his stats compared to Fox/Horry/Fisher."

The difference is that teams couldn't leave Bynum, and often doubled him in the post; you aren't getting that from Mozgov. And it's less about individual stats (on offense) than it is about whether or not the other team can safely ignore a guy (like Delly and his 28% shooting) to help on other players. Fisher/Horry/Fox kept defenses honest, and punished them when they cheated.

If you want to kick and scream and make Mozgov's case, I'm not going to lose sleep over it. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt it's a CLE team with two two-way guys against a GSW team with seven or eight.

"Who cares if Duncan goes down? SA looks better without him, and is an elite team without him. What is he 5th or 6th option now?"

I mean, he's the anchor of their league-leading defense, which gives up an extra 4.5 points when he sits, but sure. They're probably better without him. I'm sure if they start Boban- their D-RTG with him is about 9th in the league instead of 1st by a mile- they'll be just as good. He's also their best rebounder, shot blocker, and pick setter. Saying they're better without him errs on the side of silliness.


At Friday, February 26, 2016 12:51:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

As usual in our conversations, though, you're not *really* interested in defense or context unless you can use it to take potshots at Lebron.

"He's shooting 50x/game pretty much in last year's finals and missing a lot."

32x a game, and shooting .400ish, but sure. For reference, that's about what percentage Kobe shot in '08, '10, '04, and '01, and a lot better than he shot in '00. The only one of those I remember the media getting on him for was '04, and we've already discussed that to death.

"he doesn't have strengths to several parts of the games, FTs and a reliable outside shot being 2 of them, which cost him game 1. "

God, I really don't wanna get into Lebron vs. Kobe with you again (especially since even I think Kobe's slightly better), but for there record? Lebron's 46 made free throws are more than Kobe made in any Finals except '10, though that was a 7 game series and Lebron still averaged slightly more per game. As for reliable outside shot? Let's go to the stats!:

Kobe's Finals 3p%s: 0.3pg 20%, 0.6pg 33%, 1.5pg 54%, 0.8pg 17%, 1.5pg 32%, 1.8 pg 36%, 2.1pg 32%
James' Finals 3p%s: 1pg 20%, 1.5pg 32%, 0.6pg 19%, 1.7pg 35%, 2.8pg 52%, 2.2pg 31%

So, despite your claims, of their 13 combined appearances, James has 2 of the top 3 in terms of 3 pointers made per game, and two of the top four in terms of %. If we average them out (per Finals, not per shot; I'm lazy), we get...
Kobe: 1.2pg 32%
James: 1.5pg, 32%

Yeah, clearly Kobe's way better at getting 3s and FTs in the Finals.

"Game 1 was within reach and in James' hands last year, that had nothing to do with his cast or lack thereof."

Yeah, I'm sure having a team that could play both offense and defense at the same time wouldn't have helped at all there.

"We're talking about this mainly because of declaring CLE's cast not being good enough, and we've already seen at 2/3 strengths that it is."

I mean, we saw them get torched three games in a row when GSW realized they couldn't guard their best lineup, sure. What exactly has changed on that front? Because that more than anything was why Cleveland lost that series.

And again, I think against GSW you lose as much defensively by playing Love/Irving as you gain offensively; they don't move the needle against that team.

"There's always injuries."

True. But I contend that if you have to rely on them to have a shot, you're not a real contender. I tend to factor them mostly out of my predictions (unless it's a team like Miami that's old/injury prone to start with) because most teams have about the same risk. Let's say GSW and Cleveland are both missing a secondary star- say, Thompson and Love, for instance. GSW still runs them out of the gym. OKC and Cleveland can't beat SA of GSW if everyone's healthy, and they can't beat them with equivalent injury luck. They need an imbalance in their favor to have a shot.

True contenders are the teams you think might be able to survive and injury, not the ones that need to hope for one to have a shot.

At Friday, February 26, 2016 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"You might want to rewatch the latter part of the finals if you don't think Iggy wasn't better. For someone who weights individual defense so highly, it's bizarre to hear you discredit Iggy here. "

Saying "he wasn't better than the guy averaging 35/13/9 isn't discrediting him. He deserved the Finals MVP, and was probably the most valuable player of the winning team. But Lebron was the best player in that series by a decent margin; the problem was that the 2nd, 3rd, all the way through 5th or 6th best players were all wearing yellow and blue.

This year, if they meet, Curry will probably be the best player in the series, Lebron will probably be second, and GSW will probably win in 5 games.

At Friday, February 26, 2016 4:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just looked up some stats, too. Boozer was top 10 in DRTG in 11, 12, 14; and top 10 in DWS in 10 and 12.

What exactly are we saying about Kanter? You’re saying he’s the worst defender in nba history (you said he was a zero). I’m saying he’s just a bad defender, and you can’t contribute all the defensive problems that OKC has to him. This should be obvious.
Nobody doubled Bynum except when Kobe was on the bench during the 2011 season. I’m sorry, but you can’t leave any player. I’m pretty sure every center in the league can dunk the ball if left wide open. And Delly’s a career 40% from 3, including .431 this season, get your facts straight.

And sure, SA is doing awesome when Duncan doesn’t play (13-2). Hmm, go figure. I didn’t say SA was better without Duncan, but I maybe stretched it a little saying they look better. Though, their record is worse percentage-wise with him than without him.

You obviously didn’t catch my sarcasm about James’ 50 shots/game. The most FGA/game Kobe had in the finals was 23.3 in 2010, which isn’t even close to James 32.7. Countless articles have been written about Kobe shooting too much. I figured you knew this, but obviously not. Kobe was injured early in game 2 in 2000 finals. He missed game 3, then came back and dominated game 4, which virtually iced the series for LAL, all while injured after game 1.

That’s great James shot many FTs in 2015 finals. But, what does that have to do with shooting FT at a good clip? Howard and Jordan sometimes shoot a lot of FTs, are they good FT shooters? If you think James .687 FT pct in the finals is good, go right ahead; however, I don’t. And great, James might have some better FG pct., what does that exactly mean, though? Maybe a lot, maybe not much. James is much more streaky and much less closely guarded on the perimeter than Kobe. There’s other factors, but just those 2 are huge and change a pct a lot. The streakiness is great when he’s on, but that’s why I say reliable. When Kobe doesn’t have to shoot his ‘hand grenade shots’, he’s a reliable midrange and 3 pt. shooter, and he often is when he does need to.

Sorry, but James didn’t play up to his standards set by himself and his minions, while his conditioning is a question mark. James didn’t deserve MVP, and he didn’t show up enough when it mattered, as is often the case. If you think he did, then fine, that’s your perspective. Like I said before, if he does everything possible that he’s able to, doesn’t tire out, stays completely engaged, outplays Iggy every game, and Curry as well, which should be expected and doable, then CLE most likely wins the series. Talk about your matchup scenarios all you want, but the series was there for his taking, and he didn’t take it, and part of that is mental again.

At Friday, February 26, 2016 8:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"I just looked up some stats, too. Boozer was top 10 in DRTG in 11, 12, 14; and top 10 in DWS in 10 and 12. "

Show me again where I was using either of those stats in this conversation? Just because those stats are bad doesn't mean On/Offs aren't good. You yourself touted the value of 5-man stats, and they say exactly the same things as the On/Off numbers. So does the eye test, incidentally.

"I’m saying he’s just a bad defender, and you can’t contribute all the defensive problems that OKC has to him. This should be obvious."

Really? 'cause they're a pretty elite defensive team whenever he sits. Waiters and some of their bench guys could be better, but none of them are out-and-out terrible except for Kanter. He basically turns the PnR into a free 1.5 or so points every time down.

"And Delly’s a career 40% from 3, including .431 this season, get your facts straight."

I was talking about his Finals percentage, since that was the series in question. GSW was cheerfully leaving him alone and he was totally failing to punish them. I don't especially care about his regular season stats if they don't translate.

"Nobody doubled Bynum except when Kobe was on the bench during the 2011 season."

You and I remember those teams differently. Bynum didn't have a big toolbox, but he was a low-post threat and a lot of teams tried to double him to force turnovers. It didn't work great.

" I’m sorry, but you can’t leave any player. I’m pretty sure every center in the league can dunk the ball if left wide open. "

*sigh* You probably don't leave him if he's right at the rim with a clear passing lane to him, no. But most centers don't hang out right at the rim all possession long, because it crowds the lane, gets 3 second calls, and renders things predictable. Teams have been cheerfully and successfully cheating off the Kendrick Perkins and Timofey Mozgovs of the world for a long time (though Mozzy at least has a passable little 8 footer).

Bottom line, though, is that Cleveland didn't- and doesn't- have more than a guy or two who forced GS to work hard on both sides of the ball. Most title teams do.

"Though, their record is worse percentage-wise with him than without him."

Context matters, buddy. They're a deep team beating less-deep teams and getting housed by good teams since he's been out. 11 of those 13 wins were against non-playoff teams. Both losses were by double digits to the teams they actually need to beat. They're 2-2 without him against teams over .500, and 1-2 against teams more than three games over .500.


At Friday, February 26, 2016 8:54:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"If you think James .687 FT pct in the finals is good, go right ahead; however, I don’t."

It's certainly not great, but it has relatively little to do with why they lost. Even if he shoots 100%, they still lost every game they lost by margins of at least double his missed FTs.

"James is much more streaky and much less closely guarded on the perimeter than Kobe."

This is hard to prove, and I disagree with both premises, at least regarding current-day James (it was a fairer comment in the first half of his career).

"When Kobe doesn’t have to shoot his ‘hand grenade shots’, he’s a reliable midrange and 3 pt. shooter, and he often is when he does need to."

Fun part about this sentence? Sub James in and it's still true! (though his 3pt % this year has plummeted, that doesn't matter for the series we're talking about, though it does hurt your case that Cleveland is somehow a true contender this year).

"Sorry, but James didn’t play up to his standards set by himself and his minions, while his conditioning is a question mark. "

This one's also pretty subjective; I'd say 35/13/9- especially against GSW- is playing up to any reasonable expectation, but you're free to differ. His conditioning is kinda hard to criticize, too, given that he played 46 minutes a game with a 41% usage rate. Good luck finding someone else who carried that kinda load and played as well. Maybe Wilt in '67? Doc in '76? It's not a long list.

"Like I said before, if he does everything possible that he’s able to, doesn’t tire out, stays completely engaged, outplays Iggy every game, and Curry as well, which should be expected and doable, then CLE most likely wins the series."

Sure, if he becomes superhumanly immune to fatigue, outplays both the Finals MVP and the regular MVP combined, makes up for the fact that the rest of their team is better than the rest of his, then Cleveland maybe wins the series. I disagree that such a magical scenario should be either "expected" or "doable."

One last point on GSW/CLE from last year.

GSW was stronger at every position except SF, and had three really qualified guys to defend that SF. That will still be true this year (unless you somehow think Love is better than Draymond, I guess).

At Saturday, February 27, 2016 2:44:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Understood and thanks for the comment, David.

It is not that Westbrook is responsible for that single loss to the Cavaliers. More like he is the result of a systemic failure of the organization. But as a great player, he deserves more blame when the team loses than anyone else, and more credit when they win.

My understanding of the game is that if everyone is involved with the offense, they naturally play harder on defense.

However. Since the OKC Thunder relapses into iso-ball, the supporting cast just stands around, watching KD or Westbrook, and if they do get the ball, they don't know what to do with it. Pass? Shoot? Drive? The OKC system is designed for two ball dominant players, irrespective of the coach.

None of the bigmen can pass or make plays off the dribble without needing Westbrook or KD to set them up. Most of the OKC Thunder's possession are of the one-pass variety, and once the first option is taken away, the team falls back on hero ball. Play "my turn, your turn" and nobody holds them accountable. The bench is full of specialists, instead of well rounded players that lacks chemistry, and they're woefully inconsistent on defense.

As for Westbrook, even Allen Iverson was the best or second best guard of the entire league in the early 00's, and won the MVP, and still was a waste of talent because he could never sublimate his game with the team's to result in a championship.

At Tuesday, March 01, 2016 2:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I understand your general points about (1) OKC and (2) Westbrook/Iverson. I agree that OKC could benefit from a more diverse offensive system but I think that defense is the primary obstacle to OKC's championship aspirations.

Iverson carried an undermanned team to the Finals and he accomplished a lot for barely being six feet tall. Westbrook's story is not complete and he seems to be improving every year.

At Tuesday, March 01, 2016 4:10:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


What do you think is ultimately better for Westbrook? Continuing to play beside Durant, or either claiming OKC when Durant leaves or leaving himself and becoming the unquestioned #1? Do you think there's a specific system/type or personnel that would be best for him?

In my circle of friends I have a few standing bets (granted, from like two-three years ago) claiming that Westbrook would never be the best player on a title team, but his improvements since then have me second guessing myself. That said, I think he needs to play on a team with an uncommon mix of attributes, namely great interior defense, great perimeter shooting, and a dependable low-post bruiser to carry the offense in the half-court when Westbrook is tired/off/sitting. I think he needs an up-tempo offensive system and a swarming, athletic defense that can liberate him to play his most hyperactive brand of D, and I think he needs at least two guys who set killer screens (he has one now in Adams).

At Tuesday, March 01, 2016 4:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Undermanned compared to what? PHI won 56 games that year, top team in the East, they should make the finals, especially when there's no other contender even remotely in the East. They beat 41, 47, and 52-win teams. 2 of those teams probably don't even make the playoffs in the West, and with a harder schedule if in the West, PHI is probably seeded in the 5-7 range, likely gone by the 2nd round, if not probably by the 1st round. Except for MIL possibly, Iverson had a better cast in the 1st/2nd rounds. Iverson shot .344 compared to Allen's .468(.509 on 3's) in the ECF. Allen probably had the better cast on paper, but during the ECF? Doesn't look like it, and while Allen is a future HOFer, he's not a legendary great by any stretch. Iverson basically won game 1 in the finals, but he's still only the 3rd best player in the series. And while his cast wasn't as good, neither was he.

Westbrook certainly could've done the same as Iverson in 2001. Maybe he's not quite as complete offensively as Iverson, he's pretty close and a much better playmaker for others. He's also much better defensively, taller, more athletic, and a much better rebounder.

At Tuesday, March 01, 2016 5:00:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

That's an oversimplification of that series. Iverson definitely had some stinkers in there, but he came up huuuuuuge when it counted, with 44 points and 7 assists (on .515 shooting) in the final game of the series.

Allen closed out the series with a respectable 26 points on .444, but it was pretty clear who the better player was that particular night with the series on the line.

I haven't actually watched the games since they happened, but if memory serves it was one of those depressing Eastern defensive slogs where neither team was shooting especially well, so both guys should probably be at least partially forgiven their weaker offensive games in that one.

At Tuesday, March 01, 2016 5:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When has Westbrook had the chance to be the best player on a title team? If Pierce, Billups, Parker, Wade, and Dirk all have been recent years, Westbrook certainly could as well. Until this year possibly, he's never been the best player on his team either.

Think about some of the all-time greats that have never led a team to an nba title. Dr. J(though 2 in ABA), Baylor, West, Robinson, Ewing, Malone, Cousy, Iverson, Stockton, Payton, KG(I'm going with Pierce in 08), Kidd, Pippen, Drexler, Oscar, Wilkins, Gervin, Barkley, and I'm sure I'm missing a few others. Some of these guys are still considered top 10 or even top 5 all-time by some people.

At Tuesday, March 01, 2016 5:32:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

He hasn't, and that was part of why I made the bet; at best he's going to have half his career to try.

That said, that list makes me more confident in the original bet, not less.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 10:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're implying he isn't that good or good enough. There does seem to be something missing with him and Durant, though. Though, I can say the same thing about James, even now.

Which list? 2nd? Then yea, almost everyone in nba history could pretty much be included there. 1st list? Nope. You have 3 guys who were probably not even top 10 players(Pierce, Billups, Parker) or just barely top 10 players at best, when their respective teams won.

Think about Shaq's first 3 titles. Maybe not a good example because Kobe is arguably the greatest ever, but still relative. Shaq may very well have the best 3-year span in nba history from 00-02. Kobe's only 21-23yo those years, which is equivalent to Jordan's junior year in college and his first 2 years in the nba. Shaq/LAL needed continuous MVP-type performances by Kobe during each of those 3 playoffs, and other than 01, they barely hung on for those lives in 00 and 02. Kobe actually outplayed Shaq in some of the series, too, and played like an MVP at least in 01 and 02. But, Kobe still to this day gets little or no credit for those title runs. Would the same apply to Jordan? Jordan would've only been around for 2 of those since he'd be in college in 00, and Shaq would've been the man still in 01 and 02

Not saying Kobe was better than Jordan, but not saying vice versa either, just don't see Jordan winning as much as Kobe, if everything else is equal(same teammates/coaches, etc). And this is Jordan, 99.9% of people's best player ever. And if Jordan didn't get at least a somewhat competent team like Kobe did starting in 08, probably no titles for Jordan as the best player. And maybe Kobe doesn't win as much as Jordan if he followed Jordan's career path; however, Kobe wouldn't have missed 1.5 years either in 94 and 95.

I bring up Kobe/Jordan because here's two of the top 3-4 players in nba history relative to individual/team success, and with a different careerpath, neither easily could've been the best player on a title team. If Westbrook outplays Curry should OKC/GS, OKC if at full strength or pretty close, will beat GS. But, OKC will probably have to go through SA and CLE as well. GS only has to go through 2 of them at most, and CLE only has to go through 1 of them. Huge advantage to CLE.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 1:33:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"You're implying he isn't that good or good enough."

I didn't bet that he wasn't necessarily good enough; I bet that he wouldn't do it; career context was a part of that. Every single guy on your list could have done it with the perfect supporting cast in the perfect situation with the right luck. But that usually doesn't happen, which is why it felt like a smart bet. Only a handful of guys- Doc, Barry, Hakeem, and Duncan off the top of my head- have been able to do it with iffy casts. I'll preemptively add Kobe to that list to spare an argument, but he at least had Pau and Phil.

As for the rest...

1) You're basically the only person I've seen list Kobe as "arguably the greatest ever." Most people at least put him behind Jordan, usually behind the ever-popular Magic/Bird combo, frequently behind Kareem/Wilt/Russell/Lebron/Duncan, and a lot of people- including me- have him slightly outside the top ten (though I have him ahead of Magic).

2) "Shaq/LAL needed continuous MVP-type performances by Kobe during each of those 3 playoffs"

Kobe was far from "MVP-type" in the '00 playoffs. I'd also argue that his performance wasn't quite there in '02, either. David's usual metric of "25 points on .450 shooting" is a bar he only cleared in '01 (his assists and rebounds were also best that year), which seems a good enough bar for this conversation. But he was certainly a star.

3) "just don't see Jordan winning as much as Kobe"

Man, I wildly disagree. Even if you go off age instead of seasons in the league, I think Jordan quickly makes up the difference from '03 on, and I doubt he pouts and threatens to walk, either, so the team likely stays together longer. He certainly doesn't feud with Phil at the very least.

On the flip-side, though, I'm not sure Kobe gets 6 in Chicago.

4) "however, Kobe wouldn't have missed 1.5 years either in 94 and 95"

Yeah, but I don't think either of them were beating Hakeem in the Finals regardless. Also, missing those 1.5 years was probably a good thing for Michael/hypothetical Kobe, and it's unlikely either is as dominant '96-'98 with those extra miles on them.

5) "If Westbrook outplays Curry should OKC/GS, OKC if at full strength or pretty close, will beat GS."

First, I don't see Westbrook outplaying Curry for more than a game or two, but even allowing that premise, I don't really agree. You still need Durant/Ibaka/Adams/Kanter to outplay the entirety of Thompson/Green/Iguodala/Barnes/Bogut/Livingston/Ezeli/Barbosa, and you need Donovan to outcoach Kerr. Tall order.

6) "Huge advantage to CLE."

I guess, but CLE's not winning either. In fact, I'm starting to suspect CLE might not make it out of the East.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 4:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


"Lacking offensive firepower" other than Iverson is what I should have written; the team was strong defensively.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 4:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that playing alongside each other is good for Durant and Westbrook.

I don't think that Westbrook needs more help or more of a special situation to win a title than any other All-NBA First Team caliber player would. To win a title he needs to stay healthy, play at a high level and receive consistent defensive play from his supporting cast. If he is paired with Durant then he needs Durant to stay healthy.

The support that you listed would of course be useful but I don't agree that Westbrook cannot win a title unless every single one if those things falls into place.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 4:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JVG recently said that OKC has as good of a chance as anyone to beat GS in a series. I agree with that but I also have concerns about OKC's defense and late-game execution.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 8:19:00 PM, Anonymous SpaceGhost said...

David, sorry for bringing a side tracked discussion about Carmelo Anthony in here. I saw him mentioned at the end of the article so I went off on a tangent. But long story short, i agree with what you said. And I also agree with what you said in the article about the all star games. I personally know many people that did not like how Westbrook played with so much intensity, they called him a ball hog and an attention seeker.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 9:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I respect JVG but he's prone to hyperbole and it seems silly to me to suggest that OKC has any meaningful chance against GSW; if one feels that SA has no chance, either, then from a certain POV JVG's point has merit; nobody has a chance, so OKC has a good a chance as anyone.

For my part, though, I think SAS is about as good as GSW when healthy, and actually has the personnel and system in place to play big against them. I don't especially think they will be healthy come playoff time, but that's a separate issue.

I don't think OKC can beat GSW or SAS without a lot of help from the injury gods. We've seen them fail to beat OKC with Durant putting up 40 and Steph having a so-so night, and we've seen them fail at home with Draymond going 0-8, OKC winning the rebound battle by 30, and Steph missing a large chunk of the third due to injury. They need so many things to go right to have a real shot in one game, let alone four out of seven, that I don't think they have a meaningful chance. Nevermind that they have to win at least one in Oracle, which so far this season nobody's been able to do.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 10:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


No problem.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2016 10:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


JVG does have hyperbolic moments but overall he is a sound analyst for the most part, at least regarding the post-1990 NBA (his historical comparisons are sometimes not well-reasoned/well-researched).

His take on OKC resembles mine: there are execution areas that OKC needs to tighten up but the roster has the necessary parts to beat anyone.

The same kind of selective examples you use against OKC can also be applied in the other direction. For instance, we've seen GS need overtime to beat OKC on a night when Curry made a record 12 threes in 16 attempts, including the game-winner from 35 feet. Any given game can have anomalies.

We agree that GS is the better team and should be favored. I disagree that OKC needs help from rhe "injury gods." OKC has two MVP level players plus some solid role players. That has often been a championship formula. GS, SA and OKC are legit contenders and the fact that at least two of them won't make the Finals does not change that.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 4:09:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

"His take on OKC resembles mine: there are execution areas that OKC needs to tighten up but the roster has the necessary parts to beat anyone."

I disagree with both of you, then; they only have four or five real players. Title teams have more than that. Waiters/Roberson/Singler are virtual zeroes, Collison is washed up, and Payne/McGary aren't there yet.

"The same kind of selective examples you use against OKC can also be applied in the other direction. For instance, we've seen GS need overtime to beat OKC on a night when Curry made a record 12 threes in 16 attempts, including the game-winner from 35 feet. Any given game can have anomalies."

The distinction is that GSW- the favorite- won both those games. I'd contend, also, that the anomalies on one side are greater than the other- 12 threes may be a bit high for Curry, but 46 points isn't; for the amount of minutes he played, it's only a few points over his average; he's broken 40 in about 20% of his games this season, and he's played less than 35 minutes in half his games this season; safe to assume he's closer to 40 MPG in the playoffs (or at least in games that GSW doesn't wrap up early). By contrast, Durant's made 40 only three times all season, and the other two were against non-playoff teams.

Similarly, the 30 rebound disparity is the biggest for either team this season, and Draymond has shot .000 from the field only the once.

Basically, I think more of the aberrations are on OKC's side, the ones that are on their side are more aberrant, and they still lost.

" disagree that OKC needs help from rhe "injury gods." OKC has two MVP level players plus some solid role players. That has often been a championship formula."

By that logic than LAC (assuming Blake comes back) should also be considered a "legit contender." They also have two "MVP type" players (if Westbrook counts), and have more quality role players as well as a highly regarded coach. I don't think they can beat GSW without an injury either, which is why I don't list them on my two-horse list of contenders.

It's probably true that two MVP-type players and 3 or 4 role players have won titles before, but in those cases at least two things were different:
1) At least one of those MVPs was clearly the best or second best player in the league.
2) They were not being asked to beat a 70ish win team starring the league's best player, another two All-NBA type players, and another five or so quality role players.

Neither of those is the case for OKC. It is difficult to prove a negative, so it will prove relatively little when SAS (or GSW if SAS gets bit by the injury bug/LAC leapfrogs OKC in the standings) is summarily disposed of, but rest assured it will happen, and I think suggesting they have a realistic chance to beat a healthy GSW undersells not only GSW's dominance but OKC's shortcomings as well. I think they have the same shot of beating healthy GSW as do LAC, TOR, MIA, and BOS, which is to say: basically none, unless one of their guys suddenly makes some sort of never-before-seen mega-leap in the playoffs, or they suddenly skew their system in some hugely transformative way. Neither seems probable.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 7:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Two quick points:

1) 12 threes is an NBA single game record. The last one, from 35 feet, was needed to beat OKC in overtime, so it is bizarre to suggest that OKC needs miracles to compete with GS.

2) CP3 is not as good as Westbrook, Griffin is not as good as Durant and OKC has multiple WCF appearances plus a Finals appearance while LAC can't get out of the second round.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 11:17:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

1) ...in a home game, during Draymond Green's worst game of the season, with a 30 rebound advantage, and GSW's best player missing a large chunk of the second half with an injury. It's quite likely had Curry not gone out that the game would not have reached overtime in the first place, but even if we ignore all that, it still at best suggests that OKC can put up a fight in OKC.

My contention here is that 30 rebounds, Draymond going without an FG, and Curry being briefly injured (injury gods!) are much more aberrant than Curry scoring 46 or making a game winner, and indeed that the 12 3s and game winner only became necessary because of those aberrations.

2) I don't disagree with those points, I was merely pointing out that your argument that "two MVP-level players and some role players have often been a championship recipe" ignores most of the context of what we're discussing. The teams that have won with that recipe didn't win against teams that were as dominant as GSW. I'd also suggest that, much like Durant and Westbrook are better than Griffin and Paul, Shaq/Kobe or Jordan/Pippen (the two pairs I assume you were referring to) were also much better than Durant/Wesbtrook.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 11:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually not. Maybe some, but not most. I wouldn't take Parker or Billups over any of them, and I would take Pierce only over Kidd/Cousy and maybe Stockton/Payton, who are all small guards. Wade and Dirk weren't top 5 players in the seasons they won titles. If OKC had their big 3 still with Harden and remained fairly healthy, they'd most likely have a title by now. There's several examples in recent years. James needed a ridiculous amount of help to get even one title, and then a mental mistake by SA at the end of game 6 in 2013 led to a 2nd title. And you could say similar things to almost every title run.

All the guys you list with your iffy casts still had plenty enough help especially relative to their opps, as I've explained several times to you already. You're kidding yourself if these guys didn't have good coaching either. It's your typical double standard against Kobe: he has Pau and Phil, period. Nobody else had any help either it seems. While Pau might be barely better than a few selective title teams' #2, that doesn't mean Kobe's cast was necessarily better. Phil might be a great coach, but he doesn't make Kobe play great. Kobe has to go out there and do it himself(Phil can't shoot for him, etc), and he's earned all 5 of his titles with amazing play.

Nick, your player analysis and player ranking is truly mind-boggling. I didn't say Kobe was better than Jordan, but I'm not saying Jordan was better either, and that's actually a fair assessment if you actually honestly sit back and analyze them carefully. I've heard many real nba experts say Kobe is Jordan's equal and/or only 2nd to Jordan. The main reason why Kobe is rated and thought of so lowly is because he is the most hated player in nba history while Jordan is the most loved player in nba history. How in the world is James better than Kobe now? That doesn't even make sense, if anyone is saying that. If one actually takes everything into account and tries to do it with a non-biased view, Kobe is at worst in the top 5 all-time. This shouldn't be too hard to see. What does Bird have on Kobe? Maybe a better rebounder, better pure shooter, and taller(though much less athletic). Kobe's had a better peak and longevity. Kobe kills Bird defensively and is clearly better offensively overall. Individually, it's no contest. Team-wise, Bird accomplished less with better teams. And if Kobe only barely gets credit for 2 titles as many people say, Bird only gets credit for 2 as well, Maxwell had a finals MVP. Who cares what most people say, it's not reality, and many still have Kobe way up there.

It was interesting hearing Magic/Kareem talk about who'd they take: Duncan or Kobe. Magic took Kobe, Kareem took Duncan. But, it's their reasoning that's what's interesting. Kareem said Duncan won more consistently and SA didn't have to rely on him as much. Kareem is basically saying Duncan had better teams and could just sit back and watch often, which is what I see as well. He's not trying to make it a backhanded comment, but it still kind of is. Kareem forgets that Kobe has had more team success as well, even with much lesser teams overall.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 11:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Didn't say Kobe was an MVP overall in 2000, but LAL still needed amazing performances from him(game 7 of WCF, game 4 of finals are 2 examples).

You're kidding yourself if Jordan is going to sit back and be a #2. Jordan doesn't win in 2000(in college), he's a rookie in 2001(hard to see him winning that year-he wasn't better than Kobe at age 22), he'd be hurt in 2002 at age 23 season(no title there), Kobe was amazing in 2003 and LAL loses in 2nd round. LAL not winning in 2004 with Malone going down. Maybe Jordan squeaks in one title somewhere by 2004, but that's it. At most, he's winning 3 after that. Remember, Kobe was much better than Jordan defensively early on, and Jordan never won 4 titles in a row. Jordan might get 3 from 08-11, but not 4, though he still might only get 1-2. Kobe became a beast offensively in 2001 and a legit MVP-level player.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


We're hitting that point in the argument where I remember you interpret basketball completely differently from how I do, so I'll just make a few closing clarifications and leave you to your Kobe-shrine.

* I've often said Kobe's teams are among the weakest supporting casts to win a title, but Duncan's, Hakeem's, and Doc's are demonstrably weaker than that. You cheerfully ignore the facts of Duncan's '03 team every time it comes up, but that doesn't make them any less facts.

* I don't have Kobe above Lebron, but plenty of smart people do.

* "Clearly top 5" is ludicrous. I don't know that anyone is inarguably top 5. I personally think it's difficult to justify putting him much above 8 or so (I usually have him around 12-13), but people tend to be blinded by titles first and context tenth.

* Regarding Jordan, yes, if we skew every circumstance against Jordan by arbitrarily giving him Kobe's birthday and going off his age instead of years-in-the league, and assuming that he similarly cannot behave professionally with Shaq, maybe he only gets three. If we kneecap him, maybe he gets zero. At a certain point that exercise becomes patently absurd.

* You have some decent points about Bird. He's usually ranked near Kobe on my list; I think he had a higher peak, but Kobe was better for longer.

* I literally have no idea what point you're arguing in your first paragraph. I guess I'll say I think Lebron James, Dirk, and Wade are all better than you think, and that I don't think Harden staying would have been enough to push OKC to a title. Remember my thing about two-way players? He isn't one.

* Magic is a notorious Lakers homer, so I tend to take his opinions on anything Laker related with a grain of salt. I'd be curious to see what guys like Doc and Bill Russell think, but I have a pretty comfortable hunch.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 3:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Green's worst game of the year? Really? He only had 2 points, but his statline was 2, 14, 14, 6, 4. That's amazing. 8 pts.(which pts. are typically the easiest to get to double figures) and 1 block away from the famous 5x5 statline. Hardly his worst game of the year. In fact, it was one of his best games of the year. And he's had 16 games scoring in single figures.

Yes, OKC enjoyed a 30 rebounding margin, but they also were -11 in the TO battle. Both are big anomalies. Durant also fouled out, for only the 4th time in his career. Lots of bizarre statlines in this game. Curry managed to play almost 38 minutes. Westbrook led OKC with 42. So, Curry still played heavy minutes, and barely less than OKC's top guy.

What happened was that GS big 3 all had to have amazing games with Durant fouling out, just to win in OT.

Nick, you'd be saying the same about the Shaq/Kobe LAL teams from 00-02 as you are about OKC this year, possibly not 00 when LAL won 67 games. However, #3 seed, 59-win POR with no superstars even in the slightest had a huge lead in game 7 of the WCF in 00, which was the de facto finals. If a team like POR that year could do that to LAL, OKC certainly could do the same to GS this year. LAL failed to win 60 games with Shaq/Kobe ever again. If 2001 LAL, which was the most dominant team in playoff history was playing this year with 2016 GS, which is on pace to set the nba regular-season record, then what? GS would be a huge favorite, and maybe they win, maybe they don't. But, LAL is a legit contender nonetheless.

Obviously, nobody has won against a team as dominant as GS this year, since GS is the most dominant regular season team ever, but that doesn't mean they'll win the title, and most games are going to be decided by 1-2 plays and/or 1-2 calls. But that's not all you're saying. You're also saying OKC isn't a legit contender, regardless of GS prowess. It'll be hard for Westbrook to outplay Curry, but the same goes for Curry, too. Throughout nba history, when teams are fairly evenly matched, the team with the best player almost always wins the series. And Westbrook and Durant both could certainly be the top 2 players in any series this year. If Curry is only the 2nd or 3rd best player against one of the contenders, it'll be very hard for GS to win that particular series.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 3:53:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"Yes, OKC enjoyed a 30 rebounding margin, but they also were -11 in the TO battle. Both are big anomalies."

OKC's had a 30 rebound advantage once this year. They've lost the TO battle by 10 or more 6 times (over 10% of their games). One's a much bigger anomaly than the other.

"Nick, you'd be saying the same about the Shaq/Kobe LAL teams from 00-02 as you are about OKC this year, possibly not 00 when LAL won 67 games."

Against this GSW team? Maybe. In the current NBA, the style those Shaq/Kobe teams played would be hard to use defensively against GSW, and their short benches would have been tough to survive.

That said, Shaq in '00-'02 is a *lot* better than either Westbrook or Durant is now, Phil Jackson's a much better coach than Donovan, and those Lakers teams could at least put out one five man lineup (generally Fish/Kobe/Shaq with some combination of Horry/Fox/Rice/Grant) with no glaring weaknesses, which OKC can't. At least the '01/'02 versions (as Kobe improved) I'd probably look at the way I'm currently looking at SAS: if anybody can do it, it'll be them, but probably nobody's gonna do it.

I do think those Lakers teams would wax this OKC team, though, and I wouldn't count OKC as real contenders in a league with those iterations of the Lakers, either.

"most games are going to be decided by 1-2 plays and/or 1-2 calls."

They're really not. Probably about a third of them or less.

"You're also saying OKC isn't a legit contender, regardless of GS prowess."

It's not regardless of GSW. In a weaker year without juggernauts like GSW and SAS, this OKC might well be a contender. This year, they aren't.

" Throughout nba history, when teams are fairly evenly matched, the team with the best player almost always wins the series."

That's true, but these teams aren't remotely evenly matched. That's why one of them has lost 14 more games than the other one. By the end of the season, that'll likely be over 20. I suspect the only time a team has beaten a team that was 20 games better than them in a playoff series was the We Believe Warriors vs. Dallas; this isn't that.

"It'll be hard for Westbrook to outplay Curry, but the same goes for Curry, too. "

Not really. He's kicked his ass individually both games so far. Here are their numbers:

Westbrook: 26.5 points on 18-51 shooting, 12.5 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 TOs
Curry: 38 points on 24-50 shooting, 8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 3 TOs

"If Curry is only the 2nd or 3rd best player against one of the contenders, it'll be very hard for GS to win that particular series."

Against one of the contenders? So... against SA? Sure. But, since you erroneously think OKC is a contender, let's address it:

If he's the second by a smallish margin, they'll still win fine. But yes, if the guy playing the best offensive basketball we've seen in 20 years goes seven games as the third best guy on the court, GSW might not win. If Westbrook develops the ability to teleport (and the NBA doesn't rule it a travel), OKC might win. There are a lot of highly unlikely hypotheticals you can throw out there, but the fact of the matter is that GSW's not losing to anybody but maybe SA- and probably not them either- unless they get hurt.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 4:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't ignore Duncan's 03 run, we've talked about it several times. I've went into detail about each of your examples. Each time, those stars have had good enough casts relative to their opps, and definitely good enough to win. Maybe Duncan didn't have the best cast in 03, but it was pretty close, and definitely good enough to win, especially with Shaq costing LAL in the seedings, and LAL bidding for 4th consecutive finals appearances, especially in the tough West shouldn't be ignored. Hakeem, Dr. J., and Duncan all had decent casts, but barely worse if any than Kobe's. Except for Hakeem in the Jordan-less NBA, none of them could maintain success 2 years in a row, let alone 3 finals runs in a row. And I'm sorry, but while the ABA shouldn't be ignored, it's not the same as the NBA. Dr. J had comparable, possibly better casts many years in the nba as he did in the aba, and he only won one nba title as a #2 guy. And the only time that Duncan beat Kobe when Kobe had even a remote contender was 03, and that's with Fisher, Horry, George, Medvedenko rounding out LAL's 3-6 guys, all giving very little to the team. And Kobe/Shaq played extremely well, too. Other than that, it was just DAL he had to worry about in 03. I mean, come on now, DAL wasn't easy, but Duncan should be able to win that series, and his cast was certainly good enough to do so. Dirk only had 1 fringe star at the time, Nash. While Parker wasn't AS caliber yet, he was close, and SA was a very deep team. I also see Kobe and Shaq winning the title if they swapped places with Duncan in 03.

Titles is why you play the game, Nick, last time I checked. But, it's much more than titles as well. I look at individual success before team success, too. Because we're talking about best player ever. Someone like Mcgrady who only had a few chances to realistically win a title, unless he was healthy more, is an example. If he was the best player in the game when he played, he would've certainly made it out of the 1st round at least once, and he should be expected to make several CF, etc.

Kobe missed out during his best 3 years of his career because of awful teams, but he still managed 7 finals, winning 5. I don't know anyone else who could say that, other than Russell(take 3 titles away from him and he'd still have more than any other star). Magic made 9 finals, but he didn't miss out on his 3 best years, and he also had much better teams. Every single time Kobe had a reasonable team worthy of contending, he was a force to be reckoned with. You can't say the same for Dr. J and Duncan, among others.

If you think Kobe didn't act professionally, then you might want to take a look back on guys like Shaq, Jordan, Bird, etc. Kobe was upset with Shaq's work ethic, and Shaq/Phil and pretty much the entire team was against Kobe at the time. The truth has come out now, and more of it looks bad at Shaq, not Kobe. There's nothing wrong or inaccurate about comparing Jordan/Kobe like I did. The point is valid. If Jordan followed the same careerpath as Kobe, it's very hard seeing him even getting 4 titles. Now, if Kobe followed the same careerpath as Jordan, maybe Kobe doesn't get 6 titles, though I actually see him having a strong case of winning more than 6.

Wade and Dirk weren't really elite players when they won titles, neither were 1st all-nba players. Wade played great in 06 finals, but the officials helped him out a lot, and MIA flats completey flat after 06. Dirk overall wasn't on top of his game in the 11 finals, but he was sick for part of it. DAL probably doesn't win though if James outplays Terry and plays hard throughout the finals.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 4:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not about what Magic said or didn't say. Magic and most people are in love with Jordan as well. It's about what Kareem said. He takes Duncan, but he's also saying at the same time and quite accurately, look at all the help Duncan had. Duncan's up there in the top 10 somewhere, maybe top 5, but his peak isn't on par with the guys threatening the top 5. And not quite as much as someone like Hakeem, but you just never know how Duncan's team will perform. He and his teams weren't a consistent force in the playoffs, and sometimes 1st round losses. Duncan gets credit for always having a good team, but he also had good enough casts every single year to do so, and a legendary coach as well. Take the past 5-7 years. Duncan is still decent, though often not even AS caliber, but SA is still an elite team often without him, including this year. This is SA's best team, and they're 13-2 without Duncan. He often gets too much credit for this.

At Thursday, March 03, 2016 5:20:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"While Parker wasn't AS caliber yet, he was close, and SA was a very deep team."

He was not only not close, he was a below average starting PG. He was averaging 15.5 and 5 (on 46%) and playing no defense. Those numbers dropped to 14.7 and 3.5 on 40% while still playing no defense. Saying he was nearly an All-Star is just patently false. The worst guard in the All-Star game was Stephon Marbury, averaging 24 and 7.6. Kinda a big difference, no?

And they weren't deep, either. Their main backups were Manu (7.5 ppg on 40%), Malik Rose (10 and 6 on 46%), and Speedy Claxton (6 and 2.5 on 46%). Those dropped to 38%, 42%, and 44% in the playoffs, incidentally. The starters ate up 159 minutes; of the remaining 81 minutes, those three guys ate 64.7 of them. Most of the rest went to Steve Smith, who was hobbled by injuries and played only 9 playoff games.

"This is SA's best team, and they're 13-2 without Duncan. He often gets too much credit for this"

Again, 11 of those wins are against sub .500 teams. Whoop-de-doo. Their defense lives and dies by Duncan, and their defense is what makes them dangerous. And let's cut the guy a little slack in his 19th year; in his, Kobe played 35 games and shot 35%.

Hakeem in '94 and Doc in '76 didn't have anybody in Pau's stratosphere. And their third best guys weren't meaningfully better than Ariza/Odom/Artest. Their fifth best guy wasn't better than Bynum, either.

I'm just as hard on Shaq about being a child as I am on Kobe. Both those guys probably left at least one more title on the table by not being grownups.

"Every single time Kobe had a reasonable team worthy of contending, he was a force to be reckoned with. You can't say the same for Dr. J and Duncan, among others."

That's silly. You can absolutely say that about Doc and Duncan, who were also forces to be reckoned with even when they didn't have a team worthy of contending. You just like to draw arbitrary lines in the sand that reinforce your biases. You'll probably reply by whining about first round losses, as if the teams Doc and Duncan lost too were automatically inferior to the teams Kobe lost to (they usually weren't, and matchups count). Doc mad six Finals in a much shorter career and was the best player on five of those teams (to 3 of Kobe's). Minus the last one, he also had much less help. Duncan made 6 Finals- won 5- as the best player on his team (unless you only care about scoring, in which case I don't know what to tell you). He's had more consistent help over his career than Kobe, but never a teammate on the level of Shaq (who Kobe got for eight freakin' years). He got David Robinson for about as long as Kobe had Pau, but that includes the weaker last few years of the Admiral.

Kobe also has basically his exact title cast in '11 and '12, and got nowhere, which is kinda a black mark on your "whenever Kobe had HIS TEAM he won" theory.

I could go on, but you made up your mind a long time ago and you've got no interest in changing it or looking at any evidence that says anything other than "Go Kobe!" so I'll leave it here for now.

At Friday, March 04, 2016 1:34:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Since there was just another Warriors/OKC game, we can revisit a few things with more data:

* Durant had a monster, monster night to the tune of 32 on 17 shots with 10 and 9 (though his 9 TOs are pretty bad) while Curry had one more point on eight more shots with six fewer boards, five fewer assists (and admittedly seven fewer TOs). I'd suggest that Curry wasn't the best player in that game, but GSW won anyway.

* While he's certainly improved, Westbrook is still capable of making too many early-clock bonehead plays; in this case, it was shooting several very Curry-esque contested threes with 20+ seconds on the clock. Of course, the difference is that for Curry those shots are smart shots.

* OKC doesn't have a crunch time lineup. This is a huge problem. They know they want Westbrook/Durant/Ibaka out there, but they're not sure who the last two guys should be. They're afraid to play Adams- their only other two-way guy- against GSW's death lineup, and everyone else they have is a liability on one end or the other. Compare GSW, who puts out Curry/Thompson/Iguodala/Green and whoever they like best that night of Bogut/Barnes/Livingston and feels totally comfortable on both ends.

* "Legit contender" OKC is 6-2 in their last eight, has lost more fourth quarter leads than anyone but Philly, is 6-11 against the top five playoff teams in each conference (two of those wins against Memphis who isn't as good as their record and another against Miami without Dragic), and are 1-6 vs GSW/SAS/CLE/TOR, with the lone win coming against SAS on opening night. They last beat a team more than 4 games over .500 on January 17th (the Heat win). They've only beaten two .500+ teams since (Dallas and Charlotte). "Legit contenders" don't generally slump this late in the season.

* They've also played the third easiest schedule in the West (4th easiest overall), and have the fourth hardest remaining schedule in the league, so things are unlikely to suddenly turn around. This team just isn't that good. Almost like you need more than four good players or something.

At Friday, March 04, 2016 9:06:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Correction: OKC is 2-6 in their last 8, not 6-2. Probably clear from context, but just in case.

At Saturday, March 05, 2016 3:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that we are actually discussing three separate issues/questions and that part of the confusion/disagreement is a blurring of these separate issues/questions:

(1) Is OKC as good as GS?

I think that we agree that GS is better and should be favored in a seven game series.

(2) Is OKC capable of beating GS in a seven game series without a major injury, foul trouble or some other significant anomaly affecting the series?

I say "yes," because OKC has two MVP level players, an offense that can generate 100-plus ppg in the playoffs and a proven ability to push the Warriors for three or even four quarters. Some of these head to head games have turned on one or two key plays, even if the final margin does not reflect that. Most games have some kind of anomaly and in the long run the anomalies cancel out. The one constant has been that GS-OKC games are competitive for long stretches--and the other constant has been that OKC falls apart at the end. Maybe OKC falling apart at the end is a sign of some flaw in the team's construction and/or mental makeup but as I see it right now OKC's problem is not an inability to match up with GS (which is your contention) but rather an inability to play as well in the final few minutes as they do for the first 36 or 40. Maybe they will never figure out how to do this but it is too soon to say it is impossible.

(3) Does OKC have a better chance than anyone else to beat GS in a seven game series?

Right now, it looks like no one is up to the task. However, Durant and Westbook have taken OKC to the Finals and to multiple WCF when healthy. The Spurs look like a better team than OKC but do the Spurs match up better with GS? I don't think so but maybe I will be proven wrong.

The most disconcerting thing about OKC is that their late game execution is so poor. They are way too talented to blow so many leads. Donovan was supposedly brought in to implement a better offensive system than the one Brooks used but, if anything, OKC has regressed offensively where it matters most: late-game execution. Defensively, OKC has a lot of people out of position far too often. The puzzling thing is that these problems do not crop up much in the first 36 minutes but in the final 12 minutes OKC looks like everyone on the roster forgot the game plan and forgot how to play. Shaq often says that when the general panics the troops panic (and he used to call his former coach Stan Van Gundy, "The Master of Panic," which seems to be an unfair and inaccurate depiction of SVG--but that is another subject for another day). I wonder if OKC's problems are largely the result of having an inexperienced coach trying to make late game decisions/strategies; I thought that this was clearly an issue for Blatt's Cavs (and may still be an issue for Lue's Cavs as well, but Lue has an NBA pedigree that Blatt and Donovan do not).

At Saturday, March 05, 2016 6:23:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...





I think they have more than one problem, and I think the two you mentioned are related; they can't execute against GSW late because they don't have the personnel to match up with them. OKC usually do most of their damage at the beginnings of the 1st and 3rd quarter, where their starters outplay the Warriors starters. Against most teams, this would be a good sign, as even though OKC then gets waxed whenever Westbrook or Durant hits the bench, they'll still be closing the game with their starters, right?

Well, two things wrong with that. The first is that GSW's best lineup isn't their starting lineup; it's their lineup with Green at the 5 and Iggy/Barnes at the forward spots. And that lineup frightens OKC, who don' have faith in Adams to guard Green, and don't trust anyone but Durant and Westbrook to shoot down the stretch.

This makes their late-game offense predictable, so GSW overloads on Durant, backs off Westbrook, and generates turnovers/dumb Westbrook jumpers. It's worked three times in a row now, and will probably continue to work until and unless OKC introduces a little offensive dynamism to their late-game playbook; that's probably not going to happen, because, again, they don't trust anyone but Westbrook and Durant when it really counts.

It's not a question of "figuring it out," really; it's a question of not having the tools to make it hard enough for the Warriors on either end when both teams are playing their best lineups.


I'm not sure whether or not the Spurs can match up with GSW; it depends on how well Duncan and Aldridge can survive when the Warriors go small, and how Pop manages Tony Parker's defensive shortcomings against GSW's monstrous offense. Maybe they can, maybe they can't.

I am sure OKC can't. Not for 7 games, not with that bench, not with that coaching, and not without a go-to lineup they can trust when the chips are down. It isn't just against GSW, either; fully half of their losses have come in games in which they led in the fourth quarter; their late-game unit is too offensively predictable and not defensively stout enough to make up for it. That's not an anomaly, it's a weakness.

At Saturday, March 05, 2016 10:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Regarding points two and three, you make some good arguments. I am not yet ready to completely write off OKC but it is possible that your analysis is correct.


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