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Best Solo Missions of Decade: Kobe, Wade, TMac, KG

For the end of the "aughts" and the start of the "teens", everyone is doing their All-Decade teams.  I may still do that, but it seems too obvious to me (there are four no-brainer choices: a C, 2 Fs, and a G and of the other two best players of the decade one could easily fit as a guard).  So instead, I'm going to start by looking at the most impressive individual seasons of the last decade.  Now, there is more than one way to judge "impressive", but I don't like that so often "impressive" is tied to "championship", so I am going to try looking at different categories of greatness. 

Today I am going to talk about the most outstanding seasons turned in by individuals when surrounded by terrible supporting casts in the last decade. And by bad supporting cast I don't mean just non-All Stars but still talented teams (like the 01 Sixers, 03 Spurs or 06 Mavs), I mean casts where players are starting that might not even make some other teams in the NBA. I mean casts where after that season, some of those guys were never heard from again. The finalists for this category are McGrady in 03, Garnett in 03, Kobe in 06, and Wade in 09.  Even though none of their teams won a title or even made it out of the first round of the playoffs that season, they were four of the most impressive single-season performances that I saw this decade.  In reverse order, here are my rankings:

4) Dwyane Wade 2009, MIA: Team Record 43 - 39, Lost 1st round Hawks (4 - 3)
Traditional stats: 30.2 pts, 5 reb, 7.5 asts, 1.3 blk, 2.2 stls, 49.1% FG, 76.5% FT, 1.0 treys (31.7%)
Advanced stats: 30.4 PER, On/off +/- +13.1, 14.4 win shares, +10 net ORTG-DRTG, 22.2 wins produced
Best support: non-peak Marion/Jermaine O'Neal, rookie Michael Beasley. Coach Erik Spoelstra

Wade was brilliant last season.  With respect to the other finalists he edged out McGrady for the highest PER, and he led his steam in four of the five traditional box score stats (points/assists/steals/blocks).  Though he had the worst coach on this list Wade probably had the strongest supporting cast (which is saying something, because his cast was still pretty bad) but his team had the second worst record which, in conjunction with the rest of the stats placed him fourth on this list

3) Kobe Bryant 2006, LAL: Team record 45 - 37, Lost 1st round Suns (4 - 3)
Traditional stats: 35.4 pts, 5.3 reb, 4.5 asts, .4 blk, 1.8 stls, 45% FG, 85% FT, 2.3 treys (34.7%)
Advanced Stats: 28 PER, On/off +/- +12.7, 15.4 win shares, +9 Net ORTG-DRTG, 14.3 wins produced
Best support: Lamar Odom, Smush Parker. Coach Phil Jackson

Though Shaq used to call Kobe the best player in the NBA right before he got traded from LA, this was the season that really got the ball rolling on the "Kobe is the best player on the planet" talking point in the media.  This was the season that Kobe started to step out of Shaq's shadow by posting the highest non-Jordan scoring average by a guard ever.  He scored 62 points through three quarters of one game, then exploded for an 81-point effort against the Raptors that is second only to Wilt for most points in one game ever.  Kobe had the best coach and best 2nd-best player of the players on this list, and he didn't lead in any of the advanced stat categories.  But still, he led a team starting Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm to 45 wins in a tough Western Conference and took the Suns to the limit before getting ousted in the playoffs.  This was almost enough to get him to second on this list, but he was edged out by...

2) Tracy McGrady 2003, ORL: Team record 42 - 40. Lost 1st round Pistons (4 - 3)
Traditional Stats: 32.1 pts, 6.5 reb, 5.5 asts, .8 blks, 1.7 stls, 45.7% FG, 79.3% FT, 2.3 treys (38.6%)
Advanced Stats: 30.3 PER, On/off +/- 11.8, 16.5 win shares, +12 net ORTG-DRTG, 20.8 wins produced
Best support: Mike Miller (49 games), Grant Hill (29 games), Pat Garrity. Coach Doc Rivers

As I pointed out last month, McGrady was truly marvelous in that season with little-to-no help.  Despite having a solid coach in Doc Rivers, McGrady's supporting cast was probably the worst on this list (Jacques Vaughn, Gordan Giricek, Drew Gooden and Andrew DeClerq other four starters).  The '03 Magic also had the worst record on this list, but their 42 wins are at least within range of the 43 and 45 wins posted by Wade's and Kobe's more talented teams.  Like Wade, TMac also led his team in four of the five tradtional stats by average (points, assists, steals, blocks) as well as by totals (points, assists, rebounds, blocks).  McGrady also led this group in win shares, posted the 2nd-highest PER, and was just an all-around beast that season.

1) Kevin Garnett 2003, MIN: Team record 51 - 31. Lost 1st round Lakers (4 - 2)
Traditional stats: 23 pts, 13.4 reb, 6 assts, 1.6 blks, 1.4 steals, 50.2 FG%, 75.1 FT%
Advanced Stats: 26.4 PER, On/off +/- +22.8 , 15.8 win shares, +15 net ORTG-DRTG, 31.5 wins produced
Best support: Wally Szczerbiak (52 games), Troy Hudson. Coach Flip Saunders

Garnett tops this list with one of the most absurd individual efforts that the NBA has ever seen.  Because Szczerbiak was hurt for half of the season, Garnett's other four starters for the first three months of the year were: Troy Hudson, Anthony Peeler, Kendall Gill and Rasho Nesterovic.  That crew is right there with TMac's for worst on this list, and even with Szczerbiak playing half of the season it is inconceivable that Garnett led that team to 51 wins at the height of Western Conference domination.  Bar none, worst supporting cast for a 50-win team in NBA history (I defy you to find me one worse).

On an individual basis, Garnett dominated the advanced stats in this comp.  While he trailed the pack in PER and had the 2nd highest win shares, he swept the other three stats with the highest net offensive minus defensive rating, by-far the highest number of "wins produced", and the highest on-court/off-court +/- mark ever recorded by 82games.com since they started keeping track of the stat in 2002.  Garnett averaged 6.0 (!) assists that year from the power forward position, and became the only player in NBA history to lead his team in all five traditional stats by both totals and average (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks). 

So, that is my list of the best solo mission seasons of the decade.  Which do you think was the most impressive?  Are there any others that you think should have made this list but were left off?   

Comments

By: Matt Buser
On: 1/9/2010 1:19:00 PM
i would hope that chris paul barely missed the cut here. his non-MVP MVP season was ridiculous, and he was arguably better the next season with less help
 
By: The Professor
On: 1/9/2010 7:42:00 PM
No, Paul had too much help to be in this category. In his non-MVP MVP season he had David West as a fellow All Star, and also had 3 other solid-to-good starters in Chandler, Peja and Mo Pete. That just doesn't remotely fit in with guys carrying Vaughn/Giricek/Gooden/DeClerq or Hudson/Peeler/Gill/Rasho for large parts of seasons. Paul that season would actually have fit more into the "Best MVP" category I posted on Thursday.

The next season the Hornets were hit by injuries that made their cast weaker, but he still had All Star David West that kind of took him out of running. There were no All Star teammates as supporting players in this category.
 
By: Matt Buser
On: 1/11/2010 10:10:00 AM
no all-stars is certainly reasonable criteria, although i'd argue that getting 21/8 from west wasn't any better than kobe getting 15/9/5 from odom in his season listed above, and both teams were certainly trash beyond that
 
By: The Professor
On: 1/11/2010 12:13:00 PM
I can see that. I personally think that Lamar Odom is one of the most criminally underrated players in the NBA, and I'm pretty sure I've got a couple of blogs to that effect in my library somewhere. That was actually a big reason that Kobe's season ranked below TMac's on this list, because between Odom and Phil that is a solid foundation for a team...as we've seen over the past two seasons, where the current Lakers were essentially the Kobe/Odom/Phil base plus one more really good player. But yeah, "no All Stars" was simple and reasonable for a place to start a Solo Mission team. I'm sure Paul will factor heavily into this kind of list for the next decade.
 
By: ndu867
On: 1/13/2010 2:06:00 AM
Good list. Can't argue with it; The Professor defended keeping Paul off it well. Also, if we take Phil into consideration, in my opinion Byron Scott is a great coach. That was a scapegoat in New Orleans, him and Frank Lawrence in New Jersey. Like Barkley said about Saunders in Minnesota, what, do they think he just woke up and forgot how to coach?

Odom is not really underrated as long as you keep in mind that the playoffs are what it's all about in a league where half the teams make the postseason. He's respected as who he is. He's a player who can complete your team, but not one you build around, because while he is good (maybe very good) at every aspect of the game, he cannot dominate offensively. He can make some plays, but I remember a scout saying he was 'as good as a guy with a shaky jumper and an average first step is going to get', and that's why he can't carry an offense. Obviously, he can't carry a defense either. What he brings to the team is versatility, an ability to create mismatches because whatever the other team chooses to do he provides you with a good counter. You don't base your team around that guy, you complete it with him. But because playoff success determines a player's value, he's not underrated. Does he really receive less respect than, say, Ray Allen (now, not five years ago), Turkoglu, or Mo Williams? (Ginobili and Parker in San Antonio are better than he is.)I'd say that's the caliber of player he is, and that's not bad. But don't confuse him for an all-star (well, not beyond T-Mac and Iverson this year). Pietrus in Orlando is underrated, but he'll get some love when the playoffs roll around.
 
By: The Professor
On: 1/18/2010 11:28:00 AM
Re: Odom. NDU, it is interesting that you use postseason production as the means to show that Odom isn't a superstar, because Odom actually had excellent postseasons as the second option on the Lakers. Part of that is matchup, since they played the Suns twice and Odom was just too big for Shawn Marion, but averaging 19 points and 12 boards with PERs in the 18 - 20 range like he did in those playoffs is actually a lot better than anything Odom ever did in the regular season.
 

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