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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Objectively Assessing Talent Versus Issuing "Hot Takes"

If you evaluate basketball players based on their skill sets and their overall resumes, one series and/or a handful of games is not often going to substantially change your player rankings; if you like "hot takes" and small sample sizes, or if you have a bias for/against certain players, then it is easy to fall into the trap of radically altering your rankings based on insufficient evidence.

Damian Lillard is a seven year NBA veteran. This is just the third playoffs during which he advanced past the first round, and the first time that he reached the Conference Finals. He performed well in the first round versus Oklahoma City, eliminating the Thunder by draining a low percentage shot that some media members tried to argue was not a low percentage shot: when you get the ball with enough time to create any shot you want, and you elect to shoot from nearly 40 feet away, that is a bad shot. Consider how Lillard's playoff run just ended: Portland trailed by two at the end of the overtime of game four versus Golden State--albeit with less time remaining than there was during the end of game scenario versus Oklahoma City--and Lillard shot a fadeaway three pointer that did not come close to connecting. That was a bad shot, too. It is called regression to the mean, folks, which is a fancy way of saying that in the long run your performance is going to match who you are and if you take a steady diet of bad shots you are going to miss more of them than you make.

Lillard's final 2019 playoff numbers are 26.9 ppg, 6.6 apg and 4.8 rpg with shooting splits of .418/.373/.833. Lillard's 2019 Western Conference Finals numbers are 22.3 ppg, 8.5 apg and 4.8 apg with shooting splits of .371/.368/.885. Prior to 2019, his career playoff averages were 23.9 ppg, 5.6 apg and 4.5 apg with shooting splits of .400/.341/.890. Lillard had a very good playoff run and, armed with the best supporting cast that he has ever enjoyed, led Portland to its deepest postseason run in nearly two decades. Lillard was an All-NBA caliber player prior to this postseason, and we did not see anything during the playoffs that should change that assessment; his dramatic drop off during the Western Conference Finals is a bit disconcerting, but that is a small sample and his overall 2019 playoff numbers look very much like his previous playoff numbers.

However, the "hot take" after round one was that Lillard had surpassed Russell Westbrook--a former league MVP who has played in four Conference Finals and one NBA Finals--based on five games and one low percentage series-ending shot; if you applied that "hot take" at the start of the playoffs, then if you are consistent your "hot take" after the Western Conference Finals is that Lillard was exposed as not being anywhere near the caliber of Curry or any other MVP level guard. Somehow, I doubt that the talking heads and pundits are going to spend Tuesday morning badmouthing Lillard the way that they badmouthed Westbrook a month or so ago.

It did not take long after Lillard started missing shots for the media to look for excuses for him, and they found an excuse after Lillard suffered a separated rib (which occurred several games after Lillard's shooting dropped off). Lillard's rib has been talked about more often in the past few days than any rib since Adam's. Similarly, when Stephen Curry dislocated a finger on his non-shooting hand the media regularly raised this as an excuse whenever Curry had a bad shooting night, even though he had some bad shooting nights before he got hurt and even though he had a mixture of good and bad shooting nights after the injury. Did it only affect his shooting every other game?

At this time of the year, no NBA players are 100% healthy. If people are going to give free passes for every injury, then be consistent. You probably do not know this, but after the playoffs, Russell Westbrook had surgery to repair a ligament in his left hand and he had surgery on his right knee. Unless you looked really hard for that news, though, it was easy to miss; Westbrook did not use his injuries as an excuse, and the media reported those surgeries as afterthoughts. Somehow, the "hot take" about Lillard's first round left out the information that Westbrook had two injuries that required surgery.

Before the Western Conference Finals, I knew that Stephen Curry was better than Damian Lillard and that Golden State was better than Portland. If Lillard were the transcendent player that some people made him out to be, he would have figured out how to not get swept by the injury-depleted Warriors, but Lillard is an undersized guard and undersized guards tend to wear down as the playoff progress. So, this series did not reveal much that an informed NBA observer did not already know.

As for the "hot take" folks, I will not hold my breath waiting for a "reassessment" of Lillard along the lines of the "reassessment" of Westbrook that happened after the first round.


It was interesting to see Stephen Curry (correctly) whistled for a traveling violation as he attempted to move behind the three point line without dribbling near the end of regulation of game four versus Portland; Curry's travel in that circumstance is James Harden's signature so-called "step back" move, which is both rarely whistled as a violation and bears no resemblance to the step back move as mastered by basketball artists Adrian Dantley, Larry Bird and Dell Curry. It would be great if next season the NBA decides to enforce the traveling rule against James Harden, which would provide a 10 ppg or so correction to his inflated scoring average.

It is worth noting that Curry did not complain about the correct traveling call, though he did mention to the officials that he was fouled on his previous drive to the hoop (which replays showed that he clearly was).

Curry's game is not gimmicky, unlike Harden's game that is based on traveling and flopping. Curry would not have been a two-time MVP in previous eras that allowed handchecking and emphasized post play but he would have been a perennial All-NBA performer based on his shooting, passing, ballhandling and relentless movement without the ball. Curry is depicted as a revolutionary player because of how many three pointers he shoots but in many ways he is the modern day Pete Maravich; Maravich did all of the stuff--and more--that Curry does but he never had a great supporting cast and he played in an era during which you needed a dominant center to contend for a championship. At one time, Maravich owned the third highest scoring average for a guard in NBA history and the 1979 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball described him as "the best all-around guard in creation...One of the all-time great passers and ball-handlers."

Maravich suffered the slings and arrows fired by media members who did not understand how far ahead of his time he was, while Curry has been embraced by media members and fans alike--but Maravich was far more revolutionary than Curry, which is not to diminish in any way the extent of Curry's accomplishments.


Another "hot take" making the rounds is that the Warriors are better without the injured Kevin Durant than they were with him. Accepting this "hot take" as valid requires using the Men in Black neuralyzer to pretend that Durant did not win the previous two Finals MVPs and did not establish himself as the dominant scorer in this year's playoffs before he got hurt; it also requires using that neuralyzer to forget that during Curry's first two Finals appearances he was (1) often the third or fourth best player on the court as his Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers sans Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in 2015 and (2) he presided over a collapse from a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Finals, punctuated by a desultory game seven performance (17 points on 6-19 field goal shooting).

The Golden State Warriors are a championship contender without Durant; there is no question about that. The Golden State Warriors are a historically great dynasty with Durant; there is no question about that. What would have happened if Durant had been there first and then Curry joined the team? What would have happened if Durant had never joined the Warriors? Who knows? In the context of evaluating these players individually, who cares? Unless you have been neuralyzed, you know the answer about Durant versus Curry and it is an answer that fits in with what we have seen throughout NBA history; it is not surprising that a seven foot player who impacts the game at both ends of the court is better than a 6-3 player who is a marvelous offensive player but a consistent target of opposing teams on defense.

All of that being said, Curry had a great performance in the 2019 Western Conference Finals, perhaps his finest all-around playoff series ever. Curry may be the greatest shooter ever and his movement without the ball puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses--but let's not exaggerate the impact of that movement: if anything, the Trail Blazers were more guilty of leaving Curry wide open than they were of supposedly being sucked in by his "gravity" and leaving other players wide open. As great as Curry was, the Warriors would not have won this series without the all-around contributions of Draymond Green, who arguably was at least as valuable as Curry. Green anchored the defense, controlled the boards, picked Portland apart with his passing and made timely shots. You may have also noticed that the Warriors' depth is actually a lot better than the media suggested before the series; or, as I put it in my Golden State-Portland preview:

"Golden State's success is not like Curry leading Davidson to the NCAA Tournament, though you might not realize that based on some of what is written and said about Curry; Klay Thompson would be a great, two-way All-Star on any team, Draymond Green is a playmaking wizard who also rebounds and defends, Andre Iguodala is a former Finals MVP and All-Star who has the luxury of being a role player on this talented squad and Shaun Livingston was considered the number one point guard in the nation when he jumped straight from high school to the NBA. Injuries curtailed Livingston's ability to perhaps become an All-Star but he is a talented and savvy player.

Curry is a great player who has accomplished a lot but let's not pretend that it requires heroic contributions from him for Golden State to survive. The Warriors are well-built and well-coached."

The Warriors are a fun team to watch, Curry is a great player and Lillard is an All-NBA caliber player who is perhaps better appreciated by casual fans now than he was two months ago. The playoffs would be much more enjoyable if we were not subjected to endless "hot takes" and to biased commentary that does not apply the same standards to all players.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:44 AM



At Tuesday, May 21, 2019 1:11:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

David, great post. I agree with most of it, despite the fact that my view of Curry may fall under your definition of "hot take". To be clear, I do believe Durant is the better player. I had him ranked #2 behind Giannis (Curry like 5th or 6th). I also agree that the Warriors are flat out better with Durant than without him.

With all that established, I would simply like to ask how you explain the Warriors depth playing far better without Durant than with him? This is not isolated to these playoffs, but actually extends over the course of Durant's tenure with the team. I still believe that a player can be flat out better than his peers, yet still suppress his teammates in ways that don't maximize winning. I believe prime Lebron is the preeminent example of this. Everyone had to adjust to him. Now, it worked, but I posit if he had made certain adjustments to his game, it would have worked even better.

The Warriors have proven this. Durant is the best player and other players adjust to him in order to win. The Warriors have won the last 2 championships and Durant has been the Finals MVP. It is his uncanny ability to get buckets in isolation and/or in extremely difficult situations, that makes him better than Curry.

However, I posit that if Durant adjusted his game to fit better with his teammates (Klay, Green, Iggy, Looney), the Warriors would be even better. To his credit, KD has adjusted his game to a certain degree, which is why the team has been so successful.

But, the eye test matches the numbers test which matches the results test (31-1 w/out Durant). The eye test is why all the hot takes come out. The numbers and results provide justification, even if they don't prove the hot take. Is there zero room for the possibility that Durant is the best player on the team, but the team would benefit significantly, if he adjusted his game and let Curry be the engine?

At Tuesday, May 21, 2019 1:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isiah Thomas made a good point recently when he said that, ultimately, Durant was the difference-maker that put the Warriors overtop the Cavs. That the Warriors did not have a clear answer for Lebron's Cavs in 2016. But Durant is close enough to Lebron's level (second best player in the league notwithstanding Giannis' recent emergence) that Durant made the Warriors clear favorites over Lebron's Cavs before Lebron skipped to L.A.

The Warriors sans Durant are vulnerable to a player like Giannis. The Bucks might actually be a better team than the Durant-less Warriors. I give the Warriors, even without Durant, the edge just because of their championship experience. But if Durant returns in time for this year's Finals, that's when we'll see clearly that the Warriors are way better with him than without him. The Warriors may not have an answer for Giannis if Durant fails to return this year. But with apologies to Allen Iverson, KD is most emphatically the answer to the latest beast from the east.

At Tuesday, May 21, 2019 2:05:00 PM, Anonymous Cyber said...

I take back what I said regarding Westbrook/Lillard a few weeks back. That 50 point game was insane and it just wasn't a good look on Westbrook or George's end so I decided to just give Lillard the nod. With that said I wish Westbrook's jumper improves next season because that's what is really holding him back imo

Anyway, I agree with most of your post. I especially agree with your analysis on Curry; Maravich was before my time but from what I've seen/read he was 100% born in the wrong era. I think Curry is a great player, one of the best guards ever, but he also benefits a ton from the era and the team. People can say he's the "system" all they want but Curry was not much worse in 2014 and the Warriors were nowhere near as dominant especially on offense, what happened was the rise of Draymond Green who is a 2-way point forward, the inclusion of Iguodala who is not only a 2nd two way point forward for the Warriors but in his 2nd year with the team he embraced his role off the bench, and the addition of Kerr who has been coached by 2 of the greatest coaches ever. I see it as more of a perfect storm of unselfish HOF talents whose skillsets mesh so well with each over.

@Jordan, I want to point out that in 2017 the San Antonio Spurs were statistically far better on defense when Kawhi didn't play despite being arguably the best defender in the league that season. I think with KD it's more about his style of play which consists of several isos somewhat stagnates an offense built around constant ball movement. I'd like to look more in depth to see who they faced during that span - it is worth mentioning that around half of those wins came from the 2016-2017 season when they were winning regardless of who was out - but it's an interesting stat nonetheless

At Tuesday, May 21, 2019 2:34:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

The main issue with the Blazers is they did not seem to have a true gameplan to take on the Warriors this series. The temptation to try and beat the Warriors at their own small ball game with Lillard and McCollum was what the plan looked like from the games I watched but obviously did not work out.

The Warriors defenders and role players draped themselves over the much smaller Lillard and he accordingly struggled the entire series. They would have been better served by feeding Kanter or any of their other bigger players in the post early in the game and saved their backcourt for a knockout blow in the late game but either did not have the strategy or personnel to attempt this.

Provided the Bucks succeed in the ECF, it will be interesting to see how GSW handles a player like Giannis.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 9:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You asked how I would "explain the Warriors depth playing far better without Durant than with him?"

My answer is, I wouldn't "explain" this because I don't think that the question is relevant. You compared Durant to James and asserted that each player "suppress(es) his teammates in ways that don't maximize winning." That comparison is faulty. James quit in multiple playoff series, which cost his teams those series and, probably, multiple championships. Although James later modified his approach and became a champion, he and his teams will never get back those opportunities that he squandered. In contrast, all Durant has done since he arrived in Golden State is be, by far, the best player on two championship teams. He has been individually dominant and, as a direct result, his team has been dominant. Who cares how the team has performed in situations when he was not on the court? In the two years prior to obtaining Durant, the Warriors beat Cleveland without two All-Stars in an NBA Finals during which Curry was far from dominant and then the Warriors blew a 3-1 NBA Finals lead in a series during which Curry was far from dominant. I have seen the Warriors without Durant and I have seen the Warriors with Durant.

It is not Durant's job to adjust to his teammates. Billy Cunningham accurately assessed the 76ers' problem when he first became the team's coach: "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians." Dr. J was the team's best player but he was sacrificing the most; Cunningham pointed out that the ABA Nets were built around Dr. J's talents and all they did was win championships. The 76ers became a powerhouse by following Cunningham's wise approach, though of course in that era you also needed to add a HoF center to win a title, and once the 76ers did that they became perhaps the most dominant single season team in pro basketball history.

Arguing that the Warriors are better without Durant or that Durant is "suppressing winning" or any other semantic approach to denigrating Durant/elevating Curry is just silliness. It is akin to arguing that Andrew Bynum was the Lakers' most important player during their 2008-2010 Finals runs, or that Pau Gasol deserved Finals MVPs over Bryant; it is a combination of misuse of statistics, "hot takes" and just plain foolishness.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 9:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Isiah Thomas is correct that Durant provided an essential element that the Warriors did not previously have. The Warriors were championship contenders before acquiring Durant but they became a dynasty after he joined the team.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 9:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Many commentators are prisoners of the moment and/or do not know basketball history well enough to understand who the true pioneers are.

You make a good point about the Spurs' defense with and without Kawhi Leonard. Statistics can be used to "prove" just about anything, and few people understand how to correctly use statistics.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 9:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Many teams have made the mistake of trying to play small ball against the Warriors. I have written about this for several years; the best chance to beat the Warriors is to go big, to slow the game down, to pound them in the paint and to wear them down over the course of a series. This might not work, but playing small ball against the Warriors is never going to work, unless your "smalls" are the 1996 Chicago Bulls: Jordan, Pippen, Harper, Rodman and Kukoc match up well with the Warriors but most other "small" lineups in NBA history would have major problems. On the other hand, the Warriors would not have liked to deal with Moses Malone or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or pre-2004 Shaquille O'Neal, to cite just three examples of Finals MVPs from previous eras who dominated the paint. Those guys would shoot well over .600 from the field against Golden State unless they were double-teamed, and they would foul out Draymond Green and/or Bogut. The Warriors would have to shoot better than .400 from three point range to keep up, and that would not be as easy as some may think; guarding a HoF center is a team task that wears down the entire team, particularly when that HoF center has good support around him, as Malone, Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal did.

Pro basketball has become very specialized, and I think that the champions since the rules changes/advent of "advanced basketball statistics" would be much less successful in other eras, relatively speaking, than champions from other eras would be had they been transplanted to earlier or later times.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I don't think the Warriors play better without Durant; I think they just play a slightly different style. I don't think Durant needs to adjust his game. The Warriors were built to maximize Curry's skillset. Thus, they will never be a perfect fit for KD. So as long as the Warriors win, it shouldn't matter much.

I'm old enough to have watched a prime Kareem in the mid-to-late 70s. Kareem was incredibly aloof and a narrative surrounding him was that he did not make his teammates better. Durant's game for his position is a lot like Kareem's was in a lot of ways - both being finesse, efficient scoring machines. Kareem's career was somewhat of a disappointment for his standards in terms of winning before Magic came along. For a number of reasons, the Lakers were not winning, but Kareem was quite clearly the best player in the league. Magic did not clearly surpass Kareem as a player until the mid 80s, but his impact was apparent from day one.

What I'm trying to get at is one can be a far better player, but not have as much team success as an inferior player on the exact same team. The roster, coaching, play style, and skill-set of the superior player plays a role in the results. Kareem and Durant are not players that are going to average 6+ assists nor are they the loud type to give motivating speeches in the locker room. They make their teammates better by attracting the majority of the attention from their opponents and scoring in demoralizing ways.

This has often been misunderstood by the basketball world for a very long time. If you put Curry on a 15 win team, it will not go as far as Durant's bottom feeding team. The Warriors are built to maximize Curry's skill-set and thus will logically play to their highest potential with him at their head. However, they are a better with Durant.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 4:27:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


I guess there’s not much to discuss then, as we both agree that the Warriors are better with Durant. Was simply trying to engage with other aspects of your post and dig deeper past the hot takes. I thought it would be interesting to explore the nuance of why parts of the hot takes might actually be based in some truth. But, if in the end, all you’re saying is the hot takes are asinine and that the Warriors are clearly better with Durant -- then you’ll get no argument here. I agree.

I do take a bit of issue though, with you shooting down the comparison of Durant and Lebron as ball-dominant players that win, but tend to force everyone else around them to warp to their style of play. It’s pretty obvious by watching the games that this happens. Lebron needs to be the center of the universe, and Durant, while he has adjusted his game, still breaks the flow of what the rest of the Warriors do best. No where did I say the team is better off without him. I did say, that it is quite obvious that the team as individual pieces of a whole, played better when with Curry and without Durant. But you’ve made it clear that doesn’t matter to you. I just find it interesting.

You’ve written time and time again how Lebron hasn’t made his teammates better. You’ve cited numerous times on this blog and made the comparison with Kobe and how despite popular opinion, Kobe has been able to elevate the games of players nobody thought much about until they joined forces with him. Lebron’s had the opposite effect on everyone he’s played with from Wade and Bosh, to Kyrie and Love, to Ingram and Ball. Yet Lebron was still able to win (until this year) because he was so dominant.

Who has KD made better over his career? One could argue that he held Westbrook back. Harden blossomed away from him. Curry and Green have both taken a backseat. KD couldn’t win with Westbrook, but he joins the Warriors and wins back-to-back chips and becomes the (second) best player in the league.

KD is nearly as dominant as Lebron (not quite the physical specimen or the defensive force prime lebron was...but clearly a more “clutch” player who can close out games and not quit in the moment). Stats and the eye test and just simple basketball logic show that Durant gives the Warriors the best chance of winning games -- finals games especially -- but that he doesn’t necessarily do that by lifting the rest of his teammates. I and Nick have argued that Curry may not always put up big numbers in crucial games, but his presence alone is impactful and allows others to flourish. Won’t go into any more about that as this is considered a hot take here.

I will strongly disagree with you comparing what I wrote, to the hot take around Bynum being the best player or Pau Gasol deserving finals MVP. Pau Gasol, while an excellent player and a future HOFer (and one of my favorite players ever), was not an MVP level player. Let alone a two time winner of the award. He never made it out of the first round, never won a playoff game, before Kobe. Curry went to two finals and won a ring (and led his team to an NBA record 73 wins) before Durant.
Not sure how these two “hot takes” are even remotely relatable:

An injury prone player, clearly unengaged with his own basketball career, that benefited entirely from 2 far superior offensive players on his team and never won anything without either (let alone stay on the floor as a healthy alpha), was more valuable than the best player of his generation.

A 2-time league MVP and 3-time champion who literally makes everyone around him better is more valuable to his team than a 1 time MVP and 2 time Finals MVP who is also arguably the best all around player in the game.

But, demsdeeberries I guess.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 4:48:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


I...have no idea if you're agreeing with me or arguing against me. lol. Magic wasn't as good as Kareem, but he made the Lakers better, which allowed Kareem to be the best version of himself and thus, propelled the Lakers to championships.

I mean...that's literally what I think of Curry. He's not as good as Durant. But, his presence allows Durant to be the best version of himself and thus, has propelled the Warriors to multiple championships.

I put in every single one of my posts, that I know/believe/think Durant is a better player than Curry. I do. I honest to goodness do!

But, just because that is true, doesn't mean the Warriors (or their individual players making up a whole) don't play better without Durant. I think they do play better without him. Which doesn’t mean they are better positioned to win a championship (though, definitely better positioned to win lots and lots of games). Without Durant, Thompson gets up more shots and is option 1A. When he gets consistent shots, he can get into a better rhythm. Green handles the rock a lot more and is thus able to push it on breaks, find cutters, dive, etc. Iggy gets to start and instead of being a lead ball handler guiding the second unit, he’s moved to an off the ball swiss army knife where he gets to play off multiple playmakers/shooters and absolutely shines especially at this point in his career. The bigs have more space to operate. I don’t understand why it’s not possible for the team to play better as a whole without Durant, but having Durant makes them better positioned to win a championship because Durant is so dominant?

KD drops the floor while simultaneously raises the ceiling. Curry raises both the floor and ceiling. He’s just not 7-feet tall, so his ceiling isn’t as high.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 6:17:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I think we agree. I was more so addressing your point about the Warriors playing better without Durant. I don't think they necessarily play better, they play different. To some, it may be more enjoyable to watch. Obviously, with one less dominant player on the court, the numbers for the other stars increase. I like the Warriors without Durant as well, as his absence somewhat evens the playing field.

As for KD dropping the floor and raising the ceiling - there is truth in that. I think of it as an engine. Think of Curry as the main component and the other core Warrior players as fine tuned pieces designed specifically for this engine. Of course that engine would work perfectly. Now take that same engine, replace the main component with one rated for better performance and efficiency. Is the engine better? Sure, it should be. Does that mean every part of the new engine will function at 100% all the time? No. The other core components were not specifically designed for this higher performing piece.

Curry raises the floor and ceiling for this specific team. I highly doubt he could do so for others just as much. I can think of very few teams that Durant would not raise the ceiling for.

Something else that I've observed over the years: Steph excels with Klay almost as much as the vice versa. Klay is THE prototypical 3 and D player. People love to downplay what the Thunder achieved during the Durant/Westbrook years. Outside of Harden, the Thunder never had a legit SHOOTING guard to play alongside them to attract attention. Put Klay on the Thunder and we'd be talking about their dynasty instead of the Warriors. David alluded to the important of Green already. The REAL difference between the pre-dynasty Warriors is the emergence of Draymond and Steve Kerr's offense.

At Wednesday, May 22, 2019 6:31:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


As for the LeBron vs Durant thing - I don't think Durant is making any of the Warriors players worse. The play style is just different. The system was not initially designed to be KD-centric. It it the coaching staff's job to ensure that everyone's talents are being maximized. Durant isn't holding anyone back. They are deferring to the better player. Unfortunately for Durant, we see also see what the Warriors can do without him and it looks a little better to the eye. I don't think that's the same as LeBron.

Side note - I think your LeBron critiques are a little harsh. I've never liked using on court examples for showing why players make other players better. I've longed felt that it was off-the-court things that mattered more. Numbers are numbers, but if I can give my teammates confidence through my leadership, it will go further in my opinion. Bill Russell is without question THE greatest leader in basketball history. Duncan comes close. They were not ball dominant players racking up assists. Magic is another example, but it wasn't just his point guard play that made his teammates better. Magic was unselfish to a fault, an amazing competitor, and made sure he enjoyed playing the game. If you want to argue that Curry is a better leader than Durant, then I don't disagree with that.

At Thursday, May 23, 2019 1:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Warriors definitely do not play better without Durant. We don't have to speculate about this, either; one ring (against an injury-depleted team) and one Finals loss (after taking a 3-1 lead) without Durant, versus two rings with Durant serving as the dominant player. There is all kinds of additional context that can be discussed--most, if not all, of which has already been covered here during the past five seasons.

If someone finds the Warriors sans Durant to be more aesthetically pleasing or if someone thinks that Durant was soft to flee a title contender to join a stacked team, those are valid, subjective takes.

If someone tries to argue that Curry is better than Durant, talking that person down is like trying to reason with a Flat Earther.

At Thursday, May 23, 2019 1:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My point is that I don't think that the hot takes are based on much truth, so I don't see what there is to discuss that I have not already (1) mentioned in previous articles and (2) further explained in the comments section to the point that I now understand some people just will never get it. I have seen it before with many hot takes over the years and I have lost my interest in engaging in those kinds of exchanges with those kinds of people. Someone thinks that fives games and a low percentage shot elevated Lillard above Westbrook? I will write an article showing why that makes no sense, but once the well-reasoned approach does not gain any traction I move on to the next article now.

LeBron James is a baffling player but I disagree with your comparison of him to Durant. James wants to control everything--the ball, the front office, the coach, the media coverage. James is super aware of his stats. If you play with James, you will bend to his will or else. Durant is a pure scorer, who has improved as a rebounder, passer, defender and ballhandler. The nature of his game is to have the ball a lot but I don't detect the self-absorption in him that I detect in James. I also don't recall Durant ever quitting in a big game.

The Gasol and Bynum nonsense flowed in no small part out of the same misuse of numbers that fuels the Curry/Durant hot takes. "Look at the On/Offs! Look at the true shooting percentage!" Dave Berri threw a pile of garbage stats together and wrote a whole article about Bynum being better/more valuable than Bryant, and it made about as much sense as the Durant-Curry comparison. Let's not take something basic and make it complex: in the first situation, Bryant's skills and game made things easier for Bynum and enabled him to shoot high percentages; in the second situation, the yawning gap in value between a highly skilled seven footer and a highly skilled 6-3 player should be apparent. As a coach, I can negate Curry. I can trap him. I can wear him down physically. I can put a bull's eye on him defensively. As a coach, you have little for Durant but prayer; trap him, and he passes right over the trap. He's not going to wear down like a smaller player. He is not easy to target on defense. This is Basketball 101. Is Curry better at basketball than the vast majority of seven footers on Earth? Of course--but he is not better at basketball than the very few seven footers who can even approach, let alone surpass, his skill set (we could argue about who is actually more skilled between Durant and Curry but at the very least the issue is close enough to be rendered moot by the huge size difference).

I have never gotten into this whole "ceiling/floor" business. I am evaluating basketball from a skill set perspective, not designing the floor plan for a house. If I am building a team, I want as many great, all-around, big, durable players who I can acquire.

At Thursday, May 23, 2019 1:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I wrote an article years ago about how much size matters in the NBA. Look at guys like Rick Barry, Julius Erving, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen; their lives and careers changed in their late teens/early 20s when they went from the 6-1 to 6-3 range to the 6-6 to 6-8 range.

I mean, I like to think that I provide insights here that most other commentators don't, but this Durant/Curry deal is honestly not that deep from an analytical standpoint. What you have is a media that loves the smaller guy, the "underdog," the "nicer" guy and so forth. Durant has spent the past year or two telling media members how dumb they are and that he does not have to answer their questions; he's right about the first point (though he probably should not have said it) and he is wrong about the second point, because media availability is part of his job.

Am I shocked that people he called dumb will now use any reason to elevate Curry over Durant? No.

I just don't operate that way. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would barely give me the time of day--his loss, as we could have collaborated on a great interview because he is very smart--and I consistently tout him as perhaps the most underrated great player of all-time.

At Thursday, May 23, 2019 3:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to notice that absence of teams star tends to invigorate other players to do better - more playing time, opportunity to show off, motivation etc. Thus misperception that Warriors play better without Durant. They just have to play better to win when Durant is out and they have the system and mindset to do this. Kudos to coaching staff here for providing efficient system more than anything.

At Thursday, May 23, 2019 2:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This debate about whether the Warriors are better with or without Durant is silly. I think that the old adage about not having to be faster than the shark, just faster than the other swimmers, applies here.

The Warriors, even without Durant, seem better than every other NBA team. They seem faster, in keeping with the shark metaphor. Even if Durant doesn't make it back in time for the Finals, because of the Warriors' excellent defense, ball movement, coaching, and chemistry, they're still the favorites to win the title.

The Bucks or the Raptors each has a chance against the Durant-less Warriors. But no chance in hell against Durant as the centerpiece of the NBA Death Star.

At Thursday, May 23, 2019 3:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comparing Durant to Curry reminds me of the Derrick Rose/LeBron James "debate" in the 2010-2011 season. Rose was absolutely a top 3-5 player that year and I personally was thrilled that he won the MVP over James as I couldn't stand the Miami Heat but the reality is that James was bigger, stronger, more durable and just flat-out better than Rose on both ends of the floor. The case for Rose over James was based on a preferred narrative and somewhat nebulous ideas about Rose's leadership, similar to how the case for Curry over Durant is based on concepts such as "gravity". Rose was certainly an effective leader and Curry's ability to distort an opposing team's defense with his shooting ability is valuable to Golden State's success but their actual impact on winning at the highest level is unclear. There is a reason why Rose imploded in the 2011 ECFs against James, never really to be heard from again and why Curry has received 4/44 possible Finals MVP votes in his career while Durant has received 18/33.

At Wednesday, May 29, 2019 9:44:00 AM, Blogger Kion Stephen said...

I think the question of Durant vs Curry needs to be framed differently to help explain what you see.

Is Curry a better defender than Durant? No, he's not. Durant is just bigger and longer as a defender, and can dominate on that end when engaged. Curry is not a bad defender, but he does stupid things with his fouls, and he's just much smaller. (On an aside, there's this hot-take that Curry is a BAD defender. Besides the stupid fouling, he's not. He's average or above. But when you're sharing the court with DPOY Green, 7 foot freak Durant, absolutely awesome Klay and mighty hands Iggy - it's obvious why every single defense wants to attack Curry. He's the obvious weak link and the only non-A+ defender on the court. That doesn't make him "bad". Just not as good as his teammates. But I digress....)

Is Curry a better individual scorer than Durant. This isn't as easy a question to answer, but I still think the answer is no. Curry can be absolutely brilliant one on one, but his one on one offense ebbs and flows, depending on how his shot is falling. If he's in a zone, he's more devastating that Durant. You can see him demoralize the other team and make them give up. There's some subjectivity to that - after all, you're trying to read body language - but there's many games of evidence to show that a hot Curry WILL break open a close game and turn it into a rout. Durant can get hot as well, but his excellence is generally more sustained and controlled and he will gradually wear you down until you break. Curry's individual offense is generally of the 'I will overwhelm you for 5 minutes and make you quit' variety. But, you can count on the consistency of Durant's individual offense much more than you can count on Curry's, and this is a huge differentiator and why Durant is the better one on one scorer.

Is Curry a better generator of team offense than Durant? This is where things flip and why the evidence shows the team's success without Durant. Why?

At Wednesday, May 29, 2019 9:44:00 AM, Blogger Kion Stephen said...


Firstly, some teams are so afraid of Curry's one on one brilliance that they regularly trap him 30ft from the hoop. Draymond Green is the direct beneficiary of this. Yes, Dray is an awesome basketball mind and he reads the 4-on-3 offense better than most, but the 4-on-3 only exists because of Curry. Without that trap, Draymond doesn't get to showcase his skills. The resulting buckets are a DIRECT result of the fear that Curry instills in the defence (and the feeling that trapping him removes his impact - but it doesn't). Curry gets absolutely no individual statistical credit for these situations, but any resulting basket is because of him. Some team based numbers help show this, but still - the eye test is needed.

Secondly, if Curry is not trapped, and they run a normal offensive set, Curry will give up the ball and then start to MOVE. He will sprint from side to side, stop and go, run off screens, and do whatever he can to get open again. Many times he does, and he benefits from the resulting relocated 3. But also many times his teammates receive the benefit when 2 go to Curry coming off a screen and the screener slips and ends up wide open for a direct lay-up, or another pass that results in an open shot. Again, Curry gets no statistical credit for this, but it's a direct result of the threat that he poses. (To be fair, Klay causes the exact same problems),

Thirdly, Curry is a willing screener who almost always makes contact with his screens to get others open. Many times again, it's Klay and/or Durant, but other times, it's other less intimidating players who still get open shots because of Curry's gravity. Because of the fear of leaving him open, the person defending Curry almost never helps the screened defender, leaving him to fight to get back into the play without help. And this helps fuel the GSW offense even more.

Out of the above 3 things above, Durant only has the screening part in his game and only within the last year or so began to actually make contact with the screen. (The first year in particular, he was so eager to slip that he never made contact and the screen was usually ineffective). And because of how he plays the pick and roll, more times than not, rather than throw 2 on the ball to create the 4-on-3, teams elect to switch with Durant and let him play one on one. That's not necessarily an indictment of Durant, because when teams do double, he's just as adept at passing out of it, but he doesn't seem to have the same gravity as Steph (or maybe teams aren't as scared of his 3 point bombing so they aren't doubling so eagerly).

But basically, the above differences highlight why Durant and Steph have different but still large impacts on the game on offense.

Sorry to get into the details, but I think that in the rush to label Durant as better, people downplay just how great Steph also is at offense. (the 2016 Finals MVP is a great example of overlooking Steph's impact - Iggy's defense was admirable, but his offense came from Steph regularly and willingly taking the Cleveland trap over and over again, and passing out of it in a way to allow Dray to feed Iggy in 4-on-3 situations time and time again. Steph had a rough start to the finals, but he definitely figured it out and played well, even if the individual stats don't show it)

At Thursday, May 30, 2019 2:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The analogy of James versus Rose compared to Durant versus Curry is right on target in terms of, in both instances, people relying on preferred narratives as opposed to making objective talent evaluations.

The major reason that I am not interested in a Durant-Curry "debate" is that the answer is obvious if one looks at the situation objectively. In basketball, the bigger, more versatile player is the better player unless the smaller, less versatile player is much, much more talented/skilled. Andrew Bogut's size advantage over Curry does not compensate for Curry's massive advantage in talent/skill--but Durant is bigger than Curry and, at worst, comparably skilled (I would argue that Durant is more skilled but, in this context, it is not necessary to prove that).

At Thursday, May 30, 2019 2:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Curry is great and you listed several of the reasons that he is great. I have not seen a single article or report that could fairly be considered to be overly negative toward him, or any articles/reports suggesting that he is not great.

The notion that Curry is better than Durant and/or that Curry has a greater impact on winning is not supported by fundamental basketball truths. I am not saying that you are arguing that Curry is better, but I am just emphasizing--again--that the Durant-Curry "debate" has more to do with preferred narratives and "hot takes" than objective basketball analysis.


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