Six Pack: Should the NBA Enhance its Drug Testing?
HOOPSWORLD’s Senior NBA Analyst Tommy Beer takes you through his most recent musings on the National Basketball Association in this latest installment of the NBA Six Pack.
1. Timmy D: Having a Career Year in his Late 30’s
Barring some unforeseen Mayan calamity, the Spurs will participate in the postseason beginning in late April. It will be the 15th straight year that the Spurs reach the playoffs. That incredible streak of 16 consecutive postseason appearances coincides with the 1997 draft lottery, and the day they drafted Tim Duncan. Incredibly, San Antonio has finished the regular season at least 18 games above .500 every year since Duncan joined the Spurs.
Next April is notable for another reason as well. On 4/25/2013, Tim Duncan will celebrate his 37th birthday. The fact that he is still in the NBA and a significant contributor on a good team is incredibly impressive. That Timmy D is playing arguably his best basketball in a decade seems practically impossible. Nonetheless, the numbers don’t lie.
Coming into this season, there were whispers that Duncan was nearing the end of an extraordinary career. In 2010-11, he averaged fewer than 14 points and nine rebounds for the first time. Had we seen the last of Tim Duncan as an unstoppable superstar? The answer is an emphatic “No.” In fact, the brilliant big man is posting (considering his age) some of the most awe-inspiring stat lines of his entire career. His efficacy on both offense and defense has been phenomenal.
Consider this: Duncan turned 25 during the 2000-01 season. That year, Tim finished second in NBA MVP voting; he was named First-Team All-Defense and All-NBA First Team as well. That season, he averaged 20.6 points (while shooting 49.9% from the floor and 61.8% from the free-throw line), 11.3 rebs and 2.2 blocks per-36 minutes.
Here are Duncan’s per-36 minute averages thus far this season: 20.6 points (50.1 FG% & 80.2% from the charity stripe), 12.2 rebs, and 3.0 blocks. The rebounds, blocks and FT% would all represent career per-36 minute highs! Despite the fact that he is closer to 40 than 30 years old, Timmy D is as effective and efficient as he’s ever been.
This late career surge is securing Duncan’s place among the NBA’s all-time greats. Another championship would be a cherry on top. When all is said and done, we are likely looking at the greatest power forward the NBA has ever seen.
2. Is NBA Drug Testing Adequate?
Tim Duncan is not the only “older” player having a renaissance this season. Out in New York, it was assumed by most that Jason Kidd was running on empty as well. However, Kidd is playing at an incredibly high level thus far this season. Kidd currently ranks in the top five of the NBA in a multitude of categories this season. He ranks fifth in the NBA in three-point percentage (shooting 44.8% from behind the arc); Kidd is second in the league assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.32; he’s third in the NBA in steals per turnover.
Plenty of other superstars, on the wrong side of 30, such as Kobe Bryant, are still playing at an incredibly high-level. Kobe hasn’t finished a season averaging more than 28 points per game since 2006-07, but currently (at age 34) leads the league at 29.7 ppg this year. Just this week, 35-year-old Paul Pierce followed up his 40-point performance against the Cavs on Wednesday by pouring in 35 points against the Bucks on Friday night. Per Elias Sports Bureau, Pierce is the second-oldest player in NBA history to score 35 or more points in back-to-back games. Peirce’s teammate, Kevin Garnett, remains one the best defensive players on the planet. These are but a few examples of the league’s elder statesmen playing at an elite level.
And by no means is anyone suggesting, or even intimating, that any of these players are using performance enhancing drugs to maintain their level of excellence. There haven’t even been any rumors linking any of these guys to PED’s. However, the question is if any NBA player was enhancing their ability to play (or stay healthy) through banned substances – would the league be aware?
Surprisingly, it’s rarely discussed but the NBA’s anti-doping program remains inadequate.
In May of 2011, Bulls PG Derrick Rose was asked by ESPN the Magazine to rate PED use in the NBA on a scale of 1 to 10, he responded, “Seven. It’s huge and I think we need a level playing field, where nobody has that advantage over the next person.”
Then, back in October, Henry Abbot of TrueHoop reported that World Doping Agency believed the NBA’s testing to be woefully insufficient. In this report, David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, stated: “They’ve got gaps in their program, between what they do and what we suggest would be better… They know what we would suggest,” added Howman, who calls for the NBA to test for human growth hormone, among other things. ‘And I would just hope that they would be discussing all of those things rather than just putting them on the side table.’”
Most alarming has been the NBA’s contention that performance-enhancing drugs wouldn’t benefit basketball players. That type of naïveté is alarming from a major sports league in this day and age.
While HGH is banned by the NBA, the league does not test for it.
“They do not feel they have such an issue as the other major leagues and therefore haven’t addressed it in quite the same way,” Howman said. “I just think you’ve got to be very careful when you start saying performance-enhancing drugs are not beneficial in any sport, because you’re going to be proven wrong. And you’ll be proven wrong when you’re not expecting it.”
There seems to be an assumption by some that the only PED’s are those that result in users putting on obscene amounts of muscle. The steroids preferred by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds were only one specific type of PED. There are thousands of other types of banned substances whose primary benefit would be improving durability and speeding up recovery rate after an injury. A man (or woman) taking HGH can reap the benefits, without discernible changes to their physique.
The naïve assumption that improving one’s durability and resistance to, or recovery from, injury wouldn’t be appealing to a person that can make millions of dollars by playing well and staying healthy is simply foolish.
Yes, any and all improvements/enhancements to the current drug-testing policy would have to be collectively bargained, and the Union would fight it tooth and nail. However, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a fight worth starting for the NBA. David Stern, as he nears the end of a monumental reign as Commissioner, could make this a priority before he leaves the game for good. It could potentially be an important stamp on his legacy.
And for their part, the Players Union would be wise to examine MLB player’s nightmarish experience in rancorously rebelling against the implementation of testing in their sport. By refusing to accept proper testing, professional baseball players were all forced to choose between staying clean and keeping up with the Jones’ (or the Sosa’s as the case may be). When the playing field can be unleveled dramatically, it damages not only the integrity, but potentially the health of the participants. By keeping their heads in the sand for so long, MLB officials were negligent in their responsibility. By refusing to force their union to accept stiffer testing, the players that were actually not cheating were effectively complicit in the exacerbation of the problem.
It might take the sway of a superstar to push the Union towards doing the right thing. That’s where a respected veteran star such as Kobe or Duncan could have a major impact on the future direction of the league.
The NBA has a chance to be proactive; to get out in front of this issue and avoid the potential of harsh headlines and a game-changing controversy. If the NBA is right, and everyone is clean, then there should be less hesitation in implementing improved testing. Establishing itself as the sports league with the most rigorous and stringent testing of its athletes could only be seen as a good thing, both for the NBA and its players.
3. So the Knicks are “stuck” with Amar’e… Is that necessarily a bad thing?
A column by Howard Beck of the New York Times was published on Thursday which quoted a rival executive as stating the Knicks had offered Amar’e Stoudemire to nearly every team in the league. STAT was “available for free,” we were told.
Somewhat unexpectedly, this news caused a stir in New York. However, Knicks fans in the know should not have been surprised that GM Glen Grunwald would aggressively shop Stoudemire. Yes, it was a relatively short sample size, but Amar’e and Carmelo Anthony had not been able to find a productive balance when they shared the floor together. Far more importantly, Amar’e has three years and $65 million (guaranteed) left on his contract. Any GM worth his salt would explore trade avenues to potentially part with an albatross of a contract. In fact, it would have been shocking and dismaying if Grunwald did not explore trade opportunities. The NBA’s current salary cap is approximately $58 million. The Knicks have three players (Melo, Amar’e, and Tyson Chandler) who make over $57 million combined next season. Accordingly, the Knicks tried to trade the most-injury prone and least valuable of the three (who just so happened to be the highest-paid).
Every year we see GMs attempting to trade away onerous contracts. It’s exactly what the Atlanta Hawks did with Joe Johnson in July. The problem is a team can’t simply give away a player tethered to a huge contract “for free.” They must find another organization with the requisite cap space or the equivalent salary in the form of expiring contracts.
As was discussed in this space over the summer, it was widely assumed the Knicks would try to trade Stoudemire – but eventually be unable to find a taker. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what took place.
On the other hand, the drama set to unfold as Amar’e returns is not nearly as predictable. Beck’s New York Times piece generally paints the worst case scenario… The one in which the “prideful” and overconfident Stoudemire still views himself as an elite superstar, and therefore expects to be treated as such, which eventually disrupts the terrific chemistry the Knicks have spent the first two months of the season perfecting.
The article is literally titled: “Return of a Savior Presents Only Problems.”
But is that really the “only” plausible scenario? Isn’t there another possible outcome?
What if Amar’e not only says all the right things, but truly buys into to a team-first mentality and embraces his role as sixth-man. It has long been speculated that the ideal situation for the Knicks would be bringing STAT off the bench, which would give the second-unit tremendous scoring punch, while also limiting the amount of time Amar’e spends alongside Melo. This injury gives Woodson the perfect excuse to do just that.
Despite already possessing one of the best records in the NBA, consistent scoring off the bench has been an issue for Mike Woodson and the Knicks this season. In Stoudemire, New York is getting one of the league’s most lethal offensive big men of this generation.
Just two December’s ago, Amar’e averaged 29.8 points and 9.7 rebounds, and had MVP chants reigning down on him nearly every time he stepped to the free-throw line at MSG.
Of course Amar’e is not the same explosive athlete he once was, but the guy will always be able to put the ball in the basket.
Even last season, when he was obviously limited by a bad back and a litany of other nagging injuries, STAT still managed to pour in over 17 points per game. Over the second half of last season, as he began to cede the spotlight to Melo, Amar’e shot over 55% from the floor.
Playing with the second-unit, STAT will have an opportunity to be an offensive focal point while Anthony rests, typically at the start of the second and fourth quarters. This is when Amar’e will be encouraged to run the pick-and-roll with either Raymond Felton or Pablo Prigioni. We’ve seen how effective that Stoudemire/Felton tag-team has been in the past.
So, yes, there certainly is a potential downside to Stoudemire’s return. But, on the flip side of that coin, there is the potential for an already talented and successful Knicks team to get even better. The addition of Stoudemire (followed shortly by the arrival of Iman Shumpert) could propel the Knicks to heights even greater than once thought possible.
Either way, it should be extremely entertaining watching it all play out…
4. Tweets of the Week:
@netw3rk: Maybe the saddest part of the DeMarcus suspension is how close Jimmer was when DMC was using bad language.
@StevePoliti: “Just one evening gown shy of a diva.” Dave D. torches Deron Williams. http://nj-ne.ws/VRWh1Q
@KatzM: In which Doug Collins buys everyone a hamburger, teaches us the meaning of the holiday season: http://usat.ly/VYMis8
@giancasimiro: Using Sleigh Bells in a Knicks NBA BIG commercial must feel like freebasing: http://youtu.be/Hp4bqtbe8HE
@quickish: In case you missed it, here is our “Best Sportswriting of 2012″ list from earlier today: http://www.quickish.com/articles/quickish-12-the-best-sportswriting-of-2012
@BobSaietta: This is my favorite statistical takeaway from last night’s GS-LA epic: http://t.co/cx8sR0bp
@seth_rosenthal: !!! http://bit.ly/TayNrN
@KatzM: The #TBJ NBA Christmas album is predictably brilliant. http://youtu.be/_XUT6L1ZEhI
@SeinfeldToday: The Knicks go on a winning streak as soon as George declares himself a Nets fan. When he switches back, Carmelo sprains an ankle.
5. Dunks of the Week:
* Looks like Gerald Green jumped off a trampoline in this one:
* Seriously, has there ever been a better PG-to-PG alley-oop???
* Toronto’s Terrance Ross with two incredible dunks in the same game:
* Gerald Green does it again. Ridiculous
* An entry from the high school ranks, this is crazy:
* My favorite part of this clip (Larry Sanders banging on KG) is how Tommy Heinsohn tries to downplay it in the Celtics broadcast:
* Marreese Speights gashes the center of the Dallas defense:
* Russell Wetsbrook made Luke Ridnour fall:
* And, in closing, the two best “ALMOST” dunks of the week: Paul George
And this guy:
6. Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Week:
* From Elias: Larry Sanders grabbed 20 rebounds in the Bucks’ overtime win over the Celtics on Friday. Sanders is only the third different Bucks player to grab 20 or more rebounds in a game against the Celtics. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it six times from 1970 to 1975 and Len Chappell had 21 rebounds against Boston on Jan. 12, 1969… Sanders hauled in 16 rebounds in his previous game against Boston. The last player to haul in 16 or more rebounds in back-to-back games against the Celtics within one season was Shaquille O’Neal during the 2003-04 season (16 and 17).
* David Lee scored 23 points, hauled in 11 rebounds, handed out 11 assists and made 11 of his 16 shots (.688) on Friday night in the Warriors’ win over the Bobcats. The last NBA player with that many points, rebounds and assists while shooting that high a percentage from the field was Larry Johnson for Charlotte against Detroit on Dec. 27, 1993. “Grandmama” scored 29 points with 20 rebounds and 11 assists and made 13 of his 18 field-goals attempts (.722) in that game.
* Andre Drummond scored 11 points, hauled in 14 rebounds and rejected five shots for the Pistons in their victory over the Wizards. The last rookie to reach that level in all three categories was Dwight Howard on April 6, 2005. Howard scored 14 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked seven shots for Orlando in an overtime loss to Chicago.
* The Spurs improved their record to 20-8 with their win over the Hornets. It’s the eighth time in the last 12 seasons that San Antonio reached the 20-win level before playing 30 games. That is the most such seasons for any NBA team over that span. Dallas is next, reaching 20 wins before playing 30 games six times since 2001-02.