Monday, June 15, 2015

A Boost of Greatness

By Jonathan Lowe

In this age of social media and hyper analytics, pretty much every stat that can be squeezed from this NBA Finals is within reach on sports websites. I can't add a whole lot to the mix, but I have noticed a couple of things as Game 6 sits ready to tip on Tuesday night. Both LeBron James and Stephen Curry are seeking their own level of "legendary." Yes, James is a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer. Sure, Curry is putting himself in position to find his image in Springfield down the road.

LeBron's legacy has already risen above 95 percent of the players that have spent time in the Association (rough estimate). It's widely speculated that James will leapfrog over guys that currently have more prestige (mainly based on number of titles). But what about this current stretch including five straight appearances in the Finals? The Cavaliers' power forward set the record for minutes played through the first four contests of a championship series (the two lengths of time he expanded upon were his as well). When you expound on this arduous journey, how does it stand up in comparison to other legends?

Let's take the two players LeBron is usually linked to, Michael Jordan (from a previous era) and Kobe Bryant (seen as a contemporary). For James, I'll use the current five-season timeframe (October 2010 to Tuesday night). For Jordan, we'll look into the five-season arc between October 1988 and June 1993. For Bryant, we'll take the stretch of time from October 1999 to June 2004.

Just before the beginning of this campaign, James was one of the players speaking up about a preference to shorten the 82-game year. Jordan offered his dismay at the sentiment, saying that he didn't mind playing to a standard the NBA has held to since 1967. If anyone could back up those particular comments, it was "His Airness." Over his career, Jordan played 80 or more regular-season contests 10 times (including all 82 games eight times). Over the selected period (1988-1993), he played 403 of a possible 410 games (98.3%). James and Bryant had about the same number of games in their spans (363 and 361, respectively). In terms of actual time, Jordan was also well ahead of "pace," playing 15,655 minutes (almost 1,500 more than Kobe and 2,000 more than LeBron).

When it comes to the postseason, though, King James really shows his endurance. In those five-year eras, Jordan and Bryant each played in 91 Playoff games. LeBron, going into Tuesday, has participated in 106 such contests (with the promise to go in at least 107). And while we've heard that LBJ has carried this Cleveland team to within two games of a title, it isn't a concept he's unfamiliar with. In the last five postseasons, James has topped 900 minutes three times (compared with one-in-five for the other two compatriots). His 4,426 minutes (and counting) are 500 ahead of those same stretches for Mike and Kobe.

Overall, if LeBron can complete the improbable, it may be the most epic extended period one player has ever provided the Association.

I haven't forgotten about Curry. Just because his squad is looking to finish off one of the better seasons in Association history, it doesn't mean that he can't accomplish a little "sum'n, sum'n" for himself.

In the history of the NBA, only 31 men have been honored with the title of League MVP. Since the first award was presented nearly 60 years ago, the winner has gone on to win the championship 22 times. But there's a very select group of players whom have won their first MVP award and their first NBA title in the same season. They go as follows:

Bob Cousy (1956-1957 Boston Celtics)
Willis Reed (1969-1970 New York Knicks)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-1971 Milwaukee Bucks)
Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-1994 Houston Rockets)
Shaquille O'Neal (1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers)

I count four Hall of Fame inductees and one who should be in as soon as voting ends for the 2017 class. If the Warriors can raise the trophy, Curry would become just the sixth player on this list. He would also be just the second player under 6'9" to accomplish this feat, joining Cousy.

And, if the Golden State guard finds his way to Springfield, it'll be in a much different way than the Celtics' legend did. There's no telling what Cousy could have done if there was a three-point arc during his playing days, but I don't think he would have matched what Curry is starting to turn into. In just six seasons, Steph is No. 50 on the all-time list of triples made. Sometime next season, he should fly past his father, Dell (a pretty good shooter in his own right). And, although, he has a long way to go to reach all-time leader Ray Allen, the new analytic, efficient wave of play seems tailor-made for the younger Curry.

When focusing in on this particular postseason, Steph is in a league of his own. Reggie Miller had the previous benchmark for three-pointers in a single postseason run. Curry passed that ... in Game 3 of the Conference finals. Going into Tuesday's game, he sits at 95 (compared to Miller's 58 in 2000). Steph hit 286 threes in 80 regular season appearances. He could reach 100 postseason triples in about a quarter of the time. Not bad for a guy with ankle and overall frame concerns.

It remains uncertain whether LeBron can keep up his Herculean pace over the next few seasons. It's still unclear if Steph can maintain the health and accuracy to vault up the list of "Deadeyes." But the winner of this series will add a permanent line to whatever greatness they can pile on in the future.

Contents copyright © Sports Central 1998-2017