Archives For August 2005

Wilt, 1962, Reviewed

Kurt —  August 19, 2005

There may be no more mythically intimidating player in the history of basketball than Wilt Chamberlain. And 1962 was the year of his most famed achievement, the 100 point game. That’s at the heart of a new book by Gary Pomerantz, who looks at Wilt in that year and in the context of those times. Scott Thompson — who posters here know as Gatinho, one of the most insightful and regular commenters on this site — read the book while on vacation and has written a review. (Why he was reading a book while in Brazil is another question for another day.) I’m proud to post it here, and I think it’s safe to say he recommends it.

“The Hershey Sports Arena had aged like Dorian Gray: not at all…” When reading a sports book, an avid reader of many genres’ (or an English teacher’s) first thoughts as they begin are, “Is this going to be a sports novel that takes a stab at the literary or a piece of literature that happens to be about sports.” Pomerantz strikes a balance melding story-telling with poignant historical and social insights, sweetened with a load of head scratching Wilt stats some of which you just can’t get your head around (55 rebounds in a game against Bill Russell, allegedly a better rebounder).

In the legendary 100-point game, Wilt handled the ball 125 times, had 63 shots, 32 free throws, 25 rebounds, and played all 48 minutes. The previous record was 73 points (also Wilt´s) in triple overtime. No player has gone over 75 since that night and the last player who came close in recent history was David Robinson with 71 and he had the help of the Clippers. Only four players have broken 70: David Thompson, Wilt, Robinson, and the original Laker gunner, Elgin Baylor.

Wilt,1962, by Gary Pomerantz, was reflective of the format that Jane Leavy used in her 2003 book “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” chronicling Koufax´s perfect game set against the backdrop of the Watts riots. Alternating chapters, she moved from a pitch by pitch recount of the Game to chapters about Koufax and his social relevance as an icon of the Jewish Community. Alternating between insights into the characters involved in this John Henry style achievement and a minute by minute recap of the contest, Pomerantz mimics this style in his painstakingly researched novel analyzing “The Night of 100 points and the Dawn of a New Era.”

In arguing about the ability of a Shaq against a Wilt or Bill Russell, I always griped that, “Wilt was playing against a league that was on average 5 to 6 inches shorter than it is today.” Thus diminishing the efforts of Wilt with visions of an adult playing against a child on an 8 foot rim. But Pomerantz’s account lifted away those misconceptions and showed what a workman-like, lunch pail and hard hat effort this really was. Had he not missed the lay up, he would have scored the 99th and 100th points on a steal of the inbounds pass. Elgin Baylor, who predicted that Wilt would score a hundred in an interview with Chick Hearn just a month before he did, and Jerry West, whose 63 that year (24 in the third quarter, a Laker record) against the same pathetic Knick team that Wilt got historic on, are mentioned prominently in the book as the only two players of the time who could be mentioned in the same conversations about scoring as Wilt.

Laker fans will also recognize Dipperisms (Pomerantz calls him the Dipper throughout the book being as that was what Wilt preferred — he hated “The Stilt”) like “my boom-boom move” and “no one roots for Goliath” as having been “bitten” by one 340 pound South Beach resident.

Finally, Pomerantz unveils the NBA´s unwritten racial code of the time concerning African-American players and their implicit playing restrictions: “One at home, two on the road, and three if you are losing.” He places that into the context of the present NBA and its continuing difficulty of appealing to middle America. Interestingly, the criticism of the NBA then was that they were scoring too many points and that the average American Joe couldn’t relate to the “glandular goons” who were taking over the game. Sadly, to this day the same types of criticisms exist, dripping with their thinly veiled racial undertones,(lack of fundamentals, a one on one game, the playground/Spostscenter highlight reel influence) as echoes of the NBA´s past and the shift caused by The Dipper’s seminal performance penetrate the modern game.

If you want to check out the box score from Wilt’s big game, here it is.

Aaron McKie: A Quick Look

Kurt —  August 18, 2005

Which past-his-prime, tall guard being converted to the play point sounds better to you, Derek Anderson or Aaron McKie?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers are looking at McKie, who just got set free in the formerly-Alan-Houston-rule-now-the-Jerome-Williams-rule cuts. Since he’s on the radar, let’s take a quick look at McKie.

McKie played in 21 more games than Anderson last season but still played 121 fewer minutes than Anderson, averaging just 16.4 minutes per game (the Times mistakenly said McKie played 48 games last year, but he played in 68, starting 3). McKie is a couple of years older and has played three more seasons in the league than Anderson (11 total for McKie).

A few things concern me about McKie, and let’s start with what the Lakers need most from their point guard — defense. The good news is that McKie’s defensive numbers are pretty good — the last two seasons his defensive ratings were 104 and 103 (points per 100 possessions used by who he was guarding), both numbers at or below the league average and much better than Chuck Atkins 115 last season. Last year guards shot 50% against him, the season before 47%, the later being a pretty good number. The bad news is that McKie was not asked to cover point guards (Iverson took that duty), 82games has McKie matched almost exclusively against twos and three the last two years. What can he do against smaller, quicker point guards?

What should concern everyone about McKie is he combines some age with a drop off in production last season. From the 98-99 season through the 03-04 season, McKie averaged double digits in points scored per 40 minutes played, last season that number dropped to 5.4. He shot 32.3% from three-point range last year, below his career average of 35% and well below two seasons ago when he shot 43.6%. Or just look at his PER starting in the 01-02 season through last year: 15.8, 13.7, 13.9, 8.4.

Now all that said, McKie is not an offensive black hole, he still had an eFG% of 50% and had 1.02 points per shot attempt last season, numbers that were down from the previous season but not horrible, especialy coming to a team where he will not be asked to score a lot.

Was last year an aberration or is McKie sliding very fast on the down slope of his career (ala Brian Grant)? Does the decline in numbers relate to how he was used last year (I didn’t see many Philly games)?

Despite all my concerns, the Sixers were 1.6 points better per 48 minutes with McKie on the court rather than off last season. And if the Lakers are getting him for a two-year deal (one plus a team option would be nice) for just part of the MLE, while they find a better long-term solution at the point, then McKie could work out. Anderson could be the more gifted player when healthy, but McKie may be a somewhat safer bet.

Light Reading

Kurt —  August 17, 2005

Longer post coming hopefully this afternoon, another trip down memory lane (but not to the good years), but in the short term, may I suggest some reading.

The latest Carnival of the NBA is up at True Hoop (a site I try to check daily already). There’s a lot of good stories linked in the carnival, even one for you gamblers out there, but my personal favorites are: 1) Knickerblogger taking apart Charlie Rosen for calling Patrick Ewing a loser; 2) The sportsbusiness blog breakdown of the Addidas/Reebok deal.

Hoopsanalyst’s Bob Chaikin has a good look at the Joe Johnson deal, joining the growingly crowded “what are the Hawks thinking?” train. By the way, I’m not sure Phoenix will miss him too much, but they would have been better with him (but I wouldn’t pay that price either).

Update: One quick added must read. Dallas owner Mark Cuban, on his blog, talks about the decisions he made that led up to the release of Finley this week. it’s an insider’s look at how contracts are done and teams are built in the NBA. Also, for those of you who think the Lakers should just “buy a championship” this will be a sobering reality. (As if the attempt to do that with Payton and Malone wasn’t proof enough.)

The template for success in the NBA changed from the Portland model of 1999-2000 when I got to the league, to the Detroit, San Antonio, Miami model. The finances and rules of the league evolved. The winning teams were ahead of the curve or evolved as the business of the NBA changed. Today, success seems to come from being a smart organization that can identify and develop young talent and have the financial and or cap flexability to be opportunistic and improve your team in season or during the offseason.

Dan Rosenbaum has a great analysis of this.

(As a side note, a computer crash has cost me much of the entry I was working on, so it will be tomorrow before it gets done.)

Fast Break:

Kurt —  August 15, 2005

Things are moving slowly, and not just because I’m back on dial-up until the DSL gets hooked up at my new place later this week. Things are slow in Laker land with little action — even Eric Pincus has resorted to playing fantasy basketball with the Lakers.

Commenter DC is frustrated and I think there are a lot of Laker fans with him. I agree in one sense — this team, as of right now, is not very good. Even trying to keep cap space open in two years, there are some big holes to fill for next year. Where I give Mitch credit are two areas: 1) he shouldn’t be giving the big, long contracts to the current free agents out there because they just don’t deserve them, right now the market is tight and people are overpaying; 2) he’s taken a couple of two-year flyers (Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum) and if one of them pans out the Lakers will be in better shape in 2007.

The question is, when the Lakers finally get under the cap, who can they really go get? As of right now, I’d say the much discussed Amare Stoudemire or Yao Ming are big long shots to leave their current cities. But it’s impossible who will be available in two years, that’s several lifetimes at the speed fortunes turn in the NBA.

Some other notes while we wait for other shoes to drop.

• That Sam Cassell trade is a smart one by the Clippers. Shawn Livingston shows flashes of brilliance and is the point guard of the future, but last season showed just how frail he still is (talk about a guy who needs to eat steaks and hit the weights every day). At age 36 Cassell is not the Cassell he used to be, but like Robert Horry if you limit his minutes he can still be big when you need him. Plus, Livingston picks up pointers for a couple of years. The Clips, if they can stay healthy, are a serious contender for one of those last couple playoff spots in the West (that may not sound like much, but first this is the Clips so that’s a step up, and second the Lakers are in the same boat right now, in fact the Laker boat has more holes).

• Took an afternoon off from unpacking Sunday to head out to Dodger Stadium to take in a game — and it was a great game to choose. Pedro Martinez flirts with a no hitter, the Dodgers win and the game takes just 2:09. Every day at the ballpark should be that much fun.

• Shareef Abdur-Rahim going to Sacramento makes them better — he’ll take over the role Chris Webber could no longer fill. However, the Kings are still a team that gets, 50+ wins, makes the playoffs but will not contend for a title — unless Bibby and Peja become better defenders on the perimeter (and they won’t).

• Doesn’t moving feel like an adult version of Tetris?

Worthwhile Reading

Kurt —  August 12, 2005

While I’m throwing my back out today moving furniture (and without internet access the rest of the weekend) here are some things worth reading:

Eric Pincus has a story up at Hoopsworld about where the Lakers stand, the off-season moves made and looking at who’s left on the market — and it isn’t pretty:

As constructed, the Lakers are not a very good team. They have some good components and a lot of upside, but ultimately little on the bench, inconsistent power players and a gaping hole at the point.

If you have a raw big man you are looking to polish — and the Lakers do — is there a better person to bring in than maybe the best center ever to play the game?

If you want to get a better understanding of the stats I use on this site — the ones you find at places like 82games.com or the Knickerblogger stats page — then check out this piece I wrote for Father Knickerbocker. Trust me, I’m not that bright — if I can understand this stuff, you can too. Thanks to Larry for giving me the space.