ONE: Kicking off the Aussie round-up with the Bogey Man, I’d like to first point out that he is still the league-leading shot blocker. You know, just in case there’s anyone reading this thinking he isn’t All-Star worthy. He’s also 5th in the league in rebounds per game with 11.5, confirming what we already knew – Bogut has to the the second best defensive big in the league behind Dwight. It’s been a remarkable transformation for Bogut over the last two seasons. Think about how he was labelled a few years back – big man with smarts, soft touch, good passer, polished offensive game, etc. Over his first three seasons in the league he averaged less-than-stellar 8.5 boards and 1.0 blocks. Contrast that to the last two season’s averages of 10.6 boards and 2.6 blocks. It really does seem like a different player.

The perplexing thing is, Bogut now seems to be struggling offensively more than ever before. His field-goal percentage is at a career-worst 49%. His free-throw shooting has been woeful this season – 40.9% – and his scoring average is down from 15.9ppg last season to just 13.2ppg currently. Sure, we have to attribute some of this to Bogut’s return from injury – he has repeatedly said that his arm/elbow feels NQR, and it might be another full season before he regains full strength. But I’ve always been a glass half-full kinda guy, which is why I’d prefer to focus on AB’s strengths – that being his beastly defense. But even his D hasn’t stopped the Bucks from raking up the losses. In the past 10 days they’ve lost very winnable games against Philly, Houston, and Memphis (today). Their two wins were against the worst two teams in the league (Washington and Cleveland) so there ain’t exactly a lot of positives flowing around the Bucks camp at the moment. Of course, because the East is shithouse, they only find themselves half a game out of 8th, and 1 full game out of 7th. And on paper, surely the Bucks have the talent edge over Indiana, Charlotte and Philly (all currently above them). Right?

Over in Portland, Patty Mills has been getting a steady stream of minutes (12.4 per game over his last five), but he seems to be suffering from the same offensive deficiency as Bogut. Patty is shooting a somewhat lame 7-25 from the field over his last five games. Don’t get us wrong – we want Patty to keep shooting. By all means, make Andre Miller redundant because he’s fast  approaching his expiry date anyway. But it would be nice to see that FG% closer to 40% than it is to 20%. Unlike Bogut’s Bucks, the Blazers have hit a nice patch of form winning their last 5 and standing clear in 8th out West – just half a game behind Denver in 7th.

Over in New Orleans, David Andersen’s minutes continue to be quite sparse. He managed to shoot 3-3 in just 6 minutes against Atlanta during the week (the flogging game), but other than that it seems DA is being used only as a backup to the backup to Okafor. Andersen recently spoke to Hoopsworld about his minutes, admitting that it’s been tough:

Unfortunately, the playing side has been a bit hard because we have a lot of bigs. For me, the minutes have been very tough but they already had their system in place and they had been winning a lot of games before the trade. I’ve been around the block for awhile. I’ve only been in the NBA for two years, but I was in Europe for a really long time and won a lot of championships over there. Coming here, I suppose people just don’t really know me as a person or player so I’ve kind of had to prove myself all over again. Going forward, if I do get more of a chance, I feel that I can impress the coaches and contribute to the team, helping them in any way possible. The biggest thing for me is to be a contributor on the team and help teams win. At the end of the day, I just want to be in the mix and in there playing ball.”

TWO: As we reach the halfway mark of the season, certain MVP questions start getting thrown around. Questions such as “is Blake Griffin the MVP?” But one of the more interesting questions that’s been recycled lately is whether the NBA should award an MVP for both the East and West? The crew at Buckets recently asked just this question, and then went about retrospectively awarding the East/West MVPs for every season since 1990-1991 (Lebron would already have 4 MVPs according to their bestimations). A fun read and certainly a fun question. What’s your take? Would handing out an MVP for each conference somehow “cheapen” the award?

THREE: There’s nothing that warms my pants as much as learning about a new Aussie basketball site or blog with good original, opinionated content. They don’t come around all that often. But recently one did and I’d be doing a community disservice if I didn’t throw a href and an equals sign in its direction. The blog is the Kidney Stings, a site dedicated of course to the NBL’s Sydney Kings, as well as the NBA, basketball and “other straight dope”. Last week they posted up a very entertaining read on the NBA’s Twitter fascination, Lebron, Melo and B-Roy amongst other things. A couple of choice excerpts:

The All Star game is coming up, and NBA players have been turning to their armies of Twitter followers for support… Lamar Odom, Rudy Gay, and Kevin Durant among them…

Lebron James is on Twitter, but he doesn’t need people to vote for him. Instead he uses Twitter the way Jesus used loaves and fishes, to entertain, inform and to inspire.

If you’re a Kings fan this blog should be part of your daily reading. And if you’re not, check it out anyway. I will be.

FOUR: Did you know that Vince carter hit 20,000 points during the weak? (pun intended) I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Mookie’s post over at A Stern Warning. It’s amazing to think you can score that many points when you’re only playing half a season and shying away from pressure the rest of the time. But alas, Vince Carter somehow did. Actually, it’s completely unsurprising that he did. Vince Carter will go down as one of the most – if not THE most – athletically gifted player in NBA history. You cannot NOT score that many points with the talents Vince has. Just remember that between 2000 and 2002 you could have a decent argument as to whether he or Kobe was better. Kobe obviously destroyed that argument in time, but still, it was an argument at one point (just as T-Mac vs Kobe was in 2002-2004). Here’s the other thing you should also remember about Vince – throughout his gloriously spectacular high-scoring rim-stuffing career, he never once made the All-NBA First team. For now though, lets just enjoy the remnants of Vince and reflect on the good times. Here are a few of my favorite Vince moments.

Vince on Ben Wallace (look where he jumps from)

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Vince with the ridiculous alley-oop (look where he catches the ball… in the middle of the freaking key)

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Vince’s top 5 windmill alley-oop dunks (holy shit… you show me another player who’s done ONE windmill alley-oop dunk, let alone has a top 5)

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Vince’s first dunk at the 2000 All-Star game (the crowd/player/commentator reaction of this will never be topped in an All-Star dunk comp… note Ray Allen collapsing on the floor very unsmoothly)

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FIVE: So you might have heard that today is the five-year anniversary of Kobe’s 81 point game. Worth checking out ESPN’s clip of Jalen Rose (who was a Raptor in that game). Cue random thoughts on Kobe’s 81…

In five years the feat has only served to become more epic. At the time we were a little spoilt by Kobe – he scored 62 in three quarters a month earlier, and the following season he would top 50 points for four-straight games. So yeah, the 81 stood out but it didn’t seem out-of-reach given Kobe’s powers at the peak of his game. Remember, before his 81 Kobe had topped the 50-point mark through three-quarters on four separate occasions – the 52 against Memphis in 2002 (#2 on his list of 50-point games), 51 against Denver (#3), he scored 50 through three against MJ and the Wiz (#5) and of course the 62 against Dallas (#6). Fact is, Kobe could have topped 80 a couple more times if those games had have been close.

Now that Kobe’s scoring binges are behind us, we realise what the 81 truly means. It was Kobe’s Everest. The summit on top of the mountain that dwarfed all other mountains. The best one-game offensive display from arguably the most talented offensive player in NBA history.

It’s also pretty obvious that no one else is coming close. Lebron and Wade have already had their run at leading a one-man team. Neither of them have hit 60 yet, and they surely won’t playing together in Miami. Allen Iverson – one of the greatest offensive guards ever – also never came close. Kevin Durant might have a shot, but I honestly think he’s too unselfish to ever seriously approach that mark.

Talking to one of my work colleagues a couple of days back, we both agreed that only Kobe stood a chance in hell of dropping that many points because he maintained three essential qualities:

1) Obscene talent – Kobe had every shot in the book. Every single one. Only a few guys in history can claim this, and I’m certainly not ruling out more in the future (i.e. Durant).

2) Unparalleled confidence in his shot – This is the reason Kobe takes and makes ridiculously low-percentage shots. He trusts his shot more than any other player in the history of the game. He trusts his shot too much (see Boston, Game 7).

3) Extreme tunnel vision – Kobe can get in a zone and block everything out (including his team mates and coaching strategies) more than any other player I’ve seen. Earlier in the week Phil Jackson mentioned that Kobe was better as sustaining that “zone” than anyone he’s seen. Watch Kobe during his 81. You don’t see chest-bumping, trash-talking, arrogant smiles or any sign that he’s actually enjoying what he’s doing. It’s business. It’s Kobe burying his head in an exam paper, only lifting it up when the buzzer sounds at 48 minutes.

These are the reasons Kobe can score 81, and the reasons that no one else has come close in the history of the NBA thus far – apart from Wilt for obvious reasons (the game is different now, we have the 3-seconds in the key rule and offensive goal-tending… or else Shaq probably could have scored 80 earlier in the decade). There might be players with an obscene level of talent on the offensive end, but do they have enough confidence/stubbornness to keep taking unfathomable shots when they’re tripled teamed? And when they top the 50-point mark, the 60-point mark, will they remain focused enough to keep going? Can they resist the urge to put their weapons down and take a few plays off?

Even Michael Jordan didn’t approach this level. Yes, I went there. Despite Michael’s talent and ruthless competitiveness, he never sustained that kind of scoring binge over the course of 48 minutes. Some people might point to the different era and the “it was much harder to score back then” / “MJ could score 100 now” argument. I don’t really buy that. Consider this – MJ averaged 37.1 points per game in the 1986-87 season. That’s almost 2ppg more than Kobe in 2005-2006. Jordan clearly didn’t have any trouble scoring that year – he topped the 50-point mark on seven occasions (for comparison, Kobe did it ten times in 06-07). But still, for all his scoring dominance, he didn’t score more than 61 that season. He even had two games where he jacked up 43 field goal attempts (only three less than Kobe in his 81 point game), but failed to score 50 on both those occasions (and they were both losses). And interestingly, in his season-high of 61 against Detroit, he didn’t attempt a single three-point shot. That stat alone points to a very fundamental difference in Kobe and MJ’s game.

But I’m drifting from the point here. The point is that the argument that MJ never topped 80+ points because it was the 1980’s is a moot one. Scoring 37ppg over a season proves it. MJ dominated everyone that season. He had plenty of big scoring games. Yes the defense may have been tougher but he still averaged more than Kobe ever did. He had the ultimate green light to shoot. He could jack 40+ shots and not incur the wrath of his coach. He was at the athletic peak of his powers. And despite all that, he never came close to a feat as great as Kobe’s 81.

Now, MJ was no slouch and is obviously the GOAT. But again, when it comes to the pure – and perhaps somewhat meaningless – pursuit of high-volume scoring, I’ll argue that Kobe did it better than MJ, any day. MJ ticked box 1 (the obscene talent) and most of box 2 (the confidence in his shot, albeit with a weaker outside shot). But even he knew when to call it a day. Even he knew when going 1-on-4 was futile and that passing might be the better option. Even he started applying the breaks when he hit 40, 45, 50. Kobe back in 2005-06, simply didn’t. Those things weren’t options. They were outside the tunnel.

And on that tunnel vision… Truth is, it did just apply to singular games. Kobe applied it on the macro level too. He averaged 40 points for an entire month TWICE in the 2005-2006 season. He’s done that four times throughout his career. Michael Jordan never did it once. If there’s any stat that proves Kobe had access to a greater arsenal of offensive weaponry, it’s that one. When you come off a 40 point game, a 50 point game, the opposition is blindingly aware of it. They’ll go to extreme lengths to stop you doing it again – it’s just how it works in the NBA. “This guy ain’t getting that hot against us!”. To keep doing that over a 12-15 game span and repeatedly nullify the defensive strategies designed to stop you is absolutely off the charts. Kobe was able to do it because he had every trick in the book. He was able to do it for the three reasons I outlined above. The 81 is when it all came together, perfectly.

SIX: Hardwood Paroxysm are in love with Blake Griffin. Aren’t we all? Check out their two recent posts by Zach Harper and Matt Moore – well worth the read. As for my own thoughts on Mr Griffin? Stay tuned for next week.

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