Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Shock Wave" Players

During the Spurs-Nuggets sob fest tonight (and really, it wasn't just Duncan, but both teams, the fans, everyone), there was a moment that struck me as being bigger than the game at hand. Midway through the third quarter Tony Parker took an odd step on defense and went down clutching his knee. He turned out to be fine, sprinting at full speed two plays later, but for a second it looked kind of dicey. And it made me wonder which injuries would most radically alter the playoffs. This isn't looking at the most valuable or even the most indispensable players (although that is part of it), but rather looking at the overall impact on the postseason.

For instance, Chris Webber suffered a devastating knee injury during the 2003 Playoffs, which led to the Mavs beating the Kings, then losing to the Spurs, who went on to beat the Nets in the worst NBA finals in recent memory. If Webber stays healthy, it seems at least possible that it would have been the Kings getting some trophy love (I think that was during the trophy love ad campaign, but maybe not). Same goes for D-Wade and his mysterious side injury during the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals. These are the types of injuries that change the whole landscape of the playoffs.

And here are the 10 injuries that would cause the biggest shock waves this year:

1. Amare Stoudemire. In my mind, Steve Nash is the MVP of not only the Suns, but the entire league. That said, it is Amare that looms largest right now. With Amare, Phoenix is looking like a monster capable of winning it all. Without him, they can't beat the Spurs, let alone win it all.

2. Tim Duncan. He drives me crazy with his sniffling, but there is no denying his impact. I think this year teams are best served playing him one-on-one, avoiding fouls, and letting him go 14-for-28 en route to 30-35 points, because the Spurs are living on open threes. Best to stay home on the shooters and make Duncan try to go for 40. But that never happens. And because coaches continue to double team Duncan and because he's still so good defensively (I think he's much better defensively than offensively at this stage of his career, in part because he never gets called for fouls), he is #2 on the list.

3. Steve Nash. I can't put him any lower than this. Phoenix is one of two 60-win teams in the NBA, one of the top threats to win it all ... and they would be total crap without Nash. If he goes down, three or four teams suddenly have a shot.

4. LeBron James. The Cavs are lurking right now and honestly, I doubt anyone in the East relishes the thought of going through James to get to the Finals. And other than the Suns (who own the Cavs), I doubt anybody in the West would want to draw Cleveland because of the way a single superstar can control the Finals (see: Wade in 2006).

5. Tony Parker. This one may surprise, but think about the Spurs without Parker. Right now the winner of the Suns-Spurs series looks like the likely Finals winner, so it makes sense to have four guys from that matchup in the top five. Without Parker the Spurs would have no decent backup point guard option and a real problem with team speed. Even when he plays like dog poop, his quickness is invaluable.

6. Baron Davis. Who would have thought that a Warrior would be on this list? He'd be even higher too if Golden State was more of a title threat. (Although if they were to draw Houston and Phoenix, you never know ...)

7. Jason Kidd. He drops down a bit for a few reasons. First, an injury wouldn't really send "shock waves" since he's already injured. Also the Nets are the #6 seed, so while they are playing great, it's not like anyone (especially in the West) really fears them as a chief obstacle to a title. But he's the only truly indispensable Net and they are playing terrific basketball (although that could just be Sam Mitchell's coaching).

8. Tracy McGrady. As long as T-Mac can still walk, the Rockets have a chance. They almost always play good defense, they are well coached, and they are gritty. If McGrady catches fire, they could be a tough out. But the sight of him grimacing and limping to the locker room tonight didn't exactly inspire confidence. (I would have thought Yao would be right there as well, but sometimes the Rockets seem to play just as well with Mutombo in the game. Go figure.)

9. Chauncey Billups. Kind of a tie with Sheed for most critical Pistons player, but I'll go with Billups since there really is no reliable backup. If Sheed goes down, they can always go to McDyess. But if Billups goes down? Enjoy 35 minutes of Flip Murray.

10. Ben Gordon. I know it is an upset to put Gordon on here ahead of Deng, but hear me out. Not only do the Bulls have a much better backup for Deng (Nocioni, who just a year ago was Chicago's best postseason player), but I would argue that Gordon's function on the team is actually more valuable, as his quickness and deep shooting are what spread the court and create such good ball movement. I could be way off here, but in a close call, I go with Gordon.

Apologies to: All the truly valuable players on teams that look doomed, Josh Howard, Luol Deng, Ben Wallace, Shawn Marion, Yao Ming, Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Manu Ginobili, Shane Battier, and Dirk Nowitzki (yes, still).

And, just for fun, the anti-shock wave players (legit playing time):

- Eric Snow
- Deavan George
- Andrei Kirilenko
- Chris Duhon
- PJ Brown
- Boris Diaw (hey, it's true)
- Larry Hughes
- Erick Dampier

No comments: