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Wednesday, 11-May-2011 07:22 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Top five reasons Dirk Nowitzki is better than Kobe Bryant right

If someone had told you that Dirk Nowitzki(notes) was better than Kobe Bryant(notes) about a month ago, you probably would've thought they were either ignorant, crazy or some deficient combination of both.

Then again, what would you have thought had that person predicted the San Antonio Spurs would struggle against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round?
Probably the same.

As you can tell by now, the NBA regular season is full of mirages. But, what's even more important to realize is that the people that feed you information are just as susceptible as you are to confuse these illusions with reality.

Moral: Question everything you hear and read. Even this article.

On the matter of Kobe vs. Dirk, I think the case is open and shut. If you've watched the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers play this season and looked at the metrics concerning player value, the bottom line is that Dirk Nowitzki is simply better than Kobe Bryant at this point.

Here's why:

5. Defense

According to advanced regular season statistics, Dirk is as good as Kobe at keeping his opponent from scoring per minute and while Kobe has an edge in steals and reading the passing lanes, Dirk has an advantage on the boards.

So, based on the regular season numbers, they are about even defensively, but Dirk gets the nod on defense for the spectacular job he did on Pau Gasol(notes) recently and the atrocious job Kobe did running around screens all series and playing one on one defense.
When it mattered the most, Dirk increased his defensive intensity and Kobe got worse.

Note: I am aware that Kobe was selected to the all-defensive first team for a ninth time this year, but to me that says a lot more about what a farce that award is than Kobe's defensive talents anymore. Dwyane Wade(notes) is younger, stronger and faster than Kobe. He gets a lot more steals, rebounds and blocks. Somehow, Wade didn't even make the all-defensive second team.

It's baloney.

4. Clutch

Yet another facet of the game where one would expect Kobe to dominate everyone in the NBA, but he actually falls well short of Dirk's most recent clutch numbers.

In the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Kobe averaged his usual 45 percent from the field and actually shot a little worse from the three point line at about 29 percent. But, with less than five minutes left in close games, Kobe shot 25 percent from the field and 0 percent from three. That's right, ZERO. Kobe was one of the worst clutch players in these playoffs and a burden for the Lakers if you consider that his clutch plus or minus is -56.

Dirk, however, has had one of the greatest postseasons in NBA history in the clutch. As if his unbelievable shooting percentages of 50 percent from the field and 60 percent from long distance were not enough, he has elevated his game to historic levels during crunch time, shooting over 56 percent and making 100 percent of his clutch threes.

3. Scoring Ability

Dirk's size and accuracy make him a more versatile and dangerous offensive weapon than Kobe. He can fade-away over anyone in the NBA from anywhere on the floor at a much higher clip than Kobe. He's also an infinitely better wide open shooter than Kobe. And, even though Kobe is still one of the best post players in the NBA and is more agile than Dirk, his size and tendency to miss a high volume of shots make him someone you'd much rather face than Dirk.

Because of his offensive uniqueness, you wouldn't just rather Dirk had the ball at the end of games, you'd want him with the ball over Kobe just about every single time.

2. Rebounding

One of the most important reasons great frontline players tend to be more valuable than perimeter players is rebounding. Historically, only teams with strong rebounders win titles. Recently, the San Antonio Spurs had David Robinson and Tim Duncan(notes), the Chicago Bulls had Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman, the Miami Heat had Shaquille O'Neal(notes) and Alonzo Mourning(notes) and the Lakers have had Andrew Bynum(notes), Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom(notes).

Dirk averaged 7.0 rebounds compared to Kobe's 5.1 this season. In the playoffs, Dirk has raised his total to 8.4 per game, while Kobe still averaged exactly 5.1 boards.

Notice the past tense on Kobe's stats.

1. Efficiency

The most glaring discrepancy between both future Hall of Famers, however, is in efficiency. If you study a shooting analysis of both players, you might be surprised to observe that Dirk is more efficient from every single spot on the floor.

Nowitzki shoots better around the basket, anywhere in the restricted area, in the paint, from the mid-range, corner threes and threes above the break.

Compare Dirk's percentages from the charity stripe, behind the arc and the field and you'll see Dirk dominates Kobe Bryant historically and recently.

And you know what? If both had played the exact same way, but the Dallas Mavericks had lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, we would still be perpetuating the Mamaba Myth and Dirk would continue to be one of the most underrated all time greats to ever play the game.

For once, I'm fine with joining the results-based parade.

Saturday, 7-May-2011 08:36 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Idle NFL hands are sometimes devil's playthings

The latest version of the NFL's lockout has allowed some of the sport's personalities to take advantage of unexpected free time. While some, like Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, are organizing team workouts in anticipation of this labor dispute being settled before training camp, others are finding unique ways to pass the time.

Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski has taken to beating people up. He's 4-0 in his professional boxing career.

Steelers wideout Hines Ward has spent the last few weeks shaking his moneymaker on "Dancing With the Stars." (I'm pulling for Kirstie, by the way.)

Former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and former Philadelphia tight end Chad Lewis are preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is attempting to qualify for the U.S. Open (again). Plus, he's reportedly getting married at the end of the month.

Then there are those who haven't had it as good during this work stoppage, players who would benefit from not having so much free time in the spring.

Like Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who drew the wrath of some angry Americans with his post-bin Laden musings on ... you guessed it: Twitter. After President Obama revealed to the world that bin Laden had been killed, the AFC's rushing champion tweeted, in regard to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks: "I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."

Mendenhall once again drew the ire of some in the public, with his post coming just a few months after he agreed with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who likened life as an NFL player to that of a slave.

Come again? I don't recall Kunta Kinte pimping an Escalade. I never saw Chicken George on "MTV Cribs."

At least Mendenhall is up on current events. Dallas running back Tashard Choice expressed on Twitter Sunday night that he was frustrated that CNBC's "To Catch a Predator" was being pre-empted. He later admitted he hadn't heard about bin Laden's death yet. "My bad my tweet people osama bin laden being dead is better news,'' he tweeted.

Speaking of the Prez, when he said, "We got him" to his advisers, was he referring to bin Laden or Trump?

Family values?

And what about the curious case of Aqib Talib? The Tampa Bay cornerback turned himself in to authorities last month for allegedly firing a gun at his sister's boyfriend — a few seconds after his mom allegedly took a few shots at the same guy with the same gun. Police said Talib also attempted to pistol-whip the boyfriend.

It's sad when the cops arrest you for gangster behavior, and even sadder when you've witnessed your mom pop a cap. On the bright side, it's good to know that the family that sprays together stays together.

Off the hook

Great news for former Longhorns quarterback Chris Simms, who was acquitted of driving while baked charges by a Manhattan jury this week.

Simms' buddy refuted the allegations of a cop who described Simms as "zombie-like."

The arresting officer also said Simms admitted to taking four puffs of marijuana in the car.

Simms denied the allegation, and his friend took the stand and testified to smoking pot in Simms' car. Now, I'm not saying the friend lied in court, but I can't help but wonder if he "took the hit" for his boy.

Wednesday, 4-May-2011 06:11 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Malcolm Williams is packing his bags for the NFL after unlikely

Three months from now, Malcolm Williams may go to his first day of NFL training camp and miss a tackle, blow an assignment, be cut and never play football again.
He'll slip through the cracks of everyone's memories, remembered only, if he's lucky, as a backup on a Rose Bowl-winning team.
That is reality.
Williams, however, isn't concerned about reality because right now he has no grasp of it.
The former TCU backup cornerback is stuck somewhere else.
"I'm living in a dream right now," said Williams, who was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 219th overall pick in the seventh round of the NFL Draft Saturday afternoon. "It's the best thing that can happen to me."
Williams, a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College, made no starts at safety or cornerback in his two years at TCU, playing behind starter Jason Teague his senior year. The Grand Prairie native appeared in every game in 2010, mainly on special teams, though, where he led the Frogs with 12 tackles.
More surprising than the fact Williams was drafted while the guy in front of him on the depth char wasn't was how Williams ended up on the TCU depth chart to begin with.
A star in high school at South Grand Prairie, Williams was named Texas 5A Defensive Player of the Year. The 5'10'' cornerback signed with Oklahoma but failed to make the cut academically his senior year of high school.
"I had some big shoes to fill when I went up to Oklahoma," Williams said. "But I ended up not qualifying so I had to sit out a year."
Williams said he took the summer and fall after his senior year off, studied hard, but failed to qualify academically again.
For six months, Williams worked at D/FW International Airport collecting bags – an unlikely destination for a four-star recruit one year out of high school.
Then, around mid-April, Williams got a call.
It was Trinity Valley head coach Brad Smiley asking Williams if he'd like to play for the Trinity Valley Cardinals in the fall.
"Mr. Malcolm Williams, I hear you don't have a home," Smiley told Williams. "I'll give you one if you want it."
Smiley told Williams if he earned his GED before summer practices, he'd have a spot for him at Trinity Valley.
Williams jumped at the chance and quickly got his GED, something, he said, he wished he could've done as a freshman in high school.
"It was so easy (getting my GED)," Williams said. "I got my GED, reported at the beginning of the summer and that's all she wrote from there."
Williams was named Junior College National Defensive Player of the Week after a Trinity Valley upset win over Georgia Military his freshman year. His sophomore season he placed second in the nation with five interceptions.
His two years of work at TVCC earned him a scholarship to TCU in 2009, where he immediately made an impact on special teams while serving as the backup safety.
Williams said he knew going into his senior year he wasn't going to start over Teague, so he planned on catching the eye of an NFL team any way he could.
"I was going to go ahead and ball out at special teams and do really good at my pro day and maybe I'd get a shot," Williams said.
That shot came March 10 at the TCU Pro Day.
After pressing 16 bench press reps of 225 lbs and jumping a 42'' vertical, Williams said he knew he'd have to have a good 40-yard dash time to finish the day strong.
"I was praying ‘please let me run a 4.4,'" Williams said. "Ran a 4.4. I impressed myself let alone the NFL coaches."
Even though Williams never started a game in his two years at TCU, his pro day performance came as no surprise to Horned Frog head coach Gary Patterson.
"He's an unbelievable athlete," Patterson said. "He just had to play behind a great corner in Jason Teague. He, more than anybody, epitomizes what we said this place is all about."
Now that Williams has an invite to the Patriots' training camp, he'll have a chance to make some unexpected income that will go a long way in supporting his wife, his two-year-old daughter and a second child expected in September.
"It's going to help me support them," Williams said. "That's the main key about that."
Patterson said one of the joys of having his players get drafted is they will get an opportunity to earn and save hundreds of thousands of dollars straight out of college.
"The amount of money you can make and put away is unbelievable," Patterson said. "This is a chance to change their lives."
Williams offered a simple, timeless phrase to sum up his journey from airport bag collector to NFL draftee.
"Hard work pays off," Williams said. "That's all you can really say."

Tuesday, 26-Apr-2011 07:43 Email | Share | | Bookmark
NFL Draft 2011: Mark Ingram vs. Emmitt Smith

Mark Ingram is often compared to Emmitt Smith when analysts search for the right mold to best fit Alabama's lone Heisman Trophy winner.

Ingram might have his image on a video game coming out of college, but Smith was the focus of one in 1995 after cashing in on his NFL success.

Coming out of the University of Florida, scouts doubted Smith's potential and he was often labeled too small and too slow for the NFL.

Smith, of course, enjoyed an NFL career that landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he collected three Super Bowl rings in the 1990s with the Dallas Cowboys. He became the first NFL player with five consecutive 1,400-yard rushing seasons, and he is the NFL's all-time career rushing leader with 18,355 yards. His career spanned two decades lasting 15 seasons before his retirement in 2005.

Ingram, who also wears No. 22, has been compared to Smith in terms of size, speed, strength and potential. Alabama coach Nick Saban made the comparison last week on an NFL Network appearance.

Ingram has gone through the rigors of physical testing including plenty of questions, specifically about a knee injury that required surgery and forced him to miss two games to start the 2010 season. Ingram rebounded to play 11 games with 158 carries for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns.

In recent interviews, Ingram has said his knee is "100 percent." What does his future hold, and can he live up to the comparisons? Only time will tell.

Tail of the tape

Emmitt Smith
Positon: Running back
Height: 5-9
Weight: 210
Round: 1st
Pick: 17th
Team: Dallas Cowboys
Accolades: Pro Football Hall of Fame; College Football Hall of Fame
College: Played three seasons at Florida for Galen Hall; turned pro in 1990 after Steve Spurrier was hired
College rushing stats: 3,928 yards, 36 touchdowns
Video game: Emmitt Smith Football was made for Super Nintendo and was released in Nov. 1995

Mark Ingram
Height: 5-9
Weight: 215
Round: Projected 1st round
Pick: TBA
Team: TBA
Accolades: Heisman Trophy
College: Played three season at Alabama where he became the Crimson Tide's first Heisman Trophy winner in 2009, and guided the Tide to its 13th national title
College rushing stats: 3,261 yards, 42 touchdowns
Video game: Ingram will appear on the cover of NCAA Football 2012, made and distributed by EA Sports

Saturday, 23-Apr-2011 06:59 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Rangers' task difficult, but playoff comebacks becoming more com

To have a 9.6 percent chance at something, well, those are pretty slim odds. Unless, for example, you were told you'd have a 9.6 percent chance of hitting the lottery. Then you'd think those odds were pretty good.

Stanley Cup history tells us that 9.6 percent of the teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series have come back to win the series. That's what the Rangers face going into Game 5 today in Washington. Slim chance, right?

Well, maybe. Or maybe it's not as tough as it once was. In the 240 series in which a team trailed 3-1, only 23 successful comebacks have occurred. But 21 of those have happened since 1987. Two of them happened last season, when these very same Capitals blew a 3-1 lead to Montreal — and one of those last season was the third-ever comeback from 3-0, with Philadelphia doing it to Boston.

Just two years ago, the Capitals did it to the Rangers. That was the only time the Rangers were ever involved in a 3-1 comeback series. The Caps have been in six of them, coming back to win twice, choking up the 3-1 lead four times — which makes the task of closing, for a team that's been a playoff bust two years running, that much taller.

And, as we speak, it sure looks like defending Cup champ Chicago is threatening Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver, having rebounded from a 3-0 hole to win the last two games convincingly and force a Game 6 in Chicago.

"Yeah, there's certainly a lot of examples as (recently) as last year, as close as (Thursday) night with a team down 3-0, now making it 3-2," Rangers captain Chris Drury said. "I think it's changed a bit since I started just because the gap has narrowed between an eighth-place team and a first-place team."

The gap between the Rangers, No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, and top-seeded Washington has been narrow, with the Capitals winning a pair of overtime games and the series more even than 3-1 suggests.

"I mean, years ago ... it just didn't happen," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "But it's happened. I wouldn't say frequently, but you probably know how often it's happened in the last few years.
"But, honestly, I'm not looking at anything like that. I'm looking at our next game, and my gut tells me we're going to have a good game. We're ready to play. I just have a really good feeling."

The Rangers are 0 for 14 in coming back from 3-1 down, and in each of the last five instances (and 10 times overall), they lost Game 5.

This team is different, and the most important guy on the ice, goalie Henrik Lundqvist — who, by the way, was snubbed by NHL GMs and was not among the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy announced Friday — believes it can happen.

"I think you're going to see even more (comebacks) moving forward," he said. "You see what happened last year, and this year, teams ... it can change so fast because the difference between teams is so small. Maybe in the past, if you had a 3-1 lead, it usually meant the other team was a lot better. I don't think that's the case anymore.

"It's more about finding ways to win games. This series has been very tight. It could have been a different story here with some luck or whatever. Yeah, nothing is impossible anymore, and we definitely see this as a possible, achievable test."

One of the theories about the comebacks is that once a team suffers its third loss, it sheds some pressure and plays more loosely.

"I mean, I can't really say the pressure's off," Lundqvist said. "We have to win, or else we're out. So we still have pressure. But knowing that, if we win (Game 5), I know they're going to have a lot of pressure coming back to New York. So that's exciting. Like I say, you try to twist everything so it benefits you, it motivates you to, 'OK, let's just go in and focus on this game, and if we win that one ... ' "

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