Are The Democratic Debates Already A Mess?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): Republicans struggled with setting debate criteria during the 2016 presidential election because of their large and unwieldy field, and Democrats seem as though they’ll have their own issues in 2020. We already count 20 candidates who have qualified for the first two debates via one of the two criteria the Democratic National Committee has set up: receiving at least 1 percent in at least three qualifying polls or having 65,000 people donate to their campaign, with at least 200 donors in 20 different states.

The DNC has said that it will cap participation at 20 candidates, so the next candidate who qualifies, via one of the two criteria for entry, will trigger the tiebreaker rules. Those get complicated fast, but the topline is: If more than 20 candidates qualify, then meeting both the polling and donor requirements will be paramount for candidates — those who do will get first dibs on debate lecterns.

But why is it so hard to figure out a fair metric for inclusion? Is there a better way to determine who makes the debate stage?

julia_azari (Julia Azari, political science professor at Marquette University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): It’s difficult to figure out a fair metric for inclusion because the whole process is weird. Ideally, it’s both inclusive and efficient (i.e., it narrows options for a nominee relatively quickly), but it’s not really possible to do both at the same time.

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): Right, and in the aftermath of the 2016 Democratic nomination, when the DNC was criticized for “rigging” the debates for Hillary Clinton, the DNC really wants to seem transparent and inclusive.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): So, 1) It’s good to have objective criteria, 2) as objective criteria go, fundraising and high-quality polling is perfectly fine, but 3) the DNC set the bar too low. Getting donations from 65,000 people is not that hard. And polling at 1 percent in any of three polls out of the many, many polls out there is even easier, probably.

sarahf: Although, to be clear, the DNC is not counting all polls from all pollsters. It has said, however, that it’ll consider both national and early-state polls, and qualifying polls can come from 18 different organizations).

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, it’s still pretty easy to qualify via three polls at 1 percent or more — 19 Democrats have already done that. However, if the DNC had set the threshold at 2 percent or more, just eight candidates would meet that mark.

Only 8 candidates are polling at 2 percent or more

Democratic presidential candidates by whether they have received at least 1 percent or 2 percent support in at least three polls that would qualify them for the first Democratic presidential debates, as of May 21, 2019

IN at least 3 DEBATE-QUALIFYING POLLS, HAS SUPPORT OF …
Candidate 1 percent or more 2 percent or more
Joe Biden
Cory Booker
Pete Buttigieg
Kamala Harris
Amy Klobuchar
Beto O’Rourke
Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren
Steve Bullock
Julian Castro
Bill de Blasio
John Delaney
Tulsi Gabbard
Kirsten Gillibrand
John Hickenlooper
Jay Inslee
Tim Ryan
Eric Swalwell
Andrew Yang
Michael Bennet
Seth Moulton
Marianne Williamson

For candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

Sources: Polls, Media reports

natesilver: Yeah, hitting 1 percent is soooooooooo easy. Like people can literally just pick your name at random almost.

The DNC is spending too much time trying to avoid mistakes they think were made in the previous Democratic nomination process when there are probably more lessons to be learned from the Republican nomination process.

geoffrey.skelley: Well, part of what the DNC wanted to avoid was the mistakes the Republicans made in the 2016 cycle with prime time and undercard debates.

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): I think the Democrats have already done a better job than Republicans did in 2016. The DNC has said that they’ll randomly distribute candidates across the nights, rather than hold “varsity” and “junior varsity” debates. I think that’s a good move.

natesilver: Oh, I’m not sure I agree with that, Nathaniel.

nrakich: How is a junior varsity debate better, Nate? My problem with splitting the candidates up by tier is that it requires splitting hairs between a candidate who gets, say, 3 percent in a poll and a candidate who gets 4 percent. (Margins of error are real!) I guess it’s fine to argue that you think the threshold should be higher and there should be only one main debate, but if you are going to split the candidates into two debates, I think randomly doing it is the only good way.

natesilver: Well, if you wind up stuck in the JV debate because you poll at 2 percent rather than at 3 percent, I don’t have much sympathy for you, even though that’s a minor difference.

nrakich: But the debates are candidates’ chance to raise their polling numbers up from that 2 or 3 percent.

Debates should start off inclusive but probably get less inclusive as we get closer to voting.

Like, the New Hampshire debate three days before the primary should probably only have the candidates with a serious chance of winning that primary.

nrakich: My beef with using polling averages as a debate criterion is that they assume that candidates can be precisely ranked by their standing in the polls. But in reality, polls are imprecise instruments, and you can’t do much more than lump candidates into rough categories (and even those have fuzzy boundaries). For example, all candidates polling between 0 and 5 percent are basically in the same spot.

julia_azari: I agree with Nathaniel here. I would also add that these differences don’t, in my mind, clearly differentiate candidates. And does it really matter if it’s 20 or 22 candidates on the stage? Either isolate the top-tier candidates or let everyone in.

sarahf: Julia, the number of evenings we have to devote to watching the debates is at stake!

julia_azari: If other people haven’t blocked off all of 2019 and 2020 to watch debates, that’s not my problem. People want an open nomination process. This is where that goes.

nrakich: Some pollsters have also said that they are uncomfortable with their work influencing elections. Their role is as measurers, not active participants.

natesilver: Meh, the pollsters complain too much.

If you believe in the quality of your poll, you shouldn’t have any problem with it being used as an objective metric.

I think they should literally have tiers on stage based on where you’re polling.

nrakich: Nate 🔥 take

natesilver: So like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are on the top tier and have big giant podiums. And Swalwell is in the cheap seats in like a broom closet.

julia_azari: This chat is a serious warning about overpopulated debates, and there are only five of us.

natesilver: I do think for this first debate, they might as well just let everyone in. And then set the criteria a lot higher for future debates.

geoffrey.skelley: But the polling average tiebreaker might not even solve things. Say there are a few candidates who have a bunch of polls in which they are hitting only 1 percent. If the polling average can’t settle a tie, it comes down to the number of qualifying polls a candidate has. But what if three or four candidates have the same number of qualifying polls? It’s going to be a mess one way or the other.

natesilver: Again, though, I’m realllllllly not sympathetic to the borderline cases. The primary has been underway for a while now, and if you can’t both get 65,000 donors AND poll at 1 percent in three polls, there’s probably something pretty wrong with you.

And I’d rather give more time to, say, Cory Booker or Amy Klobuchar to make their cases and less to Eric Swalwell or Bill de Blasio.

julia_azari: This is a recurring problem for parties. They try to solve a lot of these problems informally by limiting who runs.But when these conversations break down like they did in 2016, the formal solutions — like trying to come up with a fair threshold for inclusion in a debate with so many candidates — show why those problems were being solved informally: It’s a mess.

natesilver: Do we think the debate rules factored into how many candidates have decided to run?

Mike Gravel, whom we don’t consider a major candidate yet, explicitly seems to have run based on the possibility that he’d get 65,000 donors and therefore some sort of platform to talk about U.S. imperialism or whatever.

nrakich: Good question. Probably not? There are other ways to get media attention aside from the debates — it looks like every candidate is getting a CNN town hall, for example. And a few candidates have jumped in so late that it’s not clear whether they’ll make the debates at all, like Seth Moulton and Michael Bennet. So why are they running?

geoffrey.skelley: I don’t know — it could have pushed a few candidates who were on the fence.

julia_azari: That’s hard to know, but what’s interesting to me is that not that long ago, debates were mostly about getting the top-tier candidates to show up. Now, even though the evidence that they matter is somewhat mixed, they’ve taken on this whole different significance because of the record number of candidates and the scramble for inclusion.

sarahf: So what good are debates, Julia, especially this far out?

julia_azari: Well, the default position in political science tends to be that not that many people are watching and that those who are have already made up their minds. But the latter point is a bit different for a primary debate, since partisanship doesn’t shape decisions in the same way.

sarahf: Right, here at FiveThirtyEight, we’ve been saying things won’t get interesting until the debates!

julia_azari: So on the one hand, there’s not really hard evidence that debates affect who wins the primary. (Studies do suggest that debates might affect citizens’ perceptions of personality and viability to win the nomination.) But usually the primary is … not that competitive. The 2008 Democratic primary really stood out in this regard, because there were two strong contenders through most of the primary season, making the contest a real competition.

sarahf: Yeah, I think the debates will stand out this year, too, as they’ll be one of the first opportunities for people to get to hear from the candidates directly (outside of a CNN town hall, which, as FiveThirtyEight’s Clare Malone has noted, can be overly orchestrated to begin with).

geoffrey.skelley: And primary debates can certainly make or break a candidate — earlier this year, I examined their effects. Rick Perry in the 2012 GOP primary debates really stands out to me because after he defended Texas’s in-state tuition policy for undocumented immigrants, his standing among Republicans plummeted. It was much worse than when he forgot the name of the third federal agency he wanted to dismantle!

nrakich: I feel like the debates are one of the events in the Olympic Games that are the primary season. You have to participate in them and be rated favorably by the judges (the media) in order to win gold.

natesilver: But quite a few people watch at least relative to the size of the Democratic electorate, don’t they?

Here’s some ratings data on the 2016 Democratic primaries from Wikipedia:

By comparison, 31 million people voted in the Democratic primaries in 2016. So having an audience of 16 million for the first debate isn’t bad compared with 31 million!

nrakich: It’s interesting how viewership dropped off so starkly after the first debate.

natesilver: That may have happened because I don’t think either Sanders or Clinton were particularly interesting debaters. They were perfectly competent, but not interesting.

sarahf: Do you think candidates who go the second night will be disadvantaged?

I realize Democrats aren’t splitting the debates into a varsity and JV debate, but maybe one debate will be enough for folks?

geoffrey.skelley: Depends on who is in each debate. If it’s a random draw but a number of leading candidates end up in one debate, that debate will probably get the most attention.

natesilver: There might be a wee bit of fatigue, Sarah, but it probably depends more on the draw. If Biden, Sanders and Warren are all on the second night, that’s the one most people will care about. But if the heavyweights are all on the first night, the second night could feel like more of a JV affair.

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, but if the heavyweights are all grouped together, I think that could still be good for some of the underdog candidates. It could give them an opportunity to stand out without facing the same “main event” vs. “undercard” judgment that was explicit in how the GOP handled things in 2016.

julia_azari: I don’t know. I’m going to remain on team skepticism about 2016 Republican type ratings. It’s possible that people will tune into these debates with a genuine eye toward actually deciding between candidates or learning more about some candidates. But I don’t expect that these debates will draw in Trump-level ratings.

The Democratic field is crowded, but it doesn’t have an animating rivalry between two candidates and it’s not a clown show.

sarahf: … at least not yet!

There’s still so much we don’t know.

julia_azari: But people weren’t watching in 2016 because they wanted to hear the finer points of Marco Rubio’s tax plan vs. Ted Cruz’s. There was a show-biz factor with Trump, to put it politely. And he delivered consistently enough.

nrakich: I dunno, Julia, I’m pretty worked up about the Swalwell vs. Hickenlooper rivalry.

sarahf: Nathaniel 🙄

Is there another debate matchup you all are looking forward to?

natesilver: Trump was uniquely unpredictable in the context of the debates, so I’m not sure whether there will be a point of comparison.

But you will have the dynamic of other candidates working to take the front-runner down, which has both potential risks and rewards for the front-runner.

I think the first debate is probably more likely to hurt Biden than help him, however.

geoffrey.skelley: The lack of a Trump-like figure will certainly make a difference. But it could get really interesting if Biden and Sanders are on stage the same night. One could easily imagine Sanders going after Biden straight away, just as he did with Hillary Clinton in 2016.

natesilver: I mean, I think debates sometimes tend to cause reversion toward the fundamentals. So if we think Biden’s numbers are a little bit inflated right now by a post-announcement boost, and I think they probably are, he’s more likely to decline than improve.

julia_azari: Counterpoint: Biden is actually quite good in these settings. His experience helps as he’ll be less likely to go deer-in-the-headlights on a specific question. And he really knows how to work emotion, if you recall his performance in the 2008 VP debates.

natesilver: Who do we expect to be an effective debater? Kamala Harris? Elizabeth Warren? Pete Buttigieg?

Although, maybe it’s not a good thing if expectations are high. Everyone’s going to expect Harris to be super incisive with every response and for Buttigieg to speak Norwegian or something.

julia_azari: I am OUT if I have to learn Norwegian for these debates.

I think people expect Warren to be wonky and unlikable, but my impression is that she’s actually pretty good in front of a crowd, so maybe she’ll do well.

natesilver: For Warren, I think you can argue that she is someone for whom the fundamentals are misaligned. She’s an “objectively” strong candidate and “should” be doing better (I know how loaded those terms are — it’s a chat, so give me a break). Maybe the same is true for Harris. So they both stand to gain.

Or to put it another way, if Harris and Warren don’t benefit from the debates, then maybe we have to start concluding that they’re products that voters just don’t like very much for whatever reason.

sarahf: So who … do we think won’t make the debate stage? Because it does seem as though we’re headed toward some sort of tiebreaker, right?

nrakich: Maybe Marianne Williamson? She’s the only candidate currently who’s qualified via the donors criterion but not the polling criterion.

sarahf: If Marianne Williamson is the one who’s cut … it’s kind of like what was the point of the DNC introducing the 65,000-unique-donor threshold anyway.

geoffrey.skelley: But Williamson only needs to earn 1 percent support in one more survey to qualify via polls. So I actually like her chances if it comes down to a polling-average tiebreaker because she might hit both the polling and donor criteria.

And yeah, Sarah, that’s a big question mark: How many of the candidates who have qualified via polls but not via donors will actually get 65,000 donors?

It sounds like Inslee is close on the donor count, for instance. But what about John Hickenlooper or Kirsten Gillibrand or John Delaney, etc.? I haven’t found any new information about their donor counts.

natesilver: There’s no particular reason to limit it to 20 candidates instead of 21 or whatever.

nrakich: We live in a base 10 world, Nate. Get used to it.

natesilver: But it just sort of seems to defeat the purpose of being inclusive if you’re excluding just Williamson.

Moulton might not make it.

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, Moulton is the one who is really up a creek without a polling paddle — he doesn’t have a single qualifying survey yet.

nrakich: The new hot take: I should be considered a serious candidate for president even though I have raised no money whatsoever.

natesilver: Sorry, but you’re not a major candidate according to our criteria, Rakich.

sarahf: OK, so as we’ve discussed, there are pros and cons to having a debate stage as wide-ranging and inclusive as what the DNC has settled on. But it’s also really hard to do any of this fairly. So to end today’s chat, what would you have liked to see the DNC do differently?

julia_azari: I mean, the DNC is in somewhat of a no-win position, but given that I’m not sure they can actually regain (or gain) legitimacy by having 20-candidate debates, it might have made sense to just raise the thresholds to begin with.

nrakich: Overall, I think the DNC did well. The criteria are arbitrary, sure, but they’ve turned out to be well-calibrated, at least for someone like me who wants initial debates to include (almost) everyone.

geoffrey.skelley: I think 10 Lincoln-Douglas debates between pairs of candidates would be the best approach.

Oh sorry, Newt Gingrich took over my Slack account for a second there.

But seriously, I think the DNC could’ve made a case for higher thresholds, such as polling at 2 percent instead of 1 percent.

nrakich: I think this chat did convince me that stricter thresholds are appropriate for later in the primary season, closer to the actual voting. We’ll see if the DNC agrees.

natesilver: I think maybe there should have been both a money qualifier and a donors qualifier for the donor threshold. Like, you have to raise donations from 65,000 people and raise at least $5 million, or something.

That’s basically what airlines’ frequent flier programs do now — you have to fly a certain amount of miles and spend a certain amount of money.

nrakich: The DNC should be more like airlines — there’s a winning electoral position!

natesilver: ThE AiRLiNe InDuStRy Is UnFaIrLy MaLiGnEd

julia_azari: This debate has been canceled due to mechanical failure. Tomorrow, we fly you to Poughkeepsie instead of Atlanta.

natesilver: And if I were the DNC, I’d stipulate my criteria for future debates sooner rather than later. Because otherwise it’s going to look like they’re engineering the rules around which candidates they do/don’t like.

geoffrey.skelley: Which would defeat the point of being so inclusive in the first place.

It Turns Out The Vintage Warriors Are Still Pretty Good At Basketball

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): The NBA conference finals are just three games old, but we’ve already seen two of the most entertaining games of the entire playoffs.

After Golden State easily dispatched Portland in Game 1 in the West, Milwaukee needed a furious comeback to take down Toronto in the East’s first game. And then came Thursday night, when the Trail Blazers led the Warriors by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, but Golden State used a 27-8 run to get back into the game. The teams traded leads down the stretch, but the Warriors prevailed.

Let’s start with the Golden State-Portland series. What have you made of these first two games?

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): The “Warriors are better without Kevin Durant” crowd has gotten REALLY loud.

I’m not stupid enough to say they’re better without KD, but I can see the argument being made that they might be more fun to watch?

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Tony, that feels like a way to rationalize the idea that KD will feel dejected or something by the Warriors because they can win without him so he’ll have to come to the Knicks.

sara.ziegler: LOL

tchow: I’m still auditioning for my Knicks GM job, Nate.

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): I think they are more fun to watch this way, for sure. It’s a good reminder of what they were before Durant ever signed with them. The up-tempo, heavy ball-movement, “we can be down by 15, but still come back to beat you” Warriors.

I think Portland losing on Thursday was pretty brutal. It’s sounding more and more like Durant won’t be back in the conference finals, and a win would have gone a long way toward making this a series again. It’s hard to imagine them winning four of the next five.

tchow: You’re not kidding about the heavy ball movement, Chris. Per Second Spectrum, the Warriors have averaged 42 more passes per 100 possessions when KD was not on the floor during these playoffs.

natesilver: I guess the question is whether the Warriors could win grind-it-out, slower-paced, half-court-type games at the same rate without KD.

chris.herring: And that’s the thing. When the Warriors play that way, it’s changing the pace of the game. If you have a game with fewer possessions, I’d venture to guess it leaves things to random chance more often and helps the underdog.

Kind of why Virginia was seen as vulnerable in the NCAA Tournament for so long. (A loss to UMBC helps with that, too.)

natesilver: Beating Portland twice at home is just not all that rigorous a test, however.

tchow: That’s important to keep in mind. All the Warriors did was hold home court.

chris.herring: It may not be. But the Blazers played really well on Thursday, and then that third quarter happened. I just think we’re used to these sorts of onslaughts at this point.

tchow: Yeah, even with that scoreline at halftime, after the first three minutes of the third quarter, I think all of us kinda went, “Oh, the Warriors are winning this.”

natesilver: The Game 6 closeout against Houston, in a game where the Rockets played pretty well, was impressive. But I’m still not sure I really have a great sense for how Golden State is going to match up with Milwaukee or Toronto, with or without KD.

sara.ziegler: A Portland win would have completely changed the tone of this series. And it was close to happening — even after the Warriors stormed back!

natesilver: “Were the Blazers actually close to winning or was it all just an illusion” is a fun epistemological question. I mean, obviously, a win probability model or whatever would have them ahead for a lot of the game. But the Warriors have made SO many third-quarter comebacks over the years that I just don’t really know.

sara.ziegler: When the Blazers were up 8 with 4:28 left, I thought they could really win it.

Silly me.

chris.herring: I grow somewhat tired of the Curry vs. Curry storyline at times. But it was pretty awesome to see Seth play so well last night, and to try to get into his brother’s head at one point.

Crazy to think that, if Pau Gasol were healthy, there would be two sets of brothers playing against each other this round.

tchow: That’s very interesting. I’m kinda loving the Curry vs. Curry storyline. It’s pretty cool IMO to have siblings play against each other at such high stakes.

I found myself pingponging between “Where’s Steph? OK, where’s Seth now?” when they were both on the court.

chris.herring: I like the storyline. I just think it’s being milked pretty heavily in terms of showing their parents in the crowd, that’s all. But Seth was huge last night.

I think the challenge for Portland is that there’s a lot of “your turn, my turn” from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. McCollum owned the first half, and then Dame got hot in the second half.

And it kind of feels like they may need more of a balance, or another huge bench performance from someone, to get over this hump.

natesilver: What if Seth Curry woke up one day and had Steph Curry’s skills, and vice versa? That feels like a weird/bad movie plot.

tchow: “Freaky Friday 2”

natesilver: Would the Blazers play McCollum at the 3 or something? It would be a really weird team.

chris.herring: I already feel like it’s a weird team as is.

Credit to them for adjusting heavily after how bad Game 1 was.

tchow: You knew they had to do something about that pick-and-roll defense.

chris.herring: Enes Kanter was back at the free-throw line in Game 1 and then moved much farther up to contain their pick and rolls in Game 2. That made Golden State’s looks far more challenging, which you almost have to do in order to have a chance.

sara.ziegler: The Blazers didn’t get much on offense from Kanter on Thursday, though. What was going on there?

chris.herring: His impact is going to be a bit less on a night where they shoot as well as they did from three. Because he doesn’t get any offensive rebounds that way.

But also, when he’s playing so much higher up on D, it probably wears him down a bit.

Not to mention the fact that he’s fasting during daylight hours, which seems like such a tough thing to do during such a high-stakes series.

sara.ziegler: That does seem brutal.

chris.herring: Now THAT storyline I find fascinating.

sara.ziegler: I can barely edit when I’m hungry. Can’t imagine trying to play basketball at the highest level!

natesilver: If I fasted during daylight hours, I don’t think I could even do a Slack chat, let alone play in an NBA game.

sara.ziegler: Haha

tchow: Muslim soccer players do it all the time! (during Ramadan)

It is pretty cool the Blazers have three Muslim players on the roster (Kanter, Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu).

chris.herring: Hakeem Olajuwon did it as well, and apparently Kanter reached out to him to figure out what all he did to maintain his game during that stretch of the postseason.

natesilver: I didn’t realize that the dates of Ramadan shift around a lot from year to year. It doesn’t always coincide with the playoffs.

sara.ziegler: What, if anything, can the Blazers do to turn the tide as the series heads back to Portland?

chris.herring: I think it goes without saying that they did enough to win Thursday.

You’d imagine they can control the tempo better at home than they did at Oracle, where the Warriors play extremely fast and in transition during those ridiculous comebacks. I think maybe Terry Stotts would call timeout when he feels one of those runs coming on. And they need to clean up some mistakes, in terms of fouling and taking care of the ball. Andre Iguodala made a great steal on Lillard on the final play, and Lillard had that pretty brutal foul on Steph while he was shooting a three late.

tchow: I’m actually not sure what else they can do. They played well on Thursday and still lost. I feel for Portland fans, I really do. But our predictions give them a 6 percent chance of making it to the finals which seems … high?

chris.herring: Realistically, unless Golden State has another major injury, that was probably it. I don’t see a whole lot of adjustments for a scenario where you were in control most of the game. You just have to finish the game. Period.

natesilver: I guess the one piece of good news for Portland is that it’s not obvious that KD’s going to play any time soon.

tchow: Chris mentioned that they needed another huge bench performance to have a chance, but both Rodney Hood and Seth Curry had pretty decent games. I don’t know where else it could come from. Zach Collins?

sara.ziegler: Meyers Leonard! He had a pretty good game.

chris.herring: Collins had five fouls in eight minutes yesterday, somehow. Leonard was impactful, though.

tchow: Yeah, some of those Collins fouls were bad fouls, too.

chris.herring: That’s why it’s hard to see Portland doing this: Everything seems really scattered right now.

Also, props to Draymond Green for raising his game to a ridiculous level lately. You can’t mention the Warriors looking like the Warriors of old without talking about how incredible he’s been on both ends.

natesilver: Maybe Draymond secretly hates KD and so ups his effort level when KD is out?

sara.ziegler: LOL. I kind of want that to be true. Since the NBA is just a soap opera, at its core.

tchow: “The Plays of Our Lives”

I’m sorry.

sara.ziegler: OMG, yes.

Moving on to the East: Chris, you wrote after Game 1 that the Raptors would likely be kicking themselves for letting that get away from them. How important was that outcome to the series?

chris.herring: Not nearly as much of a killer as Game 2 for Portland. But still potentially big.

There’s that saying that a series hasn’t begun until a road team wins a game. And on some level, that may be true. I just think that if you’re going to beat Milwaukee, it makes sense to grab the winnable game when it’s there. And the Bucks played really poorly in some regards, yet they still won. They are a complete team, whereas the Raptors look very stilted on offense at times.

And it’s part of why I continue to like Milwaukee’s chances of winning this whole thing.

tchow: It’s been really impressive seeing how well the Bucks have continued to play when Giannis Antetokounmpo is not on the floor.

natesilver: The thing I’d hate if I were a Raptors fan is that I felt like my team played pretty well in Game 1, and it still wasn’t enough. Obviously, not everything was perfect — the cold shooting in the fourth quarter — but it felt like a relatively fair contest.

chris.herring: Yeah. I guess there are two ways to view it:

1) Lowry is probably never going to shoot like that again.

2) There’s probably no way they’ll ever get less of a contribution from the rest of the team than they did in Game 1.

tchow: 3) Brook Lopez will not have a game like that again.

sara.ziegler: Lopez was EVERYWHERE.

chris.herring: I’m not completely sure about No. 3! If Toronto doesn’t go smaller, the Raptors are going to have to sacrifice something defensively. I don’t know that he’ll have almost 30 again, but the Raps are going to dare Brook and guys like him to prove they can make that shot as opposed to letting Giannis run wild in the paint.

That’s the risk.

sara.ziegler: To your second point, Chris, you can’t imagine a scenario happening again where no Raptor aside from Lowry makes a single shot in an entire quarter.

chris.herring: Yeah, those stats — 0 for 15 aside from Lowry in the fourth, and 1 for 23 in the second half outside of Lowry and Leonard — were some of the more insane ones I’ve ever seen.

And the one second-half basket that someone else made was a buzzer-beating 3 by Pascal Siakam in the third! One he wouldn’t have even taken if not for how much time was left.

tchow: The last time Lopez had a double-double while scoring more than 20 points was … one second, I’m still scrolling up on Basketball-Reference.

sara.ziegler: LOL

chris.herring: That part is true. But him scoring a bunch wouldn’t shock me based on how they’re defending him. Brook isn’t the biggest rebounder, in part because he’s more concerned with boxing out and making sure a teammate collects the miss. (But also, their minutes are longer in the playoffs, meaning he’ll have more chances.)

tchow: Found it! Nov. 3, 2017, when he was on the Lakers. And it was the Lopez revenge game because they played the Nets.

chris.herring: Remember: Milwaukee was 11 of 44 from three! That’s 25 percent. So the Bucks left a ton of points on the table. And many of them were wide-open shots.

As I was saying, I think Toronto may want to consider playing a little smaller. That would potentially crank up the tempo to a level Lopez isn’t comfortable with, and potentially give him more defensive responsibility, to where he has to come out farther to defend.

natesilver: I dunno, I feel weird about slicing-and-dicing the Raptors’ shooting stats into so many little pieces. Overall, they shot 15 of 42 on threes, which is pretty average/good.

chris.herring: Lowry was 7 of 9 by himself!

natesilver: They didn’t shoot great on twos, but a lot of teams don’t do that well against MIlwaukee. They made 85 percent of their free throws.

chris.herring: The other Raptors will likely shoot better. But Milwaukee did plenty to make Kawhi Leonard get his points. This team is really great at pushing star scorers to drive with their weaker hand.

tchow: Sixers should take note. Too soon?

sara.ziegler: LOL

chris.herring: The statistics illustrated that in Game 1. Leonard drove 15 times, and 11 of them were to his left. During the season, he drove to his right a little more than 57 percent of the time.

sara.ziegler: That seems to be a huge focus for the Bucks — and it looks like it’s paying off. But again, the Raptors almost stole Game 1. It would be huge for them to get Game 2 tonight.

chris.herring: Agreed.

While I still think Milwaukee is clearly the stronger team in this matchup, I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say that Toronto is out of this, regardless of what happens tonight. This is a more evenly matched set of opponents than with Portland and Golden State, clearly.

sara.ziegler: So let’s end on some soft predictions. How long will each series go?

tchow: I’m predicting a gentleman’s sweep for the Western Conference finals.

natesilver: Yeah, five games seems like the smartest bet.

sara.ziegler: It would be only fair to the Curry parents.

tchow: I believe Dame and CJ can do enough to get at least one win in Portland.

chris.herring: Agreed on the West.

In the East, I’ll go six, with the Bucks winning. Though if Milwaukee wins tonight, I wouldn’t be shocked if they closed it in five.

natesilver: I’m going to go seven games for the East. Despite what I said earlier about Game 1 being a bearish indicator for Toronto, I still think they’re a liiiiiiittttle underrated, and Nick Nurse probably has more ways to make adjustments than Mike Budenholzer does.

tchow: I think it’ll be Bucks in six, too.

natesilver: I have a hot take.

sara.ziegler: 🔥

natesilver: Steve Kerr’s comments about Kevin Durant’s injury sound fairly ominous.

WHAT IF DURANT HAS PLAYED HIS LAST GAME FOR THE WARRIORS?!?!?

sara.ziegler: Oooooooh

tchow: * searches in google * Durant Knicks jersey

chris.herring: That doesn’t sound as crazy to me as some people might think.

If it’s a more serious strain, and it’s closer to a month than it is a one-week or two-week injury, then the NBA Finals or the middle of the finals would be more realistic for him.

But if the finals aren’t competitive …

natesilver: So Knicks fans should be rooting for a Warriors sweep?

chris.herring: I don’t know. It would be really interesting. If the Warriors win easily without him, it would be weird for him to stay if he wants validation. If the Warriors LOSE, it gets interesting. Because, obviously, the last time the Warriors lost, he went and signed with them.

tchow: I just really want Curry to win his first finals MVP trophy.

sara.ziegler: Would THAT push KD to the Knicks?

natesilver: I think the BEST-case scenario for the Knicks would be if the Warriors are like up 3-1 over Milwaukee in the finals, and then KD comes back and they LOSE.

tchow: grinchgrin.gif

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

A Lot Of Americans Say They Don’t Want A President Who Is Over 70. Really?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Gallup recently released new data on Americans’ willingness to vote for presidential candidates with certain traits. About 1,000 adults were asked3 whether they’d vote for a well-qualified candidate who was nominated by their party and was black, gay or had one of 10 other characteristics that are rarely or never seen in presidential nominees.

Almost all Americans said they’d be comfortable voting for a woman (94 percent), or a Catholic (95 percent), Hispanic (95 percent) or black (96 percent) candidate. But there are characteristics that big swaths of Americans said would be disqualifying — in particular being older than 70, being an atheist and being a socialist.

What types of candidates would Americans NOT vote for?

Share of respondents to an April survey who said they would not vote for a “generally well-qualified” presidential candidate from their own party if the candidate had each of the following characteristics

Democrats Independents Republicans Overall
Socialist 24% 48% 80% 51%
Atheist 28 33 56 39
Older than 70 35 37 37 37
Muslim 14 26 62 33
Younger than 40 21 28 34 28
Gay or lesbian 17 18 39 24
Evangelical Christian 27 20 6 18
Jewish 5 9 5 7
Woman 3 6 9 6
Catholic 4 6 3 5
Hispanic 3 3 8 5
Black 1 4 5 3

Source: Gallup

These results are fairly similar to what Gallup found when it previously asked this question, in 2015. There were a couple of interesting exceptions, however. Americans in 2019 said they were slightly more comfortable with a candidate who is an evangelical Christian (the share who said they’d vote for such a candidate rose from 73 percent in 2015 to 80 percent this year) or a Muslim (from 60 percent to 66 percent). Socialists, meanwhile, remained unpopular (47 percent in both 2015 and 2019).

So with Democrats obsessed with finding an “electable” candidate, does this mean that Bernie Sanders (who’s over 70 and identifies as a democratic socialist) and Joe Biden (who’s over 70) have big problems? Not so fast. So how seriously am I taking these numbers?

For the 2020 presidential election, I’m not taking them too seriously. Thirty-seven percent of Republicans said they would not back a GOP presidential candidate over the age of 70. Well … yep, President Trump was 70 on Election Day in 2016, and he’ll be 74 in 2020. I’ll bet that more than 63 percent of Republicans will vote for him — his job approval rating among GOP voters is currently in the 90s. In short, it’s important to remember that the survey question asks about categories of people, not individuals. The negative feelings that some Americans might have toward the idea of a gay or socialist presidential candidate, for example, might not apply to Pete Buttigieg or Sanders specifically.

On the other hand, these numbers could be understating some Americans’ resistance to certain characteristics. In particular, I’d view the numbers on ethnicity, race and gender skeptically. It could be true that virtually all Americans are comfortable with a black, female or Hispanic president, as the Gallup data implies. But I’d expect Americans who aren’t comfortable to be unlikely to express that view to a pollster. So I wouldn’t use this data to suggest that, say, Julian Castro wouldn’t run into electoral problems caused by racism or Elizabeth Warren because of sexism if either were the Democratic nominee.

In terms of which groups might face overt discrimation in the U.S., I’m taking these numbers more seriously. The results generally lined up with my expectations of which categories of people Americans are both somewhat wary of and willing to say so to another person.

Being a socialist is an expression of left-wing political views, so it’s natural and unsurprising that a lot of Americans, particularly Republicans, would openly oppose a socialist candidate. Similarly, it’s not surprising that some Americans wouldn’t want a president who is in her 70s as president (maybe they suspect that person wouldn’t have the energy for the job) or who is younger than 40 (a lack of experience). This is also a view that is perhaps not particularly controversial to express — columns suggesting that Biden (76) and Sanders (77) are too old to be running for president are published regularly.

What views about candidates are more controversial? Disqualifying people based on gender, race, ethnicity or sexuality. Again, I’d expect some Americans with negative attitudes toward certain religious groups, racial groups and sexual orientations not to admit that to a pollster.

Here’s where it gets interesting, however: The share of Americans who were willing to tell a pollster that they would not back an atheist, evangelical Christian, gay or Muslim presidential candidate was nonetheless fairly high. That lines up with how these four groups are treated in American culture — they face open, direct criticism based on their identities. (I don’t want to cast all parties as equal here — Republicans’ high level of opposition to an atheist or Muslim candidate jumps out.)

In terms of understanding the diversity of the Democratic Party, I’m taking these numbers very seriously. I’ve written that Biden is essentially the candidate of the un-woke Democrat (or maybe “less woke” is more accurate) and that those voters still represent a substantial bloc of the Democratic Party. This data is more evidence of that bloc’s existence. I was surprised that the share of Democrats who are uncomfortable with an evangelical Christian president was matched by about an equal share wary of a president who is an atheist or a socialist, since the Democratic Party is often characterized as becoming less religious and more liberal on economic issues. The share of Democrats who said they would not vote for a gay or Muslim candidate was also larger than I anticipated.

Other polling bites

  • 46 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina say they would vote for Biden, according to a new Post and Courier/Change Research poll, with only two of his rivals reaching double digits. Sanders (15 percent) and Kamala Harris (10 percent) are far behind the former vice president, as is the rest of the 2020 Democratic field.
  • Biden leads in Pennsylvania too, with 39 percent of the vote, according to a new Quinnipiac University survey. The only other candidate in double digits was Sanders (13 percent).
  • The Quinnipiac survey also found Biden leading Trump 53 percent to 42 percent in Pennsylvania in a hypothetical general election matchup. Sanders also bested Trump (50-43).
  • In the Republican nomination contest, Trump leads former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld 72 percent to 12 percent in New Hampshire, according to a recent Monmouth University survey.
  • 61 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, and 31 percent oppose it, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Support for same-sex marriage varied by party (75 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, compared with 44 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents). It varied by race (62 percent of white Americans, 58 percent of Hispanic Americans, 51 percent of black Americans). And it varied by religion (79 percent of those who are religiously unaffiliated, 66 percent of white mainline Protestants, 61 percent of Catholics, 29 percent of white evangelical Protestants).
  • 47 percent of registered voters rated the economy as “excellent” or “good,” according to a new Fox News poll.
  • Also from that Fox News poll: The share of voters who said Trump hasn’t been tough enough with North Korea is up to 50 percent; that number was 19 percent in September 2017.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.0 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.1 points). At this time last week, 42.4 percent approved and 52.7 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.3 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.1 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.2 points.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

How Many Soldiers Do You Need To Beat The Night King?

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. There are two types: Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-size and Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either,4 and you may get a shoutout in next week’s column. If you need a hint or have a favorite puzzle collecting dust in your attic, find me on Twitter.

Riddler Express

From Tom Hanrahan, three colorful journeys:

In grade school, you may have learned about the three primary colors — blue, yellow and red — and the three secondary colors — green (blue + yellow), purple (red + blue) and orange (yellow + red).

And now it’s time to put that knowledge to use. Try to get through the maze below, a nine-by-nine grid of lines, three times: once as blue, once as yellow, and once as red.

If you are blue, you may only travel on lines that include the color blue. So you may travel on lines that are blue, green, purple or white (which contains all colors). You may not travel on orange, yellow, red or black (which contains no colors). The analogous rules hold for your trips as yellow and red.

In all three cases, you are attempting to travel between the same two points on the maze’s edge. Send me links, pictures or descriptions of your strategy!

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Greg Burnham, it had to happen eventually, at long last and not a moment too soon, The Riddler meets “Game of Thrones”:

At a pivotal moment in an epic battle between the living and the dead, the Night King, head of the army of the dead, raises all the fallen (formerly) living soldiers to join his ranks. This ability obviously presents a huge military advantage, but how big an advantage exactly?

Forget the Battle of Winterfell and model our battle as follows. Each army lines up single file, facing the other army. One soldier steps forward from each line and the pair duels — half the time the living soldier wins, half the time the dead soldier wins. If the living soldier wins, he goes to the back of his army’s line, and the dead soldier is out (the living army uses dragonglass weapons, so the dead soldier is dead forever this time). If the dead soldier wins, he goes to the back of their army’s line, but this time the (formerly) living soldier joins him there. (Reanimation is instantaneous for this Night King.) The battle continues until one army is entirely eliminated.

What starting sizes of the armies, living and dead, give each army a 50-50 chance of winning?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Stuart Tooley 👏 of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, winner of last week’s Riddler Express!

Last week I gave you the following sequence of numbers and asked you what number came next?

2
6
10
3
8
9
4
7
?

The correct missing number is 8.

The numerical solution actually had more to do with letters, and with my favorite game, Scrabble. Starting at the top of the list: The number 2 is spelled “two,” which is worth six points if spelled with Scrabble tiles, so 6 becomes the next number in the list. The number 6 is spelled “six” which is worth 10 points in Scrabble, so 10 comes next in the list, and so on. To find the missing number, we write 7 as “seven” and tally that it’s worth eight points, so 8 is our answer.

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Brian Hare 👏 of Raleigh, North Carolina, winner of last week’s Riddler Classic!

Last week we were introduced to five brothers who had joined the Riddler Baseball Independent Society, or RBIs. Each of them enjoyed a career of 20 seasons, with 160 games per season and four plate appearances per game.5 Given that their batting averages were .200, .250, .300, .350 and .400, what were each brother’s chances of beating DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak at some point in his career? (Streaks could span across seasons.)

Their chances of besting DiMaggio were, respectively, approximately 0, 0, 0.01, 0.8 and 13.9 percent. Put another way, their chances were roughly 1-in-9,000,000,000, 1-in-3,000,000, 1-in-8,000, 1-in-130 and 1-in-7.

To get there, first we need to compute the chances that each brother get at least one hit in any given game. Suppose a brother’s batting average is A. The chances that that brother does not get a hit in a given game is (1-A)^4, because he gets four at bats. So the chances a brother does get a hit in any given game is 1 minus that. That gives the brothers a chance of 0.5904, 0.683594, 0.7599, 0.821494 and 0.8704.

We then need to turn those individual game chances into streak chances. To put a bit of mathematical structure on this problem, we are looking for the probability \(P\) that at least \(r\) consecutive games with a hit appears in a sequence of total length \(n\) games given a probability \(p\) of a hit in each game. In our case, \(r=57\), \(n=3,200\) (20 seasons of 160 games), and we calculated \(p\) in the paragraph above.

As solver Michael Branicky explained, this probability, assuming the number of games played is large enough to contain a sufficiently long streak, must satisfy the following recursion:

\begin{equation*} P_{n+1} = P_n + ( 1 – P_{n-r} ) (1-p) p^r \end{equation*}

This is because a streak of length \(r\) in \(n+1\) games either occurred in \(n\) games, or occurs for the first time in game \(n + 1\). From there, the calculation can be done with a bit of computer code. Michael also illustrated the chances of breaking the streak by a player’s batting average:

As it happened, the brothers also had a cousin with a whopping .500 average, but he would get banned from the league after 10 seasons after testing positive for performance enhancers. What were his chances of beating the streak? Despite the shortened career, they were about 93.3 percent, an answer we can arrive at with the same approach described above.

As solver Chris Jones concluded, “Moral of the story: Doping pays off for record-breaking, bros.”

Want more riddles?

Well, aren’t you lucky? There’s a whole book full of the best puzzles from this column and some never-before-seen head-scratchers. It’s called “The Riddler,” and it’s in stores now!

Want to submit a riddle?

Email me at [email protected]

CORRECTION (May 17, 2019, 10:48 a.m.): An earlier version of the Riddler Express displayed the wrong color for one line. The leftmost horizontal bar in the fourth row from the top should be white, not black. The graphic has been updated.

Tiger Woods Used To Be One Of Golf’s Longest Hitters — Until The Sport Caught Up

With Tiger Woods restored to his familiar place among golf’s major winners, it’s tempting to allow the sports nostalgia to seep in. Tiger’s back! It’s just like the 1990s again! But as is the case in every sport, the game that Woods played 20 years ago is very different from today’s version and, if anything, makes his win at the Masters last month all the more impressive.

Perhaps the biggest difference involves the sheer power of modern hitters. In 1995, Woods’s last season before turning pro, the average qualified PGA Tour golfer hit the ball 263.6 yards per drive; the leader, John Daly, checked in at 289.0 yards per drive. So far this season, the average is 292.9 yards per drive, and tour leader Cameron Champ checks in at 315.7. That’s right — the average drive distance from 2019 would have led the PGA Tour each season through 1996. Woods’s mark in 19973 of 294.8 ranked second only to Daly’s 302.0. A 294.8-yard average today would rank just 86th of the 214 golfers on tour — tied with the slumping former World No. 1 Jordan Spieth.

What once was a massive distance advantage that Woods used to rack up a -13 score relative to par on par-5s at the 1997 Masters is now nothing special. These days, just about everyone hits it like Tiger — if not better.

So what happened? For one thing, pro golfers took Woods’s lead and became much stronger and more athletic. Although Daly was a freak of nature — he never worked out and bombed drives while chain-smoking and pounding Diet Cokes — today’s top players have a lot more in common with current World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who stands a lean 6-foot-4, hits the ball 305 yards per drive and proudly posts shirtless Instagram photos. As we’ve written before, Woods’s current pursuit of majors has been made more difficult by an influx of younger athletes to the game that he himself helped inspire. And a big part of that younger generation’s success is linked to hitting the ball really far.

But another, even bigger factor is a drastic improvement in equipment over the years. Before the 1990s, driver clubheads were significantly smaller, made of heavy material like persimmon (instead of metal) and attached to the ends of shorter, heavier metal shafts (as opposed to graphite). As more and more players began switching to modern clubs — the last major won with a persimmon driver was Bernhard Langer’s victory at the 1993 Masters — the tour began to see a massive increase in driving distance (and, interestingly enough, a decrease in driving accuracy). More than just the introduction of fitter players, established golfers were also hitting the ball harder: The 60 players who qualified for the PGA Tour driving leaderboard in both 1995 and 2005 saw an average increase of 18.6 yards per drive over that span.

Simply put, lighter clubs with a longer shaft and larger clubhead surface area generate more power. As a fun exercise last year, YouTuber and PGA club pro Rick Shiels hit 10 drives with both a top-of-the-line club from about 20 years ago (the Ping TiSi Tec) and 2018 (the Ping G400 Max) and measured the results using tracking analytics. On average, Shiels estimated to have hit the ball 16 yards farther in the air (and 19 yards farther in total) with the modern driver, thanks in part to a ball velocity 4 mph faster off the clubhead:

Of course, the ball itself has also made it easier to drive for huge distances. The introduction of Titleist’s Pro V1 model in 2000 — which features a “multilayer” design with a solid rubber core and thin polymer casing — instantly revolutionized the way balls were manufactured, optimizing power without sacrificing accuracy. When Shiels ran a similar test between 1998 and 2018 golf balls (using the same club for each), he drove the ball 11 yards farther through the air — and 12 yards farther in total — with the current Pro V1, thanks again to a nearly 3 mph boost in velocity off the face.

These clear technological improvements have led to questions over whether such advantages should be dialed back at the pro level to make the game harder again. Although the golf ball debate rages on, many top-tier courses have been remade since the ’90s, “Tiger-proofing” themselves by adding more distance to their layouts. Par-72 major championship courses in the 1990s averaged 7,006.1 yards in total length; by the 2000s, that average became 7,319.3 yards, and this decade it’s 7,456.6 yards — a 6.4 percent increase that mirrors the change in average driving distance since the early 2000s.

And just like the existing players increased their power through technology, existing major hosts have added length to offset it. Sixteen courses hosted a major in both the 1990s and 2010s; those courses averaged 7,011.6 yards back then and 7,307.9 yards now — an increase of 296.3 yards on average. Even the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Long Island, which hosts this weekend’s PGA Championship, has increased its length by 222 yards since it hosted Woods’s U.S. Open victory back in 2002.

We should note that both the boom in driving distances and the Tiger-proofing craze have largely leveled off since the mid-2000s. The average PGA Tour drive continues to creep up by a couple of yards every few years, but today’s long-drive leaders, such as Champ, Johnson and Rory McIlroy, are mostly hitting it the same distance as Bubba Watson and Robert Garrigus were a decade earlier. In that sense, the game Woods left when his 11-year major drought began in 2008 was actually similar to the one he climbed to the top of again last month.

Just the same, when Tiger tees off Thursday at Bethpage in the PGA Championship, the modern sport’s power will be on full display. Woods might still smash it a solid 300 off the tee like he did in the late ’90s, but he won’t be vying for the tour lead in distance; instead, that part of his game makes him just another golfer in the middle of the pack.

How The Draft Lottery Reshaped The NBA Landscape

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): So we just witnessed what our friend Zach Lowe called the “wildest lottery ever.” The Zion-Williamson-to-the-Knicks (or its less-heralded cousin, Zion-to-the-Lakers) hype train gained a ton of steam when both teams were revealed to be in the Top 4 … and then it crashed and burned on live TV as the Lakers ended up at No. 4 and the Knicks at No. 3.

Guys, take me through each of your experiences and emotions as you saw what unfolded.

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): I think we saw right away how crazy this new lottery system has the potential to be. By flattening out the worst teams’ odds of winning, you get a higher probability of something like last night playing out. It was insane at the actual lottery here in Chicago. There were these enormous gasps when they announced that the Bulls were going to pick seventh, the Suns were going to pick sixth, and the Cavs were going to choose fifth.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I was at a fairly nice Italian restaurant with a friend who doesn’t really like basketball, and I made him pull out his phone along with my phone just so we could see who had the faster livestream. Unfortunately, this restaurant had a lot of wood paneling or something that was causing the signal to be pretty weak. Anyway, the livestream cut out right when it looked like the Knicks might be shut out of the Top 4 entirely, then it came back on and they were in the Top 4, and then right after that they got the No. 3 pick. As dumb as it sounds, the experience of having my expectations lowered made the No. 3 pick seem a lot better as a quasi-Knicks fan.

Also, we ordered pasta for dessert, which people should try.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): My fingers and toes were crossed from the time Boston’s 14th pick was announced. I started jumping up and down on my couch and screaming sometime between Phoenix’s sixth pick reveal and Cleveland’s fifth. There was a moment during that window that I thought 14 percent really meant something like 98 percent, and I was ready to buy my Zion Knicks jersey.

chris.herring: Hahahahaha. Brutal.

neil: Our colleague Chad Matlin had a great experience as well that he granted me permission to share:

“a small anecdote from brooklyn last night: I’m walking home from dinner down Flatbush Ave and a man appears half a block behind me and starts violently screaming something, but I can’t quite make out what. he keeps screaming. I only catch snippets. “FUCKING!!!” “ALL!!!” “LOSING!“”” this goes on for 90 seconds as he crosses street aimlessly, screaming the same thing over and over. I finally piece it together: “ALL THAT FUCKING LOSING FOR NOTHING!!”

And that’s when I found out the Knicks didn’t win the lottery.”

Suffice to say, emotions were running high here in New York.

chris.herring: LMAO

natesilver: I had run the numbers beforehand, and the No. 3 pick — in a draft where there’s a clear drop-off between Nos. 3 and 4 — is slightly above the expected value for the Knicks pick. Even if you think Zion is going to be reaaaaaaaaaaaly good, a 14 percent chance just isn’t that high.

chris.herring: On some level, the lottery process and unveiling is really, really challenging for the average person — even for me — to follow along with if you aren’t focused on a single team and where they’re ending up.

tchow: Yeah, Chris, in the hysteria last night, the graphics on TV really played a trick on me: They had the Top 4 picks in individual blocks on top, while 5 through 14 were listed below as they were revealing the picks. As the blocks were getting filled in, you saw the Lakers, then the Grizzlies and then the Pelicans, and I went, “Holy shit, we got No. 1!”

chris.herring: One team being slotted lower than you expect is useful information, but it’s hard to know exactly who it benefits until there are only two or three teams left.

Rachel Nichols was explaining it in real time, but it still takes a hot second or two to register what it all means, because of the pick swaps and protections, etc.

neil: It’s kind of incredible that so many of us devote time to watching the unveiling of the results of pingpong balls based on probabilities, which each have obscure caveats (protections, etc), and it actually makes for compelling TV. The NBA is amazing.

natesilver: Maybe they should reveal it one pick per day at a time over the course of the playoffs, sort of like an advent calendar.

Think of all the opportunities for #content.

chris.herring: I’m still kind of shocked that New Orleans ended up getting it. Makes a huge difference for them going forward. All this time, analysts were suggesting that they make a deal with the team that wins the lottery for Anthony Davis. Now they have the No. 1 pick AND Anthony Davis.

neil: And David Griffin said their big priority is convincing AD to stay now. Is that feasible?

chris.herring: It doesn’t seem the most feasible to me. You’d love for him to change his tune on that, but reports suggest that he won’t. It’s incredibly risky to gamble on the hunch that he will.

natesilver: I think Zion might make it more likely that AD is traded, if anything

Because now the franchise has something to play for and sell hope/tickets for, even without AD. So any scenario where they’re just being super stubborn and desperate is probably off the table.

chris.herring: You don’t know whether Zion alone would be enough for them to make a huge jump in the next year, which is what you’d need to feel better about letting Davis test free agency.

natesilver: New Orleans was one of just three teams to win the lottery that was neither undeserving, nor boring, nor annoying. So that was a win in my book.

tchow: Nate, I disagree with so much of that Venn diagram.

natesilver: Haha

neil: As an Atlantan who also once worked for the Hawks, I guess I’ll take “basically OK.”

chris.herring: Neil, I’m sure die-hard Hawks fans were disappointed last night. Basketball people seem to universally feel that would’ve been his best fit.

Did you all see the video of Williamson hitting the Hawks logo twice before the lottery began?

neil: SO many people were looking at that!

tchow: It must have meant something!

neil: NBA conspiracies are the best.

chris.herring: It seemed that might have been his preference.

tchow: Can you imagine all the “it’s rigged” people if the Hawks did end up getting No. 1 after the logo double tap?

chris.herring: Can’t remember too many people WANTING to go to Atlanta, but I actually hoped he’d end up there after that.

neil: 😢

tchow: Zion with Trae Young is really intriguing.

But if we’re playing alternate universes and what-ifs, can we play “what if Zion did go to the Knicks?” Neil thinks owner James Dolan would have somehow messed it up anyway. I disagree.

neil: Right, my take was always that he should be happy he didn’t go to the Knicks. Everything that franchise touches goes to ruin.

tchow: But he could have changed that, Neil!

chris.herring: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was reporting pretty adamantly that the Knicks wouldn’t have traded him. So it seems like they would have moved forward with him, and then gone into free agency shooting for the stars.

natesilver: I think it would have been dumb to trade him. Like, more dumb than people realize. When you consider the contracts, and that the Pelicans don’t rally have much leverage, I think you can even argue that Zion straight up is TOO MUCH for AD, without all the other assets that the Knicks were likely to have to throw into the deal. But, anyway, I guess we don’t have to worry about that now.

chris.herring: I agree. You’re going to want and need cost-controlled contracts for when you get other stars, anyway. Having Zion would allow you to do that.

tchow: Is it wrong of me to think that this is even more proof that the lottery was rigged? Like, the results were so much the complete opposite of what you thought a “rigged” one would look like that it’s almost too opposite. Am I making sense? Like, the results seemed to be what someone would produce to prove that something wasn’t rigged when it actually was.

natesilver: Tony I think you’re overthinking this just a liiiiiiiiiiiiittle bit.

chris.herring: LOL

neil: Of course, they did invite some of this rigging speculation by having Patrick “Frozen Envelope” Ewing there to represent the Knicks.

chris.herring: As someone who’s been in the room, it’s not rigged. They go to great lengths to let people watch it. And make the actual process available on YouTube shortly after.

I think the variance is going to be really wild going forward because of how they’ve flattened out the odds for the worst few teams, though. And honestly, it will make it more fun and heartbreaking.

tchow: I know it’s not rigged. But……

Just kidding

neil: But yeah Chris, I wanted to ask about that. Did we see the death of tanking last night?

Look at how much the results at the top differed from the ranking in order of worst records:

natesilver: I mean, that’s how the system is supposed to work, right?

neil: Well, I’ve always thought these tanking teams underestimated the luck involved in the lottery. Even under the old system.

chris.herring: Last night’s outcome was probably about as solid as you could hope for from the league’s perspective if that’s the message you wanted to send. That being awful gives you a better chance but by no means guarantees you the very best — or even second-best — pick.

tchow: Big win for Mr. Silver. (Adam, not Nate.)

natesilver: And it’s not like the Knicks were categorically different than the Cavs, Suns or Bulls. They were just better at tanking. No. 3 is a comparatively good result vs. the rest of that group.

BTW, someone should check the lottery ball codes to see what the results would have been under last year’s system.

neil: Yeah, it’s weird to think of the Knicks as “winners” last night. But things could have been worse.

chris.herring: The Knicks were the only team with the best lottery odds that didn’t fall out of the top four!

natesilver: I really don’t get the losers talk, and I think it goes to show how people’s intuitions about probability aren’t very good.

tchow: 14 percent means 100 percent, Nate!

natesilver: People were treating it like 60 percent or something, I swear.

neil: Knick fans’ expectations are always out of whack with reality, though… (This is a franchise that wins like the Mets but acts like it has the pedigree of the Yankees.)

tchow: Neil, this is an NBA chat.

chris.herring: I’m on record saying that I feel like the average Knick fan expects bad things to happen.

neil: Maybe it’s more the New York media than rank-and-file fans, Chris.

natesilver: This does leave open at least the tantalizing possibility of trading for Anthony Davis. If the Knicks do want to make a play for AD, this is one of the better scenarios for them. There’s no one who can trade Zion to the Pels since they already have him! The No. 3 pick is probably comparable to the best single asset that the Celtics and Lakers can offer. And if the Knicks get Kyrie Irving, maybe the Celtics don’t even try to get AD anyway.

The Lakers do have the No. 4 pick, but at least based on the scouting consensus, there’s a big drop-off between 3 and 4. We’ll see if the Pelicans agree with that or not.

chris.herring: I honestly don’t have a sense of what the Pelicans would prefer at this point.

The Celtics would obviously be in play, based on their young talent and the draft picks they have. The Knicks just got the No. 3 pick and have two picks they got from Dallas in the Porzingis trade. Though those picks could end up being lower-end ones, depending on how the Mavericks are in the future. And then there are the Lakers, who just landed the No. 4 pick, plus all the guys they reportedly offered in February for Davis already.

So it’s a combination of which players the Pelicans like, plus how they value the notion of future picks that would likely be lower in the draft, as opposed to higher ones they could make use of right now.

natesilver: 🔥 Fun hot take: RJ Barrett could be the new Carmelo Anthony. High-volume, medium efficiency, good rebounder, mediocre effort on defense despite good athleticism. 🔥

tchow: Looking at the different mock drafts, it does seem like there is a consensus on Top 3 (Zion, Ja, RJ in that order) and the fourth pick is immediately where you start seeing disagreements.

neil: Which I think speaks to how few truly elite picks are in this draft class, Tony.

chris.herring: Totally agreed.

neil: But the Lakers can’t complain too much. They only had the 11th-best odds going on, so even moving up to fourth in a three-star draft is something.

chris.herring: On Tuesday I walked past Gar Forman, from the Bulls’ front office, and he had a pretty grim look on his face after the team finished No. 7. Thought it was noteworthy that the Bulls’ John Paxson all but acknowledged that with a pick that low, the team was more likely to trade for a veteran as opposed to making it work with a rookie.

It’s far more of a crapshoot outside of the Top 3.

natesilver: We do know that the Pelicans didn’t like the Lakers’ pu pu platter back in February. And that was before Brandon Ingram’s DVT diagnosis. Although also before David Griffin took over, so maybe not as relevant now.

chris.herring: There are a lot of options now for New Orleans. A lot of people were wondering out loud, too, whether getting Williamson might make the Pelicans more likely to find a deal for point guard Jrue Holiday, who could help a ton of teams as well.

tchow: Chris, Paxson also had another pretty optimistic outlook on the results that I hadn’t thought of last night:

chris.herring: Yeah, that quote infuriated Bulls fans here. It read like something out of The Onion.

tchow: LOL

neil: Do the Pels have more or less leverage in an AD trade now than they did at the deadline?

natesilver: Weirdly, they have less, because there’s no one who can trade them Zion!

chris.herring: Exactly. Likely less leverage but more flexibility in terms of the path they take, since they can feel pretty comfortable about building their future around him.

natesilver: Are people too confident that Memphis will take Ja Morant and not RJ Barrett? They both have one glaring flaw (Morant: defense, Barrett: shooting), and historically, you’d rather go with the guy who can fix his shooting than a guy who is probably too undersized to ever be a great defender. Barrett’s also almost a year younger.

Just to show how much a year can matter, compare Morant’s stats this year vs. last year:

neil: And how does either affect where Mike Conley goes? They were shopping him pretty aggressively at the deadline but didn’t find the right deal.

natesilver: I don’t think Memphis has any business keeping Conley either way.

chris.herring: I’m interested in that question, too.

natesilver: And I’m not sure it affects their pick much. If you want Ja, you can keep him and use Conley as a mentor if you want.

chris.herring: Memphis is one of the smaller markets in the league, and because of that, I think they maybe hold on to players a year or two longer than they should. Perhaps because of the ties those fans feel to certain players.

Morant is seemingly good enough where you draft him and then figure out the answer to that question with Conley later.

natesilver: The Grizzlies have historically been a bit allergic to high-usage-rate guys, and both Barrett and Morant use a lot of possessions, so in some ways neither one feels like a natural Grizzly.

chris.herring: Morant is a great passer, too, though, and averaged a double-double with assists. So I’d hope they make an exception in this case.

tchow: If I were the Grizzlies, I’d take RJ.

chris.herring: Wow. Knick fans would love if you became the Grizzlies’ GM.

natesilver: The thing that’s really hard to project with Barrett is his defense. A lot of the comparables are pretty unflattering because people want to typecast him as Andrew Wiggins 2.0, maybe just because they’re both Canadian. But Wiggins was thought of as a guy who was going to be a plus defender, and he’s been pretty darn terrible instead. If Barrett’s a good defender, though, you start getting into a whole different set of comps, more along the lines of Jimmy Butler (if he tamps down the usage rate a bit) or Victor Oladipo.

neil: Just goes to show how much defense — which I think can go overlooked for prospects at times (and is difficult to predict out of college) — can really alter a player’s pro trajectory. This, from ESPN’s mock draft on Barrett, sounds like it’s ripped out of the Wiggins scouting report: “he wasn’t the defender his physical tools suggest he should have been.”

chris.herring: In fairness, Morant’s defense isn’t all that great, either. That’s part of what makes the No. 1 pick so easy, among other things.

natesilver: Barrett was a much better rebounder, which counts for something. A much better and more active passer. And he was using a ton of possessions, which sometimes yields lower effort on defense. And Duke played a very tough schedule.

I don’t know. If Barrett had shot 38 percent from three instead of 31 percent, I think people would be talking about him and Williamson like it’s … I don’t know, the Kevin Durant/Greg Oden draft or something. And of course, you can’t just disregard the difference between 38 percent and 31 percent. But he’s a pretty spectacular prospect if he learns how to shoot.

chris.herring: It’s so hard to tell in college. The shooting is somewhat predictive. But even if he had shot 38 percent this year, I think there would be room to ask whether it was completely real.

I remember Justise Winslow shooting a pretty healthy percentage from out there during his lone year at Duke, but so many of the makes came with Jahlil Okafor being doubled in the post, which left Winslow wide-open a lot of the time. And then he initially struggled from three once he came into the league, which was what many folks predicted.

natesilver: The low free-throw percentage is troubling for Barrett.

Like, Jayson Tatum — a guy who’s been a much better 3-point shooter as a pro than people thought — shot free throws pretty darned well in college. Barrett didn’t.

chris.herring: Completely agreed. That tends to have solid predictive value.

neil: It’s also worth remembering that Barrett was actually the No. 1 prospect in that star-studded class going into their freshman seasons. But I’ve seen studies that indicate the weight given to even one year of college should far outweigh our priors for prospects coming out of high school.

tchow: This chat is just becoming a conversation about how Duke players perform in the NBA.

chris.herring: Seems fair to me:

tchow: Out of RJ, Zion, Winslow and Tatum, who is the most likely to also believe the Earth is flat?

natesilver: New Orleans is extremely flat, so I’m guessing it will be Zion after a few years.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

How Steve Bullock Could Win The 2020 Democratic Primary

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced Tuesday that he’s seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and even though he is relatively late to join the race, he is, according to our research, the 19th candidate to qualify for the first two debates this summer. (He is also the 21st “major” Democratic presidential candidate by FiveThirtyEight’s standards.) Bullock starts off an underdog — though perhaps less of one than some of the other non-name-brand candidates to join the race in recent weeks.

That’s because Bullock may have a good strategy for winning voters over. In a May 8 tweet, he said, “As the only Democrat to win statewide re-election in a Trump state in 2016, I know firsthand: we must reach out to rural voters.”

And this message might resonate. As we know from polls, many Democratic voters think it’s a very important consideration to nominate a candidate who can beat President Trump, and as a white man, Bullock may benefit from perceptions that he is “electable.” But he has empirical evidence for it, too: He has won three statewide elections in red, heavily rural Montana — one for attorney general and two for governor. In 2016, he won his second gubernatorial term with 50 percent of the vote, 15 points more than Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

And Bullock remains well liked in Big Sky Country — his net approval rating (approval rating minus disapproval rating) in the first quarter of 2019 was +26 points, according to Morning Consult. That is a remarkable achievement considering Montana’s Republican lean and ranks Bullock fifth in the nation in our Popularity Above Replacement Governor statistic, which compares a governor’s actual popularity to what it “should” be based on partisanship alone.

But Bullock might have trouble replicating his Montana success in a national general election. That’s because party identification is relatively weak in Montana, making it easier for a Democrat to get elected there than in other red states. Third-party candidates have historically done well in Montana, and the state has a high elasticity score, indicating that it has a high share of persuadable voters. Consequently, split-ticket voting is fairly common in Montana. In addition to 2016, when Bullock won statewide even as Trump carried the state, 2012 saw Montana elect a Democratic governor (Bullock), senator (Jon Tester), secretary of state, state auditor and state superintendent of public instruction at the same time it was voting for Mitt Romney by 14 points.

But Bullock’s emphasis on converting Trump voters may still be an effective message in the primary — there are plenty of delegates up for grabs in white, rural states. The Mountain West primaries are an obvious opportunity for him, but so might be Iowa, where Bullock has the support of the state attorney general and could be a good demographic fit.

According to a March poll from Quinnipiac University, Democrats said 52 percent to 39 percent that they preferred a candidate who would mostly work with Republicans rather than mostly stand up to them, and Bullock is already trying to cast himself as a cure for Washington gridlock. He boasts an impressive list of liberal accomplishments while dealing with a Republican legislature his entire time as governor. He got Medicaid expansion passed not once, but twice.1 After Montana’s century-old ban on corporate political spending was overturned in 20122 he ushered through a bill in 2015 that required independent-expenditure groups to disclose their political spending.

Given Bullock’s personal history with the issue, campaign-finance reform could be a major focus of his 2020 campaign. Poll after poll indicates that large majorities of voters — especially Democrats, but Republicans and independents too — want to reduce the influence of money in politics and limit political spending by corporations. However, it may not be a motivating issue for many voters. In a March survey, CNN asked an open-ended question about which issue was most important to respondents when deciding which candidate to support in the 2020 presidential election, and only 1 percent said campaign finance or getting money out of politics.

So far, rank-and-file voters have shown little interest in Bullock. Relatively few have Googled his name. And despite qualifying for the upcoming Democratic debates by getting 1 percent or more in three Democratic National Committee-approved polls, Bullock has yet to exceed that share in any survey. Low name recognition is most likely a factor, and that suggests Bullock has room to improve. According to a Morning Consult poll released last week, 54 percent of potential Democratic primary voters nationwide had never heard of Bullock, and a majority of those who had heard of him did not have an opinion of him yet.

Being one of the few governors in the race also probably means that Bullock starts in a better position than some of the current or former U.S. representatives in the race, such as Tulsi Gabbard or John Delaney — traditionally, a governorship has been the most common stepping stone to the presidency, as well as to a presidential nomination. But unfortunately for Bullock, there’s not much about the 2020 election that’s traditional.


From ABC News:
Montana governor launches 2020 presidential bid


Democrats Have No Safe Options On Health Care

Even though most of the candidates have committed to some form of universal health care, the Democratic primary is turning into a debate about the future of the country’s health care system. Presidential hopefuls have proposed policies ranging from an ambitious four-year plan to transform Medicare into a universal single-payer system, in which the government pays for everyone’s health care and private insurance plans are effectively eliminated, to a more modest scheme that would leave the existing health care system intact but create a government-administered public insurance plan people could choose to purchase. But some of the candidates have been light on policy specifics, so it’s likely that health care will be a big topic at the debates and beyond.

In the abstract, focusing on health care makes a lot of political sense for Democrats. It was a top issue among Democratic voters in the 2018 midterms, and the Trump administration recently renewed its efforts to strike down the Affordable Care Act in the courts, which means the law could be hanging in the balance throughout the primaries and into the general election. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll also found that Americans, by a 17-point margin, say that President Trump’s handling of health care makes them more likely to oppose him than to support him in 2020. By a similar margin, an Associated Press/NORC poll found that Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans on health care.

All of this means that Democrats are heading into the 2020 election cycle with a serious edge on an issue that has the potential to mobilize their base. But if the candidates pitch big, sweeping changes to the health care system without addressing voters’ concerns about cost and access, that advantage won’t necessarily hold up. And trying to sell Americans on a completely new system carries risks, even in the primaries.

Why do people care about health care so much?

First, it’s important to understand how health care has morphed over the past decade from just another issue to one of the issues voters care most about. In the 2018 exit polls, 41 percent of voters said health care was the most important issue facing the country, up from 25 percent in 2014 and 18 percent in 2012. (It wasn’t asked about in 2016.) And although Democrats are more likely to prioritize health care than Republicans, a Pew Research Center poll from January found that a majority of Republicans say health care costs should be a top priority for Congress and the president.

The reason? Health care is becoming more of a financial burden, according to Mollyann Brodie, executive director for public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Specifically, Americans’ out-of-pocket health care costs have risen significantly over the past decade, even for workers who get insurance through their jobs. In an economy that by many measures is doing well, health care — rather than something like taxes — is becoming one of voters’ most important pocketbook issues, she said. “If you’re worried about whether you or your loved ones can afford your next health care bill, that’s really a matter of life or death, so you can understand why this issue is moving to center stage politically.”

And Americans are increasingly likely to say that the government has an important role to play in ensuring access to health care. In November, Gallup found that 57 percent of Americans said they think it’s the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has health care coverage, up from a low of 42 percent in 2013. Support for the Affordable Care Act rose over the same period, too. But, notably, support for government intervention in the health care system was even higher before President Obama was elected and the ACA passed — in 2006, 69 percent of Americans thought the government should guarantee health care coverage.

While support for government involvement in health care is rebounding, it’s not clear how much change voters are really asking for. “The average American is first and foremost concerned about the financial problems facing their family,” said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard. “They’re less worried about system-level concerns like health care spending and inequality. They want their existing coverage to be better and more affordable.”

What do voters want politicians to do?

Americans aren’t opposed to the idea of government-run health care, but there’s not a lot of consensus on what that would mean. For example, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that a majority (56 percent) of Americans favor a national “Medicare for All” plan. But according to a March Morning Consult poll, Americans are more likely to favor a plan that offers some kind of public option — a government-sponsored health insurance plan available in addition to existing private plans — over a system where everyone is enrolled in the same plan.

But this apparent contradiction makes sense, according to Brodie, because Americans are risk-averse when it comes to health care, and the switch to single-payer would affect far more people than the ACA did. Tens of millions of previously uninsured people received coverage under the ACA, but that number would be dwarfed by the 156 million people who get their insurance through their employers and could see their coverage change if the country switched to a single-payer plan. “Even if the current system isn’t working, transitions are scary,” Brodie said. “And people aren’t necessarily aware of what a national plan really means. When you start telling people that there might not be any more private insurance companies, that’s actually not a popular position.” For example, a January Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that support for a national Medicare for All plan dropped significantly when respondents were told it would mean eliminating private insurance companies.

And when asked what health care policies they want Congress to prioritize, Americans don’t list Medicare for All first. Instead, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, they want Congress to pass targeted measures that would lower prescription drug costs, continue the ACA’s protections for preexisting conditions and protect people from surprise medical bills. Only 31 percent of Americans say that implementing Medicare for All should be a top priority for Congress, compared to 68 percent who want lowering drug prices to be a top priority. Moreover, prioritizing Medicare for All is politically polarizing: Only 14 percent of Republicans support putting that kind of plan at the top of the to-do list, compared to 47 percent of Democrats.

Some health care issues get only one-sided support

Share of Republicans and Democrats who say each issue should be a top priority for Congress, and the difference between the parties

Dem. Rep. Diff.
Making sure the ACA’s preexisting condition protections continue 82% 47% D+35
Implementing a national Medicare for All plan 47 14 D+33
Expanding government financial help for those who buy their own insurance coverage on the ACA marketplace to include more people 36 18 D+18
Lowering prescription drug costs for as many Americans as possible 77 66 D+11
Protecting people from surprise high out-of-network medical bills 55 45 D+10
Repealing and replacing the ACA 16 52 R+36

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

However, smaller policy steps like lowering prescription drug costs and protecting people from surprise medical bills get more bipartisan support. Overall, Americans seem to be more concerned with fixing the current health care system than creating a sweeping new replacement — even if that replacement could address the issues they most want fixed in the current system.

What does this mean for the Democrats?

The complexity of Americans’ views on health care doesn’t change the fact that Democrats have a big advantage over Republicans on this issue, but it does mean that the individual candidates are in a tough spot because there’s no obvious unifying message they can adopt for the primary. And embracing a single-payer plan now could hand the GOP a weapon for the general election, allowing Republicans to frame the health care discussion around the Democrats’ controversial plan while glossing over Trump’s efforts to dismantle the ACA.

“The safest bet for a Democrat in the general election is to emphasize Trump’s track record on health care and say you’re going to make the ACA work,” Blendon said. The problem is that while that kind of argument might appeal to moderates, it’s likely to fall flat among a significant sector of the Democratic base that supports prioritizing a national Medicare for All plan over improving and protecting the ACA.

Democrats arguably still have an opening to make a case for a more ambitious health care overhaul, since voters still have relatively little information about what something like Medicare for All means. “It’s fine to support single-payer if you think that’s where the country needs to go, but you can’t just lean on principles like fairness or equality when you’re selling it,” said David Cutler, an economist at Harvard who advised Obama’s campaign on health care strategy. “You also have to tell voters, very specifically, what you are going to do to lower their costs and improve their coverage next year — not in 10 years.”

Even though Americans mostly prefer Democrats’ health care positions to the GOP’s, Democrats still risk alienating voters if they emphasize bumper-sticker slogans over concrete strategies for reducing the financial burden of health care. This is particularly important because their base of support for a single-payer system may be shallower than it appears, even within the party — especially when it comes to getting rid of private insurance. Big changes to the status quo are always politically challenging, but they may be especially risky when many Americans are concerned about losing the protections they already have.

Batters Are Getting Plunked At Historic Rates. But Why?

It’s never been more dangerous to be a major league hitter. Through Thursday’s games, batters had been plunked by pitchers 457 times, struck with a fast-moving projectile made of cowhide and densely wound yarn. Considering that MLB pitchers are throwing harder than at any time in recorded history, it’s safe to assume that getting hit by a baseball has never stung worse.

The current rate of 0.41 batters hit by a pitch per team game is the highest since 1900, the same year that the Brooklyn Superbas led by Wee Willie Keeler won the Chronicle-Telegraph Cup. (There was no American League yet and thus no World Series.)

This level of plunkings has given us some interesting results — and inevitable dust-ups. On Monday, four Reds were hit by pitches — in one inning, tying a record set in 1893. Mets batters were hit seven times on the hands just through April. Presumably in retaliation, reliever Jacob Rhame threw at the head of Rhys Hoskins, who retaliated himself with the slowest home-run trot since 2015. Rhame was suspended two games.

While the rate of HBPs has fluctuated across the game’s history, it was just 0.34 per team game three seasons ago, which is more in line with where it was for most of the 1990s and 2000s. So what is causing the recent spike? It’s a bit of a mystery.

There’s one simple explanation: There are more opportunities to hit someone now because hitters are extending counts and pitchers are throwing more pitches. The past two full seasons saw the highest number of total pitches (721,282 in 2018 and 721,279 in 2017, according to Baseball-Reference.com) on record.2 But even though the raw counts are higher, the share of total pitches that hit a batter last season is also going up: 0.266 percent of all pitches in 2018 hit a batter, the second-highest share on record. Through Thursday, this season has seen a share of 0.274 percent — which would be the highest that we’ve seen.

Some speculate that pitchers are just wilder than ever because of a focus on throwing hard in lieu of command. Walks per game (3.44) are well above the average since 1900 (3.19), but pitchers are throwing only fractionally more balls as a percentage of pitches this year (36.7) than the 2009-to-2018 average (36.6).

Of course, one specific reason for an HBP is that the pitcher meant to do it. Retaliation is as old as the game itself. And nothing gets a pitcher more snippy than giving up a homer. Balls are flying out of ballparks more than ever before, giving pitchers more opportunities to throw at the offending players. But it’s not just the act of hitting a home run, it’s what can come next: Don’t flip your bat or stand too long watching it or lollygag around the bases or trash talk the opposition in mid-trot. This year, Tim Anderson was beaned for flipping the bat too aggressively at his own dugout.

Furthermore, with home runs all the rage, pitchers may seek to expand the strike zone by moving batters farther away from home plate, effectively making the outside part of the plate more out of reach. Miss just a little in to a hitter in midlean over the plate and … kerplunk.

While we can’t measure the pitchers’ intent, we can measure where pitches are being located. According to data from Baseball Savant, more pitches than ever before are being thrown on the inside third of the plate and off the plate to the inside.

Through Tuesday’s games, more than 32 percent of pitches were inside, which is the highest rate since pitch location was first tracked in 2008. This rate is up more than 3 percentage points from 2008, which may not seem like much on first blush but would equate roughly to an increase of more than 30,000 inside pitches.

With more pitches directed inside, more batters are bound to get hit. But how much of that is on the batters themselves? Even as far back as 1997, players were bemoaning how hitters could treat the batter’s box like they owned it.

”Today’s game, you see guys digging a little trench in there,” Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn told The New York Times. “I just get flashbacks and wonder if they would do that if [Bob] Gibson or [Steve] Carlton or [Nolan] Ryan or [Tom] Seaver were out there. You can’t let a hitter go up there and think he controls both halves of the plate. If you bust a guy in, keep him honest, get him off the plate, you might be able to get him out away.”

Gibson, a Hall of Famer and the man largely responsible for the lowering of the mound, was viewed as a tiger on the field. He once dusted Reggie Jackson at an old-timer’s game. (Jackson had homered off of Gibson in a similar game the previous year.) After his close friend and teammate Bill White was traded, “Hoot” immediately plastered him on the elbow. And slugger Dick Allen said, “Gibson would knock you down and then meet you at the plate to see if you wanted to make something out of it.”

But Gibson hit “just” 102 batters in 3,884.3 career innings, or 0.24 per nine frames. That ranks 359th out of the 471 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings and hit at least 50 batters, according to Baseball-Reference.com. So the guy whose Hall of Fame bio says he “may well have been the most intimidating pitcher in MLB history” hit batters at a rate well below the hurlers of today’s game.

The pitcher today placing opposing trainers on the highest alert is Charlie Morton of the Tampa Bay Rays, who has led his league in hit batsmen four times in the past six years — despite never pitching more than 170 innings in any of those years. Morton nails 0.78 batters per nine innings, a career rate last exceeded by Ed Doheny (0.90), who retired in 1903. Morton’s ERA this year currently stands at a career-best 2.64. And in 2018, with the Astros, his .833 winning percentage led all of baseball: His 15 wins were one fewer than the number of batters he tattooed.

Neil Paine contributed research.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

Did The Rockets Miss Their Chance?

gfoster (Geoff Foster, sports editor): After a lopsided and — let’s face it — largely uninteresting first round, the second round of the NBA playoffs is delivering on its promise. We have only one team that’s already punched its ticket (Milwaukee). Philadelphia and Portland were each able to force a Game 7 last night with clutch wins at home, but let’s start with the Golden State-Houston series, which resumes with Game 6 in Houston tonight. The extent of the Kevin Durant injury is not totally known, but we do know he is out for the remainder of this series. This possibly devastating news was likely a little bit easier to swallow for Golden State fans considering that many people (including myself) looked at that noncontact injury Wednesday and assumed he injured his Achilles.

Does this give Houston a legitimate shot to take this series? Or did they blow a crucial opportunity by not stealing Game 5 when KD went down?

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): Both.

If they lose the series, they’re going to kick themselves for what happened in Game 5. But that said, they still have a decent shot to pull the upset. The margin for error is so much less now without KD there. They have to play well enough on offense while hoping that either Steph Curry or Klay Thompson are simply ineffective for a game or two. Steph reached down deep and remembered who he was in that fourth quarter, but it’s not inconceivable to me that Houston takes advantage of this.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): It absolutely gives them a shot. Golden State was basically the equivalent of half a star player better than the rest of the top tier (Houston, Milwaukee, Toronto). Take that player away, and they’re probably a half-step behind instead. Without KD, they’re underdogs in a neutral-court series against all of those teams. HOWEVER, the Warriors only need to win one of the two remaining games to close out against Houston, and one of those games is at home, so they’re still overall favorites (64 percent favorites, more precisely) to win the series.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): The elephant in the room is how eerily similar to last year this is playing out. The Warriors were in the same spot Houston is, down 3-2, with the opponent suffering a key injury. (That time it was Chris Paul who was out, and Golden State stormed back, obviously.)

chris.herring: Right.

natesilver: At the same time, although Harden disappeared down the stretch run for Game 5 and that wasn’t great, I think Houston gets a little bit too much grief. Beating the KD-less Warriors is still a big feat — remember, they won 73 games without KD! — especially at Oracle Arena.

chris.herring: It’s just that Houston had erased a 20-point Warriors lead and taken the lead on the road, with KD out of the picture, and Steph struggling. If you win that game, you’re up 3-2 with a chance to close it at home. They can still do it, but now they have to come back instead of merely going in for the kill.

neil: We often talk about the seeming inevitability of Golden State winning these past few years. But if they win again, that fourth quarter will be looked back at as a turning point of sorts, I think. A place where they made their stand as the season could have begun slipping away. Curry even started to get things rolling in that fourth quarter, after a brutal series for the most part.

natesilver: I don’t know — the whole game felt like Golden State’s to lose. The first half in particular was wide-open and sloppy, which you’d think was the Warriors’ jam more than Houston’s.

chris.herring: Just a couple of really clear things that killed the Rockets. Paul has never shot that poorly in a playoff game. Kevon Looney basically became PJ Tucker for a night, with all the offensive rebounds. The bizarre, fluke play at the end of the game.

natesilver: Sometimes I wonder if these analytics-heavy teams don’t emphasize offensive rebounding enough. Of course, they’ve spent way more time looking at the data than I have. But certain types of situations increase offensive rebound percentage more than others, and it can be a hidden source of value.

chris.herring: Maybe it was just GSW’s game to take unless the Rockets took it from the Warriors, which goes to Nate’s point about the game having been in Oakland.

I’m just really stuck on the “What if?” of that outcome. What if that was the last game at Oracle, potentially, and the Rockets could close this out tonight at home? The hype surrounding tonight would be insane.

I guess similar to last year, when Houston had a 3-2 lead but without Paul.

neil: It’s worth noting that with KD on the court in the series, the Warriors are +8.8 per 100 possessions; without him, they’re -6.2. So this injury really does add a huge late wrinkle to what was already a mega-interesting series.

chris.herring: I know the Warriors have won championships without KD and have even played stretches without him since he joined the team. But I do think it’s interesting that they’d gotten so used to relying on him this postseason.

He’d led them in scoring for eight straight games.

neil: He also completely changes HOW they play. They run so many more isolations with KD.

chris.herring: Even for Steph and Klay, going from that to having to do it all themselves again is a shift.

gfoster: Obviously, Curry and Thompson will need to step up on the offensive side to make up for that lost production — and both have been pretty so-so if not bad. But without DeMarcus Cousins and with a thin bench, I wonder how this affects them defensively. How do you think both teams adjust?

chris.herring: I would assume the Warriors are going to start Looney without Durant there.

You don’t have a ton of options, really.

But the Rockets can shade their defense a lot differently without Durant in the mix.

natesilver: I guess the one thing about Golden State is that with both KD and Steph out there — and Klay! — there are probably some diminishing returns in terms of being able to get good looks. Meaning, KD won’t hurt quite as much as if they didn’t have another super-high-usage player (Curry) and another super-efficient player (Thompson). Maybe there’s less margin of error against Houston’s defense, though.

neil: If the Warriors’ lack of depth was ever going to finally catch up to them, it’s now.

natesilver: Yeah, what I really worry about for GSW is the bench units. Curry still doesn’t look exactly right, and if you’re playing him 42 minutes, or whatever, that probably isn’t great.

But also not great if you’re playing him 38 minutes and have 10 minutes of a pretty terrible lineup.

gfoster: Likewise, Draymond Green gets into foul trouble again, and it’s even more complicated.

chris.herring: It’s pretty wild to consider how inevitably we talk of the Warriors winning it all again when an injury like this — one that keeps him out the remainder of the series, but not for the entire playoffs — is so consequential.

neil: The flip side, though, is how they still have a good chance to win without a top-five player. Any other team loses a player of KD’s stature and it’s sorta over.

natesilver: For the past several seasons, our model has usually had Golden State at about 50 percent to win the championship when the playoffs begin. Sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower. Either way, though, that’s a long way from 100 percent.

chris.herring: I’m interested to see how Paul responds tonight. And to see whether Tucker is a pest again the way he was in Game 4.

He’s not a big-time offensive player, but Tucker not having to guard KD all game long could open things up for him, too.

neil: Tucker, Paul and (weirdly) Austin Rivers seem to be the bellwethers for Houston. When they play well, the Rockets have won. Harden, on the other hand, has been pretty even in production between wins and losses this series.

natesilver: Which is usually how it works, Neil. 😉 But I agree. This is one of those series where I think basically every game was the deserved outcome, notwithstanding some of the foul controversies in Game 1.

neil: Well, my point is that it hasn’t exactly been Harden abnormally taking over games to will Houston to their wins. (To the extent that 35 points per game is just normal for him, haha.)

natesilver: I agree, it’s been the entire game plan working. And I don’t think the game plan really worked in Game 5.

gfoster: The Trail Blazers and Nuggets will play Game 7 in Denver. Game 7s in the NBA playoffs strongly favor the home team: Nearly 80 percent of them have gone to the home side. How are Portland’s chances of being in that 20 percent group?

neil: You would think that number would be even higher in Denver’s favor because the Nuggets have such a strong home-court advantage.

natesilver: We actually have Denver at “only” 76 percent, so a bit lower than the historical norm, and we account for the fact that teams at altitude have a bigger home court-advantage. But the home team in Game 7 is by definition the higher seed, and the thing about the Nuggets is that they aren’t as strong as a typical highly seeded team.

chris.herring: The Blazers’ chances are wonderful if they can get one more game of bench production like the one they just got in Game 6.

neil: Rodney Hood! He knows a new contract is coming. Averaging 16.2 PPG in this series.

It was also big for Dame Lillard to get hot from three again like he was against OKC.

chris.herring: This tweet blew me the hell away:

neil: LOL

chris.herring: Not just Hood, either. Zach Collins played his butt off, too, in Game 6 and stepped up in a way I didn’t expect.

All this while the Nuggets’ bench did almost nothing on the night.

That’s kind of been the story of the entire series, really.

natesilver: If Zach Collins and Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood are having breakout games … maybe that just means that Denver isn’t very good?

chris.herring: The Nuggets haven’t been able to take Nikola Jokic off the court at all.

gfoster: I wonder how much fatigue will begin to play a factor, which we have obviously seen in these long series. Dame looks a little gassed no?

natesilver: Jokic has also looked gassed at times, except that’s how he always looks so it’s hard to read too much into it.

chris.herring: Dame hit some ridiculous shots yesterday — both of the “he’s in a different area code” sort of way, and one where he was falling over and just threw something up and got it go down anyway.

natesilver: Did we discuss the four-overtime game? I thought some of the player usage decisions were pretty ridiculous, in terms of teams not incorporating their benches more.

neil: Yeah, there were some wild minute totals being recorded in that game. Jokic played 65 minutes!

natesilver: Most ever in a playoff game.

chris.herring: Yeah. Mike Malone said he needs to trust his bench a bit more.

gfoster: C.J. McCollum played 60. Dame played a relatively breezy 58.

chris.herring: It’s been tough. Denver’s backup point guard, Monte Morris, who in my opinion was one of the two or three most consistent bench players in the league, has scored 4, 3, 0, 2, 6 and 0 in this series.

And trusting a bench that is consistently giving you negative returns whenever Jokic takes a breather … there isn’t time to watch negative returns roll in!

It’s the playoffs. Every minute is huge.

natesilver: Random aside, but it does seem like teams that are dependent on a PG or a C can have more problems with their depth than a look at their roster might imply. If your star is a SG or SF or maybe a PF, you can slide guys around a lot more and give the team different looks. It’s hard to replace a guy like Jokic, though, in way that’s fluid with your overall gameplan.

neil: Yeah, there’s a lot more benefit to versatility in the middle of basketball’s “defensive spectrum” (or whatever we’re calling it).

chris.herring: 100 percent, Nate.

neil: Both ends call for more specific skills that aren’t as easily replicated when your star needs a breather.

natesilver: This is also sort of an interesting problem with on/off statistics. If certain types of players make roster construction harder, and lead to worse lineups when they’re off the floor, a lot of the +/- stats will mistakenly give them credit for that.

chris.herring: There was that game to start the playoffs that Denver lost, where Jokic took only nine shots. I was close to writing an entire story about that notion.

They’ve done a much better job making sure he’s constantly involved in everything since then. They just have a limited bench.

I still wouldn’t like their chances in the next round. But if KD takes a while to come back, at least they’d be playing another thin team in GSW, assuming the Warriors find a way to get one of the next two.

gfoster: Moving to the East, Philly staved off elimination and will go back to Canada for Game 7 — and they didn’t get booed (that much) by their home fans, so that’s big. Obviously, this was a big game for Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, but Joel Embiid posting a +40 in 36 minutes while only scoring 17 is absurd.

neil: Philly’s Big 3 were amazing in Game 6. They finally got it all together at once.

chris.herring: I thought Simmons was the story of the night.

natesilver: While Embiid’s +40 stood out in Game 6, I noticed that Simmons has had a positive rating in every Philly win so far in the playoffs and a negative one in every Philly loss.

chris.herring: Exactly

natesilver:

chris.herring: Simmons had 21 points in Game 6, but had only managed 33 TOTAL in Games 2-5.

natesilver: I guess that isn’t hugely surprising, but still — Simmons is one of the ultimate “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” players.

neil: And one narrative of these playoffs has been about whether Simmons truly fits into Philly’s group, especially long-term. He’s been under a LOT of scrutiny and criticism.

chris.herring: I think it’s somewhat unlikely that he has a repeat performance in Game 7 on the road. But even if they can get 15 or so from him on halfway efficient shooting, it’s massive.

We know what he is for now.

natesilver: I was sorta-kinda persuaded by the argument that his natural position is as a stretch center.

chris.herring: But I think that’s part of what works against him in these playoffs: If you keep him and Philly out of transition, he’s going to struggle to score, and he’s going to clog the paint in that dunker’s spot

I really loved that story, too, Nate — and was going to find a reason to post it in here.

neil: “A bigger and more athletic version of Draymond Green with more scoring ability”

chris.herring: And in a way, that’s what he did yesterday.

natesilver: I think he’s become a bit underrated at this point. Like, even if you concede the argument that he and Embiid are a bad fit together, if I’m one of the 29 other GMs, I’d be looking for a way to buy low on Simmons.

chris.herring: He scored off a couple putbacks. And he scored on fastbreaks. Your challenge is that you can game-plan him during the playoffs as an opposing defense.

The fact that he isn’t a jump-shooting threat whatsoever — like, we KNOW he’s not going to shoot — makes him different in that sense than a Draymond, or a Giannis Antetokounmpo. It puts more pressure on the other guys to find ways to score while playing defenses that take advantage of that.

But he’s still really, really good.

natesilver: If Simmons shot a Giannis number of threes, could he shoot at Giannis’s percentage? It’s not that high a bar to clear.

chris.herring: Nah, I’ve watched him warm up several times before. Whereas most NBA players, at any position, can knock down a handful of threes without much trouble, it doesn’t come natural for Simmons at all.

natesilver: Haha

chris.herring: You’re more likely to see him miss five or six triples in a row than you are to see him hit three or four out of 10 when he’s warming up wide-open.

natesilver: Do you buy the theory that he’s shooting with the wrong hand?

chris.herring: I think it’s a real possibility, yes. When you watch him shoot with his right hand, it looks more natural than with his left.

And I said it on Twitter recently: I think Giannis will be a league-average shooter from three next year.

neil: Is perimeter shooting a skill that a player can learn to at least be competent at with enough work? I guess Giannis is a weird comparison point because his best 3-point percentage in a season was still the 34.7 percent he hit as a 19-year-old rookie.

natesilver: Historically, lots and lots of players have learned to shoot the three, especially recently.

neil: Yeah, especially big men, I suppose.

chris.herring: I legitimately can’t believe Jason Kidd is still in consideration for jobs when he convinced Giannis (and Jabari Parker) not to shoot threes anymore

natesilver: But with Simmons, his free-throw percentage is pretty bad, and he’s bad on long twos, so that does suggest there might be something structurally wrong with his shot.

chris.herring: Anyway, I think the Raptors should be fine at home. The series has showcased a number of swings in either direction. If they keep Simmons out of transition, Kyle Lowry doesn’t lay an offensive egg at home, and Kawhi Leonard is himself, I think they’ll be OK

gfoster: Kristaps Porzingis aside, was there a bigger trade deadline move than Toronto getting Marc Gasol? I suppose we could point back to Rodney Hood.

chris.herring: Gasol was tailor-made for this series, and the matchup with Embiid. He’s not nearly as talented, but he can hold his own with a player who otherwise would have had a chance to break this series open.

(Although it’s fair to point out that Embiid has also had, like, three different illnesses this series, somehow.)

natesilver: It’s a pretty high-leverage Game 7 in that whichever team loses isn’t going to feel at all good about its season. Not like, say, Portland, which to be honest can be pretty happy even if they get blown out in Denver.

chris.herring: That’s certainly true.

neil: And this is the point where both teams’ seasons ended last year, too. So they couldn’t even point to a second-round berth as progress.

gfoster: Does Brett Brown keep his job if Philadelphia loses?

natesilver: I don’t think so.

chris.herring: I’d like to think he *should* be safe with a loss, since the series made it seven games. But the owner has been pretty clear in saying that he wanted to see progress with how all-in the Sixers just went. And losing in the second round again, technically, wouldn’t be progress.

natesilver: I know Philly has a bunch of weird fits, but Occam’s razor is that a team with Embiid, Simmons, Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick ought to be VERY good, even with no bench.

chris.herring: We talked about it before, but I don’t know if I could blame Brown for not getting more out of a group that hasn’t spent that much time together. Especially with Embiid being less than healthy this series. But I’m also not the one making multimillion-dollar decisions in these trades, hirings and firings.

neil: Yeah, even though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they went in a new direction, it would feel a little unfair given the fit and the lack of cohesion.

natesilver: I do sort of wonder if they trade Simmons if they lose.

gfoster: Does Butler return if they lose?

chris.herring: The city of Philadelphia will riot if they don’t bring Butler back.

neil: 🔔

chris.herring: He’s been fantastic at times, and it’s clear how much he cares about winning. I think the better question is whether they’ll bring Harris back — and if so, at what money.

Butler is fascinating because of the mileage he has on his body. But the fans will legitimately be furious if they don’t bring him back.

neil: I’m always shocked at how young Butler is. He feels like he’s been around forever.

natesilver: Who they would trade Simmons for is a tricky question, because his salary is still pretty low next year. On Twitter the other day, I suggested that an interesting trade might be Simmons straight up for the No. 2 or 3 overall pick, and everyone semed to hate that.

chris.herring: A Simmons trade could immediately improve the playoff outlook of the team, but he’s also so young to where it’s very easy to see how and where he could improve. But it’s part of the reason why I’d at least like to see him experimenting with a jumper during games. You really can’t go entire postseasons without so much as even attempting a shot outside the paint. And playing center on a team with Embiid won’t work long-term.

natesilver: Because he’s only making like $8 million next year, though, it’s hard to trade him for a veteran talent without having to package him with someone else and messing up your books. So if you could trade him for a young point guard, and actually use Butler as your primary ball handler in a lot of lineups, that might be interesting.

chris.herring: It’s easy to say in hindsight, but having Landry Shamet still would have been massive for this team. You also have the question of what to do with a player like Redick — one of your few floor-spacers — once his deal ends this summer.

gfoster: Speaking of next season’s plans, I wanted to touch on Boston quickly, who was knocked out this week by Milwaukee (who we haven’t even mentioned). What is going to happen with that team? Does Kyrie Irving stay?

neil: What a miserable end to the series (and probably his Celtics career) for Kyrie.

chris.herring: I just want to reiterate here: I think Milwaukee can, and probably will, win the whole thing this year.

The Bucks haven’t gotten quite enough credit for taking care of business. We wrote the piece about the Celtics having shut down Giannis in Game 1 — and then didn’t mention them again. The Bucks have been impressive as hell.

neil: If the Rockets hold court at home in Game 6, the Bucks will be the only team to advance in less than seven games. (And they did it in five.) Although idk how much that says about the Celtics.

chris.herring: But Kyrie … who knows with this guy?

natesilver: Good news, New York: Kyrie Irving is now officially enough of a headcase to play for the Knicks!

neil: LOL, Nate.

chris.herring: I don’t think you can go as far as to say that Kyrie burned bridges with the Celtics. But there were so many odd moments where he seemed to be talking about his teammates and what all they needed to do when it wasn’t clear that Kyrie had the stature to say those things.

What I mean by that: If you aren’t all the way in, and you waffle on the idea of being somewhere long-term, it looks weird if you readily critique your younger teammates, who probably feel just as invested, if not more invested, as you are. So it was interesting to see Terry Rozier say that he felt he dealt with BS all season. It was interesting to see Jaylen Brown’s many faces on the bench as their season was winding down.

natesilver: It’s still hard to see him coming back. I mean, he hasn’t been that subtle about conveying his intentions. Which doesn’t mean he couldn’t change his mind later.

chris.herring: It was interesting to hear Al Horford admit that the Bucks reminded him of his 60-win Hawks team, but with a legitimate superstar. And it was interesting to watch Kyrie have a horrible shooting series in which he said he should just take more shots to shoot himself out of the slump.

Yeah. I think he’s gone. Knick fans had to be ecstatic at how that all played out.

natesilver: It’s also not clear how much Boston wants him back. Certainly the fans have turned on him. His teammates don’t love him. He doesn’t provide that much value relative to the max contract. I’m pretty bullish on Kyrie, but he’s not a huge bargain.

chris.herring: Aside from wanting to make up for whatever this season was, I don’t know why Kyrie would return to Boston at this point if he feels over the whole situation.

gfoster: I think Kyrie’s status in Boston is contingent on whether the Celtics pursue Anthony Davis, right? Wouldn’t he stay in that scenario?

chris.herring: I never understood why he committed to staying as the season was starting. But the fact that he did, if he doesn’t actually want to be there, doesn’t mean he should still follow through with it. I think they’ll likely pursue Davis regardless of Irving.

natesilver: Mayyybee not, Geoff? A lot of the other teams that Kyrie might go to could also put together a decent offer for AD.

chris.herring: The challenge there is if Irving is gone/leaving, you would have a pretty bare cupboard to entice Davis to stay. Because he’ll be a free agent pretty soon, too.

natesilver: By this point next week, we’ll know who has the No. 1 overall pick, too.

chris.herring: That was the risk the Celtics waged by trading for Irving in the first place. (They gave up a banged-up Isaiah Thomas, so it wasn’t a huge risk. But still.)

This risk would likely involve Jayson Tatum and other important pieces. You’d have to make sure Davis wanted to be there before pulling that trigger, I’d think.

natesilver: If push comes absolutely to shove, the Celtics still have Tatum and Brown on cheap deals, a ton of extra draft picks and a good coaching/scouting/analytics staff.

So that’s a fair bit of assets to fall back on. It might make you a little more risk-averse, even though Danny Ainge has a reputation as a gambler.

gfoster: So under the new lottery rules, the Knicks, Cavs and Suns each have a 14 percent chance at landing Zion Williamson. The Bulls are 12.5 percent, Atlanta 10 percent, Wizards 9 percent.

natesilver: Which is the most annoying scenario? That he ends up in Cleveland, maybe?

gfoster: Yes. Has to be.

neil: Yet ANOTHER Cavs No. 1 pick would be hilarious.

gfoster: It’s like when the Edmonton Oilers won the lottery in four out of six years. (hockey reference!!)

chris.herring: Maybe I’m too much of a purist? The idea of them winning a fourth lotto in such a tight window would be insane (and maybe depressing on some level, because it feels like incompetent ownership would be gifted with a star yet again). But I also think it would make the Cavs interesting. That said: If he goes to the Hawks, that would be kind of fascinating — perhaps the most interesting fit of the teams with a realistic chance.

neil: Trae Young + Zion, let’s GOOOOOO.

chris.herring: If he goes to the Knicks, the hype will be like something I’ve never seen in my lifetime. Especially with the KD/Kyrie rumors having been out there, too.

gfoster: I do like the idea of Ja Morant on the Knicks.

natesilver: Would you trade him for Anthony Davis, though?

chris.herring: Will give a lot of voice to the idea of the Knicks swapping the No. 1 pick for a Davis package or something

natesilver: WOULD YOU DO IT, CHRIS, IF YOU’RE THE KNICKS?!?

gfoster: All-caps questions need answers.

chris.herring: LOL.

neil: Yeah, I feel like the bottom part of this chat has just been Nate angling to get AD, KD and Kyrie on the Knicks.

chris.herring: If I had a really strong sense that I was going to get Durant and/or Kyrie, I would be fine with that. If it was just Davis, and no pieces around him, no. I don’t trust the Knicks enough to truly build it from the ground up, with a single star player in place.

Hopefully that makes sense and won’t get me stoned by the Knick fans who read this.

natesilver: I’m reading Knicks message boards where people are like “Mitchell Robinson is too good to trade for Anthony Davis.”

chris.herring: He’s not. But man, it would be great to hold on to him if you could.

Especially if you’re giving them Zion/the first pick. Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina, you’d feel more comfortable giving away.

natesilver: Yeah, I think Zion for Davis is at least fair value for New Orleans, considering that he really just has one year left on the contract. So if the Knicks are giving up a bunch of other stuff too, I start to not like the trade.

gfoster: All right, the lottery is Tuesday, so next week we will have more developments to discuss in this weekly 2018-19 Playoffs/Wild Knicks Speculation chat. Enjoy the conclusion of the second round!

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