Speedburner’s Countdown of the Top 150 Players in NBA History (#115 – #111) – BasketballWednesday, January 4, 2012 23:29
Posted in category NBA
#115 – #111 of Speedburner’s countdown of the Top 150 players in NBA History.
#115 – #111
- 115) Deron Williams – 6′ 3″ PG from 2005 – present…Entering the league just six years ago, Deron Williams has quickly established himself as one of the better PGs to ever play the game, using a combination of size, skill, passing smarts, and decent athleticism. Coming out of high school in Texas , Williams’stats didn’t blow you away (about 17, 9 dimes, 6 boards, 2.5 steals), but the team’s combined record his junior and senior years (61-4) did. In college at Illinois , his stats were again quite pedestrian (12.5 pts, 3.6 rebs, 6.8 asst, 43.3% his 3rd and final year), but again, his team achieved great success, losing in the NCAA finals to North Carolina . He became the 3rd pick of the 2005 NBA Draft, taken by Utah one spot ahead of Chris Paul. After a spotty rookie year (29 min, 10.8 pts, 4.5 asst, 42.1% shooting) where he went back-n-forth from bench to starter, Williams became the Jazz’ full time starter his 2nd season and hasn’t looked back since. Finishing 2nd in the league in assists and averaging over 16 points, he and Carlos Boozer led the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals that year, with Williams averaging 19.2, 4.3 rebs, and 8.6 asst in those playoffs. The next year was the first of four straight averaging at least 18 pts and 10 dimes. He earned two All-Star appearances, two all-NBA 2nd teams, and finished either 2nd or 3rd in the league in asst/gm over these 4 years. He does a good job of using his size and bulk (6’3”, 210) to out-muscle smaller PGs, and has a deceptively quick first step when he drives to the hole, where he can throw it down with authority. Utah traded Deron to the Nets for a bonanza of players, picks and cash in February 2011, garnering Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two 1st round picks, and $3m in cash. Williams went on a diming tear upon arrival, handing out 15.2 asst/gm his first 5 games with New Jersey before a lingering wrist injury, which had greatly reduced his FG% (shot 34.9% after the trade), eventually forced him to have surgery before the season was through. His four seasons of 10+ dimes, all of which reside in the top 60 asst/gm seasons of all-time, have only been matched by Isiah (also 4), Kevin Johnson (4 times), Oscar Robertson (5 times), Nash (6 times), and then of course, the Lords of the Dimes, Magic (9 times), and Stockton (10 times). Amazingly, Kidd has only done it 3 times, and Chris Paul is also at 3, with of course many years to go. In 44 total career playoff games, Williams boasts impressive averages of 21.1 pts, 9.6 asst, 5.4 free throws made, and 45.8% shooting. In the 2010 playoffs, he became the first player to ever record five straight 20/10 pts/asst games in a series – a rather surprising stat considering Magic, Oscar, and Isiah.
- 114) Maurice Cheeks – 6′ 1″ PG from 1978 - 1993…An incredibly classy, quiet, underrated player, Mo Cheeks is one of the all-time pure PGs in league history. A skinny, unheralded kid out of West Texas A&M, Cheeks was a 2nd round pick of the 76ers in 1978, the 36th overall pick of the draft…a draft where Mychal Thompson, Phil Ford, and Rick Robey went 1, 2, 3. (picks 4, 5, & 6 were far better – Micheal Ray Richardson, Purvis Short, and Larry Bird). Cheeks contributed immediately on a very good Philly squad, playing 29 min/night and leading the team in assists (5.3) and steals (2.1) his rookie year. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Cheeks asserted himself strongly, averaging 18.8 pts, 7 asst, 3.9 rebs, and an amazing 4 stls in 9 games before the 76ers were vanquished by the George Gervin/Larry Kenon Spurs in 7 games (they beat N.J. 2-0 in round 1). Proficiency in dimes, thefts, and shooting accuracy, as well as stellar defensive play and steady leadership were the hallmarks of Cheeks’ career. He was the perfect point guard for those star-laden 76ers teams that boasted Dr. J, Darryl Dawkins, Bobby Jones, and Doug Collins (later, Andrew Toney and Moses Malone). He quarterbacked Philadelphia to three NBA Finals appearances over 4 years in the early ‘80s, finally taking the title in 1983. When the Dr. J Philly team faded and they drafted Charles Barkley, Cheeks’ production ratcheted up on the less talent-laden squad. In 1986, he averaged a career high in pts (15.4), asst (9.2), and free throw attempts, before bettering his scoring numbers the very next season (to 15.6). But despite the increased offensive load, Cheeks remained an efficient scorer, shooting over 52% both seasons. Cheeks remains the #1 career FG% shooter among PGs, making a remarkable 52.3%, ahead of #2 Magic (52%) and #3 Stockton (51.5%) and good for 43rd all-time, any position. And when it comes to thievery, very few have ever been as good as Cheeks. A 4-time all-defensive 1st team selection (as well as 4-time All-Star), Cheeks averaged over 2 stl/gm the first 10 years of his career, finally retiring #5 on the all-time list with 2,310, and #8 all-time at 2.1 stl/gm. He averaged 14.4 pts, 6.9 asst, and 2.2 stls in 133 playoff games, and finished with 7,392 regular season dimes, good for #10 all-time. His most famous assist however, came as Portland ’s coach in 2003. As a 13 yr old girl struggled to remember the words to the National Anthem, Cheeks walked over and guided her through the rest of the song. He subsequently received over 1,700 emails and letters in the next two weeks, including a letter from Billy Cunningham’s mother (B.C. was his coach during Philly’s 1980’s heyday). The New York Times put it best in 1990, late in Cheeks’ career, saying “His game had class, but it was more like the shine of velvet than the glitter of gold”.
- 113) World B Free – 6′ 2″ PG/SG from 1975 – 1988…World…B…Free! What a name…different, eccentric, memorable, and stylish, just like World himself both on and off the basketball court. Born Lloyd Bernard Free in Atlanta, raised in Brooklyn, Free earned the nickname ‘All World’ while doing 360 degree dunks in junior high, and legally changed his name to World in 1981. He played at Sixty Six Park where Connie Hawkins, Dr. J, Nate Archibald, and Jimmy ‘Fly’ Williams (street legend chronicled in ‘Heaven is a Playground’ book) played before him. He was also known as the Prince of Midair…another very cool, different nickname that almost appeared years later with Will Smith in the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’…the classic sitcom that ran from 1990-96. Free was a badass 6 foot 2 inch athlete with an insane 44″ vertical (but lost much of those hops by mid-career). He could score at will on anyone in a wide variety of ways, and the brighter the lights, the more Free wanted to shine. On opening day 1979 he and the Clippers went against the Lakers and a rookie named Magic. Everyone wanted to see Magic’s debut, but Free, coming off a season in which he averaged over 28 pts/gm, wanted to show he deserved some attention, too, and ended up scoring 46 pts. Free was also the essence of cool with his look and style off the court, a definite self-promoter, who once ended a chat session with reporters by asking “Need anything else? If you do, I’ll make something up.” He also had the classic line, “I’m so good, even I couldn’t guard me”. The Golden St. pic below shows those trademark, classic muttonchop sideburns he sported during his heyday. Twice a runner-up to Gervin for the scoring title, (leading the league in FTM both years), Free is one of just 40 players who finished a 10+ yr career averaging over 20 pts/gm (20.3) on career 45.6% shooting. His 30.2 in 1980 stands at 57th all-time, the 15th player to average 30 at the time…only 13 guys in the last 30 yrs have been added to that 30+ Honor Roll – Wade (’09) and Durant (’10) the latest two additions (My #1 hoops pick in each of those yrs – won title both yrs…oh how I miss fantasy hoops). Additionally, as a shoot-first PG for much of his career, he did average over 5 asst/gm twice, while averaging over 4 six other times – not bad for a guy who once said, in quoting Fred Carter, “passes don’t get paid”. He only made 1 All-Star team (1980) and was once 2nd team all-NBA (1979) – the two seasons he finished 2nd in scoring. He played in the NBA Finals with Philly in 1977 as a 2nd year guard, garnering 28 min/gm in the regular season and 18 in the playoffs. Those 76ers teams (he spent his first 3 yrs there) were legendary for their layup lines, where World, Doc, McGinnis, and Darryl Dawkins would put on a display of dunking that rivaled most All-Star dunk contests. Free is now back with the 76ers, as Director of player development and community ambassador, where he also greets fans coming into the stadium wearing his still flamboyant attire. Some video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mM8uc3tJyes.
- 112) Gus Williams – 6′ 2″ PG from 1975 – 1987…At last, we come to our first Trojan on the list. A 2nd team All-American his senior year and 4 year starter, he was taken early in the 2nd round by Golden St., 20th overall, just 3 spots ahead of #113 World B. Free in the 1975 Draft. Incidentally, David ‘Skywalker’ Thompson was the first pick of that draft, with the Lakers drafting next and selecting complete bust Dave Meyers out of UCLA (4 yr career), then putting him in a trade package to Milwaukee just weeks later to acquire Kareem. Williams played a reserve role on the defending champ Warriors his rookie year, averaging just 22 minutes and 11 pts, but did manage to nab an impressive 1.8 stls/gm in his limited court time. After one more year as a Warrior reserve, Williams signed with the Sonics as a free agent, and his career took off. His first season there, he led the team in scoring (but only 18.1/gm) while they went all the way to the NBA Finals, losing to the Bullets after being up 3-2 (note: they started that season 5-17, fired their coach, and hired Lenny Wilkins). One year later, after again leading the team in scoring (19.2 in under 30 min/night), the Sonics again met the Bullets in the Finals, this time prevailing in 5 games. Williams not only led the team in scoring throughout the playoffs (26.6) and Finals (28.6), but also led the team each of the five games against Washington, even though Dennis Johnson was named MVP – 20/6/4asst, and his trademark D in those playoffs. A great jump-shooter and penetrator, Williams had a tremendous ability during a floating jumper or layup to make a subtle adjustment mid-air and maintain full body control to sink the shot. Check him out here. In his later days, his dimes increased as he averaged 8 asst/gm years 7 through 9, while still scoring over 19/gm during that stretch. Appropriately in this time of NBA labor issues, Williams sat out the entire 1980-81 season over a contract dispute (‘pay me more, i’m worth it’). Sadly, it was in the prime of his career, as he was 27 at the time. As it was, Gus made two All-Star teams, and was named all-NBA 2nd team in ’80, 1st team in ’82 (23.4, 6.9 asst, 2.2 stl, 48.6% shooting). Williams reached 20 pts/gm four times in his career, and is one of the all-time NBA thiefs, much like the recent Mo Cheeks (#114), as he finished just two spots behind Cheeks on the all-time steals list at 1.99/gm, 10th in NBA history. Williams retired with career averages of 17.1, 5.6 asst, and 46.1%, and in 2004 the Sonics retired ‘The Wizard’s’ #1 jersey.
- 111) Blake Griffin – 6′ 9″ PF from 2010 – …Yes, after just one year I think this is where he belongs. Let’s face it – if he doesn’t end up Top 100 by the time he’s done, I think we’d all be pretty surprised. The bottom line with Blake is, you’re combining freakish explosive athleticism with a rock solid head and attitude. The only question is how truly competitive is he, and how much will his game grow going forward. Here’s the base he’s building and growing from – 22.5, 12.1, 3.8 dimes (dishing like that as a rookie PF? Strong…), and over 50% shooting, all with limited offensive moves. Rookies who come up with numbers like that usually grow up to be the Akeems, Shaqs, Barkleys, and Robinsons of the league. He also played a full 82 games last season, closing with a 31/10/10 triple-double to tantalize his fans for the next season. And nice to see him get a full slate under his belt after the lost 2009-10 season due to surgery. Of course we all know about his dunking, as he’s already a top 10 dunker in the histroy of the league. The last time I remember everyone being so excited by a young new dunker was the late 90′s with Vince Carter (and those were equally absurd dunks). Here’s his reel, great music. Focusing on Blake’s passing, I really think it bodes well for his upside and probability for greatness. A player who immediately ‘gets it’ when it comes to passing makes himself and the team so much better. He’s not as inclined to force bad shots, he keeps his eyes open as to where his teammates are, and it generally leads to higher quality shots for the team. And his 3.8 asst/gm compares favorably to almost all recent great big men – Akeem (3.6 was his best, didn’t avg more than 3 til 9th season), D. Robinson (just once more than 3.8, never 3/gm til 4th yr), K. Malone (6th season for 3+, but then became very good passer), Duncan (3rd season for 3+, just once better than 3.8). Only Barkley (3.9 2nd season) and C-Webb (3.6 yr 1, 4.7 yr 2) achieved such sizable early career dimes. I am very surprised and disappointed at his blocked shot numbers (just .5 a game)…he doesn’t really try for them, strangely. It would be nice to see him block 3 times that amount, still not a lot to ask from a player with his hops and size. In any case, we’re going to have fun watching his career develop with plenty of great highlights along the way.
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