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Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Revenge" of "Awful Analysis"

Sequels often seem to have "revenge" in their names--and are often worse than the originals--so that is a fitting word to use in reference someone whose writing proves that he doesn't understand basketball but rather than conceding this he simply takes out a shovel and digs himself a deeper and deeper hole, all the while exclaiming "Checkmate" and "So eat it," as if that makes his analysis more compelling.

Before moving forward, a brief recap of my ongoing "discussion" with a basketball blogger who is so confused that "awful" really is part of his name--and for good reason. Anyway, the fun began when he suggested that Steve Nash's game with 32 points and 16 assists is more impressive/productive that Kobe Bryant's recent 65 point game, a notion that I refuted here. The only answer I got to that were some comments about my mustache, followed by what I called "The Old Bait and Switch." After I looked it up and proved that Nash's points/assists combo has been bettered many times in the past 20 years--unlike Bryant's scoring, which has not been matched since Wilt Chamberlain--the subject suddenly shifted to some of Nash's playoff accomplishments (notably absent are any championships; Bryant has already won three) and Bryant's alleged defensive shortcomings. I responded by noting that Bryant has made the All-Defensive team on numerous occasions (four times on the First Team, including last year, plus two more times on the Second Team). The All-Defensive Team is voted on by the head coaches, who know the strengths and weaknesses of the league's players because they have to game plan for each team. The "Awful" response: the coaches are biased and they are too preoccupied with their own teams to know about players on other teams (huh?). In other words, some of the most informed NBA basketball people on the planet think that Bryant is a great defender (Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen notes that scouts also love Bryant's defense) but that can all be dismissed with a wave of the hand.

To summarize, Mr. "Awful" made a spurious comparison of points/assists combos with 50 point game streaks and said that NBA head coaches are biased idiots who don't know anything about the players that they coach against. I responded with facts, which were completely ignored. Just when Mr. "Awful" was going to slink into oblivion and let the issue of his incompetence die, the drowning man thought that he saw a rope that could save him: a post by Roland Lazenby, who probably has as much inside information about the L.A. Lakers as anyone. Lazenby interviewed Tex Winter, the great former Kansas State coach and longtime NBA assistant coach who is now a Lakers consultant (which is not the same as being a coach or a head coach, like the ones who vote on All-Defensive Teams, distinctions that repeatedly elude Mr. "Awful's" comments about Lazenby's post; Winter does not travel with the team). Lazenby's Tex Winter post is well over 3000 words. The main point of the piece is to assess Bryant's impact on a historical level, specifically by comparing him to Michael Jordan and also by comparing his recent scoring binge to similar feats accomplished by the great Wilt Chamberlain. On MJ versus Kobe, Winter concludes: "I tend to think how very much they’re alike. They both display tremendous reaction, quickness and jumping ability. Both have a good shooting touch. Some people say Kobe is a better shooter, but Michael really developed as a shooter as he went along. I don’t know if Kobe is a better shooter than Michael was at his best." As for Kobe's scoring streak versus Wilt's scoring numbers, Winter says, "It (Kobe's streak) is more impressive. Wilt’s streak was more about gimmickry that season. Kobe’s gotten these points against tough competition (Lazenby adds: Winter thinks just about all NBA teams offer superior competition in this age, including the Memphis Grizzlies), which is something else Wilt didn’t face, not consistently...Kobe is not a 7-foot-1 giant. He’s a normal-sized 2 or 3 man. For him to go off on the kind of scoring tear that he did is remarkable. It was necessary for this team to win five straight games. Without it, I doubt seriously if we could have won." Winter's praise of Bryant's streak and the difficulty of doing it even against sub .500 teams is a complete antithesis to Mr. "Awful's" original post on the subject, when he feebly suggested that a 32/16 game is greater than a 65 point game and that Bryant's numbers are diminished in quality due to the records of the teams that the Lakers played during the 50 point game streak.

Near the end of this extensive discussion of Bryant's greatness, Winter makes some comments about Bryant's style of defense this season. The comments about defense consist of less than 200 of those 3000+ words. Winter says, "I’d like to see him play better defense" and he suggests that Bryant should not gamble as much in the passing lanes. Note that he does not say that Bryant is a poor defender (check it our for yourself); he simply says that Bryant (and the other Lakers guards) should gamble less. Mr. "Awful" now completely reverses his opinion about what NBA coaches know and trumpets that Tex Winter "agrees" with him about Bryant. When I--and some of his regular readers--point out that he has taken the comments out of context, he says that the rest of the interview did not matter because Mr. "Awful" is only interested in talking about Bryant's defense. The flaw in that is that the article is not about Bryant's defense, so it is out of context to only quote those words and act like the main point of the piece concerns Bryant's defense. That was a small portion of a much greater discussion, namely the similarities between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Now, why doesn't Mr. "Awful" bring that up? Simple. He loves Steve Nash and hates Kobe Bryant. The truth does not matter to him. When it seems that most coaches disagree with him about Kobe Bryant's defense, he discounts their opinions and calls them biased. When a (great) ex-coach, now a Lakers consultant, makes a little criticism of Bryant's defense in the larger context of an article that compares Bryant favorably with Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, Mr. "Awful" takes those comments out of the context of the article, misreads them and acts as if this is the final word on the matter. As Thomsen noted, scouts respect Bryant's defense. Bryant guards the top perimeter threat on the opposing team--whether that player is nominally a "two" (Bryant's position) or a "three"--at least as much, if not more, than any other superstar in the game (I'm not talking about defensive specialists like a Bruce Bowen or Shane Battier) and that is significant.

Also, there is a greater context beyond simply the context of Lazenby's post. Lazenby edits Lindy's Pro Basketball, which I have contributed to the past two years. Winter always does a piece in the magazine about the game's best players. If you're going to take a small portion from one post and use it to say that Winter "agrees" with you then you should at least have the basic knowledge of what his stance really is regarding Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. After all, Mr. "Awful" only brought up defense after I shredded the whole idea that 32/16 is so unique. The real question concerns who is the best basketball player. It turns out that Winter has a high opinion of both players, so it makes no sense to act like he "agrees" with Mr. "Awful" and disagrees with me. In the 2006 issue, Winter ranked Nash as the number one point guard and Bryant as the number one shooting guard. He agreed with Nash being selected as the 2005 MVP but mentioned that Nash has "some liabilities on the defensive end, mostly to do with his size. But he's a smart defensive player, even when opponents try to post him up. He finds a way to cause them problems." I would agree with that; Nash is not a great one on one defender but within a team concept he plays adequate defense. One of Mr. "Awful's" criticism of Bryant is that he does not play hard but in the 2006 issue Winter wrote, "...he's number one on this list because he always played hard every single minute." Why am I citing the 2006 issue? Simple--it provides context to Winter's overall views. In the 2007 issue, Winter selected two "All-Winter" Teams, an "all-time" edition and one for current players. Bryant made his all-time team at off guard, in a tie with Bill Sharman and Dwyane Wade and just behind Jordan and Jerry West. Winter said of Bryant, "Another one of my proteges. But his skills, his drive, his accomplishments all speak for themselves. Another player who truly understands the triangle." Nash did not make his all-time "lead" (point) guard list; he chose John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Bob Cousy and Bob Davies. As for current players, Winter selected Wade, Bryant, Nash and Allen Iverson as the best guards, not distinguishing between point guards and off guards.

Winter and Bryant have a classic mentor/pupil relationship. In my 2005 interview with Bryant, he compared Winter to "Yoda" because of Winter's deep understanding of the game. Bryant respects Winter and credits him for helping to improve his game. So, when Winter chuckles and says that Bryant "has his game plan" for defense that does not mean that Bryant simply ignores whatever Winter tells him. That is part of their continuing dialogue. Of course, none of this will be of the slightest interest to Mr. "Awful," because all he wants to do is glorify Nash, villify Bryant and score "points" against me.

I have very specific, well grounded reasons for calling Kobe Bryant the NBA's best player and in "Awful" Analysis I succinctly stated why Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA: "...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." Mr. "Awful" will never discuss Kobe Bryant in scouting terms or objectively compare him to other players because he is either not able to do so or because he understands just enough to know that such an analysis would hardly strengthen his case for Steve Nash.

In that same post, I went on to say, "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."

It is interesting to debate whether or not the "best player" should receive the MVP award if his team is not in the top four in the standings. Intelligent people can disagree about that one. I think that skill level is of paramount importance, along with "value" to one's team. That is not to say that Nash or Nowitzki are not "worthy" in my opinion but simply that Bryant is more worthy, from my point of view.

While this post deals with one particular person who apparently would not know Tex Winter from Tex Rickard, in an upcoming post I will discuss some general signs that are helpful in detecting wack NBA analysis, of which there is sadly no shortage nowadays.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:38 AM

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