Analyzing the Blazer Draft; Kevin Pritchard, Genius?

Going into the draft the conventional wisdom was the Blazers needed a Small Forward and, more importantly, a Point Guard. They were targeting DJ Augustin and/or Russell Westbrook first and Joe Alexander. It was assumed the pick-up of the 27th pick was to help trade for one of those players. The need at Small Forward was accentuated when James Jones elected not to exercise his option.

Having watched GM Kevin Pritchard the last couple of years, few Blazer fans doubted he would get one of his guys. He always does. It was my personal hope he was targeting Westbrook as I am not a huge fan of under size point guards, though I must admit the excellent size Portland has at the other positions might mitigate those factors.

With the three targeted players gone and Jerryd Bayless off the board at 11 it looked like the master plan had fallen through...until the local affiliate, 95.5 The Game, broke the story that Bayless had been drafted for Portland. ESPN was 35 minutes behind on the story so there was some doubt but finally it was officially announced.

Portland traded Brandon Rush, Josh "McBob" McRoberts, and Jarret Jack for Bayless and Ike Diogu.

Part 2 of the plan had to do with Euro players the Blazers coveted, specifically Nicolas Batum. After he was taken off the board they picked up Darrell Arthur and Joey Dorsey...only to trade them for Batum.

In short, the Blazers reduced their bloated roster (Batum will most likely remain in France) by trading 2 current players (Jack and McRoberts) for essentially 1 is an open question whether Diogu will remain on the roster...while preparing for the future even while improving in the present.

This was a brilliant draft. For the present they have upgraded their roster. In Bayless they have a potentially top 10 point guard. Portland revealed they actually had him rated as the 4th best player in the draft this year, somewhat higher than most teams. With Blake and Sergio Rodriguez still on the roster he will have time to develop, a move only accentuated when you consider that Brandon Roy essentially runs the point during crunch time. Bayless will get some playing time but will not be pressed to give produce too much too soon.

By unloading Jack the Blazers accomplish 2 more items on their agenda. There is a feeling in the organization that Rodriguez might be the point guard of the future. Jack was officially a point guard though in practice he played more like an under size shooting guard. By clearing him out the Blazers both clear up the logjam of combo guards that Jack represented and also clear up more playing time for Rodriguez. The move essentially turns this in to a make or break year for him.

That leaves the small forward position. Martell Webster was the starter last year and showed flashes. Early on it looked like he would be a 13 - 15 point scorer who provided great outside shooting. However, he struggled for large patches of the year and ended up under 11. It is important to remember, however, that Webster is still very young and is still improving.

There are strong indications, however, that Travis Outlaw is penciled in to start. That will leave Webster to come off the bench but both players will get plenty of minutes. It will leave the Blazers a bit more athletic and a bit less plagued with trying to find minutes for all the players they have on their roster. That is only helped by this draft.

Oddly, the draft ended up tightening up the roster. The Blazers are now stacked at least 2 deep at every position with players who will get meaningful minutes and have room to pull some maneuvers such as letting Bayless get time in the D-League. They have flexibility and options at every position and, perhaps best of all, the roster will tighten up even a bit more next season.

The contract of Diogu is up after this season. The contract of Raef LaFrentz expires after this season. With Jones opting out his contract is off the books. In other words, Portland will have room to maneuver.

Let's present a ridiculous scenario. Please note, I have not even a 1% belief this will ever happen bu it is the type of thing that is fun to fantasize about. The Blazers will have a huge amount of cap space in 2010. They will have a starting line-up including Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy with a talented supporting cast surrounding them including Webster for shooting and Outlaw for all-around play. Let's say some star player is looking for a new contract and is more interested in winning a championship or 5 than getting max money. He notices Portland can give him as much money as anyone but his own LeBron James fills in at small forward. Championships would rain from the skies in bunches with that line-up. They would be young, talented, and dominant.

Yeah, I know, there is no chance he would come to a small market on the opposite coast with no night life. But that is the sort of thing that Blazer fans can dream about after this draft. We have a young, talented team that is positioned for a run at greatness and a dynasty. And with money to spare, 2010 looks like the year the Blazers will target players who might actually come and be the difference.


Scouting the 2008-2009 Blazers: The Bench

After taking a look at the possible starters for next season, it is time to take a look at the Blazer reserves.

Joel 'the Thrilla' Przybilla
Offensively Joel is very, very limited. He has no mid-range game whatsoever and little if any post-up game. He is never really an option at that end of the floor. With that said, he does have some positives. He is an above average offensive rebounder, does a nice job on the high pick and roll, and gets most of his points on broken plays or follow up shots. Since he takes virtually shot from inside of 8 feet he ends up shooting a good percentage.

It is on defense where Joel really shines. At times he is a dominant defensive rebounder who can totally control the boards. He uses basic fundamentals to block out the opposition and has above average timing and good hands. He is also a shot-blocking machine, particularly close in. He probably had more blocked dunk attempts than anyone else in the entire league. He is not particularly mobile, however, so his strength is against the big, strong post-up centers. Quicker guys tend to give him problems.

Probably the biggest weakness for Joel is his injury prone tendencies. He has never played a full season in the NBA. A lot of his injuries have been freak type things...but they keep happening. It is definitely something to keep an eye on.

Overall Joel is an excellent role player who can provide rugged interior defense and rebounding. He won't provide much scoring but you know that going in.

Channing Frye
Frye has a nice mid-range jumper that can be devastating when he is on. However, he is somewhat reminiscent of Brad Sellers...he is a big man whom is seldom seen inside for whatever reason.

Defensively he has a bit of a mean streak. You won't get any easy buckets against him...but you will score. At times he is a decent rebounder but too often he loses focus.

Frye is an intriguing talent. He was once a lottery pick but has never fulfilled his promise. With Oden coming in he will not get any minutes at the Center position and he will be fighting Travis Outlaw for minutes behind Aldridge. As a result, he will be towards the end of the bench or else gone via trade.

Josh 'McBob' McRoberts
McRoberts spent a bit of time in the D-League. He needed more time. Rumors abound that the popular McBob was kept around as a "comfort factor" for Oden. Expect that to continue. With Oden, Przybilla, Aldridge and Frye in front of him you will not see McRoberts on the floor even if by some miracle he is still on the roster.

James Jones
Jones is an intriguing talent. He provides excellent outside shooting and will go inside on occasion. Last season he was leading the league in 3-point percentage after the All-Star break before slumping. He is very dangerous shooting from the corner but, unlike Martell Webster, he does not just plant himself in the corner and make himself easy to defend. He will move side to side a bit to make the defense move. Nor does he limit himself to pumping up shots from outside the arc. Just often enough to slow the defense he will pump fake and drive to the rack. He is also more willing than most Blazers to get out on the fast break.

Defensively he tries pretty hard but is not very effective. Quick players habitually break him down and make the defense scramble when in the man to man. He is a bit more effective in the zone as his long arms and quickness let him be a bit disruptive in the passing lanes.

Jones also has a bit of a mean streak. When he and Frye are on the floor together at the same time you can expect to see opponent bodies on the floor at some point. Both tend to take a lot of fouls and have a lot of those fouls be hard fouls that are sometimes borderline dirty, a fact I am not fond of.

The other factor to consider is Jones also seems to be injury prone. He missed a lot of games last season.

Jones is most effective when he can come in to provide some long distance shooting and instant offense. In that role he is a valuable, lethal player whose deficiencies can be hidden. The more minutes he plays the easier he is to expose. Properly used he is the type of player who vastly improves a team as evidenced by the Blazers well over .500 record in games he played last year. He shares the Small Forward role with Webster and sometimes fills in at Shooting Guard, although with Rudy Fernandez arriving to back up Brandon Roy the latter minutes will be curtailed a great deal.

Jones is a great role player on a team like Portland. He is not expected to provide major minutes but performs very well in 15 - 25 minute per game stretches.

Travis Outlaw
If ever there was a player without a position, it has been Outlaw. He has played everything from Center to Power Forward to Small Forward to Shooting Guard and with varying degrees of success...within the same game. He is too fast for opposing Power Forwards, too tall for opposing Small Forwards, and can stay with most Shooting Guards. He can bomb away from 3 point land or drive as well as anyone on the team. He is a match-up nightmare for the opposition. He is also an exciting player; he probably had more momentum changing plays than any other Blazer. His highlight real hammer cocking dunk over Andre Iguodala of the 76ers got as many cheers as any other highlight with the possible exception of Roy's.

His offensive strength lies in his versatility. His .396% from long range trailed only Jones and Steve Blake. He shot a few too many from outside which dragged down his overall percentage, though that will improve with experience. He is great at creating his own shot as well. One of his favorite moves is to face up his defender, make a quick jab step to create space, and pull up for essentially an uncontested jumper. It works because his outside shot is good enough to make that respectable, he has the speed to get to the rim and power to finish, and he elevates so high that it is all but impossible for a defender to bother his shot.

Additionally, he is one of those players who is not afraid of the moment. He took the shot that really defined the Blazers season. Early on the Blazers had been struggling, losing games they should have won, not competing in some games. Against a Memphis team they needed to handle with just seconds left on the clock the ball ended up in Outlaw's hands. It is significant that he did not start that game...or many others...but he was finishing it. The young man created his own shot and in a shot that beat the buzzer by a photo-finish microsecond made the clutch bucket to give Portland their first road win...and first of 13 straight that carried the Blazers from a 6 games under to 7 games over .500 record. Arguably, that shot saved the season. And while it was the first of the game-ending shots he would take, it would not be the last.

Coach McMillan quickly learned Outlaw is a player he can rely on in the 4th quarter. If Roy is the Blazers' best prime time player then Outlaw is 1A. He is clutch, he is not afraid of the big shot, and if he misses it then he does what the best players do...he forgets about it and goes back in his mind to the one he made.

Defensively he is unsteady. At times he is spectacular. At various times he was focused, was moving his feet, and with his length he can bother the shot of virtually any player he faces. However, in the zone he tends to get lost, leave his area of responsibility and does not help on the boards as much as someone with his size and leaping ability should.

Outlaw is a high motor guy with seemingly boundless energy. He can transmit that energy to the crowd in a variety of ways...he can deliver a highlight reel dunk, he can make a sky-walking, out of nowhere block, or he can make an energy play. He reminded me a bit of Jerome Kersey a few times this year when he caught up from behind to reject break-away dunk or lay-in attempts. And he is only going to get better.

For whatever reason, mostly because of his contract, he is repeatedly brought up as the Blazer most likely to be traded. That is the biggest mistake Portland can make. He has future All-Star ability, can play on the floor inside or outside, and is taking charge of his career. He has been durable and coach able and his only downside is some have questioned his basketball IQ. He does get a little lost at times but it is important to remember he is still young, only 23. Physically, he has the tools to be a top 5 player in the league and is developing the mentality. It remains to be seen if he will put it all together.

Rudy Fernandez
Fernandez is an international star and good enough that many people claim he would be the 3rd pick in this year's draft behind Beasely and Rose. The excitement over his impending arrival has been felt throughout the city. In international play he has been a prolific scorer with above average passing skills. He is also rumored to have questionable man to man defensive skills. In the interest of full disclosure I have not really followed the international game so all I have is rumor and innuendo.

He will be providing backup minutes at Shooting Guard behind Brandon Roy. Since Roy played nearly 38 minutes per game last year, there is not a lot of time, particularly if Jarrett Jack is kept around as he, Jones, and Webster all took turns at the position last year. However, it is anticipated the Blazers will experiment with running Roy at the point a bit more this year which will give Fernandez a bit more playing time. Either way, Portland has the roster to give him time to develop and learn the NBA game.

Jarrett Jack
Jack was projected to be the starting point guard last year but just a handful of games in he proved to be unready. He slid quietly into the role of instant offense off the bench and at first played really well but then he hit an extended slump before again hitting his stride towards the end of the year. Jack is a more natural shooting guard than point when you examine his skill set.

Offensively Jack is at his best when he is penetrating. He can get into the paint virtually at will but once he gets there he sometimes gets lost, deciding too late whether to shoot or pass. He has a nice little teardrop running one hander and is good at drawing contact. When he gets to the line he is the best foul shooter on the Blazers. He is okay from the 3-point line but is not going to make anyone tremble. Either way he tends to get sloppy with the ball and tends to turn it over in bunches.

Defensively he is an average on the ball defender and a decent ball hawk out top in the zone but he tends to get overpowered by guards who can post him up.

Overall he is a streaky player. When he is playing well he makes solid contributions, stays within his game, and is a serviceable player. When he plays poorly he can really hurt the team. Hopefully another year of experience will help him gain a bit of consistency. If not, he is likely to be the odd man out in the rotation.

Sergio Rodriguez
Sergio is a real mixed bag. He can be a spark plug who wins lost games or a goof who loses games that were in the bag. He tends to get himself into McMillans doghouse and disappear for long stretches.

At his best Rodriguez is penetrating the lane and creating havoc for the defense. He has excellent court vision and is lightning quick. He can break down any defender and will find the open man. In one notable game he had something like 8 assists in 5 minutes. However, at other times he looks for his shot and that is when he costs the team. He is a lot like Jason Kidd...he has talent, he just uses it for the wrong end and the opposition is more than willing to let them shoot it.

Defensively he is a wreck. He tends to let his man by him way to often, he gambles too much in the passing lanes and the others have to cover for him.

The best use for Rodriguez is to change the pace of a game. He gets the ball up the floor in a hurry and with him on the floor the Blazers give a completely different look than when Blake, Jack, or Roy is running the team. He can play 5 - 6 minutes at a time at a high level and his deficiencies are not badly exposed there. When he plays longer he tends to get abused and the team suffers.

The Bench
As a whole the Blazer bench has a lot to offer. There is versatility, firepower, defense and rebounding. Properly used there are players who can change the pace and flow of the game or shore up holes. The biggest problem the Blazers will have is finding minutes. I would anticipate that Raef LaFrentz and Von Wafer will not be on the roster at all and some combination of 2 -3 players from among Frye, Webster, Jones, Jack, Rodriguez, and Blake will be packaged together in trades.

The bench can contribute significant minutes and in Outlaw, Przybilla, Jack, and Jones they have guys who are capable of stepping in and starting if a starter gets injured. For that matter, if he sticks around you could include LaFrentz in that category.

With another year of development the bench figures to be a strong point for this team.

Coming up next: Projecting next year


Scouting the 2008-2009 Blazers

Heading into the off-season, Blazermania is scaling back a bit yet there is still palpable excitement. Next year is expected to be a break-through season and the fans are waiting with great anticipation. We don't just want to squeak into the playoffs, we want to roar in and do some damage. However, before we get to that point, what will the team look like? Here is a player by player breakdown.

Greg Oden

It will all start with the man in the middle. 2007-2008 saw Portland struggle on the boards as even indifferent teams regularly won that battle. Oden is anticipated to change that around. He his big, strong, agile, and fairly quick for a big guy. His workout regimen while recovering from micro fracture surgery was so strenuous that team officials actually insisted he scale it back for fear he would become so bulky that he would lose the speed and athleticism that make him special. Oden has already shown he knows a good deal about rebounding in college. His transition to the demands of the boards in the NBA can only be helped by the coaching of Maurice Lucas, a solid rebounder in his own years in the NBA. It would not be shocking to see Oden pull down double digit boards almost every night if he can stay out of foul trouble. That foul trouble is likely to come on the defensive end.

Defensively he may have an Achilles Heel. He demonstrated superior shot-blocking abilities in college as his size, leaping ability and timing combined to give him an advantage over the majority of centers he faced in college. In the NBA he will still often have the advantages but will face stiffer competition. And that can lead to foul trouble...particularly for Oden who is already on record as saying he would try to block every shot. For a rookie, this is a recipe for disaster. If he is out there flying around trying to do to much he will hear a lot of whistles and spend a great deal of time on the bench. That will hurt him at the offensive end.

On the offensive game he will be counted on for back to the basket offense. His imposing size will make entry passes easy if he can establish position. The micro fracture surgery has been a blessing in this regard as Oden has received a great deal of valuable one-on-one instruction from the Blazer coaching staff. Reports coming out have his game expanding. He can use either hand for little baby hooks and has a pretty good spin move. When he goes to the line his free throw shooting is above average.

By all reports he has responded very well to coaching. Additionally, there can be no questioning his desire to play as evidenced by the incident where he played pick-up basketball at a 24 Hour Fitness since that is where he found a game. He seems to have the complete package. He has one other weak link, and that is his history of injuries.

Coming out of college is a big step for anybody. Coming out of college and having that compounded by missing the rookie season with a micro fracture in the knee is even bigger. Nobody questions the capabilities or will of Oden...the only question is how it will translate to the court. His upside is huge. If things break his way he could score 15 - 20 points a game, pull down 8 - 10 rebounds, block 2 - 3 shots, and be an instant All-Star. On the other hand, he could find himself saddled with foul trouble and only chip in 10 points and 5 rebounds. Even worse would be another injury. The Blazers franchise and fans have put an unrealistic burden on this young man but it will be interesting to see how he responds.

LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge should have received some consideration for Most Improved Player last year. His points and rebounds both nearly doubled, his defense improved by leaps and bounds, and he was a key component on a team that lost its best scorer, rebounder, and shooter...and improved 8 games.

Aldridge made huge strides last year. He was not always game he would dominate the boards and the next he would end up with just 1 or 2. He had one stretch of 7 or 8 games where he averaged over 20 points and shot over 50% and then, inexplicably, melted down against the defense-inhibited Supersonics.

Yet he never quit working on his game. After one poor outing the Blazers couldn't find him. At last someone thought to check the practice facility and there was Aldridge, working alone on the shots he could not get to fall in the game. The next night he came out and had a monster game. By the end of the season, almost every night the Blazer broadcasters would look on in awe as they said, "Their is a move we have not seen from LaMarcus before."

2 games against the Suns tell us all we need to know about his ability to improve. In the first one, Amare Stoudemire got into his head. Stoudemire bothered every shot he took and rendered him completely ineffective. Bricks, turnovers, airballs...those were the modus operandi for Aldridge. The next time they played he made some subtle adjustments and, while Stoudemire still outplayed him, he at least held his own and was a force for the Blazers. He has no quit in him and will not yield to anyone. He has all the tools to continue to improve offensively.

He has a silky smooth jumper that is good out to 17 or 18', a developing post-up game, and is willing to run the floor. Expect to see his scoring average increase yet again on offense and for his defense to continue to improve.

He has the length and speed to trouble the shot of anyone he is matched up against on defense. His primary weaknesses are twofold. First, his long, lean frame makes it tough for him to match up for bigger, stronger players as he can be pushed around a bit. Second, he sometimes struggles to properly block out and gives up a lot of offensive rebounds. He largely counteracts this with a motor that never quits.

If Aldridge shows just average development he will soon be mentioned in the same breath as some of the top forwards in the league. However, to take that step he will need to learn to play alongside Oden who will receive the majority of the touches on the block. If the 2 big men do not play well together it would be disastrous.

Martell Webster

At the beginning of last year I thought Webster would be good for 12 - 15 points a game and a half dozen rebounds. It proved to be a disappointing season and now that door might be closed. With Oden, Aldridge, Brandon Roy, and Travis Outlaw all slated to score 15 - 20 points there are simply not going to be that many shots left. That is unfortunate because Webster has one of the better shots in the least, he does by reputation.

On offense, that is his strength. He can stroke the three with anyone in the League. However, it is also his weakness. Because he is such a good shooter from downtown he neglects the rest of his offense. You seldom see Webster drive into the lane or pull up for a mid-range jumper. In fact, too often he does not move at all...he heads to his preferred corner and stands there, nearly immobile. When defenses collapse off of him, Webster makes them pay with his shooting. When the offense is on the far side of the floor his defender can sag off which helps the defensive rotations and causes Webster to become a liability.

Defensively he is a mixed bag. He showed flashes at times of being the Blazers' best on the ball defender. He even did a passable job defending Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in one on one situations. However, when the Blazers switch to their zone defense he often gets lost and leaves his area open. This gaping hole led to some huge breakdowns over the course of last year.

On the boards he has shown flashes. From time to time he will go down amongst the tall timber and grab some pretty rugged rebounds but more often than not he is a non-factor. He should get more rebounds at his size and position and needs to improve in that regard.

This position is rightfully considered one of the 2 big weaknesses on the team. Webster showed flashes early in the season and was averaging low to mid teens in points, shooting well, and playing acceptable defense. As the season wore on, however, he slumped across the board. He then came on strong towards the end of the season. He has shown flashes of true greatness such as his 25 points or so against Utah in the third quarter and towards the end of the season he had a nice string of games.

He is young and Portland loves his potential so he will get another long look and probably, barring a trade, start the season as the small forward. If he fulfills his promise the Blazers should have an extremely successful season, possibly even exceeding 50 wins. If he struggles his he could quickly find himself on the bench.

Brandon Roy
Every NBA fan knows his name by now. Rookie of the Year, avoided the sophomore slump to become Western Conference All-Star, and was getting some early mentions as MVP though of course those (rightfully) faded away as the Blazers also faded away. He is the heart and soul of the current Blazer roster.

In crunch time he always has the ball in his hand, usually for a pick and roll. His Jordanesque fake right, switch the ball to his left hand, flip up the reverse layup highlight almost always got the largest cheer of any highlight every time it was shown. It was a spectacular move and it showed everything you need to know about Roy...he is not the tallest or strongest or quickest...but he gets the job done.

Offensively he has a solid game. He is a solid mid-range shooter and an above average penetrator. He has excellent court vision which leads to assists in bunches. His three point shooting is a bit suspect but he recognizes this and does not shoot them in volume. As a result he is a dangerous offensive player.

His numbers are less overwhelming than they would be because he tends to spend 1 - 2 quarters getting everyone else involved and does the bulk of his scoring in the 3rd and 4th quarters. At one point late last season he was second in the league in 4th quarter points to LeBron James. When the points mean the most he is scoring them. The downside of this is last year, with their most potent offensive player not scoring, the Blazers sometimes struggled to get rolling early in the game.

Defensively, Coach Nate McMillan loves his game. At key points in games he would often be matched up with guys like Joe Johnson, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and so forth. At times this worked well. In one memorable stretch against Atlanta he forced Johnson into an air ball and a 24 second shot clock violation. Conversely, James and Bryant had layups. Not that Johnson is in their class, but he is a very capable one on one player. Still, Roy did an overall decent job against those two players as well.

At times he is a lock down defender in man to man and he was the best on the team at getting into the passing lanes and picking off errant tosses. However, he does have vulnerabilities to the top penetrators in the league and to smaller, faster guards.

He also is susceptible to injury as he struggled with that issue in both college and his first two seasons. If he continues to have injury problems it could derail a very promising team from fulfilling expectations.

His stats don't tell the full story of Roy's value but they are still impressive. Look for another All-Star worthy performance even if his 22 point, 5 rebound, 6 assist numbers do not improve with the addition of Oden.

Steve Blake
Point Guard is the other position of concern for the Blazers. Currently it is manned by Steve Blake. Blake catches a lot of flack from Blazer fans. He is not a high scoring guy, does not register a large number of assists, and is an average defender.

Offensively he does not shoot a lot but he has the knack of knocking down clutch threes. He shot better than 40% on them throughout the year. It is seldom you see him shooting from closer than three. He can surprise you with an occasional penetration but those times are relatively rare. For the most part he just moves the ball around the perimeter and makes entry passes. His role is minimized by the role Roy takes in distributing the ball and as a result the Blazers essentially play with 2 combo guards. Blake is a point only in the sense that he brings the ball up the floor.

Blake is the type of solid role player that can make a good team great. He does not need a lot of shots but if the opposition sags off, he will make them pay with a trey, he is not afraid of taking the big shot and does not complain about not having a bigger role. Is he a starter on a playoff winning team? I will argue that, in the right setting, yes...and he fits in well with Portland.

That is not easy for me as I am not a big Steve Blake fan either but the truth is he fits very well with their current make-up. Yet the Blazer franchise is taking a long, hard look at this position. It will be interesting to see if Blake is still with the franchise and/or starting. I actually think Portland will not be making a mistake to keep him...but time will tell.

Starting Lineup
That is the current starting line-up. It is well balanced. Oden and Aldridge should provide interior defense, rebounding, and a strong post presence. Webster and Blake provide long distance shooting and perimeter defense and Roy makes it all run. This is a team that should improve on last season's rather pedestrian offensive numbers and with a year of maturity will score the ball better. Their already above average defense should also improve.

Coming up next: A look at the bench


The Greatest of All Time? Not even close.

The debate over who "the greatest player ever" has gained currency as Kobe Bryant has led the Lakers back into the Finals. The most-cited argument for Bryant to be mentioned for that status is his leading a non-Shaquille O'Neal team into the Finals and that validating him as being on the same level as Jordan. It seems to have a lot to do with the number of Championships they have each competed for. Of course, that points to an interesting bit of hypocrisy in the argument. If Championships won is the yardstick then Bryant should not even be mentioned. Neither should Michael Jordan, for that matter. The 11 Championships of Bill Russell pretty much end that conversation once and for all.

And aside from the number of Championships, consider the totals of their other statistics. Russell was never a great shooter, checking in at just a 44% clip and his 15.1 points per game hardly devastates anyone. It is a nice number but not exactly Hall of Fame. But his 22.5 rebounds per contest boggles the mind. Every night Russell was out there controlling the boards, blocking shots, and performing defensively at unheard of levels. He did his job and let other Celtics do the scoring which led to Championship after Championship after Championship. They would laugh to hear about how impressive a mere "3-peat" is in comparison to their 9-peat.

But it isn't just about Championships. Nobody in their right mind would ever say Robert Horry was, over the course of his career, a better player than Bryant, Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jerry West, George Gervin, or a host of others...but he has more rings than any of them. Clearly there needs to be some relation between individual production and rating as a player to go with the Championships.

In the regard of individual production there is no debate possible. One player stands head and shoulders above any other player in NBA history. He averaged 30.1 points per game. He added 22.89 rebounds per game. He shared the ball as evidenced by his 4.4 assists per game average and shot a healthy 54% from the field. I am speaking of course of Wilt Chamberlain. His great downfall was scoring only 2 Championships.

Compare him to Jordans' line: 30.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg., 5.2 apg. and .497% field goal percentage.

Chamberlain scored about equally, out rebounded him by nearly a 3.5-1 margin and had nearly as many assists, all while shooting better.

Or to Bryant:25 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, .453% from the field.
The disparities only grow larger.

Of course, there is more to the game than just numbers. And these totals admittedly do not discuss blocks or no small part because those numbers were not kept for Chamberlain and Russell. Even there, Russell and Chamberlain stand head and shoulders above Jordan and Bryant. Russell was widely acknowledged to be the difference between Chamberlain being the most dominant regular season player in history but winning relatively few championships and perhaps having a dozen banners of his own.

On the other side of the coin, some people criticize the achievements of Jordan, Bryant, and other more recent athletes for competing in a league watered down by expansion. The merit of that argument seems to be somewhat counteracted by the expansion of the game world wide. The NBA draws from every continent for their players instead of just the United States as they did for so long. The larger pool of players now available is certainly worthy of stocking a few more teams. Indeed, I have even heard the counter-argument that Chamberlain and his cohorts benefited from facing inferior competition. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, all the players concerned faced the best competition available in their era. And dominated. They were so dominant that Chamberlain once forced a widening of the lane to lower his influence on the game.

Chamberlain could do whatever he wanted on the basketball floor. When he felt like winning the scoring title, he did. When he felt like winning the rebounding title, he did. One year he even won the assist title! With the possible exception of Oscar Robertson, no other player in history has had the ability to dominate whatever statistical category he wanted to like Chamberlain did. And for how many players has the league changed the floor dimensions?

There has long been a rap on Chamberlain for not being a winner. By those standards it is tough to be a winner when you are the best PLAYER on the floor but not on the best TEAM on the floor. Chamberlain had the misfortune to repeatedly run into the greatest TEAM of his generation.

The same held true for Jordan early in his career. When he dropped 63 on the Celtics in the Garden even Bird was amazed by his talent...but Boston won that series. Jordan was far and away the best player on the floor but Boston had the better team. Later Jordan had a much better team around him but still lost to the Pistons...who had yet a better team. There were no two players on the Pistons that could match Jordan's talent...not Joe Dumars, not Vinnie "the Microwave" Johnson, not even Isaiah Thomas...but the Pistons were, plain and simple, the better TEAM. Did that mean Jordan was not a great player or not a great winner? Two three-peats seem to put the lie to that question.

Of course, part of being on the best team is sublimating personal statistics to the needs of the team. It is possible...even probable...that Jordan, for example, could have averaged far more than 30 points had he wished to. However, that would not have been the best thing for the Bulls as a whole.

That was always one of the knocks on Chamberlain, that he would not sublimate his personal needs to the good of the team. In '67-68 he decided to show that was not accurate and that year he led the league in assists. Was it an accurate assessment?

Hard to say from a distance. To be honest, most of us debating "the greatest player of all time" have never seen him play consistently, we have never seen the Big O we go to the easy answer.

"Jordan is the greatest player of all time."

"Bryant is the greatest player of all time."

I call shenanigans. By what measure is either of those players even in the conversation? Statistically they fall short of Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and even, arguably, based on his rebounding, Bill Russell. In championships they fall short of Russell.

And by claiming too much we create a backlash. Why not simply recognize what is. In Jordan we certainly had the greatest player OF OUR GENERATION. In Bryant we have one who may or may not eclipse him and, in turn, may or may not be eclipsed by LeBron James who is rapidly building a very impressive portfolio.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out I am not a Kobe Bryant fan. I find his Denver peccadillo reprehensible and his off-season antics little better. Furthermore, he is a Laker, the team that has forever stood between my home team and success. Every shot he misses brings a smile to my face, every loss he absorbs is one more happy moment for me.

And with that said, when I watch him play the game, I still recognize that I am, hate him or hate him more, watching greatness. He has abilities I cannot even match on the X-box. He is able to make moves on the basketball floor that very few other players can conceive of, much less execute. He does play the game the right way. He works on defense, he passes to his teammates, he scores seemingly at will.

I would say the same thing about LeBron James with the caveat that he has not done it as long, nor as consistently. Well, there is that and then the other undeniable difference...he seems to have better character off-court.

The conclusion, to me, is simple. Let's cut back the hyperbole. It is certainly a valid debate whether Bryant is the best player in the NBA today and whether he or Jordan currently holds the title of best player of the 21st century, but best of All Time? There are a half dozen championships and a whole lot of statistics between either of them and the greats whose games we no longer have the opportunity to see.


Go Away Jeff Van Gundy

Having watched the first two games of the Finals I can honestly say I am finding them compelling. Normally anything involving the Lakers sits alongside movies like Bride of Chucky...completely irrelevant to my viewing habits. I have absolutely no interest. However, since I am at least a passing fan of the Celtics and would love to see Da Kid win a title and I like watching Rajon Rondo, one of the most maligned point guards around...and unfairly, in my opinion.

Sure, he is limited. He will never shoot the lights out from downtown. Then again, with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the floor, he shouldn't need to. He provides speed, some ability to penetrate the lane, he knows enough to make sure Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce get their shots...though not in that order...and doesn't try to do things he can't do. Last time I checked, Tony Parker is not exactly a feared sharp shooter, but he is certainly considered a good point guard.

Be that as it may, game 2 of the Finals was very fun to watch. The explosion of Leon "the Show" Powe was fun to watch but should not have been unexpected. If you watch the Finals for long, seemingly every year some role player steps up and has an outstanding game and/or series where they provide an unexpectedly large number of points, rebounds, or something. Last year it was Daniel Gibson, for example.

The fourth quarter provided us with a record as the Lakers bombed away from 3 point land and took less than 7 minutes to pull within 2 after trailing by 20. With seconds left to go the game finally was put away when Pierce dropped in a pair of free throws to give Boston a near insurmountable 4 point lead.

The end of the game was a relief...not just because the hated Lakers are looking up at a 2 game deficit but more because it put an end to the drivel Jeff Van Gundy was spewing. Has there ever been a worse commentator than him?

Not too long ago I criticized the broadcast team of Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Van Gundy. That was unfair. Breen does a very solid job of staying on topic, talking about the game, and relating his anecdotes to what is going on.

Van Gundy, on the other hand, inflicts us with commentary so banal it makes Miss Teen South Carolina seem like a Mensa candidate. In this game he jumped the shark even by his own standards.

At one point Kobe Bryant threw an elbow trying to back off Ray Allen...who was not even glued to him at that point. He had given Bryant an unexpected bit of space. It was an obvious foul and was very properly called. Well...properly except by the standards of Van Gundy who ignored the game for a while so he could talk about how "you can call that every trip down the floor. The players need to be on the floor, they should not call that".

Interesting. So a star should not be called for the fouls he commits because he needs to be on the floor? Yeah, nice work Van Gundy. That is the same argument that has people complaining, "Let the players decide the game!" when fouls are called in the closing seconds, ignoring the indisputable fact that committing a foul DOES decide the game. Fouls are called on things that create a competitive disadvantage. If a player is prevented from making a shot by a foul, that foul HAS decided the game...if it is not called, then negatively and if it is called the positively by allowing the player an opportunity to complete the play at the line. Yet in Van Gundy's world the ref has made a mistake.

He then dropped this bomb: "If you want to ruin the NBA game, just call it the way the rules are written." In his world of banality, that probably makes some sort of twisted logic. The rules are there for a reason. A large part of the reason we have had games decided by the first team to 90 is precisely because numerous infractions are not called. For years Shaquille O'Neal committed offensive fouls nearly every time he touched the ball and they were not called. How entertaining was it watching him run over people and have them get called for the foul every time he lowered his shoulder and laid them out? For some people, it may have been...for many of us, it was not.

Ironically, my own favorite team, the Trailblazers, would benefit greatly if the referees continue to throw out the rule book. By all accounts, Greg Oden is likely to pick up a huge number of fouls next year. He has stated he plans to try to block every shot, he has a tendency to lower his shoulder a if they don't call the fouls he commits, it will give him and, by extension, the Blazers, a huge competitive advantage. And an unfair one.

Ignoring the rules is not good basketball regardless of who it benefits. Not calling fouls because someone is a bigger star is a horrific system with numerous abuses resulting from it. And having an ex-coach begging the NBA not to call the game properly is bad business.

Of course, he was not done there. He went on to use a very entertaining Finals game as a platform to lobby for his plan to not allow players to ever foul out. I hope he is paying the station to be their commentator because if they are paying him he is robbing them blind.

There is an old adage that if you notice the referees they are doing a poor job. The same thing holds for commentators, apparently. When they detract from the game it is time for them to go. Do whatever it takes to get rid of Van Gundy. Let him go coach the WNBA. The NBA is pushing that hard, maybe it will keep him where he can do the least harm.

Other than Van Gundy, these Finals have some great storylines developing and I look forward to watching the next few games.