Right now, the NBA is divided up into two 15-team conferences. One of them, the Eastern Conference, is a garbage fire which contains a total of 4 teams without a win-loss rate under .500. The other, the Western Conference, is a den of monsters run by hypercompetent GMs that contains 9 teams with a win-loss rate over .500, and, by NBA’s own power rankings, 6 of the best 8 teams in the sport. You take one look at those statistics, and it’s painfully obvious that, since winning a playoff spot requires a team to be one of the best 8 in its conference, the situations of teams that want to earn a playoff spot in those two conferences are as different as night and day. The current number 8 team in the East, Brooklyn, has a record of 14-21, or .400. There are a grand total of 3 teams in the West that can’t beat that record. But of the season ended today, Brooklyn would be a playoff team while the above-.500 Denver Nuggets would be on the outside looking in. It’s not a particularly fair system, but it is the system.
If my straw example worked the way it was supposed to, it should seem pretty obvious that simple playoff seeding shouldn’t be the only measure of success or failure for a team. Because it’s so dependent on the team’s surroundings and circumstances that if it is the sole measure of success or failure, some teams without any legitimate talent are going to be labelled successes due to everyone else around them making their task easier, and some teams with plenty of legitimate talent are going to be labelled failures merely because they got stuck in the basketball version of the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny at the exact wrong time.
The principle of judging something by circumstances, rather than simply by results, is a general one that extends well beyond playoff seeding. It’s even a problem that the advanced stats crowd in the NBA still struggles with to some degree. Just read Kirk Goldsberry’s take on how Monta Ellis went from being the league’s single worst shooter to an above-average shooter; the only real change that happened was Ellis switching teams to one where his teammates could actually play professional basketball and all of a sudden not being double-teamed on every play. When we judge people, their starting situation is always as important, if not more so, than the results.
But results are exactly how we judge the directors of anime. Part of this article is an uncomfortable level of #hottake that’s either going to look really stupid or really gutsy in about 3 hours. But the general sentiment is one I’d like to argue regardless, so here goes.