Wednesday, March 6, 2013

NBA LESSONS: v3.1


Dan P


WHAT’S THE DEAL LEBRON? 

Let’s step away from stats for a minute.  Let’s take a break from over-analyzing pick and rolls and let’s give the cold shoulder to the surging L.A. Lakers who climbed to .500 with a win over the Atlanta Hawks

No, I want to focus and dedicate a moment to LeBron James.  I know, what more could I possibly say about this guy that hasn't been said already?  And you would be right; he is the single most scrutinized athlete of the 21st century.  From taking his talents to South Beach, to finally achieving that first title, and now his surprisingly, awkward dance moves in a Harlem Shake parody (I actually enjoyed the Heat version of the Harlem Heat—Ed); everything is documented about LeBron.  We have come to understand he is a different kind of superstar, one that is comfortably concerned with being the richest and most popular athlete of all time, even if that comes at a price of not being the most successful at winning championships.  It always seemed unfair to hold him to seven titles (one more than Michael Jordan) as the measuring stick for a successful NBA career but then again he was part of the Miami Heat, “Big Three,” self-imposed party that said “not 1, not 2, not 3” etc. 

Nonetheless, LeBron James is incredible; not much of an adjective but it’s hard to describe greatness.  He makes everything seem so effortless on the court.  It almost looks like he’s not playing hard and that he could be doing more.  He’s just different and dominates differently than Kobe Bryant or MJ.  LeBron plays with a coolness about him, takes over when he has to, and tries to make the “basketball play” when he sees an open shooter.  Michael and Kobe approach basketball with a ferocity and a level of intimidation that was as important as the talent itself.  LeBron isn’t MJ, he isn't Kobe, and he isn't Magic Johnson (I am willing to open discussions for LeBron/Magic comparisons—Ed).  He’s just LeBron and there hasn't been anyone quite like him before.  He’s done and accomplished more than most NBA lifers will ever achieve--quick resume:  NBA champion, Finals MVP, 3x MVP award (headed for a fourth?), 9 time All-Star, 2x NBA All-Star MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year, 6x All NBA First Team, and Olympic Gold Medalist. 

There isn't any more he can accomplish other than adding more of what he already has; well except for one thing.  LeBron has the opportunity to pull out the defibrillator and revive the Dunk Contest back to life.  It gets brought up every year and time after time LeBron turns it down.  In the grand scheme of things it won’t really matter if he does it or not, but when Magic Johnson offers him $1 million, cold, hard cash, well, you think he would seriously consider it. Not that a million dollars really does anything for LeBron (#Broke—Ed) but it should show him how much people really love to watch him do his thing on the court.  He may have been labeled a “villain” for joining the Heat but he was really turned into a heel by the NBA community.  And like the WWE heroes who become heels usually end up as heroes again (see Hulk Hogan’s career). 

So what would stop the most jaw-dropping, gravity-defying hoopster of this generation?  Well, I don’t know, to be honest.  It’s so baffling that there isn't even a rumor as to why he won’t participate. I haven’t seen a single headline that says: “LeBron is afraid of losing a dunk contest!”  First, there is no chance he would lose a dunk contest.  NONE!  The fans simply wouldn't allow him to lose.  So maybe that’s it.  Maybe he doesn't want to the dunk contest because he KNOWS he would win and would give people another opportunity to make some claim that he didn't win fair and square and that his popularity made it rigged. 

I promise anyone this; if LeBron was in on the Dunk Contest it would definitely attract other stars.  So LeBron, please put aside any reservations about the Dunk Contest regardless of the outcome and give the fans what they want--a spectacle.  It’s you’re one chance to do something that many people think is impossible--save the Dunk Contest. 

SPEAKING OF DUNK CONTEST

This is something that I have been tinkering with for 2 years now and is my two cents about adding a little flair and motivation for the contest.  First a little background:  The winner of the Dunk Contest earns 100,000 cash money.  Not a bad day at the office; unless you’re a professional athlete: we've seen money, we've seen cars, we've seen trips and vacations, you name it.  But no matter what these guys make in salary, there is one thing they cannot buy.  It’s something that only the NBA cream of the crop gets--a shoe deal.  No one actually makes their own shoe company.  Heck why start a shoe company when someone will pay you to sell shoes for them! (SEE DERRICK ROSE CONTRACT!)  For 99% of NBA players though, they will never have the chance to have their own shoe.  So, alas I feel this idea is the carrot on the stick that keeps the critter churning the treadmill.  Why not have the winner of the contest claim a one-year, shoe deal commemorating their achievement?  I’m really hoping a light just went off and David Stern is listening, or, better yet, Adam Silver

Why not?  I think this idea has several merits: 

  • Better quality players will want to participate for such a prize
  • Players will actually have to practice dunks before the contest to make sure they work
  • The prototype can be worn by the players during the contest as sort of a promo
  • The NBA will make money in negotiating rights with Nike/Adidas/etc.
  • And best of all, it becomes a desirable limited edition collectible for fans to purchase. 


If there is anything I know about capitalism, it’s that creating demand and keeping things exclusive always generates business (unless you’re in the comic book business—Ed).  It’s common nature to want what we can’t have.  In this case, it’s a win-win for both players and fans.       


Always a good time with Joakim Noah
(photo courtesy of Felipe M)

NOAH’S DEFENSIVE ARK

Take a look at the below sequence of unnamed players, these are real players and real stats:  

  • Player A:  33.2MPG       9.9RPG        1.4BLK     .9STL       3PF
  • Player B:  37.6MPG       14.1RPG      2.4BLK     1.4STL     3.3PF
  • Player C:  34.7MPG      13.2RPG       2.8BLK    .9STL       3.5PF
  • Player D:  35.7MPG      13.8RPG       2.9BLK     1STL      3.4PF
  • Player E:  32.8MPG       9.2RPG        1.3BLK     1.4STL     2.3PF
  • Player F:  38.3MPG       11.4RPG      2.3BLK     1.3STL     2.8PF

By taking a glance it's hard to pinpoint what to look for.  Do I go with blocks and steals only?  Do I try to find out who is helping their team the most by playing larger minutes and rebounding?  Truthfully, its all of the above and none at the same time.  Defensive stats are difficult to break down because we haven't found a proper method to analyze good defensive play that doesn't result in a statistic.  If a center contests a layup and the shot misses but isn't actually blocked how much credit do we give that center?  How do we measure the defensive effect of that very play if the missed shot comes from Kirk Hinrich as opposed to say Kevin Durant?  Is the player and emotional leader who improves effort (Kevin Garnett) or simply an athletic freak who only knows how to spike basketballs (JaVale McGee) into the crowd?  

By now most NBA fans have heard of PER which stands for Player Efficiency Rating.  You can even visit everyone's favorite four letter sports media conglomerate (Hint: Starts with E and ends in N) and you can find PER right next to traditional stats.  But PER only reflects offensive stats for the most part.  It still cannot adjust for the aforementioned "basketball effort plays" on defense.  This is why we are forced to look at the table above. This table contains only 4 players, one player accounts for three lines (and the year the player reached those statistics):

  • Player A: Tyson Chandler (11-12)
  • Player B: Dwight Howard (10-11)
  • Player C: Dwight Howard (09-10)
  • Player D: Dwight Howard (08-09)
  • Player E: Kevin Garnett    (07-08)
  • Player F: Joakim Noah      (12-13)   

Players (year) A-E are the last 5 winners of the Defensive Player of the Year Award and their subsequent numbers.  Joakim Noah (player F) plays center for my beloved (and increasingly frustrating) Chicago Bulls and is making a huge case to nail down his first hardware.  And at almost 40 minutes per game his impact on the (34-26) Bulls is immense.  The key perhaps is his ability to stay on the floor by limiting his fouls without forfeiting defensive aggressiveness.  It also doesn't hurt to put a mammoth 23 points 21 rebounds 11 blocks 3steals on the Philadelphia 76ers.  

I'm really interested to see how Joakim carries himself down the stretch and if he helps the Bulls make it to the playoffs, we could be looking at the next DPOY.  Stay tuned.  Also don't drink from Joakim Noah's solo cup.


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