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Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Paul Pierce

Is Paul Pierce as talented as Larry Bird?

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, American basketball player for the Boston Ce...

, American basketball player for the Boston Celtics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve resisted applying my talent grading system to historical players for a few reasons. For one, I consider my system useful to separate talents into tiers, but not evaluate players in the same tier against each other. If a player has a score of 30 in my grading and another a score of 32, that difference is small enough that it played little to no role in their careers, not to mention within the range of subjectivity.

Secondly, ranking players’ talents before my time has its difficulties.

However in my private rankings of players, a player who’s score stands out to me as against conventional wisdom and against my previous opinion of him, is Larry Bird. Bird grades as a superstar talent, but there are around 30 players who’d grade higher than him. Certainly this seems low for a player in everyone’s top 10 players of all time. To be fair, even a top 30 or 40 talent in the NBA is a freaking awesome player. Furthermore talent is not production and it’s reasonable to argue Bird outperformed his raw talent level to become of the top 10 or 15 players of all time.

So why does Bird grade lower than expected? Noteably, in the skill impact and feel for the game categories, Bird cruises to perfect scores of 11. He’s arguably the greatest of all time in both categories, not just for small forwards but for any position. His shooting, shot creation, passing, post skills are otherworldly – and he’s a definitive example of a basketball genius instinctively.

Where Bird slips is his physical impact on the game. In regards to explosiveness and attacking players off the dribble, he is average for the small forward position. Part of the evidence for this Bird usually putting up 5 to 6 free throw attempts a game, mediocre for a high volume scorer. Bird is not a player who overwhelmed players physically, just like Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash and post surgery Chris Paul didn’t/don’t have to in modern day. To his credit, one way Bird impacts the game physically is his excellent rebounding numbers for a small forward, albeit I’d give more credit for his rebounding to his instincts and feel than physical tools.

It’s hard for me to justify giving Bird more than a 5 or 6 in physical impact on the game. When added to his skill and feel for the game, his total grade is 27 or 28. This is well past the range I consider a perennial all-star threshold (23-24) and typical for some other superstars, so it’s nothing to sniff at, just not as high as expected.

I find it interesting to compare him to Paul Pierce. Now, conventional wisdom says Larry Bird is on a different plane of talent than Pierce. One is transcendent and the other, very good.

But Pierce rates well against Bird. Like Larry, Pierce’s most noticeable trait is his supernatural feel for the game. He’s one of the first players that come to mind for the term, Pierce has the ultimate “old man’s game” in his natural smoothness, ability to make his game look slower than it is and instincts. Pierce’s skill impact is also one of the best of his generation for a wing player. He’s a terrific 3pt and midrange shooter and shot creator, with an array of post abilities and moves. He’s also a great passer. In regards to skill plays, Pierce can do just about everything he wants. Pierce isn’t at Larry’s level as a perimeter shooter and passer, but he’s not far off. For these categories, I like a grade of 11 in feel for the game for Pierce and 10 in skill impact.

On the other hand, Pierce’s physical impact impresses me more than Bird. Pierce especially in his younger days had deceptively great explosiveness and slashing ability, as evidenced by much greater free throw attempt numbers than Bird, peaking at 8-9 attempts a game. Helping his slashing is that Pierce is such a great ballhandler, that it helped him penetrate and attack even if other players were more athletic. In regards to slashing off the dribble, Pierce isn’t at the level of freakish wings like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Tracy McGrady, but he’s above average. I’ll give him a grade of 7 or 8 in the category.

When added together, this gives Pierce a score of 28 or 29. This puts him in the conversation for top 30-35 most talented players in history, which I believe is fair.

All in all, it’s hard for me to see where Bird separates himself in talent from Pierce. He’s the more skilled perimeter player, but Pierce is more talented at slashing and physically imposing himself on the game.

Part of this isn’t so much about Bird, as it is Pierce’s talent being underrated, perhaps. The guy has a fantastic and unique skillset, one of the best pure scorers and most intelligent players in history. One wonders if Pierce had found himself anchoring 60 win teams at the same point Dirk Nowitzki was, if Pierce would’ve also made the leap to widely considered MVP caliber player. I don’t believe in either talent or statistics, the difference between Pierce and a Dirk Nowitzki is significant.

For this reasons, Bird being called “only” as talented as Pierce, is not that large of an insult. Bird is a fantastic talent who’s will, work ethic and confidence helped his maximize his talent level and have one of the best careers ever. But I don’t consider the gap between him and Pierce to be as significant, as others do.

Written by jr.

March 10, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Harrison Barnes, O.J. Mayo, and the perils of illogical projections

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Harrison Barnes and Kyrie Irving at the 2010 N...

Harrison Barnes (right), standing beside Kyrie Irving (left) Image via Wikipedia

Last week I made a post about Andre Drummond, the frontrunner by miles to be the #1 draft pick in 2012. This post will be about Harrison Barnes, who has nearly as high a profile as Drummond at this point and is even getting some #1 pick talk himself.

First of all, I like Harrison Barnes as a future NBA player. He has size, can shoot the ball, and seems like he has a great head on his shoulders. After a disastrous start to his freshman season at UNC, he turned it around and produced at a solid level the 2nd half. But it’s clear to me that he’s not the player he was projected to be out of high school. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm

2011 POY Watch – End Conference Semis

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The Player of the Year Watch continues past the regular season factoring in all of the playoffs and coming up with the player that truly had the best overall season. After each round, I will update the rankings.

Player (last rank)

1. Dwight Howard (1)

Odd position to be in. Howard’s sitting at home while the next 5 guys are all on the last 4 teams playing for the championship and playing fantastic. As much as I don’t want to be swayed by who has the better supporting casts, at this point I think it’s unlikely that Howard will keep the top spot when all is said and done.

2. Derrick Rose (2)

Started off the playoffs slow with some nagging injuries. He’s looking quite solid now. It’s also interesting that there was so much stat community negativity toward the guy during the season, meanwhile he keeps showing more as the season goes along. Doesn’t mean they were wrong by any means, but if Rose truly does emerge as a guy challenging for the top spot in advanced statistical metrics in the near future, I can just hear the frustration among the statistically minded.

Bucher: “So you admit you were wrong now?”

Stat guy: “No, YOU were wrong, but now you’re right. It’s a complete coincidence.”,

Bucher: “Whatever you want to tell yourself, I could have told you he’d do this because I watch the games.”

Stat guy: “Gah! That statement doesn’t even mean anything!” <Head explodes>

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2011 NBA POY Watch 3/28

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My weekly MVP rankings

Player (last week’s rank)
1. Derrick Rose (1)
Rose’s Bulls continue to be on an absolute tear. Very clearly at this point, they’ve been the most impressive team of the regular season, and that’s before you even factor in the injuries to the 2nd & 3rd best players on the team. Many said we’d never again give an award to an Iverson type guy, but this is a perfect storm. Oh also, just because I’m a told-you-so kind a guy, with the recent articles talking about the similarities between Rose & Iversons’s MVP year, if you have read my Derrick Rose, the MVP race, and the Isiah-Iverson Team Model piece from February, well, there it is.

2. Dwight Howard (3)

Howard and his Magic now appear to be doing exactly what I said they needed to do for him to make a game of the MVP race. I want you to consider for a second: When the end of the month comes around in a few days, Howard probably wins Player of the Month again, right? That would make it two months in a row, and 3 months total for the year. If he and his team keep it up and he wins a 4th POM, could you really defend selecting Rose as MVP ahead of Howard? Howard’s got better stats by any metric I know of, no one I know thinks Rose is a better player, no one I know would draft Rose ahead of Howard. If he truly get 4 POMs to Rose’s zero, and Rose wins the MVP, doesn’t it seem like a certainty that a lot of the people who vote for Rose will deny it later?

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Written by Matt Johnson

March 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm

2011 NBA POY Watch 3/21

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My weekly MVP rankings.

Player (last week’s rank)

1. Derrick Rose (1)

Rose remains in the top spot. All the good narratives point in his direction, and I’m not seeing a reason to de-value his role on the Bulls. Short of a player/team falloff, I’d imagine the only danger for him in my head is if I get more fixated on Howard.

2. Dirk Nowitzki (2)

Stays at the 2nd spot for now, but if this current snag continues for the Mavericks he’ll fall further. I’m still shaking my head. The Mavs go 18-1, I finally decide Dirk’s candidacy can no longer be denied, and then they go 3-5.

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Written by Matt Johnson

March 21, 2011 at 12:27 pm

2011 NBA POY Watch 3/14

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My weekly MVP rankings.

Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Derrick Rose (2)

Well now this awkward. I write my piece on why Dirk is the MVP, and then drop him down to #2. What gives? Dirk’s case is clear in my mind, but it faces major issues when the Mavericks drop in the standings. That may seem arbitrary to you, but I’d suggest it’s about the least arbitrary watershed you could have. So for now, Rose is back at #1.

2. Dirk Nowitzki (1)

As written, The Case for Dirk.

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2011 NBA POY Watch 3/7

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Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Dirk Nowitzki (1)

Still Dirk. To be perfectly honest, I don’t have any real internal debate between him and Rose at this point.

2. Derrick Rose (2)

It’s really starting to sink in that Rose’s Bulls haven’t simply moved up to be in the conversation, they’ve really trounced the whole league post-November. They are contenders, though there’s nothing short of injuries for the Lakers & Celtics that would make them the title favorite in my mind.

3. Dwight Howard (4)

Howard is starting to become a very chic pick, and I’ve got no problem with that. Dude’s taken a step up. I’m not ready to launch him above all others, but I can clearly see a golden path for him that would get me to give him the hardware.

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The Building (and the Luck) of the Celtics

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current logo 1996–present

Image via Wikipedia

The Sloan conference, as one would expect, is producing tons of great food for thought. The latest article on TrueHoop reports on Boston Celtic co-owner Wyc Grousbeck‘s statements about building the current stellar Celtic teams. The gist:

Grousbeck and his partners bought the team in 2003 and apparently decided that while the team was good it wasn’t good enough to win a title, so they tore it apart and re-built it with the specific idea of acquiring a Big 3 with one true superstar among the trio. These guys sound like visionaries don’t they? The TrueHoop piece mentions the risk involved in such a move, but that just makes the ownership group look all the more bold and unwilling to accept any form of mediocrity

I don’t mean to knock the Celtic management, but I think it is wise to look at the details here to get a more nuanced perspective on thing.

Rebuilding not with a bang, but a whimper

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2011 NBA POY Watch 2/28

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My version of the NBA MVP list. Updated weekly.

Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Dirk Nowitzki (1)

Well here we are, it’s about to be March, and I still have a guy at #1 that is not one of the two big guys being discussed and isn’t even in nba.com’s top 5. Sounds like I need to write a piece on that. In the meantime check out basketball-reference’s “Where Would They Be Without Him?” article.

2. Derrick Rose (3)

Jumps up. For detailed thought on Rose, take a look at my article from last week: Derrick Rose, the MVP race, and the Isiah-Iverson Team Model.

3. LeBron James (2)

A disappointing week and the king slips back behind Rose.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

February 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm

2011 NBA POY Watch 2/21

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My version of the NBA MVP list. Updated weekly.

Note: With the short week, I’ve decided to give this week’s ranking early. With the limited play, this is a week of reflection.

Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Dirk Nowitzki (1)

It increasingly feels like LeBron‘s going to take this, but up through now there’s not really a strong debate in my mind as to who my #1 is. Dirk’s impact says MVP to me.

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