HoopsHabit – Ranking the Best Current NBA Player at Every Age

This is a fun one: Here’s my HoopsHabit article with the best current NBA player at every age.

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2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

Dwyane Wade Leads Miami To Eastern Conference Finals

After Larry Bird called his team “soft” following the Game 5 rout in Miami, the Pacers responded early in Game 6, jumping out to a 13-3 lead and dominating the Heat in the paint. But a spectacular playoff performance from Dwyane Wade and way too many Indiana turnovers gave Miami a 103-95 win on the road to end the series in six (like I predicted) and send the Heat to the Eastern conference Finals.

Wade exploded for 41 points on 17-of-25 shooting while also adding 10 rebounds, singlehandedly keeping the Heat relatively even with the Pacers in the first half by scoring 20 points in the second quarter. The Pacers had taken an 11 point lead in the first quarter as they out-rebounded Miami 14-3 and got 22 of their 28 first quarter points in the paint. But Wade’s brilliant second quarter performance had the Heat down by just two at half. The Heat also got some big help from Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller, who combined for 27 points and seven 3-pointers. LeBron James wasn’t much of a factor early, but helped close out the resilient Pacers down the stretch and finished with 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds. However, as great as Wade was and as helpful as it was for Miami to get a big game out of LeBron, Miller and Chalmers, the Pacers killed their chances with an atrocious 20 turnovers. They also got absolutely nothing out of their bench, who gave up Indiana’s 11 point first quarter lead within minutes and then allowed the Heat to extend a four point lead to 10 before the start of the fourth quarter. Indiana’s starters had a combined +/- of +13; their bench was at -73.  It’s true that the +/- stat doesn’t work cumulatively, but just looking at those number sheds a little bit of light how awful the Pacers’ bench was in this game. Indiana’s starters build leads up, but those leads evaporated as soon as the subs came in, and because those subs had to be taken out right away, the starters didn’t have enough gas left in the tank at the end from playing so many minutes.

Dwyane Wade was simply unstoppable and led the Heat past Indiana and on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

David West led Indiana with 24 points, George Hill had 18 and Danny Granger added 15, but it wasn’t enough to match Wade’s prolific night. Roy Hibbert continued his streak of underperforming, finishing with just 12 points and eight rebounds. Some of the disappointment in Hibbert’s inability to dominate a Miami side without Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem has to fall on Frank Vogel, who didn’t get him enough shots, but the majority is on Indiana’s “All-Star” (don’t even get me started on how Hibbert made the cut but Granger was snubbed as an All-Star). West was dominating the paint and getting good post position against Shane Battier, but Hibbert couldn’t establish good post position against Ronny Turiaf or Joel Anthony, often catching the ball out of the paint and far away from the basket. You combine Indiana’s awful bench, the 20 turnovers, Hibbert’s ineffective post game and his lack of a presence in the paint on the defensive end (Wade was on fire but if you’ve got a 7-footer protecting the basket, a lot of Wade’s drives to the rim shouldn’t be so easy), and it’s no wonder the Heat got the win and the series.

I said all along that without Chris Bosh, the Heat were in trouble (and I still stand by that, Miami doesn’t win the Finals without Bosh on the floor). I said the balanced scoring of the Pacers would give them an advantage over two superstars, and although the Heat advanced, I was pretty much right. Without Miller and Chalmers going off tonight, the Pacers force a Game 7. But the brilliance of Wade and LeBron cannot be denied in the last few games of this series. They simply overpowered Indiana and with a mediocre Hibbert failing to make this series his, the Heat advance to the next round. Indiana should be proud of what it accomplished this year and even in this game, never quitting and staying resilient until the end. They have a bunch of solid pieces, a great coach, a promising future and they gave the Heat a good series. Hopefully Hibbert is more aggressive next year as Danny Granger and Paul George continue to develop. But unfortunately for my sleeper team, two elite superstars look like they’re about to waltz into the NBA Finals.

Danny Granger and the Pacers had a great season, but they killed themselves in Game 6 and Wade took over.

Heat Punish Pacers In Physical Game 5

After the Pacers took a 2-1 series lead, it looked like Indiana was going to be able to run away with this series. Now momentum has completely flopped after the Heat won two games in a row in punishing fashion to take a 3-2 lead. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put on another two-man show, Danny Granger and David West went down with injuries and Miami physically abused the rest of the Pacers in a 115-83 rout in Game 5.

LeBron James led the Heat with 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Dwyane Wade added 28 points. Indiana was in the game in the first half as Danny Granger knocked down three 3-pointers early, but after he landed awkwardly on his ankle on another 3-point attempt, he didn’t return and Miami blew the game wide open. Granger had 10 points before leaving the game and no one other than Paul George and David West reached double digits in scoring. George led the Pacers with just 11 points and West had 10. The Heat ended the half on a 8-2 run after Granger went down and then outscored Indiana by 10 in the third as West left the game right before the fourth quarter.

If Granger’s ankle injury hinders him in anyway for Game 6, the Pacers have no chance.

This was Indiana’s worst playoff game by far. They were out-rebounded 49-35, and whoever has won the battle for the boards in this series has won the game. Almost half of Miami’s 43 field goals were in the paint. The Heat racked up 10 blocks compared to Indiana’s three. Roy Hibbert has completely regressed into a non-factor despite his extreme height advantage over anyone on the Miami Heat. The Pacers shot 33 percent from the field compared to Miami’s 67 percent. Shane Battier outscored Indiana’s leading scorer by knocking down four 3-pointers to finish with 13. Granger and West went down with injuries and Granger is now questionable for Game 6 in Indiana. And to top it all off, the Heat banged up the Pacers even more with a couple of cheap fouls that earned suspensions from the league. In the first half, a hard foul from Tyler Hansbrough on Wade appropriately earned a flagrant one foul, which was the correct call because it was harsh, but Hansbrough made a play on the ball. That foul earned retaliation from Udonis Haslem, who clobbered Hansbrough and made no play on the ball. For some unknown reason, the foul didn’t earn a flagrant foul of any kind, even though it was clearly flagrant two material. And later on in the game when the outcome was all but decided, Dexter Pittman found an opportunity to retaliate on Lance Stephenson for making the choke sign in Game 3 as LeBron missed a free throw. Pittman nailed Stevenson in the throat with an elbow as he was crashing the boards and was seen on camera winking after the foul. Haslem earned a one-game suspension and Pittman was given three.

Losing Pittman is pretty irrelevant since he was only playing in garbage time but losing Haslem might be significant if Roy Hibbert ever wakes up. Haslem has been scoring and rebounding pretty well for the Heat off the bench in the last two games, especially in Game 4 when he helped finish off Indiana in the fourth quarter. However, if Granger and West aren’t at 100 percent for Game 8 in Indiana, the Pacers are finished even without Haslem. Although the Pacers’ bench gave them everything they could ask for in Game 5, Indiana’s starting five couldn’t get the job done. George Hill disappeared with only six points and Hibbert was just as bad with eight. The Pacers need to make serious changes in their play for Game 6 or they will be the sleeper team of the 2012 NBA Playoffs that fell short of accomplishing anything truly impressive.

Udonis Haslem was rightfully punished for his dirty foul on Tyler Hansbrough with a one game suspension.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade Overpower Pacers

Ever since Chris Bosh went down in Game 1, I’ve been saying this series would be a battle between two elite superstars and a team with overall balanced scoring. In Game 4 between the Heat and Pacers, the two superstars won out. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 70 points, 27 rebounds and 15 assists to lead the Heat to a 101-93 win. Danny Granger scored 20 points for the first time in the series, but LeBron and Wade rattled off 38 consecutive points for the Heat during one stretch and tied the series at 2-2.

For Indiana, this was a prime opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 lead with three chances to finish Miami off. Unfortunately for the Pacers, that opportunity was wasted by mediocre performances from Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill. Hibbert finished with an uninspired 10 points and nine rebounds while Hill and West could only muster eight each. It was Indiana’s bench that kept the Pacers in the game, with Darren Collison scoring 16 and Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough adding eight each. But without decent offensive outings from three key Pacers starters, Indiana wasn’t able to take care of business at home and put real pressure on the Heat. Now the momentum has shifted back to Miami for the upcoming Game 5, and the Pacers will be hard-pressed to fend off LeBron and Wade with this sense of renewed confidence.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade completely took over and carried Miami to a Game 4 victory.

Although Danny Granger led the Pacers in scoring, some of the blame for LeBron and Wade’s resurgence in Game 4 has to fall on him. LeBron was rolling early on, but Wade started the game 1-for-8 before a confrontation with Granger (which resulted in a technical on Indiana’s leading scorer) fired Wade up for the second half. Now I defended Granger’s tough guy act at first, because the Pacers needed that “never back down” attitude in this series, which is what he was providing. Indiana doesn’t have the star power that Miami has, but a team with balanced scoring that finds its rallying cry is especially dangerous, and I think Granger’s standing his ground set an example for his teammates. Granger’s confrontations with LeBron seemed petty and pointless on the surface, but since he wasn’t exactly giving his team stellar shooting nights, the macho routine was establishing the tone for the Pacers. Unfortunately for Granger and Indiana, that plan backfired and shook Wade out of his mediocre state of play. Wade came alive after that, scoring 22 of his 30 points in the second half. Adding that to LeBron’s 40-point performance and it’s no wonder the Heat came out on top.

I’ve been saying that without Bosh, it would take a Herculean effort from both LeBron and Wade to overpower the balanced scoring of Indiana. It turns out Game 4 was exactly that. However, Miami also got a big fourth quarter boost to maintain their narrow lead from Udonis Haslem, who knocked down a few open jumpers when the Pacers started double teaming Wade and LeBron whenever they touched the ball. Haslem finished with 14 off the bench, eight of which came in the fourth. The Heat definitely benefitted from subpar performances from Hill, West and Hibbert, but LeBron and Wade showed a great amount of leadership as they put on a complete two-man clinic in the third quarter to reclaim the lead. I still believe Indiana’s balanced scoring and team play will give Miami problems, (even if LeBron and Wade have more prolific nights like this) but they’ve lost momentum and now that the Heat have home-court advantage for two out of three potential games, we could have an extremely competitive series on our hands.

Danny Granger had a better scoring night, but may have been the spark that ignited the Miami Heat in the second half.

Pacers Pound Miami In Game 3

The Indiana Pacers used balanced scoring and offensive depth to rout the Miami Heat at home in Game 3, taking a 2-1 lead on the series as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James struggled to carry the offensive load again. Indiana had big back-to-back quarters in the second and third (outscoring Miami 52-29 over that span) and despite a breakout performance from Mario Chalmers, the Pacers prevailed in convincing fashion at home with a 94-75 win.

The Heat were reeling after LeBron and Wade choked down the stretch in Game 2, but after Game 3 they’re in serious trouble of losing this series. George Hill led the Pacers with 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but the rest of Indiana’s starting lineup wasn’t far behind. Roy Hibbert finally had a terrific all-around game with 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks. Danny Granger also benefitted from playing in front of the Pacers’ home crowd and had 17 points and seven rebounds. David West chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds and Paul George added nine. Darren Collison only had seven off the bench, but his baskets came at a critical stretch in the fourth that kept the Pacers’ lead in double digits. The Pacers also out-rebounded the Chris Bosh-less Heat by a margin of 52-36. Nobody gave my sleeper team Indiana any credit in this series, even after Bosh went down. But it looks like the matchup problems I pointed out in my series predictions are starting to really come to life without Miami’s All-Star power forward on the court.

Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert had improved offensive nights and got the job done defensively, giving Indiana a 2-1 lead.

In the end, the outcome of this game was thoroughly predictable, especially considering how poorly Dwyane Wade shot the ball. Indiana had all the momentum heading into the night after Miami’s complete collapse in Game 2, which made the message known loud and clear: You might have two superstars, but we have balance and depth. Those two things are going to be tough for Miami to overcome if they continue to get so little out of their supporting cast. Mike Miller only had six points, yet another disappointing performance for someone so highly paid. Shane Battier and Dexter Pittman, two starters, put up goose eggs. But the worst was Wade, who was 2-for-13 from the field for only five points while also committed five turnovers. LeBron James, who had a solid first half with 16 points, finished with only 22 after an extremely quiet third quarter. LeBron hit back-to-back shots in the fourth quarter to try and rally his troops, but Indiana kept scoring to keep their double-digit advantage and Miami couldn’t put anything together as the lead extended to over 20. Mario Chalmers led the Heat with 25 points and Joel Anthony pitched in 10 off the bench, but once again, Miami’s supporting cast failed to show up. You combine that with Wade’s appalling offensive night and LeBron being virtually silent in the second half and there’s no question why Indiana turned the game into a rout.

Without Chris Bosh, this series has turned into a battle between depth and two superstars. Since one didn’t show up, Indiana’s balanced scoring completely overpowered the Heat. Home court advantage certainly didn’t hurt, as Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert came out firing and had much greater confidence on their own floor. Hill proved how deadly he can be when his shot is on and West and Paul gave solid contributions. Unless LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put on heroic performances in another tough road game in Indiana, this series could very well be over. A lot of people undervalued Bosh and downplayed his injury, saying it would just clear the way for LeBron and Wade to take over. But they seriously underestimated the impact Bosh had down low, and now that Hibbert and West are both going hard in the paint, the Heat have little chance. But the impact of Bosh’s injury doesn’t stop there. Bosh’s absence means LeBron has been moved to the power forward position to take on the task of guarding David West. It’s true that LeBron can “guard all five positions,” but that doesn’t mean he can shut down the physical West without their being drawbacks. West is physically wearing LeBron down and tiring him out, which explains his second half struggles in the past two games. Plus, LeBron switching to West means that Granger isn’t being shut down by the best defender on the court. West can overpower LeBron and Granger is starting to increase his offensive production at the same time. At this point, it would take a poor shooting night from the Pacers and transcendent games from LeBron and Wade for Miami to have any hope of tying the series in Game 4. But with Granger and Hibbert seemingly coming back to life, the Heat really have their hands full now.

Mario Chalmers had a big night, but without D-Wade it didn’t matter. Can Chalmers bring it again in Game 4?

Resilient Pacers Take Game 2 On The Road

It wasn’t pretty, but the Indiana Pacers found a way to win on the road against the Chris Bosh-less Heat and evened the series at one game apiece with a 78-75 victory. Although the Pacers didn’t gain a huge advantage in the middle with Bosh on the sidelines, they kept their playoff hopes alive by taking care of business and splitting games on Miami’s floor. Now the series heads back to Indiana where the Pacers will try to take advantage of playing at home and possibly take a lead in the series.

When Chris Bosh went down in Game 1 with a low abdominal strain, the sports world seemed to be divided: half (including me) thought the Heat’s chances of winning a title or even winning this series were seriously hurt by Bosh’s injury, while the other half believed it would just clear the way for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to shine. Game 2 was a little bit of both, but only because both teams shot the ball so poorly. The Pacers shot under 38 percent and the Heat were even worse at just under 35 percent. The Heat were also an appalling 1-for-16 from downtown, so even though LeBron finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, six steals and five assists to complement Dwyane Wade’s 24 points, six rebounds and four assists, the Heat couldn’t get anything out of their supporting cast to beat the better all-around team effort from Indiana.

The Pacers limited the Heat’s scoring to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with Chris Bosh out.

The Pacers had a serious scoring drought in the second quarter before putting a run together to head into the locker room down by five. In the third quarter, however, Indiana came to life thanks to David West and Danny Granger, who picked up the offensive intensity. West led Indiana with 16 points and 10 rebounds while Granger, who had another poor shooting night but found open shooters and played quality defense on LeBron, pitched in 11 points and six rebounds. The Pacers outscored the Heat 28-14 in the third and took a nine point lead heading into the fourth. Miami battled back in the game’s final minutes and it could have gone either way, but neither team seemed ready to seize control of the game by making their free throws. LeBron James missed three free throws in the fourth, including two back-to-backs that would have given the Heat the lead with 54 seconds to play. George Hill could have put the game away for the Pacers with 14 seconds left, but only made one of two and gave Mario Chalmers a chance to erase Indiana’s three point advantage at the buzzer (which was a really bad decision on Erik Spoelstra’s part). Fortunately for Indiana, it didn’t fall and the Pacers took Game 2 on the road.

Indiana winning this game was huge not only because they gave themselves a chance to compete in this series, but also because they did it without Roy Hibbert having a big impact. Hibbert has really struggled on the offensive end in the postseason, which is inexcusable considering the vast size advantage he’s had on opponents so far. At some point, the Pacers won’t be able to contend without Hibbert having a few prolific scoring nights, but for now, being able to win without Hibbert putting up big numbers was a huge accomplishment despite the fact that Miami blew numerous chances to finish them off at home. With no Chris Bosh, Frank Vogel needs to find a way to exploit Miami’s weakness down low and get both Hibbert and West involved. Danny Granger still needs to shoot the ball better and 17 turnovers is way too many to give a Heat team that thrives off transition buckets. But Indiana’s defensive strategy of focusing on shutting down Wade worked for the most part and showed the world that a Miami Heat team without Bosh is very vulnerable against a complete team with multiple contributors (side note: that no-call when Wade looked like he was fouled by Dahntay Jones was a great no-call. Stop flopping, Wade. You’re better than that). George Hill and Paul George both stepped up, Granger’s contribution was slightly improved and Leandro Barbosa had a solid game off the bench, as opposed to the Heat, who had no one score more than five points other than LeBron and Wade. With home court advantage, Indiana needs to capitalize and get big games from Granger and Hibbert while only allowing LeBron and Wade to hurt them on the other end. If they do these things at home, Miami will have their hands full against this dangerous Indiana squad.

Danny Granger had a better game but Indiana still needs more out of him.