By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
March 24 -- Swingmen really are the rage these days, aren't they?
What with LeBron dueling Kobe this past Sunday, Adam Morrison and J.J. Reddick looking like lottery picks (um, there's no crying in basketball, either), and Andrei Kirilenko recently making some of the splashiest off-court news in the history of basketball.
And why wouldn't swingmen make all the news?
After all, you've heard of "sexy swingmen", but the same adjective doesn't fit with any other position. Sexy center? Too alliterative. Sexy Power Forward? That's oxymoronic. Sexy Big Man? I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. Sexy small forward? Awkward. Sexy shooting guard? Perhaps. Sexy point guard? Well, it just doesn't roll off the tongue, now does it?
The word "sexy" really only fits with swingmen.
Speaking of Morrison and Reddick (neither of whom are top five picks, by the way), college hoops is on fire—same as the NBA in January. Like UCLA on Thursday night, UCONN pulled a rabbit out of Washington’s hat on Friday night. Freaks, Marcus Williams is going to be nice at the next level. He’s so cool under pressure, it’s as if he were ballin’ in the backyard.
If you're a basketball fan whose spouse is cool enough to back off during tourney time, this might be the best sporting period of the year. Especially when you factor in the fantasy pennant races, which are reaching a fevered pitch as we speak.
So let’s start living the fantasy by ranking the NBA's best swingman in terms of scoring average, 8-cat rank, durability (this season), wins, and clutchness. For the sake of comprehensiveness (and because I love to hear myself write), I have picked 10 swingmen to put through my own personal version of the NFL's degrading Wonderlic test.
And the nominees are: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Michael Redd, Jason Richardson, Vince Carter, Rip Hamilton.
To make the list, you had to average at least 20 ppg (sexiest stat of all) and play the two or three, and that's it...
10. Jason Richardson, Warriors: This is your basic combo platter of congratulations and I'm sorry, as J-Rich makes the list, but he's not even close to the sexiest swingman around. J-Rich is a nominee because he's averaging 23.8 ppg and has only four DNP's despite myriad injuries. However, he's merely 10th because of the ninth-best scoring average, eighth-best win total, and 10-best clutch rating.
Now before you freak out, take a look at the nine other swingmen, and ask yourself who you want taking the make-or-break shot? I'm sorry, but J-Rich would be a decoy to every other player on this list if I were the one holding the clipboard.
And yes, I witnessed Thursday’s miracle, whirling dervish, running three-pointer to beat the Mavs at the buzzer. (That was Shot of the Year, by the way. And in the same week, we probably got the Dunk of the Year from Gerald Green as well.)
I’m not saying J-Rich isn’t clutch. I’m just saying he isn’t clutch as the other players on this list.
9. Tracy McGrady, Rockets: I was surprised to see the final results spit out a ranking of 9-outta-10 for T-Mac, who has been 1-outta-10 in fantasy leagues. He was bailed out by a clutchness ranking of fourth. When T-Mac is healthy, I would favor only Kobe, Wade, or Pierce in the closing seconds.
Obviously, T-Mac is 100th-outta-10 in terms of DNPs, as his total will reach 35 for the season. Conversely, the next closest swingmen in terms of DNPs are Wade, Allen, and J-Rich--all with four.
The biggest buzzkill of all is that T-Mac, who was taken in the first round in many leagues, has the worst 8-cat ranking of any player on this list. I don't know about you, but I will not be taking T-Mac before the mid-to-late second round next year.
8. Ray Allen, Supersonics: Allen slips to the lower division among the league's sexiest swingmen because of his team's ugly record (27-40) through Thursday's work. That is dead last among the players on this list, and that's a shame.
I blame the Sonics for not going out of their way to re-sign Nate McMillan, who had no business winning 52 games and taking the Spurs to six games in the Western semis with last year’s roster. I mean, you had two All-Stars in Ray and Rashard Lewis, but Nate had to push the right buttons with everyone else. And you let him go...for Bob Weiss? I don't care if Ray-Ray didn't like Nate's deliberate pace, it helped the Sonics win a division title.
On a fantasy tip--the only tip that really matters--Ray is the fourth-best player on this list in terms of 8-cat ranking.
(Tie) 6. Michael Redd, Bucks: And people had the gall, the audacity, the nerve, to question the Bucks for rewarding Redd with max money. Meet the man and you will understand. Redd, who went undrafted out of Ohio State, is one of the most laid-back, polite, and just-grateful-to-be-here players you will ever meet--and yes, the same could be said of him post max.
You can't begrudge this great man's individual success. You just can't. And you can't belittle his numbers anymore: just below 25 ppg and two threes per game. Interestingly, Redd's rank was sixth in points per game as well as 8-cat ranking, and other players with the same ranking in both areas include Kobe, LeBron, and Wade.
(Tie) 6. Vince Carter, Nets: Ironically, Carter's fourth-place ranking in durability is twice as high as his rank for scoring average (eighth). How cool is that? As we speak, Vince is on pace for an 80-game season, only the second 80-plus game season of his career (82 in 1999-00).
Word is, Vince has turned the corner in terms of coping with pain and adjusting his electric game accordingly.
From 2001-03, Vince missed 61 games, and started gaining a reputation as an injury-prone player, as well as a dude who didn't heal with haste. But he had near-perfect attendance before that stretch (seven DNPs in his first three years) and he's on pace for 16 DNPs in the three years after that brittle stretch, so it's starting to look like the 01-02 and 02-03 seasons were actually the exceptions to the rule.
Dare I say Vince Carter is (gulp) a warrior?
5. Rip Hamilton, Pistons: In terms of strict reality, Rip is the sexiest swingman of all, ranking first in wins (54) and first in DNPs (zero). However, he's 10th on this list in ppg and ninth in 8-cat ranking, so it all balances out to fifth overall. In addition to averaging a career-high in points (20.9) and field-goal percentage (.499), Hamilton has two rip-your-heart-out game-winners against Boston and Seattle.
Unfortunately for the Pistons, Bruce Bowen is going to rip Hamilton right out of Detroit's offense once again in The Finals. Spurs over Pistons in seven.
4. Paul Pierce, Celtics: It doesn't get much sexier than scoring at least 30 points in 13 of 14 games. Pierce is tied for first in my favorite category of all, fewest DNPs, as he is on pace to play 82 games despite a left elbow so grossly bulbous with fluids, he's considering popping it like a blister.
Pierce is in the top five in four of our five categories, failing only in wins (eighth). Pierce has been on the wrong end of just about every close game this year--and there have been dozens--but last week he nailed game-winners in back-to-back games.
It's a shame that the young Celtics aren't farther along, because an MVP-caliber performance is falling mostly on deaf ears thanks to Boston's record. Paul, we're noticing...
(Tie) 2. LeBron James, Cavaliers: That sound you hear is silence from all the haters who think either a) LeBron will never be clutch or b) LeBron is passing to wide open teammates because he's afraid to take game-winning shots.
Are these people on a field trip from the asylum? Have these critics been around long enough to witness the evolution of a great player?
Whether you want to believe it or not, NBA players can develop in terms of being clutch. Just because you miss a couple of game-winners in your third year doesn’t mean you won’t consistently stick the same shot in five years…or later that same season.
LeBron is dominating the greatest league in the world at 21 years of age. As such, I have no problem cutting him a little slack for failing in the clutch for three straight games. There's no shame in trying and failing, only in letting the failures get to you, which clearly has not been the case with LJ23.
Lemme break down the past couple weeks, in case you still think LeBron can't get it done in the clutch.
On a Thursday in Chicago, LeBron passes out of a triple-team to a wide-open Flip Murray, who wins the game with a three. A few games later, in Toronto, LeBron passes out of a double-team to a wide-open Damon Jones, who wins the game with a three. And this past Wednesday, LeBron passes out of a double-team to a wide-open Flip, who once again buries a three to force overtime, where LeBron splashes a game-winner against a single-team with under a second to play.
Ask players like Chris Webber, Lamar Odom, and Kevin Garnett, and they'll tell you passes that lead to points are as satisfying as scoring the points yourself.
If you don't have that unselfish mindset, why even play the game?
LeBron isn't afraid of the big shot. LeBron isn't afraid of anything. LeBron is reacting wisely to what the defense is throwing at him, and that's one of the main reasons the Cavaliers are the East's fourth-best team at 39-29.
(Tie) 2. Dwyane Wade, Heat: If you have watched one minute of my fantasy show over the past three years, you know LeBron is my second favorite player--behind KG. But what you may not know is that if I were so fortunate as to run an NBA team, and if I had my choice of franchise-starters, I would take Wade over LeBron because the former is way ahead of the latter in the clutch department.
Remember, as a rookie Wade hit a game-winner over All-Star Baron Davis in his first playoff game.
Only legends begin their NBA story with such a dramatic chapter one. And the daggers have continued since then, to the point that we now expect him to deliver in the clutch (Wade's missed reverse lay-up against my Wolves, notwithstanding).
Because of my confidence in Wade with the clock winding down, he ranks second among these swingmen in clutchness, as well as second in wins, third in ppg and 8-cat rank, and seventh in DNPs (four).
I can't wait to see what he has in store for this year's playoffs. Dwyane, we're all crossing our fingers that you stay healthy this time.
1. Kobe Bryant, Lakers: King Kobe the 8th strikes again!
Love him or hate him--or vacillate like me--but dig the fact that he's No. 1 in clutch, scoring average, and 8-cat rank, tied for fourth with only two DNPs, and fifth in wins. He's the only guy on this list in the top five of every category. And he has an 81-point game, second most to Wilt's 100. And he has the best fadeaway since God. And he can still dunk with the best of 'em. And he's averaging 38 points per game at Staples...
...But his team is only one game over .500.
Slam on the breaks, freaks. King Kobe may be the sexiest swingman in my unofficial world, but he is not the MVP for 05-06.
Steve Nash is first (quantity and quality without Amare; 2-6 without him last two seasons) and Dirk Nowitzki is second (best one-man band; 30&10 over the last month). Matter of fact, Kobe isn't even in my top 5.
The way I see, a player has to lead his team to at least 50 wins to be eligible for MVP consideration and the Lakers are on pace for 42.
Kobe can score 50 a game, but if his Lakers don't top 50 wins, he's out.
None of this Andre Dawson or Alex Rodriguez for MVP nonsense applies in the NBA. You have to have the stats and win-loss percentage.
That's why Nash beat Shaq last season.
That's why Nash will beat Kobe this season.
(Bet you never thought a tree-hugger like Nash would steal the show from the NBA's most Hollywood players? Long live the hippies...)
Euroleague Prospect of the Week
If it's okay with you, I'd like to start a new bit that introduces some of the ripe, young talent in Euroleague Basketball. I don't know if this news will ever impact your fantasy life, but it will grow your basketball mind and possibly even add some intrigue to the draft.
This week's prospect is Sofoklis Schortsanitis of Olympiakos (Greece).
Taken with the 34th pick in the 2003 draft by the Clippers, Schortsanitis is anything but. In fact, the dude is known as Baby Shaq overseas because he looks like a cross between Shaquille O'Neal and Robert Traylor.
He's a brute, who definitely needs to work on body control at the defensive end. Like Kurt Thomas, he's a magnet for flesh and a big hit with the refs. However, when he sets a pick it serves as a double-screen, his size makes him a solid rebounder, and he has the hops to jam with room to spare.
With the departure of Chris Wilcox (I'll never understand why he didn't get at least 25 minutes in LA), it seems to me that the Clippers could use another power forward. And if the Clippers decide to bring Baby Shaq to Los Angeles, his house-like features and patented sneer will make him an instant fan favorite.
Stuck behind Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, and because he will always be foul-prone in the NBA, Schortsanitis likely won't ever dent your fantasy league, but he'd be great for the Clippers and the NBA.
• I saw the future the other night, and his name is Raymond Felton. If you didn't watch Wednesday's overtime thriller between the Cavs and Bobcats, you missed the birth of an NBA star. I know, I know, I spew forth such hyperbole every time a guy records a triple-double, but I'm telling you, you don't drop 30 points, 10 dimes, seven pulls, and five steals on a playoff team, in their house, sans Brevin Knight, Gerald Wallace, and Emeka Okafor, without being a phenom.
Raymond Felton is a true Carolina blue phenom, showing me he's not only Rubbermaid durable, but also smart money in the clutch.
• I should dial it down a few notches in talking about Felton's teammate, Bernard Robinson, but he has really opened my eyes in the past two games.
On Tuesday, he got a start because Jumaine Jones was benched for disciplinary reasons and posted a five-cat line of 17-13-6-1-2. On Wednesday, he got a start because Gerald Wallace missed the game with a recurring calf injury. (Why is it that all the D-freaks get hurt all the time? Crash, AK47, Camby, Knight, Dalembert, Ratliff, Przybilla, Allan Houston?)
If you're scoring at home, that's 16 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals over the past two games, and that's unbelievable stuff from the second year man outta Michigan. And in watching Robinson, I didn't see excessive displays of emotion, which tells me he's all business, and he expects to be good.
With Wallace's injury and the Bobcats entering the developmental phase of their season, Robinson should average anywhere between 25-35 minutes, which will be enough for him to help your roto team. I could see something like 12 points, six rebounds, three assists, and 1.5 steals from Robinson over the last month. Think Andre Igoudala without the threes.
• What a surreal scene with the point guard position in Seattle, eh? How does Earl Watson go from "out indefinitely" in Tuesday morning's paper to 14-5-6 in 30 minutes on Wednesday night?
I guess the fracture in his neck is much ado about next-to-nothing.
Watson was his typically aggressive self, and Luke Ridnour put an emotional week behind him to post a 12-10 double-double with three steals in 30 minutes. If Bob Hill can manage this dicey situation to the tune of a 30-30 split for his point guards, the Sonics Nation will be happy, the fantasy world will be happy, and no one gets hurt.
Peace and good luck in your brackets>>>