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Four for History
The NBA playoffs are finally here! I am excited for many reasons, but one of the things I’ll be watching is for players to change how history sees them. The playoffs are where players make their legacies…would anyone know who Robert Horry was if not for his big shots in the playoffs? Would Jordan still be considered by many the greatest all-time if he didn’t have any championships? The regular season was fun, but the postseason is the REAL season.

So who has the most to gain or lose in this playoffs? I believe that there are four players to watch above all others that have the opportunity to dramatically change their legacies.

Tracy McGrady. Few seem to remember it these days, but it wasn’t too long ago that McGrady was mentioned in the same breath as Kobe Bryant as dominant perimeter players. Injuries and an 0-for-6 record of getting out of the first round of the playoffs have robbed McGrady of much of the luster that he had back when he was averaging 32 points, 6.5 boards and 5.5 assists in ’03. If McGrady can carry a Yao-less Rockets team past the Jazz in the first round this year he won’t return to Bryant-esque status, but he would at least re-gain the mantle as one of the better impact players in the league.

Dirk Nowitzki. Over the last couple of seasons Nowitzki has flirted with joining the Pantheon. He was THAT close to winning a title in ’06, then he followed that up with an MVP campaign in ’07. He was not quite on the level of Tim Duncan, an All-time great, but Nowitzki was very close to etching his name onto the next tier down. Unfortunately, the great collapse in the ’06 finals followed up by the even bigger calamity of losing in the first round to an eight seed have completely changed Nowitzki’s fortunes. Another first round loss while playing on a good team alongside a Hall-of-fame point guard would go even further to make the general public question Nowitzki’s former glory. On the other hand, if the Mavs can make a sustained playoffs run this year it would vault Nowitzki back to the top of the league.

Kobe Bryant. For Bryant, this is his opportunity to join THE list. Bryant won three championships with Shaquille O’Neal during the Lakers dynasty earlier this decade, but history remembers those as Shaq’s titles not Kobe’s. But if the Lakers win the title this season with Bryant as the unquestioned leader and likely MVP it vaults him into the conversation with the greatest players ever. He already has the numbers, he would have four titles, and with the Lakers so young and talented he would have the opportunity to forge his own dynasty. 2008 could very well be remembered as the year that Bryant made the leap.

Kevin Garnett. Garnett is probably the one player with the most to gain and the most to lose during this playoffs. Even more than Nowitzki, Garnett would be considered on the level of Duncan were it not for his lack of titles. The argument for years has been whether Garnett could win like Duncan if he had the talent around him that Duncan has had, and this year could help answer that question. On the other hand, if the Celtics come up short Garnett could very easily be remembered as someone that doesn’t come through when it counts. But if the Celtics win title #17 under his watch then, like Bryant, Garnett would be vaulted into the conversation with the All-Time Greats.

It all begins today. NBA action…it is faaaaaan-tastic!

Posted by Professor at 4/19/2008 6:36:00 AM
Comments (2)

Fantasy and MVP challenge: Bryant vs Garnett
Last week I made cases for LeBron James and Chris Paul as real life and/or fantasy MVP. This week I will do the same for Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, and at the end I hope you will chime in on whether Paul, James, Bryant or Garnett get your MVP votes

Kobe Bryant

Bryant is the Tiger Woods of the NBA, combining outstanding physical gifts with a computer-like knowledge of the game and a singular will to win. He is taller, quicker, bigger, and/or jumps higher than almost everyone that guards him and he is ruthless about exploiting those advantages to score at will. Bryant is a late-game assassin, with cold-blooded execution in crunch time situations that makes him one of the most feared players in the NBA when the game is on the line. He is also an excellent 1-on-1 defender, likely to add an eighth NBA All-Defensive team award to his trophy case this year. Bryant has been given credit for keeping the Lakers at the top of the ultra-competitive Western Conference despite injuries to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and also many consider it a correctible oversight that he has never won the MVP trophy. Thus, if the Lakers finish the season at the top of the West, Bryant has a good chance to win his first MVP.

Fantasy-wise, Bryant is second in the NBA in scoring at 28.7 ppg, and he is one of only two players in the league averaging at least 25 points, six rebounds and five assists per game (LeBron James). Where Bryant distances himself from James is at the free throw line, where his 7.6 FTM/game at 84% shooting is second only to Kevin Martin in terms of roto free throw impact.

Kevin Garnett

Garnett has been the catalyst for a historic season in Boston, with the Celtics using a stifling defense (2nd team ever to lead NBA in points allowed, FG% allowed, and 3-pt % allowed) to improve by an NBA record 36 games with two weeks still left in the season. Garnett has been the focal-point of that defense, using his extremely long 7-foot frame, great quickness and excellent technique to shut down his own man while also giving strong help defense to his teammates. On offense, Garnett is a versatile threat that is able to command double-teams from opposing defenses on the blocks or consistently knock down the jumper with range out to 20 feet. He is also arguably the best passing big man in the NBA, which combines with his other offensive talents to foster an extremely efficient offense in which six of the top eight rotation players are shooting a career high EFG%. Garnett has infused this Celtics team with intensity, defensive edge, and unselfishness and is widely credited as the biggest influence that has made them championship contenders.

Garnett’s MVP candidacy depends a lot upon the Celtics record: you have to go back to 1960 (Wilt Chamberlain) to find the only time in NBA history when a team with the best record by more than six games did not have the MVP winner. The Celtics currently have the best record by 6.5 games, so if they maintain that margin history says that KG has a good chance to win his second MVP trophy.

Fantasy-wise, Garnett is one of only two players in the league averaging at least 18 points while shooting 53% from the field and 80% from the line (Amare Stoudemire). He is one of only three players in the NBA averaging at least 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists (Lamar Odom, Brad Miller). And he is one of only two players averaging at least 9.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks/game (Shawn Marion).

LeBron James. Chris Paul. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Garnett. Who is your fantasy MVP? Who is your real-life MVP? And why?

Posted by Professor at 4/3/2008 3:14:00 PM
Comments (12)