Dallas Mavericks make “experts” look foolish

Your 2011 Champs and Jim Carrey...oh wait.

The Dallas Mavericks winning the 2011 title should not have happened.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, predicted Dallas to win the NBA title this year. Not one “expert” was on board with something that preposterous.

Yet here we are, and Dallas has just finished shocking the basketball world. The only annoying part about this victory is that the immediate reaction has been less about Dallas, and more about the Heat losing, which is both sad and unfair.

As such, I’ll focus this post on praising the players that played a vital role in the Mavericks securing their first NBA title. I will also throw some shots at the Heat, because that always fun to do.

As Jason Whitlock summed it up: “Not 8, not 7, not 6, not 5, not 4, not 3, not 2… There is only one NBA champion. The Dallas Mavericks.”

  1. Dirk Nowitzki: The Superstar

Dirty Dirk! You thought he’d be terrible all game long?

Nein!

He started off having an eerily similar performance to that of Kobe Bryant in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, but like Kobe before him, he came through down the stretch to help his team in whatever way he could. The shots he started hitting in the second half were just unbelievable, and I’ve never been so happy to see a player other than Kobe himself (in 2009, his first one post-Shaq) win a ring. Dirk’s been through many ups and downs, and I’ve always found the criticism on him to be unfair. Hell, I criticized him for being “soft” plenty of times, but he is tough as nails mentally – I wish I could say the same for the Heat players.

Though he doesn’t carry the same bravado that other superstars do (can you imagine Garnett or Barkley getting punked on like this?), I understand now that he’s beyond that. He’s like Steve Nash in the sense that the game is mainly cerebral, and the tough talk and bravado

Lebron wants that hair.

(which is more cultural in the NBA than it is a necessity) is not needed for him to be successful. Also, how he left for the locker room as the game ended was one of the most genuine displays of emotion after a Finals win that I’ve ever seen.

Bill Simmons made a point that if Lebron were to have won, he likely would have milked it at half-court for the world to see his triumph. He did it in the Celtics series and that was in the second round. In moments like yesterday’s, you truly understand that in Dirk’s case, winning the NBA Finals is not a means to an end like it is for Lebron (more fame, more branding) . Rather, it’s the end in itself, something that he wanted to accomplish because of his love for the game that he’s worked so tirelessly at.

[Note: I don’t doubt that Lebron loves the game of basketball or that he works hard at it. Mentally however, Lebron folds when the going gets tough because he’s never once had to battle back from adversity. If you noticed in the Chicago and Boston series, Lebron rose when his team was already ahead or had the momentum. In the Finals, with Dallas having had the upper hand in most of the games and Lebron needing to rise to the occasion, he slunk away, unsure of how to play in such a big moment. He did the same thing in last year’s semi-finals with the Celtics. This is a kid who had a 100 million dollar shoe contract before he played a single game in the NBA. Looking at players like Bryant, Garnett, Dirk, etc, you realize that each of them had to prove they belonged in this league – they weren’t given the keys to a franchise right off the bat. Lebron has been handed the keys to drive since he was 18 years old. Learning from failure and humility are not a part of his identity, and they likely never will be because he’s always gotten what he was handed, and nobody has ever told him otherwise.

He will never get it (true humility, the sorrow of failure), even when he wins, and that much was clear from his post game press conference where he essentially mocked “haters” for our pathetic lives in comparison to his. That’s one way to be a global brand! Back to Dirk.]

Add in the fact that Dirk’s been mocked by Wade & LePippen, not to mention people calling him soft for the 2006 loss and the 2007 shock, and you have the makings of one of the most resilient players from the 2000s generation of players (sorry, the list does not include Big Dog Robinson). With this win, Dirk officially joined the top of the post 90s draft class that ruled the 2000s (other players being Bryant, Shaq, Duncan, and Garnett) and solidified his place in the pantheon of greats.

Dirktastic Tidbit: This picture, and all of its glory. Germans and Canadians don’t play when it comes to drinking.

2. Jason Kidd: The veteran warrior

His impact on Game 6 was not as great as that of Jet, or even Barea, but Jason Kidd was instrumental during this Mavericks run, and like Dirk, I was delighted to see him succeed. I always admired Jason Kidd growing up, from his Eminem-hair’d days in Phoenix to his

Kidd's kiss of death to the Heat

transformation of the 2002 and 2003 Nets teams. I’ve always felt he’s gotten the short end of the stick in terms of accolades. Though Duncan was an excellent candidate, that 2002 MVP trophy belonged to Kidd for taking almost the same team that Stephon Marbury lead to obscurity and somehow catapulting them to two consecutive NBA Finals, as well 3 straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. Yes, Kidd was Steve Nash on the D’Antoni Suns before Steve Nash was Steve Nash (get it?). Yet, when you ask fans nowadays, a lot of them forget about Kidd’s success with the Nets.

In light of Kidd winning his first ring in 17 years, here is Jason Kidd’s classic free throw shooting routine.

3. JT, Barea, Cardinal: The role players

I thought all three of these guys were the difference makers in Game 6, especially Barea. I’m still trying to wrap my head around a guy who’s around my height playing that fearlessly around players who are a foot taller. Hell, he was guarding Lebron on the elbow at one point (of course, Lebron turned it over) and didn’t back down from the challenge. I came out of this series having much more respect for all three players, especially Cardinal and Barea. Jason Terry – he of the overly ambitious pre-season tattoo – looks like a genius right about now, and played the game of his life. Plenty of swag points for all.

4. God – The sixth man

We all thought JT was the sixth man of the Mavs this whole time, but it seems to be just an illusion. Jason Terry himself mentioned that the Mavericks won because of a player named “God” (no last name given) on about five separate occasions in his post game interviews. Lebron likewise asserted that

Sixth Man of the Year

this player named “God” was the reason he lost since it was “not his time yet”. I swear I watched the entire game, and this sixth man was nowhere to be seen.

And just to make it clear, it was not the zone defense, passiveness, or a lack of a post game that lead to Lebron’s failures – IT WAS GOD. After all, he is the Chosen One (or is it the Frozen One when it comes to the 4th quarter?).

5. Mahinmi: The Sasha Vujacic award recipient

Apologies to The Machine, but I just wanted to put Mahinmi here so I could link to this song in my post. Seriously, everytime I heard his name, that artist name was all that came to my mind. Looking back, that wasn’t even the artist’s name! Oh well. Mahinmi also had a killer off-balance one-leg-kick shot in the 3rd quarter, which I can only assume was learned from Dirty Dirk.

6. Miami Heat fans – The Benchwarmers

Good job on bolting for the exits (in search for your car) with 2 minutes left in the game and your team with a reasonable chance at still making it a game. Now THOSE are true fans. Who said they hopped on a bandwagon?

7. Deshawn Stevenson: The guy who hated Lebron before it was cool to hate Lebron

I’ll just let his t-shirt speak for him:

Swag.

Advertisements

Dissecting Henry Abott’s “Clutch” Article

In light of Henry Abbott posting yet another article based on clutchness, I’ve decided to re-post a feature I wrote for an earlier version of this blog from February 2011. Breaking down some his rhetoric, I attempt to demonstrate the holes that are often present in Abbott’s arguments regarding clutchness, specifically regarding his confirmation bias towards Kobe Bryant.


A week or two ago, ESPN writer Henry Abbott decided to post a column on Truehoop.com dissecting his assertion of why Kobe was overrated as a clutch player. Since Abbott consistently claims he is objective in his analysis of Kobe Bryant, despite

The Black Mamba – a myth?

multiple posts proving otherwise, I was intrigued enough to look further into his claims rather than simply accepting them – ESPN writers can be wrong too.

Unlike Henry, I support the notion that Kobe is a clutch player. Clutch doesn’t mean that he makes every

single shot – but over time, he has won games in so many different situations that his reputation is justified. However, when stats are used misleadingly to drive home a preconceived narrative, readers often get bamboozled in the process.

Editor’s Note: I will say though that this response was written before the 2011 playoffs, where Bryant and the Lakers were very ineffective down the stretch of games. In fact, Kobe was horrid, and I can admit as much.

Criteria

First, let’s be clear that Abbot’s premise of being clutch is based on 24 seconds or less left in the game, and the team with the ball is either tied or down by 1 to 2 points.

Right off the bat, this argument is a very inaccurate time frame to judge clutchness by.


Note: If you want a more accurate measure of statistics that determines Kobe’s level of clutch, look no further than the 82games.com features linked below, which determines clutchness with the definition of “4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points“. This criteria is a lot closer to my own of 6 minutes or under, and not surprisingly, Bryant is at the top, or near the top for all the years that it has been documented.

By this category, Kobe comes #2 in 2010, #2 in 2008, and #1 in 2009. I couldn’t find the numbers for years prior to this on the website, but the list of players included in these lists resembles the general consensus by fans and players as to who is “clutch” in the NBA. It is a lot more accurate than the list Abbott uses, since the likely candidates (James, Wade, Ginobili, Roy, Paul) are on the list; most of these players were missing from Abott’s list or were not in the Top 5.


To me however, clutchness is not just in the last 24 seconds – it is when the momentum is swinging to the other team in the 4th quarter with at least 6 or less minutes remaining. In this scenario, you have to be “clutch” by either making baskets that give your team a further cushion on the lead, or baskets that put pressure on the other team to execute while you close the gap or take the lead. By Henry’s definition of clutch, if Kobe Bryant makes a 3 pointer with 10 seconds left and his team down 3, it is not defined as clutch because it doesn’t fit the criteria of “1 or 2 points”. Nor does it account for times when Bryant (or any player) stretches his team’s lead from one to three, and gives them further cushion in the last 24 seconds.

Now let’s breakdown some of Henry’s claims, word for word:

Bryant makes crunch-time defense easy for opponents by shooting just about every time he touches the ball (over a five-year period, he mustered 56 clutch shots, to go with one assist).

I have seen Bryant pass on “clutch” plays numerous times. Off the top of my head, the alley-oop to Shaq to seal Game 7 of the 2000 WCF (with 43 seconds left in the game), the game-clinching pass to Derek Fisher in OT of Game 4 of the 2009 Finals (with 31 seconds left), and a series of clutch plays in Game 3 of the 2010 series to the Jazz, including a clutch pass to Derek Fisher (at 2:47 of the video, with 31 seconds left in the game). But of course, none of these happened with less than 24 and down 1-2, so it doesn’t fall under what Henry deems as being “clutch”.

In 1997, he famously shot two  air-balls that could have eliminated the Jazz; instead, the Jazz won the series

In 1997, Kobe Bryant was a little used rookie still clearly trying to prove he belonged. Should he have forced those shots? Of course not. But using his rookie year as a conclusive point to prove that he is not clutch, while ignoring the context surrounding the game is nit-picking at its finest. Keep in mind that Abbott is using examples from 15 years ago to make his point.

Kobe in 1997

No matter how you define crunch time — from the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime to the last 24 seconds — and no matter how you define production — field goal percentage, offensive efficiency, David Berri’s Wins Produced, the results tell the same story: Bryant is about as likely to hit the big shot as any player.

Except that the stats that Henry presents as evidence to prove Bryant is not clutch is entirely based on the last 24 seconds and not in the last 3-5 minutes, as it should be. Why even say “no matter how you define it”, when the entire basis of the article is that Kobe can’t make shots with 24 seconds left?

Bryant shoots more than most, passes less and racks up misses at an all-time rate. There is no measure, other than YouTube highlights and folklore, by which he’s the best scorer in crunch time.

The point that he is missing is that Bryant is largely the reason the Lakers are in that position in the first place. By discounting the possessions preceding the last 24 seconds, Abbott completely ignores any clutch plays Kobe makes to swing the momentum before there is 24 seconds left on the clock, which is a severely flawed logic. Basketball doesn’t work with such a narrow definition.

Watch this video from the 2:10 mark, which is when the real crunch time begins. It is Game 3 of the 2010 playoffs, and the Lakers are in Salt Lake City  looking to go up 3-0 in the series. The Lakers are down 5 points with 6 minutes remaining. Kobe does the following in the next 6 minutes, ultimately leading to the Lakers winning the game: fade-away jumper with 1:45 left to take a one point lead, a three pointer while being down three with 54 seconds left, and a clutch pass to Derek Fisher with 30 seconds left. And that is from ONE game – Bryant has had numerous games like these throughout his career. Therefore, it is not just “folklore” that adds to his reputation. Rather, fans who have watched his teams over the years have seen displays like this numerous times in a variety of situations which lead to the formation of his reputation as a clutch player.

According to Abbott, however, this is not clutch because it doesn’t meet his criteria.

In basketball, entrusting the ball to the open teammate really does benefit the team. Remember when Jordan passed to a wide-open Bill Wennington in the lane? Or to Steve Kerr or John Paxson in the Finals?

Again, that’s two examples he uses for Jordan, while completely ignoring instances where Kobe has done the same thing, including passing to Derek fisher (Game 4 of the 2009 Finals, Game 3 of the 2010 Jazz series, to name two examples), the Shaq alley-oop, and a rifle pass to Robert Horry to beat the Blazers in the 2002 playoffs. In fact, a week or so after Henry’s article picked up steam, Kobe had a clutch pass to Lamar Odom for a game sealing three pointer. To suggest that Kobe doesn’t pass during crunch is time is one of the most ignorant arguments I’ve ever heard – there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, you just have to be receptive to it.

John Wall was a heavy favorite to beat Blake Griffin for rookie of the year. Kevin Durant was a slam dunk to win this year’s MVP

What’s the connection?

Abbott uses this point to illustrate that GMs are sometimes ignorant and can be quite wrong when assessing players. He uses this to conclude that this is why they pick Bryant as the king of clutchness, implying that it’s because their eyes fool them. Except, the examples he gives aren’t really that bad. Wall is widely considered the second best rookie from last year’s rookie class, and KD and the Thunder are still doing well enough for him to be Top 10 in the MVP conversation. It’s a moot point.

Jackson published that book in the interlude when he was not coaching the Lakers. That he doesn’t talk that way is hardly bizarre — it’s admirable for a coach to keep his criticism of a colleague “in the family.”

This is where Henry’s bias and contempt towards Kobe starts being evident.

Never mind the fact that Phil Jackson came back on the Lakers to coach Kobe even when he had quit the year before and published this book; never mind the fact that they’ve played SIX seasons together since that book with no outward signs of discontent; never mind the fact that they have won 2 championships in 3 Finals trips since then, or the fact that Kobe has greatly evolved as a player and as a public figure since the 2004 season. Rather, Abott chooses to focus on a seven-year old book written by Phil Jackson as the definitive source of information on Bryant’s ability in the 4th quarter. Which begs the question: why would an objective writer need to use Phil Jackson’s seven-year old criticism of Kobe to make a statement about him not being clutch in 2011?

It seems as if Abbott is trying less to convince us that Bryant is not clutch, and more vehemently trying to drive the narrative that Bryant is a terrible person to play with. Unlike, of course, Lebron.

There are a lot of misleading things in this world.

I thought this was humorous, considering the clear evidence of bias, contempt, selectivity, and arrogance throughout his articles.

As long as your mind is open to all that, it has to be closed to the idea that Kobe Bryant is the king of crunch time.

Kobe may not be the “king” of crunch time, but that’s not why he is so respected. He has been the undisputed leader, especially in the clutch, of a team that made it to 3 straight Finals appearances, winning two in the process. You don’t make it that far into the playoffs for three years running without winning close games down the stretch. This doesn’t even account for the numerous times that he closed games during the 2000-20002 Lakers’ title runs.

If you want a true barometer to see who the supreme alpha-dog “closers” are in the league, look no further than the 2008 Olympics Gold Medal game featuring the Redeem Team versus Spain. On a team featuring plenty of future Hall of Famers close to their

Clutch.

absolute apex (specifically Kobe and Wade), there were only two guys who repeatedly sealed the game for Team USA. One was Dwayne Wade – who has, unsurprisingly, been the crunch time leader for the Heat in the 2011 Finals – and the other was Kobe Bryant.

When Team USA needed baskets, Kobe delivered by converting on a 4 point play, making a mid lane floater, and shooting threes in timely fashion. When the team needed him to be a play maker, he assisted to Deron Williams for a game-changing 3 and made passes which lead to fouls, changing the outcome of the game.

None of these plays occurred in the last 24 seconds, but if you WATCHED the game, it was clear that the two best players down the stretch were Wade and Bryant – they consistently put their team in a position as the game went down to the wire.

Like it often happens, none of the above heroics could have been was adequately captured in statistics, and especially not in Henry’s narrow definition of clutch. The best way to judge? Watching the games – something I doubt that Abbott actually does unless the results add credibility to a narrative he already has in mind.

Ultimately, my point is that clutchness isn’t just the final possession, it’s putting your team in a position to win as the game winds down. I realize that Kobe is getting older, and is declining in ability with each passing year. It is easy to start picking on him now when he is closer to the twilight of his career and his talent is diminishing. However, if you look at his playing career objectively (specifically in his prime years in 2001-2003, 2006-2009), it is very easy to conclude that the man has repeatedly proved that he is worth being the primary option in the clutch.