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Sunday, January 01, 2006

NBA Midterm Report Card, Pt. II

Part I compared my preseason predictions to the current standings and listed the seven teams that have earned midterm grades of A or A+. Now we will turn our attention to individual players who are having outstanding seasons. One interesting category is "efficiency," as defined by the NBA with this formula: ((PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK) - ((FGA - FGM) + (FTA - FTM) + TO)) / G. This is what is known as a "linear weights" calculation--basically, you add "good" stats (points, rebounds, etc.), subtract "bad" stats (missed shots, turnovers) and divide by games played. This type of formula does not consider that different statistical categories may have greater or lesser value and does not relate the player's performance to how well or how poorly his team does while he is on the court; it is a "quick and easy" way of looking at a player's production. Here is the current top ten list in "efficiency":

1. Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves) 30.07
2. Elton Brand (Los Angeles Clippers) 29.21
3. LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) 28.54
4. Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) 27.33
5. Shawn Marion (Phoenix Suns) 27.14
6. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) 26.57
7. Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) 26.48
8. Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) 26.35
9. Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics) 26.31
10. Marcus Camby (Denver Nuggets) 25.64

Garnett always ranks highly in efficiency but is he really the best player in the NBA? How many general managers would take him over Tim Duncan? Scottie Pippen offered some revealing comments recently about Garnett (here is a link to the complete interview, which originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on December 9: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/basketball/bulls/chi-0512090333dec09,1,7149129.story):
"He really set the tone for self-destruction. He's very productive but unproductive. He gets you all the stats you want, but at the end of the day his points don't have an impact on [winning] the game. He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, but in the last five minutes of the game he ain't the same player as in the first five." In one of his TV commercials Garnett bragged that he always gets "20 (points), 10 (rebounds) and 5 (assists)"--but, as Pippen suggests, the accumulation of those numbers seems to bear no relationship to winning. In previous seasons, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson have criticized Garnett for not having a go-to move in the post and for not shouldering enough of the burden to win the game down the stretch. Garnett is without question a multi-skilled player, but his individual statistical production rarely seems to translate into meaningful team success. He is an All-Star and All-NBA level player, but, whether or not he is the NBA's most "efficient" or most statistically productive player, I certainly do not believe that he is its "most valuable."

My choice for midterm MVP is Duncan, the best player on the defending champions, who have the best record in their conference. Steve Nash, Iverson, James, Brand, Nowitzki, Wade and Kobe Bryant also deserve consideration. Nash, last year's MVP, is again having a standout season and his Phoenix Suns are doing better without Amare Stoudemire than most people expected. Iverson is having arguably the best season of his career--ranking first in minutes, first in scoring, fourth in steals and eighth in assists--and almost singlehandedly keeping Philadelphia in playoff contention. Brand has been the force behind the Clippers' strong start, but it is unclear if he (or they) can maintain this pace over the course of a season. James, Nowitzki and Wade are each having outstanding seasons and are the major reasons that their respective teams rank among the league's elite. Bryant just missed the top ten in "efficiency"--ranking 11th--but he is the main reason that the Lakers--who most preseason observers dismissed as a rebuilding team--are in the hunt for a playoff berth.

Detroit has the best record in the league, but I'm not buying the "Chauncey Billups for MVP" campaign that some analysts are promoting. Detroit's strength does not come from the brilliance of any one individual, but the versatility, intelligence and unselfishness of its starting five players, each of whom deserves serious All-Star consideration but none of whom are legitimate MVP candidates; if you switched any of the Pistons' starters with MVP candidates such as Duncan, Nash or Iverson I find it difficult to believe that it would improve the other team or seriously hamper the Pistons. Would the Spurs be better off with Rasheed Wallace or Ben Wallace instead of Tim Duncan? I doubt it, but Detroit would not miss a beat if the Pistons had Duncan instead of either Wallace. Detroit's strength is the synergy of its starters, not their individual brilliance.

My midterm All-NBA First Team would have forwards Duncan and James, Shaquille O'Neal at center and Bryant and Iverson in the backcourt; the Second Team would be forwards Nowitzki and Brand, Camby at center and Wade and Nash at guard. O'Neal has been hurt and is having a down year by his standards, but he is still the best center in the league.

Chris Paul (New Orleans) has been the best of the rookies so far, ranking first among rookies in "efficiency" (21.3), minutes (36.6), scoring (16.3 ppg), assists (7.4 apg) and steals (2.3 spg); he ranks in the top ten in the league in assists (eighth) and steals (third). Other rookies of note so far include Channing Frye (New York), Charlie Villanueva (Toronto), Deron Williams (Utah) and number one overall pick Andrew Bogut (Milwaukee), who is averaging 8.7 ppg but putting up enough numbers in other categories to rank third among rookies in "efficiency." He has made some key plays for the Bucks, who are a legitimate playoff team after missing postseason play last year.

Here are the midterm top five league leaders in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots:

Scoring
-----
Allen Iverson (PHI) 34.2
Kobe Bryant (LAL) 32.7
LeBron James (CLE) 30.4
Gilbert Arenas (WAS) 29.2
Dwyane Wade (MIA) 26.8

Rebounding
-----
Marcus Camby (DEN) 12.9
Ben Wallace (DET) 12.4
Dwight Howard (ORL) 12.3
Shawn Marion (PHX) 11.8
Tim Duncan (SAN) 11.5

Assists
-----
Steve Nash (PHX) 10.6
Baron Davis (GSW) 9.5
Andre Miller (DEN) 8.5
Chauncey Billups (DET) 8.4
Brevin Knight (CHA) 8.2

Steals
------
Ron Artest (IND) 2.62
Brevin Knight (CHA) 2.43
Chris Paul (NOK) 2.31
Allen Iverson (PHI) 2.27
Gerald Wallace (CHA) 2.09

Blocked Shots
-----
Alonzo Mourning (MIA) 3.3
Samuel Dalembert (PHI) 3.24
Marcus Camby (DEN) 3.12
Andrei Kirilenko (UTA) 3.05
Joel Przybilla (POR) 2.58

posted by David Friedman @ 11:45 PM

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