Looking Back with a Head-to-Head Draft

mjlb

Introduction via HamsterdamHerald.com…

Hello, Keeper of the Court –

As you feast on the ongoing entertainment provided by the current 2013-2014 NBA season, I thought it appropriate to put our own twist on a conversation that seems to be revisited annually – the greatest players of all-time debate.

Rather than focusing on simply ranking players (i.e. 1- MJ, 2- Russell, 3- Magic, 4- Bird, etc.), I’d prefer to challenge you to an all-time draft. Here is how we play it out:

We will alternate picking 16 players from the history of the NBA to assemble a roster of 8 players for each team. For the first eight picks, we’ll alternate back and forth. At pick eight, you will make back to back selections to reverse the order. The goal is to create a team that is not only loaded with great talent, but also capable of playing well together (CHEMISTRY). These teams will actually have to “play” basketball, therefore consider the need for a point guard, center, wing players, etc. We don’t need to stick to rigid position rules, but the general construction of an NBA roster should be considered. Essentially, I want you to be confident putting your team up against any other all-time team that could be presented to you.

One more thing…

Basketball players are unique in that no single season is the same. The greatest players continually evolve their games, adding elements that may have been a weakness or even non-existent during previous seasons. For this reason, I want us to treat them like a fine wine and select the specific season from which we are choosing this player.

I flipped a coin and got the first pick.

Let’s begin!

1. ZC (Hamsterdam Herald) selects: ’91 Michael Jordan – Chicago Bulls

Age: 27 POS: SG PPG: 31.5 RPG: 6.0 APG: 5.5 SPG: 2.7 BPG: 1.0 PER: 31.6 TS%: 60.5 TOV: 2.5

No suspense here, I’m taking His Airness, Michael Jordan to anchor my team. Do I get bonus points for now having the most marketable player in NBA history on my roster?

I wanted the most driven and enraged Michael Jordan I could get while still be in his prime athletically. Coming off a 1990 campaign that resulted in a third consecutive loss to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, in 1991, Michael Jordan won his second straight MVP award by averaging 31.5 points on 53.9% shooting, 6 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 steals, and a block per game. Absurd. Is is good when a player’s PER exceeds his points per game? Just asking, because Mike had his second highest career PER of 31.6 in 1991.

I’ve grabbed myself an unstoppable offensive force that can lock down the other team’s other perimeter player. I’m feeling good, but I probably need to grab myself some mentally strong players going forward. While the majority of humanity dismisses it as his insatiable competitive drive, MJ’s “leadership skills” mostly consisted of bashing teammates, both physically and mentally.

Fortunately, I’m not building my team around personality kindness, so MJ will make the cut and serve as my number one pick.

2. CP (Keeper of the Court) selects: ‘03 Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs

Age: 26 POS: PF PPG: 23.3 RPG: 12.9 APG: 3.9 SPG: 0.7 BPG: 2.9 PER: 26.9 TS%: 56.4 TOV: 3.1

For my first pick, I’ll have to go with Tim Duncan. Over the years, where would the Spurs’ offense have been without his post-up prowess, screens, and pick-and-roll presence? His fast break initiations and superb passing? And what would their defense have looked like without his ability to alter shots without fouling, his stellar 1-on-1 play, and mistake-free help? Duncan’s year in 2003 gets the nod because not only did he have a pep in his step, but he was shooting free throws at a respectable rate (his FT percentages have curiously been all over the place). He was also accustomed to having his team call upon his passing abilities in the halfcourt.

The incredibly smart, skilled, and giant Duncan of ‘03 anything you could ask for from a big man, and let us not forget: at its core, basketball is a big man’s game.

3. ZC selects: ‘00 Shaquille O’Neal – Los Angeles Lakers

Age: 27 POS: C PPG: 29.7 RPG: 13.6 APG: 3.8 SPG: 0.5 BPG: 3.0 PER: 30.6 TS%: 57.8 TOV: 2.7

Legend has it that there was once a player that stood 7’1” 325 lbs (allegedly), possessed nice touch around the rim, and displayed excellent agility for a man of his stature.

In 2000, Shaq put all of these physical tools together to put together one of the most dominant seasons in NBA history. During his “athletic years,” Shaq always managed to be a nightmare for defenses due to his sheer physical size. Aside from the monstrous numbers O’Neal posted during the 2000 season, the toll he took on the opposition through the constant leaning and pounding against defenders was invaluable.

Shaq also posted his greatest defensive season in 2000, offering up 7.0 defensive win shares. His presence in the lane discouraged driving, but when they did, shots were routinely altered or returned to sender.

His weakness? Free throws, as always. But if you’re all-time team is resorting to “Hack-A-Shaq,” I’ve already won.

4. CP selects: ‘93 Hakeem Olajuwon – Houston Rockets

Age: 30 POS: C PPG: 26.1 RPG: 13.0 APG: 3.5 SPG: 1.8 BPG: 4.2 PER: 27.3 TS%: 57.7 TOV: 3.2

Since you have chosen to go with the ultimate game changer — the fat whirlwind of flying elbows and insta-dunks — I’ll have to change my plans a bit. This calls for a Hakeem Olajuwon selection. Only a few men during Shaq’s time were capable of holding it down versus him defensively, and Hakeem fits into this category. We can take the fact that Hakeem swept O’Neal in the ‘95 Finals with a grain of salt, because Shaq was indeed a young’in. But only once did O’Neal exceed 30 points versus Hakeem, and he was never not bothered by Hakeem’s length, agility, and intellect on defense.

Why else do I feel great about my Hakeem selection? Aside from being one of the most well-rounded players in history, Hakeem “the Dream” was legitimately unguardable on the offensive end (see: the Dream Shake). His control of both ends of the floor forced my brain to conjure up thoughts about whether he could’ve gone toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan and potentially come out on top. ‘93 Hakeem gets the nod because this is when his passing game peaked and rounded him into a truly frightening offensive weapon, all while he was as bouncy as ever.

5. ZC selects: ‘85 Larry Bird – Boston Celtics

Age: 28 POS: SF PPG: 28.7 RPG: 10.5 APG: 6.6 SPG: 1.6 BPG: 1.2 PER: 26.5 TS%: 58.5 TOV: 3.1

THE DREAM.

I must say, I like the pick. Hakeem would combat a prime Diesel about as well as any human can hope. Sprinkle in some help defense from “the greatest power forward of all-time” and scoring in the lane just became a tad difficult.

For this reason, it’s time I find some help in spreading the floor. With Shaq manning the middle, there isn’t much room for a low-post oriented power forward, so why not go with The Legend? I’ll take ‘85 Larry, who posted his highest 3-point percentage at 42.7%. Be careful with your help on MJ’s drives or Shaq’s post-ups; both players will find Bird spotting up, ready to bury an open three.

But summing up Larry Bird’s role merely as a spot up shooter would be criminal. I’m getting a highly skilled 6’9” hybrid forward that has tremendous passing ability, clever defensive tactics, and a knack for making critical plays. I can count on Bird to consistently make the right “basketball play,” and on a team with finishers like Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan, that type of player will be key to keeping the train on the tracks.

6. CP selects: ‘14 Lebron James – Miami Heat

Age: 29 POS: SF PPG: 25.2 RPG: 6.8 APG: 6.5 SPG: 1.5 BPG: 0.3 PER: 29.9 TS%: 68.1 TOV: 3.7

Larry Bird was an absolute gamer, to the point where I absolutely cannot let him feast on inferior competition at the small forward spot. This calls for a Lebron James pick. While Bird was arguably more skilled, James possesses defensive mobility, tenacity, scoring ability, and an all-around game that’d be a real handful for Bird. Both possessed versatility and size that let them slide back and forth between small forward and power forward.

In the end, Bird and Lebron might not always match up with each other. But you can’t go wrong with a Lebron James pick. This year’s James (‘14) has evolved to the point where it’s just plain unfair (his true shooting percentage is at a never-before-seen 68%, for one). If we’re talking from a strict basketball standpoint — not accomplishments relative to era, but skill, IQ, physique, and athleticism — Lebron James likely embodies one of the top two perimeter players to ever play the sport. The man can do it all.

7. ZC selects: ‘13 Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder

Age: 24 POS: SF PPG: 28.1 RPG: 7.9 APG: 4.6 SPG: 1.4 BPG: 1.3 PER: 28.3 TS%: 64.7 TOV: 3.5

Excellent selection, my friend. You’ve got yourself the dominant player of this millenium. Lebron is hyper efficient, excellent (while maybe overrated?) defensively, and similar to Bird in his ability to pick apart a defense with his passing.

While tempted to counter with MJ’s 90’s running-mate, I’m going to roll with the 2013 version of Kevin Durant. The funniest thing about this pick – it’s yet to be determined whether I’m even getting the best version of this guy.

I’ve added another hybrid forward to pair with Larry Bird. While not an elite defender, KD was very serviceable in 2013. What he lacks in defensive IQ and instincts he can make up for with length and athleticism.

But defense is not why I have Kevin Durant on the roster. The guy is 25 years old and already an all-time offensive force. At 6’9”, he has a tight handle, unlimited range, and a supreme ability to get to the line and knock them down. In 2013, KD’s true shooting percentage was a ridiculous 64.7%!

The court has been spread.

8. CP selects: ‘95 Scottie Pippen – Chicago Bulls

Age: 29 POS: SF PPG: 21.4 RPG: 8.1 APG: 5.2 SPG: 2.9 BPG: 1.1 PER: 22.6 TS%: 55.9 TOV: 3.4

Since you have opted to select two of the game’s best scorers of all-time in Jordan and Durant, I am left with no choice but to grab the best perimeter defender the game has ever seen. What makes me confident in this pick is that Scottie Pippen’s defensive prowess wasn’t limited to just one position — his length and agility allowed him to shut down (or bother) practically every position. Magic Johnson? No problem, let me full court press you real quick. Charles Barkley? I’ll front you and bother you with length. If I sic Pippen on Durant or Jordan, I have no worries. He’ll do the best job that one can do to slow them down.

On offense, this man was skilled and unselfish, an athletic specimen, and could operate in both uptempo and half-court offenses. Much like Lebron, he was able to play the 2-3 very comfortably and versions of the 1 and 4. ‘95 Pippen gets the nod for a couple reasons, but namely that by this time, his pull-up three-pointer was deadly, and his all-around game was firing on all levels. In fact, ‘95 Pippen led his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and minutes. Astounding.

9. CP selects: ‘05 Kevin Garnett – Minnesota Timberwolves

Age: 28 POS: PF PPG: 22.2 RPG: 13.5 APG: 5.7 SPG: 1.5 BPG: 1.4 PER: 28.2 TS%: 56.7 TOV: 2.7

There may be better players left to pick, but I can’t let you have Kevin Garnett. The prospect of him coming off the bench to fill the gap that Tim Duncan leaves — or to play alongside him — is far too enticing. My god, the defense. In Kevin’s prime, he was an-all around force that we’d almost never seen, inflicting damage at literally every position on the court on both ends. It still makes me chuckle that a 6’11” guy used to dribble the ball up and initiate his offense.

I chose Kevin’s 2005 year because he was accustomed to playing center by then (an estimated 46% of the time according to Basketball-Reference), and his passing and rebounding abilities were at elite levels. His jumpshot was dangerous to the tune that it sucked out opposing defenses from beneath the rim. Most important of all, he was every bit as explosive as he’s ever been.

10. ZC selects: ‘87 Magic Johnson – Los Angeles Lakers

Age: 27 POS: PG PPG: 23.9 RPG: 6.3 APG: 12.2 SPG: 1.7 BPG: 0.5 PER: 27.0 TS%: 60.2 TOV: 3.8

This can probably be classified as my first “self-preservation” pick. Do I really want to face a fastbreak that features Magic and Lebron on the same roster?

This wing-oriented roster certainly has the horses to get out and run with Magic. KD and Jordan can run and finish with the best of them, while Bird can add his beautiful touch passing skills. Pairing Magic’s transcendent offensive skills with any player creates remarkable basketball, let alone the likes of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant and Shaquille O’Neal. Giving Magic that weaponry is like giving Khaleesi three baby dragons – dominance ensues.

The key, besides the obvious talent of this starting five, is the basketball personas of Magic, Bird and KD. All three can take a game over in his own right, but each is able to thrive and find significant ways to impact the game without being a team’s focal point. With the ball-in-hand scoring dominance of MJ and Shaq rounding out the starting lineup, this quality is of the utmost importance.

11. CP selects: ‘78 Bill Walton – Portland Trail Blazers

Age: 28 POS: C PPG: 18.9 RPG: 13.2 APG: 5.0 SPG: 1.0 BPG: 2.5 PER: 24.8 TS%: 55.4 TOV: 3.6

Who better to back up my bigs than Bill Walton, a man with great experience in thriving in such a role? Bill won Sixth Man of the Year on one of the most loaded teams to date in the 1986 Boston Celtics. This of course is not to imply that this is all he was capable of in his prime — some, in fact, deem Bill Walton as the best “two-way player” to ever play the game.

I’ll address the obvious: yes, Walton played in an era where the game hadn’t evolved to what it’s become today, and players weren’t quite as athletic. But that’s perfectly okay. Walton’s size, skill, and feel for the game would allow for his all-time passing, rebounding, defense, and low/high post play to dominate in any era. If active today, we’d essentially be watching a Marc Gasol on steroids (add in all-time outlet passing, more defensive mobility, and better post scoring).

The ‘78 season of Walton’s was one of only two healthy ones we saw from him, but his skill combined with his poise, leadership, and radiant positivity had already made an enormous impact; Walton’s ability to drive his teammates whilst playing team basketball only makes me more excited about tossing him into a mix of highly capable players.

12. ZC selects: ‘90 Charles Barkley – Philadelphia 76ers

Age: 26 POS: PF PPG: 25.2 RPG: 11.5 APG: 3.9 SPG: 1.9 BPG: 0.6 PER: 27.1 TS%: 66.1 TOV: 3.1

Bill Walton! Your tall team gets even higher (literally and figuratively).

While Sir Charles’ height may not extend to the heavens, his basketball gifts certainly do. Why not add a relentless rebounder that can snag a defensive rebound, break out into a full sprint while maintaining his dribble, and either find the open man for a slick pass or finish with dominant authority?

He’ll fit this high flying roster perfectly. A constant headache for conventional power forwards due to his perimeter skills, Barkley still managed to dominate both the offensive and defensive glass credit to his impeccable timing and instincts for the craft. In addition to his skill, power, and overwhelming athleticism, Barkley possessed a motor that simply wouldn’t stop.

1990 was one of the peak years athletically for Charles Barkley, and it showed in his results. A hyper-efficient scorer, in large part due to his aggression at the rim and ability to put back offensive rebounds, Barkley rarely receives the credit he’s due for his passing ability. Never an elite defender, Charles utilized his natural talents well enough to be effective. But let’s face it, Sir Charles rebounding and offensive prowess were more than enough to compensate for any defensive deficiencies.

Am I just creating an in-their-prime “Dream Team?”

13. CP selects: ‘96 Mitch Richmond – Sacramento Kings

Age: 30 POS: SG PPG: 23.1 RPG: 3.3 APG: 3.1 SPG: 1.5 BPG: 0.2 PER: 19.2 TS%: 59.1 TOV: 2.7

My heart aches as I see my favorite player of all-time slip from my grasp. What does this mean? Does life go on?

As of now, my perimeter shooters shoot an approximate 38% from deep, and while this is a solid clip, I need someone who’s going to administer severe punishment for the imminent double teams that my bigs will attract. Mitch Richmond time. Not only did ‘96 Mitch shoot a sizzling 44% from three, he made the fourth most three point field goals in the entire league. And this isn’t a spot up shooter we’re talking about — Richmond is one of the best shooting guards we’ve seen to date, who put cuts, jumpshots, and post play into a nicely efficient and well-rounded package. Worth noting: Michael Jordan has been quoted as saying Richmond was his toughest foe, in part due to the tough defense he played. With Richmond coming off the bench, I’m not comfortable, I’m giddy. Having no difficulty fitting in with team-oriented approach, this man could quietly wreak havoc.

14. ZC selects: ‘94 David Robinson – San Antonio Spurs

Age: 28 POS: C PPG: 29.8 RPG: 10.7 APG: 4.8 SPG: 1.7 BPG: 3.3 PER: 30.7 TS%: 57.7 TOV: 3.2

Fun fact: Mitch Richmond was one of my go-to players when playing NBA Shootout ‘98 on Playstation. That three point stroke was pure. Good times.

While I’ve acquired a ton of length on my current roster, I will need the ability to match your pure size down low during stretches of the game. You’ve hoarded quite a few of the elite two-way bigs of NBA history, but David Robinson still remains.

Robinson was an imposing physical specimen with the game to go with it. Where The Admiral truly thrives is where my roster as currently assembled can be scrutinized – defensively. David Robinson constantly affected the game on the defensive end with his length, instincts and positioning. How about some raw data from ‘94? Robinson average 3.3 blocks and 1.7 steals per game to go with his stellar 98 defensive rating (which was even pedestrian by his standards).

But don’t let me fool you into thinking he was a one-way player. As Bill Simmons would say, Robinson was at the peak of his powers in ‘94. He efficiently scored the ball at a remarkable clip (29.8 ppg on 57.7% true shooting), but also capitalized on double teams by finding open teammates (career high 21.6% assist percentage).

I hesitated to select The Admiral for the same reason the public may dismiss this selection – “Hakeem Olajuwon owns David Robinson.” The 1995 Western Conference Finals gets all the press, but the numbers and record behind their matchup revealed quite the opposite. Robinson’s teams won 30 out of their 42 head-to-head matchups with Robinson holding Olajuwon to 44.1% shooting.

It’s not a dream.

15. CP selects: ‘98 Gary Payton – Seattle Supersonics

Age: 29 POS: PG PPG: 19.2 RPG: 4.6 APG: 8.3 SPG: 2.3 BPG: 0.2 PER: 21.6 TS%: 54.4 TOV: 2.8

The thought of David Robinson getting thrown into the pit with Tim Duncan is the sole reason behind my current atrial flutter. When have we ever seen such a combination of kind-heartedness, incredible skill, and intelligence between two opponents?

But it’s time to complete my starting five, and ‘98 Gary Payton fills that gap wonderfully. Of all that he can provide, Gary’s ability to disrupt both the point guard and shooting guard positions would be the most crucial. I feel confident in putting him up against Magic Johnson — although he’s shorter, Payton’s sheer determination and tactical genius allowed for his 6’4” self to go toe-to-toe with tall talents like Penny Hardaway and Magic Johnson back in the day. If things do happen to go awry, I’d feel more than willing to slide Payton over on Jordan — especially considering how he spent a Finals series guarding MJ better than arguably anyone ever.

Sure, we’ve seen better scorers and passers at the point guard position. But by ‘98, “The Glove” was more than a quick, expert ball-handler on offense. He was extremely well-versed player with the league’s 8th-best assist percentage (despite being on an elite passing team), a capable three point shot (34%), and solid midrange and post games. Gary’s all-encompassing package combined with his high IQ, leadership, and chippiness is all that my team could ask for.

16. ZC selects: ‘09 Chris Paul – New Orleans Hornets

Age: 23 POS: PG PPG: 22.8 RPG: 5.5 APG: 11.0 SPG: 2.8 BPG: 0.1 PER: 30.0 TS%: 59.9 TOV: 3.0

Seriously, could we have had back to back picks with more opposite personalities than David Robinson and Gary Payton? During the heat of battle, can you imagine the conversation between these two?

I digress.

I’ll round out this draft with the Chris Paul, the current “best point guard in the game” title holder. The guy is a gem. Tenacious on the court, Paul possesses breathtaking basketball skills. He combines impeccable ball handling, superior basketball IQ, and masterful court vision to generate more assist opportunities per game than another other player in the NBA.

CP3 is always dialed in, which is one of his greatest strengths. He has a knack for understanding what his team needs at any given moment. Does he need to get a teammate going offensively? Do they need a bucket? It’s not just that he recognizes these moments, but rather his ability to act on it with success.

In 2009 Chris Paul was only 23 years old and unimpeded by knee issues. He was able to play at an unforgiving pace, putting pressure on the defense at all times. Paul’s high-risk/high-reward defense becomes even more potent when protected by the likes of Shaq and David Robinson.

Unintended benefit of having CP3 on the roster: with Lil’ Chris running around, locker room morale will be high!

Team CP:

Starting Lineup: PG: Gary Payton SG: Scottie Pippen SF: Lebron James PF: Tim Duncan C: Hakeem Olajuwon

Bench: SG: Mitch Richmond PF: Kevin Garnett C: Bill Walton

Starters: Age: 28.6 PPG: 23 RPG: 9.1 APG: 5.5 SPG: 1.8 BPG: 1.7 TOV: 3.2 PER: 25.7 TS%: 58.5

Bench: Age: 27.7 PPG: 21.4 RPG: 10 APG: 4.6 SPG: 1.3 BPG: 1.4 TOV: 3.0 PER: 24 TS%: 57.1

Team: Age: 28.3 PPG: 22.4 RPG: 9.4 APG: 5.2 SPG: 1.7 BPG: 1.6 TOV: 3.2 PER: 25.1 TS%: 58.0

Team ZC:

Starting Lineup: PG: Magic Johnson SG: Michael Jordan SF: Kevin Durant PF: Larry Bird C: Shaquille O’Neal

Bench: PG: Chris Paul PF: Charles Barkley C: David Robinson

Starters: Age: 26.6 PPG: 28.4 RPG: 8.9 APG: 6.5 SPG: 1.6 BPG: 1.4 TOV: 3.1 PER: 28.8 TS%: 60.3

Bench: Age: 25.6 PPG: 25.9 RPG: 9.2 APG: 6.6 SPG: 2.1 BPG: 1.3 TOV: 3.1 PER: 29.3 TS%: 61.2

Team: Age: 26.3 PPG: 27.5 RPG: 9.0 APG: 6.55 SPG: 1.8 BPG: 1.4 TOV: 3.1 PER: 29.0 TS%: 60.7

Team CP, in as few words as possible: three favorite aspects of your team?

Versatility on both ends, size, and defense. My god, the defense.

Team ZC, in as few words as possible: three favorite aspects of your team?

Versatile size, tempo, and the athleticism. These three qualities merge together as I envision this roster posing serious problems for Team CP in transition. The speed and force these athletes can play with, and the corresponding pressure that this will put on a defense may require all 48 allotted fouls.

Team CP, what’s one thing you’re not crazy about with your team?

If my team has a weakness, it has to be slashing. While Team CP’s collective slashing abilities may be solid, it’s hard to compete with the likes of Durant and Jordan in that regard.

Team ZC, what’s one thing you’re not crazy about with your team?

My “concern” is just the opposite of Team CP’s. While this roster can score on any defense in its path, most of the talent on this roster does not possess prolific defensive skills.

*All statistical support from Basketball-Reference.com

 

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The High-Low: Mid-December Edition

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Introducing: The High-Low Series

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12 Facts about the NBA’s Best Power Forward

He doesn’t even know how to post up” can be heard just about anytime Barkley’s mouth is moving on TV, and with good reason. Today’s NBA offenses are predicated more than ever before on the pick-and-roll, sideline activity, and cutters, which has effectively killed the 80′s and 90′s inside-out style of play. So what does this mean for the league’s bigger guys? Is there nothing to be excited about?

Talking about the game’s top centers actually isn’t that thrilling of a topic, and some of that does have to do with the offensive abilities and styles of play at hand. But if we look to the top centers — Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert, and Dwight Howard — something else is apparent: we already know who all these guys are. These players are already in or past their primes, and their games have been unwavering for several years (note: Chris Bosh and Tim Duncan are definitively centers at this point. Basketball-Reference estimates they played 97% and 100% of their time at center last year, respectively).

But at the power forward position, the discussion gets juicier. Amongst the most elite are players who are either young and raw (Anthony Davis), or players who are entering their primes and have yet to tap into their full potential (Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, arguably LaMarcus Aldridge). When you throw guys like Serge Ibaka in the mix, despite any less-than-perfect post games, the power forward position is young, ultra-talented, and fun. With the surging of teams in the Western Conference where all these players are stationed, there’s been lots of buzz about who might be the best.

And I don’t think it’s as close as some people think. The following twelve facts about Kevin Love sum up why:

1. Kevin Love’s Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus rating has been superior to other power forwards. In 2011-12 (his last healthy season), Love’s RAPM was 5th best in the league at 6.2; Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin and Lamarcus Aldridge posted a 5.9, 5.6 and 3.2, respectively. David Lee was almost off completely off the map at 0.6.

2. Kevin Love leads all power forwards in scoring, and does such from inside and out at a highly efficient rate of 56.5% TS. (On each end of the TS% spectrum sits “soft so touch” Dirk Nowitzki and “does that cheeseburger come with a long two?” LaMarcus Aldridge.)

3. With his uncanny timing, great understanding of angles, strong hands, and quick leaping ability, Love is amongst the most elite rebounders in NBA history. He’s currently 4th in the league in rebound percentage, while LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and the others don’t even crack the top 20.

4. Kevin Love has a Player Efficiency Rating of 25.6, good for 5th in the league. Aldridge sits at 19th in the league with a 20.6 rating, and Blake again doesn’t crack the top 20. (We should also take time to appreciate sophomore Anthony Davis, who has posted an incredible 28.3 PER so far.)

5. Kevin Love’s PIE rating is better than any other power forward at 17.7%. For reference, Aldridge is scoring a 15.7; Blake a 14.5.

6. Kevin Love’s Win Shares/48 Minutes sits at 6th in the league (.237). Aldridge and Blake again don’t crack the top 20.

7. Kevin Love’s assists per game leads all power forwards, easily, at 4.1 per contest. Blake Griffin and David Lee embody similarly skilled half court passers, but Kevin Love’s long-distance passing is second to none. Davis’ and Aldridge’s simply passing do not compare.

8. Kevin Love puts the opposition in foul trouble. He takes 7.6 free throws per game, good for 3rd in the league in total attempts. No other power forward does this — Griffin comes closest at 6.2 FTA per contest (and misses half of them).

9. Similar to RAPM is a metric called Individual Player Value (see: Talking Practice Blog) — alike in nature but less reliant on box score data. Kevin Love’s value is currently at 7.1, which tops the league. Blake Griffin sits at 9th, but only scores a 4.3.

10. Kevin Love’s above average defense has contributed to his team’s 8th-rated defensive rating. While Love won’t block or steal much, he understands angles very well, rotates hard and with consistency, and smothers the glass. He also fouls infrequently (credit to Aldridge, who fouls even less).

If you’re familiar with Synergy Sports, you may notice that the majority of Love’s submitted defensive “plays” on Synergy are post-ups. Kevin is formidable in this regard: he is able to use his physical nature and good instincts, allowing only 0.75 points per play, which is good for 30th in the league. We can also look to the fact that Love is in the top four of Minnesota’s top five defensive units, or that his Opponent Counterpart Production is kept to a 17.1 PER (Aldridge, Lee, Davis fare better here and Dirk, Griffin worse) — which is actually a better marking than Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets (19.2).

Kevin leaves things to be desired on defense: he doesn’t cover the most ground or bother the most shots, and his aggression is not at a level where it will jar his opponents. But defensive output hinges a lot on intelligence and effort, and Love is solid in those aspects. It’s no coincidence that publicly available metrics — RAPM, IPV, defensive rating, ASPM, defensive win shares — all describe Love as a positive on defense. Many even rank his defensive output as superior to LaMarcus Aldridge, such as Talking Practice Blog’s IPVd: Love posts a 1.4; Aldridge a -0.1.

11. 82games.com states Kevin Love’s On/Off Rating is a +27.1 (!). This is in part due to Minnesota’s inferior bench, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that Love’s otherwordly offensive output would greatly elevate any team. Blake Griffin (+20.4), Dirk Nowitzki (+22.4), and David Lee (+16.5) also appear to be integral parts of their squads, with LaMarcus Aldridge (+8.2) and Anthony Davis (+9.2) also scoring clear positives.

12. LaMarcus Aldridge is an absolute master of shooting the long two (note that he does take a few too many), but Kevin Love has a unique ability to stretch the floor past the three point line. He’s connected on the 11th most threes in the league (40). Only Dirk Nowitzki has Kevin Love beat here.

In sum, Kevin Love’s basketball IQ, rebounding, scoring, and passing make him an absolute force offensively where only Dirk Nowitzki has a chance of challenging; his imperfect but intelligent defense outshines that of David Lee and Blake Griffin, and the numbers tell the rest of the story: Kevin Love is not only the best power forward, but a top five player in the NBA.

*Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, 82games.com, NBA.com/stats unless otherwise specified

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Should Portland be getting more out of LaMarcus Aldridge?

In the early 2013-14 NBA season, the recently deemed Player of the Week LaMarcus Aldridge is making his mark. Consider the following of Aldridge: he’s 3rd in field goals made, and 2nd in points amongst big men; he’s 4th in total rebounds, 11th in points, and 9th in usage percentage. Acting as a heavily impactful two-way player, LaMarcus is also the go-to guy on the surging Portland Trailblazers, who are currently 14-3.

Much of all this stems from the fact that LaMarcus is gifted in a way that very few NBA players ever have been. Until he was officially playing for Portland, he was actually quite undersized for a big man: Aldridge quotes himself as being 185 pounds (!) during his time in college, a period during which his game was predicated on finesse over power. He was supremely coordinated for his size, often pulling off a string of movements that we only see from skilled wing players. Current LaMarcus retains these qualities, which is why he’s the only big man who can consistently beat his man off the dribble in the post, drain contested fadeaway shots over the biggest defenders, and do things like this:

But for LaMarcus, these gifts come with curses: questionable shot selection, and less of a commitment to big man things. LaMarcus has filled out nicely in recent years, sitting at around 255-260 pounds, and with added strength has become very capable on the block — he’s often able to back down his opponent and overwhelm them with a combination of size, strength, and savvy. But he doesn’t always act upon his advantages. He won’t fight for position in the low post as much as he could, and will be quick to move towards the outside or give the ball up if shown resistance whilst fighting for position. He’ll back down his defender with purpose, but take what his defender gives him too early in the play (resulting in many difficult fadeaway jumpers). Sometimes, he’ll simply rise up instead of taking a much more efficient shot that’s open to him:

Plenty of numbers speak to these tendencies of Aldridge’s. As of November 30th, he’s submitting a stellar 22.1 points per game — second highest amongst big men this year — but averages just five free throws a contest. That’s an alarmingly low rate. Per NBA.com, 62% of his shots are taken outside of the key despite no three-pointers taken. No one else does this. Though his points per play on post-ups is consistently within the top 20-30 in the league, he elects for jumpshots — which are a less efficient option — in the majority of post-up situations. Per nbawowy, his average field goal distance sits at 11.94 feet — amongst starting big men, a length surpassed by only Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett.

If I were a Portland native, I’d dream of a sit down with LaMarcus where I’d assure him that we fully understand he can make the tough shot. We know that for LaMarcus, long twos, contested fadeaways, and off-balance one-legged jumpers can be a cinch. But also that I’d like to see him use his large, 6’11″ frame and 34-inch vertical to finally average double-digit rebounds per game. I’d like to see him commit to attacking on the inside a bit more, knowing there’s plenty of midrange and outside shooting on the current roster. I’d like to see him embrace the Center position a little more, because the numbers suggest that on both ends he excels at it. I’d like to see better than 45% from the field from my big man. I’d also like to see exchanges like this more often:

There doesn’t seem to be much that LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t capable of. But if I’m Portland, I don’t feel 100% comfortable relying on him deep into the playoffs until his efficiency and shot selection see improvement. If LaMarcus finds it within himself to make these tiny adjustments anytime soon, not only might he become the league’s most indispensable offensive big man, but Portland could very well be on its way to submitting one of the most surprising seasons in recent memory.

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What’s Happened to Derrick Rose?

It’s no secret that Derrick Rose is struggling in this new season. A few minutes of gametime will tell you this, as will his per-game numbers. He’s averaging 15.4 points, 4.4 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 0.3 steals in 31.6 minutes on 44.6 TS%.

That’s unfortunate for an electric offensive player who’s a past MVP and in his prime. Sure, after a year on the sidelines, Rose is shaking the rust off. But after looking closely during the Bulls/Nuggets game, I knew there was more to it: Chicago’s newly implemented offense just isn’t working for Rose. They’re running some beautifully complicated sets, but the Bulls have started taking the ball out of his hands early and asked him to play off the ball. They’re asking for a lot more action and responsibility from their post players than when he last played, in 2011-12. They’re calling for Luol Deng to be a primary option. The once “dribble-drive” Rose-focused Bulls are no longer present.

Synergy Sports provides us with insight here: in 2011-12, his percentage of plays submitted as P&R Ball Handler was 42%. This year, 34%. 2011-12 Spot-Ups? 8.7%. This year, almost twice as much, at 15.1%. Off Screen, from 4.3% to 10.8%. His Cuts went from 1.7% to 4.3%, too.

It used to be impossible for teams to keep Derrick out of the lane, and their entire defense would be sliced up in the process of them trying. Now, they must only worry about tracking him — a non-shooter — while he’s jogging around a few screens, or setting a downscreen for Carlos Boozer. He just doesn’t look comfortable, even when these plays are designed for him:

Tom Thibodeau knows more than we do about Derrick Rose, and might’ve noticed a chink in the armor. This could explain the refocused offense, serving as a way to protect Rose emotionally, physically, or both (note: it’s also entirely possible the Bulls are just looking for a more balanced, less predictable method of attack). What we do know is that Rose is not taking well to this new philosophy, and the Bulls will have to shake things up if they’re to see any sort of success this season.

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The Heat Hate Point Guards

On November 7th while watching the new-look Clippers take on the Miami Heat, I realized something just a few minutes into the game: the Heat are really darn good at hindering the production of capable point guards. Tony Parker had a very rough finals last year, and we can look to many individual cases just like last night where we see a Chris Paul finishing with only three made baskets. It’s a common sighting to see these point guards failing to penetrate, and even struggling to see over the defense to make the necessary pass.

Miami’s defense is aggressive by nature, and the pressure they apply to ball-handlers is no different. Not only does Miami boast pesky and capable on-ball defenders at the point guard position (Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole), but they will use multiple defenders to put the offense in awkward situations. At any given moment, they trap players who find themselves in a corner. They also aggressively trap the ball-handler during the pick-and-roll. As Miami looks to smother ball-handlers with their length, athleticism, and tenacity, dribbling the ball towards their set defense probably feels like openly greeting a pack of rabid dogs:

BH double

paul DT

If we briefly look back to the ’11-’13 Boston Celtics, a top-notch defense all three years, we find that an elite point guard in Derrick Rose has averaged a higher PPG (25.8) and FG% (46.7) against them than he did versus the league as a whole. Tony Parker also upped his game with a higher PPG (19.8) and FG% (56.8); Russell Westbrook had an improved PPG (24.75) and slightly boosted FG% (44.73) as well. What these statistics serve to tell us is that elite defenses will not always inhibit the production of point guards.

While Miami undoubtedly possesses a frightening defense, in the last three regular seasons, they have only placed 5th, 7th, and 9th in defensive efficiency. I went to the statistics (credit to Basketball-Reference) to find out how they handled the league’s most talented point guards since 2011 — the year of Lebron’s arrival in Miami, when the defense began to rotate exceptionally quickly. Here’s how opposing point guards’ season averages compared to their averages versus the Heat specifically:

rose chart

paul chartparker chartcurry chartwestbrook chartrondo chartholiday chartNone of these players appear to play better against Miami. Rondo fares best, but when you consider his extra minutes played, his production is almost identical to his averages. Everyone else takes a hit in a category or two, or in several cases, appears to be inhibited in every aspect of their game.

Miami may not have the league’s best defense — especially in this ripe season — but if your team’s offensive efficiency rests heavily on the production of your point guard, you can anticipate being in for a very long night against this team.

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Kevin Martin is Back

Rick Adelman adores Kevin Martin. They’ve been employed together by three different teams now, and Martin’s most productive years occurred with Adelman at the helm. Now that they’ve joined forces in Minnesota, as a focal part of the offense, Martin once again has a total green light to shoot and score off the dribble. He is once again getting to the line with great frequency. Rick Adelman even puts Martin at the head of the offense for stretches — like a point guard — which is something we didn’t see once last year in Oklahoma City.  The numbers tell a story too: he’s averaging 21.6 PPG / 3.o TRB / 2.6 AST / 1.2 STL on a stellar 62.3 TS%. Kevin Martin is back.

But unfortunately, so is his defense (enable captions):

Minnesota already has issues with their interior defense and rim protection. Kevin Martin and other perimeter defenders will definitely have to buckle down if the Timberwolves are to win with any consistency. If they’re able to tighten things up, given their offensive firepower, the playoffs should easily be within sight.

Unrelated to Martin and just for fun:

Be on the lookout for these in every Timberwolves game. Love’s outlet passes and Brewer’s affinity for running the floor are a match made in heaven.

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Is Tyreke Evans Doomed as a Pelican?

Sacramento Kings' Tyreke Evans Rookie of the YearSince his early NBA days, Tyreke has been one of the NBA’s most intriguing individuals. Despite being a healthy 6’6″ and 220 pounds, his playstyle is that of a small guard. In his first year he was able to combine this sizable frame with his acute ball-handling skills to manipulate and power through defenders on a nightly basis. He went on to finish the season with an incredible 20-5-5 per game average, something that only Lebron James and Michael Jordan had accomplished as rookies.

Things went downhill soon afterwards, only adding to the level of intrigue surrounding this player. Typically, as NBA players become better acclimated to the league over time, they see growth on a mental and physical level. They fine-tune their skills and develop new ones, and develop better chemistry with their teammates. Ultimately, their game flows better and they produce more efficiently and potently. This didn’t happen with Tyreke. Since his ’10 rookie year, his points, rebounds, assists, and PER had declined. His FG% and TS% went up in ’13, but in the prior two years, he saw drops. His offensive game had plummeted in almost every respect.

There were some things that were out of Tyreke’s control in Sacramento which likely contributed to his statistical decline. He had plantar fasciitis in 2011, missing 19 games, and potentially endured lasting effects that season. Furthermore, the organization had a curious affinity for accumulating guards with similar playstyles and/or ages — from Aaron Brooks to Toney Douglas to Isaiah Thomas to Jimmer Freddette and so on — and this only created an epic logjam at Tyreke’s position. With his size and scoring ability, he was asked to bounce around anywhere from the 1 to the 3 position — this not only provided no sense of stability for him and his teammates, but limited his chances to handle the ball and create.

This last offseason, Tyreke Evans hitched a ride to New Orleans to become a Pelican to seek fresh, new beginnings. Ironically, one can make a case that he put himself in a very similar place — right in the midst of another logjam at the guard position, on a team with talented but youthful players. Tyreke still works best off the dribble, but now has to run alongside the ball-dominant Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Austin Rivers. He now has a coach who puts the ball in backup point guard Brian Roberts’ hands before himself. His team’s offense often asks him to literally stand motionless in the corner, and despite his midrange shooting woes, to run off of double screens and look for a shot.

Hands on hips in corner the lasting image of NOP Tyreke?

Hands on hips in corner the lasting image of NOP Tyreke?

None of this sounds good for Evans’ production, and so far, it’s not. In his four games so far, he’s averaging 7.0 points, 3.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 0.3 steals on 29% FG with a 1.5 PER. He’s also averaging close to 4 turnovers per 36 minutes. We arrive at the question: How much of Evans’ lack of production is due to his current environment?

While his environment isn’t ideal, Tyreke must take the blame for a huge chunk of his poor play:

  • He hasn’t learned the offense yet
  • He isn’t moving off of the ball well
  • He isn’t moving the ball
  • He’s literally asking to get blocked on his drives (8.8% BLKd last year as well)
  • He’s playing a transparent game
  • He’s not comfortable being a shooter

Below (enable captions):

Shooting wise, it doesn’t require much study to know that Evans doesn’t shine — the guy shoots around 31% from 16-23 feet and is a career 28% 3 point shooter, per Basketball-Reference. Synergy Sports states he’s that in this season he’s only submitted 1.9%, 1.9% and 3.8% of his plays as off-screen plays, cuts, and spot-ups, respectively. So why are the Pelicans playing him off the ball so much? These numbers are a bit misleading: Tyreke’s offensive system is asking him to do more shooting than he is. He’s just electing to not do so, often by holding the ball and exploring dribble-drives (which can definitely disrupt the offense). This will be hard for New Orleans to overcome when they face finer-tuned offenses with less redundancy and/or elite defensive teams.

The diminishing returns in production from guards was a bit of a predictable conundrum for New Orleans to be in, and maybe for Tyreke as well. [141] While Tyreke’s future may not be doomed, things are going to need to change for both New Orleans and him before any real success is seen on either end.

Footnotes    (Back returns to text)
  1. He does deserve some love for being so flexible with his minutes and role.Back
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Pickpocketty Paul

The act of stealing is only one aspect of individual defense, and a seemingly small one. It isn’t stressed by most coaches. But what happens when a player has completely mastered it? When every pass and dribble within his or her vicinity is in danger of being stripped?

Chris Paul may be providing us with that answer.

Five different years, he’s led the league in steals per game. Per Basketball-Reference, he’s tied for 5th all-time in Steal Percentage, and has the 3rd-highest steal per game average in NBA history. Amongst point guards, he’s the all-time leader in steals per game. And in this new season, he’s going after absolutely everything.

Doing what Paul does takes incredible quickness, tenacity, timing, and intelligence. All were on display versus Golden State (enable captions):

The game has changed over years, as NBA players have gotten faster, stronger, smarter, and their ballhandling has improved. This all speaks to why Chris Paul might be the best thief the point guard position has ever seen.[132] While his all-around defense has been great for years, observing this newfound hyper-activity of his has been an absolute treat.

Footnotes    (Back returns to text)
  1. Might. Much respect for Nate McMillan and John Stockton.Back
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