One Critical Flaw of the NBA's Top 15 Superstars
Mom was so right.
Then again, so was Dad, who used to say while pointing to himself: "Nobody's perfect, but some people come pretty darn close."
They're close to flawless, but that doesn't mean there aren't pieces missing.
Perfection is lost in Michael Jordan's three-point shot, Joe Montana's deep ball and Barry Bonds's honesty.
Even Will Ferrell had "Bewitched."
These NBA celebrities have reached nobility, but each still has at least one critical flaw.
(All stats are updated prior to games played on Jan. 28)
Kobe Bryant: Leadership
A friend said the other day that Kobe Bryant is the type of guy who would look over your shoulder while you're making a peanut better and jelly sandwich and say something like, "dude, you're doing it wrong. You didn't put enough jelly on that."
Bryant's biggest flaw is that he cannot lead other men of equal value.
Sure, he can talk down to a younger player or a lesser player. But when it comes to directing other alpha males, Bryant doesn't have the skill.
He’s more likely to criticize rather than build.
And it's why he can't lead this current group of superstars.
Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reported:
They held a clear-the-air team meeting before Wednesday morning's shoot-around, with Kobe Bryant very directly asking Dwight Howard if he disliked playing with the long-time Lakers star.
Bryant spoke up, acknowledging he could be "hard to play with" and asking Howard if that bothered him. Howard's answer was unclear, though he did not engage Bryant in nearly as vocal a manner as Bryant engaged him.
Bryant's ego is what makes him great.
But it's also the most significant reason why he cannot lead this current Lakers team.
Dwyane Wade: Perimeter Game
Hey rim, it's me, Dwyane Wade.
I know I haven't been visiting as much lately.
I'm working on finding new ways to come see you, but my frequent flyer miles have diminished. I don't know if I'll ever be able to be as close with you as I once was.
Problem is, I'm just not good at long-distance.
Wade has fewer attempts at the rim than any point of his now 10-year career, according to Hoopsdata. The thing is, he's not going to be as athletic as he moves deeper into his 30s.
As his age grows and his athleticism dwindles, he'll need to develop his perimeter game.
He's still finishing at the basket at 73.4 percent, but his percentages drop dramatically the farther he gets from the hoop. Though it's the highest of his career, Wade is still shooting just 35 percent on 1.2 three-point attempts per game.
Blake Griffin: Mid-Range Jumper
As part of my NBA coverage, I sat on the Los Angeles Clippers' bench during warmups earlier this month.
Blake Griffin, one of the league's elite athletes, came out and began loosening up. That process generally entails some stretching, some footwork, and a series of shots from multiple locations around the court.
When Griffin came to the wing near where I was sitting and began taking baseline jumpers, his funky release was clear to see (something you can see in this video). He clearly shoots the ball well past the point of his peak, failing to take advantage of his legs in his shot.
Griffin's biggest flaw is his lack of a mid-range shot. He will need to develop more range especially after his springs don't provide the same bounce.
According to Hoopdata, Griffin is shooting 36 percent from 16 to 23 feet.
Why would anyone not immediately sag back any time he touches the ball outside of 10 feet?
Dwight Howard: Free Throws
Identifying Dwight Howard's flaw is about as easy as a free throw.
I'll never understand this. Howard has played basketball nearly every day of his life; he lives it and he will ultimately be paid hundreds of millions of dollars because of the game.
Show the game some respect.
I don't think Howard wants to be a bad free-throw shooter. I just don't think he wants enough to be a good one. This flaw is even more critical because it creates a big weakness for his team in clutch moments.
Howard is shooting less than 50 percent from the free throw line. In the street-ball world, Howard would be forced to sit every other game.
Junior varsity basketball players shoot a higher team free-throw percentage and not even the good ones.
From 10 to 15 feet, according to Hoopdata, Howard is also shooting 50 percent—in a game, with defenders, without time to set up. How is that possible that the percentages are the same?
It proves that there is something mental happening, a dislike for pressure perhaps. Sounds familiar.
Tony Parker: Three-Point Shot
Tony Parker is no longer the kid brother under Gregg Popovich's sturdy roof of success.
Little brother has grown up, maturing his game into the complete paquet. That's French for package (Parker eye-roll).
Still, the youngest of San Antonio's dynamic trio went from being one of the little wheels on the Spurs' tricycle to rolling the direction of the team.
He was the finals MVP in 2007 and his postseason numbers have always been impressive.
But this wheel won't always roll with the same speed. Similar to Dwyane Wade, Parker needs to develop a perimeter game as his legs inevitably slow.
Not all wine ages with grace.
To earn opportunities at the basket later in his career, Parker will need to further develop his three-point shot. He has been better this season behind the arc, shooting 38.5 percent, the best since his rookie season.
Parker needs to continue to strengthen his three-point shot if he wants to keep winning once his older brothers leave the house.
Carmelo Anthony: Rebounding
There's been enough talk this season about Carmelo Anthony's role in the Knicks' improved team defense.
But the biggest flaw of Anthony's game is his rebounding. Someone should tell him that rebounds count toward his point total.
At 6'8" and 235 pounds, with quickness and explosiveness, Anthony is grabbing just 6.2 rebounds per game this season.
That's just one more per game than 6'3", 187-pound Russell Westbrook.
Anthony averages 1.6 offensive rebounds per game, which is the amount that should probably come by accident. With his size and abilities, and a little bit of effort, he should have close to double-digit rebounds per night.
Someone needs to tell Anthony that offensive rebounds might actually add to his scoring.
Dirk Nowitzki: Defense
Dirk Nowitzki isn't himself.
And that's fine; it's hard to support that big of a frame for 34 years.
His numbers have declined and it's clear he's on the other side of his prime. His scoring average last season was the lowest its been since 2000 and he's averaging seven points fewer this season since returning from right knee surgery.
"I'm trying to get myself going and hopefully chase the eighth spot and really make a good run once I'm all the way back," Nowitzki told the Mavericks' team Web site.
But Nowitzki is still the same old burden on defense. He's like the grandmother you need to pack up and bring along to the defensive side of the court.
Knee injuries don't give seven-footers more lateral quickness.
Nowitzki needs to provide much more than 14 points and five rebounds per game to make up for what he allows on defense.
Kyrie Irving: Shots from the Elbow
With Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo on the sidelines, Kyrie Irving earns a label as a top-15 superstar this season.
And with that comes the spotlight of criticism.
Irving's flaw is his mid-range shooting—under the elbow or from free-throw extended—where he shoots his lowest percentage from anywhere on the floor.
From three to nine feet, according to Hoopdata, Irving shoots just 35.6 percent this season. Last year, he only hit at 36.5 percent from that range.
For a player with his style of game, those mid-range shots will be given to protect against the drive or the dish. As a comparison, Chris Paul connects from that same range at 53.2 percent this season.
As Irving's star moves high enough to be seen over the Cleveland Cavaliers' mediocrity, defenses will push him toward this weakness.
James Harden: Athleticism
If James Harden ripped off his beard, would a less threatening scorer be revealed?
Harden isn't as athletic as the prototypical shooting guard. He works through the lane like a great high school football player who happens to play hoops. He has height, length and a scoring savvy.
But he has an ability to create opportunities that other players don't see.
He's shooting more than ever, an effect of his trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets. Due to a higher volume of shots, and fewer open looks playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden's percentage is down from 49.1 percent last season to 43.3 percent this season.
Harden's weakness is an inability to make the athletic plays that allow other superstars at his position to earn open looks from sagging defenders.
The lack of athleticism creates a ceiling for the 23-year-old.
Tim Duncan: More Inside Shots
Any time that I have criticized Tim Duncan, San Antonio Nation has brought an anger uglier than a free throw from their all-time-great big man.
While the form from the line may look ugly, the numbers are not. Duncan is shooting 82.6 percent this season from the line, up from his 69.1 career percentage.
With the 36-year-old Duncan playing at such a high level, the greatest criticism is that he doesn't do more. Duncan shoots 72.3 percent at the rim on 4.4 attempts per game according to Hoopdata.
The Hall of Famer needs to get to the rim more often.
Duncan ranks behind Blake Griffin, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Zach Randolph and even Amare Stoudemire at per-game attempts at the rim.
More attempts may mean more success. Or it may mean dead legs for the playoffs.
Duncan may be saving those efforts for the postseason.
Deron Williams: Adaptability
Standing among a group of NBA reporters before a recent game, a long-time NBA color analyst began spouting off about Deron Williams and how he is incredibly overrated.
While it's unclear how the general consensus rates him to begin with, I don't agree that he is overrated. But I also don’t believe he's a top-five point guard. Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Tony Parker and even Stephen Curry rank ahead of Williams.
Injured Derrick Rose and the now-injured Rajon Rondo would be ranked ahead of Williams if healthy.
The Brooklyn Nets changed coaches and Williams has lifted his numbers in January to 18.8 points on 44.3 percent shooting and 8.5 assists. Williams was below 40 percent shooting through November and December.
The biggest criticism of Williams, who does have one of the league’s better overall games, is his inability to adapt.
He apparently couldn't play within Avery Johnson's system.
That's not a good sign.
What happens when adjustments need to be made to play against distinct opponents? What if opponents force him to play outside of his comfort zone?
If an opponent can take Williams out of the game he prefers, then it's now clear he won't respond well.
Russell Westbrook: Finishing at the Rim
Finishing at the rim is the biggest weakness of Russell Westbrook.
Maybe he's too quick.
Westbrook is finishing just 57.4 percent at the rim according to Hoopdata. To put that in perspective, Tony Parker shoots 67.9 percent at the rim this season and Rajon Rondo finished at 62.1 percent.
Westbrook attacks the rim with speed and control is going to be an issue.
The lack of finishing is a big portion of what's hampering Westbrook's decline to a 42.1 field-goal percentage.
Chris Paul: Knee Issues
Chris Paul is not a phony.
The guy's leadership on the floor is similar to what Peyton Manning brings to a football field. He's a guy you'd hate to play against and he's better at all things point-guard than anyone else at the position.
But if I were an NBA owner, I wouldn't trust my franchise to him.
There is no trusting bad knees. He doesn't wow you with his physique, and that's not saying it's a matter of work ethic. Some guys make the NBA because they look like Barry Bonds combined with Usain Bolt.
And then there's Paul.
The Clippers elite point guard has missed five games this season with a bruised right kneecap, the same knee that Paul had surgery on in 2010.
While the bruise to the floating part of the knee isn't connected to the prior injuries, it can be speculated that there's damage to the knee that is causing more issues than what's being reported.
There are too many examples of guys who have lost the game because of knee issues.
Paul is an ideal NBA player, but his knee has to be a question mark.
Kevin Durant: Inside Strength
There are no tall and skinny superheroes.
Superman never bragged about being able to dust the top of a mantle, and "Lamp Post Man" never existed.
While Kevin Durant's lack of strength obviously doesn't keep him from being the league's best scorer, imagine what he could do if he could also muscle up in the post.
There's something to say for elasticity and the effects of being limber in the lane.
But Durant's 7'5" length creates a high release teamed with quickness and accuracy, and any ability to muscle in the key would make Durant harder to stop than a Kings move to Seattle.
LeBron James: Taking over the Final Moments
The natural side of LeBron James is starting to shine, as displayed in the excited-older-brother tackle on a Miami fan who nailed a half-court heave for $75k.
The pressures of judgment have slipped off as the championship ring slipped on.
He just may be the greatest all-around player of all-time. His talent comes with charisma and character. And if you haven't yet, it's time to forgive his method of leaving Cleveland and enjoy the show.
Enjoy watching a guy who will go down as one of the greatest to ever play.
But while James might be the closest to perfection, he's still missing one piece: clutch buckets.
The ability to win games in the final seconds, or even final minutes, is one of the most valued traits in determining the game's greats.
There is no way to get in the gym and work on this. There's no offseason routine to be done or film to study.
The opportunities to shift the narrative of his last-moment success will come in the postseason, a place James should own for the next decade.
This is not to say James hasn't been one of the better players within the NBA's "clutch" statistical parameters. But James is still not defined as one of the great closers in the game's history.
He could be.
When those moments come, there is a simple solution: do not let those last-second shots be jumpers.
Get to the basket. Grab the ball in the post, attack the rim, and be versatile and unpredictable.
With the ball at the basket, if he continues to develop his post game, he is going to be successful far more than he is going to be stopped.
If James continues to win, hitting clutch shots along the way, he will be mentioned alongside Jordan as the game's greatest player.
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