The NBA's Most Expendable Stars
Sometimes, NBA teams play better without their star players. ESPN personality Bill Simmons popularized a related concept that he calls "The Ewing Theory."
It is predicated on the notion that, on occasion, a team can play better without its best player.
The relative success of the New York Knicks during the career of Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing shows how great he was. The Knicks contended for a championship many times during the decade-and-a-half after the team drafted him first overall in 1985, but they could never quite get over the hump.
Many blamed that on the fact that the team never acquired a second star to play alongside Ewing.
Then, in 1999, while the Knicks and their aging franchise player faced the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, Ewing blew out his Achilles tendon.
Everyone thought New York was toast.
Simmons explained what came next on ESPN.com: "So what happened? The Knicks won three of the next four and advanced to the NBA Finals for only the second time in 26 years."
The Knicks couldn't beat the San Antonio Spurs to win the title, but by even getting to the Finals, they shocked the sports world.
Fast forward more than a decade, and we are seeing similar circumstances play out, albeit on a smaller stage, so far in 2012-13.
Ultimately, I don't think any team is ever truly better long term without its best players, but the following are four players who sometimes make you wonder how much their coaches actually need them out on the floor.
4. Dwyane Wade
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He doesn't need much help.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, the Miami Heat are 17-4 in games Wade has not played (including a 3-1 record this year). When you have LeBron and Chris Bosh, you can get by.
Even in the playoffs last year, when Wade could often be characterized as somewhere between "struggling mightily" and "not playing his best," the brilliance of James and the team's defense was enough to keep Miami advancing.
It was a grind, and they definitely needed Wade to show flashes of his signature brilliance to win the title, but few teams could the Heat continue to play as well as they did when their second-best player was completely unreliable.
Really, it is inaccurate to call Wade expendable. Because anything less than winning a title would be a disappointment for Miami, and the Heat need Wade if they want to repeat.
But, man, LeBron can probably get them very, very close even without his running mate.
3. Danny Granger
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Given the way the Indiana Pacers started this season, it seemed as if Danny Granger was indispensable.
After years of floundering, the team finished the 2011-12 season with the NBA's sixth-best record and put a scare into the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.
In the summer, Indiana re-signed both Roy Hibbert and George Hill to keep its starting lineup together. Hopes were high that the Pacers would be even better this season.
Then, late in the preseason, Granger's injured knee turned out to be in worse condition than expected, and the team announced that he would miss several months.
That is when things got ugly.
The Pacers stated off the year 3-6, losing to teams like the Charlotte Bobcats and Toronto Raptors. It took overtime for them to beat the Sacramento Kings.
The house of cards the Pacers had built seemed to be falling apart, and the team was playing the worst offense in the league.
In time, however, the defense became world class, and the offense started scoring enough to get by.
Bigger still, Paul George has stepped up in Granger's place, improving his scoring numbers every month of this season, averaging a double-double in January and chipping in across the stat sheet.
Now, after wins over the Miami Heat and New York Knicks this week, the Pacers look just as good as they did last season—maybe better, seeing as how great their defense has become.
Scoring without Granger will remain a problem, but for a team that has now won 13 of its last 16 games, it seems that no one player is more important than the whole.
2. Andrew Bogut
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There has been some controversy surrounding Andrew Bogut's injury.
The team was less than forthcoming about the fact that the center also had a microfracture surgical operation done on his left ankle when he went under the knife to get scar tissue removed back in April.
Bogut rehabbed and tried to play as the season started. He appeared in four of the Golden State Warriors' first five games, although it was never for more than 20 minutes. Somewhere along the way, he realized he wasn't ready and started missing games.
The team offered timetables for his return, which later, once it became well known that he had indeed undergone microfracture surgery, were scrapped in favor of an announcement that Bogut would be out indefinitely. The team even held a press conference to discuss the situation, during which Bogut said he "maybe" rushed back too soon and set back his recovery.
All this has been the only dark cloud hovering over an otherwise fantastic season for the Warriors.
With Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson playing very well on the perimeter and David Lee having his best season in years down low, the team has compiled the NBA's seventh-best record. They are playing an exciting, fast-paced brand of basketball in which jump-shooting and spacing on the wing have been primary weapons.
Just five days ago, Bogut said that he will "definitely" play this year.
I think everyone hopes he is healthy as soon as possible, but whether or not he will fit in with the current team's surprisingly excellent play is still up for debate. The team could become even better, or his presence in the middle could unbalance whatever magical elixir is making this whole thing work.
The only thing we know for sure is that the Warriors are playing great basketball without Bogut.
1. Amar'e Stoudemire
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With Amar'e Stoudemire out with injury, the New York Knicks played the NBA's second-best offense.
Sitting at a scoring rate of 109.4 points per 100 possessions on Dec. 31, according to NBA.com, it seemed like the Knicks were unstoppable.
Everything was rosy.
Juxtapose that with the game Carmelo Anthony missed last night due to suspension.
The Knicks scored just 76 points without their best player while shooting 34.8 percent from the field and 20.0 percent from three-point range. It was a team-wide display of offensive futility that forced the more-than-willing J.R. Smith launch 29 shots (and miss 19 of them).
It is only one game, but all this taken together makes it pretty clear that one of New York's two highest-paid players is vital while the other is an afterthought.
Add to that the Knicks' 2-3 record since Stoudemire returned, and it makes you think that the Knicks have been better off without him this year.
That isn't altogether fair—Amar'e has generally performed adequately—but does he really expect a lot of pats on the back and "good job, good efforts" playing in New York?
Until the team starts to play well with Stoudemire in uniform, there will be a lot of New Yorkers who wish he was still sitting on the sideline in a suit.