Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Looters In A Riot


“Raises his game when it counts.”

“Knows how to win.”

There is no shortage of platitudes employed in the assessment of NBA players. Some of these adages have been debunked through statistical analysis, while others are labeled intellectually lazy. It is probably true that these phenomena are myths and optical illusions and can often be filed under luck, randomness or some other term connoting factors beyond a payer’s control. With that said, however, it never fails to amaze me the way that success, be it the result of luck or innate skill, tends not to stray very far from certain players.

Conversely, throughout the decades, the NBA has seen no shortage of truly gifted individual players for whom success did not extend beyond the box score. On the NBA on TNT’s fantastic studio show, Kenny “the Jet” Smith has frequently spoken of such players, referring to them as “looters in a riot.” These are players whose gaudy numbers never translate into success for their teams, but “you don’t know because of the chaos.”

Plenty of time and many pixilated column inches are dedicate to analyzing the greats that either cemented their legend on the ultimate stage, or fell just short. What about the best “looters in a riot?”

Glad you asked! Here are 12:

World B. Free- A textbook case. After spending his first three seasons as a role player with Dr. J’s spectacular 76ers teams of the mid-70s, Free spend eight of his next 10 seasons as a top-two guy on an NBA team. Those teams were the San Diego Clippers, Golden State Warriors and late-Stepien era Cleveland Cavaliers. In each of these seasons he scored at least 22.5 points per game (28+ twice), with a Usage Rate in the immediate vicinity of 30%.

Only two Free-led teams posted a .500+ record, and just one, the 36-46 1985-86 Cavaliers, who finished 23 games out of first place in their division, made the playoffs. It’s worth noting that despite the awful regular season mark, those Cavs registered a playoff victory (with Free averaging 26.3 and 7.8 assists) and scored as many points in four games (449) as one of the great Celtics teams of all time.