Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Kingdoms and Democracies of Basketball

I've expressed this sentiment on Reddit before.  That LeBron is an enabler of low quality basketball.

I don't think the Cavs have low BBIQ.  I think they haven't been asked to have any basketball IQ.  They have three scorers and one playmaker.  The rest are not even role players - they are one-role players.

They have so many highly specialized pieces that they aren't even a team of basketball players.  They are a team of basketball specialists.  Ian Clark can: defend, shoot, drive, pass.  Iman Shumpert can: defend?  LeBron surrounded himself with guys so specialized in one part of the game - offensive rebounding, isolation offense, three point shooting - that if he can't maximize that thing each of them do really well, they don't really do much of anything.

On top of all of that, they were so focused on scoring as much as possible that the Cavs really just accept that there are only, at most, 3 capable defenders on the whole team.

TT is the case in point.  He's a decent perimeter defender, solid protecting the rim, but if he isn't getting offensive boards, he's not playable.  He doesn't bring enough on the offensive end.  He can't set a screen and pick & pop.  His footwork isn't great.  His free throws are poor.  You wouldn't trust his interior passing.  Neutralize that one thing he does and he's not on the court, so Zaza (no basketball genius himself) is able to rob you of one of your biggest assets just by boxing out.  Against other teams, all you see is TT's upside as a unidimensional specialist grabbing those o-boards.  But against a team full of multidimensional players or any sort of deliberate game-planning?   TT's playing time is just a massive tradeoff.  At best, you hope to break even.

Maybe I'm overstating it but these guys can't grow as ballers when they are only expected to do one lone thing.  They play with the best player in the world and they don't seem any better at basketball from year to year.  Meanwhile, Zaza and JaVale are the counter example.  They've never played better when in fact they are a lot worse than the Warriors system makes them look.  The difference is the Warriors expect them to make plays - out of PnR, finishing around the rim.  To the Cavs, that's found money - making plays is LeBron's job.

- less than the sum of their parts vs more
- Heat and Cavs being less
- Warriors being more

I felt just as hollow watching the Cavs win last year. Because we've been conditioned to know that all that matters is who won the last game of the season. The Cavs won. They are the Champs. Their brand of basketball was vindicated by the victory and Cleveland got to celebrate.

By extension, Warriors basketball was flawed. They didn't win. They needed to improve. They weren't the champs.

It is this line of thinking which is the only reason that KD is on the Warriors. Because if there was any sense that the Cavs beat the better basketball team, or that their win was a fluke, a 1 out of 10 occurance, if everyone put an asterisks next to that massive accomplishment, then maybe the Warriors are more okay with losing. Maybe they don't look to break up their roster. If the narrative was that the Cavs got more lucky breaks than buckets, maybe no one messes with a 73 win team.

But that's not the narrative. The narrative was that the team wasn't good enough and they got their butts kicked in embarrassing historic fashion. They won the year before but maybe they got lucky because LeBron just didn't have Kyrie and Love. LeBron willed his team to a win and he is a legend for doing so and he had the Warriors number.

This is an important point because there have been very few times in my 26 years watching basketball where the 'lesser' team won. And even when the 'lesser' team did win - say 2004 - they generally won in overwhelming decisive fashion, leaving no doubt. But the Cavs won in 7 games and won game 7 by 4 points. To consider the Warriors season an 'F' when it was really a 'B' is ludicrous.

But the Warriors were losers and they had to make their 73 win team better. And they did, in an obscene and frankly, nauseating way. And for all the blame KD gets for doing this, if the Warriors won last year, or at least derived some comfort from the loss, this wouldn't have happened. Incidently, if Barnes accepts his contract extension, or if OKC beat the Warriors, or if the TV deal didn't go through the way it did, or if Jerry West doesn't sit down with KD, or if Russ has a heart-to-heart with KD, or about a dozen other things happened in a slightly different way, this also doesn't happen. So at one point, you just wonder if it wasn't meant to be.

Cleveland got a ring that they deserved and now the league gets the superteam that no one deserves. But like last year, we have to look at the silver lining. That ring that Cleveland got made a lot of people in Cleveland happy. It made a lot of people in other places happy that the Warriors lost. And maybe in the end that will be worth the 2, 3, 4 years that only people in the Bay Area are happy and entertained.

We saw hero ball at its highest level in Game 5 and 7 last year. And IF this Finals goes the way we all think it will, that ball is totally dead and if you don't have a team of guys who can play both sides of the ball, make plays in the half court, run a 94 foot sprint multiple times a night and fill the cup at a staggering rate, you aren't in the running. You aren't even close. And even if you have all of those things, they'll still probably do all of that better than you because they have a DPOY, two former MVPs, 4 top 15 players and the two greatest pure shooters in the history of the game.

That means my Raptors are playing at best for second place. But I'm okay with it because at least now there is no doubt. There is no doubt as to who the best team in basketball is and everyone else has to pull up their panties and take it from them. Every other team will throw the kitchen sink at them every night, front offices have to get their house in order and the standard has been established. I'm comforted that Dame Lillard has taken up the challenge and I hope that he's the one that eventually takes them down. Mike Tyson seemed invincible, too, once.

I feel for you. It doesn't seem fair. But if 'fair' had anything to do with it, the Warriors would have won last year. If you're looking for the next great storyline, it starts with a team obliterating LeBron in the Finals this year. And it ends when someone finally takes them down. Winter isn't coming - it's here.

TLDR: Warriors won't last forever - try to enjoy the process of teams finding chinks in the armor.


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