Archives For October 2011

At 33 years old, Kobe Bryant has played for an astonishing 15 seasons in the NBA. He has been great for so long that it’s easy to forget that his game should be deteriorating to the point that he should now be a simple role player that contributes to a team with far better players than him (think Mitch Richmond late in his career). Instead, he is the best player on a team that will compete for the title when the season resumes and one of the best in the league today.  Mind you, no one plays for such an extended period of time without adjusting their games to better fit in with their talent level as well as their teammates. And thus, we look at the many transformations of Kobe Bryant the player, over the course of his career.

Face #1: The J.R. Smith (from 1996 to 1999)

1996-97 season: 7.6 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 41.7% FG

1997-98 season: 15.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.9 SPG, 42.8% FG

1998-99 season: 19.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 46.5% FG

Young players with huge expectations generally end up on bad teams where they get a lot of playing time and are able to learn from their mistakes by getting a lot of minutes. But In Kobe Bryant’s case, things were a little different. The young star in the making joined a team with a dominant center in Shaquille O’Neal and quality players at almost every position. The end result was that Bryant would only get sporadic playing time, coming off the bench.

Consequently, Kobe initially failed to blend his talents with those of the team. He would come off the bench, get into games, catch the ball and break from the offense to try and create a spectacular play. More often than not, he was unsuccessful in his attempts and his penchant for highlight reel type plays earned him the nickname Showboat from the team’s starting center.

In his first three seasons in the league, Kobe displayed exceptional ball handling skills (some might forget this now, but at the time Kobe came into the league with Allen Iverson’s crossover dribble) as well as some jaw dropping athleticism. His inconsistent and often selfish play resulted in him only starting 50 out of 200 games he appeared in.

Face #2: The Penny Hardaway (from 1999 to 2000)

1999-00 season: 22.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 46.8% FG

 

With several members of the Los Angeles Lakers openly questioning whether the team would ever truly compete for a title with Bryant on the team, Phil Jackson came to town and helped steer the young guard and turn him into a championship caliber shooting guard.

Gone were the tricky crossovers and low percentage shot attempts; they were instead replaced with a more disciplined player who embraced the triangle offense and thrived on getting the team into its offense.

This version of Kobe Bryant was a deadly one-on-one player that few could truly stop because of his ability to break down defenses with his speed, quickness, ball handling and ability to finish at the rim. Those skills had always been present, however he was now armed with an offensive system that he not only understood, but also helped him figure out when to assert himself.

Kobe no longer seemed intent on leading the league in scoring and highlights, he was instead replaced with a player willing to dump the ball in the post and create shots for others. In turn, he would get the opportunity to decide games late in the fourth quarter with his playmaking abilities.

The transformation helped Shaq and Kobe win their title together.

Face #3: The MJ (from 2000 to 2003)

2000-01 season: 28.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 46.4% FG

2001-02 season: 25.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 46.9% FG

2002-2003 season: 30.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG, 45.1% FG

In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons stated that Dwyane Wade’s performance in the 2006 NBA Finals was the closest thing the world had seen to anyone replicating Michael Jordan’s level of play. The comparison in itself was somewhat fair (at least statistically) but it essentially failed to take Kobe Bryant’s play from 2000 to 2003 into account.

Bryant may have had to share the court and the ball with one of the most dominant players in NBA history during this stretch, but this was his breakout party. In seasons prior, it was widely accepted that Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan were the best players in the league; but the 2000-01 campaign changed the opinions of many. Allen Iverson’s MVP season may have been the most interesting story that year, but this was also the time at which Kobe stopped being a sidekick and instead became an alpha male who would help the Lakers win two more titles in the Shaq era.

The young guard became a more dominant scorer intent on imposing his will on opponents by going on huge scoring runs. He may have seemed selfish early on, but by the time the postseason arrived, Kobe took his foot off the gas pedal a little but still remained a dangerous scorer who figured out the balance between getting his teammates involved and taking over games.

And thus, from 2000 to 2003, Bryant had 16 40-point games and four 50-point games during the regular season. During the same stretch, the superstar managed to exceed the 30-point plateau 22 times (in 47 games) during the playoffs.

Kobe was a sensational and unstoppable scorer during this period but still managed to improve another facet of his game: his defense.

Starting during the 2000-01 season, Kobe Bryant became the most destructive defensive guard since Gary Payton. No elite perimeter player was safe from his wrath: point guards, shooting guards and small forwards all got a taste of this new Kobe; whoever he was assigned to guard was pretty much taken out of the game and whoever had to guard him in turn got lit up and could not do anything about it.

Face #4: The Scottie (2003-2004)

2003-04 season: 24.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, 43.8% FG

After getting eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers figured that they needed to acquire talent to once again compete for a championship. With Duncan dominating them in the 2003 postseason, the purple and gold desperately needed a power forward capable of not only defending the Big Fundamental but also score on him to keep him occupied on defense.

And with that, Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined the Lakers for a chance to help L.A. get back at the top of the mountain.

Shaquille O’Neal would remain a vital option on offense, but now the ball had to be spread a little more amongst the other players to ensure a good offensive balance as well as keep all the stars happy. Many predicted that Bryant would have problems adjusting to a lesser role on offense and meshing with his new teammates all the while facing his ongoing battle in the court room after being accused of sexual assault.

And yet, what emerged that season was a Kobe Bryant that filled in the blanks. Indeed, the superstar guard often deferred to his new teammates all the while directing them to spots on the court where they would be best suited to get high percentage shots as a result of defensive rotations.

During this run, Kobe essentially became a combination of the Scottie Pippen that led the Blazers to the 2000 Western Conference Finals and the Pippen that led the Chicago Bulls to 55 win during the 1993-94 season (when Jordan retired the first time). Anything the team needed, Bryant provided.

Kobe was still a gifted scorer and elite defender, but he picked his spots more than in previous seasons. If the offense was crisp and the team was creating good shots and converting them, he would stick to the script and only take shots when available. However, if the offense bogged down and the team was in a rut, Kobe became more aggressive and took over the scoring duties; going on some impressive runs.

For instance, when Karl Malone got injured in December, the Lakers needed to rely more on the former Lower Merion star because the Mailman was such integral part of the team with his scoring and passing. The end result was 9 30-point games during the absence of the power forward (as opposed to just two such games prior to Malone going down).

But Kobe’s role that season did not center merely on offense. If an opposing player got hot at any point against the Lakers, Phil Jackson would switch his off guard onto him to cool him off. The perfect example came in a March home game against the Orlando Magic in which Tracy McGrady torched the Lakers through three quarters and helped his team take a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter.

McGrady had 37 points going into the final quarter of the game, most of which came off 3-point field goals, transition baskets and midrange jumpers at the expense of Devean George.

Bryant picked up T-Mac in the fourth quarter and shut him down for the remainder of the game as the Lakers rallied back to win in overtime, with Bryant making a multitude of tough shots to seal the game.

This Kobe may have only manifested himself for one season, but he was one of the best versions of this said player ever.

 

Face #5: The Tracy McGrady (2004 to 2007)

2004-05 season: 27.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 43.3% FG

2005-06 season: 35.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 45.0% FG

2006-07 season: 31.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 46.3% FG

Chucky Atkins, Tony Bobbitt, Tierre Brown, Andrew Bynum, Caron Butler, Brian Cook, Vlade Divac, Maurice Evans, Jordan Farmar, Devean George, Brian Grant, Jim Jackson, Jumaine Jones, Aaron McKie, Stanislav Medvedenko, Chris Mihm, Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, Laron Profit, Vladimir Radmanovic, Kareem Rush, Ronny Turiaf, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Shammond Williams. In case you failed to see the common denominator, those were the names of the players that shared the court with Kobe Bryant at one point or another from the 2004-05 season to the 2006-07 one. Needless to say, these players were selected to a combined 0 All-NBA teams.

With Shaquille O’Neal getting traded to Miami, Karl Malone retiring and Gary Payton switching NBA addresses, the Lakers quickly became a team in dire need of talent to surround around their franchise player. And unfortunately for Bryant, the team failed miserably to provide him with any stud players. The end result? A Kobe Bryant that emulated Tracy McGrady circa 2002.

Every offensive possession became a Kobe Bryant movie casting: which actor will be the leading man in the Lakers movie tonight starring the Black Mamba?

With the team lacking players able to create high percentage shots for themselves, Kobe had to essentially create the offense for the whole team. That meant taking the majority of the shot attempts, and also setting the table for everybody else.

The strategy was obviously not ideal but it would help the purple and gold stay afloat for most games, provided that Kobe play 48 minutes per game; which was never going to happen. Thus, whenever Bryant had to miss time due to injury or simply go to the bench for a rest, the team fell apart.

Mind you, when Kobe was on the court though, it was just a thing of a beauty. Given the fact that he was the team’s only true scoring option, he saw a steady diet of defenses geared to stop him, contain him, frustrate him and force him to give the ball up. And yet, he outsmarted them by still getting the shots he wanted because he was still a terrific athlete who could score in a variety of ways.

Bryant scored from downtown, midrange and at the rim because he was a good shooter, terrific ball handler and great finisher who also happened to still have the first step and quickness to breeze past defenders. In addition, he could set up shop on the low block or in the pinch post (around edge of free throw line) and put defenders in a torture box of pump fakes that defenders always bit on.

This version of Kobe eclipsed the 40-point plateau 27 times and most famously rang up a staggering 81 points against the Toronto Raptors and killed any and every comparison ever made between him and the likes of Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson.

Face #6: The Kobe that was always meant to be (2007 to present)

2007-2008 season: 28.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 45.9 % FG

2008-09 season: 26.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 46.7% FG

2009-10 season: 27.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 45.6% FG

2010-11 season: 25.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 45.1% FG

After years of waiting for his front office to surround him with quality players, Kobe Bryant went on a tirade during the summer of 2007 and made a public demand to be traded. When that did not happen, he went back to work and played at a high level as usual. The team had some quality veterans in Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom and a promising young center in Andrew Bynum; but they were missing a second star to help take some pressure off the star guard. And then, the Pau Gasol trade happened (and the rest of the NBA had the mother of all hissy fits; the only way the backlash could have been worse was if Gasol hired Jim Gray to host a half-hour television show in which he announced he was taking his talents to Hollywood).

Bryant once again had an elite player alongside him that could not only create high percentage shots for himself, but for teammates as well; Kobe included. Consequently, the load on the superstar’s shoulders lessened and his game changed to some degree. With Gasol on board, Kobe no longer needed to recklessly attack the basket to get the team out of scoring droughts, instead he could focus on Pau’s interior game but also take over when necessary.

The addition of the Spaniard helped ease the transition of the athletic Kobe to the much more grounded one. Bryant would still attack the basket on occasion for thundering dunks, but mostly his game would become a perimeter oriented one that relied heavily on midrange shots.

This version of the Black Mamba relies more on superior footwork, jab steps, pump fakes and hesitation dribbles to set up defenders for fade away jumpers. And once opponents start to press him to prevent him from getting space on his jumpers; that’s when Kobe fakes them out of their shoes and takes the ball to the rack for a finish or to get fouled.

He will gladly defer to his teammates and let them run the show depending on the opponent, but with the game on the line, there may not be a more feared player in the game today. His level of sophistication as a basketball player makes him impossible to defend which in turn leads to a variety of clutch plays.

Although the Lakers star probably did not envision losing some of his athleticism at this age, he certainly always saw himself as the best player on a championship team; and that is exactly what he is today. His combination of experience, skill and basketball intellect make him one of the greatest players in the game today and a once in a generation talent.

And he’s not even close to being done…

We love looking back at past eras and players here at FB&G. Whether celebrating the many legends or critical role players that have donned the Laker colors, it’s always nice to go back in time and remember the accomplishments of those that contributed so much to the success of the Laker franchise.

And in that vein, Emile Avanessian of Hardwood Hype has put together a must read piece on Byron Scott. An excerpt to wet your palette:

Though beloved in Lakerland, nationally Scott is remembered more as a role player, fortunate for the circumstance in which he found himself, than as one of the best offensive guards of the 1980s.

The 9,053 points he scored in his first seven NBA seasons (1983-84- 1989-90) qualified Scott as one of the NBA’s ten most prolific backcourt scorers during that stretch. Of that group, only four players- Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Rolando Blackman and Scott- shot better than 50% from the field. In terms of True Shooting Percentage, only the aforementioned trio, along with Dale Ellis, equaled Scott’s 56.2% mark.

Of the ten best scoring guards of the era, only Sleepy Floyd (20.7% Usage Rate) required the ball less frequently than Scott (21.6%), and only Jeff Malone (8.9% Turnover Rate) and Ellis (10.1%) turned the ball over less frequently. And while he was hardly a box score stuffer in the mold of Magic, Scott ranked in the top third of starting guards in steals (15th), defensive rebounds (14th) and total rebounds (16th).

Not the top pick in the draft like three of his fellow starters, Scott arrived in the NBA as a blue-chip prospect in his own right. A McDonald’s All-American out of Inglewood’s Morningside High in 1979, he was selected fourth overall out of Arizona State by the San Diego Clippers in the 1983 draft, and cost the Lakers (who, in fairness, also needed to clear the PG spot for Magic) an All-Star guard in Norm Nixon.

I know, I know. Scott got to play with Magic, and Magic made everyone better. This is irrefutable. Even in the context of his own team, however, Scott is omitted from the top tier of contributors. He’s remembered more as a first-class passenger than a vital cog in the engine.

Emille offers up much more to properly frame Scott’s time as a Laker and I suggest you take the time to go read the entire article. Not only does it give proper credit to a vital part to one of the great eras of Laker basketball, but it includes one of the best clips of Scott filling the lane I’ve seen.

Evaluating Kobe’s #NBARank

J.M. Poulard —  October 17, 2011

The Los Angeles Lakers have been well represented in #NBARank with four players making the top 50. Indeed, Lamar Odom was rated as the 44th best player in the league, Andrew Bynum as the 30th and Pau Gasol as the 11th. It was clear from the start that Kobe Bryant would be the last player announced, but his spot remained unknown, until now.

With young stars like Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose now making their mark on the league, carrying their franchises and earning the attention from fans all across the world, it’s no surprise that they made the top 10; with Griffin coming in at the 10th spot and Rose at the eighth.

And yet, despite their ascension, they just could not yet outrank the Black Mamba who was rated as the seventh best player in the NBA by the staff of ESPN.COM writers and bloggers.

Bryant’s overall production decreased in comparison to the 2009-10 season, which can easily be attributed to the decrease in his minutes; but he was still one of the best players in the NBA last season.

There is probably a camp that believes that Kobe was robbed and that he should occupy the top spot of these rankings ahead of every other NBA superstar. Indeed, a solid argument could be made that Kobe is a better player than the players left ahead of him (Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade).

The former Lower Merion high school star blends a deadly jump shot with exquisite footwork, terrific ball handling skills, court vision and a series of fakes to more often than not dominate his opposition from the guard position.

In addition, Bryant can play both guard spots as well as the small forward position to give the Lakers the versatility to throw out different line ups to take advantage of mismatches. Kobe’s scoring is lethal, but the attention he attracts helps him create shots for others, which in turn makes the Lakers one of the best offenses in the league, given the finishers on the team.

Furthermore, his play in the clutch is literally the stuff of legends. Short of defending Kobe with five players late in ball games, there is just no way for opponents to feel safe when the ball is in his hands with the clock ticking down. Although there is no way to verify this, I feel confident in stating that no player in NBA history has attempted and converted more insanely difficult shots than the Mamba. Kobe Bryant may not always take high percentage shots, but he has all the tools required in his basketball shed to score on opponents whether single covered or double-teamed.

As far as aesthetics go, no one in the NBA has a better-looking game than Kobe. In a sense, he is a little bit like Randy Moss: everything he does just seems completely natural, fluid and dare I say, beautiful. The things Kobe does on a basketball court tend to get noticed, even if they are basic by his standards. A behind the back dribble followed by a fade away jumper from the elbow is a thing of beauty when Bryant is involved; and it looks extremely difficult for anyone else to replicate.

All of these facets of Kobe Bryant’s game make him one of the best players in the league, but how could he possibly only obtain a ranking of seventh best in the association? One word: defense.

The Lakers superstar is a great team defender; he gets into passing lanes and roams around to disrupt opposing offenses and does a good job of helping out teammates when they get beat.

However, he is no longer the game changer he once was defensively when matched up one-on-one with great perimeter players. Bryant is still a good on that end of the court and occasionally flashes signs of greatness on this front. Indeed, Kobe can guard great wing players for perhaps a quarter or a few possessions down the stretch of games but can no longer consistently shut down his man for an entire contest.

When discussing the absolute best player in the league, one has to expect that he is dominant on both ends of the court and the Lakers superstar’s defense has slipped enough that the title of “best player in the game” is tough to bestow upon him, although one would have to think that Bryant at the very least would outclass Durant at this point.

Nonetheless, Kobe Bryant will continue to be the standard of excellence by which we measure current and future great perimeter players, and that trumps any rankings system today.

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: As Stern has recounted a dozen times since, not long after what was supposed to have been the hallway conversation that saved the season, something odd and wholly unexpected happened. There was a knock on the door where Stern was selling his owners on the idea. The players wanted to talk. When they convened, instead of the union’s head, Hunter, or its negotiating committee of Maurice Evans, Matt Bonner, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff, Etan Thomas and Chris Paul, representing the players were Fisher, Kessler and three superstars who had been to very few of the meetings at all: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant. A bad sign: Pierce was still wearing his backpack. The players had two pieces of news that shocked the league: 50/50 was not good enough. And there was nothing further to discuss.

From Matt Moore, Eye On Basketball: To close this deal, with so much on the line, do you send in your experienced diplomat, the man who has the know-how and demeanor to establish guidelines, work to squirrel away as much as can be reasonably established,  and ensure that the lines of communication stay open? Or do you send in your slightly off-balance general who too often resorts to screaming and who considers everything to be a battlefield? The owners sent in the warrior, and that at least partially contributed to the disaster of losing games so close to a deal. Dual independent reports from ESPN today tell of the meeting that could have saved the season, and of the reported 50/50 deal that fell apart (which both sides claim came from the other side). And the conclusion came not with Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher dealing with the union, but with Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant… and Kevin Garnett marching in to tell the owner’s what what.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Monday’s cancelation of the first two weeks of games by commissioner David Stern was something Fisher said the union anticipated. Despite both sides meeting for more than 13 hours in the two days before the cancelation was announced, Stern acknowledged there was still a wide gulf on “virtually all issues.” Where do we go from here? How do we get back to a place where we see Fisher with West’s silhouette on his warm-ups and uniform the majority of the time and just a glimpse of him in a suit before and after games? With the incentive of salvaging a full season off the table and both sides threatening to harden their stances as the lockout ticks past Day 102 and toward Day 204 (which is how long the lockout lasted in 1998-99) or beyond, there are no easy solutions. But these four concessions — two from the players’ side and two from the owners’ side — would go a long way in bridging the gap that divides them.

From Matt Moore, Pro Basketball Talk: There’s a whole lot of confusion over the first two weeks of the season that have been canceled. The league doesn’t know how many games will be canceled, so it can’t make any announcements on the status of the games that have already been canceled. The assumption is that the games that were lost are gone forever. But that’s probably not the case.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: In a lot of ways, we cover the league like a highly serialized television show, following big storylines, tracking characters, and trying to figure out how A impacts B and could change C 10 games down the road. Many fans consume it that way, too. But a far larger number are more casual, passing in and out of the NBA world depending on countless other things vying for their attention. How each demographic reacts to the lockout I don’t know, but one thing is undeniably true: To sustain the sort of growth the NBA has seen while continuing to expand in ways they’d like requires an enormous number of people consuming the product, wildly outstripping the amount of people in an NBA arena or watching on TV on any given night. Ultimately, whether the NBA misses a month or a season, the die-hards (most of them, at least) will come back. Angrily and with resentment, but back nonetheless. I’m confident Lakers fans would again fill the Staples Center. But die-hards and Lakers ticket buyers don’t constitute the bulk of the basketball viewing public. In a world with ever expanding entertainment options, particularly on television, and in the face of a lousy economy, what happens to everyone else?

From David Murphy, Searching For Slava: George Cohen is head of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, appointed by President Obama. He has argued five landmark labor cases before the Supreme Court, over 100 cases before appellate and federal district courts. He worked with the NFL during their recent lockout, mediated soccer in 2010 and hockey in 2005. He pleaded for the MLB players before U.S. District Judge Sotomayor in ‘96. She lifted the strike that same day. The consensus amongst most sports writers? He doesn’t have a shot. It’s a view born of a series of downturns and deceit – it’s Charlie Brown landing flat on his back after Lucy pulls away the football, once again. This seems to bother me in some vague way. Director Cohen has been talking to both sides, off-the-record, for months. He knows the numbers, the conflicts, the game. The players want to give him a full week to work a deal. The commissioner has given him one day only, citing scheduling conflicts. Stop and rewind. David Stern, in the midst of a media blitz, gives a presidential appointee, a day. Posturing?  Probably, but the players’ union still has a complaint before the National Labor Board and Stern is dancing perilously close to the edge.

From Janis Carr, The OC Register: Morris, like all the other incoming rookies, was headed for the NBA and big paydays when the league locked out the players in a labor dispute that has dragged on for three-plus months. Training camps should have opened by now, exhibition games played. Opening day was scheduled for Nov.1. But all that is off until a compromise between the NBA and the players’ union can be reached. “I’m starting to get anxious now,” Morris said over the phone as he headed to Friday’s NBPA meeting in Beverly Hills, “because now it (lockout) is tapping into training camp and games. “I’m anxious to experience my dream but in the meantime, I’m just controlling what I can control.” And that’s his expenses and his training.

Pau Gasol’s #NBARank

J.M. Poulard —  October 14, 2011

The Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks for a multitude of reasons. The one that most chose to focus on was the subpar play of Lakers starting power forward Pau Gasol. And really, it would have been impossible not to direct some blame towards the Spaniard based on his averages against Dallas during the postseason: 13.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on a woeful 42.1 percent field goal shooting.

And thus, when #NBARank announced that Gasol had been rated as the 11TH best player in the NBA; it might have surprised some. It was far too easy to look at his performance during the spring and conclude that he was not worthy of such praise. Mind you, it’s extremely important when discussing the Lakers forward as well as any other NBA player to do so with a bit of perspective.

Indeed, Pau may not have played up to his standards during the playoffs, but he was certainly productive during the regular season as he showcased his tremendously polished post game.

For years, Tim Duncan owned the low block on offense. No big man could match his array of footwork, hook shots and drop steps. However, with the Big Fundamental’s skills declining, the title of low post king probably now belongs to none other than Pau Gasol. He has the ability to face up defenders and breeze past them for lay ups and dunks, he shoots a deadly perimeter jump shot (according to Hoopdata, Pau shot 49 percent from 16 to 23 feet during the 2010-11 regular season), uses terrific footwork to score on the low block with either right or left handed hook shots, adequately uses his reverse pivot to set up defenders for drives or pump fakes and also finishes well at the rim.

In addition, Gasol is a solid passer who is more than willing to give up to rock to teammates to create high percentage shots. Combine those facts with his ability to pull down tough rebounds in traffic as well as provide support on the defensive end and we are quite evidently talking about one of the premier power forwards in the league.

Put it this way: other than Blake Griffin and Dirk Nowitzki, would you want any other power forward starting for your team today? And let’s not forget, Gasol is often asked to play both the center and power forward positions on both offense and defense for the Lakers depending on the availability of Andrew Bynum.

Indeed, when the Lakers lacked their full complement of players during the 2010-11 regular season, they called upon Gasol to play harder, to be tougher and to play extended minutes to help the team find its way while dealing with injuries.

During the early part of the regular schedule last season, with Andrew Bynum sidelined and Kobe Bryant slowly trying to figure out his way physically, Pau Gasol helped the Los Angeles Lakers win 10 out of 15 games in the month of November, with averages of 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 blocks per game on 54.1 percent field goal shooting.

Pau Gasol is unquestionably one of the best players in the NBA and the numbers back it up. Have a look at the graphic with the 15 best player efficiency ranking figures (more commonly referred to as PER) from last season:

Rank

Player

PER

Usage Rate

1

LeBron James

27.34

29.7

2

Dwight Howard

26.13

24.3

3

Dwyane Wade

25.65

29.1

4

Kevin Love

24.39

21.3

5

Kobe Bryant

23.94

33.0

6

Chris Paul

23.76

22.2

7

Kevin Durant

23.70

27.8

8

Russell Westbrook

23.63

30.8

9

Derrick Rose

23.62

31.3

10

Dirk Nowitzki

23.52

25.5

11

Pau Gasol

23.33

20.6

12

Amare Stoudemire

22.78

27.7

13

Zach Randolph

22.67

23.0

14

Tim Duncan

21.94

21.2

15

Blake Griffin

21.93

25.6

Gasol compares favorably to some of the best players in the league. The Spaniard had the 11th best PER in the league and yet had the lowest usage rate (John Hollinger defines it as the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes) of the top 15 players rated by PER.

One could easily make the argument that no top player in the league had to share the wealth more than Gasol given the amount of talent on his team and yet he still managed to thrive within his role.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, Gasol has helped the purple and gold reach three consecutive NBA Finals. The elimination at the hands of the Mavericks came as a shocker because many expected that the Lakers would repeat as champions once again thanks in large part to the play of their star forward. When the squad failed to advance, the majority of the blame fell on his shoulders, but that is a testament to how far he has a come and how talented a player he is.

Only a handful of big men could step in today and take Gasol’s spot on the Lakers; a surefire sign that he is close to being irreplaceable. He may not be your prototypical franchise player (think Kobe, Duncan, LeBron and Shaq in their best years), but he is the perfect big man to complement one.

#NBARank has decided that Pau Gasol is the best player not to make the NBA’s top 10 players list and really, his spot could not be more perfect.

Out In The Cold

Darius Soriano —  October 11, 2011

The first two weeks of the NBA season are gone. David Stern and the owners – the ones that possess the power to make such a decision – decreed it so last night after another bargaining session that did nothing to bridge the gulf that exists between the players and the owners.

Those who’ve followed my thoughts on the lockout know that I was optimistic about a full season being played with games starting on time. Obviously I was wrong. I thought logic and forward thinking would prevail and it did not. Chris Sheridan (of Sheridan Hoops) summed up how I feel perfectly with a brief post right after Stern made his ominous announcement:

I trusted wise men to act wisely. I believed in common sense prevailing. I think the NBA owners are nuts to go down this road. They just lost a significant percentage of their fair-weather fans. Idiocy rules the day. How very, very sad. Not just sad. Stupid.

For the Lakers, this means the first 8 games of their schedule are wiped away. Home games versus the Thunder, Hornets, Spurs, Nuggets, and Pistons; road games versus the Warriors, Suns, and Kings. If you’re scoring at home that’s one less chance to see Tim Duncan and Steve Nash towards the end of their careers while missing out on young up and comers like Durant (though, up and comer doesn’t do his position in the league justice), Westbrook, Curry, Evans, and Cousins.

At this point I’m a mix between extremely sad and ridiculously angry. I’ve long believed this was possible but didn’t think either side (especially the owners) would risk the progress made in recent seasons with an extended work stoppage. There’s simply too much to lose to let it play out this way but like some bad movie that we’re stuck watching here we are.

And while both sides share blame in this matter, in my heart of hearts I can’t escape the fact that the owners deserve more of it. In the past 15 years Stern and the owners have locked the players out twice. And twice we’ve lost games. After the ’99 lockout, the owners got nearly everything they wanted in the labor deal and were hailed unanimously as winners. They got their cap on max contracts, limits on contract lengths, a rookie pay scale, and a luxury tax (among other things). Today, they claim that they system they negotiated for (and got) doesn’t work anymore and it’s the players that must give back to make up for it.

But in the end, the real losers are the supporters of the game that have no say in the room where owners and players argue over BRI splits and punitive punishments on the highest spending teams. They’re arguing over how to divide the pie and we who spectate are left begging for crumbs that never come.

On that note, some choice reading on the subject:

From J.A. Adande, ESPN: You haven’t heard the fans, or the game itself mentioned much lately, have you? That’s because they don’t factor into this discussion at all. It was always about people saving themselves: owners asking the players to bail them out of bad business moves, players asking to preserve their cushy status with the highest average salaries among American team sports. The NBA was counting on you to be a sucker. You’d be a sucker because the league just intentionally damaged its brand and devalued its product by showing its willingness to do without it, secure in the knowledge that fans would still come back once this was over. Or you’re a sucker because you bought the lines the NBA fed you for the better part of two years — that the league needed a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks and other drastic changes to the fundamental structure of the league in order for the business model to be tenable — only to find out that wasn’t actually the case. That’s the realization that hit me Monday as we awaited word on the last-minute labor negotiations. At this point I was actually rooting against a simplistic end to the lockout. Because to end it without anything more drastic than a lower revenue share for the players would mean the past four months were a complete waste of time.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: It would take some real fools to shut down their $4 billion a year business in the middle of the worst recession in generations because the more than $1 billion over six years they just got back from the workers was not good enough. However, the NBA owners are not fools. They think you are. The owners — and these lost games are on them far more than the players — think that no matter what, you’ll come back. Maybe right when the season starts (something many of us hard-core fans admit), maybe when the playoffs start, maybe in a year or two, but you’ll be back. You’ll come back fast and in large numbers, dwarfing the more than $4 billion in revenues the NBA got last season.

From Tom Ziller, SB Nation: The concessions Stern cites? They were willing to keep guaranteed contracts alive, willing to drop their push for rollbacks on existing contracts and abandoned the hard salary cap concept.  How generous of the owners to drop three demands that they created themselves in these very negotiations! This is like a 6-year-old demanding three cookies, a bowl of ice cream and a bag of M&Ms. “OK, we’ll make a concession on the M&Ms, I’ll take three cookies and some ice cream. Hey, I made a concession!” It doesn’t work that way. One side is not allowed to “invent” a compromise from the start and claim it has negotiated in good faith to get there. Ah, “good faith,” an odd concept where these talks are concerned. The union argued way back in May that the league lacked good faith in its negotiations, and the players filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board to that effect. That complaint is still floating around the bureaucracy, ready to drop in at some point. I don’t know exactly how anti-trust litigation works in America these days, where the courts stand on the issue of the NBA as entertainment company vs. sole provider of legit pro basketball in the United States. But, as Hunter said Monday, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck …

From Zach Lowe, The Point Forward: I’ve addressed in detail why players care about the system issues despite this percentage setup. In their view — and the views of their agents and attorneys — a hard cap or something approximating it will kill guaranteed long-term contracts for middle-class veteran players. The players as a whole might be guaranteed that set percentage of revenues, but that money would be distributed differently, with stars getting more, rookies getting whatever the rules allow and the middle-rung veterans scrapping for leftovers on short-term deals. You can understand that. It’s hard to see, but you can understand it. But why are the owners willing to lose actual basketball games, and the revenue that goes with them, over system issues? That is the harder question, since they too will receive only the set percentage of revenue to which they are entitled. If you ask the league, it will stress competitive balance — the notion that hardening the cap system will help small-market teams compete with the big boys by narrowing the spending gap. And yet, just about all the evidence we have on record suggests basketball might be inherently “uncompetitive,” relative to other popular team sports. Nor is it clear that, should the league somehow achieve parity, that doing so would increase its popularity. Maybe it will. I’d bet against it, but who knows? The point is, it’s uncertain, and you don’t cough up hundreds of millions in revenue to chase a dream.

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Meanwhile, Stern has not exactly said that the league has already made the best offer, but close enough. Asked if the offers would get worse from here, Stern’s entire answer was: “Well, our economic situation gets worse, and we have to begin accounting for that.”  In other words, strong signs from both sides that they’ll be staying on their respective sides of the “gulf,” even though we know it can’t be true. There are a lot of really smart and fascinatingly subtle aspects to these negotiations. The people involved are incredibly capable. The process is in some ways rational. This is how $20 billion deals go, there is a lot of posturing and delays. However, now that the costs get real, lost revenues, disenfranchised fans, tough times for those who rely on the NBA to pay the bills, it’s worth noting that when this is all done, in addition to paying the price of change, the two sides will also have paid mightily in idiot tax. When success hinges entirely on compromise, how smart is it to build statues to inflexibility?

From Brian Kamentzky, Land O’ Lakers: Don’t hold your breath for a quick resolution. While the rhetoric following tonight’s negotiations was predictably strong, it still doesn’t appear to be a situation where after weeks of talks progress is being made, just not quite fast enough. Said Stern, “We’re further apart on where we thought we would get to on the contract length, on the length of the deal, on the use of exceptions by taxpaying teams, on annual increases for players, and for the tax levels, and the frequency of the tax.” On a positive note, I do believe, though I can’t confirm, both sides have agreed the basketball will remain orange. Monday’s news comes as a shock to, well, nobody. Pollyanna herself Tweeted over the weekend she’d be making alternate plans for opening night. Still, a very scary line has crossed, because from this point forward the math changes as both sides start losing income. At least initially, expect owners to roll back their proposals, prompted they say by the lost income of missed games. “Our economic situation gets worse,” Stern said, “and we have to begin accounting for that.” Players could very well dig in, too. Why bother forgoing checks only to accept what they see as the same bad deal a couple of weeks later?

From David Murphy, Searching For Slava: In the end, it came down to yards, not inches, and the eldest of elders turned slightly away and rubbed at his chest and wore his smile and his skin turned gray as he spun avarice into pride. And the lights blazed on and the town criers sat at devices, and fingers danced over keys marked “insert” and “delete” and they cooked their bindles grimly and inserted thin needles into delivery systems. And the trails turned to tar until the spaces had filled and villagers put away their torches and stroked long beards and headed for home. Yesterday, Derek Fisher sent a letter urging all players to attend a Monday meeting in Los Angeles if at all possible. It seemed prescient, signaling the possibility of a vote to affirm if saner voices had prevailed, or to stand for unity if the scene had gone bad. The owners stalled and snickered and eventually heard distant barking and left, their mouths wet with new want. The practice courts will not echo again. Words will not rinse clean. And we will fold our hopes into squares and place them in penny jars and cardboard boxes.

Lastly, some have been lobbying for NBA players to head to Europe to increase their leverage in these talks. But if you read the twitter timeline of Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony, you’ll find that’s not necessarily in the cards, stating agents are living in a “fantasy world” if they believe roster spots for established NBA names will simply open up:

Unfortunately the majority of NBA agents don’t have any clue about how int’l teams operate. They missed their opportunity in the summer. Speaking from experience after approaching 15-20 NBA players w/serious offers from int’l teams. Most agents just don’t understand the market. I have no issues w/that, but don’t expect these teams to bail you out now that reality finally hit you in the face. The market is 97% closed.

(h/t Ball Is Life)

On Sunday night, the Drew League hosted the Goodman League in a rematch between the Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. based pro-am leagues. After losing by a point in D.C., the Drew league were able to even the summer series against the Goodman league with a 151-144 win featuring over a dozen NBA guys.

*The Goodman league was led by John Wall (55 points) and Kevin Durant (50 points) who both put on a scoring clinic. Wall’s on-ball speed might have been one of the more impressive things I saw during the game as he was able to make the Suns ’06 “7-seconds or less” offense seem like a lifetime by comparison. Wall got in the paint at will using his ability to change pace and a variety of crossovers, and when he got in the paint, he put on a show finishing off a few dunks that got the attention of the crowd.

*Durant, who spent the whole summer burning down gyms and arenas, scored 50 with a barrage of three-pointers, fade away jumpers, turn-around fade aways and dunks. A few guys took a shot at guarding him, but Durant was able to go to work in almost every isolation situation and find a way to get a bucket.

*It was nice to see Rudy Gay back on the floor. Gay suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last year and Sunday’s game was one of the first times he’s been able to get back on the floor and play. He wasn’t the scorer that we’re used to seeing, but he had a few nice moves off the dribble and threw down a couple of mean dunks.

*On the Drew side, James Harden had the most impressive night in terms of the box score. He poured in 48 points, taking on all defenders. No, seriously. James Harden took on everyone as he was shooting the ball almost every time he touched it, leading to an exchange with a fan who pleaded for him to pass. Nonetheless, Harden was incredibly difficult for any of the Goodman league guys to handle individually. His strength and athleticism definitely set him apart from almost everyone else on the floor.  His beard was a bit tough to handle, too.

*Early in the game, Nick Young was a bit frustrating to watch as he tried to run the show at the point, but he had a few nice dunks and played very well down the stretch. His jumper was falling when the game’s intensity started to pick up. The game was tight with just a few minutes left, and Young helped the Drew League pull away from the Goodman league with a couple of contested jumpers from around the pinch post.

*Finally, the Lakers own Matt Barnes may have been the single biggest reason the Drew League was able to pull away from the Goodman League. Barnes was assigned to guard Durant down the stretch, and only gave up five points to Durant during the last 4-plus minutes. After Durant nailed a three in Barnes grill, Barnes ripped a Durant crossover which led to a fast break bucket. A few possessions later, Barnes picked up a loose ball that would have easily led to a Goodman dunk on the other end and was able to lay it end extending the Drew lead to two possessions. I don’t have a copy of the official box score, but I believe Barnes finished 2nd in scoring for the Drew League with 20.

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