Philadelphia's Two NBA Teams
There is something so unbelievably strange to me about the two franchises the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers that forces me to write this.
As some of you know I've been doing some occasional on-air radio work for SportsRadio 94 WIP in Philly, and for the last however-many-months have been waist deep in east coast sports. Yet at the same time I live here in the Bay Area, engulfed in the "we kinda care" mentality that exists among fans here.
Truth be told, they're better for it, but in no way do they live and die the way the rest of the country does. Why? Well, because everything here is kind of awesome.
If you happen to be one of those hardcore fans that missed the game last night, you might overhear someone at Philz Coffee say, "Can't believe the Warriors lost last night."
Someone else will immediately chime in with, "Really? How many is that?"
The only thing similar to the surprise of the Warriors (53-5) losing is the 76ers (8-51) actually winning,
Except that conversation is more like, "Can't believe the Sixers won last night."
"Shut the fuck up. Who'd they beat?!?!"
I'm probably one of the only people paying seriously close attention to both these franchises, and I have to tell you both are at times equally hard to watch. You'd think watching the Warriors (a team I do root for) would be easy since winning is fun, and I'm sure for the lifers it hasn't been a struggle. But from my perspective the Warriors point out just how bad so many other NBA teams are that it at times becomes painful to watch them put on these clinics. Usually by the 2nd Quarter I'm ready to shut it down.
The best games of recent note have been Saturday's Oklahoma City game (albeit overrated because of the poor jobs the refs did - despite Curry's heroics), the Atlanta Hawks game of last week, and oddly, the 76ers game where the Warriors almost loss. I mean, what person wasn't hoping the 6ers won that game? Of course, the Warriors were hardly trying...
When it comes to the 76ers all I can say is I'd rather watch a train crash than one pass safely by. Not sure if that always holds for sports, but in this scenario it sometimes does.
For all intents and purposes, the 76ers are a borderline D-League team. It's that bad. For those not in the know, the running joke in Philly circulates around the phrase "The Process", or more accurately, "trust the process."
This is centered around General Manager Sam Hinkie's concept to continually play poorly, acquire as many high draft picks as possible (and low ones), draft players with upside, and then have all of these things fall neatly into place eventually resulting in the 76ers becoming a great team.
Except it's not working. At all. And it's why I'm writing this.
After thinking about how annoying so many newly transplanted Warriors fans are in their recently discovered adulation for the sport of basketball (they do this with all sports here), it occurred to me that the 76ers "process" is so fundamentally flawed that even if they had Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on their roster they wouldn't be winning any titles. That's the absurd reality about how far away the 76ers are from winning.
Yep. I believe this. The 76ers recent draft picks of Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor are getting them nowhere near a championship, even with Curry and Thompson. Throw Draymond Green into the mix and you might definitely have something, truthfully those 3 can make any team a winner. Granted, with Curry and Thompson on the team they would select other players, but this is just to point out how poor the picks are in the overall scheme of things.
The reason I believe this is because the players Hinkie has selected are so lacking in basic game fundamentals, which runs counter to every single player on the Warriors roster, and the overall design of the team. There is a hardly a player on Golden State who does not completely understand what it means to move without the ball to free up a teammate. They do this almost innately. It's a major part of the reason why Curry has become so successful.
The 76ers? Outside of maybe Nick Stauskas, who is seemingly getting worse by the week, I'm not sure they have a player who understands the essence of team basketball. We'll discuss this more shortly, but lets just chalk it up to this franchise is still a number of players away from being good, and that's after 3 consecutive picks in the Top 6 of the NBA draft.
I hear a number of callers into sports radio stations, and even hosts themselves, say things like, "The rest of the league needs to take notice of what the Warriors are doing." Doesn't matter. It won't be replicated. But even short of replicating it, the 76ers are seemingly not even learning a thing from the road map itself. They've acquired 3 bigs who have a combined 2.5 years of college basketball under their collective belt. The first barely has any offensive skill, the second is an injury waiting to happen with about 5 years of competitive basketball experience, and the third is basically a throwback to an era that has seemingly passed him by. As for their guards, prepare to see most of them playing for the Delaware 87ers.
Eventually the 76ers will win. They have to. And someone might say, "Look, the process worked!" Well, I can assure you that nothing they've done regarding the last 3 draft picks is getting the team closer to being a viable franchise, let alone a contender.
If the 76ers management understood the direction of the league they could have made 3 very different selections: CJ McCollum, Aaron Gordon and Kristaps Porzingis. These 3 could have been the start of a championship team (I'm sure there are other combos). A lights-out two-way guard who spent 4 years in college, an intelligent and outstanding defender in Gordon, and Porzingis, a player who may very well completely change the game.
McCollum is excelling in Portland, Gordon is being compared to Draymond Green, and Porzingis, a player many believe has transcendent qualities, who wouldn't even meet with the 76ers pre-draft.
The Sixers likely are left with depreciating assets, two out of the 3 just recently reaching the legal drinking age.
Of course, the one who shouldn't be drinking at all has made all the headlines...
It's fair to point out that taking Noel, in a year that was so incredibly weak, may have been the right pick. You could argue he was worth the "upside" when the "process" was beginning. Except the follow-up picks have been so lacking it's hard to credit management otherwise.
The reality is the team has no vision. If you believed in this supposed "process" you select Porzingis. It was clear immediately he had the most upside of any player. He was available to you. Not selecting him leads me to believe they've stopped believing their own bullshit.
You can see my take on Porzingis just from having seen him for 5 minutes in Summer League.
They're hard to describe and explain when discussing the modern game, but let me just say this: There are two teams in the NBA whose franchises are mostly made up of players who spent at least 2 years starting in college (closer to 3-4), or have a number of players from overseas, where "team basketball" is more heavily stressed. They are the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.
Recently, the Miami Heat won 2 titles with some extremely talented players, but keep in mind the team was littered with intellectual ballers like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, to some extent Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and others. Even still, they barely escaped the aging Spurs in 2013.
The bottom line is the best teams in the NBA understand how to play the game on a higher level than what most "one and done" filled teams are capable of achieving. Yes, there will be outliers, but they border on being unicorns.
That's why it's so shocking to me when I hear former superstars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and Charles Barkley trying to cut down the Warriors style of play. Guys like Curry, Thomson and others are dominating because they're playing the same type of basketball which these greats played: fundamentally sound. Same goes for the Spurs.
I mean, are these former players actually watching the games? Yes, the 3-point shot has completely altered the game, but the reality is it's ONE player who's actually doing it. Without Curry on the floor, Green would not be a great shooter because he would rarely have open looks. Thompson is a very good shooter, made even better because of Curry's presence. When you look at the rest of the teams around the NBA who are running the awful offense of driving the lane, kick it out for 3, rotate if covered, eventual 3-point shot, yeah, it's painful. It's worth criticizing.
But that's not the Warriors.
They are the anomaly in all of this.
As for the Spurs, the reason they have been so good for the last few years despite their aging roster is because their core players are intelligent basketball players. Intelligence and skill is beating raw athletic ability. As talented as the Clippers and OK City are, they're never going to win with those players. I think that's obvious. And they have guys who can jump over the backboard and shoot from 40 feet away.
During the Spurs run a couple years ago, I heard fans say things like, "This Spurs team is one of the best of all time! They're so good without the ball!"
They were good. They weren't that good. It's really the opponents being that bad. Most teams they played were so flawed and weak that the Spurs looked like the 1970 Knicks. The Pistons, Lakers, Bulls, Celtics, Trailblazers, Rockets, probably the Suns, and other teams from the later half of the 20th Century would have beaten the aging Spurs.
Realize this, and take note of what I'm about to say to you because it will be true:
The Warriors are the LAST FUNDAMENTAL TEAM OF ALL TIME.
You will never again see an accidental superstar like Curry who spent 4 years in college, and whose father was a very good player. You will never get a guy like Thompson who spent 3 years in college, also with a talented father, who both understand the game and shoots this well. And you certainly won't find many guys like Draymond Green who had 4 years under Coach Tom Izzo at Michigan St, who can play 3 positions well. In addition the Warriors have seasoned players like Andrew Bogut, Iguodola, Harrison Barnes, Mo Speights, and others.
You'll never see this happen again because the NCAA and NBA rules do not allow for players like this to develop..
You'll never see this happen again because the NCAA and NBA rules do not allow for players like this to develop..
You won't find fundamentally sound basketball stars like this in the United States ever again.
So take it all in and stop bitching about it because you'll wish you were seeing it again in 5 years.
I do not think the Warriors would be a 70 win team in any other era. I think they would have consistently won 50, maybe 60. But what makes them so great now is something many opponents in the 70s, 80s, and 90s possessed: team basketball.
Long story short, Green's rebounds would be cut in half in any other era.
As an example, The Cleveland Cavaliers of Mark Price, Craig Ehlo, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and others would beat the Cavs of today. Forget athleticism.
There's a reason the current best college player is from Australia, and the likely best pick from last year from Latvia. Worth noting, Karl Anthony Towns father was a coach, in case you want to toss him in there...
In 2013 the Warriors pushed the Spurs to 6 games in a series many either forgot about it, or had just expected would end as it did. From my perspective the Warriors let it slip away. They should have been up 2-0 ON THE ROAD. Unfortunately for them, Boris Diaw decided to have the game of his life, sending the first one to overtime, and the Warriors to a loss. It was a ridiculously good game.
Heading home up 2-0 the Warriors would have had the confidence to win. Instead, after game 3 they were down 2-1 and eventually lost.
Looking back, I'm glad this happened because that series somewhat set the stage for an eventual meeting this season. The two teams have somewhat avoided each other since 2013, both winning titles without having to go through each other. Because of this some tension now exists.
Reality is the Warriors have nothing to worry about in the NBA this season. We're really just hopeful the Spurs can give them a run. Make it interesting! Judging by the last game, they won't. But we have to reach for something, right? The Warriors are making the NBA meaningless, except, of course, if you're into "the process..."
All told, I'm sure there's still a bad taste in Curry and Thompson's mouths from the 2013 season. They're too competitive for there not to be. Maybe winning a title is motivation enough, but always good to have that extra bit of sports-hate.
I'm guessing no one will challenge them. Obviously, I'm a descendant of Nostradamus.
I mentioned the fundamentals, the 4 year players, etc. etc. throughout, and will mention it again. AAU basketball has destroyed high school and college basketball, and by extension, the NBA is suffering.
I'm a guy who watches a shit-ton of college hoops, although recently this has been waning. Why? Because the product is getting worse. It's not always bad, as there are some good years, but it's like a 2 steps back -1 forward scenario these days. And I hate it.
I wish the NBA, or NCAA, could institute a new rules modeled on this idea:
You can go straight to the NBA from high school, but if you choose the college route you must stay for 2 years.
This would not only help the NBA in the long run, but would undoubtedly help not only college basketball, but the players themselves. The reasons should be obvious.
As it stands, this '1 year in college' rule is just awful. I'm guessing it's a way to get eyes on the NCAA game just a little bit, but now both the NCAA and NBA are becoming hard to stomach.
Something has to be done. I'm not sure what it is, but something has to be done.
Because like I wrote previously, once this Warriors team expires the NBA is going to be a big pile of crap. But hey, if you're a Sixers fan that should give you hope. Once the entire league sinks to a lower level they should be competitive...