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What’s The Best Model?

Here we are.  The 2011 Playoffs.

Of course, there are lots of interesting storylines to talk about as the playoffs begin.  What interests me the most is the clash of styles amongst the teams still standing.

To set the table for that discussion, I think it’s worthwhile to identify who I think the 20 best players in the league are (otherwise, discussions about which teams truly have “star” power get complicated, as it’s easy to call lots of players “stars” but much harder to identify the ones who truly are).  In no particular order, I think the top 20 players, divided into “superstars” and “stars” are:

SUPERSTARS

1.  Kobe

2.  Durant

3.  Rose

4.  LeBron

5.  Wade

6.  Howard

STARS

7.  Dirk

8.  Gasol

9.  Westbrook

10.  CP3

11.  Anthony

12.  Stoudemire

13.  Randolph (20 ppg, 12 rpg)

14.  Aldridge (22 ppg, 9 rpg)

15.  Rondo (11 assists, 2.5 spg)

16.  Ginobili (17 ppg, 5 apg, 4 rpg, 1.5 spg)

17.  Parker (18 ppg, 7 apg)

18.  Johnson (18 ppg, 5 apg, 4 rpg)

19.  Horford (15 ppg, 9 rpg, 1 bpg)

20.  Granger (21 ppg, 5 rpg)

We could probably debate a few of those guys (CP3, Anthony, and Stoudemire might deserve to be considered superstars, while Garnett, Pierce, Bosh, and Iguodala could be considered stars).  But, generally, it’s a pretty uncontroversial list of the 20 best players in the playoffs.  With that as background, the teams generally fall into a few groups:

NO STARS – Philly and Denver:  Both of these teams are athletic, exciting, and deep.  And neither has a chance to win more than one round, because they don’t have the necessary star-power.

ONE STAR – Dallas, Memphis, Portland, Boston, Indiana, New Orleans, Orlando and Chicago:  This is an interesting group. To me, the critical distinction among the teams in this group is that some of them have big guys who operate in the paint, playing alongside dynamic small guys.  Some do not.  The teams that do — Chicago, Memphis, Portland, and Indiana — are legitimate threats.  Dallas is better than it has been in years past because Tyson Chandler is an effective presence in the paint. But, Dirk, as great as he is, is not a traditional PF, and Kidd is no longer a dynamic PG.  New Orleans would be a threat, but for the crippling injury to David West.  Without him, there’s just not enough horsepower there.  Orlando, in my eyes, just doesn’t have the guards to go deep.  That leaves Boston and Chicago.  Before the Perkins trade, Boston had intimidating big guys and dynamic small guys.  Now they’ve lost the intimidation.  All is not lost, because, though they only have one of the top 20 players, it’s possible that they have four of the top 25.  They might be able to get by simply because they have so many guys who can win a game for them, but that’s less likely than it was before the trade.  Chicago is unique among this group, because it has a superstar guard playing alongside big guys who dominate the paint.

TWO STARS – Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Miami, and San Antonio:  The primary distinction among the teams in this group is that some have superstars and some do not.  Neither Atlanta nor San Antonio have superstars, but both have two stars playing with capable supporting casts (with all due respect to Tim Duncan, he is now a part of the supporting cast).  It’s rare for a team to win without a superstar, but Atlanta and San Antonio are threats — San Antonio specifically because it has the best backcourt tandem, and a very capable frontcourt.  New York is the wild card in this group, because, if Carmelo and Amar’e play like superstars, they might be good enough to make up for the glaring shortcoming on that roster; no big guys who intimidate anyone to play up front with those two.  Miami is the only team with two superstars, and also the only team that relies on Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony for major minutes.  That leaves Oklahoma City and LA, both of whom have a superstar and a star.

In light of all of that, I’ll make this prediction: I expect Chicago, LA, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City to rise above the rest. Chicago and LA both have superstar guards playing alongside big men who dominate the paint.  San Antonio and Oklahoma City both have overpowering perimeter tandems playing alongside big men who, while not as good as the bigs on Chicago and LA, are effective down low.  Which of those four will emerge as champion?  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

4 Comments:

  • ZachNovakJr.

    No love for Chris Bosh or Josh Smith? How do you see those two vs. Granger? Based on the stars model, it seems like ATL over ORL in game one was no fluke (especially if Jason Richardson is not going to play like he did in PHX). Maybe we should be taking the Hawks and the points (8.5) tomorrow night…

  • Angry Young Man

    Comical to me how much the Knicks have sucked. I told you all CarMElo was not the kind of guy you want on a winning team. Of course he’s an amazingly talented athlete and scorer, but is he an amazing basketball player? Also, Amare was the force behind the Knicks’ turnaround, but he took a backseat once carMElo came to town, and look what has happened.

    Also, I think the Heat are going to win the whole thing. Which will serve only to prove the NBA regular season is a colossal waste of time, along with being a fabricated sham.

    Have a nice day.

  • Tweener

    Thanks for the comment, Novak.
    Nope, no love for Chris Bosh. Never have, never will.
    Josh Smith? That’s an interesting question. Looks like ATL might surprise a few folks, but, with two All-Stars, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to see them win a series.

  • Tweener

    Yeah, you sound angry.

    Comical that the Knicks have sucked? They were a team with a dangerous top-3, and a bunch of barely-adequate parts around them. Only one of those 3 was healthy for the whole series. This counts as comedy to you?

    Do you watch college hoops, Mr. Angry? If so, you certainly remember Carmelo’s team doing quite well when he was on it, don’t you?

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As the speculation about a trade involving Carmelo Anthony continues to swirl (in case you happen to have missed it, click here or here for recent examples), one of the things that amazes me is the continued mention of Derrick Favors as a centerpiece of the deal.  Yes, he of the 6.5 ppg and 5 rpg.  I guess the theory is that he has tremendous “upside.”

Well, yeah… if by “upside” you mean the amount of miraculous improvement we’d have to see for the guy to become an impact player.

For years, I’ve been unable to understand how so many NBA GM’s get intrigued by false “upside” so regularly.  To be clear, when I’m talking about players who were highly valued because of their “upside,” I’m talking about guys who went to college and didn’t perform at a star’s level.  Sorry for being all lawyerly, but, when I say “perform at a star’s level” I mean that the guy either started on a Final Four team, or was named to at least one of (i) his all-conference team or (ii) the All-American team.  That’s a relatively simple way to separate the guys who distinguished themselves in college from the guys who didn’t; only the first group contains guys with real achievements.

For all the talk of “upside” that we hear around the NBA Draft and the trade deadline, I can’t think of a single star who represents an example of someone with no track record of success but lots of “upside” who turned that “upside” into consistent performance.  Literally, not one.

Think of the top 15 players in the league today.  We could argue about who’s in that group, but it’s generally safe to say that it looks something like this (in no particular order)

1. Kobe

2. LeBron

3. Wade

4. CP3

5. Deron Williams

6. Amar’e

7. Howard

8. Dirk

9. Derrick Rose

10. Carmelo

11.  Durant

12. Pierce

13. Ginobili

14. Westbrook

15. Pao Gasol

When testing my statement that nobody who went to college and failed to distinguish himself wound up becoming a star, the guys who never went to college do not weigh on the analysis.  (I guess some might say that it’s a copout for me to make an argument about how young players get analyzed without addressing the stars who didn’t play in college.  But I’m not arguing that untested young guys never amount to anything — I’m arguing that the guys who played in college but didn’t do much don’t deserve to be treated like valuable assets.)

Working from that list of 15, let’s see what the data tells us:

1. Kobe – No college.

2. LeBron – No college.

3. Wade – Carried Marquette to the Final Four

4. CP3 – First Team All-American as a sophomore at Wake Forest

5. Deron Williams – Led Illinois to the Finals

6. Amar’e – No college.

7. Howard – No college.

8. Dirk – No college.

9. Derrick Rose – Led Memphis to the Finals

10. Carmelo – Led Syracuse to a championship

11.  Durant – AP player of the year as a freshman at Texas

12. Pierce – First Team All-American as a junior at Kansas

13. Ginobili – No college.

14. Westbrook – Played on a UCLA team that went to the Final Four

15. Pao Gasol – No college.

In sum, each of the guys on this list who went to college did some BALLIN’ when he was there.  There isn’t a single guy on the list who went to college and failed to assert himself.

Against that backdrop, let’s return to Derrick Favors.  A “power forward,” he was only the second-leading rebounder on his Georgia Tech team during his only year there.  (And it’s not like he was part of a dominating front-court tag-team with the next Moses Malone — the guy had fewer rebounds than someone named Gani Lawal.  Then again, maybe it’s possible that Lawal has tremendous “upside,” too, and that this was actually the most talented big-man tandem in the history of college hoops.  Ahem.)  That Georgia Tech team, a #10 seed, lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Some guys look at that track record and, because of something about Favors (his height?  his jumping ability? his carefully trimmed goatee?) see reason to get excited about his “upside.”  I look at Favors, and see a guy who hasn’t done much to get excited about.  (Though I must admit that his goatee is well-maintained.)

The Nets were wrong to draft him at #3.  The Nuggets would be wrong to accept him as the main piece in a trade involving Carmelo Anthony.  All he’s got is “upside,” and history suggests that “upside” is nothing more than a wish that a guy who hasn’t accomplished much will miraculously get much better.

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