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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Andrew Wiggins Leads the Way as Warriors Beat Celtics to Take 3-2 NBA Finals Lead

The Golden State Warriors squandered a 16 point first half lead before dominating the fourth quarter en route to a 104-94 game five win over the Boston Celtics. The Warriors lead the NBA Finals 3-2, and can clinch their fourth title in the past eight seasons with a victory on Thursday night in Boston. During the fourth quarter, ABC's Mike Breen praised Golden State's "championship DNA," but Jeff Van Gundy correctly responded that Golden State's best player by far in game five was Andrew Wiggins, who has no championship experience and little playoff experience. Wiggins scored a team-high 26 points on 12-23 field goal shooting, and he grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds while also playing excellent defense against Boston's All-NBA First Team forward Jayson Tatum. Wiggins had 10 points on 5-6 field goal shooting plus five rebounds in the fourth quarter alone. 

Klay Thompson added 21 points on 7-14 field goal shooting. As has often been the case during Golden State's NBA Finals appearances, Stephen Curry was not the best (or second best) player on the court. Curry finished with 16 points on 7-22 field goal shooting. He had a game-high eight assists and just one turnover, but Curry did not make a three pointer for the first time in his playoff career, and if commentators are going to wax poetic about Curry's all-time greatness based on his excellent game four performance then they also have to note that Curry's game five performance was reminiscent of James Harden's frequent meltdowns in crucial playoff games

It is indisputable that Curry is a great player. Nothing that I have seen in this series convinces me that Curry is even close to top 15 all-time status, but you can be sure that if the Warriors win this series that narrative will dominate the post-series conversations in many quarters. 

Without Wiggins leading the way and without Thompson performing well, the Warriors would be facing elimination in game six--and please don't talk about Curry's "gravity" being the reason for Wiggins' great performance: Wiggins created his own offense with strong drives, superior athleticism, and excellent shooting touch.

Gary Payton II (15 points on 6-8 field goal shooting, five rebounds, three steals) and Jordan Poole (14 points on 4-8 field goal shooting in just 14 minutes) made key contributions off of the bench. Payton is primarily a defensive player, but he provided timely scoring in this game; Poole is primarily a scorer who has been relentlessly "hunted" by the Celtics because of his subpar defense--which is why his minutes have been slashed--but his point per minute production in limited playing time was much needed. 

Draymond Green had his usual "triple single": eight points, eight rebounds, six assists. He fouled out in 35 minutes, and he had more complaints to the officials than made field goals (three) by a wide margin. Green contributed to Golden State's excellent defensive performance, but he is the quintessential example of a good player who is along for the ride while superior players do most of the work as opposed to being an all-time great future Hall of Famer.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics in scoring (27 points on 10-20 field goal shooting), rebounds (10), and assists (four, tied with Jaylen Brown) in 44 minutes. It cannot be said that Tatum played poorly, but if you watched the game then you also felt like somehow a player with his skill set, size, and athletic ability should have done even more. Maybe that is not fair because he did not get much help from his teammates, but if Tatum's goal is to be a perennial All-NBA First Team member--let alone an MVP and a champion--then that is the standard: if your team did not win then you did not do enough. 

Marcus Smart scored 20 points on 7-15 field goal shooting, but has there ever been a Defensive Player of the Year who flops more often and gets beat more often by falling asleep on inbound plays/backdoor cuts? He is a very good player, but he is also frustrating to watch at times. Jaylen Brown is usually consistent if not always spectacular, but he had just 18 points on 5-18 field goal shooting. His nine rebounds and four assists were somewhat offset by his game-high five turnovers, a number that nearly matched Golden State's team total (seven turnovers). Al Horford has had some big moments in the 2022 playoffs, but he had a game-worst -19 plus/minus number after scoring nine points and grabbing nine rebounds.

The only Boston starter who had a positive plus/minus number was Robert Williams II (+11), who had 10 points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes. His energy and athleticism are very impactful. One suspects that if he were fully healthy then he would be playing closer to 40 minutes.

The Warriors played excellent defense, outscored the bigger Celtics in the paint 50-36, and were only outrebounded 47-39. Golden State deserves credit to some extent for putting pressure on Boston, but the Celtics made a lot of unforced errors, throwing away a winnable game by missing too many free throws (21-31, .667), missing too many layups, and committing too many turnovers (18).

The overreliance on high variance three point shooting inevitably results in play that lacks rhythm and flow. The Celtics missed 12 straight three pointers before later making eight straight three pointers and finishing 11-32 (.344) from beyond the arc. The Warriors shot 9-40 (.225) from three point range, but they survived their horrific outside shooting by--as noted above--winning the possession battle (rebounds, turnovers) and by scoring prolifically in the paint. Commentators love to focus on the Warriors' three point shooting, but this game was a classic example of the extent to which the Warriors have mastered other, more fundamentally important aspects of the game. The difference between the Curry-led Warriors and the Harden-led Rockets is that the Warriors are a complete team that plays defense, rebounds, and scores in the paint, while the Rockets were a team that chucked up a ton of three pointers, hoped for the best, and had no backup plan. 

This game had a weird flow. Golden State jumped out to a 24-8 lead, and Boston looked like a team deflated by the game four loss at home. Curry was cold from the start--he had four points on 2-6 field goal shooting in the first quarter--but the Warriors have more talent and depth than Curry's supporters prefer to admit. The Celtics played much better in the second quarter, but still trailed 51-39 at halftime, an ominous position to be in versus a team that is renowned for third quarter scoring explosions. However, in game five the teams switched identities, with the Celtics dominating the third quarter before the Warriors dominated the fourth quarter.

Boston opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run before tying the score at 55 on a Smart three pointer at the 6:55 mark and then taking a 58-55 lead on a Horford three pointer with 6:28 remaining in the period. Neither team led by more than five points for the rest of the third quarter. Poole heaved in a three pointer just before the buzzer ending the third quarter to give Golden State a 75-74 lead heading into the final stanza. 

You would not expect a team as resilient as Boston to be demoralized by one last second shot, but the Celtics looked shell-shocked during the fourth quarter as the Warriors scored 10 straight points in just 2:55. The Celtics never found their bearings, scoring 20 points on just 4-15 field goal shooting while committing four turnovers--yes, the Celtics had as many turnovers as field goals made in the most important 12 minutes of the season!

The Celtics have matchup advantages, but their unforced errors plus the Warriors' energy and effort are negating those matchup advantages. Less than a month ago, the Celtics beat the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in games six and seven, so it is not impossible for the Celtics to win two straight games to take this series, but they have no margin for error now not just on a game to game basis but also on a play to play basis: each squandered possession pushes them closer to the brink of elimination.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:21 AM



At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 2:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's very frustrating how despite Boston being bigger/faster/stronger they often resort to playing smaller when facing adversity. I was expecting going through their road of Nets/Bucks/Heat would make them very resilient and battle tested and that's technically still in play (series is not over until one team wins four) but it's disappointing seeing how much they have struggled to use those advantages on offense

They could have easily won games 4 and 5 if they were simply trying to wear down the smaller Warriors but not only has that not happened but the Warriors have gotten into their heads. It would be one thing for Green to do that but even Poole got into their heads with that buzzer 3 (why leave him wide open is beyond me) and his play early in the 4th where Smart was clearly bothered by him

Right on with Steph, he's a great player but top 15 talks will always be ridiculous to me especially since the real reason for the Warriors success since the mid 2010s was their defense and he's obviously far from the reason for that. People using his success with these loaded well built teams to prop him up over superior players who do not have the kind of supporting casts he's had will never sit right with me. His role on the Warriors is closer to Billups on the mid 00s Pistons than it is to, say, Duncan or Russell on their respective dynasty teams who were unquestionably the main reason for their team's foundation (defense) while still being big contributors on offense

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 2:05:00 AM, Blogger EHR said...

I kinda expected a clunker from Curry after game four. His shot looked flat and short during the game. I suspect he’ll bounce back next game, which makes this loss for the Celtics even more troubling.

Wiggins continues to do yeoman’s on a game to game basis. Championship teams need players like him that accept and max out their roles.

Its unbelievable to see all Celtic players on the floor have demonstratively weak off hand. Its the cause of most of their turnovers. One of the other causes is how they desperately try to get to their right hand.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 8:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like the Celtics stand around a lot on offense instead of running plays with off-ball movement and setting screens and what not. Where's their medium-range game? Post game? They got the size advantage. I don't understand why they don't move around more on offense. Tatum and Brown run way too many iso-plays and thus generate way too many turnovers.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 10:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

weird game/series. comes back go overdone role of the 3

for years Wiggins was wasting his phys skills but focusing too much on the 3 (few boards, unbalanced game). GSW apparently has him more well-rounded, esp on D (despite my skepticism after G3). he also made the pass to set up Poole's end-of-Q3 dagger (from 3, but an appropriate 3 with no time on clock). makes you wonder if Wiggins will continue this style and realize his potential more. his career signature game and he went 0-6 from 3; if that doesn't tell you how overdone 3s are (especially for him), then I don't know what will

Tatum's game seems to be drive-and-kick to someone for a 3 or hope for a whistle, or else just take a 3. made some, but had big misses (huge airball). 2-6 FTs. like the younger version of Wiggins, somewhat wasting his athleticism. (they're guarding him tight on drives, but still could shoot midrange). how many of his 27 did he score in Q4. It was the quietest 27 I've ever seen in a big game

Curry had no shot (0-9 from 3), but I actually give him credit for passing on some 3s later in game when it was clear his shot wasn't falling -- and instead passing or looking for closer shots. in the 2d half it was inexcusable that he squandered a 2-on-1 with ballhandler Klay, as Curry stopped at the 3-pt line where the defense caught up with him, which an announcer noted; he destroyed a GSW fastbreak, and this could easily have been a turning point for Cs. but he posted a +15 (second only to GPII's +16). mixed performance but sports is often about winning when you don't have your A game (or B or even C game), and he did well by that standard, largely due to allowing teammates to do their thing

GSW won convincingly by shooting 9-40 from 3. let that sink in


At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curry's "gravity" may not have been responsible for Wiggins' outburst though I do think he got a couple thanks to it he created most of his own shots. But even if you don't like it or want to acknowledge it it did create a lot of open looks for other guys as Boston changed up their defense on Curry after getting torched in Game 4 to the more traditional traps and doubles most teams use on him which opened up a lot of space in the paint and open lanes for guys like Payton and Green as well as a lot of forced scramble rotations trying to recover from it that opened up good looks later in the clock. Curry shot like crap but he was second on the team in plus minus with a +15 in a game they only won by 10. That his number was that high even despite such egregious shooting on high usage suggests he must have been doing something to offset that bricklaying.

His gravity maybe gets overblown by Warriors fans or people trying to force Curry into the top ten but that doesn't mean it's fictional. He does attract a ton of defensive attention and it has always allowed teammates to benefit.

It's also kind of nuts that even after his bad shooting night last night he's still averaging over 30 on 47/42/83 shooting. That's almost like an MJ Finals slashline and against the best defense we've seen in a couple years and the DPOY. Like this defense shut down KD and knocked 9% off Giannis' shooting percentage but until last night they've been pretty much helpless against Curry and what they had to do to stop him last night cost them in other ways. It's ok to give the guy his flowers haha.

I also think that outside of Game 3 when he had foul trouble his defense this series has been great. The Celtics are targeting him relentlessly but shot only 3-11 against him in Game 5 and only 4-12 in Game 4. Also only 9-25 in games 1 and 2. He's not perfect defensively obviously and getting into foul trouble in Game 3 kind of teleported him back to 2016 since he relies a lot on intensity and physicality to make up for his size but he's definitely been a winning player on that end and the strategy of hunting him has worked only once out of five games so far. Overall for the series he's allowing just 40% as a defender which is just a hair behind Wiggins at 39.6%. They've been able to shoot over him pretty well on 3s but he's been super stingy on 2s holding guys 13.9% below their averages across 44 attempts. It's a decent sample size too as only Draymond and Wiggins have defended more shots.

None of this makes Curry a Top 10 player or anything but he's clearly been the best player in these Finals in 4/5 games and overall. I don't think this is an ensemble team the way the '04 Pistons or '80s Pistons or '79 Sonics were. This is a megastar and a deep group of overqualified supporting players more like the '11 Mavericks or '05 Spurs or '95 Rockets or last year's Bucks.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 12:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you. Having a matchup advantage does not matter if you do not fully exploit that advantage. The Celtics have only sporadically exploited their matchup advantages in this series, and they have lost two games (four and five) that were quite winnable had they exploited their advantages.

I would rank Curry ahead of Billups, but I agree with your overall analysis: Curry is a great player, but he is not on the same level as dynasty linchpins/Pantheon players such as Bill Russell and Tim Duncan.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 12:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Most players tend to dribble/shoot/pass much better with one hand than the other. The key is to not overdribble/overpenetrate and not force passes into windows that are too tight (or not open at all).

Most of the greatest ballhandlers and passers of all-time were much more proficient with their dominant hand than with their non-dominant hand. I think that it used to be said of both Jerry West and Pete Maravich that they dribbled right-handed all the time but no one could stop them anyway; that is at least a slight exaggeration, but the larger point is accurate.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 12:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Standing around and then either isolating or jacking up long three point shots are bad habits that the Celtics have yet to completely break. When the Celtics drive aggressively to score they tend to either score in the paint or create wide open three pointers off of kick out passes, but they are having too many empty possessions that end in turnovers or low percentage shots.

At their best during the second half of the season and during most of this playoff run, the Celtics minimized those bad habits, but those bad habits are reappearing in this series. As is often the case, the Warriors deserve some credit for inducing these behaviors, but the Celtics also deserve some blame for not sticking with what has been proven to work.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a different topic David how do you feel about Tatum's cosplay Kobe antics? I thought sending a text message to a dead man's phone last round and then sharing the photo with media outlets was unbelievably cringe. I also think that dressing up as Kobe for media-facing practices and shoehorning Kobe presser quotes into his own pressers is pretty performative especially for a guy who hasn't demonstrated much of Kobe's signature toughness yet.

The biggest tribute to Kobe wouldn't be dressing up like him or texting him but going out on the court and ripping someone's heart out.

As a big Kobe fan how do you feel about a Celtic clout-chasing him so aggressively?

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 1:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Wiggins is very skilled and very athletically gifted. The question was--and remains--if he is willing/able to consistently produce at a high level.

Over the course of his career, Tatum has consistently been more productive than Wiggins, and Tatum has been highly productive for teams winning at a high level (multiple Conference Finals appearances, plus this year's NBA Finals run), so comparing Tatum to Wiggins overall is not fair to Tatum. In this series, though, Wiggins has held up quite well versus Tatum.

Curry forced some three pointers near the end to try to extend his streak of games with at least one three pointer made, but perhaps the game was out of reach by the time that he started chasing three pointers. You are right that Curry fading to the three point line on a 2-on-1 break with the outcome up for grabs was not a very intelligent play, regardless of what "stat gurus" may say about it.

I agree that Curry did some positive things and that his plus/minus number indicates that, but when Kobe Bryant missed shots or when Russell Westbrook misses shots they were not/are not given credit for their other contributions. I would like to see commentators consistently apply whatever standards they find relevant. I analyze Curry the same way that I analyze Bryant, Westbrook, Harden, and everyone else, and I have made it quite clear why I rank players the way that I do. My rankings are not overly impacted by one game, nor do I apply different standards to different players. If someone is going to take the position that Curry's game four performance is so significant that it vaults him into the top 10 or top 15 all-time, then that same energy should be applied to game five, which the Warriors would have lost had other players not filled the gaps left behind by Curry's poor shooting.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 1:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Wiggins created most of his offense on his own. Don't forget that he was a 20-plus ppg scorer when playing for Minnesota without the benefit of Curry's "gravity." Wiggins does not need Curry to put up big scoring numbers.

Curry's "gravity" is absolutely overblown by (1) "stat gurus" who use him as the poster boy for promoting the value of the three point shooting that they so heavily tout based on their "advanced basketball statistics" and (2) Golden State fans/supporters (including media members who get paid based on the books and articles that they write praising Curry and the Warriors).

Great players have attracted significant defensive attention throughout basketball history. Curry is a great player who attracts significant defensive attention--but Curry does not attract more attention than, for example, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant, to name three Pantheon-level perimeter players who each won at least three championships as All-NBA level players.

I agree with you that, so far, this has been Curry's best NBA Finals performance.

I don't put much faith in defensive metrics that are often subjective and flawed. The Celtics are hunting Curry and Poole for good reasons, and the Celtics are getting high percentage shots as a result of that hunting. If the Celtics then miss those shots, do we credit Curry for playing great defense, or do we question why the Celtics are missing open shots?

Curry tries to play defense most of the time, which separates him from guys like Harden and Nash, but Curry is outmatched many times based on size/body mass (he is actually pretty strong for his size, but body mass matters--he can be moved out of the way by bigger players, no matter how much he can squat or bench press).

I am not ready to put Curry up there with 1980s Isiah, 1990s Olajuwon, 2005 Duncan, or 2011 Dirk. Curry is better than Dennis Johnson or Chauncey Billups (the leaders of the 1979 Sonics and 2004 Pistons, two classic examples of ensemble casts winning titles), but Curry is not quite there with the four players listed above--and Isiah and Olajuwon are not even in my Pantheon.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 2:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, I don't disagree. I was just adding random points that I thought were important. Hard to understand game to game variance in intensity of a lot of these players, like Wiggins and Green. -J

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 3:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair to those defensive stats they line up with the eye test pretty well with Curry showing as making an impact and Poole showing as being very exploitable as he is allowing 50% shooting to Curry's 40%. For the playoffs as a whole the numbers are pretty similar with Poole at 49.7% and Curry at 38.2. That may not be a huge sample size but it is the biggest sample size there is for this year's playoffs haha.

I don't think that most of the two point shots Boston takes against Curry are high percentage looks that they are just missing. Curry is getting into their airspace and contesting or forcing them into help. He is obviously not much of a shotblocking threat but it is still harder to make a shot with someone all up in your area than it is when you can just walk right past them like they do with Poole.

Like I said eye test has backed this up for me. Last series I felt a lot better when we got Poole onto Luka than we did with Curry who at least knows how to square up his hips and pester with his quick hands.

I am curious why you have Curry behind Dirk and Isiah? It makes sense with Olajuwon and Duncan who were also amazing defenders and maybe less prone to off nights but as much as I love him Dirk would be the first to tell you he was a very weak defender for almost all of his career give or take a couple but not most of our playoff runs. And Thomas tried hard but was even smaller than Curry. In terms of stats, sustained performance, peak, team accomplishments and accolades I don't see much case for either of them over Curry. He scores more and shoots better than both from both 2 and from 3. I feel like putting aside the Durant years Thomas had better support than Curry has had and also benefitted from a big Finals injury to Magic just like Curry did with Kyrie but still got pretty similar results. And that's still a little unfair to Curry to totally put aside three years of his peak just because Durant was there too but still.

Like Draymond and Rodman feel about even to me. Dumars was probably a little better than Klay. Dantley or Aguirre is probably better than Wiggins or Iguodala. And Laimbeer was an All-Star, Mahorn was All-D, and Vinnie Johnson was a great bench heater in kind of the same lane as Jordan Poole.

Heck, Dantley and Aguirre weren't as good as Durant but they were still elite scorers kind of in that mold who could get buckets for you in the half court when other stuff wasn't working.

With Dirk I can sadly say without a doubt that he also had a lot of worse playoff meltdowns than Curry did with a lot less success to balance it out. It was repeatedly heartbreaking rooting for him until 2011 and he didn't really do much after that.

Don't get me wrong I really want Dirk to be better than Curry all-time because he gave us that title but it just feels like he isn't.

I guess Thomas is a better passer but Curry is still a very good passer and beats Thomas as a rebounder and scorer. Dirk is of course a better rebounder but a much weaker passer even though he was a little underrated at that.

Is there anything Curry could do to pass Dirk or Isiah for you or is it already set in stone?

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 3:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1st anonymous here

Want to clarify that Steph is still significantly better than Billups as unlike Billups he was the clear best on one of his title teams (Billups was arguably the best for 04 but you could also argue Ben Wallace) but neither guy was really the foundation for why their teams were as good as they were. Duncan/Russell had several deep well built rosters but those teams were built with defense first which is obviously the biggest strength for either pantheon caliber legend (and I'd also argue they faced better competition than what Warriors have faced too). Most will mistakenly believe 3 point shooting is why the Warriors are so good but it's always been defense and that's especially been the case this season

Regarding Steph's gravity, no one denies that he has it but I'm with Friedman that it's odd how that concept has existed long before Steph was even born and yet it didn't get highly utilized until Steph came around. If one bothered to watch peak Kobe or peak Shaq they'd see what gravity really looks like and there are several more examples from even before this century. I mean in the 2019 finals Kawhi actually had very similar gravity to Steph if people bothered to pay attention (Steph probably drew 2 more doubles/traps on average that series) and in this series Tatum is exerting the most gravity for either team

It's been around forever and it's highly unlikely Steph has the highest natural gravity unless one's definition of gravity is range that they get doubled/trapped which to me isn't gravity anyway. Guys like Shaq almost always had 2-3 men on him and even Kobe at that stage of his career would often have 2-3 guys on him as well which led to many comical scenarios where 3 Lakers role players were wide wide open because of their respective gravity

Great player for sure but the false narratives and overrating of Steph's strengths (while oddly ignoring his many weaknesses) makes it annoying seeing the discourse around him

At Tuesday, June 14, 2022 3:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe served as a mentor to Tatum. I remember that some media idiots attributed flaws in Tatum's game to Kobe's mentoring, but Tatum corrected them and emphasized how much he had learned from Kobe. So, that relationship was real, and it is not for me to say how Tatum should remember/honor Kobe. I think that Michael Jordan said that he still keeps Kobe's old text messages on his phone. Granted, keeping old messages is different than actually sending a message to a deceased person, but I think that Tatum is trying to show his respect and admiration for Kobe.

It would not be reasonable to expect Tatum to be as great as Kobe was, but I respect Tatum for trying to pattern himself after Kobe. I think it is quite telling that Kobe connected both with the older generation (Dr. J, Jordan, etc.) and also with the younger generation (Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Julius Randle, etc.). The younger generation players are unlikely to match Kobe's accomplishments, but he is having an enduring influence on the game, in contrast with the way that many media members and "stat gurus" portrayed him.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2022 12:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The game to game variance is puzzling, but I also think that this is one of the traits that separates great players from very good players. The great players have much less variance. For example, Julius Erving scored at least 20 points in 10 of his 11 ABA Finals games and 21 of his 22 NBA Finals games. He had a 26 game streak of 20 point Finals games that was at one time the best such streak in pro basketball history, and still ranks second behind only Jordan's 35 game streak. Pantheon level players were remarkable consistent when the competition was toughest and the stakes were highest.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2022 1:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Poole is clearly a much greater defensive liability than Curry, but teams target Curry for good reason, and I don't think that Curry's 2022 NBA Finals defense has been quite as good as you suggest. Frankly, even if Curry tries his best at all times, he just is not tall enough to bother Tatum; Tatum can just shoot right over Curry, and Tatum then either makes or misses the shot: being contested by a player a half foot shorter than you should not bother an elite player.

In his prime, Dirk was a consistent 20-10 (or better) playoff performer. He carried a team with no current All-Stars to an NBA title against a team with three future Hall of Famers in their primes. A great 7 foot player is better than a great 6-3 player unless that 6-3 player has a markedly superior skill set. Curry's best skill is shooting, but in my opinion Dirk is at least close to Curry in that department. Dirk's size and rebounding impact the game much more than Curry's passing. Dirk was not a great defender, but he was a 7 foot tall player who could block (or at least alter) shots, and his defensive rebounding helped Dallas to complete defensive possessions.

Isiah sacrificed a lot of his individual statistics so that the Pistons could win. Further, under today's rules Isiah could easily average 30-plus ppg and 12-15 apg. Isiah was a better and more tenacious defensive player than Curry. Isiah was the best player on teams that won playoff series against Bird's Celtics, Magic's Lakers, and Jordan's Bulls. Those teams each had at least two top 50 players. Isiah had no top 50 players as teammates.

I hesitate to say that there is nothing Curry could do to move up. I can just go on what has happened up to this point, plus the size and skill set of each player. Unless Curry grows nine inches, he is not passing Dirk in my book. I can't say that there is no way that Curry could pass Isiah, but it is most likely pretty late in Curry's career for that to happen.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2022 1:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Curry was underrated by many when he entered the NBA. I actually projected him to be better than most experts did, but I did not foresee how great he would become (no one did, including probably Curry himself).

At some point, as "stat gurus" and biased media members pushed tendentious narratives about "advanced basketball statistics," the value of three point shooting, and Curry's "gravity," Curry became overrated. Curry is a great player, but the notion that he warps or distorts defenses more than any player in pro basketball history is simply absurd. To refute this nonsense, you can start with the fact that the NBA widened the lane and added the 24 second shot clock to reduce George Mikan's dominance. Similarly, the NBA further widened the lane, outlawed offensive goaltending, and forbade players from jumping from the free throw line to convert free throws (!) to counteract Wilt Chamberlain's impact. As Chamberlain once told Michael Jordan, the NBA made rules to hinder Chamberlain but later made rules to help Jordan. So, if "gravity" is meant to describe how much a player's presence distorts defenses and bends the court, Mikan and Chamberlain were far more impactful than Curry. Curry's ability to occasionally make 35 foot jumpers is not as significant as the ability that Mikan and Chamberlain had to overwhelm opponents in the paint unless they were double teamed (and unless rules were changed to limit their dominance). Then, you can move forward and look at how difficult it was for opposing defenses to deal with potent scorers such as Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Julius Erving, each of whom warped defenses more so than Curry.

If you did not commit multiple defenders to Wilt Chamberlain, he would dunk the ball repeatedly and score 70, 80, or even 100 points. If you did not commit multiple defenders to Julius Erving, he would destroy a team full of Hall of Famers en route to one of the most individually dominant Finals performances in pro basketball history (1976 ABA Finals). If you do not commit multiple defenders to Stephen Curry, he may make some long three point shots, or he may not; the certainty of doom for the opposing team is not nearly as high.

Many people may not know the realities of basketball history and/or may not want to learn those realities, but their ignorance does not change the truth.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2022 1:26:00 AM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

Loads of interesting chatter here. I'll largely refrain from chiming in on the legacy business until the Finals are over, I think. I've mentioned before here that I put a lot of value on winning titles, given that the goal of the game is to win them, so it stands to reason a Steph Curry with four rings ranks at least a small bit higher for me than a Steph Curry with three. In general I think I fall somewhere between David's stance that he's on the fringe of the Top 30 and the narrative of the day that he's suddenly Top 10, but I'll be more able to say where exactly in that range I feel he ought to fall in a few days.

As for the series itself, I'd be extremely concerned if I were a Boston fan, on a few points besides the obvious. One is that Golden State has yet to have a robust scoring game, which is a credit to Celtic defense... but also a bit of an anomaly. Memphis and Dallas were excellent defenses as well but Golden State nonetheless broke 110 against them seven times in thirteen tries. Sometimes the tough shots just go in. Boston is better even than Memphis defensively so I'd expect those nights to be less frequent, but not wholly nonexistent, and at this point even one of them ends the series.

By a similar token, the Celtics generally and Tatum especially have had quite good fortune behind the line thus far, but the variance demons come for all three point shooters sooner or later. Just ask Steph Curry. With how little Boston's been able to get going inside the line, one bad night from deep is likely death.

More concerning than regression theory though is the looming spectre of fatigue. The Celtics have played more playoff games and more playoff minutes in general, and their stars especially have carried a much heavier load than Golden State's. This even dates back to the regular season, where injuries to Golden State's Big 3 may been short-term hindrances but also had the side benefit of keeping some extra tread off their tires, as it were. Golden State also utilizes a deeper rotation, which makes them a bit better equipped to absorb some wobbly knees or an off night from Player X, but Boston's down to about seven deep, and by my count five of those seven are starting to look gassed. Tatum and Brown had no lift under their shots in the fourth, Horford finally looks his age, Smart was sucking wind, and Williams appears to have a hard-stop at around 30 minutes no matter how well he's playing.

Then there's the less logical fears. "Game 6 Klay" is a funny meme but it's one born of some truth, and there is at least a chance Stephen Curry follows his most uncharacteristically cold night in years with an incandescently hot one, particularly if the Boston faithful manage to offend him again.

But then there are valid fears for Warriors fans too. What if Curry going cold is not a fluke, but a slump, or delayed swelling from the ankle he was able to ignore in Game 4? What if Draymond gets himself tossed or suspended? What if Boston learns how to pass or dribble? Kidding aside, the Warriors have a bad habit of taking their foot off the gas when it's time for the killshot and they haven't won a closeout on their first swing yet this season, and if they make that mistake again anything can happen in a Game 7.

On a tangential note, there seems to be a consensus that it's no big deal for Boston if they lose, that they've plenty of youth and will be back here again. I think the people who are espousing this belief may have forgotten that Giannis Antetokoumnpo plays in their conference, but even if he didn't there are good young teams in Atlanta and Cleveland that may only need one player apiece to make the sort of jump Tatum made this year to leapfrog the Celtics. Perhaps they will be back, perhaps they won't, but very few teams are fortunate enough to get within 96 minutes of a title and even fewer get that close twice so they'd best make the best of it now.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2022 12:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

I agree that the legacy conversation should mostly take place after the Finals are over. A fourth title overall--and a second title without Durant--enhances Curry's legacy, but I am not convinced that it vaults Curry that much higher than he already is. Nothing we've seen through five games pushes Curry into my Pantheon.

You are correct that there are legitimate reasons for fans of both teams to be concerned, or at least wary. In retrospect, the outcome may look obvious, but right now it is far from clear if the Warriors will win in six, win in seven, or lose in seven. Any outcome is possible. The odds clearly favor the Warriors at the moment because they have two games to win one, with game seven at home if necessary, but the Celtics have matchup advantages that they can exploit to win the next two games.

You are also correct that no one should assume that the Celtics will have many more chances to win titles after this season. This may be the first of several trips to the Finals for this group, but it may also be this group's only shot at a championship. There are many examples of players and teams that only got one real shot at a title.

At Wednesday, June 15, 2022 1:57:00 PM, Anonymous Dallas Anonymous said...

Wow I can't believe you're higher on Dirk than I am haha. Especially his rim protection I can tell you he was NOT a deterrent at all as a shotblocker. Most of his blocks were transition and whenever we did go small with him at center teams would drive way more knowing he couldn't stop them and getting him in foul trouble would doom us. It usually worked. So for us his supposed rim protection was kind of more of a curse than a blessing haha.

You're also kind of being unfair to that 2011 team I think. Sure only Dirk made the AS team that year but in the playoffs Terry and Chandler played like All-Stars and it's not like Marion and Kidd were bums. We were super deep and super talented. Plus we had JJ as a heater. I like our team against most title teams that don't have multiple Pantheon guys. Although I guess I don't like us as much against the Curry Warriors. Small speedy guards were the one thing we couldn't really defend very good and we were definitely relieved when Memphis took out Tony Parker for us.

Not to take anything from Dirk he was our best guy for sure but it's not like he dragged the Kings to a title or something you know?

I also can't see how Thomas would be a 30/12 guy if he played today. Nobody has ever averaged 30/12 that I could find although Tiny got close. So saying Thomas would do it is basically saying he's better than any modern guard by a million miles which seems pretty unlikely for a 6'1 guy whose Finals runs came with super stacked teams. Also kind of disrespectful to the great guards who've played since.

I also think the idea that he sacrifices his own numbers for team success is kind of against the idea that he'd average 30 haha. Although Curry used to average 30 then gave up shots when they got KD and again this year for Poole and Wiggins so on the sacrifice point I think that's gotta be a tie haha.

I see how the hand check rules and increased space make it easier to score but Thomas was a career 20 PPG and 50% seems like a pretty huge jump to predict. Here are the scoring changes for the All-NBA guards in 2005:

Kobe: +3.6
AI: +4.3
Wade: +7.9
Nash: +1
Allen: +0.9
Arenas: +5.9

The Wade one is the only jump close to what you're predicting but it was also a young player going from his first year to his second so I can't credit it all to the handcheck. I think Iverson was probably the closest to Thomas stylistically but he was also a much more aggressive volume scorer who had already averaged 30 several times and was coming off a down year.

I think a 20% scoring bump is a lot more reasonable than a 50% one.

I also think it's actually harder to put up big APG numbers now than it was in Thomas' day just because so many more passes off penetration are for threes. Those assists are worth more but threes are a lot less accurate than interior feeds so assist totals are down for the best passers. Only two of the top 30 APG seasons ever are in the last decade (#19 and #21). The last time someone averaged 12+ assists was John Stockton in 1995 and the last time someone averaged 15 was never. Plus I've heard that Stockton's numbers were pretty inflated by the Utah scorekeepers so should those ones even count?

I guess this isn't something where I can really convince you or vice versa but I just thought I'd share my point of view haha.

Also even though I think I am a little higher on Curry than you are I do want to make sure and say I also don't think he belongs in the Pantheon. He seems like he belongs somewhere in the 18-25 range to me. A little higher in that range if he wins this series and a little lower if he doesn't but that's where I think he lives.

Like if there's a Pantheon level and a smaller near Pantheon level for guys like Hakeem or Moses I'd put him right in that next level after them.

At Thursday, June 16, 2022 1:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dallas Anonymous:

Dirk's size alone provided some deterrence at the rim, and during his prime he had three seasons with at least 100 blocked shots. He also was an excellent defensive rebounder. He was underrated for his ability to score at an elite level while also being a very productive rebounder. Dirk had eight playoff runs during which he averaged at least 20-10, and his career playoff averages of 25.3 ppg/10.0 rpg are exceptional.

I love Kidd and I respect Marion and Chandler, but those guys were all on the downside of their careers by 2011.

Isiah set the single season APG record (13.9 apg in 1985, a mark that has since been broken) and he averaged 20-plus ppg for five straight seasons during a much more physical era. I can't prove what Isiah could/would have done during the modern era, but I believe that based on his skill set he could/would have averaged more.

We agree on the general ranking tier for Curry.

At Thursday, June 16, 2022 11:40:00 AM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

I will poke my head in briefly in the Thomas conversation since we've now invoked one of my pet-peeve arguments. I've always found the "he beat MJ, Magic, and Bird," argument to be a bit of a technicality, and it tends to be oversold by Thomas' most voracious fans. He absolutely did beat them all, but he didn't beat any of their teams at the peak of their powers.

He beat the Celtics after McHale's foot and Bird's back had become persistent problems for Boston, and after Dennis Johnson was done as both an All-Star level player and as a top-shelf defender. More specifically, after four straight Finals runs. It is famously difficult to make even two consecutive Finals runs, and that difficulty ratchets up with each subsequent Finals, especially for an older, injured team. They never made another Conference Finals after losing to Detroit, which suggests that the Pistons' greatness was not the only obstacle between them and further titles.

He beat the Lakers in Kareem's last season and with Magic badly injured in the series. Less famously but still relevantly, he also beat them after Michael Cooper was done making All-Defensive teams and just about cooked himself. Now to be fair to Isiah, he should have beaten them the year before if not for injury and officiating, but even then we'd still be talking about the second-weakest iteration of the Magic/Kareem Lakers. After losing to Isiah, the Lakers lost the next season to a forgettable Phoenix team in the second round, but nobody seems to think that's a meaningful feather in Kevin Johnson or Tom Chambers' caps, do they? To Magic's credit they did return to the Finals, and promptly got pantsed by Chicago, in 1991.

As for Jordan, he beat him three times, in the first three years of Pippen's career. Once Pippen became an All-NBA level performer, the Bulls swept Detroit without much trouble, winning 3/4 games by double digits. To be slightly fair to Isiah, by that point he was on the other end of the "catching a team after three straight Finals" math, but I think such a decisive victory suggests that may not have made all that much difference even if Detroit were fresher.

So, fair play, he did beat all those teams, which is impressive, but it is equally true that he beat the seventh or eighth best version, at best, of each of them. It's not as if he interrupted any of them mid-dynasty. He caught two of them in the process of aging out and the third before they'd really found their second option.

I'm personally more impressed by Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Houston, and Orlando interrupting those dynasties in the middle of their dominance than I am by Detroit catching them on the margins.

Put in simplest terms, it is indisputably true that Isiah Thomas beat Magic, Bird, and MJ in the playoffs, but it perhaps not as astonishing of an achievement as it sounds in a vacuum.

One could also say that Chris Paul beat Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, and Stephen Curry in the playoffs, which sounds similarly impressive on paper but likewise loses some of its luster upon inspection.

At Thursday, June 16, 2022 2:26:00 PM, Anonymous Dallas Anonymous said...

I don't really enjoy arguing all that much and especially against Dirk so I'll stop after this but I don't think it's very accurate to say Chandler was on the downside of his career in 2011. He won the DPOY the next year and you could argue he was better in 2011.

Kidd and Marion were not as good as they were in their peaks but they were still very good. Kidd was the heart and soul of the team at least on offense and the brain on defense both in a lot of ways that don't show up as stats. Marion was our best defender and nobody before or since has had more success against Lebron James even though two other guys got Finals MVPs for slightly slowing him down way less than Marion (and Chandler) did.

Sorry but people always disrespect this Mavs team like it was Dirk and a bunch of scrubs but it just wasn't. Just like Isiah's Pistons actually we were easily seven or eight deep with way above average guys. Dirk was definitely number one but the rest weren't bums and it's cruddy when people tear them down to build Dirk up into something more than he was. Not saying that's what you're doing necessarily but it just isn't true and it happens a lot.

Dirk did have good overall playoff averages but they make him seem way more reliable than he was. He just had so many meltdowns. Trust me. He choked down the stretch in 2003, 2006 and 2007 all pretty badly and those were our three other best years. He gets a partial pass in 2003 because he got hurt but he stunk in the game where we lost home court and if we won that one we probably win the series even without him since we know the other guys were good enough to beat SA without him once and he would have been back for the Finals and might have been back for Game 7 if it happened against SA. If he plays just normal we might have gotten titles in some or all of those years. I've seen you kill Lebron for 2011 and Curry for 2016 and 2019 a bunch but out of four years where we had a real shot at the title Dirk was the main reason we won the year we did but also him pooping the bed was one of the biggest reasons we lost the years we didn't.

He had two awful games against Nash in 2005 too but they were probably the better team even if he hadn't been but it's still more drops in the bucket.

Honestly even the year we won he had two crappy games in the Finals and it was the defense from Marion and Chandler in Game 4 and Terry's hot shooting in Game 6 that bailed us out. Dirk had a really good fourth quarter in Game 4 to be fair but he was awful the rest of the night and as you like to say it's not just a fourth quarter league.

He was also pretty bad in the Spurs series in 2001 but he was just a baby then so we can give him a pass.

Overall his highs were really really high and I'll treasure them forever but his lows were really low and too frequent and they still haunt my dreams.

I love Dirk more than any other basketball player ever but he was an extremely frustrating guy to root for in the playoffs. Outside of 2011 he never really showed up when we needed him most and even that year it was hit or miss.

At Thursday, June 16, 2022 10:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Different anonymous)

>On a tangential note, there seems to be a consensus that it's no big deal for Boston if they lose, that they've plenty of youth and will be back here again.

OKC were in exactly that situation in 2012. Much better in fact - there is no comparison between the talent they had then and what Boston had now.

And we know how that turned out...

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

Context--or, as you call it, "technicality"--can often be provided regarding why various teams won (or lost). I am not sure how often it has happened that two teams faced off in the NBA Finals with both teams featuring all of their key players both in their primes and completely healthy.

Another way of looking at the era that you discussed is that Isiah's Pistons are the only championship team from 1980-1993 that did not have at least two of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. Further, several of the championship teams from that era featured at least two of the top 25 players in pro basketball history. So, the fact that a team led by a 6-1 (officially; in reality, he likely was barely 6-0, if that) point guard not only won back to back titles but did so while beating teams featuring multiple top 50 players is--if not "astonishing," to borrow your word--at least well worth noting.

Also, one of the many differences between Isiah Thomas and Chris Paul is that Thomas did not just win a handful of playoff series against notable players, but Thomas led his team to back to back titles. Paul has made one NBA Finals appearance and has yet to win an NBA title. I would take Thomas over Paul without any hesitation.

I would argue that if the full context is considered, Isiah Thomas is now underrated, not overrated, and I would further argue that the process of diminishing his historical status began when he was left off of the original (and only) Dream Team based on personal reasons instead of performance and resume. I think that process of diminishing Isiah continued when his post-playing career featured various situations that resulted in him being the subject of criticism/ridicule (whether or not that criticism/ridicule was fair, it should not affect how his playing career is viewed).

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dallas Anonymous:

I should not have lumped Chandler in with Kidd and Marion in terms of being on the "downside of their careers" in 2011 but Chandler was never a superstar, either.

Regarding the larger points, I never suggested that Dirk was surrounded by "a bunch of scrubs." I just pointed out that his supporting cast was not as strong as the supporting casts of at least some of the teams that the 2011 Mavs beat--most notably the Miami Heat--and that Dirk had an excellent playoff career overall. I disagree with your broad characterization of his playoff career, particularly the notion that he had several "meltdowns." Losing to the Warriors was obviously not a great look, but that also was not entirely his fault. Dirk's career largely overlapped with the creation and development of this website, so I wrote a lot about him during his prime and I am not going to rehash all of that analysis. I understand that the perspective of a Dallas fan may differ from the perspective of an objective, outside observer, so I will just conclude by saying that the Mavericks--with all of their well-publicized (and self-promoted) use of "advanced basketball statistics"--could have done a much better job of surrounding Dirk with enough talent to win more than one title. As proof, just look at what happened after Dirk moved past his prime: the Mavs did not advance past the first round from 2011 until this year. If the use of "advanced basketball statistics" confers some kind of great competitive advantage then the Mavs and Rockets--two teams that are often cited as being cutting edge in that regard--hardly proved it by winning a combined one title in a combined 20-plus seasons of having such a supposedly significant advantage over everyone else.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Different Anonymous:

Excellent point--reaching the NBA Finals is not promised to anyone, and no one should assume that the Celtics' core group will return to the NBA Finals.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 6:02:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

I do not wholly want to get into the whole Isiah Thomas debate now, as I'm nearing the end of my capacity for basketball-related discourse thanks to overdoing it on the other thread (however my own fault that may be) but suffice it to say I do not agree he is underrated.

He is perhaps the most narrative-driven great player of all time, who produced unremarkable statistics during his contending years and beat contextually lesser teams. Counting the number of Top 50 players he beat sways me little given that of them only two or three were really in their primes, and nearly every champion from the appropriate era has beaten at least two or three Top 50 players.

If we are going to apply context then we must also note that his team featured four All-Defensive level players, a former scoring champion who was replaced by a slightly less gifted scorer who was also a better defender, and the greatest rebounder ever. They also featured an overqualified bench shotblocker in the form of John Salley.

You can perhaps generously attribute some of their other plaudits like All-Star selections for Laimbeer or Dumars' Finals MVP to being symptoms of Thomas' supposed magnificence, but he is not responsible for the team's defensive greatness nor their rebounding nor Dantley/Aguirre's scoring ability, which all had a lot to do with their titles. This is significant since the team was offensively fine but defensively sensational.

You call him a tenacious defender. In his case that is a synonym for "dirty." He was a feisty little cheapshot artist, much like his also overrated rival John Stockton, to be sure but he was not an All-Defensive level stopper and was no better than the fifth best defender on the Pistons. Like Curry he was often on great defensive teams but they would still have been great defensive teams without him.

Thomas had two great basketball skills: he was an elite passer and a gifted clutch scorer. Outside the clutch he was a streaky, sometimes inefficient scorer, and I believe that clutch scoring is more than trifle overrated itself. As you have been known to say, it is as much as first quarter league as a fourth quarter league.

I am no booster of Chris Paul's and would take Thomas over him, but in my opinion the margin between Thomas and Chris Paul is much smaller than the margin between Thomas and Curry or Magic.

Thomas's case was narrative-driven when Bill Simmons started blathering about how Thomas knew "the secret" and it is narrative-driven now. He never finished higher than fifth in MVP voting and only finished higher than 8th once, so the perception that he is one of the all-time greats was not present during his career as it seems to be now. He never averaged over 23 PPG, never made an All-Defensive team, made just 5 All-NBA teams (3 1st), and while he posted gaudy passing numbers while his teams were mediocre his statistical contributions when they got competitive were more good than great.

I have already said more than I intended, but I will just close by noting that I think Thomas' achievements place him more apiece with players like Chauncey Billups and Dennis Johnson than they do with the true elite point guards of the game. I do not think than he compares favorably to Curry or Magic, nor would I take him over several other great point guards such as Frazier, Cousy, or West.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 8:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could also argue that Thomas in comparison to modern point guards did not benefit from a lot of perks that would have only helped him such as the curbing of handcheck, defensive 3 seconds, and more importantly recent changes to modern offenses like spacing the floor, running high PnR, and freedom of movement. I lean towards Curry being better nowadays especially after this title run but I do not have an issue with seeing people rank Thomas over him even to this day. Neither touch Magic or even West and Robertson as far as I am concerned, however.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 10:55:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

You could indeed argue that, but as I said in the other thread, I am uncomfortable with giving hypothetical cross-era credit for things players might have done in an alternate timeline.

Perhaps you are right and Thomas would be much better today. But perhaps the larger average size of guards and tighter whistles would remove his defensive value entirely and make him an easy target of opposing offenses, perhaps his style of "defense" would see him regularly tagged with flagrant fouls that hurt his team, perhaps his weak three point shooting would see him treated the way teams treat Westbrook or Draymond and actually reduce his ability to get to the rim, perhaps the switch-heavy modern game would too often leave him matched up against bigger players on either end and wear his body down as it did the other Isaiah Thomas. Perhaps his poor treatment of women off the court would have him out of the league within a few years in the era of pervasive social media and #MeToo.

I cannot say which of your hypotheticals or mine "would" happen, or wouldn't, so I try to keep my analysis to the eras players naturally inhabit.

It is not possible in my opinion to accurately predict the performance of a player much outside of his own era, so I do not factor that guesswork into my evaluation of players.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 2:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

As I mentioned above, I doubt that I have ever changed a person's strongly-held opinions about how to evaluate a specific player. My writing is aimed at educating people who either have not yet formed strong opinions but are eager to learn, and at people who are open-minded about looking at the game a different way.

So, I doubt that there is anything I can say that will alter your deeply held belief that Isiah Thomas is overrated. I will just add a few points that likely will not persuade you, but may be interesting other readers:

1) I find it odd that you claim to place such a high value on winning yet you actively seek out reasons to devalue Isiah's two titles without acknowledging that there are contextual factors to most championships, and that championships won by many other great players would not withstand the scrutiny that you only seem willing to apply to Isiah.

2) Isiah joined a horrible team with a deep-set losing culture, helped transform that team into a high-scoring playoff team, and then helped transform that high-scoring team into a defensive powerhouse. He sacrificed his individual numbers and glory so that the team could play in a way most likely to win titles versus the competition that they faced. The leader of the team sets the tone, and Isiah set a tone that everyone must sacrifice from the top down to win, and that defense matters more than offense. His transformational impact on not just the Pistons but the league was no less significant than Curry's impact. Curry is credited for a three point revolution that was already taking place before he entered the league, but Thomas spearheaded a change in style that resulted in Detroit dethroning not just the Celtics in the East but also the Lakers in the Finals. Just like a fan is free to like or dislike how the three point shot is used now, you are free to like or dislike what Isiah and the Pistons did, but there is no disputing what they accomplished.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 3:47:00 AM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

David, I am not devaluing his titles. I grouped him with Dennis Johnson, who won three titles as part of ensembles, and Chauncey Billups, who won one title, because I feel they are fairer comparison points to him than Magic or Curry, into whose company he is often wrongly elevated. Both DJ and Billups, like Thomas, never won a regular season MVP but did each win a Finals MVP.

I noted that he had more high-caliber teammates than many get, and attempted to put his contributions to that team into context. I then noted that his individual statistics and plaudits were not astonishing relative to other players who appear in the "greatest point guards ever" conversation, but my intent was not to suggest that his titles do not "count." All titles count.

I did attack his legend of "beating Bird, Magic, and Jordan" as I feel that the way that legend is bandied about neglects that Bird was declining, Magic was hurt, and Jordan did not yet have a competitive team around him.

Finally, I mentioned that I would take Cousy, Frazier, and West over him.

Since West is in your Pantheon and Thomas is not, I assume you agree with me there.

Frazier won as many titles as Thomas as part of a deep ensemble while also racking up more All-NBA selections, and adding 7 All-Defensive selections. He also scored at a similar rate but a bit more efficiently, though Thomas had superior passing stats. Frazier profiles to me as a stronger two-way player. He does not have a Finals MVP but the 1970 FMVP is a strange case where it was awarded as much for Reed's bravery as for his on-court contributions, and from what I've read/seen there is a rational case to be made that Frazier was the best New York player on the court in both the decisive game and the series writ large, so I do not think that particularly plaudit's absence sufficiently dings him beneath Isiah.

Cousy won 3x as many rings as Isiah and was named MVP of the league. I do not think taking him over Isiah should be controversial.

I am not disputing what the Pistons accomplished but I am disputing the out-of-proportion, narrative-based reputation Thomas gets for their having accomplished it.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 8:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are right to point out that an analysis of contextual factors can cut both ways, regarding not just Isiah but many players.

I agree that Isiah and Curry are both not in the same class as Magic, West, and Robertson. My original Pantheon guards were (in chronological order) Robertson, West, Magic, Jordan, and Bryant. No guard who has peaked since I made that list has surpassed any of those players.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 1:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

Yes, I take West and Magic over Thomas. I take Thomas over DJ and Billups. Cousy and Frazier are closer, more difficult calls, but I am inclined to take Thomas over both of them. I think that Cousy, Frazier, and DJ are three players who are underrated by the general public, but that does not mean that I would necessarily take them over Isiah.

We just disagree about how to evaluate Thomas' skills and impact.


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