Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Beale Street BluePrint

One of the most interesting things about the NBA for me is how much of an effect a truly elite player can have on a franchise. The NBA is the only professional league in which almost the entire fortune of a franchise can be driven by one player. My belief in The Superstar Theory was initially established after reading the wonderful article on by Dennis Gallagher. A similar three part study was done on by Robert W. McChesney (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Both authors come to similar conclusions. Without a superstar player (All NBA 1st or 2nd team), an NBA team has virtually no chance at winning a championship.

McChesney identifies who he thinks are the truly elite talents in today's NBA that the Grizzlies will have to contend with when the 3YP is complete: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudamire, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams and Yao Ming. These are McChesney's Gold Medal superstars. I will add Greg Oden and Kevin Durant to that list. The big question for the Memphis Grizzlies is can Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo or Mike Conley make it it to Gold Medal superstar status. If they can't then it is implorable that they acquire one of the above nine players by any means possible. This is why the Mayo trade was a must do. Although Mike Miller and Kevin Love are good players (Love should be better than Miller), Mayo has a chance to reach superstar status. No amount of good players is worth passing up on a gold medal superstar.

McChesney makes this statement:

The moral of the story could not be clearer: Smart GMs, and smart fans, have to always be thinking about how their team can get a hold of a gold medal superstar, or, if it is the best you can do, a couple of silver medal superstars. It is the single most important issue before an NBA GM. Once you have your superstar(s), then your job is to surround him with the pieces to win a title, but that is a day at the beach compared to trying to get a gold or silver medal superstar in the first place.

If this is the foundation of the 3YP, then I am with it. If this is the reason why they did not actively pursue a free agent this summer, I am with it. There is no other philosophy I believe in about NBA team building more than The Superstar Theory. It is the reason why I was so fired up to go get Carmelo Anthony (just missed McChesney's cut). You win in the NBA with elite talents. It is not just about winning an NBA title, you need on of these elite players to even contend for an NBA title. Now I am sure there are a couple of examples that defy the rule but for the most part it has held true for the entirety of NBA history. As McChesney puts it:

On 40 of these 52 teams, the best player was one of the 21 gold medal superstars, the elite of the elite of the elite. In basketball, more than any other team sport, getting a player for the ages is essential for championships. Mere all-stars, even several of them, ain’t gonna get the job done. And 8 of the 11 champions that did not have a gold medal superstar leading it, had at least two players from this list on the team, in their primes, at least one of whom was silver-medal. (The exceptions? Rick Barry’s 75 Warriors, Elvin Hayes’s 78 Bullets, and Dennis Johnson’s 79 Sonics. These champions defeated teams in the finals that were similarly under armed; these were “down” years for the league. The late 70s was almost like a Bermuda Triangle for the NBA. Accordingly these are regarded as among the weaker champions in NBA history.)

It gets worse, or better, depending if your team has one of these guys. It is not just about winning titles; it is about getting within sniffing distance of winning titles. All but three of the losers in the NBA finals since 1956-57 have been led by one of these 80 superstars. (The exceptions? The 2000 Pacers, the 1978 Sonics and the 1971 Bullets.) So dig this: only 3 of the 104 teams that have played in the NBA finals were not led by a player on this list. Teams led by bronze medal superstars account for only 9 of these 104 teams, so even having one of them is hardly a winning ticket.

And over one-half of these runner-up teams in the NBA over the past 52 years have been led by gold medal superstars. That means 21 players have led 68 of the 104 teams that have played in the NBA finals since 1956-57. Considering how short Bill Walton’s effective career was, that really means 20 guys.

To put it in even more stark terms: the 28 finalist losers that were led by gold medal superstars lost to champions led by gold medal superstars 22 times. As a general rule, gold trumps silver and silver trumps bronze and nobody else is even allowed to play.

This is it in a nutshell. When teams are holding on to Shane Battiers, Mike Millers and Tayshaun Princes instead of going all in for one of the elite players, you know the GM does not know what he is doing. In fact, I will go a step father and state that the team building does not truly begin until you have at least a silver medal superstar in the fold. So when Heisley says:

If I get a superstar player, you know I said 3-5 years, hell I might be able to get there in 2 years. I might be willing to do what I said I wouldn't do and get an older player so everything changes depending on what the opportunity is.

I hope he is down with The Superstar Theory and not just blowing smoke. If you are a Grizz fan reading this then you already are aware of my skepticism of the 3 year plan. However, I have to ackowledge that there wasn't a single free agent available this offseason that qualifies as even a bronze medal superstar except for Gilbert Arenas and coming off an injury he got $100+ million. In 2009, there is only one potential Gold Medal Superstar that might even be available and that is Andrew Bynum and my guess is that the Lakers will MAX him out or match a maximum offer if they even allow it to get that far.

So as a Grizzlies fan, our hope lies in Chris Wallace acquiring a gold or silver medal superstar in trade or having on of our own develop into one. Anything else is just wheel spinning in the NBA.

BallHype: hype it up!


Chip Crain said...

I think that was the motivation behind the OJ Mayo trade. It hurts the Grizzlies in the short run but if Mayo is all he is rumored to be then the trade was brilliant and follows the strategy of the Superstar Theory.

I just don't have a lot of faith in OJ Mayo being a medalist. Hopefully I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

And the hits keep coming . . . nice work, X.

This post goes straight to a point I've made on multiple occasions: People act like it's EASY to build a winning team, let alone a champion. Like we're SUPPOSED to have one.

When any odd number of things can derail your franchise, not just for a season, but for several -- like injuries, bad chemistry, trades that look good at first, then come out wrong, poor coaching, and my favorite, dumb luck.

I do hope that O'Vinton is our superstar in waiting. I could see how he, Rudy and Conley could be a really dynamic trio.


Tim said...

Great post. Ive thought about this for a while. It is one of the reasons I loved the Rudy for Battier trade and couldnt understand why so many people were upset. I mean Rudy has the physical skills to be a gold medal talent or whatever and at least could become a bronze level talent in my opinion. Battier is what he is and thats a marginal talent that works really hard at what he does.

I really could see OJ turning into a top level talent and hopefully that is what happens and people will see that building around Pau was a huge waste of time. And having a bunch of ok players like we had with the 50 win team just doesnt cut it and you have to try and get that elite level talent.

I am also glad we havnt thrown tons of money at a player like Josh Smith who I dont even see as a bronze level talent let alone deserving max level money.

MemphisX said...

Yes, when you decide to throw money at a Josh Smith then you are betting on him reaching silver medal status, bronze at worst.

I know I am guilty of wanting to stop the pain of Being horrible. It us tough when you love the Grizzlies.

Berracus said...

One of the most recent exceptions to the superstar theory could be the Pistons. I don't see Sheed or Billups being at the level of Superstar yet they won. Sometimes what you need to win is a strong defense and a balanced offensive team. Defense wins chips. Obviously, having a superstar looks to help a lot.

Tim said...

Yes, I totally agree about Detroit. They are the only team i can think of in the last 20 some years that havnt had a gold medal star. Or at least a bunch of silver, which i might get killed for but i think you might be able to view Boston as three silver level guys. I mean all three are great and probably will be in the hall of fame but they needed each other to finally do something.

Brian McCormick said...

Good post. I agree and agree that the Detroit Pistons championship was the exception to the rule. I also had OJ Mayo going 1st this year because I felt he had the best chance of anyone in the draft to become that type of superstar. Who knows if he will, but if I had to bet on anyone in this draft, that's where I put my money.

I wrote a similar take at draft time:

Chip Crain said...

The exceptions people point out forget Rule #2 on the Superstar Theory. Both Detroit and Boston had players who were voted NBA Defensive Player of the Year the season the won the title.

If you can't get the offensive star you need to get a defensive star. Boston and Detroit did that.

Rule #3 is to get as much cap space as possible to get a Rule #1 or Rule #2 player. Memphis has done that.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little skeptical that OJ Mayo will become gold medal talent. For a guy who has been kind of an early bloomer (hyped early in high school), his college season and summer league were not terribly impressive. At 20 years old LeBron James was playing MVP-caliber basketball, and at the same age OJ was only having mixed success in summer league. That doesn't scream superstar to me, but I think he will be a good player and I could be wrong about him being great.

However, the move to get him was great for putting together a bad team in the short run, which should increase the franchise's chances of drafting a gold medal player in the next few years.

jr said...

I read the superstar theory article by McChesney and I thought it was very insightful, although probably not perfect. One could argue that it is the superstar or Joe Dumars theory as the last three teams really without a superstar at the silver level had Dumars as a player or GM (Detroit '89, '90, '04 and almost '05). (Ben Wallace won't finish his career as more than a Bronze at best.) With Dumars on board at least an ensemble cast without a gold or silver superstar can work.

While I think the framework of McChesney's superstar theory is good, there are some problems. One problem is that winning a title creates positive feedback in voting the coming years for MVP, All-Defense, and ALL-NBA that is probably not proportional to the player's performance that year. Arguably this also happened with the Pistons in '05 and '06 with All-Defense votes for Prince and Billups.

Another problem is the differentiation between gold superstars which dominate the championships and silver superstars. McChesney has Garnett nicely placed as the lowest scoring gold superstar. Right now that placing and gap seems justified, but in coming years Nash and Nowitzki might catch up while Garnett drops a bit (or maybe not). The difference of Nowitzki and Nash having a score of 12 and Garnett at 13.6 is not large only 1.5 where as the difference between Garnett and Duncan 21.7 is 7! This suggests that Garnett is much closer to Nash and Nowitzki than Duncan. Kobe is at 16.4 a difference of 2.8 up from Garnett. From this one would suspect that if having Garnett is enough of a superstar to win a title than having a Nash or a Nowitzki is enough as they are not very far behind. McChesney's Superstar theory suggests that Garnett since he makes the gold cutoff is much better than Nash and Nowitzki and is in the same category as Duncan. I am not so sure about that. McChesney's overall argument that having a superstar is very very important to winning a title is sound.

Anonymous said...

So all in all, Chip, who do you think we will be going after? Are we talking about Carlos Boozer or a player like that? We have to spend our cap space and use it to our advantage. There is no reason not to besides saving money while surrendering games.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me X? I figured you were a retard, but this is the icing on the cake. Everything you write merely takes other peoples words and then you write a small piece on top of it. It is truly pathetic. Go back to cleaning toilets.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and good comments too. The only things I want to add are:

1. Isiah Thomas was at least a silver, if not gold, level superstar in 1989-1990. Everyone sleeps on Isiah, but when Chris Paul had his amazing season last year, everyone was comparing him to Isiah in his prime. And Paul finished, what, 2nd in the MVP voting? Throw in Dumars and that incredible defense and that Pistons team fits the mold more than you think. Agreed on the 2004 Pistons - they are the clear exception and it's only because the Lakers were so dysfunctional that they won (sorry Pistons fans, it's true).

2. Kevin Garnett was a gold level superstar last year. Don't care what any numbers say, if you watched the regular season and playoffs, how could anyone think differently? His defense and mere presence are the reason the Celtics won the title. Throw in a silver level Pierce and a bronze level Allen and they fit the mold quite well. Putting all three at silver level status is a mistake though.