Keep a Close Watch on the Madness for Us (Part II)

[For Part I of David Crockett’s two part piece scroll down, unless you’re the type that likes to read the ending first.]

Small Forwards

Player Team Yr PPG RPG APG eFG% FTM/FGA
Gomes, Ryan Prov. SR 21.7 8.2 3.3 55.0 24
Thompson, Dijon UCLA SR 18.2 8.1 2.2 53.2 29
Warrick, Hakim Syracuse SR 21.2 8.2 1.6 56.2 45
Caner-Medley, Nik Maryland JR 16.7 5.9 2.1 52.7 23
Granger, Danny New Mexico SR 18.3 8.5 2.3 59.8 44
Williams, Jawad North Carolina SR 14.4 4.0 1.5 62.4 30
Williams, Marvin North Carolina FR 11.3 6.5 0.8 55.9 56
Graham, Joey Ok. State SR 17.7 6.4 2.0 57.8 39
Lee, David Florida SR 13.3 8.8 2.2 52.4 40
Wright, Antoine Texas A&M JR 17.6 6.2 2.2 58.1 24

The Guys I Like

? Dijon Thompson, UCLA. Strengths: The kid named after a condiment can score. He’s a true SF with a lot of skills. CBS Sportsline lists him as a guard; he played there last year a bit but hasn’t at all this year. Questions: He was a weak defender when he arrived. He still is. Will he ever play any?
? Hakim Warrick, Syracuse. Strengths: He has superb post footwork, and an uncanny knack for getting his shot off against stronger, taller players. The championship-clinching shot block is a “never forget it” play. Weaknesses: Where do you pick him? How do you use him? His career will be all about expectations. He has tremendous tools but may never be dominant at anything. That won’t play on every franchise. He’ll begin his career as a SF, but what will he grow to be?
? Jawad Williams, N. Carolina. Strengths: He reminds me of Ced Ceballos in that he could score 10-12 points just by running the floor and hitting the boards. Questions: Is that enough?

Best Players, Conventional Wisdom

Hmm? I’m not sure if there is much conventional wisdom about the small forwards. I
think beauty will be in the eye of the beholder.

* Other Intriguing Players

? Marvin Williams, N. Carolina. Will the freshman declare for the draft? There isn’t much of a “book” on him yet. That may play to his advantage.
? Danny Granger, New Mexico. Strengths: He’s 6’8″/225 lbs. His scoring and shooting numbers have increased every year. He’s also pitching in 2 blocks per game. Questions: The primary questions seemed to be about his range and his attitude, as I recall. Well, he shot 44% from 3pt range this season. I can’t say I know much about his attitude though.
? Ryan Gomes, Providence. Strengths: He’s a fabulous all-around player. Questions: He’s also an undersized power forward. Can he make the move to SF in the NBA?

Power Forward/Center

Player Team Yr PPG RPG APG eFG% FTM/FGA BLKS/G
Allred, Lance Weber St. SR 17.6 12 1.6 52.3 40 3.0
Bass, Brandon LSU SO 17.5 8.8 0.9 59.0 45 1.7
Bogut, Andrew Utah SO 20.6 12 2.4 64.3 34 1.9
Diogu, Ike Az. State SR 22.5 9.6 1.4 59.6 62 2.2
Frye, Channing Arizona SR 15.6 7.5 1.9 52.7 32 2.1
Villanueva, Charlie Uconn SO 13.1 8.1 1.3 51.6 34 1.9
Simien, Wayne Kansas SR 19.4 11.1 1.3 54.3 40 0.7
Williams, Shelden Duke JR 15.8 11.1 0.9 59.6 38 3.8
May, Sean North Carolina JR 16.7 10.9 1.7 54.8 50 1.0
Nicholson, Yemi Denver JR 18.2 8.6 0.9 58.6 22 3.0
Fazekas, Nick Nevada SO 21.5 9.4 1 56.8 42 1.6

The Guys I Like

? Andrew Bogut, Utah. Strengths: He’s the real deal. He can score with either hand. He’s smart and he’s still improving. Questions: Will he declare? He still has another year of eligibility. If he does he’s a virtual lock to be a top 3 pick.
? Channing Frye, Arizona. Strengths: He added something every year at Arizona. This year he’s added a 15-18 foot jump shot. He can score in the post with either hand and will block a shot or two. Questions: Can he add another 15-20 lbs without impacting his quickness? Right now he’s something of a tweener.
? Shelden Williams, Duke. Strengths: He blocks almost 4 shots per game at 6’9″! I knew he could rebound and score, but that surprised me. Questions: How much center can he play in the NBA?

Best Players, Conventional Wisdom (Aside from Bogut)

? Wayne Simien, Kansas. Strengths: Strength. He has also improved the range on his shot and his FT shooting. Questions: Can he stay healthy? He’s not had a single, season free from fairly serious injury in college.
? Sean May, N. Carolina. Strengths: He’s an exceptional rebounder, particularly at 6’8″ or 6’9″. He has a nice assortment of post moves. Questions: Though his conditioning has improved he still gets winded and ineffective in stretches. Could he eat himself out of the league?

Other Intriguing Players

? Brandon Bass, LSU. Strengths: SEC player of the year, yet no one knows about him. He has a nice all-around game. He lives at the free throw line and blocks almost 2 shots per game. His body is right out of the Karl Malone catalog. Questions: How good is he?
? Ike Diogu, Az. State. Strengths: Pac10 player of the year, yet he’s a man some feel has no NBA future. He got lots of points and boards on some bad Sun Devil teams. He’s 6’9″ and not a wide body. He does little beyond 13 feet. Can he play the same game in the NBA?
? Charlie Villanueva, UConn. Strengths: He has amazing athleticism for a man 6’11. He can do it all. Questions: Can he continue to turn his athleticism into a blessing rather than a curse? Last year he totally diminished his size by staying on the perimeter, playing as a 6’11” small forward for all practical purposes. This season he has halved his 3pt FGAs and doubled his FT attempts. Does he need another year of seasoning under Calhoun? Whether he makes the jump may depend on how far UConn goes.

These are just a few of the players who may do something special this march. Keep your eyes open. It’s almost a guarantee that one or more will be playing in the Gah-den next fall.

Steve Nash for MVP? (Part II)

[This is Part II of a two-part column by KnickerBlogger Head West Coast Analyst Kevin Pelton analyzing Steve Nash’s season and MVP chances. Please read Part I if you haven’t already by scrolling down or clicking here. Kevin serves as the Sonics and Storm beat writer for SUPERSONICS.COM and storm.wnba.com. He formerly wrote the APBRmetric “Page 23” column for Hoopsworld.com.]

I left off Monday by drawing the conclusion that Steve Nash’s 2004-05 season is statistically very similar to John Stockton’s prime years. Based on that, it may be illuminating to look at Stockton’s MVP performance.

The short-shorted one peaked in MVP voting in 1988-89, when he finished seventh. Remarkably, during his entire Hall of Fame career, Stockton received just one first-place MVP vote. In 1989-90, after setting the all-time record for assists per game, Stockton finished ninth in MVP voting, behind Tom Chambers.

Stockton’s notable lack of MVP credit brings us back to one of the initial questions: Just what does a point guard have to do to win MVP? Oddly, at the same time Stockton was getting no MVP respect, Magic Johnson was winning the award in 1987, 1989 and 1990. Since Johnson retired, however, only four point guards – Anfernee Hardaway in 1995-96, Tim Hardaway in 1996-97, Gary Payton in 1997-98 and the aforementioned Kidd in 2001-02 – have even finished top five in MVP voting. And three of those four were high scorers.

Surely, MVP voters often come to different conclusions than the NBA’s statistical analysts. But Stockton also never finished better than sixth in the league in John Hollinger’s PER Rating. Point guards have performed even more dismally by PER, the most popular all-inclusive rating system, than in MVP voting; no point guard has finished in the top five since Johnson.

Do we, as a community of analysts, undervalue point guards and, by extension, assists? It’s a fair question to ask. Of the statistics that are actually available, there is a solid logical base for valuing everything but assists. (The logic behind the weights different analysts use can vary for things like offensive rebounds, but there is logic.) With assists? Even people like Hollinger and Dean Oliver have been forced to resort to thinking along the lines of, “How many actions in an assisted shot are performed by the shooter and how many by the passer?”

Uncertainty and undervalued aren’t the same thing, and Dan Rosenbaum has done some persuasive research that tends to indicate that assists might actually be less valuable than they’re generally credited as, at least for point guards, but I’ve yet to be completely convinced by it. I’d say I operate from the principle that all positions are equally important, and try to rate players according to that ideal. If that means more weight to assists, so be it.

(I should point out that the lack of a point guard rated as a top-flight superstar in the last 13 years doesn’t necessarily mean the position is undervalued overall, but it’s not a good sign either.)

Whatever your take, it follows logically from this discussion that responding to the Nash for MVP advocates by saying, “But his PER is only ninth in the league!” is a wholly inadequate response. PER, like all other ratings based on traditional statistics, is an abstraction of value. It’s a guess, at the end of the day. A good guess, yes, and a very useful one, but hardly proof that Nash isn’t the MVP.

While I’d say I generally favor individual statistics to plus-minus data when there is a discrepancy between the two, in this discussion plus-minus is valuable because of its inherent bias-free nature. It doesn’t care about the value of an assist or whether point guards get the credit they deserve. All plus-minus sees is whether a team is outscoring its opponents or not. The Suns quite clearly are, and they’re doing it more with Nash, who, as of Feb. 15, ranked third in the league in Roland Rating, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko (whose knee injury ended any faint MVP dreams). Looking at raw +/- per 48 minutes, unadjusted for team quality, Nash again ranks third, this time trailing Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

(The counterpoint here has been that Nash’s backup, Leandro Barbosa, has struggled this season. Apparently tired of the bashing, Barbosa responded with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting (although just two assists) against the L.A. Clippers last Wednesday in a game Nash missed with a strained hamstring. Either way, Barbosa can’t possibly be as bad as he’s been made out to be; at his best, he should rank in the middle of the pack amongst backup point guards.)

Stockton was always subject to something of a “chicken or egg?” debate with fellow legend Karl Malone. Most people answered Malone, which is why he won two MVPs and always dramatically outpaced Stockton in the voting. Nash has something similar with Amar? Stoudemire; how much of Stoudemire’s remarkable improvement this season is to be expected from a 22-year-old, and how much of it is due to his teammates?

Considering no young player has ever really made a comparable improvement to Stoudemire’s leap from a 47.5% field-goal percentage to 57.2% this season, clearly teammates have been a part of it. That’s not just Nash, however; Rosenbaum has pointed out how surrounding Stoudemire with shooters has made it impossible for opposing defenses to double-team him.

The best explanation I’ve heard, this one borrowed from Eric Neel, is that the Suns are like a finely-tuned engine. All of the parts have to be in place and running smoothly for the engine to work. So as much as Nash’s January injury and the Suns’ subsequent losing streak helped his MVP candidacy, the same thing might have happened had any of the Phoenix starters gone down. That’s a pretty strong argument that while the Suns are great as a team, it’s because they have lots of valuable parts, not one most valuable player.

(None of the other starters has missed a game this season, though the Suns would probably be okay without Joe Johnson or Quentin Richardson now that Jim Jackson is behind them. Turns out they might be okay without Nash too, winning two straight without him, including at Dallas, between my writing this column and its posting.)

Two days and nearly 2,000 words later, let us return to the opening question: Is Steve Nash the NBA’s MVP for the 2004-05 season? My answer, as befits a poor columnist, is “I don’t know.” That’s partially because, of course, there are still 26 games and slightly less than a third left in the Suns’ season. More importantly, however, I think persuasive arguments can be made both for and against Nash.

If today was the end of the season and, more improbably, I was an NBA MVP voter (and not indebted by virtue of my paycheck to pick Ray Allen), I’d probably vote Duncan first and Nash second, but I guarantee you this: I’d take a good hard look at Nash’s candidacy. If I leave you with nothing else, I hope I can convince you of this: Nash’s candidacy is not a simple matter, and treating it as a foregone conclusion, whether pro or con, isn’t fair to anyone involved.


I owe a massive debt of gratitude to Basketball-Reference.com, without which this column would have been impossible to research.

Quick Recap Of My Finals Thoughts

Early in the series, I wrote what the Lakers and the Pistons each needed to do to win. I think since we’re half way through the series I should revisit what I wrote:

For Detroit to win, they should:
1. They can’t fall too far behind, which breaks up into:
1a. Score. They need efficient scoring from Hamilton, Billups, and Rasheed. If they can get an outburst from someone else (Prince), then all the better.
1b. Shut down the non-Shaq Lakers.
2. Stay close in turnovers.

For all you chart fans, here’s one breaking down exactly what I wrote.

Name	G1	G2	G3	G4
1a. -- Efficient Scoring --
Hamltn	N	Y	Y	Y
'Sheed	Y	N*	N	Y
Billps	Y	Y	Y	Y
Others	Y	N**	Y	N
1b. -- Shut Down non-Shaq Lakers --
Kobe	N	N	Y	Y
Others	Y	Y	Y	Y
2. -- Stay Close In Turnovers --
TO	Y	Y	Y	Y
*Game 2 Sheed 11PTS 5-14 - scoring but inefficient.
** Ben Wallace was 2nd best with 12 points in an OT game.

As for the Lakers:

1. Score, and not just Shaq. Kobe, Malone, and one random Laker per game. It’d be nice if Gary Payton would actually do something to earn that ring. If not anyone will do: George, Fisher, Rush, or anyone. By scoring they’ll put the pressure on the Pistons to score as well. The Pistons weren’t a great offensive team, so shutting them down shouldn’t be all that hard.
2. Turn the heat on with turnovers. The Lakers were 7th in the league in net turnovers (per 100 possessions), so they should be able to get some extra points from the Pistons.
3. Get to the foul line, and not just Shaq. Shaq will make Detroit foul more often. Normally Detroit is very good at not putting opponents at the line. The Lakers need to use Shaq to gain an advantage here. The rest of the gang have to drive to the hoop & try to make things happen.

Name	G1	G2	G3	G4
1. -- LA Scoring --
Shaq	Y	Y	N	Y
Kobe	Y	Y	N	N**
Malone	N	N	N	N
Others	N	N	N	N
2. -- Create Turnovers --
TO	N	N	N	N
3. -- Get To the Foul Line --
FTA	N	N*	N	N

*L.A. had 25 FTA, but Detroit had 31
** Kobe had 20PTS but shot 8-25 (2 3PTM)

Look at all the Y’s in the Pistons’ table and the N’s in the Lakers table. It seems clear that Detroit is doing almost everything they can to win. It seemed that the Pistons’ biggest weakness would be scoring, since they don’t have the great scorers that the Lakers have in Shaq and Kobe. However, they’ve been able to get production from 4 guys: Hamilton, Billups, Rasheed, and Prince. They’ve won every game where they’ve gotten offensive production from at least 3 of these players.

On the other hand, the Lakers haven’t done anything they’ve needed to win. Their offense has been horrible. The Pistons have “let” Shaq score, but have tried to shut down everyone else. Kobe has been ineffective since game 2. I can’t blame Karl Malone, because he’s been hurt, but where are the rest of the Lakers?

During the regular season, Detroit turned the ball over often enough (20th in TO/Poss), and the Lakers were 7th in net turnovers. I expected the Lakers to have an advantage in Turnovers, but it has been a non-factor. The other place where I thought L.A. could make a difference would be to use Shaq to get the Pistons in foul trouble. My prediction was way off base here, since everyone knows by now that the Pistons are getting to the line while the Lakers are begging for calls.

This series hasn’t been close. What’s really amazing is if it weren’t for Kobe’s three point shot at the end of regulation in game 2, the Pistons would have swept the Lakers. In fact since that game, the non-Kobe & non-Shaq Lakers are 25-79 (7 3PTM – eFG% 36%). Detroit’s defense is just that good.

Karl Malone vs Kevin Garnett… Part 2

My column last Tuesday must have been a hit, because I received a stream of emails larger than any other column before. Yes I beat my personal record of 1 email, and received 2 whole emails on the topic. Technically this will be the third posting in this series, since the one last Tuesday was an email response to my column on May 20th.

…my only point was that since both were all-D 1st team they are by definition comparable (of equal value, etc – the very best for a specific season). often we get people posting to the APBR groups who are young and have seen the players of today but not those of yesteryear (not that malone was great all that long ago). not knowing who you were/are, i had to wonder if you saw malone play. my point was that anyone who had seen karl malone play alot during that time would have come away thinking he was a helluva defender…

my personal belief is that he was a great defender for a long time but himself did not get the recognition from the sports media and public as one of the best because a) he was also a great offensive player, and often people think the two do not go hand in hand, and b) he played in utah, not the mecca of pro hoops, and the jazz were not center stage until 96-97 and 97-98, having lost in the finals both times to the bulls….

bob chaikin

I have to agree with Bob in that I haven’t seen Malone play alot. Being a Knicks fan, and living on the East coast didn’t give me many opportunities to see Malone’s defensive abilities. Maybe I’ve saw him play once or twice a year. Bob is right in a way, that since Utah is a West coast team without appearing in the Finals until late in his career I can’t judge Malone’s defensive game. When Malone did appear on the main stage (for us right coasters), he was a bit older & played against an offensively challenged player in Dennis Rodman. By that time in his career, Rodman’s sole abilities were rebounding & defense. Defending against an offensively challenged player is hardly a way to show your defensive skills.

Bob claims that Malone doesn’t get the respect he deserves because of his offensive skills. So is being a good offensive player is a detriment to winning defensive acclaim? Here are the All-NBA Teams for two recent years.

2002-03
FIRST TEAM

Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Doug Christie, Sacramento
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers

SECOND TEAM
Ron Artest, Indiana
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
Shaquille O’Neal, L.A. Lakers
Jason Kidd, New Jersey
Eric Snow, Philadelphia

2001-02
FIRST TEAM

Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Gary Payton, Seattle
Jason Kidd, New Jersey

SECOND TEAM
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
Clifford Robinson, Detroit
Dikembe Mutombo, Philadelphia
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
Doug Christie, Sacamento

The awardees seem to be primarily in one of two groups: either great offensive players (Duncan, Garnett, Kobe, Shaq, etc.) or horrible offensive players (Wallace, Mutombo, Bowen, etc.). There is a third group with offensively mediocre players (Artest, Christie), but I don’t see how being a great offensive player hurts your chances of getting acclaim for your defensive play.

Bob wasn’t the only one to have an opinion on the Garnett vs Malone defensive matchup:

…I think Garnett’s defensive ability is something that might be deserving of a whole column/blog entry. He’s got all the All-Defense nods, but there are also those that think his rep vastly overstates his actual ability (Kobe Bryant falls into this category to an even larger degree).

I recall a few years ago, the Sonics coaching staff said at a season ticket-holder Q&A that Garnett could be beaten if you went at him — in other words, he’s an excellent team defender, but not as good one-on-one. Dean Oliver said something similar when I asked him about Garnett recently (we were watching Game 7 of Kings-Wolves).

His opponent performance by postition (http://www.82games.com/03MIN12C.HTM) is pretty good, but not in the stratosphere of Tim Duncan (http://www.82games.com/03SAS15C.HTM). Does his team defense make up for that?

Kevin Pelton

I’m sorry to say I can’t answer any of those questions. Right now I think it’s safe to say that nobody can give a definitive answer as to how good a player’s man-to-man defense or help defense is. I think in time we might be able to extrapolate +/- data in such a way that we can verify how good each player’s defense is. Maybe there will be a more advanced way in the future to figure these things out.

One question that we can start debating about is whether being able to play good defense against your man (man-to-man) is greater or less than being able to play good help defense (team defense). I would imagine doing the former wouldn’t show up anywhere on the box scores other than maybe a drop at the opposing player’s points scored (or eFG%, TO/48, etc.) at the same position. For example if Garnett is a good man to man defender, it’s possible that all the PF who’ve played against him will score less than their yearly average. Of course there are many ways this data could be corrupted as well. [For example a team may have a great shot blocker or play a slow tempo game (with few possessions).]

Without evidence to the contrary, I would say that being a good team defender is more important than being a good man to man guy. Being able to stop your opponent is a good thing, but let’s say you’re a SG, and your opposing team’s best scorers are the SF & C. You aren’t able to help your teammates as much. But if you’re a good help defender, you should be able to help your team whoever their scorer is, whether you’re Garnett helping out with a block, or Jason Kidd doubling down to getting a quick steal.

Karl Malone vs. Kevin Garnett?

There is nothing greater to a blogger than to get a response via email. It means that someone out there is actually reading. Writing a blog is a solitary act. It’s very different from responding to a message board, or talking basketball with the person that happens to sit next to you at the bar. I don’t have to validate my work to anyone when I write my blog. For all intents & purposes, I write in a vacuum.

Getting an email is joyous to a blogger. It means that someone out there is not just giving you a ‘hit’ by quickly scanning the page for something of interest. Not only did they actually read my entire blog (so I hope), but the fact that something inside of the blog made them yearn for more. They wished to contact you. And although it seems easy to scan the page for the email me link, few people exercise that right. Whether it’s from a lack of a following, or a lack of desire for my readers to actually care about anything I write is up in the air. By receiving an email, I know that I may be writing alone, but I’m not alone in my thoughts.

So I was thrilled tonight to check my email and see one from:

From: May Sorensen
Sent: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 6:25 PM
To: knickerblogger@kurylo.com
Subject: University Certificates, No Classes Needed, ID: T8618U75

ID: m421OO14

Academic-Qualifications from NON??–ACCR. Universities.

No exams. No classes. No books.

Call to register and get yours in days – 1.203.286.2403

No more ads: deloresaber@1net.gr
toroid billie durward bled decelerate wit intensify deer alsop seldom davidson mist grub dally fillip blame huddle inexhaustible centrifugate eclipse mumford upbraid befit eliot bolometer wylie inattention region format lawn

I’d be interested in putting a university certificate right next to my university diploma. However right now I’m too busy getting my penis enlarged (sfw), and helping that poor Nigerian banker get his money out of the country. Some people might say that the random words inserted at the bottom are to fool spam blockers, but if you went to their University, you would know exactly what they are trying to say in that sentence.

I’d put May in the category of readers that just glanced over my blog. I also got another email, and I’m pretty sure that this guy might have read a few of the sentences:

From: BChaikin
Sent: Monday, May 24, 2004 10:38 AM
To: KnickerBlogger@kurylo.com
Subject: KnickerBlogger

In addition Malone was never the defensive player that Garnett is.

kevin garnet may be a great defender now, but karl malone was 1st-team all-D for three straight seasons, from 96-97 to 98-99, during which time some other great defending forwards were scottie pippen, p.j. brown, charles oakley, tim duncan, and others. while some may write off one 1st-team all-D nomination as a popularity contest, i doubt they would 3 straight…

i saw karl malone play alot, and there’s no question in my mind that he was an excellent defender for a long time. for that matter his 1st team all-D nominations didn’t come until his 12th-14th seasons in the league – he was an awfully good defender pnrior to these seasons also…

bob chaikin

Now as much as I appreciate May Sorensen’s input, she will never have the understanding that Bob Chaikin does about basketball, and neither will I. Bob is a contributing member of the APBR. He’s created various computer simulation modeling programs that have been used by a few NBA teams. If you didn’t know all that, then you might recognize Bob as a regular poster in the APBR_Analysis group. Needless to say Bob knows basketball.

At first glance I thought Mr. Chaikin was disagreeing with me. All the normal clues are there. He’s begun by using my quote, and stating some facts. But nowhere in his email does he say that Malone at any time was as good a defender as Garnett is now, which was my claim. Instead he notes that Malone was a very good defender using both observational and statistical data.

I agree. Malone was a three time 1st team all-defensive team member. Garnett has already been honored in that fashion for 4 consecutive years, and he’s only been in the league for 9 years. In no way shape or form is that the only way to measure a player’s defensive abilities. However beyond that, I don’t have evidence to the contrary. Maybe Malone was a better defender but his contemporaries were better defenders than Garnett, which is why he won less awards. Maybe the voters had something against Karl. It could be that Malone’s defensive abilities were such that he held opponents to a lower FG% than Garnett would have. It’s possible that Garnett’s higher shot blocking statistics is due to his teammates letting their defenders beat them more often that Malone’s.

That’s an argument for another time, when we have the tools and understanding to better gauge a defender’s effectiveness. Right now I’ll be happy to take back any implications that Malone wasn’t a great defensive player in my statement, but stand by it as well by believing that Garnett is the better defender of the two.

What A Difference A Game Makes

In an earlier column about the Timberwolves, I said that Minnesota improved their team on the defensive end. This is exactly how that they beat the Lakers last night. In game 1, LA had a field day, having an effective field goal percentage of 51%. Last night their eFG% dropped 10 points, to 41%. To put these numbers in perspective, 51% would have been an average night for league leading Sacramento, while game two would have looked bad even for this year’s Bulls (44.5%).

Only Derek Fisher (1-2, 1 3PT) and Luke Walton (1-1, 1 3PT), had an eFG% of 50% or better. Karl Malone went from a robust 8 of 13 in game 1 to a meager 2 for 5. Malone also had a dubious distinction of getting called for traveling by getting run into by his own teammate during the act of shooting. Gary Payton’s game 2 eFG% (40%), while better than his game 1 (36%), still leaves much to be desired. Kobe still scored a lot of points, but his 10-24 night lacked any hits from beyond the arc (0-4 3PT). Even the Timberwolves brand of hack-a-Shaq worked like Kryptonite against the Laker center, as Shaq went 4-10 from the field and 6-14 from the line.

The other thing that is radically different between games 1 and 2 in the box scores is the offensive rebounding. Minnesota only had 3 offensive boards (7% oREB%) in the first game, but more than tripled that amount in the next game with 10 (18% oREB%). It was a combined team effort as no Timberwolf had more than 2.

The Timberwolves may have more problems coming up. In addition to losing the home court advantage in the series, and heading to L.A. for the next two games, they might have to deal with the loss of Sam Cassell. Cassell has been fighting back problems, and had to leave game 2 after a few seconds. To make matters worse, he’s not Minnesota’s only injured PG, as Troy Hudson is out with a bad ankle. Journeyman Darrick Martin filled in nicely enough on the stat sheet (37 minutes, 4-11, 1 3PT, 6 AST & 0 TO). However the T-Wolves’ chances have to be decreased without their second best scorer. Cassell and Martin couldn’t be more different. Going from one player with a 52% eFG% that scored just under 20PPG this year, to a player who hasn’t played regularly in 4 seasons, with a career 44% eFG% will hurt their offense.

They will need someone or a group of players to pick up the slack. Latrell Sprewell shouldn’t be the one, since his 43% eFG% isn’t suited for the task. Even baseball guru Aaron Gleeman knows that Minnesota had more of a Big 2, than a Big 3. Of their top eFG% players, you can eliminate defensive specialists Ervin Johnson, Mark Madsen & Oliver Miller. (Did I just call Oliver Miller a defensive specialist? I guess that’s what happens when you have 6 fouls to give against Shaq). This means Minnesoters should be rooting for Hoiberg (56%) and Szczerbiak (49% in limited time, 52% last year) to shoot the rock more often. If there is anyone that should be picking up the scoring it’s Wally, whose role was reduced this year by the acquisition of Sprewell.

Standing On The Shoulders Of A Giant

Usually the title expression is in reference to when someone performs something great, but defers the credit to those that came before him to make it possible. If memory serves me correctly, it was Isaac Newton who used the expression (in it’s plural form) to honor those that made his discoveries possible. In this instance, I use it to describe the Timberwolves game 7 against the Kings. Kevin Garnett’s teammates jumped on his back, letting the giant carry them to victory. It was like Pippin & Merry on the back of Treebeard.

Garnett played the entire 4th quarter, and at one point had his team’s last 13 points. His contribution wasn’t limited to just scoring, since he also was the T-Wolves main rebounder (21), shot blocker (5), and even played backup point guard when Cassell was on the bench. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do it all, like Garnett. He is simply a unique player that comes around once a generation.

Only considering the players I’ve seen in my lifetime, there is little comparison to Garnett in terms of skill set. Shaq is a dominant player on his own, maybe the most dominant player with the smallest skill set. Shaq is nearly unstoppable under the hoop, but his ability diminishes as he travels further from the basket as to where his free throw shooting is embarrassing. Shaq fancies himself as a skilful dribbler for a man his size, but only in Shaq’s mind does he have the handle of Garnett.

Tim Duncan is another 7 footer who opts to play PF instead of C. Unlike Shaq, the Big Fundamental has decent range for a player his size, but he doesn’t have Garnett’s shooting touch. Like Shaq, Duncan’s free throw percentage is a weakness at times, with a career low this year of 59.9%, something that hasn’t afflicted Garnett (career 76.1%).

Of the active power forwards, Karl Malone might be the most similar on offense, but he still doesn’t have Garnett’s dribbling ability or shooting range. In addition Malone was never the defensive player that Garnett is.

In fact there is only one player (that I’ve seen play), that has as diverse abilities as Garnett: Magic Johnson. Johnson, in case you were born yesterday, was a 6’9 point guard. Magic’s blend of efficient scoring (53% eFG), passing (11.2 APG – #1 all time), and rebounding (7.2 RPG) made him an offensive machine that earned him 3 MVPs and 9 All-NBA First Team honors. Magic was probably the best passer I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

My point is not to compare the two individuals in that manner, because despite their wide range of talents, they play much different roles. When Magic retired (for the first time), the game lost one of it’s greatest and most entertaining players. Today’s generation that will grow up never have seeing Johnson run one of his trademark fast breaks will be missing something, as I’m sure I am, never having seen Oscar Robertson or Cousy showcase their gifts. However watching last night’s game, Kevin Garnett gave today’s generation something to brag to their kids about.