Monthly Archives: March 2010

In the Forest, One Tree Stands Tallest

Tree Rollins

Center

Height: 7’1” Weight: 235-275lbs.

Born on 16 June 1955 in Winter Haven, Florida.

Before Dikembe Mutombo waived his finger to signal rejection. Before Dennis Rodman’s bad boy image and physical tenacious presence hounded opposing players. Before lists of dirty players became published. Before altercations and fisticuffs became something of a media sensation (Malice in the Palace, Melo’s dainty backhand slap). Before these players and incidents there was one man who embodied all of the above traits and characteristics. Tree Rollins’ presence intimidated some and emboldened others. His defensive presence patrolling the paint from the late 1970s until his retirement in 1995 effected the shots and decision making process of countless players. Some dared not to enter his paint for fear of their shot being sent back quicker than it had been put up. Others felt a personal challenge when playing against Rollins. He couldn’t block everything. Michael Jordan ruthlessly proved that when he famously posterized Tree. Jordan had a singular knack for dunking on great shot blockers.

Wayne Monte Rollins is a Clemson legend. Unlike today’s players who attend college for one year before they make the jump to the NBA, Rollins spent four years at Clemson learning the game and breaking school records. Rollins was a three time second team All-ACC team selection and a third team All-American his senior season in 1976-77 making him the first Clemson Tiger (in basketball) to ever be selected to the All-American team. In each of his four seasons, Rollins averaged a double-double. He is the only player in the school’s history to have done so and is ranked fourth all time in the category at Clemson. He is one of two players to ever record a triple-double in school history. Rollins swatted 450 shots while with the Tigers which ranks him third in ACC history. The 1,311 rebounds he pulled down over his career still top Clemson’s records and are still good enough for fifth all time in the ACC. Just before his last home game as a Tiger, his number was retired making him the first athlete in school history to have such an honor bestowed up on them.

However, Tree Rollins’ time at Clemson was not without controversy. While being recruited by Clemson and then Head Coach Taylor Locke, Rollins was rumored to have accepted various gifts and money outside of NCAA regulations from the school. He, of course, denies those allegations. The school was put on a three year probation beginning, prompting Locke to quit, in 1975 after the school was charged with violating 40 NCAA rules and regulations. A touch controversy would seem to linger just behind Rollins throughout his career.

After graduating from Clemson, Rollins was taken fourteenth overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1977 NBA draft. “The Intimidator,” has he became known, quickly made his presence felt on the league and especially on the defensive end of the floor. During the 1982-83 season, Rollins led all players with an astounding 343 total blocks. This achievement helped Rollins become a member of the NBA All-Defensive Second Team that season. The following season, he was a member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team. He was in the top three in blocks six times during his career. His physical style of play, however, rubbed many opposing players the wrong way.

Rollins was well known for his excessive use of his elbows, while setting screens and pulling down rebounds, during games.  Altercations were never far behind. In 1982 Rollins was fined $2500 for excessive violence in a first round playoff game with the Philadelphia 76ers. This violence was directed especially toward the 76ers’ players Darryl Dawkins and Lionel Hollins. Hollins was fined $2000 for a retaliatory blow to Rollins’ head after the initial incident. The next year during the playoffs, Rollins was again involved in an altercation.  In a 1983 first round playoff series with the Boston Celtics, Tree elbowed Celtic’s guard Danny Ainge while setting a screen. To say that Ainge did not take kindly to this would be an understatement. Ainge responded by tackling Rollins on the spot and a fracas ensued. During the melee, Tree bit Danny Ainge. Ainge wound up having to get a tetanus shot two stitches on his middle finger because of Tree’s bite. The Boston Globe ran an article about the game the next day entitled Tree bites man in Celtic’s clincher. The story also nicknamed Rollins, “Tree (hide the finger sandwiches) Rollins”. Ah, northern wit, the envy of the comedic spectrum. Rollins was apparently not in favor with Celtics players in the least. He also was in an on court incident with M.L. Carr which spilled off the court. After the game Carr confronted Rollins in the locker room tunnel about the incident. Carr was holding something in his hand which led to Rollins accusing Carr of brandishing a straight edge razor. It is now known that Carr carried a gun with him to and from the Garden for much of his career, so Rollins, during this incident should consider himself lucky that was only faced with a set of keys or straight razor, depending on who tells the story.

After leaving the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent in 1988, Rollins would bounce around to several teams searching for that elusive championship. He would play for the Cavaliers, Pistons, Rockets, and Magic before his retirement in 1995. At the time of his retirement, he was fourth all time in the NBA in blocked shots, with 2,542, behind Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Mark Eaton. Currently, Rollins total ranks ninth all time in the NBA. After the NBA, Rollins had a short stint as head coach of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. At the time he had the best record as coach of the team in their short existence to that point.

Before the bad boys in Detroit ruffed up their opponents with stifling defense, Tree Rollins, and his elbows, roughed up many players who dared challenge his paint and authority of the game. Rollins would actually become a crucial member of the Pistons just after their championship runs in 1989 and 1990. He carried on the big man defensive presence that was established by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain before him. He was the bridge to the big men of the 1990s and today and will be remembered for his dominant defense.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Players

Last Four In: Leastern Conference

April 11th will likely decide the final playoff spot in the East

With teams beginning to clinch playoff berths in both conferences I figured it would be a good time to predict seeding, in the East at least. (West will come later. It’s rough over there.) The Cavaliers and the Celtics have already secured their respective division titles and the Magic and Hawks have clinched spots in the post season. This leaves the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, and Charlotte Bobcats vying for the last four spots in the East. As of right now the Bulls are one and a half games out of the eighth and final playoff spot which is held by the Raptors.

The top four seeds will likely remain the same with Cleveland in the first overall seed, followed by Orlando, Boston, and Atlanta in that order. The next four seeds are currently occupied by Milwaukee, Miami, Charlotte, and Toronto in that order. The Bulls are on the outside looking in. Milwaukee and Chicago are separated by just five games with Milwaukee’s trouncing of the Clippers last night and the Bulls loss. None of these teams has any room for error.

The Bulls have had a terrible March. They have been plagued with injuries to key players. Out of 15 games during the month (they played a tough game against Phoenix last night coming up just short) they won only four games. They hold their playoff fate in their own hands. Their remaining games are against Washington, Charlotte (twice), Milwaukee, Cleveland, New Jersey, Toronto, and Boston. Four of these games are against teams that just ahead of the Bulls in the standings and have undoubtedly been circled by Vinny Del Negro and his team. Derrick Rose has circled each remaining game. He is certain his team will make it. He expressed such feelings Tuesday after a morning shootaround. “In my mind, we’ll be making the eighth spot. We’ll e playing Lebron; playing Cleveland…Our biggest goal is to make the playoffs, and we’re going to make it.”

Toronto is the hunted. Chicago is only one and a half games behind them and can smell blood. The Raptors have not fared well in the month of March either winning only five games. Their remaining games are against the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia, Golden State, Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and New York. The stretch of games against Cleveland, Boston Atlanta, and Chicago occur over a six day period. Toronto’s playoff hopes will die during these six days. The Raptors have also just placed their key free agent from last summer into a reserve role. Hedu Turkoglu, who signed a $53 million deal with the Raptors and was the only reason the Magic had a chance of competing against the Lakers in last year’s NBA Finals, is now a bench player. To have any hope of keeping Chicago at bay Turkoglu must be a starter. Player frustration and general dissent seems to be coming to a head north of the border. Chicago, meanwhile, has not made excuses for their poor play of late. Because of injuries they have not played as well as they could. Toronto, however, has not played well. No, they have played awful. They will continue to play this way for the remainder of the season as they know no other way. Bryan Colangelo may ascertain dreams of keeping Chris Bosh a Raptor but if you were Bosh and the team you play for continually fails you, would you want to stick around?

Chicago will capture the last playoff spot as the Raptors continue their collapse both on and off the court. The eighth seed is the only one that is honestly up for grabs. The others (Bucks, Heat, Bobcats) will make the playoffs and more than likely keep their respective playoffs seeds. Milwaukee and Miami may swap places in the fifth and sixth seeds but with the way the Bucks are playing this is unlikely; Miami is not as well rounded as a team as they are. So here are the last four playoff spots in the East as I see them:

5. Milwaukee Bucks

6. Miami Heat

7. Charlotte Bobcats

8. Chicago Bulls

Missing the playoffs should be the catalyst for Chris Bosh to leave the great white north for fairer climate. Maybe his hometown even, at least there he could actually see a second round playoff game more frequently. These are merely projections, however. If I know one thing about the NBA it is that anything is possible. Until the last four teams are set in stone we will just have to watch. For the Bulls and Raptors, they must play to win. Circle the date 11 April on your calendars because that’s when the Bulls play at the Raptors. Their fates and playoff positions could very well be decided on that night.

3 Comments

Filed under NBA at Large

A not so perfect 10

“We got 10! The Nets win!”

That was the announcement that public address announcer Gary Sussman made as the Nets beat the San Antonio Spurs 90-84 in East Rutherford, N.J.  This 10th win prevents the dismal Nets from matching the worst record in NBA history.  The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers went 9-73 and will maintain their grasp on worst season record.  They have now won three of their last four games with their first two-game win streak of the season coming last week against the Kings and the Pistons.

Brook Lopez added to his already impressive stats for the season with 22 points and 12 rebounds.  The Nets only had four turnovers against the shorthanded Spurs.  Manu Ginobili sat out with lower back spasms along with Tony ParkerTim Duncan shot 6 for 15 from the floor as San Antonio went onto shoot only 41 percent from the field.  George Hill had 19 points and Richard Jefferson had 16.

The Spurs are now set at eighth in the West with the Memphis Grizzlies sitting six games behind.  However, they are entering what will prove to be a very difficult April with games in LA, in Phoenix, in Denver and in Dallas.  No matter what the Nets do, they will be sitting out during the playoffs.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dishing out COY

Scott Skiles dishes plays instead of assists these days

I literally puked in my mouth last year when Mike Brown won Coach of the Year the same season LeBron took home MVP.  The COY should win without the All-Stars, without the flash and without LBJ.  It was a desecration to the award and he got what he deserved when the Magic won the East.  With that said, let’s hammer out who truly deserves it this year and who will restore the award to its proper prestige.

Scott Brooks is a name that came up when we began discussing who deserved the award.  Most of you may not even know who Brooks is but his Oklahoma City Thunder were definitely a surprise this season.  However, it wasn’t a question of if they would be a good team.  It was when.  Brooks doesn’t get my vote mainly due to how much talent he has on this team.  In 2007, they drafted Kevin Durant at No. 2 in the NBA draft and in 2008, they drafted Russell Westbrook No. 4.  They brought in former Arizona State star James Harden in this season’s draft.  In addition, Nick Collison and Jeff Green are helping the Thunder roll.  Right now, they are set at the seventh seed in the West.  This has a lot of people surprised but take some things into consideration.  In the West, Portland has fallen short of what a lot of us expected.  Houston was disappointing and is now entering the rebuilding stage and New Orleans fell off the map.  That leaves Minnesota, Golden State, Sacramento and the Clippers.  Did you even see any of those teams making a playoff run?  Yes, the West is insanely good but the falloff that we have seen from so many perennial playoff teams has left a window for the Oklahoma City Thunder.  I would give Scott Brooks more credit if they were sitting at four or five but they are beating a bunch of garbage for seven.  Anything short of what they have done so far this season would be considered a failure.  This team was built to win and with so many other teams falling off, the success came a little sooner than expected.

The Charlotte Bobcats are another team that suddenly came onto NBA fans’ radars this season as they too have their eyes on a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history.  Larry Brown is known for his coaching intensity and his ability to help build defensively tough teams.  He won the award once before with the 76ers in 2001 but should be considered this season as well.  This team started a measly 3-10 before turning it around with a bundle of wins including a 94-87 win over Cleveland (I remember this win because I thought it was a typo).  The Bobcats have gone on to beat the Cavs another two times this season.  They have some other quality wins against the Lakers, Nuggets, San Antonio and Pheonix.  However, the Bobcats are only 16 and 23 against playoff teams with only 93 points a game.  In addition, we bring up the previous argument: who are they beating to be in the playoffs.  We all know the East is weaker than the West so the previous rule applied to the Thunder is definitely applicable in this case.  Toronto is poised to grasp the eighth seed in the East but with a sub-.500 record and almost no quality wins.  Chicago could go for that final spot if they figure out how to win with everyone injured.  Other than that, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Detroit, Washington and Philadelphia are all terrible teams.  Besides, Larry Brown is a proven coach with a ring.  Let’s give it to someone a little more interesting.

So, let’s announce the winner.

Drum roll please…

Scott Skiles was the 22nd overall draft pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1986 draft.  In ten seasons, Skiles played for the Bucks, Pacers, Magic, Bullets and 76ers.  On December 30, 1990, he had 30 assists in Orlando’s 155-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets.  In 1999, he was promoted to head coach of the Phoenix suns before going to the Chicago Bulls.  He was successful with the Bulls for two seasons.  He was fired at the beginning of the 2007 season after a dismal start for a team with high hopes.  Last season (his first with the Bucks), he led them to a 34-48 record that was marred by injuries to both Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut. Fan support helped Skiles keep his job.

Scott Succeeded as a player and now it's time to recognize his coaching skills

This season, Skiles has proven that keeping him around was worth the risk.  The Bucks have several high-quality wins and impressive winning streaks.  Earlier this month, they went on a six-game stretch with wins over Cleveland, Boston and Utah all consecutively. After that, they beat the Nuggets in Denver and Memphis who is trying a late-season surge for that final spot in the West.  The Bucks were a sub-.500 team from December to just after the All-Star break.  Their current streak of 16 wins in 20 games has moved Milwaukee from 24-28 to 40-32 and has landed them the fifth seed in the East; however, nothing is guaranteed with how close most of the teams are in the conference.  It’s also how these Bucks have won that stands out.  The team is a mixture of all sorts of players.  John Salmons brings an excellent blue-collar playing style that has left him pretty much unnoticed by novice NBA fans.  Brandon Jennings has the rookie fireworks that he has brought over from his time spent playing in Europe.  Andrew Bogut provides some grit and muscle to this team and also likes to high-five himself.  In addition, they have brought in veterans Jerry Stackhouse and Charlie Bell that add some leadership to this mix of players.

The Bucks are getting hot right when teams really need to in order to make a successful post-season run.  Scott Skiles has helped Milwaukee rise in the East this season with a group of unlikely players.  When Michael Redd went out, they maintained their composure and stayed focused.  With Skiles behind the helm, the Bucks have left the years of obscurity and have risen to a level of competitiveness that has the top four in the East shaking in their Nikes.

2 Comments

Filed under 2009-10 Awards

The Simple Grace of Redemption

Saving face is a feat that requires equal parts tact, intrepidity, and luck. In the arena that is sports, especially the NBA, it can take years to regain the confidence and respect that was once carried. Tiger Woods, need anything else be said? It took Kobe Bryant several years and one huge diamond to recoup what he lost after his scandal but he is back on top. For each player and team the fall from grace is by far the easiest step in the entire process but it is the most gut wrenching. The past several days have had quite a few more opportunities to save face than is common in an entire year ranging from a game of H-O-R-S-E to potentially career defining.

This Roddick guy doesn't even play basketball...

On Saturday, Dwyane Wade competed against one of the toughest opponents he has ever faced on the court: Andy Roddick. In a game of H-O-R-S-E, Roddick jumped out to an early lead of H-O-R to H. Wade, familiar with the situation, knew exactly what to do. Wade quickly pulled his T-Mobile My Touch phone and placed a call to David Stern. However, because he has T-Mobile he had his call dropped because service just vanished. Luckily there was a landline nearby. Wade reached the Emperor and explained the situation. Stern ordered the game to be immediately suspended until his storm troopers could arrive and bring order to the game. When the referees showed up, Wade was able to take over because the refs continually called fouls against Roddick, which sent Wade to the line again and again, despite Roddick not being near to Wade at all. The game shifted dramatically in Wade’s favor and he wound up winning. This might not be exactly how it transpired but needless to say it couldn’t be too farfetched. Wade did win saving face for both himself and the NBA.

Ashamed of the state of New Jersey

One team recently just rattled off their longest and most impressive win streak of the season. The New Jersey Nets just won two consecutive games in a row by beating the Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons, two other NBA bottom feeders. These two wins have helped the Nets tie the record number of lowest wins in a season, set by the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1972-73 season, at nine games. Brett Yormark, the Nets’ chief executive, can rejoice! Maybe now fans won’t show up with paper bags on their head. Maybe LeBron James will see this little streak and hop on a plane to the “Garden State” this summer. Maybe that Russian billionaire playboy who bought the team will team up with Jay Z on his most recent un-retirement. Oh, wait, the Nets just got beat down by the Bulls? Bring on the bags! At least the Nets will not go down in NBA history as the worst team in league history. The worst they could do at this point is tie the record for the worst team in NBA history. They only have to win one more game this season to get to second worst all time. I know many people are cheering for them but I am not one of them. Let that team rot in the polluted cesspool that is New Jersey. I wish they hadn’t won this many games. They do not deserve this many wins. As a team they have slightly saved face by barely avoiding complete futility by they are still a blight to the NBA.

Agent Zero accepts his fate

To say that Gilbert Arenas is having a just a slightly bumpy year would be like saying Health Care Reform isn’t, to quote VP Joe Biden, “a big fucking deal” and that Lady Gaga isn’t everywhere. He was recently sentenced to 30 days in a halfway house and 400 hours of community service. Agent Zero will serve zero time. Lucky, considering what could have been the outcome. Now he must start the long process to returning to prominence in the NBA. It starts with his relationship with the Washington Wizards. Wizards’ president, Ernie Grunfeld, has already stated that Arenas will be a Wizard next season. This is but one of many steps the franchise and Arenas will have to take before the start of next season. Honestly though, it’s not like Hibachi was actually going anywhere with the insane contract he has, not even the Knicks under Isiah Thomas would have touched that contract (maybe). Morally, Arenas did not commit any action that might make his fans detest him. In most respects, he is already regaining favor by simply pleading guilty and excepting his punishment both by the NBA and the court. Saving face, for Arenas, may seem like a distant reality but it is just that, a reality. Arenas will come out of this a winner and respected member of the NBA again.

The process which players and teams attempt to save face over the course of a season or a professional career varies in length and by particular situations. Some players never turn their image or life around. This is either because they do not want to or circumstances around them prevent them from doing so. These are but three recent examples, both large and small, of saving face. With the playoffs around the corner more such cases are sure to arise. Saving face is not always about victory, a change of perception is all it requires. Hopefully, in the cases of the Nets (despite what I said) and Gilbert Arenas this slow change will be for the better.

Leave a comment

Filed under NBA at Large

Drop it like it’s Hot

Roddy B was channeling NBA Jam last night because he was "On Fire"

Last night, Rodrigue Beaubois (Roddy B), simply lit up the Golden State Warriors. “He’s heating up!” is the memorable line from NBA Jam when a player scores two consecutive buckets. Roddy B, once entering the game, wasted no time heating up. “He’s on fire!” is the exclamation once a player drains three consecutive shots causing the basketball to glow and burn with fire, burning the net with each made basket. Roddy did not need any heat check shots last night; he came in on fire and maintained that level of play throughout the game.

Beaubois could not miss it seemed as he continued to make it rain from downtown throughout the game. He was the spark that the Dallas Mavericks need as they started the game sluggishly (as is their newfound unfortunate custom) but never trailed by any insurmountable amount. Roddy picked up the slack. Oh, and did I mention he is a rookie? He is. He is also an amazing (freakish) talent with speed, quickness, and agility. His three-point shot is also a thing of beauty. The Warriors should feel privileged to have witnessed it. “He pulls up…From Downtown!” Beaubois was 9-11 from behind the arc on route to his career high of 40 points. There was simply no stopping him and there was nothing the Warriors could do because Don Nelson has no idea what defense is.

40 points is the second highest rookie total in Mavericks’ history behind Mark Aguirre’s 42. It is also the second highest point total set by a rookie this season. Brandon Jennings has the high mark with 55. They are the only two rookies that have scored 40 or more points this season. Not even our ROY pick, Tyreke Evans, has dropped 40. He does have a triple-double though so we’ll call it even. Roddy B’s 40 points are also the fifth most by a rookie since the 2004-05 season. Beaubois also had the third most points in a quarter by a rookie this season scoring 21 in the second quarter. At one point during the game, in a span of less than one minute Beaubois drained three straight three-pointers. On fire indeed.

This scoring outburst will surely do little to quell the growing Free Roddy B movement here in the Metroplex but how can that be a bad thing? He needs to play more. The Warriors are not the cream of the crop of NBA teams so it was a game in which a player with Roddy B’s skill set was poised to go off. He played the entire game at the off guard position, Rick Carlisle noted after the game, and did not play single minute at point. The real test of Carlisle’s trust in Roddy will be Monday night when the Mavericks host the Denver Nuggets, the team they are tied for second place in the West with. It was easy to unleash Roddy against a frenetic up and down team like the Warriors but Denver is a different animal. Their team defense could exploit Beaubois’ rookie weaknesses and make him turnover prone. They will certainly be watching film of Beaubois’ Saturday night point eruption and will be keen to guard him if they see him enter the game.

RB3

Last night’s outburst has certainly moved Roddy up the bench a seat or two and all but solidified him a spot when an opponent plays small-ball and the Mavericks counter with a three guard set. Roddy’s game was on especially on point “From long range!” His scoring is certainly what the Mavericks need more of off the bench. The future can only be brighter for this young, up and coming star. It is no doubt, if the Mavericks keep him, Beaubois will become the future of the franchise. However, because he is still an unpolished rookie he will have to earn his minutes for big games down the stretch and for the playoffs. Last night certainly won’t hurt his odds.

Leave a comment

Filed under NBA at Large, Players

Defense is Preached by All but Awarded to Only One

The Tru Warier was honored as the NBA's best defender in 2004 but will he earn it again?

Outside of the honor for Most Valuable Player, the award for Defensive Player of the Year in the most significant trophy the NBA bestows on its players. This article is an attempt to portray my thought process in deciding on one player who represents the best defensive qualities in the NBA. Particular categories used are not of a traditional defensive fare but, in my opinion, play a crucial role in determining the overall defensive prowess and ability of a player and how it affects the overall defense of the player’s team. Hopefully it has been laid out in a reasonably understandable, albeit rather lengthy, fashion with the eventual pick of who is the best defensive player in the Association being clear.

Crunching the numbers is never easy, especially when research begins to go down a path that takes a turn dangerously close to Hollinger Highway. However, numbers are key (as they are in most sports when performance is evaluated) when it comes to determining the recipient of the NBA’s most challenging and hard to decide award. The Defensive Player of the Year Award is the most deserving honor of extensive research and should not be blindly handed out after looking at two categories alone. Much more thought and input must to go into the decision. Picking a popular player who has a marketable face value due to various endorsements and commercial appeal seems great, but it is not what this honor stands for. This award deserves to go to the most tenacious defensive player who hustles on every possession, makes the plays that elevate their team thereby making them better, and gives their teams a chance to win with lockdown determination while defending the opponent’s best player. Grit defines players; it helps them impose their will on games and helps them establish a reputation as superb defenders. It is these factors that have been evaluated and looked over again and again to determine The Kobe Beef’s choice for Defensive Player of the Year.

Player names that instantly come to mind when defense is mentioned are Ron Artest, Ben Wallace, Dwight Howard, Lebron James, Bruce Bowen, Kobe Bryant, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Kevin Garnett, and Marcus Camby. Each of these players has exemplified defensive prowess but only eight of them still play in the league and out of that group only half have maintained a competitive level of play on the defensive end of the hard court. Our affinity here at The Kobe Beef for the Tru Warier is especially biased (this is this writer’s opinion and not that of the other founder of the Beef) and based on this bias, the award should be named in his honor and awarded to him forever, even posthumously if Artest ever dies (NBA and QB gods forbid!). Unfortunately, his numbers with the Lakers this season do not warrant his inclusion in the top five players that will be discussed in choosing defensive player of the year. Sorry, Ron Ron. I wish it did not have to be this way but it is just the way it is this year. Is the Lakers’ team defense substantially better than it was last season because of the inclusion of the Tru Warier this year? Yes, but his numbers unfortunately do not support inclusion.

Who is in consideration then? Players were narrowed down by looking at the top twelve performers in each defensive statistic category and other notables from the field who have proven themselves quality defenders over their careers. The categories that were used to glean information are as follows: A player’s total defensive rebounds to date (DREB TOT), defensive rebounds per game (DREB/GM), defensive rebound percentage (DREB %), total steals to date (STL TOT), steals per game (STL/GM), steal percentage (STL %), total blocks to date (BLK TOT), blocks per game (BLK/GM), block percentage (BLK %), defensive rating (DR), defensive win shares (DWS), total turnovers to date (TO TOT), turnovers per game (TO/GM), and turnover percentage (TO %). Many of these categories seem straight forward because they deal with a player’s performance strictly on the defensive end of the floor, so you may wonder why we included turnovers as a statistic to consider when it is mostly associated with offense. Turnovers directly correlate to defense and therefore should be considered. If a player is turning the ball over at a high rate then he is giving the opposing team more opportunities to score, thereby hurting the overall defensive performance of himself and of his team. It would be completely unheard of for a player to intentionally turn the ball over just so he could get it back to boost his defensive numbers. This does not happen. Turnovers hurt defenders and for this reason they must be considered when defensive numbers are looked at.

Most of the categories used are straight forward and are familiar to everyone who has ever read a box score or played fantasy basketball. Others, however, are more complex and require some explanation. Here is a list of definitions so that they may be better understood (all definitions taken from basketball-reference.com):

  • Defensive Rebound Percentage: An estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor.
  • Steal Percentage: An estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player while he was on the floor.
  • Block Percentage: An estimate of the percentage of opponent two-point field goal attempts blocked by the player while he was on the floor.
  • Defensive Rating: An estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions.
  • Defensive Win Shares: An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense.
  • Turnover Percentage: An estimate of turnovers per 100 plays.

These statistics may not appear in ordinary box scores but they have been a part of the league for some time and are becoming more and more accepted as teams search for more complex ways to measure a player’s on court performance. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has invested in a numbers think-tank and Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, will not publicly discuss or release the statistics that the team reviews and collects concerning player performance. The fourteen categories used to determine the NBA’s best defender in this article are but a mere fraction of what is out there. Think about crunch time numbers, or a steal or block on a key possession, or how often does a block result in the blocking team receiving the ball as opposed to it going back in the hands of the other team. It is regretful that these specific statistics will not be used here but they will be generally noted.

Getting past all of the statistical pomp and circumstance; out of all the players that appeared in each category, only six have initially chosen for consideration. These players are Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks, Marcus Camby of the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trailblazers, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks, and Gerald Wallace of the Charlotte Bobcats. Sorry, Thabo Sefolosha, love the way you play D but the numbers and minutes are not there just yet.

Numbers used in this article will change before the year’s end, especially a player’s totals, but averages should not dramatically change. All statistics used in this article are based on number totals as of 25 March 2010. These numbers do not reflect Marcus Camby’s statistics during the Blazers’ victory against the Mavericks as they were taken into consideration before the game began. Camby’s numbers are also the mean average taken from his totals on both the Clippers and Blazers.

How does each of these players stack up against one another? Player positions will be assessed as well as traditional statistics eventually leading into more advanced statistics. Bogut, the Cambyman, and Howard are all centers while King James, J-Smoove, and Wallace are perimeter swing players. It is easy to assume that the centers, because of their position duties, would completely dominate the defensive board numbers of all players but Gerald Wallace creeps into the board conversation totaling 558 and averaging 8.5 a game. His average is second only to Howard’s impressive 9.8. Smith and James pull down an above average number of boards for swingmen but cannot be part of the conversation when it comes to what Wallace is doing this season. When looking at defensive rebound percentage, Smith’s and Wallace’s stick out dramatically over other more traditional swingmen. Both pull down better than twenty percent of their teams total defensive boards and they do it from wing positions. Both Smith and Wallace play untraditional wing positions, however, they generally glide between the three and four spots with Smith also playing the five at times. Dwight Howard, of course, dominates this statistic pulling down 31.1 percent of the Magic’s defensive rebounds while he is on the court. Camby’s average is not far behind.

Centers should naturally lead in all the block statistics, too. Dwight Howard leads the way with 197 totaled so far this season at a clip of 2.7 blocks per game. Josh Smith, however, ranks third in most blocks among the six candidates. For a swing player to have such grand numbers here is rather unusual. We are all used to seeing highlights of Lebron streaking down the court and swatting any (we are led to believe every) fast break layup but he is only averaging 1.1 blocks per game. Josh Smith averages 2.1 blocks per game which is only one tenth behind Camby’s average this season and Camby has been a leading shot blocker in the NBA for quite some time. Camby’s block percentage on the season is 5.55 percent, placing him third overall on the list of six. One might think that Dwight Howard would lead in this statistic but no, Andrew Bogut dominates here. He averages a block on an opponent’s field goal attempt 6.1 percent of the time.

It is also expected that the tree swingmen should get more steals than centers with clumsy hands. They do. All are relatively even paced in this category with Smith leading the way having totaled 120 to this point in the season. LeBron and Wallace are not far off this total and they all average about the same amount of swipes per game. The only one of the centers that comes close to the numbers of the swingmen is Marcus Camby. So far this season, Camby has totaled 87 steals with an average of 1.4 per game. These are very impressive numbers for a center to put up in this category. His steal percentage of 2.35 percent is actually higher than both that of Lebron James and Gerald Wallace who come in with 2.2 percent and 2.1 percent respectively. Impressive indeed.

If this award was to be given out on the basis of defensive rating alone, Dwight Howard would win with a rating of 95 and Andrew Bogut would come in second with a rating of 98. Awards, thankfully, are not given out based on a single statistical category alone. The whole picture must be observed. Howard’s numbers are impressive but he is a detriment to the defense of the Orlando Magic. Because of Dwight Howard, the Magic must play more defensive possessions per game due to his turnovers. For a player that is not the focal point of the offense, Howard coughs up the ball over 19 times during the course of 100 plays. Lebron James, who is very much the focal point of the Cavaliers offense, only turns it over just over 12 times during 100 possessions. Putting a team in defensive jeopardy is not a quality that reigning Defensive Player’s of the Year should have, nor should they be awarded for such things. Dwight Howard is a good defender in the post. His ability to alter and block shots is uncanny, but he is a liability to his team because he gives opposing teams more offensive opportunities rather than preventing them. He is not going to make up for this by getting steals as he averages just one per game. Even when he blocks a shot the opposing team is likely to get the ball right back because he thinks that swatting the ball into the crowd helps his team. It does not. Blocking a shot and gaining possession of the ball helps the team, giving the opposing offense another opportunity to score is not good defense. For these reasons, Dwight Howard is dethroned from his paper pulpit.

Who, then, shall it be? James’ turnover rate is also high, as with Howard, giving the ball back to the opposing offense is not good for defense,  so unfortunately he will not be the king of this award but I have no doubt that he will not go home empty handed after all the awards are handed out. James is also more of an offensive threat with much of his defense coming on the fast break rather than in a half court set. Marcus Camby also has a high propensity to turn the ball over when in his possession despite having low overall turnovers and turnovers per game and his defensive win shares is the lowest of the six players. Bogut holds good numbers across the boards, outstanding block percentage, good defensive rating, low turnovers but he only defends one position. He, like the other centers (except maybe the Cambyman) cannot step out and guard the wing. This makes his defensive ability one dimensional. This leaves Josh Smith and Gerald Wallace.

The defensive numbers that these two players put up and their versatility to guard a variety of possessions on the floor are the reason that these two players are the two that should be seriously considered for defensive player of the year. Both match up fairly evenly across the categories under consideration with Wallace out rebounding Smith and Smith blocking more shots than Wallace. It would be a thing of beauty to have co-winners but it just is not in the cards this season. Like the Highlander, there can be only one.

Gerald Wallace rejects any hopes that Dwight Howard had of continuing his reign

What is the deciding factor is defensive rating and defensive win shares. Gerald Wallace’s defense has meant more to his team this season than it ever has. His play on the defensive end of the floor has elevated the Bobcats from a joke in the east to a playoff contender. Wallace’s defense is estimated to have contributed to just over five games this season but it has more than likely led to more than just that. They say that defense wins games and championships and his statistics have led the Bobcats to the most wins in franchise history. It is for these reasons that Gerald Wallace is the Defensive Player of the Year.

2 Comments

Filed under 2009-10 Awards, NBA at Large, Players