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

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Greatest Power Forwards of All-Time

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 4/12/07; it has been updated to include statistics from the 2006-07 season

NBA fans may very well be watching the greatest player to ever play his position. No, this is not another log on the Michael Jordan-Kobe Bryant fire--this is about Tim Duncan, who is building an impressive case to be considered the greatest power forward of all-time. One contender for that title recently threw in the towel. Near the end of last season, TNT’s Charles Barkley conceded that, although he does not like to admit that anyone is better than he was, Duncan will probably go down as the greatest power forward of all-time. Barkley rates himself and Karl Malone next in the pecking order.

Duncan just completed his tenth season and he turned 31 on April 25, so if he avoids a serious injury he could play at a reasonably high level for several more years--and his resume already compares well with the great power forwards from previous eras. Other than free throw shooting, it is hard to find fault with Duncan’s game: he scores, rebounds, passes, shoots a good percentage from the field, has won two MVPs, has been on the All-Defensive Team every season of his career and has led his team to four championships, winning the Finals MVP three times. For most of his career he has been paired with another 7-footer who guarded opposing centers, but Duncan is big enough and skilled enough to defend centers--even Shaquille O’Neal from time to time. Duncan can score on the block with an array of moves but he also has a good face up game.

Duncan’s combination of individual statistical achievement with team success is very reminiscent of what Bob Pettit did during his career. Pettit averaged 26.4 ppg and 16.2 rpg, the third best rebounding average of all-time, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. He led the St. Louis Hawks to the 1958 championship--beating Russell’s Boston Celtics, the last team to do so before Boston won eight straight titles--won two MVP awards and made the All-NBA First Team 10 times. Pettit was the first NBA player to score more than 20,000 points. He did not weigh nearly as much as modern power forwards do but his accomplishments speak for themselves; put the 1950s Pettit in a time machine, give him six months or so to put on some weight and he would still be a great player.

Dolph Schayes was the NBA’s first great power forward. He held the NBA’s career scoring record before Pettit broke it. Schayes was an excellent all around threat who could score, rebound, pass and bury outside shots long before the advent of the three point line. He led the Syracuse Nationals to the 1955 title and earned six All-NBA First Team selections during his career. Like Pettit, Schayes did not weigh nearly as much as today’s power forwards do. Schayes and Pettit set the standard at the power forward position for many years, though, and for that reason alone they will always rank among the all-time greats, just like George Mikan--undersized by today’s standards--has to be on the short list of all-time great centers based on his performance against his contemporaries.

Jerry Lucas and Dave DeBusschere entered the NBA in the 1960s, retired after the 1973-74 season, won a title as teammates with the 1972-73 New York Knicks and scored exactly the same number of points during their NBA careers (14,053). Lucas was a tremendous rebounder--his 15.6 rpg average ranks fourth all-time--who could also nail outside shots. He twice averaged 20-plus ppg and 20-plus rpg in the same season; Chamberlain (10 times), Pettit (once) and Nate Thurmond (once) are the only other NBA players to average 20-20 for an entire season. DeBusschere was a fine scorer and rebounder but his calling card was his tremendous ability as a defensive player. He made the All-Defensive First Team six straight times and that total would have been larger had the award been presented during the early part of his career.

Elvin Hayes was much maligned during his career for his shot selection and for allegedly disappearing in clutch moments, but he won a championship in 1978 with the Washington Bullets and a glance at his numbers shows that he belongs on any list of great power forwards: 21.0 ppg and 12.5 rpg in 16 seasons. An incredibly durable player, he only missed nine games and he held the career record for minutes played when he retired. Blocked shots were not officially recorded until his sixth season, but Hayes ranked among the league leaders for eight straight years. Hayes won the scoring title as a rookie and led the league in minutes played four times.

Kevin McHale’s scoring and rebounding numbers do not look overwhelming when compared to the other great power forwards; he spent some of his early years as a sixth man and was limited by injuries in the latter part of his career--but in the mid-1980s McHale was virtually unguardable. In 1987 and 1988 he led the league in field goal percentage, shooting .604 both times, but he also shot .836 and .797 from the free throw line during those seasons; there is not much that can be done defensively against someone who shoots that well from both the field and the free throw line. McHale teamed with Larry Bird and Robert Parish to form perhaps the greatest frontcourt in NBA history, winning three championships in a six year period.

Charles Barkley is the freak of nature among the great power forwards--listed at 6-6 but in reality barely 6-5, he was able to consistently score against and outrebound opponents who were much taller. His career numbers are actually equal to or better than Duncan’s in many categories--but the difference between Barkley and Duncan is the impact that Duncan has on the defensive end of the court, which then translates into the ability to lead a team to a championship. Barkley has stated that if he has one regret about his career it is that he did not focus enough on defense. Of course, even if he had done so he still could not have had the impact as a shot blocker and intimidator that the much taller Duncan has had.

Karl Malone is second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list and he won two MVPs. His numbers, his amazing durability and the fact that his career only recently ended probably make him the choice of many fans as the greatest power forward of all-time. Certainly, a compelling case can be made on his behalf based on his statistics—but two numbers argue powerfully against him: 0 and .463. The first number is how many championships he won and the second number is his career playoff field goal percentage. Field goal percentages tend to go down in the postseason because the competition is tougher but Malone’s drop is staggering. He shot .516 in the regular season. Pettit shot .436 in the regular season and .418 in the playoffs (shooting percentages were lower overall in those days). Duncan has shot .509 and .507, which is quite remarkable and goes a long way toward explaining why Duncan has won four titles and Malone did not win any.

Duncan’s contemporaries Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki also deserve to be mentioned among the great power forwards of all-time. Garnett has won an MVP and has captured four straight rebounding titles; statistically, his game is impeccable but unless he leads a team to a title his numbers will seem somewhat tainted--every other power forward in this group made at least one trip to the NBA Finals and most of those players were the dominant force on their teams. Garnett, despite all of his accomplishments, has not been able to use his individual skills to lift his team into contender status. Perhaps he is a victim of circumstance, but every other great power forward before him has a better track record in this regard so Garnett’s lack of postseason success cannot just be ignored. He is now paired with All-Stars Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in Boston, so Garnett will have an opportunity to complete the one blank space on his resume.

Nowitzki seems to be just moving into his prime. He led the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2005-06 and won his first MVP last season. Nowitzki is not quite the rebounder that his great predecessors were but he is a very unique offensive threat because of his ability to handle the ball and drain three point shots. Defense will never be his strong suit, but under Coach Avery Johnson’s tutelage Nowitzki has shown an increasing willingness to use his height and length at that end of the court; he is also a very good defensive rebounder.

Greatest Power Forwards of All-Time

Player.. Points.. PPG..Reb. .. RPG..Ast. .. APG.. FG%.. FT%.. NBA Titles.. MVPs
All-NBA 1st Team

Dolph Schayes* ..19247.. 18.2.. 11256 ..NA.. 3072 ..NA ..NA.. .843.. 1 ..0
Bob Pettit.. 20880.. 26.4.. 12851.. 16.2.. 2369..3.0.. .436.. .761.. 1..2
Jerry Lucas..14053..17.0..12942..15.6..2730..3.3.. .499.. .783.. 1..0
Dave DeBusschere..14053..16.1.. 9618.. 11.0.. 2497.. 2.9.. .432.. .699..2..0
Elvin Hayes..27313..21.0..16279..12.5..2398..1.8.. .452.. .670.. 1..0
Kevin McHale..17335..17.9..7122..7.3..1670..1.7.. .554.. .798..3..0
Charles Barkley..23757..22.1..12546..11.7..4215..3.9.. .541.. .735..0..1
Karl Malone..36928..25.0..14968..10.1..5248..3.6.. .516.. .742..0..2
Kevin Garnett..19041..20.5..10542..11.4..4146..4.5.. .491.. .780..0..1
Tim Duncan..16288..21.8..8865..11.9..2365..3.2.. .509.. .680..4..2
Dirk Nowitzki..15173..22.3..5842..8.6..1784..2.6.. .470.. .869..0..1

Players listed in chronological order

* Statistics for Schayes are incomplete because rebounds, assists
and field goals attempted were not tracked during every season
of his career

posted by David Friedman @ 7:16 PM


Defining the Value of a Superstar

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 4/7/07; it has been updated to include the final 2006-07 statistics

Dirk Nowitzki was not a very controversial choice as MVP--at least until his Dallas Mavericks flamed out in round one of the playoffs. Of course, that reversal of sentiment is not really fair or proper. We are talking about a regular season award and Nowitzki had an excellent regular season while leading his team to the best record in the league. Steve Nash, who won the previous two MVPs and posted career best numbers in several categories, finished second in the voting. Kobe Bryant, who won his second straight scoring title and who averaged more than 40 ppg in March to almost single-handedly carry the L.A. Lakers to a playoff berth, came in third, his candidacy hindered not so much by anything that he did wrong but rather by injuries to key players that precluded his Lakers from keeping up their early season winning percentage.

How exactly should a player’s value be defined? One way to answer this question is to look at the player’s impact on his own team. At 82Games.com, Roland Beech compiles several statistics that, taken together, give an indication of which players are most important to the performance of their teams. "On court" and "off court," as the names suggest, reflect a team’s net points per 100 possessions when a given player is on the court and off the court respectively. Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the on court/off court numbers is contained in the disclaimer that Beech wrote when he first started calculating these figures: "These ratings represent a player's value to a particular team and are not intended to be an accurate gauge of the ability and talent of the player away from the specific team." A player’s on court and off court numbers are of course affected by the performances of his teammates so it is difficult to project whether a player would do better or worse on a different team. A player whose numbers are boosted by being surrounded by talented players may not be able to be that productive on a weaker team; conversely, a superstar who is surrounded by a weak supporting cast may have his numbers dragged down by his teammates’ miscues.

"Net" is simply the "on court" rating minus the "off court" rating, while the "Roland rating" is a more sophisticated "net" rating that takes into account the player’s actual production as well as the production of the other nine players who were on the court at the same time he was. Only eight players posted Roland ratings of at least 10 during the 2006-07 season. Other than perhaps Manu Ginobili, those players are not strangers to the MVP discussion. Ginobili’s numbers probably got a boost from playing alongside alongside Tim Duncan but being Duncan’s teammate also may lead to him being somewhat underrated when it comes to MVP consideration because two-time MVP Duncan draws more attention. Interestingly, Nash fell just short of qualifying for this group, posting a Roland rating of 9.9. He finished 12th in the NBA's Efficiency Ratings, which were topped by Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming. Nash also finished 12th in John Hollinger's PER rankings, which were led by Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant.

Since Yao and Wade ranked in the top five in NBA EFF and Hollinger's PER, you may wonder why their names are not included in the chart listing players who had Roland ratings of at least 10. Yao only played 1624 minutes in 48 games, while Wade totaled 1931 minutes in 51 games; that is just not enough time on the court to merit mention as the MVP of the league, despite their splendid numbers (8.7 on court, 2.1 off court, 6.7 net and a 14.0 Roland rating for Yao; 2.3 on court, -3.9 off court, 6.2 net, 14.1 Roland rating for Wade).

It is not surprising that great players tend to have high on court ratings, because it is only natural for a team to perform well when its best player is in the game. In some ways, the off court ratings are even more indicative of a player’s value, at least within the context of his own team (which is not the same as saying that he would have the same value if he were on a different team). For instance, Kobe Bryant had a solid 1.6 on court rating--but he also had a -6.0 off court rating. In other words, when he was on the court the Lakers performed like a somewhat above average team but when he was off the court the Lakers played like a lottery team. The most eye-popping off court numbers belonged to Garnett. Minnesota finished well below .500, so it is not surprising that the Timberwolves were awful when Garnett was not in the game; they were not that good even when he played.

Only five NBA players had double digit on court ratings and it is not surprising that two of them came from the Spurs (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili), two of them came from the Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki, Devin Harris) and one came from the Suns (Steve Nash). Those three teams were the class of the league during the regular season. Harris is the one name that might raise some eyebrows here but he barely played half of his team's minutes and he shared a lot of court time with Nowitzki. Even without their best players, those teams were not terrible, as indicated by these players’ off court ratings. The Spurs outscored their opponents even with Ginobili on the bench, although they operated at a 2.0 deficit when Duncan was not in the game. The Mavericks had a 1.6 points per 100 possessions shortfall when Nowitzki was not in the game. The Suns outscored their opponents by 10.8 points per 100 possessions when Nash was on the court and had a deficit of .4 points per 100 possessions when Nash was off the court. What about Nash’s All-Star teammates Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion? Stoudemire’s numbers were 7.9 on court, 5.6 off court, 2.2 net and a 6.1 Roland rating, while Marion’s numbers were 9.5, 0.0, 9.5 and 7.3 respectively. This suggests that Nash had the most overall impact on the Suns’ success but does not prove (or disprove) how well any of these players would perform in a different context.

Two name players who have yet to be mentioned in this discussion are Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, who became teammates midway through the season. The pairing of these two All-Stars hardly brought instant success to Denver and their numbers reflect that: Iverson produced .9 on court, 2.5 off court, -1.6 net and a 4.1 Roland rating, while Anthony scored 1.7, 1.5, .2 and 5.1 respectively. The Nuggets actually did better when these players were not in the game than when they were on the court. It is possible that they will develop greater chemistry with each other and their teammates next season after they have the benefit of a full training camp together but, gaudy scoring statistics notwithstanding, neither player had an MVP level impact in 2006-07 within the context of his own team. Center Marcus Camby (2.3, .5, 1.8 and 4.5) had roughly as much impact on Denver’s success as his more heralded teammates did.

These statistics alone do not definitively answer the question of who was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2006-07 but they lend some context to the discussion. There is certainly a good statistical case for selecting Nowitzki. Fan favorite Nash is not among the top 10 players in the NBA in NBA EFF, Hollinger's PER or Roland rating. The heavy burden that Bryant carried is aptly reflected by his off court rating, as is also the case for Garnett; the difference between Bryant and Garnett is that Bryant kept the Lakers above .500 in the tough West, while Minnesota finished well below .500.

Impact Players

Player..Team..On Court..Off Court..Net..Roland Rating

Dirk Nowitzki..Dallas..10.8..-1.6..12.4..15.7
Dwyane Wade..Miami..2.8..-4.2..7.0..15.1
Tim Duncan..San Antonio..13.0..-2.0..15.0..14.9
Kevin Garnett..Minnesota.. .2..-14.8..15.0..13.4
Manu Ginobili..San Antonio..12.6..3.7..8.9..12.9
Kobe Bryant..L.A. Lakers..1.6..-6.0..7.6..12.4
LeBron James..Cleveland..5.6..-4.0..9.6..12.4
Tracy McGrady..Houston..7.6..-.2..7.8..11.7


Player must have participated in at least 50% of his team's
minutes to be eligible.

On Court= net points per 100 possessions when the player
is in the game.

Off Court= net points per 100 possessions when the player
is not in the game.

Net: On Court minus Off Court (numbers may not exactly
match due to rounding).

Roland Rating: An adjustment of the net rating to account
for the player's actual production and the production of
the other nine players on the court.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:30 AM


Despite the Disappointing Finish, Dallas' 2007 Season Still Ranks Among the Best of All-Time

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 3/31/07; it has been revised and updated

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks made an excellent run at becoming just the second NBA team to win 70 regular season games but ultimately fell a bit short, finishing with a 67-15 record. Dallas' exit from the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the 42-40 Golden State Warriors quickly put the kibosh on any talk of ranking the Mavericks among the greatest teams of all-time. However, the postseason disappointment should not be allowed to completely overshadow what Dallas accomplished during the grueling grind of a punishing 82 game season. Although winning a championship is certainly more significant than surpassing any regular season milestones, it could be argued that sustaining the level of play that is necessary to win more than 65 games is actually more difficult than winning the 16 playoff games it takes to capture the Larry O'Brien Trophy. In any case, even though Dallas' season ended in disappointment, it is still interesting to compare the Mavericks' regular season numbers to those posted by the handful of previous squads that made legitimate runs at posting 70 wins.

In 2006-07, the Mavericks did something that had not been previously achieved in the history of North American team sports: win 52 games in a 57 game span. Don’t forget that Dallas started out 0-4 before going on this incredible run. Their 52-9 record put the Mavericks on pace for 69.9 wins. Only five NBA teams have won 68 or more games and four of those squads went on to win the championship. The Mavericks just missed joining the elite 68 win group; the Mavericks' point differential would have ranked last among those teams (see chart at the end of this post) but their offensive and defensive field goal percentages are in line with the numbers posted by those teams. The first three teams to win 68 games had three All-Stars each. The 2007 Mavericks only had two All-Stars.

The first NBA team to win 68 games, the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers, was voted the greatest single season team of all-time when the NBA celebrated its 35th anniversary in 1981. The 76ers had three All-Stars (Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Chet Walker) and three of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players (Chamberlain, Greer, Billy Cunningham). Chamberlain won the MVP by ranking first in rebounding (1957, 24.2 rpg) and field goal percentage (.683), third in scoring (1956, 24.2 ppg) and third in assists (630, 7.8 apg). The 76ers breezed through the playoffs with an 11-4 record, including a 140-116 win in the deciding game five of the Eastern Division Finals versus the Boston Celtics, dethroning the team that had won a record eight consecutive championships. The Sixers defeated the San Francisco Warriors 4-2 in the Finals. The Warriors were led by Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond, who also were later selected to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list.

In 1971-72, another Wilt Chamberlain-led team set a new standard by going 69-13. The L.A. Lakers had two other All-Stars in guards Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, who each scored nearly 26 ppg while Chamberlain led the league in rebounding (19.2 rpg) and field goal percentage (.649). Chamberlain always maintained that top to bottom the Lakers were not as talented as the 1967 Sixers but the Lakers accomplished something that no other NBA team has come close to matching: a 33 game winning streak. The Lakers swept the Chicago Bulls in the first round but had a brief scare with a game one loss at home in the Western Conference Finals to the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, who were powered by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The Lakers rebounded to win four of the next five to advance to the Finals. The New York Knicks blew out the Lakers in game one in Los Angeles, 114-92, but the Lakers swept their way to the crown after that. Chamberlain won the Finals MVP despite being limited by a broken wrist.

The 1972-73 Boston Celtics are the least impressive team of this very august group. They are the only one that did not win the championship, the only one to not rank first in point differential (although their differential in an 82 game season was just two total points worse than that of top ranked Milwaukee) and the worst shooting team of the group both in actual field goal percentage (.448) and relative rank (14/17; the 1997 Bulls ranked 15/29). The main reason that Boston did not win the championship is the same thing that surely worries any coach who thinks his team has a bona fide chance to make a title run: an injury to a key player during a hotly contested series against a big rival. Hall of Famer John Havlicek injured his right (shooting) shoulder early in the Eastern Conference finals versus the New York Knicks. While he did not require a wheelchair a la Dwyane Wade, Havlicek essentially played one-armed the rest of the way. In game seven he produced just four points on 1-6 field goal shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. The Knicks won the game and went on to win the 1973 title, while the Celtics claimed two of the next three championships after Havlicek returned to health.

The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were on a mission from day one, fueled by Michael Jordan’s intense will and inspired by a six game loss to the Orlando Magic in the previous year’s playoffs. Jordan and Scottie Pippen formed an impressive All-Star duo that could dominate teams offensively and defensively. The one thing that the 1995 team was missing was a power forward. The Bulls acquired Dennis Rodman to fill that spot and rolled through the season in commanding fashion, setting the all-time record by going 72-10 and winning by an average of 12.2 ppg, just .1 ppg behind the record set by the 1972 Lakers. The Bulls were not the best shooting team in the league nor did they have the best defensive field goal percentage but they may have been the most relentless NBA team ever; even good NBA teams typically go through one bad stretch during a long season but the worst thing that happened to the Bulls was a modest two game losing streak after a 41-3 start to the season. They simply found a way to win every night and arguably only had one truly bad game all season, a 104-72 loss to the New York Knicks. Other than that blip there was one 10 point loss, a nine point loss, three six point losses, a five point loss and three one point losses. There were also winning streaks of 18 and 13 games. The Bulls did not let up on the gas pedal in the playoffs, either, sweeping the Detroit Pistons, beating the Knicks in five and getting revenge on the Magic with a 121-83 game one victory en route to a sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago took a 3-0 lead over Seattle in the Finals, lost two games in a row after Ron Harper got hurt, and then closed out the series in the sixth game. Seattle won 64 games during the regular season, making this the most high-powered Finals matchup--at least based on won/loss records--in NBA history.

The Bulls retained all of their key personnel and made another run at 70 wins in 1996-97, falling just short at 69-13. If Rodman and sixth man Toni Kukoc had not missed a ton of games the Bulls would almost certainly have broken the 70 barrier again. The Bulls did not meet too much playoff resistance before the Finals, going 11-2 in three Eastern Conference series before facing the Utah Jazz for the championship. Like the 1996 Seattle team, the Jazz won 64 games, which in most seasons would be good enough for the best record in the league. Chicago took a 2-0 lead but Utah bounced back with two home wins. The Bulls clinched the repeat with a two point road win in game five and a four point home win in game six.

Prior to the 2007 playoffs, it looked like Dallas would face its biggest challenge against either San Antonio or Phoenix. Of course, we never found out how Dallas would have fared in either of those matchups thanks to Don Nelson's scrappy Warriors. That stunning defeat will surely cause many people to discount Dallas this season but that would be very short-sighted. The Mavericks made it to the 2006 NBA Finals and have won 60 and 67 games during Avery Johnson's two full years as head coach, so the loss to Golden State is a serious aberration from the overall trend; that is not a knock on Golden State--saying that Dallas will likely make a strong title run in 2008 does not in any way diminish the possibility that the Warriors are "for real"; both things could very well be true. It is worth noting that each of the 68 win teams won at least 60 games the next season and three of them won that year's championship (Chamberlain's Sixers were beaten by the resurgent Celtics, who went on to take the 1968 title; Chamberlain's Lakers lost a Finals rematch with the Knicks). Also, there is a precedent for rebounding from stunning first round defeats and making it to the NBA Finals: Seattle lost in the first round of the playoffs in 1994 and 1995 despite posting 63 and 57 wins respectively in those seasons; in 1996, Seattle went 64-18 and lost to the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.

Dallas' 2007 Regular Season Compared to
the Five Best Regular Seasons of All-Time

Year..Team..PPG Diff..FG%..Def. FG%..W-L

1995-96..Chicago..12.2 (1).. .478 (15).. .448 (8)..72-10 (.878)
Jordan, Pippen

1971-72..LAL..12.3 (1).. .490 (2).. .432 (2)..69-13 (.841)
Chamberlain, Goodrich, West

1996-97..Chicago..10.8 (1).. .473 (3).. .436 (5)..69-13 (.841)
Jordan, Pippen

1966-67..Philadelphia..9.4 (1).. .483 (1)..NA..68-13 (.840)
Chamberlain, Greer, Walker

1972-73..Boston..8.2 (2).. .448 (14).. .434 (3)..68-14 (.829)
Cowens, Havlicek, White

2006-07..Dallas..7.2 (3).. .467 (5).. .447 (7)..67-15 (.817)
Howard, Nowitzki


Defensive field goal percentage was not tracked by the NBA until 1970-71

Numbers in parentheses indicate how that team ranked in a given
category in that season

posted by David Friedman @ 5:00 AM


Friday, September 28, 2007

Come One, Come All to the 50th NBA Carnival

Carnival of the NBA #50 is being hosted by Blog-a-Bull, where the Carnival of the NBA began in February 2005 (the site was known as Bulls Blog back then). My contribution this time around was a post about Bill Russell talking about his friendship with Red Auerbach. Matt from Blog-a-Bull mentions that he is not a big Celtics fan, which is certainly understandable coming from someone who runs a website devoted to the Chicago Bulls, but he helpfully advises his readers that 20 Second Timeout contains many articles about the history of the NBA. Regular readers of this site know that there is in fact a lot of Bulls related content here but for the benefit of visitors from Blog-a-Bull--and anyone else who is interested in Chicago Bulls history--this is a small sample:

Phil Jackson: Zen and the Art of Winning Championships looks back at how Jackson has been able to be so successful while coaching superstars, which is not nearly as easy as some people seem to think. Most of the post focuses on Jackson's early years in Chicago.

Pro Basketball's Greatest Ball Hawks includes references to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Ben Wallace (who has of course made the Rodman-like transformation from hated Piston to beloved Bull).

Chicago Bulls Retire Scottie Pippen's Jersey not only summarizes why Pippen is rightly listed among the NBA's 50 Greatest Players but includes an exclusive and previously unpublished interview that I did with him on March 22, 2004.

Scottie Pippen's Place in Basketball History refutes the idea that Pippen was merely along for the ride during the Bulls' six championship seasons.

The Ultimate "Five Tool" Players explains that during the 1994-95 season Scottie Pippen became one of only five NBA/ABA players to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots in the same season.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:43 AM


Thursday, September 27, 2007

From Rookie of the Year to the Hall of Fame

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 3/24/07; it has been updated to included the 2006-07 season

The NBA first began selecting a Rookie of the Year in 1953. Between that year and 1984, 33 players received that honor (there was a tie in 1971) and 17 of those players have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Just two of the 10 ABA Rookie of the Year winners (that league also had a tie for the award in 1971) have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, perhaps a reflection of the ABA’s lower profile—still, even including the ABA that means that 19 of the 43 Rookie of the Year winners over a three decade period are now Hall of Famers. That number may yet increase; Maurice Stokes, the 1956 Rookie of the Year, was not inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2004, so players who have been passed over for a much shorter period of time than he was may eventually make the grade in the eyes of the Hall’s voters.

Rookie of the Year voting is a somewhat subjective evaluation of one year of a player’s career and Hall of Fame voting is an equally subjective evaluation of a player’s entire body of work but it still seems that there is something to be said for getting off to a quick start in one’s career. Twelve of the NBA’s first 15 Rookies of the Year are Hall of Famers. The three early Rookies of the Year who are not Hall of Famers are somewhat unique cases. Don Meineke, the NBA’s first Rookie of the Year, played just five seasons. There were not any future Hall of Famers among the NBA’s 1953 rookies. Ray Felix, the 1954 Rookie of the Year, enjoyed a nine season NBA career but never played better than he did in his first year, when he earned his only All-Star selection. The only future Hall of Famer among that year’s rookies was Felix’ Baltimore Bullets teammate Bob Houbregs, who only played five years in the NBA and was inducted more for his college achievements. Woody Sauldsberry, the 1958 Rookie of the Year, was a very talented player but he peaked early in his career and then retired from the NBA at the age of 28. Sauldsberry later returned to the NBA for one season, winning a championship ring with the 1966 Boston Celtics.

The Rookies of the Year from 1955-71 are a very distinguished group, with 12 of them being listed among the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in addition to being Hall of Famers: Bob Pettit (1955), Elgin Baylor (1959), Wilt Chamberlain (1960), Oscar Robertson (1961), Jerry Lucas (1964), Willis Reed (1965), Rick Barry (1966), Dave Bing (1967), Earl Monroe (1968), Wes Unseld (1969), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970) and Dave Cowens (1971). Chamberlain and Unseld won the MVP during their rookie years, while Baylor finished third, Robertson ranked fifth and Abdul-Jabbar came in third.

The 1970s produced 19 Rookies of the Year between the NBA and the ABA. So far, only five of them--Abdul-Jabbar, Cowens, Dan Issel (1971, ABA), Bob McAdoo (1975, NBA) and David Thompson (1976, ABA)--have been inducted in the Hall of Fame. Artis Gilmore, the 1972 ABA Rookie of the Year (and MVP), may be the most worthy player in any professional sport who has not been inducted in his sport’s Hall of Fame; he ranks fourth in career NBA/ABA blocked shots (3189), fifth in career NBA/ABA rebounds (trailing only Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and 19th in career NBA/ABA points (24,941). Spencer Haywood, the 1970 ABA Rookie of the Year (and MVP), has more career NBA/ABA points (17,111) and rebounds (8675) than many Hall of Famers. Other than Gilmore and Haywood, though, Adrian Dantley (1977) is the only Rookie of the Year from that decade who has a decent chance of eventually being inducted. Dantley was a Hall of Fame finalist this year.

Moving into the 1980s, the only Rookie of the Year from that decade who has been inducted in the Hall of Fame is Larry Bird (1980). The next four Rookies of the Year--Darrell Griffith, Buck Williams, Terry Cummings and Ralph Sampson--have received little or no Hall of Fame consideration since their retirements. The period from 1984 to the present really has to be considered separately from earlier eras because most of the Rookie of the Year winners since 1984 are either still active or have not been retired long enough to be eligible for Hall of Fame induction. There have been 25 Rookie of the Year winners since 1984 (there were ties in 1995 and 2000). Seven of these players are Hall of Fame locks: Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan.

Strong Hall of Fame cases can be made for Mark Jackson, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Grant Hill and Vince Carter. Jackson ranks second all-time in career assists. Richmond scored 20,497 points and made the All-NBA team five times. Chris Webber and Grant Hill also each made the All-NBA team five times. Carter is an eight-time All-Star. Most eligible players who have made five All-NBA teams are in the Hall of Fame, as is every eligible eight-time All-Star except for Larry Foust. The only eligible 20,000 point scorers who are not in the Hall of Fame are Dantley, Gilmore and Tom Chambers.

On the other hand, Chuck Person, Derrick Coleman, Larry Johnson and Damon Stoudamire are not likely Hall of Fame candidates. It is too soon to tell regarding the post-1999 Rookies of the Year, although Steve Francis, Mike Miller, Pau Gasol and Emeka Okafor certainly do not seem to be on track for the Hall of Fame. Elton Brand would need to sustain his 2005-06 level of play for a few years to have a good chance. Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James and Chris Paul are three of the four most recent Rookies of the Year but they are already performing at a very high level and each seems to have the potential to be a Hall of Famer.

The odds against any player becoming a Hall of Famer are long. Talent, a strong work ethic and good health are just three of the requirements. While some recent stars--including Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki--blossomed gradually, as of this writing 19 Rookies of the Year have been able to parlay excellent first seasons into Hall of Fame careers. Michael Jordan and a slew of stars from the 1980s and 1990s are sure to join their ranks as soon as they are eligible for Hall of Fame induction.

From Rookie of the Year to the Hall of Fame?

Year...Rookie of the Year...Rookie..PPG/RPG/APG..Career Notes

2006-07.Brandon Roy..16.8/4.4/4.0..Led rookies in scoring, assists
2005-06.Chris Paul..16.1/5.1/7.8..Led NBA in total steals as a rookie
2004-05.Emeka Okafor..15.1/10.9/.9..4th in RPG, 2004-05
2003-04.LeBron James..20.9/5.5/5.9..3-time All-NBA, 3-time All-Star
2002-03.Amare Stoudemire..13.5/8.8/1.0..2-time All-NBA, 2-time All-Star
2001-02.Pau Gasol..17.6/8.9/2.7..1-time All-Star
2000-01.Mike Miller..11.9/4.0/1.7..2006 Sixth Man of the Year
^1999-00.Elton Brand..20.1/10.0/1.9..1-time All-NBA, 2-time All-Star
^1999-00.Steve Francis..18.0/5.3/6.6..3-time All-Star
1998-99.Vince Carter..18.3/5.7/3.0..2-time All-NBA, 8-time All-Star
1997-98.Tim Duncan..21.1/11.9/2.7..2-time MVP, 3-time Finals MVP
1996-97.Allen Iverson..23.5/4.1/7.5..1-time MVP, 7-time All-NBA
1995-96.Damon Stoudamire..19.0/4.0/9.3..Top ten in apg three times
*1994-95.Grant Hill..19.9/6.4/5.0..5-time All-NBA, 7-time All-Star
*1994-95.Jason Kidd..11.7/5.4/7.7..6-time All-NBA, 8-time All-Star
1993-94.Chris Webber..17.5/9.1/3.6..5-time All-NBA, 5-time All-Star
1992-93.Shaquille O'Neal..23.4/13.9/1.9..1-time MVP, 3-time Finals MVP
1991-92.Larry Johnson..19.2/11.6/3.6..1-time All-NBA, 2-time All-Star
1990-91.Derrick Coleman..18.4/10.3/2.2..2-time All-NBA, 1-time All-Star
1989-90.David Robinson..24.3/12.0/2.0..1-time MVP, 10-time All-NBA
1988-89.Mitch Richmond..22.0/5.9/4.2..5-time All-NBA, 6-time All-Star
1987-88.Mark Jackson..13.6/4.8/10.6..1-time All-Star, top ten in apg 12 times
1986-87.Chuck Person..18.8/8.3/3.6..13,858 career points (14.7 ppg)
1985-86.Patrick Ewing..20.0/9.0/2.0..7-time All-NBA, 11-time All-Star
1984-85.Michael Jordan..28.2/6.5/5.9..5-time MVP, 6-time Finals MVP

^ Brand and Francis shared the 2000 Rookie of the Year award
* Hill and Kidd shared the 1995 Rookie of the Year award

posted by David Friedman @ 7:29 AM


The Evolution of the Usage of the Three Point Shot

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 3/3/07; it has been updated to include the 2006-07 season

The ABA is thought of as a run and gun league that featured guards launching three pointers from all angles, but ABA teams actually did not shoot that many three pointers--at least compared to NBA teams since the 1988-89 season. In the ABA’s first season (1967-68), the Pittsburgh Pipers led the league with 243 three pointers made; in 2005-06, Ray Allen alone made 269 triples. In 1967-68, ABA teams averaged 111 three pointers made in 390 attempts. That amounts to five attempts per team per game. Also, check out that shooting percentage: .285. Does that mean that ABA players were poor shooters? No, it means that the three pointer was not a regular part of the offense for most teams; it was generally used only for desperate heaves when time was running out in a quarter or near the end of the game when a team was trailing big and needed to score points in a hurry. Desperation heaves from half court and highly contested shots when the other team knows that you need three points are not high percentage shots.

The Indiana Pacers and the Kentucky Colonels were the two ABA teams that generally used the three point shot most frequently but even in their most prolific seasons they connected on far fewer long range shots than the average NBA team did last season (498, 163 more than Kentucky’s ABA record 335 three pointers made in 1968-69). After the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77, the three point shot went into mothballs for several seasons, largely because many established NBA owners did not want to incorporate anything from the ABA into their league. Eventually, the NBA Board of Governors relented and the three point shot made its NBA debut in the 1979-80 season. Most of the league’s 22 teams regarded it as a novelty shot; only three teams made more than 100 three pointers, while six made less than 30. Again, those totals are for the entire season. Rookie Larry Bird shot 58-143 (.406) from three point range, making more treys than 11 teams did. The one NBA team that was bombing away--relative to the rest of the league, at least--was the San Diego Clippers, who attempted 543 three pointers, 121 more than Bird’s Boston Celtics. Clippers guard Brian Taylor, who led the ABA in three point field goal percentage in its final season, topped the NBA with 90 three pointers made, which stood as the league’s single season record until 1983-84. Taylor made more three pointers than every other NBA team except Boston and Houston.

The NBA did not warm up much to the three point shot the next year, either. In fact, three pointers made and attempted both plummeted dramatically from their already low levels. At that time a player had to make at least 25 three pointers to qualify for the three point shooting percentage title; only eight players reached that mark in 1980-81. Taylor dropped from first to fifth in three pointers made but he led the league with .383 long range accuracy. Bird shot just 20-74 (.270) and the Clippers were the only team to make at least 100 three pointers. It was basically the same story in 1982--no NBA team used the three pointer as a regular part of its offensive arsenal; even the Clippers dipped to just 99 three pointers made as a team, barely more than one per game. Bird, whose name is now basically synonymous with the three pointer, shot 11-52 (.212) for the season. The three point shot reached its nadir in 1982-83. Not one NBA team made at least 100 three pointers and only four players topped the minimum qualifying level of 25; Mike Dunleavy led the league by shooting a pedestrian .345 and his 67 three pointers made were by far the most by one player, 25 more than Houston’s Allen Leavell hit. Bird shot 22-77 (.286).

Darrell Griffith, who earned the nickname "Dr. Dunkenstein" for his high flying exploits at the University of Louisville, transformed himself into a long range bomber as a member of the Utah Jazz. In 1983-84 he attempted to single-handedly revive the art of three point shooting, leading the league in makes (91), attempts (252) and percentage (.361). Other teams and players did not have nearly as much enthusiasm for the shot, though, as only the Jazz made at least 100 three pointers. Laker Michael Cooper ranked second in three pointers made with just 38; Bird shot 18-73 (.247).

The three pointer slowly gained more acceptance in 1985 and 1986. In both of those seasons the NBA produced a full complement of 10 players on its three point field goal percentage leaderboard. This is when Bird really started to utilize the three pointer as a weapon, ranking fourth in makes (56) and second in percentage (.427) in 1985 and first in makes (82) and fourth in percentage (.423) in 1986. The tipping point came in 1987, when for the first time more than half of the NBA’s teams made at least 100 three pointers. Dallas and Boston became the first NBA teams to nail more than 200 three pointers. This was just a hint of the coming explosion, though.

Rick Pitino became the Knicks’ head coach in 1987-88, fresh off of taking Providence to the NCAA’s Final Four. Pitino was one of the first college coaches to take advantage of the three point shot and he brought that same philosophy to the NBA. His Knicks ranked fourth in three pointers made in 1988, a prelude to the 1989 season when they would shatter the 1969 Colonels’ ABA/NBA record by making 386 three pointers. The Knicks won 52 games for the first time since their 1973 championship season. Pitino then left to coach the University of Kentucky, but he had shown that the three point shot could be a major weapon for a successful NBA team. When Pitino returned to the NBA in the late 1990s to coach the Boston Celtics, his squad launched three pointers at an even faster clip, leading to a classic Antoine Walker quote. While being coached by Pitino--and then his disciple, Jim O’Brien--Walker led the league in three pointers attempted for three straight seasons, leading some observers to question why a power forward would shoot so many three pointers. "Because there aren’t any fours," Walker replied simply.

In 1994-95 the NBA made a rules change that resulted in a tremendous increase in three point shots: the three point arc had been 23 feet nine inches from most spots and 22 feet in the corners but the league shortened that distance to a uniform 22 feet. Now it seemed like virtually every NBA player thought that he was a three point shooter. The Houston Rockets made a record 646 three pointers--217 more than their record setting total from the previous season--and the average NBA team made 450 long range shots, a far cry from the numbers posted just a decade earlier. The shortened arc lasted for three seasons. By the time the NBA restored the three point arc to its original distance in 1997-98 the die had pretty much already been cast--the three point shot was an integral part of the offensive game plans of most teams and that would not change.

The Phoenix Suns have led the NBA in three pointers made the past three seasons, setting a record with 796 in 2005, breaking it in 2006 with 837 and making 785 in 2007. History suggests that teams that lead the league in three pointers made will not win the championship; in 37 years of ABA/NBA three point shooting, only the 1968 Pipers (ABA), 1972 Pacers (ABA), 1973 Pacers (ABA), 1994 Rockets and 1995 Rockets have won titles while making the most three pointers. The 2007 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs ranked sixth in the NBA with 595 three pointers made but that is obviously a significantly lower figure than Phoenix'; the other Western Conference Finalist, the Utah Jazz, made 354 three pointers. The Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers made 494 three pointers, while their opponents in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Detroit Pistons, made 449 three pointers.

Evolution of the Usage of the Three Point Shot

Most Three Pointers Made

Year/League...Team...3 FGM...Player (team)...3 FGM

1967-68/ABA..Pittsburgh..243..Les Selvage (Anaheim)..147
1968-69/ABA..Kentucky..335..Louie Dampier (Kentucky)..199
1969-70/ABA..Kentucky..330..Louie Dampier (Kentucky)..198
1970-71/ABA..Indiana..306..George Lehmann (Carolina)..154
1971-72/ABA..Indiana..220..Glen Combs (Utah)..103
1972-73/ABA..Indiana..172..Bill Keller (Indiana)..71
1973-74/ABA..San Diego..216..Bo Lamar (San Diego)..69
1974-75/ABA..Indiana..224..Bill Keller (Indiana)..80
1975-76/ABA..Indiana..250..Bill Keller (Indiana)..123

1979-80/NBA..San Diego..177..Brian Taylor (San Diego)..90
1980-81/NBA..San Diego..132..Mike Bratz (Cleveland)..57
1981-82/NBA..Indiana..103..Don Buse (Indiana)..73
1982-83/NBA..Spurs..94..Mike Dunleavy (Spurs)..67
1983-84/NBA..Utah..101..Darrell Griffith (Utah)..91
1984-85/NBA..Dallas..152..Darrell Griffith (Utah)..92
1985-86/NBA..Dallas..141..Larry Bird (Boston)..82
1986-87/NBA..Dallas..231..Larry Bird (Boston)..90
1987-88/NBA..Boston..271..Danny Ainge (Boston)..148
1988-89/NBA..New York..386..Michael Adams (Denver)..166
1989-90/NBA..Cleveland...346..Michael Adams (Denver)..158
1990-91/NBA..Portland..341..Vernon Maxwell (Houston)..172
1991-92/NBA..Milwaukee..371..Vernon Maxwell (Houston)..162
1992-93/NBA..Phx..398..Majerle (Phx)/Miller (Ind)..167
1993-94/NBA..Houston..429..Dan Majerle (Phx)..192
1994-95/NBA*..Houston..646..John Starks (New York)..217
1995-96/NBA*..Dallas..735..Dennis Scott (Orlando)..267
1996-97/NBA*..Miami..678..Reggie Miller (Indiana)..229
1997-98/NBA..Seattle..621..Wesley Person (Cleveland)..192
1998-99/NBA^..Houston..336..Dee Brown (Toronto)..135
1999-00/NBA..Indiana..583..Gary Payton (Seattle)..177
2000-01/NBA..Boston..592..Antoine Walker (Boston)..221
2001-02/NBA..Boston..699..Ray Allen (Milwaukee)..229
2002-03/NBA..Boston..719..Ray Allen (Mil-Sea)..201
2003-04/NBA..Seattle..723..Peja Stojakovic (Sac)..240
2004-05/NBA..Phx..796..Korver (Phi)/Richardson (Phx)..226
2005-06/NBA..Phx..837..Ray Allen (Seattle)..269
2006-07/NBA..Phx..785..Arenas (Was)/Bell (Phx)..205

* The NBA shortened the three point arc to a uniform 22 feet (prior to and subsequent to these three seasons the three point arc was 22 feet in the corners and 23 feet nine inches elsewhere).

^ Season shortened to 50 games by a lockout.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:43 AM


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Disgruntled Marion Seeks Trade

If you picked up a copy of Lindy's Pro Basketball, then Shawn Marion's trade request did not surprise you. In my Phoenix Suns preview, I wrote, "There is a tendency to overlook his all-around contributions--and Marion has a tendency to pout at least once a year about that." Later, I added, "One would think that anyone would want to play for Coach D'Antoni and with Nash but periodically, Stoudemire and Marion grumble about their roles and/or how much credit they receive (or don't receive) for the team's success."

However, you may be surprised to hear Marion's preferred destination: the L.A. Lakers. Marion told Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com that he and Kobe Bryant have talked about this possibility, adding, "I've been friends with Kobe for a while, so we talk here and there, anyway." Marion told Deveney that he is very enthusiastic about the opportunity to team up with Bryant: "Why wouldn't I be? You have a great organization, great ownership there with the Lakers. I don't see no problems with playing there." Marion disagrees with anyone who contends that he would not put up his usual numbers in Phil Jackson's triangle offense: "I think I would fit right in. People talk about the triangle offense all the time, like it is impossible. But it's an offense. Wherever you play, you have to learn the offense. It's not that complicated. You pass, you cut, you slash. Offense is offense. And I would love to play with Kobe."

That last statement--and the fact that Marion mentioned that he has been friends with Bryant for quite some time--flies in the face of the belief that many fans have that Bryant is disliked around the NBA; that is an image that many members in the media have tried to portray--going so far as to intimate that good players would not want to come to L.A. to play alongside Bryant--but it is not true. Bryant is widely respected around the league as the best player in the game. I don't know or care exactly how many friends that he has in the NBA or if he has more or less friends than a typical NBA player does, but portrayals of him as some kind of pariah are untrue; if that ever had any veracity, it was only in the immediate wake of his arrival in the NBA straight out of high school, when there was an obvious age gap between Bryant and the other players--but that was a decade ago and is hardly relevant now when Bryant has established himself as the league's best player and a three-time champion.

The Marion story flies in the face of two pieces of "conventional wisdom" that the mainstream media touts: 1) Everyone in the NBA would love to play with Steve Nash and would accept less money to do so; 2) Nobody in the NBA wants to play with Kobe Bryant. Therefore, rather than simply reporting the facts, it will not be too long before many media outlets spin this story to fit in with "conventional wisdom." It will be interesting to watch this unfold and see if the spin becomes an attack on Marion for being "selfish," an attack on Marion for not being that valuable of a player or if somehow someone figures out a way to blame this all on Bryant. Rest assured that the face value facts--Marion wants to be traded from Phoenix to the Lakers--will not be simply reported as such for very long.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:04 PM


Pro Basketball's Most Decorated Players

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 2/25/07; it has been updated to include the 2006-07 season

It is difficult enough to compare the statistics of two players from the same era and the task becomes that much more challenging when it involves players whose careers are separated by decades. Sure, it is possible to parse the raw numbers into per minute calculations and attempt to factor in variables such as pace, but how realistic is it to compare shooting percentages or rebounding averages when the rules, arena conditions and size/speed of the players have all changed so dramatically?

One interesting thing to consider is how a player was viewed during his own era. If someone is a dominant figure for an extended period of time then this largely validates his claim to greatness. It is possible to roughly ascertain how dominant a player was (or at least was perceived to be) by looking at how many MVPs he won and how many times he made the All-League Team. Why "All-League" as opposed to "All-NBA"? Simple--I am including both All-NBA and All-ABA selections, just like pro football historians consider NFL and AFL accomplishments in the same breath (the AFL’s Joe Namath is recognized as the first player to pass for more than 4000 yards in a season). If you think that the ABA was just some sideshow league then you are sorely mistaken. Check out the All-NBA first and second teams in 1976-77, the first post-merger season: four of the ten players first starred in the ABA, a very disproportionate representation by the upstart league considering the small number of teams that it possessed.

Recognition for a solid decade as being the best at your position is a strong indication that a player stands out above his contemporaries. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar achieved that and then some. He is probably better known to the younger generation as a mentor to the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum but Abdul-Jabbar’s name should always be on the short list of players who can legitimately stake a claim to being the greatest of all-time. He won a record six MVP awards, made the All-NBA team a record 15 times in 20 seasons and made the All-NBA first team 10 times, just one shy of Karl Malone’s standard in that category. Abdul-Jabbar finished third in MVP balloting in his rookie season, won the honor after his second and third campaigns, and did not finish lower than fifth in the balloting until his 13th season. In other words, from the moment he entered the league until the time that he was a 35 year old veteran he was considered to rank among the best of the best. No other player has been that highly regarded for that many consecutive seasons.

Karl Malone holds the record for most All-NBA first team selections with 11; he and Abdul-Jabbar are two of the seven players who earned at least 10 All-League first team selections. Malone won a pair of MVPs and is one of just 13 pro basketball players who have won multiple MVPs.

Bill Russell, the greatest winner in North American team sports history (11 NBA titles in 13 seasons after winning two NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal) won five MVPs but made the All-NBA first team just three times. Playing at the same time as Wilt Chamberlain can do that to you (for what it’s worth, the players voted for MVP at that time and the media voted for the All-NBA teams). Russell received eight nods for the second team, while Chamberlain nearly reversed Russell’s numbers with seven selections to the first team and three to the second team.

Russell deservedly gets a lot of credit for the Celtics’ nearly annual championship runs in the 1950s and 1960s, but Bob Cousy--the point guard on several of those teams--made the All-NBA team 12 times, including 10 first team selections. At 6-1 he is the shortest player to reach those milestones. Cousy won the MVP award in 1957, Russell’s rookie year and the first season that Boston won an NBA title.

Michael Jordan is the only other five-time MVP winner. He could have added to his 10 All-NBA first team selections by not retiring in 1993 and again in 1999. Jordan made the second team as a rookie and then became a decade-long fixture on the first team, missing the cut only when he broke his foot in 1986 and when he took a sabbatical from 1993-95 to play baseball. Jordan’s six Finals MVPs are unprecedented and that record will be even tougher to break than Abdul-Jabbar’s regular season tally.

Julius Erving is well regarded for his mid-air theatrics but many people do not realize how great his all-around game was. This is largely because he spent his prime physical years (ages 21-26) in the ABA, which did not have a big time national television contract. His statistics from those seasons literally don’t exist in some record books because the NBA does not consider ABA numbers to be "official." If Larry Bird’s career were treated similarly he would have one fewer MVP and five fewer All-NBA first team selections. Erving earned selection to an All-ABA or All-NBA team 12 times in 16 seasons, including nine times as a first teamer. He won four MVPs, the same as Chamberlain and trailing only Abdul-Jabbar, Russell and Michael Jordan.

Only three active players appear on the lists of most MVPs won or most All-League selections: Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash. O’Neal has been an Abdul-Jabbar-like fixture on the All-NBA teams, making the cut in 13 of his 15 seasons--every time but his rookie season and the 2006-07 season. He has been helped a bit in this regard by the addition of a third All-NBA team in 1989 (three of his selections were third team nods). Despite his well chronicled dominance and the vital role that he has played on four championship teams, O’Neal has only won a single MVP award. It used to be suggested that the voters tired of giving Jordan the award every year even though he was the best player; O’Neal’s lack of multiple MVP trophies can be explained by a couple factors: voters looking for an excuse to vote for an underdog candidate and O’Neal’s tendency to get injuries that limit his conditioning and number of games played during the regular season. It should also be noted that O’Neal has won three Finals MVP awards.

Duncan has won two MVPs and three Finals MVPs. He has already earned nine All-NBA first team selections and one second team honor. Duncan will turn 32 during the 2007-08 season and if he can stay healthy for a few more years he could make a run at the marks set by Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone for total All-League selections and most first team selections.

Nash is a relative newcomer to elite status, winning his two MVPs in 2005 and 2006. He has made the All-NBA team five times--three as a member of the first team--and has too much ground to make up to earn a spot on the list of players who have earned the most All-League selections. However, if he wins his third MVP this season Nash will join a very elite group whose members differ from him in two ways: they all stand at least 6-6 (Nash is listed at 6-3); they all (with the possible exception of Moses Malone) have been mentioned in national publications at one time or another as a contender for the title of greatest player of all-time.

Kobe Bryant has earned nine All-NBA selections--including five to the first team--meaning that he has a good chance to rack up a total of 12 or more before he retires. It is possible, albeit less likely, that he will match his idol Magic Johnson with nine first team selections. Kevin Garnett has made the All-NBA team eight times, Allen Iverson has earned seven All-NBA selections and Jason Kidd has done it six times but is tied with Bryant and trails only O’Neal and Duncan among active players with five first team selections. Gary Payton does not figure to add to his career total of nine All-NBA selections, seven of which were to the second or third teams.

Pro Basketball's Honor Roll

Most Regular Season MVPs


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...6
Bill Russell...5
Michael Jordan...5
Wilt Chamberlain...4
Julius Erving...4*
Moses Malone...3
Larry Bird...3
Magic Johnson...3
Bob Pettit...2
Mel Daniels...2^
Karl Malone...2
Tim Duncan...2
Steve Nash...2

* 1 NBA, 3 ABA
^ 2 ABA

Most All-League 1st Team Selections

Player...1st Team

Karl Malone...11
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...10
Elgin Baylor...10
Bob Cousy...10
Michael Jordan...10
Bob Pettit...10
Jerry West...10
Rick Barry...9^^
Larry Bird...9
Tim Duncan...9
Julius Erving...9**
Magic Johnson...9
Oscar Robertson...9

^^ 5 NBA, 4 ABA
** 5 NBA, 4 ABA

Most All-League Selections

Player...Total...1st Team...2nd Team...3rd Team

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...15...10...5...0
Karl Malone...14...11...2...1
Shaquille O'Neal...13...8...2...3
Bob Cousy...12...10...2...0
Julius Erving...12...9**...3***...0
Hakeem Olajuwon...12...6...3...3
Dolph Schayes...12...6...6...0
Jerry West...12...10...2...0

** 5 NBA, 4 ABA
*** 2 NBA, 1 ABA

Notes: NBA MVP first awarded after 1955-56
season; All-NBA Third Team first selected
after 1988-89 season.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:59 AM


NBA Allows Their Stars to Shine

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 2/14/07; it has been updated to include statistics from the 2007 All-Star Game

The NBA All-Star Game showcases the most supremely talented players in the sport in a format that more closely resembles a "real" game than the All-Star Games in other sports do. The NFL Pro Bowl has a laundry list of alternate rules pertaining to permissible formations, in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game you may only get to see some players take one swing of the bat (if they pop up or ground out) and in the NHL’s All-Star Game--well, viewers are still trying to find that one. The NBA All-Star Game is not played with the same ferocity as a playoff game--no All-Star Game is--but in recent years we have seen big comebacks and some strong defensive plays, which would not be the case if the players were just content to run up and down the court.

All-Star statistics do not have the same cachet as regular season and playoff numbers but it is interesting to look at which players have excelled in the midseason classic. Each era of NBA history has a few players who have performed particularly well in All-Star competition. The first NBA All-Star Game was held in 1951. George Mikan, the NBA’s first dominant player, had already been in the league for several seasons by then but he participated in the first four All-Star Games before he retired. He was the game’s top scorer and top rebounder in two of the first three contests, winning the MVP in 1953.

Bob Pettit dominated All-Star competition in the late 1950s and early 1960s and it would not be a stretch to call him the greatest performer in NBA All-Star Game history. He won a record four All-Star MVPs while being the leading scorer six times, the top rebounder on four occasions and even twice having the highest assists total. He is one of only four players who have led an All-Star Game in scoring, rebounding and assists at least once each and the 12 times that he was a category leader is the best such total in NBA history; Pettit is the only player who led in all three categories in the same game (25 points, 16 rebounds, five assists in 1959). He ranks second in career All-Star Game scoring average (20.4 ppg) and fourth in career All-Star Game points (224).

Bob Cousy was also a strong All-Star performer during that era, leading in assists four times and scoring once while winning two All-Star MVPs. He set a single-game record of 13 assists in 1951 that was only bettered twice in the next 32 years and he still ranks third in career All-Star assists.

Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson took the torch from Pettit and Cousy in the 1960s. Robertson led in scoring three times and in assists five times, a record that stood for two decades until Magic Johnson broke it. Robertson won three All-Star MVPs and his single-game record of 14 assists lasted from 1961 until Magic had 16 in 1983. He is the career scoring average leader (20.5 ppg) and for many years held the career points record with 246 (he now ranks third). Chamberlain dominated the boards in All-Star competition, setting the career rebounding record with 197 and leading in that category five times. He still holds many regular season scoring records--including his famous 100 point game and 50.4 ppg average in 1961-62—but surprisingly only led the All-Star Game in scoring one time. Chamberlain made the most of that performance, though, scoring an All-Star Game record 42 points on 17-23 field goal shooting in the 1962 contest. Chamberlain’s East team lost 150-130, so the West’s Pettit (25 points, 27 rebounds) won the All-Star MVP that year. Chamberlain won his only All-Star MVP as a rookie in 1960.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens and Elvin Hayes dominated the glass in All-Star competition between 1970 and 1980, combining to lead the game in rebounding in 10 of those 11 seasons. Abdul-Jabbar played in a record 19 All-Star Games (and was selected to an additional one) and understandably ranks at or near the top in most career categories. Oddly, he never won an All-Star MVP despite ranking second all-time with 251 career NBA All-Star Game points.

Julius Erving joined Abdul-Jabbar, Hayes and Pettit on the exclusive list of players who led an All-Star Game in scoring, rebounding and assists at least one time each. Erving won two NBA All-Star MVPs, including one in his first appearance in 1977 when he was honored for his game-high totals of 30 points and 12 rebounds despite playing on an East squad that lost 125-124. Only two other players have won an All-Star MVP despite playing on the losing team (Bob Pettit in 1958 and Magic Johnson in 1990). Erving ranks fifth in career NBA All-Star Game points (221) and fourth in career NBA All-Star Game scoring average (20.1 ppg). He also scored 100 points in five ABA All-Star Games and his combined total of 321 All-Star points ranks first all-time.

Magic Johnson is the NBA All-Star Game’s king of assists, ranking first in total assists (127; Isiah Thomas is second with 97) and single-game assists (22) while leading in assists a record seven times. In his two All-Star MVP performances (1990 and his swan song in 1992), Johnson led in both scoring and assists and he trails only Bob Pettit with his nine times as a leader in the three main categories (scoring, rebounding and assists).

Michael Jordan won three All-Star MVPs. He posted the only triple double in NBA All-Star Game history (14 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists in 1997) and ranks first in NBA All-Star history with 262 career points and 37 career steals. Jordan led in scoring five times, including a 40 point outburst in 1988 that trails only Chamberlain’s 1962 output.

The player who has most dominated a single All-Star Game category in recent seasons is Tim Duncan, who has led in rebounding six times, breaking Chamberlain’s career record of five. Duncan won his only All-Star Game MVP in 2000 when he had 24 points and a game-high 14 rebounds in a 137-126 West victory. No one has led the All-Star Game in scoring in consecutive seasons since Allen Iverson did it in 2000 and 2001. Iverson is also the last player to lead in assists for two years in a row (2004-2005) since John Stockton did it in 1993-94.

Jason Kidd has led in assists three times, Allen Iverson has done so twice and Steve Nash did so in 2002. Sadly, none of those players appeared in the 2007 All-Star Game due to injury. The only recent assists leader who played in Las Vegas is none other than Kobe Bryant, who had the most assists in 2001 and 2006. Bryant won his first All-Star MVP in 2002 by producing 31 points, five rebounds and five assists in a 135-120 West win--and he came up with a virtually identical stat line in Las Vegas (31 points, five rebounds, six assists) to claim the All-Star MVP in a 153-132 West rout.

NBA All-Star Game Single Game Leaders

"Three Tool" Players
Bob Pettit...6...4...2
Kareem Abdul Jabbar...1...3...2
Julius Erving...4...1...1
Elvin Hayes...1...3...1

Note: List includes all players who led or tied for the lead
at least once in all three categories.

Overall Category Leaders
Bob Pettit...6...4...2...12
Magic Johnson...2...0...7...9
Oscar Robertson...3...0...5...8
Wilt Chamberlain...1...5...0...6
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...1...3...2...6
Julius Erving...4...1...1...6
Michael Jordan...5...0...1...6
Tim Duncan...0...6...0...6

Note: List includes all players who led or tied for the lead at least
six times in any combination of categories.

Category Leaders
Bob Pettit...6
Michael Jordan...5
Julius Erving...4
Oscar Robertson...3

Tim Duncan...6
Wilt Chamberlain...5
Bob Pettit...4
Dave Cowens...4
Elvin Hayes...3
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...3
Moses Malone...3

Magic Johnson...7
Oscar Robertson...5
Bob Cousy...4
Dick McGuire...3
Nate Archibald...3
John Stockton...3
Jason Kidd...3

Note: List includes all players who led or tied
for the lead at least three times in each
respective category

posted by David Friedman @ 4:59 AM


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Article about Chess and Basketball Reprinted at Legends of Basketball

Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, has reprinted my article about Indiana Coach Jim O'Brien's interest in chess:

Chess and Basketball

posted by David Friedman @ 11:36 PM


Is It Possible to Steal a Championship?

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 2/7/07; the text has been slightly modified and updated to include statistics from the 2006-07 season

A team that escapes with a victory on a fluke play is said to have "stolen" a win. Is it possible to literally steal wins--or even steal a championship? Specifically, how directly do steals correlate with winning? On the surface, a steal is the best way for a team’s defense to end an offensive possession--not only does the offense fail to score, but the defense has gained control of the ball immediately, without having to chase down a rebound, and the defensive team may even be in position to quickly convert the steal into fast break points. A blocked shot is good, but the ball could end up going out of bounds or into the waiting hands of the team that just shot it. The drawback regarding steals (and blocked shots) is that if a defender lunges for the ball and misses then he may be giving up an easier shot attempt than he would have by simply staying in front of his man and putting a hand in his face.

In "Recent NBA Champions by the Numbers," we saw that championship teams usually rank among the league leaders in both point differential and defensive field goal percentage. Such a correlation with the highest level of success does not exist with steals. The 1974-75 Golden State Warriors are the only NBA championship team that led the league in steals; that Warriors team had the individual leader as well, Rick Barry (2.85 spg). In the past 18 years, only six championship teams have ranked in the top ten in steals. During that period, championship teams have tended to rank around the middle of the pack or worse in steals. The Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen Chicago Bulls teams that won six championships in an eight year span ranked higher in steals than most champions of recent vintage--largely because Jordan and Pippen are two of the greatest individual defenders of all-time. Those Bulls’ teams account for five of the six champions that ranked in the top ten in steals since 1990; no champion has ranked higher than 13th in steals since the Bulls won their last title in 1998.

This pattern also holds true regarding teams that make it to the Conference Finals level. Last year, Cleveland ranked eighth in the NBA in steals but the other three Conference Finalists ranked 15th or worse in that category. None of 2006's final four teams ranked higher than 13th in steals. In 2005, each of the final four teams ranked 17th or lower. Since 1999, just eight of the 36 teams that made it to the Conference Finals ranked in the top ten in steals. The point differential and defensive field goal percentage numbers show that championship teams limit their opponents’ scoring by forcing them to shoot a low percentage from the field, so the fact that most of these teams are average at best in getting steals strongly suggests that they place a greater emphasis on contesting shots than roaming the passing lanes. For instance, the "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons championship teams in 1989 and 1990 are renowned for their defensive prowess but they ranked 25th (last) and 27th (last) respectively in steals.

That does not mean that teams that focus on forcing turnovers cannot enjoy at least a certain amount of success. George Karl’s Seattle SuperSonics led the league in steals for five straight years in the 1990s, winning at least 55 games in each of those seasons. Their defensive attack was spearheaded by ball hawking guards Gary Payton and Nate McMillan. Seattle made it to the 1996 NBA Finals but also lost twice in the first round of the playoffs. Karl moved on to coach the Milwaukee Bucks before landing with his current employer, the Denver Nuggets. Karl’s Bucks ranked in the top ten in steals three times in five seasons, but never advanced farther than the Conference Finals. His Nuggets ranked second in the league in steals in both 2005-06 and 2006-07. Defensive pressure and an uptempo pace are integral elements of his coaching style. Karl has won a lot of regular season games but his teams have tended to underperform in the postseason.

Three other teams have led the NBA in steals at least three times since 1990. Del Harris’ Milwaukee Bucks led the NBA in steals three straight years in the early 90s, largely on the strength of their quick backcourt duo of Alvin Robertson and Jay Humphries. Those Bucks lost in the first round of the playoffs two seasons in a row and missed the postseason altogether in the third year, during which Harris was replaced by Frank Hamblen. When Rick Pitino came to Boston in 1997-98, he instituted a style of play involving pressure defense and a large number of three point field goal attempts. His Celtics twice led the NBA in steals (and did so a third time under his protégé, Jim O’Brien) but "Larry Bird did not walk through that door" and he never led Boston to the playoffs. Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers led the NBA in steals twice under Larry Brown and once under Jim O’Brien but none of those squads made it past the second round of the playoffs.

None of the three teams that were generally considered to be last year’s leading title contenders coming into the season--Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio--ranked in the top ten in steals. Over in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers ranked in the top ten in the NBA in steals but both Detroit and Miami ranked in the bottom half of the league. Shaquille O’Neal's teams have tended to not excel in this category and his four championship teams each ranked 18th or worse in steals.

Forcing turnovers can be a part of the defensive repertoire of good teams but some bad teams also accumulate a lot of steals. A great example of this can be found in the 1995-96 season. That year, the Bulls posted the best regular season record in NBA history, 72-10. They tied for third in the NBA in steals with none other than the expansion Toronto Raptors, who finished 21-61. A big difference between those teams is that Bulls’ opponents shot just .448 from the field, while Raptors’ foes shot .475. Clearly, forcing turnovers alone does not make a squad good defensively or directly lead to championship level success. Only when steals come in the context of a sound defensive system that holds opponents to a low shooting percentage do wins and titles ensue. One example of such a team is the Philadelphia 76ers of the early 1980s; those squads made it to three NBA Finals in four years and won the 1983 title. Ball hawking forwards Julius Erving and Bobby Jones and quick point guard Maurice Cheeks helped Philadelphia to annually rank near the top of the NBA in steals but, as Jones and Billy Cunningham (Philadelphia's coach during that era) both told me, they were not recklessly gambling but their traps and steal attempts were part and parcel of the team's overall defensive plan.

Is It Possible to Steal A Championship?

Year...Champion/W-L...SPG...Rank...Steals Leader/W-L...SPG

1999...San Antonio/37-13...8.42...15/29...Phil./28-22...10.84
2003...San Antonio/60-22...7.67...17/29...Phil./48-34...10.29
2005...San Antonio/59-23...7.48...17/30...Phil./43-39...9.22
2007...San Antonio/58/24...7.16...15/30...GSW/42-40...9.15

Average 59.8-22.2...8.06...14.7...47.2-34.8...10.51

(1999 W-L of San Antonio and Philadelphia projected to 61-21 and 46-36 respectively)

posted by David Friedman @ 7:27 AM


The Ultimate "Five Tool" Players

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 1/31/07

Versatility is a prized trait in all sports. Baseball scouts have a name for it: a "five-tool" player is someone who hits for average, hits for power, runs well, has a strong throwing arm and fields his position well. The basketball version of this is a player who scores, rebounds, assists, steals the ball and blocks shots. Only five players in NBA/ABA history have led their teams in each of those categories in the same season: Julius Erving, Dave Cowens, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady.

The ABA began officially recording steals and blocked shots in 1972-73 and the NBA followed suit a year later--so it is possible that there were some five-tool players in previous years; six players had a total of 10 seasons in which they led their teams in scoring, rebounding and assists. Wilt Chamberlain accounted for three of those seasons. He certainly led his team in blocked shots during those years but it is almost just as certain that he did not lead his team in steals. Maurice Stokes and Dolph Schayes probably did not lead their teams in steals, either. Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek each are about 6-5 and probably did not lead their teams in blocked shots, although the young, pre-knee injury Baylor was an exceptional leaper. Connie Hawkins, a 6-8 forward/center who won the regular season and playoff MVPs in the ABA’s first season, may very well have led the 1967-68 Pittsburgh Pipers in steals and blocked shots; the knee injury that slowed him down a bit did not happen until the next season.

What about Oscar Robertson, who was putting up triple doubles before the term was even invented? He led the Cincinnati Royals in scoring and assists during his prime, but Wayne Embry or Jerry Lucas led the team in rebounding during those years.

Julius Erving put up the first--and most impressive--five-tool season. In 1975-76, he led the ABA in scoring (29.3 ppg) and ranked in the top seven or better in the league in each of the other four categories. He also placed eighth in two point field goal percentage and seventh in three point field goal percentage. Erving actually came very close to being a five-tool player in each of the three previous seasons, missing by just .6 apg and .2 spg in 1972-73, .8 rpg in 1973-74 and .6 spg in 1974-75. All of that was just a warm-up for Dr. J’s final dramatic operation in the ABA, when he led the New York Nets to the 1976 championship over the Denver Nuggets, topping both teams in all five statistical categories during that series: 37.7 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 spg and 2.2 bpg. Performances like that inspired the two quotes that best summarize Erving’s impact on the game: ABA Commissioner Dave DeBusschere once said, "Plenty of guys have been ‘The Franchise.’ For us, Dr. J is ‘The League’"; Pat Williams, the 76ers General Manager who acquired Erving shortly after the 1976 ABA Finals, later said of Erving, "There’s never been anyone like him, including Michael. If Julius was in his prime now, in this era of intense electronic media, he would be beyond comprehension. He would blow everybody away."

Erving is the only five-tool player to win an MVP or lead his team to a championship during that season. This makes sense, because if one player is leading his team in every category that means that he is not only exceptionally talented but that his supporting cast is probably not doing enough. Dave Cowens’ five-tool effort is an example of the latter. He ranked third in the NBA in rebounding for the 1977-78 Boston Celtics, but had less than overwhelming numbers in the other categories. The Celtics went just 32-50 that year and did not qualify for the playoffs.

Scottie Pippen’s five-tool season happened in 1994-95, year two of Michael Jordan’s first retirement. Pippen actually had slightly better numbers in 1993-94 but Horace Grant led the team in rebounding and blocked shots that year. Grant signed with the Orlando Magic prior to the 1994-95 season and his departure left a serious void in the paint, but Pippen’s all-around greatness helped to keep the Bulls afloat. They were 34-31 and had won eight of their previous 10 games before Jordan returned to the team. Jordan’s comeback with 17 games left--and the 1995 acquisition of rebounding specialist Dennis Rodman--ensured that Pippen would not have another five-tool season and signified the beginning of another three-peat.

While the Bulls were winning titles, the next two five-tool players were adjusting to jumping to the NBA straight from high school. Kevin Garnett soon showed the ability to excel in all categories but he was usually paired with a playmaking guard who led the Timberwolves in assists (Stephon Marbury, Terrell Brandon, Chauncey Billups). In 2002-03, Troy Hudson was the team’s starting point guard and Garnett led Minnesota in assists for the first time, enabling him to have a five-tool season; he was already well established as the team’s best scorer and rebounder, ranking ninth in the league in scoring and second in rebounding that year. Minnesota won 51 games but lost to a 50 win L.A. Lakers team in the first round of the playoffs. The next year, Sam Cassell led the team in assists and in 2004-05 and 2005-06 Eddie Griffin led Minnesota in blocked shots, while Garnett took the top spot in the other categories. Another indication of Garnett’s versatility is that he has averaged at least 20 ppg/10 rpg/5 apg in six seasons, breaking Larry Bird’s record of five.

Tracy McGrady became a five-tool player in 2002-03 by the narrowest of margins, averaging 1.653 spg (124 steals in 75 games), just eclipsing Darrell Armstrong’s 1.646 spg (135 steals in 82 games). McGrady, then playing for the Orlando Magic, led the NBA in scoring (32.1 ppg) and posted a healthy apg average (5.5). His team leadership in rebounding (6.5 rpg) and blocked shots (.79) reflected the Magic’s weakness in the paint more than anything else, although his numbers were quite good for a guard, particularly one who carried such a heavy scoring load. Orlando went 42-40 but jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs versus the 50-32 Detroit Pistons. McGrady made a now infamous comment about finally making it to the second round of the playoffs but Detroit won the next three games to close out the series. Although his words turned out to be premature, McGrady certainly did his best to help his team advance, leading the Magic in scoring, assists and steals versus Detroit, tying for the team lead in blocked shots and ranking second in rebounding. Detroit acquired Rasheed Wallace in 2003-04 and won that year’s championship, so for McGrady’s barely .500 Magic to have a 3-1 lead in the first place is more remarkable than the fact that the better team eventually won the series.

Playing alongside Yao Ming in Houston, McGrady is unlikely to have another five-tool season. Few current players have the skills to even think of accomplishing this and those who do play alongside a teammate who specializes in one or two of the five categories; for instance, LeBron James will not lead Cleveland in rebounding or blocked shots as long as Zydrunas Ilgauskas is on the team. Garnett is the only player who has a realistic shot at being a five-tool player in 2006-07. He is Minnesota’s best scorer, rebounder and shot blocker by a wide margin and also leads the team in steals. He, Ricky Davis and Mike James are in a dead heat in assists. Garnett may very well become the first player to have two five-tool seasons but it is extremely unlikely that he--or anyone else--will equal what Erving accomplished in 1975-76 (9/25/07 note: Garnett led Minnesota in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocked shots in 2006-07 but finished second to Ricky Davis in assists; Garnett now of course plays for Boston and considering the current makeup of the team he has a shot at producing a five-tool season in 2007-08).

"Five Tool" Players


Julius Erving*..1975-76..Nets..29.3(1)..11.0(5)..5.0(7)..2.46(3)..1.90(7)
Dave Cowens..1977-78..Celtics..18.6..14.0(3)..4.6..1.32.. .87
Scottie Pippen..1994-95..Bulls..21.4..8.1..5.2..2.94.(1)..1.13
Kevin Garnett..2002-03..T-Wolves..23.0(9)..13.4(2)..6.0..1.38..1.57
Tracy McGrady..2002-03..Magic..32.1(1)..6.5..5.5..1.65.. .79

"Multiple-Tool" Players


Maurice Stokes..1955-56..Royals..16.8..16.3(2)..4.9(9)
Dolph Schayes..1956-57..Nats..22.5(3)..14.0(3)..3.2(10)
Elgin Baylor..1958-59..Lakers..24.9(4)..15.0(3)..4.1(8)
Elgin Baylor..1960-61..Lakers..34.8(2)..19.8.(4)..5.1(9)
Wilt Chamberlain..1965-66..76ers..33.5(1)..24.6(1)..5.2(7)
Wilt Chamberlain..1966-67..76ers..24.1(3)..24.2(1)..7.8(3)
Wilt Chamberlain..1967-68..76ers..24.3(3)..23.8(1)..8.6(1)
Elgin Baylor..1967-68..Lakers..26.0(2)..12.2..4.6
Connie Hawkins*..1967-68..Pipers..26.8(1)..13.5(2)..4.6(4)
John Havlicek..1969-70..Celtics..24.2(8)..7.8..6.8(7)



"Five-Tool" Players led their teams in PPG, RPG, APG, SPG and BPG in the same season.

"Multiple-Tool" Players led their teams in PPG, RPG and APG before the NBA and ABA officially began recording steals and blocked shots (1972-73 for the ABA; 1973-74 for the NBA).

Numbers in parentheses indicate league ranking if the player finished in the top ten; prior to 1969-70 NBA statistical leaders were ranked by totals instead of averages.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:27 AM


Monday, September 24, 2007

5-9 and Under

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 1/24/07; it has been updated to include statistics from the 2006-07 season

Randy Newman once sang, “Short people got no reason to live.” That was a tongue in cheek line but short people are certainly few and far between on NBA rosters. Of course, “short” is a relative term regarding NBA players, whose average height is 6-7; the average American male is approximately 5-9, which is a veritable midget in terms of pro basketball. Only five players 5-9 or shorter have played in at least eight NBA seasons.

Calvin Murphy is without question the headliner of that quintet. He averaged 17.9 ppg in his Hall of Fame career, playing all 13 of his NBA seasons with the Rockets, first in San Diego and then in Houston. He averaged 20-plus ppg five times, including a career-high 25.6 ppg (fifth in the NBA) in 1977-78. Murphy shot .482 from the field, an excellent percentage for any guard, let alone one who stood 5-9. He ranked fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage in 1973-74 (.522). Murphy twice finished in the top five in apg and he twice led the NBA in free throw percentage. He shot .892 from the free throw line during his career (fifth all-time) and his .958 free throw accuracy in 1980-81 is still the single season record in that category. Murphy scored 18.5 ppg during his playoff career, including a 42 point performance in a 105-100 game seven win over San Antonio in the 1981 Western Conference Semifinals.

Muggsy Bogues ranked in the top ten in total assists for six straight seasons (1990-95), finishing third twice, and placed in the top ten in apg five times, including placing second in 1994 (10.1) to the legendary John Stockton. Bogues’ 6726 career assists place him 15th all-time and his 7.6 apg average is the 13th best all-time. Bogues averaged 7.7 ppg during his career and scored in double figures three times. He shot .827 from the free throw line. Shorter players are often considered to be defensive liabilities but Bogues showed why that is not necessarily the case. He was quick, strong and feisty, averaging 1.5 spg during his career. It is not a normal part of most teams’ plans to post up their point guards, so when teams tried to post up Bogues it tended to backfire by distracting those teams from their offensive strengths. Bogues showed how disruptive a small and tenacious guard can be in terms of pressuring ball handlers and getting into passing lanes. Also, it should be remembered that half of the game is spent at each end of the court and it is no treat for a taller player to try to keep up with an explosively quick smaller player.

Spud Webb will forever be remembered for winning the 1986 Slam Dunk Contest but he could play, too. He averaged just a shade under 10 ppg during his 13 season NBA career. He scored in double figures for five straight years, topping off at 16.0 ppg in 1991-92. He blocked 111 shots during his career, including four seasons with more than 10 blocks and two with more than 20; Bogues blocked 39 shots, with a season-high of seven, while Murphy was credited with 51 blocked shots and never had more than nine in one season (blocked shots were not officially recorded during his first three seasons). Webb averaged 5.3 apg and, like Murphy and Bogues, was an excellent free throw shooter (.848).

Charlie Criss provided a spark for the Atlanta Hawks as a rookie in 1977-78 and his strong performance helped Hubie Brown win the first of his two Coach of the Year awards. Criss ranked third on the team in scoring (11.4 ppg), second on the team in assists (294) and third on the team in steals (108). While that turned out to be his best season, he proved that he was no flash in the pan by lasting eight years and producing career averages of 8.5 ppg and 3.2 apg. He shot .831 from the free throw line.

Earl Boykins is the only active member of the quintet. He is not as good a playmaker or defender as the others, but he is an outstanding free throw shooter (.881) and provides instant offense coming off of the bench. He is the shortest player to ever score at least 30 points in an NBA game--and he has done it six times: he pumped in 32 points in a 117-109 victory over defending champion Detroit on November 11, 2004, shooting 11-15 from the field and 8-8 from the free throw line. Boykins matched that total on November 19, 2004 versus Chicago. He scored 30 points on 9-16 shooting from the field and 9-10 free throw shooting in Milwaukee’s 99-91 win over Charlotte on January 15, 2007. That was his second game with the Bucks after being traded from Denver. Boykins had a career-high 36 points on January 24, 2007 in Milwaukee's 114-106 loss to the Sacramento Kings. On April 4 and April 6, he had back to back 30 point games for the first time in his career, scoring 32 points in a 98-89 Milwaukee win over Boston and following that with 36 points in a 115-102 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

On January 18, 2005 versus Seattle, Boykins did something that was even more remarkable: he set an NBA record by scoring 15 points in overtime as Denver beat Seattle 116-110. Boykins averaged a career-high 14.6 ppg in 2006-07. He is known primarily as a scorer but he averaged 4.4 apg coming off of the bench, so he also creates shots for his teammates.

Nate Robinson’s career has gotten off to a promising start and he may one day expand the quintet’s roster. He averaged 9.3 ppg as a rookie and increased that to 10.1 ppg in 2006-07. His free throw shooting as a rookie (.752) was not as good as that of his predecessors but he improved that number to .777 in 2006-07. On November 26, 2005, Robinson hit a game winning three pointer in overtime versus the Philadelphia 76ers, becoming just the 10th Knick since 1980 to make a game winning shot at the buzzer.

What does it take to succeed in the NBA at 5-9 or less? The NBA’s mighty mites share these traits: 1) Blazing speed; 2) Shooting ability and/or the ability to dribble penetrate and create shots for others. Shorter players tend to not have great field goal percentages (Murphy is the notable exception here) because it is obviously tougher for them to get open looks but they demonstrate their shooting touch by their accuracy at the foul line and ability to keep the defense honest by knocking down open shots if their defender sags off of them; 3) Toughness. Murphy was actually once featured in a Sports Illustrated article about the NBA’s most feared enforcers and he won fights against several significantly larger players; of course, as the suspensions of Robinson, Mardy Collins, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith show, fighting ability is not a trait that the NBA wants showcased in today’s game. It should also be noted that the 5-9 and under players often possess deceptive strength. Boykins can bench press over 300 pounds and Robinson has the physique of an NFL defensive back.

Amazingly, the small group (pardon the pun) of 5-9 and under players has produced two Slam Dunk Contest champions--Spud Webb and Nate Robinson, who won the event in 2006 by jumping over Webb. As Han Solo said about the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, "Short help is better than no help at all."

A Little Help Please


Calvin Murphy...5-9...1971-1983...1002...17.9
Muggsy Bogues...5-3...1988-2001...889...7.7
Spud Webb...5-7...1986-1998...814...9.9
Earl Boykins...5-5...1998-...484...9.8
Charlie Criss...5-8...1978-85...418...8.5

Five players 5-9 or shorter have played in at least eight NBA seasons

posted by David Friedman @ 4:41 AM