A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The Raptors don’t need a superstar to contend for a title

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With the Cavaliers shellacking the Raptors a popular takeaway is “Wow, teams without a superstar don’t have a chance”. Lowry is a knife in Lebron, Curry and Durant/Westbrook’s gunfight. A knife needing to be sharpened after hacking through two tough series.

But it’s not the only problem. The team struggles to pass the ball and finished out of the top 10 in defense. If a team is going to win a title without a superstar, that’s not the way.

When bringing up the alternatives to superstar championship teams the 2004 Pistons are listed as the lone example. In other words you need an aberration. I’m not as convinced. First, here are the 6 champions in the 2010s:

2015 – Golden State Warriors

2014 – San Antonio Spurs

2013 – Miami Heat

2012 – Miami Heat

2011 – Dallas Mavericks

2010 – Los Angeles Lakers

The list has Curry, Lebron, Dirk and Kobe. But the 2014 Spurs had nobody finish higher than 12th in MVP voting in Parker and Duncan’s tie. Duncan was a former superstar and Kawhi a future one but that season neither them or Parker was any more a superstar than the 04 Pistons had.

Now consider the 2013 Spurs who had a 5 point lead with 30 seconds left and a 99%+ chance at the title after Lebron’s shot missed. From the Raptors perspective, why is this less useful an example than the Heat’s win? They were equally title caliber. Parker and Duncan finished 6th and 7th in MVP this season, while excellent seasons, they weren’t a level two Raptors like Lowry and Valanciunas couldn’t get to one day.

While they didn’t come as close as the Spurs, the 2010 Celtics had a 3-2 series lead and were up 13 midway through the 3rd quarter of Game 7 and up 4 with 9 minutes left in the 4th. That’s probably close enough to call them title caliber. If they were good enough to beat the Lakers 3 other games and build that lead they were good enough to outplay them for one more half game or quarter. The Celtics didn’t get an MVP vote this year as Garnett, Allen, Pierce had aged from 08 and Rondo was still emerging.

3 title caliber teams since 2010 is manageable enough odds for the Raptors to have hope. One could add the the 2011 and 2014 Heat, 2012 Thunder and 2015 Cavaliers as title caliber teams with superstars, but even after that the ratio isn’t that bad for the superstar-less teams.

In the decade before, champions with Shaq, Duncan, Wade, Garnett, Kobe dwarf the lone 2004 Pistons. But the 2005 Pistons went 7 and were up by 6 with about 16 minutes left, not to mention had a great chance to close the series in 6 if not for Robert Horry’s heroics in Game 5. The 2000 Blazers were good enough to beat the Lakers in the conference finals before their collapse, which would have guaranteed a superstar-less champion in them or the Pacers.

Furthermore the more you go back the less recognizable the league is or usable as a test case. The CBA has evolved, the talent pool is different, the talent in front offices is a different level, the style of play has gone from post-ups to a slash and kick 3pt game that would have seemed foreign to that era. Players today live in a radically different, social media-infused world emotionally. The game on and off the court has gone from SNES to X-Box, from serve and volley to baseline groundstrokes with topspin. Just because for 50 years only superstars won titles doesn’t mean it will be that way from now on. A sample size like the last 5 or 6 years may be a more reasonable comparison for the challenge the Raptors face now.

If the Raptors want to beat Lebron James, it’s not about being in awe of his talent but looking at what the 2015 Warriors, 2013 and 2014 Spurs, 2011 Mavericks and 2010 Celtics had that they didn’t. They defeated a King by passing the ball, spacing the floor and playing elite defense. Five men have always had the capability to beat one. That’s the formula to follow for superstar-less teams.

Written by jr.

May 20, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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