2008-09 NBA Leaderboard, Part I

The inaugural edition of the 2008-09 Leaderboard mainly consists of the “usual suspects” but there are a few surprising names that have surfaced.

Best Five Records
——————-

1) L.A. Lakers, 8-1
2) Boston Celtics, 10-2
3) Cleveland Cavaliers, 9-3
4-5) Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, 8-3

No one can be too surprised that last year’s Finalists are at the top of the heap–both teams retained their core players (other than Boston losing James Posey) and the Lakers actually got significantly deeper with the “acquisitions” of Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza. The Cavaliers started slowly last year due to injuries and holdouts but with all hands on deck plus the addition of Mo Williams they are without question an elite, championship contending team. Since trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, the Pistons tagged the Lakers with their first–and, so far, only–loss and then ended Cleveland’s eight game winning streak. Orlando is right on schedule as one of the East’s top teams. Utah, Phoenix and Denver are each 8-4; the Jazz have had to battle through some injuries, the Suns have picked up where they left off at the end of last season before the Spurs broke their hearts in the playoffs and the Nuggets have–as usual–beaten up on some sub-.500 teams (Clippers, Grizzlies, Bobcats, Timberwolves, Bucks). Notably absent are the New Orleans Hornets, who are 5-5 despite Chris Paul’s fine play and eyepopping assist numbers; perhaps the problem is that assists can be padded in the boxscore but wins cannot (I still consider Paul to be the best point guard in the league, even if his assist total is likely inflated by 15-20%).

Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)
——————

1) LeBron James, CLE 29.5 ppg
2) Dwyane Wade, MIA 28.2 ppg
3) Chris Bosh, TOR 25.5 ppg
4) Joe Johnson, ATL 25.3 ppg
5) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 24.7 ppg
6-7) Kobe Bryant, LAL 24.3 ppg
6-7) Danny Granger, IND 24.3 ppg
8) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 23.3 ppg
9) Tim Duncan, SAS 22.8 ppg
10-11) Vince Carter, NJN 22.6 ppg
10-11) Al Jefferson, MIN 22.6 ppg

13) Kevin Durant, OKC 21.5 ppg

15) Paul Pierce, BOS 21.1 ppg
16) Dwight Howard, ORL 21.0 ppg

18) Chris Paul, NOR 20.7 ppg

24) O.J. Mayo, MEM 20.1 ppg

LeBron James won his first scoring title last year and it’s a safe bet that it was not his last. Some numbers to keep in mind are 10, 7 and 4: Michael Jordan holds the all-time record with 10 scoring titles, Wilt Chamberlain won seven (all of them in a row, which is a record) and George Gervin and Allen Iverson each captured four scoring titles. It will be interesting to see just how far James can move up that list. What Jordan did was amazing and then you have to remember that he could easily have won two more scoring titles if he had not played baseball in 1994 and 1995, plus he missed most of the 1986 season with a broken foot.

Dwyane Wade has picked up right where he left off during the Olympics, driving to the hoop with authority.

Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson are both very good players but I suspect that neither will be in the top five in scoring by the end of the season; look for Kobe Bryant to settle into the third spot by the end of December and to remain there (unless Wade gets hurt and misses a lot of games).

I’ve heard some people going nuts about O.J. Mayo, just like some people went overboard about Kevin Durant last season. O.J. Mayo can shoot and he can score–but is he above average in any other skill set category? He is doing exactly what I predicted that he would do: score a lot of points while not having much of an impact in other statistical areas. Mayo repeatedly proclaimed that he can play point guard but he ranks third on the Grizzlies with 2.4 apg despite leading the team in minutes played and averaging 13 more mpg than any other guard on the roster.

As for Durant, his shooting has improved a bit–continuing a trend that began at the end of last season–but he is not making much of a contribution as a rebounder, passer or defender. During a recent ESPN telecast, Jeff Van Gundy expressed surprise and disappointment that Durant has not developed into a more well rounded player. Of course, 20 Second Timeout readers know that I predicted this outcome before Durant played a single regular season game.

Top Ten Rebounders (and a few other notables)
———————-

1) Andris Biedrins, GSW 14.6 rpg
2) Dwight Howard, ORL 13.5 rpg
3) Zach Randolph, NYK 12.5 rpg
4) Carlos Boozer, UTA 11.7 rpg
5) Chris Bosh, TOR 11.0 rpg
6) Chris Kaman, LAC 10.8 rpg
7) Elton Brand, PHI 10.5 rpg
8) Andrew Bogut, MIL 10.5 rpg
9) Al Jefferson, MIN 10.3 rpg
10) Tim Duncan, SAS 10.3 rpg
11) Pau Gasol, LAL 10.1 rpg

14-15) Kevin Garnett, BOS 9.8 rpg
14-15) Rasheed Wallace, DET 9.8 rpg

16-17) Yao Ming, HOU 9.5 rpg
16-17) Jermaine O’Neal, TOR 9.5 rpg

19) Andrew Bynum, LAL 8.9 rpg

24) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.3 rpg

27) LeBron James, CLE 7.8 rpg
28) Shaquille O’Neal, PHX 7.8 rpg

40) Jason Kidd, DAL 7.1 rpg

Andris Biedrins has a significant lead over last year’s champion, Dwight Howard. Some people may have thought that Zach Randolph would not fit it with Mike D’Antoni’s system but even teams that play small and push the ball up the court quickly need to have at least one big guy who rebounds; Randolph and Biedrins are filling that role for their teams.

Rasheed Wallace’s rebounding average is far above his career high (8.2 rpg in 2002 and 2005), so look for that number to start moving south pretty soon.

Jason Kidd continues to outrebound many frontcourt players and he has lapped the field at his position with Chris Paul ranking a distant second (5.0 rpg).

Top Ten Playmakers
———————-

1) Chris Paul, NOH 11.9 apg
2) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.8 apg
3) Jason Kidd, DAL 8.3 apg
4) Baron Davis, LAC 8.0 apg
5) Dwyane Wade, MIA 7.8 apg
6) Steve Nash, PHX 7.5 apg
7) Chris Duhon, NYK 7.2 apg
8) LeBron James, CLE 6.9 apg
9) Rajon Rondo, BOS 6.7 apg
10) Stephen Jackson, GSW 6.5 apg

Here are the early returns on the question of whether Steve Nash “made” Mike D’Antoni or Mike D’Antoni’s system “made” Steve Nash: Nash’s apg average has dropped from 11.1 apg last season to 7.5 apg, while Chris Duhon’s apg average has increased from 4.0 apg last season to 7.2 apg. Nash never averaged more than 8.8 apg before playing for D’Antoni or less than 10.5 apg while playing for him, while Duhon’s previous career high was 5.0 apg. Based on these early returns, it would appear that playing for D’Antoni is “worth” 2-3 apg for a starting point guard. The really interesting question is whether D’Antoni truly makes his point guards better or simply employs a system that enables his point guards to accumulate more impressive statistics. I’ve always liked Nash’s game and I thought he was underrated before he arrived in Phoenix but after a few years of putting up 10-plus apg for D’Antoni I thought that Nash became a bit overrated–at least in the sense that he should not have been winning MVPs over Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. The emergence of Duhon as a top ten assist guy and the simultaneous regression of Nash’s assist numbers to their pre-D’Antoni levels is yet another indication that apg averages should not be the sole or primary method for evaluating passing ability, let alone determining a player’s overall value.

Along the same lines, I believe that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league and you could certainly make the case that he is the best passer–but is he 26% better as a playmaker than anyone else, as his apg numbers suggest? That is obviously ludicrous. Assist numbers are heavily dependent on the kind of system that a player plays in and are also subjectively awarded at times.

As a final note, it is interesting that Stephen Jackson has replaced Baron Davis as the Warriors’ playmaker, following in the tradition of Don Nelson’s Milwaukee “point forward” Paul Pressey, who averaged more than 7 apg for three straight seasons and ranked seventh in the NBA in total assists in the 1985-86 season.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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