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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Lindy's Pro Basketball 2009-10 Examines Shaq-LeBron Duo, Nash's Legacy, Tex Winter's Influence on Phil Jackson

I wrote three team previews for Lindy's Pro Basketball 2009-10: Cleveland Cavaliers (second year in a row), Phoenix Suns (third year in a row) and Dallas Mavericks (first time). The Cavs signed Leon Powe after the article submission deadline, so I did not write the parenthetical comments about Powe in the Cleveland preview and I disagree with the suggestion that the Cavs will play him at all at small forward; assuming that he recovers from knee surgery in time to play during the regular season--the Cavs really brought him in to hopefully provide frontcourt depth for the playoffs--Powe will get minutes at power forward and center.

Each team preview is accompanied by a sidebar story. My Cavs sidebar is about Shaquille O'Neal, who captured four championships and three Finals MVPs from 2000-06 but has only won one playoff game since that time. The Cavs hope that the LeBron James-Shaquille O'Neal duo will prove to be a championship combination; while that is certainly a very realistic possibility, there are valid reasons to be concerned about O'Neal's age/health and his ability/willingness to be effective defensively--particularly in screen/roll situations. Also, it should not be forgotten or diminished that O'Neal has, to varying degrees, feuded with All-Star perimeter teammates Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade; in addition, O'Neal has even clashed with both Hall of Fame coaches who guided him to championships, Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. In other words, if the Cavs go through a rough patch it will be very interesting to observe the O'Neal-LeBron James-Coach Mike Brown dynamic. That said, the Cavs acquired O'Neal by giving up Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, two players who did not figure to have important roles on the team this season, so it is completely understandable why Danny Ferry made the trade--but just because it is understandable and logical does not mean that it will work out to the tune of a championship, though the Cavaliers clearly are one of the five teams with realistic 2010 title aspirations; the Lakers, Magic, Celtics and Spurs (not necessarily in that order) round out that elite quintet.

The Dallas sidebar explains that, contrary to popular belief, Shawn Marion was an All-Star before Steve Nash arrived in Phoenix and Marion's much discussed statistical decline actually began when he was still playing with Nash. The Phoenix sidebar compares Nash's numbers with those posted by some All-Star point guards from previous eras and suggests that people who look back on this era will be mystified that Nash won as many MVPs as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal combined.

Lindy's editor Roland Lazenby authored an excellent feature story about how Tex Winter helped mold Phil Jackson into a 10-time championship coach. Lazenby explains that in the 1980s Chicago Bulls' General Manager Jerry Krause hired Winter to be the "coach's coach" for Jackson when Winter and Jackson worked as assistant coaches under Stan Albeck and then Doug Collins; years earlier, Krause had boldly told Winter that he would become an NBA general manager and that he would hire Winter and Krause proved to be true to his word. According to Lazenby, neither Albeck nor Collins fully embraced the idea of having Winter on the coaching staff and Krause eventually replaced Collins with Jackson, who always valued Winter's counsel. Winter told Lazenby that Jackson seemed to have a photographic recall for every game that he ever played in, coached or scouted and that Jackson had a great eye for detail: "Phil remembers just about everything about every game," Winter marveled.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:58 AM



At Saturday, September 05, 2009 5:16:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Dave,

Interesting news:

Turns out lactic acid does not function as scientists believed it did.

The significant part comes at the end of the article ... "even though coaches often believed in the myth of the lactic acid threshold, they ended up training athletes in the best way possible to increase their mitochondria. "Coaches have understood things the scientists didn't".

In nascent or under-developed fields, when you want to get the real deal, you always go to practitioners, not the theorists. If you want to know about meat, go to the butcher. Hundreds of years ago, it took a mathematician with experience in gambling to document the characteristics of probabilities.

The same can be applied to basketball: ask the coaches, the ones whose livelihood depends on winning and losing, what they think of players and their contributions to winning. I would sooner trust them than some pseudo-scientist claiming to have a statistically sound model of basketball that conflicts with the coaches' evaluations.

At Saturday, September 05, 2009 11:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

You make a good point but I would add that it is a stretch to even consider "advanced basketball statistics" to be a science at all. Real science relies on the scientific method, whereas much of the work in "advanced basketball statistics" has been done by people who have backgrounds in economics, a field that is, at best, pseudoscientific; in any case, economics is certainly not "hard science" like physics or chemistry.

At Tuesday, September 08, 2009 10:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nash won because they wanted the little white boy to win MVP. There is no way he has ever been better than Bryant or ONeal. Nash had good seasons but MVP? It shows you how much of a joke these writers and who ever else votes for MVP, HOF, and other accolades are.


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