Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Five for the Road

With tonight's 106 to 77 win over Miami, the Hornet's not only closed out 5-1 road trip, but it also gave New Orleans 52 wins: good for the second highest in franchise history. By the way, the loss that spoiled a perfect road trip came at the hands of a vengeful Boston team. That whole "statement game" thing had a few repercussions. Who knew.

The Heat game wasn't all that interesting. The Hornets were head-to-head with a bunch of scrubs and never relinquished the lead. Tyson finished a perfect 10 for 10 from the field and pulled down 10 boards. David, Chris, and Bonzi added good (but not spectacular) performances. Actually, it was JuJu who stole the show at the end with 2 fantastic alley-oops. He finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals. Best part of the game? Toward the end of the fourth quarter, Chris (sitting on the bench) threw his shoes over his head and into the lap of a lucky Miami fan sitting in the third or fourth row. Had to be the highlight of that guy's season. After that, we got the funniest (and perhaps most informed) comment of the evening from our TV announcers as Gil started complimenting Chris' no-look passing skills.

Side note: if you want to experience a conniption first hand, give this a try. Next time anyone talks to my brother, Andrew, mention how informed and talented the Hornets' TV commentators are. Be sure to mention what a big contributor Melvin Ely has been to the team's successes this year. Oh, and bring a dicta phone if you have one.

Speaking of passing skills, a big congrats to Chris Paul who, tonight, became the third fastest player to reach 2000 assists. He ranks behind Kevin Johnson and the Big O. That's pretty good company to say the least (although I would have sworn Stockton would have pulled it off before Johnson).


It also comes in purple! Who loves the Honeybees... you do!

Great news! The same Cafe Press store that brought you the CP34MVP shirt now features a I Heart Honeybees shirt... and in 2 different colors! Get on board now so you don't look silly in front of all of your friends. And I know because I have friends. I swear.


Let's have a little MVP discussion. Everyone else who writes anything about basketball is chiming in, so I figure, why not? Hell, even the McPaper has chimed in with an article that breaks down the competition with a strange formula that ranks the top contenders. I would tear into it more, but it named Chris Paul as the MVP, so... yeah.

Actually, the main point of this discussion is a reaction to an
article on ESPN's True Hoop about how KG is getting snubbed in all the MVP talks. For those of you who don't know, Garnett is averaging just shy of a 20-10 season with one a quarter blocks and one and a half steals to boot. By comparison, CP3 is averaging 21-11.5 with just shy of 3 steals.

The article's main focus is the defensive prowess of Garnett, something that is difficult to capture with the poor set of defensive stats analysts are forced to work with. In fact, this is one my biggest complaints about the game of basketball, since it hinders one's ability to discuss the overall impact of a player or team. After all, defense is half the game. And so, we the fans of basketball are left with rebounds, blocks, and steals as incomplete--albeit poor-- indicators of an overall defensive performance.

Part of the reason for this deficiency is that, unlike baseball, it can be hard to isolate quantifiable actions by specific players at specific moments. Defense is a fluid act that is orchestrated by multiple players. When a team rotates well in a zone defense and forces a poor outside shot, who gets the credit? Better yet, what if someone doesn't rotate and a jump shooter is left to knock down an open three? Does someone on the defense accrue a stat for that misstep? The league doesn't seem to have an answer for these questions, so it sticks with things it can "count". But even here the league overlooks some stats (jump balls) and miscalculates others (I , for one, have always thought that steals should be calculated like sacks so that the stat can be split if one player causes the steal and another gains possession of the ball). So, there you go. It's an imperfect system, so we do the best we can with what we got.

So, back to the article. I've scoured sports websites galore and this is the first piece of writing to offer compelling evidence as to KG's effect on his opponents... which, in turn, makes a pretty good case for him to named MVP. According to Celtic's owner Wyc Grousbeck:

Players that KG is guarding are shooting 13.1% below the league average at their position. So he's guarding power forwards, and they're shooting 52% league-wide, or whatever it is. Guys that he's guarding are shooting 39% all year. That's just KG, one on one, against his man, when he's on the court.

LeBron's guys are shooting 2% below the league average for their position. Kobe's are 3% below. Chris Paul's are 4% below. And KG is keeping people 13% below. In other words, he's snuffing them out.

Good points, but not complete ones. Despite that rant a paragraphs ago, the race for MVP goes beyond a player's defensive abilities (remember: defense = half a player's performance). Now then, I think LeBron as a candidate is kind of a moot point. I'm not sure that I could never get behind any MVP candidate on a team with a record as poor as Cleveland's. Ok, so 42-33 isn't all that terrible--and LeBron is definitely the reason they've won all 42--but compared to the rest of the league? They'd be the ten seed in the West. 10. Not so good.

That leaves 3 guys. Before I move forward, I feel as though I should share my understanding of the criteria for the award. The MVP should go to the player who is having the most outstanding year. We've determined that this is not LeBron. Is it Kobe? No. You don't whine and complain for half a season to get traded and then get an MVP for it, I don't care what your statistics are. His moaning was a huge distraction to the team and a sizeable portion of the league. Furthermore, talks of him as a candidate didn't even really start until later in the season when they became relevant by adding Gasol and subtracting no one. Granted, he's part of the MVP talks every year, but his push came much later... after everyone conveniently forgot about all of the ruckus he caused in the previous months. And for those of you that think he should get it because the league owes it him after passing him over in the past four years, well then you need to get a clue. This isn't the Oscars... with apologies to Sean Penn.

That leaves us with Paul and Garnett as the best choices. Both are having outstanding statistical years and have helped lead teams that were irrelevant less than a year ago to the top of their respective conferences. So who gets my vote? Don't be silly. I would obviously vote for CP. But why? Am I just an irrationally biased fan in love with my hometown hornet (hey, that's the name of the blog!). No. I have my reasons. And no, it's not because his numbers are down (which they are). If anyone throws that argument at you, you should slap their mother and steal their kit kat bar because KG's playing 6 less minutes per game this season than he did last year, which puts his per minute averages at roughly the same spot.

My reason? I am just not convinced that KG has had a more of an overall impact on his team as Chris Paul has. The article doesn't agree, as it is quite insistent that KG is the sole reason Boston has become so hot. Really? Am I really expected to believe that adding Ray Allen to the squad doesn't count for anything? Or that Pierce's return from an injury riddled season (he only played 47 games) played no part in it? Give me a break. The only added piece for the Hornets is a healthy Peja. Never mind the fact that the Hornets played the first half of the season in front of an empty arena leading to virtually no home court advantages. On top of all of that, if Chris finishes on his present pace, he'll be the first player to lead the league in assists and steals in the same season since Stockton did it in the early 90s. Add that to increased percentages across the board and an over 20 point scoring average and... well, what else do you need? The KG line about opponent's shooting percentage is pretty impressive--and I certainly wouldn't be upset if he did win--but averaging almost 3 steals a game shows some pretty aggressive defensive skills. Plus the article shows that Paul does cause a drop in shooting percentage. Even if it's a fraction of KG's, it still shows him to be above average in this stat. And when we flip to offense, every coach in the league is complaining about not having an answer for Paul (except maybe Nellie). At the end of the day I think you'd be hard pressed to rank Garnett's overall contribution higher than Paul's.


One final thought before I leave for the tarmac to welcome home the Hornets. I found a funny article from the National Post describing Paul's prowess at the point.

The main comparison is to Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, widely considered the greatest little man ever. But Isiah was a shooter first. Paul is what would happen if Isiah and John Stockton had a kid.

True, perhaps... but what would CP look like if that occurred?... hmmmm... gross.

Oh, and a special shout to my friend, Kevin. His beloved Milwaukee Bucks came back to win tonight on the road in Washington (the night of Agent 0's return no less). Thus, the Bucks have remarkably kept their playoff hopes alive despite a 26-48 record. Amazing.

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