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Everyone’s wrong but me.

Yup. It’s true. Everyone’s wrong but me.  That’s why the number of people who read this blog has increased from 3 people to 4 people.  Because I’m really crushing it over here.  Cru shing it.

As the kids say… HOLLA! (The kids still say that, right?)

Back to the matter at hand.

To be clear, it’s not that other people are wrong about everything and I’m right about everything. If that were the case, I’d probably have more than 4 readers, and maybe even an advertiser or 2.

It’s just that other people are wrong about one particular thing, and it’s an important thing.  So, congrats to all 4 of you – you’re about to learn something that nobody else knows!

Every time I hear people speculate about which free agents are going where, I hear some version of this argument: “Big markets don’t have an advantage over small markets. Superstars can play in Oklahoma City and still make the same money they’d make in bigger markets, like New York or L.A.”  The “thinking” behind this argument – to the extent that “thinking” is the proper way to describe it – is that with the explosion of social media, and the easy access to NBA games for fans across the country, there’s no difference between being in a tiny market and a huge market, when measuring the earning potential of star free agents.

Certainly, social media and the easy access to NBA games for fans across the country have reduced the advantage big markets have over small markets, in terms of advertising money a star player can make.  But, here’s the thing that only I – and now the 4 of you – seem to realize…

Since this fundamental change in the social media / cable television landscape, the extent to which superstars have been in small markets, as opposed to big markets, is a statistical fluke.  If this statistical fluke ever corrects itself, and superstars wind up in big markets at least as often as we’d expect them to if they were randomly assigned to teams, I think there’s a whole new level of popularity the game can reach.  It follows that there’s a whole new level of advertising dollars available to star players, if those star players begin gravitating to big markets rather than small markets.

To dig into that a bit, let’s look at data from the previous 5 seasons.  The classifications of “big market” teams and “small market” teams can be a bit fluid.  For purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on both the population of the city in which the team plays, and also the team’s historical pedigree.  So, even if Phoenix and Philadelphia have close to the same population, let’s say that the Sixers’ history over generations – with long-time fans of many ages, as well as more fans dispersed across the country –  makes them more of a “big market” team with an established fan base than the Suns. The Sixers had Wilt, and the Suns had Larry Nance.  With all due respect to Larry Nance, Wilt’s numbers were much more impressive. (I’m talking about his numbers ON the court. What were you thinking about?)

From there, it’s not so controversial to say we’ll look at these four teams as our big market teams: Knicks (largest city), Lakers (2nd largest city), Bulls (3rd largest city), and Sixers (6th largest city), and we’ll look at these five teams as our small market teams: Cavaliers (51st largest city), Thunder (27th, with only a few years in OKC), Blazers (26th largest city), and Grizzlies (25th largest city, with a pedigree of being an expansion team which was born during the 1990’s in Vancouver, and subsequently moved to Memphis).  This is not an exact classification of the 4 biggest market teams and the 4 smallest market teams, but it’s probably quite close, and it allows for a discussion that isn’t skewed by the overwhelming recent success of the Warriors and Spurs – neither of which is a clear “big market” or “small market” team. [Population statistics here, if you don’t believe me.]

How have those teams done during the previous 5 playoffs?

Knicks: won 0 playoff series

Sixers: won 1 playoff series, in ‘18.

Bulls: won 1 playoff series, in ‘15

Lakers: won 0 playoff series

Cavaliers: won 3 in ‘18, 3 in ‘17, 4 in ‘16, 3 in ’15 – total of 13

Thunder: won 2 in ‘16, and 2 in ’14 – total of 4

Blazers: won 1 in ‘16, and 1 in ’14 – total of 2

Grizzlies: won 1 in ‘15. [Last 5 playoff brackets available here, if you don’t believe me: ’18, ‘17, ‘16, ’15, ’14.]

That’s a total of 2 playoff wins in the past 5 seasons for the big-market teams and 20 playoff wins in the past 5 seasons for the small-market teams.  The Cavaliers skew the numbers, but even if we drop them and also the “winningest” big-market team from the discussion, that’s 1 win for the big guys and 7 for the little guys.

The point is simple: playoff wins recently have been heavily skewed towards small market teams. If talent was randomly assigned each year to the 30 teams, the big-market teams would have done much better over the previous 5 years than they actually did. So, when people tell you that “because of social media, a player can be as popular in OKC as in NY,” they don’t know what they’re talking about.  We can’t know that to be true until we see the Knicks and Lakers start winning as much as the Thunder and Cavs have been winning.  I humbly submit that if Russ and PG were on the Knicks instead of the Thunder, they’d be selling a whole lot more sneakers, and they’d be much more valuable to Nike than they have been so far. By being more valuable to Nike, they would get paid more by Nike, and, just like that, would be making more money in a big market than they were able to make in a small market.  Ya know – the thing everyone else says doesn’t happen.

So, in conclusion… Mr. Durant, sir… If you happen to be reading this blog post, please take notice!  There’s a whole new level to your popularity that hasn’t been tapped into yet.  If you come to New York, you can help your legacy, raise your profile, elevate the popularity of your league, and make a whole lot more money than you can make anywhere else.

I can’t quite guarantee it, but I assure that all 4 readers of this blog will be more than happy to buy themselves new KD sneakers if you come to NY. Just give us a chance to show you!

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Sometimes I think I’m the only basketball fan left who thinks Carmelo Anthony was ever any good, let alone who thinks he’s capable of helping a currently-competitive team. I regularly talk to friends (even though I have only 3 readers, I have more than 3 friends) who think Carmelo ruined the Knicks.  I’ve got friends – nearly all of them Knicks fans – who think Carmelo was a terrible basketball player, even in his prime.  A small number of them think Carmelo ruined the league. At least one of them blames Carmelo for global warming, one blames him for the  government shutdown, and another one said “If not for Carmelo, then Trump never would have gotten elected.”

Carmelo’s not a winner, they say.

Well, sure.  He’s not a winner.  If you discount all the winning he did, that is. But let’s not do that. To fairly evaluate Carmelo’s legacy, let’s start by acknowledging the winning wins that Carmelo won.  He burst onto the national scene as a freshman phenom, bringing a Hall of Fame coach his only national championship in one year at Syracuse. So, if Carmelo’s “not a winner,” then he’s not a winner who just happened to win a national championship in one year playing college hoops.

Perhaps it was a coincidence. Plus, it was only one year.

Looking beyond that one year, we see that Carmelo is also USA Basketball’s first four-time men’s Olympian, the first four-time men’s medalist and the first men’s player to win – yes, WIN – three Olympic gold medals.  Carmelo didn’t do all of that winning while riding coattails.  In the U.S. Olympic men’s career record book, he ranks first in points (336), field goals made (113), field goals attempted (262), rebounds (125), 3-point field goals attempted (139), free throws made (53) and free throws attempted (71); and second in 3-point field goals made (57). [Don’t take my word for it, the details are here.]

I wish I was as bad at winning basketball games as Carmelo is.

But what about the NBA? If you believe that NBA winning is the only kind of winning that’s really winning, then neither his NCAA nor his Olympic winnings will mean anything to you.  So, let’s ask… did Carmelo do any winning in the NBA worth mentioning? Nah, except for all the winning he did in Denver during his 7+ years there.  In the season before landing Carmelo, the Nuggets were a pathetic 17-65.  Then he arrived, and in his first season they went 43-39.  For each of his 7 full seasons there, they were in the playoffs. In other words, they WON enough games to make the playoffs. Aka #winning. And, in 08-09, they WON a few series in the playoffs.  Maybe it’s a coincidence.  Or maybe Dahntay Jones and JR Smith were a lot better than people give them credit for.

Perhaps, but I’m not convinced. (No offense to Dahntay Jones.)

Lastly, there’s his time on the Knicks.  Carmelo’s the only Knick since Patrick Ewing left who was the best player on a team that won the Atlantic Division. I swear, they won it. The whole division. There’s a banner hanging from the rafters and everything.  He’s also the only Knick since Ewing left to be the best player on a team that won a playoff series. (Oh, by the way… Spare me the ridiculous fantasy about how far they were destined to go around a core of Amar’e Stoudemire, Wilson Chandler, and Danilo Gallinari. The only people who should get excited thinking about such a team are knee surgeons, physical therapists, and tattoo artists.)

That’s some worthwhile winning, if you ask me.

Before going further, I should put my biases on the table.  My parents met at Syracuse, both of my uncles went there, and one of my aunts, and also my mother-in-law. So, I cheer for the Orange, and I continue cheering for their players when those players move on  to the NBA.  Thus, I’m predisposed to like Carmelo.  And, I grew up a Knicks fan. Patrick Ewing’s Knicks were a central part of my childhood, and I completely lost interest once they pushed Ewing out the door.  After more than 10 years of having no reason to root for the Knicks, Carmelo arrived, and made them competitive again.

There, you know my angle. Let’s proceed.

Why the Carmelo hate? To be sure, part of it is substantive. Carmelo’s an imperfect player.  His defense is not a strength.  And his assist numbers don’t suggest a guy who makes his teammates better.

But, I humbly submit, he’s an all-time great player in spite of those imperfections. I think there’s a few reasons why he gets so much hate.  For starters, he entered the league with sky-high expectations, during an era when it would be very difficult to win.  When he entered, multiple top-15 players of all time were already established forces, such as Kobe, Duncan, and Dirk.  If he was going to win, he needed to be better than those guys — or at least needed to have more talent around him than those guys had. And, he entered in the same draft as LeBron and Wade – only a few years ahead of Curry and Durant.  Once we acknowledge that Carmelo wasn’t as good as Kobe, Duncan, Dirk, LeBron, Wade, Curry, or Durant, then why is it even fair to expect him to win a championship? Unless he was on a team with meaningfully more talent than their teams had, there’s no reason to think he would win a championship. Not only did he not wind up with more talent around him than those guys had, but those guys started JOINING UP WITH EACH OTHER during his prime, making it even less likely that he was going to win. LeBron joined with Wade.  Durant had Westbrook, then he joined with Curry.  Carmelo had Landry Fields.  Why does he get crushed for falling short of an expectation that was never reasonable?

Another part of what drives the Carmelo hate is that defensive prowess (or lack thereof) is harder to measure than offensive production.  It’s widely understood that Carmelo isn’t a great defender.  But how bad is he?  Because we don’t have a great way to measure, it’s easy for his detractors to say that his defensive shortcomings wash away his offensive skills. It’s my humble opinion that many of those detractors push the point too far.  Of course, defense is important.  But, for starters, Carmelo has averaged 6.5 rebounds per game over his entire career.  I’ve always been taught that rebounding is a part of defense, because the possession isn’t over until you secure the rebound.  Plus, Carmelo has scored 25,551 points.  His defense would have to be quite terrible to nullify so much scoring.  Consider the guys 5 spots above him on the all-time scoring list, and the guys 5 spots below.  That list of 10 guys includes: Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, John Havlicek, Kevin Garnett, Alex English, Reggie Miller, Jerry West, Vince Carter, Patrick Ewing, and Ray Allen. It’s quite an impressive group. I’ll put aside the defensive shortcomings of Alex English, Reggie Miller, and Ray Allen, and stipulate that Carmelo’s the worst defender amongst that group of 10.  Even so, he’d have to be a uniquely terrible defensive player to be among that group of scorers and have his scoring be nullified by his defense. I’m talking like foul-a-shooter-in-the-act-of-shooting-during-the-same-possession-you-already-got-called-for-defensive-three-seconds-and-do-it-multiple-times-per-game level terrible.  I mean, woh crazy crazy terrible. He wasn’t a top defender, but he wasn’t that bad.

More than anything, though, I think two things drive the Carmelo hatred. One of those things is hindsight.  We basketball fans do a funny thing: we admire the skill of young superstars, and expect that they’ll one day earn a ring if they play at a high enough level for long enough.  But, once those players age, if they never got over the hump, we’re quick to discard them as failures.  The line between a superstar with potential to carry a team to a title and a player we dismiss as a superstar-in-disguise who actually never had that potential is very thin.  Carmelo joined a 17-65 team, and had them in the playoffs during his rookie season.  That’s much more than Anthony Davis did (in the ’12-13 season, New Orleans was 27-55), or Damian Lillard (also in ’12-13 Portland was 33-49), or Giannis (in the ’13-14 season, Milwaukee was 15-67). We still talk about those guys as players who have the potential to win, but, if they never win a championship, will that make them “losers,” too?  What about Russell Westbrook?  James Harden?

Most importantly, I think what drives the Carmelo hatred is our inability to celebrate any achievements other than rings. More than at any time during my basketball fandom, the collective body of basketball fans seems to celebrate the top 4 teams in the league, and also the bottom 3.  They buy into the idea that “you’re either on the short list of favorites to win a title or you should be tanking.” Once you buy into that idea, then there’s little room to appreciate a guy like Carmelo.  Without a great supporting cast, it was a longshot for him to be on a top 4 team (remember, during an era including Kobe, Duncan, Dirk, LeBron, Wade, Curry, and Durant among other all-time greats).  And having him meant you weren’t going to be anywhere near the bottom 3.  So, if the only things worth being are “top 4” or “bottom 3,” then Carmelo doesn’t bring you to anywhere worth going.

I don’t buy into that mindset. By that line of thinking, 23 teams in this 30 team league are wasting their time by even showing up for games, and most games that get played have no reason for being played. The thing is, I like watching games, both in person and on TV. The games have got good food, loud music, pretty cheerleaders, t-shirt cannons, mascots, and entertainment during timeouts. I don’t begrudge the teams who play in those games for showing up, putting on their uniforms, and trying to win.  In fact, I’m glad they do.  It allows me to watch the sport I love played at a high level.  Call me crazy, but I believe the radical belief that anyone who is able to score more than 25,000 points while showing up for those games is a pretty good basketball player. Even if he’s lousy at defense.

Say what you want, but Carmelo’s presence alone made the Nuggets competitive for 7 years.  After that, he brought the only excitement to MSG that we’ve seen since Ewing left. If you want to convince yourself that these achievements count for nothing, then all I say is Hate On, Haters.  I look at Carmelo and see a flawed but great basketball player – good enough to win a championship in the right circumstances. The fact that he never found himself in those circumstances doesn’t wash away his many achievements.

 

 

 

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