Tag Archives: New York Knicks

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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Greetings, everyone! I’d like to extend a warm welcome to all of you – you basketball fans with the courage to seek basketball analysis in the deepest, darkest corner of the basement of the internet. It warms my heart to see you all here. Really. I’m honored that you all came. All three of you! It’s wonderful to have you.

You deserve congratulations! Through your bravery, traveling to the deepest, darkest corner of the basement of the internet, you have found the resolution of the LeBron v. MJ debate. There are plenty of basketball websites out there – from people who have actual credentials to be commenting about basketball. But, only this website contains the resolution to the most important basketball argument of our era. I thought I resolved it a few years ago, but my resolution seems not to have taken hold among hoop heads. (Perhaps it would help if I had more than three readers.) So, I’m back, first to put this issue to bed once and for all, and then to move onto other important topics related to hoops.

You ready? Good. Here goes…

LeBron is playing basketball at a higher level than any human has ever played it. Perhaps cartoon characters have played it better (I guess we’ll find out when SpaceJam 2 gets released), and there’s likely a video game character out there who has played it better. But, if we’re talking about humans, the way LeBron played these last few seasons represents the pinnacle that any human has ever reached over an extended period of time. His combination of skill, athleticism, and intellect is unparalleled.

Plus, by all accounts, LeBron’s a great guy. He seems like a great family man, and what he’s doing as a businessman and philanthropist off the court is remarkable. Off the court, he is achieving much more than MJ ever did. If I had the chance to become friends with LeBron or MJ, I’d choose LeBron eight days a week.

But…
There’s a but…
And it’s a big but…
A big ol’ but…
No, not THAT KIND of big butt, you pervert!

C’mon, get your head out of the gutter!

The but is this… our discussion about who’s the GOAT is not about which player reached the highest level of performance. That’s because the game is constantly evolving, and the level of performance is constantly elevating. The best player in the game right now would beat the best player in the game from 20 years ago, who would beat the best player in the game from 20 years before that. The tenth-best player in the game now would beat the tenth-best player in the game from 20 years ago, who would beat the tenth-best player in the game from 20 years before that. That’s also true of the twentieth-best player now. Etc. Point is, the group of guys playing now are better than any group of guys that’s ever played before.

LeBron’s the best player in the game now, and that’s got to count for plenty. But, if that meant he was the GOAT, it would mean that the GOAT is continuously changing every couple of years. Each time a new player ascends to be the best in the game for a few years at a time, it would mean that he’s become the GOAT.

That’s not how GOAT works. GOAT isn’t like the heavyweight championship, held by one person until he gets too old to retain it, and then passed to the best person of the next generation.

The question about who’s the GOAT is generally a question about who has built up the best résumé over the course of his career. That’s why phenomenal players who performed at an exceedingly high level for a short window of time (i.e., Grant Hill) are never considered. It’s also why phenomenal players who may be the best in the game at a given moment are never considered unless they have won a championship (think Anthony Davis).

The question about who’s the GOAT considers measurable achievements: championships, MVPs, scoring titles, All-NBA selections, etc. Folks can debate the relative importance of those achievements, so it’s something other than an exercise in counting rings. But, fundamentally, it’s a comparison of achievements considered in the context of the player’s era – not a comparison of on-court performance at the players’ peak.

It’s also, implicitly, a conversation about how the best players performed in their role as stewards of the game. Did they elevate it from a down period, like Bird and Magic? Did they take it to another level, like Jordan? Break down barriers and set honorable precedent, like Russell?

Because the GOAT conversation is a conversation about how the best players performed in their role as stewards of the game, LeBron is out of the running for GOAT. No great player before him ever left his team as a free agent, having failed to win a championship, to join a stacked team. In other words, no great player before him ever sought out an easy path to the validation that a championship ring provides.

Until LeBron quit on the quest with the Cavs to join up with Wade and Bosh in Miami, it was always understood that the pursuit of GOATness was a difficult quest. Until LeBron quit on the quest with the Cavs to join up with Wade and Bosh in Miami, it was always understood that the pursuit of GOATness was nearly impossible for all but the greatest players, and even for many of the greats, was a quest made even more difficult by obstacles such as mediocre teammates and intimidating competition (see, for example: Nowitzki, Dirk; Barkley, Charles; Ewing, Patrick). Until LeBron quit on the quest with the Cavs to join up with Wade and Bosh in Miami, nobody in history had quit the quest to get a ring with a stacked team. It was always understood that being recognized amongst the greatest was an immense challenge, and that no competitor who might be part of such a conversation would do such a thing.

Then, LeBron quit on the quest with the Cavs to join up with Wade and Bosh in Miami. When he did, he set a precedent that has damaged the game tremendously, thereby removing himself from the conversation about who is the GOAT. Because of LeBron’s precedent, it seemed perfectly sensible for Kevin Durant – one of the most outstanding players of his generation – to leave a team that was up 3-1 in the conference finals, so he could win a championship with the team that came back from being down 3-1 in the conference finals to beat him in the conference finals. It was the greatest sin against the game of basketball since Isiah Thomas uttered the words “with this signing of Jerome James to a $30 million contract, the New York Knickerbockers are back on the path to greatness.” Durant committed the sin, but LeBron set the precedent.

So, as good as LeBron is, the conversation about whether he’s the GOAT is over. It ended years ago. It ended when he took his talents to South Beach.

If you’re a LeBron fan, I recognize that it might make you angry to read this. But, don’t get mad at me. I’m not the one who ended the conversation.

He is.

On to a new season of Hoopservations! I hope the three of you will stick around, there’s some good stuff in the pipeline.

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