Monday, April 13, 2009

Ain't Never Caught A Rabbit

I’ve noticed lately that for the first time in a while, the best offensive players are also the best defensive players. Most of the current fad of selections for Defensive Player of the Year or All-NBA Defensive Team include some combination of Bryant, James, Howard, Wade, or Paul, who are also the top five contenders for MVP on most analysts’ ballots. Paul leads the league in steals, and Wade is second in steals and ranks 16th in blocks, amazingly enough. Howard leads the league in rebounds and blocks, and Bryant and James have become on-the-ball bad-asses.

The correlation between defensive and offensive dominance seems to flow in cycles in this league. In the early part of this decade, the perennial best defensive players were Bruce Bowen, Ben Wallace, Doug Christie, Andrei Kirilenko, Ron Artest, and Dikembe Mutombo, who are not known for being dominating offensive forces. (Yes, Duncan, Bryant, and Garnett also showed up with regularity on the All-Defensive Team lists, but the league’s top scorers like McGrady, Iverson, Carter, and Nowitzki were nowhere near those votes.) Back in the ‘80s, the top defensive players were Paul Pressey, Sidney Moncrief, Mark Eaton, Bobby Jones, Michael Cooper, and Dennis Johnson, who were not synonymous with the league’s top scorers like King, Wilkins, English, Dantley, Gervin. (To his credit, Larry Bird made second team All-Defense three times.) In the ‘90s, top scorers and team leaders like Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and Hakeem Olajuwon all routinely showed up on All-Defensive lists. On the other hand, other top scorers like Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Mitch Ritchmond, and Clyde Drexler were not defensive standouts, but then they also were not seen as offensive juggernauts who could will a team to victory in a tight playoff series. (Remember how many times the Pacers failed in the conference finals!)

We may very well be in a Golden Age of NBA awesomeness. These playoffs should be great. LeBron vs. Dwyane in the second round? LeBron vs. Dwight in the conference finals? Bryant vs. Paul in the conference finals? All are very plausible, given the likely seedings.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Interesting point about reaching the "Golden Age," although the arguement would make more sense if those players or their teams had built strong rivalries against each other. Cleveland vs. Miami, Cleveland vs. Orlando, and Cleve may turn out to be an enthralling series but they don't have the exciting hype of the 80's match-ups which were our Golden Age. Plus, back in the Golden Age, it wasn't just centered around one star but a combination of players. Example: Showtime Lakers are known for Kareem, Magic, Coop, Byron Scott etc. You could make the arguement that the 90's were our Golden age too, but the rules still apply. 90's Bulls were known not just for Jordan but Pippen, Rodman, Kudoc and more.