NBA Coaches Select Kobe Bryant as League's Best Defensive GuardNot too long ago, some guy who apparently spends more time admiring my mustache than he does watching basketball decided that Kobe Bryant is an overrated defensive player who is living off of his past reputation (as I discussed in several late March posts, including this one). On Monday, the NBA announced its 2006-07 All-Defensive Team, as selected by the league's 30 head coaches (who cannot vote for their own players) and, lo and behold, Bryant made the First Team for the second year in a row and fifth time in his career (he also has earned two Second Team selections). This will not even slow down Bryant's detractors, who already are out in full force mocking the coaches' knowledge and questioning not only Bryant's selection but Shawn Marion's omission; after all, the writers and broadcasters placed Marion fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting, so they have a major discrepancy to explain: how can Marion be a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate but not rank among the league's 10 best defenders on the coaches' ballot? This is when we start to hear about bias among the coaches--members of the media, of course, are never biased--but my favorite complaint is that the coaches either are not following what happens in the league or don't understand what they are watching. Yeah, right--guys whose livelihood depends on making up game plans and deciphering which players can be attacked defensively know less about the NBA and are more biased in voting about it than writers and broadcasters. Sure, that makes sense.
The top three members of the All-Defensive Team this year are not controversial: Bruce Bowen (19 First Team votes, 4 Second Team votes, 42 points), Tim Duncan (16, 4, 36) and Marcus Camby (11, 12, 34). Camby won the Defensive Player of the Year Award and tied with Bowen by appearing on 23 of 29 All-Defensive Team ballots, so the media and coaches agree in this instance. Bryant finished first among guards (14, 4, 32) and Raja Bell rounded out the First Team (7, 11, 25). The Second Team consists of Ben Wallace (12, 9, 33), Jason Kidd (8, 7, 23), Tayshaun Prince (7, 7, 21), Kevin Garnett (8, 4, 20) and Kirk Hinrich (7, 4, 18).
Looking at those numbers, the coaches indicated loudly and clearly that they consider Bryant to be the best defensive guard in the NBA--he got significantly more First Team votes than any other backcourt player. Why do coaches have such a high opinion of Bryant as a defensive player? One obvious factor is that Bryant guards the top perimeter threat on opposing teams, particularly in crunch time. Think about this: the Lakers' team defense is much worse this year than it was last year and Bryant still cruised to a position on the First Team. That tells you that coaches recognize that the Lakers' defensive slide this year stems not from Bryant but from other players--namely, the point guard and the center, as I have said repeatedly throughout the season. The oft-cited instances of Bryant being "burned" this season were in fact examples of bad pick and roll defense by his team. For instance, anyone who watched Bryant versus Dwyane Wade (when Wade was healthy, by the way) knows that Wade rarely, if ever, beat Bryant one on one (he also rarely guarded Bryant, deferring to Jason Kapono and others for the most part); Wade scored in transition and on pick and roll plays that were poorly handled by the Lakers' big men.
As for the Marion "snub," Marion received 10 votes, including five for the First Team, and his 15 points just missed the cut for the Second Team (he finished 12th, two points behind Shane Battier and three points behind Kirk Hinrich, the last member of the Second Team). So, Marion did in fact receive significant support, just not as much as the other forwards--and you can make a good case that he is not a better defender than Bowen, Duncan, Prince or Garnett. Bowen guards point guards, shooting guards and forwards; Duncan completely shuts down the paint; Prince, like Bowen, guards multiple positions; Garnett is a beast on the defensive backboards and a long armed defensive presence, though I have always felt that he should block more shots than he does. Marion is clearly a good defender or he would not have finished 12th in the coaches' voting but there are legitimate reasons to select those four forwards ahead of him, namely their versatility and/or paint dominance. That is not "hating" Marion or "snubbing" him. Note that Bell got 18 total votes, nearly twice as many as Marion, so there is hardly an anti-Suns bias at work here.
I know that I cannot "win" a debate about the All-Defensive Team, because those who downgrade Bryant as a defender and/or insist that Marion is the league's best defensive player are not interested in the truth; they are interested in mustaches or promoting their favorite player or who knows what else. Even though I can't "win," 20 Second Timeout readers have been "winning" all year by gaining an understanding of what is really happening on the court, as opposed to what some people want you to believe is happening; there is always an "Awful Basket" or a "False Bucket" or some such site for that. Here's a novel idea for some big budget media organization: instead of publishing articles about how Marion was "snubbed" or Bryant is not worthy, send a reporter out to interview some head coaches and find out who they voted for and why. Maybe the coaches will decline to comment, not wanting any distractions while the playoffs are going on or not wanting to irritate players for whom they did not vote, but I'd rather hear one coach explain his vote than 10 "experts" saying that coaches don't know anything about basketball.
posted by David Friedman @ 8:33 AM