Posts Tagged ‘Bernard King’

Essay: Analyzing The Scorer

Over the last 30 days, 21 players have averaged at least 20 points per game. Of the 21, 11 failed to make the All-Star team: LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrea Bargnani, Al Jefferson, Kevin Martin, Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Jackson, Danny Granger, Antawn Jamison, Zach Randolph, and Nick Young. One could make a solid case that none of them are legitimate household names; only three have made All-Star teams in their career. The last player on the list, Nick Young, has had a breakout year of sorts. I say “of sorts” because despite creating the type of acrobatic plays that are regularly making top 10 highlight lists, Nick Young’s name just doesn’t resonate nationally like it could. When Gilbert Arenas was moved to Orlando in mid-December, Young leapt into the starting lineup where he’s averaging 20.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists.  He’s shooting 44 percent from the floor and 43 percent from deep with an ability to score that can’t be denied. Earlier this year, in a win against Sacramento, Young went for 43 points on just 22 shots; off the bench in a December loss against the Lakers, he hit six threes, ending up with 30 points; and he’s scored 38 (on 68 percent shooting) and 30 (58 percent) against the drastically improved Miami Heat defense. He’s had his fair share of fugazi performances, like the 124-117 loss to Oklahoma City where Young took 33 shots, made 13, and finished with 32 points, but who doesn’t?

Players like Nick Young are difficult to analyze. Is their scoring conducive or deterring a winning brand of basketball. Right now Washington is a loathsome 16-46, more an ensemble of young, athletic phenoms than a complementary unit.  Is Young a piece of the team’s rebuilding puzzle or a main reason for their struggles? When you’re a one dimensional player, that one dimension is scoring, you aren’t good at anything else, and you play on a poor team, there’s a strong chance you’ll receive a majority of the blame. On the surface, an elite ability to put the ball in the basket has value, but unless you’re doing other things—rebounding, passing, playing dependable defense—you’re worth very little in helping a team win. (Of the 59 games he’s played in this season, Young had four assists or fewer in 57 of them. Yes he’s a shooting guard on a really bad team, but this is dismal.) Much like other offensive Goliaths who dominate the ball, more often than not when it hits his hands the result is a possession ending shot. Young is sixth in the league among those who’ve appeared in over 50 games in shot attempts from 16-23 feet. The only player who’s attempted more with a higher field goal percentage is Dirk Nowitzki.

As has proven evident this year, 20 point scorers are hiding on benches all across the league. Stepping in for an injured Eric Gordon, Randy Foye seemed to slip in seamlessly, scoring 20 or more points nine times—the Clippers went 4-5 in those games—and in the last 14 days he saw his season scoring average jump from 9.8 to 18 points a game. A few nights ago Gordon returned from injury in spectacular fashion, dropping 24 points like he never left. On the very same night Foye registered just two points in 20 minutes of action. So what’s to make of this, if anything? Is the NBA a league absolutely loaded with 20 point scorers waiting in the wings for a turn that ends up never coming for most of them? When Brandon Roy went down, Wesley Matthews came right in (18.2 as starter) and picked up the scoring slack. When Sacramento acquired Marcus Thornton from New Orleans, did they have the slightest idea that he’d completely take over on the offensive end of things? In five games he’s averaging 21.2 points per game, taking over main scoring duties for an injured Tyreke Evans and settling nicely into his role as scorer of the basketball. (That is, until Evans returns.)

Apart from the obvious explanations—high pace leading to more possessions and subpar or really selfless teammates—I suppose the point in knowing there are so many capable 20 point scorers is figuring out why a majority of them play for such bad teams. High volume scorers like Michael Beasley, Young, Bargnani, Granger, Ellis, and Martin have spent their entire careers playing for losing ball clubs. For the most part each of them is a one dimensional scorer, but is that all that differentiates them from the 20 point scorers who’re prominently featured in more successful systems? Is an incapability of making teammates better the difference? If, for example, Danny Granger switched places with someone like Kobe Bryant or Andrea Bargnani with Dirk Nowitzki, how badly would the Lakers/Mavericks title chances take a hit? It’s tough to use Kobe and Nowitzki, two of the greatest players the  league has ever seen, as examples in this scenario, but there’s something that separates two 20 point scorers from one another, and I don’t like rationalizing it by saying some guys have “it”: that indefinable characteristic separating talented winners from talented losers. What if Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter played with Shaq instead of Kobe at the turn of the decade, or San Antonio drafted Gilbert Arenas instead of Tony Parker in 2001. Maybe I’m just reading too deep into something that lacks a satisfying answer.

When I was a little kid playing basketball, the golden goal every time I stepped on the court was 20 points. I played point guard, so the shots were never there (especially for a 12-year-old who’s main strength was driving left and finishing with his right hand) but 20 points in a game was the dream. I accomplished it only once. Whenever I’d go home after evening practices or weekend games to watch the NBA, it was the guys who could drop 20 points in their sleep who hogged the highlights and had that rare ability to take over a game. With the rapid progression of statistical metrics used today to analyze who’s effective in what situations; where on the court they’re most useful; and how coaches can squeeze the most value out of every player on their team, is it really worth having more than one 20 point per game scorer on a team? We saw the Boston Celtics win a championship without anybody on their star studded team average 20 per game, and the Lakers like to rely on Kobe. Miami is discovering two or three 20 point scorers on one team is a difficult thing to mix into a winning formula, and with two 20 point scorers onboard, New York find themselves shifting their offensive strategy.

Here’s a list of NBA champions with at least two 20 point per game scorers since 1980: 2006 Miami Heat (Shaq/Wade), 2002 Lakers (Shaq/Kobe), 2001 Lakers (Shaq/Kobe), 2000 Lakers (Shaq/Kobe), 1997 Bulls (Jordan/Pippen), 1995 Rockets (Clyde/Hakeem), 1992 Bulls (Jordan/Pippen), 1986 Celtics (Bird/McHale), 1983 Sixers (Moses Malone/Erving), 1982 Lakers (Kareem/Jamaal Wilkes) 1980 Lakers (Kareem/Wilkes). Apart from Jamaal Wilkes, every player on this list is either already in the Hall of Fame or headed there someday soon (Dwyane Wade a debatable exception). Nine out of the 11 teams listed have a dominant low post presence, a player who can take over games with his back to the basket and complement attacking guards by drawing double teams. The days of that happening from this point forward are bleak. Size is still a crucial element in the game of basketball, but more for rebounding and defensive intimidation.  The days of the franchise big man could simultaneously fade to black along with Dwight Howard’s career. This season’s contenders are all well balanced and traditionally constructed (except for Miami) with multiple players capable of scoring 20 points in a game but who instead find themselves sacrificing shots and points in the name of wins. Is this where the league is headed? If the superteam experiment fails, the NBA’s next blueprint to copy will be old fashioned: draft an uber talented player who can score at will but also help out in other ways when his shots aren’t falling, and surround him with skilled, agreeable role players. (See the Bulls, Thunder, Magic, Clippers, and maybe the Wizards somewhere down the line.) As LeBron found out, nobody can do this alone. Last season he infamously boasted he could lead the league in scoring every year of his career if he really wanted, but later admitted it would hurt his chances of winning if he were to do so. Other great scorers couldn’t seem to win even when they had help around them.

Vince Carter is a career 22.4 points per game scorer, but he didn’t excel in any other area. His final chapter of relevance as a Magic starter saw Carter turn into a scared, inconsistent jump shooter, and it’s not like he never had assistance—Jason Kidd is the prototype teammate to enable success—so why couldn’t he win?  What about Dominique Wilkins (24.8), Gilbert Arenas (21.5), Tracy McGrady (20.7), Bernard King (22.5), or even George Gervin (25.1)? Were they just the tough luck Phil Mickelson’s of their era? Or was their ability to score as much a curse as it was a gift?


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