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Friday, March 23, 2007

"Awful" Analysis

I recently looked at the question of whether Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash is a better basketball player. I wrote that post in response to someone who calls his site "Basketbawful" and who declared that Nash's 32 point, 16 assist game is more impressive than Kobe Bryant's 65 point game because 32 + 16x2 = 64 (he then said that some of the assists came on three pointers, so the 64 is really closer to 70). That prompted me to go to the archives, where it is easy to discover that in just one season John Stockton had a bunch of similar points/assists combos--and the box scores from Stockton's three best scoring seasons are not available on the internet, so he surely had many other similar games. Of course, Bryant's current scoring run can only be matched by the likes of Wilt, Elgin and Michael. I concluded that, from a historical standpoint, Bryant's scoring is more unique than Nash's combination of scoring/assists.

Delving deeper into the issue of Bryant versus Nash than just these particular games, I mentioned that Nash's advocates tend to speak of his "efficiency." I think that statistics should be used to supplement one's observations and not as the whole or main substance of one's argument, but if I were stumping for Nash to be MVP I would emphasize intangibles--how he "makes his teammates better" and so forth. The fact is that whether you look at John Hollinger's PER ratings or the NBA's efficiency statistic, Nash ranks below Bryant (and several other players, as I detailed in the post I alluded to in the first paragraph).

Kobe Bryant is the NBA's best player because he is the most skilled and most complete player in the game today: he can score from inside or outside, finish and dribble with either hand, rebound, pass and defend. His footwork, pivoting and shot faking are text book. Steve Nash is a great point guard in the mold of John Stockton, Mark Price, Kevin Johnson and other great 80s/90s guards, an idea that Kenny Smith agreed with when I interviewed him. Nash is certainly a worthy MVP candidate but he is not as skilled as Bryant is. The Dallas Mavericks let Nash go two years ago but Dirk Nowitzki and his team are playing better than ever. I would vote Bryant as the MVP, with Nowitzki second and Nash third.

Mr. "Basketbawful" also made a second post in which he derided Michael Jordan's defensive capabilities and asserted that Nash defends point guards better than Bryant defends shooting guards. I replied by defending Jordan as a defender (so to speak) and pointing out the holes in his defensive "analysis": he just took a small sample of Phoenix and L.A. games, added up what the opposing point guards and shooting guards did and posted the results. This of course leaves out what each team's defensive schemes are (how they defend pick and rolls, how much help is given, whether or not Nash and Bryant actually were guarding the other team's point guards and shooting guards, etc.) and what the regular averages of those opponents are, among other things. I noted that Bryant has made the All-Defensive Team several times. This is voted on by coaches who have to game plan for each team's offensive and defensive strengths and weaknesses.

Whenever you answer something that someone has written you never quite know how they will respond. Rarely do you get total agreement. Sometimes you are simply ignored and sometimes the other person cites new examples to prove his case or tries to pick holes in the examples that you brought up. Mr. "Basketbawful" carefully thought everything through--and focused primarily on my mustache.

I responded to his post at his website. He has to approve comments before they are posted, so I don't know if what I wrote will see the light of day or not. In any case, I think that 20 Second Timeout readers would be interested, so here it is exactly as I submitted it there:

Glad that you like the mustache. You know that you are dealing with high level basketball analysis when the mustache is the dominant point in your argument. I feel bad for any short or overweight people who post comments here but, hey, to each his own.

Anyway, MJ won a Defensive Player of the Year Award and a decade's worth of All-Defensive Team selections. He led the league in steals, ranks among the career leaders in that category and when players were polled (I believe by SI) at the height of his career he was selected as the player most feared both taking the last shot and guarding the guy taking the last shot. So, how many times he guarded Foster is not that big of a deal, in the big picture. My recollection, without going back and looking at the DVDs, is that MJ and/or Pip tended to only guard big guys if the Bulls were using a small lineup without a center and/or Rodman. Maybe I'm wrong on that one; I suppose if it is really necessary, sometime we could break out the DVDs, watch them possession by possession and analyze what was actually happening, as opposed to you simply implying that MJ could not guard anybody.

Back to Kobe and Nash. If you are trying to assert that Nash is a great defender, even his own coach won't go there. I interviewed Coach D'Antoni, and he told me that Nash is a good team defender even though he can be overmatched in certain one on one situations. You are the first person who I have seen suggest that Nash is actually equal to or better than Bryant as a defender. The raw numbers that you cited are indeed meaningless without knowing the context of their teams' defensive schemes and the averages of the players in question. Shooting guards would tend to score more than point guards. The other thing that you completely failed to mention is that Kobe can guard ones, twos or threes. That kind of versatility is very valuable if he or someone else gets in foul trouble and also in defending pick and rolls (provided the other guy on his team also knows how to defend pick and rolls, which is not always the case).

As for Arenas, he does take bad shots. That's a fact and that is why he has more sub .300 shooting games than anyone in the league other than Mike Bibby (min. 10 FGA in each game). Arenas scored a ton of points from the free throw line in the game against the Lakers, too. How did Arenas do in the next game against the Lakers? He scored well, but shot a much worse percentage and the Lakers won.

Of course, I do not always agree with the coaches' selections for the All-D team or the All-Star team--and I understand that they are not just sitting back watching Kobe's games. The point is that they make up game plans for every team in the league and they know which offensive and defensive players are weak links (or strong links) on each team. Bird and McHale's All-D selections, whether you agree or disagree with them, happened 20 or 30 years ago. How many of those coaches are part of the current voting process?

I did not say that the 60 points are the reason that Kobe is the best player. I said 60 MORE reasons--as in, 60 reasons plus the other reasons that I have listed in various posts.

If you can look past my mustache, here are some actual basketball related questions that you might address regarding Kobe/Nash: 1) if Nash's points/assists combos are more impressive than Kobe's scoring explosions, how come Kobe's scoring explosions are much more rare in NBA history (Kobe is doing things that have not been done since MJ and only been matched by Elgin and Wilt)? 2) Your ppg+apg "analysis" in a previous post puts Kobe and Nash in a dead heat at around 41 or 42 points produced, which is about the same as last year's numbers. Last year Nash won the MVP and Kobe was a distant fourth. Since they are producing about the same amount, why aren't you outraged that the voting was not closer? 3) If Nash is more productive and/or efficient than Bryant, how come both Hollinger's PER and the NBA's efficiency stat rate Bryant higher than they do Nash? 4) If Kobe's scoring is bad, selfish or irrelevant, how come his team has a better record the more points he scores? The Lakers are 55-24 when he scores 40+ (9-3 this year), 13-4 when he scores 50+ (5-1 this year) and 4-0 when he scores 60+ (2-0 this year) 5) Kobe won three rings while being an All-NBA and All-Defensive Team player and he led those teams in assists as well. Nash and Nowitzki have yet to win a ring--and they were on the same team at one time. Looking at their overall careers, why should we believe that Nash or Nowitzki are more "valuable"? 6) Nash receives a lot of credit for making Amare and Marion better and to a degree this is certainly true; a great point guard does make his teammates better. But Nowitzki has "gotten better" despite losing Nash, as have the Mavericks. How do we know that Amare and Marion would not also have "gotten better" even without playing with Nash?

There are some more questions, if you are actually interested in talking basketball as opposed to personal appearance, but I think that those are a good start.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:39 PM

8 comments

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8 Comments:

At Friday, March 23, 2007 6:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You cant rate Kobe higher then Nash or Dirk because he can't do anything without shaq. Im not saying Kobe is a bad player but he hasnt gotten very deep in the playoffs without the then mvp shaq.
Heres something to think about. Lets say during the Lakers 3 peat that for a season including playoffs shaq was injured. How far would Kobe have gotten in the playoffs?
Amare stoudamire was out for the whole season and nash STILL got to the final four and if Raja bell hadnt gotten injured who knows what would have happend against Dallas. That makes him that much more VALUABLE to his team, which is kinda the point of the MVP.
The point is, Kobe cant make players on his team better enough to win in the playoffs, and Dirk and Nash can.

 
At Friday, March 23, 2007 10:41:00 PM, Blogger Joe said...

David:

There is a saying online: "Don't feed the troll."

It is a discussion-worthy topic (though a bit academic, IMHO, because there are so many potential criteria for evaluating players and it's difficult to evaluate a player independent of their teammates and coach).

But seriously -- if the guy is resorting to childish name-calling -- don't respond!

It's not worth the effort to try and have an intelligent discussion with a clown.

In any case, it's also worth noting that, besides the Mavericks' improvement post-Nash:
* Marion was already a killer forward (thanks to Jason Kidd) before Nash came to Phoenix
* Boris Diaw's stardom was short-lived
* Raja Bell is a good player, nothing more
* Joe Johnson greatly improved *after* he left the Suns

I think the comparison on that basis is also unfair, because "improving your teammates" is the raison de'tre of a point guard and a tertiary consideration of a shooting guard.

 
At Saturday, March 24, 2007 1:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't feed the troll, haha, so true.

The talents on the Suns and Mavs are so good. Weren't Marion, Amare already good before Nash? Aren't Terry/Stackhouse good before joining the Mavs?

Kobe has carried a mediocre team so far. That makes his accomplishments and team success even more impressive.

 
At Saturday, March 24, 2007 1:49:00 AM, Blogger CollegeBoy said...

Agreed with last anonymous, I'm very impressed with Kobe. Anyway, doesn't MVP voting have a lot to do with how high your team finishes? Like right now, it's totally going to be Dirk, but I feel it should be Kobe--same thing last year. He is the Lakers, simple as that, and I don't need numbers to back it up or not. I just know that Kobe should be MVP...though Nash is having a pretty nashty year as a two time winner. Well, Dirk will win and that will be that.

 
At Saturday, March 24, 2007 4:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Amare is not the equivalent of Shaq and the Suns still had Marion plus several other very talented players--and, by the way, they didn't win a title or even make it to the Finals, so what is your point? Kobe had some insane playoff games during the title runs, including 48-16 versus Sac, amongst others.

Kobe made a lot of players better during the title runs; he led the team in assists. You simply cannot compare his supporting cast to those in Phx or Dall. The Lakers are rebuilding but are still a playoff team mainly because of Kobe. If they rebuild well he will get more chances to make a run for another title in a year or two.

 
At Saturday, March 24, 2007 4:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joe:

You make several excellent points. I agree with everything that you said. The only thing that I would add is that if I don't answer then it enables the "trolls" to take over the airwaves, so to speak. It is important to get good, solid information out there.

 
At Saturday, March 24, 2007 4:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree that Dirk will probably win the MVP this year and he is a worthy candidate--I just don't think that he is truly the game's best player and I think that the MVP should go to the best player.

Last year, Kobe got some MVP buzz when he scored 81 but that was months before the MVP voting. This year he is doing a scoring blitz much closer to when the MVP voting will take place and in the midst of a playoff race. If he sustains some portion of this momentum the rest of the way personally and pushes the Lakers to 45-46 wins, I think that he could win over enough MVP voters to win a close decision. I think that his teammates will let him down though and the Lakers will not quite win enough in the minds of the voters.

 
At Saturday, March 24, 2007 8:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arguing about whom is better is a waste of time. For instance some people actually believe the Holocaust never happend and you can not convince them that it did happen. There is no way that you convince a Nash fan to believe that Kobe is better than Nash.

 

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