3 votes – Brandon Roy. 42 points on 15/27 shooting, including 12 in the fourth, most of which came against one of the league’s best defenders in Artest. That can of whoop-ass is officially open. The most alarming thing for the Blazers, is despite Roy’s massive game and Aldridge’s 27-12 and Yao’s measly 11 points, the Rockets were right in this game up with two minutes to play. Do the Blazers really need that much going in their favor to pull out a win in this series? Hearing Roy say things like “Man, it’s hard winning games in the playoffs. It takes a lot of work” doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence. Also, note Aaron Brooks’ 23 points on 9/12 proving game 1 wasn’t necessarily a fluke.

2 votes – Lebron James. The Pistons said they would try everything to avoid Lebron beating them, and while they might claim a small victory in that quest, the reality is Lebron still beat them. Badly. A subtle 29-13-6 on a very measured 14 shot attempts that helped build a 29-point lead was arguably more impressive than what he did in game 1. The Cavs got complacent in the fourth while the Pistons made their obligatory run (which any playoff team invariably will, that’s why they’re in the playoffs) but just like game 1, the result never seemed in doubt. Also, and this is downright amazing, go look at the +/- differential column for the Pistons team. Notice anything different between the starters and the bench? Has this ever happened before in the history of the NBA?! My God.

1 vote – Kobe Bryant. I almost gave this vote to Aldridge, and I almost gave it to Deron Williams. But hard to argue against Kobe deserving a vote for keeping a very competitive Jazz team at bay, again – certainly more impressive than Lebron holding off the Pistons. Kobe almost gets the vote for this shot alone:

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I saw this shot and the last five minutes of the third quarter on a TV at the baggage claim in JFK airport. There were about 30 or 40 people standing around watching the game while waiting for their luggage, most of them probably New Yorkers returning home. When Kobe hit that shot there was a collective gasp and then about 30 people, including me, just shook their heads. It was amusing. You could tell these weren’t Lakers fans because there were no cheering or clapping. Just a lot of head shaking. One guy turned away from the TV to look for his bag, then glanced at me, “that guy’s freaken ridiculous”. I had to agree. Brewer did a great job defending that shot and Kobe probably did the wrong thing by taking it – the degree of difficulty was just too high. But he made it, and that’s what makes him Kobe.

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On a related note, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months, but wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a statistic that recorded the degree of difficulty of every player’s shot? The DOD, as Hollinger would probably label it. That would make for some fascinating analysis in my opinion. Obviously it’s somewhat subjective as to how to measure the DOD for a certain shot, but there would be some rough guides, i.e:

Level 1 (easy) – A dunk / layup
Level 2 (easy/moderate) – An open jump shot, contested layup/dunk
Level 3 (moderate) – An open three, contested jump shot, layup/dunk in traffic
Level 4 (moderate/hard) – Contested three, fadeaway jump shot, shot while being fouled
Level 5 (hard) – Double-teamed shots, shots with the opposite hand, fadeaway threes

That is by no means a complete guide. There’s just so many variables and such a gradient in the definition of words like “open”, “contested”, even “fadeaway”. You’d have to include a weighting for how late in the game the shot occurs (as more pressure undoubtedly increases the degree of difficulty), and also proximity of the defender – there’s contested shots, and then there’s contested shots like Ben Gordon’s the other night (3:10 into this clip). And with Kobe’s shot, you not only have to take into account Brewer being right in his grill, but Kobe having picked up his dribble, trying to pivot to create space. You could tell he was trying to emulate his spinning-pivot shot against the Knicks (4:36 into this clip) but Brewer stayed down and wouldn’t let him spin, so Kobe had to fade directly away from the hoop with no momentum whatsoever, which, as anyone who’s played ball knows, is a bit hard.

The final Degree of Difficulty grading for that shot would be very high, but in whatever scale you finally settle on, this Kobe shot has to be the maximum. I know I talk a lot about that shot, it boggles my mind – two defenders, trapped in the corner, spinning fadeaway, close game in OT, dude has 60 points, nothing but net, and the most important point – it’s not a circus shot. It’s not an overhead heave or long-armed Magic Johnson-style three that most players would shoot in that situation. It’s a perfect text-book jump shot, with great elevation and a squared-shoulder release from 24-feet.

It’s these kind of shots that got me thinking about the DOD stat, because too often we judge a player’s shooting ability and shooting efficiency on FG% alone. When you think about the degree of difficulty on most shots by Kobe it’s amazing he’s anywhere near the average FG% for a player at his position, let alone above it. It’s not just Kobe, but I single him out because if someone had recorded DOD over the past decade, Kobe would come out with the highest average score, of that I have no doubt. That is a product of two things: 1) Kobe being asked to deliver in tough situations, i.e. shot clock winding down, double-teams, etc, but also 2) Kobe’s stubbornness and questionable shot selection at times. Lakers fans will probably disagree with me, but it’s a fact: Kobe takes more stupidly difficult shots than anyone in the entire league, and it’s only because he’s talented enough to occasionally make them that he keeps taking them. If you adjusted his FG% to take into account DOD I’m sure you’d find he’d be light-years ahead of his peers.

As I said, it’s not just Kobe. Another guy that comes to mind is Steve Nash, who has nowhere near the athletic or shot-making ability of a Kobe Bryant. But that is deceptive. Nash hits a lot of threes and opposition teams don’t exactly leave him open – it’s kind of a known fact that he is one of the deadliest shooters of all time. Yet he still has an uncanny ability to make them, whether bigger defenders are in his face or whether he’s running sideways to make space for himself. Nash doesn’t have the luxury of multiple picks being set for him (like Ray Allen) to get open because he has the ball all the time. And when Nash drives to the hoop, he’s at an extreme disadvantage in that he can’t jump over anyone or fly baseline-reverse, so he contorts his body into taking – and making – ridiculous floaters and fall-aways and scoop shots. Nash never got enough credit for it during his MVP years – people were too preoccupied with the Suns high-scoring antics and Nash’s play making – but the fact is Nash was an incredibly talented offensive player who regularly made shots with an extremely high degree of difficulty.

You might be asking, isn’t scoring with a high degree of difficulty what makes great players great? Not necessarily. No one questions Dwight Howard’s talents but a lot of his shots are dunks or little hooks – not easy considering the defensive attention he often gets, but not difficult when you’re built like Dwight Howard (you could make the same argument for Yao). Rip Hamilton is a great scorer, one of the most consistent over the last 8-9 years in the league, but the DOD on most of his shots aren’t high because he has a chorus line of picks to set him free. David West gets a lot of uncontested 17-foot jump shots thanks to Chris Paul’s penetration, his DOD wouldn’t be high. And Tim Duncan, as great at he is, hits most of his jump shots when the defenders mistakenly allow him enough space to do so (low-moderate DOD). Not saying any of these players are overrated offensively, far from it, just that the way they make their bread and butter on the offensive end (and remember this is only one half of basketball, as Dwight would happily remind us) is a little easier than others.

I could talk about this all day, and ultimately I’m dreaming because a stat like this will never be accurately recorded. But it is something to keep in mind next time you’re watching a game or looking at shooting statistics, if only to appreciate the insanely talented individuals that play this game of basketball.

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An update on my travels. Yes i’m in New York and loving it. Today I spent about 5 hours walking around Manhattan and 3 hours in the NBA Store. I thought that was a fair ratio. Of the coolest things I saw in the store was a retro Charles Oakley Knicks jersey (my favorite Knick of all time), retro Chris Mullin Jersey (I’m pretty sure you’ve grown out of your old one Ham), and Detroit Pistons underpants. I am going to spend a lot of money in that place. The plan is to chill in the Big Apple for about a week, hopefully head up to Boston to catch game 5 (and maybe game 7?), and then go back West to watch a couple more games before my journey ends. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Pistons underwear to put on. It’s getting a bit chilly in here.


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