Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Four Factors: 2005 Bulls

After Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Luc Longley left following the Bulls' 1998 championship run, Chicago fell on hard times. From 1999 through 2004, they won more than 23 games only once, a 30-52 season in 2003. During those years, plenty of talent cycled through Chicago, but it was usually traded away or injured before it had a chance to do much. For example, in a series of trades, the Bulls managed to turn Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Ron Mercer, and Donyell Marshall into two years of Jalen Rose and an old Antonio Davis. Then in 2005, a very young Bulls team broke through with 47 wins, looking to have a bright future. That bright future never quite materialized, but let's take a look at what that 2005 Bulls team team did well (and poorly) using Four Factors.

1.) Shooting. The Bulls were a weak shooting squad, finishing 24th in eFG%. Big men Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler were the only Bulls with more than 20 minutes a game to shoot better than the league average, and that was only because they rarely attempted shots outside of point blank range. Backup forward Othella Harrington was perhaps the team's most effective shooter, with a .512 eFG% despite two thirds of his shots being jumpers (compared to less than one third for Chandler and Curry). Among the regulars, Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni were especially bad in this category. However, the Bulls were near the top of the league on defense, behind only the San Antonio Spurs. The credit should go to the whole team for good team defense, although Tyson Chandler and Kirk Hinrich had the best defensive reputations on the team (on which they were number one and number two in minutes played), and led the Bulls in blocks and steals.

2.) Rebounding. The Bulls were 19th in offensive rebounding and 7th in defensive rebounding. Chandler deserves most of the credit here, finishing third in the NBA in rebound percentage behind only Kevin Garnett and Ben Wallace. Forwards Nocioni, 19 year old Luol Deng, Antonio Davis, and Harrington also did decent work on the glass. Eddy Curry was particularly bad in this category, finishing with less than 7 rebounds per 36 minutes despite playing center.

3.) Turnovers. The Bulls were 8th in the league at forcing turnovers thanks to the quick hands of Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon, along with that team defense I mentioned earlier. The Bulls played at a faster than average pace, finished 8th in the league at forcing turnovers, and yet as a team finished only 21st in steals. This meant that Chicago forced a lot of pressure turnovers that ended possessions without any one player getting credit for the steal. That is a sign of good team defense. On the other side of the ball, the Bulls turned the ball over more than any other team in the league, which is not a sign of good team offense. Part of the problem was inexperience, with rookies Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni turning the ball over much more than they ever would again. Another part of the problem was big men with little ball handling skills (Chandler and Curry). Surprisingly*, the only one of the Bulls' top 9 players (in terms of total minutes) to post an above average turnover rate was Kirk Hinrich.

*Surprisingly because TOV% measures turnovers against shots taken, which means players with a lot of assists, who have the ball in their hands a lot, but aren't shooting, tend to look worse than they actually are by this measure.

4.) Free Throws. The Bulls were decidedly below average in this category, ranking 22nd in getting to the line and at sending opponents to the line. Once again, these were team wide problems. Tyson Chandler (especially) and Eddy Curry were the only Bulls that were very good at getting to the line. On the other end, Luol Deng was the only Bull particularly good at playing defense without fouling.

Why were the Bulls good? The most important reason seems to have been the team defense, which the stats can only tell us about indirectly. Going by traditional boxscore statistics, Tyson Chandler was really their only good player, providing excellent rebounding, blocks, and efficient scoring. The Bulls also got decent seasons from Kirk Hinrich, Eddy Curry, and a career year from reserve Othella Harrington. That does not seem like a recipe for success, and offensively it wasn't, as the Bulls finished 27th in the league in Offensive Rating. However, fantastic team defense anchored by one of the best defenders in the NBA was enough to get the Bulls the number 4 seed in the East.

Friday, September 24, 2010

TBTEW: Point Guards 6-10

To see the previous posts in this series click on the "the best there ever was" tag at the bottom of the post.

10: Bob Cousy. Like Isiah Thomas, Cousy is a player whose stats don't quite match his reputation. Or maybe his stats match his reputation, but his reputation doesn't match his statistical "value". Either way, his stats and his reputation agree that he was the best point guard of the fifties, the best passer in the game, and a shaky shooter.

Most of Cousy's perceived value came from his passing, and his ability to run an offense, which was excellent. Even though he was also a prolific scorer, averaging over 18 points a game for his career, he was inefficient, always shooting below 40% from the field. From what I understand, he could score in transition, but was not a good shooter. He was a good rebounder for a point guard, but wasn't much of a defender, in that respect being similar to most of the players from the pre-Russell era. In my opinion, then, he deserves to rank somewhere in between Isiah Thomas (very good passer, inefficient shooter, decent defender) and Kevin Johnson (a more efficient scorer than Thomas).

9: Kevin Johnson. I don't know if people realize how good KJ was. Of course, there's the dunk on Olajuwon which remains famous, but the early 90s Suns are remembered as the team that went to the Finals when Barkley was there. This inevitably means that it is forgotten that the Suns had won between 53 and 55 games the previous four seasons with a core of Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek, Tom Chambers, and Dan Majerle. KJ was the best player on that team, averaging 21 and 11 on a .587 TS% during that span.

Unfortunately, he was hampered by injuries after that stretch, playing at least 60 games just twice after his age 25 season, and he was done by age 31. Offensively, the lack of a consistent outside shot (until his last couple seasons) was his only weakness, and his passing combined with his knack for drawing fouls and finishing inside made him a scarily effective offensive player.

8: Chauncey Billups. Owner of the coveted "best player on a championship team" designation, Billups was similar to Terrell Brandon in that both players played on very slow teams, were great free throw shooters, and rarely turned the ball over. As in Brandon's case, these factors contributed to Billups' "traditional stats" understating his performance. Billups has also been an excellent three point shooter, making him a very efficient scorer despite low field goal percentages, and has been a better defender than his steals would indicate.

Another interesting feature of Billups' career is his current streak of nine straight 50 win seasons over three different teams. The Pistons and the Nuggets had both won 50 games the year before he arrived, but both teams enjoyed greater success after he arrived in town. It doesn't prove anything about his value, but the fact that his teams consistently won argues for a high ranking.

7: Steve Nash. You all know the deal. So much virtual ink has been spilled on Nash during the past five years that anything I say will be extraordinarily redundant. Coming off an age 35 season in which he averaged 17-11 on another 50-40-90 while leading the Suns to the Western Conference Finals, it is safe to say that Nash has broken the age curve. It is sufficient to say that the list of guards who have had a season with a PER of at least 20 (while qualifying for the scoring title) at the age of 35 or older is John Stockton and Steve Nash. If he can keep playing at a high level for a couple more seasons, he could climb a couple more spots on this list.

6: Jason Kidd. The man who could do everything on the basketball court but consistently hit a jump shot. Like Nash, Kidd appears to have beaten Father Time, continuing to rack up the rebounds, assists, and steals into his late thirties, while becoming a much better shooter, knocking down 42% of his threes the past two seasons. In this case, the stats don't tell the whole story. Unlike Nash, a large part of Kidd's value came from his defensive ability. Even though his craftiness still helps him force turnovers, he has slowed down to the point where he can no longer contain quick guards. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, in the 2011 Western Conference, facing a good, quick guard is a nightly occurrence. Kidd remains an effective player, and he is still capable of guarding many 2's and 3's, but he is no longer as valuable as he was several years ago, despite what his statistics may indicate.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Note On Comparing Players

In my ongoing series, The Best There Ever Was, my comment on Bob Cousy turned into its own post about some of the difficulties of comparing player from the fifties to players from the modern game.

One problem of assigning value that I alluded to in my Bob Davies comment is that the 1950s NBA was very different from the moderns NBA in ways other than lower FG%, slower pace, and other things that can be statistically normalized. For example, the 1950s NBA was dominated by big men. By any statistical measure, almost all of the best players in the league were big men; Bill Russell, George Mikan, Bob Pettit, Dolph Schayes, Neil Johnston, Ed Macauley, and Maurice Stokes, to name some of the best. Most of the other stars were forwards like Paul Arizin, Elgin Baylor, George Yardley, and Cliff Hagan. Really good guards were a rarity. Cousy, Bob Davies, Bill Sharman, and Bobby Wanzer (for a few seasons) were excellent, but after them there were only decent players like Gene Shue, Dick McGuire, and Slater Martin, whose stats make them look like borderline all-stars instead of borderline Hall of Famers.

Why was this? One reason was the lack of the three point shot. Without the three, defenses could easily pack the paint and dare opponents to live off the 25 foot jumper. With those baskets only counting for two points, successful attempts hurt less than they do in the modern game. This is one reason good defensive centers like Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond were more valuable in the fifties and sixties than they could be in the modern game-Russell didn't have to worry about Jerry West hitting a lot of threes. I'll return to this issue in the Bill Sharman comment of the shooting guard rankings.

Another reason was the game's physicality. Some people complain that the hand check rules have made it impossible to defend quick guards, but in the fifties every kind of defensive malfeasance was allowed and encouraged on a nightly basis. In that kind of environment, the best players were usually the biggest and strongest, rather than the most skilled. This is why Larry Foust, the epitome of a "big ox", was, statistically, better per minute than Bob Cousy.

Given the big differences between fifties, big man dominated basketball, and modern, guard centric basketball, what do I do in these ratings? I don't want to simply note that Cousy (for example) was statistically rather similar to players like Stephon Marbury and Rod Strickland, and conclude that he has been vastly overrated. On the other hand, just because he was the best point guard of his era doesn't automatically make the equal of Oscar or Magic or Stockton. So, what I've done is try to imagine how the player's game would translate to the modern game, and rate them accordingly. For example, Bob Cousy was the best passer in the game, excellent in transition, a poor shooter, and a mediocre to poor defender. In my opinion, then, he deserves to rank somewhere in between Isiah Thomas (very good passer, inefficient shooter, decent defender) and Kevin Johnson (a more efficient scorer than Thomas). Feel free to complain about the imprecision of this method in the comments :)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Four Factors: 1976 Celtics

1976 was one of the most balanced years the NBA has seen. There was a clear "best team in the league", Rick Barry's Golden State Warriors. Beyond the Warriors, there were a handful of good, but flawed, teams. There were the aging Celtics, led by Dave Cowens, who did not feature a meaningful contributor under 27. There were the anonymous Cavaliers (2nd in point differential), who were paced in points, rebounds, and assists by Jim Chones, Jim Brewer, and Jim Cleamons. There were the Unseld-Hayes Bullets, Bob McAdoo's Braves, and the Phoenix Suns, led by Paul Westphal and Alvan Adams.

As many of you probably know, the Celtics outlasted Phoenix in an exciting, if sloppy, championship series after the Suns had upset Golden State under unusual circumstances. But my question is, why were the Celtics good enough to win 50+ games and a championship? This is where Four Factors comes in. The Four Factors are shooting, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws. Since these four categories cover every interaction that takes place on a basketball court, looking at them tells you what teams are doing better (or worse) than their opponents.

1.) Shooting. The Celtics were the 17th most accurate team in the league (by eFG%). Out of 18 teams. The good news is that they were the fifth best at stopping opponents from making shots, so they were only outshot by three percentage points. Still, one does not expect a championship contender to be outshot. There was plenty of blame to go around on this category. (The '76 Celtics had no depth, so I'll be focusing on the starters.) In a league that shot 46%, Cowens shot 47%, Havlicek, Charlie Scott, and Jo Jo White shot 45%, and Paul Silas shot 43%. Mediocre offense wasn't new for the Celtics, but by this point the field goal defense had slipped from "great" to "good".

2.) Rebounding. Here's where Boston won most of their games. The team led the league in offensive rebounding, and was a close second in defensive rebounding behind the tough, but offensively inept, Chicago Bulls, finishing well ahead of the number three New York Knicks. Cowens and Silas did most of the work here, combining for over half of Boston's total rebounds. Cowens averaged 16 a game, and Silas grabbed 13, second and fourth in the league respectively. The next highest was Charlie Scott with 4.4 a game. In fact, Silas grabbed more rebounds than Scott, Havlicek, and White combined. The Celtics also got some good rebounding out of reserve forwards Jim Ard and Steve Kuberski, but most of the credit here goes to Cowens and Silas for destroying opponents on the glass.

3.) The Celtics also compensated for their poor shooting by not turning the ball over that much, finishing fifth in that category. However, that success was outweighed by the fact that they were the worst team in the league at forcing turnovers, as might be expected from an old team. The guards were especially disappointing in this regard, getting about the same amount of steals as the 35 year old Havlicek and the center.

4.) Boston also rarely got to the foul line, finishing 13th in this category. Silas and reserve Don Nelson were the only Celtics especially good at reaching the foul line, while Jo Jo White somehow managed to take only 3.1 free throws compared to 18.2 field goal attempts per game. Boston was good at keeping opponents from reaching the free throw line, finishing third in that category. All of the starters except Charlie Scott deserve the credit here. Jo Jo White fouled the least, but Cowens and Silas' numbers are impressively low for good interior defenders.

By looking at the Four Factors, how did Boston win? Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding, and the ability of most of the team to play solid defense without fouling. That's really it. At everything else, they were anywhere from close to average to bad. But the presence of two great rebounders, along with good team defense, was enough to win another championship for Boston in lieu of any great teams.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TBTEW: Point Guards 11-15

15: Lenny Wilkens. "Two's company, three's a crowd." The originator of this phrase was not talking about retrospective point guard rankings, but the phrase does apply. In discussing great point/combo guards from the sixties, there is an obvious top two of Oscar Robertson and Jerry West (who I have rated as a shooting guard).

After those two, Wilkens was the best point guard of the sixties. Deserving the appellation "hard-nosed", he was one of the best defensive guards of the sixties, along with Jerry West, K.C. Jones, and Al Attles. He displayed the same tenacity on the offensive end, making up for poor field goal percentages by getting to the line constantly. Also a good passer, his assist numbers were depressed early in his career because the St. Louis offense ran through Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan, but when his teams needed him to create more shots on offense, he led the league in AST% three times in his mid thirties.

14: Mark Price. Steve Nash 1.0. Or is Steve Nash Mark Price 2.0? Whatever the case, Price was a diminutive (white) dead eye shooter and excellent passer for a series of Cavalier teams who were a few bad breaks away from a dynasty (see: Jordan, Michael).

In his third year in the league (1988-89), Price put up the celebrated .500/.400/.900, averaging about 19 and 8, while leading the Cavs to a 57-25 record (and we won't talk about what happened next). He was just as good the next year, before going down with an ACL injury in the fall of 1990. Amazingly, he made it back for the 1991-92 season, and maintained his high level of play for the next three seasons, albeit at reduced minutes. After that the injuries returned, kicked off by a foot injury in 1995, and he was unable to bounce back this time.

How good was he? At his best, during the six seasons from 1989 through 1994, he averaged a shade under 20 points and 9 assists per 36 minutes while shooting .487/.406/.915. Offensively, he was as good as any point guard on this list not named Magic, Oscar, Stockton, or (Suns era) Nash. However, he wasn't very good defensively, and his small amount of minutes (relative to the point guards above him) prevents me from ranking him any higher.

13: Maurice Cheeks. A point guard that did almost everything right, Cheeks showed how a point guard could be effective without putting up big numbers. He boasted a career high of 15.6 PPG (in 39 minutes) and failed to reach double digit assists in any season. However, it would be incorrect to characterize his accomplishments as "not showing up in the box score." They are there, just not immediately obvious.

The first indication that Cheeks was better than might be expected from his career average of 11 and 7 are his steals. Cheeks finished in the top 10 in the league in steals per game every year from 1979 through 1988. As might be expected, he was one of the best defensive guards in the game, making five All-Defensive teams (four first teams). Second, while he did not do a lot of scoring, he was very efficient, shooting over 52% for his career, and shooting over 50% his first nine years in the league, with a high of 57% in 1985.

While Cheeks he did not put up crazy assist totals, he was still an excellent passer, averaging between 6.4 and 9.2 assists per game every year from 1980 through 1989, without committing a lot of turnovers. Finally, Cheeks was very durable, playing at least 68 games in his first 13 seasons, and leading the league in minutes played in 1986. The combination of excellent defense, efficient scoring, good passing, and durability help explain why Cheeks was better than his career averages originally make him look.

12: Isiah Thomas. In terms of historical rankings, Thomas is undoubtedly the most controversial point guard, with some rating him as a top 5 point guard, and others placing him much lower. On the one hand, he averaged 19 points, 9 assists, and 2 steals for his career, he was a key player on two championship teams, and he did play better in the playoffs. On the other hand, he was inefficient and the Pistons' success had a lot to do with their defense, which was led by Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, and Bill Laimbeer.

How one values Thomas depends on how one values shot creation and "leading" a winning team versus everything else. Conventionally, the best player on a team is the player that leads that team in scoring. There are some obvious exceptions to this rule of thumb, such as Bill Russell, but by and large a team's scoring leader is considered the team's leader, especially when there is no obviously better player. In Thomas' case, he is considered the best player on back to back championship teams, putting him in elite company. But is he really?

The championship Bad Boys teams were unusual in that one could make a case for any of four players as the team's best player. There was Isiah Thomas, who led the team in scoring and assists both championship years. There was Joe Dumars, who dominated the ball less than Thomas, but was more efficient and garnered First Team All-Defensive honors each year. There was Dennis Rodman, fearsome rebounder and arguably the best defender in the league. Finally, there was Bill Laimbeer, the defensive anchor who provided efficient offense and fantastic defensive rebounding. Who was the best player on the team? I don't know, but when you have three other players that can plausibly claim to be as good as Thomas, it seems to weaken the argument that the Pistons' success shows that Thomas is a top 5 point guard.

11: Terry Porter. He played forever, and was really good at his best. That's really the argument for Porter as a great point guard. His career numbers of 12.2 PPG and 5.6 APG don't look so good, but those numbers are artificially deflated by a number of 20 minute/game seasons at ages when most of his peers on this list were retired. It does not seems fair to hold those years against Porter's durability, especially as he was effective in that part time duty. Per 36 minutes, he averaged about 16 and 7 for his career. In his best seven year stretch, 1987-1993, he averaged 17 and 8 with a true shooting of 59% in 35 minutes a game.

Although it's largely forgotten since the Blazers failed to win a championship, Porter was just as effective in the playoffs as he was in the regular season. From 1989-1992, Porter averaged 20 and 7 with a true shooting of 63% in 61 games. The Blazers reached two Finals, but fell short against the Pistons and Bulls.

The title "second best player on a Finals loser" doesn't have as much cachet as "best player on a championship team", but when you consider that in Porter's best three years, his team won 59, 63, and 57 games, losing twice in the Finals and once in the WCF, it puts his accomplishments in perspective. And while they were pretty good players, a frontcourt of Kevin Duckworth, Buck Williams, and Jerome Kersey isn't going to win 60 games without a killer backcourt. And Drexler didn't do all of it by himself.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Shallow Thought Of The Day, Vol IX

How on earth did the 1984 Knicks, with a starting lineup of Bill Cartwright, Truck Robinson, Bernard King, Rory Sparrow, and Ray Williams, lead the league in Defensive Rating?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

You Must Be Joakim!

Hopefully for the Bulls, this is just another instance of summer silly season speculation, but there are rumors flying around the internet that Chicago would be willing to part with Joakim Noah in a Carmelo Anthony deal. Here are four reasons, in no particular order, why that would be a really bad idea.

1.) Money. Noah is cheap, and Chicago will likely be able to sign him to an extension for less than max money. Anthony will command a max contract, giving Chicago much less financial flexibility.

2.) Defense. Noah is developing into a top flight defensive center, and the Bulls just brought in a top defensive coach. The combination could, with the right role players, make the Bulls a top 5 defensive team in the next couple years. On the other hand, how do you think a lineup featuring Anthony, Boozer, Rose, and journeyman center X (or maybe Omer Asik?) will fare defensively?

3.) Rebounding and passing. Noah is an elite rebounder, and one of the best passing bigs in the game. Both facets of Anthony's game are mediocre.

4.) Chemistry. My last concern is, would the Bulls run their offense through Anthony or Rose? Both players need the ball in their hands to be valuable, and while I don't doubt that Anthony would make the Bulls' offense better, my question is, would he improve it enough to justify giving away a chance at an excellent defense? Remember, the Bulls can already expect a big improvement on that side of the ball thanks to the Carlos Boozer signing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The More Things Change...What Will Morey Do Next?

Last year, the biggest concern for the Houston Rockets was, "Who will shoot the ball?" With Yao, Artest, and McGrady out at the beginning of the year, the Rockets desperately needed some of their low usage players to turn into primary scoring options-a role that Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry capably filled.

This year, the Rockets are in the exact opposite situation. Whereas last year they had no "proven scorers", this year they have four players who can put up 20 a game in Yao, Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks, and Luis Scola, who averaged about 20 a game after the Carl Landry trade last year.

This is a good thing for the Rockets offense, as all four players can get their points within the offense, and it prevents opposing defenses from keying in on any one player. However, this configuration leaves Yao and Battier as the only above average defenders in the Rockets' lineup alongside their offensive surplus, making me think that they could move some of the offense for defense.

The big deal they just gave Luis Scola, along with his recent production, makes me think that he'll stay, and they seem pretty high on Kevin Martin as well. That makes Brooks the logical choice to be moved, especially as his likely replacement, Kyle Lowry, is a better passer, defender, and fits in better with their "take a million trips to the free throw line" philosophy.

The perfect fit for Aaron Brooks would be a fringe playoff team desperate for a point guard. Charlotte, which really needs an offensive option besides Wallace and Captain Jack, Memphis, which is still trying to make the Mike Conley experiment work, and Atlanta, who is relying on Mike Bibby way too much, seem like the most likely destinations.

Atlanta seems less likely than the other two, if only because they are unlikely to trade Johnson, Smith, or Horford, and none of their secondary players are particularly attractive trade bait. Charlotte's cupboard is also relatively bare after Wallace, Jackson, and Tyrus Thomas, but thanks to Erick Dampier's unguaranteed contract, a willingness to take on payroll in exchange for another playoff run could lead to a three team trade. Memphis has more assets and an unpredictable front office, but I don't see an obvious two team trade there. A three team trade would be the most likely option for either Memphis or Charlotte.

In a Brooks deal, the Rockets would probably be targeting at least one of the following; an eventual replacement for Yao, depth at point guard, and another wing if Battier's expiring contract is moved in any deal. In a hypothetical deal, Houston could send Aaron Brooks to Charlotte, Charlotte could send Dampier's contract to a team looking to shed payroll (like New Orleans or Philadelphia), and that third team could send some players to the Rockets. For example, it could look something like this.

Friday, September 3, 2010

TBTEW: Point Guards 16-20

20: Terrell Brandon. I know what you're thinking. Of the two talented, but often injured, point guards from the mid-nineties, you choose Brandon over Penny Hardaway? Terrell Brandon may have been less memorable, but he was just as effective. At his best, Brandon was recognized as one of the top guards in the game, making back to back All-Star Game appearances in 1996-1997, and starring on this memorable SI cover.

Brandon's 1996 is a great example of how conventional stats can understate a player's contributions. His numbers, 19 points on 47% shooting, 7 assists, 2 steals per game, are very good, but hardly "best point guard in the game" material. However, he put up those numbers on uncannily mistake-free play. He almost never missed a free throw, played good defense while never fouling, and had an extremely low turnover rate. The other major factor to consider is team context. The Cavs were the slowest team in the league with a pace factor of 82.3. The difference between the Cavs and the next slowest team in the league (Detroit), was the same as difference between Detroit (28th) and the 12th fastest team in the league (Houston).

To put it in other words, in 1996 Penny Hardaway scored more points and had more assists per game than Brandon. However, Brandon scored on a higher percentage of his team's possessions, and assisted his teammates on a higher percentage of his team's possessions, than Hardaway. Looking at his statistics this way shows how good Brandon was.

19: Sam Cassell. Sam Cassell's teams made the playoffs in 10 out of 13 seasons from 1994 through 2006. The only exceptions were a year he got traded twice, a 41 win team, and a 44 win team. Cassell has never been viewed as a star, only making one All-Star game, but he's been a consistent scorer and passer for some very good offenses for more than a decade.

As for the very good offenses, consider the 1998 Nets. Featuring a starting lineup of Cassell, Kendall Gill, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, and Jayson Williams, they finished 5th in the league in offense. Cassell also starred for the Ray Allen-Glenn Robinson Bucks, who were consistently one of the top offenses in the leagues. Cassell had his finest season in the coveted "only good player other than Kevin Garnett*" role. The Wolves won 58 games riding a MVP caliber season from Garnett and an excellent season from Cassell, before being derailed by an injury to Cassell in the playoffs.

*The magic of Fred Hoiberg notwithstanding.

18: Tim Hardaway. The "T" in TMC (and "Tim" in TimZo), Hardaway was everything a good point guard should be. He could run an offense, piled up assists, and scored from beyond the arc and in the lane. As a key component of some of the most exciting offenses of the nineties and some of the most effective grind it out defensive-minded teams of the nineties, he showed that he could be effective in a wide variety of situations.

If he's everything a point guard should be, why isn't he ranked with the elite point guards? Despite his success with the Heat, Hardaway was a mediocre defender, a mediocre rebounder, and he posted mediocre efficiencies. For me, this spot on the list is the Hall of Fame "bubble" (to use college basketball terminology).

17: Bob Davies. The first great point guard. Trying to evaluate him statistically is very difficult, so this ranking is based on his reputation, what statistics we have (which are good), and his status as the best player on the only team to beat Mikan's Lakers in their prime. Davies is famous for being the first pro guard to feature the behind the back dribble, and other "flashy" moves, several years before Bob Cousy.

One reason that Davies is hard to evaluate is that we don't have any statistics for him until he was 29, when he joined the BAA (which was to become the NBA the following season), which he led in assists. We know that he was a two time All-American at Seton Hall, and he was the NBL MVP in 1947. When compared to his peers, Davies probably deserves to be a little higher on this list, but I bumped him down a little bit due to uncertainty.

16: Tiny Archibald. Best known for leading the league in points and assists in 1973, Archibald put up big numbers for mediocre Kings teams and smaller numbers for much better Celtics teams. One of the most entertaining players in the league, the creative Archibald was a one man offense for a series of mediocre teams. As might be expected from a player nicknamed "Tiny", Archibald struggled with defense and rebounding, but he made up for it with sheer offensive production.

The quintessential NYC point guard, Archibald was what NBA fans hoped Starbury would become. Maybe not a great defender, but dominant on offense, electric in transition, and able to run a great team when circumstances demanded it. Unfortunately, Marbury never reached that level, further confirming the theory that the original is better than the sequel.