Alonzo Mourning

Born: February 8, 1970
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Charlotte Hornets (NBA): 1992-’95
Miami Heat (NBA): 1995-’02; 2005-’07
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 2003-’04

Alonzo Mourning (danielbrenda.blogspot.com)
Alonzo Mourning (danielbrenda.blogspot.com)

Few defenders come as fearsome and intimidating as Alonzo Mourning. It didn’t matter his age, his team, or his condition, if he was on the court, he was bound to swat your shot, patrol the paint, and protect the rim. Unfortunately, staying on the court proved to be the most difficult task of Mourning’s NBA career.

409 of 492
From 1993 to 1998, Alonzo was a fresh and brash presence in the NBA. And although he’d have a bit of trouble in the latter part of this period staying on the court, he wound up playing 409 of a possible 492 games (83.1%). Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Mourning teamed with Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues for one of the NBA’s most exciting and endearing teams of the 1990s. The stylish haircuts, teal uniforms, and emphatic blocks, dunks, and passes by the three respective men entranced fans.

The Teal Madness got off to a rollicking start in Mourning’s rookie year. The Hornets won a franchise-best 44 games that season and reached the playoffs for the first time. Mourning was instrumental in leading the #5 seed Hornets over the #4  seed Boston Celtics. The Hornets center averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks a game. In Game 4, he scored 33 points and nailed the game-winning, series-clinching shot.

The Hornets were summarily defeated by the New York Knicks in five, hotly-contested games in the second round. Indeed, no team won by more than six points in any game. With such a hot start, it seemed the Hornets were a team destined to challenge for Eastern Conference supremacy for the rest of the 1990s. Unfortunately, Mourning and Johnson weren’t entirely on the same page. After Johnson received a huge contract extension. Mourning wanted one of his own. The Hornets balked at his asking price of $13 million annually, then offered him $11 million annually, to which Mourning balked, and so Zo was traded to Miami shortly before the 1995-96 season.

Under the tutelage and guidance of Pat Riley, Mourning blossomed, amazingly, into an even more terrifying defender. With Tim Hardaway helping carry the offensive load and men like P.J. Brown a partner in defensive crime, Zo’s Heat ascended the Eastern Conference.

125 of 132
The Heat reeled off an impressive 61 wins in the 1996-97 season. Normally, that’d be good enough for a #1 seed, but the Chicago Bulls had dropped 69 wins on the league. Meeting in the Conference Finals, the Bulls easily dismissed the Heat in five games. Despite that clash, Miami’s main rival in this era would turn out to be the New York Knicks. From 1997 to 2000, the clubs met every postseason in some of the most bruising and physical playoff series ever played. Mourning got into a fight with his former teammate Johnson, who was now a Knick. New York coach Jeff Van Gundy famously held onto Zo’s ankles like a rag doll trying to futilely break up hostilities. Each series went to a do-or-die game, which the Knicks won all but once.

The general failure to upend the Knicks doesn’t detract from this period as the peak of Alonzo’s prowess. In 1999 and 2000 he missed only seven games, led the NBA in blocks per game both seasons, was named Defensive Player of the Year both seasons, and in 1999 finished second in MVP voting.

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From that apex, Mourning quickly descended. Kidney disease struck in 2000 knocking him out for all but 13 games in the 2000-01 season. A brief return to form came in 2002, but the disease worsened and he missed all of the 2002-03 season. Mourning signed as a free agent with the New Jersey Nets in the summer of 2003. A successful kidney transplant saved his life, but only allowed him to play about two dozen games with New Jersey. The Nets traded Zo to Toronto in December 2004 as part of a deal to land Vince Carter. The dismayed Mourning never reported to Toronto and eventually was bought out of his contract. That opened up a return to Miami in March 2005, where Mourning would spend the rest of his career. A tear of his patella tendon in December 2007 – exactly four years after his life-saving transplant – finally struck down the mighty Zo and forced his retirement.

Zo Flex

By that point Mourning wasn’t quite the offensive force he could once be. From 1993 to 2000, he had averaged 21 points on 52.5% shooting. However, Zo found a measure of redemption in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Mourning only scored eight points in 20 minutes of action a night. His defense, however, never quite dissipated. In that limited action, he turned up the defensive heat and averaged a remarkable 2.5 blocks.

His presence was indispensable to the 2006 Miami Heat. With the lumbering Shaquille O’Neal often in foul trouble and generally incompetent on defense, Mourning was the paint-patrolling safety valve to prevent opponents from overrunning the Heat. The title Miami won that season was well-deserved and earned for Mourning. In Game 6, which Miami won to earn the NBA title, Alonzo put together eight points, six rebounds, and five blocks in just 14 minutes. In his limited playing time that game, the Heat had a +11 scoring edge over the Dallas Mavericks, while Shaq’s 30 minutes of play produced a -7 scoring margin for Miami. Seeings how the final score was 95 to 92 in favor of Miami, it’s a darn good thing Mourning was there to intimidate, block, and swat.

Honors

NBA –
2x Defensive Player of the Year (1999, 2000)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1999, 2000)
All-NBA 1st Team (1999)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2000)
7x All-Star (1994-’97, 2000-’02)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (838 games):
17.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 0.5 SPG
.583 TS%, .527 FG%, .692 FT%
21.2 PER, .166 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (95 games):
13.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 0.5 SPG
.570 TS%, .512 FG%, .649 FT%
19.2 PER, .139 WS/48

Sam Cassell

Born: November 18, 1969
Position: Point Guard
Professional Career:
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1993-’96
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1996
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1996-’97
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 1997-’99
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1999-2003
Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA): 2003-’04
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA): 2005-’08
Boston Celtics (NBA): 2008

Sam Cassell

Sam Cassell enjoyed a lengthy career as an NBA point guard, but only after an arduous college basketball journey. At age 20, he began playing junior college ball with San Jacinto College outside Houston. Then, at age 22, he transferred to Florida State. After two successful seasons there, Cassell was finally drafted into the NBA at age 24.

And nearly everywhere he went in the NBA, Cassell catalyzed improvement for his teams.

Selected by the Houston Rockets, the geriatric rookie immediately made a huge impact for the Rockets. No one doubts Hakeem Olajuwon was the primary fuel for the Rockets that won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995, but Cassell’s role as backup point guard and big game performer helped pull Houston out of some tough fixes. In the 1994 Finals, Cassell hit a huge three-pointer in the final moments to win Game 3. He finished that game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. Not bad for a rookie who averaged 7 points in the regular season. In the 1995 Finals, Cassell exploded for 31 points on 12 shots leading Houston to a 2-0 series lead over the Magic.

These huge playoff performances paid dividends for Cassell. By his third season, 1995-96, he was averaging 14.5 points and 5 assists per game off of Houston’s bench. Following that season, however, Cassell was traded to the Phoenix Suns and thus began his wandering days.

Over the next three seasons, Sam played for the Suns, Nets, and Mavericks before finally settling in Milwaukee. Not that he wasn’t productive. Cassell averaged 18 points and 6.5 assists in this span, but no club seemed to truly appreciate what he offered. The Nets were particularly foolish. They made their lone postseason between 1994 and 2002 while improving from 26 to 43 wins in their one full season with Cassell.

With the Bucks, though, Cassell found a home and exploited his talents to the max. His biggest assets, oddly for a point guard, were his abilities to post-up and generate lots of free throws. Milwaukee lacked a power forward or center capable of scoring, so Cassell’s production of 19 points and 7 assists per game while making 87% of his free throws was sorely needed. In 2001, teaming with Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen, Cassell’s Bucks narrowly missed out on the NBA Finals losing to the 76ers in a tough 7-game series.

Ever the wanderer, though, Cassell’s time in Milwaukee finished in 2003. Still, Cassell had a couple of curtain calls left.

The Timberwolves in 2004 enjoyed their best season in franchise history after Cassell’s acquisition. Indeed, it was a career year for Cassell who finally made the All-Star Team and was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team at the tender age of 34. With Kevin Garnett as league MVP and Cassell riding shotgun Minnesota made the Western Conference Finals. An unfortunate back injury to Sam kept the Wolves from mounting a full challenge to the Lakers, though, and they lost the series in six games.

In 2006, after an injury-plagued 2005 season, Cassell helped lift the Los Angeles Clippers from their wretched depths. Yes, the Clippers, a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff series since 1976 as the Buffalo Braves. Cassell’s savvy, leadership, and still potent skills mixed beautifully with another superb power forward (Elton Brand) as the Clippers won 47 games. In the playoffs, Sam’s Clippers advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals where they lost to the Suns in seven games. From that point on, Cassell was severely limited by injuries, but managed to snag a final NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

With his ebullient energy, pull-up jumpers, fearless forays to the rim, and confidence Cassell improved every team he appeared with. The Rockets, Nets, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Clippers were all demonstrably better with the services of Cassell. Even if those teams’ appreciation for Cassell usually proved very short-lived, that kind of track record is no accident, but proof of his prowess. In a career that was anything but short-lived, you can see that prowess almost from the get-go.

Honors

3x Champion (1993-’94, 2008)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2004)
All-Star (2004)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (993 games):
15.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG
.544 TS%, .454 FG%, .331 3PT%, .861 FT%
19.5 PER, .141 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (136 games):
1.2 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG
.525 TS%, .414 FG%, .363 3PT%, .847 FT%
15.9 PER, .093 WS/48

Grant Hill

Born: October 5, 1972
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1994-2000
Orlando Magic (NBA): 2000-’07
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 2007-’12
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA): 2012-’13

Grant Hill
Grant Hill

What Grant Hill’s career could have been is something of joyful imagination mixed with sorrowful reality. The prodigious talent was mixed with demoralizing foot injuries, the endless rehabs, the near-fatal staph infection he suffered… it’s all enough to dash the fantastic dreams we had of Grant Hill leading the Detroit Pistons or the Orlando Magic to potential title glory.

It surely was enough to dash what should have been the middle portion of Hill’s career.

From the 2000-01 season to the 2005-06 season, Hill played in just 135 of 492 potential games. And half of those 135 came in the 2004-05 season. He also missed all of the 2003-04 season. His sojourn in Orlando was just rife with pain. But taking a step back from the sorrow, we do realize that Hill’s career was its own brand of magnificent.

He was co-Rookie of the Year in 1995 for the Detroit Pistons. In just his second season, he was approaching triple-double territory with regularity averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. He kept up a similar pace through the 2000 season. This era was undoubtedly the apex of Grant Hill. Amongst all NBA players of this era, Hill ranked 9th in PPG, 15th in APG, and 24th in RPG fully displaying his versatility.

But his final games for Detroit were played on an injured ankle that should have been rested. Hill’s impending free agency, however, cast an unfair pall. If Hill wisely sat out the playoffs to heal his ankle, accusations would have arisen claiming he was unfairly putting himself above his team. Yet another selfish millionaire athlete. If he played, he’d be a “team player”, but he’d put his health in jeopardy. Which is exactly what happened. To keep alive the season for a middling Pistons squad, Hill practically sacrificed five years of his career.

After finally emerging fully healthy in 2006, Hill enjoyed a surprising rejuvenation. Over the next five years – one with Orlando, the rest with Phoenix – Hill would average a respectable 13 points and 5 rebounds. Clearly, not what he once was, but after what he had experienced, these twilight years were glorious for Hill.

Only three other players (Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Larry Bird) had replicated Hill’s 1996 season of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. But his season at age 38 in 2011 was nearly as remarkable. His 13 PPG that season was the 11th highest ever for a player that age or older. And he did it shooting nearly 40% from three-point range, quite the change from his early days. Nearly 20 years before, Hill happened to have the world’s best spin-cycle on his drives going to the hoop… but he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn from downtown.

Nonetheless, he did what he had to do as time went on to remain an effective basketball player. Truthfully, he did what he had to do just to simply remain any kind of basketball player. He easily could have given up at any number of points without any complaints. But his perseverance is astounding.

Don’t sleep on Grant Hill’s actual talents, though. Few small forwards ever handled the ball like Hill. Few have ever passed like Hill. Few have ever encapsulated so many grand qualities with such grace like Hill. He’s a Hall of Fame type talent and an astounding one at that.

Honors

Rookie of the Year (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1997)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1996, 1998-2000)
7x All-Star (1995-’98, 2000-’01, 2005)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1026 games):
16.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG
.551 TS%, .483 FG%, .769 FT%
19.0 PER, .138 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (39 games):
13.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG
.531 TS%, .469 FG%, .781 FT%
18.1 PER, .102 WS/48

Reggie Miller

Born: August 24, 1965
Position: Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 1987-’05

Reggie Miller (Indianapolis Star)
Reggie Miller (Indianapolis Star)

Reggie Miller possessed a career predicated more on longevity than overwhelming dominance. He made a respectable five All-Star Games in his 18-year career. He also garnered a decent three selections to the All-NBA 3rd Team. His career-high in PPG (24.6) came in his third season and on only one other occasion did Miller surpass the 22-point per game plateau. He averaged a mere 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He only grabbed one steal per game.

The early part of his career, 1987-88 through 1991-92, saw his Indiana Pacers muddle around 40 wins a year as he and a quirky mix of Chuck Person and Detlef Schrempf slogged in a powerful Eastern Conference dominated by the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and Chicago Bulls. However, as those franchises succumbed to age and premature Michael Jordan retirements, Miller’s persistence, and the retooling of the Pacers allowed for a superb second act in Miller’s career.

Reggie’s remarkable consistency allowed for such a retooling. Sure, he never had breathtaking scoring averages, but from 1990 to 2001, he never fell below 18 PPG. That steady scoring did come on breathtaking percentages, however. He routinely led the NBA in free throw percentage, or came very close. That tends to happen when you shoot 88.8% from the line for your career.

Rik Smits, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Derrick McKey, Byron Scott, and Mark Jackson highlighted the first Pacers run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994 and 1995. Each of those series ended in seven games with Indiana on the losing end. Then, after another regrouping, the Pacers enjoyed another run of greatness making the ECF in 1998 and 1999 and, finally, the NBA Finals in 2000 with additions of Jalen Rose, Chris Mullin, and Travis Best. Yet another rejuvenation occurred in 2004 with Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, and Al Harrington leading the way to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

Reggie Miller was the only link between all these different teams, and all these coaches and players that came through Indiana.

In addition to the remarkable free-throw shooting, his three-point shooting was absolutely prodigious. Bounding off of screens and picks galore, Miller could curl, catch, and shoot faster than just about any player in NBA history. To make matters worse for defenders, Miller had a habit of extending his leg while shooting to catch the opponent and draw a foul. So even if he didn’t knock down the shot, he was going to receive two free throws that he was assuredly going to make.

Miller also chose the best times to unleash torrential scoring when it comes to remembering outstanding performances. 25-point quarters in Madison Square Garden tend to sear memories. As do 8 points in 9 seconds. Or whirling three-point shots that miraculously bank in. And shoving Michael Jordan to break free for a three.

Reggie lived for the stage of the postseason and thanks to his dramatic performances – and his incredible endurance – he carved out a memorable place in basketball history.

Honors

3x All-NBA 3rd Team (1995-’96, 1998)
5x All-Star (1990, 1995-’96, 1998, 2000)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1389 games):
18.2 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG, .471% FG, .395 3PT%, .888 FT%
18.4 PER, .176 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (144 games):
20.6 PPG, 2.5 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 SPG, . 449FG%, .390 3PT%, .893 FT%
19.5 PER, .180 WS/48

Penny Hardaway

Born: July 18, 1971
Position: Point/Shooting Guard, Small Forward
Professional Career:
Orlando Magic (NBA): 1993-1999
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1999-2004
New York Knicks (NBA): 2004-2005
Miami Heat (NBA): 2007

During the last half of the 1990s, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was on top of the basketball world.  Playing on a fresh new franchise and arriving just after the retirements of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan, Hardaway promised to escalate the NBA’s popularity with a style that melded many of the talents of the aforementioned legends. His raw athleticism trumped Bird’s, his scoring outbursts surpassed those of Magic, and his passing was more deceptive than MJ could ever consistently hope for.

The aesthetic beauty of Penny Hardaway’s basketball game is still hard to imagine decades later. A long, lanky and tall point guard gliding up and down the court. Probing defenses for thunderous dunks or slick dimes. Anfernee’s distinctive nickname, “Penny”, gave a much-deserved trademark to the on-court festivities.

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Robert Sarver: Modern Day Ted Stepien

Look at me ma, I'm grandstanding!
Look at me ma, I’m grandstanding!

In a ridiculous turn of events, Robert Sarver apologized to Suns fans last night for the San Antonio Spurs resting two old ass players – Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili – and letting three other players with mild injuries rest up during a PRESEASON GAME.

Here’s some of the histrionics from Sarver via the Arizona Republic:

“Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight,” Sarver said. “This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I’ve got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you.”

First of all, I’m of the opinion those fans wasted their money by buying preseason tickets.

Second of all, if Sarver wants to apologize to Phoenix fans for wasting their hard-earned money on the Suns, he oughta give a mea culpa for his apparent and silly mandate from 2004 to 2007 to discard any and all potentially useful draft picks.

After viewing the list of travesties, you’ll conclude, like I have that Sarver was a modern-day Ted Stepien… the infamous Cleveland owner from the early 1980s who gave away draft picks for next-to-nothing.

JUNE 2004

The Suns drafted Luol Deng with the 7th overall pick and hastily traded him to the Chicago Bulls for a Jackson Vroman and a 2005 1st Round Pick. As I’m sure y’all know, Deng has gone on to a fine career while Jackson Vroman has… what has he done? I’ve honestly never heard of him before this. According to Basketball-Reference, Vroman played a total of 57 minutes for the Suns before being traded away.

Well, at least the Suns used that 2005 1st Rounder from Chicago to select Nate Robinson…

JUNE 2005

Well, that didn’t last long. After the Suns drafted li’l Nate they packaged him with Quentin Richardson for the New York Knicks. In return the Suns got wild-eyed Kurt Thomas and Dijon Thompson. Dijon however was no good and wasn’t in high demand like Grey Poupon. Thompson would play a grand total of 43 minutes for the Suns.

In a separate deal, the Suns gave away 2nd Round draft pick Marcin Gortat to the Orlando Magic for the mythical “future considerations.” Seems like an even deal.

JUNE 2006

With an all-world point guard like Steve Nash, the Suns still needed to have some backup help and they coulda had it in spades this year by drafting Sergio Rodriguez and Rajon Rondo.

Instead, they wound up trading both men. Rodriguez was sold for cash to the Portland Trail Blazers. Meanwhile Rondo was shipped to Boston for a future 1st Round Pick. Don’t worry they’ll be trading that pick soon enough.

Instead of having Rodriguez or Rondo to back up Nash, Phoenix went out and signed… Marcus Banks. Jesus.

JULY 2007

That 1st Rounder Phoenix got for Rondo turned out to be Rudy Fernandez. Rudy got sold for cash to the Blazers.

Don’t worry, just a week later the Suns dumped Kurt Thomas, a 2008 1st Rounder, and a 2010 1st Rounder on Seattle for the privilege of a 2nd Round draft pick and a trade exception. The two first rounders Phoenix dumped turned out to be Serge Ibaka and Quincy Pondexter. One an All-Star caliber player, the other turning into a fine rotation swingman. The Suns took Emir Preldzic, who has yet to play in the NBA, with that 2nd Rounder they got in return.

THE SCORE

So, let’s tally the score shall we. From 2004 to 2007, Phoenix traded away draftees and draft picks that became Rajon Rondo, Serge Ibaka, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, Rudy Fernandez, Marcin Gortat, and Sergio Rodriguez for cash, Marcus Banks, Dijon Thompson, and “future considerations.”

Wasn’t like Phoenix was a title-contender all these years, coming perilously close to the Finals.

Good grief.

 

Thanks to basketball-reference as always for being a great research source.

Atlanta Hawks Franchise History: 1996-97 through 2005-06

Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta Hawks (sportslogos.net)

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 0

Regular Season Record: 325-463
Regular Season Win Percentage: 41.2%
Playoff Appearances: 3
Playoff Series Wins: 2
Playoff Record: 8-15

This was a miserable decade in Hawks’ history. They only had three winning seasons and they were all frontloaded in 1997, 1998 and 1999. During this three-year stretch, the Hawks won 64% of their games. Naturally, the selections for this decade’s players are also frontloaded in this period. Dikembe Mutombo was brightest spot for the Hawks nabbing back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1997 and 1998. After being swept by the New York Knicks in the 2nd Round of the 1999 playoffs, the aging Hawks were blown up and Lenny Wilkens left as coach in 2000.

From 2000 till 2006, Atlanta mustered a pathetic winning percentage of .328, bottoming out in 2005 with just 13 wins. From that point on, Mike Woodson would slowly rebuild the Hawks into a frisky playoff team during their next decade.

PREVIOUS DECADE
1986-87 through 1995-96

STARTING FIVE

C – Dikembe Mutombo – 343 Games
11.9 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 52.9% FG, 69.2% FT

F – Christian Laettner – 156 Games
16.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 48.5% FG, 83.8% FT

F – Shareef Abdur-Rahim – 211 Games
20.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 47.3% FG, 83.5% FT

G- Steve Smith – 181 Games
19.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 43% FG, 85.1% FT

G – Mookie Blaylock – 196 Games
14.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 6.2 APG, 2.5 SPG, 40.6% FG, 73.9% FT

BENCH

Jason Terry – 403 Games
16.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 45.5% FG, 36.7% 3PT, 84.5% FT

Alan Henderson – 406 Games
10.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 46.4% FG, 64.8% FT

Tyrone Corbin – 196 Games
9.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 42.3% FG, 75.6% FT