Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Junior Miller on Dirk and Bird

My partner in sports obsession, Craig "Spank" Miller, has a sports blog that I enjoy. Partly, because he only posts when he has something, not when a boss or an inside voice tells him that it is time to make the doughnuts. I really wish I could control my inner demon that tells me to get to blogging again.

Anyway, visit his blog. It is good.

Yesterday, he dove into Dirk vs Bird and you should read it all. But, I wanted to give you a taste here:

The subject is, in fact, the reason that I started this blog. I was listening to BAD Radio one day, and heard the King of Blogging, Bob Sturm, utter the phrase "Put Dirk on those Celtics teams with Parrish and McHale and he would probably have a couple of rings." After calling a wrecker service to come and tow my car out of the ditch that I had driven into upon hearing that, I emailed Bob. I love Bob. Bob's sports brain is huge (quickly). But I told him that I thought his comment gave too much credit to Dirk, and not nearly enough to Bird. I told him I had many thoughts on this topic, and that I should probably start a blog so that I could get all of my thoughts on this subject out in a way that I can't do on our radio show.

In the comments, I wanted to try to defend my position on in the comments:

I certainly feel that my argument has been stretched slightly, but that is what happens. My discussion was more about circumstance. It is the Troy Aikman v Dan Marino debate. Could Marino have won 3 Super Bowls in Dallas? Very possible. Could Aikman have won 3 Super Bowls if he was in Miami with Marino's cast? I highly doubt it. But, Dale Hansen swore to me the rings would go with Aikman and avoid Marino because Aikman knew how to win the big game and that he wasn't all about the stats.

I wonder how much things depend on something each player has nothing to do with: dumb luck of where the NBA meat grinder spits you out. Dirk goes to a hopeless franchise that featured about 5,000 fans for his first game at Reunion. The best player he ever played with was Steve Nash - another great player who was only great on one end.

Bird went to a perfect place. Played with a great guard in Dennis Johnson, and not 1, not 2, but 3 of the best big men of the entire generation in Parrish, McHale, and Walton - although Walton's contribution was minimal for sure.

So, my discussion was based on Dirk's ability to take over a game, and to develop into being almost unguardable at this stage of his career. He also has the ability to grab double-digit rebounds which should not be sneezed at, and plays reasonable defense now.

Let's just say the Celtics take young 19-year old Dirk in 1979 and put him around a legit center, a player-of-the year defender at forward, and a backcourt that is strong.

I am not asking him to be Larry, or better than Larry. But are you telling me Dirk at 26 years old in 1986 couldn't help McHale, Parrish, Johnson, Ainge, and Walton beat the Rockets?


Junior then responded:

Yes, that's what I'm saying. That year, Bird led Boston in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and Basketball IQ. Would Dirk have done that? Take away the best scorer, passer, rebounder, and steals guy from that team--are they the same? Not to mention, take away the smartest guy, the guy with the killer instinct, and the heart and soul of that team--still the same? Dirk replaces all of those qualities? No way.

More proof: 2006. Dirk couldn't lead Dallas to the title over an average Miami after being spotted a massive lead. Not much on his resume that indicates he could fill Bird's shoes in 1986 to the tune of a title.
I should add, because upon second glance I see that you had Boston taking him in '79 and grooming him: My bottom line is that, even with that grooming, he and Bird are not the same players--not the same people (which I outlined in the post). Not the same position, not the same instincts (which can't be groomed--you either have them or you don't). Just not the same. So to expect the same result is a stretch, methinks.


To which I respond,

I would like to propose a chat where we can query each other's positions for further clarity if you are up for it for an hour sometime. I guess I have a hard time fully processing 2 things even inside my own mind:

1) - Does the setting of one's career really affect the outcome? If Dirk is developed by someone other than Nellie, does it change is game? And if so, how much? Does Nellie's lack of concern of defense shape his projects for their full career long after he is gone (Nash and DIrk)?

2) - Should any player be judged based on the "best player he played with theory"? If so, how do we reconcile Parrish/McHale/DJ with Dirk's cast? And who would go down as the 2nd best player on the '06 Mavs? And if they had won the title, would it have been one of the great "solo missions" in the recent NBA? Josh Howard? Jason Terry? There is nobody of enduring relevance on that entire roster. Shouldn't we consider that?

My real issue is if Dirk had 2 more legit in-their-prime top 50 players with him, wouldn't he have his basketball immortality cemented? And if yes, than doesn't Larry get judged the same way?

And, as Simmons points out, would Bird have a chance in the 2009 NBA to be anywhere near the force? He did play when forwards were not long, athletic, and defensive. Nowhere near what Dirk deals with.

My final thought (for now): If Larry Bird was drafted by Golden State or Indiana back then, is he more remembered than George Gervin or Sidney Moncrief? I am not asking if he was greater, I am asking is he "Larry Legend" - and a man with no shortcomings - including rings.

To which he responds:

All great points and great hypotheticals. However, I think we have to draw the line somewhere. I think we leave it at comparing Dirk in his prime to Bird in his prime. If we start changing the hypothetical (what if Dirk played with these guys and what if Dirk didn't have the bad Nellie influence early) then it becomes a different debate or topic. Why not ask "What if Dirk were born black, in North Carolina, with an insane competitive drive, and with great hops and wore number 23?" At some point the hypothetical gets pushed to where it's not even the same question. If you have Dirk taken by Boston, or not coached by Nellie, or not raised in Germany, then he's not Dirk. If you have Bird coming from Europe, or a comfy home life, or landing in Golden State, then he's not Bird. It becomes a different conversation.

As far as the supporting cast, I think it's about which player has it in his DNA to make those around him better. Bird had it. Dirk? I don't know. But I think if Bird played with the '06 Mavs, we would think more highly of that cast, because Bird would have made them better. If Bird had never landed in Boston, I'm not sure we look at McHale and Parrish and DJ and Ainge the same way we look at them now. If it had been Dirk, or Gervin, or Robinson, or anyone outside the top 20 all-time players that had landed in Boston instead of Bird, I don't think they raise those other guys to the level of champions.

If I had to answer the what if Bird landed in Golden State would he have made them great question, I say yes. Heck, he landed at Indiana State and took them to the title game--with zero supporting cast! That speaks volumes.


And, then today, I see we have even more from Junior , including this very true statement:

And yes, Bob, I would be happy to discuss this on your show one day. However, since we were both born with Got-To-Be-Rightus in our DNA, I'm pretty sure we will either end in a stalemate or come to blows. Or both.

Truer words...

1 comment:

Mavs Man said...

Great discussion so far, and congrats to Dirk last night on reaching 20,000 points for his career.

I hesitate to put Dirk in Bird's class, but how much has the slide in league scoring since the 80's affected Dirk's stats vs Bird's stats?

This season the Phoenix Suns are the highest scoring team in the NBA at 110.0 ppg, but in 1985-86 the average team scored 110.8 ppg. So the Suns are not even comparable to an average scoring team 24 years ago.

And what about average possessions per game? In 1985-86 it was over 105; today, it's somewhere between 95 and 97 (I'm struggling to find the official stat for this).

So that's at least 8-10 more possessions per game for each team: 8-10 on offense and 8-10 on defense. That is more opportunities for points, rebounds, steals, assists, blocks, etc.