Who Should we view as a Winner after NBA Season?

07 Jul

In Jonah Keri’s podcast with Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics said:

I think winning a championship is probably the hardest accomplishment to achieve in industry and business. I look around, you start a company, you take a company public and usually the argument about the company is are you the market leader, are you in second place, are you in third place and either one of those positions is a good position to be in business.
In sports you’ve got 30 teams competing, there’s one winner and 29 losers. There’s a real absolute. And you know you just saw it in the NBA right, Heat had a fantastic year and they are being called losers, they went to the finals, they sold out every game and they are losers.

Even though I think that “what’s the hardest accomplishment to achieve in industry and business?” is an interesting question my intention is to blog about NBA so let’s focus on the second part…
The idea of judging / not judging players and teams only by championships is not new at all but I don’t think I have seen a satisfying angle on the follow-up problem:
objectively speaking, Who SHOULD be Viewed as a Winner after typical NBA Season?

Here’s are some possible answers [in a semi-random order]:

1) “No matter how you slice it, championship rings is all that matters! And stop defending LeBron James!”.
If you smiled after that second part then my attempt at a joke has worked ;-)
But even if you didn’t let me make one thing clear: for the purpose of this post I don’t care about any players’ reputations and if I speak about last season it’s only because it’s still fresh in our memories.

What’s more, I really don’t think it’s a satisfying answer.
Not only is basketball a team sport [and that’s always a great irony for me that when a star player takes a team on his back and team wins he’s a hero but when a team losses he wasn’t good team player or he was too selfish] but even if it wasn’t I wouldn’t buy this premise. If you were 10th ranked tennis player in the world for one year without winning a single tournament I would consider it a winning season. Because it would mean that not only you were better than 99,999999% of the population at this particular task/job and you were better than most players in that sport but also you’ve earned more money than most people will over their entire lives.

2) “All players in the NBA are winners because they are better than 99,99999% of the population”.
I could buy that in a discussion about basketball in general but in terms of the NBA that’s simply opposite extreme to 1). Also it would be a pretty similar scale problem as with draft grades.

3) “All-Stars”.
On the surface it makes sense, after all it is a limited number of players chosen by two different but important sides of the whole NBA [coaches and fans]. Surprisingly my biggest problem with it is not in criteria details but… in timing. It’s focused entirely on a first half of the season which is a small sample size and it doesn’t include anything after it so it creates an illusion for hot or injured players.

4) “Every award winner”.
Well, technically speaking they are all winners but my biggest problems with it include small number of them and somewhat random categories. For example, why there isn’t any award for “Best Passer”? Or “Best Team Player”? Or even “Best Offensive Player”? Because it will be too similar to MVP?
Speaking of which, Rose is IMHO a great point in this topic: even though he didn’t win a ring and I didn’t agree with his MVP award I think he should be viewed as a winner of 2010-11! He improved and became a very good player if not a star, he probably earned himself max extension, he became a face of the franchise, he earned a major award and he will be remembered for this season. How it wasn’t a winning season for him?

5) “Every player listed on All-NBA teams”.
It’s a very solid idea on surface but IMHO it’s a little too self-fulfilling prophecy because it’s too much based on accomplishments in previous years. Older players during that particular year could be worse than some young guns but they still will get a vote. What’s more, AFAIR Kevin Pelton had a great point/article about how it takes years to change perception for All-NBA Defensive teams.

6) “Top 5/10/15 on every position”.
Let’s ignore for a moment sub-problem which is “how would you rank those players?” and let’s tackle this one: Top 5/10/15 player, so cream of the crop among best ones, misses playoffs because his team wasn’t good enough. Why he can’t be considered a winner? Personally it was a great year for him and with my sarcastic glasses on I would even say he had a better season than all those guys fighting into June because he had more free time and salaries are based only on regular season anyway… There probably won’t be a better example of this than Kevin Love in 2010-11. Wolves sucked hard so he didn’t even sniff playoffs or rings but IMHO he should be viewed as a winner of last season for the same reasons as Rose [see 4)].

Do you have any other ideas? Which one would you choose? And why?
BTW, I think it’s a good moment to test a poll feature ;-)

Moving on, here’s are some possible answers regarding teams…
BTW, my comments are shorter because they would be very similar to those mentioned for players:

1) “No matter how you slice it, championship is all that matters”.
See other point 1) although I have to admit that on a team level IMHO this argument makes more sense.

2) “All teams which made a profit”.
Similar to 2) with players, from one perspective it could work [owners’ books] but when we include any other it doesn’t. Especially in extreme cases like Clippers.

3) “All teams which were better than expected on and off the court”.
IMHO that’s an interesting twist but again it’s too one-dimensional… and tells us more about quality of those expectations.

4) “All teams which made playoffs / 2nd Round / Conference Finals”.
IMHO that’s a great mix of success on and off the court… but where is the cut off point?
What’s more, if a team makes Finals but doesn’t make any money… was it a winning season?

Do you have any other ideas? Which one would you choose? And why?

Thanks in advance for all the answers!

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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Unanswered Questions


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