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The NBA Draft Is a Joke

4 Jun

basketball - kyrie irving - college

As I get older, my cynicism about the world around me grows more consistently with different life experiences and observations of varying occurences. I once believed that Santa Claus delivered presents to me on Christmas Eve. Then, one year, I found my mother wrapping the presents for the family. I was devastated. I once believed that people could believe politicians and policemen. Well, George W. Bush started a war that  made his family a lot of money in conjunction with Halliburton, and inner city policemen are regularly found to be corrupted by dirty money in big counties. I was surprised and shocked that people doing wrong could do it so blatantly. I once thought that sports were one of the last, pure things that people could believe in. First, baseball was indicted in rampant steroid use, and now I believe that the NBA draft is fraudulent too.

This idea started for me with a different number one pick for Cleveland, but we will visit that later. The national attention towards the draft possibly being rigged began with a statement made at least partially in jest, by the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, David Kahn. He said, “This league has a habit… and I am just going to say habit… of producing some pretty incredible story lines. Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it was a 14 year old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told Kevin,’We’re toast.’ This is not happening for us and I was right.” Kahn laughed and smiled talking to the media, however he repeated “habit” for emphasis or potentially to dodge a big fine from David Stern, and he said that the league “producing” these story lines. I am starting to believe him.

I am no conspiracy theorist and I genuinely want to believe that some small miracles do happen for different people at random intervals. But, what are the chances that Cleveland who lost their savior LeBron James to free agency this year, get the first pick of the draft the following year even with two lottery picks? It can not be pure coincidence that the fourteen year old son of Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, who has battled illness for his entire life, stood in to get the news as a late lottery pick suddenly flew up the draft board to one of the top three picks. It is also no coincidence that the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had a terrible year with the loss of LeBron and a horrible, lackluster season, won the lottery.

The NBA draft lottery has had a history of exciting number one picks beginning at its inception. Here are a few:

  • In 1985, New York, the biggest media center in the world, won the inaugural draft lottery. It was the year that Patrick Ewing, one of the most dominant forces in college basketball history, left school to play in the pros. “Surprisingly”, the New York Knicks drafted him.
  • The Orlando Magic had two back to back number one picks in 1992 and 1993, garnering Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway. Shaq took a 21-61 franchise and turned it into a 41-41 ball club. With Penny Hardaway, the Orlando Magic turned in there first 50 win season of their franchise’s short exsistence.
  • Allen Iverson who was from Virginia and attended nearby Georgetown University, was drafted to the Philadelphia 76′ers who had a long proud tradition of basketball, but had a string of losing seasons.
  • The Houston Rockets which have one of the largest Asian populations in the nation, won the lottery in 2002 when Yao Ming, one of the better centers of this generation was available. Yao is Chinese.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery in 2003 when LeBron James, an Akron, Ohio native, was the best player in the draft. LeBron was in the last draft class that allowed high school players to jump to the NBA. He was National Player of the Year twice in high school which is unheard of. He was also one of five people in NBA history to average 20 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds in their first year of NBA basketball. He won two MVP’s in Cleveland and took them to their first trip to the NBA Finals.
  • Derrick Rose was the first player chosen in the 2008 draft by his hometown Chicago Bulls. He won his first NBA MVP this season and is the first Bulls player to win one since Michael Jordan.
  • The Washington Wizards’ owner, Abe Pollin passed away during their season in 2009. It was a difficult season on and off the court that year. The Wizards were 26-56 that year. The widowed Mrs. Pollin attended the lottery in his stead and won the rights to John Wall, a player that was fairly compared to Derrick Rose in college.
  • In 2010, Cleveland wins again after “The Decision”.

The NBA has been one of the most compelling forms of entertainment over the last two decades. David Stern brought the game out of the dark ages, when players fought violently and regularly, into a more pleasant experience for the general viewing audience. He has made the players on his teams more than just athletes. He made them stars, and he should be applauded for that. However, if we can not trust the sanctity of something that alters the sport so drastically, then how can we believe his product? The NBA draft is a joke and slowly, I am being to think the same about the National Basketball Association.

Defense Does Not Win Championships: Offense Wins in Basketball

3 Jun

basketball - michael jordan245

The trite cliche, ‘Defense wins championships,’ has been passed along by coaches and sports authorities for as long as amateur and professional sports have been played. And, in some sports the old adage rings true. Defense usually propagates wins and ultimately championships for football, baseball, and hockey teams because their defenses have distinct advantages. Hard hitting teams with good play on defense usually win games in football and hockey because collisions create turnovers that can be immediately converted into points. The squad that covers more ground and delivers harder punishment on the field or the ice will eventually impose their will on their opponents because there is a direct correlation between defensive plays and overall scoring. No football team wins a championship without fielding a decent secondary, and no hockey squads win the cup without finding a goalie who stops every shot that comes near the net. Turnovers equal victories. In most postseason baseball games, fielding percentage and pitching decide which team will be victorious, and a hot pitcher can win playoff games by himself. Defensive efficacy dictates how well those types of teams fare in their respective sports, however basketball is not as dependent on defense as coaches would have the casual fan believe. In basketball, even in the National Basketball Association, offense decides which team will reach the win column and which team will lose, especially when it comes to championships.

Winning basketball games is not completely dependent on defense like most other sports. It depends on three distinct components for success, offensive star power, ball control, and rebounds. Good teams have some these characteristics, but these characteristics define the great teams. Championship contenders in basketball have to field players who can score baskets consistently, they have to control turnovers and share the basketball, and they have to get more possessions on average than their opponents.

NBA Basketball: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors

The 2014 NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs, had three of the most efficient offensive players in the league in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard. Consequently, the team was 1st in the league in field goals made, 1st in 3 point field goal percentage, 1st in assists, and 2nd in overall field goal percentage. The Spurs were only 9th in the league in blocks and 20th in steals, the two most clearly defined defensive categories, however they were 11th in the league in turnovers and 12th in rebounding which puts them in the top third of the league in both categories. Put simply, the Spurs won the title that year because they shared the basketball, got easy shots, and won the possession battle on most nights. That trend occurs with most NBA champions. The 2013 Miami Heat may have been one of the best defensive squads since the Chicago Bulls teams of the 90′s because of their unparalleled team athleticism, but they are also one of the most talented offensive squads of this generation. The Heat combined LeBron James, the premier basketball talent of this generation with NBA Finals-tested superstar Dwayne Wade and established superstar Chris Bosh, to form one of the most talented offensive trios in NBA history. The Heat ranked 3rd in steals and 10th in blocks despite fielding one of the shorter teams in the league in 2013 (they were good defensively), however Miami ranked in 5th in field goals made, 1st in field goal percentage, 3rd in three pointers made, 2nd in three point percentage, and 7th in assists as a team. Though the Heat were great defensively, they were also a juggernaut on offense. Miami played in four straight Finals from 2010 to 2014, consequently. The 2015 World Champion Golden State Warriors were 1st in total offense, points, field goals made, field goal percentage, 3 pointers percentage, and assists. They were also 6th in rebounding, 4th in steals, and 2nd in blocks. This team could outscore anyone in the league, they controlled pace, and they won the possessions battle every night. Therefore, the Warriors won their first championship in 50 years and set the regular season wins record the following season before losing in the NBA Finals to the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. That Cavaliers team ranked 27th in blocks and 28th in steals, but they ranked 13th in assists, 8th in total points, and 9th in rebounds. They also ranked 10th in turnovers, 7th in 3 point percentage, and 9th in field goal percentage. Though they ranked in the bottom 10% of the league in defense, the Cavaliers were ranked in the top ten in the most important offensive statistical categories, and consequently brought Cleveland their first championship in 52 years. And, the 2017 Warriors led the NBA in almost every offensive statistical category on their way to a title. With the addition of Kevin Durant, one of the most efficient scorers in the league, Golden State placed 1st in total scoring average, field goals made, field goal percentage, total points, and assists. The Warriors were well rounded as they placed 1st in steals and blocks, but their offensive firepower drove them past their opponents.

In the last 25 years, the average offensive ranking of championship teams has been 5.52, and the average defensive ranking of those championship teams 5.26. Two teams had a defense not ranked in the top ten, the Houston Rockets in 1995 ranked 12th, and the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers ranked 21st, and the top ranked defense in the NBA only won 5 times. This does not mean that defense is unnecessary to win a NBA championship. Just as with any other sport, defense plays an important role in winning games, especially a title. However, in the National Basketball Association offense plays more of a role than defense, and its importance has been underplayed for too long.

The average National Basketball Association champion has three to four All-Star caliber players on their team, and the All-Star game is defined by offensive talent. Though defensive stalwarts like Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace, or Tony Allen occasionally sneak into the mix, overwhelmingly the All-Star games are comprised of the offensive leaders of the best NBA teams. Polished offensive players provide consistent scoring against the stouter defenses of the postseason, and when an offensive star gets hot, there is no defense that can stop them. LeBron James took a cast of throw-away players to the NBA Finals in 2007 because of his offensive dominance. His brilliance scoring and passing the basketball made everyone on his team better, and the Cavaliers were only stopped by a championship team that had three future Hall of Fame players, the San Antonio Spurs. And, in the interest of clarity, the Spurs’ defense did not stop LeBron as he averaged 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. LeBron simply did not have teammates that could help him to get past the Spurs’ second ranked defense. Because there were no other offensive threats on the 2007 Cavaliers squad, San Antonio was able to key all their defensive schemes onto slowing James. The next highest scoring Cleveland Cavalier was nearly a full ten points under James’ scoring average at 12.8 points per game, and Cleveland as a whole could only muster 80.5 points per game in the Finals, one of the lowest scoring team averages in NBA postseason history. The Cavs fielded a defensive rating of 4th in the league and took some points off of the Spurs’ average, however they only ranked 18th in offensive rating. No one besides James could get his own shot, and in the crucial moments the stars of San Antonio delivered. Tony Parker was amazing, scoring at will in the paint despite being a relatively small guard in stature. He had the highest scoring average of the series at 24.5 points per game on 56.8% field goal percentage. Manu Ginobli was relentless going to the rim and mixed his shorter shots with long range bombs that kept the Cleveland defense honest. And, Tim Duncan was himself, cool and poised under pressure while surgically dismantling the interior defense of his opponent.

basketball - lebron james - 2014 nba finals

Cases of offensive stardom outshining defensive excellence are a common occurrence in the NBA. LeBron James scored 22 straight points against the best team defense in the league and one of the NBA’s premier individual defenders in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. In the Round 2 of the 1995 Playoffs, Reggie Miller scored 8 points in 9 seconds to beat the New York Knicks in Game 1. Isiah Thomas mounted a comeback for his Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals on one leg. A bad high ankle sprain threatened to take him out of the Finals altogether, but he hobbled on and scored a NBA Finals record 25 points in a quarter to make his team competitive in Game 6. And then, there is Michael Jordan who embodies the offensive standard of professional basketball. He scored in the clutch against any defense that the opposing teams threw at him. He faced modified zones, double-teams, and triple-teams that included every team’s best defenders grabbing and pushing him. But, none of those things matter because great offensive players have at least two distinct advantages over their defenders. First, no defender truly knows what an offensive player is going to do on any possession. If they have studied film, then they know a player’s tendencies, but every play is organic. Jordan, for instance is characterized by his deadly fadeaway shot, but that shot was set up by a series of head and shoulder fakes that often led to an aggressive post move finish, a balanced up-and-down jumpshot, a soft floater taken with either hand in traffic, or a finesse counter. On every possession he had five different, efficient shots with an infinite number of pivots and ball-fakes at his disposal. No defender could feasibly guess correctly on every possession. Second, any good offensive player is reading the body of the defender and moving that defender to get the shot that he wants. Chris Paul makes contact with his opponents to neutralize their length and height. He bumps bigger guards with his lower body before he takes shots in traffic, so that they cannot leave the floor without fouling him. James Harden uses a long first step to keep his defenders off balance. Once he has them on his hip, he regular takes small, false steps into their bodies to keep them at bay. Steph Curry uses flashy ball-handling to lull defenders to sleep before launching long three pointers. He fakes moves to the basket in order to create space for his shots. LeBron James applies his strong upper body to bully his competition in the post and the open floor. He reads defenses for gaps, and then squeezes his frame into the seams overpowering even the post players at times. All four players, utilize different methods to gain advantage against rivals, however they all manipulate their opponents into positions on the court where they have the advantage. No defender can stop a great scorer in basketball. They can only hope to contain the impact that offensive star has on the game.

basketball - michael jordan248

Basketball games are won by the team that has the best offensive players because basketball is an offensive game. They are won with balanced scoring by the team who controls the most possessions, and in order to convert shots and maximize possessions, teams must build skilled squads with complementary parts. All the aforementioned teams had players who were efficient offensively and who operated on different parts of the floor which ultimately utilized a larger portion of the court and stretched defenses. Scoring is a direct result of having polished basketball players who can create their own shots and make scoring opportunities for their teammates. And, though defense matters, putting athletes on the court who can hit shots and focusing on ball control and turnovers is the secret to winning basketball games. Your coach lied to you. Offense wins basketball games.

Most Underrated Basketball Players of All-Time:Part 2

28 May

basketball - dennis rodman

Isiah Thomas – Although he was a first ballot Hall of Fame player, Isiah Thomas is vastly underrated for what he has done for the game of basketball. When the names of the best point guards of all-time are openly discussed, his name is rarely mentioned. The argument generally starts at Magic Johnson and ends somewhere between John Stockton and Steve Nash. However, Isiah put together a career that rivals any point guard that has ever played in the NBA except Magic. He was a 12-time All-Star, a Finals MVP, and a two-time NBA champion. He is still fifth in the league in assists and ninth in steals.

Artis Gilmore – The A-Train was the definition of defense when he entered the league. He stood 7’2″ and possessed a wingspan that was longer than he was tall. He finished his NBA career among the leaders in rebounds, and he could have possibly dominated blocked shots if the statistic was taken during his whole career. Gilmore has the third highest field goal percentage in a single season in league history and still is the overall leader in career field goal percentage. He could bully opponents on both sides of the basketball court, and is often overlooked when historians talk about the great centers of NBA past.

Allen Iverson – Allen Iverson may be the quickest person in NBA history with the basketball. He may also be the fastest. He was one man fast break, and could break down the best defenders with his crossover. He dominated the NBA and won an NBA MVP while being listed at 6′ but actually being closer to 5’10″. His 26.7 career scoring average is sixth in league history, and his playoff scoring average of 29.7 is second only to Michael Jordan. Iverson led the league in scoring multiple times during his career, but most people fail to mention his healthy 6.2 career average in assists. Iverson was the singular talent that proved that guards could win without big men.

Jason Kidd – Jason Kidd will probably finish his career second on the list of total assists. He is currently second on the list and still dishing the ball to scorers. Though Kidd is in the twilight of his career, he will be remembered as one of the best passers that ever played the game. During his prime, Jason Kidd could start and finish fast breaks by himself. He began his career as part of one of the most prolific scoring tandems in the league with Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn in Dallas. Then, he led the New Jersey Nets to two Conference titles and several Division titles.

Dominique Wilkins – ‘The Highlight Film’ is one of the few great players who is seldom mentioned when the conversations about the greatest players come up in idle talk. He is one of 15 players to score over 25,000 points. He is one of 6 players to average 25+ points for 10 consecutive seasons. And, he was one of the most exciting, high flying players in NBA history. He was known for his ability to finish at the rim and for his pure athleticism. But, his legend is hurt by his failure to get to the NBA Finals. However, his teams were not good enough to compete in a loaded Eastern conference. Dominique regularly dueled with the best the players in the league like Jordan and Bird. However, his teammates could not compete.

Derrick Fisher – There are a lot of different things that you could call Derek Fisher as a basketball player. Dirty. Irritating. Underwhelming. Erratic. But, you would also have to call him one other adjective. Winner. Derek Fisher owns 5 championship rings and he was an integral cog in each of them.

Pistol Pete Maravich – Pistol Pete is one of the few stars of the 70′s that transcended race. He was a white athlete with all the flash of urban black athletes and the sound fundamentals that are necessary for super stardom. He averaged 24.2 points per game and 5.4 assists per game over his tenure in the league.

Dennis Rodman – Dennis Rodman is one of the most under-appreciated basketball players of all time. His primary skill, rebounding the basketball, equated to one of the most prized statistical categories for coaches, possessions. His rebounding rate is the best ever. Rodman took a inglorious sect of the game and made it popular. His defense and rebounding helped establish two NBA dynasties (one with the Bulls and one with the Pistons).

Elgin Baylor – Though he never won an NBA title, Elgin Baylor pushed his team to the NBA Finals an astonishing eight times. Elgin Baylor was the high flyer before Dr. K and Michael Jordan reached the league. He was one of the first big guards and one of the first rebounding guards. He was considered to be one of the most well-rounded players in the league. He was a great shooter, a tough rebounder, and an adept passer. Baylor paved the way for athletic scoring guards.

 

 

 

The Most Unstoppable Moves in NBA History

22 Apr

moves - feature

By William Bixby

Tim Hardaway’s killer crossover – People now remember Tim Hardaway for a few homophobic comments made well after he retired from his NBA playing days. But, before Hardaway became a flaming bigot, he was the owner and inventor of the killer crossover. He was about 6’1” and 175 lbs. with a lightning quick first step and a mean handle. Hardaway would throw the basketball between his legs hard right, and then cross back left in front of his defender leaving them frozen in place. The play usually ended in a sweet floater or an easy assist.

 

Charles Barkley’s scoot – Charles Barkley was undersized compared to power forwards of his era. In fact, Barkley was undersized for a small forward. Though he was generously listed at 6’6”, his actual height was closer to 6’4”. Barkley had the height of a NBA shooting guard, but played and dominated in the post. Barkley had three assets that aided him in the paint, long arms, explosive leaping, and a big butt. He used that butt to back his defenders under the rim, and then finish over them. He pushed, scooted, and bullied his way to a Hall of Fame career.

 

Shaquille O’Neal’s spin move – Shaquille O’Neal was one of the biggest, most physically dominant players that the NBA has seen. Players had to use all their muscle and weight to fend him off in the post, so he was fouled on most plays. But, Shaq was as nimble as he was big. When he felt a smaller defender pushing with all his might against him, he spun quickly to the basket for an easy bucket. The man who could overpower anyone used their strength against them.

Magic Johnson’s no-look pass – The Laker’s fast break pushed offensive strategy boundaries and Magic Johnson’s no-look pass revolutionized basketball. Before him the standard of passing was the conventional chest pass and the standard of the misdirection was the simple ball fake. After Magic the one-handed bounce pass and the no-look pass became staples of the game. Magic would fly down the court at full speed look left and sling the basketball to a trailing teammate on the right effectively tricking the defense into guarding the wrong players.

 

Larry Bird’s jump shot – Larry Bird was one of the best shooters to ever grace the NBA with his presence. He is one of six players that have had a 50/40/90* year, and one of two players to do it more than once. He could really shoot the lights out, but at least part of the reason that Bird was so unstoppable was his unorthodox jump shot. He stood 6’9” and shot the basketball from behind his head with a ridiculously high release point. Bird shot could not be reached by defenders and was rarely blocked, because the basketball was never accessible.

 

Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake – Olajuwon’s Dream Shake was all predicated on his jump hook and his immaculate footwork. There is no clear way to explain his Dream Shake, because where he moved depended on where the defense was. That was the beauty of his move, it changed constantly. The shake that was most often referred to when talking about Olajuwon’s Dream Shake was when he fell out of bounds after faking an inordinate amount of times on the baseline. No one has ever seen that shot tipped.

 

Wilt Chamberlain’s drop step – Wilt was a freak athletically, and he made a simple move a staple of post play. He was bigger, faster, and stronger than anyone that he faced. Chamberlain learned that he could exploit defenders by getting them on his hip, turning to face the basket, and finishing over them. He was one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA history.

Michael Jordan’s fade away – Michael Jordan was the most pure scoring force that the NBA has seen. At shooting guard, he shot 49.7% from the field for his career which is incredible considering that his go to move was the fade away. Instead of the conventional, vertical jump that was the standard for jump shots, Jordan jumped away from his defenders, fading away from both contact and outstretched hands. With his outstanding athleticism, he could score in the face of double and triple teams on the basketball court. Jordan’s fade away could not be blocked.

 

Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s sky hook – Lew Alcindor was one of the most dominant players in high school history. When he moved to college, the NCAA instituted a rule that disallowed dunking to slow him. Instead of this rule stifling his game, it forced him to develop a new shot. He invented the most unstoppable shot in the history of basketball, the sky hook. Alcindor made a large sweeping motion with the ball extended, flicked his wrist and with a silky release hit the bottom of the nets. In the NBA, he changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar and went on to score more points than anyone in NBA history with the sky hook. It could not be blocked by the primary defender and was difficult to alter by secondary defenders. The sky hook was the most unstoppable move in NBA history.

*50/40/90 is an exclusive club where the players shoot 50% from the field, 40% from the three point line, and 90% from the free throw line. To qualify as a leader in field goal percentage a player needs at least 300 field goals, for three point percentage a player needs at least 55 three point field goals, and for free throw percentage a player needs at least 125 free throws. Only six players have accomplished a 50/40/90 season, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, and Dirk Nowitzki. Only Nash and Bird have done it twice. Nash has done it in 4 of the last 5 seasons.