Team USA vs. Best Basketball Players of Europe, Asia & South America

http://globalitesports.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/france-beats-lithuania-to-win-bronze-at-fiba-world-cup-in-spain/

Apart, they’re good. Together, they’d be great. (Via Globalitesports.com)

OK, rest of the world. It’s time to cry “uncle” already.

I’m an American, who appreciates winning, steak, Will Ferrell, and all the rest. But I am tiring of the headlock Team USA has every other nation in. On Sunday, the United States beat Serbia 129-92 in a FIBA World Cup title game that after six minutes held about as much drama as “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” The U.S. has now reeled off 63 straight wins, a run that was cool at first, when we had something to prove in basketball after losing three Olympic games a decade ago. Yes, the whole “Redeem Team” thing was fantastic. Millions of Americans tuned in to see the U.S. make a resounding statement in the 2008 Olympics to reclaim Gold.

Less enthralling was the “Confirmation Team” of the 2010 FIBA World Cup. Or Confirmation Team 2.0, or 3.0. We get it: America is unequivocally the sport’s King once more. It’s clear that since American basketball powers actually put their mind to it, the U.S. simply has too large a pool of hyper-skilled, hyper-athletic players – headlined by hyper-athletic, hyper-skilled young superstars ( e.g. Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis) – that no other single nation can hope to match.

Spain, of course, appeared to pose a threat this summer. They boasted multiple NBA All-Stars, and a roster that in total had logged more NBA games (3,223) than even the American roster (3,213). But the host nation went cold at the wrong time, against a French team with enough athletic wing players to disrupt the Spanish perimeter offense. With far more disruptive, quicker players, the Americans would have beaten Spain too.

Now that the sun is setting on Spain’s Golden Generation, as it already has with Argentina’s, the United States is accelerating beyond the teams that have hung with them in recent years. “If anything, the gap is widening,” ESPN announcer Fran Fraschilla said last week during the Americans’ semifinal win against Lithuania. To the point where no nation poses a legit threat to Team USA at the 2016 Olympics.

France could look best on paper, but they would need four Nicolas Batums to hope to slow a team with firepower including Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Paul George. If the San Antonio Spurs, a favorite to repeat as NBA champions this coming season, were allowed entry they would pose the biggest threat. But despite the Spurs’ Texan roots, they appear unlikely to seek political autonomy any time soon.

Instead of messing with the Olympics, it’s time to form another major international tournament that provides actual compelling and competitive basketball. Provide a venue in which the best players from non-U.S. nations team up by continent. Call it basketball’s “Pan-Continental Cup.”

On their own, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio et al won’t beat the U.S. in the coming years. Spain doesn’t have wing players big and athletic enough to defend the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But with France’s Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw on their side, they have a legit shot. Add long, imposing players like Joakim Noah, an intermittent French national team member, or England’s Luol Deng to the mix, and the U.S. would finally face a foe that rivals it in terms of skill, athleticism and size.

Pan-continental teams work. Look at golf, where the Ryder Cup has pitted a Team USA vs. a Team Europe since 1979.  Meanwhile, bowling has its own USA vs. Europe competition. In each sport, over the years, the two sides have proven to be pretty much even.

The idea is already a reality at the youth basketball level. FIBA sanctions the Nike Global Challenge, an annual event in which a Pan-Asian team has competed against other nations including the U.S., and a Pan-African team still does. Another event, the Nike Hoop Summit, goes one step farther: It pits some of the United States’ best high school players against the best similarly aged players from all other nations. Just like in golf and bowling, this setup helps raise the game of both sides and provides better competition. Each side has won three games each in the last six years.

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Year-by-Year Breakdown of NBA Experience Among Team USA Foes:

The below stats-smorgasbord shows how the rest of the world has been catching up with the United States in terms of national team players with NBA experience. Below, I look at only Olympic rosters dating back to 1992, when NBA players were first allowed to play in the Olympic Games.

To the right of each player, you see the total number of NBA games that player had played before the summer of the competition.

The boldfaced number below each roster is the players’ total number of NBA games, and below that is the average NBA experience of each NBA player on the roster.

2012 London Olympics

1. usa #NBA games
Deron Williams 441
Chris Paul 485
Kobe Bryant 1161
Kevin Durant 380
LeBron James 689
Tyson Chandler 724
Russell Westbrook 312
Anthony Davis 0
Andre Iguodala 615
Kevin Love 669
James Harden 220
Carmelo Anthony 646

6342
528.5

2. france # NBA games
Tony Parker 806
Mickeal Gelabale 109
Ronny Turiaf 410
Nicolas Batum 255
Yakhouba Diawara 187
Boris Diaw 680
Kevin Seraphin 115

2562
366

3. spain #NBA games
Jose Calderon 480
Rudy Fernandez 249
Marc Gasol 297
Pau Gasol 796
Sergio Rodriguez 285
Serge Ibaka 221

2328
388

4. argentina #NBA games

Carlos Delfino 386
Manu Ginobili 667
Andres Nocioni 514
Luis Scola 386

1953
488.25

The rest:

lithuania #NBA games
Linas Kleiza 389
Darius Songaila 495
Sarunas Jasikevičius 138

1022
340.6666667

russia #NBA games
Andrei Kirilenko 11
Viktor Khryapa 143
Timofey Mozgov 89
Sergei Monia 26

269
67.25

australia #NBA games
Patty Mills 90
David Smith 103

193
96.5

brazil # nba games
Leandro Barbosa 588
Anderson Varejão 449
Nenê 556
Alex Garcia 10
Tiago Splitter 119
Marcus Vinicius 26

1748
291.3333333

nigeria #NBA games
Al-Fourq Aminu 147
Ike Diogu 225

372
186

2008 Beijing Olympics

1, usa #NBA games
Carlos Boozer 395
Jason Kidd 1006
LeBron James 391
Deron Williams 177
Michael Redd 517
Dwyane Wade 315
Kobe Bryant 866
Dwight Howard 328
Chris Bosh 362
Chris Paul 222
Tayshaun Prince 452
Carmelo Anthony 302

5333
444.4166667

2. argentina #NBA games

Carlos Delfino 262
Manu Ginobili 434
Andres Nocioni 298
Luis Scola 82
Frabricio Oberto 220

1296
259.2

3. spain #NBA games

Pau Gasol 503
Jorge Garbajosa 74
Juan Carlos Navarro 82
Raul Lopez 113
Sergio Rodriguez 139
Jose Calderon 223

1134
189

4. germany #NBA games

Dirk Nowitzki 758
Chris Kaman 354

1112
556

The rest:

lithuania #NBA games
Sarunas Jasikevicius 138
Linas Kleiza 219

357
178.5

croatia #NBA games
Zoran Planinic 148
148

148

russia #NBA games
Andrei Kirilenko 492
Sergei Monia 26

518
259

china # NBA games
Yao Ming 404
Wang Zhizhi 137
Yi Jianlian 66

607
202.3333333

australia #NBA games
Chris Antsey 155
Andrew Bogut 226

381
190.5

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Patrick Beverley: “I Didn’t Watch Any NBA. I Was Like ‘Forget the NBA.'”

images

Still – not the laid-back type.

Interesting interview today from CBS with the Houston Rockets’ new starting point guard. Things are looking up now for Beverley’s career, but that wasn’t the case nearly three years ago when he was freezing his butt off in Russia trying to earn a buck:

What comes to mind when you think back to being overseas and wanting to be in the league, following it from afar?

Actually when I was overseas I didn’t watch any NBA. I was like, ‘Forget the NBA,’ and this and that. ‘Cause I was hurt that I wasn’t on an NBA team. I kind of was rebellious when it came to that because I was kind of jealous and envious that I wasn’t on an NBA team, so I kind of just focused on my game and focused on overseas.

[and staying warm, I should add]

Most of the interview covers his summer activities (which included a ton of workouts with fellow Chicago natives Derrick Rose, Will Bynum, Tony Allen) but at one point he did have a chance to talk about his two seasons playing for the University of Arkansas:

Do you ever stop and think about your journey, coming from Chicago and going overseas before the league?

All the time. I’ll never forget where I come from. Especially my humble beginnings. I’m appreciative and I’m more humble than anything, especially with me and my grandmother, her still staying in the city. So when I go back, I see all of that again and I’m just in a position where I’m blessed and I can kind of take care of others. It puts me in a position where I appreciate things more, you know?

Chance not taken.

Little wonder he didn’t want to rehash a messy departure that included half-accusations of his Razorback teammates cheating on tests. “Someone from Arkansas was doing papers, was doing me and some of my teammates’ papers,” Beverley said in 2009. “Basically, instead of ratting my team out, I just said it was just me. I was forced to have a year of ineligibility.”

Messiness Schpelphryness, I really I loved watching P-Bev play. (Still do)  He remains the best 6-2 or shorter rebounder at the major college level I have ever seen. Put somebody like him on this current Razorback basketball team, and they’re making the Sweet Sixteen.


Non-U.S. Team Has More NBA Experience Than Team USA; A Dream Team Era First

 Team-USA-vs-Spain-2

Kevin Durant’s withdrawal from Team USA earlier this month not only significantly altered the national team’s roster and chemistry. It also likely set into motion a domino effect ushering in a watershed moment in international basketball: For the first time in the Dream Team era, Team USA enters a major tournament with less total NBA experience than a competitor. Host Spain’s players have the most NBA experience in the upcoming FIBA World Cup with 49 cumulative years. Team USA is second with 46 years, followed by Brazil with 39 years.

 

This is only the latest tremor to ripple through a landscape that has dramatically shifted since the original Dream Team arrived in Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics. Its 12 players had a total of 87 years worth of NBA experience. Germany followed with two players totaling 12 years. And not a single Spanish player had logged an NBA minute. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who has firsthand seen much of this growth, wrote in an e-mail: “It is not a surprise that a national team other than the U.S. team has more NBA experience. In 1992, the NBA had 21 international players on NBA rosters and last season we had a record 92 international players so this really speaks to the global growth of the game.”

At the least, this benchmark is a sure sign Team USA must continue to work hard for its Gold medals. It may, however, point toward a basketball future where the Americans – despite their best efforts –  regularly lose to squads that are more seasoned and nearly as talented.

The 2016 Olympics may feature such a team: A loaded French squad could be the first non-U.S. team to feature a roster of all NBA players if dual citizen Joakim Noah joins the likes of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Evan Fournier. In major competitions following that, Canada (with possible roster entries Andrew Wiggins & Tyler Ennis) and Australia (which appears to be on the brink of a golden generation with the likes of Patty Mills, Dante Exum, Ben Simmons and Thon Maker) also loom as potential rivals to Team USA. Of course, an advantage in NBA experience alone doesn’t portend ultimate success. In 2002, the Americans had a total of 65 NBA years but lost to three squads with far less. Two years later, they were eliminated in the Olympics by an Argentine team with a total of seven NBA years of experience.

Since that loss, Team USA has won 62 of 63 games. In 2014, though, a second loss in the Mike Krzyzewski Era has never looked more likely. The Spaniards are brimming with confidence and for good reason. They have a dominant front line featuring Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol, who looks to be in the best shape of his life and joins Anthony Davis as the tourney’s best all-around players. Spain boasts athletic and seasoned guards and wings who pushed American squads far more talented than this one in two Olympic Gold medal games. In all, these Spaniards have 11 players with a total of 701 international (FIBA) games played. This U.S. team has five players with 41 total games, according to ESPN.

2014 FIFA World Cup + host nation = sad

2014 FIFA World Cup + host nation = sad

Serbian head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic told one Spanish newspaper he believes Spain is the frontrunner. Meanwhile, Spanish guard Jose Calderon said the host nation’s team won’t crumble under the local weight of expectations (unlike a certain 2014 FIFA World Cup counterpart). “We are very laid back right now … the strength of this team is peace of mind to say you’ve got to compete and stay calm,” Calderon told as.com. “We know what we have to do, but there’s not the pressure of ‘Win no matter what.’”

Pressure to stay on top contributed to a bigger and younger Team USA roster than what was expected had Durant remained. For one, his training camp replacement Rudy Gay would not be traveling to Spain. But his absence might also have cost wing player Kyle Korver a spot. The 33-year-old sharpshooter would have been a perfect complement to  Durant’s supreme offensive abilities. Yet when Team USA announced its final cuts on Saturday, a premium was placed on size and strength rather than shooting skill and precision. As a consequence, Detroit’s Andre Drummond – who just turned 21 years old – is in. “USAB officials decided in recent days that they simply couldn’t resist carrying Drummond, especially with a potential rematch with Spain and its imposing frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka looming in the Sept. 14 championship game,” wrote ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

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Why Drew Gooden Would Have Ruined Finland’s Mojo

Evin Demirel:

Interesting look at the national team of Finland, where Scottie Pippen played a few games after his NBA retirement: “Their collective decision-making has become automatized to a degree that will not be achieved by any other team in the World Cup. There is no hesitation, no delays, no second-guessing.
That’s the reason why rumors about NBA veteran Drew Gooden joining the Wolfpack in the last minute never sounded plausible to me. I thought Gooden would have damaged the collectivism of the team, and the net gain would have been negative. “

Originally posted on HoopChalk:

By Harri Mannonen (@harrimannonen

If ever, a Rudyard Kipling quote is now called for: “For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of Wolf is the Pack.”

The obvious reason is that Wolfpack – the nickname of the Finnish national team – are the first opponent of Team USA in FIBA World Cup 2014. The game takes place on Saturday August 30 in Bilbao, Spain.

The less obvious reason is that the Kipling quote describes aptly what’s great about the Finnish Wolfpack. In that team, the strength of wolf quite literally is the pack.

When it comes to the sum of its parts, the Wolfpack are one of the weaker teams in the World Cup. They only have one player who currently plays in the NBA (Erik Murphy of Cleveland Cavaliers) and another one who has formerly played there (Hanno Mottola

View original 1,065 more words


Only List of Arkansan National Team Basketball Players & Coaches Known to Man

It's a good feeling - that feeling of not being alone.

The feeling of not being alone is a good one.

As you know, Hamburg native Scottie Pippen made the original Dream Team in 1992 and the 1996 Olympic team which grabbed Gold in Atlanta. Pippen made by far the greatest splash of any national team Arkansan, but he wasn’t the first to do so in an Olympics. That honor goes to Gordon Carpenter, native of Ash Flat in northeast Arkansas. And there are plenty others who have made national teams for other competitions. Below, I present the first (and I will bet you $25 only) comprehensive list anybody has ever bothered to assemble on the topic:

 

1. Gordon Carpenter

Carpenter, a 6’6″, 200-pound big affectionately known as “Shorty,” was one of Arkansas’ first great basketball players. He led Ash Flat in northeast Arkansas to the 1939, upsetting much bigger teams in Little Rock and Pine Bluff,  and then went on to star on the University of Arkansas’ first Final Four team in 1941. He led the Hogs to their first undefeated SWC record and ended his college career on the All-SWC team.

He then played for the Phillips 66 powerhouse basketball team, which was technically amateur and allowed him to retain eligibility for international play (the Olympics were then off-limits to paid professional athletes). The Phillips 66 team was on par with the best professional teams of the era, and Carpenter helped lead them to six straight national titles. He made the AAU All-America team each year from 1943-1947 and helped his team qualify to represent the U.S. in the 1948 Olympics by beating the University of Kentucky in a Madison Square Garden (weird, I know).

In those London Olympics, Carpenter had a turn as hero, according to this bookIn a game against Argentina, the U.S. was trailing by six points with four minutes to go. Coach then inserted Carpenter and he scored 10 points in two minutes to help the Americans turn the tide and win. The final score of the game was 59-57, according to linguasport.com.

Two years later, Carpenter became head coach of the national team at the first basketball World Championship (now called the basketball World Cup) in 1950. The host nation, Argentina, took Gold and the U.S. took Silver.

165px-AAU_All-Americans_Gruenig_McNatt_Carpenter

Gordon “Shorty” Carpenter (R) Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_McNatt

 

2. Jim “Bad News” Barnes

A native of Tuckerman in Sharp Co., the 6’8″, 240-pound Barnes trumps Corliss Williamson, Andrew Lang (and so far Bobby Portis) as the most dominant collegian big man the state has produced. He was dirt poor as a child, often playing in socks because his family couldn’t afford shoes. Around 18 years of age, he moved to Oklahoma to finish high school. Barnes then dominated junior college competition for two years, and then did the same at Texas Western. He averaged 29 points and 19 rebounds his senior year, and a few months later became the first of two Arkansans ever drafted #1 overall in an NBA or NFL draft.

Before his pro career, though, Barnes traveled to Tokyo with other top collegians like Larry Brown and Bill Bradley. He was the fifth-leading scorer on the Gold-winning team. In the Finals, the U.S. squared off against the U.S.S.R.  Barnes’ speed and agility, like center Bill Russell’s four years before, was a big reason the Soviets could not hang with the Americans.

That team’s head coach was Henry Iba, who happened to the mentor of Barnes’ college coach Don Haskins. Coincidentally, Haskins became the mentor to Nolan Richardson, one of Barnes’ Texas Western teammates. Richardson thought highly of Barnes’ character: “Jim was one of those men who was thrilled to play for their country. He took the opportunity seriously and played every possession hard.”

 

3, Sidney Moncrief

When it comes to  Moncrief and Larry Bird sharing the same court, the headliner will forever be their legendary showdown in the Elite Eight of the 1979 NCAA Tournament. Before these two All-Americans clashed in front of a national audience, though, they had two summers before joined forces to topple other countries.

In 1977, the Little Rock native represented the U.S. in the World University Games (similar to what would be a U-21 competition today). Moncrief helped the U.S. tear through the event, in Bulgaria, with an 8-0 record. He led the Americans with 16 points in the finals against the U.S.S.R.

Undoubtedly, Sid shot the ball at a high clip that tourney. It’s amazing to think that as a freshman, the 6’4″ forward led the entire nation in field goal percentage, as this July 26, 1977 article  points out:


Click here for a larger image.

NB: You’ll notice one of the assistant coaches was none other than Bill Vining of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. The national team program wanted coaches from all levels of college basketball, and Vining, being the small college level bad-ass he was, was selected to rep that segment.

 

4. Marvin Delph

Another one of Arkansas’ famed Triplets, Delph was a part of a wonky 1978 World Championship team made up of neither college or professional players. College players should have filled out its roster but by October – when the event occurred – they were already in preseason and prohibited from competing.

So the U.S. sent a squad made up mostly of Athletes In Action (a religious organization) ballers, and finished 6-4. This isn’t all that bad considering many of the communist national teams were made up of essentially professional players who had state-provided sinecure jobs.

Delph, a Conway native, averaged only 5.5. points in the six games he played. But hey, the U.S. was 5-1 in those games (losing only to the U.S.S.R.), so that’s something.

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LeBron James’ Playoff Worst is Worse than Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant & Larry Bird’s

Tim Duncan and LeBron James are both jostling for G.O.A.T. status.

Tim Duncan and LeBron James are jostling for G.O.A.T. status.

On Wednesday night, LeBron James had unquestionably his worst playoff performance as a Miami Heat. He bricked eight of his ten shot attempts, turned the ball over three times and mustered only four assists and two rebounds. According to a measurement devised by John Hollinger, the O.G. of basketball advanced statisticians, it was the second-worst playoff performance of James’ career. Not surprisingly, the four-time MVP’s struggles were a big reason Miami lost 93-90, failing to close out Indiana on the road.

This dud, of course, was an exception. Heading back home for Game 6 tonight, Miami is still a 7-point favorite according to the top books at sportsbettingpal.com. James, who has for the most part been superlative throughout the prime of his career, is still expected to emphatically did lead them to a fourth straight Finals appearance. His success in May and June is a big reason the two-time NBA champion is at age 29 already considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

But is he the best?

We’ll have a good answer within a few years, and along the way every piece of evidence will add or subtract from that final verdict. So far, James’ career highlights have been just as impressive as other G.O.A.T. candidates. But lowlights should count, too. Here’s how James’ Hindenburg of a night compares to the worst playoff performances* of his rivals to the all-time throne:

 

Larry Bird

Date: May 19, 1985

Line: 14 PTS (27% FG), 8 TOs, 7 REBs, 6 ASTs

Game outcome: Boston 104, Philadelphia 115

Series outcome: Celtics Won 4-1

If LeBron is to one day be widely considered the game’s greatest player, he needs to first lock down the all-time first team small forward spot. That means pushing aside Larry Bird, who won’t go down without a fight in more ways than one. LeBron already has more overall MVPs, but this season he failed to be the first player to pull off an MVP three-peat since Bird did it in 1984-86.

The worst game of Bird’s playoff career in his prime years wasn’t as bad as James’. Both men have excuses. On Wednesday night, James couldn’t stay on the floor and get into a rhythm, not with the refs blowing the whistle on him five times and a certain “Ron Artest-Stephen Jackson-Jamaal Tinsley Molotov cocktail” blowing into his ear. In 1985, with Boston up 3-0, Bird showed up for Game 4 with his right index finger badly swollen. The official stance was it happened in Game 3, but an unidentified eyewitness claims Bird injured the hand while throwing a haymaker in a barroom fight a couple nights before.

Whatever the case, the injury might have cost Boston a title. Bird shot 42% from the field after the apparent incident and in the Finals the Celtics fell 4-2 to the Lakers.

 

Michael Jordan

Date: May 11, 1989

Line: 15 PTS (41% FG & 25% FT), 1 TO, 8 REBs, 3 ASTs

Game Outcome: Chicago 97, New York 114

Series Outcome: Chicago Won 4-2

 

You can’t blame Knicks point guard Mark Jackson for sticking it to the crowd. He was feeling good. In Game 2 of a series in which New York was favored, he’d just stolen the ball from his Airness – so why not have a little fun and mock Jordan’s signature gesture? M.J., after all, was looking human as Jackson and “Jordan stopper” Gerald Wilkins were en route to limiting him to a career playoff low 15 points with their full-court press. Jackson couldn’t help but stick that tongue out.

Oops.

Chicago head coach Doug Collins showed Jordan the tape of Jackson’s jauntiness, and that was all she wrote. Chicago wiped New York out 111-88 in the next game, and despite that Game 2 statistical black eye, Jordan ended up averaging 35.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.4 assists and shooting more than 52% on field goals in the 6-game series. Talk about a bounce back.

The next series against Detroit saw Jordan’s second-worst playoff performance thanks to a famously aggressive Pistons defense that left no shortage of bruises.

How tough was the defense Jordan had to score on?

Fast forward to the 52 second mark in the following film. Watch Detroit’s Dennis Rodman literally push Jordan to the ground after a shot attempt:

Jordan just lays there, becoming at one with the pain, while nobody seems to notice. No complaining. It’s playoff time – pain is to be expected. Contrast this with the way James tried to bait a foul from Lance Stephenson at the end of Wednesday’s game and instead ended up flailing wildly while airballing a three-point attempt that could have helped Miami knock Indiana out. James is a better passer than Jordan ever was, yes, but he’s also a far superior flopper.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Date: April 5, 1973

Line: 18 PTs (50% FT); Other stats N/A

Game Outcome: Milwaukee 97, Golden State 102

Series Outcome: Milwaukee lost 4-2

The nearly 7’3” Abdul-Jabbar is the most prolific scorer the league has ever seen. And with a baseline sky hook extending to 18 feet, he had the most unstoppable go-to move known to man. All the same, Abdul-Jabbar had his spots – and he usually preferred them to be closer to the basket. A defender who could push him off those spots gave his team a chance.

That’s exactly what happened during the 1973 Playoffs when Milwaukee, led by Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, were upset by a balanced Warriors squad featuring Rick Barry, Cazzie Russell and the 6’11” Nate Thurmond.

Throughout the series, Thurmond continually beat Abdul-Jabbar to his favorite spots on the floor and worked hard to to cut down on entry passing angles. As a result, he held Abdul-Jabbar to an “unheard of” 42% on field goals, 11 percentage points below his norm, according to Bob Ryan’s 1975 book “The Pro Game.” Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged at least 32 points a game in three of his first six postseasons, averaged only 22.8 in this one (along with 16.2 rebounds). After the series, the Bucks’ Jon McGlocklin said: “I think it’s disgusting. To me, we’re a better team than they are, but they played harder as a team. They were smarter in the playoffs than they had been in the regular season, and we weren’t nearly as smart or as hungry.”

Abdul-Jabbar said Thurmond was the best defender he ever faced.

 

 

James must leapfrog two active players in achievements before he is widely considered the greatest of all time. They are:

 

Kobe Bryant:

Date: June 10, 2004

Line: 11 PTs (31% FG), 4 TOs, 5 ASTs, 3 REBs

Game Outcome: Los Angeles 66, Detroit 88

Series Outcome: Los Angeles lost 4-1

 

After winning Game 2 of the Finals, Bryant and the Lakers arrived in Auburn Hills three games away from winning their fourth title in five years – a stint of success that would have surpassed even the Chicago dynasties of the 1990s. In a pivotal Game 3, though, Kobe didn’t exactly grab the bull by the horns. Instead, the long-armed Tayshaun Prince harassed Bryant into missing all four of his first half shot attempts. Bryant didn’t score until connecting on a third-quarter jumper to close Detroit’s lead to 54-42.

“He had a hard time shooting,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said afterward. “This is a tough background to shoot in, it’s a different one, and the basket, he had a few things that didn’t go down for him; didn’t get to the line too often.”

This game was the start of a miserable stretch run for the most talented NBA team to not win a title. The Lakers featured four future Hall of Famers, including Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone (who was hobbled by a knee injury in the series). The coaching staff featured two Hall of Famers in Phil Jackson and Tex Winter.

 

Tim Duncan:

Date: April 30, 2005

Line: 11 PTs (26% FG), 11 REBs, 3 TOs, 2 ASTs

Game Outcome: San Antonio 86, Denver 78

Series Outcome: San Antonio won 4-1

 

 Of course Tim Duncan would manage a double-double even in the worst playoff game of his prime. What more would you expect from a player who puts up excellence with such predictability that he’s bestowed the nickname “Death & Taxes”?

Like James in Indiana, Duncan was shackled by foul trouble in this one – a Game 3 on the road. After playing five first half minutes and scoring four points, Duncan was absolutely atrocious in the third quarter. The Nuggets’ Marcus Camby played a role in his missing all eight of his shots. In the end, though, Duncan’s teammates (i.e. Ginobili) picked up the slack and the Spurs rolled, winning the series and eventually the 2005 title.

While James never had the opportunity to lock horns with Bryant in the Finals, he and Duncan have gone at it twice. Both all-time greats have notched their belt at the other’s cost, and it looks like a deciding Series III could be in the pipeline for this June. Whichever player leads his team to victory in that series would have a big leg up on the other in future G.O.A.T. arguments.

******

In the end, even if Indiana shocks the world and wins the series, James’ Game 5 clunker will be tiny asterisk on a glorious career. Even if he were to never play another game, James has already become a legit contender in the Greatest of All Time conversation.

Still, his accomplishments from here on out could clearly push him to the front of the line. Those achievements will boil down to the cold numbers: number of titles, gold medals and MVPs won; total number of points, rebounds and assists, as well as win shares and true shooting percentage.

As fans of certain players, we love to fixate on the good. But we should look at their worst of times along with the best when trying to paint a complete picture of that player’s overall greatness. Just because the lowlights are scarce doesn’t mean they should go unexamined.

It’s evident James’ playoff lows are worse than his rivals for greatest of all time status.

 

*I only looked at performances from ages 25 through 29. These are prime years in most players’ careers. Plus, I didn’t want to extend points of comparison past LeBron’s current age (although he has played more NBA playoff minutes than most other 29-year-olds).


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