Thursday, August 26, 2010

Riddle Me This!

I found myself bored looking around on and decided to check out the Spurs depth chart (really, it's what anyone would do on a random August night) and realized that this may be the deepest team the Spurs have had during the Duncan-Pop era.  Right now, per ESPN, the starting 5 isn't that different from last year. Tony Parker, Manu, Richard Jefferson, Greatest Power Forward Ever and Antonio McDyess.  Then you get to the second unit and it kind of reminds me of a 2nd unit the Suns used to dismantle San Antonio last spring.  The idea of George Hill, DeJuan Blair & Tiago Splitter all coming off the bench is particularly exciting.  Throw in James Anderson and you have two NBA ready rookies, a second year guy in Grizzly Blair who spent all summer working on his game and his tweets and George Hill who may be starting at point by mid season.

So riddle me this: Why can't the Spurs be the second best team in the West next year? They now have two seven footers patrolling the paint (something they haven't had since the last title). Manu, TP & George Hill are all dynamic scorers. Hill is a fearless defender and if you look at this story from the folks at 48 Minutes Of Hell, Greatest Power Forward of All Time, Manu and TP are historically great team defenders.

One last thing, there's certain a level of motivation at play here that the Spurs haven't had lately. One, Tony Parker is in a contract year so he wants to prove that he can perform at an All-Star caliber level. Greatest Power Forward of All Time may be looking at this season as his last shot to get a title since he's 34 and there might not be an NBA season next year.  This may be his last chance to catch Kobe and get back ahead of Shaq, his two chief rivals during his career, in the ring department.

Assuming everyone is healthy (I know, big assumption), what don't the Spurs have to finish 2nd in the West and challenge the Lakers in the playoffs? Great coaching? Check. Championship core? Check? Size? Check. Youth and athleticism? Check. Motivation? Check.  Point is after the Lakers, the West is a giant bag of question marks and there's no reason to think the Spurs can't be a top 3 team in the West next season.  And yeah, I know, I should be focusing on a lot of other things besides the Spurs championship chances next summer.  We'll be revisiting this again I'm sure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

There's Nothing Like International Ball

    I love international basketball tournaments.  How many of you feel about the World Cup, that's how I feel about Olympic Basketball and the FIBA World Championships.  The 2010 World Championship kicks off in 9 days.  Coach K's team is already in Spain preparing for tune up games against Spain, Greece and Lithuania.  There has been a lot of talk about the lack of size with this team.  We'll just have to hope Tyson Chandler, Lamar Odom (Khlodom as I call him) and Kevin Love are big enough for Team USA.  This team is going to need to run, shoot extremely well and play rock solid defense.

    The best starting five for this team is Stephen Curry at the point, Chauncey at the 2, Andre Iguadola at the 3, Kevin Durant (who needs no nickname by the way.  I like calling him by his full name.  I do the same with my dog, Rose The Bulldog.  It just fits.) at the 4 and Tyson Chandler at the 5.  Is this team small? You bet, but there are like 2 or 3 teams where size is an issue.  Brazil has a three headed monster of Nene, Andy Varejao and Tiago Splitter, so you might need to plug Klodom or Kevin Love in to the starting 5 then.  Also, Spain's size is problematic but less so because of the absence of The Big Neckbeard, Pau Gasol and Argentina could cause problems inside as well.

   Second unit should look something like Khlodom, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Rondo or Derrick Rose and Kevin Love (Sorry Danny Granger and either Rondo or D-Rose, we'll see you in London...).  This way you always have at least a couple shooters on the court and athletic 3's like Durant, Iggy & Gay to crash the boards, defend and get out and run.  Expect Durant to play 30 minutes or so a game.  As he proved in college his size and shooting ability make him the perfect zone buster.

    Two most important things for Team USA over the next few weeks I think is being active on D and keeping at least a couple of shooters on the court.  Translation: At no point should Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose ever be on the court together.  Ever.

    I don't know if I expect Team USA to win, but I can't wait to see how it comes together.  Hopefully Kevin Durant decides to go in to Terminator mode and just tear through the competition.  One thing I know is this won't end as poorly as 2004 in Athens when Starbury and A.I. were starting in the back court together.  That sucked.  Oh wait, I forgot, that never happened.

Duncan's Decade

** This was originally written for The Hoops Forum at the end of 2009**
** Before you ask, no, my opinion on this argument has not changed even with Kobe getting ring #5**

    Over the next few months, several debates will start in every major sport (many already have) over what was the team of the decade, who the player of the decade was, etc.  For the last decade the two most dominant players in the NBA have been Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.  In terms of statistics, accolades and titles (Sorry KG), Duncan and Kobe have been head and shoulders above everyone else in the since the 1999-2000 season. Especially because of his recent individual and team success, many fans and members of the mainstream media have anointed Kobe as the player of the decade.  What those fans don’t realize is that in every aspect of the game, Tim Duncan has been the premiere player in the game since the Jordan era. 
    I’ve broken my argument down into three categories. Statistics, individual accolades and team success.  Stats are nice, certainly they’re important, but they should never be the determining factor of deciding who the better player is.  But since we’re here let’s look at the numbers:
Kobe Bryant: 28 ppg, 5.3 apg, 6.4 rpg, 25.26 per (1999-2000 season to 2008-2009 season)
Tim Duncan: 21.4 ppg, 3.5 apg, 11.7 rpg, 25.52 per (1999-2000 season to 2008-2009 season)
Pretty even, right?  Especially when you look at the player efficiency ratings.  I think on the surface you could even give the statistical edge to Kobe.  I think offensively Kobe has been a more dominant player, but Duncan has always been more capable of imposing his will on offense and defense. 

    This is where the argument really starts to turn in Duncan’s favor.  Individual accolades are still close, but Duncan has a clear edge here.  Take a look:
Kobe: 1 MVP, 1 Finals MVP, 7 All-NBA 1st Teams, 2 All-NBA 2nd Teams, 1 All-NBA 3rd Team, 7 All NBA Defensive 1st Team, 2 All NBA Defensive 2nd Teams, 10 All Star Selections, 4 NBA Titles
Duncan: 2 MVPs, 2 Finals MVPs (3 including ’99), 8 All NBA 1st Teams, 2 All NBA 2nd Teams, 8 All NBA Defensive 1st Teams, 2 All NBA 2nd Teams, 10 All Star Selections, 3 NBA Titles (4 including ’99).

     Again, what part of those numbers tell you Kobe is better?  We should also keep in mind that Duncan averaged 19 points a game, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game during the 2007 finals when he had at least 2 players draped all over him, paving the way for Tony Parker to drive the lane early and often to earn the 2007 Finals MVP.   So Duncan should have 3 finals MVPs this decade and 4 total. His defining moment probably came through during Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals.  In a close out game, Duncan had 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocks.  Find a better game Kobe had a more important stage?  It’s also important to mention that Duncan was the best player on all of those championship teams.  Kobe was only the best on one of them.  In the 2001-02, 2002-03 seasons, when Tim Duncan was the only All-Star on his team, the Spurs finished with the second best record in the league one season and won the NBA title the other season.  The three seasons Kobe was the only All-Star on the Lakers, they got bounced from the play-offs in the first round twice and missed them the other year.  
    The last part of my argument is the strongest; Team success.  Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs have the highest winning percentage of any NBA team from 1999-2000 to 2008-2009 and have won 81 play-off games during that span.  Kobe’s Lakers have won 98 playoff games over that same span.  Over that same span, Duncan’s Spurs never missed the play-offs and won 53 games or more over that span.  Kobe’s Lakers won less then 50 games three times and less then 40 games once.  During that time, Kobe threw several of his teammates under the bus, most notably Andrew Bynum in the summer of 2007 when he was caught on tape in disbelief that Mitch Kupchack didn’t trade Bynum for Jason Kidd.  The Lakers should also have at least one more title when the Lakers imploded during the 2003-2004 season.  Again, Kobe was at the center of that controversy because he couldn’t stand Shaq or sharing the spotlight with him. 
    I don’t think it can be argued that Duncan throughout his career has made his teammates better.  He has had no problem letting the offense flow through Tony Parker. Could you ever see Kobe Bryant willfully letting the offense flow through someone else?  Could you ever see Tim Duncan holding an organization hostage and demanding this player be traded or that player be traded? No, Duncan is a leader through and through.  With the exception of complaining to officials (we all know what the stunned Tim Duncan face looks like), Duncan keeps his mouth shut and leads by example.  The difference between Duncan and Kobe is players want to play with Duncan because he’s a great leader and great teammate.  The seasons from 2004 to 2007 show Kobe is far from a leader.  I think it’s the leadership quality more then anything that separates Tim Duncan from Kobe Bryant.