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Numbers Game

 

Keeping an eye on individual marks for the NBA’s second half

 

By Adam Hoff

 

The first “half” (ignore the fact that most teams have played 53 of 82 games) of the NBA season concluded on Thursday night in horrifying fashion, as the Bulls beat the Sixers by 33 and the Suns crushed the Rockets by 34 in what TNT studio host Ernie Johnson dubbed, “The worst sporting event ever televised.”  Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty.  However, the fact is that this has been one of the most exciting NBA seasons in recent memory.  There are three elite teams (Detroit, Dallas, and Denver), one challenger rounding into shape (Miami), and three exciting teams on the horizon (Phoenix, Clippers, and Cleveland).  Plus, we have Kobe putting up huge numbers, LeBron continuing to exceed even the wildest expectations for his game, trade rumors circulating, and the very real possibility that Steve Nash is about to lock up a second consecutive MVP award and a trip to the Hall of Fame in the process.  Not bad.

 

Part of the reason that the league has been so interesting this year is that we are experiencing so many spectacular individual efforts.  Consider that Gilbert Arenas is averaging over 28 points a game and has the Wizards over .500 and in the playoff picture … yet he barely made the All-Star team as a replacement.  Michael Redd and Carmelo Anthony are single-handedly keeping their teams in the thick of the playoff hunt with 25+ scoring averages, yet neither will be in Houston for the midseason exhibition.  That seems to indicate how good players have been across the board this season (either that, or the voters and coaches are morons, one or the other).  So good, in fact, that we are on the verge of seeing history made in a variety of areas. 

 

Here are some of the players trying to reach statistical greatness down the stretch of the regular season:

 

LeBron James: Trying to become the fourth player in NBA history to average over 31 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game for a season. If there was ever any doubt about James being the real deal, it is gone now.  Yes, he still needs to become a dominant defensive player (even being simply a good defensive player would be a big bonus right now), and he still needs to become more effective and decisive at the end of games, but considering this is Year Three and that he’s 21 years old, I’d say he’s doing fine.  As for this particular statistical mark, only Oscar Robertson (twice) and Michael Jordan have ever done it.  LeBron is currently sitting on 31.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per night.  He will need to finish with a flurry, but when you consider that those numbers are 31.5/7.9/7.8 over the past month, LBJ seems to be getting stronger as the season goes along.  Jordan was 25 and in his fifth season when he reached this level of all-around greatness, and Big O was already 22 when he entered the NBA.  For James to be flirting with these numbers already is almost unfathomable. 

 

(By the way, did you know that in addition to “Big O,” Oscar Robertson’s other nicknames were “Horse” and “Donut”?  Me neither.)

 

Kobe Bryant: Trying to become the fifth player ever to average 35 points per game for a season.  Scoring 81 in a game and 62 in three quarters usually indicates that you have something special going for a given season.  Behind such explosive scoring efforts, Kobe is currently averaging 35.0 points per game heading into the break.  If he can maintain his current pace, he would join a list that includes only Wilt (five times), Jordan (twice), Elgin Baylor, and Rick Barry.  He would be the first guy to eclipse 35 since 1988.  This is serious stuff.  It will be difficult for Kobe to pull it off though, as a look at his monthly splits indicates that he his numbers are slightly inflated due to an unbelievable month of January.  His monthly averages read:

 

November – 33.5

December – 32.0

January – 43.4

February – 30.0

 

Unless Kobe can harness the power for another 40+ points per game month, he will need to start scoring more than 35 points per game in each of the remaining months.  It seems more likely that his best month will be in the neighborhood of 35.0 ppg and that he will average about 33 points a game the rest of the way, which would put him at about 34.3 for the season.  Still good for 14th all time, but it would place him in the company of a larger group, one that includes Kareem, McAdoo, and Archibald.  “Becoming the eighth player ever to average 34 points a game” is nice, but it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

 

Allen Iverson: Trying to become the second player in NBA history to average at least 33 points and 7 assists per game.  In 1972-73, Nate “Tiny” Archibald had one of the most underrated individual seasons of all time.  (I’m currently working on a book that ranks the 100 greatest seasons of all time, so I’ll be sure to tell you where he ranks as soon as I find out.  Don’t you want to know?  Me too.  I told my agent there was a market for this book!)  That year, while playing point guard for the Kansas City Kings, Tiny went for 34 points and a whopping 11.4 assists per night.  He played 46 minutes a game, launched over 2,100 shots, and led the league in assists, all while toiling for a terrible 36-46 KC squad.  Perhaps the losing season is the reason nobody talks about what an incredible year that was. 

 

Regardless, another “Tiny” star, Allen Iverson, is on his way to becoming the second player to ever score more than 33 a game while still finding teammates to the tune of at least seven dimes per.  At 30 years of age, AI has been better than ever.  He’s scoring at a career-best clip of 33.5 points per game.  His 7.4 assists per game mark is his second-best total ever.  He’s once again in the top five in steals at 2.0.  He leads the league in minutes at 43.6.  He’s shooting a career best 45%.  Of course, like Tiny before him, his team still sucks, so he’s doing it under the radar. 

 

LeBron James, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant: Are trying to become the first trio to score over 30 points per game since the 1981-82 season.  These three have already had their own section, so might as well throw them in together.  And why not?  It has been a long time since the league has seen three dominant scorers like this.  Give Stern and the NBA credit for increasing scoring across the board, but also give these players credit for taking their games to the next level.  Not since George Gervin, Moses Malone, and Adrian Dantley have we seen three guys all go for 30+ in the same season.  And not since the 1965-66 campaign have three players crested 31 points a game, as Bryant, Iverson, and James are currently doing.  The scoring kings of 40 years ago?  Just a few guys named Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West. 

 

Ray Allen: On pace to break the NBA record for three-pointers in a season.  This might not be the most glamorous record in the world, but it still means something.  (By the way, if you don’t believe me that the record isn’t glamorous, try to guess which player currently holds it.  You can find the answer in the tagline.)  The current NBA mark for made three’s in a season is 267, set during the 1995-96 season, which was the biggest three-fest in NBA history (four of the top nine marks are from that year).  Since that year, the highest totals have been:

 

240 – Peja Stojakovic (2003-04)

229 – Ray Allen (2001-02)

226 – Quentin Richardson (2004-05)

226 – Kyle Korver (2004-2005)

 

As you can see, 240 has been the high point of the last decade and it is out in front by quite a bit.  Yet here is Allen, having already canned 172 triples at the All-Star break.  If he keeps up his ridiculous pace of 3.4 per game and stays healthy the rest of the way, he will finish with 272, set the new record, and obliterate the standard of the past ten years.  Not only that, but his recent pace suggests he might do even better.  He’s hitting 3.8 treys since the New Year and if he were to keep hitting at that pace through the remainder of the regular season, he would finish with 282 threes for the year.  Amazing.

 

Dwight Howard: Could become the youngest player in NBA history to lead the league in rebounding.  Look for yourself.  Never before has a 21-year old (his age at the end of the season) led the NBA in rebounding for a season.  Howard is currently setting the pace with 12.6 caroms per and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.  He’s averaged 13.0 boards per over the last month and only KG (12.0 for the year, 13.3 over the past month) seems capable of catching him down the stretch.

 

Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com.  He is happy to know that he probably stumped you earlier: Dennis Scott holds the NBA record for threes in a season with 267.

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