Happy Birthday Luke Walton

Luke Theodore Walton turns 31 years young today.

Luke has a Hall of Fame Probability of 0.0.

I have the same Hall of Fame Probability as Luke.

I feel pretty good about that.

(Image via westcoastshow)

 Ryan’s Twitter Hall of Fame Probability is roughly .003.  Therefore, have pity on his poor tweeting self  by following him  (@rpravato). 

Video: The Jam, The Gun Show, The Kiss (Dunkinstache)

In a game that pretty much had everything, the Lakers and the Suns went three overtimes last night in an instant classic of a game. The Lakers prevailed, 139-137, and are now 13-1 since the All-Star break. Phoenix absolutely needed this game; they are now three games behind the 8th spot in the West.

When I said “pretty much everything”, it included a rare dunk from our favorite crazy NBA player, Ron Artest. He threw it down with authority with his left hand… and then he proceeded to make out with his biceps.

Okay, not really “make out”… but it has become a signature celebration for Ron. Check it out.

If I had guns like Ron, I would undoubtedly make out with my biceps everyday. As it is, there is no show for me to provide so I’ll leave that to Ron.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allen Schaben/L.A. Times.

Rey-Rey is the editor of Stacheketball and founder of the L.A.-based NBA blog, The No-Look Pass. Catch him on Twitter at… @TheNoLookPass. You might see him tweet about Boyz II Men once in a while.

Breaking Down the NBA’s Best Benches

 

With the trade deadline and waiver period in the rear view mirror and NBA rosters set for the stretch run, it’s only appropriate to do an exhaustive study on the teams with the best benches, right?  Right.

And since we already know which teams have the best starters – all that takes is a quick look at the standings, for the most part – let’s take a look at how much help they get off the pine.  First, a disclaimer: there are many ways to quantify the contributions of a bench, but for this exercise we will focus on quality over quantity whenever possible.  In the case of some teams, of course, there is value in both.

Portland:  It’s almost not fair, but Portland’s bench has to be considered the best in the league, if for no other reason than the presence of Brandon Roy.  Obviously a starter and one of the best players in the league if he didn’t have to deal with devastatingly balky knees, there are still few players who you’d rather have with the ball down the stretch.  The very definition of a bench player is someone who can’t quite handle the workload of a starter for one reason or another (in his case, long-term health concerns), but what he gives in spurts is as valuable to his team as many starters.  And despite attempts to limit playing time, he’s still playing over 31 minutes a game.

The addition of Gerald Wallace has also served to strengthen this unit, allowing Nate McMillan to play matchups with Wallace at the four and Aldridge at the five against smaller lineups, or using Camby at the five and bringing Wallace off the bench.  Either way, there is enough firepower at the top to give them the top spot despite a relative lack of depth compared to some of the other teams on this list.

Clippers: What was once justifiably considered a glaring weakness has all of a sudden become a real strength for the Clips, who can now realistically be called “deep.”  DeAndre Jordan’s emergence as a certifiable NBA starting center has allowed them to bring now-healthy Chris Kaman off the bench, and Kaman has accepted and responded to his new role with nearly 13 points a game since coming back from ankle injuries. Always a gifted shooter, especially for a 7-footer, he has upped his averages from 10-15 feet (53%) and 16-23 feet (45%) this season.  Few teams in the league have centers capable of scoring like he does, and none can say they are able to bring one off the bench.

Their precocious 19-year old backup point guard, Eric Bledsoe, was thrust into a starting role with Baron Davis out to start the season, but has come on strong of late (averaging 16 points over the last seven games) and shown the capability to impact the game in a variety of ways.  He ranks fourth among point guards in Rebound Rate and brings energy and athleticism on both ends of the floor that teams hope for from guards off the bench.  Al-Farouq Aminu’s 3-point shooting has cooled off considerably since the beginning of the season, but he has found a niche by using his length and finishing ability to impact the game.  While both rookies remain vulnerable to lapses in decision-making and are prone to playing out of control at times, they have contributed significantly to many of the team’s wins, and still offer gobs of upside.  Add efficiency-monster Craig Smith (60.6 True Shooting Percentage) and Randy Foye (10 games of 20 or more points) to the mix, and you have a formidable second unit.

Lakers:  The Lakers essentially have six starters, with Lamar Odom perfectly capable of filling in without missing a beat.  As it stands now, with Andrew Bynum healthy, he brings tremendous versatility off the bench.  He has a career highs in PER (19.8) and 3-point shooting (38%), and is 54% from the floor with his typically strong rebounding ability (8.7/game).  Regardless of his role, he remains an integral part of the team’s system, a perfect fit in the triangle offense with his length, passing, and ability to stretch the floor.  Given the fragile nature of the team’s starting center, his value cannot be overstated.

Perhaps the biggest addition in the offseason for the defending champs was Steve Blake, especially considering the defensive deficiencies of the starter, Derek Fisher.  But while Blake has struggled to contribute as hoped, another guard, Shannon Brown, has stepped up and provided a big boost.  He has upped his shooting percentages across the board and gives an older team much-needed athleticism and finishing ability that, again, fits the mold of an ideal guard off the bench.  Matt Barnes has only played in 42 of the team’s 68 games, but he adds toughness and defense along with 47% shooting that the Lakers hoped for when they brought him on.  It’s obviously a team that gets most of its production from the starters, but like most contenders not playing in Miami, they have their share of weapons in reserve.

Celtics:  Some – many, maybe – questioned the wisdom of trading Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City in return for Jeff Green.  Perk was a physical force for the Celts and a contributor to their strong defensive identity, but in trading their starting center, they may have actually strengthened their chances of a title run by augmenting their bench with Green, a case that Assistant Director of Basketball Operations, Mike Zarren, made at Sloan (did I mention how much I learned there?).  Green adds length and shooting off the bench, and is arguably better suited to contribute in Boston with a master distributor like Rajon Rondo and a system less reliant on individual scorers like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  Like the game I saw against the Warriors, Doc Rivers is often able to play a small lineup with Kevin Garnett as center and Green at the four because many teams lack a traditional center.  In addition to Green, the Celtics feature Glen Davis, another big capable of mitigating their relative lack of size with his bulk and scoring ability.   He has become a vital role player in his fourth year with Boston, averaging nearly 30 minutes a game.  The team has struggled at times to find a capable backup to Rondo with Delonte West unable to stay healthy, but between him and rookie Avery Bradley, there is at least the potential for capable fill-ins when Rondo needs a rest.

Phoenix:  Behind Steve Nash, the Suns may not have the most impressive starting group, but thanks, in part, to their early season trade with Orlando, they actually boast one a pretty strong second unit.  As evidenced by his success backing up Dwight Howard, Marcin Gortat has the ability to play starters minutes at center.  He ranks 12th in the league among centers in Rebound Rate and 14th in Adjusted PER despite coming off the bench, and remains one of the most underrated big men in the game.  Jared Dudley has become an incredibly valuable bench piece (40% from three), showing he is capable of contributing this year with a career high usage rate without any drop in efficiency.  In Aaron Brooks, they have one of the strongest backup point guards in the league, his style a nice fit for Phoenix’s uptempo offense.  Another piece from the Orlando trade, Mickael Pietrus, provides strong defense and scoring (53% True Shooting) on the wing.

Dallas:  For a team that “goes 10-deep,” the bench really gets most of its production from two guys: Jason Terry and Shawn Marion.  In his 12th season, Terry remains the prototype for a reserve guard, able to score in bunches as a deadly complement to Dirk Nowitzki.  He is around his career high in Usage Rate, but remains efficient from deep (38%) on his way to 16 points per game.  Though he is no longer the kind of disruptive force that made him a perennial first round fantasy pick, Marion has quietly continued to score efficiently (51% from the floor) and adapted his game to suit the needs of the team by shooting fewer than one three-pointer every other game.

Along with those two, the team has two “energy guys” in J.J. Barea and Corey Brewer and a very solid backup center in Brendan Haywood.  Barea is a worthy backup to Jason Kidd, with his energy and ability push the pace while knicking down threes at a solid clip (35%).   The newly-signed Brewer is 6’9” and a very strong wing defender who can finish at the rim (although he should never be allowed from farther away).  Haywood is efficient around the hoop (nearly 57% from the floor) and provides the team with a strong backup to Tyson Chandler.  In sum, it’s a group that supplements Nowitzki and Kidd to form one of the deepest units in the league.

 

Charlie Widdoes contributes to ClipperBlog as well as Stacheketball.  Follow him on twitter: @charliewiddoes.

2011 NBA All-Star Notebook

Even though the game is an exhibition and the rosters aren’t perfect and the whole thing is incredibly – perhaps obnoxiously – over-produced, the talent on display on Sunday was truly remarkable. As usual, defense was at a premium, but even in an All-Star game, the true greatness of NBA stars can still stand out. You have to keep everything in perspective, but when the best in the world compete, it’s pretty special. Jason Frazier already recapped the game, but here are a few more thoughts on what turned out to be a pretty entertaining night:

-Kobe. The most significant development in the game had to be Kobe’s stunning Black Mamba performance. Whatever his superhero alter ego claims to be, he was that good. Energized from the beginning, he seized his fourth All-Star MVP award from among a worthy pool of younger challengers. He finished drives to the hoop with emphatic dunks and put on displays of technical mastery with the precision of his offensive attack. In a game that showcased athleticism, Kobe was as explosive as anyone, a terrifying sight for the rest of the league. He had 37 points on 26 shots, ahead of Kevin Durant (34 on 23) for game highs in both categories. Probably the two most dangerous scorers in the game, and neither came to mess around.

-Chris Paul. As good as Chris Paul is, it really gets scary when you watch him go against the best in the league, where his handle and passing ability set him apart. Starting at about the six-minute mark of the second quarter, he just took control of the game. He got in the lane at will (impressive how easily he did so even against halfhearted defense) and hit teammates in perfect position to score. Some highlights from the last six minutes of the first half:

A one-handed bounce pass across his body to Pau for a perfectly in rhythm, mid-range jumper. Then he takes an outlet at half court and hits Manu Ginobili in stride for an easy dunk. A perfect lob to Durant only missed because Pau unintentionally jumped into him. A long offensive rebound, dribbles behind his back then whips a one-handed pass right into KD’s hands cutting down the lane. Maybe his best play, with about a minute left, he steals the inbound pass drives and lobs to a KD jam from under the hoop, while falling to the floor. He then steals another inbound pass, drives through the lane, hits Westbrook in perfect position for corner three (miss). 10 seconds left, takes inbounds, bounce pass right on the money to Kobe for layup. Finishes off the half with a Kevin Love half court outlet pass (more on that in a minute) and buzzer-beating runner, all in 1.4 seconds. He finished the game with seven assists, but, by my count, that’s seven perfect passes in a six-minute span that served to remind everyone why he is probably the top point guard in the game.

-Blake Griffin. For a Clipper fan, it may never get old, continually reaffirming that Blake not only belongs in the game, but is most likely an “inner circle” All-Star for years to come. Physically, he is as imposing as anyone, and brings the all-around package that maybe only LeBron James can match. Along with his athleticism, it was his passing and poise that continued to show in his first All-Star appearance. He comes in at with 4:21 left in the first to cheering from the hometown crowd (although not as loud as I would have expected. When he entered the game for the second time it actually sounded louder) he made his impact felt immediately with an assist to Dirk. Then he runs floor for easy dunk. With 50 seconds remaining, he hits cutting Deron in stride (miss), then on the next play he takes outlet at half court, makes a cross-court bounce pass on the run between defenders to Deron and flies in for the alley-oop.

At the beginning of the second, he grabs a one-handed rebound and in the same motion, flips to Westbrook for layup. At (10:26, Q2) he skies in to a forest of All-Stars to tip a long rebound out to Manu. At (9:33), he squares up Amar’e, on the elbow and hits Westbook cutting under for layup. At (8:36) he contests a Derrick Rose layup, pulls down a monster board pinned up against the glass, with Horford, LeBron and Amar’e jumping over his back, dribbles out to the free throw line, hits Westbrook across half court in stride for a jam. He separates himself on defense against Amar’e, when the East’s starting power forward tries to back him down on the block, Blake is so strong Amar’e has to fall away and misses short. In his first All-Star game, he made a strong claim to being the best power forward in the league, and on the short list of players around whom you would hope to build a franchise.

-Kevin Love. Along with Blake, Love was my favorite story of the game. His inclusion came with some resistance, but seeing him on the floor with the rest of the best was a nice visual representation that he belongs. And it being an exhibition game, of course, gave us the one-of-a-kind opportunity to marvel at the phenomenon that is his outlet passing. I counted at least two that went to half court or further, my favorite being the one after a made shot where you can hear Westbrook (Love’s UCLA teammate) calling for the outlet, then Love hitting him in stride at the other free throw line. His skill set is unique and deadly, and we can only hope to see him playing relevant games before too long.

-A true All-Star moment: About 3 minutes left in the first quarter, Deron Williams picks Rajon Rondo’s pocket on a sloppy behind-the-back move, then drives the length of the floor, finds himself under the hoop and looks to throw it to the trailer, which happens to be Ginobili, who is not yet across half court. In Manu’s defense, Blake didn’t even enter the frame until a few seconds later.

-Living in New York, and with plenty of friends who are Knicks fans, I find it a delicate situation whenever I suggest that he lacks something that the top NBA stars have. You could call it “defense” or “rebounding,” but the fact remains that he is 6’10” and can score the ball. He’s a deserving All-Star, without a doubt in the East, but his one-dinensional-ness is really apparent to me when surrounded by so many players who do so much more than score. Two moments stood out to me (yes, in a game where he scored 29 on 20 shots), that illustrate the “it” that I believe Amar’e lacks. On one play, he tries to back down Blake on the block, but when Griffin uses his strength to body Amar’e, he is unable to keep his balance, falls back and leaves his shot way short. Later in the game, a little further from the hoop, he gets a little resistance from Durant – who is not the strongest player in the league, as we know – and instead of continuing to attack, he settles for an off-balance fadeaway jumper that doesn’t go near the hoop. Now we find out that he will team with ‘Melo on the Knicks, and I’m fascinated to see how two players like them will be able to lead a team without many other weapons to speak of.

-LeBron. In a game of stars, LeBron stood above all as the perfect blend of size, athleticism and skill, with that killer instinct that only a few players are capable of showing when they realize their team is going to lose in a meaningless game. He should be the league MVP, the player you would take over any other if starting a team.

-Joe Johnson. He is the type of player who gets into the game because he scores a lot and plays in the Eastern Conference. There just isn’t that much depth to choose from (see: four Celtics in the game), and he has a recognizable name, if not the production to match (23rd in the league with 19.6 points per game). In the game, he scored 11 points on 11 shots (including nine threes), and it just struck me that he could really be helpful on a team with a top-flight point guard. That, of course, is the opposite of the case for him in Atlanta, playing with Mike Bibby, but wouldn’t it be fun to see him play off of a guy like Paul, Williams, Rondo, or Rose?

-Melo/Sager. For the first time during this whole ‘Melo trade speculation, I actually felt bad for him having to answer questions (questions that, for the most part, I believe he brought upon himself with his trade demands). He should be able to sit on the bench and enjoy his time during the game, and I thought it was cool to see Kobe come to his defense when Craig Sager kept hounding him with the same speculative questions. Now that the trade has gone through, I’ll be glad to see all the talking stop, and it’ll be up to Amar’e and ‘Melo to show if they can lead (carry) a team to real playoff success.

Charlie Widdoes contributes to ClipperBlog as well as Stacheketball.  Follow him on twitter: @charliewiddoes.

The Lakers’ Demise Will Be On Defense

Over the last month or so we have heard every angle regarding the Lakers and their shortcomings this season. We have heard everything from their lack of execution to their boredom with the regular season. The Lakers’ blog, Silver Screen & Roll believes that the Lakers lackadaisical play isn’t just bad for them, it’s toxic for the image of the league as a whole. That somehow the Lakers sleepwalking through this season is an indictment of how meaningless the regular season has become. As a Celtics’ fan, I’d like to believe that we already ruined any value the regular season had last season, when the team treated the second half of the season as if it were week 17 in the NFL and they had a 13-2 record, but I digress.

The Lakers have turned this season into a joke of sorts but I’m still not sure who the yolk is on. The slue of excuses is as long as it is concerning. We’ve heard everything from fatigue to boredom with a few sprinkles of new additions to the roster and team chemistry being added on for flavor. New additions and team chemistry? As if the loss of Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga is crippling this team. The main belief among those still hopeful that the Lakers will repeat has been the idea that this team is just waiting for the post-season where “games actually matter”. While the Lakers have their fair share of injuries and excuses, I’m not sure I want to chalk their feeble efforts to boredom. There is something wrong with this team and it’s been on the defensive end of the floor. Whether it has been their legs or their hearts, the Lakers just aren’t putting in the effort that their fans and coaches demand.

The spark that started the fires came when the Spurs rolled into town and stole a seemingly ‘must-win’ game from the Lakers.  The Lakers helped extinguish most of the flames when they went on their annual Grammy road trip and beat the Celtics in Boston.  All of a sudden, they looked to be contenders again. Many were more than willing to look past their 2-6 record vs. the NBA elite and concentrate on the shine pair of championship rings. And who could blame them? The Lakers’ history is hard to ignore, after all, this is a team that has been to three straight NBA Finals and won the last two but the glaring deficencies on the court are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Defensive Rotations:

One of the main issues with the Lakers has been their defensive rotations. The Lakers have been slow on all of their baseline rotations this season. It’s what cost them the San Antonio game and it’s what will most likely cost them a three-peat this post-season. Let’s take a look at one defensive sequence from last night’s unbelievable loss to the historically terrible Cleveland Cavaliers.

Christian Eyenga gets the ball in the far corner and Kobe allows him to walk right past him down the baseline. If this is a defensive strategy, I’d understand. But I doubt that. Eyenga is a 22% 3-point shooter, you probably want him chucking away from distance. This defensive breakdown is probably a combination of Kobe’s old & tired legs and his lingering flu-like symptoms from Charlotte. Either way, this sin’t the first time we have seen people walk past Kobe this season and it won’t be the last. With Ron Artest lost in outer-space and Matt Barnes still recovering from knee surgery, it’s an ugly image that we are going to see more often than not for the rest of this season. But even this isn’t a cause for concern. Surely, no one expects a 32-year old Kobe to try and match the speed and energy of a 21-year old Christian Eyenga. This is where Kobe’s help defense needs to come in.

If you watch the video, Both Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were lingering in the key when Eyenga caught the ball in the corner yet both of them lacked both the energy and mental will power to move 18 inches towards Eyenga as he slashed to the basket and threw down a dunk. This is by far the highlight of this young man’s career and it came over two 7-foot big men on a championship caliber team.  At the end of that play, Kobe is visually upset and he has every right to be. Team defense needs all 5 guys to give maximum effort. No one in the NBA can stop anyone else 1-on-1 these days. There is no excuse for that and there is no excuse for the Lakers horrendous rotations this season. It’s been ugly, it’s been lazy and it’s been ineffective.

Not Last Years Lakers:

The Lakers’ defense has fallen asleep at the wheel while their offense has improved from last season. They went from 4th overall last season to 10th overall this season. While that doesn’t seem like that large of a dip, the numbers say other wise. Last season, the Lakers rode their defense to a championship while their offense was . In fact, last season, the Lakers owned a better defense than the Boston Celtics — a team who has been know as defensive stalwart.

Last season the Lakers gave up 103.3 points per 100 possession. This season they are giving up 105.3 points per 100 possessions. What’s worse is that the entire NBA has improved defensively. The average NBA team has a defensive rating of 107.0 compared to last years 107.6. While that improvement seems minor, it’s the top of the class that has improved vastly. Both the Celtics and the Bulls have show how stingy their defenses can be, giving up a mere 100 points per 100 possessions. last season, the Bobcats were tops in the league, giving up 102.8 points per 100 possessions. A look at those teams ranked above the Lakers is a cause for even more concern. The list includes the Bulls, Celtics, Magic, Heat and Spurs. The Lakers combined record vs. those ranked above them on defense teams: 2-6.

The Lakers are also not creating many scoring opportunities through turnovers. The Lakers are 25th overall in fast break points and 21st overall in turnover percentage. The Mamba is no longer able to attack those passing lanes and Fisher could theoretically be replaced by a traffic cone on defense. Kobe is seeing his lowest number of steals since 1997, when he was coming off the bench. With Barnes and Artest unable to stay on the court, there is no one to pick up the defensive slack for the Lakers’ starting back court.

Other areas which the Lakers have been struggling is in defensive rebounding, surprisingly. A quick look at their Defensive Four Factor numbers shows that the Lakers are 20th overall in defensive rebounding. This is quite the shock considering the Lakers’ main strength over the last few years has been their size and rebounding advantages. Last season the Lakers were 9th overall in defensive rebounding.

One of the main culprits behind their dwindling rebounding numbers has been what we talked about before, their lack of effort on rotations. When you don’t rotate fast enough and when you don’t get into the proper position to box out correctly. This gives teams great positioning for second chance points, just as we saw in the Spurs game when McDyess tipped in the game winner.

Ron Artest, Matt Barnes & Jordan Farmar?:

The play of three key Lakers has been dearly missed this season, Ron Artest, Matt barnes and, interestingly enough, Jordan Farmar. Barnes, as pointed out earlier, is out due to knee surgery. He is expected to return post All-Star weekend and the Lakers are hopeful that he can pick up where he left off. before his injury, Matt was averaging 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds and shooting 34% from three. While those numbers aren’t eye popping, he was helping stretch the floor for LA as well as get key defensive stops on the other end.

As for Ron, his defense has been M.I.A. but not because he hasn’t been playing hard. Ron has been struggling on the other end of the court. Ron is averaging a career low 7.9 points per game while shooting a rotten 39.7% from the floor. And as bad as the numbers look, his play looks worse. So lot in the complex triangle that he prefers to just stand in corners hoping that both his teammates and coaches will forget that he exists on that end of the floor. When he has touched the ball his hesitation as well as the crowds disdain for his game have almost vilified his efforts. Ever shot might as well be a turnover. The Lakers need Ron to figure it out on offense because they need him to defend the best player on the other team night in and night out. That’s not a job Kobe can do for LA while he also tries to carry the offensive workload.

The third player Los Angeles needs is Farmar. His quickness and change-of-pace style seem to be missing from LA on both sides of the ball. Steve Blake has been nothing more than a younger Derek Fisher and that project has been seen as more of a failure than anything else. While Farmar has the tendency to over dribble the basketball, his quickness got him into the lane and cause some havoc for defenses. With Fisher and Blake settling for jumpers and Mamba no longer having the legs to slash, there is not much penetration in favor of the Lakers this season. Likewise on the defensive end, the Lakers have had trouble matching up with quick guards, resorting to putting Kobe on a majority of them, playing a sagging defense and hoping they will shoot some 16-23 footers. While this strategy paid off in Boston against Rondo, it has burned the Lakers on multiple occasions. Tony Parker has a brilliant game in Los Angeles to help the Spurs win and Derrick Rose went nova in Chicago to help upset the visiting Lakers.

No one should write these Lakers off just yet. The pride and championship instincts are bound to kick in come playoff time and that has to be good for at least a few wins which might have been losses. But it would be prudent of us to ask just how much the Lakers have left in the tank. At least until they fix their broken defense.

(Photo credit: via AP)

Shane is a part-time contributor for Stacheketball & NBAOffseason.com and a full-time lover of fresh socks. Find him tweeting nonsense at @Suga_Shane

Has Kevin Durant Already Won The Scoring Title?

The Talented Mr. Durant:

Call him what you want to call him — KD, Durantula, KSmooove or my personal favorite Kid Delicious. No matter how you spell it it always reads ‘points’.  Durant is going to get his and there isn’t much a defender can do to stop him. Despite the slow start to the season, Durant is well on his way to his second NBA scoring title in just as many years.

While Durant’s numbers are all down from last year, the kid is still putting on an offensive showcase every night. For the season, Kevin is averaging 29.1 points per game on 47.4% from the field, 34.5% from three and 87.9% from the line. Last year KD was putting up 30.1 points per game on 47.6%/36.5%/90.0% shooting.

One key stat that sticks out is that both his Free Throw Attempts and FT% have fallen. Last year Durant was taking 10.2 FTs/Gm and making 9.2 of them. This year he is 8.8/9.1. Some of this is due to his shot selection. Last season Durant took 5.3 shots per game at the rim, converting on 3.7 of them, good for 69.8%. This season, his percentages are up at the rim to 78.6% but he is taking only 3.9 FGA/GM — making 3.1 of them. Like wise, he has taken less shots from 15 feet and in this season compared to last season — 4.9 FGA/Gm last season vs. 4.2 FGA/Gm this season — and is shooting a lower percentage — 46.9% vs. 45.2% this season. What Durant has done is increase the number of threes he takes a game from 4.3 3pA/GM to 5.3 3PA/Gm while shooting a lower percentage.

Still, Durant’s overall numbers have been solid and he still leads the NBA in scoring. With the way the rest of the field has been playing over the last couple of weeks, it seems like Durant will successfully defend his scoring crown.

The Competition:

Currently, six players — not including Durant — are averaging over 25 points per game (see chart below for details).

Of those six players, Amar’e has the best shot at catching Durant. But to even call it a chance is a stretch. Amar’e will have to up his scoring average, which is currently at 26.2-ppg, by 5.2 points per game just to match Durant’s scoring average. This might have seemed feasible a month ago when Amar’e and his Knicks were tearing through the NBA. But over the last month of action, Amar’e scoring average has been sinking almost as fast as the Knicks record. Since January 13th, Stoudemire has been averaging 25.6-ppg and the Knicks have lost 10 of 15.

All of the players who had caught fire last month were doused by a fire extinguisher this month. Only Carmelo and LeBron are scoring above their season averages over the last month worth of games and even they haven’t increased their scoring enough to challenge Durant. As the rest of the field has cooled off, Durant continues to torch the twine.  Kevin’s 30.5 points per game in February is only second to Carmelo’s 32.8ppg.

On average, each player was going to have to increase their scoring per game by 8.6 points to just match Kevin Durant’s output for the season. The low was a 5.2 point increase (Amar’e) and the high was 14.4 ppg increase (Carmleo). Everyone on this list would have to average at least 31.4 points per game to close out the season and no one is even close to what they need. Carmelo, who’s been blistering as of late with 32.8 ppg in February would need to average 39.5 ppg for the rest of the season. That’s how far ahead Durant is in this race. This years scoring title is a one man race.

Barring some kind of catastrophic injury to Durant or a dry spell equal to the one that started the American dust bowl, it is safe to say that Durant will take home the scoring title for the second consecutive season.

The 30/30 Club:

Durant has all but secured his 2010-11 scoring title and will become one of 11 players to have won the scoring title in consecutive years. But there is another illustrious club that Durant may be able to join; The 30/30 Club. This 30/30 doesn’t refer to one of Kevin Love’s box scores, it is a group of individuals who have managed to average 30 points per game in consecutive seasons.

While Durant isn’t quite there yet — averaging just 29.1 points per game — he has turned up the jets in the last two months, averaging 30.5 points per game in January and a scorching 31.2 points per game over the last month of play.  Still, he will need to burn a little hotter to close out the season if he wants to finish with an average of 30 ppg. If he maintains an average of 31.2 ppg for the rest of the season, he will finish just short of 30 with 29.9 ppg.

Averaging 30 points a game for an entire NBA season is already a grueling task, one that’s only been accomplished 77 times by 30 different players. (Jordan x 8, Chamberlain x 7, Robertson x 6, Barry x 4, Dantley x 4, West x 4, Iverson x 4, Abdul-Jabbar x 3, Baylor x 3, Bryant x 3, McAdoo x 3, James x 2, Gervin x 2, Wilkins x 2, Archibald, Bellamy, Erving, Free, Hawkins, Issel, King, K. Malone, M. Malone, Maravich, McGrady, Pettit, Scott, Twyman, Wade, and Durant.) Only 13 of those 30 have averaged 30 points per game in two or more seasons and of those 13 players, only 11 of them (pictured above) have done it in consecutive years: Chamberlain (59-66), Baylor (60-63), Robertson (60-62, 63-67), West (64-66), Barry (66-69), Abdul-Jabbar (70-73), McAdoo (73-76), Dantley (80-84), Iverson (01-03, 04-06), Bryant (05-07), Jordan (86-93).

One of the reasons that membership into this club is so limited is that when a player shows the league that he can score at such a high volume, coaches begin to game plan to stop said player. Those 30-ppg usually represent a large percentage of the opponents points so if you can stop or slow down that individual player, you will essentially beat that team.

Last season Durant was the youngest player to win a scoring title and one of only two players 21 years old or younger to average 30 points or more per game (the other being LeBron James). This season, Kevin Durant has the opportunity to be the only player in NBA history to rack up two 30-ppg seasons before his 23rd birthday.

While the chase for this years scoring title is all but over, the race for the history books has just begun.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

All player and team stats via www.Basketball-Reference.com & Hoopdata.com – An NBA blogger’s best friends.

Shane is a part-time contributor for Stacheketball & NBAOffseason.com and a full-time lover of fresh socks. Find him tweeting nonsense at @Suga_Shane

Weekend NBA Doodles

Back again, dear readers! This week I’ve got the Big O, Kurt Rambis, et al on deck for you. Let’s check it out!

Kurt Rambis

Manute Bol

GRANDMAMA

The Big O, Oscar Robertson

That’s all for this week. There’s more at NBAillustrations.tumblr.com if you want. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Cardboard Gerald is the Baby Spice of the Stacheketball writing staff and the resident Bobcats fan. You don’t need to feel sorry for him, but you can follow him on Twitter, if you’d like (@CardboardGerald).