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Thursday, March 06, 2008

NBA Leaderboard, Part XVI

The Celtics just became the first team to clinch a playoff berth this season, in the process winning their season series with the Pistons 2-1. However, anyone who assumes that Boston-Detroit will be the Eastern Conference Finals matchup should pay attention to the exploits of the player who just posted only the third 50 point, 10 assist game since the 1976-77 NBA-ABA merger--LeBron James, who is engaged with Kobe Bryant in one of the most exciting MVP battles in years; for once it seems that most people actually understand who the top two contenders for the award should be.

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

1) Boston Celtics, 47-12--clinched playoff berth
2) Detroit Pistons, 44-17
3) San Antonio, 42-17
4) L.A. Lakers, 43-18
5) New Orleans, 41-19

With a four game lead over the Pistons and the aforementioned 2-1 victory in the season series, the Celtics have all but locked up the number one seed in the East; if they go just 12-11 in their last 23 games then the Pistons have to go 16-5 to pass them. The Pistons are 6-4 in their last 10 games and the Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10, including an active six game winning streak. Out west, matters are much less clear. The Spurs and Lakers are in a virtual tie, with the Hornets just 1.5 games behind and the surging Rockets--owners of an NBA season-best 16 game winning streak--suddenly just 2.5 games behind. In case you're wondering, at the other end of the spectrum in the chase for the most Draft Lottery ping pong balls, Miami "leads" with an 11-47 record, including 2-8 in the last 10 games. Minnesota is right there, though, with a 12-48 record and a matching 2-8 mark in the last 10 games. Memphis "gained" one game by going 1-9 in the last 10 games but the Grizzlies are 2.5 games off of the pace with a 15-46 record. After Miami's 108-83 home loss to Toronto on Wednesday, Coach Pat Riley said that his team's effort was "so unprofessional it was ridiculous," adding, "I've got to ferret out the guys who really don't care. I've got to ferret them out of here and just put them on the bench and bring in a bunch of young guys...The season's over for them. That's how they're playing, some of them, anyhow." He also said that he feels like personally writing refund checks to each of the team's season ticket holders. The Raptors played without All-Star Chris Bosh, while the Heat actually had two All-Stars, though neither of them played like one (Dwyane Wade had 16 points, four assists and five turnovers, while Shawn Marion grabbed 14 rebounds but only scored five points on 2-7 field goal shooting).

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

1) LeBron James, CLE 30.6 ppg
2) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.3 ppg
3) Allen Iverson, DEN 26.8 ppg
4) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 25.9 ppg
5) Dwyane Wade, MIA 24.4 ppg
6) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 23.9 ppg
7) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 23.6 ppg
8) Michael Redd, MIL 23.4 ppg
9) Richard Jefferson, NJN 23.0 ppg
10) Chris Bosh, MIA 22.6 ppg

12) Yao Ming, HOU 22.0 ppg

25) Paul Pierce, BOS 20.4 ppg

33) Kevin Durant, SEA 19.5 ppg

37) Ray Allen, BOS 18.4 ppg

LeBron James pretty much has the scoring title wrapped up. He is having a marvelous season but Kobe Bryant is still a more potent threat from both three point range and the free throw line. Does anyone seriously doubt that Bryant could still average 32 ppg or more if the Lakers needed him to do so? Bryant's league-leading 35.4 ppg and 31.6 ppg efforts the past two seasons did not lead to him winning the MVP--allegedly because of his team's record--so how can James beat out Bryant this year for MVP honors when Bryant is the leading player on a team that is in the hunt for the best record in the Western Conference? Whether the MVP is judged by recent standards--best player on a team that wins 50-plus games--or the standard that I have consistently employed (the most skilled player in the league/the player who has the fewest weaknesses), Bryant should be the choice. That does not take anything away from James, who certainly is having an MVP-caliber season; in fact, he is performing at a higher level now than any of the three previous MVP winners did.

Dirk Nowitzki's scoring average has been climbing steadily and now that he has Jason Kidd feeding him the ball he may very well crack the top five on this list by the end of the season.

Kevin Durant recently asked what his critics expect from him. Here is my list:

1) Stop jacking up bad shots
2) Pay attention to aspects of defense beyond occasionally poaching in the passing lanes and getting weakside shot blocks
3) Improve your three point shot or stop taking so many of them
4) Get stronger so that you can draw more free throw attempts and grab more rebounds
5) Work on your ballhandling and passing so that you can reverse your TO/Ast ratio (which is currently 2.9/2.3, simply horrible for a shooting guard; at the very least it should be an Ast/TO ratio, not the other way around)

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

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.5 rpg
2) Marcus Camby, DEN 13.9 rpg
3) Chris Kaman, LAC 13.1 rpg
4) Tyson Chandler, NOH 12.3 rpg
5) Al Jefferson, MIN 11.7 rpg
6) Tim Duncan, SAS 11.6 rpg
7) Emeka Okafor, CHA 11.1 rpg
8) Yao Ming, Hou 10.8 rpg
9) Carlos Boozer, UTA 10.8 rpg
10) Antawn Jamison, WAS 10.3 rpg

14) Al Horford, ATL 10.0 rpg

23) Ben Wallace, CLE/CHI 8.8 rpg

26) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.7 rpg

32) LeBron James, CLE 8.1 rpg

34) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 7.9 rpg

Dwight Howard has a good but not insurmountable lead over Marcus Camby. After a slow start, Tim Duncan may inch his way into the top five soon. The top ten has stayed the same recently, but Yao will soon drop out due to not meeting minimum requirements for rebounds or games played.

Top Ten Playmakers
----------------------

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.4 apg
2) Chris Paul, NOH 10.8 apg
3) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 10.4 apg
4) Deron Williams, UTA 10.1 apg
5) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.6 apg
6) Jamaal Tinsley, IND 8.4 apg
7) Baron Davis, GSW 8.0 apg
8) LeBron James, CLE 7.5 apg
9) Allen Iverson, DEN 7.2 apg
10) Chauncey Billups, DET 7.2 apg

Although Yao will inevitably be dropped from the scoring and rebounding leaderboards, the NBA has a much lower minimum standard for the assists leaderboard (70 games or 400 assists by year end, a standard that is pro-rated for in-season leaderboards; the rebounding standard is 70 games or 800 rebounds); Jamaal Tinsley remains on the list despite only playing in 39 games so far. He obviously has no shot at playing in 70 games but he only needs 74 total assists to qualify for the year end leaderboard.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:08 AM

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