The Timberwolves dominated the weekend news, which is shocking because the only time anyone ever talks about them is around draft time when we all anticipate how they’ll screw up another draft pick. That’s sort of the problem, as it turns out.
Let me explain.
First of all, the Wolves did a fascinating thing -- firing and hiring a coach in the span of 10 minutes, right after a game they lost to the Knicks. Ryan Saunders is out. Chris Finch is in on a multi-year contract. If you don’t know Finch, he’s a non-traditional basketball guy in the Nick Nurse mold who is widely considered one of the best offensive minds in the league. As an assistant head coach in Denver, New Orleans, and Toronto, he’s been credited with developing Jokic and Murray in Denver, AD and Brandon Ingram in New Orleans, and this year upping Siakam’s game in Toronto. He’s been entrusted to turn around Karl-Anthony Towns and with his pedigree? It might just happen.
But that’s now what this blog is about. On Friday night, Wolves 2020 #1 draft pick (and #1 overall) Anthony Edwards threw down what is certainly the dunk of the year, and probably one of the best dunks in recent memory.
I mean, that is by all definitions a phenomenal dunk, but this blog isn’t really about that play, it’s about what people saw in that play.
The reaction to the dunk showed something fascinating: we live in two worlds as it relates to the NBA.
What are these two worlds? On one side, there are people who find joy in the individual and beautiful moments of the game because of what it does for the culture and their soul. Because basketball is supposed to be fun. On the other side are people who look at basketball as a business. To them? It’s all about stats, WAR, Raptor, how close a team is to a title, dead cap space, storylines, etc. etc.
And these worlds clashed on Friday night. Ant Edwards posterizing Watanabe put a spotlight on this philosophical divide in basketball.
While much of the world was going crazy tweeting and retweeting Ant’s dunk, a small but vocal minority decided this was the time to point out “the bigger picture.”
Enter Nate Duncan.
My first reaction was, God Damn, Nate! Did you just “well actually” Ant Edwards nuts on Watanabe’s face? Did you really just seek to diminish that viral moment with numbers?
Yes. He. Did. And the internet responded vehemently, and that’s how we got the following line: 3300/1300/18000.
3300 quote tweets. 1300 comments. 18k likes.
This is the only stat that matters in this conversation. This numeric response shows you how polarized NBA twitter is. Nearly 8k people, almost all of them angry, coming for Nate’s head.
Yet 18,000 people hitting a button saying, yep, this take is right. What’s going on? Justin Tinsley perfectly summed it up:
I truly understand both POVs, because I live somewhere in that grey area between the two.
This isn’t a defense of Nate Duncan, by the way, it’s an explanation, and it’s complicated. So complicated.
It begins with Ant Edwards, a player taken #1 with incredible athletic gifts but who is considered a project. He has not shot better than 40% in college or so far in his NBA career. He famously said in his pre-draft interviews he didn’t love basketball and that if the NFL called he’d drop hoops in a heartbeat. As the first overall, he’s expected to shoulder the burden of a franchise that’s historically been inept at drafting. Add in the fact that #3 overall LaMelo Ball is absolutely KILLING it in Charlotte, and people are already souring on him because, not surprisingly, Ant has struggled this year.
Here’s where Nate comes in. Nate’s a Big J, and as such, understands that storylines drive the news, not incredible moments. You can’t get a week of columns out of a single dunk, no matter how sick. What you can get a week of columns, a couple spots on sports radio, and a TV segment on a Sunday night is talking about a guy with a horrible stat line (3 for 14 and 0-7 from three) who’s expected to produce right now, who told the world pre-draft he wasn’t really interested in basketball, who a bad team took a chance on him over a sure thing in Lamelo Ball, who had great dunk that distracts people from his struggles on the court.
That’s what we would call a developing situation, a storyline, and constant content.
Content is a dirty game. It’s unfair. It leads us to make assumptions. Prognostications. And to lean in to controversial storylines… because you know what? It moves the fucking needle.
So yeah, Nate Duncan is the “no fun police”, but he’s been in the media for a long time and knows this is the game.
And on the other side, there are people who say… Can’t we just focus for 15 seconds on something great? Please shut up and let us enjoy SOMETHING. Lord knows there hasn’t been much to celebrate in a two year pandemic that has devastated the league and our lives. Can’t we just have this? One minute of joy? We have it, and yet before we can absorb it, you’re trying to kill it.
Who’s right? Both POVs can be right at the same time. The Wolves can have fucked up this draft (again) and Ant Edward can still turn out to be a nice player. And we can still celebrate his incredible dunk even if his stat line was bad.
I think this is more about timing than anything else. The time to bring up Ant’s struggles can’t be when he’s actually done something great. There’s plenty of time to dissect the game after. Let’s just enjoy a superhuman basketball play.
We should all be Kevin Hart in the moment.
We talk about this, go into further detail on the Chris Finch hire and why it’s got some player’s panties in a bunch, and dig more into the player that was overlooked by Minnesota and Golden State (LaMelo Ball) might just change the Hornets organization and Michael Jordan’s legacy as a team owner for the better.