Archives For October 2011

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.