Wins above replacement, Player efficiency rating, DVOA and any other analytic that is supposedly a measure of a player's value over the average guy you'd have to play if that player weren't playing are inherently misleading, as they essentially penalize players with obvious weaknesses by comparing them to a mathematical "avg player." But in reality there is no avg player, all players are a combination of strengths and weaknesses.
Team building is about weighing respective players strengths and weaknesses and playing them in complimentary positions and situation to maximize their strengths and limit their weaknesses. Value is very much dependent on context. A new smartphone can be as much as $900, but it's worthless without service. And a old clunky landline phone will let you call anywhere I the world as long as there's a dial tone. Analytics are selling smartphones, but as long as you can make calls, you can win games.
As advanced stats become ubiquitous they become an equalizer not an advantage. Previously advanced stats were like trade secrets of individual teams, but in the last decade they have been adopted so wide spread and the demand for analytic GMs has become so quintessential that it's almost as useful as traditional stats.
I hate to keep rehashing this topic because it is excruciatingly painful, but here is the definitive last word on the god-forsaken Oden or Durant debate. The debate boils down to 2 facts.
Fact #1: Durant is destined to be Dirk Nowitski X 1.5. All the hype about Durant as a revolutionary wing player at 6’10” will be over by his 25th birthday. Granted that still gives him 4 years, but when his hall of fame career is over he will have played 2/3rds of his career as a power forward. History proves it over and over. Players try to resist the move but team needs and the demands of a player’s body as they age make it inevitable. Players start to fill out at 25 years of age and big men are always at a premium. Swing men are a dime a dozen in the NBA (look at the T-Wolves this year).
Kevin Garnett tried to be a 6’ 13” small forward. It didn’t last. By all accounts he’s been playing center for 10 years. Dirk was drafted to be the revolution only a European big man could become; a 6’10” small forward who could handle the ball like a pg and shoot from the hash mark. All the same things they say about Durant now, they said about Dirk in 99. He’s played power forward for the last 8 years and rarely handles the ball above the foul line extended. By the time it’s all said and done he will average between 25 and 30ppg for over a decade. Durant could put up between 30 and 35 for a decade. That’s Jordan and Chamberlain territory alone, but hardly revolutionary. But how many rings do Dirk and KG have between them? Only one. The fact is swing men and stretch 4s do not a championship ring bring.
The single exception to this fact thus far is Lebron James who, to his credit, has recognized this fact and purposely refused to develop a post game to delay his eventual move to power forward that Pat Riley is planning as we speak (Riley did the exact same thing to Lamar Odom, another 6’10” multi skill perimeter player converted to a 4 out of need and convention).
Which brings me to fact #2 which I’ve actually already stated indirectly:
Quality Big men are now and forever shall be the closest thing to a shortcut to winning NBA Championships. Now granted a big man always needs great little men to get him the ball and shooters to stretch the D, but no amount of outside shooting and perimeter all stars can make up for a mediocre low post presence. Look at the league now. Dwight Howard comes of age and Orlando is a perennial contender out of nowhere. The 2006 Miami Heat won a title with the 2006 Shaq. The 2007 Heat with no Shaq was one of the worst teams in history with Dwyane Wade. Name a team with a quality center who isn’t considered at least a fringe contender? The Nets with Brooke Lopez are the only example currently. How many playoffs did Olajuwon miss? The David Robinson lead Spurs were always in the hunt. Look what a difference Gasoil’s presence makes in LA, or Garnett’s in Boston. Those are the facts proven time and time again by history repeating it’s self.
If you think about it, the team that drafted Durant will try to convert him into Oden if he doesn’t win them a title soon. The Thunder are lacking a game changing big man. Do you see them winning a title in the next 2 years with Serge Ibaka at center? The conversion will come and everything special about Durant right now; the size on the perimeter creating match up nightmares, the coast to coast one man fast break, seeing over the screener on the high pick and roll, and the turnaround fade way jumpers over the swarming triple team from dam near half court all will be sacrificed to try and manufacture what could not simply be acquired on draft day: an elite big man. Only Magic Johnson has escaped this fate because he won a title for the Lakers as a rookie. Ironically he did so by scoring 42 points and grabbing 20 rebounds while playing Center for the injured Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the series clinching victory of the NBA finals. And so Lebron is still the only exception as even Magic became a big man when it mattered most.
Ok, so now you are an NBA GM with the first pick in the Draft and you can draft Dirk Nowitski 1.5 or a 50/50 Raffle ticket for an NBA Finals short cut. If you want to sell tickets you take Dirk 1.5, if you want to win titles you roll the dice with the 50/50 short cut. The Blazers took the 50/50 shortcut, knowing it would be either a Bowie (bust), or a Walton (Championship in his 3rd year). If the Blazers don’t win a title this year with Greg Oden, it just means when they draft 1 overall again in 15 years, they should draft the big man again because the odds say they are due for the title shortcut.
The NBA season tips off today. Seeing as the majority of members currently sitting on the ThinkTank Panel (Of One) have some kind of tie to the Portland metro area, the ThinkTank Panel (Of One) would like to commemorate the 2010 Tip-off by correcting a common misconception that has plagued the Trailblazers of late.
There is this perception that Brandon Roy, the Blazers 3 time all star guard, is incapable of running a fast break. Phrases like “pace” and “initiate the offense through Roy” have been used to paint Brandon as a prison shackle and speed bump to the Blazers offensive output. Numerous articles, editorials and fan comments on the subject over the past 4 seasons have made this view nearly ubiquitous. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Everyone seems to have forgotten Roy played in an ultra up-tempo college system at Washington. In 2004 the Huskies averaged 86.5 points per game (2nd in the Nation) and earned the #1 seed in the west region before losing to Louisville in the sweet sixteen. That team featured the uber fast Nate Robinson and Roy had no problem keeping up with Krypto Nate. In his senior season Roy took over the main ball handling duties and went on to win Pac 10 player of the year honors. Despite loosing Robinson, leading scorer Tre Simmons, and 3 year starter Will Conroy to graduation, the Roy led Huskies’ averaged 82 points per game (4th in the nation , less than 1 point per game behind leader Long Beach State), and advanced once again to the sweet 16 before losing in an epic double OT game with Connecticut.
What’s more is Roy has thrived in his All Star appearances, which are not exhibitions of half court execution. Roy has proven in his time with the Blazers to be quite comfortable filling the wing, running out ahead, or handling the ball in the middle of the break. So where does this blatantly erroneous perception come from?
The misperception comes from the fact that Roy’s game is built upon a foundation different from the other All Star caliber guards in the game. The elite players at the 2 guard position traditionally are freak of nature athletes, guys that win dunk contests and spend their early careers trying to dunk on everyone. Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, a young Vince Carter, young MJ, Ginobilli, and even lesser caliber players such as Andre Igoudola, and Gerald Wallace, all violently attack the rim, jumping over and bowling through any defender who dares to enter their path. These guys could earn their pay checks almost exclusively off the open court jam. That does not describe Roy’s game. Nor does the other end of the 2 guard continuum in which players such as Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Reggie Miller, Ben Gordon, Steph Curry, and a host of other long range shooters base their game on occupying and stretching defenses with their catch and shoot mentality. Roy’s game is different. Frankly, it is not even in the middle of the continuum. It is unique in that Roy is the rare young player who dominates with craftiness, on having more game than his opponent, not relying on pure athleticism or a single go to skill. This is evident as everyone agrees Roy’s greatest attribute is his ability to finish at the rim, a skill eschewed by both the athletic dunkers and the long range bombers. Craftiness takes patience and awareness, not the single-minded self assuredness in ones athletic dominance or outside touch. Roy is patient and takes what the defense give him rather than trying to force the ball down the other teams throat, or jacking up catch and shoot threes. Therefore Roy appears to “pace” himself and “thrive in half court setting.”
However, Roy does have an NBA body, at 6’6” and 216.
He has NBA Range as exhibited here:
He also can attack the rim with authority when needed.
It’s no joke when Kobe Bryant talks up what a highly skilled and complete player Roy is. Roy provides the Blazer’s with a closer, a guy who can create a shot when it is most crucial. This is a necessary component for any team hoping to win a playoff series.
Now remember that Roy’s best basketball skill is finishing at the rim, but that does not mean he has to be the one to get the ball there. Granted he is pretty darn good at driving the ball, but there are any number of ways team basketball can get a player as good as Roy the basketball in position to score; curl screens back door cuts, pick and rolls, out in transition, short corner baseline against the zone, etc.
One supposed evidence that Roy slows the Blazers down was his difficulty playing with Andre Miller early last season. Miller was expected to come in and push the ball up and down the court. That didn’t happen because miller was trying to prove his worth to the team; to earn his starting spot, justify his signing with team, etc, and he and Roy didn’t develop any chemistry. Consequently Roy found himself waiting for Miller to create and Miller didn’t know how Roy wanted to get the ball. Add to this the Blazer’s commitment to playing proper position defense which does not lend its self to running out in transition and the Blazers were a slow half court team. Oh there was one more mitigating factor early last season that contributed to the notion of a Slow-Roy Blazers. The intentional force-feeding of the ball to Greg Oden before he broke his knee-cap.
Hate to beat the Lebron James Horse to death (actually beating Lebron James and anything pertaining to him is quite popular at the moment) but the ThinkTank Panel (of One) has considered the pitfalls of the new big three in Miami and come up with a solution. After all that’s what a think tank is for.
The main problem facing the big three is staying interested. Sharing shots and determining “whose batman and whose Robin (and in this case who is Alfred)” are all symptoms of the overriding but little publicized but not exactly secret reality that there are 82 games to play and no superstar really cares until May. Normally this is dealt with by players trying to win scoring titles and MVP awards. There are all star teams to make, stats to accumulate before the next contract year. Guys play 82 games for vanity and pride, basking in the adoration of adoring fans. Now Lebron and Wade cannot share a scoring title on the same team, nor can they share an MVP award (unless it is an all star game a la Stockton and Malone in Utah).
There is no doubt the big three can put egos aside and just win baby once the real season starts in the playoffs. But the regular season is all about ego and showing off for the fans. That is how the league makes money.
Here is the obvious solution, brilliant in it's simplicity yet ingenious in it's sophistication. Let Lebron take off 50 or so games. Seriously. Wade and Bosh can hold it down for a while. Let Wade garner all the scoring early, and Bosh can be sure to maintain his stats so he makes the All star team. That way it is DWade’s team, no doubt. The team has rhythm, and then after the All Star Break Lebron steps in. There is an adjustment period and then the playoffs start. Everybody wins.
So what does Lebron do in the mean time?
Lebron can do what everyone has been saying he could have done if he had chosen football over basketball in high school, play tight end in the NFL. The Dolphins need a money tight end. It’s a shame that Lebron didn’t consult with the Think Tank Panel (of One) before making his decision, because after hearing this suggestion he could have joined the Browns and then everyone in his home state of Ohio would not hate him. Lebron Plays the NFL season, wins a Super bowl the first week of February takes the rest of the month off and Joins the Heat March 1st. He wins an NBA Title in June just in time to attend minicamp.
After long deliberation, the ThinkTank Panel (of One) has decided to withhold any further comment on the long anticipated NBA Free Agent class this summer. There has long been too many talking heads discussing and predicting the outcome of this free agent crop for the past 3 years. Every conceivable scenario has been proposed, debated and prayed for. For the ThinkTank Panel (of One) to comment further would be brutally redundant. The ThinkTank Panel (of One) will wait to see the end results of an exciting summer of player movement and will then extrapolate the implications of those moves and what they reveal about the NBA players and teams going forward into training camp.
However there is one note the ThinkTank Panel (of One) would like to clarify. The auspice of this summer free agent frenzy is the rare opportunity for the two best individual players in the game to join forces on one team at their physical peak, in Lebron James and Dwyane Wade (all due respect to Kobe who is arguably as good right now, but has peaked in terms of explosiveness.) Make no mistake; Wade and James together is what this summer is all about. Those two together are the big prize. Adding Chris Bosh to that duo would be a pleasant bonus, but that is merely icing on the Wade/James cake. And any other superstar combo, be it a duo, trio, or a full starting 5, will taste less sweet if James and Wade are not the main ingredients.