2013 – The NBA Donut

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Donut as in empty in the middle.  We’ve talked in the past about the rise of the stretch four and how that has compromised defenses and opened up driving lanes like never before in the NBA, and how this has lead to a preponderance of productive driving guards and forwards and marginalized power players to some extent (though it oddly made them very valuable due to their relative scarcity).  I just finished running over my picks for end of year awards, and I was shocked by how perimeter-heavy the stats turned out to be.

 

The top 10 players to play at least 40 games and average over 33 minutes a game as ranked by PER are all guards and perimeter forwards, and there are only three forwards at all – LeBron, Durant, and Carmelo accompanied by Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, and Kyrie Irving.  Next on the list is Steph Curry.  And Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo missed the list with injuries.  If I reduce the minute requirement to 30 Duncan, Griffin, and Lopez all make it, but honestly, I can’t consider a player giving fewer than 33 minutes an MVP candidate.  The first big man on my PER list is LaMarcus Aldridge at 12.  Last year it was an even 5 – 5 split between bigs and perimeter players with Love, Dwight, Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum and Al Jefferson all cracking the top ten.  This season three of those guys missed time or played through injuries, and the other two have slipped statistically.

 

Ignoring stats for a moment, if we just subjectively tick off MVP nominees – Bron, KD, CP3, Mamba, Parker, Melo, maybe Harden… heck the two best players missing from the list are Wade and Westbrook, and the only reason they aren’t there is because they play with superior players in James and Durant who headline the whole list.  The first possible big man MVP candidate who comes to mind is Marc Gasol, and I couldn’t possibly make a case for him.  Best player on the 5th best team in the West who isn’t shocking anyone with great numbers or carrying a weak team… not an MVP.

 

I’ve gone back through every year since 1990, and I can’t find another season like this where the inside – outside division is so drastically one-sided.  In the mid-90s there were a couple seasons where it was 7-3 or maybe even 8-2 in favor of bigs to smalls, but there was always a nominee.  Jordan whenever he played was the best, so he mitigated the lopsidedness single-handedly.  When he was retired Scottie had a great couple of seasons.  Penny and Hill were both tremendous in ’95.  Stockton was always great.  Reggie’s Pacers were a factor.  You could at least make a statistical or circumstantial case that some perimeter player mattered in the race.

 

And while the league has gone perimeter more and more since the rule changes in 2005, that hasn’t stopped versatile and dominating bigs like Shaq, Yao, KG, Dirk, Timmy, Bosh, Love and Dwight from having an impact every year.  This season was just a convergence of extremes with the injuries to the best bigs from last year, the emergence of a few new great smalls in Harden and Kyrie, and an amazing bounce back season from Kobe Vino.  Still considering that some of the high production guards were injured too, it’s eye-opening to see the lopsided distribution in performance.

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