Sunday, January 31, 2010

You Wouldn't Have Thunk It

After Andre Miller, who is a good player, but hardly a scoring machine, put up 52 points on the Dallas Mavericks the other day, I used Basketball-Reference's Game Finder to find all the other 50 point scorers (from 1987 to the present), and I found some other unlikely heroes.

Tony Delk, who scored 53 points for the Phoenix Suns in a 121-117 overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings on January 2nd, 2001. Delk went 20/27 from the field and 13/15 from the line, and finished with 53 points, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, and only 2 turnovers in 50 minutes of action. However, the rest of the team shot 27/74 (.365), including a 5/18 night from Jason Kidd and a 2/10 performance from Clifford Robinson. Meanwhile, Vlade Divac scored 34 for Sacramento, and Peja added 33 on a combined 24/37.

Willie Burton, who scored 53 for the Philadelphia 76ers in a 105-90 victory over Miami on December 13, 1994. Like Delk, the rest of Burton's team failed to pick up the shooting slack, with Clarence Weatherspoon shooting an egregious 4/20. However, the Adelman Kings were a much better team than the Glen Rice-Kevin Willis-Bimbo Coles Heat, and Burton's 53 points on 19 shots and 28 free throw attempts were enough to carry the 76ers, who enjoyed a 51-20 free throw attempt disparity.

Vernon Maxwell, who scored 51 points for the shorthanded Houston Rockets in a 103-97 victory over Cleveland on January 26, 1991. This game took place a couple weeks after Hakeem Olajuwon was injured by a Bill Cartwright elbow to the face, and the Rockets depended on Maxwell, Otis Thorpe, and Kenny Smith for offense. Maxwell went 14/25 from the field and took 22 of Houston's 27 free throws in a comeback win. The game was a sloppy affair, with Houston turning the ball over 26 times and Cleveland coughing it up 25 times. The Rockets withstood Larry Nance's 29-10-4 (steals) and Darnell Valentine shooting 9/11 with 5 steals.

Tracy Murray, who scored 50 points for the Washington Wizards on February 10, 1998 in a 99-87 win over the hapless Golden State Warriors, who were led by Joe Smith's 36. Murray went 18/29 from the field and 9/10 from the line. The rest of the Wizards shot 19/62 (31%), not giving Murray much help, although Rod Strickland's 20 assist night certainly helped (Strickland also scored 21 and added 12 rebounds). Fellow 50 point scorer Tony Delk appeared in this game, shooting 6/19 and turning the ball over 7 times.

Dana Barros, who scored 50 points for the 76ers on March 14, 1995 in a 136-107 loss to Houston (yes, the same 76ers team that Willie Burton scored 53 for). Barros actually averaged 21 points that year for a team with no other legitimate scoring options (Burton's outburst notwithstanding), so it wasn't that surprising that he scored 50 points, but I included this game for the reason that he scored 50 points while attempting only 2 free throws. How did he do it? By shooting 21/26 from the field, including 6/8 from three! Impressively, Barros added 8 assists while only turning it over 4 times. Clarence Weatherspoon had another bad game, shooting 5/13 with 4 turnovers (4 turnovers is acceptable when you have 50 points and 8 assists, not when you have 11 points and 1 assist), while the Rockets had Clyde Drexler, Kenny Smith, and Mario Elie combine to score 72 points on 23/34 shooting.

Friday, January 29, 2010

2000s In Review, part 2

Single Season Teams of the Decade

2008 Boston Celtics
My choice for the best single season team of the decade. They won 66 games behind three future Hall of Famers, all close to their primes, as well as great defense from their chief role players (Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, James Posey). This team has only two knocks. First, due to Garnett aging and fighting injuries, they were only great for one year. Second, they struggled in the first couple rounds of the playoffs.

2005 San Antonio Spurs
The most consistently good team of the decade. This is my pick for the best of those teams-a team that won 59 games with the best point differential in the NBA despite Tim Duncan missing 16 games. The Spurs got a great year from Manu, Tony Parker was starting to hit his peak, Duncan was his usual great self, and the Spurs had an almost perfect group of role players in Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, Robert Horry, and Rasho Nesterovic.

2000 Lakers
The best regular season of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers (67-15). They struggled in the playoffs, nearly blowing a 3-1 lead to Portland, but still won a title. In addition, this team had the best third option of any of the Shaq-Kobe teams in Glen Rice.

Worst Champion

2006 Miami Heat
What Happened? Dwayne Wade singlehandedly destroyed the Pistons, and then the Heat benefited from some "questionable" calls to win Games 3, 5, and 6 by a total of 6 points over Dallas.

Best Also-Ran

2009 Cleveland Cavaliers
What Happened? Orlando got hot from three (41%), and Mo Williams couldn't hit the broad side of a barn during the first 4 games.

Honorable Mentions

2001 San Antonio Spurs
What Happened? The Lakers decided to try, and also hit a lot of threes, 44% compared to 22% for San Antonio. (In the regular season, San Antonio hit 41% from deep and LA hit 34%).

2003 Dallas Mavericks
What Happened? Dirk got injured, and the best Nowitzki-Nash squad lost to a very good Spurs team in the conference finals

2002 Sacramento Kings
What Happened?
Dick Bavetta and a good Lakers team. I don't want to say anything else, except that it's a shame this team never won a title.

Dynasties of the Decade

2003-2007 Spurs
2000-2002 Lakers
2003-2008 Pistons

Worst Teams of the Decade

2000 Clippers

Reasons they won 15 games: a rookie Lamar Odom, Derek Anderson, who was kinda decent, I guess.

Reasons they only won 15 games: three of their starters were Maurice Taylor, Michael Olowokandi, and Tyrone Nesby. Enough said.

Seeds for future success: They continued to suck, which allowed them to draft Tyson Chandler, who they were able to use to fleece the Bulls for Elton Brand, who led the Clippers within one game of the Western Conference Finals in 2006 in exhibit C of the "Sam Cassell makes teams better than you'd think" argument. And that's pretty much the high point of the Clippers franchise (and no, Bob McAdoo winning the '75 MVP doesn't count).

2001 Bulls

Reasons they won 15 games: The Bulls actually had a decent collection of talent-Elton Brand, Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Ron Mercer, Jamal Crawford, and supersub Fred Hoiberg.

Reasons they only won 15 games: Their problem was that, with the exception of a 21 year old Elton Brand (and Hoiberg), none of it was very good yet.

Seeds for future success: The next time the Bulls would win more than 30 games was 2005. None of the above players would be on that Bulls team. That team was built around a great defense anchored by Tyson Chandler (acquired for Elton Brand) and Kirk Hinrich (1st round pick in 2003), and molded by Scott Skiles. Other draft picks that contributed included Eddy Curry (2001-4th overall) and Ben Gordon (2004-3rd overall). What happened to all that young talent from 2001? In one of the more underrated horrible trades of the new century, Artest, Miller, and Mercer were traded for a package of Jalen Rose and three other guys that didn't do much. Two years later, the Bulls traded Rose and Donyell Marshall to the Raptors for a 35 year old Antonio Davis and two other guys who didn't do much. If you're keeping track, the Bulls managed to turn a young Ron Artest, a young Brad Miller, Ron Mercer, and Donyell Marshall into two years of Jalen Rose and an old Antonio Davis. When you factor in the Elton Brand trade, and the Jay Williams accident, it's amazing to see how much talent Chicago hemorrhaged during those years.

2003 Cavs

Reasons they won 17 games: Ricky Davis, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a young Carlos Boozer

Reasons they only won 17 games: Ricky Davis, Darius Miles, the Dajuan Wagner experience.

Seeds for future success: LeBron! LeBron! LeBron! The Cavs built a good team around LeBron and Big Z (Boozer having jumped ship to Utah), and have become a championship contender in the past couple years after adding role players like Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams. The reason? Unlike the Bulls and Clippers, they were lucky enough to bottom out in time to draft the best player of his generation.

2005 Hawks

Reasons they won 13 games: a couple good very young players in Josh Childress and Josh Smith, and 2 veteran scorers in Antoine Walker and Al Harrington.

Reasons they only won 13 games: When your veteran leader is Antoine Walker, you're in trouble.

Seeds for future success: Josh Smith is turning into an excellent player, Atlanta was able to use a combination of young talent (Boris Diaw) and draft picks to fleece the Suns for Joe Johnson, and the Hawks' continued ineptitude allowed them to draft Al Horford in 2007. In contrast to the Cavs, for example, the Hawks success has had more to do with good trades (for Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, and Jamal Crawford) than it does with picking up a great player with a high draft pick as a result of ineptitude.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ironic Sentence Of The Night

I'm watching the Sacramento-Golden State game, and the announcer just uttered the sentence, "Beno Udrih read the [Golden State] defense perfectly". To which my first thought was, "doesn't there have to be something in order to read it?"

In other NBA news, the Dallas Mavericks have tied a somewhat obscure record: most consecutive victories in one point games, at 10. They tie the record held by the 1960 St Louis Hawks, who were also led by a white forward, Bob Pettit, and lost to a superior Celtics team in a closer than it should have been 7 game series. There are a few parallels between the two teams, including the whole "best white player in the league" thing, as well as the "not quite as good as the league's elite" thing. To stretch the analogy until it breaks, I guess Jason Terry is Cliff Hagan (top perimeter scorer), Jason Kidd is Slater Martin (veteran point guard who can't shoot), although not even Mark Cuban is as unlikable as Clyde Lovellette-who was like Bill Laimbeer with a cowboy fetish-allegedly was.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shallow Thought Of The Day, Vol II

(Good) NBA Centers, 25 and Under, 2010 edition
Dwight Howard
Andrew Bynum
Brook Lopez
Al Horford
Marc Gasol
Andrew Bogut
Kendrick Perkins
Joakim Noah
Greg Oden

(Good) NBA Centers, 25 and Under, 2000 Edition
Marcus Camby
Brad Miller
Ben Wallace (if you consider him a center)

The current crop of young NBA centers doesn't match up to the late 80s, when the NBA had David Robinson, Hakeem, Ewing, Brad Daugherty, Vlade Divac, Rik Smits, and Rony Seikaly. But it's light years better than 2000, and comparable to 1980, when the NBA's under 25 centers included Moses Malone, Jack Sikma, Bill Cartwright, Alvan Adams, Tree Rollins, Darryl Dawkins, and James Edwards.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How Good Were The West/Baylor Lakers?

Los Angeles famously lost 8 Finals (7 to Boston) between 1959 and 1970 while having two (then three) of the greatest NBA players in their primes. Were they a great team that consistently choked away series they should have won? Or were they simply a good team that lost to better teams? How many championships should they have won? I want to try to answer these questions with a year by year look at the Lakers.

1958: The post-Mikan years hit their nadir, as the Lakers finish a league worst 19-53, with only three decent NBA players on the roster (Vern Mikkelsen, Larry Foust, Dick Garmaker).

1959: The Lakers pick up Elgin Baylor in the draft, and improve to 33-39. They upset the Hawks in the playoffs before getting crushed by a much better Celtics team in the Finals.

1960: Mikkelsen and Foust leave, and Rudy LaRusso arrives. Other than Elgin, LaRusso is the only thing resembling a decent player on the roster, and the team slips to 25-50. As 6 of the 8 teams made the playoffs in those days, the Lakers made it to the conference finals before losing to the Hawks in a surprisingly close 7 game series.

1961: Jerry West's rookie year. He struggles at times, and finishes the year averaging 18 points and 4 assists. Elgin has a sublime season (35-20-5), Rudy LaRusso becomes a decent player, and the Lakers improve to 36-43 before losing to the Hawks again in a much closer 7 game series (they lost 3 games by 1 or 2 points, including Games 6 and 7).

1962: Jerry West becomes Jerry West, Elgin only plays 48 games due an Army commitment (but averages 38-19-5), and the Lakers win the West at 54-26. In the playoffs, with Elgin back, they took care of the Pistons, before losing to the Celtics in overtime of Game 7 (the Frank Selvy game). Were the Lakers the better team? Statistically, it's hard to make the case. Even though the Lakers won 54 games, the Celtics won 60, and more tellingly, outscored their opponents by 9.2 points per game compared to the Lakers' 2.2 PPG advantage. Now, that number may be depressed because the Lakers lost Baylor for about 30 games. However, even with Baylor, the Celtics outscored the Lakers by 29 points in the Finals, suggesting that the better team did win. A look at the Lakers roster reveals 2 superstars, one good player (LaRusso), and not much else. Meanwhile, the Celtics had one superstar (Russell), two very good players (Sam Jones and Heinsohn, who was having a career year-22 and 10 in 30 MPG), and four good players (defensive stopper Satch Sanders, an older Bob Cousy, sixth man Frank Ramsey, and defensive specialist KC Jones).

Even though the West-Baylor combo was better than the Russell-Sam Jones combo, the Celtics were so much deeper than the Lakers that I'm forced to consider them the superior team. The fact that the Lakers got that close to beating the Celtics is impressive, although the fact that the Finals started two nights after Boston had finished a grueling seven game series with Wilt's Warriors probably helped LA to jump out to a 2-1 advantage.

1963: The next year, the Lakers got Baylor (34-14-5) back for the whole season, but West only played 55 games due to an injury. The Lakers finished 53-27, as Dick Barnett joined the team, and gave the Lakers another scoring option, although LaRusso slipped a bit. In the playoffs, the favored Celtics (58-22) and Lakers struggled to put away Oscar's Royals and Pettit's Hawks, but they both prevailed in 7 games to reach the Finals. The Celtics weren't as good as in 1962, as some of the old guard (Cousy, Heinsohn, Ramsey) was on the decline, and rookie John Havlicek wasn't yet ready to pick up the slack. Still, the Celtics, behind Russell and Sam Jones, comfortably led the league in Wins and Point Differential again. In the 1963 Finals, the Lakers outscored the Celtics, but lost a close series in 6 games, as Tommy Heinsohn had a great series.

I think this was the best of the pre-Wilt Laker teams, when West was healthy. West's injury happened towards the end of the regular season, and then he came back for the playoffs. In their first 55 games (when West presumably played), the Lakers were 43-12. In their last 25, they went 10-15. Although they lost the Finals, they essentially played the Celtics to a standstill, and were a few plays away from winning. I don't know that they were better than the Celtics, but they weren't much worse.

1964: After two peak seasons from Baylor and West, Baylor started to decline in 1964, averaging 25 and 12 after averaging 34 and 14 the previous year. Baylor was still good, but he was no longer a superstar, and the Lakers declined to 42-38. They still had only four reliable players (Baylor, West, LaRusso, and Barnett), and Wilt's Warriors took the top spot in the West.

1965: West has his best year yet (31-6-5), and the Lakers grab the top spot out west at 49-31. The Lakers weren't as good as the Celtics, who went 62-18. To make matters worse, Baylor got injured before the playoffs. West carried the team to the Finals by averaging 41 PPG, but the hobbled Lakers were no match for Boston, and probably wouldn't have won even if healthy.

1966: Baylor feels the lingering effects of his knee injury, and averages just 17 and 10 in 65 games. West averages 31-7-6, and carries the team (primarily LaRusso, Leroy Ellis, and Walt Hazzard by now) to the Finals in a weak West-at 45-35, the Lakers win the division handily. The Celtics were weaker than previous years, but still a superior team (54-28). They were still much deeper than the Lakers, with a top three of Russell, Sam Jones, and John Havlicek along with role players KC Jones, Satch Sanders, Don Nelson, Larry Siegfried, and Willie Naulls. It wasn't as impressive as previous years, but Elgin Baylor was hobbled and the Lakers' 5th best player was Walt Hazzard. Still, the Lakers were able to stretch the Celtics to 7 games on West's heroics.

1967: The '67 Lakers in a nutshell: Darrall Imhoff led the team in minutes. Baylor had a bounce back year, but he and West (who wasn't as good as in '65 and '66) battled injuries, LaRusso gave them much less, and the team finished 36-45. They were swept by the Nate Thurmond-Rick Barry Warriors in the first round. One encouraging sign: the first real shot at playing time for guards Gail Goodrich and Archie Clark.

1968: A bounce back season (52-30) for the Lakers, as Archie Clark had a breakout season (20-4-4). Elgin goes for 26-12 and West goes for 26-6-6 in 51 games. With Darrall Imhoff, Tom Hawkins, Gail Goodrich, and Mel Counts, the Lakers finally put together a decent group of role players. In the East, the Celtics (54-28) upset the 76ers in 7 games to advance to the NBA Finals, where they beat the Lakers. Boston was an old team by this point, but still very good, with the addition of Bailey Howell giving them another good player to team with Russell, Jones, and Havlicek.

1969: Wilt comes to LA. However, the team does not noticeably improve (55-27), as their depth takes a big hit with the losses of Gail Goodrich (to PHO in the expansion draft), Archie Clark (in the Wilt trade), and Darrall Imhoff (ditto). In addition, Wilt and coach Butch Van Breda Kolff spend the season feuding. Despite all this, they make it to the Finals and take a 3-2 lead on Russell's last Celtic team. And then, everything falls apart. West pulls his hamstring in Game 5, then Wilt suffers a minor injury in Game 7, and his coach famously refuses to put him back in the game. The Lakers lose by two, Van Breda Kolff is fired, and the Lakers are titleless once again. The Celtics deserve some credit here. Despite their mediocre record (48-34), their point differential was better than many of the teams that finished ahead of them-including the Lakers. Still, LA probably should have won a championship in this two year stretch.

1970: Wilt gets injured, and misses almost the whole season. Despite his absence, the Lakers finish 46-36. Wilt then returns for the playoffs, and the Lakers meet a very tough Knicks team in the Finals. With both teams fighting injuries (most notably Willis Reed), and two overtime games, the series came to a game 7. Then Willis Reed limped on the court, Walt Frazier took over the game, and the rest is history.

1971: The next year, Elgin Baylor missed the season due to injury, but the Lakers got solid performances from Happy Hairston and Gail Goodrich, back with the team after two years in Phoenix. The Lakers went 48-34, and were no match for the Kareem-Oscar Bucks.

1972: The year the Lakers finally win. Goodrich and West have great years, and the addition of forward Jim McMillian countered the loss of Baylor. The team wins 69 games and beats the Knicks in 5.

One striking aspect of the Lakers during this period is that, until 1972, they never had a team that was obviously the best team in the league going into the playoffs. The '62 and '63 teams were the only teams to have the best of West and Baylor, but neither team had both players for a full season, and the Celtics won more games with a vastly superior point differential each season. I'm inclined to believe that, when healthy, those teams were almost as good as the Celtics, but without game by game data that shows what games both players were on the court for, I'm forced to guess. Then, in 1968 and 1969, the Lakers put together teams that were about as good as the Celtics (the Celtics had more wins in '68 and a better point differential in '69 while the Lakers had more wins in '69 and a better point differential in '68), and came very close to beating Boston both years. The Lakers probably should have won one title in '62-'63 and one in '68-'69. Were they unlucky? Yes, but sometimes you make your own luck-West and Baylor were both injury prone, which often came back to hurt the Lakers, they didn't have a deep team until 1968 (and then got rid of most of that depth the following year), and Butch Van Breda Kolff wasn't going to win any coach of the year awards. Still, they were unlucky not to win at least one title during that time frame.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Player of the Week: Leroy Ellis

After a one week hiatus due to technical problems, the Player of the Week series returns with a look at obscure Lakers, Bullets, Blazers, and Sixers center Leroy Ellis. Ellis was drafted in the first round by the Lakers in 1962, one pick before John Havlicek, joining a loaded Lakers team that already featured Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Dick Barnett, and Rudy LaRusso.

That Lakers team was in the process of finding new ways to lose in the Finals every year despite having West and Baylor (although Elgin was done as a dominant player after 1963). Ellis was considered part of the problem, as the Lakers shopped around for a dominant center for nearly a decade before landing Wilt Chamberlain for the 1969 season. But by that point, Ellis was long gone. He spent four years with the Lakers before landing on a bad Bullets team for the 1967 season.

The Bullets had been mediocre the year before, but had lost their best player (Bailey Howell) to Boston. With a core of Leroy Ellis, Gus Johnson, and Kevin Loughery, the Bullets finished 20-61. Despite the lack of talent around him, or maybe because of it, he posted career highs in points and rebounds with 15 and 12. The Bullets drafted Earl Monroe with the second overall pick in the 1967 draft, and improved by 16 games with a core of Monroe, Johnson, Ellis, and Ray Scott. They ended up with the second overall pick again, and drafted Wes Unseld. While the pick was excellent for the franchise, as the Bullets immediately improved to 57-25 with improvement from young players Earl Monroe and Jack Marin, a career year from veteran guard Kevin Loughery, and 18 rebounds a game from Rookie of the Year and MVP Wes Unseld, it wasn’t good for Leroy Ellis. With Unseld taking the lion’s share of playing time in the middle, Ellis’ minutes per game fell from 35 in 1968 to 20 in 1969 to 16 in 1970.

By this time, Ellis was largely irrelevant to the Bullets, and was taken by the Blazers in the 1970 expansion draft. Ellis responded with (arguably) his best season, averaging 16 and 12 in 35 minutes for the expansion Blazers, teaming with rookie guard Geoff Petrie to lead Portland to a surprisingly competitive 29-53 record. After the season, Ellis was traded back to the Lakers for a second round pick (which would become Ollie Johnson). He backed up Wilt and Happy Hairston on the 72 Lakers, one of the greatest teams of all time, finally winning a championship. However, Ellis would immediately return to the other end of the spectrum, being traded to the 76ers for Bill Bridges ten games into the 1973 season, becoming a “key” part of that legendarily awful 9-73 team. He hung around with Philadelphia for a few more years, retiring after the 1976 season.

That transition, from the best team in basketball to the worst, really sums up Ellis’ career. He wasn’t a great player, and if you depended on him, you weren’t that good, but he was good enough to be a role player on a very good team for over a decade. He wasn't a good scorer, but he was a decent rebounder, and there were certainly worse centers around.

After his basketball career, Ellis stayed out of professional sports, opening a tire store, although he continued to play (non professionally) into his sixties. Some of his kids became basketball players, including his son LeRon, who played three years in the NBA. Ellis was a man who knew the importance of a good first syllable, naming some of his other kids LeRoy Jr, Lisa, and Lee (who was tragically murdered at the age of 19). Sadly, Ellis is now suffering from cancer that may be terminal, but he is still keeping a positive outlook.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2000s In Review, part 1

As the 2000s have ended, and the 2010s have begun, here is a look back at the decade, starting with the best (and worst) players of the decade.

All-NBA-1st Team
C: Shaquille O'Neal
PF: Tim Duncan
SF: Kevin Garnett
SG: Kobe Bryant
PG: Jason Kidd

I know Garnett wasn't a small forward, but he was the 2nd most productive player of the decade, behind Duncan, so it felt right to put him on the first team. The toughest choice was Kidd vs Nash, and I went with defense over offense.

All-NBA-2nd Team
C: Pau Gasol
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
SF: Paul Pierce
SG: Ray Allen
PG: Steve Nash

I'm counting Pau Gasol as a center, and he really was this good, even with Memphis. His 2006 season, when he averaged 20-9-4.5 with efficient shooting (without a real point guard) for one of the best defensive teams in the league, was probably the best season by a center not named Shaq or Dwight Howard this decade, and his 2009 was just as good. In addition, he played a lot more than other comparable centers like Yao Ming and Dwight Howard.

All-NBA-3rd Team
C: Ben Wallace
PF: Elton Brand
SF: LeBron James
SG: Manu Ginobili
PG: Chauncey Billups

Ginobili gets the nod over Wade and Iverson because I think he had more value between 2000 and 2009. It was a tough decision, though, especially between Wade and Ginobili, and I'm not sure I made the right call. I will say this-if Ginobili had played 32-36 minutes a game instead of 28, there would be no question here.

Least Valuable Players
C: Michael Olowokandi (LVP)
PF: Mark Madsen
SF: Darius Miles
SG: Trenton Hassell
PG: Milt Palacio

I made the cutoff 400 games, which is about 5 seasons. Miles wasn't as bad as the rest of the guys on this team, but he was almost as bad, and wreaked enough financial havoc that I gave him a subjective "boost".

C: Shaquille O'Neal
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
SF: Peja Stojakovic
SG: Kobe Bryant
PG: Steve Nash

One of the great "what-ifs" of the decade. What if Nowitzki doesn't get hurt in the 2003 playoffs? The Mavericks play the Spurs tight without him, and with him, they probably win the championship. This probably persuades Cuban to keep Nash over Erick Dampier, and instead of a multipolar decade controlled by San Antonio, Phoenix never becomes a contender, and the next five years become an arms race between Dallas and San Antonio. Probably.

C: Ben Wallace
PF: Tim Duncan
SF: Ron Artest
SG: Bruce Bowen
PG: Jason Kidd (Just forget the past couple years, okay?)

This was the decade of the great defensive small/combo forward, when what I call the "Pippenization" of the position reached its apex. This started in the late 1980s when the best small forwards had included the likes of Larry Bird, Adrian Dantley, Dominique Wilkins, Alex English, Bernard King, Kiki Vandeweghe, James Worthy, and Mark Aguirre. A decade and a half later, the pendulum had swung the other way. Besides Bowen and Artest, we had Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince, Shawn Marion, Gerald Wallace, Andrei Kirilenko, Josh Smith, and LeBron James.

No Rings All-Stars aka The Gollum Awards
C: Yao Ming
F: Dirk Nowitzki
F: LeBron James
G: Jason Kidd
G: Steve Nash

I suspect LeBron will win (at least) one over the next few years. Kidd was never on a good enough team until now, Yao was never healthy for long enough, and Dirk and Nash ran into the hellacious combination of the Spurs and controversial (bad) officiating.

Worst Championship Starters
C: Rasho Nesterovic (07 Spurs)
F: Fabrico Oberto (05 Spurs)
F: Antoine Walker (06 Heat)
G: Ron Harper (00 Lakers)
G: Derek Fisher (09 Lakers)

To be clear, this means that a player has to be the team's starter in the playoffs. I'm not counting cases like Samaki Walker starting the majority of his team's games, then never seeing the court during the playoffs. These generally fall into two categories: player who used to be good, and team without a center that needs somebody to jump for the opening tip and play twenty minutes (to be fair, Nesterovic wasn't a bad player, just a mediocre player having a below average year).

Best Role Players
C: Kendrick Perkins
F: Udonis Haslem
F: Shane Battier
G: Brent Barry
G: Raja Bell

Other candidates included Anderson Varejao, Mike Miller, half of the players on the 2001 Sixers and 2009 Rockets, Birdman, Doug Christie, Leandro Barbosa, late career Reggie Miller, and Jameer Nelson, when healthy.

Worst Stars
C: Carlos Boozer
F: Zach Randolph
F: Antoine Walker
G: Latrell Sprewell
G: Stephon Marbury

There wasn't a good choice at center, so I just added another forward. I'm not claiming that these players are necessarily overrated now, just that they were treated as stars, or put up "star numbers" without being that good.

All-Crazy Team
C: Chris "Birdman" Andersen
F: Rasheed Wallace
F: Ron Artest
G: Stephen Jackson
G: Agent Zero

Gil is a crazy in a good way. I wish we had more NBA players like, but him. I don't know how crazy Birdman every is, but (1) he looks crazy and (2) he plays like a crazy person.

I'd Like To Thank My Point Guard For Making Me Look Good
Richard Jefferson
Shawn Marion
David West

Point Guard? What's A Point Guard?
LeBron James
Kobe Bryant
Elton Brand

Point Guard? What's A Point Guard? (Point Guard edition)
Allen Iverson
Gilbert Arenas
Steve Francis

And Some Individual Awards

Marlon Brando Award for widest career swing: Tracy McGrady, for going from a top 5 player to a guy that a team without a consistent perimeter scorer refuses to play in just six years.

Tim Duncan Award for consistency: Tim Duncan, for being Tim Duncan.

Ted Stepien Award for front office mismanagement: You might think I'm going with Isiah Thomas, for just about everything he did while running the Knicks. And you'd be right. However, he gets to share the award with James Dolan, who let Isiah run amok far after it should have been clear to any rational person that Isiah was incompetent.

The "Can We Get A Mulligan On This Award" Award: Avery Johnson for Coach of the Year.

Bill Sharman Award for best shooter: Ray Allen
Dennis Rodman Award for best rebounder: Ben Wallace
John Stockton Award for best passing: Steve Nash
Manute Bol Award for shotblocking: Theo Ratliff
Adrian Dantley Award for being a free throw machine: Dwayne Wade
MVP of the Decade: Tim Duncan

Friday, January 1, 2010

Nothing Changes On New Year's Day

There are still six teams, the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Spurs, Cavs and Mavericks, with a legitimate shot at the championship, while the Warriors and 76ers are still a mess. Chris Paul and LeBron are still really good, and Trenton Hassell and Ryan Hollins aren't. However, because the new year is a time for blind optimism, here is why 2010 will be better than 2009 for every team that is currently below .500.

Toronto Raptors-Because Andrea Bargnani is developing into a good offensive player, giving the Raptors a potentially great offense.
New York Knicks-Summer 2010! Summer 2010! Summer 2010! Oh, alright. Because Danilo Gallinari is becoming Peja 2.0, giving the Knicks a credible #2 option after the summer.
Philadelphia 76ers-Marreese Speights! Andre Iguodala! A surprisingly good shot at John Wall!
New Jersey Nets-Brook Lopez is already one of the best centers in the east. Lopez, Devin Harris, a top 3 pick, and a big free agent as the core of a team (probably) moving to Brooklyn? Yes, please.
Chicago Bulls-Vinny Del Negro should be gone soon, and then...Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng...this has the potential to be an exciting team.
Milwaukee Bucks-Brandon Jennings! He's like Magic, Oscar, and Gamera rolled into one! Also, Andrew Bogut has looked good this year, and Ersan Ilyasova was an absolute steal.
Detroit Pistons-Considering what has happened since the last time I wrote something good about this team (a million straight losses), I'm going to give this one a pass.
Indiana Pacers-They're the grittiest team in the league!
Charlotte Bobcats-They are currently 2nd in Defensive Rating, and have the potential to steal some first round games with that stifling defense. Also, Gerald Wallace is averaging over 12 rebounds a game right now. As a small forward.
Washington Wizards-They have talent! They just need to put it together! Just imagine that team with another lottery pick! That's a lot of talent, right?
Minnesota Timberwolves-Kevin Love is a rebounding machine. I wouldn't be surprised to see him average 15 rebounds a game soon. And the Wolves have been playing a lot better since he returned from injury.
Sacramento Kings-This is a team with a really bright future. A lineup of Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin, Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson, and Spencer Hawes could be absolutely frightening (and extremely entertaining) if everyone stays healthy and continues to develop. They've been a .500 team in a tough conference with some of those guys injured this year. Watch out.
Los Angeles Clippers-They've been non-pathetic even without Blake Griffin. Kaman is averaging 20 a game this year, Al Thornton has turned into an average player (shock of the year for me), and Eric Gordon has had a solid sophomore season. More importantly, Donald Sterling can't own the team forever. Right?
Golden State Warriors-Don Nelson may turn uncrazy at some point. The front office could become (not dys)functional. You never know. At least they have talent.
Memphis Grizzlies-Marc Gasol is the best player everyone's heard of that they think no one else has heard of. Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo are good young players. And Lionel Hollins has figured out how to motivate Zach Randolph. Somebody give that man a medal.
New Orleans Hornets-CP3! He's pretty much locked down the PG spot on the All-NBA first team for the foreseeable future, and is a great reason for optimism.

I'll be posting some retrospective stuff on the past decade in the next couple of weeks. More regular posting will return (or commence) as we get away from the holiday season.