Basketball is the only sport where you can pretty reliably predict which teams will be playing in the Finals just by looking at where the best few players are located. History has shown that unless a team has at least one of the all-time greats playing in his prime, they are extremely unlikely to win a championship or even make the Finals. (Evidence here if you need it.) The implications for the Rockets are clear: To be legitimate contenders, they need James Harden or Dwight Howard to play like not just an all-star, not just like a future hall of famer, but more like one of the three or four best players in the league and one of the twenty-five best players of the past half century.
Dwight Howard hasn’t played close to that level since his back surgery 635 days ago (for evidence, see here, here, or here), so I would be willing to bet that the Rockets will never win a championship if Dwight Howard is their best player. (That’s not to say he won’t be extremely valuable and important to the cause, just that he probably won’t be the primary contributor to a Rockets’ championship.)
James Harden is a different story. He’s clearly not top-3 level yet, but the data I looked at last week gave me optimism that he could get there before long, so this week I am taking it a step further and directly comparing Harden’s young career to the all-time greats.
Over-proclamations of tanking are wearing on me, fast. It’s become the last line of ego defense for frans who’ve put too much personal pride into their franchises—which, make no mistake, describes this writer—to either take a bit of schaudenfreude-soaked glee in this disarray of other organizations or, alternately, to suggest your own home city’s losing efforts are done meaningfully. Our losing is productive. “Tanking” has become an unavoidable final move in the logic of seemingly all NBA fans.
Or maybe once it’s said enough times, the word “tank” just becomes an illness. We can’t stop saying it. It’s the idiocy of the masses, turning in a word into nothing because it just couldn’t put it down for a minute, the masses couldn’t scratching their enigmatic itch with the way that single syllable felt, leaving their mouths.
It must be something like this that’s causing the hysteria over tanking, because those who apply individual scrutiny to the efforts of each NBA team will have a hard time naming more than four true blue tankers. Aside from the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and potentially the Orlando Magic, teams in this league are trying to win. But winning isn’t easy in the NBA.
Weekly Rank – Marc Stein’s newest edition of ESPN’s Power Rankings is out, with the Rockets dropping one spot to number nine.
Maybe this will be the week that the Rockets dodge an injury curveball after Chandler Parsons was unexpectedly forced to miss three games with a sore knee last week. Another problem in Houston: At a mere 13-11 against the rest of the West, they’re living off an 11-2 record against the East. [read more…]