June 15, 2015

Dreaming the dream

Jumping on a plane today, so I may not be able to blog for quite some time depending on Google's policies regarding fictional bloggers in the Netherlands, Germany, Malaysia, and France.  Usually they're cranky about it.  Twitter is less...selective, so maybe see you there.

I'd hoped to post this after Game 6, with the Warriors either triumphant or returning home for The Last Showdown.  But this is better, while their fate hangs in the balance.  It is just as Lasker said of chess, "it is too beautiful to spend your life upon...the conflict between ideas and opinions, attack and defence, life and death."

That Game 7, if it happens, will be beyond epic.  LeBron has been somewhat mediocre in this series (a .399 field goal percentage?  seriously?), but in that Game 7 the Warriors would face, on a home court, for all the marbles:
  • The greatest combination of athleticism and basketball talent since Wilt Chamberlain,
  • With the opportunity to win a third NBA championship for himself,
  • And the first for his city,
  • For the team he abandoned and then rejoined,
  • Against the man who won the MVP ahead of him,
  • and is the only threat to his claim to be the greatest basketball player from Akron, Ohio.
It will make High Noon look like My Cousin Vinnie.  

(Tim Roye's all-Akron team:
  • C - Nate Thurmond
  • PF/SF - LeBron James
  • PF/SF - Gus Johnson
  • G - Steph Curry
  • G - Some other person from Akron, Ohio )

Anyway, as I've mentioned, I don't think it matters all that much how the Finals turn out...the Warriors are a great team, a classic team.  The '76-'77 Sixers - the Playground All-Stars - lost in the finals to Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, and their minions, but the Sixers were a monster team and everyone knows it.  And anyone who knows basketball knows these Warriors are even better.

But how good?  Looking up and down that list of top seasons by Elo rating, I kept turning over in my mind how my beloved '85-'86 Celtics would do against this Warriors team.  It would be an intriguing contest.  The Celtics only had that lineup for one year (in 1987 Walton was DNP/Injury, McHale played on a broken foot, and Bird - playing too many minutes - started to break down).  But in that one magic year, they were something.  Like the 90's Bulls at their peak, no one could give them a game.  According to Dr. Elo, and me, that was the best Celtic team ever, which is saying something (interactive tool is here).

In his famous interview with Bill Simmons, Larry Bird agreed, saying this was the best Celtics team he ever played on.  Here are matchups for that team against our Golden State Warriors.  We'll go Celtic-by-Celtic, in descending order of minutes played in the regular season.  We of course assume modern training methods and conditioning, normalized rules, and officiating that is fair to both teams, and not letting Cleveland get away with murder on every damn...but I digress.  Here are the matchups:
  • Larry Bird (Small Forward) - The toughest matchup for the Warriors, or any other team.  At this moment Bird is the prototypical modern player, the first of his kind:  a big man (6' 9") who can post up, pass, rebound, and win the NBA 3-point contest.  His basketball IQ is stratospheric.  He is close to his physical peak here - stronger and faster than you probably remember - and you cannot intimidate him.  In 1986 he is winning his third consecutive MVP award and, really, no one - not even "athletic" players - can guard him.  Later in his career he had trouble with extremely quick defenders, notably the Lakers' Michael Cooper, but like LeBron and Michael, no one can actually shut him down.  The Warriors would have to tag-team Bird with Iguodala and Green, as they do with LeBron, and hope for the best.  
    • Big edge to Celtics
  • Dennis Johnson (Point Guard) - Johnson is the Celtics' cooler on the defensive end, but probably isn't quick enough to cover Curry, so in this series he's on Thompson.  On the offensive end Johnson can shoot, and won a championship for the Sonics doing so (he was Finals MVP), but on this team he prefers to execute astonishing pass plays to Bird.  Not really a 3-point threat.  Thompson is a great shooter, with three point range, and also a capable defender.  But at this stage of his career he has nothing like Johnson's playoff experience and court savvy.  
    • Edge to the Celtics
  • Robert Parish (Center) - Parish and the Warriors' Andrew Bogut have similar, lunch bucket roles.  Both men are the fifth option in their team's offense, though Parish had a serviceable post-up game.  Parish's big problem was receiving the entry pass, and quick defenders could get the Celtics into a loose ball situation if they went to the well too often with him.  Bogut is even less of a shooting threat (he passes up dunks), but he is a deadly passer, and well-suited to the Warriors' ball-movement offense.  Both men are strong and mean and willing to knock down a disrespectful person if necessary.  But Parish will draw fouls and make his free throws, which is an issue with Bogut.  
    • Slight edge to the Celtics
  • Danny Ainge (Shooting Guard) - This is the worst matchup for the Celtics, by far.  Ainge was a decent shooting guard - never at the top of the League, but capable.  He had tremendous fire, but his ambition often exceeded his talent, as his career .469 field goal percentage will attest.  Ainge is facing off against Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time (Curry shoots .440 just on 3s).  As a defender Curry would completely shut down Ainge's limited repertoire, and/or cheat away to double the Celtics' bigs.
    • Big edge to the Warriors
  • Kevin McHale (Power Forward) - McHale is, at this moment, one of the two or three best post-up men in the League, and a good defender (early in his career they'd have him guard Erving, and he wasn't terrible, usually).  He has unnaturally long arms for his size, and he's 6' 10".  He draws fouls and makes his free throws.  The Warriors would have either Iguodala or Green on McHale, and they're both good, but he'd score a bunch anyway.  On the other hand, he can't run with either of them, and he's not coming out to challenge their three point shots.
    • Slight edge to the Celtics, but McHale vs. Iguodala at Center is not great for the Celtics when the Warriors go small
  • Jerry Sichting (Bench Guard) - This is ugly for the Celtics.  Sichting is a spot-up jump shooter, and makes 55% of his shots in '85-'86, one or two of which were actually contested (his defender would normally be doubling the Celtics' big men).  But he couldn't create his own shot.  With the Warrriors' switching defense, he'd play no role in this series.  Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa can both score and would easily handle him defensively.
    • Big edge to the Warriors
  • Bill Walton (Bench Center) - Well, there's your problem.  Now, this is not the Bill Walton who won the 1977 NBA Championship with Lucas and an otherwise forgettable supporting cast (Johnny Davis, Bob Gross, Dave Twardzik).  At this stage of his career he's been hurt, he's kicked around the League, and he's not as mobile as he once was.  But he is still:  extremely smart, strong, defensively astute, a fine rebounder, and one of the greatest passing centers in the history of the game.  The Celtics bring him in off the bench to spell Parish, and sometimes even play them together.  Walton plays about 20 minutes a game, and it is amok time.  In the halfcourt Walton and Bird whip it around like the Globetrotters.  The Warriors counter with Festus Ezeli and Ognjen Kuzmic, and that's not going to go well for them.
    • Very large edge to the Celtics
  • Scott Wedman (Bench Forward) - Wedman is a little past his prime here, a former All-Star who can come in and score, but is not much of a force on defense.  The Warriors counter with David Lee, who is a little past his prime here, a former All-Star who can come in and score, but is not much of a force on defense.
    • Draw
  • The rest of the bench - Now the Celtics have a big problem: they are out of players.  Rick Carlisle, David Thirdkill, Greg Kite - these guys are not going to have any impact whatsoever (although I have a soft spot in my heart for Sly Williams).  Meanwhile, the Warriors have two very good players left - Harrison Barnes is young but good for 10 points a game (with legit defense and three point range), and Marreese Speights ("Mo' Buckets") comes in for 15 minutes a game and scores another 10 points for you.
    • Big edge to the Warriors
  • Coaching - The Celtics are coached by Larry Bird.  A man named KC Jones stands on the sidelines and claps.  This works for them.  The Warriors are coached from the sidelines, by a rookie coach, but one who has selected a great staff and has brought them to the threshold of an NBA championship.  Steve Kerr is also one of the few people who has a competitive spirit comparable to Bird's, as evidenced by his (insane) willingness to fight Michael Jordan during a scrimmage in his first year with the Bulls.
    • Small edge to the Warriors
  • The Crowd - Boston Garden against Oracle Arena?  Two of the greatest crowds in the history of the game.  The Bostonians are vocal and loyal to a fault, but incredibly savvy, astute, cerebral.  They heckle Don Nelson (a former Celtic) for his disguised zone defenses.  The Oracle crowd is even louder, less interested in nuance, but capable of becoming a primal emotional force more powerful than any other in the history of the game.
    • Draw
The Verdict:  Wow, this is tough.  If it's one game, I'd give an edge to the Celtics, who could use the Cavaliers' strategy of slowing it way down and throwing up random shots while the front line gets rebounds and putbacks, and Larry Bird's not going to shoot some weak-ass .399 against you, either.

In a longer series, however, the Warriors' running game, greater depth and durability will start to tell.  This was the deepest of the Celtic teams of that era, but even those guys can't put five fresh new faces on the floor like the Warriors can, and they will struggle when the Warriors go small.  Just as the Celtics had trouble against the fast-breaking Laker teams, they would surely struggle against the team that invented the fast break to the three-point line.

Maybe/probably if you adjust for everything, the Celtics are little better (the Rockets or Cavaliers with three or four all-stars instead of just one).  But if you can stand next to Larry Bird and not look completely outclassed, you are pretty damn good.

Maybe that's another reason I enjoy this team so much - they invite comparison with teams that brought me a lot of good memories, even as they create new ones.

June 14, 2015

Rare air


Stepping back, and stepping up

Cue the music

I don't think that means what you think it means

June 13, 2015

Pepys' pick-me-up

He ain't wrong.


Weirdly great

I'm not sure we've blogged enough about the Warriors, so before this thing wraps up, for better or for worse, I'd like to make a couple of points about why I find this team so fascinating.

In my simple mind, the recipe for success in the NBA was straightforward for a couple of decades: you got two legitimate superstars, surrounded them with outstanding role players, then had Phil Jackson coach them (or before that, Pat Riley).  This simple formula would have gotten you 9 of the last 25 championships (six with the Jordan-Pippin Bulls, and three with the Kobe/Shaq Lakers).  But after Kobe/Shaq, the logic started to break down.

It was a different time

Here is a list of NBA champions in the post Kobe/Shaq era, with my (Win Shares-influenced) assessment of how many superstars there were on the roster:
  • 2003 - Spurs:  Duncan (Parker talented sidekick)
  • 2004 - Pistons:  None (best players were Billups and Wallace)
  • 2005 - Spurs:  Duncan, Ginobli (Parker talented sidekick)
  • 2006 - Heat:  Dwayne and (a diminished) Shaq
  • 2007 - Spurs:  Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker
  • 2008 - Celtics:  Pierce and Garnett
  • 2009 - Lakers:  Kobe (Gasol talented sidekick)
  • 2010 - Lakers:  Kobe (Gasol talented sidekick)
  • 2011 - Mavericks:  Dirk (Chandler talented sidekick)
  • 2012 - Heat:  Dwayne and LeBron
  • 2013 - Heat:  Dwayne and LeBron
  • 2014 - Spurs:  Duncan  (Leonard talented sidekick)
A couple observations:  it still doesn't hurt to have a couple of superstars - at least five of these teams did.  But between egos and economics, it's become exceptionally difficult to get two MVP-caliber players (a la Magic-Kareem) and keep them together.  The only instance so far this decade was when LeBron took his talents to Miami.  

So a new model is emerging:  an MVP-capable superstar with a talented sidekick and a lot of quality role players.  Superficially, the Warriors fit this new model.  By skill and good fortune they have an MVP-talent in Curry.  You've got your superstar, you've got your talented sidekick (call it Klay Thompson for the Warriors).  But if Curry is your best player, you have problems:
  • All of the teams above had a star big man, but Curry is small, his durability is questionable, and given those two facts you have to be careful how many minutes you play him.  
  • Most of the teams above played great defense - Curry is a capable defender, but not a shutdown guy (although he does have his moments).  
  • Curry is primarily an outside shooter, which may seem like a quibble, but every single team on the list above had a star who could score meaningful points in the paint.  It helps that Curry is probably the best shooter that ever lived, but still.
After you have your star and sidekick, most teams then spread the money around and try to get defense, rebounding, point guard, whatever.  The Warriors actually did this, spending significant money on David Lee, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut.  These are big people who can play inside, and they are the three highest-paid players on the team.

And...Lee and Iguodala do not start, and Bogut played three minutes in Game 4.  Wait...what?

What seems to have happened is that Draymond Green (24 at the start of the season) and Harrison Barnes (22) got really good faster than anyone expected.  Top five Warriors by Win Shares in the regular season:
  • Curry - 15.7 (adequate - comparable to Jordan '97-'98 or Bird '84-'85)
  • Thompson - 8.8
  • Green - 8.5
  • Barnes - 6.7
  • Bogut - 5.2
Everyone here is 30 (Bogut) or younger.  They listen to their coach and they can all pass and defend.  And then you bring Lee and Iguodala off the bench - both former all-stars and both still able to play at that level.  Holy crap.

I watched that '85-'86 Celtics season in full, and, much as I admired them, the Warriors would give that team all they wanted (it would look a lot like the Rockets series).  As for the Bulls - well, Steve Kerr has commented on that:
What I remember that year is there were about 10 games where Michael just decided, 'We're going to win.'  And every other team on Earth would have lost those 10 games. And Michael Jordan was ... there'll never be another one. Nobody has ever come close, and I don't think anybody ever will. He wanted to break that Lakers record of 69 wins, so he decided we would do it, so we did it. There's only one Michael.

The Warriors settled for 65.  They won't be able to continue to win in exactly this way - of the seven people listed above you could make a case for giving max contracts to five of them, which they can't/won't do.  But right now all of these players are on the roster, reasonably healthy, and awaiting deployment.

They still might not win, of course, because LeBron is the greatest player of his generation, and probably the generation or two before that.  Moreover, Draymond Green, who was the Warriors' best defender and glue guy in the regular season has limited experience in the playoffs and in guarding LeBron.

But the Warriors have one last card up their sleeve, and they played it in Game 4.  If you have an Andre Iguodala trading card you might want to get it out and write this down at the bottom:
Every season he has been in the NBA, whichever team he was playing for, Andre Iguodala has been assigned to guard LeBron James. 

He is good at it.

But not subtle.

In this series, according to this article, "the Golden State Warriors have been at their best when [Iguodala] is on the court – plus-32 — and struggling — minus-10 — when he’s riding the pine."

So, in addition to guns, lasers, and bombs, they also have Kryptonite.

They have a little bit more left to prove, but regardless of how the next three games go, this is one of the most unusual - and one of the best - teams in NBA history.

June 11, 2015

Best of three now

June 09, 2015

Just keeping it interesting

June 07, 2015

I knew she wrote it, I didn't know she sang it - '66 demo

June 05, 2015


Never really got the whole Patsy Cline thing. 'Till now.

Solution: Abolish bankruptcy

June 04, 2015

Cavs trying to pinpoint where it all started to go wrong

June 01, 2015

I know this much about Game of Thrones


Moore on Fleming on Bond

Moore:  When I first took on the part, I read Fleming’s books. There was little offered in them about the character. However, I remember reading one line that said Bond had just completed a mission - meaning a kill. He didn’t particularly enjoy killing but took pride in doing his job well. That was the key to the role as far as I was concerned.

Fleming:  It was part of his profession to kill people. He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it. As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix – the license to kill in the Secret Service – it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon. If it happened, it happened. Regret was unprofessional — worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.

Moore again:  The positive aspects of Bond? A bigger paycheck. The negative aspects? A coward having to pretend he is brave, and trying not to blink when explosions go off.



The assignment: Explore the notion that Warriors guard Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter in NBA history. 

Initial reaction: This will be easy. Make a claim about someone being the greatest ever—it doesn't really matter what the topic is—and you can warm yourself by the outrage that follows.  Accomplished NBA marksmen in particular, past and present, would bury the idea faster than a wide-open jumper...   Whether driven by ego or insight, surely someone would insist they played with or against someone better than Curry.