A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan

Deconstructing a myth: Vince Carter having “Michael Jordan potential”

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Vince Carter playing with the Orlando Magic

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re like me, you like to rag on both Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady for the drive they didn’t have. Both had a tremendous mix of athleticism, size and skill and a frustrating ambivalence about their legacy, winning and team’s success.

Putting Tracy McGrady aside who perhaps really did have historic talent and touched on that legendary potential for a season (2002-2003), what I have never understood is the narrative that Vince Carter could have been Michael Jordan and just didn’t care enough to . This is false for a number of reasons.

The first thing that should be noted is that as athletic as Vince Carter was, Michael Jordan he was not. Young Carter had Jordan’s vertical talent, but Jordan’s first step and explosiveness was at another level than his, or anyone else’s size in NBA history. Explosiveness on the ground is more important than explosiveness vertically – If you can break through into the paint, this forces the defense inward and opens a myriad of possibilities for your team offensively. Vertical explosiveness simply helps you finish at the rim more, which is valuable but not as much as penetrations. Furthermore, most high end athletes who are less vertically talented than Carter, are strong enough finishers in their own right. Thus the marginal benefit of Carter’s all time vertical ability from that point is comparatively small. But the marginal benefit between a high end penetrator and one of the best penetrators of all time is much higher. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

November 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Responding to Magic’s Lebron comments and Bill Reiter’s takedown of ESPN ranking Lebron the #1 player in the league

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LeBron James

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

On the eve of Magic Johnson providing another meaty quote about Lebron’s 2011 Finals, Bill Reiter at foxsportsflorida.com wrote a very good and clear article about the fallacy of still putting James on a pedastal after a frankly embarrasing shrinking act in the playoffs. As Reiter quotes, Magic said to a crowd at the University of Albany:

Veering from his point that it’s better to be remembered for off-court accomplishments, Magic said, “There’s going to always be great players in basketball. There’s going to always be guys who win championships in the NBA — except LeBron.”

Followed by: “Everybody’s always asking, ‘Who is better between Kobe (Bryant) and LeBron?’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? Kobe, five championships; LeBron, zero.'”

Followed by: “Stop trying to compare him to Michael Jordan. Come on, man, six championships for Jordan. You know that Michael averaged over 30 points every playoff series? Don’t try to touch that.”

Reiter responds in part by saying

If only stats mattered, and rising to the moment did not, Joe Montana would not be the greatest quarterback of all time. His winner-take-all intangibles would pale in comparison to someone like Dan Marino.

If this logic held, Wilt Chamberlain would be the Michael Jordan of the NBA. No one ever has, or will, compete with Wilt on the statistical plane. Yet there’s a reason serious basketball people look at Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Russell and a slew of others with a higher level of respect.

That’s why “Mr. October” means something in baseball.

Closing matters. Winning matters. Otherwise it’s all just a glorified version of fantasy sports.

This is so clear — as is the fact LeBron so ferociously undermined his own natural talent with mental weakness and big-game frailty — that stating that fact no longer constitutes dangerous ground for most informed basketball and sports people.

I completley agree with both Magic and Reiter Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm

The top 50 players of all time (by my standards)

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Bill Russell posing with other NBA Legends and...

Almost there, Bill (Image via Wikipedia)

If you’re a RealGM member, you probably know about this project, attempting to rank the top 100 players of the post shot clock era. (which among other reasons, allows us to avoid the impossible task of ranking George Mikan against everyone). We just completed the top 50, (note: Chris Paul made 50th, the thread hasn’t updated yet). I have some greivances about the overall list – let’s just say it’s 90% right and 10% wrong, but that 10% sticks out to a perfectionist. But shortly after it started I decided to update my own list one at a time in coordination with the main one, it is found halfway down the linked thread. This is my analysis in short at the halfway point, with 50 spots finished:

Tier 1 – The Greatest of All Time contenders

1. Michael Jordan

2. Bill Russell

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

These are the 3 players I primarily consider for greatest of all time candidcy. None need much introduction if you are a basketball history fan. Read the rest of this entry »

The best starting 5 of all time – my picks

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Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan 1997

Image via Wikipedia

Since it’s a long summer, I thought I’d use an entry on my current choice for the best starting lineup I can possibly come up with out of all players in history. If you like visiting basketball message boards, this type of exercise is typically our 2nd favorite thing to do after ranking the “All Time List” numerically.

Now, my choices might surprise you. You may have seen a lot of all time starting lineups with simply the best player of all time at each position – A common list has Magic Johnson at PG, Michael Jordan at SG, Larry Bird at SF, Tim Duncan at PF and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at C. Since there is no way to actually test this, I’m not one to definitively say they’re wrong. But I believe they are. Most players used to having the ball the most on their team offensively, will find themselves far less effective when they have it the 4th or 5th most, roles typically reserved for either spot up shooters or putback scores. The 2011 Heat and their surprisingly stoppable offense were a great example of star redundancy at work. Teams were able to help off whomever of Lebron and Wade didn’t have the ball, bringing those defenders into the paint to guard against the ballhander’s penetration. Ultimately what makes the most effective offenses isn’t just having the most talented on ball players. It’s creating the most efficient shots – Which is a synergy of on ball creation and off ball oppurtunism. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

September 22, 2011 at 4:47 pm

The Mental LeBron James

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Image via Baltimore Sun

While I’ll readily admit that people go overboard when throwing players under the bus as chokers, cowards, etc, the fact remains that the mental side of sports is huge. Any fan who claims to not think about the psychological strengths and weaknesses of athletes is lying either to others or themselves.

The urge to play armchair shrink is irresistible, and really why does it need to be resisted? Yes you want to keep perspective and not go overboard, but when a player has had the kind of strange play LeBron James has, it’s simply unreasonable to insist only Xs and Os can be the cause.

Without further ado, my take on LeBron’s NBA Finals and his mentality in general.

It all started innocently enough

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Written by Matt Johnson

June 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Pippen’s Blasphemy and Cowardice of Critics

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Chicago Bulls Scottie Pippen 1995

Image via Wikipedia

Scottie Pippen said:

Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play in the game. But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player ever to play the game, because he’s so potent offensively that not only can he score at will, but he keeps everybody involved.

…and the locusts take the sky

The world exploded. Some talked about Jordan’s championships ignoring the matter that Pippen’s statement obviously wasn’t saying that the 26 year old LeBron had already accomplished more than anyone else ever, some tried to talk about Jordan being a more “complete player” without actually saying what LeBron was missing, some talked about Pippen as a bitter old fool. The only thing everyone agreed on was that you couldn’t possibly say LeBron might be better than Jordan.

(Well, except Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who once again made one of his patented “He’s right, but no wonder why no one likes him” statements bringing up Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.)

I find the whole thing amusing. I should say up front that I don’t give one whit about Pippen’s opinion in player comparisons general. Nothing personal, I’d say the same about pretty much any player. While I love hearing what these guys have to say about the game in general, such comparisons are complicated enough that no matter how fantastic your basketball knowledge, you can’t have a complete opinion without spending a ton of time analyzing the situation with every tool at your disposal. The number of star athletes, or even coaches, willing to do this is vanishingly small, and then you really do need to think about whether the speaker has an agenda.

Even a broken clock…

However Scottie’s being downright reasonable here in a world full of people too afraid to be reasonable.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

June 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Book of Dimes, Choking Palimpsest

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Palimpsest of street posters in Pondicherry (P...

Palimpsest of street posters via Wikipedia

Alright, this ought to be interesting. Working on 40 hours with no sleep, and Ethan Sherwood Strauss’s fascinating piece on LeBron’s narrative is pushing me toward the abstract. My apologies if this comes out gobbledygook.

Here’s Ethan’s gist:

They leave behind a blue Twitter cloud of snickering scorn. Pundits rush to agreement: The opposing team’s best player is what LeBron isn’t and what LeBron should have been. Sportswriters light a fire beneath Erik Spoelstra’s seat before the coach even slumps into a post-series presser. It’s a disaster, much to the delight of the chattering classes.

And LeBron James will be the “choker.” That narrative already exists — last year’s exit gave us that framing device. The thinking went: James either choked because he quit or quit because he choked.

Before culminating in:

But in the imagination of many, LeBron will have “choked” because the story people want often overrides reality. To quote Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’m on record as the amoral analyst. I cheered for LeBron to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers simply because I wanted to see what would happen. I follow narratives with enthusiasm without making a morality play of things.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

April 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm

The Little Dipper

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Lebron JamesSince the beginning of his career, we’ve compared Lebron James to the greats. He has the dominant scoring ability of Michael Jordan. He has the combination of size and passing of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. But I believe the best comparison may end up being Wilt Chamberlain.

Both Lebron and Wilt are among the athletic greatest talents any sport has seen. They are men among boys physically. On top of this they possess superior basketball IQ and skill. Both players are larger than life stars.

What makes judging Wilt’s career so frustrating is a comparative lack of domination compared to other greats. The Big Dipper ended up with 2 titles, one in ’67 with Philadelphia and one in ’72 with the LA Lakers. His contemporary Bill Russell won 11 titles in 13 years. Most noteably Russell came out on top in ‘68 and ‘69 when his team had aged and Wilt seemingly had the superior talent beside him. First with Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson and Wali Jones in Philadelphia, and then with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in LA. Yet Russell’s Celtics were a better team who won with defense, effort and supporting each other’s games. Wilt can be excused for not winning titles the first half of his career with less help than Russell, but in 68 and 69 he has no excuse. The truth is these two seasons take Wilt out of the greatest of all time discussions. If a greatest ever candidate, he wins in those seasons. Period.

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Hollering @Hollinger about LeBron James and MVP Philosophy

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LeBron James

Image via Wikipedia from LAST YEAR, when he was MVPing in Cleveland, which is not his current team

This season in the NBA, we’re really seeing a watershed year in the MVP race.  People who are paying attention are reflecting on their personal philosophy on the subject. John Hollinger recently wrote a piece that gives us a great place to leap off from by giving a compelling argument from a very simple, straight forward perspective. Essentially: “You know LeBron James is the best player, why isn’t he your MVP?”.

I’m going to respond point by point to him here, before waxing philosophical for a bit. Let me preface all this by saying that while I may have a bit of fun with John, by no means would I say his opinion is an invalid one. It’s just that his opinion is not the only one that is valid. Here we go:

A Conversation with Mr. Hollinger

And that’s because the 2010-11 MVP race has a really, really, abundantly obvious solution … but very few actually want to hear it.

Let’s be honest for a minute. The best player in the league is LeBron James. It’s not even close.

Agreed, honestly.

Moreover, his case for the MVP award is only gaining steam. James in October and November muddled through 18 games in which he was dramatically less effective than usual, a major reason for the Heat‘s uninspired crawl out of the gate. Since then, however, he’s been monstrously good, climbing to his usual perch atop the PER charts and widening his lead considerably with a spectacular 51-point outing against Orlando on Thursday.

True.

With James cruising, the Heat are arguably the league’s best team — despite injuries to James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they’re 28-6 since their scuffling start. Yes, James has star support with Wade and Bosh in tow, but he’s also saddled with inferior help. At roster spots 4 through 12, there isn’t a weaker cast in basketball outside Ohio.

Er, agreed, I suppose…but not really. Read the rest of this entry »

The Empire State Wears No Clothes: Amare is NOT the MVP

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Amar'e addresses the masses

Image by Chamber of Fear via Flickr

Wow.  Alright, we’re have halfway through the NBA season, and the MVP race is the strangest I’ve ever followed.  Every candidate has a mark against them, and no one really would have a chance against the competition from last season, despite the fact that it’s all the same players and then some in the pool of candidates.  It’s tough, I know, but that’s no excuse for this fellas.

Sports Illustrated check came out with their mid-year awards, and if you take their writers’ votes and tally them up, Amare Stoudemire is their choice for MVP.  They aren’t alone.  nba.com’s Race to the MVP has Amare at #1, ESPN’s Awards Watch has Amare at #3.  That’s as good of a collection of the established media as we’re going to get right now in an award the media votes for – and they’re telling us Amare is the favorite for the MVP right now.  I keep my own weekly MVP list because I really enjoy thinking about this stuff, and because I respect the NBA’s MVP.  It’s fashionable to knock it, but I always defend the voters.  But this, folks, is just crazy.  Excuse me while I get on this here soap box so I can talk y’all down.

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Written by Matt Johnson

January 21, 2011 at 2:02 am