Miami is out. They’re on every week anyway, but besides, I just don’t enjoy watching them play. (Unless it’s the Finals, of course.) The Lakers too are out, because of Bryant’s injury. The strange irony of the backlash I received from citing Kobe Bryant as the league’s most overrated shooting guard in a 5-on-5 some weeks ago is that I actually like Bryant and moreso, really like watching him play. But despite what they’re saying, who knows when he’s back and more importantly, at full strength. Maybe he beats the odds, but hey, we’re talking about one of five available slots here. You can’t waste a slot betting on a 35 year old’s health, man. You guys know that. Let’s keep moving.
I’m intrigued by Brooklyn, but again, not enough. I always did like Deron Williams but I’m almost expecting Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to look more like Gary Payton and Karl Malone in their Lakers’ 2004 roles (e.g. old) than like any other geriatric duo that went ring-chasing and actually succeeded. But I do like the move. When you’re over, you gotta go all in. And Joe Johnson’s contract is the definition of “over.” You can’t just pay a fringe All-Star $20million/annual and then cite fiscal responsibility in an effort to somehow manage the cap. But we’ll move on. There’s no one in the Atlantic Division that I’m taking. I’ll read about the Knicks’ title chances in every national rag (and will chuckle) but no thanks on watching. By the way, while we’re here, did Carmelo Anthony really get a first place MVP vote? Really now? And Sam, if you’re for some reason reading this, I love you and best of luck, but I’m not watching your team.
Rockets are obviously in. That’s the whole point of getting this. Spurs? God no. That’s great that you guys have managed to defy reality and the aging process, but I age about a year every time I watch you guys play. I just don’t do boring basketball.
The Pelicans are my it team next year for reasons I’ve already gone into, but I’m going to set them in my ‘maybe’ category for now. I loved the offseason they had, but from a viewer standpoint, neither ‘Reke Evans or Jrue get me excited and I don’t pay to watch big men. But man, that team is going to be good. (By the way, as an aside, if Anthony Davis develops as projected, how long is Houston’s window until we can say the Pelicans are in their class? I say one year.)
Okay, so now we’re looking at the Central and Bulls are definitely in, even if it takes Derrick Rose some time to shake off the rust from wearing a suit all year. Two questions: has there ever been a more laughably undeserving MVP and secondly, has there ever been a more spectacularly entertaining player than Rose? I can’t think of a more tragic injury than a guy like that who earns his bread counting on that extra tenth of a second difference going down and potentially losing that forever. They say you lose nothing, but when you’re talking about that degree of an extreme, there has to be some give, right? Let’s hope not. Speaking of captivating, Cleveland also is in, even though Kyrie Irving is guaranteed to miss about half the season. Can you tell I like point guards? The Cavs will be a lock here after Lebron does the logical thing next summer and goes back.
So far, I’m at Houston, Chicago, and Cleveland, with two slots still open. Indiana is going to come out of the East but did anyone become more fantastically overrated last summer than Paul George? Look, the guy is tremendous. One of the best two-way players in the league. But fans and media have to stop overrating players on the basis of playoff performances. It’s not smart analysis nor smart projecting. Same thing with Kawhi Leonard. And Chandler Parsons and Pat Beverley. Just because a guy played well in extended circumstances where your attention was more intensely focused upon him (i.e: their game was the only one on) doesn’t mean that you can throw out other mitigating factors (i.e.: that out of the field of other NBA players, there aren’t guys who, if placed in that same position if given the opportunity, would have produced similarly.) In fact, I’d argue that projections/salaries based on playoff performances are one of the biggest managerial missteps out there. Anyone remember Austin Croshere some ten years ago who played his way to a nice deal after putting up numbers in the Finals against a Laker team with no ‘4’? I didn’t think so. Now, having said that, what a strong playoff performance does tell you, is that a guy has the mental makeup to respond to pressure and adversity. And I guess there is some value to that. But I don’t think that’s enough to overcome the balancing factors. If you look good for five games against a good matchup, it’s not telling me enough to make a financial decision. The bottom line is that George is tremendous. But I’ve seen some places where people argued he was in the upper echelon near Harden territory and that’s just absurd (or perhaps overt contrarianism?). Come back to me when he can create a shot.
Detroit’s my WTF? sleeper where anything can happen. I mean, seriously, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith…together? What could possibly go wrong? But on that point, has anyone in recent history been more underrated and unappreciated than Josh Smith with respect to reputation vs. team success. This is a guy who consistently, at worst, has been the second best player on a team that has made the playoffs every year (and also advanced), yet we talk about him as if he’s this generation’s Derrick Coleman. This is a man who makes serious, serious contributions on the basketball court. So this could really work, especially if Drummond makes the jump (Drummond or Anthony Davis, who do you have?), but again, too risky when I have just two slots left. But yeah, this is my candidate for a Golden State type meteoric rise, while at the same time, my candidate for a midseason mutiny with rumors that player X attacked player Y in the workout room with a medicine ball.
No one in the Northwest. I don’t like watching the Thunder play. Something to do with Westbrook, I guess. And no one in the Southeast either. Is there a more pathetic looking division in basketball? Wall looked good though, but please man, fix your shot. It’s really not that hard, especially when you can do like…everything else.
Clippers and Warriors round it out. Two notes here: Chris Paul is the most historically underrated superstar of his generation and one of the most of all-time especially considering I’ve seen amateur discussions where people have actually placed Gary Payton and John Stockton above him. Some of that is just romanticization of the past but much of that is just ignorance. You walk into a bar and tell people you’d take Chris Paul over Magic Johnson, and you’d get laughed at…and that shouldn’t be the case. Just compare the numbers, with special attention placed upon each respective player’s best year where Paul, in ’09, posted a PER of 30, WS/48 of .292 and an offensive rating of 124, compared to Magic’s ’87 when he had a PER of 27.0, WS/48 of .263 and also posted an offensive rating of 124. (Keep in mind that those oRTG’s are unadjusted where Magic was flanked by Hall of Famers while Paul had David West.) The career averages also point in favor of Paul. I’m not saying there aren’t known issues with PER and win shares but those metrics are really all we have to compare players from different generations. (RAPM isn’t of much use here because play by play data wasn’t available before this decade and those 90’s rankings are based upon more inaccurate box score calculations.) My point is this: I’m not saying Chris Paul is the greatest point guard of all-time (though Daryl Morey kind of implied that, putting him in his all-time starting 5 in an AMA on Reddit last year), but there’s a serious discussion and we haven’t even touched on the fact that Magic played on some of the most talent-heavy rosters in history.
Second point: Curry. I think Bill Simmons made the point that Curry stands alone as the absolute “turn on the TV” guy in the league right now where I could be on Twitter and see my timeline explode and nonchalantly think, “oh, he’s doing it again” with “doing it again” meaning dropping 30 points in a quarter. But the thing about Curry, like Hakeem Olajuwon, isn’t so much that he’s great–both are obviously great–but that they are doing things that we have not previously perceived in our overall basketball gestalt. Do you know what I mean? For instance, Kobe is great, but I’ve seen that with Jordan and guys like McGrady etc. Irving and Rose are fun but I saw Iverson, Hardaway etc. We’ve never seen a guy shoot 3’s off his own dribble or shoot floater 3’s (like he did in the playoffs). We’ve never seen this stuff, so, while it’s not like it’s impossible, we just didn’t know it was possible because no one had done it and that makes it look all the more visually appealing. We love sensory novelty. And that’s why the Warriors take the last of the five precious slots in our League Pass exercise.