20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

From Rookie of the Year to the Hall of Fame

I've always wondered how many Rookies of the Year end up having Hall of Fame careers. The answer is that 19 of the 43 NBA or ABA Rookies of the Year from between 1953 and 1984 are Hall of Famers. Why the 1984 cutoff? Simple. Most of the Rookies of the Year who came into the NBA after that year are either still active or have not been retired long enough to be eligible for Hall of Fame induction. Larry Bird is the only Rookie of the Year from the 1980s who has made it to the Hall of Fame so far. I examined the subject of Rookies of the Year and the Hall of Fame in my most recent NBCSports.com article, which can be found here:

From Rookie of the Year to the Hall of Fame

posted by David Friedman @ 3:26 PM

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Kobe Bryant Makes History With his Fourth Straight 50 Point Game

Elgin and MJ couldn't quite do it, so now it's just Wilt and Kobe, mano-a-mano. Kobe Bryant scored 50-plus points for the fourth straight game, setting a New Orleans Arena opponents record with 50 points in a 111-105 L.A. Lakers win over the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets. Bryant joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to score 50 or more points in four consecutive games; his 18th regular season 50 point game broke Elgin Baylor's Lakers franchise record and gave Bryant sole possession of third place all-time in that category. Bryant shot 16-29 from the field, including 2-5 from three point range, and 16-16 from the free throw line. He now has 225 points in his last four games (56.3 ppg), all wins for the previously struggling Lakers, and Bryant has shot 76-140 from the field (.543), 17-33 on three pointers (.515) and 56-60 from the free throw line (.933) during these contests.

It is hard to find anything bad to say about what Bryant is doing--he is shooting extraordinary percentages from all distances, his team is winning and his coach gave his seal of approval to Bryant being this aggressive. Nevertheless, Bryant haters will surely mention two things: New Orleans has a losing record and Bryant had only one assist. If you check the standings, you will notice that New Orleans is still in the hunt for the last playoff spot, so this home game was very important to the Hornets, whose record is not that much worse than the Lakers. If the Lakers did not have Bryant they would in fact be a much worse team than the Hornets, who got great performances from point guard Chris Paul (28 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals) and center Tyson Chandler (22 points, 22 rebounds, two blocked shots). As for Bryant only having one assist, anyone who watched the game understands that Bryant did three things, depending on the defensive coverage he saw: when single-covered, he attacked aggressively, usually scoring or drawing a foul; when double-covered in the post, he hit the open man, who generally fired a brick or passed to someone else who was open and fired a brick; when double-covered on the wing or at the top of the key, Bryant split the trap, broke down the defense and either attacked the rim or shot his patented fadeaway jumper. Anyone who thinks that Bryant is not passing enough or that the Lakers are better off with Bryant shooting less and other guys shooting more is simply not paying attention. If Bryant had some better teammates--say, Raja Bell and Shawn Marion, or Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris--he would be getting a ton of assists--or he would be scoring 75 points if teams stayed at home on those guys and guarded him one on one.

Can the Lakers win a title this way? Of course not; they do not have nearly enough talent. They are a flawed team that must hope that young players Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar develop and that one or two more good players are acquired via the draft, trades or free agency.

Bryant's third quarter was particularly special. He already had 27 points (9-17 field goal shooting, 9-9 free throw shooting) by halftime but the Lakers trailed 57-56. Here is what Bryant did with the ball in the third quarter:

*** Sank two free throws, making the score 59-58 Lakers (29 points for Bryant)

*** Grabbed an offensive rebound in traffic, used an escape dribble and nailed a shot bank shot: 60-59 Lakers (31 points)

*** Caught the ball at the right elbow, took two dribbles, spun and nailed a turnaround jump shot: 62-61 Lakers (33 points)

*** Made a technical free throw: 63-61 Lakers (34 points)

*** Hit a three point shot over a double team after a screen and roll: 66-61 Lakers (37 points)

*** Drove from the left wing, made a running one handed shot in the lane: 78-65 Lakers (39 points)

*** Made a three pointer from the left baseline: 81-65 Lakers (42 points)

*** Took two dribbles, pump faked and hit a pullup jump shot: 87-69 Lakers (44 points, a new arena record for opponents)

*** Missed a pullup jumper

Of course, the printed word hardly does justice to the poetry in motion of Bryant's moves but if you read that litany carefully you noticed a couple things: Bryant's amazing shooting percentage and the fact that he scored without monopolizing the ball or dribbling incessantly--Bryant caught the ball, read the defense and made a strong, fundamental move. That 12 minutes of basketball would make for a good instructional video.

Around this time, the New Orleans-Oklahoma City announcers made the point that Bryant had taken the crowd completely out of the game and seemed to have deflated the Hornets' players as well. Bryant took his first rest of the entire game with 1:22 remaining in the quarter, having shot 6-7 from the field and 3-3 from the free throw line in the third quarter, scoring 17 points (more than the entire Hornets team) and giving the Lakers an 87-71 lead. He returned to the court with 13.7 seconds left when the Lakers had the ball for the last possession of the period but did not attempt the final shot of the quarter; the Hornets had cut the lead to 87-75 in the minute that he was out.

Bryant got off to a slow start in the fourth quarter; the Hornets double-teamed him and he accepted the trap, passing to open teammates who simply could not produce. Bryant did not score until the 6:36 mark and with Bryant passing the ball the Lakers had managed just five points in almost half a quarter and their lead had dropped to 92-86. Then Bryant captured a deflected ball and drove hard to the hoop, drawing a foul. He made the two free throws, putting the Lakers ahead 94-86. He drew another foul a minute later and again made both free throws. The historic 50th point came on a one dribble, pullup jumper from the top of the key.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:05 AM

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Friday, March 23, 2007

"Awful" Analysis

I recently looked at the question of whether Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash is a better basketball player. I wrote that post in response to someone who calls his site "Basketbawful" and who declared that Nash's 32 point, 16 assist game is more impressive than Kobe Bryant's 65 point game because 32 + 16x2 = 64 (he then said that some of the assists came on three pointers, so the 64 is really closer to 70). That prompted me to go to the archives, where it is easy to discover that in just one season John Stockton had a bunch of similar points/assists combos--and the box scores from Stockton's three best scoring seasons are not available on the internet, so he surely had many other similar games. Of course, Bryant's current scoring run can only be matched by the likes of Wilt, Elgin and Michael. I concluded that, from a historical standpoint, Bryant's scoring is more unique than Nash's combination of scoring/assists.

Delving deeper into the issue of Bryant versus Nash than just these particular games, I mentioned that Nash's advocates tend to speak of his "efficiency." I think that statistics should be used to supplement one's observations and not as the whole or main substance of one's argument, but if I were stumping for Nash to be MVP I would emphasize intangibles--how he "makes his teammates better" and so forth. The fact is that whether you look at John Hollinger's PER ratings or the NBA's efficiency statistic, Nash ranks below Bryant (and several other players, as I detailed in the post I alluded to in the first paragraph).

Kobe Bryant is the NBA's best player because he is the most skilled and most complete player in the game today: he can score from inside or outside, finish and dribble with either hand, rebound, pass and defend. His footwork, pivoting and shot faking are text book. Steve Nash is a great point guard in the mold of John Stockton, Mark Price, Kevin Johnson and other great 80s/90s guards, an idea that Kenny Smith agreed with when I interviewed him. Nash is certainly a worthy MVP candidate but he is not as skilled as Bryant is. The Dallas Mavericks let Nash go two years ago but Dirk Nowitzki and his team are playing better than ever. I would vote Bryant as the MVP, with Nowitzki second and Nash third.

Mr. "Basketbawful" also made a second post in which he derided Michael Jordan's defensive capabilities and asserted that Nash defends point guards better than Bryant defends shooting guards. I replied by defending Jordan as a defender (so to speak) and pointing out the holes in his defensive "analysis": he just took a small sample of Phoenix and L.A. games, added up what the opposing point guards and shooting guards did and posted the results. This of course leaves out what each team's defensive schemes are (how they defend pick and rolls, how much help is given, whether or not Nash and Bryant actually were guarding the other team's point guards and shooting guards, etc.) and what the regular averages of those opponents are, among other things. I noted that Bryant has made the All-Defensive Team several times. This is voted on by coaches who have to game plan for each team's offensive and defensive strengths and weaknesses.

Whenever you answer something that someone has written you never quite know how they will respond. Rarely do you get total agreement. Sometimes you are simply ignored and sometimes the other person cites new examples to prove his case or tries to pick holes in the examples that you brought up. Mr. "Basketbawful" carefully thought everything through--and focused primarily on my mustache.

I responded to his post at his website. He has to approve comments before they are posted, so I don't know if what I wrote will see the light of day or not. In any case, I think that 20 Second Timeout readers would be interested, so here it is exactly as I submitted it there:

Glad that you like the mustache. You know that you are dealing with high level basketball analysis when the mustache is the dominant point in your argument. I feel bad for any short or overweight people who post comments here but, hey, to each his own.

Anyway, MJ won a Defensive Player of the Year Award and a decade's worth of All-Defensive Team selections. He led the league in steals, ranks among the career leaders in that category and when players were polled (I believe by SI) at the height of his career he was selected as the player most feared both taking the last shot and guarding the guy taking the last shot. So, how many times he guarded Foster is not that big of a deal, in the big picture. My recollection, without going back and looking at the DVDs, is that MJ and/or Pip tended to only guard big guys if the Bulls were using a small lineup without a center and/or Rodman. Maybe I'm wrong on that one; I suppose if it is really necessary, sometime we could break out the DVDs, watch them possession by possession and analyze what was actually happening, as opposed to you simply implying that MJ could not guard anybody.

Back to Kobe and Nash. If you are trying to assert that Nash is a great defender, even his own coach won't go there. I interviewed Coach D'Antoni, and he told me that Nash is a good team defender even though he can be overmatched in certain one on one situations. You are the first person who I have seen suggest that Nash is actually equal to or better than Bryant as a defender. The raw numbers that you cited are indeed meaningless without knowing the context of their teams' defensive schemes and the averages of the players in question. Shooting guards would tend to score more than point guards. The other thing that you completely failed to mention is that Kobe can guard ones, twos or threes. That kind of versatility is very valuable if he or someone else gets in foul trouble and also in defending pick and rolls (provided the other guy on his team also knows how to defend pick and rolls, which is not always the case).

As for Arenas, he does take bad shots. That's a fact and that is why he has more sub .300 shooting games than anyone in the league other than Mike Bibby (min. 10 FGA in each game). Arenas scored a ton of points from the free throw line in the game against the Lakers, too. How did Arenas do in the next game against the Lakers? He scored well, but shot a much worse percentage and the Lakers won.

Of course, I do not always agree with the coaches' selections for the All-D team or the All-Star team--and I understand that they are not just sitting back watching Kobe's games. The point is that they make up game plans for every team in the league and they know which offensive and defensive players are weak links (or strong links) on each team. Bird and McHale's All-D selections, whether you agree or disagree with them, happened 20 or 30 years ago. How many of those coaches are part of the current voting process?

I did not say that the 60 points are the reason that Kobe is the best player. I said 60 MORE reasons--as in, 60 reasons plus the other reasons that I have listed in various posts.

If you can look past my mustache, here are some actual basketball related questions that you might address regarding Kobe/Nash: 1) if Nash's points/assists combos are more impressive than Kobe's scoring explosions, how come Kobe's scoring explosions are much more rare in NBA history (Kobe is doing things that have not been done since MJ and only been matched by Elgin and Wilt)? 2) Your ppg+apg "analysis" in a previous post puts Kobe and Nash in a dead heat at around 41 or 42 points produced, which is about the same as last year's numbers. Last year Nash won the MVP and Kobe was a distant fourth. Since they are producing about the same amount, why aren't you outraged that the voting was not closer? 3) If Nash is more productive and/or efficient than Bryant, how come both Hollinger's PER and the NBA's efficiency stat rate Bryant higher than they do Nash? 4) If Kobe's scoring is bad, selfish or irrelevant, how come his team has a better record the more points he scores? The Lakers are 55-24 when he scores 40+ (9-3 this year), 13-4 when he scores 50+ (5-1 this year) and 4-0 when he scores 60+ (2-0 this year) 5) Kobe won three rings while being an All-NBA and All-Defensive Team player and he led those teams in assists as well. Nash and Nowitzki have yet to win a ring--and they were on the same team at one time. Looking at their overall careers, why should we believe that Nash or Nowitzki are more "valuable"? 6) Nash receives a lot of credit for making Amare and Marion better and to a degree this is certainly true; a great point guard does make his teammates better. But Nowitzki has "gotten better" despite losing Nash, as have the Mavericks. How do we know that Amare and Marion would not also have "gotten better" even without playing with Nash?

There are some more questions, if you are actually interested in talking basketball as opposed to personal appearance, but I think that those are a good start.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:39 PM

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60 More Reasons That Kobe Bryant is the NBA's Best Player

Kobe Bryant may just keep scoring 50-plus points per game until every single person on the face of the Earth is forced to acknowledge that he is in fact the best player in the NBA. He erupted for 60 points on Thursday night in a 121-119 L.A. Lakers win over the Memphis Grizzlies, becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50-plus points in three straight games (Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan are the others). Bryant shot 20-37 from the field (including 3-7 on three pointers) and 17-18 from the free throw line. In his last three contests--all Lakers wins--he has scored 65, 50 and 60 points while shooting 60-111 from the field (.541), 15-28 from three point range (.536) and 40-44 (.909) on his free throws. Let those statistics wash over you for a minute: .541, .536 and .909 in three wins while scoring at least 50 points in each game. Could anybody else in the NBA put up numbers like that? The answer is clearly no, because Bryant's 175 points in three games is the best such streak in the last 40 years; he also holds down second place in that category with a 169 point run in three games last season. Bryant is the first player to have three straight games of 50 or more points since Michael Jordan did it during the 1986-87 season. Bryant tied Michael Jordan for second place on the career list with his fourth 60 point game; Wilt Chamberlain scored 60-plus points an amazing 32 times. Bryant also moved into a tie with Elgin Baylor for third place on the career list for 50 point games (17; the Lakers are 13-4 in those contests).

Why is Bryant consistently able to score at such a prolific rate while shooting such phenomenal percentages? The answer to that question is also the reason that he is the game's best player. Bryant has no weaknesses in his arsenal: He has honed his footwork to perfection; he is a master of the shot fake; he has almost unlimited range; he can finish with either hand; he can dribble with either hand in traffic. Bryant is beautiful to watch from a technical and fundamental standpoint. He is not just jacking up shots; he reads the defense and sets up whoever is guarding him with moves and countermoves. Just watching the highlights of the Memphis game, you can see his use of the jab step, the pump fake, the escape dribble, the ability to pivot and many other fundamental moves. Then, on top of his mastery of fundamental skills, Bryant has been blessed with tremendous athletic ability and he has conditioned himself to an incredible level. Memphis' Mike Miller said, "When he gets going like that there's not a whole lot you can do. That's why Kobe is who he is. He doesn't get tired. He's in great shape. He's got his foot on the accelerator the whole game." That is something that I mentioned after Bryant's 81 point game last year: when he walked off the court, he did not even look tired. When Jordan scored 63 points in a double overtime playoff game versus Boston, he looked exhausted coming down the stretch--and he also was in great condition. Bryant's physical conditioning and mental toughness play a big part in his ability to score the way he does--but none of this would be possible without his mastery of offensive fundamentals. Young players should TIVO Bryant's moves, replay them and learn how to use proper footwork, ball fakes and so forth.

I know that somebody is going to say, "But Kobe Bryant did it against Memphis, the worst team in the league." I have two words for that somebody: "Shut up." It's not like Bryant has such a great team around him--despite his sublime effort, the Lakers only won by two. Without him, they could very well have a worse record than Memphis. Bryant is doing things that have not been done in decades, feats that have only been matched by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan--the best of the best in the history of the game.

The most significant thing about these games is not who the Lakers have been playing but when the games have been played: down the stretch in a tight playoff race. The Lakers need to keep winning in order to maintain or improve their position in the tough Western Conference and it is apparent that they need for Bryant to score a lot of points to do this. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has been urging Bryant to be more aggressive offensively and Bryant has certainly responded to the challenge, so anyone who would say that Bryant is playing selfishly by shooting so much does not understand a thing about basketball.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:05 AM

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Who is the "Best Player," Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash?

ESPN's Ric Bucher recently said that the NBA does not provide specific criteria for MVP voters because the league wants there to be a lot of debate and buzz about the award. I don't think that anyone in the NBA actually thought this issue through that carefully and deliberately but Bucher has a point that the lack of a clear definition of what an MVP is makes for very lively discussion. Should the award go to the best player on the best team? Should it go to the best player, period? Should it go to the player who is best at "making his teammates better"? Should it go to the most efficient player? Those are just some of the criteria that are bandied about by broadcasters, writers and fans. Even when people agree on which criteria to use they still may disagree about which player best fits that particular mold. My take has always been that the MVP should be awarded to the best player, regardless of his team's record. I define the best player to be the one who is the most skilled--or, in certain cases, the most dominant; I think that Shaquille O'Neal should have been the MVP in 2004-05 because of how dominant he was in the low post. If he had come back sooner this season and played at his current level he would be a viable MVP candidate this year, too. In the absence of a truly dominant low post threat who distorts team's defenses, this year's MVP should go to the most skilled player in the league: Kobe Bryant.

I just read a post that asserts that Steve Nash is a better player than Kobe Bryant. The author starts by comparing Steve Nash's "64 point game" to Kobe Bryant's 65 point game. He asserts that Nash had a 64 point game if you add his 32 points against Dallas to his 16 assists (times two). Then he goes a step further, noting that some of the assists were probably on three point shots, so that Nash actually was worth perhaps 70 points in that game. Nash's performance came against the team with the league's best record, while Bryant's 65 point game and his subsequent 50 point game came against teams with losing records. Looking at their season averages, Nash produces 42.1 points per game (19.1 ppg plus 11.5 apg, times two) and Bryant produces 41.0 points per game (30 ppg plus 5.5 apg, times two). He adds that he looked at Nash's game log from last season and thinks that Nash's 28 point, 22 assist game is more impressive than Bryant's 81 point game. He concludes by saying that he is literally pained by the idea that so many people believe that Bryant is the "best player in the game" and he says that they are fooled by Bryant's "flying through air, and dunking, and hitting crazy reverse layups and ridiculous 'I can't believe he just took that shot' fadeaways. In short, it's all about looking good in the highlight reel."

Valuing each assist at a full two points gives a lot of credit to the passer. This is a good "quick and dirty" way to count up what I call "tangible points" and I used this method myself in an earlier post--but this is a very thin reed on which to base one's entire conclusion about who is the best player in the game. If we give two points to the passer then do we give zero to the player who actually scored? Clearly, the more one thinks about this the less sense it makes. I don't know how many 32-16 or 28-22 games there have been in NBA history but there have been a lot more games like that than 81 point games. Bryant is also the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to follow a 60 point game with a 50 point game. Has nobody else in history ever played against two bad teams in a row? Bryant's shooting percentages in the 81, 65 and 50 point games are fantastic, his team won all three games and anyone who watched those games knows that if Bryant had not scored that way his team would have lost all three. Bryant's scoring feats, from a 35.4 ppg season average to his two months of 40+ ppg to his 81 point game to the 65-50 duo, can only be compared to those of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan.

We are supposed to believe that Nash is doing things that we have never seen before but, as Bill Walton might say, I am old enough to remember John Stockton, who averaged at least 14.4 ppg and 10.5 apg for 10 straight years. During that time he missed a total of four games and never had a "true shooting percentage" (which factors in three point shooting and free throw shooting) below .584. In most of those years, he had a tsp better than .600 and averaged more than 15 ppg and 12 apg. Stockton's career numbers--in 19 seasons, mind you, not retiring until the age of 40--are 13.1 ppg and 10.5 apg, with a .608 true shooting percentage. Nash's career true shooting percentage (not including this season) is .591 and he has averaged 13.5 ppg and 7.1 apg.

I looked up some Stockton game logs and found these numbers (points-assists): 21-23 (also, 10-13 from the field), 20-19, 27-17, 24-19, 25-19. Those all come just from 1991-92. Stockton had higher ppg averages in the preceding three seasons--and presumably more such stat lines--but those box scores are not available online. Remember, you have to go back to Wilt Chamberlain--and only Wilt Chamberlain--to find a 65-50 or a game with more than 80 points. Based on scarcity, I'm taking Bryant's scoring explosions over Nash's points/assists combos. Allen Iverson just had a 44-15, which is just the fourth 40-15 game in the last 20 years--so Nash's 32-16 is not even the best points/assists line of the month, let alone being comparable to the second best scoring outburst of all time. Is it overkill to add that Bryant scored his 81 in regulation and his 65 in a one overtime game, while Nash needed two overtimes for his 32-16?

I find it odd that the writer emphasizes that the season totals of ppg plus apg (times two) only slightly favors Nash, who has won the last two MVPs and probably will get more MVP votes than Bryant this year. It's hard to be considered the underdog when you already have won two MVPs. Bryant was a distant fourth last year. Since his production is, according to this writer, virtually identical to Nash's and since Bryant clearly is passing to vastly inferior teammates--leading to fewer assist opportunities and more double teaming of Bryant because the other four guys cannot shoot--it would seem that the writer should be bent out of shape because of how the voters disrespected Bryant last year. Based on his logic, the voting should have been a dead heat between Bryant and Nash, not a Nash runaway.

The reality is that Nash for MVP advocates should be hiding the numbers under the table, not bringing out a spotlight. There simply is not a good statistical case for voting for Nash as MVP. His candidacy is based on intangibles such as "making his teammates better." Supposedly, Nash is more "efficient" than Bryant, based on shooting percentages and assists. Wait a minute, though: according to the NBA's official efficiency statistic, Bryant ranks fourth in the league and Nash ranks twelfth. What about John Hollinger's PER rankings? Bryant is again fourth, while Nash is ninth. I would not base my MVP voting just on numbers--but if I were stumping for Nash's candidacy, numbers would be the last thing that I would bring up.

Bryant is the game's best and most skillful player because he has no weaknesses. He can score in the post, in the mid-post, from three point range and on the drive. He can finish with either hand. He rebounds, defends, passes well and can handle the ball with either hand. No other player is as complete. Tim Duncan and LeBron James have free throw weaknesses. Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are not as good defensively as Bryant, nor can they guard multiple positions as well as he can. Dwyane Wade has no three point shot and is not as good of a ballhandler.

The much replayed three point shot that Bryant hit from the corner against Portland is a perfect example of why Bryant is so great. That play combined athleticism with perfect footwork. Find a video of that shot, rewind it and play it forward in slow motion. Watch his pivoting, how he set up the defenders. The final execution of the shot was aided by his strength and jumping ability but he freed himself with good footwork. He is a technician in that regard, just like Jordan was. The reason that so many well informed people call Bryant the "best player" is because he is, in fact, the best player. A lot of those same people would not vote Bryant as the MVP because they believe that the award is not necessarily meant to honor the "best player." Charles Barkley, Greg Anthony and the numerous other former players who are now talking heads and who say that Bryant is the "best player" are not being fooled because Bryant is "looking good in the highlight reel." When I interviewed Dave Bing, one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, he said of Bryant, "I think that he is probably one of the most gifted players that I have seen in a long time. Kobe comes to play and he's got all the skills." I've spoken to a number of current and former players about Bryant and they are all amazed by his abilities.

My MVP ballot this year would read Bryant, Nowitzki, Nash. I don't have a big problem with Nowitzki or Nash winning, if the criteria used emphasizes team success--just don't tell me that either one is "better" than Bryant or that a 32-16 game is somehow "better" than an 81 point game or a 65 point game.

The funny thing about the Kobe Bryant haters is that facts never get in the way of their zingers and they can shamelessly tailor their attacks to "fit" any situation. Remember when Bryant outscored Dallas 62-61 for three quarters? That is the same Dallas team that made it to last year's Finals (that might be better than 32-16...). Did that win over Bryant's haters? Nope; he should have stayed in the game and gone for 70 or 80--he cheated the fans of a chance to see history. So, when Bryant placed a dead in the water Lakers team on his back, dragged them from way behind to a win and scored 81 points, that must have won over the critics, right? Nope; that just showed that he is a selfish gunner who cares more about scoring than anything else. I think that Bryant's haters are the children and grandchildren of the Chamberlain haters who will insist to your face that Chamberlain's team lost in his 100 point game.

Many of the people who "analyze" Bryant's abilities as a basketball player could save a lot of time, paper and/or bandwidth by simply writing "I hate Kobe Bryant and if he averages a triple double for six seasons in a row and wins the championship each year I will still hate him and never give him his due. The end."

posted by David Friedman @ 2:08 AM

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Arenas Comes up a Mere 31 Points Shy of 50, Wizards Lose to Portland

Remember all that Gilbert Arenas for MVP talk? Can we please find whoever started it and ban him/her from writing/talking about basketball for a year? Gilbert Arenas pledged to score 50 points against Phoenix and 50 points against Portland because their head coaches were part of the Team USA coaching staff that cut Arenas this past summer. He did get 54 in an overtime win at Phoenix but managed just nine points in a 94-73 loss in Washington's first game this season versus Portland. Never one to lose confidence, Arenas told me during All-Star Weekend, "I was playing possum. I just tried to win the game. I want to hit 50 in their building; I didn’t want to hit 50 in my building." I'm not sure how shooting 3-15 from the field with two assists and five turnovers counts as "playing possum" or helped his team's efforts but Arenas insisted to me that he would make good on his promise in his next game against Portland: "At the end of the day, I still have one more game against them. So if I score 50, hey, everything that I said was true."

That "one more game" was played on Tuesday and Arenas came up a mere 31 points short of his goal, scoring 19 points on 4-16 shooting in a 100-98 loss. He missed all seven of his three point attempts and a last second shot to tie the game. Arenas did manage to dish out 10 assists despite his bricklaying. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Arenas has had 15 games this season during which he has shot 30 percent or less from the field. The only NBA player who has more such games (with a minimum of 10 field goal attempts) is Mike Bibby (19).

This is what Arenas wrote a couple days ago about his plans for the Portland game: "I know coach is going to get mad for me saying this, but if I don’t score 50, damn it, there’s going to be a lot of shots to get to 50. You know, last time I shot 15 shots. At the end of the day, I want to win. It’s harder in this situation now because it’s winning time. Early in the season I can do that, I can go out there and just play reckless. But it’s more of a team thing now that we get these wins and we don’t droff – we don’t drop off. If I’m on fire, I’m on fire. If I’m not, just like last time, I’m not going to force anything" (yes, I left the typos uncorrected).

How do you think Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan feels about Arenas' prediction, his interesting idea that early season games don't matter ("I can go out there and play reckless") and the overall result? Not real happy: "It affected how they (Portland) played. Defensively, they double teamed him and switched off on him. I think it really jacked them up twice to play us. I don't know how it affected Gilbert, you'll have to ask him that but it really jacked them up." Jordan added, "There were 24 minutes when we played hard and played together and then there were 24 minutes when we didn't play the right way, didn't protect the rim and didn't play good defense. I'm going to find the guys who will play for 48 minutes the right way. And if I've got to sit some people, I'm going to sit some people but I'm looking for the right mix. This is the time to play with each other, to play good solid basketball. Protect the rim, rebound, execute and share the basketball. And I'm going to find the guys to do it."

Do you think that Arenas regrets his prediction and his outlandish statements? If you do, then you are not paying attention. Arenas made it clear after the game that he does not regret anything he said or did: "No. I was a marked man in Phoenix and they couldn't do anything about it. Sometimes you shoot the bull's-eye and sometimes you don't."

There is a lot at stake for Washington. The Miami Heat have gained four games on the Wizards in the past 10 and are now just a half game back from the Southeast Division lead. If--when--the Heat pass the Wizards, Washington plummets from third seed (and homecourt advantage in the first round) to the sixth seed (the top four seeds go to the three division winners and the team with the best record that did not win a division title).

Here's a little NBA thought experiment: imagine that a certain player--call him "24"--boasts that he is going to score 50 against a certain team and admits that early in the season he feels like "I can go out there and just play reckless." There wouldn't be any backlash, would there? Now imagine if Arenas kept his mouth shut, played the way his coach wants him to play instead of ignoring the defensive end of the court as if it contains a communicable disease and produced back to back games the likes of which haven't been seen in 40 years or so. That wouldn't produce any MVP buzz, would it? We'll never know, because the likelihood of Arenas doing that is vanishingly small.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:35 AM

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

NBA Leaderboard, Part XIII

Kobe Bryant scored 115 points in two games to take the lead in the race for the 2007 scoring title. The Mavericks stumbled versus Phoenix but the Suns dropped two straight after that game and will not likely catch Dallas and capture the number one seed in the West.

Best Five Records
-------------------

1) Dallas Mavericks, 54-11
2) Phoenix Suns, 50-16
3) San Antonio Spurs, 46-20
4) Utah Jazz, 43-23
5) Detroit Pistons, 42-23

The top five remained the same but only Detroit played well overall, going 4-1 since the previous leaderboard. Dallas went 3-2, Phoenix went 2-2, San Antonio went 2-2 and Utah went 1-4. Cleveland has the league's best current winning streak--eight games--and has moved to within striking distance of Detroit. Miami will not make it into the top five but the Heat are 9-1 over their last 10 games and have welcomed Shaq's return a lot more than they have lamented Wade's loss--as predicted in this space.

Top Five Scorers (and a few other notables)
------------------

1) Kobe Bryant, LAL 30.0 ppg
2) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 29.8 ppg
3) Gilbert Arenas, WSH 28.9 ppg
4) Dwyane Wade, MIA 28.8 ppg
5) Allen Iverson, DEN 28.0 ppg
6) LeBron James, CLE 27.4 ppg

9) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 25.2 ppg

11) Vince Carter, NJN 24.7 ppg
12) Tracy McGrady, HOU 24.4 ppg

In Leaderboard IX, I raised the possibility that Kobe Bryant would pass Carmelo Anthony for the top spot. At that time, Bryant still trailed by more than 2 ppg, which would seem to be a big margin with more than half the season spent, but Anthony's numbers have been heading south and the Lakers need Bryant's scoring more than ever. Not only did Bryant pass Anthony this weekend, he did so in record breaking fashion, scoring 65 points versus Portland and then 50 points against Minnesota, becoming the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to ever follow a 60 point game with a 50 point game. James is a couple big games away from cracking the top five. He raised expectations to such a high level last year that his perceived slump this year has largely removed his name from MVP conversation. What if Cleveland passes Detroit's group of All-Stars and posts the best record in the East? Would James be any less MVP-worthy than he was last year, when he finished second to Steve Nash? I had James fifth last year and would probably have him fourth or fifth this year but if James drops from second to fifth in the official balloting I'd be interested to hear why, since he is basically doing the same things this year that he did in 2006 and his team is contending for the number one seed in the East.

Top Five Rebounders (and a few other notables)
----------------------

1) Kevin Garnett, MIN 12.6 rpg
2) Tyson Chandler, NOK 12.4 rpg
3) Dwight Howard, ORL 12.1 rpg
4) Emeka Okafor, CHA 11.7 rpg
5) Marcus Camby, DEN 11.6 rpg
6) Carlos Boozer, UTA 11.6 rpg

8) Tim Duncan, SAS 10.8 rpg
9) Ben Wallace, CHI 10.5 rpg
10) Shawn Marion, PHX 10.2 rpg

24) Jason Kidd, NJN 8.0 rpg

26) Rasheed Wallace, DET 7.8 rpg

Camby and Boozer are basically in a dead heat. The Garnett-Chandler battle may be decided in the final game. The .2 rpg margin equals roughly 16 rebounds, so we could see a Moses Malone-like tap fest as one player tries to get 25 or 30 rebounds in his last game.

Top Five Playmakers
----------------------

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.6 apg
2) Deron Williams, UTA 9.3 apg
3) Jason Kidd, NJN 9.1 apg
4) Chris Paul, NOK 8.8 apg
5) Baron Davis, GSW 8.2 apg

Is it live or is it Memorex? The playmaking leaderboard rarely changes this year.

Starbury has cracked the top 20, ranking 19th (5.6 apg).

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

posted by David Friedman @ 4:36 AM

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Kenny Smith: "DVD Extras"

Here are some additional Kenny Smith quotes besides the ones that I included in my HoopsHype.com article about him.

I asked Smith when he first thought of becoming a broadcaster and this is what he told me: "It’s funny because I was doing things to prepare for it without realizing that I was. I used to interview myself in the house after games, joking around with my dad. ‘You’re the son of Kenny Smith, how do you feel today?’ You know, stupid stuff like that. Then, when I was in the league, a couple TV stations told me that I was pretty good at interviews and asked if I would take a camera around the team and ask questions. I only did it to get extra income, more than anything else. It’s a couple extra dollars, it’s money to go out with and I’ll have some fun. Then, all of a sudden, I’m getting better at it, I’m learning how to cut film, I’m learning about time codes and all these things you need to know. I had to cut my own pieces back in those days. We didn’t have producers. You had to shoot the piece, produce it, cut it and give it to the editor."

******

Until Steve Nash, point guards generally did not win MVPs. This is a subject that I have written about here on a few occasions and something that I discussed with Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni during my exclusive interview with him. Smith battled many times against John Stockton, Mark Price and Kevin Johnson, three All-Star guards who played on winning teams and were very adept at both shooting and passing but never received serious MVP consideration.

I asked Smith what similarities and differences he sees when comparing those three players with Nash. Smith replied:

"I think that the one similarity that they share is the ability to find people, as I would say, in cracks and corners. Honestly, I think that Steve is an 80s/90s guard—a really good guard in the 80s and 90s had to have the skill set that Steve has. I think that a lot of the guards today don’t have the skill set that you had to have in the 80s and 90s just to make the team. So he stands out so viciously, so to speak, because he has that skill set. The second thing is I call him ‘Jamie Foxx.’ I told him that and I call Jamie Foxx—he lives in L.A. and I run into him and we do some things together—‘Steve Nash.’ Everyone is like, ‘Why do you do that?’ We all knew Jamie Foxx from ‘In Living Color’ and ‘The Jamie Foxx Show’ and all that. Then, all of a sudden, several years into his career he gives us ‘Ray.’ And we’re like, ‘Whoa, this guy’s an Oscar guy. We didn’t know he was that good. We knew he was good but we didn’t know he was that good.’ That’s Steve Nash. We knew that he was good. He made the All-Star team here and there—but we didn’t know that he could be the MVP of the league. I think that is just a testament to a guy who can add things on during his career when everyone else thinks that his career has already been defined. That’s hard to do. I think that’s harder to do than anything else that he has done during his career. I think to jump from being good to really good is easy—but to jump from really good to great is the biggest jump in the world, and he did that jump."

I then asked Smith, "Based on what you said about ‘80s/90s’ guards, would it be fair to say that if Steve Nash had been playing in the 80s and 90s he probably wouldn’t have won an MVP and if you would take a Price, Stockton and KJ and put them in today’s game they would have a better chance to win an MVP now than they did then because they would stand out more in this era than they did at that time?"

Smith answered, "I would agree but you have to put this disclaimer on it: you’re talking about the top 30 guards who ever played the game."

posted by David Friedman @ 3:03 AM

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Stat Nuggets

I was originally going to call this "T-Mac Nuggets" (a take off on Chicken McNuggets) but I found a couple non-T-Mac nuggets that are also interesting.

*** This year the Houston Rockets are 40-18 (.690) when Tracy McGrady starts and 2-7 (.222) when he doesn't. Keep in mind that Yao Ming missed 32 games. Prorated over an 82 game season, the Rockets would theoretically be 57-25 with T-Mac and 18-64 without him. Based on the "Steve Nash must be MVP because the Suns would be garbage without him theory," doesn't this at least mean that T-Mac must be mentioned in the MVP discussion? Teams that win 55+ games are generally considered title contenders. Teams that win 18 games send a representative to Secaucus for the Draft Lottery.

*** If that sample size of games is too small for you, let's add in the figures from the previous two seasons: the Rockets are 116-67 (.634) with T-Mac and 11-37 (.229) without him since T-Mac joined the squad for the 2004-05 season. That is equivalent to 52-30 with him and 19-63 without him. While with the Rockets T-Mac has been paired with just one All-Star--Yao Ming--who has frequently been hurt (the Rockets are 1-10 when both T-Mac and Yao have been sidelined). Steve Nash is paired with two All-Stars (though Amare Stoudemire did miss basically an entire season) plus a Sixth Man of the Year candidate (Leandro Barbosa).

*** T-Mac is the third youngest player in NBA history to reach both 14,000 points and 4000 rebounds during his career (27 years, 219 days). Wilt Chamberlain reached those milestones at 27 years, 105 days and Bob McAdoo reached them at 27 years, 152 days. Oscar Robertson (27 years, 325 days) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27 years, 343 days) rank fourth and fifth in this category.

*** T-Mac had six straight 30-point games this season (12/29/06-1/8/07), tied for the second best such streak in Rockets history; Moses Malone had a 13 game streak (1/26/82-2/23/82) and also had a six game streak (2/26/82-3/7/82).

*** Allen Iverson had 44 points and 15 assists in Denver's 131-107 rout of the Phoenix Suns. Only three other players in the past 20 years have put up 40-plus points and 15-plus assists in the same game (Kevin Johnson had 42/17 in 1994, Tim Hardaway had 41/18 in 1993 and Isiah Thomas had 40/17 in 1988).

*** That Iverson effort was his 78th career 40 point game. His teams are 54-24 in those contests. Kobe Bryant's 50 point game versus Minnesota was the 78th 40 point game of his career. His teams are also 54-24. What are the odds that Bryant and Iverson would not only have exactly the same number of 40 point games but that their teams would also have exactly the same record in those games?

posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 AM

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Another 50 Point Game for Kobe, Another Win for the Lakers

Kobe Bryant scored 50 points in a 109-102 L.A. Lakers win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night. He has now scored 115 points in his last two games, the third highest two game total in the past 40 years, surpassed only by his own 118 points last year (37 and then his career high 81) and Michael Jordan's 118 in 1990. This is the first time that Bryant has scored at least 50 points in consecutive games. The last Laker to have consecutive games with 50 or more points is Elgin Baylor, who actually had three straight games of 50-plus points in December 1962. According to ESPN, Bryant is also the first player other than Wilt Chamberlain to follow a game of 60-plus points with a game of 50-plus points; Chamberlain did this 14 times. I think that Bryant should change his first name to FPOTWC--granted, the lack of vowels would make that acronym hard to pronounce but it would be a convenient shorthand since it seems that several times per year Bryant is the "First Player Other Than Wilt Chamberlain" to do something or other (Quick aside: we are able to see Bryant in living color and then catch replays of his exploits on various highlight shows and he is amazing--so how good was Wilt, who did everything that Bryant is doing, only more frequently?). Bryant's 16th 50 point game leaves him one short of tying Baylor for third most 50 point games in a career (Chamberlain had 118 and Michael Jordan had 31); the Lakers are 12-4 in those games.

Bryant could have threatened the 60 point mark versus Minnesota but apparently the officiating crew was watching his follow through so closely for any errant elbows that they neglected to notice several occasions when he was slapped on the head or face when he was shooting and one time when Kevin Garnett hit Bryant's shooting arm while he was launching a three pointer; the shot went in, Bryant hit the deck and nothing was called. Bryant stood up, waved his hand dismissively in the direction of the nearest official (a gesture he delivered more than once throughout the evening) and got back on defense. Bryant seemed particularly hyped up during the game, enthusiastically congratulating his teammates when they made good plays and bellowing loudly after he scored a basket to put the Lakers up 97-92 with 2:28 left. He was fouled on the play and made the free throw for his 45th point--obviously, this was a huge play considering the score and the amount of time remaining.

Speaking of Garnett, nominally the other superstar who played in this game, he finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. That is a very impressive stat line but if you watched the game Garnett was largely invisible. He did nothing to slow down Lamar Odom and when the T-Wolves made their run it was mainly Ricky Davis (33 points, six rebounds, six assists) who provided the scoring. This game was a classic illustration of what Scottie Pippen meant when he said last year, "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." The simple fact is that Garnett, despite all of his versatility and his gaudy numbers, cannot carry a team because he is unable or unwilling to plant himself in the paint and score, draw double teams or get fouled. He is like a glorified Rasheed Wallace; Sheed cannot lead a team anywhere but he is a great complementary piece for a squad that has several other All-Stars who are willing to shoulder the load in crunch time. The one good year that Minnesota has had in the Garnett era is when Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were there to make all the big plays down the stretch of ball games. When I spoke with five-time All-Star Brad Daugherty recently he told me that one of the big differences between today's NBA and the NBA when he played is that Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Julius Erving shouldered the responsibility to lead their teams. In contrast, Daugherty said, "Now you have guys who are tremendous athletes but they might not be very good leaders. I see all the time that they talk about guys and say, ‘We need to get someone else to play with this guy so that he has a chance to win.’ Well, that’s ridiculous. If a guy is a superstar then he needs to lead his team to the best of his ability and make his teammates better. That’s the way I look at it. I think that there is a vast void because of this." Daugherty did not specify who he was talking about but I cannot think of anyone who Daugherty's critique fits better than Kevin Garnett.

Back to Bryant's magical performance. Minnesota tried various defenders on him, went to a zone for a period of time but achieved their greatest success (relatively speaking) in the fourth quarter by having one defender drape his body all over Bryant while holding on to Bryant's jersey and then sending another defender over to help when Bryant broke free and caught the ball. This "bump and run" defense "held" Bryant to 12 points in the fourth quarter; of course, Bryant did sit out for a few minutes to rest, so he might have had a 20 point fourth quarter anyway if he had played all 12 minutes.

Bryant's two game outburst has propelled him past Carmelo Anthony and into first place in the race for the 2007 scoring title. More significantly for the Lakers, they have now won two in a row after previously dropping seven straight contests. The Lakers are rounding into form just in the nick of time, aided by the return to the lineup of Lamar Odom (16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) and Luke Walton (10 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds). Smush Parker had the game of his life, scoring 19 points on 8-10 shooting, adding nine assists and seven rebounds. Anyone who does not think that Bryant makes his teammates better should consider if those players would be putting up quite the same numbers if they were not playing four on three while two defenders shadow Bryant. The Lakers have moved up to the sixth spot in the Western Conference but that is actually a bit of a mixed blessing. If the top of portion of the standings remains unchanged then the Lakers would play San Antonio in the first round; the Lakers would actually be better off finishing seventh and playing the Suns, who they almost beat in the first round last year.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:39 AM

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

All the Credit, None of the Blame?

After Wednesday's classic double overtime win against Dallas, the Phoenix Suns have been blown out 105-83 at home by Detroit and 131-107 by the Denver Nuggets. It seemed that on Thursday morning a consensus was developing to give Steve Nash the MVP after his tremendous play down the stretch against Dallas. He was fantastic, no doubt about it--but if he gets all the credit for Phoenix' win (never mind Amare Stoudemire's 41 points and 10 rebounds) then who gets the blame when the Suns get destroyed in back to back games? The Suns have their complete roster intact, so injuries aren't the culprit. I'm not trying to pick on Steve Nash. I think that he is a wonderful player--but something is fishy if we are supposed to believe that he deserves all of the credit when they win but should receive none of the blame when they lose. If a one minute stretch versus Dallas can "win" or "clinch" an MVP, do two bad games open the race back up for other contenders? No, Nash did not play terribly in either loss (20 points, six assists against Detroit, 15 points and 10 assists versus Denver) but he has been winning MVPs based on the idea that he makes the whole team better and is the main reason that the Suns win. If he plays OK, the Suns are at full strength and they get blown out--twice--then something does not add up. Somehow, I doubt that the lead story on ABC or ESPN's coverage today will be that the Suns' performances have reopened the MVP race that supposedly was closed on Wednesday. All I'm saying is that the standard should be consistent. My position does not change game by game: Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA and should get the MVP if the award is supposed to honor the best player; if the MVP is supposed to go to the best player on the best team, then Dirk Nowitzki should win it this year, barring a complete collapse by the Mavericks. One or two good or bad games by anybody will not change my opinion about that--but those who "awarded" the MVP to Nash on Thursday morning have some explaining to do.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:26 AM

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There is no "D" in "A-T-L-A-N-T-A": Pacers Rout Hawks, 113-90

The Indiana Pacers hit the switch, released the parachute and stopped the free fall that endangered their playoff hopes. It helped that their Saturday night opponent, the Atlanta Hawks, played without any apparent interest, intensity or plan on defense. Indiana's 113-90 victory at Conseco Fieldhouse ended an 11 game losing streak, the franchise's worst skid since 1989. The 23 point margin is a season best for the Pacers. Orlando's 95-83 loss to Sacramento enabled the Pacers to grab a (tenuous) hold on the seventh Eastern Conference playoff spot, but the Pacers are just a half game ahead of the eighth place Nets and only one game ahead of both the Knicks and the Magic (they are two games ahead of the Magic in the loss column). Troy Murphy led the Pacers with 22 points while shooting 10-13 from the field. Mike Dunleavy added 21 points on 7-8 shooting and Danny Granger contributed 19 points on 7-13 shooting. Josh Smith led Atlanta with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Zaza Pachulia also had 16 points.

Indiana took a quick 9-1 lead to start the game and never trailed, just their third wire to wire win of the season and their first since December 6. The Pacers led 68-44 at halftime. Keep in mind that Indiana ranks 24th (of 30 teams) in scoring and plays a very deliberate style. Murphy, Dunleavy and Granger combined for 40 first half points on 17-21 shooting from the field.

The Hawks showed a brief, flickering sign of life at the start of the third quarter, making a 9-0 run. Then, apparently completely spent by that meager effort, they were outscored 13-4 in the next four minutes and never got closer than 17 again after that. The Pacers led by as many as 31 in the fourth quarter and could probably have won by 40 or more.

Hawks Coach Mike Woodson's face wore every possible expression of exasperation and disgust during the game and he got right to the point in his postgame standup: "We struggled from beginning to end. I thought that our three young guys--Marvin (Williams), Josh Smith and Josh Childress--were awful tonight, especially defensively. I can't take anything away from Murphy, Dunleavy and Granger--they played well--but we were just so noncompetitive at those positions. It's unacceptable. You can't come out and play like that...We were awful tonight defensively and that's on me."

As for Indiana Coach Rick Carlisle, he is so relieved to end the losing streak that he could not have cared less if the Pacers had beaten the Washington Generals, as long as the win counted in the standings: "It's good to win one. We needed it. It's been a struggle, a brutal stretch of schedule and injuries have contributed to it. But there have only been a couple of times where we really hung our heads. I told the guys before the game to view this as an opportunity, not a burden...Tonight is a big step in the right direction."

Carlisle also lauded the play of point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who scored just five points on 2-7 shooting but played an outstanding floor game with 14 assists, three steals and no turnovers: "Jamaal Tinsley showed how important he is to our team...He really set the tone for the entire game and made it easier for everybody."

Someone asked Carlisle if he is concerned about the Pacers becoming complacent. Considering that the team has now won exactly one of its last 12 games, Carlisle does not think that complacency should be a big concern at the moment: "After what we've been through in the last three and a half weeks, if I have to remind these guys not to be complacent they should put a bomb in our locker room. Really, what greater message can be sent than what we just went through? I don't think that complacency is going to be a big problem for us."

Tinsley, Murphy, Dunleavy and Granger played so well that the Pacers easily overcame a subpar performance by their best player, Jermaine O'Neal, who was listed as quetionable but wore a brace on his sore left knee and gutted it out, shooting 2-12 from the field and finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

*****************************
Notes From Courtside:

Kobe Bryant's elbows--and his amazing 65 point game--were one of the subjects of discussion in the pregame chatter among writers and various NBA front office personnel. The general, off the record consensus is that Bryant is the best player in the NBA and is not dirty (Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki--and one contrarian vote for Gilbert Arenas--were also mentioned as the league's best player). One dissenter thinks that he does have a dirty streak and he listed the names of Bryant's three elbowing victims and the player he hit last season--Ginobili, Jaric, Korver and Mike Miller, respectively, all of whom are white and none of whom are known fighters; I guess his point was either that Bryant is targeting white guys and/or players who will not hit him back. That is definitely an extreme view and one that is not really supported by the facts. Bryant has been around for a long while and, other than the Miller situation, the blows he delivered do not seem to be particularly flagrant or deliberate. One veteran NBA observer told me that all great players have a mean streak, that they need it to be great and that previous great players--he listed Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas as some examples--covered up their mean streaks a little better than Bryant has in the recent incidents. He agreed with me that it is remarkable that Bryant can score 65 points, with 24 in the fourth quarter and nine in overtime, and this was not even his best game ever. He added that Bryant can carry a team with his willpower and determination.

---

Before the game I spoke briefly with Dennis "3 D" Scott, who is now a radio analyst for the Atlanta Hawks. Scott set the all-time record for three pointers made in a season when he hit 267 treys in 1995-96 (Ray Allen broke the record with 269 long balls last season), so I knew that he would get a kick out of my recent article about the three point shot. I gave him a copy and he had a big smile when I pointed to his name in the graphic that accompanies the article. The Hawks TV analyst is Steve Smith, so if there are any shooting contests between the team and the men who are describing the action, I'd put my money on the broadcasters.

---

I also had a chance to talk with Kevin Mackey, who provided the "Scout's Eye View" in my two part series last year (A Scout's Eye View: Part I and A Scout's Eye View, Part II). He believes that Kobe Bryant will probably rank among the game's all-time greats by the end of his career. Right now, Mackey's all-time team would look like this:

1st Team

Center: Wilt Chamberlain
Power Forward: Bill Russell
Small Forward: Larry Bird
Guard: Magic Johnson
Guard: Michael Jordan

2nd Team

Center: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Power Forward: Shaquille O'Neal
Small Forward: Julius Erving
Guard: Jerry West
Guard: Oscar Robertson

If he could expand the roster to 11, he'd take Elgin Baylor. The coach would be Red Auerbach, assisted by Phil Jackson. I laughed and replied that the two of them would never sit together on the same bench (they exchanged many barbs and the rivalry dates back to when Jackson played for Red Holzman's Knicks). Mackey laughed and agreed but said that in any case this team would have to play in heaven because Chamberlain and Auerbach are deceased. Perhaps it's a bit of a cheat to sneak extra centers on the team by putting Russell and O'Neal at power forward but I think that Mackey's "Dream Team" would do pretty well against any other hypothetical squad that could be assembled.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:33 AM

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