Tying Up Some Loose Ends Regarding "Awful Analysis"After I tried to set the record straight regarding whether Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash is a better player only to receive a response that focused more on facial hair than basketball, one of my regular readers summed up the exchange quite nicely: "Don't feed the troll." The thing is, though, if you don't feed the troll it doesn't stop him from being a troll and may convince some people that he actually knows what he is talking about. Perhaps the troll should starve, but the readers deserve the best possible basketball analysis.
I don't know what the deal is with the comments section at this person's site but rather than write something there that may or may not see the light of day--and will only be read by people who think that 32 points and 16 assists is better than 65 points and that Phil Jackson hid Michael Jordan on defense--I decided to tie up some loose ends here.
One person asked me to explain the difference between Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas in terms of shot selection. Arenas' shot selection is something that I have addressed previously at this website: here and here. He differs from Bryant in many ways: most notably, Arenas dribbles up the court and jacks up long jumpers and three pointers with plenty of time left on the shot clock, while Bryant generally does not do that unless it is at the end of a quarter for a 2 for 1 possession. Yesterday, I charted what Bryant did at the offensive end of the court for the entire third quarter of his most recent 50 point game. Obviously, he doesn't always shoot 6-7 from the field, but the moves were fairly typical. He catches the ball, reads the defense and shoots within one or two dribbles (or passes when he is double-teamed). Arenas just fires at will from all angles. He is very talented, so he makes some of these shots but he also has some horrendous games--15 times this year he has shot below .300 from the field. His repertoire does not include the footwork or ball fakes that Bryant smoothly employs. Bryant is fundamentally sound and that--coupled with his great athleticism--is why he can do things that few other people in the history of the game have done. Arenas' main two "moves" are shooting deep pull up threes and driving hard to the basket. Before some Agent Zero fan angrily denounces me, yes I'm sure that there are examples of Arenas making other shots--but he does not have a back to the basket game that is as refined as Bryant's or an arsenal of turnaround jumpers, pump fakes and so forth the likes of which Bryant uses to attack defenses.
The conclusion of my comment at the other site speaks for itself: "You're right, though. Arenas does 'occasionally' win playoff series. He also 'occasionally' misses two free throws after LeBron psyches him out. Last I checked, Kobe was an All-NBA and All-Defensive Team player while he was a member of three championship teams. Good luck to Arenas on matching that."
As for Nash's "64 point game" (32 points plus 16 assists equals 64 points in the new math) and his 28-22 game and how common those feats are, it should be obvious that Bryant's current 50 point string--now at four and counting, exceeded only by Wilt Chamberlain all-time--is much more rare and difficult. Basketball Reference.com has all the boxscores since 1986-87 (not including this season, yet). There have been 34 20 point/20 assist games since that time. Some notable ones include 32-20-11 (rebounds) by Magic Johnson, 30-21 by Kevin Johnson, 29-21 by Magic, 31-20-16 (!) by Fat Lever, 29-21 by Magic (no, I'm not stuttering; he did it again), 37-20 by KJ, 30-20 by Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. What about the exact 32-16 combo that Nash had? There have been 22 other games since 1986-87 in which a player had at least 32 points and at least 16 assists. I'm not trying to take anything away from Nash; 32-16 and 28-22 are excellent--but they are neither as rare nor as difficult as 50-plus points in four straight games. Scoring 65 points in and of itself is very noteworthy. Since 1986-87, that has only happened three other times: Bryant famously had 81 last year, David Robinson had 71 on the last day of the 1994 season when his teammates force fed him the ball so he could win the scoring title and Michael Jordan scored a career high 69 in an overtime game in 1990.
There is no question that Nash is a great player. I think that some of his forerunners--Mark Price and Kevin Johnson and Tim Hardaway and John Stockton--were in many ways underappreciated. Nash is not "better" than Kobe Bryant when it comes to overall skills and completeness. Nash plays on a team that has a lot more talented players than the Lakers do--and yet barely beat the Lakers in a seven game series last year. Frankly, anyone who thinks that the series would have been that close if Nash and Bryant switched teams is simply delusional. Bryant is scoring 50-plus points game after game despite not having even one reliable outside shooting threat on his team or even one bonafide 20 ppg scorer. How exactly would teams guard him if he were playing alongside Marion and Stoudemire? Plus, it is more difficult--if not impossible--to double team a great player in an open court, fast break situation, so Bryant would absolutely thrive in the Suns' offense. If Nash played for the Lakers, he would still score 18-20 ppg--maybe even a little more. He would not shoot as well, because teams could guard him tighter without worrying that his teammates would make shots. Nash's assists would be cut by 20%, at least, as Kwame Brown fumbled the ball out of bounds and Smush Parker clanked shots left and right.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:29 AM