Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is Pau Gasol underrated?

Kobe Bryant is a phenomenal player, and his career is full of team and individual accomplishments. However, after Shaquille O’Neal left town, the Lakers missed the playoffs and then struggled every subsequent year in the postseason. The team just kept getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. By 2008, Kobe had had enough; he wanted out in the worst way. But then as the season unfolded, the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol in a trade (seriously, Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol?) that was the equivalent of swapping 50 Cent’s I Run New York with Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind. The team then took off and has been to two straight NBA Finals since acquiring the Spaniard. And yet, when discussing the best big men in the NBA, we hear about Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard. Pau Gasol rarely ever gets a shout from anybody. What is it that the world is missing out on? Let me make this perfectly clear: I am not by any stretch a Lakers fan; however it seems that only Lakers fans realize just how good Gasol is. Isn’t it about time someone spoke up for him? Well today’s the day….

Gasol never ever gets his just due. After getting punked by KG and Kendrick Perkins in the 2008 Finals, people labeled Gasol as soft and weak minded. And they were right. Garnett took Gasol to school in the Finals two years ago. Garnett was in his face throughout the Finals and kept pushing and screaming but Gasol never retaliated. However, there are two things about those Finals that were never mentioned:

1. Experience: Up to that point in his career, Gasol had never been out of the first round of the playoffs; so he wasn’t accustomed to the intensity of the following rounds. Nevertheless, he adjusted in the second round and the Conference Finals. The Finals were a different story altogether, or were they?

2. Joker magic trick (from the Dark Knight): Joker places a pencil on the table standing up and utters this line “Let me show you a magic trick, I’ll make this disappear.” As one of the goons approaches, Joker grabs him by the back of the head and slaps his head against the table and the pencil goes straight into his head. “Ta-dah!!” People were quick to point fingers at Gasol, and say that he disappeared in the Finals. Fans and media members were all of the opinion that Pau had pulled a disappearing act. Have a quick look at his numbers for the 2007-08 playoffs excluding the Finals:
17.7 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 4.2 AG, 52.9 FG%

Pretty good production by the Spaniard. Let’s have a look at his production in the 2008 Finals against the Celtics:
14.7 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, 53.2 FG%, 33/62 FGs

The numbers don’t completely capture the story. As you can see, Gasol’s scoring went down, but he took two shots less on average in the playoffs compared to the rest of the 2008 postseason run. The production was about the same but what the stats don’t show is that his Lakers got pushed around. Gasol’s never been the biggest bully on the block and he never will be; but truth is he was blamed for the failures of his team simply because he is a finesse player. Gasol failed to set tone physically for his team. He was never physical and never committed a hard foul to send a message to the Celtics; and in turn he let the Celtics push him around a bit. You have to admit, Gasol was an easy target just like Screech Powers (Saved by the Bell reference) was; and ultimately it was easier to put the blame on him. I will say though, Lakers fans might not want to admit it, but another guy that deserved an equal share of the blame was none other than Kobe Bryant. Look at the numbers
Kobe 2008 playoffs (excluding games vs. Boston): 31.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.8 APG, 50.1 FG%
Kobe in 2008 Finals: 25.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 40.5 FG%, 53/131 FGs.

And yet, Pau Gasol faced tons of criticism during the offseason and had to answer several media members that openly questioned his toughness. Gasol used the negative comments to fuel his fire and came back during the 2008-2009 season with a mean streak. Gasol wasn’t Scarface, but he would use the regular season to make his opponents back down. By the time the 2009 Western Conference Finals started, Gasol was ready to take on a tough and physical Denver Nuggets squad. He took both Kenyon Martin and Nene to the Pau Post Moves shop (if such a shop really existed, the website would be and helped propel the Lakers back to the Finals. Look at Gasol’s numbers against the Nuggets in the 2009 Western Conference Finals:
17.5 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.3 BPG, 63.3 FG%, 38/60 FGs.

By the time the Lakers made it to the Finals, Gasol’s cojones were swollen to the point that there was no deterring him or even shaking his confidence. The signature play of the Finals for me was when Gasol went in for a dunk at the end of Game 4 and Pietrus came in from behind and pushed him hard in the back as he completed the dunk. Gasol immediately turned around and gave Pietrus the stare of death as he chest bumped him to make him back off. If Gasol was a sniper, that look alone might have taken down Pietrus. The only thing missing was for Gasol to say : “Don’t mess with me, I’m Tony Montana motherf*cker!!!” Damn, Stern might suspend me for that line. Well let’s go all out: Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Thanks for tolerating my immaturity; now back to business. Look at the Spaniard’s numbers from the 2009 Finals:
18.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.8 BPG, 60.0 FG%, 36/60 FGs.

Pretty good numbers from the Finals and his performance has carried on into this season. Gasol is averaging about the same numbers this season as he averaged in the Finals (field goal percentage is a bit lower) but there is one substantial difference this year: Kobe’s trust. Make no mistake about it, Kobe Bryant is not a closer, he is The Closer. And yet, Black Mamba is now completely comfortable with the idea of deferring to Gasol late in games. Indeed, Gasol has earned his trust with his play. He is arguably the best back to the basket big man in the NBA, he almost always makes the right play, catches tough passes in traffic and scores with great touch around the basket. The Lakers are a great team, so they are able to distribute the ball amongst themselves and ride the hot hand; however when they need an automatic deuce, they go their seven footer from Spain.  So I ask the question once again: is Pau Gasol underrated? Considering that some people are upset that he made the All-Star roster despite being an unstoppable back to the basket player (we have very few of them left), I would have to say that yes Pau Gasol is underrated. Not convinced? Draw your own list of the NBA’s best big men and tell me who makes the cut; you’ll realize the Spaniard’s in there.

Photo by: Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
From: ESPN

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What's Irritating

You have got to be kidding me. The NBA All-Star Reserves were recently announced. Some were good picks, I liked them—but oh looky here!—Josh Smith didn't even effing made it! Are you freaking kidding me? This is a joke, right? So a Spaniard named Pau Gasol, who only played like 25 games this year, makes the team and this stud in Smith doesnt? What? Hello, is this really happening here? Now I know how smart these fans are. Yep, that's right, these are not All-Star caliber stats: 15.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 2.2 BPG.

Right on the money NBA fans. You got it. Though Gasol has better stats, he has played a total amount of 29 games. Compared to Josh Smith? 44. Um, okay? That's right. That's definitely the case here. Smith is just horrible. Okay, now enough with the harsh sarcasm, but David Stern, really? Are you allowing this to happen? Just change the goddamn NBA All-Star voting rules. I've now had enough with this fan voting. Just stop it!

And what the hell is going on here? LeBron James was fined $25K for kicking a water bottle. I know he was pissed, but that much money? How would you feel, NBA executives, if people pulled off this bull on you? Not feeling right...right? This just sickens me. More than Two Girls, One Cup. Okay, not the point here. But luckily, the man partnered with McDonald's. Eh, eh? Nice, eh? Eh, eh?

But back to the All-Star voting for just another second. Where's David Lee? Right now, I am not very happy with this. But screw it now, I'd rather just shut up about the NBA All-Star stuff. It's already stupid enough. Everything already happened. Can't change the past. Oh God, please give somebody a way to make a time machine!

And what's wrong the Nets? But I think I know why they are acting like this. At least I think so. Two words: John Wall. (Timmy from South Park voice comes up: "JOHNNY....WALLY!" I think it's a good idea. But watch out, the Timberwolves are in the race! The race for John Wall: who'll suck the most? Coming soon to an NBA season near you.

Pretty much, all of this that I discussed irritates me. I just hope crap like this doesn't happen often, because I've been seeing a lot like this lately.

Note to Pau Gasol: Don't worry man, you're cool

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ranking the #1 overall draft picks since 1990

About a week ago, I was having a talk with my boy Da Monsta and he made a point about #1 overall picks that got me thinking a little deeper about the NBA. He mentioned that when you draft a player #1 overall, the expectation is championship or fail. So I decided to dig a little and look at the last 20 #1 number one picks (basically every #1 pick for the past 20 years); and evaluate his statement based on that. As I did the digging, here’s what I found: only two players drafted #1 overall in the past 20 years have won a championship as the team’s best player or at least second best player on their team. And only one player in the past 20 years has been drafted #1 overall and won the title with the team that drafted him. After doing such extensive research, I figured I’d take it up a notch and rank the last 20 #1 overall picks. In order to properly list them, I looked at their careers, the level of success of their teams, their personal level of success and the amount of teams they played for. The last one was important to me, because a “can’t miss” player shouldn’t be getting traded left right and center. So with that, you understand the premise, now I’m just going to ask my good friend David Stern to present each player. Ready Dave? We’re doing this in reverse order, let’s kick it…

“And with the #1 pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers select Pacific center…”
20. Michael Olowokandi
Career numbers: 8.3 PG, 6.8 RG, 0.7 AG, 1.4 BPG, 43.5FG%
Best season is 2002-03: 12.3 PPG, 9.1 RG, 1.3 APG, 2.2 BPG, 42.7 FG%
Accomplishments: None, except he was a screen saver on countless computers in the world.
Teams played on: LA Clippers, Minnesota, Boston
Analysis: The Kandi Man is one of the worst #1 draft picks in the history of the draft. NBA general managers and head coaches expect their centers (especially when drafted number one overall) to rebound, score inside at a high rate, shoot a high percentage and defend the paint. Olowokandi did none of those. His contributions to the Clippers were mostly in terms of poster material; and by that I mean he was the one getting dunked on in every Clippers poster. But then again, getting the Kandi Man allowed the Clips to eventually get the next guy.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers select Oklahoma State center…”
19. Blake Griffin
Career numbers: 0.0 PPG, 0.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.0 BPG, 0.0 FG%
Best season: 0.0 PPG, 0.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.0 BPG, 0.0 FG%
Minutes played so far in NBA career: 0.
Analysis: If the #20 spot didn’t tell you just how bad the Olowokandi pick was, this should. Blake Griffin has yet to suit up for the Clippers (scheduled to play next year after surgery) and yet he is still a better #1 pick than the Kandi Man. He smiles for the camera and gets stars to actually talk to him and give him advice. Olowokandi was like the NBA’s version of bad porn: overexposed, awkward, clearly out of place and yet you couldn’t look away.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, the Washington Wizards select Glynn Academy center…”
18. Kwame Brown
Career numbers: 6.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 BPG, 48.8 FG%
Best season is 2003-04: 10.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.7 BPG, 48.9 FG%
Accomplishments: Being MJ’s biatch and being one of the few people to play with MJ and Kobe.
Teams played on: Washington, LA Lakers, Memphis, Detroit.
Analysis: In case you were trying to erase it from your memory, this is Michael Jordan’s legacy as a general manager in Washington. He selected a high school player from Glynn Academy that he hoped would become the next Kevin Garnett. Unfortunately, Jordan completely crushed his confidence in practice and Kwame Brown became one of the examples of why high school seniors should not be allowed to enter the NBA. Brown eventually left Washington to join the Lakers with hope that a change of scenery would help him blossom into a player with less pressure coming from management and the coaching staff. Turns out that Kwame Brown was exactly the same in Los Angeles as Washington. However, Lakers fans are forever grateful to Kwame because his expiring contract allowed the Lakers to get Pau Gasol and eventually win a title. Sadly, Kwame is still waiting for his ring in the mail.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Ohio State center…”
17. Greg Oden
Career numbers: 9.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 0.6 APG, 1.4 BPG, 57.7 FG%
Best season is 2009-10: 11.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, 2.3 BPG, 60.5 FG%
Accomplishments: Has probably committed more fouls than Bill Laimbeer and Charles Oakley combined at this point in his career.
Team played on: Portland.
Analysis: Greg Oden spent one year at Ohio State and turned the university into a Final Four. Early in his first collegiate season, Oden had damaged his right wrist and therefore was forced to play left handed for most of the NCAA season. Nonetheless, Oden was undeterred as he put himself on the college basketball map as he poured in 15.7 points per game and grabbed 9.6 rebounds per game; once again, all with one hand. He was eerily reminiscent of David Robinson. He ran the floor, jumped over people for powerful dunks and completely discouraged people from driving when he was underneath the basket. Oden led his team to the National Championship game, only to lose to a more experienced Florida team. He then declared himself eligible for what was known as the “Oden-Durant draft”. Oden went first and Kevin Durant went  second in the draft. Although Oden has produced when he has played; his career has been plagued by injuries and foul trouble. Believe me when I say this, if Oden can ever stay healthy; he’ll be good. I’m talking Alonzo Mourning type good; but if he can’t, he’ll just be a bigger version of Penny Hardaway: tons of talent and potential, but too many injuries to overcome.

“And with the #1 overall pick in the 1995 draft, the Golden State Warriors select Maryland power forward…”
16. Joe Smith
Career numbers: 11.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG,  1.0 APG, 0.9 BPG, 45.6 FG%
Best season is 1996-97: 18.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 BPG, 45.4 FG%
Accomplishments: Destroying Garnett’s chances at a title in Minnesota.
Teams played on: Golden State, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Oklahoma, Atlanta.
Joe Smith was never going to be the second best player on a championship team, let alone a franchise player. And yet, Golden State drafted him as such. After putting up numbers in Golden State, but failing to help the team achieve any type of success, management did what men do when they’re done with their booty call: they showed him the door. Smith went to Philadelphia and later ended up in Minnesota. He signed a mafia type free agent contract (Minnesota’s management tried to circumvent the salary cap by giving Smith money under the table); however, the almighty NBA commissioner David Stern found out and thus voided the contract when he got word of it (about a year later). He then suspended Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale for a year and stripped the team of their five future first round picks. Think about what you just read; there’s nothing in there about Joe Smith’s basketball skills, his participation in one of the best playoff games ever or anything of that nature. His legacy is that he and McHale ruined a potential championship caliber team in Minnesota by handcuffing the team’s ability to draft. And yet it seems people have forgotten…..until today.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors select Italy center…”
15. Andrea Bargnani
Career numbers: 13.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.9 BPG, 43.3 FG%
Best season is 2009-10:  17.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.4 BPG, 46.9 FG%
Accomplishments: Being a big man that doesn’t rebound
Teams played on: Toronto
Analysis:  When Bryan Colangelo drafted Bargnani, the thought was that he would be the next Dirk Nowitzki. What that meant was that he and Chris Bosh were going to be the premier big men tandem in the NBA. Bosh was going to bang inside and Bargnani would mix his game up to go outside and inside to complement Bosh. However, something happened along the way; Bargnani showed some promise, but more like a broken promise. He was and still is soft. If his jumper isn’t falling, he disappears from games. He has trouble defending players on the perimeter as well as down on the block. No one is saying it, but instead of getting the next Dirk, it seems as though the Raptors have gotten the next Hedo Turkoglu; which is funny in itself because Colangelo signed Turkoglu over the summer. Think I’m exaggerating? Look at their career numbers (take this into account as well; next season Turkoglu will be making $ 9 million and Bargnani will be making $8 million):
Andrea Bragnani: 13.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.9 BPG, 43.3 FG%, 37.7 3PT FG%
Hedo Turkoglu: 12.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, o.3 BPG, 42.7 FG%, 38.5 3PT FG%

I’m well aware that Bargnani is younger and that he might develop a little more in the next few years; nonetheless, the Raptors had a shot at potentially drafting Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay and instead passed on them for a slightly taller version of Turkoglu.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select Utah center….”
14. Andrew Bogut
Career numbers: 12.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.2 BPG, 53.1 FG%
Best season is 2009-10: 15.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.2 BPG, 50.9 FG%
Accomplishments: None.
Teams played on: Milwaukee
Analysis: Andrew Bogut is somewhat of a conundrum. I saw him play at Utah and he was a dominant low post and high post player. He understood how to find players back door in the high post and punished his defenders in the low post. He had all the tools to be successful in the NBA. But then he got to the NBA, and well, they decided to put him on the low block but not feed him the ball. Why bother drafting a center number one overall if you’re not planning on making him a big part of the team? I seriously don’t get it. As I mentioned in the Olowokandi analysis, what you want of your center is for him to rebound, defend the paint, and make a bit more than half his shots. Well look at Bogut’s stats; isn’t that exactly what he does? I will say though, he has been injured throughout the years; but still, is there any other reason why this guy shouldn’t be a more imposing force in the NBA? Well actually there is; Milwaukee has been a predominantly perimeter oriented offense in the past few years. Between Mo Williams, Luke Ridnour, Richard Jefferson, Bobby Simmons, Michael Redd and now Brandon Jennings; the focus has never truly been to give the ball inside to Bogut. But then again, there’s probably a reason though right?  Andrew Bogut might have #1 draft pick talent, but probably not #1 draft pick attitude.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select Memphis point guard…”
13. Derrick Rose
Career numbers: 17.3 PPG, 3.8 RG, 6.2 APG, 0.8 SPG, 47.4 FG%
Best season is 2009-10: 19.4 PG, 3.8 RPG, 5.9 AG, 0.8 SPG, 47.1 FG%
Accomplishments: 2008-09 NBA Rookie of the Year
Teams played on: Chicago
Analysis: Derrick Rose is only this low on this list because we don’t have a big enough sample of his career. For the past two seasons, the young point guard has really impressed people around the NBA. Last season, he ran the offense and looked for his players and deferred to Ben Gordon in the clutch, as the Bulls would continuously ride his hot hand. Chicago let Gordon leave via free agency and replaced him with a guy they already had on the roster; his name: Derrick Rose or as I like to call him, Officer Rick Rose (that’s a 50 Cent reference: because once word leaked out that self-proclaimed drug lord rapper Rick Ross was a parole officer, 50 Cent baptized him Officer Ricky). Although Rose still runs the offense and finds ways to set up his teammates, he has now become more assertive; especially in the fourth quarter. A few nights ago, I watched George Hill and Tony Parker try to stay in front of Rose as he routinely went by them at will. I expect Derrick Rose to climb this list in the next few years, however his resume for the time being is lacking.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, the New Jersey Nets select Cincinnati power forward…”
12. Kenyon Martin
Career numbers: 14.0 PPG, 7.2 RG, 2.1 APG, 1.2 BPG, 48.2 FG%
Best season is 2003-04: 16.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 BPG, 48.8 FG%
Accomplishments: 2004 All Star selection.
Teams played on: New Jersey, Denver
Analysis: Try to recall back in the early 2000’s, when Kenyon Martin was playing lock down defense, dunking on people, taking hard fouls and swatting every opponents shots away. Remember those days? Kenyon was a pure beast and you wanted no part of him. Well, look at the numbers from his best season (written right under his name); don’t you get the feeling that he produced more? The thing about K-Mart, is that his trips to the finals as well as his Charles Oakley wanna be thug enforcer persona have overexposed Martin to us. So we always think that he’s having a great game or that he’s always been a dominant NBA big man. Truth is Martin has been just about above average as an NBA power forward. Mind you, with that said, back when he was in New Jersey, you knew better than to try and block his dunk attempt (some people still tried) and you also knew better than to try dunking on him because he would foul the heck out of you. All things considered though, Martin is still a decent contributing big man in the NBA, but as the years go by and we get additional #1 picks, his spot in this list will take a hit.

“And with the #1 pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select Purdue forward…”
11. Glenn Robinson
Career numbers: 20.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 45.9 FG%
Best season is 2000-01: 22.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.1 SG, 46.8 FG%
Accomplishments: Two All-Star selections
Teams played on: Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Antonio
Analysis: In his time in the NBA, Glenn Robinson was an accomplished scorer with a deadly mid-range jump shot. His size allowed him to take advantage of most players and remain consistent throughout his career.  The Big Dog wasn’t much of a passer though; his game was strictly tailor made for him to put up shots and points. It’s part of the reason that he didn’t make it higher in this list. Seriously, Glenn Robinson played with Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Tim Thomas back when he gave a damn and the best they could manage was an appearance in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals in which they lost game 7 against Allen Iverson’s 76ers. Here’s a little test, try to name me four players that played on that Sixers team………………………..Give up? Let me help you out: Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill and Dikembe Mutombo. By the way, that was the 76ers line up in crunch time. Somehow that team defeated the Bucks. That’s what hurt Big Dog in this list.

“And with the #1 pick in the 1990 NBA Draft, the New Jersey Nets select Syracuse center…”
10. Derrick Coleman
Career numbers: 16.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 BPG, 44.7 FG%
Best season is 92-93: 20.7 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.7 BPG, 46.0 FG%
Accomplishments: One All Star appearance (1994), 1990-91 NBA Rookie of the year
Teams played on: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Detroit.
Analysis: Remember when Michael Beasley came into the NBA, he came with tons of potential and a very good college career. This is what scouts loved about Beasley: left handed, great scorer that finishes around the basket, rebounds in his area, able to get tough rebounds in traffic, very good handle for his size, can run offense through him in high post and can attack from the perimeter. What scared away some of the scouts was his goofy attitude (people felt he lacked maturity and were afraid that him being a millionaire would make him a head case) and the possibility he might be more addicted to crack cocaine than Pookie from New Jack City (Ok fine you got me, I made the crack cocaine part up but you believed me right?). Here’s the thing; all of the things I just listed were said about Derrick Coleman. The general consensus is that he underachieved for most of his career. Want proof? Go ask any random NBA fan who Coleman is: three out of 10 people will have no clue, another four others will have heard about him but not know and about three people will know who he is. That means that 30% of NBA fans know exactly who Derrick Coleman is. That’s sad considering how good he was; but the man underachieved and left no legacy whatsoever.

“And with the #1 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select Duke center…”
9. Elton Brand
Career numbers: 19.6 RPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.0 BPG, 50.2 FG%
Best season is 2005-06: 24.7 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.5 BPG, 52.7 FG%
Accomplishments: Two All-Star selections, 1999-00 NBA Rookie of the Year
Teams played on: Chicago, LA Clippers, Philadelphia
Analysis: This was one of the toughest players to list because his career is a bit odd. After Michael Jordan retired, the Bulls got bad real fast. So when they got the first pick in the draft, they selected the Duke product. Elton Brand just kept piling up double doubles (we’re talking 20 and 10 people) game after game, but the team kept losing. No matter how well Brand played; the team just couldn’t follow his lead.  The talk around the league was that Brand was just accumulating stats on a bad team. Brand was then shipped out west, where his production remained just about the same. However, by the 2005-06 season, Elton Brand had become too good. Aided by the alien known as Sam Cassel, Brand put up the best numbers of his career and turned the doormat Clippers into a playoff team. For that one season, EB was in the same stratosphere as Garnett and Duncan (which is saying a lot because these guys are the marquee power forwards of the NBA). Brand has had a very good NBA career; but more than anything people will always remember that for at least one year, the Clippers (lost to Suns in second round) mattered more than the Lakers (lost in first round to Suns) in the NBA playoffs. And they can thank Elton Brand for that.

“And with the #1 pick in the 1991 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select UNLV forward…”
8. Larry Johnson
Career numbers: 16.2 PG, 7.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 48.4 FG%
Best season:  1992-93; 22.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 0.6 SPG, 52.6 FG%
Two All-Star selections, 1992-93 Rookie of the year
Teams played on: Charlotte, New York
Analysis: Before Larry Johnson went to New York and became a below the rim power forward; he was a cross between a power forward and small forward a la Charles Barkley. At a mere 6-6, LJ averaged a double double in his first two years in the league. He punished defenders in the post with an array post moves, and also had the skills to play small forward. He took defenders outside (think Shawn Marion with a better handle) and was able to exploit them out on the perimeter with drives and short jumpers. After schooling his defender a few times, Johnson would fake the jump shot and take it to the basket strong and dunk on whoever was waiting for him underneath the basket. By his third season though, a knee injury robbed Johnson of his explosiveness. He therefore had to adjust his game; and became more of a low post threat that played with his back to the basket. On occasion he would face his defender and drive him baseline for a reverse lay up. His lack of explosiveness also forced him to work on his outside jumper; consequently Johnson became a reliable three point shooter. But Larry Johnson’s legacy has nothing to do with numbers, dunks, post moves or anything of the sort. Larry Johnson gave the Knicks franchise as well as Madison Square Garden one of the best plays in playoff history.  With about 15 seconds left and the Knicks down 91-88 at home to the Indiana Pacers in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Knicks inbounded the ball to LJ, who gave Antonio Davis a stutter step to the right twice, took a dribble and then went left; launched a three point bomb that swished through the basket as Davis was called for a foul (one of the biggest phantom calls of NBA history by the way) right in front of the Pacers bench. Not only did LJ produce, but that memory still lingers for Knicks and NBA fans.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets select China center….”
7. Yao Ming
Career numbers: 19.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.6APG,  1.9 BPG, 52.5 FG%
Best season:  06-07; 25.0 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.0 BPG, 51.6 FG%
Accomplishments: Seven All-Star selections
Teams played on: Houston
Analysis: When the Rockets drafted Yao, several people went on the record to say (yes Mr. Charles Barkley, I’m talking to you) that he would end up being a bust. Well turns out that they were wrong. In his seven years in the league, he has led his team to the playoffs five times; and finally advanced past the first round last year despite the absence of Tracy McGrady. In a league that used to be dominated by centers, we are now lacking any type of actual centers in the NBA. The only great big men we have now are listed as power forwards. However, we still have Yao. Not only is he a legit NBA center, he’s actually one of the few we have left. Earlier in this post, I mentioned the responsibilities of a center (let’s be real, only a franchise center can do all the things I mentioned earlier) and Yao fulfills them perfectly.  He can score at high rate from the low post as well as the high post, he defends the paint, rebounds and scores efficiently. In addition, although his assists numbers don’t reflect I, Yao is a very good passing big man. So why isn’t Yao Ming higher on this list? There are two reason:
1.Durability – Not counting the playoffs, Yao’s has appeared in 481 games out of  out of a possible 618 games and counting. The fact that he always gets injured made him take a drop in the list (but there are other reasons as well).

2. Fear – When your favorite team plays against the Rockets, does Yao Ming scare you? It’s a really simple and yet telling question. When he gets the ball down low, does he terrify you? Although it’s not necessarily a requirement for a player drafted first overall; the level of fear associated with him has to count for something though. He does not scare you on the boards, and although he protects the paint, players are always trying to attack him for a chance to dunk on him. I already know what you’re thinking; players are always attacking big men looking to posterize them which is true, but here’s my rebuttal: how often you see someone try to dunk o Shaq, Dwight, KG or K-Mart? Very rarely because they fear them. Ultimately, that ends up hurting Yao’s spot.

“And with the #1 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, the Golden State Warriors select Michigan forward…”
6. Chris Webber
Career numbers: 20.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 BPG, 47.8 FG%
Best season is 2000-01: 27.1 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.7 BPG, 48.1 FG%
Accomplishments: 5 All-Star selections, 1993-94 rookie of the year
Teams played on: Golden State, Washington, Sacramento, Philadelphia, Detroit.
Analysis: If you’re old enough to have seen Chris Webber played in college, you were blessed. You remember how he changed the whole culture of basketball. The NBA is now largely seen as a Hip Hop sport and you can thank Mr. Webber for his contributions. When he was in college, he and four other freshmen became the Fab Five (Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson). They rocked the baggy shorts, the black socks and the cool Nike shoes and played with tons of swagger. When C-Webb made it to the NBA, nothing changed. He was the same guy that we had seen at Michigan. Webber punished defenders in the low post, attacked slower players from the wing and killed his opponents with hook shots and jumpers. In addition, no one and I mean no one besides Shawn Kemp was more reckless or fearless when attacking the basket. I once saw Webber drive baseline (in traffic) and do a one footed two handed reverse dunk like it was nothing. He then obviously paused for the camera and gave it a snarl and jogged back on defense. In addition to all of his gifts, Webber was perhaps the best passing big man after Bill Walton and Arvydas Sabonis. He routinely found players cutting to the basket and had a knack for feeding other players for wide open lay ups. He did it in Golden State and also did it in Washington. However he ran into some troubles with the Bullets (now known as the Wizards) and then got shipped to Sacramento. During his time with the Kings, Chris Webber was arguably the best power forward (before knee injury) in the NBA. And keep in mind, he was playing against the like of Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone. During the 2001-2002 season, Chris Webber led his Kings squad to one of the best Western Conference Finals match up of recent history. A trip to the NBA Finals was on the line with game 7 being played in Sacramento’s Arco Arena, which was home to the loudest crowd in the NBA. The Kings eventually lost in overtime in a game that perfectly illustrated Chris Webber’s career; check out his line from the game: 52 minutes,  20 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, and 9 of 21 field goal shooting. In the biggest game of his career, Webber almost had a triple double, and yet if you ask anybody who saw the game; Webber was nearly invisible. For the first three quarters of the game, Webber was dunking the ball, screaming at Lakers players and making incredible passes to open teammates. But once the fourth quarter and overtime hit, C-Webb completely disappeared. Webber stopped shooting, he stopped swaggering and he kept looking for Mike Bibby (by the way it has to be said that it was Bibby’s best year in the NBA; Kobe Bryant had trouble defending him; which should tell you everything you need to know about his performance in the playoffs that year) to bail him out. The problem with Webber is that much like Garnett, he was the ultimate wingman. He got you in the club, had you to talk to people at the bar, got you to know the bouncers so you could eventually come back alone, but once he helped you get that first interaction with a girl you were trying to hook up with, you were completely on your own. Is that bad? I say no. Even as a wingman, Webber was a phenomenal player with a lot of gifts that helped his teams contend. However, when teams acquired him, they thought they were acquiring the guy that would lead his team to a championship as opposed to a wingman. Unfortunately for Webber, he failed to live up to expectations set for him.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic select SW Atlanta Christian Academy center….”
5. Dwight Howard
Career numbers: 17.3 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 2.1 BPG, 57.0 FG%
Best season is 2008-09: 20.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 2.9 BPG, 57.2 FG%
Accomplishments: Three time All-Star selection, 2008-09 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Teams played on: Orlando Magic.
Analysis: Would you believe that some people actually argued (and with great reason at the time) that the Magic should have drafted Emeka Okafor instead of Howard? I think the Magic are happy with what they got. Keep in mind, Dwight Howard might be the closest thing we ever to see Shaquille O’Neal. The man scores at an incredibly efficient rate, he cleans out the boards like it’s nobody else’s business and he protects the paint. When Dwight is under the basket, point guards shoot floaters, they don’t try to attack him for strong lay ups because they know he will either swat their shot or foul them with his impressive physique. Right now, there isn’t a more intimidating player in the league on offense and defense. Howard just bullies people around to get rebounding position, to swat shots into the fifth row and to dunk on his opponents. As I mentioned earlier, the NBA just doesn’t have anymore centers. But Orlando can say they have one; and they have the best one in the league. Although his offensive game needs work, he still puts up points and in addition he will probably be the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the rest of the decade. Why isn’t Howard higher on the list though? Two reasons (which are related):
1. Lack of quality big men – There just aren’t many quality big men that are equipped to deal with the problems that Dwight Howard causes. And yet, we have not seen Dwight dominate the league the way we think he is capable of doing. At this point in his career, Dwight Howard should be putting up 25, 13 and 3 on average. He should be making every team with the audacity to play him with single coverage pay. We are still waiting to see that, which leads me to my next point...

2. Attitude - The same way I mentioned that Bogut has the talent of a number #1 draft pick but possibly not the attitude, I have to ask myself that exact same question with Howard. He's shooting 10 free throws per game (which is great) but is only taking nine field goal attempts per game this season. Considering that he's shooting 60.0% from the field this year, why isn't he demanding the ball for more shots? There’s no way that he can be happy to watch guys like Matt Barnes, Vince Carter, Mickel Pietrus, Jameer Nelson, Jason Williams, J. J. Redick and Ryan Anderson keep firing away from three point range right? But what is he doing about it? Doesn't seem as though he's been grumbling about it. This obviously is the doing of Stan Van Gundy, but the fact that Howard does nothing about it troubles me enough to have him listed as #5.

We will have a brief intermission here, complete with draft analysis from, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, Jay Bilas, Stephen A. Smith and Stuart Scott.

Kenny Smith: Derrick Rose was an excellent pick for the Bulls. He's got it all folks; usually I'd show you Kenny's Pictures, but not today because the picture is simply Derrick Rose.
Charles Barkley: Kwame Brown went #1? That's just turrible. Wes Unseld and Chris Webber are rolling around in their grave.
Bilas: Dwight Howard was a real sexy pick back in 2004.
Stuart Scott: What a ridonk-culous pick by the Clippers; Olowokandi? Seriously? Boo-Ya.

Thanks guys. Dave, help us out again please…

“And with the #1 pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Georgetown guard...”
4. Allen Iverson
Career numbers: 26.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 6.2 APGG, 2.2 SPG, 42.6 FG%
Best season: 05-06; 33 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 7.9 APG, 1.9 SPG, 44.7 FG%
Accomplishments: 10 All-Star appearances, 1996-97 NBA Rookie of the Year, Two time All-Star Game MVP, 2000-01 league MVP.
Teams played on: Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit, Memphis.
Analysis: Let me make this perfectly clear; the NBA is a league dominated by big men. If you want to win an NBA championship, you better have a combination of very good big men, or a great big man. There's no way around that. Look at the past NBA champions:
2009 Lakers - Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum
2008 Celtics - Kevin Garnett
2007 Spurs - Tim Duncan
2006 Heat - Shaquille O'Neal
2005 Spurs - Tim Duncan
2004 Pistons - Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace
2003 Spurs - Tim Duncan and David Robinson
2002 Lakers - Shaquille O'Neal
2001 Lakers - Shaquille O'Neal
2000 Lakers - Shaquille O'Neal
1999 Spurs - Tim Duncan and David Robinson
1998 Bulls - Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley
1997 Bulls - Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley
1996 Bulls - Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley
1995 Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon
1994 Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon
1993 Bulls - Bill Cartwright
1992 Bulls - Bill Cartwright
1991 Bulls - Bill Cartwright
1990 Pistons - Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman
The only teams without a great big man or a combination of good big men are the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls. What this means is that the NBA is a big man's league. And yet, no one ever gave Allen Iverson that memo. Year after the year, AI showed up for games, took a beating and somehow managed to will his team into the playoffs. People make a huge deal out of the fact that Iverson has had trouble adapting to his teammates and playing with talented players; but people never mention the fact that Iverson kept dragging a team of borderline D-Leaguers to the playoffs and even managed to make the Finals one year. Allen Iverson has been so good for so long that we failed to truly appreciate just how special of a talent he is. While players such as Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady were busy being spoon fed their vitamins and supplements by nurses because of minor injuries, Iverson was on the court every night giving his team the best chance to win. As years go by, people will forget just how special AI was because there might be some new guy that crosses over people and gets to the basket and finishes; but remember this: Iverson did that back when hand checking was legal and when the league allowed players to commit hard fouls. Why doesn't Iverson appear higher on this list? As mentioned earlier, because of his inability to blend his game in with more talented players. AI failed to get it done with Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene and JR Smith in Denver. He then got shipped to Detroit where a team that annually made the Conference Finals, got into the playoffs as an eighth seed and got swept (yes I'm well aware he didn't participate in the playoffs but his performance during the regular season made his team an eighth seed). Allen Iverson basically contracted The Marbury Plague (TMP for short). TMP is the phenomenon by which a talented player joins a team and makes the team worse than what it was before he got there; but once that player leaves that team; they suddenly become a good team. With that said however, Allen Iverson is sure to make the Hall of Fame one day.

“And with the #1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select St. Vincent St Mary's forward....”
3. LeBron James
Career numbers: 27.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, 47.4 FG%
Best season is 2009-10: 29.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 7.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 50.9 FG%
Accomplishments: Five All-Star selections, 2003-04 NBA Rookie of the Year, Two time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 2008-09 NBA League MVP.
Teams played on: Cleveland.
Analysis: Last week, I posted an article titled Whose career would you rather have: Kobe Bryant's or LeBron James'? Here's the point I made about LeBron James: "LeBron James took a small market team that no one outside of Ohio paid attention to; and turned into an NBA powerhouse within five years. Although he has yet to win a championship; whenever the conversation turns to teams with a shot at winning an NBA title, the discussion usually involves the Lakers, the Celtics, the Magic and the Spurs. James has now forced everyone to include his Cavaliers into the discussion. The Cavs are now perennial title contenders and yet with the exception of James, it is basically a team of role players. In order to fully grasp what I'm trying to explain , try to imagine watching the movie Ocean's Eleven; except you take out Brad Pitt from the equation. You essentially leave George Clooney all alone in the movie and ask him to do all the action, all the charming and all the hustling throughout the movie; and still have the same box office hit. That's LeBron James peoples; he doesn't have a truly remarkable co-star and you know what; it might not even matter." Indeed, LeBron James is the best small forward in the NBA and arguably the league's best player. He will have his time in the sun but he's only third in this list because he is missing something that the next two players have....Shall we get to them?

Kanye West interrupts: “Hold up Shyne and Mr Stern, sorry for interrupting and I’ma let you finish, but the next two guys are the only guys on this list to have won rings as the best or second best players on their teams..”

“And with the #1 pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic select LSU center…”
2. Shaquille O’Neal
Career: 24.3 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.6 APG,  2.3 BPG, 58.1 FG%
Best season is 1999-00: 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 3.0 BPG, 57.4 FG%
15 all star appearances, 92-93 rookie of the year, 3 times All-Star game MVP, 99-00 league MVP, 3 times Finals MVP
played for : Orlando, LA Lakers, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland
Analysis: Let's get this out of the way right now; Shaquille O'Neal is the proud owner of four (count them, 1,2,3,4!) championship rings. But that's merely the beginning. Around the year the 2000, the Diesel made the statement that he should be named the MDE (short for Most Dominant Ever); and the man was right. The league still has never seen a big man with his combination of strength, size, speed, agility and basketball IQ. Shaquille O'Neal made every teams best interior defender look like his younger adolescent brother. Shaq drew so many fouls that he would hold all of his opponents best big men hostage on the bench. Coaches would send in an army of goons to take fouls on Shaq and send him to the free throw line in the hopes that he would miss. Think about that for a moment; teams were so afraid of him that they purposely sent him to the line because they knew they didn't stand a chance against him once he caught the ball in the post. His best years were with the Lakers, where he and Kobe Bryant ruled a tough Western Conference on their way to three consecutive NBA titles. O'Neal eventually wore out his welcome in Los Angeles and was traded to Miami where he united with Dwyane Wade. By his second season in South Beach, O'Neal was a champion again. His leadership and rugged interior play allowed his team to reach the top of the mountain once again. Why isn't Shaq Daddy #1 in this list? Two reasons:

1. Tradeability –A truly a can't miss franchise player that’s in his prime or just a little past it; should never get traded. The only reasons that allow for a team to trade a franchise center are these:
a. Traded for a younger and better center.
b. Career is coming to a close and said player no longer produces as once before.
c. One hell of a drug problem; as a seller, not a buyer;
d. He brings guns to the facility and threatens to kill somebody.

And yet, Shaquille O'Neal does not fit any of the listed criteria. The Diesel's sour relationship with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and Lakers owner Jerry Buss eventually led to his demise. Although he won a championship in Miami, he was still traded twice afterwards.

2. Next - The main reason Shaq is listed as #2 on this list, is because the guy that comes next is much more worthy of the spot....

“And with the #1 pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs select Wake Forest center….”
1.Tim Duncan
Career: 21.3 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 2.3 BPG, 50.9 FG%
Best year is 2001-02: 25.3 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.5 BPG, 50.8 FG%
11 All-Star selections, 1997-98 NBA Rookie of the year, 1999-00 All-Star MVP, 3 time mvp, 3 times  NBA Finals MVP
Teams played for:  San Antonio Spurs
Analysis: Tim Duncan will go down in the history books as the greatest power forward of all time. But here’s a secret: he’s more of a center than he is a power forward. And despite that, Duncan does anything and everything you could ever ask a power forward or center to do. You see, not only does Duncan do all the things that you want your power forward/center to do, but he actually made the list of requirements from franchise big men a bit bigger. Let’s look at the requirements of the Duncan List:
-Rebounds his area
-Scores on the low block
-Defends his own man
-Defends the paint
-Intimidates on both offense and defense
-Only jumps at the very last moment when contesting a shot
-Manages fouls extremely well
-Plays different types of pick and roll defense flawlessly (double team, hedge, switch, trap and recover)
-Always rotates on defense.

That my friends, is the perfect big man. And you know what? He’s been doing it for 13 years.  No one really notices Duncan because he’s quiet, lacks sex appeal (it had to be said), doesn’t do rap videos or shamelessly self-promotes himself. With that said though, the fact remains that Duncan has spent his whole career with the same franchise, he has been marvelously consistent (worst statistical season ever was last year with 19.3 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game; yes that’s his worst season), he has led his team to 57wins on average every year (excluding lockout year) and has won four NBA titles. In my book, that’s more then good enough to be the best #1 NBA draft pick of the past 20 years.

Feel free to drop a comment here or send me an email at

Photo by: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
From: ESPN

Thursday, January 21, 2010

NBA Cares: Helping Haiti

It's been a week since one of the most catastrophic disasters had happened to our world. We all know what happened: The 6.0 earthquake in the country of Haiti. A boy, five years of age, was recently rescued after being trapped by rubble...for eight days. They also then found a 70-year-old woman. The NBA, heck, every sports league were devastated by this.

Players like Samuel Dalembert and Pierre Garcon were surprised, also because of family and friends living there as well. Rapper Wyclef Jean was distressed about the accident when he appeared on Oprah. He knew some of his friends died, but he knows he just can't do anything about it. It's unfortunate for our world, but the United States; along with leagues, people, and companies affiliated; are making a difference to help this country.
 Click on the title of this post to read more....

Kobe Vs. LeBron Tonight: It's Still More About Team

The NBA's two premiere superstars face off in Cleveland tonight. You know I'm talking about Kobe and LeBron. The lights will be on for a nationally televised game on TNT tonight at 8 PM Eastern. Now that everyone is about half way through their season in terms of games, this game is more a mid season report card than a one-on-one game between Bryant and James.

The Lakers should remember the Christmas beating the Cavs delivered to them at home earlier this season. Los Angeles didn't execute well throughout that entire game and the level of complacency was not acceptable. Now that the road games are beginning to pile up on the Lakers, it's time for them to prove that they can win big games on the road. You know they'll be up and ready to start this game, but the consistency (LA is 9-6 on the road) is something that must be shown to put them over the top.

Cleveland just has to show the average NBA fan how they've hit their stride. The chemistry is back from last season, the new parts are fitting together nicely and though they've still got to improve, they've shown they can make noise come playoff time. I really don't want to see a lot of LeBron isolation plays in the crunch time. One key to watch is how Mike Brown wants the Cavs to execute down the stretch and how the Lakers attempt to stop LeBron James.

Phil Jackson will have a firm idea of who is the man to come and double LeBron and how to swing the defense accordingly when he makes the pass. This will be what makes or breaks any team that plays Cleveland in a playoff series.

I'm picking the Cavs to come out on top of this one in close fashion. LeBron will make a play, whether it be him taking a shot or a teammate getting an easy bucket; that will sway the game Cleveland's way. The Lakers will play well and bring the intensity, but they're still learning how to deal with road tests and this exam won't be too easy.

Whose career would you rather have: Kobe Bryant's or LeBron James'?

For the past two years, we have been subjected to questions about which player was currently the top dog in the hierarchy of NBA players: Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Everybody has an opinion on the topic but I would rather ask a different question that people have yet to ask: if I had magical powers and could grant you the wish of having the career of either player, which one would you choose? Before I answer the question, let me give you a quick review of the background of these players.

Kobe Bryant was such an amazing high school phenomenon at Lower Merion High School, that he chose to bypass college and go straight to the NBA. Jerry West traded up in the draft and was able to draft the young prodigy. Upon his arrival on the team, he was nicknamed Showboat and Hollywood by Shaquille O'Neal because of his penchant to forego basic fundamental plays in favor the more crowd pleasing ones. If you're old enough to remember seeing Kobe play in his first few years; he had a crossover that actually rivaled Allen Iverson's. Keep in mind though; drafting high school players at the time was still somewhat taboo. The line of thinking was that these players were kids and that their adjustment to the pros would be extremely difficult. Indeed, you now had young men like Kobe Bryant seeing things a bit like the new (he's not that new anymore, but still new) rap sensation Drake sees them now; check out a quick verse from Money To Blow:

"I am, what everybody in my path don't want me to be,
Guess what I made it,
I'm the mothaf*ckin man I just want you to see,
Come take a look,
Get a load of this %$# (rhymes with trigga),
Quit frontin' on me
Don't come around tryin' to gas me up, I like runnin on E…..
[…] They can't help it,
And I can't blame'em
Since I got famous
Well b*tch I got money to blow,
Gettin' it in,
Lettin' these bills fall over ya skin'
I got money to blow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow "
Understandably, the league had its concerns about high school seniors being paid millions. However, players such as Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant helped dispel the myth and pave the way for other high school players. If these guys remained focused on basketball, it was skies the limit for them. And in Kobe Bryant's case, we're still not sure what the limit is for him. Look at his career production:




Great numbers right? How about we look at his list of accomplishments:
- 11 All-Star Game selections
- 3 time All-Star Game MVP
- 2007-2008 NBA League MVP
- 2008-2009 NBA Finals MVP
- 6 All-NBA Defensive 1st Team selections
- 7 All-NBA 1st Team selections
- 10th all time in career free throws made
- 19th all time in career points scored
- 10th all time in career points per game (25.3)

But here's the crazy thing about Kobe Bryant's career; when Jerry West drafted him out of high school, he was supposed to be a small piece of  a 12 piece puzzle that would help the Lakers get back to the glory years. Instead, Kobe Bryant changed the puzzle that West was looking at and turned it into a four piece puzzle titled "Lakers Dynasty". Have a look at the pieces of the puzzle:
-First piece: Shaquille O'Neal
-Second piece: Kobe Bryant
-Third piece: Phil Jackson
-Fourth piece: role players.

In addition, most people have always looked at Kobe Bryant as the Robin to Shaquille O'Neal's Batman. But I feel different about it. Kobe Bryant might have been a sidekick the season they won their first title (1999-2000), but afterwards he was an integral part of the franchise. The Shaq & Kobe relationship had evolved more to a level where they should have been referred to as Superman and Batman. Indeed, both brought a particular set of skills to the Lakers:
Shaquille O'Neal: His role was to score inside, give the team toughness, defend the basket, rebound the ball and be the team leader.
Kobe Bryant: His role was to get the team into their offense, defend the other team's best perimeter offensive player, score with the shot clock running down and carry the team's offense in the clutch.
 That recipe allowed for the Lakers to win three championships in a row. Although the signs had been present during their championship runs, it was clear that Shaq and Kobe would eventually no longer be able to coexist. The pair had always had disputes in public, but the 2003-2004 season was different. Kobe Bryant was facing charges of sexual assault and played that whole season thinking that there was a possibility that he might at some point land in jail. During the trial process, word leaked out that Kobe had snitched on the Diesel. When police officers made their very first interrogation of Bryant, he mentioned that he should have taken the Shaq route and given the woman in question some hush money. The criminal charges were eventually dropped but Kobe's reputation took a huge hit. On his way to rebuilding his image, Kobe became the most feared player in the league. He put up points in bunches and had that one game in which he scored 81 points. Bryant was eventually given a team to contend for a title and finally won a championship as the focal player of his team in June 2009.

LeBron James grew up in Akron, Ohio and became possibly the biggest high school prodigy since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron James catapulted St.Vincent St. Mary's to the national spotlight. The young man was such an amazing talent, that ESPN nationally televised one of their games. By the end of his senior year, although he had not yet declared himself for the NBA Draft, it was evident that he was destined to join the NBA. LeBron James was not going to take the same route as Jesus Shuttlesworth (He Got Game reference); he was instead going straight to the league. As fate would have it, the Cleveland Cavaliers held the number one pick in the NBA Draft and selected the hometown kid form Akron to be the face of their franchise. Back in 2003, James faced so much hype entering his rookie season, most people thought he would either disappoint or crumble under the pressure of the expectations. And yet, LeBron made his first appearance in front of a national audience against the Sacramento Kings and impressed everybody fortunate enough to watch him play that night. By the way, for those of you that are unaware, LeBron played half of is rookie season as a point guard. Head coach Paul Silas felt at the time that James' passing ability would help the team best if he played as the point guard and fed athletic players such as Ricky Davis and Darius Miles. Look at LeBron's numbers:




Same as Kobe, now let's have a look at his accomplishments:
- 5 All-Star Game selections
- 2003-2004 NBA Rookie of the Year
- Two time NBA All-Star Game MVP
- 2008-2009 NBA League MVP
- Three time All-NBA 1st Team Selection
- 2008-2009 NBA All-Defensive 1st Team
- Third all time in career points per game (27.3)
- 26th all time in career assists per game (6.8)

LeBron James' started his NBA career with all the expectations of the world on his shoulders. People might not recall this today, but when LeBron entered the league, there was talk that he was overrated and that he couldn't possibly succeed as an NBA player. In addition, before ever playing an NBA game, James signed a $90 million contract with Nike. Needless to say, the kid had it made. And yet, the Cavaliers organization had essentially made it clear that for better or worse, James was going to be the face of their franchise.  The man-child took that responsibility and just rolled it with as best as he could. Turns out that no one knew what that meant at the time. Before acquiring LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers had finished 17-65 in the 2002-2003 season. That record helped them obtain the number overall pick in the draft to select James. Look at the steady increase in wins after James joined the team:
2003-2004: 35 wins, 47 losses
2004-2005: 42 wins, 40 losses
2005-2006: 50 wins, 32 losses
2006-2007: 50 wins, 32 losses
2007-2008: 45 wins, 37 losses
2008-2009: 66 wins, 16 losses

LeBron James took a small market team that no one outside of Ohio paid attention to; and turned into an NBA powerhouse within five years. Although he has yet to win a championship; whenever the conversation turns to teams with a shot at winning an NBA title, the discussion usually involves the Lakers, the Celtics, the Magic and the Spurs. James has now forced everyone to include his Cavaliers into the discussion. The Cavs are now perennial title contenders and yet with the exception of James, it is basically a team of role players. In order to fully grasp what I'm trying to explain , try to imagine watching the movie Ocean's Eleven; except you take out Brad Pitt from the equation. You essentially leave George Clooney all alone in the movie and ask him to do all the action, all the charming and all the hustling throughout the movie; and still have the same box office hit. That's LeBron James peoples; he doesn't have a truly remarkable co-star and you know what; it might not even matter.

As great as James is on the court, he's equally impressive off of it. His contract with Nike calls for him to release several signature shoes, but it also requires him to do several endorsements. Consequently, we have been treated to the best basketball commercials in the past few years, courtesy of the Nike-LeBron partnership. Whether it's seeing Bernie Mac preach about court vision in a church with LeBron James throwing no look passes or just seeing "Business LeBron" dive into a swimming pool with his suit on, the commercials are imaginative and humorous.

For all his talents and gifts, as well as his personality and commercials, LeBron's biggest asset so far in his professional career is his squeaky clean image. What's the biggest controversy that you can think of involving LeBron James in the NBA? As ridiculous as this may sound, the biggest failures that LeBron has had to answer for were his refusal to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest this year, and his inability to shake hands with his opponents after being eliminated by the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Easter Conference Finals.

With all these facts, I ask the question again: would you prefer to have Kobe Bryant's career or LeBron James'? After wrestling with the question for a few days, I came up with an answer in one of the most bizarre places: the movie A Few Good Men. Kobe Bryant's 13 year NBA career is highly decorated with championships and individual honors that others could only dream of.  He reminds me in that sense of Colonel Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson). In the movie, the colonel was one of the most decorated individuals in the Marines and yet his attitude and his decisions made him seem unlikable, self-righteous and with an overestimated sense of self. Nonetheless, the American government trusted him because he was the best at what he did. LeBron James on the other hand has had a shorter career (six years) but has shown tons of promise as well as the ability to be The Man. LeBron James is the equivalent of Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise). He has all the gifts required for his craft as well as the personality and the intellect. He never backs down from the guys at the top and actually encourages the people around him to challenge them. Every time that Kobe Bryant  and LeBron James match up, it brings the same level excitement of Kaffee questioning Jessep on the stand (possibly the best criminal trial movie ever) in one of my favorite movie scenes ever: "DID YOU ORDER THE CODE RED?!?" By the end of the movie, Jessep is arrested and taken to jail; whereas Kaffee is free to go on and pursue his life but we're not sure what he makes of it. Right now, that's the story of LeBron James. The man that people are saying is part Karl Malone, part Magic Johnson and part Michael Jordan all wrapped in one. I'm not sure where the rest of his career is headed, but I would definitely pick his career at this juncture. No active NBA player is as dominant on and off the court and can captivate the public quite like he can. Game, set, match. Give me LeBron James career for now. By the way, remember to tune in tonight on TNT; where we'll be asking once again: "DID YOU ORDER THE CODE RED?"

Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images
From: ESPN