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Friday, April 18, 2008

NBA Leaderboard, Part XXI (final edition)

The Celtics did not win 70 games but they did lead the standings wire to wire, finishing with a sterling 66-16 record. The West is deeper at the top than the East is but the top two teams--at least by record--reside in the East. The NBA's younger generation really made its presence felt across the various leaderboards. LeBron James ended Kobe Bryant's two year reign as the scoring champion, in the process becoming one of the youngest players to ever lead the league in this category. Dwight Howard became the youngest rebounding champion ever after making a couple unsuccessful runs at that mark in 2006 and 2007. Chris Paul wrested the assists title from Steve Nash, who had held that crown for three consecutive seasons.

Best Five Records

1) Boston Celtics, 66-16
2) Detroit Pistons, 59-23
3) L.A. Lakers, 57-25
4-5) New Orleans Hornets, San Antonio Spurs, 56-26

All eight Western Conference playoff teams won between 50 and 57 games, with two teams tied at 56 and two teams tied at 55. Can any outcome in the Western Conference playoffs truly be considered an upset? Granted, it will be surprising if the all-offense, no-defense Denver Nuggets knock off the top seeded L.A. Lakers but other than that no result would be truly shocking. In the East, there is a lot more separation--at least on paper. Boston finished seven games ahead of Detroit, who finished seven games ahead of Orlando, who finished seven games ahead of Cleveland. The Golden State Warriors missed the playoffs despite having a better record than five of the Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Special mention must be made of the Miami Heat, who went 15-67, the worst record in the league by five games; they lapped the field by almost as big a margin as the Celtics did. There is simply no precedent for a team to be this bad two years after winning a championship while still having its coach, its best two players and other key rotation members. Granted, Shaquille O'Neal did not finish the season with the Heat but the reason that he was traded away was that the season had already fallen apart and the franchise decided to move in a different direction--and the Heat did get All-Star Shawn Marion in return for O'Neal.

Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)

1) LeBron James, CLE 30.0 ppg
2) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.3 ppg
3) Allen Iverson, DEN 26.4 ppg
4) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 25.7 ppg
5) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 25.2 ppg
6) Kevin Martin, SAC 23.7 ppg
7) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 23.6 ppg
8) Michael Redd, MIL 22.7 ppg
9) Richard Jefferson, NJN 22.6 ppg
10) Chris Bosh, TOR 22.3 ppg

15) Tracy McGrady, HOU 21.6 ppg

19) Chris Paul, NOH 21.1 ppg

24) Kevin Durant, SEA 20.3 ppg

30) Paul Pierce, BOS 19.6 ppg

38) Kevin Garnett, BOS 18.8 ppg

42) Ray Allen, BOS 17.4 ppg

LeBron James won his first scoring title with the second highest average of his career; he scored 31.4 ppg in 2005-06 but that was only good for third place behind Kobe Bryant (35.4 ppg) and Allen Iverson (33.0 ppg). Bryant's Lakers will face off against the Nuggets' Iverson-Anthony duo in the first round of the playoffs in a series that will likely feature higher point totals than usual for the postseason. Seven of the top ten scorers play for playoff teams; Kevin Martin is the highest scoring player whose team did not make the playoffs.

Kevin Durant closed the season very strongly, averaging 21.8 ppg on .518 field goal shooting in March and 24.3 ppg on .461 field goal shooting in April. In the last game of the season, Durant set new career-highs in scoring (42 points) and rebounds (13) as his Sonics beat the Warriors 126-121. Durant shot 18-25 from the field in that game. He finished the season with a .430 field goal percentage after hovering around the .400 mark for a substantial period of time.

What happens when three career 20 ppg scorers join forces? Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen each failed to average 20 ppg, sacrificing individual glory for the good of the team. Of course, the real story in Boston is not what those guys did on offense but rather how quickly the Celtics emerged as a dominant defensive team.

Top Ten Rebounders (and a few other notables)

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.2 rpg
2) Marcus Camby, DEN 13.1 rpg
3) Tyson Chandler, NOH 11.7 rpg
4) Tim Duncan, SAS 11.3 rpg
5) Al Jefferson, MIN 11.1 rpg
6) Emeka Okafor, CHA 10.7 rpg
7) Lamar Odom, LAL 10.6 rpg
8) Carlos Boozer, UTA 10.4 rpg
9) Sam Dalembert, PHI 10.4 rpg
10) Antawn Jamison, WAS 10.2 rpg

13) Al Horford, ATL 9.7 rpg

18) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 9.1 rpg

22) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.6 rpg

25) Ben Wallace, CLE/CHI 8.4 rpg

27) LeBron James, CLE 7.9 rpg

31) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 7.5 rpg

Dwight Howard won his first rebounding title after second half declines prevented him from doing so the past couple years.

Tim Duncan's numbers have gradually eroded in several categories over the past few years but he just posted his best rpg average since 2003-04.

Lamar Odom turned into a rebounding machine this season, easily setting a career-high with his 10.7 rpg average. His scoring average dipped to its lowest level since his third season but he shot .525 from the field, by far the best mark in his career. What do all of these numbers mean? Odom is perfectly suited to be the third best player on the Lakers, behind Kobe Bryant and either Andrew Bynum (early in the season) or Pau Gasol (late in the season). Some people call Odom the best third option in the NBA, apparently forgetting about Tony Parker, Monta Ellis, Ray Allen and Antawn Jamison (when Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler are healthy), but even though that is an exaggeration there is no question that Odom and the Lakers both benefit when Odom is not expected to be Bryant's sidekick. All comparisons of Lamar Odom to Scottie Pippen should be permanently banned; Odom's role now is much more like that of Horace Grant (Odom's 14.2 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.5 apg and .525 field goal shooting this season are remarkably similar to Grant's 14.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.7 apg and .578 field goal shooting in 1991-92, the Bulls' second championship season).

Top Ten Playmakers

1) Chris Paul, NOH 11.6 apg
2) Steve Nash, PHX 11.1 apg
3) Deron Williams, UTA 10.5 apg
4) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 10.1 apg
5) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.3 apg
6) Baron Davis, GSW 7.6 apg
7) Raymond Felton, CHA 7.4 apg
8) LeBron James, CLE 7.2 apg
8) Allen Iverson, DEN 7.1 apg
10) Andre Miller, PHI 6.9 apg

Chris Paul zoomed past three-time defending assists champion Steve Nash down the stretch to easily claim his first playmaking title. The top ten did not change much throughout the season but a new/old name joined the final leaderboard: Andre Miller, the 2002 assists leader, supplanted Chauncey Billups, whose numbers dipped a bit as the Pistons rested their key guys in several late season games. LeBron James and Allen Iverson are the only players who ranked in the top ten in scoring and assists this season but Iverson's accomplishment has received a lot less publicity. His coach, George Karl, knows the deal, calling Iverson the team's MVP, a title that most people would assume belongs to Carmelo Anthony.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:07 AM



At Friday, April 18, 2008 3:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have two questions:

- In NBA.com's power rankings section, throughout the season it has been emphasized(by using the per possession rating) that Nuggets' defense is actually underrated. According to these rankings, Denver's defense ranks 12th among all teams. What do you think of this ranking which takes into account the pace of the games?

- I really don't understand what Odom must do in order to prove to be a useful player for the Lakers. I accept that he has been consistent at times during the first three months but since February he has been playing at a great level. He is a very good rebounder(by far the best in the Lakers) and attacks the rim consistently. He has a good field vision and in my opinion, he is an underrated defender(although he exaggerates help defense sometimes as he did in the last possession of the Detroit game. He is mainly critized (in fact insulted) for not knocking down the jumpers but i think he is a very valuable player now with the aid of the Gasol trade.

At Friday, April 18, 2008 11:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


First, is a ranking of 12th out of 30 really that great? Second, as I noted in some earlier posts, the Nuggets improved their point differential with some blowout wins versus bad teams like the Sonics. No matter what someone can come up with by crunching certain numbers in a particular way, the Nuggets are not a good defensive team. Their coach is the first to admit that and their players constantly talk about how they must improve defensively--but as Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith noted, if you are talking about improving your defense and the season is already over then it's just not going to happen.

I certainly accept that Odom is a "useful" player; I said that he is ideally suited to be the third best player on a good team, which is what he is now. The problem was when the Lakers needed him to be the second best player and then there was a big drop off between him and the number three guy. Not every All-Star is a "superstar" and not every "useful" player is an All-Star.


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