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Best Starting Five from Each NBA Franchise

22 Feb

boston celtics

basketball - bill russell05

1. Boston Celtics

  • PG – Bob Cousy
  • SG – Paul Pierce
  • SF – Larry Bird
  • PF – Kevin McHale
  • C – Bill Russell

2. New Jersey Nets

  • PG – Jason Kidd
  • SG – Drazen Petrovic
  • SF – Reggie Theus
  • PF – Derrick Coleman
  • C – Brook Lopez

3. New York Knickerbockers

  • PG – Walt Frazier
  • SG – Bernard King
  • SF – Dave DeBusschere
  • PF – Willis Reed
  • C – Patrick Ewing

4. Philadelphia 76′ers

  • PG – Allen Iverson
  • SG – Hal Greer
  • SF – Julius Erving
  • PF – Charles Barkley
  • C – Moses Malone

5. Toronto Raptors

  • PG – Damon Stoudemire
  • SG – Vince Carter
  • SF – Tracy McGrady
  • PF – Chris Bosh
  • C – Marcus Camby

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6. Chicago Bulls

  • PG – Derrick Rose
  • SG – Michael Jordan
  • SF – Scottie Pippen
  • PF – Horace Grant
  • C – Artis Gilmore

7. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • PG – Mark Price
  • SG – Ron Harper
  • SF – LeBron James
  • PF – Larry Nance
  • C – Brad Daugherty

8. Detroit Pistons

  • PG – Isaiah Thomas
  • SG – Dave Bing
  • SF – Grant Hill
  • PF – Dennis Rodman
  • C – Ben Wallace

9. Indiana Pacers

  • PG – Mark Jackson
  • SG – Reggie Miller
  • SF – Danny Granger
  • PF – George McInnis
  • C – Mel Daniels

10. Milwaukee Bucks

  • PG – Oscar Robertson
  • SG – Sidney Moncrief
  • SF – Marques Johnson
  • PF – Bob Lanier
  • C – Lew Alcindor

basketball - dominique wilkins16

11. Atlanta Hawks

  • PG – Mookie Blaylock
  • SG – Lou Hudson
  • SF – Dominique Wilkins
  • PF – Bob Petitt
  • C – Dikembe Mutumbo

12. Charlotte Bobcats

  • PG – Raymond Felton
  • SG – Jason Richardson
  • SF – Steven Jackson
  • PF – Gerald Wallace
  • C – Nazr Mohamed

13. Miami Heat

  • PG – Tim Hardaway
  • SG – Dwayne Wade
  • SF – Jamal Mashburn
  • PF – P.J. Brown
  • C – Alonzo Mourning

14. Orlando Magic

  • PG – Anfernee Hardaway
  • SG – Tracy McGrady
  • SF – Hedo Turkoglu
  • PF – Horace Grant
  • C – Dwight Howard

15. Washington Wizards

  • PG – Earl Monroe
  • SG – Gilbert Arenas
  • SF – Antawn Jamison
  • PF – Elvin Hayes
  • C – Wes Unseld

basketball - david thompson03

16. Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Chauncey Billups
  • SG – David Thompson
  • SF – Alex English
  • PF – Dan Issel
  • C – Dikembe Mutumbo

17. Minnesota Timberwolves

  • PG – Terrell Brandon
  • SG – Wally Szcerbiak
  • SF – Tom Gugliotta
  • PF – Kevin Garnett
  • C – Al Jefferson

18. Oklahoma Thunder (formerly the Seattle Supersonics)

  • PG – Gary Payton
  • SG – Ray Allen
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Shawn Kemp
  • C – Jack Sikma

19. Portland Trailblazers

  • PG – Terry Porter
  • SG – Clyde Drexler
  • SF – Brandon Roy
  • PF – Rasheed Wallace
  • C – Bill Walton

20. Utah Jazz

  • PG – John Stockton
  • SG – Jeff Hornacek
  • SF – Bryon Russell
  • PF – Karl Malone
  • C – Mark Eaton

basketball - steph curry15

21. Golden State Warriors

  • PG – Stephen Curry
  • SG – Rick Barry
  • SF – Chris Mullin
  • PF – Nate Thurmond
  • C – Wilt Chamberlain

22. Los Angeles Clippers

  • PG – Baron Davis
  • SG – Ron Harper
  • SF – Danny Manning
  • PF – Bob McAdoo
  • C – Chris Kaman

23. Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Magic Johnson
  • SG – Kobe Bryant
  • SF – Elgin Baylor
  • PF – James Worthy
  • C – Kareem Abdul Jabbar

24. Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Steve Nash
  • SG – Walter Davis
  • SF – Shawn Marion
  • PF – Charles Barkley
  • C – Mark West

25. Sacramento Kings (formerly the Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Rochester Royals)

  • PG – Oscar Robertson
  • SG – Mitch Richmond
  • SF – Jerry Lucas
  • PF – Chris Webber
  • C – Vlade Divac

basketball - dirk nowitzki04

26. Dallas Mavericks

  • PG – Steve Nash
  • SG – Michael Finley
  • SF – Rolondo Blackman
  • PF – Dirk Nowitski
  • C – Shawn Bradley

27. Houston Rockets

  • PG – Calvin Murphy
  • SG – Tracy McGrady
  • SF – Rudy Tomjonavich
  • PF – Hakeem Olajuwon
  • C – Moses Malone

28. Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Bibby
  • SG – Rudy Gay
  • SF – Shareef Abdur-Rahim
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Pau Gasol

29. New Orleans Hornets

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – Kendall Gill
  • SF – Glenn Rice
  • PF – Larry Johnson
  • C – Alonzo Mourning

30. San Antonio Spurs

  • PG – Tony Parker
  • SG – Manu Ginobli
  • SF – George Gervin
  • PF – Tim Duncan
  • C – David Robinson

basketball - tim duncan03

The first round of games were easily decided for the most part. The Lakers and the Celtics both had bye weeks because their teams dominated most of the basketball world during their rich basketball history. They rested after automatically advancing to the second round and awaited the outcome of the first round games.

 

Round 1 Eastern Conference

N.J. – N.Y. – A young Jason Kidd pushes the basketball mercilessly trying to force a fast pace to the game. He hits Drazen Petrovic, one of the purest shooters in the league, on the wing with crisp passes early in the series and Petrovic cashes in. But, Walt Frazier clamps down on Kidd and begins to push to the ball for the Knicks. Kidd has played right into his hands. He starts one of the biggest scoring bursts of these playoffs. Frazier penetrates at will against a larger Jason Kidd and starts distributing the basketball to his bigs. Willis Reed and Patrick Ewing dominate Brook Lopez and Derrick Coleman with perfectly run high-low offense. The Knicks win 4-1.

Phi. – Tor. – Toronto has no chance against the superiorly talented Philadelphia 76’ers. Though their two uber-athletic wings, cousins Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, played well against the Philly wings, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Dr. J, in the end, they were over powered with the sheer scoring of Allen Iverson, Moses Malone, and Dr. J. Moses Malone grabbed every offensive and defensive rebound and threw outlet passes to Julius Erving for open court dunks and to AI the one man fast break. Philly sweeps Toronto in 4 games.

Chi.-Clev. – Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls did not need “the Shot”, to dispatch the Cleveland Cavaliers as they finished them in 5 games. Chicago destroyed the Cavs in the first game as Scottie Pippen 28 pts. and 6 steals to Jordan’s 35 pts. The Cavaliers won game 3 behind two triple doubles by the sharp-shooting Mark Price and the physical specimen, LeBron James. In games 4 and 5, Pippen used his unparalleled lateral quickness to slow James, and Rose finally stopped Mark Price who averaged 29.3 ppg. in the series.

Ind. – Det. - The clutch shooting of Reggie Miller kept the Pacers in most games, however the talented defense of the Pistons was too much to handle. Ben Wallace blocked almost every shot in the paint and Grant Hill shredded the porous defense of Indiana. Hill averaged 8.6 asts. against Indy and put in 24 ppg., too. Danny Granger was overshadowed by a squad that proved too skilled and athletic for even him. The Pistons won in 4.

Mil. – Atl. - Oscar Robertson dominated Mookie Blaylock at the point. He averaged 30.2 ppg, 10.4 apg, and 9.6 rpg. almost averaging a triple-double against him. Lew Alcindor outplayed Dikembe Mutumbo who averaged 4.5 bpg. in the series. Dominique Wilkins provided daily incentive to watch the series with vicious dunks and a 33.8 scoring average. However, the Hawks were grossly outmatched and conceded the series 4-1.

Char. – Mia. - Miami destroys the scrappy, but overwhelmingly less-talented Bobcats. Alonzo Mourning shows Mohamed how a real big man scores in the post. He shoots jump hooks mercilessly over him and guards the paint at the other end. Hardaway has his killer crossover in full effect, and Mashburn annihilates Hedo on the wing. The Heat win 4-0.

Orl. – Wash. - Dwight Howard fights valiantly, but completely in vain against two of the best big men to ever play in the NBA. Elvin Hayes, possibly the most underrated Hall of Fame player in NBA History, schools Howard on the offensive end, hitting jumpers all over the court with his sweet stroke, and Unseld bullies him on the defensive end. Though McGrady and Penny Hardaway are bigger, a hot Gilbert Arenas and Earl the Pearl score relentlessly. The Wizards win the series handily, 4-1.

 

Round 1 Western Conference

Denver – Minn. - Minnesota battles for six games before bowing out. David Thompson averages 34 ppg. in the series while collecting 8.7 boards. Dan Issel and Kevin Garnett draw even in the series both averaging about 22 and 13, but Thompson was the difference.  He jumped over and around Szcerbiak and Gugliotta on almost every play. Chauncey fed Thompson continuously on the wing and hit a few clutch buckets too.

Okl. – Port. - Oklahoma City versus Portland yields the first seven game series. Gary Payton envelops Terry Porter, but the super-athletic Clyde the Glide overwhelms the sweet-shooting Ray Allen in the first two games. In the next two games, Shawn Kemp establishes himself with a few violent dunks over Sikma and Wallace, and Ray finds his stroke. Game 5 belonged to Rasheed as he scored 36 points on an assortment of post moves, short jumpers, and threes. Kemp dominated again in Game 6 with 42 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 3 steals. Payton chipped in with 13 asts. and 21 pts. The final game was a battle between Sikma and Walton. Sikma knocked in long jumpers, but Walton bullied him in the paint and finessed the rest of the defense with quick accurate passes. The Blazers won Game 7 122-110 behind Walton’s 26 pts., 15 rebs., 8 asts., and 3 blocks.

Utah – G.S. - The Jazz attempted to work the pick and roll, but Wilt stood at the end of the roll. He was dominant the entire series. He averaged 37.6 ppg., 18.3 rpg., 4.5 apg., 2.0 spg., and 5.1 bpg. Chris Mullin torched Russell, running him off of countless picks before loosing that smooth, leftie jumper in his face. Karl Malone outclassed Nate Thurmond, but Tiny Archibald ran circles around John Stockton and scored at will. The Warriors advancement from the first round was never in doubt and they defeated the Jazz 4-1.

Sac. – Phoe. - The Phoenix Suns ultimately win the series 4-3 in a hard-fought battle. Oscar Robertson crushes 2-time MVP Steve Nash throughout the series, but Walter Davis scores easily against a young, talented Mitch Richmond. Jerry Lucas plays physical, punishing basketball, but is outmatched by a young Shawn Marion’s superior athleticism. Charles Barkley and Chris Webber alternate having great scoring games at home, however Barkley wins the rebounding war and the Suns win their first round of games.

Hou. – Dallas - Dallas was no match for the Houston’s version of the twin towers with Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon. They dominated the series offensively and defensively. Dirk played well on the perimeter, but could not get his shot off in the paint. Calvin Murphy and Tracy McGrady could not be stopped and Houston swept one of their in-state rivals in the first round.

S.A. – Memph. - San Antonio swept the inept Grizzlies. Shareef Abdur-Rahim was the sole bright spot on the Memphis squad averaging 22 and 10 for the series. Robinson and Duncan bullied Randolph and Gasol. The Iceman, George Gervin, finger-rolled and shot his way to 30 points in each of the four games.

N.O. – L.A.C. - Bob McAdoo and Glenn Rice had a shootout for the ages. In Game 1 Rice scored 44 and McAdoo had 38. In Game 2 McAdoo scored 42 and Rice had 33. In Game 3 Rice scored 52 on high posts, 3-pointers, and short jumpers. McAdoo dropped 44 on quick turnarounds and long jumpers. They battled for 6 games, alternating who would score the most points with neither scoring under 23 points in any game. The series was won by a buoyant yet physical Larry Johnson in the post, though. He pushed and spun his way to a 24.2 ppg. and 11.3 rpg. average.

 

2nd Round Eastern Conference

N.Y. – Phi. - Though Walt Frazier shows Iverson how to run the point, Philadelphia coasts through the second round almost as easily as they did the first round. Bernard King did score well, but Dr. J outscored him and disheartened the entire team with multiple thunderous dunks in traffic. He threw in flip shots and mid range jump shots for the entirety of the second round unchecked. Moses Malone hit Erving and Iverson with outlet passes and they ran the fast breaks seamlessly. Barkley and Malone out-rebounded and outscored Reed and Ewing, and the 76′ers beat the Knicks in 5 games.

Chi. – Det. - The revamped, reinforced version of the Bad Boys of Detroit took the no lay-up rule to another level. Jordan was clobbered by Rodman and Big Ben anytime he neared the paint. Rose was harassed by Isaiah Thomas whenever he had the ball, but Rose over-powered him on the offensive end. The defensive was another story though. Thomas scored almost at will against a young Derrick Rose. He hit three pointers, floaters, and his utilized his deft ball-handling skills to average 28 points and 12 assists for the series. Grant Hill and Pippen were evenly matched, but Pippen’s lateral quickness confounded Hill in the last two games. In Game 6, Jordan hit a game-winning 17 footer to keep the Bulls championship hopes alive. Once the Bulls started executing their triangle offense, the Pistons could not make regular stops on the defensive end and the Bulls took the series in the last minutes of Game 7. Jordan scored 12 points down the stretch in the fourth quarter, with Pippen and Rose chipping in 5 apiece in the quarter as the Bulls won the game and the series 101-90.

Milw. – Mia. - Tim Hardaway blew The Big O away with his killer crossover in the first game of the series. But Oscar slowed him down on the other end of the court. He shot his patented one-handed jumper over Hardaway at will. Zo was a warrior under the basket against a young Lew Alcindor, but was out of his league. Alcindor had won on every level of basketball and did so here too. His hook shot was unstoppable and his footwork was perfect. Sidney Moncrief guarded Mashburn on the wing. And even though Mashburn posted 25.1 points per game, he took 27 shots per game to get his average. Wade could not hit his jump shot, so he struggled with Alcindor clogging the middle. The Bucks won the series in 5.

Wash. – Bos. - Boston struggled out of the gate against the Washington Wizards. Elvin Hayes dominated the first two games. He averaged 21.5 rebounds in those games with 28.5 points per game while leading the Wizards to two wins in Boston Garden. Earl Monroe had Cousy’s head spinning for most of the series. McHale could not handle the size and strength of Hayes and Unseld inside, so he took them onto the perimeter. There was no answer for Bird or Pierce on the wing. Bird rained 3 pointer after 3 pointer as Pierce penetrated. Russell shut down Unseld and the Celtics won the next four games as McHale played Hayes evenly in the rest of the series.

 

2nd Round Western Conference

Port. – Den. - The Portland Trailblazers seemed to have the series wrapped up, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the series, until the oft-injured Bill Walton went down with a high ankle sprain. Alex English, who was somewhat hindered by Walton’s sheer size,  attacked the rim relentlessly after he went out. David Thompson continued to fill it up from outside the arc and inside the paint and the Nuggets won the next two games. In game 6, Rasheed Wallace takes over and ends the Nuggets run.

Phoe. – G.S. - This series had the highest scoring output of the entire tournament. Golden State averages 134.1 ppg. and Phoenix averaged 120.7. Phoenix has match-up problems at one of its strongest and weakest points. Steve Nash though efficient on offense, is grossly outmatched on defense, and Mark West has no chance of slowing Wilt Chamberlain. In game 1 Tiny Archibald scores 36 points with 17 assists. For the series, he averages 29 and 13. Wilt scores 65 points against the smaller, weaker West and by series end has a gaudy average of 48.3 points per game. Rick Barry averaged 26.2 ppg. but conceded 27.6 to the uber-athletic Marion. Barkley scores over Thurmond, but Chamberlain insures that he does not have a great series. He averages 25 and 12 for the series, but the Warriors sweep the Suns 4-0.

Hou. – S.A. - This interstate rivalry proves to be one of the best and closest series in the entire tournament. It is a battle of the twin towers. It is a battle of dual MVP’s. Robinson and Duncan suited up against Malone and Olajuwon. Robinson dribbled around Malone on one end to score only to be bullied under the rim on the other side. Duncan was a bastion of consistency on the offensive end as was Olajuwon but flashier. Olajuwon dominated on the defensive end too. He rendered Tony Parker’s penetration and points in the paint nearly obsolete. The combined defensive prowess and shot-blocking of Robinson and Duncan stopped the penetration of Murphy. However, the sharp shooting of Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjonavich from midrange carried the Rockets offense. None of the games were won by more than 9 points, and the Spurs finally conceded defeat to the Rockets in Game 7, 101-96.

L.A.L. – N.O. - The Los Angeles Lakers roll over the New Orleans Hornets with little resistance. Larry Johnson plays like a bull under the rim, pushing James Worthy around. And Glenn Rice scores against a smaller Elgin Baylor, but Magic Johnson puts Chris Paul in foul trouble every night, and Kareem shows Mourning why he is the NBA’s all-time scoring leader. The Lakers win in four games.

 

Round 3 Eastern Conference

Milw. – Bos. - Boston hits its stride in this series. Cousy is again outmatched, this time by Oscar Robertson, but Russell holds the young Alcindor in check the entire series. He averages 20.2 rebounds per game against Lew. Pierce and Bird score without much resistance against Moncrief and Johnson. The Bucks win one game behind a triple-double from the Big O. He scored 32 points, assisted 15 times, and had 13 rebounds.

Chi. – Phi. - The Bulls won the first game behind Jordan and Pippen’s combined 73 points. Jordan scored 51 of the 73. The rest of the series was a little more difficult for the talented Bulls. The Sixers won the next two games by an average of 16.7 points with Moses Malone leading the way. In Game 4, Derrick Rose scored 42 points against the smaller Allen Iverson and the Sixers won their second and final game against Philadelphia. Hal Greer scored 28 despite the tough defense of Jordan and lead a balanced attack from the Sixers to beat the Bulls in six games.

 

Round 3 Western Conference

Hou. – L.A.L. - The size of the Laker back court harassed Calvin Murphy into shooting 38% for the series. McGrady and Bryant numbers were a push, but Kobe scored a third of his points in decisive moments in the fourth quarter. He hit almost every big shot for the Lakers in the 3rd round. Magic ran a blindingly quick fastbreak and had 12+ games in every game. Olajuwon faked and countered the usually graceful Jabbar and outscored him 33.8 points per game to 28.3, but Moses Malone had no answer for the overall quickness of “Big Game” James Worthy. Malone made up for Worthy’s scoring on the other end of the floor and punished him under the rim. In Game 7, Kobe scored 34 and Elgin Baylor scored 30 to beat the Rockets 112-107.

G.S. – Port. - Golden State dominate the Trailblazers in the third round because of severe match-up problems. Terry Porter can not keep Tiny Archibald out of the paint, and he scores or assists to Wilt for the entirety of the series. Walton is no match for the bigger, stronger Chamberlain and he wears Walton down over the course of the series scoring 45 and 49 points in the final two games. Thurmond slows down Rasheed Wallace and Rick Barry matches Clyde Drexler’s pure scoring 29.6 ppg. to 29.9. Portland wins Game 4 behind a near perfect game from Walton once Chamberlain got into foul trouble. Wilt did not foul out, but the Big Red Machine hit 14 of 15 field goals in the Game 4 before losing in the fifth game.

 

Eastern Conference Finals

Bos. – Phi. - Boston finished Philadelphia 4-2 in the Conference Finals. Dr. J scores easily in the open floor, but Bird matches him in points from behind the 3 pt. line. Pierce muscles Greer and scores continuously on his step-back jumper. Barkley leads Philly in scoring with a 32.5 point average. He rebounds well too, averaging 14.1 for the series. But Cousy was relieved to see a smaller guard and plays well against Iverson. He feeds Kevin McHale and Bill Russell as Boston beats a talented Sixers team.

 

Western Conference Finals

G.S. – L.A.L. - The Western Conference Finals is ripe with epic match-ups. The most prolific scorer in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain, is up against the most consistent and reliable scorer in NBA history, the all-time leader in points, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The most prolific passer in NBA history, Magic Johnson, faces one of the best scoring points in NBA history, Tiny Archibald. Nate Thurmond, a great defensive player will guard James Worthy, one of the best playoff scorers ever. The sharp-shooting Rick Barry will be defended by the ball-hawking, high scoring, and highly-skilled Kobe Bryant. And one of the best pure shooters in league history, Chris Mullin, goes head to head against one of the best athletes in NBA history, Elgin Baylor. Wilt outscores Kareem in every game, but Jabbar holds his own against the giant. Wilt uses the gamut of shots in his arsenal including the finger roll, jump hook, bank shots, and power dunks. Kareem counters with his sky hook and a myriad of short range attacks. Wilt averages 40.1 points per game in the series and Kareem averages 32.3. Magic once again bullies his smaller opponent, and upped his playoff scoring average by 5 points. He averages 26.1 ppg. in the series with 11.2 apg. Worthy scores in the open court and on putbacks to shed the bigger Thurmond and his rangy arms. But the series was won in the match-ups on the wing. The stronger, more athletic Baylor turns Chris Mullin into a facilitator. He could not get his shot off consistently despite having a significant height advantage. Kobe Bryant outduels Rick Barry by getting into the lane and scoring on soft, short jumpers after numerous jab steps and pump fakes. He holds Barry to 19.2 ppg. in the series. The Lakers outlast the Warriors in Game 7, 120-113.

 

NBA Finals

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

Game 1 is decided by Magic Johnson. He keeps the entire Lakers squad involved by making pinpoint passes over the head of the smaller Bob Cousy. He leads Kareem into easy baskets with soft touch passes and throws alley-oops to James Worthy on backdoor passes and on the break. Magic has the Lakers Showtime attack in full effect in Game 1. He only scores 11 points, but has 19 assists as the Lakers win 113-98. He dominates the game without scoring on the wing or post.

In Game 2, the Celtics stay close to the Lakers until the fourth quarter when Kobe Bryant scores 8 points in the final 4 minutes to pull the Lakers away from the Celtics 110-101. He was fairly quiet in the first game of the series, but explodes for 36 points to put the Lakers up 2-0 in the home games. McHale and Worthy were locked in a duel the entire game. McHale had his footwork on full display, rarely using even power dribbles in the paint. Worthy used his turnaround jumper to score over the longer McHale.

In Game 3, Larry Bird scored 44 against Elgin Baylor from beyond the arc and in the post. He also had 12 rebounds and lead the Celtics to their 1st victory in the series 98-90. The Celtics never trailed in their first home game of the series. Bird was on fire from the tip-off, drilling three pointers from nearly 30 feet when the defense stepped out and attacking the rim when he was crowded by defenders..

The Lakers double-teamed Bird in Game 4 to keep the basketball out of his hands. He instead turned in a triple-double with 22 points, 11 assists, and 13 rebounds. McHale and Russell scored easily in the interior of the Laker defense. The Celtics tied the series with a 103-91 victory.

The Celtics then stole Game 5 behind a 20-25 game for the legendary Bill Russell. He also had 8 blocks. McHale chipped in 22 points and 12 rebounds in a 110-106 Celtics win. Chamberlain had 36 points and 17 boards in a valiant effort, but he missed several crucial free-throws down the stretch and it cost the Lakers a victory.

The Lakers evened the match-up with spectacular play from Kareem and Worthy. They accounted for 62 points and 37 rebounds combined in Game 6. Magic added 20 points, 14 assists, and 8 rebounds. Larry Bird continued his great play with 30 points, 8 assists, and 13 boards in a losing effort for the Boston Celtics.

Game 7 was the best game of the series. There were 22 ties or lead changes in the game. Magic scored 10 points and had 4 assists in the first quarter, but Bird countered with 12 points and 3 rebounds. Magic fed Kareem in the post throughout the 2nd quarter and got 5 more assists by the half, but the Lakers were down at the break 52-51. Bill Russell dominated the 3rd quarter by blocking almost every shot that was taken in the paint. The Lakers only scored 20 points in the quarter combined. But they rallied in the 4th, behind Magic and Big Game James as they scored or assisted on the last 17 points in the game. On the last play of the game, Los Angeles trailed by a point with 6 seconds left. Magic faked right, dribbled left, hesitated with his dribble, stepped back right, and finished over the outstretched hand of Bill Russell to beat their biggest rivals. The Lakers won Game 7, 103-102 on a flip shot by their leader Magic Johnson.

Controversial Play Callers Are Not Geniuses

20 Feb

sports genius - feature

Originally posted on September 20, 2011 by William Bixby. Enjoy

Coach Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils and Coach Belichick of the New England Patriots have been considered the class of their respective games, college basketball and professional football. They make bold, enigmatic play calls that are adored by sports analysts, tacticians, and commentators. However, their calls are not nearly as innovative as they seem to the casual basketball or football fan. Genius encompasses intellect and vision, which both Belichick and Coach K obviously have, but it also is a function of creativity and originality.

Neither coach has infused much change into the landscape of their sports even though they have been incomparably successful during their tenures as head coaches. Their talent as generals is undeniable. Coach K has won four NCAA championships, and is joined by only John Wooden and Adolph Rupp as the only three coaches to win at least four titles (Wooden won ten) in Division 1 history. But Coach K’s harsh man-to-man defense with principles of zone defense was taken straight from Bobby Knight’s playbook. Knight used that defense to win 3 NCAA championships and over 900 games as a head coach. In fact, Krzyzewski’s motion offense is an adaptation of Knight’s motion offense too. He did not invent his own coaching philosophy and system; he simply installed a style of coaching that he witnessed working successfully under his former head coach. Knight’s teams generally scored fewer points than Krzyzewski’s teams, but were more efficient offensively and defensively. And, Knight and Coach K have comparable winning percentages too, at 70.3% and 78.6 respectively. Plus, Coach K has not reached the declining years of his coaching career yet.

Similarly, Bill Belichick used proponents of the philosophies of his mentor, Bill Parcels to develop his coaching strategy. Parcells believed adamantly in drafting the biggest, most athletic play makers available, rather than pursuing the most productive talents in college. Belichick has followed this tenant in his Hall of Fame career with the Patriots. His linemen are big, powerful, and fast, though not as prolific as some of the other players that could become New England Patriots. He even followed Parcells mold, by giving up high picks to sign the same player that he wants for less money and more future draft picks.

Mike Krzyzewski is constantly praised for winning the 2010 NCAA basketball championship by almost exclusively using a three guard rotation rather than running his offense through the post. While he did make a few timely adjustments in his offensive scheme to attack the stingy Butler defense, his strategy would have been fairly obvious to even most mediocre coaches. Butler plays a stout zone defense, and every zone has a weak spot. First, Coach K posted his center in the soft area of the zone to see if he could get the ball into the teeth of the defense. Once the entry pass was consistently made to his big man, he inserted his most versatile player, Nolan Smith, into the same spot. Smith either scored or assisted on the next four plays, and the Butler zone was defeated. Krzyzewski did nothing that John Wooden, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, George Thompson, or any other great coach would not have done. He adapted and made the right call to win the game. That does not make him a basketball genius; it means that he can make reasonable adjustments when the game calls for it.

Analysts label Belichick’s play call to attempt for a first down on 4th down and 2 yards late in the fourth quarter of a late season game against the Indianapolis Colts both gutsy and apocryphal. However, the call was neither. It was simply the right call. The Colts had scored on the previous two possessions starting  from their own 20 yard line in an average of less than four minutes. The Patriots had over 450 yards of total offense in the game with Brady, their quarterback accounting for most of it. Belichick did exactly what he was supposed to do by putting the football in the hands of his best player rather than trusting his middling defense. Even statisticians support the decision stating that 4th and 2 has a 60% conversion rate in the NFL. With 2:05 left on the clock, the New England Patriots would have effectively ended the game by getting a first down. Teams that make that play win 79% of the time. Teams that punt in the same situation win only 70% of the time. By the numbers, he made the right call. In addition to this, the play almost worked. A slight fumbling of the football by Kevin Faulk changed the spot of the ball a yard shorter, which caused a turnover on downs. Had he caught the ball cleanly, the Pats would have won, and the sports world would be singing his praises again.

If there are any moments of genius in sports, they are not displayed through simply making smart, unconventional, and unpopular play calls, but through innovations in the philosophy of the sport and how the game is being played. The triangle offense is of ingenious design. It harnesses and utilizes every athlete’s strengths within the offensive concept of the team. The triangle is predicated on ball movement and exploiting match-ups.  It is now responsible for 10 of the last National Basketball Association championships. Tex Winters is a genius in basketball. Similarly, the Tampa Two is result of the genius of Tony Dungy. With a versatile middle linebacker and an athletic safety, Dungy’s defense revolutionized the way that football is played in the National Football League today. It was the standard defense used by most NFL teams over the last decade, and two of the best defensive teams in NFL history used his system. That is innovation. Coach K and Belichick simply implant the system and knowledge of their teachers into their teams. They are talented coaches, but far from geniuses.

Competent coaches make the right calls by the numbers at the right time. Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Belichick are great coaches, but they have not done anything so intuitive and radical that they should be called geniuses. They push their players to play at the highest level of their potential. That is the mark of a great coach. They expect perfection, so their assistant coaches and their entire programs aspire to it. Coach K and Coach Belichick are like great poker players. The best professional poker players consistently reach the final table in big tournaments against the best competition. They succeed, not because they know something that the other players do not know, but because they apply the same knowledge differently. Krzyzewski and Belichick read the situation and make the best decision for their team regardless of how it defies convention, and they win because of it. Though both Mike Krzyzewski  and Bill Belichick are intelligent and excellent tacticians in their sports, the label genius does not fit. Krzyzewski and Belichick are not sports geniuses, they are just great coaches.

Is Randall Cunningham Good Enough for the Hall of Fame?

5 Feb

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Randall Cunningham has more touchdowns than Troy Aikman, Otto Graham, and Joe Namath. He has more passing yards than Broadway Joe, Terry Bradshaw, and Roger Staubach. He has a better career passer rating than Warren Moon, Johnny Unitas, and John Elway. Cunningham was a four time Pro Bowler in the Golden Age of quarterbacks, with the likes of Joe Montana, Steve Young, Dan Marino, John Elway, and Jim Kelly vying for a Pro Bowl seat every year. He was one of the best athletes to ever play quarterback in the NFL, and was one of the best athletes in the league during his tenure. Yet, Cunningham is widely viewed as an underachiever. His career seems hopelessly unfulfilled.

Randall Cunningham paved the way for quarterbacks like Jake Plummer, Michael Vick, and Vince Young. He had a far stronger arm and quicker feet than Steve Young who was his contemporary with a similar style of play and earned his way into the Hall of Fame Player. Randall was the best athlete on the field in almost every game. He could fling the football on a straight line forty yards down the field or scramble past the linemen, cruise past the linebackers, and jump over the secondary for a touchdown. He was a threat to score on every play, and to fully appreciate the wealth of talent that Cunningham had, you had to see him play. He was tall, strong-armed, and fast. His play under center defined the Philadelphia Eagles from the mid-eighties through the early nineties as he thrilled both home and opposing crowds with spectacularly athletic runs and high-velocity, fairly accurate passes. But, he failed to improve as a quarterback and never reached his full potential. With the immense set of natural ability that he possessed, he was expected to revolutionize his position. Because of the lack of development of his skills as a National Football League quarterback, Randall Cunningham was ultimately just an exciting player and not a great one. A few things contributed to Cunningham’s skills stagnating, including his head coach, his natural affinity for running, and his teammates. All three were pivotal in the idling of his maturation as a NFL quarterback.

Buddy Ryan, his first coach, was a defensive genius that believed in pounding the ball on offense and playing an attacking style of defense. For a young, impressionable rookie, the head coach is the most important factor in his maturation into a good NFL player. Effective coaching is even more pertinent for the quarterback position. Any talented NFL QB, already has the leadership skills and natural ability to play at the highest level, but they need direction, repetitions, and constant reminders of the finer points of signal calling. Randall Cunningham was deprived of the close observation and guidance that most rookie quarterbacks receive. Therefore he was ignorant of the subtle nuances of playing his position. Though he was he was never perceived as an inaccurate passer, his highest completion percentage in a season was 62%. Passing percentages were significantly lower in the eighties and early nineties because of looser interpretations of pass interference. In comparison, Joe Montana’s highest completion percentage was only 65%. Cunningham was a good quarterback, just not a great one. Buddy Ryan failed to teach him that the most important asset for a quarterback is his feet in the pocket. A quarterback has to have his feet set to deliver the football. Ryan, instead of using Randall’s elusiveness behind the line of scrimmage and allowing him to develop his sensational arm, chose to use his speed and quickness in his running attack. Thus, Randall never developed into a top tier quarterback and occasionally misfired on throws that he was capable of making. Buddy Ryan deprived Randall Cunningham of the natural progression passing that most QB’s are given.

Cunningham also hurt his own progress by running too soon on several passing plays. A combination of the play of his terrible offensive line and his happy feet caused many possible passes down field to never be attempted. He was the best athlete on his team and one of the best in the league, so he was often the team’s best running option. His maturation suffered more because he often was not given enough time to check down properly. The pass rush reached him within 1-2 seconds regularly. To be an effective NFL quarterback, every QB needs 3-4 seconds to read the defense and to deliver the football. Because the Eagles offensive line dissolved in the face of decent pass rushers, Cunningham never settled in the pocket. He learned to run at the first sign of trouble instead of shifting in the face of the pass rush to allow his receivers more time to get open down field. Cunningham regularly squandered opportunities to throw the ball by running for positive yardage too soon.

However, placing all of the blame for Cunningham never reaching his highest potential does not rest solely with him and his coach. Randall Cunningham never had great teammates. In fact, the vast majority of his teammates were average at best. The Philadelphia Eagles had no running game save Randall Cunningham improvising or running a quarterback sneak. They had a terrible offensive line to protect him. And, they had no wide receivers to catch the ball. Randall Cunningham was the offense. When he failed, the team failed. The running back, Keith Byars was the leading receiver for the Eagles during Cunningham’s tenure. That is a sure sign of a sub par passing attack. If a running back leads the team in receptions it is an indictment of a hideous receiving corp or a sign that you have a seminal talent in the backfield. Byars being the best passing option in the Eagles offense meant that the wide receivers were not talented and that the team did not make big plays down the field. Randall Cunningham lead his team in rushing at the quarterback position and is one of two players to lead his team in passing and rushing yards. This is a feat that even Michael Vick, the first and only quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season, did not accomplish. The fact that Byars did not lead the team in rushing is testament to both his talent level and the state of the Eagles on offense. Philadelphia had a stout defense, but had a mediocre offense and Cunningham suffered for it.

Randall Cunningham is an enigma. He was extraordinarily gifted, played well above the expectations of any average quarterback, and conversely and simultaneously well below what was expected of him. If he had the arm of Chad Pennington or Jeff Garcia, then he would be heralded as a great player that utilized all his talents. If he had the mobility of Dan Marino or Joe Namath, then he may have become one of the best pure passers in the league. Instead, he is seen as the guy who could not put it all together and never took his team to the big game. Cunningham posted Hall of Fame numbers over the course of his career, despite poor coaching, questionable offensive philosophy, and untalented teammates, but probably will never enter Canton as a member. Randall Cunningham had one of the most intriguing and frustrating careers in National Football League history. He is good enough to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but probably will never be enshrined in its halls.

Skal Labissiere and the One-And-Done Rule

4 Feb

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The One-And-Done Rule has been both controversial and incendiary in college basketball and professional basketball since its inception in 2006. It is inherently biased against black athletes because the rule stops them from realizing their full earning potential, it is detrimental to the overall level of play in the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball and in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and it simultaneously hinders the improvement of young players while forcing NBA general managers to continuously waste valuable draft picks on the “potential” of star athletes rather than choosing athletes based on their actual production. And, forcing high school players to be one year removed from their high school careers before being deemed eligible for the NBA Draft has had at least one other unintended affect on the game of basketball. The One-And-Done rule has effectively slowed down or ruined the basketball careers of a significant number of the players who are forced to play college ball.

In college basketball, the head coach has complete autonomy in decision-making, and though star athletes still decide which programs become successful and if those teams will remain relevant over the years, college programs are defined by the efficacy of the men that they choose to lead their teams. Duke basketball pushed numerous stars into the league like Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, and Kyrie Irving, but Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Coach K, defines the program. Bobby Knight taught and developed NBA greats like Scott May and Isiah Thomas, and the current roster of players under new head coach Tom Crean have returned the program to the national spotlight, however basketball at the University of Indiana is defined by the legacy of Knight. Similarly, the University of North Carolina is now run by Roy Williams, but was built by Dean Smith. And, despite another Hall of Fame coach and several Hall of Fame basketball stars coming from the campus, including possibly the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, images of the University inevitably turn to the memory of Dean Smith. The head coach makes the college basketball team what it is. But, the power that these coaches wield often stifles the progress of their college athletes. Freshmen languished on the bench under the tutelage of Dean Smith at North Carolina. He almost never played his freshman, even when their names were Michael Jordan or James Worthy. Bobby Knight was notoriously hard on his players, and though some of those Indiana players flourished under his strict discipline, some of them crumbled under the pressure. And, Coach K has stifled his players for decades in Durham. These coaches value their system over any one player regardless of how talented that player may be. Their disregard for the players serves their legacy, but it devalues the student-athletes and robs the professional ranks of polished talent. Basketball players at programs like these do not get the personal attention or the game-time minutes on college courts that they need to become better basketball players, and therefore they never develop the skills that they need to reach the pros. The One-And-Done rule forces kids into college settings that hinder their evolution into better athletes.

Skal Labissiere, a freshman at the University of Kentucky who is currently playing for future Hall of Fame coach, John Calipari, represents the perfect example of how college coaches interfere with the natural development of their basketball players. Labissiere is a fluid, athletic big man with quick feet and good coordination, a rarity in college basketball. He moves incredibly well for a man his size, is explosive off the floor, has good quickness and instincts on offense and defense, and has shown soft hands around the basket. At 7′ with a 7’2″ wingspan, he has a good basic understanding of interior footwork, a soft touch on his shots out to midrange, and the only real drawback on him from a scout’s point of view is he needs to add bulk to his 225 lb. frame. In 2015, at the NBA Combine held at the University of Kentucky, Labissiere scored nearly identical athletic measurements to Amaré Stoudemire, a super athletic power forward who jumped from high school to the NBA in 2002. Stoudemire overpowered and outjumped NBA competition on the way to a Rookie of the Year award and several All-Star appearances before injuries slowed him down, so Skal should be annihilating less talented college centers. He entered the college ranks as the number one rated player overall and he dominated in the world games, however Labissiere has only put up mediocre college statistics despite all the natural gifts that he possesses. And, the reason that he has not dominated college basketball is because like so many other great college coaches, John Calipari has slowed his progress. Calipari runs a system that is predicated on big men playing under the basket and guards moving freely on the perimeter while penetrating into the paint. For that system to work, Calipari needs Labissiere in the deep post rebounding, using his bodies to create spacing, and scoring on alley-oops, hooks, and putbacks. But, Labissiere’s game is predicated on him being able to operate in space. Though he is more effective away from the basket where a pump fake and a quick dribble gets him by his opponent, his coach wanted him to learn to play primarily with his back to the basket because that creates defined lanes for Kentucky’s athletic guards to drive to the rim. Skal cannot use his long arms and leaping ability as well in congestion and his quickness is less effective with a big body leaning against him. So, a player that could have potentially carried the program with his length and athleticism is being forced to battle stronger players in an area of the floor where his physical gifts can be negated by physical play. This is the crux of argument against the One-And-Done rule.

Great players who could potentially compete at the highest levels of their sport from the moment that they leave high school are being forced to play at universities, and their development is being stunted. The basic principles of coaching at the college and professional level contrast so greatly that the more physically talented athletes are actually hindered by playing at universities. In college, players change their games to acquiesce to their coach’s base philosophy of basketball in order to help the team. Talented basketball players like Skal Labissiere have their skill sets constricted by playing a style of basketball that is not conducive to them being effective. The system always comes before the player there. But in the NBA, coaches change their game strategies to elevate the play of their athletes. Basketball players are given the best individual skills teachers to hone their skill sets. They receive specified instruction in shooting mechanics, ball-handling, strength and conditioning, and nutrition, all areas that make them better at their profession. But more importantly, NBA coaches are forced to place athletes in a position where their natural style of play is the most effective against the opposing teams or they risk losing their jobs. A guy like Labissiere, who is more adept at catching and shooting in the lane, would not be forced into the clogged blocks of the post. His team would create plays specifically designed to get him the type of shots that he feels more comfortable taking rather than forcing him to learn the fundamentals of another position.

Every year, there are gifted players who suffer statistically because of the One-And-Done rule, hurt their draft stock, and ultimately lose earning potential because they were forced to play for a college coach who needs them to play a very specific role in the team. In 2014, Myles Turner entered college as the 2nd best overall prospect, but was not picked until the 11th spot in the 2015 NBA draft. He never developed definitive post moves at the University of Texas, he did become a more sure-handed ball-handler, and he did not improve as a spot-up shooter. Any singular improvement could have made him a go-to player in college and therefore more formidable in the pros. Aaron Gordon was the 4th ranked prospect in the nation upon graduating high school in the class of 2013. At the University of Arizona, he was an elite athlete with good ball-handling skills and good touch around the rim, but was relegated to rebounding and defense on a team that featured strong guard play. Though he was taken fourth in the 2014 draft by the Orlando Magic, Gordon has yet to make an impact at the professional level because his offensive game was underdeveloped at Arizona. And, although Shabazz Muhammad was the primary offensive weapon for the UCLA Bruins in 2012, he was also used by his coach in a way that failed to develop his basketball skills. Muhammad was the number 1 overall ranked recruit and came to UCLA touted as the most talented freshman in the country, but left a one-dimensional scorer because his coach needed him to produce buckets. He never learned to pass the basketball, his defense was atrocious, and his rebounding was mediocre. The only improvement that he made in college was extending his range. Muhammad was taken 14th in the 2013 NBA draft.

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These stories represent a much larger number of cases where players have been misused or underutilized to benefit their coaches who were worried solely about their programs. Guys like Cliff Alexander, Mason Plumlee, and Harrison Barnes may have benefited from being able to jump straight to the NBA because the best pros in the league over the last twenty years have never played a minute of college basketball. Could Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neil, Amaré Stoudemaire, Josh Smith, Dwight Howard, or LeBron James feasibly have been helped by going to college? These players were perennial All-Stars in their prime, and Kobe, Garnett, and LeBron each won the NBA’s most prestigious individual award, the NBA Most Valuable Player award. Preps to pros players excelled in the league because they received specialized attention to improve the deficiencies in their game. Athletes like J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler, Al Harrington, Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche, DeShawn Stevenson, Kendrick Perkins, Monta Ellis, and Shaun Livingston worked hard to become starters for their respective NBA teams, but they had the best instructors in the world teaching them every facet of the game. All these players contributed to their teams because they were guided and developed by coaches that understood that cultivating the talent of the players rather than constricting it ultimately helps the team and the coach. Imagine if a seminal talent like LeBron James would have been obligated to play college ball. His elite athleticism would have set him apart from the other players, but his height and size might have coerced his coach into playing him under the rim. He would have had to play out of position in the post, and the full impact of his ball handling and vision might never have been fully realized if he graduated high school under the One-And-Done rule. Most college coaches would move him primarily into the post to fill a need with his size, but James had a very limited post game coming out of high school and probably would have languished playing power forward. The college game moves at a slower pace with less time and fewer possessions than the pro game. The standard zone defenses played in college could hypothetically frustrate a young, inexperienced LeBron James playing out of position. And, like Cliff Alexander and many other freshman in college, a young player who does not excel immediately in college may lose minutes to upperclassmen. LeBron James may have never become the other-worldly talent that he is today if he was forced to play a year of college ball.

The One-And-Done rule has been openly criticized for limiting the careers of basketball athletes and because of its inability to help NBA general managers sift through talent any more efficiently than they had before the rule was instated. And, cases like that of Skal Labissiere only serve to show that the rule is even more disadvantageous to players than expected. Not only does this practice take money directly out of the pockets of athletes by stealing a year of earning, but it also indirectly stunts the growth of some basketball players thereby inhibiting their ability to earn through production. The One-And-Done rule has failed in its objective to develop athletes and aid NBA management in assessing talent. It impairs players and it has diminished the level of play in both college and professional basketball. The One-And-Done has been proven ineffective and should be repealed for the good of individual players and for the welfare of basketball as a whole.