Source: ESPN

A running joke around this site is that the Oscar for best picture should just always go to the Avengers, or whatever other movie makes the most money at the box office. After all, isn't popularity the proof of the best in a meritocracy? For example, D'Angelo Russell had the gall to imply the Tracy McGrady might have been a better player than Kobe Bryant. By the Avengers test, this seems silly. Kobe trounces Tracy McGrady on every accolade known to man. But is Kobe vs. Tracy McGrady a fair comparison? Or is it possible that other factors should be taken into account when comparing players.


A fun experiment by Salganik, Dodds, and Watts looked at how music popularity. Thousands of participants downloaded songs and rated them. However, there were three conditions:

  • In the first, participants just downloaded and rated songs
  • In the second, participants could see a grid of how other people had rated every song
  • In the third, participants could see a ranked list of how other people had rated every song

When users couldn't see how others voted, it was much easier to guess which songs would become the most popular. But as soon as they could see other users votes, individual songs got much more popular. And the kicker? The researchers couldn't guess which songs that would happen to.

It makes sense, a song that quickly gets two votes can cascade into being the best, even if it was as good as another song. And if you give the population that information in an easy to read fashion it gets even worse. This phenomenon has been called "The Matthew Effect," which means advantages get you more advantages. Putting it all together means - favorable starting conditions are key to success in areas where social interaction determines "the best."

In regards to Kobe and the Avengers, I have no doubt that both of them qualify as very good. However, it's just worth noting that both had to have very favorable conditions to achieve the astronomical success they did. Sure, the Avengers franchise has grossed billions of dollars. It also came to market at the perfect time with the perfect cast. You need only look back a few decades when a few bad superhero movies made the notion of a large team blockbuster like the Avengers impossible.

And that brings us to Kobe vs. Tracy McGrady. Now, calling either the "greatest of all time" seems sketch to me. Both were good players, and one could argue that Tracy McGrady's per-minute performance was better than Kobe's, while Kobe's longevity obviously trumps T-Mac's. But we haven't been watching both players in a vacuum.

Tracy and Kobe's beginnings were quite different. In 1996, Kobe Bryant was drafted by a fifty-win Charlotte Hornets, who then traded him the Lakers, who had just acquired Shaquille O'Neal. On a winning team, Kobe was slowly given more minutes until he became a full-fledged starter in 1999 and a piece of a title winning Laker squad. And right around the time the Lakers started winning titles, Kobe started picking up annual awards. He made every All-Star game after 2000, and regularly made the All-NBA team, usually the first team. After a disappointing breakup of a franchise, the Lakers were able to get key assets for Shaquille O'Neal, and luck into an All-Star center with Pau Gasol and Kobe would get another pair of titles.

Tracy McGrady was drafted by a horrible Toronto Raptors. He was slowly given more minutes until he was traded to a mediocre Orlando Magic in 2000. He became a key part of a mediocre franchise, while he started earning accolades. He was an All-Star and All-NBA regular from 2001 on. The Magic traded him to a promising Rockets franchise in 2004, but a combination of his health, Yao Ming's health, or the rest of the Rockets kept the squad from going anywhere. After the health of the Rockets finally fell apart, Tracy McGrady bounced around the NBA, never living up to his potential.

With almost twenty years of basketball in the bag, it's easy to look at Kobe versus T-Mac and give the nod to Kobe. So many of his accolades speak for themselves. Except, Kobe's accolades have a ton to do with being part of a social network and having key starting conditions. All-Star berths are voted on by fans. Writers give All-NBA awards. These groups have been shown to love large markets and winning teams. Kobe starting his career on a killer squad in a big market has undoubtedly helped his career. Tracy McGrady was toiling away on a horrible team, before going to a mediocre squad, before even getting a shot at a real team matters! It matters for public perception, and it might even matter for how their careers played out.

Count the Rings

I often hear Kobe's work ethics praised. And I've heard Tracy McGrady called a talented player that didn't want to put in the work to sustain his greatness. But compare where Kobe and T-Mac were in the middle of their career. Kobe Bryant had won three titles and was fighting to be viewed as the same level of player as Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan (sadly he is, and no, he shouldn't be) Tracy McGrady? If he tried really hard, he might be on a team that made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs!

If Tracy McGrady has started his career on a better team in a better market, and Kobe Bryant had started on a horrible team, would we be having an entirely different discussion? I think it's fair to say probably. It's fair to say that D'Angelo Russel's claims aren't that far off the mark. Both Kobe and T-Mac were talented high schoolers filled to the brim with potential. Both had exhilarating games. I'd even argue if he was given the chance, McGrady probably would have been more clutch than Kobe. 

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

In the fictitious world of Ann Rand, the cream rises to the top. In the world of Ann Rand, Kobe Bryant has had a better career than Tracy McGrady because he's a better player. But in the real world, where initial conditions matters and where social voting compounds on itself quickly, I think it's not so outrageous to say that Tracy McGrady should be viewed in the same light as Kobe Bryant. Of course, most sports fans would probably disagree.

Source: ESPN

A running joke around this site is that the Oscar for best picture should just always go to the Avengers, or whatever other movie makes the most money at the box office. After all, isn't popularity the proof of the best in a meritocracy? For example, D'Angelo Russell had the gall to imply the Tracy McGrady might have been a better player than Kobe Bryant. By the Avengers test, this seems silly. Kobe trounces Tracy McGrady on every accolade known to man. But is Kobe vs. Tracy McGrady a fair comparison? Or is it possible that other factors should be taken into account when comparing players?


A fun experiment by Salganik, Dodds, and Watts looked at music popularity. Thousands of participants downloaded songs and rated them. However, there were three conditions:

  • In the first, participants just downloaded and rated songs
  • In the second, participants could see a grid of how other people had rated every song
  • In the third, participants could see a ranked list of how other people had rated every song

When users couldn't see how others voted, it was much easier to guess which songs would become the most popular. But as soon as they could see other users votes, individual songs got much more popular. And the kicker? The researchers couldn't guess which songs that would happen to.

It makes sense, a song that quickly gets two votes can cascade into being the best, even if it was as good as another song. And if you give the population that information in an easy-to-read fashion, it gets even worse. This phenomenon has been called "The Matthew Effect," which means that advantages get you more advantages. Favorable starting conditions are crucial to success in areas where social interaction determines what "the best" is.

In regards to Kobe and the Avengers, I have no doubt that both of them qualify as very good. However, it's just worth noting that both had to have very favorable conditions to achieve the astronomical success they did. Sure, the Avengers franchise has grossed billions of dollars. It also came to market at the perfect time with the perfect cast. You need only look back a few decades when a few bad superhero movies made the notion of a large team blockbuster like the Avengers impossible.

And that brings us to Kobe Bryant vs. Tracy McGrady. Now, calling either the "greatest of all time" seems sketch to me. Both were good players, and one could argue that Tracy McGrady's per-minute performance was better than Kobe's, while Kobe's longevity obviously trumps T-Mac's. But we haven't been watching both players in a vacuum.

Tracy and Kobe's beginnings were quite different. In 1996, Kobe Bryant was drafted by a fifty-win Charlotte Hornets, who then traded him the Lakers, who had just acquired Shaquille O'Neal. On a winning team, Kobe was slowly given more minutes until he became a full-fledged starter in 1999 and a piece of a title winning Laker squad. And right around the time the Lakers started winning titles, Kobe started picking up annual awards. He made every All-Star game after 2000, and regularly made the All-NBA team, usually the first team. A couple of years after the disappointing "breakup" between the Lakers and Shaquille O'Neal, the franchise lucked into an All-Star center (Pau Gasol), and Kobe would get another pair of titles.

By contrast, Tracy McGrady was drafted by the horrible Toronto Raptors. He was slowly given more minutes until he was traded to the mediocre Orlando Magic in 2000. He became a key part of a mediocre franchise, while he started earning accolades. He was an All-Star and All-NBA regular from 2001 on. The Magic traded him to a promising Rockets franchise in 2004, but a combination of his health, Yao Ming's health, or the rest of the Rockets kept the squad from going anywhere. After the health of the Rockets finally fell apart, Tracy McGrady bounced around the NBA, and never really lived up to his potential.

With almost twenty years of basketball in the bag, it's easy to look at Kobe versus T-Mac and give the nod to Kobe. So many of his accolades speak for themselves. Except, Kobe's accolades have a ton to do with being part of a social network and having key starting conditions. All-Star berths are voted on by fans. Writers give All-NBA awards. These groups have been shown to love large markets and winning teams. Kobe starting his career on a killer squad in a big market has undoubtedly helped his career. Tracy McGrady was toiling away on a horrible team, before going to a mediocre squad, before even getting a shot at a real team. And this matters! It matters for public perception, and it might even matter for how their careers played out.

Count the Rings

I often hear Kobe's work ethics praised. And I've heard Tracy McGrady called a talented player that didn't want to put in the work to sustain his greatness. But compare where Kobe and T-Mac were in the middle of their career. Kobe Bryant had won three titles and was fighting to be viewed as the same level of player as Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan (sadly he is, and no, he shouldn't be) Tracy McGrady? If he tried really hard, he might be on a team that made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs!

If Tracy McGrady has started his career on a better team in a better market, and Kobe Bryant had started on a horrible team, would we be having an entirely different discussion? I think it's fair to say probably. It's fair to say that D'Angelo Russel's claims aren't that far off the mark. Both Kobe and T-Mac were talented high schoolers filled to the brim with potential. Both had exhilarating games. I'd even argue if he was given the chance, McGrady probably would have been more clutch than Kobe. 

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

In the fictitious world of Ayn Rand, the cream rises to the top. In the world of Ayn Rand, Kobe Bryant has had a better career than Tracy McGrady because he's a better player. But in the real world, where initial conditions matters and where social voting compounds on itself quickly, I think it's not so outrageous to say that Tracy McGrady should be viewed in the same light as Kobe Bryant. Of course, most sports fans will probably disagree.

The Phoenix Suns are spending more money this year than they have since the heyday of the SSOL Suns, all thanks to recent extensions given to players aging out of their rookie contracts and last month's big free agent signing of Tyson Chandler.

Coming into the season, the Suns rank 17th in overall spending among NBA teams. Chandler, Bledsoe and Knight are now among the Top 50 paid players in the NBA this season, though Bledsoe and Knight tie for just 42nd and Chandler comes in at 49th.

  • All together, 28 of the 30 NBA teams have at least 1 player making a Top-50 salary, so Phoenix having someone in there is no great shakes.
  • 26 of 30 teams have at least one player making more than any Phoenix Suns player will make this year.
  • Seven other teams have at least three players making Top-50 money (Cavaliers, Heat, Clippers, Thunder, Bulls, Spurs, Warriors). All but the Suns and Heat made the playoffs last year, and the Heat are predicted to be a top East contender this year.

Money does not equal wins

For certain, just because you spend money on players doesn't mean you win more games. Several big spenders won't make the playoffs this year.

Just ask the Brooklyn Nets, who are still a big-spending team even after buying out Deron Williams. They will be lucky to win 35 games despite being the 9th biggest spender on salaries. The Pistons and Knicks are outspending the Suns but almost certainly won't make the playoffs, even in the lowly East. In the West, the Lakers have two top-50 salaries, Kobe Bryant and Roy Hibbert, and are spending just $2 million less than the Suns but likely will be fighting to keep their high lotto pick (Top 3).

Last year, the Knicks spent the 4th MOST money last year on salaries, but finished as the league's 2nd worst. The Kings spent the 11th most money, but finished as the league's 6th worst.

On the other end, the Bucks spent the LEAST money on player salaries, yet made the playoffs. The Hawks spent the 5th least amount of money and Celtics 8th least, yet those teams made the playoffs too. They were able to squeak in thanks an awful conference made even worse by terrible injuries (Heat, Pacers).

But most of the time it does

But aside from the Knicks and Kings last year, every team that spent top-17 money was playoff caliber. They either made the playoffs or missed it primarily because they suffered catastrophic injuries (Heat/Bosh/Wade, Pacers/George, Thunder/Westbrook/Durant).

That's 15 of the top 17 spenders being playoff caliber, with just the Bulls (20th) and Hawks (26th) making the playoffs without spending like it. The Suns haven't been a Top-20 spender in several years.

I'm not saying the Suns will make the playoffs. Certainly, some think the Suns are on the outside looking in.

The Suns could lose a ton of games next year that has nothing to do with player salaries, and I'm not trying to imply otherwise. I'm just saying they are at least spending like it, and it's not because they are spending stupid money. All the contracts are market rate or below.

Let's break down the Suns roster, and compare their spending to other NBA teams. I've used one of my favorite sites - spotrac.com - for all this information, including team rankings by position.

Guards

Next season, the Suns will spend the 5th most money on guards in the NBA ($39.5 million), which is just over half of the overall $70 million salary cap. That's a jump from the $33 million they spent on guards last year (still 7th in the league), divvied up primarily between Bledsoe, Dragic, Tucker, Thomas and Green.

This coming year, only the Heat (Wade, Dragic), Lakers (Kobe, Swaggy P, Russell and Lou Will), Clippers (Paul, Redick, Crawford) and Warriors (Splash Brothers, et al) will spend more on the guard position.

*Note: the site I'm using for rankings has Tucker as a guard. This inflates the guard spending, while deflating the forward spending. I assume the same categorization of wings going into the 'guards' ranking is applied across the board, so the rankings are still apples-to-apples.

Both Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight will make market-rate salaries in 2015-16, totaling $27 million together. That takes up just under 40% of the salary cap with those two alone. Next year, with the expected jump of the cap to $90+ million, Knight and Bledsoe will count just 30%. While that's still a high rate for two players, it leaves a ton of money for spending elsewhere.

The Suns project to enter next summer with up to $29 million to spend, with Teletovic, Leuer and Price being UFAs and if the Suns release Weems and Tucker. The Suns would still have 8 players under contract (including Morris, at the moment) + 2 draft picks. If the Suns keep Tucker and Weems, that $ is still $20+ million.

Back to this year, only the Miami Heat, with Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade just re-signed this summer, and the Lakers, with Kobe Bryant and whoever starts next to him, will be spending more on their two starting guards (unless it's Jordan Clarkson instead of Lou Williams, Swaggy P or Russell).

The Nets, after buying out Deron Williams, dropped to 6th overall on guard spending for the coming season. A year ago, the Nets spent a whopping $55 million on their guard position ALONE (or 92% of the cap) thanks mostly to Joe Johnson and Williams.

Centers

After spending only $8 million on their center position a year ago (22nd in the league), the Suns will now spend $16.81 million on centers (13th) between Tyson Chandler and Alex Len.

  • Tyson Chandler: $13 million
  • Alex Len: $3.81

The Suns have occasionally spent a lot of their cap on centers, which might surprise you. Two years ago, it was Emeka Okafor. Before that, it was Ben Wallace and Shaquille O'Neal. Only O'Neal spent any time on the active roster though.

This year, the Suns hope that Tyson Chandler can have the type of impact that David West made on the Indiana Pacers a few years ago, when West helped propel the middling Pacers into a perennial playoff team. Before his arrival, unheralded as it was, the Pacers were stuck in mediocrity refusing to bottom out. It helped that they hit on Paul George in the draft, but it was West who was credited with changing their culture and showing them how to win.

Forwards

This category apparently only includes guys who play power forward alone, or at least exclusively a forward position. Remember that P.J. Tucker was categorized as a guard above. The Suns will spend just $16.57 million on their forwards (28th in the league).

By extreme comparison, the Cleveland Cavaliers spend the most on forwards ($53.5 million), and that doesn't even include Tristan Thompson's soon-to-be $16 million per year!

Ponder this: once TT signs, the Cavs will be investing their entire "regular" salary cap ($70 million) on guys who play forward for a living! Thanks to Bird Rights and trade rules, they spend another $35 million on the other positions (not even yet counting Matthew Dellavadova or J.R. Smith).

Summary

The Suns spend more than most on guards, are middling on centers and one of the least invested in forwards. Duh, you knew that right? Of course you did. We all did.

But I thought it was interesting show the numbers on how the Suns compare to other teams, and see where other teams are spending their money. Cleveland is forward-heavy, Washington and Minnesota are center-heavy and Golden State takes the cake on guard spending.

Most importantly, the Suns are investing again. Since 2012, the Suns have ranked 30th, 28th and 24th in spending on player salaries while they rebuilt with youth. This year, they are 17th.

They still don't have a sure-fire All-Star on the roster (which is why their highest paid player is the 42nd highest paid in the league despite signing just last month), but at least they are bringing in talent.

Tyson Chandler was a big get in free agency. As I've written before, he's the Suns biggest financial investment since Steve Nash. He won't have the Nash impact, but it would be nice to see someone making the right plays out there and holding people accountable. That could go a long way for a team in the edge of the playoff picture the last two years.

While spending most certainly does not equal wins (hello Lakers and Knicks!), it's a start. When you're not willing to be awful enough to get a top draft pick, you at least have to willing to spend in free agency to add more talent to your team.

It still feels like there’s one more major trade that needs to go down before the start of NBA training camp, and no, it isn’t DeMarcus Cousins. With Markieff Morris going public about...

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This Week's Show

Patrick and Brian are back to discuss the recent position adjustment on boxscoregeeks.com, why was the change made and why do we even need position adjustments to evaluate player production in the first place?

Hosts

Sources

You can watch us live at twitch.tv/nerdnumbers almost every Monday at 9:30pm EST.

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

Video Show

This Week's Poll

Show Notes

Poker or Egaming?

Our poll last week was about if ESPN and eGaming were a match. Patrick seems to think, at least compared to poker, that DOTA 2 is more of a "sport."

Position Fixes

Patrick recently fixed a bug on the position adjustment for the numbers on the site.

The simple reality is that there are distinctly different positions and responsibilities in the NBA. We've talked about this a lot over the years. And, we'll apparently keep talking about it for a while. Patrick has a good breakdown, though, tune in!

The Wall of Boredom

It's the part of the show where we talk the NBA offseason using ESPN's transaction page.

The Houston Rockets' D-League affiliate just signed a coach that realizes how good the three-point line is. Will this help the Rockets get even better at "Moreyball"?

Some day a team in the NBA is going to try taking over fifty threes a game. And I want to see what happens.

-Patrick Minton

The Mavs signed JaVale McGee, which Patrick doesn't see as a bad thing. Although it does lead to a good question about the importance of goaltending on defense.

Scott Walker and Arenas

You can not claim to be fiscally responsible and be in favor of publicly funded stadiums. Full stop.

Shout Outs

Patrick shouts out Flip Saunders, who revealed he had Hodgkin's lymphoma last week. For as much trash as we talk, it's only basketball. Cancer sucks, and we hope Flip a successful fight and full recovery.

Brian shouts out the Lakers for doing a big fourteen player guard tryout. Arturo had a template called "Build me a Winner" back in the day, which the Lakers may have finally gotten around to reading.

Brian shouts of Clinton Loomis, captain of team Fear. As an Egamer, he's having an issue with injuries and hoping to get surgery. Basically, he gets our respect as a top tier athlete.

I've got a doctor's apt tomorrow that may determine if I'm eligible for surgery or not for my arm. I hope I am...

— Clinton Loomis (@FearDotA) August 14, 2015

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