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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Game 14 of the Regular Season is Not Game Seven of the NBA Finals

I made a big mistake tonight, so I will apologize in advance if that mistake affects the quality of this article.

I watched ESPN's NBA pregame show, and I am afraid that I lost basketball IQ points while listening to "Screamin' A" Smith provide some of the most bizarre opinions since the last time he confused loud volume with deep thinking (which would be whenever was the last time he opened his mouth). "Screamin' A" asserted, among other nonsense, that Kevin Durant is going to be remembered more for the decision to team up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn than for winning two championships and two NBA Finals MVPs as a Golden State Warrior.

It is difficult to think of a better example of a blurted basketball hot take devoid of any meaningful connection with evidence or reality. Here are just a few reasons this hot take is foolish:

1) Six players have won consecutive NBA Finals MVPs since the award was first given in 1969: Michael Jordan (1991-93; 1996-98); Hakeem Olajuwon (1994-95); Shaquille O'Neal (2000-02); Kobe Bryant (2009-2010); LeBron James (2012-13); Kevin Durant (2017-18). It is possible that Durant will add more Finals MVPs to his resume, but even if he does not win another Finals MVP his decision to play in Brooklyn will never overshadow the rare level of championship greatness that he has already achieved.

2) Before Durant joined the Warriors, Curry and crew had won one title and then lost in the NBA Finals after posting the best regular season record in NBA history. The Warriors did not become a dynasty until they added Durant and until Durant emerged as clearly and without question the team's best player (as signified by, among other things, the two Finals MVPs that he won while outplaying LeBron James on the sport's biggest stage).

3) The Warriors' dynasty was interrupted when Durant got injured, and--until proven otherwise in the playoffs (not in one regular season game in November)--the dynasty ended when Durant left for Brooklyn; since Durant's departure, the Warriors have not even qualified for the playoffs, while Durant bounced back from a ruptured Achilles to lead the Nets to a hard fought game seven second round loss to 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee. 

4) Curry has yet to win even one Finals MVP--let alone matching Durant's two--and during the NBA Finals he has repeatedly been outshined not only by the best player on the opposing team but also by one or more players on his team.

5) The final result of Durant's decision to go to Brooklyn has not yet been determined. The Nets may win multiple titles, they may win one title, or they may win no titles. Until we know how that story ends, it is premature to assert that this chapter of Durant's career will be remembered more than his back to back Finals MVPs--particularly when the implication is that Durant's Brooklyn career will end in failure. Even if Durant does not win a title in Brooklyn, that would not overshadow the titles he won in Golden State--and if he wins a title in Brooklyn then that just adds to his legacy.

I did not like Durant's decision to flee Oklahoma City to join the Golden State team that he had just lost to in the Western Conference Finals, and I did not understand his decision to flee Golden State to play in Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving, but I will never confuse my personal opinion of his business decisions with an objective analysis of his basketball legacy.

So, contrary to what "Screamin' A" appears to believe, Stephen Curry did not win his first Finals MVP last night, the Golden State Warriors did not win the NBA Finals, and Kevin Durant did not permanently damage his legacy. Curry and the Warriors played very well while dismantling the Brooklyn Nets 117-99, but regular season games in November do not become bullet points on anyone's Hall of Fame resume.

It must be emphasized that--as noted above--Curry and the Warriors have not qualified for the playoffs, let alone won a playoff game or playoff series, since Durant left. The closest that the Warriors came to the playoffs was losing a Play-In Tournament game at home to the Memphis Grizzlies. Curry shot 5-14 from the field in the first half of that game as the Warriors fell behind 62-49 by halftime. Curry played better in the second half, but that proved to be too little, too late. 

Curry is a great player, but undersized players like Curry tend to wear down/break down as the playoffs progress, so a big performance in a November regular season game does not prove that Curry is going to play at this level in the NBA Finals--assuming that he can lead his team that far without Durant carrying most of the load.

"Screamin' A" has narratives about Durant and Irving that he is going to keep spouting regardless of what happens, but the biggest story of the season for either team--if not for the entire NBA--is that James Harden's counterfeit numbers are being exposed. It is fascinating to watch the 2018 NBA MVP struggle to score now that defenders are permitted to guard him closely. Harden has had some decent games this season, and he was not terrible last night (24 points on 6-13 field goal shooting, four assists, five turnovers) but even the delusional Daryl Morey is not going to call this version of Harden the greatest scorer in NBA history. Perhaps Harden will adjust to playing basketball instead of "Flop and Flail," or perhaps the NBA will feel sorry for Harden and stop officiating him correctly, but 14 games is a large enough sample size to recognize that Harden is simply not the player that he has been falsely promoted to be. He is an All-Star caliber player, but most certainly not one of the NBA's 76 greatest players of all-time, and if he had been officiated correctly for the past several seasons he would not have posted the counterfeit numbers that fooled too many people into ranking him much higher than he should be ranked. This is just one example of why I evaluate players based on skill set analysis and not just based on statistics.

Golden State's win over Brooklyn may have foreshadowed what will happen in the 2022 NBA playoffs for one or both teams, but it may have just been an outlier for one or both teams during a long regular season. Any rational person understands that we will not know what to make of this game until we see how the whole season unfolds.

By the way, Giannis Antetokounmpo is a mobile seven footer who plays at a high level at both ends of the court. He won back to back regular season MVPs, and he is the reigning NBA Finals MVP. He is playing at his usual elite level this season. For a brief moment after Antetokounmpo's historic 2021 NBA Finals performance, media members seemed to understand that he is the best player in the world--so how is it possible to rationally believe that anything that happens in the first 14 or 15 games of this regular season undermines the status that Antetokounmpo attained after excelling for several regular seasons, culminating in last year's championship run? Curry is great, Durant is great, but nothing has happened to change the correct evaluation from last summer that Antetokounmpo is the NBA's best player.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:22 PM



At Thursday, November 18, 2021 12:51:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I laughed reading your post because I had the exact same thoughts. Luckily, I did not watch the show live and only heard excerpts after the fact. It was more than enough for me to shake my head at the blasphemy being spewed.

I almost forgot that it's November the way these guys are talking. I did not expect Golden State to come out swinging like this, but I am not ready to crown them the best team in the league - let alone the West. I expect them to cool down and fall to the middle of the pack as the season goes on. Curry is playing amazing and is the MVP of the league after 15 games, but he is not the best player.

The other funny thing I keep hearing is that Durant has "no help". I thought Harden was a MVP level player? I'm not sure if that's a bigger knock on Durant or Harden. While Durant is without question a borderline Pantheon level player, he has played with good-to-great teams his whole career. Durant doesn't get the "no help" excuse compared to what other superstars have had to fare with.

As for Harden - I haven't gotten around to commending you on your analysis. I don't think I've ever disliked a player more than Harden. I have not found too many people who have been as disgusted by his playing style and perception as I have like you. I really hope this exposure continues. Unfortunately, we can't erase his statistics or awards so he may still be accepted as a MVP level player historically.

Damian Lillard seems to be a good guy and I try not to hate on players, but I do not like it when the media favors players and absolves them of criticism - especially when they chastise certain players for the exact same things. I've always found him to be slightly overrated and he seems to be getting exposed too. Secretly, while I still consider Curry to be all-time great player, I must admit that I'm a little surprised he is excelling right now. With all of the troubles Kyrie Irving has, I do not think he'd be playing as bad as either of them.

At Thursday, November 18, 2021 10:38:00 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

I'm sure you realize this already, but there is, unfortunately, an enormous group of sports fans who are more interested with transactions than what actually happens on the court. I'm sure that's the audience SAS is pandering to.

At Thursday, November 18, 2021 12:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We agree that Curry is playing at a high level but he is not the best player in the NBA.

I disagree that GS will "fall to the middle of the pack as the season goes on." I picked GS fourth in the West prior to the season (meaning that I expected them to at least advance to the second round), but GS looks better than I expected while other contenders are dealing with injuries, chemistry issues, etc.

I hope that the NBA continues to officiate Harden correctly. A full season of him posting "normal" All-Star statistics while he is still in his prime would be a useful corrective to the counterfeit numbers he posted for the past several years.

Yes, Lillard is also overrated. He did not belong on the 75th Anniversary Team.

Curry's success does not surprise me. His game is fundamentally sound and does not rely on gimmicks, unlike Harden and, to some extent, Lillard. Curry does not need help from the officials to average 25-30 ppg. I don't see Harden or Lillard scoring more than 25 ppg if the game is officiated correctly.

At Thursday, November 18, 2021 3:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Obviously, ESPN believes that "Screamin' A" generates revenue or else they would not pay him millions of dollars per year, but generating revenue and being able to express oneself in a coherent, rational manner are very different things. I prefer commentators who are coherent and rational, but that may--sadly--be a minority viewpoint.

At Friday, November 19, 2021 10:13:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I consider the middle of the pack to be anywhere between the 4th and 7th seed. Maybe I could have chosen better words. AS you stated, other teams in the West are dealing with injuries, chemistry issues, etc.. According to ESPN, Golden State is the title favorite in the West. I do not think this will be the case by the end of the season.

I don't expect Curry to struggle to the same degree as Harden and Lillard, but I must admit I am slightly surprised he is excelling so well. Then again, some consider me to be a "Steph hater". His game is very fundamentally sound however.

I think Harden's reign as a "MVP level" player expanded too long. Stat gurus and the like will find ways to justify Harden's normalized season. Look at this:

1. From the 2015 season to the 2020 season, Harden finished lower than 3rd in MVP voting only once. He is 12th all-time in MVP award shares ahead of the likes of Doc, Durant, Moses, Pettit, Curry, Olajuwon, Big O, Barkley, West, Barry, Dirk, and Westbrook.

2. Harden has 6 All-NBA First teams to his name. Bill Russell, Olajuwon, Moses, Durant, Barkley, Dirk, Hondo, Curry, Isiah, Westbrook, Pippen, and other notable all-time greats all have 6 or less.

3. Harden has 5 seasons where we averaged 29ppg or more. Kareem, West, Baylor, and Iverson had 4. Kobe, LeBron, Shaq, and Iceman only had 3. Curry looks like he's going for his 3rd. Doc and KD only had 2. It's straight up silly how he has more 29ppg scoring seasons than these guys. He has more scoring titles than most of them too.

4. He will finish with more All-Star appearances than some members who made the anniversary team.

He is the biggest fraud in the history of the NBA. The problem is arguing with people whom can use this information to validate their belief that Harden is an all-time great player. This one season won't be enough.

At Friday, November 19, 2021 11:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, it is sad and discouraging to recall how many undeserved honors and achievements are permanently attached to Harden's name.

People who do not understand the game are unlikely to be convinced by any evidence that disrupts the "Harden is great" narrative, but anyone who is open-minded should be able to look at a full season of evidence--assuming that this season continues to progress appropriately, and the NBA does not back off from officiating correctly--and see the vast difference between Harden's "Flop and Flail" productivity versus Harden's basketball productivity. Under correct rules, Harden is an All-Star. Under "Flop and Flail," Harden looks like an MVP (at least until the playoffs, because the NBA has been hesitant to apply full "Flop and Flail" in the playoffs, and also because Harden is a proven playoff choker dating all the way back to the 2012 NBA Finals).

At Tuesday, November 23, 2021 11:20:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


You might enjoy this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tojc0cl680

At Wednesday, November 24, 2021 12:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I love it! Thank you for sharing this video.

The "rules changes"--aka, officiating basketball correctly after several years of letting James Harden and others get away with committing offensive fouls--have exposed James Harden's MVP win and All-NBA First Team selections as fraudulent products of counterfeit statistics, which is what I have been saying for several years. When Harden is officiated correctly, he is an All-Star level player, not an All-NBA First Teamer, not an MVP, and most certainly not one of the 75 greatest players of all-time. The level of physicality and correctly played defense being permitted this season is not even close to what prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s. I just hope that the NBA stays the course with correct officiating.


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