NBA Coast to Coast Crew's MVP Choice? Kobe, Kobe, KobeDuring Tuesday's telecast, three members of ESPN's NBA Coast to Coast crew offered their takes on this year's exciting MVP race. All of them unhesitatingly chose Kobe Bryant as MVP.
Tim Legler said that Bryant has no weaknesses offensively and that on a nightly basis he guards the opponent's toughest player. Legler added that it is "unfathomable" that Bryant has not yet won an MVP but he expects that oversight to be corrected this season. Legler echoed points that I have made here on many occasions. The fact that Bryant has no weaknesses is very significant. Even LeBron James, as great as he is, has weaknesses: he is a below average free throw shooter, a poor perimeter shooter and not yet a consistently good defensive player. During last year's Finals, the Spurs contained James by cutting off all driving lanes and forcing him to shoot jumpers. That resulted in James shooting a poor percentage and committing a lot of turnovers. That kind of defensive strategy would simply not work against Bryant. In my post titled Why Blogging is Booming and Newspapers Are Scrambling to Catch Up, I listed several specific areas that I mean when I say that Bryant does not have any weaknesses (this list is meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive; there could be further, more specific subcategories in several of these areas):
- Finishes at the hoop with either hand
- Dribbles well with either hand
- Has excellent post moves and footwork
- Draws fouls and shoots FTs very well
- Has three point range
- Can get off a good shot attempt even against good defense
- Rebounds well for his position
- Reads double-teams well and makes the correct passes, which don't always lead to assists for two reasons: the second pass out of the trap often leads to the assist and it is not possible for anyone to get an assist if the shot is not made
- Excellent defender, as acknowledged by the league's head coaches in All-Defensive Team voting
- Tremendous inner drive and will to win
Jamal Mashburn said that Bryant "is playing with passion, purpose and intensity." He also referred to Bryant's "pursuit of perfection," which is the same phrase applied to the New England Patriots during their unprecedented 16-0 season.
Notice how these analysts--each of whom played in the NBA--emphasize the importance of the fact that Bryant has no weaknesses. Determining who is the best player is not just a matter of crunching numbers or ranking who has racked up the most SportsCenter highlights. What we see with elite athletes in many sports--from the Patriots to Tiger Woods to Bryant--is that mastery of the "little things" (the fundamentals) leads to the ability to be a dominant performer. Look at how Bryant scored his 52 points against Dallas: three pointers, hard drives into the paint, a hook shot over 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki, an offensive rebound of a missed free throw, turnaround shots off of postup moves, pullup jumpers, drives after splitting double teams. Those things require a host of different fundamental skills, ranging from ballhandling to shooting to various kinds of footwork. Scoring 52 points does not prove that you are the best player in the NBA--but the skills that Bryant displayed while scoring those 52 points, not to mention that 30 of those points came in the fourth quarter and overtime, against a good Western Conference team, provide a snapshot of why Bryant is such unique player. It also should not be forgotten that while Bryant put his full scoring repertoire on display he also rebounded, passed and defended at a very high level.
While the Coast to Coast crew unanimously chose Bryant, over on NBA TV "Tuesday Night With Ahmad" played off of the presidential election theme and had Frank Isola "debate" Rick Mahorn about the merits of Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James for MVP. Isola argued for Kobe, while Mahorn took LeBron's side. To be perfectly honest, neither guy made the best possible case for his player but the most interesting thing about the whole segment is what Isola and Mahorn admitted after it was over: the "debate" was basically a sham, because both of them think that Kobe is the MVP. Mahorn joked that he "took one for the team" because Isola cried and whined to have the opportunity to present Kobe's case.
While it is heartening that people are belatedly figuring out that Kobe Bryant is not only the best player in the NBA but also in fact the MVP, it is amusing to hear how Bryant has supposedly changed or evolved this season. Bryant is not playing differently this year than he has for the past several years. The difference is that he has better teammates, players who catch his passes and then finish plays. It is so laughable to suggest that Bryant has suddenly learned how to share the ball. Do people really not remember that he was the leading playmaker on three championship teams? The funniest thing about the "Kobe Bryant has transformed" stories is that they are evergreen: the media plows this same ground every year whenever there is a portion of the season when Bryant's teammates play well. For example, last year Jackie MacMullan wrote a piece titled "The Transformation of Kobe Bryant." Her article is actually pretty good but the "transformation" theme is forced. Obviously, people evolve over time but Bryant did not suddenly "transform" into a team player. Bryant even mentioned to MacMullan how he had to sublimate his ability to score during the championship seasons in order to get other players involved, a statement that refutes the whole "transformation" theme; Bryant's smooth on court chemistry now with Pau Gasol is an outgrowth of playmaking skills that Bryant mastered years ago--and Bryant did not "transform" back into something else against Dallas when he scored those 52 points: he just read the defense and responded accordingly.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:59 AM