Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Testing Limits And The Downside to Winning

I wanted to add some input here, otherwise this would be a Hub post. David Thorpe joined TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott for the latest episode of TrueHoop TV, and one thing that stuck with me (and something I’ve heard from Thorpe before) is that players need to be able to test their limits to see what they can do, specifically referencing Kevin Love. Here’s the quote, transcribed by me:

What I am seeing is a guy that is just kinda finding out right now, for future reference, what can I really do in this game? I’m being double-teamed in the post, what can I do in this situation anyway? I’ve got a millisecond to get a three point shot off – can I take it and make it? Can I (shoot) one of the dribble, a one dribble three, or hesitate and go to the basket? He’s taking more shots from three and more shots from the field than at any point in his career, and he’s scoring at a crazy rate.

It’s not going to help them make the playoffs. They don’t want to make the playoffs; they’re not trying to make the playoffs. What he’s trying to figure out is: what can I create in my bag of tricks to help us make the playoffs next year and, in the playoffs, to carry my team.

Note: this is not an actual Love quote, this is just an observation from Thorpe, who I respect as an evaluator and developer of basketball talent.

I’m not a fan of tanking. I’ve made the point in the past that, essentially, I cannot bear to see the Sixers lose. That means I may be in the minority, but for this I don’t care. I will never root for the Sixers to lose.

But if there was any upside to not trying to win, this is it. Not trying to lose to get the most talent out of the draft, but being able to develop players without looking at the scoreboard. It’s the one part of the so-called “Thunder Model” that I agree with. Much of what they have been able to accomplish is luck-based, but they are great now because they allowed their players to develop at their own paces. In many ways, the team (especially Russell Westbrook) is still trying to figure everything out. But they’ve been given the leeway and the time to figure things out provided they put forth the right effort consistently.

The upside to not holding winning as the ultimate goal, then, is that there’s little pressure to do everything right. There’s no quick triggers for mental errors or turnovers or other mistakes that result in losses. There’s no set limits. In other words, everything that the Sixers don’t face right now. We have quick triggers (ex: Jrue Holiday being pulled for making a live ball turnover), penalties for making mistakes (ex: running sprints every time a player has 3 turnovers), and limits (the players abide by the system offense at all times if they want to play, lest they become scapegoated like Marreese Speights). We have the things in place that winning teams need, but we don’t have the talent or the stars to make everything work well enough to win a title. We might be winning and gaining that “all-valuable” playoff experience, but we may not be developing our key players to the highest potential, so that they can lead us to be champions in the future.

If you look at the players near the top of the NBA, nearly all were given freedom early in their careers to test their limits. Derrick Rose got to do whatever he wanted in Chicago when Vinny Del Negro coached there (yes, by design, not because VDN is incompetent). LeBron James had the reigns handed to him from day one in Cleveland. I’ve mentioned Westbrook, Love, and Kevin Durant already. Dirk Nowitzki got the freedom in Dallas under Don Nelson. These players, like many others, have talent. But there’s a difference between being Derrick Rose and, say, John Wall. Rose was given freedom to test his limits and was held accountable for his effort. Wall was not given freedom to test his limits under Flip Saunders and, like the rest of the Wizards, was not held accountable for his effort. Luckily for Wizards fans, he’s young enough to figure everything out still. But it shows how much a nurturing environment can affect player development. It sounds simple, and it often is. But getting everyone in an organization to abide by that agenda is another story.

Meanwhile, Kevin Love is going to keep getting better, diversifying his game. Can we say the same about Jrue and Evan Turner? I don’t think so.

I’m not sure the Sixers are abiding by the right agenda, is what I’m saying. And that trying too hard to win now, Collins agenda, could be jeopardizing our franchise’s future, which should be the front office’s agenda. I don’t agree that we should be tanking – we shouldn’t be trying to lose games. But I would agree that player development is more important than winning a title right now, because only one of these two ideals is realistic, at least until the other is done right. And if that is done at the cost of wins, then so be it. Maybe the 4-seed isn’t the goal we should be looking toward.

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Tags: Derrick Rose Dirk Nowitzki Evan Turner John Wall Jrue Holiday Kevin Durant Kevin Love LeBron James Marreese Speights Player Development Russell Westbrook

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