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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

LeBron James Becomes Eighth--and Youngest--Member of the Elite 30,000 Point Club

LeBron James scored 28 points in Cleveland's 114-102 loss to the San Antonio Spurs last night, becoming the eighth member of pro basketball's elite 30,000 point club. James, at 33 years and 24 days old, nipped Kobe Bryant (34 years and 104 days), as the youngest player to join the club. You may have read or heard media reports stating that James is the club's seventh member; it is an ongoing shame/scandal that the NBA and most media members who cover the league refuse to recognize ABA statistics in general and Julius Erving's statistics in particular.

As I wrote last year after Dirk Nowitzki joined the club, "Julius "Dr. J" Erving is the most overlooked member of the club, because many media outlets inexplicably fail to account for his ABA points--but Erving deserves recognition as the first 'mid-size' player to break the 30,000 point barrier, a feat only accomplished by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain at the time that Erving joined the club in 1987; indeed, it would be 14 years after Erving retired before Jordan (in his second comeback, this time as a Wizard) became the club's fourth member and just second 'mid-size' player, a feat matched about a decade later by the club's third and final "mid-size" member, Kobe Bryant."

The complete list of 30,000 point club members consists entirely of players who are recognized by one name: Kareem, Mailman, Kobe, Jordan, Wilt, Dirk, Dr. J, LeBron.

Scoring 30,000 points requires tremendous skill and durability. It is unfortunate that the media consistently fails to recognize Erving's accomplishment but perhaps James reaching this milestone will be the first (or, hopefully, final) step in the process of shattering the myth that James is a "pass first" player. James has a legitimate chance to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record (38,387) to become the sport's all-time leading scorer; barring an injury that causes him to miss a significant number of games, James--who currently sports a 26.8 ppg scoring average and ranks fifth all-time at 27.1 ppg--needs to average about 25 ppg over the next four seasons to supplant Abdul-Jabbar. James has averaged at least 25 ppg every season since his rookie campaign and he is showing no signs of slowing down, at least as a scorer.

James is without question a great passer but it is equally without question that he is a great scorer. Many of his fellow 30,000 point club members were great passers (and all of them were at least good passers) but none of them were ever considered "pass first" players. James deserves hearty congratulations for this great accomplishment but the media members who cover pro basketball need to cover the sport's history accurately and completely, without randomly disregarding some statistics and without creating false narratives that do not match a player's resume/skill set.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:28 AM

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Examining the 2018 NBA All-Star Game Voting Process

The NBA All-Star Game has steadily declined in quality for many years, as I have noted in my game recaps from 2016 (Westbrook's Intensity Stood Out in Otherwise Desultory All-Star Game) and 2017 (The NBA All-Star Game Has Become a Farce). Last season, the NBA attempted to shake things up by tinkering with the voting process; beginning in 1975, fan voting determined the Eastern and Western Conference starting fives but the 2017 voting process included participation from all active NBA players and selected media members. The fan voting was weighted at 50%, while the player and media voting was weighted at 25% each. Adding input from the players and from media members was supposed to make the process more serious.

The NBA used the same voting process this season but added a new wrinkle: the two players who receive the most overall weighted votes will be deemed team captains and will choose the lineups for their respective teams by selecting among the eight remaining voting leaders (based on positions--frontcourt or guard--and conference), plus the seven reserves from each conference that will be selected by the coaches (and announced on TNT on Tuesday night). LeBron James, who led the overall voting for the fifth time in his career (2007, 2010, 2014, 2017-18), and Stephen Curry will be the team captains. The other eight 2018 All-Star starters are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and James Harden.

My take on the fan voting is that even though the fans don't always select the five best players in each conference to be starters the fans rarely vote in a player who does not deserve to be an All-Star. Starting in the All-Star Game is a ceremonial honor and the most important thing is that the 12 best players in each conference make the team. The coaches select the reserves, so if a deserving player is not voted as a starter he will still most likely receive All-Star recognition.

Fan voters are supposedly either biased or uninformed but after two years of having the media and the players vote as well we can plainly see that many of the players are either biased or view the process as a joke. I do not want to single out specific players as not being All-Star worthy but I feel comfortable saying that there are not 73 legitimate All-Star frontcourt candidates in the East--but 73 Eastern frontcourt players received at least one vote from their fellow NBA players. Only seven Eastern frontcourt players received at least one media vote: James, Antetokounmpo, Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Andre Drummond and Kevin Love. The fans gave at least one vote to 139 different Eastern Conference frontcourt players. As much as I have often been critical of the analysis provided by many media members, as a whole the media seems to be more reliable, informed and unbiased than fans or players regarding All-Star selections.

The combined voting process produced a reasonable list of 10 All-Star starters. One could argue that Embiid is not in the lineup regularly enough to merit selection (he has already missed nine of Philadelphia's 42 games) but he has been very productive during his limited time on the court. Embiid was third in both fan and media voting but the players ranked him fourth (with Kristaps Porzingis third).

James narrowly finished behind Antetokounmpo in the player voting (226-220) and TNT's Charles Barkley had an interesting take on this: he said that James is a "drama queen" and that many of James' fellow players are tired of this. Barkley did not elaborate on this point but I think that one of the annoying aspects of James' personality is that despite being the best player in the game he always seems to be complaining that he does not have enough help to win. James has played on stacked teams for most of his career and he has spent at least the past seven or eight years playing a major role in his team's personnel decisions, so at some point he needs to be more accountable for the results and less apt to blame others.

Irving and DeRozan were consensus choices among fans, players and media as the top two guards in the East and it is difficult to argue with that.

In the West, the players and the media chose Durant and Davis 1-2 by a wide margin in the frontcourt. The players chose Cousins third by a wide margin over LaMarcus Aldridge, while the fans picked Draymond Green second (he was seventh among the players and sixth among the media), Davis third and Cousins fourth (Aldridge finished eighth in fan voting). The media tapped Aldridge third and Cousins fourth. Cousins edged Green by weighted score in the overall balloting.

Durant should be number one by any reasonable metric: individual statistics, team success, skill set. Davis and Cousins are both tremendous individual talents but even playing on the same team they do not seem to have much impact in the win column. Aldridge and Green do not post the gaudy individual numbers that Davis and Cousins do but Aldridge is the best player on the West's third best team while Green is a major contributor to the best team in the league.

The headline news in the West is that the reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, finished third in the overall guard voting. Westbrook ranked third among the players and the media but just fourth among the fans. Curry won the player and fan voting while finishing second in the media voting. Harden won the media vote while finishing second in the player voting and third in the fan voting. I believe that by the end of the season it will once again be clear that Westbrook is the best guard in the league but Westbrook got off to a slow start (by his lofty standards) as he deferred too much to his new teammates Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Meanwhile, Curry and Harden are putting up great numbers. The irony is that Westbrook is one of the few current players who takes the All-Star Game seriously, while Curry has lied down on the court in an All-Star Game instead of playing defense and Harden rarely plays defense even in the games that count.

The oddity in the West guard voting was Manu Ginobili, who ranked second (!) in the fan voting and a distant eighth in the player voting but did not receive a single media vote. Ginobili is averaging 9.1 ppg and 2.7 apg, which is a good quarter for Curry, Harden or Westbrook. It is baffling that Ginobili, a fine player in his day, received a single vote from anyone.

Each of the 10 starters deserves to be an All-Star, while worthy candidates such as Westbrook and Porzingis will surely be selected as reserves by the coaches. It will be interesting to observe the drama and politics associated with the James-Curry drafting process but I am not convinced that this will result in a more serious or competitive All-Star Game; unless/until most of the players take this event seriously, it will not regain its former luster.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:34 PM

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