Ball Don't Lie - NBA

In a recent (and well, well worth your time to listen to) interview on a Bill Simmons podcast, ESPN scribe Ric Bucher mentioned working on a potential column that would go over just who certain expected playoff teams would enjoy matching up against, and who certain teams would like to avoid. 

Regarding a possible Lakers/Spurs pairing, Bucher told Simmons that "somebody in [the Grizzlies'] front office told me that Pau Gasol plays amazingly well against Tim Duncan, historically. I throw that in as sort of the X-factor."

That didn't sound right on a first listen, I've long been a big Pau fan, but I don't remember Gasol playing exceedingly well (or "well," or "amazingly well") while going up against Tim, so I went back to Pau's career stats against Duncan over the last few years using Yahoo!'s game logs.  

Excluding Pau's rookie year of 2001-02 (which I can't help but assume would help Gasol's overall stats), I was able to find 12 career regular season games between the two forward/centers (they tend to get hurt a lot, Duncan more so than Gasol), and Gasol's stats don't truly overwhelm:

44 percent shooting from the floor, 17.8 points per game, with 6.3 rebounds.

Now, compare that to his career marks of:

51 percent from the floor, 18.9 points per game, and 8.6 rebounds.

The two squared off in the 2004 Playoffs, with Duncan's far-superior Spurs dispatching the Grizzlies in four games, and Gasol's averages rose to 18.5 points per game on 57 percent shooting, though he managed only five rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Duncan went off: 24.3 points per game, 10 boards, 58.8 percent shooting.

Now, points, rebounds, and shooting percentages aren't the whole story; but there weren't a whole host of games that saw Pau throwing out seven or eight assists per game, throwing back three shots a game, playing fewer than 30 minutes, or anything that would suggest that he was helping the Grizzlies in ways that couldn't be explained by the points and rebounds. 

In fact, if there were anything to add, Pau did seem to have a rather high turnover streak. Still, anything could go into that: Manu Ginobili's quick hands on a broken play, Jason Williams leaving too early on a screen and roll which forces a moving Pau into picking up the offensive foul, among other potential miscues that wouldn't even involve Duncan.

That said, given every benefit of the doubt, there's little to even suggest that Pau plays even up to his own standards against Duncan, much less "amazingly well." 

This is why we readers have to be careful with these front office quotes, or anonymous advance scout reports. Not saying that they aren't accurate, let's say, 90 percent of the time. They probably are. But there's a reason we haven't seen Bucher's column yet: he had to go research the front office exec's claim, and obviously found it to be lacking.

Scouts can come up with the same bluster. SI.com publishes a list of scouting reports for each NBA team before the season, and they're an absolute must read, even if you know some of the breakdowns are going to include parts that are a bit off. I remember one scout worrying about New Jersey's defense a few seasons ago, even though he thought the Nets' offense was "as good as anybody."

That was the season New Jersey (and this was a pretty typical year for them) was 3rd in defensive efficiency.

And that offense, that was "as good as anybody?" 25th in the NBA.  

So who are we left to believe? Where are the strong? And who are the trusted?

Quotable agents, I reckon. God bless 'em, every one.

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