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NBA Awards – Special Edition

Thievery and Rejection
The two hardest things to do on a basketball court are stealing the ball from the opponent and blocking his shot attempt. Steal it 2.5 times a game and you have a chance to lead the league…fly swat 3 shots a game and you might lead the league in blocks. Wed night (2/6/13) there were a few strong performances in both these departments, so let’s take a look at the guys who got at least two of each, ranked by impressiveness of the performance.
1) Eric Bledsoe – 6 steals, 3 blocks (also career-high 27 pts, 6 rebs) —- Bledsoe is a freak athlete, his explosion, quickness, and hops are off the charts. The NBA is a league full of phenomenal athletes, but there aren’t a lot like Bledsoe – D Wade in his prime, D Rose, Westy, LeBron…somewhat John Wall, and a few others. This is tremendously helpful in the stl/blk dept, and Bledsoe uses his natural gifts as well as anyone to excel at stealing and fly-swatting. In his last 10 games, he’s at 2.3 stls, 1.4 blks…for a guy listed at 6’1″ who looks closer to 6 feet even. On Monday I read a rumor about the Clips being interested in getting KG from Boston and losing Bledsoe in the process. That would be a tragic mistake.
2) Samuel Dalembert – 4 steals, 4 blocks (and another double-double, too – 10/11 rebs) —- Sammy D has always been a good shot-blocker – he’s 6’11” with decent athleticism/mobility – but the thefts last night are quite a surprise, tying his career-high (done 4 other times). Three times in his career Dalembert has averaged over 2 blk/gm, and for his career he’s at 1.9, but in the theft dept, .6 is his career best for a season, though it is pretty rare to find centers who garner more than 1 a game.
3) Derrick Favors – 3 steals, 3 blocks (plus 11 rebs in only 21 minutes) —- Favors is a bit like a 6’10” version of Bledsoe – tremendously explosive and athletic. But this is only his 5th career game of at least 2 stl/2 blk…and 3 of the others were this season, all in the month of November. He’s still only averaging a shade over 21 min/gm, but is at career-highs in both stls (.9) and blks (1.4). People have been wondering since late last season (when Favors had 7 double-doubles in April) what the Jazz were going to do about their logjam of bigs (Millsap & Al-Jeff starting, Kanter also in reserve), and now we’re over halfway through the next season and people are still wondering. If/when Favors ever gets a starting job and 32+ min/night, he should have a lot more games like this.
4) Dwyane Wade – 4 steals, 2 blocks (plus 31 pts, 8 dimes, and 13-13 from the line) —- Simply the greatest shot-blocking guard ever, as well as a supreme thief (career 1.8/gm), he uses his athleticism, explosion, and timing beautifully to record often times the most memorable blocks you’ll see – chasing down on the break or helping out in the paint. My all-time favorite was from the 2004-05 season when he blocked Amare Stoudamire (in Amare’s prime), controlled the ball, and then chucked a 60-footer to beat the 3rd Q buzzer and sunk the shot. His fly-swatting resume: 6 times at least 1 blk/gm for the season, twice at 1.3, and career average of 1.0 for a 6’3″ guard. You’d think MJ would be the best shot-blocking guard ever, but while he did crush it in that dept for two seasons – his 3rd (1.5) & 4th (1.6) – he only once again hit a blk/gm (1.0 exactly 3 yrs later), and that was it. Ron Harper & David Thompson were a couple other great shot-blocking guards as well.
5) Roy Hibbert – 2 steals, 5 blocks (plus 18/14 rebs) —- Hibbert is REALLY tall (7’2″), but never to be mistaken for a great athlete. He was a major project and took lots gym time to become as good as he is. Just running the court smoothly was something he had to work on. This is his 5th year in the league and 2nd averaging 2+ blocks (2.6 this year, 2.0 last season). He’s actually fairly decent on thefts, a career-best .6/gm this year after a career-best .5 last year. 
6) Kevin Durant – 2 steals, 2 blocks (plus 25/7/4) —- Durant has become more athletic and explosive since entering the league 6 years ago, helping him out in the rejection & thievery depts. He’s at 1.6 stl, 1.2 blk this year, a career-high in steals, tied for career-best in blocks. He has six 2 stl/2 blk games this year, seven a year ago. He’s still just 24 and has been quite busy leading the league in scoring, but I suspect his numbers in these depts will climb some more before they peak. 
7) Paul Millsap – 2 steals, 4 blocks (plus 19/6/5 dimes) —- This former 2nd round steal in the 2006 Draft has always been a bit undersized at the PF position but nonetheless, extremely productive, and adept at stealing (1.4, 1.8, 1.4 last 3 seasons including 2012-13). His rather sturdy size (6’8″, 255) and average athleticism precludes him from greatness in the fly-swatting category, but he is at 1.1 this year, his 3rd season of at least 1.0 (career-high 1.2 in 2009-10).
Honorable Mention……Josh Smith – 1 steal, 3 blocks —- The Joshua Tree is basically the modern day master at accumulation of stls & blks. Now in his 9th season, he’s at 1.3 stl, 2.2 blk for his career. Smith has had exactly 40 career games of at least 3 stl/3 blk, 12 of those 4X4, and one 5X5 game. In looking up the data, I came across a stretch of 5 games one season where 4 of them were at least 3 of each. One of his 4X4 games was an absurd 19 pts, 6 rebs, 9 asst, 9 blk, 4 stls. Another game was a tri-dub (22/12/10) with 5 blks, 3 stls. Perfectly suited for the task – tall, athletic, extremely explosive in his prime, and seeks them out……Lamar Odom – 6 steals, 0 blocks —- Odom was built to excel in this, a tall, skilled, athletic guy (but definitely lacking top notch burst). He came into the league as a 20 yr old rookie and immediately turned in a 1.2 stl/1.3 blk season, but being the career underachiever that he was (is), he only twice again finished the season with at least 1.0 in both categories……Rudy Gay – 4 steals, 0 blks —- Much like Joshua Tree, Gay is built for the task – just a shade shorter than Josh, very athletic & explosive – but doesn’t seek them out as much, or have Smith’s great timing on fly swats. 1.3 stl & .9 blk for his career, twice he’s averaged at least one of each for a season……Russell Westbrook – 4 steals, 1 block —- One of the better raw athletes to ever play the PG position, Westy brings intense energy and effort to every game he plays, resulting in plenty of stls – career high 2.0 this season, 1.6 career average – but rather mediocre fly-swatting numbers. He’s at just .2 blk/gm this year, and has never been at 1/2 a blk for his career, though his long arms and 6’3″ height would have one expecting more. Much of blocking is about timing, and some of that is innate – you got it or you don’t.
The King…Grand Master…Lord of the Stealing/Shot Blocking Universe — Akeem Olajuwon
      Akeem (I always liked his original name more than the later adopted ‘Hakeem’) put up steal/block numbers that will never be matched. He was like a panther or cheetah in the post – cat quick, and always ready to pounce for a steal or fly swat. Poke the ball, time a block, strip a player driving to the hole – he did it all, better than anyone. A soccer player growing up in Africa, Olajuwon developed supreme feet & footwork for a 6’10” guy, and he was also blessed with great explosiveness in his prime. Five times in his career he averaged at least 2 stls, 2.7 blks – one of them 2.6 stl/3.4 blk. His 6th through 10th seasons he averaged more than 3.5 blk/gm, 3 of those seasons over 4 blks. His steals during that stretch? 2.1, 2.2, 1.8, 1.8, 1.6. All the while he was an automatic 20/10 guy every night. For another angle on how dominant he was at thievery & rejection, he played 18 seasons in his career, well beyond his prime the last few, but yet only once did he ever average fewer than 1 steal a game – his 16th season. His final season, in Toronto, at age 39 while playing just 22.6 min/gm, he was at 1.2 stl/1.5 blk. He never averaged less than 1.5 blks his entire career. Final career numbers – 1.7 stl, 3.1 blk. 
P.S. For all the old-timers out there – yes, Wilt & Russell probably blocked around 6 shots a game in their day, when that stat wasn’t kept (thank you ABA for waking up the NBA to the stat!). But they were playing in such a different era, players far less athletic and far fewer 6’11” & taller guys, and I’m not sure how they were at stealing the ball, though I imagine Russell would have been pretty good.

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