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Monday, March 03, 2008

Kobe Drops 52 as Lakers Beat Mavs in Overtime Thriller

LeBron James looked very much like the best player in the NBA as he put up 37 points, six rebounds and six assists in Cleveland's 95-86 win over Chicago--and then Kobe Bryant took the court in L.A. and showed once again why he should finally capture his first MVP, scoring 52 points--including 30 in the fourth quarter and overtime--as his L.A. Lakers defeated the Dallas Mavericks 108-104 in overtime. Bryant also had 11 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and one steal. He shot 15-27 from the field and 20-27 from the free throw line; Bryant inexplicably connected on just three of his first 10 free throws, all in the first half, before draining his final 17 in a row. Bryant's effort is the highest scoring game in the NBA this season, eclipsing 51 point games by James and Allen Iverson. Bryant ranks third on the all-time list with 22 50-point games; the Lakers are 16-6 in those contests. He also ranks third on the all-time list with 91 40-point games, during which the Lakers have gone 63-28, including 4-2 this season. Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan rank 1-2 in both 40-point games and 50-point games; Chamberlain had 271 and 118 respectively, while Jordan had 173 and 31. The last time someone scored more than 52 points on March 2 is 1962, when Chamberlain had his famous 100 point game.

Pau Gasol added 17 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocked shots but he shot just 5-14 from the field and did not make a shot in the last three quarters and overtime after scoring 12 points on 5-7 shooting in the first quarter. Dirk Nowitzki got off to a slow start but made several big shots down the stretch and finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and two steals, though he shot just 10-26 from the field. Jason Kidd also shot poorly (6-17 from the field) but he played an excellent floor game (15 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, four steals, just one turnover). Erick Dampier made all seven of his shots en route to a strong double double (16 points, 17 rebounds).

The Mavericks took a 7-0 lead after Kidd made a three pointer and picked up assists by feeding Josh Howard for a jumper and Dampier for a dunk. The Lakers missed their first three shots but got on the board after Luke Walton made two free throws. Bryant did not score until his dunk made the score 9-9 at the 6:42 mark of the first quarter. Throughout the telecast, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy made some interesting observations. One thing that they both noted is the immediate effect that Kidd has on a team; players run harder because Kidd looks to pass, sees openings that other players don't and is able to deliver the ball on time and on target. Dampier in particular seems to have already developed good chemistry with Kidd, who you could call the anti-Arenas; I think that one of the reasons that the Wizards have played well without Gilbert Arenas (at least until Caron Butler's injury) is that players play harder at both ends of the court when they think that it is more likely that they will touch the ball. Arenas' propensity for jacking up shots from all angles and his indifference to playing sound defense lead to poor court balance and hardly inspire the kind of extra effort that you already see from Dallas' players just a few games after Kidd joined the team.

The Lakers recovered nicely from their slow start to lead 29-23 by the end of the first quarter. Although Gasol did most of the scoring damage, Dallas Coach Avery Johnson explained to ABC's Michele Tafoya exactly where the Mavs' defense broke down: "He's been unstoppable because we haven't been able to guard penetration. Kobe's penetrating, (Derek) Fisher's penetrating and he's gotten a lot of easy buckets because of it." The significance of this quote is that the whole "making players better" business works both ways. Yes, Gasol makes the Lakers better because he is a skilled big man who can catch, finish, pass, rebound and block shots--but Bryant (and even Fisher) also help make Gasol better (or, more precisely, make the game easier for him) by breaking down the defense via dribble penetration.

Mark Jackson offered this opinion about why the Lakers have been playing so well recently: "What really separates them as a team is Kobe Bryant on the defensive end. He's guarding the other team's best perimeter player and locking him down." Jackson added that Bryant is the best player in the NBA, saying "This is his year" to finally win the MVP. Jackson ranks Chris Paul second in the MVP race. Van Gundy said that the MVP should go to someone who makes others better, so his choice is the Memphis organization for essentially giving Gasol to the Lakers. On a more serious note, he added that his MVP is Paul, followed by Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James. Strangely, Van Gundy also said that Bryant is the best player in the NBA and has been for several years; he never explained why someone who has been the best player for several years and is the leading player on the team with the best record in the tough Western Conference should not be the MVP.

Despite his poor first half free throw shooting, Bryant scored 14 points and the Lakers led 50-47 at halftime. The Mavericks began the third quarter just like they started the game, with a 7-0 run. Bryant answered with two drives and an assist to Walton for a layup to put L.A. back on top, 56-54, but by the end of the quarter Dallas was up 68-65.

Bryant played the first 41 minutes of the game without a break but Coach Phil Jackson rested him for about a minute and a half in the fourth quarter. The Lakers trailed by four when Bryant sat and were still down four when he returned. Within the next minute, they tied the score at 79 after Bryant made four free throws and Gasol sank a pair. Nowitzki's jumper put Dallas up 81-79 with 5:50 remaining and the rest of the game turned into an entertaining duel between last year's MVP and the player who should win this year's MVP, with Bryant netting 22 points and Nowitzki putting up 19 points in the next 10:50 (the balance of the fourth quarter plus the overtime). Bryant made a three pointer and a pullup jumper to give the Lakers an 84-81 lead but Nowitzki tied the score by making a hook shot and then splitting a pair of free throws after the Lakers came up dry a couple possessions in a row.

Bryant scored nine points in the last 2:25 of regulation, while Nowitzki had seven points, including the three pointer that forced overtime. Bryant gave the Lakers a 91-88 lead with a three point play at the 1:19 mark, fouling out Dampier in the process. During those final moments the Lakers repeatedly gave Bryant the ball at the top of the key, spaced the floor and let him go to work. The Mavericks first used Jerry Stackhouse to guard him, then put Kidd on him and also tried various double teams; nothing worked, as Coach Johnson ruefully noted after the game: "We gave him a single look, then we double-teamed him, then we gave him a triple-team and he split the triple-team and scored. We tried to zone him, we tried to funnel him in the trap for a zone and he went the other way. He didn't cooperate on any of our defenses. Obviously he milked the free throw line on us and he just had it all going. He's a great player. He has these (games). Lots of these."

Jason Terry's jumper pulled the Mavs to within 91-90 and they had a chance to win after Bryant drove to the hoop, drew a triple team and passed to Gasol, who lost the ball (Bryant was charged with a turnover on the play). A wild sequence ensued on the next possession: Bryant knocked the ball away from Nowitzki but the Mavs recovered and swung the ball to Stackhouse, whose corner three pointer was blocked by Gasol. Lamar Odom got the rebound and Stackhouse promptly fouled him. Odom finished with 10 rebounds but he scored just six points on 2-8 field goal shooting and 2-6 free throw shooting; fortunately, with Bryant capable of scoring 40 at any time and Gasol usually putting up solid numbers, the Lakers are no longer dependent on Odom's erratic shooting touch.

As the players lined up before Odom's two free throw attempts, Van Gundy made a very prescient observation: "I don't like Brandon Bass matching up against Kobe, who is a great offensive free throw rebounder." That is something that I wrote about in my post titled The Best the Game Offers: Kobe Versus LeBron, when I noted that in the two Lakers-Cavs games this year Bryant beat James to free throw rebounds several times, forcing James to actually face guard him at one point. This is an excellent example of why I don't rate players solely based on statistics; numbers tell part of the story but you have to watch players with an informed eye and really understand their skill sets in order to accurately rank them. James averages more rebounds than Bryant because James plays forward and has different offensive and defensive responsibilities but that does not mean that he is a better rebounder than Bryant, as shown by the fact that the smaller Bryant repeatedly got free throw rebounds versus James despite James having inside position. Maybe most fans don't pay attention to "little things" like footwork and free throw rebounds but this is another example of how complete Bryant is as a player.

Sure enough, just as Van Gundy suspected, after Odom missed both free throws, Bryant slipped around Bass and grabbed the offensive rebound. Kidd fouled Bryant, who made both free throws to put L.A. up 93-90. With Dallas set to inbound the ball with six seconds left, Van Gundy talked about the Lakers' defensive strategy in such situations. Van Gundy believes that the defending team should foul, forcing the trailing team to make a free throw, miss a free throw on purpose, grab the rebound and then score but he added that based on his experiences coaching against Phil Jackson he knows that Jackson does not believe in fouling. Once again, Van Gundy was right on the mark: the Lakers did not foul and Nowitzki tied the score by making a three pointer. Odom's defense on this play was horrible. Nowitzki inbounded the ball to Kidd, who was inside the three point arc when he caught the ball. Obviously, the plan was for Kidd to pass the ball, most likely right back to Nowitzki. Odom foolishly went under a screen, leaving Nowitzki open.

During a timeout in the overtime, the subject of the anniversary of Chamberlain's 100 point game came up. Second place in the record book belongs to Bryant's 81 point game a couple years ago but Van Gundy said, "81 against today's superior defense and coaching is a bigger achievement than 100 by Wilt." I'm not sure if I agree with that reasoning but one significant difference between Chamberlain's big game and Bryant's is that Chamberlain's team was winning by a big margin for most of the game; the opponents kept fouling his teammates so Chamberlain would not get the ball and then Chamberlain's team retaliated by fouling to get the ball back. The end of the game was a bit of a sideshow, though 100 points is obviously a great accomplishment. Bryant's 81 points came in the context of a game in which the Lakers were losing by double digits and rallied to win because of his outburst; there were no shenanigans by either team in terms of intentional fouls.

Bryant scored eight of the Lakers' 15 points in overtime and at one point Van Gundy joked about Dallas' futile efforts to guard him, quipping, "They should go into a box and one--put the box on Kobe and the one on everyone else." Nowitzki also had eight points in the extra session and after Bryant's two free throws put the Lakers up 107-104 with nine seconds left it was "deja vu all over again," with the Mavs again inbounding the ball and needing a three pointer to tie. True to form, the Lakers did not foul and this time Nowitzki missed the shot. Odom split a pair of free throws to ice the win.

On ESPN's NBA Shootaround, Jalen Rose said that the Lakers are a very skilled team but he still does not consider them the favorites to win the championship, mentioning their lack of playoff experience together as a group and citing the absence of a "big body enforcer" to deal with Dampier, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal. Rose noted that Dampier put a few hard fouls on Bryant and he asked rhetorically why no Laker big men confronted Dampier. Rose concluded that the Spurs still should be considered the favorite to win the championship. I agree with Rose. The Lakers no doubt pose a viable threat to the Spurs but it is far from certain that they can beat San Antonio four times in a playoff series.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:46 AM

8 comments

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8 Comments:

At Tuesday, March 04, 2008 12:09:00 AM, Blogger JackBauer said...

Is it just me or is lebron graded on a different scale than Kobe?LBJ is a great player and could go down top 5 ever but even with Kobe's 52 he's still hovering too close to Kobe.Kobe wins player of the month-lebron wins player of the month.lebron is the sole reason Kobe isn't worshipped in the same manner Jordan was.mike had no peers and when Kobe leaves lebron won't either

 
At Tuesday, March 04, 2008 12:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David!
I have been reading your blog for quite some time already. I tend to agree with your points.
I have no problems with Kobe getting the MVP this year, but I think you're dismissing Paul's accomplishments.
In my opinion, Chris Paul winning the MVP is way, way more appropriate than Nash or Iverson winning it.
Paul will be in the ALL NBA and ALL Defensive team this year, joined by Kobe, Duncan, and Garnett.
MVP talk starts and ends with those teams.

Anyway, at the start of the season, everyone expected the Hornets to be drowning in pingpong balls.
Before the Gasol trade, the standings were pretty much as expected, except for the then slumping Rockets and the fanless but surging Hornets.
Some people expected that the Lakers would suck because Kobe was bitching, but ignoring the offseason drama,
the Lakers were right around where they were expected to be given a healthy roster and a huge upgrade at PG.
You felt that Kobe was robbed of the MVP when he carried that injury depleted team to the playoffs, but Paul is doing the same thing this year.
Sure the Hornets are not as injury depleted but look at what Paul has go up against: Nash, Parker, Iverson, Davis, Williams.
His coach isn't as good, home court "advantage" is largely a joke, and he doesn't get nearly as many star calls as Kobe, Dirk, or Wade.
He doesn't whine about it like Kobe (leads the league in techs??) either.
The fact that Kobe was robbed of the MVP before should not in any way count in this year's decision.

After the Gasol trade, the Lakers are arguably the most talented team on paper(even without Bynum), with arguably the best coach.
If they don't overtake the Spurs in the standings(barring injuries of course), do you still say he's the most VALUABLE THIS YEAR?
If the geriatrics keep the top seed, shouldn't Duncan get the MVP then?
Your argument that Duncan is not a good freethrow shooter or "as complete a player" is largely negated by Kobe not being a 7 footer.
Size and strength adds VALUE to a player, just like speed, athleticism, and shooting ability.

To further illustrate: Marion averages more rebounds than Shaq, therefore is a "better" rebounder -> a classic example of SIZE being chucked out of the equation.
Shaq allows his team to grab more rebounds AND THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS.

Those are my 3 MVP candidates, if Spurs finish on top, Duncan, if Lakers, Kobe. If Hornets retain a top 3 standing, Paul.
I repeat, I have absolutely no problems with any of them winning the MVP, as they are all deserving.

Sorry for the long post.

Z

 
At Tuesday, March 04, 2008 4:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I agree that Nash's two MVPs and Iverson's one MVP should have gone to other players. Here is a brief recap of those three situations:

When Iverson won the MVP in 2001, he led the league in scoring and carried the Sixers to the Finals (of course, the playoff success happened after the MVP voting was over). Meanwhile, Shaq ranked third in scoring, first in field goal percentage, third in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots and--along with Kobe--led the Lakers to their second consecutive title. Shaq even played in more regular season games than Iverson (74-71). Shaq should have won that MVP. In '05, Shaq ranked first in field goal percentage, sixth in rebounding, sixth in blocked shots and 12th in scoring and his Heat posted the best record in the East en route to the franchise's first title. He should have won that MVP over Nash. In '06, Kobe had the highest scoring average (35.4 ppg) since MJ in '87 (37.1) and made the All-Defensive First Team and led a subpar Lakers team to 45 wins. He clearly should have won that MVP over Nash.

That said, while one could argue that Paul is having a better season this year than Iverson or Nash had in their MVP years--I'm not sure that I completely buy that, but one could make that argument--I completely reject the idea that Paul is having a better season than either Kobe or LeBron. Those two guys have separated themselves from the pack this season--or, to be more precise, Kobe had already separated himself previously and now LeBron has moved a lot closer to Kobe's level.

As for New Orleans not being picked to make the playoffs, that is not entirely true. Sports Illustrated, Lindy's and Athlon's all picked NO to make the playoffs. The Sporting News said that NO "may" make the playoffs. I predicted that the Hornets would be in the hunt for the eighth spot but I did not expect them to get it. Of course, there have been so many deals since then that these predictions have been rendered somewhat meaningless but it is incorrect to suggest that it is a surprise that New Orleans is a playoff team. It is a surprise that they are in the hunt for the top seed but several teams are bunched closely together, so let's see what happens; NO could be sixth when all is said and done.

The Lakers were doing much better than expected even before the Gasol trade. Before Bynum got hurt they were 26-11 (the Hornets were 25-12 after 37 games and they had two healthy All-Stars all year and a third player--Tyson Chandler--who could also have made the All-Star team).

The Hornets' situation this year does not even remotely compare to what Kobe has dealt with the past several years, when he had a roster that had no All-Stars and was decimated by injuries to, at various times, Odom, Walton, Kwame, Mihm, Bynum, Radmanovic and others. This year, Paul, West, Chandler, Peja, Mo Pete and Pargo--the top six scorers--have all been healthy. The reality is that the Hornets suffered injuries last season and Paul, unlike Kobe, was not able to carry his team into the playoffs. In fact, in a key late season game, Kobe scored 50 against the Hornets in a 111-105 win. The other Lakers' starters that game were Odom, Kwame, Smush and Luke Walton, with Shammond Williams being the main guy off of the bench. Please note that Smush and Shammond are not even in the NBA currently and Kwame might as well not be. Paul lined up with West, Chandler, Desmond Mason and Devin Brown--who previously played for a championship team in San Antonio and has gotten some starts this season for a playoff team in Cleveland. The first man off of the bench for the Hornets that night was Rasual Butler, who started 15 games for a Miami team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2005.

I don't get your point about Paul going up against Nash, Parker and the rest. Kobe draws the toughest defender--plus a double-team--every night and he guards the toughest perimeter player on the other team as well. Kobe can guard 1s, 2s and 3s, while Paul can only guard 1s and at times is overpowered by the more physical point guards like Deron Williams, although Paul did play well against D Will in their most recent encounter.

Who says that Scott is not a good coach? Granted, he is not Phil Jackson, but he has coached two teams to the NBA Finals. Don't believe the stuff that is fed to you by the mainstream media; they were trying to get Sam Mitchell fired at one point, too.

I don't know how one could prove or disprove who gets more favorable calls between Kobe and Paul. Kobe drives to the hoop a lot and he is a bigger, more physical player, so he draws more fouls. I'm not sure what the deal is with Kobe and the techs this year; he got one in four straight games recently. That said, getting techs does not disqualify you from being the MVP.

You also left out the fact that Kobe is playing even though his doctor recommended that he get surgery for a completely torn ligament/bone fracture at the base of his right pinkie.

For the past few years, Duncan has played reduced minutes and not put up MVP level numbers in the regular season. I can't put him in this year's top five, even though I consider him to be the greatest power forward of all-time. I have no doubt that he will play at an MVP level in the playoffs.

You don't have to play on the number one seeded team to win the MVP. Kobe is the best player on an elite team and he is widely acknowledged to be the best player in the league, period. He is having a much better year this season than two-time MVP Nash has ever had and his team is winning, so the voters have no excuse to not vote for Kobe this time.

Kobe and LeBron are more versatile and, by sheer virtue of their size, more physically dominant than Paul. I guarantee you that opposing coaches are much more concerned about how to stop Kobe and LeBron than how to stop Paul. I think that Paul is having a marvelous season and he should definitely be an All-NBA First Team guard alongside Kobe but Kobe should win the MVP, with LeBron finishing second.

 
At Tuesday, March 04, 2008 11:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your picks over Nash/Iverson, and I still think that Paul is having a better season than Nash/Iverson did during those seasons.
So what if Iverson led the league in scoring? He also led the league in dribbles and shot attempts.
The Suns improvement should also be partially attributed to Amare's growth, the rule changes, and most importantly the exit of Stephon Marbury.
I think that the new "exciting basketball style" had more weight in Nash's MVP bid than what he actually brought to his team.
Dallas certainly didn't sink when Nash left! While he's not as bad a defender as most people make him out to be, he just isn't great here.
How does getting chumped on defense thereby putting Amare in more foul trouble (which he is capable of doing all by himself) make him "better?"
Although replacing Marbury could be considered for his MVP bid... but then again that was the GM's doing.

I'm saying Paul is giving to his team what Nash/Iverson gave to their team, minus the overhandling/badshots/so-so defense.

In 2006, Kobe carried his team as far as it could possibly go. This season, the Lakers' ceiling is much higher. That top seed is certainly within their grasp.
If the Lakers, with the best coach, the best player, and arguably the most talented roster, do not get that top seed (again barring injuries),
then one could say that Kobe had a better season in 2006 than now.

So if voters in 2006 found Nash(06) > Kobe(06), and Paul(08) > Nash(06), and Kobe(06) > Kobe(08)
do you really think that voters "will have no excuse" but vote for Kobe?

One could argue that if the MVP award also considers a players contributions to the game itself, then I wouldn't have a problem with Nash winning.
For brining an exciting brand of basketball, revitalizing the NBA, all his contributions to the game and to society, sure if MVP means that.
And if the MVP award still considers these criteria, then media darling Chris Paul, for being New Orleans' "savior" beats the Colorado Cassanova hands down.

But lets keep the discussion of MVP within the team.

I agree with most of your points, save one. That top seed in the west is extremely important now more than any other in recent history.
It guarantees a Rockets/GSW/Nuggets/Blazers first round matchup while your rivals will have to face Mavs/Suns/Hornets.
This also ensures that your team is well rested for the second round, not to mention home court advantage.

That's the whole point of the regular season! To put your team in the best possible situation to succeed in the playoffs.

I said if the Hornets get the #3 seed, he should win MVP or at least considered, why?
How high do you think Kobe could possibly carry a team with this amount of talent? LeBron? Jordan? Magic? The third seed is their likely ceiling.
If Paul reaches that, how could he not be in the MVP discussion? If the Hornets slide down to 6th, then ok, he's out.

If the Lakers finish with the top seed in the west, then yeah Kobe should win.
This allows Bynum, Farmar, Walton, and to some extent Gasol to have an easier time adjusting to the playoffs, and put their team in a better shape to go all the way.
If the Lakers don't? Then Kobe didn't didn't do enough because this team is clearly capable of finishing at the top of the west.

So what if Duncan isn't posting "MVP numbers?" If they finish with the top seed in the west playing the way he's playing,
why in heaven's name should he try to score more points or grab more rebounds? Even in a possession that doesn't involve him touching the ball, he's a factor.
Unlike LeBron who stands at the 3pt line with his hands on his hips.

Sorry for rambling, but heres my take on the MVP:
1. Top caliber player, offensively and defensively, no allowances here. All NBA/Defensive teams are subjective so we could make allowances to players that get a decent amount of votes.
Kobe, Duncan, Garnett are perennial locks. LeBron(defensively) and Paul are getting there. As impressive as his numbers are, Howard is still a bit inconsistent, but definitely getting there.
2. Best team. Here's where it gets a bit fuzzy.
Boston -> best record, but win% against Detroit/Cleveland/Orlando are unimpressive. Their texas trip will be key.
Cavaliers -> handles Boston/Detroit/Orlando pretty well, poor overall win-loss (they wouldn't even be in the west playoffs) hurts them.
Spurs -> lackluster before rodeo trip, but getting to where they want to be.
Lakers -> was not even in the discussion for "best team" before Gasol yet Kobe already got your vote. Can possibly finish the season as "the best team."
Hornets -> in pretty much the same boat as the Lakers, pre-Gasol. If Paul brings then the #3 seed, he's a legit candidate.
3. Effort AND Results, team expectations:
Garnett's efforts were never in question, the Celtics have the best record. A strong showing in texas seals the deal for KG.
LeBron tends to drift when he doesn't have the ball, the Cavs are certainly capable of finishing ahead of Orlando.
I expected this team to finish #1 in the east at the start of the season (before Varejao/Pavlovic fiasco).
I don't know their exact record after they had their team, but the Cavs were not playing like they were capable of.
Duncan's lack of "numbers" hurt him but it shouldn't. If the Spurs enter the post season on fire, as the undisputed "team to beat" then he did his job.
Asking him for more numbers is simply absurd.
The same criteria is used on Kobe. If he can carry the Lakers to the top without having to score 40, he should. If he needs to score 40, he should.
Since the Lakers are capable of finishing at the top, THEY SHOULD.
If the Hornets finish ahead of more talented teams like Utah, Dallas, and Phoenix you cannot dismiss Chris Paul.

Z

 
At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 2:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

My evaluation of MVP/best player status is not solely based on stats or on won/loss records. Those things are factors but I place a heavy emphasis on fundamental skills--how exceptional a player is in his strongest areas and how lacking he is in his weakest areas. Kobe is perhaps the only player in the league right now who literally has no weaknesses. That does not mean that he is perfect or that he never makes a mistake or takes a bad shot or commits a turnover; that means that his game is fundamentally sound in all areas--shooting, passing, ballhandling, rebounding, footwork, defense, etc. LeBron is a weak perimeter shooter. His defense is improving but not yet at Kobe's level. LeBron is so extraordinary at what he does well--scoring within the 15 foot area, playmaking in particular--that he merits strong MVP consideration.

As for the number one seed in the West, let's not play make believe here. The primary reason that the Lakers have a shot at the number one seed is Kobe. A team led by Gasol-Odom-Fisher is an eighth seed at best, like similar Memphis teams that Gasol led to first round losses (each via a sweep). The Lakers do not have Bynum in the lineup and also are missing Ariza and Radmanovic. Yes, the roster this year is better than the roster was last year, mainly because of the addition of Gasol, the subtraction of Kwame and Smush and the improvement of bench players like Farmar and Vujacic (who benefit from the practice example set by Kobe). The Spurs have a championship nucleus of three All-Stars (Duncan, Manu, Parker) plus a former All-Star (Finley), plus a perennial All-Defensive Team player (Bowen) plus other reserves who know how to play their roles on a contending team. Sometimes I almost think that people who don't like Kobe are overstating how good the Lakers are so that they can then bash him if the team does not meet their expectations. The Lakers are a legit contender now but they are hardly the prohibitive favorites.

In a close Western Conference race you are basically saying that the season MVP award should come down to the results of one or two games (which could be all that separates the Lakers, Spurs and Hornets in the standings). I maintain what I have maintained for several years: the MVP should go to the best player in the league, the player who is the most skilled/has the fewest weaknesses. The only deviation that I would make from that standard is in the case of a big man who is so physically dominant that his control of the paint outweighs one or two weaknesses. That is why I say that Shaq should have won a couple MVPs that he didn't get--he really controlled the paint in those years. That is also why I have Dwight Howard as a top five MVP candidate even though his game is still rough around the edges.

Duncan is having an excellent season but you can't compare what he is doing to what Kobe and LeBron are doing. Paul, KG and Howard are having more impact as well. As Duncan gets older, he seems to be picking and choosing his spots a bit more in the regular season. That's fine and I'm sure that he will do well in the playoffs, but at no time this season has Duncan looked like the best player in the entire league.

I'm not "dismissing" Paul relative to Utah, Dallas and Phoenix; I rate him higher than the MVP/All-NBA candidates from those teams. I just don't rate him higher than Kobe and LeBron, who are each playing at a different level than anyone else in the NBA. Let's be frank: if we had an open draft of everyone in the NBA right now and you had the first pick and were trying to put together a championship team for this season (not five years down the road) would you really choose Paul over Kobe and LeBron? Maybe in this particular scenario you'd take Duncan based on his playoff resume but most GMs would take Kobe first and then LeBron. You can win a title with Kobe or LeBron plus some decent big men; if you take Howard or KG or even Duncan then you will also have to be able to draft an exceptional All-Star perimeter player. LeBron made it to the Finals last year without an All-Star big man and Kobe has the Lakers doing very well with no current All-Stars (Gasol has made the All-Star team exactly once, though people talk now like he is a five time All-Star).

 
At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 8:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So by your definition, MVP is "how exceptional a player is in his strongest areas and how lacking he is in his weakest areas." If that is the case, sure Kobe's my pick too.

I place a high emphasis on team performance. I believe that the Lakers are good enough to get the top seed, I believe they are legitimate contenders.
The mere fact that Kobe opt to forgo surgery tells me just that. There is no other reason that Kobe would jeopardize his career (nor would Phil Jackson allow it) unless they feel that they can go all the way.
With the Spurs/Mavs/Suns windows all closing, Kobe has the luxury of waiting, but he didn't.
If you intend to go deep into the playoffs this season then getting that top seed really really really helps.
It's a big boost to the Lakers' chances and a blow to their rivals if the Lakers get that top seed; a feat they are certainly capable of.
Like I said, with the most complete player, the best coach, and very talented team, Kobe would be doing his team a disservice by failing to grab that round 1 freebie.

Whew! anyway, so by your criteria, yes Kobe's MVP.
By my criteria, he's the frontrunner, but there's just one tiny thing he has to go fetch.

So, everything you said can be debated with the result of me (an ordinary NBA fan) saying "yeah you got a good point there."
Except:
"You can win a title with Kobe or LeBron plus some decent big men."
No way! When exactly did this happen?
Oh you meant Shaq! Yeah he was a decent big man... CMON!!

"if you take Howard or KG or even Duncan then you will also have to be able to draft an exceptional All-Star perimeter player."
Didn't Duncan win the championship with Stephen "not an all star" Jackson as the second best player on that team?
David Robinson was playing at a Nazr/Rasho level. Teams were letting Parker chuck up shots, and Popovich yanked him in favor of Speedy Claxton.
Watch the replay of the 2003 finals, Speedy was finishing the game.

"LeBron made it to the Finals last year without an All-Star big man"
Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a 2 time allstar, one of the top offensive rebounders, and and a legitimate scoring threat.

"Sometimes I almost think that people who don't like Kobe are overstating how good the Lakers are so that they can then bash him if the team does not meet their expectations. "
...
"and Kobe has the Lakers doing very well with no current All-Stars (Gasol has made the All-Star team exactly once, though people talk now like he is a five time All-Star)."

so Kobe should be able to win a ring, because last time I checked, Gasol is a "decent big man."
I put Gasol in the same tier as Parker and Ginobili, maybe even higher by virtue of his playing position.
I do not see Parker or Ginobili leading a team as un-talented as Pau's Grizzlies to a playoff berth.
So what if Gasol never got out of the first round? Neither did Kobe(post Shaq).
I don't know the numbers but I'm sure that most of the time, the top seeded team beats the lower seeded one especially in round 1.
How many bigmen have Gasol's combination of speed, passing ability, basketball IQ, and scoring repertoire?
Lamar Odom is suddenly a scrub? Yeah he's over-rated but that doesn't mean he's not good.
Like Gasol, he's one of the more versatile forwards in the league.

I pick the Spurs to repeat, but I recognize the Lakers as their biggest threats, even more so than Dallas right now.
And yes, I'd pick Duncan for a first pick championship mock draft. Not only because he has won it before, but simply because he's a big man.
If you think I have an obvious bias favoring PFs/Cs, you're right!

Cheers! Thanks for responding!

Z

 
At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 3:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Based on how close several teams are in the standings, there are a lot of teams that are good enough to get the number one seed. I would not base my vote for an individual award entirely--or even largely--on who gets the number one seed.

I agree that Kobe feels that the Lakers have a good chance to win it all this season but that does not mean that they should be considered the favorite over the Spurs; now they have a team that can at least compete with the Spurs.

You are vastly overstating the importance of the number one seed. Dallas had it last year and lost in the first round. San Antonio had it in 2006 and lost in the second round. Phoenix had it in 2005 and lost in five games in the conference finals. Minnesota had it in 2004 and lost in the conference finals. The 2003 Spurs are the last West team to have the number one seed and reach the Finals.

The most important things going into the playoffs are (1) having your key players healthy and (2) having a top four seed. The second is important because otherwise you will have to face the toughest road to the Finals. Any championship level team can win at least one road game in a series.

MJ won six titles with decent big men. The Pistons (both the Bad Boys versions and the more recent edition) had some frontcourt All-Stars but not a truly dominant back to the basket player like Shaq or Duncan. The 2003 Finals were a defensive struggle. Robinson did not have great offensive numbers--no one in that series other than Duncan really did--but he played well on defense. Even if I accept that example as an exception to what I said, in general the championship pattern is dominant big man + All-NBA perimeter player + good bench (Shaq/Kobe, Duncan/Ginobili/Parker, then going back Kareem/Magic, Moses/Dr. J; the Celtics had a dominant frontcourt with Parish-Bird-McHale).

I like Z's game but he is not quite an All-Star level player now.

The Duncan/Ginobili/Parker nucleus has to be favored over the Kobe/Gasol/Odom nucleus because the Spurs' trio has more championship level experience together.

 
At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 3:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Of course, I should have included Shaq/Wade in my list of dominant big men + All-NBA perimeter players who won titles. That season just seems so long ago considering how much the Heat are struggling now!

 

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