Friday, November 30, 2012

David Stern was right to fine Popovich and the Spurs



Gregg Popovich made one of the most controversial coaching decisions when he decided to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green home on a road game in Miami. Nobody is denying that. Where the debate comes in is David Stern’s decision to slap a $250,000 fine on the roster littered with Hall of Famers and NBA champions.

The popular position is to side with coach Gregg Popovich. He is responsible to the San Antonio Spurs for putting them in a place that best gives them a chance to win a championship. After all, that is the ultimate goal in sports.

Not only that, but Popovich has proven that he is more than capable of creating bona-fide championship managerial decisions. Resting Duncan and Ginobili—players well past their prime—is going to be part of the regular season. Players that are younger have been injured in less trying circumstances, namely Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury in the last minutes of what was a blowout win, so Popovich appears to be completely right in deciding to sit his stars.

More importantly, the San Antonio Spurs landed a terrible stretch of games by the NBA. Six away games in nine days is a bout of horrendously bad luck and should not have happened, especially when it involves trekking from Canada to Miami (among other stops, of course). The Heat, on the other hand, have played one game in the past week and it was against the Cavaliers.

So while the Heat fans did get the short end of the stick not being able to see some of the NBA’s best in action, Popovich’s decision was purely in the best interest of the organization. And the Spurs nearly won the game, too, so it’s not as if the Spurs gave the Heat a freebie. Taking it at its surface value, which Skip Bayless did in Friday’s episode of First Take, you might say that the amalgamation of these factors means that of course Gregg Popovich can rest his guys.

Initially, I was also infuriated that David Stern was going to drop the hammer on one of the NBA’s most respectable franchises. But, that initial overreaction probably had a lot to do with to the NFL saga that has gone on between the New Orleans Saints and commissioner Roger Goodell.

The reality is that David Stern was completely correct in deciding to fine the Spurs.

His words: “[The Spurs] did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."

Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili weren't even on the
 bench vs. Miami on Thursday.
Stern articulated the perfect reason for the fine. Never does he say that the fine is directly because of benching Duncan and Co., but rather it’s the lack of timely manner that led to the fine. That is precisely the problem. A personal analogy: as a fan, I have specifically chosen to watch games that had the best players on the field. Back in the early days of what is now AT&T Park in San Francisco, Barry Bonds was bashing home run after home run. I was ecstatic one day to see the Giants in action.

And while I love cheering on my home team, my left field seat shows an equally valid intention for paying the price of admission: I wanted to be entertained by (a juiced up) home run hitting machine.

But he sat out that game.

Here we are, more than a decade later, and I still remember that game. I don’t remember any of the results of the game, but I remember the fact that I missed the man who would hit 756 career home runs. I was disappointed much for the very same reasons that Heat fans were probably disappointed (even though they are spoiled themselves with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade…).

I had spent good money to watch a game—to be entertained—by some of the best professional athletes in the world. I gladly would have bought tickets to a different game to see Bonds play (but since it was a Giants home game, nobody cared, of course). The point is clear: the Spurs come to Miami once a year. But the fans would rather pay to see most other NBA teams play the Heat than the second-string Spurs team that comes once a year.

Even though he has the right to choose when to rest his players, the way he did it this time was not right. Popovich is obliged to put the Spurs organization in the best position to win; however, he also has a responsibility to the league and its fans to let them know when such prominent NBA (super)stars will sit out when its for a reason like scheduling.

The integrity of the NBA—and ultimately his paycheck—depend on it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Golden State Warriors, An Early Season Outlook



Fourteen games into the season, the Warriors have seen both some of the “same old, same old,” and some signs that show brighter days may be are on the horizon. Andrew Bogut aggravating his knee injury and Brandon Rush losing the entire NBA season to an ACL tear was heartbreaking to say the least for a fan base that has all too often seen how high hopes can fall victim to untimely injury.

While that is a concern and a taboo topic in Golden State, there have also been some rather bright spots that should excite a fan base that has gone from an improbable 2007 playoff run to decimation with perennial disappointment.

For one, they have had put together excellent performances against some of the NBA’s best teams. Defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles was an incredible feat for a young team—the Warriors won with two rookies in the starting lineup against the likes of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. While the Warriors didn’t play particularly well against a soul-searching Lakers team, the Clippers game was a valid point of optimism for the Warriors faithful to say, “maybe…?”

36 points against the Thunder in the fourth quarter and a fairly convincing win against a stacked Brooklyn Nets team, there are ample reasons that show the Warriors are a team to be taken seriously. Here are three keys that have gotten the Warriors where they are…and must continue for a successful season:

Production from Harrison Barnes and the rookies

The Warriors just might have had one of the best low-profile drafts in recent memory. Oklahoma City has rightfully earned all of the accolades for picking up Kevin Durant, James Harden (now gone), and Russell Westbrook. But the Warriors were never lucky bad enough to land such a high pick in the draft. Nonetheless, general manager Bob Myers did the right thing when Harrison Barnes fell into his lap with the No. 7 pick in the 2012 draft.

Barnes has been a stud whose potential is sky-high. His jumper is impressive, he can create for himself and his ability to finish is nothing short of well, this…


10.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game only begins to tell the story of what Barnes has meant to the Warriors. It’s early but let me just say that I’m not giving up on him as my pick to get that Rookie of the Year award. Damian Lillard is tearing it up in Portland but Barnes has earned a right to be in the early season discussion.

Barnes leads a rookie trio with two players who have stepped up big in Bogut and Rush’s absence. Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli have played solid minutes when asked and been energizers on defense. Ezeli has even landed the starting center role—although his minutes are not too extensive considering Carl Landry is waiting to make a (huge) impact off the bench.

Scoring and rebounding from the best power forward duo in basketball

As hinted at in the previous paragraph, the Warriors have the best 1-2 punch at power forward. David Lee is a nightly threat to go 20-10 and averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds over the past 10 games. His circus shot against the Timberwolves may have been lucky but his touch inside is incredible, having proven that his ambidexterity in the post is a true weapon.


Then there’s Carl Landry. Warrior Nation was quite excited for this pickup but nobody would have guessed this guy would establish himself as one of the best players on the Warriors this early in the season. Landry is a monster on the boards, both offensively and defensively. Just last night he out-rebounded Pekovic on a missed free throw and earned a quick put-back.

Landry is making an early season push for sixth man of the year, with 15 points and 7 rebounds per game to go along with 78 percent free-throw shooting and 60 percent from the field. Like the youthful energy brought with Ezeli, Barnes, and Green, the Warriors main big men need to continue to lead the way solidifying offensive scoring and securing rebounds.

These two are the Warriors foundation.

Stephen Curry shooting…and shooting a lot

Klay Thompson will continue to find his position and comfort on the basketball court and is a huge part of the Warriors both now and into the future. He has had a roller coaster ride of a season thus far but one thing is certain: Thompson can drain threes. It’s a matter of time for Thompson to improve his consistency. In the meantime, the Warriors have nothing to worry about because Curry is one of the best shooters in the league.

Although Curry had a disappearing act against Denver last Friday, that shouldn’t concern Mark Jackson in the slightest (and hasn’t). After all, the very next game, Curry shot five of 10 from three.

With Jarrett Jack taking off some of the pressure ball-handling, Curry can take advantage of his No. 1 strength. Curry has one of the best shooting strokes in the NBA, as he has proven when he is on the court. That nagging worry of injury is what keeps the Warriors cautiously optimistic with their star, but Curry can shoot outside, inside, jumpers, and is a lights out free throw shooter.

If he can stay on the court, the Warriors will always be a hot shooting streak away from getting back in any game.

-------

The Warriors have every reason to be confident that they can make a strong push for more than just a mediocre season. Even Andris Biedrins, whose name makes the Bay Area cringe, has made an (albeit small) contribution when called upon. The depth that the Warriors have is scary and if they can get their stars to play like stars consistently, it will continue to be a fun season to watch. Ideally Bogut gets his act together soon and comes back completely healthy, which is another critical piece to the puzzle of the Warriors success. Seeing a seven-footer on the floor who actually knows how to play the game is surreal for an organization that has traditionally been undersized.

I originally picked the Warriors to settle around the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference, but they should simply ride their confidence and deep roster as far is it takes them. Don’t look back, just keep playing and improving.

If these three keys can remain consistent, the Warriors might surprise a lot of teams in the West.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kobe vs. Jordan: A Complete Comparison of Two NBA Greats


The Black Mamba and Air Jordan. This comparison is one that will be made for years to come because of a multitude of reasons, namely the fact that these premiere NBA scorers are the two greatest shooting guards of all time. And while the argument that Jordan revolutionized the sport is valid, I will remove that consideration and take a closer look at Kobe and Jordan’s respective statistics (regular season and playoffs), awards (including championship titles), and clutch performing—which these two guys are generally considered some of the best ever.

This column seeks to provide a complete comparison of these NBA greats and show you who ultimately is both the better and the greater player. And as I always like to turn to first, let’s have a look at the regular season statistics of Kobe and Jordan:

Per game statistics
Kobe Bryant
Michael Jordan
Points
25.4
30.1
Rebounds
5.3
6.2
Assists
4.7
5.3
Steals
1.5
2.3
FG percentage
.453
.497
3PT percentage
.337
.327
Minutes
36.5
38.3
PER
23.5
27.9
eFG percentage
.487
.509
Note: All stats for Bryant are as of 11/20/12

Really there’s not much to debate here, Jordan is clearly the better regular season performer. The only statistic that Kobe has an edge in is three-point percentage, and that advantage is by a whole one percentage point. Truthfully, Kobe’s first three years did set him behind a bit, but even if you eliminate those years from consideration, he still has less points (27.8) and fewer assists (5.1) while most other categories remain relatively constant.

Kobe is known primarily for being a scorer and not only did Jordan score more than Kobe does, but Jordan also shot a significantly higher percentage—hence the large disparity in PER.

Now, how about playoff statistics?

Playoff per game statistics
Kobe Bryant
Michael Jordan
Points
25.6
33.4
Rebounds
5.1
6.4
Assists
4.7
5.7
Steals
1.4
2.1
FG percentage
.448
.487
3PT percentage
.331
.332
Minutes
39.3
41.8
PER
22.4
28.6
eFG percentage
.480
.503
Games played
220
179

Same story—only this time Jordan owns the better numbers in every single category. Something else worth noting is the relative improvement/decline of each players’ numbers from regular season to playoffs. Kobe’s stats remain relatively constant, with an insignificant increase in points as well as small increases in rebounds, assists, and minutes per game. However, his FG percentage, PER, and eFG percentage all decrease. And while comparing separate players PER may not be the greatest statistical measure, it is reasonable to look at an individual players increase/decrease in this number.

In utter contrast, Jordan’s points, rebounds, assists, and minutes per game all increase, as well as his three-point percentage. But he does have slight decreases in FG and eFG percentages as well as steals per game. But in the end, Jordan clearly has the better playoff numbers.

Of course, statistics do not tell the entire story and the major argument for Kobe Bryant as a great NBA player is his five championship titles. And while that may look favorably upon the Black Mamba in a comparison of Kobe and LeBron James, it does not do the same when comparing Kobe to Jordan.

Here is a chart of their respective playoff accolades and overall achievements/awards as of November 2012.

Kobe Bryant
Michael Jordan
5x NBA champion
6x NBA champion
2x NBA Finals MVP
6x NBA Finals MVP
1x MVP
5x MVP
14x All-Star
14x All-Star
N/A
NBA Defensive Player of the Year
N/A
NBA Rookie of the Year
2x scoring champ
10x scoring champ

This drives home the proof that there truly is not much of a competition in this comparison. Jordan has more titles, but more importantly he demolishes Kobe in Finals MVPs which is a much more telling tale of a great champion. Why? For three of Kobe’s championship titles he wasn’t even the best player on his team. Seriously, it’s like saying Derek Fisher’s five titles (all won as a teammate of Kobe Bryant) are equal to Kobe’s when comparing a player’s legacy.

That is as fallacious of a statement as saying that Kobe, as a champion, is on the same level as Jordan.

Now let’s address the other major points of this chart, the most important one being the MVP award disparity. One argument I want to address is the claim that Kobe should have won the MVP in 2006: this is erroneous because not only did Nash have a better season than Kobe, but so did LeBron James! In that year, LeBron had a statistically monstrous season and singlehandedly brought the Cavaliers into the playoffs, not to mention in his playoff debut he recorded a triple-double…

So, we stand firm at a measly one MVP award to a five-time MVP.

Then comes the Defensive Player of the Year award differential. Clearly, Jordan was a shut-down defender. And not only do I think that Kobe is an overrated defender, but so does his former coach, Phil Jackson. To quote the 11-time champion Zen Master on Kobe’s All-Defense First Team awards: “The voters have been seduced by his remarkable athleticism and spectacular steals, but he hasn’t played sound, fundamental defense.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I would never have gone to betting sites with the intention of putting money on Kobe's Lakers keeping high-powered offenses of the early and mid-00s under 95 points consistently. The 2001 Lakers, for instance, had the seventh-worst offense in the league.

And what about those scoring titles? Kobe is supposed to be the greatest scorer in the league right? For one, two players, one of which has been in the league far shorter than Kobe, have more scoring titles than he does. Yup, Allen Iverson and Kevin Durant both reigned supreme as the NBA’s leading scorer three times each during Kobe’s career. So there could even be a debate if Kobe is the best scorer of his own generation!

Then there’s Michael Jordan. 10 scoring titles says it all—he netted baskets like nobody else, and is tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the all-time record of career points per game. Kobe isn’t even in the top 10.

If by now you still aren’t thoroughly convinced that Jordan is far superior to Kobe, there is one more thing to drive home that point: clutchness. This analysis comes in two forms: greatness during the playoffs and performance in the final 24 seconds of a game.

One’s performance in playoffs is “clutch” in the sense that it provides a glimpse into whether or not you can get it done in the games that matter most. Jordan’s six Finals MVPs to Kobe’s two only begin to tell the story. If you look at the greatest playoff performances of all time, Kobe has a grand total of zero in the top 10 compared to Jordan’s three which include the renowned “Flu Game,” as well as the 63 point game and the free throw jumper over Bryon Russell to seal the 1998 NBA Finals win for the Bulls. Not sold? Well, ESPN only gives Kobe one top-25 playoff performance all time (Jordan’s name appears eight times).

Is it any closer in terms of “last-second” shots?

Chasing 23 lists every single clutch shot of Jordan’s career, where clutch is defined as “shot attempts made with the intent to either win or tie the game within the final 24 seconds, during which a player’s team is either tied or trails by three or fewer points.” The final verdict Jordan is 9 of 18 in such situations—or an astounding 50 percent. How about Kobe? A similar study finds Kobe with an unimpressive 7 of 27, or 26 percent.

In other words, Jordan is about twice as good as Kobe in last-second shot situations.

Kobe is a great player and deserves to be on the same playing field as some of the greatest of all time, but the reality is that he is significantly inferior to Jordan. Stats, awards, clutch performing, it all points in the same direction: Kobe vs. Jordan may be a comparison, but it is not a very competitive one.

So, Kobe may believe that he has no rivals in the today’s game, but if he was playing in Jordan’s era, the great Air Jordan would express similar sentiments regarding Kobe.


If you liked this comparison, check out our series of comparisons that includes: Kobe vs. LeBron, LeBron vs. Jordan, and Kobe vs. Duncan.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Greatest NBA playoff performances of all time


 

Legacies are verified and occasionally invalidated with a players’ postseason record. And while the NBA is very much a team game, individuals have the ability to take over games regardless of the four teammates that they have on the floor with them. These are the games where, as LeBron James said after a historic Game 5 performance vs. the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals: “I was able to will my team to victory.”

 

Michael Jordan’s performances are, naturally, tattered throughout this top 10 list of greatest NBA playoff performances of all time…but may not be quite as high as ESPN ranks them. Here is Bases and Baskets ranking of a select few games that were jaw-dropping, mind-numbing shows put on by present or future Hall of Famers from 1980 to 2012.

 

10. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: 2011 Western Conference finals, Game 1 vs. Thunder

 

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
48
6
4
0
4
2
80
41

 

80 percent from the field and 24-24 on free throws… Dirk Nowitzki put on an absolute shooting clinic in this game, something he did quite frequently in his 2011 championship run. This game epitomized the absolute demolition that a jump shooting seven-footer could do to a defense. Kevin Durant got a taste of his own medicine this game but redemption was sweet for him against the Mavs in 2012. Regardless, this game cemented Dirk’s legacy as an all-time great, proving that he could perform at an elite level in the playoffs.

 

9. Tim Duncan, Spurs: 2003 NBA Finals, Game 1 vs. Nets

 

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
32
20
6
3
7
1
65
44

 

In one of the most dominating performances of all time by a big man, Tim Duncan went off on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The stats pretty much say it all—not only did he get 32 points and six assists but he also grabbed 20 rebounds, seven blocks, and even three steals. Vintage Tim Duncan proved that he can thoroughly dominate the game regardless of the lack of flashiness in his game.

 

8. Isiah Thomas, Pistons: 1988 NBA Finals, Game 6 vs. Lakers

 

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
43
3
8
6
1
5
56
44

 

Isiah Thomas’ incredible performance was nearly top-10 worthy in and of itself. But the third quarter sprained ankle truly amplifies the greatness of the performance. On the NBA’s greatest stage, Thomas had a historic performance against a star-studded Lakers team led by Magic Johnson. Even though the Pistons weren’t able to pull off a win in this game, it lives on as a testament to the sheer will that can overcome the searing pain of injuries.

 

7. Michael Jordan, Bulls: 1998 NBA Finals, Game 6 vs. Jazz

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
45
1
1
4
0
1
43
44

 

This was a classic Jordan playoff game. Although he did not do much but score the basketball, he came through in the clutch and pulled off the single most iconic shot in NBA history. The crossover of Bryon Russell and the finishing touch at the free-throw line earned Jordan the 1998 NBA championship title as he simply posed with his hand in the air as if to say “you just can’t stop me.”

 

6. Michael Jordan, Bulls: 1997 NBA Finals, Game 5 vs. Jazz

 

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
38
7
5
3
1
3
48
44

More so than Isiah Thomas’ broken ankle game, the legendary “Flu Game” was when Michael Jordan managed to handle the Jazz even though he could barely walk off the court under his own power. But he has a perfect NBA Finals record of 6-0 for a reason and the first of back-to-back wins against the Jazz in 1997 and 1998 was remembered best because of this game.

 

This Jordan performance lives on through commercials and pictures of Jordan holding on to Scottie Pippen as proof that adrenaline and a will to win can overcome some of the most trying physical adversities.

 

5. James Worthy, Lakers: 1988 NBA Finals, Game 7 vs. Pistons

 

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
36
16
10
2
0
5
68
44

 

“Big Game” James certainly earned that nickname with this triple-double in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. In the ultimate clutch time performance, Worthy tore up the Pistons in every facet of the game, including shooting a staggering 68 percent from the field. This performance was a hallmark of Worthy’s career and certainly helped his Hall of Fame worthiness (pun intended).

 

4. Michael Jordan, Bulls: 1986 Eastern Conference first round, Game 2 vs. Celtics

 

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
63
5
6
3
2
4
54
53

 

Hall of Famer Larry Bird after this game said “that was God disguised as Michael Jordan.” Not much else you can say about that aside from the fact that this was Michael Jordan single-handedly tearing up a very good Celtics team with a spectacular NBA playoff record 63-point game.

 

3. LeBron James, Cavaliers: 2007 Eastern Conference finals, Game 5 vs. Pistons

 

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
48
9
7
2
0
2
55
50

 

This was the single most dominant finish to an NBA game in history. LeBron scored 29 of the Cavaliers final 30 points in a double-overtime win against a defensively-minded Detroit Pistons squad. 


Nothing that Detroit was throwing at LeBron stopped him from getting to the rim and ultimately willing his team to win. This game defines what it means to put a team on your back. In the words of then-Cavs coach Mike Brown: “My words don’t do justice for what he did.”


2. LeBron James, Heat: 2012 Eastern Conference finals, Game 6 vs. Celtics

 

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
45
15
5
0
0
4
73
45

 

73 percent shooting on a night where the legitimacy of your career was in the balance. The Heat had managed to get their backs to the wall in the Eastern Conference finals, but LeBron came to the rescue and took over the game. From the first couple shots of the game, you could tell he was in the zone and it was going to be something special.

 

In one game, LeBron restored respect (at least for his basketball talent) and proved that his atrocious 2011 NBA Finals were in the past. It was the turning point pushed the Heat over the hump to winning LeBron’s first championship. As I discussed in my LeBron vs. Jordan column, “it’s the path through adversity that defines the champion, not just the grand finale.” This game defined LeBron’s 2012 championship title.

 

1. Magic Johnson, Lakers: 1980 NBA Finals, Game 6 vs. 76ers

Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
TO
FG %
Minutes
42
15
7
3
1
5
61
47

In Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out with a bruised ankle. So what does coach Paul Westhead decide? Only to throw his rookie point guard into the center position. 42 points and 15 rebounds later, the Lakers are champions.

Everything about what Magic accomplished during this game was spectacular and for good reason this is nearly unanimously regarded as the NBA’s greatest playoff performance. This game was one of the many brilliant shows by one of Hollywood’s most beloved players.