NBA Stats of the Week: 3/12-3/18

031813-NBA-Heat-Lebron-James-DG-PI_20130318230801624_660_320

In the third edition of our newest segment, NBA Stats of the Week, we’ll look deeper into the Heat historic win streak, the impressive recent play by Monta Ellis, and a season by an NBA legend that simply defies age, and I’m not talking about Kobe, and other statistical tidbits from the last week that you my have missed.

  • Miami HeatLebron and Co. kept the train rolling on Monday night against the Boston Celtics. It wasn’t easy, though. Through the first 39 minutes of the game, the Celtics lead 93-83. Then Lebron checked in. Lebron James scored 13 points and dished out 3 assists. The Heat ended the game on a 22-10 scoring run to bring their winning streak to 23 games, the second longest NBA winning streak ever, 10 games behind the 1972-73 Los Angeles Lakers’ streak of 33 games. What has been the biggest key for the Heat in this streak? Fourth quarter play and defense. Since the beginning of their streak, the Heat lead the league in fourth quarter point differential, beating their opponents in that quarter by an average of 4.8 points per fourth quarter. They have the fourth best fourth quarter scoring average over that stretch and the best defense in that quarter. Overall, they have the fourth best scoring defense over that stretch and force the second most turnovers in the league. Lastly, Lebron had 37 points and 12 assists last night, his 18th career 35 point, 10 assist game. Do you know who that ties him with? Michael Jordan.
  • Monta Ellis: Ellis was the laughing stock of the league up until two weeks ago. At the time of the trade for JJ Redick, his shooting chart looked like this (below to the left). He was one of the most inefficient scoring guards in the entire NBA and seemed to shoot way too often. Since the beginning of March (providing a couple of games to adjust to his new teammate), Monta Ellis is shooting remarkably more efficient (below to the right). He’s not only beginning to knock down mid-range jump shots better, but he is shooting a whopping 11.5% better from under the rim. With a better teammate to play with, Monta Ellis feels less obligated to score himself and now only attacks the basket when it’s a good idea to do so, which benefits the team.

monta   monta new

  • Tim DuncanWhat Duncan is doing this season is absolutely amazing, and is going unnoticed in many ways. He is 36 years old and will be 37 by the time that his team is eliminated from the playoffs. He is still the leader of a team that is first in the ultra-competitive western conference and is the anchor of a defense that is ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating (points against per 100 possessions). But without knowing his personal numbers, you might feel inclined to chalk these things up to the fact that he plays besides Tony Parker, an elite point guard, and several productive young role players.
    Season    Age  G  FG  FGA  FG%  FT FTA  FT% ORB DRB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS
    1997-98    21 82 7.9 14.5 .549 3.6 5.4 .662 3.1 7.9 11.0 2.5 0.6 2.3 3.1 2.9 19.4
    1998-99    22 50 7.7 15.5 .495 4.5 6.6 .690 2.9 7.6 10.5 2.2 0.8 2.3 2.7 2.7 19.9
    1999-00    23 74 7.9 16.0 .490 5.7 7.6 .761 3.3 8.2 11.5 2.9 0.8 2.1 3.0 2.6 21.5
    2000-01    24 82 8.0 15.9 .499 4.6 7.5 .618 2.9 8.4 11.3 2.8 0.8 2.2 2.7 2.8 20.6
    2001-02    25 82 8.3 16.3 .508 6.1 7.6 .799 2.9 8.4 11.3 3.3 0.7 2.2 2.8 2.3 22.6
    2002-03    26 81 8.1 15.8 .513 5.1 7.2 .710 2.9 8.9 11.8 3.6 0.6 2.7 2.8 2.6 21.3
    2003-04    27 69 8.4 16.8 .501 5.0 8.4 .599 3.2 9.0 12.2 3.0 0.9 2.6 2.6 2.3 21.9
    2004-05    28 66 8.4 17.0 .496 5.0 7.4 .670 3.3 8.7 12.0 2.9 0.7 2.8 2.1 2.4 21.9
    2005-06    29 80 7.4 15.3 .484 4.3 6.9 .629 3.0 8.4 11.4 3.3 0.9 2.1 2.6 2.8 19.2
    2006-07    30 80 8.2 14.9 .546 4.8 7.5 .637 2.8 8.4 11.2 3.6 0.9 2.5 3.0 2.7 21.1
    2012-13    36 56 8.3 16.5 .504 3.9 4.9 .806 2.2 9.7 11.9 3.2 0.9 3.2 2.4 2.1 20.7

    These are Tim Duncan’s per-36 minute statistics from this season, as well as his first ten seasons in the league, when he was highly acclaimed as a productive NBA big man. His statistics from THIS SEASON, at age 36, match up very closely with the per-36 minute numbers that he put up in his younger days. In fact, he’s blocking shots at a higher rate than he’s ever done before and is turning the ball over less than he’s ever done before. Of course, 36-minute splits aren’t a tell-all stat, and he isn’t as productive if he’s only playing 75% of the minutes he once played, but they surely go a long way in showing that during the time he’s spent on the court, he’s as good as ever.

  • Spencer HawesSpencer Hawes posted a career game on Saturday against the Pacers when he tallied 18 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, and 7 blocks. The only players to ever do that before are Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley. Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and now Spencer Hawes. So… there’s that.

You can follow Skyler on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert. I’d actually appreciate if you did that.

Advertisements

NBA Stats of the Week: 3/5-3/11

Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay

In the second of the new Stats of the Week series that I am instilling on HCB, we’ll look into the miraculous performances of a 34-year old who acts 10 years younger, a historic shooting performance by an eastern conference point guard, and a winning streak that is soon going to be so long that you can no longer count the games won on your fingers and toes, as well as a couple of other fascinating statistical points worthy of discussion.

  • Kobe BryantThe star of the Lakers has been on a tear since he guaranteed the Lakers would make the playoffs on February 21. Since he made this bold declaration, the Black Mamba has averaged 34.0 PPG, 7.1 APG, and 6.6 RPG on a very impressive effective field goal percentage of .606 (league average for guards is about .49 eFG%). More importantly, the Lakers are 7-2 in those 9 games, going from being 3.5 games back of the Rockets and 5 games back of the Jazz to actually catching up to Utah at the moment, tied for the 8th best record in the conference (still occupying the 9th spot due to tie-breaking procedures.) But there was more to Kobe’s greatness in a pair of games last week specifically. Let’s put it this way: From the beginning of Kobe Bryant’s career up until last Wednesday’s game against the Hornets, Bryant had played a total of 1443 career games, including the playoffs, without ever recording 40+ points and 12+ assists in his career. So basically, it took him 1443 games to post his first career 40-point, 12-assist performance of his career. Do you know how man games it took him to reach those marks again after his first time doing it? One. That’s right. He completed the feat in consecutive games after not once doing it in his whole career. Kobe Bryant joins Michael Jordan as the only players to ever gain these statistics in two games in a row. Jordan did it in two games in 1989. Both of Jordan’s games doing it were triple doubles, while Bryant shot more efficiently.
  • Deron WilliamsYou may have read in last week’s edition of Stats of the Week that Stephen Curry became just the fifth player in NBA history to make at least 11 three-pointers in a single contest. Well… on Friday against the Wizards, Deron Williams became the sixth to do it, exactly a week after Curry did it, about a ten minute express train ride from where Curry did it. Although the game that Williams had wasn’t as impressive as Curry’s in terms of efficiency, it did set some records that Curry’s did not. For example, Deron Williams made 7 first quarter three-pointers, which easily is the most in the league this season. Curry added two more in the second quarter to bring his total to nine at the half, good enough to set an NBA record for threes in a half
  • Miami HeatThe basketball team in South Beach is playing on a wicked level right now, winning 18 consecutive games, which tops the Clippers for the longest win streak in the NBA this season. Under closer examination, the streak looks even more impressive. They have wins against Indiana, Memphis, Oklahoma City, New York, and both LA teams, with none of those games being very close at the end. They’re averaging a winning margin by 11.4 points during the streak. They have a FG% of an incredible 51.4% against their opponents during the streak, the best by any NBA team in their last 18 games. To add to that, their defense has almost been as good as their offense. They’re in the top third of the league in FG% defense among teams in their last 18 games, and are second in the league at forcing turnovers during that stretch. Who has been leading this streak for the Heat? Their stars. Lebron, Wade, and Bosh are shooting eFG’s of 64.6%, 55.4% and 54.3%, respectively, all very impressive.
  • Brandon JenningsAlthough Brandon Jennings has long been known as a shoot-first kind of PG (he only is averaging 5.7 APG with an assist rate of 28% in his career), that may be changing now that JJ Redick is on his team. Each of Jennings’ two highest single-game assist totals of his career and 4 of his top 13 assist games of his career have occurred since the beginning of March. This month he is averaging 13.2 assists per game, an assist rate of 45.8%, remarkably better than his career assist rate. His eFG% has also jumped this month (from a terrible 43.4% to an elite 60.8%), presumably as an effect from not needing to carry as much of the work load as he had been asked to handle before the Bucks made the blockbuster trade at the deadline to bring in Redick.
  • Viacheslav KravtslavThe big man off the bench for the Detroit Pistons hasn’t played much this season. Here are some ridiculous stats on his behalf, though. Among players to have ever shot at least 75% from the field in a season, Kravtslav currently has the most shot attempts. Yes, you read that right. Among players who have ever finished a season making at least three quarter of their field goal attempts, none have taken more than 17 shots in a season. Kravtsov currently has taken 38. If you look at the free throw aspect of the game, almost exactly the opposite is true. Kravtsov is shooting a remarkably terrible 22.6% of his free throws. The record for free throw attempts in a season where a player has shot worse than 23% is 31, by Garfield Smith of the 1971-72 Celtics team. Kravtsov is currently tied with him in FTA, shooting 31 so far this season himself. Basically what I’m saying is that, using very lenient rules for letting a player be qualified, Viacheslav Kravtslav is having the best shooting season ever from the field and the worst shooting season ever from the charity stripe, IN THE SAME SEASON.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert. 

Don’t Write Off Draymond Yet

Draymond-Green

Draymond Green hasn’t been very effective this season for the Warriors. Anyone who looks up his numbers could tell you that. It just hasn’t been pretty. After being selected by the Golden State Warrior with the 35th overall pick of last summer’s NBA draft, Draymond is shooting just 32.6% from the field this season, and only 21.1% from three. The field goal percentage for Green is last in the NBA this season for players who have played at least 850 minutes this year. Needless to say, most people overlook a guy who shoots this poorly from the field in their rookie season. But there’s something different about Draymond Green. His effort on the floor, energy off the bench, and commitment to getting better makes Draymond Green special. He has a bright career ahead of him, he just needs to find his way in the league.

Work Ethic:

Some players have a very smooth transition into new circumstances. Kenneth Faried and Chandler Parsons last season and Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond this season just seemed to understand their role in the NBA immediately. They jumped into their specific job on their team like they had been doing it for a dozen years. Other players (like Green) don’t adjust as immediately well into new situations, but that’s okay. Even at Michigan State, it took some time for Draymond Green to adjust to Izzo’s system. As a freshman, Green played just 11.4 minutes a game and scored a measly 3.3 points per game with 3.3 rebounds a game this season (eerily similar to his 14.4 MPG with 3.2 PPG and 3.6 RPG in the NBA this season). In the years following his freshman season, he grew as a scorer, a rebounder, and as an outside shooter every season. By the time Green was a senior, he scored 16.2 PPG, 10.6 RPG, and was voted in as a first-team consensus NCAA All-American and the NABC player of the year. Let’s get back to the three-point shooting aspect, though. As a freshman and sophomore, Draymond Green made two three-pointers in both seasons combined. In his final two seasons? Green made 89 threes. So he’s shown that he can work hard and improve his game.

He’s shown that practice has paid off in other facets of his game, too. Just look at his performance from the free-throw line. Here are his free throw percentages in his four seasons at Michigan State: 61.5%, 67.2%, 68.3%, and 72.3%. Improvement every year. You know what Draymond is shooting from the free-throw stripe this season with the Warriors? 85.1%. It’s subtle, but the subtle things like this are sometimes the best indicators of a player’s determination to improve and strive to be the best that he can be. When discussing Draymond Green’s work ethic and continuous growth, his MSU head coach Tom Izzo said, “Draymond embodies everything that is right about a college basketball player… …He’s done what few can do and that’s get better each and every year… …He’s worked hard on improving his decision making, his body and his versatile skill set.” Izzo also went on to compare Green’s work ethic and winning attitude to that of Michigan State legends Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves. It’s pretty high praise for a guy with as much of a legacy as Tom Izzo has.

It’s that kind of work ethic that leads to players improving in the NBA. Even within this season, Draymond Green has improved. His field goal percentage reached 47% in January, improving from the two prior months where he shot horridly. His rebounding has improved as well, as it was up to 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in February, a very impressive mark by someone who’s logging the majority of his minutes playing at the small forward.

Energy off the Bench:

Draymond Green has been a defensive factor coming off the bench this season. His length poses problems to many taller players that he has to play defense against on the floor. He has a knack for getting in the passing lane and forcing turnovers. He and Stephen Curry are the only qualified players on the Warriors that record a steal on at least 2% of their defensive possessions, and Curry has an advantage in that category by being able to play on the point guard, the predominant ball handler on every team in the league except the Heat. (Lebron just breaks every trend.) Let’s examine an example. Like always, you can click on the images to zoom closer.

Screenshot (14) copy   Screenshot (15) copy

This is from a game in November when the Warriors played in Dallas against the Mavs. On the left, you can see Darren Collison is trying to hit Bernard James, the back-up center for the Mavericks on a backdoor cut to the basket. The pass attempt coming up is shown in dotted green while James’ cut to the basket is shown in red. Draymond Green, whose man is Troy Murphy in the corner (can you believe that it was this season that he was on the Mavericks?), recognizes that a pass from Collison to Murphy from the position that he’s in would be nearly impossible so he cheats down and helps on Bernard James. With excellent play recognition, Draymond Green, circled in pink is able to beat James to the ball, get into the passing lane, and force the turnover.

His energy helps the team in other areas too. He’s a solid rebounder for a small forward, and as I mentioned earlier in the article, is grabbing 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in the last month. His tenacious rebounding can be seen in this example here.

Screenshot (16) copy  Screenshot (17) copy

As you can tell based on the freeze frame to the left, this is a Harrison Barnes free throw attempt in the final minute of a close game about a week and a half ago against the Timberwolves. The ball is circled in yellow and Draymond Green is circled in the color that fits his last name. You can see that Derrick Williams appears to have good position boxing out on Green. Barnes missed the free-throw, and Green made a strong move to the basket to get the upper-hand in rebounding position on Derrick Williams. Williams tried to draw a foul and pretty blatantly flopped on the play, if you’re wondering why he’s sprawling on his back 5 feet behind the baseline in the second photo. Luke Ridnour and Andrei Kirilenko were the only ones left to grab the rebound for the Timberwolves. Green just out jumps them and snags the ball. He took the ball out and passed it to Kent Bazemore, who took a foul and made free throws to ice the game.

Coaching Belief:

You’re probably wondering why Draymond Green is even in the game in that situation. Why would Mark Jackson have a 33% shooting first-year player in the game with the game on the line? Mark Jackson is not a dumb man, and he understands that shooting percentages aren’t a tell-all statistic. He still uses the rookie for the reasons mentioned in the article. He is a great young defender and attacks the glass well. If his veterans are out there, playing lackadaisically and seem out of it, it helps to spark a motor within them when they see a young player fight for offensive rebounds or dive for loose balls.

Here’s what Mark Jackson, a retired NBA great in his own right and possibly the leading candidate for NBA coach of the year had to say about Draymond Green, “He’s a leader, and he doesn’t care about tenure. He stepped in here as a leader, and that’s a leader’s mentality… …He’s cooling off opponents’ hottest scorers, keeping a body on them and making it tough on them. He’s rebounding and making plays offensively. He’s giving us a presence by playing with force. The guy is just a tremendous competitor.” Pretty high praise from a man like that. It’s very similar to the praise that Tom Izzo gave to him as a chubby college freshman. He’s a leader and he works hard and he’ll find his way. Coaching belief is one of the most underrated factors in evaluating young players. It helps his morale so much to just know that despite not being able to put the ball in the hoop consistently, his coach still has his back and supports him and still gives him his fair share of minutes for all of the other things that he does that helps the team that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box scores.

Draymond’s shooting percentage is of great concern, but he’s always been someone who works hard and will make proper adjustments to do what it takes to win. It’s not like it’s something that’s impossible to rebound from. Jason Kidd, Mugsy Bogues, Chauncey Billups, and Peja Stojakovic all struggled as rookies, each shooting less than 39% from the field. They all found their way in the league and were able to play and be effective for a long time. There is no doubt in my mind that Draymond Green can do the same.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert. I tweet a lot. I’d also like to thank NBA.com/stats, 82games.com, and basketball-reference.com for their statistics that I used in this article.

NBA Stats of the Week: 2/26-3/4

uspw_6865642_crop_exact

In a new segment I’ll be doing every Tuesday on here, I’ll pick out the noteworthy statistics that occurred around the league in the last week. It’s worth noting that many of the single-game historical references only go back to the 1985-1986 season (the limitations of the Basketball-Reference.com play index for game finding). For convenience, “all-time” may mean “since 85-86” in many cases in this article.

  • Stephen Curry: On Wednesday of last week, Curry scored 54 points in a road game against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. This performance placed Curry third all-time among the top scoring performances by visiting players, putting him just behind Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan and just ahead of Lebron James. That’s not exactly the worst company to be in. Furthermore, Stephen Curry joins four other players as being the only players to make at least 11 3-pointers in a game. Of the five players who have accomplished that feat, Curry did not only did so on the fewest number of three-point attempts, but also recorded the most points and assists ever by someone that made that many threes in a ballgame. Unfortunately from Curry’s perspective, he may not view the game as better than the games the others players had, since Curry was the only player to lose in such a game. When you add in the game that Curry had the night before in Indiana where he shot 7-10 from beyond the arc, he became the eighth player ever to make at least 7 3-pointers in consecutive games. Curry had already achieved this feat earlier this season against Sacramento and Charlotte (7-12 and 8-13 shooting threes, respectively), making him the first player ever to score 7 threes in consecutive games more than once in his career. The game following the one against the Knicks, Curry took on the Celtics and was unable to follow up the feat. Only Mike Miller and George McCloud have scored 7 three-pointers in three straight games.
  • Lebron James: What hasn’t Lebron done? Whatever it is, he added to it a little more in the last week, especially in his win last Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings. In that game, Lebron set his new career high in assists with 16. His previous career high had been 15, set three times before he joined the Heat. Lebron’s achievements in that game go far beyond the highlights of his own career. They reach a historical level too. For instance, he joined just three other players in NBA history to record a game of at least 40 points and 16 assists. The entire month of February was historically good for Lebron James as well. Lebron set the record for PER in a single month, putting up a player efficiency rating of 38.34 in February. For a metric that sets 15.0 as it’s “average”, it was a pretty unbelievable series of games for James that month, to say the very least.
  • Joakim Noah: The center for the Bulls had a career game last Thursday, scoring 23 points, grabbing 21 boards, and blocking 11 shots. The 21 rebound performance was tied for Noah’s second most rebounds in any game of his career. When he blocked eleven shots that night, it set his personal best for blocked shots in a game. Noah’s performance put him along side Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and Shawn Bradley as players who have had 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots in a game.
  • Chandler Parsons: Parsons had a career night on Sunday, when he scored 32 points on 12-13 shooting from the field against the Mavericks. Parsons is the first player in over three seasons to score at least that many points on 92% shooting or better.  He joins a list of 15 players to have ever done that since the 1985-86 season.
  • Amir Johnson: Johnson had a 23 point, 15-rebound performance off the bench for the Raptors on Monday. What’s even more impressive is that he didn’t miss a single field goal attempt. 49 players have had a game of at least 23-15 as a reserve. Amir Johnson is the only one of these 49 players that didn’t miss a shot. Unfortunately for Johnson, the spectacular performance came in a loss to the Warriors.
  • Luke Walton: On a less impressive (but still a little bit impressive) statistic from the last week, Luke Walton tallied 12 assists and 0 rebounds against the Knicks on Tuesday. Walton is the one of two non-guards to ever do this (the other being George Hill). As a sidenote, Luke Walton scored 2 points and Grant Hill scored 31 points. In case we’re still short on Luke Walton love, here is my Luke Skywalton photoshop.

LukeSkywalton

You can follow me on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert.

Antawn Jamison Should Never Play Center

460x

In the beginning of the Lakers season, the back-up center for the team was Jordan Hill, who’s effort and energy off the bench provided a nice spark for the team when Dwight Howard needed to take a rest. He hustled for loose balls, rebounded at a high rate, and shot about 50% from the field. He was also a tenacious defender, who, despite being under-sized, was able to run around, cover his assignments, and “annoy” players on the other team with his pesky play. Although the team was struggling in the early months of the year, Jordan Hill was one of the few bright spots. On January 6, Kobe Bryant stepped on Hill’s foot, while Hill was running in another direction and Hill pulled his hip. The injury requited surgery and Hill was lost for the season.

The Lakers then turned to Pau Gasol, their veteran power forward who was struggling in the starting line-up and didn’t play well with Dwight Howard. He became to come off the bench and, although he still played with Dwight Howard at times, took all of the back-up center minutes. At this point, the Lakers had a back-up center who not only was a skilled offensive player in the post, could shoot from mid-range well and was an excellent passing big-man, but they also had a very underrated defender under the basket. Despite battling tendinitis in both knees as well as plantar fasciitis, Pau Gasol was able to post a very impressive post-up defense mark. In the time he played this season, he held opponents posting up on him to 0.74 points per possession. According to Synergy Sports Technology, that means he played better post defense than players like Tim Duncan or Serge Ibaka, both of whom are considered by some to be a defensive player of the year candidate Unfortunately, the plantar fasciitis that Gasol had been playing through tore on February 5, taking Gasol out for 6 to 8 weeks.

The Lakers were left with three options to fill the void left at the back-up center role. (1) Play Robert Sacre there, the rookie from Gonzaga that they drafted 60th overall last summer. (2) Play Antawn Jamison there and play with a small line-up for the dozen or so minutes each night that Howard needs to sit. (3) Acquire an adequate center from either the D-League or from another NBA team via trade.

Well, Robert Sacre has played 15 minutes since Gasol has gotten hurt, coming in three blowout games against Boston, the Clippers, and the Timberwolves. The Lakers let the trade deadline come and pass without making a single move, and there haven’t even been rumors from the team about possibly adding a free agent center or signing someone from the D-League to fix this problem. Yes, that means the Lakers have committed to having Antawn Jamison play center between about 8 and 15 minutes a night, for nearly the entire last month.

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge just how well Antawn Jamison has been playing offensively for the past couple weeks. In the last 5 games he has an eFG% of 60% and a PER of 22.0. He’s really helping the offense off the bench and is making nice cuts to the basket so Nash or Kobe can feed him the ball for the easy basket. His versatility for a power forward is tough for defenses to deal with. He can shoot the three ball well and also has a solid, unorthodox game around the basket including lay-ups at every arm angle imaginable as well as a solid baby hook. I would be fine with all of this. IF HE ONLY PLAYED POWER FORWARD.

If you look at the Lakers defensive statistics, their inability to protect the rim with Jamison at the 5 is startling. According to nbawowy.com,  in 386 possessions this season (about four games worth, enough to dismiss “small sample size” in my opinion), opponents of a Jamison-anchored Lakers defense are scoring 1.228 points per possession. By comparison, the league-wide  average points per possession is 1.056 points per game. To put it in another perspective, the Jamison-led defense for the Lakers allows opponents to effectively shoot 58% from the field, compared with the league average of 49% eFG%. You be curious about a confounding variable in this analysis. Is it really Jamison’s defense, or is it poor perimeter defense that causes opponents to torch this lineup so badly? When Jamison is center, opponents shoot 70% from the restricted area under the basket. That’s WAY worse than league average, which is about 59% shooting from there. Even the Sacramento Kings, who are last in the league in defense at the rim, hold opponents to a stellar-by-comparison 65.0% shooting in the restricted area. Jamison is just too old, slow, and weak to be elite on the defensive end as a center. He’s never been a good defender throughout his entire career, playing at the less-important power forward position, but at center it’s just a train wreck.

Once I learned the extent of Jamison’s rim-protecting ineptitude, I tried to look into the situation and dissect it a bit. I found that the peak of Jamison’s horribleness on D was the game last Monday against the Denver Nuggets. With 2:59 in the first quarter, Dwight Howard subbed out of the game with the Lakers leading the game 25-23. At this time, Antawn Jamison moved over to center. Here are the next 12 Nuggets offensive possessions:

  1. Javale McGee two-point shot.
  2. Andre Miller lay-up
  3. Corey Brewer dunk
  4. Andre Miller lay-up
  5. Andre Iguodala draws foul, gets to the free throw line
  6. Javale McGee draws faul, gets to the free throw line
  7. Corey Brewer and-1 lay-up
  8. Andre Miller draws foul, gets to the free throw line
  9. Anthony Randolph lay-up
  10. Anthony Randolph dunk
  11. Corey Brewer missed lay-up, Anthony Randolph tip-in
  12. Corey Brewer lay-up

Remember the two-point Lakers lead they had when Howard exited the game? In the span of 4 minutes and 25 seconds, the Nuggets scored 22 points and scored points on 12 possessions in a row, ALL VIA PENETRATION, to turn the scoreboard into a 14-point lead in the Nuggets favor. The Lakers ended up losing the game by 11 points. Perhaps if they had an adequate free-agent defensive center who could have been playing the 5, the game would have been different. There are certainly options out there. Ben Wallace, Hassan Whiteside, Arinze Onuaku, Henry Sims and Tim Ohlbrecht. These are people that can play defense at an adequate level. They can sacrifice offense in that bench unit. They just need to find a way not to lose a lead like that. It isn’t necessarily Jamison’s fault, but he’s a POWER FORWARD and he should play POWER FORWARD and if Mitch Kupchek truly wants to make a real effort to get the team into the playoffs, he should fill this blatant hole in the bench unit, immediately.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter @SkylerJGilbert.

NBA Trade Deadline: Winners and Losers

At 3:00 PM eastern time on February 21, the trade deadline for the 2012-13 NBA season halted all transactions between teams until the summer. Basketball fans were on the edge of their seats all day, just waiting for a “Woj Bomb” (a tweet by Yahoo basketball reporter Adrian Wojnarowski) that rocks the basketball world. Let’s dive into what the biggest winners and losers of the trade deadline were.

Winners: 

Houston Rockets: General manager Daryl Morey is at it again. One of the earliest trades of the deadline sent Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, and Toney Douglas to the Sacramento Kings and sent young forward Marcus Morris to the Phoenix Suns. The good news? They were able to bring in Thomas Robinson, the strong and athletic rookie from Kansas University who was drafted fifth overall in the draft last summer. Robinson hasn’t earned the opportunity he deserves in Sacramento, and with Patterson and Morris moving out, he’ll have a great chance to shine in Houston. As a Kansas Jayhawk, Thomas Robinson averaged 18-12 on 51% shooting. Although he doesn’t have elite length, he’s able to succeed under the basket as an excellent rebounder due to his strength and fundamentally-correct rebounding techniques. In this trade, the Rockets also brought in Francisco Garcia, yet another player that specializes in three-pointers and defense that fits perfectly in the Rockets system. Also acquired by Houston in this deal is Jimmer Fredette’s bench buddy, Tyler Honeycutt. That’s pretty sad, I guess, but the rest of the trade was exciting from Houston’s perspective.

Los Angeles Lakers: As a Lakers fan, I actually approve of the lack of moves on their part. Dwight Howard is still only 27 years old. Despite being banged up with injuries this season, he’s put up numbers that for anyone else in the NBA, you’d go, “_______ is really having a productive season. He’s scoring efficiently and rebounding at a high rate.” Howard has higher expectations, but hasn’t really fallen too far short of them, except on the defensive end, where he’s improved in the last few games. I also feel like the Pau Gasol injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Lakers, who would have contemplated dealing him had he remained healthy. If there had been a trade for Gasol, given his recent play this year, the Lakers wouldn’t have received a return package of the same value as Gasol. It’s almost never a good idea to seek a trade when a player’s stock is that low.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks were able to land the biggest name of the day in J.J. Redick without giving up any important assets. In a trade that sent Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, and Beno Udrih to Orlando, the Bucks bring in Redick, the shooting guard out of Duke known for his shooting. This mostly helps to right the terrible balance of the Milwaukee offense that sees Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis shoot an insane amount of inefficient shots. Consider these three shot distribution markers:

monta jennings redick

You can click on the images to view them closer, but if you had to choose one, I’m sure that you would choose the one furthest to the right. The one furthest to the left is the shot distribution of Monta Ellis, who currently takes the MOST shots on the Milwaukee Bucks. The one in the middle is the shot distribution of Brandon Jennings. It doesn’t seem too bad at all, until you zoom up and see that he is shooting 43.5% from under the basket, good enough for last among qualified players from inside 9 feet. And the one on the right is the newcomer. JJ Redick. Do you see why it is so important that he takes shots away from these two ball-hogs? Assuming that it helps their team’s putrid balance, this is a great move for the Bucks.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics have been imitating the Portland Trail Blazers the last few weeks. Rajon Rondo and Leonardo Barbosa both were lost for the season with ACL tears. Their back-court was left in shambles. the Lakers on Wednesday, the Celtics were depleted at the guard position so badly that they were left with three guards on their line-up. Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Avery Bradley. So when the Celtics went out and were able to acquire Jordan Crawford for just the price of the injured Barbosa’s expiring contract and the little-used Jason Collins, it seemed like a no-brainer. Crawford is known for taking too many shots and is much criticized for his decision-making. Hopefully for Boston, the veteran leadership will be able to guide him to a wiser overall game. I believe he’s talented enough to make a major contribution to this team if he’s able to do these things.

Portland Trail Blazers: The Trail Blazers agreed to a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder that brought in point guard Eric Maynor for a second-round draft pick. Maynor, a fourth-year player out of VCU had rarely been used in OKC this season after missing the entire previous season with a knee injury. In his first two seasons, Maynor showed tremendous promise. He was a solid three-point shooter and a tremendous passer. In his college days at Virginia Commonwealth, Maynor was a ball of excitement in the Colonial Conference. The last couple minutes of one of the VCU Rams games with George Mason may have been the greatest thing ever. For a Portland bench that scores 9.2 points fewer per game than any other team and are the only team since the 1997-98 season (the limits of my source) to score less than 17 points per game, this move makes a lot of sense. Maynor is able to create for himself a little bit, but specializes as a floor general and will be able to create for others when he is out there. The only concern with this move is that Maynor is coming off of an ACL tear, something that Blazer players have become almost synonymous with.

Losers:

Sacramento Kings: The Kings were sitting at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the lowest abyss in any ocean. So many bad situations have put this franchise into a situation where you wonder if they can go any lower. Suddenly, whilst sitting at the bottom of the lowest trench in the world, the ocean floor crumbled beneath them and they fell another 5,000 feet nowhere and unable to see any sign of daylight anywhere. While I’m not sure whether or not that metaphor came across or not, the point is this. The Sacramento Kings are a freaking disaster. Dysfunctional ownership has left the team in a scramble to harvest all possible cash to prevent the franchise from relocating to Seattle. At the trade deadline, the starve for money led to the team trading away their fifth overall pick and their future, Thomas Robinson. I understand that it saved them $3.1 million in a time where they need to accumulate cash, but still. In the long run, this will likely make them more bankrupt. Although they earn money in the trade, they lose money in advertising, ticket sales, and merchandise sales. What fan wants to stand by an organization that just admitted to throwing away their future? They hardly got any value at all in return. Toney Douglas is  basically a twelfth man. Cole Aldrich, too. Patrick Patterson is a rotational player and has probably already peaked. He’s far less valuable than Thomas Robinson’s immense amount of potential. The Maloof family should be embarrassed to own a franchise this way.

Utah Jazz: None of the other “losers” of the deadline can quite compare to the atrocity of the Sacramento Kings, but the Utah Jazz certainly did themselves a disservice. The Jazz needed to make a deal. They’re sitting at the seventh spot in the west, with the talent-filled Lakers occupying the ninth spot, eyeing their playoff spot. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are both on expiring contracts and both valuable. The Jazz have a notable weak spot at the point guard position and talent like Eric Bledsoe was on the market. Their front-office has a long history of making the right decision, but at this trade deadline, I feel like they made the wrong one. Salt Lake City isn’t always a desirable place to spend a winter and they had a golden opportunity to get talent in return for one of their big men before they may walk during the free agency period this summer.

Atlanta Hawks: THEY HAD TO TRADE JOSH SMITH. He may have a problem with heaving too many jumpers and sometimes he may not seem like he’s totally “in” the game, but he still is a very athletic tweener forward that has value on many teams. I think he will walk away this summer anyways. Take it from the Cavaliers. It isn’t fun when you watch a star player walk away with your team getting nothing in return. Don’t get me wrong–Josh Smith isn’t nearly the player Lebron James is–but the two situations are relatively similar. They could have sent Smith to San Antonio and received Dejuan Blair and Stephen Jackson in return. Maybe they could have also been able to pry Bledsoe away from the Clippers and fill the void left on the bench when Lou Williams went down. Maybe even the Lakers would have bitten if they tried hard enough to get Dwight Howard. The Hawks intend on making an effort to draw in Howard, who grew up near Atlanta, during the summer. It would have gone a long way towards completing that signing if they could have made him a Hawk now and familiarized him with his teammates and the organization.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter at @skylerjgilbert.

Just How Good is Kyrie Irving?

kyrie-irving-cavs

I’ll be honest, and I’m pretty ashamed of this at this point. Before the 2011 NBA draft, I was arguing that Derrick Williams should have been the first overall pick in the draft. I doubted Kyrie Irving’s athleticism, defense, and I feared that he was bound for an injury-plagued career after his only year of college at Duke University lasted only nine games due to an injured ligament in his toe. My doubts were actually accurate and inaccurate at the same time. Kyrie Irving isn’t a great on-ball defender, albeit he is improving. Irving did sprain his shoulder towards the end of his rookie season, along with a finger injury in the beginning of the current season that sidelined him for a few weeks. Lastly, Kyrie Irving can’t throw down monster jams like Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose can. He can’t run the floor with the speed and quickness of Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul. So, as you can see, my pre-draft concerns were legitimate. The problem with that evaluation of Kyrie Irving is that I didn’t account for just HOW GOOD he is at everything else.

Leadership: When Lebron James left Cleveland before the 2010-11 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were left with a dismal roster with no promising young talent besides Anderson Varejao, and a team that was simply incapable of being competitive. During the middle of that season, the Cleveland Cavaliers reached a level of horribleness that was previously unseen in the NBA. Between the dates of November 30 and February 9, the squad posted a record of 1-36, including an NBA-record of 39 consecutive games without winning in regulation. Many of these games were blow-outs, including a 55 point loss to the Lakers in Staples Center. Let’s just say they were bad. On May 17, 2011, in Secaucus, New Jersey, the tide finally turned in favor of the Cavaliers. They won the NBA draft lottery, which meant the rights to draft Kyrie Irving. Irving had to wait longer than most NBA rookies do to begin what he had already waited his whole life for, due to the 2011 NBA lock-out.

Once the season finally began, Kyrie was a clear leader of the franchise. Despite being just 19 years old, he was the one that took the shots at the end of the game. He was the one that led the team in scoring and usage %. He was the one that rallied the troops in the locker room to prepare for a big home game. Quite a responsibility for a teenager. This season, now 20, Kyrie Irving has evolved as a player, into an all-star. He has also further evolved in his leadership abilities. Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said that Irving  is “understanding what it takes to be a leader as far as communicating with his teammates and making his teammates better. That’s the next level for him … [and] he’s well on his way”.

Shooting Ability: One of the parts of Kyrie Irving’s game that is unexpectedly elite, based on evidence from high school and college, is his three point shooting. Only two starting point guards in the NBA have shot the long ball at a more efficient clip than Irving’s 42.9%. Their names are Stephen Curry and Jose Calderon. Unlike Kyrie Irving, Curry and Calderon shoot many of their threes directly off someone else’s pass. A catch-and-shoot three-pointer is much easier than one off the dribble. Just look at these numbers comparing Kyrie Irving to Stephen Curry.

Kyrie Irving: 3PT% (spot-up): .543. 3PT% (isolation): .448

Stephen Curry: 3PT% (spot-up): .532. 3PT% (isolation): .400

Stephen Curry is better than Irving in other kinds of shots, such as in transition or as the pick-and-roll ball handler, but I doubt most of you expected Kyrie Irving to be a better spot-up shooter than Stephen Curry.

Although the three-point shootout at the All-Star Saturday Night festivities is generally viewed as something that is just for fun and unimportant, it is a good indicator of a player’s pure shooting ability. Kyrie Irving was the second point guard ever to win, along with Mark Price, who may be the greatest shooter to have ever played. Just watch.

Scoring Ability:

Being able to shoot the ball is nice, but it is far from the only thing necessary to be a great scorer in the NBA. Just look at Michael Jordan, probably the greatest scorer of all-time. What set him apart from all of the rest? He wasn’t an elite scorer. Heck, when he did the three-point shoot-out he scored all of 6 points. Jordan was the greatest of all-time in being able to create shots. If you give a contested fall-away jumper to prime Michael Jordan and to prime Kobe Bryant, Kobe would have been much more likely to make it. That wasn’t MJ’s style, though. He could get himself open with ease and knock down an easier shot attempt.

Kyrie Irving is more of a Michael Jordan-type scorer. His elite ball handling enables him to get himself in a good position to knock down a jumper. Consider this sequence in a recent game against the Minnesota Timberwolves:

Screenshot (2)

Kyrie Irving gets the ball in the post from teammate Alonzo Gee, just five seconds remaining on the shot clock, with Luke Ridnour at his back.

Screenshot (3)

Here we are about a second later in the play. Kyrie is now isolated on the right side of the floor with Luke Ridnour still guarding him. He has turned from the post to face the basket, and throws a jab step to the right towards the baseline.

Screenshot (4)

Kyrie is now penetrating through the lane to his left, setting up an easy lay-in. This play doesn’t seem like much, but it certainly displays some basketball maturity. Most young players don’t really understand that 5 seconds is plenty of time to still make a play and set up a score. Many players put in Kyrie’s situation, which came at the end of a broken play, would have tried some turn-around fade-away jumper that is certainly less likely to fall than this one. Also noteworthy in this play was the little jab step he used to get Luke Ridnour off-balance. NBA defenders are taught to key the ball handler at the waist. Your waist doesn’t move on head fakes, but it will on jab steps like this one.

Here is a second example of Kyrie’s scoring ability, taken from a big win against the Oklahoma City Thunder a couple of weeks ago:

Screenshot (5)

Game is on the line. Cavs up 113-110 with :23 left on the game clock and :09 left on the shot clock. OKC needs to stop the Cavs here to give themselves a chance. Luckily for us, we get to watch Kyrie Irving on an isolation with Russell Westbrook guarding him.

Screenshot (6)

Here we have another example of Kyrie’s elite ball handling skills. I’m not sure if you saw him break Brandon Knight’s ankles at the Young Stars Game last Friday, but it was something special. In this play, Kyrie puts a quick double crossover on Westbrook and drives to his left.

Screenshot (7)   Screenshot (8)

Kyrie pulls up from about 10 feet from the hoop and pump-fakes hard and quick. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who came over to help, are both fooled and go airborne. Kyrie waits for the bodies to pass and throws up a jumper in traffic.

Screenshot (9)

Drains it. The shot, although you can’t tell based on this, was a bank-shot. It was the end of a big home win against an elite team. Kyrie Irving put the Cavaliers on his back down the stretch in that game.

Kyrie Irving is 2nd in the NBA among all qualified players in isolation PPP. By comparison, Lebron James ranks 4th in the league and Kevin Durant ranks 13th. Irving is able to do most of this with his elite ball handling and remarkable maturity for a player who still isn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol.

Where Do We Rank Him?

Here are some numbers comparing Kyrie Irving to other top-tier PG’s in the NBA this season. Not included among elite point guards are Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose, both of whom are presently injured. These numbers are per 36 minutes played.

Player              Age  G  FG  FGA  FG%  3P 3PA  3P%  FT FTA  FT% TRB  AST STL TOV  PTS
Stephen Curry        24 49 7.1 16.4 .437 3.0 6.7 .447 3.0 3.3 .905 3.9  6.3 1.5 2.7 20.3
Jrue Holiday         22 47 7.3 16.1 .452 1.0 2.8 .353 2.3 3.0 .775 3.9  8.4 1.4 3.8 17.9
Kyrie Irving         20 42 8.8 18.8 .466 2.0 4.7 .425 4.3 5.1 .848 3.7  5.7 1.7 3.3 23.9
Tony Parker          30 52 9.0 16.9 .535 0.5 1.2 .386 4.4 5.3 .830 3.3  8.4 1.0 2.8 22.9
Chris Paul           27 44 6.4 13.2 .482 1.3 3.8 .353 4.2 4.7 .884 3.7 10.5 2.8 2.3 18.3
Russell Westbrook    24 53 8.0 18.8 .426 1.3 3.9 .328 5.5 6.9 .795 5.2  8.1 2.0 3.6 22.8

A couple things are apparent just with these basic measures. Kyrie Irving scores at a higher rate than any other point guard. On the downside for Irving, the point guard’s role is normally as a facilitator and he has assist numbers that pale in comparison to Chris Paul or Tony Parker. Some of this can be attributed to having poor teammates, but let’s not forget that Steve Nash was able to accumulate over a dozen assists per 36 minutes in each of his last three seasons in Phoenix. His teammates were also poor, but the best passing point guards are able to set up teammates at a high clip even if they aren’t All-star caliber players. It’s difficult to accurately see who is the most efficient without looking at more advanced metrics such as true shooting % or effective shooting percentage, so let’s lay down the red carpet and bring in advanced numbers as well.

Player              Age  G  PER  TS% eFG% TRB% AST% STL% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg WS/48

Stephen Curry        24 49 19.9 .569 .528  6.0 29.6  2.1 13.3 25.6  112  108  .152
Jrue Holiday         22 47 18.2 .512 .482  6.2 40.9  2.0 17.7 27.3  101  106  .078
Kyrie Irving         20 42 22.3 .567 .519  6.0 30.7  2.4 13.7 30.0  110  109  .143
Tony Parker          30 52 24.5 .597 .549  5.4 41.4  1.4 12.8 28.2  118  105  .233
Chris Paul           27 44 26.8 .597 .533  6.1 47.3  4.1 13.3 22.2  128  101  .297
Russell Westbrook    24 53 23.0 .522 .459  8.3 40.0  2.8 14.1 32.1  109  104  .177

As far as PER goes, Kyrie Irving is better than Curry or Holiday but trails Westbrook, Paul, and Parker. Irving’s AST% is actually better than that of Stephen Curry despite not having the offensive weapons and shooters Curry has. His defensive rating of 109 is a bit disconcerting, and Irving has been much criticized of his defense. However, offensive and defensive ratings are in many ways, team statistics, and are difficult to pin on a single player. I mean, Derek Fisher once had an offensive rating of 117 despite shooting 42% from the field and putting up 3.2 APG. It may have had more to do with the fact that he was on the floor with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom that season. Kyrie Irving may not be the best defender in basketball, but I believe he’s much better than this stat claims.

Based on Synergy Sports Technology, which analyzes a player’s ability in every play type, offense or defense, Kyrie Irving allows only 0.57 points per possession on isolation plays against him. Let’s compare that to Chris Paul, known league-wide as an elite perimeter defender. Paul’s success on isolation isn’t nearly as good as Kyrie’s. He allows 0.96 points per possession on isolation plays. Irving even leads CP3 in overall defense (0.83 PPP to 0.84 PPP). I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that Irving is a better defender than Chris Paul, due to other variables involved that include defensive help on isolation plays and the fact that Irving sometimes doesn’t guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player, but I think it provides sufficient evidence to say that he’s not terrible on defense.

Kyrie Irving isn’t the best healthy NBA point guard. Chris Paul is better. So is Tony Parker. Russell Westbrook might even be better too. That’s besides the point. He’s an elite player, a leader to his team, one of the best shooters in basketball, an unbelievable shot creator (especially for someone with so little experience), and a vastly underrated defensive game. AND HE’S TWENTY YEARS OLD. It’s exciting to root for a player with as much youth and potential as Kyrie Irving has. There hasn’t been a twenty year old in the NBA playing as well as Kyrie Irving since Lebron James, the man that he was drafted to replace. What a beautiful irony.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, mysynergysports.com hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the third person so he’s going to conclude this article. He’s also adding this final sentence so the word count passes 2000.

Alex Ovechkin and Kobe Bryant, a Tale of Two Stars

This piece is written by Adam Koscielak. You can follow him on twitter @adamkoscielak. He’s Polish and funny and a good person. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the points of this article, which discusses my favorite athletes of two different sports but it’s worth a read.

One, a high school player with question marks all over him, the other, a Russian young superstar with exclamation marks everywhere. One, chosen thirteenth, ever a motivation, the other, chosen first, ever a burden. One, a basketball Shooting Guard, the other a Hockey left winger. Both of them, absolutely stellar, both of them turning a team game into an individual skills display.

What can you say about both of them that hasn’t been said already? Kobe shoots too much, Ovie shoots too much. Kobe is overconfident to a fault, so is Ovie. From that perspective, they’re pretty similar, but when push comes to shove, they are different. Kobe, ever the overachiever in a sense, Ovie, ever the underachiever.

Kobe Bryant never really had all the physical tools to be a dominant player in the NBA. Sure, in this prime he had wicked athleticism, but he was also hellishly skinny. Perhaps, his success early on was Shaq, or perhaps, it was just his will. We will never have the right answer for that, perhaps because there isn’t one. The Black Mamba does, as the Black Mamba pleases, I guess. But what he could do with that high school frame, what his hard work turned him in to, is unquestionable.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin was a monster from day one. Physical, with a wicked slapshot that would send shudders down your spine. Ovechkin was the next big thing, a big thing that was put on pause by a lockout season, and had to compete with another big thing in Sidney Crosby. Ovechkin, a physical specimen and a seemingly unstoppable beast, fueled by fire. Crosby, a thin kid that just happened to have the craftiness of a mid-income man’s Wayne Gretzky (which means, he was pretty fucking crafty). Ovechkin’s war was with the future. Kobe’s meanwhile, was with the past.

Kobe could only be compared to one player, really. Not because of sheer greatness, I mean, there are better players on the all time list, contrary to what some delusional fanboys would believe, but because of style. Kobe visibly idolized Jordan. Kobe visibly came up in high school, wanting to be like Mike. And his game reflected that. Never afraid of taking the big shots, never afraid of going to the hole, or shooting a three. Kobe was the premiere wing player, until LeBron James came along, and even so, the narrative between them only started around 2006 or 2007. From then on, Kobe was battling two opponents. Ghosts of the past in Jordan, and future spectres in LeBron. The thing is, that in this rivalry, LeBron was the more physical one. LeBron was the Ovechkin, to Kobe’s Crosby, even if LeBron’s game was more like Crosby’s, and Kobe’s, like Ovechkin’s. Kobe was always the “skill guy” while LeBron was the “brute force” killer. Just read commentary from that time. Sure, bloggers knew better, but the public always saw LeBron as a guy who did it all with his athleticism, and Kobe as the guy who outsmarted his opponent (by taking contested post-up shots, nonetheless).

But Kobe has something that Ovechkin, in today’s star-studded NHL may never get. Championships, or as one would say if he were to be obnoxious; RINGZZZZZZZZZZZ. A few years back, I even went as far as equating Ovechkin with LeBron, when it comes to scrutiny. Both never got it done when it all came down to getting it done, at the time. Both seemed to be absent when the minutes waned, both had their embarrassing moments, with Ovechkin having an unforgettable loss to the 8th seed Habs in his resume, ever a stain. Kobe rode the shoulders of a giant earlier, and later became a giant himself. Part of it is Mitch Kupchak’s genius. Part of it is sheer luck (see, Artest, Ron, putback) but Kobe found a way to win, and for that he will always be revered, just as Ovechkin will be scrutinized.

Then again, can you compare basketball and hockey, when it comes to winning those elusive rings? Hockey is a fluke sport in many ways. Sometimes, a goalie turns into a immovable object (see, Halak, Jaroslav) other times, a forward turns into an unstoppable force (see Toews, Jonathan). The unpredictable world of a sport where goals are random occurences, is hard to compare with the paced and repeatable sport of basketball. After all, it’s hard to beat a basketball on fluke that doesn’t involve injuries or suspensions. Sure, there are the Ron Artest putbacks, but they are still products of hundreds of other possessions, a regularity. In hockey, there’s no regularity. There are games spent in the neutral zone. There are games, where you bombard the net, but the puck will refuse to go in, and the other teams takes advantage of the one chance they get. A bounce, a powerplay, a breakaway, or one simple play. There are 18 players rotating on the ice, and each of them has the potential to make or break the game with a stupid play. (see, Conklin, Ty; Smith, Steve) Basketball’s chaos is organized, regular. Hockey has the regularity of an arhythmic heart. In basketball, a player can easily take credit for his greatness, after all, rarely does the 10th man radically shift a game, usually, it’s the first man. In hockey, the only true hero is the goalie, a man with as much pressure as praise. The rest is a crapshoot. And in this crapshoot, it’s kind of impressive that Ovie in his great seasons, managed to emulate what Wayne Gretzky done, and make an extremely team based sport take on the look of individual heroics. And not far behind is Kobe, who, in a sense, highlighted the individuality of the NBA. His teammates were mere helpers on his quest, and only know, playing with the ultimate teammate in Steve Nash, no less, he’s beginning to understand what it means to be a team player, even if he does so with a bit of selfishness.

And so, the main difference will always be, the achievements they made. Some of them, due to pressure. Some of them, due to work ethic. After all, Kobe can spend hours in the gym, if he feels he’s fucked up, while Ovie hangs around in clubs, ever confident in his abilities on the ice. Is Alex Ovechkin the Kobe Bryant of the NHL? No. Is Kobe Bryant the Alex Ovechkin of the NBA? No. They are quite the polar opposites of each other, but they will always be among the most polarizing figures in their respective sports. Perhaps, in 20 years we’ll have a debate. “Was Kobe greater than LeBron.” Perhaps, in 20 years we’ll ask what the hell  happened with Alex Ovechkin at some point. Or we’ll be fighting over him and Crosby until we rip each others throats out. While Kobe’s legacy is slowly nearing to a conclusion, Ovie has another ten years or so to show what he is about. Are his great years just a fluke, a wildcat offence of the NHL? Has everyone finally adjusted to the way he plays, neutralizing him in large part? Or will he bounce back after a weak year, with renewed passion.

Just like that, the tale of two superstars closes with as many questions as before. Different questions, perhaps, but questions. The future will determine, what the legacies of the two will be. Will Kobe be one of the ultimate winners, or will generations ahead prove his achievements to be nothing of note? Probably the former. Will Ovechkin ascend back into the competiion with Sidney Crosby, or will he fall into the “a few good seasons” category of a player? Everything is ahead.

GOTW Preview: Miami Heat @ Los Angeles Lakers

A day after Lebron games scored his 20,000th career point, TNT airs a game that many people circled on their calender when the schedules were released last summer. Ever since the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard, this was the dream final that everyone envisioned. The two teams in this match-up, the Heat and the Lakers have between 5 and 8 stars between them (depending on how you view Pau, Nash, and Ray Allen). And be honest. When it comes to NBA 2k13, these are the two teams that you hate facing. When you join an online match-up and you end up facing the Lakers or the Heat, you either quit out of the game, or at least contemplate it. Talent-wise, it doesn’t get better. One of these squads has the top scorer of the last decade, the top defender of the last decade, the top passer of the last decade, the top perimeter defender of the last decade, and the most-skilled post big-man of the last decade. The other team has perhaps the greatest athlete ever to play in the NBA, a shooting guard that has been toe-to-toe with Kobe and before this season had actually been statistically better, the best shooter of all-time and a top-3 power forward in the NBA today. This match-up may have more stars than have ever been on a court in an NBA game in the entire history of the league.

It has not been as easy for either of these teams this season as one would have expected before the season, especially the Lakers. The Los Angeles Lakers (17-21) have struggled immensely this season, with drama following their every move. First it was losing their first three games, then news that Nash had broken his leg, then the firing of the head coach. Phil Jackson was supposed to be the “savior”, to come back from retirement and reunite with Kobe and lead the team to their true potential. Mitch Kupchek and Jerry/Jim Buss shocked the NBA world when they chose Mike D’Antoni instead. They’ve had a very bumpy ride on the journey they call their season with Pau Gasol trade rumors clearly impacting his play, Kobe’s off-ball defense woes, and injuries sidelining Steve Nash and Steve Blake for extensive periods of time. Just earlier this month, the Lakers endured a freak game that injured their top three big men in minutes, including Jordan Hill for the whole season. They take a two-game win streak into tonight’s game against Miami, hoping to build on wins versus the Cavs and the Bucks.

The Miami Heat (25-12) lead the Eastern Conference, but that isn’t enough for the lofty expectations of their fans. Rebounding issues have highlighted the reason that they’ve stumbled of late. In their last eleven games, the Heat have only won three of them in regulation and have only out-rebounded their opponent in two of those last eleven games, a series of games that includes the Heat getting beaten down on the boards by Chicago (48-28), Indiana (55-36), and Utah (40-23). They’ll need to be sharp on the boards against a Lakers squad that presents two 7-footers.

Injuries:

  • Dwight Howard – Probable. Dwight is all but a sure thing to play after coming back from a shoulder injury on Sunday against the Cavaliers. In two games since he’s returned, Dwight has averaged 26.5 PPG, 15 RPG, 79% from the field and 2.5 BPG. Some say that he’s finally found his form for the first time since he’s moved across the country.
  • Pau Gasol – Probable. A concussion has taken away the last five games from Gasol, but ESPNLA is reporting that team doctors have cleared him this morning and he’ll be good to go tonight. However, there are conflicting reports as to whether Gasol will be comng
  • Shane Battier – Probable. Battier missed two games with a hamstring injury but returned against the Warriors last night, playing 10 minutes (well below his season average of 24.6 MPG). Since it’s the second game of a back-to-back, it isn’t out of the question for Battier to miss this one for precautionary measures.

What to Expect:

One of the places that the Lakers have struggled, and it’s been discussed heavily, is transition defense. That plays directly into the Heat strengths. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash need to commit themselves to get back on defense to prevent the team that does this and this from doing those things. I think it can also be expected for the stars to play well… or at least heave a lot of shots. They’re on ESPN, in the marquee match-up of the entire season. You can expect players like Kobe, Dwight, and Wade to try to assert themselves early and make a statement. Lastly, it’s important to look for who Kobe Bryant is guarding early in the game. In the past against the Heat, the Lakers have stuck Bryant on Wade, Metta on Lebron, and Bynum (now Howard) on Bosh. Lately, however, their defensive philosophy has changed a bit due to Kobe’s struggles with off-ball defense. He’s been guarding the main ball handler for the majority of games in the last week or so. If that trend should continue, it would put Kobe on Lebron James, something that he may not be able to handle. Honestly, I’d expect the trend to end and we’ll have a long night watching Dwyane Wade run around screens, stranding Kobe across the court.

The X-Factor:

On his 31st birthday, Dwyane Wade’s going to need a big day. When D-Wade scores at least 18 points this season, the Heat are 16-4, as compared to 9-8 when he doesn’t tally that many. Wade’s just got to be active in many facets of the game tonight. From time-to-time he seems a bit lackadaisical out there, with little energy. When he plays the way that he’s capable, Dwyane Wade is a top-5 player in the league today and a huge difference maker.

The Predictions:

Some of the other contributors for Hoop City Blog assisted me with this section and gave me their picks for the game.

  • Skyler (twitter @skylerjgilbert) – I think the Lakers are going to come out strong and and give themselves a fighting chance. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kobe came out looking to be a facilitator. In the end, I think the Hear are just too much for LA, however. Lebron James has at least 20 points in all but one game this year and is likely to win another most valuable player award. The Lakers will give up too many fast break points down the stretch. MIA 111, LAL 105.
  • Sam (twitter @sam_vecenie) – My prediction for tonight is a Lakers win. The Heat just got up for a somewhat big game against the Warriors last night and might be feeling the effects of a back-to-back tonight. This game will be defined by whether or not Dwight Howard is able to take over. If he is able to assert his will in the middle, the Lakers should win. If not, they will lose. I think he plays well tonight, the Lakers win, and chaos ensues as fans continue to believe the Lakers are back, but bloggers continue to laugh at their inherent flaws. 97-95 Lakers.
  • Quentin (twitter @qhaynes22) – MIA 104, LAL 96. LeBron has a huge game, Kobe had a solid game, but Howard keeps LAL in it with a 20-20 game before Wade and Bosh help MIA pull out the W.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the 3rd person so he’s going to conclude this article.

GOTW Preview: Indiana Pacers @ Brooklyn Nets

At 6:00 eastern time at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, two red-hot franchises will face off as they, like several either teams are doing everything in their power to move up the standings in the Eastern Conference.

The Match-up:

The Indiana Pacers (23-14), winners of four straight, are coming off of a 96-88 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats that saw forward David West record his first career triple-double. They benefited from superb point guard play that saw George Hill and back-up D.J. Augustin put up 19 and 18 points, respectively. They’ll be going to the homes of the Brooklyn Nets (21-15), who have won six in a row and seven of their last eight since firing coach Avery Johnson and replacing him with interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. Brooklyn had a nice showing on Friday night when they beat the Phoenix Suns 99-79. Joe Johnson chipped in 19 points in that game and MarShon Brooks added 17 points off the bench while filling in for Gerald Wallace, who came out of the game in the first quarter when P.J. Tucker contested a dunk attempt and Wallace landed hard on his right arm. Initial testing on the arm came up negative, but Wallace did suffer bruised ribs.

Injuries:

  • Gerald Wallace – Out. Wallace has been ruled out of this game with bruised ribs, sources near the team says.
  • Deron Williams – Questionable. Williams suffered a thigh contusion against the Suns on Friday. The star point guard is a gametime decision. ***Update: Williams will start, but may be limited in minutes***
  • Paul George – Probable. George is the leading scorer for the Pacers (16.9 PPG) and has shown great recent success against the Nets, scoring 19.5 PPG and shooting 66.7% from the field in the Pacers’ last four meetings against the Nets. Paul George missed Saturday’s game against the Bobcats with an undisclosed illness, but is expected to return with the team against the Nets. ***Update: George will play, according to the Indianapolis Star***

What to Expect:

Indiana has the top defense in the NBA, allowing only 98.6 points per 100 possessions, the best defensive rating in an 82-game season since the 2003-04 season. Their combination of long and quick players on the perimeter and Roy Hibbert causing havoc under the basket has slowed even the best of offenses in recent weeks. Both teams ranked among the slowest in the NBA by comes to pace, so don’t be expecting a “flying death machine” like Miami or the LA Clippers. The Nets have had an up-and-down year and are currently riding a hot streak. They have two guards in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson that have been putting up high-usage, albeit inefficient seasons. This game should be close right up to the end as they are pretty equally matched.

The X-Factor:

Joe Johnson is the X-Factor of this match-up. Much has been made of the struggles Joe Johnson has had in his first year with the Nets, most alarmingly is his worse-than-average PER of 14.5. For a player making $19.5 million this year, that’s just unacceptable. However, when Johnson has been productive, Brooklyn is a different team. The Nets are 16-5 when Johnson shoots at least 42% from the field and only 5-10 when he shoots worse than that.

The Predictions:

Some of the other contributors for Hoop City Blog assisted me with this section and gave me their picks for the game.

  • Skyler (twitter @skylerjgilbert) – I expect the Pacers to stop the Nets run and pull this one out. Brooklyn depends too much upon Joe Johnson and Deron Williams (who may not even play). Indiana’s perimeter defense will shut them down. 89-79 Pacers.
  • Sam (twitter @sam_vecenie) – For me, it pretty much just depends if Paul George plays, as he missed their game last night against the Bobcats with the flu. George has been on fire recently and looks like he’s turned the corner as a go-to option for the Indiana offense. If he plays, the Pacers will pick up a close win around 93-90. If he doesn’t, this should be a win for the Nets, who have won seven of their last eight under PJ Carlesimo. Without George, I’ll go with a 95-86 win for the Nets.
  • Chris (twitter @chrisjandb) – Indiana is on fire lately with a smothering defense. Opponents are only shooting 42.3% against them the last 10 games. IND 92 BK 86.
  • Quentin (twitter @qhaynes22) – I expect David West to have a big game. Pacers 94, Nets 87.
  • Jameson (twitter @jamdraper) – Brooklyn wins 94-89. Paul George not playing/playing ill hurts the Pacers.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the 3rd person so he’s going to conclude this article.