Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Making a Livingston

The OKC Thunder have just signed former Clipper lottery pick Sean Livingston to a multi-year deal. Great pickup in my opinion. Livingston has been playing in the NBA Developmental League for the Tulsa 66ers. Though not eye-popping, his numbers are pretty good: 9.5 points, 6.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 11 games.

Why I like this move, despite the tremendous play of Kyle Weaver and Thabo Sefalosha of late, is that in spite of creating a sort of potential logjam at the guard spots, it is a low risk, high reward situation. Livingston, a former #4 pick in the draft, was touted as a baby Magic coming out of high school. While those lofty expectations will most assuredly never be met, the kid's got plenty of potential. He's also a 6-7 point guard who can play and defend all three positions. Nobody really talks about his importance to that Clippers team that won 47 games and made it to the second round of the playoffs in 2005-06. But after coming back from an early season back injury, Livingston was second on the team in assists and filled the backup point guard role as well as filled in for the injured Corey Maggette. In the postseason, he was even better averaging 7.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists on 47 percent shooting in 27 minutes over 12 games.

Of course, there are two major knocks on the kid. One, he's injury prone: lower back stress reaction, torn cartilage in his right shoulder, dislocated right knee cap, and of course this horrific accident where he tore the ACL, PCL, MCL and lateral meniscus in his left knee. The most games he's ever played 61.

The other, is one he shares with Russell Westbrook. Neither can shoot a lick. Still, Westbrook is 20 years old and has the rest of his career to improve his shot. With a healthy Livingston, Westbrook can play like a shooting guard, but guard the oppositions point guard and Livingston has the versatility and length to cover 1-3. Livingston also brings a much needed asset on this team, the ability to pass. With a career 2.35 assist-to-turnover ratio, he would rank number two on the team by a mile (After Ear Watson, who, if it wasn't blatantly clear before, the writing is most definitely on the wall with this acquisition, ditto for Atkins). And his A/To ratio has trended upward all three seasons he's played, from 2 to 2.5 to finally 2.55 in his final season with the Clippers. That would put him in the top 20 in the league, whereas, right now, outside of Watson, the team doesn't have a top 50 A/To player.

And then there's that potential. Before his season-ending, nearly career-ending injury, Livingston was shooting 47 percent and averaging 9.3 points, 5.1 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.09 steals and 29.8 minutes while garnering that very nice 2.54 assist-to-turnover ratio. And, right now, today, the kid is only 24 years old.

Again, nice potential pick up by the Thunder.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No More Revisionist History

Yo Mike, don't forget about us...

There’s been a lot of talk about who is MVP this year. Lebron James' Cavs has the best record in the league and the best stats. In my opinion, as many others assess as well, he’s the clear cut choice. However, the arguments that make the case that he has a worse team than Kobe Bryant, I’m just not buying. I broke down the idea of skill versus talent in a previous post to begin to exemplify my point.

Call me a Kobe apologist, but the dude has always been knocked for playing with Shaq to earn his rings and not being able to lift mediocre talent deep into the playoffs. While Kobe currently is playing with a very talented squad, his mediocre teams were “mediocre” at the very best, and only because Kobe was on them. With starting centers, Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm, and starting point guards Chucky Atkins and Smush Parker, and starting small forward Luke Walton, it’s fair to say that Kobe’s talent was sub-mediocre to downright awful. His most talented sidekick has been Lamar Odom, and everyone knows Lamar is the epitome of inconsistency.

The idea that Michael Jordan won six championships all by his lonesome is one that infuriates me to no end. ESPN’s Chris Broussard does this all the time. So, what I have done is compiled a team of current players that could somewhat matchup with the 95-96 Bulls team that won 72 games in terms of style of play, production and talent-level. It’s a difficult thing to do, trust me, because that Bulls team had several players with whom there are no real comparisons in today’s game.

Anyway, here’s what I came up with.

Michael Jordan (29.4 PER): Dwyane Wade (30.2)
Thought I would go with Kobe? Well, this season, Wade’s numbers are more reflective of MJ. Kobe’s game will always be a prettier version of MJ’s, but as far as raw numbers, Wade’s season is right there with Jordan’s 95-96 campaign.

Scottie Pippen (21.0 PER): Paul Pierce (17.1)
Actually, last year’s Pierce is a better comparison. Even still, Pierce isn’t the defensive sieve that Pippen was, though he’s a better offensive player. Less steals, but a better clutch scorer.

Luc Longley (11.9 PER): Marc Gasol (16.5)
Gasol is more polished than Longley, even at this early in his career, but they both have similar skill sets and put up similar numbers. Neither was a great rebounder, both can pass fairly well, and both have a certain amount of finesse to their games.

Ron Harper (14.4 PER): Marquis Daniels (12.9)
This comparison isn’t perfect either. Both are big two guards who,
due to pretty good handles, can play the point guard position. Both
could average 18 plus on a bad team. Both are poor outside shooters. Harper was better, because he was a much better defensive player, but this comparison holds up pretty well, especially considering that Daniels has improved somewhat in that area this season.

Dennis Rodman (13.6): ?
There really isn’t anyone like Rodman in today’s NBA. David Lee gets a bunch of rebounds, but not nearly as many as Rodman, plus the Worm’s in a different universe defensively. Dwight Howard is close with the rebounds, but of course, his offensive game, though raw, is the same distance from Rodman’s O as Rodman’s D is to Lee. To appreciate how truly unique Rodman was, you have to consider that the league’s leading rebounder right now, Howard—who is a good 3 inches taller and 40 plus pounds heavier and light years more athletic—would only be having Rodman’s 10th best rebounding season. And even at that, Howard’s year (his best I might add) isn’t quite as good. Rodman’s tenth best season came when he was 37. Howard is 23. My immediate comparison jumps to 2000-03 Ben Wallace, but even though Wallace finished first, second, first in rebounding those three years, he collected only 181 more rebounds in 31 more games than Rodman did as a Bull and averaged 4 less rebounds per game over that same span. Of course, Big Ben (a four time defensive player of the year recipient) also brought the blocks and steals. The Worm, a former two-time defensive player of the year himself, did so by never once averaging one steal or one block in any of his 14 seasons. Rodman was a better man-on-man defender, while Big Ben was the best help defender of at least the first half-decade of the 21st century. Rodman was equal parts Ron Artest (mentality), Bruce Bowen (defensive-style) and Ben Wallace (rebounding). So, there really is no comparison for Rodman, but Wallace circa the turn of the century, is the closest I was able to find.


Toni Kukoc (20.4 PER): Hedo Turkoglu (14.55)
The best comparison in terms of skill set is probably Hedo Turkoglu. But Turk’s nowhere near as efficient. Maybe last season’s Turk matches up better (17.66 PER).

Steve Kerr (15.2 PER): Steve Blake (14.8)
Blake averages more assists because he has to, and nobody in the league today (and only Tim Legler back in 95-96) can compare with Kerr’s 51.5 percent from deep. Blakes 43 percent, while good, is nowhere near that lofty mark. Even still, the two Steves have a lot of similarities. Both are super efficient point guards who take care of the rock and are deadly from beyond the arc.

Bill Wennington (11.0 PER): Kurt Thomas (14.2 PER)
Not super great at anything, but hardnosed defenders who liked to bang and had a decent 15-foot jumper.

Jud Buechler (14.1 PER): Sasha Vujacic (12.3)
Though one was clean cut and the other is greasy, both are non-athletic white boys who have sloppy handles, but excel at shooting and playing gritty, mosquito-annoying defense.

Randy Brown: Brevin Knight
Nothing special, but feisty and efficient.

Jason Caffey: Chris Douglas-Roberts
Rooks who did the little things.

Dickey Simpkins: Jamal Magloire
Simply the numbers matched up.

Jack Haley: Mark Madsen
Complimentary, annoyingly dorky white boy at the end of the bench.

So, this "new" Bulls team is pretty awesome right?

PG: Marquis Daniels
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: Paul Pierce (circa 2008)
PF: Ben Wallace (circa 2002)
C: Marc Gasol

With a bench consisting of Hedo Turkoglu (circa 2008), Kurt Thomas, Steve Blake, Brevin Knight, Sasha Vujacic, Jamal Magloire, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Mark Madsen.

Now, you telling me that if this team was constructed like this today and they won the championship, that we would all say, hell, Dwyane Wade carried this team all by himself?

Come on…

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kobe Str8 Smushed!

Smush Parker must be suffering from the same sort of memory issues that Shaq suffers from. In this interview now circulating the internet, Smush says playing with the Lakers was overrated, that he had NO beef with Phil Jackson, that Kobe is the reason for all the Lakers problems, and that Shaq is one of the best teammates.

First off, this is coming from a third string point guard, who, playing alongside Kobe, had the only two seasons of his NBA career that will be remembered. Coincidentally, with Kobe pulling double and triple teams every night, Smush was able to score 11 points a night on 44 percent shooting. Outside of that, in his other 126 NBA games, Smush averaged 5.6 points on 39 percent shooting on in three seasons on 5 different teams. Hell of a career Smush.

As for his supposed beef against Kobe, perhaps Smush forgot about this little interview where he said Kobe's a great teammate and that he's really helped him with the Triangle Offense.

As for his non-beef with Phil Jackson...

Sunday, March 4, 2007
Smush was taken out of the game with 5:40 left and he walked over to the bench and swore at Jackson. Jackson shook his head in acknowledgment and went about his business of coaching the team. After the game, Jackson made it a point to talk to Parker about his reaction."I usually don't iron things out like that after the game," Jackson said. Parker, who missed 4 of 5 shots and finished with three points, "just kind of got flaccid," Jackson said.
April 7
Lakers guard Smush Parker lashed out at Coach Phil Jackson on Thursday after being benched for the entire fourth quarter of Wednesday night's 90-82 loss to the Clippers. Jackson said he thought Parker looked fatigued and was not applying sufficient defensive pressure. Asked whether he would be ready to play in tonight's game against the SuperSonics in Seattle, Parker said, "I was ready to play [Wednesday] night. I wanted to play [Wednesday] night. I didn't appreciate being benched." Facing reporters at the team's El Segundo training facility after practice and before heading to the airport for the team's flight to Seattle, Parker was asked what he thought he had to do to get back on the court. "I feel fine. I felt I did everything I need to do to be out there. I gave up trying to read that man a long time ago," he said, referring to Jackson. Jackson said he and Parker had spoken earlier Thursday. "He talked, I listened," Parker said. "That's usually how it goes. He just asked me if I got my energy back. I was like, 'Energy? I never lost it.' " With the Lakers trailing 75-69 after three quarters Wednesday, was Parker surprised he wasn't put back in? "I'm always surprised when I don't play," he said.
Check out the Smush Pot!

As for Kobe playing with Smush, here's my favorite blogger David Friedman's take on the matter.

Hopefully Smush is having a great time in China. I guess he thought he deserved to go this past summer so decided to play out there waiting for the next Olympics (shhh...don't tell him that they'll be in England in 2012).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Skill Versus Talent

Charles Barkley on last night’s TNT telecast when discussing this year’s MVP said that if you substituted Lebron for Kobe on the Lakers, that the Lakers would win 70 games because the Lakers have far superior talent.

Chuck speaks from his heart, which can be funny at times, bold at others. In this instance, it’s just ill-informed. Kobe and Lebron have different games. Kobe’s really changed his game this year with Gasol, Odom and Bynum clogging the middle. He’s become primarily a jumpshooter which accounts for nearly 80 percent of his shots.

The Lakers really only have three players who can hit from beyond the arc outside of Kobe, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and Derek Fisher. That’s why the subtraction of Vladimir Radmanovic has hurt their offense whether people want to admit it or not. Luke Walton is horrible from outside of five feet, as I’ll show in a second, and Ariza is a streak shooter at the absolute very best.

82Games.com sheds some stats on the matter showing the percentage of jump shots taken by each player and their subsequent effective field goal percentage from that area.

Fisher: 86 percent jump shots, 55.6 percent EFG
Odom: 41 percent jump shots, 37.8 percent EFG
Gasol: 42 percent jump shots, 47.6 percent EFG
Bynum: 35 percent jump shots, 41.5 percent EFG
Ariza: 57 percent jump shots, 42.5 percent EFG
Walton: 69 percent jump shots, 37.4 percent EFG
Vujacic: 90 percent jump shots, 48.6 percent EFG
Farmar: 65 percent jump shots, 44 percent EFG
Powell: 60 percent jump shots, 41 percent EFG

Only three of the Lakers regular rotation players shoot better than 45 percent as jump shooters: Fisher, Vujacic and Gasol. Everyone else, especially Odom and Walton (starters), shoot a pretty bad percentage as jump shooters. Walton is especially horrible considering that 70 percent of his shots are jumpers. Vlad Rad was at a blistering 57 percent EFG. The Lakers dip in offensive efficiency of late and their lack of bench production can directly be tied to Luke moving into the starting spot and Vlad Rad moving to Charlotte.

At the very least twice a game, Kobe will drive and kick out to a wide open Walton who will clank the three or the 15-17 footer. That’s two dimes a game, without exaggeration. In fact, if you look at the games or even the quarters the Lakers do well, it’s when Walton is a factor on offensive and hits those shots.

Bottom line, especially with Bynum, the Lakers score the majority of their points in the paint. As the team’s best perimeter player, Kobe’s job is to hit jump shots. And considering he’s the number one option who takes the most difficult shots, his 46 percent EFG is pretty amazing.

On the flipside, Lebron’s 42 percent EFG from jump shooting is rather pedestrian. His bread and butter is taking it to the hole where he takes nearly 40 percent of his shots and is shooting 70 percent. That’s better than most centers, and is equally amazing.

His team is designed to shoot jumpers. Here are their stats.

Williams: 87 percent jump shots, 54.5 percent EFG
West: 79 percent jump shots, 53 percent EFG
Szczerbiak: 88 percent jump shots, 52 percent EFG
Ilgauskus: 65 percent jump shots, 46 percent EFG
Gibson: 89 percent jump shots, 48 percent EFG
Pavlovic: 70 percent jump shots, 56 percent EFG
Varejao: 41 percent jump shots, 34.6 percent EFG
Hickson: 40 percent jump shots, 31 percent EFG
Wallace: 25 percent jump shots, 18 percent EFG

Outside of the power forward spot, this team is a deadly jump shooting team with four players well over 50 percent EFG and one who is close at 48 percent. And while Ilgauskus is not quite as effective as Pau Gasol (46 to 48), he takes nearly 20 percent more jumpers than Pau and for the most part is just as deadly.

My point in all of this is that replacing Kobe with Lebron would most likely make the Lakers worse. Even if Lebron is a better talent than Kobe (not saying he is) or can do more for a team (he does), his presence on the Lakers would probably do more harm than good.

First and foremost, with Bynum and Gasol clogging the lanes, he’d have a much harder time driving to the hoop and getting his bread and butter shots. His outside shooting runs hot and cold, whereas Kobe is far more consistent, and would lead to a lot more 5-25 games like the one he threw up against the Lakers who forced him to take midrange shots and threes and effectively kept him away from the basket.

He’d also make Odom completely irrelevant. Odom’s best weapons are his abilities to drive, finish and pass, and Lebron’s a stronger, better and vastly more consistent version of the long, ball handling savy wing player.

Without Odom, the statement that the Lakers have more talent than the Cavs is completely untrue.

Also, instead of kicking it out to West, Williams, Gibson, Szczerbiak or Pavlovic, Lebron would be dishing to Walton, Ariza, Vujacic, Farmar and Fisher.

In fact, the opposite of what Barkley said might be more true.

On the flipside, if Kobe were on the Cavs, he’d be forced to take it to the hole, where he’s shooting inside shots at a 66 percent clip. Not Lebron-esque, but not shabby to say the least. It should go without saying, but just to make it crystal clear, it’s far easier to make closer shots than to make farther shots…

Kobe is also a much better freethrow shooter than James, so while he might not finish as many drives, he’d make up for it with his proficiency behind the line. He’d also get more assists kicking it out to actual shooters that can actually shoot.

Of course, because Bron Bron and Kobe play different positions, he’d also eliminate one of the perimeter players, either Szczerbiak or Pavlovic, but that just means the team would be better on defense.

As for Barkley’s comment, this isn’t fantasy basketball. If you added Lebron and subtracted Kobe from a Lakers fantasy basketball squad, then sure, you’d be the hands down favorite to win your league. In real basketball, floor spacing, coaching, style of play and maximizing the talents on your squad are vital for success.

Kobe’s ability to create space for his bigs, while remaining highly efficient for someone who is asked to shoot 80 percent of his shots from the perimeter, is why GMs, coaches and players around the league still believe him to be the best player in the league. Lebron is the best at what he can do, but he can’t do everything.

So while Kobe is not quite as good at being Lebron, he’s vastly better than Lebron is at being Kobe.

Finally, the Lakers are said to have a lot of talent although this reputation is based on the performances of four kids under 25 who had breakout seasons last year. So far, Bynum has failed to stay healthy and only started to play like he did last year for less than ten games. Farmar and Vujacic have grossly regressed. Only Ariza has started living up to his potential.

Of course, the prime example of talent not yet realized is Mr. Lamar Odom. Mr. Unfulfilled Potential. And even Lebron James can’t make Lamar consistent.

On the other side, the Cavs have a very specialized, skillful team. So while the talent might not be better, the skill level most certainly is. Wallace and Varejao are defensive bigs who grab boards and are good on the screen and roll. Both have very limited offensive talent, but their presence makes the Cavs a great defensive team.

As pointed out above, the Cavs also have a bevy of shooters. Shooting is a skill that takes years of practice. So while Wally world isn’t more talented than Odom, he’s definitely more skillful. The Lakers have a bunch of talented athletes, Ariza, Farmar, and Bynum, but no one can say that they are skillful. And, the one skillful rotation player outside of Fish and Gasol is Walton. And Walton is skillful at everything but shooting.

So, sure, maybe Kobe has more talent on the Lakers, but the Cavs have more skill.

Which is better?

The standings say they’re about even…