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12-03-2003, 12:40 PM
Pierce: Celtics aren't tough enough

If Boston Celtics swingman Paul Pierce has said it once, he's said it a million times.

"Every time we lose games, it's not because of our effort, it's because we lose leads," Pierce told the Boston Globe. "The team understands what it has to do. It's got to come from each and every individual. My whole point is that everything doesn't start with me. Everything doesn't go through me. At the same time, every individual player has the responsibility to make this a better team and turn things around."

He had more to say after his team was outscored 25-19 in the fourth quarter by the Memphis Grizzlies Monday night and lost by seven points.

"We are going to have to become a more mentally tough team," said Pierce. "Right now we're not where we should be. We haven't reached our potential."

Maybe he was still mad about being outscored 45-34 by the Sixers in the second half of a game they ended up losing by two. Or perhaps it was the game in which they were outscored 51-32 in the second half and lost to the Knicks by three.

Paul Pierce
Shooting Guard
Boston Celtics

17 22.3 7.1 5.5 .405 .846

"There's a lot of things people can do to help this team win," Pierce told the Boston Herald. "Of course you'll be frustrated with losing, but we know what we have in this room. That's the frustrating part -- we can win these games."

A closer look at the stats backs him up. The Celtics were 12-5 at this point last year, having gone 4-2 in games decided by seven or fewer points, including two overtime wins in which they outscored the Hawks 26-16 in the fourth quarter and outscored the Lakers 31-24 down the stretch.

But this year's team has a record of 3-8 in games decided by seven or fewer points. In fact, the Celtics have never lost by more than eight but have a record of 7-10.

And what's making Pierce so mad is not the fact that they are losing, but how they're losing.

Last year's team shot 41.5 percent from the field. This year's team shoots 42.8 percent. Last year's team was outrebounded by 4.2 on average, while this year's team is outrebounded by only 1.6. This year's team may shoot worse from long range and have more turnovers, but it also shoots better from the free-throw line and holds opponents to 3.9 fewer points per game.

The statistics are almost a wash. But that isn't what Pierce is talking about. He's talking about bouncing back after losses. He's talking about playing tougher as the game wears on. He's talking about, well, mental toughness.

"But this isn't the first time I've talked about these things," Pierce said. "This is something we already know -- something we've talked about for the last couple of weeks."

When last season's team was blown out 114-69 by the Wizards on Oct. 31, it won the following game against the Knicks to start a six-game winning streak. When that streak ended with back-to-back losses, Boston rebounded to win its next four.

This year's team has never won more than two games in a row and already owns losing streaks of three and four games.

"He's our captain," head coach Jim O'Brien told the Boston Globe. "He's welcome to express his views. If that's what he feels, I'm sure he talked to the team about it. That's fine. That's why he's the captain. I think that he takes a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He should say what he has to say."

But O'Brien is a bit more diplomatic about it.

"When I think of mental toughness, I think of guts, and we have plenty of guts," said the coach. "We're disappointed as a group that we haven't finished off our opportunities. When we give the attention to our defensive responsibilities, I think things will turn around. We need to pay attention to details. I still have a lot of faith in this basketball team."

Nets losing confidence?

Alonzo Mourning has retired, but the New Jersey Nets, with veterans like Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles and Lucious Harris, are just as confident as ever that they're the team to beat in the Eastern Conference ... right?

"I don't know," team president Rod Thorn told the New York Post. "And I say that because some of these teams in the East are better. Indiana's better. Detroit is better. New Orleans is better. And it's too early. We haven't played enough good games for me to say we're going to be in that caliber. ... But I don't know right now. I really don't."


"I'm always concerned when we lose three games in a row, especially when we're not playing the style we're capable of playing against teams we should beat," Kittles said after the Nets lost to the Blazers, Kings and Jazz with a game tonight against the Grizzlies.


"That's real damaging to a team. It's a roller-coaster all the time. You want an even keel but it's not," said Harris. "We're coming out flat in the first couple quarter and it's killing us."

Sure, they have a 7-10 record, were down to the Kings 60-28 by halftime and were outrebounded by the Jazz, 51-25. But these are the Nets, right? The two-time defending Eastern Conference champs, right?

Certainly head coach Byron Scott, in the final year of his contract and looking for an extension thinks so, doesn't he?

"It's something we have to figure out because rebounding doesn't have a lot to do with skills, it has to do with your will against his will," Scott said.

Brand to the rescue?

The Los Angeles Clippers aren't exactly sure when Elton Brand will be cleared to play, but now that doctors have cleared him for full-contact practices, they aren't waiting around to get him back into the grind.

Brand"Getting elbows in the face -- I've missed that," Brand told the L.A. Daily News after teammate Melvin Ely busted him in the chops in his first practice back. "No problem, no pain. I rebounded, blocked shots, got a busted lip. You know, it was a normal, good practice."
The all-star power forward broke his right foot during the team's opening game in Japan on Oct. 30, tallying a whopping 21 points, 15 boards and eight blocked shots and has not played since.

"He looked pretty good," head coach Mike Dunleavy said. "It's pretty amazing the guy can come in and bang and still have his touch and timing."

But even Dunleavy was reluctant to say Brand's inevitable return would solve everything for a team that has fallen to 5-8 with losses in six of its last seven games.

"I pointed to him and said, 'Don't expect this guy to be the savior,' " Dunleavy told the L.A. Times. "There's a lot of stuff he can do. He can plug a lot of holes, but not [all] the holes that I've seen. He doesn't have that many fingers."

High shot total hurts Iverson's efficiency

Last week, Allen Iverson dropped 50 points on some unsuspecting team and then scored only 12 against another.

In all, he scored 62 points to maintain his league lead in the scoring column, which is at 28.4 per game.

The week before that, Karl Malone scored 13 points one night and 20 the next to place him somewhere between third and fourth on his team while not even causing a stir among league leaders.

But before we dismiss these two performances altogether with averages and percentages, maybe we could see which player was actually the more efficient scorer and, on a greater scale, which players in the NBA are the more efficient scorers overall.

Allen Iverson
Shooting Guard
Philadelphia 76ers

17 28.4 3.4 6.5 .414 .742

Rather than just looking at scoring output and shooting percentage, we decided, this time, to count the number of shots each player takes in relation to how many points that particular player scores. Of course, these numbers would be affected by 3-point buckets as well as free throws with those long-range shots counting for more while those charity shots not counting as a shot attempted.

Well, Iverson took 53 shots in those two games to register his 62 points while Malone took 12 shots to get his 33 . . . add . . . divide . . . double check math . . . And we see that Iverson scored 1.16 points for every shot he took while Malone scored 2.75 points for every shot he took.

Karl Malone
Power Forward
Los Angeles Lakers

17 14.5 10.5 4.1 .494 .738

Carry that over into the current season and we see that Iverson has scored 483 points this season on 418 shots. That's 1.15 points for every shot. Malone has scored 247 points this season on 170 shots. That's 1.45 points for every shot, which would make him far and away the much more efficient scorer.

Of course, we couldn't do this for every player in the league but, instead, decided to take the NBA's top 50 scorers and any team leaders that didn't rank on that list. And guess what? Malone didn't qualify on either one and was left off. But it isn't hard to see how the Lakers are outshooting their opponents 47 percent to 42 while taking 152 more free throws, which has resulted in a 10-point margin of victory and 14-3 record despite having only one player in the top 10 in scoring but having three of the top 6 on this list.

Most efficient scorers

1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 1.465 (343 points on 234 shots)
Wind him up and turn him loose while he strings together 40-point games like so many Christmas lights. Place him alongside three other Hall of Famers, add in rape charges, surgery rehab and sibling rivalry for effect, and he's still leads his team in scoring while doing so at almost 10 fewer points than he put up last year. But make no mistake about it. He remains the troubled prodigy trapped in a team sport, which should tell you just how talented he is by topping this list while completely out of his element.

2. Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz
Stats: 1.463 (278 points on 190 shots)
This kid is in the top 10 in steals and blocks per game, No. 7 in free-throw percentage, No. 13 in field goal percentage and 17th in offensive rebounds. And we're supposed to believe in this mass of statistics that he's also being efficient about it? And here's the scary part. He's increased all of those numbers in every positive statistically category over each of his three seasons in the league and showing no signs of stretch marks, which makes us wonder how good he can possibly become. The more he scores, the better he shoots while nearly doubling his assist total from last year and adding two more boards a game. And have you seen him play defense on the only guy above him on this list? I know this piece is one dimensional in nature and I'm all over the board with this kid but have you noticed that he could play another 10 minutes a game and not look winded? Of course, there are more questions than answers at this point because, be honest, you still can't spell his last name without looking up.

3. Corey Maggette, Los Angeles Clippers
Stats: 1.45 (262 points on 180 shots)
Two words. Free throws. Two years ago, he shot a grand total of 251 on the season. In 13 games this season, he's already taken 112. This guy's on pace to shoot 705 of them from the small forward position. Heck, league MVP Tim Duncan took only 634 last year for comparison. He's getting a whopping 8.6 per game, which almost makes you completely forget that his shooting percentages from the field and long distance are actually lower than they were last season. Good for him that his free-throw percentage is at a career-high 84.8 percent.

4. Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento Kings
Stats: 1.44 (372 points on 258 shots)
There are maybe three or four people on the planet who can shoot the ball better than he can and that's being generous to the planet. He's never going to shoot a lot of free throws. He's never going to get a lot of offensive rebounds for chippy put backs. He's never going to be at the front of a fast break for an easy layup. The only way this guy gets on this list is to shoot lights out and 52 percent from the field, 42 percent from distance and 91 percent from the line certainly qualifies. But how long can be possibly keep it up? Well, after this year, his career numbers should be right around 47, 39 and 87 percent, respectively as well as respectfully.

5. Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 1.41 (302 points on 214 shots)
Let's be honest. This monster would rather be whistled for a charging foul than take another free throw in public, so his career mark of 57 percent shooting from the field (and league-leading 54 percent this season) shouldn't surprise you. He's going inside hard and leaving behind twice as many bodies than apologies. Besides, he shot a career best 62 percent from the line last season and everyone blamed him for not winning a fourth NBA title in a row. But for arguments sake, if the big guy had made every one of his free throws this season (rather than the 50 percent he's making now), his stat in this ranking would be an astronomical 1.73.

Least efficient scorers

29. Antoine Walker, Dallas Mavericks
Stats: 1.01 (287 points on 282 shots)
Shame on you for thinking that four other all-star caliber players in the same line up would slow this guy down. Last year, he took 1554 shots and scored 1,570 points. The year before that, he took 1,689 shots and scored 1,794 points. And so on. You don't even need to ask his former boss Danny Ainge for the reason, either. HE SHOOTS TOO MANY THREES. Two years ago, he shot 34 percent from distance. Last year, he shot 32 percent. This year, he's shooting a miserable 28 percent. Take away all those triples and he's shooting a tidy 48.7 percent from the field as one of the premier forwards in the game. But you know and I know that will never happen and he remains the most inefficient scorer on any NBA floor.

28. Latrell Sprewell, Minnesota Timberwolves
Stats: 1.03 (261 points on 251 shots)
Shooting a career-low 38 percent from the field will do this to you, especially when you couple that number with 27 percent from long range, which is only hundredths of a decimal from also being a career low. The result is, well, a career-low scoring average to go along with this nifty little ranking for a guy who, on career numbers, registers a decent 1.18 points for every shot.

27. Kenyon Martin, New Jersey Nets
Stats: 1.06 (205 points on 193 shots)
Don't let the slight bump in numbers and puffed up rhetoric fool you. Kenyon Martin, at this point, is a star only in his own mind and here's some more proof. Supposedly, he's rough and tough and ready to blow your house down. Statistically, this power forward who takes more shots per game than anyone on his team gets to the free-throw line less (3.2 free throws per game) than 3-point shooting swingman Mike Miller of the Memphis Grizzlies (4 free throws per game) who is having his worst season of his career since, well, he beat Kenyon Martin out for Rookie of the Year honors in 2001.

26. Ricky Davis, Cleveland Cavaliers
Stats: 1.0731 (264 points on 246 shots)
This guys just shoots a lot. And how can you blame him. You certainly didn't know his name until he turned 20 a game for a cellar-dweller last season. Now that his team is, in theory, on the way up led by another star, he's looking at being phased out and what else is he going to do but shoot (one shot every 2.1 minutes last year to one shot every 2.4 minutes this year). Let's just hope he doesn't rub off too much on that other star. While Lebron has been busy leading his team in scoring, assists and autograph requests while also being second in rebounding, his shooting has suffered and his stat on this list is 1.075 and would have been ranked if not for, you guessed, Ricky already being here.

25. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
Stats: 1.0733 (278 points on 259 shots)
Don't get used to seeing this kid's name at the bottom of these types of lists. In his first week of NBA action, he shot 31 percent from the field, 25 percent from long distance and 61 percent from the line. In his latest week of NBA action, he shot 46 percent from the field, 36 percent from distance and 84 percent from the line. At this rate, he'll be at the top of this pile of numbers looking down in no time. And at the ripe old age of 19, he's already the 16th most prolific free-throw shooter in the league with 90 attempts in only 16 games. That's 5.6 per contest for anyone out there doubting Melo's knack for knowing how to win ballgames.

Peep Show

New York Knicks: Don't tell Antonio McDyess that he's missed 171 of his team's last 181 games or that he missed all five of his shots in his return Monday night. He's just looking forward to his next time on the court, especially since it's coming away from the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. "I feel like this trip is going to help me a lot," McDyess said in the New York Times. "Five games on the road, no pressure, just going out there and playing . . . I can feel it. I'm going to be O.K. I was doing things I felt like I would never be able to do again, jumping, holding people, trying to block shots, running up the court in a full sprint."

Orlando Magic: The Orlando Magic have now lost 16 games in a row. Do I hear a franchise record 17 tonight against the New Orleans Hornets? "It's getting to the point now where we're going into games feeling like we're going to lose," said Tracy McGrady in Florida Today. "That's a bad feeling to have." And FYI, the record for consecutive losses was set by the 1983 Cavs at 24. "I think the mental toughness aspect when things start to go south on us is something that I'd like to change," said Magic head coach Johnny Davis. "I'd really like for us to show more fight."

San Antonio Spurs: Woulda, coulda, maybe the Spurs shoulda gone after Karl Malone during the offseason. "Everything pointed toward it," Malone said in the L.A. Daily News. "It would have been closer to home (Arkansas), more outdoorsy, so to speak. So, oh yeah, I would definitely say that they had the upper hand in the beginning. But as I met with Mitch (Kupchak) and everything, I realized what the Lakers were doing, and they (the Spurs) were going in a different direction. And I accepted that . . . Coach Pop (Gregg Popovich) was very honest with me. And then they got more aggressive at the end, instead of the beginning. ... If they would have came at me a little harder, it probably would be a little different. But it didn't. And it worked out for the better here."

Philadelphia 76ers: Allen Iverson knows a little something about playing hurt and also when teammate Marc Jackson shouldn't. "At halftime, we found out what happened with 'Jack,' " Iverson said in the Philadelphia Daily News. "[He] was a little emotional; he still wanted to go back in. He felt he hurt it early and kept playing. I looked at the X-rays and didn't say anything because he was real upset, but I was thinking, 'You can't play with a hand like that.' I'm not a doctor, but I could look at that X-ray and I could see the break." Jackson broke the finger on left hand and the Sixers are hoping they can activate forward Glenn Robinson with Derrick Coleman still on the injured reserve list.

12-03-2003, 12:46 PM
Just a few comments:

I'd love to have Kirilenko on the team. I'd trade any player other than Dirk. His hairdo fits right in with Dirk (and Steve).

I've been happy with Antoine so far, but I didn't realize that his points-per-shot average is so low. Of course, it's the free throws that are hurting him.

Finally, Karl Malone. I think he could have been the missing piece for this team (or, if we're lucky, there are no more pieces missing i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif). What he says here confirms what I suspected earlier when he said he'd have signed with the Mavs if they had pursued him. He's just blowing smoke, I don't believe him (or his agent). I personally think that he was going to sign with the Lakers regardless, as soon as they had Gary wrapped up.

Lonely PSU Mavs Fan
12-03-2003, 01:03 PM
I am glad to see the nets struggling. It is not that i hate the team, but i just dont particularly like any of them, and whenever they are on i find myself rooting against them no matter who they are playing (unless it is sacramento in which case i dont watch because they are my 2 least favorite teams in the NBA).

12-03-2003, 01:09 PM
Originally posted by: Lonely PSU Mavs Fan
I am glad to see the nets struggling. It is not that i hate the team, but i just dont particularly like any of them, and whenever they are on i find myself rooting against them no matter who they are playing (unless it is sacramento in which case i dont watch because they are my 2 least favorite teams in the NBA).

I couldn't agree with you more. I don't know why, but I tend to root against the Nets too. As for Sac'to, I just hate them.

12-03-2003, 01:17 PM
Yeah, free throws are hurting him. That, and his three point shooting, and a general slump he's been in the last couple games.

The wide disparity between the top and the bottom of the list is partially because PPS is a little bit of a biased statistic, though. For example, Antoine's recent 13-30 effort against Denver, in which he scored 30 points would give him a PPS of 1. Compare that to AI's 32 shot, 35 point effort last night, which would give him a PPS of 1.09. Looks like AI was more efficient according to that statistic, but if you take into consideration the number of FTA's things change a little bit. AI took 23 FTA's in that game, which means he took probably 10 or so more shots that weren't counted as FGA's, and that his points per scoring attempt was more like a .83. By comparison, Toine took only 4 FTA's, which means he had about 32 scoring attempts for his 30 points, yielding a ratio of .94. Looking at it this way it's clear that Toine was more efficient (though still not good) than AI, even though looking at PPS tilts the comparison the other way. What's really striking, though, is how much bias the PPS stat introduced. Using it AI was .09 higher. Taking into account the actual number of scoring attempts Toine was ahead by .11. That's a swing of .2. On a list where the range from top to bottom is about .45, that's significant.

Just for kicks, comparing Antoine and Kobe for the season (last and first in PPS), Antoine's points per scoring attempts works out to somewhere in the neighborhood of .94. Kobe's is somewhere in the area of 1.14. Here again, considering the total number of scoring attempts the difference drops from .45 all the way down to roughly .2. Still plenty of room fro improvement from Antoine, and I do think he'll improve somewhat, but the efficiency difference between him and Kobe is not nearly as wide as the PPS stat makes it seem.

12-04-2003, 05:25 AM
I agree somewhat, but getting to the line (and making your shots) is something that should be calculated when judging someone's efficiency. The free throw in basketball is the equivalant of the walk in baseball, and anyone who follows the MLB knows how important walks have become in measuring how good a batter is. It is the equivalant of saying that Jason Giambi didn't have a stronger season than Bill Mueller because when you subtract walks, it shows that Mueller was much more successful at hitting his way on base. It's precisely those walks that made Giambi a more effective batter than Mueller.

12-04-2003, 12:43 PM
I am calculating them. If I weren't I'd just be giving you an effective fg%. The problem with PPS is that it only takes into account the number of free throws made, while it completely ignores the number of free throws that were attempted. The formula I used takes both into account, so it actually does a better job of addressing your concerns than the PPS statistic.