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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gilbert Arenas Scores a "Quiet" 60

The fracas at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night and its aftermath overshadowed a tremendous individual performance--Gilbert Arenas scored 60 points on Sunday night in a 147-141 Wizards victory over the L.A. Lakers. The NBA's 60 point club is an exclusive group of 20 players who have accomplished the feat 57 times: Wilt Chamberlain (32 times), Michael Jordan (4), Elgin Baylor (3), Kobe Bryant (2), Allen Iverson (1), David Thompson (1), David Robinson (1), Pete Maravich (1), Rick Barry (1), Jerry West (1), Joe Fulks (1), George Gervin (1), Tracy McGrady (1), George Mikan (1), Karl Malone (1), Shaquille O'Neal (1), Larry Bird (1), Bernard King (1), Tom Chambers (1), Gilbert Arenas (1). For those of you scoring at home, Wilt Chamberlain scored 60-plus points 32 times--and the rest of the players in the history of the league did it 25 times.

Arenas broke Earl Monroe's franchise record for points in a game (56) and is only the second player to score at least 60 points versus the Lakers. Arenas shot 17-32 from the field (including 5-12 from three point range) and 21-27 from the free throw line. Arenas also had eight rebounds and eight assists. Arenas, whose previous career-high was 47, was not surprised by his performance: "It was bound to happen. I'm a scorer, so I was going to have one of those days where I was clicking. Most of the time when I've scored 46 in three quarters, we were blowing the other team out, so I didn't get to play in the fourth. But tonight was that time. It was a close game and I stayed in. I found the rhythm, especially in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and I never looked back."

Kobe Bryant guarded Arenas throughout the game. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson considered trying other options but decided that Bryant, a six-time member of the All-Defensive Team, had a better chance than anyone else of corralling Arenas: "Yes, we thought we'd take him off, but he wanted him and he thought that it was the best matchup out there, so I let him have his way. We thought that nobody else had really stepped in and found a way to defend him at all." Bryant, coming off of a 53 point performance in Friday's double overtime win against Houston, scored 45 points, shooting 15-24 from the field (including 7-11 from three point range) and 8-10 from the free throw line. Bryant had 10 assists and eight rebounds. The Lakers overcame a 17 point deficit to force the game into overtime, but the Wizards outscored the Lakers 21-15 in the extra session, with Arenas scoring 16 points and Bryant scoring four points. Arenas broke Earl Boykins' record for points in an overtime period (15), although that is not mentioned in the ESPN or NBA.com game recaps (the Washington Post correctly pointed this out in its coverage of the game).

Bryant and Arenas did not say much to each other during the game according to Arenas: "I'm not a trash talker. He doesn't really talk trash. He just goes out there and plays. A guy who comes off an injury and to be doing what he does, it's unbelievable." Arenas is referring to Bryant's offseason knee surgery and his recently sprained ankle.

While Bryant did not have much to say during the game, he did offer some comments afterward: "You tip your hat and say, 'See you next time.' First of all, he shot 27 free throws. We as a team shot 30. Think about that. But him individually, it's funny. He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience. I really don't think he does. Some of the shots he took tonight, you miss those, and they're just terrible shots. Awful. You make them and they're unbelievable shots. I don't get a chance to play him much, so I haven't gotten used to that mentality of just chucking it up there. He made some big ones, but I'll be ready next time."

Are Bryant's comments just sour grapes? I did not see the game, so I don't know why Arenas shot almost as many free throws as the entire Lakers team. Perhaps he drove to the hoop more aggressively. As for Arenas' shot selection, again, I did not see the game. However, Arenas is shooting .428 from the field this season; only Allen Iverson has a worse field goal percentage among the NBA's top 25 scorers. Bryant is shooting .487 from the field this season, which would be a career-high if he maintains that pace. Bryant has a career shooting percentage of .452, while Arenas' career shooting percentage is .431. Based on that evidence, it does not seem out of line to suggest that Arenas' shot selection is questionable at times. Ideally, it might be better to simply congratulate Arenas and move on to the next game, but right after losing such a close game it is understandable that Bryant was somewhat frustrated. I'd like to actually see some of the shots--and fouls--in question.

When Bryant concludes by saying "I'll be ready next time" I immediately think back to LaBradford Smith. He played for the Wizards back when they were known as the Bullets and he had a big game against Michael Jordan, scoring more than 30 points. Supposedly he had some words to say to Jordan after that performance, although later it turned out that Jordan may have invented that part of the story as further motivation. In any case, the next time Jordan played against Smith, Jordan had 30-plus points--in the first half. The Wizards and Lakers only play twice a year. Their next matchup is on February 3 in Washington. If you a betting person, don't bet on Arenas scoring more than Bryant in that contest.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:38 PM



At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 11:41:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

I saw the game. Of course its sour grapes as I posted earlier but didnt wait for this post. Bryant has always taken bad shots and a lot of free throws. He needs to shut up. Arenas was great. He had great moves; thats the way he always plays. David.........you always reminsce with this cat Bryant. This block reminds me of Jordan, his not being tired reminds me of Jordan in 86, now this reminds you of LaBradford Smith. Please Arenas is waaaaaayyyyyyy better than Smith and Bryant is not Jordan. Arenas can score more than Bryant in the February matchup. You are out of control with Bryant. You worry me with you affection to Bryant. It reminds me of Irvin and Sanders to Owens. Nowadays they call it a man crush.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 1:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

As I said, I didn't see the game but the percentages don't lie. Arenas has the worst field goal percentage of the league's top scorers other than Iverson. I've seen him play enough times, in person and on TV, to know that he takes a lot of bad shots--more bad shots than Bryant has ever taken and bad shots when he has better options; a lot of Bryant's "bad" shots come at the end of the shot clock when the play has broken down and no one else wants to shoot. Arenas shoots bad shots with time left on the shot clock and other options available; that is how you shoot less than .430 from the field. Arenas is also not even close to Bryant's caliber on the defensive end of the court.

I gave Arenas all the credit that he deserves by noting the historical company he has joined by producing a 60 point game and a record-setting 16 point overtime. I don't see any way that I shortchanged what he accomplished. I also said that Bryant would have been better served by simply congratulating Arenas (which he did) and not saying anything else (which he did not).

Of course Arenas can score more than Bryant in February--I just would not bet on that happening.

I call 'em as I see 'em; Bryant's little parting shot reminded me of what MJ did to Smith. We'll see whether or not things turn out that way. I think analogies are helpful in gaining a better understanding of what we are seeing. Kobe is the closest thing to MJ in today's game, so it is interesting to compare how he performs and reacts to how MJ performed and reacted in similar circumstances.

Bryant is the best all-around player in the game; all I'm doing is reporting the truth. Most of the writers/commentators who downgrade his game should simply write/say "I don't like Kobe" and leave it at that instead of trying to make up reasons to criticize him. They just look foolish by saying that he should have come back in the 62 point game but he should have sat out in the 81 point game, by pretending that he does not play good defense and acting like he doesn't make his teammates better when he was the primary playmaker on three championship teams.

Owens (and Isiah Thomas and a few other guys) is another guy who everyone loves to hate. If he intentionally spit in a man's face, I've got no defense for that, but most of the other criticism of him is off base. How many times is it mentioned that he is leading the league in TD receptions? Or that he is playing with a broken finger and damaged ligaments that may never fully heal because he continued to play hurt as opposed to getting surgery? Chad Johnson's antics are somehow cute but TO is portrayed as the devil incarnate. Public perception of a lot of athletes is shaped by the herd mentality that is formed when certain media members decide who to portray positively and who to portray negatively. I prefer to simply base what I write on performance. Arenas had a great game. I didn't see it, but I can look at the numbers and place it in historical context. Kobe's comments sound a bit like sour grapes but there is also some statistical justification for what he said. I find it a lot simpler to write the truth than to try to force everything into a predetermined template of "good" guys who must always be praised and "bad" guys who must always be criticized.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 9:09:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Please David. Over the last ten years Bryant has taken some of the worst shots Ive seen. Remember when his right shoulder was hurting and he was shooting left handed three pointers against the Cavs on TNT. He has always taken terrible shots, not just when the shot clock is running out. You can compare to Mike and that fine its your blog......but I wont because it doesnt matter.

Arenas doesnt play great defense, but please you act like Bryant defense is so great. His defense was great when Shaquille was there. Hes on All-Defensive teams because of reputation. He doesnt stop anyone anymore. I knew Phil would but Bryant on Arenas and Arenas still went by him. But of course Bryant was so tired from playing all of those minutes in prior games so his defense was a little off.

I have no problem with you reporting the truth. I will never say I dont like so and so because I dont know them plus I understand whats going on. The 81 and 62 game I watched and had no problem with him playing like that because he was hot. If you are hot, keep it going. People hate Bryant because he is, well used to be very arrogant. The Colorado situation calmed him down a lot.

He is the best all-around player. But you act like he does no wrong and thats ridiculous.

On those championship teams, that was Shaquille in his prime. Bryant the primary playmaker but please that was all Shaquille.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 4:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I remember the game that you are talking about but I don't think that Kobe shot left handed threes. He sprained his shoulder, which had been surgically repaired for a previous injury a few months earlier, but stayed on the court and shot left handed shots from close range because he could not raise his right arm. When Jackson realized how badly Kobe was injured he took him out of the game. So, depending on whether you like Kobe or don't like Kobe, he either showed "Brett Favre-like" toughness or he likes to shoot so much that he will jack up shots one-armed. Again, I prefer to simply state the facts--he was hurt, tried to play, then the coach took him out--without having to assign this situation some meaning in a larger "morality play" about Bryant. Bryant has done a lot of work on his left hand shooting and apparently thought that he could be a threat by staying in the game--the other team would not know how badly he was hurt--and shooting left handed. I have maintained for years that he does not take more bad shots than any of the other players who have scored comparably. MJ had a better field goal percentage but he shot much fewer three pointers for most of his career. If you look at points per shot, Kobe is in the same (or better) productivity range as other great scorers and his ability to score from all areas of the court makes him very difficult to defend, opening things up for his less talented teammates.

Bryant is a great defender. Those All-Defensive Teams are voted on by coaches, not media or fans. I think that the coaches have a pretty good idea who the great defenders are and are not voting based on reputation. I don't know what happened when he guarded Arenas because I did not see the game but Arenas is a good enough scorer that he can makes shots even against good defense. Bryant had 45, so it's not like anyone shut him down, either; he shot a better percentage than Arenas, but had many fewer free throw attempts. Based on the 16-4 overtime score, it seems likely that fatigue may have played a role at the end.

If Shaq can win a title all by himself, how come he did not win any until Jackson was his coach and Kobe developed into a star? Last year, Wade won the Finals MVP, not Shaq, although Shaq's presence was certainly very important, as I mentioned on several occasions. Kobe played the vital Scottie Pippen role on the Lakers' championship teams--playmaking, perimeter defense, being the second scoring option. He was a better scorer than Pippen and not quite as good a playmaker or defender but he filled all three roles very well for those Lakers teams. They would not have won a single championship without him. Go back over the box scores and game recaps from those playoff seasons if you doubt that.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 11:18:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

David, I said Bryant was the primary ballhandler, but Shaquille was in his prime. He could have had any top guard at that time and when. He wasnt in his prime with Orlando.

Please coaches vote on reputation too.
Bryant did shoot left handed 3s, which are bad shots I dont care how much he worked on his left hand. He is not Chris Mullin.

The NBA became more of a 3 point league in recent years. Mike shot a high percentage because he took higher percentage shots. Everyone has the fools gold syndrome and they think after they make a 3 that they will make all of them.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 12:54:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I think shooting more 3-pointers explains the difference between Jordan's and Bryant's field goal percentages.

Making 1 of 3 three pointers means you are producing at the same rate as someone who makes 1 of 2 two pointers.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 6:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I disagree that Shaq could have won with any top guard. Kobe has been the best all-around player in the game for a while and the Lakers barely won some of those series, so with a lesser player in his place I believe that they would not have won those titles.

I dug up an old game recap from the Cavs game when Kobe injured his shoulder. Your account of what happened is not accurate. Kobe's shoulder was injured when he was attempting a three pointer (not a left handed three pointer, but a regular one). He shot the three free throws despite the injury--making all of them--and then went to the locker room for X-rays, which were negative (if he did not shoot the free throws he would not have been allowed by rule to return to the game). Kobe told Jackson that he could play and Jackson put him back in. Kobe attempted one left handed jumper (not a three pointer) because he could not use his right arm. Shortly after that, Jackson removed him from the game, realizing that Kobe was more seriously injured than he let on. Again, if Brett Favre did something like this, we'd see highlights of it every Sunday.

Kobe worked hard on his left hand early in his career and is actually quite accurate with his left hand from close range. Apparently he thought that he could extend the range in a pinch but the problem is that when one arm is hurt you are not going to shoot well with the other arm--even if you normally can--because your balance is going to be off.

This exchange is actually a perfect example of what I'm talking about with Kobe. People don't like him, so even their memories are shaped by their perceptions. You believe that he forces shots, so you think that you remember seeing him shoot left handed three pointers even though he did not.

You can go to Kobe's game log at Basketball Reference (http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bryanko01_2004.html) to confirm that the box score from that game shows no three point attempts for Kobe (of course, the one that he missed when he was fouled does not count as an official attempt).

Does Kobe force shots sometimes? Yes. Does he force more shots than the other great scorers in the game's history? No. Look up the shooting percentages of Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West (higher than Kobe's but not by as much as you might think--and West played before there were three pointers). Great players force shots because they have the ball when the shot clock is running down, because their teams depend on them to carry a heavy load and because sometimes they are the only players on the court who are willing or capable of getting a shot off. In Jordan's first game back after his first retirement he shot 7-28 and a lot of people thought that he was through. I knew that he would be great again because most people--even NBA players--cannot get off 28 shots in a game. He missed a lot of shots that he was capable of making and once he got his basketball legs back, he led the Bulls to three more titles.

Read my article about Kobe in which Fred Carter talks about what a special skill it takes to attempt so many shots and be so productive; Austin Carr said the same thing in reference to his own record setting days in the NCAA Tournament.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 9:59:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Ok David not a three but a 22 foot 2 pointer. He took lefthanded shots which is stupid if you are hurt. You only shoot left handed if you need to (like on the left-handed side of the rim.) Nonetheless it was a dumb and bad shot. He does take bad shots...if seen enough of his games since high school to know that. But all players take bad shots so its not a bad thing.

Brett Favre should retire anyway because he is not good anymore. But he thinks he can still throw it so he will continue.

I never told you I didnt like Bryant its not personal at all, David. Ive told you many times he is a great player, plus I dont hate any of these players (read some of my previous post). You had to look up his box score to see if he shot a three. You are overboard with his praise....enjoy him but stop comparing him. I know you wont because you enjoy it. Thats good. Every player has brought their own uniqueness to the game.

Shaquille could have won with a top guard. They killed the Sixers and Nets, and the Pacers hung around. Of course the Kings and Blazers should have beat them but the factor that put them over the top was Shaquille.

Fred Carter was a gunner himself ( I was told by a basketball genius) so of course he will say its a special skill to take a lot of shots and be productive. A lot of guys took a lot of shots and were productive. Thats not a special skill. I know if you shoot a lot your percentage wont be as high.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 4:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I didn't have to look it up to know that he wasn't forcing left handed three pointers (you originally wrote it in the plural); I knew that he didn't do that but I looked it up because you didn't believe me when I told you that he didn't do that. The fact that he would return to a game after injuring his surgically repaired shoulder and try to play left handed shows something about his competitiveness. That was hardly likely to pad his stats, like everyone accuses him of doing--he really believed that he could help the team just by being out there. Even he surely didn't think that he could match his scoring average by playing one armed, so returning to the game in that situation was not about his stats.

There is no way to prove what would have happened if Shaq had played with a different elite guard during the three-peat--and I'm not going to start digging out box scores and game recaps from those seasons--but Kobe made significant offensive and defensive contributions to those teams that other players would not have been able to match and certainly would not have been able to sustain for that entire period of time. He hit big shots, he guarded the other team's top perimeter player, he led the team in assists and as much as Shaq's presence prevented teams from double teaming him his presence prevented teams from doubling Shaq.

Yes, Carter was a gunner but if you've played the game at any level you understand the energy level that it takes to consistently get off 20+ shots a game and average 25-30-35 points when defenses with the best athletes in the world are loaded up to stop you. I've discussed this subject with a number of current and former players and coaches and they all make this point about Kobe. What makes him even more incredible is that he also takes on the challenge of guarding the other team's best player. Steve Kerr alluded to that last year when the Lakers played the Cavs and Kobe often guarded LeBron but LeBron generally did not guard Kobe.

At Friday, December 22, 2006 7:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys need to remember that Gilbert Arenas is going to become the best basketball player of all time.Physically. he is already there.Mentally, he needs some more experience.2009 will be Arenas's season.

At Sunday, December 24, 2006 12:03:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Just because Bryant guards the other team's best player does not make it incredible. Its a shame that most players dont think this way, but that does not make it incredible. Thats basketball.

As a player, if you are the 2 guard and you want to be the best its not a big deal to put up a lot of shots. You are supposed to and play defense.

Plural.......wow you checked it? Thats a little technical, David, but ok. Look the left handed shots were dumb; if your right shoulder is hurt just sit down. He didnt make any of those shots.

At Sunday, December 24, 2006 6:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The plural usage caught my eye because I didn't recall him shooting one left handed three, let alone multiple ones and I think that I would remember that.

Guarding the other team's best player when you are also a prime time scorer may not be "incredible." How about "special"? The fact is that Kobe is one of a handful of greats--West, Frazier, Havlicek and Jordan come to mind, apologies to others I didn't think of off the top of my head--who regularly accepts that challenge. LeBron does not do that yet, nor does Wade. Even more significantly, Kobe all but demands to do it in cruchtime even if the matchups were set up differently for whatever reason earlier in the game. I felt so bad for him in the '04 Finals when he tried in vain to cool off whichever guard--Billups or Rip--who got hot every time Payton tried to check him. Kobe would cool off one and the other would light Payton up like a Christmas tree. Lazenby talks in his book about how the Laker vets from previous title teams all but begged Jackson to bench Payton so that the team would have half a chance on defense. The "mitten" found the right role on the right team last year--stay out of the way 97% of the time, be ready to make a shot once every two weeks in the playoffs when called upon. Sadly, the '04 Lakers needed and expected more...but I digress.

Kobe does not necessarily guard the other team's 2. He usually guards the bigger threat among the 2,3 or even occasionally the 1. LeBron is a 3 but Kobe guards him and someone else guards the 2. Larry Bird was a great team defender but if you think back (or watch Classic) he always guarded the weakest offensive threat among the three opposing frontcourt players. When they played the Hawks, he guarded Tree Rollins, while McHale and Parish guarded Wilkins and Levingston (or Carr, etc.).

Regarding Arenas becoming the best player of all-time, all I can say is "Wow." Actually, a couple other things come to mind. (1) I understand why you posted this thought anonymously; in some lines of work, evidence of delusional thinking could be grounds for dismissal. (2) Gilbert, thanks for reading; next time, sign in as Agent Zero so everyone knows who you are.

At Monday, January 22, 2007 8:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David:First of all, Gilbert takes those bad shots, because he feels comfortable taking them. He always practices bad shots, and unlike Kobe, HE MAKES THEM. Average fans only check a player's FG% and laugh. Why don't you check his eFG% before you start running your mouth?

At Monday, January 22, 2007 5:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I have discussed this subject at length in the comments section to the "Is Gilbert a Gunner?" post as well. My comments about Arenas were never just limited to his shooting percentage. Here are some of the comments that I wrote regarding the "Gunner" post:

"I realize that if you shoot three pointers at a good enough clip that even though your total field goal percentage may be low that your "true" field goal percentage is acceptable. Again, my point about Arenas is not just his shooting percentage but also his shot selection. He shoots long, contested jump shots early in the shot clock. That is not going to lead to great team success in the long run. Arenas has more bona fide offensive weapons on his team than most of the other top scorers in the league (Jamison, Caron Butler, etc.), so it doesn't make sense for him to be chucking up long, contested jumpers early in the shot clock. That is what Jay and I mean when we say that stats alone don't capture what is wrong with Arenas' game--or, at least, what keeps his game at an All-Star level as opposed to the next level inhabited by LeBron, Kobe, Wade."


"the big thing is that I don't think that having a player--particularly your point guard--shooting 8 three's a game is a style that can lead to a championship at the NBA level. It can work in rec leagues, but even then the player shooting that many threes is usually getting wide open shots in transition or after dribble penetration as opposed to just dribbling down the court and hoisting (yes, I've jacked up eight or more threes a game many times, but never as the team's primary ball handler). Shooting a lot of threes, if your shooters are good enough, can also work in high school and even to some degree in college--but I can't think of an NBA team that has won a title in this fashion. This kind of style is too erratic, too prone to being 6-9 one night and 1-9 the next--that's 39%, which is a good percentage, but if your best player does that in the playoffs you will be 1-1 at best in those games and if your defense in the 6-9 game is not good then you will be 0-2. Shooting a lot of threes in the NBA means that you won't get the other team in foul trouble, won't tire them out on defense and won't get in the bonus."

Look at it another way: should Arenas should 30 3 pointers a game because his percentage is so good? After all, his percentage is equivalent to making 60% of his two pointers. Hopefully, you understand that having your point guard shooting 30 three pointers a game is not a winning formula. It is my contention that having your point guard shoot 8 three pointers a game is not a winning formula either. Of course, when there are just a few seconds left and a three pointer is needed to tie or win, then it is a necessary shot and Arenas has shown a great ability to make that kind of shot. We'll see what kind of record Washington has at the end of the year and how the Wizards do in the playoffs.


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