Posts Tagged ‘David Robinson’

Analytics Art: Breaking down Towns’ rookie season in historic terms

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004 — a 12-season postseason drought that’s the longest active streak in the NBA. And yet, they’re one of the league’s most intriguing young teams.

They aren’t intriguing because of their 29-win campaign in 2015-16. And the intrigue isn’t due to slashing scorer Andrew Wiggins, nor because Tom Thibodeau was recently hired as the Wolves’ next coach and president of basketball operations. The key source of excitement in Minnesota lies in Kia Rookie of the Year winner Karl-Anthony Towns.

In a landscape where NBA bigs tend to adapt gradually to the pros — in order to put on weight, develop and hone their post moves, etc. — Towns hit the ground running. He started all 82 games as a 20-year-old, averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.7 blocks, all while shooting 54.2 percent and making 34.1 percent of his 3-pointers.

Despite his lack of experience, Towns was masterfully efficient from the field. His ability to knock down mid-range shots was particularly impressive. He shot 48.2 percent on shots around the free throw line and elbows — nearly 10 percent better than league average from that zone. He shot above 47 percent from each baseline spot as well, which was also superior to the league average.

So, how did Towns compare to his fellow rookies?

By a raw numbers perspective (average points, rebounds and assists), Towns finished comfortably ahead of the pack. Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor, who was second by those combined stats, only played 53 games due to injury. Towns’ ability to stuff box scores was illustrated by his massive advantage in double-doubles over his fellow rookies.

Towns’ 51 double-doubles not only lapped the rookie field, but put him third in the league behind All-Stars Andre Drummond (66) and Russell Westbrook (54).

Towns exceeded lofty expectations as a scorer, rebounder, shot blocker and even as a passer. There’s clout to the argument that the youngster should make All-NBA Third Team at center as the workload Towns took on (and the stability he brought to the Timberwolves) put him clearly ahead in the eyes of voters.

All that said, how does Towns’ season compare to other legendary big men who were also ROY winners?

On a per-game basis, Towns’ numbers are closest to Derrick Coleman, the former top pick of the New Jersey Nets. A 6-foot-10, 230-pound lefty out of Syracuse, Coleman was selected one spot ahead of future Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton in the 1990 NBA Draft.

Towns boasts a bigger frame (two inches taller and approximately 15 pounds heavier) than Coleman and he was a far more efficient rookie scorer than Coleman, too. Aside from those factors, this first-year comparison is rather fitting.

Both averaged around 18 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and more than one block. Coleman also shot about 34 percent from beyond the arc, though he did take 50 fewer 3-pointers as a rookie compared to Towns. Still, it’s fair to say Coleman was far from a post-bound center. He could step out and hit mid-range shots, just as Towns showed he was capable of doing.

If you narrow down the comparisons to stats per 36 minutes, however, a different narrative emerges.

Both David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal are in a class of their own as dominant rookie big men by this measure, but Towns clearly falls into the second tier — along with Blake Griffin, Chris Webber and Tim Duncan.

Towns notched 20.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes. Those figures are much more similar to Duncan than they are to Coleman, but Duncan went 0-of-10 on 3-pointers as a rookie and never developed that skill in his career. The latest No. 1 overall pick already has the ability to hit his 3-point tries.

Translation: Towns is going to be ridiculously good.

With the poise he showed as a rookie and the numbers putting him on par with guys like Duncan, Griffin and others, Minnesota has a bonafide star on its hands.

With those qualifying factors, Towns joins only Robinson and Duncan. How’s that for elite company?

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Blogtable: Assessing impact of Popovich, Kobe on their teams and NBA at large

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: On Popovich & Kobe’s careers | Clippers-Warriors rivalry | Who will shoot it the most?



VIDEOGregg Popovich takes the Spurs through a preseason practice

> Kobe Bryant begins his 20th season with the Los Angeles Lakers just as Gregg Popovich enters his 20th season as coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Both are shoo-in picks for the Hall of Fame, both have accomplished a ton, but who has made the bigger impact on their franchise? And on the league?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Popovich is my answer to both questions. Kobe Bryant ranks as one of the top 10 players in NBA history, yet there hasn’t been anything particularly original about him. Popovich, on the other hand, has shaped NBA tactics and NBA culture, while presiding over an era in San Antonio that wouldn’t have happened without him, even if Tim Duncan had landed there to team with David Robinson. The Spurs’ all-in embrace of international players, the beauty and effectiveness of their performance in the 2014 Finals, the harsh light Popovich shined on the schedule and need for rest all influenced the league. The Lakers, meanwhile, already had traditions of winning and of employing legendary players — why do you think it was so important for Bryant to leverage his way there when he was drafted?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comYou forgot to mention that they both have five championships on their resume. Of course, as Pop would be the first to point out, it’s the players that play the game. However, in terms of lasting impact on the franchise, the Lakers had a long history of winning championships and as NBA royalty — George Mikan, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson — long before Bryant arrived on the scene. But Pop and Tim Duncan brought championship basketball to San Antonio. Pop’s influence to the league extends from his pioneering penchant for digging up and utilizing international talent from every corner of the globe.  His management of his roster — i.e. rationing minutes played and simply giving players nights off throughout — has spread throughout the NBA and even led to an overall effort from the commissioner’s office to cut down on back-to-back games in the schedule. No slight to Kobe, but Pop gets the nod here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThat’s nearly an impossible split. Maybe the answer comes down not to Kobe and Pop, but what to what happened before they arrived as perspective on what the following 20 years would mean. The Lakers had decades of pre-Bryant winning. He was a continuation. Popovich, though, had the largest role in defining the Spurs. He was the builder. In that regard, he has had the bigger impact on the franchise. And if there is the case as the No. 1 person in the history of an entire organization, then it follows that he had a bigger impact on the league as well. Plus, it’s just fun that it will bother him to be put on that pedestal.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Kobe, and that’s no knock on Popovich. But Kobe is a player instead of a coach, is/was far more marketable (ticket sales, sneaker sales, TV ratings) and directly impacted games whereas Popovich put players in position to win. Too bad Kobe is so emotionally attached to the Lakers, because I’d love to see him sign as a free agent with the Spurs and play for Pop.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comWhile Bryant has influenced a lot of players who watched him growing up, Popovich has influenced players, coaches and even executives around the league who have spent time in San Antonio. That will be a longer lasting legacy and a more positive one. Players may want to be like Kobe, and there are a few in this league that have clearly been influenced by him. But his shot selection and me-first approach to offense doesn’t work without his rare combination of elite talent and relentless work ethic.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGreat question. They both will leave indelible marks on the game, for obviously different reasons. You can make the argument that Pop belongs in the conversation as the best coach in NBA history. And Kobe is going to make the list of the top 10 players in NBA history most every time. But when you talk about impacting a franchise, specifically, it’s hard to imagine one man doing more for a franchise than what Popovich has done for the Spurs (and, to a large extent, the rest of the league — considering his always-growing coaching family tree). San Antonio became a championship outfit on his watch (courtesy of Tim Duncan, of course). The Spurs’ championship legacy will live on with Pop playing the role of architect, which lasts for eternity. Kobe went to a franchise that had already gone through its golden, championship era. There was already an established standard (thanks to Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers and Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain and others before them) in place. Kobe electrified the franchise, no doubt, and still stirs a rabid fan base, but it had been done before.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Bryant made the biggest impact on his franchise, and Popovich would be the first to say so: He would tell you that players win championships more so than coaches. The same goes for their impact on the league: Kobe has created more fans around the world, sold more tickets and made more plays than any coach. For all that Popovich has accomplished — winning five championships in a small market while creating the league’s model franchise, one whose values are mimicked repeatedly — his plans have succeeded because they’ve been embraced and implemented by Tim Duncan. If we were comparing him to rival coaches, then Popovich would be the clear winner of this discussion. But it isn’t right to say that he has meant more than Kobe, in the same way that no one would argue that Phil Jackson made a greater impact than Michael Jordan.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog While they are both cantankerous and fantastic, they are apples and oranges, with at least one tremendous similarity. I would say that Gregg Popovich has had more of an impact on his franchise, as he took over a team that had existed for 31 seasons without a title and racked up four rings in the next 18 seasons. Pop also provided a blueprint for how small market teams can compete and win titles in the modern era. You can argue that Kobe’s impact on the Lakers has been as massive, although the Lakers have had a murderer’s row of legends (Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, George Mikan, Shaquille O’Neal, etc.) which makes Kobe’s road to the top of that Mt. Rushmore a much tougher road. That said, I’d argue that Kobe has had more of an impact on the League than Pop has, as Kobe has provided a blueprint for how swingmen in the NBA’s post-Jordan era can be successful.

Morning Shootaround — August 10


VIDEO: LeBron James’ top 10 plays from the playoffs

MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1 | Exum injury doesn’t destroy Jazz | Time to make room for women coaches in NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1, all-time Bulls would top all-time Lakers — When Michael Jordan speaks, we all listen. And he said plenty over the weekend at his annual Flight School, answering plenty of pertinent questions for the campers in attendance, including how he’d handle LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 in his prime and responded to Shaq‘s challenge in regards to how the all-time great Bulls teams would fare against an all-time great team of Los Angeles Lakers. He poked Kobe Bryant, too, and even discussed Kwame BrownPatrick Dorsey of ESPN.com has the details: 

What did I think about when Shaq said that the all-time five of the greatest Lakers could beat the Bulls’ five greatest players?

“I just felt like he was just talking. It’s a debate. The thing is that we would never know. I think we would have killed them. He thinks they would have killed us. You guys decide. It’s just a debate.”

Favorite player to play pick-up games with?

“My best pick-up game I’ve ever played was the games and the practices with the [1992] Dream Team. … My team was myself, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. We played against Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, David Robinson — that’s five, right? — and we killed ’em.

Note: That’s not five; the other player team’s fifth had to be either Karl Malone, John Stockton or Christian Laettner. There’s also a chance Jordan is misremembering a bit, and he’s talking aboutthis scrimmage covered in-depth by Sports Illustrated, which featured a Jordan-Malone-Ewing-Pippen-Bird five against Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin and Laettner (although a 40-36 final score in favor of Jordan’s team hardly constitutes a “killing.”)

If I had the chance to go one-on-one with Steph Curry or LeBron, which one would I choose to go one-on-one with?

“Right now, or when I was in my prime? Right now? Buddy, I couldn’t beat — well, I’d go against [Stephen] Curry because I’m a little bit bigger than him. So I could kind of back him in. But LeBron is a little bit too big.”

[Note: Take that, 34 percent of America.]

If I had a chance to add another member to team Jordan, who would I hire?

“I’m a big fan of [Mike] Trout, the baseball player. I absolutely love him. I wish I could hire him. But he’s Nike, so I can’t steal Nike’s guys.”

This is the ESPN question. I know it’s going to be all over ESPN. [Note: He was right.]If I was in my prime, could I beat LeBron in a one-on-one game?

[Long pause in which the campers mutter/shout their opinions.]

No question!

[Huge applause.]

What did I see in Kwame Brown when I drafted him [No. 1 overall for the Washington Wizards in 2001]?

“I, along with everybody that was in that draft room, wanted Kwame Brown because of his athleticism, his size, his speed. He was still a young talent, 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid.”

If you went back and you couldn’t play basketball or baseball, what sport would you play?

“Great question. I went to college, I got my degree in cultural geography, and everybody wanted to know what is cultural geography? Well it’s an introduction to meteorology. I always wanted to be the weather man. Don’t laugh. But that’s what I really wanted to do. So if I wasn’t playing basketball or baseball, I was going to tell you what the weather was going to be like tomorrow.”

[Note: Don’t think meteorology is a sport? Tell that to Jim Cantore!]

What kind of advice would I give Kobe Bryant?

[Uncomfortable laughter in the crowd.]

“Actually, Kobe and I are good friends. I like Kobe, we talk a lot, I hope he comes back healthy. I think he’s one of the great players of the game, I think he’s done a lot for the game, and he has a true love for the game of basketball. I absolutely have high regard for Kobe Bryant.

“Even though he stole all my moves, but that’s OK. I still love him like a brother.”

*** (more…)

Blogtable: Your all-time, all-lefty team

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rising second- or third-year player? | Playoff teams set to stumble? | Your all-lefty team



VIDEODavid Robinson’s career milestones

> Hall of Famer David Robinson turns 50 on Thursday. Perfect opportunity for us to ask you to name your all-time, All NBA Lefty Team (you can go as deep as you wish).

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAs a lefty myself, this was a gratifying exercise, so I took my roster to the current NBA limit of 15 deep. A pretty impressive and, in my view, pretty unassailable list.

Guards: Lenny Wilkens, Nate Archibald, Manu Ginobili, Gail Goodrich, Michael Redd.
Forwards: Chris Mullin, Chris Bosh, Toni Kukoc, Billy Cunningham, Lamar Odom.
Centers: Bill Russell, David Robinson, Artis Gilmore, Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you say lefty — and I am one — I think of shooters. So let’s begin with my apology to Bill Russell.

Forward — Billy Cunningham: The athleticism and scoring ability of the “Kangaroo Kid” gets lost in the fog of time.
Forward — Chris Mullin: Oh, what a sweet, sweet stroke.
Center — Willis Reed: The jumper on those great Knicks teams was automatic.
Guard — Gail Goodrich: Lived in the shadows of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, but attacked the rim and could fill up the hoop on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Guard — Nate Archibald: Nothing “Tiny” about leading the league in scoring and assists in the one season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: David Robinson at center, Gail Goodrich and Lenny Wilkens in the backcourt, Chris Mullin and Chris Bosh at the forwards. My first big man off the bench is Dave Cowens (over Artis Gilmore and Billy Cunningham) and my sixth man is Nate Archibald. They’re coached by Phil Jackson and the First Fan is President Barack Obama.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIn researching this answer, I realized that the top 35 scorers in NBA history are all righties. David Robinson is the first lefty on the list at No. 36, and Bob Lanier (46) and Gail Goodrich (48) are the only other lefties in the top 50. Of course, Bill Russell should be on everybody’s NBA Mt. Rushmore. Here’s my rotation…

Point guards: Tiny Archibald and Lenny Wilkins
Wings: Manu Ginobili, Gail Goodrich, James Harden and Chris Mullin
Bigs: Chris Bosh, David Robinson and Bill Russell

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You start with a first five of Bill Russell, David Robinson and Chris Mullin in the frontcourt and Tiny Archibald and James Harden in the backcourt. My second unit is Dave Cowens, Willis Reed and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt and Manu Ginobili and Lenny Wilkens in the backcourt. Bob Lanier, Gail Goodrich and Artis Gilmore are getting jerseys, too. And we’ll figure out a way to get minutes for all of these stellar bigs. This group is a blend of old and new and I’m all about historical perspective, so I can see where Harden and even Ginobili might not make the cut for some people. But I’m a realist, they’d be monsters in any era. Manu’s a future Hall of Famer and if it weren’t for Steph Curry, Harden would be the reigning KIA MVP.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHere are my picks …

Center: Bill Russell
Forward: Billy Cunningham
Forward: Chris Mullin
Guard: Manu Ginobili
Guard: Tiny Archibald

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDo we count LeBron James, who writes left-handed? Leaving the King aside, here’s my squad: My all-time favorite lefty point guard has always been Kenny Anderson, throwing those one-handed dart passes off the dribble. At the two, I’ll go with Manu Ginobili, who should combine with “Mr. Chibbs” to form a dynamic backcourt. And for a lefty frontcourt, how about Chris Mullin at the 3, David Robinson at the 4, and Bill Russell at the 5? Off the bench, in no particular order or attention to position, but just southpaws I’ve enjoyed watching: Tiny Archibald, Stacey Augmon, Zach Randolph, Derrick Coleman, Mike Conley, Josh Smith and James Harden.

HOFer Ewing on Hornets rookie Kaminsky: Just call him a ‘stretch-big’


VIDEO: Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky scores and gets and one.

ORLANDO — The rookie NBA seasons of Patrick Ewing and Frank Kaminsky are 30 years apart, more than enough time for the role of the big man and the game itself to have changed dramatically.

The Warriors and Cavaliers finished the 2015 Finals seemingly trying to see which team could put the smallest lineup on the floor.

So here comes Kaminsky, at 7-foot-1 an outstanding 3-point shooter, taking his summer league cues from Ewing, who carved out much of a Hall Fame career with his fierce work down in the low post.

But the union of the No. 9 pick in the Draft and his Summer League coach has shown glimpses of what is possible for the Hornets next season.

Many of Kaminsky’s strengths will translate well to the current NBA. He is a 7-footer who is 11-for-20 on 3-pointers in his first four games, creating mismatches by stepping outside and challenging opponents come out and defend him.

“I’ve just got to figure out my role within the offense, and on the defensive end, too,” Kaminsky said. “Every game is different. Every team has different personnel, so you have to pay attention and really go with it.”

Kaminsky shot better from the outside in his first two games, but has been successful lately in putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket.

“I think he’s still learning,” Ewing said. “I think he’s going to be a very good player for us. I still want him to do a much better job on the rebounding, also on defense. Those are the things that he’s going to have to work on from here on out, because people are going to try to go at him on the defensive end.

“But I think he’s going to be a good player. He has a great feel for the game. He knows how to put the ball on the floor. He knows how to create and get shots.”

There was a time back in 1985 when Ewing was breaking into the NBA when any young 7-footer would have been encouraged to played more with his back to the basket in the traditional mode of the big man.

“No question, it’s a different situation when you’re talking about going against guys like Hakeem (Olajuwon) and David (Robinson) and Shaq (O’Neal) and me,” Ewing said. “You had to get down there inside and mix things up in order to survive.

“But no matter what era you play in and no matter where you’re playing, any coach, any good coach is going to utilize the skills that a player possesses.

“(Kaminsky) is a guy who can shoot the basketball. He’d probably be a lot like (Bill) Laimbeer. I mean, Laimbeer back in my day, was a big that shot the 3-point shot. He didn’t really post up that much. Frank has the ability to post up. But Laimbeer was a guy that stayed out there and shot 3s. Also Sam Perkins. So it’s not like there weren’t other guys who possessed those skills. It’s just that in this era, there’s a lot more more of them.”

It’s the era when everybody wants and needs the “stretch-four” to space the floor and open up driving lanes for the guards.

“He’s a stretch-big,” Ewing said of Kaminsky. “He’s what, 7-1? Yeah, he’s a stretch-big.”

Kaminsky has heard all of the questions, the criticism, the second-guessing of Charlotte spending the No. 9 pick to get him. They passed on Justise Winslow. They passed up a reported offer of four No. 1 draft picks from the Celtics.

All he’s done is kept his head down to move ahead when he’s not looking at the basket for his shot and listening to Ewing.

“He’s been great so far,” Kaminsky said. “He knows my strength. He runs plays to what my strengths are. He’ll get on me when I need it and there’s a lot of different things he knows about the game that I can just learn. He’s been around the game for so long and has so many tricks up his sleeve, a lot of knowledge that I can take away from him.”

Kaminsky had a double-double of 19 points, 12 rebounds in his first summer league game put up 13 and seven with a couple of blocked shot in Wednesday’s 81-68 loss to the Orlando White team and came away with more things to work on.

“On the defensive end mostly,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I have to work on. Just staying with it. At points in that game I let my emotions get to me a little bit, with fatigue and frustration. But just got to work through all of that.

“I know I need get better in pick-and-roll situations. On the offensive end, I just need to keep adding things to my game. I like being a matchup nightmare. That’s what I want to be in the NBA.”

Which translates in any era.

Continuity drives Spurs’ success


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili is back for another year, and another run at a title, with the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Manu Ginobili surely couldn’t bring himself to walk away from it all, not with the very real possibility that he and his San Antonio Spurs teammates could make yet another run at a Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Manu’s decision to saddle up for another season with the Spurs only serves to reinforce the driving principle that has sustained the organization during their decade and a half run of dominance. The continuity that comes with keeping the core group of a championship crew together is what allows the Spurs to absorb star talent, and sometimes discard it, and maintain their position as a league power.

While others lose franchise pillars — the Spurs’ biggest acquisition this summer, LaMarcus Aldridge, was exactly that in Portland — the Spurs keep their most critical pieces in the fold and keep finding ways to rebuild around them.

Witness the report later Monday that David West has agreed to join the Spurs for the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 million, opting out of a deal with the Indiana Pacers that would have paid him $12 million in 2015-16.

It’s masterful work, buoyed no doubt by having a future Hall of Fame and all-time great rock like Tim Duncan to build around. But it’s still work that has to be done, work that Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford and the rest of the Spurs’ brain trust has done masterfully for years.

While aging stars like Duncan, Ginobili and one day Tony Parker fade into the background in San Antonio, the baton will be passed to Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and others in much the same way that David Robinson passed it to Duncan a generation ago.

The only other team during the Spurs’ current run capable of duplicating this sort of succession of power, the Los Angeles Lakers, has failed miserably in that department. Their free agent work this summer, or lack thereof, is proof that they have been unable to find the right mix of stars, culture and continuity to sustain their success.

The sacrifice needed to keep the train rolling is what has kept the Spurs viable for so long. The sacrifice from players like Ginobili, who could have easily chased his fortunes elsewhere once he went from a starter and All-Star to a world-class sixth man and super sub.

We might not see a run like this again anytime soon in the league, this sort of cosmic mix of the right stars, with the right coach, in the right system at just the right time. It’s a lesson that championship crew in Golden State might want to pay careful attention to, if they plan on staying relevant for the long haul.

Ginobili understood as much while he was deliberating about his own future. All of the Spurs’ big dogs have over the course of their run.

And that’s why Manu had to come back for at least one more season of doing it the Spurs way.

Blogtable: Statue-Worthy Players

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players



VIDEO:  Bill Russell statue unveiled in Boston (2013)

> The Hawks this week will erect a statue of Dominique Wilkins outside Philips Arena. In your opinion, who’s next in line to be immortalized in bronze?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d prefer to discuss what the next lofty tribute will be, now that statue-izing has trumped jersey number-retiring and perhaps even Hall of Fame immortalizing. How shall the really, really, really, super-special stars be honored to separate them from the proliferation of bronze figurines standing around outside sports arenas? Naming rights to the buildings themselves? Perpetual blimps that hover over the hero’s city on game days or, heck, why not 24/7/365? How ’bout team nicknames: the Boston Russells, the Chicago Jordans and so on? Maybe we need something on a grander scale, sized like the Collosus of Rhodes or the Statue of Liberty, only it’s Shaquille O’Neal standing astride the I-10 near downtown L.A. As you can tell, I don’t really care who gets the next statue, and no offense to ‘Nique, but we’re rapidly approaching the day when even Paul Mokeski and Chris Gatling get them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe most obvious answer is Isiah Thomas, leader of the two-time champion Detroit Bad Boys and the best “little man” to ever play the game. But I’m also taking a stand for the pre-MTV generation and saying it’s long overdue for the Wizards to honor Wes Unseld. Go ahead, kids.  Look up those old videos of the 6-foot-7 Unseld using his brute strength and gritty determination to set teeth-rattling picks, rebound and throw some of the best outlet passes to start a fast break ever.  The Hall of Famer played 984 games, all with Baltimore/Washington franchise, leading the team to four Finals and the 1978 title, when he was named MVP of The Finals.  For 13 seasons, Unseld helped put the Bullets on a pedestal in the NBA and it’s time the franchise returned the favor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry Buss. The statue debate has become particularly passionate in Los Angeles anyway, a new level of status symbol beyond having a uniform number retired, and Buss clearly deserves that ultimate tribute. He was more than an owner. He steered his franchise to the unique glamour personality that lives on today while maintaining a championship level on the court from generation to generation. Buss was such a shrewd businessman and innovator that he became one of the few owners to make the Hall of Fame. It’s not just the Lakers who wouldn’t have been the same without him. Basketball in Los Angeles wouldn’t have been the same. The NBA wouldn’t have been the same. Bronze that man.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Kinda surprised David Robinson and maybe also George Gervin aren’t bronzed already in San Antonio, given what they’ve meant to basketball and the community. I’d vote them, plus Allen Iverson in Philly and Isiah Thomas in Detroit. But we might have to wait until Staples Center makes room in the crowded courtyard for Kobe in 5 years or so.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Tim Duncan, the anchor of five championship teams and at least 16 50-win seasons, is going to be the most deserving once he retires. For now, I’d say it’s either Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. And since Barkley’s best was split between Philadelphia and Phoenix, a Ewing statue in the Madison Square Garden lobby would be most appropriate.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​Having grown up in Bad Boys country during the 80s and 90s, I’m going with Isiah Thomas. Getting bronzed in Detroit (Auburn Hills for you sticklers) would be a huge step in a reparations program that should be underway for Isisah getting screwed out of his spot on The Dream Team. It’s tough to make up for one of the most egregious slights in the history of organized sports, but it would be a great gesture. Isiah delivered titles to Detroit during the most competitive era the NBA has ever seen. He went up against the giants from two decades and put the Pistons, Detroit and the entire state of Michigan on the basketball map (how’s that for 80s/90s slang?) and deserves to be recognized for doing so.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m not big on this idea that great athletes are automatically deserving of statues. Aren’t there more important contributors to be idolized? But if Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia are building them for their champions from the 1980s, then surely Detroit ought to be designing one for Isiah Thomas.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI am of a younger generation than some of my fellow scribes, so my thoughts will probably swing a bit more current than some others here. I’d like to see a Shaq statue in Los Angeles, and a Kobe one not long after that. Dirk has to get one in Dallas when he walks away, right? But those said, how about the Sixers erecting a statue of Allen Iverson? They’re doing their best to lose games and not be good right now, why not throw their fans a bone and build a monument to The Answer right there outside the stadium, or even downtown somewhere?

Cousins to replace injured Bryant on West’s All-Star roster

cousins

DeMarcus Cousins is averaging career highs in both points (23.8) and rebounds (12.3). (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The Western Conference All-Stars just got a boost of Boogie.

With Kobe Bryant out for the rest of the season following shoulder surgery, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Friday that Bryant will be replaced on the Western Conference All-Star team roster by Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins. The announcement comes just hours after the All-Star reserves were announced, a list that did not include Cousins.

In his fifth NBA season, Cousins is averaging 23.8 points along with 12.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, career highs across the board. Over the last 20 years, only five players — David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kevin Love — have averaged at least 23 points and 12 rebounds in a season. Cousins is the first Kings’ All-Star since 2004. He also played a key role on last summer’s USA Basketball championship team at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and seems to have curbed his enthusiasm for picking up technical fouls, with just five so far this season after racking up 16 last season.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will tip off Sunday, Feb. 15, at Madison Square Garden. The game will be seen by fans in 215 countries and territories and will be heard in 47 languages. TNT will televise the All-Star Game for the 13th consecutive year, marking Turner Sports’ 30th year of NBA All-Star coverage.

NBA TV Champions Day to celebrate Spurs


VIDEO: Champions Day for the San Antonio Spurs will take place Oct. 27 on NBA TV

They were hurt. They were bruised. They were wounded. But the San Antonio Spurs turned the agony of their lowest moment of letting the 2013 title slip away turn into a force that drove them to the 2014 NBA championship.

Manu Ginobili: “I remember the looks on our faces. We were devastated.”

Tony Parker: “I never felt so sad in basketball.”

Tim Duncan: “The worst loss ever.”

Those candid comments and more are part of a day-long celebration of Champions Day on NBA TV Monday that will look back at the 2014 Spurs.

The network will premiere three original programs — “Champions Revealed: 2014 San Antonio Spurs“, “Open Court: NBA Champions Edition” and “2014 San Antonio Spurs: Go Spurs Go”along with re-airs of past NBA Finals performances and season reviews from the Spurs’ five title-winning seasons.

“Go Spurs Go” will air at 8 p.m. ET, “Champions Revealed” at 9 ET and “Open Court: Champions Edition” at 10 ET.

In “Champions Revealed”, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich hold a sometimes-funny, often-informative and always-brutally honest conversation about their long journey of discovery about each other that has produced a bond in the locker room and more than a decade of excellence on the court.

Popovich on the beginning of the Duncan Era in San Antonio: “(Tim Duncan) came to training camp and David Robinson watched him play and about the second practice the whole offense changed. David was now in the dunker spot and Timmy was on the block catching the ball and David never even said a word … You know this new kid comes in and all of a sudden David’s not getting all of his touches … I never said, ‘David this is the way it’s going to be.’ We just did what we did and he knew it right off the bat and he loved it. Timmy just grew and grew from there, unbelievable.”

Duncan to Parker: “How many times have we gotten yelled at for something (Ginobili) has done? We’re sitting there on the bench and (Popovich) yells: ‘Did you see what he just did? He’s your teammate. Go talk to him.’ ”

Parker to Ginobili and Popovich: “I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out between you two.”

Popovich: “One day I just asked him: ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I am Manu. This is what I do.’ So I started letting him just do it.”

Duncan on Parker’s arrival as a 19-year-old point guard under the demands of Popovich: “It was brutal. I felt bad. I had never seen anyone get yelled at as much as you.”

Parker: “It made me a better player.”

Popovich: “I’ve got the easiest job in the NBA because you guys allow it to be said the way it should be said.”

During the hour-long show, the highlights from the early days when Duncan and Ginobili both had more hair (and all had less experience together) show the four principal figures growing on the court as All-Star players. From there, they’d grow into a unit that could somehow overcome the hurt of the Game 6 collapse in the 2013 Finals loss to Miami.

Popovich: “It wasn’t the basketball gods. It was in our control and we didn’t get it done.”

They talked openly about reliving that defeat by watching the video on the first day of training camp last season. Manu said that he could see almost from the start the Spurs’ redoubled commitment to playing as a team.

Ginobili:  “I start on the bench so I get to see what’s going on more and there were some plays…where it was like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, wow, or those passes from Tony to a wing to Boris (Diaw) to (Tim) or an extra pass to the corner, it was fun … I said, ‘This is nice. We are playing at a really high level and if we could understand that this is the way to go on a daily basis it can be so special.’ ”

The entire show is like a peek into a private living room where the family members have finally let their guard down in the aftermath of their redemption.

Ginobili: “I felt like something that was stuck inside all of last year had healed.”

Parker: “Perspective…this is my favorite.”

Duncan: “Not bad for a bunch of old guys.”

Amen to that.

Earlier on Monday, NBA TV will re-air season in review shows from the Spurs’ previous four championship seasons starting at 9 am ET, followed by encore airings of Games 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals, beginning at 2 pm ET.

 

Leonard follows his path to title, MVP

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s Finals MVP performance

SAN ANTONIO — When the deal went down on Draft night 2011, when the San Antonio Spurs traded humble, team-oriented George Hill, a combo guard who for three seasons ingratiated himself to this team, to this city and most strikingly had found a soft spot in the heart of gruff coach Gregg Popovich, for a mostly unknown small forward with a funny name, all of San Antonio gasped.

Kawhi who?!

Even in the Spurs’ draft room, the decision to pull the trigger was hardly a unanimous, feel-good swap.

“It felt like we were going to get our ass chewed because we just traded the coach’s favorite player,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said on Saturday, reminiscing on the eve of Game 5.

Three years later, the folks in the Alamo City have popularized a different phrase for the player whose mannerisms, work ethic and determination fit this franchise like a glove.

Kawhi not?!

And on Sunday night inside the raucous AT&T Center, Kawhi Leonard, equally as humble as Hill and more reserved than even team patriarch Tim Duncan, forcefully answered that question with a third consecutive authoritative performance. He fatigued LeBron James with relentless defensive pressure and dominated in multiple ways on the offensive end.

Leonard’s 22 points and 10 rebounds led the Spurs to a 104-87 victory, a third straight blowout and the final one that ended the Heat’s two-year reign. It completed the Spurs’ season of redemption after last year’s heartache in South Beach and returned the Larry O’Brien Trophy to South Texas for the first time since 2007.

When Leonard stepped to the free-throw line in the first quarter, 18,581 fans instantly chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” A few hours later they would do it again, this time with even more conviction following confirmation that this quiet, corn-rowed, 22-year-old who had turned the tide of the NBA Finals in Game 3 was now its MVP.

“At the moment, I was just happy,” Leonard said. “Just had faith throughout the whole game, but I didn’t think at all I was about to win the MVP of the Finals.”

Heeding advice from his coach after sub-par efforts in Games 1 and 2 to be aggressive, to quit being concerned about deferring to the team’s elders, the 6-foot-7 Leonard closed out the final three games by averaging 23.6 points and 9.0 rebounds. He went 24-for-35 from the floor and 7-for-13 from beyond the arc. Defending the game’s best player, the reigning, two-time Finals MVP in James, Leonard had six steals and six blocks.

“He shows up the last three games and just plays out of his mind,” Duncan said. “He’s not worried about just doing the little things. He wants to do it all, and he plays with a confidence that is just amazing.”

When he was announced the MVP, his teammates mobbed him and pushed him playfully, and a smile even broke across Leonard’s normally stoic stone face. He grasped the trophy as his mother, Kim Robertson, hugged him and literally danced by his side.

That it was Father’s Day also resonated. Six years ago, Mark Leonard, Kawhi’s dad, was shot and killed at the car wash he owned in Compton, Calif. The case remains unsolved.

“It is a very special meaning for me knowing that he’s gone and I was able to win a championship on Father’s Day,” Leonard said.

The night after learning his father had been shot to death, Leonard played for his Riverside King High team, scoring 17 points in a loss. After it was over, according to the story in the Los Angeles Times, he broke down and cried in his mother’s arms.

“He loved his dad and they were really, really close,” his mother said, clutching the MVP trophy as she watched her son smiling through sit-down television interviews, the kind he typically hates to do because they force him to talk about himself. “I think from the moment that it happened, he wanted to make his dad proud, he wanted to take that as a rocket, keep on moving, moving. Because I was kind of scared. The thing is he is such a good kid, he always wanted to get better and better and better.”

Desperate to keep the series alive, Miami bolted to a 22-6 start, and James was going off, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter. But Leonard scored eight. He buried two 3-pointers and the Spurs closed to 29-22. Leonard nailed his third consecutive 3-point attempt with 4:47 to go in the second quarter. It put the Spurs ahead for the first time, 37-35. When the shot fell through, the roof practically blew off the arena and the party was officially on. San Antonio would never look back.

Leonard became the youngest Finals MVP since Duncan won it in 1999. He was also 22 at the time, and preferred to defer to veteran center and team captain David Robinson, who as usual, was in attendance Sunday to witness this latest title, Duncan’s fifth. Now here was Leonard, basking in the glory, but really no more than a willing pupil who had learned from these remarkably selfless players on this remarkable team, his own value system so much like theirs.

“I mean, look at Tim,” Kim Robertson said. “I think Tim has been a great role model for him, you know, a mentor for him. Tim is always, I always see him taking him to the side and telling him different things and I really think Kawhi respects that. Kawhi, his thing is he always wants to get better, better, better. He does not want to be in the limelight, he just wants to be good at what he loves to do, and that’s it.”

It sounds so familiar. While this Spurs era will always be known for the Big Three with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, it is Duncan who defines it, who followed Robinson as the face of the franchise, and who will one day pass along that mantle. Popovich has made no secret of it, even saying as much last season, that the quiet kid with the funny name is the next in line.

Spurs owner Peter Holt, wandering the floor and basking in the glow of another championship run, was asked if it’s too much burden to place on such a young player.

“Not so far,” Holt smiled. “He’s got pretty broad shoulders.”

As they say around here, Kawhi not?!


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard addresses the media after his MVP performance