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How The West Wasn’t One-On-One

DALLAS, TEXAS - JANUARY 05: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after being fouled by Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks in the third quarter at American Airlines Center on January 05, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

This week’s chat-show version of “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” has been “Who is the best single player in the Dallas-Golden State series?” because only an argument matters, and the stupider the better.

The general consensus is that the correct answer must be Luka Doncic because his first four seasons make him one of the best players ever if you forbid players from playing a fifth season. It is, of course, an artificial construct like most bad arguments, but at least it got Patrick Beverley to stop talking for a few hours, which is its own benefit.

It is a bad argument because, frankly, it does a poor job of telling anyone what team will win a series because, despite what sports chat show producers want you to believe, those sticks-in-the-mud at NBA Galactic Headquarters still award trophies to teams. If you want to know how well the “best player in the series” argument works, ask Giannis Antetokounmpo. And if your ambitions are more completist, dig up Wilt Chamberlain and ask what’s left of him how that argument sits.

The best-guy debate is just a ginned-up version of “Who’s your favorite player, and why is the answer the new flavor in town?” This is Doncic’s first time past the first round, and since nobody thought to ask the question while the Mavs were upsetting the suddenly-unfashionable Phoenix Suns, it is time to inflate it because ESPN and Turner are trying to introduce the nation to the idea that Doncic alone is what makes the Mavs interesting, in the same way that Damian Lillard was the only reason to care about Portland when they went to the Conference Final in 2019.

Now maybe Doncic is the only captivating thing about Mavs; that’s between you and the other voices in that dance hall you call a head. But the more important point is that Doncic and Stephen Curry (who we assume you believe is Golden State’s best player) are not apt comparison points. Through circumstance rather than planning, Doncic has worked his side of the street relatively free of top-quality talent, though you can rise in defense of Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie if you wish, while Curry rose to his place of mega-prominence as the first among equals in an ensemble of what became made guys. The Warriors are good because they have more ways to steal your soul than you do of stealing theirs, and if not for Kyrie Irving making the only basket of the last five minutes in 2016, they’d have a fully fledged and indisputable dynasty rather than one which gives their detractors a reason to asterisk the whole enterprise.

They may be old (and they are, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), but the key is that they are not yet too old. More to the point, they have shown that they have multiple ways and multiple years of beating top-heavy teams by being that ensemble. One night it is Curry, another it is Klay Thompson, another it is Draymond Green. They even closed out the Memphis series with Kevon Looney as the best player, or if you must, the most impactful player. They are more than their numbers suggest (Curry’s biggest statistical season was the year they got knocked out of the play-in tournament, while his two MVPs occurred when they had the best record), and until further notice Doncic is exactly what his numbers suggest. One system has proven to work; the other is just starting its trial run.

The series begins tonight, and as a subscriber you are allowed (with a downloadable permission slip from Comrade Ley) to enjoy the games any way you like. Just don’t make your family and friends turn on you by asking them, “So who do you think the best player is?” Your bartender will smite you, as any good bartender should, and remind you that you are posing an irrelevance that reflects more on you and less on your individual of choice.