Friday, July 13, 2007

Does a Big Man Guarantee Success?

From the 2000-01 to 2006-07 seasons, 14 traditional post players (excludes Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, etc.) have scored 20.0 points per game or more in more than one season. Shaquille O’Neal (6 times), Tim Duncan (6), Elton Brand (5), Chris Webber (4), Jermaine O'Neal (4), Amare Stoudemire (3), Karl Malone (3), Chris Bosh (2), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (2), Pau Gasol (2), Zach Randolph (2), Carlos Boozer (1), and Antonio McDyess (1) have reached this feat. So how does having a big time scorer in the post affect a team’s success? Let’s take a look at each player, the year they reached the feat, the team they were on, their key teammates, and the success of the team.

Shaquille O'Neal
2000-01, Lakers, Kobe Bryant, 56
2001-02, Lakers, Kobe Bryant, 58
2002-03, Lakers, Kobe Bryant, 50
2003-04, Lakers, Kobe Bryant, 56
2004-05, Miami, Dwyane Wade, 59
2005-06, Miami, Dwyane Wade, 52

Tim Duncan
2000-01, Spurs, David Robinson, 58
2001-02, Spurs, David Robinson, 58
2002-03, Spurs, David Robinson/Tony Parker, 60
2003-04, Spurs, Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker, 57
2004-05, Spurs, Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker, 59
2006-07, Spurs, Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker, 58

Elton Brand
2000-01, Bulls, Ron Artest/Ron Mercer, 15
2003-04, Clippers, Corey Maggette, 28
2004-05, Clippers, Corey Maggette, 37
2005-06, Clippers, Sam Cassell, 47
2006-07, Clippers, Corey Maggette, 40

Chris Webber
2000-01, Kings, Peja Stojakovic, 55
2001-02, Kings, Peja Stojakovic/Mike Bibby, 61
2002-03, Kings, Peja Stojakovic/Mike Bibby, 59
2005-06, 76ers, Allen Iverson, 38

Jermaine O'Neal
2002-03, Pacers, Ron Artest, 48
2003-04, Pacers, Ron Artest, 61
2004-05, Pacers, Stephen Jackson/Reggie Miller, 44
2005-06, Pacers, Stephen Jackson, 41

Amare Stoudamire
2003-04, Suns, Shawn Marion, 29
2004-05, Suns, Steve Nash/Shawn Marion, 62
2006-07, Suns, Steve Nash/Shawn Marion, 61

Karl Malone
2000-01, Jazz, John Stockton/Donyell Marshall, 53
2001-02, Jazz, John Stockton/Donyell Marshall, 44
2002-03, Jazz, John Stockton/Matt Harpring, 47

Chris Bosh
2005-06, Raptors, Mike James/Morris Peterson, 27
2006-07, Raptors, T.J. Ford, 47

Shareef Abdur-Rahim
2000-01, Grizzlies, Mike Bibby, 23
2001-02, Hawks, Jason Terry, 33

Pau Gasol
2005-06, Grizzlies, Mike Miller/Eddie Jones, 49
2006-07, Grizzlies, Mike Miller, 22

Zach Randolph
2003-04, Trail Blazers, Damon Stoudamire, 41
2006-07, Trail Blazers, Brandon Roy, 32

Carlos Boozer
2006-07, Jazz, Deron Williams, 51

Antonio McDyess
2000-01, Nuggets, Nick Van Exel, 40

So what does this mean? Of the seven seasons examined, six of them ended with the champion having one of the big men listed above. The one exception is the 2003-04 season, which ended with the Detroit Pistons beating Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers. Additionally, here are the results broken down by number of regular season wins:

0-19 wins: 1 time
20-29 wins: 5
30-39 wins: 4
40-49 wins: 11
50-59 wins: 15
60-up wins: 5

So, it's obvious that having a big man who can score twenty points a night greatly increases your chance of winning the championship. But what about the players around that big man? How does that effect your chance for success?

Recently, after the announcement that the Magic were going to add Rashard Lewis to the mix with Dwight Howard and the rest of the group in Orlando, head coach, Stan Van Gundy said: "I don't know if the formula of a great perimeter player and a great inside guy has failed very often. Those are always very good teams. There may be other ways to do it, but the most tried-and-true formula in this league is to have one great perimeter player and one great inside player."

Well, let's take a look and see how strong inside-outside duo's have done:

Shaquille O'Neal: Playing with Bryant in Los Angeles and Wade in Miami, he has won at least 52 games each season, while winning three championships during that period.

Tim Duncan: From the 2002-03 season to now, Duncan has teamed with Tony Parker. From 2003-04 to now, Manu Ginobili has also been in the mix. During that time, Duncan has won three championships and at least 57 games per year.

Elton Brand: Brand has only played with a legitimate outside threat once in his career. In teh 2005-06 season, Sam Cassell was traded to the Clippers and they won 47 games and made it to the second round of the playoffs. In Brand's other four seasons where he reached the twenty point per game mark, he was paired with players such as Ron Artest, Ron Mercer, and Corey Maggette. Because of inexperience or the inability to score efficiently, I would not consider these players to be real outside threats or at least at the same ability of Rashard Lewis today.

Chris Webber: Each year he has reached the twenty point per game mark, Webber has had the fortune of playing with a great outside game. First, it was Peja Stojakovic in Sacramento, then in the 2001-02 season, Mike Bibby was added to the Kings roster. From 2000-01 to 2002-03, the Kings won at least 55 games per season. The one mark on Webber's history, is his 2005-06 season with the 76ers where he teamed up with Allen Iverson. That season, Philadelphia was only able to win 38 games, which clearly was a disapointment.

Jermaine O'Neal: O'Neal has had the good fortune in playing with some really intriguing wing players during his career. In 2002-03 and 2003-04, a seasoned Ron Artest led the way with O'Neal for the Pacers. Both of those years were a great success as they were clearly a competitor for the championship. In 2004-05, the Pacers season was disrupted early by the malaee in Detroit. Artest was suspended for the season, and Stephen Jackson and Reggie Miller had to provide support from the outside for O'Neal. However, Indiana was still able to win 44 games. The 2005-06 was not successful for the Pacers who were led by O'Neal and Jackson. The Pacers only won 41 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Amare Stoudemire: Stoudemire has had a great deal of success during his time with the Suns since point guard, Steve Nash, joined the squad. Unfortunately, before Nash joined the team in 2004-05, the Suns did have their struggles. In 2003-04, Stoudemire scored more than twenty points per game, but the Suns only won 29 games. After 34 games, guard Stephon Marbury was traded away from the team and Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson were the consistent outside prescence for the Suns. This season was a stepping-stone for the Suns, but a failure at the time for the Suns and Stoudemire.

Karl Malone: Malone had great success in Utah during his career as the inside of the greatest inside-outside combination in NBA history. In the 2000-01, 20001-02, and 2002-03 seasons, Malone reached the twenty point per game mark each year and the team won 53, 44, and 47 games each season. Although they lost in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs each year, the Jazz were still a success each year with Malone in the post.

Chris Bosh: This past season, Bosh teamed with T.J. Ford to create a strong inside-outside game for Toronto. The Bosh-Ford duo led to the best year in franchise history with 47 wins and their first division title.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim: Although Mike Bibby and Jason Terry did become great outside threats later in their careers, when Abdur-Rahim played with them, I do not consider them to be strong enough players.

Carlos Boozer: Boozer teamed with Deron Williams this past season in Utah to win 51 games and reach the Western Conference finals. The Boozer-Williams team was the perfect inside-outside duo and suprised many teams throughout the season.

Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, Antonio McDyess: By my estimation, none of these players were teamed with a great outside threat during the season they reached twenty points per game. Therefore, like Abdur-Rahim, they will not be considered in this.

So what does this all mean? At the end of the day, only Webber in 2005-06 (Iverson), Jermaine O'Neal in 2005-06 (Jackson), and Stoudemire in 2003-04 (Marion) played with a great outside threat and did not have success. At the same time, 24 guys during the 2000-01 to 2006-07 season were apart of a great inside-outside duo and in fact did experience success.

So, after looking at this, we can now prove that Magic head coach, Stan Van Gundy, was correct when he made his comments recently. As long as Rashard Lewis can continue his production, the Magic should have big success coming. With a perimeter player who can score twenty points per game every night, and a post player in Dwight Howard, who will score twenty points per game every night, the Magic will have success - at least if you look at recent history.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Free Agent Bargains Available

One day of free agency has gone by and already most of the top guys have come off the board. Rashard Lewis (Magic), Chauncey Billups (Pistons), Gerald Wallace (Bobcats), Vince Carter (Nets), Darko Milicic (Grizzlies), and Grant Hill (Suns) have all found homes. So what's left? Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao top the list for most people of remaining free agents, but I like a group of wing players in their mid-20's.

Today, I am going to discuss each one of these remaining free agents and what they can offer to a team.

Mickael Pietrus, Golden State Warriors, SG/SF

25, 6'6"

2006-07 Stats: 11.1 PPG 0.9 APG .67 SPG 4.5 RPG 26.9 MPG

Pietrus is an intriguing player with long arms and great quickness. He can shoot reasonably well from the outside, but is a poor ballhandler for his position which does not allow him to use his quickness well-enough as an offensive weapon. He does not see the floor well and often makes careless turnovers. Pietrus has the tools to be a shut-down defensive player, but has not reached this point yet. In the 2005-06 season, he missed significant time with a sprained MCL. At a young age, Pietrus can still become an impact player if he refines his skills on both sides of the floor. He could be a real steal for a team that does not need immediate scoring, but more of an athlete with potential. Peitrus is a restricted free agent, and should be able to get the full midlevel exception from a team. With the additions of Marco Belinelli and Brandan Wright, the Warriors may let Pietrus go.

Sasha Pavlovic, Cleveland Cavaliers, SG/SF
23, 6’7”
2006-07 Stats: 9.0 PPG, 1.6 APG, .82 SPG, 2.4 RPG, 22.9 MPG

Pavlovic has decent quickness and good size for his position, but has been inconsistent harnessing those abilities into an effective package. He can sometimes be a timid shooter and has a limited in-between game. This season, Pavlovic became a much better slasher to the basket, and had success in the second half of the season for Cleveland when playing next to Lebron James. In order to continue to improve, Pavlovic needs to limit his turnovers and continue to improve on defense. Like Pietrus, Pavlovic is also a restricted free agent. Pavlovic's contract status will likely depend on what happens with the Cavaliers other free agent, Anderson Varejo. If the Cavaliers bring back Varejo and decide they cannot fit Pavlovic onto the roster, many teams will be interested in the services of a young, scoring wing player like Pavlovic.

Matt Barnes, Golden State Warriors, SF
27, 6’7”
2006-07 Stats: 9.8 PPG, 2.1 APG, .96 SPG, 4.6 RPG, 23.9 MPG

Barnes made great strides this past season in his ability to score. He has gotten better at limiting the amount of turnovers he makes and also improved at the free throw line. He works hard and has a great willingness to defend and hustle. His jump shot was his greatest improvement from the 2005-06 season to the 2006-07 season. He needs to get better at finishing at the basket and could stand to gain strength. Barnes will never be great at creating his own shot, but he is a good player to bring off-the-bench to put points on the scoreboard. Some have questioned whether the success Barnes had last season was because of the new system ran by Warriors head coach, Don Nelson. I do not think that Barnes will be offered the midlevel exception by any team, but he will definitely improve on his minimal salary from last season. Barnes would be a good fit for a team looking to add a do-it-all type player who can put in a handful of baskets a game. If he can continue to improve from year-to-year as he did last season, Barnes could be a steal for the team that brings him in.

Deshawn Stevenson, Washington Wizards, SG
26, 6’5”
2006-07 Stats: 11.2 PPG, 2.7 APG, .79 SPG, 2.6 RPG, 29.5 MPG

Stevenson is an outstanding defensive player, who takes charges and has excelled in one-on-one defense against some of the league's top scorers. On the offensive side of the court, Stevenson still has a ways to go. He needs to be more assertive around the rim and take less mid-range jump shots off the dribble. Stevenson's three point shot could be developed further and he could work to become a better free throw shooter. He is a good fit next to a natural scorer, like the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas. However, the presence of Antonio Daniels and the selection of Nick Young in this year's draft may push Stevenson out-the-door in Washington. It's been reported that the Wizards have offered Stevenson a four-year deal worth approximately $12,000,000. It appears that Stevenson has rejected this offer, and will speak with other teams about his services. Stevenson is still young and could develop an offensive game and his defense is in demand in the league. New York, Cleveland, Orlando, Utah, Seattle, and Dallas may all be interested in Stevenson's services.

Jarvis Hayes, Washington Wizards, SF
25, 6’8”
2006-07 Stats: 7.2 PPG, 1.0 APG, .59 SPG, 2.6 RPG 20.1 MPG

Hayes fell out-of-favor early last season with Wizards coach, Eddie Jordan, and was stuck playing behind Deshawn Stevenson and Caron Butler. Hayes is a terrific shooter, who can score from anywhere on the court. He does not have a great first step, but has good size and strength for his position. He defends small forwards well, but because of only decent lateral movement, Hayes should be avoided from having to guard shooting guards. In order to improve, Hayes needs to diversify his offensive game away from the long jumpers and make more of an effort to get to the basket. He missed significant time in teh 2005-06 season because of a fractured patella, but was injury-free last season. The Washington Times reported today, that the Wizards are not expected to offer a contract to Hayes. With the additions of Nick Young and last year's first round pick, Oleksiy Pecherov, the Wizards appear to have no room to bring Hayes back. Cleveland, Toronto, Miami, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Minnesota all may have interest in having Hayes join their squad.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Getting the Heat Back to the Top

The Miami Heat, winners of the 2005-06 NBA Championship, struggled throughout last year, ending with a first round loss to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. The Heat only managed to win 44 games during the regular season, and were plagued by injuries from Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, and Jason Williams throughout.

So how can the Heat return to the top of the Eastern Conference? Miami is currently taking the first step, by trying to sign Milwaukee Bucks point guard, Mo Williams. Miami can only offer Williams the mid-level exception, which would mean the most he could earn in a five-year deal with the Heat is about $35,000,000. The Bucks, however, could offer substantially more, and are already believed to have made an offer in the $40,000,000 range. However, its believed by many that Williams would take less money to join the Heat in order to have a better shot to win the championship.

The current Bucks point guard, Williams, is 6'1" and only 24 years old. Williams and Wade would make a great backcourt for years to come. In fact, in the 2006-07 season, Williams was one of only seven players who averaged greater than or equal to 17 points per game, 4 rebounds per game, and 6 assists per game. LeBron James, Gilbert Arenas, Tracy McGrady, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, and Dwyane Wade were the others to reach this benchmark.

Williams is a playmaker at the point guard position, who is known as a strong competitor. He has good strength for his size, but must improve defensively. His passing and ball handling could still stand to get better. He has been able to avoid injury for the most part in his career and excels when creating off-the-dribble. Shooting off-the-catch is another spot that Williams could still improve at, but he has had a great work ethic throughout his career. With Wade and Williams in the backcourt together, the Heat would be able to pencil in at least 40 points and 10 assists a night at the guard positions.

Once they acquire Mo Williams, the Heat should turn around and trade Jason Williams. The current Heat guard is in the last year of his contract, which pays him $8,937,500. Charlotte (Walter Herrmann, Jared Dudley), Atlanta (Josh Childress, Shelden Williams), Sacramento (Corliss Williamson, Quincy Douby), Clippers (Tim Thomas), Nuggets (Kenyon Martin, Eduardo Najera), or Cavaliers (Drew Gooden) may all be interested in Miami’s current point guard.

The next move for Heat general manager, Pat Riley, should be to sign free agent guard Steve Francis. Francis is a combo-guard who would be perfect off-the-bench for the Heat. Francis would be able to spell either Mo Williams or Wade and fill in well at either spot. After receiving a $30,000,000 buyout from Portland, Francis would most likely be willing to take a large paycut to have a chance to win his first championship.

With a nucleaus of O'Neal, Wade, Antoine Walker, Udonis Haslem, Alonzo Morning and then adding in Mo Williams, Steve Francis, and the player Riley gets back in return for Jason Williams, the Heat would have a much more successful season next year. Miami also has three young players to develop in power forward, Wayne Simien, shooting guard, Daequan Cook, and small forward, Dorrell Wright. With these series of moves (signing Mo Williams, trading Jason Williams, and signing Steve Francis) the Heat will be a younger squad and should be less injury-prone and ready to make a run next season.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Jordan and the Bobcats Look to Make the Leap

The Charlotte Bobcats entered the NBA in 2004. In their three seasons of existance, the club has failed to get to the .500 mark. However, each year the team has improved. In 2004, the Bobcats won 18 games, 26 in 2005, and 33 in 2006. This year, with the draft night acquisition of Golden State Warriors guard, Jason Richardson, the Bobcats, led by Michael Jordan, Managing Member of Basketball Operations, will look to make a big leap in the Eastern Conference.

If the Bobcats are able to successfully sign free agent, small forward, Gerald Wallace, they will definitely start the season with the most talented squad in their history. Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, and Primoz Brezec will most likely be the starters. Matt Carroll, Othella Harrington, Sean May, Walter Herrmann, Jared Dudley, and Adam Morrison will look to be the reserves for the Sam Vincent-coached team.

Jordan could still stand to improve his backup point guard spot. Adding a guy like Steve Blake or Earl Boykins would really strengthen the teams position. However, it is more likely that he will be choosing from guys such as Jason Hart, Smush Parker, Shammond Williams, and Chucky Atkins.

Also, the Bobcats will be looking for improved play from May, Morrison, and Felton in order to really improve as a squad. May has had major knee injury problems, playing only 23 games in 2005-06 and 35 games in 2006-07. Morrison's poor defense prevented him from playing more minutes last season. He could also stand to improve his ball handling and ability to score off-the-dribble. Felton needs to get better at dictating the tempo of the game and most likely just needs more experience.

However, if the Bobcats do add one more point guard behind Felton and get improved play from a handful of their young talent, this could be a dangerous team next year that will definitely continue to improve on their win totals.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Jermaine O'Neal's Future Destination

What team does Jermaine O’Neal play for next season? Here are my top five possibilities, in order of probability:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers
Jermaine O'Neal for Andrew Bynum, Aaron McKie, and Lamar Odom.

This trade would give the Pacers a great mix of a potential star (Bynum), veteran talent (Odom), and future cap relief (McKie). Odom is good for nearly fifteen points and ten rebounds per game, and would do a decent job of replacing O’Neal’s production. It is hard to tell at this point what is holding up this trade. A combination of Kobe and Jermaine O’Neal would surely be an upgrade.

(2) New Jersey Nets
Jermaine O'Neal for Josh Boone, Richard Jefferson, Nenad Krstic, and Antoine Wright.

The Nets would get a good mix of younger talent in this trade. Everyone the Pacers would be receiving is under 27 and still has room to grow as a player. Although this trade wouldn’t bring back the top-tier talent as others would, this would certainly be an attractive package for the Nets.

(3) Celtics
Jermaine O'Neal and Troy Murphy for Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen, and Sebastian Telfair.

This trade makes the most sense for both teams of any trade I have put together. So, why isn’t this higher on the list? O’Neal seems to not be interested in playing for the Celtics. With O’Neal, Murphy, Pierce, Allen, and Rondo, the Celtics would definitely be a serious contender for the Eastern Conference championship. For the Pacers, they would be ridding themselves of two huge contracts on their payroll, while bringing in two promising young players (Jefferson and Green), as well as, some major payroll relief upcoming with Theo Ratliff. Additionally, both Allen and Telfair have shown flashes of something special in the past.

(4) Warriors
Jermaine O'Neal and Keith McLeod for Brandan Wright, Monta Ellis, Adonal Foyle, $10,000,000 exception.

If the Pacers are looking to get much better through trading O’Neal for the future, this is a trade that Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh would seriously consider. In Wright and Ellis, the Pacers would be adding premier young talent. With the large trade exception the Warriors received from Charlotte, the Pacers would see major salary cap relief. Golden State would definitely be a contender for the championship next year with a promising mix of Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Jermaine O’Neal, Andris Bierdins, Marco Belinelli, and Mickael Pietrus.

(5) Washington Wizards
Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley for Antawn Jamison, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Andray Blatche (sign-and-trade).

If the Wizards are looking to get better right away, this may be a good way to go. Jamison is a versatile power forward, who would be able to replace most of O’Neal’s point production. In addition, Jamison becomes a free agent after next season, making his contract attractive to the Pacers. Navarro is an exciting combo guard from Spain, who the Wizards own rights to. He owns a quick first step and is capable of shooting consistently from the perimeter. He needs to continue to upgrade his upper body strength, and can be a defensive liability when defending guards quicker and smaller than him. However, Navarro would be great as a new-look from Tinsley. Blatche is a young, promising wing player, who would need to agree to a sign-and-trade.

Other teams such as the Bulls (Brown, Duhon, Noah, Gordon), Hawks (Williams, Childress, Pachulia), Mavericks (Ager, Croshere, Harirs), and Clippers (Kaman, Maggette, Ross) may have the ammo to make a move for the Pacers star.

Aditionally, there is a strong possibility that O’Neal returns next year to the Pacers and they make another run with a nucleus of Marquis Daniels, Ike Diogu, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, Jamaal Tinsley, and Shawne Williams surrounding O’Neal. Either way, it is clear that the Pacers brass has a major decision to make concerning the future of their young all-star.

Looking Back at July 2005 for the Cleveland Cavaliers

In the summer of July 2005, Cavaliers general manager, Danny Ferry, was very active in putting together a team around his new star, Lebron James. That summer, Ferry signed the following four players:

Larry Hughes: $62,190,940 over five years
Zydrunas Ilgauskas: $50,707,542 over five years
(including player option in year five)
Damon Jones: $16,107,296 over four years
Donyell Marshall: $21,950,004 over four years

The four contracts total at $150,955,782 that Ferry committed to four players. Although the Cavaliers reached the finals this summer, I think Ferry would have gone about his July 2005 differently if he could do it over again. Hughes was overvalued after a strong 2004-05 season. Ferry may have been better off signing Michael Redd or Ray Allen or acquire a wing player to put next to James in a different fashion. Ilgauskas' contract was simply too long. At the time, he was an aging, slow-footed big man. Although effective in the league, Ilgauskas is not the greatest fit in Cleveland. Jones' contract was not bloated by NBA standards, but he is simply a standstill shooter, who cannot run an offense or score off-the-dribble. Marshall also became too much of a standstill shooter, who has not provided the versatile defense Ferry and the Cavaliers were looking for. Each player they signed was too much of a specialty player, who cannot provide the type of support that James needs.

The Cavaliers play a flawed, plodding style and will not be able to truly contend for the title without a true point guard. Although Daniel Gibson performed well in the playoffs, he is nothing more than a shooter in a point guard’s body. The cumbersome contracts signed in July 2005, make it difficult for them to make any moves to upgrade the current state of the team. Ideally, Mike Brown ups the tempo on offense and allows James to become a Magic Johnson-type player. They need to get into their offense earlier and attack quick to be successful. When they allow their opponents to setup on defense, the Cavaliers offense, in turn, becomes stagnant.

James needs to stop dribbling as much and the Cavaliers need to work more movement into their offense. Cleveland is much better when James is cutting towards the basket, then they are when he is standing at the perimeter pounding the ball. Coach Brown needs to get James in the post more, where he can take advantage of his size. Right now, he is not comfortable enough down there, so he rarely posts low enough for it to be effective. With the right players around him though, the Cavaliers would be able to take advantage of James’ strengths and create an offense that will allow the result of the NBA Finals to be very different next time.