I Think I’m on #TeamTradeThePick

I have yet to be won over by RJ Barrett or Jared Culver and am starting to think the Knicks should look to move the pick. Where and for what are open questions, but basically I oppose fighting the board. A given draft cohort distributes what it distributes in terms of star-quality, and the third overall selection carries no insurance against a one star draft. My impression is that neither Culver nor Barrett is a fantastic bet to be a star, however defined. It’s not outrageous to think the salary attached to the third pick is too big a premium to pay for the privilege of waiting on either to develop.

With Culver, the risks are obvious. His athleticism appears to limit his potential as a wing to a 3-and-D role player. Barrett, though not considered a cloud-piercing athlete, hasn’t been rumored to be as athletically limited. With him, I can’t get past 702 shots (i.e., 20.9 FGAs per 40). That feels like a preposterous amount of shooting to me under any circumstances. I feel like we can’t just rationalize that away by saying, “Well, less would be more in the pros.” All the apologia surrounding his freshman season (“It’s injuries!” “It’s Duke’s floor spacing!”) has nearly worn me down though. Its oddly consistent. So I’m like, “Well, maybe I’m just being a grumpy old man about this.” So I pulled up sports-reference.com’s college hoops data just to see how often somebody gets up 700+ shots in a season. Their season leader database goes back to the 85-86 season, which is far enough back to include the 3pt. shot introduction.

  • There are only 21 player seasons of 700+ shots: Interestingly, three occurred in 2018-19. Purdue’s Carson Edwards (703), Barrett (702), and Cal State-Northridge freshman Lamine Diane (701).
  • Freshmen account for three 700+ shot seasons: Barrett and Diane this season and LSU’s Mahmoud Abdul Rauf  (739) back in 1988-89.

702 shots is a LOT of shots. So, I don’t feel like my fear that Barrett could be entirely a creation of volume is unreasonable even if it turns out to be wrong. Among the 21 player seasons at that volume his 53.2% TS is 7th worst. Of course, I don’t want to ignore his age. Barrett is only 18 years old and the vast majority of players taking shots at that volume are 3rd and 4th year players. And, for what it’s worth, Lamine Diane, CSU-Northridge’s similarly sized freshman, was absurdly bad (49.9% TS). So, Barrett’s presumptively better than some random 18 year old jacking up shots. I buy that he possesses NBA upside, but as what? I’m not certain. I can see the DeRozan comp as reasonable, but not some sort of baseline expectation. As a preternaturally strong-but-skinny freshman DeRozan was a good bit better on two point shots overall, and was living death at the rim based on his elite athleticism. With the 9th pick, where we selected Knox, Barrett would seem like the right gamble. At 3rd overall, he forces NY to move a current player to pursue two max contracts. Whoever that might be was likely better than even odds to be moved anyway, to be fair. But he basically gets two developmental years to prove he’s “an asset” before expense becomes a consideration. Pretty much anyone in this class NY might consider at #3 feels like the wrong gamble for this off-season. I won’t cry if the best move ends up being pick the best player available. It be’s that way sometimes.

A few days ago I went in search of college basketball’s top no-conscience gunners to see where Barrett stacked up. Random shout out to Kevin Bradshaw of the now defunct US International University (USIU) in San Diego. He is the great white whale of no-conscience gunners. Back in the heady days of Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount teams playing at warp speed, Bradshaw transferred to USIU from Bethune Cookman. That first season, he got up a “modest” 707 shots as a junior–the 17th most in the sports-reference database–and averaged over 30 ppg. But for his senior year (1990-91) he went full Kaiser Soze. He showed so-called men of will what will really was, getting up 867–EIGHT HUNDRED SIXTY SEVEN–comically, laughably, hilariously inefficient shots to average 37.6 ppg. on 51.1% TS. I strongly suspect none of that will ever be bested (or worsted). Bradshaw, who at last check is doing what the old folks used to call the Lord’s work, teaching high school in San Diego, is an interesting sports story of dizzying heights, a near fatal fall from grace, the long road to redemption, and a documentary to go with it.

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The Knicks Have the Third Pick in a Three Player Draft. And Maybe It’s Only a Two Player Draft.

I will thank fellow citizens of Knicks Land–traditional media and bloggers–to stop telling me how to feel about the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. For all the losing and misery of the past two-plus decades, we should all be well-acquainted with disappointment. And, we should all know that it need not stem from a sense of entitlement or some other moral failing. It’s a big part of being a Knicks fan. Like any half-sensible fan, I knew that a 14% chance of the getting the top pick meant an 86% chance of not getting it. A golden ticket to Zion was always highly unlikely and yet not getting it is still worth mourning for a few days. For those Knicks fans who, like me, are still on the head-shaking portion of the famous Zo .gif, we can get to the head nod without all the lecturing and shaming. Thanks.

To be clear, I’m far from feeling whoa-is-me despair but the tenor of the past few days post-lottery have felt too weird and Stepford Wife-y for my taste. So, here’s my “gritty realism” take on where things stand.

  1. All hail our Pelicans overlords. Only New York and New Orleans could effectively “control” the offseason coming out of the lottery. And in truth, NY’s control, even with a golden ticket to Zion Williamson, would have been mostly theoretical unless and until Kevin Durant actually signs. With NO winning the lottery, it has the equivalent of two infinity stones already in hand. It’s not just that NY didn’t get its way. It’s that the lottery gifted the only other actor with the potential to shape the entire offseason with precisely that power. Do people not understand that it is David Griffin’s world now? This, incidentally, raises another question. Is he the secret son of Lucifer? Because, I mean, come on. That man has had way too much NBA lottery fortune for any Arizona State alum. (Ed note: #BearDown.) Meanwhile, the Knicks have STILL never drafted above (and rarely even at) their record since 1985.
  2. NY’s trade assets have no clear competitive advantage in any potential Anthony Davis deal. The only routes to star-quality veteran talent are free agency, the trade market, and the draft, which are interconnected. We can ignore free agency here since we cannot know NY’s odds of signing Durant or any star. The lottery outcome ensured that NO got the draft’s lone consensus star, the only trade asset that could’ve prevented an auction for Anthony Davis. (As we know from economics, auctions are usually hella expensive for the buyer.) With that outcome conditions are now ripe for a Davis auction involving (at least) the Celtics, Knicks, and Lakers. All can offer vaguely comparable packages, depending on Griffin’s strategy and preferences. And, of course, if he really is the son of Lucifer as I suspect, maybe he gets Davis to stay in New Orleans to play with Zion.
  3. Pending new info or insight, color me skeptical of RJ Barrett. New York may prefer, or be forced by circumstance, to draft and develop the #3 pick. Obviously, no one controls the distribution of talent in a given draft. (This must be true because no one with the power to stop it would have allowed the 2000 draft to happen. Jamal Crawford–who I love–might have the best career in that class. Yikes.) I’ve been told this is a three player draft. Are we sure? The more I read about the presumed #3 prospect, the less I like him. I’m no scout, but I wonder why we should consider Barrett a substantially better prospect (if at all) than, say, Miles Bridges. So much of what I’m reading about Barrett seems overly-reliant on counting stats, puffery, and an unreasonable amount of apologizing for a LOT of selfish play. He’s middling or bad on every advanced metric, save rebounding. It’s VERY easy to overvalue basic percentages for an 18 yr. old prospect, but what are people hanging their hats on with Barrett? It’s not cloud-piercing athleticism. It’s not a fabulous stroke, is it? Now, he is an elite rebounding wing. But even that makes me wonder whether he was an early bloomer who got reduced to a mid-range chucker by ACC-quality athletes. So much of his ballyhooed productivity seems like an artifact of a frightening usage rate that generated over 700 shots but only a 1.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Obviously, none of this dooms him as a prospect. But if Mills & Perry are buying into Barrett as much as virtually everyone else they better work him out to within an inch of his life and know exactly what he’s made of before pulling the trigger.

All that said, it’s a better time to be a Knicks fan than in a long time. The team is well-positioned to make a significant move in its journey toward decency this offseason. Yet the unlikeliest of teams–The New Orleans Pelicans–will play a bigger role than anyone would have imagined a week ago in determining just which paths the Knicks can and cannot travel on that journey. To sum things up, in the words of the great Bill Connolly of SBNation, “sports are dumb.”

A QUICK RE-SET ON NTILIKINA & KNOX

Let’s get this out of the way with haste. I am firmly on #TeamFrank and #TeamKnox. I’ve stan’d for Frank since day one and still do. I’ve been more cautious in my outlook on Knox than some. But, I’ve always said he was a perfectly defensible 9th overall selection.

With a bit over two-thirds of a bad–err, miserable–season gone, it’s a good time to re-visit the available data and see what it says. Notice I did NOT say, “make enduring pronouncements or predictions.” I also did NOT say, “abandon all hope for growth and development.” What I am saying is that all data tells you something and you would be wise to figure out what it tells. Nearly 60 games is enough for us to do some figurin’ for diagnostic purposes.

Frank Ntilikina — We know about Frank’s defense, even if at a glance it doesn’t seem quite as good as last season. Consider that he rates as a net positive in 6 of the 10 five-man combinations in which he’s played (-7.7 overall, one of the best on the team, but his on-court/off-court is +1.7). And, all of his net negative lineups feature some combination of Burke, Kanter, and Hardaway. I can’t wait to see his long, switchy, versatile defense with (in theory) a capable rim protector on the the floor at all times. Unfortunately, his injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. That’s just buzzard’s luck. I like that the team has publicly been patient with his groin injury. Those are notorious for fooling you into thinking you’ve recovered only to be easily aggravated and quick to re-occur.

Speaking of unfortunate, there is no getting past Frank’s ghastly shooting numbers. A 41.9 TS% at age 20, following 43.7% as a 19-yr. old rookie, is “hoo boy” bad. It’s a miracle he has a positive on-court/off-court differential. And yet, from a bird’s eye view–if you squint and tilt your head–you can see the outline of a useful offensive player. Ntilikina may never become a consistent league average shooter, but he can still be valuable on offense like Marcus Smart, a reasonable comp as a moderate-usage, defense-oriented combo guard. Smart shot 49% as a 20-yr. old rookie. Terry Rozier shot an unspeakable 39% as a 21-yr. old rookie in 2015-16. A lot of guys have had to shoot their way out of the basement, into the 50s in TS%, so they don’t offset their defense and the non-shooting aspects of their offense. That is Frank’s path.

As it happens, his non-shooting offense is actually pretty decent. On basically identical usage to last season his assist rate is 19.3% (down a tad from 20% in 2017-18), which seems to back up my thinking that he has the best court vision on the team. He also cut his turnovers way down from 19.8% to 15.8%, mostly by cutting some of the lazy post feeds and floaty cross-court passes out of his diet. Frank has to shoot better for any of this to matter, but there are enough examples of guys who have traveled that path–two active in the division–to have some faith he can do it too.

Kevin Knox — I am not worried about Knox. I think he’ll travel a similar path as Brandon Ingram, where he’ll work his way into being an average(ish) shooter as he adds the necessary strength to play his position. That said, he, ummm, may not develop into a perennial all-star.

Knox’s TS% (46.9% as of this writing) is not meaningfully better than Ntilikina’s rookie year shooting. He’s not shooting well, but he is using up possessions like an elite bucket-getter or playmaker. Trust me, I get all the caveats. Knox goes to work against grown-ass men every night with an IOU for a grown man’s body. He is the third youngest member of his draft class, and one of only five 19-yr. olds playing real minutes (Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Jr., Wendell Carter, Jr., and Marvin Bagley III). Of those, only Jackson, Jr. is younger (~1 month). The others are older by 5-6 months. Keep in mind, at that age 5-6 months is huge for physical development. Considering all that context, Kevin Knox is still the worst shooter on a comically bad shooting team. Even in his 19-yr. old cohort he’s the worst shooter by a country mile. So it may be wise to back off the “future scoring title” predictions. If that happens let’s all just revel in the surprise.

Consider that Thaddeus Young*, a perfectly around-the-median player now in his 12th season, had a 19-yr. old rookie season in 2007-08 that was basically twice as good as the season Knox is having.

*Did you think this was Young’s 12th season? Me either. His career could easily slot into the top half of players drafted 9th overall, where Knox was drafted. Except Young was drafted 12th, where his markedly average career is easily one of the ten or so best.

I am not here to dump on the kid. I like him. I am in NO WAY declaring that he can never develop into the perennial all-star that Young never did. He could make the second year leap De’Aaron Fox is making right now. Sign me up for that, but we should all stop pretending–coaching staff included–that there is any good reason for him to have a green light stuck in the “on” position. In the remaining games I’d love to see him work on other aspects of his game and be held accountable for defense, rebounding, and passing.

NEOLIBERALISM & THE KNICKS: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just #LOLKnicks

I became a Knicks fan when they drafted Ewing first overall in 1985. I became a Seattle Seahawks fan in the 1984 season. I know what it is to be a long-suffering sports fan. So, I’ve always been a realist, though never a cynic. This Porzingis deal will go down as the one that turned me though. At first I couldn’t put a finger on why, but after sleeping on it I think I got it. This was the moment where I personally felt the kind of gut punch that neoliberalism specializes in; the kind that comes out of nowhere when you were looking at something else. That the Knicks just happen to be the latest instantiation of it gave it some extra oomph. But what I’m talking about is bigger than them, bigger than sports, or even business. 

Before getting into all that though, let me stipulate that on the merits this deal could work out well for NY in the short, intermediate, and long term. And that’s even if Porzingis goes to Dallas and legitimately plays great. Meanwhile, NY cleared the salary decks, lost no young talent, and could still net two late lottery/mid-first round picks over the next 3+ seasons. It is certainly possible, maybe even probable, that NY would never see a better deal in combined talent and financial flexibility. In a vacuum, there is much to like about it. 

But, “in a vacuum” is one of neoliberalism’s main seductions. It is very often an incitement to destroy things for the sake of “flexibility,” as if unconstrained choice is an unmitigated good. Definitions of neoliberalism abound, but for my purposes think of it as a macro-context–a context of context–in which decisions occur. Most would agree that it places a very high moral, political, cultural, and economic value on the act of “choosing” from among alternatives in a marketplace. The value is so high that decision making “flexibility” has become a goal all its own, with seemingly no connection to a mission or objectives.

To put it plainly in the context of sports, neoliberalism entices front offices to accept on faith that markets always supply talent worthy of the chase. The premise is enticing precisely because it’s totally unfalsifiable. We can almost always imagine getting a better talent or a better scheme fit. Eventually, it’s all just a pretense for hitting the self-destruct button to max out decision making flexibility. (Think Larry Brown. There was NOBODY he didn’t lobby management to trade. He was the quintessential neoliberal coach before it was cool.) Neoliberalism entices managers to embrace the uncertainty that comes with choosing, even valorizes them for it. At the same time it scolds them for embracing the uncertainty of building and developing, which involves managing the choices already made.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s good to have choices, but only if you eventually develop them into something worthwhile. It’s not enough to just be good at choosing or good at getting more choices. You can’t have one without the other. 

I have no problem with the Knicks dreaming big about Durant and Kyrie, or even moving Porzingis to do it. Hell, as much as I like The Unicorn there is real risk associated with building around him. But, this trade felt like a gut punch because it seems like Perry and Mills hit the self-destruct button rather than deal with a passive aggressive star and his jackass brother/agent. Their pivot to flexibility leaves me cold about their ability to do the work of a full rebuild, much less patience. As a consequence, we’re now stuck hoping they hit a home run–two home runs–this off-season. I see no particular reason to be confident that more flexibility will lead to better long-term outcomes than would the constraints Porzingis represented. Talent constrains. If you’re ever going to turn choice into something useful you have to work within those constraints, erasing and expanding them where possible. That’s what development is. 

2018 SummerKnicks Wrap-Up

The SummerKnicks of the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League finished with a record of 2-3. Obviously, the record by itself doesn’t tell us much. The real learning from Summer League is to be found in individual performances rather than aggregate stats, so let’s get to those.

Kevin Knox. You’d have to be cynical even for a Knicks fan not to be hopeful–maybe even a little giddy like Fran Fraschilla–about Knox’s performance in Vegas. We saw glimpses of him leading the break and initiating the screen roll both to score and create for others. These are things we really didn’t see at Kentucky. He was very committed to attacking the rim and getting to the FT line. He is going to be hard to guard for teams that aren’t committed to stopping him. (Boston was committed and leveraged him into difficult shots.) Knox had the greenest of green lights in Vegas leading him to throw up some bad shots here and there. So he was hardly a model of efficiency, though he hit a reasonable share of difficult shots. A bigger–if still mild–concern coming out of Summer League is that the jumper comes and goes. It’s a good looking shot, so it should be just a matter of time before it becomes a reliable weapon but how much time is anyone’s guess.

Mitchell Robinson. If you loved Knox in Vegas then you also have to love what Robinson put on display in every game. His rebounding and shot blocking should absolutely translate to the NBA. And good heavens, he covers so much ground. He blocked at least three jump shots on the perimeter that I can recall. Of course, like most young bigs he has no real idea how to establish defensive post position or rotate. Given all this, Robinson may represent a tough call for the brain trust. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Fiz and Perry decide that it is best to let him mature in Westchester this entire upcoming season regardless of what he does in training camp or pre-season. Totally reasonable. Or, he could play his way into 15-20 rebounding, shot-blocking, slam-dunking minutes per night.

Frank Ntilikina.  Game 2 Frank was the best Frank, obviously.  But how he performed is just as important as how well. He pushed the ball up the floor, even on dead balls. He attacked the rim and unveiled a bit of Andre Miller to his game. That last part might be the most important development for his upcoming season. Ntilikina isn’t likely to be a classic penetrate-and-kick PG like Marbury but he can still break defenses down. Miller is the patron saint of putting a defender on his hip and taking him to the mid-post to pass or score. He did it on slow-paced teams and fast ones. Given Frank’s size, he needs some Dre in his game. Though plenty quick, he’s big enough to back down all but a few PGs. We needed to see that in summer league, along with a willingness to keep his dribble alive in traffic. We saw him do all these things across five quarters. (The first three quarters vs. ATL were ychhh.) I don’t subscribe to this being a so-called “make or break” season for Frank, I expect to see him carry this skill set into the regular season.

Damyean Dotson. The most disappointing summer league performance (relative to expectations) almost certainly belongs to Dotson. A second round flier who generally impressed when he got some run with the big club, he is hardly “the” key to the upcoming season. Still, a lot of people expect Courtney Lee to be moved this off-season. That mostly presumes that Dotson will contribute (if not start) as a 3-and-D wing. I’m not gonna go nuts over a few bad games. (And, he did play well in the final game.) But, Dotson was mostly awful on both ends of the floor against non-NBA talent for four straight games. He has training camp and pre-season to turn things around but he’s got  work to do. I’ll be rooting for him.

Allonzo Trier. The Knicks tried him at PG, when as far as I know he never even brought the ball up the floor at Arizona. And hoo brr-other, it did not go well. Jason Kidd he ain’t. But, he’s not a bad project on a two-way deal to play the bench scorer role. At 6’5″ he has nice size for SG so even if he never develops as an initiator he should contribute at his natural position. His college and summer numbers make it evident he can score reasonably efficiently. He was also the 3rd leading (per game) rebounder. 

Others. Apart from Kornet, the SummerKnicks really didn’t feature other NBA talent. Daniel Ofechu had some nice moments as a rebounding and passing PF. I have my doubts about whether he’s athletic enough to stay on the floor but he has an NBA skill set. On the other hand, I don’t really understand the team’s fascination with Isaiah Hicks.

Knicks Draft 2018: Don’t Love Knox. Don’t Hate Him.

The first NBA draft for the Perry/Mills/Fizdale leadership team is in the books. So I’ll get right to the point, I don’t love Knox as a prospect but I certainly see what there is to love and I don’t know that there were much better options at #9. I never pronounce judgment the day after a draft unless I think the team did something dumb. They didn’t. Debatable? Certainly, but that’s to be expected. 

What I don’t like…

Though I doubt he’ll be some Anthony Bennett-level bust who just can’t play, Knox scares me a bit as a prospect. He’s actually not very good at anything just yet. To be fair, he’s always been young for his cohort. At just over 18 now, he’s the youngest or 2nd youngest player drafted this year. So he’s being sold as a high upside pick. That’s actually the part that scares me. As my homeboy Ty says, “greatness manifests early in basketball.” Yet, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton notes (Insider), Knox has never really been great even in his cohort at AAU, USA Basketball, or at Kentucky. I’m not a big Trae Young fan, but even ignoring his shooting, he’s an elite playmaker in his cohort. Knox has been a decent-but-not-especially-efficient scorer who contributes less to the “effort” categories (rebounds/blocks/steals) than his athletic traits lead you to expect. He also doesn’t appear to be a playmaker of any note.

What I like…

I’m actually not here to crush our (Sharpei) puppy-faced prospect. Rather, I’m here to temper talk of his upside being Durant-like. (Thanks, Chauncey and others.) Unrealistic expectations doom prospects as much as anything else. If Knox really projected to be all-NBA or even consistent all-star caliber he’d probably already be elite at some aspect of the game, even at 18. (As Michael Beasley has said of Kevin Durant, “He had that jumper in the 6th grade.”) Over two seasons of EYBL and a freshman season as Kentucky’s leading scorer, he’s not proven to be even “very good” at any one aspect of the game. Nevertheless, the skills, the smooth athleticism, and a frame that can easily hold another 15 lbs. are all undeniable (especially given NY’s desperate need for more athleticism). I can’t blame anyone for feeling confident that production will soon follow. 

To my mind, a reasonable outcome for Knox is as a quality starter who functions mostly as a weakside scorer that puts the ball on the floor well enough to keep defenses honest. Assuming the shot comes around–his stroke looks legitimately great, so let’s call that likely–the open question is whether he’ll do enough other things to not offset his shooting. Given NY’s roster (and some potential culling), he could be starting consistently in his second season. I think his body probably fills out into a big 3/stretch 4, along the lines of Danillo Gallinari. If everything breaks right he could be better, but that’s more optimistic than realistic. 

In terms of process, the Knox selection is an easily defensible one given the way the board fell. I don’t see much fault on draft night. There were no dominating alternatives waiting for the Knicks at #9. Once Atlanta flipped Doncic to Dallas for Young I don’t think there was even a vaguely realistic trade-up scenario for NY. Add to that, you look at selections 10-15 and none of them is hands-down a better prospect than Knox. He was the last guy I feel comfortable projecting as a decent starter before a talent cliff. 

  • Mikal Bridges (PHI/traded): I am solidly on Team Mikal(TM) but his limitations are well known, even if I feel like his upside (especially on defense) has been criminally undersold.
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (CHA/traded): Meh.
  • Miles Bridges (LAC/traded): He has his fans, me among them, but Knox cleaned his clock at the workout by all accounts. Certainly, if NY loved Miles he was available via trade.
  • Jerome Robinson (LAC): So, the Clippers ended up with two almost identically sized PGs?
  • Michael Porter, Jr. (DEN): I’m a Mizzou alum, and even I thought Michael Porter, Jr.’s risk profile wasn’t right for NY. It’s a legit great pick for Denver. Since they’re not going to defend at all they actually need another scorer. 
  • Troy Brown (WAS): I like Brown for them. They need bench talent so, so badly.

In the second round, NY selected Mitchell Robinson, something of a mystery man C who did not play college ball after committing to Western Kentucky. Again, given the way the board fell I have no problem with a gamble on his athletic traits. He’s 7’1″ in shoes with a 9’3″ standing reach and bouncy. It’s worth noting that his size and athleticism translated into production in the EYBL, where he rebounded and blocked his ass off. According to Pelton, he was dominant among his peers in those most translatable of box score categories. Among all EYBL players from 2012-16, Mitchell was 1st in block rate, 3rd in OREB%, and 1st in 2-pt. % (min. 150 FGAs). Yes please, and thank you. 

Evidently, NY has also signed former Arizona guard Allonzo Trier to a two-way contract. Though I’d have preferred Rawle Alkins, this is easily a worthwhile gamble.

Guardian: Cali Police and Prosecutors Cape for Neo Nazis & White Supremacists

The latest from the “Jeezus, what now?” file: The Guardian reports that police in Northern California have been caping hard for members of neo-Nazi/white nationalist groups, in some instances while in custody, in attempts to identify and target anti fascists for arrest.

A bit of background

California (and the West Coast generally) has been a major site of recent neo-Nazi and White supremacist mobilization. Meanwhile bands of loosely-connected anti fascists have actively countermobilized, leaving the two forces literally fighting in the streets. Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville may have focused attention on right-wing violence but fatalities and serious injuries have been piling up for years, especially in California. To be clear, the open or tacit sanction of violence against women, people of color/immigrants, so-called race traitors and cucks, and political opponents generally is less a coherent strategy than an endemic feature of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. As sociologist Kathleen Blee notes in a 2017 essay on far-right mobilization (p. 5):

Chaos is not only a description of white supremacist membership; it is central to how many racial extremist groups operate… In the chaotic swirl of life in racist groups, ideas are sidelined by action and discussions by simple slogans. People are valued and accorded leadership roles for their aggression and willingness to take risks for the cause more than for their understanding of the cause… [T]hey are attracted by… coercion, fear, the lure of profit, opportunities to engage in violence, access to drugs or alcohol, ties of friendship, familial and sexual relationships, and links to criminal networks.

To be fair, Antifa is not bashful about engaging in and even instigating street-level violence but the willingness to go lethal with swords, guns, bombs, and driving into crowds of protesters is a hallmark of right wing groups. Certainly the publicly available body count, not to mention years of social science research, corroborate this.

A morality tale about policing

This Guardian story corroborates activists’ long-standing claim that local police have a wink-and-nod relationship with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. We can scream “NOT ALL OFFICERS!” about this all day long but to do so is to lose the plot (quite possibly on purpose). The central dilemma in this story is the moral rot that characterizes local policing’s historical origin and defining features. That rot didn’t get here because X percentage of officers lack personal integrity. Rather, it got here because there is no legitimate oversight of their practices. Even in the rare instances where they are brought to account for abuse, restitution comes from government; not police departments. Although it may be glib to claim that consent decrees and court decisions are toothless, it is perfectly accurate and fair to say that they largely do not impact practices on the ground like those highlighted in the Guardian article. 

So regardless of whether 1% or 99% of officers openly abet fascists or coyly turn a blind eye to their misdeeds, the practice itself does not violate any policy. And more importantly, even if it did there is no entity with the power, resources, and authority to enforce such a policy. (Many department heads lack even the authority to fire officers for getting drunk, doing drugs, or selling drugs while on duty.) Prosecutors may lose cases against Antifa activists built on fascist testimony but exoneration comes long after the targeting and arrest have already occurred. Meanwhile, it remains an open secret that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists have been infiltrating law enforcement for decades. Infiltrate might be too strong a term since many departments don’t even bother to scrutinize such affiliations in the hiring process. FBI reports from 2006 and 2015 make clear that this infiltration is national in scope, and not just a few fat Southern sheriffs reppin’ the ‘Stars and Bars.’ So when an officer in Northern California says to a neo-Nazi (in custody for beating up his wife), “We see YOU as the victim. Help us identify Antifa members,” the scandal is bigger than just his bias. We are way past that. The scandal is that no one in local law enforcement–not the officer or anyone else–can be held to account specifically for this practice. That level of moral rot cannot simply be cut out of local law enforcement. It is not an institution that can be saved or reformed. It has to be scrapped and re-imagined entirely.