We’ve seen some lopsided scores in the 2022 NBA playoffs. Nothing too unusual. In the 1985 NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 148-114 in the “Memorial Day Massacre.” In 1971 the Milwaukee Bucks beat the then-San Francisco Warriors 136-86. Blowouts happen, even in the playoffs.
But don’t tell Lakers legend and Hall of Famer James Worthy. According to the three-time champion, these blowouts are reflective of problems with the game as a whole. He believes the league is too three-point obsessed and players aren’t as developed because they don’t go to college.
“I mean, Kareem had four years with John Wooden, Michael Jordan and I had three years with Dean Smith, Isiah (Thomas) had some years with Bobby Knight. So you learned the fundamentals,” Worthy said this week on the “Stoney & Jansen Show.” “Not only that, you learned how to live. You learned how to balance your freaking checkbook in college, there’s a lot of things. When you don’t get that, guys are coming to the NBA who are not fundamentally sound. All they do is practice threes, lift weights, get tattoos, tweet and go on social media. That’s it.
“So you don’t have that sound player; you have an athletic player. And that’s what’s happening to the game. It’s a lot of ISO and looking for mismatches. Bill Russell told me one time, they had five options off of one play. You don’t see that anymore.”
You can see Worthy peeking out from his living room window yelling, “GET OFF MY LAWN!”
The sad part is he sounds like an old man who is out of touch dropping in hints of respectability politics on players in a predominantly Black league. As a Black man himself, that’s a bad look.
Let’s start with the first part of his statement regarding his peers and fundamentals.
Back in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, the NCAA was the best 23-and-under basketball league in the world. That’s no longer the case. The NBA now routinely has the best U23 talent and you can argue that the Euroleague (the second-best professional hoops league) has U23 talent at least on par with the NCAA.
So players might come into the NBA younger and possibly less fundamentally sound as a whole. But Worthy mentioned some of the best of his era. We can play that game.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Devin Booker all either played no college or one year of college. They are among the most fundamentally sound players in the history of the game. Playing three or four years of college doesn’t guarantee fundamental soundness.
Worthy also said you “learn how to live” by going to college and all players do now is “practice threes, lift weights, get tattoos, tweet and go on social media.” He’s hinting at a level of maturity one might develop by going to college. In a vacuum that might also be true.
But this is the same James Worthy who at the age of 29 was arrested in Houston for soliciting a prostitute before a game. Worthy was a member of the Showtime Lakers, the subject of Adam McKay’s HBO Series “Winning Time.” Let’s just say that time he got arrested wasn’t his first dalliance with a woman who wasn’t his wife.
To be clear, that was between Worthy and his wife, now ex-wife, at the time. But you can’t be out here talking about tattoos and social media implying that guys today are some type of way, when you and your generation engaged in all kinds of extracurricular activities as well.
The final point to take issue with is that the game is all about ISO and looking for mismatches. It’s true that particularly in the playoffs there is a predatory way that teams hunt for a weak link and attack it over and over. But that isn’t what every team does, and even the teams that do that don’t do it exclusively.
The Golden State Warriors play a read-and-react motion offense. They rarely employ isolation plays. Instead opting for multiple actions and weaponizing all five players on the floor. The Milwaukee Bucks also play this style, five out with multiple actions. Even the Boston Celtics, who have an apex predator isolation scorer in Jayson Tatum, are running early sets and getting off the ball quickly and getting it back on back cuts and screens.
Sounds like Worthy isn’t watching the game too closely and is instead relying on lazy narratives. The game has evolved. Too bad many players from the past have not evolved with it.