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Friday, December 22, 2006

Is Gilbert a Gunner?

Gilbert Arenas' 60 point game last Sunday has flown under the radar in the wake of the melee at Madison Square Garden and the Allen Iverson trade. Arenas became just the 20th player in NBA history to score at least 60 in a game and he broke the all-time record for points in an overtime period with 16 but his performance has largely been ignored--and when it is mentioned, more attention is given to the postgame comments of the man who guarded him (and put up 45 points of his own in a 147-141 loss), Kobe Bryant, who said, "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." Pundits spent some time debating whether or not this was a case of someone in a glass house throwing stones, generally coming to the conclusion that Kobe Bryant is the last person who should be criticizing anyone's shot selection; yeah, three-time NBA champion, member of several All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams--what does he know about basketball? Anyway, I already did a post recognizing the historical significance of Arenas' 60 point game, so I thought that it would be interesting to take Bryant's remarks at face value and see if there is any merit to them. Instead of blaming the messenger, let's actually read the message and see if there is any truth in it.

I touched on this subject briefly near the end of the above post, noting that Arenas' field goal percentage is worse than that of every other player who ranks in the top 25 in the NBA in scoring except for Allen Iverson. Arenas generally does a good job of getting to the free throw line, but his 27 attempts are more than double the number that he attempted in any other game this year. He shot just six free throws in the preceding game, zero (!) free throws in the next game and zero free throws in the first half of Thursday's game against the Kings until the closing seconds; in other words, after his 27 free throw attempts against the Lakers he went nearly six quarters without attempting a free throw. I can understand why Bryant was a bit surprised at that part of Arenas' performance; that does not mean that the calls were bad--it may just mean that for whatever reason Arenas went to the hoop more often and more effectively than he has in any other game this season.

Does Arenas have no "conscience" with his shot selection? Back to the boxscores: while he shot 17-32 in his 60 point game, Arenas was 10-23 in the preceding game, 10-30 in the next game and 9-23 on Thursday versus the Kings. So, in the three games surrounding his career night he shot .382 from the field. Add in the 17-32 and, voila, Arenas shot .426 in those four games--virtually identical to his season and career field goal percentages. Bryant's contention is that Arenas takes a lot of low percentage shots but that against the Lakers he made many of them. The numbers bear that out. Arenas got hot and he burned the Lakers, particularly in overtime, producing a performance of historic proportions. That does not change the fact that he is a low percentage gunner, an All-Star player but someone whose overall game is not on the same level as that of Bryant, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade--players who are more efficient scorers, better rebounders, better passers and better defenders (particularly Bryant in terms of the latter item).

Gilbert Arenas is an exciting player to watch and I respect how he has confounded his doubters throughout his career. He has improved to the point that it seems like he will be an All-Star for years to come but, as I wrote in my Eastern Conference Preview, "Gilbert Arenas is not as good as he thinks he is and if he believes that he can carry his team to a title by outdueling LeBron or Wade one-on-one then he will always come up short. LeBron told Arenas before some key free throws that if Arenas missed then he would send him home. Arenas missed and LeBron sent him home. Bottom line: If Washington does not put some more talent around Arenas and ratchet up the defensive intensity, Arenas’ playoff career will resemble Dominique Wilkins’—lots of points and highlights and no conference finals appearances." Yes, Arenas did outduel Bryant on this one night, just as Wilkins outdueled Michael Jordan on occasion during the regular season--but the standings show that Washington is barely above .500, has the fifth best record in the weak Eastern Conference and thus will not likely advance to the second round of the playoffs this year. Bryant may have been the wrong messenger in the eyes of some but, as TNT's old motto used to say, he "Let the truth be told."

Postscript: Washington rallied from a 59-53 halftime deficit to beat the Sacramento Kings 126-119. Arenas scored 12 points and shot 4-11 from the field in the first half, attempting just two free throws. In the second half he shot 5-12--including three makes from long range--and he made all five of his free throw attempts, scoring 18 in the half and finishing with 30 in the game. He also had eight rebounds and seven assists, better than his season averages in both categories--but the difference for the Wizards when they blew the game open were the 20 second half points scored by Antawn Jamison, who shot 9-17 for the game and had 33 points and 13 rebounds. Without his efficient scoring and strong work on the glass the Wizards may very well have lost. Seven Wizards players played at least 16 minutes and Arenas was the only one who shot less than .500 against the Kings' "defense," which was missing Ron Artest.

Artest was a late scratch after he told Coach Eric Musselman that he couldn't go because of sore knees, an injury that no one knew that Artest has. Musselman was very irritated at the timing of this, because if he had known sooner he could have deactivated Artest and activated someone else.

Regarding the Kings' defense, TNT's Doug Collins listed four traits that characterize good defensive teams:

1) Keep guards out of the lane (the Kings rank 14th in allowing points in the paint).

2) Contest perimeter shots (the Kings rank 28th in three point field goal percentage defense).

3) Block shots (the Kings rank 28th in blocked shots).

4) Defensive rebounding (the Kings rank third in allowing second chance points).

The Kings rank third in the NBA in steals, so the bottom line is: they steal the ball and they rebound misses but the Kings are not effective guarding perimeter shooters nor are they able to stop teams from scoring inside. Therefore, a good strategy against them would be to patiently work the ball around because eventually you are going to get an open jumper or a layup. That probably explains why in the opening minutes of the game Arenas launched a three pointer with five Kings back on defense and no other Wizards player visible on that end of the court (Arenas made the shot).

Arenas had some interesting second quarter possessions, too. After he fired up a fadeaway that completely missed the rim and barely grazed the backboard, Collins said, "That was a bad shot by Gilbert Arenas." The next time down the court, he attempted to feed the post while standing about 10 feet behind the three point line but his pass sailed over Jamison's head. Meanwhile, on defense, John Salmons, who averages 9.7 ppg but finished with a season-high 23, was simply wearing Arenas out by taking him to the hoop.

When Arenas finally did make a three pointer in the second quarter, Collins laughed and said, "I love Gilbert Arenas--he can miss 10 shots in a row and think he's hot."

A few minutes later, Collins' partner Kevin Harlan said, "(Wizards Coach) Eddie Jordan told us before the game, 'We need to have patience and discipline on offense.'" Those words were barely out of his mouth before Arenas dribbled up court and missed a contested three pointer from the top of the key. Collins observed, "That's not a good shot. Gilbert is trying to do too much on his own now."

posted by David Friedman @ 2:34 AM



At Friday, December 22, 2006 12:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone would argue that Arenas is as good as Kobe, LeBron, or Wade. And Arenas "chucks up" some terrible shots, no question. But your use of stats to try to diminish Arenas is nonetheless rather disingenuous and unfair, no?

Why are you talking about raw shooting percentage at all? Arenas takes lots of 3's, so of course his shooting percentage is going to be lower than scorers who take fewer 3's. And he also drives a lot (yet doesn't turn the ball over much), so he gets lots of free throws relative to other prolific scorers.

His *true* shooting percentage -- which of course takes account of some of these things -- is pretty much identical to LeBron's, Wade's, Carmelo's, and most other elite guards or swingmen. (Kobe is off the chart this year.) And he doesn't turn the ball over as much as those guys, either.

I'm sure you know all this. So why not make a more honest argument?

At Friday, December 22, 2006 12:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry -- one more thought.

It seems to me that what makes the very best players -- LeBron, Wade, Kobe -- better than Arenas is better defense and better rebounding. I think Gilbert is very much in the same category as those guys as an offensive player, and I think the stats bear that out.

To me, there's a pretty simple litmus test for asking whether someone's a gunner. Before a really big game, or a big 4th quarter possesion, are you nervous as a fan at the prospect of the ball being in that player's hands? I think Arenas is solidly in that very small category of players in whose hands you absolutely want the ball. Everyone has hot streaks and cold streaks, but he has great range, unbelievable quickness, and even when his shot is off, he usually gets to the line a lot.

Among guys shorter than 6'10, Kobe is pretty much the only guy in the league I'd definitely rather see take a shot with the game on the line. (After that, I think it's a push between Lebron, Wade, Arenas, and Billups.)

So overall, is Arenas in the most rarified NBA air? No. But he is as a pure scorer -- and not simply because he shoots a lot. Calling him a gunner seems to do him a disservice in the one facet of his game that is absolutely top-notch.

At Friday, December 22, 2006 12:45:00 PM, Blogger jay aych said...

Thank you, Dave. I have been saying Gil has the worst shot selection in NBA for a few years. Although, you could make a case for Baron. He will just make at least 5 incredibly boneheaded plays per game, & that's a conservative number. I shook my head at least a half-dozen times last nite wondering what's going on in his skull. But this is nothing new.

There's just something about his shot selection that is worst than Wade, Kobe, or Bron. You can't really dissect it with numbers; it's something you have to watch. Then you combine it with a handful of dumb turnovers per game & it adds up to a player who just makes a lot of bad decisions with the ball. You know there is a reason he was left off Team USA. I always felt he should have never been invited in the first place.

By the way Don before you criticize Dave, you should check Gil's turnover numbers; just as bad, if not worse. Another thing I have been harping on for a few years--he is always up top of the TOs leaderboard. And always has one of the worst asst/tos ratios for PGs.

At Friday, December 22, 2006 1:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, there are flaws in Arenas' game and his shot selection could be better. But there's a huge gap between "worst shot selection in NBA " and "worst [sic] than Wade, Kobe, or Bron". As pointed out, his true shooting percentage is in line with most of the other elite perimeter players in the league and quite a bit higher then noted gunners like B.Davis and Iverson. I'll take facts over your "just something" observations.

Arenas' turnover rate is, again, in line with the other elite perimeter players in the league.

Arenas does not breathe the same rarified air as Wade, Kobe and Lebron. I doubt he'll ever be that good. But that's a far cry from your characterization.

At Friday, December 22, 2006 2:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gilbert shoots a lot of shots in an uptempo offense. That's a fact and we can drive on. It think it's sensible to dismiss Kobe's comments are sour grapes. He's pulling a Phil Jackson move and using the media to discredit and take jabs at a guy who scored 60 points on him. That's historically significant for Gilbert's franchise and personally special to him because he did it in front of family and friends in his hometown. I think it's rather tacky personally.

Jamal Crawford has the worst shot selection in the NBA. Gilbert is in the same boat as other scorers who often take difficult shots with the shot clock running down. I think the number of threes he takes brings his percentage down but I don't see the point (other than a good argument) of comparing him to other scorers who are much bigger than he is. His points in the paint and FTs come off drives to the basket not a low post game. The only player you can compare him to is Iverson. So I'm sure Kobe has some useless comments about AI as well.

At Friday, December 22, 2006 3:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree that it would have been more classy for Kobe to bite the bullet (get it--Wizards used to be Bullets? Never mind...) and not say what he said about Arenas' shot selection. On the other hand, he was asked a question and if he doesn't answer then he's a bad guy for not answering. Anyway, because so many people hate Kobe anything that he says is going to dismissed. What interested me is to actually take his comments at face value and see if there is any merit to them.

I actually have had some commenters suggest that Arenas is as good as Kobe, LeBron or Wade but (hopefully) most people understand that this is not true.

Some of you mentioned turnovers, but I left that out of my post because the primary issue that I wanted to address was shot selection. Players who handle the ball a lot tend to have a lot of turnovers. Arenas' decision making is not great--Collins mentioned this during last night's broadcast--but that is a subject for another day.

Shooting percentage was only part of my argument--but the numbers do support Bryant's contention that Arenas took a lot of questionable shots that happened to go in on that one night, because when you add up those numbers with the ones from the preceding and subsequent games Arenas is shooting right around what he has for his whole career. I think that is called "regression to the mean."

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.

We already saw one playoff series of LeBron versus Arenas--Arenas played well but I definitely want the ball in LeBron's hands more than Arenas'. I also would prefer the ball to be in the hands of Finals MVPs Wade or Billups. If we're just talking last second shots, give me Cassell, too.

Even an uptempo offense has some kind of structure to it. Phoenix' players do not shoot the kind of shots that Arenas does.

I agree that Crawford also has horrendous shot selection. I wrote about Arenas because he just had a 60 point game and because at least as much attention has been focused on Kobe's comments as on the performance itself.

The Team USA issue is interesting and something that I wrote about earlier. Arenas complained that everyone else was getting to do their own thing but that he was being made to conform. In essence, he thinks that he is as good as LeBron, Wade and Melo and can't understand why the team was built around them instead of him. His attitude had more than a little to do with him not making the final roster. That whole issue, Maha10K, is why it is relevant to compare Arenas to guys who are bigger than he is--he has made the comparison himself.

Arenas is an All-Star level player who had a great game, but there is a lot of truth to what Kobe said, even if people don't like to hear it and even if it would have been more tactful for Kobe to have answered in a different way.

At Friday, December 22, 2006 5:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. Just because Kobe's comments are manipulative sour grapes doesn't mean they're not true. Arenas essentially plays an autistic game. He's slightly different than AI in that respect, though he shares AI's lack of conscience. AI seems so motivated to crush an opponent that he wants to do it by himself. Arenas gets into a zone where he feels that anything he puts up has a chance of going in (and with his absurd talent levels, it does). Purely at a subjective level, for me, Arenas would be the least fun to play with, as opposed to watching. The Wilkins comparison is pretty right.

At Friday, December 22, 2006 7:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Calling someone a gunner to me is an insult, I thought Kobe dropped the 'G' word on Gilbert in the same way Phil Jackson has dropped well timed jabs on other opponents in the past. I watched and Gilbert was attacking (thus the FTs) so the bad shots comment seemed offbase. I'm not a Kobe hater, I just had thoughts on what he said.

As far as Gilbert being a gunner, I think he's a volume shooter in the same way Iverson is (similar to AI in minutes, shots and %). The other big scorers shoot a better percentage becuase they have more size and low post moves in their games. However, you are the pro Mr. Friedman so your arguments are better supported than mine.

I wouldn't compare Phoenix' offense to Washington's. I'm a Suns blogger so I watch every game and their attack is built around a constant attack and ball movement rather than seemingly accomodating scorers (and their attempts) the way Washington does. Washington needs Gilbert to shoot a lot (Butler and Jamison too) because they have no low post presence. I could be wrong but watch the WASH/PHX matchup tonight and notice the difference, you don't have to take 20 shots to score 20+ for Phoenix.

At Saturday, December 23, 2006 12:26:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

The thing about Arenas that makes him even more interesting that no one has mentioned is that he was a 2nd round pick. A 2nd round pick?!! He is not even supposed to be in the league with the Jameses, Wades and Bryants. Most 2nd round picks dont play much in the league or even last. Out of all the players who scored 60 in a game, he is the only 2nd rounder.

Is he a gunner? Of course he is. But so was Jerry, Michael, Rick, Nique, Iverson, Bryant (even though David will dispute), Gervin.....most great scorers are gunners.

Who cares if he is a gunner? He is a great offensive player just enjoy it.

At Saturday, December 23, 2006 4:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't think that Kobe actually called Arenas a "gunner"; he said that he had no "conscience." Using that as a headline could be misleading, plus "Gilbert" and "gunner" make for good alliteration without altering the meaning of what Kobe said. You'll notice that the title is in the form of a question, not a statement, so technically I didn't call Gilbert a gunner, either. I asked if he is one and looked at the evidence.

Gunner does probably have a slightly negative connotation. It could simply be used to mean someone who shoots a lot--which would apply to Arenas, Bryant, LeBron and everyone else we've mentioned in this thread--but it usually signifies someone who not only shoots a lot but whose shot selection is questionable. I think that Arenas qualifies on both accounts, based on his FGA and his shooting percentages. Even though he shoots the three well, is it in the best interest of that team for him to shoot so many? Missed three pointers when the floor is not properly balanced can fuel the other team's fastbreak.

Yes, I write this fully realizing that Arenas went off tonight for 54 points and is basically telling me, Colangelo, D'Antoni and everyone else to shut up. He is an entertaining player and I respect that he plays with a chip on his shoulder. I don't question that he shoots a lot because he thinks that is the best way for his team to win. I question how far his team can advance in the playoffs with him playing that way, though.

Kobe indicated that he will adjust next time. It will be interesting to see how Arenas does in this year's playoffs when teams can zero in (another bad pun, I know...) on Agent Zero and keep him away from his high percentage areas. Arenas scored a lot in last year's playoffs against the Cavs and did hit some late game shots, but LeBron made the plays that made the difference.

At Saturday, December 23, 2006 2:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm more apt to agree with David than Don. But the argument of what makes a "gunner" is certainly an interesting one, though one that may be better solved by a mathematician rather than a writer, lawyer, orator or basketball junkie. The equation should contain, among others, the amount of possessions per team, the amount of shots per team, the percentage of shots by player, the assists of player's teammates, the percentage of 3s divided by (?) possessions divided by points(?). I'm sure the Wiz have more offensive possessions per game than the Cavs (or anyone else in the league other than the Suns or Warriors) -- what percentage is Gilbert taking and making? How does that compare with his teammates? With the other superstars? How do you factor in 3s, or crunch time? I was at the game against the Knicks a few weeks back, and the Wiz were clearly a different, vastly superior team with Arenas on the floor.

I'm also sure that Gilbert doesn't have one teammate who is a good passer at his position, unlike Kobe, who at least has Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar, Wade with J-Will, Payton, Posey, Walker and occasionally Shaq, Lebron with Snow and Z out of the post. Steve Nash would seemingly be a great pick for most efficient scorer using that criteria, but what about Amare Stoudemire, shooting 62 percent despite just starting to look like the Amare that averaged 37 in a playoff series against the Spurs? Would he be nearly as efficient sans Nash? Would he be as efficient as Garnett with those T'Wolves teammates? Would Duncan, without Parker, Ginobli et al?

Also, in regard to the Kobe comments, I took them as more of a dig at the officiating than at Gilbert. I didn't hear them and can't find them online, so if anyone has a link, please provide so we can at least try and decipher the contexts ourselves, rather than immediately jump to the conclusion that a stand-up guy like Kobe could come off sounding like a jealous punk...

At Saturday, December 23, 2006 2:07:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Washington will not go far into the playoffs but could make some noise if Haywood would play better. I saw some games last year when I thought he was coming into his own. If he could do 15 and 10 it would help a lot because of the absence of NBA centers. I wouldnt mind seeing Wizards v Suns in the finals with every game being 135-130. No defense at all but truly entertaining.
Question to the blog: Where does Nash rank in point guards of alltime? There is no way I thought he would be doing what he is doing. I understand the system he is in but so what. He is very good. I know he is not better than Magic, Tiny, Oscar or Cousy or even Kidd. I wont include Frazier or Monroe or guys like that because they werent pure points. But is he better than Tim Hardaway, KJ (guys who averaged 20 and 10 ast for years), or Mark Price? I know I left out many names. Every time I see Nash hes like a magician out there. Thought I would ask.

At Sunday, December 24, 2006 5:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Steve: You did an excellent job of listing what would have to be quantified to come up with a definitive, objective answer to the question of whether or not Arenas is a gunner in the negative sense of the term. Needless to say, it would take a lot of time to track down all of those numbers just for this season, let alone for his career and the careers of whichever players to whom we would like to compare him. I don't question that--subjectively or objectively--the Wizards are a better team with him on the court than off; that is not even an issue. I just tried to take a not completely subjective look at whether or not he is a gunner and how he compares in some categories to the other top scorers.

I don't think that the shot selection or field goal percentage of guys like Kobe, LeBron and Wade is affected much by the quality of the passers on their teams because they create most of their own shots (and many of their teammates' shots as well). Arenas shoots long contested three pointers with a lot of time on the shot clock because that is how he plays, not because of how well other people on the team pass. Sometimes, Arenas makes those shots and other highly difficult shots--and, when he does, he can score a ton of points. His percentages show that there are a lot of nights when he does not make those shots.

I think that Haywood, like a lot of talented big men, is in the NBA more because he is tall and has athletic ability than because of his tremendous work ethic--as opposed to guys like, well, all the other players we've been talking about: Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Arenas; they work on their games, try to improve and try to become more consistent. I doubt that Haywood will ever be a 15-10 guy. He will continue to show flashes of ability on some nights and to disappear on other nights.

A Wizards-Suns NBA Finals will only occur in a video game. In the real world, teams that play physical defense and have some kind of a post presence will play in the Finals (of course, Phoenix has a much better chance of getting to the Finals than Washington does).

The question of Steve Nash's historical legacy is very tough. I could cop out and say that his career is not over yet, but that would be pretty weak--even though winning an NBA title would certainly raise his stock in the eyes of many. Speaking of stock, for many years John Stockton put up scoring, assist and shooting numbers similar to what Nash has done this year and in his two MVP seasons. Stockton never received serious MVP consideration, but Nash is one of a very select group of players who won back to back MVPs. Is the talent level at the top diluted now compared to Stockton's era? With Duncan, Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Nowitzki, etc. in the NBA, I think that the talent is certainly not diluted now--at least at the top, where there are many great players (the 8-9-10 men may not be as good as they used to be, but that is a different story).

What does all of this mean? Statistically, Nash resembles Stockton. In terms of honors received (MVPs), he ranks with the greats of all-time at any position, not just point guard. In terms of impact, that is very difficult to assess--is he making Marion, Amare and Diaw into better players or is he benefitting from having such talented teammates? The answer is probably a combination. Even if Nash wins a third MVP, I have a hard time putting his name in the same category with Wilt, Bird, MJ, Russell and the other multiple MVP winners. I keep going back to Stockton--his numbers were just as good for a longer period and he was a much better defender, too. All that can be said for sure is this: just a few years ago, no one would have imagined that we would be putting Nash's name alongside Stockton's in any sense, but it is very appropriate now.

Mark Price is another good comparison with Nash. I think that Price was a better shooter and more athletically gifted (i.e., quicker). Nash is a better passer and has more talented teammates. Again, for Nash to basically come out of nowhere and be compared to Price is quite an accomplishment--but I don't think that anyone ranks Stockton or Price on the same plane as the multiple MVP winners.

At Thursday, December 28, 2006 9:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Don here -- lost my username/password so am posting anonymously.

So much time has now gone by that I doubt anyone will read this comment, but the holidays intervened. On the off chance anyone's still reading, I'd like to keep this conversation going.

Dave, I understand that the percentages were only a part of your argument, but of course shot selection and shooting percentage are not mutually exclusive. A lot of people say Kobe takes some awful shots. I'm guessing that your response would be, "but Kobe can make those shots, and does pretty regularly." And that would be absolutely right. It's also right when applied to Arenas.

You say the stats show there are a lot of nights when Arenas misses those shots. But again, I think you need to take a closer look at the stats. So far this season, Arenas 37% of Arenas's shots have been 3's (versus 24% for Kobe). From that disparity, it should be clear that just comparing raw shooting percentages is completely meaningless. It's true that Arenas takes a lot of contested 3's, which would be really bad for most players, but overall, he's hitting better than 40% of his 3-pointers.

Whether you look at points per shot or true shooting percentage, you see that Arenas is very similar to Lebron or Wade or Kobe. Yes, Kobe. Since this thread started, Kobe's TS% has come down -- I think that's called regression to the mean -- and Gil's has gone up. This season is young, so let's not get too caught up in what a few games show. Over their careers, Arenas and Kobe have about the same TS% and about the same points per shot. Over the last two full seasons, Gil has been a little better by this metric.

It's true, as you say, that Gil has a lot of offensive talent around him, but let's not get carried away with that. Wade has Shaq, who demands the double and who has always made players around him much better offensively (that's more true for jump shooters than slashers, but it's still true). Kobe had Shaq in his prime. He also had Caron Butler an Odom a couple of years ago. (It's funny -- Butler didn't look like such a great player when he had Kobe as a teammate.) Most of the elite players have pretty good talent around them, in fact. (Lebron and Garnett are clear exceptions, and are all the more amazing given the bozos they have to play with.)

So is Arenas advantaged by a better supporting cast? Maybe; he doesn't have to deal with doubles as often as Kobe, for instance. But as someone else pointed out, he also doesn't play with good passers who can get him the ball in good spots.

Finally there's the argument that Arenas is hurting his teammates, and the team, by hogging the ball or taking "bad shots" when there are other good shooters on the team. I think there's some merit to this argument, and I think the Wizards would be better if Arenas didn't shoot quite so much. But the right now the Wizards are second in the league in offensive efficieny (points per possession). Only the Suns are better, and I think we can all agree that the Suns have a much stronger roster overall. So it's hard to argue that the team is hurt very much by Arenas's shooting volume.

I'm in DC, and I watch the Wizards a lot. So maybe I've become biased. (Though I'm a Knicks fan more than a Wizards fan, as difficult as that is these days.) But to me Arenas looks all-world as a scorer when you see him over the course of many games -- not just one or two. And when you parse the stats, I think the same picture emerges. It's just hard to validate the claim that Kobe or Wade or Lebron is a significantly better offensive player. Those guys are better overall because of the other facets of their games (in Kobe's case, defense especially, and rebounding too).

At Friday, December 29, 2006 6:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make some valid points regarding Arenas--but I still maintain that Arenas is a gunner in both senses of the word: he shoots a lot and he shoots a lot of bad shots. Why should a player of his talent be launching nearly 2 of every 5 of his shots from three point range? He is a point guard and he should be breaking down the defense and creating higher percentage shots for himself and his teammates. Regarding Kobe's shot selection and three point shooting, I think that he also shoots too many three pointers--at times. Kobe shot many more threes last year than in prior seasons but we later found out that this was because he was nursing a knee injury for most of the season and could not always go to the hoop--the same knee injury that eventually required surgical repair. His knee still is not completely right, so I don't think that we are seeing the "real" Kobe yet, but he has reduced his three point attempts this year.

There is a great anecdote about Hubie Brown that I think appears in Charley Rosen's book God, Man and Basketball Jones. Brown was coaching the Atlanta Hawks and during a practice session one of his players breaks off the play and makes a long jump shot. Brown blows his whistle, stops the practice and says "That wasn't the play" (or words to that effect--I'm paraphrasing these quotes from memory), to which the player replies, "But it went in." Brown says, "Don't give me that &**(* Sure, it might go in once and your girlfriend will go crazy and the fans will love it. But then you will miss the next seven and we'll get blown out by 25. Run the play the way it is supposed to be run and you will get a high percentage shot for you or your teammate."

Arenas has been tearing things up lately and he is a lot of fun to watch--but that does not mean that there is not a lot of truth to what Kobe said. Arenas' shot selection is bad, even if a lot of the shots go in. That kind of shot selection will not lead to long term success. Arenas' scoring run is nice, but Kobe has averaged 40-plus ppg for an entire month twice, which no one other than Wilt has done, and he averaged 35-plus ppg last year on a bad knee--and Shaq was either injured or on a different team when Kobe did all of those things.

As for Caron Butler playing better now with the Wizards, Kobe has a whole roster of guys who are playing better with him than they ever did: Bynum, Brown, Mihm (before he got hurt), Smush Parker. Butler is a young player who is still developing and I'm not sure how much of his development can be attributed to Arenas shooting three pointers in one on five fast breaks (which he did at least once last week, as I described here).

At Friday, December 29, 2006 7:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will make it very simple for all of you,kobe is the bomb and arenas simply isn`t!!!!!!!!

At Friday, December 29, 2006 2:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don here. If he's shooting better than 40% on his 3's, why shouldn't he take lots of them? That's equivalent to 60% for a 2-point shot, which I'd say qualifies as a high-percentage shot. (Arenas's career 3-point percentage is 37%, so maybe this year's percentage will come down a little; or maybe, at just 24, with the practice habits he has, he's becoming a better shooter.) I think Kobe shoots 33 or 34% from 3-point range, so you're right to say he shouldn't be shooting too many 3's; Arenas is a better long range shooter, though.

What's interesting about Arenas is that while he takes lots of threes, he *also* drives to the hoop for a lay-up or dish-out quite a lot. That's because all he does is shoot three's or go to the basket.
You almost never see Arenas take *2-point* jump shots or fade-aways. He either goes all the way to the basket or shoots from behind the arc. In this sense, his shot selection is quite good, as he categorically eliminates from his game some of the worst percentage shots in basketball (as to expected points per shot). (The Knicks, on the other hand, are absolutely smitten with these sorts of shots. Kobe's been known to take more than a few as well, although he seems to make them at a pretty high rate.)

Again, I'd still like to see Arenas pass more, and pass better. (Even more, I'd like to see him *stop* trying to make full-court passes.) But he's not a bad distributor now, and again, I point you to the fact that the Wizards are an extremely efficient team offensively, so his "bad decision-making" just doesn't seem to show up in the stat sheets.

Finally, if you want to talk about gunners, you can run the tape on many of the games when Kobe was putting up the numbers you describe in your last post. Those were dark, AI-like days, unless I misremember. He certainly wasn't shooting better then than Arenas is now, and the Lakers certainly weren't more efficient offensively either. (He and they were better defensively, though, which is where both Arenas and the Wizards are more justifiably dinged.)

Has Kobe made his teammates meaningfully better this year? Yes, for the first time in his career, I think he has. I hope that's a sign of maturation, and not just the temporary limitations of a recovering knee.

At Friday, December 29, 2006 4:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'm fully aware of the increased value of a three point shot over a two pointer, as anyone who has played with or against me in rec league ball will testify :) However, as I tried to indicate with the Hubie Brown anecdote, winning in the NBA is more than simply a matter of "I made the shot" (or even, as you are arguing, "I make the shot a lot"). There are also issues of floor balance and chemistry, to name just two. How often are Arenas' bad shots that don't go in converted into easy opportunities for the other team? I guess the Wizards are already back on defense when he shoots 1 on 5 but, bad offense sometimes leads to bad defense and bad defense is a big problem for the Wizards. Also, if you are a big guy for the Wizards or if you are capable of scoring 20-plus ppg (Jamison, Butler), how hard will you feel like playing on the boards or on defense when Arenas is shooting so many threes instead of getting others involved? Yes, that question "could" be asked of Kobe, but I don't think that this kind of resentment factor exists--certainly not to the same degree--when Kobe shoots a difficult shot with the shot clock running down after his teammates give the ball back to him. Arenas' shots are not just low percentage in quality (distance, how contested they are) but also in terms of how much time is left on the shot clock. Also, Arenas is a point guard, while Bryant is a shooting guard.

Arenas certainly does shoot the "bad" long two pointers but I don't know if he does this more or less than other players. You are right that the Knicks shoot a ton of these (Crawford, Marbury, Francis in particular).

Kobe has made his teammates better for years. I don't know why people seem to have forgotten that he already has won three titles. He led the team in assists throughout those years, so he was feeding his teammates. He was also making them better by drawing defenders, creating opportunities even on plays when he did not get assists.

As for Kobe's shooting percentages in his streak of 40 point games that I mentioned, here are the numbers from the 2002-2003 season, when he scored at least 40 points in nine games from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23 (Shaq missed several of these games with a sore knee; the Lakers went 7-2 overall during these games): 44 ppg, 139-280 field goal shooting (.496), 24-51 three point shooting (.471), 94-113 free throw shooting (.832). Bryant's streak of nine straight 40-point games is bested only by two 14 game streaks by Wilt and one 10 game streak by Wilt. As you can see, Kobe was certainly NOT putting up "dark, AI" type numbers and his team was winning most of those games--which is true of Kobe's 40-point games in general throughout his career.

To summarize, during Kobe's '03 run he scored more than Arenas has in his run this year, shot a better percentage and his team won 7 of 9. I think that Kobe is certainly qualified to question Arenas' shot selection, as someone who has accomplished a better feat more efficiently for a more extended period of time.

At Friday, December 29, 2006 5:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you've got me on Kobe's streak. Those are, indeed, the antithesis of AI-type numbers.

As for the rest? Come on, Shaq won three titles. Kobe was a very good second fiddle. And you've seen the stats on how the Lakers performed with Shaq out of the lineup, versus with Kobe out of the lineup, in that era -- the streak you mention notwithstanding.

Gilbert does not shoot a lot of bad 2-pointer jumpshots, because he doesn't shoot a lot of 2-point jumpshots. You can't be watching him often if you claim otherwise.

I've never seen anyone anywhere claim that Arenas's teammates resent him (I have seen that claim made of Kobe, many times), so this argument just seems weird to me. Butler and Jamison get their shots, anyway. But maybe you know something I don't.

So you're left with long rebounds. That seems like a rather thin reed upon which to claim that Arenas's scoring style or proficiency is worse than other elite players, including Kobe.

Anyway, I've enjoyed the back-and-forth. I respect your writing, and you clearly know more about the game than I do. I just think you've got at least two blind spots -- one for Kobe (who is unquestionably a great player nonetheless), and one for Arenas.

Happy New Year.

At Friday, December 29, 2006 9:57:00 PM, Blogger totoro said...

Truth be told, Gilbert has been balling it up in December. If he continues at this pace then he deserves his due. Gilbertology . Learn it, live it, love it.

At Saturday, December 30, 2006 1:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I've enjoyed the back and forth as well--and I also enjoy watching Arenas play, even if I don't agree with everything that he does. He is a fun, exciting and talented player to watch.

Just to clean up a couple points--I said that while I've seen Arenas shoot "bad" two pointers (fadeaways, shots just inside the three point line) I don't know and am not saying that he shoots more of them than the other elite scorers. Sometimes such shots are launched because of the shot clock, going for 2 for 1 late in the quarter, etc. I don't think that this is a big problem in Arenas' game, but I've seen him do it--in the playoff games I attended last year and even in some of the games in his recent streak. So I'm disagreeing more with your assertion that he never or rarely does this rather than suggesting that he does it "a lot."

Kobe Bryant and Scottie Pippen were both, by definition, "second fiddles"--but both were also indispensible members of their respective title teams. Without them, those teams would not have won championships (and I disagree with the idea touted by some that there were many suitable replacements who could have filled those roles because Pip and Kobe are each exceptional multidimensional players and there were simply not other players in the league during their respective eras who could have scored, rebounded, assisted and made All-Defensive Teams the way that they did). My point in mentioning Kobe's championships in the Arenas discussion is that I think the fact that he is a high scoring player who has been on multiple championship teams gives him some credibility to speak about what is or is not a good shot. He's shot a lot, scored a lot and won titles. There is such a focus on whether Kobe will win a ring without Shaq that many forget how much he had to do with Shaq getting his first three rings.

I do not have any information that Arenas' teammates resent him. What I'm saying is that Washington is a bad defensive team and I think that Arenas' shot selection contributes to that by giving the team bad floor balance and because big guys tend to run harder in transition (in both directions) if they think that they will get the ball--you can see this in pickup games at the Y all the way up to the NBA. Guys run with Steve Nash or LeBron because they know that he will give it up--and when you are getting touches, you tend to play defense with more vigor. TNT's Doug Collins talks sometimes about how good offense can lead to good defense. I am suggesting that Washington's bad offense contributes to their bad defense.

Long rebounds are a problem, but 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.

At Saturday, December 30, 2006 1:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Arenas has had a tremendous December and I'm sure he's a lock for Eastern Conference Player of the Month. He works very hard on his game and I respect that. I'm just saying that Kobe made a valid point with what he said about Arenas' shot selection; I also think that it would have been more gracious to not say it, which I noted at the time.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 2:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you look at Arenas' three point shooting percentage considering the number he shoots, it is simply laughable for anyone to claim that he is taking poor shots. Do the math guys. He is making 40% of his three pointers and taking far more than anyone else in the league. If you make 40% of your three's, you are shooting an effective fg percentage of 60%, which is almost unheard of for a guard.

You guys are making the kind of weak argument that people used to make against Redick at Duke. They would say that Joe Smoe was a better three point shooter because his percentage was higher, ignoring the fact that Redick was taking far more shots and accordingly more difficult shots.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 5:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Go back and read my post and subsequent comments; I never restricted my comments about Arenas merely to his shooting percentage. Here are some of my statements:

"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."

Also, you seem to imply that it is a good thing that Redick was taking more difficult shots. Wouldn't it be better to work for an easier, higher percentage shot, particularly in the college game when there is more time on the shot clock? Anyway, I don't think that you are right about Redick taking difficult shots. Most of the shots that he took--or at least most of the shots he made--were open shots after he came off of numerous screens. He struggles to get off his own shot, which is one of the reasons he is glued to the bench in Orlando, as I predicted he would be. Comparing him to Arenas makes no sense, because Arenas is a point guard who can get off his shot at any time; Redick is a slow, undersized shooting guard.

Look at it another way. If we took your logic to its extreme, Arenas should shoot 30 three pointers a game; 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 (don't expect to see Redick doing that in the NBA). 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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