Kobe has set a milestone tonight moving into first place. Here’s the top 15 all time players by total misses. Welcome to first place Mamba.d
Kobe has set a milestone tonight moving into first place. Here’s the top 15 all time players by total misses. Welcome to first place Mamba.d
But is that fair? I mean, I’m assuming the Heat don’t come back from being down 3-1 and I’m only working off the numbers that we have now, without knowing how anyone will play in the coming games. But currently…
James is averaging 9 more ppg than anyone else in the series (27.5 to Tony Parker’s 18.5). He’s leading everyone in points and steals and leading his own team in rebounding and assists. He’s also shooting .600 from the field and .611 from 3P, which is insane efficiency when you consider he’s taken more shots than anyone on either team. I know that we’re not supposed to give the FMVP to a player on the losing team but isn’t James clearly the best individual player on the floor?
On the other side, continuing to assume things don’t change drastically, Tony Parker is the Spurs’ leading scorer but that’s the only stat Parker leads and everyone on the Spurs is getting their points so democratically, it’s hard to give it as much import as usual. Kawhi Leonard has been incredible these last two games on both ends of the floor but he also didn’t do much in the first two games. Maybe a third stellar game could cement him as the FMVP (look at me making assumptions!) but as of now he’s only been good for half a series. Then there’s Duncan, averaging 15.8 ppg and 10.5 rpg, leading all rebounders and anchoring the Spurs defense. He’s the Spurs’ leader but is he their best player?
Finally there’s Boris Diaw, putting up the sexiest Finals stat line I’ve ever seen: 6.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, and 5.8 apg while guarding everybody and anybody who needs to be guarded, leading the series in highlight assists, and generally being a boss. How crazy will if be if this fat bastard puts up 18-10-7 in a closeout game where he plays great defense and wins the FMVP two years after being dropped by the fucking Bobcats? That’s totally a possiblity.
Or do we just give a co-FMVP to RC Burford and Greg Popovich?
Or maybe things will be clear after tonight’s game. Maybe not.
Last summer Paul Pierce was traded to the Brooklyn Nets after 15 years with the Boston Celtics. During one of the many conversations I had about Pierce at the time, I was asked what I thought the prime of his career had been. Usually, a glance at a career stat sheet is good enough for a rough estimate of a player’s “prime”. Some guys are late bloomers and his first couple of seasons can be overlooked. Some guys hang around long after their best days are behind them and you can knock off years on the end. With Pierce, it’s murkier. His career numbers don’t have the peak you might expect from a player who rounds into shape over his first seasons and then tapers off when age starts to overwhelm experience. His numbers are more wave-like, going up and down through his career. His best statistical years happened, mostly, for bad teams and his most successful years didn’t come until he was already an NBA veteran whose numbers had begun their decline. I had watched most of his career as a rapt, young Celtic fan and didn’t know the answer. The question swirled around in my head all year. Now the season is over and Pierce will face free agency as a 36-year old role player and I still wonder: What was Paul Pierce’s prime?
The problem I was having is that Pierce lost almost the first half of his career to being drafted by the wrong team. Despite a high profile, Pierce slipped to 10th in the 1998 draft and was taken by the Boston Celtics. As a Celtic fan I’m thankful this happened but for Pierce’s legacy, it probably wasn’t a good thing. Pierce joined a Celtics team being coached by NBA-disaster Rick Pitino and led by third year chucker, Antoine Walker. This was a team with a losing culture and no plan for how to turn it around. Walker learned the professional ropes as the star of one of the most blatant tank-jobs in NBA history and would never overcome the bad habits he formed in those first seasons. Under Pitino, Pierce put up big stats and was granted a nickname by Shaquille O’Neal but developed an attitude and some of Walker’s undesirable habits.
The teams were bad and Pitino fled in the middle of the 2000-01 season. Under new coach Jim O’Brien the Celtics started to find an identity, going 24-24 over the final 48. The following year, Pierce’s 4th, O’Brien instilled his formula: defend hard and shoot 3-pointers. Shepherded by Pierce and close friend Tony Battie, the Celtics’ defense finished in the top 5 that year. Pierce led the team in Defensive Win Shares and led all rotation players in Defensive Rating (per basketball-reference.com). He made his first All Star team and the Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals.
A young core making a deep playoff run felt like a great sign for fans but looking back we should’ve known that a team built around Antoine Walker shooting eight 3-pointers a game couldn’t sustain its success. Pierce kept making all star teams but He didn’t now how to lead a team. The Celtics slipped more and more each season and Walker was getting exposed as a mediocre player with inflated stats on bad teams. The losing culture couldn’t be wiped away in a single season.
In 2003, Danny Ainge was hired to be the Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations and traded away both Walker and Battie. O’Brien, unable to work with Ainge, left the team in 2004. Without Walker’s scoring and dominant personality, Pierce had to learn how to carry an offense and lead a team all by himself and he wouldn’t have his best friend by his side. He would have to reevaluate his approach to the game.
The following year, a new coach would help him do just that when Ainge hired Doc Rivers. Rivers was a different kind of coach than Pierce had ever had. Rivers demanded accountability from his star and a level of leadership Pierce was still struggling to understand. Their first season together was rocky and the two clashed. In a symbolic moment, Pierce was ejected at the end of Game 6 of the 2005 first round series against Indiana. On national TV, Pierce removed his jersey on his way off the court, swinging it in the air as he disappeared down the tunnel. I remember this was the first time I realized Paul Pierce had tattoos. Later, Pierce gave a bizarre, sarcasm-laden post game press conference. It wasn’t clear what was happening at the time. Luckily, this just was The Truth having growing pains.
During the offseason, Pierce rededicated himself to basketball. He lost weight and entered the 2005-06 season focused, scoring more points, more efficiently than ever before. When players looked to him for leadership, he had answers. He was putting it all together. He became a player that could fill a stat sheet and lead a team. After 7 years in the NBA, Pierce had figured it out. This was Paul Pierce entering the prime of his career.
Unfortunately, he was leading a team headlined by Wally Szczerbiak and Raef Lafrentz. They won 33 games.
The following season, Pierce missed major time with injury and started feeling the pressure of time. He was tired of losing. Trade rumors ran rampant through Boston and on ESPN. Behind closed doors, Pierce asked for a trade. Since Ainge had come onboard, he had been compiling assets and finally cashed in, bringing in perennial all-stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
In 2007-08 Pierce finally had teammates that could match his level of competitiveness and skill. Garnett and newly-hired assistant coach/mad genius Tom Thibedeau brought a new level of defensive mania to the team and Pierce jumped aboard. With Garnett and Allen in green, Pierce put together his most complete season as a pro at the age of 30 and the Celtics won a league-best 66 games. When the team needed to stop Kobe Bryant in the Finals, he demanded the job. When they needed to create a shot out of nothing, he was the man. Garnett had been the team’s most vocal presence and Allen had been the team’s most consistent performer in that Finals but Pierce was still the guy his teammates looked to for leadership on the court. He led the team in regular season scoring, defended opponents’ best wing players nightly, and won the Finals MVP. He was on top of the NBA mountain.
It’s fair to say that the 2008-09 regular season didn’t have the urgency of the one before it. Pierce put up all star numbers and the Celtics won 62 games but the consistency wasn’t quite the same. When Garnett missed the playoffs with an injury, a return to the Finals was out.
By 2009-10, Pierce’s age was working against him in more obvious ways. He played less than 35 minutes per game for the first time since his rookie season and missed 11 games, mostly for being old. With Garnett back in the lineup, the Celtics returned to the Finals and came within a quarter of another Championship, but Paul Pierce’s prime was over.
Scoring numbers are not always an indicator of how good someone is playing. With Pierce, his mid-career resurgence as a dominant scorer coincided with him overcoming that entrenched culture of losing. He carried himself differently and made his teammates’ games a priority equal to his own. From 2005-06 when he put it all together to his Championship win in 2007-08, Pierce was as good as he would ever be. It wasn’t a long peak. 206 games over 3 seasons. But It’s rarer than we give credit for that anyone ever truly reaches their potential. In my estimation, Pierce accomplished that and in a few years, I’m sure it’ll be enough to get into the hall of fame on the first try, not 7 years later.
Zach Lowe quote - The Spurs, of course, have been so good for so long because of their culture, their smarts, their front office, and their coaching staff. But Duncan was step no. 1, and step no. 1 is the most important.
There’s a lot of ways to approach the career of David Robinson. There are stats. There’s his record team wins turn arounds upon his arrival and return from injury. Insane highlights. There’s the fact he holds the third highest point total in a game in league history. MVPs. But really this doesn’t matter. I’m not going to bring up these positives or the negatives his detractors like to mention. David Robinson’s greatest accomplishment, the true legacy he left behind, is never mentioned. It’s also not over. By a long shot.
On the eve of the 2014 NBA Finals, Tim Duncan clearly deserves oodles of credit for the Spurs. That goes without saying. And he gets it. He’s had a monster resurgence after looking like he was slowing down a half decade ago. The Spurs are, again, on top of the Western Conference and the whole league. They’ve rebuilt the team into an offensive juggernaut that has not forgotten how to lock down when necessary. Gregg Popovich among serious observers is widely considered the best coach ever. Switching to an offensive team without missing a beat cemented it for me. The Spurs have won 3 titles more or less entirely built around Tim Duncan and 1 partly built around him. But every time the Spurs win a title David Robinson deserves credit.
Why? You have to look at the Spurs winning ways. It’s not about a star dominating the game even though there’s been plenty of that. It’s about the Spurs culture. Pop takes seemingly any player in the league, tailors a specific role for him in the system maximizing their strengths and hiding their weaknesses. He refactors mediocre players like the Raptors Matt Bonner into playoff killers. It’s this culture that produced 15 straight 50 win teams. Duncan, Manu and Parker have all taken turns as their best player for a season but the culture ‘is’ the persistent factor that defines the Spurs success. All due credit to the stars, their coach and the role players as well, they had huge parts, but that culture is due to David Robinson.
Lets go back to 1997. David Robinson was at the height of his prime. He had posted three straight PERs of 30.7, 29.1 and 29.4. Six games into the season he got hurt and the spurs went from 59 wins to 18 wins in his absence. As a result, the Spurs draft Duncan and for the 1998 season, they play twin towers — putting up eerily similar numbers. Now, I’m sure it happened before this point, probably in a practice or a stretch of games, but I know for sure the exact moment this culture became visible to me.
It’s the 1998 playoffs. Jazz vs Spurs. Game 2. Overtime. With the season on the line the Spurs decided to go to Tim Duncan because as a team they felt it was the best play. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that D-Robb had led the league in scoring. Duncan couldn’t get it done, the Spurs lost the game, and eventually the series too, but that’s not the point. See, they may have lost, but they produced a winning formula.
David Robinson, Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan made a decision to do something special. They built a team based truly on team and in doing so created Spurs Basketball. A winning culture that had not yet won anything. Everyone contributed and no one played for self. Front and center was one of the greatest bigs of his generation giving up his own well deserved touches to help the greatest big of the next generation get a head start. Behind that example guys like Sean Elliot, Avery Johnson, Malik Rose played their hearts out. Rookies like Stephen Jackson who would have been head cases on other teams transformed into core contributors. Career nothings like Jaren Jackson became corner 3 assassins hitting the shots that crushed entire teams full of better players. Result: title.
In 2000 Duncan got hurt and the Spurs beat in the first round. 3 years later Behind Duncan’s dominance and Robinson playing role minutes they won another title. Robinson’s previous nay-Sayers had more ammo than ever claiming Duncan always carried him to the promised land. It was difficult to form a counter argument once Duncan beat a very good Pistons team in 2005 after D-Robb retired.
Except then a funny thing happened. In 2007 Tim Duncan found himself in the finals again. Duncan was having one of his best statistical seasons putting up his second highest FG% since his rookie year when he played off Robinson. The Cavs two best players were easily LeBron James and Big Z but it was clear there was nobody on Cleveland who could stop Tony Parker in his continuous match up advantage.
The Spurs could have won with Tim Duncan doing everything. The Cavs were just not a finals ready team. But Duncan had learned leadership from David Robinson. Over the years the culture the twin towers built meant that you gave up shots and touches to others letting them develop into players you could count on. Duncan had learned from Robinson the value of sharing the spotlight with those who were not entirely ready so one day they would be. The Spurs lost a series or two allowing Parker and Manu to take big shots. And that day had arrived for Tony Parker to show his brilliance against the backdrop of a point guard tandem called “Boobie Gibson and Eric Snow’s Corpse.”
Duncan took the opportunity to anchor a defence that reduced LeBron James AND Zydrunas Ilgauskas to 35% shooting. All this while Tony Parker put up 25 PPG on 57% from the filed AND 3. While dishing only 3 dimes. TP got finals MVP and Duncan? He got people claiming he was washed up or “not the same.” The reality is the second lesson Tim Duncan learned from David Robinson.
To be the leader you have to know when to take a step back.
I was guilty I have to admit. A season or two later I felt the Spurs were done. Duncan couldn’t shut teams down defensively anymore.Their stars were aging and fliers like Bonner, Jefferson and Gary Neal weren’t going to make up for it. 2011′s 61 wins shut that idea down.
For a long time no one realized just as yet that it wasn’t so much the Spurs stars that won all those titles but the culture two players and their coach built together. A culture that accepts anyone willing to work, gives up on almost no one if they do and churns out winner after winner. It requires the rarest of qualities in pro-sports. Stars who are willing to give up a significant amount of their personal glory so people of lesser talents can succeed.
Rare because it’s only when a player is raised in this culture that they can learn it’s function. True appreciation is only realized when they see a younger player and realize their job, at the height of their prime, is to make that guy replace them like the previous star did for them.
It’s not the stuff all time careers are made of. It’s bigger. It’s the stuff of legacy that spans more than an individual’s career. We can see the fourth iteration taking place before our eyes. Manu Ginobli is coming off the bench and as Tony Parker is getting MVP chants he’s giving it up to Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Cory Joesph and Patty Mills. They’re getting their ‘reps in to prepare for one last championship push after securing the franchise’s 13′th 55+ win season in 15 years. A history littered with massive wins executed at the hands of Sean Elliot’s, Avery Johnson’s, Jaren Jackson’s, Steve Kerr’s and Robert Horry’s.
It’s not about MVPs. It’s not about scoring titles. It’s not about FMVPs. It’s not about rings. It’s not about who’s better. It’s not about top 10 lists. It’s about legacy.
I partially agree with Mr. Lowe above. The first step is absolutely the most important. Though in my opinion he’s clearly confused about what that first step was. The San Antonio Spurs Legacy. One of the greatest of our generation, of any generation and of any sport. It started with Mr. David Robinson. And because he started it. It’s his.
For a great interview with both Robinson and Rookie Duncan, check out: