The talented Rachel Nichols finally has a well-deserved NBA round-table discussion show on ESPN. And it wasn't long before the show made headlines.
Tuesday, retired NBA all-star Tracy McGrady opined to Nichols that Stephen Curry's unanimous MVP award was the result of a watered-down league (video).
"For him to get this unanimously, it just tells you how watered down our league is. When you think of MJ, Shaq...I mean, those guys really played against top notch competition. More superstars, I think, on more teams, than it is in our league today. But it's well deserved. He had a hell of a season."
Wednesday, McGrady appeared again on the Jump and had an opportunity to defend his comments. Instead of backing off, he doubled down. Rather than offer a justification for calling the league watered-down, he named about eight super star players from the late nineties to early-2000s (his 'era' I guess?), several of whom are still playing!
Thank the basketball gods up on high that Pablo Torre was there to at least attempt to refute him. He rattled off his own list of equally good, if not better super-duper stars who, you know, play in this watered down league.
There are so many problems with Tracy McGrady's logic that it makes my head hurt. Let's go through them one by one.
Problem 1: Being 'watered-down' is irrelevant to Curry's MVP
Tracy McGrady's first mistake is tying the quality of today's rank-and-file NBA to Stephen Curry's unanimous MVP. In truth, the two have nothing to do with each other. The watering-down of the NBA -- if that were a thing (see problems 2, 5, 6, 7 and 9) is irrelevant to a unanimous vote. A unanimous MVP simply means that there is complete agreement that Stephen Curry is the best and most valuable basketball player in 2015-2016. That's it! If he's arguing that Stephen Curry only got the MVP because everyone else is worse, that would be one (stupid, but somehow more plausible) thing. But he's arguing that the league in general is watered-down because there are fewer great players. Even if that were the case (it's not), Stephen Curry is still beating those great players, unanimously! Thus, no logic problem, no time paradox, everyone wins! (oh, and see problem 6).
Problem 2: How many hall of famers does it take to count super stars?
Apparently more than one. McGrady listed some great players -- Kevin Garnett (currently playing), Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki (currently playing). He could've also added Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant (very recently retired, aka mic drop), Tim Duncan (currently playing) and so on. But it's incredibly wacky to suggest that there are no super stars now -- we're in the era of the super team! How many super stars do the Los Angeles Clippers have? There is a long list of notable players to equal the list that Tracy McGrady made. If the lack of super star talent is making the league watered-down, we can definitively determine that this is false.
Problem 3: What era are we talking?
Michael Jordan and Tracy McGrady were not contemporaries -- at least not in any real, meaningful sense. Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson weren't really contemporaries, either. Unless you want to call Karl-Anthony Towns and Tim Duncan career-long contemporaries (they'll almost certainly wind up playing 30-to-40 years, combined...pretty damn big era!), this is kind of worthless. If we're going to say the league is watered down this year compared to the past 60 years combined, then sure there are probably fewer stars. But there's far fewer players in general, too, right? And given the expansion history of the NBA, there are actually times that could be considered watered-down with some degree of accuracy -- the only problem? 2015-2016 isn't one of them (see problem 5)!
Problem 4: False equivalency
Michael Jordan not winning unanimously isn't proof that Stephen Curry shouldn't win unanimously. Two wrongs don't make a right. Pretty simple concept here. They don't play in the same league, they don't have the same voter pool, the world is different, the year is different, yadda yadda yadda.
Problem 5: Basic math
Let's pick a date, since McGrady won't. Being generous, let's use 1996. Since 1996, the world population has increased by something like 1.5 billion people (20%). The number of basketball players has increased with that growth -- much of which has happened in some pretty basketball-crazed countries (China? The Philippines?). The number of NBA eligible prospects has therefore increased. The number of tall or super athletic basketball-worthy people (genetic outliers) has increased. In that time, the number of spots in the NBA has not increased at all. There are exactly the same number of teams and roster spots, as 1995 was the last expansion year (so you want to talk about a watered-down league, 1996 is the actual watered-down league...guess what happened that year, T-Mac!)!
Meanwhile, coaching, health, training and preparation have improved, as they do every season without fail. Hell, even equipment has improved!
Taking these factors, the only reasonable conclusion is that the game is more competitive than ever, and less watered-down. If you want to be polite, you could just argue that it's the same as it has always been, but there is no way to justify the idea that the league is less competitive than in the past. For the league to be less competitive (or more watered-down), some or all of the following would have to happen.
Stupidification of the entire league: all NBA insiders, contributors, executives and coaches were alive in 1996 (I'm certain), and many of the high ranking ones were already important back in 1996. Guys like Jerry West, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, George Karl and Phil Jackson are still at it. All of these brilliant minds must have simultaneously reversed the old-as-time-itself trend of learning from experience, and begun a drastic and consistent trend of global stupidification. Popovich is a great coach, but he's no Gregg Popovich, I guess!
Entire human race takes the mutant-killing serum from X-Men: Okay, maybe not the entire human race. But certainly everyone from a basketball playing country. Anyway, the popular X-Men character, Beast, created a serum to reverse the process of genetic mutation. This would, hypothetically, end evolution (and pretty much make the rest of biologic history on earth pretty damn boring). By limiting or eliminating the ability to have mutations, or extreme genetic outliers, we get less super-athletes capable of playing 1996-era NBA basketball. If this sounds like silly pseudo-science, it should.
Hand-checking pressure points seals basketball chi: Apparently, hand-checks limit the basketball ability of players, rendering them shells of their former selves. Wait, several of the super stars he listed didn't face hand-checking for most of their career. And also, would make the '90s more watered-down, too? Uh, I'm grasping at straws here. Let's move on.
Problem 6: Wait...are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard watered-down players?
I'm pretty sure they qualify as stars, and we're pretty sure that Tracy McGrady just pissed them all off, too. Are we going to pretend that Kevin Durant is not a good player in McGrady's era? Is LeBron James really going to struggle to score against the super-deep NBA from a decade or two ago? Who exactly is watered-down? (see problem 2) Almost every team (sorry, 76ers) has multiple good to great players -- just like twenty years ago. I've heard people say that other guys in the NBA are worse than back in the day (LMAO! See problems 5 and 9). But that's simply not true...have you seen the Warriors' second unit? It would thrash and terrify any second unit in Chicago Bulls history (Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights and Leandro Barbosa sounds more like a playoff team in the east than a bench, and that's not an insult to the east).
Problem 7: Using the term, 'super star' in any kind of meaningful way
It's a subjective term, being used in a very objective way. What is a super star? Someone with a lot of endorsement deals (like Kyrie Irving)? Or someone who is just an elite MVP-caliber basketball player (so not Kyrie Irving)? Or someone who has both? Or something else? Is it a numerical threshold (25 points per game)? Is it being the top guy on a franchise? On a playoff franchise? How can we even refute this if we don't know precisely what McGrady is arguing?
Problem 8: Michael Jordan has been surpassed in MVP votes already - why is this only a problem now?
LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal both finished one vote shy of being the unanimous MVP (and neither player won 73 games, IIRC). 120 of 121 voters (and the vast majority of the world) agreed that both players were deserving MVPs. Why didn't we hear from McGrady about these two earning a greater share of the MVP vote compared to Michael Jordan, who only captured 109 of 113 votes in his best season. Could it be that McGrady is just another salty "but Steph can't jump high like I could" dude who can't properly articulate his feelings?
Problem 9: Advanced analytics have increased the collective intelligence of the league
Many good franchises have used analytics for decades -- they're not new. But they're always improving, and they're always gaining supporters (especially in the past five years). Now, we know the specific value of a corner three point shot attempt, versus a post-up (very simple example). The ever-growing knowledge of the league makes for more competitive basketball, not less competitive basketball -- this holds true in pretty much everything. Think about it this way: if 15-out-of-30 teams study for the test properly in 1996, and in 2016 25-of-30 teams study properly, which league is more competitive?
Gotta stop. Headache. Damn you, McGrady. The stupidity never ends.