Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Optimism for Shaun Livingston

Back-up point guards for the Los Angeles Clippers don’t really get a lot of ink here, and maybe rightfully so. But Shaun Livingston’s story is one that deserves some attention. In a fantastic July 29 article in the Los Angeles Times, Livingston gave author Kurt Streeter a first-hand account of what the past five months have held for him, along with a look to the future. I’m very happy to report that there seems to be some real optimism emerging in a situation that could have ended tragically. For those of you that don’t know what happened, even if you don’t know who Shaun Livingston is, here’s his story.

During a home game against the Charlotte Bobcats on February 26, he suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in NBA history, which Livingston himself described as “Pure pain. Pain so bad it’s hard to even describe”. Following a steal, he was on his way downcourt for a breakaway lay-up, he took off, no one with ten feet of him, just after releasing the ball, his feet hit the floor, and then, disaster! As he landed, what happened to Shaun Livingston’s left knee can best be described as an “explosion”, not only tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL, but dislocated his kneecap as well. Watching the talented 20 year-old fall to the Staples Center floor in a heap is one the most stomach-turning NBA moment I’ve ever witnessed.

At the hospital, Livingston’s knee was scanned for nerve and artery damage (of which, fortunately, there was none) and he was told that there was chance that part of his left leg would have to be amputated. His doctors told him that his was one of the worst knee injuries they'd seen, more similar to something stemming from a major car wreck. It was bad enough that the first two years of his career had been plagued by back and knee injuries, but this was getting scary. Apparently this wasn’t just a basketball injury. If you haven’t stopped reading already, you’re probably wondering why (other than compassion and sympathy for a suffering young man) I’m devoting so much energy to an article about a guy who’s averaged 7.4 points and 4.8 assists in his 145 game NBA career. Well…

Shaun Livingston is special. Straight out of high school in Peoria, IL, Livingston, the #4 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, is a truly once-a-decade talent at the point. At his best Livingston is a mix of Scottie Pippen and Steve Nash, seeming to float when he runs the floor and making passes that very few players in NBA history have been able to make. He's a constant threat to make the kind of play that leaves you with your mouth open, bursting into spontaneous laughter. Most NBA fans have no idea what they’re at risk of losing because playing in the Pacific Time Zone has made Livingston fandom something of a regional phenomenon. Even those of us who have regularly watched Livingston play have only a vague idea of just how good this kid can be, because we've still only seen flashes of Livingston's brilliance.

But the flashes, along with his kind, polite and thoughtful personality, are enough to make you believe that this rail-thin, 6-foot-7 point guard will be a big part of the NBA’s future. And just as he was learning how to adapt his incredible talent to the NBA game, he suffered this devastating, career-threatening injury. It’s as though the sports gods have decided to have some laughs at his expense.

Thankfully, as reported by Streeter, thing are looking up for Shaun Livingston. Following a successful operation, performed by Dr. James Andrews, he’s now able to walk without a limp, to ride a stationary bike and lunge from side to side. Although he’s not sprinting or jumping yet, Livingston’s doctor says that his comeback chances good. But that’s only part of the good news.

In addition to his encouraging physical prognosis, Shaun Livingston’s financial outlook is encouraging. Needless to say, any kid that is guaranteed $12.5 million before the age of 21 is at risk of peaking too soon and flaming out (see Lohan, Lindsay and Spears, Britney). Fortunately, it seems that Livingston is the rare young athlete whose finances are closely and smartly managed, with real estates investments in Chicago and the possibility of dabbling in the entertainment industry.

Having met Livingston, hearing first-hand accounts of how good a guy he is and having seen flashes of his game at its best, I took his injury (which sent shivers up my spine when I saw it live and will forever be etched into my brain) pretty hard, and I am extremely happy to hear that Shaun’s life, as well as his left knee, have plenty of cause for optimism.

Rather than focus on the negative aspects of his injury he says he wants to focus on taking his game “to new heights.” I can’t wait.

Good luck, Shaun!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Southeast Division

With the Atlantic and Central Divisions covered, let’s look at the All-time Starting Fives for four of the five teams in the Southeast Division. I didn’t think it made sense to include the three year-old Charlotte Bobcats. Of the first three, this division actually presented some of the most difficult decisions. Let’s get to it…


SOUTHEAST DIVISION


ATLANTA HAWKS

PG- Mookie Blaylock (14.9 ppg, 41.3% FG, 73.5% FT, 4.6 rpg, 7.3 apg, 2.5 spg in 518 games)- An interesting comparison between Blaylock, Doc Rivers and Lenny Wilkens. Their stats with Atlanta are extremely similar. Blaylock’s has a slight edge over Rivers in all categories and beats Wilkens in all except scoring.

SG- Pete Maravich (24.3 ppg, 44.8% FG, 80.9% FT, 4.2 rpg, 5.6 apg in 302 games)- After an unbelievable college career, “Pistol” didn’t miss a beat in his first four NBA seasons in Atlanta. With Joe Johnson still having a LONG way to go to challenge for this spot, Steve Smith was the only other candidate, and it wasn’t very close.

SF- Dominique Wilkins (26.4 ppg, 46.7% FG, 81.3% FT, 6.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.4 spg in 882 games)- No contest. ‘Nique is one of the most dominant and entertaining scorers in NBA history. Playing during the Michael Jordan era kept him from being remembered as one of the best ever.

PF- Bob Pettit (26.4 ppg, 43.6% FG, 76.1% FT, 16.2 rpg, 3.0 apg in 792 games)- The NBA’s first great power forward and still, more than 40 years after his retirement, one of the best ever. No one else was really close, although Dan Roundfield and Kevin Willis deserve to be mentioned.

C- Zelmo Beaty (17.4 ppg, 47.1% FG, 74.8% FT, 11.2 rpg, 1.5 apg in 501 games)- Spend seven years with the Hawks before jumping to the ABA in 1970. The franchise leader in points by a center, Beaty ranks in the top three among Hawks’ centers in both scoring and rebounding average.

MIAMI HEAT

PG- Sherman Douglas (16.0 ppg, 50% FG, 68.7% FT, 7.9 apg, 1.7 spg in 159 games)- I expected to be writing Tim Hardaway’s name here, but the numbers tell a different story. Douglas holds a small edge in both assists and steals, and his scoring average is just a point shy of Hardaway’s, despite attempting more than two fewer shots per game.

SG- Dwayne Wade (22.9 ppg, 48.2% FG, 76.9% FT, 5.0 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.7 spg in 213 games)- As good as Eddie Jones and Steve Smith were, D-Wade wins this position in a landslide. It’s probably safe to assume that if he’s ever supplanted here, it will be long, long time from now.

SF- Glen Rice (19.3 ppg, 45.9% FG, 83.5% FT, 38.6% 3PT, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 spg in 478 games)- One of the great shooters of his era, Rice was the Heat’s first star player and is still the franchise leader in points scored and third in scoring average.

PF- Brian Grant (11.0 ppg, 48.2% FG, 79.6% FT, 8.5 rpg, in 312 games)- Grant, Udonis Haslem and Grant Long make up a solid-but-unspectacular group of Miami PFs. Despite Haslem having won a ring in 2006, both his numbers, and Grant Long’s, fall short of Brian Grant’s.

C- Alonzo Mourning (17.6 ppg, 53.5% FG, 66.3% FT, 8.9 rpg, 2.9 bpg, in 491 games)- After being the heart and soul of the franchise for nearly a decade, it’s fitting that Zo won a title with the Heat. By the way, had you also forgotten that Rony Seikaly was REALLY good?

ORLANDO MAGIC

PG- Anfernee Hardaway (19.0 ppg, 47.2% FG, 76.6% FT, 4.7 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.9 spg in 369 games)- Remember how great Penny was in Orlando? This guy used to be awesome! He was compared to both Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan! Steve Francis’ stats compare favorably, but Penny had a much bigger impact with the Magic.

SG- Nick Anderson (15.4 ppg, 45.4% FG, 67.3% FT, 5.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.5 spg in 692 games)- A member of the Magic from Day 1, Nick Anderson was a member of the Magic line-up for a decade. His superior offensive stats give Anderson the edge over Mike Miller.

SF- Tracy McGrady (28.1 ppg, 44.6% FG, 76.8% FT, 7.0 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.5 spg in 295 games)- The best all-around player in franchise history. The Magic’s “Post-Shaq star”, T-Mac won the back-to-back scoring titles in 2003 and 2004. His only real competition here was Dennis Scott and an injury-plagued Grant Hill.

PF- Dwight Howard (15.1 ppg, 55.4% FG, 61% FT, 11.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 246 games)- Howard is already a monster in the paint. When his offensive game develops, he will be completely unstoppable. Also deserving of consideration is Horace Grant, the best post-season PF of the 1990s.

C- Shaquille O’Neal (27.2 ppg, 58.1% FG, 54.5% FT, 12.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.8 bpg in 295 games)- He made the Magic relevant and gave the franchise its first superstar. The most dominant big man since Wilt Chamberlain and the catalyst for Orlando’s 1995 trip to the Finals. By the way, Rony Seikaly was really good with the Magic too!

WASHINGTON BULLETS/WIZARDS

PG- Rod Strickland (15.5 ppg, 43.9% FG, 73.3% FT, 4.3 rpg, 8.9 apg, 1.6 spg in 304 games)- In three seasons in Washington, Archie Clark’s stats surpassed Strickland’s with the team, but Clark never really made a mark in Washington. By virtue of his four solid seasons in DC, Strickland gets the nod.

SG- Earl Monroe (23.7 ppg, 44.5% FG, 79.5% FT, 3.7 rpg, 4.6 apg in 328 games)- It’s only a matter of time before this spot belongs to Gilbert Arenas, but for the time being, Earl the Pearl is the standard for two-guard play in Washington. The impact of his beautiful playground game on the NBA cannot be overstated.

SF- Chris Webber (20.9 ppg, 50.1% FG, 56.0% FT, 9.7 rpg, 4.4 apg in 212 games)- Edging out Bernard King and Antawn Jamison, Chris Webber is Washington’s top all-time small forward. After winning Rookie of the Year with Golden State, his game really developed in Washington.

PF- Elvin Hayes (21.3 ppg, 45.8% FG, 67.7% FT, 12.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg in 731 games)- With all due respect to Chris Webber, the power forward position in Washington belongs to Elvin Hayes. In Washington’s 1978 Finals triumph, Elvin Hayes dominated the Sonics and clinched the title for the Bullets.

C- Walt Bellamy (27.6 ppg, 51.6% FG, 66.1% FT, 16.6 rpg, 2.4 apg in 327 games)- Where is Wes Unseld? It’s a simple matter of numbers. For all of Unseld’s hard-nosed play in the paint, even in Washington’s 1978 championship season, his performances don’t compare to Bellamy’s. One of the most underrated big men in NBA history.

Well, that’s it for the Eastern Conference. There were a lot of big names, but also a lot of star from the NBA’s early days, particularly in the paint (Bailey Howell, Zelmo Beaty). Another trend I noticed was the presence of a lot of snake-bitten careers (Grant Hill, Vin Baker, Penny Hardaway). Hope you’re enjoying these articles so far!

Tomorrow we’ll start in on the West, with the All-time Starting Fives for the Northwest Division.

Friday, July 27, 2007

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Central Division

With the Atlantic Division now in the books, it’s time to look at the All-time Starting Lineups for the Central Division. In these five lineups, there were definitely a few absolute gimmes, but there were also a fair number of surprises- more than was the case in the Atlantic Division. As you read this, I imagine that, whether you agree with my selections or not, there are at least a couple players whose statistics will make you stop for a second and think “Damn! He was better than I thought!”


On to the All-time Starting Fives for NBA’s Central Division. Enjoy!


CENTRAL DIVISION


CHICAGO BULLS

PG- Reggie Theus (18.8 ppg, 47.7% FG, 80.6% FT, 3.4 rpg, 5.6 apg in 441 games)- Less of a pure point guard than Norm Van Lier, but Theus was a better scorer, rebounder and shooter. Also, his assist numbers are comparable to Van Lier’s (5.6 v. 6.9 apg).

SG- Michael Jordan (31.5 ppg, 50.5% FG, 83.8% FT, 6.3 rpg, 5.4 apg in 930 games)- Does this one really require an explanation?

SF- Scottie Pippen (17.7 ppg, 48.1% FG, 69.3% FT, 6.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg in 856 games)- Much more than MJ’s sidekick, Pippen, one of the greatest perimeter defenders in league history, was a star in his own right. Could (Should?) have been in the 1994 Finals as the league MVP.

PF- Elton Brand (20.1 ppg, 47.9% FG, 69.5% FT, 10.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.6 bpg in 155 games)- The NBA’s best offensive rebounder and a great finisher inside. Brand’s incredibly consistent numbers despite regularly facing taller opponents, gave him the edge over Bob Love.

C- Artis Gilmore (19.3 ppg, 58.7% FG, 71.2% FT, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.1 bpg in 482 games)- Despite spending his best seasons in the ABA, Gilmore established himself among the NBA’s top centers. Offensively (check out the FG%!) and defensively, Gilmore was a force in the middle.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

PG- Mark Price (16.4 ppg, 47.9% FG, 90.6% FT, 40.9% 3PT, 7.2 apg, 1.3 spg in 582 games)- Although Andre Miller and Terrell Brandon put up some impressive numbers, Price is the face of the Cavs at the point. One of the more underrated players of his era.

SG- Ron Harper (19.4 ppg, 47.4% FG, 71.3% FT, 4.7 rpg, 5.1 apg, 2.3 spg in 228 games)- One of the more athletic and versatile two-guards of the late 1980s. Not the scorer that World B. Free was, but Harper’s all-around statistical edge earned him this spot.

SF- LeBron James (26.5 ppg, 45.8% FG, 74.6% FT, 6.6 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.8 spg in 238 games)- Entered the league at age 18 with great expectations and even greater hype, and LeBron has not disappointed. Already one of the league’s best, LBJ will be an all-timer.

PF- Larry Nance (16.8 ppg, 53% FG, 80.4% FT, 8.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.5 bpg in 433 games)- Blessed with incredible length and a soft touch, both around the basket and from the line. Despite having better statistics, neither Shawn Kemp nor Cliff Robinson was the player that Nance was for the Cavs.

C- Brad Daugherty (19.0 ppg, 53.2% FG, 74.7% FT, 9.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, in 548 games)- The anchor of the best teams in franchise history. Had he stayed healthy, Daugherty would have built a strong Hall of Fame resume. Zydrunas Ilgauskas warranted consideration here, but the decision was not difficult.

DETROIT PISTONS

PG- Isiah Thomas (19.2 ppg, 45.2% FG, 75.9% FT, 3.6 rpg, 9.3 apg, 1.9 spg in 979 games)- Even with Chauncey Billups becoming a championship-caliber point guard and the Pistons’ leader, Isiah will always be the face of the franchise. His toughness and clutch play were the catalysts for the Pistons’ first two championships.

SG- Richard Hamilton (19.1 ppg, 45.8% FG, 85.0% FT, 3.6 rpg, 3.7 apg in 316 games)- Whaaaa? No Joe Dumars? No, no Joe Dumars. In a photo finish, Rip takes this position. While most of their stats are nearly identical, Hamilton owns higher scoring average, has a championship ring and has a more complete offensive game than Dumars did.

SF- Grant Hill (21.6 ppg, 47.6% FG, 74.6% FT, 7.9 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.6 spg in 435 games)- Remember what a force this guy was? During his six mostly-healthy seasons in Detroit, Grant Hill looked poised to become one of the greatest all-around players of his, and maybe any, era.

PF- Bailey Howell (21.1 ppg, 47.6% FG, 77.4% FT, 11.8 rpg, 2.3 apg in 387 games)- A model of consistency in the 1960s. He certainly had competition, but Howell’s performance in five outstanding seasons in Detroit outclassed those of Dave DeBusschere, Happy Hairston and Dennis Rodman.

C- Bob Lanier (22.7 ppg, 50.8% FG, 77.5% FT, 11.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 bpg in 681 games)- A very underrated big men and the best of a solid corps of Pistons’ centers that includes Bill Laimbeer, Ben Wallace and Larry Foust. (By the way, Bill Laimbeer’s stats are a lot better than I thought they’d be!)

INDIANA PACERS

PG- Mark Jackson (8.4 ppg, 43.4% FG, 78.3% FT, 36.2% 3PT, 3.8 rpg, 8.1 apg, 1.1 spg in 405 games)- Despite his limited offensive game, Jackson was an outstanding floor general for Pacers’ in the mid-to-late 1990s. Never made mental errors and always made his teammates better.

SG- Reggie Miller (18.2 ppg, 47.1% FG, 88.8% FT, 39.5% 3PT, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.1 spg in 1,389 games)- An obvious choice. Miller is one of the game’s all-time great shooters, particularly in the clutch, and the face of the Pacers’ franchise.

SF- Detlef Schrempf (17.0 ppg, 51.1% FG, 81.3% FT, 8.6 rpg, 4.1 apg in 354 games)- Before starring with the Sonics, Detlef Schrempf broke out with the Pacers. Schrempf got a run for his money from Chuck Person, but Detlef gets the nod, thanks to his superior offensive versatility, rebounding and passing.

PF- Clark Kellogg (18.9 ppg, 49.7% FG, 75.7% FT, 9.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.5 spg in 260 games)- Before his career was derailed by chronic knee injuries, Kellogg was one of the NBA’s top young forwards. Kellogg’s three healthy seasons in Indiana are as good as any by a Pacers frontcourt player.

C- Jermaine O’Neal (19.0 ppg, 46.4% FG, 70.9% FT, 9.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 2.4 bpg in 403 games)- It’s no surprise to see O’Neal here. It was surprising, however, to find that his toughest competition for this position was not Rik Smits, but Herb Williams and James Edwards.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

PG- Oscar Robertson (16.3 ppg, 46.8% FG, 84.3%FT, 4.9 rpg, 7.5 apg, in 288 games)- Late his career, Robertson reinvented himself as the perfect complement to a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and it won him an NBA title. It is this title that won him a spot in this line-up, as Sam Cassell’s Milwaukee statistics compared very favorably to Robertson’s.

SG- Ray Allen (19.6 ppg, 45.0% FG, 87.9% FT, 40.6% 3PT, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 494 games)- A three-man race between Allen, Michael Redd and Sidney Moncrief. I expected Moncrief to emerge from this group, but Allen’s all-around game compared very favorably. And Redd, a Ray Allen-clone, will one day replace Allen here- just not yet.

SF- Marques Johnson (21.0 ppg, 53% FG, 73.6% FT, 7.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.3 spg in 524 games)- He and Sidney Moncrief were the core of the Bucks’ teams that won five consecutive division titles from 1980-84. Terry Cummings, the man Johnson was traded for, comes in a close second.

PF- Vin Baker (18.3 ppg, 49.4% FG, 63.4% FT, 9.5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.3 bpg in 324 games)- Once one of the NBA’s best big men, Baker was one of the original big men with athleticism and a mid-range jumper that could also hit the boards.

C- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (30.4 ppg, 54.7% FG, 69.5% FT, 15.3 rpg, 4.3 apg in 467 games)- Arguably the greatest player in NBA history, Kareem was an absolute force with the Bucks. Not only statistically dominant, he combined with Oscar Robertson to bring Milwaukee its only title.

Coming tomorrow: The ALL-time Starting Fives for Southeast Division. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Atlantic Division

There have been countless books, articles and barroom debates aimed at determining the greatest teams and greatest players in NBA history. Another fun exercise along these lines is assembling the greatest starting five or twelve-man NBA roster in history. I have had a lot of fun debating these topics with some knowledgeable (and some not-so-knowledgeable) NBA fans, and I can’t promise that such an article, authored by me, will not make its way onto this site. The problem with these very simple exercises is that they neglect an entire universe of star players whose greatness falls just beyond the scope of the top fifteen or twenty in the game’s history. My initial aim in writing this column was to determine the five NBA franchises with the greatest all-time starting line-ups, based on the performances of all player who suited up in at least 200 games (there was a little bit of wiggle room used here) for the team. Once I got rolling though, it became kinda fun, so I went ahead and assembled my all-time starting five for 29 of the NBA’s franchises (I omitted the Charlotte Bobcats). I tried to adhere to a strict C, PF, SF, SG, PG line-up, not just 2 guards, 2 forwards and center. Now, I didn’t invent some kind of convoluted, John Hollinger-esque formula to determine these line-ups. I examined the statistics of players during their tenures with a given team (thanks basketballreference.com!), compared the top two or three from each team and considered the era in which each played. I used high points in the team’s history as tie-breaker. A lot of the results are as I expected, but some forced me to stare at the numbers in shock and admit that my initial perception had changed.

Rather than go nuts and give you 29 starting fives to consider in one sitting, I will be posting these five at a time, grouped by current NBA division, over the next six days. Next to each player that I’ve named, you will find his statistics with the team in question as well as a 30-word (give or take) explanation of the rationale behind my selection.

I’m going to start today with the Atlantic Division. Have fun reading and debating these, I had fun putting them together! If you think I’m an idiot, don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m very eager to hear your opinions.


EASTERN CONFERENCE


ATLANTIC DIVISION


BOSTON CELTICS

PG- Bob Cousy (18.5 ppg, 37.5% FG, 80% FT, 5.2 rpg, 7.6 apg in 917 games)- A no-brainer. Tiny Archibald at the end of his career and a rock-solid DJ in the 80s can’t compare to the quarterback of the Celtics’ dynasty.

SG- Jojo White (18.4 ppg, 44.2% FG, 83.3% FT, 4.3 rpg, 5.1 apg in 717 games)- One of the bridges from Russell to Bird. Compared to Bill Sharman and Sam Jones (really the only competition), ranks 1st or 2nd of the three in every major category.

SF- Larry Bird (24.3 ppg, 49.6% FG, 88.6% FT, 37.6% 3PT, 10 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.7 spg in 897 games)- The greatest Celtic since Russell. Some of Pierce’s and Havlicek’s stats compare, and Hondo’s rings must be considered, but Bird is THE starting SF for the Celtics.

PF- Kevin McHale (17.9 ppg, 55.4% FG, 79.8% FT, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 971 games)- Not a statistical wonder, but a champion. His dominating low post game made him the #2 option behind Bird, and shot extremely well from both the field and line.

C- Bill Russell (15.1 ppg, 44% FG, 56.1% FT, 22.5 rpg, 4.3 apg in 963 games)- The ultimate champion. While 11 championships in 13 years is the ultimate statistic, Russell’s career stats stack up well against most centers in NBA history.


NEW JERSEY NETS

PG- Jason Kidd (14.9 ppg, 39.9% FG, 80.6% FT, 7.1 rpg, 9.0 apg in 455 games)- The catalyst for the Nets’ back-to-back Finals trips. One of the great all-around guards of all-time as well as the franchise leader in rebounding and assists per game among guards.

SG- Vince Carter (25.5 ppg, 44.8% FG, 80.4% FT, 4.1 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.2 spg in 218 games)- Flirted with greatness in Toronto before deciding he wanted out. In 2+ seasons with the Nets, Carter’s put up monster numbers for a team without a great two-guard legacy (Kerry Kittles? Otis Birdsong?).

SF- Derrick Coleman (19.9 ppg, 46.1% FG, 77.0% FT, 10.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.6 bpg in 348 games)- Maybe a selfish underachiever, but during his five seasons in New Jersey, DC was a HELL of a player, easily surpassing Van Horn, Jefferson and Bernard King’s first two seasons.

PF- Buck Williams (16.4 ppg, 55% FG, 64.9% FT, 11.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg in 635 games)- A stronger and more productive version of Horace Grant. Sadly, one of the best PF’s of the 80s spent his best years on a string of atrocious Nets teams.

C- Sam Bowie (12.8 ppg, 43.6% FG, 76.2% FT, 8.2 rpg, 2 apg, 1.6 bpg in 280 games)- When healthy, the “guy picked ahead of Jordan” was a decent player. It helps that his competition for this spot was Tim McCormick, Mike Gminski and an aging Darryl Dawkins.


NEW YORK KNICKS

PG- Walt Frazier (19.3 ppg, 49.2% FG, 78.3% FT, 6.1 rpg, 6.3 apg in 759 games)- A great big-game guard. Clyde almost single-handedly won Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. Stephon Marbury’s stats stack up well, but Frazier’s team success gives him an easy victory.

SG- Richie Guerin (20.1 ppg, 41.1% FG, 77.8% FT, 6.4 rpg, 5.3 apg in 516 games)- Bronx-born Guerin led the Knicks in the 1950s. Still owns the highest scoring average among guards in Knicks’ history, along with better rebounding and assist numbers than Houston, Sprewell and Monroe.

SF- Bernard King (26.5 ppg, 54.3% FG, 76.1% FT, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 206 games)- One of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history. His brief time with the Knicks produced some electrifying performances, capped by his 1984 playoff duel against Isiah Thomas and the Pistons.

PF- Dave DeBusschere (16.0 ppg, 43.9% FG, 71.6% FT, 10.7 rpg, 3.1 apg in 435 games)- A vital member of the Knicks’ championship front lines. A tireless worker in the paint and a selfless teammate. Other Knicks’ PFs (Spencer Haywood and Ken Sears) had no chance.

C- Willis Reed (18.7 ppg, 47.6% FG, 74.7% FT, 12.9 rpg, 1.8 apg in 650 games)- Offensively, Reed fall considerably short of Patrick Ewing. His decided edge on the boards (12.9 rpg v 10.4 for Ewing), along with his leadership and team success earned him this spot.


PHILADELPHIA 76ers

PG- Maurice Cheeks (12.2 ppg, 52.8% FG, 79% FT, 7.3 apg, 2.3 spg in 853 games)- A solid floor leader and one of the best defensive guards of his era. With Iverson falling into the two-guard category, Cheeks’ only competition was the easily outclassed Eric Snow.

SG- Allen Iverson (28 ppg, 42.1% FG, 77.5% FT, 4.0 rpg, 6.1 apg, 2.3 spg in 682 games)- Not only is Iverson the toughest guard in NBA history, he’s one of its best scorers too. Hal Greer, the Sixers’ next-best two-guard, has a championship ring, but pales statistically compared to AI.

SF- Julius Erving (22.0 ppg, 50.7% FG, 77.7% FT, 6.7 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.5 bpg in 836 games)- This was no gimme. Offensively, Erving has the edge over Billy Cunningham, but not on the boards (6.7 rpg v. 10.1 for Cunningham). It was Erving’s athleticism and profound effect on NBA wing play won him this spot.

PF- Charles Barkley (23.3 ppg, 57.6% FG, 73.3% FT, 11.6 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg in 610 games)- Statistically, Barkley and George McGinnis are virtually in a dead heat. In the end, Barkley’s physical dominance and longer tenure won out.

C- Wilt Chamberlain (27.6 ppg, 58.3% FG, 45.6% FT, 23.9 rpg, 6.8 apg in 277 games)- It’s sad that after averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, Moses Malone never had a chance to win this spot. Such is the fate of centers pitted against Wilt Chamberlain.


TORONTO RAPTORS

PG- Damon Stoudamire (19.6 ppg, 41.5% FG, 82% FT, 8.8 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 spg in 200 games)- Stoudamire made an immediate impact in Toronto, and is still the PG standard for the Raptors. T.J. Ford has shown potential, but has yet to challenge Stoudamire’s status as the Raptors’ #1 all-time PG.

SG- Vince Carter (23.4 ppg, 44.6% FG, 78.3% FT, 5.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.3 spg in 403 games)- The first superstar in franchise history, Carter took the Raptors to within a buzzer-beater of the East Semifinals, the franchise’s highest point to date.

SF- Donyell Marshall (13.8 ppg, 45.7% FG, 75.9% FT, 8.7 rpg, in 131 games)- Not a whole lot to work with here. Marshall’s scoring, rebounding and shooting accuracy gave him the edge over long-time Raptor Morris Peterson.

PF- Chris Bosh (18.2 ppg, 48.5% FG, 77.5% FT, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 bpg in 295 games)- The best big man in the Eastern Conference. Bosh can do virtually anything on the floor and, at age 22, his game is still developing.

C- Marcus Camby (13.5 ppg, 44.8% FG, 65.4% FT, 6.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.9 bpg in 126 games)- Although he played just 2 seasons in Toronto, Marcus Camby doesn’t have much competition for the #1 center position, with Keon Clark the only one worth considering.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

David Stern's Legacy Comes Down to a Buzzer-Beater

In the twilight of one of the great tenures of any commissioner in all of sports, David Stern's legacy, along with the credibility of the league over which he presides, are on the brink of irreparable disrepair. After more than two decades at the helm of the NBA, Stern is faced with the one catastrophe from which it is most difficult for any sport to recover- public perception of compromised integrity. It was reported on Friday that NBA official Tim Donaghy, after racking up gambling debts with some mobbed-up bookies, may have tried (and presumably succeeded) in influencing the results of NBA games which he was assigned to officiate. If these allegations are proven to be true, David Stern may see all the goodwill that he's managed to build up simply evaporate in the black cloud of corrupt officiating.


When Stern took over as commissioner of the NBA in February 1984, the league, led by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Julius Erving, had begun to successfully shed it's image of being "unrelatable" and drug plagued. One of the most intelligent and forward-thinking leaders in all of sport, Stern leveraged the success and mass appeal of the NBA's great teams, (the Lakers and the Celtics in the 1980s, Michael Jordan's Bulls in the 1990s) as well as its stars, into an international, fan-friendly juggernaut. It was under David Stern that NBA teams began traveling to Europe for exhibition tournaments against local teams, nurturing interest in the league's stars of the day, as well as inspiring young athletes, like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker, who have since gone on to become the NBA's present-day stars. It was David Stern's vision that led the NBA to focus its marketing muscle in the Far East, particularly China (yeah, Yao Ming helped too!). Finally, despite its obvious imperfections and recent scrutiny, the NBA Lottery, designed to uphold the integrity of the league's bottom-dwelling teams, was also a David Stern brainchild. Sadly, all of this may come to mean very little if the Donaghy scandal is not quickly and decisively resolved.


Despite the inconsistent and subpar officiating in the 2007 NBA Playoffs and persistent conspiracy theories about officials showing favoritism to certain teams and players, no one, not even Mavs' owner and frequently fined critic of NBA referees Mark Cuban, has ever succeeded in proving anything more serious than incompetence against NBA officials. And every time the officials' ability or integrity was called into question, David Stern was there, Thor's Hammer in hand, ready to fine any and all that dared question his league's credibility. Sadly, if the allegations against Tim Donaghy are true, this is all poised to change.


If there is any silver lining to this dark cloud, it is that, for the time being, Tim Donaghy is the only official accused of any impropriety. If the allegations are true, the next issue on David Stern's plate is to determine whether this is a matter of a lone bad apple threatening to spoil the whole bunch, or if the NBA's problem is one of wide-spread, systematic corruption. In the case of the former, it is vital that the commissioner reassert himself as the judge, jury and executioner of the NBA by reviewing any and all objectionable games (possibly adding some asterisks to the record books), issuing swift and blinding punishments to all those involved, as well as updating the checks-and-balances which govern NBA game officials. If the latter is proven, and the NBA is exposed for being a league ravaged by widespread corruption, it will bring an immediate and disgraceful end to the David Stern Era in NBA and relegate the league to the fringes of American sport (see Boxing).


Ironically, like the players he's presided over for more than two decades, the last few minutes of David Stern's tenure, not to mention his long-term legacy, has ultimately come to rest in the hands of a referee. It's fitting that he is now powerless, at the mercy of one of the officials that he has vigilantly protected for so long.