Friday, April 29, 2011

The Most Presti-gious GM

Since the Thunder rose to prominence last year, I've heard good things about their GM Sam Presti and how he built the team.  Most of the things, though, have been generic statements about draft picks, trades, or cap space.  Intrigued, I decided to research exactly how Presti transformed a lottery team into a championship contender.  Here's what I found:

'07-'08:
The 2007 NBA Draft happened three weeks after Presti was hired as the GM.  What's the first thing he does?  Trade the team's best player and leading scorer to the Celtics.  In exchange for Ray Allen and the 35th pick (Glen Davis), Seattle got the 5th pick (Jeff Green), a 2008 second-round pick, Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak.  The eventfulness of that draft would continue, as the team took Kevin Durant with the 2nd overall pick.  Two weeks after trading the team's leading scorer, Presti traded the team's second leading scorer.  In exchange for Rashard Lewis, Seattle got a conditional second-round pick and a 9 million dollar trade exception.  Presti then traded that second-round pick to Phoenix in exchange for Kurt Thomas, a 2008 first-round pick and a 2010 first-round pick.

Prior to the trade deadline, Presti would make a couple more moves.  First he traded Thomas to San Antonio for Brent Barry and Francisco Elson (expiring contracts) and an exchange of 2009 first-round draft picks.  Then he traded West and Szczerbiak to Cleveland for Donyell Marshall and Ira Newble; both of whom were later waived.


'08-'09:
The 2008 NBA Draft would prove to be just as successful for Presti as 2007 was.  The biggest success was drafting Russell Westbrook, with the 4th overall pick.  Additionally, he used the draft pick acquired from the Phoenix trade to select Serge Ibaka.  Draft day would also see the Pistons trade D.J. White to Seattle for the No. 32 and 46 overall picks.

In December 2008, the - recently renamed - Thunder signed restricted free agent Nenad Krstic.  The following month, the Thunder traded Johan Petro and a 2009 second-round pick for Chucky Atkins and a conditional first-round pick.  Then they flipped that pick to Chicago for Thabo Sefolosha.


'09-'10:
With the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Thunder selected James Harden.  And with the pick that they had swapped in the San Antonio trade, they drafted Bryon Mullens.  Finally, they traded cash considerations to the Bobcats in exchange for the 54th pick (Robert Vaden).

In December 2009, the Thunder traded the draft rights of Peter Fehse to Utah for Eric Maynor.


'10-'11:
With LeBron taking his talents to South Beach - along with Bosh - Miami needed to clear cap space, so they sent Daequan Cook and the 18th overall pick in the 2010 Draft to Oklahoma City in exchange for the 32nd pick.  The Thunder then flipped that pick to the Clippers for a future conditional first-round pick.  Presti then packaged their first-round pick (21st overall) with the first-round pick they got from the Kurt Thomas/Phoenix trade for Morris Peterson and the 11th overall pick (Cole Aldrich) from New Orleans.  That summer also saw the Thunder sign free agent Royal Ivey.

The biggest move of the season would come when Oklahoma City agreed to send Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to Boston in exchange for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.  Presti followed that trade deadline shocker by sending Morris Peterson and D.J. White to Charlotte for Nazr Mohammed.


Let's recap (cliff notes version):
Drafted: Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Mullens, Vaden

Free Agents: Nenad Krstic, Royal Ivey

Trades: Ray Allen & Glen Davis -> Jeff Green, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak -> West and Szczerbiak become cap space, Green and Krstic become Perkins and Robinson

Rashard Lewis -> second-round pick -> Kurt Thomas and two first-round picks -> Serge Ibaka, Cole Aldrich, Morris Peterson and cap space

No. 32 and 46 picks -> D.J. White

Johan Petro -> conditional first round pick -> Thabo Sefolosha

Draft rights of Peter Fehse -> Eric Maynor

No. 32 pick -> Daequan Cook and 18th pick (18th pick becomes future conditional first-round pick from Clippers)

D.J. White and Morris Peterson -> Nazr Mohammed


After four years, the only current roster member that is pre-Presti is Nick Collison.  The transformation of the franchise is astounding.  With some great draft picks, a few free agent signings, and some amazing trades, Presti has built a championship caliber team.  The most amazing part is that this team is the third youngest team in the NBA.  I think it's safe to say that Sam Presti is a genius and the best GM in basketball.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the Contrary: Cleveland's record not evidence for LBJ being MVP

Anyone who thinks Cleveland's record is evidence for why LeBron should be MVP, think again.  The team did not lose 42 more games than last year just because LeBron left.  This year's team is not the same as last year's team.  Here's a comparison between the main ten guys last year, and the main ten guys this year (in order of minutes played):

'10 CLE                                              '11 CLE
LeBron James                                     J.J. Hickson
Mo Williams                                      Ramon Sessions
Anthony Parker                                Anthony Parker
Anderson Varejao                             Daniel Gibson
J.J. Hickson                                      Antawn Jamison
Delonte West                                     Ryan Hollins
Zydrunas Ilgauskas                             Mo Williams
Shaquille O'Neal                                  Anderson Varejao
Daniel Gibson                                   Alonzo Gee
Jamario Moon                                     Christian Eyenga

Of last year's ten main guys, only five carried over to this year.  And of those five guys, two of them (Williams and Varejao) played 67 games for the Cavs...combined.  Last year, Shaq was the first-string center and Ilgauskas was the second-string center.  This year, the Cavs started the year with Varejao at center.  Then he got hurt; so essentially, this year's team had what would've been last year's fourth-string center starting.  And they didn't even have a consistent center, so their "fourth-string center" was a rotation of multiple guys. 

It's not like the Cavs just lost LeBron.  They lost a lot of production from last year's main contributors (Williams, Parker, Varejao, Hickson, West, Ilgauskas, O'Neal, Gibson, Moon).  To prove that, let's compare the stats they had in 2010 and the stats those guys contributed to the Cavs in 2011.

'10 stats:
5,316 points     2,548 rebounds     1095 assists     in 14,704 minutes played

'11 stats:
3,433 points     1,606 rebounds     857 assists     in 9,035 minutes played


That's a drop of 1,883 points, 942 rebounds, 238 assists, and 5,669 minutes played.  That would pretty much be the equivalent of last year's team losing Shaq, Parker and Ilgauskas (1705 points, 931 rebounds, and 285 assists in 4868 minutes) and then some.  Unless you think that last year's team could replace Shaq, Parker, and Ilgauskas with three players from the '11 Cavs and still win 61 games, that lost production actually means something.

Just in case you're thinking that playing without LeBron contributed to his former teammates' lower production, let's look at the numbers some of those guys contributed to other teams:

1,016 points     605 rebounds     246 assists     in 3,351 minutes played

Add those to the stats his former teammates contributed to Cleveland this year, the total is:

4449 points     2211 rebounds     1103 assist     in 12,386 minutes played

Yes, their total stats is lower than it was in 2010, but so was their minutes played.  In 2011, they played 84% as much as they did in 2010.  Not coincidentally, they scored 84% of the points, had 87% of the rebounds, and over 100% of the assists they had in 2010.  LeBron's former teammates were as productive without him as they were with him.  The problem for Cleveland is that they were either injured or on other teams.

Cleveland didn't just lose their best player.  They lost their starting center, their backup center, and they only had their starting point guard and last year's backup power forward for less than half the year.  Their main holdovers were a 22-year old power forward, a 35-year old shooting guard, and their backup point guard.

Two final stats that show how the teams differ:

  • 42% of the minutes played in 2011 were by guys who were not even on the team in 2010. 

  •  Last year, the Cavs had 11 guys play in 50+ games (this includes LeBron).  Those guys averaged 93% playing time for every game.  How much playing time did those 11 guys average for Cleveland in 2011?  48%.

Losing their best player definitely hurt them, but so did injuries and the departure of other players.  Seeing as LeBron's absence is not the only alteration from last year's team, Cleveland's record is not definitive proof of his value.


*stats taken from http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"The truth about Kobe Bryant in crunch time" Rebuttal

A couple months ago, Henry Abbott wrote a column disputing that Kobe is the king of crunch time.  While he made some good points, he failed to address some basic flaws to the stats he presented.  For one, he didn't acknowledge the degree that the postseason affected them.  When the stats just combine regular season and postseason totals, you're ignoring the levels of postseason play.  How many other players in the league have taken clutch shots in the Conference Finals or NBA Finals?  How can you get an accurate interpretation of the stats, if you're not differentiating the difficulty of a game-winner against the Grizzlies in the first round and the difficulty of a game-winner against the Pistons in the Finals?  I think it's erroneous to put the same amount of weight on a late-postseason shot (Conference Finals or Finals), an early-postseason shot (first or second round), and a regular season shot.

More importantly, he fails to acknowledge the vast difference in the number of attempts.  There's absolutely no way you can compare the percentage made of 30 attempts to the percentage made of 115 attempts.  In case you don't believe me, let me ask a question: Who's the greatest 3-Pt shooter of all-time?  I'm guessing at least one of these two names came to mind: Ray Allen or Reggie Miller.  Why not Steve Kerr?  Or Hubert Davis?  Or Drazen Petrovic?  They, along with 36 other guys, have a better 3-Pt percentage than Ray Allen (and an additional 4 guys after Allen have a better percentage than Miller).  Why are there no people pointing out that Allen ranks 40th all-time in 3-Pt percentage and Miller ranks 45th?  How could they be the cream of the crop, if there's at least 39 guys more accurate than them? 

Could it be because none of the guys ahead of them in percentage are ahead of them in attempts?  And that most of them aren't even in the top 50 in attempts?  You bet it does.  Why?  Because making 40% of 6,000 3-pointers is more impressive than making 45% of 1,600.  If you omitted anyone ahead of Allen and Miller who did not finish in the top 50 in 3-Pt attempts, the list goes from 35+ guys down to 8.  And now looks like this:

Steve Nash-     1565/3644   .429
Brent Barry-     1395/3442   .405
Mike Miller-       1298/3215   .404
Dale Ellis-         1719/4266   .403
Allan Houston-   1305/3247   .402
Dell Curry-        1245/3098   .402
Peja Stojakovic- 1760/4392   .401
Glen Rice-         1559/3896   .400
Ray Allen-         2612/6554   .399
Dennis Scott-    1214/3060   .397
Reggie Miller-     2560/6486   .395


Let's apply that same principle to the list that Abbott provided.  If you omitted anyone who didn't have at least 60 attempts, the number of guys with better percentages than Kobe would drop from 24 to 5. Let's look at the updated list:


Dirk Nowitzki-   25/65   38.5%
Tim Duncan-     23/62   37.1%
LeBron James-   23/69   33.3%
Ray Allen-         23/70   32.9%
Vince Carter-    31/96   32.3%
Kobe Bryant-    36/115   31.3%
Allen Iverson-    21/68   30.9%
Kevin Garnett-   22/72   30.6%

While there are still guys with higher percentages, the differences in the amount of attempts is still relevant.  Yes, Kobe has missed more clutch shots than four of the five guys ahead of him have even attempted.  But guess what?  Ray Allen has missed more 3's than six of the eight guys ahead of him have even attempted.  It's alright for Allen to miss a lot, because he takes a lot, but it's not the same for Kobe?  If Ray Allen shooting 44% more 3-pointers than Steve Nash makes up for the 2 higher percentage points Nash shoots, shouldn't Kobe shooting 40% more shots than LeBron and Allen make up for their higher percentages?  Especially if you're comparing Kobe's late-postseason shots to LeBron's and Allen's early-postseason shots? 

Now I'm not saying that I refuse to believe Kobe's not the most clutch player in the league.  If you can prove that Nowitzki or LeBron are better, than I'll believe it.  But ignoring the affect that a higher volume of shots has on a percentage, and ignoring the different levels of postseason play in which shots are happening, is a failure to do so.  You can't pretend that Dirk shooting 50 less shots than Kobe, and none in the Conference Finals or Finals, doesn't matter. And if Ray Allen missing more 3's than most people take isn't enough to not be considered the greatest 3-Pt shooter of all-time, then the amount of clutch shots Kobe has missed is not enough to prove he's not the most clutch player in the league today.

There may be a case to be made that Nowitzki, Duncan, LeBron, or Allen are more clutch than Kobe, but Henry Abbott did not successfully make it.



*stats taken from http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Welcome

After occasionally writing about sports on social networking sites, I've decided to branch out and start my own sports blog.  Since this is my first original post, I guess I will explain the purpose of this blog. (I say "original post," because - as you might have noticed - I've already technically posted stuff.  Those, however, are things I've written in the past that I used to work out the kinks with formatting and email subscription; in addition to just archiving them on this site)  Anyway, back to the point of the blog.  If the title, and subheading, wasn't clear enough, the main perspective of this blog will be a common sense view of sports.  It might sound basic, but too often I feel like sports stories lack common sense.

An example from the recent past was the Jay Cutler situation in the NFC Championship.  After the game, the story was about players - who weren't even on the Bears - calling out Cutler for not playing with an injury.  Most of the narrative around that story was, "How tough is Cutler?"  The problem with that narrative is that it ignores the big question, "When did playing hurt become an expectation?" 

The Flu game, the Bloody Sock game, the Willis Reed game.  Those games are instantly recognized by their names.  The fact that specific games even have names speaks volumes.  Those games are remembered for the performances of men who were not 100%.  Jordan wasn't even injured, yet it's still remembered as a classic performance.  Why?  Why is Jordan playing with the flu a big deal?  Why is Schilling pitching with a bum ankle a big deal?  Why is Willis Reed limping around on a basketball court a big deal?

They're a big deal because they were extraordinary performances.  Extraordinary, as in they weren't ordinary.  If they were out of the ordinary, doesn't that mean that not playing when you're injured is ordinary?  Because it seems like people believe that not playing when you're hurt is what's out of the ordinary.  It seems like playing hurt is now expected.  At least that's the implication when someone like Jay Cutler is chastised for not playing with an injured knee.  And if everyone's expected to play hurt, then why do we admire Jordan, or Schilling, or Reed for playing when they were less than 100%?  Wouldn't they just be doing what athletes are expected to do?

This is the problem.  If you play hurt, it's amazing.  If you don't play hurt, you're a wimp and you have no heart.  That doesn't even make sense.  Where's the baseline?  What's the expectation?  Playing hurt is measured against the expectation of not playing hurt, and not playing hurt is measured against the expectation of playing hurt.  It's inconsistent.  The expectations need to be clear.  If we're going to revere athletes that play hurt, then we're saying that playing hurt is not expected.  If we're going to chastise athletes that don't play when they're hurt, then we're saying that playing hurt is expected.  Which one is it?  Because it can't be both.



That's one example of something I would address with a common sense point of view.  The reason I combined the blog with "my two cents" is because I didn't want to limit myself to just those kinds of posts.  I wanted to leave myself open to write other kinds of things, whether it be opinion pieces or in-depth player evaluations etc.

Finally, I'm going to try and steer away from fluff pieces, such as "tonight's game was awesome."  Because I want to write things of substance, I'm not sure how often I'll be posting stuff.  Also, I won't be announcing it anywhere else when I do (this is where the email subscription comes in).  If you want to keep current on things I write, without consistently checking the site, just subscribe and you'll get an email when I write something new.

I think that's good enough for my first post.  Feel free to comment on anything I write (whether it be an agreement or disagreement).  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Michael Jordan: Not a One Man Show pt. 3

The first two parts of this series examined Jordan's teammates individually, so there wasn't exactly a reference point for how good they were as a team. In part one, I mentioned how Kobe's teammates are generally regarded more favorably than Jordan's (at least by the general public), so why not compare the two? Obviously the late-90's Bulls had a better supporting cast than the Lakers, so here's a Finals comparison of Jordan's early teammates ('91-'93) with Kobe's ('08-'10). In order to account for overtime, the averages will be per 48 minutes.

Averages of the Bulls per 48 minutes (minus Jordan):

’91 Finals-
68.8 PTS   31.9 REB   16.1 AST   .516 FG%   6.9 STL   3.5 BLK   8.8 TOV


’92 Finals-
67.0 PTS   32.1 REB   20.0 AST   .493 FG%   5.2 STL   4.8 BLK   10.8 TOV


’93 Finals-
62.4 PTS   33.0 REB   19.5 AST   .457 FG%   6.0 STL   4.4 BLK   8.7 TOV


That’s a total three year average of:
65.9 PTS   32.4 REB   18.7 AST   .486 FG%   6.0 STL   4.3 BLK   9.5 TOV


Averages of the Lakers per 48 minutes (minus Kobe):

’08 Finals-
68.2 PTS   32.5 REB   14.3 AST   .456 FG%   4.2 STL   3.0 BLK   9.7 TOV


’09 Finals-
65.5 PTS   33.6 REB   8.6 AST    .452 FG%   5.6 STL   3.7 BLK   6.5 TOV


’10 Finals-
62 PTS   34.4 REB   10.7 AST   .423 FG%   5.1 STL   5.4 BLK   8.6 TOV


That’s a total three year average of:
65.0 PTS   33.6 REB   13.0 AST   .447 FG%   4.9 STL   4.1 BLK   8.3 TOV


Jordan’s teammates outperformed Kobe’s in virtually every way. Wouldn't that make them better? We know Kobe has a good supporting cast, so it should speak volumes about Jordan's supporting cast that they outproduced Kobe's. Jordan's teams were good enough that Bill Simmons placed three of them ('91, '97 and '96) in the top 10 teams of all-time, and placed the '92 Bulls in the Honorable Mention section, in The Book of Basketball. Kobe was only on one team in the top 10 ('01) and one in the Honorable Mention section ('00), and both of those involved Shaq. If Kobe's current teammates don't measure up to his early decade teammates, and the early decade teammates are comparable to Jordan's teammates, doesn't that mean Kobe's current teammates don't measure up to Jordan's as well? And if everyone thinks Kobe has a good supporting cast, and they don't measure up to Jordan's, how good were Jordan's?

Considering the individual stats of Jordan’s teammates, the way they performed after he left for baseball, the fact that they outproduced Kobe’s teammates in the Finals, and where they rank historically should provide concrete proof that Michael Jordan was not a “One Man Show.”


*stats from http://www.basketball-reference.com/

Monday, April 11, 2011

Michael Jordan: Not a One Man Show pt. 2

Originally written July 3, 2010. Updated 4/11/11.

In part one, I examined the cornerstones (Pippen, Grant, Rodman) of the help that Jordan received in his championship years. In addition to the main two or three pieces that every championship team has, there are role players that contribute to the success of the team. How good were the key role players from the Bulls' dynasty? Let’s examine some of the main role players and see.

Role Players: First Three-peat
John Paxson-
Paxson was a near picture perfect role player. He didn’t put up fantastic numbers, but that wasn’t required of him. He was efficient with the numbers he put up, and was a clutch shooter. In fact, he literally won the Bulls’ third championship, with a series clinching three-pointer in the last seconds of game six. Paxson misses that shot and the Bulls would have had to play a game seven in Phoenix. Luckily for Jordan, and the rest of the Bulls, Paxson didn’t miss.

Paxson’s regular season percentages:
’91: FG%- .548, 3-Pt%- .438
’92: FG%- .528, 3-Pt%- .273
’93: FG%- .451, 3-Pt%- .463

Paxson’s posteason percentages:
’91: FG%- .530, 3-Pt%- .143
’92: FG%- .525, 3-Pt%- .444
’93: FG%- .583, 3-Pt%- .625

During the Bulls’ first three-peat, Paxson averaged .523 FG% and .403 3-Pt% in the regular season and .538 FG% and .446 3-Pt% in the postseason. Those are very solid averages. Good role players don’t take a lot of shots; they just make the ones they do take. That’s just what Paxson did.

Craig Hodges-
Craig Hodges was a very good three-point shooter. In fact, he won three consecutive Three-Point Contests [1]. Only other person to do that? Some guy named Larry Bird. Look how many times Hodges’ name appears in the Three-Point Contest records.

Hodges played during the Bulls’ first two championships. Here are his three-point percentages:
’91:  .383 in the regular season and .393 in the postseason
’92:  .375 in the regular season and .450 in the postseason

The guy shot an average .379 3-Pt% in the regular season and .419 3-Pt% in the postseason. Man, role players that knock down 40% of their three-pointers are so worthless. Oh yeah, Hodges only ranks 36th all-time in 3-Pt pct.

B.J. Armstrong-
The Bulls only had Hodges for two championship runs. I guess it’s a good thing they had Armstrong for all three.

Here’s his regular season averages:
’91: FG%- .481, 3-Pt%- .500
’92: FG%- .481, 3-Pt%- .402
’93: FG%- .499, 3-Pt%- .453* (*led the NBA in 3-point percentage)

Postseason averages:
’91: FG%- .500, 3-Pt%- .600
’92: FG%- .453, 3-Pt%- .294
’93: FG%- .524, 3-Pt%- .512

Armstrong shot .497 FG% and .441 3-Pt% in those three regular seasons, and .493 FG% and .460 3-Pt% in those three postseasons. Armstrong wasn’t half bad. He only ranks 9th all-time in 3-Pt pct.

Now that it’s clear that Jordan had no help during those first three championships, let’s look at how little help he had in his last three…

Role Players: Second Three-peat
Ron Harper-
Was Ron Harper any good? His stats on the Bulls weren’t that great, but was that a result of what he brought to the table or what he was asked to bring to the table? In his first 8 years in the league, prior to going to Chicago, Harper averaged 19.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.0 apg, and 2.1 spg (Jordan’s career steals per game was 2.3). Those are very, very strong averages. Harper was capable of performing well in a big role; it just wasn’t required of him.

Toni Kukoc-
During the Bulls’ second three-peat, Kukoc was the team’s third leading scorer and a productive bench player. In 1996, Kukoc won the Sixth Man of the Year award.

Here were his regular season averages:
’96: FG%- .490, 3-Pt%- .403
’97: FG%- .471, 3-Pt%- .331
’98: FG%- .455, 3-Pt%- .362

Postseason averages:
’96: FG%- .391, 3-Pt%- .191
’97: FG%- .360, 3-Pt%- .358
’98: FG%- .486, 3-Pt%- .377

Kukoc shot over 45% from ’96-‘98, and did so once in the postseason. He was a decent three-point shooter, as he shot between 33% and 40% over the same span of time, and only dipped under that in the ’96 postseason. Being only a decent three-point shooter means that Kukoc doesn’t quite live up to Hodges and Armstrong before him. The only way the Bulls could make up for that is if they had, say, someone with the highest career 3-Pt pct of all time.

Steve Kerr-
Well, you don’t say. If it isn’t the guy with the highest 3-Pt pct of all-time. What a coincidence! Does anything else need to be said, other than that he has the highest 3-Pt pct of all-time? From downtown, Kerr shot .515 in ’96, .464 in ’97 and .438 in ’98. Also, Kerr shot .448, .429, and .434 in the postseason of those respective seasons.

No one can doubt the quality of those late-90s teams, with Pippen and Rodman. Add in Harper, Kerr and Kukoc, and Longley for good measure, and those are far from subpar teammates. There’s no room for argument that Jordan’s late-90s teammates were not of high quality. But what about those early-90s teams? If the earlier exposition didn’t do enough for you, I guess I will have to give a practical example of those early teammates being good.

Let’s go back to 1994. Michael Jordan has left the Bulls. They must have been in shambles, right? The so-called “greatest player ever” leaves, that has to make some kind of dent. So what happened? In '93, the Bulls’ record was 57-25. In ’94, Pippen leads the Jordan-less Bulls to a measly 55-27 record. Oh yeah, and Pippen missed 10 games in the beginning of the year (at which time the Bulls went 4-6). Had he not missed any games, it’s more than plausible that the Bulls match, or beat, their record from the year before. Man, the Bulls sucked without Jordan. He leaves and virtually nothing happens. The team doesn’t miss a beat. Maybe that was because of the guy that took his spot. Who was that? Pete Myers. Who’s Pete Myers? Exactly. Now granted, ’94 was when the Bulls brought in Kerr and Kukoc to come off the bench, but still…Pete Myers?

Imagine what they could have done if they had replaced Jordan with a decent sidekick for Scottie. Not necessarily a Hall of Fame player, but just an All-Star caliber player (maybe someone like Alan Houston, in his prime). If Scottie could do what he did with Myers playing, imagine what Scottie could do with Alan Houston instead. Now is it becoming clear why Tex Winter considered the idea that Jordan needed Scottie more than Scottie needed Jordan?

Even with Pete Myers, the Bulls were close to advancing, past the Knicks, to the Eastern Conference Finals. In The Book of Basketball, here’s what Bill Simmons has to say, “During MJ’s ‘sabbatical,’ Scottie (20.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.6 APG, 49% FG) dragged the Bulls to within one fecally pungent call of the Eastern Finals and should have been our ’94 MVP runner-up behind Hakeem.” He adds, “Hue Hollins whistled a touch foul on a last-second Hubie Davis jumper in Game 5, pretty much gift-wrapping the series for the Knicks. Even Vince McMahon was embarrassed by that call.”

Now I'm not saying Michael Jordan wasn't valuable, or instrumental to the Bulls' success. Of course he was. But at the end of the day, he was surrounded by the following:Two of the greatest defensive players ever (one of which happens to be a top 25 player of all-time, and the other is the greatest rebounder of the past generation), a guy with the 36th best 3-Pt pct ever, a guy with the 9th best 3-Pt pct ever, and a guy with the best 3-Pt pct ever. On top of that, role players such as Horace Grant, Ron Harper, Toni Kukoc, John Paxson, Luc Longley and Bill Cartwright.

Yeah, Michael Jordan barely had help.



[1] http://www.nba.com/history/allstar/shootout_alltime_winners.html
*stats provided by http://www.basketball-reference.com/

Michael Jordan: Not a One Man Show pt. 1

Originally written June 30, 2010. Updated 4/11/11.

My biggest pet peeve, when it comes to basketball, is people saying or implying that Michael Jordan won six championships by himself. When people bring up the Lakers most recent championship, they always talk about how much help that Kobe has. Yeah, well Kobe’s sidekick isn’t one of the top 30 players of all-time. Gasol and Odom are good, but Pippen and Rodman they are not. Scottie Pippen is one of the top 25 or 30 players to ever play the game. If Mitch Kupchak could trade Kobe’s supporting cast for Jordan’s supporting cast, I believe he would do it. People tend to forget, or not realize, how good Jordan’s teammates really were, so let’s examine them. The first part of this series will focus on the big three of Jordan’s teammates: Pippen, Grant and Rodman.

Scottie Pippen (all six championships)
In Elliot Kalb’s book Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Basketball?, Scottie Pippen is ranked as the 29th best player ever. In Bill Simmons’ book The Book of Basketball, Scottie Pippen is ranked as the 24th best player ever. I will quote both of these books often, as well as using some quotes from Charley Rosen that I’ve used in a past blog, to provide multiple assessments of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. (By the way, I highly recommend both of these books for any serious basketball fan)

Here’s some quotes from Bill Simmons’ book:
“The first five Dream Team choices were Jordan/Magic/Bird, then Robinson and Pippen in that order. Those were the five ‘no-brainers,’ according to the committee.” Think about that for a minute. On a team that included Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, and Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen was chosen fifth as a “no-brainer.”

“Of anyone I’ve ever seen in person, Pippen was the best defender.”

“a consistently destructive presence who became nearly as enjoyable to watch defensively as Jordan was offensively.”

“Nobody covered more ground or moved faster from point A to point B. It was like watching a cheetah in a wildlife special – one second Scottie would be minding his own business, the next second he would be pouncing. Everyone remembers Kerr’s jumper to win the ’97 Finals, but nobody remembers Pippen tipping the ensuing inbounds pass, then chasing it down and flipping it to Kukoc to clinch the game.”

“Only Jordan was a better all-around player in the nineties…and that was debatable.”

“Ron Harper to SI in ’99, ‘Everybody talks about MJ first, but Pip had a more all-around game. Defense, offensive rebounds, defensive boards: Pip made the game easier for us to play.’”

“he became one of four postmerger players (along with Cowens in ’78, Kevin Garnett in ’03, and LeBron in ’09) to lead his team in total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the same season.”

“And he redefined the ‘point forward’ concept during the nineties, allowing the Bulls to play any combination of guards without suffering in the ballhandling/defense departments.”

“Chuck Daley created a great term to describe Scottie: a ‘fill in the blanks’ guy. If a teammate was getting killed defensively, Scottie had his back. If you needed rebounding, Scottie went down low and grabbed some boards. If you needed scoring, Scottie could create a shot or attack the rim. If you needed a turnover, Scottie had a better chance of getting it than anyone. If you needed ballhandling, he could do it. And if you needed to shut someone down, he did it.”

“During the Dream Team practices, Daly called Scottie his second-best player and told David Halberstam, ‘You never really know how good a player is until you coach him, but Pippen was a great surprise in Barcelona – the confidence with which he played and the absolutely complete nature of his game, both on offense and defense. No one else really expected it.’ According to Halberstam, MJ returned to Chicago after the Olympics and told Phil Jackson, ‘Scottie came in as just one of the other players, and none of the others knew how good he was, but then he kept playing, and by the end of the week it was clear that he was the top guard there – over Clyde and Magic and Stockton. It was great for people to see him in that setting and see how good he really was.’ For those of you scoring at home, that’s sixteen combined rings paying homage.”

“Jackson told SI in ’99, ‘[Scottie] was probably the most liked player by the others. He mingled. He could bring out the best in players and communicate the best. Leadership, real leadership, is one of his strengths. Everybody would say Michael is a great leader. He leads by example, by rebuke, by harsh words. Scottie’s leadership was equally dominant, but it’s a leadership of patting the back, support.’”

“NBA draft code words ‘upside,’ ‘length’ and ‘wingspan’ were pretty much invented during the Pippen draft.”

“Irrefutable fact: Jordan never would have retired in ’99 unless he knew for sure that Scottie was leaving.” How about that? Michael Jordan retired, because he didn’t want to play without Scottie. You know what that says to me? Michael Jordan wouldn’t win without Scottie Pippen. If he thought he could just get someone else, and win more championships, wouldn’t you think he would do it? People say, “Kobe’s never won it without Shaq or Pau.” Yeah, well Jordan never won it without Pippen. And with Scottie leaving in ’99, he refused to try.

Here’s some quotes I’ve used in a past blog:
Charley Rosen- "an incredible defender and facilitator. With his length and athleticism, Pippen could excel at every position except center. Like a middle linebacker in the NFL, it was Pippen who called the defensive signals."

Rosen- "Indeed, there were times when Phil Jackson would berate a player for departing from the previously designed defensive alignment. Only one self defense was acceptable: ‘Scottie told me to do it.’"

Bill Cartwright- "Former teammate and current Bulls coach Bill Cartwright flatly states that Pippen 'was as much a part of winning the championships as MJ. I don't think it would have gotten done without him.’"

Tex Winter- "Michael realized how easy it was to play with him and how he helped make his teammates better. It's often said Jordan needed Pippen and Pippen needed Jordan. I'm not sure Jordan didn't need Pippen more than Pippen needed Jordan." Hold on. Did everyone read that? The “Michael Jordan Did It Alone" Car just came to a screeching halt. Former Bulls Assistant Coach, and mastermind of the Triangle Offense, just considered the idea that Jordan needed Pippen more than Pippen needed Jordan. That is a telling statement.

If the above quotes aren’t satisfactory in proving the phenomenal player that Pippen was, here’s some quotes from Elliot Kalb’s book for good measure:
“One of the best defensive players in the game, with the ability to guard – lock up and shut down – virtually anyone under seven feet tall. In the 2003 season – his 16th – Pippen would guard anyone from Atlanta power forward Shareef Abdul-Rahim to San Antonio point guard Tony Parker to Boston small forward Paul Pierce. This gave his teams incredible versatility.”

“He had excellent ball-handling skills and was a skilled passer.”

“Doug Collins: ‘Scottie and Michael were the two best perimeter defensive players ever. Scottie could shut down anyone and take away half the court.’”

Let’s do a little recap, shall we? Phil Jackson, Chuck Daly, Doug Collins (three great coaches), Assistant Coach Tex Winter, former teammates Ron Harper and Bill Cartwright, and sports analysts Charley Rosen, Bill Simmons, and Elliot Kalb all singing the praises of Pippen. Notice how quick people in the Bulls organization (Jackson, Winter, Harper, Cartwright, even Jordan himself) are to talk about how great Scottie was and how much influence he had on the success of the team? When you’re said to be the second best player on the Dream Team, the greatest team ever assembled, you’re pretty dang good.

Horace Grant (first three championships)
Charley Rosen:
"an outstanding post-up defender, quick and sure on his defensive rotations, Grant was also a dependable jump shooter from the vicinity of the foul line, a runner, and a determined rebounder. Sure, sometimes he zigged when he should have zagged, and he was often Jackson's scapegoat — but, through it all, Grant always came to play."

During the Bulls’ first three-peat, Grant’s averages were:
‘91- .547 FG% and 8.4 rpg
’92- .578 FG% and 10 rpg
’93- .508 FG% and 9.5 rpg

Grant’s three year average of .544 FG% and 9.3 rpg would put him in the top 10 and top 15 of those respective statistical categories, in 2010.

In his book, Elliot Kalb outlines the affect that Grant, and later Rodman, had on the Bulls:
Chicago Bulls Rebounding
1993 +269 rebounds than opponents
1994 +309 rebounds than opponents
Grant leaves
1995 +80 rebounds than opponents
Rodman joins teams
1996 +541 rebounds than opponents
1997 +403 rebounds than opponents
1998 +426 rebounds than opponents

The rebounding numbers dropped pretty dramatically when Grant or Rodman weren’t around.

Dennis Rodman (second three championships)
Here’s some quotes from Elliot Kalb’s book:
“Rodman led the NBA in rebounds with three different franchises. He won two rebounding titles with the Pistons. He won twice with the Spurs. He was the league’s leading rebounder with the Bulls three consecutive seasons.”

“He should be remembered for being the player who hustled non-stop – and did all the dirty work. He would dive on the floor. He would deny the entry pass. He would pass up shots so his teammates would be happy. He gave his team more extra possessions than anyone.”

“Rodman was the greatest defensive forward of all time.”

“What team wouldn’t be excited to have a player do all the dirty work, shut down the opposing team’s leading scorer, and dove for every loose ball?”

“For a three-year period that encompassed the 1993, 1994, 1995 NBA seasons, Dennis Rodman averaged 18.1 rebounds per game. Of those 223 games, he grabbed 20+ rebounds in 94 of them.” You’ve got to be kidding me! In 42 percent of his games over three seasons, he pulled down 20+ rebounds. That’s just astounding. Kalb went on to say, "And why is that impressive? No other player has averaged as many as 18 rebounds per game in a single season (nevermind three consecutive seasons) besides Rodman since 1974." Rodman is the best rebounder of his generation. Over three and a half decades (1974-2010), no one comes close. Bill Simmons, in his book, chimes in, “Statistically, he’s one of the greatest rebounders ever (along with Russell and Chamberlain) because he grabbed such a significant percentage of his team’s boards.” He adds, “The ’92 Pistons averaged 44.3 rebounds a game; Rodman grabbed 42% of them. Russell’s highest percentage for one season was 35%; Wilt’s highest was 37%.” His numbers are even more impressive, considering the guy was only 6’8”."

Kalb adds another layer to Rodman’s rebounding, by pointing out that he didn’t take rebounds away from teammates:
“Robinson’s rebound total in two years with Rodman were 10.7 per game and 10.8 per game. Do you know what Robinson’s career average is? It was 10.8 per game. Scottie Pippen’s rebound totals in three years with Rodman were 6.4, 6.5, and 5.2 per game. Scottie’s career average for rebounds was 6.6 per game. Michael Jordan’s rebound totals in three years with Rodman were 6.6, 5.9, and 5.8 per game. Michael’s career average for rebounds was 6.2 per game.”

Elliot Kalb also pointed out that the ’95 Spurs were 42-7 with Rodman, 20-13 without him. A similar effect happened in ’99, when Rodman joined the Lakers. That year, the Lakers started out 7-6. Rodman joined the team, and they won 9 straight, but he only stayed with them for a total of 23 games that year. In total, the Lakers were 17-6 with him and 14-13 without him.

Past quotes from Charley Rosen:
"[he] solved the mysteries of the triangle offense in a matter of weeks. He was smart and quick (vertically and horizontally). He willingly sacrificed his body, ran the court, and played madcap defense."

"For sheer athleticism — jumping (both elevation and quickness off the floor), speed, hand-eye coordination, flexibility, anticipation, reaction and instinct — Rodman was indeed in a class by himself. Also, his on-court intelligence was vastly underrated. For example, where players like Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Darrell Walker, and several others were never able to grasp the intricacies of the triangle offense, Rodman picked it up in a flash. Plus, Rodman's court awareness was as accomplished as the league's most celebrated point guards. And he lead the NBA in rebounding seven times while being an integral part of five championship teams."

A quote from Bill Simmons’ book:
“He guarded Larry Bird better than anyone. Nobody else came close. Other than Kevin McHale, nobody could defend so many different types of players effectively: Magic, Bird, Malone, Kemp, Barkley, Worthy, Jordan…”

Dennis Rodman positively affected four franchises (Pistons, Spurs, Bulls, Lakers), and helped two of them win five championships.

No one should ever say that Jordan won with only Pippen and Rodman. You don't put an only in front of two of the greatest, if not the two greatest, defensive forwards of all-time. What wins championships? Defense.

That wraps up part one. Part two will be about the role players Jordan had.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NFC Worst?

Originally written September 24, 2010. Updated 4/12/11.

During one of his podcasts, Bill Simmons discussed football with Cousin Sal. One of the things they touched on was how the NFC West is the worst division in football, and maybe even in sports. This seemed odd to me, considering two NFC West teams have gone to the Super Bowl since 2006. So I did a little research.  Here's the playoff records of each division, for the last 6 years:

AFC North: 13-8 (.619)

NFC West: 9-6 (.600)

NFC North: 9-7 (.563)

AFC East: 9-9 (.500)

NFC East: 11-13 (.458)

AFC South: 7-9 (.438)

NFC South: 6-8 (.429)

AFC West: 4-7 (.364)


That's right. The NFC West has the second best playoff record in the league, during that time span. The only division with a marginally better record is the division that beat them both times in the Super Bowl. And it's not like both NFC West teams just made it to the Super Bowl. Both could've, or should've, beat the Steelers either time.


Granted, playoff records aren't entirely accurate of a division's quality. The NFC East, for example, has had multiple teams make the playoffs five times in the last six years. And four of those five times, two NFC East teams have faced each other, thereby screwing up the division's postseason record, ensuring a loss and victory simultaneously.


So instead of just looking at the overall postseason records, why not see how the NFC West stacks up against the highly touted NFC East and NFC South divisions head-to-head? The West is 4-1 against the East and 4-0 against the South.


Now, this isn't pretending that, top to bottom, the West is better than all the other NFC divisions. Obviously the East and South are better divisions. At least during the regular season. And that's the key: regular season. The problem with the whole "NFC Worst" discussion is that it completely ignores the postseason, which is the only thing that truly matters. It completely ignores the fact that the West has the second best playoff record (including at least one victory every year), is 8-1 against the East and South, and has been to two Super Bowls in the past six years. What a horrible division!


And if your problem with the NFC West is the quality of the games they provide during the year? Well, you can find interest in the games by realizing whatever teams comes out of the West is almost assuredly going to have some measure of postseason success. Watch Giants-Eagles for the quality game it provides during the regular season. Watch Rams-Seahawks for the impact it will have on the playoffs.