Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stop Destroying Dreams, Nate McMillan

It's official: Two of my favorite young players in this league have been destroyed by Nate McMillan. This article made it official that Sergio Rodriguez is out of the point-guard rotation for the Blazers this year, which disappoints me to no end- if I had to make a list of my favorite players in the league, it would look like this:

1. LeBron
2. The Namesake, Stephen Jackson, Monta, Andris, and the rest of Nellie's heroic underdogs
3. Amare/Nash
4. Oden
5. Kobe
6. Sergio

And now Sergio's not even going to play big minutes. The worst part is that this isn't the first time Nate has reduced one of my favorite players to nothingness.

Full disclosure: I love Sebastian Telfair. A lot of that has to do with the fact that "The Last Shot" is one of my top-3 all-time favorite basketball books, and when you learn just how hard it is for kids to make it out of Coney Island, it's impossible not to root for them. I'm going to put a full article up about it one of these days, but for now I'll just say that Sebastian and his cousin, Stephon Marbury, have been through some stuff we can't understand. Additionally, the documentary made about him, Through The Fire, was my favorite basketball movie since Hoop Dreams, working as a sort of companion piece to it; Hoop Dreams was about the brutality of failure, while Through The Fire works as a cautionary tale of what happens when success touches someone who has seen nothing but failure in his life. (It's a kind of full-length version of the brief glimpses we got in The Last Shot of Stephon Marbury as a cocky freshman.)

I am also not immune to the allure of legend of the New York City Point Guard. Thanks to Sonny Vaccaro, high-level basketball has become rigidly mechanical at all levels. LeBron James' game was forged by authority; from the time he was in middle school, he was plucked from his single-parent home in Akron, lived with his coach, played in organized scrimmages and practices that the coach ran at the local community center, learning how to use his left and jump-stop correctly. His summers were spent not in playgrounds, but playing AAU ball and at high-level camps like Five-Star and ABCD. By the time he was a sophomore in high school, he was a part of big-business basketball; he was posing for SLAM Magazine, his high school was hopping on charter jets to play in sold-out tournaments against prep school basketball factories like Oak Hill Academy, the womb of Carmelo, and by the time he was a senior, he was playing in nationally televised games in NBA-quality uniforms with personalized sneakers. In his senior year in high school, he had already begun to be confused or bored by simple pickup games, a reflection of his recognition that basketball without purpose was meaningless. People were surprised at his maturity when he got to the pros, but one has to wonder why; he's been in the business of basketball for as long as he can remember.

All of this makes a player like Telfair, or at least his legend, very refreshing. Telfair's game was forged on the asphalt under the projects; he perfected his crossover not under the guidance of coaches, but against his peers. He did not play against boys who played basketball constantly because they had been indoctrinated that basketball was to be their life, but against men who loved basketball because they knew all too well the realities of life outside of basketball, and latched onto it as a way to escape that life. His workouts were not programs designed to make him perfect, but dribbling around boxes at 6 in the morning and running stairs every day under the guidance of his brother, driven not by the desire to become perfect but the desire to escape what was horrible. Yes, he went to ABCD camp, and famously out dueled LeBron there, but he still went home to the streets of Coney Island, and workouts on the blacktop. In a culture where even Streetball isn't actually streetball, but a sneaker-company brand name publicized on ESPN, Telfair seemed destined to become the bridge between the new rigid system of channeling talent and the playgrounds where the game we know was born as a way to feel sheer joy and accomplishment in places where there was none of either to be had.

And during his first season, it looked like he actually might pull it off. After a rocky start, near the end of the year, he began to flourish with all the skills he'd learned in Coney Island; blinding speed, an inhuman crossover, no-look passes that spanned area codes, and bold forays to the basket. The kid that nobody thought could make it in the world of real basketball was beginning to fulfill his destiny in the first year of the point-guard revolution. The Blazers apparently thought so too, passing on Chris Paul so as not to block Telfair's rise.

Then Nate McMillan came in. He slowed everything down, decided that walking the ball down the court and dumping it to Zach Randolph was the best way to play, made Bassy take off his headband, and generally attempted to take all the Coney Island out of Telfair's game. Telfair struggled mightily that second year, and was traded to the Celtics. (for Brandon Roy-I'm not saying that wasn't a steal, although Roy's calculating game is much less thrilling than the game that dwells inside of Telfair.) On the Celtics, he found another old-school coach who made Telfair dump the ball to Al Jefferson and be done-the game I went to, Telfair was on the bench the entire first half, and whenever he caught it, he stood there like a deer in headlights and made a safe pass, save for one time when he decided to drive, blew by the defense in the blink of an eye, and laid it in, showing us a flash of what still lies dormant in Telfair.

And now Sergio Rodriguez has been banished into obscurity, sitting behind 3 point guards who have proven their mediocrity. There is nothing mediocre about Sergio Rodriguez; there is an argument to be made that he is the best passer this side of Steve Nash, as his % of possessions that end in assists, as well as the % of his team's baskets that come off his passes rival Nash's. More than that, he's simply gorgeous to watch; it's always great to see a player dominate the game with perfect pass after perfect pass, many of the spectacular variety; he's one of the few players that takes it upon himself to create a great shot for a teammate every single time down the floor, and possesses the skill to do so. Watching a summer league game between the Sonics and the Blazers, it was eye-opening to see Kevin Durant (supposed future franchise player), drift in and out of possessions, struggle to get good position, and end up missing a fadeaway, while Rodriguez (supposed non-rotation player) constantly flew into the teeth of the defense, drew them all to him, then found the open man perfectly for a wide-open shot. It was one of the best displays of point-guard play I've ever seen, and all the announcers could talk about was how good Kevin Durant's form looked on that last missed turnaround. Of course, there was also Sergio's breakout quarter in the NBA.

I'm not one to beat a dead horse, and this one's as dead as they come, but today's NBA is so often about one-on-one play. I'm not as livid about this as most sportswriters are, because the athletes have become so good at what they do that complicated offensive schemes have become superfluous; with the new rules and quality of the athletes, just getting LeBron James or Dwayne Wade a little separation off a screen or an isolation will often end in a basket, probably of the spectacular variety. But for every James or Wade, it seems like there are 3 or 4 misguided swingmen who think that a contested fadeaway with 18 seconds left on the shot clock is a good idea, and that just makes me cringe-watching Larry Hughes do this 15 times a game last season almost made me the world's youngest coronary patient. So when a guard like Sergio comes along and replaces one-on-one moves like that with dribble-penetration, backdoor cuts, perfectly run pick-and-rolls, and quality kick-outs, making every shot an open jumper or a spectacular finish, the beauty of the game shines all the way through at a visceral level, just like a kid from Coney Island taking his street-made game to the pros and dropping dimes to factory-made stars on the fast-break allows the beauty of the game to shine through on an emotional level.

Sergio and Telfair are both meant to play in systems that highlight their considerable talents, but they have found themselves in situations where their talents are seen as non-existent, and their weaknesses have been highlighted. It would be one thing if the system worked, but it hasn't: the Blazers and Celtics both enjoyed two of the worst records in the NBA last season. I forgive Mike Brown ignoring LeBron's ability to amaze in a full-court game because his plain-looking brand of basketball got him to the finals, but there is no excuse for putting shackles on talented point guards and ignoring the revolution simply because you believe it to be so. So please, Nate McMillan, let Sergio free. Play pressure defense, run off of loose balls, get Sergio high screens in the half-court, and let him amaze all of us. If you don't want him, trade him to the Warriors, or trade him to the Cavaliers and let him and LeBron do things on the fast break that will make Magic and Worthy look like 50-year old men at the YMCA. I don't care how it happens, but please allow me to see a point guard that elevates the game into the level of collective poetry, instead of acting like the principal from Dead Poets Society and attempting to pass him off as just another mediocre point guard. There is greatness inside of Sergio Rodriguez and Sebastian Telfair, and I hope that I will some day get to see it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Off-Season Adventures of the Cleveland Cavaliers: Danny Ferry's Desk

Danny Ferry(Wearing a shirt that says "We were not in a position to offer Ray Allen or Michael Redd a max-dollar deal" on one side and "We did not have the assets necessary to complete a sign-and-trade for Joe Johnson" on the other side): Crap, I really have to make a move this off-season. Everyone's getting up my ass, and I have to improve this team. I better get on the phone. (Calls Kings GM Geoff Petrie)

Ferry: Hey Geoff, it's Danny.

Petrie: Hi, Danny.

Ferry: So anyways, we'd really like to get Mike Bibby on our team. He can run an offense and shoot from outside, two things our offense has been sorely lacking, and he could really make a difference on our team.

Petrie: Well, he's not untouchable; he's got a huge contract, and he's been getting worse the last few years. What can you offer me?

Ferry: This is hard for me to do, but I'm willing to offer you Drew Gooden.

Petrie: You want to essentially trade a point guard who scored 17 points per game in an off-year for a power forward who averaged 11 points in a career year straight-up?

Ferry: That's right, I am actually prepared to offer you this deal. And Drew's only on the hook for $14 million dollars over the next two years. Financial freedom, thy name is Gooden.

Petrie: I'm not sure. Drew's pretty light-skinned, but with him, Kevin Martin, and Ron Artest, we'd be starting the equivalent of two black players per game. That flies in the face of our organizational policies.

Ferry: Drew plays the piano.

Petrie: Hmm. That is good. Still, I worry about his consistency. For a big man, he shoots a pretty low percentage, he regularly follows up 8-11 games with 3-14 games, and he shot 44% for the entirety of December and February.

Ferry: Well, don't worry about that. We asked him what the problem was then, and he explained that he's from the Bay Area, and he couldn't function well in the colder months.

Petrie: He doesn't like the cold?

Ferry: Sort of. In his words, his Spirit Cougar has to hibernate during the colder months, which makes it tougher for him to hit the basket. That's just common sense. But you guys are in California, so you won't have that problem!

Petrie: That does make sense, although I can't help but worry about how his spirit cougar will interact with Ron Artest's invisible bipolar leprechaun mentor.

Ferry: Look, you guys need interior scoring, defense, and rebounding. Drew provides all of those things.

Petrie: I'm not sure about that. I was looking at game film of Drew,

Ferry: (Expletive)

Petrie: Anyways, Drew can rebound, but he never posts up, and is one of the worst defensive players I've ever seen.

Ferry: Drew's very good at defending people right in front of him, but you can't expect a big man to be able to defend the entire paint all by himself. He's not The Flash, Geoff.

Petrie: You're preaching to the choir here, Danny; as the guy who employs Brad Miller and Spencer Hawes, I couldn't agree with you more. But those guys are white. And not just white. Power white. The only reason Bibby's even available is because he has a posse. And I did just sign Mikki Moore, who led the league in field goal % last year, was the NBDL defensive player of the year, and rebounds at a decent clip. He's also borderline insane, so I just don't know what need we would have for Drew at this point. Sorry. I am sick of Ron Artest's attitude; what can you offer me for him?

Ferry: We're not interested. We already have a shooting guard who slashes to the rim, plays lock-down defense, and can shoot from the outside? Why would we want Ron Artest?

Petrie: Because he actually does do those things.

Ferry: Be that as it may, we don't like bad attitudes on this team. Good day. (Hangs up.)

Mike Brown: Don't worry. Bibby doesn't play defense, and we have no use for him. The Spurs, Suns, and Mavericks all start defensive liabilities at point guard, and look where it's gotten them. Besides, we don't need Bibby to make our offense work. I've got some new plays drawn up for this season, and believe me, we're going to light other teams up. They're not going to know what hit them when I bust out the "reverse motion" offense. Every defense in the league is designed to stop teams from getting to the basket, so they won't know what to do when Larry dishes it to LeBron running away from the basket at full-speed. (Grimaces happily.) Oh, and Anderson Varejao and his agent, Dan Fegan, are here to discuss his contract.

Ferry: Crap. Let them in.

Fegan: Hello, Danny.

Ferry: Burn in hell.

Fegan: Let's discuss Anderson's contract.

Ferry: I'm prepared to offer you an extension worth around 5-6 million dollars per year.

(Varejao instinctively falls out of his chair and crashes to the floor.)

Fegan: Not now, Andy. Look, it's pretty clear that Anderson is a franchise-type player. He's a young, athletic big man with a nose for the ball and a great motor. There are really no weaknesses in his game.

Ferry: He can't pass, shoot, handle the ball, score with his back to the basket, block shots, or guard big forwards.

Fegan: Don't try to swindle me, Danny. He runs the pick-and-roll with LeBron well. This isn't Ferry-world. My previous contracts have clearly established the value of a solid power forward in this league. Troy Murphy is making $10 million a year over the next 4 years, and Nene is making $10 million a year over the next 5 years. Nene is a Brazilian power forward; Anderson is a Brazilian power forward. That's called binding legal precedent.

Ferry: Well, I went to Duke, so I know you're full of crap with that big language. You're dealing with a guy with actual schooling.

Fegan: I went to Yale law.

Ferry: Oh. Well, be that as it may, Drew only makes $7 million dollars a year, and he's our starting power forward. Anderson is our backup power forward. I'm not paying a backup more than a starter. Checkmate.

Fegan: Well, I looked at the statistics,

Ferry: (Long string of expletives)

Fegan: And your team is a full 12 points per game better when Anderson is in for Drew, and he's on the floor in crunch-time of every game. There's really no valid reason why he isn't starting.

Ferry: Are you questioning the intelligence of my head coach?

(Mike Brown starts to exit the room in a huff, but instead of going straight to the door, he curls around the desk, walks over to the opposite wall, and eventually ends up walking into a flower pot before exiting the room.)


Ferry: Look, we just think you're overvaluing your client.

Fegan: Look, Dan-O, no team has ever been unhappy when they've signed one of my players. When was the last time you heard anyone regretting signing Troy Murphy, Erick Dampier, Shaun Marion, Earl Watson, Jason Terry, Stephen Jackson, Yi Jianlian, Jason Richardson, Austin Croshere, Ruben Patterson, Shandon Anderson, Reggie Evans, Dermarr Johnson, or Eduardo Najera to big contracts? None of those players have ever been completely ineffective, ended up getting traded in a contract dump, gotten an inflated ego because of me and demanded a trade, or nearly caused an international incident. I know you'll do the right thing.

Ferry: I don't much care for your fancy Big-10 logic, but it's pretty good. However, I think a team-crippling holdout situation is always better than overpaying a few million dollars. I believe that we have reached a stalemate.

Fegan: Later.

Ferry: I better make a trade. A big trade. (Picks up op-ed column that says the Cavs should trade for Shaun Marion, calls Suns GM Steve Kerr.)

Ferry: Hey, Steve.

Kerr: Hey, Danny.

Ferry: So I was seeing that Shaun Marion is unhappy over there in Phoenix.

Kerr: Yeah, he's being pretty sulky, which can happen after a heart-breaking playoff loss and a whole summer to sulk about it. But he's got a max-dollar deal, he's in the perfect situation, and I think once training camp starts up he'll see that we're serious about getting a championship now, which is something he won't find if he gets traded. I saw the same thing happen with Scottie Pippen back when I played for Chicago, and he had a contract dispute with an ownership that didn't appreciate him, so I think Shaun will come around sooner rather than later.

Ferry: Steve, you and I both know how ridiculous that sounds. Your only option is to trade him, and soon. And I just happen to have the perfect package in place.

Kerr: I'll give you five minutes because I'm a nice guy.

Ferry: Two words: Larry Hughes.

Kerr: What?

Ferry: He'd be perfect for the Suns. He doesn't work in our system because we play a half-court game, which is the only logical way to play when you have the best open-court player since Magic Johnson on your team. But you guys run-and-gun, which is perfect for Larry. He's an ultra-athletic slasher who can see the floor and run the court, and he'd be perfect in the Suns system. Also, you guys have some real problems defensively, and Larry's a stopper. Plus, I know how scared of the luxury tax you guys are, and Larry's only on the hook for $36 million over the next three years! So I'll send the paperwork over to your office, and you guys can start printing out jerseys.

Kerr: Hold on a second, Danny. I actually watch basketball,

Ferry: (5-minute string of unfiltered expletives in multiple languages)

Kerr: So I know that while Larry might have been a slasher earlier in his career, age and injuries have turned him into a jump shooter who looks for his own shot first, can't get to the basket consistently, has trouble finishing when he does, and doesn't have consistent 3-point range. Also, he's overrated defensively, and we have a much better defender in Raja Bell, not to mention that Shaun Marion might be the best defensive player in the league. I see no way that this trade would help us in any conceivable way.

Ferry: I can see how it might look that way at first. But think about it. Shaun can't create his own shot, and plays best when he's getting the ball cutting to the basket or for a spot-up shot, while Larry excels at creating his own shot-he can fire off a contested 20-footer at any time.

Kerr: We have the best point guard in the league, and our offense is based around him creating shots for other people. The only two players on your team I'd be interested in are Varejao, who rebounds, plays defense, and runs the court, but you guys didn't want to trade him when he was in the last year of his rookie deal, and I'm not paying $8 million for him now. But I do like that young Daniel Gibson; he's an athlete who can flat-out shoot, and we could always use a player like that so that Nash doesn't have to play 35 minutes a game 82 times a year.

Ferry: Slow down, Steve. We really like Daniel. He just exploded from relative obscurity to put up the best games of his life in the playoffs, exceeding all possible expectations of him. You never sell an asset when its value is really, really high. I didn't even need to go to business school to learn that. I am, however, willing to part with Drew Gooden.

Kerr: Never call me again.

(Sasha Pavlovic and his agent, Mark Goldstein, enter the room.)

Ferry: Hello, Mark.

Goldstein: Hi, Danny. Let's talk business. Sasha had a great year for you, he's still under the radar, and he's a great young piece for this franchise. We'd like a reasonable extension that would ensure that Sasha will spend his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ferry: Now how did the idea get in your head that we'd want to make any kind of significant effort to keep Sasha?

Goldstein: Well, he's your starting shooting guard, shot 45% from the field, 40% from 3-point range, and 80% from the line, and averaged a solid 14 points per game once he was made a starter. He's also the only player other than LeBron who can consistently get to the basket and finish, and he plays very solid defense.

Ferry: Meh. Sasha's good at making plays, but we already have LeBron to drive to the basket. There's no sense in having two players who can drive to the basket. We want to surround LeBron with shooters.

Goldstein: Sasha shot 40% from 3.

Ferry: Look, you can twist the facts all you want, but Sasha wasn't all that great for the entire first two thirds of the season.

Goldstein: Well, he was on the bench.

Ferry: Mike had his reasons for keeping him on the bench, and I have full faith in him.

Goldstein: Well, be that as it may, I don't see how you can judge my client on what he did before he had a chance to play, and I'm not sure he didn't deserve to get a chance earlier. It's impossible to make an impact from the bench.

Mike Brown(from other room): Not in the Reverse Motion offense!


Goldstein: Sasha shot significantly higher percentages than Larry Hughes from the field, the 3-point line, and the free throw line, and played defense that was just as good as, if not better than, Larry's all season. The only thing Larry is better than Sasha at is shooting more, which really isn't all that impressive of a skill. You have no problem giving Larry $12 million a year, but you don't want to give Sasha $5 million?

Ferry: You're undervaluing Larry's contributions to this team. When we switched Larry to point guard, we had one of the best records in basketball.

Goldstein: That was also the first time the team was fully healthy and Sasha had a starting role. Isn't it possible that putting a good player into the starting lineup from the bench had more of an impact than making an ineffective shooting guard into an ineffective point guard?

Ferry: Look, this franchise is tight for cash. We can't just be throwing money around willy-nilly.

Goldstein: Didn't you just build a $25 million practice facility?

Ferry: That's important. We have treadmills that lower into water.

Goldstein: And you bought LeBron James a lion.

Ferry: LeBron likes lions. Look, Sasha doesn't have a lot of options here. He can take the peanuts or not play.

Goldstein: He'll play in Europe.

Ferry: That's ridiculous. Who would ever do something as petulant and selfish as that?

Goldstein: You.

Ferry: Okay. Sasha looks like a vampire. It creeps me out. I'll keep in touch.

(Sasha and Goldstein leave)

Ferry: Jesus, the world's gone mad. I can't get anything done. I couldn't even sign Alan Anderson. What we need is a shooter, a point guard, and a proven veteran, who can lead this team. But he'll need to be unhappy in his current situation; off-court troubles drive value way down. And he'll need to have GM even worse than me to trade him away. (Jumps up from desk, reaches for phone.)

Ferry: Hey, Isiah! It's me, Danny. How's the trial going? Good. Look, I've got a trade for you. How do you guys feel about Larry Hughes? I thought that's what you'd say-I think he'd be a great Knick too. Who do I want back? Well, that's kind of the interesting part. (pause) Do you still have sneakers that fit?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Examining the point guard revolution, part 1: The Value of Luke Ridnour

I believe that we are in the throes of a point guard revolution. In the summer of 2004, the point guard position had become somewhat of an afterthought. The Dallas Mavericks allowed Steve Nash to walk, and gave his money to Erick Dampier, the clear implication being that it was more important to have someone who could anchor the defense than run the offense, and that Nash's offensive contributions were far from vital. (I realize that Nash's health and age were a factor, but the culture of the time was far more important; would they have even thought about doing this today?) In The Sporting News' season preview, Sam Cassell, a shoot-first, second, and third player, was their top-ranked point guard, and their explanation about him basically said "we're as surprised as you, but where are the point guards?"

Jason Kidd, one of the best pass-first point guards of the last long while (I'm swearing off superlatives for a while), was traded straight-up for shoot-first Stephon Marbury in 2001, and promptly led his team to the NBA finals and almost won the MVP, but was apparently still no Stephon Marbury or Sam Cassell in the eyes of the experts. Then, in the 04-05 season, the rules changed, the Suns happened, Steve Nash won the MVP, and the point guard position was back with a vengeance. But how have teams been handling the revolution? Is it for real? Which type of point guard is the best? These are the questions we'll attempt to answer this week at TBF.

So I was thinking even more about Kevin Durant. Like I said in the earlier posts, I believe that Durant lacks the explosiveness to be a franchise scorer/player like LeBron, Kobe, and Wade, but belive that he could be absolutely deadly if he is used as an off-ball player; if someone was able to get him the ball for open jumpers and get him the ball in the right spots after drawing coverage, his ability to move without the ball, ability to find seams in defenses, and body control could make him a deadly scorer.

Then I realized that unlike Kobe, LeBron, Arenas, and almost every other perimeter superstar in the league, Durant will be paired up with a true point guard from the very beginning, a pass-first guy whose chief skills are the ones described above. Luke Ridnour averaged 8.4 assists per 48 minutes last year; Smush Parker and Larry Hughes, Kobe and LeBron's starting point guards, barely averaged more than that combined.

But has anybody said "Gee, it sure is great that Durant is going to get to play with a distributor like Luke Ridnour right out of the gate, he'll be able to set up Durant with some good looks." No. Around draft time, all we heard about Luke Ridnour was "If the Hawks trade the #11 pick for Luke Ridnour, they should gouge out their own eyes as penance." The Sonics even drafted another distributor, Jeff Green, to supplement Luke.

Luke is supposed to be the exact kind of player who should flourish in the revolution. He was drafted in 2003, the year before the revolution. When he was drafted, Jay Bilas simply said "He couldn't lift the bench press once, and he couldn't guard the chair I'm sitting on." He's not a physical player, and doesn't play a lot of defense. He would always rather pass than shoot. He's not blindingly fast, but is quick enough to get into the lane, thanks to the hand-check rules. He is a tried-and-true point guard, and runs the offense. He can shoot the 3-ball.

So why has he only been marginally effective? Seattle fans are far from unjustified in their indifference towards Luke; Seattle doesn't win a ton of games, and the offense actually plays worse when Luke's on the floor. While point guards as quarterbacks is its own post (coming later in the week), Luke would be Chad Pennington; unexciting, does his job well, but not well enough so that he's considered a permanent solution.

If the Luke-type of point guard is supposed to be the chief benefactors of the renaissance, why are they in low demand? Let's see if we can't find out.

Here are my characteristics of a Luke-type point guard (3 out of the 4 characteristics are enough to get onto the list):

-Good, if not deadly, shooters
-Poor defense
-able to get into the lane

With that said, here's my list, with their +/- on offense next to them:

-Brevin Knight (-1.4)
-Kirk Hinrich (+3.6)
-Steve Blake (+2.5)
-Jamaal Tinsley (-0.1)
-Shaun Livingston (-0.5; only fulfills 2 of the 4 characteristics, but is such a good passer I couldn't leave him off)
-Jordan Farmar (-2.8)
-Jason Williams (+2.2)
-Mo Williams (+2.9)
-Jason Kidd (+8.5)
-Chris Paul (+8.7)
-Carlos Arroyo (-2.0)
-Steve Nash (+12.5)
-Andre Miller (+5.0)
-Jarret Jack (-1.4)
-Sergio Rodriguez (-2.8)
-Jose Calderon (+3.3)
-T.J. Ford (-2.7)
-Luke Ridnour (-1.2)
-Deron Williams (+3.0)
-Antonio Daniels (+1.3)

So when we separate it, here are the point guards whose offenses play better with them on the floor, in order (The numbers are their TS%s and their assists per 48 minutes):

-Steve Nash (.654/15.8)
-Chris Paul (.537/11.6)
-Jason Kidd (.516/12.1)
-Andre Miller (.520/9.3)
-Kirk Hinrich (.559/8.5)
-Jose Calderon (.588/11.5)
-Deron Williams (.535/12.1)
-Mo Williams (.519/8.1)
-Jason Williams (.540/8.3)
-Steve Blake (.491/9.5)
-Antonio Daniels (.572/7.9)

And here are the players whose offenses play worse when they're in, in descending order:

-Jamaal Tinsley (.465/10.6)
-Shaun Livingston (.503/8.2)
-Luke Ridnour (.509/8.4)
-Brevin Knight (.487/11.2)
-Jarrett Jack (.571/7.5)
-Carlos Arroyo (.501/7.4)
-T.J. Ford (.508/12.7)
-Jordan Farmar (.515/6.0)
-Sergio Rodriguez (.493/12.1)

So what does that mean? Well, less than I'd like it to. The "bad" point guards made 90% of the assists per 48 that their "good" cohorts did and their TS% was 90.7% of the "good" PGs. Here's what I'm coming away with:

-I realize offensive +/- is a deeply flawed stat, but it's the one I think best sums up a point guard's contribution to the offense, as no other stat measure's a point guard's ability to "make his teammates better." That being said, it's clearly far from perfect, and several of these point guards (Deron Williams, T.J. Ford, and Jarret Jack in particular) are ranked lower than they should be.

-Jose Calderon may be the most underrated player in the league.

-I would have been interested to see how these PGs were affected by the "pace" of their team, but only playoff "pace" data is available on ESPN insider. Dang.

-Many of these players suffer greatly because of their inability to finish inside-while most scorers in the NBA shoot from 60-65% on "inside" shots, many of the PGs on the "bad" list are under .500, while the top 7 point guards on the list, with the exception of Paul, are very good finishers inside. While we often boil down a player's scoring ability to consist of how fast they are and how well they can shoot, many of these players are ineffective because they can't finish.

-11 of the players are on the "good" list, while 9 are on the "bad" list, but when you take away the bona fide stars (Paul, Kidd, Nash, Williams) the "good" guys are outnumbered 9 to 7, which suggests that an average Luke-type PG isn't always the best investment.

-Defense is important, but the point of this was to try and figure out what makes a point guard good offensively, as that is the chief role of the PG, especially guys like this. Defense will be discussed later in the week.

-Although these are mainly pass-first players, the ability to score efficiently appears to be just as important as the ability to make assists for contributing to an offense.

-And if you don't think I'm dumb enough to write a hole post about PGs who play like Luke Ridnour, then forget to include Ridnour, making me have to re-do my calculations, you don't know me well enough.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

An Interesting Wrinkle in The LeBron-Jordan comparison

So this week, I decided to re-read David Halberstam's Playing For Keeps, which I couldn't recommend more highly; it's an incredible portrait of Michael Jordan, the best I've read, but more than that it encompasses the Jordan Era in basketball completely; If you read The Rivalry by John Taylor (encompasses the Wilt-Russell era, when the NBA was still a "niche" sport; Wilt scored 100 in a nearly empty arena), The Breaks of the Game by Halberstam (encompasses the NBA's transitional period between the Wilt-Russell era into a new era of Bird/Johnson/ABA integration-led commercialism and popularity), and Playing For Keeps, you'll have a pretty good grasp of the NBA from its beginning to today.

Anyways, one interesting thing that stood out in Halberstam's book was not just that Jordan was the best ever at what he did, but he seemed able to surround himself with people who were the best at what they did to help him on the way.

By the time he reached his prime, Jordan had surrounded himself with the best 2nd banana of all time (Scottie Pippen, whose greatness has been previously discussed here), one of the best rebounding/defense garbage players of all time (Rodman), some of the best 3-point shooters of all time (Paxon and Kerr), and other distinguished role players (Grant, Wennington, B.J. Armstrong, Ron Harper). His coach was the best coach of the modern era, his college coach was Dean Smith, and his assistant coach was one of the best assistant coaches of all time. (Tex Winter, architect of the legendary Triangle Offense.) And his walk-around guy, Charles Oakley, may well be the best walk-around guy of all time.

The effect even carried over to the world outside of basketball. His agent, David Falk, was an absolute genius, and is regarded as a legend among agents for his idea of marketing Jordan as an individual star. (Believe it or not, at the time it was unheard of to design a marketing campaign around someone who played a team sport; when he first unveiled his plan, the executives said "Do you think Michael's a tennis player?") He made ads that still stand out as brilliant works of art, directed by none other than Spike Lee. His shoe was Nike, the king of the sneaker world, and his sneaker is the legendary Air Jordan, the most-demanded sneaker of all time. His trainer, Tim Grover, is still regarded as the best trainer in the world today, and continues to help athletes turn their careers around. Gatorade, the drink he promoted, is still on every sideline. Hell, his biographer is the best nonfiction writer of the last century.

(One debatable aspect of this theory is Michael's GM, Jerry Krause. While most agree that he was something of a savant at finding talent where others wouldn't, and was responsible for the drafting and signing of Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc, among other brilliant moves, he was in many ways completely illogical, making nonsensical draft decisions and desperately trying to trade for Keith Van Horn and Michael Olowakandi. Even more, his personality made everyone in the organization bitter, and ultimately led to Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen leaving tread marks on their way out, causing the dynasty to end in a hurry. I can't make a call on this one.)

Compare this to LeBron. His supposed second banana is one of the most consistently disappointing and ineffective players in the game. His role players consist of an extremely inconsistent power forward, a molasses-slow center with a heart of gold, a point guard who can't play offense, a streaky Serbian wingman, and an energy player who acts like the ball is made of lead.

His coach, Mike Brown, is no Phil Jackson, and that's putting it lightly; often times, Mike seems completely and utterly overwhelmed, buried the Cavs' 2nd and 3rd best scorers on the bench most of the year, and makes time-outs and roster decisions that utterly defy any sort of logic. (Look at Game 5 of the Detroit series, where the Cavs didn't have a time-out at the end of the 1st OT because Brown used it for no reason at all a few possessions earlier.)

Instead of Tex Winter's legendary triangle offense, the Cavaliers run the "random offense," where LeBron gets the ball of an ineffective screen-roll and ends up 25 feet away from the hoop with no options. It is generally considered the worst designed offense in the NBA.

Even off of the court, LeBron has confusing bedfellows. Instead of an agent like David Falk, LeBron allows four of his friends from high school to run his affairs. And while I certainly can't say LeBron's personal trainer is doing a bad job (LeBron, already possibly the greatest physical specimen in sport, added another 10 pounds of muscle this off-season, making him an obscene 260 with no loss of explosiveness whatsoever, if the FIBAs are any indication. ) But he has failed to find a shooting coach able to fix his mechanical issues in his shot (the fade and the failure to hold his finish), although he has worked with a coach this off-season, and he shot the ball wonderfully in the FIBA games. His sports drink is Powerade, not Gatorade. (To his credit, LeBron is with Nike, and they've done a wonderful job with him, although the LeBrons have never reached Air Jordan status. And his ads are wonderful, but they're not Spike and Mike.)

(One quick aside: LeBron does have the good fortune of being covered by one of the best beat writers in the NBA, Brian Windhorst, who regularly provides wonderful insight into LeBron's world; I look forward to his book on LeBron, and hold out hope that it will cover the LeBron/Wade/Carmelo era the way the previous books I mentioned covered their respective eras.)

And while Krause's effectiveness is debatable, the Cleveland management's ineffectiveness is not; they allowed Carlos Boozer to leave, gave a max-dollar deal to Larry Hughes, signed Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall to long-term deals, gave away Ricky Davis and Darius Miles in a necessary purge, drafted Luke Jackson over Andris Biedrins, Al Jefferson Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, and Jameer Nelson, and drafted Shannon Brown over Jordan Farmar and Sergio Rodriguez. This off-season, they have failed to make a move, and risk losing Varejao and Pavlovic.

Of course, what must be said in conclusion is that it is entirely possible that Michael made those around him just as much as they made him. Phil Jackson toiled in the CBA before rising to glory with Jordan. David Falk was a young, up-and-coming agent. Scottie was a little-known prospect from Central Arkansas before hooking up with Michael, and Rodman was a failed experiment in Detroit and San Antonio. Nike was a relatively unknown company with nothing to lose, and Spike Lee was a little-known indie director who the Nike execs had noticed by chance in She's Gotta Have It. Nobody knew who Tim Grover was, and even the concept of a personal fitness program was somewhat new. Also, it took Michael several years to find his supporting cast; he toiled alone for the fist phase of his career.

Whether LeBron will find the supporting cast he needs to achieve history or will make his current supporting cast into legend as Jordan did remains to be seen. But for now, the gap between those around LeBron will require him to surpass Michael Jordan's achievements in order to live up to his legend.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Comparing Kevin Durant

So last Sunday, I voiced my doubts about Kevin Durant. What was intended to be a fun point-counterpoint article with one of my colleagues on the site I work for (Cavalier Attitude at ended up getting picked up by TrueHoop, linked by FanHouse, (Shoals liked it, which makes me very happy), and ended up on about a million message boards. In a way, it was my "breakout" post, but part of me would really like to break back in. If you've never experienced tons of faceless people calling you an idiot and a hack, let me tell you, it's interesting. On a related note, my nicotine consumption has quadrupled since Sunday.

Hence, it's positivity week here at TBF, and the first thing we're going to attempt to do is find some sort of comparison for Kevin Durant, one of the most unique players to come into the league in the last several years.

Whenever I engage in an exercise like attempting to project Durant, I think about the movie Pi. If you've never seen it, the movie is about a numerologist who charts the stock market obsessively, attempting to find some sort of predictable trend that would allow him to crack its code, only to eventually fail, go insane, and drill a hole in his own head. (In between, there was something about a secret number, a lot of shaking camera, and loud, weird music. I hated it; naturally, it's considered a triumph of independent cinema.)

The NBA is ridiculously difficult to figure out, because each player is, to an extent, a special snowflake. While there are some general trends that pop up, there are always players that fail or succeed for seemingly no reason at all. If we were to try to be an absolute judge of an NBA player's potential and grade prospects on a 12-category 1-100 scale, we'd all end up drilling holes in our own heads. (By the way, this is why I find skill-by-skill breakdowns like Bill Simmons' take on Oden-Durant ridiculous.)

The only way to judge players is to judge them as individuals, attempting to fit them into what we know as well as we can and using our own imaginations to project what they will do as their own unique player. This is what I did with Kevin Durant; I cannot empirically prove that I'm right, but I do stick by my opinions.

So anyways, here are the best comparisons I can come up with for Kevin Durant, in no particular order:

1. Kevin Garnett

Why they're alike: Like KD, KG came into the league at an extremely young age, was a skinny boy with ridiculous length, and possessed the type of "guard skills" that big men just aren't supposed to have. He has many polished moves from the mid-to-high post, a nose for the ball on the boards, and a reliable fadeaway jumper that he falls in love with at times. Also, he possesses the type of intensity that KD supposedly has, although Durant may have one-up on him already between the shoulders, as he seems to be comfortable with being "the man" and taking the last shot.

Why they're not alike: KG is a four, and has been nearly his whole career. He's tall enough and wiry-strong enough to play the position, and has proven himself to be one of the best rebounders in the NBA. He is also enough of a defensive stalwart that the Suns seriously considered trading a younger, more explosive Amare Stoudamire for him for the sole purpose of a defensive upgrade.

Durant is clearly a 3 at this point in his career, and while KG works from the mid-to-high post, never taking 3s, Durant prefers to operate from the perimeter facing up, like a shooting guard, and the 3 is a major weapon is his arsenal. Also, he's a defensive liability. However similar their bodies and movements may appear to be at first blush, KG is at heart a big man, and KD is at heart a perimeter player. Also, Garnett has never been a volume shooter, preferring to score 20 a game, do the little things, and defer, while KD loves to get his shots.

2. Dirk Nowitzki

Why they're alike: Like Durant, Nowitzki is a big man whose primary offensive weapon is a deadly jumper. Like Durant, Nowitzki is neither fast or strong, but is an offensive weapon due to his ability to compliment his jumper with a series of moves to keep defenders off-balance and get to the hole. Like Durant, Nowitzki is an absolute liability defensively.

Why they're different: For being similar in their ends, Dirk and Durant couldn't be more different in their means. Dirk is methodical and deliberate in everything he does, from that slow-back down to that goofy, slow release on his jumper: Durant makes quick moves and has a hair-trigger release. Nowitzki disrupts the flow of defenders by having no flow whatsoever; everything is herky-jerky and bizzare with him, and doesn't look like any other player's movers. Durant emanates polish and smoothness with his moves.

Dirk's game is sharply scripted(witness his meltdown when the Warriors hit him with a new defense, one predicated on knowing exactly what he was going to do), while Durant's is all about improvisation. Despite Dirk's reputation as a 3-point gunner, he made just under 1 per game last year; Durant made more than twice as many per game. Saying Durant and Nowitzki are similar is like saying that Kanye West and Weird Al Yankovic have both become best-selling musicians by using humor in their lyrics; it's technically correct, but at the same time, it's way off.

3. Keith Van Horn

Why They're Alike: Drafted No. 2 behind the two "safest" big men of the last 10 years; 6-10 and skinny. Excellent shooters. Slightly lacking in athleticism. Plays with a smoothness. Poor passers. Able to post-up and score on the block. Tends to fall in love with his jumper. Poor defender.

Why They're Different: Van Horn was always a "soft" player, and all the reports on Durant highlight just how much of a cold-blooded killer he is, someone who will never let himself get in the way of reaching his potential. While I take a lot of those reports with a grain of salt, because it's hard enough to properly assess what a player is doing on the court without trying to be armchair psychologists, Durant does clearly seem to be one-up on Van Horn between the shoulders. Also, as I mentioned, every player is his own snowflake, and subtle differences in their athletic ability and quickness of their moves could make all the difference. Other than that, the amount of similarities between the two of them should be troubling, but I'm definitely not ready to write off Kevin Durant as Keith Van Horn, Mark 2 yet.

4. Toni Kukoc

Why they're alike: Both are best described as 6-10 shooting guards, although Kukoc preferred to distribute where Durant prefers to score. Beautiful outside stroke, smooth athleticism, suspect defense-a lot like Keith Van Horn.

(Interestingly, Jerry Krause loved Van Horn and Kukoc more than any other players during his time with the Bulls-he scouted and signed Kukoc himself, labeled him an "untouchable" when he was coming off the bench, and clearly planned to build his Magnum Opus, the post-Jordan Bulls, around Kukoc. He was also infatuated with Van Horn, and tried to essentially trade Scottie Pippen for him straight up. I'll bet you Jerry Krause loves Kevin Durant.)

Why they're different: Again, Durant may be slightly more athletic, but the main difference is that Toni Kukoc was a giant vagina in Chicago, and Durant seems bred to be a basketball killer.

5. Pistol Pete Maravich

Why They're Alike: Both had games predicated on moves built through hours upon hours of obsessive practice. Both made up for their relative lack of speed with a devastating assortment of those moves, combined with a quick, beautiful shooting stroke. Both have been "the man" on their teams for as long as they can remember, and have always been the 1st offensive option, which makes them unafraid to bomb away. Both looked eternally boyish.

Why they're different: Well, Pete was a 6-4 combo guard, while Durant is a 6-10 small forward. Also, while Pete loved to play flashy (check out his YouTube), Durant seems uninterested in flash for flash's sake. Additionally, Pete's obsessiveness about basketball caused him to eventually physically and mentally crumble and descend into alcoholism and self-hatred, and wished that aliens would take him away from the world he hated. (I know everyone's read articles on Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, but maybe all-consuming obsession isn't always the best thing to wish on our favorite athletes.) Durant doesn't seem unhappy, or have a Press Maravich-like father. (Quick aside-Kevin Love does.)

6. Tracy McGrady (Current Incarnation)

Why They're alike: Both came out of high school ridiculously skinny and weak (McGrady apparently was even worse at the bench press than Durant), both have a hair-trigger jumper that they will fire anywhere, at any time, both will have relatively low shooting percentages (McGrady is a career .439% shooter), but will be the focal point of the offense and able to generate quick bursts of scoring; both have smooth games and good-but-not great athleticism.

Why they're different: Again, Durant is supposed to be a frontcourt player, which is a big difference. And while McGrady has proven himself able to run an offense (6.5 assists per game last year), Durant is primarily a pure scorer at this point in his career.

7. Rashard Lewis

Why They're Alike: When Durant was just starting to blow up at Texas, a few people, including myself, started saying, "wait, if Durant is supposed to be a franchise player with the type of game we've never seen before, isn't he a lot like Rashard Lewis?" He's got power-forward height but will probably never play the four because of a lack of bulk and ability to bump inside, can shoot 3s and score inside well, has good but not freakish athleticism, and is an absolute defensive liability.

The Sonics apparently thought along the same lines, and made it clear that Lewis was no great loss after they drafted Durant. (I'm not saying that they would have paid him max-money without Durant, but they would have tried to keep him. Also, I will forever be mad at the Sonics ownership for not giving us a lineup of Ridnour/Allen/Lewis/Durant/Wilcox. That would have been epic. 163-181 games? 50 3s in a game? What would have happened? Sadly, we'll never know.)

Why They're different: Maybe it's because of the media's ability to warp my brain (remember, I'm a smoker), but the comparison just seems ridiculously invalid. Flipping around the Nowitzki comparison, where they use different means to achieve the same ends, Durant and Lewis use the same means to achieve different ends-think DMX and Busta Rhymes. For all his talent, Lewis seems unmotivated to take over games, is adverse to creating his own shots, and generally scores on catch-and-shoot or catch inside-and-score situations.

Durant, on the other hand, is used to being the man, and Seattle is grooming him to continue that role. He loves to create his own shot, and has created a wide variety of moves to allow him to do so. He will be the focal point on offense, just like he always has been, at least in the beginning, and he will never fly under the radar like Lewis has for so much of his career.

8. Michael Redd

Why they're alike: Both have good jumpers that they're not shy at all about firing off, get to the rim with the threat of their jumpers and smooth attack moves instead of pure explosiveness, both are liabilities defensively and pure scorers instead of shot-creators.

Why they're different: Redd likes to operate off screens, while Durant is going to have the ball in his hands a lot. Also, Redd is a shooting guard. Durant is 6-10. Sorry if I keep repeating this.

9. Larry Bird

Why they're the same: Under-athletic. Jump shooting forward. Focal point of offense. Killer drive and instinct, with ability to take over games. Extremely polished skills. I'm repeating myself a little by now, so I'm keeping it short.

Why they're different: Larry's best offensive skill was arguably his court vision; he was as much a passer and a scorer, and passing is the one part of Durant's offensive game that's underdeveloped. Additionally, Larry may have been slow, but he was strong and tough-as-nails, and was always able to successfully bang inside for tough buckets and boards.

While just how well Durant will do this in the pros is a source of much debate, as he was able to do it in college, but not in summer league, and he could or could not gain 30 pounds of muscle in the next few years, I personally lean slightly towards the school of thought that he will stay a perimeter player at the NBA level.

Also, remember that Larry never made more than 90 3s in a season, while Durant will probably make from 150-200 his first year in the pros. Most importantly, I just don't think we're ever going to see another player quite like the Hick From French Lick-the most unique superstar in the game today, Nowitzki, is the only one that comes close, and even he lacks Bird's ability to run an offense. I'm not comfortable calling Kevin Durant the next Larry Bird because I don't think there's going to be another Larry Bird. Players like Nowitzki and Bird are exceptions to the rules I've learned from following this game, and I can't confidently say that a player will become an exception. And I'm not going to dignify the Adam Morrison comparison with its own heading, but basically he was the evil Larry Bird.


So there you have it: 1 Legend, 1 Franchise Player with no ring, 1 Hall-of-Fame Second Banana with no ring, 1 Hall-of-fame doomed scoring champion who never got a ring, 1 complimentary player on a championship team, 1 leading scorer who's never made it past the 1st round, 1 great scorer who chose being the man on a bad team over being the 2nd option on a great team, 1 second banana who has never found himself in a winning situation, one bust who found redemption as a bench player, and one mega-bust whose youth gives him a shot at eventual redemption. I encourage you at this point to use those comparisons to form your own opinion on where Durant will fall, as there's a wide range of possibilities up on that board.

Here's what I think will happen: Durant could be doomed to being "the man" on a lottery team for the rest of his life, because I don't think he's a good enough player to carry a franchise to the promised land by himself like the best players in this league can. He could be an amazing 2nd or 3rd option on a quality team, as he would be deadly if defenses left him alone, knocking down open shots and finding seams in unsuspecting defenses, and eventually finding his way inside on a team's 2nd or 3rd best defender and getting a few put-backs and post-up points. I don't think Seattle was wrong to take him, but I do think they'll need to pull off a Pippen-like miracle in order to make a rebuilding project centered around him to work. (If it works out that they get a top 5 pick in next year's draft, that could be very good.)

Kevin Durant is not MJ, LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Tim Duncan, or Larry Bird. But he's not Adam Morrison or Keith Van Horn either; I'll be watching Kevin Durant's career with extreme interest. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go drill a hole in my head.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Not So Fast, Kevin Durant Lovers

After Greg Oden's tragic season-ending injury, many have come of the opinion that Durant was, in fact, the better pick for now, and have been eager to jump onto the Durant Bandwagon in full force. I, however, am not sold, and I'll tell you why.

I am not here to discredit Kevin Durant's credentials. He was absolutely sublime for Texas all season long, and put up the kind of single-game numbers you just don't see from a college player. As a freshman, he wasn't just the best player in the country, he was clearly the best player in the country. And watching KD, it's easy to see why people predict greatness for him: He has one of the purest shooting strokes I've ever seen, a huge collection of offensive moves from the post and the perimeter, and a beautiful fluidity to everything he does. Oh, and he's 6-10. We really never have seen a player like him before; he's some kind of bizarre mixture of Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kobe Bryant, and his uniqueness makes any sort of prediction about him pure speculation.

But here's my speculation: Durant will disappoint.

Durant is primarily an offensive player, so I'll state my qualms about his offensive game first. As I said, Durant has a beautiful jump shot, and is a pure shooter, so he can get squared up from any angle and get his shot off at any time. However, being a great shooter does not make a franchise NBA scorer.

The average NBA possession yields just over half a point-the average "true shooting"% for the league last year was around 55%. (If you don't know what this stuff means, take 10 minutes out of your day and read Hollinger. Trust me, it'll be worth it.) Good jump shooters, like Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas, and Ray Allen, shoot an eFG% of anywhere from 45-49% on jumpers, under the league average for efficiency. Today's game is about going to the rim, where baskets are much easier to come by (good scorers shoot anywhere from 65-70% on "inside" shots), and fouls can be drawn for easy points. The other way to come by efficient scoring is by getting a sharpshooter behind the 3-point line, where the extra value of the shot makes up for its difficulty. (A 40% 3-point shooter is really shooting 60%, which is good.)

Mid-range shots are an inefficient way to score, especially for a player who will never get a good look at one; while the mid-range jumper is sometimes necessary to "keep the defense honest" and consequently free up space to get to the rim, a contested midrange jumper is almost universally an inefficient shot. Durant's 3-point shooting ability would normally be a huge asset to his team, but with how defenses will be keying in on him next year, the shot is just too tough to hit consistently under coverage. (His .236 3-point% in the summer league seemed to reflect this.)

Make no mistake: the key skill for a franchise scorer in this league is the ability to get to the rim and get shots inside. Even superstars who are thought of primarily as jump shooters get to the rim regularly. (Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas were 1st and 2nd in the league in Free Throw Attempts last year.)

Do I think Kevin Durant will consistently be able to get to the rim at the NBA level, and hence become the franchise scorer he's projected to be? No. He doesn't cause mismatches. While that may seem like an odd thing to say about a 6-10 shooting guard, it's true. After the infamous combine, basketball's answer to Vince Young's Wonderlic test, basketball purists quickly came up with a consensus: he's a basketball player, not a track star. If you think these measurements can tell you what kind of player he'll be, you're an idiot. Tony Allen dominated these tests, for the love of god. I won't take cheap shots at that kind of thinking by pointing out that it led to us taking Luke Jackson over Andris Biedrins, Josh Smith (Jay Bilas: "he will be the bust of the draft."), J.R. Smith, Sebastian Telfair, and Jameer Nelson; that would be wrong. Instead, I'll point out how all the best scorers in the NBA are either bigger or faster than anyone trying to guard them, or, in LeBron James' case, both. Great players cause mismatches; Kevin Durant is on the receiving end of one. He's either a slow small forward, molasses-like shooting guard, or weak power forward; Ron Artest could get in his grill all day from the perimeter and comfortably keep him out of the paint, as could Lamar Odom or even Tayshaun Prince. He's not going to overpower anybody.

Going through his YouTube highlights one more time, not only did the amount of jump shots stand out (jumpers on YouTube?), but the finesse of his game. One move that Durant seems to have in his bag is to drive hard one way, then lose his man with a counter-spin the other way and hit the resulting 7-footer. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous move, but it has disturbing implications; he invented that move because he was getting beaten to the spot on his drives by white guys from Gonzaga, who may or may not have thought that he was a dragon. He did dominate in college, but he did so not through his sheer ability, but with his ability to bend the game so that his abilities would be highlighted. Will that ability be enough at the NBA level? I do not think so. In the Summer League, his forays to the basket were often stopped cold by fellow rookies and D-leaguers; he did start getting to the line near the end of the summer league, but Adam Morrison averaged over 10 free throws per game during his summer league, and while I think the Morrison/Durant comparison has been played out, that does seem pertinent. If Kevin Durant can find a way to get to the league in the NBA, I'm wrong about him. But he seems to willing to settle for his jumper, as well as just not fast enough.

So that's why I don't think that Kevin Durant will shoot higher than 40% this year, which only scratches the surface of why I don't think he'll become a franchise player. When playing the "compare the best players in the NBA" game, typically around MVP time, one of the most important things for me is "how good is he on his worst night?" In other words, when he can't buy a jumper to save his life or find easy lanes to the bucket, how does he help his team to victory? Tim Duncan is the best at this test; he gives you 10 rebounds, great defense, draws a double-team, shares the ball, gets scrappy buckets, and leads his team. LeBron will get 5 or 6 boards, get a steal or two, get some points on fast breaks, draw a double-team, and keep his teammates involved. Dwayne Wade will get to the line 15 times. Tracy McGrady will run the offense.

The absolute worst elite player at this test is Dirk Nowitzki, the player who represents the best-case scenario for Mr. Durant. Like Durant, Dirk is an absolute liability defensively because of his lack of speed and muscle, and like Durant, Dirk's offense rarely gets other players going, because much of it is off a jump shot rather than a coverage-drawing post-up or drive to the hole. Dirk has managed to make himself a good rebounder, which Durant has not proven himself able to do at the NBA level. (He could rebound in college, but not in the summer league, and now he's been put at shooting guard.) Unlike Wade or Arenas, Durant and Dirk aren't fast enough to crash into defenders for free throws or strong enough to try to get an easy look in the post when their shot isn't going; their games are entirely dependent on creating and maintaining a groove, and if they're forced out of that groove, like Dirk was against Golden State, they're giving you nothing. When Durant's shot isn't falling, he's going to have himself a very, very bad night.

And as for the USA scrimmage, which he played fantastically in, remember that that style of play is perfectly styled to Durant's strengths: there is almost no scoring off drives, much more spot-up shooting, a shorter three-point line, and a greater emphasis on fundamental play.

So that's my bold prediction: I still don't think I have Kevin Durant figured out, because he is so unique, but that's my best attempt. Feel free to disagree, but for now I'm ready to let Mr. Durant settle this one on the court.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Let's Not Insult Scottie Pippen

To a lot of NBA writers and fans, this current Cavs team defied explanation. The team relied more heavily on one player than any other playoff team, and that player seemed to have regressed from the previous year. It was entirely possible that we had the worst starting backcourt in basketball. Fans were making Iraq Study Group-like studies about how we ever signed Larry Hughes. Our center and power forward didn't shoot over 50%. By the playoffs, our 2nd and 3rd scoring options were a second-round rookie named "Boobie" and a shooting guard who had been a benchwarmer for the first three and a half years of his career.

And yet we made the NBA finals. How? One team the media has chosen to compare the Cavs to is the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers, a deeply average team led by a singular effort by Allen Iverson to a brief moment of finals glory before realizing the bonds of their own mediocrity and never challenging for a championship again.

I dislike this comparison. I greatly prefer to think of these Cavs as the new version of the Jordan Bulls. First and foremost, we have the player whose destiny is to become the next coming of Jordan. (Wade emulates Jordan's game, while LeBron emulates his legacy.) Second, while all of the hoopla about both teams was about their offensive weapons, both the Cavs and Bulls relied first and foremost on a suffocating defense and domination of the boards, with a slow-down offense meant to keep the pace of the game in the trenches. Neither team features a top-caliber center. Neither team features a true point guard of any description; The Bulls' starting Ron Harper as their de facto point bears eerie similarities to our making Larry Hughes our de facto point, and their other main option, B.J. Armstrong, bears striking resemblance to Boobie. They relied on Dennis Rodman to supply energy, rebounding, defense, and ridiculous hair; Anderson Varejao and Drew Gooden supply those qualities for us. Both teams struggled mightily with Detroit. And Mike Brown and Phil Jackson both coach basketball.

However, there is one huge difference between the Jordan Bulls and this team. His name is Scottie Pippen. Many Cavalier fans have expressed a desire for the Cavs to go and get LeBron a "Pippen", a 2nd banana who can score 20 a game and take some pressure off of LeBron. But by saying that a Larry Hughes, a Michael Redd, or even a Joe Johnson or Ray Allen is to misunderstand just how instrumental Scottie Pippen was to that team's success. Over the years, Scottie Pippen's legacy has become that he was Michael Jordan's great sidekick, a guy who was a good 2nd option on offense and who did all the little things as MJ did his superhero thing and got his team championships. To call Scottie Pippen simply a "glue guy" and mention him in the same breath as a guy like Josh Howard or Shane Battier is simply insulting.

Scottie Pippen was an extraordinary offensive player; playing with one of the biggest ball-dominating players of all time, he scored 20 points a game, not simply by making cuts or knocking down open shots, but by using his ball-handling and athleticism to drive to the hole and finish resoundingly, scoring with his back to the basket using his height, wingspan, and a huge collection of post moves, and an outside shot to boot. And he could also hit open jump shots and move without the ball for easy scores, but again, to say he simply took advantage of the opportunities given to him by MJ is underestimating his offensive arsenal. And his chief role on offense wasn't even to be a scorer; he was a true point forward, whose court vision, passing (he averaged 6 or 7 assists per year during the Bulls championship years), and understanding of the offense was crucial to working the legendary triangle offense that won Phil and MJ all those championships.

Then, of course, there was his defense. He was the best defensive player on one of the best defensive teams of all time, and probably the best perimeter defender of all time; while the Jordan mystique dictates that he evolved into one of the best defenders around, it was always Scottie who got to shut down the other team's best scorer, as well as rotate over to provide help defense better than just about anybody. He regularly made more steals than anybody in the league today, and made enough blocks to put him on par with most centers.

When Jordan was off playing baseball, Scottie put up MVP numbers and led his team to 55 wins and within one game of the Finals. Simply put, he was no sidekick.

So when we talk about adding a "Pippen," what are we saying? We're asking for someone who plays on-ball defense like Ron Artest and help-side defense like Shawn Marion, as well as an offensive player with the scoring ability of Carmelo Anthony, and the passing ability of the kind of true point guard we so desperately wish we had. There's honestly no comparison for the kind of player Scottie was-the closest I can come is Artest, Tayshaun, or Marion, but he was far more skilled offensively than any of those players, and had point-guard like passing ability to boot.

Jordan and Pippen was an amazing coincidence, the kind of thing that shouldn't be able to happen-putting the greatest player of all time alongside a top-5 player that took absolutely nothing away from the team is extremely rare. The closest thing we've had to a "Pippen" situation since MJ left is when Kobe Bryant was paired up with Shaq in his prime, or Shaq just past his prime was paired up with Wade. So when we hope that Larry Hughes can come along into an effective defender and scorer, or that we can land a low-level star like Michael Redd or Joe Johnson, know that we aren't adding a "Pippen"; we're not doing that unless we add Tim Duncan.

So by all means, let's hope we can find a 20-point per game weapon to put next to LeBron, that Larry Hughes will get healthy and together and become the player we're paying him to be, or that we can find a point guard to run the offense smoothly and unleash LeBron, but don't think that those players can deliver us to six titles. Only one man would be capable of doing all that-This Man.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Just to prove that I can write about whatever I want, I'm writing about music

I just watched Britney Spears' Performance at the VMAs, and I am extremely disappointed. The performance was as bad as all of the vultures, rubberneckers, and cynical whores that populate the pop-culture literati could have imagined it would be.

Let me get this out of the way: I like Britney Spears. Part of it has to do with her prime directly coinciding with when I was going through puberty. But most of it has to do with an admiration that I've fostered for her post-puberty.

Put it this way: Britney lacks a good singing voice or musical ability, which many put out as a damning criticism of her and all who enjoy her. Britney rose to fame partly because of her looks, but mostly because of her understanding of how to work every ounce of talent she had and her relentless drive to succeed. At 16, she was doing 1,000 sit-ups every day to get the kind of stomach she could put a python around on MTV.

In the music world, we hail talent above all else, and look down on those who self-promote and use their drive to carry their success past the boundaries of talent; in almost every other walk of life, that is reversed. In school, Britney would be the girl who got into Harvard with average SAT scores because she studied relentlessly, was student body president, and headed up every club she could, while "indie sensations" would be the slacker genius who ended up at state college because he "didn't believe in the college system." In the sports world, Britney would be Steve Nash: all those sit-ups are like Nash taking extra jumpers, and Nash's ability to see Amare through three defenders would be like Britney's ability to know just how to execute a chair dance that drive every red-blooded American male insane. Meanwhile, critical darling Ryan Adams would be Vin Baker.

That's why I was so disappointed by Britney at the VMAs: she could have nailed it, and I thought that she was going to. The little bad-girl smile she gave right at the beginning, "It's Britney, Bitch!", zoom-out to a surprisingly fit Britney in a bikini and boots; she was ready to show America just why she got so famous in the first place. Trouble is, she forgot too. Zero energy. No sexy smiles. No working the crowd like the next coming of Madonna. Just lazily sexual choreography that hid her face and reinforced her new image as a depressed whore, as opposed to being the perky, hyper-sexual, yet virginal being that she was when she was on top of the world. Although we increasingly demand our pop musicians to prove their musical talent in order to gain our admiration (which I believe was started by American Idol.), there will always be room for a young Michael Jackson or Madonna: someone who becomes a huge star simply because they have the ability to convince the world that they are a huge star, and the drive to make that dream a reality.

Oh, and if you have any questions about whether to get Kanye West or 50 Cent's album tomorrow, you're an idiot. Kanye is a musical genius who raps about his conflicted relationship with himself and the world around him, often offering key insights into his psyche and, by proxy, our own, while pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop can be and what a recording star can and should be; 50 is a talentless, derivative, morally and intellectually vapid rapper concerned with perpetuating his own image. And of the two, 50 is the one who believes he's a role model.

Also, if you actually like music, go to Wildcat Wire, which is on the blogroll here; it's run by my buddy, who knows music the way I know sports, if not better, and also knows more about movies than any sane human being ought to. And his views on music and movies are always about 180 degrees different from mine, which is fun if you like reading things that are wrong.

I've got myself a new job

After almost a year writing about sports on the Internet, I've actually gotten myself something resembling an actual writing job. I've signed on to join the Cavalier page, Cavalier Attitude, over at the Most Valuable Network, where I'll be joining Amar and James. Needless to say, I'm extremely excited to be joining a network like MVN. It's a great place to be, partly because of the quality of the analysis, but mostly because I can now call Doug Christie a "co-worker." It's a place where I'll have an actual editor, get to be part of a sportswriting community, and get to pretend that I'm a real writer, with a little picture and even my real name. (John Krolik, by the way, although my email address,, should have made that pretty obvious. Apparently, people were able to find me on facebook through this blog, which was both cool and unsettling.)

Look to find all my Cavs-related pieces over there, although I'm definitely keeping this blog, because it's fun having a space of my own where I can write about whatever I want. Again, I'm extremely excited to start over there, and hope that all of you hop over to to check out the whole site, but especially what I write. And thanks for reading-according to my little site gizmo, about 3,500 people have stopped by here so far, and considering that 280 people went to my high school, that's a pretty cool feeling. Thanks again and go Cavs!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

If the world was to go Nellieball

As my beloved Warriors continue to shuffle their feet on re-signing Don Nelson, AKA the savior of Oakland basketball, I can't help but wonder what the NBA would be like if more teams embraced Nellie's philosophies.

While we could get technical about what Nellieball is, the basic tenants of Nellieball are just not giving a crap. You put your five best scorers on the floor, and watch what happens. Instead of trying to reduce the game to a series of one-on-one matchups, you just put a unit out there that will cause general havoc. It was this philosophy that led to the Redemption Of Stephen Jackson, The Revelation Of the Ellis-Baron backcourt, The Discovery of Matt Barnes, the Davis-Ellis-Richardson-Jackson-Barnes lineup, and The Upset. Anyways, here is a quick list, from 10 to 1, of 10 teams that should absolutely go Nellieball:

10. Detroit Pistons

1. Chauncey Billups
2. Rodney Stuckey
3. Rip Hamilton
4. Tayshaun Prince
5. Rasheed Wallace

Why: Billups is actually more similar to Baron "the messiah" Davis than any other point guard in the league; Tayshaun's destiny is to become Shawn Marion, from the funny shot to the freakish arms to the bizarre sense of ambivalence; Rasheed running, manning the blocks, and gunning 3s needs to happen. And we all know that Rip Hamilton loves to run and hates defense. The best part of this is that there's a good chance that Flip Saunders could finally snap and but this lineup out in crunch-time of a crucial playoff game.

9. Charlotte Bobcats

1. Brevin Knight
2. Raymond Felton
3. Matt Carroll
4. Walter Herrmann
5. Gerald Wallace

Why: Although the backcourt can't shoot, we do have a true point and a Nellie two; Matt Carroll can shoot; Walter Herrmann is all that is good. But most of all, this needs to be done for Gerald Wallace. Look at Wallace, running the floor. Shutting down centers through sheer force of will. Blocking an Andrew Bynum hook shot and running the whole way down the floor to dunk on Lamar Odom. The world must know the force that is Gerald Wallace, NBA center.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers

1. Daniel Gibson
2. Shannon Brown
3. Sasha Pavlovic
4. LeBron James
5. Anderson Varejao

Why: LeBron was not made to suffer in a slow-down offense. He was born to run. This lineup suffers because of the lack of a true point (Daniel Gibson was born to be a Nellieball two), but it has big men who can run the floor and shooters, and it would be vastly more enjoyable than the Cavaliers we have to watch now.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves

1. Sebastian Telfair
2. Randy Foye
3. Corey Brewer
4. Marko Jaric
5. Al Jefferson

Why: Nellieball will redeem Sebastian Telfair. The kid is fast as they come, loves to pass, and loves to shoot. When he is freed, it shall be a glorious day. I believe very strongly. Randy Foye was born to be a Nellie two-guard. Marko Jaric is destined to be the white Boris Diaw. Corey Brewer and Al Jefferson are actually good at basketball.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

1. Mike Conley, Jr.
2. Kyle Lowry
3. Mike Miller
4. Rudy Gay
5. Stromile Swift

Why: Stromile Swift needs Nellieball. Two point guards at the same time. Mike Miller bombing at will. Rudy Gay running, shooting, dunking. Sounds good.

5. Toronto Raptors:

1. T.J. Ford
2. Jose Calderon
3. Anthony Parker
4. Chris Bosh
5. Andrea Bargnani

Why: While the Ford trade and the hiring of the architect of the Suns gave the public the impression that the Raptors were part of the Nellieball revolution, in reality they are far too conventional. They were 8th out of the 16 playoff teams in "pace" factor, and they rarely ever play Ford and Calderon or Bosh and Bargnani together. This would be one of the best Nellieball lineups in the league: 2 true point guards, 3 dead-eye shooters, and two big men who can run the floor.

4. Chicago Bulls

1. Kirk Hinrich
2. Ben Gordon
3. Chris Duhon
4. Tyrus Thomas
5. Joakim Noah

Why: Okay, so you may think that Luol Deng should be in there. He may be "good", but he's not a Nellieballer. He shoots mid-range jumpers, he can only play one position, he doesn't pass, and he's an extremely stable person. I'll be damned if I let him in my revolution. Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas were born to go Nellieball, as was Noah. Hinrich can shoot and run the point, and Duhon can shoot, pass, and play defense. And while the Bulls do play a lot of "small-ball", this should not be confused with Nellieball. Basically, the Bulls need to loosen up. They should get rid of Ben Wallace. They should embrace Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas. They should attack at all costs. And they should wear headbands.

3. New York Knicks

1. Stephon Marbury
2. Nate Robinson
3. Steve Francis
4. Jamal Crawford
5. David Lee

Why: That's not one, not two, not three, but FOUR shoot-first point guards on the floor at the same time. David Lee would be responsible for all rebounding and defense. I honestly would just want to see what would happen here. And who better to quarterback this unit than Marbury, who seems to have freed himself from all shackles? After this lineup, the Knicks should absolutely put out Balkman, Jeffries, Lee, Randolph, and Curry out at the same time. Ahh, the Knicks. So many possibilities.

2. The Sonics that could have been

1. Luke Ridnour
2. Ray Allen
3. Rashard Lewis
4. Kevin Durant
5. Chris Wilcox

Why: This is what could have happened if the Sonics management had any balls. 50 threes a game. 3 post-up threats. 4 shooters. A true point guard. A man who could one day evolve into the ultimate Nellieball player, the vastly upgraded version of what makes Stephen Jackson so wonderful. But no, it was time to rebuild. The world was not prepared for this lineup.

1. Portland Trail Blazers

1. Sergio Rodriguez
2. Steve Blake
3. Jarrett Jack
4. Brandon Roy
5. Greg Oden

Why: This would be the ultimate in Nellie ballibility. You have three true point guards, one of whom has the nickname "el chacho", and who averaged 12.2 assists per 48 minutes last year. Then you Steve Blake, who averaged 9.5 assists per 48. God only knows the passing we would see from this backcourt. Oh, and Jarrett Jack averaged 7.5 assists per 48. He's the small forward. Brandon Roy at shooting guard? Effective, but boring. Brandon Roy at Power forward? Now we're talking. And then, of course, there's Oden. He dunks with early-Shaq like authority. He can actually handle the ball. He runs the floor like a two-guard. And he's doiminant enough defensively that you can put him and four point guards in a zone defense and still own the paint. Why do we insist on making him another back-to-basket center? In this lineup, he could become a cross of Amare Stoudamire and Mutombo, as well as the key to the ulitmate expression of basketball freedom. (An alternate would be Rodriguez/Blake/Roy/Webster/Oden, as Martell could be great guarding 4s with his long arms and drilling 3s, but I just love having 3 true points and one combo guard out there.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

LeBron's to-do list

LeBron's performance in the FIBA tournament has shown us the ceiling of the player who supposedly had no ceiling, and it was pretty amazing to watch. After a season where LeBron's flaws nearly gained more attention than his attributes (particularly on this board), it was amazing to see him play basketball that was utterly beyond reproach.

So what does LeBron need to do in order to play basketball like this during the season? While many on this board, and everywhere else, have made sporadic lists of what LeBron needs to improve at in order to achieve basketball perfection, here is my attempt, in order, of what LeBron needs to do to reach his nearly limitless potential.

[B]1. Free Throws[/B]

That's right, the most important thing that LeBron needs to do is fix his free throw problems. LeBron is going to be in the top-3 for free-throw attempts every year for the next decade or so. His current clip of 70% on his free throws is costing the team a point or two a game, not to mention his own scoring average; he could have been a 30-point scorer again last season if he was able to knock down 85% of his free throws. I'm putting this at the top of the list because it will not only boost his scoring from the line, but will actually encourage him to go to the hole more, which is where he is the most efficient.

Also, it's an easy area for him to improve; LeBron proved at the FIBAs that he can shoot the ball, and unlike all of LeBron's other attempts, where he has to deal with 2 or 3 defenders, free throws are just as easy for LeBron as they are for everyone else, which is something he should take full advantage of. While his free-throw stroke looked better at the FIBAs, he was only 12-18 from the line, which does disturb me. There is no excuse for LeBron not to be an 80% free throw shooter, and it would help his game more than anything else on this list.

[B]2. Post Moves[/B]

A common refrain during the FIBAs was that "LeBron with a jump shot would be completely unstoppable." I'll deal with the absurdity of that statement a little bit later, but a much more accurate statement is that LeBron with a post game would be completely and utterly unstoppable. Quite simply, nobody with LeBron's speed (and it's a short list, especially from end-to-end), is anywhere near his size, and nobody who plays on the perimeter has anything approaching LeBron's strength. Due to LeBron's exceptional speed, it's impossible for a Power Forward or a Center to guard him one-on-one, and no small forward, with the possible exception of Ron Artest, has anywhere approaching the strength to stop him; hence, if LeBron could switch from a face-up to post-up game with confidence, he would be unstoppable. Oh, and if LeBron catches the ball 7 feet from the basket instead of 30 feet from the basket, it's impossible to put 3 or 4 defenders between him and the basket; the physics don't work. Hence, LeBron would only have to face 1 or 2 defenders, which is much easier than 3 or 4.

LeBron has all the ingredients to be a great post scorer; He has ridiculous height and size. (He has reportedly bulked up to 6-8, 260; Ike Diogu, a load in the post, is 6-8, 255.) He can finish with both hands extremely effectively, and has a knack for using the glass and making scoops from tough angles that can't be taught; his conversion rate on "close" shots (shots from inside that aren't dunks), is better than noted "bucket-getters" like David Lee, Amare Stoudamire, Dwight Howard, and Zach Randolph, is nearly as good as Carlos Boozer's, and is better than any perimeter player in the league. If he's that good at making tough 5-footers going 100 miles an hour and being fouled by multiple people, there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to convert shots from the same distance at normal speed on one defender.

LeBron doesn't need to be Kevin McHale down there; players with highly refined "finesse" post games actually tend to be much less efficient scorers than post players who like to mix it up and get as close as they can to the bucket. A simple jump hook, drop-step, and 'Melo spin are all the "moves" LBJ really needs down there; the more important aspect for him is learning how to use his footwork to establish deep post position, seal off his man, and allow him to get close to the hoop without actually going under it. From there, he can score it with ease. In the Finals, LeBron showed a willingness to go into the post, and the way he threw Bruce Bowen around like a rag doll illustrated just how tough to stop he can be down there; improved footwork will have him dropping 40 on guys like Bowen all year long.

[B]3. A Point Guard[/B]

Okay, technically this isn't something LeBron can get over the summer. But having LeBron on a team without a decent point guard is like not letting Hendrix do solos; he'll still be spectacular, but you have no idea what he's capable of. Let me put this simply; LeBron James is completely and utterly unstoppable when he is gets a head of steam going in the full-court. He is too big, too fast, too adept at changing directions, too strong, too good a finisher, too good a passer, just too good. He is the best full-court player since Magic Johnson, and he might even be better. While LeBron sometimes gets tentative or jumper-happy in the half-court, when he attacks before the defense can get set, he is the ultimate weapon.

On Team USA, LeBron was able to make 3-4 spectacular transition plays every game because of Jason Kidd's ability to throw a lead pass. It looked so simple; whenever Kidd touched the ball off of a rebound or turnover, he knew where the lead-outs were and threw it to them as quickly as he could. It looks easy, but almost every guard in the league would have started dribbling it himself or needed to look to see where his men were, by which point the opportunity would be dead. A point guard who looked to pass it to LeBron to start a break instead of take it himself and start a slow-down offense would increase LeBron's production immensely, not to mention create some of the best highlights the league has ever seen. (On the same note, if Kevin Love, the best outlet passer since Walton, and LeBron ever got on the same team, it would be absolutely ridiculous. has love falling out of the lottery to 16; the Cavs are projected to pick at 24. Lack of athleticism can make a player fall like crazy; David Stern, this is your new conspiracy project.)

Also, while people continually stress that shooters would space the floor and free up LeBron, if the defense is forced to react to a point guard's penetration, they can't load up on LeBron; hence, LeBron faces 1-on-1 coverage and is completely unstoppable. And LeBron doesn't need Kidd or Nash for this, or even Bibby; my dream PGs for LeBron would be Sebastian Telfair (LeBron's buddy, full-court passing wizard, undervalued, Coney Island project; read [I]The Last Shot[/I] before you judge him or his cousin.), Sergio Rodriguez, or Jared Jordan, two guys who always look to pass with flash.

[B]4. A Jump Shot[/B]

That's right; the most talked-about weakness in LeBron's game is only the 4th-most important thing on my list. But before I talk about why that is, I'll go into why it is, in fact, a very good thing that LeBron's jumper seems to have improved. First of all, LeBron plays on the perimeter; hence, he's going to be taking a lot of jump shots. At least 60% of every perimeter player's FG attempts are jumpers, even guys like Wade and Carmelo. And if you're going to be taking jumpers, it's better to make them than it is to miss them. Second, a good jump shot is necessary to open up opportunities to drive; this was made painfully clear in the Spurs series, when the Spurs essentially dared LeBron to beat them with wide-open jumpers and he was unable to do it. Not even LeBron and Wade are able to go to the rim 30 times a game; in order to get to the paint, the threat of a jump shot must be enough to force the defense to respect it.

However, I do have some problems with the thought of LeBron adding a jump shot. First, let's address the notion that a player with incredible driving ability and a great jump shot is "unstoppable." That is a ridiculous notion. Consider this: On Team USA, Mike Miller, one of the game's best shooters, was given an extremely bountiful share of open 3s, from a shorter distance, and only made 33% of them. The best shooters in the world who are relied upon as primary scorers only make 40-45% of their 3-pointers, and even "specialists," who only take wide-open 3s, rarely break the 50% mark. Hence, how can a shot which is difficult enough that nobody can make it over half the time be considered impossible to stop? The shooter will "stop" himself more than half of the time, regardless of defense.

An elite inside scorer, such as LeBron, will score on about 70% of his shots from the inside, even before factoring in free throws; for him to be as dangerous from the three-point line as he is driving to the basket, he would need to hit just over 45% of his threes, which is just about an impossible task for somebody who is as persistently defended as LeBron. And don't even get me started on mid-range jumpers; nobody in the league makes 60% of their mid-range jumpers, and most make well under 50%: an average player will convert about 60% of their shots "inside", and hit 35% of their 3s, which makes both of those shots more efficient than a mid-range jumper any day of the week. Defenses will always be better off making LeBron a "jump shooter" than they will be letting him get to the rim; all an improved jump shot will do is make his backup plan more viable, while free throws, post moves, and a point guard will allow him to improve what should always be his primary mode of attack, his ability to score inside.

And, of course, there's always the danger that an improved jump shot will cause LeBron to "fall in love with his jumper" and settle for it more often than he should; past elite players who have developed solid jumpers have been known to stop driving to the bucket, and LeBron's shot selection has been less than sterling over his career without a jumper he has 100% confidence in. Put it this way: 5 years ago, if I had told you that Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady would both develop extremely good jump shots, you would have imagined that they would both be completely unguardable, right? Instead, they have become worse scorers, and Vince in particular seems to have taken much of the effectiveness out of his game by settling for 3s more often than he should. So I think it's certainly good news that LeBron's jumper seems to be better, but if he could get his free throws down, get post moves, and find a point guard to get him in the open floor, he would be very close to fulfilling his destiny as someone who will change the game forever.