Celtics Notebook: Bob Cousy vs. The Internet
Plenty of Celtics fans were ticked at Twitter personality LaJethro Jenkins this week.
In case you missed it, Jenkins – the online alter ego of Yahoo! Sports’ John Nichols – called out Hall of Famer Bob Cousy as “quite possibly the most overrated player in the history of the sport.” Jenkins’ take on Cousy, in an age where tweaking Boston fans is a pastime in and of itself, was a toasty one.
Consider the source: Jenkins tagged up with Yahoo! Sports last year to be their resident hot take artist. Catering to an audience flooded with goldfish-level attention spans, Jenkins’ spin on the ancient art of sports debate drives engagement with Yahoo! social media channels.
Cousy, with his “Stanley from The Office” handles, has become an easy target for contemporary NBA observers. He’s the boomer’s pick in a conversation dominated by millennial fans. In fact, Isaiah Thomas seems to think he’d lay waste to the Houdini of the Hardwood and anybody from the pre-Woodstock NBA.
It’s still a bad take.
Part of it is the medium. Think pieces don’t sell on Twitter, so a 90-second video limits Jenkins to a lame recitation of Cousy’s field goal percentage, in particular his 37 percent mark (like an accountant, Jenkins rounds down – I won’t hold it against him) during his 1956-57 MVP season and a sub-40-percent rate for his career. He neglects to mention that, in 1957, a mere 18 players in the entire league shot 40 percent from the field. The league leader was Neil Johnston at less than 45 percent.
By comparison, 51 players are shooting over 40 percent from three-point range this year, with league leader Meyers Leonard clocking in at 54 percent – or, nine points higher than the guy who led a league with no three-point line 60-plus years earlier.
Jenkins uses Wilt Chamberlain’s early dominance of the NBA to discredit the era during which Cousy piled up trophies. Doesn’t that also discredit Chamberlain? For instance, wouldn’t the era’s poor shooting have contributed to the Stilt’s astonishing rookie average of 27 rebounds per game?
He doesn’t offer a line of demarcation for when one’s contributions to basketball become truly meaningful in a discussion of all-time greatness. He doesn’t even mention that Cousy played with all the talent in the world while poor Paul Arizin had to slum it with Tom Gola until Wilt came along. There’s no time for that. What we have here is 90 seconds for the purpose of getting people Mad Online.
Guess it worked.
Analytics and two decades of rulebook tweaks have sanded down the rough edges of the NBA. Today’s game hardly resembles the sport of 15 years ago, much less the one Cousy retired from six years prior to the moon landing. Players are making more efficient decisions and meeting less resistance than ever before.
So Cousy’s numbers aren’t that impressive when stacked up against modern superstars. So what?
There’s no denying Cousy, who led the NBA in assists for seven consecutive seasons, was the dominant backcourt player of his era – an age where the action ran through marquee frontcourt stars like Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Bob Pettit, Dolph Schayes and Maurice Stokes.
He’s one of the all-time greats. Hands down.
In the modern game, everybody gets fed, with pace of play at its quickest since the 1985-86 Celtics ruled the basketball world. Five players have already totaled 50 or more points in a game. Compare that to a decade ago, when just one player (the unlikely Andre Miller) hit the mark.
As of Thursday, an incredible 15 players had heated up for 40 or more points (with James Harden doing it nine separate times). Two, Bradley Beal and Buddy Hield, popped for 41 points against the Celtics.
Boston has seen its own share of standout individual performances. Jaylen Brown’s season-high 31 points Wednesday night followed Jayson Tatum’s second 30-point effort of the year Sunday against the Knicks. That was mere days after Kemba Walker hung 39 on the Nets on Thanksgiving eve – the point guard’s fourth foray into the 30-point club. Gordon Hayward also had a 39-point outburst prior to his injury.
In all, 72 NBA players have logged 211 different 30-point games this season. The Celtics have only accounted for eight of those instances. But just four other teams – the Clippers, Raptors, Grizzlies and Pistons – have had four different players score 30 in a contest. The stat underscores a nightly dynamic of sharing the basketball and yielding to the hot hand when necessary. Boston’s ability to get that kind of production from multiple sources should keep them in most games and help them gut out their toughest challenges.
Miami knocked off a tough Toronto team in overtime Tuesday before landing in Boston for Wednesday’s game. While the C’s were without Marcus Smart, they’d also benefited from two days of rest. The Heat got off to a quick start, leading by 11 in the second quarter, before Boston’s 26-7 run to close out the half put the home team in control.
The Heat were clearly gassed in the second game of a back-to-back, and the flurry continued after the break. The Green tracked down 50/50 balls, kept possessions alive on the glass, attacked the hoop and hit their outside shots. They looked fresh.
Recently proposed changes to the NBA schedule, along with playoff modifications and an in-season, European soccer-style tournament, also include a slight reduction in regular season games. Could this spell the end for the dreaded back-to-back?
The league already pushed the season opener up from Halloween to mid-October to allow for more rest days. Striking another handful of contests from the schedule could eliminate situations like the one the Heat faced Wednesday night.