Q: Admit it Bill — Rather than following your instincts and declaring James Harden as the undisputed MVP candidate, you surveyed the field, figured out which way the winds of popular opinion were blowing and chose to give Steph Curry the edge. How could you do this, especially after coming up with the best way to judge the MVP’s candidacy? (‘Replace the guy with a decent guy in the same position and evaluate how the team would have done.’)
—Ram Sridhar, Rutherford, NJ
That is very possible that Bill was swayed by public opinion, although historically it is far more likely that he is swayed by his own desire to appear clever and possessing some sort of unique insight. But fair question. I agree that of Bill's stated MVP criteria, this is the most useful. Let's see how he responds.
(Before I start, I should point out that I don't really have much of a dog in this fight. I picked Cp3 over both of them, and would probably pick Harden over Curry, although I am basically fine with either of them winning. They've both been awesome.)
I spent four solid years working on a trial-and-error method of determining the MVP award
Except you couldn't possibly have an "error" because MVP is a subjective award, so there's no way to prove definitively who should have won
starting in 2006 (I picked Kobe, which was and is the right pick)
See above. I do, however, reluctantly agree that Kobe should have won that year.
then 2007 (I jokingly picked the fans but really picked Steve Nash; I stand by that pick, too)
Even though you've since embraced advanced stats, and actual 2007 MVP winner Nowitzki was 1st in Win shares, Win shares per 48, 2nd in PER and 3rd in Value Over Replacement Player, whereas Nash was 5th, 4th, 12th and somewhere outside the top 20 in those categories. To put that in perspective, the gap in win shares between Nowitzki and Nash in 2007 (4) was the difference this year between James Harden and DeAndre Jordan.
then 2008 (I picked KG when I should have picked Kobe or CP3)
Clearly your methods were improving over time!
I settled on four fool-proof questions for determining every MVP season.
If by fool-proof, you mean a subjective thought exercise whose own simple rules you can't even seem to follow, then sure.
Question No. 1: If you replaced an MVP candidate with a decent player at his position for the entire season, what would be the hypothetical effect on his team’s record?
Well leaving aside Basketball VORP, which gives Curry the very slight edge over Harden in this exact category, we might look at some kind of assessment of each player's numbers and supporting cast to determine who pulled more weight this season. Is that what we get?
Normally, you’d say James Harden wins under this framework — if you replaced him on that injury-ravaged Rockets team with, say, Arron Afflalo, Houston probably would win 35-38 games instead of 56.
No, what we get is a completely arbitrary estimate of Harden's value in terms of wins with no supporting evidence or context.
That’s our biggest swing in terms of wins and losses.
I probably agree that Harden's absence would cost his team the most wins, but you can't just assert that out of nowhere.
Some people tried to debunk that point last week by pointing out that the Rockets were way better defensively than anyone realized (true), and that you can’t just substitute someone else for Harden. After all, they carefully built their entire team around his one-of-a-kind offensive game;
Darryl's mouthpiece strikes again. Because James Harden gets to the rim and flails his arms like a malfunctioning robot to get calls, the Rockets knew they had to sign Trevor Ariza and Trevor Ariza alone. It's science!
it’s like trying to imagine Taken without Liam Neeson. God forbid.
Yeah, imagine if it was Bruce Willis playing an aging, CIA veteran who came out of retirement for personal reasons. I shudder to think of the result.
Couldn’t you say the same about the Warriors? Yeah, if you replaced Curry with Reggie Jackson, the Warriors might lose 15-20 more games while grabbing a no. 7 seed.
15-20 more games exactly. No one denies this.
It’s an exceptionally coached team with enough depth to just bench David Lee whenever they feel like it. And their defense has been as good as their offense, which people always forget because it’s so damned fun to watch their offense. But Curry was THE biggest reason that the 2015 Warriors were the seventh member of our .800/10 Club — any team that finished with an .800-plus winning percentage and a plus-10 point differential
OK, so that's just a fancy way of saying Curry is the best player on the Warriors, who are better than the Rockets because they're a much better all-around team. This somehow proves that Harden is worth fewer wins than Curry.
throw in the remarkable spacing that Curry creates, the constant play-to-play fear that he brings out of defenses (and the pressure that puts on them), his devastating heat checks (which either pull the Warriors back into games or close them out), his crunch-time chops (significant)
Ok, you're not "throwing" these in, these are the reasons he's good in the first place, but sure. These are all true.
his once-in-a-generation playmaking (on the Maravich-Magic-Nash level at this point)
Holy jesus balls fuck, no. Curry isn't even the best playmaker in the league now, let alone of his "generation" however you want to define that. CP3 is very clearly the best at creating shots for his teammates and it's not even close next to Curry. John Wall is a better playmaker than Curry. Much as I hate him, Rajon Rondo is twice the playmaker that Curry is. This is just unbelievably wrong.
And his underrated leadership (on a team defined by its chemistry and unselfishness, he’s the best since Nash in those two departments)
His leadership is so effective, he's is the first player since Nash to average 3.9 RussellLegendaryGardenCrowdBirds per game. How is this not a bigger story???
Harden turned a .500 team into a 56-win team. Curry turned a no. 7 seed into one of the best regular-season teams ever, as well as an unforgettable League Pass team and the single best story of the 2014-15 season. So Curry wins this one.
So curry gets the edge because his team was a better "story". Awesome. That literally has nothing to do with your own stupid question that can already be answered by a single stat invented by people much smarter than you.
Question No. 2: In a giant pickup game with every NBA player available and two knowledgeable fans forced to pick five-man teams with their lives depending on the outcome, who would be the first player picked based on how everyone just played in the regular season?
OK, you could just ask who you'd want to build a convention 12-man roster around for 82 games, but whatever.
I love this question.
God, where would we be without Bill's questions?
It basically FORCES you to pick an alpha dog.
Ok, there's some bad analysis I could make fun of in the interim, but let's just skip right ahead to:
You know who the answer to this question might be? KAWHI LEONARD!!!!
Nothing screams alpha dog like a guy who can't create shots for himself or his teammates, and gets most of his offense off rebounds, off-ball cuts or intricate series of passes that leaves him open for 3's. Not that Kawhi isn't great, but if you could pick anyone in the NBA and you go with Kawhi over LeBron, Anthony Davis or Curry or whoever, you would be laughed out of Rucker Park or wherever this imaginary game is taking place.
If I take Kawhi — who proved after the All-Star break that he’s the most destructive perimeter defender since Apex Scottie Pippen
He proved it! Bill Simmons said so!
Westbrook was 2015’s night-to-night balls-to-the-wall alpha dog;
Which is different from the regular alpha dog, how?
LeBron was 2015’s hibernating alpha dog;
OK, he's still probably the best player in the league when healthy, but he wasn't for half the season, so it's pointless to bring this up in the MVP debate.
Harden was 2015’s alpha-dog-as-long-as-Kawhi-wasn’t-around
So he wasn't the alpha dog
Kawhi was 2015’s alpha dog stopper
By that logic, Thabo Sefolosha is a better defensive player than Damian Lillard, therefore he is a better player.
Anthony Davis was the alpha-dog-in-training; and Curry was the alpha dog on 2015’s alpha dog. It’s a cop-out, but there’s no clear answer.
Notice how again we've completely deviated from the question of who would get picked first in a pickup game, because Bill surreptitiously turned this into a 3rd grade recess exercise to determine who is the most popular kid in the class.
Question No. 3: If you’re explaining your MVP pick to someone who has a favorite player in the race — a player whom you didn’t pick — will he at least say something like, “Yeah, I don’t like it, but I see how you arrived at that choice”?
Therefore if someone disagrees with Bill's MVP choice, but understands that he arrived at that conclusion because the player is white or on the Celtics, then he is off the hook. Sweet.
Applies only if you’re discussing the MVP race with a Cleveland fan who counters, “Um, we were so dreadful that we won three of the last four lotteries, and then LeBron showed up and helped us overhaul our team, and suddenly we’re -230 favorites to win the East, and LeBron has looked like LEBRON for the past three months, and since we’ve already collectively agreed that he’s the best basketball player since MJ and one of the best seven or eight players ever, um, why isn’t he the MVP again?
First of all, I haven't heard any Cavs fan argue this. Second of all, with a few modifications this is very valid logic for why LeBron should have won in 2011, which Bill at the time countered with the unassailable logic of "Durr, I just don't feel like it. Rose is shiny and new!"
Isn’t this Malone over MJ or Barkley over MJ all over again? Isn’t everyone just bored of voting for LeBron? And doesn’t GM LeBron’s success help MVP LeBron’s candidacy here?”
OK, this isn't even a straw man anymore. This is fucking dust in the wind. Not even youtube trolls are touting the skills of GM LeBron as reasons for his MVP candidacy.
MJ in ’93: 32.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.8 spg, 50-35-84%, 29.7 PER, 17.2 WS, 57 wins...
followed by a whole bunch of unnecessary paragraphs about how MJ was really good. BREAKING. Even if someone argued that LeBron was as good or better than Jordan, they wouldn't use this season as evidence of that. Good talk.
Question No. 4: Ten years from now, who will be the first player from that season who pops into my head?
IT'S STILL LARRY BIRD! NO ONE WILL EVAH TAWP THE LEGEND IN MY AHHHBITRARY MENTAL RANKINGS FACK YOU!
But around 2007, I remember praising Nash for being the only “driver” who could have handled the race car that was the Seven Seconds or Less Suns; they were like a special Ferrari built for his exact qualities.
Except that the D'Antoni system has resulted in inflated numbers for virtually any point guard, including career journeymen like Ray Felton, Chris Duhon and Jeremy Lin. It just so happens that Nash was the best PG in the league at the time, and had two other star players in Marion and Stoudemire, but of course Bill has to make it more cosmically significant than all that.
You could say the same about Curry and 2015’s Porsche Warriors. He’s the best driver for the best car — the defining pace-and-space team for a new generation of basketball, someone good enough to jack eight 3s a game since the All-Star break and make more than half of them.
Yes, you could also make a pointless analogy to describe Curry's greatness same as you could Nash's. The parallels are striking, really.
And as I tried to describe in Part 3 of the Trade Value column, there’s nothing like the experience of seeing the Warriors in person when Curry catches fire. Nothing.
Really? It's ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like any other great scorer catching fire? It was a wholly different experience from watching Allen Iverson or LeBron James hit a bunch of tough shots while the crowd went nuts?
Last Curry point:
A sure sign that upcoming Curry point is in fact about something else entirely
I grew up with my father telling me, You missed out on Maravich.
No way, your dad raved about a player from a previous generation? A first in the history of dads!
I always felt cheated that I never caught Pistol Pete in his prime;
Cruel, cruel destiny, you had to settle for watching Larry Bird lead your team to three titles. The Gods are so indifferent to our fates sometimes.
Isn’t Curry really Pistol Pete reincarnated as a more efficient, more unselfish model?
Not anymore than he's Allen Iverson minus tattoos and a criminal history. Or a shorter Glen Rice with better court vision. Or any player x with change y.
Over everything else, Stephen Curry performed. He won over opposing crowds
That one time the loyal Bobcat faithful rallied behind Curry: proves he's better than James Harden!
This was a virtuoso performance that included staggeringly good individual efficiency and once-a-decade team success.
When I think about the 2014-15 regular season, I will remember Curry and the Warriors first … and then I’ll remember everyone else.
He’s my MVP.
Because Harden didn't remind you of Pete Maravich who you never actually saw play. Sounds legit.
Q: You once wrote that every MVP trophy’s size should depend on “the quality of the MVP race” and the “transcendence of the season itself.” How large should 2015’s trophy be?
—Josh, Grand Rapids, MI
Thank god for Bill's readers. How else would he remember all the stupid and arbitrary categories he uses to explain sports to the little people?
Quick reminder of the trophy weights: 40 pounds (“only defining seasons from signature players can qualify,” like ’09 LeBron or ’00 Shaq)
Much more defining than LeBron's other three MVP seasons, don't you think?
25 pounds (“A smaller, gutted-it-out trophy for a future Hall of Famer who prevails in an especially memorable race,” like 1990 Magic over 1990 MJ);
The "future hall of famer" category is especially meaningless - literally every single eligible, retired player who has won the award is in the Hall(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_Most_V ... ayer_Award). Of the active or ineligibles, there are Shaq, AI, Duncan, KG, Nash, Kobe, LeBron, Rose, and Durant, all of whom are absolute locks except maybe Rose.
10 pounds (“a stereotypical rock-solid MVP season,” like 2008 Kobe or 1994 Hakeem);
Man, I must be watching NBA games with all the wrong people. I've never heard anyone argue about whether Steph Curry is steroetypically rock solid or signature and defining. I feel so left out.
5 pounds (“lack-of-consensus MVP seasons in which we kinda-sorta-maybe had to talk ourselves into a candidate because there wasn’t a clear winner,” like 2011 Rose or 2005 Nash); and the 1-pound Wimbledon platter (“stumbling into an NBA MVP trophy [because] ‘somebody had to win,’” like ’78 Walton, ’81 Doc or ’06 Nash).
'05 and '06 Nash were basically the exact same season. If anything, '06 was more impressive because he helped the team overcome Amare missing the rest of the season. As always, Bill is talking out of his ass and acting like he found the philosopher's stone.
Well, 2015 was an undeniably memorable race
Would you characterize this as a zone of undeniability? But how would you phrase that? How many people would you say deny this?
and Steph Curry is a future Hall of Famer (if he stays healthy)
But Kobe - still on the fence!
Lou Williams for sixth man (over Isaiah Thomas);
Well fuck me sideways - he overlooked his homerism to make the more sensible pick.
Steve Kerr for coach (over Budz and Pop)
Defensible pick, but I disagree. Coaches make their bones in crunch time, and Curry wasn't even out there in the 4th most of the time because they were running teams out of the gym.
Q: Don’t you think Byron Scott could play a police commissioner in a TNT drama? He definitely has the stache for it.
—James Houston, Redondo Beach
BS: I think it’s more fun to watch him play Unfrozen Caveman NBA Coach. I don’t believe in your pace-and-space offenses or spreading the floor so players can attack the basket. I see someone taking a 3-pointer and say to myself, “Why wouldn’t he just take two more dribbles and fire off a 20-footer?” I’m just a caveman!
Horribly dated and forced reference, but you know what? It actually makes sense and underscores a valid point. If someone made this joke at a bar, I would not punch them in the face. When he's right, he's right. He's still unfunny and a douche, but he's right.
I love that everyone is writing off President Stevens, Baby Zeke, Jae Crowder and the 2011 Butler Bulldogs— er, 2015 Boston Celtics in Round 1.
BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL!!! NO ONE BELIEVES IN US!!!
Q: Simple NBA lottery fix — what if any team that picks 1-thru-3 isn’t eligible for those picks the following year? So in 2015: the Cavs, Bucks and Sixers would be ineligible.
—Jordan D., Portsmouth, NH
ld it reduce the incentive to tank somewhat? Yes. Would it change the overall trajectory of losing teams being getting rewarded with cheap young talent and therefore make it completely unthinkable that teams would intentially get worse? No. This has been productive.
Why is the NBA so desperate to help franchises that are either (a) poorly run, or (b) trying to lose? Have we ever figured this out?
Because at any given time, only about a third of the league has any realistic hope whatsoever of winning a title, so the owners of the other 2/3 s will vote to maintain a system that will help struggling teams eventually pull even?
THE KNICKS (Silver) — Let’s say they win a top-two pick, even if the odds dipped a little after Derek Fisher’s boys beat Atlanta on an unusually devastating night even for the always-devastated Knicks fans. Would you flip the rights to Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor for Cousins? And what would be more fun than Boogie in New York? Anything?
(My verdict: I’d do it if I were Sacramento … but I wouldn’t do it if I were the Knicks. Instead, I’d draft Towns or Okafor and spend Boogie’s money on a free agent.)
I would trade either of those guys for Cousins in about two seconds. He's already a dominant two-way big man at 24, and has no injury history. But that's exactly why Cousins won't get traded, so I don't even know why Simmons is entertaining the possibility.
they’d replace 75 percent of Boogie’s stats with Vucevic (locked up through 2019)
One of my favorite misleading Simmons-isms. He's acting like downgrading your best player by 25% is no big deal. In this case, he's also casually gliding over the fact that you're switching one of the best defensve big men in the league for one of the worst.
Q: If I were a Sonics fan, I’d be quietly savoring the deliciousness of how torturingly cursed that OKC franchise seems to be now. What are we going to name this curse? My vote is for The Seattle Super Snake Bite.
—Robbie B., Los Angeles
THey had perfect health among all their core guys for like 5 years, they traded a guy who ended up being a top 5 player because they were a small-market team that overpayed Perkins, and they continue to employ a very questionable coach. Sure they've had some bad breaks, and it's fine for Sonics fans to revel in their misery, but it's not like their current troubles are all based on freaky supernatural coincidences or anything.
Q: You said on a recent NBA podcast that the Thunder should have held out Durant longer, and that you can’t always trust the player’s judgement in this matter. I think you’re right. Look how Pop handled Kawhi’s wrist injury. Kawhi said his injury wasn’t that serious; Pop shot that down immediately. Even if Kawhi missed almost five weeks, look at the end result. The lesson, as always, is: Do things like the Spurs do them.
BS: Yup. You’re never gonna go wrong with WWBBD or WWGPD for Belichick and the Spurs.
Except you've spent your whole career gushing about how Kevin McHale's decision to take years off his career in chasing a title on a broken foot was heroic and what sports is all about. And all those times you called Derrick Rose a pussy for not coming back soon enough. But yeah, resting injuries is ALWAYS the right move, now and forevermore.
Q: What NBA starting Five would make for the best “5 guys who have to live in a Jersey Shore apartment” together? I first thought Cleveland, but the more I think about it I think The Clippers would be the best.
—Jonathan, North Hollywood
This is the most popular sportswriter in America. I hope you're proud of yourselves.
Let’s rip through the pluses and minuses of the Hawks making the 2015 Finals.
Indeed! I will not rest until we get to the bottom of this.
Pluses: The NBA’s best rags-to-riches story in years … the Hawks haven’t sniffed the Finals since 1961 (when they played in St. Louis)...Grantland’s special Finals series, “Rembert Explains Atlanta While Spontaneously Combusting”
Oh yeah, that would be the best part. a self-obssessed asshat who knows no more about sports than the guy in the next cubicle giving a highly subjective and insightless take on this team.
Hawks-Warriors would feature the most diverse crowds, by far, in NBA Finals history
LOL, what? It's not like NBA arenas were segregated until last year.
IT’S REALLY FUN TO WATCH THE HAWKS PLAY BASKETBALL BECAUSE THEY PLAY BEAUTIFULLY TOGETHER
OK, why didn't you just say this and leave out everything else?
Minuses: I hate typing this because I love watching them, but the ’15 Hawks would unequivocally be our most anonymous Finals team since the ’76 Suns
On the one hand, the fans would enjoy watching them, but sportswriters would have to come up with wholly new opinions on Horford and Teague, instead of rehashing the same LeBron column they've been writing for years. Won't someone think of the press?
Atlanta is America’s strangest big city because it doesn’t have a discernible downtown, which makes it a quagmire for “big sporting event purposes” (there’s no epicenter and it’s a traffic disaster)
Nice subtle Peter King-esque bragging about how difficult it will be for Bill to get around during the Finals because Bill's emplyoer is sending him to the Finals for free, dontcha know?
if ABC got stuck with San Antonio–Atlanta, they’d have to save the Finals ratings by replacing Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen with Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington and Viola Davis
Why am I supposed to give a flying mule cock about ABC's ratings? Voice of the average fan fretting about Disney's profitability over here.
“LeBron’s trilogy battle against Kawhi and Duncan” OR “LeBron and Kyrie vs. the Splash Brothers” OR “LeBron and Kyrie vs. CP3 and Blake” — I mean, all of those scenarios seem more entertaining than “Hawks vs. Anyone,”
Except for the part where you just said that the Hawks were really fun to watch in light of their team-oriented ball...but really, can you imagine Paul Millsapp reading tweets on Jimmy Kimmel Live? That's what it's all about at the end of the day.
and that’s before we bring up the whole “Cleveland Is America’s Most Tortured Sports City” angle.
That's exactly the "angle" I need to be entertained...contrived and ridiculous fake sympathy from a big media outlet.
Add everything up and there’s some undeniable 1999 Pacers/2001 Bucks/2002 Kings potential here for the 2015 Hawks. The good news: Officiating is better than it was during that 1999-2003 WWE era, and there’s more internal accountability for poor performance, as well as YouTube and GIFs and Vines lingering over everything (and a score of Internet detectives ready to pounce).
Just like the watchdog internet defeated military dictatorship in Egypt once and for all...the generals are powerless in the face of twitter!
You could have maybe talked me into the Hawks if they were running on all cylinders and I had two drinks in me, but after the NYPD took out Thabo Sefolosha for reasons that remain ludicrously unclear,
Ludicrously unclear. On a related note, why the Celtics fans were such dicks to Bill Russell even though he led their team to 11 titles? I can't for the life of me figure it out.
I don’t see how Atlanta beats Cleveland four times in seven games defending LeBron with DeMarre Carroll and nobody else.
But you yourself said it: DeMarre Carroll is EXACTLY like Kawhi Leonard, who guarded LeBron in the finals last year! What could possibly go wrong?
3. Amount of Time Bill Simmons Watches the Hawks-Nets Series (52.5 Minutes)
Take the under. I can’t believe Deron Williams and Joe Johnson crashed the 2015 playoffs; I thought The Walking Dead already had its last episode. And why isn’t this entire series showing exclusively on NBA TV? What’s the point of having NBA TV if not for this series?
Burrrrrn. But everybody in America is just dying to see Marcus Smart shoot 37% from the field. That level of skill practically spells national television in giant red letters in the sky.
Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley aren’t getting swept.
My team of 12 LeBrons just beat your four trios of Crowder/Smart/Bradley 100 straight times.
you have a famous Clippers trio that’s been together for four years, hasn’t even made it to Round 3 and might be in its own Last Stand situation with DeAndre’s free agency coming.
You heard it here first: What reason does DeAndre have to stick around, except the best point guard in 20 years, the best-passing power forward in the league, a huge market, a deep-pocketed owner, all the weather/celebrity bullshit Bill loves to talk about...he's as good as gone really.
It’s so frightening, so overwhelming, so insane that it almost HAS to happen. It’s destiny. It’s meant to be the Greatest Sports Night In Recent History. So imagine having the Spurs +600 that night.
PUT YOUR MONEY ON DESTINY. Jesus, how does Haralabob keep a straight face when talking ot this clown?