The Fred VanVleet-Jameer Nelson Paradox

10 mins read
Frank Gunn / CP

Contrived basketball debates are a great source of entertainment and the Raptors offer juicy options.

Early days of training camp yield insights into the thinking of the players and coaches about how they’d handle possible decisions that lie ahead. Off the court, fans are forming early opinions on possible outcomes of the complex and interwoven web that is the NBA landscape. Playoff matchups, load management strategies and X-Factors dominate much of the talk. Optimism is abound with ambivalent views proving to be fleeting and giving way to the more positive conclusions. As with any topic of the times there are questions that when asked stir the proletariat. To bring up these topics in public discourse is to be done only if you are both, willing to engage and willing to sit back and watch others engage. This can be true for almost anything in life, but there’s a special feeling when you’re the one lighting the match, watching the string burn away while awaiting the explosion. In Raptors fans circles, there are the debates that one must only bring up with caution. Here’s a sampling which has been experimented with and which I present to the reader in no particular order.

Fred VanVleet has hit the Jameer Nelson ceiling

Approach this one a firm acknowledgement that you’ll be witnessing two types of views. The first being where Fred VanVleet is at best a backup point guard where if he’s stretched to the starting job, he’ll fail miserably and turn into a lesser version of Mike James. This view also would see Jameer Nelson as a generous comp. This viewpoint comes from being conditioned to VanVleet oscillating between great and terrible with the individual over-indexing on VanVleet’s lack of athletic ability and size, while understating his shot-making and ball distribution. When lighting this match at parties make sure to grab yourself a sitting position because this one might last an extended period of time. It is also advisable to start this debate with at least two drinks by your side (in addition to the one in your hand) so you don’t miss a beat.

The view of VanVleet being a starting caliber point man is certainly one that is in the minority, but those who believe it, believe it fiercely. In that regard it’s much like Scientology. VanVleet’s toughness and leadership is often identified as a priceless tangible and on both points, comparisons to Kyle Lowry are made, with defense being cited as Exhibit A. There’s truth to the argument but the degrees by which the two are separated results in unwavering debate. The climax is when VanVleet’s age of 25 is brought up and comparisons to Lowry at 25 are made. By this point in the evening you may want to explore other pockets of the party as you may have exhausted all you can from this one. If you do choose to pursue this course of conversation, helpful tips include referencing VanVleet’s propensity for weight gain and referencing Jameer Nelson making the 2008-09 All-Star game.

Pascal Siakam has plateaued

Now to drop this one on a group of friends is essentially no different than dropping napalm on the aforementioned friends. There are mild and explosive triggers. This one has the potential to detonate any social gathering of reasonable citizens. Those who chose to weaponize this topic should do so knowing that they may have to supply some more initial firepower to truly ignite debate. The explosiveness of the argument lies from the underlying fear in Raptors fans hearts that Siakam has indeed plateaued. If immediate opposition to that argument is received from both parties, my professional opinion is to drop the “But is he following a logarithmic or exponential curve?” question. Most people don’t know what either curve looks like so they’ll get behind one and argue it until they realize they need to look what the curves are. They’ll quietly take out their phone and do a quick search, but by that point they’ve already committed to a stance which they will simply not reverse from. This should supply a sidecar of entertainment which is entirely separate from the main topic.

If the side arguing for a continued strong trajectory appear to be winning and the opposition seems to be weakening in their resolve, it is your duty as unofficial moderator of this discourse to drop a “deepity”. A deepity is a statement that is apparently profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another. For example, you could say: “Don’t guys who were introduced to basketball late in their careers have less time to develop?” After momentary confusion the debate will reignite to also encompass the Basketball Without Borders and the Giants of Africa program. The conversation will soon round third base to discuss how Siakam can influence Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free agency decision, and how that should be weighted heavily when measuring Siakam’s on-court value. Last call is around the corner and out of the corner of your eye you spot a group of friends and one of them is wearing an OG Anunoby shirt.

OG Anunoby is overrated

Nothing impresses people like a man who unpretentiously pretends to understand math and discrete logic. This is where propositional fallacies come into play. A propositional fallacy is an error in logic that concerns compound propositions. One such fallacy is known as “affirming a disjunct”, which incorrectly concludes that a disjunction must be false because the other disjunct is true, i.e., when in fact it is A or B, someone may conclude A, therefore not B. This technique can be carefully applied through the construction of two basketball-related disjuncts. The most effective one I’ve seen applied in these early days is: “OG will be a 3-and-D specialist on a decent team”. He may as well be a rotation bench player who can specialize in three-point shooting and defense, but that doesn’t preclude him from being more than that on a good team. However, because we’ve formed an image of what OG’s skills are and we haven’t quite seen him reach Siakam-levels even in stitches, we’re inclined to believe in the floor than the ceiling. It’s subtle but it’s there.

Dropping this one in the middle of a debate will usually result in mild shock as people will react to the lack of empirical evidence which would support this claim. After all how can a 21 year old be overrated when he’s barely rated? As the conductor of this orchestra it is important not to lose hope here, as all you need is one person to support your viewpoint through a false inference. A common one is, “He’s no Siakam”, to which someone will respond, “Yeah, but he was injured and had an amazing rookie year where he was compared to Kevin Durant”, At this point we have safely moved away from the original comment of his three-point shooting and defensive ability, and are now wandering into comparisons to Kevin Durant. From this point forward you need not supply any more ammunition but just kindle the fire if any sort of reconciliation or concession is about to be made. A popular and proven retort to any OG-related debate has known to be: “Would you extend his deal this summer?” It doesn’t matter if his deal is extendible or what his contract situation is, you’ve just bought yourself a good 30 minutes of entertainment. For maximum effect call something a paradox.

If there’s any other topics that you feel can provide good value and entertainment, please do share.

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