The Young Sixers have been, to this point in the season, very exciting. The Young Lakers also have been, to this point in the season, very exciting. On Wednesday night, the Young Sixers play the Young Lakers for the first time this season. This is a Good Cop–Bad Cop argument about which of the two teams is more exciting. Good Cop is arguing in favor of the Young Sixers. Bad Cop is arguing in favor of the Young Lakers.
Good Cop: The Young Sixers are the most exciting new team in the NBA, and so of course they are more exciting than the Young Lakers.
Bad Cop: Impossible.
Good Cop: We can walk through all the parts if you’d like.
Bad Cop: Please do. Please build your Young Sixers Are the Most Exciting New Team in the NBA ship so I can come through and stomp holes in it. Because the Young Lakers are, in a runaway, the most exciting new team in the NBA.
Good Cop: Are we just ignoring the Knicks? They’re exciting, too.
Bad Cop: What? No. I mean, yes, they’re exciting, duh. Kristaps has been unbelievable. And the Insta-war that just happened between them and LeBron is already one of the five best things that’s happened this season. But we can’t consider them a new team, because their best player isn’t a new player. Incidentally, if you squint hard enough, you can eliminate the Young Sixers for the same reason. Both Embiid and Simmons are guys you could argue aren’t “new.”
Good Cop: Not really, though. Simmons played zero games for the Sixers last season. They left him in his box until this year. So he’s definitely new. And Joel Embiid played only 31 games last season, and the threshold for whether or not a player can be considered “new” is actually 32 games.
Bad Cop: It feels a lot like you just made up that rule.
Good Cop: I did.
Bad Cop: OK. Assuming I accept that rule, then that means I get to make up one rule to help me argue my case later, too.
Good Cop: [Scrunches up face a bit.] [Takes a breath.] [Looks at Bad Cop.] I accept.
Bad Cop: Good. To make this pro–Young Lakers argument, let’s work backward. Let’s start with what, exactly, a team needs to have to be considered exciting. There are five things that have to be in place. First, a team needs to have an electric star; someone who, even on the dullest night of the season in a game against the dreariest of opponents, has enough gravity to pull you toward watching them. Second, the team needs to have some unexpected player do unexpected good things so that everyone can fall in love with him unexpectedly. Third, the team needs to have a player who, in one form or another, has an odd and somewhat freakish body that people can talk themselves into believing means that somewhere tucked away inside his bones is a generational-talent-level ability to do … something. Fourth, the team needs to be mostly made up of young players, and absolutely all the most important players have to be young. And fifth, the team needs to outperform whatever the low expectations were for them, even if ever so briefly.
The Lakers have all of those things. They have Lonzo Ball, whose name rings out so loudly that he turned an opening-week game against the Clippers (and defensive demon Patrick Beverley) into a must-watch event. They have Kyle Kuzma, an out-of-nowhere player (the 27th pick) who, in just a month, has become beloved. They have Brandon Ingram, whose body looks like how when a long piece of string gets all tangled up at the center and has just a few loose pieces coming off it. They have a roster with an average age of 16. (That’s an exaggeration, though only slightly. The Lakers’ actual average age is 24.25, making them the third-youngest team in the league.) And look at their next six games: They’ve got the Sixers on Wednesday night, then the Suns, Nuggets, Bulls, Kings, and Clippers. They’ll probably go something like 4–2 over that run, which will put them well on the path to finish the season with more than the 33.5 wins they were predicted to have.
Good Cop: Well, OK, first of all, that third rule — the one about a team needing to have a player on their roster with an odd body for it to be exciting — that’s definitely you just making up a rule there. So you’ve used up that token.
Bad Cop: Fair.
Good Cop: Second of all, the Sixers also have basically all of those things. They have Ben Simmons, who is like if Lonzo Ball were good. They hav —
Bad Cop: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Ben Simmons is like if Lonzo Ball were good? That’s stupid. You know Lonzo just became the youngest player ever in the history of the NBA to get a triple-double, right? Do you know who he beat to get that record? LeBron James. Also, and this one is crazy: Did you know that, per Basketball-Reference.com, Lonzo is one of only four NBA rookies ever to average at least six rebounds and seven assists per game? That’s a true thing. That’s an incredible true thing.
Good Cop: I actually did know that, because guess who else is on that list: Ben Simmons. And guess what else, and this one is far crazier than your “this one is crazy”: Ben is beating Lonzo in almost every single statistical category this season. He has more rebounds than Lonzo, more assists than Lonzo, more points than Lonzo, is shooting a higher percentage from the field than Lonzo, is shooting a higher percentage from the free throw line than Lonzo, and, just for fun, he also has more steals than Lonzo.
Bad Cop: BUT HE’S NOT LONZO. I MEAN, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO BEN SIMMONS’S FATHER IS. LONZO IS A STAR. STARS ARE EXCITING.
Good Cop: Here’s another thing, since we’re into the Basketball-Reference.com part of this argument now: Ben Simmons is the only player in the entire B-R.com database to have played at least 100 minutes and average a triple-double per 100 possessions. That particular database goes all the way back to the 1973–74 season. That’s over 40 years of NBA players who’ve not done a thing that Ben Simmons is doing right now.
Bad Cop: The Sixers are still missing the other things we laid out that teams need to be exciting.
Good Cop: Are they, though? Because they have Robert Covington, who checks off the Unexpected Player Doing Unexpected Good Things box. And the Lakers are the third-youngest team in the league, sure, but the Sixers are the fourth-youngest team. And they’re on track to finish with more than the 40.5 wins Vegas predicted they’d have. And even if you wanted to include your ridiculous Player With an Odd Body rule, then I’d just lob out there the 7-foot Joel Embiid, the most charming young player in the league for the past two seasons and a guy who, most recently, spent a night in Los Angeles just absolutely crushing everyone the Clippers tried to put between him and the basket.
Bad Cop: Covington’s been in the league for five seasons already. He doesn’t count. And talk to me about Embiid after he plays more than six games in a row for the Sixers, which he has never done. Until then, he can’t be a part of these discussions.
Good Cop: I super disagree about excluding Embiid from this discussion, particularly when you consider that excitement is generally predicated on the idea that something could potentially happen. What’s more exciting than potential? And who has more potential than Joel Embiid? And we haven’t even gotten around to mentioning Markelle Fultz, literally the no. 1 pick of the 2017 draft.
Bad Cop: I’ll tell you what’s more exciting than potential: dunks. And the Lakers have more dunks and layups (304) than every other team in the league.
Good Cop: Here’s another thing about potential, beca —
Bad Cop: We’re not talking about potential anymore.
Good Cop: Yes, we are. Because, really, that’s what’s at the center of something being exciting: the potential for what it could become. So listen: The Sixers are positioned better than the Lakers for the future because, in addition to having a bunch of contracts that are coming off their books next season, they’re also going to get either the Lakers’ 2018 first-round draft pick (if it’s the first overall pick or if it falls to somewhere between the sixth and 30th pick) or the Kings’ 2019 first-round draft pick (unprotected). That’s exciting. What they can become is something great.
Bad Cop: Fine. But have you considered at all that Philadelphia is Philadelphia? Which, I don’t know if you have a map by you or not right now, but if you do then go ahead and take a look, because this is going to blow your mind: Philadelphia is not Los Angeles.
Good Cop: You’re an idiot.
Bad Cop: But I’m not. Because Los Angeles matters. And since you’re so hung up on potential, let me trump all of that silly and confusing draft-talk nonsense with this: Only one of these two teams is being discussed right now when people talk about prospective places that LeBron James (and, to a lesser extent, Paul George) could end up next season. And it’s not Philadelphia. It’s L.A. What could possibly be more exciting than the King in Hollywood?
For the entirety of this season, the Lakers get to carry that card around in their back pockets. Every time Lonzo zips an incredible pass or Brandon Ingram unfurls his mega-limbs or Kyle Kuzma steals a night, there are 100,000 people saying, “Man, imagine what this would all look like if LeBron were here, too.” That’s really maybe all you need to know to make the argument that the Lakers are the more exciting new team.
Good Cop: No, because then your whole thing becomes dependent on whether or not this not-very-likely-to-happen thing ends up happening.
Bad Cop: No, no. You’re wrong. You don’t actually need it to happen. You just need the small possibility that it could happen to be a thing that people believe in. Think on it like this: Imagine there are two parties happening. One party is 65 percent good, and in addition to the 65 percent of goodness there’s a really good chance that someone is going to show up later in the night with some free food. The other party is 60 percent good, but in addition to the 60 percent good there’s a very off-the-wall chance that a very famous person is going to show up. Like, let’s say the very famous person is secondhand friends with the person throwing the party or whatever. Which of those two parties sounds the most exciting to you? The 65 percent good one that is likely going to get up to 75 percent good after the food arrives, or the 60 percent good one that could get up to 90 percent good if the famous person shows up and hangs out with everyone?
Good Cop: What are you even talking about?
Bad Cop: The Sixers are the 65 percent good party with the food and the Lakers are the 60 percent good party with the very slim chance a famous person shows up. The draft pick is the food and the famous person is LeBron.
Good Cop: You … you honestly thought that was less confusing than the draft picks thing from earlier?
Bad Cop: The Lakers are the more exciting new team, is what I’m saying.
Good Cop: The Sixers are the more exciting new team.