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Just The Sports: 2007-03-04

Just The Sports

Friday, March 09, 2007

Dwight and Shaq

Over the past eighteen NBA drafts, the Orlando Magic have held the number one overall pick three times. Only two of those three picks, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard, actually played for the Magic. The third, Chris Webber, was immediately traded away to the Golden State Warriors. With O'Neal and Howard both playing the center position, it is worth discovering which first overall draft selection has given the Magic more production over the first 226 games of their respective careers.

In terms of overall production, Howard provides no comparison to what O'Neal did to start off his career and has a long, arduous road ahead if his desire is to match O'Neal. The former LSU center averaged more points per game (27.3 to 15.0), took more field goal shots per game (18.5 to 9.9), attempted more free throws per game (10.0 to 6.7), and snatched down more rebounds per game (12.8 to 11.5) in his first 226 games than Howard has done in his.

Yet, even trailing Shaq in the aforementioned cumulative statistical averages, Howard begins to make up the deficit once you take a look at his rate statistics. With Howard's free throw percentage of 62.3% topping Shaq's 56.7 FT%, Howard goes from having an effective field goal percentage statistically significantly worse than Shaq's (54.9 eFG% to 58.3 eFG%) to having a true shooting percentage that while lower than Shaq's (58.5 TS% to 59.5 TS%) is not significantly inferior. Howard is also nearly O'Neal's equal when it comes to points per shot attempt (1.17 PSA to 1.19 PSA).

For the sake of judiciousness and fairness, it should be said that Howard has actually been better in a few categories than Shaq in those ever-important first 226 games of an NBA player's career. Before, when I mentioned Shaq averaged more rebounds per game in this time frame, the whole story was not being told. Shaq is only the more prolific rebounder due to the fact he had more rebounding opportunities. Howard actually holds the higher rebound rate (19.4 to 18.8) by a slight margin. In addition, Howard is more adept at getting to the free throw line, finding himself attempting one free throw attempt per 1.5 field goal attempts; Shaq only shot a free throw per 1.9 field goal attempts.

One statistic Howard probably wishes he did not hold the advantage over O'Neal in is turnover rate. Either Howard is not aware turnovers are to be eschewed or he does not yet know how to avoid them. Either way, he needs to find a way to keep from committing 16.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. Even for a center, that is too many.

All Howard needs to do is maintain his rate statistics while becoming more of the focal point of the Magic offense to really become a player as dominant as Shaq has been. At least it was easy to type.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Coaching Carousel Report Cards Pt. II

In November, I gave out the first installment of the coaching carousel report cards for Roy Williams (UNC), Bill Self (Kansas), and Bruce Weber (Illinois). Although the post-season has yet to begin for these teams, each is thirty games into this season, and the time has come for the second set of grades to be given out.

Over the duration of the three coaches' tenures, much is the same as it was in November. UNC and Illinois are still significantly more efficient on offense than Kansas and Kansas has repaid the favor to UNC by having a significantly higher defensive efficiency, though the Jayhawks cannot make that same claim over Illinois.

Yet, there is a gap widening among the three colleges and it is Illinois that is being left behind by Kansas and UNC. While UNC and Kansas are on the way to experiencing the most offensively and defensively efficient seasons during the Williams and Self eras, respectively, Illinois is headed in the opposite direction, having the lowest offensive rating of Weber's tenure. This drop-off in offensive play brings to the forefront a criticism of Weber that having success with players he did not have to recruit put on the backburner for awhile.

Even when Illinois was one of the elite basketball programs in the country, there were whispers to the effect Weber was not the best recruiter in the nation. Surely, he was not the equal of his predecessor, Bill Self. It now appears those critics were correct in their assessments and that Bruce Weber is not the coaching equal of Self or Williams and that the latter two coaches will create more and more separation between themselves and Weber the more they coach at UNC and Kansas.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tyson Chandler

When the Chicago Bulls traded Tyson Chandler to the New Orleans Hornets after signing Ben Wallace, they subsequently colored every article this season that would be written about Tyson Chandler and perhaps those written in the future. By virtue of playing the same position and Wallace essentially replacing Chandler on the Bulls, the two players and their career paths are now indelibly linked. The problem with this linkage is that for this season it does a great disservice to the performances by Tyson Chandler for the New Orleans Hornets.

Chandler is doing more than just out-playing Wallace, which he is doing oustandingly, at least on the offensive side of the ball. When we look back at Chandler's career after it is completed, we may very well point to the 2006-07 season as the one where he finally realized his potential and figured out this thing that goes by the acronym, NBA. It is easy to forget this with five seasons already under his belt, but Chandler is only twenty-four years old and so it took him some time to blossom into a star. Chandler currently has the highest true shooting percentage (61.2%) and rebound rate (20.5) he has ever assembled. In addition, if he continues to score at the rate he has done since the beginning of February, he will set a career high for points per game while doing so efficiently.

At the same time, and it is this that is subconsciously driving all the articles dealing with Chandler and Wallace, Ben Wallace is having the worst year he has had in quite some time. His true shooting percentage (44.9%) is the lowest it has been since the 2003-04 season and his rebounding rate (17.1), the calling card for his career, is the least impressive it has been since 1997-98. His age being what it is, thirty-two, forces one to conclude this decline in production is the result of an inevitable downward slope in his ability and is not simply a blip on the radar. And that is why you do not throw a young player with great potential off your team for an older player on the tail end of his career.

For as long as Wallace continues to play, it is unlikely he will ever come out smelling better than Chandler when their careers starting from 2006-07 are compared to each other.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Raymond Felton's Successor

Due to Bobby Frasor's foot troubles early in the season and Ty Lawson's possession of superior athletic talent, Lawson has emerged as the winner of the race to find out which point guard would be the long-term successor to one of UNC's most exciting point guards, Raymond Felton. Even better news for UNC basketball fans than the fact that UNC has found a worthy point guard of the next few years is freshman Ty Lawson is slightly ahead of where Raymond Felton was during his freshman season back in 2002-03.

The largest advantage Lawson holds over Felton is in his shooting efficiency. Not having fallen in love with seeing himself launch three-pointer after three-pointer has aided Lawson in surpassing Felton's 52.4 TS% and 1.05 points per shot attempt with his own 60.5 TS% and 1.21 points per shot attempt. Therefore, Lawson's 10.0 points per game, while lower than Felton's freshman average of 12.9 points per game, is actually the more impressive statistic because he has averaged his points on fewer shots.

More importantly than the shooting numbers for point guards, though, is how well they dish out assists while at the same time avoiding turnovers. After a rough start to the season, Lawson has bounced back and now has a 34.0 assist rate, higher than Felton's 29.6, and a 14.2 turnover rate, lower than Felton's 16.4 mark. Indublitably, one reason behind Lawson's impressive assist rate is a reflection of playing along with two very good low-post scorers in Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright; Felton had to play most of his freshman season without even one as Sean May decided to break a bone in his foot during that basketball year.

If Lawson continues to improve, we will soon be asking ourselves who will be a worthy successor for Ty Lawson.