The geniuses in question are NBA coaches, scouts, and GMs. After the Big Three era and the Warriors superteam era, and the stage is set for one of the most balanced seasons in recent NBA history. There are at least a dozen teams that have a legitimate case for a Finals berth.
These rosters are not what the teams will look like come playoffs time, but they are what they will start the season with. With such a dispersion of talent, winning will become important from the get-go, especially in the West. ESPN's Tim Bontemps performed an offseason survey in which he polled 20 NBA executives, coaches, and scouts about the lay of the land and one question got a very interesting result.
"Who is the best player in the NBA?" Not a single person said LeBron James! Out of the 20, twelve voted Kawhi Leonard, six voted Giannis Antetokounmpo, and two said James Harden. All great players no doubt, but this is partly recency bias. LeBron missed the playoffs for the first time in forever and ended the season with a groin injury.
Father time has started to knock on the door, and with the minutes load LeBron already has on his body it seems the league thinks we've already seen the best LeBron had to offer. It also comes down to how do you define best? We talking regular season or playoffs? Ranking questions should always come with a bit more context. But how did the people polled explain their choices? Here's the thinking for picking Kawhi.
"Because if he plays every game in the playoffs, he's the best player in the world. And if you can be good enough the rest of the way to get there, then great."
Giannis got the votes as the up and coming kid, at only 24 he has his best days ahead of him and the expectation is he will add a decent jump shot, and then he will become the best two-way player in the NBA.
In addition to his offensive talent, Harden voters talked about his reliability. We rarely point it out because he isn't in that top echelon of spectacular athletes, but Harden is an extremely reliable player.
The crew on "Get Up" was split about the thinking. Jalen Rose picked Kawhi, talked about similar reasons the surveyed people did. Jacoby and Mike Greenberg especially didn't agree with leaving LeBron out.
The "medieval" comment is the one that got my attention. We will get a lot of amazing matchups the entire regular season, but LeBron getting a longer rest and reading all this will make for spectacular basketball. The King will not relinquish the throne so easy.