Thursday, February 14, 2008

Blueprint to a Championship – the “IT” player

Welcome to part 1 of a two-part NBA blog about what teams need to do in order to win an NBA championship.

The blueprint starts with acquiring elite player(s). You cannot win an NBA Championship without at least one “IT” player. The obvious question is “what is an ‘IT’ player? Well, welcome to part 1 of the “Blueprint to a Championship

Part 1
In part 1, I will:

define what it means to be an “IT” player,
break the hearts of many fans who think they are watching “IT” players when they really aren’t, (Nets fans should stop reading right now)
give you a list of players that are on the cusp of being “IT” players,
and provide you with a list of my favorite “IT” players.

Similar to great baseball hitters, the great NBA players are born with a talent that cannot be taught, learned, or acquired. Last year, Miguel Cabrera looked like a balloon in his pinstripe Marlins jersey (aren’t pinstripes supposed to make you look thinner?). I doubt he saw the inside of a weight room after spring training. As a result, his season stats were the following:

Avg. - .320
OBP - .401
HR – 34 (In the friendliest park to pitchers in the majors)
RBI – 119

So why was he so good even though it is obvious that he forgot to take his steroids? Because he has “IT.” No matter how hard Kevin Frandsen (SF Giants) works, he will never come close to producing numbers that match those. In the NBA, the concept of having “IT” is even more profound than in MLB. The reason is simple; unlike MLB, where the casual fan would have to go to a month of games to appreciate Miguel Cabrera’s true greatness, the most casual of NBA fans may only have to go to one game to pick out the “IT” players on the floor at any given time. The “IT” player looks different and plays differently than everybody else. He walks with a swagger that says, “I am that good and you are going to see it tonight.” He can, and more often than not does, decide the outcome of games from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

So what is the official “IT” player definition? Here you go: (in no particular order of importance because the “IT” player needs to have all of these attributes)

* When he has the ball with 5 seconds left in a tie game, the opposing team’s fans know they are in trouble.

* He is in at least his third year in the league.

* With 5 minutes left and his team down 4, he says. “get on my back because we are not losing tonight,” and everyone in the huddle believes they are going to win.

* On his best night of the year, his team would beat the 97-98 Bulls.

* He plays above-average defense.

* His numbers are consistent year to year, if they are not improving.

* The vast majority of teams in the league would trade a lottery pick for this player.

* He can create his own shot.

* He does not shy away from taking the ball to the rim and drawing contact.

Simply put, you cannot win an NBA Championship in this era without having at least one “IT” player on your team. (It could be argued that you need 2, but I’ll leave it at one for now).

A) “Close, but no Cigar”

(This list is in no particular order, and is far from comprehensive. It should be viewed as my “Fab Five” of getting paid “IT” money while not being an “IT” player. “IT” money can be defined as any contract that leads to a payout of more than $13 mm for any given year during the contract. The bottom three are my favorite future “IT” players who are not quite there yet)

* Rashard Lewis – Orlando Magic

No non-“IT” list is complete without Rashard Lewis. While I do think he does fulfill some of the requirements (he has been in the league for three years), I think the entire Magic team would fall over laughing if he said, “get on my back because we are not losing tonight.” He also plays WAY below average defense to the point where I would take Turkoglu over him in a one-on-one battle. The Magic have Dwight Howard (“IT” player) and they have a strong group of tough defenders (besides Lewis). But tying your title hopes on the one- two punch of Howard and Lewis is like trying to win the Heavyweight boxing title with Ali’s right hook and my left upper cut.

* Jason Richardson – Charlotte Bobcats

I am not sure if J-Rich is even close to “IT” status, but I had to include him because (1) his contract is awful and (2) he is the best example of a player who works really hard at his craft and will never have “IT”. His feet are stuck in concrete on both ends of the floor and it is hard to create your own shot when you cannot dribble. However, his numbers are very consistent (I mean that in a good way), and the Bobcats were willing to deal a lottery pick for him.

(Let’s all agree right now that the most bush league thing the Warriors front office has ever done, and yes, I remember when they took Todd Fuller, was combining the J-Rich tribute with the return of Webber. The fact that nobody in the Bay Area media ripped this is insulting and all the “professional” writers should be ashamed of themselves along with the entire organization!!! I could not feel more strongly about this sports atrocity).

* Michael Redd – Milwaukee Bucks

I think Michael Redd is as close to an “IT” player as you can get without being an “IT” player. He can shoot the lights out, he can create his own shot, he can carry his team for an entire game and I do think on his best night the Bucks could beat the 97-98 Bulls. However, he plays just average defense and the only time he shoots a lay-up is in warm-ups. It’s hard to blame him with his stroke, but if he is having on an off night, he will just keep shooting until they turn off the lights. The “IT” player (think Kobe) will, and can, change gears, if needed, in order to get his numbers. Redd’s lack of desire/ability to go to the rim keeps him off the “IT” list.

* Vince Carter – New Jersey Nets

We needed to include one former “IT” player who, because of injuries/age, can no longer be included on the “IT” list. Carter was an “IT” player for many years, but his run is over. He rarely sees the inside of the paint on the offensive end, and I am pretty sure he never bends his knees on defense anymore. If you have been to Continental/IZOD Arena over the past two years you know the phrase “VC for Three!” is mentioned infinitely more than “VC with the thunder dunk.” While many in Toronto would proclaim “Karma is a bitch,” I still miss the old VC because he was the best dunker I have ever seen.

(Other former “IT” players still in the league: Shaq, Ray Allen, Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, Grant Hill, Jermain O’Neal)

* Richard Jefferson – New Jersey Nets

Can someone please explain this contract to me? He is the ultimate “good at everything, great at nothing” player. While I appreciate his scoring is up this year, he has done nothing to make his team better and he has been lucky enough to play with Jason Kidd his entire career. I am not a genius, but I have to believe his game is going to be exposed as even more of a fraud after Kidd breaks out of jail (aka New Jersey).

(How bad is the Nets situation!? They have one “IT” player and he wants out and they are paying two non-“IT” players “IT” money. And those players bring nothing more than meaningless selfish play every night. Ouch!)

Other “Close but No Cigar” Players: Shawn Marion, Josh Howard, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Andrei Kirilenko

(Do you think you are going to lose if you’re going up against Marion when he has the ball down 1 with 5 seconds left? Neither do I.)

* Monta Ellis – Golden State Warriors

I am not sure how Monta is not an “IT” player starting next year, but I guess anything is possible. I would pay him the max if I could not get him for less. He is a cornerstone of a franchise and he puts butts in seats. With the appropriate supporting cast, he could lead a team to a championship

* Al Jefferson – Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin McHale had to choose between Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson as the future “IT” player he could receive for KG. That, my friends, is called a win-win situation. Al Jefferson is going to make the All-Star team next year and he will make his final All-Star appearance (barring some unforeseeable event) in 2022. He has all the offensive moves you need to be an effective scorer in the low post. His defense is average, but I think that’s due to carrying the load on the offensive end and the energy-zapping burden of being the star on a losing team playing home games in the North Star State. Regardless of the T-wolves current shortcomings, they have a star and future league MVP in Al Jefferson.

* Josh Smith – Atlanta Hawks

Josh Smith is my “stretch” pick for a guy that will turn into an “IT” player. I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Josh Smith because he would have gone to IU had he not declared out of high school. His offensive skills are somewhat limited, (he does average 18.1 ppg, so they’re not that limited) but his defense is all-NBA right now. He is also a very well-rounded player, and he seems to get better with every game. Finally, he is proof that you do not need to average more than 20 points a game to be an “IT” player.

Other Notable Cusp “IT” players: Brandon Roy, Andre Iguodala, Al Horford, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Andrew Bynum, Andray Blatche (you heard it here first)

B) The “IT” players in the NBA by team

Hawks: None
Celtics: KG, Pierce
Bobcats: None
Bulls: None
Cavs: LeBron
Pacers: None
Clippers: Elton Brand (Do you think the Clippers miss him?)
Lakers: Kobe
Grizzlies: None
Heat: Wade
Magic: Howard
Sixers: None
Suns: Nash, Stoudemire
Blazers: None
Kings: None
Mavs: Nowitzki
Nuggets: Anthony, AI
Pistons: Billups, Wallace
Warriors: The Baron
Rockets: Yao, McGrady
Bucks: None
T-wolves: None
Nets: Kidd
Hornets: Paul
Knicks: None
Spurs: Duncan, Parker, Ginobili
Sonics: None
Raptors: Bosh
Jazz: Williams, Boozer
Wizards: Butler, Arenas

Total # of “IT” players in the league: 27

Eastern Conference: 11
Western Conference: 16

C) The 4 guys that deserve extra attention:

The Last In – Rasheed Wallace

Some may contest that his “IT” days are behind him, but I have to disagree. He can still light it up on the offensive end, but he chooses not to because he is trying to win another championship. (I don’t think anybody saw this 180 degree attitude shift coming). In addition, he is the rock of Detroit’s defense and he always matches up with the most talented interior player on the other team. The only part of the “IT” criteria he might be missing is the deterioration of his numbers, but I think this can be over looked because of his much improved defense. Rasheed Wallace is an “IT” player and there are MANY teams that would benefit by having him on their team. (Example #1: The Warriors)

The Most Underappreciated – Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce should get extra credit for being “underappreciated” around the league while playing in Boston. He is the best three in the league (I am putting LeBron at the 2). The small forward position was invented for Paul Pierce. He is the perfect size (6’7, 200 lbs.) and his game is as effective outside as it is inside. He lives at the free throw line where he shoots 79.3% and, if teams decide to give him space, he shoots 37.7% from three-point land. Not to mention, he gives you a respectable 5.6 boards a night. The one knock on Pierce is his defense, but even that has improved as he has been in the league and I would consider his defense slightly above average. While he may get lost in the mix with KG and Ray Allen, it is obvious to those die-hard NBA fans that Pierce is the real deal.

The “IT” player I hate the most – Deron Williams

No Illinois basketball player is ever going to win a popularity contest on, but I have to admit that I love this guy’s game. He is quick, strong, and can shoot the lights out. While the biased, bitter IU/Warriors fan will refrain from giving Williams his just due, I will take the high road (take that Bruce Webber) and praise Williams for the true talent he possesses. Like Baron Davis, he provides his team with a mismatch every time he steps on the court. Most point guards cannot handle him down low, and the ones that can - cannot handle his quickness. He lets the game come to him, and often times tries to create shots for his teammates before he creates them for himself (almost to his and the team’s detriment). When he does shoot, he is a 40.5 % shooter from beyond the arc and he is a 79.5% shooter from the line. His defense is also well above average because he has surprisingly quick hands for a guy his size. Regardless of the fact that he went to U of I, I would want him on my team (so would Coach K).

(I would trade Baron for Deron Williams in a second – there I said it. Hold on, I think IU is calling me to revoke my degree)

The Best Player you have never watched – Caron Butler

For the record, the worst trade in modern NBA history was Kwame Brown for Chucky Atkins and Caron Butler. Since you have not seen him play in a Wizards uniform, I am not going to spoil you the wonderful surprise which is Caron Butler’s game. I will just give you his numbers:

21.4 ppg
6.8 rpg
4.5 apg
2.4 spg (third in the league behind Paul and The Baron)

91.3 ft%
47.6 fg%
36.5 3p%

Also for the record, he is better than these numbers in person. Anyone who does not think this guy is an “IT” player, has not watched a Wizards game this season.

And there you have “IT” – you now know more than 90% of the GMs in the league. This list of players will be revised annually, but the criteria will remain the same. This is Part 1 of a two part series. Part 2 will be posted in the next couple of days


Suckaflea said...

*I too admire/hate Deron Williams/Anything Jazz(even the music). I thought you'd forgotten to put him in the almost "IT" list, but he's apparently made quite an impression on you.

*Speaking of Illinois basketball, why does Luther Head always go off on the W's?

*Re: Caron, I can't believe he's been traded twice already. What?

Who's Going Off Tonight

Tues. Feb. 19th: Dubs @ Utah

Ineligible: Boozer(21.7 ppg)and Williams(19.1 ppg)

Mehmet Okur: 3-1
Ronnie Brewer: 10-1
Andrei Kirilenko: 5-1
Kyle Korver: 3-2
Matt Harpring: 10-1
Paul Millsap: 4-1
C.J. Miles: 1000-1
Jason Collins: 5,000,000-1

The Jazz have a bunch of players that fit the Go Off Against the Warriors profile. Okur is the "logical" chice because of his outside shooting and mismatches with his size. Kirlienko is more of a wild card where I could see him going off but then again Ak-47 or Okur go off I won't necessarily be surprised or curse the heavens. We saw what Paul Millsap was capable of last year and he will probably "get his." The suckaflea favorite this game is...Kyle Korver. Terric outside shooter who's likely to get a lot of open looks because of Boozer double teams. Giracek usually played pretty well against the W's and Korver is a better shooter, IMO.

I'm hoping this game turns out to be like the hornets game in NO. Go in not expecting anything and pull of an upset before a five game homestand.

Suckaflea said...

Who's Going Off Tonight?

The answer was...everybody, like it always seems to be against the Jazz woth six players in double figures. The WGOT winner was AK-47, shooting 7-8 for 18 points. The suckaflea favorite, Kyle Korver, made his first two shots, both three pointers, but then finished 2 for 9.

Vs. Boston
Paul Pierce(20.7 ppg)
KG(18.9 ppg)
He Got Game(18.6 ppg)

This is a tough team to WGOT for because The Big Three can each score twenty and nobody else has to do much to win.

Our candidates:
Rajon Rondo 4-1
Eddie House 3-1(Suckaflea Favorite)
Kendrick Perkins 6-1
James Posey 15-1
Tony Allen 8-1
Leon Powe 20-1
Big Baby Davis 20-1(If no KG 10-1)
Brian Scalabrine 500-1

thefantasticpoolio said...

As a fellow IU alumn, I understand your desire not to give Deron Williams his due, but its hard not to like the kid and he was always so under the radar at Illinois (ESPN the Mag had a great article about him and Bracie Wright right around the time they would have been drafted - they were high school teammates). Both the Jazz and the Illini make me physically ill (and Carlos Boozer makes me so angry I want to knock a guy into next week during a flag football game), but Deron Williams is fantastic.

I disagree with the Baron for Deron trade for one reason, I think Baron is more "IT" than Williams. Granted Williams is on the up slope of his career and Baron is on the down slope, but Baron has that MAGIC to make the big shots or take over a game (e.g. the Baron/T-Mac coming out party in the first round of the playoffs about five years ago). Jordan had the magic, Bird and Magic had it. It's the ability to make whatever play was necessary to win the game (it's AJ Moye blocking the shot of a man 8 inches taller than him, its starting at center when you are supposed to be the point guard, its being drafted after later because the teams ahead of the Bulls thought they needed a center, even when Bob Knight told them to draft Jordan and let him play center because he was just that good).

Magic is the one criteria that you left out that I think makes the gradations in the "IT" players you named, it makes Lebron and Baron better than Notwitski or Boozer. It's what made Jordan better than Barkley. Montana had it, Tiger has it, (warning: niche sport reference coming) Steven Gerrard of Liverpool has it.

I agree that Caron Butler is great and I two think its weird that he has been traded twice already, but I think he falls into that: "we already have one of those" category. He is the standard 2 or 3 in the NBA and the NBA is flush with those, plus I think he has been branded as one of those guys with an attitude problem. Its not fair to him, but I think he is going to be stuck in that limbo for his whole career, to the detriment of NBA fans.

The who's going off winner: AK-47 - 18 pts, 26 mins; 7-8 shooting. Kyle Korver was 4-11 for 12 pts in 22 mins.

Irbe4Life said...

Working the corners???? I thought this was a hockey blog

Suckaflea said...

Arturs Irbe? Are you a Sharks fan from, like, ten years ago? Second question, how do you work the corners on an oval hockey rink?

poolio: Although not an MSU alum, I was accepted and have a lot of family there. They are my "other" team, being as my "actual" team is San Diego State. How 'bout a Big Ten ranking of teams you hate from 1-10, minus your school, most hated to least hated?

1. Mich
2. Ohio State
3. Illinois
4. Indiana(They knocked SDSU out of the tourney)
5. Purdue
6. Wisconsin
7. Penn State
8. Iowa
9. Minnesota
10. Northwestern
*11. Notre Dame (bonus)

thefantasticpoolio said...

Suckaflea, I'd be happy to since we have commandeered RT's blog.

First, it depends marginally on the sport (really just basketball and football because no one is IU's equal in soccer and the lists for the rest of the fringe sports would be the same as basketball or football).

1. Purdue - they move meter the most for me, but do have some respect because it is a rivalry.

2. Illinois - they move my anger, vengeance meter the most, really no lover for them.

3. Michigan St. - I dislike the Spartans for all kinds of reasons but Izzo pisses me of the most because of the media love affair with him, even though he is every bit as bad as the General was.

4. Wisconsin - they are just hard to watch and they always give IU a game.

5. Ohio State - they stole Oden and Conely.

6. Iowa - they are hard to watch too and IU seems to have a really hard time are Carver-Hawkeye Arena even when IU is the far superior team.

7. Minnesota - Probably the last of teams I dislike. I go back and forth on whether I like their arena. I just remember IU having a hard time with them in Minnesota even when IU was the far superior team.

8. Penn State - sort of harmless, sort of hard to care.

9. Northwestern - almost entirely harmless, pretty hard to care. Although I would send my kids there in a second.

10. Michigan - I grew up a Fab Five fan and a fan of Desmond Howard partially because my dad is from Detroit so I have a hard time disliking them and they haven't been that good lately.

1. Purdue
2. Ohio State
3. Penn State
4. Wisconsin
5. Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan State, Minnesota - after the first four it doesn't really matter, pretty much dislike them equally.
10. Michigan - hard to hate them for me.

RT - thoughts?

Suckaflea, I have been thinking about the trade exceptions more, I think it can part of the deal to make one team use their exception thereby relieving the original team of some portion of the players salary, which would therefore not count against their salary cap, but I stand by my thought that you cannot acquire a player in exchange for a trade exception.

Suckaflea said...

We'll find out in, what, twenty-four hours what the Warriors do with their exception. I'm beginning to lean toward doing nothing. The West is insanely tough this season. Utah owns us. The J-Rich trade exception is good for a year so it can beused on next season's cap number. Save our money for Monta(Tay-da-tay)/Biedrins and hope for the best this season.

rt, too busy making money to tend to his own sad.

RT said...

So I have to been sitting in meetings regarding bond yields for the last three days. What am I doing with my life?

However, I did go to the Sharks game last night in NJ and their new stadium is dope. To bad it is in NJ.


I hate Illinois 100x more than I hate Purdue. I have no respect for Illinois like I have for the rest of the Big Ten. Their fans are a joke and they have the biggest "From-There-Didn't-Go-There" fan base in the country. I cannot tell you how many times I have been at a bar rooting for IU and there is another group of people rooting for U of I and NONE of them went there. The reason - because no one in their right mind would want to go to that sorry ass place for two years unless they had no other choice. My Mom is from Chicago and has three other siblings. None went to U of I. (I need to take a deep breath)

Here is the order

1. Illinois
2. Purdue
3. Iowa - No idea why
4. Michigan
5. Ohio State
6. Penn State
7. Northwestern
8. Minnesota
9. Michigan State
10. Wisconsin

In my mind, Wisconsin, Michigan State and IU are in a group by themselves as far as quality fans and school environments. I cannot hate either of them.

I am almost done with part 2 so stop distracting me.

thefantasticpoolio said...

Okay, so I was wrong about the trade exception thing. I found the following quote on and I think it pretty much refutes my thoughts: "The Suns have a trade exception (which they acquired in the trade of Kurt Thomas to Seattle) which would allow Phoenix to acquire Artest without including other players in the deal. To make it happen, the Suns would likely have to include the first-round pick they acquired from Atlanta."

I will look into the NBA CBA more closely when I finish with the Bar Exam, so I will get back to you in the beginning of March on that one.

You are totally right about Illinois and their "from there didn't go there" fan base, even my cousin who follows most of the other rules of fanhood does that. Like I said in another post, I think their venues are the most toxic venues in the Big Ten. Its okay to hate Michigan State and Wisconsin even though they have good followings and experiences, there are lots of places that have good fans and fan experiences and are still hated.

By the way, I love the hockey fan experience. I think HP pavilion is the best professional fan experience in the Bay Area, despite the fact that Warriors games are more fun to watch. Any time you can get a good hockey arena that's a good use of your time.

RT, I read another post of yours to another article just a minute ago and we are not in Gen X, I am pretty sure we are Gen Y. Gen X is a little older than us.

Great win for the Warriors last night with Stack Jack out. Monta is growing up right before our eyes. Wow! Even if Baron would have pulled up from 5 feet behind the line, I just knew that shot was going in at the end of the game.

Okay, this is my last post until after the Bar. See you in a week.

Suckaflea said...

First of all, we are too creative to be labeled as Gen. Y. We didn't come up with the brilliant nicknames of A-Rod, I-Rod, T-Mac and so forth. That was lame Gen Xers. I vote for the the Nintendo Generation. It reflects the time of our generation and tecnological ability. If you could pick one thing from growing up between 1985-2000 it has to be Nintendo. The Internet is too global. What, you want to be the Starbucks gerneration? The Microsoft gerneration?

WGOT vs. Boston
Ray Allen went off, no surprise. KG had a good game, no surprise. Paul Pierce scored 23, but didn't necessarily have a good game, shooting 5-13, but getting to the line 13 times. That's all they really need, usually. Only one player qualified for the Who's Going Off Tonight belt last night....Tony Allen.He just qualified, shooting 5-10 for 18 points. Suckaflea favorite, Eddie House, scored only six on 2-6 shooting in eighteen minutes.

Irbe4Life said...

suckaflea....I am Arturs Irbe! I am now a loyal Working the Corners (RT style) reader.... I stumbled across this when searching for David Pollak's SJ Mercury News Sharks blog "David Pollak's Working the Corners"...working the corners has been a phrase in hockey for years, not really sure how you can work the corners of an oval rink...then again I am also not really sure how you can send 20 grown men to the ice in the NHL in teal jerseys, but apparently it is done.

Suckaflea said...

Who's Going Off Tonight?
W's v. Supersonicas

Ineligble: Durant(19.3 ppg)Chris Wilcox (12.8 ppg)

Earl Watson - 5-1 (Not my fave, but close)
Nick Collison - 8-1 (He's big, no AB so he moves up)
Damien Wilkins - 7-2 (He's just streaky enough to suck vs. everyone else and go off against the W's to piss me off)suckaflea favorite
Jeff Green - 11-1 (nope, but wish he was a Warrior)
Delonte West - 9-1 (somebody is going to get Wally's points)
Luke Ridnour - 15-1
Johan Petro - 20-1
Ira Newble - 1,000-1 (Ugh)

How will Wright do this game?
*less than 10 mins/10 points
*more than 10 mins less than 10 points
* more than 15 minutes/10 points
* DNP - Cooach's decision

Suckaflea said...

Who's Going Off Tonight Winner

Nick Collison 9-12 for 20 points and 13 boards.

Jeff Green was close, but couldn't get to 50% shooting (10-21 for 21 points).

Damien Wilkins, the suckaflea favorite, DNP Coach's decision.

Brendan Wright played more than ten minutes, but didn't score more than ten points.