Sunday, December 27, 2009

Player of the Week: Billy Paultz

This week, we honor Nets, Spurs, Rockets, Hawks, and Jazz center Billy "The Whopper" Paultz. A big, slow, white guy, Paultz played in those halcyon days when a big, slow, white guy with a decent jumper could be an All-Star. (Actually, never mind)

Paultz debuted for the ABA’s New York Nets in 1970-71, averaging 15 and 11 his rookie season. He never really got much better, or maybe he got better at roughly the same rate as the ABA, but remained an efficient scorer, capable rebounder, and excellent shot blocker for the next nine years with the Nets and Spurs, by which time the ABA was history. He moved to the NBA and begun to decline by the early 80s, and starting bouncing around the league, going from the Spurs to the Rockets, back to the Spurs, to the Hawks, and finally to the Jazz before retiring in 1985.

While in the ABA, Paultz played for a couple of mediocre Nets teams before Dr. J joined the franchise in 1973-74, and the Nets won their first championship, with Paultz (16 and 10), Larry Kenon, and Brian Taylor anchoring the supporting cast. Paultz was traded after the 1975 season to San Antonio, where he joined former teammate Larry Kenon (acquired by the Spurs in a separate trade), George Gervin, and James Silas. In the ABA's final season, the Spurs won 50 games, but lost to the Nets in the playoffs. San Antonio would join the NBA the next year, and would remain a solid team with an excellent offense, but their poor defense would doom them in the playoffs each year (of course it feels strange to write that now). While there was plenty of blame to go around for San Antonio’s defensive failures, Paultz wasn't immune to criticism of his defense. He was a good shot blocker, but, as Dan Pattison wrote, "His biggest weakness stems from the fact he doesn't stop anyone on defense." The Whopper was just too slow and unathletic to play effective man to man against many of the league's centers.

But Paultz was a man who knew his limitations and knew what he could do. As he once said, "I'll never be an Artis Gilmore," he said, "but I think I can do the exact same things a Beaty does." A bit more optimistically, "I have realized that I'm not an overpowering type center. I don't really know what my category is. I have always been the type of player that can do a little bit of everything." And Paultz was a good player. His well rounded offensive game, including a very good jump shot, and shot-blocking ability made him a very valuable player for nearly a decade. (And Zelmo Beaty was a good player, so it's not like Paultz was being too harsh on himself.)

After retiring, Paultz didn't seem to have a second career in basketball as a coach or announcer. The Whopper was co-owner of a Long Island restaurant called the Salty Dog, although I can't find any evidence that that particular restaurant still exists.

Today's Billy Paultz…As indicated earlier, Paultz is somewhat similar to Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Brad Miller. All three are good jump shooters, decent rebounders, and mediocre defenders. Paultz was a better shot blocker than Miller, and a better passer than Ilgauskas (although a worse passer than Miller).

Here is a 50 second Billy Paultz highlight clip, from Paultz's days with the Rockets, courtesy of YouTube, which includes a clip of Paultz blocking a Larry Bird layup. Unfortunately, I cannot really direct you to more frivolous Billy Paultz-related links, as Paultz never really had much of a cultural impact other than his association with a sandwich.Which is kind of a shame.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The tradition of NBA games on Christmas Day on December 25, 1947, the league's second season, with Carl Braun's New York Knickerbockers defeating the hapless Providence Steam Rollers (6-42 that year), who were led by Kenny Sailors and Ernie Calverley.

Some other Christmas Day factoids
-Dallas has only played 2 games on Christmas Day. They are 2-0
-Portland has the best overall record at 13-2
-Oscar Robertson has the most points and assists in Christmas Day history. Kobe is getting close, by virtue of seemingly playing on Christmas every year.

Some other things that don't require a full post...

It being Christmas gives me the excuse to link to this.

Also, that John Kuester post is looking pretty stupid now. At least I was right that the Pistons should suck.

Player of the Week posts should go up on Sunday from now on.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shallow Thought Of The Day, Vol I

Is it just me, or does former ABA center/power forward Red Robbins look a lot like actor Neil Patrick Harris? Robbins, who passed away this year, was one of the ABA's better centers in the league's early years despite being only 6'8. He was a good rebounder, never turned the ball over, and developed a good outside shot, leading the ABA in 3 point percentage in 1972. His best year came in 1970, when he averaged over 16 and 16, and he won a championship as a role player with the 1971 Utah Stars, who were led by Zelmo Beaty and Willie Wise.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Player of the Week: Sam Lacey

Sam Lacey, a center best known for his passing, played 13 seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Kansas City Kings in the 1970s. The Cincinnati Royals took Lacey with the number 5 pick after he led the New Mexico State Aggies to the Final Four. When he arrived, the Royals were in full rebuilding mode after Bob Cousy inexplicably traded Oscar Robertson to the Bucks for the immortal duo Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson.

Lacey, despite averaging double-digit rebounds, struggled during his first two years in Cincinnati. The team, built around Tiny Archibald, Tom Van Arsdale, and Johnny Green, was decent offensively, but porous defensively. Lacey contributed almost nothing on offense, shooting 42% from the field each year without piling up the assists for which he would later be known. The next year, 1973, the Royals moved to Kansas City and became the Kings. Tiny Archibald had a fantastic season, leading the league in points and assists, but the team was destroyed on the boards (despite Lacey's best efforts-he averaged 12 a game) and Lacey was the only thing close to a credible interior defender on the team.

The next year, Bob Cousy was let go after a poor start and Tiny Archibald was injured, but Lacey responded with his best season yet. He only scored 14 points a game (his career high), but chipped in over 13 rebounds, almost 4 assists, and (in the first year they were tracked) started a 7 year run of seasons in which he would total over 100 points and 100 blocks-Hakeem, Dr J, the Admiral, and Ben Wallace are the only other players to do the same. This raises the question, was Lacey a great defensive player like the other guys on that list? I would say that he wasn't great, but he was good. He was on some very good defensive teams (75, 79, 80), and numerous bad defensive teams. So he wasn't a player who guaranteed you a good defense, but he could be a part of a very good defense. He was an excellent defensive rebounder, got a lot of steals (for a center), and a good amount of blocks. However, he didn't have a great reputation (from what I can tell) and was never named to the All-Defensive Team. It could be argued that he was overlooked because he played for a mediocre Kansas City team, but it's also likely that he was overmatched in one on one situations against elite centers like Kareem and McAdoo. Overall, I would guess he was an above average defender, but not All-Defensive Team material.

The next year, 1975, was Lacey's best. He averaged over 14 rebounds a game, led the league in defensive rebounds as Kansas City finished 4th in the league in defensive efficiency, averaged over 5 assists, set a career high with 1.7 steals a game, blocked over two shots a game, and made his only All-Star Team. In addition, Kansas City, despite the lack of a legitimate scoring threat in the frontcourt, rode Tiny Archibald and a good defense to the only playoff appearance of the Archibald era. The Kings looked like they had a (relatively) bright future-Archibald and Lacey were only 26-but the team struggled in 1976, Archibald was traded to the Nets, and Lacey's play and playing time diminished in 1976, 1977, and 1978. For the 1978 season, the team even acquired Tom Burleson to compete with Lacey for playing time.

However, Lacey and the Kings bounced back in 1979. With a starting lineup of Lacey, Bill Robinzine, Scott Wedman, Otis Birdsong, and Phil Ford, the Kings were the best in the league at forcing turnovers, Lacey and Ford combined for 14 assists a game, and second year player Otis Birdsong led the offense with 22 points a game. The team won 48 games before losing to Phoenix in the playoffs. The Kings followed the same formula to 47 wins and another first round loss to the Suns in 1980. Lacey averaged a career high 5.7 assists a game, and was a key part of the Kings' ability to force the most turnovers in the NBA. Lacey dropped off a bit in 1981, was traded to the Nets in 1982, and finished his career on the Stepien Cavs in 1983.

Sam Lacey has been mostly forgotten, it seems. He wasn't a big scorer, didn't play for any great teams, played in a small market, and played much of his career in the same division as Kareem (earlier in his career), Bob Lanier, and Artis Gilmore (later in his career). In addition, he never had a notable coaching or broadcasting career, and hasn't done anything particularly shocking or controversial since he retired.

In his biography of Bob Cousy, Bill Reynolds tells the story that Lacey would hire a limo to pick him up from the airport after road trips, something that Cousy found unbelievable. The point of the story is that Cousy was having trouble reaching the "new generation" of basketball players who were "spoiled and pampered". Whether the blame falls on Cousy or players like Lacey is left up to the reader, but the lack of cohesion between players and management helps explain why Cousy and the Kings wasted some of Tiny Archibald's best years.

Today's Sam Lacey...Phil Jackson has compared Lacey to Joakim Noah, and who am I to disagree with the Zen Master? It seems like a good comparison. Both players are good rebounders, good passers, good but not overpowering defenders, and subpar scorers. One difference is that Lacey was more of a jump shooter, while Noah gets almost all of his points around the rim, with the result that, while Lacey was the better shooter, Noah is the more efficient scorer.

Unfortunately, YouTube is severly lacking in 1970s Kansas City Kings footage, but here are the highlights from a 1978 game against the Cavs. Watch at 0:16 for a nice feed from Lacey to Otis Birdsong.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

John Kuester for Coach of the Year?

First of all, I know that it's ridiculously early to start handing out end of the season awards. But without taking anything away from Rick Adelman, Paul Westphal, Alvin Gentry, Mike Woodson, or any other coach whose team is playing surprisingly well (although I'm not that surprised by the Rockets, that's due in part to Adelman), the most surprising team (to me) this year has been the Detroit Pistons.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm an idiot for not understanding what Joe Dumars was doing, but when you consider the injuries this team has sustained, the fact that they are playing .500 ball astounds me. It may not seem so surprising, considering this was a .500 team last year, but looking at their offseason additions and subtractions (plus injuries) seems to predict a major regression.

The nine players who played the most minutes for the 2009 Pistons were Antonio McDyess, Kwame Brown, Rasheed Wallace, Jason Maxiell, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, Arron Afflalo, Allen Iverson, and Rodney Stuckey. For the 2010 Pistons, it is Ben Wallace, Kwame Brown, Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Will Bynum, and Rodney Stuckey. How many of these changes could be expected to make the Pistons better?

Change #1: Replacing Antonio McDyess with Ben Wallace. Coming into the season, Wallace had been declining steadily since 2006, only played 12.6 MPG for the Cavs during their playoff run last spring, and almost retired after the loss to the Magic before signing with the Pistons for the veteran's minimum. Meanwhile, McDyess almost averaged a double-double for the Pistons last year, and was given a three year contract by the Spurs for the mid-level exception. It's safe to say that this was expected to be a downgrade for the Pistons. Instead, Ben Wallace is having his best season in several years, and McDyess has been somewhat disappointing for San Antonio.

Change #2: Replacing Sheed with Charlie Villanueva. I think it's safe to say that I didn't think replacing Sheed with someone with the worst defensive rating on last year's Bucks (and a sparkling .529 TS%) wouldn't end well.

Change #3: Due to injury, the Pistons have been forced to replace Tayshaun Prince, arguably their best player last year, with the rookie duo of Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye. While they haven't been exactly good, they have played much better than I would expect two non-lottery picks to play.

Change #4: Replacing the injured Rip Hamilton with Ben Gordon. Gordon's been a bit better offensively, probably a bit worse defensively, which is about what was expected.

Change #5: Increased playing time for Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum (especially) replacing Arron Afflalo and Allen Iverson. Unless Stuckey or Bynum improved, this seemed like treading water, with better chemistry. However, Bynum has been better than expected as the team's 6th man.

Looking at the Pistons (assuming you knew about their injuries) before the season, the bulk of their offseason moves would seem to indicate a step backwards. Why hasn't this happened? A 35 year old Ben Wallace has bounced back, Will Bynum's filled in capably, and somehow a team that's giving significant minutes to two rookies, a 6'0 combo guard, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Kwame Brown has been an average defensive team so far. Maybe their success so far has been a fluke. With Rip Hamilton coming back from injury, Kuester will have more talent to work with, and a .500 record may not warrant Coach of the Year consideration, especially if Tayshaun Prince returns soon. But the fact that this team has been competitive is impressive enough to throw Kuester into the Coach of the Year discussion, for now.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What About Ed?

So, I was shocked to find out that Chuck Hayes, at 6'6, is the shortest starting center in NBA history, going back to the 1946-47 season. Of course there have been games with shorter players starting at center, but Hayes is the shortest player to regularly start at center for an NBA team, defined by the Elias Sports Bureau as starting for "20 consecutive games"...and that's the catch. You see, Chuck Hayes, while short for an NBA starting center, is not the shortest player to ever regularly start at center for an NBA team. Now, I am not sure how many shorter players regularly started for their teams at center during the NBA's early years without meeting the "20 consecutive games" requirement, because "games started" were not tracked until 1982, and I don't have access to the same sources Elias did, but I'll give one example of a 6'5 center from the early days of the NBA.

Even though he evidently never started 20 consecutive games at center, Ed Sadowski, at 6'5, was one of the premier centers of the early NBA. And looking at some of his teams, it seems like a huge stretch to argue that he wasn't the regular starting center. First of all, everything I've read about Sadowski refers to him as a center, and taking a closer look at his teams supports the "Sadowski as center" theory. Sadowski only played 4 years in the BAA/NBA (I'm counting the BAA as part of the NBA as Elias evidently did to stretch their claim back to 1946-47), as the BAA wasn't formed until he was 29 years old. In 1946-47, after doing his best to forever destroy professional basketball in Canada (a topic for another post), he was traded to Cleveland, before moving to Boston, Philadelphia, and finally Baltimore to end his career in 1950. I'll just look at his last two seasons, as I think they provide enough evidence that he (or someone as short or shorter) was a regular starting center.

Starting with the eminently forgettable 1950 Bullets, their top 6 players appear to be the 6'5 Ed Sadowski (who plays in 52/68 games after coming over in a trade early in the season, the 6'5 Walt Budko (68 games), the 6'4 Blackie Towery (66 games), the 6'3 Tommy Byrnes (53 games) the 6'2 Paul Hoffman (60 games), and the 6'0 Joe Dolhon (64 games). In fact, only three players over 6'5 appeared in a Bullets game all season-Lee Knorek in one game, Ron Livingston in 16 games, and Les Pugh, who appeared in 56 games, averaging 4.5 points per game. Did he start? Sadowski, Budko, and Towery (all frontcourt players) all averaged at least 5 more shots a game than Pugh, suggesting they received more playing time. Even if nobody started 20 straight games at center, I find it hard to believe that Sadowski (or maybe Budko) wasn't the regular starting center for this team, although I suppose it's possible that Pugh was started at center to win the opening tip or something.

But the next case is even more obvious; the 1949 Philadelphia Warriors, for whom Sadowski played all 60 games and finished 7th in the league in scoring. The only players on that team taller than Sadowski were Roy Pugh (probably related to Les) who appeared in 13 games and scored 20 points on the season, and Elmore Morgenthaler who appeared in 20 games and scored 42 points all year. As far as I can tell, the starting lineup on that team was Sadowski, Joe Fulks (the BAA/NBA's first 'star'), Gale Bishop, Angelo Musi, and George Senesky. It's almost impossible for that team not to have started a 6'5 or shorter player as their regular center.

Chuck Hayes is an underappreciated player, and it's very impressive that he's able to shut down centers half a foot taller than him. He's a great defender in the low post, takes lots of charges, gets more than his fair share of steals, isn't a rebounding liability like you would fear, and is one of the best passing centers in the league. I even suspect that I'll be on the "Chuck Hayes for all-defense" bandwagon by the end of the year. But he's not the shortest regular starting center in NBA history. He is probably the shortest regular starting center since the adoption of the 24 second clock, and the fact that someone else did it in the late 1940s does not take away from his accomplishments. And we don't need to obsfucate the stats to acknowledge that. So, stop it Elias Sports Bureau, with your cherry-picking endpoints, and give Ed Sadowski his due, along with Chuck Hayes.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Player of the Week: Ernie Vandeweghe

Here at Waiting For Groza, we plan to take a close look at the career of one player from the past every week. Today, we take the wayback machine to the early 1950s when an NBA player could be named Dr. Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe Jr. (For the 15 people on the internet that might notice, this post (and concept) is an expanded and rewritten version of something that I posted on the TH boards a while back)

Ernie "Doc" Vandeweghe was a medical student in the early 1950s who moonlighted as the Knicks' 6th man. Often he would get out of his classes at Columbia, rush to the Knicks game, often arriving after the game had started, before Joe Lapchick (the Knicks coach for Vandeweghe's whole career) would put him in the game. As a 6th man, Vandeweghe often finished games as a key part of the Knicks team that went to (and lost) three straight NBA Finals in the early 1950s. The Knicks lacked a superstar, but with Vandeweghe, Harry Gallatin, Dick McGuire, Nat Clifton, Vince Boryla, Connie Simmons, Max Zaslofsky, and Carl Braun (in '53) they were the deepest team in the league. When they reached the Finals, the Knicks were very competitive, but lost to teams with conventional 'stars'-Bob Davies' Rochester Royals in '51 and George Mikan's Lakers in '52 and '53. To make the losses even more painful, the Knicks lost the 1951 and 1952 Finals in 7 games, making them one of two teams to lose back to back 7 game Finals (the 69-70 Lakers are the other).

Ironically, Doc Vandeweghe was constantly limited by injuries, including a knee injury that effectively ended his career in 1954 when he was only 25, but when he was on the court, he was developing into an excellent player. His 1953 career high of 12 points per game on a .435 FG% along with 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 29 minutes does not seem to be all that impressive, but in a league where the average player shot 37% from the field, and teams averaged under 83 points a game, his numbers were good enough for 10th in the league in PER (obviously a simplified version of the current formula, as many of the stats used to calculate it weren't tracked in the 1950s). Vandeweghe also had a good defensive reputation, and was one of the best small forward/shooting guards in a league that was dominated by big men. How much did big men dominate in the early 1950s? I know PER is an imperfect measure, but in 1953, Vandeweghe's best season, 7 of the top 8 (and 14 of the top 20) players in PER were either centers or power forwards, Bob Cousy being the only exception (Bill Sharman, Bob Davies, Carl Braun, and Bobby Wanzer were the others who made it in the top 20). In 1952, only Cousy and small forward Paul Arizin (who spent 1953 and 1954 in the military) cracked the top 9.

Although he was a good basketball player, Vandeweghe is best known for his life off the court. After he retired, the Canadian-born doctor became a physician for the US Air Force. While he was stationed in Germany, his wife (and former Miss America Colleen Hutchins) gave birth to future NBA star Kiki Vandeweghe. However, Kiki was far from the only standout athlete the Vandeweghe clan produced. Kiki's sister Tauna was an Olympian swimmer, while younger brother Burk won a medal in beach volleyball in the 1994 Goodwill Games. The only member of the Vandeweghe family not to be a world class athlete is Ernie's daughter Heatherly, who became a doctor. The Vandeweghe sports dynasty has not stopped as two generations, either. Ernie's granddaughter CoCo (the family insists on interesting names, apparently) won the junior US Open in tennis in 2008. After leaving the military, Dr. Vandeweghe has served as an advisor to different medical, sports, and banking organizations, participated in President Gerald Ford's Olympic Sports Commission, and is still giving speeches and working at the age of eighty one.

Today's Ernie Vandeweghe...A lesser Manu Ginobili...If Mike Miller played defense...If Stephen Jackson was more selective.

More Ernie Vandeweghe fun...A reprint of a classic NY Times article from 1956 about Dr. Vandeweghe...The third part of a 1953 documentary on the Minneapolis Lakers that has some Vandeweghe highlights...An SI piece on the Vandeweghe family from 1969 (featuring a 10 year old Kiki)...Also, I'd be remiss not to mention this biography of Joe Lapchick.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What's The Point? A Short Introduction.

The last thing the world needs is another blog. Especially a basketball blog written by someone who doesn't even pretend to be a basketball expert. While I can tell a pick and roll from a drive and kick, and know my PER from my Win Shares, there are plenty of other places that you can go for more in-depth analysis than I can provide. Instead, this a blog primarily about basketball history. This is a blog about Sam Lacey. This is a blog about Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. This is a blog about Red Robbins. This is a blog that will give proper recognition to Dikembe Mutombo's postseason brilliance. This is a blog about the NBA and the ABA and the BAA and the NBL and (god willing) the ABL, but probably not the NBDL. This may even be a blog about Alex Groza. Finally, this is also a blog about the current NBA in which, in deference to established internet protocol, I will complain about Anthony Randolph's playing time and express amazement at the Rockets' refusal to take 16-23 foot jump shots. So, welcome to Waiting For Groza, where we're still waiting for the Indianapolis Olympians to fulfill their potential.