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January 12, 2009
Prospectus Hoops List
January 12, 2009

by Bradford Doolittle

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Effective this week, the Hoops List moves to Mondays.

One drawback--or perhaps it's a virtue--of my set of Wins Produced metrics is that players can be knocked down or boosted by the teams on which they play. Take this example:

Player           WP  WP82   tmW  tmW82    %TM
LeBron James	7.2  17.3    28   67.5  25.7%
Kevin Durant	1.2   2.8     5   11.4  24.9%

James and Durant have accounted for roughly an equal percentage of their respective team's wins. However, because Wins Produced is balanced with actual team wins, it would be impossible for Durant to grade out as valuable as James. LeBron has already accumulated 7.2 wins this season. The Thunder have won just five games so even if Durant were responsible for 100% of Oklahoma City's success, his current ceiling of Wins Produced is still five.

Then again, how valuable is a player's performance if it doesn't result in wins? To his credit, Durant himself seems to grasp this concept. When asked whether he felt like he deserved to be an All-Star, Durant told The Daily Oklahoman, "No, I donít think so. Because one of the requirements is that the teamís got to win. Thatís a big part of being an All-Star, leading your team to victories."

It's an admirable statement, but nevertheless, an astute NBA team builder is going to be able to recognize talent that is inflated or deflated by team context. Recognizing that, I like to look at Wins Produced as a percentage of total team wins to spot players who otherwise might not show up on my lists of leaders and laggards. Durant is an extreme example, but there are many less stark instances across the league.

Another lesson you can glean from looking over a list of WP percentages is just how teams are structured. The Celtics' championship run last season brought a lot of deserved attention to the notion of the Big Three, in which three primary players are surrounded by a littany of role players. That model of roster construction worked well for the Celtics last season, but of course it's not the only way to build a team. Also, even teams that are constructed one way can evolve into another:

Boston's Wins Produced as a percentage of actual wins

2007-08                         2008-09
Paul Pierce        18.0%        Ray Allen          18.5%
Ray Allen          15.4%        Paul Pierce        18.0%
Kevin Garnett      15.2%        Rajon Rondo        16.0%
Rajon Rondo         9.8%        Kevin Garnett      15.4%
Eddie House         6.9%        Kendrick Perkins    8.6%
James Posey         6.4%        Eddie House         6.4%
Kendrick Perkins    6.2%        Tony Allen          5.9%
Sam Cassell         5.6%        Leon Powe           5.7%
Tony Allen          4.5%        Glen Davis          3.3%
Leon Powe           3.8%        Brian Scalabrine    1.7%
Glen Davis          2.7%        Gabe Pruitt         1.4%
Brian Scalabrine    1.0%        Patrick O'Bryant    0.5%

The rise of Rajon Rondo has turned Boston's Big Three into a Big Four. Also, you can tell at a glance that while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have remained steady, Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins have taken on slightly bigger roles to soak up the decline in production by Boston's bench.

What's better, a Big Three or a Fearsome Foursome? How about a Fab Five--a balanced construction like the '03-04 champion Pistons. How about a Lucky Star: Dwyane Wade on this year's Heat or Michael Jordan's Bulls before Scottie Pippen's maturation? Or how about a Dynamic Duo scheme, like the Shaquille O'Neal/Kobe Bryant three-peat Lakers?

To be honest, I don't know if one method of roster construction is better than any other. That's another column. This is the Hoops List. What I am going to do is to classify the construction of each team's roster using this framework. In some cases, this is difficult or impossible--it's these teams that probably need to step back and figure out just what kind of roster they want to build. One thing that did surprise me: The Big Three ideal is not nearly so prevalent as I imagined it to be.

RANK (Last Week) Team (Power rating) [ WIN PACE / PYTHAGOREAN PACE / PRESEASON PROJECTION ]

(Statistics through Jan. 10)

1. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers (65.7) [ 67 / 70 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 2; DEF: 1; PACE: 24

LUCKY STAR: Players so good that every personnel decision you make is determined by compatibility with that player are incredibly rare. The Cavaliers have such a player in LeBron James (25.7%) and it appears that they've found a winning combination of role players to go with the current best player in the world. About the only thing I see lacking is a defensively-oriented backup for James at the three spot, one who can help shoulder the load against players like Paul Pierce.

2. (3) Los Angeles Lakers (62.5) [ 67 / 63 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 1; DEF: 4; PACE: 4

DYNAMIC DUO: Kobe Bryant (23.3%) and Pau Gasol (17.9%) have re-created a similar heirarchy to the one in place when Bryant was paired with Shaquille O'Neal. That emergence comes at the expense of Lamar Odom (10.5%) and Andrew Bynum (8.3%), who have stepped back to become just two more pieces in Phil Jackson's shiny, new chess set.

3. (1) Boston Celtics (61.3) [ 62 / 63 / 63 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 7; DEF: 2; PACE: 17

FEARSOME FOURSOME: I pretty much covered Boston in my intro. Instead of repeating that, I want to underscore the need for Danny Ainge to upgrade the Boston bench. Last season, the starters accounted for 64.4% of the team's wins. This season, that figure has risen to 76.6%. Some of that is that none of the Celtics' top players have had significant injuries, but nevertheless, the heavier load may account for the Celtics' recent run of late-game fades. In each of Boston's seven recent losses, the Celtics have been outscored in the fourth quarter and they nearly blew a 20-point lead in Sunday's much-needed win at Toronto.

4. (8) Orlando Magic (56.6) [ 64 / 61 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 6; DEF: 3; PACE: 10

FEARSOME FOURSOME: Check out this balance: Jameer Nelson (17.9%), Hedo Turkoglu (17.3%), Dwight Howard (17.1%) and Rashard Lewis (16.6%). Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy have developed a really nice formula in Orlando. They have a legit center, a legit point guard and a pair of versatile and effective wing players. After that, they mix and match according to the situation and the opponent. Need defense? Call on Keith Bogans. Need to run the floor? Mickael Pietrus is your man. Want another spot-up shooter? There's J.J. Redick. Want a combination of all the above? Rookie Courtney Lee is coming along nicely. This is a really dangerous team.

5. (6) New Orleans Hornets (54.6) [ 54 / 52 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 8; DEF: 10; PACE: 29

LUCKY STAR: Which player has most dominated his team's success this season? Chris Paul (29.9%) is the Louis Armstrong to the rest of New Orleans' Hot Five.

6. (4) Portland Trail Blazers (54.0) [ 50 / 50 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 3; DEF: 23; PACE: 30

LUCKY STAR: Brandon Roy (20.0%) has distanced himself from his young teammates. Meanwhile, Steve Blake (14.2%), Rudy Fernandez (12.5%), Travis Outlaw (8.5%), Nicolas Batum (7.2%), Sergio Rodriguez (7.0%) and Joel Przybilla (7.0%) all fill roles while a core of Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge (13.6%) and Greg Oden (4.6%) crystallizes. There's so much talent in Portland that, at times, the Blazers' blueprint can seem a little unfocused.

7. (5) Denver Nuggets (53.6) [ 53 / 51 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 5; DEF: 13; PACE: 6

FAB FIVE: Believe it. The Melo/A.I. Nuggets are dead. Carmelo Anthony (14.2%) is still the star, but the presence of Chauncey Billups (19.1%) has made the rest of the roster more viable. J.R. Smith (14.4%), Nene (12.1%), Anthony Carter (10.6%), Kenyon Martin (10.0%) and Linas Kleiza (9.4%) are all providing major contributions for George Karl's squad.

8. (9) Atlanta Hawks (50.6) [ 51 / 46 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 9; DEF: 15; PACE: 25

DYNAMIC DUO: Joe Johnson (24.6%) and Mike Bibby (20.9%) are the only two teammates in the league to account for 20%-plus of their team's wins. That's not the way it was drawn up. This state of being is an accident of the circumstances necessitated by Josh Smith's injury earlier this season. Smith is back and by the time the season is through, the Hawks might be a Big Three team. That's not a given, though, not with the way Johnson and Bibby have played in the season's first half.

9. (7) Houston Rockets (49.4) [ 50 / 49 / 61 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 18; DEF: 5; PACE: 22

BIG THREE: I'm calling the Rockets a Big Three team even though they have four players in the same general vicinity: Ron Artest (14.7%), Tracy McGrady (14.7%), Luis Scola (12.7%) and Yao Ming (12.5%). Houston is built around Artest, McGrady and Ming. The trio, partially due to inconsistent availability, simply haven't coalesced into a solid core. The end result is one of the NBA's most disappointing teams.

10. (13) Utah Jazz (48.9) [ 48 / 51 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 10; DEF: 7; PACE: 13

FAB FIVE: A wave of injuries have turned Utah from a Big Three squad to one that will make do with anyone that can execute Jerry Sloan's system. Paul Millsap (14.6%) is getting beaucoup press for his performance filling in for Carlos Boozer. That's going to have to continue as Deron Williams (11.9%) has also battled injuries, as has Mehmet Okur (10.5%). Andrei Kirilenko (12.7%), Ronnie Brewer (11.7%) and a slew of reserves have kept the beat going for the Jazz.

11. (12) San Antonio Spurs (48.7) [ 56 / 52 / 55 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 11; DEF: 6; PACE: 28

LUCKY STAR: But only because the other two parts of the Big Three have missed so much playing time. Tim Duncan (19.2%) and Roger Mason (12.8%) kept the Spurs afloat until Tony Parker (10.6%) and Manu Ginobili (9.8%) rounded back into shape. Now San Antonio has it's Big Three back intact and more depth than it had last season.

12. (11) Phoenix Suns (48.2) [ 49 / 46 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 4; DEF: 21; PACE: 9

DYNAMIC DUO: Steve Nash (18.2%) and Amare Stoudemire (17.9%) have still been the main components in the Suns' evolving philosophy. As Jason Richardson grows more comfortable, and if Shaquille O'Neal and Grant Hill's minutes rise during the second half, the Suns will turn out to be a geriatric version of a Fab Five construction. If that's better than what Mike D'Antoni had going in Phoenix, we'll find out at playoff time.

13. (10) Dallas Mavericks (45.2) [ 50 / 46 / 51 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 12; DEF: 11; PACE: 15

BIG THREE: Ah, finally a Big Three squad, though the Mavs are only thus because of Josh Howard's injuries and general ineffectiveness. Jason Terry (19.5%), Dirk Nowitzki (19.1%) and Jason Kidd (18.4%) have propped up a roster that doesn't seem to complement them very well.

14. (14) Detroit Pistons (44.4) [ 51 / 42 / 55 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 17; DEF: 12; PACE: 26

FEARSOME FOURSOME: Even with Allen Iverson (13.1%) on board, an all-for-one, one-for-all philosophy still wins out in Detroit. Rodney Stuckey (15.6%) has wormed his way into the equation quicker than Joe Dumars anticipated. New coach Michael Curry attempted to get his five top performers into the starting lineup by inserting Stuckey and moving Rip Hamilton (12.7%) to three and Tayshaun Prince (16.9%) to four. That idea didn't work out on the defensive end, so Curry is back to swapping around Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson and Kwame Brown to pair with Rasheed Wallace (10.5%), who is showing signs of slowing down. Dumars' preference is probably to have Johnson seize the job as the second big man. It'll be interesting to see what direction Dumars takes the Pistons after the season. Iverson's expiring contract gives him a lot of flexibility...which he may wait to exercise in 2010.

15. (16) Milwaukee Bucks (41.6) [ 37 / 42 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 20; DEF: 8; PACE: 14

FAB FIVE: Yes, a Fab Five and then some. New Bucks coach Scott Skiles has drawn deserved plaudits for injecting some much-needed defensive attitude into Milwaukee's approach. Another reason for the team's improvement is that he's fostered a more team-oriented atmosphere that is a better fit for his middling collection of talent. Michael Redd (13.2%) is still the Bucks' top player, but he was never good enough to deserve the "franchise player" label he carried around. Now he's sharing the load with seven players who have all made solid contributions that have allowed Milwaukee to withstand some injury problems: Richard Jefferson (14.7%), Andrew Bogut (11.2%), Ramon Sessions (11.1%), Luke Ridnour (11.1%), Luc Mbah a Moute (9.5%), Charlie Villanueva (8.8%) and Charlie Bell (8.1%). Now if they can just get Joe Alexander to develop.

16. (21) Miami Heat (40.6) [ 44 / 40 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 19; DEF: 9; PACE: 20

LUCKY STAR: Only one player has accounted for more of his team's wins than Dwyane Wade (29.3%). Coming into the season, most people thought that a healthier Wade would be part of a Big Three with Shawn Marion (14.3%) and Michael Beasley (6.1%). Instead, Mario Chalmers (15.4%) has been the Heat's second-best player, though Wade has ascended to a penthouse occupied by the likes of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, etc. Chalmers, in fact, could emerge as the Rookie of the Year, at least in terms of merit if not so much in votes. Going forward, Marion isn't likely to be part of the mix and Pat Riley will look to supplement a very nice core of Wade, Chalmers and Beasley with a defense-and-rebounding center and a perimeter-stopper/spot-up shooter small forward.

17. (20) Toronto Raptors (37.5) [ 35 / 35 / 42 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 14; DEF: 19; PACE: 19

DYNAMIC DUO: Chris Bosh (19.4%) and Jose Calderon (17.5%) are a poor Canadian man's version of Stockton-to-Malone. After the top two, the Raptors have six or seven players that they kind of mix and match according to who's available and who Toronto is playing. This is not how it was supposed to be. Andrea Bargnani (8.3%) was most certainly drafted to be a core player. The shell of former All-Star Jermaine O'Neal was acquired to be the same. Bargnani is still just a three-point specialist while O'Neal just physically can't contribute at a high level. If you were to combine the largely interchangeable duo of Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker into one player, you might have a Big Three in Toronto. As it is, the Raps are still a player short of becoming a real threat in the Eastern Conference.

18. (19) Philadelphia 76ers (37.1) [ 36 / 37 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 24; DEF: 14; PACE: 16

DYNAMIC DUO: The Sixers' roster was likely built with more of a Fab Five construct in mind, but player availability and disappointing performances have resulted in Andre Iguodala (20.6%) and Andre Miller (17.5%) carrying even more of the load than they did last year. After the free-agent contract handed out to Elton Brand, that's bad news for a team on pace to win 35 games. When Brand returns from his shoulder injury, perhaps in a couple of weeks, every effort will be made to re-integrate him as a core performer. However, as much of an effort needs to be made to do the same for Thaddeus Young (11.3%) and, especially, Samuel Dalembert (6.1%) because there is not the top-shelf type of talent on this team to support anything other than a Fab Five set-up. A sidenote: The more I see of Marreese Speights, the more I think he might render the Brand aquisition superfluous.

19. (17) Indiana Pacers (35.8) [ 29 / 34 / 41 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 16; DEF: 22; PACE: 3

LUCKY STAR: Danny Granger (23.3%) has matured into an All Star-level player, but this team wasn't built to be Danny and the Grangerettes. After that, Larry Bird is still trying to figure things out. His rookie duo of Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert haven't exactly seized the league by storm; they remain a work in progress. After Granger, the Pacers' best players have been Troy Murphy (15.1%) and Jarrett Jack (12.5%), neither of whom could be considered core players. Mike Dunleavy is just back from injury and maybe he can still ascend to core-player status. Nevertheless, the ceiling of Indiana's top players suggests that Bird needs to construct a balanced team of five good two-way players and a strong bench to boot.

20. (15) Chicago Bulls (34.5) [ 35 / 31 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 22; DEF: 18; PACE: 5

ANARCHY IN THE NBA: Ben Gordon (24.7%) has been the Bulls' best player, but he is not near the type of talent that you build an entire roster around. Derrick Rose (18.4%) probably isn't either as the job description for a point guard includes creating opportunities for others. Rose is still the main component of whatever future core John Paxson's replacement will eventually put together. Rose needs to be teamed with a big man who can score and a top-notch wing player. That big man is not on Chicago's current roster and it looks less and less likely that Luol Deng will develop into an All-Star level wing player. Gordon is very good, but his size makes him a poor defensive fit as a backcourt partner for Rose. Right now, the only identifying characteristic of the Bulls' roster is that they have a rather amazing collection of redundant players.

21. (22) New Jersey Nets (34.4) [ 39 / 35 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 13; DEF: 27; PACE: 18

DYNAMIC DUO: Vince Carter (21.7% of team wins) and Devin Harris (17.4%) have done the heavy lifting for the mildly surprising Nets. For the team to avoid regressing towards their point differential (Jersey currently ranks as the second luckiest team in the league), rookie Brook Lopez is going to have to continue his recent stretch of solid play and move the Nets into Big Three territory. A Carter/Harris/Lopez core, surrounded by the kinds of rebounders, shot blockers and on-ball defenders that the Nets don't currently have could be the construction of the next contending version of the team.

22. (18) New York Knicks (31.2) [ 30 / 30 / 33 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 21; DEF: 24; PACE: 2

FEARSOME FOURSOME: In Phoenix, Mike D'Antoni's best teams were comprised of a Steve Nash/Amare Stoudemire/Shawn Marion core with spot-up shooters/defensive specialists like Raja Bell and Boris Diaw filling in the gaps. In New York, D'Antoni doesn't have one player as good as anyone in his Suns' Big Three, much less three of them, so there is an egalitarian structure currently in place. D'Antoni has generally been keeping his rotations to seven or eight players and that is reflected in their WP% chart--seven players are at 6.5% or more. Four of those players (David Lee, Al Harrington, Quentin Richardson and Nate Robinson) fall into the 14%-16% range, with Chris Duhon (20.3%) leading the pack in D'Antoni's point-guard friendly scheme. Those five players don't normally play as a unit, with Wilson Chandler teaming with the various combinations of the other players. Thus the Knicks fall into the Foursome category. Long term, however, I don't know that there is a core player on the roster. There are some excellent role players--David Lee may be the best role player in the league--but no true building blocks.

23. (24) Charlotte Bobcats (30.3) [ 30 / 31 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 27; DEF: 16; PACE: 27

FAB FIVE: They haven't spent a ton of time on the floor together, but the quintet of Boris Diaw (17.3%), Gerald Wallace (16.5%), D.J. Augustin (14.0%), Emeka Okafur (13.7%) and Ray Felton (13.3%) have the makings of the most balanced and cohesive starting lineup in the Bobcats' short history. Of course, it would help if Larry Brown would actually use that lineup. As it is, he's been using the vastly overrated Raja Bell to pair with Felton.

24. (29) Minnesota Timberwolves (26.9) [ 25 / 29 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 23; DEF: 25; PACE: 11

DYNAMIC DUO: Minnesota's five-game winning streak has coincided with the possible emergence of Randy Foye (12.9%) as a legitimate starting shooting guard. Al Jefferson (17.9%) is still the franchise anchor and while Mike Miller (13.0%) has played well as a whole, he has accepted a subservient role coming off the bench during the Wolves' recent success. Kevin McHale's to-do list for the rest of the season is to find out if Foye's surge is for real and to find a way for Jefferson and Kevin Love (11.5%) to co-exist on a full-time basis.

25. (26) Golden State Warriors (25.1) [ 21 / 25 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 15; DEF: 30; PACE: 1

ANARCHY IN THE NBA: When a role player (Andris Biedrins, 16.2%) has been your most valuable performer, you know your team is struggling. Right now, the Warriors just seem like a hodgepodge of talent. Perhaps things will clarify once Monta Ellis gets back up to speed.

26. (23) Memphis Grizzlies (22.7) [ 24 / 25 / 19 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 25; DEF: 20; PACE: 23

DYNAMIC DUO: O.J. Mayo (23.2%) and Rudy Gay (18.8%) have a bright future ahead of them. Are they enough? Probably not. Memphis needs an interior player to develop into a legitimate third wheel. Perhaps Marc Gasol (10.2%) could be that guy, but Pau would be a better fit. They'll get another piece of the puzzle in the next draft lottery.

27. (25) Los Angeles Clippers (21.5) [ 18 / 21 / 33 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 30; DEF: 17; PACE: 12

FAB FIVE: On paper, Eric Gordon (17.2%), Marcus Camby (17.2%), Zach Randolph (16.3%), Baron Davis (14.2%) and Al Thornton (13.3%) seem like they'd be a solid starting five. Injuries have played a part, but not only does the sextet of the aforementioned players plus Chris Kaman not work, the quality of the roster drops off severely after that. I'm not sure what I'd do with this mess. Thankfully, it's Mike Dunleavy's problem.

28. (28) Washington Wizards (20.4) [ 15 / 22 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 26; DEF: 28; PACE: 21

DYNAMIC DUO: Antawn Jamison (22.8%) still would make an fine second fiddle and Caron Butler (17.6%) a third, but it all sort of falls apart when the lead fiddle is in the shop ad infinitum. As Washington fans bide their time waiting for Gilbert Arenas to hopefully regain full health, which is not a given, and also hope that Brendan Hayward can make it back, Ernie Grunfeld will upgrade the roster with a lottery pick next spring. In the meantime, why not give Nick Young (7.2%) some more exposure?

29. (27) Sacramento Kings (18.3) [ 17 / 18 / 39 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 28; DEF: 29; PACE: 8

ANARCHY IN THE NBA: John Salmons (19.5%) has been the Kings' dominant figure in the first half. In the second half, Kenny Natt needs to let his future Fab Five take their lumps and be done with it: Spencer Hawes (10.0%), Bobby Brown (5.9%), Kevin Martin (9.5%), Francisco Garcia (5.6%) and Jason Thompson (9.0%).

30. (30) Oklahoma City Thunder (15.7) [ 12 / 19 / 23 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 29; DEF: 26; PACE: 7

BIG THREE: It's tempting to classify Kevin Durant as a Lucky Star, but Jeff Green (16.8%) and Russell Westbrook (14.9%) are developing into worthy running mates for the face of the Thunder. Of course, it's hard to know what to make of Oklahoma City's percentages since its players are dividing up six wins.

Definitions:

NBAPET = stands for National Basketball Association Projection, Evaluation and Tracking = A database and system of metrics for analyzing professional basketball.

gRATE = a one-game metric that measures a player's offensive and defensive contribution and expresses it as a net point total. The sum of a team's gRATE figures for a game will equal its actual point differential for that game.

Adjusted winning percentage (AWP) = ((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) / (((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) + ((home losses x .1.4)+(road losses x 0.6)))

Opponents winning percentage (OWP) = aggregate percentage of games won for each team's opponents, based on the number of times the team has faced that opponent.

Pythagorean winning percentage (PYTH) = uses the basketball-reference formula of Games x (Points scored^14) / ((Points scored^14) + (Points allowed^14))

Power rating = (((PYTH + AWP)/2)*(OWP/.500)) x 82

WP82 = wins produced per 82 games, adjusted for playing time

WP3K = wins produced per 3,000 minutes

RANKINGS: NET = net efficiency ratio; OFF - offensive efficiency; DEF - defensive efficiency; PACE: average possessions per game

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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