Why “You Need a Superstar to Win a Title” Is Wrong

June 1st, 2016 | by Clint Johnson
(USA TODAY Sports)

Is Chauncey Billups the only non-superstar in recent NBA history to lead his team to an NBA title? You may be surprised. (USA TODAY Sports)

The belief an NBA team needs a superstar to win a championship is strong, especially whenever the lottery and draft creep up, tempting fans and maybe even front offices to gut a roster for that magical ping-pong bullet. One major problem with that is the belief is wrong.

It doesn’t seem wrong, I grant. But lots of things seem credible that aren’t. Jeb Bush’s presidential candidacy. Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Jan Hendrick Schon’s experiments. Bernie Madoff’s unreal returns. The dragons that live beyond the edge of a flat world.

Just because an idea is popular or intuitive doesn’t mean it’s correct. Especially when objective evidence to the contrary exists.

What evidence? Well, you could read this post from the excellent statistical analysis site FiveThirtyEight. Or, to make it simpler, we could look at who actually has won championships and who the most productive players were on those rosters.

Such as the 2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons. Their “superstar”? Take your pick: Chauncey Billups (18.6 PER, .198 WS/481), Rasheed Wallace (18.8 PER, .171 WS/48), or Ben Wallace (17.3 PER, .160 WS/48).

Given that Derrick Favors’ numbers the past two seasons2 have been as good or better than any of those champion Pistons’, the claim of superstar necessity for ring collection is dead.

But it’s only one instance, the exception that proves the rule! you might say.

That might be true if there weren’t other instances. But there are.

League lore holds that 12 seasons ago the Pistons became the “last” team without a superstar to win a title. That is true given a definition of superstar based on social reputation, on sneaker sales, highlight appearances, and other assorted glitz. But on-court production tells a different story.

Case #1: 2013-14 — The Starless Superteam

The Spurs’ systematic demolition of the social mania known as the Miami Heat obscured an interesting fact: that lethal unit included no superstars.

Their most productive player that season, a 37-year-old Tim Duncan, managed a respectable 21.3 PER and .164 WS/48. A good season, no question. But nothing nearing consideration of All-NBA selection, much less MVP talk; not even an All-Star selection.

Tony Parker made the All-Star team that season because, on a squad that good, somebody had to. An 18.9 PER and .141 WS/48 were good enough, apparently3.

Tim Duncan may be cemented as the least glamorous superstar in NBA history, but at 37 that legacy was just that: legacy. This championship iteration of the Spurs followed a very Piston-like formula to the franchise’s fifth ring. Five different players on that squad posted a PER between 18.7 and 21.3: Duncan, Manu Ginobili (20), Kawhi Leonard (19.4), Parker, and Patty Mills (18.7).

The playoffs displayed the same formula with Duncan (21.1) and Ginobili (20.3) leading the way and five contributors scoring an 18.3 or better PER through a 23-game romp to the title.

Perhaps the single greatest testament to the egalitarianism of this championship team is that no player reached 30 minutes of play per game in the regular season.

Case #2: 2009-2010 — Kobe Takes the Credit

The definition of NBA superstar is a gold icon of Kobe Bryant dripping spittle from every fanbase in the league except his own. That image clouds the empirical reality: the 2009-10 version of Kobe didn’t produce like a superstar. In fact, it was arguably the least impressive of his prime seasons.

The superstar image of Bryant is an MVP-caliber player who posted a PER of plus-24 and .200 or better WS/48 six times each. In his last championship season, however, those numbers dipped to 21.9 PER and .160 WS/48. The player who closest matches those numbers this last season is the Bucks’s Greg Monroe4, a good player but far cry from even a definite star.

Kobe’s rep and egomania hid the genuinely most productive player on that championship squad: Pau Gasol.

That season Gasol produced to the tune of a 22.9 PER and stellar .220 WS/48. He was, simply stated, the best and most important player on that team in terms of production.

Did he reach superstar levels? In popularity and perception, certainly not. In production, probably not. As good as his season was, it is closely akin to this past year’s production of LaMarcus Aldridge: certainly worthy of All-Star and All-NBA 3rd Team honors, but not in the realm of the prodigious output of genuine superstars in the LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry mold.

Case #3: 2010-2011 — Nowitzki Blurs the Lines

Dirk Nowitzki is a superstar. An MVP-winner and four-time All-NBA First Team selection, he posted a plus-24 PER six times5. Yet his championship season was not one of those, and thus becomes an interesting study in the difficulty of defining superstardom.

What we know about that season:

Nowitzki averaged a very strong but not remarkable 23.4 PER and .213 WS/48.

He earned All-NBA 2nd team honors but would never make 1st or 2nd team status again6.

He averaged 23 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes per game.

Is that superstar-level production? If so, then 2005-06 Shawn Marion (23.6 PER, .214 WS/48, 21.8 pts, 11.8 rbs and vastly superior defense) probably counts as well.

A Little Context on Clear Superstardom

Add your choice of the 2004 Pistons to this list, and that makes four championship squad leaders that may not have checked the superstar box the year they won a ring. What are the average season metrics by the alpha male on the other eight teams to win titles in this span?

A PER of 28 and .265 WS/48, both astronomically high numbers indicative of the clearly elite in the NBA7.

That’s a superstar.

Implications for the Jazz

In the past 12 seasons, these players have led their teams to NBA titles: a 37-year old Tim Duncan; Pau Gasol in his prime; a very good Dirk Nowitzki not at his best; and your pick of Chauncey Billups or either of the Pistons’ Wallace boys. Them’s the facts.

How do the Jazz stand currently in their chance to replicate such a superstar-less formula?

These champions were mostly, but not always, All-Stars in their title-winning seasons. They were sometimes back-end All-NBA teamers. Their nearest comparable seasons were produced by players like Carlos Boozer, LaMarcus Aldridge, Shawn Marion, and Andrei Kirilenko. Their average production: around a 21.5 PER and .192 WS/48 at an average age of 31.

Derrick Favors is 24. In the last two seasons, he’s produced a 21.7 PER and .174 WS/48.

Gordon Hayward is 26. In the last two seasons, he’s produced a 19.2 PER and .153 WS/48.

Rudy Gobert is 23. In the last two seasons, he’s produced a 19.6 PER and .184 WS/48.

What are the chances any of the three become an All-Star in the next five years? Maybe makes an All-NBA 2nd or 3rd team? I suspect Vegas would offer pretty good odds. History has shown that has been good enough to win a title.

It requires other elements, certainly, elements I would argue are less likely than an emerging title-worthy alpha dog.

Such as an award-winning coach. Every one of these non-superstar players benefited from playing for a coach who has won at least one Coach of the Year award. What is more likely: Rudy Gobert makes an All-NBA team or Quin Snyder wins Coach of the Year?

Or an award-winning general manager. Three of the four non-superstar players were surrounded by talent procured by a recipient of General Manager of the Year. What’s more likely: Derrick Favors as an All-Star or Dennis Lindsey taking home his profession’s version of the MVP?

A team can win a title without a superstar. It isn’t easy. Nothing about winning a title is easy, nor should it be.

Finding a true superstar isn’t easy, and even when you have one, there are no guarantees. Just ask Oklahoma City and Cleveland, neither of which, believe it or not, have yet leveraged a combined 17 seasons with LeBron James or Kevin Durant into a ring for their city. Keep that in mind if you’re tempted to scrap the Jazz’s “potentially plateaued” rebuild to chase Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons in the draft.

Developing Favors, Hayward, and Gobert into a dominant trio of stars won’t be easy — but that’s what the Lakers did with Bryant, Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, all of which posted PERs above 20 their final title-winning season. Is it likely for Utah’s big three? Maybe not. Is it impossible? Certainly not.

It won’t be easy for Quin Snyder to win Coach of the Year, or Dennis Lindsey to earn the equivalent award for general managers, but I can absolutely see either happening.

It won’t be easy for the Jazz to take last seasons’ three players with better than league average PERs8 and turn them into seven, such as the 2013-14 Spurs roster boasted. But neither is it impossible.

“You need a superstar to win a title” is a logical fallacy of the grossest sort. It is both an oversimplification and an open denial of fact.

Winning a championship does require very good players to lead a team, and lots of good players to support them, all put together by elite decisions of a general manager and orchestrated by superior coaching. Just as importantly, it requires maturity and experience in those players who must find a way to beat playoff teams led by the Jameses, Durants, and Currys of the world.

Right now, the Jazz have none of those things. But with their current core and present trajectory, they reasonably could in the next handful of years. Which means their path to title contention, though unlikely, as all such paths are, is real.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

45 Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    So I can get back on the hope train? Yes!

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I am. Never left it, actually. To my mind, there’s a lot of evidence the Jazz have a very good general manager, a very good coach, and a very good core of young players. If they maximize what they have, well, it has been enough to win titles in the past. I think this Jazz team has a chance to be really good.

      • Jeremy says:

        I guess I shouldn’t have said I was off the train, but I’ve gone through instances of “we’re destined to fail” with what I perceived as only teams with superstars won championships. On a funnier note, maybe you made the point that media darlings win championships, and it’s the marketing department that needs to up their game.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          Actually, I think marketing and perception may play a role in competitive success. Performance benefits from confidence, and social recognition is a proven way to boost confidence. Frankly, if I were Dennis Lindsey or Quin Snyder, I think I’d publicaly insist Hayward, Favors, and Gobert are already All-Star caliber players, as well as that Hood is on his way to that status. It would establish healthy expectations and encourage confidence in the players, and may eventually influence how games are called, assigned to national TV, etc.

  2. Diggin' It says:

    My point exactly. I’ve been trying to tell the people commenting at Salt Lake Tribune Jazz articles, that you don’t need a superstar to win a title. Some kept insisting that Tim Duncan was and is a superstar in the 2010’s, but this article helped me reiterate my point. Thank you Clint.

    About the Jazz trading for the Lakers #2 pick: I would do it if you are getting a bona fide superstar prospect in return. I’m not a professional scout for talent, but to me the only bona fide superstar in this draft is Ben Simmons, and he will be gone by the 2nd pick.

    However, you do need a talent deep roster and a closer if you don’t have a superstar. I think Rodney Hood can develop into that closer. You never know if you already have a future superstar on the roster. Nobody thought Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, or Damian Lillard would ever be superstars, but they had a late blooming breakout. Who knows if that won’t happen to Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, or Trey Lyles?

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I think the Jazz are more likely to win a title with the many quality players they now have (which maintains the possibility of a trade) than by giving up what it would likely take to get Brandon Ingram. As for Hood, I’m really high on him but based on last season, the Jazz aren’t in need of an offense closer so much as defensive focus and consistency in tightly contested games. That’s where they underperformed last season, by failing to win a reasonable share of tightly contested games due to their defense turning stunning poor. As for your point about surprising players turning into superstars, I think it’s far too often overlooked. Curry is a classic case in point.

      • Diggin' It says:

        Good point. Casual fans look back on the Jazz’s 2015-16 season, and say “oh, they need a closer”. If they play well earlier, then they won’t have to play catch up in the 4th quarter. Consequently, not very many games would be close, and you wouldn’t need a closer that often.

        But when the game IS on the line, it’s good to have experience and a closer. You need fierce players who don’t back down in the spotlight, and stick the dagger in the opponents heart. That’s why Michael Jordan won 6 titles with the bulls. You need to play clutch to win titles, because playoff games are tight.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          I think having a confident player who can create his own offense is the key. It has to be someone who has an advantage over essentially any defender. Of current Jazz players, I actually think Exum has the best profile: too tall for fast guards, too fast for longer guards, able (in theory) to finish at the rim as well as a good passer if there’s defensive help. If he can learn to hit a pull up jumper consistently, he has a chance to be a good option late.

  3. Stan says:

    It seems Jazz fans like the idea ‘you don’t need a superstar to win a title’ but it is completely wrong and wishful thinking. We won’t see a NBA team win the title without having a superstar or two — it’s not going to happen. The Jazz have a ‘mediocre good team’ perspective and any team that states the are shifting out of ‘rebuilding mode’ when they just missed the 50% win/loss mark do not seem to be truly serious of ever winning a title. The Jazz need to be in rebuild mode continually if they are ever to have a hope, and yes the Jazz NEED a superstar.

  4. Jason says:

    A few points

    First, to say that the ’10-11 Mavs and the ’09-10 Lakers didn’t win via a “superstar” isn’t quite true in my mind. While it seems that Dirk and Kobe had below average regular seasons (for them), you need to take into account their playoff performance. In both cases Kobe and Dirk put up “superstar” numbers en route to their respective titles.

    That does still leave two cases of superstar-less championship teams…that anyone can remember in the past 20-30 years. Perhaps longer. To say that you don’t need a superstar to win a title is like saying you don’t need a top ten slot in the lottery to get the first pick. It’s technically true, but the odds aren’t exactly great.

    When it comes to winning a title I feel the most important thing for a team is to be elite at at least one thing. Something that is essentially unstoppable. Having a superstar is the easiest way to get that. Otherwise you have to build, piece by piece, a team of semi-stars. Something that has apparently only happened twice in recent history.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      You make a fair point about Dirk and Kobe in the playoffs. However, due to the small sample size of even a title run in the playoffs, I think it’s unwise to assume that only traditional superstars can have such runs in the playoffs.

      As for going further back in NBA history, I would argue that the competitive landscape of the NBA is very different now from even the eighties or nineties, and only more so the further back one goes. With modern free agency, the level of inexperience in top draft prospects, and current economic forces, I suggest that championship teams are constructed differently now than in the past. Going too far back for principles and patterns would actually hamper one’s ability to discern what works now.

      • Jason says:

        Well I certainly won’t say that a non-superstar can’t have a great playoff run; but it is extremely unlikely. In a discussion like this history is the first resource and even if we take as a sample size 2000-present, there isn’t a clear cut example of a non-superstar turning it on for The playoffs. There are some players with very solid play for 1-2 rounds. But not one where they go 25/5/5 for 20-25 games of intense playoff basketball. You can’t expect a player who doesn’t have elite talent to suddenly turn it on; even though it is technically possible for it to happen.

        Basically it comes back to the two examples of the Spurs and Pistons. Great team ball without superstar production. Not the most likely way to win it all, but it’s the only hope the Jazz have right now.

  5. Don says:

    I think that the most significant metric of a superstar can’t be measured by stats: how many shoes does he sell?

    If he is a popular, marketable name, 1- He brings TV exposure, which in turn attracts quality free agents at discount prices. No superstar, no TV. How many times were the Lakers on national TV, despite their superstar being one of the worst (statistically) shooting guards in the league last year?

    Superstars #2 bring preferential treatment from the refs. Like David Stern said “this is a star-driven business”. Fortunately for the Jazz the replay center in NJ has lessened the “Jordan rules”, but still, one or two preferential calls can turn a loss into a win.

    So while I agree with your premise that you can win without a true superstar, a media superstar will make it a whole lot easier.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      No argument. But getting that superstar is the problem. I argue that given the Jazz’s current position, it is less probable that they can get a no-question superstar than that they could win a title by a more comprehensive method above.

  6. cw says:

    I looked back 25 years. The finals winner each year had a player that was first team all NBA, the majority of the time the year they won the finals, and the rest of the time within two years before or after they won. The only exception was the Billups/Wallaces pistons. Ben Wallace was 2nd team all NBA within that time period and a multi-year defensive player of the year.

    In 2013, the year before the superstarless Spurs won, Tim Duncan was first team all NBA. Tony Parker was 2nd team.

    Grading players by all-around stats is misleading in this argument (PER by the way is a pretty outdated stat as is WINS/48). The statistical performance over the season doesn’t matter, what matters is that in the matchups through out the playoffs one or two players are better that the others so that they can warp the game. Superstars also get better foul treatment and over seven games that is important.

    Another way to think about it is, this Hayward, Favors, and Gobert had pretty near the same PER DUncan, Genobli, Parker, and Bryant had in the championship seasons mentioned above and they didn’t even make the playoffs. So it’s not just a matter of PER or whatever.

    Looking at the historical record it is overwhelmingly obvious that to contend you need one of the 8 or so best players in the leauge and then one or two other top 20 players, and then a good cast of role players.

    Finally, the Jazz will have to go way into the luxury tax two years from now to be able to keep Hayward, Favors, and Gobert. That will also mean way less money for all the other good but not great players required in your scenario to contend. It’s not financially feasible when you have a team made up of your own draft picks.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Interesting points. I would say that arguing player A was elite in year X has a bearing on season Y doesn’t jive to me. If any regular season performance applies to a title-winning playoff run (which you seem to question), it makes the most sense to use either the season in question or a multiple season average, maybe the two seasons both before and after the year a player wins the title. I think either approach would show something similar to my case above.

      As for using PER and WS/48, both PER and WS are widely used and accepted though admittedly imperfect metrics, as are all comprehensive single stats. I didn’t use real plus minus or any of its variants because this was an attempt to focus on the quality of individual players and real plus-minus too heavily emphasizes context and role (thus this last season ranking Draymond Green 3rd in the league, Nikola Jokic 9th, and Cole Aldrich 19th). I think for this purpose, these stats are well-regarded enough to consider that they may be showing something real.

      As for your theory of one top eight player and two more top twenty players winning a title, I don’t think the Pistons, Spurs, or Mavericks teams above fit that formula either in the regular season or playoffs. One could argue that Lakers team did in the playoffs. That would still mean 25% of the recent champions didn’t fit your formula.

      As for finances, because salaries are based on percentages of the cap, the team will be able to afford those three players, no question. The question then becomes how to fill in around those players, if they indeed choose to invest huge contracts in those three. That certainly would be a challenge, though max contracts are actually cheaper for players without two All-NBA or All-Star starting elections to their name.

      In sum, every team wishes to have a genuine superstar to build around. It makes sense competitively, financially, and in terms of social status and marketing. But the question is the infinitesimally small chance of getting one. I think the above is a legitimate case that the Jazz’s odds of winning a title, while still very long, are better if they capitalize on what they have now rather than do what it would take to merely get a shot at targeting a superstar in the draft.

      • cw says:

        Thanks for your reply.

        I think that fact that all champions for the past 25 years had a first team all-NBA player (except for the 2004 pistons)on them is pretty telling. If every team that wins the finals has a superstar, I don’t see how you can say you don’t need a superstar to have a chance at winning the finals. I guess you could argue that all-NBA is not a good way to identify superstars but looking at the list for the past 25 years, I think it would be a pretty hard argument to make.

        I don’t think it matters that a player doesn’t always get 1st team all NBA in the same year they won the title, though the majority of the time that is what happened. I think a two year window, plus or minus the championship year makes sense. Players get first team all-NBA in their peak years. NBA players are at their peak for four or five years at least. Take Dirk Nowitzki for instance. He was 1st team in 2009, 2nd team in 2010, and 2nd team in 2011, the year they won the championship. That means he was a top ten player or better in 2011.HE was still within his pea years.

        And again, the only team that didn’t fit the formual is the 2004 pistons (Ben Wallace was second team). The lakers, the Mavs, and the Spurs definitely fit.

        About the salary cap and Hayward, Gobert, and Favors. Hayward and Gobert are locks to get the max. Favors whose contract is up a year later is going to get at least near max if he continues his current trajectory. Signing the three of them will eat up 75-85% of the cap. The year Favors is up, Exum and Hood are also up. the only way to keep those five together is to go way into the tax. Unless the Jazz do something like getting to the conference finals sometime in the next two years, I don’t thik the Miller’s will do that. I think it is very unlikely that the jazz will get to the conference finals in the next two years.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          There is certainly some merit to what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s as clear cut as you suggest. For example, All-NBA teams are heavily influenced by winning. Thus, a player on a good team will get a nod over a player on a poor team even if that player has better production that season. For example, this last year DeAndre Jordan made All-NBA 1st team while DeMarcus Cousins made 2nd and Anthony Davis didn’t make a team at all. Yet, Davis is, I think without question, the best of those players. There is no way Jordan was a better individual performer this season than Cousins or Davis.

          Similarly, Tony Parker has reached top 6 in MVP voting, but I don’t think anyone would claim he has ever been a top six player in the league.

          The point is All-League honors are given for both team success and individual talent. If we really want to talk about superstar production, we have to try to isolate the player from the social reputation and team context. So there’s a very real possibility that being a good team results in such honors rather than having players with such honors creating a good team. I think you may be mistaking correlation for causation.

          As for your argument about the Spurs and Mavs, lets use your strategy of taking the year before and after their title-winning seasons as well as the season itself:

          Nowitzki from 2010-12 seasons: Two All-NBA 2nd teams and a 3rd third.
          Kidd from 2010-12: 1 No All-NBA.
          Chandler from 2010-12: One All-NBA 3rd.

          Duncan from 2013-15 seasons: Two All-NBA teams, 1st and 3rd.
          Leonard from 2013-15: One All-NBA 1st.
          Parker from 2013-15: 2 All-NBA 2nd.

          I guarantee neither of those teams have a top 8 player and two top 20 players as defined by All-NBA honors over those time spans. Use any individual player metric you wish, those teams will not have top 8 players and two top 20 players. They simply don’t fit your formula.

          For example, Nowitzki is easily the best of those players yet look at his All-NBA selections if that’s what you want to use. His two appearances in that span don’t match Howard, Durant, James, Bryant, Wade, Westbrook, Paul, Griffin, or Parker and they match Carmelo Anthony. At best, Nowitzki was about the 10th best player, and he far outstrips how any Spur would rank. Kidd and Ginobili were past their primes; Leonard hadn’t reached it; Chandler was never a top 20 player in his whole career. Your formula simple overestimates where these individual players would rank in a three year window of their championships.

          As for the financial aspect, you’re right that the team cannot keep all of it’s top young players. But they can keep three, no question, which was what you originally mentioned. The question will be which they commit to and how they build around them.

          • cw says:

            The correlation between winning a finals and all-NBA is overwhelmingly strong as Brent shows below. He went back to 1986 but it goes way back further than that. ALL-NBA is not a perfect measure but the correlation with titles proves that it a more than good enough measure. It is pretty easy to identify the 10-15 best players in the NBA.

            You have been able to find four, semi=-outliers.The only one that is a true outlier is the 2004 Pistons, and then just barely.

            The other two examples you used above, the Spurs in 2014 and the Mavs in 2011, are comeing close to being exceptions to the rule, but don’t quite make it, even using statistical analysis instead of ALL-NBA.

            IN 2014 Duncan was 17thin PER, 5th Box +/-, 9th in Defensive Win Shares. LEonard was 17 on VORP, 8th in box +/-, and 11th in Win Shares/48

            In 2011, Nowitzki was 10th in PER, !0th in win shares, 7thin Win Shares/48. Chandler was 5th in Win Shares/48.

            Both teams had players who had seasons that statistically put them somewhere somewhere in the top 8-15 players. And Duncan and Nowitzki both won first team All-NBA within two years previous of winning the final.

            You also mention DeAndre Jordan as an example why all-NBA is not an accurate measure, and suggest that DeMArcus COusins and Anthony Davis were better. If think that if you look at a variety of comprehensive stats you will see that they all had similar seasons. IN VORP, Jordan was 12, Cousins 15, Davis 16. In Box +/- Jordan was 16, cousins was 10, davis 13.

            I don’t know why A Davis didn’t make it but putting Jordan over Cousins is perfectly reasonable.

            Unless you can come up with a better way to explain the super-strong correlation between all-NBA and championships, I think the idea that you don’t need a superstar is wishful thinking, something very understandable in a fan of the Jazz, with their team of good but not great players.

          • Clint Johnson says:

            This comment is for cw above:

            I think one area we’re talking past each other is with what qualifies as a superstar. You say the Spurs and Mavs title teams “had players who had seasons that statistically put them somewhere somewhere in the top 8-15 players.” I think that’s a very reasonable statement. But I don’t think the 8th-15th best players in the NBA are superstars.

            In the piece I include some context on superstar definition. The champions other than those four I highlight were led by players a clear tier (or two) above anything the teams we’re discussing had. Any metric shows LeBron James, or Stephen Curry, or Kevin Durant, or Russell Westbrook, or prime Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade or Tim Duncan, or any of their ilk as being clearly separated from the players we’re discussing. For me, that top tier is the realm of superstars.

            If you’re saying a top 15 player is a superstar, then I like the Jazz’s odds of having that player already between Hayward, Favors, Gobert, and Exum. I don’t think any will ever be top 7 players, but top 15? Sure, that seems entirely reasonable given where they are already.

            Take this season. Who would you consider top 15 players?

            Curry, James, Durant, Westbrook, Paul, Leonard, Davis are probably locks. That’s seven. The next eight are much harder.

            Let’s put in Harden, Cousins, George, and Lillard because they’re as good as any other candidate. Now we’re at 11.

            Four more. Now we’re deciding between Griffin, Lowry, Butler, Millsap, Drummond, Love type players. Is it really implausible a player currently on the Jazz roster can’t reach that tier of player? Frankly, I think you could argue Hayward and Favors already are in that tier as all-around players.

            So if I were to re-frame my argument in these terms, I would say it’s possible to win a title without one of the top ten players in the league – and I see no reason why the Jazz can’t be realistically hopeful of having a future top 15-20 player already on their roster.

  7. Pete says:

    I have a feeling we will be raving about Exum as the next Jazz ‘star’ come the All-Star break

    • Clint Johnson says:

      That’s a high expectation for a player that young with so little experience coming off a major injury. If he plays at all well, I suspect people will exaggerate it to the point you say. I just don’t think that would be healthy for Exum.

      • Pete says:

        True, however I do think we will see a much better Dante next season, which will have the fans/media ready to call him the next star.

        He has the natural talent/upside to be a star (in a few years though)

        • Clint Johnson says:

          I think that may happen. I suspect if it does, however, it will be more hype than substance. He’s got a long way to go before anyone really knows what Dante Exum will become.

  8. Brent says:

    Year NBA champion NBA 1st Team NBA 2nd Team
    1986 Celtics Bird,
    1987 Lakers Magic
    1988 Lakers Magic
    1989 Pistons
    1990 Pistons *Dumars 3rd Team
    1991 Bulls Jordan
    1992 Bulls Jordan
    1993 Bulls Jordan
    1994 Rockets Hakeem
    1995 Rockets *Hakeem and Drexler both 3rd team
    1996 Bulls Jordan, Pippen
    1997 Bulls Jordan Pippen
    1998 Bulls Jordan *Pippen 3rd team
    1999 Spurs Duncan
    2000 Lakers Shaq Kobe
    2001 Lakers Shaq Kobe
    2002 Lakers Shaq, Kobe
    2003 Spurs Duncan
    2004 Pistons Wallace
    2005 Spurs Duncan
    2006 Heat Shaq Wade
    2007 Spurs Duncan
    2008 Celtics Garnett *Pierce 3rd Team
    2009 Lakers Kobe *Gasol 3rd Team
    2010 Lakers Kobe *Gasol 3rd Team
    2011 Mavs Nowitzki
    2012 Heat LeBron *Wade 3rd Team
    2013 Heat LeBron *Wade 3rd Team
    2014 Spurs Parker
    2015 Warriors Curry *Thompson 3rd Team
    2016 Warriors Curry Green *Thompson 3rd Team

    So in the last 30 years a title has been won 5 times without an all NBA 1st team player (17% of the time). Only once has a team won a title without an All NBA 1st, 2nd or 3rd team player (1989 Pistons) or 3% of the time. Presumably to make an all NBA 1st, 2nd or 3rd team you are at least a top 20 player in the league since there are only 15 spots on the all NBA team.

    One of the problems with All NBA team is you are picked by sportswriters and broadcasters. However, one must also admit that PER and WS are not perfect measurements either. At least PER and WS are not biased by market size or jersey sales. Still, to win a title it does seem that you need a top 15 player or two (In Golden State’s Case this year 3 players are all NBA) to win a title. Currently the Jazz don’t even have a single all star and there are 24 spots (sometimes more due to injury replacement). Favors and Hayward are entering their 7th year and neither has been seriously close to being selected to an All Star team or an all NBA team.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I disagree with your reasoning that the All-NBA teams represent the 15 best players. I think they represent 15 excellent players typically rewarded for coming from winning teams.

      For example, neither James Harden nor Anthony Davis made any All-NBA team this year, yet if you asked sportswriters, broadcasters, or players, those two would be in the top ten players in the league. And DeAndre Jordan, no way a top 15 player, made first team.

      I don’t think Tony Parker has ever been a superstar; never a top ten player in the league. Yet he’s been in the top 10 of MVP voting four times. Honors are given to good players on good teams. The Jazz have good players but haven’t yet become a good team. When the winning comes, the accolades will come.

      How we determine player quality, be it PER or accolades or whatever, is certain to be flawed. That’s why I argue a superstar isn’t necessary to win a title. At its simplest, you know “superstar” when you see it. Superstars generate massively high numbers whatever metric you use.

      Once you get outside the top 4-7 or so players who are clearly the league’s best, you get into a tier that may well have 20 players (or more, who knows) of roughly equal excellence that is highly contextual. What really is the difference between an Aldridge, a Millsap, a Drummond, and a Favors? Put any on last year’s Spurs, they win a lot. Put any on last year’s Jazz, they struggle to make the playoffs.

      I think the Jazz have better top-end talent than most fans realize, and that the lack of social recognition is primarily a product of the team’s inability to win at a high enough level.

      • Brent says:

        All NBA teams are definitely influenced by winning as are all star births. You are correct in that regard. However, I think it is safe to say that if you make an all NBA team you are one of the league’s top 20 players, even though there are only 15 all NBA spots. Which was my original argument above “Presumably to make an all NBA 1st, 2nd or 3rd team you are at least a top 20 player in the league since there are only 15 spots on the all NBA team.”
        In other words, if you are a top NBA player and your team doesn’t win, then are you really a top NBA player?

  9. Brent says:

    As for PER rank, only Derrick Favors ranks in the top 20 at number 20. He ranks behind other non all stars such as Whitside 7th, Kanter 10th, Valanciunas 12, Monroe 17th, Lopez 18th and Gasol 19th. Per basketball-reference.com
    As for WS/48 rank, no Jazz player breaks the top 20. Per basketball-reference.com
    I also don’t believe you will see another 1989 Pistons team win it all without a top player because the NBA rules were different back then. The Pistons won by playing tough defense. You were allowed to hand-check, give a hard foul, play more physical. The NBA doesn’t allow that anymore. Furthermore, today’s NBA is played with more of an emphasis on the 3 point shot. Ben Walace would not be able to defend out on the perimeter.
    In my opinion, the Jazz will need one of their players to blossom and develop elite defense to contend. The most likely candidate is Exum. Favors and Hayward are near their peaks. Gobert also has a chance to grow. Lyles possibly too.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Control for starters who played at least 1000 minutes and this is what you get:

      Favors: 18th PER, 18th WS/48, 36th VORP
      Hayward: 46th PER, 42nd WS/48, 20th VORP
      Gobert: 54th PER, 31st WS/48, 26th VORP

      But what really puts those numbers into context is how many other players not in the playoffs match them. Very few, and they tend to be the Karl-Anthony Towns (11th, 22nd, 22nd) and DeMarcus Cousins (9th, 58th, 30th) variety. A holistic look at the available evidence suggests the Jazz have very good players at the top, especially considering their age. Not Towns good, but the tier beneath that. Hence the importance as to whether it is possible to win a title without that absolute tier 1 NBA talent. I think it is.

  10. Brent says:

    Control for starters who played at least 1000 minutes still doesn’t provide evidence that the Jazz have the talent to win it all. If you use the average league rank of PER, WS/48 and VORP and exclude players who weren’t starters for at least 1000 minuets, then Favors’ rank is 24th, Hayward 36th, and Gobert 37th.
    I’m also not really interested in comparing our players against players who are not in the playoffs because, more than half the league makes the playoffs. Furthermore, if you are a top player and your team doesn’t make the playoffs, are you really a top player?

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I think some of the time that is certainly true. Just this season all these players missed the playoffs: Jimmy Butler, John Wall, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carmelo Anthony, Brook Lopez, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Karl-Anthony Towns. There is no way if the league were redrafted from scratch right now a number of those players wouldn’t go in the top twenty.

      I would agree that the All-NBA teams are made up of maybe the top 30 players in the league season after season – but then, I simply can’t believe there are 29 players in the league better than all of Hayward, Favors, and Gobert right now.

      I think there are very few players who can lift largely any roster into the playoffs; maybe only one guy named James.

      I suspect the Jazz have three of the top 25-45 players in the league. If they keep all three over the next three or four seasons, winning more will bump them up a few spots, maybe five, in terms of recognition. Given their ages, does that make it implausible that at least one breaks into that legitimate top 15 area? I don’t think so.

  11. cw says:

    Clint,

    I don’t think we are talking past each other about what is a superstar. I think there are around 8-10 superstars in the league at any given time. Sometimes more than that, sometimes less.

    Nowitzki and Duncan were superstars in 2011 and 2012.

    In 2010, the year before Nowitzki won the championship, he was second team all-NBA and was 8th in PER and 5th in Win Shares. Do you think there was a big drop off in ability between 2010 and 2011?

    IN 2013, the year before he won a championship, Duncan was 1st team all NBA and 6th in PER (Parker was 9th) and 2nd in Defensive Box +/-. Do you think he was a much lesser player in 2014?

    Statistic fluctuate over time for various reasons. Better supporting cast, injuries, whatever…

    But those are just two season. Like I said before the correlation between all-NBA and championships is super strong. Even if we say that the 2011 Mavs, the 2014 Spurs, and the 2004 pistons won without superstars, the correlation is still super strong.

    The simplest and most obvious explanation is that you need a superstar to win a championship. If you are going to argue that this is not so, then I think you have to come up with a plausible alternative reason for the strong correlation. Why is there always at least one player who was first team all-NBA on every single championship team but one?

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Because first team status is given for playoff success. It’s akin to asking why conference finals appearances correlate with championships: you’re drawing from an already limited pool.

      The All-NBA teams are named late into the playoffs and are heavily influenced by which teams have already proven themselves contenders. James Harden has had top 6-7 numbers however you consider him the past two seasons. Why did he make All-NBA first team two years ago but no team this season? Because he reached the conference finals that year. The first team was a reward not only for his play but also for his team’s success. It’s very easy to create strong correlation to titles when you split five spots on the first team almost exclusively among the stars of the 4-6 most competitive teams, leaving out the 2016 Harden and Davis and Cousins and such who are as worthy or more worthy than some first team honorees.

      So I do not agree with your assertion that first team All-NBA status within the past few seasons equates to being a superstar, or that the lack of such means the absence of a superstar. They often go together, but not always. Sometimes first team status just means being a star, or very good player, on a very good team. So when you accept the one being a straight definition of the other, it leads to additional overextension of the principle.

      For example, you claim that because Duncan was All-NBA first team in 2013 he must then have been a superstar in 2014 when he won a title. I dispute that he was a superstar even in 2012-13. To avoid the weaknesses of any one metric, consider a simple player ranking averaging out players’ league ranking in PER, WS, WS/48, BPM, and VORP. Using that aggregate average, that season Duncan was the 12th most productive player (which you yourself suggest is likely not in superstar range), right between Deron Williams in Brooklyn and Mike Conley. He was excellent that year, but not a superstar by any measure of production I think most would accept as legitimate. And he hasn’t bettered that season’s production from the 2010-11 season to now. I think it’s been a number of years since Duncan was really a superstar. I would say his most recent season obviously of that quality was 2006-2007. Likewise, I would argue Nowitzki’s last superstar season was 2007-2008, a respectable distance from his title season.

      Also, I don’t accept that a legitimate superstar one season must be one the next season. Again, this is often the case but not always. It’s very reasonable to say that a superstar may decrease in production in a following season for any number of reasons, including age, roster changes, health, etc.

      You said these cases I’ve mentioned come “close to being exceptions to the rule, but don’t quite make it.” What exactly is making it in your book?

      Also, may I suggest that the moment we start to debate which superstars are on the cut line from simply being very good players, that in itself may be an argument that they aren’t legitimate superstars. I would argue that a superstar is something just about anyone can agree upon using a whole host of metrics. As I said in the piece, what I consider genuine superstar title winners since the Piston’s title have produced an average PER of 28 and .265 WS/48 their championship seasons. That’s a clear magnitude of difference from the cases I’ve highlighted. I venture that any empirical metric you consider will show the same gap. I think that’s a strong case for my population of four players being distinct.

      • cw says:

        All-NBA ballots are sent in at the end of the regular season.

      • cw says:

        And let me rephrase things for you. Every championship team but one has, for the last 36 years, had a player who was at some point first team all-NBA.

        Do you think the jazz have a player who will be 1st team all-NBA at some point?

        Here are the RPM scores for the current 1st team:

        Lebron – 9.12
        Curry – 8.48
        Jordan – 4.51
        Leonard – 8.02
        Westbrook – 7.85

        Here are the Jazz big three:

        Hayward – 2.81
        Gobert – 2.38
        Favors – 1.53

        • Clint Johnson says:

          Remembering that we’re talking about a minority of cases here rather than the majority, sure. Why not?

          You use RPM. Well, in the past three seasons players have made the first team with RPMs of 4.51 (Jordan), 3.61 (M. Gasol), and 4.57 (Noah).

          Throwing out Gasol’s 3.61 and using 4.5 as a threshold for first team consideration, all these players met that metric at some point the past three seasons: Amir Johnson, Mike Conley, Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Manu Ginobili, Nick Collison, Andre Iguodala, Zach Randolph, Tyson Chandler, Zaza Pachulia, Tony Allen, Paul Millsap, Danny Green, Kyle Korver, Khris Middleton, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Lowry, and Nokila Jokic.

          Gordon Hayward was at 4.49 the 2014-15 season.

          I know it’s just one metric and thus has quirks, but any single metric has flaws in such discussions. My point is that any metric we use will likely show the same basic picture: most first team players (and best players on championship teams) are genuine superstars, but some aren’t.

          Hayward, Favors, and Gobert have posted numbers sufficiently impressive over the past two or more seasons that there is every reason to believe that at least one of them may well reach the statistical value of a top 15 player in this league. If they were to do that in a season where the team wins a lot of games and looks like a contender, certainly they could earn first team honors.

          Do I think any of these Jazz players will ever be a top 3-4 MVP candidate? No. Do I think they could be a 6-10 MVP candidate. Sure. If LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Klay Thompson, Al Jefferson, and Joakim Noahh can all be top ten MVP candidates in just the past three seasons, why not one of those Jazz players?

          I just think winning changes everything. This Jazz team hasn’t won due to a lot of factors, most significantly age and injury. But I think it’s very plausible to claim that they will win significantly more than they have in the recent past. That will make the Jazz’s best players look very different from any angle.

          Hence the premise of the whole piece: if the Jazz have a realistic shot of having a future top 15 player already on the roster, but not a top 7-8 player, does title contention require that they do whatever it takes for a chance at that top 7-8 player? The 76ers and many fans believe so. Whether we use All-NBA or advanced stats or MVP voting or whatever, I see the same basic situation: winning requires a top 15 or so talent in a great context for success. Does it require that elite 7-8 guy? Again, speaking for a minority of cases, I really don’t believe so.

          • cw says:

            I think there is a reasonable chance that one of the current Jazz might be a top 15 player at some point. Obviously, I don’t think a top 15 player is anywhere close enough to win a championship, no matter the context.

            About comparing Jordan with Noah and Gasol. Notice that they are all centers. The center position is kind of at a low point in the NBA. Gobert, if he can improve his offense has a chance to make first team All-NBA as a center.

            Hayward plays small forward and Favors big forward. There are a lot of high level players at those positions. It’s very unlikely that they will make 1st team all-NBA.

            I understand the reasoning of your position, and obviously anything is possible. But statistics, past history, the lack of parity in the league all overwhelmingly show that elite players are central to winning. That strongly suggests to me that the possibility of winning a championship without an elite player is so small as to be irrelevant, and relying on this tiny possibility as a basis for the Jazz staying the course with it’s current (soon to be massively expensive) big three is a big mistake. I think the jazz know this and we will see some trades in the next couple of years. Of course the owners may have other goals than pure contention. They might be satisfied with a playoff team with a tiny chance.

  12. Clint Johnson says:

    In answer to CW:

    Every team has a tiny chance if you look at things objectively. Of course the Jazz would trade any current player, probably any two plus lots of other assets, for the type of elite player you’re talking about. They are in good position to do so should the opportunity arise. But would you really say that option has better than a “tiny chance”?

    If you find the option I’ve outlined unacceptable, that seems to me to leave only one option other than the extremely unlikely “trade good for great”: trade substantial current assets for a draft pick. But what evidence do you have that such an option has a higher probability of working? When has a draft pick that looked like a good shot at a truly elite player ever been traded? Maybe the swap of Chris Webber for Penny Hardaway? But Webber never won a title or even reached the finals. That’s a greater outlier than the starless Pistons team (and the other “close” exceptions I’ve mentioned).

    So you’re left with the option of taking a shot at a “might” prospect (which, by the way, once described Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter and still describes Exum). What are the odds on that action? If you sold the franchise for the number one overall pick, how has that worked out in the modern era of free agency? You have one franchise that turned a first overall pick into a title: the Spurs with Duncan. Even that predates the Piston’s championship team.

    Curry was a 7th pick. Leonard was a 15th pick. Westbrook was a 4th pick. Practically every team in the league would have swapped Durant at #2 for Oden at #1. The Cavaliers have had four first overall picks, including the player of the generation, and have won no titles.

    Where is the evidence that trading for a draft pick is more likely to produce a title than what I’ve proposed? Where is the evidence that trading for an established superstar is more likely?

    I don’t contest that what I’ve suggested is a tiny chance. But I think ANY strategy given the Jazz’s position is tiny, and that other options actually have less evidence to believe they could realistically result in a title.

    I’ve given you one indisputable case as evidence (Pistons), as well as one I think is lock solid (Spurs) and two debatable cases (Mavs and Lakers). Can you match that in the last twelve years with either the trade for an elite player or trade for a pick scenarios?

    • cw says:

      The Spurs traded Hill for Leonard. LA traded Divic for Kobe. Boston traded for Garnett and Allen, then made a big trade with NJ and got this years 3rd. Warriors traded Ellis for Bogut. The 2004 pistons were built through trades and FA signings. The only draft pick that played I think was Prince. The clippers traded for Paul, Houston traded for Harding… No team wins a championship by drafting eight players and then keeping them. No team ever does that win or lose, because if your players don’t pan out, you suck, and if they do, it’s impossibly expensive.

      The Jazz are going to have to trade (or lose in FA) at least two of their current best five players: Hayward, Gobert, Favors, Exum, Hood. Unless they show that they are for sure a contender in the next two years, there is no way the Millers will pay them all because they will have to pay a massive amount of tax. Do you think the Jazz will be contenders with this team two years from now? Would you be willing to gamble 35-40 million dollars a year that they will three or four or five years from now?

      So, if being a contender is the goal, the task of the GM is to maximize the chances by utilizing what assets they have. At this point, that means trades. This is just the stage they are at. It’s the only thing that can happen when you keep eight of your own draft picks and they all turn out to be good. They either package a bunch of players for a superstar, or a high draft pick, or they trade one of the big three for a bunch of prospects. Or they just let someone go in FA.

      They have time. Lindsey says they aren’t skipping steps. This is one of the steps: cashing in assets. So if they have to take a step backwards by trading some players for for a better shot at a superstar, they can do it. Would any of the top three teams deal their pick? Would the jazz want Okafor? Who knows. If they can’t improve their chances they can stand pat a year and see what develops. Then they can (try) to resign Hayward and trade someone else or trade him later. The point is to be flexible and keep playing the odds, which overwhelmingly say you need a superstar to win a championship. This is the game the Jazz started playing when they tanked. They just were unlucky and didn’t get the homerun they needed (unless it’s exum and he is a few years away from knowing, which an unfortunate factor in the Jazz’s strategy now).

      They just need to keep playing the odds, for however long it takes. That’s the nature of the NBA. It took Minny years of tanking/stinking but now they have much more potential than the Jazz. For me, the worst thing the Jazz can do is be inflexible and pass up opportunity by trying to build a super expensive team based on a super long-shot theory. Then the odds are overwhelming that you end up–at best–stuck in medium-seed mediocrity. It’s an unnecessary gamble if you have plenty of time and are not skipping steps, including temporary steps backwards.

      I’ve enjoyed following the Jazz rebuild. Draft picks are fun because of the suspense–who will they get, how will they develop–but here is where it gets tricky and interesting.

      • Clint Johnson says:

        I agree they are at a point where making trades is likely necessary. But your focus on a superstar is unrealistic and doesn’t represent history accurately. Of the cases you mention, the Harden, Kobe, Garnett and Allen, and Paul situations all likely don’t apply to Utah’s situation. They’re akin to free agency in that the deals were only possible because the players wanted to be where they ended up: pointedly in Houston, LA, and Boston (with Pierce already there), all major cities and NBA franchises. May as well argue for the Jazz to get their centerpiece in free agency.

        The Jazz have already tried to make moves like the Leonard trade, specifically with Burke and Gobert. It isn’t like they’ve been passive in pursuing players they wanted in the draft. There’s no reason to believe they will change their approach.

        The Bogut trade (and I’d add Iguodala) and Pistons construction seems much more likely to mirror the Jazz’s likely opportunities, but that takes us back where we started: non-superstar territory.

        So it seems to me you’re making two arguments, one for using assets to build a better team and one for the necessity of the superstar. I agree with your first argument and disagree with your second.

        You mention Minnesota. I won’t deny that they have the roster everyone else in the league envies, but I will say this: modeling after Minnesota is foolish. It’s easy for fans to dream of the Towns and LeBrons, and to say that having such a player is the only thing that matters. Well, Cleveland and Minnesota have been poorly run franchises for a long time. They have never shown a competence at leveraging their assets well. Minnesota had Garnett for well over a decade and advanced beyond the first round once. The Cavaliers had LeBron drop in their laps, which has obscured a series of unending mistakes, everything from letting Boozer go as a free agent to trading Wiggins for Kevin Love to picking Anthony Bennett first overall in the draft – and keep in mind, they have never won a championship, nor really pressed any of their opponents in the finals.

        You say that’s how the game is played and it isn’t. It’s how it’s played by the worst franchises in the league.

        It isn’t how the Spurs became the Spurs, as much as fans like to say so. They had a season ending injury to the league MVP and were bad one season, which is unavoidable when losing such a player. Whether they “tanked” to lose a few more games in that situation is irrelevant: they had a winning team and a winning culture. The Warriors were a dumpster fire of a franchise for decades and got where they are by making a series of good decisions that fortune proved to be brilliant. They started winning when they started acting like a competent organization. The Thunder are often the poster franchise for building through the draft, but they haven’t gone longer than four seasons without the playoffs since 1975. That’s a good franchise.

        Quality franchises don’t see their only job as procuring numerous shots at “the guy” as fans sometimes tend to view the NBA. I don’t think that’s how the Jazz will or should operate. If Anthony Davis or someone like that somehow becomes disgruntled and wants a trade, I’m sure the Jazz would be there with a great offer. But in the very likely scenario neither happen, they are going to try to add pieces that make them better, whether that be leveraging assets for a upgrade at one starting position or trying to build a bench with 4 quality players. I agree with the approach, and I think it can create a genuine contender.

  13. cw says:

    All your example of how to build a team–the Spurs, the Thunder, the Warriors–all became good teams when they drafted superstars.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      You keep changing the point of the discussion, which was about the necessity of a superstar to win championships. As for the teams I mention “becoming” good when drafting superstars:

      The Thunder/Sonics were good with superstars in Durant and Payton, but they were also good with All-Stars like Ray Allen and Dale Ellis, and even won a championship with their best player likely being Jack Sikma.

      The Spurs missed the playoffs four times since they joined the NBA in 1976.

      And I think it’s foolish to discount the importance of the Warriors drafting Thompson at 11, Green at 35, and trading brilliantly for Bogut and Iguodala.

      Two of these franchises have always been good, and the other became good by making a whole bunch of quality decisions. To always see things as superstar or not is simplistic.

      • cw says:

        The sonics were good in the 90’s but then pretty bad after, when they were owned by Howard Schultz, the douchebag that sold them to Clay Bennet. I lived in Seattle for 18 years and I can promise you they were never in any way a well managed organization. They lucked into the 2nd pick and took durant and then they promptly tanked, trading Ray Allen to the bucks for Delonte west and that led to the Westbrook pick.

        The Spurs sucked until they got the number one pick and drafted David Robinson and didn’t win a title until they Robinson got hurt/they tanked and again got the no. 1 pick and chose Tim Duncan.

        The warriors made the playoffs about once in 30 years. The previous ownership drafted Curry and then a year later sold them to the current owners. The warriors did have some good draft picks but draft picks are a crap shoot. The picked Green at 35. Just like everyone else they didn’t think he was worth a first round pick. They drafted Festus Ezili before they drafted Green. They have made some good moves but do you think they would be in the finals if they didn’t have Curry? Would they have beaten OKC in the WCF?

        In my understanding, your argument is a team can win the finals without a superstar if they have good but not great players and that tanking is not the way to do it. Your three examples are terrible because they have four of the most dominant superstars of the past 15 years and they all got them with high draft picks which they got because they sucked/tanked the year(s) before.

        And you have not addressed the issue of why, over the past 36 years, every single championship team but one had at least one player who was at one point 1st team all-NBA. And it’s not because all-NBA is selected during the playoffs, because it’s not. I think you have come up with a alternative explanation for the correlation between 1st team all-NBA and championships for your argument to be at all persuasive.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          I don’t think we’re likely to move anywhere we haven’t yet been and I suspect we will continue to disagree.

          You say Duncan circa 2014 was a superstar. You say Nowizki circa 2011 was a superstar. You discount the Pistons team as being irrelevant to team building strategy. You suggest no metric that measures actual performance can be as useful to identify superstar production as All-NBA status. You seem to have discounted any player on the Jazz becoming a “superstar,” whatever either of us take that to mean, despite a 24-year-old Favors, a 23-year-old Gobert, a 23-year-old Hood, a 20-year-old Lyles, and a 20-year-old Exum.

          I contest all these points. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe so. I think superstars determine most titles in the NBA, but not all. Given the Jazz’s position, I don’t believe that taking steps back or tanking for anything other than an interminable period provides a discernible improvement on their likelihood to contend for a title; simultaneously, it would both set back their ability to field a quality team and significantly lower the team’s floor. Conventional strategy, especially on the part of fans, is anything for a chance at a superstar. I disagree and suspect the Jazz’s actions will show they share my perspective.

          It’s possible one of us will be born out by events, or that neither will be. Personally, I think this team on it’s current trajectory will be very, very good.

  14. cw says:

    Sure. We’ll agree to disagree.

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