This article is part of our Hoops Lab series.
The Hoops Lab
By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer
New Millennium NBA III: Big Man's Revenge
The last two weeks, I've written about how perimeter scorers are becoming more dominant and post scorers less effective, but I don't want anyone to come away with incorrect impression that perimeter players have become the new key to championship basketball. In fact, that couldn't be further from the truth. Because while almost every NBA truism has an exception (e.g., "you need superstars to win titles" (except the '04 Pistons), "you need dominant post offense to win titles" (except the '08 Celtics, '04 Pistons), "you need dominant perimeter offense" (except '99 Spurs), etc.), there is but one that might not have any: "you need to have a strong DEFENSIVE big man in order to win a title". Just take a look at the teams that have won titles since 1990, or more specifically at their big men:
2008 Kevin Garnett (Defensive Player of Year)
2007, '05, '03, '99 Tim Duncan (nine-time 1st team All Defensive Team)
2006, '02, '01, '00 Shaquille O'Neal (three-time 2nd team All Defensive Team)
2004 Ben Wallace (four-time Defensive Player of Year)
1996–98 Dennis Rodman (two-time Defensive Player of Year)
1994-95 Hakeem Olajuwon (two-time Defensive Player of Year)
1991-93 Horace Grant (four-time 2nd team All Defensive Team)
Before that you had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish, Kevin Mchale, and Moses Malone in the '80s. I'm guessing this pattern extends all the way back, past Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in the '50s and '60s on back to George Mikan before that. It's as close to a rule as the NBA has: to win a title, you must have at least one strong defensive big man. So, let's consider why that is and why that hasn't changed despite the evolution of the game itself.
Big men have traditionally been the anchors of great defensive teams. And if the rule changes have led to more dribble penetration on offense, the only way to counter that is to have a strong presence in the lane that discourages drives. If zone defenses are allowed, the best way to take advantage of that is with an athletic big man that can help out on multiple offensive players, thus defending large portions of the other team. Most NBA teams run some version of the pick-and-roll offense, and having a mobile big man that can "show" to prevent the guard from coming off the pick clean then "recover" back to their original assignment is crucial for nipping that in the bud.
A guard simply doesn't have the defensive upside of a big man. Especially now, since they can't use their hands, the term "lock down perimeter defender" has become a misnomer. Guys like Bruce Bowen can still make their opponents work to get a clean jumper off, but if Bowen isn't backed by Duncan to discourage drives there's little that Bowen can do by himself. And even if a perimeter defender makes life difficult for his assignment, he is typically unable to disrupt entire teams defensively without gambling for steals - and that generally doesn't lead to good defense. It's not a coincidence that league steal leaders of recent years like Chris Paul or Allen Iverson also tend to have worse defensive ratings than blocked shot leaders like Dwight Howard or Marcus Camby. It's also not a coincidence that you have to go back to 2001 to find the last time a non-big man has cracked the top-3 in defensive rating (Shawn Marion) or back to 1995 for the last time a non-big was first in defensive rating (Scottie Pippen). Even if a big man isn't blocking a lot of shots, a good defensive presence near the rim alters many shots and often can force opposing wings to shoot more jump shots as opposed to getting to the rim.
Thus, while LeBron and Kobe may get the most consideration as best players in the game, and the most recent three Finals MVPs may have gone perimeter players, one truism still holds: defense wins championships, and big men anchor the defense. In the NBA, size still matters.
Situations to Watch and Quick Hits
The rebirth of Boris Diaw: Diaw has experienced a fantasy renaissance since being traded to the Bobcats, and his value is starting to approach the lofty peak he set in Phoenix three seasons ago. Diaw is averaging 17.4 points, 7.4 boards, 4.8 assists, 2.0 treys and 1.8 steals per in his last five games. He's a vital cog in both the offense and defense for the Bobcats, and with his versatility and multi-position eligibility he again looks like an impact player you might be able to acquire cheaply since he no longer has a big name.
Redd is done:Michael Redd tore his ACL last weekend, ending his season. This injury opens up opportunities for other players on the Bucks to step into the production gap, and right now Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva look like the biggest recipients. Sessions is starting at shooting guard now, and is averaging 17 points, 3.5 boards, and 2.5 assists in his two starts thus far. Villanueva has joined Richard Jefferson as the main scoring option for the Bucks with Redd and also center Andrew Bogut sidelined, and is averaging 24 ppg over his last five.
Monta's back: The long wait is over for those that drafted the injured Monta Ellis and stashed him until his return. Ellis is back and starting, but he still has a ways to go before he gets into prime game shape. In three games so far he has scored 20, 10, and then seven points on only 34 percent shooting from the field. Ellis' return has moved Corey Maggette to the sixth man role, but thus far Maggette has thrived with averages of 21.3 points and 6.0 boards in only 26 minutes in those three games.
AK47 foot surgery:Andrei Kirilenko will have surgery to remove a bone fragment from his right foot, likely on Friday. Kirilenko had hoped to be able to put-off the surgery until after the season, but after two coritsone shots failing to alleviate his pain, the decision to have surgery was made. There's no exact timetable for his return, but he's likely to be out at least 3-to-4 weeks.
Davis and Camby back:Baron Davis and Marcus Camby returned to the lineup Wednesday night with rather pedestrian efforts in limited minutes, as both will take some time to ramp back up to full speed. Camby's return could mark the beginning of the end for DeAndre' Jordan as a roto prospect, and eventually Davis may cut into Eric Gordon's scoring as well.
Wallace scare:Gerald Wallace suffered a collapsed lung and fractured rib on Tuesday from an Andrew Bynum flagrant foul. His lung has been restored to full capacity, but he'll remain hospitalized for 48 hours. He should be fine in the long run, though he'll miss Charlotte's matchup against Portland on Wednesday and could be iffy against Denver on Friday.
TMac and Artest back:Tracy McGrady (knee) has returned to action again, and has been producing well in his first three games. McGrady had intended to sit out until he could physically play every game, so in theory he should not be skipping random games again anymore. I still don't trust him - been burned too many times. Ron Artest has also returned, but he is coming off the bench behind Shane Battier so his production may continue to be limited. Also, these returns seem to have marked the end of the Von Wafer experiment, as Wafer has averaged only 12 mpg over the last three.
'Melo is cleared to return:Carmelo Anthony has been cleared to return to game action, and is likely to be back in the lineup on Friday. This will likely cut into the production of both J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza, each of whom had become very productive while Anthony was gone.
Blatche out 2 – 4 weeks:Andray Blatche will miss two-to-four weeks with a strained left knee after bumping knees with Shaquille O'Neal on Monday. Darius Songaila started last time Blatche was held out of the lineup by head coach Ed Tapscott, so he'll likely get the first crack at the extra minutes in the coming weeks. JaVale McGee should also see an expanded role in Blatche's absence.
Mason done:Desmond Mason is out for the season after hyperextending his knee during Wednesday's game against Memphis. He'll have surgery to remove the debris caused by the injury in the near future. Not a huge fantasy impact, but Chucky Atkins could see some extra minutes as a result of the injury.
Joakim Noah (39% owned): Noah has been starting and getting more minutes recently, and he is starting to take advantage of it. He has had three double-digit rebound efforts in his last four games, with the lone exception being a game he fouled out in 14 minutes. But in the other three games he has averaged 10.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per in 32 minutes.
Mickael Pietrus (38% owned): Pietrus is back from a broken right wrist that sidelined him for 12 games, and in his first game back he scored 27 points with 10 boards, four assists and three treys off the bench. Obviously you shouldn't expect anything near that from him regularly, but Pietrus is likely to get his starting job back, and should give you decent scoring and three-pointers at the least.
Linas Kleiza (20% owned): Another week, another mention of Kleiza in this space. He continues to score, rebound and knock down treys in Carmelo Anthony's absence. He is a great source of those categories for as long as Anthony remains out of action (17 points, eight boards, 2.5 treys per in last week).
Eddie House (6% owned): House is a very streaky shooter that comes off the bench for the Celtics, so he should not be depended upon regularly. On the other hand, he has 14 games this season with three or more treys made, and in the last week he has had two separate games with seven. If you really need help in that category and have a roster spot, he could be worth an add.
Flip Murray (5% owned): Murray has been getting good minutes off the bench for the last few weeks, and has responded by becoming a fairly consistent scoring/3-point threat. He has scored double-digit points in seven of the last eight games, a stretch over which he has hit nine treys. He's averaging 18 ppg over the last week, and could be worth a spot-start/flex-add in deep leagues.
Professor's Crib Notes: Kobe vs. LeBron by the numbers
"Who is the one and only master?"
- Sho-nuff, Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, 1985
Instead of going over a new stat this week, I decided instead to show you one of the fun ways these stats can be used: as evidence in an around-the-water-cooler argument. And this year, the most popular water cooler argument has to be Kobe Bryant vs LeBron James. For a more detailed explanation of the comparison, or to weigh in with your opinion, please check out the blog. But let's take a quick look at the numbers to see if anything stands out.
PER: Byant 24.4, James 31.8.
+/- (basic): Bryant +10.4/48 minutes, James +16.6/48 minutes
+/- (on-court/off-court): Bryant + 8.6/48 minutes, James + 24.5/48 minutes.
Offense and Defense
Ratings: ORTG: Bryant 116, James 120. DRTG: Bryant 106 (T 5th on Lakers), James 97 (T 1st on Cavs).
Bottom line: As I always emphasize, stats can only answer the specific questions for which they have been designed, so don't make them the whole of your argument. That said, these numbers indicate pretty emphatically that LeBron has been more statistically productive than Kobe, that LeBron has had a larger impact on leading a more successful team (when each are on the floor) with less teammate support, and that LeBron has been both more efficient on offense and a bigger part of a more successful defensive unit than Kobe has. Two counter-arguments could be that there are other stats that we could have used (but I haven't covered yet), or that Kobe might be pacing himself more because he has better teammates (which isn't statistically measurable). But for the things that are measurable, it looks like LeBron is building a commanding lead over Kobe in the "Who's the best?" showdown this season.
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Article first appeared 1/29/09