Monthly Archives: August 2012

Fouls, Fouls, Fouls

In the doldrums of the NBA offseason, I’ve been doing a whole lot of digging, a whole lot of research, with NBA.com’s “new” stats tool, which will supposedly become available to the general public at some point during the coming season. I’ve spent entirely too many hours searching through all kinds of stats, but somehow I was able to unearth one that I hadn’t seen before today: personal fouls drawn, by player. It’s not often that we see fouls measured this way. We generally see fouls measured in terms of personal fouls against, team fouls, or free throw attempts.

NBA.com’s stats tool allows you to sort through this database on a total, per game, per-48/40/36 minutes or per-minute basis. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at some of the best foul drawers in the league and uncovered some interesting tidbits.

Nineteen players drew more than 250 personal fouls last season. Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, John Wall, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook, Andrew Bynum, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, James Harden and Deron Williams. That’s three players from the Thunder, two each from the Knicks, Lakers and Clippers, and one each from the Magic, Timberwolves, Heat, Kings, Wizards, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Hawks, Nets and Celtics. The offensive efficiencies of these teams ranged from 2nd (Thunder) to 28th (Wizards). It wasn’t as if having more players on the list directly correlated to a better offense – the Knicks ranked just 19th. The Lakers and Clippers did rank 10th and 4th, respectively, however.

Howard and Griffin were head and shoulders above the competition as the only players who drew at least 400 personal fouls. Howard led the league with 458 despite playing in only 54 games. Griffin was 2nd at 456, and he played in all 66 regular season games.

Wall was probably the most surprising name on the list above, but he does fit in with the themes of the list. Those players generally fall into one of three groups: 1. bigs that tend to operate close to the basket; 2. guards or wings who take a lot of shots; and 3. point guards that attack the basket. Wall falls in the third category along with Russell Westbrook, and to a lesser extent, Chris Paul.

When we look at fouls drawn on a per game basis, the list changes a  bit. Eighteen players drew at least 4.5 fouls per game. Holdovers from the first list include Howard, Griffin, Love, James, Bryant, Cousins, Nowitzki, Anthony, Durant, Gasol, Wall, Bynum, Williams and Westbrook. They’re joined by Eric Gordon, Andrea Bargnani, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez, who each played 35 games or fewer but still drew fouls at a prolific rate on a per-game basis. Pierce, Smith, Chandler, Paul and Harden dropped off this list.

For fouls drawn per-36 minutes, I limited the list to players who appeared in at least 20 games and played at least 20 minutes per game. The leaderboard changed even more. A whopping 41 of those players drew at least 5.0 fouls per-36 minutes. Among those who fell just short of appearing on that list: Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert and Josh Smith. Among players who made it: Jon Brockman, Samardo Samuels, Chris Anderson, Tyler Hansbrough, Ryan Hollins and Chris Wright. So… yeah.

Some of the names that took a big bump when I sorted the list on a per-36 minute basis were Cousins (who jumped LeBron and Love to move from 5th to 3rd), Jeremy Lin (6th), Maggette (8th), Nene (10th) and Hansbrough (11th). Falling far were Wall (23rd), Gasol (24th), Bynum (25th), Westbrook (31st), Durant (33rd) and Williams (36th).

The most interesting thing I looked at was the distribution of fouls drawn and free throw attempts. Some players - like Hakim Warrick and Kobe Bryant - had FTA per-36′s at least 130% of their fouls drawn per-36. Others - such as Dirk Nowitzki – had much lower ratios, around 111% (Zach Harper pondered if this may be because Dirk often gets fouled while fighting for position. I’d say this is likely the case, but would have to look at video to confirm). The oddest of the bunch was Kyle Lowry, who drew 5.5 fouls per-36 minutes, but attempted just 5.2 free throws per-36, making him one of four players among those with at least 5.0 fouls drawn per-36 minutes to have a ratio under 100% (the others were Brockman, who played just 243 minutes all season, Kemba Walker and Ivan Johnson). The leader in this ratio? Kevin Durant, at 154.9%. He was followed by Corey Maggette at 146.8%, and Russell Westbrook at 139.2%.

I’m not entirely sure what much of this information really means or how useful it is just yet. Does the fact that Durant draws such an exceedingly large percentage of shooting fouls make him a “better” foul-drawer than Nowitzki, whose percentage is lower? Probably, but what does that mean? How does it translate on a team and game level? Does it translate at all? Should we value total fouls drawn more than per-game or per-36? Do per-36 foul-drawing numbers stay consistent on a year-to-year basis, or even when a player gets a jump in minutes played per game? I’ve only just begun my research into this topic, and I’ll certainly be writing more on it in this space in the days and weeks to come.

This Is Clearly A Terrible Idea: Introducing the HPBasketball Mailbag

I like reading mailbags. Fun quick answers that bounce around. I never considered doing one, because, honestly, who the hell am I? But I asked Twitter if they were interested and a lot of people said yes. So we’re going to give this a go.

You can ask me about anything, just send you emails to askhpbasketballATgmailDOTcom and I’ll likely reply unless your question sucks. Then I might respond just to make fun of you.

May God have mercy on us all.

Brook Lopez Enjoys Filipino Food, Few Things Make More Sense

Photo from heywoodindustries via Flickr

Last week Brook Lopez was in the Philippines to support a few of the NBA’s global initiatives in Manila, the country’s capital city. It was Lopez’ first time in the Philippines, but it wouldn’t be the first time an NBA player was smitten by the country’s intense love for the game. Of course, the cultural exchange between the foreign parties didn’t end at basketball. According to Filipino sportswriter and commentator Joaquin Henson, Lopez ate more than his fair share of the local cuisine:

It was Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez’ farewell lunch in the country before heading back to the US last Monday and as usual, he “demolished” the food on the table. Lopez developed a love for Filipino cuisine during his four-day visit to promote the NBA 3×3 and NBA Cares programs in Manila.

Lopez, 24, confessed to being a big eater as he devoured the sumptuous food at Café Laudico in the Fort.

via Lopez ‘demolishes’ Pinoy food | Joaquin Henson, The Philippine Star (8/22/12)

Unlike most other Asian food cultures, Filipino cuisine hasn’t really taken off in the States, though it surely isn’t due to a lack of one. Having a history of colonization, Filipino food is at a unique intersection of Chinese and Spanish influence, with other southeast Asian influences through trade. Much of the food prepared is rich and cooked over long periods of time, and isn’t the most visually striking – a lot of dull, brownish colors. It’s hard to break into America when the most popular dishes — like lumpia (egg rolls) or pancit (stir-fried noodles)—either already have other more prominent cultural variations, or just aren’t all that interesting to look at.

But beyond its rather humble, unexciting appearance lies something pretty damn good – not unlike Brook Lopez himself. I’d like to imagine Lopez taking his first bite of pork adobo and have something go off in his mind. Adobo is brown. It’s really brown. And it’s really simple. A few ingredients: meat (usually chicken or pork), garlic cloves, soy sauce, black pepper, and vinegar braised together until tender/dry. Yet what the process yields is something completely different depending on who’s behind the apron. It’s intensely flavored, but not as jarring as you’d expect from the rather scant list of ingredients. There’s harmony in its collision of overpowering flavors, and nuance in its simplicity. It’s easy to make adobo. Making it taste just right is difficult. But in any iteration, it’s not going to look any better than what it looks like. It’s hard to get too excited over Brook Lopez. He’s a lumbering 7-footer with the terrible burden of being an atrocious rebounder. But less than a handful of centers in the league can match or surpass his litany of skills on the offensive end, which, he reveals, may diversify even further:

“I’m definitely working out on some new moves. I wouldn’t want to give it away or anything. I’m not going to spill it out yet but all of you should be ready for a brand new and better me,” he [said].

via Brook Lopez believes Nets can win NBA title | Aldo Avinante, The Philippine Star (8/24/12)

Since Lopez will probably never become a good defender in the NBA, it’s nice to see Brook embrace the good. His ambidextrous hook shots are right out of the Jurassic eras of basketball, and seeing as how the Nets have greatly improved their perimeter talent, it would make sense for Lopez’ new moves to be more advanced footwork down on the block to truly take advantage of the opportunities inside. It’s his calling card, and what the Nets have wisely started to market (among other things) in their quest to dominate New York.

via the New York Daily News

Of course, it’s hard to talk about Brook Lopez without talking about his quirks. Peel away at the athlete, and what’s left is a comic book-obsessed kid who would prefer to suspend reality in favor of stories and more compelling than his own, just like the rest of us. Yet for a high-profile NBA player, it’s not only a distinguishing feature, it’s a transparent display of personality — something all too rare in the league.

Incidentally, one of Lopez’ high school teammates is Filipino and recommended a few things for his stay in Manila; chief among them a trip to Jollibee, a popular Filipino fast food chain (which has locations in the U.S.), for their signature Filipino spaghetti. Filipino spaghetti is irreverent — a brazen showing of personality — but offers a smile and a wink as consolation. The tomato sauce used to dress the spaghetti is sweet — almost cloyingly so. It has ground beef like a standard meat sauce, but the slices of hot dog wieners steal the spotlight. It’s an interesting and perplexing addition. I’m not exactly sure how the dish entered the Filipino food lexicon (and from my attempts at research, neither are most Filipinos), but it’s traditional in a sense. Reinvention and repurposing are in the culinary DNA of the Philippines.

Though Lopez was over there for basketball reasons, it’s almost uncanny how compatible his life is to the Filipino culture, basketball and otherwise. There are time-tested traditions in the country, yet their time as a colony for multiple countries has given them the opportunity to be playful in their interpretation of the world. Their food is wholly reflective of the national identity, as is their basketball — chaotic and full of characters*. His stay in Manila may have been brief, but I’d like to think he forged a connection with the people. If there’s anything Brook Lopez can appreciate, it’s a good character.

(* To get a sense of how much Filipinos value a sense of humor, click that link, then click this one. It’s zany. It’s awesome.)

Player Capsules (Plus): Paul Pierce, the Role Model

Hey, all. Aaron McGuire here from Gothic Ginobili. At GG, I’m currently doing a 370 part series profiling almost every player in the NBA. As part of a cross-posting effort, I’ll be posting massively extended capsules once every few weeks — essentially, when a capsule goes extremely long, I’ll post the extended version of the capsule on Hardwood Paroxysm. Sometimes they’ll go long with statistics, sometimes they’ll go long with legacy, and sometimes they’ll go long with philosophy. Today? We’re going with a personal rumination on a player I’m not fond of. Let’s discuss Paul Pierce.

Let’s get this on the table, first. I don’t like Paul Pierce. Not one bit. But even if I don’t like him, I can sing some praises. Mostly because there’s a lot praise. Pierce hogs the ball, a bit, but does it relatively efficiently — despite all the isos, despite all the problems, Pierce still shoots almost 37% for his career from three. He gets to the line a lot, and does it efficiently. He fills the box score, over his career averaging an excellent 22-6-4 from the large wing position. Perhaps a bit deficient in the rebounding, perhaps a bit of a ballhog, but nothing too awful. Not quite as valuable as the numbers indicate, as his pre-KG years showed. But nothing that necessitates massive critique and evisceration. He’s an productive, efficient player.

And most people don’t notice it, but Pierce is an underrated and often excellent defensive player — in Pierce’s defensive prime, he could shut down LeBron James like virtually no other, and he didn’t preen about it. Some defenders had a slight preen, a slight overconfidence in their defense. Not Pierce, at least not openly. He came in, did his job, and didn’t emphasize it. He didn’t call himself a stopper, or profess to have the key. He just did his job and did it well, and for once, he did it quietly. He’s a very good player. A star, in a lot of ways. He’s the kind of player we entreat young players to become. A role model, in how he plays the game. Don’t we want young players to be like Pierce? Put in his lunch pail effort on the defensive end, produce efficient offense, have some decent tertiaries? That’s the aspirational player — an excellent model for any young player.

… and Lord, do I hate him.

• • •

I once knew a man named Max. He was a traveling salesman, in his younger days, and he had some old-fashioned morals. And — from time to time — some sketchy ones. I think I was about 10 years old when this retelling takes place. We were sitting in the den with others, and Max was going on and on. He loved to tell stories, you see — regardless of whether anyone was listening, and sometimes, regardless of whether the story was actually true. His oldest son and him went to a casino, as the story went, and they found a machine that was broken. Max was a handyman, and he knew how to fix it. He actually had a screwdriver on him! But somehow, he’d gotten some prior experience in rigging the slots at casinos. So instead of fixing it, he cashed in — he told us all about how he’d rigged the machine a bit, gotten it to pay out, and enticed his older son to put their money on the slots. They came away with a heck of a nice payout. They left, his son a bit uneasy, but Max excited. Happy for the coup.

And as Max told this story, there was a glow — a glean in his eyes, and a sense that he’d do it again a million times if he could. It may not have been true — Max certainly loved his tall tales — but I explicitly remember the way the story ended. Max said that he didn’t mind cheating, as long as he wasn’t cheating a good person. He said a lot of things like that in his day. He called me “big shorty” and ruffled my hair, and left content. After Max was long gone, my father came into the room. He’d been cooking, and out of the room, but he’d heard the tale. I was playing with Legos distractedly — he cleared his throat. “So. Aaron. Very serious question. Would you do that?”

I gazed up at him. “What do you mean? The casino stuff?”

“Yes.”

“I… no, I don’t think so, that’d be cheating. That’s bad — cheating is a bad thing, right?”

“Yes. Just because [Max] is funny and nice doesn’t mean he does everything right. He did that wrong. He should’ve told someone.”

“Was he really hurting anybody?”

“It’s the moral of the thing. It’s a bad thing to say as a role model. He knows how much you respect him — if I’d known where he was going with that, I would’ve stopped him sooner. Just because he didn’t hurt anyone doesn’t make it excusable, or right. He cheated. That’s not what we do. That’s not what you do. Okay?”

“Okay, dad.”

• • •

Earlier last week, Chris Bosh said something interesting. He said that the Lakers were the favorites for the 2013 NBA title. Naturally, media exploded. How could he say that? How could the third best player on the defending champions show “weakness” like that? It’s one thing when, say, a starting big on a lottery-dweller says that a team not-their-own will win the title. It’s quite another for a contender to say things like that. So everyone seemed to jump on Bosh, and pointed to his lacking confidence, and laughed. There were ample implicit references to this unspoken ideal, this never-quite-stated expectation that superstars and major teams will always be unerringly overconfident in their own abilities. Knowing this capsule was coming up, I thought the widespread chastising of Bosh was amusing — if there’s one player who properly embodies the confident and self-assured, it’s Paul Pierce. The anti-Bosh, so to speak. The person we were all essentially demanding Bosh emulate. And what did everyone say when Pierce wholly demonstrated his ridiculous levels of self confidence?

Well, it was a while back, but I’ll assure you — Pierce was roundly mocked. Lots of talk about how absurd it was for Pierce to think he was better than Kobe, or Duncan, or Wade. We talked and talked, and talked some more. And everyone seemed to concluded with a general agreement (depending on whether one liked him or not) to either never mention Pierce’s Icarus moment again, or to mention it every single time we talked about him, as though incredible overconfidence and conceited self-assurance was a true summary of the man. It may very well be, but one can hardly slam Bosh for not being Paul Pierce if we’re going to slam Paul Pierce himself for being Paul Pierce, right? If you knock the implicit role model when he does the things you want his lessers to do, the question arises — what does that really say about the standard you’re putting on the table?

Some will bring up Pierce’s gang ties for a reason they hate him. I think that’s a bit ridiculous. While Pierce was fined by the league for throwing up an ersatz gang sign back in 2008, he denied it heavily and pointed out that it would be kind of absurd for a person with a foundation dedicated to keeping kids out of gangs and off the streets to be throwing up gang signs on purpose. And it’s worth noting that Pierce has faced more hardship than most — his father abandoned his family at the age of six, and Pierce has always dealt with that with a maturity far outstripping his years. You may mention the ridiculous wheelchair moment all you want — I can name exactly zero other NBA stars who came back within the week after being stabbed 11 times. And having to go through lung surgery to fix puncture wounds to the lungs. And only getting stabbed for trying to break up a fight before it got violent. It’s not exactly a common feat. Pierce exudes toughness, grit, and a highly respectable fortitude. Sure, he may be a little annoying on the court (although, again, he and Kobe are the models most expect and demand younger players emulate, so the annoying qualities can hardly be considered as such in the broad scheme of things), but his off-court steadfastness and respectability tends to indicate a person better than he generally gets credit for.

And, again. I don’t like him at all.

• • •

I’ll drop the facade. Max was my grandfather.

He passed away on February 5th, 2005. Quite a while back, all things considered. I still miss him, and I think about him almost every day — there’s a small music box that belonged to him and my grandmother. I store cufflinks in it, as well as my watch. I keep the box wound. When I open it to get my watch, I always end up listening to the whole song. It’s Mr. Bojangles in a higher key, with a somber note. Haunting and beautiful. Brings images of my grandfather to mind, without fail. Every other day, it seems. At least half of my button down shirts come from my grandfather, and if you hold them close enough, sometimes you can still smell wisps of his 60s-era cologne, even after all these years. My father and mother are my greatest living role models, but when it comes to telling stories and having fun, I’d be lying if I didn’t say Max was my real role model.

But this all does come to a point, every now and again. Sometimes, your role models aren’t the people they should be. Sometimes you aspire to be a person you shouldn’t. An eternal disconnect between the one you envision them to be and the one they are — an eternal disconnect between their good and their bad. And sometimes? The opposite is true. I understand, on some level, who Paul Pierce is. I have a lot of respect for him, and for his accomplishments, and for how underheralded and underrated he is. I understand it. I get it. But maybe it’s the Celtic ties, maybe it’s the wispy beard, maybe it’s the devil-may-care attitude. I don’t know. But I simply don’t like him. I don’t love him. I can’t. I simply can’t seem to bring myself to root for Pierce, or his success. I don’t get it, and I’ve come to terms with it. There’s a certain maturity that comes when you can finally put the incoherency to rest, and come to that essential realization. Some things won’t ever be explained. And when it all comes down to it? They don’t really need to be.

I’ll miss Max forever, but I can’t stand Pierce. And I don’t care to figure out the reasons why, anymore.

Myths of the Hardwood

“In the delta of the Mississippi River, where Robert Johnson was born, they said that if an aspiring bluesman waited by the side of a deserted country crossroads in the dark of a moonless night, then Satan himself might come and tune his guitar, sealing a pact for the bluesman’s soul and guaranteeing a lifetime of easy money, women, and fame. They said that Robert Johnson must have waited by the crossroads and gotten his guitar fine-tuned.”

-Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis

The myth of Robert Johnson and the crossroads is one of music’s most enduring tales.

Johnson’s deal with the Devil is only one part of the myth that surrounds the musician’s life. A sense of myth is present in the way in which Robert Johnson’s music first entered the mainstream. Legendary talent scout John Hammond, awestruck by Johnson’s voice, wanted to have the young bluesman perform at Carnegie Hall in New York. There was just one  problem: Johnson had recently passed away (under, of course, mysterious circumstances). Undeterred, Hammond found another way to introduce Robert Johnson to the world. On the night of the concert, after all the other bands had finished their sets, Hammond set up a phonograph in the middle of the stage and played Johnson’s record.

While the crossroads myth was not yet introduced, in addition to the fact that Johnson’s music wouldn’t become popular for a few decades, this moment was still pivotal in the overall myth of Robert Johnson.

Soul and passion give music life, but myth makes it immortal. While Johnson has been a key influence to artists such as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers, the mystery surrounding his life and death has allowed his legacy to endure throughout the ages, beyond just the realm of music.

There’s no such myth in the world of basketball; Michael Jordan didn’t go to the crossroads and have the devil pump up his basketball. But Michael Jordan’s ascent to greatness carries with it a sense of myth: shooting baskets on a gravel driveway late into the evening, getting cut from the high school basketball team, his heroic return to the Bulls.

Myths, or at least qualities of myth, are a constant in basketball. They exist in the minutiae, the metaphors, and in the narratives of countless players.

There’s Michael Beasley and the myth of unlimited yet ever-dormant potential. Perhaps the Beasley we’ve seen for the past four years is the actual Michael Beasley, and the one who so thoroughly conquered the NCAA is in fact the myth. And then there’s the myth of “next,” the ardent belief that at some point in time, be it five or twenty years from now, a player will come along and be the next Michael Jordan. Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are among those that have “failed” to live up to this myth.

Myths litter our metaphors and are often the building blocks for certain storylines. When the Golden State Warriors upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, it was David defeating Goliath on the hardwood. When the San Antonio Spurs defy age for yet another season, we’re left wondering whether the water flowing through the River Walk is actually the fabled fountain of youth.

At times, we even construct the myth. Consider Bill Russell. His place atop the basketball pantheon is unimpeachable. He is the one to whom every promising center is compared, the personification of teamwork and success. Russell’s greatness can never be denied, but it can also never be fully understood. Blocks weren’t recorded as an official statistic in his career, leaving his legacy, as it relates to his place in the record books, incomplete. So we speculate, speaking in the hypothetical, discussing what may have been, poring over grainy game film and stories of Russell’s defensive prowess, weaving it all into a narrative that, in turn, becomes the myth of Bill Russell.

The point of myth is to not only explain the unexplainable, but also give hope that the impossible is possible. The best moments in sports are those when impossible lies broken, shattered on the floor by human will and determination. Kirk Gibson, if you’ll excuse the cross-sport reference, is perhaps the most enduring example. We’ve seen it in basketball as well. There was no way Brandon Roy should have been able to put up 18 points in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks, but with each basket, each flashback elusive explosion to the rim, for just one night, fiery spirit overcame a broken body.

In his piece on Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, Steve McPherson mentions how many of Michael Jordan’s greatest games transcend the realm of athletics:

But Jordan’s signature games go beyond the numbers, beyond the game itself: the Flu Game, the Shrug. They’re more than just scoring points or amassing championships; they represent moments when the sport gives way to life, when it becomes about overcoming adversity, or dialing into some kind of ineffable zone.

Those games, displays of surreal talent and desire, are the very things from which myths are made, and myth is what makes them culturally transcendent.

There have been quite a few of those moments in the past few seasons: Brandon Roy’s 18-point fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki’s blitzkrieg through the 2011 playoffs and the realization of LeBron James’ potential are just a few instances that have within them the foundation upon which myths are built, and they will live on as the myth surrounding them grows. As the years pass and these performances ferment like a barrel-aged beer, perhaps we’ll speak of them in the same revered tones we reserve for Jordan’s finest moments.

We’ve come a long way from Hammond, the phonograph, and that night in Carnegie Hall. Spotify, iTunes and Soundcloud, to name a few, give us the ability to discover, share, and, unlike the audience members in Carnegie Hall, keep new music. Likewise, YouTube is just one amongst a multitude of tools that gives us the ability to endlessly re-watch nearly any pivotal moment in basketball history. Will that availability negatively affect the forming of myths? I don’t think so. In fact, if anything, it will help. The same grainy film and retellings of Bill Russell’s career that formed the myth also hinder it, as the access to those elements is limited. LeBron James’ triple-double in his first playoff game, on the other hand, is nothing more than a few clicks away. Again, myth in this instance doesn’t mean unbelievable, but to show the impossible is possible. While watching highlight videos isn’t the same as seeing the performance in real time, videos can capture at least a portion of the power of the moment. That others are then able to experience that power doesn’t take away from the myth, it just adds another dimension.

The Lost MVPs: The 1952-53 Season

Joseph Robertson (flickr)

Well, our 1952 MVP Paul Arizin is gone and in the Marines. In his absence the Philadelphia Warriors sunk into a terrible abyss, but they still fielded a dominating big man. At the top of the Eastern Division standings, Syracuse, New York and Boston all finished within a game of one another for the top spot.

Meanwhile out west things were in a Talking Heads mood: same as it ever was. Minneapolis and Rochester again finished in the top spots while the rest of the division was mired in perfectly average mediocrity. Naturally, the top flight MVP candidates emerged from these 5 stellar teams, but still, as mentioned, the Warriors would also submit a worthy candidate.

#10 Carl Braun – New York Knicks (47-23)

All-Star
14 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, .400 FG%, .825 FT%, 9 win shares

Returning after a two-year hiatus brought about by military service (seriously this was the bane of an NBA player’s existence), Braun was no worse for Uncle Sam’s wear. His sharp-shooting touch was the perfect outside weapon for a New York Knicks squad that had been to back-to-back Finals without him. With him the team achieved what was then its best win percentage and  has been topped just 5 times since.

This season, Braun made the 1st of what would be 5 straight selections to the All-Star game.

 

 

 

 

#9 Bill Sharman – Boston Celtics (46-25)

All-NBA 2nd Team, All-Star
16.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, .436 FG%, .850 FT%, 9.8 win shares

The final third of Boston’s Original Big 3 has fully maturated and with Braun would represent the standard for the coming years of what an NBA shooting guard should be. Like Braun he demonstrated a feathery touch from the field and the touch became down right… down at the free throw line. Including this year, Sharman would lead the league in FT% for 5 straight seasons.

 

 

 

 

 

#8 Bob Davies – Rochester Royals (44-26)

All-NBA 2nd Team, All-Star
15.6 PPG, 3 RPG, 4.2 APG, .385 FG%, .753 FT%, 7.4 win shares

The ageless Davies returns once again. The former NBL MVP is still kicking around in the NBA at age 33. No other player of his age in the nascent NBA had yet put together such a refined, respectable season. Even his age aside, Davies was undeniably in fine form. For yet another season he’s led the Royals in scoring and assists while getting them at the top of the Western Division standings.

 

 

 

 

#7 Harry Gallatin – New York Knicks (47-23)

All-Star
12.4 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, .444 FG%, .700 FT%, 11.3 win shares

Another season, another inexplicable year that Gallatin gets left off the All-NBA teams. However, he’s much-appreciated here at Lost MVPs. Carl Braun’s addition is what kicked the Knicks up a notch, but Gallatin was still the Horse drawing this carriage over the long haul. His FG% this year was a new career-high and would remain so. His RPG also were a career-high, but Gallatin would soon surpass even the lofty 13.1 he hauled down this year.

 

 

 

#6 Vern Mikkelsen – Minneapolis Lakers (48-22)

All-NBA 2nd Team, All-Star
15 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, .435 FG%, . 752 FT%, 12 win shares

The defensive terror of the Minneapolis frontcourt continued his fine play averaging a new career-high in FG% this season. His slight slip in the Lost MVPs from last season reflects not only the improvment in others we’ll see in a moment, but also his own slip in overall production. Vern’s PPG and RPG went down very slightly, but his defense remained as tenacious as ever, so he’ll comfortably stay here at #6.

 

 

 

 

#5 Dolph Schayes – Syracuse Nationals (47-24)

All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
17.8 PPG, 13 RPG, 3.2 APG, .367 FG%, .827 FG%, 12.5 win shares

After a couple years of regression, Schayes has surged back to his typical form: outstanding outside shooting for a big man to go with some pretty gaudy rebounding numbers. The Nationals had finally given up on their “let’s not play our best player as much as possible” routine and naturally saw their record improve by 7 games over the previous season. That’s almost a win for each additional minute per game Schayes was given this year. Continuing this trend over the coming years, Schayes is primed to make a serious assault on the MVP award.

 

 

 

#4  Ed Macauley – Boston Celtics (46-25)

All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
20.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, .452 FG%, .750 FT%, 14.5 win shares

Easy Ed is basically on cruise control at this point. He again has perched himself at the 20 point-9 rebound-4 assist mark and the Celtics again impress during the regular season. His excellence is seriously getting to the point of monotony and I want nothing more to do with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#3 Neil Johnston – Philadelphia Warriors (12-57)

All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
22.3 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, .452 FG%, .700 FT%, 15.3 win shares

Well, here’s our victim of playing on an absolutely horrendous team this year. Neil Johnston clearly put together an amazing season as he led the league in PPG, win shares, and most amazingly FG% despite being the only real offensive threat the Warriors had following Paul Arizin’s departure for the Marines. Like Macauley, the lantern-faced big man was devastating with his hook shot . Not to get ahead of ourselves, but I imagine Johnston will snag one of these highly coveted Lost MVPs in the future.

 

 

 

 

#2 Bob Cousy – Boston Celtics (46-25)

All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
19.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 7.7 APG, .352 FG%, .816% FT, 7.2 win shares

By now, Cousy has become the focal point and the engine running the Boston offensive machine that led the league in points per game.  Cousy’s Boston teammates, Ed Macauley and Bill Sharman, would be in the top 6 of scorers spurred on by his league-leading 7.7 APG. Cousy himself was able to fill it up as well as he finished 4th in PPG. A point guard who passed first but scored at will was a dangerous weapon in this NBA, but Cousy still falls short of #1 in the MVP race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#1 George Mikan – Minneapolis Lakers (48-22)

All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
20.6 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, .399 FG%, .780 FT%, 14.6 win shares

After being usurped by Paul Arizin following 3 straight MVPs, Mikan comes back to reclaim his throne as the NBA’s MVP. His PPG again slipped this year to a new career low, but it was still high enough for 2nd overall in the NBA. His rebounding was proving like decent boxed wine however. Unlike fine wine it wasn’t getting better but it surely was maintaining its splendid heights. the 14.4 were just barely a career-high but it represented his 2nd rebounding crown.

On the team front, the Lakers finished with NBA’s best record and would be tested by Fort Wayne in the Western Division Finals before thoroughly trouncing the Knicks in 5 games to capture yet another title, their 5th in the last 6 seasons.

Footage of that Finals below courtesy of Fred Cervantez’s awesome work

 

 

Dwelling On Yesterday

I created this monster.

“For we are like tree trunks in the snow. They seem to be resting smoothly as if one could push them away with a slight nudge. No, one cannot, for they are firmly attached to the ground. But lo and behold, this too is sheer semblance.”

“The Trees” by Franz Kafka, as translated by Joachim Neugroschel

Five years ago, Michael Beasley was readying himself for his freshman season at Kansas State. His childhood friend Kevin Durant had completely dominated the NCAA months earlier en route to becoming the second pick in the NBA draft. In only a year, it would all cycle back with Beasley as the protagonist.

He delivered, which is a bit of an understatement. His numbers across the board were astounding, scoring and rebounding more than Durant had at Texas (who had done both at a ridiculous clip) in four fewer minutes of playing time a game. Durant’s descent upon the NCAA was an unearthly spectacle, but Beasley’s season was equally groundbreaking (if not more so). He looked the part of a strong NBA wing at a touch over 6’8” with an effortless brand of freak athleticism and a good enough shooting touch. Yet he was undoubtedly a power forward, ready to redefine positional limits the second he stepped onto an NBA court. He danced around slow-footed defenders and attacked with raw aggression. His body control in midair was peerless. He was short for the position, but it really didn’t look like it mattered. Watching Beasley dominate at K-State was watching Amar’e Stoudemire, fully formed, without having to nag about crashing for boards. He was similarly mainly a scorer and incidental rebounder, but there was so much authority in his actions. His play was joyous, visceral. He was compelling. And it all looked ready to be packaged for the NBA.

…What happened?

Arms got longer, bodies got bigger; defenses smarter. Numerous athletic anomalies more garish than Beasley himself. The NBA happened, and he wasn’t ready to adapt in a manner that didn’t diminish his most attractive qualities. At the professional level, Beasley’s multifaceted offensive talents became his biggest obstacle to stardom. Instead of making inroads in consistently being the player he was, he reversed his tendencies, gradually looking less and less like the inside-out power forward he seemed so capable of being. Since his rookie season, the percentage of shots Beasley has taken around the rim has tapered down from 30.9 percent in 08-09 to 23.9 percent in 11-12. If the trend continues, eventually, Beasley’s shot chart will resemble a glorified Travis Outlaw’s.

Beasley is entering his fifth NBA season and some fans are still daydreaming of his lone year at Kansas State. With a new environment down in Phoenix, Beasley believes himself an all-star and apparently there is a legion of those who agree. The Suns are one of the few teams desperate enough to even think of giving Beasley the opportunity to be a first option, so if there is a breakthrough in the works, he’s found the ideal environment. Regardless of the position he plays, there should be more opportunities for him to play inside. Last season, 16.2 percent of Beasley’s shot attempts came in post-up situations, according to mySynergySports – the highest percentage in his career (though he converted less than 40 percent of those shots). If there is any optimism in this department, it lies in 10-11, where he shot 50.3 percent from the post, though it only accounted for 9 percent of his total attempts. While getting his shot off against the more imposing bigs in the league has proven to be a challenge, he should have no problem exploiting the post defense of weaker small forwards. He (still) has a quick and powerful spin move from the right elbow, and it should be good enough to get most defenders off balance, if he’d only dedicate himself to it more often.

But perhaps more interesting than Beasley’s self-prophecy is the large contingent who are still holding out hope, four years later. Situation does matter, as players like Tracy McGrady (who played three seasons before his big break) and Jermaine O’Neal (who played four) can attest, but for those two, if they didn’t outright show improvement, they at least provided a glimpse of forward progress in their formative NBA years. Beasley has run away from what made him a success – in part because of the reality of his abilities – and has shown few signs of coming back. Yet there are still those who believe he has what it takes to be a superstar. It says a lot about what we choose to remember, the strength of our memories, and the portability of dominance. I am absolutely rooting for Beasley to become a great player, but it’s not something I can claim with any conviction. The idea that Beasley will actualize his potential — despite much of the evidence siding with the contrary — assumes that the dominance is fluid; something that can be bottled and reactivated. Alas, dominance is temporal. Existence at one point doesn’t ensure existence at another.

The Suns will be on my radar not only because I enjoy me a good train wreck, but because it’ll be interesting to see what Beasley proves to himself. Expecting a miraculous transformation is probably setting up for disappointment, but perhaps the newfound freedom in Phoenix can help Michael Beasley rediscover what made him so compelling all those years ago.