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Answering your NBA questions: Who's best PF?

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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I rate Karl Malone as the second-best power forward of all time with Tim Duncan at the top of the list. How would you compare the two? — Ryan Cole, Denver, Colo. Malone was much stronger and, in his prime, a half-step quicker. Both were equally great rebounders, with Duncan having slightly better range.
Duncan's offensive game had many more possibilities than Malone's — better spin moves, a better left hand, more potent moves from the right box, and Duncan's effective shooting range was a step or two longer. As expected, Malone's screens were more muscular, and he was especially adept at slipping his screens. Duncan's handle is vastly superior, particularly in face-up situations. Plus his passwork is more reliable, and he's not the turnover machine that Malone was. Because of his strength, Malone could make opponents' feet slide on defense and therefore push them off their favorite post-up spots — something that Duncan is mostly incapable of doing. In addition to his intimidating straight-ahead push, Malone also liked to swipe at the ball when an opponent gathered to shoot. But if this latter tactic was unsuccessful then either a layup was in the offing or another of Utah's bigs was forced to commit a foul. Neither shot-blocking nor rotating were significant aspects of Malone's defensive game plan. Duncan, on the other hand, plays better positional defense against post-up opponents but is more reactive than proactive. However, Duncan is a better shot-blocker and help-defender. Both were undependable at the stripe. But Duncan's biggest advantage is his reliability in the clutch. In far too many win-or-lose situations, Malone would settle for tossing up turnaround jumpers over his right shoulder from the left box — whereas Duncan reaches into his bag of tricks. Here's an example of how little opposing coaches thought of Malone's ability to excel in important games: The Bulls and the Jazz played a total of 12 games over the course of the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals. Through it all, the Bulls' philosophy was to play Malone one-on-one, and he came up with only two games in which his scoring turned the games in Utah's favor. (Of course, when Michael Jordan did two-time Malone in Game 6 of the 1998 series, he came away with the game-winning steal.) A Hall of Fame go-to scorer operating against strictly man-to-man defenses should dominate more than two out of 12 games. Because of Malone's limited offensive repertoire, his gambling defense and his penchant for choking in critical games, I'd certainly rate Duncan higher on the all-time list. In fact, I rank Duncan as the best power forward ever, followed by Kevin McHale and Bob Pettit, with Malone in fourth place. Dave DeBusshere is fifth, followed by Dolph Schayes and Dennis Rodman. How come the Zen Master has never won Coach of the Year, even though he's won 10 titles? — KC, Texarkana, Texas
Actually he did win Coach of the Year in 1996. Why not more? Because the award is determined by the votes of writers and broadcasters, too many of whom have a limited understanding of the game. Indeed, the mere fact of eyeballing a hundred of more games every season does not necessarily make a civilian an expert. And look at the cast of characters who have won the award since Jackson made the grade:
  • Pat Riley for the third time, all of them richly deserved.
  • Larry Bird, whose career on the bench proved him to be slightly more than an adequate coach.
  • Mike Dunleavy, one of the least forceful coaches extant.
  • Larry Brown, another worthy recipient.
  • Rick Carlisle, a good if not great coach.
  • Gregg Popovich, who deserved more COY trophies than the one he received in 2003.
  • Hubie Brown, who attracted the sentimental vote.
  • Mike D'Antoni, whose career exemplifies more flash than substance.
  • Avery Johnson, who's currently unemployed.
  • Sam Mitchell, who's also jobless.
  • Byron Scott, whose job is on the line in the upcoming season.
  • Mike Brown, whom many NBA insiders consider an average coach at best. Notice that of all of the above, only Jackson and Popovich won championships in the same year that they won coaching trophies. So, there are several reasons why Jackson has been so egregiously dissed by the voters:
  • The award is given for performance in the regular season, which is an absurdity. It's akin to declaring the runner who leads the pack at the 20-mile marker of a 26-mile marathon race to be the winner.
  • Too many writers and broadcasters see Jackson's often passive presence on the bench and are convinced that all he does is throw the ball out onto the court and let Jordan, Pippen, Kobe, Shaq, et al, do whatever they want to do.
  • Civilians see Jackson as being arrogant, and the media always favors coaches who seem to be "regular guys" and are good interviews.
  • The voters don't understand that winning when you're supposed to win is an extremely difficult task for any coach in any sport. All of which doesn't necessarily mean that whichever coach wins the championship should be Coach of the Year. However, take a look at the overall performances of some of the award winners listed above:
  • In 1997-98, Bird's Pacers had only the fifth-best regular-season record and were mangled by Jackson's Bulls in the conference finals. (Jackson won the gold ring.)
  • The following season, Dunleavy's Blazers registered the third-best regular-season winning percentage before getting swept by Popovich's Spurs in the conference finals. (Pop won the gold ring.)
  • In 1999-00, Rivers' Magic had the 17th-best regular-season record (or the 13th worst) and failed to make the playoffs. (Jackson coached the championship Lakers.)
  • The Pistons gained the NBA's fifth-best regular-season mark under COY Carlisle in 2001-02 before being clobbered by Boston in the conference semis. (Jackson again.)
  • Mitchell led the Raptors to the eighth-best regular-season record in 2006-07 and then were whipped by the Nets in the opening gambit of the playoffs. (Pop was the ultimate winner.)
  • In 2007-08, Scott's Hornets achieved the fourth-best regular-season record but didn't survive the conference semis against the Spurs. (Rivers led the Celtics to the top.)
  • Last season, Mike Brown's Cavs wound up having one of the most disappointing playoffs in NBA history. (Another ring for Jackson.) The solution? Turn the voting over to the players, general managers and the coaches. You recently compared Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, also saying that John Stockton was the third-best point guard all-time. But what about Bob Cousy? In a lot of ways, Cooz totally changed the game (and the position). On top of this, he has six rings. What keeps him from being No. 1? — Dave Cushing, Plymouth, Mass. There's no question that Cousy was a great passer, who was instrumental in making the assist a glamorous statistic. However, he wasn't a very good shooter, he was relatively slow, and his defense was atrocious. Plus, his behind-the-back dribbles and passes were derivative — from the Harlem Globetrotters as well as from Bobby Davies. In fact, several of his peers feel that Cousy's game was way over-hyped. More importantly, the primary engine behind the winning of those six championships rings was Bill Russell. During Cousy's pre-Russellian seasons in Boston (1950-56), the Celtics' regular-season record was 238-181 — good but not great by any means. More telling was their playoff record during this period, a less than stellar 10-17. Besides Oscar, Magic and Stockton, I believe there were several other points who rank higher than Cousy: Ralph Beard, Walt Frazier, Dennis Johnson, Jason Kidd, Isiah Thomas, Jerry West and Lenny Wilkens. I always thought that Mitch Richmond was an underrated player. How about a Rosen-style breakdown of "Rock's" game? — Chris, Reading, Pa. I agree with you 100 percent. Richmond's defense was mediocre, but he earned his paycheck on the other end of the court. That's because he had:
  • Sufficient strength to back down and shoot over many opponents.
  • A deadly 3-point stroke.
  • Pull-up jumpers that were equally effective going either right or left.
  • The ability to drive both left and right and to spin either way.
  • An accurate fade-away jumper when he turned and faced.
  • An unblockable step-back jumper when he caught the ball in the low-post.
  • The quick feet, the quick release and finishability to be dynamic in transition.
  • A convincing series of pump fakes.
  • The ability to draw fouls by cleverly leaning his body into defenders when shooting.
  • The alertness to make timely weak-side cuts.
  • The aggressiveness to always want (and to get) the ball.
  • The grit to set sturdy screens on big men. With the ball in his hands, Richmond was definitely a viable candidate for the Hall of Fame. It seems to me that the inferior level of fundamental skill development and lack of effort or desire toward basic team-play by many of today's pro players is quite evident. Do you think that any of the following are some of the causes: 1. Poor or inadequate coaching from high school through college? 2. Players who are intoxicated with their athleticism and showboating displays? 3. The big bucks thrown their way that dulls their dedication to team play and self-improvement of basic skills? 4. Less overall maturity than the players in the past, say from the 1960's to the 1980's or so? 5. The fans' desire to be dazzled by flashy dunks and great feats of athleticism? — Spero W. Theodore, Fort Wayne, Ind. Yes.
  • Tagged: Jazz, Nets, Magic, Hawks, Celtics, Jason Kidd, Pelicans, Bulls, Mavericks, Spurs, Pistons, Tim Duncan, Pacers, Mike Dunleavy

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