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BBR Mailbag: ’90s Knicks

Posted by Neil Paine on April 13, 2010

It's time for a very special edition of the Mailbag, since the questions come from my colleague Chase Stuart of the PFR Blog:

My memories of the '90s Knicks is that they were a very good team that always just came up short. They were a defensive powerhouse. They probably should have won a championship or two.

But hey, I was a teenager who knew nothing about objective sports analysis. So I'm curious what an objective, intelligent view of those old Knicks would tell me. Maybe you can get a blog post out of this. But I'm thinking...

• How awesome was the Knicks D back then? It seemed to be pretty awesome in the postseason, too. I recall Miami being the A- defense to the Knicks having the A defense. Did the NYK actually have the #1 D? Where does their best D rank historically?

• How awesome was Ewing? Defensively and overall?

• Should the Knicks have won a championship in the '90s? Were they ever the best team?

• Were any of the role players actually any good? Starks, Mason, Oakley, Ward, Childs, X-Man, etc. They all seemed like a bunch of gritty guys; they almost sound like the '01 Patriots as I think back on them.

• Any other thoughts you can think of?

Okay Chase, let's talk the 1990s Knicks...

In retrospect, the seeds for the team we think of as the "90s Knicks" were planted in 1989, after Rick Pitino departed as coach despite a relatively-successful year that saw NY win 50 games for the first time since 1981. Pitino was embroiled in a power struggle with then-GM Al Bianchi, and he was miserable; when the University of Kentucky inquired about his availability after the 1989 season, he promptly jumped ship, leading Bianchi to hire Stu Jackson as a coach more in sync with his own basketball philosophy. But the Pitino Affair (no, not that one) would prove to be the death knell for Bianchi as New York's GM -- while Pitino flourished in the Bluegrass State, the Knicks regressed under Jackson in 1990 and were 7-8 at the start of the '91 season when Bianchi fired "his guy", replacing Jackson with former Suns coach John MacLeod. With a month left in the disappointing 39-43 campaign, Bianchi was axed and former NBA exec Dave Checketts was brought on board as club President.

Checketts immediately took the reins of the directionless Knicks and put his own stamp on the franchise, promoting Ernie Grunfeld to VP of Player Personnel and making the offseason's biggest splash when he wooed former Lakers coach Pat Riley away from the broadcast booth to coach his team in the Garden. Unlike the acrimonious Pitino-Bianchi dynamic, the Checketts-Grunfeld-Riley seemed to be on the same page, at least philosophically: Patrick Ewing was going to be the cornerstone of their team, and everything else would be dictated by that organizational goal.

Of course, this meant embracing a half-court-oriented game plan with defense as the primary emphasis. Ewing was a good offensive player capable of shouldering a superstar's load of the scoring responsibility, but he was not the transcendent talent Michael Jordan was in Chicago (few -- if any -- centers have ever been close), nor was he even as gifted an offensive threat as an aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had been for Riley in L.A. But what Ewing was was a magnificent defender, capable of dominating a game at that end of the floor. Some coaches try to force their system no matter what, but Riley was shrewd, and saw that if the Knicks as constructed in 1991 were going to contend, it was going to be via a slow-down, grind-it-out game.

With that in mind, Checketts acquired undersized-but-tough forwards Anthony Mason and Xavier McDaniel before the '92 season, and Riley began implementing his vision to slow the game down to a snail's pace and take the mantle of "League's Toughest Team" from the Bad Boy Pistons. In 91-92, the Knicks had the 3rd-slowest pace factor in the NBA and the 2nd-best defense, as Riley had transformed New York from a sub-.500 team into the league's 7th-best by SRS. After beating the Pistons at their own game in one of the most physical series of the early part of the decade, the Knicks came within a game of knocking off the defending champion Bulls in a brutal 7-game slugfest. By holding Detroit and Chicago to a combined 104.6 Offensive Rating, the lowest among playoff teams, Riley had sent a message: the Knicks were going to be a tough out every spring.

True to form, NY returned in 1993 even tougher, winning 60 games and posting the league's 5th-best SRS on the strength of its #1 defense. In fact, their 99.7 DRtg was more than 5 points lower than that of the 2nd-best defense, the Sonics, and 8.3 points better than the league average; since DRtg became possible to calculate in 1974, only the 2004 Spurs and 2008 Celtics have outdefended the league average by that large a margin. In the playoffs the Knicks muscled past Indiana & Charlotte to find the Bulls waiting for them again, but again they were unable to shake the defending champs, this time despite staking themselves to a 2-0 series lead.

But Michael Jordan's retirement prior to the 1994 season made the Knicks feel confident about their chances to finally get over the hump. Again, they were one of the league's slowest teams, again Ewing was the league's best defensive player (despite Hakeem Olajuwon winning DPOY), and again the Knicks were one of the league's toughest outs come playoff time. Breaking Chicago's hold over them with a 7-game triumph over the Bulls in the East Semis, they survived Indiana's onslaught in the ECF thanks to a dominant Ewing, and were favored to win the Finals over Olajuwon's Rockets.

But instead of winning the franchise's first title since 1973, the Knicks failed to capitalize on a 3-2 Finals lead and ultimately lost Games 6 & 7 on the road, giving Houston the championship. The drama intensified that fall, with Checketts and Riley unable to work out a contract extension before the coach's walk year. On the court, the Knicks appeared to have peaked in 1994, as they slipped to 10th in SRS in 1995 (despite the #1 defense) and were unable to capitalize on the effects of Jordan's ongoing absence and subsequent rust on the archrival Bulls. Again the Pacers pushed New York to a 7th game in the playoffs, but this time Reggie Miller (who scored 8 points in 8.9 seconds to win Game 1 of the series) and Indiana outlasted the Knicks, ending their season.

The loss also ended the Riley era in New York. His feud with Checketts finally boiled over when the coach learned the team never intended to give him complete control of basketball operations. Riley tendered his resignation in May, and the messy Riley-Checketts rift was marked by a tampering controversy with Miami after the division-rival Heat scooped up Riley to be their coach -- New York accused Miami of pursuing Riley while he was still under contract to New York, and the two teams eventually settled un-amicably with the Heat compensating the Knicks with a 1st-round pick and cash. Little did either side know that this would be just the opening salvo in a war that would continue for years.

To replace Riley, Checketts and Grunfeld went after Don Nelson, who had "retired" from Golden State with a 14-31 record midway through the 1995 season amidst a controversial feud with his players, notably Chris Webber. But the Nelson era in New York was ill-conceived from the start, as he tried to force his up-tempo gameplan on a Knicks team built for half-court grinding under Riley. Clashing with the brain trust about Ewing's future with the club, Nelson had to be fired by Checketts just 59 games into his tenure as Knicks coach. Steady Jeff Van Gundy, who astonishingly weathered 7 chaotic seasons as an assistant coach under Jackson, MacLeod, Riley, and Nelson, was named interim coach for the remainder of the season. Van Gundy re-installed some of Riley's old defensive principles, leading the Knicks to a sweep of the Cavs in the playoffs before bowing out to the juggernaut Bulls, and Checketts was impressed enough to retain JVG as New York's official coach going forward.

This proved to be a good decision. Van Gundy led the Knicks to 57 wins in his first full season as a head coach, re-shaping the Knicks into an elite defense (2nd in the NBA behind, you guessed it, Miami) and a tough-minded team around Ewing. But not all was well in New York: before the season, Grunfeld sent Mason to Charlotte for 20 PPG scorer Larry Johnson in an attempt to bolster their offense, but Grandmama was a shell of his former self and the Knicks' inability to score was exposed by the Heat's dominating defense in a grueling 7-game playoff defeat. Despite that, Grunfeld pressed on into 1998 with the same core intact, believing Johnson, John Starks, & Allan Houston would provide just enough offense for the Knicks' defense to make them contenders. During the regular season, this plan backfired as Ewing was injured and New York fell to their worst record since before the Riley era. Though Grunfeld was partially vindicated with a 1st-round win over their bitter rivals, the Heat, New York couldn't hang with the Pacers in the 2nd round, and something clearly had to be done to inject life into an aging, fading team.

Thus, Checketts and Grunfeld made the biggest gamble of their careers, bringing in embattled SG Latrell Sprewell, who had missed most of 97-98 after infamously choking then-Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo. Public sentiment at the time was very much against Sprewell, who was probably neck and neck with Mike Tyson and Albert Belle in the race for America's Most Hated Athlete in 1998, and that spilled over to the Knicks for being the first team to take a chance on Spree after his suspension. When the lockout ended and play resumed, the Knicks looked better on paper, having added Sprewell and traded Charles Oakley for Marcus Camby... but it didn't translate much on the court, as NY struggled to find a rhythm and sputtered to a 21-21 mark with 8 games left in the shortened season. Someone had to fall on their sword for the team's performance, and Checketts chose Grunfeld over Van Gundy to avoid a locker-room revolt.

But the Knicks responded by winning 6 of their final 8 to make the playoffs as the 8th seed in the East. And in the playoffs, they outlasted Riley & Miami again despite a hobbled Ewing, then swept the Hawks, and beat Indiana in the ECF even after losing Ewing for the playoffs. The Cinderella run ended vs. San Antonio in the Finals, but the 1990s Knicks had once again rescued themselves from the spectre of rebuilding and had extended their run to 12 straight playoff appearances, 3rd only to the Blazers and Jazz among active postseason streaks.

Building on the momentum from the '99 playoffs, the 2000 Knicks were resurgent, winning 50 games and again advancing to the Conference Finals after outdueling the Heat in a hard-fought series. But against the Pacers, the Knicks once again fell short, unable to win on the road and unable to account for Reggie Miller, who scored 34 in the series-clincher.

The Ewing era would end several months later, as GM Scott Layden shipped him to Seattle for a washed-up Glen Rice and little else. And while the 2001 Knicks would win 48 games, they were upset by the Raptors in the 1st round of the playoffs. A week after their ouster, Checketts resigned as MSG President, turning over the reins to James L. Dolan. The rest, as they say, is history.

Just as the story of the '90s Knicks started roughly the day Checketts took over the team in 1991, it ended the day he left in 2001. Layden had already lavished a five-year, $61.9 million contract extension on the overrated Sprewell prior to the '01 campaign, and after it he gave a similar (but even more devastating) 6-year, $100M guaranteed contract to the equally overrated Allan Houston. The team's success had left them with a decade's worth of low draft picks, and when they did have a lottery pick in 1999, interim GM Ed Tapscott selected human hurdle Frederic Weis. The core that had made the 1990s Knicks so strong was crumbling, and Van Gundy's departure 19 games into the 2002 season represented its final collapse. Under the guidance of Layden, Dolan, and Isiah Thomas, the Knicks became the laughingstock of the pro sports world, a team that got less bang for its considerable buck than perhaps any in the history of the NBA. Only now are the Knicks finally forming a plan to emerge from the post-Checketts era, and even it's a hail mary at this point.

Conclusions

The 1990s Knicks were a very good team, legitimately great on defense, and were perhaps the league's best in 1993-94 (they should have won after being up 3-2, but they squandered the Finals away). Riley was a fantastic coach who was willing to adapt his methods to his personnel, and he molded them into an amazing defensive machine. Even after he left, Van Gundy was able to maintain a strong defensive identity in New York, partly because Ewing was one of the best defenders of his generation. The brain trust did a very good job of identifying the types of players who would be good fits on the team and went after them, especially early in the run when they snagged McDaniel, Mason, Derek Harper, etc. They weren't as good at developing an offense, though -- the Knicks consistently were a below-average offensive team because they relied on Ewing (not a superstar-caliber offensive option) and a collection of inefficient chuckers (Starks, Houston, Sprewell, etc.) to propel the scoring effort.

As far as role players go, Oakley and Ward were really good glue guys; Childs, not so much, he was eventually pretty overpaid for what he brought to the table. But all of their supporting cast members had one thing in common -- they were really gritty, defensive-minded guys who did their jobs well and fought hard; combined with the influence of Pat Riley (their Belichick?), I can see the analogy between the Knicks and the Patriots, especially the '03 and '04 versions that everybody knew were one of the league's best teams. Which I suppose makes Patrick Ewing Tom Brady? Perhaps the reason the analogy breaks down there is the reason the Patriots won and the Knicks didn't -- Ewing didn't seem to have the personality for leadership or the steely nerves that Brady does. Of course, if John Starks doesn't miss an absurd number of shots in Game 7 of the '94 Finals, we may see Ewing's career in an entirely different light.

In short, the Knicks had one of the league's best runs of sustained "goodness" during the Checketts era, and although they didn't win a championship, they would probably have at least one in an alternate universe where Michael Jordan played baseball from the start. So in a way, it's fitting that Ewing as a player essentially defines that team -- they were never the most dominant force in the league, but they were consistently among the best, and they hung around for a long time, giving their fans a lot of great memories. In a game like this, there are definitely worse legacies to have.

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81 Responses to “BBR Mailbag: ’90s Knicks”

  1. sp6r=underrated Says:

    In fairness to Starks, as bad as he was in game 7, his performance in the 4th quarter of game 6 was brilliant. He did everything possible to win the thing in 6. Starks was always a hot/cold player. I've always been slightly angry at Riley for not bringing in Hubert Davis during game 7.

  2. Chase Says:

    Great post. Thanks, Neil.

    Going back through every post-season, the Knicks were so class every year:

    1991-92: Lost in game 7 @ eventual NBA Champion Bulls
    1992-93: This year, they Knicks had home-court advantage against Chicago. In the Conf Finals, it was 2-2 in game 5 at the Garden when the Charles Smith bludgeoning happened. The refs call the foul, the Knicks probably go on to win 3-2, and even if they still lose game 6, they host game 7.
    1993-94: People talk about Starts in game 7, but in game 6 of the NBA Finals Starks took a 3 at the buzzer; if that wasn't blocked by Olajuwon, who knows if it goes in and the Knicks are champs.
    1994-95: A Ewing fingeroll in the final seconds of game 7 against the Pacers bounces out; the Knicks lose by 2. They'd still have to beat Orlando and then Houston, but not out of the question.
    1995-96: Okay, probably not going anywhere with the 72 win Bulls hanging around. They Knicks were just 3 points away, though, from tying that series at 2-2.
    1996-97: Maybe not going to beat the Bulls, but were up 3-1 on the Heat and had some tough losses the rest of the way, falling in game 7 of the EC semis.
    1997-98: Still not going anywhere with Chicago hanging around, but lost in overtime in game 4 vs. Indiana in the EC semis. A win makes that 2-2 and a tough series.
    1998-99: Do they beat the Spurs in the Finals if Ewing is healthy?

    The Knicks seemed so close every year. Some of that was probably because I was a kid, but with Ewing and that defense it always seemed like they were just one play away from going all the way.

  3. Will Says:

    Great article.

    The lack of success (besides role players like Greg Anthony, charlie ward (although I just noticed he's ranked 44th all-time in Defensive Rating, and hubert davis] in the NBA draft during the Checketts era hampered their success on the court.

    In Fact, they shipped several of those picks for the experienced players that helped them during their 90s run including ronaldo blackman, doc rivers, derek harper, tony campbell, doug christie,

  4. Jason J Says:

    Nice article, Neil. My take on that team was that they needed an elite perimeter creator / scorer, and what they had was Starks and Dominique's kid brother. Put Manu and Parker on a team with Pat Ewing playing the paint and Pat Riley on the bench, and you may get a Spurs-like result.

    I do think the loss of Strickland and Mark Jackson in favor of Rivers, Greg Anthony, and Derek Harper, while it gave them better shooting for their inside / outside, wasn't the best move. Too much pressure got put on Pat to generate offense all game long, and they didn't have enough diversity or the ability to improvise.

    I remember at Ewing's jersey retirement Jordan talked about how much he always wanted to play with Pat, that he recruited him to go to NC and tried to snare him in free agency or something like that, and Bird, Barkley, and Shaq all talked about their respect for Ewing's toughness too. I think it says something when your contemporaries think highly of you.

  5. RobertAugustdeMeijer Says:

    Ah the memories, thank you for this article.
    Because I grew up in New Jersey this was the team I was supposed to cheer for. On one hand, they weren't called the Knickerboxers for nothing, turning basketball into an ugly grind. And their best offensive player shot fade-aways. Ugh. But on the other hand, the team was composed of blue collars, which was a romantic fitting in a sense, considering New York's high population of workers. You just had to root for these guys that put so much effort into their jobs (If only the prices of Madison Square Garden would let the working class visit their games).
    It's amazing how one game could make the difference between Ewing or Olajuwon forever being the best center of the 90s. If the Knicks had won in 94, people would always gainsay Olajuwon supporters with "But he needed Drexler to win a title".

  6. Romain Says:

    To #5:
    It's not just one game in the 1994 Finals.
    Olajuwon killed Ewing all the way except in game 5 when Ewing had 25pts/12rbs/8blks. It was the only game Ewing shot over .42 from the field, and overall he was a miserable 58/160 from the field (.362).

    I remember watching the whole series on TV, and seeing Ewing tank so many fade aways and midrange jump shots was just terrible, eventhough I was not particularly a fan of him.

    In a way it's remarkable that the Knicks came so close to the title with their star player playing so poorly. I remember 32 year-old Derek Harper was their only consistent offensive option over the 7 games.

  7. Jason J Says:

    Romain - It's been a long time, but I remember Otis Thorpe covered Ewing most of the time, while Oakley covered Hakeem, I assume to keep them both out of foul trouble and allow them to roam the lane defensively.

    Obviously Pat bombed big time except in game 5, but Hakeem didn’t exactly put on a 1995 Rockets v. Spurs style clinic either. His offensive numbers were down across the board as well - just still great despite being down because he was insanely fantastic from '93-'95.

    That was good old mid-90s ugly ball at its finest.

  8. AYC Says:

    Nobody suggests it was a fluke when Chicago beat NY in a tough 7 game series in 93. The 94 Rockets were the better team, period; and they proved it by repeating in 95. Both years (93-94)the Knicks overachieved getting as far as they did. NY was a great defensive team (helped by a super-slow pace), but they were extremely limited offensively; HOU was a great defensive team that was also good on offense.

    And Ewing was never in the same class as Hakeem; had NY won that series, Derek Harper would've been named finals MVP because Ewing was so badly outplayed by Dream. Also, when you look at advanced stats, Hakeem actually was more dominant in the 94 finals than in 95. The stats look underwhelming because of the NY snail's pace. Dream avgd 27 ppg on 50% shooting in that series; thats pretty impressive when you realize their team ppg was about 85 per game; at 100 ppg that would be 31.8 ppg for Hakeem

  9. Pronostic foot Says:

    Yes the Knicks can do it

  10. Anthony Coleman Says:

    The 1990s Knicks were a very good team, legitimately great on defense, and were perhaps the league's best in 1993-94 (they should have won after being up 3-2, but they squandered the Finals away).

    That's why we have a seven game series Neil. They didn't squander game 6 or 7: they got outplayed, mainly because Olajuwon went off.

    The Dream went off for 30, had 4 blocked shots, ten rebounds, a steal and an assist and blocked Starks' game winning shot. In fact in games 6 and 7 the Knicks were trailing practically throughout. It doesn't look like the Knicks squandered anything. A team coming back from 3-2 down isn't a collapse; it has happened numerous times in the playoffs. This isn't even like the Blazers 00 game seven against the Lakers. It is totally ordinary.

    OK Neil I also gotta ask you this question: Why do you have a bias against Olajuwon. I normally don't call people out on having a bias, but its clear to me you have some kind of agenda you're trying to push by discrediting him.

    You did it in the 90s inner-circle hall of fame induction when instead of talking about his career accomplishments you spent the time to promote the argument that Robinson was better than him and you oversimplified the argument by saying that one week in May shouldn't judge both players' legacy. The gist of the real argument was that it was a microcosm of their playoff careers: Olajuwon was dominant in the playoffs and it cemented Robinson's reputation (which had been growing for a while especially after laying an egg in the 93 and 94 playoffs) as a "choker" who couldn't translate his dominance from the regular season to the playoffs like the other all-time greats.

    In the 00 inner circle inductions, instead of just focusing on Shaq's greatness, you instead took the time to counter Bill Simmons' argument of saying that Shaq was better than Olajuwon (and I agree), but then did a statistical sin by intentionally manipulating the team defensive numbers to support an argument that The Diesel was a better defensive player at his peak than Olajuwon (which I think is absurd; all of the defensive data we have suggest that Olajuwon was the better defender than Shaq) and used BS excuses to why you did it when I called you out on it. And now the 94 Finals, you made it seem like it was a collapse by the Knicks but everybody knows what happened: The Rockets made a comeback mainly because Olajuwon played so extremely well. Its like you hate giving dude credit; even in the 94 Rockets piece you did last year it seemed like you gave him grudging respect.

    Neil I can understand if you can make a case that he isn't the greatest center of all or in the running for greatest player of all-time. In that case his most ardent supporters overrate him. But even then, his accomplishments along with our advanced stats (specifically defense, playoffs, and overall longevity) rank him among clearly the very best basketball players of all-time.

    But back to the point: The Knicks were alot like the Spurs because they were an amazing defensive team, and they both had all-time great defensive stalwarts (Ewing and Duncan). But the problems were that the Knicks weren't as good offensively as the Spurs, and I hate to say this because I have so much respect for the guy, but Ewing was not the dominant all-around player as Duncan was. That was the main reason why even though they came so very, very close to the promise land it was the deciding factor why they couldn't get over the top.

  11. Neil Paine Says:

    Hey, look, once and for all it's not bias in the sense that I woke up one day and decided that I hated Hakeem or the mid-90s Rockets. It's more like, any objective analysis of those teams must conclude that the Dream and Houston won more than they "should have" in 1994 and 95. Going into Game 6, the Knicks would be expected to win at least 1 of the next 2 games (and therefore, the title) 68.7% of the time... Going into the Spurs-Rockets series, Robinson's advanced stats would have predicted that the Admiral would have the better series, not Olajuwon.

    Neither of these outcomes actually happened, of course, but unless I want to throw out objective analysis on the whole, I have to continue to assume that they are results that would not be expected to be the norm if we replayed those matchups a million times. And that means you're going to continue to call me "biased", which is fine, that's totally your right. But philosophically, I hope you can see why Hakeem and the Rockets keep running into objective analysis that says they weren't as good as the conventional wisdom holds. I'm not intentionally out to get them, but if I give them as much "due" as you seem to expect, it would represent a pretty serious bout of cognitive dissonance on my part.

  12. Ryan Says:

    Neil, wouldn't it make sense to compare RS head2head games rather than their season advanced stats?

    Hakeem vs. Robinson is an exclusive match-up, what they do against each other is irrelevant to what they do against the rest of the league on average. Unless you're talking about their advanced stats against each other.

  13. Neil Paine Says:

    That sample is too small to be relevant. It's akin to predicting the outcome of a Carlos Pena vs. Clay Buchholz at-bat based on 9 career plate appearances. As in baseball, head-to-head matchups have much less predictive value than simply using their full-season stats.

  14. AYC Says:

    "Dream and Houston won more than they "should have" in 1994 and 95... Going into the Spurs-Rockets series, Robinson's advanced stats would have predicted that the Admiral would have the better series, not Olajuwon."

    That's kind of the point when it comes to Hakeem's underappreciated greatness; he carried teams with underwhelming talent much further than expected, while outperforming his HOF peers at the center position. His postseason stats are dramatically better than his reg season stats, and far, far better than DRob or Ewing's postseason stats. And this didn't start in the 90's; Hakeem was outplaying Kareem en route to a finals appearance in just his second season.

    I'll be honest and admit I don't fully understand how win-shares are calculated. But I can't fathom how DRob has better postseason stats by that measure; it just doesn't make sense.

  15. Anthony Coleman Says:

    ""Hey, look, once and for all it's not bias in the sense that I woke up one day and decided that I hated Hakeem or the mid-90s Rockets. It's more like, any objective analysis of those teams must conclude that the Dream and Houston won more than they "should have" in 1994 and 95. Going into Game 6, the Knicks would be expected to win at least 1 of the next 2 games (and therefore, the title) 68.7% of the time... Going into the Spurs-Rockets series, Robinson's advanced stats would have predicted that the Admiral would have the better series, not Olajuwon.

    Neither of these outcomes actually happened, of course, but unless I want to throw out objective analysis on the whole, I have to continue to assume that they are results that would not be expected to be the norm if we replayed those matchups a million times. And that means you're going to continue to call me "biased", which is fine, that's totally your right. But philosophically, I hope you can see why Hakeem and the Rockets keep running into objective analysis that says they weren't as good as the conventional wisdom holds. I'm not intentionally out to get them, but if I give them as much "due" as you seem to expect, it would represent a pretty serious bout of cognitive dissonance on my part.""-Neil

    Man its been months since I've sonned a writer and now its time to do it again. First of all yes I think you've been clearly biased against Olajuwon. In the 90s inner-cirlce induction you spent your time to try suggest that Robinson was better than Olajuwon. Wouldn't have been better to just talk about both men's career accomplishments and why Olajuwon was included in the 90s hall of fame in the first place? Then in your Shaq induction you called out call out Bill Simmons' for putting Olajuwon over him then proceeded to blatantly tilt the team's defensive numbers in Shaq's favor to advance an argument that Shaq was a better defender than Olajuwon at his best. When I called you out on it you used the excuse of the defensive numbers for the Lakers' 2001 regular season numbers shouldn't be held against Shaq as a defender because of lame reasons. I'm sorry but what you did was clearly biased, and one of the reasons why people inherently mistrust the statistical community (i.e "another case of making the numbers say whatever you want.")

    Second whenever you talk about the other all-timers I notice that you are so willing to throw around superlatives at will. However, when the subject of Olajuwon comes up it always seems that you don't even feel the need to toss around the same accolades to him as you have for Duncan, Robinson, Shaq, Bird, Magic, Kareem just to name a few. It always seems like grudging respect when you even talk about the guy. I don't know what the issue is, but that is something that I an probably the other readers seem to notice.

    And also when you talk about "Objective Analysis" when it comes to Olajuwon and those two Rockets title wins here is the reason why they won both times against teams that were better than them on paper. It was mainly (but not the only reason) because when their backs were against the wall, like in game 6 and 7 in the Knicks series, like the elimination games in both series with the Suns and the Jazz series in 95, and when they were able to break the stalemate with the Spurs in the 95 Western Conference Finals, they could rely on the Dream to pull the rabbit out of the hat and dominate. This wasn't just BS; it is reflected in the game stats that in the 94 and 95 playoffs Olajuwon was a beast. Its funny that your readers notice it, I notice it, Mike Goodman notices it and Hollinger does too, but you seem to have a blind spot to an indisputable fact.

  16. Neil Paine Says:

    Fine, like I said, it's your right to "son" me all you want... But for me, it's this simple: when assessing talent, you apparently believe in clutch as a repeatable skill; I don't. I assign no more importance to a playoff performance than a regular-season one, except to recognize the increased strength of schedule involved with facing a playoff-caliber opponent. That's why I rank Robinson ahead of Hakeem. The Hakeem-Robinson debate is one that I always call attention to because the conventional wisdom is that Hakeem was better, on the basis of one series. So if I'm guilty of being biased against Hakeem at all, it would be as a reaction to this conventional wisdom -- Robinson's numbers are better than Hakeem's by a country mile during the regular season, and he even averaged more career playoff Win Shares per 36 minutes than the Dream.

    Next time you accuse me of "making the numbers say whatever I want", maybe you should ask why I would do that. I'm a Celtics fan. I don't have any gripe with Hakeem (we actually won when we faced the Rockets in the Finals, and I wasn't even a year old when that happened). I don't set an agenda and make the numbers fit it; just the opposite -- I look at the numbers and let them dictate my agenda. Which, if you think about it, explains any perceived "bias" against Olajuwon. His numbers weren't as good as other all-timers, therefore I rank them ahead of him. Period.

  17. Mike G Says:

    Hakeem was unique among superstars, in that every year (February?) he would fast in observation of Ramadan, a Muslim thing. During this time, his numbers would drop off and his team would lose a few games they'd otherwise likely win.

    The fasting (and prayer, etc) would strengthen him -- just in time for the playoffs. So his playoffs, whether or not you "believe in clutch as a repeatable skill", were repeatedly better than his regular seasons.

  18. Mike G Says:

    Hakeem's career WS/48 are .189, and Robinson's are .199 . However, this includes the Admiral's late-career association with Tim Duncan, and Olajuwon's long decline.

    Through 1993, Robinson had been through 3 postseasons, and his playoff WS/48 had been 87-91% of his regular season WS/48 each time. This isn't bad, on average. And very consistent.

    Before their 1994 match, Hakeem had been in 8 postseasons. He'd had one bad one (1990, po/rs ws/48 of .47 . The other 7 were good enough that his playoff WS/48 were 114% of his RS rate.

    Now, IF we expect Robinson to be 89% as dominant as his season WS/48, AND Olajuwon to be 114% as good as his, then we could have guessed DRob at (.89 * .296) .263,
    and Hakeem at (1.14 * .210) .240 .
    This evens things up a bit. Looking back on it, it wasn't a surprise.

    1994 Centers in the playoffs
    center RS ws/48 - PO ws/48
    Robinson - .296 - .105
    Olajuwon - .210 - .208
    Pat Ewing - .211 - .150

    I'm guessing an average po/rs ratio is about .83 .

  19. Mike G Says:

    [ Dang, I was on the wrong season. I'll just punch the right numbers into the previous post: ]

    Through 1994, Robinson had been through 4 postseasons, and his playoff WS/48 had been 87-91% of his regular season WS/48 each time, before plunging to 35% in '94. His po/rs ratio thru this time was .82 .

    Before their 1995 match, Hakeem had been in 9 postseasons. His playoff WS/48 were 1.10 of his RS rate.

    Now, IF we expect Robinson to be 82% as dominant as his season WS/48, AND Olajuwon to be 110% as good as his, then we could have guessed DRob at (.82 * .273) .223,
    and Hakeem at (1.10 * .181) .199 .
    This evens things up a bit.

    1995 Centers in the playoffs
    center RS ws/48 - PO ws/48
    Robinson - .273 - .176
    Shaquille - .230 - .180
    Olajuwon - .181 - .143

  20. AYC Says:

    "I assign no more importance to a playoff performance than a regular-season one, except to recognize the increased strength of schedule involved with facing a playoff-caliber opponent. That's why I rank Robinson ahead of Hakeem."

    That's fair enough Neil, but maybe you need to re-evaluate this position? As I said before, Hakeem was a significantly improved player in postseason play; this wasn't just for a few seasons, Dream stepped it up in the playoffs from the beginning of his career; and with 145 playoff games, you can't say the sample-size is small.

    PS Dream was absolutely dominant in 95, outplaying Robinson and O'neal while leading all scorers with 33.0 ppg (on 53% shooting); how is it that his WS stats from that postseason are so weak?

  21. Mike G Says:

    The '95 Rockets were 47-35 (.573) before going 15-7 (.682) in the playoffs.
    It stands to reason that most of them would have improved WS/48 rates in PO.

    WS/48 RS PO
    Drexler .193 .167
    Olajuwon .181 .143
    K Smith .144 .101
    C Brown .123 .047
    Elie .122 .111
    Cassell .120 .138
    Horry .097 .142
    Chilcutt .074 .101
    C Jones .050 .022

    All these guys played at least 237 playoff minutes.
    Only 3 guys improved in playoffs -- Cassell, Horry, and Chilcutt.
    This was really Clyde's show.

  22. Anon Says:

    Hakeem's career WS/48 are .189, and Robinson's are .199 . However, this includes the Admiral's late-career association with Tim Duncan, and Olajuwon's long decline.

    I don't mean to jump into the middle of this, but are you really using Robinson's longevity against him in this comparison? And besides he was definitely a productive player in the Spurs two postseasons runs they won with him in the lineup, particularly their first title in 1999. Tim was more or a factor in their 03 title, but Robinson was a key player in limited minutes for the Spurs.

  23. Anon Says:

    Ooops...supposed to be quotes there for those first couple of sentences.

  24. AYC Says:

    Anon, the issue isn't longevity; Hakeem played in more postseason games. The issue is that DRob got to ride the coat-tails of a superior player to 2 titles. On the other hand, Hakeem had Ralph Sampson and Clyde Drexler as the 2 best teammates he ever had (and neither one was on his first championship team!)

  25. AYC Says:

    PS Anybody who thinks Drexler was the best player on the 95 Rockets needs to have their head examined

  26. Anon Says:

    "The issue is that DRob got to ride the coat-tails of a superior player to 2 titles."

    One. He and Tim were virtually equals from a production standpoint in '99.

    And Clyde was absolutely money in '95. He was the Rockets best player in the playoffs.

  27. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I can't really remember specific reasons why, but as a Knicks fan at the time, I felt the '93 team was a little stronger, and was the best team in the league. Giving up the lead to Chicago and not even making the finals still chafes at me.

  28. AYC Says:

    It all depends on how you define production, doesn't it? You want to look at per minute production, while I care about per game production; TD avgd more points, rebounds and assists per game in 99, his scoring avg was nearly 6 ppg higher. In postseason play, DRob's minutes rose, but his total per game production dropped, while TD saw his stats rise across the board. I see no reason to overrate the Admiral because his minutes were limited.

    As for Clyde, I think he was great but come on, better than Hakeem?

    33.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.5 apg, .531 fg%
    20.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, .481 fg%

    Dream had much better defensive stats too (of course). I'm just not willing to put too much faith in win-shares when they produce bizarre results like this...

  29. Anon Says:

    "It all depends on how you define production, doesn't it? You want to look at per minute production, while I care about per game production; TD avgd more points, rebounds and assists per game in 99, his scoring avg was nearly 6 ppg higher. In postseason play, DRob's minutes rose, but his total per game production dropped, while TD saw his stats rise across the board. I see no reason to overrate the Admiral because his minutes were limited."

    Actually, I look at everything. Duncan led the team in win shares in '99, but he also played in 400+ more minutes. Robinson was better per 48 minutes on the court, and it's not like he was someone who was playing limited minutes. In the playoffs Duncan was better, but Robinson gave you identical production per 48 minutes in about 100 less minutes. Overall, I would give the edge to Duncan, but only slightly. Robinson played like another superstar on that team, and I don't call that "piggybacking".

    And Clyde only played 35 games in the regular season, but he was awesome in the playoffs. He led the team in both cumulative and per 48 minutes WS in the playoffs. Compared to Hakeem, he didn't provide a brunt of the shot-creation but he was alot more efficient, in addition taking on a good chunk of the offense himself (10 points higher in ORtg). You can certainly make a good argument for him that postseason.

  30. AYC Says:

    Well there you have it, Clyde was better because he shot better from the ft line; guess he was better than Shaq too...

  31. Anon Says:

    "Well there you have it, Clyde was better because he shot better from the ft line; guess he was better than Shaq too..."

    Never knew that getting to the basket and to the line to shoot fts wasn't considered part of offense anymore.

  32. AYC Says:

    And I didn't know that mattered more than (much) higher scoring, rebound, block and field goal% numbers...

  33. Anon Says:

    "And I didn't know that mattered more than (much) higher scoring, rebound, block and field goal% numbers..."

    You only pick the parts that matter to you. Clyde was better than Hakeem in two of the four factors that win basketball games, and he wasn't doing this as a role player either. He was carrying much of the Rockets offense.

  34. AYC Says:

    In all seriousness, I have no idea what you're talking about. What are these four factors?

  35. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "Fine, like I said, it's your right to "son" me all you want... But for me, it's this simple: when assessing talent, you apparently believe in clutch as a repeatable skill; I don't. I assign no more importance to a playoff performance than a regular-season one, except to recognize the increased strength of schedule involved with facing a playoff-caliber opponent. That's why I rank Robinson ahead of Hakeem. The Hakeem-Robinson debate is one that I always call attention to because the conventional wisdom is that Hakeem was better, on the basis of one series. So if I'm guilty of being biased against Hakeem at all, it would be as a reaction to this conventional wisdom -- Robinson's numbers are better than Hakeem's by a country mile during the regular season, and he even averaged more career playoff Win Shares per 36 minutes than the Dream.

    Next time you accuse me of "making the numbers say whatever I want", maybe you should ask why I would do that. I'm a Celtics fan. I don't have any gripe with Hakeem (we actually won when we faced the Rockets in the Finals, and I wasn't even a year old when that happened). I don't set an agenda and make the numbers fit it; just the opposite -- I look at the numbers and let them dictate my agenda. Which, if you think about it, explains any perceived "bias" against Olajuwon. His numbers weren't as good as other all-timers, therefore I rank them ahead of him. Period."

    -Neil

    OK let me say this before I finish: I am a fan of your blogs and that is why I read them, and I do think that your rankings against Olajuwon always was based on the stats. I have no reason to think otherwise. With that being said I'm not taking back what I said: you don't like giving the man credit when it is due.

    From reading your recent selections whenever the subject of Olajuwon comes up or comes near the writing reeked of "Derek Jeter-backlash Syndrome." For the uninformed this applies to the time when sabermetrics crowd, fed up with many of the pundits claiming that Jeter was the best shortstop in baseball despite not being the hitter or the fielder that A-Rod was or the fact that many of those same pundits couldn't recognize that he was a shitty fielder, would constantly point out his flaws, label him overrated, and never give him credit for anything he did. I know of this because I was one of those guys! I didn't want to recognize that he was a great hitter for a shortstop and his play in the playoffs was truly great. The same thing is with Kobe; so many people got tired with him being compared to Jordan that they would call him overrated and not give him credit for his own individual greatness. Again I was one of the Kobe haters until I had to look back and say while he might be "Jordan-lite" that still makes him one of the best whoever played. Neil you're giving off that same vibe with your writings when it comes to Olajuwon.

    Was the point in having the inner-circle hall of fame was the give credit to the truly elite of all-time? Then why the hell did you spend the 90s induction for both Robinson and Olajuwon as a polemic on "Robinson being better than Olajuwon?" You went into great detail on the regular season stats that Robinson was better than Olajuwon, mentioned in passing that Olajuwon was a better postseason performer but then tried to dismiss it and misrepresented the point why so many people claimed that Olajuwon was better than Robinson. That wasn't the main point though: up until that moment you used those posts to explain why all of these legends deserved to be included in that list, but that all fell apart when it came time to talk about Olajuwon. Sure you included him, but it seemed that you didn't want to celebrate his career and did only because he met all of your criteria. That bias also extended into the Shaq induction.

    Was it even necessary to check Simmons for putting Olajuwon over Shaq? Of course not; you did it because you didn't like the fact that he or anybody else put him over The Diesel. That is what everybody else picked up on. There was no need to bring him into a different player's induction; it was all an attempt to drop his legacy down a couple of notches. It was almost like you were saying:

    "Fuck all of you Olajuwon fans. I think the guy is overrated and doesn't deserve to be ranked along Shaq or Robinson so I'm going to ram the point down and bust on him whenever I get the chance to."

    Also you did try to manipulate the defensive numbers for both the Rockets and Lakers teams. Are you meaning to tell me that you didn't know that it was kind of inaccurate to discount the Lakers; poor 2001 defensive performance, while adding both the Rockets championship teams defensive efficiencies then used the data that that heavily favored the Lakers defense as proof that at their bests Shaq was a better defender than Olajuwon? Come on-I'm not dumb here. Pure common sense would tell you that you are using unequal standards to make the numbers say what you want. That is why I was able to catch it and called you out. It was obvious that you were being biased and you used a weak excuse to defend using that illegitimate method.

    Then we had the Knicks article (in which I loved and was very accurate on the team) but then you made it seem as if they squandered the title away. Overlooking that overcoming a 3-2 deficit isn't out of the ordinary or that they were in a position to win the title despite the fact that their best player and scorer was having a miserable offensive series up to that point (which is shocking in itself). But you overlooked the truth: the main reason why the Rockets were able to overcome the Knicks in games 6 and 7 was because Olajuwon absolutely dominated them. That is one of the reasons why it is considered one of the greatest NBA Finals performances ever because the man came on strong at the end of the series. That is why I called you out: that was revisionist history and it took away credit from the Rockets and Olajuwon's performance. It was as obvious as the sky was blue.

    Again I can understand your frustration that you are convinced that he isn't on par with Robinson and Shaq. But its not fair and objective when you don't give the man credit for what he accomplished.

    BTW: I'm sorry Its hard for me to honestly go by win shares per 36 minutes in judging Robinson as better than Olajuwon in the post season. Their defense was still top notch, but Olajuwon's offensive numbers (he shot more with a higher percentage and had more assists) were highly in his favor. I'm favoring Olajuwon as the better playoff player.

  36. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "And Clyde only played 35 games in the regular season, but he was awesome in the playoffs. He led the team in both cumulative and per 48 minutes WS in the playoffs. Compared to Hakeem, he didn't provide a brunt of the shot-creation but he was alot more efficient, in addition taking on a good chunk of the offense himself (10 points higher in ORtg). You can certainly make a good argument for him that postseason."

    "You only pick the parts that matter to you. Clyde was better than Hakeem in two of the four factors that win basketball games, and he wasn't doing this as a role player either. He was carrying much of the Rockets offense."

    OK I'm going to put you on the spot Anon: do you honestly know what Win Shares per 48 minutes mean?

    BTW Drexler was great in the post season, but Olajuwon deserves more credit for the offenses' success because he was creating and thus taking more of the shots that Drexler couldn't at that age. And this wasn't a little either: Olajuwon took 277 more shot attempts in that playoffs than Drexler. He was taking a dozen more shot attempts per game. Yes Drexler's TS % was 58.7 to Olajuwon's 56.0, but Olajuwon was creating and carrying much more of the offensive load. In short Drexler was complimenting Olajuwon at that moment. More people need to keep that in mind when they evaluate a player's offensive talent: the volume is just as important as the efficiency.

  37. Jason J Says:

    Johnny Twisto - I felt the same about the 1993 team being better than the 1994 team. If Jordan hadn't gone ballistic in game 4 with the only 50+ game that riley's knicks surrendered between '92 and '94, they may have won. They could have gone up 3-1 with two more home games left.

  38. Anon Says:

    "More people need to keep that in mind when they evaluate a player's offensive talent: the volume is just as important as the efficiency."

    I'm glad that you know this. Which is why it's already a key component in how WS is formulated.

  39. AYC Says:

    Anon, you didn't answer my question; what are the mysterious "four factors that win basketball games" you mentioned?

    And what makes points from the FT line more valuable than points from the field?

  40. Anon Says:

    From the offensive end, it's shooting % (efg%), turnovers, offensive rebounding, and getting to the line. These categorizes are also ranked in order of importance, so you're correct in saying that getting to the line isn't as important as shooting from the field, however Clyde was nearly equal to Hakeem in the first two categorizes, and better than him in the last two.

  41. Anon Says:

    And when I say "better than him in the last two", I mean that Clyde was that much better particularly in getting to the line that he offset the slight advantage that Hakeem had in a more weighted category like shooting from the field.

  42. AYC Says:

    Thanks, Anon. When you say "getting to the line", do you mean number of FT attempts or FT%? Because Hakeem attempted (and made) more FT in the 95 playoffs than Drexler, though Clyde shot a higher FT%.

    You said before that volume gets factored into WS, but the volume difference in scoring between Dream and Clyde was pretty huge; Hakeem's scoring avg was over 60% higher (on 10% better fg%). His rpg was also nearly 50% higher, and his bpg was 400% higher.

    PS passing is also a part of offense, and Dream had the higher AST% in the 95 PO too

  43. Anon Says:

    "Thanks, Anon. When you say "getting to the line", do you mean number of FT attempts or FT%? Because Hakeem attempted (and made) more FT in the 95 playoffs than Drexler, though Clyde shot a higher FT%."

    Both. It's the ability to get to the line AND make your fts. Clyde did both better than Hakeem -- his free throw rate (which is a simple calculation, ft/fga) was 15% higher than Hakeem's in the playoffs. I'm not sure where you're getting a 10% higher fg% from, unless you're just looking a regular fg%. You need to also factor in Clyde's 3-pt shooting, in which their shooting %s then become more even.

    As for volume shooting and efficiency, the discussion about how they are related is a bit too in-depth to go into here -- so much that it deserved its own book. Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver is your reference for that one.

  44. AYC Says:

    Clyde's ratio of FT to FGA may be higher, but in absolute terms, Hakeem attempted and made more FT. As for fg%, Clyde shot .481 overall, while Dream shot .531; I refuse to give Clyde props for barely hitting 30% of his 3's; again, in absolute terms Dream was 10% more likely to hit a FGA.

    eFG% is questionable to me because a 33% shooter from 3 is treated as equal to a 50% shooter from 2; that overvalues 3pt shooting IMO; a sub-par 3pt shooter comes of better than a excellent 2pt shooter.

  45. Anon Says:

    "Clyde's ratio of FT to FGA may be higher, but in absolute terms, Hakeem attempted and made more FT."

    Cumulative production isn't as important as rates, especially foul shots taken per every field goal attempt from the field. With all other things held equal, teams (and players who can do that) win more games than teams that don't.

    "As for fg%, Clyde shot .481 overall, while Dream shot .531; I refuse to give Clyde props for barely hitting 30% of his 3's; again, in absolute terms Dream was 10% more likely to hit a FGA."

    You refuse to give Clyde credit for using a basketball skill that Hakeem didn't EVEN HAVE in the first place? How is that in any way objective?

    "eFG% is questionable to me because a 33% shooter from 3 is treated as equal to a 50% shooter from 2; that overvalues 3pt shooting IMO; a sub-par 3pt shooter comes of better than a excellent 2pt shooter."

    Whether you like it or not, 3-point shooting is part of the game. It's certainly alot more useful than regular fg% because 1) 3-pt shots are more valuable shots than midrange shots, 2) they're harder to shoot than a midrange shot. The %s are lower than those who shoot 2s, but the payoffs are greater -- and that's what's factored into efg%.

  46. AYC Says:

    My point was that 30% shooting from 3 isn't even a good %. I understand threes are high-risk/high-reward; but a 60% shooter from 2 is still 50% more likely to hit any given shot attempt than the 40% 3pt-shooter, even though eFG% treats them as the same. I also don't see how Clyde's advantage in this area matters more than Dream's tremendous superiority in several others. I think we will have to agree to disagree...

  47. Anon Says:

    "My point was that 30% shooting from 3 isn't even a good %. I understand threes are high-risk/high-reward; but a 60% shooter from 2 is still 50% more likely to hit any given shot attempt than the 40% 3pt-shooter, even though eFG% treats them as the same."

    30% shooting from 3 ISN'T great shooting from downtown, but Clyde didn't just shoot threes either. You can't disregard it just because he didn't exactly light it up from downtown, because he still made his share of 3s in addition to all the other shots he made from the floor.

    Also, the whole reason for the 3-pt line is because they are harder shots to make. Guys who are close to the basket are more likely to hit THOSE shots (not any GIVEN shot as you said, because those %s are only based on the spots on the floor they shoot from) because they're closer to the basket and are easier to make. Shooting farther out from three is naturally going to result in lower %s, and you need to way to account for the increase in difficulty to shoot from outside -- which is what efg% does.

  48. Anthony Coleman Says:

    AYC, Drexler needs to be given credit for his efficiency. He didn't turn the ball over much and he shot a very high percentage. Anon is right about that. With that being said Olajuwon should be given more credit for the success of the offense that postseason because he carried far more of the offensive load than Drexler.

    Drexler took only 21 shots per game in the playoffs while Olajuwon took 33. In percentages, Olajuwon took 57% more shots. That is enormous. It has been said many a time: the man who takes the most shots on the team should be given most of the blame or praise for the fortunes for the offense because the team consistently relies on them the most to score the ball. Also you're missing the other important point: Olajuwon took more shots because at that age he was far better at creating his own shot. He was able to take shots that Drexler couldn't do at that age. That is what people fail to comprehend when they become so fascinated by the field goal percentage-true shooting percentage: most of the time they have such a high percentage because they are limited to making a select number of shots that they can't create their own all over the courts like a Jordan could. Asked to create their own shots over an extended level of time they will become turnover machines and would certainly shoot in the 30s instead of 50 percents. And you're missing another obvious point that a shooting percentage goes down the more times you shoot. Again Drexler's TS% was 2 percent higher than Olajuwon's but the argument of him being a more efficient offensive player is destroyed when you consider the 57 percent more shot-attempts that Olajuwon attempted. It is just that simple. (This is one of the main reasons why I also think that Offensive Rating is a hideously worthless statistic. It gives way too much credit who are low usage guys who can't carry an offense but loves them because they rack up alot of assists, have a high shooting percentage, and are low-turnover players.)

    But here is the main reason I'm back: can anybody think of another series (not just the Finals) in which the teams main scorer, regressed so much on the offensive end and not get swept? We've seen it before when a player is dominant in the postseason and lost or got swept because their teammates were just not good enough (Jordan's 1986 against the Boston Celtics), but when the star scorer has a terrible shooting series they are usually a blowout waiting to happen. Ewing deserves credit for opening the offense up for taking so many shots, but it also put alot more pressure on the other supporting cast to produce to counteract the skid or play that much better on defense. That shows you how frighteningly good the Knicks were on defense: even with their star player playing so poorly on defense (the funny thing is that Ewing was so good on help-side defense that he was the main reason why the defense was so good against the Rockets.) The 94 Finals is the equivalent to the 04 ALCS: the system totally broke down.

  49. Anon Says:

    "This is one of the main reasons why I also think that Offensive Rating is a hideously worthless statistic. It gives way too much credit who are low usage guys who can't carry an offense but loves them because they rack up alot of assists, have a high shooting percentage, and are low-turnover players."

    It's not worthless at all when you use with offensive possession %. You really need to read Oliver's book that I mentioned in an earlier post, because it talks about and addresses the very things you're bringing up.

  50. AYC Says:

    Anthony C, it's important to keep in mind how much the ridiculously slow pace the Knicks played helped their defense. Most teams don't have the mental fortitude to play such an unpleasant style consistently, but when you slow it down that much it's easier to defend; of course it's harder to score too. Considering their roster, that style was the only way they could've gotten so far.

    Anon, I doubt any knowledgable B-Ball fan beyond the folks on this site would agree that Drexler was better than Hakeem in 95; I recognize that Clyde was great and did certain things better, but Hakeem was so far superior in so many areas that I don't think the results WS produce in this case are very reliable. Let's be honest, all the advanced stat formulas for basketball have some issues. This isn't baseball, where offense is a one-man sport, and we have stats for every aspect of hitting; basketball is a team sport and offense is a lot more complicated. Win shares may be the best we have, but they sometimes produce odd results; unless you really think there are 42 players better than Hakeem, and David Robinson was just as good as Michael Jordan

  51. Anon Says:

    "This isn't baseball, where offense is a one-man sport, and we have stats for every aspect of hitting; basketball is a team sport and offense is a lot more complicated."

    More complicated, yes. Impossible to understand using the numbers, no.

    "Win shares may be the best we have, but they sometimes produce odd results; unless you really think there are 42 players better than Hakeem, and David Robinson was just as good as Michael Jordan"

    This list isn't supposed to read as a "greatest players" list at all. The numbers simply tell you that per 48 minutes on the court, David Robinson was as productive as MJ in the regular season. That's it. There's a big difference in what it's actually telling you and what you think it's saying.

  52. AYC Says:

    Not impossible, more like incomplete.

    And WS are intended as a catch-all stat for player production, like adjusted OPS for hitting; certainly, you and most of the people associated with this site treat WS that way. So it's a cop-out for you to say now that's not what WS is all about. Your previous assertion that Drexler was better than Hakeem in 95 is based ENTIRELY on win-shares

  53. Anthony Coleman Says:

    This list isn't supposed to read as a "greatest players" list at all. The numbers simply tell you that per 48 minutes on the court, David Robinson was as productive as MJ in the regular season. That's it. There's a big difference in what it's actually telling you and what you think it's saying.

    you know what the funny thing is? PER is the one stat that correlates the most with the general public's perception of the greatest of all-time lists while Win Shares has those aforementioned odd issues. Whenever I look at the all-time top twenty all-time I'm in agreement with the placement or even if I don't agree, the calculations and the structure behind the numbers forces me to say "this is a great point." And yes that includes Robinson's inclusion in the top ten (even though Hollinger himself admitted that its not perfect with defense and that it overrates players' who play limited minutes). I might not agree that Dirk is one of the 20 greatest players ever, but I understand that what he brings to an offense per possession is truly amazing.

    "It's not worthless at all when you use with offensive possession %. You really need to read Oliver's book that I mentioned in an earlier post, because it talks about and addresses the very things you're bringing up."

    OK Anon. I understand what you're getting at. Let me just say that the offensive rating that we have that lists Steve Kerr at number one all time and Michael Jordan at 14, sucks. I'm not giving credit to a stat that loves a player who shoots a very high percentage, who is a low turnover guy or like in the case of Magic, a high percentage high turnover guy but counteracts the turnovers because of the assist total, when the killer flaw is that it doesn't seem to care at all about a players' ability to carry the offensive load. That is why I consider the stat by itself worthless.

  54. Anthony Coleman Says:

    Just for there won't be any confusion with my last post, I know that D-Rob is one of the greatest defensive forces we've ever seen.

  55. Anon Says:

    "Not impossible, more like incomplete."

    "Incomplete" does not mean "disregard because they're not perfect". They still give alot of information about what is going on the court. And I would certainly prefer using them over vanilla flavor per game statistics, which are unweighted and have no context associated with the numbers.

    "So it's a cop-out for you to say now that's not what WS is all about. Your previous assertion that Drexler was better than Hakeem in 95 is based ENTIRELY on win-shares"

    You misunderstood the point of my previous post. And yes, I still stand by my argument that you could make a case for Cylde. This wasn't a bench player who was standing in the corner shooting three pointers only when the main star found him on offense, Clyde was taking on an all-star's burden of the offense and was more efficient with it, even given the fact that Hakeem was creating more for his team. Some might confuse doing everything on offense as an automatic hallmark of being the best performer on your team. However, that is only partly true, because ultimately the ball STILL needs to go into the basket for it to mean anything. It's the object of the game.

  56. AYC Says:

    Anon, you're backtracking here; this is what you said in #26:

    "And Clyde was absolutely money in '95. He was the Rockets best player in the playoffs."

    You didn't qualify this statement in any way; you didn't say he was the best player according to WS, you said he was the best player period. You can't have it both ways; WS is the only measure that would rate Drex over Hakeem. (and since they were teammates, and played similar minutes, I think the "vanilla" stats are just fine for comparing them)

    As for PER, I have a whole different set of issues with that; i think it rewards scorers too much and ignores defense; WS is much better for rating defensive greats like Russell and Ben Wallace.

  57. Anon Says:

    "You didn't qualify this statement in any way; you didn't say he was the best player according to WS, you said he was the best player period. You can't have it both ways; WS is the only measure that would rate Drex over Hakeem. (and since they were teammates, and played similar minutes, I think the "vanilla" stats are just fine for comparing them)"

    I did say that, then I went into detail in subsequent posts. Sorry for the initial confusion.

    And no, you can't justify using per game statistics just because they were similar teammates and played similar minutes. It's a little better compared to cross-team player comparisons, but they don't really tell you a slew of several other important things in basketball; notably defense, usage, and efficiency. And they are not given proper weights either. There are more informative methods out there to figure out a player's on-court contributions, and they need to be used whenever possible.

  58. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "You misunderstood the point of my previous post. And yes, I still stand by my argument that you could make a case for Cylde. This wasn't a bench player who was standing in the corner shooting three pointers only when the main star found him on offense, Clyde was taking on an all-star's burden of the offense and was more efficient with it, even given the fact that Hakeem was creating more for his team. Some might confuse doing everything on offense as an automatic hallmark of being the best performer on your team. However, that is only partly true, because ultimately the ball STILL needs to go into the basket for it to mean anything. It's the object of the game."

    you don't get it Anon, it doesn't matter that Clyde was taking an all-star level of the offense because Olajuwon was still taking on much, much, much more of the offense. And I'll say it again: yes the object of the game is to put the ball into the court but if that player isn't creating much of those shots on enough of their possessions then they aren't helping enough with the offensive load. And again: the shooting percentage has a tendency to go down if a player take more shots. The difference in Drexler's true shooting efficiency is minor when you notice that Olajuwon's carrying of the offensive end is so enormous. All things being equal the difference between their percentages is one or two missed field goals per game. Olajuwon took nearly 12 more field goal attempts per-game. No matter how you want to stare at it Anon, Olajuwon's contributions to the offense was much more crucial to the Rockets success because Drexler's shooting efficiency advantage was small, and Olajuwon's shooting volume was far larger.

    BTW do you think that Drexler in 95 was a better scorer than Jordan in his last 6 playoff appearances?
    Or Shaq in the 2000-2002 playoffs?
    Or Kobe and Wade in last years playoffs?
    Or Duncan in 2003?
    Because he outranked not only Olajuwon, but all of those men in true shooting percentages too in all of those playoff runs.

  59. AYC Says:

    Defense, usage and efficiency?

    Hakeem was far superior to Clyde in the first 2 areas. I don't see how Clyde's minor advantage in the last category matters more. (yes it is minor; despite taking alot more shots, Dream shot the better % from the field. That is true even if we look at eFG%)

  60. Neil Paine Says:

    To address the complaints about eFG% -- it doesn't matter if shooting 33% on threes is particularly good compared to the league average, or if 50% on twos is good... All that matters is the number of expected points per shot. Shooting 33% on threes always nets the exact same number of points per shot attempt as shooting 50% on twos. All else being equal (i.e., no differences in turnovers, offensive rebounding, fouls drawn, or defensive ability), a player who shoots nothing but threes and makes 33% is helping his team win just as many games as a player who takes nothing but twos and makes 50%.

  61. AYC Says:

    Neil, I have to respectfully disagree. The 3pt shooter in your analogy will score the same number of points per shot attempt, but he is still scoring less efficiently; 67% of his shot attempts will result in a defensive rebounding opportunity for the other team, as opposed to 50% of the 2pt shooter's shots

  62. AYC Says:

    ...Maybe the increased def. rebounds (changes of possesion) that result from 3pt shooting can be factored into eFG%?

  63. Neil Paine Says:

    The other team gets the ball back whether the shot is made or not. They don't get any "extra" possessions when you miss those threes -- whether inbounding after a made basket or grabbing a defensive rebound, it's 1 possession they get regardless of the offensive team's result. Unless the expected points/possession in a defensive rebound situation is significantly greater than the expected rate after a made basket (and I haven't seen the numbers on this -- I expect a DReb situation where you can fast break to yield more points/poss., but I'm not sure how big the difference is), there is literally no difference in contribution to winning between shooting 33% on threes and 50% on twos.

  64. Anon Says:

    "Maybe the increased def. rebounds (changes of possesion) that result from 3pt shooting can be factored into eFG%?"

    Why? This has nothing to do with offense at all.

  65. Anon Says:

    "you don't get it Anon, it doesn't matter that Clyde was taking an all-star level of the offense because Olajuwon was still taking on much, much, much more of the offense."

    Not really, that's a bit of an exaggeration. He took on around 10% more, and he was 10% less efficient as a result. Since there are several studies that suggest that the tradeoff in usage and efficiency is around 1 point in ORtg per 1% increase in offensive possession rate, Hakeem's higher shot-creation in the '95 playoffs was not much of an advantage over Clyde's higher efficiency.

  66. AYC Says:

    Fair points, Neil. But that doesn't change my earlier point that on any given posession the 2pt shooter is 50% more likely to hit the shot; I think that difference is relevent.

    We have all heard the mantra "live by the 3, die by the 3." It makes me wonder, do teams that shoot the 3 more often win more? I would guess not, but I don't know this for a fact...

  67. Neil Paine Says:

    These are good questions. Like I said, the difference between the 33% 3-pt rate and 50% 2-pt rate depends on a team's expected ORtg on possessions following a defensive reb. vs. possessions where you have to take the ball out of bounds, as well as the reliability of making 3s vs. 2s (which you alluded to). I once found that 3-point % is the element of the offense that has the lowest year-to-year correlation on a team level:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=3475

    So it's certainly reasonable to point out that 3s can't always consistently be counted on as another consideration when choosing whether the 50% 2s/33% 3s tradeoff is always worth it as a team strategy.

    One other thing I wanted to say re: Hakeem is that Anthony's point about "Derek Jeter Syndrome" struck a chord with me. I think you're right, that even when an opinion of a player (Jeter, Hakeem) has its roots in objective analysis, if a player is overrated by the media compared to his "real" sabermetric value, there is a tendency for backlash and that isn't objective. So this is my mea culpa: I apologize for treating Hakeem unfairly in the sense that many things I wrote about him were reactions to that media overrated-ness, to the point that I was underrating him and being too harsh just because other people boosted him more than his stats warranted and I was subconsciously trying to "even things out". I promise to do better in the future in this area, and to try to be fairer not just to Hakeem, but to everyone I perhaps treated unfairly as a reaction to the media's inflated opinions (Kobe Bryant, anyone?).

  68. Jason J Says:

    To chime in on the 33% 3s vs 50% 2s issue:

    Pros for 3s - More misses = more opportunities for offensive rebounds while still expecting the same point production on the makes.

    Cons for 3s - More misses = more opportunities for defensive rebounds (often long ones) which can lead to transition baskets for the opposition. More consecutive possessions without scoring can be negative to a team's confidence, and if they occur at the end of a quarter, could mean you don't another opportunity. More deep jump shots means less chances to get to draw fouls.

    I don't actually know how much of an impact the pros or cons really have on winning percentages, and I'm sure a lot of them can be mitigated - a conscious effort to get back on defense, good clock management, etc.

  69. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "Not really, that's a bit of an exaggeration. He took on around 10% more, and he was 10% less efficient as a result. Since there are several studies that suggest that the tradeoff in usage and efficiency is around 1 point in ORtg per 1% increase in offensive possession rate, Hakeem's higher shot-creation in the '95 playoffs was not much of an advantage over Clyde's higher efficiency."

    Just off of possessions from the field alone Olajuwon took on 78 percent more shots than Drexler. That translates into a dozen more field goal attempts per game. That is the amount a shots per game that are usually taken by an average 3rd starter. Olajuwon was shooting at a volume equivalent to an all-star, plus another starter. That is huge.

    And "ten percent less efficient?" Olajuwon's true shooting percentage was 56% to Drexler's 59%. That is only 3 percent. How does that translate onto the floor? Well lets look:

    If we convert his 140 free throw attempts to 61.6 2 point field goal attempts plus his 322 field goal attempts (383.6) and then multiply it to .59 then he ends with 226.32 field goals made and averaging out by the 22 games played it equals 10.3 field goals made per game.

    Now lets assume that Olajuwon had the same 383.6 field goal attempts and multiply by .56. It would equal 214.8 and then divide by 22 games it would be equivalent to 9.8 two point field goals made per game. Drexler only completed .5 2 point field goals made per game or 1 free throw. The difference is only a free-throw. That is minor.

    Then you have to consider the fact that Olajuwon carries a dozen more shots per game and then you multiply by his .56 again. Olajuwon was not only carrying the volume of Drexler and another 3rd option; he was off by only a free throw to equaling Drexler's total at his volume and then adding the total scoring value of a very good starter. I'm not going to give Drexler more credit for essentially, if Olajuwon was producing at his volume, only besting him by a free throw but then have Olajuwon do so much more of the scoring load. That makes no sense.

  70. Anon Says:

    Anthony,

    Calculating possession rate and efficiency is a bit more mathematically involved than what you did in your post.

  71. Anthony Coleman Says:

    Anon,

    Please explain to me why my post isn't correct?

    BTW you didn't answer my other question about whether you believe Drexler's 1995 was a better scoring series than Jordan's last 6 playoffs, Shaq's 2000-2002, Kobe's and D-Wade's from last year and Duncan in 2003.

  72. Anthony Coleman Says:

    OK Anon I'm sorry about earlier when it came to my 70 % post. You were going by subtraction and I was going by addition. However, I think what I'm saying is clearly right because:

    a) the team's overall offensive efficiency is mostly determined by the player who shoots the most shots. There is no getting around it and that is something I've always complimented Hollinger credit for recognizing (even though some have criticized him for overvaluating volume shooter. No matter how the way you look at it The Dream was attempting a dozen more shots a game, and it REALISTICALLY would account for 10 points a game more to the Rockets' points scored. That is a huge difference. Second you're missing another point: how come Olajuwon took more shots per game than Drexler?

    b) Because Drexler couldn't carry as much of the offensive load at his age than Olajuwon. Somebody had to take those shots in those possessions and Drexler couldn't make and create the variety of shots Olajuwon could at that age. His role was significantly less limited because he couldn't do as much.

    This is what people need to consider. Drexler's efficiency was better, he averaged slightly more assists and once we adjust for the assists, his turnover rate was lower than Olajuwon's in the second Rockets' title run. But those advantages, no matter how you look at it Anon, in the course of a possession by possession in a 48 minute basketball contest is small. What is not small is the dozen more shot attempts Olajuwon was taking per game and thus the higher correlation to the Rocket's shooting percentage.

  73. Anthony Coleman Says:

    Thanks Neil. Sorry for saying that I was going to "son" you. That was out of line. You have a point though about Olajuwon. His regular season stats at his peak are not on par with Robinson's or Shaq's. Plus I think he gets overrated from his most ardent supporters (he is not in the running for greatest centers ever or greatest player ever.) With that being said he was still an amazing player and I think one of history's ten greatest players. I give him credit for being a rare high efficiency-high volume scorer (but subtract some points for the turnovers), for his longevity, being one of the very best defensive players ever (was his 1990 season the greatest defensive season in the modern era?), and for his great play in the Playoffs. That is one hell of a career.

    I have a ton of respect for Robinson at his absolute peak in the regular season (which are three of the best seasons ever). He gets underrated in that department. I have come to the point that I have no problem with people ranking him based on those accomplishments alone. But I still do penalize him for two things: the deep offensive drop in the playoffs and the drop in overall production because of the reduced minutes he played after he came back from his leg injury. Because I think that the playoffs are more important game I give them more value than regular season games (the only reason for the existence of the regular season is seeding for the playoffs). Plus, for whatever reason, there are players who drop off alot in the playoffs (Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and for all of his clutch reputation in the playoffs, Larry Bird) so there is some justification of a player not doing better against the best talent available. Those are the reasons I rank Robinson behind not only Olajuwon, but Tim Duncan, Shaq, Kareem, Jordan, and Magic to name a few.

  74. Anon Says:

    "OK Anon I'm sorry about earlier when it came to my 70 % post. You were going by subtraction and I was going by addition."

    Not a problem at all; there was no offense taken in the first place. But you're still assuming that I'm calculating efficiency and possessions used in a similar manner that you're doing in your posts. Your comments on Hakeem (and the game in general) are all valid and deserve consideration. However, someone has already done that for you in detail -- see "Basketball on Paper".

  75. Anthony Coleman Says:

    see "Basketball on Paper".

    Dean Oliver created most of our community and our understanding of the possession by possession importance of the game was crucial. Yet, just like people didn't always agree with Bill James, I don't always agree with his importance of efficiency for an individual player.

    In a game with a 24 second shot clock and 90 to 100 possessions per game, a quality shot must be attempted. Its the one thing that drives us nuts because our statistical "on-base percentage" for judging scorers is a subjective skill and not a record of absolute fact: usage percentage. The efficiency is the "slugging percentage." Like I said before the difference between Olajuwon, if he took the quantity of shots of Drexler the difference is only a free throw. Yet, I hate to sound like a broken record here, there was still those extra possessions that somebody needed to take those shots and Drexler, at his age and not having the athletic ability of Olajuwon, couldn't be relied upon to carry more of the load. Those 12 shots per game would represent 36 points but realistically, 0 to 16 points. Correct me if I'm wrong but the Rockets' games were mostly decided by less than 10 points per game so if Olajuwon would have been ineffective with those extra shots there is absolutely no way that the Rockets could have won the title. Olajuwon was maintaining a very high efficiency with those possessions and thus accounted for 12.5 points more per game. That's more than enough to convince me that he was more valuable to the Rockets' offensive success than Drexler was. Personally I don't think its even close.

  76. Anon Says:

    "Yet, just like people didn't always agree with Bill James, I don't always agree with his importance of efficiency for an individual player."

    Understood, and there's nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone. But if people disagree they need to present sound evidence.

    And actually, Dean was the one who emphasized the statistical importance of shot-creation and why it is important in basketball in his book. Winning games surely has to do alot more than shooting high %s from the field, which is why for all of the flak that the Kobes, Iversons, etc. get sometimes from the media for shooting too much during games, fans need to understand that by doing so they help open up opportunities for others by attempting the shots that their teammates wouldn't otherwise make, which gives them value over players that shoot high %s but don't do alot in the offense in the first place. However, the key is figuring out how how much you increase your team's chances of winning with the shots you create (even if you miss them) until you start shooting too much and you're not getting significant returns for the extra shots you attempt. Hakeem was certainly helping his team by virtue of taking on alot of the Rockets offense, but for all the additional shots he was taking, he wasn't making enough of them to justify his (high) possession rate. Perhaps Drexler wouldn't have been the shot-creator the Hakeem was, but with what he was already doing in his role he could've increased his usage without taking a huge hit in his already high efficiency.

    A perfect example of this phenomenon in games I've watched this season is with the Lakers. With Kobe's injuries this season, the other go-to guy on the team in Pau Gasol took on more of the Lakers offense to compensate for their first option being out. He has been sterling in this regard, and has had multiple games where he has remained pretty efficient while creating more shots than usual.

  77. Anthony Coleman Says:

    """"However, the key is figuring out how how much you increase your team's chances of winning with the shots you create (even if you miss them) until you start shooting too much and you're not getting significant returns for the extra shots you attempt. Hakeem was certainly helping his team by virtue of taking on alot of the Rockets offense, but for all the additional shots he was taking, he wasn't making enough of them to justify his (high) possession rate. Perhaps Drexler wouldn't have been the shot-creator the Hakeem was, but with what he was already doing in his role he could've increased his usage without taking a huge hit in his already high efficiency."""""

    This is the dumbest basketball related thing I've heard in quite some time.

    Olajuwon was still averaging 56% for the true shooting percentage on of the 30 shots he was attempting per game. For that kind of volume that is a fantastic number. That's the equivalent of Jordan's last four championship runs and Shaq's 2000 playoffs. Having him take that many shots, no matter how more efficient than Drexler was in far fewer shots, was still the most important factor in the Rockets' repeating. To say that his less efficiency didn't justify his high possession rate is pure nonsense.

    Also, I'll say it again, the difference between in points scored if Olajuwon's TS% was used for the volume of shots Drexler shot was only 1 point. That is small. And guess what? Drexler's points per game that he scored was only slightly better than what he was averaging in the playoffs and regular season for the previous three seasons. To me he was playing exactly at his limits when it came to his maximum offensive potential.

    Also here is another point: it doesn't matter about if he or should he been taking more shots per game, the fact is that he didn't and he definitely couldn't. He was 32 at the time and was slightly past his athletic prime. At that point in his career Olajuwon was definitely superior at creating his own shot with regularity. Would you like to argue this point Anon? If a player has a significantly higher load of the offense then that is indication to me that they're talent for creating their own shot is probably better. I'm not going to give somebody more credit for a slightly higher efficiency in shooting if the other player is taking on a much bigger piece of the scoring responsibility.

    You're seemingly going tic-for-tac by the win share formula without exploring how it reflects in the possessions of a basketball game. To me Win Shares got this wrong: by virtue of his still high efficiency and his volume Olajuwon was the more important cog of the Rocket's offensive engine. It is reflected by the 12 extra points a game and I am shocked that you're not seeing the obvious.

    BTW you've still ducked my question: do you think that Drexler was a better offensive player than Jordan in his last three championship runs, Shaq in the Laker dynasty era, or any of the other players I selected? Please answer that question.

  78. Anon Says:

    This is the dumbest basketball related thing I've heard in quite some time.

    I tend to be dumb on purpose.

    "Also here is another point: it doesn't matter about if he or should he been taking more shots per game, the fact is that he didn't and he definitely couldn't."

    Oh really? That's why he absolutely struggled despite accounting for about 24% of his team's offense, right? Clyde certainly had more in the tank than you would care to admit.

    "You're seemingly going tic-for-tac by the win share formula without exploring how it reflects in the possessions of a basketball game. To me Win Shares got this wrong..."

    I don't think you're in a position to criticize something that you don't even have an understanding for, neither in its methodology nor how it was formulated. If you have a problem with it, you need to air your grievances with the methodology used in its calculation, not cherry-pick examples of your choosing that you don't happen to agree with because it doesn't put who YOU want to see at the top.

    "BTW you've still ducked my question: do you think that Drexler was a better offensive player than Jordan in his last three championship runs, Shaq in the Laker dynasty era, or any of the other players I selected? Please answer that question."

    You don't need to be covert in your reasons for wanting me to answer this question; I know what you're trying to do here. The answer is no.

  79. Neil Paine Says:

    More fuel for the fire:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=5500

  80. Anthony Coleman Says:

    "You don't need to be covert in your reasons for wanting me to answer this question; I know what you're trying to do here. The answer is no."

    I know this is coming back to bite me in the ass so I'll say it now: I should have said scorer again, not offensive player. However, the whole argument has been based on the argument of scoring and whether his efficiency and less turnovers offset Olajuwon's volume. Now lets get back to our regularly scheduled program.

    You damn well should consider Drexler that then seeing that Drexler had a True Shooting percentage higher than Jordan in 1996, and Shaq in 2000. In fact the whole argument is about the playoffs and while doing some research I noticed something: over the last 19 playoffs for all of the players who have won an NBA title and averaged at least 30 points (I'm going to include Kobe's 2001 because he averaged 29.4 a game), not one of them had a true Shooting Percentage as high as Drexler's. Here is the numbers (note: I'm not correcting for the pace because the shot attempts are pretty much the same)

    Jordan 1992: 34.5 points per game/ 57.1 TS%
    Jordan 1993: 35.1 PPG/ 55.3 TS%
    Jordan 1996: 30.7 PPG/ 56.4 TS%

    Shaq 2000: 30.7 PPG/ 55.6 TS%
    Shaq 2001: 30.4 PPG/ 56.4%
    Kobe 2001: 29.4 PPG/ 55.5%

    Kobe 2009: 30.2 PPG/ 56.4%

    also lets add more to the mix: D-Wade's 2006 was 28.4 and his True Shooting percentage was 59.3.

    Also because of his greatness in the postseason and his higher average in the first two titles, Tim Duncan
    Duncan 2003: 24.7 PPG/ 57.7%
    Duncan 1999: 23.2 PPG/ 57.3%

    So here is the breakdown: For all the ones that averaged at least 29 points per game not one of the max is 57.1 held by Michael Jordan. After that the rest were hovering around 55.5-56.5 percent. Then we had Duncan, who was less than thirty points, but had a higher average than Drexler, his percentage was in the 57%. There is only one player who had a higher scoring average, won a title, and had a higher TS% and that was Wade (and that was fueled by an absolutely crazy efficient final two series). But the point is this: in the playoffs when the average reaches the mid 20s, and certainly nearing 30 points, the drop in TS% is precipitous.

    This is why I am so surprised that there isn't so much skepticism when it comes to Drexler's high efficiency and just because of that he'd continue to be anywhere near effective with more shots. The data we have suggests that the likelihood of that happening when you're facing the very best teams in the league in a seven (well back then the first rounds were 5) game elimination is very, very, very low. It is very difficult to maintain that kind of productivity when you're shooting that often in the playoffs. Plus ask yourself that question: do you honestly, in your mind, feel that at his age Drexler was as athletically dominant as all of those all-time greats (and if Wade's body doesn't fall apart he will certainly join those ranks)? I think that answer is a definitive no.

  81. Spree Says:

    This was a great article. I'm glad I found it. I do have a couple of problems.

    Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston were not overrated, IMO. With a gimpy Ewing and a limited LJ, these two guys had to really carry New York. People forget that the Knicks went on that playoff run largely due to Houston, Sprewell, and Camby as Van Gundy reluctantly opened up the offense out of necessity.

    Let's review. Ewing, LJ, and Kurt Thomas did the gritty defensive work and rebounding against a bigger, healthier, and younger Miami Heat in the first round of 98-99. But scoring wise this one hinged on Houston and Sprewell. And we all know it turned out that Houston hit the game-winner. In Round 2 they swept the Hawks handily with Camby really having a coming out party. Against the Pacers, Ewing and LJ were not playing for large stretches and Houston, Sprewell, and Camby ran circles around Indiana. They ran out of bullets against a San Antonio team with two hall of fame big men.

    But you can't say Sprewell and Houston were overrated. They led a team with Chris Dudley as the starting center to the Finals.

    Also, I understand that you don't spend much time on Camby, because Van Gundy ignored him for the most part. But the Knicks don't get to the Finals without Camby coming alive against Atlanta and Indiana. He was remarkable has a shot blocker and rebounder. He didn't have the size to bang with Duncan and Robinson, but Camby was extraordinary for a spell. And really, Van Gundy must be faulted for not utilizing him.

    As you said, Pat Riley's gift was his ability to adapt his strategy to the team he had. Van Gundy could not do that. He insisted on centering the team around Patrick Ewing when he was clearly past his prime and after Sprewell and Houston were the clear team leaders. I believe it was a mistake by Van Gundy to not start speeding up the games and having Camby, Houston, and Sprewell run the floor with Childs at the point guard position. The Knicks had better open floor players than the Kings of that time who ran effectively. No one was more dangerous than Sprewell on the fast break. Houston could stop and pop a fast break three. Camby was thriving anytime the Knicks ran. Van Gundy instead continued to try and post up Ewing and LJ time and time again. That was a failure on Jeff's part.

    And those early 90's Knicks? They were typically the second best team in the League. At that point they were MJ's biggest rival. No team pushed the Bulls and Jordan harder. It's a testament to Jordan that he beat those Knicks of 92 and 93. Ewing was no choker there. Losing to the greatest ever is no choke.