Friday, May 25, 2012

The 2011-12 All-NBA Teams

The All-NBA Teams were announced yesterday.  Below is a review of the results and my commentary.

First Team: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul
Second Team: Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker
Third Team: Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade

Comment: Paul played excellently in lifting the Clippers -- a motley bunch of very young players and old hangers-on -- to the status of a fringe contender.  Bryant played well, but took too many shots and made too few of them, averaging 10 of 23 from the field and posting the second-highest usage rate of his career (behind only his 2005-06 campaign, the season of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown).  Parker, who led San Antonio to the best record in the West, probably deserved a spot on the First Team.  Otherwise, the list is unimpeachable: Steve Nash and James Harden could have made a case for inclusion, but it is difficult to remove any of the six honorees from their spots.  Westbrook was a freak, Wade was great, and Rondo brought the Celtics back from despair after they entered the All-Star break with more losses than wins.  Rondo actually ended up leading the league in assists per game.  Several former mainstays of this accolade -- Joe Johnson, Derrick Rose, Manu Ginobili, and Deron Williams -- were either injured or lethargic or both this season and did not distinguish themselves.

First Team: Dwight Howard
Second Team: Andrew Bynum
Third Team: Tyson Chandler

Comment: Who can argue with this list?
Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Marcin Gortat, Al Jefferson, and Kevin Garnett also deserve mention.  Hibbert, alone among these gentlemen, has the towering stature that David Robinson and Patrick Ewing carried throughout the '90s.  If he can harness his build with the jump-shooting and intimidation skills of the former Spur and former Knick, his place on the All-NBA team will eventually be sealed.  Garnett nominally played center after Jermaine O'Neal left the team; the fairly wiry Bass-Garnett frontcourt was their most common and also most effective.  Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins showed tons of promise on offense, but a 45% field-goal percentage mark is not enough to invite double-teams and properly power an offense.

Tim Duncan played like an All-Star in his 28 minutes per game this season; his per-game statistics (18 points, 9 boards, 2 blocks, and nearly 80% from the free-throw line) would have been transcendent if he played, say, 36 minutes per game like a star center in his prime.  However, I cannot choose a half-time contributor for the All-NBA list.

First Team: LeBron James, Kevin Durant
Second Team: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin
Third Team: Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki

Comment: JPO would probably put Andre Iguodala and LaMarcus Aldridge on the Third Team ahead of Anthony and Nowitzki.  Anthony shot a low percentage all season and missed several games in February during Jeremy Lin's rise to fame.  Nowitzki played poorly in January (15 points, 6 rebounds) and averaged only 21.6 points for the whole season, hardly matching his usual standards.  This was also the seventh consecutive season in which his per-game board numbers dipped from the previous season.  Love was a monster producer on the offensive end, and he ranked twelfth in the league in Adjusted Plus-Minus, showing that his defensive efforts are not as lackluster as commonly advertised.  Griffin was very good offensively, though his defense needs work: witness how Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter ate him for breakfast in the just-completed Spurs-Clippers series.  

Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Josh Smith, Chris Bosh, and Paul Millsap also deserve mention.  Ultimately, the two-way ability of Iguodala and Aldridge puts them in my top six in this category; Deng and Smith also balled hard on defense, but the Sixer and the Blazer balled a bit harder.

Other than all the players I mentioned above, other players receiving votes from the official panel include Monta Ellis, Luis Scola, David Lee, Danny Granger, and Serge Ibaka.  Sorry, but these votes must be a joke.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

LeBron James and the Men of Causeway Street

With Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami all leading their respective series 3-1, chances are that we will eventually get another pairing of LeBron James against the Boston Celtics later this spring.  (While there is no guarantee that Miami will knock off the Knicks, Boston will best Atlanta, the 76ers will defeat Chicago, Miami will take out the Indiana/Orlando winner, and Boston will eliminate the Sixers -- in fact, the compound probability of all these events happening is probably under 50 percent -- this is the likeliest of the various possible scenarios.)  Below, JPO takes a look back at the last three meetings of James's teams against the men in green.

2008: The 66-win Celtics had an awfully hard time defeating their Eastern foes this year on their way to an eventual championship, requiring seven games to get past sub-.500 Atlanta and barely eking past James's Cavaliers (featuring the decidedly mediocre Delonte West, Joe Smith, Wally Szcerbiak, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and an aging Ben Wallace).  James, though, shot only 35 percent from the field for the series and could not master the parquet floor at TD Garden: Boston won all four of its home games.  While the first six games were largely defensive struggles (Cleveland averaged 84 points through the first 6), James and Paul Pierce set precedent aside and combined for 86 points in the deciding Game 7.  Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett, who was Defensive Player of the Year that season, contributed 13 and 13.  Thanks to a better free-throw performance (82 percent out of 34 tries, versus 71 percent out of 35 tries for Cleveland) the Celtics won the game by just 5 points.  After the contest, James was oddly unfazed by what was surely a crushing loss, referring to himself as a "fan of the game" and a "winner".  Boston later took down the Pistons (making the last of their six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances) in six games and the L.A. Lakers in six, celebrating the Larry O'Brien Trophy in the middle of June.

2010: After easily defeating a very young, eighth-seeded Chicago team (featuring the same core players -- Rose, Deng, Noah, Gibson -- who would finish with the East's best record in each of the next two seasons) James's Cavaliers met Boston in the conference semifinals again.  Until that point, Boston had looked sluggish all season; I recall that Kevin Garnett, still recovering from knee surgery after the 2009 playoffs, could barely keep up with Orlando's Rashard Lewis (hardly a noted speedster) in one mid-season televised contest.  The Celtics began the season 23-5, but then won only half of their remaining games, finishing 50-32.  They were hardly a good bet to make noise in the playoffs.  But against Cleveland, the Celtics were able to recreate their fire of '08, nabbing Game 2 in Cleveland and then Games 4, 5, and 6 to finish things.  Cleveland's loss to Orlando in the 2009 conference finals was surprising but still valiant; in this 2010 series, though, complaints about James "quitting" first arose.  I watched the pivotal Game 5 with my former co-blogger (who still lurks on this site and lobs idle chatter my way over email) on my sofa while he visited my town for some professional pontification.  We gaped as Boston piled up a 26-point margin in the second half alone (building on a slim 6-point halftime lead) to embarrass the Cavs on their home court.  James shot only 3 of 14 and looked uninterested at times (sparking speculation that he just wanted to end the season with failure so he could more easily leave Cleveland as a free agent); meanwhile, Ray Allen hit six three-pointers as the Celtics rolled.  In Game 6, James delivered 27 points and 19 rebounds, but his teammates did little; ballyhooed trade acquisition Antawn Jamison produced only 5 and 5.  20-10 games from both Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo paced the Celtics as they defeated Cleveland 94-85 in a game that was never quite that close.  Following Game 6, James poignantly referred to his second loss to the Celtics as a "nightmare" that was impeding his dream:

2011: By this time, James had migrated down to Miami, bringing Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, and Ilgauskas with him.  (As I noted in a post at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, Miami had more continuity in that campaign than has been usually recognized; they returned their head coach and 7 or 8 roster members from the desultory 2009-10 squad.)  In yet another second-round matchup last spring, James finally felled the proud Celtics, quickly dispatching them in five games before moving on to face Chicago in the conference finals.  Injuries to Shaquille O'Neal (heel, calf) and Rajon Rondo (elbow) truncated this series from what could have been another all-timer.  Boston's February trade of center Kendrick Perkins proved to be a bad gamble, at least in retrospect, as neither of Boston's O'Neals could contribute much in the middle, and Jeff Green proved ineffective against Boston's wing threats.  In the Heat's clinching Game 5, James and Wade simply outraced Green, Allen, and Pierce all over the court, pouring in 33 and 34 points, respectively.  Following the game, James knelt briefly on the court, likely overtaken with emotion after finally defeating his inveterate tormentor.  His vindication, though, did not lead to a championship last spring, and he may need to do everything one more time in late May and early June if his team and Boston advance to the conference finals.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

C-Webb's Refreshing Commentary

I am a big fan of Shaq the basketball player, Shaq the personality, and Shaq the philosopher. I am less a fan of Shaq as the fourth member of the TNT studio crew.  It's not that Shaq has done a particularly poor job.  My concern is that his dominating personality interferes with the legendary chemistry that Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley shared for so many years.

However, one welcome collateral effect of Shaq's arrival in the studio has been forcing Chris Webber -- a frequent guest on the TNT studio crew in years past -- to slide down to courtside to provide gametime colour commentary.  C-Webb has thrived in this role.  Although a relative novice, he may be the best colour commentator on the national broadcasts.  He is articulate, charming, humorous, and most importantly, he provides REAL analysis. Many of the other colour commentators (e.g., Hubie Brown) merely recite cliches, read off the stat sheets provided to them by the producers, and/or describe what has just happened on the floor (a redundancy if you have been either watching the game or listening to the play-by-play announcer).    C-Webb actually provides real insight into teams' strategies and as to what players and coaches might be thinking at a given moment.  His unique ability in this role may be partly due to being a recently retired player himself.  Or it may be due to the fact that he actually respects the intelligence of the fans watching the game.

Either way, it's another reason to prefer the TNT telecasts over ESPN...