A conversation about Dwight Howard, leadership, and people

January 10th, 2013 by


Dwight final edit

Dwight Howard is more smile than scowl. This must mean he is less of a leader and less of a worker, unless we watch basketball games. (PHOTO: JayneCamin-Oncea, US Presswire)


As Hell continues to freeze over and the Los Angeles Lakers struggle, the perception of Dwight Howard continues to evolve. Jay Ramos will sit down with CBS Fantasy Sports writer Chris Towers to attempt to make sense of this.

Jay: Dwight Howard is a paradox to the sports fan.

He’s a brute, physical force who produces at an elite level on the basketball court. But the perception of his intangibles is where confusion, and disappointment, clouds his outstanding game.

There is so much to gush over with a dominant center who is on a Hall-of-Fame path. But there is also thing about Dwight Howard that doesn’t sit very well with what we consider the average ‘fan.’ Surely not everyone feels this way, but he doesn’t seem to outwardly express the masculine leadership qualities people eat up. The perceived seriousness about work, the barking at teammates, the emotional expressions. This all doesn’t go with what we think Dwight Howard is, or want him to be.

There were reports that Stan Van Gundy wasn’t happy with his leadership in the past, and for a player with what seems like an outgoing, playful personality, there are questions about his ability to lead a team. Ramona Shelburne recently wrote a piece for ESPN Los Angeles in which Dwight spilled his thoughts on the Lakers current situation.

Thoughts that further confuse fans, but give us an opportunity to look at what we want leadership in sports to be, what it should be and how much it matters.

When a season goes like it has, and Howard says things like ‘I think you have to have that relationship and that chemistry off the court for it to really blossom on the court’, people will say things like this, where Dwight’s ‘killer mentality’ is questioned.

In the same story, Kobe Bryant said the word ‘alpha male’ and triggered fans to uncontrollably howl and form a pack to get behind Bryant, the unquestioned face of what leadership is supposed to look like.

I don’t necessarily think anything is wrong with Kobe’s style, because it works, as long as teams he’s on have a lot of talent. Just like Dwight Howard can get to the finals because he’s surrounded by great shooters and a viable coach. I just don’t think Dwight’s personality impacts winning and losing as much as we want to think it does. If he goes out there and gets 20 and 15 on 60 percent shooting while playing otherworldly defense, his teams are going to make deep playoff runs, regardless of whether he smiles on his way there or barks on his way there.

The perception of Dwight has kind of given people a license to criticize him for for being different than we expect, even if he works his butt off away from the court and puts in work on it.

Could it be that Dwight lacks an important trait that we can’t see?

Chris: Different sport, but current Detroit Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland famously said:

“Take all that clubhouse [stuff] and all that, throw it out the window. Every writer in the country has been writing about that [nonsense] for years. Chemistry don’t mean [anything]. He’s up here because he’s good. That don’t mean [a hill of beans]. They got good chemistry because their team is improved, they got a real good team, they got guys knocking in runs, they got a catcher hitting .336, they got a phenom pitcher they just brought up. That’s why they’re happy.”

Dwight Howard did not lose in the Finals because Kobe was meaner to his teammates that year. And he didn’t fail to make the finals the next few years because he was too goofy. The Magic lost to the Lakers because they had a worse team. They failed to make it back to the finals because Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson peaked during their finals run and never got back to that level again.

But it becomes a referendum on Dwight’s perceived moral failings as a leader. Even though he actually became a much better player.

People like to play the result when it comes to the impact of winning on personality. Nobody who saw him play ever writes about anything except Magic Johnson’s smile when he played. Now, it’s a detriment to Dwight’s team?

Kobe is probably a great presence to have on your team (besides the obvious tangible benefits that his play provides), because it is really hard to slack off when someone is killing themselves like he does. I believe there is value to leading by example, even if it only leads to improvement on the margins; talent is still the most important thing.

Now, the issue with saying that is it might imply Dwight does not lead by example.

I think this is not accurate, and I want to make sure I point that out.

The guy has shoulders the size of basketballs and has improved his game in dramatic ways throughout his career. I refuse to accept that somebody who has the physique Dwight does and has shown the basketball intelligence Dwight has in his career is not a hard worker. It just doesn’t work like that.

Having established that he’s a hard worker on and off the court, why does Dwight need to be a vocal leader?  I think that is what we come back to here.

What is it about sports that forces us to consider that a necessity? Everyone’s personality is not the same. Switching to a different sport to make an analogy again, the Miami Marlins pressured Hanley Ramirez to be a vocal leader in the clubhouse, and it simply never worked. Some guys aren’t wired that way. Some guys don’t want to punch their teammates in practice when they mess up. Why does that mean that player cannot be a leader?

The thing about the Lakers this season is , since our perception of what their talent level was coming into the season has been so far proven wrong, we have to look for a reason why. We collectively do this every year, when our communal wisdom ends up proven wrong; it is why Derrick Rose won an MVP two years ago, and why Carmelo Anthony will likely win one this season. Rather than admit we were wrong about the talent level of the team, we attribute the difference to the ephemeral qualities surrounding them.

If the Lakers are disappointing, why must it be because they are suffering from a lack of leadership, as well as tumult in the locker room? It makes much more sense to say they have no semblance of perimeter defense and Dwight and Pau Gasol have been three steps slow on defense all season because of injury. But admitting that also means admitting that we aren’t really sure what exactly leads to winning.

People are uncomfortable not having the answers. Admitting, “We were wrong about the Lakers” means “We don’t really know how basketball games are won.” It is a lot easier to fill in the blanks with “leadership” and locker-room turmoil, even if we don’t actually know whether that is the reason.

Jay: To take this one step further, I think this goes deeper into the human psyche. I agree that people don’t want to be wrong, but I think this also has plenty to do with people wanting to create sports figures into mythical greek warriors who embody everything we dream to be.

Dwight Howard needs to be a killer, or look like one, as he cuts down the enemy on his way to glory and we reward his will to win with big shiny rings that we knee at his whim for.

So much of this is about sports fans wanting to see their gladiators become heroes in the bravest way possible, and in this time, it means having our athletes demonstrate visible qualities of leadership people have been conditioned to believe translates to winning.

Michael Jordan cursed everyone. Kobe Bryant is beloved because people believe he is the closest thing to him. Athletes like LeBron James, Dwight Howard, or to cross sports like you did, Hanley Ramirez, don’t follow that blueprint.

And it bothered people.

I just know that a healthy Dwight Howard is one of the three of four best players on earth, and if he gets healthy and his play regresses to the mean, the Lakers are going to be a contender, whether he changes anything about his persona or not.

Chris: I think the average fan wants that out of their athletes because that is what the average fan thinks he would be like. Everyone thinks, ‘If only I had hit the genetic lottery, I wouldn’t waste it like Dwight has’. Which is, obviously, a patently ridiculous thing to think, but I think an element of that exists. If I am cutthroat when it comes to beating my 12-year-old cousin in Monopoly, why can’t Dwight Howard be cutthroat when he matches up against the best basketball players in the world.

But everyone succeeds in different ways. LeBron and Durant have taken criticism (from *ahem*certain ESPN heads) for working out together. It weakens their competitive will, they bellow, because they are helping each other. Of course, that’s nonsense. The two best players in the world working out together can only reap positive benefits, but there is that simplistic, zero-sum view that some have; ‘nobody else can succeed if I do.’The guys like Jordan and Kobe, they’re wired differently.An argument could be made they are wired in a better way, or in a way that will help them maximize their physical abilities. There are plenty of athletes throughout history who have not reached their full potential because they have no wanted to put in the work. But I also think that you don’t reach the levels Dwight has as a dominant force at the highest level without putting in that work. He and Kobe simply go about getting to that work in a difference way. And the difference is superficial, at best; at the end of the day, Dwight and Kobe have worked their asses off to reach the pinnacle of their game, and there is little reason to think Kobe has actually worked harder to do so.

But the Lakers’ biggest issue isn’t will or want or whatever other juju some want to apply. It is that Dwight has been laterally slower in his movement due to the back surgery, and Pau Gasol has been dealing with plantar fasciitis and knee tendinitis. If/when those two get healthy, the controversy is going to see awfully funny (assuming they can get back in time for the playoffs). Pau is a perfect example of a guy who has taken criticism for his “weak-willed” approach to the game. And yet, he spent his prime years coming up huge in big spots and playing a massive role in Kobe’s last two rings. At the end of it, his talent and abilities shown through over the rest of the noise.
I’m with you on Dwight’s potential to change a game, when healthy. He’s in the conversation for biggest game-changer in the NBA. And I don’t think it matters one bit whether he wants to kill his opponent or gives him a wedgie.

Jay
: Until Dwight Howard wins a championship, it’s unlikely the noise will shut of though. That crackling of Shaquille O’Neal’s rings and Kobe Bryant’s teeth should continue to put enough pressure on Dwight to make this a conversation. We’ll be here to enjoy it.

Another way of looking at MVP’s: Most Valuable Player Caliber Seasons 1.0

January 5th, 2013 by


People like shiny things and nice ceremonies. We should also like the rightful player getting the award (PHOTO:AP/Wilfredo Lee)


By Jay Ramos

Ask someone about a great players rank in history, and the conversation can quickly create complex answers. Because people like shiny things.

When we look back at a players legacy, everything from statistics, awards, individual accomplishments, team titles, records and impact become a part of the conversation. Subjectivity slides into our perspective depending on how much we value everything outside of the empirical evidence that exists for a player, because of shiny things.

It’s a lot less subjective to simply compare which player was better if we can focus on a players individual merits.

The legacy conversation is not one that needs to be abolished, I just think the approach to the conversation almost always is devoid of enough context. Meaning we can make more accurate assertions if we remove ourselves from fancy things like jewelry and trophies.

One of these things is awards, such as the Most Valuable Player award. It’s a tricky beast that rears it’s head in discussions about a players greatness, and is used as coin on a resume.

When we have conversations about legacy, can you hear that awful  noise of people counting awards? We’ll, not that, but the awful noise of counting them superficially. For instance, when a player receives an award and another player doesn’t, it doesn’t mean the right call was made.

Steve Nash has two MVP’s on his mantle, but should he? (PHOTO: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Sometimes there are multiple players that deserved the MVP nearly equally. The 2008-09 season is one example, one on which LeBron James and Dwyane Wade finished 1st and 3rd, respectively, and both finished with a Player Efficiency Rating over 30. Kobe Bryant finished second in voting that season for the award, and shouldn’t have, which bring me to another point.

Awards are often slanted by team results. Bryant won the MVP the season before, even though he was nearly equally outplayed by James. The only substantial difference was that James’ Cavaliers won an unprecedented 66 games in 2009, party because the team was climbing the ladder as a group that was gaining continuity and because they made a swift acquisition of Mo Williams in the off season.

But team results will cloud these things. So will narrative. When Bryant won the MVP in 2007-08, Tim Duncan had an identical season in terms of production, but finished 7th in voting. This award was forced, with some voters, I think, trying to give him a legacy award as opposed to truly rewarding him for an MVP season. On the other end, Bryant had arguably three seasons better than his 2007-08 campaign at that point, but he didn’t receive an MVP because Luke Walton and Kwame Brown played too many minutes. Isn’t it absurd that these awards are awarding circumstances?

My point here is that human error mars awards like MVP, and a blind resume comparison isn’t fair without context. Circumstances and perception of a player can slant voting in one direction, and it doesn’t reflect which player actually produced the most on the court.

This got me thinking about forgetting even using MVP’s as part of debating legacy.

Why do it? Why not eliminate this subjective measure, but still account for seasons in which a player played like an MVP?

So I decided to craft the first version of a measure of MVP Caliber Seasons, or MVCS. It would allow us to see how many seasons a player played like an MVP, without fixating on the actual result, which could be slanted.

This is a subjective exercise, and surely the first version of it. I’m sure I will add to the criteria to make it more detailed and evolve MVCS in the future.

To come to my conclusion, I want to take into account the best cumulative statistics we have available.

They aren’t perfect, but they are respected and objective.

Player Efficiency Rating (PER) will be the first one. Donned by John Hollinger, PER creates a per minute picture of a players production on the floor. It has it’s weaknesses, such that it overrates volume scoring and doesn’t take into account defense, but is nonetheless a respectable measure if we take those weaknesses into context, and pretty accurately gauges a players overall production.

But we want to take more into account than just an encapsulation of the box score. If  MVP really means that a player is the most valuable, than certainly their performance has to translate to wins. There are several measures that look to account for this.

Bill James originally coined ‘Win Shares’ in his 2002 book, and the statistic has been improvised by Basketball Reference. Hollinger created Value Added and Estimated Wins Added and Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus made a metric called Wins Above Replacement player. I’m also intrigued by Dave Berri’s Wins Produced stat, described here.

I’m not going to debate the merits of all of them, but all of those guys are very smart people. I do find, however, that Win Shares is arguably the best of the group. There is a historical database readily available for it, and it is at least provable that Win Shares suffer from less average error than EWA.

Calculating defensive value outside of how much we value counting numbers like blocks and steals still remains a challenge, so that is the one red flag to point out about this measure. We’re going to eliminate Defensive Win Shares and focus on Offensive Win Shares, due to the way the shares are calculated defensively stemming solely from team production, therefore being capable of misleading the value of an individual. Nonetheless, the average error with Win Shares is very small, and a teams’ total Win Shares usually add up to roughly 82. It works.

DEFINING MVCS

Hollinger defines a player with a 25 PER as a weak MVP candidate, with a 27.5 PER indicating a strong MVP candidate and anything over 30 being a runaway winner. We’re going to take the baseline 25 PER as a minimum requirement to qualify for MVCS, and take an arbitrary amount of Offensive Win Shares, 8, as a minimum to complement it. To avoid the question of totals vs. averages if a player misses time, Win Shares is a counting measure, so a player can play a lot less than another and still contribute to more wins on the season. We will still develop a baseline, however, and in order to qualify, a player must play in at least 75 percent of his teams games (62 games in an 82 game season).

The reason for the baseline of games is because of what Win Shares doesn’t take into account. If one player misses time and is replaced by an ‘average,’ or ‘replacement’ player, the drop off is significant. Missing time impacts your team in this manner.

For our initial study, we’re going to take every player in the modern era into account, beginning with 1979-80, because that is when 3-pointers we’re officially added into the box score.

Check out the results of the sample here. This indicated that since 1979-80, 87 players have had MVP caliber seasons.

The measure does a good job of encapsulating absolutely outstanding seasons, and if we can agree that offensive efficiency is the factor that most leads to winning basketball games, it’s very fair.

The rationale has two holes, however. One minor hole in that it doesn’t adjust precisely to how much value was lost by a players missed time in a particular season, relative to being replaced by an average NBA player. Instead we simply create a minimum requirement, which shores up the potential for error, but it nonetheless exists.

Secondly, we just aren’t measuring defense here. Tim Duncan only has two MVP Caliber Seasons in his career, but if we take into account that he was a terrific defensive player, it makes up the gap in a few other seasons where he just misses the cut for this measure.

But either way, when people are talking about MVP’s, we’re not precisely taking into account defense anyway. All we have is Defensive Win Shares to encapsulate a players total defensive production, and we already debated the merits of it. Unless we we’re to sit down and break down the splits of every players opponent field goal percentage and use film to take into account good defense that doesn’t show up statistically, we cannot precisely measure it. Plus, did defensive shortcomings stop a herd of sheep from wrongly heaping MVP’s onto Steve Nash and Derrick Rose?

What this measure is saying, however, is that these players had outstanding offensive seasons whose value is not debatable. Some of them played better defense than others, but even the worse defensive player on this list is still an MVP.

I will probably add to this in the future, but this should begin to serve as a way to talk about players who had deserving MVP-type seasons and how many, which would serve us better than who actually won it.

The Physics of a Narrative: A discussion about how the created myth around Michael Jordan curses LeBron James, and all of us

October 10th, 2012 by


Michael Jordan is the consensus best player of All-Time. But do we use the right reasons to justify it and other players? (PHOTO: Best Sports Channel)


To discuss the current topic, Courtbully has rounded together a few human beings with a similar disproportionate love for the game of basketball to talk about the never-ending comparison between Michael Jordan and LeBron James, and why we came to think this way.  Joining the round table is Jay Ramos, editor of Courtbully.com, Ryan Hebert, editor of HebertofNHhoops.com, and Michael Sykes II, editor of Whatsleftonthefloor.com.

Jay: I have to begin this by acknowledging something I’m pretty shameless about. I can’t help watching First Take, at least a few segments of it, some mornings. I wake up and it’s just on. And I freely choose to tune in. Shaking my head at Skip Bayless’ opinions somehow has become as routine as waffles and fruity pebbles to me.

Anyway, as much of a circus as it can be, the opinions of the people on that show reflect some of the narrative we deal with every day in the sports world. And today we had to be subjected to another unbearable screaming match on the show comparing LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

The conversation is mostly a waste of breath, since comparing a 27-year old in his prime up against the resume of the consensus best player of All-Time just seems like a setup. But the WAY people have approached this discussion has become interesting to me. I’ve noticed that the bar has been set so high based on Jordan’s unique circumstances as to mean, basically, that the only way to rival him is to do it EXACTLY like he did it.

For instance, we hear that LeBron can never, ever be Michael Jordan, if only because Jordan went to the finals six times and won every time, while LeBron has already lost in two of his three finals appearances. But on the flipside, that’s as silly as saying ‘Michael can never be LeBron because LeBron never lost in the first round of the playoffs and Michael did three times’. Which is true.

We’re penalizing LeBron for carrying a sub par cast of Cavaliers teammates to the 2007 finals and for winning a conference crown in 2011. Like, if LeBron had lost in the second round both of those seasons, we would say he’s won his only finals appearance and that’s better?

Michael Jordan never lost in the finals, that is true. But he did lose in the Eastern Conference Finals, Eastern Conference Semifinals and the first round. But for some reason his resume is more golden to people because of his flawless finals record, which includes six Finals MVP’s.

This is where the MJ comparison has also been unfair to Kobe Bryant. Because on top of having lost in two finals, Bryant has only been the Finals MVP in two of them, so the next standard is, aside from you MUST win every finals appearance, is you MUST win the Finals MVP every finals appearance. Never mind that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade had also not won every Finals MVP in every finals they have been a part of.

Chauncey Billups and Tony Parker have Finals MVP’s too. Winning that trophy is a symbol of being the most productive player in that one particular playoff series, but it’s not necessarily a symbol of being the best player on the team and the player who has been the most valuable and productive  for the entirety of it’s season.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Bryant is in Jordan’s ballpark, since his overall production doesn’t match Jordan’s or even James’, but for as many silly stories that you will read this year about Bryant ‘chasing Jordan for ring No. 6′, you’ll hear an equally silly counter to it about why he can’t because he hasn’t won the Finals MVP in every finals appearance he’s had and isn’t ‘Six for Six.” It’s still not fair to Bryant.

Even if Bryant had won the Finals MVP for every title team he’s been a part of, Shaquille O’Neal was still the best player for three of his five titles. People won’t make their arguments based on objective merits like production, they would rather discuss how people got their precious rings, even though it’s NEARLY ALL about the circumstances at the time.

And this is the impossible standard we’ve created because of how we’ve made Jordan into an untouchable myth.

The way Jordan did it, regardless of the circumstances, has become a curse for every great wing player who will ever follow him until his accomplishments are perceived to have been surpassed. Not only do you have to accomplish his volume of accolades, but you have to do it exactly as he did, and we’ll punish people like James and Bryant because of it. Am I missing something?

Mike: First of all, I need to say how disappointed I am in you for indulging in First Take. They talk about the same subjects every single day and bring up the same mindless points. It gets tiring. I’m surprised your head hasn’t exploded yet.

But this is a very interesting subject. Comparing anyone to Jordan is a slippery slope because he’s probably the one athlete that has the numbers to fully back up his narrative. His resume isn’t perfect, by any means, but it may be one of the closest things we have to it. Of course, you’ve got Magic Johnson winning a championship in his first season and Bill Russell winning 11 championships in the lifespan of his career, but neither really had as much impact or flare on the game of basketball and the NBA that Jordan did.Jordan made the NBA a brand and then he created his own. He was his day’s LeBron James as James is today’s Jordan. I believe that if anyone has a chance to equal–or maybe even surpass–Jordan’s legacy it will be James. Jordan had his shortcomings before–as previously mentioned–just as James has had now. James’ numbers do back up his legacy right now. He’s always been an amazing player, but the talking heads made people believe that he could never be great because of that elusive first ring.The fact that Jordan was perfect in the Finals is a pretty amazing feat just as the fact that he won the six MVPs as well. It may be slightly overrated, though, because of his hiatus from basketball. I believe that what is more impressive is the fact that he three-peated twice. No team has been able to accomplish that since.

Ryan: At this point, I kind of concede that MJ is the greatest wing player of all-time for a few reasons. He is, to me, the most complete player to play the shooting guard position. He had a multitude of post moves, and unlike Kobe, he didn’t use them 18-20 feet from the hoop just to showoff like a dink.

His gracefulness encompassed just about every element of fundamental basketball; he had a PERFECT pivot foot that was predicated on being on his  tippy-toes; his jumpshot was perfect, with incredibly square shoulders and a soft release; he ferociously blocked shots and timed help side blocks and steals like no other guard before him, (his heir in this regard is Dwyane Wade, who may be the best shot-blocking guard ever); and his passing was savvy and well timed.

The fundamental flawlessness, mixed with his athletic splendor, NBA Finals resume, and marketability have created an iconic image that has become the standard that, fairly or not, all modern wings are judged by.With that said, I don’t think that you have to embody Jordan’s every career mark to be great, and I honestly don’t even believe him to be the greatest player in NBA History. The Era in which MJ reigned supreme was devoid of a true rival. By 1992, the dominant icons who laid the foundation for prime-time NBA competition had succumbed to career altering/ending circumstances. Magic Johnson shockingly contracted HIV, which ended the glorious run of his “Showtime” Lakers. Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics’ “Big Three” had their bodies decimated from years of reckless play and grueling NBA Finals runs. Lenny Bias, the heir to Bird’s Celtics and someone who MJ viewed as an absolute force of Basketball nature, tragically overdosed on cocaine and died in 1986, before he ever set foot on the parquet floor of the Boston Garden. Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon’s sidekick on the Houston Rockets, took a devastating fall that mangled his 7’2″ frame and marred the prime years in which Houston’s “Twin Towers” should have been dominating the Western Conference.

All of this made for an NBA landscape that was ripe for Jordan to dominate. What’s more, Jordan’s timely first retirement coincided exactly with Hakeem Olajuwon’s most dominant run as the pivot man for some really well-balanced Houston Rockets clubs. Being 1984 draftees, Jordan and Olajuwon should have presumably matched up at some point in the NBA Finals during their careers, yet Jordan was, conveniently, nowhere to be found during Hakeem’s destructive prime.

I could care less that Mike went six-for-six in the NBA Finals, with six NBA Finals MVP distinctions. He went through his entire career without a foil. The most memorable and iconic rivalries are what makes me a die-hard NBA fan. Russell had Wilt, Bird had Magic. Heck, even recently Kobe and Kevin Garnett reinvigorated a classic Celtics and Lakers rivalry as two prep-to-pro icons. This isn’t to say that Michael Jordan’s six-for-six mark isn’t impressive- it’s absolutely awesome, and an athletic marvel worthy of its unique place in NBA lore. My point is that I appreciate a great rivalry, where even the losing adversary came out as part of something larger than just a Finals loss.

Thus, I think it’s kind of silly to bash today’s icons, whether it be Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, or even a Kevin Durant for not winning all of their Finals appearances. This is the best era of NBA action since the 1980′s in terms of star power and competitive balance, and because of that some exceptionally talented players are going to come out with Finals losses. I view LeBron James and Kevin Garnett as the best Small and Power Forwards of All-Time, respectively, and I say that based on production, all-around fundamental excellence, team impact, and selfless leadership.

Both have Finals losses, but I’m not going to fault them for losing to exceptionally talented adversaries in the Finals. I like to think that we can view a player’s achievements and historical impact on the NBA without caught up in the achievements of one player, Michael Jordan, who had many outside factors that led to him dominating an era that, circumstantially, was ripe for him to dominate.

Mike: That’s very interesting that you say that. Not many people have that same view on Jordan’s career or the era that he played in. I believe you have some great points there as well. Jordan’s first retirement did come at a time where he should have been facing off against Olajuwon in the Finals. That series probably would have been one of the most memorable ones, too. When you have, in my opinion, the greatest big of all time going up against the greatest player, or wing perhaps, of all time, that’s must-see TV.

While I think that you do have a point, I don’t think that Jordan not having a foil should necessarily tarnish his legacy the greatest of all time. Of course, its arguable that he’s not and I’m sure you have a very good argument for that as well. However, I believe that his eventual dominance may have had something to do with that. For every narrative about a single player, there seems to be an opposing one that counters that. For Magic you have Bird, for Russell you have Chamberlain, for Wade you had James, for James we’ve now got Durant. The closest thing that Jordan had to that was Isiah Thomas and after conquering the Pistons it sort of disappeared.

And lets just be sure not to forget the dominant players that were coming up around Jordan. You had Olajuwon, you had John Stockton and Karl Malone, you had Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, Johnson and Barkley, Robinson, Ewing, and even Shaq and Penny to some degree. The list of great players in that era is a pretty lengthy one. I don’t think that their legacy should be discounted, or maybe forgotten is a better word choice, because of Jordan’s dominance.

Jay: Mike, that point is so important. Jordan is so full of narrative for a lot of reasons, but by every objective measure we like to judge players by, he meets every expectation. He’s the ultimate sports embodiment of narrative being true. Maybe his run of dominance to go along with the narratives that he carried with him have made it harder to wings to follow up, because despite similar narratives, we’ll, they’re just not as good. Jordan is the best player ever, because he has the highest Player Efficiency Rating ever, was a stud defender and is arguably the most productive player ever. But to others, he’s the best because of his heart, grit, clutch and will.

Kobe is perceived to have all of those things, but since he’s not as good, it’s been tough to match the accolades.

But as impressive as his two three-peats were, aren’t they a combination of team circumstances and a lot of things lining up? It’s almost impossible to do without that.

P.S I’m a terrible person for watching First Take

Ryan,

The point about Jordan’s lack of an equal or near equal rival is valid when we compare it to Bird and Magic, but I mean, it’s hard to have a comparable rival when your the best player of All-Time and your production is uncharted historically.

Like, it takes A LOT to be Jordan’s rival. Only LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal have rivaled his value and impact on the game since he came into the league, and Shaq being a post player doesn’t make for tasty rivalry narrative.

Mike: His three-peats were obviously a culmination of his teams success, don’t get me wrong. I just think that its still an extremely impressive feat for the Bulls to accomplish that and I think its extremely impressive that he was widely deemed the best player on all of those Finals teams including one with the best single season record of all time. I think that speaks volumes about their dominance in the NBA at the time.

To give credit where its due, I think that Phil Jackson and the Triangle were very key components in the success of Jordan. Without his coaching and guidance we’re probably not talking about him like we are right now. Jordan was just a great player who took advantage of some really perfect timing.

Ryan:  To clarify my earlier stance, Michael Jordan is the most productive and dominant player of the post-ABA/NBA merger, and probably the most ferocious competitor, in that losing a pivotal game simply wasn’t an option for him. So many times he came through to win an absolutely crucial game under some pretty unique circumstances. “The Flu Game”; the coast to coast layup against Barkley’s Phoenix Suns in Game Six; “The Shot” in Cleveland over Craig Ehlo and what seemed to be that entire underrated Cavaliers team; Pushing off on Bryon Russell and sinking that walkoff jumper.

These are iconic moments that made my childhood special as an NBA junkie, and are truly the essence of the Jordan Myth. I’m a Michael Jordan fan. I lived vicariously through his dominance, as my Celtics went through some seriously bleek seasons after the deaths of Bias and Lewis. More than that, enjoying Jordan’s dominance was a cultural event that captivated the world.What you guys should know about me, philosophically, is that I approach the game as someone who played years as a pass-first point guard in competitive endeavors. I have a different take on the game of Basketball and what it means to be great as a team contributor and leader. My Mount Rushmore of NBA Legends includes Mike Jordan, but has three Founding Fathers: Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. With Russ, you have 11 NBA Championships, two of them as a player-coach, and a legacy that includes revolutionizing the game as a defender, rebounder, outlet passer, and a scorer with an aptitude for crunch-time play making. Larry and Magic had different strengths, but when it came to style they were essentially the same players. They were brilliant passers who often sacrificed stat-accumulation for the bettering of their teammates. That’s not to say they couldn’t throw down otherworldly stat-lines, but winning came first and foremost with both. With Larry and Magic, health inevitably marred career longevity and stat/accolade accumulation, but both were able to still post legendary numbers, win championships, and accumulate accolades.

One common thread that connects all three are the overwhelming praise and reverence for the people and teammates that they were. Not only were they great champions, but they were great teammates who consistently elevated the games and confidence of all of those around them.I can’t help but think about the story of MJ punching out Steve Kerr during a routine practice, or KB24 running Shaq out of town and also punching Smush Parker on a team charter plane for not passing him the ball at a critical juncture of a game. These are guys we revere for “killer instinct”, who have 11 titles between the two of them. Yet, how often do we hear their former teammates share illuminating accounts of the teammates and men of quality moral fiber? The media-driven narrative that is pushed on is “how bad to they want the final shot?” and “are they the closers”.

With that comes an unfair expectation for a team-first, dominant superstar named LeBron James.

LeBron is revered by teammates and coaches, sacrifices his body as a defender who takes on all five positions, passes like a pointguard, and would much rather make the right play than force a last-second hero shot for the win. LeBron is a three-time NBA MVP, 2012 NBA Champion and Finals MVP and more importantly and exceptional teammate and person by most accounts. Sadly his career is gonna be unfairly scrutinized because of an unfair and unique circumstance and legacy that was laid down by Michael Jordan.

Perhaps we should evaluate what our values are in terms of judging Superstar talents, because it’s a shame that we aren’t fully accepting and appreciating the legacy of such a unique player like LeBron James. Maybe it’s time that we quit judging brilliant players by the standards set by Jordan, and instead let the new generation of Superstar NBA icons set their own precedent.

And I do agree with both of you. Two three-peats are incredible achievements, and it’s tough to have a rival when you’re a way better player than even your closest contemporary. Perhaps I lament that Jordan never matched up against Hakeem the Dream in his hiatus years, but I can’t be too angry at Mike for that. He is, aside from Russell, the most dominant player competitively, and his legacy will be a precedent that will forever haunt all contemporary wings. In short, I value different qualities than those that MJ displayed, and I wish the media could find a way to appreciate different players for different attributes, attitudes and mindsets.

Mike:  I’d have to agree with that, Ryan. I completely understand your stance on Jordan, though I may not completely agree with it, it does have merit. There were plenty of better teammates than Jordan in his own era, eras before that, and present eras.

But getting back to the LeBron James narrative, I do believe that he’ll be one of the greatest players of all time by the end of his career. Judging him to Jordan’s standards–or even Johnson and Bird’s–doesn’t do justice to the havoc that he’s delivering to the NBA right now. There is no one who is even remotely close to his numbers production wise and its been that way for most of his career. While championships do mean something, we have to measure individual player success and value that they bring to their teams when trying to figure out who’s legacy fits where. In that fashion, LeBron may be better than Jordan in a few areas here and there.His legacy shouldn’t be compared to other legends because he’s a legend himself. Without even getting into his numbers, we’ve never even seen a player like him before. He’s a combination of every single position on the floor–I’d liken him to a player from out of a fiction novel. He has one of the highest basketball IQs in the league right now and it will only grow because he’s only 27 years old. We should appreciate what we’re watching now instead of trying to fit him somewhere prematurely.

Jay:  Sadly I’ll still be watching First Take sometimes.

Whose team is it!? We have to know!!! It’s so important to know who the emotional leader is, even if it’s not the best player!

October 2nd, 2012 by


It didn’t take long for Kobe Bryant to announce the Lakers are ‘his’ (PHOTO: Xinhua, Yang Lei )


By Jay Ramos

Any time group of stars are put together, at least in the NBA, recent history suggests that the media will obsess over asking who the team belongs to. Never mind that the Los Angeles Lakers actually belong to Jerry Buss, because he actually owns the team.

Maybe it’s because the sport is 5-on-5, and more blame can be ascribed to an individual in basketball than in any other team sport, perhaps other than a quarterback on the football field in today’s NFL.

What we know is it has has a way of becoming a story to us. We’re extremely interested in knowing who is emotionally in charge of a group, who the general of the troops are, and we like to shift the spoils to this person, sometimes overlooking who the actual best soldier was in the war.

Kobe Bryant wasted no time in raising his hand to answer the question. The veteran star declared the team was his team at the team’s media day. He also goes on to say that he is looking to ‘teach’ Dwight Howard things, which many will interpret as teaching the superstar center how to win, because after all, Bryant has the rings, and circumstances don’t matter, only rings.

On this blog, we examine narrative and expose buffoonery, so how does this impact the narratives that will evolve this season?

For one, Kobe can be perceived to have taken ownership of his team, and ‘teaching’ them how to win, with his veteran leadership and knowledge about winning that his new teammates don’t have, especially Dwight (Even though it’s mostly because he never played with a player the caliber of Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol; But Ringz, tho).

There is certainly something to be said about leadership intangibles. Somebody who sets the tone for a group in a working environment has value, depending on the group on task.

Then again, on a veteran team with a coaching staff, the value of bryant’s leadership probably will have very little to do with how far this team goes this season.

The approach Bryant has to a situation like this is what so many of his fans adore him for. It’s also a reason why he is perceived to be a better player than the more productive Dwyane Wade, for whom we have a precedent very similar to. The perception of a no-nonsense, brash attitude, which for Bryant, since it has worked, is suposedly manifested as a ‘will to win’.

In 2010, the Heat had a superstar in Wade, but happened to add the best player in the world to it in LeBron James, meaning he was no longer the best player on the team. Wade was a ring bearer like Bryant, having led the Heat to a championship in 2006. Like that scenario, Bryant’s Lakers have brought in a basketball player who is demonstrably better than Bryant in Howard.

In this case, Wade and James deflected questions about whose team it was, and both described themselves as leaders. The narrative was that it was Wade’s team, at least sentimentally, however, because of his tenure. Wade was ONE of the leaders on that team, sure. But given that James was the best player whom most of the offense ran through, between the lines, that team was immediately the property of LeBron James, if by definition who the team belongs to is ranked by importance to success.

Facilitated by Wade’s injury laden 2011-12 season, Wade publicly aknowledged that LeBron needed to be publicly defined as the teams leader. When Wade came out with this ‘news’, he described it as very difficult. It must be for a superstar to say that someone on his own team is better.

And that’s Wade.

Bryant has a historical ego, as far as we know. His behavior is not surprising.

But I also know the reality of both situations. Wade and Bryant, both declining stars, have to give way to their young superstars, as they are no longer the most responsible for their respective team’s success.

No matter what Bryant convinces the public and himself of as far as his role outside the lines, the fact is as soon as Dwight Howard steps foot on the hardwood, barring injury, he’s the Los Angeles Lakers’ best player.

I expect the storyline about Bryant chasing his sixth ring to be a constant, and he is, but in context, in the actual basketball context, it’s not ‘his team.’

 

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: Phoenix Suns 2012-13 preview

September 12th, 2012 by


The Phoenix Gorilla is the best (PHOTO: ihatelupica.blogspot.com)


By Jay Ramos

Phoenix Suns Snapshot
2011-12 Record: 33-33
2012-13 Projected Record: 25-57
Predicted Finish: 5th (Pacific Division), 14th (Western Conference)

Being in oblivion, or without direction, is a confusing place to be. The uncertainty wears on a human mind that naturally want’s to feel safe and follow the routine. For words that describe this plight, we have this:

So many dark allies 
So many dead ends
Ways around and above
All roads leading nowhere
But the same place
Returning where I started
Crossing roads
Going backwards
Going forwards
Doubting the end of it all
Finding no redemption for my soul
Stomping on my footsteps again
Repeating the same lame scene
Shouldering countless years of repression
Following that stupid trace of humanity
There is still in me      

- ‘Directionless’, Gustavo Lucas Luna

And such is the feeling of a Suns fan, after watching it’s mid-2000′s core deplete into dust. I will write my own dedication to the Suns.

Not so much (PHOTO: Cracked.com)

From Steve Nash pick-and-rolls,
And team’s with few holes,
With Amar’e Stoudemire in the plans,
And Shawn Marion slams,
Through the eyes of Robert Sarver,
Came falling the plans,
Of one Jerry Colangelo,
Who was a quite a smart man,
And then Joe Johnson flocked, 
So in Boris Diaw walked,
And Shaquille O’Neal’s jock,
The winning would halt,
Trading picks for space,
But still pushing the pace,
You left Nash alone,
So he’s gone to new place
Just like Amar’e,
He just had to walk,
And now your best player,
Is Marcin Gortat

- ‘Directionless’, The Phoenix Suns version

Phoenix, you are irrelevent in basketball.

 

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: 30 teams in 30 days is a 30 day series where each NBA team is previewed for the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season. The project is a collaboration by Jay Ramos at Courtbully.com, and Ryan Hebert at HebertofNHhoops.com, as each daily preview will be posted on both sites. We will attempt to give the informed fan the best preview possible, by incorporating storylines, schematics, statistics and context into each preview, in hopes that you don’t see our work as another offseason capsule in our long wait to see live NBA basketball this fall.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: Sacramento Kings 2012-13 preview

September 11th, 2012 by


Demarcus Cousins can see you, and an All-Star berth in the very near future (PHOTO: Associated Press)


By Jay Ramos

Sacramento Kings Snapshot
2011-12 Record: 22-44
2012-13 Projected Record: 29-53
Predicted Finish: 4th (Pacific Division), 13th (Western Conference)

When it comes to picking the last two spots in the Pacific Division, it is supposed to be a simple exercise that gets this series of season previews over with. At some point in between Ryan rushing a Houston Rockets capsule that became a public service announcement for Royce White and the funny way in which my previews of crappy teams suddenly see a huge drop off in word count from contenders, and you see what I mean.

We’ll, the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings both will stink this upcoming season, but who more? Is that a right way to put it?

The Suns seem like a more stable situation with Alvin Gentry and some reliable offensive pieces, despite losing an elite point guard, but the Kings undoubtedly have more talent.

A core of Demarcus Cousins, Isiaiah Thomas, Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton has a degree of promise to it. But that promise would stink up if it really does turn out that Evans cannot play effectively off the ball and is only going to be an average player going forward.

The Kings aren’t good at all, as a team.

They couldn’t figure out a way to stop someone if the president of the country pleaded them too. Team’s shot 48 percent against them and they gave up 105 points per game. They we’re dead last in the league in defensive rating.

Opponents we’re very happy to see the Kings.

It’s kind of like when I was a crappy optimist baseball player and I always looked forward to playing the Doral (South Florida) team, because they’re pitching totally stunk and I always got on base against them. I knew my chances of getting a hit went from about 20 percent to 50 percent, and I pleaded my coaches to play me more in those games.

The Kings we’re dead last in the NBA in defensive rating. They we’re the Doral little league team on the NBA last season!

But hey, the Kings have offense to look forward too. Then again, there was barely an offensive play the Kings could go to last year that was a go-to play.

The individual play of Thomas, Cousins and Thornton are good things, however. How Keith Smart can find a way to get them to play good team offense is intruiging.

The fact that Thomas was immediately a talented operator in isolations and pick-and-roll’s was a nice revelation. Given that Cousins was moderately effective as a P&R roller last season (1 point per possession), the 5-1 P&R can be something the Kings go to with frequency. Add that too Thornton as a spot up shooter and a cutter off the ball, and those three could give the Kings a solid nucleus of offense.

The arrow is pointing up for all three of these players in terms of the stage of development they are in, so it is very reasonable to expect improvement from the group.

And although the Kings experimented with Jimmer Freddette as a point guard this summer and I don’t see his spot there, I still haven’t given up on him as an NBA rotation player/off the bench scorer who can give the Kings much needed spacing on the floor.

They added Thomas Robinson in the draft to join a crowded frontcourt and he could help them right away defensively. With improvement from Cousins and Robinson’s projection as a good defender, maybe defense isn’t far off either.

So all is not bad for Sacramento’s basketball team, in that at least the development of young players on the upswing is there to be looked forward to. And your roster is better than the Phoenix Suns. Bragging rights!

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: 30 teams in 30 days is a 30 day series where each NBA team is previewed for the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season. The project is a collaboration by Jay Ramos at Courtbully.com, and Ryan Hebert at HebertofNHhoops.com, as each daily preview will be posted on both sites. We will attempt to give the informed fan the best preview possible, by incorporating storylines, schematics, statistics and context into each preview, in hopes that you don’t see our work as another offseason capsule in our long wait to see live NBA basketball this fall.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: Golden State Warriors 2012-13 preview

September 10th, 2012 by


Curry’s Promise: If Stephen Curry can stay on the floor, he can be an elite scorer in the NBA (PHOTO: Getty Images)


By Jay Ramos

Golden State Warriors Snapshot
2011-12 Record: 23-43
2012-13 Projected Record: 39-43
Predicted Finish: 3rd (Pacific Division), 9th (Western Conference)

One of the trendy surprise picks for next season is the Golden State Warriors because somehwere in between conversations about Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry injuries, Klay Thompson’s emergence, Harrison Barnes’ role as a rookie, and an exhale that we no longer have to hear head coach Marc Jackson on the airwaves calling games, was the realization that the collection of parts on this team really seem to fit.

The health of a game changing interior defender (Bogut)  to help perenially one of the worst defenses in the NBA? The health of an above average pick-and-roll handler and passer who can score on his own (Curry), flanked by shooters and a wave of offensive talent?

To go even deeper, a lumbering center in Bogut who can score inside in a lineup beside a power forward who can operate as a stretch four to unclog the lane, with a point guard who can pass, makes offense a lot easier and funner to play (and watch).

The Warriors have a lot of potential, and certainly appear to be, with the health of Curry and Bogut, a playoff caliber team, over the likes of the Dallas Mavericks, for instance. As tough as it is in the NBA to contend without a superstar, there is still that hope with Stephen Curry, right? (*Wonders about the implications of that sentence*).

The warriors we’re an average offensive team last year WITHOUT Bogut and Curry. The possibilities are as intruiging as questionable. Relying and projecting Bogut and Curry to be healthy after multiple seasons gone awry has to come with that desclaimer.

The Warriors ability to spread the floor will be a constant, however.

With Thompson, Curry and Brandon Rush aboard, the Warriors shot 39 percent from beyond the arc last season (2nd in NBA). This will continue to be a strength for this team and give Lee and Bogut space to score inside, specifically Lee, who will probably be the team’s primary post scorer.

Just as strong as the Warriors are at finding offense on the perimeter, however, they are deficient at getting to the foul line. Second to last in the league in free throw attempts last season, the Warriors need to look at this as an area of need.

A healthy Bogut will improve the Warriors defensively, but not to the point where they will be average. At least not yet.

So if the Warriors are going to be a playoff team, it’s because they’re a great offensive team. It’s a realistic goal to make if they are healthy, but going to the line more will aid their efficiency. Unfortunately, without Monta Ellis, the Warriors personnell on the perimeter is very shooter-oriented and not specifically stocked with players who profile as isolators and dribble-drivers who will get to the line much.

So this might just have to the the way they do it. Find spacing with ball movement, and hit shots. That they can do.

Th Warriors have the upside of a middle seed in the Western Conference (On paper, how far as they really from Memphis, Denver and LAC?) and are the favorite to finish third in the Pacific Division. They also have the downside of combusting with injuries and being the wose defensive team in the game.

It’s worth a watch.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: 30 teams in 30 days is a 30 day series where each NBA team is previewed for the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season. The project is a collaboration by Jay Ramos at Courtbully.com, and Ryan Hebert at HebertofNHhoops.com, as each daily preview will be posted on both sites. We will attempt to give the informed fan the best preview possible, by incorporating storylines, schematics, statistics and context into each preview, in hopes that you don’t see our work as another offseason capsule in our long wait to see live NBA basketball this fall.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: Los Angeles Clippers 2012-13 preview

September 9th, 2012 by


  Chris Paul and Blake Griffin form a formidable duo, but they’re still just outside of contention (PHOTO: Ezra Shaw,Getty Images North America)


By Jay Ramos

Los Angeles Clippers Snapshot
2011-12 Record: 40-26
2012-13 Project Record: 54-28
Predicted Finish: 2nd ( Pacific Division), 4th (Western Conference)

Throughout the course of recent NBA history, say, the last 30 years, a few things have changed and a few things have remained consistent.

We have seen the positional evolution to the point where prototypical power forwards and point guards aren’t absolute positions anymore and we’ve seen the 3-point shot become more of a weapon.

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is as much as we can spend time talking about depth, coaching, rotations and fit, team’s with multiple stars win titles almost every single time. With the exception of the 1994 Houston Rockets, the 2003 San Antonio Spurs and 2011 Dallas Mavericks, who won with a single superstar, and the 2004 Pistons, who won with a balanced team that played superior defense, team’s with multiple stars have won championships.

The situations I just mentioned are the exception, not the rule.

Most of the time, title team’s come in the form of one superstar and another complementary All-Star, or in some rare cases, multiple superstars.

In a league devoid a parity, being in this fortunate situation is a rare thing, and without getting into the context of how the market impacts this and how it comes to happen, team’s outside of this situation are left trying to do experiments (Denver Nuggets) or running in the same state of irrelevance.

We’ll, count the Los Angeles Clippers as one of the lucky teams.

With a top five player in Chris Paul and roughly a top 15 player in Blake Griffin, the Clippers are in one of those favorable situations where as long as you don’t just mess things up or get bad luck, you can climb the ladder and contend for championships for a given period of time.

Now that we have this reality out of the way, we can proceed to split hairs about why they are only an outside threat to win a championship this season, because the Clippers recent collection of talent is awesome but remains behind the Los Angeles Lakers off season Christmas and the Oklahoma City Thunders’ perfect set of circumstances.

The league is top-loaded. Lopsided. Disproportionate. It’s vastly inclinatory and we love it.

Lamar Odom leads a strong Clipper bench (PHOTO: Source)

Although the Clippers are poised to build off of a season where they advanced to the conference semifinals, they’re off season only slightly improves them in the present.

They have a veteran team around Griffin and Paul, but they will have to rebuild around them, so long as Paul is still there, within a year or two. Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford are assuredly on the decline, albeit Hill has transitioned into a good role player at this point.

The Crawford deal is particularly foolish, as awarding a 32-year-old inefficient volume scorer for 4-years and 25 million is unwarranted when incumbent Nick Young signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia. For 2012-13 they will feel no drop off over what they had last season though, as Randy Foye, Mo Williams and Young have probably been adequately replaced.

Regardless of this, Griffin and Paul will be great enough to have the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs.

As a team, the Clippers are very good offensively, and it’s in a different way than fast paced team’s in the Southwest Division run up the pace on people. The Clippers play quite slow under Vinny Del Negro (27th in pace last season) but we’re 4th in the league in offensive rating, mostly because of Paul’s mastery in the halfcourt. As a team, Clipper pick-and-roll rollers got slightly over a point per possession, and we’re good for sixth in the league in that category, much of it with Paul as the primary handler. The Clippers went to spot-ups on most of their play’s last season, with good success as well as Paul found way’s to consistently find open shooters on the floor.

As long as Paul is running this offense, they will be efficient. He simply impacts the game on offense the way only 5 or 6 players in the world do. He not only creates terrific offense for his team, but he can initiate scoring for himself at will and can break down most guards of the dribble and get to the basket. Paul shot 46 percent in isolations last year, which was 8th in the league, according to Synergy Sports Data.

The world of the Los Angeles Clippers is one of mixed emotions though, despite their recent renaissance as a rising contender.

This is because despite drafting Griffin, who was arguably a top 15 player from the moment he stepped foot on the NBA floor, and acquiring a superstar point guard, the storied franchise they are in the shadow of in the same city is still better.

The logical thoughts of Lakers owner Jerry Buss upon witnessing the Clippers construction the last few years goes as such:

Buss:

Oh, you drafted Blake Griffin? We’ll, we still have Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.

Oh, you pulled off this trade for Chris Paul? Your getting close, so we’ll go get Steve Nash.

….And then we’ll get Dwight Howard. You know, to make sure.

So the Clippers legitimately built a strong team and brought guns to the big fight amongst NBA major markets,  and the Lakers just brought a Hydrogen Bomb to it.

The Clippers do have something they have rarely had in their history, however, and that is a superstar in Chris Paul.

As long as Blake Griffin is healthy and productive, there should be no reason for him to depart Clipperland, and a jump over the Lakers and veteren-led San Antonio Suprs in Oklahoma City’s Western Conference is within reach in the near future.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: 30 teams in 30 days is a 30 day series where each NBA team is previewed for the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season. The project is a collaboration by Jay Ramos at Courtbully.com, and Ryan Hebert at HebertofNHhoops.com, as each daily preview will be posted on both sites. We will attempt to give the informed fan the best preview possible, by incorporating storylines, schematics, statistics and context into each preview, in hopes that you don’t see our work as another offseason capsule in our long wait to see live NBA basketball this fall.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: Los Angeles Lakers 2012-13 preview

September 8th, 2012 by


The Kobe Quandary: He roars and huffs-and-puffs. His infectious clutch is legendary, as his collection of rings can attest to. But will Kobe Bryant’s career end in a cloud of dust around contested mid-range jumpers that drag down his team’s potential efficiency? Or will he attempt the least shots since 2004 and adapt intelligently to a new offense around the team’s new best player (Dwight Howard) (Artwork: Amand Ferrell)


By Jay Ramos

Los Angeles Lakers Snapshot
2010-11 record: 41-15
2012-13 Projected Record: 59-23
Predicted Finish: 2nd (Western Conference), 1st (Pacific Division)

The Los Angeles Lakers offseason was paradoxical in a way, because it turned heads while concurrently following a trend in Laker history.

They acquired a franchise center from a small market team over the summer in Dwight Howard. But it’s a move that has historically happened in cycles from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal, and now Howard.

The Orlando Magic turned down a reportedly more enticing deal from the Houston Rockets for Howard and somehow decided instead to do a four-team trade in which Howard ended up on the Lakers.

This is all very normal when compared to the history of the NBA and the Lakers.

So the Lakers get a player who makes them marginally better offensively, if at all, but who is a huge defensive upgrade and transforms the Lakers into a very good defensive team immediately.

Howard is the single most impactful defensive player in the game. Howard’s weak side help defense,  athleticism in defending pick-and-roll’s, and disruptive precense at the rim give him the ability to single handedly control games from the defensive side of the floor. Lakers coach Mike Brown is a defensive oriented coach who will find this to be his favorite part of Dwight’s game.

But of course, there is a lot more to Dwight. They’re is also a lot more to the Lakers now that they also landed Steve Nash, but that only is mentioned in the third paragraph of this article because of how much talent the Lakers actually amassed this offseason.

The Lakers also kept Jordan Hill and picked up Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks to complement their core.

So as the Lakers will go from being an average defensive team to a very good one thanks to Dwight’s precense, the real story is the Lakers offense, which will dominate every storyline.

SHOWTIME

And with the added intruige that they will employ a variation of the Princeton offense, there is hope, as a basketball fan, that they will play beautiful basketball as their parts complement each other almost perfectly on the floor.

First of all, the Princeton offense stresses motion and off-the-ball screening, and can be run in various sets. It mostly runs out of a 4-out-1 in system where four perimeter players are outside the arc while one post player sets up down low or on the elbow. What this does is give the player in the post space to operate and a bevy of options as a passer to cutting players and spot up shooters.

The offense can also operate in a five-out set where every player is evenly spaced out beyond the arc, making isolations for say, Kobe Bryant, plays that will provide him plenty of space and player movement around him to pass if a good shot doesn’t evolve.

If Pau Gasol would step put and shoot a few more threes, it would add a nice dimension to the offense , but overall, the Lakers pieces can work in the Princeton offense, because it has a savvy, reactive point guard in Steve Nash who can make quick decisions.

As awesome as Nash’ efficiency and decision making is for the offense, I am as excited for what this means for Gasol.

Sure, Howard is the more dominant option down low and should get more oportunites, but the Lakers All-Star power foward, Gasol, could fit into multiple wrinkles of the Princeton. Gasol is a mid-range threat Howard is not, so he can pop out as the inside man in a way Howard can’t, and he also adds the acumen as a solid high post passer who can find a cutting Bryant, or an open Meeks off a staggered screen, or Jamison rolling off a screen from Howard or Metta World Peace.

The Lakers acquired a few future Hall of Famers in one offseason, but Jodie Meeks also helps the team in an area of need: Shooting (PHOTO: Matt Slocum, AP)

The options will be abundant.

Sebastian Pruiti explains how the new offense can work in Los Angeles here, with video from Eddie Jordan’s Washington Wizards. Jordan will be an assistant on the Lakers staff responsible for instituting portions of this offense.

Although this new offensive philosophy will have us antsy to see how it will work for the Lakers, they probably won’t be rolling it out all that much immediately, and surely not every play either way.

In fact, with a point guard like Nash and individual talent that team has, breaking out of the princeton and running pick-and-rolls and isolations with Bryant or Nash as handlers will present itself as appealing opportunities as well.

As complex as the Princeton can be in a relatively dull NBA in terms of offensive schematics, the Lakers can be just as or even more effective with one of the most efficient but plain plays in the game, the age old P&R between Nash and Howard.

It’s very simple. Nash is a terrific passer and a sleek operator off of picks, and he will find Howard to be the best finisher he has ever played with, over Amare Stoudemire. Since we usually go very text heavy around here, let’s give us all a break and show visual evidence of how special Nash is as a P&R handler, thanks to the good people at Bball Breakdown.

The statistics paint the picture as well.

Just last season, Howard shot 74 percent and netted 1.36 points per possession as a roller in these situations, according to Synergy Sports data. This was good enough to rank him second in the league. Nash, on the other hand, shot 53.6 percent as a P&R handler and notched 0.92 PPP, while creating plenty of opportunities for the likes of Marcin Gortat along the way.

Amare Stoudemire and Jameer Nelson are good players, but neither Nash nor Howard have ever been paired with such a potent complement in the 1-5 (C-PG) pick-and-roll.

So there will be times, regardless of how often the Princeton offense is in play, or when it breaks down, that Nash and Howard P&R’s give the Lakers very efficient offense.

And oh yea, the Lakers have some pretty good individual scorers as well in Howard, Nash and Bryant. This brings us to the Kobe Quandary.

THE KOBE QUANDARY

As the Lakers try to run their offense with the direction of the Princeton through Nash’ eyes, there is also the fact that the Lakers have a future hall of famer in the wing who is past his prime, but still an All-Star caliber player. This is an issue because, we’ll, this player, for as great as he is, has a reputation for taking bad shots sometimes and stopping ball movement.

I found myself lambasting Bryant at times last year, for taking a high amount of questionable shots and being inefficient across the board as a scorer, with the exception of getting to the line frequently and converting at a high percentage. I also had to realize that the Lakers had nothing outside of Bryant on the perimeter, and this played a factor in him having to carry the load. He averaged 28 points per game in 23 shots, which isn’t bad overall, but I felt that the Lakers should have attempted to create even more offense for their bigs.

Either way, I’ve always had this issue with Bryant. The only thing that sets him apart from Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade, in my opinion the two best shooting guards ever, is shot selection. Kobe takes more questionable shots, especially of the mid range variety.

He has a chance to play a smart game in 2012-13, and he has the intelligence too, but that’s what makes him so maddening, because I still think I will find myself shaking my head when he pounds his chest and shoots a bad shot over multiple defenders as the game draws to an end, or when he breaks the offense to look his own shot at the expense of his star big men.

At this stage in his career, Bryant has a chance to shoot one one of the highest field goal percentage’s of his career, right around his career marks of 46 or 47 percent, is he plays patiently and works mostly off the ball and in the post. There is no need for him to come close to shooting as many 3-pointers as he took last season (30 percent of five attempts per game).

If Bryant can shoot less than 20 times a game, and between 15-17 times with as many quality looks as Kobenly possible, the Lakers can flourish. That would also be the least amount of shots he has taken per game since the 2004 season when the Lakers added Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Hopefully for the Lakers, he can be more efficient with it this time (43.8 FG% in 04)

And this is the Kobe quandary as his career nears end. A former superstar needs to adapt to a complementary role around Howard, and how he handles this will determine how unstoppable the Lakers will be offensively.

THE THUNDER MATCHUP

Without disrespecting the greatness of the Spurs, we will proceed to analyze the Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder matchup, as I think they are the two best teams in the Western Conference.

As I explained in some detail in the OKC preview here. I think as much as Howard helps deter Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook attacks to the hole, the Thunder go to the line a lot (2nd in FTA in 2011-12, 1st in FT%). They’re field goal efficiency may go down with Howard down there, but they’ll keep attacking. This presents a problem for Howard, because foul trouble could be adrift.

In addition, as great as Howard is, he isn’t going to cover ground from the paint to the three point line with  closeouts and he isn’t playing 5-on-1. The Lakers perimeter defenders are unappealing.

I think the Lakers will struggle to closeout and contest Harden and Durant 3-pointers. World Peace and Bryant aren’t the defenders they once we’re, and to be fair, nobody really stops Durant and Harden beyond the arc anyway. Also, Nash has no chance of bothering OKC’s stars out ther either. The Thunder we’re an above average shooting team from long distance last season (36 percent) and attempted 20 three’s a game.

The Thunder also have a center in Kendrick Perkins with a history of bothering Howard, as his career averages in head-to-head matchups actually falter vs. Perk. They might actually have use for Perkins in this matchup.

The Thunder’s small lineup will be something the Lakers probably won’t have many answers for, as the Thunder’s mediocre defense will also struggle to contain L.A’s abundance of talent.

This series will be high scoring before it is low scoring, but I expect the Thunder to grab the best record in the conference, while the Lakers will beat them in the playoffs, once they have clicked as a unit.

The overabundance of talent is as overwhelming as Miami’s is and I fully expect a Heat-Lakers finals.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: 30 teams in 30 days is a 30 day series where each NBA team is previewed for the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season. The project is a collaboration by Jay Ramos at Courtbully.com, and Ryan Hebert at HebertofNHhoops.com, as each daily preview will be posted on both sites. We will attempt to give the informed fan the best preview possible, by incorporating storylines, schematics, statistics and context into each preview, in hopes that you don’t see our work as another offseason capsule in our long wait to see live NBA basketball this fall.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: Houston Rockets 2012-13 preview

September 7th, 2012 by


 He got Jeremy Lin, but will Daryl Morey finally get the superstar he’s been seeking? (PHOTO: Dave Einsel, AP)


By Ryan Hebert

Houston Rockets Snapshot
2011-12 Record: 34-32
2012-13 Projected Record: 25-57
Predicted Finish: 5th (Southwest Division), 15th (Western Conference)

If there was a trade rumor to be involved in this summer, Houston Rockets and GM Daryl Morey were trying to get right in the middle of it.

Daryl Morey is a smart, smart man. He attended MIT, has much experience in sports analysis and advanced metrics, worked under Danny Ainge as a highly touted assistant, and has uncovered countless underrated and overachieving late-round draft picks and free agents as a General Manager. His issue as a GM is that, without a star player, there is no such thing as contending in the NBA. Daryl liquidated all of his assets to get draft picks, (turning out to be Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, and Terrence Jones), which were meant to be used in a trade for Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum. Both of those attempts failed. No, beyond Chris Paul or Dwight Howard hitting the open market, which would go beyond surprising, there are no superstars in the NBA to be had. To contend without one is rare, and at most you would be running for the eighth seed in a tough division.

Ever since Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady moved on from the franchise, in part due to injuries and terrible luck, Houston has been a mediocre franchise in terms of their on-court product. They play hard, but don’t have the talent necessary to truly compete at the highest level. Morey has searched every corner of the NBA for a blockbuster deal, and for reasons, *including Basketball*, has never been able to get his superstar.

Right now, the Rockets are stuck with a bevvy of tweener small forwards who will fight for playing time and never truly develop due to a lack of minutes, Jeremy Lin at point guard and Omer Asik in the middle. Jeremy Lamb can turn into a good shooting guard, but he’s no different than Kevin Martin who is sitting right ahead of him in the rotation. It would be hard for a fan to get attached to a team that they know won’t be there in February, so it’s tough to also project how they will play. The roster isn’t rounded; it has both deficiencies and surpluses, specifically at power forward, that make most of the players and pieces on the team look more like trade assets rather than future Rockets. No deals are imminent for Houston right now, and no stars seem to be on the move. It seems to be a dead end that Morey has found, which will inevitably lead to a fire-sale of his assets and bottoming out for a lottery pick. That isn’t a bad place to be. The bad place to be would be presenting a false front and marketing the current squad as a winning product.  So long as Houston and Morey are honest with themselves, they should find a way out of this situation with at least a top-five selection, and possibly a star player if someone bites on a trade offer. There are too many variable to account for when projecting the Rockets and possible trade scenarios.

Instead of focusing on all of the bad things happening due to a misshapen roster and failed trades, I will instead use the last paragraph to celebrate Royce White’s NBA career.

White is the hybrid point-forward who has been lighting up twitter lately with his passing, taste in music and movies, and most importantly his openness about living with anxiety disorder. Royce has a well-documented history of issues posed by his disorder, has had issues with flying, media, and the different rigors of the “Basketball life”. Houston was the only team willing to take a flyer on such a different individual, which is a shame because he was a top-10 talent but also a success, because he easily could have gone undrafted. White will be the NBA’s credible voice for mental health awareness, (Metta World Peace isn’t the best ambassador), and his work in the world will go beyond what he does as an exciting passer and playmaker on the court. White provides a voice and a hero to many children and fans of basketball who suffer from similar disorders, and has been very outgoing in his support for others.

Watching his career blossom in the twitter era, with all we know about him and his condition, will be a bit of an experiment, but White seems strong enough to make his career worthwhile and profitable; both for himself, his team, and others with anxiety disorder and mental health issue.

His honesty is refreshing, and he’s already won over many fans and bloggers with his online interactions and candor in any interview that he gives. Look for White to be one of the most popular players of his generation, for both the way he plays and the people he will be representing.

Stats, Schemes and Narratives: 30 teams in 30 days is a 30 day series where each NBA team is previewed for the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season. The project is a collaboration by Jay Ramos at Courtbully.com, and Ryan Hebert at HebertofNHhoops.com, as each daily preview will be posted on both sites. We will attempt to give the informed fan the best preview possible, by incorporating storylines, schematics, statistics and context into each preview, in hopes that you don’t see our work as another offseason capsule in our long wait to see live NBA basketball this fall.

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