Saturday, July 31, 2010

King Pippen

The LeBron sweepstakes is over. Cool. Now all the talking heads get to scrutinize it and discuss every potential scenario under the sun simply to fill up time until the season starts in almost four months. One of the prevailing opinions I've noticed is the idea that, by choosing to pair with Dwyane Wade, LBJ has set his career ceiling at the level of Scottie Pippen. I want to formally second (or third or 2,748th) that notion.

Look at these stats: 22 PPG, 9 RPG, 6 APG. Add in 3 steals and a block. Further consider .491 FG%, .320 3P%, and .660 FT%. I wanna revisit this post at the end of the season and see if LeBron's numbers don't look eerily close to that statistical output. This line is Scottie Pippen's in the '93-'94 season during MJ's first retirement fling when the Chicago Bulls were 100% Scottie's team. While this is obviously a different scenario as Scottie's role in '93 was going in the exact opposite direction of LBJ's in '10.

LeBron's 2010 output was 30/7/9/2/1 with .503/.333/.767 percentages. Appreciate that stat line because I cannot fathom it feasibly being recreated with his new team.

Pippen proved in 1994 that he was an all-world talent regardless of His Airness, leading the Bulls to 55 wins and a Game 7 loss in the second round to the eventual Finals representatives, the Patrick Ewing-led NY Knicks. In the regular season, that was only two losses less than the previous year. But, nonetheless, Pippen couldn't seal the deal in his opportunity without MJ. It just didn't happen. That's been the story of LeBron's seven years in Cleveland. No matter who management brought in, it simply didn't pan out into a legitimate championship contender. Big Z was the constant, but then there was the rotating door of Booze, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, Andy Varejao, Big Ben, Shaq, and Antawn Jamison in the post with him. Plus there was the uncertainty of Jeff McGinnis, Eric Snow, Damon Jones, Larry Hughes, Delonte West, and Mo Williams each shakily manning the lead guard position. Regardless of who was put with him, The King couldn't manage to become the man in the playoffs to overcome the field. He finished out of the playoffs, out of the playoffs, out in the Eastern Semis, swept in the Finals, out in the Eastern Semis, out in the Eastern Finals, and out in the Eastern Semis. He simply couldn't get over the hump while the likes of the Pistons squad, Tim Duncan (2x), Dwyane Wade, the Celtics trio, and Kobe Bryant (2x) all climbed to the pinnacle of NBA success during his career. LeBron got all of the attention year in and year out, but his assumed majestic acclimation to championship dominance has yet to surface in any way, shape, or form. He has yet to become the ultimate alpha dog, so this summer he chose to join an already proven one.

Dwyane Wade (not Kobe, not Durant, not James, not anyone) plays the most like Michael Jordan that anyone ever has. The ease with which he squeezes his way to the hoop, the deftness of his midrange jumper, the super-quick defensive instincts, the unreliable streakiness of his 3-point shot, the ability to force the action and create legitimate fear in his opponents ... it's all there. So make no questions about it, this team will be Dwyane Wade's team. This is the guy who made the postseason as a rookie only to take and hit the game winning shot in his debut playoff performance. This is the guy who relegated a still-dominant Shaq to the passenger's seat in only his sophomore NBA campaign. This is the guy who lead his misfit band of former all-stars to the NBA Finals in his third season and managed to pull out a scoring average of 34.7 points to resurrect his squad from a 0-2 deficit and capture a title. Those are the kind of things LeBron James was supposed to do, but the guy who spent three years perfecting his basketball intuition at Marquette beat him to it. The Heat will always be Dwyane Wade's team, no matter who else dons the jersey with him. That's just the nature of his Jordan-esque mentality and approach to the game.

So while LeBron's perhaps the single most skilled talent the game has ever seen, by joining D-Wade on his home turf, he signed up for being on Scottie Pippen duty. His numbers will significantly dip, but his undeniable talent-level will still allow him to shine on an innately dominant level, much in the way Pippen was a given for the NBA's Top 50 Players of All-Time. Unless Wade makes the conscious decision to significantly defer to LBJ, it will be obvious that Dwyane is the absolute number one option. He's not a finisher, he's a creator. His career dominance has been built upon isolation plays. Wade needs the ball in his hands to dissect the first line of defense from the triple-threat position. He needs the ball in his hands to create space for his patented step-back jumper from 20-feet and in. He needs the ball in his hands to probe the paint for a lane to create mayhem right at the rim. And while Wade is still a genuinely unselfish player who will sacrifice for the good of the team, he knows that his effectiveness comes strictly in the form of having the ball and attacking to establish himself and instill fear in his defenders. You won't see him roaming around off-ball screens (a la Rip Hamilton) or being content to spotting up in the corner for 3 (a la Ray Allen) on consecutive possessions. That's the main reason LeBron's personal shattering of statistical averages will be squelched; his usage rate will simply be lowered. Significantly.

And I went through that whole run down without even mentioning Chris Bosh. I don't know what Bosh's personal thoughts on his role currently are, but I see him becoming the forgotten man. I don't see where he even gets utilized with how the team is constituted. He's converged into glorified role player territory. So, yeah ... my main point is that LeBron has put a limit on his desire for personal dominance. We will not be looking on this Heat team down the road and talking about how the King led them to success in the same way that Duncan and KB24 are recognized. Miami has put together a contender with a legitimate 8-year window of dominance if they keep the team together, but LeBron has virtually eliminated himself from the upper echelon of individual greats. He's out of MJ territory. He's out of Kobe territory. He's out of Magic and Bird territory. He's now, until proven otherwise, in the discussion that caps off with Dr. J, Clyde Drexler, Kevin McHale, and Scottie Pippen; otherworldly, game-changing talents who will be talked about forever, but who were never able to single-handedly will their way into the elite circle of quintessential all-time winners. Just really cool sidekicks.

... and do the John Wall.

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