Tag Archives: Chris Paul

The Beard, the Brow, the Greek Freak, Lebron and Steph . . . NBA Basketball Impact and Efficiency Ratings (BIER) leaders at the break

Through games of Feb. 15, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 3rd best player in the NBA behind only James Harden and Anthony Davis, according to Basketball Impact and Efficiency (BIER) positional ratings. Lebron James and Steph Curry rounded out the Top 5.

No one should be shocked and awed by these revelations, as the top spots in the BIER Rankings merely confirm what you and me and even casual NBA fans already know, while also confirming that BIER’s a reliable box score stats model that works. (For an explanation of BIER go to the BIER Basics pagewherein the thorny question of whether or not the world really needs another advanced box score metric is also addressed, formula included).

Here’s the entire BIER Top 20 at the All-Star break (through games of Feb. 15):

The All-Star break made for a good stopping point for the compiling of things, so I found some time to crunch the 2017-18 season BIER numbers for every NBA player, then created a relative scoring system by position to rank the top 60-70 players (expressed as “median +”). For example: Giannis has a BIER rating of 15.91, which is 10.24 above the median (5.67) for all power forwards. James Harden‘s rating is actually lower (due to missed shot volume and turnovers) but because the median for shooting guards this season is 3.005, he comes out on top in this “relative” ranking system at 11.52.

The non-centers in the first 16 are another affirmation that this BIER thing is no crackpot system — from Harden to Irving, the fans, players and coaches got the easy 12 All-Stars right, noting that Chris Paul didn’t make the mid-season party due to missed games (injury) earlier in the season.

Chris Paul (left) and James Harden have their sights set on the Warriors’ Western Conference title and a shot at winning it all this season in Houston. USA Today Sports photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

  1. James Harden will, in all likelihood, win the MVP this year and deserve it. A 14.53 BIER for a shooting guard is the territory of Michael Jordan, the only SG in history to record a career BIER greater than 14. That Harden doesn’t shoot as efficiently as Jordan hardly matters when the Beard is doing so much of everything else in the box score, and the Rockets have won 17 straight. Harden’s 38% from three is the best he’s shot it since his 2012, his last year in OKC.

2. Anthony Davis edges out Antetokounmpo with better free throw shooting, offensive rebounding, blocked shots (leads the NBA) fewer turnovers (the Brow doesn’t play point forward) and fewer fouls. Since I crunched these numbers, the Pelicans have won 7 straight and Davis has gone for 40+ points in three of the wins. Giannis and the Bucks have won 2, lost 6, and fallen to 8th in the East, though Giannis has been good enough to stay in the league’s top 5 or 6 rated players.

4. Lebron James, at age 33, is averaging 26 pts, 9 boards and 8 assists per game, feats that a 33-year-old Larry Bird nearly matched (24.3 pts – 9.5 rebs – 7.5 assists) — and Lebron is showing no signs of slowing down. The Oscar Robertson for modern times, however, turns it over a lot (4.3 per 36 – BIER is a per minute, pace adjusted model) and doesn’t rebound like the Brow or the Greek Freak. Those factors tend to offset his greater assist rate in the BIER rating. All three forwards were shooting 54% from the field at the break. 

5. Steph Curry laid a little low last season as he worked to integrate Kevin Durant into the Warriors offense, but Steph’s back to MVP form this season, shooting just one FG% point shy of the 50-40-90 Club — and how does he manage nearly 6 boards a game?

6. In Houston, Chris Paul has quietly gone about his business (except for that craziness with in the Clippers locker room), and the business of Chris Paul  is to file top 5 All-Time BIER point guard numbers. CP3 is right there with John Stockton at No. 2 behind Magic Johnson, which means that Curry isn’t far behind on the All-Time list.

“Seventh? That can’t be right.” Jimmy Butler‘s having another great season, reunited with coach Thibs. T-wolves photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

7. Jimmy Butler‘s career NBA offensive rating is 10th All-Time (118.85/100), believe it or not, and 3rd among active players (behind Paul and DeAndre Jordan).

8. Kevin Durant is shooting 43% from three, but he’s a bit off this season — his true shooting percentage is down .04 points, from 65.1% to 64.7%. The numbers being filed by these top 9 players are unreal.

(9. Russell Westbrook gets a full discussion in the “BIER Basics” post).

10. Rockets center Clint Capela represents part of the Frankenstein model for centers in the new NBA — “Frankenstein” because no player possesses all the many attributes found in the crop of young centers. Capela is quick, athletic, mobile enough to guard the 3-point line, a shot-blocker, rebounder and dunker of many lob passes — which means he doesn’t miss many shots. BIER loves that. Basketball-reference had a stat the other day about how Capela this season will become the youngest player in NBA history (age 23) to record a double-double season while shooting 65% or better. He also blocks 2.4 shots/36, 3rd among qualifying centers. (Capela also represents the part of the new NBA center model where the center doesn’t play full-time minutes, though he does qualify to be ranked here. The minimum qualification for BIER ranking is playing time of 25 mins per game, with a case-by-case minimum on number of games due to the crazy number of star players getting hurt this season).

11. Thought the Knicks most impactful player was Kristaps Porzingis? Nope, that guy is Enes Kanter, who’s been a high-efficiency brawler in the offensive paint in New York (his 5 OREBs per 36 is 3rd among NBA centers). Porzingis, despite the NY media glow and All-Star politics, won’t make the lists here, which should tell you there was a reason the Knicks weren’t winning before “the Unicorn” had season-ending knee surgery.

2017-18 has been Damien Lillard’s finest season, according to BIER. NBA.com photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

12-13. But let’s talk about the players who are on the list, like Damian Lillard, on fire of late and having his best season as a pro in Portland, according to BIER; and Victor Oladipo, having a breakout year leading the NBA in steals and the Pacers into the hunt for top-4 playoff seeding in the East.

14. Pistons center Andre Drummond edges out Hassan Whiteside of the Heat, and it’s not all about offensive rebounding, though Drummond leads the league on the O-glass and overall rebounding; it’s also about Drummond’s better passing and his theft rate. Drummond leads all qualifying centers in steals per 36 mins (1.7) and his assist rate is double the median for centers. So despite not having quickness, mobility or great shot-blocking ability (like Capela), Drummond has an all-around floor game that any box score-based stat model would love.

15. Whiteside is all of the above as an imposing defender and rebounder but doesn’t have all-around offensive skills like some “new centers.” Based on Miami’s winning ways in January, Whiteside probably would have been an All-Star had he not missed 18  games earlier this season, though who knows — the East coaches might’ve snubbed Whiteside too, as they did with Drummond in the first-seven reserves voting. Heat point guard Goran Dragic was selected.

16. Surprised that Kyrie Irving — who’s flirting with 50-40-90 Club shooting season and would be the 8th player in history to join that club — isn’t ranked higher? Irving has thrived in Boston, but it’s not as though he’s transformed into a wholly different player. Other point guards, even Lillard, pass the ball more, as Irving’s assist rate is about the league median for PGs (5.5 per 36). Irving this season is well ahead (at 10.17) of his career BIER rate (8.49).

17. DeAndre Jordan, in his 10th season Clippers, may not have the quickness to defend the perimeter (again, like Capela) but he can dunk a lob pass like nobody’s business. 10 years in Lob City have put Jordan on the Top 20 All-TIme BIER center lists, and he’s quietly had another great year as L.A. battles down the stretch for a playoff spot. The rebounding numbers for Jordan, Drummond and Whiteside are off the charts – all three centers board at nearly 17 rebs per 36. Ridiculous, but also a reflection of the all-time low offensive rebounding rates in the NBA this season. Crashing the offensive glass is a feature of bygone days in the NBA, which has made defensive rebounding a lot less like work for the better big men.

Is it the player or the system? Whichever it is, Kyle Anderson of the Spurs made the BIER Top 20 at the All-Star break. Photo by Ronald Martinez, Getty Images. License: Standard non-commercial use.

18. Who is Kyle Anderson? He’s the 24-year-old forward for the Spurs who’s been starting in place of injured Kawhi Leonard (shoulder). Anderson doesn’t shoot a lot (8 times per 36 mins) but hits a high percentage (51%), and rebounds the small forward position like it was the 1980s (7.5 per 36), while dishing out  3.6 assists and coming up with 1.8 steals/36 (2nd among SFs). He’s filling up the box score without turning it over or fouling a lot — all of which has him in the Top 20, sneaking in just above the 25 minutes per game requirement. But there’s always the nagging question for the Spurs’ small forward — is it the player or the Popovich system?

19. Otto Porter is a super-efficient shooter at forward (49-40-84%) and one of the reasons the Wizards kept winning when John Wall went down with a knee injury at the end of January. In his 5th season, Porter’s a strong wing defender who rebounds his position (7.3 per 36) and has the 3rd-best SF steal rate (1.8/36). In the Wizards recent win in Milwaukee, Porter stole the ball three times while turning it over 0 times. The 0 turnovers were no happy accident — he rarely turns it over, just once per 36 mins while playing catch-and-shoot with the Wizards All-Star guards. Porter is averaging a career best 15.1 pts per game this season.

20. Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the few centers in the league actually making a high enough % of his 3-point attempts to be out there shooting them. Towns was shooting 55-42-86% on FGs-3pt-FTs at the All-Star break and his numbers have actually improved slightly since then. No center in the history of the NBA has shot the ball from the outside as well as Towns, who is only going to get better.

That’s the Top 20, and here’s the next 20, where the BIER calculation didn’t fail to produce some surprises.

Orlando traded Elfrid Payton to Phoenix for a 2nd round pick, even though he’d found ways to minimize his poor outside shooting while maximizing the rest of his game. Photo by Zimbio. License: Standard non-commercial use.

23, 31. Elfrid Payton and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ahead of All-Stars like Paul George, Bradley Beal and Kemba Walker? They play NBA games in Orlando and Brooklyn, and there are some young players on those teams filling up box scores and finding their games. The BIER formula does what it does.

Payton was easily the biggest surprise for me. The Magic traded him to the Suns last month for a 2nd round pick, so I wasn’t at all expecting him to show up here. The problem with Payton (all pause to marvel the work of his hair stylist) is that he can’t shoot. But unlike a lot of guys who can’t shoot in the NBA, Payton has figured out how avoid throwing up bad shots. He shoots 50%, has made 35% of his threes this season, and — as a taller point guard — has high rebound and assist rates. Orlando just didn’t want to pay him this summer after his 4-year rookie contract expired, but Phoenix might be a good fit given the young guns on the Suns.

21. Steven Adams — the unsung hero on the Thunder — leads off “the next 20” rankings  and is having a monster season for OKC. Adams’ OREB rate is 2nd only to Drummond among centers, and OKC leads the NBA in offensive rebounding (28.3% rate). Somebody’s gotta save all those possessions Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo toss at the rim (there are a lot of those), and in steps Adams to clean it up. Adams is 3rd in the NBA at 4.6 2nd chance pts per game. Adams avgs. 14 pts and 9 rebs a game in a full time (32 mpg) role. (He also joins Antetokounmpo, Porter, Rudy Gobert and Oladipo as players from the much-maligned 2013 draft who have steadily improved to where, now in their 5th seasons, they’re bonafide players to be reckoned with in the league.)

22. BIER says Ben Simmons of the 76ers should win Rookie of the Year (and he probably will), averaging an all-around 16.9 pts – 8 rebs – 7.6 assists/36.

24. Darren Collison is having a break-out shooting season for the Pacers and is the 3rd point guard in the rankings flirting with a “50-40-90 Club” season. With Oladipo at No. 13 and Collison at No. 24, suddenly the Pacers have one of the most efficient and impactful backcourts in the league, so far rating better than Derozan-Lowry, Wall (injured)-Beal and Lillard-McCollum.

25-39. From there we see a string of All-Stars (eight in all) led by Demar Derozan (25), having another great season in Toronto, his running mate Kyle Lowry (27), and Kevin Love (28). I wouldn’t classify Love as a center, so I split the difference making him a half-center, half-power forward. This was probably not the thing to do, technically, as basketball-reference has Love playing center 98% of the time. But K-Love hasn’t changed his game with his new role — 40% of his shots were threes (before another injury sidelined him). I also split the difference with Draymond Green, who alternates between power forward and small forward with Kevin Durant (also spit). This was the right thing to do, technically. Few teams actually play “positionless basketball” but the Warriors forwards truly are interchangeable, with Green often playing point forward a la Lebron and Giannis.

29. Tyreke Evans in Memphis got back to the 20-5-5 numbers he put up when he beat out Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings for the 2010 Rookie of the Year award. Good numbers, though I can’t help but wonder if Evans will ever be able to put up those numbers for a team that wins games.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is No. 30 in the BIER rankings and joins the Clipper’s Lou Williams as the top Western Conference players snubbed in the 2018 All-Star selection. USA Today photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

30. Nikola Jokic is another center to be reckoned within the new model, representing the 7-footers with mad guard skills. Jokic posted the fastest triple double in NBA history in Milwaukee just before the All-Star break and has all-around numbers at 16.9 ppg, 10.6 rebs and 5.9 assists per game. He’s also one of only a handful of qualifying centers shooting in the neighborhood of the NBA avg. of 36.1% behind the arc. The Joker was shooting 36.3% at the break. Al Horford, Towns, Love and Pau Gasol are the others, a list of 5 that looks a bit too forward-ish to really reflect a “centers shooting threes” trend, if making the 3-pointers has anything to do with it. (This is a topic begging for a separate blog). Jokic this season joined Lou Williams on the Western Conference All-Star snubs team.

31. In Brooklyn, BIER finds a player in the rough in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a steadily improving 3rd year forward who, if he ever learns to shoot the three (he’s hitting just 26% this season), could develop into a star given the strengths in the rest of his game.

35. Paul George makes an appearance, and is Top 4 relative to other small forwards — and shooting 43% from three this season in addition to being one of the best defenders in the league. He was the 8th reserve All-Star selected by the West coaches, which BIER confirms was a fair choice. Never has a borderline All-Star received as much media attention as George does, however, and I think nearly every NBA analyst who’s seen Lou Williams (26) play lately has said that “Lou Williams should have been an All-Star”. BIER also confirms this, and Lou’s ahead of George at No. 26 in the BIER ranking.

Two “dinosaurs”: Is Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas really shooting 44.6% from three and why is he on this list? Well, he’s not on the list really, and he’s taking fewer than one 3-pointer a game, so he’s not really on that list either, nor his he playing the minimum of 25 mins per game. I included both Valanciunas and Boston’s Greg Monroe (who also hasn’t qualified) because they have so much in common as so-called “dinosaur” centers — and their BIER numbers are so nearly identical — that it’s just interesting to have in the chart. At the end of the day, Valanciunas and Monroe are more efficient scorers and better rebounders than the vast majority of centers in the league; and when they’re in the game, they contribute big impact numbers despite their teams preferring to play outside-in.

40. Jrue Holiday closes out the Top 40, which makes a lot of sense in light of Holiday finding a next level to his game in New Orleans playing with Rajon Rondo and Anthony Davis in the absence of injured DeMarcus Cousins. Holiday’s averaged 21.7 pts and 7.6 assists since Cousins season ended Jan. 26, and he’s raised his 3-point shooting to 35% on the season.

Where oh where, Boozy Bango the Bucks fan wants to know, are Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton? They appear in the next 20, with Bledsoe ranked No. 49 and Middleton at No. 58, which seems to point to where the Bucks are at — struggling to beat other playoff teams, falling to 8th in East, losing three out of 4 to the Pacers and all three of their scheduled games to the Heat. Not that Top 50 for Bledsoe isn’t good, or that No. 58 is a dishonor for Middleton — All-Stars Al Horford (53), John Wall (55) and Klay Thompson (56) populate the 41-60 rankings. It’s just that Horford, Wall and Thompson probably shouldn’t have been named All-Stars this season either, according to BIER — and the Bucks have not been quite good enough. Here’s the the next 22:

Hawks grounded: They’ve “tuned out” coach Larry Drew, according to Atlanta sports columnist

And we in Bucksland think our team has issues …

The Atlanta Hawks’ self-imposed problems, the ones on display last April in the playoffs against the Bogut-less Bucks — the Hawks’ stand-around style of play, the schizophrenic focus, the haphazard, switch-heavy defense, the lack of size — have not gone away.

As the Hawks basically stood pat this summer (signing free agent Josh Powell?  Really?) while firing coach Mike Woodson and hiring Woodson assistant Larry Drew, those problems festered as the Hawks played the softest schedule in the East based on opponent strength.  Now they’re growing as the Hawks’ final 22 games include matchup after matchup against the league’s elite.

The Bulls blew out the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday night, 114-81. Afterward, Atlanta Journal  Constitution sports columnist Mark Bradley declared it official:  The 40-31 Hawks, still in possession of the #5 playoff seed in the East, the Sixers on their heels, have “tuned out” coach Drew, probably at about the 60-game mark. (Read Bradley article HERE.)

They’ve won 40 games because they still have talent; they’ve lost 15 home games because they don’t care enough to apply that talent when application requires effort. Stop shooting their beloved jump shots? Start guarding somebody? Why bother?

Say it again: Fifteen home losses for a team that boasts two All-Stars, a third player of All-Star caliber and the league’s reigning sixth man of the year. Fifteen home losses, nine of them by double figures. The NBA’s worst team shouldn’t be getting hammered like this at home on such a regular basis, let alone one that has been to the playoffs three years running and will get there again this spring.

The Bulls blowout was reminiscent of the Bucks destruction of Atlanta back in November.  Challenge the Hawks, throw a sticky, physical defense in their grills, and they’re liable to quit on the game by halftime.

Since that game, of course, the 28-41 Bucks have had plenty of troubles of their own, but have played well enough in the last 10 games (6-4 with the Sacramento Kings on tap at the BC tonight) to satisfy that they haven’t tuned Scott Skiles out.  The ever short-handed Bucks, after pushing the Hawks to seven last April, have split four games with Atlanta this season.

The Bucks know the Hawks well, and picking apart Bradley’s basic description of the Hawks is old hat here at the Jinx:  Did the Hawks deserve two all-stars this season?  Is Josh Smith’s game really “All-Star caliber?”   Isn’t the Joe Johnson-centric offense rather elementary to guard half of the time?   Should anyone really be surprised that the Bulls, Heat and Lakers are thumping the Hawks?

But it’s more fun when Hawks fans are doing the picking apart.

The comments beneath the story from Atlanta readers range from,  “Why does Josh Smith’s shot selection stink?” … to “our All-Star is playing in New Orleans or New Jersey.”  Woe be the Hawks brass who passed on point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 draft and selected with the #2 pick forward Marvin Williams, just turned 19 years old and with all of one season at North Carolina on his resume.

It’s still a bit shocking that the Bucks, with the #1 overall pick, actually considered taking Williams over Bogut, even for a minute.

Some of the most entertaining comments (from a Bucks perspective) are from the columnist, Bradley.  (Who does that under sports blogs at daily newspapers?   I’m convinced NBA fans in other cities have more fun than Bucks fans.)  Here’s Bradley’s most telling take:

Here’s the problem: Can’t trade Joe because he makes too much; can’t trade Horford because he’s the heart of the team; can’t trade Jamal because he’s going to be a free agent; can’t trade Marvin because who’d want him?

By process of elimination, the only real candidate for a trade is Josh Smith, and he’s one of the most talented players in the league.

Here was the take tonight from TNT’s Chris Webber on “Inside the NBA”:

The Hawks problems “started in training camp” with the same roster that, last season was “small and bad,” Webber said.  Coach Drew bears some responsibility for the bad part, but the roster problems were there when he took the job …  “We’ve been saying it since last year [in the playoffs] … They don’t have a big man.”

Suffice it to say that the Hawks are in store for a quick exit from the playoffs, probably at the hands of the Magic or the Heat, and will hope to detonate their core this summer and rebuild around Horford.   They might even get a big man worth playing and stop listing Horford as a center on the All-Star ballot.   Bogut and the Bulls’ Joakim Noah would approve.

And with the Hawks likely desperate for change this off-season, it’s one more reason for Bucks GM John Hammond to exercise more patience with their still-developing young core than they did last summer.

Lockout possibilities aside, does either team really have other realistic choices?

(I’ve always thought the Hawks blew it in the summer of 2009 when they didn’t really get in on the bidding for unrestricted FA Andre Miller, took a pass on Ramon Sessions and resigned Mike Bibby, who translated via trade into Kirk Hinrich , no savior, no.  How good would Sessions’ speed and penetration-first game look on the Hawks?  Better than what they look like now.

But they’re still missing a big man in a league where the good ones aren’t exactly available for trades, even if the bait is Josh Smith.  Sam Dalembert, anyone?  Tyson Chandler?  Nazr Mohammed?  Nenad Krstic?  Kurt Thomas?  Joel Przybilla?  Those are the top unrestricted free agent centers this summer, the brighter side of Kwame Brown and Erick Dampier, et. al.  Now that I’m thinking about it, the Bucks could use a center, too, to back up Bogut.)

Milwaukee’s daily newspaper continues odd fascination with some Bucks player named Michael Redd

Oh, we’ve heard all this before.  A very long feature today in Milwaukee’s daily newspaper on the progress of one Michael Redd, erstwhile Bucks shooting star whose NBA career came crashing down in a hail of unmet expectations, selfish play, conflicts with coaches, the side effect of #1 pick Andrew Bogut’s stalled development and, lastly, two knee surgeries.

No, the story doesn’t say anything about all of the above except the injuries but it does tell us that Redd’s “thing is not to just come back and play.”

“My thing is to come back and dominate and play at a high level.”

–Read the full story HERE. Or don’t.

****************************

What’s this, a Wizards-Cavs back-to-back?

Indeed, the NBA schedule makers have smiled on the Bucks with a back-to-back featuring the two worst teams in the NBA according to every measure known to the league except one — offensive rating, the scoring efficiency measure that has defined the Bucks woes this season.  No matter.

These are not must win games.  They are kill-your-shoe-contract, shut-down-your-center, overdose-on-pain-pills, let-Redd-play-out-the-string, send-the-coach-to-a-rest-home, fire-the-ticket-takers, win-or-don’t-show-your-face-in-the-city tests of whether the Bucks should have bothered showing up in the NBA this season.

Now that that’s out of my system …

THE WIZARDS, often referred to here as the Wiz.  Coach Flip Saunders has, as far as I’ve been able to gather, refused to vote Andrew Bogut to the East All-Star squad these last two seasons, all the more reason to suit Bogut up and make sure Javale McGee doesn’t rebound all day over Jon Brockman.  Bogut is listed as “day-to-day” with a left rib muscle strain suffered against the Bulls, but had expected to practice today (Monday).  No word on whether he did or not but it’s not as though that’s as important as Michael Redd or anything, with the Bucks desperate to not fall any further behind the Pacers this week.

The last time the Bucks played the Wiz in Washington (Feb. 9), they were utterly embarrassed as Nick Young and a guy named Cartier Martin went off on them from 3-point-land (8 for 12 combined) and we all know the Bucks can’t score points in bunches.

Beyond the box score, the Bucks were still working their starting guards back into playing shape on the comeback from injury, and it was absolutely brutal watching the Bucks try to keep the Wiz in the building in the 3rd quarter.  This will be the first time this season the Wiz sees a healthy Milwaukee back court.

THE CAVS:  It’s at home.  Former Bucks point guard Ramon Sessions is still with them, fresh off that shoulder jaw butt that knocked Chris Paul out over the weekend.

Always good to see Sessions, the Cavs starting point guard since the Mo-for Baron trade last month.  One has the sense that Paul’s injury may have been meant for the injury prone Bucks.

The Bucks early season loss to the Cavs in Cleveland (on a last second jumper by Mo) ranks as one of the most entirely avoidable, regrettable Bucks losses that still has them trailing the Pacers and Bobcats in the standings.

All Star Voting: The four Celtics and Dwight Howard blog

I’ll get back to Ray and D-Wade and the Heat … First …

The beleaguered-yet-determined Bucks — what’s left of them — are out west, headed for Denver where who-does-what-now should decide how the lineup shakes up when Bogut is ready to come back to work.   The early returns suggest that Ersan Ilyasova has taken Drew Gooden’s starting power forward job and John Salmons may end up taking a seat soon so that he and the Bucks can figure out what ails him.

The better-than-expected arrival of Chris Douglas-Roberts Saturday and the pending return of Corey Maggette gives the Bucks some options with the Fish, who’s sluggish game thus far has made me miss Charlie Bell.  CD-R in two games has been just what the Bucks have needed — an NBA guard who can hit a shot.   (15 pts per game on excellent 61.1% eff-shooting.)

Ersan Ilyasova in Utah (18 pts on 10 shots, six tough-to-get-in-Utah rebs and three steals) continued to show that when he gets minutes, he produces.  In the 7 games that Ersan has played 25+ minutes, he’s averaging 14.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg, shooting an e-fg rate of 53.2% — that’ll win a few games for the Bucks if he keeps it up. He’s also managed 13 steals, pretty impressive for a power forward.

And no, Ersan’s not riding a six steal game or getting a bump from a 27 pt break-out — he has consistently scored and wreaked havoc on opposing offenses in each of the seven games that Skiles has given him 25+ the minutes.   All evidence suggests that Ersan has recovered from leading Turkey to a silver medal at the 2010 World Championships, and has likewise recovered from the early season benching-by-Skiles that his Turkish heroics earned him back in Milwaukee.

ALL STAR VOTING: This apparent rebooting of the Bucks has given me time to think about the All-Star ballot and mull over what’s been what in the first one-fifth of the season.  Have Lebron and D-Wade really earned a trip to the All-Star game?   Why do the Spurs and Lakers refuse to allow their centers to be listed as centers?   And who’s to stop me from voting four Celtics as the East starters?

On this last question: Nobody.  So I did.  And I probably will again until Lebron James does something truly impressive, like listen to his coach, Erik Spoelstra.  Rajon Rondo is an obvious choice to be the east starter at point guard.  I’ve seen enough Paul Pierce this season to know that he’s still knocking ’em down with clockwork regularity and leading the Celtics in scoring.  Those two selections were easy.

At power forward I would consider voting for Lebron, because the Heat don’t have one now that Udonis Haslem is hurt (note: this wasn’t intended as a knock on Chris Bosh but the word “power” just doesn’t connote the word “Bosh” in my mind.)  And I would consider voting for the Hawks Al Horford if only he were not listed as a center. Anybody who saw Dwight Howard and the Magic pummel the Hawks in four straight in the East semi-finals knows that Al Horford is not a center.  Anybody who watched the Bucks take the Hawks apart earlier this season knows the same — the Hawks don’t let Horford guard Andrew Bogut, instead starting Jason Collins at center against the Bucks.  Horford’s not big enough to tangle with Bogut, Howard, Noah, Lopez, the real centers of the East.

Dwight Howard is the All-Star starter at center, and it’s too bad Bogut hasn’t given Bucks fans a reason to vote for him … yet.  Let’s hope that changes.  Right now, Joakim Noah has the edge to be the backup center to Howard.

That leaves me with Kevin Garnett at power forward.  Sure, he backs away when confronted by guys like Bogut, but he’s still KG — love him, loathe him, he’s at least that — and his Celtics are still the team to beat in the East.  Done.  That’s three Celtics and a maybe for Lebron.  Maybe, but not now.  Did I forget Amar’e Stoudemire?  I forgot Amar””e, though he may be listed as a center, which makes him not only forgettable but irrelevant here.  I seem to have forgotten Chris Bosh, too.  Imagine that.  Bosh has not played like an All-Star in 2010, going back to last season.  (If you watched him in Toronto at the end of last season, you’d have wondered who was leading the Raptors in their bid for the playoffs.)

My shooting guard should be Dwyane Wade, shouldn’t it?  This is usually automatic.  But after two losses to the Celtics in which Ray Allen scored 55 points on him and shot 20 for 36 — see highlight reel above — it’s time to reconsider.  On the season, Ray’s shooting better than any long range gunner has a right to — 56.8% effectively, which takes into account his 44% shooting from Downtown.  Ray’s a weapon, pure and simple.  D-Wade is scoring 21.3 pts per game but it’s been a struggle to get those, and with the weapons the Heat have, his assists shouldn’t be down.  In Atlanta, Joe Jonson has also struggled to be the triple-threat that he was last season.  In Boston, Ray just lets the game come to him.  Easy, nothing but net.

One-fifth of the season done, the Celtics and Magic are leading the East at 12-4.  Punch it in: Four Celtics and Dwight to the 2011 All-Star game.

THE WEST: This is much tougher since I don’t watch the West as much as the East.  But these teams/the NBA (whoever makes the call on the ballot) don’t make it easy to pick a forward, do they?  Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan — two big men who mostly play center — are listed as forwards.  Dirk, West, Carmelo Anthony, what’s the voting fan to do?   At this point in the season, I’m punching in Gasol and New Orleans Bucks-assassin David West but that could change.  Dirk, carrying the Mavs and dropping the occasional 4o — deserve a vote.

The West guards: Kobe, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant … After Deron Williams‘ shredding of the Bucks last night, I went with Deron.  This brought to mind CP3’s expert game management in the Hornets two wins over the Bucks, so I gave the nod to Chris Paul, in recognition that the NBA is a better place with CP3 in it.   I then immediately thought of Kobe’s 30-point game in Milwaukee and how Brandon Roy’s Blazers handed the Bucks arses to them, also in Milwaukee.  Good thing Durant missed his game in Brewtown.  I may have to vote again.

Yao doesn’t need my vote at center, but he’s the only center on the ballot for the West.  There’s Haywood in Dallas, but he doesn’t start.  Tyson Chandler anyone?  Didn’t see him on the ballot.  Yao, even in his part time role, is out indefinitely with a bone spur.  Nene Hilario?

C’mon. Don’t make me vote for Chris Kaman.  At last check, Kaman says he doesn’t want “to be a hindrance” to the young Clippers. The West has not All-Star worthy center on the ballot, so I picked Yao, figuring it was the fair thing to do because he won’t play anyway and that’ll open up a spot for a deserving forward who plays center  — which will then open up a forward spot, which will help ensure that somebody like David West isn’t snubbed.  See how this works — or does it?

I’ll probably have to vote again tomorrow to see how all this settles.

Can the Bucks get a do-over?

John Salmons looked like he needed another week (or two) of pre-season.  Same for Corey Maggette, who seemed confused on defense (“Defense? What’s that coach?)  The spacing and ball movement on offense was reminiscent of some of the worst days of the Michael Redd-Terry Stotts period.

The Bucks, still a work in progress, ugly and obvious, after dropping Wednesday’s opener 95-91 in New Orleans, would do well to pick up a win in Minnesota tonight and reset the season at home against the Bobcats Saturday.

GM John Hammond’s newcomers — Drew Gooden, Maggette and Keyon Dooling — have some work to do, and they would be wise to get to it ASAP.  Coach Scott Skiles‘ patience won’t last much longer.  Defensive ace Luc Mbah a Moute and bruising forward Jon Brockman are set to return in Minnesota, and Ersan Ilyasova will not be relegated to 15 minutes of playing time often — and probably not for some time.

Maggette does warrant a pass due to his lack of a preseason, and Gooden was productive in his minutes (15 pts, 11 rebs).  But Gooden — who did have a full preseason — failed time and time again to get a hand in David Wells‘ face.  That’s the kind of defense that gets on Skile’s nerves and won’t be tolerated on a Skiles team.  Just ask Michael Redd.

The Bucks core — plus Salmons — was a winner.  It’s too early to say that GM Hammond did too much this off-season, too early to be aggravated that Hammond and the Bucks are marketing Maggette and Gooden to Bucks fans as part of a winning formula.  Yes, it’s early … but no — the Bucks team that played in New Orleans Wednesday was no winner.

Bright spots

Carlos Delfino (19 pts) – never looked better.  Good spacing, solid D, ball movement, great teamwork with Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings.  The Bucks core knows what it’s doing, nevermind the newcomers.

Andrew Bogut:  The free throw line is only 15 feet away and 50 percent from the floor isn’t quite good enough, big man.  The Bucks will need Bogut to be more efficient offensively. But in every other regard, it was great to see the Bucks center back on the court.  He was in control of the paint all night (15 boards), and Emeka Okafor (0 points) didn’t get free for a single shot the entire game.

Brandon Jennings: Watching Jennings play D — often successfully — against Chris Paul was more fun than watching him run the Bucks tired-looking offense. It’s too bad the Hornets are in the West and BJ gets only one more crack at CP3 (next Saturday). That the Bucks were even in the game was a credit to Jennings, who found Delfino’s hot hand time and time again in the 4th quarter.  If BJ’s sophomore season is a campaign to prove to the world that he’s the real deal, he’s off to a pretty good start.

Waiting for those pre-season browwnz to clear

Years ago, in what seems now like another lifetime, I was sitting on the steps of my neighbors porch on Thalia Street in New Orleans, eating a plateful of beans and rice, when my neighbor let out a sigh and looked wistfully at some point of nowhere and away, down toward St. Charles. “What’s the matter,” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know … nothin’ really,” she said, and maybe sighed again (she probably did but, remember, this was so long ago that it may never have happened at all). “I just got a case of the browns.”

I got the feeling she wasn’t talking about the beans and rice. “The browns? What are those?”

“They’re kinda like the blues but, no, not so bad as the blues. They’re, you know, just … the browwnz.”

I haven’t found since better words to describe what the browns are than those: “just … the browwnz.”  The browwnz can be difficult to pin down, I do know that. And I’ve also come to know when I’ve got ’em.

I’ve got em now, thanks to an NBA pre-season that has seemed without end, the Bucks not healthy enough to field their starting roster even once.  The Bucks aren’t healthy yet, 27 hours before their season opener in the very place where the browwnz were identified — New Orleans.  And, no, at last check of the clock, the NBA pre-season hasn’t ended.

The Celtics and Heat tip the 2010-11 season off tonight at 6:35 pm, give or take a minute or two (yes, I’m counting the minutes).  I’m expecting Lebron to find KG, Rondo, Ray and #34 just as smart and clutch-and-grab aggressive as they were in dominating last season’s eastern conference playoffs.  For now, KG is healthy. NBA fans should know by now, after three seasons in Boston, that (sorry D-Wade and Bosh, and Dwight) a healthy KG is the most valuable asset in the conference.

It’s also worth noting that the Celtics have Lebron’s second most valuable Cavs asset, Delonte West, coming off the bench behind Ray Allen (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mr. Cav, being Lebron’s most valuable teammate in Cleveland). The addition of West (loaded guns aside) to play with Ray, Rajon Rondo and Nate “the gnat” Robinson gives the Celtics, hands down, the best guard rotation on the planet.  Inside, KG, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq are more than Bosh and Big Z (and Anthony) can handle, whether the Heat jell or not.   If this game is an early season sneak preview of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, no complaints here, unless the Bucks fail to give one of these top two in the East some playoff hell.

The Bucks and Hornets get going at 7:05 pm Wednesday. Brandon Jennings vs. Chris Paul, CP3 finally healthy after missing half of last season … that’s plenty of fun to watch in a season opener, and Andrew Bogut seems to be doing fine, though he’s not yet in 35-minute playing shape.   John Salmons will play — but beyond that, most everything else to do with the Bucks is open to question, given that the rotation hasn’t played together in a game.  Hence, the browwnz, and a preseason that has seemed without end.

And I know enough about the browwnz to realize that trying to answer those many Bucks questions now is hubris.

We don’t know how or whether Skiles will be able to manage his wing rotation with Fish, Carlos Delfino, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Corey Maggette all vying for PT. (This just in: Chris Douglas-Roberts is reporting on his twitter that he had eye surgery today and can’t play ball for a month.)

We don’t know whether Maggette can play tough enough D to warrant solid PT.  We don’t know whether Drew Gooden, Luc Mbah a Moute (hobbled by an ankle sprain) or Ersan Ilyasova will start at power forward. We don’t whether or not Keyon Dooling will be as effective as Luke Ridnour was backing up Jennings. We’ll have to wait and see.

We do know that this is the first season in ten years that the Bucks will go into the season without Michael Redd in a Bucks uniform.  Redd’s nowhere to be found in Bucks camp, and likely will not join his team on the bench in street clothes while GM John Hammond searches for a deal to unload Redd and his ridiculously absurd $18.3 million contract.

And knowing this with the tip-off of the Bucks season 27 hours away, I can feel those NBA pre-season browwnz beginning to clear away.