Championships and "Legacy" Across Sports
I don't know if you've heard, but on Sunday evening there is this football game. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are playing for the NFL title, in what on paper looks to be a great match-up. It's the No. 1 offense in the NFL against the No. 1 defense, with lots of storylines to follow no matter which team you might pull for. In fact, by the time you read this, the game will likely be over.
But, with all due respect to Richard Sherman, the biggest storyline in this Super Bowl is whether or not Peyton Manning will be able to take home another championship. Manning just won his fifth MVP award, a huge accomplishment after four neck surgeries cast major doubt on whether he would ever be able to play in the NFL again (after his big brother Cooper had to give up football due to a neck injury). Manning broke just about every single-season passing record in the NFL this season, which adds on to what has already been a record-breaking career. He even has a championship already in his back pocket, having led the Colts to the title back in 2006.
So why, all season, have there been so many people questioning his football greatness? Why is there so much talk about Peyton's "legacy"? (A quick Google search of "Peyton Manning Legacy" returns "about 4,110,000 results in 0.22 seconds") Why is there a strong sentiment that, if the Broncos don't win this Super Bowl, it's just another indication that Peyton is inadequate?
Because in our current sports culture, like Al Davis said, it's, "Just win, Baby"!
This is just as true in basketball as it is in football. Hall of Famers that I grew up watching like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing forever have the same kind of "asterisk" next to their careers that Dan Marino has in football, in the eyes of many, because they were never on a team that won a championship. If you ever watch Inside the NBA on TNT, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O'Neal can end any argument with Barkley by making reference to their championships. Barkley was a DRAMATICALLY better player than Smith, but Smith always has that trump card that he was on a couple of championship teams while Barkley's best shot came up short to Michael Jordan's Bulls.
Those that have been reading the Hoops Lab for years know that this is one of my pet peeves. I agree that championships are outstanding achievements, and are the ultimate goal of any great player. However, it's a team achievement and, no matter how great an individual player is, a team championship is outside of any one player's ability to deliver alone. The team has to be in place around him and play well, health has to be there, luck has to be there…there are a million variables that determine who wins a team championship in any given year, and I fundamentally disagree that you should judge a player solely on if their team wins. To me, instead, you should judge a player by how much they contribute to their team's success. And there's a definite difference there.
I was reminded about the basketball version of the legacy question on a basketball message board that I hang out on. There's a 15-page (and counting) thread entitled More overated: Garnett or Nash?. The premise of the thread is that even though Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash have multiple MVPs between them, and they also have excellent marks in the new wave of advanced basketball stats, that they are still overrated because they only have one championship between them. If you read through the thread, there's a clear delineation between those that feel that championships are the be-all/end-all of player evaluation and others that want to look more in depth at context, at what each player actually does, and what the impact of that player's contribution is.
To me, in this day and age there's really no excuse for the "ring count" version of player analysis. Unlike back in the day, every game is televised in some market, and there are sports packages that allow us unprecedented viewing of any player that we choose. The internet puts information at our fingertips on a level that scouts in the 60s and 70s would have killed for. There are entire businesses and websites, such as Synergy in basketball, devoted to scouring through every play that every player on every team makes and tracking stats/events that were never conceived of in the box scores. And of course, there is the advanced stats revolution that began in baseball with the Moneyball movement and has continued on into the NBA. At the end of the month, I'm heading to the Sloan Conference at MIT, in which the brightest sports minds and many front office types will be getting together to discuss the state of the art in basketball statistics.
Maybe in 1984 a barbershop conversation about who the greatest player is could revolve only around rings. But in 2014, with all of the information and analysis that we are privy to, if the only evidence that matters to you in individual player evaluation is how many championships their team has won then I have to say that your analysis is pretty lazy.
And back to the Super Bowl, count me among those that hope that the Broncos win…in large part so that I don't have to grind my teeth through the next wave of "Peyton was good but he only won one Super Bowl" segments among the football talking heads. Peyton Manning's legacy should already be cemented by this point in his career, but hopefully after this Super Bowl they'll be no more misguided arguments about the perception of that legacy among the media and casual fans.
Around the League
Health = Return of Davis: You might remember back in the first few weeks in the season where I argued that Davis might be the fantasy MVP. Not long after that, he got injured and missed some time, then when he returned, he was great but not transcendent. Oh yeah, and that Kevin Durant guy lost his mind and started setting records that seemingly closed the book on who the roto MVP of this year is. With that said, Davis has seemingly found his groove again of late and is again set firmly into "video game mode". Davis has nine combined steals and blocks in three straight games…and that followed a stretch of three more games in which he had six, six, and eight combined steals and blocks. And oh yeah, over that stretch, he also averaged 22.2 points, 9.7 boards, 2.5 assists, shot 49% from the field and 84% from the line (on 7.3 FTA). Throw in his dual F/C eligibility, and no matter what Durant does, you have to at least consider Davis to be arguably the most valuable roto player in the NBA when he's healthy.
Hurt Pekovic = Return of Love: Kevin Love is another player that was prominently featured in my "who is the roto MVP?" article that had cooled slightly of late. In Love's case it was due to the emergence of teammate Nikola Pekovic, who had made himself into a nightly 20/10 threat in his own right and was cutting into Love's action. Pekovic got hurt last week, though, and Love has responded with three straight "Kevin Love Special" outings: 30 points, 14 boards, five assists, and a trey, followed by 28 and 16 with two assists and three treys, then culminating with 43 points, 19 boards, 17-of-18 made free throws, and two treys in his last outing against the Hawks. Owners of Pekovic are really looking forward to the return of one of their impact players, and it is likely to happen at some point this week, but owners of Love might not be quite in so much of a hurry to get Pekovic back on the court.
Could Toronto really consider trading Lowry?: Kyle Lowry was one of the most rumored players to be traded back in December, which helped spark me to make my ill-fated Lowry-for-Brook-Lopez trade in the Sirius XM league. Over the next month, all Lowry did was average 18.3 points, 8.2 assists, 4.7 boards, 3.1 treys and 1.4 steals while leading the Raptors to the top of their division. Despite that, I saw a headline this week that the Raptors are still open to trading him. At this point, I really can't see the logic in moving him unless you are sure that he is leaving in free agency, as the team is playing really well and they actually have an inside track to possibly hosting a playoff series. As a fantasy owner, a Lowry trade would dramatically affect his value moving forward. On Toronto, he is arguably as valuable as any point guard in the league, but if he is traded, he could end up in a subordinate role and lose a lot of that value.
Lawson's shoulder and Nate's knee: Ty Lawson has missed the last couple of games with a shoulder issue, and Nate Robinson will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Their absences opened up the way in the short-term for us to see what a Randy Foye/Evan Fournier backcourt would look like. Both played well (Fournier made the New Additions below, and Foye would have been there if he weren't already 56% owned, and that percentage should be higher). Lawson is expected to return to the court soon, but Foye and (to a lesser extent) Fournier should maintain solid value moving forward with Robinson on the sidelines.
Conley's ankle: Mike Conley Jr. has a Grade 2 sprain of his right ankle, which is expected to sideline him for at least a week before he can be re-evaluated. In the short term, this creates a vacuum in the Memphis backcourt, which was surprisingly filled on Saturday night by Nick Calathes (see New Additions, below).
Bynum in Indy: Andrew Bynum has finally landed on a team, signing with the Indiana Pacers this weekend. The Pacers are expected to take it very slow with Bynum, meaning it could be quite awhile before he sees any court action. And even once he's ready, he's now behind All-Star center Roy Hibbert in the rotation. As such, Bynum remains off of the fantasy radar for as long as Hibbert remains healthy.
DeMarre Carroll (31% owned in Yahoo! leagues): Carroll has become one of my mainstays in the daily basketball leagues, because he has been a solid producer at a cheap price for awhile now. This week, he has taken it up a notch, though, with averages of 15.7 points, 5.7 boards, 3.3 steals, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 treys. Carroll has stepped up as a main option for the Hawks behind Paul Millsap, and it appears that he could maintain this level of production moving forward.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (16% owned): Hardaway has stepped up in a big way in his last several games. He has played 30 or more minutes in four of his last five games while scoring in double-digits in all five. Over his last four games, he is averaging 20 points with 3.8 treys per night.
Patrick Patterson (11% owned): True story, about five years ago on a return flight from Vegas, I ended up sitting next to Patterson's agent. Since then, I've always kept an eye on Patterson and enjoyed his successes. There's been more to enjoy of late, as he's settled into a productive role on the Raptors after the Rudy Gay trade. Patterson is a roto garbageman, contributing a bit in several categories. Over the last week, he's averaging 12.3 points, 6.0 boards, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, and has made a trey in each game. Patterson is center eligible, so as his role solidifies, he has a bit of value in deeper leagues.
Evan Fournier (7% owned): On Saturday night I tweeted:
Fournier looks solid. With the bad news about @nate_robinson he's work a look in deeper and daily leagues— Andre Snellings (@ProfessorDrz) February 1, 2014