Monday, May 13, 2013

NBA LESSONS: v5.2: Point/Counterpoint

Felipe M

Interesting question asked by NBA Debates over the weekend: Who has the brightest future: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, or James Harden? I asked our favorite Sacramento Kings’ fan, Josh C. about it.  What we ended up with was another long-winded conversation about the state of the NBA...

Josh: If it weren't for his ankles, I'd say Curry.  The guy is “Basketball” and might end up being one of the top 3 shooters of all time.  But because of his ankles, I'll reluctantly pick Harden.  He has a pitbull mentality, but there just seems an aura of calmness surrounding him.  He knows he's a top 5 player but doesn't flaunt it. Complete game with a humongous basketball IQ and can really function in the 1, 2 or 3 spots. I also think he wants it bad enough to improve on what he did this year.

Felipe: Just out of curiosity, who's in your top 5 in the NBA? I figure it has to be LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and....?????

Josh: Durant, James, Harden and quite honestly, I'm not sure anymore. With the injuries to Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, (and Kobe Bryant for that matter), the rest of the top 5 is kind of murky at present time.  Does Dwight Howard deserve to be there? Is Kyrie Irving there yet? Did Paul George just ascend into the conversation? Do I believe Carmelo Anthony is a top 5 player? I guess Chris Paul has to be there by default, but I question how long his knees will let him stay in "elite" territory.  Is it fair to at least mention Tim Duncan after the year he had (even if he was coming off years that pointed towards the inevitable demise of his illustrious career)?  Dwyane Wade is no longer in the conversation, right?  Or does his 24.00 PER suggest otherwise?  Tony Parker? I never imagined I would even think of him as top 10, but I really have to stop and think.
It's so difficult to put a guy up next to another guy (both elite) and say, "yep, this guy is better" (and this goes back to our previous conversation of comparing across generations.  It's just as hard to compare across systems and different positions).

Felipe: I went through the same struggles trying to come up with a top five. Hesitant to add Harden after only one season of him carrying a franchise, but with all the injuries and question marks surrounding the rest of the game's elite, it’s really hard not to include him along James and Durant.

I guess Anthony would be on that list of top 5 players as well. Chris Paul as the league's best, pure point guard would make the rest of that short list

Josh: If you backed me into a corner and made me give you 5 names right now (keeping out Westbrook, Rose, and Kobe due to injury) I'd have to say (in no particular order) Lebron, Durant, Harden, CP3, and--I think I'm going to lean towards ‘Melo, but a case could easily be made for Wade, Parker, and even Steph.  My hesitation with Parker and Duncan is that I'm not sure which one is even better of the 2 at this point.

Felipe: It’s Parker, but regardless--

Josh: Also, the reason I'm not hesitant about putting Harden there is that I argued coming into the season that Harden would be the better player of Harden/Westbrook in 2 seasons, and before the injury, I would have said Westbrook is top 5.  I think Harden played like a top 5 player this season and, most importantly, I don't think it was a fluke. I believe 100% in his talent and that this season was just the starting point.

Felipe: Definitely not a fluke!  Over exceeding even the highest of high expectations that were placed on Harden is what made Harden's season superb.  Like I said, would like to see more than one season of him doing this, but there's no doubt (barring injury) he can easily do it again.  Wade, Parker, and Curry come with too many injury concerns.  So our top 5 of Melo, James, Durant, CP3, and Harden seems to make the most sense as it currently stands right now.

For the record, this is how I would rank these five players:

  1. LeBron James
  2. Kevin Durant
  3. Carmelo Anthony
  4. James Harden
  5. Chris Paul

Josh: Did you realize there wasn't a single 20/10 guy in the league this year? That's freaking unheard of!  Over the last 12 seasons prior to this one, at least 3 players hit that mark 10 out of the 12 seasons, and 2 of them hit that mark in the other 2 seasons. Just goes to show the wacky season it was

Felipe: Come on dude, I'm way ahead of you!  There are five theories that TrueHoop listed as the possibilities for the lack of 20/10 guys in the NBA this year—meaning 20 points and 10 rebounds just to clarify.         
But once again, the evolution of the NBA going with perimeter players to make it a more open, more exciting, fast-paced game is incredibly evident after this regular season concluded.

Josh: Evidenced by the fact that if you made a top 10 players’ list in the league right now (and included Rose, Kobe, Westbrook—even though we don't know for sure if Kobe can come back and be “Kobe,”...), we'd likely end up without a single PF/C (though Dwight can move in there if he redeems himself wherever he goes next year.  And I think Marc Gasol has a strong case to be on the cusp of top 10, too (okay, maybe I'm a bit biased with him).

Felipe: I kind of like the NBA this way 

Josh: Regarding the TrueHoop article: instead of them looking too deep, all they needed to do was look at the surface and see that the 2 reigning, perennial 20/10 guys were shells of their former selves due to injury (but somewhat being a big whiny baby on a team with the mamba).  Those guys were Kevin Love and D-Howard.  The other players that can potentially average 20/10 are mostly in the twilight of their careers, or just slightly declining below 20/10 levels either by changed role on their teams, or simply they don't try as hard as they once did.  This group includes the following:

  • Zach Randolph
  • Blake Griffin
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Carlos Boozer
  • Al Jefferson

Then you have the guys who can score twenty, but struggle to average even 9 boards a game because, quite frankly, they're afraid of rebounding (one could say there are fewer rebounds available, but I don't think it makes a difference with this group).

  • Brook Lopez
  • LaMarcus Aldridge

If you take it one step further, we had our other group of 20/10 guys, and that's the PGs that were 20 in the buckets’ category and 10 assisted buckets. We're missing that as well and partially because those players suffer from the same scenario as above (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, etc...).

While the game has evolved and changed, a lot of the perimeter change has to do with the talent coming through as well.  The NBA (as with anything else) is cyclical and while right now the best players in the game are all wings (and point guards if you don't consider a PG as a wing), in a few years that could shift to where our dominant presences are again the larger bodies.  Conversely, perhaps those larger bodies may never come as well.

One of our future 20/10ers is already in the league in the form of one Mr. Anthony Davis.

Felipe: Which was my next point: the 20-10 guys of yesteryear are seeing diminished skills and whereas Dwightmare and K-Love would have been two players that can reach that milestone, the game itself has not developed the big men that are skilled enough to score with relative ease and have the ability to rebound in bunches. I think a big issue is the fact that a lot of the big men that are coming up the high school and college ranks are becoming perimeter players (i.e. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, etc.). Not only that, but these same big men are not being taught to play like the big men that we saw dominate the 1980s and 1990s. A guy like Roy Hibbert is a throwback, but I don't think he has the skill to be a 20-10 guy (Finished 12-8).  Even Davis' potential to be a 20-10 guy (finished 13.5-8) lies heavily in his athleticism. But can he develop into a Tim Duncan-like frontcourt player? I'm not so sure.  He might develop an outside shot before he develops a more fluid post game. And he's still lanky enough where more, well-built big men will find a way to push him around from the boards. 

Maybe DeMarcus Cousins could be that guy (17.1-9.9), but he's already so amazingly skilled and talented, the question should really be, why the hell hasn't he been that 20-10 guy yet?

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