NBA Has Finally Become a Name Game




Michael wins the NBA title?

Over Magic.

Pro basketball has crashed the big time. It's a shorthand, one-name kind of game now, like baseball always has been and the NFL became when Johnny U. beat Sam and Frank in '58.

Pay-per-dunk finally reached nonsensical money parity this summer, when the rampantly non-productive Jon Koncak was given a $13.2 million contract spread over six years.

To emphasize the glut of teams in our team sports, circle Sunday, Dec. 10. That's when Orlando (Woolridge) and Magic are scheduled to play the Orlando Magic. In Orlando. (If the Lakers win big but their front court sub plays badly, imagine the headline: Magic Disappears; So Does Orlando.)

The trouble with the Bullets is that they have only one one-name player. And Bernard no longer is Bernard. Make the Bullets as plucky as last season but not quite so lucky, winners 37 times, down three from last season.

Everybody, including a statistical being called TENDEX, expects John Williams to emerge as a major force in the NBA. In truth, TENDEX insists Williams approached that last season.

TENDEX is a percentage that involves the vital basketball statistics, positive and negative, divided by minutes played. Also factored in is the pace at which a player's team plays.

Do you know the third-best NBA power forward last season, according to TENDEX? The Bullets' Williams, right behind Utah's Karl Malone and Philadelphia's Charles Barkley, and immediately ahead of Boston's Kevin McHale. Eighth was the Lakers' A.C. Green, No. 16 former Marylander Buck Williams.

"I think John really raised his game a few notches last year (his third in the league)," said Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry, "not only in his play but his leadership. He took a lot of responsibility for the outcome of games, winning and losing. I thought that was a real big change in him last year."

No Bullet was listed among the top 20 centers by TENDEX -- and the center of Bullets' attention early this season is the former eating machine, Mel Turpin. Bernard King was the 10th-best small forward, Jeff Malone the 15th-best shooting guard and Darrell Walker the 16th-best point guard.

"Our two position (with Malone and Ledell Eackles combining for an average of 33.2 points per game) was more solid than any in the league," Ferry said. "Eackles is a great offensive rebounder for a two-guard."

In 1,100 fewer minutes, Eackles had just 33 fewer offensive rebounds than King.

TENDEX also had Wes Unseld as coach of the year, insisting the Bullets won 12 more games than their talent indicated. The surprise was who finished second: Chuck Daly, coach of the league champion Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons might go 79-3 during this regular season and win every playoff game by more than 15 points; going in, I still don't think they're anything special. Deserving of last season's title, but the worst champion since '78-79 Seattle.

TENDEX said Daly meant 11 games to the Pistons last regular season; I say several teams are capable of easing by his gang in the Eastern Conference playoffs -- and if one of them doesn't, the Bulls will.

"I think the most-improved team might be Indiana," Ferry said. "Cleveland opens the season devastated by injuries (to Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance). The Knicks are somewhat of a mystery team, with a new coach (Stu Jackson) and Kiki Vandeweghe out for a while (with a back injury). Injuries are part of the game, but they can destroy the best of teams. Boston proved that last year."

Birdless, the Celtics only avoided the lottery on the last day of the regular season. And Magic Johnson's hamstring injury assured the Pistons of the NBA title they may have deserved a year earlier.

After 12 seasons, counting college, basketball still belongs to Magic and Bird. Until Michael Jordan and a much-improved cast of Chicago Bulls overtakes them at the start of a new decade.

What the Bulls have going for them is lots of young talent and time to get it accustomed to Jordan and the league (the regular season ends April 22). B.J. Armstrong is good enough to allow Jordan to move from point to shooting guard and Stacey King should become an inside presence.

With Bird, the Celtics might rise to first once more in the Atlantic Division. Without him last season, the Celtics were winless in 23 road games against teams that finished .500 or better.

A team that also commands attention is San Antonio, with David Robinson finally starting to earn the $26 million that ownership began paying him two years ago. Robinson gets to bang six regular-season times with the best center -- by a lot -- in the NBA, Akeem Olajuwon.

A most appealing player is the Soviet sharpshooter for Golden State, Sarunas Marchiulionis, who was among the first to volunteer his services to earthquake victims in his new home.

The Bullets' ad in basketball personals would be: "Desperately Seeking Center." Theirs would not be the only one.

"I think it's always been that way," Ferry said. "I think there's always been a scarcity of big people with above-average talent. If you can get a big person who can even play a role, he's worth a lot."

Which brings us back to the 7-foot Koncak with the Hawks. And the stunning reality that to the 76ers the former Bullet with a troublesome back, Rick Mahorn, is worth a first-round draft pick and two No. 2s.

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