NBA Leaderboard, Part IIIWill the "Big Three" teams have to admit a fourth team to their exclusive club perched above the rest of the NBA? Should Dwyane Wade be mentioned in MVP discussions this year by anyone who did not vote for Kobe Bryant for MVP in 2006 and 2007?
Best Five Records
1) Boston Celtics, 24-2
2) L.A. Lakers, 21-3
3) Cleveland Cavaliers, 21-4
4) Orlando Magic, 20-6
5) New Orleans Hornets, 15-7
The "Big Three" may have to make room for a fourth team at the top: the Orlando Magic are only 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Magic are 10-3 both at home and on the road and have won three games in a row and seven of their last eight games, including road wins at Utah and Portland. There is a perception that New Orleans has had a bad start but the Hornets have the second best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league.
The Denver Nuggets just missed cracking the top five. They are heading into an interesting portion of their schedule: after fattening up their record against sub-.500 teams they earned a split in back to back games in Dallas and Houston and now will play four games in five nights against quality teams: Cleveland, at Phoenix, Portland and then at Portland. There are six teams within two games of the Nuggets in the standings, so a few losses could dramatically change Denver's position in the standings.
Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)
1) Dwyane Wade, MIA 28.0 ppg
2) LeBron James, CLE 27.3 ppg
3) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 26.4 ppg
4) Kobe Bryant, LAL 25.0 ppg
5) Danny Granger, IND 24.4 ppg
6) Devin Harris, NJN 23.8 ppg
7) Chris Bosh, TOR 23.6 ppg
8) Kevin Durant, OKC 23.2 ppg
9) Joe Johnson, ATL 23.0 ppg
10) Vince Carter, NJN 22.5 ppg
17) Dwight Howard, ORL 21.1 ppg
20) Tim Duncan, SAS 20.8 ppg
21) O.J. Mayo, MEM 20.8 ppg
25) Chris Paul, NOR 19.7 ppg
31) Paul Pierce, BOS 18.6 ppg
32) Ray Allen, BOS 18.5 ppg
43) Kevin Garnett, BOS 16.5 ppg
Dwyane Wade maintained his perch atop the scoring chart, though his lead over LeBron James shrunk a bit. There is talk that Wade should be an MVP candidate based on his superb individual numbers and how much his Heat have improved this year. There is no question that when he is healthy Wade is an MVP level player. However, if he is going to get credit for Miami's record this year doesn't he deserve some blame not just for last season but for how quickly Miami collapsed from being a championship team to being the worst team in the entire league? That is a stunning fall, even factoring in the injuries suffered by some players, including Wade. The Heat are currently sixth in the East with a 12-12 record; before the season I predicted that they would be the seventh best team in the East, so from my perspective they are not doing much better than expected. After all, the cupboard is hardly bare: Marion is a former All-Star, Beasley is a lottery pick, Haslem started for the championship team, Chalmers has been solid. When Kobe Bryant won back to back scoring titles--in the process setting numerous records and posting the eighth best single season scoring average of all-time (35.4 ppg in 2006)--he led the Lakers to the Western Conference playoffs with the likes of Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and Luke Walton in the starting lineup. None of those players would start for this year's Heat. Bryant was supposedly not a legit MVP candidate because his Lakers did not win 50 games (they won 45 in 2006), but he did more with less than what Wade has done so far this season. Since I base my player evaluations on their skill sets, I have no problem with saying that Wade is an MVP caliber player--but anyone who did not vote for/support Bryant for MVP in 2006 and 2007 is being hypocritical and inconsistent if he votes for/supports Wade this season.
From my perspective, Bryant is still the most complete player in the NBA. His per game numbers are only down a bit this year because he is playing fewer minutes; his field goal percentage and free throw percentage are both up (his three point percentage is inexplicably at a seven year low but he has slashed his three point attempts). As I have documented in several posts, when push has come to shove for the Lakers this year they have needed his production late in games in order to win and he has almost always come through. That is what an MVP does. Obviously, LeBron James is having a fantastic season. He has increased his free throw percentage and improved his defense, so he is a valid MVP choice as well. I would not argue with anyone who picked either player at this point. There is still three fourths of the season remaining, which will provide a lot of time to see if James maintains his free throw percentage and defensive improvements and if the Lakers will need Bryant to have a string of 30-40 point games to maintain their position in the standings.
It is now 12 games since interim Thunder Coach Scott Brooks shifted Kevin Durant from shooting guard to his natural position, small forward. While it is true that in certain situations the small forward and shooting guard have interchangeable roles it is also true that Durant had never played shooting guard in his entire career prior to entering the NBA--and that means that the aspects of that position that are not interchangeable with playing small forward are completely alien to him. Why would anyone take a rookie out of his comfort zone? That makes no sense and I said so from day one.
I spoke with Durant prior to his second game at small forward. When I asked him about the position shift he initially gave a politically correct answer--"Wherever coach puts me I just want to come out and play hard." However, when I gently probed a little deeper and suggested that playing a position he had never played before must have been an adjustment, he told the real story: "Exactly. Playing against the smaller guys, guarding them on defense, and then having little guys who could reach up under me and guard me--it was an adjustment. It was something I had to go through but I'm glad I'm at my natural position now."
When you watch Durant on TV, perhaps you just see a very talented player who dominated college basketball but when you see him up close you realize that he is still just a kid--a gifted kid, but a kid nonetheless. He is earnest, hard working and soft spoken but--like all gifted kids--he needs the right support system around him in order for his gifts to fully mature. Putting him in the right position is an important first step; obviously, the next step is assembling a better supporting cast to complement his game.
In the past 12 games, Durant has had 10 or more rebounds three times after only reaching that level once in his rookie season (in the final game of the year). He also had a 41 point outing that was one short of his single game career-high. Here are some of Durant's numbers after 12 games as a small forward:
24.7 ppg, .466 field goal percentage, .511 three point field goal percentage, 6.3 rpg.
Compare that to his rookie production at shooting guard:
20.3 ppg, .430 field goal percentage, .288 three point field goal percentage, 4.4 rpg.
Considering the superficial quality of NBA analysis in many circles, it does not surprise me at all that some people still dismiss the significance of Durant's position change. Occam's razor suggests that, all things being equal, the simplest solution is usually correct. I have said all along that Durant should play small forward. As soon as Brooks replaced P.J. Carlesimo as Coach, the first and most significant change that Brooks made was moving Durant to small forward--and Durant's production has improved dramatically. If the position change is irrelevant, then why did Brooks do this immediately and why has it borne such dividends?
Considering those facts, it makes no sense to go searching for explanations other than the obvious one: I was right about this from the beginning.
Top Ten Rebounders (and a few other notables)
1) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.1 rpg
2) Marcus Camby, LAC 12.4 rpg
3) Andris Biedrins, GSW 12.0 rpg
4) Zach Randolph, LAC 11.2 rpg
5) Troy Murphy, IND 11.1 rpg
6) Emeka Okafor, CHA 11.0 rpg
7) Tim Duncan, SAS 10.8 rpg
8) Andrew Bogut, MIL 10.7 rpg
9) David Lee, NYK 10.6 rpg
10) Al Jefferson, MIN 10.2 rpg
11) Yao Ming, HOU 9.9 rpg
15) Kevin Garnett, BOS 9.5 rpg
16) Pau Gasol, LAL 9.3 rpg
17) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 9.3 rpg
19) Andrew Bynum, LAL 9.0 rpg
31) Rasheed Wallace, DET 7.6 rpg
45) LeBron James, CLE 6.7 rpg
50) Jason Kidd, DAL 6.4 rpg
Dwight Howard will likely own this category for years to come, barring injury. Marcus Camby had at least 13 rebounds in six straight games--culminating with a career-high 27 versus Chicago on December 17--to soar up to the second position.
There is a lot of discussion--mainly led by "stat gurus"--about how Allen Iverson is destroying the Pistons. Last year, the Pistons ranked seventh in rebounding differential (+2.3 rpg). This year they rank 22nd in that category (-2.2 rpg). Their leading rebounder last year, Antonio McDyess (8.5 rpg), has only played six games this year and is working his way into condition. The Pistons depend on Rasheed Wallace to play power forward/center but he has never really rebounded like one; this season he is averaging 7.6 rpg and has had six or fewer rebounds in each of Detroit's past five games.
Top Ten Playmakers
1) Chris Paul, NOH 11.9 apg
2) Deron Williams, UTA 10.1 apg
3) Jose Calderon, TOR 9.0 apg
4) Chris Duhon, NYK 8.6 apg
5) Steve Nash, PHX 8.3 apg
6-7) Baron Davis, LAC 8.2 apg
6-7) Jason Kidd, DAL 8.5 apg
8) Rajon Rondo, BOS 7.3 apg
9) Dwyane Wade, MIA 7.2 apg
10) Chauncey Billups, DEN/DET 7.0 apg
The playmaking leaderboard is always the most stable one but there was a big addition this time: Deron Williams has returned to action and played enough games to qualify to be listed, so he zoomed up to second place.
There is a .6 apg drop off to 11th place, where rookie Derrick Rose resides, just .1 apg ahead of Devin Harris and LeBron James.
Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com
posted by David Friedman @ 7:17 AM