Friday, May 6, 2011

Lefties Living Large

With U.S. President Barack Obama basking in his administration's killing of Usama bin Laden and a favorable jobs report for April 2011, left-handers are on top of the world right now. In the NBA playoffs, most of the top teams feature at least one left-hander who successfully discombobulates opponents by dwelling in a confusing mirror-land. My significant other is also an inveterate southpaw, so I am partial to the reverse racket. Here is a review of the top lefties of the NBA playoffs:

Chris Bosh: Bosh has thus far played adequate defense on Philly's Elton Brand and Boston's Kevin Garnett, limiting each guy to about 15 points per game. For his part, Bosh has averaged nearly 18 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs, consistently giving Miami the big presence they need to keep defenses from double- or triple-teaming his mates James and Wade. Miami is 6-1 in the playoffs thus far and is the clear favorite to win the East, given injuries to the Celtics' and Bulls' best players. If the Heat defeat Boston, the velociraptor lookalike will need to raise the fury of his offensive game as the Heat move on to face stalwart defenders like Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Andrew Bynum, Kendrick Perkins, or Tyson Chandler.

Zach Randolph: Randolph has been a monster in the playoffs thus far, averaging 22 points and over 7 FT attempts (making the latter at an 87% pace), giving his team ridiculous offensive efficiency. Randolph has carved up Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair, Serge Ibaka, and any other defender who cares to challenge the big Hoosier. At the end of Game 6 of the Spurs series, San Antonio pulled ahead 80-79 with about five minutes left. The young Memphis team could have crumbled, but Randolph then scored 13 points down the stretch, throwing in a variety of awkward-yet-graceful parries at the basket to lead his team to a comfortable 8-point win, closing the series.

Lamar Odom: Odom has not played to his potential in these playoffs. Defending Carl Landry of the outmatched Hornets, Odom allowed the backup power forward to rumble for 16 points per night. On offense, Odom has produced only about 11 points and 7 rebounds, and only 4 total three-pointers in six games. With Ron Artest sentenced to one game out of action, Odom will enter the starting lineup tonight and will take direct responsibility for stopping Shawn Marion and/or Dirk Nowitzki.

James Harden: Harden's beard and mohawk are intimidating, but he has been a bit inconsistent in the playoffs, putting up point totals of 5, 18, 10, 7, 12, 5, and 21. His most recent output, Game 2 against Memphis, was his best, including 5 assists, 3 steals, and 11 free-throw attempts (with a perfect completion rate). However, Harden needs to stroke outside shots more consistently (he averages only one three-pointer per game) to discourage Memphis defenders from converging all their might on Durant and Westbrook. Oklahoma City's other rotation players — Perkins, Sefolosha, Ibaka, Mohammed, and Collison — are not known as major offensive threats. Only Eric Maynor's surprising long-distance result in Game 2 kept the Grizzly defense at bay, and Maynor may not repeat that.

Josh Smith: Smith is, as ever, inconsistent; he is surely the most talented player to never make the All-Star Game (edging Odom, discussed above, and Monta Ellis and LaMarcus Aldridge for that designation). Here is Charley Rosen's evaluation of Smith following the Bulls-Hawks second game a couple nights ago: "Smith had only himself to blame for his abysmal 4-of-14, four-turnover performance. That’s because he forced a total of eight shots/passes/drives, with most of his turnovers being of the unforced variety." In the first-round series with Orlando, Smith did a good job of limiting Brandon Bass to only 7 PPG and 4 RPG, well below Bass's regular-season averages. But on offense Smith has been just dead weight, averaging 39% from the field, 56% from the free-throw line, and 17% from three-point range (on his 2.4 attempts per game). Smith could average 5 or 6 assists per game with his height, vision, and agility, but he peaked at 4.2 in 2009-10, and dropped to just over 3 assists this season, and just under 2.6 assists these playoffs.

Derek Fisher: Fisher has spent these playoffs allowing Chris Paul and J.J. Barea to repeatedly abuse him. Should the Lakers somehow advance to face Memphis or (particularly) Oklahoma City, Fisher's defensive weakness will become still more patent. At 6'1", Fisher was never the hulkiest of defenders against opposing PGs, and now he is nearly 37 years old. Fisher is not giving his team in credits nearly what he takes away in debits, averaging only 8.5 points and 4 assists in this postseason. But he still shoots a pretty jumper.

Mike Conley, Jr.: In his first NBA playoffs, Zach Randolph's teammate has done well against good-to-excellent point guards like Ty Lawson, Ray Felton, and Russell Westbrook. Conley has raised his scoring average slightly, from 13.7 in the regular season to 15.6 in the playoffs. Additionally, Conley has done a good job (6.5 assists against Denver and Oklahoma City) delivering the ball to his big menaces Marc Gasol and Randolph, who know how to score it. Conley reached the NCAA tournament final four years ago in his only college season, so he is not unaccustomed to serious pressure.

Manu Ginobili: This 6'6" guard is the only man on my list not still playing in May. Ginobili is a great player, but he was limited in the Memphis series by an elbow injury that he suffered when, oddly, his coach had him playing in the season's final game, which was meaningless to San Antonio's relative standings. Ginobili hit a very lucky shot to help force overtime at the end of Game 5 and averaged 20 points per game in the series, but he was unable to stop marginal offensive talents like Tony Allen and Sam Young from carving up the Spurs in the paint, and now his year is done.

Other left-handers like Tayshaun Prince, David Lee, Michael Redd, and Mike Beasley all play for 2011 lottery teams. Prince, who has seen plenty of prior playoff success, might make his way to a winning team as a free agent this summer.

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