NBA Louisville Cardinals

NBA Louisville Cardinals

Our next profile features alums from an annual contender that is one of the most successful programs in college basketball history. Although they rank in the top 10 in NCAA championships, Final Four appearances, NCAA tournament appearances, and NCAA tournament wins, their players have been more solid than spectacular in the pros. The NBA Louisville Cardinals team has a mix of glue guys who can be expected to compete hard, but will ultimately have a hard time challenging the more talented teams in our tournament.

The lead guard position will be split between Butch Beard and Jim Price. Both players were similar in stature (listed heights of 6’3”) and in career accomplishments, having both made one all-star appearance in their prime. Beard was a more efficient player who played a key role on the 1974-75 world champion Warriors, while Price used his ballhawking skills to make the All-NBA Defensive 2nd team the previous year. Both are solid, but are best suited for complementary roles. Dr. Dunkenstein, Darrell Griffith, is the team’s starting two guard. Griffith was a voluminous and oftentimes spectacular scorer, who averaged 21.0 points per game for the first five years of his career before a foot injury derailed his prime. He also was a competent three-point shooter, shooting a league-leading 36.1 percent (not a misprint – that actually led the league) in the 1983-84 season. He’ll serve as the team’s best scorer, and their best chance of generating halfcourt offense. Derek Smith and Francisco Garcia will spell Griffith for stretches, and play alongside him in three-guard lineups. Smith put up impressive numbers on unimpressive Clippers and Kings teams in the 1980s. He peaked in the 1984-85 campaign, when he averaged 22 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field. Garcia was a deep shooting threat whose strengths are highlighted here; he’ll serve as a valuable cog off the bench.

Junior Bridgeman is another solid wing who will occupy one of the starting forward positions. Although he is best known for being one of the principals in the deal that sent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers (and recently, for his outrageous net worth), he was a spectacular sixth man for the talented Bucks teams of the late 70s to early 80s. He’ll fit in nicely alongside any of the other wing players, and will serve as the second scoring option for most of the lineups he’ll be a part of. Rodney McCray was a versatile weapon who could toggle between either forward position. He was a productive passer and excellent defender, making all-NBA defensive teams in 1987 and 1988. Off the bench, Jack Coleman was a two-time champion and one-time all-star in the 1950s. He nearly averaged a double-double for his career, and although he won’t be expected to replicate his success on the boards against the bigger, more athletic players in the modern game, he should be able to carve out minutes on this roster.

The starting center, Wes Unseld, is the most accomplished player on the roster. One of the toughest players in league history, Unseld overcame his relatively short stature to average 14 rebounds per game throughout his career. His outlet passing was the stuff of legends, as was his screen-setting, two subtle nuances of the game that affect winning, despite not showing up in the box score. He’s the embodiment of this NBA Louisville Cardinals team: the ultimate glue guy, who, despite his limitations, works to make others better and to help his team succeed. He’s backed up by a trio of big men. Pervis Ellison and Gorgui Dieng can play alongside Unseld against bigger opponents. Although Ellison was derided as a draft bust, he peaked as a 20-10 guy in the 1992 season, and was an effective shot blocker in his time in the league. Dieng is a solid defender who can also protect the rim. He is a solid mid-range shooter as well, who’s extending his range each year, which will help to open up the floor, especially when he gets paired with the space-clogging Unseld. Felton Spencer is the biggest player on the roster, who will play sparingly but can provide six extra fouls if facing a dominant center.

The NBA Louisville Cardinals are solid, scrappy, and physical. What they lack in high-end talent, they should make up for in versatility and effort. While they aren’t expected to advance far in the NBA March Madness Tournament, they’ll be a difficult match up for any opponent in the field.

All-Time Detroit Pistons vs. All-Time Charlotte Hornets

Commentary

Not even close.

Results

Detroit wins, four games to none.

Next Round

Detroit faces the winner of the All-Time Nets vs. All-Time Clippers.

More Commentary

Since Dennis Rodman is a key member of the Pistons, this seems like a good time to contextualize his incredible rebounding totals. Rodman almost had two different pro careers. In his first incarnation, in his early years with Detroit, he was one of the most versatile defenders in NBA history, capable of guarding everyone from Michael Jordan to Magic Johnson. In his second act, he became obsessed with the art of rebounding. Many believe that he was the greatest ever at this skill, but the all-time rebounding numbers are skewed in favor of players who played in a faster-paced league. How did Rodman’s rebounding compare to his predecessors? Below are the best rebounding seasons for every player in history who has ever averaged over 17 rebounds per game. Note that each player only has his best season listed; Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell hold the 18 highest rebounding seasons in NBA history.

The numbers in this chart help to provide some context for the rebounding averages you see next to each player’s name. Team pace is an estimate of each team’s number of possessions per 48 minutes. In 1991-92, the Detroit Pistons pace was estimated at 91.6; compare this to Wilt Chamberlain’s record breaking 1960-61 campaign, when the Warriors were estimated to average 40 more possessions per game. Since rebounding numbers for opposing teams are not available in the basketball-reference.com database for early seasons, we calculated the average number of league rebounds per game in each year that is listed. Obviously, some teams played at faster and slower paces than their peers, but this provides a measure for the number of rebounds that were available in a typical NBA game in the year that is listed. In 1991-92, there were 87.3 rebounds per game (league wide), and Rodman’s 18.7 RPG accounted for 21.4 percent of all rebounds in a typical game. In the 1960-61 season, there were 146.6 rebounds per game! It’s not surprising that the 1960-61 season produced three players on this list (Chamberlain, Bob Pettit, and Elgin Baylor), each of whom had significantly lower percentages than Rodman. Since 1970-71, total rebound percentage can be tracked to measure the percentage of rebounds a player gathered while he was on the floor. Rodman grabbed over a quarter of the rebounds available in his 1991-92 season, which is three percentage points higher than Moses Malone in his incredible 1978-79 campaign. Finally, we have a look at the closest competitor in each season’s rebounds per game race. Only five players on this list actually led their league in rebounds per game; Nate Thurmond, Jerry Lucas, Pettit, Baylor, Walt Bellamy, Wes Unseld, and Maurice Stokes were all eclipsed by Chamberlain or Russell in their career-high seasons. Moses Malone had the widest disparity between his next closest competitor of all the other players on this list, while Chamberlain and Rodman had virtually identical leads in their rebounding races, despite Chamberlain’s higher raw totals.

The greatest rebounding seasons in NBA history, by raw averages, virtually all came in an era where the game was played at a breakneck pace, with a plethora of missed shots, which hardly resembles modern-day basketball. Rodman’s 1991-92 season, in which he averaged 18.7 RPG, came 13 seasons after the second most contemporary season on this list, Moses Malone’s 1978-79 campaign. While this is by no means a comprehensive analysis, it does help to show that Rodman’s 1991-92 season may have been the best career-high rebounding season in NBA history.

All-Time Washington Wizards vs. All-Time Portland Trail Blazers

Our next match up features two teams who won the 1977 (Portland) and 1978 (Washington) NBA Finals. They haven’t been able to win it all before or since, but they’re linked by their success in an overlooked era in NBA history. Who would win the battle between the All-Time Washington Wizards vs. All-Time Portland Trail Blazers? There are many factors at play.

Similarities

Passing Big Men: Both teams are anchored by starting centers who were known for their passing skills. Wes Unseld is widely regarded as the best outlet passer in history, while Bill Walton may have been the best passing center to ever play the game. Both teams often ran their offense through these players, and their career assist numbers reflect this. In addition, Washington’s Chris Webber and Portland’s Arvydas Sabonis were excellent passing big men who can play similar roles when Unseld and Walton are not on the floor.

Big Rosters: Big men make up half of each team’s roster. They each should be able to keep everyone rested, avoid foul trouble, and throw multiple looks at one another.

Washington’s Advantages

Battle of the Boards: Washington’s big men should have a slight advantage in controlling the glass. The starting trio of Gus Johnson, Elvin Hayes, and Wes Unseld is one of the tournament’s best in terms of rebounding, and Walt Bellamy, Jeff Ruland and Webber should help them maintain this advantage off the bench.

Versatility: Washington should be able to play many different styles. They have score-first ball handlers (Gilbert Arenas and Earl Monroe), and a pass-first option (John Wall). They have a physical small forward (Johnson), an outside threat (Bob Dandridge), and a tweener (Antawn Jamison) that they can play at the three. They have a pass-first big man (Unseld) and a dominant low post scorer (Bellamy). They also have good defensive players (Hayes, Johnson, Dandridge, Wall) who can play when they need to get stops. Coach Dick Motta has many options at his disposal.

Portland’s Advantages

Offensive Efficiency: Overall, Portland’s team shooting is very high, and they don’t feature a player on the roster who shot below 46 percent for his Blazers career. In addition, the advanced statistics (PER and WS/48) of the Portland players are higher than those of the Washington players. Will this translate to the games? Portland’s pieces do seem to fit well with each other, and they have several excellent passers who should help them mesh as a unit.

X-Factor

Health: Much like real basketball, fantasy tournaments of this nature can often be decided by injuries. The methodology here is that once a player makes the cutoff for years and games played for a franchise (4 seasons, 200 games played), then they’re eligible to compete in all games of their series. This clearly benefits a player like Walton, and discounts the ironman achievements of someone like Elvin Hayes. While imperfect, this method allows us to imagine each team’s best roster, and filters out those who had extremely short stints with a franchise.

Results

Once again, we have a very hotly contested series. In the end, the brilliance of Walton and Drexler and the clutchness of Porter win out. The good people of Portland go a bit overboard in their celebration.

1977_NBA_Finals_Game_6_Blazers_vs_Sixers

Portland wins, four games to three.

Next Round

Portland faces the All-Time Lakers.

All-Time Washington Wizards Team

All-Time Washington Wizards Team Infographic

The Washington Wizards have almost operated as two separate franchises in their team history. In their first 27 years, they were very successful, making the playoffs 20 times, going to four NBA Finals, and winning it all once. The last 27 seasons haven’t been as kind. They’ve made the playoffs only seven times, have never won 50 or more games, and never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. The All-Time Washington Wizards Team reflects this dichotomy, as they’re filled with more players from their rich past than their putrid recent history.

One of the newer players who made the team is starting guard Gilbert Arenas, who disgraced himself toward the end of his Wizards tenure, but was one of the highest scoring players in team history beforehand. At his peak in the 2005-06 season, Arenas averaged 29.3 PPG in the regular season (fourth in the league), and a league-leading 34.0 PPG in six playoff games. He’s joined in the starting backcourt by Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who started his Hall-of-Fame career in Washington (Baltimore at the time), and was at his improvisational best there. They’re backed up by John Wall, the team’s best passer, and a solid defender who can play alongside either starter. Phil Chenier, an excellent defender who’s the best shooter on the team, will also see time at off guard.

The starting frontcourt consists of three tenacious rebounders who have all been elected into the Hall of Fame. Gus “Honeycomb” Johnson, an incomparable athlete who was an excellent all-around player, can play either forward position. He’s joined by Elvin Hayes, who’s one of the toughest players to analyze in our tournament. As previously discussed, he ranks in the top-10 in NBA history in both points and rebounds. However, it’s hard to find one positive thing written about him from his playing days. His former coach, Alex Hannum, called him, “the most despicable person I’ve ever met in sports.” He was known for choking in big moments. His teammates seemed to hate him. Despite these red flags, he was an eight-time all-star, six-time All-NBA, and two-time All-NBA defensive player with the Bullets, and was their leading scorer and rebounder during their lone championship season. Wes Unseld, who admitted that his listed height of 6’7” was a stretch, is the starting center. Despite his lack of height, he was one of the great rebounders of his era, and was the team’s pillar during their glory years.

Off the bench, Bobby Dandridge, a clutch player who won two championships in his career, will play plenty of minutes at the three. Antawn Jamison, a versatile scorer, can play at either forward position. Chris Webber, who was sadly traded for an over-the-hill Mitch Richmond before his peak years in Sacramento, will see some minutes at the four. Jeff Ruland, an excellent big man who made two all-star appearances before injury issues robbed him of his prime, will split time at center and power forward. Hall-of-Famer Walt Bellamy had his peak years with the franchise, and was the most statistically dominant player in team history. He’ll be the first big man off the bench, and will combine with Unseld, Hayes, Johnson, and Ruland to give them one of the better rebounding units in our tournament.

Coach: Dick Motta

All-Time Franchise Winning Percentage (through 2014-15): .449