- The Season's Over -

Derek Anderson Will Never Live This Down

December 2, 2010

I’ve admittedly soured some over the past few years on Dwight Howard, a once-generally likeable guy whose on-court demeanor has steadily become irksome and a little hard to watch. He blames the refs for calling him differently becauase of his size, still hasn’t bothered to learn how to shoot free throws (this season’s 54% is actually the worst of his seven-year career), still hasn’t developed a repertoire of moves outside the dunk… it’s almost like he’s content to be Shaquille O’Neal 2.0, without the rings and with slightly less narcissism.

Still, this one got me. In case you somehow missed it, following his team’s shellacking–and his laughably bad individual performance–on Monday Night Football this week against the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals QB Derek Anderson had the kind of memorable meltdown we haven’t seen in years. Howard couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay homage to it. Make sure to watch the whole clip to catch the original performance, too.

(Hat tip to our friends at Ball Don’t Lie)

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:48pm in NBA, NFL

Dwight Howard is the NBA’s Most Impossible Player to Gameplan For

March 10, 2010

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard Photos Credit: Icon SMI

By: Zachariah Blott

Imagine being an NBA coach, and your squad is about to face the Cavaliers. What do you do about LeBron James? Who do you have that’s willing to stick him, has the quickness to not get embarrassed on the perimeter, and has the size and strength to not get embarrassed in the paint?

Gameplanning for James’ offensive abilities is obviously a devastating thought, as it is when you face Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and a handful of other premier offensive centerpieces. But are you really that worried about any of these stars shutting down your offense? You popping any Advils thinking about who Kevin Durant might guard on your squad tonight?

Usually a team’s defensive system, not its individual players, is what you gameplan for on that side of the ball, but occasionally a coach has problems on his hands if the other club just happens to have Ron Artest and Shane Battier in their starting lineup. More often, a true stopper in the middle needs to be accounted for from an individual standpoint: Are we going inside against Chris Andersen? Eh, let’s roll the dice from the perimeter.

Rare is the player who opposing coaches have to consider and plan around because of both parts of their game. Dwight Howard pops out as the most complete WTF-do-we-do-about-that-guy player in the league. Not only is he far and away the most intimidating defender, altering and discouraging just about everything inside of 15 feet, his capabilities define how the Magic’s offensive scheme works to a degree that only Steve Nash’s relation to the Suns’ fast break can compare.

To see how difficult a task gameplanning for Howard is, one should examine what he provides in terms of offense and defense, and how important he is to what the Magic are trying to accomplish on both ends of the court.

Gameplanning for Howard’s Defense

It’s no big secret that Howard is the best defensive player in the league. He’s the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, the odds-on favorite to win it again this year, and his team’s Defensive Rating continues to sit right near the top of the league. In fact, Orlando’s defensive rating has ranked between 1st and 6th in the NBA for each of the past four seasons, including the current one. That would be every year since Howard turned 20 years old.

Much more on Dwight Howard’s strangehold on the NBA after the break…

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8 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 10, 2010 at 10:25am in ETB Articles, NBA

Thanks for Joining Us, Courtney Lee

March 9, 2010

Courtney LeeBy Brian Spencer

Oh hi, Courtney Lee. Good to see you! We’ve been anxiously awaiting your arrival in New Jersey for, oh, damn near 4 months now. Better late than never, I suppose?

You might remember Lee as the only real asset the Nets received in last summer’s deal that shipped Vince Carter to the Orlando Magic (well, that and cap space to entice LeBron James but ultimately to overpay Amare Stoudemire in a few months here). A late first-round pick from Western Kentucky in ’08, Lee played a pivotal role in the Magic’s ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference during his rookie season, evolving into one of the team’s top perimeter defenders and flashing raw, intriguing offensive capability.

If anything, we learned he’s a smart player, even as a rookie, who did little to hurt his team and a lot to help it. On the season, Lee started 42 regular-season games, finishing with modest pers of 8.4 points (45% FG), 2.3 boards, 1.2 assists, 1 steal, and 1.1 triples in about 25 minutes a night. The Magic probably would have preferred to keep him, but they’re firmly in win-now mode and despite his considerable warts, Carter gives them a better chance. (Even though, you know, he’s sort of a loser.)

And so, much to his chagrin, Lee was dealt. Can’t imagine why he’d be less-than-psyched about going from a contender like Orlando to a bottom-feeder like New Jersey, but he eventually relented and seemed to recognize this as a golden opportunity to step right into a different kind of starting job than he’d had in Orlando. One where he’d be relied upon as a primary scoring option, not as a guy nibbling on scraps left over from Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, etc.

What more could a young guy want? Yeah, playing for a functional franchise not pinning its future on ping-pong balls and the whims of in-demand megastars would be nice, but hey, you can’t everything.

And so it was that Courtney Lee was penciled in for 35+ minutes a night for the Nets and given the green light to do whatever it took to make it happen. One problem: it didn’t happen. Lee missed 7 of the team’s first 13 games due to injury, and shot a “blistering” 31% from the field in the 6 games he did play in. He’s since missed just 4 games, but until recently, it’s mostly been ugly, including an abyssmal January in which he averaged 10.3 points (41% FG, 33% 3PT), 2.9 boards, 2 assists, and 1.2 steals in 31:30 minutes per in 13 games. This is for the Nets, mind you.

But, suddenly, hardwood epiphany. Lee has scored at least 21 points in 6 of his last 10 games (let’s just ignore that 0-9 effort a few weeks ago against the Heat), has shot an even 50% during this stretch, and helped propel the Nets to three whole wins along the way, which has pushed their overall record to 7-56, a mere 41 games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for top seed in the East. The 6-5 shooting guard capped it Monday night with a career-high 30 points (13-20 FG) along with 5 boards, 2 assists, and 2 steals in the Nets’ nailbiter of a loss 107-101 to the Grizzlies.

Fluke, or has Lee turned a corner? The kid received high praise from his Magic teammates after the trade, and is widely respected around the league. Shaquille O’Neal said Lee would “make the Magic pay”. Me, I’m not worried about Lee’s long-term future. For now, I’m just happy he finally showed up.

Courtney Lee Photo Credit: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 9, 2010 at 4:28am in NBA

Grading the 2010 NBA All-Star Weekend, Siskel and Ebert Style

February 12, 2010

siskebe1

By Brian Spencer and Zachariah Blott

NBA All-Star Weekend is upon us. Time to take a deep breath, watch some light-hearted entertainment featuring the NBA’s biggest stars (or at least most of them), and to make up some trade rumors in preparation for next week’s trade deadline.

Yes, it’s a busy weekend with a total of seven events on Friday and Saturday before the All-Star Game itself caps things off on Sunday. I’ve pulled in ETB ace contributor Zachariah Blott to join me with a few quick thoughts on each of them.

Enjoy the festivities, and catch you next week.

Rookie Challenge

Brian Spencer: Thumbs Way Up
The highlight of the weekend and the one event you can record, save, and watch again and again. By sheer experience alone the format tends to favor the Sophomores–after all, the selection committee has had over a season’s worth of performance to weigh, as opposed to just a few months for the Rookies–but the end result matters not. It’s all about the highlights, the dunks, the energy, and showcasing the league’s best and brightest young athletes. The closest thing to a NBA-sanctioned And-1 format featuring NBA players.

Zachariah Blott: Thumbs Up
Unlike the real game, these guys are still trying to prove themselves worthy of playing on All-Star weekend. Some of these rookies surely like all the parties and buzz (and, ahem, groupies), so they want to be invited back for their sophomore season, and will actually play hard to make it happen.

Shooting Stars Competition

Spencer: Thumbs Way Down
I just don’t get it. It’s a silly concept, mashing current stars, old stars, and WNBA players together in a half-hearted competition executed at half-speed. By now we all know the WNBA exists, but unfortunately, the NBA still won’t accept that most NBA fans don’t care if it exists or not. Off with its head!

Blott: Thumbs Down
This is an atrocity that is somehow even less fun to watch than the WNBA, whose players the NBA is clearly trying to get you familiar with with this competition. One of the teams this year isn’t even a real team location: Texas. They got Dirk Nowitzki from Dallas, Becky Hammon from San Antonio (don’t worry, I didn’t know they had a WNBA team either), and Kenny Smith representing Houston of old. Chris Webber chucking up half-court shots will be the best part of this.

NBA D-League All-Star Game

Spencer: Thumbs Up
There are far less opportunities for basketball fans to see guys from the D-League, many of whom were stars in college, some of which have NBA experiences, many more of which are on the cusp of landing a spot in the big leagues, than they do of catching the WNBA, which will have 18 regular-season games broadcast on ESPN, plus the playoffs. How many does the D-League get? None (although you can watch all games live, for free, on NBA FutureCast.

I want to see the D-League flourish and continue taking baby steps towards expansion. This showcase might not be the best selling point on the general American public–the game will likely be five times as sloppy as the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge–but it’s a step in the right direction and totally worthy of exposure on this national stage. (And now, a shameless plug for our two-part interview with D-League Digest’s Steve Weinman, which is chock full of D-League goodness. Here’s Part I, and here’s Part II.)

Blott: Thumbs Down
No offense to the D-League’s ten fans, but nobody cares. Everyone knows we’re not witnessing good basketball this weekend, so it’s obviously all about satisfying the ADD/MTV fans, and that’s it. D-Leaguers don’t fit that bill. That being said, at least they now split the teams into the East and West Conferences, and not the Red Team and Blue Team like last year.

H-O-R-S-E Competition

Spencer: Thumbs Up
Love the overall concept and that The Durantuala headlines the bill, though Rajon Rondo and Omri Casspi are puzzling choices. How in the world was Monta Ellis not invited to compete?

Blott: Thumbs up (conditional)
Kevin Durant is obviously a good player for this type of competition, and I hope he doesn’t become too important for it too soon. That being said, this would be a great contest if and only if two specific players fill the other two slots: Kevin Love and Rasheed Wallace. Geico can go to hell, by the way, for bastardizing this kid’s game.

The Skills Challenge, Slam Dunk Contest, the All-Star Game itself, and more after the jump…

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1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Feb. 12, 2010 at 4:03am in ETB Articles, NBA

NBA Contenders Increasingly Turning To Wing Defenders Over Scorers as Starters

February 4, 2010

Thabo SefoloshaBy: Zachariah Blott

A decade ago, teams across the league were looking high and low for someone to defend Shaquille O’Neal in order to give themselves a chance at a title. Big centers made careers out of getting signed in order to guard O’Neal, creating the trend where teams would do anything to have multiple big stiffs around to hack him.

Now most coaches are concerned about high-scoring perimeter players who can take it to the rack and bomb it from outside (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy, etc.), so a new trend has emerged. Teams will gladly bench a secondary scoring option if it means being able to start someone with the defensive chops to slow these stars down. In fact, a plethora of playoff contenders are currently employing this strategy.

Here are six clubs, three in each conference, who are starting a defensive-minded wing over a better scoring option. Note that three of them are international players and another (Anthony Parker) honed his game overseas for six seasons.

Western Conference

Denver Nuggets

- Arron Afflalo over J.R. Smith
Smith is third on the Nuggets in scoring at 15 points per. Although his shooting percentages are low this year, he’s still an absolutely fearless bomber who’s had more than his share of late-game heroics during his 6-year career. Coming off the bench each night this season, Smith has 9 games of over 20 points, including a 41-point you-can’t-stop-nothing game on Atlanta right before Christmas.

All of this, but Denver still turns to a third-year guy with only two 20-point outings in his career to start. That’s because the 6-5, 215-pound Afflalo is a heady defender (see also: Ben Howland was his college coach for 3 years) with the upper-body strength to handle the obstacle course of multiple screens and push-offs one must endure when guarding a star scorer. He subscribes to the Shane Battier school of thought that it’s better to stay at home and make your man shoot with a hand in his face than to gamble for steals (which often results in uncontested jumpers for the opposition).

Oklahoma City Thunder

- Thabo Sefolosha over James Harden
Harden was drafted third overall last summer because of one thing: his crafty ability to score a lot of points. He’s averaging 10 points per off the bench and has a trio of 20-point contests. For all of the young SG’s scoring talents, though, the Thunder don’t even blink when starting Sefolosha.

The 6-6 Switzerland product has started every OKC game next to Durant, Westbrook, and Green, averaging a lowly 6 points per. His perimeter D on twos and threes is the reason why he’s in the starting lineup. Sefolosha is athletic and intuitive, always in the right position and at the proper angle to make someone think twice about driving or pulling up for a jumper. His wingspan is immense, so he gets his hands all over the ball, registering 1.3 steals (top-25 in the NBA) and 0.7 blocks from the off-guard position. Not surprisingly, the Thunder’s Defensive Rating rocketed from 20th in the league a year ago to 6th currently.

Four more contenders turning to defense-oriented starters after the break…

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1 CommentPosted by ETB Contributor on Feb. 4, 2010 at 3:50am in NBA

Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett Have More in Common Than You Might Think

February 2, 2010

Gasol and Garnett

Pau Gasol & Kevin Garnett Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By: Zachariah Blott

Sunday’s brilliant 90-89 contest between the Celtics and Lakers featured two of the most dominant big men of the previous decade: Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol. And much like their quiet and efficient performances in the Laker victory (11-11 and 10-9), the careers of this pair are beginning to show a lot of similarities.

Starting with their entrances into the league and continuing into the recent titles they each helped deliver to their new clubs, KG and Gasol have trekked similar paths in the NBA. There is no question that Garnett is the bigger star and always will be, but there is also no question that the peaks and dips of their careers have more than a passing resemblance to each other.

Here are 25 common facts and themes shared by Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol:

The Basic Back-of-a-Basketball Card Stuff

1. Their last names both start with G.

2. Their first initials use the same hand shape in American Sign Language.

3. Both are 7-feet tall. (Garnett has notoriously understated his height forever – I once read that he’s the first 6-13 player.)

4. Both are 225-ish.

5. Both are usually listed as PFs, but they can easily fill another position (Garnett, SF; Gasol, C).

6. Garnett played soccer in high school and follows the English Premier League. Gasol … well, he’s from Spain, so I’m just guessing there’s a similarity here.

Early Career, Original NBA Team

7. Garnett played for Mauldin HS in South Carolina (winning a state title) before transferring to powerhouse Farragut Career Academy in Chicago. Gasol signed with Cornella as a teenager before playing for Barcelona’s junior team (winning the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship).

8. Gasol was the MVP of the Spanish National Cup championship game in 2001. Garnett was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game in 1995.

9. Gasol was the first international player with no college experience to get drafted in the top 5 (#3 in 2001). Garnett was the first high-school player to get drafted in the top 5 in 20 years (#5 in 1995).

10. Gasol’s Memphis Grizzlies were 23-59 before he showed up, and 23-59 in his first season. Garnett’s Minnesota Timberwolves were 21-61 before he showed up, and 26-56 in his first season.

15 more similarities between Gasol and Garnett after the jump…

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4 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Feb. 2, 2010 at 8:38am in NBA

Take the NBA All-Star Game Vote Away from Fans? Maybe, But They Got One Thing Right

January 29, 2010

By Brian Spencer

As you may have heard, reserves for the 2010 NBA All-Star were announced yesterday. David Lee and Josh Smith were notable snubs in the East, while in the West it’s guys like Mr. Big Shot Billups and Monta Ellis that got the shaft.

Perhaps the bigger story leading up to Thursday’s announcement, however, was how wrong it is for Allen Iverson to be starting, even participating, in the game after being voted in by the fans. (At least Tracy McGrady didn’t make it, though we suspect a few of his votes conveniently disappeared to help avoid total embarassment.) Yes, Iverson doesn’t belong there, and the fan vote is problematic. We’ve known that for awhile now.

The fans did get one thing right, however: they didn’t vote in the Cavaliers’ $20 million sideshow attraction, Shaquille O’Neal. Yay fans! And thank god.

With Dwight Howard now, apparently and safely, assuming the mantle of the East’s shoo-in starter at center for as long as he’s in the conference, I suppose the possibility of O’Neal getting wrongfully voted in was a slim one. But, hey, the man’s been to a few All-Star games too many already, and if Iverson can still get voted in, and McGrady can “almost” get voted in (love them Houston Yaos!), there’s no reason to think the long arm of the fan ballot couldn’t have added one more sour note to the All-Star showcase.

In the end, Howard outpaced O’Neal by just over 1.5 million votes; not even close, so again, yay fans! On the other hand, boo fans! There were still over 856k ballots cast for the petulant over-the-hill big man, good for second overall behind Howard and nearly 600k more than Al Horford, who was named to his first all-star game as a reserve.

In case you haven’t been closely following the Cavaliers (nearly impossible if you have cable TV since it feels like 90% of their games are on either TNT, ESPN, NBA TV, and soon ABC), O’Neal has thus far been a colossal disappointment in his first and sure-to-be only season in Cleveland. Some will say the Cavs are “saving him” for the playoffs, and that might be true to some degree, but O’Neal set high expectations for himself and the ever-nervous (and oftentimes defensive) Cavalier fanbase upon his arrival. (“I’m here to win a ring for the king.”)

Shaquille O’Neal Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Yes, The Big Flop’s performance deserves scrutiny, and his mostly ineffectual contributions have had little impact on the Cavaliers’ dominant 36-11 record. Again, I’m not naïve as to the ultimate goal of having him (and his expiring $20 million contract) on the roster, and readily acknowledge that he’ll ultimately be judged as a Cavalier success or failure based on his postseason performances.

But, well… at 37 years old, do we really think he can still magically flip the switch in April? His per-game minutes are the lowest of his career (again, somewhat intentionally), but there’s no getting around the fact that when he has been on the court, he’s been very, very average: O’Neal’s pers of 11.3 points, 54.9% FG, 1.7 offensive boards, 6.6 total boards, and 1.1 blocks are all easily career lows. He’s your fifth-highest paid player in the NBA this season, folks.

Nobody expects the fans to overlook his stats—how can they when O’Neal is just so goddamned funny?—and to instead vote for the more deserving candidates like, well, literally every other center on the ballot (except for maybe Brad Miller… maybe). And fans, again, we do appreciate your stronger love for Howard, really. The next step for the NBA, assuming O’Neal doesn’t do the right thing and hang it up after this season, is to remove him from the ballot altogether next year.

He just doesn’t belong there anymore.

2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jan. 29, 2010 at 11:37am in NBA

Boxscore Breakfast: Jarrett Jack’s Wildly Efficient Nine-Shot Night, and Other Oddities from the Week

January 24, 2010

Dwyane WadeBy: Zachariah Blott

Milwaukee got Jacked up: Toronto Raptors PG Jarrett Jack had one of the most efficient scoring nights of the year on Friday, helping to put away the Bucks 101-96. Jack needed only nine shots to register a game-high 27 points: that’s 7-9 FG, 2-4 triples, and 11-12 from the free-throw line. To put this in perspective, here are the points and shots taken by some big-name scorers Friday: Wade, 32 pts on 19 FGA; Nowitzki, 15 pts on 13 FGA; Joe Johnson, 19 pts on 17 FGA; Bryant, 27 pts on 24 FGA; Ellis, 4 pts on 9 FGA; Stoudemire, 23 pts on 15 FGA. For the year, Jack is averaging 10.5 points per and 7.7 FGA.

Little man in a big man’s world: Dwyane Wade, who’s listed at 6-4, had back-to-back 3-block games last week, sending back a trio of Thunder shots on January 16 and doing the same against the Pacers on January 19. Not even a week earlier, on January 11, Wade had another 3-rejection night, that time against Utah.

Dwyane Wade Photo Credit: Icon SMI

For the season, the shooting guard is averaging 1.2 blocks per, good enough to rank among the league’s best 30, ahead of big men such as Al Jefferson, Chris Bosh, and Shaquille O’Neal. In fact, the most comparably built player to Wade on the top-40 blocks list is 6-8 SF Shane Battier. How does the little guy do it? He’s dynamic as hell; statistics aside, Wade might be the closest thing we have to Oscar Robertson in today’s NBA.

I would still never let this guy near my team: Zach Randolph keeps on posting 20-10 games like they’re going out of style, including 4 of them in 6 days between January 15-20. Through that January 20 loss at New Orleans, Z-Bo had 20 20-10 games on the season (during which Memphis is 14-6); this ranks second only to Chris Bosh’s 26. This next fact should raise some eyebrows: even with his multi-faceted statistical domination of the league, LeBron James only has 11. Randolph’s pers for the year are 20.8 and 11.5.

Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.

No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jan. 24, 2010 at 12:08pm in NBA

It’s Time for a New Kind of All-Star Game

January 17, 2010

2006 Eastern Conference All-Stars Photos Credit: Icon SMI

By: Zachariah Blott

By now it’s become obvious that the NBA All-Star Game is more about recognizing the league’s most popular players, and less about awarding its most-productive players; see the latest 2010 NBA All-Star Game voting results, which have Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson on pace to start. Thankfully, the league recognized this trend some years ago and spiced things up by adding the Rookie Challenge to All-Star Weekend in 1994. The concept got even better in 2000 when it was changed to pit rookies vs. second-year players. (Here’s a look at last year’s game.)

It’s time we had some new midseason exhibition matchups that might interest fans who aren’t still voting for 2003′s top scorers. Other sports have already experimented with different All-Star Game formats, including the NHL’s North America vs. World arrangement and MLS doing a variety of things, including Americans vs. Internationals, US National Team vs. (remaining) League All-Stars, and the League All-Stars vs. an international club team.

I present you with three alternatives to the traditional East vs. West All-Star Game, including starting lineups and game analysis were each to happen this season.

Oldie Olsons vs. Young Whipper Snappers (and Their Damned Rock Music)

Could Run for President (35 or older)
- C Shaquille O’Neal, Cleveland Cavaliers: 37 (March 6, 1972)
- PF Rasheed Wallace, Boston Celtics: 35 (Sept. 17, 1974)
- SF Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns: 37 (October 5, 1972)
- PG Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks: 36 (March 23, 1973)
- PG Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns: 35 (February 7, 1974)

Just Learning About Wine Coolers (21 or younger)
- C Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets: 21 (April 1, 1988)
- PF Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves: 21 (Sept. 7, 1988)
- SF Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: 21 (Sept. 29, 1988)
- G Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings: 20 (Sept. 19, 1989)
- PG Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: 21 (Oct. 4, 1988)

I’m picking the old guys by about 15. Sure, the youngsters are more dynamic, athletic, etc., but just look at the teams these 10 play for. You got a group of great teams and a group of terrible to so-so teams. What the oldsters lack in speed and mid-air amazingness, they make up for in guile, intelligent team-work, and knowing referees by their first names.

Blott has two more ideas for new All-Star Weekend exhibitions after the break…

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6 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jan. 17, 2010 at 3:04pm in NBA

Channing Frye Finally Finds a Home (and Surprising Role) in Phoenix

January 11, 2010

By Brian Spencer

There’s a theory that many players flourish or fail because of their coach’s system, be it the offensive or defensive schemes. That if you put a given guy on a different team, or change his coach, any production (or lack thereof) he previously had can be taken with a grain of salt. He’s nothing but an interchangeable part that can be easily be replaced with another guy of similar height, similar length, similar skill set.

Today, that theory is most broadly applied to New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni and the scoring-friendly system he previously installed in Phoenix and is now running in NYC. We’ve heard that Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion all wouldn’t have posted the types of numbers they did with Phoenix if not for D’Antoni; now, it’s Danilo Gallinari, David Lee, and (last season) Chris Duhon benefiting for the Knicks.

It’s not a new discussion and is one that’s been scrutinized and analyzed more than I’m going to do here. As far I’m concerned, there’s some validity to both sides of the argument. Take Nash, for example: clearly, his numbers would not have been the same if he were playing in the type of downtempo, walk the ball up the floor, predominantly half-court offense that, say, Larry Brown prefers. Less, longer offensive possessions means less points; pretty straightforward. On the other hand, there’s no disputing the fact that Nash is one of the league’s elite passers and scorers, and no matter where you put him, he’s going to rack up assists and points. (We still think he’s overrated though.)

So, in very simplistic terms, the “system vs. talent” thing can go both ways. Here’s where I’m going with this: Channing Frye is Exhibit A that systems can indeed go a long way towards making or breaking a career… or at least a few seasons’ body of work.

At 6-11 and 245 pounds, Frye has tantalized with his inside-outside potential but rarely done much with it during his first 4 seasons. Drafted 8th overall back in ’05 by the Knicks, Frye’s best year was his first one, when he played in 65 games and averaged 12.3 points, 5.8 boards, and 47% FG in about 24 minutes a night. He can’t really create his own shot and has never been or will be a particularly fearsome defensive presence–for his career he averages a measly 0.5 blocks per–but he’s always been fairly competent at knocking down spot-up jumpers, and is decent on the glass.

The Knicks (two seasons) and the Portland Trail Blazers (two seasons) both didn’t view him as long-term starter material. He probably wasn’t. So far, though, he’s proving to be one of the season’s most savvy free-agent pickups and at 26 years old finally getting a chance in Phoenix to do something he’d never really had a chance to do up until now: shoot three-pointers at will.

For all the talk about Nash getting better with age and the return of a healthy Stoudemire propelling the Suns back into contention after a few down years, it’s Frye’s ability to stretch the defense and knock down longballs that’s given the Suns’ high-flyers the room to operate that disappeared during Shaquille O’Neal’s failed stint in the desert when he camped out in and clogged up the lane.

Coming into this season, Frye had averaged just 0.2 three-point attempts per game in four full seasons; he’d sunk a total of 20 triple tries. It only took 7 games with the Suns for him to equal what took him 278 games to do in New York and Portland. We knew he could shoot, but nobody knew he could do it from behind the arc at such an efficient clip. Nobody, except maybe himself.

It’s amazing, really, what Frye has accomplished in short time: through 37 games–all as a starter–Frye has already had 5 games in which he nailed 6 triples. He’s gone from averaging 0.2 attempts per over his career to 5.8 this season, good for 7th most in the NBA. His 2.6 makes per has him tied for 4th overall with Rashard Lewis, ahead of established long-range bombers like Chauncey Billups, Peja Stojakovic, and Mo Williams. He’s also 8th overall in 3PT percentage at 44.2%. Along with his lofty numbers from three-point land, Frye’s minutes (31:41), points (13), rebounds (6.1), and assists (1.5) are all career highs too.

Where is this coming from? Perhaps more importantly, why didn’t any of his previous coaching staffs recognize and utilize him like he is in Phoenix? Don’t tell me he didn’t learn how to shoot threes until pulling one his purple Suns jersey… did he? I mean, this guy only attempted one three-pointer during his two seasons as an Arizona Wildcat, so it’s hard to figure out what’s going on here.

I don’t know the answer to this Frye riddle, why Gentry and the Suns are getting three times as much out of him as others have. Why he’s absolutely lighting it up from the outside after never doing so before, or really even having a chance to do so. Credit the Suns for recognizing Frye’s potential and making a high-impact, low-cost addition to their team ($2 million this year, $2.08 next), and credit Gentry for successfully incorporating him into the starting lineup and putting him in the right places on the floor to do some damage.

Credit Nash for his ability to drive the lane, draw defenders, and dish to the perimeter. Credit Frye, of course, for seizing the opportunity and becoming a key player on a Western contender. And, yes, credit the system that, in the case of Frye at least, has made this all possible.

Channing Frye Photo Credit: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jan. 11, 2010 at 8:10am in NBA

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