Everything That Rises Must Converge

Moreso than any of the other major sports there is a quantum leap in the caliber of play from the regular to the post-season in the NBA. Because the disparity in talent is greater in the NBA, and the stakes so much less, the regular season is so great a slog that it's startling to see a guy like AI bust his ass every single night, so much so that there sometimes appears to be something gravely wrong with him. The other players seem to be mesmerized by him, (no other player in the league has both teams focus so intimately trained on him) not so much by what he is able to do, but by the fact that he's willing to put out the effort to do it. When the playoffs come along, and particularly matchups like the two we have this round the sport really transforms into something beautiful. The talent level converges and both teams are made better by the ability of the opponents. I'm probably one of the few neutral fans out there who's actually rooting for the Spurs, (I just love Ginobili's staccato intractability and have been a huge fan of Duncan's since he dropped 40 to knock out the Lakers a couple years ago) but I prey that Jo Johnson gets back soon and the series goes seven, because when basketball is played on this level it's the most exhilarating of all the team sports. These series are just fantastic, we've got great players ALL IN THEIR PRIME OR PRE-PRIME (with the notable exception of Shaq, who is just barely on the downside) and all four teams work together brilliantly. Seriously, this has to be the best pair of conference semis in recent memory doesn't it. We've got superstars on all four teams, and not even the slightest bit of disfunction. That's amazing. To highlight this I've ranked the 20 remaining starters, and though impressive, it doesn't do justice to the way each team is perfectly constructed.

1. Shaq
2. Duncan
3. Wade
4. Stoudemire
5. Nash
6. Ben Wallace
7. Ginobili
8. Marion
9. Rip
10. Billups
11. Joe Johnson
12. Rasheed Wallace
13. Prince
14. Tony Parker
15. Q. Richardson
16. B. Bowen
17. U. Haslem
18. E. Jones
19. D. Jones
20. N. Mohammed

What a list! The first two are already all-time greats, the only question with them being how high in the top fifteen players of all time to place them. The next two seem destined for similir fates, and the two after that are legit first team types. In fact you have to go down to number 16 to find a player who's not at least a borderline all-star! In today's NBA, with 30 teams, that's unbelievable, it's almost like those 80's series other than the fact that the benches are much weaker.

Interestingly, but not suprisingly, the Heat and Spurs have the last five players on the list, and six of the last seven. (Maybe I'm being a little harsh on Parker, but really, who would I switch him with?) And yet really, those last five fit so well within their team structure you really would be hard pressed to consider them weaknesses. I don't know if this list helps illuminate the strength of these series, but I do think it reflects their team concepts.

Further thoughts:

* Has anybody else been thoroughly confused by and slightly embarrassed for Q? I know the team wants him to spot up and launch 3's, but seriously, didn't he do more at one time? Jim Jackson is a good spot shooter but he occasionally drives to the rim. I didn't watch the Clippers much but I remember him doing more. Watching this super-athlete clang jumpers kind of saddens me.

*Why has Robert Horry had such a mediocre regular season career. Why did he never have even one standout season? I just don't understand this. His career year was 95-96 when he averaged 12 points and 6 boards. How did that happen.

* I don't mean to pick on him, but can anyone remember anybody looking so over his head as Beno Udrih? Every time they pass the ball to him it seems like his eyes get as wide as saucers and he can't wait to swing the ball. Every time he's in the game I just hope he doesn't screw up as I imagine him going home and weeping after coach Popovich yells at him for dribbling yet another ball off his foot out of bounds.


At 5/23/2005 1:58 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the last two games of the dallas series, q was driving more. it's weird, i know he's a three-point machine, but he's pretty terrible at it when they ask him to be a three-point specialist. i think there are essentially two mind-sets when it comes to stroking three's: placid and fuck you. placid guys are the pure shooter types, either specialists who do nothing else or exercises in scoring elegance like dirk and ray allen. q, like marion and johnson, hits them with attitude. and it's hard to do that if you aren't also getting inside to get your confidence and blood flowing. notice how much worse vince got at shooting three's when he stopped driving.

At 5/23/2005 2:41 AM, Anonymous brickowski said...

personally, i'd put rasheed, prince and parker ahead of joe johnson. i'd also put rasheed and parker (and probably prince) ahead of both members of the pistons backcourt. parker as better than chauncey or rip is debatable--he's more likely to be held in check, but he's also more capable than either piston guard of taking over a game and single-handidly shredding a team.

At 5/23/2005 3:22 AM, Anonymous brickowski said...

i think robert horry's career is one of the funniest in recent NBA history. he simply doesn't try during the regular season. at all. it's widely accepted and even joked about openly by his teammates and coaches. vince, randy moss and other athletes get vilified in the media for admitting they don't always bust it. nobody cares about horry, though. becuase he's big shot bob.

i used to think he was a lucky bum when he first started doing this with the rockets. he hit a couple of daggers against my spurs in the '95 playoffs. it was infuriating since he had accomplished so little at that point despite such obvious talent. he was 6'10 with fantastic hops, pippen-like length, and an ability to stroke threes. he seemed like an underachiever.

this is ironic now, since he's such a winner. he was just smarter than everyone else and figured out a way to become an NBA legend while only putting in about two months of work a year. that's a pretty fucking genius hustle, fellas.

At 5/23/2005 10:41 AM, Anonymous Nels said...

I'm also a neutral observer rooting for the Spurs. I think it's the hype of the Suns that got to me. I just got tired of how everyone was on their jock constantly.

I prefer the Pistons and Spurs because they have a real team as opposed to five players (or in the Heat's case, about 2.5 players). I'd like to see the Spurs and Pistons win just to prove that it takes more than a few incredibly talented players to win... I'd like to think it takes a whole team with role players, and even a 9th and 10th man, sometimes.

At 5/23/2005 12:36 PM, Blogger shoefly said...

BS: Even in those games Q would maybe drive to the basket three times a game. You can see by looking at his field goal and free throw attempts that he's basically just hanging out on the offensive end.

Brick: Maybe I did put Johnson too high, and now that I reconsider I'd probably put Prince and Rasheed above him. The whole Pistons team is kind of hard to rate. And about Parker, I just don't like the way he zones out, at this point in their careers I'd take either member of the Pistons backcourt over him.

Nels: I think another reason I (and perhaps you) are having trouble rooting for the Suns is that they didn't pay their dues. They just popped up, and it really should take a couple years of team cohesion to make a champion. You could say the same for Miami, but Shaq has paid so many dues already in the league that it's easier too overlook.

At 5/23/2005 4:47 PM, Anonymous brickowski said...

ok, this isn't an appropriate place for this, but the masters of the klondike have to be alerted to this new tale of ron. Clearly, we weren't too far off with our Wrestlemania Ron fantasies.


The Pistons were still shaking their heads at what happened Thursday night as they were on their bus inside the loading-dock area of Conseco Fieldhouse. It was between 11:30 and midnight and the Pistons' bus was about to leave the arena for the airport. Suddenly, a dark Escalade roared into the loading dock, nearly hitting several people. Out jumped Ron Artest, the Pacers forward who got a seasonlong suspension for his part in the Nov. 19 brawl. According to Pistons players on the bus, Artest was wearing an old (and short) pair of shorts. He had no shoes on and, upon getting out of the vehicle, he tore off his T-shirt. Given the history between Artest and the Pistons, the team's security officials were on high alert. But Artest made no motion toward the bus. He simply walked, bare-chested and bare-footed, into the building, presumably for a midnight workout. "There's something going on there," Ben Wallace said, not wanting to comment further.

At 5/23/2005 5:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

O'brein out

Mo Cheeks in

whats the good word?


At 5/23/2005 8:38 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

cheeks has been destined to coach philly for years. everyone knew, everyone in the city wanted him, it was only a matter of time. they're lucky that they had an excuse to fire o'brien.

shoefly: you're right, Q didn't drive THAT much against dallas. but it seemed to help him at least temporarily find his shot, and made me realize just what we've been missing from him in the post-season. during the regular season things were different, with the clips before an inside-outside monster.

that artest story is priceless. i wonder how this gets spun.

At 5/23/2005 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nels, your argument about the Suns being less preferable to you because they're a fivesome of talents as opposed to a real team also applies to the Pistons. When was the last time Arroyo logged important minutes? Basically, both teams have an elite-ish level sixth man who can impact the game (Jim Jackson/McDyess) and a seventh guy who goes in to let the real ballers catch their breath (Steven Hunter/Lindsey Hunter). Same goes for the Spurs; you think Udrih and Rasho are impact players? They got Iceman Horry and the suddenly less dependable Brent Barry; you also have to recognize that Nazr Mohammed isn't exactly top tier at center for them. Bottom line is that playoff teams are 7, maybe 8 deep this year. And you can call Miami two deep, but that's ignoring two solid subs ('Zo and Key'), and the fact that Eddie Jones' drop in scoring and overall impact has something to do with the arrival of the biggest big in the L plus the emergence of D Wade.

At 5/23/2005 8:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yea, one more thing, why Cheeks? I'm from Philly and I know that he played some good ball for us, but what does that have to do with him coaching? It just feels like inertia is what brought Cheeks here as opposed to him bringing a title to Philly. Anybody got an idea?

At 5/23/2005 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

im also from philly, and i dig the move. i brought it up earlier just caus i wanted your take.

Cheeks never had a chance in portland. scratch that, portland never had a chance.

i think if theres a coach thats going to turn the team around (finaly) it will be him.

now that thats over with, time to begin the trade webber talk. anyone got any takers?


At 5/23/2005 9:51 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i think everyone knows my take on this, but i find the suns irresistible because they're upstarts who have found a way to play smart, team-oriented ball that's actually fun to watch. they do away with all these useless binaries like style/substance, fresh kids/clever vets. the dues-paying thing only makes sense if you think they're doing something WRONG, when in fact i think they get it right in a way that makes that whole critique irrelevant.

At 5/23/2005 9:54 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

and, coming from another longtime philly resident, philly=inertia. it what makes the place both great and terrible.


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