Bill Simmons, thank you.
A few of my readers wanted ESPN's Bill Simmons to get a copy of the Defending Shawn Bradley post I wrote to prove he was a solid NBA Center to begin his career, not one of the all-time busts like Simmons and others make him out to be. Bill Simmons is my favorite sports writer, the unquestioned star of ESPN.com, and quite possibly the most popular sports media personality in the United States right now. The probability of Simmons actually reading my Bradley post was as remote as Hurley turning down a Ho Ho, but it was sent along to him anyway.
Well, not only did Simmons ready my post, he Twittered about it to his 160,000+ followers. In his quick "tweet" Simmons paid me a small compliment ("nicely done") and offered a rebuttal to my post. Getting props from Bill Simmons for something I wrote was both unexpected and very cool, like when Brad Pitt gets run over while crossing the street in Meet Joe Black.
Simmons wrote to his Twitter followers, "Out of nowhere, a spirited defense of Shawn Bradley! Nicely done. Here's my rebuttal:" and then posted a YouTube video montage of Bradley getting repeatedly posterized. I got a good chuckle out of the video, but it does as little to discredit Shawn Bradley's career as this one diminishes Dikembe Mutombo:
I guess the YouTube clip showing each of Shawn Bradley's 2,119 successful blocks could not be located.
Just as the children's book Everyone Poops teaches us that we all...uhhh...poop, all shot-blocking NBA Centers are going to get dunked on every once in a while. It's just a law of nature. Heck, even the best NBA columnists (ahem, Simmons, looking at you right now...) are going to get journalistically posterized on occasion as well. You know, like when they compare the drafting of Yao Ming over Jay Williams to Bowie-Jordan or call Orlando "dumb" for drafting Dwight Howard. I am willing to look past Bill Simmons' occasional flubs because he consistently cranks out great column after great column. I can do the same when I hear the "Bradley got dunked on all the time!" argument. (So does this make Bill Simmons the Shawn Bradley of ESPN, or Shawn Bradley the Bill Simmons of the NBA?)
Thanks to Simmons over 12,000 people read my Bradley column within 48 hours of his Tweet. The additional exposure generated some good discussion about Bradley's career and I think a few of the comments deserve a little more attention. Here are a few of the common responses from people who read the post:
"Huh. Bradely was better statistically than I realized..."
The majority of the commenters either supported my argument (i.e. Bradley was better than people give him credit for) or said they were surprised to see Bradley's solid numbers over the first eight years of his career. My purpose in writing the post was to show that Shawn Bradley was solid - not great, but definitely not a bust - when he was healthy and getting minutes. It looks like the message got out. To celebrate I have hung an enormous "Mission Accomplished!" banner in my living room to show the Bradley debate is over! I win! Hooray for me!
"You're manipulating the data, you evil data-manipulating data manipulator!"
No, I'm not. I simply used honest, factual, objective data to support my view that Bradley was an above average Center for the first eight years of his career. Now matter how you slice and dice it, Shawn Bradley's stats compare more favorably to Vlade and Camby than to Darko and Kwame. And for those of you who are still not convinced about Bradley's solid stats, take a look at this nugget:
In the five seasons between 1994-1998 only eight NBA Centers averaged at least 11.0 PPG and 8.0 RPG every single year (supporting data):
(Swallow hard, Bradley haters. It might take a few times to gulp that one to go down...)
No, I'm not saying that Shawn Bradley's career was anywhere near as accomplished as the rest of the players on that list. But this unmanipulated, pure-as-the-clear-driven-snow data shows that Shawn Bradley was a statistically solid Center for a good portion of his career and not an all-time bust, which was the point I was trying to make to begin with.
"Bradley's stats were okay, but he never played hard."
Based on what I read from his former coaches, teammates and fans, this criticism seems to have some merit. At certain points in Shawn Bradley's career it would have taken Arnold Schwarzenegger's flamethrower from Predator to light a fire under the guy. But "passion" is subjective and cannot be quantified (except for by measuring how far Kobe sticks out his bottom jaw in big playoff moments, that is. Even as a Lakers fan all I can say is, "Ugh.")
But hey, there is one LDS returned missionary in the NBA who has passion - Mark Madsen! Madsen oozes passion. He bathes in it. Eats it for breakfast. Took it to Vermont to try to marry it. But in the end I would rather take the 7'6" Mormon guy's stats over the more "passionate" 6'9" Mormon guy's numbers in a heartbeat. Bradley may have lacked passion at times, but he still produced when he was on the floor.
"Who cares about who Bradley's Point Guards were?"
I think this is more important than people realize. When looking at Bradley's relative lack of offensive output (10.1 ppg, 45% FG) over his first eight seasons, I pointed out that the assists leaders on his teams included two Shooting Guards (Jeff Hornacek and Micahel Finley) and Robert Pack (twice). If Bradley was as lucky as Vlade (w/Magic), or Ilgausksu (LeBron) or Smits (Mark Jackson) he would have had better offensive numbers.
A few of you said the Magic-Vlade comparison was weak because they only played together for two of Vlade's first eight seasons. Ditto on Ilgauskus/LeBron and Smits/Jackson. But even these examples prove my point when illustrating the impact a good set-up guy has on a Center. Take a look at the FG% of Vlade, Big Z, and Smits for the two years they played with the people I mentioned versus the two years before (Big Z) or after (Vlade, Smits) playing with them:
Vlade w/out Magic ('91 & '92) - 49.0%
Vlade w/Magic ('89 & '90) - 53.2%
Ilgauskus w/out LeBron ('01 & '02) - 43.3%
Ilgauskus w/LeBron ('03 & '04) - 47.6%
Smits w/out Mark Jackson ('94 & '95) - 51.0%
Smits w/Mark Jackson ('92 & '93) - 52.4%
In summary, Vlade, Ilgauskus and Smits saw their collective FG% improve from 47.8% to 51.0% by playing with Magic, LeBron and Mark Jackson. This is significant. During the first eight years of his career Shawn Bradley never played with a good penetrate-and-dish guy to feed him with easy dunks. This in part explains Bradley's weak 45% field goal percentage.
There were even two examples of Smits and Vlade playing half of a season with their set-up guy and the other half without him. Mark Jackson was traded back to Indiana from Denver on 2/23/07. Rik Smits only played 52 games that year due to injury. Before Mark Jackson's return, Smits had played 22 games and was shooting 47% from the field. In the 30 games he played with Mark Jackson his FG% improved to 49.5% during the same season.
The same improvement happened with Vlade Divac in 2005 when Magic made his ill-fated NBA comeback. In 41 games without Magic, Vlade shot 50.3% from the floor. In 38 games with Magic his FG% improved to 52.3%. Even an old, fat, slow, disease-infected Magic Johnson could have helped Bradley get closer to the 50% FG mark more successfully than the Shooting Guards and cast-offs he was unfortunately stuck with to begin his career.
The whole Defending Shawn Bradley post and subsequent follow-up has provided me with some of the more enjoyable blogging experiences I have had. Thanks to the exposure from Bill Simmons I no longer feel like a lone man preaching the value of Shawn Bradley in the wilderness. The message has been heard. The truth is out there. The Bradley legacy continues. My life's work has been accomplished.
So to quote Bill Simmons:
"Now I can die in peace."