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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Midwest Division "Dream Teams"

The January 2003 issue of Basketball Digest included a special section of "Dream Teams"--the best players in the history of each NBA franchise. Although the table of contents for that issue said that the selections had been made "by the editors of Basketball Digest," the truth is that Basketball Digest had one editor, Brett Ballantini, and he split up the task based on the divisional alignment at that time: I wrote about the seven Midwest Division teams, with Barry Wilner (Atlantic), Tom Kertes (Pacific) and Ballantini (Central) handling the rest of the assignment. Basketball Digest published the articles in alphabetical order by team name without giving any indication about who actually wrote the various stories.

Here are the seven team profiles that I wrote exactly as I submitted them, sans a few editorial "improvements"; usually Ballantini had the good sense to not touch my copy but in this case he eliminated the thumbnail remarks (in parentheses) about individual player accomplishments--which I had inserted in order to include extra information without exceeding the 330 word count maximum for each team--and he also made a few odd changes to some of the team stories:

Dallas Mavericks

1st Team
F Dirk Nowitzki (Two All-NBA selections)
F Mark Aguirre (Franchise record 29.5 ppg, 1983-84)
C James Donaldson (Fourth in the NBA in FG%, 1986-87)
G Michael Finley (Five 20-plus ppg seasons)
G Rolando Blackman (Four-time All-Star)

2nd Team
F Jay Vincent (All-Rookie Team, 1981-82)
F Sam Perkins (All-Rookie Team, 1984-85)
C Roy Tarpley (Sixth Man Award, 1987-88)
G Derek Harper (Franchise career assists and steals leader)
G Jason Kidd (Co-Rookie of the Year, 1994-95)

Coach: Dick Motta (Franchise career wins leader)
Best Player: Nowitzki
Best Team: 1987-88 (53-29, Western Conference Finals)

The Dallas Mavericks will always be remembered as the model expansion franchise. Dallas took its lumps in year one (15-67 in 1980-81) but made steady progress in the following seasons, culminating in a seven game loss to the defending champion Lakers in the 1988 Western Conference Finals. At this point the script flipped from "That Championship Feeling" to "Nightmare at Reunion Arena." What happened? First, drug addiction wrecked the career of Roy Tarpley, the 1987-88 Sixth Man Award winner who seemed to be on the verge of becoming a superstar. Second, midway through the 1988-89 season the Mavs traded Mark Aguirre, the team's leading scorer the previous six seasons, to the Detroit Pistons for Adrian Dantley. Aguirre had often feuded with his coaches and teammates, many of whom publicly expressed how happy they were to see him go. Aguirre was soon smiling as well: his teams won 55 of the 80 games he played in that year; Dantley was only 41-32 even though he spent more of the season with the superior squad (the Pistons). Aguirre played a key role on the Pistons' back to back championship teams, while Dallas missed the playoffs in 1988-89, exited the first round in a three game sweep in 1989-90, and plummeted to the draft lottery for the next ten years. Owner Mark Cuban and Coach Don Nelson have recently revived the team's fortunes and the Mavericks are once again viable contenders.

Denver Nuggets

1st Team
F Alex English (Three All-NBA selections)
F Spencer Haywood (ABA MVP and Rookie of the Year, 1969-70)
C Dan Issel (Seven 20-plus ppg seasons as a Nugget)
G David Thompson (73 points in one game, highest non-Chamberlain total)
G Ralph Simpson (Three All-ABA selections)

2nd Team
F Kiki Vandeweghe (Three 20-plus ppg seasons as a Nugget)
F Bobby Jones (Four All-Defensive Team selections as a Nugget)
C Dikembe Mutombo (Three-time NBA shot blocking leader as a Nugget)
G Lafayette Lever (Two-time All-Star)
G Larry Jones (Three All-ABA selections)

Coach: Larry Brown (Two 60-plus win seasons)
Best Player: English
Best Team: 1975-76 (60-24, ABA Finals)

The Denver Rockets (they became the Nuggets in 1974-75) were one of the ABA's original teams in 1967-68. Two years later, 20 year old rookie Spencer Haywood enjoyed the greatest single season in franchise history, winning the MVP, the Rookie of the Year, the scoring title (30.0 ppg) and the rebounding title (19.5 rpg). Haywood jumped to the NBA Seattle Supersonics after his spectacular debut and the ensuing legal battles led to the demise of the "four year" rule, the NBA's restriction against signing players before their college class had graduated. Incidentally, those who think that Haywood's ABA numbers are "inflated" should note that many great players post their highest rebounding averages early in their careers and that Haywood averaged 26.2 ppg and 12.7 rpg in his first full NBA campaign and 29.2 ppg and 12.9 rpg the next season. Larry Brown coached Denver to four straight first place finishes (two in the ABA and two in the NBA's Midwest Division). His 1975-76 team was the class of the ABA; in the midseason All-Star Game the Nuggets played the best players from the other teams in the league and won! Denver seemed to be a shoo-in for the championship, but a superhuman Finals performance by Julius Erving (37.7 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 6.0 apg) carried the New York Nets to the ABA's last title. Hall of Famers Alex English and Dan Issel led the way for Denver during the '80s, when the team perennially qualified for the playoffs but always fell short of the NBA Finals.

Houston Rockets

1st Team
F Elvin Hayes (Scoring champion, 1968-69)
F Ralph Sampson (Rookie of the Year, 1983-84)
C Hakeem Olajuwon (Two-time Finals MVP)
G Calvin Murphy (Franchise career assists leader)
G Clyde Drexler (20.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 5 apg in 1995 playoffs)

2nd Team
F Rudy Tomjanovich (Five-time All-Star)
F Otis Thorpe (Second in the NBA in FG% in 1991-92)
C Moses Malone (Two MVPs and three rebounding titles as a Rocket)
G Steve Francis (Co-Rookie of the Year, 1999-2000)
G Sam Cassell (41-105 three point field goal shooting in 1994 and 1995 playoffs)

Coach: Tomjanovich (Two championships)
Best Player: Olajuwon
Best Team: 1994-95 (47-35, NBA Champions)

The Rockets first took flight in San Diego in 1967-68. The next season rookie Elvin Hayes won the scoring title and carried the team to the playoffs, but the Rockets would not return to the postseason again until 1974-75. In 1971-72, the franchise moved to Houston and hired Tex Winter as head coach. Winter installed the triangle offense that would later become a staple of the championship Jordan-Pippen Chicago Bulls and Shaq-Kobe Lakers but he lasted less than two years in Houston. Moses Malone propelled the Rockets to the 1981 Finals and the Twin Towers (Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson) led Houston to the 1986 Finals, but the Boston Celtics prevailed each time. Olajuwon made the most of his second chance in 1994, guiding Houston to a seven game triumph over a tough New York Knicks squad. The Rockets traded starting power forward Otis Thorpe to Portland for All-Star shooting guard Clyde Drexler in the middle of the following season. Houston won 11 fewer games, but powered through the playoffs, defeating several teams with better records and sweeping the Shaq-Penny Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals. Sam Cassell did not amass gaudy statistics as a Rocket but his clutch play was critical for both championship teams. Thorpe was left off of the Rockets 30th Anniversary Team in favor of Charles Barkley, which is odd considering that Thorpe was a key member of the first championship team and he played longer and at least as effectively in Houston as Barkley did.

Memphis Grizzlies

1st Team
F Shareef Abdur-Rahim (Four 20-plus ppg seasons for the Grizzlies)
F Pau Gasol (Rookie of the Year, 2001-02)
C Bryant Reeves (All-Rookie Team, 1995-96)
G Mike Bibby (All-Rookie Team, 1998-99)
G Michael Dickerson (18.2 ppg, 119 three point FGM, 1999-00)

2nd Team
F Shane Battier (All-Rookie Team, 2001-02)
F Othella Harrington (Tenth in the NBA in FG%, 1999-00)
C Lorenzen Wright (12.0 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2001-02)
G Jason Williams (14.8 ppg, 8.0 apg, 2001-02)
G Greg Anthony (Team leading 14.0 ppg & 6.9 apg, 1995-96)

Coach: Sidney Lowe (Franchise career wins leader)
Best Player: Abdur-Rahim
Best Team: 2001-02 (23-59)

Slim pickings--that is the first thought that comes to mind when putting together the Grizzlies' All-Time Team. When a 23-59 record is the high water mark in franchise history and "Big Country" is the team's greatest center, well, the best that can be said is that there is nowhere to go but up. Of course, with Jerry West wheeling and dealing as general manager and a frontcourt built around Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol and promising second year forward Shane Battier, "up" is not a farfetched expectation. If first round draft pick Drew Gooden contributes, Michael Dickerson stays healthy and flashy point guard Jason Williams becomes a little more consistent, the Memphis Grizzlies will be well on their way to erasing the memories of their struggling years in Vancouver. Greg Anthony, a career backup, was the Grizzlies' leading scorer and playmaker in the franchise’s initial 15-67 campaign. After that less than glittering start, Vancouver posted a worse record in two of the next three seasons. Shareef Abdur-Rahim was one of the few bright spots during that period, producing four straight 20-plus ppg seasons. The Grizzlies traded him to the Atlanta Hawks in 2001 in a multi-player deal that enabled Memphis to obtain Lorenzen Wright and, most importantly, the draft rights to Gasol.

Minnesota Timberwolves

1st Team
F Kevin Garnett (Four All-NBA selections)
F Tom Gugliotta (1997 All-Star)
C Felton Spencer (121 blocked shots in 1990-91)
G Terrell Brandon (Fifth in the NBA in assists, 1999-00)
G Stephon Marbury (All-Rookie Team, 1996-97)

2nd Team
F Christian Laettner (All-Rookie Team, 1992-93)
F Tony Campbell (23.2 ppg in inaugural season, 1989-90)
C Dean Garrett (12.7 ppg & 11.7 rpg, 1997 playoffs)
G Isaiah Rider (All-Rookie Team, 1993-94)
G Pooh Richardson (All-Rookie Team, 1989-90)

Coach: Flip Saunders (Franchise career wins leader)
Best Player: Garnett
Best Team: 1999-00 (50-32, First Round)

When filling out the Minnesota Timberwolves' All-Time Team there is a great temptation to write "awaiting future developments," "under construction" or "to be determined" in the slots for First and Second Team centers. No disrespect intended to Randy Breuer, Stacey King, Luc Longley and a host of others who have manned the pivot for Minnesota, but, to paraphrase an apt saying, if Felton Spencer and Dean Garrett are the answers, it must be a peculiar question. Spencer garners First Team honors because of his 7.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 121 blocked shots in 1990-91, yeoman work for a Timberwolves' center. Garrett earns a Second Team nod on the basis of his 12.7 ppg and 11.7 rpg in the 1997 playoffs; Houston swept Minnesota in three games, but a double double by a Minnesota center deserves recognition regardless of the circumstances or scant number of games. No Timberwolves' center has averaged 10 ppg and 10 rpg for a full season. Minnesota has overcome this glaring weakness, several roster overhauls, the league mandated loss of first round draft picks as punishment for improperly signing Joe Smith and the tragic death of Malik Sealy in a car accident to make the playoffs each of the past six seasons. The Timberwolves rely heavily on Kevin Garnett, who regularly produces 20 ppg-10 rpg-5 apg seasons and no doubt eagerly awaits the arrival of a bona fide center to complement him in the way that the San Antonio Spurs benefit from the Tim Duncan/David Robinson pairing.

San Antonio Spurs

1st Team
F Tim Duncan (MVP, 2001-02)
F Larry Kenon (Four 20-plus ppg seasons)
C David Robinson (MVP, 1994-95)
G George Gervin (Four-time scoring champion)
G James Silas (Two-time All-Star)

2nd Team
F Mike Mitchell (23.4 ppg, 1985-86)
F Sean Elliott (Two-time All-Star)
C Artis Gilmore (Two-time All-Star as a Spur)
G Alvin Robertson (Two steals titles as a Spur)
G Avery Johnson (Franchise career assists leader)

Coach: Gregg Popovich (One championship)
Best Player: Robinson
Best Team: 1998-99 (37-13, NBA Champions)

Like Denver, the Spurs were an original ABA team that started with a different name, in this case Dallas Chaparalls. The Spurs' roster has featured some of the great nicknames in basketball history, including George "Iceman" Gervin, Artis "A Train" Gilmore, Billy "the Whopper" Paultz and David "the Admiral" Robinson. Even some of the courtside San Antonio fans had a nickname: "the Baseline Bums." One of the best nicknames belonged to a player who has unfortunately been largely forgotten: "Captain Late" was not a comic book superhero, although he often seemed to perform superhuman feats. James Silas earned this distinctive moniker because of his ability to score points in bunches in clutch situations, particularly in the fourth quarter. Gervin, Silas and Larry "Mr. K" Kenon led the Spurs to the 1979 Eastern Conference Finals, but San Antonio fell in seven games to the defending champion Washington Bullets. In 1980-81 the Spurs shifted to the Western Conference. Gervin, Gilmore and Mike Mitchell took the Spurs to the Conference Finals in 1983, but the Showtime Lakers prevailed in six games. Gervin departed after the 1984-85 season and the Spurs experienced some down years until the arrival of Robinson in 1989-90 revitalized the team. In 1997-98 Tim Duncan earned Rookie of the Year honors and the next season the Spurs became the first ABA team to win an NBA championship. All that's missing is a nickname for Duncan; Shaq would no doubt suggest "the Big Fundamental" in honor of Duncan's precise footwork.

Utah Jazz

1st Team
F Karl Malone (Two MVPs)
F Adrian Dantley (Two-time scoring champion)
C Mark Eaton (Four shot blocking titles)
G John Stockton (NBA career assists leader)
G Pete Maravich (Scoring champion, 1976-77)

2nd Team
F Thurl Bailey (All-Rookie Team, 1983-84)
F Len Robinson (Rebounding champion, 1977-78)
C Rich Kelley (Second in the NBA in rebounding, 1978-79)
G Darrell Griffith (Rookie of the Year, 1980-81)
G Jeff Hornacek (NBA FT% leader, 1999-00)

Coach: Jerry Sloan (Franchise career wins leader)
Best Player: Karl Malone
Best Team: 1997-98 (62-20, NBA Finals)

Initially, the New Orleans Jazz featured the talents of virtuoso solo performers. First came native son Pete Maravich, who won the 1976-77 scoring title, along the way scoring 68 points versus Walt Frazier and the Knicks. The Jazz relocated to Utah for the 1979-80 season, released Maravich and soon found another flashy stylist, Darrell "Dr. Dunkenstein" Griffith, who evolved from a high flyer to a mad bomber, firing three point shots at a prodigious pace for that era. Next came Adrian Dantley, who produced 30 ppg seasons as effortlessly as Louis Armstrong played the trumpet. The Jazz and their soloists were frequently entertaining but they never won much. That changed with the arrival of John Stockton and Karl Malone, who would go on to form the longest running duet in NBA history. Stockton's pinpoint passing earned him the career assists crown and orchestrated an offensive attack that involved the whole team in screening, passing and cutting. Meanwhile, Malone's assault on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all time scoring record was accompanied by the discordant sound of his elbows clanging off the faces of various rivals, including Isiah Thomas, David Robinson, Brian Grant and Joe Kleine. Stockton to Malone has been a hit for years, but it has never reached the top of the charts in the postseason. In 1997-98 the Jazz earned homecourt advantage, but a maestro named Jordan left the Jazz singing the blues as he finished the second stanza of his career with an artistic flourish.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:52 AM



At Monday, December 07, 2009 3:07:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

I realize that you wrote this article in 2003. Does Carmelo Anthony now displace Alex English or Kiki for Denver? Denver certainly has boasted some good SFs.

At Monday, December 07, 2009 4:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

Alex English posted eight straight 2000-plus point seasons as a Nugget while shooting between .495 and .551 from the field. English rebounded and passed better than Melo does and was at least as good defensively. The only skill set advantage that Melo could possibly claim is three point shooting but even that is deceptive because English rarely even attempted shots from that range; during his era few teams used the three point shot that much.

Vandeweghe only played four years in Denver, so Melo's six-plus years as a Nugget move him past Kiki on the Nuggets' all-time list--but the skill set comparison is closer than some people may think: Kiki was clearly a far superior shooter from all ranges (field, three point line, free throws) and as a Nugget his rebounding and passing were on par with Melo's. Neither player was/is a great defender, though Melo clearly is bigger and more physical; Nugget Kiki may have been more athletic than Melo, though.


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