Monday, January 14, 2008

The Play Call 1.14.08

Random Thoughts on the NBA for Monday, January 14th.

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Trade rumors are fun. They just are. And yes, they're horribly, horribly out of control. There's a reason as fans we eat them up. The upheaval, the dramatic change, the shift in personnel, salaries, dynamics, it's all fascinating. There's also going to be a huge backlash against such rumors, since most of them have little to no factual basis. To this I say, don't be such a stick-in-the-mud Good Lord, it's not like anything the fans or media says has any sort of impact on actual front-office decisions. If they did, Isiah Thomas would have been washed away in a massive tidal wave of vitriol and malicious disgust. And the best part about trade rumors? They mean hope for teams that are struggling. I asked the boys over at The Dream Shake about a Hinrich-Gordon-Noah trade for TMac and Chuck Hayes. Their eyes lit up like Christmas trees, and those guys love McGrady. Now, it can't happen for a variety of reasons, but isn't it exciting to think about? Yes, you're gutting the Bulls backcourt, but Bulls fans hate Hinrich this year, Gordon's the only piece with value that's movable, and Chicago would love a superstar scorer like McGrady. And if you don't value a tried and true point guard like Hinrich in a down year, what do you care if Duhon takes over at the 1?

But I digress. Don't be annoyed with fans wanting to make changes for the betterment of the franchise. I would agree with Dwyer that you need to have an ounce of consideration for what the teams need, and not just be plugging in random combinations into ESPN's Trade Machine. (Okay, to be fair, just don't publish them. I can't sit in judgment given how many hours I've looked at four way trades to get the Knicks under the salary cap by summer '09.) But don't hate people for wanting the big trade. It makes things interesting. It brings fans hope. And in the case of the Bucks and Sixers, sometimes it's just the best thing for the rebuilding process.

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Joakim Noah got jobbed. Now, I'm not debating that he needs to show up on time. I'm not debating that whatever he pulled on Adams was inappropriate. But for the players to come out and work him like that, to pin everything on him, to isolate a young man like that, that's not okay. Joakim Noah is a professional athlete, just like Ben Wallace and Adrian Griffin. However, unlike Ben Wallace and Adrian Griffin, he's a professional athlete that actually gives his all on the court. It's a disappointing season for all the Bulls. But instead of banding together, staying true to one another and facing the criticism, the Bulls have turned in on themselves and started eating themselves alive, like their immune system has turned on them. Blog-A-Bull makes the point that maybe Ben Wallace and Adrian Griffin aren't the best guys to be the leaders on this team. And considering the fact that Griffin tried to galvanize the team earlier in the season to, well, we all know the success, maybe, just maybe, the guy averaging 1.5. 1.2, and .9 isn't the one you want taking charge.

It's stuff like this that can ruin NBA careers. Why? Because two veterans who have done nothing this season, that are huge liabilities on the floor, and have a history of disciplinary issues, are the ones running the locker room. They're turning into the Knicks at this point. I just want the good players to get the hell out of there.

By the way, in case you were wondering? Per 40 Minutes
Noah: 13.8pts, 10.2 rbs, 2.8 assists
Griffin: 9.1 pts, 7.3 rbs, 5.5 assists
Wallace: 5.4 pts, 10.8 rbs, 2.4 assists

Uh. Yeah. About that.
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In our Blogger MVP/ROY rankings this week, we dropped Kobe Bryant to #6. It's not that the Lakers haven't been playing as well. Far from it. We think the Lakers very well could be the best team in the Western Conference right now. But you really can't look at this team and not attribute the great turnaround to Derek Fisher. He's got 18 points per 40. But most importantly, he's been the established veteran leader they've needed. He's been there in every capacity, and having him in the locker room is huge. Honestly, we love everything about the Lakers. Except for Kobe Bryant. It's such a painful dichotomy. Great young talent that plays with heart, the veteran player bringing leadership, taking a pay cut to be closer to the medical care his daughter needs, the young man-child center building into a legitimate dominating force, they've got it all. But they've got Kobe. And we haven't forgotten about him. But when we're not even sure if he's the most important (not best, we obviously know he's the best) player on the team, he's not getting into our top five. He might as well call himself "Pookie."
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Scorers get attention. That's what they do. They perform the the one duty most important to winning a basketball game. Putting the little orange ball in the little hole attached to the big glass thing. But I started wondering if they were as important as we state they are.

From a statistical analysis, Wages of Wins will tell you that being a scorer matters not if you're not efficient with those attempts.

I wanted to get some input from the blogosphere on the issue.

I asked The Dream Shake what their thoughts were on TMac and his importance to the team. I particularly asked if they'd rather have a combination of role players or TMac. Here's what they said...

"Short answer: the particular skills that McGrady brings cannot be spread out over 3-4 other players. I don't know anyone other than Kobe, LeBron and a couple others that are 6'8-6'10" and have the ability to dribble drive, create AND be a go-to scorer at the end of games. And these are not qualities you can spread out over a roster. Ben Gordon can be a go-to scorer, but the Bulls struggle because he can't see over the defense and he's not great off the dribble. T-Mac also has that ability to just take a game over and influence the rest of his teammates... 13 points in 30 seconds as an example."
Meanwhile, I checked in with 3 Shades of Blue to ask if he would rather have a pure scorer on the team, or stick with the athletic combination players they have on the court. Here's what Josh responded with:

I do believe that they would benefit from having that in the short term, meaning wins this year. However, I think having a guy like that would hinder the growth of Rudy Gay and therefore affect the long term results for this team. Feeding a T-Mac, Redd, Iverson, etc. all the time would not only hurt Rudy's development, but would also affect the maturation process of Conley as well. So it is kind of one of those "6 of one, half dozen of the other" scenarios in my mind. It helps in the short term, but ultimately hurts the team in the long term.

What they really need is a guy who can play solid defense at the SG spot and hit open jumpers. In other words they need a Raja Bell or Ronnie Brewer. That would benefit the team over the next 5 seasons, rather than just 1 or 2.

Then I checked in with Ben Q. Rock from Third Quarter Collapse. I wanted the perspective of someone who's team had previously had a pure scorer, and now is succeeding without one. Here's what Ben said of the Magic:

No, the Magic don't have a pure scorer, but it hasn't hurt us so far this season. Really, T-Mac was the last threat we really had (I don't count Stevie because he wasn't here for too long), and we didn't really do too much when he was here. This team is succeeding thanks to Dwight Howard's emergence and Hedo Turkoglu's timely playmaking. I think we're actually better off without having such a clearly-defined scoring threat. Look at Houston. Everyone knows T-Mac is going to get the ball in crunch time, and teams just show sharply on the pick-and-roll and force his crappy teammates to score. Here, there's no real person for defenses to key-in on, which keeps opponents guessing, as it were. I just wish we made better use of our different weapons; last week against the Nets, Hedo Turkoglu got the ball twice with a chance to win the game and the Nets swarmed him every time, forcing a turnover and a missed shot. Of course, that was right after the game in Chicago in which Turk beat the overtime buzzer to give us the win.

Okay, short answer: scoring is (obviously) important in the NBA, but it's not vital. Orlando is a testament to the value of balance, as is Detroit, which is really as good as it gets in that respect. 5 guys average in double-figures, but no one goes over 18, and Maxiell is right there with 9.

Now on the flip side, I wanted to look at a struggling team who's pinned to a pure-scorer scorer. In this case, it's Ben Gordon. I asked Matt from Blog-a-Bull how important Gordon was to the success of the Bulls. Matt was gracious enough to take a break from probably wanting to use the flux capacitor to undo the Wallace signing and reply. Here's what he said:

Hmmm...tough to answer that question. Because on a team like the
Bulls, Ben Gordon's scoring is it. Nobody else can create their own
shot or get fouled, and even Gordon's ability in that area needs
improvement. So when he's on, it's something the Bulls desperately
need. And similarly, when teams crowd and neutralize him (both due to
limited teammates and Gordon's ballhandling and height deficiencies)
the whole operation goes to hell.

And while Gordon doesn't have yet the skill set to be a top-tier scorer
who regularly finishes at the rim or gets to the line, he's more than
just a 'shooter'. Ben rarely camps out in the corners and spots up
waiting for the ball, his shots may be mostly jumpers but they're
either catch&shoots off of screens, or made in space he's created off
the dribble (the step-back jumper seems to be his favorite). He's
small for a shooting guard but shoots with such a high arc he can get
off shots that you'd think he couldn't.

Gordon's having a bad season so it's not the best time for analysis.
And it's a big reason the Bulls have the worst offense in the NBA. On
a different team, maybe he gets a more limited role, but the Bulls
definitely need him to bomb away.
I thought this was interesting because it really kind of gave an accurate answer when you consider the Wages of Wins argument. The Bulls are essentially comprised of role players and Ben Gordon, along with Luol Deng. Getting rid of Ben Gordon would only serve to suffocate the offense. You need that guy that can create points, even if his point work and defense make you cry.

Now, Kobe would be the next obvious reference point. The problem is that Kobe actually does more than just score. He rebounds, and plays terrific defense. So his overall value is a comprehensive piece, and not just scoring.

Anyway, it's an interesting question, especially when applied to teams like the Bucks, the Kings, and the Wizards. There's not a clear cut answer, except that without a primary scorer, you're going to be up and down, and when that scorer is not efficient, you're still going to lose games.
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So think about how much money has been loaded into small guards and small forwards? Kobe Bryant. Tracy McGrady. Ben Gordon (this summer). Michael Redd.

But take a look at this.

Best Players (arguably):
San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan
Detroit Pistons: Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace
Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire
New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul, David West
Portland Trailblazers: Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge

Point guards and power forwards, almost all of them. Sheed plays center, but he's really best defined as a big forward. So who's missing? The Celtics, right? But their most valuable player is Kevin Garnett (sorry, Paul). A power-forward. And as far as the point goes? How about this from CelticsBlog: No Rondo, No Win.

How about the Mavericks? Best player may be Josh Howard, but the team still hangs on Dirk. And point play has gotten them deep in the playoffs.

I just think it's interesting.

Of course, the Lakers, with Kobe and Bynum, wreck the theory, thereby furthering their case as the source of all evil in this world.
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