Tuesday, March 16, 2010

All-Lucky Bastards Team

Context matters. It is easier to look good as a role player on a good team than as a focal point on a bad team. Just ask Courtney Lee. But "context" goes beyond that; whether you play with a great point guard, whether you have good coaching, and whether you are a good "fit" for your team. With that in mind, this is the All-Lucky Bastards Team, for those players who ended up in the perfect situations. That is not to say that these players weren't good-they were-but they were placed in a setting that maximized their talents.

C: Arnie Risen. Who? One of pro basketball's earliest stars, the 6'9 center played for the Rochester Royals and Boston Celtics from 1949 through 1958. In the pre shot clock era, averaging 16 points a game (which he did three times) was considered impressive, and he was a very good rebounder, which was enough to get him elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998. Why was he lucky? As will become a theme, Risen played with the best point guard of his era (Bob Davies) on a team with the best backcourt of its era (Davies-Wanzer then Cousy-Sharman). In the days when the center was the most important player on the team and guards settled for chucking twenty five footers most of the time, having skilled guards that could break down a defense undoubtedly helped Risen. As well, Risen (like most of the players of his era) was fortunate to play when he did, dodging the Russell-Wilt "leap" in competition by being a part of the Celtics when Russell was drafted and retiring before the other outstanding centers of the sixties entered the league. His late career move to Boston undoubtedly helped his HOF chances, giving him three championships (with two franchises).

PF: Tom Heinsohn. Heinsohn was a power forward with a pretty, if inefficient, outside shot that he could get off against anybody at anytime. He wasn't great at rebounding or playing defense, so it would be nice if he landed on a team with a big man who could cover him in those areas, while tipping some of his misses back in. And it wouldn't hurt if said big man couldn't create his own shot, so the team would genuinely need Heinsohn to create shots. And, as long as we're asking, it wouldn't hurt for Heinsohn to play with the best passer in the history of the game (up until that point) and the best coaching staff in the game. The luckiest bastards of the lucky bastards, Heinsohn spent his whole career with an all time great team that used his skill set perfectly.

SF: James Worthy. If there was ever a perfect fit between player and system, it was James Worthy and Showtime. With his speed, athleticism, and dunks, Worthy was deadly in transition. (Being fed the ball by Magic Johnson didn't hurt, either.) He wasn't as good creating shots in the half court and wasn't a great defensive player, but those (relative) weaknesses didn't matter on those Lakers. "Big Game James" was a very good player no matter what, but how would he be remembered if he was forced to be the #1 option on a conventional team? Luckily, we never had to find out.

SG: Bill Bradley. Really more of a three, but he played shooting guard some of the time. Bradley was a great college player, which wasn't "luck", but he was drafted by the Knicks, and spent his prime playing on the Frazier-Reed team that won two championships. Bradley fit in very well with those Knicks. He was a decent scorer, especially as a third or fourth option, but his real contributions came as a passer, defender, and "glue guy" for a well publicized great team. His academic credentials and college stardom cemented his reputation as a "heady" player, which combined with his college stats, got him into the Hall of Fame in 1983. What would have happened if he hadn't been drafted by an excellent team? It's tough to know, but glue guys on bad teams aren't celebrated nearly as much.

PG: Tony Parker. Parker is a very good player that fell into a great situation. A very fast shoot first point guard without a good outside shot, Parker landed on an excellent team that needed him to shoot, had stars that didn't mind having a shoot first point guard, surrounded him with good three point shooters that he could kick the ball to (Ginobili, Barry, Bowen, etc), and could cover for his defensive shortcomings. All of these factors, plus a great coaching staff that helped Parker acclimate quickly when he came over from Europe at 19, allowed Parker to do what he does best-get into the lane and score-without his limitations slowing him down. The result? Three championships.

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