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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Boston Dominates Philadelphia 105-87 as the 2018-19 NBA Season Begins

We are supposedly witnessing the revival of one of the NBA's great, historic rivalries--Boston versus Philadelphia--but objectively speaking it must be said that these teams are not in the same class. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 4-1 in last season's playoffs and they continued that domination with a 105-87 win on opening night. Boston did not trail for the final 43 minutes, demonstrating advantages in team defense, depth and coaching. It is hard to see any advantages that Philadelphia enjoys in this matchup. Perhaps it could be argued that Ben Simmons (19 points, game-high 15 rebounds, eight assists) is the most individually talented player on either team but--even if that is true--that does not have much effect on the outcome when these teams play.

Keep in mind that Boston pushed aside Philadelphia last postseason despite being without the services of two injured All-Stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Irving and Hayward both played on opening night and the fact that neither one performed exceptionally well during Boston's rout only underscores the reality that while Boston will likely be markedly better by the end of the season it would seem that Philadelphia's growth potential as currently constructed is more limited. Hayward, playing under the constraints of a minutes restriction--though, due to the team's depth, none of Boston's players figure to log heavy minutes this season--finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals. Irving struggled with his shot, scoring just seven points on 2-14 field goal shooting, but he led Boston with seven assists.

Jayson Tatum was Boston's star of this game, with a game-high tying 23 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes. Only one Celtic played 30 minutes (Al Horford) but nine Celtics logged at least 19 minutes. Marcus Morris contributed 16 points and a team-high 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes.Thirteen different Boston players saw action (including three who just played the final minute) and every single one of them had a positive plus/minus number. Reserve Terry Rozier, who scored 11 points in 27 minutes, had a game-best +22 plus/minus number. Plus/minus is a "noisy" statistic in small sample sizes but the point here is that Boston has no weak links; Coach Brad Stevens can go to the far end of his bench and still summon quality players into action.

Al Horford's box score numbers do not always look impressive and last night was no exception (nine points, four rebounds, two assists--though he did have a game-high five blocked shots) but he is a major force at both ends of the court, anchoring the defense in the paint while facilitating offensive flow with his smart screens, deft passing and timely shots.

Joel Embiid led Philadelphia with 23 points but he shot just 9-21 from the field. He had 10 rebounds but also a game-high five turnovers. He is a talented player but Boston is able to guard him one on one without too much difficulty; Embiid did not post huge individual numbers and he did not attract enough defensive attention to open up opportunities for his teammates.

Simmons has everything in his tool kit but a reliable outside shot, as has been well-documented. He is often compared to Magic Johnson but the major difference is that Magic won a college championship and then won Finals MVP in his rookie season while leading the L.A. Lakers to the NBA title, while Simmons has yet to show in college or the NBA that he can have a remotely similar impact on winning. I am not saying that he is not capable of having such an impact or that he never will have such an impact but the fact is that he has yet to do so. Many of the all-time greats led teams to titles within their first three seasons in pro basketball, including Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Tim Duncan. Being young did not hold those players back and they did not necessarily all arrive to ready-made championship teams: Abdul-Jabbar's Milwaukee Bucks were a recently formed expansion team, Erving's New York Nets had the youngest starting lineup in pro basketball and Bird's Celtics went 29-53 the season before he arrived.

One should not read too much into the first game of an 82 game regular season, but when one widens the perspective to include last season plus a skill set evaluation of each roster's players it remains to be proven that this is a rivalry in any sense other than name recognition and nostalgia.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM



At Wednesday, October 17, 2018 10:44:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

"Many of the all-time greats led teams to titles within their first three seasons in pro basketball, including Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Tim Duncan. Being young did not hold those players back and they did not necessarily all arrive to ready-made championship teams: Abdul-Jabbar's Milwaukee Bucks were a recently formed expansion team, Erving's New York Nets had the youngest starting lineup in pro basketball and Bird's Celtics went 29-53 the season before he arrived."

I take your wider point that Simmons needs to prove he can win, but this is a mostly silly way of expressing it.

Magic, Kareem, Russell, and Duncan all won on teams that had another MVP-level player at (or at least near) the peak of their powers already in place (as well as supporting All-Stars like Bobby Dandridge, Sean Elliott, Bill Sharmin, or in Magic's case both Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon). Bird joined a team with a past-his-prime MVP (but still an All-Star) in Dave Cowens, as well as Tiny Archibald and Cedric Maxwell, then won the title the next year with the additions of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish (and the subtraction of Cowens); his first title team featured three other members of the NBA's top 50*, and a fifth player (Maxwell) who was the MVP of the Finals that year; '81 Boston had more in common with the modern Warriors than the Sixers.

*Bird in fact played with 5 of the top 50 players in his first two seasons, although Pistol Pete was so far washed as to barely count.

The closest to a fair comparison would be Erving's Nets, but even that team featured three other All-Star talents in Billy Paultz, Larry Kenon, and Brian Taylor. That was also Erving's third year, while Simmons is merely entering his second.

The Sixers do not have anything approaching another MVP-level player, nor do they have the depth of star talent that Boston or New York had.

I am not saying that Simmons will be as good as those legends, and in fact I'd be shocked if he was, but I don't think it is fair to criticize a second year player on a relatively shallow team for not winning a title yet. For every example above there are also guys like Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and Lebron James who took the better part of a decade to win a title.

At Wednesday, October 17, 2018 10:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Simmons’ LSU team was pre-season Top 25 and did not make it to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, his 76ers lost 4-1 to a young team missing two All-Stars. I am not criticizing Simmons for not yet winning a title but I am (1) pointing out that many greats did have significant impact on title teams as young players and (2) so far Simmons has yet to prove that his individual prowess translates to team success at the highest level (be that NCAA tourney or NBA playoffs).

At Wednesday, October 17, 2018 12:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

College is a different animal. And just because your preseason Top 25, that doesn't mean anything necessarily. And let's look another former LSU player, Maravich. He never had much of an impact in winning in college/nba either, which isn't exactly fair to him without looking at all the factors.

Simmons led the way to PHI's 24-game improvement last year. That sure sounds like a huge impact to me, especially with a dysfunctional franchise. He's not as good as Magic was at similar stages of their careers, but Magic's not winning any titles with this PHI team or even approaching any titles. Whereas if Simmons played on all of those stacked LAL teams replacing Magic, it's hard to see him not winning at least 2-3 titles if he was able to maintain his current level of play for several years.

But BOS looks much better than PHI. Even if Simmons/Embiid are the 2 best players in the between both teams and if both are healthy, which both accounts are iffy/debatable, BOS still definitely looks better. Outside of Simmons/Embiid, I'm not seeing much to get excited about for PHI. They should at least reach the upper 40s in wins and be a quality team, but even winning the East will be tough for them without some personnel changes.

At Wednesday, October 17, 2018 1:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


During Maravich’s three varsity seasons, he almost singlehandedly transformed a 3-20 team into the fourth place finisher in the NIT. When he was with the expansion Jazz, they typically performed like a low level playoff team when he played and like one of the worst teams in the league when he did not play.

The sample size with Simmons is small and he may very well have that kind of impact on winning later but I don’t see it now. He is having an impact but not as much as one might hope or expect based on the hype.

Philly’s improvement is a bit deceptive: they were in full tank mode prior to last season and then, ironically, their late season win streak was fueled by several wins over teams that were tanking. Boston only finished three games ahead of Philly but we saw what the real deal was when they met in the playoffs—and Boston just added two All-Stars to last year’s team without losing anybody.

Even Embiid, who rarely hesitates to run his mouth, admitted after the game that this is not a rivalry.

I am not sure that Simmons is better than his rookie classmates Tatum or Mitchell. It will be interesting to reevaluate this as time passes.

At Wednesday, October 17, 2018 4:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not saying Simmons is on Maravich's level, though way too early to tell either way. But, he was a 1st team all-american as a freshman in college. 4 of the top 5 scorers on LSU in 1968 weren't on the team the previous year. One NIT appearance in 3 years for an all-time great isn't that great.

In Maravich's 4 years with ATL, his teams finished with a winning record 1x, and only won 4 playoff games total, and that's playing with an AS alongside him. I wouldn't expect him to be winning titles with those squads, but someone like Kareem definitely could've, but I'm not seeing great impact there, and definitely not compared to Simmons' young career so far.

I know you make a big deal once RW started averaging triple doubles, but Simmons averaged 8+ rebounds/assists in his rookie season. It took RW 9 seasons to match those numbers in the same season, and Magic only did it 3x. And before you start saying look who much each won, give Simmons KD/Ibaka/Harden or Kareem/Worthy; I bet his teams would do just fine.

PHI's win totals the 4 seasons prior to Simmons ranged from 10-28. Simmons wasn't the only reason, but a 24-win increase is substantial, and can't just be written off. You don't seem too high on Embiid, and PHI has a few other decent roles, but I'm not seeing a whole lot after their Simmons/Embiid. Teams just don't accidentally win 50 games in the NBA. BOS definitely currently looks better, but that's primarily due to depth and have more stars. PHI lost 3 close games in last year's series, which is often what happens in the playoffs, but it was a competitive series.

At Wednesday, October 17, 2018 7:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Simmons had a very good rookie year. However, he can’t shoot and I am not sure how much of an impact he has on winning. It will be interesting to follow his development and to see how well Philly does this season.

At Thursday, October 18, 2018 11:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously his shot is suspect, but he still averaged 15.8ppg on .545 shooting last year. That's great for anyone, but especially for a rookie. He's finding a way to score a lot(for a PG) and shoot efficiently at the same time. He has a PF's body being able to play the PG position, and seems very capable defensively, too.

At Thursday, October 18, 2018 5:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There is no doubt that Simmons is already a very good player. I am not sure he is as good as some people seem to think and I am not sure how good he ultimately will become.

He is not in the same conversation with a Top 50 player like Maravich or a league MVP like Westbrook—that much I am sure about.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 1:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously not yet if you compare Maravich/RW's total careers to his one season and 2 games so far. But not through 83 games of each.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 1:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, PHI completely fell apart when Simmons was on the bench against BOS. They were -10 in the 5 minutes he sat. He would very likely be the best player on BOS this year if he were on their team.

Back to Maravich. His team won 36 games in his rookie while playing alongside a perennial at the time AS, Lou Hudson. Simmons fellow AS teammate is an oft-injured, minutes restriction Embiid. Embiid is very good, but has limitations. Simmons is already an AS-caliber player. Let's give him some time, too. He's a potential triple-double player every time he steps onto the court.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 3:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My point is that I consider it premature to compare Simmons to Magic and to other all-time greats who quickly had an impact on winning at a championship level. Maravich and Westbrook were not even part of my original comparisons/analysis.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 3:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not sure it's premature to compare Simmons' rookie season to Magic's rookie season. Magic joined a playoff team with an MVP and helped lead them to a title; Simmons joined a bottom-feeder and helped lead them to the second round of the playoffs. Both men were the second best players on their team behind a star big man (although Embiid is obviously no Kareem). Their individual statistics are very similar, although their skillsets are different (Magic was a better post-up player and a more innovative passer right out of the box, while Simmons as a rookie was probably a stronger defender than Magic even in his peak years, let alone as a rookie).

I do not think Simmons is likely to reach the same heights as Magic, but dismissing the comparison outright simply because Magic won a title and Simmons did not strikes me as willfully ignoring the wider context; do you think rookie Magic would have led last year's Sixers to the title? Would rookie Simmons on the '80 Lakers have gotten knocked out before the Finals? If he did get there, he obviously wouldn't have had Magic's monster Game 6 but the Lakers would likely still have won out with Kareem back for Game 7.

I don't think it's premature to compare their rookie seasons-- you'd be hard pressed to find a more statistically similar rookie to compare Simmons to, in fact-- though it is of course premature (and silly) to expect that to translate to Simmons reaching the same peaks Magic ultimately did.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 3:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Regarding plus/minus, it is a “noisy” stat in small sample sizes. That being said, it should be noted that Philly was also -8 versus Boston when Simmons was on the court. I would expect Philly to experience a drop off when Simmons is not in the game but it is interesting that even when the two supposedly best players were in the game (Simmons and Embiid) Philly trailed. Again, it remains to be seen what impact Simmons can have on winning and not just winning in the regular season but also winning at the highest level in the playoffs.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 4:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Unknown (presumably Nick):

It is premature to compare a complete HoF resume to a one page resume. Regarding the rookie seasons, sure we can compare:

1) Magic went to an already good team and lifted them not only to elite status but to a championship. It is much harder to go from good to great than from tanking to good. Magic averaged 18.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.3 apg and 2.4 spg in the regular season while shooting .530 from the field and .810 from the free throw line. That was the first year the NBA adopted the three point shot and at the time very few players regularly attempted threes. During the 1980 playoffs, Magic averaged 18.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 9.4 apg (best in the league), 3.1 spg (best in the league) and shot .529/.802. Magic won the Finals MVP the year after winning the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award and his performance in game six of the Finals (42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists) is one of the greatest single game performances in Finals history.

2) Simmons went to a team with young talent that decided to stop tanking. He averaged 15.8/8.1/8.2/1.7 while shooting .545/.560. He averaged 16.3/9.4/7.7/1.7/.488/.707 in the playoffs.

Simmons was very good. Magic was exceptional. There is no way I take rookie Simmons over rookie Magic.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 4:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you often comment about +/-, so you must think it's relevant even though you often say it's noisy. I agree with the noisy notion, and don't think much of +/- overall, though sometimes it's relevant.

If you using +/-, it's not about what a player's +/- is in the end, it's what it is compared to the whole team. When a player's team loses by 18, but the team is only -8 in a player's 43 out of 48 minutes played, that is very significant, though other factors could be involved contributing to this. This doesn't mean Simmons played poorly or had little/no impact. On the contrary, it actually means that Simmons likely had considerable impact, since his team completely fell apart when he left the game. However, Simmons' team was definitely outmatched compared to BOS in this particular game.

Simmons actually should usually have a negative +/- when matched up against BOS starters, since BOS starters are currently better compared to PHI's starters, even if he is the best player on the court, which could very well be. Obviously, he doesn't only play against all 5 BOS starters only, but he does for significant portions of the game.

And Magic would've faired barely better in his rookie season with last year's PHI squad as Simmons. Possibly he could've led PHI to the ECF, but I'd guess not. The comparison isn't really applicable.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 4:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Plus/minus is noisy but it can be relevant at times and when placed in proper context.

In this particular game, Simmons played 43 minutes and no Celtic starter played more than 30, so Simmons had more than a full quarter to go to work against Boston’s reserves. That helps place the numbers in context.

I can only compare Magic and Simmons based on what has actually happened not based on what you assume might have happened in alternative scenarios.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 5:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many reserves did Simmons play against for each minute? How many other starters did Simmons play with during those minutes? Which starters were those, and for how many other minutes? An endless # of factors to consider. What we do know just from Simmons' +/- for this particular game compared to what his team did without him, is that in 5 minutes without Simmons, PHI did worse than during the 43 minutes that Simmons played, which is highly significant. It's not a matter if Simmons was + or - during his 43 minutes, it's relative, if we're only looking at +/- in a vacuum. Simmons +/-, while negative, was actually impressive for this game.

Actually, not quite. Your comparison between Magic and Simmons isn't that applicable team-wise, if you're expecting Simmons or anyone else for that matter to have been able to lift 2018 PHI to anything better than borderline contender status. The differences in each of their casts is substantial. Magic was lucky to have a great team around him immediately. He wouldn't even had the chance to reach the Finals if he was a rookie on 2018 PHI. Yes, Magic was better than Simmons in their respective rookie campaigns, but their numbers are eerily similar and the difference between wasn't that great. Simmons has the edge in athleticism and defense for sure. Magic had 1 big-game in the Finals, which was preceded by a 10-turnover game.

At Friday, October 19, 2018 5:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In other words, it is a noisy stat, as I have repeatedly noted.

I disagree with your take on Simmons, for the reasons noted above. We are just going in circles now.

Magic joined a 47 win team, that became a 60 win team and a champion as he won Finals MVP. I see no valid comparison or equivalency between Magic and Simmons.

At Tuesday, October 23, 2018 3:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I know it's noisy and agree. But, you mention it quite regularly. And seem to think Simmons' -8 vs BOS wasn't good or that he didn't have that much impact in that game. Though relative to how his team performed without him, the reality is that he did amazing.

Magic joined up with arguably the best player ever, Kareem, along with a solid cast around them. Simmons took a bottom-feeder from 28 wins to 52 wins. Nobody is saying he was even better than Magic was in their respective rookie seasons, but it's very perplexing why you think he had little to no impact on his team's success so far.

Magic probably didn't deserve Finals MVP either, even with Kareem missing a game. He's fortunate to have a guy getting at least 30/10 in every series in the playoffs like Kareem did in 1980 with a solid cast after that. Simmons certainly didn't have that luxury. You just can't say this and that what happened with LAL in 1980 and be the end of the story, especially since Magic was clearly not the best player on that team. Simmons was in a much different situation. Magic wasn't even in the MVP conversation that year. Kareem actually won MVP.

At Tuesday, October 23, 2018 4:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Reread what I wrote about Simmons in the article. My point is that it is premature to compare Simmons to Magic. Further, it is my observation that Simmons’ impact on winning up to this point in his career is not as great as the impact made by some of the greatest players of all-time. Even with Kareem, who is very underrated by the mainstream media, the Lakers were not contending for titles until Magic arrived—and they kept contending even after Kareem declined/retired.


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