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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Defining the Value of a Superstar

This year's MVP race has inspired a lot of heated commentary. Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash are generally considered to be the top two contenders, with Kobe Bryant an intriguing "third party candidate" based on his individual brilliance and his widely accepted status as the "best" player in the game--which many people do not necessarily equate with being the "most valuable" player. The heart of the question is not just who should win this year's award but how exactly should a player’s value be defined.

One way to look at this is to consider each contender's impact on his own team. At 82Games.com, Roland Beech tracks every player in the NBA in many categories, including "on court" and "off court." As you would expect, those numbers show how a player's team performs when he is on the court and off the court respectively. These numbers can be combined into a "net" value that consists of subtracting the off court total from the on court total. Beech further refines the "net" value by accounting for the player's individual performance and the production of the other nine players, resulting in a "Roland rating." There are 12 NBA players who have Roland ratings of at least 10 this year and most of them are likely to garner MVP and All-NBA consideration.

Dirk Nowitzki has the best Roland rating as of April 2, while Steve Nash ranks 10th. Kobe Bryant is seventh in Roland rating but his off court numbers show that the Lakers go from being pretty good when he is on the court to the equivalent of a lottery team when he is not in the game. Again, it must be emphasized that the on court, off court and net ratings only evaluate a player's impact on his own team and do not necessarily prove (or disprove) how well he would do with a different team. Since the Roland rating does account for the production of all the players on the court it is, in theory, a more reliable indicator of a player's overall "value." You can read more about this subject--and find out who are the other nine players with 10-plus Roland ratings--by checking out my most recent NBCSports.com article, which can be found here:

Defining the Value of a Superstar

posted by David Friedman @ 8:34 PM

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The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Friday's Action

Dallas' quest for 70 wins ends after a bizarre game in which the Mavericks barely score 70, while Kobe Bryant carries the Lakers to a win and that deafening sound you hear is the roar of the stampeding Bulls.

The Score: Denver 75, Dallas 71

The Key Stat: Other than the fact that the score looks like a typographical error--both in terms of the totals and who won the game--the stat that sticks out is Dirk Nowitzki's line: 9-23 field goal shooting (.391) and six turnovers; on the positive side of the ledger, he did have 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists but just a little bit more production from him could have turned this into a win for Dallas (which is not meant to excuse Jason Terry's 6-20 shooting or Jerry Stackhouse's 2-12 brick-a-thon).

The Bottom Line: Dallas lost All-Star Josh Howard early in the game to a sprained ankle, which certainly contributed to the loss, but something seems a bit off with the Mavericks recently. When Charles Barkley mentioned this during TNT's telecast on Thursday I was initially inclined to agree with Kenny Smith, who basically laughed it off by pointing to Dallas' overall record as well as their mark in the past 10 games. You have to wonder, though, why Dallas looked so lethargic against Phoenix on Sunday, even if the game was not critical for the Mavericks in the standings. Last year Detroit got off to a torrid start, then faded down the stretch and looked wobbly in the playoffs against Cleveland before losing to Miami. While Dallas' place in the standings is relatively secure, it is important that the Mavericks get back to playing good basketball before the playoffs begin; one early home loss in the first round could bring a ton of pressure on to a team that proclaimed that its 2007 motto is "Finish," a reference to the way they went off track in the 2006 Finals literally within sight of the finish line.

The Score: L.A. Lakers 112, Seattle 109

The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant had 46 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals, including 31 points in the second half as the Lakers rallied from a 57-49 halftime deficit.

The Bottom Line: Center and point guard are often called the two most important positions on a basketball team. Smush Parker, the Lakers' starting point guard, produced three points on 1-5 shooting and committed five turnovers. For some inexplicable reason he is apparently engaged in some kind of feud with Coach Phil Jackson over playing time, which will only hasten Parker's seemingly inevitable departure from the team. It will be interesting to see where he ends up (can you say NBDL?) if/when the Lakers let him go. Kwame Brown is injured, so Andrew Bynum--the youngest player in the NBA--started at center and had zero points, two rebounds and four fouls. The saving grace for the Lakers--besides Bryant's customary heroics--was the production of Lamar Odom (20 points, seven assists, four rebounds, 9-11 shooting) and great energy off of the bench from Brian Cook (11 points, six rebounds) and Ronny Turiaf (10 points, four rebounds). The Lakers are 12-4 this year when Bryant scores at least 40 points; he is carrying a team that gets little production at center and point guard to a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Score: Chicago 105, New Jersey 74

The Key Stat: Three Bulls--Ben Gordon (27), Luol Deng (24) and Kirk Hinrich (20) scored at least 20 points; Chicago outrebounded New Jersey 49-41 despite being without the services of Ben Wallace (sinus infection), Andres Nocioni, Tyrus Thomas and Adrian Griffin.

The Bottom Line: The Bulls are peaking at the perfect time and will be a very deadly playoff force once Wallace and Andres Nocioni return to action. Chicago has received a lot of criticism during the season for supposedly overpaying for Ben Wallace but the Bulls are currently seeded second in the East, just two and a half games behind Detroit. The Bulls have improved their record since last year and the Pistons are markedly worse without Wallace, even though his loss has been mitigated somewhat by having Chris Webber fall into their laps. Of course, the real tale of the Wallace move will be told in the playoffs. I liked this Chicago team before the season started and think that the Bulls are capable of beating anybody in the East in a seven game series. As for New Jersey, we won't talk about my prediction for the Nets. What can I say? I grossly overestimated this team, which was underachieving even before the season-ending injury to Nenad Krstic.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:16 AM

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Visual Evidence Why Phoenix Will Not Win the 2007 NBA Championship

The San Antonio Spurs took the Phoenix Suns to the woodshed on Thursday night and administered a sound beating that is belied by the 92-85 final score. TNT's broadcast provided excellent visual evidence why the Suns will not win this year's championship: San Antonio controlled the tempo throughout the game, led by as many as 15 in the second half and held the Suns to .386 field goal shooting. Granted, the Spurs only shot .418 but the boxing cliche holds that "styles make fights" and Phoenix is not going to win too many games with those kind of point totals and shooting percentages. Tim Duncan had 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots. The only Sun who had any success guarding him was Kurt Thomas but putting him in the game then took the Suns away from the running style that they need to use to be successful on offense. The star of the game was Tony Parker, who scored a season-high 35 points on 12-22 field goal shooting. Michael Finley also had a strong game for the Spurs with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Steve Nash had 20 points, seven assists and four rebounds but he also had six turnovers and shot just 6-14 from the field. The Spurs stayed at home on the Suns' three point shooters, forcing them into a 2-11 (.182) performance.

On Sunday the Suns looked like world beaters against Dallas, the team that has the league's best record, which might lead some to conclude that the headline to this post is an extreme statement. The big difference between the Dallas game and the San Antonio game is that Dallas has all but clinched first place; the Mavericks could afford to relax. I'm not saying that they did relax and I don't mean to take anything away from Phoenix but there is no doubt that the Suns had much more at stake in that game. On the other hand, Phoenix is clinging to a small lead over San Antonio for the second seed in the West, which will decide who gets home court advantage in the likely event that these teams square off in the second round of the playoffs. Thursday's game was hugely important to both teams. Phoenix actually led 37-36 at halftime but if you understand basketball you realize that this was just fool's gold. Nash had 11 points but just two assists and the 37 points represented the Suns' lowest total for a half this season. Phoenix cannot win a game played at that pace against a team like San Antonio, so it was not surprising when the Spurs outscored the Suns 35-22 in the third quarter; they choked off Nash's driving and passing lanes, limited the Suns to one contested shot per possession, got the rebound and proceeded to get whatever shots they wanted to take at the other end of the court. Manu Ginobili's uncharacteristically poor shooting (3-11 from the field) kept the score a little closer than it would have been otherwise, but the important thing to understand is that the Spurs showed that they can slow Phoenix down and then get open shots on offense.

The Phoenix Suns deserve credit for the fine record that they will ultimately post this season but those gaudy numbers will not help them in the postseason. Playoff basketball is about executing in the half court and it will be very difficult for the Suns to do this against teams like San Antonio or Dallas--and even Utah or Houston if they end up playing either of those squads. This is part of the reason that I will never understand the rationale that led to Steve Nash's two MVP awards. Even his advocates will generally concede that he is not the league's "best" player but they speak of his "value" to his team--but if Nash is not truly able to lead a talented team past the Western Conference Finals how can he be more valuable than Dirk Nowitzki or even Tim Duncan? How was he more valuable than Shaquille O'Neal two years ago? Shaq turned the Heat into instant title contenders and the Heat won the championship last year in no small part due to the defensive attention that he attracted; the truth in that statement has been reinforced by the team's current run since his return and Wade's injury. If Nash never leads the Suns to a championship--or at least a Finals appearance--I think that history will not view his MVPs as favorably as some contemporary observers do. That is why I've always felt that the award should simply go to the best player, period. There is a Finals MVP award that recognizes great playoff performance and if Nash's value truly consists of making his team great then he should take the Suns to the Finals and win that award. Even with the Suns' much ballyhooed recent two wins against Dallas--which came too late to enable the Suns to catch the Mavericks--Phoenix has a poor record against the Western Conference's other top teams (Dallas, San Antonio, Utah). More should be expected of a team that has a former Coach of the Year, a two-time MVP, two other All-Stars, the probable Sixth Man of the Year winner and other talented players such as Raja Bell and Boris Diaw.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:01 AM

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Heat Continue to Sizzle Even Without Dwyane Wade

The Miami Heat improved to 15-7 since Dwyane Wade's shoulder injury by defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 94-90 in overtime at Quicken Loans Arena. The win clinched a playoff berth for Miami and--because of the NBA's quirky playoff format--dropped the Cavaliers from second to fifth place in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs began today then these two teams would meet, with Miami holding the home court advantage. Shaquille O'Neal had 20 points and eight rebounds but his presence is felt beyond his own personal statistics; he commanded double teams, which opened up opportunities for Miami's three point shooters: the two main beneficiaries were Antoine Walker--who has been mired in a season long shooting slump but shot 6-8 from distance and scored 20 points--and Jason Kapono, who made three of his four three point shots, scoring 11 points. O'Neal is not quite the rebounder that he was during his prime years but he is still a very legitimate scoring threat on the block, shooting 9-13 from the field. He also had two assists but, more importantly, his passes out of double teams led to good ball reversal and culminated in open shots for his teammates.

LeBron James had 35 points, nine rebounds and five assists; his statistics look fantastic but anyone who watched the game knows that at times he struggled to find the right balance between attacking the basket, shooting jump shots and passing to his teammates. The Cavaliers battled back from a 15 point deficit to have a chance to win on the last play of regulation time but James dribbled out the clock before hoisting a low percentage three pointer over two defenders. TNT's Kenny Smith later commented that James has to give up the ball in that situation and let his open teammate shoot; if that player cannot make the shot then it is the coach's fault for having the wrong personnel on the court. Then, in overtime, the Cavs trailed 90-87 when James drove to the hoop, jumped in the air and threw the ball away to Jason Williams; on that play James should have shot the ball. The Cavs still got one more chance with five seconds left and Miami up 93-90. Donyell Marshall set a screen at the top of the key for James but Eddie Jones fought through and intercepted Larry Hughes' crosscourt inbounds pass. Smith's verdict on the game was simple and direct: "The difference between 90s basketball and 2000s basketball has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with decisions." Charles Barkley was even more blunt: "You're right, Kenny. These players today are dumber than rocks."

Miami's return to legitimate contender status in the East should not surprise anyone. After Wade's injury, when some commentators predicted doom and gloom for the Heat, I wrote a post titled Why the Heat Won't Miss Dwyane Wade as Much as Most People Think. I predicted that even if Wade did not come back that the Heat would move up to sixth in the Eastern Conference. Washington's total collapse has enabled Miami to take the lead in the Southeast Division and claim the fourth spot in the East. In fact, the Heat are only a game behind the Toronto Raptors in the battle for the third seed. The Eastern Conference playoffs should be very interesting because no single dominant team has emerged; Detroit has the best record but certainly does not scare Miami, Chicago or Cleveland.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:15 AM

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Misfiring Pistons Routed at Home by the Bulls

The Detroit Pistons swear up and down that they are a better team this year without Ben Wallace, who signed with the Chicago Bulls prior to this season. On Wednesday night, the Bulls beat the Pistons 106-88 even though Detroit had its full complement of players while Chicago was without the services of Wallace (sinus infection) and Andres Nocioni (foot injury). The Pistons had not lost this badly at home to a division rival since 2002. There was no sign of Detroit's vaunted offense (.405 field goal shooting), while Chicago shot .538 and won the rebounding battle 48-32. Kirk Hinrich led Chicago with 29 points and eight assists, while Luol Deng added 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Chauncey Billups topped Detroit with 17 points but he only had two assists. Rasheed Wallace had 16 points but just three rebounds and Rip Hamilton scored just three points before he was ejected with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter. Sheed's technical foul escapades are well documented (he has 19, which has earned him a pair of one game suspensions--and one more technical will cause him to be suspended for another game) but Hamilton is right behind him with 15 technical fouls and his next one will lead to an automatic one game suspension.

Chris Webber had a quiet game versus the Bulls (10 points, eight rebounds, 4-11 field goal shooting), but Detroit is 27-12 since acquiring him from Philadelphia. The Pistons' other centers have basically been invisible this year, so if Webber had not literally been dropped in Joe Dumars' lap the Pistons would likely be barely above .500. His arrival salvaged the regular season but Webber has hardly distinguished himself in postseason play during his career. When the Pistons won the 2004 championship they were coached by Larry Brown and had Ben Wallace at center; those roles are now filled by Flip Saunders and Webber, who have combined to win no rings during their NBA careers.

Granted, the sky is hardly falling in Detroit. The Pistons have the best record in the Eastern Conference and one of the better records in the entire league. They have several current and former All-Stars on their roster and figure to be a tough out in the playoffs--but since the Pistons won the championship they have exited the postseason a round earlier in each of the subsequent seasons. They could very possibly face this Bulls team in the second round this year. The Bulls won the season series 3-1 and a Chicago postseason triumph would continue Detroit's slow but apparently inexorable slide since 2004.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:25 AM

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Why Danny Sheridan Gets Paid to Handicap Games--and You Don't

Have you ever wondered how well a handicapper like Danny Sheridan would do if he filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket? Every year before the tournament there is that list in USA Today that shows Sheridan's odds for each of the 64 teams. ESPN.com allows you to fill out up to five brackets, so this year I filled out one bracket based entirely on Sheridan's odds. The result? Sheridan's bracket finished at the 97.8 percentile, with 53 games correctly picked out of 63. Of course, since ESPN gets so many entries, that worked out to finishing in 63,232rd place. One big caveat: Sheridan had Florida and North Carolina each as 3-1 favorites to win the title; Florida was listed first and based on the order that other tied teams were listed in that did not seem to be because of alphabetical order, so I selected Florida in the "Sheridan bracket." Obviously, if I had gone the other way then the bracket would not have scored so well. Sheridan's Final Four was Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State and UCLA (tied at 6-1 with Kansas, but listed ahead of Kansas in USA Today's rendering of Sheridan's odds). So he got three out of four, missing Georgetown (tied with Memphis for 6-7 on his list). His Elite Eight were Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, UCLA, Kansas, Memphis, Georgetown and Wisconsin, so he scored seven out of eight; Oregon, which got an Elite Eight spot instead of Wisconsin, was ninth on Sheridan's list at 12-1 (Wisconsin was 10-1).

So, if you went strictly by Sheridan's picks you would have gotten three of the Final Four teams and seven of the Elite Eight teams. You would have had one half of the championship game matchup. The main thing that he missed was ranking North Carolina so highly. Of course, the Tar Heels blew a big lead and lost to Georgetown in overtime.

In addition to filling out a "Sheridan bracket" I also did a "Jeff Sagarin" bracket. Sagarin is a 1970 MIT graduate who has been ranking teams in various sports seemingly forever. There were no ties in his rankings, though some teams were ranked within hundredths of a point of each other. The "Sagarin bracket" finished at the 87.4 percentile, with 49 games correctly picked out of 63. That works out to 368,944th place. Sagarin had North Carolina and Ohio State 1-2, but based on the seeding that would have meant that North Carolina would beat Ohio State in the Final Four and then win the championship over Florida. Sagarin's Final Four was North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida and Kansas. UCLA and Georgetown, which made it instead of North Carolina and Kansas, were sixth and eighth in his rankings. His Elite Eight picks were North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida, Kansas, Wisconsin, UCLA, Memphis and Georgetown, so he only got five of those right.

It is interesting that both Sheridan and Sagarin overrated North Carolina and Wisconsin, though I have no idea what that actually means regarding their methodologies. If it is not obvious I should clearly state that this is not meant as a scientific evaluation of their abilities as a handicapper or statistician respectively; one tournament bracket is far too small of a sample size from which to draw any sweeping conclusions. Still, both men did a more than reasonable overall job of assessing the tournament field.

What about my other three ESPN brackets? Before answering that, I should mention that I watch less college basketball now than I ever have, mainly because I watch so much NBA basketball--and I don't feel like I am missing anything, because I have always felt that the NBA game is a much better game than the college game, a subject that I wrote about last year; a recent Charley Rosen article also makes an excellent case for the vast superiority of the NBA game to the NCAA game. When I do watch NCAA basketball, I am much more likely to see the "name" teams than the "Cinderella" ones, so the early rounds are a bit of a crap shoot for me outside of the slam dunk 1-16 matchups. With those excuses out of the way, the best of my other three ESPN brackets finished at the 91.7 percentile (48-15), which is 244,355th place. I had the correct title game matchup but picked Ohio State to win. My only Final Four miss was picking North Carolina over Georgetown. I was 7/8 in the Elite Eight, missing only Oregon. I always like to fill out a couple "wacky" brackets that are a bit more loaded with upsets than what I really expect to happen. This year was pretty much a "chalk" year, so the "wacky" brackets did not do so well: 45-18 and 43-20. I stuck with Ohio State over Florida in both of those brackets because I felt pretty strongly that those two teams would meet in the championship game.

March Madness was fun, but the NBA playoffs, culminating in the NBA Finals--that is where it's really at!

posted by David Friedman @ 9:52 PM

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Monday, April 02, 2007

The Pantheon, Part II

Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson are without question two of the greatest basketball players of all-time. Their careers are excellent examples of both peak value and durability: the numbers that they put up when they were at their best are incredible and they sustained a high level of production for a long period of time. The Pantheon: An Examination of Basketball Greatness, Part II takes a closer look at their accomplishments.

Part I was published a while ago, but if you missed it or would like to read it again, it can be found here:

NBA Pantheon: An Examination of Basketball Greatness

posted by David Friedman @ 8:41 PM

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The Pantheon: An Examination of Basketball Greatness, Part II

Wilt Chamberlain had the ultimate peak value season in 1961-62, averaging 50.4 ppg and 25.7 rpg. Chamberlain shot .506 from the field (ranking second in the league) and averaged an astounding 48.5 minutes per game; since a regulation NBA game lasts only 48 minutes, he literally played nearly every second of every game, including some overtime action. His scoring and minutes played averages are all-time records that will never be broken, while his rebounding average is the third best ever, exceeded only by two earlier Chamberlain seasons.

The next best single season scoring average is 44.8 ppg, posted by Chamberlain in 1962-63. The next best after that is 38.4 ppg, posted by Chamberlain in 1960-61. The next best after that is—well, you get the point. There is a reason that someone once suggested that the NBA Record Book should be renamed “The Wilt Chamberlain Story.” Chamberlain posted the top four single season scoring averages in NBA history. The non-Chamberlain record is Michael Jordan’s 37.1 ppg in 1986-87. Chamberlain’s 1961-62 Philadelphia Warriors scored 125.4 ppg in a league in which teams averaged 118.8 ppg, while Jordan’s 1986-87 Bulls produced 104.8 ppg when teams averaged 109.9 ppg. Some observers suggest that Chamberlain’s scoring average is inflated by the faster “pace” of his era. Mathematically, this makes some sense; after all, the more shot attempts there are per game, the more opportunities a player will have to score. To cite an extreme example, when the NBA did not have a shot clock and teams routinely scored less than 85 points there was very little chance that someone would average 50 ppg for a season.

Yet, to simply crunch a few numbers and declare that Jordan’s 37.1 ppg is somehow approximately equal to Chamberlain’s 50.4 ppg flies in the face of logic. Regardless of the overall pace of the game, Chamberlain still had to continue to keep pace, so to speak, to average 50.4 ppg. No one else in his era—or any other time—has come close to doing this. Jordan’s 37.1 ppg may “project” to a higher average in 1961-62, but who is to say that the faster pace would not have fatigued Jordan or led to wear and tear that would have predisposed him to injury? Maybe the slower pace in 1986-87 would have suited Chamberlain even better and made it harder for teams to defend him. Without having to run up and down the court so frequently to get back on defense perhaps Chamberlain would have been more energized, while his opponents would have been worn down by the pounding they took trying to stop him in the paint; maybe a young Chamberlain would have scored 55 or 60 ppg in 1986-87. Let’s be clear—I’m not saying that this is what would have happened; I’m saying that I don’t know and neither does anyone else. It makes just as much sense to hypothesize that a slower pace would help Chamberlain as it does to “standardize” his numbers downward. All that we know for a fact is that Chamberlain scored 50.4 ppg and in nearly six decades of NBA action no one else has come close to matching that. Showing that Chamberlain and Jordan’s scoring production is mathematically equivalent when pace is considered is not the same as proving that Jordan would have in fact scored 50.4 ppg in 1961-62 or that Chamberlain would have been “held” to 37.1 ppg in 1986-87.

Standardization is much more useful for comparing players who played in the same era but for different teams than it is for comparing players across eras. To compare players across eras there has to be some way to account for differences in rules, officiating (how the written rules are interpreted and applied), talent (does the current era feature more talented athletes drawn from a wider, more international talent pool or has expansion diluted the talent today in comparison with earlier eras when the NBA only had 90-100 players?) and a myriad of other factors both great and small. Until someone explains how these factors can be accurately measured statistically, Chamberlain’s 1961-62 season is without question the ultimate example of peak value—he set the all-time single season scoring and minutes played records by wide margins while also having the third best rebounding season ever and ranking second in the league in field goal percentage. The fact that Chamberlain’s main competition in the record book in the single season scoring, rebounding and minutes played categories comes from other Chamberlain seasons highlights even more the greatness of his accomplishment in 1961-62—he set the bar so high that he is the only player who could even come close to it.

Shaquille O’Neal is often referred to—and often refers to himself—as a modern day Wilt Chamberlain, so the reader may be interested to see O’Neal’s best single season numbers in scoring, rebounding and minutes played: 29.7 ppg (1999-00), 13.9 rpg (1992-93) and 40.0 mpg (1999-00); obviously, none of those numbers are even close to Chamberlain’s 1961-62 production—and O’Neal posted those statistics in different seasons. Standardization proponents will vigorously argue that O’Neal is at a tremendous disadvantage in the rebounding category because today’s game features a slower pace than Chamberlain’s era did. Again, mathematically this makes a lot of sense, but great players in any era seem to operate under their own statistical rules. No rebounding champion averaged 16-plus rpg between 1979-80 and 1990-91—then Dennis Rodman accomplished this in four straight seasons. Judging by pace alone it would not have seemed possible to do this, but Rodman did, in the process far exceeding the production of the other top rebounders at that time. In Chamberlain’s last season he led the NBA with 18.6 rpg, 1.5 rpg better than the second place finisher in a league in which the average team scored 107.6 ppg on .456 shooting. Are we to believe that a younger Chamberlain playing in 1972-73 would not have been able to average 25+ rpg, regardless of pace? When Rodman averaged 18.7 rpg in 1991-92 the average NBA team scored 105.3 ppg on .472 field goal shooting.

Chamberlain’s durability is unparalleled. He won seven straight scoring titles, nine field goal percentage titles, 11 rebounding titles and averaged at least 21.1 rpg in each of his first ten seasons. Chamberlain never fouled out of a game despite playing more than 3300 minutes in every season of his career except for 1969-70, when a knee injury limited him to 12 games; that year he confounded doctors’ predictions by returning in time for the playoffs, appearing in all 18 of the Lakers’ playoff games while averaging 22.1 ppg, 22.2 rpg and 4.5 apg in 47.3 mpg—yet what is remembered most about that season is Willis Reed limping onto the court in game seven of the NBA Finals and scoring four points. Reed’s effort, which his teammates have said inspired them to win the championship, should not be diminished, but Chamberlain deserves more recognition than he received for his return to action and high level of productivity in that postseason.

When Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4 ppg and 25.7 rpg during the 1961-62 season Oscar Robertson also had a “peak value” season, becoming the first and only NBA player to average a triple double for a season: 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg. Robertson led the league in assists in 1961-62 while ranking third in points and eighth in rebounds (NBA single season statistical leaders were determined by totals—not averages—until 1969-70). The only three other players who have led the league in one of those categories while ranking in the top ten in the other two in the same season are Hall of Fame big men who were also great passers: George Mikan, Dolph Schayes and Wilt Chamberlain. No guard other than Robertson has ever done this. In 1967-68, Chamberlain led the NBA in rebounding and assists and ranked third in scoring, which is the closest any player has ever come to leading the league in all three categories in the same season.

Robertson’s triple-double accomplishments actually are a hybrid of peak value and durability, because he averaged a triple double overall for his first five NBA seasons: 30.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 10.6 apg. He led the league in assists in four of those five years and narrowly missed averaging a triple double in 1963-64, when he won his only MVP award (31.4 ppg, 11.0 apg, 9.9 rpg). Some writers attempt to diminish Robertson’s triple doubles by saying that rebounds were a lot more plentiful in his era, due to a faster pace and lower shooting percentages. Standardization suggests that Robertson’s double digit rebounding averages should be downgraded significantly. The problem that I have with this kind of analysis is that, again, while it makes some sense when looked at purely from a mathematical standpoint, it unfairly impacts Robertson from a historical standpoint. No one else has averaged a triple double for a season or put together aggregate triple double averages for a five season period; to reduce Robertson’s rebounding numbers without noting this distorts history more than it enlightens us. Standardizing the statistics of players who competed at the same time but for different teams makes a lot more sense than suggesting that 10 rebounds in Robertson’s era equals 8 in later times. Robertson actually grabbed those 10 rebounds and there is no way to know if he would have gotten 8, 10 or 12 at a different time against different opponents playing under different rules.

Of course, no one really talked about triple doubles when Robertson played; the term came into vogue to describe Magic Johnson’s feats in the 1980s. If Robertson had actually thought about producing triple doubles and made sure to get an extra rebound or assist here or there, he certainly could have had a lot more of them. Robertson will also be quick to mention that the standard for awarding an assist is a lot more lenient today than it was when he played. An assist is supposed to be a pass that leads directly to a basket; if the player receiving the ball does not make an immediate move to score, if he makes multiple fakes and/or dribbles, an assist should not be granted, even though it often seems to be nowadays. So, while Robertson may believe that he would have been granted more assists if he played today and numbers crunchers think that he may have gotten fewer rebounds in this era, the fact is that his 1961-62 triple-double season is an unmatched benchmark for basketball versatility. No professional basketball player has ever excelled to that extent in each category in the same year.

Part III will look at the accomplishments of Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving.

Links:

1) Part I of this series can be found here.

2) This article adapts and slightly modifies ideas that I first explored in the following two posts:

The Greatest Basketball Players of All-Time, Part I

The Greatest Basketball Players of All-Time, Part II

3) The NBA 50th Anniversary Team, including the list of voters and links to biographies of each player:

http://www.nba.com/history/players/50greatest.html

posted by David Friedman @ 6:59 PM

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How to Detect Wack NBA Analysis

If wack NBA analysis were gold then we would all be as rich as Croesus. I've noticed that certain traits tend to characterize the streams of flawed NBA commentary that are bombarding us via TV, radio, the internet and newspapers.

1) (Not) just the facts, ma'am

I don't trust analysis from anyone who cannot get the basic facts straight. If a person cites inaccurate statistics or gives an incorrect account of events then he is either deliberately misleading his audience or he is a sloppy thinker. It never ceases to amaze me how many "experts" cannot keep the most basic facts straight. The worst part is, they're not talking off the top of their heads--TV commentators have access to researchers and have reams of pages of stats, facts and notes in front of them. Writers certainly should double check information before including it in an article or column. I admit that I am an NBA junkie; I've got a ton of NBA statistical information bouncing around my cranium. Despite that, I try to not include anything but the most basic stat in something I write without double checking it in a media guide or some other credible source. Can mistakes happen anyway? Sure; I've submitted articles with correct information to certain publications only to see the published text "edited" in a way that made it inaccurate. Also, typographical errors can happen at any publication; I have both committed and been a victim of those on occasion--but when TV, radio and print reporters spout stuff that I know is wrong off the top of my head before I even check the record books, that is just inexcusable (the latest example: Mike Wilbon's podcast with Dan Patrick. He even claimed to have just looked up the incorrect numbers that he started spewing. As I was listening my immediate reaction was, "These stats aren't right. How can he go on the air and just say stuff that isn't correct?")

2) Context?! We don't need no stinkin' context!

This one happens a lot and it shows up in a variety of forms. It can also be combined with incorrect factual information for added effect. Something can be technically "true" and yet be very misleading because of the way that it is presented. For instance, Scottie Pippen did not win a championship or play in an All-Star game during the portion of his career that happened after Michael Jordan's second retirement. Those are facts. Yet, for someone to say that this proves that Pippen is not worthy of being listed as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players is to take that information horribly out of context. Pippen's post-MJ career began when he was 33 years old and had just had back surgery to repair two ruptured lumbar disks. He was no longer the same player that he had been in his younger days. He was still an excellent defensive player (two All-Defensive Team selections) and he played a big role in helping the Trail Blazers make it to the 2000 Western Conference Finals. Interestingly, Jordan has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs without Pippen by his side--of course, that, too, is somewhat lacking context, because his non-Pip years came early in his career when the Bulls' cupboard was pretty bare and then late in his career with the Wizards. The reality is that both players were vital to the Bulls' success in the 1990s.

3) Heads I win, tails you lose

When an argument is tailored in such a fashion that it "works either way" something is amiss. This type of "thinking" is applied frequently against Kobe Bryant. When he outscored Dallas 62-61 for three quarters last year before sitting out the final period, critics brayed that he denied fans the opportunity to witness him chasing history by trying to score 70 or 80 points. Then he had an 81 point game and the critics said that proved that he is a selfish gunner who cares more about scoring as many points as he can than winning games. Well, which is it? Kobe Bryant took heat for sitting down during a high scoring game and he took heat for staying in too long. Could somebody supply Bryant a flowchart matching up his point totals with the time remaining in the game, his team's lead and the quality of the opponent so that he will know the exactly correct time to sit out?

Similarly, when he has scoring binges Bryant is called "selfish"--but when he shoots less and passes frequently he is said to be "trying to prove a point by not shooting." No matter what happens, the person who engages in this type of thinking will say, in effect, "Heads I win, tails you lose."

Wilt Chamberlain often received this kind of treatment. He was criticized for shooting too much when he was younger and then blasted for "trying to prove a point" by shooting less and leading the league in assists later in his career.

In other words, whether Bryant or Chamberlain shoots 30 times, 15 times or 3 times, it proves that they are "selfish."

4) Jumping to conclusions

When someone is doing wack NBA analysis, small events can lead to dramatic statements. The MVP is supposed to recognize a player for his achievements during an 82 game season but a couple weeks ago some people tried to make a case that Steve Nash clinched it in about a minute during Phoenix' dramatic win over Dallas. Nash is definitely one of the top three MVP candidates this year--but how can one minute of one game "clinch" anything? Also, this is an example of "Heads I win, tails you lose," because when the Suns floundered around for the next several games I did not hear anyone say that this undid the original "clinch."

What about when I write things like "60 More Reasons That Kobe Bryant is the NBA's Best Player"? Aren't I jumping to a conclusion based on one game? No, and I'll tell you why. First, I wrote "60 More Reasons," which indicates that this game provides additional evidence, not that it proves anything by itself or that it "clinched" something. Second, that was just the headline to a post that included an in depth look at why Bryant deserves to be called the "best player," including statistics and an analysis of what skills enable him to score so prolifically. That is a lot different than just saying, in effect, that Nash's performance in the last minute of regulation was so great that it trumps Nowitzki's season of consistently great play.

5) Shape shifting

Wack NBA analysis never dies; it just changes its form and appearance. When someone does wack NBA analysis he is never deterred even after it has been conclusively shown that his "facts" are wrong and/or taken out of context and/or that his argument is meaningless because it is tailored to come to the same conclusion no matter what happens. The wack NBA analyst simply comes up with new "facts" that are also taken out of context or just plain wrong or devises another argument that "fits" all situations. We just saw this with a recent "awful" exchange. First, we "learned" that Steve Nash's 32 point/16 assist game is just as important/rare/meaningful as Kobe Bryant's 65 point game--except for the problem that several players have had better points/assists combos just in the last two decades while 65 point games are exceedingly rare and even more rare when they occur in the midst of four straight 50 point games. Then, we "learned" that this doesn't matter because Nash has done some pretty rare things in the playoffs. What that has to do with anything is unclear--it does not reinforce the original, erroneous post about 32/16 versus 65 and, besides, Kobe Bryant played a key role on three championship teams, turning in numerous big playoff performances. As a bonus, we also "learned" that Bryant's reputation as a great defender is exaggerated. The problem with that is that NBA head coaches have voted him to the All-Defensive Team six times and numerous scouts say he is the player that they would want to have guarding someone who is attempting a game winning shot. Well, none of those things are problems if you are a wack NBA analyst, because you simply dismiss the head coaches as biased and uninformed and use a supposedly random sampling of a few boxscores that "prove" that Bryant is getting burned on defense--without, of course, giving any account of what the Lakers' defensive schemes were in the games in question. Then, Tex Winter, one of Bryant's staunchest advocates over the years, makes a couple passing remarks about Bryant's defense in the midst of a sprawling 3000-plus word account of how Bryant's scoring outbursts are better than Wilt's and how his game is similar to Michael Jordan's (statements that seem to contradict the idea that 32/16 is "better" than 65). This, of course, is "checkmate" in the Bryant-Nash debate because one of Bryant's "coaches" said something negative about Bryant's defense. In one fell swoop, all the forms of wack analysis appear: First we are told that coaches are biased and uninformed (presumably because they disagree with the poster). Then we are told that one coach's opinion trumps the opinions expressed by dozens of coaches in six years of All-Defensive Team voting. The coup de grace is that Winter is not even technically a coach anymore; he is a Lakers consultant. So we have incorrect information, quotes taken out of context, "Heads I win, tails you lose" regarding coaches' knowledge of defense, jumping to conclusions and several instances of shape shifting; that is a special moment in the long and storied history of wack NBA analysis, a true grand slam.

Note how the shape of the discussion shifted from 65 versus 32/16 (refuted) to Nash's playoff record (not better than Kobe's, individually or from the standpoint of championships won) to Bryant's defense (allegedly not as good as his "reputation," despite widespread praise by coaches/scouts and six All-Defensive Team selections) to Tex Winter's interview. The only thing that could be fairly said about Bryant's defense based on Winter's brief remarks is that Winter expressed concern about Bryant's defensive technique during his recent scoring outbursts or perhaps even for a bigger portion of this season. Unless or until Winter says that Bryant is an overrated defender who is getting by on his reputation, it is certainly not "checkmate"--and, even if he were to say that, it would be the opinion of one observer, to be weighed and measured alongside the opinions of other informed observers. Most All-Defensive Team members don't make the team by unanimous vote, so there can be disagreement even among experts. More context is required before anyone is "checkmated."

What if Winter had said that Bryant is the league's best defender? Would I then be saying "checkmate"? No, I would be saying that this is one more example of someone praising Bryant's defense. The "case" for Bryant being the league's best player does not rise or fall on the basis of any one game or quote or stat--nor does the "case" for most debates rise or fall on the basis of one single piece of evidence.

The next time you read or listen to a piece of NBA analysis, use the five points mentioned above as a guide to determine whether or not it is wack.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:35 AM

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Down the Memory Hole

Julius Erving is one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players but even that status has not prevented many of his greatest achievements from going down George Orwell's proverbial memory hole. A case in point is a graphic that ABC ran on Sunday during the Pistons-Heat game. The Heat's Shaquille O'Neal scored his 25,000th career point recently, joining an elite group of players who scored at least 25,000 points and grabbed at least 10,000 rebounds. According to ABC, the other players are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes and Hakeem Olajuwon. The problem is that ABC completely ignored ABA statistics and this shortchanges Erving, who spent the first five seasons of his career in that league. His professional totals are 30,026 points and 10,525 rebounds. Hall of Famer Dan Issel also had more than 25,000 points and 10,000 rebounds if his ABA numbers are considered. Artis Gilmore, the fifth leading rebounder in pro basketball history and perhaps the greatest basketball player eligible for Hall of Fame induction who has yet to receive that honor, misses the cut by just 59 points when his NBA and ABA numbers are added up.

The ABA was not some minor league. It was a significant rival to the NBA for nearly a decade; four of the league's current teams--Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Spurs--originally were ABA teams. Ignoring the statistical accomplishments of ABA players paints a distorted picture of pro basketball history. The ABA statistics are readily available, so it is lazy for writers and broadcasters to pretend that they don't exist. ABC's graphic should have included Erving and Issel. The color analyst for the Pistons-Heat game, Hubie Brown, coached Issel and Gilmore to an ABA title in 1975 as members of the Kentucky Colonels. He could have offered some first hand perspective on how great that team was, as he did when I interviewed him last year.

This is not just a shot at ABC; NBC and CBS did the same thing when they had the NBA contract and ESPN and TNT are not any better in this regard, from what I have seen. The NBA's attitude on this issue is simply bizarre; when Erving scored his 30,000th point, the game was stopped and he was honored with a brief ceremony, but the league's television partners generally act as if he never achieved this milestone. Spurs' great James Silas, who played for the team in both leagues, once told me that when his children were younger and he took them to games they could never understand why programs and media guides did not list him as a 10,000 point scorer despite the fact that he had a basketball at home that the team gave him in recognition of that achievement.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:18 AM

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The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Sunday's Action

The Pistons outlasted the Heat and the Suns scorched the Mavericks in ABC's Sunday doubleheader in two games that may have been previews of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.

The Score: Detroit 94, Miami 88

The Key Stat: Detroit fell behind by as many as 12 points but outscored Miami 53 to 42 in the second half--including 29-19 in the fourth quarter--as Rip Hamilton spearheaded an excellent defensive effort by the Pistons.

The Bottom Line: The Pistons extended their lead over second place Cleveland to 3.5 games, while the Heat slipped a half game behind Washington in the race for the Southeast Division title. Dwyane Wade did not play but word out of Miami is that he may be returning to action soon. The Heat have actually moved up significantly in the standings since Wade went down and Shaquille O'Neal came back. O'Neal shot 9-13 from the field, finishing with 23 points and eight rebounds. He is still extremely tough to guard on the low post and he even had a flashback when he gave Chris Webber a drop step move and powered home a dunk. The main thing that O'Neal seems to have lost is the ability to be a mobile, dominant rebounder; he pretty much just gets the rebounds that are in his area. The Pistons have had the best record in the East for a good portion of the season, yet the Heat nearly beat them in Auburn Hills despite not having Wade; if O'Neal stays healthy and Wade is able to make any kind of contribution in the playoffs then the Heat have to be considered a strong contender for the Eastern Conference championship.

The Score: Phoenix 126, Dallas 104

The Key Stat: The Suns shot .867 from the field in the fourth quarter (13-15) and .648 for the entire game, an NBA season-high and a U.S. Airways Center record.

The Bottom Line: This much anticipated matchup was close for three quarters until the Suns, perhaps in honor of the NCAA Tournament, put on a fourth quarter shooting display reminiscent of Villanova's record setting .786 effort in the 1985 Championship Game. Dallas will still get the number one seed in the West, barring a total collapse that seems unlikely since this was the Mavericks' first loss in 10 games. The Suns really needed this win to stay in front of San Antonio in the race for the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Suns and Mavericks split their season series at 2-2. Steve Nash played well (23 points, 11 assists, three rebounds, 7-11 field goal shooting) and Dirk Nowitzki had a sub par game (21 points, six rebounds, six assists, 6-18 field goal shooting) but I don't understand how this one game could change anyone's mind about the MVP voting. Nowitzki's team still has the league's best record and a mathematical chance to win 70 games. The Mavericks had won nine in a row before this game and just prior to that they won 17 in a row. Nowitzki is the best player on the best team, so if that is one's criteria for MVP then he is a pretty clear choice; if one's criteria is to simply select the best player period then of course Kobe Bryant's name has to enter the discussion.

The Score: Indiana 100, San Antonio 99

The Key Stat: Five Pacers scored between 16 and 21 points.

The Bottom Line: Raise your hand if you saw this one coming. The Spurs, winners of six straight and 19 of their last 21, lost to a Pacers team that had just dropped four in a row and 17 of their last 19. Jamaal Tinsley's layup with about a second left in the game propelled Indiana to a highly improbable victory that keeps the Pacers' playoff chances very much alive and damages the Spurs' quest to catch Phoenix for the number two seed in the West. This result shows why it is silly to suggest that a win against a team with a poor record is not significant; all NBA teams are stocked with talented players and on a given night a team that may end up in the lottery can beat a team that may end up winning the championship.

The Score: L.A. Lakers 126, Sacramento 103

The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant had a season-high 13 assists as the Lakers shot .617 from the field.

The Bottom Line: Maurice Evans led six Lakers in double figures with 21 points (Bryant had 19). The idea that Bryant is selfish and won't pass the ball makes little sense considering that he was the primary playmaker on three championship teams, a statement that can be made about no other active NBA guard. The problem with this Lakers team is that when Bryant passes the ball the result is often a missed shot. Clearly, when his passes lead to scores he is perfectly willing to keep passing and it is of course more ideal to have a multi-faceted attack as opposed to having Bryant shoulder most of the weight. Of course, it is unlikely that Andrew Bynum (7-7), Evans (7-8) and Luke Walton (8-11) will even come close to duplicating their shooting performances in the Lakers next game. The Lakers are in sixth place in the West now, with no realistic chance of catching Houston at five but a 2.5 game lead over Denver with nine games left in the season.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:03 AM

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Revenge" of "Awful Analysis"

Sequels often seem to have "revenge" in their names--and are often worse than the originals--so that is a fitting word to use in reference someone whose writing proves that he doesn't understand basketball but rather than conceding this he simply takes out a shovel and digs himself a deeper and deeper hole, all the while exclaiming "Checkmate" and "So eat it," as if that makes his analysis more compelling.

Before moving forward, a brief recap of my ongoing "discussion" with a basketball blogger who is so confused that "awful" really is part of his name--and for good reason. Anyway, the fun began when he suggested that Steve Nash's game with 32 points and 16 assists is more impressive/productive that Kobe Bryant's recent 65 point game, a notion that I refuted here. The only answer I got to that were some comments about my mustache, followed by what I called "The Old Bait and Switch." After I looked it up and proved that Nash's points/assists combo has been bettered many times in the past 20 years--unlike Bryant's scoring, which has not been matched since Wilt Chamberlain--the subject suddenly shifted to some of Nash's playoff accomplishments (notably absent are any championships; Bryant has already won three) and Bryant's alleged defensive shortcomings. I responded by noting that Bryant has made the All-Defensive team on numerous occasions (four times on the First Team, including last year, plus two more times on the Second Team). The All-Defensive Team is voted on by the head coaches, who know the strengths and weaknesses of the league's players because they have to game plan for each team. The "Awful" response: the coaches are biased and they are too preoccupied with their own teams to know about players on other teams (huh?). In other words, some of the most informed NBA basketball people on the planet think that Bryant is a great defender (Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen notes that scouts also love Bryant's defense) but that can all be dismissed with a wave of the hand.

To summarize, Mr. "Awful" made a spurious comparison of points/assists combos with 50 point game streaks and said that NBA head coaches are biased idiots who don't know anything about the players that they coach against. I responded with facts, which were completely ignored. Just when Mr. "Awful" was going to slink into oblivion and let the issue of his incompetence die, the drowning man thought that he saw a rope that could save him: a post by Roland Lazenby, who probably has as much inside information about the L.A. Lakers as anyone. Lazenby interviewed Tex Winter, the great former Kansas State coach and longtime NBA assistant coach who is now a Lakers consultant (which is not the same as being a coach or a head coach, like the ones who vote on All-Defensive Teams, distinctions that repeatedly elude Mr. "Awful's" comments about Lazenby's post; Winter does not travel with the team). Lazenby's Tex Winter post is well over 3000 words. The main point of the piece is to assess Bryant's impact on a historical level, specifically by comparing him to Michael Jordan and also by comparing his recent scoring binge to similar feats accomplished by the great Wilt Chamberlain. On MJ versus Kobe, Winter concludes: "I tend to think how very much they’re alike. They both display tremendous reaction, quickness and jumping ability. Both have a good shooting touch. Some people say Kobe is a better shooter, but Michael really developed as a shooter as he went along. I don’t know if Kobe is a better shooter than Michael was at his best." As for Kobe's scoring streak versus Wilt's scoring numbers, Winter says, "It (Kobe's streak) is more impressive. Wilt’s streak was more about gimmickry that season. Kobe’s gotten these points against tough competition (Lazenby adds: Winter thinks just about all NBA teams offer superior competition in this age, including the Memphis Grizzlies), which is something else Wilt didn’t face, not consistently...Kobe is not a 7-foot-1 giant. He’s a normal-sized 2 or 3 man. For him to go off on the kind of scoring tear that he did is remarkable. It was necessary for this team to win five straight games. Without it, I doubt seriously if we could have won." Winter's praise of Bryant's streak and the difficulty of doing it even against sub .500 teams is a complete antithesis to Mr. "Awful's" original post on the subject, when he feebly suggested that a 32/16 game is greater than a 65 point game and that Bryant's numbers are diminished in quality due to the records of the teams that the Lakers played during the 50 point game streak.

Near the end of this extensive discussion of Bryant's greatness, Winter makes some comments about Bryant's style of defense this season. The comments about defense consist of less than 200 of those 3000+ words. Winter says, "I’d like to see him play better defense" and he suggests that Bryant should not gamble as much in the passing lanes. Note that he does not say that Bryant is a poor defender (check it our for yourself); he simply says that Bryant (and the other Lakers guards) should gamble less. Mr. "Awful" now completely reverses his opinion about what NBA coaches know and trumpets that Tex Winter "agrees" with him about Bryant. When I--and some of his regular readers--point out that he has taken the comments out of context, he says that the rest of the interview did not matter because Mr. "Awful" is only interested in talking about Bryant's defense. The flaw in that is that the article is not about Bryant's defense, so it is out of context to only quote those words and act like the main point of the piece concerns Bryant's defense. That was a small portion of a much greater discussion, namely the similarities between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Now, why doesn't Mr. "Awful" bring that up? Simple. He loves Steve Nash and hates Kobe Bryant. The truth does not matter to him. When it seems that most coaches disagree with him about Kobe Bryant's defense, he discounts their opinions and calls them biased. When a (great) ex-coach, now a Lakers consultant, makes a little criticism of Bryant's defense in the larger context of an article that compares Bryant favorably with Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, Mr. "Awful" takes those comments out of the context of the article, misreads them and acts as if this is the final word on the matter. As Thomsen noted, scouts respect Bryant's defense. Bryant guards the top perimeter threat on the opposing team--whether that player is nominally a "two" (Bryant's position) or a "three"--at least as much, if not more, than any other superstar in the game (I'm not talking about defensive specialists like a Bruce Bowen or Shane Battier) and that is significant.

Also, there is a greater context beyond simply the context of Lazenby's post. Lazenby edits Lindy's Pro Basketball, which I have contributed to the past two years. Winter always does a piece in the magazine about the game's best players. If you're going to take a small portion from one post and use it to say that Winter "agrees" with you then you should at least have the basic knowledge of what his stance really is regarding Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. After all, Mr. "Awful" only brought up defense after I shredded the whole idea that 32/16 is so unique. The real question concerns who is the best basketball player. It turns out that Winter has a high opinion of both players, so it makes no sense to act like he "agrees" with Mr. "Awful" and disagrees with me. In the 2006 issue, Winter ranked Nash as the number one point guard and Bryant as the number one shooting guard. He agreed with Nash being selected as the 2005 MVP but mentioned that Nash has "some liabilities on the defensive end, mostly to do with his size. But he's a smart defensive player, even when opponents try to post him up. He finds a way to cause them problems." I would agree with that; Nash is not a great one on one defender but within a team concept he plays adequate defense. One of Mr. "Awful's" criticism of Bryant is that he does not play hard but in the 2006 issue Winter wrote, "...he's number one on this list because he always played hard every single minute." Why am I citing the 2006 issue? Simple--it provides context to Winter's overall views. In the 2007 issue, Winter selected two "All-Winter" Teams, an "all-time" edition and one for current players. Bryant made his all-time team at off guard, in a tie with Bill Sharman and Dwyane Wade and just behind Jordan and Jerry West. Winter said of Bryant, "Another one of my proteges. But his skills, his drive, his accomplishments all speak for themselves. Another player who truly understands the triangle." Nash did not make his all-time "lead" (point) guard list; he chose John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Bob Cousy and Bob Davies. As for current players, Winter selected Wade, Bryant, Nash and Allen Iverson as the best guards, not distinguishing between point guards and off guards.

Winter and Bryant have a classic mentor/pupil relationship. In my 2005 interview with Bryant, he compared Winter to "Yoda" because of Winter's deep understanding of the game. Bryant respects Winter and credits him for helping to improve his game. So, when Winter chuckles and says that Bryant "has his game plan" for defense that does not mean that Bryant simply ignores whatever Winter tells him. That is part of their continuing dialogue. Of course, none of this will be of the slightest interest to Mr. "Awful," because all he wants to do is glorify Nash, villify Bryant and score "points" against me.

I have very specific, well grounded reasons for calling Kobe Bryant the NBA's best player and in "Awful" Analysis I succinctly stated why Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA: "...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." Mr. "Awful" will never discuss Kobe Bryant in scouting terms or objectively compare him to other players because he is either not able to do so or because he understands just enough to know that such an analysis would hardly strengthen his case for Steve Nash.

In that same post, I went on to say, "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."

It is interesting to debate whether or not the "best player" should receive the MVP award if his team is not in the top four in the standings. Intelligent people can disagree about that one. I think that skill level is of paramount importance, along with "value" to one's team. That is not to say that Nash or Nowitzki are not "worthy" in my opinion but simply that Bryant is more worthy, from my point of view.

While this post deals with one particular person who apparently would not know Tex Winter from Tex Rickard, in an upcoming post I will discuss some general signs that are helpful in detecting wack NBA analysis, of which there is sadly no shortage nowadays.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:38 AM

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Mavericks on Track to be Amongst Best All-Time

The Dallas Mavericks, who will face the Phoenix Suns on Sunday in a highly anticipated match-up of Western Conference powers, have a chance to become just the second team in NBA history to win at least 70 games. Five NBA teams have won at least 68 games, with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls topping the list by going 72-10 en route to the first title of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen's second "three-peat." My newest NBCSports.com article looks at how Dallas compares to those five teams:

Mavericks on Track to be Amongst the Best All-Time

posted by David Friedman @ 1:03 AM

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