Category Archives: Player Spotlight

Shaq: The “Big Bill Cartwright”

Shaquille O’Neal has many nicknames, several of which he has bestowed upon himself, including the “Big Aristotle” and the “Big Deporter” (coined after his Lakers eliminated several playoff teams that started foreign-born players at center). In order for the Cavaliers to maximize their chances to win a championship this year, O’Neal may have to turn into the “Big Bill Cartwright.”

That comparison may sound like an insult to future Hall of Famer O’Neal but it is not insulting at all: Cartwright made the All-Star team in 1980 as a New York Knick and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting that year (behind Larry Bird and Magic Johnson), averaging nearly as many points (21.7 ppg) as O’Neal did in his first season (23.4 ppg in 1992-93 with the Orlando Magic). Cartwright averaged 20.1 ppg in his second season but then injuries—and the arrival of Patrick Ewing in 1985-86—reduced his role. In 1988, the Knicks traded Cartwright to the Chicago Bulls for power forward Charles Oakley; the Knicks now had the perfect complement for Ewing, while the Bulls had a legitimate center to team with Michael Jordan and young, promising forwards Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. The Bulls won the first of three straight championships in Cartwright’s third season with the team (1990-91); that year, Cartwright averaged fewer than 10 ppg (9.6) in a full season for the first time in his career but he still ranked fourth on the Bulls in scoring while shooting a solid percentage from the field (.490). Cartwright finished third on the team in rebounding (6.2 rpg, trailing only Grant and Pippen) and provided a solid defensive presence in the post while playing 28.8 mpg; in the playoffs Cartwright’s minutes (30.1 mpg) and field goal percentage (.519) increased as the Bulls rolled to a 15-2 postseason record.

What does this have to do with O’Neal and the 2009-10 Cavaliers? When O’Neal teamed with Kobe Bryant to lead the Lakers to three straight NBA titles (2000-02) O’Neal routinely produced 30-plus points and 15-plus rebounds per game in the postseason but O’Neal has not averaged 20 ppg or 10 rpg in the playoffs since 2004. O’Neal averaged 40-plus mpg in the playoffs during his prime but in each of his last four trips to the playoffs O’Neal has averaged 33 mpg or less. Even though O’Neal made the All-NBA Third Team and won co-MVP honors in the All-Star Game last year he can no longer carry a team on a night in, night out basis—but he can still be a force in the post at both ends of the court and that is a critical component for any team that is trying to win a championship.

Cartwright averaged a then career-low 8.2 field goal attempts per game during the 1991 championship season but he was still an important part of Chicago’s offense; Bulls Coach Phil Jackson often went to Cartwright in the post early in games, forcing the opposing team to reveal when/if they planned to double team in the paint. By establishing the threat of a post up game, the Bulls spread out the court for Jordan and Pippen to operate. Jackson told Jordan that if Jordan had the ball all of the time then the defense could shine a “spotlight” on him but that if he passed the ball into the post and cut then he could obtain easier scoring opportunities early in the game, conserving energy for the fourth quarter if the team needed him to perform game-saving solo operations. In his book “Sacred Hoops,” Jackson explained that his assistant coach Tex Winter—the developer of the famous Triangle Offense—believes that there are “seven principles of a sound offense,” with the first one being “The offense must penetrate the defense.” This penetration can happen by a drive, a pass or a shot but Jackson said that the preferred method is “to pass the ball directly into the post and go for a three-point power play” (p. 88, “Sacred Hoops,” paperback edition).

O’Neal averaged 18-20 field goal attempts per game during his prime years but this season with Cleveland he is averaging a Cartwrightesque 9.1 field goal attempts per game. O’Neal is the focal point of the offense early in the first and fourth quarters, establishing a post presence, easing the load on LeBron James and potentially creating foul trouble for the opposing team; this season we have already seen O’Neal take Dwight Howard out of the game with foul difficulties and almost singlehandedly put the Cavs in the bonus in the fourth quarter versus the undersized Mavs. O’Neal is averaging career-lows across the board (11.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, .510 field goal shooting, numbers that are much like Cartwright’s 1991 statistics) but O’Neal’s impact cannot be judged by numbers alone, particularly considering his role with the Cavaliers; if O’Neal is compressing the defense into the paint and/or creating foul trouble for the opposing team then he is doing his job even if his statistics are not exceptional. In “Sacred Hoops,” Jackson wrote (p. 117, paperback edition), “The incessant accusations of the judging mind block vital energy and sabotage concentration. Some NBA coaches exacerbate the problem by rating every move players make with a plus-minus system that goes far beyond conventional statistics. ‘Good’ moves—fighting for position, finding the open man—earn the player plus rating points, while ‘bad’ moves—losing your man, fudging your footwork—show up as debits. The problem is: a player can make an important contribution to the game and still walk away with a negative score. That approach would have been disastrous for a hypercritical player like me. That’s why I don’t use it. Instead, we show players how to quiet the judging mind and focus on what needs to be done at any given moment.” There is no substitute for watching NBA games with an educated eye, whether you are a coach, a member of the media or a fan; neither highlight reels nor reams of statistics tell the full story about a team or a player.

O’Neal also should strive to emulate Cartwright’s defensive role. Cartwright was not particularly mobile defensively—and even in his prime he was never a great shotblocker—but he used his size and “educated elbows” very effectively, making it difficult for All-Star centers like Ewing to score. O’Neal used to be a highly mobile, powerfully athletic player—and a devastating shotblocker—but at this stage of his career his most important defensive assets are size, strength and intimidation; he can use his body to keep opposing post players out of the paint and he can be a physical presence discouraging opposing wing players from casually strolling through the paint on the way to the hoop: O’Neal has never hesitated to deliver a hard foul.

“Big Bill Cartwright” is a nickname that is not as flashy or grandiose as O’Neal’s other nicknames, but if O’Neal can play like Cartwright did for Jordan’s Bulls then O’Neal can help LeBron James win his first NBA championship in James’ seventh NBA season, much like Cartwright’s statistically modest—but important—contributions helped Jordan capture his first NBA title in Jordan’s seventh NBA season.

LeBron James’ Magnificent Playoff Run is One for the Ages

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers fell six wins short of their ultimate goal but that should not obscure the fact that James put together one of the greatest individual performances in playoff history. He became the only player to ever average at least 35 ppg, 7 apg and 7 rpg for an entire playoff season; James’ final numbers in 14 playoff games were 35.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 7.3 apg while shooting .510 from the field, .333 from three point range and .749 from the free throw line. There have only been four other 30-7-7 playoff seasons in NBA/ABA playoff history:

Oscar Robertson, 1963 Cincinnati Royals: 31.8 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 9.0 apg, .470 field goal percentage, .864 free throw percentage in 12 games (lost in Eastern Division Finals to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics).

Oscar Robertson, 1966 Cincinnati Royals: 31.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 7.8 apg, .408 field goal percentage, .897 free throw percentage in five games (lost in Eastern Division semifinals to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics).

George McGinnis, 1975 Indiana Pacers (ABA): 32.3 ppg, 15.9 rpg, 8.2 apg, .468 field goal percentage, .315 three point shooting percentage, .688 free throw percentage in 18 games (lost in ABA Finals to the Kentucky Colonels).

Michael Jordan, 1989 Chicago Bulls: 34.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 7.6 apg, .510 field goal percentage, .286 three point shooting percentage, .799 free throw percentage in 17 games (lost in Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual NBA champion Detroit Pistons).

During the Robertson seasons cited above, the NBA did not have a three point shot rule and the playoffs consisted of two Divisional rounds followed by the NBA Finals.

Robertson played in fewer playoff games than the other players in this elite club but he also faced the greatest dynasty in NBA history, the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics, a franchise that won 11 championships in 13 seasons.

It is unfortunate that people tend to overlook the ABA, because that league featured some marvelous players and teams; in 1975, McGinnis carried the Pacers to victories over a San Antonio Spurs team led by Hall of Famer George Gervin and a talented 65-19 Denver Nuggets team coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown before falling in the ABA Finals to the Kentucky Colonels, who were coached by Hall of Famer Hubie Brown and had a strong frontcourt anchored by Hall of Famer Dan Issel and 7-2 Artis Gilmore, who should be in the Hall of Fame.

It is interesting to note that in each case prior to James this year it took nothing less than the future league champion to stop a team featuring a 35-7-7 playoff performer. Robertson eventually won an NBA championship in 1971 with the Milwaukee Bucks, McGinnis had already won a pair of ABA titles with the Pacers in 1972 and 1973 and Jordan later captured six championships with the Chicago Bulls; while this is a small sample size, Cleveland fans can take some solace in the fact that 35-7-7 playoff performers do have a championship pedigree, though it is also worth noting that among these players only Jordan came close to averaging 35-7-7 in the playoffs during a championship season, which underscores the fact that winning a title requires a team effort.

While the “7-7” part is impressive, what really stands out is that James averaged over 35 ppg to go along with his all-around floor game. If you lower the standard to 20 ppg then there are 27 playoff seasons by 16 players that make the cut, including three by James, three by Larry Bird, three by Magic Johnson and four by Oscar Robertson, the all-time leader in 20-7-7 playoff seasons; if you remove any minimum scoring qualification then you find a total of 49 different “7-7” playoff seasons, including five by Jason Kidd and eight by Magic Johnson, the all-time leader (Kidd averaged between 12.0 and 20.1 ppg in those seasons, while Johnson averaged between 17.0 and 21.8 ppg).

Jordan had three 35-6-6 playoff seasons (1987, 1990, 1993—the year that the Bulls won their third straight title) and four 33-6-6 playoff seasons. The 33-6-6 list includes Julius Erving’s rookie season in the ABA (33.3 ppg, 20.4 rpg, 6.5 apg in 1972); four years later, Erving had a series that simply must be mentioned in any discussion of the greatest playoff performances ever: Erving averaged 37.7 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 spg and 2.2 bpg in the 1976 ABA Finals (leading both teams in each of those categories) while carrying the New York Nets to a six game victory over a Denver Nuggets team that had a Hall of Fame Coach (Larry Brown), two Hall of Fame players (Dan Issel, David Thompson) and the best defensive forward in either league (Bobby Jones).

It is often said that James’ best skill set attribute is his ability to pass. James is without question a great passer who possesses otherworldly court vision plus a unique combination of strength and finesse that enables him to deliver catchable bullet passes in tight quarters and crosscourt feeds that find their targets as if guided by laser beams—but in an effort to praise James’ passing and promote that aspect of the game over pure scoring many people diminish the undeniable fact that James is one of the great scorers in NBA history.

In his six season NBA career James has already won one scoring title and ranked in the top four in scoring four other times. He owns the highest career regular season scoring average (27.5 ppg) among active players and trails only Michael Jordan (30.12 ppg) and Wilt Chamberlain (30.07 ppg) on the all-time list. James’ 29.4 ppg career playoff scoring average ranks behind only Allen Iverson’s 29.7 ppg among active players and is third on the all-time list (Jordan ranks first with an astounding 33.5 ppg average).

James’ 35.3 ppg playoff scoring average this season is the sixth best single season playoff scoring average (minimum 10 games) in NBA playoff history (James ranks seventh if you include Spencer Haywood’s 36.7 ppg in the ABA in 1970).

James’ most famous playoff moments primarily involve scoring: his 48 point outburst in game five of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals versus Detroit, his 47 point explosion in game three versus Atlanta this season, his 37 points—including 17 in the fourth quarter—in the game five win versus Orlando and even his playoff career-high 49 points in Cleveland’s game one loss to Orlando. While James also displayed an excellent floor game during those high scoring efforts, what ultimately carried the day for the Cavs in the three wins (and what kept them close in the game one loss to Orlando) was James’ scoring.

James took his scoring to new heights in the Eastern Conference Finals loss to Orlando, averaging 38.5 ppg while shooting .487 from the field, 297 from three point range and .745 from the free throw line. He also averaged 8.3 rpg and 8.0 apg.

James set the NBA record for most points in the first four games of a Conference Finals series (169), breaking a mark that had just been set this year by Kobe Bryant (147). Only Jerry West (46.3 ppg in 1965 for the Lakers) and Wilt Chamberlain (38.6 ppg in 1964 for the Warriors) have ever averaged more ppg in a Conference Finals or Division Finals series than James did this year; Michael Jordan is not even on the top ten list in that category (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds down the 10th spot with a 34.2 ppg performance for the Bucks in 1970, just edging out Bryant’s 34.0 ppg for the Lakers this year and West’s 33.8 ppg for the Lakers in 1970).

LeBron James’ floor game is admirable and his ability and willingness to pass the ball are rightly held in high regard but he has already established himself in the record book as a tremendous scorer—and with 1761 playoff points scored at the age of 24 James ranks 70th on the NBA’s playoff career scoring list and certainly has a shot to challenge Jordan’s all-time record of 5987 playoff points: Jordan had only scored 355 playoff points at a similar age, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (second all-time with 5762 playoff points) had scored 724 playoff points as a 24 year old.

Brad Daugherty – The Shrubs Are My Brothers

Every now and then a hint of the coiled spring deep within the man once labeled soft and passive pops up.

A swing at Detroit Piston Bill Lambier in January of 1989, after being elbowed in the throat.

A somewhat alarming pronouncement regarding NASCAR:

Brad Daugherty admitted that he “likes to see the violence”, to which Suzy [Kolber] added, “everyone wants to see it!”

More than once.

“I just love the sport,” Daugherty says of racing. “I love the smell, I love the color, I love the violence, I love everything involved.”

Early on, no one guessed Brad would someday be hailed by the Boston Globe as:

[e]nter[ing] the realm of Hakeem Olajuwon, Pat Ewing, David Robinson, Robert Parish and other elite big men. (Source: The Boston Globe, May 2, 1992)

Growing up in Black Mountain, North Carolina, with brothers 5 and 10 years older who played on the high school basketball team while Brad was still in grade school, Brad was determined to catch up. He and his brothers:

[…] played on a dirt court in back of their house. The basket, only 81/2 feet high, was nailed to an old oak tree. When his brothers weren’t around, Brad played there alone and worked on his dribbling, shooting, and rebounding.

“It really wasn’t much of a court, “ said Brad. “The yard had been beaten down so much by our playing on it that it was just dirt. There were a lot of bushes, shrubs, and small trees in the yard, so I pretended they were other players. I practiced dribbling around the tress, shooting over the shrubs, and going one-on –one with the bushes.”

[…]  Sometimes he pretended the bushes were his older brothers, Steve and Greg. … Other times, he imagined he was leading the University of North Carolina Tar Heels to victory in the Final Four against the arch-rival Duke Blue Devils.  (Source: Little Basketball Big Leaguers by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo, 1991, Nash and Zullo Productions, Inc; Simon & Schuster)

During his sixth grade year, Brad’s brothers relented, letting Brad play in real games unwittingly helping to form Brad’s passing game, for which he would later become famous:

[…] Brad stood 5 feet, 9 inches tall. Steve and Greg decided he was now big enough to play in the neighborhood games-as long as he played by their rules.

“They said they wouldn’t rough me up anymore if I passed them the ball while they shot,” laughed Brad. “So I spend most of my time passing trying to hit them when they were open so they could score. That was really the only way they’d let me play. If I started shooting too much, or tried dribbling around, they’d make me quit. The way they made me play helped me develop good court awareness at a young age. I was right there in the middle of the action against bigger and older guys, but I still had to find the open man.”  (Source: Little Basketball Big Leaguers by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo, 1991, Nash and Zullo Productions, Inc; Simon & Schuster)

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