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Friday, October 21, 2016

Should We Believe LaMarcus Aldridge or Should We Believe the Media?

It has been widely reported that LaMarcus Aldridge is unhappy with his role with the San Antonio Spurs and that he wants to be traded to a team for whom he can be the clear number one offensive option. During Aldridge's first season in San Antonio, the Spurs went 67-15 in 2015-16, tied with six other teams for the seventh best regular season record in NBA history.

Aldridge ranked second on the team in scoring (18.0 ppg) while averaging a team-high 8.5 rpg in 30.6 mpg; in the playoffs, Aldridge averaged 21.9 ppg and a team-high 8.3 rpg. Aldridge set a career-high in regular season field goal percentage (.513) and playoff field goal percentage (.521) but his regular season scoring average was his lowest since 2009-10. Perhaps most significantly, Aldridge advanced to the second round of the playoffs for just the second time in his 10 year career. If he stays in San Antonio, Aldridge will likely contend for the NBA title on an annual basis for the next several years.

Aldridge is a five-time All-Star and a four-time member of the All-NBA Team (once on the Second Team, three times on the Third Team). He is arguably the best power forward in the league, though he would never be an odds-on favorite to win the MVP in today's analytics driven/small-ball climate that has seen Steve Nash and Stephen Curry win two MVPs apiece while Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant combined to win two MVPs during their entire careers.

If it is true that Aldridge prefers putting up big scoring numbers for a non-contending team as opposed to playing a significant role on a championship contender, then he is just another Stephon Marbury, Gilbert Arenas, Carmelo Anthony and James Harden--or, to put it another way, he is the antithesis of Nate Archibald, Bob McAdoo, Mark Aguirre, Manu Ginobili and a few other All-Stars who voluntarily sacrificed personal glory to win NBA championships.

There is a proper protocol when elite players join forces (whether via trades or free agency) to win championships: the newcomer publicly states that this is still the established star's team, whether or not that is actually the case anymore, because what is most important is to put the "Whose team is this?" nonsense to rest before the media runs wild with it. When Moses Malone joined the Philadelphia 76ers prior to the 1982-83 season, Malone was the reigning MVP while Julius Erving had won the 1981 MVP and finished third in the 1982 MVP voting. Malone stated that the 76ers were Erving's team. Any potential problem was squashed before it could start; Malone won the 1983 regular season and playoff MVPs, while Erving joined Malone on the All-NBA First Team as the 76ers rolled to the championship. Both players voluntarily reduced their scoring and could not have cared less about their personal statistics or about whose team it was. Similarly, when LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat in 2010 he spoke of the Heat being Dwyane Wade's team--and the funny thing is that the media actually bought this even though James was clearly the best player on the team; James won regular season and Finals MVPs in both 2012 and 2013, while Wade progressively dropped from All-NBA First Team status (prior to James' arrival) to the All-NBA Second Team and then the All-NBA Third Team before eventually not being selected to the All-NBA Team at all. The point is that, as the old saying goes, it is amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.

Does it really matter if the Spurs are Kawhi Leonard's team or LaMarcus Aldridge's team? Isn't the most important goal to win a championship?

However, there is one rather significant problem with the headline-grabbing story of Aldridge's alleged selfishness: the story may be false.

Aldridge has publicly denied that he is unhappy in San Antonio or that the Spurs are unhappy with him. Media members who regularly cover the Spurs have indicated that the Aldridge rumors are false. If that is true, then what we have is not a story about a selfish athlete but rather yet another example of certain members of the national media either making stuff up or else trusting anonymous "sources" who are not trustworthy. Relying too heavily on an anonymous source is like playing Russian roulette and hoping that you don't blow your brains out: it might work but it also might end very badly.

During the years that I covered NBA games in person with a media credential, I saw firsthand the unsavory tactics employed by many members of the media. For instance, a media member might ask one player a leading question designed to elicit a particular quote and then five minutes later that media member would go up to another player and say, "Player X said ABC about you. What do you think of that?" The media member would not indicate that the first player was merely answering a question that the media member had asked. An even slimier version of this tactic is to paraphrase what the first player said in a way that takes the quote out of context and makes it sound like something different than what the first player really meant.

Then, there is also the problem that many of the people who cover the NBA do not have the requisite knowledge of the sport or its history to do the job properly. Early in my career as an NBA writer, I did a one on one interview with Paul Silas, who was then the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I asked him about Bob Dandridge, who Silas played against in two NBA Finals. Silas told me that Dandridge was a "talker." If I did not know the history of the sport or if I just wanted to create controversy, I could have left that quote as it stood or even paraphrased it so that it seemed like Silas was calling Dandridge a trash-talker--but I knew that Dandridge did not have that kind of demeanor, so I remarked to Silas that I am surprised that Dandridge was a "talker." Silas immediately clarified that he meant that Dandridge communicated well with his teammates: "He talked the game and understood it and imparted that (to his teammates). He was very, very smart about the game and how he fit within the scheme and how he wanted everybody else to fit." I did not generate any headlines or create any controversies but I provided my readers with some insight about one of the most underrated players from the 1970s. If I had not known about Dandridge before speaking to Silas--or if I had been more interested in sizzle than substance--then my article would have had a completely different tone.

Maybe the person who is spreading the Aldridge rumors has an ax to grind with Aldridge and/or the Spurs. There are any number of possible motives and I will not speculate about all of them.

All I will say is this: if Aldridge really wants to be the kind of player that Kenny Smith calls a "looter in a riot" (i.e., someone amassing big stats for a losing team) then I hope the Spurs grant his wish as quickly as possible and that Aldridge spends the rest of his career scoring 25 ppg without sniffing the playoffs--but if some members of the media are either just making this up or they are too lazy/incompetent to research the facts before publishing the story, then I hope there are some consequences for their reckless behavior (I don't expect such consequences, mind you, as there is a long and shameful tradition of discredited journalists perversely becoming celebrities and thus profiting from actions that should have made them pariahs).

The truth (almost) always comes out in the end and when we know for sure what that truth is regarding Aldridge I will have a lot more to say about this subject, but the most responsible course of action for now is to let this story unfold naturally.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:28 PM


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In Perpetuity: The Story of the Silna Brothers

When I took the Transactional Drafting class at University of Dayton School of Law in Spring 2015, one of my assignments was to write a brief paper and make a five minute presentation about a real-life transactional drafting issue. I chose to examine the "in perpetuity" clause of the agreement that the Silna brothers signed in exchange for relinquishing the opportunity for their Spirits of St. Louis franchise to participate in the 1976 ABA-NBA merger. Here is the paper as I wrote it, along with some expanded additional notes that I summarized during my oral presentation to the class:

We are going to enter a time machine and go back to before LeBron James, before Kobe Bryant, before Michael Jordan, before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird—and before the National Basketball Association enjoyed multi-billion dollar media rights deals.

From 1967-76, the American Basketball Association (the ABA) operated as a rival professional basketball league to the older, established National Basketball Association (the NBA). The ABA featured a red, white and blue basketball, the three point shot and, at the league’s final All-Star Game, a Slam Dunk contest.

The ABA also had a host of future Hall of Fame players with colorful nicknames, including Julius "Dr. J" Erving, George "Iceman" Gervin, Artis "A-Train" Gilmore and David "Skywalker" Thompson. What the ABA did not have was financial stability or a national television contract.

In 1976, the leagues entered talks to merge operations. The leagues needed to come to terms with each other and also resolve several lawsuits that had been filed against one or both leagues by various parties. As a result of the negotiations, it was decided that four ABA teams--the champion New York Nets and the runner-up Denver Nuggets plus the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs--would join the new league, while the remaining two ABA teams--the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis--would be bought out in a settlement.

The owner of the Kentucky Colonels, John Y. Brown, accepted a cash settlement worth a little more than $3 million.

The NBA had previously had a franchise in St. Louis and that team eventually moved to greener pastures in Atlanta, where they still exist today as the Hawks. The NBA did not see a viable future for a franchise in St. Louis but the owners of the Spirits of St. Louis, Dan and Ozzie Silna, rejected the cash settlement offer. They really wanted to own an NBA team but, failing that, they wanted to remain part of the league in some fashion, hoping to eventually buy a team or be awarded an expansion franchise.

The NBA and ABA owners could not proceed with their plans unless they settled with the Silnas, so the Silnas enjoyed some leverage. The Silnas and their lawyer Donald Schupak negotiated to receive a 1/7th share of each of the surviving ABA teams' visual media revenue in perpetuity.

The Silnas received about $2.2 million in compensation for their former players who were signed by NBA teams. Since the Silnas' deal was supposed to be comparable in value to the settlement that Kentucky Colonels' owner John Y. Brown received, that means that the four ABA team owners that signed the deal with the Silnas valued the visual media rights at about $1 million. That may seem absurdly low in light of the multi-billion dollar TV deals that the NBA has now but during that era the NBA sometimes could not even get the networks to agree to show the championship series live. Magic Johnson's great performance in game six of the 1980 NBA Finals was shown on tape delay.

For the four ABA owners whose teams would be joining the merged league, it seemed like a very meaningless and inconsequential concession to offer the Silnas a small percentage of "visual media" (television) revenues to make the Silnas go away. However, as we have learned in Contracts class and in this class, it is very important to negotiate a definite length of time for a contract. Surely the lawyers involved in the NBA-ABA merger negotiations--including David Stern, who just a few years later became the NBA's Commissioner--knew this as well but they thought that the most important thing was to bring the four ABA teams (and their star players, most notably Julius Erving) into the NBA. The Silna brothers and their colorfully named team just seemed to be a small sideshow. Why not just pay off the Silnas with a small piece of a small TV revenue pie and be done with them?

The exact wording of the key clause is, "The right to receive such revenues shall continue for as long as the NBA or its successors continues in its existence." In other words, the clause lasts "in perpetuity," the words that Ozzie Silna later had stitched on a custom-made Spirits of St. Louis retro cap. Schupak owned a 10% stake in the team and thus he has received 10% of the revenue from this deal.

The deal did not pay off immediately. As part of the NBA-ABA merger, the four former ABA teams did not receive any TV revenue for three years. So, from 1976 to 1978, the Silnas did not earn a dime from the NBA. According to published reports, however, in 1979 the Silnas received their first royalty check in the amount of $200,000. For the 1980-81 season, the Silnas earned $521,749.

By this time, the NBA realized that this deal was a lot better for the Silnas than it was for the league. In 1982, the NBA offered the Silna brothers $5 million spread over an eight year period to cancel the deal. The Silnas proposed that the league pay them $8 million over five years and the NBA refused. At that point, the Silnas had made about $1 million total from the deal. Then, the NBA's popularity exploded.

By the 1986-87 season, the annual payout topped $1 million. By the 1999-2000 season, it was more than $10 million. For the 2010-11 season, the Silnas made $17.5 million. That number increased to over $19 million in 2012-13. Overall, the Silnas received more than $300 million as a result of those little words "in perpetuity."

The Silnas had no overhead costs--no arena to maintain, no player salaries to pay--but every time the TV deals grew larger their profits increased.

That is not all. During the original negotiations, Donald Schupak inserted an intentionally broad definition of visual media revenues, a clause that could make the contract applicable to distribution channels unimaginable in 1976. "I was blunt during these discussions," Schupak explained in 2012. "Rather than narrow the definition of TV revenues, I insisted instead that we add a new sentence [to] emphasize that this was a broad definition that could not be evaded or made obsolete."

Since the contractual language covers all "visual media" revenues, in 2009 the Silnas took the NBA to court over money earned from sources beyond the scope of basic U.S. broadcast TV revenue, including international broadcasts, internet rights and the NBA TV cable network. As a result of that suit, early in 2014 the Silna brothers and the NBA reached a confidential settlement agreement. Reportedly, the Silnas received a $500 million payment from the league in exchange for ending the perpetual payments. The Silnas also will receive additional compensation for various revenue streams not imagined in 1976. The Silnas formed a new partnership with the four former ABA teams. That partnership will supply the Silnas with some TV revenue payments as well, though a buyout clause enables the NBA to end that partnership at any time.

It is not clear why the Silnas agreed to this settlement but the Silnas reportedly lost some money during the Madoff scandal and that could have factored into their decision.

The best practices that we can learn from the Silna brothers' story are (1) Do not agree to a contract that lasts "in perpetuity." The mistake in granting the Silna brothers a share of visual media rights was compounded by the fact that the contract lasted "in perpetuity." (2) Do not rush to make a deal. The four ABA teams that were joining the NBA were so anxious to get things over with that they let the Silnas dictate terms. (3) Clearly specify/define which rights you are signing over and which rights you are keeping and never give away future rights to something that has an unknown value. In this case, the term "visual media" can be interpreted very broadly.


1) You may wonder why the Silnas asked for 1/7th of each of the surviving ABA teams' shares. In December 1975, the ABA owners figured a merger was coming soon and thought that six ABA teams would be allowed and one would be left out. The ABA owners held a meeting and Ozzie Silna wanted to be equitable to the owner who would be excluded from the merger. "The seventh team, I said, should be fully compensated for its players, and they also should receive a share of television money in perpetuity," said Silna. "Everybody was in favor of it, and it was written into the league bylaws at the time. I, of course, had no intention of being that seventh team. I told the owners, 'We're all in this together.' I thought that seventh team deserved the same benefit as the other six. That's how we came up with the one-seventh" figure. However, just a few months later, when the negotiations began, the seventh team had folded and it had also become clear that the Spirits of St. Louis would not be joining the NBA. The Silnas and Schupak applied the parameters they'd set up for the seventh team to themselves. "You try to live by the Golden Rule," Ozzie Silna said. "Some people say it's the best deal ever done. I just looked at it as a way of being fair."

2) Thanks to another bit of foresight by the Silnas and Schupak, they actually received more than 1/7 of each of the former ABA teams' shares of the NBA's TV contract starting in 1995 when the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies joined the league. The Silnas and Schupak anticipated that expansion would threaten to dilute their revenue and so they capped the split of their share at 28 teams. So the Silnas' share is based on a split among a maximum of 28 teams, not however many teams are actually in the league (which has increased from 22 to 30 since 1976).

3) John Y. Brown later bought the Buffalo Braves (the team now known as the L.A. Clippers) and then swapped teams with the owner of the Boston Celtics. After a brief, unsuccessful run as the Celtics' owner, Brown sold the team and went into politics and was elected as Kentucky's governor.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:15 PM


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Thursday, October 06, 2016

2016-17 Western Conference Preview

No reason to bury the lede: the big story in the Western Conference--and the NBA overall--is that the record-setting 73-9 Golden State Warriors signed 2014 regular season MVP and four-time scoring champion (2010-12, 14) Kevin Durant away from the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that literally came within five minutes of eliminating the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. Durant will team up with back to back regular season MVP Stephen Curry, All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green plus 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala to form one of the most deadly and versatile perimeter arsenals in pro basketball history. The Warriors are the first team in NBA history to have two MVPs on the roster who are both 28 years old or younger and just the fifth team to have the three most recent MVPs on the roster, joining the 1987 Celtics (Larry Bird, 1984-86), the 1984 76ers (Moses Malone, 1982-83; Julius Erving, 1981), the 1969 Lakers (Wilt Chamberlain, who won the 1966-68 MVPs as a member of the 76ers) and the 1964 Celtics (Bill Russell, 1961-63). The 1987 Celtics lost in the Finals, the 1984 76ers lost in the first round, the 1969 Lakers lost in the Finals and the 1964 Celtics won the championship.

The Warriors have tremendous offensive firepower and will still be very strong defensively on the perimeter--but they lack rim protection after the departures of centers Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli.

I expect this Golden State super team to win at least one championship. They should be considered the favorite this year but a championship is no sure thing because the Cleveland Cavaliers can attack the Warriors in the paint exactly the way that they attacked the Warriors in the last three games of the 2016 Finals. It is also possible that due to chemistry issues or injuries or matchups (as indicated above) the Warriors never win a title with this group. The Chamberlain-West-Baylor trio never won a championship (though Chamberlain and West won a title together after Baylor retired) and the Shaq-Kobe-Malone-Payton Lakers did not win a championship in their one year together. Of course, the difference between the Warriors and those teams is that the Warriors' key players are all young, while Baylor, Malone and Payton were near the end of the line.

Durant is considered a "villain" in some quarters and he will likely be booed in many arenas this season. He did not bungle his departure the way that LeBron James mishandled the "Decision" but Durant did not exactly cover himself with glory, either. Durant has every right as a free agent to sign with the team of his choice. It is foolish to burn his jersey or act like he has committed a crime against humanity--but just like he has a right to make his choice, fans and commentators have a right to be disappointed by that choice and to explain why it would have been nice if Durant had stayed with Oklahoma City and developed a rivalry with Golden State instead of joining forces with the enemy.

In the wake of Durant's departure, Russell Westbrook will likely cut a one man swath of basketball destruction the likes of which we have not seen since Kobe Bryant circa 2006 after the Lakers parted ways with Shaquille O'Neal. Westbrook has the Bryant mentality but he is smaller than Bryant and it is reasonable to wonder if his body will break down under the weight of trying to carry the Thunder in Durant's absence. Westbrook did not miss a single game during his first five NBA seasons before missing a total of 51 games in the next two seasons. Last season he bounced back to only miss two games. Overall, Westbrook has been a very durable player, particularly considering his aggressive style of play, but it remains to be seen if the leg injuries he suffered a couple years ago will leave him susceptible to further problems.

If Westbrook is healthy, a 30 ppg-10 apg-8 rpg stat line is not out of the question. Westbrook could conceivably lead the NBA in scoring or assists or perhaps he could even become the only player other than Nate Archibald to lead the league in both categories during the same season.

However, one thing that even Westbrook cannot do is elevate the Thunder as currently constructed to contender status. The Western Conference team best suited to potentially challenge the Warriors is the San Antonio Spurs.

This preview has the same format as my Eastern Conference Preview; the following eight teams are ranked based on their likelihood of making it to the NBA Finals:

1) Golden State Warriors: The Warriors are the most logical pick to finish with the best record in the NBA and to win the NBA championship. They have the most talented starting five, they have a system of play that has already resulted in two Finals appearances/one championship and they have proven that they can be a high scoring team without sacrificing their commitment to play good defense. The arguments for the Warriors are obvious and hardly need to be explained in much depth.

So, let's look at the counterarguments:

1) The Warriors sacrificed depth in order to sign Durant and that could cost them if they suffer injuries/suspensions/foul trouble

The Warriors lost starters Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, plus reserves Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush and Festus Ezeli. That is almost half of their team. Zaza Paculia will likely replace Bogut as the starting center and David West can be a solid backup power forward but the Warriors have drastically altered a second unit that enabled them to build leads and limit their starters' minutes (no Warrior averaged more than 35 mpg last season). It is true that teams typically shorten their rotations during the playoffs but this is still a major overhaul for a group that enjoyed so much success the past two years. If one of the Warriors' stars gets hurt or suspended or is in foul trouble, suddenly the Warriors do not look invincible.

2) The Warriors have little to no rim protection without Bogut and Ezeli

The Warriors ranked second in the NBA in shotblocking last season but 164 of their 498 blocked shots were provided by Bogut and Ezeli. The 6-7 Green blocked 113 shots. Durant blocked 85 shots for the Thunder. Pachulia is listed at 6-11 but he blocked just 22 shots in 76 games for Dallas last year, less than Klay Thompson amassed as the Warriors' starting shooting guard (49). Less rim protection means that the Warriors will give up more points in the paint and, most likely, commit more fouls.

Let's not get carried away; no matter how you slice it, if the Warriors enjoy even reasonable health then they are a mortal lock to win at least 60 regular season games: they have too much talent and they are too well coached to do anything less than that. However, the only meaningful goal for this team is to win a championship and it is on that basis that the success or failure of this season will be determined.

2) San Antonio Spurs: This is about the 10th year in a row that the Spurs' championship window supposedly has closed, yet the Spurs keep winning at least 50 games a year and in most years they make a deep playoff run. Tim Duncan retired and veteran big men David West and Boris Diaw are no longer with the team. The Spurs added Pau Gasol (an All-Star each of the past two seasons) and David Lee, a former All-Star. Gasol cannot replace Duncan's defensive presence or the intangibles of his leadership but Gasol was the second best player on two Lakers championship teams, so he knows how to perform his role effectively in a winning program.

Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge will be the focal points of San Antonio's offensive attack. Gasol is a better rebounder now than Duncan was last year but Gasol is not as stout of a presence defensively.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are mere shadows of the players that they used to be but they can still be productive in limited minutes in the Spurs' system.

The Spurs will not match last year's win total of 67 but 60 wins is certainly within reach, as is a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

3) L.A. Clippers: This will likely be the last season for the Clippers as we know them. Chris Paul has never led the Clippers past the second round of the playoffs and that will be the case again in 2016-17, after which Blake Griffin will either leave as a free agent and/or the front office will make wholesale changes in recognition of the reality that this team as presently constructed will never win a title.

The Clippers have the NBA's fourth highest payroll, including three players making over $20 million this season (Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan). At various times, Paul has been called the best point guard in the NBA, the best leader in the sport and a perennial MVP candidate. At one time he was the best point guard in the NBA but he is overrated as a leader and his name has been mentioned more often in MVP conversations than it should be. Paul is a 6-0 point guard who monopolizes the ball, who wears down physically as the season/postseason progresses and whose teams consistently fail to meet reasonable expectations. I respect Paul's grit and toughness but I have also been saying for a decade that he will never be the best player on a championship team. Now, at this stage of his career it looks like he cannot even be the second best player on a championship team.

Griffin is clearly the Clippers' best player but injuries and a questionable attitude have stagnated his growth. This is a big year for him establish himself as an elite player, which he was on the fringes of doing a couple of years ago before he regressed.

4) Utah Jazz: Utah barely missed the playoffs last season and also suffered the indignity of being on the wrong end of Kobe Bryant's 60 point coda but their young nucleus of players--supplemented by veteran additions Joe Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw--is poised to make a jump in the Western Conference standings. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are each entering their prime years. Hayward can slash, shoot and handle the ball, Favors scores, rebounds and blocks shots and Gobert nearly averaged a double double (9.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg).

5) Portland Trail Blazers: Portland was the mystery guest in last year's Western Conference playoffs. Few people expected the Trail Blazers to qualify for the postseason but when they got in they made the most of the opportunity, defeating an injury-riddled Clippers team before falling to the powerful Warriors. In the offseason, Portland added Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli to the mix. That is not enough to transform the Trail Blazers into an elite team but it is sufficient to enable them to hold their ground as a top five team in the Western Conference.

6) Minnesota Timberwolves: Minnesota has a ton of young talent, headlined by 2016 Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, who averaged 18.3 ppg and 10.5 rpg while shooting .541 from the field. The Timberwolves also have a defensive-minded coach in Tom Thibodeau. The Timberwolves may have to take their lumps for a year or two in the playoffs but they will be handing out some postseason lumps pretty soon.

7) Oklahoma City Thunder: An MVP caliber player is generally worth 15-20 wins. One would expect that after losing Kevin Durant the Thunder would drop from 55 wins to 35-40--but there have been exceptions to the 15-20 win rule/guideline. One happened in 1993-94, when Michael Jordan retired right before the season began and the Bulls merely dropped from 57 wins to 55 (though they did lose in the second round of the playoffs after winning the championship in 1993). The Bulls held their ground, at least in the regular season, because they had a second MVP caliber player (Scottie Pippen) and he was able to expand his individual game in Jordan's absence.

The Thunder are in a similar position. Russell Westbrook can score, pass, rebound and defend. He is tenacious and relentless. Westbrook plays every game like it is his last and that energy is infectious. The Thunder do not have enough talent top to bottom to contend for a championship right now but with Westbrook leading the charge they should still be able to qualify for the playoffs. The main concern is that if Westbrook gets injured and misses too many games then the Thunder could post a sub-.500 record while he is out of the lineup.

8) Houston Rockets: Everything broke perfectly for the Rockets in 2015 and they made it to the Western Conference Finals. That was an aberration and it will not happen again as long as James Harden is the team's focal point. Harden has been with the Rockets for four seasons and they have lost in the first round of the playoffs three times. During those four playoff appearances, Harden's field goal percentages were .391, .376, .439 and .410. He also averaged at least 4.5 turnovers per game in three of those four postseasons.

During ESPN's October 4, 2016 telecast of Houston's 130-103 preseason win over New York, Jeff Van Gundy expressed puzzlement that James Harden did not make the All-NBA Team last season. Van Gundy asserted that Harden is a top 10 player and that complaints about Harden's defensive shortcomings are overblown, adding that one could splice together video clips of bad defensive plays by any of the league's top offensive threats. Van Gundy noted that last season Harden racked up the most turnovers (374, an average of 4.6 per game) since the NBA began tracking that statistic in 1977-78 but Van Gundy stated that this is acceptable from a superstar who contributes as much scoring and playmaking as Harden does; what is important, Van Gundy concluded, is for the role players who rarely handle the ball to not make turnovers, so that the team turnover total is low.

With all due respect to Van Gundy--whose analysis is usually on target--I completely disagree with most of his comments about Harden. The All-NBA guards last season were Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson and Kyle Lowry. I would be interested to know who Van Gundy would remove from that list in order to add Harden. I would not only rate those six guards ahead of Harden but I would also put Kyrie Irving ahead of him as well. This is not about numbers but about the ability to have a positive impact on a winning program.

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant set the bar very high in terms of shooting guards who scored 30 ppg while also playing outstanding defense. No one expects Harden to reach that level but the excuses that are made on his behalf are ridiculous; scoring 25-29 ppg does not completely relieve Harden of the responsibility to exert any effort/attention on the defensive end of the court.

As for the turnover issue, Van Gundy's larger point is correct. Some of the greatest players of all-time--including Magic Johnson--had high turnover totals that can be forgiven because of the extent of their overall contributions to the offense. Van Gundy is right that what matters is not just the turnover total of the best player but also the team's turnover total. However, Van Gundy neglected to point out that the Rockets ranked 27th in turnovers last season with Harden running the offense! Harden was not absorbing turnovers for the benefit of the team but he was just part and parcel of an offensive attack that was sloppy and careless.

With Mike D'Antoni running the show, Harden may very well post career-high numbers across the board. Harden may even fool the media into voting him onto the All-NBA Team. What Harden won't do is advance past the first round of the playoffs. I said it when Harden chose to go to Houston and I will say it again: Harden gave up the chance to be the third best player on a championship team so that he could chase money and personal glory; that is his right and he has accomplished his goals but the end result of his tenure in Houston will be a bunch of first round exits wrapped around one fluky trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Regarding the rest of the Western Conference, Kobe Bryant supposedly held back the growth of the Lakers' young players last season. Well, as the saying goes, they won't have Bryant to kick around (blame) this season, so it will be very interesting to see how the Lakers perform. My prediction: not very well at all.

Under Earl Watson's direction during the second half of the 2016 season, the Phoenix Suns made significant improvements on the glass and defensively but even if they add 20 wins to their 2016 total they still would not make the playoffs in the competitive West.

Mark Cuban is betting $94 million that Harrison Barnes can become a superstar. Although his game is different, Barnes reminds me of guys like Billy Owens and Derrick McKey: you look at their bodies and their skill sets and think that they can/should be superstars but they just don't have that mentality. Maybe I am wrong and maybe Barnes will average 20-plus ppg while leading Dallas to the playoffs but I suspect that Barnes is going to score 25 points one night and six points the next, finishing the season as a 15 ppg third option. 

DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, "Lord give me strength" after watching the Kings' puzzling draft day decisions. Nothing more needs to be said.

Anthony Davis is a great player but he has yet to play 70 games in a season and he does not have much help around him, so the New Orleans Pelicans will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

The Denver Nuggets have a lot of young talent but are not good enough defensively to qualify for the playoffs.

The Memphis Grizzlies finally added some outside shooting by signing Chandler Parsons but Zach Randolph is aging and Marc Gasol is a question mark after suffering a foot injury last season.



I correctly picked six of the eight 2016 Western Conference playoff teams. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2015: 7/8
2014: 6/8
2013: 6/8
2012: 7/8
2011: 5/8
2010: 7/8
2009: 7/8
2008: 7/8
2007: 6/8
2006: 6/8

2006-2016 Total: 70/88 (.795)

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:15 PM


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2016-17 Eastern Conference Preview

Watching LeBron James fail to take the Cleveland Cavaliers to the promised land before departing for Miami and winning two titles with the Heat, it was fair to wonder if an all-time great like LeBron James cannot lead the Cavaliers to an NBA championship then maybe the city really is cursed, at least in terms of never winning another professional sports title.

James' return to Cleveland inspired hope that perhaps he would finally lead the Cavaliers to a title but after losing to the Golden State Warriors in six games in the 2015 NBA Finals and then falling behind 3-1 to the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, it seemed like James was authoring yet another chapter in the epic book of Cleveland's sports misery. Instead, James elevated his game and--with more than a little help from Kyrie Irving--lifted the Cavaliers to an improbable comeback and the city's first professional sports championship since Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns won the 1964 NFL title in the pre-Super Bowl era.

Now, James is trying to lead the Cavaliers to back to back championships. No Cleveland professional sports franchise has won consecutive titles since the Browns in 1954-55. James has personally made it to the NBA Finals for six straight years--the first four with Miami and the last two with Cleveland--while winning three championships, including back to back titles with the Heat in 2012-13. He has not had a worthy rival in the East since the decline and fall of the Garnett-Pierce-Allen-Rondo Boston Celtics, the last team to defeat James in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Toronto Raptors went 56-26 to finish just one game behind the Cavaliers for first place in the Eastern Conference in the 2015-16 regular season but the Cavaliers raced to a 2-0 lead versus the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Toronto briefly made it a series by taking the next two games at home but then the Cavaliers won by 38 and 26 to advance to the NBA Finals. Behind Toronto was a logjam of eight teams that finished with between 41 and 48 wins, including four teams that won 48 games each. Although both Indiana (45-37) and Miami (48-34) pushed Toronto to seven games, none of those eight teams had a realistic chance to win more than two games against Cleveland in a seven game series.

This season does not figure to be much different in terms of any Eastern Conference team threatening to supplant James' Cavaliers. The Cavaliers, barring injury to James or Irving, will be the best team come playoff time, even if they do not finish with the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors will pose the most serious threat to Cleveland's supremacy. Of the four East teams that each won 48 games last year, two have clearly regressed (Charlotte and Miami), one remains a solid playoff team but no more than that (Atlanta) and one is likely to break the 50 win plateau (Boston).

The new-look Boston Celtics--sporting a young nucleus of players plus the addition of free agent All-Star big man Al Horford--are a rising team that could at least challenge the Cavaliers and Raptors for the best record in the East but it is difficult to picture Boston prevailing over Cleveland in a seven game series.

Barring injury, I feel confident that those will be the top three teams in the East. After that, I expect that there will once again be several teams bunched together in the 40-48 win range; a sprained ankle suffered by a key player on one of those teams could be the difference between finishing with the fourth seed and missing the playoffs.

Listed below are the eight teams that I expect to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs, ranked based on their likelihood of advancing to the NBA Finals:

1) Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavaliers started out 30-11 with David Blatt at the helm before General Manager David Griffin determined that Blatt was not the right man to lead Cleveland to the championship. Griffin replaced Blatt with lead assistant Tyronn Lue, who was almost immediately given a three year contract, thereby sending a strong message that he is not a lame duck coach. The Cavaliers went 27-14 down the stretch to finish 57-25, a four game improvement over the 2014-15 season. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks dropped from 60 wins to 48, so Cleveland ascended to the top seed in the conference by one game over Toronto.

Lue wanted the Cavaliers to play at a faster pace, which necessitated changes in the rotation as well as in the team's practice sessions and training methods. Some of the benefits of these changes were not immediately apparent during the regular season but bore fruit during the playoffs. It was also evident that James respects Lue in a way that he did not respect Blatt; therefore, James submitted to Lue's authority and it is only natural that when the best player supports the coach then the other players will fall in line as well. Lue held James accountable for his words and actions in a way that Blatt was either unwilling to do or unable to do because James would not listen to him.

The Cavaliers went 12-2 in the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2015 and in 2016 but the Lue effect showed up most in the NBA Finals. In 2015, the Cavaliers took a 2-1 series lead but then Golden State Coach Steve Kerr went to a small lineup and Blatt blundered by also going small as opposed to continuing to pound the Warriors in the paint. In 2016, the Warriors took a 3-1 series lead but the Cavaliers remained poised and in the final three games of the series James did what he needed to do: attack the paint relentlessly instead of settling for jumpers or passing the ball without first attacking. James seems to need to be constantly reminded to be an attacking player against elite teams and it also seems that he only will accept such reminders from people he respects (Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley, Tyronn Lue, to cite three examples).

I concluded my Cavaliers preview last season by asking "Would you bet your life that any Eastern Conference team can beat the Cavs four times in a seven game series if James is physically healthy and mentally engaged?" The correct answer in the 2016 playoffs was "No" and I believe that the same answer will be true in the 2017 playoffs.

2) Toronto Raptors: The Raptors tend to fly under the radar. Perhaps that is because they do not have a bona fide superstar or because they play their home games outside of the United States or because they had only advanced past the first round of the playoffs once in franchise history before making it to the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors should not escape anyone's attention this season, because they are the Eastern Conference team with the best chance to beat the Cavaliers in a playoff series.

The Raptors will miss Bismack Biyombo's defense, rebounding and energy but if Jonas Valanciunus stays healthy then they will be fine in the paint. General Manager Masai Ujiri has proven to be one of the top talent evaluators and franchise builders in the NBA but the tough task that he faces is to either (1) find a player who can make LeBron James have to work to score and/or have to exert a lot of energy defensively or (2) build a team that is so talented or deep that it can wear down James and the Cavaliers over the course of a long playoff series. The Raptors have made great strides under Ujiri's leadership but unless James declines dramatically (or gets hurt) they just do not have quite enough to beat Cleveland four times in seven games.

If the Raptors are very focused on obtaining the top seed while the Cavaliers decide to strategically rest players, it is possible that Toronto will finish with the best regular season record in the East.

3) Boston Celtics: My default tendency is to not highly value young players or young coaches/coaches who come to the NBA straight from the collegiate ranks; in the NBA you generally need experience in order to win big. That default tendency is why I did not pick the Celtics to make the playoffs in 2015 (they finished 40-42 but captured the seventh seed in the weak East) and why I picked the Celtics to finish eighth in 2016 (they finished in a four way tie for 3rd-6th with a 48-34 record and received the fifth seed based on tiebreaks).

This season, my expectations for Boston are higher and hopefully have caught up with the pace of the team's development. Coach Brad Stevens is entering his fourth year at the helm and he has proven to be an excellent NBA coach. The young nucleus of players has matured nicely and has now been joined by Al Horford, a four-time All Star with the Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics were a well balanced team even before adding Horford, who is an excellent all-around player; last season they ranked fifth in scoring (105.7 ppg), sixth in rebounding (44.9 rpg) and seventh in defensive field goal percentage (.441). Their main weakness last season was shooting: they ranked 24th in overall field goal percentage (.439) and 28th in three point field goal percentage (.335). The Celtics did not do anything to address that weakness.

The Celtics will likely win more than 50 games this season and if everything breaks right they could even have the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference--but I am not convinced that they have enough experience and enough shooting to beat the Cavaliers in a seven game playoff series. The formula to beat a LeBron James-led team is (1) have a strong/athletic wing player who is willing and able to hound James defensively, (2) pack the paint with big guys to discourage James from driving, (3) concede long two-point jumpers to James (and hope that he settles for those shots) and (4) utilize an offensive system that spreads the court with quick passes/deft outside shooting, thus minimizing James' ability to impact the game defensively as a roving help defender.

The Celtics look like a team that is going to have a wonderful regular season and be touted as a threat to the Cavaliers only to get defeated decisively if they actually face Cleveland in the playoffs.

4) Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have been on the rise since they replaced the Rodney Stuckey-obsessed Joe Dumars with Stan Van Gundy; few people can capably handle the dual role of executive/coach but Van Gundy has done an excellent job of rebuilding the roster and of developing players after he acquires them. Dumars deserves credit for putting together Detroit's 2004 championship team and for cultivating the sustained excellence that resulted in six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals (2003-08) but the end of his tenure was disastrous: five straight seasons of 30 wins or less.

The Pistons went 32-50 in Van Gundy's first season with the team and then jumped to 44-38 last year, returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09 and posting their best record since 2007-08. They could reach the 50 win mark this season and they will have at least a puncher's chance in the playoffs against any Eastern Conference team other than the Cavaliers.

5) Atlanta Hawks: Is Dwight Howard a declining and/or disinterested player or will his game be revived now that he does not have to deal with James Harden's ball dominant play on offense and Shaqtin' A Fool caliber defense? I don't expect Howard to ever be an MVP caliber player again but it was his forceful play in the paint at both ends of the court that powered Houston's run to the 2015 Western Conference Finals, regardless of what Harden's media supporters say. Howard can be an effective offensive player on screen/roll actions and with occasional post up opportunities and he is still a strong presence as a rebounder and defender. The Hawks will not win 60 games like they did two seasons ago, nor will they seriously threaten the Cavaliers in the playoffs, but they are a solid squad that should have no problem making their 10th straight postseason appearance.

6) Washington Wizards: New Coach Scott Brooks has a proven track record of developing young players--including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden--and that is his primary task here: develop a roster that is filled with talented young players who have yet to reach their individual or collective potential. I am not expecting miracles but the Wizards only missed the playoffs by three games last season and I believe that Brooks' coaching will be worth at least four or five wins over the course of 82 games.

7) Orlando Magic: Frank Vogel led the Indiana Pacers to the playoffs five times in six years, including back to back trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. It did not take long for the Magic to hire him after the Pacers made the puzzling decision to let him go. Vogel will instill a defensive mindset and that will be enough to lift the Magic to the 43-45 win range. The Magic beefed up their soft interior defense by adding Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, two athletic big men who will anchor the back line of Vogel's defense.

8) Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets did not have a great offseason and many pundits expect them to drop from the postseason picture but this is a well-coached, defensive-minded squad and I think that those qualities will enable the Hornets to win just enough games to grab the final playoff sport.

As for the rest of the East, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets will remain the two worst teams. It will take a long time for the 76ers to undo the damage done by Sam Hinkie's foolish tanking. Under Hinkie's misguided direction, the 76ers spent years losing on purpose to gain the right to draft players who cannot stay healthy long enough to prove whether or not they will become significant contributors. The only thing that losing breeds is more losing. I expect that Bryan Colangelo will turn the 76ers around eventually but he has a tough task ahead of him because, as Colangelo put it, Hinkie bred "a culture of losing" and that does not change overnight.

The Nets are not trying to tank but they are just run really, really poorly. After purchasing the team in 2010, Mikhail Prokorov talked big about how he was going to turn the Nets into a championship team within five years but he has found out that the business "techniques" that enabled him to build a fortune as a Russian oligarch do not lead to success in the NBA.

The Khris Middleton injury will be too much for Milwaukee, a non-playoff team last season, to overcome.

The Knicks have a good team on paper--but for five years ago, not now; even if veterans Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah combine with second year budding star Kristaps Porzingis to increase New York's win total by 10 (which is far from certain) the Knicks will still likely miss the playoffs in an Eastern Conference that is steadily becoming stronger and deeper.

The Indiana Pacers replaced Vogel with Nate McMillan, who is a solid coach but not necessarily an upgrade; the Pacers' plan is apparently to play fast, shoot a lot of three pointers and hope that the opposition does not notice that the Pacers are too small to protect the paint. They barely qualified for the playoffs last season with 45 wins and I think that they will decline a bit this year, though perhaps Myles Turner will make a big jump after an impressive rookie season and carry this team to one of the final playoff spots.

The Miami Heat lost Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and Luol Deng while adding no one of consequence. Even if Hassan Whiteside lives up to his new, big contract that will not be nearly enough to get this team into the playoffs.

Like the Knicks, the Chicago Bulls have talent on paper but that talent is either old or mismatched; if everything meshes just right and Dwyane Wade drinks from the Fountain of Youth this is the team that I have picked to miss the playoffs that I think has the best chance of proving me wrong by winning 45 games instead of 35--but I feel comfortable predicting 35 wins (or less).

It would not shock me if Chicago, Indiana and New York beat out the teams that I have picked for 6th-8th and I fully expect teams 6-11 to be closely bunched together but as things stand now I have more questions than answers regarding the Bulls, Pacers and Knicks.


I correctly picked five of the eight 2015-16 Eastern Conference playoff teams. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2015: 5/8
2014: 6/8
2013: 7/8
2012: 8/8
2011: 5/8
2010: 6/8
2009: 6/8
2008: 5/8
2007: 7/8
2006: 6/8

2006-2016 Total: 66/88 (.750)

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:41 AM


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Friday, September 30, 2016

Fred Kerber's 12 Man All-Time NBA Team

Veteran New York Post basketball writer Fred Kerber selected his 12 man All-Time Pro Basketball Team in his February 11, 2015 column. Kerber fully recognized the difficulty of this task, noting, "Picking a 12-man, all-time All-Star team is about as easy as picking the best color, the greatest movie, the finest ice-cream flavor." Kerber quoted Basketball Hall of Famer Willis Reed: "It's all in who's doing the looking. Older guys are partial to the older players, younger guys go with more recent players. Pick a team and you can probably come up with a second team that could beat the first any given night."

Several years ago, I selected a Pro Basketball Pantheon comprising 10 retired players (in chronological order, those players are Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan) plus four (then) active players who I projected to be Pantheon-worthy (Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James). I did not rank the players within my Pantheon, nor did I fix the size of the Pantheon at 10 or 12 or 14; I simply considered those 10 retired players, plus the four top contemporary players, to be in a group above the next category of players. That next group would include (but not be limited to), in chronological order, Bob Pettit, Rick Barry, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, Hakeem Olajuwon and Scottie Pippen--all-time greats but players who did not have quite the peak value, dominance, versatility and/or longevity of the Pantheon members. Of course, as Reed noted, intelligent observers could easily come to different conclusions/rankings.

Kerber divided his 12 players into two groups. His starting five is Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird and Bill Russell. Kerber's seven reserves are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Julius Erving. Kerber tapped Red Auerbach as the coach. He did not formally select an honorable mention group but he did single out Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, John Havlicek and John Stockton as an extraordinary quintet that, in his estimation, just could not make the cut versus the 12 players listed above.

Kerber pointed out that his starting five won a combined 30 NBA titles, led by Russell's 11 and followed by Jordan's six, Johnson's five, Duncan's five and Bird's three. He also wrote a paragraph about each of his 12 players, plus Coach Auerbach. I will quote briefly from each of those capsule summaries and then add some of my own comments:

Jordan: Kerber stated that this might change "in 100 years" but for now "Jordan universally is acknowledged as the greatest ever."

I would not say that Jordan is "universally" considered to be the greatest basketball player ever, because Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain certainly have their supporters as well. A good case could be made for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but he alienated so many members of the media that seemingly no one wants to publicly make that case. Still, it would be more precise to say that Jordan is "widely" considered to be the greatest basketball player ever. I think that it is indisputable that Jordan is the greatest basketball player of the post-ESPN era and the player who many, if not most, of today's superstars admire the most. Jordan is also the only player from the past 40 years who can honestly say that he was the best player on six NBA championship teams--and the fact that Jordan went 6-0 in those Finals while winning six Finals MVPs creates a mystique that will be almost impossible for any player who follows Jordan to overcome.

Johnson: "A five-time NBA champ, three-time Finals MVP, Olympic gold medalist, 12-time All-Star, Johnson forged a rivalry with Larry Bird dating to the NCAA Final that became legendary--and the basis of a Broadway play."

The media elevated Bird over Johnson for most of the 1980s--tapping Bird as the 1980 Rookie of the Year (Johnson had to "settle" for the 1980 Finals MVP) and as the 1984-86 regular season MVP--before Johnson won regular season MVPs in 1987 and 1989-90. During the late 1980s, some pundits were starting to proclaim Johnson to be the greatest basketball player ever. Even Bird joined that chorus, shaking his head in disbelief after Johnson's "junior, junior skyhook" sunk Bird's Celtics in the 1987 Finals; Bird called Johnson "The best I've ever seen." However, Jordan defeated Johnson in the 1991 Finals--with a lot of help from Pippen--and Johnson's HIV positive status forced him to retire, preventing a possible Finals rematch in 1992.

I think that Johnson, more than any player in pro basketball history, could be teamed up with any four decent players and turn that quintet into a very competitive team. That does not necessarily mean that Johnson was the greatest player ever--he was not as good defensively as Jordan or Russell or several other Pantheon members--but it puts him in a special, hard to define category. Young fans may believe that LeBron James has that quality but what I see from James is a mixed bag: he has won three championships but he has also left several championships on the table because of inexplicably passive play. Johnson never left any championships on the table; he lost to all-time great players/teams in their primes (the Malone/Erving Sixers, Bird's Celtics, the Bad Boys Pistons, the Jordan/Pippen Bulls). There is no footage of the 1980s equivalent of Jason Terry outdueling Johnson in the fourth quarter of key NBA Finals games.

Back to the point about Johnson's incredible versatility as a teammate. Russell needed a point guard and someone to be a scoring threat. Jordan needed Pippen (and never advanced past the first round of the playoffs without him). You can go down the line and most of the great players needed a certain kind of accompanying star and/or supporting cast to maximize their greatness--but Johnson legitimately could play all five positions and he exuded a team-first ethos that smoothed over any potential ego conflicts (Abdul-Jabbar was hardly a barrel of laughs to play with for most of his career and it was amazing to see the joy that radiated from him after he had played with Johnson for a little while). Johnson won a championship while paired with point guard Norm Nixon in the backcourt and then he won championships paired with shooting guard Byron Scott. Johnson won championships with Abdul-Jabbar as the main post up scoring threat and then he won championships as a post up scoring threat when Abdul-Jabbar had to accept a lesser role due to his age/declining skills. Johnson made it to the Finals with an aging James Worthy, a young Vlade Divac, journeyman Sam Perkins and not much else in 1991--and it took the combined efforts of Jordan/Pippen in their primes to prevent Johnson from winning a sixth title.

I think that the sudden, shocking end to Johnson's career combined with Jordan's immediate meteoric rise has actually resulted in Johnson being somewhat underrated by today's commentators.

Duncan: "(His) brilliant consistency and superb skill set, especially for a big man, has led to five titles, three Finals MVP honors and two regular season MVP awards."

Although his playing style is different from Abdul-Jabbar's, Duncan is similar in that (1) he is underrated and (2) a main reason that he is underrated is that he never sought out media approval. Abdul-Jabbar was actively hostile to the media for much of his career, while Duncan was indifferent as opposed to hostile, but the result has been the same. Abdul-Jabbar won more championships than anyone from the end of the Russell era until the emergence of Jordan but his name often gets pushed aside in the greatest player of all-time conversation. Duncan is not as great as Abdul-Jabbar but he is similarly underrated. In the post-Jordan era, Duncan has five rings and Kobe Bryant has five rings. It is true that neither player was the best player on all five of those championship teams but both players were vital contributors to all five of their respective championship teams and both players were the best player on multiple occasions.

It will be interesting to watch the Spurs this season. On paper, Duncan's replacement Pau Gasol is a better player now than Duncan was last season (though Gasol is also past his prime) but I suspect that Duncan had an impact (particularly on defense and as a leader) that is not captured statistically--but will be evident in the won/loss column.

Bird: "He did it with scoring, passing, rebounding and an ability to bring out his best in the clutch." The statistics may not bear this out but there has never been a player I rooted against who I feared more in the clutch than Bird in his prime (I rooted against him because I was--and am--a diehard Erving fan). It just felt like if the game was close and Bird got the ball then he was going to make the shot.

What people forget is that during Bird's first few seasons he rebounded like a center and he was not a particularly productive three point shooter. As the game changed and the players around him developed, Bird's role changed; he became more of a scorer and more of a perimeter player. People also forget that for the first four years of Bird's career he and Erving had the best rivalry in the sport. Erving started slowing down at age 34, just as Bird hit his peak, but before that they were very evenly matched--and it is a safe bet that the ABA version of Erving would have run circles around Bird; a lot of people may scoff at that idea but that does not make it untrue.

By 1986, the mainstream media had pretty much decided that Bird was the greatest basketball player of all-time (look at magazine cover stories from that time if you doubt this)--but then Johnson led the Lakers to back to back titles (a feat not accomplished since Russell's Celtics did it in 1968-69), with one of those championships coming at the expense of Bird's Celtics, and Johnson's 5-3 championship lead over Bird (including 2-1 in their head to head matchups) made it difficult to take seriously the idea that Bird was greater than Johnson. Both players had great supporting casts but after a decade of battling for supremacy Johnson led in the category that mattered most--rings--and thus people stopped declaring Bird to be the greatest player of all-time.

Russell: "The guy won 11 championships with the Celtics, OK? Joe DiMaggio won nine, Babe Ruth won seven." The modern commentator has all the answers about Russell: Too small to play center against Shaquille O'Neal, not a good enough scorer to win without great teammates, benefited from playing in an era with (supposedly) watered down talent compared to the NBA today which has players from all corners of the globe. Regarding the size issue, Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace proved that undersized players can be dominant rebounders in the modern NBA. O'Neal lost playoff series to Olajuwon (who was not much bigger than Russell, despite being listed at 7 feet) and to a Chicago team that guarded him with (at different times) Luc Longley, Bill Wennington and even the 6-6 Rodman. Russell won championships in virtually every season that he played organized basketball from high school through the NBA: 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons, two NCAA titles in three seasons, two high school state championships; that works out to 15 championships in an 18 year period, plus an Olympic gold medal, so to suggest that such a dominant winner could not adopt his game/skill set to the modern era is an insult to Russell's greatness. He thought the game through as well as anyone who has ever played and he had a mean streak (in the best sense of the term, as an extremely competitive person) that takes a back seat to no one, including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

When I first started studying basketball, I was sure that Wilt Chamberlain was greater than Russell and that if they had switched teams then Chamberlain would have accomplished at least as much as Russell did--but now I am not so sure. I still think that Chamberlain got a raw deal from the media and I certainly think that in more ideal circumstances Chamberlain would have won a lot more than two championships but Russell's mindset was just so much different than Chamberlain's that I am not sure Chamberlain could have ever sustained the team success that Russell did, no matter the circumstances. It is kind of like comparing Kobe Bryant and LeBron James; James has the more impressive physique and perhaps the more impressive statistics (depending on how you evaluate the numbers) but Bryant just figured out how to win on a more consistent basis.

My favorite Bill Russell story is about his final game, the seventh game of the 1969 NBA Finals. The L.A. Lakers had planned to release balloons from the ceiling of the arena and have a band play "Happy Days Are Here Again" after they beat Russell's Celtics to win the title. Russell got a copy of the plans and took it to the locker room, where he addressed his team (he was the player-coach) and told them that a lot of things could happen in this game but what could not happen is for the Celtics to lose--and they would have a lot of fun watching the Lakers take those balloons down one by one. The Celtics won 108-106.

Abdul-Jabbar: "None matched Abdul-Jabbar for excellence over the length of a career." The young Abdul-Jabbar gave Chamberlain--who was still a force to be reckoned with--all that he could handle in the early 1970s and in the mid to late 1980s Abdul-Jabbar was still making the All-NBA Team ahead of a crop of younger stars including Olajuwon, Moses Malone and Patrick Ewing. Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook was the single greatest weapon in the history of the sport; it was unstoppable and he could deliver it with either hand out to a range of 15 feet. Abdul-Jabbar was an excellent rebounder for the first half of his career (i.e., a solid decade, which is a full career for many players), he was a great passer and he was an intimidating defensive presence in the paint. He was listed at 7-2 but I have stood next to him and am not the only person who thinks that he is even taller than that; the first thought that I had when I met a then nearly 60 year old Abdul-Jabbar was "What would it have been like to drive the lane 20 years ago and try to score over this guy?" Erving has consistently said that Abdul-Jabbar was the greatest player he ever faced. Abdul-Jabbar blew me off for an interview--twice--like he blew off many other people (and it's a shame, because I was actually going to ask him intelligent questions that would have led to a great dialogue) but I don't have to like the guy to give him his proper respect. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the most underrated great player in pro basketball history.

Chamberlain: "'Nobody roots for Goliath,' Chamberlain said numerous times." Chamberlain is without question the most statistically dominant player in pro basketball history. He holds the record for having the most records! Some of his records--like career scoring--have been broken but many others (including 50.4 ppg average for a season, 22.9 rpg average for a career) will never even be approached. He is wrongly tagged as a loser despite winning two championships with arguably the two greatest single season teams in pro basketball history (1967 76ers, 1972 Lakers). Did Chamberlain focus too much on his own stats and not enough on winning? Maybe, but it could be argued that he did what his teams needed him to do and what his coaches asked him to do. He is criticized for his poor free throw shooting but no one mentions that Russell's free throw shooting was almost as bad. Purely based on his productivity in three fundamental basketball skills--scoring, rebounding and passing (he is the only center to lead the league in assists)--it is difficult to argue against the proposition that he was the greatest basketball player of all-time. Yet, there is this guy named Russell (see above) whose teams routinely outperformed Chamberlain's. The Chamberlain-Russell debate is one of the great ones in all of sports. I have talked with a lot of players who played with and/or against both men and the firsthand opinions are very divided. As I mentioned before, I used to lean toward Chamberlain but the more I study and learn about the sport the more I start to lean toward Russell. When I watch LeBron James, I feel like I am watching the modern day Wilt Chamberlain; he has the most impressive physical tools and he sets amazing statistical records and he wins a lot--but yet it feels like something is missing. "He" in that sentence could apply to Chamberlain or James.

James: "There are hype and expectations. And then there was whatever you want to call it that physical specimen James faced jumping to the NBA out of high school." Maybe I seem overly critical of James at times but I feel like to whom much has been given much should be expected. James cannot be evaluated based on the standards applied to normal people or normal NBA players, because he is not normal. Kerber is right that James faced enormous hype and that James has delivered a lot despite all of the pressure and expectations. James became one of the greatest players of all-time and things could have easily gone the other way: he could have gotten injured or become complacent or just crumbled underneath all of the scrutiny. James has had a remarkable career--but I believe that he left some championships on the table and I don't think that he is wired quite the same way as Russell, Jordan or Bryant. If I could have any one of those four guys (each in their respective primes) for a game seven, James would be my fourth pick; mind you, I would take James over all but a handful of players in the history of the sport but I would never trust him in that situation more than I would trust any one of the other three. Maybe that is not fair, maybe I am wrong, but that is my take.

Bryant: "No human could do it. Only health--three serious injuries in three years--has been able to slow down the Lakers great." Bryant never really lost his skills--they were just taken away from him, in a cruel moment, when he ruptured his Achilles while trying to carry an undermanned Lakers squad to the playoffs. Bryant was never the same after that injury, an injury that has completely ended many careers; Bryant fought hard to come back and he ended his remarkable career with a stunning 60 point outburst but he never regained the MVP form that he displayed up to the second when his Achilles popped. The "stat gurus" never much liked Bryant's game and the mainstream media always preferred the gregarious O'Neal to killer Kobe but all Bryant cared about was winning rings and he collected more of them than anyone in the post-Jordan era except for Duncan (and Robert Horry, who bagged seven as a key contributor alongside Olajuwon with the Rockets, O'Neal/Bryant with the Lakers and Duncan with the Spurs). Bryant was the first of the presumed heirs apparent to Jordan who actually made a credible run at matching Jordan's greatness; he did not quite make it, mind you, but a case could be made that Bryant is the best player of the post-Jordan era. Many would take James and some would take Duncan but Bryant at least has to be in that conversation.

West: "His bite-you-to-death defensive style supplemented his 'Mr. Clutch' shooting skill that produced a .474 career mark." West is supposedly too small to be great in the modern era? Really? He's just as big as Stephen Curry and a much better athlete who was an elite performer at both ends of the court. West would be unstoppable today with the no hand checking rule and he would also be the best defensive guard in the NBA as well.

Robertson: "Robertson AVERAGED a triple-double in 1961-62: 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists." The "stat gurus" will minimize Robertson's numbers by citing pace and the small number of teams in the league and who knows what else. All I know is that pro basketball has been around for almost 70 years and Robertson is the only player not only to average a triple double for an entire season but to average an aggregate triple double for the first five seasons of his career, which is even more remarkable. Robertson will tell you to this day that he was every bit as good as Jordan and a lot of Robertson's contemporaries feel the same way

Erving: "Erving was as universally admired and respected for his class and dignity as for his skills." Erving is renowned for his leaping prowess--he won the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest at 26 and came in second in the inaugural NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 at 34--and he is praised for being an ambassador for the sport but what too often gets lost in the mix is just how great of an all-around player he was. Erving absolutely belongs in the greatest player of all-time discussion, both based on peak value (a credible case can be made that no one has ever played basketball better than Erving did in the 1976 ABA Finals, when he led both teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots) and on sustained excellence over a long period of time (as detailed in my four part series about his extremely underrated playoff career).

A player who retired almost 30 years ago and who spent nearly the first third of his career in a forgotten league that did not have a national television contract is not going to win a battle for recognition against global icons Michael Jordan and LeBron James. I get that--but anyone who objectively looks at what Erving accomplished and how he accomplished it has to give Erving much respect.

Auerbach: "Auerbach won 938 games, nine NBA championships (in 10 years) with eight consecutively. He also oversaw seven more titles as Boston's president and general manager." Auerbach bristled at being compared to Phil Jackson, who eventually broke Auerbach's record by winning 11 titles as an NBA coach; Auerbach growled that he both built and coached his championship teams, while Jackson inherited ready made teams that he then coached. Auerbach is no doubt smiling down now as he watches Jackson struggle to put together a winning squad in New York; maybe Auerbach was right all along when he compared himself to Jackson.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:44 AM


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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Placing Kevin Garnett's Career in Proper Context is Complicated

Kevin Garnett recently announced his retirement, ending a 21 season career that was highlighted by one NBA championship (Boston, 2008), one regular season MVP award (2004), one Defensive Player of the Year award (2008), four rebounding titles (2004-07) and nine All-Defensive First Team selections. Garnett will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, albeit one who will be overshadowed by two other first ballot Hall of Famers in his class (Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan).

Garnett's impact extended beyond the court, because he directly or indirectly influenced changes in how the business of basketball operates. He entered the NBA in 1995 as a 19 year old known as "The Kid" and "The Big Ticket." He was the first basketball player to make the preps to pros jump since Darryl Dawkins in 1975 and the first to become an All-Star after doing so since Moses Malone, who jumped from high school straight to the ABA in 1974 and eventually became a three-time NBA MVP. In contrast, Dawkins enjoyed a 14 year NBA career but he never made the All-Star team.

Garnett's successful NBA debut paved the way for Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and several other future Hall of Famers to jump straight to the NBA from high school--but the failures of many other high school players who attempted the same feat (and shall remain nameless here) ultimately led to the NBA instituting a rule preventing teams from drafting or signing players who had just finished high school. After Garnett emerged as an All-Star in 1998, he signed a then-mind boggling six year, $126 million contract extension that precipitated the 1999 lockout as owners scrambled to change the rules regarding rookie contracts and maximum contract size. Garnett's huge deal was grandfathered in, though, and is a major reason that Garnett has the highest career earnings of any player in NBA history.

Despite Garnett's fat bank account, no credible analyst would propose that he is one of the top 10 players of all-time or even one of the top 20 players of all-time; even his staunchest supporters would hesitate to rank him higher than somewhere between 21-30 among the best of the best.

However, the "stat gurus" always loved Garnett and one of the major themes repeated by many of the "stat gurus" when "advanced basketball statistics" were first gaining attention was that Garnett's value was not fully appreciated by old school talent evaluators but was only captured by proper numbers crunching. I found the whole spectacle ridiculous for a variety of reasons: (1) Garnett achieved fame, wealth and awards long before most people had any idea that "advanced basketball statistics" existed, so he was hardly underrated or ignored by conventional player evaluation methods; (2) many of the statistical systems that supposedly proved Garnett's efficiency had serious flaws; (3) the underlying premise that Garnett was the best player in the league ("stat guru" Dave Berri tapped Garnett for that honor not once, not twice but four years in a row!) is demonstrably false. In fact, the insistence by so many "stat gurus" that Garnett was underrated when he clearly was not underrated was one of the first warning signs to me that many "stat gurus" were not pursuing truth but rather creating story lines that would justify them being hired by ESPN or by NBA front offices (and this plan worked out very well for the "stat gurus," even if it made ESPN's NBA coverage--in both TV and print formats--unbearable at times and even if it made teams like the Philadelphia 76ers deplorable and unwatchable).

Addressing the first point, no one needed to crunch numbers on a fancy spreadsheet to figure out that Garnett was a very good player; the eye test showed that he was a mobile seven footer who scored, rebounded, passed, blocked shots and accumulated steals. He set solid (and, arguably, illegal) screens, he could guard multiple positions and he was durable. Those reasons explain why Garnett was able to go straight from high school to the NBA and quickly become the highest paid player ever while receiving All-Star selections and other honors. It is absurd to suggest that no one understood Garnett's worth until Dave Berri and other "stat gurus" showed up.

Regarding the second point, I have always insisted that if we are going to buy the premise that a given player is the best in the league because statistical system "X" says so then we also have to buy the premise that the other conclusions of statistical system "X" are valid, because the same methodology informs those conclusions. For example, let's take Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). According to that metric, in the past 20 years LeBron James has been the best player in the NBA eight times. Maybe you buy that premise, maybe you don't, but let's dig deeper. The other multiple leaders since 1996-97 are Kevin Garnett (three times) and Stephen Curry (twice). VORP tapped Shaquille O'Neal as the best player once and it never placed Kobe Bryant higher than third (VORP only placed Bryant in the top five in the NBA three times during his entire career). Tim Duncan also was only listed as the best player once. Maybe you are still on board with VORP, so try this on for size: VORP ranked Steve Francis as the best player in the NBA in 2000-01. If you still take VORP seriously, I don't think that I can help you understand basketball (or anything else). According to VORP, Tim Duncan was the best player in the NBA in 2001-02 and Kevin Garnett was the second best player. I disagree with that but maybe you don't think those particular rankings are outlandish, so please note that  in 2001-02 VORP ranked Brent Barry as the fourth best player in the NBA (O'Neal was eighth and Bryant 12th as they somehow defied "advanced basketball statistics" to lead the L.A. Lakers to a third straight championship).

So, if you are using VORP (or Berri's statistical gibberish, which produced similarly bizarre results) to support the idea that Garnett should have won three MVPs, then you are also co-signing on Francis winning one MVP and Brent Barry being an All-NBA First Team caliber player in 2001-02. This kind of nonsense explains why I spent so much time decrying "stat gurus" and "advanced basketball statistics" during the early years of 20 Second Timeout (with age I have come to realize that it is difficult to turn fools away from foolishness, particularly if the fools can make money by propounding said foolishness).

As for the third point, I don't believe that Garnett was ever the best player in the NBA; Berri and VORP are way off base by suggesting that he should have won multiple MVPs and even the official MVP voters lost the thread a bit in 2004 when they were so excited about the possibility of Garnett finally winning a playoff series that they gave him the MVP. The best thing that Garnett did in the 2003-04 season is stay healthy; he played in all 82 games, while Bryant, Duncan and O'Neal each missed at least 13 games. If the MVP voters used durability as the tiebreaker when choosing Garnett I can accept that but I am not buying that Garnett deserved the MVP because VORP and Berri said so.

Garnett was certainly a viable MVP candidate in 2004 but Duncan--already a two-time NBA champion--essentially posted the same numbers in 2004 that he did in 2003 when he won the second of his back to back MVPs. The San Antonio Spurs went 51-18 when Duncan played but just 6-7 in the games that he missed, which kind of suggests that Duncan was rather valuable. Similarly, the Lakers went 48-17 with Bryant and just 8-9 without him. The Lakers posted a 15-4 record when Bryant scored at least 30 points.

Garnett paid a lot of attention to his individual numbers, particularly during the first half of his career. During his prime, Garnett bragged that he produced "20-10-5" (averages of at least 20 ppg, 10 rpg and 5 apg) on a yearly basis. While that was true from 2000-2005, it is also true that his Minnesota Timberwolves went 5-13 in the playoffs during the first four of those seasons, never making it out of the first round. After adding two-time NBA champion Sam Cassell and 1999 NBA Finalist Latrell Sprewell to the roster, Minnesota advanced to the 2004 Western Conference Finals before losing in six games to the Lakers, who somehow overcame the non-MVP caliber VORP numbers of Bryant and O'Neal. Garnett's Timberwolves then missed the playoffs each of the next three seasons.

After the first of Garnett's six straight 20-10-5 seasons, Minnesota lost 3-1 to Portland in the first round of the 2000 playoffs. Scottie Pippen, in the twilight of his career at 34 years old, averaged 18.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 4.3 apg for Portland in the series. He shot just .419 from the field but he shot .421 from three point range and nearly a third of his field goal attempts were from beyond the arc, so his shooting was actually rather efficient overall. Pippen led Portland in scoring and rebounding during the series, while ranking second in assists. Garnett averaged 18.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 8.8 apg but he shot just .385 from the field, without the benefit of a lot of made three pointers to offset all of his errant attempts. He led Minnesota in rebounding and assists while ranking second in scoring to Terrell Brandon, who averaged 19.5 ppg on .508 field goal shooting.

A few years later, Pippen--never one to mince words--made some pointed comments about Garnett: "He really set the tone for self-destruction. He's very productive but unproductive. He gets you all the stats you want, but at the end of the day his points don't have an impact on [winning] the game. He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, but in the last five minutes of the game he ain't the same player as in the first five." Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley had both previously criticized Garnett for not having a go-to scoring move in the post and for not carrying enough of the scoring burden down the stretch in close games.

Here is my June 2007 take on Garnett just before he was traded to Boston:
Garnett has put up gaudy numbers during his career--20.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 4.5 apg--but it could be argued that he has less impact on winning and losing then perhaps any other player who has ever won an MVP. Go through the list of MVP winners and try to find another one whose teams missed the playoffs for three straight years while he was healthy and in his prime. Garnett once boasted in a TV ad about how he puts up "20, 10 and 5" (referring to ppg, rpg and apg) year in and year out but one wonders if achieving those stats means more to him than putting up 50 (regular season wins) and 16 (the number of playoff wins it takes to win a championship). Tim Duncan seems utterly unconcerned with attaining certain specific individual statistical totals; he does whatever his team needs him to do to win on a given night.
The arrival of Julius Erving in Philadelphia turned the 76ers into instant, perennial championship contenders and he stuck it out with the franchise until they finally won a title. Isiah Thomas joined a 16 win Detroit team and transformed them into back to back champions a few years later during an era when the NBA was dominated by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Jordan joined a bad Chicago team and eventually led the Bulls to the top of the heap. Garnett strung together a bunch of first round losses, made it to the Conference Finals once and then wanted to flee Minnesota after missing the playoffs for three years in a row.

The trade to Boston was perfect for Garnett, for it teamed him up with two future Hall of Famers (Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) who were more than happy to do the clutch scoring down the stretch of close games. The Celtics also had a deep roster surrounding their All-Star trio, including a young point guard in Rajon Rondo who was the best player on the court at crucial times during the 2008 championship run.

The Celtics rolled to a 66-16 regular season record in 2007-08 and Garnett finished third in the regular season MVP voting. I would argue that this was perhaps the best season of his career even though he did not come close to 20-10-5, because Garnett was entirely focused on winning a championship, as opposed to putting up gaudy individual numbers to convince critics that it was not his fault that his team was losing. It is worth remembering, though, that Pierce--not Garnett--won the Finals MVP as the Celtics defeated Bryant's Lakers in six games.

Boston made it back to the Finals in 2009 but Bryant won the Finals MVP as his Lakers triumphed in seven games. Garnett battled injuries and declining skills during the rest of his career, making stops in Brooklyn and then Minnesota again before finally deciding to retire.

Duncan was without question the best power forward of this (or any) era. He averaged 19.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 3.0 apg and 2.2 bpg during his regular season career, increasing those numbers to 20.6 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 3.0 apg and 2.3 bpg during the playoffs. Garnett averaged 17.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.7 apg and 1.4 bpg during the regular season and 18.2 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.3 apg and 1.3 bpg during the playoffs. The numbers look comparable, though Duncan enjoys at least a slight edge across the board except for assists. However, Duncan had a much greater impact; he anchored the Spurs in the paint at both ends of the court, while Garnett far too often drifted away from the paint. Garnett had much more jumping ability than Duncan, yet Duncan blocked more shots. It is not a coincidence that Duncan won five championships and contended for titles throughout his career while Garnett won one championship and went through long stretches during which he did not contend for titles.

Garnett made the All-NBA First Team four times. Bryant and Karl Malone hold the record with 11 All-NBA First Team selections each. Duncan made the All-NBA First Team 10 times, matching Bob Cousy, Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Players with nine All-NBA First Team selections include Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (Julius Erving made the All-ABA First Team four times and the All-NBA First Team five times for a total of nine First Team selections).

Garnett's nine All-Defensive First Team selections are tied for first all-time with Jordan, Bryant and Gary Payton. Garnett's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2008 was well deserved, as his work at that end of the court played a major role in turning Boston into a dominant defensive team.

Much is made about Garnett's trash talking and toughness but I was never much impressed by either quality with Garnett. While I prefer athletes with a quiet demeanor like Erving, Duncan and Bjorn Borg, I have also rooted for and appreciated flamboyant performers such as Muhammad Ali, Reggie Jackson and Deion Sanders; I don't mind if you talk and strut if you back up the words and swagger by winning championships. Garnett spent more than 20 years running his mouth and he has exactly one championship to show for all of that noise--and he was not the best player on the court during that championship series. Ali, Jackson and Sanders were at their best when they faced the best. Regarding toughness, I don't remember Garnett confronting Charles Oakley or other real tough guys; when I picture Garnett yapping I picture him screaming at guys half his size and/or half his ability. OK, he tapped Duncan on the head once--and Duncan looked at Garnett like Garnett was crazy. Garnett did not intimidate Duncan and Garnett seemed far from enthusiastic about tapping anyone on the head who might have remotely considered responding in kind.

In his prime, Garnett was a first rate rebounder and defender. He scored and passed well, though not well enough to carry a team very far without substantial help. Garnett was a great player but he was never the NBA's best player. I think that the criticisms that Pippen, Magic and Barkley made about Garnett during Garnett's Minnesota days were valid and I don't think that the Boston championship refuted those criticisms; that championship proved that Garnett was willing and able to reduce his role to fit in on a title team (and he deserves credit for doing that) but it did not prove that Garnett was at the same level as his contemporaries O'Neal, Duncan, Bryant and James, players who performed at an individually dominant level during multiple championship runs.

Perhaps this article may come across as more negative than it is intended to be but I am simply trying to place Garnett's career in proper context, which is not easy to do after years of media rhapsodizing and reams of "analysis" that supposedly proved that Garnett was perennially the NBA's best player when O'Neal, Duncan and Bryant were all in the primes of their careers. It is not necessarily Garnett's fault that his value was overstated at times but as an analyst/commentator I feel duty bound to correct the record as the books close on a great--but not Pantheon level--career.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:25 AM


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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Justin Termine's All-1970s and All-1980s Teams

Justine Termine's website declares that he is "an entertainer, not a journalist," which is an admission that his player rankings are designed more to promote conversation/controversy than to actually evaluate greatness. Nevertheless, the All-Decade Teams that he announced on Sirius NBA radio last year* at least provide a foundation to discuss the subject of how one might best select an All-Decade team.

Termine chose Walt Frazier, John Havlicek, Rick Barry, Elvin Hayes and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his All-1970s Team. Termine's All-1980s Team includes Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It is important to establish two ground rules when selecting an All-Decade Team: (1) The minimum number of games played to qualify and (2) Determining what position a player played.

Generally, in order to qualify to be listed among career regular season statistical leaders in the NBA record book, a player must have competed in at least 400 games. Essentially, that constitutes a five year career. Since most great NBA careers begin in one decade and conclude in another, the 400 game standard is a bit too high for inclusion on an All-Decade Team, so I propose that the minimum number of games be 320. A player can significantly impact a decade by participating in at least four seasons.

Positional designations can be tricky. The modern NBA is almost position-less, comprising "bigs" who mainly play in the paint (a dying breed) and "smalls" (who often are 6-9 or taller) who play all over the court. In the 1970s and 1980s, though, positional designations were more meaningful and most teams had a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, a power forward and a center. The point guard handled the ball and ran the offense, the shooting guard was generally a scorer who had some ballhandling responsibilities, the small forward mainly played on the wing (though he could also contribute on the boards and perhaps occasionally post up on offense), the power forward rebounded and defended the hoop (and sometimes was a prime scoring option as well) and the center typically played with his back to the basket at both ends of the court. Obviously, these descriptions do not apply to all players from those eras, but an examination of the All-NBA Teams selected during those decades demonstrates that those squads almost always consisted of two guards, two forwards and one center. Sometimes, two small forwards were chosen instead of a small forward and a power forward but at the very least the broad designations of guard/forward/center were followed pretty consistently.

An All-Decade Team should comprise two guards, two forwards and one center who each played at least 320 regular season games during that decade. How should the players be selected/ranked? The answer to that question is inherently subjective to some extent; even people who claim to be using purely "objective" statistical tools are actually being subjective, because the statistical tools they choose reflect their subjective preferences/biases. I do not have a set formula but I place high importance (in no particular order) on (1) peak value, (2) versatility, (3) lack of a defined skill set weakness, (4) longevity/durability and (5) winning. Regarding the last factor, I do not "punish" a player for not winning if he never had a supporting cast that would have enabled him to win but I do "reward" players who win because, after all, that is why we keep score in the first place. Even when these factors are not explicitly mentioned below, they formed the basis for my selections.

Each member of Termine's All-1970s Team far exceeded the 320 games guideline suggested above but the designation of Havlicek as a guard is questionable at best. While it is true that Havlicek often played shooting guard (particularly early in his career) and he is renowned for his ability to swing between the frontcout and the backcourt, Havlicek made the All-NBA First or Second Team seven times during the 1970s and on each occasion he was listed as a forward. Havlicek ranked second in the decade in total assists (4185) but that does not justify listing him as a guard; Barry was right behind Havlicek in third place with 4093 assists and there is no question that Barry was a forward.

Termine's other selection at guard is right on target. Frazier averaged 20.2 ppg (26th in the 1970s), 6.1 apg (fifth in the 1970s) and 6.0 rpg (first in the 1970s among point guards) during the 1970s. He was the premier defensive guard of that era and a key member of two championship teams. A strong case could be made that Frazier was the best all-around guard of the 1970s.

Other top guards of the 1970s include Jerry West, Pete Maravich, George Gervin, Nate "Tiny" Archibald and Gail Goodrich. West played 320 games in the 1970s, so he just meets my games played requirement. He won one championship and participated in three NBA Finals during the 1970s. West ranks fourth in the decade in scoring average (26.1 ppg) and first in assists (8.7 apg) by nearly a full assist per game over Lenny Wilkens (7.9 apg). West made the All-Defensive First Team each year from 1970-73.

Maravich played 615 games in the 1970s, ranking sixth in scoring average (25.0 ppg), seventh in total points (15,359) and eighth in apg (5.7). Maravich made the All-NBA First Team in 1976 and 1977, when he won the scoring title (31.1 ppg) and finished third in the MVP voting. He was leading the league in scoring in 1978 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury--and he still made the All-NBA Second Team despite appearing in only 50 games. Two drawbacks for Maravich are that he was not a great defender and his teams had minimal playoff success (which is not necessarily his fault, but has to be weighed at least a little bit when comparing him to Frazier and West).

Gervin was a scoring machine in both the ABA and NBA, averaging 24.1 ppg overall (eighth in the 1970s) during the decade and winning two NBA scoring titles (1978, 1979). Gervin began his career as a forward but spent most of the 1970s playing shooting guard. Gervin finished second behind Bill Walton in the 1978 NBA MVP voting and he finished second behind Moses Malone in the 1979 NBA MVP voting.

Archibald remains the only player in NBA/ABA history to win a scoring title and an assists title in the same season, averaging 34.0 ppg and 11.4 apg in 1972-73. He averaged 23.0 ppg (12th in the 1970s) and 7.6 apg (third in the 1970s) during the decade. Archibald only made the playoffs once in the 1970s before winning a championship with Boston in 1981.

Goodrich ranked 10th in both total points (14,692) and total assists (3769) during the 1970s, while finishing 27th in ppg (20.2) and 13th in apg (5.2). He was the leading scorer in the regular season (career-high 25.9 ppg) and playoffs (23.8 ppg) for the 1972 Lakers team that posted a then-record 69 wins en route to capturing the NBA title.

My All-1970s Team includes West at guard alongside Frazier. West led the decade's guards in scoring and assists and he was right behind Frazier as a defender even though West was at the tail end of his career while Frazier was in his prime. West performed at a high level at both ends of the court for teams that perennially contended for championships, so I give him the edge over Maravich even though Maravich put up gaudy numbers in nearly twice as many games. Frazier and West were the two best guards in the early 1970s, Maravich was the best guard in the mid-1970s and Gervin was the best guard in the late 1970s.

Termine's most glaring omission is not including Julius Erving at forward. Erving was clearly the best forward of the 1970s and a strong case could be made that he was the best player, period (the only other serious contender for that honor is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Erving ranked third in the decade in scoring average (26.2), 19th in rebounding average (10.4, second only to Billy Cunningham's 11.4 among small forwards), tied for 22nd-24th in apg (4.5, fourth among small forwards behind John Havlicek, Rick Barry and Billy Cunningham), tied for third-seventh in steals per game (2.1, tied with Rick Barry for best among small forwards) and ninth in blocked shots per game (1.7; steals and blocked shots became official statistics in 1972-73 in the ABA and in 1973-74 in the NBA). Erving won three ABA scoring titles, three ABA regular season MVPs (sharing one with George McGinnis), two ABA Playoff MVPs and two ABA titles. He also led the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1977 NBA Finals in the first season after the NBA-ABA merger.

The forward position was stacked during the 1970s (and the 1980s). A compelling case could be made for many players to join Erving on the All-1970s Team but when you look at versatility, durability and impact three forwards separate themselves from the pack: Rick Barry, John Havlicek and Elvin Hayes.

Barry played like Superman in 1974-75 when he led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA championship, the first and only title of Barry's career. He ranked third in the 1970s in total points (18,389) and assists (4093). He was seventh in scoring average (24.4 ppg) and tied for 10th-11th in apg (5.4, second only to Havlicek among forwards). Barry won five of his seven free throw percentage titles during the 1970s and he was the decade's leader in that department (.899). He was a solid rebounder (6.3 rpg in the 1970s, ranking 45th). Barry covered the passing lanes very well (like Erving, he averaged 2.1 spg during the 1970s) but he rarely blocked shots and overall he was an average defender at best.

I already mentioned Havlicek's status as a perennial All-NBA Team forward and his prowess as a passer. He also was a fixture on the All-Defensive Team (First Team member 1972-76, Second Team member in 1970 and 1971). Havlicek ranked sixth in total points (15,747) and 18th in scoring average (21.9 ppg) during the 1970s. Like Barry, he was a solid rebounder (6.4 rpg in the 1970s, ranking 44th). In the 1960s he was a great sixth man on the storied Boston championship teams led by Bill Russell but in the 1970s Havlicek took on a leading role as Boston won titles in 1974 and 1976. Havlicek earned the 1974 Finals MVP.

Hayes was a great college center at the University of Houston who had a tremendous rivalry with Abdul-Jabbar (who was known as Lew Alcindor when he played for UCLA). Hayes played center early in his NBA career but he spent most of the 1970s playing power forward for the Bullets alongside Hall of Fame center Wes Unseld. Hayes led the 1970s in total rebounds (11,565) and he ranked second in total points (18,922). Hayes averaged 23.2 ppg in the 1970s (11th) and his 14.2 rpg average ranked sixth. He was also an exceptional shot blocker (2.5 bpg, third in the 1970s). Hayes helped the Bullets reach the NBA Finals three times (1975, 1978, 1979) and he was a key contributor to their 1978 championship team. He did not have a great relationship with the media, which probably contributed to him getting stuck with a reputation as a malcontent who did not perform well in clutch situations, but Hayes was a dominant scorer-rebounder-shot blocker throughout the decade.

Hayes was the best power forward of the decade and Havlicek may well have been the best two-way forward but Barry had an extra gear as a dominant scorer, enabling him to win a championship with less help than either Havlicek or Hayes had. I cannot fault anyone for taking Havlicek or Hayes but Barry gets my nod as the other All-1970s Team forward alongside the spectacular Erving.

I agree with Termine's choice of Abdul-Jabbar at center but it is still worth looking at Abdul-Jabbar's resume, as he may be the most underrated great basketball player of all-time. He led the 1970s in total points (22,141, more than 3000 ahead of Hayes), ppg (28.6, 1.2 ppg ahead of Bob McAdoo) and bpg (3.5) while ranking second in total rebounds (11,460) and rpg (14.8). Abdul-Jabbar shot .551 from the field in the 1970s, third behind Bobby Jones and Artis Gilmore, two players who attempted significantly fewer shots per game than he did. Abdul-Jabbar led the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA Finals twice (1971, 1974), earning the Finals MVP after a 4-0 sweep of the Bullets in 1971. He won five of his record six regular season MVPs in the 1970s. The only other player who won multiple MVPs in the 1970s is Erving, who picked up three straight (1974-76) in the ABA.

Other top centers during the 1970s include Bob McAdoo, Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels and Dave Cowens. Moses Malone came on strong at the end of the decade, winning the first of his three regular season MVPs in 1979, but he did not accumulate a significant enough body of work in the 1970s to measure up with Abdul-Jabbar; similarly, Bill Walton played the position about as well as anyone has for a season and a half spanning 1976-78--leading Portland to the 1977 NBA title, winning the 1977 Finals MVP and then earning the 1978 regular season MVP--but he did not sustain his greatness nearly long enough to supplant Abdul-Jabbar from the number one spot on the All-1970s Team.

McAdoo spent a lot of time at forward--particularly later in his career--but in the 1970s he made his mark at center, earning a pair of All-NBA selections at that position in 1974 and 1975. McAdoo also won the 1975 regular season MVP. During the 1970s he ranked second in ppg (27.4), he tied for sixth-seventh in bpg (2.0) and he tied for eighth-tenth in rpg (12.2). McAdoo also ranked 11th in field goal percentage (.509) even though he shot a lot of long range jumpers. When Bill Russell was asked how McAdoo ranked among big men as a shooter, Russell responded that McAdoo was one of the great shooters of all-time regardless of size or position.

Gilmore was one of the few centers who had enough size and strength to cause problems for Abdul-Jabbar. These two titans had some great battles in the late 1970s and early 1980s after the NBA-ABA merger. Gilmore ranked ninth in total points (14,708) and fourth in total rebounds (10,353) in the 1970s. He won the 1975 ABA Playoff MVP after leading the Kentucky Colonels to their first and only championship. Gilmore had the 16th highest scoring average in the 1970s (22.1 ppg), the best rebounding average (15.5 rpg) and the second best blocked shots per game average (3.0 bpg).

Daniels was the man in the middle for the Indiana Pacers as they won three ABA titles (1970, 1972-73). He is the ABA's all-time leading rebounder and he earned one of his two regular season MVPs during the 1970s (1971). Daniels was not a huge scorer (17.0 ppg, 58th in the 1970s) but he tied for third-fourth in rebounding (14.6 rpg) and 10th-11th in blocked shots (1.5 bpg).

Cowens ranked fifth in total rebounds (9636) in the 1970s and he tied Daniels for third-fourth with a 14.6 rpg average. He tied for 35th-36th in the 1970s with an 18.6 ppg average. The undersized Cowens did not block many shots for a center (1.0 bpg) but he was a feisty defensive player who earned three All-Defensive Team selections. Cowens won the 1973 NBA regular season MVP and he finished fourth, second and third respectively in the 1974, 1975 and 1976 MVP voting. Cowens played a major role for Boston's 1974 and 1976 championship teams.

McAdoo, Gilmore, Daniels and Cowens are each Hall of Famers who hit their primes in the 1970s but none of them accomplished enough to warrant being ranked ahead of Abdul-Jabbar.

Thus, my All-1970s Team is Walt Frazier, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Rick Barry and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Termine did a better job with his All-1980s Team than he did with his All-1970s Team but at least three of the five picks are absolute no-brainers: Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan have to be the guards and Larry Bird has to be one of the forwards. Abdul-Jabbar is the best choice at center, though he had some competition from Moses Malone early in the decade and Hakeem Olajuwon as the decade closed. However, Termine's pro-Celtic (and perhaps anti-Julius Erving) bias shows a bit with his selection of Kevin McHale as the other forward. While McHale was a great player, he was not a better or more dominant performer in the 1980s than Erving.

Magic Johnson was the player of the decade. In the 1980s he won two of his three regular season MVPs (1987, 1989), he won three Finals MVPs (1980 as a rookie, 1982, 1987) and he led the Lakers to five championships (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988) in eight Finals appearances. Johnson's Lakers defeated Bird's Celtics in two of their three Finals matchups, Johnson won two more championships than Bird and Johnson led the Lakers to the first back to back titles since Russell's Celtics accomplished the feat in 1968-69.

Johnson ranked first in apg by a country mile (11.2, 1.4 apg more than Isiah Thomas) during the 1980s and he led the league in that category four times. Johnson was not a great one on one defender but he used his size to good effect on the defensive boards and he played the passing lanes very well, ranking eighth in spg (2.0) during the 1980s while leading the league in that department twice. Although not known as a huge scorer for most of his career, he still ranked 26th in scoring average (19.2 ppg). Johnson was an exceptional rebounder for a guard, averaging 7.4 rpg in the 1980s to rank 28th, right behind Abdul-Jabbar and McHale. He was not a great outside shooter but he improved in that area as his career progressed and he also became an excellent free throw shooter (.834, 17th best in the 1980s) who won the free throw shooting crown in 1989. His basketball IQ was off the charts and don't let the megawatt smile fool you: he was a killer on the court.

Jordan took the league by storm with his individual talents but in each of his first three seasons the Chicago Bulls were a sub-.500 team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. He won one of his five regular season MVPs in the 1980s (1988) and he won the Defensive Player of the Year award the same year, the first player to accomplish that feat (Hakeem Olajuwon did it in 1994, while David Robinson eventually won both awards but not in the same season). Jordan won three of his record 10 scoring titles in the 1980s and his 37.1 ppg average in 1986-87 is the record for players not named Wilt Chamberlain (Chamberlain exceeded that mark four times). Jordan averaged 32.6 ppg in the 1980s, 6.1 ppg more than second place finisher Adrian Dantley. Though Jordan was criticized for supposedly being selfish in his early years, he averaged 5.9 apg in the 1980s (12th best and just .2 apg behind Bird, who was lauded for his passing skills). Jordan ranked ninth in free throw shooting percentage (.848). Other than three point shooting, Jordan had no skill set weaknesses.

Bird won three straight regular season MVPs (1984-86), a feat only accomplished by Russell (1961-63), Chamberlain (1966-68) and Erving (1974-76 in the ABA). He led the Celtics to three championships (1981, 1984, 1986), winning two Finals MVPs (1984, 1986). As mentioned above, he was renowned for his passing skills--but he was also a top notch scorer, ranking sixth in the decade with a 25.0 ppg average topped only by scoring champions Jordan, Dantley, Gervin and Alex English. Bird was described as a pass-first player but he attempted 19.6 field goals per game during the 1980s, the fifth highest average behind only Jordan, Wilkins, English and Gervin. Bird ranked ninth in rpg (10.2) and tied for 13th-14th in steals (1.8 spg). Bird was a notoriously poor one on one defender who was routinely assigned to guard the weakest offensive threat on the opposing team's frontcourt but he inexplicably received a pair of All-Defensive Second Team selections early in his career. Bird was the best free throw shooter in the 1980s (.880).

Bird's teammate McHale was a great low post scorer who twice led the NBA in field goal percentage and who could guard all three frontcourt positions during his prime but he only made the All-NBA Team once (1987, when he finished fourth in MVP voting--the only time he placed in the top 12). He never averaged 10 rpg during a season, as Bird and Robert Parish annually ranked 1-2 on the team in that category. I am not bashing McHale at all, just stating the facts: he was a great player but even when one limits the comparison to 1980s statistics and accomplishments he must be ranked behind Erving.

It is unfortunate that even many so-called basketball historians have forgotten that the sport's marquee matchup for the first four years of the 1980s was the Erving-Bird rivalry. Erving and Bird made the All-NBA First Team each season from 1980-83 (in 1984, the 34 year old Erving slipped to Second Team status while Bird remained on the First Team). Erving and Bird faced each other in three Eastern Conference Finals during that period, with Erving's 76ers winning in 1980 and 1982, while Bird's Celtics overcame a 3-1 deficit to triumph in 1981 (a past his prime Erving lost to Bird 4-1 in the 1985 Eastern Conference Finals). Erving's "prize" for twice besting Bird was to face the L.A. Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA Finals, while Bird won an NBA title against a sub-.500 Houston team in 1981. Moses Malone joined forces with Erving in 1982-83 and that tandem proved unstoppable, rolling to a 65-17 regular season record before going 12-1 in the playoffs, capping things off in style by sweeping the Lakers 4-0. Only the 2001 L.A. Lakers posted a better playoff record (15-1 in an expanded format) than the 1983 76ers.

Erving was not quite the same player in the 1980s as he had been in the 1970s but in 1981 at the age of 31 he won the regular season MVP, becoming the first non-center to win the NBA MVP since Oscar Robertson in 1964. Erving was the forerunner of a host of non-centers who subsequently won the award. The only 1980s forward who topped Erving's four All-NBA First Team selections is Bird (nine); the next players on the list are Bernard King and Charles Barkley (two each). Erving spent some time at guard in his final two seasons--when he was still an All-Star but no longer an elite player--but he still ranked 15th in the 1980s in scoring (22.0 ppg), 38th in rebounding (6.4 rpg, better than the similarly sized and much younger Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and James Worthy), 28th in assists (3.8 apg, fifth best among small forwards), 13th-14th in steals (1.8 spg) and 10th in blocked shots (1.6 bpg, the best mark among small forwards). From 1980-84 at the ages of 30-34, Erving finished second, first, third, fifth and sixth in the regular season MVP voting. It is also worth noting that he captured All-Star MVP honors in 1983 and he finished second in the Slam Dunk Contest in 1984, demonstrating that he could match (and exceed) the aerial acrobatics of players significantly younger than he was. The All-Star Game MVP and the Slam Dunk Contest do not factor into All-Decade Team consideration but the point is that well into his 30s Erving was perceived as and performed like an elite player who was still a torch bearer for the league even with the emergence of Bird and Magic.

The 1980s was perhaps the NBA's golden age of small forwards, as Dantley (26.5 ppg, third in the 1980s), Wilkins (26.0 ppg, fourth in the 1980s) and English (25.9 ppg, fifth in the 1980s) each outscored Bird and Erving. King (22.6 ppg, 12th in the 1980s) gave Bird a run for his money for 1984 regular season MVP honors and then clinched the 1985 scoring title with an eye-popping 32.9 ppg average before a devastating knee injury almost ended his career. Other high scoring 1980s small forwards include Mark Aguirre (24.1 ppg, eighth in the 1980s) and Kiki Vandeweghe (22.8 ppg, eighth in the 1980s). However, none of those forwards won championships except for Aguirre and none of those forwards could impact a game in as many ways or as profoundly as Erving and Bird.

Two other forwards worth mentioning are Charles Barkley and Karl Malone, who began their ascents toward stardom in the 1980s but did not emerge as MVPs until the 1990s. 

Like Erving, Abdul-Jabbar was not as dominant in the 1980s as he was in the 1970s--and, like Erving, Abdul-Jabbar did more in the 1980s alone than most players do in their entire careers. Abdul-Jabbar was already 33 years old by the conclusion of the 1980 regular season but the arrival of rookie Magic Johnson seemed to lift his spirits. Abdul-Jabbar won five championships with Johnson and it is not like he was riding Johnson's coattails; Abdul-Jabbar won the 1980 regular season MVP (and probably would have won the 1980 Finals MVP if a sprained ankle had not forced him out of game six, setting the stage for Johnson's legendary 42 point, 15 rebound, seven assist performance) and at 38 years old he captured the 1985 Finals MVP. He made the All-NBA First Team four times during the 1980s, more than any other center (Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon each earned three First Team selections during the decade). He ranked 18th in scoring (20.6 ppg), 26th in rebounding (7.6 rpg) and third in blocked shots per game (2.6). Abdul-Jabbar was the focal point of the Lakers' offense until 1986-87 and even though he was no longer a dominant rebounder he was still a formidable rim protector.

Abdul-Jabbar's only serious challengers for pivot supremacy in the 1980s were Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon. Malone won a pair of regular season MVPs (1982, 1983) and he outplayed Abdul-Jabbar in the 1983 Finals. In the 1980s, Malone ranked seventh in scoring (24.5 ppg), first in rebounding (13.2 rpg) and 12th in blocked shots per game (1.4). His individual numbers were better than Abdul-Jabbar's and for a two year stretch (1982-83) he outplayed Abdul-Jabbar but Malone did not sustain that level, enabling Abdul-Jabbar to regain All-NBA First Team status. As first Malone and then Abdul-Jabbar faded, Olajuwon stepped to the forefront. In the 1980s Olajuwon relied more on pure athleticism than the nimble footwork which he perfected in the 1990s but even in his raw, early days he was a force to be reckoned with, ranking 10th in scoring (23.0 ppg), second in rebounding (12.1 rpg) and first in blocked shots (3.1 bpg) during the 1980s. Olajuwon was without question the best center in the NBA during the final three years of the 1980s. He actually finished fourth in the 1986 MVP voting, one spot ahead of Abdul-Jabbar, who was selected over Olajuwon as the All-NBA First Team center. Olajuwon captured All-NBA First Team honors in 1987-89, ranking seventh, seventh and fifth in the regular season MVP voting during those seasons. In the 1980s, Malone was more physical and relentless than Abdul-Jabbar, while Olajuwon was more athletic, but no center had a longer run at the top--both individually and from a team standpoint--than Abdul-Jabbar.

Thus, my All-1980s Team is Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


* One could argue that this is old news since Termine selected his All-Decade teams last year but this is the first opportunity that I have had to respond in depth and since the subject matter is historical the timeliness of the response does not matter; it is more important to address this subject thoroughly than it is to immediately fire something off in response.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:21 PM


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