Tag Archives: Jimmy Butler

Stop Banking on Tanking

Ask yourselves, Knick fans, how good would this team be?

  1. Andrew Wiggins
  2. Jabari Parker
  3. Karl-Anthony Towns
  4. D’Angelo Russell
  5. Ben Simmons
  6. Brandon Ingram
  7. Markelle Fultz
  8. Lonzo Ball
  9. Deandre Ayton
  10. Marvin Bagley

I submit that they’d be very good but not great.  We don’t have to use too much imagination to figure it out, because some current NBA teams have more than 1 of those players. The Wolves, for example, have Towns and Wiggins.  With Towns and Wiggins, the Wolves are out of the playoffs.  Let’s stipulate that Simmons and Russell would be an upgrade over Rose and Teague, and that having Deandre Ayton coming off the bench would be a major talent upgrade.  How much of an upgrade? I’d say enough to bump them from being out of the playoffs, to a middle-tier playoff team, behind Golden State, Houston, Denver, and OKC.

Uh, Kraver, why are you talking to Knicks fans about a random group of 10 players who will never be on an NBA team together, let alone the Knicks?

I’m glad you asked.

That group of 10 players is not random at all.  It represents the top 2 picks in each of the previous 5 drafts. In other words, if a team somehow “succeeded” at tanking so magnificently – tanking better than any team has ever done anything in the history of teams doing a variety of things – that it found a way to get the top 2 picks in 5 straight drafts, this is the group of players it would have wound up with.

So, let’s keep going.

How good is that group of ten? (I’m putting aside issues of “fit” and judging by the talent.)

The Lakers also have two of those players: Ball and Ingram. They’re the 8 seed, at the moment.  Nobody on the list above approaches LeBron James, and it’s not clear that anyone is much better than Kyle Kuzma.  But let’s say the collective upgrade in talent would bump the Lakers into the first tier out West, still behind Golden State and possibly others.

Lastly, the Sixers have two of those players: Simmons and Fultz. They’re currently a 4 seed. Nobody else on the list above is better than Embiid or Jimmy Butler. The cumulative collection of 8 players probably represents a talent upgrade over the best 8 players on the Sixers’ current roster along with Simmons and Fultz, but it’s not a major upgrade.  They’d still be around the same team.

Got that?  If some team had managed to tank at an impossibly “successful” level, and somehow figured out a way to get the top 2 picks in each of the last 5 drafts, it wouldn’t have a championship team.

Thus, I respectfully submit that the various Knicks fans whom I hear rooting against their beloved ‘Bockers are misplacing their energy.  Tanking is no guarantee of anything – at least not anything good.  If you try to lose, the only guarantee is that you’ll lose. If you want to win, then I respectfully submit it’s worth trying to win.

Granted, I don’t have a secret formula that can make the Knicks good.  Let’s be realistic.  It’s a 30-team league, so if your team wins one championship every 15 years, it’s ahead of the curve. And lots of the other teams are run by competent folks, not to mention that they’re starting with more talent on the roster than the Knicks have. I’m just a dude with a blog that only 3 people read, and I don’t claim to have the secret formula for success for the Knicks.

Plus, I recognize that turning this ship around won’t be easy.  The Knicks are 10-33 as of this writing.  I’m not suggesting they should trade young players and draft picks for veterans, in the hope of running off a 23-game winning streak just to get back to .500.

What I’m suggesting is that losing is not a great path to greatness. The Knicks are 102-187 since the start of the 2015-16 season. I respectfully submit to all my “pro-tanking” friends that the problem with the Knicks isn’t that they’ve been winning too many games recently.   If you think they haven’t been bad enough for long enough yet, then we’ll agree to disagree. For the rest of this season, I don’t suggest that they move mountains to pick up a few extra wins.  But, longer term, if you still find yourself rooting for losses at this time next year, I think you’re pursuing the wrong strategy.  While I don’t claim to know the secret formula for success, what I do claim to know is that championship teams win much more than they lose. The more you lose, the further away you are. If your team is trying to lose, it’s foreclosing some of the only options for improvement. If you’re  bad, you’re unlikely to land a star free agent, because the best generally look for good teams to join. And, if you’re bad, you’re largely out of the trade market for an impactful player, because impactful players hardly ever get traded for draft picks. So, if you’re bad, your only reasonable hope to get better is to do it through the draft. And that rarely works. (See the list of ten players, above.)

In sum… Wanna win? Then start winning.

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Who’s A Good Coach?

I’m old enough to remember when Jeff Hornacek was an exciting young coach, and Derek Fisher was given a big multi-year contract. Now, armed with all the wisdom and experience that go along with being my age, I look at trends in the way NBA coaches are analyzed and wonder Does anyone know how to spot a good coach when they see one?

In the last year:

  • Tom Thibodeau was fired by the Bulls, after bringing them to the second round of the playoffs last season, where they lost to a better team;
  • Scott Brooks was fired after barely missing the playoffs with a team that played without Durant or Westbrook for most of the season;
  • Fisher was fired by the Knicks, who were showing signs of improvement, and had become a team kinda-competing-for-a-playoff-spot even though Jose Calderon was their best point guard;
  • David Blatt was fired when his Cavs were atop the Eastern Conference standings (the season after his team beat Thibodeau’s Bulls in the playoffs);
  • Kevin McHale was fired less than 20 games into the season following his team making the Western Conference Finals; and
  • Hornaceck was fired by the Suns, who were terrible, and had no business being anything better than terrible due to the lack of talent on the roster.

To be clear, I don’t claim to be able to give a deep, thorough analysis of a person’s ability to coach at the NBA level. I have some clues of what to look for, sure. For example, if you choose to play Sasha Vujacic any time there are 5 other living humans in the building, I know enough to question your lineup decisions. Fisher did that – repeatedly – so I have my questions about his ability to coach at the highest level. Or, if you decide, as Thibodeau did, to play Jimmy Butler for an average of 39 minutes per game, I question whether you’re overworking your players. Or, if you have Kevin Love, one of the game’s best offensive players, standing stagnant behind the three-point line, I question whether you’re getting the most out of the talent on your roster. But, in general, I don’t know enough about coaching at that level – or have enough time to watch – to give a detailed X’s and O’s analysis of why one coach is good and another is not.

That lack of knowledge seems to situate me to run an NBA team, because apparently none of the people hiring and firing coaches knows how to spot a good coach when he sees one, either. Consider this, hoopservers: the only coaches whose teams consistently win in the NBA are coaches with top level talent on their rosters.  In fact, the active coaches who have won NBA championships all had Hall of Famers on their title teams. That’s Pop (Duncan, and probably others), Carlisle (Dirk and Kidd, while acknowledging that Kidd was past his prime), Spo (LeBron, Wade, and Bosh), Doc (KG, Pierce, Ray Allen), and Kerr (Curry, and, at the rate the Warriors are going, maybe 7 or 8 other guys). Nobody else who’s coaching today has won a title.

Even among those guys, there are reasons to doubt their collective coaching brilliance. I’ll put aside Pop and Carlisle, and stipulate that they’re excellent coaches. Still, Doc’s Clippers teams have hardly overachieved, Spo missed the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference last year, and Kerr’s Warriors opened their season with a better start than any team in the history of the NBA, while Kerr sat out and Luke Walton coached them. Maybe Luke Walton’s the next great coach. I dunno. Or, maybe the Warriors were so good because of what Kerr had taught them previously. But if we’re inclined to give Kerr credit for what the Warriors did without him, we at least have to consider whether Mark Jackson deserves credit for what they’ve done since he left.  At that point, we have good reason to question whether the Warriors are great because of coaching, or because they have the best shooting backcourt of all time, and a roster that fills out perfectly around them.

I’m not saying that any of those guys is not a good coach, just that their teams’ results seem to be more directly connected to the talent level on the roster than anything else.

The current coaches who have raised their team above the level we’d expect based on talent seem to be Brad Stevens, Mike Budenholzer (last year, at least), and, um… uhh…. I don’t know. Maybe Steve Clifford?  Even among those guys, Bud’s Hawks are 31-25, and Clifford’s Hornets are 28-26. That’s what excellent coaching counts for? Meanwhile, 2006-07 Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell has the Wolves at 17-39, 2007-08 Coach of the Year Byron Scott has the Lakers at 11-45, 2012-13 Coach of the Year George Karl has the Kings at 23-31, and 2009-10 Coach of the Year Scott Brooks has the Thunder at… oh, wait, dude got fired.  (If you’re reading this, thinking “I’d like to see a list of Coaches of the Year,” I gotcha: Coaches of the Year.  It’s what I’m here for.)

If given the choice, I’d rather have an above-average fourth starter on my team than a purportedly excellent coach.  But, hoopservers, maybe I’m overlooking someone.  So, I ask you: any coaches I’m overlooking, who have proven that they can consistently make their team competitive without top level talent on the roster?

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