I haven’t been posting to this blog — or any other blogs — in years. Frankly, it is because people no longer read. But there’s a greater issue involved. Critical thinking has devolved to being mass thinking. We are expected to follow trends in our beliefs, to pick a tribe and follow that selected tribe’s beliefs to the letter.
Indeed, not thinking independently has become the normal way of thinking.
Now, I could illustrate my beliefs using any number of scientific theories, but that might become too arcane. Politics would readily be accessible, but we’re so entrenched at least half the people who stumble across this would attribute my thinking to being ‘wrong-headed’ in my politics. In truth, I am neither liberal nor moderate, neither conservative nor extremist. They’re all blind thinkers. I prefer my politics a la carte; I believe what I believe, choose whom I choose.
Instead, let’s talk about something completely unimportant. Let’s talk basketball. Specifically, let’s whine about the Los Angeles Lakers.
For months, I watched while “fans” posted about Russell Westbrook trades or the lack thereof. Soon, the discussions formed distinct tribes: the Hang Frank Vogel tribe, the Fire Rob Pelinka tribe, the Trade Russ tribe, the Russ is a HOFer tribe, etc. Most LA fans seemed to join the first two and a preponderance joined the Trade Russ group. Lakers fans (and detractors) ranted about the Bubble Championship and lamented letting that team fall apart. Few stopped and analyzed the situation critically. Had they done so, they would have come to several conclusions.
- LeBron James and Anthony Davis (AD), LA’s two best players, missed a combined 68 games last year. There was no way the Lakers could win without them.
- Most of the players on the Bubble Team are either out of the league now or no longer in any team’s rotation. Of the 20 who appeared on LA’s championship roster, 12 no longer see any NBA minutes, and two only see marginal playing time. Effectively, the championship roster, except the two big guys, aged out of the league.
- Given numbers 1 and 2 above, the Lakers were in a rebuilding situation with few to no assets.
- They traded for Russell Westbrook (Russ), who is a ball-dominant, passing point guard, and took the ball out of his hands, effectively making him a spot-up shooter, the one skill he doesn’t have.
This simple analysis would lead one to expect the team to fire Frank Vogel, not because they lost, but because he used his third best player the wrong way. With Westbrook, LA’s top players were (and are) as evidenced by their comparative play when healthy:
- AD at the 5 (center spot)
- LeBron anywhere
- Russ as the active point guard
- AD at the 4 (power forward)
One might make the case that AD at the 4 is ranked too low, or LeBron is, but the point is these are approximately how their performances have gone since 2019. No center in the NBA is more dominant than a healthy AD, but his inconsistent to poor outside shooting and tendency to get injured when he has to move a lot make him only partly effective at the power forward spot. Russ plays at a near-All-Star level when creating the offense, but can do little when he’s just another shooter.
Still, the Trade Russ tribe lit their torches and demanded the ghost of Dr. Jerry Buss retake the team and bring in Buddy Hield and Myles Turner. They rightly called for Vogel’s firing, but neglected to notice it would then take an effectively new team, the third in the AD-Bron era, 10-20 games to find their legs.
So, were they right? Should we all submit to the greater logic of the Crowd? Let’s look at the data.
Buddy Hield is a good to great 2 guard. Shooters are effective when there is a skilled point guard to run the offense and create open looks. Look at Bojan Bogdanovic in Detroit as an example. In Utah, with Mike Conley running things, he shot around 40%. In Detroit, since Cade Cunningham got injured, he’s shot 25%, 33%, and 20%. No ball in the pocket, no ball in the hoop. He’ll recover when the offense does, but shooters need an offense to play off of.
Myles Turner is a very good center. He is not better than Anthony Davis at center. Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic might be, but Myles is not. If Myles plays for the Lakers, guess what? AD moves to the 4, where he likes to play, but is less effective. AD can’t shoot from outside. Myles can, so now, at best, you have Myles as a stretch-4 on offense and a 5 on defense. AD does the reverse. It can work, but why would you move your best player to a lesser position to bring in, effectively, another shooter (Myles)? Moreover, who is going to get Myles and Buddy the ball, now that you’ve traded away Russ?
Here, the critical thinkers realize that the so-called Perfect Trade effectively retools the entire Lakers offense to make it more vulnerable than ever. LeBron stops playing 3/4 and moves to the point, exactly the position Pelinka and Magic got him away from to draw him to the Lakers. AD is happy as a safe, less effective 4. Myles and Buddy are around, but now we’re in 2018, listening to the pundits tell us that “LeBron thrives with shooters around him.”
LeBron isn’t playing against the NBA. LeBron is playing against Father Time. The last thing the Lakers need is that man playing point guard. With the Perfect Trade, you’ve just put the team’s 2 best players into positions they’ve aged out of, and in positions wherein history has proven they’re more vulnerable to injury!
So, what’s the right call here? We stop, we think, we gather data, we analyze.
First, we verify AD and Bron flourish at the 5 and 4, respectively.
Done. AD has been the best Western Conference player in November 2022.
Second, we see if Russ is more effective and the team’s shooting rises with his playing starter’s minutes at the point. We didn’t demote him to the second unit; we offset his timing by 4 game time minutes, allowing LeBron to rest while Russ is out there and to play the 4 when both are fully rested.
Done. Winning record since the move happened.
Third, we analyze and see what pieces we need. Pat Bev is ineffective on offense. Kendrick Nunn is ineffective at basketball. We have players who are streaky shooters or too inexperienced for a real push to the playoffs (Matt Ryan, Max Christie, etc.) After much thought, our conclusions are as follows:
- If LeBron or AD get injured, it’s all over. Given the history, making a franchise-altering trade is a bad idea and could damage the Lakers’ future value.
- If we trade Russ, we have Patrick Beverley as our playmaking point guard. We have a million guards, none of whom can run an offense.
- Shooters won’t help when the offense bogs down.
- We only need Myles Turner if AD gets hurt, and no offense to Myles, we ain’t making the playoffs behind Myles at the 5 and AD in street clothes.
- Frank Vogel was indeed a criminal, and the Fire Vogel crowd was right. However, it was because he couldn’t convince his best players to adapt their games to what the team needed.
- No coach on Earth could have dragged the 2021-2022 Lakers into contention. You can’t win a title with aging superstars and players who should have already gone to play overseas. Ask the 1970s Redskins if you don’t believe me. Fire Pelinka? Sure, if not making it to the playoffs’ early rounds is the outcome you regret. (No! The Lakers don’t care about the First Round.)
- The Lakers still need 3 and D shooters, like Bogdanovic or Utah’s Jordan Clarkson. Trade Nunn and Pat Bev for guys who will both defend and shoot. What a concept — three and D instead of three or D.
- If you trade Russ, you’ll need a star at the point — Mike Conley or better. Seems like a pointless thing to do.
Obviously, some of my analysis might be wrong, but keep in mind I was saying most of this last year. The actual point is that following Group Thinking is bound to make you less intelligent. Groups conform to the midpoint of the group, which is often the safest social position, but not likely to be the right one. If you see a pundit criticize a leader for “not taking swift action,” tell them to shut the hell up. They’re probably actually spending time figuring out what that action should be LIKE EVERY WELL-RUN COMPANY THAT EVER EXISTED. And I worked for and with many of the best of them, so I know.
Quick Quiz: Who started the anti-vax movement?
If you said MAGA Conservatives, you’re wrong. It was liberals in the major metropolitan areas, and it led to measles’ making a comeback. Those lessons are, in part, why liberals were so pro-vaccine during the worst of the Covid pandemic.
Don’t wait for an emergency to learn to think for yourself.