Tag Archives: Dwight Howard

Giannis and Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard (or how this blog is not about referee Marc Davis)

In the 2nd quarter of their home opener Friday (Oct. 20), the Charlotte Hornets found themselves down 40-20 to the visiting Atlanta Hawks and looking for answers. And then Frank Kaminsky happened.

Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky by unknown artist. License: Standard non-commercial use.

For a stretch that went on for 8:30, Buzz City in Charlotte looked a lot like how the Kohl Center in Madison used to look when Frank the Tank was rolling and spinning to the rim, old school footwork confounding defenders, shooting touch getting every roll, Frank playing with the supreme confidence and determination that made him the college player-of-the-year in 2015.

By the time Kaminsky was done, the Hawks lead was down to seven, 56-49 at half and the Hornets had their mojo back. Frank had 15 pts in the quarter, nine of them on 3-point plays: two from downtown and one on a classic Frank spin move to the basket going to his left hand for a layup — and one. He found Kemba Walker with a pass for an open 3 that helped get the Hornets going. He grabbed three rebounds. He did it all, put his team on his back and led them and the home crowd back into the game. The Hawks folded in the 2nd half (with some help from a crew of very unsympathetic referees) and Charlotte won going away, 109-91.

Nights like this haven’t happened too often for Kaminsky in his two-plus years in the NBA. More often than not, he has struggled to make shots. In his rookie year he hit just 23.8% of his mid-range shots, and 30% in his second season. Overall he shot a very un-Frank-like 41% from the floor and was even worse in his 2nd season – not even 40% (39.9). His three-point shooting was no compensation, as he barely made a high enough % to justify shooting them – 34% his rookie year and 33% last season. Frank Kaminsky a 47% effective shooter in the NBA? Say it ain’t so. The league averages were 50% his rookie year and 51.4% last season — the all-time high.

Frank’s troubles, from what I could tell, stemmed from a lack of definition to what position he was playing on the court. He could no longer play post-up center like he did in college, but he had always roamed out to the 3-point line at Wisconsin, anyway; it’s what made him such an obvious pro player. But for whatever reason — the quicker, bigger NBA defenders or poor conditioning or plain old bad luck — the shots were not falling for Frank; and, unlike in college, he couldn’t dictate when and where he was going to get the ball on any given possession. Kemba Walker, not Frank Kaminsky, dictates the offense in Charlotte. So forgive the rookie and 2nd-year-player-learning-the-ropes stuff or not — Frank was not much of a factor for the Hornets in his first two seasons.

Dwight Howard looks very happy in Charlotte. The Hawks actually had Ersan guarding Howard at times during Friday’s game. It didn’t work. License: Standard non-commercial use.

But things are different in Charlotte this season. The Hornets now have Dwight Howard manning the paint, and, no matter how maligned Dwight has been during his five years of team-hopping, he is still a top 5 rebounding defender in the game, still the best of his generation. Dwight’s defensive rebounding %, total rebounding % and defensive rating are No. 1 among active players. The rebounding % is 3rd All-Time, a hair higher than %-haul by the late great rebounding legend, Moses Malone. Dwight’s not the shot-blocker he once was, but few teams challenge him inside anymore. Dwight Howard is a beast, how quickly NBA fans and media have forgotten, and he’s only 31 years old (32 in December). His Atlanta Hawks were on pace to win 48 last season before the injury bug hit the team after the All-Star break.

Ahh, there’s the rub — nobody likes to make excuses for “Superman”. And as the game has moved out beyond the 3-point line in the new, faster paced, bombs-away NBA, post-centric big men like Howard are viewed as dinosaurs. The new NBA center is Nikola Jokic, agile and versatile with a “European” shooting touch. Dwight Howard — though still a great athlete who can outrun most other bigs — has no shooting touch. But in Charlotte, Dwight doesn’t have to shoot; he has Frank. And while Frank the Tank is no quick-footed sprinter, he shoots with a feathery touch around the rim and has a crazy toolkit of moves that make him a versatile, creative scorer who can get almost any shot he wants if he works the defense.

Frank Kaminsky is everything Dwight Howard is not; and Dwight is one of the best in the NBA at all things Frank the Tank struggles to do well in the NBA — rebounding, defense, rim protection. If Dwight can’t make his free throws, Frank shoots 90% from the line. Together, they’re a monster combo.

BUCKS-HORNETS 10/23/2017

Giannis led the Bucks to victory, Monday, but Dwight and the short-handed Hornets made it tough, tying the score at 94 with 2 mins to play. License: Standard non-commercial use.

If the early games are any indication (and there have only been three for the Hornets as of this writing) , Dwight is easily the best thing that ever happened to Frank in the NBA. Though he, himself is a limited offensive player, Dwight’s ability to set granite stone screens and move people around in the paint has instilled a sense of clarity to the Hornet’s approach, and opened the game up for Frank, whose confidence over the weekend returned to a Bucky-on-a-Final-Four-run level.

It appears Hornets coach Steve Clifford will keep Frank and Dwight on the floor a lot. Dwight is averaging 33 mins per game and Frank is getting 30 mpg. Combined, they’re averaging 27.0 pts and 22.3 rebs per game. Frank didn’t play well in the opener in Detroit, but he came alive against the Hawks on Friday with 17 pts, 6 boards and 3 assists for the game. On Monday in Milwaukee, Howard and Kaminsky took only 14 shots but scored 26 points (18 from Frank, who led the Hornets in scoring) and hauled in 27 rebounds (22 by Dwight).

Okay, Dwight missed all nine of his free throws in Milwaukee, and perhaps the outcome would have been different had he made four or five of those — but Dwight shot 53% from the line last season, and has made nearly 4 out of 7 for his career (56.5%), better than Wilt, Shaq, DeAndre and Drummond. He won’t shoot 0 for 9 often, but the Bucks were glad to have it in Milwaukee.

The Hornets not named Dwight and Frank shot just 36% for the game, and were 5 of 20 in the 4th Quarter, yet somehow managed to tie the score at 94 inside of two minutes (thanks to a big three by Frank). Most teams would have stolen this game from the Bucks, but not the short-handed Hornets. They were missing two starters, injured guard Nic Batum and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who hasn’t played since pre-season due to a death in the family. Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NBA draft (Anthony Davis draft; John Henson for the Bucks) has missed 40% of his career so far due to injuries, but played in 81 games last season.

The Hornets were also missing Cody Zeller, who bruised a knee against Atlanta. They’re down to Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb and former Buck Johnny O’Bryant off their bench, plus rookie Malik Monk — yet the Bucks needed a big three and defensive heroics from Khris Middleton, another MVP performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dwight’s missed free throws to ice the game. How do the Bucks match up against Charlotte at full strength? Not so great, outside of Antetokounmpo, and maybe Middleton when he’s on, though Kidd-Gilchrist’s scrappy defense might have some effect on Khris. The Bucks were lucky to catch the Hornets when they did.

The Hornets are a big reason why I didn’t listen much to the off-season talk about how weak the East was going to be after four All-Stars — Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — went West to win more on national TV. The Bucks were 9-3 last season against Chicago, Indiana and New York, so New York and Chicago committing to rebuilding and Indiana clearing out George, Jeff Teague and Monta Ellis isn’t going to change much in the East for the Bucks or Wizards, two teams that stood pat and watched these stars and lesser stars move around.

The moves that mattered more were Cleveland trading Kyrie Irving to Boston, obviously; Boston signing Gordon Hayward, obviously again; Toronto foolishly resigning Kyle Lowry for 3 yrs/$93 million; and then this interesting business between Atlanta and Charlotte involving Dwight Howard. Charlotte in the Dwight trade gave up only streaky shooting gun Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee (remember him?) and a 2nd round draft pick. “Superman” for next to nothing, to a team that won 48 games in 2016 but lost a step last season and missed the playoffs. It seems that Hornets owner-GM Michael Jordan had a plan in mind when he made that out-of-nowhere trade for Plumlee last season.

With Irving and Hayward in Boston, Dwight in Charlotte and the Cavs adding Derrick Rose  and Jae Crowder, the top six of the East looked to be tougher than last season, even if Toronto is prolonging the inevitable. (Raptors broadcasters in week 1 were hyping C.J. Miles as the new secret weapon off the bench who will make a big difference this season. Really. C.J. Miles who played for the Pacers last season, and I had to look it up to be able to write that. A Snell-avedova moment in Toronto? NBA Free League pass preview is a beautiful thing.)

Then Hayward got hurt in the season opener against Cleveland. Joel Embiid took a health game in Philly. Rose is hurt again (only a sprained ankle this time) and Isaiah Thomas won’t be available until maybe January. In Milwaukee, coach Jason Kidd has played John Henson as much Greg Monroe, and has had to play Dellavedova more than Brogdon (sprained ankle) so far; it’s as though last season never happened. Middleton is off to another poor start shooting (47.1 efg), shades of two years ago.  In just a week, the East went back to being the East.

Or did it? The Wizards are the only undefeated team in the conference, which makes a lot of John Wall sense. Giannis is so good that nothing his coach or teammates have done (or not done) has kept the Bucks from winning 3 of 4. The Magic jumped Cleveland in Florida the day after the Cavs humbled the Bucks in Milwaukee, handing the Cavs their first loss. The Magic have three wins!! Brooklyn has two, and doesn’t appear to be a joke this season!! So does Boston after the Hayward injury! And Dwight and Frank have a buzz going in Buzz City.

Did the East get worse in the off-season? I’m not sure that was possible, and it really is too early to tell. What I do know from gorging on NBA League Pass free preview all weekend, is that Aaron Gordon down in Orlando (41 pts, 12 rebs in the Magic’s third win last night) looks a lot more like an All-Star/All-Pro than Carmelo Anthony or Paul George or Paul Millsap.

Come to think of it, none of those three “stars” made the All-Pro teams last season, did they? Maybe ESPN or some other media has some old shoe commercial footage to remind us all what the fuss is about. Perhaps Russell Westbrook will be able to figure it out. Not so far — the Thunder lost two out of three to open the season, including a loss at home to the Timberwolves, led by Jimmy Butler, one team-changer who did make the All-Pro teams last season.

Referee Marc Davis, more than a slap on the wrist

Many Bucks fans may have noticed (how could you not?) that Marc Davis refereed the Bucks home opener against the Cavs last week. I don’t know whether or not this should be considered a response to the “More than a Slap on the Wrist” series during last season’s playoffs. But it sure felt like a slap in the face when the officiating in the first half was atrociously pro-Cleveland, confirmed by the official scorers’ report. For the game, a 17 to 10 fouls called disparity against the Bucks. Yes, the refs saw fit to call only ten fouls on the Cavs all game long.

The Kevin Love at center experiment will work wonderfully well if the referees refuse to call a foul on him when he tries to rebound and play D against much bigger, longer-armed players. The Bucks lost their cool on offense and chucked 21 threes in the first half, immature basketball at best. Kyle Korver had no such problems in the 3rd quarter, and hit a barrage of threes that drained the life out of all Bucks but Giannis, a lone star on a mission. The Bucks roster has a long way to go if they’re going to matter in the playoffs. On the bright side, Korver was cold in Orlando the next night, and the Magic handed the Cavs their first loss. There is hope.

I stopped writing about the NBA refs last season for a very good reason: I wanted to enjoy the NBA finals, the basketball part of it. And NBA Official wasn’t responding to my calls or emails for comment. Maybe they’ve responded now, by scheduling Davis to work the Bucks home opener, though I’m sure they wouldn’t characterize it as a response to anything. And so it goes.

In any case, this business reminds of a funny story about retired ref Joey Crawford, whose rottenness became so legendary that players had fun with it, and “Joey” became part of the show. I think there’s a message therein about the “legendary” refs in NBA history and how their legends were won. Coming soon to a Bob Boozer Jinx near you.

Happy start of the 2017-18 NBA season, all!!! It’s been a long summer.

Source-erole and other notes:

  • Bucks-Hornets 10/23/17 gamebook and more at NBA.com: https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20171023/0021700044_Book.pdf
  • Hawks-Hornets gamebook and more at NBA.Com: http://www.nba.com/games/20171023/CHAMIL#/video
  • Also, links boxscores, roster info at (as always) basketball-reference.com – What would bloggers do with BBR?

Before the trip West: Five Bucks appear on NBA leader boards; Bucks re-establish Top 5 team defensive rating

Happy New Year!   And welcome to 2012 on behalf of the editorial board at The Bob Boozer Jinx, most of whom are still sleeping off last night’s hilarity, events made possible by the board’s decision to handcuff me to the steering wheel of an alcohol-detecting cab and make me drive them around all night.  They’re not responsible for any of the gunfire you might have heard at midnight.

The Bucks had this weekend to themselves, getting ready for a five-games-in-seven-days trip west, which begins Monday night with the familiar Mountain-Time, Denver-Utah back-to-back and takes them to Sacramento and L.A. (Clippers) before wrapping up in Phoenix next Sunday.  It probably doesn’t need to be said that, in this lockout-shortened season, the Bucks (2-1) need to gut out at least two wins on this rough road and come home no worse than 4-4.

There’s no time like the outset of this trip to check the NBA leader board and see where our Bucks landed after Week One.  The good news is that the Bucks are again among the league leaders in defense, led by Andrew Bogut; and that they’re rankings on the offensive end aren’t half bad.  (NBA LEADER BOARD and SUMMARY).

Consider this an early touch-point blog of sorts.  I’ll check back to measure progress (or lack thereof) after the trip.

TEAM DEFENSE:  The Bucks — so far — have maintained their 2011 Top 5 defense despite new additions Mike Dunleavy, Jr., and Beno Udrih, guys hardly known for tenacious D.  Entering Sunday’s games, the Bucks ranked 2nd, giving up just 95.2 points per 100 possessions. 

(Find the season summary here – scroll down for the “Miscellaneous Stats” where you’ll find offense and defense ratings, turnover percentages and other pace-adjusted stats).

The Bucks rank 3rd in defensive field goal percentage, holding oppenents below 40% (39.8).  In Week One, they were the 2nd-best “effective field goal percentage” defense behind the Lakers (efg% accounts for the points on made 3-pointers).

The Bucks rank 4th in forcing turnovers, getting one 16.7% of the time, which means the Bobcats, T-wolves and Wizards turned it over once every six possessions.  That’s remarkably sloppy opponent offense, but also a key element to the Skiles constant pressure, in-your-grill, man-to-man defense.  It’s designed to force mistakes, not necessarily steals.

The Bucks defensive rebounding rate is in the toilet (22nd in NBA), as the Bucks are controlling just 71.4% of available opponent misses.  We can thank the T-Wolves and Bobcats for that.  Just a bad start for a strong rebounding team or a sign of things to come?  When in doubt blame Kevin Love.

TEAM OFFENSE:  The Bucks rank 16th in offense, tied with the Raptors, scoring 103.2 points per 100 possessions.  Not half bad and a major improvement over last season when they were dead last.

Shooting:  The Bucks are 14th in shooting percentage (45%) but 19th in 3-point shooting (30.5% – ouch) for an effective field goal ranking of 16th (48.6%).

The biggest change for the Bucks is paceLast season the Bucks were 25th in the league, running less than 90 possessions per game.  After Week One they were 6th, pushing the pace to 95.3 possessions per game. Note that Denver, their next opponent, is leading the league in pace, running and gunning under George Karl.

INDIVIDUALS:  Five Bucks are on the NBA Top 20 lists, four of them for good stuff.   The “bad” is Stephen Jackson, who ranks 16th in fouls.  The four “good” are Andrew Bogut (no surprise there), Brandon Jennings (a bit of a surprise), Ersan Ilyasova (no surprise here at the Jinx) and Carlos Delfino (Del-3-no!).  Lets begin with Bogut.

ANDREW BOGUT:  The Pacers may be leading the league in team defense but the best defensive teams on the planet continue to be the Orlando Magic when Dwight Howard is on the court and the Bucks when Andrew Bogut is in the game.  Howard (84.8 estimated pts per 100 allowed) and Bogut (89.0) rank No. 1 and No. 2 in defensive rating, right where they’ve been since 2009.

Rebounding: Bogut is hauling in 11.0 rebounds per game but not on the leader board because the Bucks have played only three games.  He’s 13th in defensive rebound rate (26% of available rebounds grabbed) and 18th in overall rebounding rate.*   Expect Bogut to stake his claim to the Top 10 in these areas on this road trip.   Bogues is 18th in total rebounds, 13th in defensive rebounds.

*A 26-27% defensive rebounding rate is typically good enough for the NBA Top 10. Bogut’s career bests of over 27% were in 2009 and 2011.  For a relative comparison, Dwight Howard was in the 31% range during those seasons.  The elite rebounders of the NBA are in the 18-22% total rebounding rate (offensive and defensive rebounding rates combined), with Kevin Love somehow posting a 23.6% rate last season.

Blocked shots:  Bogut, the NBA’s leading per game shot-blocker in 2011 has yet to make an appearance on the blocked shot leader board.  His typical blocked shot rate since 2009 has been about 6.0% — it’s half that after Week One.

BRANDON JENNINGS:  The 7th leading scorer in the NBA at 22.7 per game, and doing it fairly efficiently.  My computer froze when I wrote that the first time.  BJ is shooting 46% from the floor and getting to the line in the 4th quarter when the Bucks need him to the most.

Free throws:  Jennings is 17th in made free throws and in the Top 10 in free throws per game, with 6.7.

Minutes:  Jennings is also 17th in minutes played.

ERSAN ILYASOVA:   Tenacious D is his calling card.  Ilyasova ranks 5th in Defensive Rating, leading the Bucks forwards in minutes played (27 per game) and helping Bogut lead the Bucks to their No. 2 D-rating.

CARLOS DELFINO:  Three out of five from Downtown in one game gets Carlos in the 3-point shooting top 10.   Carlos ranks 10th at 60%.

STEPHEN JACKSON:  Fouls, turnovers, wild shots — Jackson’s the wild card for the Bucks, no doubt about that, but he’s also out of shape.  He’s “that guy,” and he even looks like he’s acquired my beer gut.  Jackson’s turning it over three times a game (if not more with wild shots) and would be in the Top 20 there had the Bucks played more than three games.  He’s 16th in total fouls (with 14) and one of the few guys in that bottom 20 who’s played three games.   Here’s hoping Captain Jack finds a groove on the road.

OTHER NOTABLES:

Ray Allen:  A true shooting percentage of 79.9 percent going into Sunday’s game against the Wiz.  Let’s call it 80.   True shooting counts two free throw attempts as one shot, carves up that shot based on percentage of FT makes, and adds the extra point for made 3-pointers to “truly” account for a shooter’s scoring accuracy.  Ray’s 58% from the field, 58% from downtown (14 of 24) and, no, he hasn’t missed a free throw in 16 tries.*

The Celtics may have started 1-3 without Paul Pierce but Ray is on fire and hasn’t taken a bad shot that I’ve seen.  Ray was 11th in Week One scoring with 20.0 per game.

*Ray on Sunday missed his first free throw of the season, always a solemn occasion.

Greg Stiemsma:  The 4-year Wisconsin Badger from tiny Randolph, WI, somewhere up there between Portage and Fon du Lac, made his NBA debut this week with the Celtics, backing up Jermaine O’Neal. Stiemsma blocked seven shots in two games, good enough for No. 2 in the league behind Blake Griffith‘s Clippers running mate DeAndre Jordan (4.7 blocks per game) and ahead of Howard (3.0 blocks).

Dwight Howard:  What trade talk?  Howard hauled in a Superman-like 70 rebounds in four games for the Magic to lead all boardsmen, including a league-leading 52 defensive boards.  Howard entered week two of his season averaging 17.5 boards a game and has cleaned off an astounding 38% of all opponent missed shots.

DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings was leading offensive rebounders with 23 in four games, then demanded to be traded after the Kings were blown out by the Knicks.   That’s 5.75 boards on the offensive glass per game for Cousins.  Somebody block big man out.  Somebody trade him.  Somebody tell him to stay home.  Somebody send him a Drew Gooden headband.

Kevin Love:  Three games, 44 rebounds, 20 against the Bucks.  Love is grabbing 14.7 boards a game, six per on the offensive glass and trails only Howard.  How does he do it?   Maybe hit the glass more, Darko!

Carmelo Anthony:  Forty free throws in four games.  40!  I’ve seen some of those games, and the fouls weren’t of the ticky-tack variety.  Carmelo’s averaging 25.0 per game and is sixth in scoring, a full 2.3 pts ahead of 7th place Jennings. (Note to BJ: Don’t bother trying to keep up with him.)

Lebron James:  Leads the league in scoring (33.0 per game) but the Heat don’t look so invincible.  The Bobcats had ’em in Charlotte but let ’em off the hook with turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch.  They still don’t have a center and are reportedly after ex-Buck-Blazer-Bobcat Joel Przybilla.

The Bulls:   They’re putting the hurt on the Randolph-Gasol Memphis Grizzlies in Chicago tonight, and will probably have the league’s top-rated defense come morning.*  The Grizzlies had all of 28 points at half and finished on the wrong end of a 104-64 score.   The defensive standard has been set in the Eastern Conference.*

*Lo and behold, the Pacers and Bucks remained atop the league in team defense after the weekend.  The Bulls D-rating did drop below 100 pts per 100 possessions (98.3), better than their 2011 league-leading 100.3 pts per 100.

The Hawks, Bulls, Sixers, Magic and Celtics ran Top 10 offense in Week One, something to keep in mind when thinking of contenders for East playoff spots.  Surprised the Knicks weren’t in the Top 10?  Me too.

NBA Playoffs 2011 Notes: Joakim Noah’s defense may have killed the Bulls title hopes — but don’t tell Charles Barkley

Beginning of the 3rd quarter, Game 5 in Chicago, Bulls with their season on the line down three games to one to the Heat, leading by seven points at halftime. …

On the Heat’s first possession of the second half, as Dwyane Wade stunted toward the lane, Bulls center Joakim Noah, as he has so often this series, sagged deep into the lane to close the gap, this time leaving Chris Bosh all alone at the right elbow.  Wade flipped a pass to Bosh, who was already bending his legs to shoot as Noah planted, lunged

… and went sailing past Bosh as Bosh drove to the hoop for an easy layup.

“There wasn’t anything Boozer (Carlos, the nearest available help defender) could do about that,” Marv Albert noted in his play-by-play.  And there wasn’t.   Three Heat possession later and Bosh had another bucket on a midrange jumper and Noah had committed a foul, and the Heat had cut the lead to five.

Coming into the game, Bosh was averaging 24.5 points per game in the series, including a 30 point Game 1 and a 34 point Game 3.  No, despite Noah’s hyper-activity and the lunging-for-the-ball tip and block efforts, the Bulls center had blocked just six shots through four games (his season average) and had a miserable time guarding Bosh, who found Noah an all-too-willing sucker for the pump fake, and all-too eager to leave him to help out on the driving Heat, even when help wasn’t needed.

It wasn’t anything resembling the play of a 2nd-team All-Defensive forward-center, the honor bestowed upon Noah by the NBA coaches in 2011.  To compound matters, Noah had shot 29 percent from the field entering Game 4.

Yet  few — if any — Heat-Bulls observers (Noah’s biggest fan, Charles Barkley, included) seem to have noticed.  “On the court and off, Noah not your typical NBA player,” gushed the Chicago Tribune headline above a long feature on Noah before Game 5.

Yeah, the Tribune story set out to tell the human interest story behind a basketball player fined for a vulgar, homophobic slur toward a fan in Miami. But this story aims to talk about Noah the basketball player, the guy who is not making plays on the court, not with the regularity that his fans seem to think he is.

What gives?  Were these games against the Heat an aberration, a tough matchup (Bosh, Wade and Lebron) that belied Noah’s All-Defensive status?

Hardly.  Noah’s defense in the Heat series was exemplary of how the Bulls center plays defense, and has played it that way since he entered the league in 2007, the season Scott Skiles was let go by the Bulls.  Noah rushes to help, lunges after  shot attempts, goes for ball fakes, and, as a result of this activity, tends to leave his man wide open or in weak side rebound position.  Generally, he tries to be everywhere at once on the defensive end.

While his style surely reflects Noah’s confidence in his athleticism and relative inexperience, it’s also impossible, often foolish, and is a dangerous way to play Chris Bosh — hey !  It’s not good defense.

We actually have statistical evidence of Noah’s folly. Using a newly developed measure of defensive play, ezPM, when counterpart scoring is taken into account (that seems obvious) Noah’s marginal score for individual defense takes one of the biggest dives in the league.

EZPM is a rather basic yet complex and comprehensive metric extended from box score stats developed by Warriors-centric blogger EvanZ at “The City.”  For a full explanation on the “ezPM” metric, CLICK HERE. For the opponent scoring (Defense) calculations and rankings, CLICK HERE.

For the record, the ezPM results verify what the eye is telling the NBA fan:  Noah is often playing active but poor defense, and the man he’s guarding reaps the benefits.  Despite making about 3.0 defensive plays per game (1.5 blocks, 1.0 steals and taking charges) and playing on the NBA’s top-rated defense, Noah finished well behind the top rated big men in the league (see below), and out of the top 25.  The Bulls may have clamped down on opponents as they so often did this season, but their center was too often losing track of his man.

In 2010-11, Joakim Noah was not 2nd-team All-NBA Defensive material.  In the end, his poor defense on Bosh — and the absence of any offensive game to speak of — may have cost his team a trip to the NBA Finals.

As the Bulls-Heat series played to its conclusion in the 4th quarter of Game 5, backup center Kurt Thomas was the big man on the floor for the Bulls, helping to build a 12-point lead that Dwyane Wade and Lebron James extinguished down the stretch.  Noah remained on the bench the entire 4th quarter.

I wonder if anybody in Chicago (or Charles Barkley) noticed.

More later on ezPM, which was fully implemented for the first time this season.  Suffice it to say that there were no surprises about the NBA’s top-ranked big men.  Noah posted a 1.702 defensive mark — above the margins but behind the Bucks backups, Larry Sanders (2.792) and Jon Brockman (1.767, and even his own backup, Omer Asik (2.214).  For now here’s a snapshot of the ezPM defensive scores Top 5:

1. Dwight Howard 5.08
2. Ronnie Brewer 4.98
3 Andrew Bogut 3.403
4 LeBron James 3.326
5 Tim Duncan 3.212

A Tale of Two Centers: Nevermind the DPOY voting, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut were the most dominant defenders of 2011

Dwight, Dwight, Dwight, hey Dwight — like the talking basketball in the playoffs commercial, 114 of 120 ballots for 2011 Defensive Player of the Year named Dwight Howard No. 1 and the Orlando Magic center became the first player in NBA history to collect three straight DPOY awards.

The odd surprise was that it wasn’t unanimous.  The true surprise was that so few of the ballots — only six — named as No. 2 the center who led the NBA in blocked shots per game, Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut.

Adding insult to small market center injury, only 14 voters deemed Bogut’s defense worthy of a third place nod, meaning that Bogut was omitted on 100 of the 120 ballots cast by the men and women in media covering the NBA.  Only one ballot omitted Howard.

West Coast bias is one factor.  Celtics love is another.  But 100 omissions of Bogut is a little scary when one considers that the people casting votes were, ostensibly, paying attention to the league they cover.  At last check the Milwaukee Bucks were still in the league, I’m fairly certain.  They appeared to be, anyway, last time I checked the regular season standings.

In watching a thousand or so hours of NBA basketball and assiduously tracking a season’s worth of defensive ratings and other statistics, as I did, one truth stands tall about the NBA’s impact defenders:  There is Superman and there is Andrew Bogut … and then there’s everybody else, Kevin Garnett and Grizzlies sixth man Tony Allen, a Celtic last season, leading the pack.

Howard this week joined Dikembe Mutombo (four DPOYs) and Big Ben Wallace (four also) as the only players in NBA history to win the award more times than Bucks should-be Hall of Famer Sidney Moncrief won it in the first two years of its existence (1983 and 1984).

Howard was again the highest-rated defender in the league (94.0 team points allowed per 100 possessions) and also led in “Defensive Plays” (blocks + steals + est. charges taken) with 3.88 per game.  He was fourth in blocked shots (2.4 per game) and hauled in 14.1 rebounds per game, finishing third in defensive rebounding rate, grabbing 30.6 percent of opponent misses.

Bogut finished 4th in defensive rating (97.3) and led the league in shot blocking (2.6 per game).  Bogues grabbed a career-best 11.1 rebounds per game and finished sixth in defensive rebounding rate at 27.1 percent.  He also took an estimated 32 charges this season, pulling in right behind Howard with 3.8 “Defensive Plays” per game.

Those “Defensive Plays” are quantifiable “stops” that disrupt the opposition and, in Bogut’s case, usually force a change of possession because most of his blocks stay in bounds and are recovered by the Bucks.  Howard, by choice, tries to intimidate opponents by rejecting shots into the expensive seats.  A quick estimate says that half of Howard’s “Defensive Plays” force possession change, compared to about 75 percent of Bogut’s.

But the quantifiable plays tell only part of the story.

Individual statistics don’t capture the number of shots a big man alters in a game, nor the number of passes he tips or forces out of bounds by denying the ball in the post, nor the number of rushed shot-clock prayers and weak side offense that result from denying the post, nor the turnovers forced by playing good help defense.

And the box score stats certainly don’t quantify how often opposing players opt for low percentage perimeter shots simply because Howard or Bogut is patrolling the paint.

Magic opponents shot a fourth-worst 43.6 percent from the field.  Bucks’ opponents shot 44.7 percent, the sixth best defensive mark in the league, and a third-lowest 33.6 percent from 3-point-land, a testament to the fact that the Bucks don’t sag too deep to the paint and rarely double team the post.  Bogut’s not given, nor does he require, defensive help.

The results showed on the scoreboard:  Howard’s Magic played the third-best defense in the NBA ( 102.1 pts.allowed/100 poss.).  Bogut’s Bucks were right behind the Magic in fourth (102.5 pts./100).

How good are Howard and Bogut?   The Bulls (100.3 pts/100) and Celtics (100.3 pts/100) play the best team defense in the NBA.  As such, there are nine Bulls and Celtics in the individual defensive ratings top 20.  There are only two Magic and Bucks — Howard and Bogut, though in January and February Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova climbed as high as 17th in the ratings.

This means that the Magic and Bucks defenses, ranked third and fourth, allowed significant increases in opponent scoring when Howard and Bogut were not on the court.  For the Magic the increase was monumental — an estimated 16+ points per 100 possessions, placing the Magic’s non-Howard defense above the league average of 107.3.

But Howard was on the court 74 percent of the Magic’s season.  Bogut played 57.8 percent of the Bucks season, with the Bucks D giving up an estimated 9.5 more points per 1oo possessions when their center was on the bench or missing 17 games.

It’s next to unreasonable to expect Superman endurance from any player, 67 percent on-court time this season from Bogut would almost certainly have pushed the Bucks into the playoffs.  As it turned out, they were within a buzzer beater in Indiana April 1 of making it with Bogut’s 58 percent playing time contribution.

Therein, however, lies the main difference between Howard and Bogut and the reason that Bogut — whom some considered the leading candidate for DPOY until the Bucks February swoon — wasn’t more seriously considered, even as a No. 2 candidate.  The Magic are in the playoffs with home court advantage against the Hawks; the injury-addled Bucks defied expectations by missing the playoffs, and Bogut this month underwent a second surgery on his mangled right arm, which was never fully functioning this season.

Yet despite the 17 missed games, it may surprise many post-season awards voters that Bogut logged more minutes (2,297) than Tyson Chandler (2,059) played for the Mavericks; and he had more on-court time than the Spurs’ defensive anchor, Tim Duncan (2,156 minutes).

Chandler had an exceptional season in Dallas but the individual and team statistics don’t lie — Bogut not only played more but had the more Howard-like impact, and it wasn’t really close.  Wilson Chandler blocked more shots than Tyson did.

In 2011 Bogut made more defensive plays than Duncan or Chandler, opponents shot a lower percentage against his Bucks and scored less.  Duncan’s Spurs allowed 4.2 more points per 100 possessions than Bogut’s Bucks, while Chandler’s Mavs allowed 5.3 more.  Those differences were big and obvious to those who watched Bogut in action in 2011.

The concern here is that many awards voters apparently didn’t see the Bucks play this season, and if they did, they were paying more attention to the Bucks (and Bogut’s) missed shots than to the center’s All-NBA defense.  (Even the reporters who cover the Bucks daily fell into this trap, though there’s no need to link here to that offensive team report.  They actually graded Bogut a C-.)

As Duncan would attest, post defense isn’t about spectacular blocks or rabid intensity during 4th quarter stands in close games, or about altercations instigated on national TV.  It’s about persistence, positioning and leverage, possession-after-possession, as well as smart off-the-ball rotations to the weak side.

Howard and Bogut persist as masters of these defensive arts in the paint, and if they sometimes make it look too easy, one can only hope the awards voters aren’t fooled.  When the All-Defensive Teams are unveiled, I hope the voters don’t make the same mistakes they made with their Defensive Player of the Year ballots.

Howard, of course, will be the first team center.  And there should be Bogut, deserving of his rightful spot as number two.  Careful!!  There are only two NBA All-Defensive teams … and that third step down for the centers is kinda steep.

Shelved and Jinxed: Drew Gooden to miss another 4-6 weeks

Not to detract from matters at hand for the Bucks — salvaging something on their last West Coast swing and the politics of Andrew Bogut’s first All-Star selection — but the Bucks announced today that power forward Drew Gooden will miss the bulk of the 2011 stretch run.

MILWAUKEE (AP)—Bucks forward Drew Gooden will be sidelined four to six weeks because of lingering problems with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

General manager John Hammond says Gooden will undergo treatment on Wednesday in Los Angeles. The injury has already cost Gooden 21 games this season, including the past six. LINK to story.

So that’s that.  Coach Scott Skiles is free to play Ersan the rest of the way without any pressure to play the GM’s big summer free agent signing.  Ilyasova’s already won the starting power forward job — now he has the opportunity to build on his stake in the battle for a playoff seed.

This officially keeps Gooden out through the Feb. 24 trading deadline and into mid-March.  So much for the trade rumor mills that might have whirled around the Bucks with Ilyasova relegating Gooden to bench duty and the Bucks in need of a backup center.

GM Hammond has effectively killed the Gooden-for-Haywood trade idea with Dallas.

He’s also saved face, should the Bucks fail to make the playoffs with his his 5-yr, $32 million power forward officially sidelined. He can write the failure off on injuries to his key summer acquisition (and others) and “wait ’til next year.”  Gooden’s injury then becomes bad luck, not a monumental mistake that left his team without a backup center.

(Hammond apparently thought he was signing the Drew Gooden who played for the Cavs 4 years ago. This isn’t merely a one-liner as there is something to be said for Hammond’s dogged interest in Gooden dating back to his days in Detroit. Keep in mind that the Bucks jinx at the power forward position from which this blog derives its name may have played a role in the case of mistaken Drew Gooden identities.)

If the Bucks do make the playoffs (and they likely will unless Bogut breaks his left arm — the Bucks have still played the toughest schedule in the East) Gooden should be healthy by then and able to lend a hand in a first round series against the Celtics, Heat or Bulls.  More likely than not, the Bucks would land with a #7 or #8 seed a high profile matchup against the Celitcs or Heat, where they’ll need all the healthy help they can find.

*Note that the Bucks record has been 8 wins – 17 losses in games that Drew Gooden played. (Source LINK).

**Also note that in only two games this season did a big contribution from Gooden come in a Bucks victory:  Home wins against the Warriors and Knicks back in November.  If you should happen to be looking through box scores, pay no attention to the one from the blowout win over Atlanta — the Bucks bench led by Ilyasova and Maggette rolled the Hawks after the Bucks starters had dug a 9-to-22 deficit.

Make of those notes what you will.

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ALL STAR SELECTION UPDATE:  Tonight’s the night the reserves are unveiled by Charles, Kenny and Ernie, McHale and C-Web on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”  None of the NBA’s leading talking heads had Bogut among their reserve picks, largely due to the Bucks disappointing record (Bogut’s name wasn’t even mentioned on last week when they made their picks).

But cooler heads may prevail.  Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie puts Bogut in a group of five or six players under consideration for the two wild card spots in the East.  Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand and Josh Smith are among them, with Al Horford and Chris Bosh the favorites.

Not only are Boozer and Bosh more deserving of an All-Star nod than Ray Allen, so too are Josh Smith and (don’t laugh) Elton Brand. Brand might whiff of a millstone to you, but he’s also averaging 15 points and 8.5 rebounds, making more than half his shots with 2.6 combined blocks/steals for a team in the playoff bracket.

And though his offense has been awful this year — a True Shooting Percentage of 49? for a center? — I’m not sure I’ve seen a player with as strong a defensive impact as Andrew Bogut this season.  And I’m well aware that Dwight Howard has played basketball this season.

No, Ball Don’t Lie doesn’t get a vote — but it’s a prominent media opinion that hasn’t been heard in media working directly for the NBA. (That was my bold added to the text).

Bogut is definitely in the conversation, and there is a lot of support out there among coaches in the East.  Perhaps this is as much because he was snubbed last year. Perhaps it’s because he’s played through injuries where others haven’t, and still had a major impact.  His team in the hunt for a playoff spot, his defense has been superlative — Defensive Player of the Year worthy.

Boozer, Ball Don’t Lie’s selection, has missed 18 games for Chicago. That’s almost half the first half.

Coaches notice that stuff.  For them, making Bogut the center pick on the reserve ballot requires much less debate than picking Al Horford over his teammate, Smith, who, like Bogut deserves first time All-Star recognition.

Actually, everyone notices that stuff except Bulls fans, which is why a Boozer selection over Bogut or Josh Smith doesn’t make much sense.

A number of coaches, Avery Johnson, Stan Van Gundy, Doc Rivers are very likely to vote Bogut as the reserve center — they’re not blind to the fact that Horford isn’t the Hawks starting center against them.  Doug Gollins from Philly, according to recent comments, is also very likely to vote for Bogut.

This might be the year, and don’t be surprised if Bogut’s name is called despite the lack of support from the TNT hosts who’ll be calling it.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching with interest tonight.

Is 2011 the year Andrew Bogut finally makes the NBA All-Star team?

Last year he was snubbed.  First by the Eastern conference coaches, some of them anyway, content to name Hawks big forward Al Horford as the East’s reserve center.  Then Commissioner David Stern took his turn, choosing the Knicks’ David Lee over Bogut to replace injured Kevin Garnett, a nod to New York the media market as much as it was to Lee’s scoring and rebounding numbers.

Milwaukee’s just too damn small.  If Bogut was outplaying Lee and scoring 22 on a Friday night in November, nobody noticed.   If All-Star is about winning, the Knicks hadn’t, and still haven’t taken a game against the Bucks since March of 2009.

The Bucks did win — 30 of their last 43 games last season and a run to a seven-game series against the Hawks.  They were 40-29 with Bogut in the lineup in 2010, before his horrific fall last March, resulting in a broken, mangled arm and the end of Bogut’s best season as a pro.

The scoring was there, above average if not All-Star:  15.9 pts per game on 52 % shooting.

The defense, for those who care about defense, was superlative.  Bogut last season led the NBA in Defensive Plays, with 3.82 blocked shots, steals and charges taken per game.  He was second to Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in blocked shots (2.5 per game) and Defensive Rating (98.1 team points allowed per 100 possessions).

Add 10.2 rebounds and it was good enough for the All-NBA 3rd Team.

This season, Bogut again leads the NBA in Defensive Plays with a low estimate of 3.7 per game (the charges taken not accounted for), leads the NBA in shot blocking (2.8 bpg) and is 6th in Defensive Rating.  Is it enough to get him to the All-Star game?

His 13.4 points per game say “no” — but his 11.7 rebounds per game (5th in the NBA) say, “yes.”

But those are merely the stats.  Bogut is not only the anchor of the Bucks defense but the heart and soul of a team that has in 2011 been ravaged by injuries while playing the most difficult schedule in the NBA, based on opponent record.   They’ve won 19, lost 27 but are just a half game out of a playoff spot in the East and closing, looking up at teams that have played much softer schedules.  Bogut is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

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As the NBA reached the late January halfway mark and prepared to unveil the 2011 All-Star starters, the Bucks turned in a horrendous 2nd quarter in Chicago, were never really in the game afterward and found themselves at their lowest point, a 16-26 record, 13.5 games behind the Bulls.  They desperately needed to make a statement that their 2011 season wasn’t over, and they made it the following night in Milwaukee, beating the Atlanta Hawks, 98-90.

There were no earth shattering, SportsCenter highlight dunks from Bogut in the victory, but he hauled in 14 rebounds and took a charge and blocked a shot that turned the momentum the Bucks way at the end of the second quarter.  In the 4th, when the game was on the line, the Bucks limited the Hawks to 1 for 14 shooting for 9 minutes and held them to 15 points in the quarter.  The 2nd quarter block and ensuing fast break would find its place on the NBA highlight reels for the week, a fitting statement for the defense-first season Bogut has had.

Defense wins games, and a center’s job is to anchor the defense and control the traffic in the paint.  Among NBA centers, Bogut has only defensive rival:  the Magic’s Howard, of course, perennial All-Star and the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year.  Honors aside, Howard and Bogut have a lot in common:  They are true centers in a league that has drifted to the 3-point line, and they are established defensive forces on the basketball court.

Unfortunately, the matter of “what’s a center?” is not resolved in the All-Star selection system.  Horford and other “centers” such as Lee, Andrea Bargnani and Marcus Camby, log most of their minutes at power forward, especially when matched up against a Bogut or Howard.  The coaches must name one reserve center on the conference All-Star teams, and, as evidenced by last season’s vote for Horford, the reserve center doesn’t have to be a full time center.

“[Bogut]’s probably more of a true center than a lot of the other guys that people have talked about at that position,” said Howard’s coach, Stan Van Gundy, last season after Bogut was snubbed.  “Most of them are power forwards playing up a position, while he’s like Dwight, more of a true center.  I don’t think there’s any question he’s an all-star caliber guy. But when you’re picking 24 guys out of 400 in the league, it gets difficult.”

There is competition for the East’s All-Star reserve spot.  Shaquille O’Neal, still “The Diesel” in limited minutes for the East-leading Celtics, was second in fan voting, due largely to both the largess of Shaq and the Celtics’ East-leading record.  Bulls center Joakim Noah, third in the fan voting, was off to a strong start with the Bulls before a broken hand sidelined him until after the All-Star break.

Roy Hibbert was scoring 16 points per game for the Pacers early in the season but has tapered off.  Brook Lopez of the Nets is scoring 18+ points per game, but the Nets are losing and Lopez can’t seem to grab a rebound (only 6 per game, half of Bogut and Howard’s haul).  The Raptors Andrea Bargnani scores 21.4 pts per game but spends an awful lot of time far outside the paint — he’s actually list in most places as a forward.

That leaves Bogut, 4th in fan voting, his scoring down (12.9 ppg) this season as he slowly makes his way back to 100% after last season’s injury.  Bogut, whose Bucks aren’t winning as much as most preseason prognosticators had predicted.  Bogut, the 3rd Team All-NBA center after last season, the 11th leading vote getter in the All-NBA balloting.

Bogut, leading the league in blocked shots and Defensive Plays, and one of the league’s top 5 rebounders.  Howard, of course, is top 5 in those categories, and is an All-Star.  He’ll start the 2011 game at center.

Not to say that Horford does not deserve All-Star recognition (he does, moreso than any other Hawk), but Horford is not in the top 10 in any of those categories.  But then, Al Horford is not a center.

In the NBA, circa 2011, Andrew Bogut is a center.  As a center plying his trade in the Eastern Conference, he’s earned the honor of backing up Dwight Howard at the 2011 All-Star game.

Strength of Schedule II: Dwight Howard vs. Andrew Bogut

For three quarters, the Bucks went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat, then folded under a hale of referee whistles and bad offense and generally poor shooting.  The missed Bucks layups that might have made this a game down to the final buzzer had already been missed, five of them in the third quarter when it was still a game and the Heat erased the Bucks 4-point halftime lead.

Andrew Bogut (16 pts, 8 rebs) and John Salmons (18 pts, 6 assists) led the Bucks, but they weren’t good enough, efficient enough offensively and in the end didn’t have enough help to keep up with the Heat.  Wade led all scorers with 34 pts while LeBron and Bosh chipped in a combined 44.  Here’s the box score.

In all, the Bucks put up a fairly decent fight, which ought to make tonight’s matchup with the Orlando Magic all the more interesting, considering that there’s no D-Wade or LeBron on hand to make winning a game an insurmountable task.  The centers — the Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Bucks’ Andrew Bogut are the best players in the building.

They oughta be in any case, which is to say that Bogut’s All-Star qualifications are on trial tonight in Orlando.

Bogut leads the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.8) but has struggled with his offense since missing five games in Nov. and early December with a lower back strain.  How much is the broken hand/mangled arm Bogut suffered at the end of last season affecting him?

He’s 94 out of 185 (50.8%) from the floor in the 14 games since he returned Dec. 4 against the Magic, a game that Howard missed due to a team-wide stomach virus that streaked through Orlando.   Bogut dominated the game with 31 points, setting up tonight’s game as a chance for Howard to erase that glitch on the Magic schedule.  Howard’s 3rd in blocks (2.4 per game) and hauls down 13.2 rebounds a game, which would probably lead the league if Kevin Love’s teammates in Minnesota were more interested in helping him on the glass.

Fifty percent shooting is not bad — but hardly great for a center who rarely strays more than 10 feet from the basket; and his free throw shooting continues to be an indescribable adventure (26 of 63 for 41.3%).  15.3 pts per game is slightly above his average from last season, but the Bucks need more out of Bogut this season, especially now with point guard Brandon Jennings out for another two weeks with a bone fracture in his foot.

Bogut’s had some monstrous rebounding games and has averaged 11.6 per game since the back injury.  The rebounding is always there.  The defense, too.  But right now, the Bucks need more.

Strength of Schedule: The good news for the Bucks is that their strength of schedule continues to go through the roof.  The bad news is that the Knicks beat the Spurs last night in New York, yet another indication that — all hype aside — the Knicks may be tough to catch once the schedules begin to even out.  The Bucks (13-19) fell to six games behind the Knicks (20-14) in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Bucks have easily played the most difficult schedule in the league based on opponent record, with a +1.24 rating.  The Knicks have played a relatively soft schedule (-0.59).  It should be noted that the 23-and-14 Hawks (-1.07) have played the softest schedule in the East.   This stuff bears repeating if only to keep Bucks fans from freaking out about the team’s lousy record.

Bucks release Skinner: There are now more 2010 Bucks (Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute and John Salmons) on Scott Skiles’ available roster than 2001 Los Angeles Clippers (Corey Maggette, Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins).

The Bucks released little used big forward Brian Skinner today, a nod to the fact that coach Skiles wasn’t likely to use him in Orlando tonight and an indication that the plantar fasciitis in Drew Gooden’s left foot has cleared up enough for the Bucks to try once again to integrate him into the rotation.  They might’ve waited a few days, as Skinner’s contract for the remainder of the season didn’t become guaranteed until Monday, but, obviously, no reason to continue practicing with Skinner if he wasn’t going to play or be around next week.

The Bucks signed Skinner after Gooden went down with the foot problem while Andrew Bogut was still recovering from a lower back strain.  Skinner was in the Bucks training camp in September but didn’t make the final roster.

Dogged in Denver and notes from around the NBA

An agonizing game last night in Denver, as the Bucks blew an opportunity to steal a win before Andrew Bogut’s expected return Saturday vs. Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.  This was a foul marred game in which some of the things that had been going wrong for the Bucks went right, and things that seemed to be going right were sometimes wrong.

John Salmons hit two threes to get the Bucks off to a good start and finally appeared to be coming around, scoring 21 pts on 7-15 shooting while playing tough D for 36 mins.  That’s the kind of effort the Bucks have needed from Salmons all season.

Yet Luc Mbah a Moute — the Bucks best defender and most reliable player this season — was hit with early fouls guarding Carmelo Anthony and seemed to disappear.

Larry Sanders blocked 8 shots – 8 SHOTS!!!  And scored 14 pts and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Yet Ersan Ilyasova, who had been stellar in every other game in which he’s played 25+ minutes, couldn’t get his jumper straight in Denver, missing some wide open looks that could have kept the Bucks in striking distance.   Ersan scored 7 points in 40 mins – not nearly enough.  Not being greedy here but a timely 3-pointer, a garbage bucket, a drawn foul — the Bucks needed Ersan in double figures when it counted.  This earned Ersan “Stiff of the night” honors from the Nuggets blogger at the Denver Stiffs — despite his 9 boards, good D and tough battle with Al Harrington and Shelden Williams.  Not sure the Denver fans know good D when they see it.  But it was that kind of night.

Corey Maggette was turning in one of his best games as a Buck (17 pts on 8 shots, 1o free throws) …. until about 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter when he blew up two straight Bucks possessions by killing the ball movement and hondo-ing matters into his own hands.  The Maggette-Sanders two-man set up on the weak side does not appear to be a good idea.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, so good in his first two games as a Buck, wasn’t effective off the bench (just 2 of 9) and seemed to be pressing, already.

Keyon Dooling was hitting his shots — two threes and a lay-in — usually a good sign that the Bucks will at least be in the game until the end. … Yet Dooling turned the ball over three times in 14-plus minutes.

Carmelo Anthony got kicked out the game carping at the refs over two straight Sanders in-your-face blocks. …  Yet the Nuggets got better in the game without him.

Brandon Jennings was OK, below average by his standards with 14 pts, making clutch plays in the 4th that pulled the Bucks back to within six.  Where are the assists, Brandon?   Only 3 on the night.  It was that kind of night, and the Bucks headed home with a 105-94 loss.

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NOTES from the Land of Ray and Reggie  —  ATLANTA —  Joe Johnson will undergo elbow surgery on his shooting arm and will miss 4-to-6 weeks.  I wouldn’t mention this but IF Johnson takes six weeks getting back, he’ll miss 24 games, more than the entire Hawks rotation missed last season when they won 53 games and the 3rd seed in the East.  I mention this only because most of the NBA had the Hawks so supremely overrated going into the playoffs against the Bucks — who all but fractured the Hawks mental well-being taking that series to seven.  The Hawks are 12-7, on a pace to win 51 games.  They’re not a tough-minded bunch, those Hawks, and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle a little adversity.

BOSTON – I just watched a late night rerun of the Celtics-Blazers game in Boston, and was amazed at how ugly and out of sync the Celtics looked through one, two, and into three quarters.  The C’s were losing by seven late in the 3rd.   Then the Celtics made one of the toughest defensive stands I’ve seen in a long time, probably since the Pistons teams of 2004 and 2005.  The Bucks have thrown up similar D on teams but I can’t recall them holding a team with Portland’s weapons scoreless for five minutes (could have been longer).  It went on so long that a 72-65 Blazers lead late in the 3rd had turned 96-80 Celtics deep into the 4th a desperate run by Portland made it 99-95.  … Ray Allen hit his only three-pointer of the night to ice the game in the final minute.

NEXT UP FOR the Bucks:  Dwight Howard and the Magic, Saturday — then D-Wade, Lebron and the Heat on Monday.  The Bucks have been holding Andrew Bogut out in anticipation that he’ll be close to full strength for these games and their December schedule — the toughest in the league.   There’s nobody tougher on the Bucks than the Magic in recent years, and while Bogut has played well in some of the matchups, he hasn’t gotten the better of Dwight yet — and Bogut and Skiles have yet to beat Dwight’s team in the Skiles era.

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.

Bogut ranked #2 in Ball Don’t Lie center ratings

Defense matters in the NBA.  When it comes to the best big men in the world, there is Dwight Howard and then there is Bucks center Andrew BogutBall Don’t Lie’s Kelly Dwyer — one of most dogged NBA junkies in the blogosphere — concurs.

Bucks fans have seen Bogut improve every year in the face of a couple of broken noses, a smashed kneecap, a bashed upper thigh and a troublesome lower back.  The rest of the NBA finally took notice last February as Bogues — healthy at last — anchored coach Scott Skiles’ tenacious, turnover machine defense and at age 25 seized the mantle of leadership, lifting his Bucks out of the abyss of the Michael Redd era and reenergizing a fan base that had been dormant since the trade of Ray Allen in 2003.

No, Bogut didn’t make the 2010 All-Star team but everybody from Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to the TNT’s Round Mound of opinion, Charles Barkley, went on record saying he should have — and would have had the Eastern Conference coaches been able to recast their ballots a couple of weeks after the voting deadline.  At season’s end, Bogut was voted 3rd team All-Pro by the league’s media, just missing the 2nd team with the 11th highest overall vote total.

Dwyer, at heart a Bulls fan and a bonafide Scott Skiles expert, tends to pay more attention to the Bucks than most NBA geeks, and his meta-awareness of the game’s sometimes unmeasurable intangibles is unrivaled.  Here’s his take on Bogut:

That’s right. The man who I think is the second-best center in the NBA didn’t even make the All-Star team last season.

This isn’t me trying to be obscure — Bogut was a No. 1 overall pick fercryin’outloud. It’s just the end result of seeing this guy work expertly on either end of the court last season. Bogut was an at-times dominant defender on par with Dwight Howard, especially when Howard started 2009-10 slow. And Bogut’s versatile offensive game still isn’t being taken advantage enough by his Bucks teammates.

All he does is do everything well, save for the odd trip to the free-throw line. And because he turns 26 just a month into the season and so many other bigs are either playing out of position, coming back from injury or starting to put it all together, I think Bogut establishes himself as a clear No. 2 in 2010-11. To those that pay attention to defense, at least.

As for Dwyer’s Top 11, I’ve gotta take issue with Hawks big man Al Horford‘s #4 ranking, and I think it’s fair to say that the Lakers Pau Gasol plays as much center as teammate Andrew Bynum (#5), given Bynum’s ever-nagging knee problems.  Spurs Hall-of-Famer-to-be Tim Duncan plays center most of the time, too, it should be noted, and deserves to be in the Top 5, nevermind the Spurs’ insistence on listing Duncan as a forward, which they’ve continued to do since David Robinson retired in 2003.  Duncan’s the Spurs center.

Ranking Brook Lopez  # 3 seems to beg a “what has Lopez accomplished?” question, and wouldn’t a lot of teams take Joakim Noah’s defense and rebounding over Lopez’s sometimes uninspired D?  No way is Lopez the #3 center in the league but I realize that Dwyer was giving a nod to Lopez’s offensive game and that youth weighed in KD was balancing his criteria.

I could quibble all day into next season about rankings 3-11 (that’s what we obnoxious and insufferable NBA blogo-junkies do).  But the spot that Dwyer nailed was the one that mattered most and is most contentious among NBA faithful who care about center play — #2 behind Howard.  Bogut earned it last season and will have to fight to defend it through the coming season as guys like Lopez, Bynum, Noah, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol continue to improve and they all try to stay as healthy as the freakishly fit Dwight from another planet.  I can’t wait.

And damn you Dwyer for getting your center rankings done before I even started mine.