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Friday, January 12, 2007

Will Chris Webber Decide Who Wins the 2007 NBA Title?

Stop me if you've heard this story before: an All-Star power forward wears out his welcome with several teams; he amasses impressive statistics but his teams do not win any championships; by the time his last team gives up on him, he is barely averaging 10 ppg and his career seems to be coming to an unceremonious end. Sounds like Chris Webber, right? It does, but I'm actually referring to Bob McAdoo. The Lakers acquired McAdoo in December 1981 to replace the injured Mitch Kupchak and McAdoo revived his career, making indispensable contributions to two Lakers title runs in the next four years. Then Lakers Coach Pat Riley has said on more than one occasion that the Lakers would not have won those championships without McAdoo.

As you've probably heard by now, the Philadelphia 76ers have bought out Chris Webber's contract and will waive him, enabling him to sign with any team in the league. TNT's David Aldridge reported that it is virtually certain that Webber, a Michigan native who played his college ball for the University of Michigan, will land with the Detroit Pistons but Webber refuted that suggestion just a short while later when he was interviewed by Ernie Johnson and the TNT studio crew. Time will tell if Aldridge spoke too soon or if Webber will pull a "Saban" and end up in Detroit. Meanwhile, it is tantalizing to consider some of the possibilities. Webber said that money is not an issue--which is an easy stance to take when you've just received tens of millions of dollars from the Sixers--and that his primary concern is that he wants to go to a team that is contending for a title. That rules out most of the teams in the East including, if Webber is smart, Detroit; regardless of the Pistons' regular season record, this team is clearly on a downward arc as a playoff squad--champions in '04, runner-up in '05, conference finalist in '06. The two most important pieces of that championship team--Coach Larry Brown and perennial Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace--are gone and Webber does not have enough left in the tank to replace their contributions.

One interesting possibility for Webber if he wants to reprise McAdoo's career renaissance is to go where McAdoo is currently an assistant coach and where Pat Riley is running the show--the Miami Heat. That might sound crazy at first, but Miami is the defending champion and the main thing that the Heat are trying to do is stay in the playoff hunt while Shaquille O'Neal and Riley get recharged for the playoffs. Would anybody in the East really want to face the Heat in the playoffs if O'Neal is completely healthy and Riley is on the bench calling the shots? Webber told TNT that based on being a 20-10 player last year that he still considers himself a starting player. He would not likely be a starter in Detroit but he could start at center or power forward right now for the Heat and could start at power forward alongside Shaq once the Diesel returns. Honestly, no other team in the East makes sense for Webber at this stage of his career.

If Webber decides to go to the Western Conference, there are several destinations that would be a good fit. How about San Antonio? The Spurs have not been getting enough out of the center position. Webber said that he would be willing to play center. Duncan and Webber would be an interesting frontcourt tandem. Another intriguing option is the L.A. Lakers. Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown have shown promise but I'm sure that Coach Phil Jackson would love to have a veteran big man who can rebound and pass. Webber specifically mentioned that he thinks that the triangle offense is perhaps the best offense ever; it is certainly well suited to his skills as a high post passer.

A lot of people seem to believe that Webber is done physically but I disagree. As he pointed out, he was a 20-10 player last year despite having a bad leg. Webber says that his leg is healed now. There is no question that he has not been an explosive leaper since he had microfracture surgery but with the Sixers this year he is still getting about 8 rpg in limited minutes. He can still rebound and he always has been able to pass and that means that in the right situation he can definitely still contribute. Webber's history in clutch situations is not great but if he goes to Miami, San Antonio or the Lakers that will not be a problem: Wade, Duncan or Kobe will have the ball down the stretch, not Webber, but teams will still have to guard him (and box him out), which will provide Webber's teammates more room to operate than they have now.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:33 AM


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fun With Numbers

I thought about writing a recap of San Antonio's 92-83 win over Denver, but that game really did not show us anything that we didn't already know: Allen Iverson is a fantastic scorer (33 points, 15-25 shooting) who can also pass (six assists) but Denver does not play good enough defense to compete with the best teams in the league; the Nuggets are now 3-7 since acquiring Iverson. Granted, Carmelo Anthony has been serving his suspension during that time but I doubt that his return to action will do much to improve Denver's defense; he adds another offensive threat to Denver's lineup but, like several of the Nuggets, his presence on the court increases the offensive efficiency of both teams, if you get my drift. Just having more firepower will lead to a better winning percentage than .300 but the Nuggets still look like a team that will be out of the playoffs no later than the second round and, depending on the seeding, quite probably in the first round. Tim Duncan put up his usual numbers (19 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots). For some strange reason, he has morphed into Shaq at the free throw line (3-10) after shooting .799 as recently as 2001-02, but that is a story for another day. Meanwhile, let's have some fun with numbers:

Player A put up these numbers in consecutive seasons:

Season one: 18.9 ppg; 8.4 apg; 3.0 rpg; .526 FG%; .441 3-point FG%; .901 FT%
Team record: 57-25; lost in first round to eventual Conference Finalist.

Season two: 19.6 ppg; 9.1 apg; 3.4 rpg; .459 FG%; .406 3-point FG%; .888 FT%
Team record: 42-40; lost in first round to eventual Conference Semi-Finalist.

Player B put up these numbers in consecutive seasons:

Season one: 15.5 ppg; 11.5 apg; 3.3 rpg; .502 FG%; .431 3-point FG%; .887 FT%
Team record: 62-20; lost in Conference Finals to eventual NBA Champion.

Season two: 18.8 ppg; 10.5 apg; 4.2 rpg; .512 FG%; .439 3-point FG%; .921 FT%
Team record: 54-28; lost in Conference Finals to eventual NBA runner-up.

As a result of these performances, one of these players made one All-Star appearance and earned one All-NBA Third Team selection. The other player won two MVPs, made the All-NBA First Team twice and played in two All-Star Games. If you follow the NBA at all, you have probably figured out that one of these players is Steve Nash. Do you know who the other player is? None other than...Mark Price, who is "Player A" in the above chart. Those seasons are 1988-89 and 1989-90 respectively. Price finished 10th in MVP voting in 1988-89 and did not receive a single MVP vote in 1989-90 (nor did he make the All-Star Team or All-NBA Team). As for his team's results in those seasons, the Cavs of 1988-89 had a comparable record to the Suns of recent vintage but lost in the first round because of Michael Jordan's famous shot over Craig Ehlo. The 1989-90 Cavs traded Ron Harper for the rights to Danny Ferry, lost center Brad Daugherty to injury for half of the season and lost power forward Larry Nance for 20 games due to injury. Of course, MVP voting happens before the playoffs and All-Star selections are made without the benefit of knowing for sure how well or poorly a player's team will finish that season.

What do these numbers tell us about why Nash is a two-time MVP and Price never came close to winning one MVP? Frankly, I don't know. Magic Johnson won the MVP in both of the Price seasons that are listed above, with Michael Jordan finishing second in '89 and third in '90 (Charles Barkley was second in '90). Was the NBA more loaded with superstar talent at that time? Perhaps, but Nash has beaten out Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James to win the last two MVPs. Does anyone doubt that all of those players are future Hall of Famers? Have rules changes regarding perimeter defense made Nash more valuable in today's game? Perhaps, but those same changes also help Bryant, Wade and James--and even Nowitzki, when he plays on the perimeter. Has Nash's status been elevated because he is a white star in a game that has for decades largely been dominated by black players? This issue was mentioned--perhaps most prominently by the Miami Herald's Dan LeBetard--when Nash won his first MVP over O'Neal, but the idea never seemed to gain much public traction; in fact, LeBetard was skewered for diminishing Nash's achievements and for turning the focus away from the action on the court. I cannot recall hearing or seeing any current or former players suggesting that Nash won his MVPs because he is white; that debate has largely gone back and forth among various media members and, for what it's worth, voters don't seem to be divided along racial lines regarding Nash. Of course, Price is also white, so if one takes the position that Nash has won his MVPs because he is white then one has to explain why Price did not receive similar consideration. Then, there is also the matter of John Stockton, a third white point guard who put up similar or better offensive numbers than Price and Nash for a much longer period of time, was a much better defender than both players and never came close to winning one MVP, let alone two.

The reason that this subject is so interesting is that Nash is already one of just nine players who have won back to back NBA MVPs (Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Bird, Johnson, Jordan and Duncan are the others). If he wins his third MVP this year, he will join Russell, Chamberlain and Bird as the only players to win three straight MVPs (Julius Erving won three straight MVPs in the ABA, sharing the middle of the three with George McGinnis). I understand that each season's MVP award should be given as a result of that year's performance and that the voters should not be influenced by historical considerations--but is Nash's production in these three seasons really (a) on par with Russell, Chamberlain and Bird (and Erving in the ABA) and (b) head and shoulders above the production of his contemporaries? The other tri-MVP winners all led their teams to at least one championship during their run of individual dominance.

I'm not sure what Nash's MVPs mean but I suspect that 50 years from now, historians will look at the statistics and be at least a little bit puzzled; maybe I'm ahead of my time, but I'm a little bit puzzled now.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:45 AM


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

NBA Leaderboard, Part VI

The first Leaderboard of 2007 finds Dallas and Phoenix riding high, the Lakers and Cavs moving up and a new/old name appearing among the scoring leaders.

Best Five Records

1) Dallas Mavericks, 28-8
2) Phoenix Suns, 26-8
3) San Antonio Spurs, 25-11
4) Utah Jazz, 24-11
5) L.A. Lakers, 23-12

The Lakers moved ahead of the Detroit Pistons, meaning that no Eastern Conference team cracks the top five. Detroit does not even have the best record in the East anymore; the Cleveland Cavaliers (22-12), winners of five straight and eight out of 10, now have the best record in the East, but will have to weather a tough Western Conference road trip to maintain that position.

Top Five Scorers (and a few other notables)

1) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 31.6 ppg
2) Gilbert Arenas, WSH 30.5 ppg
3) Allen Iverson, DEN 29.3 ppg
4) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.4 ppg
5) Dwyane Wade, MIA 27.7 ppg

8) LeBron James, CLE 26.4 ppg
9) Yao Ming, HOU 25.9 ppg

11) Vince Carter, NJN 25.0 ppg

17) Tracy McGrady, HOU 22.4 ppg

Carmelo Anthony is still locked into the number one spot as he finishes his suspension. Allen Iverson, his new Denver teammate, has already seen his average drop and that trend figures to continue when Anthony returns to action. Meanwhile, Agent Zero moved into second position even though his average actually went down slightly since Leaderboard V. There is a new/old name that bears watching: Tracy McGrady, the two-time scoring champion who has had a string of 30-plus point games with Yao Ming out of the lineup, boosted his average from below 20 ppg to over 22 ppg. He now ranks 17th in the NBA and could conceivably move into the top ten by the end of the season if his balky back does not fail him.

Top Five Rebounders (and a few other notables)

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 12.5 rpg
2) Kevin Garnett, MIN 12.4 rpg
3) Carlos Boozer, UTA 11.8 rpg
4) Tyson Chandler, NOK 11.4 rpg
5) Emeka Okafor, CHA 11.2 rpg

8-9) Ben Wallace, CHI 10.1 rpg
8-9) Tim Duncan, SAS 10.1 rpg

17) Rasheed Wallace, DET 8.7 rpg

21) Jason Kidd, NJN 8.2 rpg

Chris Bosh drops off the list because he is not on pace to reach the qualifying minimum number of total rebounds; otherwise, he would rank third. In Leaderboard V, I predicted that Howard, who has topped this list all season long, would not be the leader by the end of the year; Garnett is now within one good game of passing him. Ben Wallace and Tim Duncan each have 353 rebounds in 35 games. Like Bosh, Yao Ming has dropped off the qualifying pace; he would otherwise rank 16th. Sheed moved up to 17th, in part because some of the guys who are ahead of him no longer qualify for the list, but his average dipped slightly and figures to drop more.

Top Five Playmakers

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.0 apg
2) Jason Kidd, NJN 9.0 apg
3) Chris Paul, NOK 9.0 apg
4) Andre Miller, PHI 8.9 apg
5) Deron Williams, UTA 8.8 apg

Deron Williams moved past Baron Davis and back into the top five, but the top four players remained the same. "Starbury" now ranks 23rd; his average moved up slightly to 5.4 apg.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

posted by David Friedman @ 3:05 AM


Monday, January 08, 2007

NBA Pop Quiz

How closely have you been following the NBA season so far? If you've been watching with open eyes and listening with open ears--and not taken in by false hype and shouting commentators--these 10 questions should not be too difficult to answer:

1) Which team has the best record in the Eastern Conference?

A) Orlando Magic
B) Detroit Pistons
C) Cleveland Cavaliers
D) Chicago Bulls

2) Which team has the best record in the Western Conference?

A) Utah Jazz
B) Phoenix Suns
C) Dallas Mavericks
D) San Antonio Spurs

3) Which team has the worst record in the Eastern Conference?

A) Atlanta Hawks
B) Philadelphia 76ers
C) Charlotte Bobcats
D) New York Knicks

4) Which team has the worst record in the Western Conference?

A) New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets
B) Seattle SuperSonics
C) Memphis Grizzlies
D) Sacramento Kings

5) Which player is leading the NBA in blocked shots per game?

A) Ben Wallace
B) Marcus Camby
C) Jermaine O'Neal
D) Emeka Okafor

6) Which player is leading the NBA in steals per game?

A) Allen Iverson
B) Andre Iguodala
C) Ron Artest
D) Speedy Claxton

7) Which player is leading the NBA in three point field goal percentage?

A) Ray Allen
B) Steve Nash
C) Jason Kapono
D) Brent Barry

8) Which player has the highest total ppg+rpg+apg average?

A) LeBron James
B) Kobe Bryant
C) Gilbert Arenas
D) Dwyane Wade

9) Which team has the best ppg differential in the NBA?

A) Dallas
B) Phoenix
C) San Antonio
D) Houston

10) Which team has the worst ppg differential in the NBA?

A) Miami
B) Atlanta
C) Charlotte
D) Philadelphia

Have you answered all the questions? The correct answer to each question is.... "C."

posted by David Friedman @ 2:10 AM