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Posts Tagged ‘Wilt Chamberlain

Great expectations: Of Wilt Chamberlain’s career and the importance of this Miami Heat playoff run to NBA history

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Two of the most important years in NBA history are 1967-1968 and 1968-1969, where Bill Russell’s Celtics won their 10th and 11th titles in his 13 year career. Most impressive though is who they beat. In 1966-1967 Wilt Chamberlain had his finest regular season and playoffs, as the Sixers went 68-13 and then ripped through the playoffs, including beating the 8 time defending champion Celtics in 5 Gs. After toiling on Warriors teams with lacked the supporting talent of Russell’s Celtics for the first half of the 60s, the trade to the Sixers in ’65 quickly evened the odds. By 66-67 the Sixers had more talent than the Celtics with a rogue gallery of stars like Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham, Luke Jackson surrounding Wilt. Wilt also scaled his scoring back to increase his passing, defense and efficiency to finally use his talents to full value. Although the Celtics by the late 60s had a very talented team themselves with the aging Russell and Sam Jones, plus John Havlicek, Bailey Howell among stars, the shellacking in 67 to Philadelphia’s super-team was thought to be the end for their dynasty by most reports. Now that he had the right support, coach in Alex Hannum and know how to play the right way, it was Wilt’s league to own. Which is why after a 62 W season and a 3rd straight MVP by Wilt in 67-68, the loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Final blowing a 3-1 lead, is particularly devastating to his legacy. The opportunity came to own the league and the Sixers didn’t put their foot on the gas. The next year Wilt is traded to the Lakers to join Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, culminating in a Game 7 loss in the Finals to the Celtics in Russell’s last game, arguably the most important game in NBA history – and losing it meaning one more black mark in Wilt’s career, albeit he went on a title with the Lakers in ’72. Wilt’s individual greatness is so immense, that even 2 titles in his career is looked at as a slightly disappointment. Largely it comes down to 68 and 69 and what he couldn’t achieve even when handed the best supporting talent. He didn’t max out in career success.

The Miami Heat and Lebron James’ career are at their apexes. Heading for 65 or 66 wins on the backs of a 27 game winning streak, with Lebron’s 4th MVP on the way and arguably his greatest regular season. The Heat are stacked. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are still playing at a star/superstar level and the IQ and shooting of players like Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Ray Allen make them an impossible guard. The Heat have been a masterpiece of spacing and ball movement around their stars the second half of this season. If the Heat go on to win the title this year, it will be a season of legend – the wins, the streak, Lebron’s individual greatness. Together with the 2010-2011 title nobody will be able to doubt the Miami Heat big 3 experiment.

Yet when greatness is on the table to take, as the 68 Sixers proved, leaving it on the table leaves as big a historical mark. The Heat would have lost the title twice in 3 seasons, if not in the Finals those 2 years. Lebron would have gone into the playoffs with the title favorite in 09, 10, 11, 12 and 13 and only gone 1-4. As unfair as it is, since no champion should be disrespected – the expectations for Lebron are so great, that losing again would bring back the demons and criticisms that he carried after the 09, 10 and 11 losses.

Because of the season the Heat have had, the streak, Lebron’s amazing year, how in sync this supporting cast is – it’s championship or bust for the Heat and if they bust, it will be a historic moment that haunts the face of this core for the rest of history. Make no mistake about it, even though the Heat got their title in 2011, the pressure only slightly less this year. The narrative and history can turn on the Heat in the wrong direction. The stunning season Lebron and the Heat have had is a double edged sword, because it creates among the greatest of expectations. The moment is the Heat’s to seize and if they don’t, history won’t take it easy on them.

Written by jr.

April 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Searching for Bill Russell ~ Starring Anthony Davis (2012)

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That didn't really happen did it?

The more I learn about basketball’s history, the more impressed with Bill Russell I am. Like many, I at one point found it hard to believe that Russell could truly be a more valuable player than Wilt Chamberlain. Now, the primary reason for that was that I couldn’t imagine Russell’s more one way game matching the two way dominance of Chamberlain, and if you know me, you know that since then I’ve written fairly extensively on just how flawed Chamberlain’s offense was. There was also the matter though of me just having a false ceiling in my head for just how dominant a team can get on one side of the ball.

If you go by the estimates of offensive and defensive team efficiency given by basketball-reference.com, the curve of extremely good results seems very well behaved. Here are the best sides that side lists based on percentage edge over median:

 

You can see the teams here are all in the same ballpark. You might also notice that Steve Nash is on 3 of the top 5 offenses, which is quite remarkable. Most importantly though, you might notice how modern all these teams are. Nothing from earlier than 1993. Remarkable, no? Well, it is remarkable, but there is a catch: basketball-reference only provides estimates from 1974 on. What happened before that?

Bill Russell did 6 impossible things before breakfast

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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 »

Pippen’s Blasphemy and Cowardice of Critics

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Chicago Bulls Scottie Pippen 1995

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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.

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Written by Matt Johnson

June 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Supersized Humans, Missing Giants

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An article from the New York Times has cause a little bit of a stir in the basketball world, really because it gives more scientific credence to something we already know: People have been getting bigger.

Here’s the most dramatic big picture quote from the article:

I don’t know that there is a bigger story in human history than the improvements in health, which include height, weight, disability and longevity,” said Samuel H. Preston, one of the world’s leading demographers and a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here’s one with some numbers:

To take just a few examples, the average adult man in 1850 in America stood about 5 feet 7 inches and weighed about 146 pounds; someone born then was expected to live until about 45. In the 1980s the typical man in his early 30s was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighed about 174 pounds and was likely to pass his 75th birthday.

Hot damn! So when do I get my 8 foot center?

The future is now, and there are no flying cars

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Written by Matt Johnson

May 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Howard is the DPOY, but he’s no Garnett

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Kevin Garnett led the league in defensive rebo...

Image via Wikipedia

Dwight Howard just won his 3rd straight Defensive Player of the Year, and I don’t disagree with the choice. In fact, I don’t disagree with any of the three votings that gave Howard the award. However, with Howard becoming the first player to win the award three times in a row comes discussion of how Howard stands compared to the best defenders of other eras, and there is a problem with this: Howard isn’t even the most impactful defender of this era, that would be Kevin Garnett.

Let’s start out by acknowledging that Howard and Garnett don’t play defense the same way. When we think of the great defensive big men, we tend to think of blocked shots. Howard fits that bill significantly more than Garnett. Although lets pause and consider that Howard’s 2.3 BPG this year, is only just ahead of Garnett’s 2.2 BPG peak – and that Howard’s never actually averaged 3 blocks per game in his career. If Howard were putting up these blocking numbers in other eras, we wouldn’t look at him as anything like the shotblocking ideal he often gets talked about today.

Still, thinking about defense in these terms, it’s not at all hard to see why people think Howard’s the superior defender when comparing peak to peak, and especially now as Garnett ages. Add in Howard’s current rebounding edge, and the fact that Orlando always ranks well on defense despite Howard’s supporting cast not having a stellar defensive reputation, and the debate is over before it begins in a lot of people’s minds.

Garnett, Russell & the Horizontal Game  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

April 23, 2011 at 12:07 am

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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The Perennial Snubbing of Artis Gilmore

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Artis Gilmore 1970

Image by Vedia via Flickr

The basketball Hall of Fame announced their 2011 finalists for induction yesterday, and the big snub everyone’s talking about is Reggie Miller. I think people are overreacting there. You’ve got people who seem to think this means Miller will never get in the Hall, and even extrapolating about what the snubbing means for Ray Allen. It’s as if people have no experience with players not getting in to Halls of Fame on their first year of eligibility. I personally won’t be alarmed unless we go a few years without him getting into the Hall.

With everyone in a mood for snub-based outrage though, let me take the opportunity to shed some light on the elephant in the room: Artis Gilmore. Gilmore retired over 20 years ago, and he’s not on the HOF voters’ radar. Short of something major changing, he’s not getting in the Hall, and this folks, is completely and utterly indefensible.

Artis Gilmore in the ABA

Any discussion of Gilmore’s accomplishments has to start out with the ABA. Gilmore hit the league and took it by storm. His combination of 7’2″ size with tremendous leaping ability made him a devastatingly effective shotblocker. In the words of Rick Barry:

Artis Gilmore was incredibly agile and was just an amazing shot blocker. In fact, I’ve had him on my radio show a couple times, and I think that he stopped blocking some of the shots because they were calling goaltending on him. I don’t think that anybody had ever seen anything like that and they figured that he had to be goaltending, that you can’t possibly block somebody’s jump shot.

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Kobe Theory and the Drowned Plant

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Image via Joelk75 on Flickr

Somewhere in Los Angeles, a rumor starts. The disgruntled star everyone is talking about getting traded, Carmelo Anthony, they say he’s coming to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum.

I don’t take the rumor seriously at all, but in a town where Pau Gasol can materialize out of thin air, I never say never.

Enter Plaschke

Of course the fans are for it. Melo is candy to them. Bigger star, and a guy who does what they value – score. They’ll trade for him without a second thought for how he’ll fit with the team. I don’t think much about it, until I see an article from LA Times institution Bill Plaschke, a writer I’ve enjoyed for a long time. He’s for the trade. I’m reading along muttering to myself until I see this part and my jaw drops to the floor:

The Lakers are near the top of the league in rebounding but are only 15th in the league in field goal percentage in the fourth quarter of games they trail. Kobe needs help closing, and Anthony gives him that help. The Lakers’ offense needs a second option outside, and Anthony can take that shot. The Lakers don’t shoot as well as their biggest rivals, and Anthony would fix that.

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Written by Matt Johnson

February 18, 2011 at 3:18 pm