17 Jun

Scottie Pippen, Charles Oakley Agree ’96 Bulls Would Make Kebab Of Warriors

pippen

Arkansas native Scottie Pippen, Alabama native Charles Barkley and Ohioan Charles Oakley have a long history of disagreement. Oakley and Barkley have seemingly never gotten along, with perhaps the worst of it coming in 1999 around the time of a lockout. Oakley, then a free agent, claimed he power-slapped  Barkley, then heavily involved in the players’  union, in the face — during a meeting. “I’m fed up with him, ” Oakley later said. “I told him you need to change your name. I’m the only Charles.”

This was coming off Oakley’s decade-long stint as a key player for the Knicks, a perennial playoff opponent of the mighty Bulls, which featured Pippen and Michael Jordan. Yet even when Pippen and Oakley were Bulls teammates in the late 1980s, Oakley was still slapping the mess out of him.

Check this evidence from the Pippen’s rookie season in 1987-88:

At last, though, these three can agree on something: the best team of the 1990s was a helluva lot better than the best team of this decade. The debate of whether the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls or 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are better has been raging all season long, with Charles Barkley wading in early. “That Bulls team would kill this little team,” Barkley said in December.

Pippin got into the action a few months later, opining that if the ’96 Bulls were matched up with the ’16 Warriors in a seven-game series he and Jordan would cause severe problems for the Warriors’ gunners with their length and quickness.  Enough problems to sweep the Dubs.

Finally, Oakley joined into the fray yesterday on The Mike & Mike Show. He gave his take on the NBA Finals between Cleveland and Golden State and upcoming Game 6, in which Cleveland is a slight favorite according to William Hill. Then Oakley was reminded of Pippen’s take and asked for his own on the same question.

I think Scottie might be right,” Oakley said.  “They were too long, they had some great guys back then and like I said, to play in my era, you had to be a student of the game. I don’t see that no more. I see guys  out there just playing basketball and doing individual stuff, not team chemistry. Golden State is pretty fine playing together as far as guys knowing who should get the ball, who shouldn’t get the ball.”

“I think the Bulls, there was Scottie, Michael, Ron Harper, Horace, everybody just knowing that whatever they do, they got to shut down scorers. I think they’ll really trap guys, they’ll work guys with the ball coming up the court, and I don’t think [the Warriors] will have the legs by the time the fourth quarter comes — because they having to be really, really strong individuals.

I think some of them are, but I think that being smart, like I said the Bulls wouldn’t be winning six, seven, eight years if they wasn’t that smart of a team. They had to go through a lot with other teams and on the court and they found a way to win.”

I can see why Oakley would reflexively think more highly of his own generation, but I don’t agree with his reasoning. The NBA is more team-oriented and complex now than it was 20 years ago. The elimination of the illegal defense rule has created a domino effect which has allowed teams to deploy complex and sophisticated zone and hybrid defenses. Those, in turn, have inspired the evolution of more intricate and fluid offenses, like the one which the Warriors employ as they hunt for a dynasty of their own.

23 Jul

Requiem for the Small College NBA Player

earl monroe

Earl Monroe, like so many of his contemporaries, vaulted from a small college to NBA stardom. Are those days over for good?

In 29 years as NBA commissioner, David Stern has led his league to unprecedented heights by opening its doors to nearly every corner of the world.

He expects its next generation of stars, some of whom are playing on their franchises’ summer teams, to continue fueling growth through diversity and global expansion. A quick scan at the statistical leaders for the NBA Summer League, which wrapped Monday in Las Vegas, seems to indicate everything is on track.

There are foreigners like Candian Kelly Olynyk, Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunus and German Dennis Shroeder. There is an American, Jeremy Tyler, who played abroad after skipping college altogether.  Other Americans, like C.J. McCollum of Lehigh University, starred at the mid-major collegiate level. This fall, McCollum will start his career in Portland beside NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who played at Weber State University. Mid major, high major, when it comes to predicting future NBA stars, the difference seems increasingly minor.

But the path has not widened for all.

The NBA player who hails from a small college has all but disappeared. In past decades, the NAIA and schools from what is now NCAA Division II and III produced All-Stars like Earl Monroe, Dick Barnett, Jerry Sloan, Walt Frazier, Nate Archibald and Willis Reed. Later, Terry Porter, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen came from these ranks.

But in the 21st century, the well has gone dry. There has not been a player from DII, DIII or NAIA to make a substantial splash in the NBA since Flip Murray, Devean George and Ben Wallace nearly a decade ago. As those players have retired, it appears nobody will step in to carry the small college banner into the next era.

Indeed, small college alumni are having a harder time than ever even making an NBA squad: of the ten such players in Las Vegas, only two off them – Glen Dandridge of the now-defunct Lambuth University and Othyus Jeffers of Robert Morris University – averaged more than 10 minutes a game. Jeffers led the pack with 8.3 points a game for Minnesota but none of these ten players – including John Stockton’s son Michael Stockton – appear to be a favorite to make a final roster.

How did this happen?

An influx of foreign players in the last 30 years is a big reason, says John McCarthy, director of the NAIA’s Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship. Perhaps the most important reason, though, is the NCAA Tournament has become enormously profitable in recent years and more and more small colleges have elbowed into Division I to get a piece of the pie. Many of the historically black colleges which produced Reed, Monroe, Frazier et al have migrated to the lower fringes of Division I – which now swells at about 340 program and more than 5,000 players.

The elevated cachet of Division I, due to boosted financial dividends and exponentially increased media attention, have at the same time downgraded the appeal of the lower divisions and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. More high school and summer league coaches believe the only route to the pros is Division I, and they pass those convictions to their players.

Which means, recruits often choose to play in Division I even when it’s not in their best interests. “I think that there are times where a Division II program may actually be a better fit for a player,” wrote McCarthy, who runs this small college basketball blog. “A good Division II program may be a better fit for a player (academically, class-size, geographically, need for his position, coach, etc.), but a player will often choose the Division I program because of the label.” The player often finds the level play at the top DII schools is higher than than the lower tier DI program he might have left.

As a tribute to the NBA’s small college legacy  – which unfortunately seems to be shrinking – below are the Top 16 small college NBA/ABA players of all time. I’ve limited the list to only players who played at schools that are still DII, DIII or NAIA today. That’s why you won’t see greats like Jerry Sloan, Dick Barnett and Maurice Stokes, Willis Reed and Bob Love, whose programs have since joined DI.

Since I’m ranking players based on performances during college and pro careers, you also won’t find scoring phenomenon Bevo Francis, who averaged more than 48 points a game for Rio Grande College in the 1950s. He chose not to play in the NBA.

16. Devean George
College: Augsburg (Minneapolis, Minn.)

NBA Draft: Round 1/Pick 23rd by Los Angeles Lakers
NBA Playing Career: 1999-2010
All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages (for one season)
Points per game: 7.4
Rebounds per game: 4.0
Assists per game: 1.4
Steals per game: 1.0
Blocks per game: 0.5
43.2 % FG
39.0 % 3PT

George was a dominant scorer in Division III, averaging 27.5 ppg as a senior, but will forever be remembered as a sort-of-vital glue guy bench player during the Lakers’ 2000-02 threepeat. His career apex came in 2003-04, when he started 48 games and played nearly 24 minutes a game.

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08 Jul

Top 10 NBA Players Ever From Non-Division I Schools: Part 2

Not one – but two – of the players listed here did this to Wilt.

Continuing on our countdown from last week’s Top 10 list of the best NBA (and ABA) players who played for a Division II, III or NAIA school. And, yes, I fully admit it: I cheated by actually cramming in eleven players.

5. Caldwell Jones

College: Albany State (Georgia)

NBA Draft: Round 2/Pick 32 by Philadelphia 76ers

ABA Playing Career: 1973-76

NBA Playing Career: 1976-90

All-Star Appearances: 1 as ABA All-Star

Career High Averages

Points per game: 19.5

Rebounds per game: 10.0

Assists per game: 2.1

Steals per game: 1.1

Blocks per game: 4.0

50.7 % FG

83.7 % FT

One of six brothers from McGehee, Arkansas to play at Albany State, “CJ” left with his family’s highest career rebounding average at 20.3 rpg. Even before his first pro game, the 6-11 post man made quite an impression on his rookie head coach, 37-year-old Wilt Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, then 7-1 and approaching 300 pounds, was “Godzilla in sweat pants and Converse All-Stars,” with  “nostrils flaring, chest heaving, grinning a grin that had some evil in it,” as former San Diego Union sports reporter Joe Hamelin put it.

On the Conquistadors’ first day of drills, Wilt the Stilt lined up his new players to test their manhood. They “stood in a row until summoned, one by one, to dribble down the lane to their doom, to where Chamberlain was waiting like a Mayan god demanding sacrifice,” Hamelin wrote.

With little apparent effort he rejected their pitifully human layups, fly-swatting them to various distant parts of the USD gym. Contempt was etched into his face. Whap! Whap! Wilt was letting them know who was boss.

And then came CaIdwell Jones.

The rest had tried to go around Chamberlain. Jones, 6-11, built like a fence post and full of flight, chose to go over him!

Launching himself into the air like some enormous bony bird, Jones went up over Chamberlain till his waist was even with the big fellow’s unbelieving eyes. Then he brought the ball down with all the youthful exuberance in him, slamming it through the cords so hard it struck Chamberlain solidly on the shoulder and bounded 10 feet in the air. From the look on Wilt’s face, you’d have thought he’d been shot.

Caldwell Jones put up his biggest numbers in the ABA and went on to serve as a defensive anchor for the Dr. J-led 76er conference champion teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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24 Apr

Michael Cage, Scottie Pippen, Joe Johnson … Fat Lever? Top 8 NBA “Arkansans” In Statistical Categories

Where does he rank against Sidney, Joe, Derek, Alvin et al? Courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Where does he rank against Sidney, Joe, Derek, Alvin et al? Courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Ever wondered how NBA Arkansans stack up against each other in terms of career statistics? Wonder no more: below is the first and only comprehensive list including both native Arkansans and non-natives who played college ball in Arkansas.

You’ll notice Scottie Pippen is the only player in each Top 8 list, followed by Alvin Robertson – who ranks in all categories except rebounds and blocks per game.

For fun, I’ve boldfaced the non-natives who played college ball in Arkansas. They are all Razorbacks.

STEALS

This, by far, is the category in which NBA Arkansans excel the most. Three of the top 12 ball thieves in NBA history rep Arkansas by birthplace (Lever), college (Robertson) or both (Pippen).

Total

Per Game

Scottie Pippen

2307

Alvin Robertson

2.71

Alvin Robertson

2112

Fat Lever

2.2

Fat Lever

1666

Scottie Pippen

2.0

Derek Fisher

1282

Michael Conley, Jr.

1.6

Darrell Walker

1090

Darrell Walker

1.51

Michael Cage

1050

Derek Fisher

1.50

Sidney Moncrief

924

Ronnie Brewer

1.29

Joe Johnson

850

Sidney Moncrief

1.2

POINTS

Total

Per Game

Scottie Pippen

18,940

Joe Barry Carroll

17.7

Joe Johnson

15,850

Joe Johnson

17.6

Joe Barry Carroll

12,455

Archie Clark

16.3

Sidney Moncrief

11,931

Scottie Pippen

16.1

Archie Clark

11819

Sidney Moncrief

15.6

Alvin Robertson

10,882

Alvin Robertson

14.0

Caldwell Jones***

10,241

Fat Lever

13.9

REBOUNDS

Total

Per Game

Caldwell Jones***

10,685

Caldwell  Jones

8.2

Michael Cage

8,646

Nathaniel Clifton

8.2

Scottie Pippen

7,494

Wil Jones

7.7

Wil Jones***

5,560

Joe Barry Carroll

7.7

Joe Barry Carroll

5404

Michael Cage

7.6

Fat Lever

4523

Bryant Reeves

6.9

Nathaniel Clifton

4469

Jim Barnes

6.5

Alvin Robertson

4,066

Scottie Pippen

6.4

N.B. Oliver Miller averaged 5.9 rebounds and Alvin Robertson averaged 5.2 in his NBA career. 

*** The Jones brothers’ stats include their seasons in the American Basketball Association, which merged with the NBA in 1976. I list the total of the NBA and ABA statistics. 

ASSISTS

Total

Per Game

Scottie Pippen

6,135

Fat Lever

6.2

Fat Lever

4,523

Mike Conley , Jr.

5.5

Joe Johnson

3,933

Scottie Pippen

5.2

Alvin Robertson

3929

Alvin Robertson

5.0

Derek Fisher

3,640

Archie Clark

4.8

Archie Clark

3498

Darrell Walker

4.6

Darrell Walker

3,276

Joe Johnson

4.4

Sidney Moncrief

2793

Sidney Moncrief

3.6

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25 Jul

Pitting SEC States Against Each Other in the Olympics

Pole vaulter Earl Bell is in the middle of any debate on Arkansas’ most accomplished Olympian.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BENJAMIN KRAIN 7.10.00

 In Southeastern Conference territory, competition is a way of life. Year after year, SEC sports programs spew jetstreams of cash to beat each other on and off the field. Stadia, facilities, coaches’ salaries, TV contracts just keep getting bigger and better. There’s really no choice. Snazzy helicopters, after all, can only do so much to lure the big-time recruits which make college sports’ premier conference go round.

With the Summer Olympics opening ceremony this Friday, though, now is a good time to figure out which SEC state is top dog in terms of all-around athletic talent. For this exercise, we’ll tear down institutional walls which divide states. No Auburn/Alabama or MSU/Ole Miss delineations here. We only care about state borders, and the  Olympians who grew up between them.

With this in mind, it turns out the biggest states have produced the most gold medalists at all modern summer Olympic Games since 1896. Not a surprise.

It gets interesting, however, when examining the numbers on a per capita basis:

Breaking Down SEC states’ # of Gold Medalists Per Capita

Rank

State

# of Gold Medalists

2010 Population

# People per Gold Medalist

Most Impressive Olympians?

1 Mississippi 22 2.97 million 135,000 Calvin Smith, Ralph Boston
2 Missouri 31 5.99 million 193,226 Henry Iba, Helen Stephens
3 Arkansas 14 2.92 million 208,571 Earl Bell, Scottie Pippen
4 Louisiana 21 4.53 million 215,714 Rod Milburn, Karl Malone
5 Kentucky 16 4.34 million 271,250 Muhammad Ali, Mary Meagher
6 Alabama 17 4.7 million 276,471 Harvey Glance, Jennifer Chandler
7 Georgia 35 9.69 million 276,857 Gwen Torrence, Angelo Taylor
8 Texas 72 25.15 million 349,306 Babe Zaharias, Michael Johnson
9 South Carolina 12 4.63 million 385,833 Joe Frazier, Katrina McClain
10 Florida `43 18.80 million 437,209 Bob Hayes, Rowdy Gaines
11 Tennessee 11 6.35 million 577,273 Wilma Rudolph, Tracy Caulkins

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26 Jun

Six Highlights of Scottie Pippen in the “The Dream Team” documentary

To this day, memories of Monte Carlo bring a smile to many a Dream Teamer’s face.

Twenty years ago, on July 22, the Dream Team began its training camp in La Jolla, California. By the time this edition of the U.S. national basketball team secured a gold medal a month and a half later, it had set a standard many people think will never be broken. Yes, the 44-points-a-game winning margin was impressive. Even more impressive, though, was the talent: 11 of the team’s twelve players have been individually inducted into the Hall of Fame. Had the team chosen Shaquille O’Neal instead of Christian Laettner for its requisite rookie representative, an unbreakable mark would have been set.

By 1992, it was clear Arkansas native Scottie Pippen was on a path toward a Hall of Fame career. As a key member of the two-time defending Chicago Bulls, he had already established himself as one of the league’s best all-time defenders. Since his 1987 rookie season, Pippen had sharpened his skills by playing plenty one-on-one against teammate Michael Jordan and the payoff soon became apparent: In 1990, he joined Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as one only three NBA players to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season; a year later, he helped slow down Magic Johnson enough to help the Bulls win Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the first of four consecutive wins ending in the Chicago’s’ first title.

Despite that loss, Magic Johnson still believed he was the league’s alpha dog by the time summer 1992 rolled around. Jordan, again with the help of Pippen, rather vigorously disabused Johnson of this notion during a series of game in one Dream Team practice. Video footage of these scrimmages are one of the most interesting parts of NBA TV’s new “The Dream Team” documentary, which next airs on July 4.

Other interesting excerpts, with a focus on UCA’s Pippen, follow:

1. On his invitation to join the Dream Team – “I didn’t feel like I truly deserved to be called, but I truly wasn’t gonna tell them that.”

2. On Isiah Thomas, leader of the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys” and top nemesis of the Bulls: “Isiah was the general. He was the guy who’d yap at his teammates and say ‘Knock ‘em on their ass. Do what you gotta do.’ I despised the way he played the game.”

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