The Jason Kidd Nets

During the early part of the 2000s, the Eastern Conference was in flux. The breakup of the Jordan-era Bulls had opened the door for a number of squads, but none of them truly seized upon that opportunity, and without a dominant team the conference was universally regarded as inferior to its counterpart out West.

Sure, there were the New York Knicks, Chicago’s 90s rivals who could never quite get past them when it mattered, but after a fluke 1999 run to the Finals, they made a series of horrendous personnel decisions that crippled them throughout the 2000s. Likewise, New York’s bitter enemies, the Tim Hardaway/Alonzo Mourning Miami Heat, had only a few more years left in the tank before collapsing to 36-46 in 2002. And the Indiana Pacers, who were almost as old as the Bulls by the end of the 90s, followed up their 2000 Finals berth by falling to .500 in 2001 & ’02.

As the East’s old guard was disintegrating, Orlando attempted to declare themselves the conference’s new power, boldly signing Tracy McGrady & Grant Hill in the summer of 2000 (and drafting Mike Miller), but Hill was never healthy and the Magic never seriously contended for a title. Meanwhile, led by quintessential post-Jordan superstars Allen Iverson and Vince Carter, the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors emerged as well, but after a memorable semifinal series in 2001 (the year Philly made it all the way the Finals before losing to L.A.), neither team would mount another deep postseason run. And the Milwaukee Bucks, who seemed so promising behind a core of Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, Glenn Robinson, & Tim Thomas, withered after Thomas underachieved and Allen was dealt to Seattle for a disappointing half-season of Gary Payton.

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Chris Gatling

“The Energizer,” Chris Gatling, was unique — perhaps underrated and overrated at the same time. He was a rarity, a one-dimensional big man whose only skill was post scoring.

Through 1997 he was tracking to have one of the best career FG%s ever (57% ranked 7th all-time going into the ’98 season); he then proceeded to shoot 45.1% from ’98 onward, a rate that wasn’t helped by a bizarre proclivity for 3s in 2000 and ’01. Despite the gaudy FG%s, Gatling wasn’t a shooter, as attested by his .660 FT%. He had no face-up game. He was, however, a tremendous off-the-bench post scorer, with a career 18.9 P/36 rate that peaked at a staggering 25.0 in 1997. That season, Gatling had a usage rate of 31.7 — the same rate LeBron James has in 2012! No reserve big man has ever done that, before or since. And it was all from pure post scoring!

Gatling is best known for playing for 8 NBA teams in his career. He typified the “trade zone”, because he was useful as a scorer but ultimately a flawed player. While he rebounded some, he was a mediocre defender, a total non-passer/black hole, and had coachability concerns. Teams wanted him enough to get him, but not enough to keep him around longer than a half-season or so.

Don’t shed any tears for Gatling, though. Being a one-dimensional NBA journeyman netted him almost $30 million over an 11-year career. There are worse careers to have, even if his Hall of Fame Probability is exactly 0.0%.

Terence Morris

Terence Morris’ draft stock shot up after he was probably the best all-around player on a 1999 Maryland team that featured future NBA star Steve Francis. Said one NBA scout of Morris in 1999:

“He’s outstanding. I don’t know if he’s the best player in the country, but he’s very athletic. He’s like a poor man’s Kevin Garnett. He’s a 6-9 runner, shooter, slasher. He blocks some shots. His body isn’t great but he’s quick to the ball, great in [Maryland's] press. He’s versatile, one of that new breed of power forwards: thin and athletic but not very physical in the post.”

In retrospect, Morris should have declared for the draft right then & there. He likely would have gone very high in the lottery, probably in the top 5 (in reality, the 5th overall pick went to HS entry Jonathan Bender). Instead, Morris returned to Maryland and was exposed, shooting worse and stagnating as a scorer. As a senior in 2001, he helped the Terps reach the Final Four but had a poor individual season (shot 43% from the field while falling to 3rd in Maryland’s offensive pecking order). Aside from a slightly better rebounding average, Morris’ numbers at age 22 were down across the board compared to age 20.

When he finally entered the draft, he was taken 33rd overall by the Hawks and traded immediately to Houston, where he spent 2 seasons proving he didn’t belong in the league. He was a decent rebounder and showcased an improving midrange game in 2003, but he was also a poor defender & ballhandler who could only create low-percentage shots and couldn’t shoot the 3.

Morris lasted just 139 career games in the NBA, a fact that would have been shocking back in the summer of 1999. He should have come out then, instead of giving scouts enough time to realize he was terrible.

Baller Breakdown: Rodney White

Basketball-Reference: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/w/whitero02.html

Background: 6-9 SF/SG. #9 pick, 2001 draft, Pistons. Declared after freshman yr at UNC-Charlotte, 18.7 PPG on 48.7% FG, 6.5 RPG. Mediocre nonscoring/nonrebounding #s (Ast+Stl+Blk per min) in college. Old for freshman (20 in 2001).

Scoring:  Average to above-average at creating own shot. Some scoring ability carried over from college. Highly inefficient, though. Extremely poor true shooting % (48.7 career) and points per possession (0.92). Created low-percentage shots, settling for midrange jumpers despite good size for position. Less than 1/5 of shots come from 3-point; not an inside player either. Not adept at drawing fouls.

Shooting: Average to below-average pure shooter. Career 74.9 FT%, 31.4 3P%. Shot 45% on twos, many of which were long/midrange. Not good enough shooter to get by on those.

Floor Game: Not a passer, career 13.2 ast%. Turned ball over with frequency when asked to handle too much. Needed to be assisted on high % of field goals (not generating chances off dribble).

Rebounding: Below-average rebounder for position in the pros. Poor on offensive and defensive glass. Very disappointing, given his size and rebounding #s in college.

Defense: Mediocre overall, possibly average in 2005 but certainly below-avg before that. Lack of quickness detrimental vs smaller wings. Prone to fouling. Struggled to earn minutes on better defensive teams.

Verdict: Rodney White was drafted in the lottery but was ultimately a letdown for both Detroit and Denver. He couldn’t create high-percentage scoring chances, shot poorly, and added nothing in non-scoring areas. He washed out of the NBA at age 24 and is now playing in South Korea.

For James, East Final Is an Ex-MVP’s Shot At Redemption

For the first time in three years, LeBron James did not give an acceptance speech at the Most Valuable Player’s press conference. Now, as he faces his successor at the podium, Derrick Rose, in the Eastern Conference Finals, James is hoping his Heat can do exactly what the Magic and Celtics did to him — prevent the reigning MVP from advancing to the NBA Finals.

In the NBA, the Most Valuable Player carrying his team to the brink of a title is the rule, not the exception. Since the league began handing out the hardware in 1956, the MVP’s team has appeared in the championship round 28 times, good for a 51 percent rate. And during the NBA’s halcyon era of Magic, Larry, and Michael, the clip was even higher: from 1983-2003, the MVP made a Finals appearance in 16 of 21 seasons, more than 75% of the time. In a world where current players are largely measured against those three names alone, it makes headlines when a reigning MVP fails to reach the league’s grandest stage.

Perhaps this is why the drought of recent winners has been met with so much scorn. Since 2004, only one MVP (Kobe Bryant in 2008) has led his club to the Finals. The others — Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and James — flamed out in the Conference Finals (or in the cases of the latter two, earlier), provoking backlash from the Skip Bayless set and anyone else preoccupied with legacies or comparisons to long-retired legends. That it has been viewed as a blemish on James’ otherwise staggering resume is undeniable.

Yet now he has a chance to inflict the same criticism on Rose, the youngest MVP in league history. It’s strangely fitting, because their paths have run parallel ever since the Rose-for-MVP talk rose from a whisper at the lunatic fringe of Bulls fandom to a din heard across the entire country. In the wake of ‘The Decision’, the media tried to talk itself into casting Kevin Durant as James’ foil, but Rose out-Duranted everyone, ranging from his own sharp improvement to the Bulls’ unexpected #1 seed and the endearingly humble manner in which he carried himself (culminating in a truly beautiful moment at his MVP presser). In the minds of many, he embodied the yin to James’ preening yang.

For these reasons, the media will doubtless go easier on Rose than they did James, should the Bulls’ season end early. And by the same token, the fact that James felt he needed two other big names, one of whom is nearly his equal in the universe of NBA megastars, to reach the Finals again will continue to dog him if the Heat prevail. But even if his legacy cannot be fully repaired through victory, it’s clear that in a twist of fate, the only way James can gain some measure of redemption for his “incomplete” MVPs of 2009 and 2010 is to stamp Rose’s 2011 award with the same stigma.

The Dissolution of the NBA Playoffs’ Ruling Class

From 2008 to 2010, the NBA playoffs clearly had a “ruling class” that consisted of Boston, Orlando, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Combined, those three teams played 26 playoff series, and just once did one of them lose to a team outside of their own small clique:

Year Round Rd# Team Opp W L Winner
2008 EC1 1 BOS ATL 4 3 BOS
2008 WC1 1 LAL DEN 4 0 LAL
2008 EC1 1 ORL TOR 4 1 ORL
2008 ECS 2 BOS CLE 4 3 BOS
2008 WCS 2 LAL UTA 4 2 LAL
2008 ECS 2 ORL DET 1 4 DET
2008 ECF 3 BOS DET 4 2 BOS
2008 WCF 3 LAL SAS 4 1 LAL
2008 FIN 4 BOS LAL 4 2 BOS
2009 EC1 1 BOS CHI 4 3 BOS
2009 WC1 1 LAL UTA 4 1 LAL
2009 EC1 1 ORL PHI 4 2 ORL
2009 WCS 2 LAL HOU 4 3 LAL
2009 ECS 2 ORL BOS 4 3 ORL
2009 WCF 3 LAL DEN 4 2 LAL
2009 ECF 3 ORL CLE 4 2 ORL
2009 FIN 4 LAL ORL 4 1 LAL
2010 EC1 1 BOS MIA 4 1 BOS
2010 WC1 1 LAL OKC 4 2 LAL
2010 EC1 1 ORL CHA 4 0 ORL
2010 ECS 2 BOS CLE 4 2 BOS
2010 WCS 2 LAL UTA 4 0 LAL
2010 ECS 2 ORL ATL 4 0 ORL
2010 ECF 3 BOS ORL 4 2 BOS
2010 WCF 3 LAL PHO 4 2 LAL
2010 FIN 4 LAL BOS 4 3 LAL

Over that 3-year span, the Lakers-Celtics-Magic triad went 20-1 in series against non-ruling class teams, and as a result the road to the NBA title always went through one of the three teams. The rest of the league was largely irrelevant when it came to determining the championship.

Until this year, that is. For the first time since 2007, a ruling-class team failed to register at least 1 series win in a playoff season, as the Magic fell to the Atlanta Hawks in a 1st-round upset. Yesterday, the Lakers saw their season end against a non-ruling class team for the first time since 2007, losing in embarrassing fashion against the Dallas Mavericks. And the Celtics, for all of Kevin Garnett & Rajon Rondo‘s heroics in Game 3, still trail Miami’s superteam 2-1 in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

It’s tough to make any sweeping statements on the basis of a few week’s worth of games, but the 2011 playoffs seem to indicate a major changing of the NBA guard. After having their way with the league’s proletariat for three seasons, the once-mighty ruling class now finds itself on the wrong end of a radical upheaval.

D-Rose and Iverson

With Derrick Rose‘s 2011 MVP looking like a foregone conclusion, it seems only natural to compare his campaign to that of Allen Iverson in 2001, the year another popular guard won the MVP despite not being the game’s most talented player.

Here’s the numerical tale of the tape for A.I. and D-Rose, with Rose extrapolated to 82 team games: (Glossary)

Player G MP ORtg %Pos DRtg OSPM DSPM SPM
Iverson 71 2979 106.3 33.8 99.2 6.79 0.07 6.86
Rose 81 3025 111.5 32.6 102.2 6.16 -0.96 5.20

Statistically, the two players are incredibly comparable. If you translate Iverson from the 103.0 league-ORtg environment of 2001 to the league ORtg of 107.1 in 2011, his ORtg/%Poss/DRtg becomes 110.5/33.8/103.0, production that is basically equivalent to Rose’s after adjusting for usage.

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The Don Nelson All-Star Team

Hanging out with Hoopism‘s Bailey brothers (Jason & Matt) and Harold Shanafield of Haystack Scouting on Friday night, we had a great conversation about the “ultimate teams” of a given coach. The idea is this: if you had a certain coach, and you had to play a pickup game in his signature style with players from NBA history, who do you pick to play?

Specifically, we were joking around and picking Don Nelson all-stars, thinking of freakish lineups with a SF at the 1, a PG at the 2, a SG at the 3, a SF at the 4, and a PF at the 5. Jason had a few too many beers and picked Travis Outlaw as his PG, I called on Antoine Walker’s services at point forward, Matt built a team around Anthony Mason, and I also think Wang Zhizhi was somehow involved. This was all for fun, but what if we actually picked the players who put up the most Win Shares while playing for Nelson?

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Searching For the NBA’s Version of the Charlie Sheen Fiasco

In the wake of the ongoing Charlie Sheen chaos, I was (of course) racking my brain to find a comparable NBA analogy. Ideally you’d want to find a situation with the following parallels:

  • It involves a winning team. Although I have personally never seen an episode, Sheen’s show Two and a Half Men is apparently wildly successful, as Sheen is quick to point out to anyone who will listen. So any NBA equivalent would have to involve a good team, probably one that had been a contender for multiple years.
  • It involves that team’s best player. Monetarily speaking, Sheen is the #1 scorer on Two and a Half Men, and in fact the league’s top player — he made $1.8 million/episode in 2010, making him the highest-paid actor on television. The basketball equivalent would have to deal with a similar star in his prime.
  • The team releases that player mid-season. Production on Two and a Half Men‘s 8th season was halted midway due to Sheen’s behavioral problems, so an NBA version would have to involve a team waiving their best player in the middle of the season.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single situation in NBA history that meets all of those requirements. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are only a few remotely comparable situations:

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Gilbert Arenas

So, I was thinking now would be a good time to talk about Gilbert Arenas.

First of all, I’m an unabashed Gilbert fan; I’ve always found him to be one of the NBA’s most interesting people, in addition to one of its most gifted players. And after everything that’s happened over the past few years, I’m glad he finally has an opportunity to make a fresh start in Orlando.

That said, I’m not sure he can help the Magic very much at this stage of his career.

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