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Friday, June 17, 2022

Warriors Overwhelm Celtics, Win Fourth NBA Title in Eight Seasons

Stephen Curry scored a game-high 34 points on 12-21 field goal shooting and won his first Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP after leading his Golden State Warriors to their fourth title in eight years. The Warriors hit the Boston Celtics with a 21-0 first half run--the longest such run in the NBA Finals in 50 years--to take a lead they never relinquished en route to a 103-90 win. In the popular imagination and in many media narratives the Warriors are associated with three point shooting, but they won this game and this series because of their stout defense. The Celtics scored at least 116 points in two of the first three games of this series, but in games four through six the Warriors held the Celtics to 97, 94, and 90 points. 

Curry was the best player in this game and in this series, but the Warriors are far from a one man show. In the game six series clincher, Curry had the team's fourth best plus/minus number (+8). Plus/minus numbers in a small sample size are not a definitive measure of greatness or impact, but in this instance the numbers at least indicate that Curry had a lot of help. Andrew Wiggins contributed 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals, and three blocked shots, winning his head to head matchup with All-NBA First Team member Jayson Tatum (13 points, seven rebounds, five turnovers). Jordan Poole poured in 15 points in 18 minutes with a +11 plus/minus number, and he played a major role in Golden State's huge first half run. Draymond Green had his best overall game of the series (12 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, +16 plus/minus number) as he orchestrated both the offense and the defense. Green's skill set strengths mesh perfectly with what the Warriors need from him, and the skill set strengths of his teammates mask his skill set limitations. Gary Payton II scored just six points in 20 minutes but he had a game-best +18 plus/minus number as his defense and energy provided a major boost.

Klay Thompson struggled with his shot, scoring just 12 points on 5-20 field goal shooting, but his comeback after missing more than two years due to two serious leg injuries is inspirational--and he is not on the court just as a feel good story: Thompson can still play at a high level, albeit less consistently than he did pre-injury.

Jaylen Brown tied Curry for game-high scoring honors while shooting 12-23 from the field, and he had a +1 plus/minus number even though the Celtics lost by double digits. Al Horford (19 points on 6-8 field goal shooting, game-high 14 rebounds, +2 plus/minus number) played very well, and Marcus Smart (nine points, game-high nine assists, six rebounds) had a team-high +7 plus/minus number, but the other Celtics did not show up. Tatum was below average in the first half before completely disappearing in the second half, and the reserves shot a combined 2-11 from the field. 

After the Celtics opened game six with a 14-2 run in less than four minutes, it seemed as if the Celtics would force the Warriors to play game seven back in California--but by the end of the stanza the Warriors were up, 27-22. The Celtics were only down by five points, but they never led again the rest of the way. It would not be fair to say that they quit, but it would be fair to suggest that the rapid turn of events in the latter part of the first quarter extending into the second quarter broke their collective spirit: the Celtics understood that winning game six would be very difficult, and perhaps they sensed that winning game seven on the road would take more energy than they could muster. The Celtics have the bigger and more athletic team, but in game six they were outrebounded 44-41, they committed 23 turnovers compared to 17 turnovers committed by the Warriors, and they only won the points in the paint battle by six (38-32). The Celtics forced mismatches via switches (such as Curry guarding Horford one on one in the post), but then they either did not feed the ball to the player who enjoyed the matchup advantage, or the player who had the matchup advantage did not exploit that advantage after receiving the ball.

From the Celtics' perspective, this series is about blown opportunities: they won game one on the road, they took a 2-1 series lead, they led 54-49 at halftime of game four with a real chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead, and they jumped out to an early 12 point advantage in game six at home, but in the end they lost three straight games and watched the Warriors celebrate a championship on their court. 

History is written from the winners' perspective, though, so this series will be remembered for how the Warriors won, and what that win means. The Warriors won with Curry being the best player in the series while leading a talented ensemble cast that is known for offense but vanquished Boston with gritty defense. The vaunted Warriors' offense did not exceed the 108 point mark in six games, and anyone who knew before the series that this would happen would have picked the Celtics to win easily. I picked the Celtics to win the series based on the expectation that the Celtics could hold the Warriors to 105-110 ppg overall, AND that the Celtics would average more than 105-110 ppg. I was correct about my first expectation but wrong about my second expectation: I did not foresee how many layups the Celtics would miss, nor did I foresee that the Celtics would continue to turn the ball over at such a high clip. The Warriors deserve credit for putting enough pressure on the Celtics to wear them down, but the Celtics also made a lot of unforced errors.

The Warriors became just the fifth NBA franchise to win at least four titles in an eight year span, joining Mikan's Lakers, Russell's Celtics, Magic's Lakers, and Jordan's Bulls. Do the Warriors' four titles elevate Curry to Pantheon status? Many will say yes, but I still say no. Mikan, Russell, Magic, and Jordan were almost always the best player on the court whenever they played, and that was even more the case during the NBA Finals. In contrast, this is the first time in six NBA Finals appearances that Curry was clearly the best player on the court. During two of the Warriors' three previous championship runs, Kevin Durant was without question the best player on the team and the best performer in the NBA Finals. As I wrote in my NBA Finals preview, "Nothing that happens in the 2022 Finals changes or invalidates what Durant accomplished in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals. If Curry has an epic performance in the 2022 NBA Finals--30-plus ppg with efficient shooting numbers--that adds to his already impressive resume but it does not retroactively make him the Warriors' best player in 2017 and 2018, nor does it make him a better player than Durant."

Curry and the Warriors deserve a lot of credit for bouncing back from injuries and other forms of adversity to win another title. Curry is a great player, and he played great in the 2022 NBA Finals. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging those facts while also refusing to give in to the recency bias that insists that whoever just won the Finals MVP must be considered a top 10 player of all-time.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:15 AM



At Friday, June 17, 2022 2:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boston lost this game with game 4, opting to avoid their size advantage in crunch time over and over is what allowed them to blow a 2-1 lead. They're a young team (mostly, Horford is up there in age) and I definitely expect them to get better but the East is also looking very competitive and I believe deep down everyone even Boston knows they only got past Milwaukee because of Middleton's injury. They were better than the Heat and Nets (who were a very flawed roster) and were more than capable of beating the Warriors but I like a healthy Bucks over anyone this year and in the next few seasons as Giannis enters his apex

This Warriors team is not as good as the 2014 Spurs but it gives me similar vibes, it's not impossible to envision another finals trip but the league is in a weird spot where it's very young and even some of the contenders are very young and those young teams will eventually hit their stride. Next season will be very interesting

Steph is a great player and is certainly a 1st ballot HOFer but to me he's closer to being 25th than 10th regardless of the prisoner of the moment talk we're hearing now. I expect that to die down soon and especially die down if they never reach these heights again

It also seems very common for people to ignore Durant's career before 2015 (when he won four scoring titles against Kobe and LeBron and likely would have been remembered as a 4x MVP had he not played at the same time as peak LeBron who Steph didn't really compete with when he won his 2 MVPs, not his regular season peak at least) and to also retroactively call him the 2nd best player on those 17-19 Warriors team when that wasn't and never will be true. The Warriors have the same core four that they had from 2015 (where they benefited from injured OKC/Cavs teams and an old Spurs team) but the 2022 Warriors also have another deep bench and quality starters just like they did in 2015. Replace Steph and Durant and I'm pretty sure the results for either team would have been the same (actually, Nets likely miss the play-in) because skillset wise Durant is still the better basketball player now and all-time

But his reputation is currently in the mud and while I believe he'll do his best to fix that rep I have doubts if he can at his age and with the state of the East it's looking very unlikely he'll get his dues anytime soon

At Friday, June 17, 2022 4:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were the Warriors really any more of an ensemble than most title teams? The scoring gap between Curry and his second best scoring teammate (Wiggins) is the fourth highest since 2000:

2000 Shaq: +22.4
2006 Wade: +20.9
2009 Kobe: +13.8
2022 Steph: +12.9

When I think of ensemble teams, I think more of the 2014 Spurs, the 2004 Pistons, the Bad Boys, or the 1979 Sonics. All great defensive teams that were better on defense than offense as well. Here's their versions:

1979 Williams: +6.4
1989 Dumars: +6
1990 Thomas: +7
2004 Billups: +0.4
2014 Parker: +0.2

So, sure, I guess they're an ensemble in the way that all title teams are ultimately ensembles. But offensively, especially in the Finals, they were really a lot more of a one man show than most champs, let alone traditional ensembles. When you account for the efficiency (47/42/86) and the degree of difficulty against this defense, which embarrassed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, which knocked 10% off Giannis' FG%, which for five out of six games pretty much clamped all GSW's other shooters, which had the reigning DPOY handy to challenge him at his position... it stands as one the great offensive Finals performances we've seen.

I wouldn't sleep on his defensive showing either. Boston's main strategy on offense was to hunt him relentlessly and what they got for their trouble was one game where it worked (Game 3), one game where it didn't work but they were hot enough from behind the arc it didn't matter (Game 1), and four losses scoring 97 points per game or less.

Wiggins' redemption is an awesome subplot. Klay's comeback is a feel good story even if he didn't have much of an offensive series. Certainly the Warriors don't win without great defense, but neither do the Jordan Bulls or the the Bird Celtics or the Lebron/Wade Heat. Most champions play great team defense.

But the story of this Finals is Steph Curry obliterating one of those great defenses on the other end that nobody else, on his team or elsewhere, could consistently get off the blocks against. I don't know what more can reasonably be expected of one man in a Finals.

It's even more rare for a guard. He's the first guard since Kobe to average 30+ in a Finals win. I think he's the first point guard to do it ever, though West did it a bunch of times in losses. He joins Jordan and West as the only guards with multiple 30+ PPG Finals (along with the 2019 Toronto loss).

Just a special, special performance and I imagine it'll be another decade or two before we see its like again.

At Friday, June 17, 2022 7:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm glad you mentioned that Al Horford play where the six foot ten guy took Steph Curry, the six foot three guy, down low and then passed it off. I was disgusted. Apoplectic. I turned to the guy sitting next to me at the bar and said that was the worst play I've seen these entire playoffs. I said that it's emblematic of why the Celtics will lose this series. Horford was supposed to punish Curry, the big guy shooting it up and over the little guy. What's the point if you're not going to exploit such a gross mismatch!

To me, that Horford play (nonplay) said it all as to the Celtics not taking advantage of their size advantage. Frankly, they came off as SOFT.

At Friday, June 17, 2022 9:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was by design, Boston's defense on Golden State was meant to neutralize the rest of the team not Steph. They won this series largely because of their defense and that would not be possible without several high level defenders playing the wing and interior positions which he obviously doesn't play in

Throughout the RS and playoffs before facing this strategy it was very clearly a deep ensemble cast but most of the supporting cast was emphasized on defense

At Friday, June 17, 2022 9:59:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Hello David,

Inexplicable to me how badly Tatum disappeared in this game and in this series. Obviously, the GSW defense played a role but there were significant stretches last night, especially in the second half, where Tatum often sat behind the three point line and watched the game unfold as a spectator. A few better-than-competent games from him would have probably sealed the series for the Celtics.

At Friday, June 17, 2022 10:29:00 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

David, do you think Curry's 30+ ppg series average falls on any one or two Celtics in particular, or is it more a testament to his greatness that he was able to perform against a good defense? Do the (defensive) reputations of Smart and White, for example, take a hit after this series?

At Friday, June 17, 2022 11:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

much as I have reservations about Curry's antics (even the pillow gesture in this very game), this was a huge game and series for him and his playing legacy on many levels:
-- proved he could be best player on championship team (he was); you've often used this as a measure
-- defense was much-improved from early career version; quick hands and improved strength made him, at the very least, decent on D. Celts couldn't really exploit him
-- carried a team without any other consistent offense options; Klay is currently still diminished (esp Game 6); Wiggins doesn't consistently generate own offense; Poole has limited minutes. As the other commentators point out, this was more of a one-man show on offense than most title winners -- and much more so than Curry's first title team, with a prime Klay, or the KD teams.

As for comparisons with other great players, sure KD was a better player on those title teams. But Curry also deferred and limited his own game, for the sake of winning, while KD was on the team. Isn't this precisely the type of sacrificing to win that you fault Harden for not making? Also Curry was a far better leader than KD, who really isn't a leader at all (just a phenomenal player).

Historical comparisons are tough. But it's hard to see any PG of similar size (6'3 or smaller) being clearly better than Curry. Isaiah Thomas had different strengths, but didn't have the pure shooting and range of Steph (no one else ever has). Curry's ball-handling seems on par with or better than anyone else who's ever laced them up. Hard to quantify what he surrenders on D, but as noted above his D is no longer a real liability.

The game has changed. There's too many 3s, which has diminished the NBA product. Not sure what the NBA can do to fix this.


At Friday, June 17, 2022 12:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To answer Anonymous' question about what the NBA can do to limit threes, the the answer is nothing. It's the Celtics who should have punished the Warriors in the paint. They would likely have won the championship if they'd shot half as many threes and made their layups. But I agree that the NBA product is diminished because of too many threes. By the way the best player in the NBA, Giannis, ain't no three-point shooter.

At Friday, June 17, 2022 1:20:00 PM, Anonymous Dallas Anonymous said...

Well I'm glad at least my team lost to the champs haha.

I agree with folks saying Curry was the show on offense. This is less of an ensemble win than our 2011 title and you gave Dirk all the credit for that one so it'd only be fair to give Curry his due for this one. But it does feel like you've been kind of anti-Warriors all playoffs so no pressure haha.

I said before the series that it'd be GSW in 5 unless Boston had a scorcher night from three then it'd be GSW in 6 and sure enough they had that night in Game 1 so I was pretty much dead on this round. I was wrong about a lot of series this year but I wasn't ever wrong about the Warriors at least haha. Maybe a healthy Milwaukee could have beaten them but nobody else looked to me like they had enough weapons + enough defense. It's pretty tough to win against a team that's an elite defense and also has the most unstoppable shooter ever.

I know this series doesn't make Steph a Pantheon guy but I do think it makes the Steph vs. KD argument a little spicier. You very rarely get as apples-to-apples a comp between two great players than having them play as the first option against the same defense in the same playoffs. One of the things Team KD likes to say about why he's better than Steph is that he can get his shot off against anyone so you can't really defend him but against this Boston defense that was really not the case. Steph shot 10% better from both 2 and 3 against them and somehow even also rebounded better haha. But let's be real KD has always been kind of a weenie rebounder for his height so not THAT surprising. He's gotta be the only 7 footer with 11 playoff runs who's never averaged ten boards in any of them haha.

What's also crazy is that KD's teammates actually played way better on offense than Steph's did. Of his Top 7 teammates the worst shooting percentage was Kyrie at .444. The other six guys were all over .545. Most of them were hot from three too. It really was just KD wetting himself that screwed them on offense.

And obviously the Warriors did a way better job on defense but a big part of that was one team could stop Jayson Tatum and the other one couldn't and Tatum plays KD's same position. We've been hearing for years about how great on defense KD is supposed to be but Tatum roasted him pretty much at will when they matched up and KD seemed kind of afraid of taking on the challenge of guarding him consistently. Meanwhile Tatum switch-hunted Curry constantly for six games and it never really worked out for him. I don't know if that means Curry is a better defender than his rep or Durant is a worse one and Durant is still better on that end anyway because he can block shots a little but it does pretty strongly make it look like the gap isn't as large as people have been saying.

Two series for sure isn't the whole argument or even close to it but it does sort of debunk the idea that Durant is just always harder to stop because he's taller. At least this year the best defense in the league had a way easier time solving him than they did Curry. Handles and range and passing chops and a crazy quick release help make up for the height I guess haha.

At Friday, June 17, 2022 2:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Is curry in ur top 10

At Friday, June 17, 2022 3:12:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

Long, wearied sigh.

So. The Warriors have won, and we must now inexorably move on to the endless questions of Legacy, The Pantheon, and Stephen Curry's theoretical place in it. Apologies, I think this will be my longest-ever post at 20 Second Timeout, but I'd like to address it carefully since I know it is this blog's most hotly contested topic.

First, I should not that I was too young a lad to enjoy the basketball of the 1970s, never you mind anything earlier, so my perspective on those players is limited to stats, clips, and readings (often written by yourself, dear blogmaster). As such, I can't apply with any precision the same level of "eye test" evaluation to Russell or Chamberlain that I can to Lebron or Duncan.

Second, I put a tremendous premium on winning. It is not the whole game, but it is the endgame. If you are not winning titles, then you may as well be a Globetrotter: talented, entertaining, and ultimately meaningless.

As such, I used three rules to thin the field to a manageable size for this exercise.

1) To be a Pantheon player, you must have won at least one title. This rule saves us time making excuses for Karl Malone or Elgin Baylor.

2)To be a Pantheon player, you must have at least one MVP. If the world at large never believed you were the best player alive, then you simply do not get to be one of the best players ever. This saves us time making corner cases for players like Scottie Pippen, Isiah Thomas, and John Havlicek. I feel mostly comfortable with that, except that it is a bit rough on Jerry West, who feels like he should be a Pantheon player, but in this system isn't. Still, he had his bites at the apple, and while he lost most of those MVPs to Russell and Chamberlain, he also lost a pair to Unseld and Reed. So, tough break for dear Jerald, but we're moving on.

3) When ranking within the Pantheon, rings matter less, but they still matter. A player who won two rings may be better, all things considered, than a player who won three. However, winning is still the ultimate goal and this is where the margins are thinnest, so any efficient way to delineate the transcendent from the merely excellent is a good thing. As such, no player may rank above a player who has at least double their number of rings. David Robinson cannot be argued to be better than Magic Johnson, and Magic Johnson in turn cannot be argued to be better than Bill Russell. I feel "double' is a fair enough margin for circumstantial errors of fate in this sort of exercise. It's diciest for the difference between one ringers and two ringers, and I may rethink it should it ever come to rank them but since Curry has four, those players aren't relevant today anyhow. This is the rule I suspect will rankle you most, David, as it instantly vaults Curry over not just Durant, but also several members of your own Pantheon, most notably Wilt Chamberlain. Please take no offense and understand that I am trying to reach my own conclusion, hopefully in at least mildly entertaining fashion, rather than challenging yours. Our ultimate conclusions will doubtless differ, both based on your superior knowledge base with the older players, and my greater emphasis on winning titles, but then there'd be no point in having these conversations if everyone always agreed, would there?

3B) As a corollary to #3, all rings as an All-League level player "count." Curry's rings alongside Durant count, as do Magic's alongside Kareem, and so forth. Otherwise it all just gets too messy parsing who's the Alpha when and what percentage of credit Kobe or Curry should get for their "sidekick" rings.

So, who does that leave as Curry's competition for his spot in the vaunted Top 10?

I'll pause here for wordcount. Second post incoming where I'll dig into the remainder.

At Friday, June 17, 2022 3:17:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man Part Two said...

Right off the bat, Curry cannot finish above Bill Russell by the rules of this exercise (and Russell himself could finish no lower than fourth if we were to try and build out the full list rather than just find Curry's place in it).

3 Ringers: Daniels, Erving, Bird

What I know of Daniels is nearly wholly gleaned from this site. It seems he was something of a discount Bill Russell, but also benefitted from tremendous supporting casts beyond the likes of Curry's 2015 or 2022 teams. I conclude, without much confidence given my knowledge void, that Curry should outrank Daniels.

On the other hand, I have read enough of your writing about ABA Erving to be duly persuaded. He was better than Curry, and Curry can now finish no higher than third.

Bird...is a tricky one. I believe that Bird's peak is a bit higher than Curry's, but I also believe that Curry is ultimately more reliable, as evidenced by his superior ring and Finals appearance count despite what I consider to be much weaker support, on balance. While both can be a bit injury prone, at least I know that Curry will not get into a mid-playoff barfight and break his shooting hand, or put himself into a backbrace paving his mother's driveway. Bird is a superior rebounder and passer, Curry is a better scorer. I am unsure which is a better defender, as both have differing strengths and weaknesses on that end. Lacking a strong belief in the superiority of either, I will take Curry on the basis of his additional championship and Finals appearance, and his plausible contention for more even beyond that, but I do not feel good about it.

4 Ringers: Shaq, Lebron

Curry's offensive value may rival Shaq's but his defensive value cannot approach Shaq's peak, even if the Big Apathetic did not fully exert himself on that end some seasons. Curry cannot rank ahead of Shaq, and therefore cannot finish any higher than 4th.

I think we have seen these two play each other enough times that we know Lebron is the better player, but even if we hadn't, his longevity and defensive gifts would give him the edge. Curry cannot rank ahead of Lebron, and therefore cannot finish any higher than 5th.

5 Ringers: Mikan, Magic, Duncan, Kobe

Mikan played before the MVP award, but it seems fair to grandfather him in since it is doubtless he would have won several. He was the greatest player of an era I have no understanding of. However, he was the undisputed greatest player of that era, something Curry cannot say, and he won more titles than Curry did, so I am comfortable taking him over Curry. Curry cannot finish any higher than 6th.

Magic is the hardest call in the list. They are similar players in some ways, the most impactful offensive guards of their respective eras if not all-time. Neither is an elite defender but both offer some value on that end all the same. Both have a habit of making the most of their teammates. Magic has an additional ring, but then Curry has never played a single season with a player as gifted as early 80s Kareem, let alone five or six. This is ultimately similar to the Bird argument, except the tie-breakers that went Curry's way there favor Magic here. Curry is not better than Magic, and therefore cannot finish any higher than 7th.

Duncan's defensive impact mirrors Curry's offensive impact, but his offensive impact dwarfs Curry's defensive impact. He also far outpaces him on the basis of longevity, and has an additional ring on him besides. Curry cannot be better than Duncan, and therefore cannot finish any higher than 8th.

Kobe Bryant is a slightly closer argument than Duncan in my opinion, having arguably ridden shotgun for three of his titles much as Curry did for two, but his remaining two titles are quite impressive, at his peak he was an ace defender, and his longevity far outstrips Curry's to this point. Curry cannot be better than Kobe, and therefore cannot finish any higher than 9th.

At Friday, June 17, 2022 3:24:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man Finale said...

6 Ringers: Cousy, Kareem, Jordan

Bob Cousy I must rely on statistics and intelligent induction to evaluate, but statistically he is no match for Curry, and his team winning five more titles immediately following his retirement does his case no favors. He does not seem to be meaningfully regarded as a plus defender, and while Curry has now won two titles without Durant, Cousy won none without Russell. I believe Curry is better than Cousy based off available information.

Kareem is clearly better than Curry, as is Jordan, for a variety of self-evident reasons. Curry has no case against either, and can finish no higher than 11th.

It is here that I find myself shocked by my own conclusion, as I did not expect Curry to finish higher than fifteenth or so. He "feels" about fifteenth to me, before I sat down to make the list. Perhaps the methodology unfairly advantaged him over less fortunate great players like Chamberlain or Olajuwon whom my kneejerk emotional reaction would place over him, but it is the methodology I went with and I will abide by it for the day.

I will add that while this list presently places Curry at eleventh, that is a tenuous perch. The Bird decision could have gone either way and I already doubt I made the right one, for one thing. For another, there may be more to Mel Daniels or Bob Cousy than I'm able to glean without having been really able to see them play. For a third, one more ring for Durant, or two more for Giannis, would position either to challenge and likely take Curry's spot. I expect at least one of those two eventualities to come to pass, and possibly both, though my pocket money would certainly go on Giannis first.

So, to my own surprise, I guess I think Curry is the 11th, or perhaps 12th pending any flip flopping on my part vis a vis Bird, greatest player ever so far. While his skillset may not be as broad as some of the other contenders, it has been undeniably effective, often in greater measure than their more well-rounded kits. I feel much more confident in where this list places him among guards than overall, cleanly fourth behind Jordan, Bryant, and Magic. I understand there are fair cases for West and Oscar based on statistics, but there is something to be said for the fact that Curry has double the MVPs and double the rings they have combined, and unlike them has won two or four of his, pending your opinion on Durant, without the support of a Pantheon-level teammate. Absent the ability to see them play hundreds of full games as I have for Curry, I am comfortable ranking him above them on provable results. I am likewise comfortable ranking him over Dwyane Wade, whom I would consider the other main contender, who accomplished much less without Lebron or Shaq than Curry has been able to accomplish without Durant.

At the risk of igniting debate, since he came up recently, I think Isiah Thomas is a bit narratively overrated, and fits better in arguments about his place relative Walt Frazier and Dennis Johnson than in conversations about West, Magic, Jordan, Bryant, and yes, Stephen Curry.

Thank you for reading all that, if you read it, as I worked it out for myself. I can't say I'm wholly happy with the conclusion I reached or how I got there, but I'm glad I took the journey, and it has given me much to consider about not just Curry, but many other great players I feel this format either over or under sold.

And once again, apologies for the length. I promise this is an outlier, it wouldn't do to make a habit of it.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that the Celtics gave away a great chance to win the 2022 NBA championship by failing to fully exploit their size advantage.

I also agree that Curry is closer to 25th all-time than 10th all-time. I am less optimistic than you that the "prisoner of the moment" talk regarding Curry will die down. There are people who are determined to pump up Curry's all-time ranking because this helps them to sell books and/or promote their statistical ranking systems, so those incentives will result in Curry being overrated for the foreseeable future.

Again, I am not a Curry "hater" and I freely acknowledge that he is an all-time great, but I am not willing to vault him past bigger players who were demonstrably greater.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Warriors won this title based on their defense, not their offense, and their defense is definitely an ensemble production in which Curry--despite interesting attempts to suggest otherwise--is not the leader of the band.

There is no doubt that Curry is the Warriors' best player, nor is there doubt that he deserved the Finals MVP, but the level that he is playing at now does not match the level of Jordan, Bryant, and other Pantheon players who won Finals MVPs. Jordan and Bryant were elite defensive players; no one ever "hunted" them, nor did they build their defensive reputations on bigger and more talented players just missing open shots while they stood in front of them. I give Curry credit for improving defensively and for giving effort defensively--that places him far ahead of, for example, James Harden--but let's not pretend that Curry can effectively stop Tatum or Horford one on one. The Celtics did not "hunt" Curry effectively, and the Warriors also cleverly used traps to bother bigger players who Curry ended up guarding.

I would be careful about comparing Curry's performance versus the Celtics to the performances of Durant and Giannis. For one thing, Durant may not be the same player now that he was in 2017-18 when he was the Warriors' best player during back to back title runs, so even if Curry is better than Durant now (and he is not) that does not mean that Curry now is better than the best version of Durant. Further, the composition of the Warriors compared to the mismatched Nets roster and injury-depleted Bucks roster must be taken into account.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You're welcome. Yes, that Horford play versus Curry is just one example of why I am not willing to elevate Curry as much as other are, either regarding this series or regarding his overall historical standing. Curry had a great Finals and he is a great player--but he is not as great as the Pantheon members, and nothing that he did in the 2022 Finals changes that.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Tatum's NBA Finals performance was disappointing considering not just his talent but also the way that he played in earlier playoff rounds. During earlier rounds, he showed flashes of being an MVP-caliber player but we did not see that version of Tatum very often during the Finals.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Boston's defensive game plan was to neutralize "the others" during the first three quarters and then attack Curry in the fourth quarter, relying on "the others" not being able to come through due to being out of rhythm. This resulted in Curry posting gaudy individual numbers but overall the Celtics held the Warriors' scoring down enough to be able to win the series; the Celtics' offense is what failed them, and what cost them a title.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As noted above, Curry's 30-plus ppg average is a result of Boston's game plan to shut down "the others" during the first three quarters and then try to limit him in the fourth quarter. Therefore, I cannot assign individual "blame" to a player for following this game plan. A different question would be whether or not the game plan was ideal. That is difficult to say, because the game plan may have been influenced by Robert Williams II's injury and also whatever leg injury Marcus Smart was nursing; perhaps the Celtics' coaching staff did not feel like the team was physically able to harass Curry for four quarters. That being said, if it were possible to do so I think that the Celtics should have put much more physical pressure on Curry at both ends of the court. Great shooters do not get tired from shooting open three pointers against drop coverage; great shooters get tired when screens are set against them, and when they are punished in the post by bigger players. The Celtics did not do enough of those kinds of things.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not say that Curry "could not" be the best player on a championship team, but I have pointed out that--prior to 2022--he had yet to be the best player in an NBA Finals.

Curry has improved his defense, and I gave him credit for that even in prior seasons. He is still not a great defender, but at least he tries and at least he offers resistance.

The Warriors won this series with their defense, not because Curry carried the offense to some incredible heights; the Celtics held the Warriors beneath their normal scoring average, but the Warriors shut down the Celtics to a greater extent.

I never criticized Curry for deferring to Durant. Curry made the right choice. My criticism is reserved for commentators who refuse to acknowledge that is what happened, and who instead insist that Curry was the best player on those teams.

From a skill set standpoint, I'd still take Isiah over Curry, but I understand that four titles compared to two weighs in Curry's favor, at least superficially.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 2:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dallas Anonymous:

What specifically have I written that is "anti Warriors"? Picking a team to lose for objective reasons is not being "anti" that team. My pick proved to be wrong, but that does not mean I am "anti Warriors" or that my pick was the result of subjective bias against the team.

Curry this season had more help than 2011 Dirk, and Curry's Warriors traversed an easier playoff path as well.

This outcome does not make the Curry-Durant comparison "spicier" to me. What has changed? No matter what happens now or in the future, Durant was unquestionably the best player on the Warriors when the Warriors won the 2017 and 2018 titles. Durant outperformed LeBron James head to head when James was arguably the best player in the league; Curry has yet to do anything like that.

The Celtics had more success against Durant this playoffs than against Curry because the supporting casts of those teams enabled the Celtics to employ different strategies/tactics. Also, as I mentioned in a previous comment, I am not convinced that Durant today is the same player that he was in 2017-18. Everyone understands and accepts that Klay Thompson is physically limited after the injuries that he suffered, but Durant has played so well that it seems like people forget that he suffered an Achilles injury that ended or permanently altered the careers of many great players.

If Durant were easier to stop than Curry in 2017-18, then the Warriors were awfully stupid for designing their offense around Durant and consistently giving the ball to him in crunch time--and I don't think that Steve Kerr and his coaching staff are stupid. Unlike Harden, Curry was smart enough to not let his ego get in the way; Curry knew that the Warriors were at their best with Durant leading the way. I don't understand why Durant hops from team to team, why he never seems to be happy, and why he engages in social media feuds, but none of that stuff changes the reality that he was the best player on the Warriors' best teams. The Durant-led Warriors would destroy the 2022 Warriors if those teams met in a playoff series.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 2:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As discussed above and throughout the playoffs, Curry is not in my top 10. I would not rank him ahead of anyone in my Pantheon, and there are at least 10 non-Pantheon players who I would rank ahead of him, including but not limited to John Havlicek, Rick Barry, Moses Malone, and Hakeem Olajuwon.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 2:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

As I have written before, there are some things that are definitively wrong regarding the greatest players debates, but there are few things that are definitively right. The criteria used determine the answers that one produces.

Your system appears to be internally consistent in the sense that you produced answers that conform to your criteria. I can't say that you are wrong, but I disagree with some of your answers because I operate with different criteria. Yes, championships matter, but if championships were the only thing that mattered then Robert Horry would be greater than Michael Jordan, and Danny Green would be better than Charles Barkley.

I focus on skill set analysis. I also focus on the post-shot clock era, because the pre-shot clock era was too different from what came afterward to make meaningful comparisons. I acknowledge that George Mikan is a seminal figure in pro basketball history, but I don't compare him directly to Wilt, let alone to Kareem or Shaq. I also value size, both relative to position and overall. It is not an accident that the only player in my Pantheon shorter than 6-5 is Jerry West. I don't think that Curry is close to being the player that West was. West was an elite defender, an elite scorer, an elite playmaker, and a better rebounder than Curry. West never beat Russell's Celtics but the only teams that beat Russell's Celtics were Pettit's Hawks and Chamberlain's 76ers. Chamberlain was without question better than Curry, and you could make the argument that Pettit was as well. In any case, I can't see Curry beating Russell if both players were the best players on their respective teams, so Curry's 4-1 lead over West in championships does not move the needle for me. Under today's rules, West's numbers would be crazy, and if he played with Curry's supporting cast against the teams Curry faced then West would have won at least four titles. It's not like West was the reason his teams lost; in fact, he is the only player from the losing team to win the Finals MVP.

So, I appreciate the time and thought that you put into your rankings, but I respectfully disagree with the emphasis that you place on championships over skill set.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 4:06:00 AM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

To be fair, my system's second rule prevents any outliers like Horry from infiltrating the inner circe.

I think skillset analysis is smashing, but also deeply subjective and nearly impossible to perform with much fidelity across eras, particularly for pre-1980s players. You say that West was a better rebounder than Curry. Whether or not that bears out depends how you choose to evaluate that skill. West's raw numbers are higher than Curry's, but there were also between 30-50 additional rebounds per game available during West's career, and West averaged proportionally fewer of the available rebounds than Curry did. Is West a better rebounder because he got more total? Is Curry a better rebounder because he snagged a greater share of the possible rebounds? How do their different minutes totals and teammates affect those numbers? How limiting is the relative lack of film for West?

The answers to most if not all of these questions are guess work. While some things can be easily proven, say that West is a better scorer than Draymond Green, something like this cannot.

I also deeply dislike "X would have done Y in Z era" hypothetical. Again using West as our guinea pig, perhaps if he played today in an era of space and threes and no handchecking, he would average 45 and 10. Alternately, perhaps his own self-admitted limitations dribbling with his left hand would be a larger issue in the much more handle-oriented modern NBA, perhaps his size would be a larger detriment in a larger league that switches more aggressively and frequently than it did in his era, perhaps the athletic advantages he had over his peers would be less pronounced against a league drawing from a deeper and more diverse global talent pool. Perhaps a player who did not like to make eye contact with fans would struggle under the microscope of the social media age.

Again, I do not know the answers to any of those questions, and I don't believe that anyone does. We can try to make educated guesses, but I don't especially see the point, except for fun in hypothetical time-travel versus matches. Absent that, though, I find it best to judge a player first against his own era and what he actually accomplished versus what you or I imagine he could accomplish, and my criteria reflects that: MVP speaks to what the wider world thought of your play, while titles speak to what it actually accomplished. After using those to thin the field to the best of the best, then it becomes necessary to apply context and skill evaluations to delineate.

I similarly do not like to attribute success or failure to level of competition. Perhaps Curry's Warriors could not beat the Russell Celtics. Perhaps West's Lakers could not beat the Lebron Cavaliers or Durant Thunder. Perhaps, as you seem to believe, the teams of the 60s are far superior to the modern era. Or perhaps the larger talent pool and decades of skill and strategic development would allow nearly any modern team to mop the floor with the classics. Determining the outcome of any of those hypothetical series requires applying the aforementioned guesswork to over a dozen players, factoring in mountains of context and rule changes and variables (Do the old teams get the benefit of modern training and nutrition, and if not do the new teams have to fly coach? Which of those two options is "fairer?") and trusting all the consequent conclusions. To do so with any real plausibility would require hours of thought and research per matchup, and frankly probably isn't worth that expenditure for what is still ultimately little more than fanfiction.

All your hypothetical points are plausible, and they may well even be correct. They all sound reasonable enough, and I know you have done more research than most. But the two datapoints from which I start are indisputable: West was never voted the MVP of the league in his day, and Stephen Curry was more able to win titles in the 2020s than West was in the 1960s.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:05:00 PM, Blogger CyberGlion said...

The MVP logic needs some additional fine tuning, West peaked at the same time Wilt/Russell/Oscar/Elgin peaked which I'd argue was a tougher crowd to win the award in than in 15 and 16 when LeBron was no longer playing his best RS basketball, Kawhi wasn't yet Kawhi, and Durant was either injured or coming off injury

Had it not been for peak LeBron and his superteam and Durant could very well have won 4 MVPs during that span and likely one ring. The Warriors won their first title against a much worse team and a far worse version of LeBron

It's why I ultimately believe skillset evaluation is more important than narrative awards as a lot of that is timing. Wade, West, and Kawhi had MVP caliber seasons as good or better than Steph's MVP seasons but they also faced tougher competition and were overall in worst situations. Don't get me started on how Kobe should have won 3 MVPs (in a very competitive period) but due to off the court perception and narratives lost out on two of them. At least he managed to win one thankfully but he was way better than the typical 1 MVP player

Some additional context must be factored in beyond just how many x awards a player has won

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is too much subjectivity involved in comparing players against eras. Assuming because someone dominated during their era doesn't mean that they would dominate in another era. Until someone can invent a time machine, this is just speculation.

I personally value being the undisputed best player on a championship team. Curry has arguably only done this twice (2015, 2022).

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:43:00 PM, Anonymous Dallas Anonymous said...

I think if you re-read your own coverage of these playoffs you'll find a lot of mocking the Warriors' gravity and repeatedly saying that they only won their other titles because of injuries or KD and otherwise lowkey dunking on them whenever you can haha. You really liked calling Steph a whiner too.

I don't wanna get into the whole Durant thing with you because I still haven't really made my mind up between them I was just pointing out that one specific argument Durant fans like to use definitely took a hit this year with an elite defense being able to stop him but not Curry.

Also despite you saying Curry was open the stats don't really bear that out haha. He led the Finals in both closely contested and regular contested shots according to the NBA's official tracking. Despite shooting way more total attempts than anyone on either team he was only 5th in "wide open" attempts behind Wiggins, White, Thompson, and Smart. He had the fifth lowest percentage of his looks be wide open as well, and was only 7th in wide open makes per game, with 1.2. He led the series in contested makes and was second in tightly contested makes.

Brown and Tatum were two of the four who had an even lower percentage of wide open looks too so I don't know about them "missing open layups" being the main thing haha.

Also a last thing a huge part of what makes Steph scary is his ability to go get open in the first place so even if you had been right that he was mostly making wide open looks he'd probably deserve some credit for creating those openings haha.

I'm getting very tired of having to nitpick at my favorite team of all time so after this post I might peace out for the summer but it is just not accurate to say Curry had more help than Dirk. You keep writing off the rest of the Mavs but they were awesome that year.

In the 2011 Finals Dallas scored 94.7 PPG and Dirk scored 26, or 27.5%. He also created 4.7 PPG on assists so he accounted for 32.4% of our total offense against Miami.

In the 2022 Finals GSW scored 104.8 PPG and Steph scored 31.2, or 29.8%. He also created 13 PPG on assists so he accounted for 42.2% of GSW's total offense against Boston.

Steph's team averaged 10 more PPG total but Steph generated 13.5 more PPG than Dirk. That means the rest of the Warriors generated 60.6 points per game compared to 64 for the Mavs despite the Warriors playing in a way faster era and series.

Shooting wise Dirk's teammates shot 47/44/70 and Steph's shot 42/34/78. Take out the makes on assists and that goes down to 45/39/70 for Dirk and 38/21/78 for Steph's. I think it's pretty clear that the teammates scoring a hyper-efficient 64 points are helping more than the teammates scoring a super inefficient 60.6.

Defensively both teams were really good but Dallas was playing a better offense and held them to 8.5 fewer PPG on a lower eFG% so I don't think that's really a huge "help" advantage for Steph either and definitely not enough of one to make up the 13.5 points or the efficiency gap.

I don't wanna keep arguing and it seems pretty clear you've dug your heels in on this so I think I will bounce for the summer now but I do want to make sure you know I look forward to reading you again when basketball starts up and I do really like your blog. I just think you've got kind of a weird thing about Steph Curry and also maybe about the non-Dirk 2011 Mavs haha.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 3:41:00 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

Great answer, thanks!

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 4:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This unwillingness to give Steph his flowers here is bizarre.

Here's the list of times someone scored 30+ against the league's best D in the NBA Finals:

Pettit, 1957
Baylor, 1962, 1963
West, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1970
Kareem, 1980
Shaq, 2002
Kobe, 2009
Lebron, 2015
Curry, 2022

Outside the go-go-go 60s, happens about once a decade on average. Most of those teams lost. Of the ones who won, here are their TS%s:

Kareem 57.8%
Shaq 63.6%
Kobe 52.5%
Curry 62.6%

I didn't run numbers for the losers but it's pretty safe to say guys playing in losing series to the Bill Freakin' Russell Celtics probably didn't score more efficiently than Steph Curry. I'm also guessing if you pace adjust their numbers all but two of them (Baylor's 40 and Lebron's) would drop well below 30. Extra chances make it easier to score more points, so 60s numbers are always gonna be a little bigger than modern ones.

Even MJ never did it though the one time he played a #2 defense in Seattle is also the one time he didn't average 30.

Of the four winners, Kareem did it against a team trying to guard him with Daryl Dawkins. Shaq did it against a team whose best defensive player was a Point Guard and they were trying to guard him with 6'9 Kenyon Martin. Kobe did it against a Magic team whose best defender was their center and tried to guard Kobe with Courtney Lee and Pietrus. Both mildly above-average defenders, but I don't think either ever had a single All-D vote.

Steph, meanwhile, was guarded by the reigning DPOY, with a reigning All-D center behind him. Tatum, Brown, and White all received All-D votes this season too, so the Celtics were pretty loaded in terms of guys to throw at him.

This is the second-most efficient high-volume Finals scoring performance against a top defense ever, and on a ludicrous degree of difficulty. That is not an ensemble win.

And this idea that Boston's plan was just to shut down the "others" and live with Steph? A little true in the first four games, though come on, they still had the DPOY on him to start every possession. It's REALLY not true of the last two. Boston saw what happened in Game 4 and switched to a way more aggressive trapping/doubling/face-guarding 30 feet from the hoop off the ball type of scheme like every other team does, and surprise surprise, everyone else started getting off, and then Curry torched them against that coverage anyway in Game 6 too.

The man balled out on offense in a way we haven't seen since apex Shaq, c'mon!

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 4:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And another thing, while we're talking. Under the radar dominant playoff run for the Warriors overall. They lost six total games, never faced elimination. Average margin of victory in their wins comfortably double digits at 13. Only lost one home game total and grabbed at least one roadie per series. Second team ever to close out the Celtics in Boston. Beat Boston 3 straight after they hadn't lost that many in a row since late December.

They weren't as good as the 2017 team, ok for sure, but they were still pretty freakin' good, and it's disrespectful to say they won because "Boston missed layups." They won because for four rounds against really god teams, nobody could score on 'em and nobody could stop Steph. You know they beat three of the top six defenses this run? And Boston and Dallas were both better Ds than their numbers even said on account of sucking early in the season before they figured it out midway through, too. Memphis a better D once Ja went down, too, though they gave back more'n that on offense for sure.

But Steph hung 30 on each of 'em at least twice a series. A skinny 30, too. Guys couldn't even keep him under 50/40 shooting most nights.

At the historical level, pretty nuts that Curry's never been swept. Never even been Gentlemen's Swept. He's got the highest playoff win percentage of any MVP. He's fourth among all players with at least as many games played as he has behind Dray, Klay, and Slater Martin. Dray and Klay sat out some Ls with injuries/suspensions and beat up on 1st round teams while Steph was out, so he probably ain't catching them.

If you drop the filter from 92 games all the way to 50, he's still got more than any other #1 superstar except Mikan.

Maybe that number goes down as he ages. Probably will. Still pretty nuts that he's over guys like Russell or Magic who were retired by this point in their careers.

You look at his playoff career and it's scary that he's never lost a series where he/Klay/Dray start every game. It's scary that the two times he lost in the Finals they probably go the other way with one fewer injury on his side (though you can maybe say the same thing the other way in 2015).

It's not easy competition, either. He's beaten more 50 win teams in the playoffs than anybody but MJ, Scottie, Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, and Lebron. He's taken down more real contenders than Russell, or Magic, or Kareem. He stays good a couple more years he could jump most of those guys, too. He stays good the way Duncan and Kareem did he could jump all of 'em.

Dude may not be a "Pantheon" guy but he's the winningest star since Kobe and Duncan in terms of titles (tied with Bron) and the winningest star since ever in terms of playoff win percentages. That oughtta count for something.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 5:35:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

CyberGlion, I see your point but I do not agree with it really. If West was only the fifth best player in his era and Curry was even briefly the best player in his that to me is a point in favor of Curry rather than in favor of West, unless we pre-suppose West's era being much stronger than Curry's, which I am unwilling to do for reasons explained above.

The MVP is certainly not objective and can produce flawed results. However when we are discussing the greatest 20 or so players of all time I think it is a fair expectation to ask each of them to have at some point convinced the basketball world they were its greatest player at least once. Perhaps West deserved an MVP. That is debatable. It is the responsibility of great players to force the resolution of that debate by playing at an undeniable level.

A sidenote: I think there has been a trend for MVP voters to overrate white players in voting, not underrate them. As such I believe West had an inborn advantage in MVP voting, playing with a mostly white voting body for most or all of his career. As such, it is difficult for me to give him the benefit of the doubt here when he still loses those MVPs to Willis Reed or Wes Unseld level players.

Nonetheless, West is the player I feel worst about suffering from that criterion but even if I removed that criterion West could still not rank above Curry because he Curry has won four times as many titles as he has.

Of the others you listed, that criterion does not effect Durant or Kobe either. If we remove it, then Wade might indeed have a case against Curry. I do not believe Kawhi would given his pathological unavailability and the fact that neither of his titles is quite as impressive as some of Curry's. He beat one team missing 2/3 of its best players and he beat another as part of a four-star ensemble of which he was then the least heralded member. He played well in that series but not immensely so, and his team's win had as much to do with hot three point shooting, elite rebounding, and great defense against Wade (whom he did not guard) as anything. He is given a great deal of credit for "holding" James to 28 points on 57% shooting, but that defensive performance struck me more as good than magnificent. His playoff implosion against Denver is also worse than Curry's failure against Cleveland in 2016 in my estimation, and his overall playoff body of work outside of 2019 is a mite spotty.

If I were to relax the criterion for Wade, I would probably still give Curry the edge, but it would be fairly close. Wade's Finals performance against Dallas in 2006 is probably better than any Curry performance, but all four of Curry's Finals-winning performances are probably better than Wade's other two. I also think Wade's habit of frequently missing 20+ games in a season is a meaningful demerit.

The two players I "feel" are unfairly ranked below Curry by my own system are Hakeem Olajuwon and Wilt Chamberlain, but part of the reason I use a rule-based system to begin with is to factor out as much of my own feeling-based bias as possible so I cannot be positive I am correct there.

I will anticipate the likely counter by noting that certainly my biases also inform the system itself, but I think biases towards winning are acceptable in this particular arena. I don't expect others to necessarily agree, and I see the counter as valid, I just personally don't trust my own skill evaluation, or anyone else's for that matter, to pick up every single little nuance and contribution to winning a player produces. Never mind determining how to weight such things against each other.

For instance: Is Curry's off-ball movement more valuable that the psychological lane deterrence offered by Hakeem Olajuwon that makes opposing players more reticent to drive? How can we even begin to quantify or answer that question? I think that is a fool's errand, frankly, so I prefer to use a results-oriented filter as a starting point.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 8:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because their strategy for most if not the entire series was to let him go off or go one on one switching to the worst defenders (both strategies rarely if ever utilized when those four had their 30 ppg runs, although the 09 Magic did employ a similar strategy vs LeBron in letting him go off but not for Kobe). He was even isolating age 35 Horford from the 3 point line, in earlier eras that would have never happened. Let's not ignore all of that when evaluating his play. Even the 04 Pistons (unquestionably one of the best defenses ever) utilized a strategy on Shaq that allowed him to get his numbers while still ultimately limiting his capabilities (the way he was guarded he should have averaged his 00-02 finals numbers but Ben Wallace did a great job of preventing Shaq from getting to his spots)

The Warriors offense never went over 108 which would mean that defensively their strategy worked, but the Celtics offense - facing a Warriors defense that also ranked as #1 - struggled to score on that Warriors defense

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 8:36:00 PM, Blogger CyberGlion said...

Jazz Man, fair points and I agree or understand where you're going with most of them. Regarding the first one I do believe West had a strong case for at least the 1970 award (should have won it but Reed did have the team record in his favor) but that several of his top seasons coincided with the top seasons of Wilt/Russell/Kareem. Steph won his 2 MVPs when his biggest competition for the awards were Harden early into his career (who, granted, fools people so much in the regular season but it still wasn't a strong season itself) and Kawhi before he even really became Kawhi (mostly due to team record) and while Kawhi has shown potential to be a Pantheon player he didn't show it before the 2017 season and will not be durable enough to enter it anyway (which is how I also see Dwyane Wade's career). Although even then Steph's 2016 season was very strong even if not quite as strong as it looks on the surface once people really break it down (that's a topic for another time, not going to delve into that) but his 2015 one was largely just a default MVP in a year that lacked any real strong competition to begin with

But anyway, I'm willing to overlook that for West given that he finished top 2-3 to several Wilt/Kareem/Russell seasons (4x) in an era that was more friendly towards bigman than the modern game, there was also no one remotely close to being a dominant big man when Steph won his 2 MVPs either as it was a very weak period of bigman play and one that I can't overlook

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 9:53:00 PM, Anonymous Curt said...


There is an interesting narrative double standard with the way great players are evaluated that seems to disadvantage great players after a certain era moreso than those who presaged them, regarding how much "help" they have or don't.

We rarely if ever see criticism of Magic for winning alongside Kareem or the inverse, or Jordan winning with Pippen, and especially of Russell winning with a robust menageries of All-NBA stars.

But we hear often about how Kobe only won with Shaq and then Pau, about how Tim Duncan had Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, how Lebron had Wade, Kyrie, and AD and others, and especially how Stephen Curry was "carried" by Durant so those two championships count for less. Durant, in turn, will likely never beat the allegations that he could only win with Steph.

MJ appears to have been the cutoff for this phenomenon as no one is allowed really to suggest that His Airness was anything less than divinity in Nikes, no matter if he had with him a Top 25 near-Pantheon wingman and at least one other star, but I do think it unfairly harms the perception and rankings of the later stars relative to their forbearers.

I am fine with a sliding scale of how impressive each ring is based on level of support or competition, but if we are going to do that we should apply it universally.

If Curry's resume is to be diminished by co-starring with Kevin Durant for two rings, and Kobe's for starring alongside Shaq, then we must also count less the titles won by Magic alongside Kareem, Russell alongside Cousy, and so forth, at the very least in the years where they had not yet obviously surpassed their co-star. Stealing a page from the Jazz Man and limiting that qualification to fellow MVPs would simplify the algebra, but wouldn't be any fairer really. Duncan starring alongside former MVP Robinson probably does not make things as easy on him as Russell starring alongside a trio of non-MVP All-NBAers in Havlicek, Heinsohn, and Jones, for instance.

I do not know what the solution to this ring-credit calculus is, but I thought I would mention the disparity since Curry has been attacked several times now in this thread and elsewhere for winning due to Durant or an ensemble. It is fair to point that out, but it is hardly a demerit against most of the other all-time great players who won with similar or greater depths of support. Does anyone really believe that Durant/Thompson/Green/Iguodala or Wiggins/Thompson/Green/Poole is more of an advantage than Kareem/Wilkes/Nixon/Cooper/McAdoo?

Paradoxically, the biggest exceptions I can think of are those who hover outside the Pantheon. Olajuwon, Barry, and Nowitzki won with less help than nearly any Pantheon (or Durant) championship team, but then they generally also won fewer titles than the most hallowed stars in part because they lacked that all-world support.

Kobe and Duncan may have seasons they can claim as exceptions in 2009 and 2003, but the league was more diluted then. Still, they warrant mentions as having showed a bit more of their "carry an average supporting cast to glory" bonafides than most of the universally acknowledged Mt. Rushmore types of the 80s, 90s, and 60s.

I would place this year's Curry cast, with diluted versions of Green/Thompson, somewhere in between the exception Kobe/Duncan teams and the majority of Pantheon champions. Weaker than average, but better than some. I would agree, without much conviction or emphasis, with Dallas Anonymous' claim that they were comparable to or slightly weaker than Dirk's cast, though I would introduce some nuance in that they were probably better than Dallas in the regular season but worse down the stretch.

From your writings perhaps Erving can also claim some heavy lifts for his ABA rings though I don't really know enough about them to say.

I don't really have a point to make beyond pointing out the incongruence and lamenting the complexity, but I would be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

At Saturday, June 18, 2022 11:08:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

CyberGlion, I share your admiration for West. I would not vociferously object to allowing him a Logo-only exception on the grounds that being selected as the league's logo arguably represents even more than being selected as MVP, or just because he was clearly quite good.

That exception would allow him to compete with other one-ring stars in a wider ranking exercise were I to attempt one, and indeed he may even be come out the best of them. However, that exception would not make him a threat to Curry's place, or anyone else with at least two rings, by the rubric I have set out.

Perhaps if I had seen West's whole career the way I have seen Curry's I would feel differently, but given that modern evaluation of West is limited to scarce game tape, de-contextualized clips, box scores, old news articles, and legends I simply cannot justify placing him over a player who won four times as many titles as he did.

As for Steph's MVPs, I cannot see my way to penalizing him for the absence of top quality big men, particularly since the modern style of play that he exemplifies is largely responsible for their extinction. But even then the last Pantheon-caliber traditional big man came into the league in 1997, so if we are penalizing Steph for not winning MVPs away from them then we must also apply asterisks to the MVPs of Lebron, KD, etc. who likewise won theirs after Duncan and Shaq had long-since crested their apexes, which strikes me as much more unfair than simply validating the awards won by an MVP-caliber player who has since repeatedly proven he can win his team a title.

If he were a one-time MVP with no record of championship level success like Harden, Iverson, or Westbrook I would probably be more receptive to disqualifying him, but the facts that he won two MVPs (and one of them unanimously) and backed that up with four championships makes him, to me, an unquestionably legitimate MVP.

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 1:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The NBA could limit the over-reliance on three point shooting by officiating the game in such a way that post play is encouraged, and foul-hunting by perimeter players on offense is discouraged. Whether the NBA powers that be feel that this would be helpful to them financially is a different question. The NBA took some steps in the right direction this season by no longer rewarding offensive players for jumping sideways to initiate contact when shooting the ball, and by not rewarding Harden (and others) for running over defenders, but more steps in the right direction are necessary to disincentivize teams from shooting so many three pointers.

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 2:03:00 AM, Blogger CyberGlion said...

I would argue that Giannis at least has the potential to be in the Pantheon but even Jokic and Embiid have been at the forefront of MVP debates the last few years so I don't buy the belief that dominant big man are gone because of this new style of play. We just simply didn't see the big man talent rise up until recently. It's not where it used to be even earlier this century but it's definitely a lot better than where it was nearly a decade ago

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 12:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wondering if there is some subconscious bias against Curry of him not being in the top 10 of all time in terms of his size. I think it can definitely go both ways - both sides have great points. In terms of skill set, what more can we see him develop? Imo, he has pretty much maxed out his offensive skill set, FT shooting, and playmaking ability. If anything, his defense could be better, but he's improved vs previous years. Going back to the "subconscious bias" I referred to, let me just throw this out - If curry was 6'6 or 6'7, would he in our minds then be put into the top 10?? I have a feeling for some of us he may be. Right now, the top 10 consists of taller/larger players and maybe there is this bias that Curry doesn't belong due to his size so we make excuses to keep him out of it. Just a thought!

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 1:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps, but I'd also argue that for many there is a bias to prop up undersized players due to their more flashy highlight reel and higher level of relatability

Isiah Thomas was the clear best player on two championship teams but he was on deep ensemble casts that had several high level rotation players on both ends and even had a backcourt mate capable of being the best in any given series. Steph I would argue has the same thing going for him being the clear best on 2 deep ensemble championship squads while being the 2nd best for 2 additional squads

Size matters but there are ways to get around that out of your best player if a team is constructed properly as the bad boys Pistons and 15/22 Warriors were

But as demonstrated last season his size can very much be a hinderance when a team isn't deep and well built. That team was not bad enough for a supposed top 10 player ever to miss the playoffs going 0-2 in the play-in. I'm confident every all-time great 6'5+ player gets a few more wins out of that team

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 1:39:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

CyberGlion, I expect Giannis to win more titles and move way up the list. If I am correct about his trajectory he will pass not just Curry but also potentially Magic, Kobe, Duncan, and Lebron, and be a serious threat to the Jordan/Kareem/Russell trio at the top of the list. If he stays healthy he has another 8-10 great years in him and he is still improving. Jokic I am less sure about because I worry Denver has committed to a core that does not best compliment his skillset and while he has improved he remains an easy target on defense for elite guards, but offensively he is about as good as a player can realistically be.

I agree that both are dominant but neither is what I think of as a traditional big man. They're a new breed, an evolutionary response to the new ecosystem created by the Currys of the world. Offensive initiators who can bring the ball up the court and ignite the offense from the top of the key rather than ground-bound behemoths waiting to be fed on the block, reliant on others to position them for, or at least find them in position for, success. Jokic's game has more in common with Magic Johnson than Shaquille O'Neal and Giannis' is more akin to Scottie Pippen or Julius Erving than it is to Wilt or Russell.

I don't think Embiid is on their level, but he and AD are the closest thing to traditional great bigs currently in the league. I don't think either of them in Pantheon level though.

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 2:24:00 PM, Blogger CyberGlion said...

I definitely agree with your Giannis assessment and strongly agree with that top 7, I'm very high on his potential and do believe he will be in that conversation when it's all said and done

I agree that the modern game has increased the value of playmaking bigs but I would argue those bigs existed back then (but were underutilized) and that several other factors contributed to getting us to the point. I feel a lot of the credit Steph and Warriors get for their offenses had their roots in what the SSOL Suns were doing along with other innovative teams. The Warriors emphasizing defense is ultimately what made them a successful team

I also believe Giannis due to his unique upbringing (late bloomer who was a 6'9 small forward before hitting his growth spurt to end up 6'11) was going to end up being essentially a taller version of Erving/Pippen even if the modern game was more like it used to be, although playing in the pace and space has definitely made it easier for him to thrive

I for the most part agree with the closing comment but honestly even they play more like wannabe shooting guards than traditional dominant bigs of the past (at least on offense) but with today's current group of bigs they probably are the closest

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 2:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

other anyonymous number whatever...

i forgot great players never miss the playoffs...

kareem missed twice w/ pretty loaded teams better kick him out the pantheon...

in 75 his team lost oscar but had everybody else from the finals run in 74 just like how last year curry had no klay but did have everyone else...

kareem's team won 38 games and curry's won 39 which sounds closes until u remember that 2021 only had 72 games instead of 82...

then the next year in la he missed again even though he had gail goodrich and cazzie russell...

they won only 40/82 games w/ kareem playing all of them vs. curry winning 39/72 but missing 9 of them while his team lost 8 of those...

its not just kareem neither oscar missed the playoffs three times in the 60s with HoF teammates on every team and even missed one year when there was just 8 teams and 6 of em got to go...

other two times just a 14 team league where 8 teams made it...

guess oscar got to go too...

don't forget kobe missed the playoffs too in 2005 and only won 34 games w/ a better cast then he had the next two years when he did make it...

kobe out too damn...

wilt missed in 63 w/ 3 HoF teammates and another all star in a 8 team league...

wilt out too its getting lonely up in here...

lebron missed in 19 and 22 too so he out too i guess dang...

so pantheon just nine guys turns out.

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 4:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think Gianni's def has a chance to pass up curry

He got 2 MVP 1 title 1 finals MVP

And only 27

I think he can get another title or 2 and move up

Also kd can get another title or 2 and move back in front of Steph all time

He has more finals MVP
All NBA first team

And scoring titles than steph

At Sunday, June 19, 2022 5:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those players had a worse cast and/or more competitive conference with no play-in tourney. It's also a repeated instance with Steph who has missed the playoffs multiple times in his age 21-33 seasons instead of just one time

His size is a hinderance

At Monday, June 20, 2022 12:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

Even if your system's second rule keeps Horry "out of the inner circle," my larger point stands: if your premise is that winning championships is the most important metric, then you have to explain why players who won multiple titles are not better than players who never won a title. There is an inconsistency within your system's premises.

Skill set evaluation is no more subjective than any other evaluation; just looking at individual statistics and/or championships won is not nearly as objective as you appear to believe. As I have discussed at greater length in many articles, every statistic except for free throw percentage is subject to some form of manipulation, either due to the subjective interpretations or scorekeepers or other issues (such as piling up points in garbage time, or refusing to shoot half court heaves to keep one's field goal percentage higher, etc.).

West played forward in college and was able to rebound like a forward (nearly 6 rpg for his career, including four seasons above 7 rpg) in the pros. He was an elite defender. He could score from anywhere on the court, and he led the league in assists. He had no skill set weaknesses. It is not difficult to project that he would do quite well in an era during which the rules and rule interpretations favor perimeter players on offense. Other than long range shooting, Curry is not better in any area than West.

MVP voting is not the be all and end all. Kobe Bryant won one MVP, but any rational analyst understands that he was far superior not only to fellow one-time MVPs such as Allen Iverson, Derrick Rose, and James Harden, but also to two-time winners Steve Nash and Stephen Curry. Also, MVP voting was done by the players in West's era but by the media in Curry's era. Not sure who that favors, but that is a big difference. Also, West finished second in MVP voting four times, and he ranked in the top five eight times--and the only guard to win a regular season MVP in his era was Oscar Robertson, who has a good case for being the greatest all-around player ever. Keeping West out of your Pantheon based on not winning a regular season MVP is a very arbitrary decision, and leads to absurd results such as Iverson, Rose, Harden, Nash, and Curry being ranked ahead of West.

Regarding who was "more likely to win titles," Horry was more likely to win titles in his era than any player in pro basketball history other than Russell and a few of Russell's teammates. That is a lazy argument. The quality of Curry's teammates and the quality/health of the opposition he faced does not prove his superiority over West.

It is also worth mentioning that West was a much better athlete than modern fans may realize. He dunked with two hands easily--in games, not just warmups--and he was a shotblocker from the guard position a la Dwyane Wade. I feel quite comfortable saying that he would be a dominant player today.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 1:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you about the caution that should be taken when weighing the value of an MVP award. The voting has produced some odd results at times, and the voting has gone completely off the rails more than once in the past 25-30 years, to the detriment of Jordan, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron and others in favor of Barkley, Karl Malone, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, etc.--players who all had outstanding careers, but were not better than the Pantheon-level players over whom they won MVPs.

Except for Nash and possibly Curry, I don't think that there are multiple MVP winners who are overrated, but there are definitely one-time winners and players who won no MVPs who are underrated. In other words, Kareem, MJ, Russell, Wilt, LeBron, Erving, Magic, and Bird are correctly viewed as Pantheon players in part because they won at least three MVPs each, but there are players who won less than three MVPs (Baylor, Robertson, West, Shaq, Kobe) who should not be overlooked just based on that one category.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 1:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that it is challenging to compare players from different eras. I tend to look at the margin by which a player dominated his era more than trying to project how a player would do/would have done in a different era (I make that kind of comparison at times in these conversations, but that kind of comparison is not the basis of my rankings).

You are correct that it is significant that during his six NBA Finals appearances Curry has seldom been the best player.

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

Dallas Anonymous:

I don't have to reread my playoff coverage. I know what I wrote. You asserted that I displayed anti-Warrior bias. The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate the truth of your assertion by citing specific examples of things that I wrote about the Warriors that are untrue and/or show bias against them. Picking them to lose in the Finals was wrong, but that does not prove that I am biased against them.

I don't put much stock in the "closely guarded" statistics. As I understand it, these are subjective impressions jotted down during the game. There is little objectivity or consistency with those numbers. I watched the games, and I know what I saw.

Regarding the 2011 Mavericks specifically and Dirk in general, I wrote a lot about both subjects and those articles are easy to find on this site, so I am not going to repeat my previous analysis. I stand by what I wrote at the time, and I stand by the summary that I have provided in the comments section.

This is not about me "digging in my heels." I have followed the NBA very closely for decades, and my analysis/evaluations are based on the knowledge that I have acquired during that time.

It is my observation that fans who focus primarily on one team are very stubborn about their beliefs and very reluctant to let go of cherished narratives. I don't know if I have ever changed the mind of one fan who had already formed his conclusions before reading my work, but I hope to influence the thinking of unbiased people and of people who had not formed strong opinions before reading my work.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 1:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You're welcome!

At Monday, June 20, 2022 1:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If you have read what I have written about Curry from the time he was drafted until now, it would be difficult for you to support your assertion that I am not giving him "his flowers." I have never understood this notion that ranking players based on skill set/size/dominance is somehow disrespectful. I put my Pantheon together several years before Curry hit his prime, but I would not rank Curry ahead of anyone in the original 10, nor would I rank him above any of the players who I called the finest of the "modern era" (i.e., post-Jordan): Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, LeBron. If as a hypothetical GM you would take Curry ahead of my original 10 and my next four, you are entitled to your opinion, but it is not disrespectful to take Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant as my guards over Curry.

My player rankings are based on more than just 30 ppg averages and TS% in the Finals or otherwise. If those are the most significant numbers, though, then you have to be consistent and rank highly other players who reached your criteria--and it is that kind of thinking that led Morey to assert that Harden is a better offensive player than Jordan.

There is no doubt in my mind that Curry performed better in the 2022 Finals than he did in each of his previous NBA Finals appearances, and there is no doubt in my mind that he earned the Finals MVP. Curry's 2022 performance does not magically make him better than Kevin Durant was in 2017-18, nor does it make Curry greater than my Pantheon guards. West won a Finals MVP on the losing team by torching the Bill Russell-led Celtics. If you think that Marcus Smart and Robert Willliams II--with all due respect to those players--are having more success against West than Russell did then I am sure nothing that I say will change your opinion, but I strongly believe that you are mistaken.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 2:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Warriors faced an injury-riddled Denver team, a Memphis team missing Ja Morant for the back half of the series, a limited Dallas team that upset the number one seeded Suns, and a Boston team that may not have reached the Finals if Khris Middleton had stayed healthy.

So, narratives can be crafted and constructed in various ways.

You can say that Curry's accomplishments ought to "count for something." I agree--they count for Curry being among the top 25-30 players in basketball history, which is quite an accomplishment for a skinny guard from Davidson who many "experts" did not think could last very long in the NBA.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 2:45:00 AM, Anonymous Jazz Man Part One said...

David, my criterion is designed specifically for a conversation about the greatest players ever, and would not be ideal, or even qualified, for rankings between lesser players who have no business in that conversation. It uses MVPs and titles not as be-all end-all metrics, but as gates players must clear to enter conversation in the first place.

Put another way, a club that has both a dress code and a cover turns away both the broke and the garishly attired, but it does not mean that no one inside is more wealthy than one who was turned away for being garish, or more stylish than someone rejected for being broke. It does mean that the people inside are neither garish nor broke, and are therefore allowed in the club.

As for MVPs more generally, I think it is fair to expect the greatest players of all time to have convinced the voters, whether other players or media members, that at one point they were the greatest player in the league. As I said Jerry West is the one player I think may be unduly disadvantaged by this, and would be open to granting him an exception. My system does not much value winning 4 MVPs over winning 1, so in the labored metaphor above this would be "the cover." This also means Kobe and Shaq are not punished for the MVPs they "missed."

Cases like Nash or Rose do not concern me because they do not clear the second gate, and I therefore disagree that I have them ranked ahead of West. I have not ranked them at all beyond "not serious Top 10 contenders." I think in a conversation about who is the greatest player in the history of basketball it is fair to expect contenders to be able to win at the highest level.

The third criterion is the one I feel least solid about and would be most open to changing but it runs on the same basic logic: the goal is to win titles. Perhaps the threshold there should be higher or perhaps this criterion should be removed entirely but it is for now the criterion I used to provide one final filter before resorting to skill-set analysis which I find extremely difficult to be wholly confident in across eras and positions.

The worst player allowed into the initial conversation by the first two rules is likely someone like Dave Cowens, George McGinnis, or Wes Unseld, whom I think have considerably more impressive resumes than Steve Nash or Robert Horry. This does not mean Cowens is better than all players who do not qualify to be in the conversation, it simply means he has cleared the bar to enter it, wherein he will be quickly dismissed. I am comfortable with Dave Cowens or George McGinnis being the worst player to clear the initial barriers.

Where things get thorny is the third criterion, which would place Cowens over someone like Moses Malone, and I feel less secure in that. Upping the threshold to triple instead of double would solve for that, so perhaps that's something I ought to consider. However, the 2x threshold is convenient for removing pretenders and while it may lead to some downstream head-scratchers like ranking Cowens over Malone, it also works to filter those who are not truly GOAT contenders. Malone is better than Cowens but he is not a true Top 10 candidate so I am tentatively ok with him being mildly slighted further down the list.

All told the first two rules drain the pool to 32 players. The third means that for actual top 10 consideration, only players with at least three rings are in the conversation, of which there are 15. I don't like that this excludes Chamberlain and Olajuwon. If we up the threshold of the final criterion to triple, it would deepen the pool for Top 10 consideration to 21, adding Chamberlain, Olajuwon, Cowens, McGinnis, Reed, and Durant, which would potentially allow Durant to rank over Curry, which seems important to you, so perhaps that's a benefit as well. I don't have a significant problem with Durant ranking over Curry, though I would like him to prove he is capable of winning without Curry's help to do so. Perhaps he shall next year.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 2:48:00 AM, Anonymous Jazz Man Part Two said...

It's something for me to think on. No system is perfect, and I am not arrogant enough to pretend mine is. The current version does a better job of filtering out the riff raff, but a more forgiving one may admit additional worthy candidates.

I also agree that all analysis is to some extent subjective, but I feel anchoring that analysis around the goal of the game is "fairer" than predicating it first on cross-generational skillset analysis involving players who played under wildly different circumstances and rulesets, many of whom appear in relatively scarce footage. I use that analysis as well, but only once I've run out of other options.

You feel differently, and our lists differ accordingly. No harm in it, I don't wish to compete. Just explaining my own perspective.

As for West, I cannot agree he had no skillset weakness when the man himself famously lamented his struggles with dribbling with his left hand. We just saw from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum how much of a problem that sort of flaw can be.

I have explained why I think evaluating his rebounding against Curry's is something of a fool's errand, and I likewise would hesitate to make too much of the assist totals either, given their respective roles and eras. West was certainly more adept at harvesting assists, which were harder to come by then, but there is more to passing than assists and Curry is uniquely adept at passing out of traps and doubles, even if those passes are usually the pass before an assist, they still have a bloody great deal of value. His assist numbers as a ball-dominant guard early in his career and passing improvements since suggest he could probably lead the league in assists if he really wanted to, and I imagine having a Chamberlain-level finisher available would make that easier, but his current triple-threat role leveraging his scoring prowess as trap bait/off-ball menace/iso maestro is more productive for his offense than a traditional PG role would be. For West, the year he won the title was his best passing season but only 10th best scoring season, suggesting the opposite was the case for him.

We also do not have turnover numbers for West's career, which make it difficult to divine how great of a passer he actually was night to night. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have both led the league in assists but both are also turnover goblins whose passing comes at a high premium.

As such, I do not feel qualified to confidently place a valuation on West's passing relative to that of a modern player. It was clearly very good. Perhaps it was better, or much better, than Curry's. Perhaps it was slightly worse. I don't know, so I'd prefer not to guess.

Mind you, I am not advocating for Curry being more skilled than West as either rebounder or passer, I am simply explaining why I think making such determinations between players with a 70 year gap is difficult to the point of futile.

It makes more sense to me to use evaluations of how they performed within their era, and MVPs and titles are cleanly tied to the seasons in which they take place, so that is why I use them as my starting point. You have much more faith in your ability to perform cross-era skillset analysis and factor in the endless mountains of context that entails, so your system differs from mine, and returns different results.

I mildly prefer my system because of how impossible I believe those cross-era comparisons to be to make with much fidelity, but obviously I respect your judgment as well or I wouldn't be reading your blog.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 8:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

I disagree that it is up to a great player to "force" MVP voters to rank him number one in a given season. Sometimes the MVP voters are just wrong. Sometimes a player's best season--a season that is better than previous MVP seasons--coincides with an even better season by a different player. Player analysis is too nuanced to have inflexible rules, particularly concerning something as subjective as MVP votes. As I mentioned above, most if not all of the players who won at least three MVPs deserve to be in the greatest player of all time conversation, but there are also players who won one MVP who deserve to be in that conversation--and there are players who won two MVPs who do not deserve to be in that conversation. Once one understands all of the above, one realizes that MVPs cannot be the main or sole criterion for greatness.

In the end, relying too heavily on fixed rules that are as inherently subjective as anything else does not produce the objective outcome that you claim to seek. That is not to say that your list is terrible or even worse than many other lists that have been produced by "experts," but just to say that your criteria eliminate players who would not be eliminated by criteria that are more flexible and that better incorporate the nuanced reality of player evaluation.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 9:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You made a few key points that I have mentioned before, but are worth repeating and emphasizing:

1) Boston's defensive strategy did not focus on shutting down Curry individually but rather on limiting the Warriors collectively, and as a result the Curry-led offense did not surpass the 108 point level once in the NBA Finals.

2) Golden State won this series based on shutting down Boston's offense, not based on their own great offense (and I will add that this in no way detracts from the reality that Curry was the best player and deserved to be named Finals MVP).

3) When evaluating Curry's greatness both in the context of this series relative to other great players and in the context of his entire career, the above two points are important.

For example, the strategy of "let the great player get his and stop everyone else" would not work on a consistent basis against the offenses run by most Pantheon-level players. Teams that let Jordan work one on one--a strategy often used by Lenny Wilkens--gave up some of Jordan's biggest games but (and this is the key point) were also not successful in holding down the Bulls' overall scoring enough to win playoff series.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 9:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


To amplify your point, in 1970, West averaged 31.2 ppg (without the benefit of the three point shot to not only boost his totals but also spread the floor) and 7.5 apg (in an era during which assists were doled out less generously) while shooting .497 and .824, but he lost a relatively close MVP race to Willis Reed (21.7 ppg, 13.9 rpg). West led the league in ppg and ranked fourth in apg. Steals and blocked shots were not yet official stats, but based on what he did later in his career when those stats were tracked it is reasonable to believe that he ranked no worse than top five in the league in steals while leading guards in shotblocking. The 31 year old West also averaged nearly 5 rpg on a team with three players who averaged at least 10 rpg each (though, admittedly, each of those players missed a lot of games). Despite Chamberlain missing most of the season and Baylor being hobbled, West led the Lakers to a second place finish in the West.

By today's way of thinking (rightly or wrongly), a guard with West's 1970 numbers would be more highly valued than even a big man as good as Reed. So, to take West out of Pantheon consideration based on the peculiarities and vagaries of MVP voting just does not make sense to me.

One more example: in 1966, West finished second in MVP voting to Chamberlain, who averaged 33.5 ppg, 24.6 rpg, and 5.2 apg. West "merely" averaged 31.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, and 6.1 apg that season, while shooting .473/.860. Factoring in West's superior defense, I would argue that West's 1966 regular season is better than any regular season of Curry's career. By the way, in the 1966 playoffs, West led the league in scoring (34.2 ppg) on .518 field goal shooting but the Lakers lost to Russell's Celtics in seven games in the NBA Finals. The Lakers lost game seven by two points despite West's game-high 36 points.

So, the shorthand "logic" that Curry is greater than West based on four championships to one and two MVPs to none carries no weight with me, and I disagree with the notion that counting MVPs and championships without considering context is more objective or reasonable than doing a skill set evaluation while looking at how dominant a player was relative to his peers. West had a more complete skill set than Curry, and he was a more dominant individual player.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 9:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that the way that championships are "counted" is not consistent. I cannot speak for others, but I distinguish between winning a championship as an All-NBA First Team level player, and winning a championship as a player not at All-NBA First Team level.

So, just sticking with Curry, Curry's titles all "count" because he was an All-NBA First Team level player during the championship seasons (I don't go strictly by the voting, but by the player's level of play during the season and the playoffs). So, Curry's titles "count" more than titles won by players such as Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, and Danny Green.

However, when comparing Curry to Durant--as so many people want to do now--it cannot be ignored that when they were on the same squad and both in their primes Durant was the clearly superior player. Even if Curry wins two more titles without Durant, that fact alone--without some other context (such as clearly outperforming someone like Durant or Giannis on the other side)--is powerful evidence that Durant should be ranked ahead of Curry. The coaching staff and players from GS knew that Durant was better, and their knowledge of that fact resulted in two titles. No matter how many commentators attempt to rewrite history, the facts do not change.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 9:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I can only speak for myself, but I don't consider using size as a factor to be a "bias." Size IS a factor that separates players. That is why Jerry West is the only player under 6-5 who is in my Pantheon. If Curry were 6-6 or 6-7 he would be a better and more impactful player even if his skill set were no different than it is now. That is one of the main points I am making about Curry compared to the players who are in my Pantheon (and a few others like Durant and Giannis who I also rank ahead of Curry). If we assert that Curry and Kobe have skill sets of identical value (I would argue that Kobe's skill set was superior, but that does not matter in this particular context) then Kobe is more valuable and impactful than Curry based on being taller, stronger, and more durable. In order to convince me that Curry should be ranked ahead of my Pantheon players one would have to convince me that Curry's skill set is superior enough to compensate for his lack of height and size relative to all of those players other than West. As I have discussed in earlier comments, I would say that West--the only player in the Pantheon who is about the same size as Curry--actually had a superior skill set to Curry, so Curry cannot supplant West on my list, either.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 9:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are right to point out that when evaluating Curry (or any other player, for that matter) we should look not just at the highs but also the lows, and you mentioned something that I have discussed in previous articles: sans his helpers, Curry was not able to even carry GS past the Play-In Tournament, while Kobe was able to reach the playoffs (and a seventh game versus a very good Phoenix team) with Kwame and Smush as his center and point guard respectively.

The notion that Curry is in the same category as Kobe strikes me as very odd, but it does not surprise me considering all of the other player evaluation nonsense I have witnessed over the years.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 10:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your list of Pantheon players who missed the playoffs is missing a lot of context, and only considers their lows without looking at their highs.

I never said that missing the playoffs once or twice automatically disqualifies a player from being in the Pantheon. However, Curry not being able to win a home Play-In Tournament game is an odd look for a supposed top 10 player of all-time. Curry being the best player once in six Finals appearances is also an odd look for a supposed top 10 player of all-time.

If you are going to compare Kareem to Curry then you have to look at the full movie, not just a couple of still pictures.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 10:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would already rank Giannis ahead of Curry based on skill set evaluation and size.

Durant has always been ahead of Curry in my book.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 10:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, you are correct to note that Curry's "size is a hindrance" and has been a contributing factor to the Warriors' lack of success when he did not have superior help around him.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 11:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Optimal help" is pretty optimistic.

"Lack of success" is pretty pessimistic.

Out his last seven healthy seasons Curry made the Finals in six of them.

The one he didn't he still missed nine game and his team lost eight of them.

If they won at their regular pace w/ Curry rate in those games he would not have been in a spot to lose the play-in games.

You talk about how Kobe made the playoffs in 06 with a sadder team but their winning percentage was about the same, GSW was just in a deeper West.

You take out the games he missed their winning percentage was way better than Kobe's '06.

That doesn't make him better than Kobe but it does make that particular criticism point kind of meaningless.

Especially given Kobe missed the playoffs with a better team than that the year before.

If you can find anyone else who made 6 out of 7 healthy years to the Finals or even 6/8 without "optimal help" I'd love to see them.

Do you think Curry misses the playoffs in 2021 if his best teammate is Scottie Pippen or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Dwyane Wade instead of Draymond Green?

Like this is a weird double standard. Nobody does great without "optimal help," it's a team sport.

Also I wanna talk about this: ...such as clearly outperforming someone like Durant or Giannis on the other side...

He did do that to Durant in 2016 already you know.

For as much as you love to bag on the Dubs for hacking up a 3-1 lead your boy KD did the same thing the round before and Curry pretty soundly outplayed him, especially in the games that mattered the most.

I remember you used to say the bar for the Pantheon had to do with being "the best player at his position" for about a decade.

Curry's not quite at ten years as the best guard yet but he's about to be if he stays healthy, yet somehow I don't think that'll still be the standard if he makes it.

I swear this dude gets held to the highest (double) standard since KB24.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 12:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Friedman,

Does it carry any weight for you when other great players put Steph Curry in the Top 10? Obviously it does not completely persuade you, I am just curious if the endorsements for that spot from people like Shaquille O'Neal, Rick Barry, and Reggie Miller mean anything to you? Isiah Thomas also implied that Curry may be Top 10, saying he had "definitely entered that conversation," if I recall properly, but stopped short of actually saying Curry should be Top 10.

Ja Morant also said that Curry is Top 5, but Ja is quite young and may not have the historical perspective of some of the older greats.

I personally do tend to listen when other great players, who know greatness better than I ever could, start to lay out the case for someone outside their era. Moreso since 90% of the time they are too busy talking about how soft or small the next generation is.

O'Neal's Top 10 specifically is rounding into interesting shape. Collating other things he has said in the last few years, it appears to be made up of himself, Wilt, Jordan, Lebron, Kobe, Erving, Hakeem, Curry, Kareem, and Duncan.

I find it interesting that his list has only one player between 6'7 and 7'0 in Lebron James, only one player under 6'6 in Stephen Curry, and that his list apparently does not include Bird, Russell, or Magic who are often considered Top 10 players.

Your opinion on Curry's inclusion is by now exhaustively well-documented, but what do you make of the rest of his list? To me it seems a pretty reasonable list give or take Curry and I am somewhat surprised that someone who values size as much as Dr. O'Neal has a 6'3 player in among the trees.

At Monday, June 20, 2022 3:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree Curry is not Top 10 or Pantheon yet. I agree with several other commenters that he is probably comfortably around Top 20 but not much higher.

However, is there any road for him to get there? Is there a number of titles, or MVPs, or All-NBA, etc. that would persuade you that he has something special about him that makes up for his lack of size?

Say for instance he follows Kareem's blueprint and remains an All-NBA level player at about his current level through his Year 38 season. Say he wins 2 or even 3 titles in that span, as well as one additional MVP. Say at least one of those titles against Giannis or KD playing at their peak level. That is probably his best vaguely plausible case for the rest of his career.

Would passing Magic/Kobe/Duncan and catching or passing Kareem/Jordan in titles without a single Top 75 player by his side for all but two of them compensate for his shortcomings? Or it just a non-starter due to height?

Is there a point of dominance he could theoretically get to like Russell did, where we all know Russell was an unremarkable scorer but he had such a transcendent impact on defense and winning that it doesn't matter? For Curry obviously it would be the inverse, but I think you understand my hypothetical.

Or, more simply: what would Stephen Curry need to do to establish himself as a Pantheon-level player in your eyes?

At Monday, June 20, 2022 10:12:00 PM, Anonymous Too Much Free Time said...

The idea of defensive ensemble win vs. Curry's greatness is an interesting one. I agree with David, but I wonder what other titles would fall into that box that we otherwise credit to the offensive brilliance of other great players? It took a couple days, but I made the list back to 57.

BOS held GSW 6.2 ppg below their regular average. Here are all other champs held at least 5 below their regular averages:

22 GSW -6.2
21 MIL -9
15 GSW -9.5
13 MIA -6
11 DAL -5.5
10 LAL -11.5
09 LAL -6.3
07 SAS -12
06 MIA -7.1
05 SAS -11.3
03 SAS -8
99 SAS -8
98 CHI -8.7
97 CHI -15.3
96 CHI -12.2
94 HOU -15
92 CHI -5.9
91 CHI -8.6
88 LAL -14.1
86 BOS -5.9
81 BOS -13.4
80 LAL -5.6
79 SEA -6.6
78 BAL -5.2
75 GSW -9
74 BOS -12.3
72 LAL -14
71 MIL -12.1
69 BOS -5.1
64 BOS -7.8
63 BOS -7.5
60 BOS -11.4

So using -5 ppg as the baseline, in the last 66 Finals, 32 times the champs have been held that far below their average and had to compensate with defense. That's only one series away from half!

It was surprising to me how many were much more pronounced than for GSW. Teams we think of as offensive dynamos carried by a singular star like Kobe's LAL, Wade's MIA, and five of Jordan's CHI teams were more effected by the opposing defense than this year's GSW was, but just like GSW were strong enough defensively to make up for it.

There are four teams that lost more than double the points Curry's GSW did: 97 CHI (-15.3), 88 LAL (-14.1), 81 BOS (-13.4), and '72 LAL (-14). I suppose that makes those four teams the most ensemble of them all, which fits ok for three of them, though I don't generally think of MJ teams in those terms.

In every full decade I included in the sample it happened between 4 and 7 times, with the slow-it-down, bully ball 90s being the biggest culprit with 7 occurrences, mostly involving Jordan's teammates getting clamped while he lights it up. Longest drought was from '16-'20, as GSW (and LAL once) alternately couldn't be stopped or couldn't stop opposing offenses.

I guess it's true what they say: (ensemble) defense wins championships!

I would say though it does place Curry's performance in some pretty great company. He joins Giannis, Kobe, Wade, MJ (4x), and Kareem as the only scorers to average 30 in spite of their "others" being clamped. Most of the teams that survived these drought series did so with much more balanced scoring attacks.

Naturally MJ did it 4x more than anyone else, being the GOAT and all.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 1:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

Rankings are inherently subjective to some extent, so although some rankings are obviously wrong for various reasons, there is no one ranking system that is definitive and flawless.

I find your system to be a bit rigid, but overall it is not worse than many other rankings/ranking systems that I have seen.

However, when a threshold for MVPs and/or championships is set, that implies that all of the players below one or both thresholds are lesser players than the players who meet or exceed those thresholds, regardless of how you explain or analogize the outcomes after those thresholds are set.

I don't think that Durant has to prove that he can win without Curry. We already saw both players on the same team in their respective primes, so we know that Durant is the superior player. Curry is not the first and won't be the last player to win a title without Durant, and doing so does not retroactively make Curry the best player on the Warriors' 2017 and 2018 championship teams.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 1:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

West is a self-critical perfectionist, so I don't put much stock in any self-deprecating comments that he made about being right-hand dominant. He ranks as one of the greatest scorers and playmakers of all-time, so if he really did all of that with one hand figuratively tied behind his back then maybe he is even greater than I thought. This reminds me of the critics who labeled Rickey Henderson "lazy," to which the great Ralph Wiley retorted (I am paraphrasing) that if Henderson set all of those records despite being lazy then he must be the greatest baseball player of all-time.

Please, let's not even put Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown in the same conversation with West about turnovers or anything else.

I don't find it that mysterious or difficult to evaluate West's skill set. In a shorthand version, he was a very athletic 6-3 guard who played some forward in college but became an elite point guard in the NBA. He had a lethal one dribble pull up jumper, he was an excellent free throw shooter, he was great at driving/drawing fouls, he was a superior rebounder for his position, and he was a top notch playmaker. He was probably the best defensive guard in the NBA for several seasons. He had some of his best individual games in the most pressure packed situations, and his team's losses were not because of him. He was not as flashy as some modern players, but his shooting, dribbling, passing, rebounding, and defense could be teleported directly into today's game with no problem. He is the best 6-3 and under player in pro basketball history, and I don't think that it is particularly close. West is closer to Robertson, Magic, Jordan, and Bryant among guards than whoever is next on the 6-3 and under list is to him.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 1:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Curry's Finals success is directly tied to Green and Thompson. They are all connected, and they have set records for Finals wins as a trio. Curry is the best player of the trio, but let's not pretend that he did not have a lot of help--and the help that he has had covers up the skill set areas that are his weakest (defense, rebounding) while also spacing the floor (Thompson) and providing playmaking (Green).

I have never asserted that other great players won without any help. The point with Curry is that he has more skill set limitations than the Pantheon players, particularly because of his size.

If you or anyone else would take Curry ahead of West, Robertson, Magic, Jordan, or Bryant in a hypothetical "all-eras" draft that is fine, but I am not convinced that any guard is particularly close to joining that group. I am not even convinced that Curry is better than forward/guard John Havlicek, who was bigger, who played much better defense, and who played a key role on more championship teams. Why is Curry more valuable than Rick Barry, Moses Malone, or Hakeem Olajuwon?

So many people are just leap-frogging Curry into the top 10 conversation without even seriously looking at the skill sets, accomplishments, and/or dominance of the players who are in the top 15-30 range.

I could make an argument that Scottie Pippen's defense, playmaking, rebounding, and 18-20 ppg make him just as valuable as Curry, but that statement might cause some people to just lose their minds. Pippen's one weakness was that--by skill set and mentality--he was not a big-time closer as a scorer. If Hue Hollins had not blown the last second call in game five, Pippen might have led the 1994 Bulls to a title despite his one weakness, and then no one would talk about that weakness, but that did not happen, and thus it is hard for me--a huge Pippen admirer--to lift Pippen out of the 15-30 range, but for different reasons it is also hard for me to lift Curry out of that range.

Comparing win totals from different seasons does not prove much. When Kobe was stuck with Kwame and Smush he figured out how to make the playoffs, while Curry could not get out of the Play-In Tournament despite playing at home. Give 2006 or 2007 Kobe the team that Curry had last season, and there is no way that Kobe misses the playoffs. Kobe was just more dominant at both ends of the court, and he could carry a team almost singlehandedly for stretches in a way that very few players in basketball history could.

Did Curry clearly outperform Durant in 2016? The Warriors had the better team. Before the series versus OKC, I correctly picked the Warriors to win. Even if you believe that Curry outplayed Durant in that series, the margin was not "clear" and Curry had the benefit of being on the superior team. Then, in 2017 and 2018, we saw Durant and Curry on the same team, and there was no doubt who was the number one option. That already happened, and nothing that happens in the future can retroactively change what happened.

Regarding being the best player at his position for a decade, Curry has two MVPs and four All-NBA First Team selections. My Pantheon guards each had many more All-NBA First Team selections: West (10), Robertson (nine), Magic (nine), Jordan (10), Bryant (11). There are other ways of measuring a decade of dominance, but I am not going to turn this comment into a 3000 word essay. Suffice it to say that I disagree with the notion that Curry's past decade measures up to the best decades posted by West, Robertson, Magic, Jordan, and Bryant.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 2:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The opinions of great players carry some weight, but it depends who said what, when it was said, and the context in which it was said. I don't think that Shaq is particularly consistent or analytical; he fires off hot takes, some of which hit the mark and some of which don't. He is an all-time great and a smart guy despite choosing to play the jester role at times, but I am not going to base my Pantheon on a quote of the week from him. Shaq has often said that Curry is one of his favorite players, but that is not a reason to put him in the top 10. Dell Curry was one of my favorite players of the 1980s and 1990s, but I don't rank him among the greatest guards of that era.

I am not sure how you cobbled together your list of what Shaq allegedly believes, but if your question is what I think of the list then my answer is that there is no way that Russell should be missing from the top 10 and no way that Curry should be in the top 10. Olajuwon's peak value was very high, but if you look at his career there were some troughs as well (relatively speaking). Olajuwon is in my 15-30 range, but it is not crazy to put him in the top 15. I think that top 10 for Olajuwon is pushing it, because Russell, Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq have to be ahead of him, and I would not put five centers in my top 10. Is the fifth best center worthy of top 10 consideration over one of the top two forwards or guards?

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 2:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As mentioned in a previous comment, my Pantheon guards each made the All-NBA First Team at least nine times.

Further, it can be added that Magic, Jordan, and Bryant each won at least five championships. Robertson averaged a triple double over a five season stretch. West was a tremendous two-way player.

Curry is not really close to any of those guys based on skill set, physical dominance, or length of time at the top. His biggest resume point is four championships, but Durant was the main guy for two of those titles.

So, what could Curry do to get into my Pantheon? He would need to grow, become a better defender, dominate his position for another five years at least, and add something else to his resume to distinguish himself: right now, Magic, Jordan, and Bryant have more rings/better Finals resumes, Robertson was the triple double king for 50 years until Westbrook came along, and West was an amazing two-way player. To either join that group or knock someone out (if a future Pantheon were to remain the same size), Curry has to do more than be the best player in one out of six NBA Finals.

I think that people are too mesmerized by Curry's three point shooting/"gravity" and are overly impressed with Curry's role in winning four titles. Does having four titles make Curry better than three-time champions Julius Erving and Larry Bird? To me, it is absurd to even suggest that.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 2:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Too Much Free Time:

Those are interesting numbers. Defense really does win championships, and that has been true for several decades. The Warriors differentiated themselves from the D'Antoni/Nash Suns because (1) they actually cared about playing defense and (2) they played defense very well.

The Warriors' defense was the MVP of the 2022 NBA Finals, but the MVP has to go to one person, so Curry was the logical choice. Curry was the best player in this series, but I don't feel compelled to label him the best player in the NBA, let alone one of the 10 best players of all-time.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 11:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Is the "grow" part of your list of things Curry would need to do non-negotiable, or is there some theoretical amount of winning/success that makes up for his height, was my main question.

I agree that he's behind Magic now but if he wins two more titles/FMVPs and one more regular season MVP they'd have pretty comparable resumes with Curry having been the best player on 4 title teams (3 FMVPs) compared to Magic being the best player on 2-3 title teams (3 FMVPs) depending on when we say he surpassed Kareem.

He would also then have double the titles and one more FMVP than Bird, and more titles than Shaq, Lebron, Kobe, Duncan, Erving, West, Oscar, Elgin, or Wilt, tied with Kareem and Jordan and trailing only Russell. He would have more FMVPs than Kobe, Duncan, Bird, West, Wilt, Oscar, Kareem, or Elgin as well.

I don't know if Curry is going to do all that. Probably he won't. Winning titles is hard and he should start aging soon. But if he does I think it'd pretty tough to keep him out, at least for me.

An interim outcome where he ends up winning one more title/FMVP is more likely and more interesting. Best guy on three title teams (2FMVPs) is still historically rarified air and no one outside the Pantheon can make that claim, and only about half the guys in it can.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 12:12:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

Well it's unfortunate that my thresholds can be construed to imply downstream rankings that they are not intended to, fortunately I have explicitly now debunked that implication as incidental, so that unintended consequence is duly solved. It is just a system for ranking the very best, not for ranking all players, and I cheerfully admit it would be poorly suited to that task.

I agree with you that Durant was probably the better player than Curry on those titles teams though I suspect we may differ on the degree. However, I do not think being the better player of the two for three years while they were teammates necessarily makes him the greater player in a historical sense. Moses Malone was greater than Julius Erving when they were teammates but Erving still had the greater career. Perhaps more controversially I would say that for at least half of their time together Magic was better than Kareem but that Kareem's career is still greater than Magic's. Perhaps Kobe over Shaq as well though that one I find myself more 50/50 on.

In my opinion, Curry's career without Durant has been more successful and impressive than Durant's career without Curry, and by enough of a margin to make up for the gap between them as teammates, which I believe to be reasonably small, the difference between an FMVP and "merely" an All-NBA 1st team level player. Their primes overlapped but Curry has more MVPs and titles, and defeated Durant the one time they faced each other in the playoffs. He also made the Finals three times to Durant's one, and while his teams are well-built, he has not had a teammate as decorated as Russell Westbrook or James Harden nor as skilled as Kyrie Irving, so I do not think there is much of an argument that he's been more successful only because he's had more "help."

It is true Durant lost some contending years to injuries to himself or teammates but Curry can likewise blame injuries for some of his own missed opportunities so I think that comes out in the wash.

I know you feel differently and I respect why, but I did want to point out that I think the discussion must be larger than "who was better the two years they won together?"


At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 4:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find Durant's body of work without Steph more impressive than Steph's body of work without Durant

Durant without Steph:

- 4 scoring titles competing against 3 of the top scorers ever in Kobe and LeBron

- 1 MVP against peak LeBron while finishing 2nd to peak LeBron 3x. As has been mentioned earlier Steph won his competing against Harden and Kawhi when neither peaked and by that point Durant was either injured or recovering from injury and LeBron was coasting (mostly on defense) in the regular season and no longer at his peak there

- Although he lost in the 2012 Finals it was against peak LeBron's super team (and by my estimate probably the best version of LeBron especially in the playoffs) and it involved going through a very strong 2012 Spurs team that started the postseason 10-0 before getting backdoor swept. Durant faced better teams (while having worse casts) in his 10-16 and 21-22 PS runs than Steph has in his 13-16 and 22 PS runs, as far as common opponents they are 1-1 albeit Steph's teams have been more competitive against the 14 Clippers and 22 Celtics than Durant's teams have been so there is that. Steph being 1-0 vs KD in PS is kind of meaningless considering the small sample size, the fact that it was a very close series (FWIW Thunder had a larger margin of victory that series), that he had the better team, had homecourt advantage, and should have never gone down 1-3 to begin with. Westbrook was of course better than Draymond or Klay but I'm confident the 3rd to 12th best player on the Warriors were all superior to whoever one would consider the 3rd to 12th best player on the Thunder and last I checked basketball is not a 2 on 2 sport nor is it just who has the better starting lineup (Boston had the better starting lineup but Golden State's superior bench ultimately prevailed in the series)

When you consider how much injuries and stuff out of KD's control (such as Harden's desire to want to be a cornerstone player instead of what he truly was in this gen's Manu) led to some early exits and how the Warriors won all of their titles with a healthy core group (and were unable to ever win a title when their core even missed one game) then it's definitely relevant when defending his lack of rings without the Warriors. I'm more impressed by what Durant did in 2012 and 2021 than I have ever been with Steph in the postseason but not everyone gets to face an injured Cavs team in the finals and a bunch of other broken down teams en route to their rings

That's why I'm in agreement with David about skillset analysis being the most important way to evaluate players, I'll never be a fan of Durant's decision to join the Warriors but he also immediately proved that he was the best player on those teams with Steph being the same age and was essentially the best player in every series they played in together. Maybe the Kawhi-less Spurs and the Jazz were teams Steph stood out more in but that's just two series and against two of the weakest teams they faced in their run together anyway. Much has been made in the past about Kobe getting "carried" by Shaq but it's always added to Kobe's legacy in my mind that at age 21-23 he was capable of outplaying peak Shaq (as high of a peak as any) in several important postseason series, particularly against Duncan's Spurs. Never felt that way about Steph and Durant, Durant was almost always better in their PS matchups and always better in their most important matchups

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 4:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for Steph without Durant:

- 2 scoring titles competing with Harden (before he really began to make a mockery of the sport) and Beal

- 2 MVPs but I really really doubt he'd have 2 competing with early 10s LeBron/Durant. Timing was his friend and as was his supporting cast which contributed a lot to enhancing his play

- 2 championships with deep ensemble casts, Durant has not win a title without the Warriors but Steph has won all four of his with Draymond, Klay, Andre, and Kerr so it would be foolish to also ignore that he had a lot of help in his titles (and that those teams - particularly the KD Warriors - were dominating even without him in the playoffs). It's not even just that core, the Warriors have often had a bench good enough to be a solid starting lineup as well since 2015

- Technically 5 missed postseasons but as a full time starter he's at 3 while being age 21-33 for all of them, Durant at age 21 onwards has only missed it once and it was in a year they almost certainly make it had he played even half of the season. Steph had solid teams early on but was unable to even get those teams to a winning record, his 13 - 13 record in 2012 is misleading as they were 5-0 in games he played under 17 minutes (including a game where he played merely 3 seconds) so I'm not sold on the belief that he could have gotten the 2012 Warriors a winning record and PS berth had he been healthy. It just comes off as very boom or bust with Steph where he needs absurdly great supporting casts when far superiors players needed less to even have their teams be champions. It reinforces that his size is a huge limitation but because the Warriors FO has done such a great job of building those rosters it's not been the hinderance it would be in virtually all other scenarios

Overall I'm far more impressed by what KD accomplished without Steph than what Steph accomplished without KD and considering KD was better when they were together (despite that team not even being built to maximize KD) it's very clear to me who is above whom all-time. Neither are Pantheon caliber (although Durant is very close by my estimate) but both are also top 20-25 by my estimate

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 4:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oscar is an interesting comp with the triple double feather in his cap. Is that really any more impressive than Curry's shooting records? I don't know how you'd even begin to decide which is more valuable but both are statistical anomalies unique to their authors. Oscar's feat took 50 years to be duplicated and Curry's may take even longer.

Is "greatest shooter ever" any less impressive than "triple double king?"

He's also the most efficient big-time scorer ever. Durant and Dantley are the only scoring champs who're even close.

If you call those statistical wonders even, the rest of Curry's resume holds up pretty well against Oscar's. Oscar has more All-NBA nods in a much smaller league, but Curry's got him on 50 win seasons (7-5), titles (4-1), MVPs (2-1), FMVPs (1-0), and titles as the best guy on his team (2-0). Oscar has a slim lead in playoff appearances (10-8) but it would be frankly astonishing if Curry didn't make at least two more playoff appearances before he hangs it up.

I dunno, if someone wanted to make a case for Curry passing one of the Pantheon guards, they'd probably be better served to start with Oscar way before West or Magic, whose playoff resumes stand up much more confidently against Curry's.

Aside, though I don't have the wherewithal to wrestle you on it, I do think you underrate Curry's unique version of gravity a skosh. Yes all great players have gravity but almost no great players use it as relentlessly and intentionally off-the-ball as Curry does. When Magic or Jordan would pass the ball their man would stay glued to them and they may make the occasional sharp cut to try and get the ball back, but when Curry passes the ball he sprints around forcing switches or doubles and throwing up screens and generally creating panic and havoc. Curry generates at least as many easy shots for his teammates this way as he does with his passing.

We have seen other players do this to some extent, most notably Havlicek and Miller, but those players did not couple that skill with Curry's scoring volume, nor his efficiency, nor his obscene range. So they did not inspire the same degree of fear or panic in defenders and did not attract the same amount of attention and chaos.

Even when not moving, standing still 30 feet from the hoop Curry can draw a defender and allow his teammates to play 4 on 4. As a pick-up ballplayer yourself I'm sure I don't have to tell you how much easier it is to get to the rim in a game of 4-on-4 than in 5-on-5. Wiggins took advantage of this a few times in the Finals to beat defenders one-on-one with help too far away to stop him.

None of that elevates Curry over the Pantheon guards but it is a unique-to-him superpower that really does help his team win. It's not a "blog boy" term and credible analysts like Burke and the Van Gundys have discussed it a thousand times. Downplaying it as unimportant can sometimes make his critics sound willfully obtuse.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 8:35:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

Anonymous, a lot of your conclusions are sound but I disagree with many of the premises, which are ultimately subjective. This does not mean my POV is any more correct than yours, but it is nonetheless my POV and explains why I reached a different conclusion.

Steph Curry has beaten more 50 win teams in the playoffs than Durant has, so I disagree he played easier teams. Despite that, he has a much higher playoff win percentage (.693 vs. .619) despite having played more CF (8 vs. 6) and Finals-level (6 vs. 3) opponents, and despite having skipped significant first and second round games due to injury.

I don't agree that KD's MVP is more impressive than Curry's and I think Lebron's MVP case in several of his Cavs years was just as strong as in his Miami years.

I would probably agree that overall and on paper that the 2012 Heat are better than the 2016 Cavaliers, however I believe that both Lebron James and Kyrie Irving played the best ball of their careers in that 2016 Finals, and I think that particular snapshot of the 2016 Cavs was probably even more difficult to defeat than the 2012 Heat.

I also don't agree Kevin Durant's scoring titles were harder. His second place finishers scored 29.7, 26.7, 27.9, and 27.4 PPG. Steph's second place finishers scored 29.7 and 31.3, so he had the most difficult single scoring title of the bunch, and the tied with KD for the third most difficult. KD still has the advantage as 4>2, but what makes Kobe and Lebron better than Bradley Beal is not total point scored, but complete skillset/how they score those points, so not relevant for scoring races.

I think it is difficult to determine whose supporting cast was better in 2016, particularly with as divisive a pair of players as Westbrook and Green involved, but I think if you took Durant and Curry both off their teams, the Thunder would destroy the Warriors. The Warriors were certainly deeper, but generally two teams with MVP candidates are rarely deep, though many of them still win titles.

It is also noteworthy that statistically that was Curry's weakest playoff run, likely because he was coming off that knee injury, while Kevin Durant was fully healthy at the time.

I also think I value Steph's titles quite highly, particularly the latest one. If one is not impressed by those titles then they will likely reach a different conclusion.

Wordcount has stymied me here, my feeble attempt at skillset analysis incoming in a separate post, apologies.

At Tuesday, June 21, 2022 8:39:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man The Longwinded said...


While I still think cross-positional skill-set analysis is very difficult to the point of near-futility, I do think it is at least more feasible between two players who played at the same time. Durant and Curry are similarly elite scorers overall, though Curry is a better shooter and Durant is a better post-scorer. Curry is slightly more efficient, but the margin there is negligible.

Curry is a better passer and ballhandler by a decent margin. Durant is a better rebounder, though I would argue that Curry is a better rebounder relative to his position than Durant is relative to his, meaning that Curry is a better-than-average rebounder for a point guard but Durant is a fairly weak rebounder for a combo forward. I am not sure how to value overall rebounding vs. positional rebounding, but let's count this as a mild win for Durant.

Both are a bit turnover prone, particularly in the playoffs, but a higher percentage of Durant's turnovers are live-ball. Most of his turnovers come from having his pocket picked on a double or his slower passes picked off, while the bulk of Curry's come on over-ambitious and under-accurate passes that sail out of bounds.

Defense is a similar story. Durant has more defensive value overall as he can guard more positions and provide rim protection as a helper, but I think Curry is a better man defender at his position than KD is at his, and a smarter/more engaged defender overall. KD still provides more total value on that end than Curry does, but I believe Curry is better than most people give him credit for and Durant is not terribly consistent in either effort or attention, and has become overrated defensively.

I think Curry's off-ball value dwarfs KD's, as Curry is a near-constant mover and trouble-maker while KD tends to just float at his preferred spots and wait for the ball. Both have "gravity" to use David's least favorite term, but Curry's gravity orbits, as it were, and KD's does not.

In broadest terms, I believe Curry is a mildly more valuable offensive player and KD is a moderately more valuable defensive player.

I value Curry's sans-Durant titles and Finals appearances more highly than I value what I consider to be a fairly small skill gap in Durant's favor. I understand though why someone who did not value those titles as highly would prefer Durant, and if Durant can prove that he is capable of winning one without Curry I would likely prefer him as well. But as yet, he hasn't.

I don't think you're necessarily wrong for disagreeing with me, we just have different reads on the talent-level of many of the supporting players in this story, and place different levels of emphasis on the titles.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2022 12:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the 50 win comment I was arguing that Durant faced better teams during that span than Steph has faced without Durant. I want to say they were near the same amount of 50 win teams beaten before this season, but my point that he faced better teams while having worse overall support (especially after 2012 for the postseason) would still suffice

I do not agree with that at all. LeBron was not as fixated on regular season play with Cleveland to the extent he was in Miami and his first Cleveland stint, he also showed signs of that in 2014 when Durant won his lone MVP award but he was still a better RS performer that season than in 15-18. He was also dealing with back injuries in the 2015 season that affected his play throughout that season, with Durant also out due to injuries and the Warriors having by far the best team in a year lacking in any great teams (at least in the RS, the Cavs were much better than their record indicated but were injured all season) he basically won it by default

Fair, respectfully disagree with that

Granted a lot of scoring comes down to situation but even then the competition up top was better back then and scoring was more difficult during that period than it has been since, I would still consider winning his 4 scoring titles during that period to more impressive and he was extremely close to winning a 5th

That I do not agree with one bit. The Warriors without Steph had little issue beating the Rockets and Blazers by at least 9 points in 4 of their 6 games and also blew them out by 27 in a game where he played under 20 minutes and had a plus minus of zero. Neither of those teams were anything to write home about but I really doubt a OKC Durant less team even one with Westbrook would be as successful. It was a different year but The 2015 Thunder played at a 55 win pace with Durant and at a 40 win pace without him despite having Westbrook for most of that (~46 win pace with Westbrook and no Durant) and Durant wasn't even himself that entire season. He never quite got his burst back even with Golden State. They went 3-7 without him in 2016 and 3-5 in the ones that Westbrook did not miss. In general the Thunder have struggled in the playoffs since his departure (despite having a top 5 or so player during that time in Westbrook) while the Warriors have at least shown they could easily beat 1st/2nd round opponents without Steph due to the versatility and depth of their squads. I don't see it

At Wednesday, June 22, 2022 12:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding skillset analysis, I'm of the belief that Durant is the better scorer (by quite a bit) while Steph is a better playmaker (also by quite a bit). I value scoring more than playmaking out of an individual but the gap in playmaking is a little bigger than scoring so offensively it's really close for me. Defensively Durant is definitely better although I would not classify either as two way players. I generally value offense more than defense especially for perimeter players but the offensive gap is close so the deal breaker would be the defensive gap between them

Rebounding I would argue even positionally it's Durant, guard rebounds have gotten easier in the last 10 years due to the higher emphasis on the 3 ball (more likely to hit the midrange/3 point area of the court) and the higher tendency of teams just letting primary ball handlers grab uncontested defensive boards. Before the league went to that direction Durant was a much better rebounder by any way of looking at it and I doubt skillset wise either has changed much if at all as rebounders in that span. Durant I would give the skillset advantage while having obvious physical tool advantages. Steph is a better leader and I don't believe that's in dispute but I do believe Green is more of the leader of those teams than Steph is (he is certainly the heart and soul of those teams), Durant may not be much of a leader but he's certainly more likely to be aggressive when the game is on the line and take bigger matchups seriously so in terms of "killer instinct" I would give him the nod there

And as mentioned above I find his overall body of work to be more impressive with Steph and without Steph. The Warriors 2015 and 2022 runs did not impress me much in real time or in retrospect. We'll agree to disagree there, I saw deep ensemble casts that faced injured/weak/fluky teams for both runs

Both top 20-25 but Durant I would consider fringe top 15 (but leaning slightly closer to 10 than 20) and Steph more fringe top 20. I believe top 15 talks with him is recency bias and in the moment. I believe many also mistakenly attribute him as the only one that matters even though he's been there since 2010 and has missed the playoffs almost as much as he's made the finals in that 13 year span.

Sounds like someone whose impact on winning is very sensitive to his surroundings, almost every all-time great has missed the playoffs at least once but they generally did as teenagers, in late 30s, or dealing with a lot of missed time (at least about 20% of the season being injured or playing injured which was definitely applicable to Kobe playing through injury during the entire 2005 season with plantar fasciitis before that December injury happened). That could be applicable for Steph in 2012 and 2020 but it's likely they still miss those years even if he played all season. Only time Durant missed the playoffs was his age 19/20 seasons and the year they played at a 55 win pace with him. I believe he's just a flat out better player and needs less moving parts around him to thrive. He has his issues that makes it hard for me to rank him any higher than around 15 (even though talent wise he's roughly there with any pantheon caliber player) but he's still better than Steph on my end by quite a bit regardless of the recency bias at play for many

That's all I'll add to this convo, we've talked enough and I'll just have to respectfully disagree. Good talk!

At Wednesday, June 22, 2022 10:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

My comment that one of the things that Curry would need to do to move up in my ranking is "grow" is a flippant note, but with a serious point: my Pantheon only includes one player under 6-5 (Jerry West), and it would take something extraordinary (such as Stephen Curry growing from 6-3 to 6-5 or 6-6) for me to add another player under 6-5.

From what I have observed and learned about basketball, size is very significant, as is the ability to play multiple positions at both ends of the court. Look at Phil Jackson's Chicago Bulls as an example: he often had four players on the court between 6-6 and 6-8 (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Harper) who could play multiple positions at both ends of the court. When Jackson utilized players under 6-6, they were generally specialists (B.J. Armstrong, John Paxson, and Steve Kerr were outside shooters, while Randy Brown was a pesky defender).

Therefore, for me to rank Curry as equal to Pantheon players I would have to believe that he is far superior in skills, to make up for the size deficit--or, he would have to grow.

I do not believe that he is far superior to anyone in the Pantheon, and I don't expect him to grow.

I also do not find it likely that, at his size and age, he will add multiple titles to his resume. Even if he does, that would not necessarily convince me that he is better than players 6-5 or bigger who could play multiple positions and impact the game in more ways than Curry does.

My rankings are based primarily on skill set. Winning titles and winning awards matter, but those things are not entirely under a player's control. Why should Frank Selvy missing a last second shot (which cost West a title) impact the evaluation of West's career? That just makes no sense to me. Curry is not better than West because Kyrie Irving got hurt in the 2015 Finals and Selvy missed a short jumper in game seven of the 1962 Finals. From a skill set standpoint, West is better than Curry at everything except free throw shooting (we don't know who is better at three point shooting because the three point shot did not exist during West's career).

At Wednesday, June 22, 2022 4:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

I find it inconsistent to say that winning titles and/or winning MVPs only matters in terms of getting in the Pantheon but not when ranking "downstream" players, regardless of how you explain this. If a factor is important enough to distinguish between being in the Pantheon and being excluded from the Pantheon, why would that factor not matter when ranking players 15-30 (or even players further down the list, like Robert Horry, who won more titles than most Pantheon members)?

Durant is almost a foot taller than Curry, and Durant is better than Curry at scoring, rebounding, and defense. Even if we give Curry the edge in ballhandling (debatable) and passing (not a huge edge, but perhaps an edge for Curry), that is not close to enough to make up for Durant's advantages in size and skill.

Leadership is hard to define or quantify. Chris Paul and Steve Nash are lauded as great leaders, but they never won anything. Kobe Bryant is often criticized, but he won five championships as an All-NBA level player. I would rather follow the player who will lead me to championships than follow the player who will lead me to playoff losses.

The Warriors won one title prior to acquiring Durant and two titles with Durant as the unquestioned best player. Durant led OKC to the NBA Finals. Durant also demonstrated leadership as a member of Team USA. I don't agree with the notion that Curry is a better leader than Durant.

I have never said that the discussion should be limited to the years that they played together, but it seems obvious that those two years when both players were in their prime revealed a lot about their relative worth. The Malone/Erving example involves players who were at different stages of their careers.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2022 5:33:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

David, if a factor is required for Pantheon consideration, that does not mean it must determine all other evaluations. "Is X a valid contender for greatest of all-time?" is different than "Is player X better than player Y," and therefore the tools used to answer the first are not identical to the tools used for the second. You could probably find the answer to the first by running enough repeated instances of the second, but I lack both the time and the interest to attempt it in that laborious a fashion.

I believe there are boxes Pantheon-level players must check, and those that don't must be evaluated differently. You prefer a different system, which is just as well, but it does not mean that my system is invalid. I think those are reasonable requirements to be considered for Greatest Ever, but since they are not the only qualifications, it does not follow necessarily that someone who comes closer to meeting them (while still falling short) is automatically better than someone who misses them by further.

To get a driver's license, you must pass a driving test, have a valid government ID, and pass a written test. Having a government ID does not automatically make you a better driver than someone who doesn't have one, but you must have one to enter the "licensed drivers" club. Horry having seven government IDs does not make him better than Elgin Baylor, who has none, because Horry flunked the driving test and the written test. It also does not make him better than West, who has one government ID to his seven and aced the driving test but barely failed the written test.

Requirements =/= scalable metrics.

I simply do not agree with some of your evaluations of KD v Curry. I think the gap between them is significant as passers, I think they are too close to call as scorers, and I think the gaps between them as defenders and rebounders are slimmer than you do.

There is also an off-the-ball element to Curry's value that you dismiss as illusory or overrated. His loudest fans make too much of it to be sure, but it does exist and must factor in to any rational evaluation of his value.

I think leadership is difficult to quantify but I think that Durant clearly has ample room for improvement. Feuding publicly with Draymond mid-season and twice deserting his teams in free agency is a suspect resume. I think that spending as much time as he does bickering with media talking heads, Michael Rapaport, and anonymous Twitterati during the season sets a poor example of what a player's priorities should be. I think tacitly endorsing Kyrie Irving's nonsense introduces little accountability to a locker room that could use some. I think his, at best, as-the-mood-takes-him approach to defensive effort in Brooklyn likewise does little to establish a baseline level of commitment sorely needed on that end.

I am not sure I know how to identify a great leader but I feel confident positing that Kevin Durant is a poor one.

For all that, the true delineator between them is success. Curry has won four titles, Durant has won two. Curry has made six Finals, Durant has made essentially three. Perhaps without Durant Curry would have only two titles (my gut suspects three) but he would also likely still have six Finals and the title count would then stand at 2-0. If Durant had played on garbage teams his whole career perhaps this would weigh less heavily but he has spent most of his career with at least two other very good players by his side. His teams were all good enough to be pre-season title favorites, so they are good enough to be found wanting when they do not live up to those expectations.

At Wednesday, June 22, 2022 7:33:00 PM, Blogger Tristan said...

David, I agree with your conclusions about the series, and Curry's all-time ranking.

The Celtics did not exploit their physicality advantage, and appeared to not show any urgency even in Game 6. Tatum settled for 3-pointers and Euro-stepping to try to draw fouls, instead of going baseline / aggressively attacking the hoop / taking more mid-range jumpers. He should stop the social media nonsense and get on with business, unlike his purported idol Kobe, who--at Tatum's age--was the best all-around player and just relentless / phenomenal (3-peat Kobe was a force of nature, while playing with THE force of nature in peak Shaq).

Curry is unquestionably an all-time great, he earned (and deserved) his Finals MVP, and his raw emotion upon winning appeared to be more genuine and heartfelt than LeBron's display in 2016 Game 7. I don't get, though, how others are now downgrading the historical status of Jerry West and Isiah Thomas to rush Curry into Top 10 / Pantheon status.

In another Kobe aside, some mainstream Top 10 lists have Bryant at #10, perhaps the easier to shunt him off when Curry / Durant / Giannis / take-your-pick has been deemed worthy of being in that rarefied group.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 2:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you that Durant's body of work without Curry is more impressive than Curry's body of work without Durant. There is a lot of "noise" when making such comparisons because of the value of one's teammates, the strengths of one's opponents, injuries, and other factors, but you are correct that when all of the factors are evaluated in proper context Durant has the more impressive career.

Even more significantly, Durant has the better skill set in addition to superior size. Skill set analysis is very important, because (other than size) a player controls his skill set and can improve his skills with diligent work. A player cannot control who his teammates are, how healthy his opponents are, or what goes through the minds of MVP voters.

I agree with you in terms of not being a fan of Durant's decision to flee OKC to join the Warriors, but I share your ability to not let that feeling interfere with objectively evaluating Durant's greatness. I don't have to agree with Durant's choices or his penchant for having rabbit ears regarding social media in order to properly evaluate Durant's skills and impact.

Durant almost beat Curry in 2016 despite Curry having the superior team, and then after Durant joined forces with Curry it was Curry who--rightly--took a step back.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 2:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make an excellent point about Curry missing the playoffs several times in situations during which he should have been able to carry his team to the postseason if he is as good as his proponents suggest.

You hit the nail on the head with your statement that Curry's size is a liability but the Warriors' front office has done an excellent job of covering up that weakness by surrounding Curry with players who can pick up the slack.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 3:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

I don't understand your skill set analysis of Curry and Durant. Durant's career rpg average is 7.1 rpg, with three seasons of better than 8 rpg. Durant can play small ball power forward, he can play small forward, and he can even play shooting guard (though he is a bit miscast at guard and functions much better at forward). Curry's career rpg average is 4.6 rpg and he has never averaged better than 5.5 rpg. Durant is clearly the better rebounder. It is difficult to picture Curry getting a rebound versus Durant if the two are equally well-positioned when a shot is taken. You could argue that rebounding is less important for a point guard than for a small forward--but I would counter that a bigger player is more valuable than a point guard--but you cannot sensibly argue that Durant is not clearly a better rebounder than Curry. If your team needs a points/rebounds double double, Durant can supply that. Curry cannot just go out and get 10 rebounds--he has had 10 rebound games, but those are anomalies. Again, size matters and size impacts what a player can do and how a player can affect the game.

Ballhandling is subjective, but Durant has outstanding handles for a small forward. He can drive all the way to the hoop, he can shoot pull up jumpers, he can dribble into step back jumpers. Yes, his dribble is too high at times (one of the few drawbacks of being so tall), but his ballhandling is elite for his position and compares favorably to most guards. Curry also has a very good handle, but he can be careless with the ball, and he can be bothered by size.

I concede a playmaking advantage to Curry, but some of that is based on position. Curry is a point guard whose job description includes distributing the ball, while Durant is a scorer and rarely serves as a primary playmaker. However, Durant's 4.3 apg average is very good for a small forward--in the same neighborhood as Baylor and Erving--and Durant is very deft at punishing double teams with the pass that leads to the assist pass. A point guard is supposed to be a better playmaker than a small forward, and the margin by which Curry is better than Durant does not even come close to making up for Curry's deficits in multiple other areas.

If you think that a 6-3 point guard who is regularly "hunted" by opposing teams and who never is given the toughest defensive assignment is even close to as valuable on defense as a player who is nearly 7 feet tall, who can provide rim protection, who can guard multiple positions, and who has twice outdueled LeBron James in the NBA Finals then I am not even going to attempt to argue this point. We are speaking different languages here. Durant wins defensively over Curry by a significant margin for multiple reasons.

Durant's job is not to run around off the ball. His job is to get buckets, and to make passes to punish the defense when he is trapped. Curry is very effective off of the ball, but he also needs to do that because he cannot just go get his shot in the variety of situations that Durant can because, again, size matters. Durant does not need to run off of three screens to get open; he is open as soon as he catches the ball. Down the stretch, I would prefer to go to a 6-11 player whose shot cannot be blocked or even bothered. Steve Kerr agrees, because when Durant and Curry were on the same team the ball generally went to Durant down the stretch of close games. Again, if you think that off ball movement matters more than 6-11 versus 6-3, we are speaking different languages.

I conclude that Durant is a better offensive player by a decent margin, and a much better defensive player. A skilled 6-11 player is better than a skilled 6-3 player. Curry is better than most 6-11 players because his skills are far superior to theirs, but he is not better than Durant or Giannis or than the players in the Pantheon who are bigger and at least as skilled (or West, who is the same size but much better defensively and certainly no worse offensively).

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 3:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your point about Curry missing the playoffs almost as often as he has made the Finals is significant, because it cuts to the heart of the matter in multiple ways: Curry's size limits both his durability and his dominance, which causes him to miss more games, and which also causes him to be very reliant on the quality of his teammates. Pantheon level players tend to rarely miss the playoffs because they are big enough and dominant enough to avoid missing a lot of time, and to carry subpar supporting casts when necessary.

When you look at my Pantheon, Russell won 11 titles in 13 years and never missed the playoffs. Chamberlain had one serious injury in 14 years, and he only missed the playoffs once while winning two titles with the two winningest regular season teams in history (at that time). Kareem missed the playoffs twice in 20 years while winning six titles in 10 Finals appearances and earning a Finals MVP at 38. Erving made the playoffs in each of his 16 seasons (a North American record for pro team sports when he retired), winning three championships in six Finals appearances. You can go down the line in the Pantheon and see similar stories throughout. Baylor is the one Pantheon player whose career was most impacted by injuries, but he still averaged 27.4 ppg, 13.5 rpg, and 4.3 apg in 846 games. With today's superior medical treatments and training practices (and rules that favor offense) he would be a sight to behold.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 3:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

Meeting the criteria for getting a drivers license is not a good analogy for formulating criteria for player evaluation. Anyone who meets the requirements for a drivers license gets the license. The requirements are minimums, and are not set up to determine who is the best driver of all-time.

You propose to determine objective criteria for being classified as a Pantheon-level player. By definition, your criteria are ranking criteria, not minimum criteria, and no amount of word play changes that. If winning titles and winning MVPs matter when ranking players at the very top, then they must matter when ranking players 15-30, 31-75, and so forth. Otherwise, titles and MVPs don't matter at all when ranking players. Granted, when ranking players who have no titles and no MVPs we must use different criteria, but that also reveals a flaw in relying too heavily on those two criteria. Every player has skill set strengths and weaknesses that can be compared.

A player's accomplishments matter, but when scouting players or ranking players you start with skill set (which includes size, because size matters and because lack of size is a limiting factor) first. I did a "Scout's Eye View of the Game" article many years ago for which I interviewed a number of scouts and talent evaluators, and I have talked to even more scouts and talent evaluators since that time. That is not to say that every one of them would agree with every one of my conclusions--consensus is hard to find, even among experts--but let's just say that I have "field-tested" my approach and have good reason to believe that I am on the right track. That is why I tune out talking heads who do a lot of screaming but don't know what they are talking about.

At the end of the day, you default back to just counting titles, and you rank Curry ahead of Durant based on 4-2--but if you are going to do that, then you have to rank Horry higher than both of them. You can say that you set up your rankings to exclude Horry based on him not winning any MVPs, but if you say that Curry is greater than Durant based on 4-2 without any other context that is not much different than someone saying that Horry is greater than other players who won fewer titles. There is context that explains why Horry was a key contributor but not an all-time great, just like there is context that explains why Durant is better than Curry even though Curry has played on better teams and been in more fortunate situations that have enabled Curry to win more titles. If you take context out of the Curry-Durant conversation and just count rings, then you must take context out of the Horry conversation and just count rings.

I am not stuck in that trap, because I evaluate players primarily based on skill set, size, and sustained dominance. I don't have to contradict myself to explain why Durant and Curry are greater than Horry.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 3:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

Media members often trashed Kobe, but after Kobe died and after MJ revealed how much he was a mentor to Kobe, media members softened their approach to Kobe. It became obvious that Kobe learned from the best, and that he was in the process of transmitting that knowledge to the next generation of players who respected him in a way that they respect few others (if any). Players, coaches, and scouts always understood Kobe's greatness. It was the media that got things twisted. When Kobe and LeBron were both in their primes (LeBron entering, Kobe slowly exiting), I talked to many current and former players about the increasing number of LeBron and MJ comparisons, and I often would get the reply, "LeBron has not passed Kobe, so why are we even talking about MJ?" (or words to that effect). I do a lot of independent thinking, but I don't form my opinions in a complete vacuum; I have a sense of how NBA insiders view the game and view players, and what the real experts think often differs from the soundbite version of the NBA.

All of that being said, I agree with you that as time passes after Kobe's death there will be an increased effort by media members to push Kobe out of the all-time top 10.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 4:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have never suggested that Curry does not have "gravity" or that his "gravity" lacks impact. I dispute the notion that his "gravity" is unique in pro basketball history and thus vaults him to Pantheon status.

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, Durant does not have to move without the ball as much as Curry does because Durant is open as soon as he catches the ball, no matter where he catches it and no matter who is guarding him--and if the defense does not "tilt" toward him (to use a term Doug Collins often uses) or if the defense resists Durant's "gravity" (i.e., fails to bring a second defender toward him) then Durant is going to torch that defense more often than not.

If Curry's "gravity" mattered more than Durant's skills, size, and "gravity," then Curry would have been the primary focus of the offense when they played together. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that Steve Kerr is a fool. The Warriors did less off of the ball stuff and less Curry-centric stuff when Durant was on the team because they could just give the ball to Durant and watch him either score or "tilt" the defense to the extent that Curry, Thompson, or someone else was wide open.

I refuse to act like a 6-3 player running around away from the ball is more impactful on his teammates and on the opposing defense than a 6-11 player who can score from anywhere on the court. That just makes no sense. Curry is great. Durant is greater. This should not be controversial or very hard to understand, but subjective feelings cloud judgments. Curry comes across as nicer and more relatable. Curry did not jump from one team to another. Curry is not involved in silly social media feuds. Curry did not create a "burner" account. Durant has said and done a lot of stuff that makes little sense to me, but when I look at him as a basketball player I see a 6-11 player who has no skill set weaknesses. When I look at Curry, I see a 6-3 player who is an average defender at best. Ranking Curry ahead of Durant just goes against basic basketball logic.

A lot of what is written and said exists to generate clicks, advertising revenue, and so forth. I get that, but that is not why I created this website. I am doing my best to accurately write about basketball history, to accurately rank players/teams, and to produce commentary about the current NBA.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 7:30:00 AM, Blogger A Lenda said...

I agree with everything you have said about Curry, he's a borderline top 20 player for me. I find it disturbing that Kobe is either 10 or of the 10 best players ever in most media lists and on the verge of being surpassed by Curry. Kobe, who is often considered a selfish player, had the most assists on all his championship teams. He was Pippen and Jordan and even a little bit of Curry, though he was not a three point specialist, he was making Curry like deep threes before Curry was in the league and making them at a never seen rate.
I do have a question, why isn't Isiah Thomas on your Pantheon? Maybe the best dribbler I've seen, one of the best passers I´ve seen, a good defender, a true leader (though many may not like his style of leadership) and beat Bird, Magic and Jordan on his way to two championships. I know how you feel about height, I do to, but I do feel Isiah to be an exception.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 8:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

A Lenda:

I rank Thomas very highly--higher than some others who have recently commented here--but the Pantheon includes players who at one time or another could plausibly be considered the greatest player of all-time, and who had the absolute highest peak value along with sustained dominance. Thomas does not quite meet those standards. He was never even the best guard in the NBA at any time during his career, as either Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan held that distinction.

Height is a factor to the extent that it almost always places a limitation on a player's greatness, but the main factor is that Thomas was never the absolute best player in the league, let alone being the best for a sustained period.

Thomas once noted that during his career he never thought about size but that after he retired he was at some NBA function standing next to Bird, Magic, and Jordan, and he thought to himself, Wow (he used a different word) these guys are so big. Thomas deserves a lot of credit for performing so well against Pantheon players and their teams and for leading Detroit to two championships in a very tough era.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 11:10:00 AM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

David, if I, the person setting the criteria, says that something is a minimum and not a ranking criteria, then it is a minimum, not a ranking criteria. You can disagree with that approach, but your displeasure with it does not change that fact because you are not the one setting the criteria for my specific list. So, they are minimums, not scalable metrics.

I think you've framed the question of off-ball value oddly. I agree with you that Durant is better than Curry on the ball, but they spend similar amounts of time on the ball, and in the remaining 60% or so of offensive possessions, Curry is providing more value for his teammates with his cutting, moving, screening, etc. than Durant is by standing still. This should not be controversial, and even Durant has made reference to how much Curry's movement helped him when he was in GSW.

So, I disagree that Durant does not "need" to move off the ball. No matter how good he is at scoring when he has it, why shouldn't he make it easier on teammates when he doesn't?

My point on rebounding is that Curry is a good rebounder for a PG and Durant is a poor rebounder for a power forward (which is now his most common position). As you mention that Curry is a better ballhandler but that is more his "job" anyway, I think the same is true for Durant's rebounding.

Durant's defensive ceiling is certainly higher than Curry's. His effort level on that end has been lax enough outside of his tenure in GSW that I don't think that's as big of a difference maker as you do. Durant on his best day is a better defender than Curry but Durant on his average day, even in the playoffs, he isn't engaged on that end. Curry tries much more consistently, and that closes a lot of the value gap.

Having made those final clarifications, I'll follow Dallas Anonymous' lead and excuse myself for the summer. The tenor of this conversation has skewed a bit combative/insulting for my tastes, so I'd rather not perpetuate it. I wanted to make and explain my own list, and I've done that, but I'm having quite a bit less fun endlessly quibbling over it.

Have a nice summer.

At Thursday, June 23, 2022 4:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

It is your prerogative to use whatever criteria you want and to define those criteria however you want; if you want to say that a player must be a Scorpio to gain admission to the Pantheon and then only after he gains admission will we look at how many times he scored 30 points in a road game on Tuesday, you can do that.

My point, as I explained in detail, is that there are inherent contradictions in the way that you use your criteria. If MVPs and championships matter at the top of the rankings, then logically they must matter further down the list. You can disagree about that, but your disagreement does not make your position logically sound.

You chose to post your method in the comments section on my website, presumably with the idea that I (and others) would offer opinions about your method. That is what I have done.

I have no idea how you determined that Curry and Durant spend the same amount of time off of the ball, and even if the statistic you cited is accurate it is not relevant. Think of Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller. Even if Miller moved better without the ball than Jordan, Jordan was the far superior offensive player because Jordan could get his shot off whenever he wanted. Jordan had plenty of "gravity" because he attracted multiple defenders. Even if he stood still, the defense still had to be prepared to deal with him.

Durant versus Curry is a closer call than Jordan versus Miller but the same logic applies: even if Curry is better off of the ball than Durant, in the larger scheme of things that does not matter much, and certainly not enough to vault a 6-3 player over a 6-11 player.

I disagree with your takes regarding Durant's rebounding and defense for reasons that I have already explained in depth and will not repeat.

We just see the game differently. That's OK. As I said earlier, I have been doing this long enough to know that there is nothing I can say to persuade people who have already made up their minds. My target audience is people who have not made up their minds, and people who are open to viewing the game analytically, even if this threatens their preconceived notions.

At Friday, June 24, 2022 5:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the KD Warriors, I've seen Curry supporters bring up data like this (https://www.pbpstats.com/wowy-combos/nba?TeamId=1610612744&Season=2016-17,2017-18,2018-19&SeasonType=Regular%2BSeason&PlayerIds=201142,201939) to mistakenly create this perception that Steph was so much better than Durant (or at least so much more valuable). From looking at the rosters it is clear that the Warriors used their best lineups with Steph on the floor than with Durant, Durant spending more time with Quinn Cook (who has struggled to get playing time anywhere) than with Draymond who Steph shares the most time with throughout his career (at least since 2015) and especially spent a ton of time with when Durant was off the floor for the 2017-2019 regular seasons

What I find especially interesting is that in the playoffs this doesn't occur at all and actually favors Durant: https://www.pbpstats.com/wowy-combos/nba?TeamId=1610612744&Season=2016-17,2017-18,2018-19&SeasonType=Playoffs&PlayerIds=201142,201939

Similar deal here, Steph and Draymond spend a lot of time together and Durant and Draymond do not spend anywhere near as much time although in the playoffs it goes to roughly 32% to roughly 65% of Durant's possessions being alongside Draymond. Keep in mind that Durant without Steph includes a substantial amount of the 2018 Spurs/Pelicans series where the KD Warriors (despite no Steph) had little to no issue blowing out those 2 teams with only the 3-0 game 4 vs Spurs being a bad loss (and again at 3-0 it was merely a blip). For Steph without Durant that includes the 2019 Blazers series which was an obvious pretender team and the 2019 Raptors where they struggled to do anything in the non-KD minutes

Much is made about how the Warriors never needed Durant and that might be applicable for the 2015/2022 titles but given the amount of injured rosters they saw both years I think a lot of deep teams wouldn't have needed Durant in that scenario. They definitely needed Durant anytime they faced a complete squad. I also do not like how the "they don't need Durant" camp acts like Steph is an indispensable member when frankly he could have been replaced by Durant from 2015-2016 and 2020-2022 and the results would almost certainly look better than what they have been with him leading the way. The Warriors are just a deep, well coached, well built roster and reality is that you don't have to be anywhere near pantheon caliber to be the best player on such a team

At Friday, June 24, 2022 9:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You summed it up very well:

"They definitely needed Durant anytime they faced a complete squad. I also do not like how the 'they don't need Durant' camp acts like Steph is an indispensable member when frankly he could have been replaced by Durant from 2015-2016 and 2020-2022 and the results would almost certainly look better than what they have been with him leading the way. The Warriors are just a deep, well coached, well built roster and reality is that you don't have to be anywhere near pantheon caliber to be the best player on such a team."

Not much else needs to be said. People who keep trying to elevate Curry over Durant either (1) don't understand basketball and/or (2) have some kind of agenda that is pro-Curry and/or anti-Durant but has nothing to do with objectively analyzing basketball skill sets.

Durant and Curry played on the same team in their mutual primes and Durant was without question the best player on the team. The coaching staff knew it, the Finals MVP voters knew it, and the statistics/results prove it. The results during the time that they played together provide perhaps the most powerful evidence of Durant's superiority over Curry, but Durant's superiority is also evident when making a scouting report-style evaluation of the two players: Durant is nearly a foot taller, he is a better and more versatile defensive player, he is a better rebounder, he can score from more areas of the court (and with less help from screens), his ballhandling is no worse than Curry's, and Curry's edge in playmaking is not enough to make up for Curry's deficits in the other skill set areas.

If the Celtics had utilized their advantages in just two more games after taking a 2-1 series lead, the narratives would be very different--but the truth would remain the same.

At Friday, June 24, 2022 6:33:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

You may have already addressed this, but would you include Dwyane Wade in the list of all-time great guards who should be ranked ahead of Stephen Curry at this point?

At Saturday, June 25, 2022 1:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't recall ever making a direct comparison of Wade and Curry.

Yes, I would rank Wade ahead of Curry, based on Wade being a better two-way player whose superior explosiveness caused more problems for opposing teams than Curry causes.

By the way, the "gravity" narrative is fascinating. Curry is referred to as a player who has to be guarded at half court. If you look at the film, Curry is (loosely) guarded by one player when he crosses midcourt. That means the other players are playing four on four. Unless Golden State has other matchup advantages, playing four on four should not be problematic for the other team. Further, when the Bulls faced the Pacers in the 1998 ECF, Pippen guarded Mark Jackson baseline to baseline. Does that mean that Jackson had more "gravity" than Curry because Pippen guarded him full court?

"Gravity" or "tilting the court" only matters if the player in question is attracting a second defender. Jordan did that. Bryant did that. No doubt Curry does that sometimes as well, but the notion that because his assigned defender is close to him at the midcourt stripe means that Curry's "gravity" is warping the defense makes no sense.

The "gravity" talk also conveniently ignores the reality that Boston held Golden State to 108 points or less in every Finals game. Golden State won the Finals because their defense was even better than Boston's (or Boston's offense fell apart, depending on how you view it). Curry had his best Finals ever, but if the Celtics had scored at their normal rate they would have won the series without much problem.

At Saturday, June 25, 2022 8:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's good to see an outlet that hasn't put Steph in top 10-15 discussions and it's also good to see Wade over Steph still being a thing, Wade has gotten underrated overtime and I believe it's a combination of a short prime, timing (peaking when Kobe and LeBron peaked), and in general LeBron's top teammates have and will continue to get underrated by the media

All Boston had to do was play like the bigger, faster, stronger team and we would not have to deal with this. Healthy Bucks stomp both teams

At Sunday, June 26, 2022 12:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for joining the conversation. I agree with all of your points.

It is amazing that just a few years ago we all watched Kevin Durant clearly establish himself as the best player on back to back championship teams while playing alongside Stephen Curry and yet many people still refuse to accept the basic, obvious truth that Durant is the superior player.

At Sunday, June 26, 2022 1:33:00 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

I assumed you would rank Wade ahead of Curry and so would I. Prime Wade was more impactful at both ends of the floor than Curry has ever been at any point during his career.

As for Curry and his "gravity", if gravity in basketball is defined as a player's ability to disrupt the other team's defense then there is an extensive list of players past and present who have/had significantly more gravity than Stephen Curry. A player who could easily be at the top of the list is Wilt Chamberlain. His gravity was so tremendous that the NBA felt compelled to make several rule changes to combat his dominance and he still proceeded to dominate in a way that will never be replicated. It's unfortunate that the term "gravity" has been hijacked to describe Curry's off-the-ball movement and that so many people actually believe that a slight 6-3 guard who spends much of the game running around in circles to get open has more gravity than a much bigger player who relentlessly punishes the other team in the paint and/or has an unguardable shot.

At Monday, June 27, 2022 9:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Wade was more impactful than Curry on both offense and defense--just a better all-around player.

The Wilt Chamberlain example is a great one. The NBA widened the lane, banned offensive interference (goaltending by the offensive player) and outlawed jumping from behind the free throw line on free throw attempts (!) in a futile attempt to restrict Chamberlain's dominance. No player in NBA history had more "gravity" and/or more impact on the rules than Chamberlain.

The nonsensical statements made about Curry and about comparing Durant with Curry have just reinforced my belief about how little many people understand about player comparisons/evaluations; lack of objectivity, lack of historical knowledge, and lack of understanding of how to do skill set comparisons infect much of what is said and written on these topics. We see this perhaps most glaringly with Curry and Durant--they played on the same together in their mutual primes, yet many people don't understand or refuse to acknowledge Durant's clear superiority--but it is also evident in many other player comparisons and evaluations.

At Monday, June 27, 2022 5:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh this is a fun game: What Guards Does David Have Above Curry?

So far we know: Jordan, Bryant, West, Robertson, Magic, Thomas, and Wade.

You used to have Westbrook over him as well. Still true?

How about Drexler? Frazier? Iverson? Moncrief? Gervin? T-Mac? Kidd? Cousy?

What about Ginobili? You've mentioned a few times that you think Curry's only real advantage over KD is shooting and that's ultimately pretty negligible, would that hold for Manu too?

Presumably Luka, if he counts as a guard, though perhaps it's a bit early for him yet just in terms of time served.

Is he not even a Top 10 guard?

At Monday, June 27, 2022 7:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

more than than 100 comments, primarily on Curry's place in history.... I don't disagree with your (and some commenters') statements that Curry isn't a top 10 or 15 player of all-time largely due to size (and its impact on value on D).  But I kind of go back to your original Pantheon article's Walter Payton statement about just appreciating these players without focusing too much on ranking them.  even if Curry is overrated (by those focused on rankings), it's still remarkable what he just achieved as an undersized player against a very physical Boston team with excellent D and the DPOY. in fact, his size limitations make this even more remarkable to me, without that elevating him into Pantheon-level status.


At Monday, June 27, 2022 8:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I will ignore your sarcastic tone, and answer at least the non-sarcastic portion of your question.

My first comment about Isiah Thomas versus Stephen Curry in this thread was, "From a skill set standpoint, I'd still take Isiah over Curry, but I understand that four titles compared to two weighs in Curry's favor, at least superficially." I did not definitively rank Curry versus Thomas; I just indicated that neither is in my Pantheon.

I have made it clear that Curry is not only in my top 50 but my top 30 as well, so it is not clear why you conclude that Curry is not among my top 10 guards of all-time.

I rank Robertson, West, Magic, Jordan, and Bryant (listed in chronological order) as Pantheon guards who are (at least) one level above all other guards in pro basketball history.

Wade is somewhere in the next group of guards with Curry, but I would rank Wade ahead of Curry within that group.

Westbrook is not better than Curry right now. From a career standpoint, it is a lot closer than many people may realize or admit.

Ginobili and Moncrief are not in my top 50 players of all-time. By mentioning them in this context, you are demonstrating that you have not read my writing, not understood my writing, and/or you are intentionally being a troll. Reread what I have actually written about the guards that you mentioned, and see if you can figure out my position.

At Monday, June 27, 2022 9:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't trying to troll, wasn't being sarcastic, just didn't remember your Top 50 perfectly off the dome. Heck man I don't even know my Top 50 perfectly off the dome.

Maybe I was a little gleeful at the possibility of the Curry stans losing their minds if he was out of the top ten, granted, but that's aimed at them, not you.

I thought you said something about Curry being in your top 30 "at best" but could be remembering you wrong. Your Pantheon has 5 guards out of 14 players, so even if he were 10th outta guards if that math held he'd still be in the Top 30, so I don't think I was way off base asking the question on that front at least.

I was just trying to figure out where he ranks among guards for you. Kidd, Drexler, Iverson, Cousy, and Frazier are all in your Top 50 so I guess those are the ones I'm curious about. Since you asked me to figure it out, I'll take a shot.

Iverson: Guessing nope, he's missing size which is your main knock on Curry.

Cousy: I dunno. I've seen you say some pretty great stuff about him but he's also missing size and I think you give more of the credit for those Boston runs rightly to Bill.

Frazier: Has the next smallest size advantage but also has the best defense of the bunch, and a pretty great Finals/title resume, so I guess the question is if he scores enough. I'm guessing your pick is Curry here but not by much and I don't feel super secure in it.

Drexler: I'm thinking you've got him over Curry. He's basically Wade with fewer rings, and rings aren't the main thing with you. Plus he carried two pretty crummy Portland teams to the edge of a chip, which ain't an "ensemble" act like Curry's.

Kidd: Gut says yes, head says no. You like scoring a lot and Kidd doesn't do much of that, even in his prime. He's got the size, the D, and the passing, though, and I'd probably take him personally.

Gervin: He's got the size and the scoring/rebounding chops but IDK if he passed good enough. He's no great shakes on defense but you don't really think much of Curry on that end either. Plus you love ABA guys. I'm guessing you don't have him over Curry, but I kinda think you would if he'd managed to win a chip, maybe.

If I guessed right then you've got Drexler and maybe Kidd over him and that'd put him at around 8th. Frazier, Cousy, or Gervin being over him too wouldn't blow my mind though. Iverson I know you love but he doesn't have the main thing you want guys to have over Curry.

At Monday, June 27, 2022 10:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Curry's greatness should be appreciated without ranking him in or out of the Pantheon; the issue is that so many people who are either agenda-driven and/or not capable of objectively evaluating players are determined to elevate Curry to a status that he has not earned, and that is the reason that I feel obliged to explain why Curry is not a Pantheon-level player. If the post-Finals commentary took the approach that Curry is a great player who had the best Finals performance of his career--and left it at that--then I would not write articles and comments stating that Curry is not a Pantheon-level player. My approach has never been to just randomly tear down a player for no reason; I elevate the players who have earned Pantheon status, I correctly place players who have been widely overrated, and I feel no need to state that a correctly-evaluated non-Pantheon player is not in the Pantheon.

I am not writing a series of articles about why, for example, David Robinson, is not in my Pantheon, because I have not seen or read commentary suggesting that Robinson is one of the 10-15 greatest players of all-time.

At Tuesday, June 28, 2022 1:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Sorry if I misinterpreted your tone.

I don't tend to rank players within their groups/tiers unless there is a special reason to do so. In other words, I have 14 Pantheon players, but I have never ranked them 1-14. I wrote a series about my 50 Greatest Players List, but I did not rank those players 1-50 (other than indicating which players are in the top 14, in some order). Similarly, I wrote about my 75th Anniversary Team, but I did not rank those players in order, either.

Over the years, I have addressed some player comparisons, such as placing Michael Jordan above Kobe Bryant, and placing Kobe Bryant above LeBron James, but I still have not ranked the Pantheon 1-14 and I even wrote an article outlining the plausible case for each of those 14 players to be considered the greatest player of all-time.

Therefore, I don't have Curry at #29 (or whatever). I have Curry outside of the top 14, and somewhere in the top 30 or so.

Regarding the players you asked about, I am inclined to rank Curry ahead of Iverson and Cousy. I want to take Frazier based on Frazier being better all-around but Curry's offensive impact is probably greater than Frazier's impact at either end of the court.

I'd take Drexler over Curry based on size, versatility, and athleticism. Drexler is not Jordan or Bryant, but he is closer than just about any other shooting guard in pro basketball history.

Like Frazier, I want to take Kidd over Curry because Kidd did more things well than Curry, but Curry's offensive impact is greater than Kidd's impact at either end of the court. I love the way that Kidd played and his basketball IQ, but I am not sure that he could be the best player on a championship team, or that he could be the second best player on multiple championship teams.

Gervin had comparable size to Drexler but not quite the all-around game. Gervin was one of my favorite players when I was a kid, but I'd have to take Curry.

Curry versus Westbrook is complicated. Westbrook has never had a team built around his talents, and on most of his best teams he has either been asked to defer to someone else or he had a deficient supporting cast (at least in terms of championship contention). I would take Westbrook at his triple double best over Curry but I could be persuaded that it is easier to build a championship team around Curry, at least under the current rules. I think that if Durant had stayed in OKC then the Thunder would have beaten the Warriors and possibly won a title; at the very least, Curry would not be leading Westbrook four rings to none if Durant had not abandoned OKC. Circa 2016 or 2017, I would have just taken Westbrook over Curry. I am less inclined to do that now, or at least less sure that it is clear cut. If you go back and look, you will see that circa 2015 I did not have Curry in the all-time top 50, but I have moved him up since that time. Westbrook is in the top 50 but he has not been moving up in the past few years.

At Tuesday, June 28, 2022 4:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, so it sounds like then you've got him in the 8-10 range for guards, depending how he shakes out against Thomas, Westbrook, and Frazier (it sounds like you'd lean towards taking him over Frazier or Kidd but maybe not Thomas or Westbrook, but I don't wanna put words in your mouth).

Would it be out of line if I tried to guess the rest of your Top 30?

We've got the Pantheon guys first, I know. Then you've mentioned the next group is, if I'm remembering right, Hakeem, Moses, Pettit, Barry, Havlicek, Pippen, and Dirk. So that makes 21.

You've also mentioned Durant and Giannis as dudes you've got as better than Curry, so that's 23.

Then IIRC you had Curry in the next group after them, so safe to assume Thomas, Wade, and Drexler are all in that group or higher, too. That gets you to 27, and it sounded like Frazier and Westbrook were pretty neck and neck with Curry too so let's pencil them in for 29.

Guesses for the last guy... Gilmore, Barkley, and KG are my best shots in the dark. Maybe Willis Reed too. Gun to my head I'd say maybe Gilmore? ABA guy, crazy longevity, strong two way peak, proved he could carry a title team in a way Charles and KG didn't, and lasted a lot longer than Willis.

I'm guessing there's a couple dudes could be in there if they'd only had a longer run, like Connie Hawkins or Kawhi or maybe Jokic (work in progress), but I know you like your tippy top dudes to have around ten solid years and none of those guys can really say so at the moment (though not reallY Connie's fault on that one).

Safe to say Curry's in your Top 30 overall but maybe wouldn't be in there for Top 30 peaks with dudes like Walton and Kawhi and Westbrook leap-frogging him?

At Tuesday, June 28, 2022 10:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is not "out of line" for you to try to guess my top 30, but that does not mean that I will play along by agreeing or disagreeing with your guesses.

I have made a point of not ranking every player in my top 50 or top 75, and one major reason for that is that there are many players who are not separated by much. I see a clear distinction between the Pantheon and everyone else. I think that there is a distinction (perhaps less clear than the one separating the Pantheon players from everyone else) between 15-30 or so compared to the next tier, and then on down the line (not that every group/tier must have 14-15 players).

Generally speaking, the top group only has players who credibly could be in the greatest player of all-time conversation, and that group will grow slowly (if at all). The next group has players who have been dominant for stretches, but are not even the best player (or best player at their position) in their own era. Within the top 30 or so you will find most of the players who won at least one regular season MVP (with exceptions for players who did not deserve to win an MVP). The players after the top 30 are players who were very good for a very long time (or elite for a very short time, but could not sustain the elite level due to injuries or other factors) but just not quite as good as the top 30 players.

Once I place a player in a group, I don't tend to rank him within that group. The only exceptions are active players who move up from one group to another. Curry, Durant, and Antetokounmpo are three examples of players who have moved up in the past 5-7 years or so. One would expect Jokic, Doncic, and other young players to move up in the next 5-7 years (which is not to suggest that Curry, Durant, and Antetokounmpo cannot move up as well, but the higher you go the less room there is to move and the more difficult it is to move up).

At Tuesday, June 28, 2022 1:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A mildly interesting stat from Twitter:

Championships won while averaging 27 PPG and never facing elimination:

Jordan: Four times
Curry: Three times

No other player since the 50s has more than one (Mikan has two but may be the only other one with multiples).

Poking around, the ones I could find with one are Durant ('17), Shaq ('01), Lebron ('20), Davis (20), Wade ('06), Kareem ('80), Dirk ('11), Cliff Hagan ('58), Kobe ('01), Greer ('67), Erving (ABA '74), and Roger Brown (ABA '70).

Interestingly for something that's been done so rarely, it's three times been done concurrently by teammates: Shaq & Kobe, Curry & Durant, and Lebron & Davis.

I don't know how significant it ultimately is, and the number 27 feels largely arbitrary, but I was nonetheless surprised none of Shaq/Lebron/Kareem/Bird had done it more than once.

There may be some small something to it given that Curry is also second to Jordan on average PPG in closeout games, so perhaps they share some sort of "quit wasting time" killer instinct (though of course the Warriors overall wasted a bit of time in the early rounds this year).

At Tuesday, June 28, 2022 3:45:00 PM, Anonymous Long Time, First Time said...

Hi David,

Big fan. Read for a long time. Agree on Curry.

All this Pantheon talk has emboldened me to ask about the one quibble I've long had with it. It has always seemed logistically implausible to me that 5/14 of the greatest players ever would debut in a five year span during the period of time where basketball was least popular and recruiting the most narrow, and skill development at its most nascent. By comparison, of the remaining nine pantheon members, never more than three debut within five years of each other (Kareem/Erving, Magic/Bird, and Shaq/Duncan/Kobe), though if you allow one extra year for grace then Magic/Bird/Jordan would at least constitute a second trio. In contrast to the concentration at that point, there are gaps of nine years from West to Kareem, another seven from Erving to Bird/Johnson, eight from Jordan to Shaq, and finally seven from Duncan to Lebron (and, if recent comments about Giannis suggest he may make the cut, then another nine from James to him).

It just strikes me as anomalous beyond plausibility for it to work out that way, even if the none of the arguments for 60s Pantheoner X necessarily ring false individually (though I admit I am a little bit less convinced by Baylor and Robertson's cases than by West, Chamberlain, and Russell's).

The West/Robertson and Chamberlain/Russell dichotomies likewise seem to contradict your sometimes-cited qualification that a potential Pantheoner must be the best at their position for about ten years (if I recall far back enough, I believe you've cited this as the reason Moses and Hakeem can't quite crack the list, and presumably a few other close calls like Hondo as well). Every post-60s Pantheoner can comfortably make this claim except perhaps for Bird and Erving who step on one another's toes ever so slightly at the margins but at least still comes very close.

Is your stance truly that those are five of the best fourteen, or are some of them to some extent "grandfathered in" due to being the forefathers of the league? Or is it perhaps that with limited available film it's too difficult to determine who was better between West/Robertson or Chamberlain/Russell, so you simply feel it is safer to give both sides of each coin the benefit of the doubt?

At Tuesday, June 28, 2022 4:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is an interesting stat, but I am not sure exactly what--if anything--it proves because there is not a clear cause/effect relationship between one player averaging at least 27 ppg and his team never facing elimination. A team not facing elimination could be the result of the opposing team's marked inferiority (and/or injuries), and it could also be the result of efforts by players not averaging 27 ppg. Also, as you noted, 27 ppg is an arbitrary number, and I wonder why that number was selected as opposed to a "round" number such as 25 ppg or 30 ppg.

At Tuesday, June 28, 2022 5:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Greatness emerges on its own timetable. At one time, people thought that there would never be a high flyer like Baylor--and then Erving showed up. Erving was followed by Jordan, and then by Bryant. Careers may overlap or not, depending on many factors. I did not intentionally slant my Pantheon for or against a particular era.

Russell is the greatest winner in the history of North American professional team sports. Wilt Chamberlain rewrote the record book. They belong in any pro basketball Pantheon, and that will not change any time soon (if ever).

All-NBA First Team selections are not the only (or even best) metric but--with the exception of a few questionable choices--they provide a quick view of who was the best in the league at a given time. West earned 10 All-NBA First Team selections, while Robertson earned nine All-NBA First Team selections. At least until Magic arrived, few if any would question that they were the two greatest guards in pro basketball history.

Baylor earned 10 All-NBA First Team selections, and might have had more were it not for his balky knees. He was the greatest forward in pro basketball history at least until Erving arrived.

A good case could be made for any of those players to be the greatest at his position, or even the greatest of all-time, period. How could I leave any of them out of the Pantheon? I am not going to leave a deserving player out just because several players played at the same time. Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon were not as good as Chamberlain or Russell, so I am not going to leave out Chamberlain or Russell to "balance" the eras within the Pantheon.

My stance is that the 14 players I chose are the 14 best players in pro basketball history at the time I made those choices--and I am not convinced that any players who emerged since that time belong on the list, either by expanding the list or by changing the membership.

At Tuesday, June 28, 2022 9:40:00 PM, Anonymous First Time, Long Time said...

A follow up question, then:

What would you attribute that preponderance of top-end talent emerging in such quick succession to? That 40% of the best 5 guards, 40% of the best 5 bigs, and 25% of the best forwards ever emerged within that five year span of a seventy-five year league? Logically it's always seemed to me that the first few generations of players would be the weakest, with the game/strategy less evolved, with less money and knowledge to optimize their bodies and training, etc. and yet...

At Wednesday, June 29, 2022 12:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

First Time, Long Time:

I have no definitive answer to your question, but I would point out two general observations:

(1) 75 years is a relatively short period of time in human history.

(2) I don't think that it is unique that some of the greatest practitioners of particular skills are from the same time period (or the same geographical location); there have been different times and/or places in which great poets or physicists or composers emerged.

I would also mention some basketball-specific observations:

(1) Chamberlain, Russell, West, Robertson, and Baylor played in an era during which players were expected to be well-rounded and fundamentally sound across the board. It used to be the case that specialists were bench players who entered the game to provide a spark in one area (perhaps shooting or defense) but that most of the very best players impacted the game at both ends of the court. In today's game, it is considered unusual for a player to be good at both offense and defense (hence the modern term "two way player").

(2) The explosion of salaries and of media coverage may have impacted the development and priorities of basketball players. The 1960s basketball stars were not trying to become global icons or social media phenomena.

(3) In the 1960s, if you did not play hard and play hurt, you might be benched or even cut. The players did not run the league.

This comment is not about analyzing whether these changes are good, bad, or neutral. I am just suggesting reasons that some of the greatest players might have emerged at a particular time.

Whatever the reasons, no serious basketball historian would question the greatness of these five players. Nearly a decade after they had all retired, they were each honored as members of the NBA's 11 player 35th Anniversary Team. Until the emergence of LeBron James nearly 40 years after Baylor's prime, I doubt that any serious basketball observer would have ranked Baylor any lower than third among forwards in pro basketball history. Until Magic and Jordan emerged in the 1980s, no serious basketball historian would have questioned that West and Robertson were 1a and 1b (in whatever order you prefer) among all-time guards. The only big man who has challenged Chamberlain and Russell's status is Kareem. No other big man has the right combination of dominance, winning, MVPs, and durability to be in that conversation; Shaq and Duncan are in the Pantheon, but not above the Big Three big men.

It seems as if modern fans have a hard time understanding or accepting Russell's greatness because he was not a big-time scorer or a range shooter, but Russell won at all levels for more than two decades: high school, college, Olympics, NBA. His teams won championships almost every year that he played organized basketball, and he was the best player on all of those championship teams. That speaks for itself, but it is also worth noting that he was a world-class track and field performer, a deft passer, the best shotblocker of all-time, and the most dominant rebounder other than Chamberlain. Russell did all of those things while also being a reliable double figure scorer. Further, his basketball IQ is off the charts, which is evident not only from his results but also from reading or listening to his commentary about the sport.

At Wednesday, June 29, 2022 12:20:00 AM, Anonymous First Time, Long Time said...

I'm not sure how comfortable I am comparing ballplayers to poets or physicists in that way, but I appreciate you answering the question.

At Wednesday, June 29, 2022 10:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

First Time, Long Time:

No comparison or analogy is perfect. My point is that it is easy to find examples of talented people in a particular field clustered together in one time period and/or one place.

Could anyone have predicted that the 1969 Finals MVP would be born in a little city in West Virginia? West Virginia is hardly at the center of the basketball world. For that matter, who could have predicted that a two-time NBA MVP would be born in Sombor, Serbia?

There are no simple answers about why/how/where/when talent develops.

At Thursday, June 30, 2022 6:59:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

David, been meaning to ask you this question. I agree that Durant, in a vacuum is a better player than Steph Curry. He's got all of the physical advantages while being nearly 7-feet tall. My question, does leadership plays a part in your breakdown of players?

Bill Russell was a leader. Arguably the greatest to ever do it in sports. MJ led by brute force of will. Kobe tried that, but eventually settled on a mix of MJ/Phil. Magic led with charm. West, Kareem, Bird, Dr. J, Lebron etc. etc. They were all leaders. I'd say Wilt may not have been...but then, his numbers and his ability were just so far and away better than anything else. You could put Shaq in a similar category.

Regarding the 17-19 Warriors, the leader of those teams was Curry (and to some extent Draymond). I would also argue that the OKC Thunder were Westbrook's team. At their apex, they played with his ferocity and attitude. They were physical and in your face. KD picked that up from Westbrook in my opinion.

As KD leaves the mess he created in Brooklyn and now attempts to hop onto another already-built team (the Suns or Sixers), does this affect his place? While it isn't a physical skill, leadership is undoubtedly one of the most crucial to success.

At Thursday, June 30, 2022 10:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Leadership is difficult to evaluate and quantify. Media narratives insist that Chris Paul and Steve Nash are great leaders. I would argue that Kobe Bryant is a better leader than both of them, because Bryant played a leading role on multiple NBA championship teams (he was the undisputed leader of two championship teams, and at the very least a co-leader on three others) and he was the leader of the "Redeem Team" as well.

Why should we believe that Curry and Green were the leaders of the 2017-19 Warriors? Durant won two Finals MVPs, and he was the one who directly challenged (and beat) LeBron James during the Finals matchups. After Durant got hurt and then left, the Warriors were a non-factor for several years and could not even win a Play-In Tournament game. If you are going to credit Curry and Green for leading in the good times, then you have to also "credit" them for leading the Warrior's non-playoff teams during the past decade.

I don't understand why Durant hops from team to team, but that behavior does not convince me that he has not been the leader of his teams. Others may have had leadership roles as well, but I don't buy the narrative that Durant is not a leader. It is also worth remembering his leadership role for Team USA; it means something when the best players are on one squad and it is clear who the leader is. Kobe Bryant filled that role during his prime/late prime, and later Durant filled that role.

If team-hopping disqualifies a player from being a leader, then LeBron James is at least as disqualified as Durant.

It is worth remembering that until Kyrie Irving refused to be vaccinated, James Harden quit, and the West fell apart around Golden State, Durant's Nets had won more playoff series than Curry's Warriors after Durant left Golden State.

At Friday, July 01, 2022 1:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very first anonymous here

This tweet where Steve Clifford was asked about Durant's leadership was pretty interesting: https://twitter.com/WillKunkelFOX/status/1541852970417065985?s=20&t=Qqu6Fz33gUVgR_Sy8cOFqA

I can buy the belief that relative to pantheon caliber players he's not much of a leader but frankly LeBron isn't a good leader either compared to the rest of the pantheon, his highs might be higher than Durant's as a leader but his lows are probably lower too

You would not expect a bad leader to have the successful international career that he's had as a top player. From the very beginning (2010 FIBA, very clear best player on a team that interestingly also had Steph and Iguodala both on the bench) he's had an integral role in all their titles and won the championship every time (neither of which is applicable to Duncan or LeBron for their international careers, for whatever that is worth). Those 16/20 Olympic teams were pretty weak historically (they don't hold a candle to the 92/96/08/12 Olympic teams, arguably no teams ever assembled do) and yet he still was able to win a championship with those teams with little difficulty

I think bad luck has had more to do with his lack of championship success outside of 17/18. For 2012 LeBron was at his peak and had the better team, only reason OKC was favored was because we didn't know what LeBron was going to show up. And then 13-15 had injuries to key players (including Durant himself in 2014-2015) that stopped those from being realistic title chances. As for 2016 it's odd to even penalize Durant for getting past a 67 win Spurs team and to also nearly beat a 73 win Warriors team (while his team was a 57 win squad and was largely just him and Westbrook) but that's really the only one you could try to pin on him (if you again got around the fact that he still did something pretty remarkable with his flawed OKC team even getting that far). Since 2019 injuries to him and others and dysfunction created largely by other players have gotten in the way and while I'm not a fan of the way he's gone about forming teams lately I really can't blame him for external stuff like COVID laws creating the chain reaction of Kyrie missing most of the season and Harden leaving in frustration, or Simmons coming in to replace Harden but not playing any games

Don't feel bad for him per se (I still believe staying at OKC was the best thing he could have done) but I don't like how this bad luck has created this false perception surrounding his career. The worst thing you could say about his 2021 PS run (which was a great run) was that his shoe was too big. I'm glad Giannis won that year but it would have been nice if Nets were healthy last year and Bucks this year as a healthy version of those teams likely win it all in those years. It definitely would have been better for discourse than where we are at right now

At Friday, July 01, 2022 9:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In the quote you provided, Clifford said, "Kevin was a breath of fresh air. He may be the best player in the world and nobody works harder. Nobody cares more about his teammates."

I have yet to see many coaches, teammates, or players suggest that Durant is not a good leader. The leadership critique appears to arise from people who are not connected to the sport and who are looking for reasons to downgrade Durant's status after realizing that his skill set and accomplishments are too impressive to ignore. This is the opposite of what happens with players like Steve Nash and Chris Paul: they have gaps in their skill sets and resumes but many people want to find reasons to praise them, so they are called great leaders even though they never won an NBA title.

A leader should actually lead a group or team to a tangible accomplishment.

At Friday, July 01, 2022 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Different anonymous:

People have such short memories. KD was half a foot short of beating the eventual champs, and he looked like the best player in that series over Giannis without a healthy Harden or Kyrie.

At Friday, July 01, 2022 11:35:00 AM, Blogger Jordan said...


"I can buy the belief that relative to pantheon caliber players he's not much of a leader..." Basically this right here. Never said KD wasn't a great player or a great teammate or a hard worker or even a bad leader. We are having a discussion about top 20/pantheon level players right? When discussing the tippy top of the tippy top, nits must be picked.

@different anonymous

My memory is not short. Yeah, he was close last year to taking out the Bucks. But, he didn't. You can point to pretty much every player and point to "almost" moments. Curry has one of those too. If Dray doesn't get suspended...But Dray did because he's Dray, and Durant did because his shoe size is his shoe size.

My point is that this past season is yet another example of cracks in Durant's pantheon case. You brought up Lebron, yes. His leadership has been up and down. Which, to be clear, should be used against him when looking where to place him in the pantheon.

Just like it is true that Lebron quit on his team (more than once), and controlled the personnel on all of his teams, it is also true that Durant's lack of holding anyone accountable on this Nets team, and his almost sycophantic "loyalty" to Kyrie Irving, are the reasons why the Nets are at where they are at now. I place most of the blame on Irving, but I mean...what other pantheon level player would not get full blame if his team was swept out of the playoffs in the first round? David often mentions Bryant and the level of scrutiny he had...where's that with KD now? You think Russell or MJ or Magic or Bryant or Duncan or West would have put up with Kyrie, let alone seek out to play with him? Maybe Magic doesn't get full blame, since he played with Kareem, but all the rest would've been blamed.

With KD...it was Westbrook's fault back in OKC for their choke job and inability to win, and then it was Dray and the Golden State fans fault for him leaving, and then early this season it was Harden's fault for wanting out, and now it's Kyrie's fault for being...Kyrie.


I read your blog because frankly I'm not interested in what the mainstream media has to say. I never mentioned Nash (one of my favorite players ever) or Paul (one of my least favorite lol). Regardless of their leadership style, neither are anywhere close to the pantheon, nor have either won a ring. Not sure why its relevant to bring them up in this discussion about Curry, Durant and the pantheon. I'd especially rather not bring up Paul as he just had one of the most embarrassing meltdowns ever -- and hasn't really been held accountable for it either. His inability to be a true leader and leading the team in critical playoff games when they needed it, while also icing out/alienating Ayton, are key reasons that the Suns are where they are at now (yes, yes, yes, Sarver is a big driver here too). Sort of ironic that the Suns are KD's preferred choice...or maybe not, since he's got already-made excuses waiting to be used.

I am not a Lebron fan, but I need to point out that Lebron never forced a trade to another team. He always left during free agency. Furthermore, every team he has gone to, he has led to a championship. KD just signed an extension last year, and has now asked to be traded (after his team lost in the second round and then got swept out of the first).

Add him to the list of Kyrie, Harden, and Simmons that the NBA ownership group will use as prime examples to regain all of the leverage (and probably more) that they lost over the past 25 years in the upcoming CBA negotiations.

At Friday, July 01, 2022 12:13:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

@David, to answer your question of why we should consider Curry/Draymond the leaders, because they are. They set the culture. They set the tone. It was Curry who stepped aside to let Durant shine. It was Draymond who set the defensive tone. They proved they were leaders before he got there, and they proved once again they were the leaders once he left. That does not take away anything from what Durant brought to the team. They don't win 17-19 without him. Draymond said this as well, because it's true. And, he was the best player on the team (at that time, he would have been the best player on pretty much any team he joined save the Cavs).

I am not denying Durant was the best player on the team, but there are times when the best player isn't the leader. My point is, out of all of your pantheon-level players, and those in the top 20-25, Durant has the least leadership qualities.

He's never played on a team without another literal MVP winner. If he comes to Phoenix, that will be his first team without an MVP winner. And even then, he may be the best player, but there would be an argument that it is still Chris Paul/Devin Booker's team. That's the price of joining an already established team and culture instead of building one yourself. In OKC, where he was a pillar in building it himself (you could argue it was his team though I'd still argue it was Westbrook's), that team fell short, multiple times. Then, he tried again in Brooklyn, and that team also fell short, even shorter in fact.

Now, his plan is to join another team. I just think that all of this needs to be taken into account when we are discussing legacy and pantheon status.

At Friday, July 01, 2022 4:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First anonymous here

I agree that when ranking Durant with the Pantheon members that his leadership drags him down and is a valid reason one could easily argue he's not there or ever will be there, but with a non Pantheon caliber player like Steph I don't believe the supposed gap in leadership is enough to override Durant being the clear better player in a vacuum and having the more decorated body of work; not saying this applies to you but from my own experience it often seems like for many Durant's career did not even begin until 2015 coming off a major injury, that what he accomplished before that is null and void

I've always Green as more of the leader and culture setter for the Warriors and it seems his emergence had more to do with their rise than anything else. I really doubt Durant's personality had anything to do with Harden leaving OKC because instead of trying to be this gen's Manu like he should have he wanted to be this gen's Kobe (which of course he never was close to being) or for the bad string of injuries that got in their way in the mid 2010s and now. External factors like those seemed to have contributed more to his lack of championship success outside of 17/18 than supposed leadership deficiencies. When Steph does not have an absurdly stacked and/or deep roster (such as early in his career and 20/21) his leadership seems very lacking if not nonexistent, same for Green who at the end of the day needs to be on a good roster for his leadership to excel (because he's a glue guy and one of the best examples of such a player) but it's hard to ignore the amount of talent the Warriors had that allowed them both to flourish. I haven't even mentioned Klay who was not even projected to be a two way player when he was drafted, really doubt Steph had ANYTHING to do with that

Now he did contribute to Iggy wanting to play for them (who did have a big role in the Warriors rise) but he had nothing to do with Iggy having the versatile skill set that he's had (a poor man Pippen in a lot of ways), if Iggy was a one dimensional player that wanted to play with Steph and got his wish no one would use that as some argument to bolster Steph because that kind of player would not help them like Iggy with his skillset did

Basically I just agree with Friedman that leadership just gets thrown around to justify raising or lowering someone's all-time ranking and in regards to KD vs Steph most on the Steph side know trying to misconstrue leadership is their way of justifying their Steph > Durant view

It just reminds me of the days when people would argue Duncan > Kobe because of this perception of their leadership qualities that I truly don't believe ever matched reality. I've never found the quiet types like Duncan to be better leaders than the fiery types like Kobe but that's just me

At Friday, July 01, 2022 5:40:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

@First Anonymous
Pt1 of 2

"Durant being the clear better player in a vacuum and having the more decorated body of work".

We agree that in a vacuum, Durant is the better player. I am not here to dispute this. What I will dispute is that he has the more decorated body of work. He's got Steph beat in all-NBA selections 6 firsts, 4 seconds to Steph's 4 firsts, 3 seconds, 1 third. He's also got 12 all-stars to Steph's 8. But, Steph's got 2 MVPs and 4 championships to KD's 1 and 2. Steph has been the best player on 2 of his championships, same as Durant. But Steph's been the second best (1A) on 2 additional championship teams to KD's none thus far.

I think the argument to elevate Steph over Durant is more legitimate than you or David give credence.

Green did not set the culture for the Warriors. The Warriors culture is one of selflessness. That comes from Curry. Green gives the team its defensive identity and edge, which is critical for any championship team. But Curry makes the entire system go. When Green struggled in the Finals, it was Curry who went out and had an amazing game 4 performance to ensure the Warriors didn’t go down. As you say, Green is the glue, but he’s not carrying any franchise. With his loud mouth and penchant for technical fouls, he can’t be the leader of a team. As the best player on an injury-depleted Warriors team, he admittedly gave up and “led” them to the worst record in the league.

Green has even said Curry is the guy. Green follows his lead. Kerr, Klay, everyone says Curry is the guy. Management and ownership sold stake in the team to pay Curry as the guy. Not sure how to argue against Curry being the guy in Golden State.

You can look back on the 2015 team and say it had a lot of talent, but nobody thought that team was championship caliber at the time. Bogut was seen as an injury-prone #1 pick bust. Iggy, a good, but declining player. Barnes, an underwhelming lottery pick. Yes, the switch from David Lee to Green propelled that team, but I think that says more about David Lee than it does about Green’s importance. Lee played 2 more seasons, averaged 8 points, and was out of the league by 2017.

At Friday, July 01, 2022 5:42:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Pt2 of 2

You can say these Warriors teams are stacked – and yes, the KD/Curry Warriors were stacked – but 2015 and 2022 are not stacked teams. What I see is a bunch of players playing at their absolute zeniths next to Steph. Poole was statistically the worst player in the L two seasons ago. Payton bounced around the G League and 10-day contracts on over half a dozen teams across half a decade. Porter Jr. was injury-prone and looked at as a negative asset. And Wiggins was seen as an underachieving, inconsistent, negative asset on a max deal.

I’m not an idiot to think their success is all due to Curry. They each put in the work, learned the sets, and dedicated themselves to be the best version they could be. Coaching and culture and organizational support also played roles in their success. But, I mean, on the court, in the actual games, the offense is built off of Curry’s unique skillset – and all of them benefitted and had their finest seasons.

David (and I) both like to point to how many players Kobe Bryant made better. Everyone who played with Kobe had their best season playing with Kobe. Steph is like that too. Everyone who has played with Steph, has had their best season. Even Durant, who didn’t win an MVP with Curry, but was his most efficient, won his only two rings, and also took home 2 FMVPs.

Who has KD elevated? Ya’ll mention international play, and sure, he was the best player on the Olympic squad, and the go to guy. But, he didn’t elevate his teammates, he carried them. Which player that played with KD, had his best season playing with KD?

I posed my question to David regarding "leadership" and if it does or does not play a role in his evaluations, because I do think it’s important to the conversation. As you say, "Leadership just gets thrown around to justify raising or lowering someone's all-time ranking", but when there is tangible evidence, I think it would be a disservice to objectivity to simply ignore it or toss it out as rubbish.

I'm not justifying my view. But, I do think the leadership qualities both have displayed certainly informs my view. And my view is that I think all-time at this point in their careers, Steph should be ranked higher than Durant.

Again, Durant was the better player, but so far, he's done less.

At Friday, July 01, 2022 10:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First anonymous

The 15 and 22 Warriors had deep rosters, the depth was especially apparent in the playoffs and those players were still better at their roles than other players in similar roster spots/roles. We've seen how Steph-led teams have looked when they're not a combination of stacked and/or deep and it's not pretty at all for a player many are mistakenly throwing into pantheon discussions. I'm not disputing that Steph has elevated players on offense but he's far from the only player historically to do that even among his generation. Durant's best regular seasons came before Steph but sure his best postseasons came during the Steph years (although 12 and 21 were as good as any PS run he had with Steph) but that was likely the case even based off of how he played in the 2018 PS without Steph, he was in a better situation with Golden State with or without Steph

Situations matter and the situation both were in are very different. Poole was there last year as a 21 years old below average player and made a jump this year at age 22 , I also remember them calling that selection a steal in real time. Wiggins was always believed to be someone that needed to be in a better situation once it became clear that he was never going to get close to his ceiling by his own doing, he had PS success with Butler and likely would have had PS success with a lot of superstar or near superstars. I mean that's just stuff I'm sure Durant could have done as well. As for GPII he wasn't much different from Caruso who also bounced around the league before finding his niche as largely off ball defensive specialists. On a team full of talent those kind of players thrive, always been like that. Porter was dealing with injuries but before that was a solid starter with the Wizards. As for Bjelica I remember him being solid at least as a shooter with the Kings back in 2019 and 2020 but admittedly forgot all about him until the Warriors signed him. Perhaps 21 was just not his year but he was solid before that

I've been saying all year that they nailed it with FA signings this season and would have a very difficult time keeping those signings after this season which has been the case as none of the above listed after Wiggins are coming back next season. As rotation players that's a quite a group to sign in one offseason to bolster what was already a solid starting 5 that was going to improve with the addition of Klay

We'll agree to disagree, I don't see it that way but I understand your perspective. We both agree that Durant in a vacuum is the better player but we differ in their leadership qualities being that far apart - I am NOT arguing that Durant is a better leader, I mostly do agree with you that I would lean towards Steph but I don't think he's that much better at leading nor do I think it's enough to override where Durant is ahead of Steph in such as skillset, talent, and overall body of work which is still in Durant's favor even if some of it is due to longer career and longer prime it's still in his favor

At Friday, July 01, 2022 11:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet another anon here....

At what point is it fair to call Durant a frontrunner?

He jumped from what was already a serious contender to a 73 win team when he couldn't get it done without them.

He built his own custom "I'ma bring all my friends" Super Team in Brooklyn with another MVP (however flawed) and a guy with proven second-best-on-a-title-team bonafides and couldn't get either of them to consistently give a crap.

Now he wants to be traded to one of two teams, both of which were one seeds without him last season, and both of which have made the Finals more recently than he has.

He's talented as hell obviously but when the going gets tough he gets going.

Is there a point where that starts to matter when ranking players?

Like, forget who's better for 2.75 years in the middle of it, would you rather have a Steph Curry or Giannis Antetokoumnpo type on your team for 15 years, or KD for the three years it takes for him to notice that the grass somewhere else looks just a little bit greener?

You can make some of the same criticisms of Lebron, and probably should, but at least Lebron can say he won everywhere he went.

I don't think KD puts the Heat or the Suns over the top given what they're likely going to have to give up to get him in a bidding war. Maybe if he agrees to go to Toronto and they somehow pull it off without including Barnes or Siakam?

But man, if he doesn't... at the end we're gonna be looking at a career where he had a pretty strong supporting cast around him nearly every year and only ever won with the team that won at least as much without him.

Is there another Top 30 guy with that kind of resume? I guess maybe kinda/sorta/not really Shaq?

At Friday, July 01, 2022 11:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Jordan, comparing the Green suspension with KD’s foot on the line is intellectually dishonest. Put his foot behind the line and Brooklyn beat the eventual champs. Who knows with the Green suspension, still a lot of ball to play.

Now I’m not saying that Brooklyn win that year, KD was by all accounts exhausted after the Bucks series, but it can’t be ignored that perhaps Harden and Kyrie would have been coming back into the lineup as well. It says a lot that they were so close to beating the Bucks, and that KD looked like the best player in the world against Giannis (the eventual finals MVP). I should add, that Harden is great as a third banana and some of those offensive sets with Kyrie, KD and Harden on the floor was the best basketball I’ve ever seen.

This was only last year, and this year KD was absolutely manhandled in the Nets Celtics series. The Nets did not have the personnel to compete in such a physical series, KD was worn down. Lots of excuses here I know, but context matters and I saw what I saw.

Steph was amazing this year.

I also think we (the public and mainstream media) have short memories regarding Lebron. He was a monster in 2015 and was single-handedly beating the warriors while MD held down Steph. AI was absolutely the finals MVP, and if it wasn’t AI it was Lebron (probably should have been Lebron). I was rooting for the warriors because I don’t like Lebron much, but without AI Cavs would have won that series.

At Friday, July 01, 2022 11:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Not only do people have short memories, but they have selective memories: they remember what they want to remember the way that they want to remember it.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 12:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have not put Durant (or anyone else) in my Pantheon since I originally created it. My Pantheon consists of 10 players, plus four players (Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, LeBron) who I dubbed the modern era's finest (with modern era essentially meaning "post-Jordan" in that context, as the original Pantheon included the 10 greatest players through the end of the 20th century, which roughly corresponds with the end of Jordan's playing career).

Nash and Paul are two players who media members love to praise as great leaders. My two consistent points about leadership are (1) leadership is very difficult to quantify and (2) to the extent that leadership can be quantified I am more impressed by tangible and meaningful team accomplishments than by subjective interpretations of leadership. ESPN's lead basketball blogger once wrote a piece about how great of a leader Nash is based on research indicating that Nash high fives his teammates more than any other player. I am not making up either that study, or the fact that ESPN though that this is relevant.

Great leaders must lead a group or a team to some accomplishment. I don't care how nice they are (or appear to be) or how often they high five people or pat people on the back. If you play 10-15-20 years on teams good enough to win a title and you don't win a title, then you are not a great leader.

The point is that media members spout a lot of nonsense when they talk about leadership.

Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest leaders in the NBA in the past 20-25 years; he won five titles, and he led some subpar teams farther than just about any other player could have. Put Draymond Green alongside Kwame Brown and Smush Parker, and it is more likely that Kwame will knock out Draymond than that the team will win 25 games, much less 40+ before pushing the loaded Suns (with "great leader" Nash) to seven games. We saw that Stephen Curry could not lead Golden State to a home Play-In Tournament Game win, so we can reasonably say that if we put him alongside Kwame and Smush that team would not see the playoffs even if they had the Hubble Telescope.

Draymond is a very good role player, but his triple singles and loud, self-promoting mouth are not leading anybody anywhere if he did not have multiple All-Star caliber players doing the heavy lifting.

Stephen Curry is a 6-3 guard who is a great shooter and pretty good playmaker, but he is not winning championships without being surrounded by a lot of very good players, including several players to do the heavy lifting on defense and on the boards. That is not to say that he is a bad leader. I think that he is a very good leader, but I cannot say that he was Golden State's leader when Durant was on the team. Curry ceding the number one role to Durant is not leadership as much as it is common sense. Anyone who understands basketball realizes that Durant is the better player, and Durant has to be the number one option. If Curry had not accepted this then he would have been a bad leader (or no leader at all), but accepting the obvious does not make him a great leader.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 12:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We don't know what is happening in the locker room, because we are not in the locker room. Based on what we saw publicly, it is reasonable to suggest that Draymond's big mouth ran Durant out of town, which may have cost the Warriors in the long run even though they won the 2022 title.

What we do know about leadership is that the Warriors went 1-1 in the Finals before Durant arrived, and then they won the next two titles with Durant as the best player. To me, that suggests that Durant is a very good leader who quickly won the respect of his teammates, and then led them to accomplish the ultimate goal. Then, players got hurt, Durant left, the Warriors were awful, Durant's Nets came close to beating the soon to be champion Bucks, the Warriors got healthy and re-tooled, and the Warriors won the 2022 title. Nothing listed in that prior sentence retroactively impacts the effect of Durant's leadership on two title teams.

I don't understand or like Durant's team-hopping, but when he is on a team he plays hard and appears to be a very good leader.

You lumped Durant in with Irving, Harden, and Simmons, but I disagree with that. Irving won a championship as a very explosive second option, but he was not the leader of that team, and no team that he has led has accomplished anything. Harden is a proven choker who has repeatedly alienated coaches and teammates while winning nothing of consequence. Simmons is younger than the other guys and (hopefully) is still building his legacy but right now he has not led any team to anything of consequence. Durant is not only a much better player than each of those guys, but he has proven to be a better leader as well, at least to the extent that leadership is measured by leading a team to the ultimate goal.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 12:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

First Anonymous:

You hit the key point: even if we accept the unproven (and unprovable) subjective notion that Curry is a better leader than Durant, the alleged advantage in that category does not make up for Curry's disadvantages in other categories vis a vis Durant.

I accept the notion that Green is a leader on defense, but in terms of overall team leadership he is a loud-mouthed, hot-tempered front-runner. If he were the best player on any team, that team would be a Lottery team, so I just can't accept the idea that he is the leader of a championship team. Curry is the team's leader now, and has been for most of the past decade, with an interlude during which Durant was the leader. Most of the time in team sports, the best player is the leader (which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who the best player is). This idea that role players like Draymond Green or Derek Fisher are the "real" leaders is an overblown fiction promoted by media members. I don't doubt that Green and Fisher command some level of respect within the team, if for no other reason than that they play hard and they put forth defensive effort, but the Lakers were led by Shaq and Kobe (and later Kobe), while the Warriors have been led by Curry, Durant, and then Curry.

If you have played team sports at any level then you understand that the best player on the team sets the tone. Other players can have a voice and can provide leadership to some extent, but THE leader is the best player. I would not say that Curry was no longer a leader after Durant arrived, but Durant was the main leader, and that is how it goes on most teams.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 12:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We agree that Durant is a better player than Curry.

In terms of who has the "more decorated body of work," that depends on how you define your terms. Durant has more Finals MVPs, more All-NBA First Team selections, and more scoring titles. Curry has more championships and more regular season MVPs. When they were on the same team, Durant won two Finals MVPs, and neither player won a regular season MVP but Durant was clearly the best player on the team.

Curry, Green, and Thompson have been together for all four modern Golden State titles. That trio ranks very highly in NBA history in terms of Finals games played together. Durant has not been blessed with the same overall continuity and support that Curry has had. Part of that may be Durant's fault (in terms of team-hopping), but to call Curry's body of work superior based on regular season MVPs and championships is not correct from my standpoint because I disagree with much of the MVP voting of the past 25 years and because the championships are a team accomplishment not entirely attributable to Curry--and this is all the more the case when two of Curry's titles came as the second option to Durant. Put Durant on Golden State for his whole career and Curry on Durant's teams and do you not think that Durant would lead Curry by even more than the 4-2 lead that Curry has over Durant? I am not convinced that Curry would have won any titles on Durant's teams (other, of course, than the two he won playing with Durant).

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 12:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You ask who Durant elevated. He elevated the Warriors. They did not win back to back titles before he arrived, and they have yet to win back to back titles since he left. Winning back to back titles is much harder even than winning one title (and winning one title is not easy).

I am not going to go through the year to year history of OKC, but I disagree with the notion that Durant has never contributed to elevating his teammates' play.

Frankly, as good as Curry is in that regard, he has become a bit overrated. Wiggins was the number one overall pick and a proven 20-plus ppg scorer. He does not need Curry's "gravity" to score. I give Wiggins credit for accepting and then thriving in a lesser role where he is not the featured number one option--something that many number one overall picks would refuse to do in similar circumstances--but it's not like Curry is making chicken salad out of chicken spit here. Klay Thompson is a future Hall of Famer. He would be an 18-20 ppg scorer on any team. He probably would score more--and with not much reduction in efficiency--if he were on a different team as the number one option. Thompson's defense is not helped in any way by Curry.

Let's pump the brakes on comparing Curry to Kobe. Kobe was a 6-6 player who could play PG, SG, or SF at either end of the court. He made it to the playoffs with guys who barely belonged in the league. He won championships with guys in the rotation who could barely get off the bench on other teams (Shannon Brown was a spectator in Cleveland but a rotation player for the Lakers, to cite just one example). Curry's much lauded "gravity" would not have pushed or pulled the 2009 or 2010 Lakers to NBA titles.

If you think that Durant has "done less" than Curry, would you offer the same conclusion regarding Jerry West versus Curry? West has one ring, one Finals MVP, and no regular season MVPs. I would say that West was a significantly greater player than Curry, but factors beyond the control of West and Curry resulted in Curry having more MVPs and more championships.

These evaluations involve a lot of nuance and a lot of factors. I am not saying that I must be 100% right about everything, because I am not sure that there even is a 100% right answer, but I think that it is a mistake to put too much weight on a nebulous concept like leadership or on factors over which a player has limited control. West was better than Curry in every skill set area except free throw shooting. We can't even say three point shooting, because West never had a chance to shoot three pointers. Curry won more titles because he had better supporting casts relative to the opposition that he faced in his era. Yes, West had Chamberlain and Baylor, but he was also facing teams stacked with Hall of Famers.

As I mentioned before, West has at least one more ring if Frank Selvy sinks a baseline jumper. Does Selvy's miss make Curry a better player, a better leader, or someone with a "more decorated body of work"? I don't see it that way.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 12:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, it is fair to call Durant a frontrunner. I would say the same about LeBron. LeBron is in my Pantheon anyway because even though he has been a frontrunner and even though he quit in at least two postseasons (2010, 2011) he still has had an incredible career overall.

I am not ready to add Durant (or anyone else) to my Pantheon right now, but I would note that when Durant is on a team he plays hard, he seems to be a very good leader, and his teams generally have at least as much playoff success as could reasonably be expected.

I don't understand why Durant fled OKC and why he fled Golden State. I can somewhat understand wanting to leave Brooklyn's mismatched roster behind but if Durant is determined to bring Kyrie with him to his next stop no matter what that is a bit puzzling.

Wherever Durant goes, he will play hard and play well. He may not stay healthy, and he may not stay happy, but I do not question his work ethic or productivity.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 12:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I am absolutely shocked to see you prefer Durant’s body of work over Curry’s even with a 2 rings difference, if only because I’ve seen you land on the other side of a similar argument in the past: LeBron vs Kobe.

LeBron is a 4 time champion, and has been the best player on all of those teams. LeBron is also much more physically gifted than Kobe, while later in his career developing as complete a skill set as him (Kobe wins in mid range shooting, free throw shooting and man to man defense while LeBron takes playmaking/passing, rim protection and finishing ability). LeBron also has chosen to leave teams for greener pastures.

Kobe is a 5 time champion, and has been the best player on two oh his championships while being the second best player to Shaq on his 3 other rings. Kobe routinely elevated his teammates due to his leadership and skill, and stayed with one team through the good and bad (he did request a trade, but the Lakers did not grant it),

I’ve seen you routinely say you rank Kobe over LeBron. Has your opinion changed on this?

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 1:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not say that I rank Durant's body of work over Curry's. I said that how you rank the respective bodies of work "depends on how you define your terms."

Curry has won more championships than Durant has won. Robert Horry has won more championships than both of them combined. Is Horry's "body of work" better?

These comparisons are nuanced and multi-factored. I rank players more on skill sets, individual dominance, and overall impact than just based on pure ring counting/MVP counting.

It is interesting that people tend to "count" whatever makes their preferred player come out on top. If rings count the most, then Bill Russell is the greatest player of all-time period, point blank, end of discussion. There actually is some merit to calling Russell the greatest player of all-time, but in my opinion this should not be purely based on ring count.

If we are just adding up rings and regular season MVPs, then Curry's body of work is better than Durant's. I'm not sure what that proves or means, because Durant is clearly the better player, and he was the main reason for the two rings that they won together.

Regarding Kobe, he had a complete game with no skill set weaknesses. He led teams to five titles, and he also lifted some pretty bad teams to the playoffs. I have been consistent and clear that I rank him ahead of LeBron (and behind Jordan). Nothing that I have said in this thread changes or invalidates anything that I previously said about Kobe and LeBron.

LeBron never developed the consistent midrange game that Kobe did. LeBron did not demonstrate the same mental toughness that Kobe consistently displayed. Kobe was a better, more reliable free throw shooter. I won't go through the whole list, because I did that for years when they were both active. Others may disagree--I know that many do, because LeBron is widely referred to as the greatest player ever--but my position is clear and has not changed.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 1:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First anonymous here

I agree with that point of Green being the defensive leader but not the main leader, calling Green the main leader of the team is pushing it but I meant more so as far as being the heart and soul of the team. Ultimately the leader of the Warriors has been Steph but even with that in mind it's still unusual to see people act like his leadership is responsible for good players playing well and ignoring that we're just really watching an excellent basketball organization that's done it's part as well as the players have done their part. If people could acknowledge that while also acknowledging that Steph has skillset/size flaws that makes his pantheon candidacy very questionable I'd have no objections to the praise

Anyway, if Durant had the same track record as Harden or Kyrie I'd completely understand why people would deride his leadership ability so much but my observation is that Durant's main issue leadership wise is that he has this odd behavior of constantly moving teams which does make it hard to foster a culture, sure, but when I think of his team's failures I'm more inclined to believe injuries or other teammates temperament had more to do with it; I'm not convinced if Steph and Harden or Kyrie were teammates that either of those two would suddenly be on the same page as Steph that they could not be with Durant, more likely issues would still arise because the issues those two had didn't even involve Durant anyway

I guess Durant could be more vocal too but we don't really know what goes on behind the scenes so maybe he is behind the scenes, and even then he's always been a lead by example guy

It's like people mistakenly attributing Kobe for the issues with the Lakers splitting when really it was Shaq that had a bigger hand in that, reading your website nearly a decade ago was the first time where I was even made aware of the delayed surgery Shaq had to start the 2002-2003 season which likely set in motion what happened in the summer of 2004. Kobe only really had issues with guys that were not as committed to excellence as he was which should be seen as fair especially for a guy that was by all accounts extremely committed to attaining excellence, meanwhile Shaq and Dwight had issues with several teams and several star players and yet somehow it's Kobe that generally gets painted as the bad leader between him and Shaq

Durant is definitely not on the same level as Kobe was as a leader or player (and there's no shame in that for either) and if I were to rank his leadership ability with the Pantheon he'd be at or near the bottom but that still doesn't mean he's a bad leader or incapable of leading, it's the Pantheon we're talking about. I think based on how Harden and Kyrie have generally operated that it's something out of Durant's control anyway

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 1:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure I agree that Durant "plays hard" everywhere he goes. A few other commenters further up the thread made reference to a pretty lackluster consistency with regards to defensive effort outside of his pitstop in Golden State, and I'd agree with that analysis. In Brooklyn especially he's hardly played defense at all in the regular season, and even in the postseason it has been intermittent at best.

I also think the "Durant was better when they were together" point is a lot like saying "Shaq was better than Kobe when they played together." True enough, but they were still two of the best five players in the league and those teams weren't (presumably) winning without either of them, and Kobe's best work came without Shaq later. I don't know how to slice the "credit" between a 1A/1B partnership for championships but it's hardly like either Curry or Kobe were "bus riders" to use the trendy term.

There is another point for Curry when looking at their full careers as opposed to looking just at those three years, in that Curry has improved since then and Durant has backslid. Most readily apparent is that Curry has added significant muscle and gone from a mildly above average defender during Durant's time there to a very good one now. He is still vulnerable to sufficient size, though at times it looked as though even Luka and Tatum found him a tougher target than they expected, but he is much more difficult for guards and slighter forwards to "beat" than he used to be and more capable of making high-impact plays like the block against Ja.

More relevantly, he's much improved as a driver/self-creator. While the "Dellavedova stopped Curry" narrative was always overblown (Curry averaged 26 a game on good efficiency and literally put Dallavedova in the hospital with exhaustion), he now has the strength and will to just bully his way past players his size and retains the skill and speed to beat anyone larger. Boston tried their entire team on him and he cooked them all in both PnR and isolation. To Draymond's (recent) point, he has become a guy who can "just decide to go get a bucket."

Meanwhile, Durant's effort level has slipped on defense, and he just authored the worst offensive series of his career. While it is fair to call his roster mismatched on defense, on offense he had plenty of weapons, with Irving as a proven second option who dropped 40 in the first game, Curry and Mills as dead-eye snipers, Claxton as a well-above average lob threat/finisher, and even Goran Dragic as a change-of-pace bench weapon who had a couple nice games for them, especially for a "throw-it-in" late season addition who did nothing of note in the regular season. For that matter even much-maligned Bruce Brown was shooting the lights out; the only Net who played poorly on offense in that series was Durant.

All told, the rest of the Nets shots 55/44/63 against Boston. That FT shooting is an eyesore to be sure, but it's difficult to imagine Curry, let alone anyone in the Pantheon, losing a series in which their teammates as a whole are shooting 55/44. I doubt it's happened to any MVP-level player besides Durant, in fact. Perhaps Nash, on one of those one-way Phoenix teams, but that's not the company you want to be keeping in this sort of conversation.

So, while I agree Durant was better in 2017-19, I am not sure he is better now, or in totality. I'm not sure I don't agree, either, but I do not think it is as open-and-shut as "he was better when they were together, so he's better" makes it sound.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 1:33:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Pt. 1 of 2

“If you play 10-15-20 years on teams good enough to win a title and you don't win a title, then you are not a great leader.”

Well, other than going to the best team in the league and winning two there (a team again, with an established culture and two proven leaders already in place), this sure does fit Kevin Durant. The Warriors during the Curry era have a culture of selflessness and defense. It’s not the same culture as the Miami Heat, but the same concept. Lebron was able to win in Miami once he embraced the Heat culture. Durant was able to win with Golden State once he embraced the Golden State culture – stopped isolating all the time and killing ball movement and committed to defense. I disagree that Durant plays hard all the time. He has been lackluster defensively in Brooklyn and he was derided for his defense for most of his tenure with the Thunder.

I should not have brought up Kobe, my favorite player of all time. The comparison between him and Curry was not about their skillsets, solely about their leadership ability to make players better. I have brought up many players whom Curry made better, yet you can’t even think of one that Durant elevated. Harden won an MVP away from Durant. Westbrook won an MVP without Durant (while Durant won his MVP playing with Westbrook!). Serge Ibaka won a ring away from Durant. Steven Adams thrived next to Westbrook and more recently Shai. Kyrie Irving made the finals 3 years in a row and won a ring playing with Lebron, yet can’t make it out of the second round with Durant (and got swept). Curry won a unanimous MVP without Durant and won 2 rings as the best player on the team without Durant. Klay Thompson and Draymond had better seasons with only Curry and not Durant.

“Stephen Curry is a 6-3 guard who is a great shooter and pretty good playmaker, but he is not winning championships without being surrounded by a lot of very good players, including several players to do the heavy lifting on defense and on the boards.”

We can do this exercise for pretty much every player ever. But here’s a good one, Kevin Durant is a 6-11 forward who has not won a championship without being surrounded by the best team in basketball (and one of the best in NBA history), a team that plays the best defense in the league, the greatest shooter of all time and former two-time MVP as his second banana, a former defensive player of the year center leading the defense, and two all-defensive team wings who can hit timely threes.

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 1:35:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Pt. 2 of 2

“What we do know about leadership is that the Warriors went 1-1 in the Finals before Durant arrived, and then they won the next two titles with Durant as the best player.”

To me, this just means that Durant is really, really, really good at basketball. He was a top 3 player at worst when he made the move to Golden State. Says nothing about his leadership. He’s proven he can’t lead more so than he’s proven he can. OKC crumbled in crunch time under his “leadership” as the best player on the team (in the finals and in the WCF against Golden State). And while he was close to beating the Bucks two playoffs ago, he did not lead his team past them. And, this year, as the best player on the team, he was swept out of the first round.

“You lumped Durant in with Irving, Harden, and Simmons, but I disagree with that.”

I did so simply for the fact that all of them are going to be exhibits A-D when the NBA owners come to the bargaining table against the Players Association next year to negotiate the new CBA. I don’t lump him in with those guys in terms of their ability. But, the fact is, KD signed a max extension with Brooklyn and less than a year later, he is asking to be traded.

Harden did the same thing in Houston. Simmons signed a long-term contract and then didn’t show up for work for an entire season. Irving rarely shows up to work either. These moves do not sit well with ownership and to be honest, don’t really sit well with fans. Which is why 99% of NBA players outside the top 10-15, are going to get absolutely screwed over in the new CBA thanks to Irving, Durant, Simmons, and Harden (can throw AD/Kawhi and some others in there as well).

“If you think that Durant has "done less" than Curry, would you offer the same conclusion regarding Jerry West versus Curry?”

No. I wouldn’t. I’m not comparing Curry to anyone in the pantheon. Not sure why you bring up all these other players that I’m not talking about. I’m simply comparing Curry with Durant. Jerry West was the best player on 9 teams that went to the NBA finals. West stuck with the Lakers despite the fact they couldn’t beat the Celtics. West and Curry are similar in that regard. They’ve stayed true to one team through bad times and good times and worked hard to improve themselves in the areas of weakness until they were able to finally win it all. To me, that shows tremendous leadership and resolve.

What has Durant done each time it’s gotten...”hard”?

At Saturday, July 02, 2022 9:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is definitely a stretch to bring up age 20-22 Harden not winning the MVP award as a knock or Ibaka winning a ring with a team that probably doesn't win a title had Durant been healthy. Top 5 superstars in general have canceled each other out for the MVP award throughout the course of history

We're talking about a guy that at 21 was already leading his team to 50 win seasons in a historically dominant West (which Steph struggled to do before his age 25 season (when new ownership, Iggy signing, and further development of Klay kicked in as well as Dray's initial emergence who I always believed was a steal in real time with his decorated college career), even after Harden selfishly left (given his history, Steph would not have done anything about that) they were still fringe 60 win squads that kept getting screwed over injury wise. Durant going 3-1 and then blowing that lead vs a 73 win squad that was better top to bottom and had HCA should not be seen as a knock, it's like knocking Kobe for blowing a 3-1 lead against a much better team that had HCA. Tim Thomas missed and we're having a different conversation about that series

Durant deserves criticism for choosing Golden State though but hijacking the team and being the best player still proves he could win as the best player. They had little issue winning playoff games without Steph in 2016 or 2018 so I refuse to believe those iterations couldn't have won with Durant. You don't need a "culture" to win titles with deep rosters facing weak/injured teams. Wasn't the 08-10 Lakers (far from a deep team talent wise) going against brutal competition conference and finals competition, that would be a team and a period where that would have mattered greatly

The 22 Celtics series looks very bad but so far it's been an outlier and even then no Simmons makes a difference but still a sweep is hard to defend even with it being age 33 KD off 2 major injuries. The other supposed failures are not

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 1:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other Anonymous,

"The other supposed failures are not"

2016 is pretty darn relevant when the conversation is Durant vs. Curry. Yes, Curry's team was a 73 win team but the fact remains that Durant had three chances to kill them off and didn't come through. In fact, he was just as bad in two of those last three games as he was in Boston, shooting 39% and 32% in Games 5 and 6.

He also spent more time than people seem to remember on Curry defensively off switches and got absolutely roasted. On the other end, for all Curry's defensive shortcomings at the time, he got a key quasi-block (hit the ball while it was in Durant's hands similar to the Ja play but Durant regained control of it, doesn't appear in the box score but it's on the film) and shortly after a steal both down the stretch off KD in Game 5.

Durant was more respectable in Game 7, shooting over 50%, but Curry outscored him 36 to 27 on even better efficiency.

As much has been said about Durant's size advantage, Curry outrebounded him (barely) through those three games, as well.

For the series as a whole, Curry scored 2 fewer PPG but on 10% better eFG% (or 7% better TS% if you prefer), doubled his assists (on very similar turnover numbers), and had only 2 fewer RPG.

If you feel Durant's cast was so much worse than Curry's fair enough but they'd certainly proven they were good enough to beat the Warriors if Durant outplayed Curry (as he did in Games 3 and 4) and even sometimes if he didn't (Game 1 was a pretty crap KD game too and they won that one), and all three of those final critical games were still single-digit games even with Durant not his best. If Durant scores a little better, rebounds a little, or defends a little better in any of them, they're winnable.

But he didn't.

We kill Curry for losing a 3-1 lead to Lebron, and rightly so. But at least Curry apologists can point to the suspension, to Bogut's injury, to Curry's knee, to Iggy's back.

The Thunder were healthy. They just got beat. And in the biggest three games of his season, Durant got pretty soundly outplayed by Curry. Here are their averages for those three games:

Durant: 32/7/3.3 on 40/27/94
Curry: 32.7/7.3/7.7 on 47/47/91

You can argue that Durant was better overall when they weren't together, but in the three most important games they ever played against each other Curry outperformed him by basically every major statistical metric and won all three games, and dropped a fair share of those buckets in Durant's eye for fair measure.

That doesn't mean Durant's body of work can't be better (if nothing else he's got a decent head start as it took Curry a while to git gud as the kids say) but in their last pre-teamup season, Curry took his lunch money.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 2:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with this statement you made: "Ultimately the leader of the Warriors has been Steph but even with that in mind it's still unusual to see people act like his leadership is responsible for good players playing well and ignoring that we're just really watching an excellent basketball organization that's done it's part as well as the players have done their part. If people could acknowledge that while also acknowledging that Steph has skillset/size flaws that makes his pantheon candidacy very questionable I'd have no objections to the praise

Anyway, if Durant had the same track record as Harden or Kyrie I'd completely understand why people would deride his leadership ability so much but my observation is that Durant's main issue leadership wise is that he has this odd behavior of constantly moving teams which does make it hard to foster a culture, sure, but when I think of his team's failures I'm more inclined to believe injuries or other teammates temperament had more to do with it; I'm not convinced if Steph and Harden or Kyrie were teammates that either of those two would suddenly be on the same page as Steph that they could not be with Durant, more likely issues would still arise because the issues those two had didn't even involve Durant anyway."

It is odd that some people work so hard to find reasons to praise Curry and/or to find reasons to knock Durant.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 2:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Reliable and objective individual defensive metrics do not exist. I disagree with your take on Durant's defense, but there is no objective way to prove the point.

The Durant-Curry dynamic is not nearly the same as the Shaq-Kobe dynamic. Kobe played much better overall at both ends of the court for the three-peat Lakers than Curry did for the Warriors who went 1-1 in the Finals or the Warriors who went 2-0 in the Finals with Durant leading the way. Then, Kobe won back to back Finals MVPs leading a not particularly strong Lakers team against tougher opposition than the Warriors faced in 2022.

No one is calling Curry a "bus rider," but the skill set gap favoring Durant is significant, and should be obvious. In contrast, Kobe was more skilled than Shaq, and more focused on staying in shape, factors that favor Kobe over Shaq overall even though Shaq was bigger and more physically dominant.

I disagree that Curry has improved to the extent that you suggest. Yes, he has gotten stronger, and yes, his defense has improved, but people are acting like he was some kind of defensive stopper in the 2022 Finals. Curry was not checking Tatum or any other superior athlete one on one; he always had help close by in the form of bigger, better defenders, and this limited the options for Tatum and others. Sure, Curry tries harder than a guy like James Harden, but let's not pretend that Curry is a lockdown defender.

Durant is almost 34 years old, and he is just two years removed from an Achilles injury that ended the careers of many players (and severely restricted the mobility even of Hall of Famers who suffered the injury). It is not fair to say that Durant has "back slid." He did not have a great series versus the Celtics--to put it mildly--but even if Durant had played great the Nets and their mismatched roster had no chance against a clearly superior team. Durant's career is not defined by that one series. Curry's failure to win a Play-In Tournament Game at home is more telling, particularly since Curry has a history of missing the playoffs when he is not on stacked teams. A great player should be able to win a one game "series," particularly at home versus an inferior team; that is a much more reasonable expectation than asking Durant to singlehandedly beat a Boston team that came within two wins of becoming NBA champions.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 2:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You said that other than winning two championships and two Finals MVPs, Durant fits the profile of a player who plays 10-15-20 years without winning a title. I think that the flaw in your reasoning there is so obvious that I will not belabor the point.

LeBron won in Miami when he accepted the responsibility of being the best player and being the leader. He had to lose one Finals in embarrassing fashion in Miami before he figured it out. Durant went to Golden State and immediately accepted the responsibility of being the best player and being the leader.

We just see these situations through a completely different lens, and I don't see a way to find agreement on these points.

Durant is a 6-11 player who won back to back Finals MVPs as a two-way player outdueling LeBron James in the NBA Finals. How on Earth is that not superior to Curry winning one title with Iguodala winning Finals MVP and then winning a second title years later versus a young Boston team that had never previously reached the NBA Finals? The "exercise" that you claim can be applied equally to Durant and Curry simply cannot in fact be applied equally. Durant is the superior player. Curry has had the good fortune of playing for superior teams for most of his career, and Curry also had the good fortune of playing alongside Durant. To me, these things are obvious, and I have explained the rationale supporting my thought process, but I realize that not everyone is going to be convinced. To quote a famous basketball player, I may be wrong--but I doubt it.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 2:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Durant has played 14 seasons (not counting time missed after the Achilles injury). He has led his teams to three NBA Finals, winning two Finals MVPs and two championships. He has led his teams to seven Western Conference Finals, and he was the best player on all seven of those teams. In order to accept the notion that he is not at least a very good leader, I would need some hard evidence. Speaking about nebulous concepts of "culture" while trying to ascertain how much or how little Durant impacted the improvement of various players just does not cut it. Durant's resume speaks for itself; his teams have been perennial contenders, and he is a member of the select group of players who have won back to back titles/back to back Finals MVPs.

Dismissing that resume by just blithely saying that all this proves is that Durant is "really, really good at basketball" misses the point by a mile. There are plenty of players who are "really, really good at basketball" who have not come close to matching Durant's team accomplishments in no small part because they are not very good at leading a team.

For good measure, we can throw in Durant's leadership of Team USA in the post Kobe era. It is easy to say that leadership does not matter on a team full of All-Stars, but LeBron, Wade, and Melo sure proved that leadership (or lack thereof) does matter both in FIBA play and in the NBA. LeBron might still be looking for his first gold medal if Kobe had not showed how to actually lead a team to a gold medal in FIBA competition. Kidd's leadership must be mentioned as well, but Kobe was the main leader because Kobe was the best player--just as Durant was the main leader on his teams as well.

Leadership is hard to quantify, but to the extent that it can be quantified it must be measured by group/team success. I said that before in this thread, and I cannot emphasize it enough. We are not privy to what is happening in the locker room, so I will not speculate about it. Durant led the Warriors to two NBA titles, and he led Team USA to FIBA gold in the post-Kobe era, so I trust Durant as a leader until I see hard evidence suggesting otherwise.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 3:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you that the references to Harden and Ibaka prove nothing about Durant's leadership.

I will again state--and I cannot emphasize this enough--leading a group/team to success is the best proof of great leadership. If your group/team does not have significant success, it is difficult to believe that you are a great leader (you may be a good leader or a competent leader, but not a great one)--and if your group/team has significant success, the burden of proof is on your critics to prove that you are not a great leader. Durant has the rings and the hardware. His critics are mainly shooting blanks when they take potshots at his historical stature.

I don't like Durant's team-hopping and don't pretend to understand how he thinks/feels, but Durant has led his teams to seven "Final Fours" and two championships. I have mentioned in other threads that making it to the "Final Four" once or twice in the NBA may be a fluke, but making it to that level consistently is a sign of greatness. Harden had some fluky Conference Finals runs. Trae Young's Conference Finals run is fluky until proven otherwise.

Durant's seven WCF runs are not fluky, and his back to back titles/Finals MVPs speak volumes, no matter who chooses to listen.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 3:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we may be somehow making too much of Durant's two titles/Finals MVPs.

He played excellently to be sure but can you think of a lower "degree of difficulty" FMVP than joining a 73 win team to beat a team they were literally one (or at most, two) plays away from beating without you? Has anyone ever had an easier road to that award? For all the hand-wringing from Curry's loudest fans about not winning one of them those two years, it would have been a fairly hollow one even if he did, and it's a bit hollow for Durant, too, at least relative to anyone else's FMVPs (including Curry's).

Put another way, Durant was excellent and they won the title, but they did not need him to be excellent to win the title. They needed him to be better than Harrison Barnes. Adding Paul George, or Jimmy Butler, or any other star-level wing would likely have accomplished the same goal.

"Curry's failure to win a Play-In Tournament Game at home is more telling, particularly since Curry has a history of missing the playoffs when he is not on stacked teams. A great player should be able to win a one game "series," particularly at home versus an inferior team; that is a much more reasonable expectation than asking Durant to singlehandedly beat a Boston team that came within two wins of becoming NBA champions."

Firstly, it's not singlehandedly when the rest of your team is shooting the lights out and your best teammate drops 39 in Game 1.


More reasonable to expect Curry to win one game in one try than Durant to win four games? Sure, that's fair.

More reasonable to expect Curry to win one game in one try than to expect Durant to win one game in four tries and avoid a sweep?

That's where you lose me. Anything can happen in one game. Curry's teammates were just 6-19 from three while Memphis shot 43% (including Ja going 5-10). Shooting variance can cost any team a big game (remember the Rockets in 2018?) but it will rarely cost you four (and even if it did, Durant's teammates mostly had their variance in a favorable direction, as discussed above).

Besides which, Curry played significantly better in that one game than Durant played in all four of his.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 3:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This is known as small sample size theater.

Durant has played 14 seasons, reached the WCF seven times, and won two titles/two Finals MVPs.

We are not determining his all-time ranking based on any three games from those 14 seasons, even if you have determined that there are three games that are more significant than any others (I would argue that the games in which Durant took LeBron's lunch money in the NBA Finals are more significant).

I picked GS to beat OKC in 2016 because GS had the better team. Yes, OKC built a 3-1 lead, but GS still had the better team. That was not the first time in NBA history that the better team fell behind, righted the ship, and won the series.

Curry played 36.7 mpg in the 2016 WCF, while Durant played 41.3 mpg. Do you suppose that having to play nearly five more MPG while carrying a weaker roster may have had something to do with what happened in the last three games, both individually and collectively?

After the Warriors lost to the Cavs in the 2016 Finals, the Warriors begged Durant to join them because they knew that they needed him--and he validated that faith by leading the Warriors to back to back titles. Those two title runs matter more in the grand scheme of things than the last three games of the 2016 WCF.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 3:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The notion that the Warriors could have replaced Durant with Butler or Paul George ignores that they were such a loaded team that you could replace really any of them and likely still win the title. Add Durant to the 17 Warriors (which did happen) and replace Steph with John Wall or Damian Lillard and I don't see why they still don't win it all. They did fine without Steph in the 2016/2018 playoffs easily beating other playoff teams

Just odd how the logic only works to diminish Durant and to still prop up the rest of the Warriors. All "replace Durant with x" ever should imply is that the Warriors had so much talent that Durant in that sentence could be replaced with Curry, Draymond, Klay and the results likely still would be the same as long as the player in question was of similar (but obviously not superior) ability

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 3:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You lost the thread on multiple levels:

1) I have never heard of ranking Finals MVPs based on perceived degree of difficulty, and am not even sure how one would do that in a rational and objective way. Is that based on the strength of one's own team, the strength of the opposition, injuries suffered by other teams, and/or other factors?

The list of players who won back to back Finals MVPs is Michael Jordan (three in a row, then three in a row again after he came back), Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal (three in a row), Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. The award has existed since 1969, and the list is Jordan, Olajuwon, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron, and Durant--four Pantheon guys, a guy who did not miss the Pantheon by much, and Durant. Even if Durant had the least degree of difficulty of anybody on that list, such a criticism is silly, at best.

If it were easy to be the best player on back to back title teams, then more players would have done it, and the worst player on the list would not be Olajuwon or Durant.

2) All Curry had to do was win a home game against an inferior team. Who cares if Curry performed better individually in one game, in your opinion, than Durant did in four games against a superior team? That comparison is irrelevant. If Curry is who so many people say he is, then he does whatever has to be done to knock out the inferior team. Greatness is not just about counting rings, but about looking at how often you lose when you have the better team. Look at the players in my Pantheon. How often did they lose a playoff series when they had the better team, let alone doing so in their primes? There is more variance in one and done, but also more opportunity for one player to dominate.

Also, how often did Pantheon players miss the playoffs entirely? Curry's teams have missed the playoffs five times in his 13 seasons. Being healthy and being dominant enough to carry a team to the playoffs both matter when talking about Pantheon status. Sure, some Pantheon players had the good fortune of starting their careers with good teams, but many of them joined teams that had been pretty bad the year before and/or did not have much talent when they joined. Pantheon players are not often watching the playoffs at home, particularly in their prime years. Julius Erving played 16 seasons and made 10 Conference Finals/Division Finals while never missing the playoffs (and only losing in the first round four times, including twice in his final four seasons when he was 34+ years old). A similar story can be told for the other Pantheon players, yet we are now being told that Curry is a top 10 player of all-time?

The math does not add up, no matter how many ways people spin the numbers and phrase their words.

3) The Celtics were clearly superior to the Nets in 2022. What difference would it make if the Nets had won one game as opposed to being swept? How is that relevant to a skill set comparison of Durant versus Curry overall, or to a comparison of one player's team losing to a superior team in a series while the other player's team lost a home game to an inferior team?

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 3:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that those titles matter more in the "grand scheme of things" but the context that I brought up those three games in was specifically a conversation about how impressive their respective careers are without each other, so in that scheme their shared titles are wholly meaningless for both of them.

It is a small sample size to be sure but it is also triple the size of the Play-In game you keep bashing Curry for, so either small samples can matter or they can't. Is Curry a bum for losing one big game or is Durant excused for losing three (or seven, if want to throw Boston in there)?

Less pedantically, I think head-to-head performance counts a little in these sort of debates. Jordan killed a few would-be rivalries in their cribs by demolishing Magic/Drexler/others in the playoffs, Hakeem disassembled Robinson at a molecular level, most people have Russell over Wilt/West/Elgin/Oscar because he ate them all alive in playoffs head-to-head wins and losses even if they had sexier box scores, same thing for Magic over Bird, etc.

Is it the most important thing? Heck no.

But is it wholly meaningless? I don't think so. People like to boil these things down sometimes to "who would you want with the ball in their hands and the season on the line" and we saw Curry vs. Durant in exactly that situation and Curry was better.

It's not the only thing, not nearly the most important thing, but that doesn't make it nothing.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 3:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You don't get it--the goal is to elevate Curry at all cost, not make logical analyses and comparisons. That is why people are ranking degree of difficulty of Finals MVPs, musing about leadership qualities, cherry-picking three games from a 14 year career, considering one series two years after an Achilles injury to be the most important series ever, and doing everything possible to ignore the basketball reality that great 6-11 is better than great 6-3 every day, twice on Sunday, and all the more so in the NBA Finals when the two players are teammates.

There are player comparisons that are close and that legitimately could go either way. Durant and Curry is not one of them, no matter how much so many people want to elevate Curry and/or denigrate Durant.

Lock all of the NBA GMs in a secure building, give them each truth serum, and I would be shocked if the overwhelming majority did not choose Durant over Curry purely from a basketball standpoint (i.e., not considering salary cap or roster construction but just from the standpoint of who is better at basketball).

Think about it this way: the Warriors run a very smart organization, they had both players on their roster, and they ran their offense through Durant, not Curry. In other words, the team that knew them the best knew which player is better.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 4:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other Anonymous,

I don't disagree! My point is that those '17/'18 teams are so fraudulently stacked they're not really impressive for either guy, so boasting about titles or FMVPs on that version of the team is kinda like bragging about dunking on an eight foot hope.


1) "If it were easy to be the best player on back to back title teams, then more players would have done it, and the worst player on the list would not be Olajuwon or Durant."

Ok, but I can make that same sort of no-context argument for Curry. Only he, Russell, Kareem, Magic, Jordan, Duncan, and Lebron have 2 MVPs and 4 championships. If it were easy to do that, the worst other players on that list wouldn't be... I guess Lebron and Magic?

Now granted your list was six guys and mine is seven, but I think we're still in the neighborhood.

2 & 3) Hey man, I agree with a lot of your larger points about Curry vs. the Pantheon. I'm not advocating for him there. He's not there yet, and unless he stays good a lot longer than is likely he's not getting there ever. But I was responding to Curry w/o Durant vs. Durant w/o Curry, and in that case then, yeah, comparing their failures is relevant.

I think losing one big game you played well in is less of a black mark than losing four you played poorly in. You think it's mitigated by the Celtics being better than the Nets, but you're ignoring that the rest of the Nets played above their heads in that series, enough so that even average Durant performances would have swung every game in the series. They were all single-digit affairs. On the flip side, an average Curry performance against Memphis would have turned an OT loss into a double-digit blowout.

Now, the missing the playoffs thing is legit, and I made reference to it too when I said Durant has a head start. But Durant's missed them himself four times to Curry's five, so that's not really a massive margin in either dude's favor. Both missed their first few years in the league (3 for Curry, 2 for Durant), and 2 more you can mostly or entirely blame on injury. Even 2021, if Curry is healthy three or four more games (or if Wiseman gets hurt 3 or 4 earlier) they probably dodge the play-in entirely.

So the difference is mostly in that one year faster Durant got there, but he had Westbrook a year earlier than Curry had Thompson, which might have as much to do with it as anything.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 4:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have been very consistent that I don't put much weight on small sample sizes. However, anyone who attacks Durant versus Curry by pointing to the 2022 Celtics-Nets series must be prepared to address not only Curry losing a home game against an inferior team in the Play-In Tournament but also--and more significantly--Curry missing the playoffs five times in 13 seasons.

I have Durant over Curry overall based on skill set, not based on small sample sizes. I could rest my case there, but I find it entertaining to poke holes in slanted arguments that focus on one small sample size but ignore another.

In the 2016 WCF and the 2022 first round, Durant's team lost to a better team. That does not boost his legacy, but it does not harm it, either.

Durant has reached the Conference Finals seven times in 14 years, and he is on an elite list (mentioned above) of players who won back to back Finals MVPs. He is a multi-skilled 6-11 player. Curry is a 6-3 player whose main skill set strength is shooting. Even if Curry is the greatest shooter of all-time, Durant is not exactly chopped liver at shooting, and he has advantages over Curry in many other skill set areas.

Even if one concedes that Curry supposedly ate Durant's lunch in three games in the WCF, why would that matter more than the overall career resumes and the overall skill set comparison? You say that even if it is not the main thing it is something. I would argue that it does not matter much in the larger scheme of things.

On the other hand, if Curry's team had beaten Durant's team in the 2016 WCF, Durant joined the Warriors and Durant became the third or fourth option a la Wiggins, then you might be on to something.

This reminds me of the guy (who I won't even bother to name) who declared that Kobe Bryant's legacy would be defined by one seventh game (which was not even in the NBA Finals). Then, Bryant's team won that game, and the guy never said a word to either (1) acknowledge that Bryant had passed his silly test or (2) that the test was silly regardless of what ended up happening.

Magic Johnson once dribbled out the clock in a tied game in the NBA Finals. Should we take him out of the Pantheon? There are many other examples as well.

I base my rankings on skill set and overall body of work, not cherry picking a handful of games to support a predetermined conclusion.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 4:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Think about it this way: the Warriors run a very smart organization, they had both players on their roster, and they ran their offense through Durant, not Curry. In other words, the team that knew them the best knew which player is better."

Did they though?

2017, Curry averaged more FGA than Durant in both playoffs and regular season.

2018, Durant shot one more FGA in the regular season and 0.5 more in the postseason, but those numbers are goosed by Curry missing half the regular season and a big chunk of the playoffs and Durant shooting more while he was out. With both guys healthy Curry still shot a little more.

2019, Curry shoots almost 2 more FGA than Durant in the regular season, then Durant shoots way, way more in the first two rounds of the postseason.... but to steal your phrase, 11 games against the rest of that three year stretch is pretty small sample size theatre.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 4:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't find the 2022 Celtics-Nets series particularly relevant to the larger Durant-Curry comparison, so I will not go down a rabbit hole discussing that series any more than I already did in my game recaps, but I would say that you might want to consider that Durant's "gravity" (to borrow a popular word) might possibly have something to do with why his teammates performed so well.

Regarding elite lists, I never belittled Curry's four championship/two MVP feat by saying that he had the easiest path or he is the worst player on the list. You singled out Durant with a bizarre criticism, which is why I mentioned who else is on the list.

I would not define Curry by losing one game or Durant by losing one first round series. My point is that it makes no sense to talk about a small sample size for one player without addressing a small sample size for the other player. It is not only illogical to focus on small sample sizes in general, but it is intellectually dishonest to do so only regarding one player.

That being said, of the two small sample sizes, losing a home game versus an inferior team is worse than losing a playoff series against a superior team. Neither sample size defines the careers of the respective players, but it should not be hard to grasp that figuring out how to get your team to outplay an inferior team for 48 minutes at home is easier than figuring out how to get your team to outplay a superior team in four games out of seven.

Again, to focus on what really matters, great 6-11 is better than great 6-3.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 4:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Did you factor in free throw attempts? Did you look at which sets were run? For example, if the play is designed for Durant, but he is doubled and Curry ends up with an open shot, does Curry taking that shot mean that the offense was designed around him?

Did you look at the Finals numbers for Durant and Curry as teammates?

Did you look at the shooting efficiency of both players?

Did you consider which player was the focal point of the opposing defense?

I have yet to see field goal attempts be the primary factor for MVP/Finals MVP, but maybe Curry's fans can use that concept to argue that Durant's Finals MVPs should be retroactively awarded to Curry. Nothing would surprise me at this point.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 4:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're making my point out to be a lot more radical than it is.

I don't think Curry belongs in the Pantheon, or even really the Pantheon conversation. He's a near-the-back Top 20 guy, not a Top 10 guy for me. Based on stuff you've said further up, sounds like were maybe 5-8 spots off on him. I'd have him over, say, Drexler or Thomas, but not the guys you've got on top, or Hakeem/Giannis/Moses types.

While we're not quite on the same page that GSW "ran their offense" primarily through KD, I do agree he was better while they were together (partly because he really bought in on D, but for all your favorite reasons as well).

What I do think is that, as far as the argument I was initially tossing in my by 2 cents on, Curry's career w/o Durant is probably better so far than Durant's w/o Curry. More rings, more MVPs, regular season win record, better playoff win rate, same number of WCFs, and won the one head-to-head matchup in pretty convincing fashion.

You think the rest of the Warriors are so much better than Westbrook/Kyrie/Harden/Ibaka/etc. that it renders all of that immaterial, which is cool enough. I just don't feel the same.

That's all.

For what it's worth, and I'm guessing it's probably not much since I'm just some nerd on the internet, but I do think there's a nicer way to have this conversation. I'm conversing in good faith because I like your writing a lot, I respect your POV, and I just happen to have what I think is a pretty slight difference of opinion, and you're coming off a little hot and even a little bit condescending. Doesn't make your case any stronger, but it does make me feel less good about hanging out here. These things are often a two way street in my experience, so sorry if any of my stuff read that way to you, it wasn't intentional.

Not trying to start beef, just some sincere feedback.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 5:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, to hear Draymond tell it, Curry was the one getting doubled. He was there (and agrees with us that Durant was the better overall player even though they have beef), so I don't know why he'd lie.

I did look at the Finals numbers. Durant shot more in 2017, Curry shot way more in 2018. Durant shot better, but that's not a function of who you're running the offense through, that's a function of whether or not they're hitting.

I didn't factor in free throws. Or turnovers. I should have. USG rate does that, so here's how it looks with FTs and TOs:

Curry about 2% higher in both playoffs and regular season in 2017.

2018, Curry about about 0.5% higher in the regular season, 1% lower in the PS. In the two series they both played all of, Durant was 3% higher against Houston and Curry was 4% higher against Cleveland.

2019, Curry about 1.5% higher in the regular season, Durant 3% higher in the postseason. I'd make the same comment about the sample size I made last time there.

USG% doesn't include assists, but Curry's always way higher on those, so it doesn't hurt Durant that it doesn't.

NBA.com also has touches per game. Curry leads in all three seasons and postseasons by a pretty healthy margin, but as the PG that's mostly to be expected, though mildly interesting Draymond usually leads KD as well (and rarely Curry too) as that hub-style passer. Couple high-usage forwards like Giannis or Butler poke ahead of Curry sometimes too.

As for which sets were run, they ran a lot of sets to get both guys looks, I'd estimate about the same amount on balance. Now, in crunchtime iso situations, for sure they ran more for Durant, both because he was a better iso scorer and because Curry's better off the ball than he is. Doing it the other way would be asking both guys to do the thing the other guy does better.

But like you say, it's not just a fourth quarter league, and those usage and FGA numbers suggest Curry was still eating his fair share.

As for focal point of the opposing defense... I mean, Ty Lue came out and said it was Curry. I don't know if any other team's has said so one way or the other. For Houston it seemed like their plan was often "blitz Curry, stay home on everybody else, if Durant gets 40 we're boned" and they ended up boned because like I said, that's not really a fair team.

But I'm walking into a trap here. The real answer is that they ran the offense through both guys, because why wouldn't they? Having one of them play sidekick most of the time would just make the whole thing more predictable and their main deal before, during, and after Durant has been unpredictability.

I do think the "they ran their offense through Durant" talking point is overblown though, for that reason and all the ones before it.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 9:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I appreciate your feedback, and I apologize if my tone has been offputting.

I disagree that Curry's non-Durant career has been better than Durant's non-Curry career in ways that the respective players can control. Curry has had advantages in terms of playing for a better organization (the only thing that Durant could have "controlled" here is electing to stay in GS, but that would not address your feelings about the players' pre-2017 careers), having a better supporting cast (not necessarily in terms of one to one comparisons of the respective rosters, but in terms of rosters being being constructed to win titles), and in terms of relative strength of opposition faced. Young Durant lost playoff series to prime Kobe and to prime LeBron in Miami, while Curry has benefited from Kawhi being taken out on a dirty play, the 2015 Cavs being decimated by injuries, and even by some injuries in the 2022 playoffs (I doubt that GS beats a healthy Milwaukee, to cite just one example).

Yes, injuries are part of the game, but I would contend that overall (even if you can cite one or two countervailing examples) Curry has had the better fortune here (fully realizing that Curry, Thompson, and KD each have had serious injuries as well).

In the areas that are within the purview of each player and not dependent on others, Durant is bigger, more impactful on defense, a deadlier scorer from more areas, and a better rebounder. Durant won more scoring titles and has had more "great" seasons (with All-NBA First Team status serving as a very rough, quick and dirty accounting of "great") even though Curry leads 2-1 in regular season MVPs.

Both players are great. Neither player is in my Pantheon. The efforts of media members and "stat gurus" to overrate Curry are more than a little annoying. I like Curry and I like the way that he plays; I dislike the way that his career has been covered, particularly in recent years.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 9:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Many things that Draymond says are said with the goal of gaining attention as he lays the groundwork for his post-playing career as the next Charles Barkley (or so Draymond hopes).

Draymond has a high basketball IQ in some respects (though he lacks the ability or willingness to control his emotions on the court, which has hurt his team repeatedly), but I don't take his public comments as gospel.

Perhaps you and I can agree that the Warriors' offense was at its most efficient when Durant was the team's best player. Perhaps we can even agree that Durant was more efficient than Curry when they played together. Finally, perhaps we can agree that as the season/postseason wore on and the games became more difficult/more important, Durant's level rose, while Curry's level stayed the same or declined, and if we agree on that perhaps we can agree that Durant's size and his consequent ability to get off his own shot more easily leaves him less susceptible to wearing down than the 6-3 Curry is.

At Sunday, July 03, 2022 11:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for being receptive to feedback.

We can agree on most of that.

I don't think we'll agree on the relative qualities of their supporting casts. I do think OKC was well-constructed to win a championship most years and just came up short. Sometimes that was due to injury but in 2012 and 2016 they were fairly healthy and just got beat. In 2012 that had more to do with the non-Durant stars struggling under the brightest lights, but in 2016 I believe the blame falls at least as much on Durant's performance as anyone's.

It easy to now to say with the benefit of hindsight that they were not good enough, but if they were still together we wouldn't say that for fear of them proving us wrong next season.

I don't think Brooklyn mostly was good enough, but with Durant being brilliant last year they were only one shot away from beating the champs despite injuries to their secondary scorers, so it's hard to say they weren't good enough to win one in spite of their flaws, and this year his supporting cast played way above their heads against an elite defense, enough so to render that series winnable if Durant had been able to solve the defense as well. I think Durant did everything that could reasonably expected of him last year but I do not agree the Boston series was unwinnable this year, and I would have liked their chances against a no-Middleton Milwaukee as well if his supporting cast were able to keep shooting the way they did against Boston (not a given).

Level of competition is tough for me. Both Curry and Durant lost a series to peak Lebron. Both lost to late-stage Duncan. They are 1-1 against the two teams they both played without each other. The Kawhi injury benefitted both of them, though I think it likely just turned a five game series into a four game series, and obviously the Durant injury cost them both another ring.

I agree that Curry has had some positive injury luck in the playoffs but it has also gone against him at times. With better injury luck on his own team he'd likely have six rings instead of four, so it is also hard for me to attribute too much of his success to luck.

I don't totally agree that Curry wears down more than Durant in the playoffs. I would agree that Curry wore down in 2016, but it is hard to argue that Durant did not wear down in 2019, and you yourself implied that he also wore down against Curry in 2016 by citing his minutes load. I think Curry played at a very high level in his five other Finals appearances, and this year specifically seemed to save his best ball for that round. Even in the Durant years he performed at a level that would easily have made him the Finals MVP in most Finals, Durant was just even better than that... but as I said I take both their performances in those series with a grain of salt, as sharing the court just made things so easy for both of them.

There have been a lot of hypothetical throughout this thread, about how well the Warriors would do with Durant instead of Curry, or who might have beaten whom if X or Y was healthy, and I do think those carry some weight. But I think what actually happened has to carry a little more weight than what might have happened, and on that front I think Curry has to have the edge for their separate years.

I understand why you disagree, but that disagreement hinges on attributing more of the credit/blame to their respective supporting casts than I'm comfortable with, is all.

At Monday, July 04, 2022 2:59:00 PM, Blogger DDC said...

Is there going to be a free agency post this month?

At Wednesday, July 06, 2022 1:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I will provide analysis/commentary at some point, but I don't do the whole "sources say"/"breaking news" stuff just before there is a press conference to let everyone know the big "secret."

At Thursday, July 07, 2022 12:03:00 AM, Blogger Jordan said...


I hope you had a great 4th of July holiday with your family. I won't belabor an unprovable discussion about leadership. I see your points regarding Durant and agree with many of them. I even concede that he was the better player than Curry during their time together.

But, I do think leadership can be measured and I do believe Kevin Durant is not a leader of men and has proven it with his actions in OKC, Golden State, and Brooklyn. He was not the leader in Golden State, even if he was the best player.

But don't believe me, KD said so himself.

“Steph Curry is the face of the franchise, and that helps me out, because I don’t have to,” he said. “I don’t want to have to be the leader. I’m not a leader. I’m bad at saying, ‘Stand behind me and follow me.’

“No. I’m one of those guys that’s just like, ‘Let’s do this sh-- together. Let’s just work everybody together. I don’t mind being on the front line with you, but let’s come and do it together.’

“That’s my way of leadership. I’m leading by example.”


At Thursday, July 07, 2022 1:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You state that leadership can be measured, but do not explain specifically how it can be measured. I disagree that leadership can be measured other than in the way that I described, by looking at team/group success and focusing on the individual(s) most responsible for that success. I doubt that there have been many--if any--NBA championship teams who won despite their best player being a bad leader. Obviously, there are levels to leadership just like anything else, but I have seen no concrete evidence supporting the notion that Durant is a bad leader.

The Durant quote that you provided can be read/understood in multiple ways. One, he said it while he was still playing for GS, so it is very reasonable to assume that he was trying to placate any possible tension with Curry by assuring Curry (and the world) that Curry is "the face of the franchise" (whatever that means) even though Durant was actually the Finals MVP who outdueled LeBron the year after LeBron led a historic 3-1 Finals comeback against a team that certainly was led by Curry. Two, if you read the whole quote then you understand that Durant was explaining that he was not a vocal leader but that his form of leadership is "I'm leading by example." Three, there is a kind of humble/brag tone to the whole thing, much like when Rafael Nadal used to call Roger Federer the greatest player of all-time--but if Federer is the greatest player of all-time and Nadal beats him like a drum most of the time they play each other, then what is Nadal? If Curry is the "face of the franchise" but he and Green begged Durant to show up to help them beat LeBron, then what is Durant?

Sorry, but a quote pulled by Slam from a longer GQ piece does not change my perspective on Durant's leadership. Further, I don't think that it would be difficult to pull quotes from the coaching staff of Team USA about what a great leader Durant was during FIBA play, and I would put more credibility in those quotes.

At Thursday, July 07, 2022 1:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Here is just one quote from Team USA Coach Gregg Popovich about Durant's leadership (and it is not difficult to find others): "KD, he's not special because he's so talented, the way he works on his game is more impressive, the relationships he builds with teammates, the respect he garners, the joy he has in playing its like osmosis. It goes into all the other players and allows you to develop a camaraderie and enjoyment to be together and to do that and that sort of love of the game and love of people is what makes him more special than as a player." https://www.sportingnews.com/ca/nba/news/tokyo-olympics-kevin-durant-cements-himself-as-team-usas-greatest-ever-mens-player/1q4gslhfh6jaj1idm93s62sgk5

Does that one quote prove that Durant is a great leader? No, but it is evidence that has to be considered, and it means more than the Durant quote you cited for reasons that I explained above.

It is worth noting that Popovich said exactly the opposite about Durant of what you are asserting. You assert that Durant is just very, very good at basketball, while Popovich says that what makes Durant special goes well beyond his basketball talent.

By the way, when I look at some of the national figures who keep pushing the Durant is not a leader narrative (including but not limited to Colin Cowherd), I feel very comfortable trusting my instincts/observations, and quotes from Popovich and other reputable basketball people.

At Thursday, July 07, 2022 1:47:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


I feel I've provided quite a bit of evidence to why I think Kevin Durant is not quite the leader you seem to think he is. To be crystal clear, I never went as far as saying Durant isn't a good leader. I just think of the top 25-30 players ever, he's arguably the worst. And, I do absolutely assert that he is a worse leader than Steph Curry.

And that is what we are debating Curry vs. Durant. You keep bringing up all of these other examples to prove your point -- the Olympics, Jerry West, Chris Paul, etc. I am not interested in all of that because your points regarding those are all true. Chris Paul is the one of the most overrated "leaders" ever and that his size and inability to raise his game in the most critical moments prove his "leadership" isn't as valuable as the media claims. He's also ringless and not in my top 50 players of all time.

Jerry West made 9 finals, despite only winning one, he is a tremendous leader and arguably better than Curry all time (though, based on your logic, is KD better than the 6-3 Jerry West?). West proved his leadership by grinding and grinding and working to improve until he finally at long last earned a championship. He didn't quit on his team. Of anyone in NBA history, West has the best case to want out of his situation. But, instead, he persevered.

Pop's quote reinforces this idea that Kevin Durant is an amazing player who loves to hoop. And that absolute love of hoops is infectious and is itself a form of leadership. But, top 30 of all time leadership goes beyond just loving to hoop. I can't think of another top 30 player, who did not embrace other aspects of leadership like KD. The teams where KD was expected to lead a franchise, he's faltered, and ultimately quit on OKC and most recently Brooklyn.

You have repeatedly said that since Durant was the best player on the Warriors, he was the leader. We agree he was the best player, but I mentioned that Kerr, Draymond, and Klay have all vocalized that Steph was the leader. And, KD himself said he wasn't the leader of the Warriors. That he didn't even want that. I'm not sure how we can take what others say and put more value on that then what KD himself said.

Anyways, just as you've said multiple times in this very comments thread, once someone has a position, it is rare for that person to change his/her mind. So, we can put an end to this debate.

However, most certainly appreciate your willingness to always engage with us in your comments.


At Thursday, July 07, 2022 5:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Evidence is measured best not in volume, but in quality, relevance, and persuasiveness. I do not find the evidence that you presented to meet those three standards, for the reasons that I have already explained.

Regarding your opinion that my evidence is not relevant regarding Curry versus Durant as leaders, Curry has never been the leader of a back to back championship team, nor has he been the leader of a team that won a FIBA gold medal. I am not convinced that the leadership qualities that Durant displayed in FIBA--as described by Popovich--do not translate to the NBA.

Incidentally, I find Draymond Green to be overrated as a leader. A player who racks up technical fouls and suspensions and who loses his cool is a player who detracts from whatever other leadership qualities he allegedly possesses. Green is a very good defensive player, and he functions well as a playmaker for an offense that is loaded with talented players. I doubt that he could lead any other kind of team very far at all. The loudest, most boisterous person is not necessarily a leader; he is just a person who creates a lot of attention for himself.

I have never ranked 1-30 the leadership qualities of the top 30 players of all-time, but your original argument was that (1) Durant is not as good of a leader as Curry and (2) Durant has never been the leader of any of his teams, including the back to back champions for whom he won the Finals MVP. You have not presented anything that proves that either of those assertions are likely to be correct. I say "likely" because, as I have emphasized, leadership is very subjective. My default position is that, unless proven otherwise, the best player on a championship team is at the very least a good leader. I cannot think of a single example of a championship team whose best player was a bad leader.

I also find it interesting, though not determinative, to look at who else argues that Durant is not a great leader. I am fine with being on the opposite side of Colin Cowherd, who also thought that Durant would never make it in the NBA because of his bench press total in the rookie combine.

Regarding West, he is a better all-around player than Curry or Durant, which is why West is in the Pantheon while Curry and Durant are not. Subjective impressions of leadership did not impact my ranking of any of those players.

At Tuesday, July 12, 2022 10:51:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Even though Steph Curry didn't get finals MVP in 2015, he was their best player. I think he was snubbed of that finals MVP also.

It was a weak move for Durant to join the Warriors when they had won a title just a year prior. But it was said that players on the Warriors reached out to Durant to join them. So do you think they deserve some criticism for that as well? Do you believe that the Warriors would have won the 2017 and 2018 titles had Durant not joined the Warriors?

Curry has an impressive resume but I don't know if I can say he's top 10 right now.

At Tuesday, July 12, 2022 10:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Curry was the best player on the 2015 team, but he led a strong ensemble cast. He was not the best player during the 2015 NBA Finals, and it has often been the case during his Finals career that he was not the second best or even third best player on the court (based on performance, not career resume).

Players have the right to reach out to other players, and Durant has the right to seek greener pastures. My preference was (and remains) that he stay with OKC and form a rivalry with GS instead of joining the team that had just beaten his team. That being said, after Durant joined the Warriors he immediately emerged as their best player and as a team leader. The Warriors do not win in 2017 or 2018 without Durant, and until this spring Durant had won more playoff games with Brooklyn after he left GS than GS had won after he left.

I can separate my opinion about whether Durant should have left OKC (and GS and Brooklyn if he ends up leaving) with my objective analysis of Durant as a great player and as a team leader.

There is no way that Curry is a top 10 player all-time. He is not as great as any of the players in my Pantheon, nor is he as great as (in no particular order) Giannis, Durant, Olajuwon, Havlicek, or Barry. Curry would not be in my top 20, but would fit somewhere in my top 30. He is a great player with an impressive resume, but at this point he is also overrated vis a vis the absolute greatest players of all-time.

At Wednesday, July 13, 2022 11:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know that it's fair to decisively say they wouldn't have won in 2017 or 2018, but their road is deffo tougher.

2017 only the Cavs were really any good, though OKC would of course be better with Durant. I see no reason why they couldn't still beat the Thunder, especially since 2017 was about when Curry started to become a plus defender instead of a liability (likely motivated by what happened in the 2016 Finals) and the chemistry in OKC was clearly deteriorating.

That was probably the best iteration of the Cavs and I would take them over the Warriors but it's a close enough matchup that if you play that series 100 times the Warriors probably win 40-45 of them, so it would likely come down to luck/injuries/officiating.

In 2018 the only team that was any good was Houston. I understand the temptation to say the team that pushed them to 7 with Durant would certainly beat them without him, but I personally think that Houston team was always hard-wired to self-destruct. They had a chance to beat the Warriors without Durant the next year and still melted down.

I don't think Cleveland without Kyrie can beat them.

My gut is that they lose to Cleveland in 2017 and then win in 2018.

At Wednesday, July 13, 2022 7:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My opinion that GSW would not have won in 2017 or in 2018 without Durant is based not only on his dominant performances in both of those NBA Finals, but also based on the overall impact his absence would have had: Curry would have had to do much more during the regular season and the playoffs leading up to the Finals (assuming that GSW even advanced that far), and the accumulated wear and tear would have likely had a negative effect on Curry's efficiency (and the efficiency of his teammates as well).

Regarding the 2018 Finals specifically, Durant averaged 28.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, and 7.5 apg. He led the Warriors in scoring, rebounding, assists, and blocked shots. His shooting splits were .526/.409/.963. Those are legendary numbers, but people don't want to talk about that because they don't like the way that Durant left OKC. Meanwhile, Curry's shooting splits--with Durant attracting a lot of defensive attention (or "gravity" as some like to say)--were .402/.415/1.000.

Such discussions are inevitably subjective and hypothetical, but the notion that one can remove from a team a player who averaged 28.8/10.8/7.5 in the Finals and that team would still win the title strikes me as more than a bit odd. Would that be said about the best player on any other championship team? Durant definitely gets "special" treatment regarding his place among the all-time greats.

At Wednesday, July 13, 2022 11:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Spurs in 2017 were also really good as well and perhaps in this timeline Kawhi is healthy. Had KD stayed in 2017 and it largely would have been a repeat of 2016 with the 4 best teams being the Warriors/Spurs/Thunder/Cavs albeit I think Spurs or OKC make the finals instead of Warriors

Rockets in 2018 were formed largely in response to the KD Warriors so no clue how that season would have looked. I too am of the belief that Golden State likely doesn't win in 17 or 18 without Durant though

The only game in 2018 finals where Steph truly had more "gravity" was game 3 and even in that game he scored 11 points on 16 shots (and a zero plus/minus) while Durant scored 43 on 23 shots with a +15 plus/minus, Durant was clearly much better in that game regardless and if people watched that game he was getting more defensive attention in crunch time. Steph in that game had 9 points before 2 garbage time free throws got him to 11 and his last made field goal was made possible by Klay's gravity but of course no one talks about how Steph benefits from others only about how he benefits others

The discourse surrounding Durant and Steph will be very annoying from here on out. On one hand Durant really has no one to blame but himself for that as he could have tried to be a rival instead of a teammate, being the best player on those teams isn't enough for people when they still won without him, but on the other hand he's still the superior basketball player with a more extensive body of work. I'm hoping later generations of basketball fans get it right for once

At Thursday, July 14, 2022 12:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the Warriors are a bit of a historical oddity in a lot of ways. Most Finals teams certainly could not lose their best player and still win the title, but most Finals teams didn't add that player after making back-to-back Finals and winning one, either.

My logic is that the 2016 Warriors were about one shot, injury, or suspension away from beating the 2016 Cavaliers, and that the 2016 Cavaliers are much better than the 2018 Cavaliers since one team has Kyrie Irving and the other does not. I would expect the 2018 Warriors to be a little better than the 2016 Warriors with the benefit of Curry's defensive improvement and even more "reps" together/playoff experience.

The only other team I can think of that was Finals caliber and then added an MVP in his prime is the '83 76ers. Not a perfect analogue, but as close as we're going to get. Could the '83 76ers defeat the '83 Lakers if they lost Moses (KD) but the Lakers also lost Magic or Kareem (whoever you think is the Kyrie in that relationship)? Hard to say, but it would not surprise me.

The 2016 Cleveland rendition was also a much better defensive team, ranking 10th, while the 2018 version was the 29th ranked defense in the league. Ty Lue has stated explicitly that their strategy was to sell-out on doubling Curry and live with whatever Durant and Thompson did to punish them 4-on-3. As a result, not just Durant but nearly every non-Curry Warrior shot at a blistering clip, with Thompson the next lowest out of their Top 9 at 48/43/80 and every other significant player at 52% or better.

It is certainly a much closer series without Durant but a 29th ranked defense winning the title would be even more anomalous than a team absent its best player winning one.

Curry's traditional shooting splits do not look great they are skewed a little by the volume of his three point attempts. His overall True Shooting efficiency was still high at 56%. While that is low for Curry and low for a hypothetical Finals MVP it is still good overall, and is still higher than some Finals MVPs (including both of Kobe's though of course Kobe had a more complete game beyond scoring). His overall numbers (27.5/6/6.8) are higher than most perimeter-oriented FMVPs, and might go up (possibly with a drop in efficiency though it would be hard for Cleveland to commit harder to him than they did) with more touches sans Durant.

That is not to say he was better than Durant, which he wasn't, only that he played at a level good enough to be the best guy on a title team.

So while both our hypotheticals are ultimately unprovable it is tough for me to believe that a defense that bad could defeat a team they barely beat before when they were much better defensively and had a 25 PPG scoring guard they since lost.

At Thursday, July 14, 2022 8:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You reiterate a good point: the question about the hypothetical Durant-less Warriors is not just whether or not they could have beaten the Cavs in the Finals, but whether or not they would have even reached the Finals.

I am not confident that future generations of basketball fans will figure things out. If anything, the passage of time tends to lead to further distortions of historical truth.

At Thursday, July 14, 2022 8:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


No matter how "odd" the Warriors are historically, it is odder to suggest that you can take a top-20 player of all-time off of a team and that team will still win a championship. If the Warriors were that good then they would not have been begging Durant to join them, and Durant would not have instantly become their best player.

All of this stuff about one Ty Lue quote about targeting Curry is not as significant as some people seem to think. The Bulls' opponents regularly targeted Scottie Pippen because they knew that they could not stop Jordan but that if they could slow down Pippen enough then maybe they could win; they targeted Pippen because he was the weaker link (relatively speaking), not because he was the best player. The analogy is not perfect--no analogy is--but Lue is too smart to not understand that Durant is a better player than Curry.

I don't find the 1983 comparison particularly helpful. I am not putting Kyrie Irving in the same sentence, paragraph, chapter, book, bookshelf or possibly even the same bookstore (metaphorically speaking) as either Magic or Kareem. Also, in a one game scenario in the 1980 Finals the 76ers faced the Lakers without Kareem and got blown out. The 76ers needed more inside presence, because in that era you could not win a title without inside presence. Every NBA champion from 1976-1988 had a Hall of Fame center.

Also, and as mentioned above, this hypothetical is not just about the NBA Finals. GSW without Durant would have dealt with a lot more wear and tear throughout the regular season and playoffs and, consequently, may not have even reached the NBA Finals.


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