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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NBA Leaderboard, Part XVIII

Three Eastern Conference teams have now clinched playoff berths, as Orlando joined Boston and Detroit, but no one has clinched anything in the wild West. Houston's 22 game winning streak briefly moved the Rockets into first place in the West but their loss to Boston on Tuesday dropped them into a tie with the Lakers, though technically the Rockets are still on top due to owning the head to head tiebreaker over L.A. after beating them on Sunday.

Best Five Records
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1) Boston Celtics, 54-13--clinched playoff berth
2) Detroit Pistons, 49-18--clinched playoff berth
3-4) Houston Rockets, L.A. Lakers, 46-21
5) New Orleans Hornets, 45-21

Boston's rout of Houston on Tuesday showed us something about both teams. The Celtics are doing better than I expected this season and the reason for their consistently high performance level is that they are an outstanding defensive team; that, more than the offensive firepower of the Garnett-Pierce-Allen trio, is what has separated them from every other team in the NBA so far. It is unusual for a team to become so good defensively so quickly but Garnett and Coach Doc Rivers deserve a lot of credit, as do the other players on the team for buying into the system. As for Houston, TNT's Doug Collins put it best: the Rockets did not lose to the Celtics due to lack of effort, it was simply too difficult for them to score inside against a much bigger team. Dikembe Mutombo can only turn back the clock for about 15-20 minutes a night and when he is not on the court the Rockets are a small team, particularly with Carl Landry being out of action. Combine that with a down night by a tired Tracy McGrady and some poor three point shooting and the Rockets had no chance. The streak had to end some time but I don't buy into something else that Collins said, namely that the Rockets run the risk of losing confidence now that they have a few tough road games ahead of them. Like Boston, Houston plays hard and plays good defense game in and game out, so the Rockets are in good shape heading into the playoffs--or at least as good as they can be without Yao Ming.

Some people laughed when I said that the acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal makes Phoenix a dangerous team. The Suns went through a brief adjustment period and now they have won five straight games, tied with Orlando for the longest active winning streak in the NBA after Houston's loss. The Suns own the sixth best record in the NBA, a half game behind the Hornets and one game behind the Rockets and Lakers. People who don't know what they are talking about can chuckle all they want but I doubt that any Western Conference coaches are very amused about the prospect of facing the Suns in a seven game series.

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

1) LeBron James, CLE 30.9 ppg
2) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.2 ppg
3) Allen Iverson, DEN 26.4 ppg
4) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 25.5 ppg
5) Dwyane Wade, MIA 24.6 ppg
6) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 24.3 ppg
7) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 23.6 ppg
8) Michael Redd, MIL 23.3 ppg
9) Richard Jefferson, NJN 23.0 ppg
10) Chris Bosh, MIA 22.6 ppg

13) Yao Ming, HOU 22.0 ppg

25) Paul Pierce, BOS 20.0 ppg

30) Kevin Durant, SEA 19.6 ppg

37) Kevin Garnett, BOS 18.7 ppg

41) Ray Allen, BOS 18.3 ppg

After some movement early in the season this leaderboard has stabilized and there do not figure to be too many changes until Dwyane Wade and Yao Ming drop off due to not meeting the minimum requirements for points scored/games played. If there were an award for scoring the most points that had the least effect on winning during a season then Wade and Kevin Durant would be the runaway winners. Wade presided over perhaps the most epic losing streak ever experienced by a former Finals MVP during his prime, while Durant struggles to score more points than the margin his Sonics lose by each game. TNT's Charles Barkley made a couple excellent points on Tuesday: the Sonics showed no pride in letting the Nuggets drop 168 points on them and when Denver kept jacking up three pointers late in the game someone should have delivered a hard foul.

By the way, has Bill Simmons written any columns lately about how Durant is the next great thing and that Portland should have taken him instead of Greg Oden? Portland's management seems to be doing a fine job running the team despite not having Simmons on the payroll. Contrary to the wild, uninformed praise that Simmons and several others delivered prior to the season, Durant is exactly what I said he was when I analyzed his game last summer: a talented but very raw player who needs to gain strength and work on his shot selection, dribbling, passing, rebounding and defense if he wants to even be an All-Star, never mind becoming the sensation that so many people prematurely called him. I don't discount the possibility that he can become great--though I am frankly a bit skeptical--but he absolutely has a lot of work that he needs to do. Durant's best skill right now is free throw shooting but he is not strong enough or skilled enough to draw enough fouls for that to really matter too much. As I wrote last summer, "...'everyone' seems convinced that he is going to be a 'superstar' even though there are some conspicuous red flags about his body and his overall game. Those red flags don't mean that he won't become a very good player, even a superstar in time--but just like we should not read too much into Durant's summer league play we should also not read too little into it, either...Yes, Durant is long and athletic and can get his shot off over most defenders but if he continues to shoot poorly and cannot post up, rebound or pass then I don't think that teams will be greatly concerned about him shooting a lot of faceup jumpers."

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

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.4 rpg
2) Marcus Camby, DEN 13.7 rpg
3) Chris Kaman, LAC 13.1 rpg
4) Tyson Chandler, NOH 12.3 rpg
5) Al Jefferson, MIN 11.6 rpg
6) Tim Duncan, SAS 11.4 rpg
7) Emeka Okafor, CHA 11.0 rpg
8) Carlos Boozer, UTA 10.6 rpg
9) Antawn Jamison, WAS 10.3 rpg
10) Zach Randolph, NYK 10.3 rpg

13) Al Horford, ATL 9.7 rpg

22) Ben Wallace, CLE/CHI 8.7 rpg

24) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.6 rpg

30) LeBron James, CLE 8.1 rpg

33) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 7.7 rpg

Yao Ming just dropped off of this leaderboard after ranking eighth last week, enabling us to discover that Zach Randolph and the Knicks apparently are still in the NBA as "Z-Bo" moved into the 10th spot. Al Horford continues to put up nearly a double double a night for a team that is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt and he is increasingly looking like an appealing alternative to Durant for Rookie of the Year honors. Horford only scores about half as much as Durant does but he shoots much better from the field and has a greater impact on a better team.

February was Dwight Howard's worst month of the season in terms of rebounding but he has gotten back on track in March and, not surprisingly, his Magic have won eight of their nine games this month. Didn't Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy mention something about a connection between Howard's rebounding and shot blocking and the team's wins?

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

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.4 apg
2) Chris Paul, NOH 11.3 apg
3) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 10.3 apg
4) Deron Williams, UTA 10.2 apg
5) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.5 apg
6) Baron Davis, GSW 8.0 apg
7) LeBron James, CLE 7.5 apg
8) Allen Iverson, DEN 7.2 apg
9) Raymond Felton, CHA 7.0 apg
10) Chauncey Billups, DET 7.0 apg

As I correctly noted last week, Chris Paul had moved to within striking distance of wresting the crown from three-time defending champion Steve Nash--and this week Paul moved into a virtual tie with Nash even sooner than I had projected. Paul is averaging 13.6 apg in March, while Nash is averaging "only" 10.4 apg and has had fewer than 10 assists in three of his previous four games. This looks like it will be a photo finish but it could actually turn into a runaway victory for Paul.

Jamaal Tinsley had ranked sixth but he dropped off the list this week due to not meeting the minimum requirements.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:38 AM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Wednesday, March 19, 2008 3:36:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

I dont what Simmons writes. Barkley also made a point about Dirk drawing that foul. He definitely was going to get a foul call at home and could have one the game with the 3 free throws. But thats why Dirk is questionable in the clutch and not an MVP type player even though he won the award.

 
At Thursday, March 20, 2008 4:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

Barkley made a valid point about that particular play but I have seen Dirk make that fadeaway and I think that he has a lot of confidence in his ability to make that shot. Certainly for Barkley it would make more sense to try to draw a foul than to rely on making a long jumper.

I disagree with you about Dirk's effectiveness in the clutch. Dirk has had some huge performances in playoff games, including some marvelous seventh games. Yes, he did not distinguish himself in the 2006 Finals or in the first round last year but his overall playoff resume is pretty strong, as I have documented previously. Dirk has also hit his fair share of clutch shots late in games. The fact of the matter is that everybody misses more of those than they make, even MJ and Kobe.

 
At Thursday, March 20, 2008 9:02:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

That was a 3 point fadeaway; a shot that Dirk has made probably 1 out of 10 times. You always draw the foul on that. No one has confidence in that. They should have one that game.

Kobes clutch shots are all regular season. How many game winning or clutch shots does Bryant have in the playoffs? The one against the Suns. Hes not as clutch as Magic or Bird...not even close. So you shouldnt but Kobes name next to MJ. You have to include Magic and Bird before him. Kobes not in the room with MJ, Magic or Bird when it comes to clutch shots late in games. Its amazing. I know Bryant has three rings but he wasnt the main man on any of those teams. All of his accomplishments are regular season. I know you can bring up a game or two versus the Pacers, Kings, and Blazers. But he doesnt have a high playoff scoring average. Hes only won a game at the end vs. the Suns...and still lost the series. People dont even realize that. They see the 81 game, the 64 in 3 quarters, 58 in 3quarters, 40 in 10 straight, the 45in 5 straight and its unbelievable. And at the end of games you go to him. But playoff wise hes no where in the same class as MJ, Magic or Bird. Or even DJ. See you bring up Bryant where he doesnt need to be mentioned and I go in a tangent. I dont think anyone should be mentioned with MJ. But once again its your blog. Good lookin on this blog.

 
At Thursday, March 20, 2008 3:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I said that I agree that in this instance Dirk should have tried to draw a foul. However, I have seen him hit that kind of shot before, just not from quite so far away from the hoop. That is what makes me think that he has confidence that he can make the shot and not depend on getting the call from the ref.

When I referred to MJ and Kobe I was talking about "clutch shots" in general, not just playoff games. Kobe has inherited MJ's mantle as the player who you not only most fear taking that shot but the player who you also want guarding the guy who is taking that shot. Even though Shaq was the first offensive option most (not all) of the time for the championship Lakers, Kobe was almost always the first option late in the game or in clutch situations. You forgot the shot that he hit versus the Pistons in the 2004 Finals. Also, he took over an entire overtime period versus the Pacers in the Finals after Shaq fouled out, which is more impressive than just making one clutch shot. I think that the clutch shot business can be a little overblown at times because if you actually add it up, everyone shoots a poor percentage in those situations. Granted, if you make a clutch shot that directly wins a playoff or championship game that is significant and will always be remembered but to me it is more impressive to take over an entire quarter and carry your team to the extent that they don't even need a last second shot to win. Reggie Miller's 25 points in one quarter versus the Knicks was more impressive, in my opinion, than any one particular game winner he hit over the years.

What difference does it make regarding Kobe's shot versus Phx that the Suns eventually won the series? The Suns were also huge favorites. Kobe did not just hit one shot, either, he played a great series and did everything he could to help his team have a chance to advance.

I think that retired players become greater in our memories because we forget when they messed up or did not play well. Bird was not the Finals MVP in 1981, Cedric Maxwell was. Maxwell also had a big game seven in 1984, though Bird won the MVP. Bird's one really great Finals performance in a victorious series was 1986. Magic made so many gaffes in the 1984 series that the Celtics tauntingly called him "Tragic" Johnson.

You say that Kobe does not have a high playoff scoring average but his 23.3 ppg is 21st in NBA history, just ahead of Barkley and right behind Bird and Duncan--and Kobe's average is dragged down because in the first 20 of his 131 playoff games he was a reserve player fresh out of high school. He has averaged 26.0 ppg in 111 playoff games since then, which would rank sixth in NBA history. Also, consider that all-time greats Oscar Robertson (22.2), John Havlicek (22.0) and Walt Frazier (20.7) all averaged less in the playoffs than Kobe, who ranks 17th in NBA history in total playoff points.

 
At Thursday, March 20, 2008 6:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

madnice 100 percent right kobe no bird magic and jordan in the clutch only super kobe fans say that most of the mainstream media mention bird magic and jordan as clutch they never usually say kobe so most have it right. kobe cluth in regualar season not playoffs youre not comparing kobe resume in playoffs to bird and magic are you david? bird was the best player on his team during his whole career and three championships team kobe was never shaq was always the option on his team he was kevin mchale and shaq was larry bird had one okay series in 81 but you nit picking magic made mistakes in 84 nitpicking they overall body of work in playoffs and clutch situations is wayy better than kobe so many it's not worth discussing. retired players dont become greater in our memories those two was great period another caes on you uplifting kobe to a level he dont belong.

 
At Thursday, March 20, 2008 10:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think the whole "clutch" thing is over rated. It's either you melt under pressure or you don't. If a player "plays better" in pressure situations, then hes probably could have played like that earlier, and the outcome wouldn't have been in doubt. Kobe is considered "clutch" because the shots he attempts in the clutch are shots that he makes normally. Kobe doesn't suddenly shoot better in the clutch, in fact, I think he shoots worse. I also think he's more prone to play "hero" and miss an open teammate. Ditto for every player in NBA history with the "clutch" tag. All that hype about being clutch is about recognizing, then being willing and able to make those plays. Shaq shouldn't be considered "unclutch" if he misses freethrows late in the game, that's just how he is. A lucky shot here or there changes a player's reputation unfairly. Dirk taking a fadeaway 3-pointer though, hurts his case. Make it or not, it's not a very good decision by him. A player's decision making in pressure situations are a far better indicator of his "clutch ability" than any other criteria. He may have confidence in that fade-away 3 pointer, but shouldn't he also have the confidence that he can find a better shot? I wouldn't label Dirk a choker, as he is quite productive in late game situations. He has his share of bad choices, and unfortunately, those bad choices happened when they happened. Good decision making allows you to have more opportunities to get a good play out of a tight situation.
In the long run, good decisions weed out the lucky shots from the truly clutch performances

Z

 
At Friday, March 21, 2008 12:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

For the most part, I agree with what you said. A lot of the business about players being "clutch" is a matter of perception/media coverage. Jerry West is "Mr. Clutch" but his teams lost as many big games as anybody's. He is the only player from the losing team to win the Finals MVP. Yes, he had a triple double in the seventh game that year but many other players who perform well individually when their teams lose do not get such credit. I'm not saying that West wasn't great--far from it: he's in my Pantheon of the greatest players ever. My point is that other players have not always been judged as fairly. I also wonder if a modern player lost as often in the Finals as West did if today's media would cover that the same way that the 60's media did.

We have the luxury of dissecting the tape frame by frame and saying what Dirk should have done but that was a split second decision with the clock running down. I've seen him make that shot before, albeit usually not from that distance, so I think that in the heat of the moment he felt that he could make it. I didn't see that entire game but it also would be important to know how that officiating crew was calling things--were they "letting them play" or calling things closely? Another thing to consider is that on a last second shot the officials might not want to call a foul. Remember in the Finals when LeBron tried to foul Bowen and seemed to make contact but the officials did not call it? Barkley has a valid point in general about drawing contact but in this particular case I also understand why Dirk did what he did.

 
At Friday, March 21, 2008 12:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

The "mainstream media" is wrong a large percentage of the time, so why would I care what they say about the NBA or anything else? Every year, SI and/or NBA.com polls general managers/executives and Kobe is the player who is usually listed first both in terms of who they would want to take the last shot and who they would want guarding the player who is taking the last shot.

As for comparing Bird and Magic to Kobe, I don't know why you are fixated on saying that I declared Kobe to be better than either player. For instance, read my Pantheon series--Bird and Magic are in the Pantheon, Kobe is not; Kobe, along with Duncan, LeBron and Shaq, is listed among active players who are vying for such status. I have said that Kobe is the active player who is most like MJ in terms of style/skill set but that is not the same thing as saying that he is as good as MJ. We've been over this so many times and, frankly, I'm tired of reading comments accusing me of saying stuff that I've never said.

Bird played on a team with two other HoFers (Parish, McHale) plus a third guy who should be in the HoF (DJ). He was the best player most of the time but he was not the Finals MVP in 1981 and he had a lot of help in each of the championship seasons. In particular, Bird could guard the weakest frontcourt player because McHale and Parish took the toughest assignments.

Kareem was the NBA MVP in 1980, so you don't have much of a case that Magic was the best player on team. Kareem would likely have won the Finals MVP, but CBS wanted to present the award live and Kareem did not play in game six due to injury. Magic had a marvelous game six and perhaps he deserved the award anyway but Kareem carried the team in the first five games, including a 40 point effort in game five, scoring key baskets after he came back from the ankle injury that ultimately sidelined him for game six. Kareem won the Finals MVP in 1985. Worthy won the Finals MVP in 1988. Kareem and Worthy--like Parish and McHale--are not only HoFers but also Top 50 players. Magic had a lot of help; those guys are not like Walton, Farmar, Turiaf--guys who would not be very productive without a great player playing alongside them.

Shaq and Kobe were two stars on three championship teams that largely consisted of role players. There were not other HoFers on those teams. Kobe was fifth in MVP voting in 2002 and made the All-NBA Team all three championship years. He was not some guy just riding along while Shaq did all the work. When you are an All-NBA/MVP level member of a championship team then those rings "count"--i.e., we don't elevate Will Perdue in the basketball pantheon by virtue of his championship rings because we understand that he was not an essential member of those teams. Kobe was an essential member of those teams and he has won as many championships as Larry Bird with perhaps as many as 10 years left in his career to try to win more.

I did not "uplift" Kobe to anything. I cited his stats and his record the same way that I cite the stats/record of any other player. This really would be a much simpler process if you just admitted that you don't like Kobe for whatever reason. It doesn't matter to me who you like or don't like but stop saying that I said that Kobe is greater than Bird or Magic or MJ.

 
At Friday, March 21, 2008 8:42:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

The Lakers definitely should have won the series in 84. But all players make errors and Magic made up for it in 85. Just like Russell inbounding the ball and it hitting the wire extension.

I did forget the Bryant shot against the Pistons. My whole point was mentioning MJ and Bryant when it comes to players missing more than they make. I wouldnt put Bryant next to MJ's name I would put Magic and Bird. Or West. Considering the fact that Bryant is always compared to Jordan I would think he average was somewhere near 30 in the playoffs. I didnt look to see that his average was 23.

Ive seen Dirk hit that shot before as well but from 15 to 20 feet out not 25 to 30. Thats why I said no one has confidence in a shot that far out. He should have been aware of where he was on the court.

 
At Friday, March 21, 2008 3:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I agree that all players make errors and that Magic definitely made up for it--but that's my point: there is a tendency to forget such things about the retired players but to remember more about the current players. Kobe has built a strong playoff resume and he still has an opportunity to add to it.

As for Kobe's playoff scoring average, if you take out his first two years as a reserve it is one of the highest in NBA history. That number also figures to climb for the next few seasons. Another factor to consider is that the pace of the game is slower now than it was in some earlier eras. Comparing Kobe to Bird or Magic is not particularly apt because they were bigger, slower players who were not so active defensively on a one on one basis; they also played differently on offense. Kobe is much more similar to MJ in terms of size, style and skill set. As I hope I've made clear, I'm not saying that Kobe is as good as MJ, just that he is similar to him in certain respects.

 
At Friday, March 21, 2008 10:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

bird magic and jordan was way more clutch when it count i cant remember the last time kobe hit a game winning shot like 2 years ago agianst phoenix those 3 didnt hit never had that long of a drought.

you act like he better than them by trying to argue for him that his rings meant as much as theres youre like the only person who believes that he was the second best player on the lakers shaq was the best compare shaq with them not him they dont say mchale parish worthy? no they say bird magic and jordan becuase it was there team like tom brady with new england montana with niners elway with broncos they get most of the credit because they were the most important player on team they dont say shannon sharpe name first or the running back or anyone else is my point shaq played the biggest role in his team sucess and larry bird did as well kobe did not so he is not on that level he has a chance now to be on that level people dont remeber number 2 they only remember number 1.

my point is magic and bird was the best player on there team all the time basically i know in 1980 kareem was but they won game 6 without him and magic played center. 82 on he was clearly the best unlike kobe he was in the passenger seat the whole time.

he was not along for the ride i know but he wasnt the king either shaq was the president he was the vice president does george bush get more respect or is more known than dick cheney? he wasnt head honch so you cant put him on that level yet if that was the case i would put him ahead of alot of players he's not.


this would be much simpler if you just admit youre a bias kobe fan who will bring down any superstar in the league past or present to defend kobe you go to all lengths to defend kobe and you claim youre not a fan if youre not a fan why do you care what the preception the mainstream media has of him. and you say you dont care what the media thinks then why you always say if kobe would of done that they would of called him selfish whatever it is they call him who cares what they would of called kobe. and you did that when lebron scored the 50 agianst the knicks.

 
At Saturday, March 22, 2008 3:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

I have not charted "clutch" shots by Bird, Magic, MJ or Kobe. As I already said in this thread, I think that "clutch" shots are overrated in general compared to being a clutch player down the stretch of a game. All of this is really far afield of the original subject, which is what Dirk should have done at the end of one particular game. I had one throwaway line about MJ or Kobe missing more "clutch" shots than they made and you have tried to say that I am elevating Kobe above various players. Go back up the thread to the second comment. The only reason that I mentioned MJ and Kobe together is that just like MJ was the most feared player at the end of the game in his time Kobe is the most feared player now. I was not talking about playoffs or the Finals or which player is greater. You and Madnice are so intent on proving that I am biased for Kobe that you are inventing stuff that is not even there.

We've been over this whole "head honcho" business so many times that it is tiresome. I don't care who the "mainstream media" lists or mentions when they talk about teams--and, frankly, I think that you are wrong about this anyway. The Lakers are usually called the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, the Bulls are called the MJ-Pip Bulls and there are plenty of references to Bird-Parish-McHale and Magic-Kareem. We know which players won MVPs and Finals MVPs but when someone talks about those teams usually the top two-three guys are mentioned. Anyway, it doesn't matter if some uninformed people don't mention them. The All-NBA level players on championship teams are all indispensable. Cowens was an MVP in the 1970s but when the 68 win 1973 Celts lost Havlicek to a shoulder injury they lost in the playoffs; they won two of the next three championships. If Kobe had gotten seriously hurt during the Lakers' title run then they would not have won the championship.

What superstar have I "brought down?" I said that LeBron is on an "accelerated growth curve" and that right now he is just behind Kobe. I said that Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time. I have Bird, Magic and MJ in my Pantheon.

I care about what the mainstream media says because it misleads the general public and I don't think that is right. I don't only criticize the media regarding Kobe. To cite just three other examples, I pointed out that the media underestimated the Cavs last year, that they underestimated the Rockets this year and that the Suns with Shaq would be better than many people projected.

The reality is that you are biased toward LeBron and that's fine. It's cool to be a fan and have a favorite player and LeBron is a good player to pick. I very much enjoy watching him play and feel privileged to have done so in person many times, including during last year's Finals--but until he improves his outside shot and his defense he will not be better than Kobe, at least not until Kobe starts to decline.

I did not say anything bad about LeBron's 50 point game. I have no idea what you are talking about. I may have said something regarding how the media covered it but I did not say anything bad about LeBron's play in that game.

 

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