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Friday, January 09, 2009

NBA Leaderboard, Part IV

A lot has changed since NBA Leaderboard, Part III; at that time the Boston Celtics were on pace for more than 70 wins but they have dropped five of their six games since losing to the L.A. Lakers on Christmas Day and are now behind both the Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the race for the best record in the league. No team is currently on pace to win 70 games; I suspect that the 1996 Chicago Bulls' 72-10 standard will be safe for quite some time--and that group went 69-13 the next season despite injuries to three of the top five players in the rotation (Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley)!

Also, in less than three weeks Kobe Bryant has shaved more than 1 ppg off of Dwyane Wade's lead in the scoring title race and has moved up from fourth place to third place, meaning that Bryant is still very much in contention to capture his third scoring crown in the past four seasons.

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

1-2) Cleveland Cavaliers, 28-6
1-2) L.A. Lakers, 28-6
3) Boston Celtics, 29-8
4) Orlando Magic, 28-8
5) San Antonio Spurs, 24-11

Prior to the Lakers' 92-83 win over the Celtics, just about everyone assumed that this game was more important to the Lakers than to the Celtics. I thought the same thing but it is undeniable that the game was also important to Boston--their "Big Three" players each played more than their usual minutes--and it is equally undeniable that this loss sent the Celtics into a slump. Their aura of invincibility was punctured. Boston will surely straighten things out soon but their recent losses could end up being the difference between playing a seventh game at home versus Cleveland (or L.A.) and playing a seventh game on the road. The Celtics not only have to think about the two teams ahead of them but also must be aware of the Orlando Magic, who are only a half game behind Boston and have essentially turned the NBA's "Big Three" into a "Big Four."

Not quite a year ago, I compared Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to Julius Erving and Larry Bird at similar stages of their careers and I concluded, "We can only hope to someday see the best the game offers in a Finals showdown for the ages." A Lakers-Cavs matchup in the 2009 NBA Finals would offer some tremendous story lines and inevitably have a dramatic, history altering conclusion: either Bryant would win his fourth championship (and first post-Shaq title)--moving into very select company--or James would win his first championship, which would no doubt fuel speculation about how many titles he will ultimately capture.

By the way, check out who now owns the fifth best record in the league: the NBA's Rasputin, the "old" team that will not die, none other than the four-time champion San Antonio Spurs.

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

1) Dwyane Wade, MIA 28.7 ppg
2) LeBron James, CLE 27.4 ppg
3) Kobe Bryant, LAL 26.9 ppg
4) Danny Granger, IND 25.8 ppg
5) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 25.7 ppg
6) Chris Bosh, TOR 23.6 ppg
7) Kevin Durant, OKC 23.5 ppg
8) Devin Harris, NJN 23.1 ppg
9) Brandon Roy, POR 23.0 ppg
10) Vince Carter, NJN 22.7 ppg

17) Chris Paul, NOR 20.7 ppg

19) Tim Duncan, SAS 20.5 ppg

22) Dwight Howard, ORL 20.1 ppg
23) O.J. Mayo, MEM 19.9 ppg

25) Paul Pierce, BOS 19.5 ppg

33) Ray Allen, BOS 17.7 ppg

45) Kevin Garnett, BOS 16.1 ppg

Since the previous Leaderboard, Dwyane Wade's scoring average has dropped by .7 ppg, LeBron James' scoring average has gone up by .1 ppg and Kobe Bryant's scoring average has increased by 1.9 ppg. While some people are trying to write Bryant off or suggest that he has lost his athleticism it may turn out that he is marching toward a third scoring title. Defending scoring champion James will probably not average 30 ppg this season because the Cavs are so deep and they are blowing out so many teams, though Zydrunas Ilgauskas' injury could result in James having to temporarily boost his scoring. Wade has performed very well so far but he played in 61 or fewer games in three of his first five seasons, so it remains to be seen just how healthy and productive he will be down the stretch. Meanwhile, Bryant has a history of putting up huge scoring numbers in the second half of the season and, unlike James' Cavs, the Lakers will need that kind of scoring production, particularly with three rotation players currently banged up and out of action (Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton).

Danny Granger is proving that his first appearance on the Leaderboard was no fluke; he has been there throughout the season and is playing like an All-Star, though Indiana's record may prevent him from being selected this year.

The move to small forward continues to pay off for Kevin Durant, who averaged 25.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 2.9 apg in December. His numbers have gotten better across the board because Thunder Coach Scott Brooks had the good sense to put Durant at his natural position, a move that I advocated right from the start of Durant's career. It is ironic that Durant was overhyped as a rookie but that this season there has been in some quarters a backlash against his game when he is in fact now beginning to live up to expectations. Oklahoma City's poor record should not be held against him because that roster is horrible. Durant has improved his shot selection, shooting percentage, rebounding and passing and that kind of individual progress is difficult to make while playing for such a poor team.

Vince Carter is "quietly" having a good season for a surprising Nets team that is currently holding down the seventh seed in the East.

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

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 13.9 rpg
2) Marcus Camby, LAC 13.5 rpg
3) Andris Biedrins, GSW 12.2 rpg
4) Troy Murphy, IND 11.6 rpg
5) David Lee, NYK 11.2 rpg
6) Emeka Okafor, CHA 11.1 rpg
7) Al Jefferson, MIN 10.5 rpg
8) Tim Duncan, SAS 10.1 rpg
9) Chris Bosh, TOR 9.8 rpg
10) Yao Ming, HOU 9.6 rpg

14) Pau Gasol, LAL 9.1 rpg
15) Kevin Garnett, BOS 8.9 rpg

19) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.5 rpg

21) Andrew Bynum, LAL 8.3 rpg

31) Rasheed Wallace, DET 7.4 rpg

42) LeBron James, CLE 6.6 rpg
43) Jason Kidd, DAL 6.5 rpg

Marcus Camby has gained a lot of ground on Dwight Howard and now poses a serious threat to win the rebounding crown. Camby averaged 17.6 rpg in his last five games, including two games with at least 20 rebounds. Howard has consistently stayed right around 14 rpg for most of the season.

Andrew Bynum is receiving the same playing time this season that he did last year but his production is down across the board: scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, blocked shots; in other words, that Wages of Wins article from last season about Bynum being more valuable to the Lakers than Kobe Bryant looks even more misguided now than it did when it was first posted. Bynum has been a productive role player this year but the Lakers certainly hope that his screen/roll defense will improve and that he will step up in other areas as well. Bynum's lack of consistency is a concern for the Lakers, as is the fact that he does not always play with a great deal of energy.

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

1) Chris Paul, NOH 11.5 apg
2) Deron Williams, UTA 10.0 apg
3) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.7 apg
4) Steve Nash, PHX 8.5 apg
5) Jason Kidd, DAL 8.3 apg
6) Chris Duhon, NYK 8.2 apg
7) Baron Davis, LAC 8.0 apg
8) Rajon Rondo, BOS 7.5 apg
9) Dwyane Wade, MIA 7.0 apg
10) Chauncey Billups, DEN/DET 6.9 apg

As usual, the playmaking leaderboard did not change much; in fact, the names are exactly the same and the order only shifted slightly.

Tony Parker, Devin Harris and LeBron James are all within .3 apg of making the top ten.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:20 AM

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