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:
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:
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!