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:https://www.nbrpa.com/news/featurearchive/1.04.06.aspx
posted by David Friedman @ 12:42 AM
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
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: http://www.hoopshype.com/articles/lanier_friedman.htm
posted by David Friedman @ 12:15 AM
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:
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
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
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