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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Comparing Wade Version 2009 to Bryant Version 2006

Can he regain his spot among the league's elite players after suffering an injury-riddled campaign? Can he win without Shaq? How much MVP consideration should be given to a dominant player whose team won fewer than 50 games?

If those questions sound familiar, it is because they have been asked twice in the past three years--and about two different players. Here is an examination of the many similarities--and a few differences--between Dwyane Wade's 2009 season and Kobe Bryant's 2006 season:


Call it "a tale of two seasons." There are some eerie similarities -- and important differences -- between Kobe Bryant's 2006 season and Dwyane Wade's 2009 season.

In the fall of 2005, Kobe Bryant was coming off of a season in which he missed 16 games, slipped to the All-NBA Third Team after earning three straight First Team nods and did not receive a single MVP vote for the first time in six years. His field-goal percentage dropped to its lowest level since his second season in the NBA. Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs and he was about to begin his second full season since the departure of Shaquille O'Neal. Questions abounded about both Bryant's individual status in the game and about how good the Lakers would be.

In the fall of 2008, Dwyane Wade was coming off of a season in which he missed 31 games, did not make the All-NBA Team after earning three straight selections to either the Second or Third Team and did not receive a single MVP vote for the first time in four years. His field-goal percentage dropped to its lowest level since his rookie season in the NBA. Wade's Miami Heat missed the playoffs and he was about to begin his first full season since the departure of Shaquille O'Neal. Questions abounded about both Wade's individual status in the game and about how good the Heat would be.

In the 2005-06 season, Kobe Bryant won his first scoring title by averaging 35.4 ppg, the eighth best scoring average in NBA/ABA history -- and the third best by a player not named Wilt Chamberlain, trailing only Michael Jordan's 37.1 ppg in 1986-87 and Rick Barry's 35.6 ppg in 1966-67. Bryant averaged 36.0 ppg after the All-Star break.

In January 2006, he led the Lakers to a 9-4 record while averaging 43.4 ppg, the best scoring average in a calendar month since Chamberlain poured in 45.8 ppg in March 1963 and the third highest January scoring average in the history of the NBA, trailing only Chamberlain's 50.0 ppg in January 1962 and Chamberlain's 46.3 ppg in January 1963.

Bryant became the first player other than Chamberlain to average at least 40 ppg in a month twice in a career (Bryant averaged 40.6 ppg in February 2003, leading the Lakers to an 11-3 record). Bryant topped the 50-point mark three times in January 2006, including an 81-point performance on January 22 in a 122-104 victory over Toronto. Bryant set the NBA's "non-Chamberlain" single game scoring record, surpassing David Thompson's 73 point game; this was the fifth time that Bryant scored at least 50 points in the first three quarters of a game, including a December 2005 game in which Bryant outscored eventual NBA Finalist Dallas 62-61 in the first three quarters before sitting out the final stanza.

After the 81-point game, Bryant responded to criticism that he is a ball hog by saying that he is a "win hog."

"I don't pay much attention to that kind of criticism because my main focus is to do whatever it takes to help us win," Bryant explained. "I didn't go into that game thinking about scoring 81 points. I didn't even think anybody could score that many in an NBA game today. Everybody knows about Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, which seems impossible. But things happened and I was able to score 81. I suspected there would be criticism from the media and even some players.

"But the most important thing is that 81-point effort rallied us from an 18-point deficit to an 18-point win. If destiny positions me to score 100 points to help my team win a game, I certainly will take advantage of it in spite of any criticism. I guess if I would've scored 81 points and we had lost, the criticism would've gone through the roof."

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson compared the 2006 Lakers to the 1987 and 1988 Chicago Bulls, adding, "These Lakers are still a young team that's prone to get scared, lose poise and confidence. They need (Bryant's) aggressive leadership, especially on the road, to set the tone and put them in command of a game. Kobe is having to play himself into a level where he's teaching his teammates how to win and you can appreciate that as a coach. Yes, there's a fine balance between how much his high point production takes confidence away from these younger players and how much it contributes to their ability to believe in themselves as a team.

"We've been together for six years, years filled with hard times and wonderful times. Along the way, we have developed a mutual sense of what each other's desires are. It's almost beyond words. Kobe knows when the other guys have to get involved. At the same time, when they appear insecure and are not playing at a level we need to beat a team, he simply steps up and fills the vacuum. I've taken to warning his teammates, ‘Now, listen, guys-if you don't fill the vacuum, he will.' So they are challenged to put out."

Jackson concluded, "Kobe's playing some of the best basketball I've ever seen anybody play and it's great for the game. I don't know if anybody will ever score 100 points in a game again. But if anybody can do it, it would be Kobe Bryant because he goes on such big tears. I'm impressed with other young guns like Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. But Kobe is the one guy that doesn't give any quarter to anybody. Whatever he has to do for his team to win, he'll chase it, no matter how high the bar."

In April 2006, Bryant averaged 41.6 ppg and led the Lakers to a 6-2 record, making sure that they would clinch a playoff berth.

Bryant ranked ninth in the NBA in steals per game (1.8) and finished fourth in MVP voting in 2006 while also making the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team. His Lakers finished with a 45-37 record, earned the seventh seed in the Western Conference and extended the Phoenix Suns to seven games in the first round.

Bryant averaged 27.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 5.1 apg in seven playoff games, shooting .497 from the field, .400 from three point range and .771 from the free throw line. Bryant received the second most first place votes in the MVP balloting (22) but was left completely off of 22 out of 125 ballots, a bizarre dichotomy. How can more than one-sixth of the voters rank Bryant first and an equal number of voters rank him sixth or worst?

In the 2008-09 season, Wade won his first scoring title by averaging 30.2 ppg. Wade averaged 37.2 ppg in the first 13 games after the All-Star break, including a pair of 50-point games and a 48-point, 12-assist, six-rebound, four-steal, three-blocked shot effort in a double overtime win over Chicago that Wade concluded by stealing the ball from John Salmons and hitting a one-legged three pointer as time expired.

Wade averaged 33.9 ppg overall after the All-Star break. In March 2006 he averaged 33.7 ppg and the Heat went 8-8 to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Wade averaged 33.5 ppg in April 2006 as the Heat went 4-4, clinching a playoff berth.

In 2008-09, Wade ranked second in the NBA in steals per game (2.2) and became the first 6-foot-4 or under player in NBA history to block more than 100 shots in a season (106; David Thompson blocked 102 shots in 1975-76 as an ABA rookie and had 99 blocked shots in 1977-78 in the second season after the NBA and ABA merged). Wade also ranked eighth in the league in assists (7.5 apg).

He finished third in MVP voting while also making the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive Second Team. His Heat finished with a 43-39 record, earned the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and extended the Atlanta Hawks to seven games in the first round.

Wade averaged 29.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 5.3 apg in seven playoff games, shooting .439 from the field, .360 from three point range and .862 from the free throw line. Wade received the second most first place votes in the MVP balloting (seven) and appeared on 119 of 121 ballots; Bryant edged him out for second place by receiving more second place votes (56-50) and more third place votes (52-41).

Bryant's Lakers had 13 different starting lineups in 2005-06; the most often used combination -- Bryant, Smush Parker, Lamar Odom, Brian Cook and Chris Mihm -- went 14-11. The second most often used combination -- swapping Kwame Brown for Cook -- went 13-9. Parker, now a healthy 27 year old who is no longer in the league, started all 82 games; Brown started 49 games. Parker and Brown both started in all seven playoff games. The other Lakers starters in the playoffs were Odom and Walton. The top two players off of the bench in the playoffs (in terms of minutes played) were second year guard Sasha Vujacic and journeyman Devean George.

Wade's Heat had 16 different starting lineups in 2008-09; the most often used combination -- Wade, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Shawn Marion and Joel Anthony -- went 14-10. The second most often used combination -- swapping Jamario Moon for Marion and Jermaine O'Neal for Anthony -- went 9-8. All-Rookie Second Team selection Chalmers started all 82 games. Haslem, the starting power forward on Miami's 2006 championship team, started all 75 games that he played. O'Neal, a six-time All-Star who made that squad as recently as 2007, started all 27 games that he played in after the Heat acquired him. All-Rookie First Team selection Michael Beasley started 19 games and was seventh on the team in mpg (sixth if you don't count the departed Marion). Daequan Cook, the 2009 Three-Point Shootout champion, shot .375 from three point range during the regular season. Cook and Beasley ranked sixth and seventh on the team in mpg during the playoffs.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:43 AM

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