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Thursday, April 16, 2009

NBA Leaderboard, Part VIII (final edition)

The Lakers went 2-0 versus the Celtics, 2-0 versus the Cavaliers and 2-1 versus the Spurs but still failed to reach their goal of securing home court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs. The Lakers posted their most victories since 2000--when they won the first of three straight titles--but if they do not capture the crown this year due to losing game seven on the road in the Finals then they will surely rue their 0-2 record versus the Charlotte Bobcats and the come from ahead home defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers on March 17, the setback that gave the Cavaliers the lead for good in the race for the best overall record.

Best Five Records
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1) Cleveland Cavaliers, 66-16
2) L.A. Lakers, 65-17
3) Boston Celtics, 62-20
4) Orlando Magic, 59-23
5-7) Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, 54-28

This is the first time in NBA history that two teams won at least 65 games in the same season.
Only 13 other NBA teams have ever won at least 65 games and 11 of those teams won championships, the two exceptions being the 68-14 Boston Celtics in 1972-73, who fell in the Eastern Conference Finals after John Havlicek injured his shoulder, and the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks, who shockingly lost in the first round to Golden State. Obviously, after this season at least one more 65-plus win team will unhappily join the Celtics and Mavericks on that short list.

I get the sense that people do not really fully comprehend that we are watching some of the most dominant regular season teams in NBA history, particularly when you consider that if Kevin Garnett had been healthier the defending champion Celtics likely would have also won at least 65 games and may have made a run at 70--do you remember that the Celtics opened the season with a 27-2 mark, including a 19 game winning streak that was ended by the powerful Lakers in Los Angeles? The Celtics are led by three future Hall of Famers, while the Lakers and Cavaliers are each led by a player who could very well ultimately be considered one of the top 15 players of all-time. This has been a very special, historic season both in terms of team accomplishments and in terms of the MVP level play of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, not to mention the return of Dwyane Wade to elite status plus the continuing excellence of Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

The Spurs struggled with injuries to key players all season long; the loss of Manu Ginobili for the playoffs is a crippling blow to their championship hopes. The Nuggets and Trail Blazers are definitely surprise members of the top five (even if it took a three-way tie for them to join that group); if San Antonio, New Orleans, Utah and Dallas--not too mention Phoenix--had enjoyed better health then I seriously doubt that Denver and Portland would be sitting where they are perched right now but they still deserve credit for taking care of business when the opportunity presented itself to move up in the standings compared to where they finished last season. It is worth noting that while the Trail Blazers actually won 13 more games this season than they did in 2008, the Nuggets only added four wins to last year's total; they essentially ran in place or increased their pace ever so slightly but they jumped ahead in the standings because several other teams markedly declined. That said, seeds two through eight in the West are only separated by six games, so there should be some very intriguing and hard fought first round matchups.

Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)
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1) Dwyane Wade, MIA 30.2 ppg
2) LeBron James, CLE 28.4 ppg
3) Kobe Bryant, LAL 26.8 ppg
4) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 25.9 ppg
5) Danny Granger, IND 25.8 ppg
6) Kevin Durant, OKC 25.3 ppg
7) Chris Paul, NOR 22.8 ppg
8) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 22.8 ppg
9) Chris Bosh, TOR 22.7 ppg
10) Brandon Roy, POR 22.6 ppg

18) Dwight Howard, ORL 20.6 ppg
19) Paul Pierce, BOS 20.5 ppg

24) Tim Duncan, SAS 19.3 ppg

26) Pau Gasol, LAL 18.9 ppg

28) O.J. Mayo, MEM 18.5 ppg

30) Ray Allen, BOS 18.2 ppg

Dwyane Wade captured his first scoring title by averaging a career-high 30.2 ppg, beating out LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, the players who combined to win the previous three scoring crowns. Dirk Nowitzki finished fourth by posting his best scoring average since 2005-06, the year that he led the Mavericks to the NBA Finals. Danny Granger, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul each achieved the highest scoring averages of their young careers, while Carmelo Anthony's scoring output dipped to its lowest level since 2004-05, his second season; Anthony has been widely praised for his supposedly improved play this season but the reality is that his field goal percentage plummeted to .443 from .492 in 2008 and his rebounding declined from 7.4 rpg to 6.8 rpg, though that can be partially explained by a slight reduction in his mpg average.

O.J. Mayo got off to a fast start and then performed steadily worse for most of the season but he bounced back a bit in April and finished with the highest scoring average among rookies.

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

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 13.8 rpg
2) Troy Murphy, IND 11.8 rpg
3) David Lee, NYK 11.7 rpg
4) Tim Duncan, SAS 10.7 rpg
5) Emeka Okafor, CHA 10.1 rpg
6) Chris Bosh, TOR 10.0 rpg
7) Yao Ming, HOU 9.9 rpg
8) Pau Gasol, LAL 9.6 rpg
9) Kevin Love, MIN 9.1 rpg
10) Antawn Jamison, WAS 8.9 rpg

16) Shaquille O'Neal, PHX 8.4 rpg
17) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.4 rpg

19) Lamar Odom, LAL 8.2 rpg

27) LeBron James, CLE 7.6 rpg

43) Jason Kidd, DAL 6.2 rpg

Dwight Howard won his second consecutive rebounding title and seems to be well on his way to matching or surpassing Kevin Garnett's run of four straight rebounding titles from 2004-07. The best streak prior to that was Dennis Rodman's seven straight rebounding crowns from 1992-98, which is the all-time record (Moses Malone once led the league five years in a row, while Wilt Chamberlain won a record 11 rebounding titles but--thanks to Bill Russell--never captured more than four in a row). Troy Murphy--sort of a modern day Bill Laimbeer who shoots from the outside but is fully capable of banging on the boards as well--finished a distant second behind Howard, narrowly beating out David Lee.

Kevin McHale was mocked for trading O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love but Love cracked the top ten on the rebounding leaderboard as a rookie, a most impressive feat.

Despite struggling with injuries at times, Tim Duncan moved up to fourth place by the end of the season.

Jason Kidd led all point guards (and every shooting guard except Mike Miller) in rebounding, which is remarkable considering that he is 36 years old and has come back from microfracture surgery.

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

1) Chris Paul, NOH 11.0 apg
2) Deron Williams, UTA 10.7 apg
3) Steve Nash, PHX 9.7 apg
4) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.9 apg
5) Jason Kidd, DAL 8.7 apg
6) Rajon Rondo, BOS 8.2 apg
7) Baron Davis, LAC 7.7 apg
8) Dwyane Wade, MIA 7.5 apg
9) LeBron James, CLE 7.2 apg
10) Chris Duhon, NYK 7.2 apg

I definitely believe that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA but in light of my ongoing research into how assists are tracked I am not sure that I believe that he actually led the NBA in assists but the official record book will forever state that in 2009 he won his second straight assists crown. Steve Nash led the league for three straight years prior to Paul's ascension and Jason Kidd took five assist titles in six seasons (interrupted only by Andre Miller) between 1999 and 2004. I am all for encouraging players to pass the ball and be unselfish but until the league does a better job of setting some kind of consistent standard regarding what an assist actually is this category will be by far the most subjective and least meaningful of the "big three" per game statistics; the above list likely names 10 of the best passers in the NBA but it is doubtful that it ranks the top 10 passers in the correct order, though in Paul's defense I would say that he is probably the best passer in the league even if an objective count would show that he did not rack up more legitimate assists than Deron Williams or Steve Nash or Jose Calderon.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:02 AM

5 comments

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5 Comments:

At Thursday, April 16, 2009 12:31:00 PM, Anonymous warsaw said...

"Kevin McHale was mocked for trading O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love but Love cracked the top ten on the rebounding leaderboard as a rookie, a most impressive feat."

But David, Is he compatible with Al Jefferson?
Or in other words:
You should trade for a guy that was drafted fifth, and then use him as a sub?

 
At Thursday, April 16, 2009 12:38:00 PM, Blogger Jim @ CoolStuffForDads.com said...

What a great recap, thanks! We'll be rooting for our home town favorite in the playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers. Interesting stats on the teams with 65+ wins in a season.

 
At Thursday, April 16, 2009 6:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

Love started alongside Jefferson seven times before Jefferson suffered his season-ending knee injury. I don't see any reason why their skill sets would not be compatible; you can never have too many rebounders and Love's ability to hit the outside shot is a nice complement to Jefferson's inside game.

 
At Thursday, April 16, 2009 6:33:00 PM, Anonymous warsaw said...

Yes, but neither of them is tall/skilled enough to play Center in defense.
who would guard longer or stronger centers like Gasol, Garnett, Yao, etc?

 
At Thursday, April 16, 2009 6:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

That is a valid concern. On the other hand, I once heard Bill Russell say that height does not matter much in the NBA past 6-8 or 6-9 (assuming that the player in question has skills, naturally) because most rebounds are taken below the rim. If Minnesota elects to play Jefferson and Love together then whoever checks taller/lengthier centers will have to use his lower center of gravity to push those centers further away from the hoop. Minnesota will possibly have to double team the post and/or apply strong pressure to the guards to make it difficult to throw post entry passes. It's not like too many teams really have good answers for Yao or Gasol; that is why they are All-Stars.

Garnett--when healthy--is more of a jump shooter than a postup threat and when he posts up he often shoots fadeaway jumpers anyway.

 

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