Tag Archives: Tim Duncan

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.

The “Ginobili rules” of the West don’t put the Spurs in title contention

He took the ball on a bounce after a sloppy, tipped inbound.  He held it too long, allowing precious seconds tick away, robbing his team of any chance for an offensive rebound if his final shot missed.  He advanced then toward Luc Mbah a Moute, one of the best defenders — if not the best defender — in basketball.  He drove hard left but Mbah a Moute was there first.  He pushed Luc off with his right arm but not far enough — Mbah a Moute stayed right on him as he planted a pivot foot.  He had no time and no choice but to jump full back, with both feet — traveling — and tossed up a 20-footer that barely lofted over Mbah a Moute’s outstretched hand.

No whistles.  The jumper poured through the hoop at the buzzer, giving the Spurs a 92-90 win over the Bucks.

“He” is Manu Ginobili, Charles Barkley’s second favorite player.  How about Charles’ boy this week?

“You mean that he travelled?” – Sir Charles doth speaketh.  “… That’s a travel. In all 50 states, that’s a travel.”

Not in San Antonio, Texas, on a Wednesday night in December — and not when the 10-13 Milwaukee Bucks were on the verge of pulling off a Texas sweep of the teams with the best records in the West.  Are the Spurs and Mavs truly title contenders?   Maybe.  But no, not if Boston and Miami continue playing the way they’re playing, not really.  Not if they’re struggling — and the Mavs failing — to beat the Bucks in Texas.

It’s been two-plus seasons since Ginobili, Parker and Duncan made the West Finals but the story seems to be that this summer they “banded together” for a title run in 2011. It’s an improbable story when you consider that they haven’t really been close to a title since 2007 when they last won; and it’s not a story everybody’s buying into — the Denver Nuggets certainly didn’t on Thursday night.  FoxSports “In the Paint” NBA analyst Marques Johnson this week qualified  his take on the Spurs and Mavs as “the best in the West” with a telling … “for now.” And he says it twice for emphasis.

Marques (1977-1984) was the greatest forward to ever wear a Bucks uniform, the only Buck not named Kareem or Sidney to be a 1st team All-Pro.   It’s always strange to see Junior Bridgeman‘s #2 up in the BC rafters (though they on the court together for roughly half the game, Bridgeman was Marques’ backup) while Marques’ #8 is still in circulation, worn by rookie Larry Sanders (heck, I’d wear it too if I were a Bucks rookie).  Like Barkley, Marques is more keen on the Mavs chances — probably figuring that Dirk Nowitzki is the one player whom none of his contending Bucks teams would have had a defense for.  The Spurs?  “The Spurs are the Spurs,” Johnson shrugged.

But the thing that’s going unmentioned in the NBA this week by Marques, Barkley or anybody is that neither the Spurs or Mavs looked like championship contenders against the Bucks — a concession perhaps to the idea that the Bucks have the unluckiest 10-14 record in basketball and are so-under-the-radar in terms of contention that you need sonar to track them.  The Bucks haven’t backed away from any challenges since Andrew Bogut came back into the lineup, including the Heat, but that’s not the point — nobody’s going to talk about the Bucks until they start putting the ball in the basket with more regularity, go on a winning streak and actually beat the Heat, which they’ll get two chances to do the first week of January.

The point is, the Bucks were screwed in San Antonio — no other way to put it.  The refs didn’t just eat their whistles on Ginobili’s buzzer beater, they were loathe the entire game to call fouls on the Spurs starting five.  That isn’t going to happen if and when the Spurs meet Kobe, Gasol and the Lakers in the playoffs.

Here’s the foul story: One on Manu, one on Parker, one on DeJuan Blair and three on Tim Duncan, who was guarding Bogut most of the night and basically humped his arm with the score tied 90-90 and the Bucks trying to feed their All-Star center in the post.   No fouls on Richard Jefferson.  That’s six fouls in 150 minutes played by the Spurs starters — or an astounding one foul per 25 minutes played, which means the refs were not about to whistle even 5 fouls on the Spurs starters per 120 mins of available PT in a half.

Brandon Jennings was hacked all night by Tony Parker and battered to a 4-18 shooting night.  Yet the Bucks, with John Salmons and Corey Maggette all but benched for the game and Carlos Delfino still recovering from a head injury, had the ball with the score tied at 90 and 30 seconds to play.

The following night in Denver it was more of the same for the Spurs, playing at full strength against the Chauncey-less Nuggets.  Duncan fouled out two or three times by my count but was only whistled for four, even as his counterpart, Nene Hilario, was fouled out.  Parker — who fouls everybody in sight — was caught for all of one foul playing 37 minutes.  In the end it was Manu twisting for a layup to give the Spurs the lead and then saving the game by leaping into Carmelo Anthony‘s path to draw a charge as time expired — taking the winning points off the Denver scoreboard.

Was Ginobili there, planted in position in time?   It was close, too close not to question — but it was Manu.  Of course the call went his way, whether or not what he did was to jump — leap, literally, both feet in the air from the weakside — under Carmelo as Carmelo (31 pts in the game) was gathering to lift to the rim.

But hey — it was Manu.  Tough luck, Carmelo.  “Bullshit,” said Nuggets coach George Karl.  The Spurs are now 22-3, the best record in basketball and they’re playing at full strength in December. It’s the fastest start in Spurs history.  But I watched the Spurs lose twice this week, and so did you — only to see the refs award them the wins.  No, the Spurs are no title contender — they don’t have the muscle in the paint to help Duncan and truly contend, and no amount of magical refereeing will allow the Manu and Parker and RJ show to carry them to the finals.

Call the Spurs a lucky 22-3, as lucky as the Bucks 10-14 mark has been unlucky and injury riddled.  As lucky as the Bears 9-4 record atop the NFC North (oh, that’s probably stretching it).  The luck of things in the NBA have a tendency to even out over the grueling 82-game schedule — let’s not go ahead and crown their asses yet.   Remember, against the Bucks, the Spurs were posterized in the 4th quarter by, of all people, Drew Gooden.


“I still don’t think he’s a center” — Kevin McHale on the Hawks Al Horford — who is not a center despite the Hawks insistence (under Mike Woodson anyway) that Horford is a 6’11″center.   In Boston, Horford had just hit an early 18-footer against the Celtics, and McHale noted that Horford’s improving 18-footer was the thing that “separates him from other big forwards.”  Al Horford, power forward.  Too small to start against Andrew Bogut and other centers (that task goes to Hawks big man Jason Collins), and too small at 6’9 to appear on center ranking lists.  Hopefully, commentary like McHale’s is a sign that Bogut will be making his All-Star game debut in Los Angeles in February.


Bogut since his return against the Magic Dec. 4:  19.8 pts – 14.2 rebs – 4 blks – 1 steal – 2.3 assists per game.  Add in the possessions that he turns over by taking charges and the result is a center playing better now than Dwight Howard.  Overall, Bogut leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.1) and has the 3rd-best defensive rating in the league (96.5 pts allowed per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) behind Kevin Garnett and Howard.  That’s the sort of company AB keeps these days.

If Bogut keeps it up and continues hitting 55% of his shots (50 of 89 since tipping it off against the Magic), the Bucks should weather the current scheduling nightmare (and AB’s horrendous free throw shooting) by earning a few tough road wins in the West — and be right on the Bulls’ tails by late January.


Speaking of centers and the Bulls, Joakim Noah will be out nursing a broken right thumb until after the All-Star break.  With the Bucks in the middle of the toughest stretch of basketball in the league this season, fate (or Bulls management) has conspired to make sure the Bulls don’t run away with the Central.  The Bulls can’t and won’t keep up their 16-8 pace (and 3rd-ranked defense) without their defensive anchor in the paint having the All-Star season he was having — but the Bucks have a six game hole to climb out of while playing the toughest December-early January schedule in the league.

The Bucks play Dec. 28 and Jan. 24 in Chicago.  Noah will miss both of those, which means the Bucks won’t get a chance to see the Rose-Noah-Boozer Bulls until Feb. 26 in Milwaukee.  That’s too bad, because a Bucks-Bulls game without Joakim Noah is like playing the Celtics without Kevin Garnett — it takes the fun out of the battle for the paint.  I wonder if Bogut will miss him.

I can’t help but wonder, though, given that 2-handed push shot that Noah throws up at the rim,  what he needs his right thumb for?

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.

NBA All-defensive team: Andrew Bogut snubbed again

16th in the All-Defensive voting, Andrew Bogut was snubbed again.Bucks center Andrew Bogut missed the cut for the 2010 NBA All-Defensive teams despite being 2nd in the league only to Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in blocked shots and defensive rating.  The two All-D teams are selected by position in a vote of the league’s 30 head coaches.

What’s defensive rating? That’s the all-important stat that shows how many points per 100 possessions a team allows when a player is on the floor.  Howard, as usual, had no peer with a 95.4 rating, while Bogut was all alone at #2 in the 98.0 range. The rest of the league leader board picks up at #3 with Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace (99.7).

Howard led the league in blocked shots (228 total, 2.8 per game) with Bogut (175, 2.5) right behind him despite missing 13 games and being hampered with injuries early in the season.  Josh Smith was a distant third with 2.1 blocks per game.

The Bucks were the #3 defensive team in the NBA, right there with Howard’s Magic and Larry Brown’s Bobocats (Wallace).  The Bucks were the only team in the NBA’s top 5 that did not have a player voted all-NBA defensive. Recognition for Bogut and the Bucks was a no-brainer here.

It sucks to be an NBA center not named Dwight Howard.

Howard, the Defensive Player of the Year, took his rightful place as 1st-team All-D center. Out of 29 possible votes (coaches can’t vote for their own players), Howard received 28 1st-team votes.

Naming the #2 center should have been easy enough in a position by position vote, which is what the NBA says the All-defensive vote is supposed to be. So where did those backup center votes go?   To Clippers-Trailblazers ageless wonder Marcus Camby (10 votes) and Bogut (8).  Bulls center Joakim Noah (4) and the Celtics’ Kendrick Perkins (2) also received 2nd-team votes, with Perkins and Camby lucking into a 1st-team vote apiece.

Centers receiving votes: 1) Dwight Howard;  2) Marcus Camby; 3) Andrew Bogut; 4) Joakim Noah; 5) Kendrick Perkins.

Wild cards: Tim Duncan and Andy Varejao

OK, so Camby was the selection as All-defensive 2nd team center, correct?

Nope. It was Tim Duncan, who was on 13 ballots — mostly as a forward.  I haven’t seen the ballots but if Howard’s the #1 center on every ballot but two, then at least six of Duncan’s 8 1st team votes are as a forward. I’m assuming most of Duncan’s five 2nd-team votes were in the  forward slot as well.  Varejao played a fair amount of center in the absences of Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas in Cleveland, so it’s fair to say that a couple of Andy’s 2nd team votes may have been center votes. A couple.

The NBA obviously didn’t stick to its position-by-position results with the center spot and Duncan, who does actually play center in San Antonio (this is the opposite of the “Duncan as forward” All-Star ballot thing). Here Duncan gets most of his points as a 1st-team forward. Doesn’t it seem that the obvious thing would be to bump a forward (Varejao in this case) off this list?   It makes more sense than snubbing the centers.

It gets a little more complicated when you realize that Duncan actually plays more center than Camby, a Clippers forward for most of this season.  So here you have a guy who plays mostly center (Duncan), voted in as a forward, bumping a guy voted as a center who mostly played forward (Camby).  When it’s time for the year-end accolades, it sucks to be a center not named Dwight Howard

I realize that the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t the first NBA team that comes to mind for media vote awards like Rookie of the Year, but it’s a problem when the coaches can’t even remember the Bucks. And it’s a problem when  the league’s 2nd-best defensive center, the anchor of the #3 defense in the league, #2 in blocked shots and defensive rating, can’t get recognized.

For anybody that thinks I’m overstating the issue (who cares about 2nd-team defensive awards, right?), Bogut would have missed the 3rd team, too, had the league stuck to its voting results  …

— Camby was 11th with 12 pts. Bogut was 16th, tied with teammate Luc Mbah a Moute (8 pts each).  Guard Jason Kidd, Camby, forward Ron Artest, point guard Deron Williams and guard Kirk Hinrich finished just ahead of Bogues and Mbah a Moute.

Ranking Bogut and his contract – The top ten (or 13) NBA centers and their money

MILWAUKEE - APRIL 08: Andrew Bogut #6 of the Milwaukee Bucks wears a mask over a broken nose suffered earlier in the season during a game against the Boston Celtics on April 8, 2008 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Celtics defeated the Bucks 107-104 in overtime. From Getty Images.Is Andrew Bogut the best center named Andrew drafted in the 2005 lottery? Is Bogut a Top 10 NBA center? What does Mehmet Okur, the center for the Utah Jazz, get paid?

These are things Bucks fans need to know as Bogut last week inked the five-year contract extension he more or less demanded from the Bucks. The agreement reportedly guarantees $60 million to Bogut over five years. Add Bogut’s $6.3 million salary, which is not part of the extension, and Bogut will be under contract for a guaranteed $66.3 million over six years, through the 2013-14 season. 

As projected back in April on the BBJ (almost to the dollar) that’s a fairly good deal for the Bucks, in line with the contracts of Sixers center Sam Dalembert, New Orleans’ Tyson Chandler and the Cavs’ Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

But what about these “incentives” that could add $12.5 million to the guaranteed money, bringing the potential worth of the extension up to $72.5 million? That’s nearly the “Yao money” that the Bucks, as a lottery team, needed avoid paying a 23-year-old center with a lot left to prove. Sure, he can “prove it” earning those incentives, but why not just make all-star getting $12 mill a year? What more incentive is needed?” The incentives are “team-based and individual” according to Journal Sentinel, which didn’t cite a source for those details. Bogut’s agent later told Brewhoop that the incentives were along the lines of “play like Dwight Howard get paid like Dwight Howard.” Or, All-NBA pay.

But enough about the contract. Without further ado, meet the inaugural Bob Boozer Jinx 2008 NBA center rankings.

Dwight Howard can touch his chin to the rim1) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. First team All-Pro; 2nd team All-Defensive; leading rebounder in the NBA three years running (14.2 avg. last season); 4th in blocked shots. Only 22-years-old and has not missed a game in his four-year career since being the 1st pick overall in the 2004 draft. Shot 60% from the floor last season (3rd in the NBA), but only 59% from the line, which hurt the Magic as Howard led the league in free throw attempts. “Hack-a-Dwight” is the new “Hack-a-Shaq” defense. Howard was 6-15 from the stripe against the Pistons in decisive game five against Detroit in the playoffs, which the Magic lost by five. Coulda made the difference.

Howard this season starts year one of his five-year $85 million extension ($17mill avg), the max extension (CP3 got a similar max extension). He’ll earn $13.76 mill 2008-09.

Duncan slams on Richard Jefferson2) Tim Duncan and his Spurs were tough enough in the paint to beat the Suns, and there’s nothing like Duncan magically transforming into Dirk Nowitzki to hit a game-tying three to demoralize the Suns in Game 1 of that series. Is Duncan a center? If Pau Gasol, who was pushed around all over the NBA Finals, is a center, so is Duncan, who plays the 5 much of the time in the Spurs dangerous small lineups, and is usually guarded by the opponents’ centers, such as Shaq. Duncan anchors the Spurs D in the paint and was first-team All-Defensive 2007 and 2008. Sounds like a center to me. At 7′ 0″ 248 lbs, Duncan is one of the best big men in NBA history. Averaged 19.3 pts and 11.3 rbs per game last season, 1.9 blocks, 7th in the league. Four championships. 31-years-old and plenty of gas left in the tank.

Duncan’s salary is $20.6 mill this season. He’s set to make $62.2 mill over the following three years.

Stoudemire vs. Duncan3) Amare Stoudemire/Shaquille O’Neal  Stoudemire is no longer the Phoenix center now that Shaq is in the paint, but he’ll be called on to play the low post during the stretches of the season that Shaq is bound to miss. Phoenix acquired Shaq and fired coach Mike D’Antoni partly because of the lack of defensive toughness from Stoudemire and others (two straight playoff losses to Duncan Spurs didn’t help). Amare’s still one of the best scorers in the NBA around the basket.  Averaged 26.7 points and  9.7 rebounds last season, earning 2nd-team All-NBA alongside Duncan as Yao slipped due to injuries.

Soudemire’s contract extension was 5 years $72.6 million, $14.5 million per year avg. He’ll be only 28 years-old when he’s done playing out the remaining three years. Bogut can earn current “Amare money” if he makes the incentives in his contract. By the time Bogut’s extension is in effect, however, Stoudemire will be in the backloaded years of his contract, at $15-16 mill per.

ShaqShaq at age 36, is a part time player unless he comes roaring back next season to his 2006 form, which didn’t seem likely at the outset of 2008-09 but is beginning to occur now that he has days off. Shaq utterly dominated Bogut in a Nov. 8 Suns win in Milwaukee. doesn’t seem likely. Combining Shaq and Stoudemire at #3 may be cheating, but it’s as though Phoenix has a center-and-a-half. Few teams in the West are tough enough to compete with the Suns in the paint (Spurs, Rockets, Jazz). Shaq has lost a step but he’s still Shaq. No center who follows Shaq on this list has proven that he is indeed better than a well-rested 36-year-old Shaq.

Shaq’s salary is $21 million per year through 2009-10.

Yao4) Yao Ming. 3rd-team All-NBA last season despite missing 27 games. Six-time All-Star and 4-time All-NBA selection. Yao’s a 22 pts, 10 rbs per game center who is, however, at 7′ 6″, 310lbs, not proving very durable. He’s missed 86 games over the last three years. Best free throw shooter among the centers at nearly 86% over the last three seasons. Not a shotblocker or a charge-taker, and could rebound more than he does for a 7′ 6″ guy. His Rocket teams win — 107 wins over the last two seasons — but his Rocket teams win just as much without him.

Yao, 27 or so, starts year three of a 5-year $75 million deal – $15 million avg. per year. I hope that if the Bucks are willing to pay Bogut near-Yao money with these reported incentives that one of them is based on improved free throw shooting. Bogut shoots better than Shaq from the line but even Howard outshoots the Bucks center from the stripe. (I take that back – no one in the NBA should be offered a contract incentive to make free throws.)

Pau Gasol traveling5) Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum* Gasol is a gifted offensive player, but you’d almost have to put Kendrick Perkins on the list ahead of him after the Lakers were shoved around all over the NBA Finals by the Celtics. Still the Lakers went on a tear after acquiring Gasol last year and Gasol (18 pts, 7.8 rbs) will have Bynum to help him out in the paint next season. But really, Gasol is a lot more like big forward Dirk Nowitzki than he is like center Tim Duncan.

*Andrew BynumBynum averaged 13.1 pts and 10.2 rbs until he hurt his knee (before the Gasol trade). After surgery this summer, he’s is a bit of a question mark (hence the asterisk and the double entry here at #5). Still, the Lakers should have few worries about the inside game next season. Bynum, the 10th pick in the 2005 draft, played strong against Bogut in their head-to-heads last season, with Bynum coming out on top. He’s considered by many around the league to be the best center from the 2005 draft.

*Bynum has reportedly asked for a five-year $85 million extension, which would put him in the Howard $17 mill per year level. Good luck with that Andrew, as it looks like Chris Paul is the only player from the 2005 draft who’ll get Howard money. The Lakers will look to keep Bynum as close to Bogut’s $12 mill deal as possible, though Bynum still hasn’t proven that he can stay as healthy as Bogut. With the season underway, Bynum does not yet have his extension and will earn $2.8 mill 2008-09.

Gasol’s contract is a guaranteed 6 years $86 million, a max contract that puts him in Stoudemire’s neighborhood. Like the Bucks max Redd contract, Gasol’s is backloaded – three years and $49.3 mill left to play out, a situation Bucks GM John Hammond was wise to avoid by keeping Bogut’s annual increases relatively flat.

Marcus Camby about to swat one6) Marcus Camby has never had much of an offensive game but has been one of those rare players who thrives on the defensive end. The Nuggets center last season led the league in blocked shots, was 2nd in rebounding to Howard and made 1st team All-NBA Defensive. Trouble is that after the playoffs, it’s difficult to tell where the Nuggets and Camby are at, or where coach George Karl’s head is at. Camby, for one, has been upbeat about next season. The oft-injured center outplayed his contract incentives for the first time, earning his full $11.2 million salary, with career highs in games played, minutes, assists, blocks and rebounds at age 33. I’d rank him ahead of Gasol but for that sweep business in the playoffs.

Camby was traded to the LA Clippers last July. Camby’s guaranteed $19.65 million this season and next.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas7) Zydrunas Ilgauskas. A tough spot to pick, as a combination of a good offensive-defensive game becomes a rare find in NBA centerville, which brings us to Cleveland, the best rebounding team in the NBA for a few seasons. The Cavs’ toughness starts with their 7′ 3″ center. After missing the better part of two seasons early in his career with injuries, Z has been a remarkably consistent scorer, rebounder and defender in the paint for Lebron James’ entire career-and-one. Ilgauskas can score 15 in his sleep off his rainbow set shot, still the most effective offensive weapon the Cavs have outside of Lebron. The James-Z offensive combo was probably not used as much as it should have been in the Cavs-Celtics series, but the Cavs showed that a championship is much more within their reach than many NBA wags had thought. (C’mon, the NBA wags had all but handed the title to the Lakers).

At age 33, Z may only have a good year or two left, but experience counts. Bogut and many other younger centers haven’t distinguished themselves enough (or in Bogut’s case, have not outplayed Z head-to-head) to be ranked ahead of him.

Ilgauskas took a pay cut in 2005 to stay in Cleveland, and this season enters year four of a five year $50.6 million contract. The final two years pay $22.3 mill.

Mehmet Okur8) Mehmet Okur began his career in Detroit but the Pistons couldn’t afford to keep him after winning the 2004 championship. No skin off then-coach Larry Brown’s nose as Brown often left 24-year-old Okur on the bench to keep Darko Milicic company during the Pistons playoff run. In Utah, Okur replaced big Greg Ostertag, still around from the Stockton-Malone years, and teamed with power forward Carlos Boozer — also acquired that offseason — to give the Jazz toughness inside to build around. By 2006 Okur was averaging 18 pts, 9 rbs per game. By 2007 the Jazz were back to the 50-win level and Okur was in the All-Star game.

Okur and his incredibly hot wife, Yelez OkurThe knock on Okur is that he’s no shot blocker or great athlete; and who wants a center who shoots threes even if he is the best three-point shooting center in the league? (.388% last season, better than any Buck.) Utah coach Jerry Sloan, however, has played to Okur’s strengths — and there’s no denying Okur and Boozer’s toughness inside. Over the last two regular seasons, the duo has averaged about 20 rebounds per game. In the playoffs this year against the Rockets and the Lakers, they cleaned an average of 24.1 boards off the glass (Okur had 11.8 per game). They’re tough and it’s put the Jazz right on the Lakers’ heels in the West.

Okur, 29, is a bargain in the center market with a 6-year $50 million contract. He’s set to make an average of $8.75 per year in the final two years of the contract, but the final year 2009-10 is a player option. With the Boguts, Dalemberts and Chandlers of the NBA making $11 million-plus by then, expect Okur to look for a nice raise.

Sam the man9) Sam Dalembert was drafted by Philly in 2001, at the height of the Allen Iverson/Larry Brown era, when the Sixers beat the Big Three Bucks in the East Finals and went on to play the Lakers for the title. After not playing much behind Dikembe Mutumbo his first year, he missed his entire second year with injuries, then came back to join the Sixers decline after Brown jumped to Detroit. He has yet to develop much of an offensive game to go with his sometimes dominating defense, yet it’s the defense and rebounding that has been pivotal in the Sixers turnaround, which was in the rest of the NBA’s face in the second half of last season. As a team, the Sixers can be defensive demons. Dalembert, 27, is entering his prime and hasn’t missed a start in two years, averaging 10.5 pts and 10.4 rbs (7th in total rebounds) last season. He was 3rd in the league in total blocked shots (2.3 per game).

Dalembert’s D can be stifling. He handed Bogut his two most humiliating games last season, outplaying him in three of the four Bucks-Sixers matchups. The game logs ain’t pretty. Dalembert had 22 pts, 8 rbs, 3 blks in the first matchup, a Sixers win in Milwaukee (Bogut had 6 points). The Bucks took game two, with Bogut playing well, though Dalembert had 16 pts, 16 rbs. The third matchup was a Sixers blowout with Bogut held to 5 pts, 4 rbs, turning the ball over five times. Game four was another wipeout of the Bucks, with Dalembert getting 18 and 10, while Bogut failed to score a hoop, got just two rebounds and called it “the worst game of my career.”

Dalembert has three years left on a backloaded six-year $64 million deal, and will be paid $36.4 mill in those years. This avg. $12 mill pay keeps him about $1 mill ahead of Bogut’s pay, though that narrows 2009-10 season. That might seem like a lot for centers who have never been all-stars and whose teams have not won a playoff series. But that’s the inflated market value that is the NBA. Sam hasn’t been the most popular player in Philly, and neither has his contract. Now that the Sixers have Elton Brand and could be contenders in the East, however, don’t expect many complaints about the center.

Tyson Chandler10) Tyson Chandler (Tie) came into the league out of high school and spent the first two years of his career looking absolutely lost on the court in Chicago, which had obtained his rights in a trade for Elton Brand. This was bad mojo in the post-Jordan Bulls era. Along came coach Scott Skiles and Chandler often found himself on the bench, counting his millions and taking on criticism that athleticism had been wasted on him. The Bulls signed declining veteran free agent Big Ben Wallace in 2006 and sent Chandler packing to the Hornets. In New Orleans, Chandler’s found a home and a role — dunking the ball off Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic passes and tearing it up on the offensive boards. Chandler led the NBA in offensive rebounding the last two seasons; 2nd only to Howard last season in field goal percentage and 3rd behind Howard and Camby in overall rebounding (11.6 per game).

So why is the ultra-athletic Chandler ranked behind Dalembert, Okur and Ilgauksus?  First, he’s nowhere near the defensive presence Dalembert is, nor is he as mean in the paint as Sam; and he’s no shotblocker. Second, Ty’s got no offensive game to speak of, other than the aforementioned dunking. To his credit, Chandler is a hustle player who kills lazy rebounding teams and has thrived playing with CP3 in the West. But Hornets coach Baron Davis runs little or no offense for Chandler — no coach would. Against the Bucks last year Chandler averaged 17.5 pts, 15.5 rebounds in two Hornets wins. In a stretch last March, however, playing against the better teams in the East (plus Chicago and Indiana) Chandler averaged 11.6 pts (on his season avg of 11.8) but his rebounding was down three boards a game to 8.6. Still, the Hornets went 6-2 and split with the Celtics.

Chandler, 26 next season, has a 6-year $63 million deal that he signed with the Bulls; it pays him $34.6 mill over the next three years just above Bogut’s guaranteed avg. salary over the next six. 

Andrew Bogut 200610) Andrew Bogut (Tie). Bucks coach Scott Skiles would likely object to having his 23-year-old center in the same club with a guy who spent years in and out of his doghouse in Chicago. But that was then, this is now. Other NBA fans might whistle homerism and question whether Bogut should be ranked this high — his 14.3 pts, 9.8 rbs averages last season are no better than those of Kings center Brad Miller or Bobcats center Emeka Okafor, and short of Clippers center Chris Kaman’s; and Kaman blocked more shots than Bogut despite playing in only 55 games.

But here’s where Bogut gets credit for toiling away on Michael Redd’s hapless Bucks; respect vs. West players for playing in the increasingly clogged paints of the slower-paced East; and where his passing skills earn some props. Tim Duncan and Paul Gasol may be the only centers on this list who pass as well as Bogut — Dalembert and Chandler certainly don’t. Bogut is tough to rate because his development and production have been hurt playing with uncoachable ballhogs his entire career. What he’s done is focus on one-on-one matchups with other centers, and worked to take care of business in the paint regardless of all the wrong play going on around him. (Look out Sam Dalembert — Bogut’s looking for a few rematches.) Skiles, of course, is out to fix the wrong that has been the Milwaukee Bucks. The team has only won 94 games since drafting Bogut #1 in 2005.

“I’ve got to tell you,” Skiles said Friday at Bogut’s contract-signing press conference, “In watching almost every minute of every game (on film), I got a little tired of seeing when Andrew did run the floor and seal his man under the basket, a three-point shot going up. It’s not brain surgery. If you have big guys that run the floor and cover their man up right by the basket, they oughta get the ball.”

Unlike Kaman, Dalembert, Okur and Chandler, players older than Bogut, there’s still plenty of upside left to Bogut’s game. Last season he finally had a head coach, Larry Krystkowiak, in his corner and made the biggest strides of his career, showing that the Bucks could run low post offense through him and win games (hence the tie with Chandler of whom the same cannot be said). In fact, the Bucks often struggled most when Bogut’s teammates freelanced away from the low post game plan. Defensively, Bogut made his biggest strides and a concerted effort to block shots (9th in the NBA); and was 3rd in offensive charges taken. The new “no flopping” rule shouldn’t effect Bogut because he doesn’t flop. He has taken a beating from opponents driving at will against the Bucks weak perimeter defenders. A big flaw in Bogut’s game has been his Shaq-like free throw shooting and lack of an outside shot – but then those are Howard’s big flaws too.

Howard, Bogut, Bynum, Atlanta’s Al Horford and Portland’s Greg Oden (yet to play an NBA game) are the young centers to watch in the NBA next season. I’d keep an eye on Shaq in Phoenix, too.

*Bogut’s guaranteed extension is 5 years $60 million, bringing his six-year total to $66.3 million. It seems that both sides in the Bogut negotiations came to the table understanding that Chandler and Dalembert money — $12 million in 2009-10 — was the fair and equitable base for Bogut. The $12.5m in incentives? It’s still not clear what those are but Bogut’s agent David Bauman mentioned Dwight Howard in saying that the incentives are, in part, based on all-star achievement. That’s misleading because the incentives don’t reach “Howard money.” They make Bogut’s possible avg. earnings $14.5 million per year — currently Yao-Gasol-Stoudemire money. Howard’s avg salary, $17 million, is the All-NBA standard for an extension these days. Should Bogut make 1st, 2nd or 3rd Team All-NBA in the next few years, that would mean the Bucks are winning a lot — and that the contract is indeed a very good deal for Milwaukee.

Overall, I like the contract — it’s right in line with the market, including the incentives. In fact, I predicted the figures back in April. Then why does it still feel that the Bucks paid too much for their young center, steadily improving as he is, but with so much left to prove in the NBA?