Rise of the Spaniard

NBA Finals concluding thoughts:

No playoff opponent was able to follow the recipe for defeating the Lakers despite Bynum's bad knee because the exceptional play of their 2 main stars wouldn't allow for it.

Over at WagesofWins they have the Wins Produced breakdown for the Finals. Credit Kobe Bryant for this fact that despite shooting horrendously in game 7 and at only an average level in Boston he was still more productive than any single Celtic because he found ways to contribute value. Like grabbing 15 rebounds in the game 7 comeback or (not measured by WinsProduced) murdering Ray Allen's legs by demanding that his full energy be expended on chasing the alleged MVP.

So, Kobe Bryant was better in this series than I've given him credit for and good enough to warrant some consideration as an MVP candidate. Of course, the real Laker hero was Pau Gasol.

Evidently infuriated by the Spanish upset at the hands of the Swiss, Pau Gasol unleashed a 19-18-4 game 7 with only 1 turnover, 2 fouls and 2 blocks. His shooting against the Celtics was not phenomenal in the contest but the Lakers 53-40 rebounding victory in that game achieved by Gasol and Bryant was the difference maker for the final contest and the overall series.

In the other 3 Laker victories Gasol had a near triple double in game 6 (17 points, 13 boards, 9 assists as well as 3 blocks), a double-double in game 3 (13-10) and a 23-14 in game one. He begun and ended the finals with a bang and was the true MVP of both the playoffs and the finals.

In fact, Pau Gasol's 2010 campaign (along with the decline of certain other PF-Cs) vaulted him to the top of the big man rankings in the NBA. The 5 best 2010 seasons for PF/C's measured by Wins produced are as follows:

1). Dwight Howard: .376 WP48, 22.27 wins produced. They gotta get help in Orlando for the big man.

2). Pau Gasol: .310 WP48, 15.52 wins produced. Kobe produced 9 wins in a down year (injury) but obviously picked it up in the playoffs. Odom produced the 2nd most wins in the regular season but was less of a consistent star in the playoffs save for the Phoenix series.

3). Tim Duncan: .309 WP48, 15.69 wins produced. Due to a healthy season he was still more productive than Gasol. His consistent excellence, rather than any particular heights, makes him a candidate for the ten greatest players of all time. If he keeps this pace up for another season or 2 he passes Garnett again in my book and locks up his place in the Pantheon of NBA stars.

4). Marcus Camby: .294 WP48, 18.83 wins produced. Just ask the Russell Celtics, defense and rebounding matters.

5). Carlos Boozer: .293 WP48, 16.32 wins produced. If you check out the better Jazz seasons in the last 5 years you'll find that the healthy, strong Boozer seasons are the strongest Utah seasons...You aren't surprised?

Also of note is Knickerbocker David Lee who had a .275 WP48 and produced 17.3 wins. If the OC Thunder could sign him this offseason, keep Krstic and Green on the bench more and roll out Lee with Ibaka...

Anyways Pau Gasol is the best player on the Lakers now and one of the greatest in the league. For the all-important matter of Kobe's legacy this means a few things:

The argument for player worth based on championships achieved as the best player on the winning squad is a heavily flawed metric that has been used to knock Kobe down for the fact that his first 3 rings came riding on the coattails of Shaq's postseason rampages. Well, his 3 finals appearances in the last 3 years have all had a strong correlation to the presence of our favorite Spaniard and as I've just detailed this new ring was obtained behind Gasol's effort, not the mamba's.

Kobe has always required a dominant big man (like most any non-PF/C championship start not named Magic or Jordan) to win rings. This isn't a serious knock on Kobe, it's a simple fact in the NBA. In a tall man's game the easiest path to baskets, defending baskets, and winning games is to have a tall guy with athleticism/high skill level.

The classic argument that you need 2 hall of fame players to win a finals is obviously not necessarily the truth but it's definitely true that championship teams are typically built around the production of 2 stars. If Gasol keeps up this pace, Kobe maintains his current level, and Bynum enjoys a healthy season/postseason then the Lakers have the primary ingredient for yet more championships. Suck.

On that exciting note,

World Cup:

Check out Vasherized's nice bit on the US-Slovenija matchup over at pitchmen. We got screwed, as you've probably heard, but luckily England screwed the pooch against Algeria and made the 2 Uncle Sam's army's goals that were not disallowed a valuable asset in tie-scenarios.

Apart from their desperate need to give up early goals and always play as the underdog or from behind, the US team has actually been one of the more impressive squads I've watched to this point. A win against Germany in the first knockout round is still not money in the bank but by finishing first in this group the US could instead draw Serbia or Ghana with only Mexico or Nigeria looming in the 2nd round instead of Argentina who would sacrifice Tim Howard to the sun and send his head down a pyramid after Messi tore the heart from the chest of the Yank defense.

Said defense has varied from a strong, nearly impregnable fortress with Howard holding the gate to an imitation of Texas defending Baylor on the hardwood and losing guys in the Baylor lay-up line. Demerit has been pretty solid but Onyewu has not consistently been the defensive star he is capable of being due in large part because of the long injury recovery time that preceeded this tournament.

Overall Spain looked better against Honduras and combined with Brazil, Netherlands and Argentina should be the frontrunners for the Cup. I still like Kaka and co. to finish on top.

Football:

I happened into Sam Acho a few weekends ago and asked him about the possible transition to defensive tackle, to which his answer was simply "ends baby, always ends." So that might be the end of the Oak, Jones, Randall, Acho d-line speculation on my part that would seem to put the most talent on the field. However we still should expect to see it in occasional 3rd down packages where Muschamp loads up on pass-rushers.

In situations where Willy is only interested in filling the field only with pass-rushers and pass-defenders he would have a deep well to choose from this upcoming season. Hypothetically you could see the aforementioned line with Hicks and Jeffcoat (or whoever proves to be the best pass-rusher, maybe Emmanuel or Johnson) as "linebacker" and then a loaded secondary.

The zone-blitz and stunting potential with so many athletes and man-coverage stars on the field is enough to make Gary Pinkel cry himself to sleep. With so much solid talent it allows Muschamp to do what he excels at, creating pressure without sacrificing in the back 7 while the excellence at corner could also allow for extra heat from the secondary.

When you have front-7 guys that can drop into coverage or blitz mixed with defensive backs that can blitz it leads to a veritable hell for Big 12 offenses where most reads are made before the snap and quarterbacks don't respond well to making quick reads while Nigerians bear down on them.

All in all this should be the best pass-defense Texas has fielded in the Mack era, expect another multiple interception game from Sooner QB as Muschamp keeps that tradition growing.

While it was exciting to think of getting Jones, Oak, and Acho on the field at the same time on an every down basis keeping Acho at end protects him as one of the main studs for the 2010 squad. Over at ESPN's Big 12 blog Ubben, has been ranking the Big 12's best and placed Acho 15th behind Jeremy Beal at 11.

I don't see much difference between them but it seems to fair to place the slightly more accomplished Beal ahead. On the other hand I'm unconvinced that the three players ranked between them will be more highly regarded than Acho after his final campaign.

I've been sold on Acho since his sophomore year when he was a loose bull in open practices chasing down running backs and swatting fumbles even after the play was supposed to be dead. His play off the bench that year did nothing to cool me down as he garnered 4.5 sacks in limited action and had a hilarious gentleman's handshake routine with Eddie Jones after they both devoured what they found remaining in the backfield during 4rth quarter romps.

Obviously last year proved any positive speculation on Acho ocho uno to be well founded. While he didn't get the All-conference or national attention of Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston, neither did he get to be paired with either of them as he was always on the other side of the defensive formations. If he gets to stick with 2009 partner Randall this season you can expect mayhem from that side this season along with the ensuing accolades that are reserved for seniors and people with preseason expectations.

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