Thursday, February 10, 2011

Some Love For Z-Bo

I’m generally not one for “All-Star snub” talk. Every year, after the selections are announced, it’s not difficult to sort through the names of those that passed over and assemble a substantial list of worthy candidates. The subjective nature of selection criteria (I, for instance, weight individual production very heavily, and use team success as nothing more than a tiebreaker), along with the dogmatic way in which people cling to their opinions has really raised the degree of difficulty on having a reasonable discussion on the matter.

While it’s well known that the selection process is imperfect, it’s not as though it’s given us a steady stream of subpar All-Stars over the years. Very seldom, in fact, is a player selected for whom it’s difficult to even construct a case. Hell, even Jamaal Magloire, captain of the “WTF? All-Stars” averaged ~14-10 (similar to the stats with which Nene had a decent case this season) and blew up for 19 points and 8 rebounds in 21 minutes in the 2004 All-Star Game, the game in which he’s since been deemed unworthy of inclusion. Bottom line, these are all really good players.

With all of that said, I must take exception with the 2011 Western Conference All-Star roster.

Many pointed to the fans’ selection of Yao Ming, who played a total of 90 minutes in five games before being lost for the remainder of the season, as the prime example of the process' shortcomings. I disagree. Had the fans opted to toss their support behind a more deserving candidate (anyone) that’s physically able to take part in the game, on February 20 we’d still be lamenting the exclusion of Kevin Love, while watching Andrew Bynum or Nene jump center for the West.

Nope, the Beijing brigade’s seemingly silly selection of their countryman was actually a blessing in disguise. Since the commissioner is not bound by the antiquated policy of having to select a “true center” (as the fans are in their voting) as Yao’s replacement, David Stern was able to quickly step in and smooth over one of the team’s cracks by naming Love to the West squad.

Unfortunately, however, Yao was not the only blemish on the voting public’s 2011 resume. Despite having taking the floor in 40 more games in 2010-11 than Yao, Carmelo Anthony is the turd in the Western Conference punchbowl. Sure, Melo's one of the league's most popular stars, and yeah, the numbers are still there (24.6 point, 7.8 rebounds in 35 minutes per game), but in world where Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge- all enjoying better seasons having a positive impact on their respective teams- are all vying for spots on the West bench, Carmelo isn’t worthy of consideration. By some margin, he’d be the sixth man on the East squad, but take into account his impact on the 2010-11 Denver Nuggets (perhaps not quite malignant, but well beyond distracting) and the quality of his frontcourt counterparts out West (epic), and his inclusion is indefensible.

Some fans that saw Melo's super-efficient (16-24 FG, 16-18 FT) 50-point outburst (in a loss) on Monday night might take issue with my sentiment or question my choice of when to express it, but it’s worth noting that even in the midst of his career night, Carmelo managed to alienate Nuggets’ fans.

Meanwhile, that same in Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge, another of the NBA’s top forwards and one of the biggest All-Star snubs, was making as strong a case as one could reasonably expect from a baller scorned. Aldridge was nothing short of exceptional, lighting up the league’s best defense for a career-high 42 points (15-23 FG, 12-14 FT), 13 of which came in an exquisite final four minutes (4-4 FG, including a pair of 20-footers, and 5-6 FT) and sealed the 109-103 win for the Blazers. It was Aldridge's second consecutive 40+-point performance at home, making him the first Blazers to achieve the feat since Clyde Drexler did so almost 22 years ago.

Monday’s performance is only the latest highlight in what has been a fantastic seven-week run that began on December 15- the last time Brandon Roy was in the Blazers’ lineup. After a “slow” start to his 2010-11 season (17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, sub-50% FG), in his last 27 games Aldridge has more-than-admirably stepped into the team’s vacant superstar role. During this stretch, he’s averaging 24.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, made more than half of his shots, scored 25+ 18 times and carried the Blazers to a 16-11 record (they were 12-13 before) and (for now) a one-game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies for the conference’s final playoff spot.

Sounds like a no-brainer of an All-Star campaign, right? You’d think so.


Barring a fortuitous turn of events- Melo getting traded East, plus Dirk or Duncan choosing to rest their veteran bodies- not only will Aldridge not be on the Staples Center floor on All-Star Weekend, he'll have a tough time ranking as the season's most egregious snub. As great as he's been for a big chunk of the season, Aldridge isn't even 2011’s biggest snub, at his position, in his own conference. That honor belongs to the Western Conference's Player of the Month for January, the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph.

Had the fans done not been blinded by the overrated brand name (hell, if those idiots wanted excitement and popularity, vote for Blake!) and coaches in the Western Conference found it in them to set aside preconceived notions and objectively look at Randolph's incredible productivity relative to his peers (as we are about to do in a second), his contribution to victories (22.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, 52.7% FG in Grizz wins) on a surging (won 20 of 32 since starting 8-14) playoff hopeful, the Western Conference All-Star roster would have a significantly different look.

Unfortunately for Z-Bo, a number of off-court transgressions (not going to discuss them here, other than mentioning that they've generally involved weed, and occasionally moving vehicles) and questionable (to say the least) on-court decisions early in his career have resulted (rightfully, at the time) in his being labeled a bad guy, an immature player, a selfish teammate and an off-court behavioral risk. His off-court issues, combined with his role in Portland’s “Jailblazers” era of the early 2000s have attached a stigma to Randolph’s quiet ascent to greatness (yeah, I said “greatness”) from which it’s unlikely to detach itself.

The case for Zach Randolph, 2011 All-Star:

- In the 37 years since the NBA began keeping track of offensive rebounds, only three players (Shaq in 1993-94, Barkley in 1986-87 and Moses seven times) have averaged at least 20 points and 13 rebounds, with at least 4.5 of those rebounds coming at the offensive end. While we’ve heard a ton about Kevin Love’s quest to become the first player to average 20-15 since Moses in 1982-83. It’s worth noting that Love (21.4/15.6/4.8) is joined by Z-Bo (20.2/13.2/4.7) in trying to join this fairly exclusive group.

- Only Love (48), Blake Griffin (44) and Howard (42) have recorded more double-doubles this season than Randolph’s 38.

- In more than 25% of his games (13 of 50), Randolph has scored at least 22 points and grabbed at least 15 rebounds. Only Love (21) and Howard (14) have achieved the feat more frequently, and Griffin ranks fourth with nine such game. No one else has done it more than twice.

- His 21.44 Adjusted PER is good for 21st in the NBA, ahead of, among others, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Lamar Odom, Paul Pierce and David West

- His 21.85 raw PER is 19th in the NBA, better than the guys mentioned above, as well as Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett.

- Randolph’s been credited with 8.07 Adjusted Win Shares- good for 12th in the league, and better than Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Rajon Rondo, Amar’e Stoudemire and Kobe Bryant.

- His 14.9% Offensive Rebound Rate ranks sixth in the NBA, but is first among players that have played in at least 20 games and averaged 20 minutes played per game.

- His Total Rebound Rate for 2010-11 is 21.2%. Using the same criteria as above (20 GP, 20 minutes per game), Z-Bo ranks fourth in the NBA, behind Marcus Camby, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and Kris Humphries.

If you’re a proponent of carrying over last season’s when considering this season’s All-Stars, since the start of 2009-10…

- Randolph has had as many 22-13 games (38) as Dwight Howard- the most in the NBA over that span- 11 more than Kevin Love’s third place total.

- Only Dwight Howard (105) has more double-doubles than Randolph’s 95 and more 20-15 games (35) than Z-Bo’s 31.

- His 16.1 Win Shares are 14th in the NBA, and are more than the totals for, among many others, Duncan, Paul Pierce, Steve Nash, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Kevin Love.

Not bad, huh? After absorbing those stats, a couple of thoughts emerge. First, any coach that did not vote for Kevin Love as an All-Star reserve should be fired and blackballed from the sport. Second, there's a case to be made that without Yao's absence, three of the top six forwards in the West would be watching the game from home. 

Beyond that, however, Randolph is not only 2011’s most egregious All-Star snub, statistically he’s one of the most best big men of the past decade- probably even better than you’re thinking- and stacks up pretty well against some of the all-time greats. Given his age (just 29) and the rarified air into which his numbers have already catapulted him, if he can produce five or six more excellent seasons (he should age fairly well, as he doesn't rely on athleticism) by the time all is said and done, there's a case to made that Z-Bo's career will warrant Hall of Fame consideration. I'm not saying that he'll actually make it, but hell, since we're already in the neighborhood, let's just check out the numbers:

Since he entered the NBA at the start of 2001-02…

- Despite playing just 5.8 minutes in 41 games as a rookie and just 17 per game in his second year, Randolph has scored nearly as many points as (11,152), and grabbed more rebounds (5,811) than, Shaquille O’Neal (11,778 and 5,543).

- Eleven players have grabbed more rebounds. Only two of them (Howard and Pau Gasol, who was a rookie the same year) were not in the NBA when Randolph’s career began.

- 32 players have scored more points. Four of them (LeBron James, Carmelo, Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Amar’e Stoudemire) were not in the NBA when Randolph’s career began.

- Only Garnett (121), Tim Duncan (110) and Dwight (99) have had more 20-15 games than Randolph's 62, with Shaq coming in a distant fifth, with 40 such games.

- Four players (Garnett, 307; Duncan, 304; Dirk Nowiztki, 256; and Dwight, 194) have had as many 20-10 games than Randolph’s 194.

Z-Bo in historical context:

- In his 9+ NBA seasons, Randolph’s got a PER of 19.8, which (according to Basketball-Reference) ranks 71st in pro basketball (NBA/ABA) history, just ahead of Ray Allen, Robert Parish and Bernard King, and just behind Alex English, Connie Hawkins and David Thompson.

- His 10.82% career Offensive Rebound Rate ranks 46th in pro basketball history, better than the rates for Hakeem Olajuwon (10.31%), Tim Duncan (10.15%) and the #2 offensive rebounder of all time, Artis Gilmore (10.76%).

- His 23.45% career Defensive Rebound Rate ranks 32nd in history, just behind Karl Malone (23.49%) and slightly better than David Robinson (23.42%) and Moses Malone (23.18%).

- His career Total Rebound Rate of 17.07% ranks 34th all-time, just behind than the rates for David Robinson (17.29%), Hakeem Olajuwon (17.25%) and Dave Cowens (17.14%), and better than those of Garnett (17.06%), Nate Thurmond (16.7%) and Patrick Ewing (16.41%).

Crazy, huh? I'm just saying...

As always, thanks to Basketball-Reference for the historical data, and to HoopData for the advanced stats.

1 comment:

emin said...

Zack Randolph is a baller. Z-Bo is money. He is such a good player and he never quite got the love he deserved. I think it's due to his teams and I guess overall success. Shareef Abdul-Rahim was a decent player if not pretty good but never EVER got any notification because his teams were so horrifically bad.

I can tell you this much, 2 years ago or so when people had written Z-Bo off completely, I stole him in my 12th round in my Fantasy Draft. I had a great team too with Z-Bo, D-Will, Big Al, and J-Smoove. They all got hurt and Z-Bo was carrying my team. Oh well.

The crazy thing with these lefties is that you know they are going left, but they have such an advantage and always end up coming back to their left one way or another. Unless you are Manu and can just step back for a gamer winner going right.