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Monday, April 26, 2010

First Round "Midterm" Report

Each NBA playoff series is past the halfway point, so now is a good time for a "midterm" report about the first round.

Cleveland 3, Chicago 1
  1. As expected, this series has been lopsided in Cleveland's favor--three double digit wins and one very close loss. If the Cavs had not been bored/disinterested for most of game three then they would have already swept the Bulls. I stand by my statement before this series that the Cavs' second unit could give the Bulls' starters a run for their money: possible matchups in such a hypothetical encounter would be Delonte West versus Derrick Rose, Daniel Gibson versus Kirk Hinrich, Zydrunas Ilgauskas versus Joakim Noah, Anderson Varejao versus Taj Gibson and Jamario Moon versus Luol Deng. Before you scoff at the notion that such a series would be competitive, remember that on April 8 a full strength Bulls team played a must win game at home against a Cavs team sans LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal and Delonte West (and Antawn Jamison sat out down the stretch after tweaking his right foot)--and the Bulls barely escaped with a 109-108 win.
  2. Cleveland Coach Mike Brown has many critics among fans, bloggers and even some mainstream media members--and those critics are clueless. Brown is blasted for his supposedly unimaginative offense and he is blamed for not giving J.J. Hickson more playoff minutes. This season, the Cavs ranked ninth in scoring, second in point differential and third in field goal percentage, so whether you measure total points, margin of victory or shooting efficiency the Cavs are a top level offensive team. As for Hickson, he started 73 games this season due to Shaquille O'Neal missing 29 games, Zydrunas Ilgauskas missing 18 games, Antawn Jamison not arriving on the scene until the final third of the season and Anderson Varejao proving to be highly effective in a reserve role--but now that the Cavs' deep frontcourt is at full strength it would make no sense to give Hickson minutes over future Hall of Famer O'Neal, two-time All-Star Jamison or veteran defender/rebounder Varejao; there simply are not enough minutes to go around, particularly when you add Ilgauskas to the mix and factor in that LeBron James gets some minutes at power forward. Depending on matchups/foul trouble/injuries, Hickson's number may be called more frequently in subsequent playoff series but the Cavs have the deepest frontcourt rotation in the league so it is quite understandable that the least experienced member of that crew simply has to wait his turn.
  3. Brown has led the Cavs to the best regular season record in the NBA two years in a row and his playoff resume is very strong: one NBA Finals appearance, two Eastern Conference Finals berths and an upset of the favored Detroit Pistons in the 2007 playoffs. The only time that a Brown-coached team has lost a series in which they were considered to be favorites is the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals versus Orlando. Brown has a 39-25 career playoff record (.609) and in five trips to the playoffs his teams have never lost in the first round (I am including this year's series against the Bulls even though it is not officially over). Here are the career playoff records of some deservedly renowned NBA coaches: Rick Adelman, 79-78 (.503), eight first round losses in 16 appearances; Don Nelson, 75-91 (.452), six first round losses in 18 appearances; Jerry Sloan, 97-99 (.495), nine first round losses in 20 appearances.
Orlando 3, Charlotte 0
  1. Foul trouble has kept Dwight Howard in check offensively but the Bobcats have been unable to contain Orlando's three point shooters, particularly Jameer Nelson (25.7 ppg, 10-22 three point shooting).
  2. Vince Carter's overall per game statistics are underwhelming but he scored a team-high 19 points in game two, he has done a good job reversing the ball--part of the reason that the Magic have been able to launch so many open three pointers--and the reality is that sometimes great players have to be willing to sacrifice personal statistical glory in order to win a championship.
  3. Stephen Jackson is leading the Bobcats with a 21.3 ppg scoring average versus Orlando but he is shooting just .393 from the field, including .200 from three point range. It is very difficult to win in the postseason when your leading scorer is that inefficient.
Atlanta 2, Milwaukee 1
  1. This series is flying somewhat under the radar, likely because the Hawks still have not proven that they can beat a contender in a playoff series and because the Andrew Bogut injury ended any pretense that the Bucks could do much more than simply avoid being swept.
  2. The real test for the Hawks will come in the next round when they face Orlando; if the Hawks upset the Magic then they will be taken much more seriously but for now they seem to be filling the role of the 1980s Milwaukee Bucks--an excellent team that cannot quite match up with the conference's powerhouse teams.
Boston 3, Miami 1
  1. The bottom line on this series is pretty simple: the Celtics have three future Hall of Famers plus a young All-Star point guard, while the Heat have one future Hall of Famer; the obvious and significant talent disparity explains why Boston is in the driver's seat.
  2. The Celtics did not have a great home record--by their standards--this season, so I thought that Miami could steal a game in Boston, a possibility that seemed even more likely after Kevin Garnett got suspended for game two; Miami's failure to take advantage of that opportunity indicated that this will be a short series.
  3. Dwyane Wade's game four performance was breathtaking but it still won't prevent the Heat from being eliminated in five games.
  4. While reports of the Celtics' demise may have been premature, taking out this limited Heat team hardly proves that the Celtics are a serious title contender; Garnett still looks like he has a bad wheel, Pierce and Allen are both apt to disappear for long stretches and all Rasheed Wallace seems to care about is that the Celtics "CTC" (Sheed-speak for "cut the check"). The Celtics are not as effective or intimidating defensively as they were during their 2008 championship season.
L.A. Lakers 2, Oklahoma City 2
  1. Call this series "Mythbusters" because what we are seeing is shattering a lot of cherished but wrongheaded beliefs while reaffirming the truth of what I have been saying for several years about Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
  2. I am not surprised at all that the Lakers look shaky and I would not be surprised if they lose this series: in my playoff preview I said that if Kobe Bryant did not average at least 26-28 ppg while shooting at least .450 from the field then the Lakers would lose regardless of what anyone else on the team did; Bryant is averaging 24.0 ppg on .384 shooting. The Lakers escaped in game one despite Bryant's 21 points on 6-19 (.316) shooting because the jittery Thunder shot just .403 overall, including a 7-24 (.292) performance by 2010 scoring champion Kevin Durant. Then the Lakers won game two narrowly as Bryant produced 39 points on 12-28 (.429) shooting, including 15 fourth quarter points. In the Lakers' two losses at Oklahoma City, Bryant scored just 36 points on 15-39 (.385) shooting; Bryant scored 24 points in game three but shot poorly, while in game four he shot well but not frequently enough as the Lakers started the game by trying to force feed their post players--and promptly fell behind by double digits.
  3. Belatedly, some members of the national media have finally figured out that the Lakers are not a deep team--and, contrary to a new popular story line, this has nothing to do with Andrew Bynum's late season injury moving Lamar Odom into the starting lineup: Odom has been inconsistent all year and the Lakers' bench made Coach Phil Jackson want to vomit (his statement, not mine) even when Odom was the team's top reserve. Back in the 2007-08 season, the Lakers had a decent bench: Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic were productive players at that time, Ronny Turiaf was a very solid big and Luke Walton kept the Triangle Offense clicking with his passing. However, even at that time the Lakers were hardly the deepest team in the league--contrary to a widely stated fiction--and their starters were not as talented overall as Boston's, which is why the Celtics (led by three future Hall of Famers supported by a very deep bench) defeated the Lakers in the NBA Finals. In 2008-09, the Lakers lost a lot of bench depth due to injuries and roster moves but their starting lineup was more talented because Pau Gasol was in the fold for the entire year, Andrew Bynum made it through more than half the season (barely) and Trevor Ariza emerged as the starting small forward in the last fourth of the season. This season, the Lakers bolstered their starting lineup by replacing Ariza with Ron Artest and by keeping Bynum healthy for 65 games but their bench was a disaster area: purported triple double threat Odom spent most of the season averaging a triple single (he pushed his scoring average into double figure territory only after getting some spot starts) and no other reserve could be counted on consistently to provide a spark offensively or defensively. Vujacic buried himself in Phil Jackson's doghouse with poor play and a bad attitude, Farmar regressed, Walton was hurt for most of the year and Shannon Brown--who had some good moments in 2008-09--showed why he was the 15th man on the Cleveland team that made it to the 2007 NBA Finals. This season, Daniel Gibson ranked third in the NBA in three point field goal percentage but he hardly is getting any playoff run for the Cavs behind Mo Williams, Anthony Parker and Delonte West; Gibson--a poor man's B.J. Armstrong--would absolutely be the first guard off of the bench for the Lakers and his deadeye marksmanship could help him make a push for Derek Fisher's starting job, though Jackson clearly has a lot of trust in Fisher's veteran leadership despite Fisher's obviously declining skills.
  4. The term "franchise player" is poorly defined and vastly overused. There are very few true franchise players in the NBA: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant--these guys can carry a team based on some combination of physical dominance, one great defining skill and/or tremendous skill set diversity. The next tier of NBA talent consists of great players who are not quite as dominant as the players listed above. Pau Gasol is a wonderfully skilled All-Star but he is not a franchise player: he does not have the mindset to be one nor does he have the ability to consistently dominate elite teams in playoff competition as the focal point of his team's offensive attack. Since joining the Lakers, Gasol has flourished as a second option benefiting from the double and triple team attention drawn by Bryant; the Lakers' best play is a screen/roll action involving Bryant and Gasol, because Bryant reads the defense excellently, knowing when to drive, when to shoot the midrange jumper and when to pass the ball either to a cutting Gasol or else to an open shooter on the weak side if the defense goes into full rotation to trap Bryant while also checking Gasol.
  5. Even with Gasol missing the early part of this season, the Lakers still had the best record in the NBA as Bryant put up some of the best and most efficient numbers of his career--but the Lakers' season started to go south as Bryant's injuries piled up, beginning with a broken finger sustained in December and then including back, ankle and knee ailments.
  6. During the 2009 playoffs, the Lakers went 6-0 when Bryant scored at least 35 points (he shot at least .464 from the field in each of those games). The Lakers went 1-2 when Bryant scored fewer than 20 points (he shot .412 or worse in each of those games). The Lakers went 12-1 when Bryant shot at least .455 from the field but they went just 4-6 when he shot .452 or worse. Overall, Bryant averaged 30.2 ppg on .457 field goal shooting in 23 playoff games as the Lakers won the NBA Championship.
  7. During the 2008 playoffs, the Lakers went 4-0 when Bryant scored at least 35 points (he shot at least .500 from the field in each of those games). The Lakers lost the only game in which Bryant scored fewer than 20 points (he shot .316 in that game). The Lakers went 12-3 when Bryant shot at least .474 from the field but they went just 2-4 when Bryant shot .394 or worse. Overall, Bryant averaged a league-best 30.1 ppg on .479 field goal shooting in 21 playoff games as the Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals.
  8. Despite all of the fevered talk about depth, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and other factors, the bottom line reality is that when Kobe Bryant is highly productive and efficient--which I define as scoring at least 26 ppg while shooting at least .450 from the field--the Lakers are a dominant team because opposing defenses must commit multiple players to Bryant, thus creating easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. There is no evidence that Pau Gasol can shoulder a similar workload for a sustained period of time (i.e., attempting over 20 field goal attempts per game while dealing with double teams); indeed the Memphis Grizzlies traded him precisely because they felt that he could not be that kind of player and that they therefore would be better served rebuilding their team.
  9. Bryant's accomplishments--both from an individual standpoint and as the team leader--have not been fully appreciated. He is the main reason that the Lakers posted the best record in the competitive Western Conference for three straight seasons (2008-10); the last team to accomplish that feat was the Utah Jazz from 1997-99, but that included the lockout shortened 50 game 1999 campaign during which the Jazz tied with the Spurs for top honors in the West. Prior to the Jazz, the only team since the 1976-77 NBA-ABA merger to have the best record in the West for at least three straight years was the Showtime Lakers (1982-90).
  10. The last few games of the 2010 regular season--and games three and four of this series--provide stark proof of just how ordinary the Lakers really are when Bryant is not able to be a dominant force. It is easy to say now that Bryant should have rested earlier in the season to allow his injuries to heal but the reality is that he made six game-winning shots this season (seven if you count his de facto game-winner against Dallas even though it was not a last second shot). Even more significantly, he bailed the Lakers out many other times in the fourth quarter; if Bryant had missed a significant portion of the season the Lakers would probably have not even qualified for the playoffs: only seven wins separate the top seeded Lakers from the eighth seeded Thunder and while it is too simplistic to just subtract Bryant's game-winners from the Lakers' win total it is definitely not a stretch to assert that he was worth more than seven wins and that the value he provided could not be replaced over the long haul by anyone else on the roster. Please do not be deceived by the Lakers' record in the handful of regular season games that Bryant sat out; isolated, random games--some of which were against teams that were also injury-depleted--have nothing to do with how the Lakers would perform without Bryant for an extended period of time, let alone how they would do against elite teams. In the past three to four weeks we have essentially seen the Lakers without Bryant--at least, without the Bryant who dominated the playoffs the past couple years--and the results have been ugly.
  11. It is unclear what exactly has caused Bryant's performance to decline. The broken finger surely plays a part but Bryant seemed to have adapted to it earlier in the year; I think that the real problem is with his wheels, either his balky ankle and/or his right knee (which has been operated on twice during Bryant's career). I suspect that at least one of three things is true regarding Bryant's knee: 1) It will not function properly until Bryant gets at least a month off; 2) It will require offseason surgery; 3) If neither of the first two statements is true then the cumulative effects of Bryant's 14 year career have affected his hops so severely that he will have to change his style of play to adjust, much like Michael Jordan did during his first comeback with the Bulls.
  12. Game five is a do or die situation for the Lakers, so if Bryant is physically able to do so he will score at least 35 points while shooting at least .450 from the field and the Lakers will win. If Bryant is unable to do that then the game will be very much up for grabs.
San Antonio 3, Dallas 1
  1. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich looks like a genius now; it appears that he deftly managed his older players' minutes so that they would round into peak form just in time for the playoffs, which was his stated goal all along. He made it clear that he cared much less about regular season wins than postseason sharpness. The Spurs settled for the seventh seed but they are one win away from knocking off the second seeded Mavs, a team that many people thought could advance to the NBA Finals. The Spurs were never fully healthy all season long and seemed to have suffered from significant defensive slippage compared to their championship years, so after considering them a viable title contender prior to the season I jumped off of their bandwagon on the eve of the playoffs. Assuming that the Spurs close out the Mavs it will be very interesting to see just how far they can go. Just a few months ago it was widely thought that adding Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess made the Spurs a significant postseason threat and that may very well prove to be true.
  2. Something weird is going on within the Dallas organization; it is hard to understand why the team would bring in Shawn Marion and Caron Butler to be key pieces but then Coach Rick Carlisle would bench both players in the second half of game three only to restore them to their normal spots in the rotation in game four.
  3. Dallas owner Mark Cuban often brags about how much of an edge his team derives from their proprietary "advanced basketball statistics"; however, all of that number crunching has resulted in just one Finals appearance plus an embarrassing first round loss in 2007--and while a first round loss to the veteran Spurs this year may not be embarrassing it would certainly have to be considered a major disappointment.
Phoenix 2, Portland 2
  1. It seems like the Blazers are one injury away from making it to the Finals; after all, every time a player goes down the team exceeds expectations, so it is only logical--in a bizarre way--to assume that if someone else gets hurt then the team will be practically unbeatable. Seriously, though, Coach Nate McMillan deserves a lot of credit for instilling a defensive mindset in his team and his players deserve credit for stepping up in place of their fallen comrades.
  2. The Suns looked so good after the All-Star Break that they almost turned me into a believer, particularly since they seemed to be paying more than cursory attention to the defensive end of the court. I should have known better. The Suns' game one loss at home to the Brandon Roy-less Blazers was inexcusable and even though the Suns subsequently regained homecourt advantage this series looks like a tossup now.
  3. During the TNT broadcasts, Charles Barkley made an excellent point about a major weakness for the Suns: Steve Nash's complete inability to guard top level point guards forces the Suns to crossmatch in ways that not only can compromise their overall defense but that also sap the energy of his teammates. Nash is a great passer and a stunningly accurate shooter but I will never, ever, ever understand how anyone can seriously put him alongside players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade in MVP discussions: those players are significantly bigger and more versatile and they have an impact at both ends of the court.
Utah 3, Denver 1
  1. Shortly after the Detroit Pistons traded Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to Denver for Allen Iverson last season (McDyess later returned to the Pistons, much like Zydrunas Ilgauskas returned to the Cavs this season after the Antawn Jamison trade), everyone's favorite associate professor of applied economics declared that Iverson--or, more specifically, the allegedly vast superiority of Billups to Iverson--is the sole answer explaining both Detroit's decline in the standings and Denver's alleged improvement--never mind that Detroit changed coaches and suffered tremendous roster upheaval or that the Nuggets made other personnel moves and benefited from the decline of several teams in the West. Fast forward to this season and we see that after Iverson's departure from Detroit the Pistons tumbled from 39 wins in 2009 to 27 wins this season; based on the associate professor's "logic"--namely, that one variable should be considered the prime reason for a team's success or failure even though many other variables are actually involved--one could say that Iverson is the sole answer explaining Detroit's 12 win decline. Similarly, after advancing to the Western Conference Finals last year the Nuggets are on the verge of being eliminated in the first round this year. If Billups was the main reason for Denver's success last year then he must be the main reason for their (relative) failure this year, right? Of course, that is all just nonsense. The Pistons were a declining team before they made the Iverson deal--that is why Joe Dumars changed coaches and overhauled his roster in the first place. One could debate the merits of Dumars' various choices but it is absurd to suggest that Iverson single-handedly destroyed the team or that if Detroit had kept Billups then the Pistons would have been a contender. As for Denver, the Nuggets went 50-32 in 2007-08 with Iverson leading the league in minutes played and ranking third in scoring, eighth in steals and ninth in assists; Iverson was more productive and dominant that season than Billups has ever been. Billups certainly played very well for Denver in 2008-09 but the reason that the Nuggets moved up from the eighth seed to the second seed despite only increasing their win total by four is that several Western Conference teams moved backward in the standings due to injuries, personnel moves and other factors.
  2. This season, the Nuggets' win total declined by one but they dropped from the second seed to the fourth seed because some of the teams that had off years in 2009 bounced back this year. Still, the fourth seed looked like a decent spot to start a playoff run considering that the fifth seeded Utah Jazz had been decimated by injuries.
  3. The Nuggets are certainly dealing with their own challenges, including the cancer that has prevented George Karl from coaching the team down the stretch and the injuries that have limited Kenyon Martin, but with homecourt advantage and a supposedly championship caliber roster guided by Billups' leadership the Nuggets definitely should be able to defeat the Jazz--but instead Utah is one win away from eliminating Denver.
  4. Last season, all we heard were stories about how Billups' influence had helped the Nuggets' various knuckleheads to become more mature and focused on and off the court. If Billups received all the credit for Denver's success last year then doesn't he deserve at least some of the blame for the team's current meltdown? The Nuggets have been terrible defensively and they still have wretched shot selection. The funny thing is that instead of Billups "changing the culture" it seems like the "culture" in Denver has changed Billups; now Billups is taking goofy shots, committing careless turnovers and making bad plays at the most inopportune times.
  5. Billups did not "change the culture" in Denver. He joined a good team at just the right time and for one year they caught lightning in a bottle thanks to some down years by other Western Conference teams. Overall, the Nuggets did not materially change--they did not become a serious, defensive-minded, championship contending team; that should have been obvious when the Nuggets melted down at home in game six versus the Lakers last season (Billups shot 2-7 from the field in that game, scoring 10 points with nine assists and five turnovers in a team-high 39 minutes) and it is definitely obvious as the shorthanded Utah Jazz are pounding the Nuggets into submission.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:40 AM



At Monday, April 26, 2010 5:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


the cavs look dominant as usual you see the lebron 43 footer he shot it like a regualr shot he might be greatest of all time jordan in trouble to me he has 17,000 points at 25 he has 30 plus triple doubles 2 mvp 2 all star mvp scoreing title he lloks like he will win a ring this year. and kenny smith thinks kevin durant will be better in 3 years lol maybe 6 or 7 not 3 because of age.

charlotte is gone howard is dominating the defensive end nelson has 2 30 point games and playing his best basketball this year bye charlotte sweep.

atlanta milwaukee no contest atlanta was bored in game 3 this should be five games too many athletes for atlanta milwaukee miss bogut, jennings played well but will have to go off for milwaukee to extend series

boston will close heat out in 5 games,bostonlooks good right now but will not beat cavs in the next series lebron jamison and cavs have more talented deeper team.

spurs beating dallas a upset to some dallas looked like a west finalist team at least now there going to struggle to make it to second round or more than likely get beat by this team. spurs to me donbt match up well with lakers should get by suns to get to the conference finals.

suns blazers looks like a 7 gamer roy comeing back helps but suns ultmately win the seires i believe.

denver needs george karl back he motivates those guys he has a similar personality like them. if iverson was on the team they wouldnt make playoffs this year the way he declined and when he was there they never played like a team to me carmelo took off when billups got there because he is more of a pure point what that team needs.iverson is a scorer and a great one but a scorer he doesnt make anybody better or put you in great spots to score like billups billups has better shot selection and more of a pass first player iverson was clearly better career player not close but for what denver needed they got in chauncey billups. if iverson was on team last year they wouldnt make it out of first round again.

the lakers are only going to go as far as kobe bryant takes them people think its a stacked team they are not a stacked team kobe makes them go gasol a beast but that is it the lakers in 6 or 7 i believe in this series.

At Monday, April 26, 2010 7:53:00 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

This post comes as no surprise to those that have been following you for the past few years.

It's quite impressive how right you've been juxtaposed with the (often self proclaimed) "experts."

In response to the LeBron half court shot: VERY impressive. More impressive than him making it was how easily he got it there.

However, did anyone else notice how at the end of an earlier quarter (I believe the first), LeBron had the ball find it's way to him around midcourt with a second left and he just stood there with it?

I've seen him do this multiple times now. And the only reason I can think he refuses to shoot it is because he's not prepared for it, thus decreasing his likeliness of making it. Which would mean it's a stat thing.

At Monday, April 26, 2010 8:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Most of your comment simply echoes what I wrote in this post but I disagree with you regarding Billups and Iverson. While it is true that Iverson's skills have now declined, at the time that the trade happened Iverson was coming off of a very productive season and he did not show serious signs of decline. My point is that if the Nuggets had kept Iverson last year they very likely could have had a similar season--50+ wins, a better seeding than previous years due to other West teams not being as good and an opportunity to advance to the Western Conference Finals. The "stat guru" with whom I am disagreeing asserted that Denver became much better and Detroit became much worse solely because of the Iverson-Billups swap, an idiotic view that ignores all of the other changes that took place with both of those franchises plus the power shift that happened in the West.

Perhaps you are right that the Nuggets would not have made it out of the first round this year with Iverson but they also aren't going to make it out of the first round this year with Billups. The bottom line is that trading Iverson did not make the Nuggets a legit contender--the Lakers beat them easily in the 2009 playoffs and the Nuggets are going down in flames this year versus Utah--but it did saddle them with Billups' large contract. The Nuggets would have been better off riding things out with Iverson for one more year and then if they felt that he had declined too much they could have used the money freed up by his expired contract to sign some younger talent. That is what Dumars tried to do--essentially rent Iverson for one year and then if it did not work let him go and use the salary cap space to acquire talent--but so far the results have been less than stellar because Dumars did not acquire a franchise player or even an All-Star but rather two solid players (Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva).

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 1:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


they wouldnt of made it out last year with ai melo played the best ball of his career with billups and that is by no accident. they were never a team with ai they won 50 games off talent not because they played team ball. maybe it is not all ai fault but it was at least part of the problem karl said it last year.

he would take 10 15 bad shots a game him and melo were similar players both scorers who need the ball they couldnt play off each other like billups and him could it is just fit sometimes, plus ai declined last year in detroit he went from 26 ppg 2007-2008 to 17 ppg 2008-2009 so he wouldnt as been as productive they more than likely wouldnt of won 50 games and not made playoffs realistically so no way they get to west finals with him last year.

they had the lakers in game 1 beat them in 2 had them in 3 and 5 they simply couldnt close but that series was close only game 6 was a blowout. this year the nuggets under achived i guess youre saying last year was a aberation and there still the first round exit team they always have been maybe so but i just dont see them in the west finals with ai.

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 2:40:00 AM, Blogger West Coast Slant said...

Despite what "advanced stats" like PER and win shares say as well as the all-star and first team selections, I have always believed that there is no talent gap between Deron Williams and Chris Paul.

I've always loved Deron's game, and believe that it would translate better in any era. Chris Paul, through no fault of his own, is really a beneficiary of the no-handcheck rule that came into effect a few years ago. Deron's bigger, stronger, yet still very fast. He sees the court as well as any point guard, and he is able to do damage without the ball (setting solid picks, running curls, spot up shooting, diving to the hoop, etc.) whereas Paul needs to dominate the ball at all times to be most effective (which, with his skill set, is not a bad thing 95 percent of the time).

Deron only missed the playoffs his rookie season. He's been to the Western Conference finals, and pushed the Lakers in the Semis. This year, he has led the undermanned Jazz within one game of advancing to the second round with a 23-year-old center who logged all of 400 minutes this season and a two-guard masquerading as a small forward.

Not often mentioned, but very much important, was losing his wingman Ronnie Brewer and replacing him with a rookie midseason.

Hornets fans argue that Williams is a "system" guard, but look what Paul's replacement, Darren Collison did in his absence. 19 and 9 on 43 percent from 3 and 48 percent overall...better rookie numbers than Paul or Williams.

While I think Collison should have gone a lot higher in the draft, no one thought he was a lottery pick, and despite what he has done, it's safe to assume that there are very few people who believes he's better than Paul...

There was also the assist discrepancy that you have pointed out on many occasions that NO guards have benefited from.

I'm curious. While you noted that Paul was credited with more assists than he should have been, I wonder if he did not receive credit for all of his turnovers. Both of which would greatly influence a stat like PER.

Your thoughts?

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 4:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have not specifically noticed LeBron being hesitant to shoot halfcourt shots near the end of quarters but Houston GM Daryl Morey said that the one (minor) flaw in Shane Battier's game is that in such situations Battier makes sure to shoot the ball just after the horn goes off so that this won't affect his FG%. Morey has told Battier that he won't hold such shots against him but Battier apparently responded that other GMs might not feel the same way. It is well known that many players do not like to take such shots because they definitely can adversely affect one's FG%. One player who never hesitated to attempt such shots was Dennis Johnson; if you look at his three point field goal percentage it is terrible but that is largely because many of the threes that he took were not regular shots but rather end of the quarter heaves. The three point shot was not used very frequently in the early to mid 1980s, so those end of quarter heaves killed a lot of players' three point field goal percentages.

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 5:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Did Melo really play his best ball last season or is that simply a myth perpetuated by people who love to blame Iverson and/or praise Billups? In 2008-09 while playing alongside Billups, Melo averaged 22.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 3.4 apg while shooting .443 from the field, .371 from three point range and .793 from the free throw line; in 2007-08 while playing alongside Iverson, Melo averaged 25.7 ppg, a career-high 7.4 rpg and 3.4 apg while shooting a career-high .492 from the field, .354 from three point range and .786 from the free throw line. Melo's three point percentage in 2007-08 represented a career-high by a wide margin at that time, so there is every indication that playing with Iverson helped to make Melo a more efficient offensive player. If anything, Melo's game has regressed while playing alongside Billups; this year, Melo shot .458 from the field and .316 from three point range but because he jacked up the second most field goal attempts per game of his career he increased his scoring average to 28.2 ppg.

When the Nuggets initially acquired Iverson--and during the time that Iverson was on the team--Coach Karl said that Iverson's ability to create shots for himself and for his teammates greatly eased the burden on Melo. The stats back up the validity of that sentiment. Naturally, now that Billups is on the team Coach Karl is going to speak highly of him--but the stats do not back up the popularly believed myth that Melo is playing better or more efficiently now. As I noted in this post, although it is asserted that Billups curbed the wilder tendencies of the Nuggets' knuckleheads the truth is that now Billups is taking bad shots and committing careless turnovers. It seems like they have had at least as much influence on him as he has had on them. The other night when the Nuggets were losing again to the Jazz, Charles Barkley looked under the table and joked that he was trying to find J.R. Smith and Chauncey Billups because no one had seen them since the playoffs began. Smith has indeed been awful but to be fair to Billups he has not been terrible, though his three point shot has abandoned him (.300 versus the Jazz so far).

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 5:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Iverson clearly did not seem like himself in his brief run this season but last season he showed flashes of his trademark skills. The problem is that the Pistons insisted on trying to turn him into Billups--and then forcing him to be a bench player--instead of letting him do what he does best. Dumars said that the Pistons brought in Iverson so that their offense would not be so stagnant and predictable--a not so veiled shot at Billups' poor performances in the playoffs for Detroit in his last few seasons as a Piston--but for the most part the Pistons poorly used Iverson.

The 2009 L.A.-Denver series was not really that competitive. The Nuggets stole homecourt advantage in game two but immediately gave it back in game three. Then the Nuggets lost game five by nine and got killed in game six. I never bought the nonsense that they were a legit threat to the Lakers and the outcome of the series proved that I had been right all along.

Iverson averaged just under 22 FGA/g during his career, so even though his shot selection was questionable at times I don't buy that he took "10-15" bad shots a game. Even as hyperbole your assertion makes no sense, particularly in regard to Iverson's season in Denver: he had the second highest field goal percentage and second highest three point field goal percentage of his career in 2007-08. He also had one of the best apg averages of his career plus one of his lowest turnover averages. Iverson played very, very well in Denver and their 50 wins that season was the franchise's best total in 20 years! The revisionist contention that Melo and Iverson did not play well together is absurd. All that happened last year is that the Nuggets added some frontcourt depth (Andersen plus Nene was finally healthy) and the West got a bit weaker, enabling the Nuggets to move up in the standings, get a better seed and win a couple playoff series; if the Nuggets had kept Iverson but those other factors remained in place there is no reason to think that they would have done any worse than they did with Iverson.

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 5:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

West Coast Slant:

I prefer a healthy Paul to a healthy DWill--Paul is a bit harder to contain off of the dribble, he rebounds better even though he is smaller, he gets more steals and he is a better free throw shooter. You are right that the no-hand check rule benefits Paul but when comparing players you have to take into account the rules and the current rules make it very hard to defend against super quick guards. That said, I agree with your general contention that DWill is an underrated player.

You make a very astute point regarding Collison: the mainstream media likes to assert that only Paul could be so prolific with the current Hornets team but Collison has put up great numbers even though the team was not that successful (and the team was not exactly tearing up the league even when Paul was healthy).

I have not made an in depth examination of turnover statistics; they are even more subjective than assists and I don't find them very meaningful on an individual level unless I actually see the game and know what happened on those plays. If a point guard throws a great pass and his stone-handed big man fumbles it who gets charged with the turnover? Doug Collins frequently says that he loves Jason Kidd and Steve Nash because they are not afraid to take risks. The reality is that if you look up the records for most turnovers you will see a list of some of the game's greatest players. From a team standpoint you want to keep your turnovers down to 15 or less but the individual allocation of those turnovers does not tell you much. For instance, a Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant could have five turnovers but if that great player handled the ball most of the game then the team probably had fewer turnovers than it would have had if lesser skilled players dominated the ball; if Magic or Kobe have five turnovers in 40 minutes but their team only has 10 or 12 turnovers then they have done their job as scorers/creators, particularly if none of their turnovers were careless or reckless.

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 12:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


thats what george karl said right when ai left so if he felt like ai made his teamates better or took the burden off melo he wouldnt of said. "he said there are less bad plays more solid plays i think the wasteful cheap possesions 10 to 15 game dont exist anymore".

"also said we have a contested shot chart bad shot chart cheap possesion. when ai was here it was most of the time in the teens sometimes in the 20's since chauncey been here we havent had one in double digits.

also said i dont think it is any question coaching a team for many minutes without a passing and point guard mentality is very frustrating for a coach. sometimes i saw something and couldnt get it done because i didnt have a playmaker out there ai at times had trouble trusting the guy he was throwing the ball too.

also there struggling this year because as kenny smith has said george karl is the leader of that team his personality stamp on the team take phil jackson off the lakers and pop off the spurs those teams arent as good.

melo is playing his best ball with billups he missed 16 games last year why his numbers was a little down. in the 16 games in the playoffs he averaged 27 ppg he is considered top 6-8 player in nba he never was that with ai his leadership has ratched up a notch and this was his best season as a pro with ai they had a great one two punch but no one else got involved enough chauncey is a pure point ai is a scorer this team didnt need a scorer they needed a pure point.

the 09 lakers was better than 08 and the lakers swept denver with ai if they were no better with billups why denver win 2 games and almost win 2 other it was two steals by ariza in game 1 and 3 because denver had lapses with ai they was never in no game. the lakers blew denver out once in 09 denver was up in the fourth quarter in game 5 in la as well i like you david and youre a great analyst but your reaching here there no evidence that they would be the same team with ai on the team rather than billups only ai die hards would think so.

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 2:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


How much sense would it make if right after the trade Coach Karl said something like, "We were great with Iverson and I don't know why we traded for Billups?" Use some common sense and look at the numbers that I posted in my last response to you. Melo played much better and much more efficiently with Iverson. That is a fact.

Melo has never made the All-NBA First or Second Team nor has he finished higher than 13th in MVP voting, so who exactly considers him a top 6-8 player? That may be a phrase that talking heads throw around sometimes but the reality is different.

As I explained in my previous response, the 2009 Nuggets benefited greatly from having a deeper and healthier frontcourt than the 2008 Nuggets had. That was the real difference; swapping Iverson for Billups was a cosmetic change more than anything else, though people in the media who have a biased agenda pounced on the opportunity to bash Iverson.

Even now, two years after the trade, the Nuggets still have empty possessions and poor shot selection. Billups himself has gotten into the act, often in crucial late game situations!

I agree that the Nuggets miss Coach Karl's guiding hand.

At Tuesday, April 27, 2010 8:48:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

David --

It's sad to see you become somewhat irrational and agenda-driven as many of the folks you criticize -- your desire to stick up for Iverson seems to be distorting your analysis of Billups and Denver.

You say "now Billups is taking bad shots and committing careless turnovers." Really? If you look at is TOs this year, his number is 2.4/g, but you need to consider that Denver plays at a much faster pace (more possessions per game) than Detroit did. If you look at statistics that account for pace & # of possessions, Billups for Denver is below is career average TO% and right at his last couple of years in Detroit (http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/billuch01.html). Likewise, his TS% is above his career average and in line with recent Detroit years. What are you relying on for these observations? The lack of George Karl for the stretch (which you acknowledge but do not meaningfully consider)is also a significant factor that cannot be so easily discounted (similar to how you attacked some for ignoring the McDyess aspect of the CB/AI trade). Note that the Nuggets have received nearly 4 fewer foul shots per game under Dantley than under Karl (http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/15455/nuggets-get-fewer-calls-under-dantley).

Likewise, your revisionism about the LA-Denver series is wild. (i.e., "The 2009 L.A.-Denver series was not really that competitive. The Nuggets stole homecourt advantage in game two but immediately gave it back in game three. Then the Nuggets lost game five by nine and got killed in game six. I never bought the nonsense that they were a legit threat to the Lakers and the outcome of the series proved that I had been right all along.")

That was a very close series, in particular Game 3 which you pass off as LA routinely taking back home court (plus Game 2 was hardly "stolen" and you seem to forget that Game 1 could well have tipped Denver's way but for a poor inbound pass from Anthony Carter and in which LA trailed entering the 4th Q). LA won Game 3 only through a heroic, 41-pt effort from Kobe, and they required a massive 4th Quarter comeback (32-18). Denver was up by 2pts with just over a minute left when Kobe took a fairly deep 3pt-shot (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1D2-mUs47Y&feature=related). You know I am a big Kobe fan, but I did not like the shot (on a Kobe-centric possession played entirely at the perimeter) and was worried it would miss and would lead to a round of ill-advised criticism about Kobe ballhogging at crucial moments. But Kobe pulled it out (and trotted back downcourt with his new trademark overbite-intense-stare), and the Lakers regained home court advantage.

I continue to believe that was the biggest shot of the 2009 playoffs for the Lakers. Had that missed, the Lakers likely do not win Game 3 (miss likely gives Denver the ball up 2 with 1 minute left). The Lakers looked like they gave it their absolute all to claw out that late victory, and they were blown out in Game 4 (sure, maybe it was because they "took a game off" having regained homecourt, but they all just looked completely dead in the altitude to me). Had Kobe missed, that series likely goes back to LA at 3-1 in Denver's favor.

Anyhow, my point simply is that your analysis of Denver/Billups seems to be unduly influenced by your (understandable) desire to correct some misperceptions about Iverson. It can be true both that Iverson in his career was an outstanding player, whose impact may often have exceeded what stats easily measure, and that Denver was better off getting the 2008-10 Billups than the 2008-10 Iverson. Indeed, it boggles my mind a little that you even think it's a close call, given Iverson's rather pathetic flame-outs this year in Memphis and Philly.

At Wednesday, April 28, 2010 3:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


if thats the case why they trade iverson and they are better without him in the 2 years? karl isnt going to say we great with iverson because they WERENT.

that wouldnt be true the fact melo is playing best ball of career jr smith is as playing best ball as well is due to haveing a pure point guard not a scoreing point like allen iverson melo and ai are too similar that was never going to work thats why they traded ai and got a whole diffrent look in chauney billups a proven winner no disrespect to ai other than carrying a terrible team in a terrible conference in 01 he was like the great pistol pete maravich it was a great great indivdual show but his game never complimented other players it was just a great one on one spectacle but both of them were all time great ai haveing a clearly better than pistol niether was winners or adjusted they game for the betterment of the team.

who is your top 10 mine is 1. lebron not even close 2. kobe 3. wade 4. howard 5. healthy chris paul 6. durant 7. willams 8. carmelo. 9 dirk 10 chris bosh 11 tim duncan 12 brandon roy 13 joe johnson 14 amare 15 pau

melo put up good numbers with ai but as a whole as a player he has matured shown better leadership and been a better player with billups he would admit that especially in the playoffs and this regular season he probably will be top 5 in mvp voteing.

bottom line ai declined the last two years in detroit memphis and philly there is no way he stayed on denver they would be as good with a declined ai they couldnt win but 1 playoff game in two years with a primer ai the frontcourt haveing nene and hilario healthy would help but i dont know if they would shine as much with ai like thay are with a pure point in billups the nuggets wouldnt take that trade back right now so it to make no sense to say they would be as good with iverson as billups

At Thursday, April 29, 2010 5:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your critique is way off base and completely disregards what I actually wrote.

This is what I said regarding Billups: "Billups is taking goofy shots, committing careless turnovers and making bad plays at the most inopportune times."

I did not say anything about his statistics or pace or any of the other stuff you cited; I asserted that he is making bad plays "at the most inopportune times." All you have to do to verify this assertion is watch tape of the Nuggets' games down the stretch of this season as they faded from the second seed; Billups earned the name "Mr. Big Shot" in Detroit but down the stretch this season he has been misfiring from long range, turning the ball over and not organizing the Nuggets' offense very effectively. What happened to the player who supposedly "changed the chemistry" in Denver and served as a de facto coach on the floor?

However, if you are interested in looking at numbers then here are a few for you to consider: Billups posted a career-high TO/g average this season and also had the fifth worst field goal percentage of his career. He had his lowest apg average since the 2003 season. As I indicated above, his shooting percentages plummeted in March and April as the Nuggets desperately battled to secure a good playoff position.

Billups is an excellent player; in my awards season articles I selected him to the All-NBA Third Team in both 2009 and 2010. However, contrary to mainstream media mythology he did not singlehandedly turn around the Nuggets. The Nuggets were already a very good team before he got there. Their playoff run last year resulted from a large combination of factors, including Denver's improved frontcourt depth and the fact that several West teams dropped off a bit. This year, the Nuggets have returned to the form that will likely result in yet another first round loss.

You weaved an interesting fairy tale about the Lakers-Nuggets series last year but I stand by my comments regarding that matchup.

I fail to see how Iverson's performance this season has anything to do with correctly evaluating what took place with Denver's team in 2008 and 2009. I never said that the 2010 Iverson is better than the 2010 Billups; my point is that the 2008 Iverson performed better in Denver than the 2009 Billups did but many people pretend that the opposite is true.

At Thursday, April 29, 2010 5:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Karl did, in fact, say that the Nuggets were very good with Iverson during the season that Iverson was there--and he spoke the truth: Iverson helped the Nuggets post their best season in two decades!

Your "fact" about Melo is fiction; as I documented above, Melo has not played his best ball in the past couple seasons and he was actually more efficient and productive when he played alongside Iverson.

Maravich never played on a championship quality team until his final year in Boston. As Jordan used to say when he was compared unfavorably to Magic, you cannot make chicken salad out of chicken (you know what). It is certainly true that Iverson had some shot selection issues and could be difficult to play with at times but to some extent that is true of most players who are prolific scorers. Iverson carried the Sixers to the Finals and he has to be considered one of the greatest six foot and under players in league history.

You can find my top 10 players list for this season in my Awards Season article (i.e., my All-NBA First and Second Teams):

All-NBA First Team
G Kobe Bryant
G Dwyane Wade
C Dwight Howard
F LeBron James
F Dirk Nowitzki

All-NBA Second Team
G Steve Nash
G Deron Williams
C Andrew Bogut
F Kevin Durant
F Amare Stoudemire

Melo is a Third Teamer this season in my opinion. Melo may make the Second Team this year in the official media voting, an honor he has yet to receive. I would be very surprised if he finishes in the top five in MVP voting; he probably will not crack the top 10.

You are right that Iverson declined this season but we don't know what kind of player he really was/could have been in 2009 because the Pistons never used him properly. The important point is that the 2009 Billups did not perform any better in Denver than the 2008 Iverson did but far too many people pretend otherwise.

At Thursday, April 29, 2010 3:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


andrew bogut over melo lol. you going by position he is 3rd best sf out of 32 he will make second team for sure with media and top 5 6 in mvp for sure not in top 10? this year he was a elite player is my point he never was with iverson.

karl said they were a good team with iverson but said a better team with billups they had there best seasoin maybe ever with billups 2 games from the finals.

at the end of the day iverson was a great player but was too hard to play with and never was willing to change his game. he could be a good sixth man for a contender right now but refuses to come off bench he wasnt a winner he got to on the finals in 01 in a terrible conference and 3 second round but he was never a guy who could play with another superstar and win (i e wade kobe lebron duncan shaq garnett) he had carmelo never got out the first round.

it wasnt billups totally i agree nene came healthy and martin maturation of anthony and play of j r smith billups was the right piece for the team.

At Thursday, April 29, 2010 3:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, I am going by position--that is how the All-NBA Teams are selected. Melo has NEVER made the Second Team and he did not have his best season this year. He has NEVER been in the top ten in MVP voting; he may crack the top ten this year but he is not going to make the top five. He is not an elite player unless you are stretching the meaning of "elite" to the breaking point. I define "elite" to be an All-NBA First Team player, a legit MVP contender. Melo is neither.

Most of Denver's improvement came in the one year that Iverson played with the team. That is when the Nuggets had their best season in 20 years, finally cracking the 50 win plateau. That was the breakthrough. Then they bolstered their frontcourt while other Western teams had down years (in 2009). This year they are right back to where they were before, about to go out in the first round. I reject the commonly held assertion that Billups somehow transformed the team. Iverson had an excellent season in Denver; Billups has also played well in Denver.

At Thursday, April 29, 2010 11:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


melo is border line elite but great player none the less kobe lebron wade he is not. he averaged 28ppg this was his best season he will be in top 5 to 6 in mvp and probably second team all nba so that is undisputed.

between 2003-2008 denver lost in the first round all the years. iverson was on the team 2 of them so what they won 50 games in 08 same result as the previous 4 years before and lakers beat them in every game by double digits where they break through at? you know when it was when they got chauncey billups with healthy nene and martin jr smith carmelo last year in 09 they had they best season as a franchise a 2 seed 54 wins and 10 playoff wins, big factor of that was chauncey billups this is undisputed he not the whole factor nene and martin was healthy but he played a big factor and a better fit for the nuggets than allen iverson was thats my whole point denver organization think soi george karl etc.

they loseing this year because they dont have there coach.

At Friday, April 30, 2010 5:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I have said in previous discussions of this nature, I don't know what terms like "borderline elite" or "borderline All-Star" mean. Are there also players who are "borderline, borderline elite"? At some point, this just gets absurd. Elite means best of the best. The All-NBA First Team players are legit MVP candidates. They are elite. Due to the fact that the All-NBA Teams are selected by position, there could be some years in which maybe one or two All-NBA Second Team players could be called "elite"--but that's about it. Melo is a three-time All-NBA Third Team player whose best finish in MVP voting is 13th. Sorry, he is not an elite player by any meaningful definition of that word.

You are also wrong to suggest so strongly that 2009-10 was Melo's best season. He had his best scoring average in 2006-07, a year in which he posted a better field goal percentage than he did this season while also averaging more assists. Melo's best all-around season was his one full year playing alongside Iverson (2007-08): 25.7 ppg with a career-high shooting percentage from the field (.492) and a career-high rebounding average (7.4).

I already explained why 2007-08 was a breakthrough year--the Nuggets posted their best regular season record in 20 years! The difference last season was not so much the addition of Billups, who was not as productive as Iverson was in 2007-08, but rather that the Nuggets' frontcourt players were healthier. Also, the West simply was not as strong--the Nuggets won just four more games but jumped six spots in the standings. This year, the Nuggets' win total declined by one but they dropped two spots in the standings and are on the verge of going out in the first round. I just don't see that their team has improved intrinsically that much and I certainly don't think that Billups is such a huge upgrade over Iverson. I mentioned some of these numbers before but they bear repeating: in 2007-08, Iverson led the NBA in minutes played and free throws made while ranking third in scoring, eighth in steals and ninth in assists. He had the second best field goal percentage of his career and the second best three point field goal percentage as well. Billups has never had a season that productive and efficient.

Saying that the Nuggets are losing because of Coach Karl's unfortunate illness is just a copout; the Nuggets are losing the same way that they have been losing for years under Karl: poor shot selection, poor defense and a general lack of discipline.

Unless you have new points to make (as opposed to repeating the same ones that I have refuted multiple times in this thread) I consider this particular discussion closed.


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