Friday, February 13, 2009

2009 NBA All-Stars: Where They From?
What Happened to the NYC Ballplayer?

With All-Star Weekend upon us, we wanted to do some quick, simple analysis on the backgrounds of this year's All-Stars - where they came from, how much college ball they played, when they were drafted, how they got to their current teams. Here we go:

Dwyane WadeChicago, IL35Draft
Allen IversonHampton, VA21Trade
Dwight HowardAtlanta, GA01Draft
LeBron JamesAkron, OH01Draft
Kevin GarnettMauldin, SC05Trade
Paul PierceInglewood, CA (L.A.)310Draft
Chris BoshDallas, TX14Draft
Joe JohnsonLittle Rock, AR210RFA/Trade
Danny GrangerMetairie, LA (New Orleans)417Draft
Devin HarrisMilwaukee, WI35Trade
Rashard LewisHouston, TX032UFA
Jameer NelsonChester, PA (Philly)420Draft
Mo WilliamsJackson, MS247Trade
Ray AllenDalzell, SC35Trade

Chris PaulWinston-Salem, NC24Draft
Kobe BryantLower Merion, PA013Draft
Tim DuncanSt. Croix, US V.I.41Draft
Amar'e StoudemireOrlando, FL09Draft
Yao MingShanghai, China01Draft
Dirk NowitzkiWurzburg, Germany09Draft
Pau GasolBarcelona, Spain03Trade
Chauncey BillupsDenver, CO23Trade
Tony ParkerParis, France028Draft
Brandon RoySeattle, WA46Draft
Shaquille O'NealSan Antonio, TX31Trade
David WestGarner, NC/Teaneck, NJ418Draft

A few thoughts:
- It's striking to see just how high these guys were drafted across the board.

In the East, 8 of 14 were top 5 guys, and then a couple others were projected top 5 by many but slipped on draft night (Pierce, Granger). Even J. Nelson and R. Lewis were considered lottery picks by many but slipped. And the two second-rounders (Lewis/Mo Williams) are considered borderline All-Stars this year.

In the West, 7 of 12 were top 6 picks. Stoudemire slipped on draft night, and Kobe/Dirk surely would have been drafted higher if they hadn't been on the early end of the high school/international invasion. And one of the later picks, D. West, is probably the most borderline Star on the club.

- It's also striking to see, as we inch closer to the vaunted FA Class of 2010, that only 2 of this year's 26 All-Stars were acquired by their current teams via free agency, only 1 via the unrestricted variety.

Of course, all it takes is one or two big names to move - the Lakers' most recent championship era was cemented by unrestricted free-agent Shaquille O'Neal, after all - but it seems like it might be risky to be putting all of one's eggs into hoping for a superstar via free agency, especially since the cap rules give such a huge advantage to the incumbent, as Howard Beck of the NY Times so expertly analyzed recently (and those rules did not exist when Shaq jumped from Orlando to L.A., it should be noted).

- Average college experience - East: 1.9, West: 1.6, Overall: 1.8. We realize that there are a bunch of international players included who bring the number down, but that's part of the point: the best players in the world these days do not play much college basketball, which is why the quality of play is so much lower than it was a generation ago.

We also added a few more players who were cited as guys who should have been All-Stars, from some of our preferred analysts, such as John Hollinger, Kelly Dwyer, Kevin Pelton, Marc Stein and Justin Kubatko.

Rajon RondoLouisville, KY
Vince CarterDaytona Beach, FL
Antawn JamisonCharlotte, NC
Zydrunas IlgauskasKaunas, Lithuania
Carmelo AnthonyBaltimore, MD
Al JeffersonPrentiss, MS
Paul MillsapMonroe, LA
Kevin DurantRockville, MD (D.C.)
Deron WilliamsThe Colony, TX (Dallas)
Steve NashVictoria, BC
NeneSao Carlos, Brazil
Manu GinobiliBahia Blanca, Argentina
Jason KiddOakland, CA

We plotted all of these guys onto a Google map to quickly examine the question: Where do the best basketball players in the world come from? (All-Stars in blue, "near All-Stars" in red)

View Larger Map

Depressed Fan had a neat concept last week in its NBA Hometown Heroes post, in which it created teams of players who hailed from each NBA city.

The findings that surprised us most in our own exercise and in the Depressed Fan work is what a hotbed the Deep South of the U.S. is for producing elite players.

Alex K. of Depressed Fan proclaimed that the Charlotte team of CP3, Ray Allen, Josh Howard, Antawn Jamison, David West and KG would be the champion of these city teams. Then a TrueHoop reader from New Orleans e-mailed Henry to note what strong depth that area's team would have, especially by reaching further into that state and neighboring Mississippi.

All the hype is that big urban areas are the primary breeding grounds for great basketball players, but it seems like mid-sized-to-small cities in the Deep South produce more than their fair share.

Speaking of big urban areas, I guess what's been most striking to us in reading Depressed Fan and slapping this map together is the complete dearth of great players hailing from New York City.

Zoom in on our map, and the only guy in the vicinity is David West, and that's a stretch, not only because he's a borderline All-Star, but also because he's representing Teaneck, New Jersey, and it's somewhat charitable to list him there at that, as he moved away to the Raleigh area for high school.

39 players on that map, and not one from the five boroughs.

If we were to include the next level of players who are All-Star caliber but have been hampered by injuries, we'd have Michael Redd (Columbus, Ohio), Kevin Martin (Zanesville, Ohio), Gilbert Arenas (L.A. area), Carlos Boozer (Juneau, Alaska), Tracy McGrady (Auburndale, FL), and Elton Brand (Peekskill, NY).

So, I suppose NYC can claim Elton Brand as an elite player, but that's increasingly questionable, and really, Brooklyn and Queens, that's what you're reduced to? Claiming guys from Teaneck and Peekskill, (in Westchester County, 40 miles out of the city), as your ballers?

Neither of the two Depressed Fan guys thought NYC worthy of being of Top 5 city (and rightly so). Top ballplayers from the city these days are Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Ben Gordon (we're giving you Mount Vernon here), Stephon Marbury, Rafer Alston and Charlie Villanueva.

I guess what's especially notable is that New York guys have historically been distinctive players in the league, with games that were streetwise and savvy after hours and hours of apprenticeship in pickup games on the city's blacktop courts.

New York has always been the breeding ground for star players, from Bob Cousy and Dolph Schayes to Kareem and Dr. J to Tiny Archibald and Lenny Wilkens to Bernard King and Chris Mullin and beyond, and certainly those types of guys are notably absent from today's game.

Beyond that, though, there's always been a distinctive NYC point guard. These guys knew how to get to the rim (can't develop an outside shot in the elements on the playground so you got to get to the rim, the legend goes), and they knew how to play. Go back to Cooz and Tiny and Lenny and Larry Freaking Brown even. Of more recent vintage were guys like Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland, Kenny Anderson, Kenny Smith.

Now? There is nothing special about the New York point guard. More often than not, they actually *don't* come out of the city fundamentally sound and really knowing how to play, how to run a team, as they historically have.

It's a good time for point guards in the NBA right now. There are several strong ones: Paul, Williams, Nash, Billups, B. Davis, Harris, Calderon, Parker, Rondo, Kidd, Rose. None of those players are New Yorkers.

The most notable New York PGs these days are head cases Marbury and Tinsley, being paid to sit on the sidelines. We actually will give Rafer Alston credit - as we do think he has some savvy to his game, but that's of course after many years of impressive work improving his game while in the league. He came out of NY as a streetball legend with no idea how to play organized ball.

What New York basketball produces more than anything else in this era is hype. Hype, hype, hype. Mega-hype. You've got the Felipe Lopezes, the Lenny Cookes, and you've got (easily) the single most over-hyped high-school player of the last 25 years, Sebastian Telfair, yet another present-day point guard who came out of the city with no real idea how to play or how to run a team.

It is hype built off the past, off of the idea that New York is the ultimate breeding ground for players, a notion which has increasingly little evidence of truth in the present.

New York, where you at? What happened to your ballers? As Queens' own Mark Jackson would say, "You're better than that."


At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think New York led on two strengths that other areas couldn't match: a high concentration of kids and a strong basketball culture. Over the years, the growth of AAU teams (and organized athletics in general) and improvement in evaluating young talent lessened those advantages. A talented young player in a smaller town wasn't isolated anymore; now he travels and plays organized basketball against high quality opponents for much of the year. The basketball world has gotten much better at identifying and developing young players-- so much so that the New York model is left in the past.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

Great points, Stumpy. On top of that, I would say that the quality of AAU/summer programs is an increasingly important factor in player development.

I am in Seattle, and a big reason credited for the increasing success of area players in the league is that the players actually get good coaching and structure in their summer programs, as opposed to so many other places where it is a free-for-all, as I suspect it might be in NY.

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those average draft positions really are striking. Kinda reinforces the value of tanking, unfortunately.

The Deep South certainly seems to have more than its share of NBA players in general - see this per capita report from last season.

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