These are the top 3 Explain One Play articles of 2017, as measured by readership counts. I was not at all expecting #1. I include excerpts of each, but there is plenty more in the originals, linked in the titles.
At the end, I also throw in my favorite article I wrote this year (and ever).
#3. We take Steph Curry for granted (Mar 24 2017)
This started as a simple play breakdown and veered into this:
I’m getting tired, so you only get the thumbnail version of the rant about Stephen Curry’s MVP season. YES I said it. He’s having an MVP caliber season that gets almost no love. The main problem, of course, is that he’s not as good as MVP 2.0 and isn’t as consistent as MVP 1.0 (nor as outstanding on defense). But it’s still MVP caliber.
The Warriors are the best team in the league and Curry’s on-off numbers are much stronger than Durant’s.
In fact Curry’s on-off numbers is the highest of the MVP candidates, except for LeBron (+16.9), who is disqualified for mailing it in this last month. This shows how much better or worse your presence makes your team, measured in game margin per 100 possessions.
So, Curry is the most impactful player, leader of the best team, he made space for another great talent, boosted up Durant’s stats and let the public say Durant took over the team, and generally gave up his image/reality as the best player in the league, all for winning.
#2. Curry makes 4-Point Play, enrages Kerr (Feb 11 2017)
I’ve often said that Curry worships the god of the highlight, and the god demands its sacrifices. So within a minute, Stephen Curry tosses in an and-1 three pointer and then also throws the coolest, most ambitious, most horrible and irresponsible pass. Let’s look at both....
Don’t love me at my 4 point play, if you don’t love me at my unnecessarily ambitious no-look over-the-head pass. Yeah, I really enjoyed this play. I mean, of course the pass is unnecessary, but so is basketball. If you aren’t going to try this early in a relatively meaningless February game, when would you? Never, and that would make basketball less fun....
And finally, down here where most people won’t get to...
To all you complaining about how Durant’s going to the Warriors messed up the parity of the league. Of course you’re right. But the truth is YOU CAN’T HANDLE PARITY.
Last year you had two of the greatest, closest basketball playoff series you’ll ever see, with two great comebacks. And did you celebrate what an awesome spectacle we saw? Did you celebrate the noble clash of all-out effort? OF COURSE NOT. You just tried to figure out whom you were allowed to call The Biggest Loser. You called Durant a choker. Then you called the W’s chokers. You beat that dead horse of a 3-1 joke.
So, if you looked at last year’s playoffs and honored everyone involved, okay, you get to mourn the loss of great rivalries. If you got on the 3-1 parade, then you’re part of the reason that KD went to the Warriors, so be sad and deserve it. You can’t have nice things.
1. Why isn’t Steve Kerr playing Jordan Bell? (Nov 17 2017)
This is the upset winner of my most read article of 2017. And at the time, Bell had just had a couple of inactive games, so things were getting out of hand. It is slightly out of date in the sense that Steve Kerr now seems to be slowly forced to give Jordan Bell minutes, but it is not at all out of date in that his strengths and weaknesses are still highly relevant.
Long-time readers know I have something of an irrationally good feeling for Jordan Bell. I managed to write 6 out of my first 7 Explain One Plays about the newcomer.
Steve Kerr has earned a lot of benefit of the doubt when it comes to team building and morale. I don’t think there’s a coach out there with a better reputation with players that he’s put in difficult playing time situations. However, I’m still frustrated that Steve Kerr has given Jordan Bell fewer and fewer minutes as the season has gone on....
I wrote a longer piece scouting out Jordan Bell’s early season performance at BBallBreakdown, where I look at his unexpectedly excellent offensive performance and his so-so rookie-like defense, using videos and statistics. So his defense is one reason.
But this year, Kerr needs to keep his veterans sharp and their egos stroked to have them ready for the fires of the playoffs, and unless injuries knock them out of the rotation, Jordan Bell is likely to remain on the bubble for regular playing time.
And without trying to be too coy about this, this is mainly about keeping Zaza Pachulia positive, and to a lesser extent, JaVale McGee. Just like Kerr sensed Harrison Barnes needed to start to thrive, he senses the same with Pachulia. And Kerr would have started David Lee over Draymond Green if not for Lee’s injury. And I personally believe Jordan Bell could replace McGee’s contributions tomorrow, but Kerr will try to keep McGee happy.
Having said that, let me now return to chanting: FREE JORDAN BELL! FREE JORDAN BELL!
Author’s Pick: Three Years Redeemed
Just for personal satisfaction, this is my favorite piece I wrote in 2017.
A look back at a heck of a three year Warriors run: the Innocent 2015, the Arrogant 2016, the Redemptive 2017.
So somehow, the plucky Warriors snuck up on everyone and ripped off one of the all-time great NBA regular seasons. It was The innocent Season. But it felt too much, too soon, and surely the Spurs would take them out. But then the Spurs were upset and the Warriors kept sneaking forward, and despite twice going down 2-1, stormed back to beat the injured super-team Cavaliers to win it all. I watched the last seconds with my kids and gave them hugs and said, “We need to appreciate this now, because it could be 40 years until the next one.”
And then the petty and bad takes started rolling in. Steph Curry wasn’t the real MVP, he robbed James Harden. The freaking Players Union held an alternate awards show just to snub Curry and give the MVP to Harden....
And so the Warriors, thoroughly disrespected, kicked off The Arrogant Season. They whipped off the record 24-0 start, despite losing Steve Kerr. Steph Curry came back stronger and exploded for the greatest offensive season in history, the Unending Heat Check season. 73 wins. All to be derailed when Curry hit sweat in Houston. It was a season to be proud of and also frustrated by.
By the Finals, the Warriors had fallen out of fashion and amazing waves of ignorant or malevolent takes began. The 3-1 jokes were inescapable in their casual cruelty. The jokes made a mockery of one of the great playoffs the NBA has ever seen, both crapping on the great GSW-OKC series and the Finals.
And with the arrival of Kevin Durant began The Revenge Season. The most simple-minded NBA commentators complained about how boring it was, and that the Warriors were too good, etc....
I had expected that when the Finals ended, I would feel a kind of cackling vengeance for all the abuse the Warriors fans have taken this last year. That I would feel that dark energy of meeting abuse with abuse. And strangely, I did not. Instead I have felt a lasting happiness and contentedness, and I felt that I could reclaim memory and pride over all of the last three years.
Until then, because of the toxic environment, I couldn’t feel appropriate pride in 14-15 and 15-16.
And what a satisfying 2017 Finals it was. It seemed to shine a purifying light on almost every foolish, simple-minded or wicked take.
2016 Stephen Curry wasn’t injured? No one could ignore how devastatingly agile and accurate 2017 Curry was with a year to recover.
Kevin Durant is just a coat-tail rider? He blossoms into a fantastic two-way player and gets Finals MVP. Andre Iguodala is useless? He leads the team in Finals plus-minus.
There were so many absurdly on-the-nose exorcisms of key events from 2016.
2016 LeBron James blocks Andre Iguodala? 2017 Iguodala gets the Game 3 saving block/strip on LeBron.
2016 Kyrie Irving bombs in the go-ahead 3 for The Shot? 2017 Durant bombs in a series-stealing 3 for The Pull-up.
2016 Kyrie drops the step-back 3 series winner over Steph? Curry dropped the 2017 series-sealing step-back 3 in Kyrie’s face.
2016 Curry got shut down by Love and Thompson? Repeatedly 2017 Curry treated them as traffic cones.
2016 LeBron blocks Curry and stares him down? 2017 Curry puts moves on LeBron and gets him disco dancing in multiple memes.
2016 Warriors blow a 3-1 lead? 2017 Warriors seal the deal with a 3-1 lead.
I’ll countdown the top Explain One Play videos, which, weirdly, were not at all the same as the top read articles.