Defending Shawn Bradley (Swatting Bill Simmons)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Bill Simmons, I've finally had enough!

While Bill Simmons is my favorite sports writer and I usually enjoy his 7,000-word columns and 90-minute podcasts on ESPN.com, the time has come for me to stand up and tell him to --

STOP HACKING ON SHAWN BRADLEY!

Despite the fact that Shawn Bradley retired in 2005, Bill Simmons and many other like him seem to have some compulsive biological urge to rip on the big guy a couple of times every year. Somehow Shawn Bradley has turned into the tallest human pinata since Andre the Giant got pummeled by The Dread Pirate Roberts.

And since nobody else is doing it - I'm sticking up for my boy Shawn Bradley!

Bill Simmons started this argument so I am going to pull a page from his playbook and write a column that rivals the length of a Dostoevsky novel and nearly blew up basketball-reference.com while I researched it. But before delving too deeply into the details there are a few big-picture points I want people to remember about the first eight seasons of Shawn Bradley's NBA career when compared to other Centers of his era:

1) Defense - Shawn Bradley blocked as many shots per game as Alonzo Mourning (3.1).
2) Rebounds - Bradley (7.6 rpg) was as good on the boards as Zydrunas Ilgauskus (7.7).
3) Offense - Shawn Bradley (10.1 ppg) was as good offensively as Marcus Camby (10.7) and comparable to Arvydas Sabonis (12.0) and Vlade Divac (12.5).
4) Lottery Pick - Shawn Bradley was arguably statistically better than every other lottery pick Center drafted between 1993-2000. (Yeah, I was surprised by that too, but the stats don't lie.)

Sure, you could argue that by only focusing on the first eight seasons of Shawn Bradley's twelve-year career that I am trying to cover up his last four unproductive seasons, like a Chris Farley fan reveling in his SNL and Tommy Boy days while completely avoiding Almost Heroes and Beverly Hills Ninja. (Okay, I'm guilty on both charges.) The fact that Chris Farley's career ended badly doesn't mean that Tommy Boy and his SNL appearances are any less funny. The same goes for Shawn Bradley - his frustrating, injury-prone, relatively unproductive last four seasons do not cancel out the eight solid years he put together to begin his NBA career.

The reason for focusing on the first eight years of Shawn Bradley's career is because there is an incorrect notion among NBA fans that Bradley was one of the biggest busts in league history. The Dolly Parton of the NBA, as it were. The reality, however, is that for eight years Shawn Bradley was a solid NBA Center. Not spectacular, but definitely not one the the all-time busts like Simmons and other make him out to be.

Speaking of Bill Simmons, it was his 5/11/09 BS Report podcast that prompted me to finally write this post. While he was discussing the unfortunate fate of many big men 7'2" and taller, Simmons said that Manute Bol was, "Supremely underrated!" and "Unbelievable!" He sounded as giddy about Manute as the Sham-Wow guy gets about unexpected kitchen spills. Yet when Shawn Bradley's name came up Simmons dismissively said that, "Ahhh, he was hurt within three years," as if Bradley never had any semblance of an NBA career.

In reality, not only did Shawn Bradley have a solid eight year run to begin his career, but the three-year stretch between 1995-1996 and 1997-1998 were pretty remarkable. Even Tommy Boy and the "one and a-half percent of his brain" that he uses can understand that the following Bradley stat is pretty impressive:

Between 1996-1998, Shawn Bradley was the only Center in the NBA to average at least 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds while appearing in at least 64 games each season (click here for the basketball-reference.com supporting data.)

Keep in mind that a number of Hall of Fame Centers were in the primes of their careers during that time - David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'Neal, Patrick Ewing - yet none of them accomplished what Shawn Bradley did during that three-year span. The only non-Centers in the NBA to pull off the 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 64 games during those three seasons were Karl Malone, Shawn Kemp and Anthony Mason (click here for supporting data.)

Over the past several years Bill Simmons has also called Shawn Bradley a "colossal bust", a "project", a "dunking test dummy", and that picking Bradley during a fantasy basketball draft elicited more laughter than passing gas. In his ESPN columns, Bill Simmons has compared Shawn Bradley to NBA busts like Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, Jim McIlvaine, Calvin Booth, Michael Stewart and William Bedford. When putting together a list of non-NBA players who could challenge a WNBA team, Simmons recommended putting together a team of "marginal male players (ex-high school jocks, gym rats, Shawn Bradley)..."

Come on, Simmons, you know the NBA better than that! I expect more from you than those lazy, inaccurate comparisons.

When you compare the first eight years of Shawn Bradley's career to the first eight seasons of the "Other Guys" listed above (Kwame, Darko, etc.), you get the following:





In other words, Shawn Bradley put up eight years worth of stats that were twice as good as the Centers that Bill Simmons - and many others - normally compare him to.

Instead of lumping Shawn Bradley into the Darko and Kwame group, a more educated NBA observer would compare the first eight seasons of his career to solid NBA Centers like Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Vlade Divac, Rik Smits, Arvydas Sabonis and Marcus Camby. Take a look:










Pretty surprising, isn't it?

In fact, when you look at Shawn Bradley's first eight seasons compared to the averages of the first eight years of the "Solid Guys" listed above, you get the following:





Sure, each of the "Solid Guys" except for Sabonis went on to have careers that were better than Shawn Bradley's. But over the first eight years of their careers, which, by the way, is a long time in NBA years (wouldn't you be happy if your favorite NBA team's next draft pick is a solid contributor through the 2016-2017 season?), Bradley's productivity was on par with some of the stronger Centers in the league.

While Shawn Bradley was slightly less effective offensively from the rest of the "Solid Guys" (more on that later), his numbers were identical when it comes to games, minutes, rebounds and steals. With the exception of Marcus Camby, Shawn Bradley's goofy big white guy quotient was right up there with the rest of the group as well. Defensively, Shawn Bradley dominated this group - and most of the NBA - as a shot blocker.

But before you kill Shawn Bradley for not being a better offensive player, keep in mind that he played with terrible Point Guards for the first eight years of his career. Vlade had Magic Johnson setting him up for easy dunks followed by awkward man hugs. Ilgauskus benefited from tremendous set-up guys like Andre Miller and LeBron. Rik Smits started off with Scott Skiles and ended with Mark Jackson running the point in Indiana while Reggie Miller stretched the defense.

Shawn Bradley's 10.1 ppg average isn't all that bad when you consider his teams' assist leaders during his first eight years in the league:












Just digest that for a moment. In Shawn Bradley's rookie season the assist leader in Philly was a 30-year-old Jeff Hornacek! The Point Guard with the highest assist average on Bradley's teams was Kenny Anderson, who is not really known for being a pass-first kind of player (or pass-second, or third, or fourth...) How many points would Vlade have scored with the Hornacek/Barros/Anderson/Pack/Finley/Young Steve Nash combo trying to get him the ball? Six? Four?

If Shawn Bradley had played with the Magic/LeBron/Skiles/Mark Jackson combo to begin his career like some of the "Solid Guys" did, he would have been a much better offensive player and probably scored in the 12-13 points per game range like the rest of the group.

But enough about offense. With Shawn Bradley, it's all about defense.

Yes, Shawn Bradley looked goofy. Yes, he looked like a hang man stick figure that my 5-year-old daughter would draw. And, yes, sometimes he looked as coordinated as a new-born giraffe that somehow managed to enter the world on a sheet of ice. But in the end, Shawn Bradley was one of the most dominant, prolific, get-that-weak-junk-out-of-here shot blockers in the history of the NBA. Over the first eight years of his career, Bradley was a better shot blocker than many of his All-Star peers:











After some thorough research at basketball-reference.com I found only four players who finished in the Top-5 in blocked shots per game in each of his first eight seasons since the statistic was first recorded in 1973-1974:

-Hakeem Olajawon
-Dikembe Mutombo
-Tree Rollins
-Shawn Bradley

Some of the all-time blocked shot leaders either suffered injuries (David Robinson) or saw their defensive performance slip (Mark Eaton, Patrick Ewing) over their first eight years and did not make this exclusive club. But Shawn Bradley did, and he was one of the best shot blockers to patrol the paint over the last 35 years.

At the end of his career, Shawn Bradley finished 10th in the history of the NBA in blocks per game (2.5) and 11th in career blocks (2,119).

Remember, Bill Simmons called Manute Bol "Supremely underrated!" and "Unbelievable!" on his BS Report podcast, which in part prompted this lengthy post. So how many blocked shots did Manute average for the first eight years of his career? Five? Six? Nope. Try 3.4, which is not much higher than Bradley's average of 3.1. Throw in the fact that Bol couldn't score (2.6 ppg, 41% FG) or rebound (4.3 rpg) and it is hard to figure out why he was "Unbelievable!" and Shawn Bradley was somehow a "Colossal bust."

Some people put the "bust" label on Bradley because he was drafted second overall by Philadelphia in the 1993 draft. True, Shawn Bradley was drafted too high, but he was far more productive than nearly every other lottery pick (top-14) Center drafted between 1993-2000. While Shawn Bradley had a very solid, productive eight seasons to begin his career, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of the lottery pick Centers who followed:

1993 - Shawn Bradley (2nd overall)
1994 - Eric Montross (7th), Yinka Dare (14th)
1995 - Bryant Reeves (6th), Cherokee Parks (12th)
1996 - Marcus Camby (2nd), Lorenzen Wright (7th), Eric Dampier (10th), Todd Fuller (11th), Vitaly Potapenko (12th)
1997 - Adonyl Foyle (8th)
1998 - Michael Olowokandi (1st), Michael Doleac (12th), Keon Clark (13th)
1999 - Aleksandar Radojevic (12th), Frederic Weis (13th)
2000 - Chris Mimh (7th), Joel Pryzbilla (9th)

When you compare the first eight years of Shawn Bradley's career to the first eight years of the rest of those lottery pick Centers, you can see how much better off Philly was by drafting Big Shawn when compared to other lottery teams who drafted Centers:





Believe it or not, but the first eight years of Shawn Bradley's career were much more productive than the average lottery pick Center who followed him. When you examine the stats of all 17 of these lottery picks there is only one who ranks in the top-3 in all five categories:

Shawn Bradley.










Among all of the lottery-pick Centers drafted between 1993-2000, only Marcus Camby has gone on to have a better career than Shawn Bradley.

So what does all of this mean?

In short, it means that Bill Simmons and the rest of the Shawn Bradley haters out there are wrong. Statistically speaking, Shawn Bradley played for nearly a decade with respectable scoring and rebounding averages while dominating the league in blocked shots. Between 1995-1997 Shawn Bradley was one of the most productive, consistent Centers in the NBA. Philly got a lot more value out of its Shawn Bradley pick than most lottery-bound teams who selected Centers in the seven years that followed.

So, Bill Simmons, the next time you want to take a shot at Shawn Bradley, I've just got one thing to say to you:

GET THAT WEAK STUFF OUTTA HERE!


HEY BILL SIMMONS READERS - IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, CHECK THESE OUT:

Carolina Panthers, Labor Pains and Rob Zombie

My First MNF Game and Bladder Issues

Dominating The Mormon Church Basketball League

Isaiah Thomas, Anucha Browne Sanders and Me

Confessions of a Little League Father

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77 comments

Brian said...

Dude, what are you doing in HR? You need to go write for ESPN.

Very well put together argument. I have to admit, however, that some of your statistics cracked me up. How did you come up with those criteria? 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 64 games???

Dolly Parton cracked me up. Hang man cracked me up. Something tells me that the 95% female readeship of your blog won't appreciate this post. But us 5% dudes will. Keep up the good work and go to bed.

10:41 PM
Ben said...

Good stuff, you have opened my eyes.

1:15 AM
Michelle said...

Don't worry, some females appreciate basketball too. Shawn Bradley was a respectable basketball player. Way to stick up for the little, er, tall guy!

5:16 AM
Tyler said...

Nice. I think I figured out why I like to read your blog posts: They remind me of Bill Simmons' articles where you combine your thoughts/rants with pop culture.

This is a great article. Any chance you reply to Mr. Simmons with your post?

I followed Bradley from his first game at BYU (all the hype I remember), to his days in the NBA. It hurt me badly to hear people talk about him being a bust, but man, this is the first time I've seen stats back up that he wasn't (I never took the time to check out the stats).

Thanks for the post.

6:46 AM
peter said...

One word: Racism

7:13 AM
Ang said...

Drew, considering the fact that I don't care one iota about basketball statistics, you kept me reading this thing because it was so well written and (gasp!) actually kinda interesting.

I do remember seeing Bradley walking around BYU campus once. He looked like a giraffe on ice then, too.

You should send this thing to Bill Simmons somehow. Seriously!

7:14 AM
bioman75 said...

Great post!

Bill Simmons is just wrong, mostly because he is a laker hater. He writes some good stuff but he definitely has some unsupported biases.

Lakers in 5!

9:22 AM
Nelson said...

Holy Cow! This was a great post. You have to send it to Bill Simmons. I'm not sure how but we have to find out how.

This was extremely good quality stuff. I remember Bradley and didn't think he was that great but I didn't think he was horrible either. I'm surprised by the stats and can't believe he was as statistically good, compared to the other guys, as he was.

As always I loved the post. You definitely need to quit HR and write for someone because I would love to read your stuff every day.

Keep up the good work.

9:44 AM
Homer and Queen said...

That a great post! The memories that men have on stats in sports just amaze me! Why can't you remember to take out the garbage?

Just askin'...

9:55 AM
Ted said...

I just think millions of Church members were let down when Bradley left BYU early in pursuit of big bucks.

10:35 AM
Jake said...

Nice post. Now if only you will calculate the player efficiency rating for Bradley and his counterparts you can forward the analysis to Hollinger. If it indeed supports the stats then he and Simmons can duke it out and the guys on PTI will put the NMH on a popsicle stick.

11:34 AM
Andymann said...

I think Jim Rome still calls him the "deathstick" ocasionally.

1:15 PM

I don't follow sports much, but I do remember thinking that Shawn Bradley's biggest problem was that he was so tall that everyone expected him to play miraculous ball. It would be hard to have a physical trait draw that much attention; there wouldn't be any way to live up to the hype.

Way to put together a good defense!

4:12 PM
Jared said...

You left out one of Shawn's greatest accomplishments. He was in Space Jam with Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny. That fact alone catapults Shawn's greatness into the stratosphere.

5:49 PM
Alyssa said...

Ok I think I read about 1/3rd, then I finally gave up. Sorry, just a little to technical for me. I like sports and all, but definitely not that much.

6:11 PM

Brian - Believe me, every time I read something by Jemele Hill at ESPN.com I leave thinking, "...and why am I not writing for the World Wide Leader?"

Anyway, I picked the odd stats of 11.4 pts, 8.1 rebs, and 64 games because those were Bradley's lowest totals between 1995-1997. I used these stats to establish Bradley's minimum performance during those three years to see who surpassed him. And, surprisingly to many, there were no Centers who did.

8:53 PM
Ryan said...

Bradley was a stud. He made my birthday one year when my sister tracked him down in her Biology 100 class to sign my card. Long live the stick man.

Good stuff!

9:20 PM
Ryan said...

Bradley was a stud. He made my birthday one year when my sister tracked him down in her Biology 100 class to sign my card. Long live the stick man.

Good stuff!

9:20 PM
Pappy Yokum said...

I was one of those Mormons upset that Shawn left BYU - I so wanted him to stay so they could win the NCAA title. But, even with that, I still liked how productive he was defensively - and apparently offensively. Great read and thanks for the stats.

11:47 AM
Jolyn said...

Seriously, tell me you emailed this to ESPN? Maybe you could have Bill's job??? Obviously he hasn't done his homework.

1:53 PM
Duke of Earl Grey said...

OK, that picture is freaking me out! Is Bradley growing some kind of... marionette arm?... out of his radius bone, or what?

8:51 PM

Duke of Earl GreyI totally forgot to bring up the mysterious third arm! I'm glad you pointed it out. Seriously, where is that thing coming from?

But you know what, Shawn Bradley was notorious for fouling people and even led the league in 1994-1995 with 338. Maybe the mysterious third arm explains the foul problem. With three arms you would be grabbing, reaching, slapping, holding, etc. 50% more frequently than other players.

Case closed!

9:16 PM

Great post. Shawn actually just spent a short stint on Salt Lake radio on 1280 The Zone. I have always liked him, and thoroughly enjoyed his commentary on all things sports. He was excellent breaking down how bad the Jazz were (are). He has a great mind, to go along with all the rest that you so eloquently pointed out. Go Shawn!

7:05 AM
Bob said...

I think Bradley may have been more of a bust from the perspective of how he performed against the hype than about how he performed against his competitors. But then there is not much he can do about the hype. Frankly, if I were in his shoes I would not discourage the media hype, I would accecpt it and then work my butt off to make it a reality.

Which brings me to my second point. My understanding is that one of the knocks on Bradley was that, in spite of how decent he was (as this journalist has masterfully and factually demonstrated,) he still never lived up to his potential. I remember hearing about his poor work ethic and low level of enthusiasm--qualities that cannot be so objectively evaluated. So I agree that he doesn't deserve the level of criticism that he gets, but I'm not sure that he still doesn't deserve some criticism for just not being as good as he could have been.

Just a thought.

11:46 AM
Anonymous said...

Stats lie.

As any Mavericks fan can tell you, the eyes don't lie. He was terrible and a tremendous liability at both ends of the court.

Even Steve Nash couldn't make him better...

5:05 PM
Anonymous said...

Bill Simmons read your post ...

http://twitter.com/sportsguy33/status/2049959520

5:56 PM
Steve G. said...

Yeah, as Anonymous pointed out, Bill just put you on his Twitter, so you're probably going to get a lot more traffic.

But I'll add to the other comments, great column! I definitely think that because Bradley was a tall, non-fluid white guy, far too many people think he was a bust, when in reality he was a league-average to above-average center for years.

The slagging reminds me of some of the other humorous sports stereotypes over the years - JAX's white Matt Jones as a possession receiver, black Byron Leftwich as a scrambling QB, and Tim Thomas being more "athletic" than Keith Van Horn, even though Van Horn has always averaged more blocks, dunks and steals per minute (assist to Hollinger for that one).

6:01 PM
Taylor Mucaria said...

Nice job dude with the post very well put together. I didn't realize how decent Shawn Bradley was for his first 8 seasons how about that. I thought he was really terrible as well lol.

6:04 PM

Nice work. You can thank Simmons and his Twitter feed for bringing me here, but I'll be back.

Got to agree about Jemele Hill, too.

6:09 PM
jasonk said...

Glad i'm not the only one who has been ranting about how good (decent) Bradley was! Great job!

6:35 PM
Merlyn said...

Simmons' twitter got me here and your writing and stats kept me reading. I rarely finish reading blog posts and this is probably the first I've ever responded to. Keep up the great writing!

6:41 PM
Max said...

Good job, very well argued. I'm definitely not a Mavs fan, but I'll be curious to see if you get more feedback from them. One very damning quote I remember was from Dirk, saying that Bradley never picked up a basketball in the off-season and seemed to have no interest in improving himself. This might be part of the resaon for his status as a punchline, not to mention how frequently he was posterized.

I recall his work ethic being criticized by one other player as well, though unfortunately my memory fails me on that one currently. But I do recall some of his better days as a moderately effective center, and thought the volume and intensity of criticism he received was a bit overdone.

6:46 PM
Mark said...

You need to look at Bill Simmons' response to your column on twitter, because that should tell you why people make fun of Shawn Bradley. It's not hard to get 3 blocks a game when you're 7'6 in an era with less athletic players in the 3-12 spots on the team.

Shawn Bradley was insanely unathletic, his 11 or so points a game came off of catching the ball, not jumping, and putting the ball in the hoop. His 7 rebounds a game is not impressive, because he is 7 foot freaking 6! Yao Ming is knocked for his rebounding but over his career he's averaged over 9 per game.

The basic joke of Shawn Bradley is that he did nothing but be tall; make me 7"6 in that time and I could play as well as him.

6:49 PM
john said...

Oh no! Looks like you are getting hits from the non-traditional following. Your sphere of influence is expanding past the LDS boundries. Good job!

So, Simmons rebuttal is to show reference a bunch of YouTube clips? That's weak. Yao Ming has a ton of "duncked on" moments to his credit as well.

7:12 PM
Anonymous said...

Bradley was terrible. Every team would drive at him as much as possible because they knew they had a great shot at scoring or going to the line. The reason he had so many blocks is because he had 4 times as many opportunities than a normal center. Local radio bagged on his horrific play so much that they even came up with this classic fake ad. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7YVyUjc7HI&feature=channel_page

7:32 PM
and1grad said...

EXCELLENT article. I had no idea Bradley was so effective on the defensive end. That said, I've never been one to rip the guy as it is. I also dont get all bent out of shape about a defender getting dunked on. That just means he had the GUTS to actually go after the block. A LOT of players dont.

I think it would only be fair if Simmons posted this well-written piece on page 2 rather than just mentioning it on twitter.

7:46 PM
leo said...

Don't get me wrong, sir: Shawn Bradley was a cool guy, and always fun, so much so that I named my own hoops blog after him. But he was an awful, awful player. You can crunch numbers all you want, but if you ever watched him play for the Sixers, he was dreadful.

I like that someone has the chutzpah for defending him, and I'll admit that his numbers don't look so bad compared to other guys. Blocked shots on their own, however, are a pretty meaningless statistic. Lots of tall guys have them but it's not as important as good post defense, which requires some strength and quickness, which he didn't have. Marcus Camby might not have any offense and gets a lot of empty blocks, but he also rebounds well and is about a million times quicker. SB got muscled around and scored on far more often than he blocked shots. I saw it. It was not pretty.

Example: When the Pistons won the title, Ben Wallace got a lot of credit for blocking shots, but it was Rasheed's man defense that allowed him to do that. That's the kind of defense you want, not just blocks. Yes, SB never played with another good defensive big guy, who might have helped him block shots, so that's rough for him, but it doesn't take away the fact that he was NOT a good defender.

His rebound numbers surprised me, but that's a bit of a misnomer as well. Other guys like Smits and Illgauskas were primarily jump shooters who played away from the basket. Divac and Sabonis did that as well, plus they played on loaded teams where their passing ability was key. SB never had a good midrange jumper or any passing ability. He just hung around the post, or tried to, as people pushed him around. Any big guy who plays a lot of minutes can average a decent amount of rebounds. Even Kwame averaged about that many boards a game when the Wizards were trying to develop him and gave him time. To borrow a common line from Simmons, Jermaine O'Neal averaged about that this year and he's pretty much dead. I'd be more interested to see his rebounds-per-minute average.

Look, the guy had a raw deal, for sure. Those Sixers teams were beyond terrible and the front office had no idea what it was doing. I think he eased up a little after he got out of town, and didn't have all the pressure. I also think Dallas figured out the right way to use him, as a role player who wasn't needed for much besides blocking shots. If you want to say that he was good early on his career, however, I'm sorry. I watched those teams. As bad as they were, he wasn't the solution. He was one of the nicest guys to ever play here, and I always root for him, but there's a reason he's the butt of those jokes.

7:55 PM
Steve G. said...

To defend Shawn Bradley some more... Even if his man-to-man defense was historically bad (and I don't think it was), the blocks, rebounds and points he contributed at a decent percentage at least make him a valuable pick and an average center. That has value.

And as someone else pointed out, it was a horrible draft year. Webber went first, Bradley second. After him, you had a few decent players - Penny Hardaway, Mashburn - and a bunch of guys who have as many question marks in hindsight as Bradley. Isaiah Rider? Allan Houston? Lindsay Hunter? Cassell went #24, and Nick Van Exel at 37.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1993_NBA_Draft

8:06 PM
Dave Jaffer said...

Dude, this was excellent. Thank you so much.

9:07 PM
Jack said...

Got here via Simmons, and read the whole thing. I like your passion, and appreciate you sticking up for your guy. Unfortunately, your arg is flawed.

Bradley was so unathletic and cement-footed that he was a huge defensive liability. He couldn't rotate, he couldn't hedge on screens, he couldn't jump out on shooters, he could barely rebound...all he could do was make like a tree and be tall.

Focusing on one stat to prove your argument doesn't work. Watching Bradley play is how you can judge. Watching Bradley was, at best, very painful for Mavs fans.

9:32 PM
Ceolaf said...

two substantive points.

1) People diss on him because of how he looked on court. Not smooth, not powerful, not quick. And didn't do anything to make himself look better.

Is it worse to be dunked on, or to just let someone dunk while you get out of the picture. Shawn Bradley was willing to stay in the picture. Not good for his image, but critical to playing good D.

2) We need to evaluate his D by more than blocks and steals. How was his pst defense? How well did he switch on the pick and roll? Could he jump out on a shoorter?

I don't recall him being that great about these things. He talk it well, but it didn't show up during the games as nicely as we would like. So, he had some defensive issues.

*****************

So, we've got a center with a decade long NBA career. #2 in blocks most years, to Dekembe. Decent rebournder, low average points for a starter.

He wasn't a stuff, but he was goofy looking for a long time. Plenty o f people make him look bad, and he made plenty of people look bad. If you're a hater, he's an easy mark.

Simmons goes for easy marks, and makes some big mistakes. Shaq's career has been overated (didn't dominate the boards, or blocks, for example.), but he looked good on court had had a fun all the time. LeBron has the smile and the physical gifts, but not the need to win. Simmons does not appertain these things.

9:45 PM
Anonymous said...

you forgot the statistic on how many different players posterized him; im pretty sure shawn bradley is up on a lot of kids walls, but only cause those kids liked the other guy

1:39 AM
Anonymous said...

Flawed all the way...

When you measured him up against other defenders, why did you chose an awful scorer (Camby) or an awful rebounder (Ilgauskas) to measure uphis scoring and his reboundind?

And BTW... why didn't you talk about Bradley's ¡¡¡.45!!! FG% being 7'6"!!!! Here you got your stat!

Stat-stuffing it's not choosing the parameters that's going to make you look good, and skewing'em till they prove your point. Really it's one of the most blatant data manipulation I've ever seen. You should work for some political party.

3:37 AM
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. 4:29 AM
Halfacre said...

Not surprised an ESPN writer's only defense is a link to a bunch of highlights.

I still remember Bradley coming out of HS. If I remember correctly he might have won or came close to winning the McDonalds All-American 3pt contest.

I think your argument about who he played with is a good one. Just observing his career casually I think had he been on the right team he might have been a borderline All-Star.

6:08 AM
Anonymous said...

Hey! What about this stats...

Shawn Bradley has the 2nd worst (only behind Michael Olowakandi) FG% for a C from 1993 thru 2001 (his first 8 seasons) playing more than 25 minutes a game

He's the 24th C in rebounds per game from 94 to 09, despite being 7'6".

7th in PER in his Draft class being a 2nd pick.

6 players chosen behind him were All Stars.

The worst 2nd Pick in his decade (1990~2000) in PER per game (yes, behind studs like Van Horn or Stromile Swift)

All this, just taking only into account the first 8 seasons, not to mention, that an awful lot of players have been productive beyond that.

7:33 AM
Andrew said...

Good stuff man. I agree that Bradley may have been drafted too high, but that doesn't make him a total bust. He really did have a good career in the NBA for a while. And besides, could a "bust" have had a supporting role in a movie like Space Jam?

11:08 AM

Anonymous 7:33 a.m. Thank you! You put up some stats to try to prove that Shawn Bradley was a bust, but you did just the opposite. Your stats actually support my view that Shawn Bradley was better than people give him credit for.

As you said, between 1993-2001 there were only 21 Centers who were good enough and had the longevity to average 25 MPG (supporting data here), and Shawn Bradley was one of them. Look at this list - Shaq, D-Rob, Hakeem, Ewing, Dikembe, Zo, Vlade, Smits, Camby, Sabonis, Ilgauskus, SHAWN BRADLEY!!!!!!!etc...Your argument supports my premise that Bradley should be among the "Solid Guys", not the all-time busts.

True, Bradley's 45% FG is second lowest among this group. But again, you are comparing Bradley to a group of All Stars and Hall-of-Famers. Knocking him for having a low FG% among this select group is like calling Miss Arizona "an ugly dog!" for taking 21st place at the Miss America pageant.

Consider this - among that select group of 21 outstanding Centers, Bradley was 2nd in total blocks, 5th in games played, and 6th in total offensive rebounds.

Again, my point was not that Shawn Bradley was a great player. My point was that he was above average, not an all-time bust like so many believe. Thanks again for supporting my argument.

-NMH

12:39 PM
Anonymous said...

He's not a Milicic-bust but since he was a 2nd pick with a similar production to Van Horn or Swift, I just can't remove the tag from him. Sorry. And his case is one of the worse-that-stats in my book.

The problem I have with this article is that sometimes looks like it's making a case for him being the best center in the League in the late 90's, blatantly skewing the data. If the article just limited to show how ahead he was of the Cherokee Parks and Eric Montross... it would be another story.

12:40 PM
Mario said...

Hmmm... you still skewing the data... do you realize you're counting total numbers instead of (more appropiate, IMO) per game numbers? Because some players like Ilgauskas, Camby, Daugherty, Seikaly had a very short span between this years and the span matches his first years/decline years, not his first years+PRIME as Bradley.

Without taking this PRIME factor into account, just looking at averages, he fell down to 11 in offensive rebounds. In blocks he stands still, but I'm not buying in blocks. Look how much has Denver post defense improved without 3.4 BPG from Camby.

He only belongs to that group of centers because of the 25 MPG threshold. If that's a reason to celebrate, hooray, All-Star/Legends Club! When do we recognize the greatness of Oliver Miller, Olowakandi, Polynice, Reeves? Because they're in the group (and Bradley is much closer to them)

12:57 PM

Mario - Fair enough, let's look at averages. Also, let's filter out players who did not play much during the years of 1993-2001 as you requested.

Since 1993-2001 is an eight-year span, let's only consider Centers who played 25 MPG over the equivalent of four of those seasons, or 328 games (82 games x 4 years). Again, your criteria (averages + longevity) shows that Bradley was better than people think.

There are only 15 Centers who make this list. On a per-game basis, Bradley is 2nd in blocks (3.1). He is 7th in offensive RPG (2.5), which is better than Olajawon, Ewing, Smits, Ratliff, Sabonis, etc. He is 12th in PPG. (Supporting data here.)

Again, I'm not trying to prove that Bradley should be in the Hall of Fame. My point is that he was an above average Center, not one of the all-time busts like people make him out to be. No matter how your crunch the numbers, my argument holds.

1:27 PM
Mario said...

Fair enough. Shawn Bradley it's not a joke, but IMO he underachieved, he's a bust for a 7'6" 2nd round pick, and it's the (unfair and skewed) comparisons with Sabonis or Olajuwon, for example, making me skeptical.

Nice article nonetheless. Writing style was impeccable.

2:22 PM

hmm, i have a few observations

nice comparison to "as good as Zo in x, as good as Camby in y" - it's easy to pick the worst things someone is good at and use that as a reason to bolster Bradley. Perhaps that section should be reworked. It's ok to be as good at blocks as Zo (who's almost a foot shorter) but he's not as good in the first 8 years as Zo in rebounds or points.

The other great rebuttal was the fact that Vlade Divac and Zydrunas both had great point guards during their first 8 years (including Magic and LeBron). Uhhh ... Magic and Vlade only spent a year together in the starting lineup before he retired. After that he was being fed by the venerable Sedale Threatt (??) and shoot-first Nick Van Exel. while Big Z never played with Bron during his first 8 seasons (as he was drafted in 1996 and Bron came in 2004). Kudos for the Magic-Vlade "awkward man-hugs" reference tho.

while I do think Bradley is better than some people like to admit, you have to admit that he's not as good as people expected him to be. Less of a bust than Kwame or the Candyman - yes. But still not worth his draft position.

Perhaps Simmons' ribbing is based more on the fact that he's the skinny out-of-place looking white dude much the way the Jamaican Bobsled team or that African dude on Poland's 2002 World Cup Team were viewed. In that vein, I suggest offering him Gheorghe Muresan as his new target of choice as the Romanian community probably won't care - much like the Bullet community!

9:50 PM

this statistical comparison seems a bit fairer as it uses the player's first 8 years and allows the years to consider among those who played before and after your 94-01 range

http://tinyurl.com/mps7vb

though using your stats link and adjusting for per-36 minutes (as that site recommends) as well as adjusting for first-8th seasons (which I'm surprised you didn't do) Bradley shows up ranked #6 in points, #5 in RBs, #3 in ORB and #1 in blocks!! But DFL in FG%.

http://tinyurl.com/lmuleg

this link expands the range a bit more as 94-01 seems a bit restrictive to use in a comparison that filters out the first 8 years of a career

http://tinyurl.com/oz48oe

I think that the best statistical analysis of Bradley's impact tho is this - comparing him to other centers in years 3-6. Best at blocks. Worst at FG%. Decent at rebounding. That's Bradley.

http://tinyurl.com/q66ucc

10:20 PM

Wen Jiabao's Nephew - Good summary of Bradley's career, "Best at blocks. Worst at FG%. Decent at rebounding." That has been my point all along - Bradley held his own during his career. He wasn't great, but he most definitely was not an all-time bust. Amen on, "Perhaps Simmons' ribbing is based more on the fact that he's the skinny out-of-place looking white dude much the way of the Jamaican Bobsled team."

You did some good research as well. But keep in mind with Vlade that while he only started 5 games in 89-90, he did play in all 82 games along with Magic and averaged nearly 20 mpg. They then started all of 90-91 together. And how could you forget Magic's 32 game comeback in 1995-1996?

All said, Vlade and Magic appeared in 190 games together, which is pretty substantial. I'd take that over Bradley's 190 games with Hornacek and Robert Pack setting him up...

10:48 PM

Magic's mid-90s comeback wasn't significant enough... the meat of Vlade's career was played with substandard PGs like Threat, Van Exel, J Will, and whoever was PG in Charlotte. He had Magic at the beginning and Bibby at the end.

8:29 AM

Your point guard arguement is streaching it a bit. Vlade only played with Magic for the first years of his career, and Rik Smits had an outside shot.

6:45 PM
Anonymous said...

way to be a laker fan from Utah.

Zoobies suck!

6:30 AM
John said...

nice use of the Andre the Giant pic from Princess Bride.

didn't read the article - sorry.

7:33 AM
Anonymous said...

The other thing to remember is that many of the posterizations of Bradley did not come from his man but from perimeter players blowing past another Mavs defender to get to the rim. Now, I would agree that Bradley was often slow to rotate and was not the fleetest of foot, but it is hard to try to stop an NBA player moving through the lane at full speed and then elevating to the rim -- all because a Mavs guard or forward offered no resistance other than yelling "ole!" as his man blew by him.

7:46 AM
Chris said...

Great writing, NMH!!

I have been a Mavs fan since Don Nelson joined the organization during the 1996-97 season. I honestly didn't pay much attention to Bradley's early career, but his stint with the Mavericks was not without highlights (and not just dunks for the other team.)

In 1998, Bradley scored 22 points, grabbed 22 rebounds, and notched 13 blocks in a game. Off the bench.

Nellie had a habit of yanking Bradley out of games because he made one mistake -- his game plan also did not call for Bradley to receive many passes on the offensive end. When people talk about how bad Bradley was with the Mavs, they need to consider his use in an otherwise high-octane offensive lineup -- AND his replacement ERICK DAMPIER. Ugh.

Two key points about his rep, though:

1. January 27, 2000 -- The NBA fined Mark Davis (GS) $7,500 and suspended him for 1 game for picking up and throwing Shawn Bradley (Dal) to the ground during Tuesday's Dal-GS game.

2. When Shaq was asked if he could ever score 100 points, he said that if he did, it would be on Shawn Bradley.

8:44 AM

Chris - Thanks for the compliment. While Shaq is one of my all-time favorite players, he never came close to dropping 100 on Bradley like he said he might. I did some number crunching on the Bradley vs. Shaq matchup for you:

1. Bradley and Shaq went head-to-head in 8 games in which they both played at least 24 minutes.

2. Shaq's highest point totals in those 8 games were 43(4/17/98) and 38 (4/18/2000).

3. Bradley's highest point totals in those games were 24 (1/22/94) and 23 (2/29/96).

4. Averages Per Game:
Shaq - 37 Mins, 33.5 Pts, 9.6 Rebs
Shawn -28 Mins, 15.0 Pts, 5.6 Rebs

5. Per-36 Minute Averages
Shaq - 32.6 Pts, 9.4 Rebs
Shawn -19.1 Pts, 7.2 Rebs

BUT......

5. Shaq shot an amazing 68.9% (115 for 167) vs. Bradley in those games. (ZOINKS!)

9:45 AM
Cpt Naykid said...

stellar argument and great rebuttals to all the fault-finders. I concur that SB is ridiculed unnecessarily. His awkardness made him look goofy, and I think fans remember him mostly for his weird style and fouls. But your info and arguments are fabulous.

great job!

12:51 PM
Ray said...

In Bradley's 8+ years in Dallas, I saw him play over 150 times in person, and I can probably count on two hands the times I saw him play really hard. Once we saw him get a triple double (points, rebounds, and blocks); when he only needed a couple more blocks to get it, he was flying around like a man posessed. Another time that sticks out was Yao Ming's first visit to Dallas. Bradley was really active and working hard on both ends of the floor. That's what's so frustrating about him -- the incredible dropoff between his maximum effort and his usual effort, and the fact that you saw that maximal effort so very rarely. Having said that, he was pretty effective at times. If you had reasonable expectations, Shawn could deliver.

6:56 PM
Chris said...

Hi,

I didn't mean the Shaq comment to disparage Bradley....but it truly defines the general perception of him.

I searched and searched for the interview where Shaq made the comment and couldn't find it...but I rememer the "Shaq Elvis" voice saying "huff...puff...Shown Breadly" like it was yesterday.

I am beyond impressed with your number-crunching skills...I knew Shaq had some incredible games against Shawn, but I didn't know he shot (eh...dunked?) a career 69% against him. And Bradley did better against Shaq than I would have expected. Amazing.

9:31 AM

Anonymous 7:33 a.m. - You tried to use PER (Player Efficiency Rating) to discredit Shawn Bradley. Quite simply, you are wrong. Even PER shows that Shawn Bradley was an above average Center when he was getting minutes.

For example, in the eight seasons from 1996-2003 there were only six Centers with a PER of 17.0 (supporting data here):

-Shaquille O'Neal (28.9)
-Alonzo Mourning (22.5)
-Dikembe Mutombo (17.9)
-Marcus Camby (17.9)
-Vlade Divac (17.4)
-SHAWN BRADLEY (17.1)

Thank you for bringing up the PER argument. It strengthens my claim that Shawn Bradley was much better than people give him credit for.

5:47 AM

More Impressive Shawn Bradley Stats:

In the seven seasons between 1994-2000, Shawn Bradley ranked among the top Centers in the league in most key categories(supporting data here):

-Blocks Rank: 2nd
-Off Rebs Rank: 6th
-Total Rebs Rank: 8th
-Total Points Rank: 11th

If you call that 7-year stretch a "bust", I bet you also put your kids in time out for breathing too loudly.

8:25 AM
michael said...

Regarding Bradley FG% - don't forget he played for Don Nelson who likes his centers to shoot the base line jumpers or shoot 3 pointers. No center who ever played for Nelson was allowed to post up. What FG% would Shaq have if you take his dunks away?

11:20 AM
michael said...

Bradley would be one of the best centers who ever played the game if he had a chance to play for a "normal" coach.

11:23 AM
Anonymous said...

I travelled ocasionally with Shawn Bradley when he was a missionary in Sydney, Australia, demonstrating the game and testifying to students at high schools.

It's true that he wasn't hyper-energetic and that he played his height advantage just far enough to get ahead, not to dominate. He's that kind of guy. The best he did was the best he wanted to do.

Not unlike most of us, I think. Just your average 7' 6" LDS man doing what he could with what he had and staying pretty much in his comfort zone.

Great results, considering. I think he "did his best" like most of us do. I don't know how much better he could have done. Probably there was a higher level to be attained, but show me the ball player who couldn't have achieved more. Very few of them out there.

Shawn's "normal" performance was better than most others' "outstanding" performance. Not a bad accolade to be offered. History should be kind to him.

A bit like Cincinnatus. Saved Rome then went home. Could have done more - didn't want to.

3:06 AM

Sick stats!

I've always suspected those numbers, but it's about time someone put them together.

11:32 AM
addedupon said...

Excluding the last couple of years when Bradley suffered knee problems, Bradley is one of the most under rated players in history, if you give substantial weight to plus/minus stats. Can't help but wonder if the "outlier" Shawn Bradley keeps the plus minus stat from receiving more credibility.

Basketball stats are decidedly unreliable, unlike baseball where William James' work tells us much of what we need to know. Basketball action is constant and in many cases individual points, rebounds, etc, are misleading in evaluating a player's effectiveness and ignores many important variables such as cutting off passing lanes, judgement altering intimidation, directing traffic, etc.

What matters is how the team does while a player is in the game. On that basis, Bradley was one of the best ever!

5:58 AM
24thunder said...

Michael Smith, also from BYU was one of the biggest busts ever.

1:31 PM
Stephen said...

Bradley had two problems:

First, he is a genuinely nice guy, but lived in the Plano 9th ward.

Second, he refused to use steroids to bulk up.

Reinterpret his statistics in the light of his staying clean.

9:38 AM
braumaman said...

That's so funny. Lifelong punching bag.

5:28 PM
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4:51 AM