Posts Tagged ‘the Bible’

Dirk Nowitzki Top Ten all Time…?

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

How good is Dirk?  I mean really, how good is Dirk?  48 points on 12-15 shooting with 24 freebies from the line, that’s crazy like Charlie Sheen on a Tuesday with a Goddess and a briefcase.  It’s so good, that it makes me wonder whether we’ve missed the boat on just how incredible the big German really is.

Last week Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle named Dirk as one of the ten best players in NBA history, which on its face seemed absurd.  Well, maybe not absurd so much as just self serving.  It’s the kind of thing coaches do, propping up their own players, calling out refs, pacing the floor, and looking grim.  Any simple smell test would tell you that Dirk is great, but top ten…

In Bill Simmons’ Bible, he lists the ten best players of all time as:

  1. Jordan
  2. Bill Russell
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Magic
  5. Bird
  6. Wilt Chamberlain
  7. Tim Duncan
  8. Jerry West
  9. Oscar Robertson
  10. Hakeem Olajuwon

Since relaeasing the book, I think he has moved Kobe from 15th into the top ten, above West, but below Duncan (I might be wrong about that order), but basically you get the point.  Now, I might quibble with some of the exact ordering – for instance Russell is being given far too much credit for playing on the greatest teams of all time – but generally I think we can agree that this is a decent starting off point for the discussion.

In the same tomb Simmons lists Dirk 37th.  Again, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that since publication Simmons has said he would have moved up both Nash (38th) and Dirk.  Still from 37th to top ten is a big jump; that’s leaping over names like: McHale (35), Gervin (34), Dave Cowens (31), Willis Reed (30), Iverson (29), Robinson (28), Walton (27), Stockton (26), Pippen (24), Isiah (23), Garnett (22), Barkely (19), Malone (18), Dr J (16), Elgin Baylor (14), Moses (12), and Shaq (11).  Obviously that’s a Jordanesque leap and I don’t know if Dirk has those kinds of hops.

I do think that you could make a plausible argument that Dirk belongs in the high twenties, with Pippen, Isiah, and Garnett.*  Garnett for instance seems an interesting comparison point.  Both players were exceptionally young when they started their careers (20 for Dirk, 19 for KG), both guys broke barriers (straight from high school and awesome foreigner), both guys won MVP awards, both guys were truly unique in their abilities (best shooting big man, seven footer  capable of defending all 5 positions).  Of course, Dirk was an offensive force, while Garnett was a defensive one.  Frankly, I’d have loved to see them playing together, because they were both selfless and their skills would have complemented one another, but since we (and they) weren’t that lucky, lets take a look at their careers in a box:




13 16
Points per Game
23.0 19.5
8.4 10.7
2.7 4.1
.476 .498
3FG %
 .381  .282
 .877 .788
All Star Games
 10  13
All NBA 1st Team
 4 4
All NBA 2nd Team
 5  3
All NBA 3rd Team
 2  2
PER – Career
 23.7  23.4
PER – Best Season
 28.1  29.4
True Shooting % – Career
 .583  .549
 True Shooting % – Best Season
 .612  .589

I think it’s safe to say that they are entirely comparable (albeit completely different) players.  Of course, as I said above, what Dirk is to big men shooting the ball, KG is to 7 footers defending.  KG certainly never shot as well as Dirk, but he did provide almost as much offensive value between his post play, mid-range jumper and passing.  On the other hand, Dirk has never made an all-defensive team of any sort, while KG has won Defensive Player of the Year and made 11 defensive 1st or 2nd teams.  Ultimately, I think that at their absolute peaks, KG provided more value, but perhaps Dirk’s peak will be longer.

* Interestingly, Simmons has LeBron at 20, which at the time seemed completely reasonable, but I wonder whether everything that’s happened in the last year would force Bill to reconsider that placement.  Not that I think LeBron isn’t likely to finish in the top ten, but just that right now, the benefit of the doubt that he was getting seems tenuous.

What I find more interesting about the two players, is that in different circumstances, we might  consider them legitimate top ten talents.  Until KG landed in Boston, the best player he’d ever played with was Sam Cassell or Latrell Sprewell.  That’s why he’d never made an NBA finals and why he missed the playoffs his last three years in Minnesota.  What if the T-Wolves had continued their trend of picking high school players and the year after taking Garnett had tabbed Bryant with the 5th pick (they took Ray Allen and promptly swapped him to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury).  Doesn’t a Garnett-Bryant nucleus win at least three titles?  Is KG then seen as a no doubt about it top 15 player?  Possibly even a top ten player?

And what about that feisty German that Rick Carlisle believes is one of the ten best all time?

Dirk has certainly played on some great teams, his squad has won at least 50 games for 11 straight years and three times they’ve won more than 60, but since they lost the 2006 finals to Miami and were bounced in the first round of a 67 win season, Dirk’s star has diminished.  Yet, like KG, who is the best player that Dirk has ever played with?

The big German played with Nash, but before Nash peaked.  He’s played with Jason Kidd, but during Kidd’s decline years – and too many pundits still think that Jason Kidd is Jason Kidd, he isn’t.  The year the Mavs won 67 games, their second best player was Josh Howard, their third best player Jason Terry.  Look at the champions over the last decade and who their three best players were:






2010 Lakers Kobe Bryant Pau Gasol Andruw Bynum
2009 Lakers Kobe Gasol Bynum
2008 Celtics KG Paul Pierce Ray Allen
2007 Spurs Tim Duncan Manu Ginobili Tony Parker
2006 Heat Dwayne Wade Shaq Alonzo Mourning
2005 Spurs Duncan Ginobili Parker
2004 Pistons Chauncey Billups Ben Wallace Rasheed Wallace
2003 Lakers Shaq Kobe Robert Horry
2002 Lakers Shaq Kobe Horace Grant
2001 Lakers Shaq Kobe Glenn Rice

When you look at that chart, it’s not hard to see why Dirk has yet to win a title.  Howard and Terry are hardly the Wallace twins, let alone Ginobili and Parker.  In Simmons’ “What If” chapter from the Bible he writes,

30. What if the Mavs re-signed Steve Nash in 2004?

… If you’re throwing money around, throw it at Nash, over Dampier, right?  Dallas also fatally underestimated the rule changes that transformed Nash into a two-time MVP.  Had they kept Nash and Antawn Jamison (dealt for Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris) and still made the Antoine Walker/Jason Terry trade, that’s suddenly a monster roster (Nash, Nowitzki, Jamison, Terry, Josh Howard, DeSagana Diop, Veteran Free Agent X and February Buyout guy X year after year after year.

Doesn’t that team win multiple titles?  Doesn’t that change how we view Dirk?  It is the problem of judging players historically by titles.  We like to think that if you’re great you will win a title or two, but it just isn’t that simple.  Bird had McHale and Parrish, Magic had Kareem and Worthy, Jordan had Pippen and the Worm (not to mention Grant – who is grossly underrated by history).  Great players win multiple titles because they are paired with other great players.  I don’t think Dirk is one of the ten greatest players of all-time, but he very well might be in the 15-20 range and if he keeps dropping 40 points on night en-route to a title this year?  Well…


Isiah Thomas, the Master Narcissist…

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

While drinking my Cup of Joe this morning, I almost showered my darling wife in coffee when I came across Ian O’Connor’s article, Exiled Isiah Itching for an Encore.  Now, leaving aside the fact that my wife was not at all pleased to have her shower with cream, lets look at some of the more salient points of this piece for insight into the state of Thomas:

Exiled in Miami, haunted by his proximity to LeBron James, Thomas embraces his articles of blind faith like one would a baby in a storm

Huh?  Haunted by his proximity to LeBron James?  What?!?  Why?!?

Isiah believes James (and perhaps Dwyane Wade) would be starting for the New York Knicks if Isiah had remained president of the team.

Really?  REALLY?  Wow.  You have to love the narcissism of Thomas.  I think that Pat Riley deserves credit for reeling in the three big fish to the Heat, but really his greatest work this summer was how he assembled a team around those three.  Do you actually think that LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were going anywhere other than Miami?  This wasn’t about Pat Riley (although he surely helped), it was about the three of them wanting to play together in South Beach.  What does Isiah think his presence would have meant?  Would he have made it a sunny 85 degrees all winter long in New York?  Would he have turned the Hudson turquoise?  Would he have convinced all the women in suits walking down fifth avenue to wear bikinis instead?  Well, actually given his history he might have tried that last one (too low?).

Even if I’m wrong, even if the location was only a minor factor in their decision and the Big Three could have been swayed somewhere else, whose presence is getting the attention of LeBron and Wade:  Is it Pat Riley and his 5 NBA titles, with his 17 seasons of 50 or more wins (including 7 above 60)?  Or would it have been Thomas with his spotty record in Toronto, his destruction of the CBA, his five coaching seasons in which he compiled a .456 winning percentage, and his lost sexual harassment suit?  Seriously Isiah?  Seriously?

Speaking of that sexual harrasement suit, O’Connor writes,

The sexual harassment trial amounted to the final, fatal hack. “I think if you take away that trial,” Thomas said, “I’m still there, we make the playoffs a couple of times … and I don’t know if Miami has LeBron or Wade. We may have had LeBron and Wade.”

This paragraph shows just how deeply Thomas doesn’t get it.  Not only is he prattling on about how they’d have gotten LeBron and Wade, but he blames the trial for his undoing in New York, not realising that the whole point of the trial was… finding him culpable of sexually harassing Anucha Browne Sanders.  That’s not the trial’s fault Isiah, that’s YOUR fault.  That’s why your boss had to pay Sanders 11 million.

Instead of admitting guilt, or accepting any form of culpability, Thomas continues to deflect,

“If the things that she alleges did happen in her daily working environment, I have great sympathy for her. If those things happened in her daily working environment, then yes, she is a victim, and I do have great compassion for her.

Unfortunately Isiah, that’s not how this works.  You were found guilty, which makes her the victim.  Even if you don’t believe it, the best thing you can do at this point is to be penitent.  Instead of saying, “if these things happened…”  Say, “I am so sorry for everything that happened to Anucha.  Nobody deserves to experience what she went through and I am sorry.”  Whether you believe she suffered or not isn’t relevant.  At least not publicly.  If you truly believe yourself innocent in the affair, then that’s fine, but publicly be repentant, and show sorrow for what she suffered.  In this case, it isn’t about your experiences, it’s about hers, but Isiah continues his vain outlook,

“My wife and kids and I, we were persecuted like I’ve never seen anywhere in sports. [The criticism] just got so mean and … as a family we were just hanging by a thread every single day. We were just hanging by a thread and just trying to hunker down and weather the storm. My mother was dying at the time, and it was the most awful time in my life. We were going through hell.”

I imagine it was hell for your wife and kids and obviously the passing of your mother is tragic, but again (with the exception of his mother’s passing) that’s a hell perpetrated by Thomas, not Sanders, not the trial, not the media in New York.  Isiah himself.

Of course, Isiah’s neurosis run deeper than just the trial.  On the topic of how talented the Knicks’ roster was,

But there were 24 All-Stars last year,” he said, “and I left New York with two of them, David Lee and Zach Randolph. Jamal Crawford became a sixth man of the year.

No Isiah, you didn’t leave the Knicks with two future all stars and a sixth man award winner, you left them with disparate pieces that did not work together.  Randolph had averaged almost 20 points and ten rebounds a game during in his six years in Portland, everyone knew he could score, but he couldn’t stop a donut, and together with Lee all you had was too much of the same thing.  On top of which, while Crawford did have a nice year last season, he remains a fundamentally flawed player who still jacks up too many shots, doesn’t defend, and doesn’t get IT.  In the Basketball Bible, Bill Simmons credits Thomas with giving him the secret to NBA success, but none of the primary guys acquired by Thomas (Stephon Marbury, Vin Baker, Crawford, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Randolph) were guys who understood the “secret” of how to win a title in the NBA.  Not a single one, got IT.

Thomas has gotten some credit for his talent evaluation and his draft record is good.  Obviously his best pick was David Lee with the 30th pick in the 2005 draft.  Lee’s a scoring machine and he’s a good rebounder, so even though his defense is weak, he was superb value at 30th.  There were other successes (for instance, in his first draft with the Knicks Thomas plucked Trever Ariza with the 43rd pick), but lets not make it out like he was the modern day Red Auerbach or anything.  In 2005 with his first pick, Thomas took Channing Frye 8th; Frye has been a solid pro, but since I tore him apart last week and since Andrew Bynum was picked two spots later, well… The year after that he took Renaldo Blackman 20th, right before the Suns took Rajon Rondo.  Wilson Chandler and Nate Robinson are fine, but they aren’t exactly world changing talents.

What about the picks he traded away?  Because there was Thomas’ greatest crime to the New York Knickerbocker franchise.  In the Eddy Curry deal he sent away the picks that became Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge.  Wow, how good might the Knicks have been with that front line?  And, of course, there’s the possible number one pick that terrorized Knicks fans all of last year, as Utah looked like it might really benefit from Isiah even after he’d gone (instead they ended up with just the 9th pick).  So, yeah he can identify talent, but he still missed on draft picks, and he had no idea of how to put the pieces together and no idea about how to protect assets.

Of course, Thomas blamed Larry Brown for trading Ariza and he blamed James Dolan for hiring Brown.  As for the Curry trade, in a frightening sign, he still thinks that was a good idea,

“There was a method behind the madness,” Thomas said. He was confident Curry would opt out in 2010 to clear the necessary space for a fellow client of Leon Rose, name of LeBron James… “They were just all friendly, and they were all on the AAU circuit,” Thomas said.

Really, he was confident that Curry would opt out?  But he also thought that Curry and James being AAU buddies would help?  So which was it Isiah?  Were you confident Curry would lure LeBron?  Or were you confident he’d opt out?  Because nobody else was, Curry’s contract was lampooned as a bad deal the second it was signed, and how close were Curry and LeBron as AAU friends considering that when Curry was a high school senior LeBron was in grade nine?  So, looking back now, it’s easy to say that you planned to bring LeBron to the Knicks, but it’s hard to see how the attrocious Curry deal helped you accomplish that mission.

Which brings me to my final point, how exactly was Isiah going to acquire LeBron?  He showed NO ability to manage the salary cap, acquiring one overwhelming, onerous contract after another.  The only way he was able to add talent was by trading expiring deals for other team’s poisonous contracts.

Hired as president of the Knicks in December of 2003, Thomas said he targeted James as the centerpiece of a future title winner in New York “from the first day he got in the league, as soon as I got the job.”

The notion that he identified LeBron back then as a piece that would be great for the Knicks is wonderful.  Likewise, when George Steinbrenner passed away, I decided that it would be a good idea if I bought the Yankees.  All I need is a billion dollars and a dream.  Unfortunately, whether or not Isiah identified LeBron as the piece he needed to win a title in New York, in reality you need more than a dream to make something happen.

Thomas guessed James would ultimately sign an extension with Cleveland that would keep him with the Cavaliers through 2010, but went about acquiring players he thought would appeal to LeBron, anyway.

Really?  He identified that James would sign a short extension with the Cavs instead of the full one?  A style of extension that until James, Wade and Bosh signed theirs nobody had done?  Really?!?  Sure you did there slugger.  I believe you, thousands wouldn’t, but I do*

*Too bad for Knicks fans, the only other person who believes Thomas is Knicks owner James Dolan…

Dan Shaughnessy on Tim Duncan…

March 29, 2010 1 comment

I don’t really want Sports on the Brain to be one of those blogs that searches out articles by established sports writers and tears into them. Partly, because if you’re going to do something so querulous, then you have to do it with an exceptional amount of intelligence and wit, and.. well… I’m just not going to do it better than these guys did. But also, because with the proliferation of FJM copycat blogs, at this point it seems banal, jealous and mean spirited, and that’s not really what I’m interested in…

(you can just see the giant BUT coming here, can’t you?)

But… today, Sports Illustrated’s Dan Shaughnessy wrote a column were he disputes the notion that Tim Duncan is one of the ten best players in NBA history. That he’s wrong is I’m sure obvious to almost everyone with even a rudimentary understanding of basketball, but lets ignore the end result for a minute and look at some of his logic.

Off the top of my head I’d take Wilt Chamberlain (always No. 1, the guy averaged 50.4 points a game during the 1961-62 season), Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Bob Cousy ahead of Duncan. There’s a quick 10 without as much as a three-second violation.

Ok, first off, we know that the Bible took apart Chamberlain as a potential top dog in NBA history so completely that it’s now hard to respect anyone who keeps Wilt ensconced there based upon logic like, he averaged 50.4 points per game in a single season (It’s called context Dan). Yet, obviously Wilt is still in the top ten, as are Jordan, Kareem, Magic, Bird, and Russell. I’d say then that Duncan comes in at the front of a group that includes (in some order) Shaq, Kobe, Oscar, and West, with the Diesel having a big advantage in terms of upside, but also having the biggest caveat, because he spent so many seasons running in neutral.

The real kicker in Shaughnessy’s group though is Cousy. Come on Dan, we all get that you’re a rabid Boston homer, but Cousy? Better than Duncan? Lets use one of Bill Simmons’ favourite constructs. We’ll play a game with our lives on the line and you can have either Cousy, who was a tremendous court leader, a gifted passer, and a cagey player who couldn’t shoot water out of a hose, or Duncan. A player who at his best was a seven foot behemoth, who protected the rim so smartly that he managed to affect shots without taking himself out of the play. A player who was a strong passer out of double teams, which his presence demanded, because his bank shot was so automatic that teams couldn’t let him get in position to take it. And a player who just happened to grab ten boards a game without thinking. Cousy was great, but he’s at least ten players away from the top ten and taking him over Duncan with your life on the line would be a little like saying, “let’s play Russian Roulette with a single barrel shotgun, I’ll go first.”

Nothing against Duncan, but you could also give me Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Julius Erving, Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Kevin McHale. Oh, and let’s not forget Bob Pettit, Moses Malone, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas.

I’m sorry, but did you just add perennial runner ups Barkley and Malone into a covnersation with four time champion Duncan? And Stockton? Believe me when I say that I love the guy, but… him? Really? I already mentioned Bryant in my top ten, Hakeem certainly could make an argument, and we all know that unless he’s abducted by the military for some sort of secret cloning project, LeBron will reside somewhere in the pantheon one day, but Thomas? Petite? Baylor? Erving? Great, great, great, and great, but better than Duncan? Please.

Somehow, I’ve missed Duncan’s greatness. Maybe it’s because he played in San Antonio. Maybe it’s the lack of flair in his game. Even his nickname is boring. Please, “The Big Fundamental?” Sounds like a guy you’d fit for a pocket protector.

I’m sorry, did you just argue that you can’t include Duncan in your top ten because his game didn’t have flair and you don’t like his nickname? Maybe he should have flashed more Jazz Hands, given himself a pseudonym like Agent Zero, and then everything he does to (you know) actually win games might have been obvious to you. And SI wonders why it’s subscriptions are dropping faster than an accelerating Toyota.

I’ll admit that the more I scour Duncan’s numbers, the better he looks. He’s a 7-footer who plays great defense, makes the perfect outlet passes and uses the glass like no one else his size. He’s won his whole career, and he’s done it quietly. Too quietly for his own good, maybe. Playing in a small media market has disguised some of his greatness.
Duncan continues to play at an amazing level for a guy closing in on 34…

…Duncan was predictably humble about the whole deal.

We went down my list. I started rattling off names.
“You got 12 right there,” he said.
Tim Duncan is not going to fight about this. Even he admits it is absurd. He is a great player. He’s just not one of the 10 greatest of all time.

Hey, I’ve got a great idea, I’m going to determine that a guy isn’t one of the ten best players of all time. Then, when I actually look into it, I’ll find that he really is, but rather than concede my point, I’ll go ask him if he thinks he’s better than the twelve names I’ve randomly placed above him. If he disagrees, then I can pillory him for being arrogant, but if he doesn’t then I can write, “Even he admits it is absurd.” No Shaughnessy, what’s absurd is your entire column.

Bill Simmons and the basketball Bible…

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment

This site is called Sports on the Brain, because I spend a disproportionate amount of my time reading and thinking about sports. As the title suggests, when others are day dreaming about an afternoon on their boat, the blonde in the next cubicle, or world domination, I’m thinking things like ‘if Steve Nash had re-signed with Dallas in 2004, would they have won a title, or three?’

Yet, few things have ever gotten that infirm, one legged chipmunk hopping around the wheel in my head like Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball. Now, Simmons is probably the most read sports writer in the world and he needs my plug like Tiger Woods needs a wing man, but… If you are a fan of basketball and you don’t already own this book, well… Click on that link, now, Now ,NOW. If you aren’t a fan of basketball, well you should be, so go buy Simmons’ book and by page 214 we’ll have you.

If, as Simmons has said for years, Larry Bird is the basketball Jesus (I think owing to the fact that he once turned water into light beer at a party or something, I’m not really sure), then Simmons’ book is definitely the Basketball Bible. Seriously, Simmons is a Bird disciple, and this book extols the greatness that is Bird’s religion. At some point Simmons addressed the Bible as a potential name, along with fifty or so others he considered, but for publishing reasons it wasn’t meant to be. However, that wont stop me from calling it by its proper name…

The book has its flaws, not the least of which is about 200 pages worth of porn references, but it’s also a seminal piece of work, filled with stunning insight, obsessive research, and an all time deconstruction of Wilt Chamberlain. The Bible instantly enters the cannon of essential sports books, along with Lords of the Realm, the Soul of Baseball, Breaks of the Game, and Bad as I Wanna Be, by Dennis Rodman.

At the center of the Bible is a discussion with Isaiah Thomas in which the beleaguered (then) Knicks GM shares with Bill “the Secret.” I’d tell you what the secret is, but the book’s 700 pages long and I’d hate to ruin the ending for you…

Let me repeat part of that last sentence, because it’s an important piece of this puzzle: ‘but the book is 700 pages long.’ Well, technically 697, but who’s counting. So, starting this book is something of a commitment. Personally, I chose to read it in parts, picking it up and reading wherever it fell. Sometimes I would find a specific section and read that, but I did not read it from North to South. Now, shortly after I finished the Bible, my friend Punshon bought the book and several days later sent me this email:

Subject: Sportsonthebrain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar…

Body: ….are both ninny’s!

I absolutely cannot believe that you did not read this book from start to finish. Reading ahead, picking your spots. You’re like all the “superstars” of the nineties, with their $100 million dollar contracts and everything too soon. No appreciation of the process. No savoring of a hard earned victory. Like a kid who cannot help but peek at their presents.

Now, Punshon has a point and he might be right, on the other hand he’s a ginger, so who knows. What I do know is that in his introduction Malcolm Gladwell wrote:

If this were a novel, you would be under some obligation to read it all at once or otherwise you’d lose track of the plot . (Wait. Was Celeste married to Ambrose, or were they the ones who had the affair at the Holiday Inn?) But it isn’t a novel. It is, rather, a series of loosely connected arguments and riffs and lists and stories that you can pick up and put down at any time.

So, if Gladwell says I can pick it apart like MJ attacking the Cavs defense, well, it works for me. Besides, what the Bible really is, is an excuse to think about hoops. To think about, to debate, to articulate about why Steve Nash’s MVP in 2005 was deserved, or why Bill Russell, despite 11 rings, is not the second best player in NBA history, or why my all time wine cellar team wouldn’t include Kobe Bryant.

Simmons’ hoops knowledge is both deep and nuanced and through most of the book he had me nodding along like a long necked bird on an accountant’s desk, but there are times when I disagreed. And that’s really the beauty of the whole book. Not the moments when you think Bill’s right, but the moments you think he’s wrong, or if not wrong, then the points when you would cut right, while he drives left.

The Bible is a masterpiece and over the next few months, when I’ve nothing else to write about, I will pursue a one-sided dialog with Simmons…

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: