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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Lanier Article Featured at Legends of Basketball

My recent profile about Bob Lanier is currently being featured at Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association. Even if you saw the original article at Hoopshype.com you will still want to check out this link because it includes three great photos of Lanier: one from his work with the Read to Achieve Program, one showing him presenting the Sportsmanship Award to Grant Hill and a great shot of him delivering his trademark sweeping left handed hook:


posted by David Friedman @ 12:42 AM


Friday, January 06, 2006

T-Mac and King James Play "Can You Top This?" at the Q

Tracy McGrady (34 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals) outdueled LeBron James (32 points, nine rebounds, five assists, one steal) on Thursday night, leading the Houston Rockets to a 90-81 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The theme song of the night should have been "Anything you can do, I can do better." McGrady scored 23 of the Rockets' 49 first half points and Houston led by 14 at intermission. James countered by pouring in 16 points in the third quarter on sizzling 7-8 field goal shooting, but the Cavs only shaved three points off of the Rockets' lead.

James cooled off in the fourth quarter, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Donyell Marshall picked up the slack and the Cavs pulled to within three points, 79-76, after Ilgauskas' jump shot with 4:36 left; that capped a 24-10 Cavs' run that started with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Rockets enjoying a seemingly secure 69-52 lead. Rafer Alston and Dikembe Mutombo combined to nail three of four free throws to extend the lead to six and, after Ilgauskas hit another jumper to trim the margin to four, McGrady scored on a gorgeous drive with 2:03 left to put the Rockets up six; the Cavs never threatened again after that shot.

Cleveland misfired from long distance throughout the game, shooting only 7-29 (.241) on three pointers. Each team suffered noticeably due to the absence of a key starter: Mutombo started in place of injured All-Star center Yao Ming and failed to make a field goal, although he did contribute eight rebounds and one blocked shot; Damon Jones scored three points on 1-7 field goal shooting while replacing Larry Hughes, who will soon have surgery on his broken finger.

Notes From Courtside:

Watching Mutombo warm up you would never have guessed that he would fail to connect on a single field goal. He made several jump shots in a row from the 12-15 foot range, alternating between the left elbow and the left baseline. His shots had a fluidity and arc that they normally lack when he shoots during games.


Stromile Swift jumps with breathtaking quickness and simply oozes athleticism. It is hard to understand how he can play 23 minutes and only have six points and five rebounds. He tantalizes with his physical tools and if he ever develops the mental focus to bring high energy every night he could be quite a force. Of course, since he has been in the league for several years it is reasonable to question if he will ever reach his full potential.


James launches a lot of "Oh no--good shot!" field goal attempts--shots that look like they are forced or off balance but that he makes with amazing consistency. He shot 13-19 from the field, including 3-7 on three pointers. James' repertoire on Thursday included a sweeping hook shot, a fadeaway from deep in the left corner and several power drives that resulted in made baskets or trips to the free throw line.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:32 AM


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bob Lanier's Impact Felt On And Off The Court

It is easy to focus on negative stories--as the cliche goes, "If it bleeds, it leads." Crimes and wrongdoings committed by high profile athletes are newsworthy, but positive stories are equally worthy of attention. Why does it seem like we hear more about superstars having out of wedlock kids than we do about the students who receive educations as a result of multi-million dollar charitable donations by David Robinson (to cite just one example out of many)?

Bob Lanier averaged more than 20 ppg and 10 rpg during his Hall of Fame career, but his lasting legacy will be the lives that he has impacted around the world. Lanier serves as a special assistant to Commissioner David Stern in charge of the NBA's Team-Up community service programs. Hoopshype.com has just published my profile of Lanier (9/21/15 edit: the link to HoopsHype.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

Although Bob Lanier is a Hall of Famer, it is easy to overlook his career. He did not play on a championship team, his game was not flashy and he retired before the NBA became the global, multimedia product that it is today. Some fans may remember him more for his famously large sneakers than for his accomplishments as a player. That is most unfortunate, because Lanier had tremendous impact during his playing days--and even greater impact since his retirement.

Lanier averaged 27.6 ppg, 15.7 rpg and shot .576 from the field while leading St. Bonaventure University to a 65-12 record in his three varsity seasons, including two NCAA Tournament appearances. During his senior year in 1970, St. Bonaventure stormed to a 22-1 record in the regular season and a third place ranking in the final AP regular season poll. The Bonnies had an excellent chance to end UCLA's streak of NCAA championships until Lanier suffered a devastating knee injury in a 97-74 victory over Villanova in the East Regional Final. Playing without their star center, St. Bonaventure lost 91-83 to Artis Gilmore's Jacksonville Dolphins in the Final Four.

Lanier was still recuperating when the Detroit Pistons made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft. He did not miss a single game in his rookie season, but Lanier thinks that his haste to return to action may have set him up for future problems.

"In hindsight," Lanier says, "what we should have done--if I had had any sense and if there was some sophistication with the powers that be way back then in Detroit--is have me sit out the first half of the season, at least, and just worked on getting my knee right, getting the swelling down, strengthening it up. But rehab wasn't as sophisticated then and there was so much pressure to get Bob Lanier out there playing--even on one knee--because I was a No. 1 draft choice and because Detroit was a fledgling team. I think, consequently, because of that I had so many problems with my knees over the years because I started out my career that way as opposed to really getting myself together."

On March 19, 1971 he scored 40 points, setting a new franchise single game scoring record for centers. Lanier averaged 15.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg and made the All-Rookie Team. Detroit's 45-37 record was a 14-game improvement over the previous season, but only good enough for last place in the powerful Midwest Division. The Milwaukee Bucks, led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, won the division title with a 66-16 mark en route to capturing the NBA title. For the next seven seasons, Lanier never averaged less than 21.3 ppg or 11.3 rpg.

Blocked shots and steals were not recorded during his first three years. In 1973-74, Lanier ranked fourth in the NBA with 3.05 bpg, totaling 247 blocked shots. He also had 110 steals, a most impressive display of quickness by a 6-11, 265-pound center; only 11 other players in NBA/ABA history have had 200-plus blocked shots and 100-plus steals in the same season. Lanier showcased his playmaking abilities by averaging 4.2 apg that year and a career-high 4.6 apg in 1974-75.

Lanier won the 1972 NBA-ABA All-Star Game MVP Award, no small feat considering that luminaries such as Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, Connie Hawkins, Julius Erving and Rick Barry participated in the second annual contest between the rival leagues. In 1974, he added the NBA All-Star Game MVP to his trophy collection.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of hardware that Lanier won came from a one-on-one contest that included many of the NBA’s greatest stars. "They brought us all to a high school gym somewhere," Lanier recalls. "I think that they figured that Pistol Pete was going to win it. Vitalis was the sponsor and they made a deal with Pistol to do the TV commercials for the event. But he didn't win; he got knocked out just before the finals. Jo Jo (White) and I ended up playing in the finals. Jo Jo and I kind of made a little pact. I knew how quick Jo Jo was--he'd break your ankles if you didn't watch out. So I said, 'Jo Jo, just don't embarrass me out here.' Man, the cameras went on and Jo Jo took off--I think he made the first five hoops. He would make a little fake and when I got too close to him then he would drive around me. After about the third shot he made I'm saying, 'Jo Jo, come on man, slow down, slow down.' I'm begging him. He served me a couple more after that and then he missed. I said to myself, 'OK, I'm going to just rock him to sleep now.' I wasn't just big and slow; I was fairly quick for a big guy and I could shoot the outside jump shot. I think that within the 17-foot range I could shoot as well as anyone who ever played. I wasn't worried once he missed, because it was make it, take it. If you made a shot you didn't have to give the ball back. So when he missed I rocked him a little bit with some quick back down moves and short shots until I got within range. Once the score was close again, I shot some jumpers."

Lanier still remembers the scene after he defeated White to earn the crown as the NBA's best one-on-one player: "They gave me a Vitalis trophy and a satchel that contained about $15,000. I remember unzipping it and pretending that I was tossing the money out to the fans."

Lanier did not just excel in All-Star games and the one-on-one contest. He twice finished in the top five in regular season MVP balloting (third in 1974 behind Jabbar and Bob McAdoo, fourth in 1977 behind Jabbar, Bill Walton and Pete Maravich), but there were always two centers ahead of him, so he never made the All-NBA team. This is somewhat reminiscent of Hal Greer, the great Sixers guard who made the Hall of Fame and the 50 Greatest Players List but never made the All-NBA 1st Team because he played at the same time as Oscar Robertson and Jerry West

Lanier holds the Pistons franchise record with 20 games of 40-plus points, including a career-high 48 in a 120-116 victory over Portland on November 28, 1972. Lanier's 33 rebounds on December 22, 1972 versus Seattle stood as a team record until Dennis Rodman had 34 rebounds versus Indiana in 1992.

He averaged 22.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg in a little over nine seasons as a Piston. Detroit did not win a championship during Lanier's time with the team, but he can hardly be blamed for this: he elevated his averages to 25.6 ppg and 13.8 ppg in his 22 playoff games as a Piston. Frustrated by Detroit's postseason failures, Lanier requested a trade and on February 11, 1980 the Pistons sent him to Milwaukee. The Bucks went 20-6 down the stretch after Lanier's arrival and finished first in the Midwest Division. The defending champion Seattle SuperSonics defeated Milwaukee in seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals, winning the clinching game 98-94.

In 1980-81, Milwaukee moved to the Eastern Conference's Central Division. The Bucks had a 226-112 record during Lanier's four full seasons with the team, winning the Central Division crown each year. They lost Eastern Conference Finals showdowns to Philadelphia in 1983 and Boston in 1984. Each of those teams won the NBA title.

"The bad thing was if we got past Philly we ran into Boston and if we got past Boston we ran into Philly," Lanier says. "That was when Philly had a hell of a team with Julius, Moses and a couple great guards, Mo Cheeks and Andrew Toney. God bless America, was he tough, man. He would wear Sidney Moncrief out. He was really tough. Then if we got by them, shoot, we had to face three Hall of Famers--Robert Parish, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale--plus Dennis Johnson. Think about it--that's really tough."

Lanier retired after the 1984 season with career averages of 20.1 ppg and 10.1 rpg. Bob Lanier's basketball prowess does not define him as a human being. He is a special assistant to commissioner David Stern in charge of the NBA's Team-Up community service programs, but Lanier's devotion to helping others predates his involvement with the NBA.

"It started long before I was a player," he explains. "It happened in high school and even prior to that because my mother got me to do things with kids in the church. We would mentor and do clinics and stuff like that with kids in the church. That's how all that got started. Then, when I was in college, I used to go and help the Seneca Indian nation. They gave me a beautiful Indian headdress with eagle feathers."

The Seneca also bestowed an Indian name upon Lanier ("he who leaves big tracks") which superficially could refer to his imposing physique, but on a deeper level reflects the impact that he had on their lives.

Lanier is proud that his example has inspired other NBA players to reach out and help others. "We have a lot of players who have foundations and who are doing some really wonderful things in their communities around the country and I dare say around the world," he says. "Dikembe Mutombo has given large amounts of time and money to people in Africa to build hospitals and build places for young kids to have beds and showers and washing machines. He has done a wonderful job. Stephon Marbury, through his Starbury Foundation, has done a wonderful job for kids, making a difference in communities. We have a bunch of guys who continue to do great, great work, trying to make a difference in the world."

Lanier laments that NBA players do not receive enough recognition for these efforts: "It is unfortunate because I dare say that there is not a group of young men who do more to make a difference around the world than NBA players. I travel around the world with our 'Basketball Without Borders' program in which our ambassadors of basketball run basketball clinics. But we also talk to these players in different countries about how to deal with life issues and tell them that they need to make it and then reach back to help others to make it. That is truly important and that is one of the things that we take very, very seriously in the NBA."

Bob Lanier did not achieve his dream of winning an NBA championship, but his efforts are helping countless people to have better opportunities to fulfill their dreams. It's hard to imagine a greater legacy than that.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:15 AM


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 single-handedly 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:

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

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

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

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


NBA Midterm Report Card, Pt. I

Most NBA teams have played more than a third of their regular season games, so now is a good time to issue midterm grades. I'll start by evaluating my predictions (follow this link to read my complete Eastern and Western Conference previews: http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2005/10/nba-eastern-and-western-conference.html)
Here is how I ranked the top eight teams in each conference (since the three division winners in each conference automatically receive the top seeds, San Antonio and Houston cannot be seeded one and two, but, as I noted at the time, I listed the teams based on how much I liked their chances to advance in the playoffs):


1) Miami 2) New Jersey 3) Indiana 4) Cleveland 5) Detroit 6) Philadelphia 7) Milwaukee 8) New York


1) San Antonio 2) Houston 3) Dallas 4) Denver 5) Phoenix 6) L.A. Lakers 7) Sacramento
8) Seattle

Here are the current standings:


1) Detroit 2) New Jersey 3) Miami 4) Cleveland 5) Milwaukee 6) Indiana 7) Philadelphia 8) Orlando


1) San Antonio 2) Phoenix 3) Minnesota 4) Dallas 5) Memphis 6) L.A. Clippers 7) Golden State 8) L.A. Lakers

I give my East picks an A- midterm grade--seven of the eight teams are correct at this point, albeit not in the right order. Detroit is doing much better than I expected and New York is doing much worse. The top seven teams seem unlikely to change (barring an injury to a key player), while the identity of the eighth team switches almost daily. This may sound crazy to mention, but as poorly as the Knicks have played they are only 5.5 games out of eighth place with more than 50 games to go.

I picked Miami and New Jersey as division winners and both are in first place after slow starts. Indiana has been dragged down by the ongoing Ron Artest saga. Milwaukee, my "sleeper," is doing better than most people expected. Boston, Chicago and Washington, three playoff teams from last year, have dropped in the standings as I predicted.

My Western Conference picks earn a C. High points include recognizing that Phoenix would do well even without injured star Amare Stoudemire (see also this post:
http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2005/12/wild-wild-west.html) and ranking the Lakers in the top eight, contrary to many other prognosticators. Injuries have wrecked the Houston Rockets to this point and have played a significant role in the Denver Nuggets' struggles as well. Three of the four teams that are ranked higher than I expected have done poorly in their past 10 games: Minnesota (3-7), L.A. Clippers (3-7) and Golden State (4-6, but on a three game winning streak--two contradictory trends!). I correctly predicted that Seattle would finish lower in the standings than last year, but failed to realize how far the Sonics would fall.

As for the teams themselves, only two earn A+ midterm grades: Detroit and San Antonio. Last year's Finalists are the class of the league right now. New Jersey, Miami and Cleveland earn A's in the East, while Dallas and Phoenix deserve A's in the West. The four conference finalists will most likely be drawn from this pool of seven teams. The resolution of the Ron Artest situation is the proverbial "other shoe" that has not dropped. Where he arrives--and what Indiana receives in return--could have a major impact on several teams' chances.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:55 PM