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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

NBA Coaches Select Kobe Bryant as League's Best Defensive Guard

Not 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

18 comments

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18 Comments:

At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 8:58:00 AM, Blogger Jerusalem Joe said...

That's a very good idea. Why don't you do that yourself - I mean get an interview with a coach so we can see the thinking behind the voting. Should make for an interesting read.
Is it expensive? Would a coach ask money for such an interview?

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 10:52:00 AM, Blogger marcel said...

kobe still a good defender not as good as he once was he got burned by a few people it happens but he got this on reputation more than what he doing right now shawn marion underated in defense thats why i would put him on. in the 3rd quarte game 4 he had like 3 steals change the momentum of that game he got long arms quick a tough defender too many forwards in the west for him though but if he was a guard i would give it to him over kobe jordan got this those last couple years in chicago he wasnt as good of a defender he git it on reputation as well

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 12:32:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

it's well known that great offensive players get special favoritism for defense awards -- because they get more attention for it, and more consideration generally. it also helps the league's marketing, to believe that the stars play great d.

those familiar with the lakers know that Kobe struggles on d now.

LA TIMES, 5/1/07:

"Bryant was selected to the NBA All-Defensive team for a seventh time, a somewhat surprising development given his struggles on defense for part of the season."


And then they quote Phil:

"Kobe has improved his defense the second half of the season and we're happy that he made the first-team All-Defensive team," Jackson said. "But you've got to live up to that. That's really important. When he puts his mind up to the defense, he's done a great job for us."

obviously a backhanded compliment by Phil.

Look, your blog has now COMPLETELY jumped the shark into a Kobe shrine. Every article has an agenda -- anti-Nash to be pro-Kobe, rip the rest of Lakers to build up Kobe, showcase Kobe's great games while downplaying the bad ones

your analysis in non-existent. if kobe's shoot too much style doesnt impede others' developmetn, then why did Caron Butler flourish when he left?

good luck with your shrine

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 2:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously, this is an overrated article because it doesn't cite the number of stops Kobe has made, and Marion often gets the toughest assignments. There is a no defensive stops percentage against which player so this is basically all on perception. Marion guards everyone from guards to centers, and does a great job on them. He is called "the Matrix" because he is everywhere on the ball, and is the best rebounder for a 6-7 guy and is so quick and agile to the ball. He also made the key block against the Mavs in that game. Kobe doesn't have great defensive footwork as he once had and doesn't seem as committed, like Phil said. Raja has better footwork and stays in front of him and puts a hand in his face, but Kobe is a master at making difficult shots with the hand in his face, and even that is 50-50 and can be a litlle streaky. This measure should not only be measured by rebounds, blocks, steals, and not fouling, but the ability to guard people, by contesting shots, putting the hand up, and making defensive stops. There really isn't a defensive stops percentage or a tell on who gets the best matchups other than observation. Certainly it may be skewed since people watch the Laker games and Kobe gets more attention. Anyways, these awards don't mean as much, and the Suns will beat the Lakers in 5, 6 at the most.

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 3:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jerusalem Joe:

The challenge of interviewing coaches on this subject is not expense but access and opportunity. During the playoffs, the coaches who are not participating are in general not accessible for interviews and the coaches who are participating are probably not inclined to discuss any subject that does not specifically relate to what their team is doing, let alone a subject that could fuel controversy (i.e., Coach X voted Player Y on to the team, "snubbing" Player Z). That is why I said that a big media organization, like ESPN or one of the other networks, that has more access to coaches than anybody else, could do this kind of reporting--but they and their journalists are more interested in other matters, apparently.

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 3:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Marion is a good defender, which is is why the coaches placed him 12th--but they apparently believe that some other forwards are even better defensively.

As for MJ, I don't think that he got his last few All-Defensive selections on reputation. He was still an excellent defender, just not as explosive as he had been when he was younger. Now, if he made the All-Defensive Team when he played for the Wizards then we would know that something is fishy.

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 4:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Alternaviews:

Is Bowen on the team because of "special favoritism" for "offensive players"? What about Camby, Wallace and Tayshaun Prince? Even Bell and Hinrich are hardly offensive stars? How exactly is this alleged "special favoritism" well known? Have you researched recent All-Defensive Teams and determined that offensive players have been selected over more worthy players?

I wonder if the Times writer who penned those words is one of the very Defensive Player of the Year voters I am talking about. As I said, when the media votes Marion fourth for DPoY and the coaches vote him much lower, then writers have to explain the discrepancy in some way. Also, "struggling" for part of the season does not equate with having a bad year overall. Some baseball hitters hit .200 in April and then finish the year with great numbers. Kobe's scoring picked up big time as the year went on and his defense improved as well.

Jackson uses his words in all kinds of ways to motivate his players. He also wrote a whole bunch of things about Kobe in a book, then came out and said that he did not really mean it. Anyway, nothing that Jackson says or doesn't say addresses the point of my post: coaches, who presumably know the game better than fans, writers and others, consistently vote Kobe to the All-Defensive Team. What are they seeing that others are not?

Let's see, I've said that Nash should have been second in the '05 MVP voting and top five in '06 and '07. I've also said that he reminded me of Mark Price when he first came into the league and that I think that Nash was underrated for many years, but might be a bit overrated (two MVPs) now. Yes, I guess I have failed to become a card carrying member of the Nash is God church. My apologies.

My analysis in this post consisted of pointing out that the coaches voted Bryant to the All-Defensive First Team despite the fact that some "experts" have derided Bryant's defense this year. I think that it is worth exploring why the coaches have a higher opinion of Bryant's defense than others do.

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 4:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I didn't know that this article had been rated so I don't know how it can already be "overrated" less than 24 hours after I posted it.

I didn't know that All-Defensive Team selections should be based on catchy nicknames. What about "Half Man, Half Amazing"? Is that a better nickname than "Matrix"? Kobe calls himself "Mamba"; is that worth some votes?

I agree that it would be great if we had some more solid data on defensive stops. That data would of course have to factor in switching, pick and roll coverage and so forth.

The All-D Team is voted on by the coaches. Do you think that they are influenced by how often the Lakers are on TV? The coaches see teams in person and on game film; they are not relying on Mike Breen to tell them who can play--Mike Breen is supposed to relying on them for information from pre-game interviews.

Obviously, the Suns are going to win the series, probably in five games--but that has nothing to do with the All-Defensive Team voting. The Suns have a much better team and they should win. The real question is how did the Lakers win three games off of them last year and one game this year; the Lakers had not beaten an elite level team in a couple months before knocking off the Suns in game three.

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 4:14:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

points well taken,

but if you watched enough Laker games, Kobe missed a lot of rotations -- James Worthy points out problem plays at halftime, and Kobe is often in the middle of a defense-bungled assignment

with his athletic skills, he could be a much better team defender

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 5:23:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

kobe a good defender no question about not great any more he been 11 years as well so that can take a toll. it was a article called jordan is not the best player ever which i belive wilt by the way from 85-93 there was no question jordan was elite level defender from 96-98 he was not that was reputation he got the last 3 all teams much like kobe now kobe can still defend the team sucks around him so bad he has to conserve energy to score 50 points a game so they can win. i thought that marion was slightly more derving it's nuthing to go crazy about though.why are you crictical of basketball awful just because he doesnt praise kobe all day but you dont give steve nash his due and because everbody aint kissing kobe butt and in the kobe fanclub you want to try to tear nash down and say he aint the reason the suns are winning it's stoudamire and marion and bell and everybody else. just because people like nash and not kobe you aint gotta hate on nash is all imsaying please be a fair anaylst david

 
At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 5:25:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

i meant to say he got 3 last 3 all defensive teams like kobe now

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 3:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I still don't understand in what way I am not giving Steve Nash his due, nor do I understand why his name comes up in a thread about the All-Defensive Team. Did I even mention his name in this post? Since I would have had Nash second in '05 MVP voting and in the top five in '06 and '07 it cannot be fairly or accurately said that I am denigrating his role in Phoenix' success; I just don't think he should have won two MVPs.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 3:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Alternaviews:

I have not seen/heard Worthy's remarks, so I can't comment on them. In the Lakers' games that I have seen or attended in the past couple years the problems in pick and roll coverage have not stemmed from Bryant.

What I find interesting is the level and type of scrutiny that is applied to Bryant both offensively and defensively. After almost every shot he takes, the play by play or color commentator feels compelled to say whether or not the shot was a force. Critics of Kobe's defense cite a breakdown in pick and roll coverage with 3:18 left on January 3 like a scholar citing a Biblical verse. No player can withstand that type of attention because every player makes mistakes. Kobe forces shots sometimes; Kobe messes up a defensive rotation sometimes; Kobe gambles for a steal sometimes. The question is do the positives outweigh the minuses? Kobe scores over 30 ppg while shooting .450+ against heavy defensive coverage; he leads the team in assists and is capable of carrying a team by averaging 40+ ppg for a month. So, whatever shots he has forced here or there, on balance he is making a very positive contribution offensively.

Defense is much more difficult to track objectively; steals, blocked shots and rebounds only tell part of the story. Compilations of the stats of opposing shooting guards are misleading because of switching, cross-matching and so forth. The bottom line is you have to watch as many games as you can, consider the available statistical information and make a judgment. The coaches have selected Bryant to the All-Defensive Team seven times. Polls of players and scouts mention that Bryant is the best or one of the best at both taking the last shot and guarding the player taking the last shot. The main people who I hear downgrading Bryant's defense are fans and, this year, some members of the media. Kobe was not quite himself at either end of the court early in the season but after that I thought that he was back to normal.

For Awful Basket or False Bucket or anyone else to say that Bryant's defense is overrated or that Marion has been snubbed is to question the knowledge of the league's head coaches on this subject. They have consistently selected Bryant and have yet to select Marion even once. I don't think that is because of marketing or because coaches don't know who the league's best defenders are. When Bryant had a down, injury hit year in '05 he did not make the All-Defensive Team and prior to '06 he mentioned that his two goals were to get the Lakers back in the playoffs and to make the All-Defensive Team. Defense is important to him. As for Marion, I think that it is clear that the coaches do nor view him as highly as a defender as fans and media members do; also, there are a lot of good defenders at the forward position, so he runs into a numbers game. As I noted, he just missed making the All-Defensive Second Team this year.

Whether I like a guy or not, I'm going to give him a fair shake when it comes to evaluating his game--and that makes this site different from just about every other outlet that either has an agenda or simply is run by people who don't understand what the heck they are watching.

As for this site being a shrine to Kobe, give me a break. Check out the links section on the right hand side of the main page: there is a treasure trove of interviews and articles about basketball, past and present, and the vast majority of it has nothing to do with Kobe--and the stuff that does have to do with Kobe is better researched and more accurate than the "I love Kobe" or "Kobe sucks" nonsense that you find in most places.

The reason that I headlined my All-Defensive Team post with Kobe is because I think that his selection to the First Team is a big story. Camby, Duncan and Bowen were locks. Bell is a worthy pick. But one of the main themes that has been harped on in the blogosphere is that Kobe's defense this year is not top shelf. When he not only makes the All-Defensive Team but basically makes it in a landslide over the other guards, I think that is headline worthy. We may never know exactly what it means unless someone tracks down all 30 coaches and administers truth serum to find out how they made their selections, but this voting process is more significant than some out of context Tex Winter quotes.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 11:54:00 AM, Anonymous L2 said...

Last time I checked, Shawn Marion was a FORWARD. Making it impossible for him to get the honors as a GAURD on the defensive 1st team. If the Lakers & Suns were not matched up in the playoffs right now half of you wouldn't have even posted a comment.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 12:25:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

your right kobe is great he makes alot of offenses mistakes and defensive but the good outweighs the negative he's a great player nash may be a little overated but he's still a great player so they both great as i said before

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 1:02:00 PM, Anonymous jn said...

The column is quite good, but I am still unhappy with Bryant's defense this season, as compared to seasons past.

Also, I think that awards are not necessarily a mark of achievement; in defense, for instance, hard figures of steals and blocks seem to have an inordinate influence in voting when I don't thing those necessarily reflect defensive performance.

My beef with Kobe's defense is that the Lakers are visibly collapsing in that area. Actually they have been collapsing all over the court as the season progressed, and Kobe has been keeping the offense afloat almost single-handedly. Not so in defense.

His team is floundering, and he is not doing all he can to save them. If his teammates were holding their own, maybe then his flashy roaming defense with only occasional fundamental stops would work, but that is not the case.

That is not the case, of course, for a player sometimes touted as a MVP candidate, which Bryant is capable of being. I mean to say that his defense is probably not bad as in "bad", it's just that it could be better, it would be better for his team if it were, and so he should be trying if he wants to became the kind of star player he wants to be and he can be.

I mean, Michael Jordan was 2nd in MVP voting to Magic in 1987 I think despite having just a 40-42 season. That is because he led the league in scoring, AND played point guard when his point guards faltered, AND played defensive stopper in his team. I know that following on Jordan's footsteps is a tall order, but I think that Kobe should try at least to come reasonable close instead of cutting corners.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 4:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

L2:

My primary focus in the post was on Kobe because his defense has been criticized in some quarters this year but the coaches clearly see things differently. I brought up Marion because media and fans praise his defense but the coaches have never viewed him as highly as a defender, based on their All-Defensive Team voting. Obviously, he and Kobe play different positions and are not in direct competition for votes; I don't think that anyone here has suggested that. I think that the selection of Bell to the First Team shows that coaches are not biased against the Suns and that they are not making their choices based on "star power," because Marion obviously scores more and is a bigger star than Bell. Part of Marion's problem is that there is a lot of competition at the forward spot for All-D selections.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 4:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JN:

Whether or not Kobe's defense this year was as good as in seasons past has nothing to do with whether or not his defense this year is better than that of other NBA guards. The coaches obviously believe that he is the best defensive guard in the NBA this year.

Kobe does not have outlandish steals or blocked shots totals, so I don't think that those numbers played a big role in his selection--and Bowen's steals and blocked shots numbers have never been great but he is on the All-D Team every year. Going back a few years, Joe Dumars never had great numbers but was recognized as a great defender.

I agree that the Lakers' defense is collapsing and it is collapsing in two areas that Bryant cannot control: prevention of penetration by opposing point guards and protection of the paint by the bigs, particularly the center. If it is not obvious, then I will state clearly that Kobe cannot be expected to score 30-plus ppg, lead the team in assists and regularly guard the opposing point guard. That won't work because of fatigue, because of cross matching (how will Kobe find the pg in transition when the pg is not guarding Kobe at the other end) and because the Lakers' little pgs cannot guard most shooting guards. When the Lakers had Ron Harper or Derek Fisher or even Gary Payton they could put Kobe on the point guard but that is not feasible now other than in short stretches. When Jordan guarded the point guard the Bulls had much more lineup flexibility than these Lakers do and he was actually playing point guard at both ends. Jordan played point guard for about a month or so--amassing an impressive run of triple doubles--not the entire season.

I don't think that it is fair to say that Kobe is "cutting corners." The first step to understanding what is going on now with the Lakers is to take an objective look at their roster; I've mentioned this for quite some time. (1) The Lakers are not a deep team and they have been hit hard by injuries to Odom, Walton, Kwame, Mihm and Vlad Rad. (2) Smush Parker was always a D-League level, stop gap measure at point guard and he has clearly regressed this year. (3) The other point guards are rookie Farmar and journeyman Shammond Williams, so Jackson does not have a lot of options. (4) If you shift Kobe to point guard then you may solve one problem but you create other, even bigger matchup problems. It became apparent in the second half of the season that the Lakers could not win without Kobe scoring 40 points and shooting a good percentage. Opponents realize this, obviously, and load up their defenses against him, so the fact that he still averaged 40 ppg in March and dragged this team into the playoffs is simply amazing.

I don't think that Kobe is as good as MJ was--but he is the closest player to MJ in today's game.

 

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