GOTME (Part V): Power Forward

The Greatest PF Of the Modern Era: Tim Duncan

Player Top PER 5 Best PER Career #1 PER # of top 10 PER
Duncan 27.1 26.8 25.1 0 12
Barkley 28.9 27.3 24.6 0 14
Malone 28.9 27.5 23.9 1 13
Garnett 29.4 27.3 23.7 2 9
Dirk 28.1 26.4 23.8 2 8

Is it fair for us to use Championships, a team statistic, when measuring the greatness of an individual player? If we do, then we would have to conclude that of the five great power forwards of the modern era, Tim Duncan is the Greatest with a capital G. He sports four rings on his hand, to a combined one of the other three. And true, he’s done it with or without Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and David Robinson on his side, but he’s also accomplished it without having to face Michael Jordan. Tim Duncan entered the league as a rookie the same year Jordan would clinch his second three-peat and leave it. So to make the case for Duncan, I’d like to put aside championships. Unlike Barkley and Malone who had to suffer inglorious defeats at the dunks of His Airness, Duncan’s hand he was dealt suddenly came from a fair deck—and what a hand he was dealt.

The Big Fundamental does it with defense. Until his Spurs stumbled in this past season to the 5th best defense, as measured by Defensive Efficiency, Duncan’s team finished in the top three for his first eleven seasons. His personal defensive efficiency metrics bore this out—he’s led the league three times (2005, 2006, 2007) and been in the top four in every season but last, when he fell all the way to sixth. He does it with both blocks and rebounds. Even though it is intrinsically a conflict of interest to both go after the block and set yourself in position for a rebound, Duncan is a regular league leader in both categories (18.4%, career rebounding rate; 2.3 blocks per 36 min). With those endlessly long arms and huge hands, he rotates to help in the lane, stands as straight as possible and lets the ball hit him in the hands. This doesn’t sound sexy, and it isn’t. But it works.

While his defense helps prevent the easiest buckets from being scored against his team, Duncan sets himself up in the low post and helps score them for his team. He’s never set the league on fire with his offense, but with a healthy True-Shooting Percentage (55.3%), a high Usage rate (28.2), and a low turnover ratio for his position (12.5%), Duncan is the strong base for an offense that has finished in the top ten half of his seasons.

Reserves: Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone

If Duncan is the #1 greatest of his time, then Garnett is more of #1A than a #2. Despite my earlier moratorium on judging them in the context of their teams, imagine if we could go back in time and swap their careers. It’s easy to imagine that Garnett would have accomplished everything Duncan did with the Spurs—and Duncan may have floundered with early first round exits, just as surely as Garnett did playing alongside such NBA luminaries as Trent Hudson, Michael Olowandi, and Wally Szcerbiak.

Garnett’s numbers have been just as good as Duncan’s at every stage of his career. He’s just as good a rebounder (17.1%, career), though he blocks less shots (1.6 per 36 min), but just as tough a defensive presence, as his Boston Celtics team proved. He’s a better passer (20.5% career assist ratio), with a comparable TS% (54.7%) to Duncan, and he’s led the league in PER twice (29.4 in 2004, 28.2 in 2005) —a feat Duncan never pulled off. I am at least refreshed to see Garnett earn his championship before the intensity of his game finally does away with his knees.

Unlike Duncan who is a center masquerading as a power forward, Malone perfectly fit the archetype of a Power forward. The prototypical bruiser, The Mailman hip-checked the competition right out of the way on his forays to the basket. Gliding lay-up after gliding lay-up, healthy dollops of free throws, and an understated proclivity for the open court, long the games most physically fit player was for a few years its second-best—that pesky Jordan again. He did lead the league in PER (28.9) in his first winning MVP season at the evergreen age of 33. That figure did drop to 25.4 for his second league MVP in the strike-shortened season.

To “round” out the top four, we turn to the offensive powerhouse and true mouth of the South, Charles Barkley. Sir Charles ranks sixth all-time in TS% (61.2%) , a feat he accomplished by out-“muscling” everyone under the basket, cleaning up the offensive glass, and throwing down bone-jarring dunk after dunk. What makes his rebounding dominance so impressive (24.4 on the defensive glass, and a world-breaking 12.5% on the offensive), is he had two things going against him: height and skill. The height should have held him back pulling in opponent misses. It didn’t. And most offensive rebound leaders are otherwise unskilled rotation staples, who are left uncovered on defensive rotations. Not Barkley. He was the best player on his team, everyone was geared to stop him, and he grabbed his misses anyway.

On defense, Sir Charles wasn’t exactly the sieve some make him out to be, but then again, with nary a defensive rating under 100, he wasn’t exactly shutting down the opposition either. Despite his so-called physical limitations, Barkley proved to be an effective player well into his mid-30’s, serving as a perfect example of Bill James maxim that unique players—and in Sir Charles’s case, we do mean unique—tend to age better.

Honorable Mention: Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk is probably the most skilled seven footer ever to play the game—he shoots like a guard, rebounds like a center—and even added a D to his name in recent years. We don’t think of Dirk as a reliable defender, nor do we remember Kevin McHale as a bit of a softie, but the big German actually has better Defensive Rating numbers than the Celtic stalwart. Nowitzki led the league in PER twice (28.1 in 2006, 27.6 in 2007). He does this by hitting every kind of shot he takes (47.2% FG, 37.8% on three-point attempts, and 87.2% on FTs), adding up to a robust TS % (58.1%). He just doesn’t stand and wait for the ball either. He uses 26.8% of his team’s possessions and gives the ball away a paltry 9.0%. But that being said, he’s already hit 30, and you can’t help but fear that his best years are now officially behind him. Has his opportunity for a championship passed him by, or will his career push out into his twilight years? After all, you don’t forget to shoot and he’s not getting any shorter.

The Worst Article of 2008

Long time fans know my least favorite articles are the ones where an author obviously has come to a conclusion and tries to put together facts to support it. In 2004 I railed against Frank Hughes, the next year Charlie Rosen caught my ire, and in 2007 I took a writer from paperbacknovel to task. This year’s KnickerBlogger worst article of 2008 belongs to Bill Simmons piece on D’Antoni/Nash, which was published just before the new year. Simmons begins by bashing D’Antoni:

D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams were wildly entertaining, consistently successful—and always heading home before the Finals. D’Antoni didn’t care that just about every NBA champ since the 1988-89 Pistons had won with defense; once teams slowed the Suns’ tempo and systematically broke them down, their lack of commitment to D always surfaced. Always. They had a fatal flaw. It took us four years to realize it.

Simmons logic is straight out of the internet trolls’ handbook in the chapter titled “Count the Ringz!!1!!” Since 1984, only 8 different coaches have won a title, and like many of his peers Mike D’Antoni isn’t in that select group. Jerry Sloan’s teams were consistently successful for nearly 25 years and he never won a championship. Neither have other respected coaches like George Karl, Don Nelson, Rick Adelman, and both Van Gundys. Winning a championship is a rare event, and failing to do so shouldn’t discredit a coach or style of play.

Additionally Simmons claims “just about every NBA champ since the 1988-89 Pistons had won with defense.” After the Bad Boys won back to back titles, the Bulls won three championship teams by finishing 1st, 1st, and 2nd on offense. Then the Rockets won their first championship due to defense, but the 1995 team with Drexler was 6th on offense and 12th on defensive. Phil Jackson’s threepeat Lakers finished 4th, 2nd, and 2nd on offense. Although some championship teams were stronger on defense, most championship teams are good on both ends of the court and the exceptions generally even out. The 2005 Pistons won with their defense (18th on offense, 2nd on defense), while the 2001 Lakers were an offensive minded team (2nd on offense, 21st on defense). The claim that defense wins championships has been debunked before (namely here and here), and there has not been a defensive trend since 1989.

Simmons proceeds to belittle Steve Nash’s career . He says Nash was a “borderline All-Star” without D’Antoni and says Nash was only “slightly better than Mark Price.” The first is preposterous. Nash started off his career with 4 mediocre seasons, however he became a more productive player by improving his scoring. Nash’s pts/36 went from 11.3 to 16.5 to 18.6. He posted a healthy PER of 19.6 in 2001 at the age of 26. The next year he had a similar season (20.7 PER), became an All Star, and was voted to an All NBA team. This was when he was still in Dallas, before he played for D’Antoni. Nash was a late bloomer, but in Dallas he became a legitimate All Star.

As for the comparison to Price, I’m not sure what to make of it. During his career, Price was voted to 4 All NBA teams and received some consideration for the MVP award. So during his peak he was a pretty good player. However Price’s career ended early. He began to decline at the age of 30 and played his last season at the age of 33. On the other hand Nash has aged well. He won his first MVP at the age of 30, and last year at 33 Nash made the All NBA second team. Considering that Nash is still playing at a high level at the age of 34 (a point that Simmons makes by showing Nash’s numbers this season to be identical to his All Star year in Dallas), it’s clear that Nash’s career has already and will continue to eclipse Price’s. From my perspective Mark Price is to Steve Nash as Shawn Kemp is to Karl Malone.

It’s unfortunate because I understand Simmons’ point. Steve Nash’s assists ballooned under D’Antoni due to the style of play. Nash had the ball in his hand frequently due to the fast paced point guard emphasized offense. So Nash was able to rack up more assists than someone playing for one of the Van Gundys. This is common in just about every sport, but Simmons claims the opposite:

Which brings me to my point, and I swear I have one: Of the four major sports, only in basketball is the historical fate of everyone from borderline All-Star to borderline superstar determined entirely by his situation.

In football, we sometimes see great players trapped on abominable teams (Barry Sanders, Archie Manning) and good players hitting the team lottery (Jim Kelly, Franco Harris), but we can usually tell either way.

You have to wonder what Simmons was on when he wrote that. In the NFL, players are consistently a product of their situation. Kurt Warner is a prime example. When he played for the Rams, Warner was highly effective, twice throwing for more than 4300 yards and 36 TDs. But when placed on a Giants team with a different system, Warner’s play was so bad he lost the starting job. This year in Arizona, Warner was mentioned as a possible MVP candidate. So unlike Simmons’ claim, an NFL player can go from backup to superstar depending on their situation.

But a more appropriate example for Nash might be Tom Brady. In 2007 Brady threw for 50 TDs, nearly twice his career average. Did Brady all of a sudden become more talented? No. Rather the Patriots changed their offense which emphasized his strengths. And you can say the same thing for Nash. D’Antoni’s system increased his stats to the point where a PG in a traditional system might not be able to reach. However Nash still had to perform at a high level to attain those stats. Saying the system turned a regular starter into an MVP is a stretch whether you’re applying that to Steve Nash or Tom Brady.

Arguing D’Antoni’s system was ideal for Nash to win games and put up eye popping numbers seems reasonable. Arguing that Nash’s numbers were inflated by the offense that the team ran is also logical, and that he might not have been the best player in those two seasons is rational. Simmons could have written an article that showed that Nash and D’Antoni were fortunate enough to cross paths having a synergistic effect on each other.

Instead he uses old cliches and false analogies in attempt to assert his opinion. Simmons blames statistics for the problem, and says “stat geeks” as the ones responsible for falling in love with Nash’s inflated numbers. But as this APBRmetrics poll from 2005 showed most numerical analysts didn’t have Nash as a top 3 MVP candidate that year. Ironically if Simmons had a rudimentary understanding of statistics, he would have understood the concept of pace, and could have better articulated his position on Nash. Oh well, maybe next year.

Nominee: Worst NBA Article of 2005

(Thanks to TrueHoop for the link. While Henry & I might disagree on Stephon Marbury’s worth, his site is easily one of the best places on the web to keep up with everything going on in the NBA.)

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t really written much this summer. It’s not that I needed some rest from a long NBA season. Nor is there something going on with my life that requires I take an extended break from one of my favorite pastimes. It’s just that there’s really nothing to write about. OK so maybe there are a few things going on in the league, but I have no interest in speculating where Shareef Abdur-Rahim lands or what Michael Jordan’s friends do on a golf course. While I’m not a professional writer, I take pride with what goes on my site, and try to put up the best material with the limited time my free time affords.

On the other hand, not being a paid writer may have its advantages. For example, I don’t have a boss (editor, manager, CEO or whatever) suggesting that I write about a certain topic. Nor am I obligated to write when the creative juices aren’t flowing in order to feed my family (which is a tad bit smaller than the Sprewell clan). I can only imagine that one of those two scenarios is what led Charley Rosen to write this piece on the most overrated players in history, instead of it being of his own volition.

Rosen starts his piece of with: “The numbers are misleading, and so is the hype. The truth is that too many ‘good’ players are wrongly celebrated as being all-time greats. To set the record straight, here’s an alphabetical list of the most overrated NBA players ever.” The only thing that would make me cringe more than that first sentence, would be to hear that they’re turning Diff’rent Strokes into a movie. It’s not as much that Rosen brushes away any statistical analysis, but rather that he puts it on the same level as “hype”. Real statistical analysis starts by asking a question and using the information available to answer it. Hype is emotional excitement that occurs after the fact, and is the antithesis of numerical analysis. Even the terms “overrated” and “underrated” lack any kind of validity. Whether someone is overrated or underrated relies heavily on the individual’s opinion. For example, if you thought that Shaq was going to be twice as good as Wilt Chamberlain, then he was overrated. Ironically, the same player can be underrated by some and overrated by others (Steve Nash comes to mind).

Some of the players that made Rosen’s list of most overrated of all time are Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing. Throw in Bird & Laettner, and you have the entire front court of the original Dream Team. Charles Barkley, who starts off the list, is called a “a chronic underachiever” by Rosen. Yes, the same Barkley who, despite being at least an inch shorter than his listed 6’6 and gave up nearly half a foot to his competition, made the All Star Team 11 times at power forward. Meanwhile, according to Charley, Karl Malone will only make the Hall of Fame because of two reasons “John Stockton and longevity.” Going by that logic, had the Jazz taken Terry Catledge with the 13th pick instead, maybe he would have been a two time MVP and the #2 man on the all time points scored list.

Of David Robinson, Rosen says “This guy was a cream puff. He could come from the weak-side to block shots, but he couldn’t guard his own man. He could rebound, but rarely in a crowd. He could score, but only on foul-line jumpers, or only if a defender bought a head fake after he drove his left hand into the middle. He couldn’t pass or handle. He couldn’t stand his ground in the paint.” The “cream puff” was All-Defensive 8 times, and ranks 6th all time in blocked shots. Since Robinson’s rookie year, only 12 other players have had more rebounds per minute. He won the Defensive Player of the Year, led the league in free throws 3 straight years, and won an MVP, all before Tim Duncan arrived.

However it’s Rosen’s inclusion of Ewing that really got my goat. If you thought that coming out of Georgetown that Ewing was going to be the next Kareem, then yeah he was overrated. But look at what Rosen has to say about him: “Had he played out of the spotlight in someplace like Orlando or Salt Lake City, Ewing would be remembered as a jump-shooting center who worked hard. Period.”

My friends, Sam Perkins was a jump-shooting center who worked hard. While it’s true that Ewing could bury the jumper, he was more than just an overachieving outside threat. Ewing frequently scored from the paint, something that his 50.5 eFG% and 1.11 PSA will atest to.

Rosen continues: “In truth, he couldn’t handle, pass, move laterally, and do anything worthwhile when an important game was on the line. Moreover, his dim apprehension of what the game was all about precluded any thoughts of being unselfish. Except for the early days of the Mets and the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York sports fans rarely hitch their devotion to a loser like Ewing.”

While I won’t lie and say that Ewing was a fantastic passer and never turned the ball over, the author is clearly cherry picking abilities here. Notice he used the same attributes of not being able to dribble or pass for both Robinson and Ewing. That’s because most centers aren’t known for their ability to run the point. In fact, Patrick’s per 48 minute points (29.3 to 29.2), turnovers (4.2 to 4.0), free throws made (6.4 to 5.9), offensive rebounds (3.3 to 4.4), eFG%( 50.4 to 51.2), and PSA (1.11 to 1.11) are comparable to another contemporary left off the list, Hakeem Olajuwon. Rosen uses a technique he must have learned at the Daily Oklahoman writing school, lowering himself to insulting Ewing by describing him as selfish, dim, and a loser.

Ewing never won any MVP awards, nor did he ever win a championship. However he was the centerpiece on two of the top 5 defensive teams of all times (according to Dean Oliver). During his prime, Ewing had 10 straight seasons where he missed 5 or less games and over that decade, the second highest minute getters on his teams each year were: Gerald Wilkins, Johnny Newman, (an aging) Kiki Vandeweghe, John Starks, Anthony Mason, and Allan Houston (for one year). If #33 was a loser, it was more because of his colleagues than himself. In fact Ewing might have had that championship ring, if not for one of his teammates missing 16 shots one June night. If Patrick was selfish he might have blasted Starks for the game 7 Finals loss. He might have whined about the Knicks never giving him a decent second option on offense. He might have forced his team to trade him, as so many athletes looking at their own best interests do. Instead he stayed for 15 seasons, only asking to leave after the Garden crowd not so politely asked him first.

No matter how you feel about Ewing, you have to admit that my assessment of the man was a bit more fair. So why did Rosen feel the need to do such a hack job on him, and a dozen NBA greats? Maybe it’s the summer heat, or the pressure of paying that air-conditioner burdened electric bill. Charley’s article comes almost a year after Frank Hughes’ stinker of 2004, which makes me glad that I take a little time off in the summer.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part III)

[This entry is brought to you by Knickerblogger.net’s Director of College Scouting, Dave Crockett. As always, I can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

In part two I evaluated the NBA draft for Eastern Conference teams based on their strategy, either best player available or need/fit. Now, let?s take a look at the Western Conference teams. To review briefly, I will review each team?s draft based on its apparent strategy and categorize it as ?Accept,? ?Revise and resubmit,? or ?Reject.? Players are listed by overall selection number, name, height (with shoes), wingspan (if available), weight (lbs.), position, and school.

Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks

* No selections in this draft

Denver Nuggets

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and Resubmit (minor changes)

20. Julius Hodge (6-7, 7-0-1/2, 202.2#), G, N. Carolina State

27. Linas Kleiza (6-8, NA, 235#), F, Missouri?

35. Ricky Sanchez (6-11, NA, 215#), SF, IMG Academy JC (FL) ?

55. Axel Herville (6-9, NA, 230#), PF, Spain

? Denver acquired the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection) for the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection).

Denver?s top priority is a (big) scoring guard, preferably one with good range. However, a reasonably deep free agent class coupled with veterans facing their impending release via the new ?amnesty? provision (e.g., Allan Houston and Michael Finley) in the CBA and the Nuggets could wind up with a quality 2nd tier free agent SG for their MLE, or perhaps even just part of it. Given this I generally like what Denver did in the draft. Hodge was asked to carry a lot of dead weight this season at N.C. State. He was asked to create offense for others and to score. Having so much asked of him affected his offense in my opinion. He is a better shooter than his final season indicated. He is a superb ball handler, a leader, very adept at getting others involved, and capable of putting a team on his skinny little shoulders at times as we saw against UConn in the NCAA tournament. Linas Kleiza has nice versatility. He?s tough, a physical rebounder with some range on his shot. However, I rated Wayne Simien and David Lee higher. Of course, the fact that Kleiza can develop overseas without costing the Nuggets any money may have played a role in his selection.

Golden State Warriors

* Strategy: Need/Best Player Available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (minor changes)

9. Ike Diogu (6-8, 7-3-1/2, 255.4#), PF, Arizona State

40. Monta Ellis (6-3-1/4, 6-2-3/4, 176.6#), G, Lanier HS (MS)

42. Chris Taft (6-9-1/2, 7-1-3/4, 261.0#), PF, Pittsburgh

It appears that Golden State was poised to take the best power forward available, whether Channing Frye, Villanueva, or Diogu. During the leadup to the draft it became more and more difficult to find people who think Diogu won?t be able to translate his game to the NBA. For all the talk about Diogu being undersized he measured only one-half inch shorter in shoes than Sean May and has a broader wingspan by more than two inches. Diogu will be able to play power forward in the league. What?s hard to miss about Diogu is that he takes the punishment and lives at the free throw line, where he?s a good free throw shooter. The downside of picking Diogu is that he scores from some of the same areas on the floor as Troy Murphy. Neither player can reasonably be switched to small forward so it is unlikely they can play together. In the second round they picked one-time lottery projection Chris Taft. While the tales of his attitude problems have been well chronicled from a pure basketball standpoint it was the tape measure as much as anything that did him in. He measured at less than 6-10, and there is little about his game to suggest he can move out on the floor at all.

Houston Rockets

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

24. Luther Head (6-3, 6-5-1/4, 178.8#), G, Illinois

This was a guy I?d hoped would fall to New York at #30. So I like Head. He played his ass off in Chicago. Though his ability to run the point has been called into question his defense and shooting are more than solid, which is really what matters to Houston since McGrady often dominates the ball. My problem with this pick is that the team has so little depth at small forward or power forward. McGrady is the only small forward currently under contract and Juwon Howard, who has been breaking down rapidly, is backed up by Clarence Weatherspoon and Vin Baker. Luther Head is somewhat similar to their other combo guards (Bob Sura and David Wesley). Houston may have rated Head higher on their draft board than Wayne Simien (probably because of Simien?s shoulder problems) but they may regret passing on him.

L.A. Clippers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Reject

12. Yaroslav Korolev (6-9, NA, 215#), SF, Russia

32. Daniel Ewing (6-3, NA, 185#), PG, Duke

Back when the Dallas Mavs traded the draft rights to Robert ?Tractor? Traylor to Milwaukee for the rights to Dirk Nowitski I rated it as one of the most lopsided deals in NBA history. Of course at the time I thought Milwaukee was getting the better end of the deal. So I?ve learned not to overreact to such deals. This kid may turn out to be a player. But this pick was bogus; a classic case of bidding against yourself. Korolev stayed in the draft based solely on an early promise from the Clips. It?s safe to assume that the Clippers will once again be moribund next season, especially if Bobby Simmons walks. Korolev?s Russian team was not likely to play him much more next season, if at all. So in all likelihood he?d be on the board next season around the same spot, but after another piece to the puzzle had already been put in place for a year. I know the official story is that Mike Dunleavy fell in love with this kid but I smell Donald Sterling here. In round 2 the Clips were probably hoping that either Nate Robinson or Salim Stoudamire would fall to them. No such luck. Still, Ewing should be a solid role player/part time starter for them.

L.A. Lakers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

10. Andrew Bynum (7-0, NA, 300#), C, St. Joeseph?s HS (NJ)

37. Rony Turiaf (6-9-1/4, 7-1-1/2, 237.8#), PF, Gonzaga

39. Von Wafer (6-5, NA, 210#), SG, Florida State

I?m in the clear minority of people who felt like the Lakers, when forced to choose between Shaq and Kobe, had to keep Kobe and trade the Big Aristotle. However, I never liked the deal they made for Shaq. They created a glut of small forwards bigger than the one on Team USA this summer. Kobe, Lamar Odom (even if disguised as a PF), Caron Butler, Devean George, Jumain Jones, Luke Walton, and Tony Bobbitt all play small forward. The Shaq trade influenced what the Lakers did in this draft. Instead of drafting a player to help them in the top ten they drafted a player to help someone else. I think Bynum?s days with the Lakers will be relatively short; maybe this summer, maybe trade deadline, next summer tops. He is the pretty bow to tie around a package that includes one or more of the small forwards for a point guard or center who can help them in the next 2 years. Turiaf should take Brian Grant?s place in the rotation once he is released. Wafer is a scorer to bring off the bench.

Memphis Grizzlies

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

19. Hakim Warrick (6-8-1/2, 7-2, 215#), PF, Syracuse

Given the impending roster fluctuation in Memphis it?s hard to argue with West taking the ?best player.? The one real downside to Warrick is that he?s a ?tweener, which means he cannot play for every team. But Memphis features a number of ?tweeners, including G/F Shane Battier, G/F James Posey, SF/PF Brian Cardinal and PF/C Pau Gasol. So clearly that?s not a problem for Jerry West. The open floor style they favor also emphasizes Warrick?s athleticism. Also, much like with the slender Gasol I don?t think the Grizzlies will shy away from posting Warrick in certain matchups. The other potential direction West might have gone would have been for a point guard, like Jarrett Jack, given that Jason Williams and/or Earl Watson won?t be back. I know they like Antonio Burks but he?s still more of a combo guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

14. Rashad McCants (6-4, 6-10-3/4, 201), SG, N. Carolina

47. Bracey Wright (6-2-1/2, 6-10, 186.8), G, Indiana

ESPN?s Jay Bilas, who is usually not a taker of pot-shots said, ?If I had a nickel for every time Rashad McCants really got down and guarded somebody I?d have a nickel.? Now that is being called out, and the sad part is that even Tar Heel fans must admit that this is true. McCants is a talented scorer who has been taken out of games (e.g., @ Wake Forest and vs. Illinois), as all scorers are occasionally, but I have yet to see him make a significant contribution with any other part of his game. I have a difficult time with this pick for Minnesota because McHale & Co. took a player whose sole contribution is his scoring over Granger and Wright who score and defend. McCants doesn?t rebound. He doesn?t handle the ball. He doesn?t pass. And prolonged exposure to defense appears to produce in him something similar to anaphylactic shock. The Wolves, facing the likely departure of Sprewell and great uncertainty about Fred Hoiberg’s health (good luck to The Mayor of Ames, Iowa), certainly need a wing player but they also need someone apart from Garnett who plays both ends. Bracey Wright is a nice fit considering that he is something of a shoot-first point guard with passing skills, similar to Sam Cassell.

New Orleans Hornets

* Strategy: Best player available/Need

* Review: Accept

4. Chris Paul (6-1, 6-4-1/4, 178#), PG, Wake Forest

33. Brandon Bass (6-7-1/4, 7-2-1/2, 246#), PF, LSU

Chris Paul was perhaps the most efficient offensive player in the nation this past season. He shot a high percentage (52.3% efg, 1.54 points per shot), created for teammates (2.4 to 1 assist to turnover), and lived at the free throw line (5.8 attempts per game @ 83%). There is little to be disappointed with in his sophomore season, well, other than socking Julius Hodge below the belt and getting bumped early in the NCAAs. (Wake simply didn?t play enough defense to make a deep run in the tournament. They were the classic upset-prone high-seed.) Paul was absolutely the right move for New Orleans. I like the selection of Brandon Bass in the second round too. Bass is a multi-talented player who simply wasn?t getting coached at LSU. Though he measures only 6-7 he has shoulders right out of the Karl Malone catalog, long arms, and an expanding game. This kid will always be a rebounder but has the potential to be much more, particularly on a team with steady point guard play that likes to run.

Phoenix Suns

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

54. Dijon Thompson (6-8, 6-9-3/4, 195.8#), G/F, UCLA?

Cash??

? Phoenix acquired F Kurt Thomas and G/F Dijon Thompson (the 54th overall selection) from the New York Knicks for G/F Quentin Richardson and G Nate Robinson (the 21st overall selection).

?? Phoenix traded the rights to C Marcin Gortat (the 57th overall selection) to the Orlando Magic for cash.

Phoenix?s primary interest was in getting Kurt Thomas and clearing cap space to re-sign Joe Johnson and Steven Hunter. Dijon Thompson is a talented offensive player, especially in the mid-range area. He?s not such a threat from long range (which makes me wonder why everyone lists him as a guard when he played the SF almost exclusively at UCLA). Even if Phoenix does re-sign Joe Johnson the team would be remiss if it did not explore other options at the backup point guard.

Portland Trailblazers

* Strategy: Best player available/need

* Review: Revise and resubmit

6. Martell Webster (6-7-1/2, 6-11, 229.6#), SG, Seattle Prep HS (WA)

22. Jarrett Jack (6-3-1/2, 6-7-1/2, 197.6#), PG, Georgia Tech?

? Portland acquired the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection) from the Denver Nuggets for the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection).

Webster and Gerald Green will always be linked as the last ?pre-age restriction? class. The two will always be compared to each other, even apart from the other high schoolers chosen in this draft; a bit like LeBron and Carmello but rarely LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Unlike Green Webster is a big (i.e., chunky) kid. I don?t know that he?s in NBA caliber condition but he is thick. I like the trade for Jack, who can play some shooting guard, and really helps shore up the defense.

Sacramento Kings

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Accept

23. Francisco Garcia (6-7, 6-10-3/4, 189.6#), SG, Louisville

Garcia won?t help the Kings get key stops but he will add depth and another shooter. Make no mistake about it though the window has closed on that group. They?re 7th or 8th seed material for the foreseeable future. If they?re smart they?ll begin moving pieces (e.g., Brad Miller) that they can get value for now.

San Antonio Spurs

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept

28. Ian Mahinmi (6-10, NA, 230#), PF, France

You have to give the Spurs the benefit of the doubt when it comes to international talent. They scout overseas more extensively than any other team. The Spurs don?t really need anything out of this draft so it hardly surprises that they would pick a player who can be stashed overseas to develop. Most of their key players are in their primes and locked up long-term. So in one sense there?s no sense in paying first round scratch to a kid who is not going to contribute in the foreseeable future when they could use that money to keep Horry and/or Glen Robinson. Mahinmi is only 18 and it may be 2-3 seasons before he is ready to play in the NBA.

Seattle Supersonics

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

25. Johan Petro (7-1, NA, 250), C, France

38. Mikael Gelabale (6-7, NA, 210), SF, France

Seattle went big and young in last year?s draft, taking Robert Swift. They follow it up with the athletic Petro from France. He is said to be very athletic, a skilled shot-blocker, but raw. Seattle could lose both Jerome James (especially if Nate McMillan does not return) and Vitale Potapenko, robbing them of their size. It seems unlikely that either Swift or Petro is ready to contribute in the upcoming season should Seattle?s current centers walk. Nonetheless, given what was available (primarily power forwards) and persistent rumors that the team is unhappy with Swift?s progress Seattle likely made lemonade out of lemons. Much like Damien Wilkins last year, Gelabale is an athlete who?ll probably be invited to summer league. While it appears Seattle is poised to re-sign Ray Allen the odds of re-signing Antonio Daniels seem a bit lower. Seattle might have considered using that second round pick to take a flyer on a backup point guard (e.g., Alex Acker or John Gilchrist)

Utah Jazz

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

3. Deron Williams (6-2-3/4, 6-6-1/4, 202.4#), PG, Illinois

34. C.J. Miles (6-6, NA, 207), SG, Skyline HS (TX)

51. Robert Whaley (6-9, 7-2, 269.4#), C, Walsh

I love Deron Williams, particularly in Jerry Sloan?s system. He?s the right player for what they do. He also plays defense, which will allow him to stay on the floor for Sloan. (Defense is something Chris Paul doesn?t do; at least not yet.) However, I?m not in love with anything Utah did in the second round. Bad teams have to make second round picks pay dividends. C.J. Miles apparently never hired an agent and may honor his letter of intent to attend Texas; much like Vashon Lenard went through the draft but stayed in school years ago. If Utah was going to take a flyer on a high school kid why not take Andray Blatche, the 6-11 high school kid from CT at 34 then Dijon Thompson from UCLA at 51? Robert Whaley played his tail off in Chicago but seems more of a priority free agent.

I Don’t Mind Losing

The West is over. The Phoenix Suns, or their fans, are out of excuses. Apparently, the Suns didn’t have enough rest between their Friday night OT win to end round 2 against the Mavericks and game 1 the following Sunday against the Spurs. In the second game, Phoenix was still smarting from the loss of Joe Johnson when they lost by 3 against Emperor Popovich and Darth Defense. Yesterday the Spurs won by 10, and I’m sure Joe Johnson was still rusty. Or it was playing on the road. Or just a couple of shots here or there.

One of the quotes from game 3 from Steve Nash is “we haven’t found a way to stop them yet.” My question would be have they really been looking? I know the Suns aren’t the best defensive team in the league, but they’ve really stuck with “Plan A.” Their bench outside of their 6 man rotation (McCarty, Outlaw, Voskuhl, Shirley, and Barbosa) has seen 16 minutes the entire series. That includes 13 minutes from Barbosa in game 1. It’s hard to find new ways to stop the same team that’s beat you three straight without changing the personnel. In other words Phoenix hasn’t really tried anything else.

But I digress on that topic, and would rather talk about the battle in the East. The title of this entry refers to my Blog Bracket’s Eastern pick. I chose the Heat to win in 5, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong. In fact I wouldn’t mind if the Pistons won the series, and I have 3 reasons.

1. Defensive Shift
If the Pistons could find a way to win this series, it might usher in a new era of NBA defense. And before I’m deafened from the rolling eyeballs of my readers I’d like to say this defensive era will be different from the last. The Chuck Daly Pistons created a style of play that would be distilled into it’s pure form with the Knicks and the Heat. However this new defensive era would not be of might, but rather of skill and athleticism.

There is no one from those 90s teams that is represented on today’s Pistons or Spurs. There’s no Laimbeer or Aguirre. No Ewing or Oakley. No Alonzo or P.J. The new century has brought about a new way of preventing scoring. The Pistons trio of Ben, ‘Sheed, and Tayshaun is more likely to hit your shot than your torso. Bruce Bowen couldn’t even make it with the Heat in 1997. If a Pistons-Spurs finals were to emerge, the league would have to stand up & take notice. You might see more Tayshaun Princes and less Tim Thomases.

2. Alonzo Mourning.
Ok so you’re thinking that since I’m a Knick fan, I don’t like Alonzo Mourning due to the rivalry. And you’d be damn right. But in case you root for another team and that dislike means nothing to you, I’ll give you something else to think about.

First is the New Jersey Nets. Imagine how exciting the East would have been with Kidd, Jefferson, Carter and Mourning roaming East Rutherford. Alonzo’s defense would have made the Nets a contender. New Jersey went into the playoffs winning 10 of their last 10, and that’s with Jason Collins’ sorry ass in the starting lineup (sorry the Knicks fan is coming out again). I’m well aware that Mourning was involved in the deal, but that brings me to my next point.

The second reason is the Toronto Raptors. I know every player out there wants to win a championship, but I hate players that do it only by riding on the coattails of others. That Gary Payton didn’t find it palatable to go to L.A. until Karl Malone convinced him that he’d get a ring with Shaq & Kobe makes me think it was less of a charitable act and more an ego-centric one (Kevin Pelton’s reply in the comment section in 5,4,3…)

Which brings me back to Mourning. If he wanted to do an unselfish act, he could have suited up & been a mentor to budding big men Bosh & Araujo. Alonzo could have helped be a difference in Toronto’s season, and maybe help them make the playoffs. Instead he never played a game in purple, and pouted until Toronto released him so he could fly south back to Miami where ‘Zo could earn his first ring by playing 20 minutes a night.

3. An Intriguing East in 2006.
Let me ask you a question, which storyline would be better for next year? The Heat make themselves the kings of the East by beating the defending champions Detroit Pistons. So Detroit becomes a fluke champion, having won the title against a flawed and injured Lakers team. Every other team in the East becomes an afterthought.

OR

The Pistons move on to the Finals for the second straight year, and Shaq goes home for the second straight summer wondering how the biggest man in sports lost to a team effort. So the Big Guy comes back next year with three chips on his shoulder to settle. The first with Kobe & the Laker management for rejecting him. The second against the Pistons for stopping him twice in a row. The last against the rest of the league for choosing the diminutive Nash as MVP instead.

If the Heat win this year, it’d make them as instant favorites next year. However if Detroit pulls off the improbable, who would you pick as the 2006 East favorites? Detroit? Miami? Indiana? New Jersey? New York? (Sorry had to throw that last one in there.)

I have nothing against Shaq. Or Dwayne Wade, who seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the league’s elite. It’d just be a more interesting league if Detroit went on to the Finals.

KnickerBlogger Has No Heart

The good news about leaving a comment on my blog is that I may write a whole column on it. The bad news is when I disagree with your premise. The other day I wrote this little tidbit after the Knicks lost to the Nets:

I usually scoff at the notion that the Knicks needed more players with heart (I believe talent trumps all), but this team has me nearly converted.

To which a Knick fan named “Ted” commented with:

Ya “talent trumps all” that’s why the Trail-Blazers won so many titles in the 90s and the Lakers beat the Pistons last year. Regardlessly (sic), talent is not what the Knicks lack; defense and heart are what’s missing. Give me a Riley or Van Gundy team that’s going to work there (sic) asses off and hold the opponent to 80 points over this…crap any day.

One definition of talent is “a person or group of people having such ability”. In my definition of talent, playing defense is certainly included. Tim Thomas is big and athletic, but is not an able defender (or rebounder). You can be talented in one area and unskilled in another. Is Ben Wallace talented? In regards to rebounding and interior defense, absolutely. In regards to dribbling or shooting, absolutely not.

Obviously the Knicks’ defense, which is ranked 27th, is something that both Ted & I agree needs improvement. However Ted also states that the team needs more heart. The human heart typically weighs about 300 grams, but I’m unable to find any web pages that list the size of NBA player’s hearts. While they do list the total height and weight of each player, no web page has it broken down into individual body parts. In theory getting more oxygen to the body’s cells could improve the Knicks athletically, but I’m not sure if such a procedure is feasible. I’m not a doctor, but left ventricular hypertrophy seems to be more of an affliction than a blessing.

Seriously though, I’m not big on building a team around intangibles like heart or leadership or veteran presence. Let’s look at the teams that Ted says lost because they were heartless.

Year
Exp Win%
Opp
oExp Win%
1990
70%
DET
70%
1991
76%
LAL
72%
1992
72%
CHI
80%
1999
69%
SAS
78%
2000
72%
LAL
78%

I chose the 5 best Blazer squads of the 90s, and the opposing team that bounced them out of the playoffs. The only one of these Portland teams that lost to an inferior club were the 1991 Blazers, but it’s not improbable that they would lose a 7 game series. The Lakers were a strong team in their own right and had the best player on the court in Magic Johnson (25.1 PER 4th overall). Of the four other Blazer teams that made the list, two faced the #1 defensive team that year (Pistons & Spurs) and the other two played against vastly superior teams (Bulls & Lakers).

If you ignore the evidence that shows the Blazers were the lesser team and attribute their losses to a lack of heart, then that wouldn’t explain why a few players from these teams won titles in other cities. Did Clyde Drexler suddenly gain “heart” when he played alongside Hakeem Olajuwon and won a championship in Houston, or was it that the Rockets were a more talented team? Did Scottie Pippen lose the “heart” he had while playing with Jordan in Chicago, or were the Blazers just not good enough to win in ’99 & ’00? The Detroit Pistons wouldn’t have dominated like they did last year without Rasheed Wallace, but was the big addition his “heart” or his ability?

Take the same logic and apply it to Ted’s other heartless team, last year’s Lakers. The difference between the 2004 Lakers and the threepeaters was not heart, or leadership, or desire, but rather a decline in play. Shaq from 2001-2003 averaged an astounding 30 PER. That’s so good, the average would be in the top 15 seasons of all time. However in 2004 it dropped to a mere 24, which wouldn’t crack the top 100. Add to O’Neal’s deteriorating production the Lakers’ inability to adequately replace an injured Karl Malone coupled with the Pistons’ off the chart defense, and the reason is clear why Los Angeles lost.

If given the choice between blaming these losses on something measurable like performance or something intangible like heart, I’ll take the former every time. There is just no proof that heart leads to winning nor is there any way to measure it, either on a team or an individual level. Hence why I say “talent trumps all.” If your team needs defense, get someone that can clamp down on his opponent, or can control the paint. If you need offense grab some sharp shooters or post scorers. Getting guys that can do both is even better. Build a team that can score and defend, and don’t worry about where their heart is.