Sunday, May 26, 2013

Greatest centers of all time


The NBA may appear to have lost the need that it had in years prior for dominant forces in the paint, but that does not take away from the greatness and impact that NBA centers have had on the game's history. From George Mikan to Shaquille O’Neal, centers have the unique ability to influence and dominate a game on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

And while the prevailing sentiment in the NBA has treaded away from franchise big men in favor of guards and small forwards, three of the four teams left in the 2013 Eastern conference finals have game-changing centers: Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, and Tim Duncan (who can play either PF or C).

With that in mind, here are the top-10 greatest NBA centers of all time:

10. Willis Reed



Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
18.7
12.9
1.8
N/A
N/A
.476
.747
2
1
2

Reed spent his entire career in the 60s and 70s as a member of the New York Knicks. His legendary performance in the 1970 NBA Finals against another all-time great, Wilt Chamberlain, immortalized him in NBA history. Fighting through injury that series, he was crowned an NBA champion (and Finals MVP) for the first time to complement his regular season MVP honors.

9. Patrick Ewing


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
21.0
9.8
1.9
1.0
2.4
.504
.740
0
0
0

Another Knicks superstar, Ewing is probably most remembered for what he did not accomplish: that evasive NBA championship title. Nonetheless, he was compared to great NBA centers before he was even drafted. Pat O’Brien declared before Ewing was in the NBA that “we’ve had the Mikan era, the Russell era, the Kareem era…now we’ll have the Ewing era.” Even though he has since been bombarded with criticism and the notorious Ewing Theory emergence, Michael Jordan obviously thought very highly of the 11-time NBA All-Star when he said that Ewing “has a heart of a champion. When you thought about New York, you thought of Patrick Ewing. He came and gave life back into the city.”

8. David Robinson


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
21.1
10.6
2.5
1.4
3.0
.518
.736
2
1
0

The Admiral served the length of his entire NBA career as a member of the San Antonio Spurs and was best known for being half of the “Twin Towers” with current Spurs forward/center, Tim Duncan. Robinson could do it all, not only was he an MVP winner and NBA champion, but he also took home Defensive Player of the Year honors (1992) and was an NBA scoring champion (1994). His most memorable offensive outpouring was on April 24, 1994 when he dropped 26 of 41 from the field en route to a 71-point performance.

7. Moses Malone


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
20.6
12.3
1.3
0.8
1.3
.495
.760
1
3
1

In a career that spanned 21 seasons and three decades (70s, 80s, and 90s), Malone was one of the first players to successfully transition from high school to the pros (ABA). His three MVPs and NBA championship title only begin to tell the story of his impressive résumé which includes top-10 rankings all-time in points, rebounds, free throws, minutes, and games played. In 2001, he was appropriately enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame.

6. George Mikan


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
23.1
13.4
2.8
N/A
N/A
.404
.782
7*
N/A
N/A
*Includes BAA and NBL championships.

Mikan may not be exactly a household name but he single-handedly revitalized the NBA in the 40s and 50s. Prior to that time period, the NBA was “considered a sport better suited to shorter men” (per NBA.com). Not only that, but Mikan’s presence forced the NBA to implement several rule changes, including the aptly-named “Mikan Rule” which is more commonly known today as the three-second rule.

5. Hakeem Olajuwon


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
21.8
11.1
2.5
1.7
3.1
.512
.712
2
2
1

Often coveted to train with by today’s NBA big men (most recently by Amaré Stoudemire), Hakeem Olajuwon had arguably the best repertoire of post moves. Collectively known as the “Dream Shake,” Shaquille O’Neal said it best after being dominated and swept by Hakeem in the 1995 NBA Finals: “He’s got about five moves, then four countermoves…that gives him 20 moves.” Two-time winner of the NBA Finals, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year, Hakeem is undoubtedly also one of the greatest NBA players of all time.

4. Shaquille O’Neal


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
23.7
10.9
2.5
0.6
2.3
.582
.527
4
1
3

At 7’1” and 325 pounds, Shaq absolutely overpowered opponents during his NBA career. Although his feud with Kobe Bryant led to his departure from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004, the dynamic Kobe-Shaq duo won three consecutive NBA titles at the beginning of the new millennium. O’Neal is also known for a host of off-court endeavors (including music, law enforcement, MMA, and of course his NBA analysis on TNT).

3. Bill Russell


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
15.1
22.5
4.3
N/A
N/A
.440
.561
11
5
N/A

Bill Russell and the three best centers of all time are difficult to place considering Russell was the epitome of a champion but was not very impressive offensively, Kareem had greatness in stats and a championship résumé, and Wilt Chamberlain had jaw-dropping stats but a less than impressive winning record when compared to Russell and Abdul-Jabbar. Russell lands the three spot because he doesn’t stack up very well against the other two in terms of offensive output and Chamberlain actually hauled down more rebounds per game than the NBA’s greatest champion. I have a hard time seeing Russell with the same insane success in the Magic-Bird, Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron eras of basketball…especially considering Russell is barely taller than LeBron.

With all of that said, Russell and the Celtics dominated the NBA during the 60s, winning it every year during that decade except for 1967. That success that has never been repeated by another franchise—and most likely will never be in the future, either. Russell even had the unique distinction of being a player and coach from 1966 to 1969.

2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
24.6
11.2
3.6
0.9
2.6
.559
.721
6
6
2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s six MVP awards are an all-time record and prove that he (like Chamberlain and Russell) not only had more impressive peaks than other centers but were also able to sustain those peaks for an extended duration of time. At his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar owned NBA records for points scored, shots blocked, All-Star appearances, seasons played (20), in addition to the six MVPs. His trademark skyhook was simply unstoppable and is something he is sharing with WNBA rookie, Brittney Griner. Pat Riley went so far as to say that the Lakers Hall of Famer is the “greatest player ever.”

1. Wilt Chamberlain


Points
Rebounds
Assists
Steals
Blocks
FG %
FT %
Titles
MVPs
Finals MVPs
30.1
22.9
4.4
N/A
N/A
.540
.511
2
4
1

For a position so strongly associated with dominating the floor, Wilt Chamberlain owned it on a nightly basis like no other player (save maybe Michael Jordan). 100 points in a game, 18 consecutive FGs made, 55 rebounds in a game, four MVPs, and innumerable other records are what slot Wilt the Stilt at the No. 1 spot for greatest center of all time. Chamberlain possessed incredible size and ability, something not hard to believe considering he towered over opponents at seven feet and peaked in weight at over 300 pounds. Some quotes from A Tribute to Wilt Chamberlain help provide a glimpse into his larger than life game-play:

“We’d go into a dressing room and see a box score from the night before where Wilt had 55 or 60 points. No one would think twice about it. Getting 50-some points, or even 60-some, wasn’t news when Wilt did it.” – Kevin Loughery

“The first time I guarded Wilt, I stood behind him and he was so wide that I couldn’t see the rest of the game. Then I saw him dunk a ball so hard that it hit the court and bounced straight up back through the rim again.” – Bob Ferry

“One-on-one he would’ve murdered Russell and everyone.” – Red Holzman

“Double-teaming defenses used today wouldn’t bother him.” – Wayne Embry

“He can score anything he wants. There is no way to stop him. How can you defend him? The only way I know is to lock the door to the dressing room before he comes out.” – Ed MacAuley

“He was the NBA.” – Johnny Kerr


Check out the rest of our "greatest of all time" series where we rank the top-10 point guards, shooting guards, and overall players in NBA history.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Keys for the Pacers to upset LeBron James and the Heat in the 2013 ECF



Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel may not have said that the Miami Heat are “just another team” as one reporter told LeBron, but the message was clear as to the mindset that he will employ with his players. Personally, I don’t buy it as the most effective method, and I don’t think other playoff legends do either (see Gregg Popovich resting his stars throughout the regular season for the playoffs among others) but it’s one way that some coaches decide to go about the NBA's biggest stage.

As an added bonus for Miami, the media fueled the fire of an already brightly burning superstar in the reigning regular season MVP and defending NBA champion, LeBron James. Those misrepresented comments may have sealed the deal with Miami's third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals but as the great Kevin Garnett said, "anything is possibleeee!"


Well, maybe not anything but one thing is certain: the Pacers were the only Eastern conference team with any legitimate shot to beat the Miami Heat. They have the best combination of player personnel and the playoff experience in the East. Yes, I may be banging my head against the wall for predicting the Knicks to beat the Pacers but I should have expected J.R. Smith to shut down the Knicks offense…sub-30 percent shooting in the playoffs while still jacking up 15 shots a game? Disgraceful.

A stingy defense and a solid offensive post game has led Indiana this far in the playoffs and beat Miami in their regular season series. Not only that, but LeBron James averaged only 21 points per game in those three meetings, including his lowest scoring regular season game (13 points on March 10).

The Pacers have earned a fighting chance against LeBron James & Co. They gave the eventual champions a run for their money last year in the Conference semifinals and are a stronger, more experienced unit this year—especially with the emergence of Paul George as an All-Star. Here are some keys that Indiana needs to nail if they hope to pull off the miraculous upset:

Four guys in double figures

The Pacers have weapons all over the floor. True, their 30 percent three-point shooting in the playoffs is far from impressive but Paul George, George Hill, David West, and Roy Hibbert all averaged at least 14 points per game thus far in the 2013 playoffs. Lance Stephenson’s outpouring of offense in Game 6 puts him at almost 10 points per game (9.8).

Indiana’s offense often struggles to scrape 90 on the board by the final buzzer but they have the pieces that you want in an offense, particularly the ability to score from all five positions. The same cannot be said for Miami.

Hibbert and West bullying LeBron in the post serves even more value for what it does to LeBron offensively.
If James continues to play the 4 and Bosh defends Hibbert, then you can count on more jump shots and less inside penetration from the NBA’s best player.

Force Miami to respect the inside game and then you can take advantage of mismatches on the perimeter with Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, and Norris Cole. As impressive as Cole has become, he and this trio should not be able to stop George, Hill, and Stephenson.

Protect the paint against LeBron

If there's one thing you can take to the bank it's that the Pacers success depends on shutting down LeBron. James' ability to drive and score is paralleled by an incredible ability to drop dimes, but would you rather have Norris Cole shooting a 15-footer or LeBron finishing at the rim? Force Miami’s role players to step up. Even put the pressure on Dwyane Wade to dial the clock back to 2006.

Then again, if LeBron pulls off anything like what he did in last year’s ECF vs. the Celtics, well…good luck.

Limit turnovers

Miami has been a much more efficient team in the playoffs, with 1.6 AST/TO and over 49 percent shooting from the field. Indiana is practically the polar opposite—1.1 AST/TO and 42 percent from the field. The best way to mitigate this difference is to get Paul George and George Hill to stop averaging a combined six turnovers per game. Great defense can only go so far against a great offense, and each opportunity that Indiana has the basketball absolutely must be valued. Just because Paul George is coming into his own doesn’t give him free reigns to hand the ball over to the other team.

--------

These are not outrageous goals for Indiana to accomplish. This team-oriented style of basketball parallels nicely with a more-veteran team in the Western conference finals that has championship titles to back it up. Paul George (or any other Pacer) cannot claim the status of future Hall of Famer unlike Popovich’s crew but maybe blissful oblivion is the way to go. Frank Vogel certainly thinks so.

Do you give the Pacers a shot against Miami?