The Glimmer of Irrelevancy
In today’s installment of irrelevant NBA topics, we take a look at five forgotten seasons since 2000.
The other day, I was watching Dwight Howard highlights on YouTube to swaddle myself into some kind of suffocating, falsely secure blanket about Kemba-Dwight pick-and-rolls for this upcoming season. And I thought to myself, “How the hell was that Orlando Magic team so damn good?” That thought sparked this column and it brings us to the first player and their career season.
Hedo Turkoglu (Orlando Magic 2007–08)
Stat line: 19.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 17.8 PER on 45.6/40.0/83 splits
Yeah, that’s the year before the Finals run. I have two mental images of the of those freakishly good Orlando Magic teams: Dwight awkwardly spinning into smaller centers to bully them into dunks and Turkoglu coming off screens and dribbling exactly like he is in that picture above.
I don’t think enough is made of how under control Turkoglu was of that Magic offense. This was a year before Jameer Nelson took the leap into the upper half of league point guards, so the whole four around one, pick-and-roll scheme with Lewish and Turkoglu playing combo forwards and giving Howard space hinged on Turkoglu’s playmaking. A starting lineup of Jameer Nelson, baby Dwight Howard, Turkoglu, Lewis, and Maurice Evans had no business winning 52 games and finishing third in the East, behind that dominant and eventual champion Boston Celtics team and the aging, but still hyper-effective, Detroit team.
Like seriously, this is the type of shit Hedo was doing that year:
There are plenty of reasons why but mainly it was out of necessity. But just because he was getting a career high 24.8% usage, it doesn’t mean that anyone expected him to deliver at such a rate. Sure, he was awarded the 2007–08 Most Improved Player Award, but there was a major travesty that season. At the last minute, due to an injury to Chris Bosh, Rasheed Wallace (12.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 36% 3PT) was selected as the backup power forward on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. That’s horrid. Wallace wasn’t even the best Wallace on his own team that year.
Turkoglu tempered his production to make way for a fully featured role for Howard, and the Magic parlayed that into a Finals run through an injured Boston Big 3 and an undermanned Cavaliers team (not an excuse for LeBron). But it’s necessary to recognize that Turkoglu was one of the best forwards in the league for a couple years.
Mike Dunleavy (Indiana Pacers 2007–08)
Stat line: 19.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.5 APG, 17.3 PER on 47.6/42.4/83.4 splits
This is my most salient Mike Dunleavy memory:
And it’s an important point in NBA history because it proves that Giannis had that competitive spirit and that zeal for his teammates that is necessary for his ascent into superstardom.
I literally remember nothing about the 2007–08 Indiana Pacers. Off the top of my head, Danny Granger was probably the other sniper on that team, so it relied heavily on Dunleavy and Granger on shot creation. It’s still a stark hike in production from a player who I associated with corner threes and quick swing passes to the open man. But closer inspection of Dunleavy’s first seasons in the league reveals that he was an great tertiary option all along.
Nearly twenty a game on 55% effective shooting is definitive 1A/1B scoring in the mid-aughts, and that kind of scoring could be second options scoring in this league. It gives credence to the type of thinking I did here, and it lends to this hot take: prime Mike Dunleavy could be a fringe All-Star in today’s NBA.
Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets 2007–08)
Stat line: 21.1 PPG, 11.6 APG, 2.7 SPG, 28.3 PER on 48.8/36.9/85.1 splits
Meet the Chris Paul-Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll:
Meet the Chris Paul-David West pick-and-pop:
The 2007–08 New Orleans Hornets won 56 games. Do you even remember that? Chris Paul, Bonzi Wells, Peja Stojakovic, David West, and Tyson Chandler. That’s as modern a geometric lineup construction as you could get that early on in this millennium. It begs the question that if Blake Griffin could have developed his mid-range jumper a little quicker, the Clippers could have achieved an entirely different stratosphere of playoff success.
Chris Paul essentially created all the offense for a team that featured 34 year old Bobby Jackson and Jannero Pargo as the second and third best creators. He was able to drag that team to the fourth best record in the NBA and a close seven game series loss in the second round to the San Antonio Spurs, despite the ineptitude and blasé offensive sets of Byron Scott. Chris Paul is a Point God and he continues to be one.
As a side note, it’s crazy to consider this. If we had to script four players to play with both Harden and Chris Paul, it would look something like this: they’d play pick-and-roll with a rim-running defensive center, like prime Tyson Chandler (or Clint Capela or DeAndre Jordan) and they’d have a low-usage wing guard opposite them in the backcourt (like Eric Gordon) and then two combo forwards who can drill threes and play switching defenses. There are going to be some issues with usage next here with the Rockets, and if Paul and Harden can coexist, that offense will be historic.
Yao Ming (2008–09 Houston Rockets)
Stats: 19.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 22.7 PER on 54.8/ — /86.6 splits
The more important number, that late in in Yao’s career was his games played: 77 games. I think I should’ve highlighted Yao’s entire career as forgotten because it’s been smacked around so much that it’s actually extremely underrated now. If you listen to Jalen and Jacoby, you know how much Jalen loves to rail on Yao Ming. And sure, Yao’s career was extremely short: just 486 games, just short of 6 seasons. But look at his production — 19 and 9 on 53% field goal shooting and 83.3% on free throws. Most NBA centers with six seasons of All-Star production are in the Hall of Fame. That’s why he is too.
The crazy thing about Yao Ming is that at his size, he’s one of the best center shooters of all-time. He could comfortably shoot from about 20 feet away, and in his final years in the NBA, he started taking a few threes. I really wish we could see a player of Ming’s size in today’s NBA, playing exclusively from the high post, where he could easily jack up a 17 footer over much smaller NBA centers and find cutters and shooters coming off of off-ball screen actions. Yao Ming was basically a bigger Nikola Jokic.
Yao’s on my list because his career retrospective makes it out to seem that he was a career 13 point scorer, underachieving in therms of production but overachieving in terms of popularity. That’s a false narrative, and do not believe it.
Jamaal Magloire (New Orleans Hornets 2003–04)
Stats: 13.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 16.5 PER on 47.3/ — /75.1 splits
He was a fucking All-Star in the East that year. And LeBron wasn’t (20.9 PPG, 5.9 APG, 5.5 RPG, 18.3 PER on 41.7/29.0/75.4 splits). Never forget.