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View Full Version : Diminished returns and the most misunderstood problem in basketball (long)



joedaheights
06-18-2015, 01:39 PM
(don't want to read it? Okay, great, then don't)

I watched Kyrie Irving leave the Bulls series and the Cavs looked better down the stretch. How can this be? Because, we all know that if we just take the star power and the tools of Irving and compare them to Dellavedova, any idiot can sit there and say "Irving is x times greater than Dellie, so therefore ANY team that subs out Irving for Dellie will do x times worse," right? It's how drooling star-power loving, Jordan shoes wearing, Mountain Dew guzzling high schoolers know how every series will go, right?

What happens when the thing that Irving provides can already be provided by Lebron James? What happens when their skills overlap?

I'll give you an example. If you start a team with Kobe Bryant, and you're going to have to fill the roster out with Pau Gasol, or maybe with whoever your happy behind gets, you have a better option in Kobe Bryant than Reggie Miller right? Because Kobe is better as a facilitator. He is a better composer of the orchestra.

Well, who would have been better with Shaq!?!? Kobe? Or Reggie Miller.

Shaq, after all, can get my dad a wide open look. The formula is simple.

"Put Dikembe Mutombo or David Robinson on me, and I will laugh, back them down, shoulder them 20 feet out of bounds and throw down a buggy whip dunk as I taunt them. Okay, so send another defender at me. I'll tell you what. Have Tyrone Hill try to grab me around the shoulders and pull me down while Mutombo is guarding me, so that I can still make the shot with two guys literally trying to tackle me. Send a third guy? Okay, now maybe you have a chance to stop me with a three man tackle. the problem is.... now Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher are wide open at the three point line. And by that, what I mean is... they may have to pass it around the horn after I kick out, but eventually, someone will be so wide open that the nearest defender is easily 15 feet away."

Now, I ask you... when considering a SG to go into this formula... would you rather have the deadliest shooter ever who is 6'7" or would you rather have a guy who is going to give you that special, juke and jive, break down dribble game? The shooter is already wide open in an ocean with plenty of time to set up for the perfect shot. Why do you need fancy, hot air balloon halfro, Jordan mimicking, "I need to impwooove" 2001 Kobe Bryant out there? Even if you wanted to play the angle that Bryant was far superior defensively to Miller, okay, how about someone like Nick Anderson? Without Shaq, I'd argue.. far worse than Bryant. With Shaq? Negligible. Bryant's skills are doing what Shaq ALREADY DOES for you.

When you argue that a player "has help"... like "Jordan had Pippen." What's the biggest thing that that player "needs help" with?

Efficient scoring. Case in point... Kobe, with a supporting cast similarly as crappy as Lebron's "post Kyrie injury" cast, goes 4-8 v. a Suns team that I would not call as good as the Warriors. It was a regular season juggernaut who didn't have a lot of half court, playoff answers under Nash, perhaps the most suspect MVP ever. And, Kobe had Lamar Odom, who definitely packed more star power than anyone Lebron has.

Kobe goes from that low to 5 championships. What did his teams always have in common? Kobe could get rid of the hardest thing... getting good shots over and over against really good defenses... when the going got tough, I just drop it in to Shaq or Gasol/Bynum. They'll combine to get loads of points on over 53% FG.

When you're Magic or Russell, it's harder to argue that you could win with any random collection of talent, even really good talent that I give you, because ultimately, the efficient scoring is left to someone else. Magic looks great passing to Kareem and Worthy. Kareem's career FG% was what?! Pretty high. Russell was great as the defender who took care of that because the Celtics "already had scorers."

Jordan? Lebron? Shaq? Kareem?

Jordan wins just as easily with Kareem and Worthy as he does with Pippen and Grant. What if you put Russell with Pippen and Grant? Who scores now? What if Magic is with Pippen and Rodman? The problem brings us back to the hard part.

Those teammates would shift the challenges that team faces to "well, Pippen is not the scorer Kareem is Magic, so we need YOU to take it to the basket against double teams and score." If you think that he could have shifted his game to do that, you're F-ing kidding yourself.

I've seen Jordan go buck wild and score 35.8 PPG to WIN A FINALS. I've also seen him score 31.2 PPG on 55.8% FG AND average 11.4 APG in the SAME FINALS WIN. I have no doubt that Magic and Russell could do the latter on say 20 or 14 PPG, but could they do the former if their teammates didn't score like Cousy and Havlicek or Kareem and Worthy?

This whole idea that Jordan "had Pippen" was a joke. What, was he going to unload the scoring load on Pippen? Really?! Pippen's best scoring days were seasons of like 22 PPG, and that's without MJ. But Pippen could pass, rebound and defend.. okay, all things that MJ proved he could do.

This idea that Lebron is so much worse without Irving is silly if you're truly saying that he is or can be everything MJ was. He had guys who could hit open shots. All he had to do was what MJ and Shaq proved they could do against anyone.. draw doubles and triples, still score and then hit wide open guys.

Lebron has shown that he can get closer to this on a given day than anyone except perhaps Kareem, who in all fairness didn't HAVE TO do what MJ and Shaq had to do full time because his teams were beyond stacked. But I know he could have. Kareem and Pippen would have murdered the league just like MJ and Pippen did.

But, despite Lebron showing that he CAN do this on some days, he doesn't do it on enough days. What Cleveland needed was for Lebron to have a series where he averaged like 35.8 PPG on 53% FG. He's the athlete to do it, but then there's this:

Larry Bird proved he could dominate the league with no athleticism, because of what he could do with the ball. MJ came along and showed what a truly elite athlete could do with a poor man's Bird's ability to have wizardry with the ball. Since then, it's just been assumed that any athlete along the lines of MJ would just be able to hit reverse layups all day like MJ could or throw up a floater over Divac's fingertips to tie a Finals game and send it to overtime... it's assumed. But it doesn't play out that way. If Lebron truly could just take entire teams to the basket and use the whole paint to finish against good defense, he would have beat Golden State.

The Lebron secret is that you make him be a shot maker. You cut him off and make him show you that he could go to the other side and kiss it over two defenders off a double pump with the English. He can't. He's not that kind of player. He's not coming from one side of the rim, ducking under two defenders in mid air and then coming out with a behind the back spinning scoop shot that's going to toilet bowl the rim and go in. Ask yourself this, honestly... do you REALLY think that he would have lost to Golden State if he could do this just because Matthew Dellavedova can't do the Rucker Park dance on the perimeter and break someone's ankles?

Lebron and Bird represent the two halves of what MJ was as a one on one weapon. That is to say, if you add quickness into the equation, MJ was the total athlete Lebron is with about 80% of the ball skills of Bird. When I've truly come to the conclusion that Lebron .. if I ask the question "how does he ever lose with the just massive truck that he is" ... loses for two reasons:

1. Sharing Wilt's lack of an ability to know when it's "time" - this was why he lost to Dallas. He averaged freaking 18.9 PPG?! He has no business ever averaging that. But he was trying to be Mr. "we have to win through this idea that everyone gets their turn." When, in actuality, it was time for Lebron to be mad as hell and just take everyone to the rim.

2. Lack of ball skills when a defense cultivates a team strategy to put him in a tough spot as a team and make him be a shot maker.

There were no dead spots for MJ. If you said "well, we'll force him baseline and try to stay on his teammates by making him go to the opposite side of the basket," he would,.. he'd hit a reverse layup. Cut that off by coming off of John Paxson and now Paxson is open for three. Cut that off by collapsing completely on to the basket, here's MJ under the rim with three guys on him hitting Horace Grant coming straight down the paint on a two foot pass for a dunk.

The Jordan secret is two fold as to why his teams were as good as they were.

1. 96-98 - the league just got a lot worse and Stern figured out that if the refs cancelled out half of MJ's loss of his first step, everyone would make BILLIONS.. the 96 Bulls would get pistol whipped by the 91 Bulls. That's just a fact.

2. 91-93 - John Paxson and Horace Grant. Jordan's game was to get his 30 PPG on over 50% FG over the course of a game, draw extra defense and find Horace and Paxson for wide open shots. Or are any of you going to explain to me how, for an entire regular season, Grant shot 54% and Paxson shot 54.8%? I'd love to here how that is not because of MJ right before I show you highlight films of MJ drawing doubles in game 5 of the 91 Finals and throwing to Paxson for shot after open shot OR the 91 season highlight tape where the narrator in game 2 talks about how "Jordan's biggest beneficiary was a resurgent Horace Grant" and you can see MJ find Grant repeatedly for open shots.

This fantasy that MJ just got overwhelmed and said "here Scottie, you take over" is a joke. Pippen was do-it-all superstar, but the Bulls game plan was for Jordan to draw defense all day and find Horace and Paxson wide open.

Just like Kobe in 01 and 02 got his token "It's all part of my Michael Jordan fantasy" juke and jive moments, and then when it was time for LA to get series it was throw it in to Shaq, Shaq makes the oppositing take a jiz shower in the paint and then finds Horry, Fisher and Fox for wide open shots that they couldn't get against my dad. What happened when Kobe wanted to force the game into something else? Consecutive losses in 03 and 04 in which Kobe shot 37% while taking way more shots than Shaq, who shot over 55% in the 04 Finals.

Take things another way.. would Gasol benefit MJ as much as Kobe? No. Because MJ didn't need someone to be the big boy after pretty time. He was the big boy. Now, an interesting question is... would anyone in today's league have had a chance if you gave Lebron a wide open shooting NON STAR at SG and Gasol instead of Wade and Bosh. Ding, ding, ding, ding... Give Lebron Gasol and Mitch Richmond instead of Bosh and Wade and he's still in Miami on title #5 right now.

So the way to measure this idea of help should be.. "well, how dominant is the #1 guy on the team?" If he can score against anyone efficiently AND for volume, and yet is sufficient at all of the little things, star scoring just produces diminished returns. Dominant player who is also dominant scorer can also win with a wider range of second fiddle TYPES of players.

Jordan
Shaq
Kareem

These players are going to lead teams that generate high amounts of efficient offense whether you give them Pippen and Grant or Worthy and Magic or Porter, Kersey and Buck Williams. Their teams are just going to score in a way that is hard to keep up with.

Duncan? He's a diet version of the above. A guy who was the same thing, but in an era where there was no David Robinson (same team), Olajuwon, or Ewing to make him show it against the immovable object.

Lebron? He CAN be the above. He isn't the above nearly as much as you need him to be.

Russell
Magic
Bird
Bryant

They better be with guys who can take the efficient scoring load off of them to an extent. They benefit from the perceived one-on-one star power of a teammate more than the above.

Wilt? The ultimate player who puzzles you by just losing to teams he has no business losing to (see 69, 70, see NOT Russell's prime Celtics)

Did Lebron have enough "help" to beat GSW? He shouldn't have needed it. They weren't great. They had a team that had no business standing up to a top ten player. There is no Magic Johnson on GSW. GSW should have been playing 3-on-4 defense against the rest of the Cavs all series. The losses by Cleveland weren't by enough points that you can tell me that Lebron couldn't have just been more efficient en route to victories.

Yanks All Day
06-18-2015, 01:45 PM
JR Smith was counted on to be the 2nd best scorer and playmaker on the team against a Warriors squad who just had a historically good season.

No. He didn't have enough help in the Finals. LeBron did about all 1 person could, given the situation. If he had only 1 of Kyrie or Love, I could see the premise. But he had a bunch of normally 4th or 5th options going against the Warriors as his 2nd option. They really didn't have enough.

joedaheights
06-19-2015, 12:03 PM
JR Smith was counted on to be the 2nd best scorer and playmaker on the team against a Warriors squad who just had a historically good season.

No. He didn't have enough help in the Finals. LeBron did about all 1 person could, given the situation. If he had only 1 of Kyrie or Love, I could see the premise. But he had a bunch of normally 4th or 5th options going against the Warriors as his 2nd option. They really didn't have enough.

I think they were worse without love because that's an inside one on one option. The general idea though is how much worse are you when you're getting open shots for guys anyway and you lose a guy whose game is to get himself open..?

Wrigheyes4MVP
06-19-2015, 12:28 PM
The article underrates the Warriors and the idea of team basketball and defense. The writer just says if you have a top star he should be good enough to beat any team no matter how good they are. The best player doesn't win, the best team does.

MJ is the greatest of all time and his supporting cast was good enough for him. In general, that is the one thing I'll agree with in this article. A prime MJ beats this Warriors team with the same supporting cast Lebron had. But with MJ we are talking about the GOAT. Normal rules don't apply to his airness. Usually the best team wins. I agree that MJ would have been much more efficient and that would have been enough to beat Golden State.

Wrigheyes4MVP
06-19-2015, 12:35 PM
JR Smith was counted on to be the 2nd best scorer and playmaker on the team against a Warriors squad who just had a historically good season.

No. He didn't have enough help in the Finals. LeBron did about all 1 person could, given the situation. If he had only 1 of Kyrie or Love, I could see the premise. But he had a bunch of normally 4th or 5th options going against the Warriors as his 2nd option. They really didn't have enough.

Would they have won with a healthy team? I personally don't think so. None of those guys were efficient scorers this season. That is what the Cavs lack... someone who can score efficiently over 50% and get you easy buckets. None of those 3 did that this year. Last year Lebron was at 56% and dropped to 48% this year. The big 3 of in Miami was better than the big 3 in Cleveland. For all those who said that Lebron, Wade, and Bosh didn't mesh well... they all shot well over 50% and the best percentages they ever had.

Having Love and Kyrie would have helped, but I don't think it would have been enough.

joedaheights
06-19-2015, 01:13 PM
The article underrates the Warriors and the idea of team basketball and defense. The writer just says if you have a top star he should be good enough to beat any team no matter how good they are. The best player doesn't win, the best team does.

MJ is the greatest of all time and his supporting cast was good enough for him. In general, that is the one thing I'll agree with in this article. A prime MJ beats this Warriors team with the same supporting cast Lebron had. But with MJ we are talking about the GOAT. Normal rules don't apply to his airness. Usually the best team wins. I agree that MJ would have been much more efficient and that would have been enough to beat Golden State.

That's not what it says. It more talks about the rare superstar who can kill single teams and even hurt double teams as a scorer, collapse the d and hit wide open shooters. Does magic or Kobe fit that description on the same volume and efficiency as Shaq or mj?

Jamiecballer
06-19-2015, 04:28 PM
i know where you are going with this, and i completely agree, but i stopped after like 2 paragraphs. it's too ingrained in our culture to think that building a winning team is simply a matter of stacking as many personality-less talents as possible together.

It does however open the door for excellent gambling opportunities