My grandfather was terrified when he found out that I wanted to go to Georgia Tech for college.
I didn’t know this until 15 years later. But when my grandfather found out that I wanted to go to Georgia Tech, the best engineering school that he knew, his first reaction wasn’t joy, or pride — it was fear.
To understand why, you had to understand where he came from. He was born in 1915, in LaGrange, Georgia. A black child, born deep in the south, just 50 years after the end of the Civil War.
When Grandpa was a child, his family was visited by someone that he and his siblings knew only as “the old white man.” He was pretty sure that the old white man was a son in the family that used to own my family.
Used to own my family.
When Grandpa was a teenager, he was smart. He decided that he wanted to be an engineer. The Georgia Institute of Technology was the finest engineering institution that he knew, but he didn’t even think about going there. In Grandpa’s world, if a black person even told someone that they wanted to go to a school like Georgia Tech, it could very well put their life in danger.
This was the world that my grandfather knew. It was so ingrained in him that even decades later, the very thought that his grandchild wanted to go to Georgia Tech was enough to send chills down his spine.
Grandpa died in 2015, at the age of 100. He got to see, live and experience a lot of things. And while it was amazing for him that he got to see the first black president of the United States, I like to think that his proudest moment came when he saw his grandson graduate Summa Cum Laude from the Georgia Institute of Technology in electrical engineering. His grandson was a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech and a helluva engineer.
When he saw that, he’d later tell my mom, he knew that the world had really changed.
This is what Martin Luther King Day means to me. This is probably the most poignant Martin Luther King Day of my lifetime, with a portion of this country’s population pining to return to the mindset and culture that were prevalent during my grandfather’s youth. But on this day that celebrates the greatest civil rights leader in American history, I choose not to be afraid.
We are all the products of generations of people who have experienced trials, tribulations and adversity … and overcame them. We’ve overcome, and we shall continue to overcome. And that’s what I choose to celebrate on this MLK Day.
Now, with that said … let’s talk some hoops.
Should fantasy managers believe in the Cavaliers?
The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost three games in a row and seven of their last nine overall, with an average scoring margin of -9.0 points per game during that stretch. For perspective, the Sacramento Kings have the worst average scoring margin in the NBA this season at -8.9, so for the last nine games, the championship-seeking Cavaliers have played worse than the worst basketball team in the NBA.
More importantly to fantasy basketball managers out there, their poor play has led to depressed numbers for the players on the team.
LeBron James is the No. 1 player in the ESPN Player Rater this season with a whopping score of 21.4, almost four full points better than second-place DeMarcus Cousins, but over the past 15 days, James’ score is down almost eight full rating points to 13.9.
This pattern is true across the board for the Cavaliers. Kevin Love has dropped from a season rating of 10.7 to only 3.9 during the past 15 days. Dwyane Wade is down from 2.6 to -1.2, Jeff Green from 3.7 to 3.3, Kyle Korver from 2.9 to -1.5 and Jae Crowder from 1.5 to -0.3.
One argument I’ve heard recently is that the Cavaliers have absolutely nothing to worry about because they are in the midst of a second “training camp,” as ESPN’s Max Kellerman has called it. That suggests that the Cavaliers started the season badly, as LeBron and crew learned to play with one another, but once they did, they clicked and found their level on pace for yet another trip to the NBA Finals (LeBron has been to seven in a row).
But why would the Cavs, now, be playing like they did to start the season? In the aforementioned view, it’s because they are trying to integrate Isaiah Thomas into the lineup. He’s a big enough puzzle piece that bringing him into the fold is causing the team to have to relearn itself again, thus leading to its huge doldrums now.
Let’s test the “training camp” hypothesis. The Cavaliers started the season by winning their first two games, but then went on an eight-game stretch that looked a lot like the past nine games:
Games 3-10: two wins, six losses, scoring margin -8.9
After that cold spell, the Cavs went on to win 20 of their next 23 games while putting up the strong fantasy numbers that buoyed their season averages. So, suppose we stipulate that the “training camp” theory holds, and that the Cavs will soon finish their “training camp” with Thomas and re-establish their normal level. What would that mean for their fantasy output?
The best comp for the production of healthy, fully integrated 2017-18 Thomas on the Cavs is 2016-17 Kyrie Irving. If you compare the two from last season, the similarities in production and impact are startling.
In 2016-17, there were exactly two point guards in the NBA to measure with an offensive regularized plus minus (ORPM) over 3.0 and a defensive RPM (DRPM) of less than -2.0: Irving (+4.4 ORPM, -2.3 DRPM) and Thomas (+5.7 ORPM, -3.9 DRPM). Both Irving and Thomas measured out as hugely positive offensive players but very poor defenders. And the similarities continued in the box scores:
Irving made 9.3 field goals per game at 47 FG%, and 2.5 3-pointers at 40 3-point%. Thomas made 9.0 field goals per game at 46 FG% and 3.2 3-pointers at 38 3-point%.
Irving dished 8.3 assists, grabbed 4.5 rebounds, had 1.6 steals and 3.6 turnovers per 100 possessions. Thomas dished 8.6 assists, grabbed 4.0 rebounds, had 1.4 steals and 4.1 turnovers per 100 possessions.
The biggest difference in their box score production last season was that Thomas had more opportunities and created more free throw attempts than Irving, though both Irving (90.5 FT%) and Thomas (90.9 FT%) converted their free throws at almost the exact same rate.
So, if we postulate that Thomas will reach full health, that the Cavs will reach their new normal around him, and that the new normal will look a lot like the 2016-17 regular-season Cavs .. .that’s actually not the best news for the fantasy fortunes of James and Love. Because if we go back to their 2016-17 ESPN Player Rater numbers, we see that 2016-17 James earned a value of 13.9 while Love earned a value of 6.3.
In other words, last season, both James and Love produced box scores more similar to their diminished production of the past 15 days than their pre-Thomas numbers from this season. And this actually makes sense, because James and Love had to do a lot more to carry the Cavs without the third member of their triumvirate on the court. But we’ve seen what they look like next to a healthy Irving, and there’s a good chance that this is also what they would look like next to a healthy Thomas.
If you buy this line of logic, then the moral of the fantasy story wouldn’t jibe with the overall “training camp” hypothesis. Because even if this is just their version of a training camp around Thomas, the likelihood is that the finished product wouldn’t return James and Love to where they were fantasy-wise. This could, conceivably, make James and Love excellent fantasy trade bait at this time of year … but only if this logic plays out.
Like every other fantasy basketball move, there’s a risk involved. So the most important question is: What do you think happens next?