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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Basketball Hype Versus Basketball Reality

The 2016-17 NBA season is approaching the halfway mark, so this is a good time to separate basketball hype from basketball reality. The premise of this article is not meant to suggest or imply that my predictions are always correct; Minnesota is much worse than I expected, while Houston is better than I expected. Every season has its surprise teams, both good and bad--but some teams are hyped up by consensus for no objectively correct reason.

Basketball Hype: The Indiana Pacers will be a top four team in the East.

Basketball Reality: The Pacers are struggling to stay above .500 in a weak conference.

I predicted that the Pacers would "decline a bit" from last season's 45 wins and thus not make the playoffs. The Pacers' current .500 winning percentage is what I expected, though the Pacers might sneak into the playoffs because the bottom has dropped out of the Eastern Conference. 

I was baffled that so many people thought that the Pacers would not only be a playoff team but might even challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pacers fired a good, defensive-minded coach (Frank Vogel) and they sacrificed defense/rim protection to put together a small ball roster that does not suit the natural inclinations of new coach Nate McMillan. The roster construction does not make much sense; there is not enough firepower to just outscore the opposition nor do the Pacers have a lineup that is willing and able to play elite level defense. All of this just screams "mediocrity"--and that is exactly what has transpired.

Basketball Hype: Kobe Bryant held back the progress of the Lakers' young players but with Bryant now retired the Lakers will be a much better team.

Basketball Reality: The Lakers' young players were not ready for prime time last season and they still are not ready for prime time this season.

The media bashed Kobe Bryant when he was averaging 35 ppg and carrying the likes of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown to the playoffs, so it was obvious and inevitable that the media would kill Bryant when his skills declined. He was blamed for his big contract, as if he forced the Lakers to sign him. He was blamed for shooting too much, for supposedly not playing defense, blah, blah, blah. Well, Bryant is enjoying retirement now and those Lakers that he was supposedly holding back rank last in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage, last in points allowed, last in steals, last in turnovers committed and 19th in field goal percentage. Their defense is horrible and their offense is not much better, though the latter deficiency is superficially disguised by playing at a fast pace and chasing down a lot of their missed shots (the Lakers are second in the league in offensive rebounding).

The way that Bryant prepared mentally and physically for each game--despite the challenges of age and multiple injuries--provided a great example for his young teammates to emulate. It is too bad that they did not pay more attention.

Basketball Hype: Kristaps Porzingis is the next Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony is an elite player, so the additions of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah combined with upgraded coaching from Jeff Hornacek will revitalize the Knicks.

Basketball Reality: Jeff Van Gundy picked this team to win 45-50 games and said that a win total in the "low 50s" is not out of the question. I respect Van Gundy but I don't always agree with him. His prediction for the Knicks was, to be charitable, very optimistic. If everything breaks just right--which almost never happens--the Knicks could win 45 games but 50 or "low 50s" is a pipe dream. Porzingis is a very talented young player but he is not ready to carry a team yet. Anthony was overrated in his prime and he is certainly not an elite player now. Rose is playing well but he is not even close to his pre-injury MVP caliber form. Noah's individual numbers are nothing to write home about, though the team performs much better when he is on the court than it does when he sits.

The Knicks have been overly hyped for years; the fans and the media blamed Isiah Thomas for every problem under the sun and then became oddly silent when the team remained bad to mediocre (with the exception of a brief glimmer of hope when Mike Woodson was the coach) for years after Thomas' departure. Owner James Dolan is the real problem and until he either sells the team or changes his management style the results are not going to change.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:13 PM



At Thursday, January 05, 2017 11:51:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

It would bolster your case had you provided links for each hype, because I don't recall the Indiana Pacers being promoted as the next threat to the Cavaliers' dominance.

As for the Knicks, I suspect the hype comes from the obvious fact that New York City is the media capital of the known universe. Basically, even if the Knicks were a great organization, from top to bottom, loaded with talent and savvy, etc., they'd still be overrated or hyped beyond all belief.

Over 40 years after their last championship, the Red Holzman Knicks remain a cottage industry for books. We like to complain about the Lakers, because of all those Kobe stans and bandwagoners. Imagine if the Knicks were actually good! I remember the hype in the 90s about the Knicks, as though they were the next great team, even if they kept losing to the Bulls and the Rockets or Spurs in the Finals.

At Friday, January 06, 2017 1:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There is a plethora of evidence about Kobe Bryant being bashed and about the Lakers being overly hyped. When the Lakers started 10-10 this season, the hype reached a fever pitch.

Regarding the Pacers, here is one of many links: NBA.com 2016-17 Indiana Pacers Preview

Here is a key quote from that article: "McMillan will go nine or 10 deep on a nightly basis and a second or third seed would keep the Pacers out of Cleveland's way till the conference finals. That's quite doable." Several TV analysts placed Indiana in the top four and I believe Greg Anthony is the one who had the Pacers challenging the Cavaliers.

At Friday, January 06, 2017 12:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given that IND is only 1.5 games out of 4th, the hype has been pretty accurate. CLE and TOR certainly look like the top 2 teams in the East, but TOR only beat IND and MIA in 7 games each to reach the ECF last year. While, no other team in the East may attain a top 2 seed, many teams have real chances to get to the ECF if they don't have to face CLE before the ECF. That preview seemed pretty fair and accurate. Ellis/Jefferson are older and should be expected to decline some, but not this much. One could make a solid point that IND has underachieved quite a bit so far. Teague was arguably the best player on an ATL team that made the ECF 2 years ago, and George is still playing well and was the best player on 2 IND teams that have made the ECF.

LAL is a long ways away from contending, but there should be hope given their core of young players.

There's always a lot of hype about NYK, but Porzingis has been better than Dirk through 1.5 seasons. Especially in the weak East, NYK should be able to win low to mid 40s, even though that looks unlikely through 35 games now.

At Friday, January 06, 2017 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Indeed, I think the hype around the Lakers is similar to that of the Knicks. Both consists of large cosmopolitan cities where the hype is an annual tradition. That will never go away, no matter how many David Friedmans add a drop of reason to the endless sea of delusion.

The Kobe-bashing was not hype - it was your classic media backlash to the early hype Kobe Bryant had in his career prior to that fateful summer of 2003. In order to combat the Henry Abbots of the world, beware of becoming one yourself.

As for that Indiana Pacers reference, that seems more of a speculation than hype. Where hype is self-serving, speculation comes from a third party.

It is good to toot your horn every now and then, but it does not become you after a while - especially when you're criticizing what seems speculation at best.

At Friday, January 06, 2017 2:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Any "hype" about young Kobe was more than justified, as he emerged as one of the greatest players of all time.

Hype is not defined exclusively or even primarily as self-promotion. Hype is characterized by excessive promotion and that is an apt description of the predictions made by many about the Knicks, Pacers and Lakers.

At Friday, January 06, 2017 2:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Pacers are also 1.5 games out of ninth place, with a point differential that suggests they are worse than their record.

It might take just 45 wins to finish fourth in a weak East and I don't think that is what people had in mind when they touted the Pacers as a top four team. Despite the hype about the Pacers' alleged roster and coaching upgrades, the team had regressed.

At Friday, January 06, 2017 8:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given the history of the East, I doubt many would say the 4th best in the East is going to be a true contender overall. I understand the logjam so far, but when you're only 1.5 games away from 'the hype position', and your team looks like they've underachieved so far, the hype is more than justified so far. Vogel isn't a bad coach, but certainly not a great coach, and his current team is currently 12th in the East.

At Sunday, January 08, 2017 10:50:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

I don't think Pacers were overhyped, given there're 2 teams almost untouchable in standings and the rest of the pack could come out in any configuration, none of which I'd be surprised of, maybe except 76ers.

For me to be overhyped, Indiana would have to be touted number 2 at the least.

At Sunday, January 08, 2017 1:32:00 PM, Blogger Hydraulic said...

Your use of the subjective term "hype" to describe what is happening with the Lakers is incorrect.

There wasn't a lot of "hype" last year that the Lakers young players were being held back by Kobe. There was a lot of discussion about how they were being held back by Byron Scott, who, lets face it, was only there to guide the Kobe Farewell Tour to its dramatic conclusion.

Last year, Russell, Nance, and Randle (essentially) were rookies, and nobody realistically expected them to rise up to be solid pros capable of supporting a Kobe-led race to the playoffs. That's never true with rookies, and it wasn't going to be true with them either. And let's not forget that Ingram wasn't even on the team yet.

Now, with a coach more suited to player development, a year of growth, and a clarity of focus that wasn't possible during the Kobe Farewell Tour, the younguns have shown some real signs of potential. They've also had many occasions where they look like kids. I expect that to be the case for at least the next 2 seasons. Maybe 3 or 4. It's all about steady progress with this team. Not a night-and-day change based on Kobe's presence, or departure, in any way.

At Monday, January 09, 2017 12:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I cited the objective definition of hype (scroll back a couple comments) and many of the descriptions/predictions concerning the Lakers in the recent past fall squarely under that definition. To cite just one example, many commentators are still killing Kobe for supposedly being selfish in his record-setting final game and these same commentators allege that this performance symbolized how Kobe supposedly held back the Lakers' young players. Tom Byrne of NBA radio has said this fairly recently and he is far from the only one.

When the Lakers started this season 10-10, the Kobe critics were euphoric--but they have not had much to say since that time.

At Monday, January 09, 2017 10:32:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I'm pretty frequently accused of being a "Kobe hater" and I had no problem with anything the Lakers did in his final game (though I do side-eye the Jazz a little bit). Guy earned a big finish.

That said, I think it's fair to say he took playing time/touches away from younger guys in his final season. It's also probably fair to say he earned that, too. But every crunch time shot he took was one the Randle/Clarkson/Russell didn't. I do think that people are overreacting to this- most young guys have to wait their turn (even Kobe did). But obviously more reps = faster development.

At Tuesday, January 10, 2017 11:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, given the double standards you often apply to Kobe, this shouldn't be a surprise to you. Kobe was dominating in game 82 last year. Even if his teammates were force-feeding him the ball, why would anyone have a problem with this, especially when he rescued them from a big deficit in the 4th (not saying you do)? It's just like his 61-pt. game at MSG. After the game his critics were criticizing him and focused on him having 0 rebounds.

But, I don't think it's entirely fair to say he took time/touches away from the younger guys. They had every opportunity to succeed and failed miserably. Kobe played only 28mpg and shooting 17FGA had little to nothing to do with that. Actually, under Kobe's tutelage, they should've been able to flourish even more. Kobe missed 16 games last year, was on a minutes restriction, and often didn't play in the 4th at all even in close games.

Let's look at what's happening between last year and this year:

Clarkson is down 4.9mpg and 1.6FGA this year from last year.
Russell is down 0.9mpg, but up 1.5FGA this year from last year.
Randle is up 1.3mpg and 0.4FGA this year from last year.
Nance is up 2.3mpg and 0.5FGA this year from last year.
Williams is down 4.1mpg, but up 2.4FGA this year from last year.

Williams isn't really a young guy, but I threw him in there. He's playing well for his role, but his minutes still have been cut by 4.1 on a 15-26 team. Randle/Nance's minutes have basically nothing to do with Kobe, though they have only slightly increased. Russell/Clarkson/Williams are all playing less, and have either gotten fewer opportunities to score or just slightly more from last year. Randle looks better, but still not playing much of a bigger role. Nick Young has upped his game from last year, but he'd still be lucky to be anything more than a bottom 1-2 guy in the rotaton of a contender. If the young guys are losing minutes/shots to him, that should tell us something. If these young guys were truly that good, I'd expect them to have similar bigger roles and many more minutes as guys like Wiggins/Towns. A lot of we're talking about is the offensive side of the ball, which LAL is still in the bottom half of the league, which is by far their better side of the ball. Regarding defense, they are absolutely atrocious.

At Tuesday, January 10, 2017 12:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You made some excellent points that support and amplify my assertions regarding both Kobe and the Lakers.

Perhaps the key point is that if in fact Kobe held the Lakers back then there would be ample individual and team statistics to demonstrate that--but, as you showed, the numbers do not at all support such a narrative.


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