Monday, July 25, 2016

Top 100 NBA Players: #72 - Manu Ginobili

Manu Ginobili

If you have any doubts about whether my rankings include any personal bias, today's entry wipes away those doubts. Including one of my least favorite players of all time in my all-time top 100 is difficult, but I must stay true to the statistics, and the numbers don't lie. Can you name every 6th Man Award Winner who has at least 2 All-Star appearances and 3 championships? There are only two: Kevin McHale and Ginobili.

Manu has always kicked his game up a notch in the playoffs. In 2005, for example, he was the #2 player on the World Champion Spurs, and his stats from the postseason are much more impressive than those from the regular season. Take a look:

Regular Season - 16.0 pts, 4.4 reb, 3.9 ast, .471 FG%, .376 3P%, .803 FT%
Playoffs - 20.8 pts, 5.8 reb, 4.2 ast, .507 FG%, .438 3P%, .795 FT%

That was the most impressive point of his career so far, but he was also the third best player on the 2007 Spurs and the 4th best player on the 2003 Spurs, also both NBA champs. At age 36, he was once again the 4th best player on a championship team, 11 years after earning his first. 

Overall, he has played in 5 NBA Finals, winning 4 times, and has been an important player each time. He had 12 straight seasons of averaging at least 10 points per game, and has never missed the playoffs in his career, even though he has never been the star player on the Spurs at any point in his career. Playing alongside Tim Duncan has obviously provided a boost to Manu's standing here, but Manu also may have had something to do with Duncan's overall greatness.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Top 100 NBA Players: #73 - Steve Nash

Steve Nash

Steve Nash is one of my favorite players of all time, so it hurts a little bit to have to put him clear down here on the all-time list, but he has been slightly overrated by the fact that he won two MVP awards that he probably shouldn't have. But just because I don't quite feel he was MVP-worthy does not mean that he his shown some major feats of greatness during his career.

Steve Nash is the holder of several impressive records. One of the biggest is that he has the highest free throw percentage in the history of the NBA. Only three players can claim an overall free throw percentage over 90% for their career, and Nash is one of them. In 2010, he broke John Stockton's record as the oldest player to lead the league in assists, and he broke it by 3 years. The following year, he did it again, setting the bar even higher by winning the assist title at age 37. There has never been a point guard who played that well that late in his career, and that includes Jason Kidd and Stockton.

He is also one of the few players in history to achieve a 50-40-90 season, shooting 50% from the field, 40% from long range, and 90% from the free throw line. Only seven players have ever achieved this: Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Nash. But Nash hasn't just joined that club, he is the captain of it. Nash has achieved it 4 times, including three straight seasons from 2007-2010, while the other 6 have done it only seven times combined. Nash barely missed out on making it five straight years with the 2006-07 season, when he finished the season shooting .899 from the free throw line. He was arguably the best in-game shooter in the history of the NBA when he retired, although Stephen Curry looks like he will probably take that title from him.

Steve Nash is one of only two MVP's in history to never make an appearance in the NBA Finals (the other is 2011 winner Derrick Rose). Even with that fact, he didn't have a complete lack of playoff success. He was a top 3 player on 4 Western Conference Finalists, but he was never able to get over that hump. In addition to his eight seasons in the top 3 in assists in the league, which includes 5 times as #1, he also led all playoff players in assists average 4 times, with an average of 13.3 per game in 2007 as his best performance.

I said earlier that I didn't believe Nash should have won those two MVP awards. It hurts more than you can imagine for me to write that, but it's true. In 2005, when he won his first award, Nash was credited with the Suns' success because he was the new guy in town, but Amare was very impressive that year, and probably should have won the award himself. Here are their stats from that season:

Stoudemire - 26.0 pts, 8.9 reb, 1.6 ast, 1.6 blk, .559 FG%, .733 FT%
Nash - 15.5 pts, 3.3 reb, 11.5 ast, .502 FG%, .431 3P%, .887 FT%

Each was impressive in his own right, but because Amare showed so much improvement that year, people assumed it was because of Nash. Having a great point guard to get you the ball has to help, but it also can't hurt that Amare was 22 years old and still growing as a player. The next year, Amare went down with a knee injury, and the Suns weren't expected to go anywhere, but Nash led them to a respectable record and a return trip to the Conference Finals, so he was able to repeat as MVP, but Dirk led the Mavericks to a better record with better numbers, which are listed below:

Nowitzki - 26.6 pts, 9.0 reb, 2.8 ast, .480 FG%, .406 3P%, .901 FT%
Nash - 18.8 pts, 4.2 reb, 10.5 ast, .512 FG%, .439 3P%, .921 FT%

Nash's resume was definitely stronger statistically in 2006, but his team was not one of the top 3 record-wise in the league, which makes him the only MVP in the past 30 years who can say that. As great as he was, the lack of championships drags him down, as does the fact that his MVP's may not have been deserved.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Top 100 NBA Players: #74 - Horace Grant

Horace Grant

Horace Grant was never a superstar player, but he was a very solid player for a long time and always seemed to do what was necessary to help his team succeed. In fact, Grant didn't lose in a first-round playoff series until he had been in the NBA for 10 years.

Grant was the third-best player for the original Bulls dynasty, which made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice in a row before breaking through and winning three straight championships. Grant was a major contributor to each of those teams, and a necessary piece of each championship puzzle. Perhaps his most memorable moment in those years was his block of Kevin Johnson that ended Phoenix's chance of beating the Bulls and gave Chicago another title.

Grant was still in his prime when Michael Jordan retired for the first time, and he stepped into the #2 role seamlessly, earning his only trip to the All-Star game that season, before he walked away from Chicago to try for another title in Orlando. In his very first season with the Magic, they advanced all the way to the NBA Finals, with Grant taking up his normal place as the #3 man behind Penny and Shaq.

Even though he failed to win his 4th title that season, he did eventually earn another, when he joined the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2001 season as a sixth man. While that title did nothing to add to his legacy, it was a fitting way for a great winner to come to the end of his career. He played for a couple more seasons in a very limited role, but his most memorable years were still those early years in Chicago with Jordan and Pippen.

Top 100 NBA Players: #75 - Shawn Kemp

Shawn Kemp

Shawn Kemp was one of the most dominant forces of the 90's, bringing down the house with thunderous dunks and leading the Sonics to multiple division titles and an appearance in the NBA Finals, but it all came crashing down too early, but there were signs that it was coming before most people noticed.

During Kemp's last four seasons in Seattle, there were very few players who could compare to him. He, along with Gary Payton, led Seattle to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Michael Jordan and the 72-win Chicago Bulls in 6 games. When he was traded to Cleveland, he continued to score in similar quantities and still made an All-Star team, but if you look at the other big-man stats, you'll see that the signs of his decline were already there.

Kemp (1993-1997) - 18.8 pts, 10.8 reb, 1.5 blk, .538 FG%
Kemp (1997-2000) - 18.5 pts, 9.1 reb, 1.1 blk, .441 FG%

The two rebounds per game drop certainly doesn't look good, but what is most alarming was the nearly 10% drop in shooting percentage, which means that he had to waste a much greater number of possessions to get himself up to the same number of points he was accustomed to scoring.

Kemp was probably the #2 player on that Finals team, although he and Payton were basically even, but he was the best player on the team that nearly made the Finals three years earlier, when they lost in game 7 to the Phoenix Suns, who went on to lose to Chicago in the Finals. Sadly, he let jealousy and drugs get in the way of a career that could have been truly memorable, and not just another in a long list of What Could Have Been's.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Top 100 NBA Players: #76 - Adrian Dantley

Adrian Dantley

Adrian Dantley was one of the top scorers of the 1980's, leading the league in scoring twice and reaching the 30-point plateau four straight times, but he rarely saw the playoffs, and saw even less success when he did get there.

Even with all of Dantley's scoring exploits, he was only voted to the All-NBA team twice in his career, both times making the Second Team while leading all players in scoring. One thing that held him back from All-NBA accolades was that he was pouring in the points while playing for losing teams. Even though he wasn't able to produce winning teams during his prime, he did put up some very impressive numbers while he was with Utah.

Dantley (Utah) - 461 games, 29.6 pts, 6.2 reb, 3.7 ast, 1.1 stl, .562 FG%
Dantley (Other) - 494 games, 19.3 pts, 5.3 reb, 2.3 ast, 0.9 stl, .511 FG%

Dantley was not a big man, only 6-5 and 208 pounds, but he spent the majority of his time in the lane, playing physically and making trips to the free throw line constantly. In fact, he led the league in free throws made five times and attempts three times. When he retired, he also had the highest field goal percentage of any player who did not play center.

Despite his amazing scoring, Dantley was traded five times during his career, always for less talented or washed-up players. Generally that would indicate that there are other problems going on off the court, much like the way Zach Randolph has been passed around throughout his career. There's no way you can discount the big numbers, but he wasn't a winner, was traded over and over, and didn't maintain his high level of play as long as he should have.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Top 100 NBA Players: #77 - Jo Jo White

Jo Jo White

Jo Jo White was one of the players who bridged the gap for the Celtics from the Bill Russell dynasty to the years of Larry Bird, and although he's not as famous as those who came before or after him, he had some pretty good days starring in Boston.

Jo Jo was not the best player on the Celtics during his time there, but playing alongside big men John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, he was able to keep the Celtics in contention through a big chunk of the 70's. From 1971 to 1977, he was one of the most consistent players in the league, and an All-Star in each of those seasons. His overall stats from that period are listed below.

White - 19.6 pts, 4.5 reb, 5.6 ast, 1.4 stl

It's also notable that during those six seasons White missed a total of 3 games, and played a total of 80 playoff games during those postseasons, which means he crammed 7 years worth of games into 6 years. Included in those 6 playoff runs were two championships, and White was one of Boston's top 3 players each time.

White had a major part in one of the most memorable Finals games of all time, the triple overtime thriller in 1976 against Phoenix. White played 60 minutes in that game and hit the technical free throw that gave Boston a 2-point lead with a second left in the second overtime, which prevented them from losing on Gar Heard's miracle shot. He then hit the two free throws that iced the game in the third overtime.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Top 100 NBA Players: #78 - Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard had one of the shortest careers of any non-active player on my list, but he accomplished a lot in the short 7 seasons he spent in the NBA. He was knows as the Kangaroo Kid for his amazing jumping ability, and was known to dunk from the free throw line in warm-ups regularly.

He joined the league in 1948, when the league was in its third season and hadn't even changed its name yet from the BAA. He jumped right in, averaging 14.8 points per game in his rookie season with the Lakers, and helped Minneapolis to the #2 record in the league and a repeat of the championship they had won the season before, and he was also named to the All-NBA First Team, a rare feat for a rookie.

He was just as good the next season, getting a spot on the All-NBA First Team again while establishing himself as the definite #2 player on the Lakers behind George Mikan, a role he would play for most of the rest of his career. The two stars earned yet another title that season, making them the first team ever to three-peat.

Following a disappointing loss in the Conference Finals the next season, the Lakers went on another run of titles, taking the next 3 championships under the leadership of Mikan and Pollard to make it 6 in 7 years for the franchise, although Pollard wasn't on the first title team. He wasn't the star of any of the title teams, but he was the #2 player on 4 of those teams and #3 on another.

Mikan retired following his sixth title, but Pollard stayed on for one more season, his first as the star player, and though he was unable to get a 4th straight title for the Lakers, he did get them back to the Conference Finals, following which he retired as well.

Overall, Pollard played only 7 seasons, but reached at least the conference finals in every one of them, finishing his season with a ring 5 times, and he was a major contributor to each of those teams. Though winning 5 titles is impressive, it's not quite as impressive as it would be today, because there were fewer teams, games, and playoff rounds to fight through, but you still can't ignore the greatness of Jim Pollard.