For Warriors fans, 2015 was like being a Roman during the height of the Republic, a 49ers fan when Harbaugh arrived or an Uber investor right now. Life couldn’t be better. Or as Drake would say, “what a time to be alive”. A quick review of 2015 in Dub Nation…
- The Dubs lost one regular season home game all year and,that one game went to OT!
- Draymond began carrying himself like the world’s biggest rapper.
- “The City” jerseys made a reappearance.
- Small detail: the Dubs won a ring…which Bogut promptly got fitted to his middle finger.
- One more thing: the Warriors need to go a pedestrian 44 and 8 to finish with the best regular season record ever.
Maybe you find the Warriors’ success hard to register, but you’re a tech nerd. Think about them like this…
Comparing basketball dynasties to the Warriors won’t help Silicon Valley understand how good they are. They’re like 1960’s HP or 1990’s AOL.
— Aaron Levie (@levie) November 25, 2015
Yet, as Romans and 49ers fans learned, and Uber investors may or may not learn, booming times do not boom forever. The rest of the world catches up. Or in this case, the rest of the NBA catches up. What does the rest of the NBA look like?
I want to escape the Warriors bubble and examine the rest of the league. With casual sports transitioning from football to basketball, I think/hope escaping the Warriors bubble will provide value to readers. Over a few pieces, I am going to cover every NBA team. I know not all of you watch the rest of the league, so I will try to tip-toe the fine line of not getting too NBA nerdy while still providing quality writing. Attempting to provide quality while keeping costs low…this is the closest I have ever felt to my public college’s administration.
Like a good suit, I will do this through three separate pieces. That said, I do not want to inundate you with another power rankings article; sports have commoditized power rankings like youth soccer has commoditized orange slices. Instead, I will use a ranking system I debuted last year: the Six Degrees of Fan Separation. The idea derives from the six degrees of separation theory*, and is rooted in the idea that any team’s fan base has a confidence level within five degrees of another team’s fan base.
*The Six Degrees of Separation theory says that anyone on earth can be connected to someone else by a maximum of 5 acquaintances.
I have named each of the six degrees after how fans of that team can think about their team. The degrees are:
- Team Apocalypse
- Team Do Not Renew the Season Tickets
- Team At Least We’ve Got This One Thing
- Team Future
- Team Only a Couple Moves Away
- Team Contender
Each team’s analysis will have their current record plus three parts: a scouting report on the team, a fun or silly thing to watch for if find yourself watching this team, and a big or sneaky big question surrounding the team. One more thing: if you are new to the broader NBA, welcome! This season has been especially awesome – you will feel like a baby having bacon for the first time. On to the rankings!
Degree #1: Team Apocalypse
Symptoms: Fans are ready to dump everybody: players, the coach, even the mascot. If you have season tickets that means you are either an amateur NBA scout or forgot they auto-renewed. It is a hard life. So hard that only one team made this tier. Congratulations to the…
Brooklyn Nets: 9 Wins – 22 Losses
Scouting Report: I thought Team Apocalypse was a fitting name for this category because the Nets are the NBA’s version of the Walking Dead. They could not be more behind the curve: they are 29th in three-pointers attempted and 27th in three-pointers conceded. Amazingly, it gets worse. The Nets cannot even tank for a high draft pick because they owe their first rounder to Boston. But that is not all of it either. They actually do not have the rights to any of their next three first round picks and might only have one second round pick in the next half decade. Their GM Billy King might not be the brightest glow stick in the pack. The Nets are seriously the NBA’s version of the Walking Dead zombies: somewhat alive but lacking any real future.
TV Viewing Tip: The question here really should be, “what would have to be happening to force you to watch a Nets game?” If you are drunk (the only explanation I can think of) and turn to a Nets game, marvel at these two things: their beautiful home court floor design, and that a couple years ago Jarrett Jack (their current point guard) was the Warriors’ closer – not Steph.
Big Question: How do you orchestrate a complete rebuild without any (any!) draft picks? Look for the Nets to be one of the teams who throw a max contract at Harrison Barnes next summer.
Degree #2: Team Do Not Renew the Season Tickets
Symptoms: You could lie to yourself and tell yourself that the future is bright but if you are being real it is not. Kind of like the Jed York 49ers. You are checking the price of your MLS team’s tickets while repeating in your head that soccer is the future. It is not the best of times.
Sacramento Kings: 12 Wins – 19 Losses
Scouting Report: What the Detroit Pistons are doing (surrounding their beast of a center, Andre Drummond, with shooters at all positions) is what the Kings should be doing. In an era of ball movement and perimeter shooting, Kings center Demarcus Cousins is the NBA’s best bully and must have the offense run through him. Instead, Sacramento has surrounded him with the bricktastic players like Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo and Darren Collision. Their front office might be more criminal than their team. They just drafted Willey Cauley-Stein over Justice Winslow and Emmanuel Mudiay and basically gave the Sixers a first round draft pick for free during the offseason. [Editor’s Note: That gave them the cap space to sign Rondo to a one-year deal for more money than anyone else was likely offering. Woo!] Their story is best told by this quote from Cousins last year right after he hit a made game winner: “The marathon continues”. Well, that’s depressing.
TV Viewing Tip: Watch Rondo! Before the season began I thought he could be playing in China within a the year or just retire to be a philosopher. Instead, he has been awesome in the weird way only Rondo can.
Sneaky Big Question: The fundamental question might be: Can Cousins make it ten games in a row without throwing a tantrum? The obvious question is: When does Cousins request a trade? The sneaky big question is: How long until the team’s minority owners revolt against wacky majority owner Vivek Ranadivé?
Phoenix Suns: 12 Wins – 21 Losses
Scouting Report: The idea of the Suns makes sense, the current team does not. Eric Bledsoe should be a top ten defender but in reality he just dogs it too much. Playing two point guards (Bledsoe and Brandon Knight) should facilitate a ball-movement heavy offense but too often the Suns offense turns into isolation basketball. Tyson Chandler should be teaching third year center Alex Len how to defend but in reality he is just taking up Len’s minutes to develop. The critique of the Suns is the same one a new President faces when hiring a bunch of academics to their administration: their theories sound nice but they cannot implement them in the real world.
TV Viewing Tip: Try to ignore their Microsoft clip art logo* and Halloween court. I think I used that logo on a middle school homework assignment.
*Shoutout to my man Trenton (@TSberg8) for that joke.
–Big Question: Is Jeff Hornacek their head coach of the future?
Denver Nuggets: 12 Wins – 20 Losses
Scouting Report: There are reasons for optimism. Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay is like a beta version of JohnWall and almost every player is either really young or a real trade chip. If you consider yourself a basketball hipster, watch the Nuggets – every player evokes the question of “what could he be in three years.”
TV Viewing Tip: Will Barton is the NBA’s version of the Energizer bunny. If he is in while you are watching, you are in a for a treat.
Big Question: How active will they be at the trade deadline? Almost everyone except Mudiay is in play. Danilo Gallinari. Kenneth Faried. Energizer bunny Will Barton. So many possibilities!
Portland Trail Blazers: 13 Wins – 20 Losses
Scouting Report: Okay, for the Blazers ignore the name of this category because you should renew your season tickets! This team is ridiculously young (third youngest team in the league) and about as entertaining as a 13-20 team can be. Besides being the league’s best rapper, Oakland native Damian Lilliard has 80% of Steph Curry’s game on offense. GM Neil Olshey has done an underrated job building the foundation for their rebuild: Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis (two of my favorite under-the-radar players) are signed to non-escalating contracts, CJ McCollum might win Most Improved Player and the roster is full of high-upside players like Mo Harkless and Noah Vonleh.
TV Viewing Tip: Either revel in Lilliard’s complete lack of effort on defense or listen to GM Neil Olshey talk about Seinfeld for half an hour on Zach Lowe’s podcast.
Sneaky Big Question: Will the Blazers be able to tank for a better draft pick without sacrificing player development? The Blazers actually play hard every night and compete but this year’s pick is incredibly vital to their rebuild. It is a fine line they’ll try to balance.
I am hoping to start something new with this piece, call it a New Year’s Resolution. From now on, at the end of each piece I write, I’m going to give a recommendation for an article and a podcast. While it is true basketball never stops, these recommendations will mostly be non-basketball related. I likely spend too much of my life reading online and listening to podcasts, so I think I can provide some good value in these recommendations. I’ll only recommend stories I absolutely love: stuff that makes me think, smile, and helps me understand other people.
Article: 11 Reasons Why 2015 Was a Great Year for Humanity by Angus Hervey on Medium.
Podcast: Our Computer, Ourselves from Invisibilia on NPR.
If you have an article or podcast that you know is worth sharing, shoot me an email at [email protected]
Check back next Tuesday for degrees three and four in the Six Degrees of Fan Separation. Happy New Year!