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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Is LeBron James the Modern Wilt Chamberlain?

No team has ever surrendered a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, so for the Cleveland Cavaliers game four at home was as important--at least in a practical sense--as a game seven. Cleveland led the defending champion Golden State Warriors 55-50 at halftime and still led 83-81 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. During the next nine minutes of play, LeBron James shot 0-4 from the field (two attempts were three pointers from well behind the arc) with a turnover. James split a pair of free throws with 1:12 remaining to cut the margin to 96-89. James scored six points in the final minute--on three uncontested drives--to pad his final scoring total to 25 points but at no time during the final 1:12 did Golden State lead by fewer than seven points, a comfortable three possessions cushion.

Thus, Golden State won 108-97, closing out the game (and likely the series) with a 27-14 run down the stretch, while James was largely invisible, save for three late, inconsequential buckets.

James, a four-time NBA regular season MVP and the self-proclaimed "best player on the planet," disappeared from sight during a pivotal fourth quarter that likely decided the outcome of the NBA Finals. Some people have suggested that James was tired, but the reality is that previous greats of the game shouldered equally heavy burdens in terms of minutes played and overall responsibilities. That decisive nine minute fourth quarter stretch was an opportunity for James to grab this series by the throat and force his will upon the proceedings. In such a situation, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant would have gone down shooting--or they would have attracted so much defensive attention with their aggressiveness that their teammates had wide open shots. 

James did not do that at all. He shrank from the moment, in the biggest moment of all. Maybe he will have a monster game five on the road, maybe not--but game four was an opportunity to extend the series to at least six games and to plant at least some doubt in the Warriors' minds.

James' final box score numbers look tremendous: 25 points on 11-21 field goal shooting, 13 rebounds, nine assists. Seemingly the only blemish would be his seven turnovers, but there are good reasons that I do not rely on statistics--whether basic or "advanced"--to evaluate players.

I remember an NBA Finals telecast from decades ago during which Bill Russell noted that what matters is not so much how many points a player scores but when the player scores them. Russell was speaking specifically about the impact that Julius Erving had not only because Erving was a high scoring player but also because Erving scored at crucial moments when the outcome was up for grabs.

Watching James play for more than a decade has given me at least some insight about why some of Wilt Chamberlain's contemporaries rank him below Bill Russell even though Chamberlain's individual numbers dwarf Russell's. James has repeatedly demonstrated that context and timing matter more than raw statistics. The Cavaliers built their game four halftime lead even though James was quiet during the first 24 minutes (seven points); this demonstrates that the Cavaliers are not solely dependent on James to be productive and competitive but it also represents a wasted opportunity: if James had been aggressive in the first half, the Cavaliers may have opened up a double digit lead that would have given them a bigger cushion and also possibly affected how the Warriors played in the second half--but, instead, the Warriors were understandably quite comfortable at halftime, as Golden State Coach Steve Kerr noted after the game.

Russell once said that after the outcome of a game was decided, he would sometimes let Chamberlain score. It was all psychological warfare to Russell, who wanted to placate Chamberlain and let Chamberlain feel satisfied about winning the personal duel as long as Russell's team won the overall war. In a recent ESPN the Magazine article, Jackie MacMullan wrote that Kobe Bryant--inspired by this Russell tactic--used to pull a similar "rope a dope" on Tracy McGrady and LeBron James. Bryant laughingly told her that he would "neither confirm nor deny" this, but MacMullan claims to have verified this with several of Bryant's former teammates and coaches.

James has an almost unhealthy awareness of his personal statistics. When his teams lose, he is quick to blame injuries or his teammates' lack of production or any factor other than his own effort. The most infamous example of this is the final playoff series of his first stint in Cleveland, when he churlishly responded to questions about his indifferent game five performance by stating that he had "spoiled" the fans with his excellence over the years. I cannot recall Russell or Erving or Jordan or Bryant blaming the fans for a playoff loss or calling the fans "spoiled" by their own greatness.

Chamberlain, like James, was the best player on two championship teams while also falling short in several other trips to the NBA Finals. Chamberlain was much more dominant than James and for the most part Chamberlain fell short against another greatest player of all-time candidate (Bill Russell) who was surrounded by Hall of Fame teammates led by a Hall of Fame coach, while James has lost to some teams/players that cannot be compared to Russell and his Celtics.

Ultimately, based on the available footage I have seen, the people from that era who I have interviewed and the research that I have done, I give more credence to those who state that Chamberlain was more dominant than Russell and a better all-around player than I do to those who claim that Chamberlain was overrated--but James has provided vivid proof that gaudy individual numbers in a losing cause do not necessarily prove that a superstar is blameless and has been saddled with an insurmountably inferior supporting cast.

Not surprisingly, the media coverage of game four spun in many directions--but without question the most bizarre take was offered by Mike Wilbon. Wilbon is a respected and accomplished sportswriter but I have never understood why ESPN touts him as some kind of basketball expert. Wilbon often gets his facts wrong and his analysis is typically way off-base.

When SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt asked Wilbon for his perspective on game four, Wilbon ignored James' disappearing act and then blasted Kyrie Irving (who scored a team-high 34 points on 14-28 field goal shooting while committing only one turnover in 43 minutes) in a way that Wilbon probably has not blasted anyone since he used to blame Kobe Bryant for supposedly shooting too much. Wilbon declared that he had never seen anyone play as selfishly as Irving did in the fourth quarter and that under no circumstances should Irving take more shots than James. Then, mercifully, Wilbon's microphone went out and Van Pelt turned to Brendan Haywood in studio. Haywood, who was a teammate of James and Irving last year after winning a ring versus James in the 2011 Finals, tried to be diplomatic but he completely disagreed with Wilbon, noting that Irving had a great game and that someone "has to have that Michael Jordan moment" when James "is not being aggressive."

Haywood concluded, "I like the way he (Irving) played," adding, "If LeBron was asking for the ball on the block or getting into the lane and being aggressive then I would say 'Hey Kyrie you have to defer.'"

Haywood then rightfully put Van Pelt on the spot and asked Van Pelt what he thought of Wilbon's commentary. Van Pelt wanted no part of directly attacking his more famous and influential colleague but at least Van Pelt had the guts to say, "I don't understand why LeBron doesn't take it to the hoop every time he has someone smaller on him."

That is the issue in a nutshell. This series' impact on James' legacy is not based on how many points James averages or how good his supporting cast is compared to Golden State's supporting cast; James, as his team's best player, has an obligation to relentlessly attack the paint to score and his failure to consistently do this tarnishes his legacy, particularly since James has fallen short in similar fashion on this stage several other times. If James relentlessly attacked the paint, he would (1) score, (2) put Golden State in foul trouble and (3) force Golden State to double team him, which would in turn enable Cleveland's role players to shine.

James built this roster and hired this coach. James cannot blame his teammates when he spends most of the game--including the decisive nine minutes of the fourth quarter--standing passively outside the three point line or else driving with the primary intention of passing even if his teammates are not open. Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson both said it repeatedly during the telecast: James must drive or post up with the intention of scoring and then only pass if the pass creates an advantage.

There is so much talk about how this series could impact James' legacy that it is easy to forget that the "other" team in the series is not only on the verge of capping off a record-setting 73 win season by winning back to back titles but that squad features a great player who is building his own legacy. Prior to scoring a game-high 38 points in game four, Stephen Curry had not covered himself in glory in the 2016 Finals and it is fair to ask why his play was not as scrutinized and criticized as James' play or as Kobe Bryant's play had been in years past. Typically, an MVP is expected to perform at a high level in the Finals--and Curry is not "merely" an MVP but he is a two-time reigning MVP who is just the fourth point guard (Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson and Steve Nash are the others) to win a regular season MVP. Curry's pedestrian performances in games one and two could perhaps be excused by the fact that his team won so easily that greatness was not required but in game three Curry played poorly when his team had an opportunity to deliver a knockout punch.

The interesting thing about Curry is that he has been the best, most consistent regular season performer in the league the past two years but his postseason play has not quite matched that level and he clearly does not have the size, strength and two-way maximum potential possessed by James. Put another way, James' best game would clearly be better than Curry's best game. We expect less from Curry despite the accolades he has received and thus we are more apt to give Curry a pass. That does not mean that it is wrong to criticize James for the shortcomings that I detailed above, but it does mean that two-time MVP Curry should be expected to perform at an elite level and he should be criticized when he fails to do so.

The main thing that can be said in Curry's defense--and this is far from insignificant--is that Curry does things to help his team win that do not show up in the boxscore; Curry moves without the ball, he sets screens and he is always active. Curry will make the pass to initiate an action even if it is likely that someone else down the line will get the assist. James orchestrates things such that his passes lead directly to shot attempts, increasing the chance that he will get an assist. That is not necessarily a bad thing but his team would be better served in many instances if he posted up, drew a double team and then passed to a teammate who then made a skip pass for an assist. Hakeem Olajuwon and Kobe Bryant opened things up for their teammates during championship runs by consistently making those kinds of plays and they were both deadly passers even though their assist totals were not always gaudy.

I have watched LeBron James intently for his entire NBA career. I have seen many of his games in person and during his first stint in Cleveland I had the opportunity to speak to him before and/or after some of those games. There is no question that he is smart, driven and supremely talented. He is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, without question or hesitation.

Yet, he is also the most puzzling and frustrating of the truly great players who I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand. The only historical analogy that I know of for the way that James' individual numbers give an inflated reckoning of the true quality of his performances would be Wilt Chamberlain. Perhaps that comparison is not at all fair to Chamberlain; many of Chamberlain's contemporaries swear that Chamberlain was much better than Russell and that if their situations had been reversed Chamberlain would have won just as much as Russell did. There will never be a definitive answer to that question and I mean no disrespect to Chamberlain, a childhood hero of mine who is perhaps my favorite basketball player whose prime took place before I was born.

All I can say is that my impression of James matches up with the critiques that some people provided of Chamberlain; the Chamberlain critiques may not be fair but from firsthand knowledge I know that it is fair to say that James has not maximized his individual talent or his championship potential, based on his inexplicable reluctance to attack mismatches in these Finals and in previous playoff series. The bottom line is this: if LeBron James is unwilling or unable to catch the ball on the block, drop step to the baseline (or quickly spin to the middle for a jump hook) and score/get fouled until the Warriors are forced to double team him then he is not as great as his supporters say he is, no matter what individual numbers he posts. Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala or Harrison Barnes cannot stop an aggressive, engaged James in the post, nor can any of them can stop James from catching the ball at the elbow, taking two power dribbles to the hoop and scoring. Jordan and Bryant were not as physically imposing as James but they both controlled games and series by aggressively and relentlessly attacking from the post and/or the midrange area. James' inconsistent midrange game and his default tendency to passivity when facing elite teams in playoff series are two major reasons that he must be ranked below Jordan and Bryant in pro basketball's Pantheon.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:28 PM



At Saturday, June 11, 2016 8:56:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Irving has played well this series. It is too bad that he is not big or physical enough to be the Cavaliers best player because he definitely has the mentality to be able to take the tough or important shots that James shrinks away from. Perhaps that is why James keeps deferring to him even though it obviously is not going to win them this series.

At Saturday, June 11, 2016 9:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I had very similar thoughts as I was watching game four. Irving has that "dog" (in the good sense, like MJ and Kobe) in him, that attack mentality--but he is a bit on the small side to just straight up take over playoff games on a consistent basis. Irving seems fearless and it does not appear that he shrinks from the moment, at least in the small sample size of his playoff career thus far. LeBron would do well to have a similar mentality coupled with his physical gifts but he just does not seem to be wired that way.

At Saturday, June 11, 2016 9:46:00 PM, Blogger Nathan Wright said...

I had re-watched the fourth quarter after hearing Wilbon's comments, to see if I could spot what he was talking about. "Bizarre" is a good way to describe Wilbon's interpretation, because it just didn't happen. It's almost as if he didn't watch the game and then just looked at the shot attempts on the box score.

At Saturday, June 11, 2016 10:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wilbon is complaining about Irving's FGAs, especially when he's shooting well? I don't get that. Irving's playing great. If James isn't going to be aggressive, then thankfully for CLE's sake, Irving is. James deserves lots of criticism for his play so far, but he'll always get a pass from some. Sounds like complaining about RW's FGAs. Regardless or not if he's shooting well, he remains aggressive, which is what OKC needs. KD isn't always aggressive and defers to RW often.

Maybe over an entire season, Curry could/should be better than James, but in a series, that should never happen. Curry deserves a lot of credit, but nobody really hates on him. His play in both finals he's played in has certainly not been at an MVP level. Guys like Delly/Irving shouldn't force him to struggle so much. If Kobe or even James played at Curry's level, I find it hard to believe their teams would win a title. GS is so much more than just Curry. Other than his silly fouls in game 2, Curry played well, but his foul trouble kept him on the bench a lot. GS would've still won game 2 without him.

Wilt is a perplexing player, as is James. Wilt probably should've won more with his ability, but hard to say. His casts were very much lacking compared to Russell's, though Wilt was the best player on 2 title teams that were better than any of Russell's teams. Maybe Wilt padded some stats. His teams were still so close many times. I look at Wilt dominating Russell H2H(though Russell's teams dominated), and Wilt playing the Russell-type role better later in his career as he got older. It's interesting Russell talked about 'when a player scores.' He's probably right, but he was rarely a big scorer himself.

But, I never remember Wilt being outplayed by non-stars/low-level stars like Rondo, Leonard, Iggy. I remember Jason Terry taking it to James offensively and even guarding James some in 4th quarters in 2011. That should never remotely happen.

At Saturday, June 11, 2016 10:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, I forgot to mention that James has played a ridiculous amount of minutes throughout his career. He's 31, but an old 31, similar to Kobe. I do think the minutes are catching up to him. However, this 'heavy workload' excuse for James has been going on for years. Whoever is saying stuff doesn't understand the real greats are supposed to be high minutes.

I did find it odd that espn recently listed the top 10 players in nba history with the most MP during regular season/playoffs combined through their age 31 season, and Kobe was absent. By my count, Kobe was in the 44,000 MP range when he finished his age 31 season in 2010, which should be 2nd all-time behind James, and well ahead of 3rd place Magic. Also, James Jones was absent from the players' list of 6 consecutive finals played that was reported on before the finals began. Just 2 of many mistakes by espn.

At Saturday, June 11, 2016 11:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Wilbon can be entertaining and even insightful at times but rarely is he either when it comes to the NBA. I do not understand why ESPN features him on NBA coverage. I was surprised when Kobe granted an extensive interview to him after Wilbon kept blabbering that Kobe shoots too much.

I respect the way that Kevin Durant has started calling out media members (and even an owner like Mark Cuban) who say ignorant things about players or teams. I also like the way that Popovich eviscerates stupid questions, though I think that his sarcastic reply to an earnest and intelligent question after the OKC series about his adjustments was uncalled for and unfair.

Overall, the mainstream media coverage is just ridiculous and the post-game press conferences are filled with unintentional comedy as various media members blatantly pursue their biased, pre-determined storylines with no regard for what actually is happening in the series. You can predict what each writer is going to write based on his question, because regardless of what answer he receives he will frame the quote to fit the point he wants to make. It's like the old joke about the New York Times: "All the news that fits."

At Saturday, June 11, 2016 11:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you that Wilt was rarely if ever outplayed by non-stars the way that LeBron has been. That is why my tendency is to think that the LeBron-Wilt comparison is not completely fair to Wilt but I felt like there is enough substance there to at least bring up the issue and attempt to analyze it, because it is something that I have thought about and wrestled with for a while.

I think that in different circumstances Wilt would have won more, while it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which LeBron would win more. LeBron had a deep, defensive-minded team during his first stint in Cleveland and he only made it to the Finals once. Then he put together a super-team in Miami but two titles in four years with such a team hardly matches his prediction of "Not four, not five..., etc." Now LeBron has handpicked his coach and his teammates but still can't get the job done. I can't figure out what circumstance would have resulted in more than two titles for LeBron. If anything, he is lucky to have more than one the way that he has played, because without Bosh's tip and Allen's three pointer the Heat would have lost that series.

At Sunday, June 12, 2016 12:43:00 AM, Anonymous Yogi said...

Thanks, David, for some more lucid commentary. In a sane basketball universe, Lebron's disappearing act should be at the center of the discussion. Well, at least we have you...
People probably give Curry more leeway because he is not half as arrogant as Lebron and he is more than willing to make way for others. I would be OK with Lebron being physically dominant but admitting that he is a midget psychologically. In that case he should let Irving be the leader of the team.But Lebron always want to be "the man", even when he really isn’t cut out for it. Pretty pathetic, actually.

At Sunday, June 12, 2016 1:46:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I think your critique of Curry is on base. He is not at Lebron's level so he does get a pass for his relatively poor play, but his team is winning and he still contributes to their offence with his running and cutting. This is an example of contributing when your shots aren't falling. When Lebron is having a bad game he just doesn't seem to be "there." I don't want to sound like an old man but maybe because of his talent, or because he never went to college he never really perfected his off ball game the way other stars did. Michael's game was 90% off ball.

With regard to Russell vs Wilt, it really depends on which statistics matter to you. 11 championships is absurd and has not been matched in all professional sports. It really does not get enough coverage. It is far more absurd than 100 points. I haven't done this but if you logged every player and the amount of championships they won, put it on a bell curve and checked how many standard deviations away from the mean 11 championships is I think it would be a ridiculous number.

When arguing if Wilt was better it depends on what you mean. However, if I was picking a space jam team of 5 and we had training camp to prep etc I cannot see how you can't have Russell as your centre. I agree that there are so many ways Wilt seems the better choice, but in the stat that matters Russell is so far ahead of anyone, across sports. Maybe it wasn't what he did in game, maybe he was great at training a team and bringing it together, I honestly don't know, but 11 championships can't be ignored.

At Sunday, June 12, 2016 8:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

11 titles is absurd, no doubt. But, Russell had HOFers coming off the bench. He played with another MVP, Cousy, and then Havlicek, who was a lot better than Cousy, who went on to win after Russell retired, too. He often only had to win 2 series for the title. He had by far the best coach in the game at the time. He had everything. He could just sit back and be the 'glue' guy. He didn't have to take on full or near-full responsibilities like Wilt, Jordan, Kobe, or James have had to do. Russell might have the best stat, as far as the team aspect goes, but you can only control so much who your teammates are or how they play or what coach you have or what era you play in.

At Sunday, June 12, 2016 7:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

depends on how his career ends. He could end up like kareem who also lost a few times in the finals.

At Sunday, June 12, 2016 9:38:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Kareem won six championships, I don't think anyone will be confusing his career with Lebron's unless he wins at least two more which seems less and less likely as the years go by.

At Monday, June 13, 2016 6:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. I share Yogi's thoughts regarding the scrutiny of Curry/Lebron, but as Mr. Friedman artfully suggested, history may be more skeptical of Curry's finals' production. This piece should be required reading for every journalist covering the finals. Deeply appreciate the judicious framing of Mr. James' legacy. He does not seem fully engaged in every crucial second of critical games as other great(er) ones have done in the past.

At Monday, June 13, 2016 7:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

"Judicious" is exactly the tone I try to have in my analysis of players and games. LeBron James is a great player but he also has some baffling flaws/shortcomings that one rarely if ever sees among the best of the best players.

At Monday, June 13, 2016 8:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just saw Green is suspended for game 5. How ridiculous is that? Green is an idiot for sure, though he was getting in James' head, but how is he suspended now and not during OKC series? The nba front office is potentially changing the outcome of this season. OKC probably wins the WCF if Green rightfully got a 2-3 game suspension. Now, CLE gets a huge advantage for game 5.

At Monday, June 13, 2016 11:47:00 PM, Blogger Nathan Wright said...

Maybe we've finally established what Lebron needs to win more championships. A super-team, and then have the league issue dubious suspensions against his defender, so he can go against the backup.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 9:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Missing Green definitely was a huge factor. That's too bad the nba stepping in like this for crybaby James. I think Irving has been the best player in the series so far. James team has won each game he has been fully/near-fully engaged, though I think GS was feeling comfortable for game 3 and they played awful that game, too, and Green suspended in game 5, but CLE still might've won, but we'll never know.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 11:27:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

I've long argued that LBJ is the Wilt of the 21st century - bigger, faster, stronger than everyone else, but crippled by a rampant narcissism that tends to an obsession with statistics and reaction to external noise.

Chamberlain did not want to play the power game, use his size to get the ball inside and overpower defenders, because he wanted to prove that he was skilled, as capable as smaller guys, so he took fadeaway jumpers that took him out of rebounding position. Later during his best years in Philadelphia, he racked up assists by playing the high post and force fed his shooters the ball.

LBJ thinks he's Magic Johnson, whipping the ball around and feed other guys. But this requires him to ignore match-up advantages, kicking it out when he's already under the hoop with a clear physical edge.

However, it looks like Chamberlain was involved in more competitive series, in multiple Game 7 that separated the winners and losers by a few buckets, whereas LBJ's teams lost by larger margins in the playoffs.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 11:52:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Couple thoughts:

* Lebron-Wilt comparison seems pretty fair to me.

* It's not great for Cleveland that even with Green out they needed Lebron's best game of the year and Irving's best game of his career to pull one out. Irving's not hitting that level again and Lebron probably isn't, especially with Green out there defensively.

* I'm kinda split on the Draymond suspension. On the one hand, this is the third time he's whacked somebody in the jewels in the last two rounds of the playoffs, and that's extremely not OK- especially since this one was very obviously not incidental (whereas the Adams kicks had plausible deniability). That said, I don't like suspensions determining playoff series, and especially not the Finals. There definitely need to be consequences, but I almost feel like they should just make the penalty a longer suspension to be carried out at the beginning of the next season + no pay for the remainder of the series, or something. I don't think Cleveland will come back to win this series but if they did somehow it'd be the third series in the last decade with a giant suspension-shaped asterisk on it (along with the Amare suspension and the Z-Bo Game 7 suspension).

* Cleveland figured out how to play defense in that second half, somewhat. Granted, harder to do so with Green's passing on the floor, but if they can keep that up they can give themselves a chance to push to 7.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 1:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Game 5 was very entertaining to watch, especially the first half where Thompson/Curry/Irving/Lebron just couldn't seem to miss, even on hotly contested shots. 61-61 is a ridiculous first half.

I doubt it happens again, especially since this one was a sort of perfect storm.

As Nick pointed out, Lebron had arguably his best game of the season, and Irving shot over 70% on 24 shots, many of which were at least adequately defended. The closest Irving's come to that level this season was a 15/24 night against the Lakers, but, well, that's the Lakers.

Also, Harrison Barnes missed essentially every wide open shot he got, and he got a fair number of them. I know he's been streaky, but last night was his 2nd worst shooting night of the season, second only to that awful 1-10 outing against Houston (which GS still managed to win).

So, spectacular game from Lebron, transcendent shooting from Irving, Barnes not able to hit a barn door, a cold-shooting second half from the Splash Bros (33% on 21 shots), and no Draymond...

Cleveland had better win such a game :)

Now the question is whether those stars will align again. Maybe, but it's certainly improbable.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 4:06:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Anonymous: Bill Russell did indeed have an all-time great coach and Hall of Fame teammates for most of his career but he also led the Celtics to two championships on his own as a player-coach in 1968 and 1969. By that time, those teams were his least deep of his career. The 1969 Lakers had home court advantage, a better record, and were probably more talented on paper than that year's aging Celtics and yet he still pulled out a Finals win. Russell won a lot for good reason at all levels of the game, not just because he was handed championship caliber teams, and that shouldn't be dismissed.

Anyway, just imagine if LeBron had bothered to play hard during Game 4 he could be up 3-2 in the series right now with a chance to close out at home. His performance last night is a glimpse into the sort of player he could and should be. He'd be unstoppable if he had a more reliable mid-range and outside shot and tougher mental focus.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 5:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what people are saying about Wilt, but he averaged 21, 18, and 4 at age 34. He put up monster #'s every season. You can't average 50ppg without being ultra-aggressive while playing every game of the season and averaging 48.5mpg(how is that even possible) like he did in 1962.

I know everyone pretty much gives James a pass for 2007, but what was he, the 3rd or 4th best player in the finals that year? SA didn't exactly play that great either given how badly James played. I don't think Wilt would get outplayed by someone like Parker. CLE had good chances to win every game in that series. Just think if James played reasonably well.

It might be Irving's best game of his career, especially given the cirumstances, though he's scored 55 and 57 before. Except for a few games, Irving has had a consistently great playoffs. He looks like the best player in the finals so far, and is playing phenomenal. Sure, he upped his game even more in game 5, but there's no reason to think he won't continue to play great given what he's done for the entire playoffs. CLE could already be champs if James had decided to quit being so passive in 3 of the 5 games.

Something should be done about Green, it just should've been done in the OKC series. I just wish the nba was consistent about suspensions. Green's just kick to Adams was incidental. His last flap with James was nothing. If the officials were doing their jobs, James would've gotten a foul called on him after he threw Green done, and his stupid stepover never happens. Green barely grazed James, and James wasn't hurt. It just looked like Green was trying to brush James off of him. Since Green was just getting up while brushing at James, it just happened to catch the bottom of James' short. Ridiculous that's a flagrant, especially after just a common foul during the game. Not sure what is best, but I don't like past series T's/flagrants coming into play for future series.

Russell deserves credit, but he still had lots more help those years, too.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 8:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not sure if LeBron's problem is wholly or primarily narcissism but he clearly has some mental or psychological issue that makes him reluctant to consistently attack aggressively. He is physically capable of doing this and at some level he understands that he needs to do this but he is clearly not comfortable doing it, whereas Jordan and Bryant loved to do it.

Dolph Schayes, who coached Wilt, told me that he could not stand it when Wilt settled for the fadeaway. I don't think that Wilt did that for his entire career but Wilt did seem to go through different phases when he was trying to prove different things either to himself or his critics (such as his ability to score with finesse or pass the ball, etc.).

As you mentioned, Wilt was involved in several very close series and if his teams had won a few of those series then we might view his legacy (and his mindset) differently, while LeBron has been blown out in series that would have been closer (or even ended in his favor) if he had performed differently.

I waver back and forth about Wilt, in part because I obviously never saw him play firsthand: I've got the numbers, I've got the firsthand accounts of his contemporaries who I spoke with (who may have their own biases--conscious or not--for or against Wilt) and I've got the historical record of accounts of his contemporaries who I did not meet; in contrast, I've looked LeBron in the eye, I've spoken to him and I've seen him play in person (in addition to watching complete games unfold live on TV, as opposed to watching all or part of some of Wilt's games decades after they took place).

When I was a kid, I was 100% a Wilt guy and I firmly believed that he simply did not have enough help. Now, I think that there is truth to that for at least some of those years/playoff series but I am also more open to the interpretation that perhaps he did not maximize his opportunities all of the time. I am saying this tentatively, not definitively, but I am at least open to this perspective--and this is in no small part because watching LeBron has shown me how a guy can be the most dominant physical specimen with the most dominant individual numbers but nevertheless be playing in a suboptimal way.

Maybe completing Law School has also made me more apt to see multiple sides to every issue, because I have learned that you can make a case for just about anything (it might not be the best case or even a winning case but a case can usually be made). It is not clear if I am becoming more wise or just more confused :)

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 8:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Cleveland benefited from Green's absence but Green's absence was the result of his own behaviors that he elected not to control.

It is true that James and Irving likely will not drop twin 41s again--but even with Draymond on the court Cleveland did not need twin 41s to drill the Warriors by 30 in Cleveland. The Warriors are obviously still in the driver's seat for this series but Cleveland is more than capable of winning game six at home if LeBron sets the tone early.

Cleveland played excellent defense in the second half and that was as big of a story as the twin 41 offensive fireworks. Irving has all of the necessary tools to be a solid defender and, like Chris Paul, he can use quickness/deceptive strength for his size to make up for his lack of stature. Love's numbers are not good but he has to be accounted for when he is on the court even if no one passes him the ball and he has at least put forth effort defensively even if some of the matchups are not ideal for him.

If LeBron plays with the right mentality I expect Cleveland to win at home but, as Collins noted, LeBron has rarely done that this series. I think that LeBron will have a good first half and disappear in the second, leaving it up to Irving to save the day, which probably will not be enough with Golden State adding Green back to the mix.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 8:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Green should have been suspended in the OKC series but I am OK with what the NBA just did. They put the flagrant foul point system in place for a reason, Green knew exactly where he stood entering the series and there is no doubt that when the NBA did not suspend him in the OKC series the league told him in no uncertain terms to control his behavior both in general and specifically in terms of targeting groins. I think that all groin shots should be an automatic suspension unless it is clear that the contact was inadvertent; the burden of proof, as it were, should be on the defendant in such cases, in my opinion. In boxing, below the belt blows are penalized regardless of intent and that is a brutal sport where the goal is literally to concuss your opponent.

The NBA got it right with Dahntay Jones v. Biyombo but that was easy for the NBA because Dahntay Jones probably was not going to play in the next game anyway (and I believe that he has a bit of a dirty play rap sheet as well, though I don't recall the specifics off the top of my head). The NBA has been giving Green a lot of leeway and that was wrong. Green also had a dirty play in which he tried to rip Adams' shoulder out of the socket. Adams could have easily ended up with the same injury that Love suffered last year; the Love play was borderline (though I thought it was unnecessary if not dirty) but Green's play was bad and I remember Barkley talking about it after the game.

I think that Green is actually dirtier than Rodman. Rodman had a few dirty plays scattered throughout his long career (and that should not be minimized) but for the most part he engaged in psychological warfare by constantly playing hard and being an agitator. Green does stuff that would get him beat up or worse if he did it in a pickup game. Bill Cartwright's motto used to always be that you don't get any free shots at him. Green is taking advantage of the fact that a player can be ejected for throwing a closed fist punch even if it misses, because if that were not the rule I think that Green would have been knocked out a half dozen times by now. I have lost a lot of respect for Green as a person, even though I still respect his capabilities and production as a player.

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 11:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know. I don't think what Green did to James was much of anything. James asked for it, too. Green seems dirty, but dirtier than Rodman? You are right about the psychological warfare, but CHI had to really worry about him all the time as well as his other teams usually. Rodman was a thug, but Green seems like one, too. Not sure if I'd characterize Green as a 'fake tough guy' like KG or some others were. But, he is the enforcer for GS, and they greatly benefit from this. I don't get the suspension here now in the finals. The nba remains too inconsistent on this stuff; that's really the bigger issue.


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