We are watching NBA history
There is a tendency, at times, to romanticize the past. People talk about the "good ole' days", when things were always "much better" than they are today. It doesn't matter what the subject is, if you engage an older person they'll always tell you that nowadays we just don't know what we missed out on in the previous generations.
This is especially true in sports, where the titans of our youth always seem like supermen in our memory. Last week I had an excellent debate with a reader about whether Wilt Chamberlain was the greatest player of all time, and his argument essentially boiled down to that I'd understand and agree with him if I'd been around to see what he saw. When I was getting into the NBA in the early '80s, my father used to wax poetic about how great Dr. J and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were back in the '70s and tell me stories about the Artis Gilmores and Bill Waltons of the world. These days on message boards, I see people talk about Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as though they were untouchable legends that players of today couldn't even play with, and if anyone disagrees the rebuttal is always "well, if you'd have seen them play you'd understand". The problem with that mindset, though, is that looking at the past through rose-colored lenses often causes us to diminish the present. In other words, we don't tend to appreciate the greatness of the present until that present becomes the past, and the next generation makes those players legends.
I was reminded of that on Tuesday, as I looked up and realized how many of the greats of the 2000's are approaching historical marks. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce - we have a lot of great players right now accomplishing some outstanding things. Essentially, as we come to the end of the "post-Jordan era," and approach whatever we'll eventually come to call the 2000-teens, we're witnessing history. The greatest players of today really do deserve to be mentioned with the greatest of all time that have come before, so in this space I want to point out some of the big milestones that current players are hitting/approaching, and put them into historical perspective with those that have come before.
The obvious place to start is with Kobe Bryant, who on Tuesday scored his 28,601st point and moved into fifth place all-time on the NBA scoring list, surpassing former teammate Shaquille O'Neal. Bryant now trails only scoring savants Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, and iron men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone for most points scored in NBA history. Bryant has averaged about 2000 points per year for the past 11 years and at age 33 is having one of the best scoring seasons of his career. He is only about 3500 points behind Jordan for third - do you really want to bet that Bryant's not going to be passing him soon as well? I don't think Bryant has ever been as good as Jordan, but you know what? Michael vs. Kobe is now no longer a ridiculous comparison, which is about as huge of a compliment as there is.
Paul Pierce also made history Tuesday night, surpassing Larry Bird to become the second-leading scorer in Celtics team history (no. 28 overall). But in the celebration for his accomplishment, another fun fact came forth: Pierce is one of only two players in NBA history with at least 7,000 made field goals, 1500 made 3-pointers and 5,000 made free throws (Reggie Miller is the other). So Pierce isn't just a Celtics legend, he is also one of the most accomplished scorers in NBA history as well.
Tim Duncan moved into the top-20 on the all-time rebounds list this week, with 12,218 boards. Considering the NBA pace and minutes played have gone down drastically since Wilt and Russell set the unreachable rebound records in the 1960's, Duncan's rebound totals are all the more impressive. Duncan is also one of only four players to score 21,000 points, grab 12,000 rebounds, block 2,000 shots, and dish 3,000 assists since they started tracking blocks almost 40 years ago. The other three are known by one name: "Kareem", "Shaq" and "The Dream". It has become rote for many to say "greatest power forward that ever lived" whenever Duncan's name is mentioned, but it's time to recognize he's also one of the greatest PLAYERS that's ever lived - worthy of mention in the same breath as any player ever, including the legends of yesteryear.
Kevin Garnett is now six rebounds short of becoming the 14th player in NBA history to grab 13,000 boards, and this comes a week after he became only the third player to grab 10,000 defensive boards since they started keeping track of the stat. And at his current averages, Garnett is also only about 25 games away from scoring his 24,000th point after having dished his 5000th assist 10 games earlier. These days Garnett is known primarily for his defense, but people forget that he's also one of the best offensive players ever as well. Fun fact: there are only four players in NBA history with at least 23,000 points, 4,500 assists and 100 made 3-pointers. Three of them are among the most prolific scoring guards the game has seen: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. The fourth is Kevin Garnett.
Around the League
• Rose's back spasms: Derrick Rose left Monday's game against the Nets with back spasms and is a game-time decision for Wednesday's game against the Hornets. Rose has already been battling turf toe, which can linger, and now must battle another injury that also has the potential to linger. Rose is one of the best roto producers in the league but also relies heavily on his athleticism, so keep an eye on this situation.
• Knicks report - Melo's groin, Stoudemire's brother, Linsanity, Baron's setback: The Knicks deserve a team bullet point this week because they have so much going on. At the top, Carmelo Anthony is out for the next week or two with a groin issue. Amar'e Stoudemire is also expected to be gone until next Monday, mourning the recent death of his brother. And Baron Davis has suffered a setback in his injury rehabilitation and is expected to now be out until at least the All-Star Break. This has left the door open for Linsanity, as Jeremy Lin has exploded onto the scene with back-to-back 25-plus point scoring outings. Lin has taken the fantasy world by storm, already up to 61 percent owned in Yahoo leagues with his averages of 26.5 points and 7.5 assists in the last two games. I'm not yet convinced that this run is sustainable, but at the very least, if you got your hands on him he makes an interesting trade piece that you can use in your roto lineups while he's hot.
• Warriors on rise: Last month at this time I had major questions about the most fantasy relevant Warriors. Stephen Curry couldn't seem to walk two steps without re-re-re-spraining his ankle, David Lee was underachieving, and Dorrell Wright wasn't making 3-pointers. I was wondering if the transition from the end of fast-paced Nellieball to Mark Jackson's more traditional approach had robbed them of their value. But now? Curry has started eight straight games and is filing the stat sheet on a nightly basis, Lee is coming off of a 25/11/10 triple-double, and Wright is knocking down almost three treys per night again. Curry and Monta Ellis are forming an especially potent combo, with Ellis going over 30 points in two of the last three games (including 48 against the Thunder on Tuesday) with Curry averaging 22.5 points and 11 assists in those same two games. Curry's health is still a question mark, but other than that the team is rolling, and everyone's numbers seem sustainable.
• Gallinari's foot: Danilo Gallinari is out for at least a month with a severe ankle injury, which drastically interrupts his career season. I had just told someone I wasn't sure I would trade Gallinari for Dirk Nowitzki right now when Gallinari went down. In the interim, players like Rudy Fernandez or Corey Brewer could be looking at a boost in value.
• Billups done: Chauncey Billups is out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles, which makes Mo Williams an obvious upgrade choice in LA. Williams is going to remain in his sixth man role, however, as Randy Foye will move into the starting guard slot. The rumor mill also has the Clippers in signing J.R. Smith once he's eligible to return from China, but as Charlie Zegers points out in his Working the Wire column this week, there are other teams that can offer Smith a lot more money on the open market than the Clippers can.
• Manu's (impending) return: Manu Ginobili (hand) has been cleared by the Spurs' team doctors as completely healed, and should return to game action within the next week. Ginobili is one of the best producers in the league when healthy, and after all of this time off he may even be able to maintain a peak through the end of the season. It's likely too late to get him on the extra cheap, but it could behoove you to make one last effort to swing a reasonable deal for Ginobili from whoever owns him in your league.
• Bargnani's calf: Andrea Bargnani is unable to run or take part in team activities due to his calf injury, so we still don't have a clear timetable for his likely return. That said, someone tweeted me (@ProfessorDrz) and asked whether he should pick up Bargnani from their waiver wire. Bargnani is a question mark, but he was in the midst of a huge season and does not have major muscle damage, so he is by all means worth a roster spot. He could even be worth trading for and stashing, if his owner is getting desperate.
• Oldies but goodies: Three of the four veteran players mentioned in the opening are ranked in Yahoo's top-25 for the last week, with Duncan averaging 19 points and 12 boards, Pierce at 20.8 points/7.0 assists/6.7 boards/2.7 treys, and Garnett at 17 points/7.2 boards/2.5 assists/64 percent FG. Garnett has also attempted a 3-pointer in four straight games, making one in three of them. If the 3-pointer becomes a consistent part of his game it obviously boosts his value, much like the added center eligibility did a couple of weeks ago.
• George on fire: Paul George has been an all-around fantasy producer of late, averaging 15.8 points with 6.0 boards, 2.4 treys, 2.0 steals, 0.9 blocks and excellent shooting percentages (51.2% FG, 95% FT) over the last two weeks. George has always been talented, but had yet to put it all together. It's too soon to say whether this is his new level as opposed to just a hot streak, but his talent and team role suggest he does have this kind of potential as a player.
• Richardson showing signs of life: I had all but written Jason Richardson off as a bust this season, but in the three games since resting his sore knee he has averaged 18.7 points and three made treys per night. This is exactly who Richardson should be, but he had shown no signs of this before this week. It's too soon to declare him back, but at least he's now registering a blip on the fantasy radar.
• Landry's MCL sprain: Carl Landry will miss three-to-four weeks due to a second-degree MCL sprain, information I found out directly from his Twitter feed earlier this week. Landry had already moved to a bench role, but was playing well, and his absence could allow Jason Smith the opportunity to re-gain the form that made him a popular pickup a few weeks ago once Smith recovers from a concussion.
• Augustin back next week: D.J. Augustin (toe) could return to action as soon as Monday after being out since January 22. He just found out recently that one foot is slightly smaller than the other, and mis-sized shoes are partially blamed for the injury. He will be playing with a customized shoe from Nike moving forward, which should hopefully keep him in the lineup more moving forward.
• Jameer Nelson (49% owned in Yahoo leagues): Nelson has been one of the bigger disappointments in the league this season, but he's far from the only vet that got off to a slow start. Nelson's role has remained consistent for the last seven seasons, and he is coming off three straight seasons of averaging double-digit points with 5-6 assists and more than one trey. This season he is shooting about 6 percent worse from the field and 12 percent worse from the 3-point line than his three-year average, which makes him a good candidate to revert to the mean moving forward.
• Greivis Vazquez (39% owned): Vazquez has stepped it up of late since Jarrett Jack injured himself last week, averaging 17.5 points (56% FG, 82% FT) with 8.8 assists, 4.2 boards, 1.5 treys and 1.3 steals while playing starter's minutes. It remains to be seein how Jack's return will affect Vazquez's playing time, but Vazquez is the younger player with more upside on a lottery-bound team so it would make sense for him to maintain this role for as long as he can produce.
• Nicola Pekovic (37% owned): Pekovic has started five of the last seven games for the Timberwolves, and in those seven games he has four double-doubles and another two games where he came just one board short. He also has two 20-10 efforts in his last three games. Pekovic was drafted as one of the better talents of the 2008 draft that only slid because he was planning to stay in Europe, and he seems now to be playing to his potential.
• Gordon Hayward (31% owned): Hayward has played some of the best basketball of his career in the last two weeks, including two 21-point outings. The 9th pick of last year's draft has started every game this season for the Jazz, and while he's up and down, he's trending towards a more consistent role as a key scoring threat on the team.
• Rudy Fernandez (21% owned): With Danilo Gallinari out at least a month, Fernandez could be called upon to play a larger role in the Nuggets offense. Fernandez has shown flashes of very strong play this season, but health and inconsistency are always question marks with him over long periods.
• Randy Foye (16 % owned): While Mo Williams' role will likely increase with Chauncey Billups out, it's Foye who will actually replace Billups in the starting lineup. Foye has averaged 10.7 points, 4.3 assists, 2.0 treys and 1.8 steals in his six starts thus far on the season, and is worth taking a flyer on if you have the roster space.
• Alonzo Gee (15% owned): Gee has scored in double figures in five straight games for the Cavs, and moved into their starting lineup on Tuesday with a 17-point/two-steal/one-trey effort. He has potential as a mid-teens scorer with reasonable contributions in 3-pointers, rebounds and steals if he maintains starter's minutes after Anthony Parker (back) returns.
• C.J. Watson (11% owned): Watson has been strong whenever Derrick Rose has missed time, and Rose is again battling to overcome an injury (this time back spasms). Watson is still a regular double-digit scorer with 3-point potential even off the bench, but when Rose is out Watson can up his game to the level that he showed on Thursday with a 14-point/11-assist double-double.
• Bismack Biyombo (7% owned): Biyombo has moved into the starting line-up for the Bobcats over the last two games. He produced an 11-point/12-rebound double-double with two blocks in his first start against the Suns, only to get blanked for three points and two boards in his second start against the Celtics. Nevertheless, Biyombo is a lottery pick rookie on a poor team that has very little talent at his position and is worth keeping an eye on in deeper leagues.
• Michael Redd (4 % owned): Redd has started two straight games for the Suns, and has averaged 13.7 points with 1.7 treys over his last three games. He is still only playing about 20 minutes per game, but he still has the shot and the upside if he can stay on the court (obviously big ifs).
Best Players in NBA history: Karl Malone
In this section of the Lab I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments - in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest? This week's player is Karl Malone, one of the greatest iron men the game has ever seen. In the 1980s and 90s there was a strong sentiment that Malone was the greatest power forward of all time, with a combination of power and scoring skill that revolutionized the position. Before Malone, Charles Barkley and Kevin McHale, the power forward position was often an enforcer/garbage-man type. Malone's dominance at the position helped to usher in the era of power forward as a glamour position, leading directly to the ridiculous boom of elite PFs in the 2000's.
Malone was an excellent scorer, a strong rebounder and an underrated man-to-man defender. He was physically intimidating, with a reputation for throwing around elbows and knocking out teeth that often kept him from being challenged in the paint. He worked the pick-and-roll to perfection with running mate John Stockton for 15 years. But perhaps the most amazing thing about Malone was that he NEVER got hurt. In his first 18 years in the NBA, he never missed more than two games in any season. That was part of how he earned the nickname "The Mailman"... no matter what, he was going to be there to deliver every day. This longevity was a key component of Malone's greatness and is a big reason why he made this GOAT list. You can check out Malone's box score stats and accolades on his basketball-reference profile, but here are some facts that stand out to me.
1) Malone is second on the NBA All-time scoring list with 36,928 points, almost 5000 points ahead of Michael Jordan who is third. Malone is also sixth all-time in rebounds, second in minutes played and 10th in steals.
For the rest of Malone's highlight facts, be sure to check out this week's blog.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.