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Brand Recognition

What do you want from a post player?  What are the things that you would expect them to do well, the things that are part of their traditional job description?  Sure, everyone would like to have a seven footer who can shoot three pointers and step back jumpers and take people off the dribble, like Dirk Nowitzki, and that may eventually become more of a requirement, but right now, that's the exception and not the rule.  

Find the All Star in this picture
Brand and Okur
                                           © Henry Chen, all rights reserved
It seems to me, from a big guy, you would expect to get scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and a high field goal percentage.  With any other statistical category you'd certainly take what you can get: for instance, you'd rather have a big man who can make more of his free throws (Yao) than not (Shaq) when it comes time to shoot free throws.  But league leaders are almost always going to be smaller players when it comes to free throw shooting, three point shooting, steals and assists.  So scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage seem to me the stats where big guys should dominate, or in the case of scoring, at least hold their own.  

At the All Star break, there are two players in the NBA in the top 20 in scoring, rebounding, shooting percentage and blocked shots:  Tim Duncan and Elton Brand.  As you are aware, one of them is starting in the All Star game, while one of them is resting up for the rest of the season.  

Now obviously, one can build any number of crazy statistical cases to support one's position.  For instance, if I wanted to get Elton in a category by himself I could say top 20 in scoring and rebounding, top 10 in FG% and blocks; or I could say top 19 in all four categories (Elton is 19th in scoring, Tim is 20th); or I could toss in some free throw shooting requirement to eliminate Duncan.  (By the way, free throw shooting is of course very important for bigs, considering how frequently they go to the line, and this is the one major flaw in Duncan's game - it's just not reasonable to expect bigs to be in the top 20, and making a top 100 requirement for that one category would be too arbitrary.)  I've made a conscious effort not to jerry-rig a convoluted case.  Top 20 - nice round number, commonly used `best of' grouping and the four most important aspects of post play.  If you wanted to go to top 25, it would be the same two guys.  If you wanted to go to top 10, there'd be nobody.

Furthermore, if you have a big player who is particularly deficient in one or more of these areas, it is generally viewed as a rather significant problem.  That's why the `Eddy Curry was snubbed' talk from New York, even in the big man challenged East, was ludicrous - the guy scores, shoots for percentage and block shots among the best - but he gets 7 rebounds a game, and that's just not enough from your 285 pound center.  There are lots of other examples - Ben Wallace and Tyson Chandler can't score, Zach Randolph shoots a poor percentage, Brad Miller doesn't block shots, etc.  Ideally, you want your big players to do these four things, and Elton Brand and Tim Duncan are in a class by themselves in doing them.

Now, I'm not going to argue that based on this metric Elton is the second most deserving big man in the NBA (and of course, we're only talking about the Western Conference - Elton would start in the East).  Kevin Garnett is shooting 47.7%, but he is forced to take a lot of tough shots for the T-Wolves, and he does happen to lead the NBA in rebounding.  Meanwhile, Dirk's shooting percentage isn't in the top 20, but he is over 50% which is astounding considering the shots he takes.  He's not a shot blocker, but he is so many other things that he's obviously more deserving than Brand this season.  And Yao Ming is pretty close to top 20 in all the significant stats, although he hasn't played enough games to qualify.  If he were healthy, he'd be ahead of Brand this year.

So even ClipperSteve wouldn't argue for Brand over Duncan, Garnett, Nowitzki or Yao.  And as we've said many times, the Western Conference is overrun by quality bigs.  But including injury replacements, a total of ten forwards and centers were named All Stars in the Western Conference this season.  Is someone seriously suggesting that Elton Brand is not among the 10 best bigs in the West?

Solid all around arguments can support the All Star selections of Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.  They score, they rebound, they shoot for percentage - of course their raw numbers are inflated by playing for Phoenix, but they're having good years and you can make a case.  Likewise Carlos Boozer is a solid choice - he's not a shot blocker at all, but his scoring, rebounding and shooting percentage are all better than Elton's, so I have no problem with the selection of Boozer.  Carmelo Anthony is one of the Western Conference All Stars that plays the traditional small forward role.  I have a problem with a guy 6'8" 250 getting 6 rebounds a game, but he is leading the league in scoring, so he's something of an apple to the other oranges.  Don't misunderstand - I would argue for Elton on the All Star team above any of the above players and I believe I could make a compelling case.  But I also see how a reasonable person could disagree.

The same can not be said for Josh Howard and Mehmut Okur.  How can David Stern look anyone in the eye and say Josh Howard or Mehmut Okur is an All Star over Elton Brand?  Now obviously I know why these players were chosen.  The All Star game has become a referendum on the performance of the team as much as the player.  Dallas has the best record in the NBA, and `the second best player on the best team' should be an All Star, or so the thinking goes.  Utah has the third best record in the NBA, and with Boozer hurt, they need a representative in Las Vegas.  I get it.  It just doesn't happen to make any sense.

Team success is its own reward.  That's what we call the `Playoffs' and `The NBA Title.'  If the All Star Game were about team success, then we'd just watch Dallas versus Phoenix.  Oh that's right, that's another regular season game (and of course it would be better than the All Star Game anyway).

Interestingly, the NBA is usually pretty immune to this sort of thinking.  Team success is dependent on many, many factors, and a collection of solid individual players can have more success playing together than a collection of more talented players free lancing (which one sounds more like the All Star Game?).  NBA guys totally understand that.  It's why the 2006 draft included four UConn Huskies in the first round and a fifth in the second round and zero players from George Mason, despite the fact that GMU beat UConn in the NCAA tournament.  The NBA is agnostic on winning when it comes to evaluating talent.  Except for the All Star Game.

This year's snub is a double-whammy for Brand.  Although the team is in the midst of another slump that has dropped them 3 games below .500 and into 9th position, at the time of the selections of Howard and Okur, the Clippers were the only top 8 Western Conference team without an All Star representative.  So it would have been a reasonable selection based both on individual performance and on team success.  Although it's never happened before in the history of the Clippers, he was undoubtedly held accountable for the team performing below expectations.  Consider this - would Elton have been an All Star this year if 2005-2006 had never happened?  If the Clippers were competitive after not having made the playoffs in 10 years, and Elton were averaging a career high in scoring, shooting percentage and blocked shots?

The silver lining in all of this is that it's the best thing for Elton and the team.  Clearly his busy summer wore on him, and at this point he's got back spasms to consider.  Elton is a big boy - I'm sure he's much less upset about this than I am.  

But before I let this go, let's take a quick look at Elton Brand's numbers next to Mehmut Okur's.  

Brand 0.547 0.000 0.762 3.3 5.9 9.2 1.0 2.18 2.45 3 2.4 20.7
Okur 0.468 0.393 0.788 2.1 5.3 7.4 0.5 0.56 1.77 3.4 2.0 18.2

And while we're at it, ask yourself this question - would you trade Brand for Okur?  Would anybody?  I didn't think so.