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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chris Webber's Legacy

Chris Webber's 15 year NBA career ended on Wednesday when he officially announced his retirement. Webber, who finished with career regular season averages of 20.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 4.2 apg, participated in just nine games this season with the Golden State Warriors; his balky left knee simply would not allow him to continue playing. He averaged at least 20 ppg and 10 rpg in six different seasons and he would have finished his career as a 20 ppg-10 rpg player if not for the 70 games that he played for three different teams in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Perhaps this is what ESPN's Rick Carlisle was referring to when he said that Webber could have "orchestrated" his retirement better; certainly, all Webber did in his last two seasons was lower his career averages. That is not entirely his fault--he can't help it that he was never the same after suffering a devastating knee injury in 2003--but, as Carlisle indicated, it is unfortunate when the last memory people have of your career is of you limping around the court.

Webber joins Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham and Kevin Garnett as the only players to average at least 20 ppg, nine rpg and four apg during their careers. The first four players are all Hall of Famers and members of the 50 Greatest Players of All-Time list, while Garnett will definitely be a Hall of Famer after he retires. Webber's averages testify to his high level of productivity but no one seriously considers him to truly be in the same category as those players.

Webber's career is a classic example of the difference between putting up good numbers and having a Hall of Fame level impact. Stephon Marbury has averaged at least 20 ppg and eight apg in six different seasons, more than anyone other than Oscar Robertson, who did that 10 times; does anyone really believe that Marbury is a great point guard, let alone second only to Robertson on the all-time list? Of course not (other than perhaps the self-proclaimed "Starbury" himself). A player's role on his team, how often he handles the ball, the pace that his team plays at and other factors play a role in what statistics he accumulates. Webber was a very, very good player who had some moments of greatness but his time as an elite level player was brief. He only made the All-NBA First Team in 2000-01, when he averaged a career-high 27.1 ppg and finished fourth in MVP voting. He earned four other All-NBA Team selections and he made the All-Star team five times.

Webber only posted two 20 ppg-10 rpg seasons in the playoffs and his playoff averages (18.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.6 apg) were lower across the board than his regular season averages; that kind of decline is not unusual: the playoffs feature the toughest competition, the pace of the game slows and teams are really able to focus in on forcing players away from their strengths and toward their weaknesses. Still, it must be said that Webber's performances in clutch situations will not be remembered fondly by fans of his teams, dating all the way back to the infamous timeout that he called in an NCAA Championship Game when his Michigan Wolverines had no timeouts left. Prior to that fateful error, he appeared to commit a traveling violation, though nothing was called. The bottom line is that he often seemed to not want the ball in game deciding moments nor was he consistently productive in such situations. I'm not even specifically talking about buzzer beating shots, which are somewhat glamorized and overrated, but just his ability--or lack thereof--to put his stamp on big games down the stretch. Webber put up decent numbers the two times that he played in seventh games (20 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, 9-21 field goal shooting in the 2002 Western Conference Finals; 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, 8-17 field goal shooting in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals) but his Sacramento Kings lost on both occasions, in no small part because the other team's star or stars outperformed him.

Webber did not make my list of the greatest power forwards of all-time. He had a very good career but--to answer the question that has been posed several times on air and in print--I do not consider him to be a Hall of Fame level player. As NBA TV's Pete Vecsey--who shares that assessment--said, there is no shame in that and it does not reflect poorly on Webber; there is nothing wrong with having a very good, 15 year NBA career.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:24 AM



At Saturday, March 29, 2008 8:44:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I actually think that if Webber's entire career went the same way as his tenure with the Kings that he'd basically be Karl Malone. He could do anything you'd want from a power forward, consistently led teams that put up solid regular season records but underachieved in the playoffs, and was himself a subpar big-game performer. The difference between Webber and Malone is like the difference between George McGinnis and Elvin Hayes.

Webber's a classic case of what lots of basketball fans call "soft." I remember an elimination playoff game between the Kings and Jazz when Webber had the ball late in the game and was guarded by Bryon Russell. Instead of posting him up and scoring on Russell with ease (as you'd expect him to be able to do), he did something stupid. I can't recall exactly what it was (maybe a missed jumper or a lame attempt to post up or a pass), but I do remember shaking me head.

At Sunday, March 30, 2008 3:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I'm not a huge Karl Malone backer--particularly in light of how his stats plummeted in the playoffs--but Malone did shoot better from the field and free throw line than C Webb. Their failures in clutch situations are somewhat similar but I don't really think that their games are that similar. Malone was a durable power player who drove to the hoop and drew a lot of fouls (he developed a jumper later in his career). C Webb was more of a finesse player who played at the high post, shot jumpers and passed to cutters, though he would at times drive to the hoop and dunk (when he was younger).

At Monday, March 31, 2008 8:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

webber did his thing without question he was good post up player had great hands athletic great passer smart player who understood the game man he could ball. but i hate to do this too him what was his defining moment the 02 game 7 conference finals he had 6 points in the second half and overtime that is not what big game players do. and bill simmons is saying it bob ryan chris broussard david friedman and all blog people he simply wasnt a big game player he didnt have it in him he never stepped up like jordan bird magic bill ruseell shaq and kobe has remeber when kobe scored 6 points in overtime game 4 finals when shaq fouled out, 04 game 2 pistons game tying shot suns in 06 jordan flu game game 1 97 finals 89 agisnt cleveland 98 finals 46 54 aginst knicks 93 conference finals. bird 20 points aginst dominique. he never willed his team to victory it was mike bibby who wanted to shoot and it seemed only player who wanted to shoot on that kings team outplayed by kg in 04. some of it was bad timeing shaq and kobe era like for malone it was jordan era malone too me seemed to be a big game player im suprised everyone saying he is not.

but webber is not a hall of famer by my standards but they let joe dumars and bill walton in and walton played 2 seasons, clearly webber better than dumars so he should get in by there standards plus he had a great college career as well but never won anything either. he was good simply not great like he should of been i wonder what would of happen if orlando drafted him and not penny.


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