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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kobe Bryant and the Most Famous Pinkie Finger This Side of Dr. Evil





















As you probably have heard by now, Kobe Bryant has chosen not to have surgery to repair the torn ligament/avulsion fracture in his right pinkie finger. Here is the explanation posted on Bryant's official website:

After seeking numerous opinions from hand specialists, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has decided to forgo surgery on his right pinkie. Fresh off his Olympic Gold Medal performance in Beijing, Bryant expressed that he did not want to miss any time on the court when Lakers training camp opens later this month.

"I have always felt that I can still focus and play at a high level even through various injuries. That's really just part of the game. When the doctors told me recovery from a procedure could be 12 weeks, I just decided now was not the time to have surgery. What it really came down to for me is that I just didn't want to miss any time 'punching the clock' for the Lakers, given all we are trying to accomplish as a team this NBA season. I am just really excited and looking forward to being there with the guys when camp opens in a few weeks. That is a real bonding process and if I can avoid being on the sidelines for that, God willing, I will," said Bryant.


That "punching the clock" reference could certainly be interpreted to be a not very thinly veiled swipe at the work ethic of Bryant's former teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, who famously did not have offseason toe surgery in the summer of 2002 because he got hurt--in his words--on "company time." O'Neal missed the first 12 games of the 2002-03 season and the three-time defending champion Lakers got off to a slow start, ultimately slipping to the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs; the Spurs eliminated them in the second round and went on to win the title. Bryant finished third in MVP voting that season while also making the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team and if not for his efforts--including an incredible February in which he averaged 40.6 ppg as the Lakers went 11-3--the Lakers could very well have missed the playoffs entirely. Despite all of the various nonsense that has been spewed about the reasons for the tension between O'Neal and Bryant, that season is when the conflict really boiled over publicly and this was all a result of O'Neal's delayed surgery: when O'Neal came back out of shape he wanted the Lakers (i.e., Bryant) to slow the ball down and feed him in the post but Bryant's reply was that O'Neal needed to get in shape, whereupon O'Neal retorted that if the big dog is not fed (the ball) then he won't guard the house (play defense in the paint). Nothing made the contrast between Bryant and O'Neal's priorities and perspectives more obvious than their statements and actions that season.

This brief trip down memory lane is relevant because it surely has a lot to do with Bryant's current decision--not that he is trying to revive some played out "feud" or even prove some point. No, Bryant is simply practicing what he has always preached and lived by: his primary focus is to make sure that he is in shape and on the court during the basketball season. That is why he has played through a variety of injuries during his career, only sitting out when it was simply impossible to get on the court, in marked contrast to O'Neal's annual extended in-season vacations. Keep in mind that LeBron James missed five regular season games last year with a much more minor finger injury than the one Bryant suffered in February (Bryant did not miss any games and, other than the game immediately following the injury, his level of performance did not decline). Paul Pierce left an NBA Finals game in a wheelchair only to miraculously reappear moments later. In contrast, it is no exaggeration to say that you would literally have to drag Bryant off of the court to keep him from playing. In a January 12, 2004 game versus Cleveland, Bryant sprained his right shoulder (which had been surgically repaired the previous summer) but he convinced Coach Phil Jackson to put him back in the game; Bryant tried to play with just one arm before Jackson finally took him out of the game. Just months earlier, Bryant played the final 10 playoff games of 2003 with torn tissue in his right shoulder socket (Bryant averaged 32.1 ppg in 12 playoff games after averaging 30.0 ppg in the regular season; both numbers were career-highs for him at that time).

There have been some stupid--yet very predictable--responses to Bryant's announcement. Let's play "Myths and Facts":

1) Myth: The fact that Bryant is not having surgery proves that this is a minor injury.

Fact: Bryant has a completely torn ligament in his pinkie finger, plus an avulsion fracture. In layman's terms, that means that the ligament tore so violently that it ripped away pieces of bone from the finger. The reason for the tape job that Bryant wears when he plays is that without something to take up the slack for the ligament his finger would simply droop to the side. During All-Star Weekend--shortly after Bryant initially injured the finger--I spoke with Bryant about the extent of the damage:

I asked Bryant if his doctors have discussed with him the possibility that he may permanently damage the finger if he elects to forgo surgery and play out the rest of the season. He replied, “No, I’ll just be the cool grandfather who can stretch his pinkie all the way out to here (gestures to the side). There is no ligament there holding it in. I got lucky. This knuckle right here (points to the base of the finger) was down here (points midway down his hand) but I didn’t hurt this one (points to the middle of his pinkie finger). So I’m not going to have any damage or any fingers that look like Larry Bird’s.” He added that the most painful part of the injury happened when trainer Gary Vitti pulled it back into place, a moment of agony that was captured on national television. “After that, it felt like the finger just wasn’t there. It felt like a spaghetti noodle,” Bryant concluded.

2) Myth: Bryant is using/has used/will use this injury as an "excuse" for his performance.

Fact: I defy anyone to find an example of Bryant publicly mentioning his finger injury other than in a direct response to someone's question about it.

As explained above, Bryant was diagnosed with a torn ligament and an avulsion fracture months ago; it is ridiculous for anyone to act as if Bryant is faking or trying to make some excuse for his performance. The injury is not painful on a constant basis but whenever the finger is struck Bryant gets that numb "spaghetti noodle" feeling for a few minutes. Bryant could have gotten the finger fixed this summer but then he would have missed playing in the Olympics. My guess is that if he makes it through this season and the playoffs unscathed then he will have surgery on the finger as soon as the Lakers are finished playing next summer. If you consider Bryant's injury minor, then I suggest you whack yourself on your right hand hard enough to cause a torn ligament with an avulsion fracture and then see how well you are able to go about your day to day activities for a period of months without having surgery. Obviously, this is not equivalent to blowing out an ACL--an injury that has to be surgically repaired to resume playing competitive sports--but Bryant's willingness and ability to play through this injury--and to do so at a high level--is commendable.

3) Myth: Bryant timed his announcement to draw attention away from Andrew Bynum's return to health.

Fact: The L.A. Times reported about Bynum's status on September 6. Bryant made his announcement about forgoing surgery three days later. When exactly would have been the "right" time for Bryant to make his announcement? Anyone who thinks that Bryant did anything other than consult with various doctors, make a decision and then announce it is simply looking for reasons to criticize him.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:59 AM

41 comments

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41 Comments:

At Thursday, September 11, 2008 8:21:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Leave the Shaquille-Bryant scenario alone, David.

 
At Thursday, September 11, 2008 8:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

In the post I clearly explained the relevance of that scenario to this particular situation, so this is not a gratuitous reference. Bryant could easily have milked this situation, saying that he is tired after the Finals and the Olympics and using the surgery as a way to get out of training camp and the early part of the season--but Bryant actually enjoys training, working out, practicing and playing in as many games as possible.

 
At Thursday, September 11, 2008 9:26:00 AM, Blogger bordesinremedio said...

But can be worse in the long-term for him not doing it?

He will have to do it in anytime soon, though I understand the reasons behind not deciding to be operated.

 
At Thursday, September 11, 2008 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Big E said...

David,

I agree with madnice on this one. Isn't it possible that Kobe Bryant wasn't thinking about Shaquille at all? Perhaps Kobe was just indicating to his teammates that his is very focused on the upcoming NBA season.

He knows that the Lakers have a great opportunity to contend for a championship and he is a big reason why (even with this injury).

 
At Thursday, September 11, 2008 6:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bordesinremedio:

According to what the doctors told Kobe when he first suffered the injury, it is unlikely that he can further damage the finger by playing; the issue is pain management and whether or not the injury affects his productivity. Clearly, Kobe was just as productive after the injury as he was before it and he has a mindset that enables him to overcome whatever pain or discomfort is involved. That is why I said that I assume that next summer--when he does not have an Olympic commitment--he will get the surgery as soon as the Lakers' season ends and thus he will not miss any training camp or regular season games. What happened this summer is that Kobe put off the surgery until after the Olympics and then after doctors told him that the rehab period would be 12 weeks instead of 6-9 Kobe decided that he did not want to risk missing that much time.

 
At Thursday, September 11, 2008 6:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Big E:

I did not say that Kobe was definitely thinking of Shaq or that thinking of Shaq influenced his decision; I said that his statement "could" be interpreted as a swipe at Shaq but that in reality I think that Kobe is simply putting into practice what he has always preached. Please reread the relevant passage from the post:

"This brief trip down memory lane is relevant because it surely has a lot to do with Bryant's current decision--not that he is trying to revive some played out "feud" or even prove some point. No, Bryant is simply practicing what he has always preached and lived by: his primary focus is to make sure that he is in shape and on the court during the basketball season."

What is important here is not the media driven "feud" but rather the fundamental difference between Kobe and Shaq's philosophical approach to the game--and that is what the media should have emphasized all along: Kobe has a tremendous work ethic, while Shaq has had to be continuously prodded by strong willed coaches (Jackson, Riley) in order to achieve maximum productivity.

 
At Thursday, September 11, 2008 7:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

myth: kobe is not jesus

fact: kobe is jesus but with a better crossover

this is the best kobe fan site on the web! keep up the good work ;)

 
At Thursday, September 11, 2008 7:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

This is not a "Kobe fan site" but if you derive some knowledge and/or enjoyment from it then that is good.

If I were to create a "fan site" for a basketball player then it would be about Julius Erving, who is my favorite player of all-time.

What I am doing here is analyzing pro basketball and also the way that the media covers pro basketball, so if it seem like I am a "fan" of Kobe Bryant then this reflects more on how biased the media coverage is against Bryant--or how much the general public unquestioningly accepts that bias--than it does on anything that I have written about Bryant.

When someone says that Bryant is using his finger as an "excuse" that is bias. When I point out that this is a "myth," that is factual reporting. If you can find an example of Bryant referring to his finger injury other than in direct response to a question about it then perhaps you could make a case that I am being "biased" or running a "fan site." In the absence of evidence refuting what I report or supporting the biased reporting that I am refuting, it is incorrect to say that I am running a "fan site."

 
At Friday, September 12, 2008 11:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do love Kobe though David, hard to argue that.

I think he should have had the surgery. Actually, I should say I wish he had had the surgery. It would have been very interesting to see how well the Lakers played without him.

I do admire Kobe's toughness and vitality. His ability to play a lot of minutes year in and year out through pain and injury is his best quality as a basketball player. It's probably his defining characteristic, since his numbers aren't really that extraordinary.

He is so calculating though, consciously so. Almost naked self-promotion all the time. He can't be blamed for it, it's part and parcel of being one of the biggest sports celebrities in the world, but it makes me retch nonetheless.

It's going to be a tough season for Kobe haters, that is for sure. If Bynum is fully healthy the Lakers will roll through the NBA and win the title easily. They might even end up posting one of the best winning percentages in history. Few teams have ever managed to put together a more potent foursome.

Then the media coverage will all focus on one thing, the greatness of Kobe Bryant. He will be the "engine" and there will be countless stories about his leadership, will to win, and other bs storylines.

Here is the storyline I am looking forward to. Andrew Bynum emerges as the best player on the Lakers and one of the huge new stars in the NBA. It may or may not happen. You never know coming back from an major knee injury. But if his numbers are similar to what he posted last year, expect me here pointing out that Kobe is clearly the second best player on his own team.

That should be fun....

Best
Owen

 
At Friday, September 12, 2008 11:50:00 AM, Blogger Big E said...

David,

Thanks for the response and I hear what you're saying. I am just commenting that my interpretation is that your analysis seems to suggest that you believe that Kobe was taking a bit of a shot at Shaquille. I have copied and posted your quote below. I am arguing (in my opinion) that perhaps Kobe was not even think about Shaq at all when he made this statement.

That "punching the clock" reference could certainly be interpreted to be a not very thinly veiled swipe at the work ethic of Bryant's former teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, who famously did not have offseason toe surgery in the summer of 2002 because he got hurt--in his words--on "company time."

Sorry, I probably dragged out this blog stream longer than it needed to be.

 
At Friday, September 12, 2008 4:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

I respect Kobe's dedication and the fact that he has worked hard to develop his game to the point that he has no fundamental weaknesses (that is not the same thing as saying that he is the greatest player ever, of course; it simply means that he does not have a weakness, which is not the same as saying that he is the greatest ever). I also think that the media coverage about Kobe is very biased; media coverage is biased in a lot of ways but Kobe receives more negative coverage than others simply because of his fame and because he is a lightning rod for criticism from many quarters. My posts about Kobe focus on those three factors: his dedication, the completeness of his skill set and the nature of the biased media coverage pertaining to him (I also address biased media coverage in general in posts that do not pertain specifically to Kobe).

At first I was surprised that he decided not to have the surgery but, as I indicated in the post, I suspect that his plan now is to make it through this season and then get the finger taken care of early next summer. His main goal is to not miss any games.

Saying that Kobe's numbers "aren't really that extraordinary" is simply begging for an argument but I won't take the bait; I know that the numbers you are using come from WoW and that the philosophical basis of WoW is that it is not necessary to watch the games to analyze the sport. You seem to be otherwise fairly intelligent and hopefully at some point you will decide to leave the WoW cult :)

I don't see how a short announcement on his website about his plans to not have surgery constitutes "naked self promotion." You are simply seeing what you want to see, not what is actually there.

It is way too early to say that the Lakers will win the title, let alone to say that they will win it easily. We have yet to even see Gasol and Bynum on the court together. One of them will shift to power forward (most likely Gasol). Odom will have to play small forward or else go to the bench. Of course, there is also the not insignificant question of Bynum's health. Furthermore, Bynum has put together not quite half a season of playing well as a starter and that is hardly a rational basis for assuming that he will emerge as the best player on his team, let alone one of the best players in the NBA. It is really something that you dismiss Kobe's production over more than a decade but yet are willing to project a half season of decent production to mean that Bynum is on the cusp of stardom. How is that objective or scientific? This just reinforces what I have repeatedly said, namely that those who rely solely on number crunching are, in their own way, just as biased as the reporters who let their subjective feelings interfere with their coverage. Let's see Bynum stay healthy and productive for a whole season before anointing him as an elite player.

I can think of a lot of teams that have put together a more potent foursome than an MVP, a one-time All-Star, a young, inexperienced center and a career underachiever (Kobe, Gasol, Bynum and Odom, who I assume are the four players you were referencing).

In no particular order:

1) 90s Bulls (MJ, Pip, Rodman, Kukoc)
2) 80s Lakers (Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Scott)
3) 80s Celtics (Bird, McHale, Parish, DJ)
4) 60s Celtics (many versions, including Russell, Cousy, Havlicek, Sam Jones)
5) '67 Sixers (Chamberlain, Greer, Cunningham, Walker)
6) '83 Sixers (Malone, Erving, Toney, Cheeks)

 
At Friday, September 12, 2008 10:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

he not that hurt or he would of had surgery in season he has shown great tougness in other ways not this one because nobody knows how much it realy bothers him.

in the tank anaylsis for certain players just doesnt fly kobe is a great player but this injury is overplayed, if it was a bad injury you have surgery kobe tough but no player should play hurt.

i think if bynum come back with gasol and odom that is a very good foursome i think bynum could be a elite player but totally agree with you all 6 of those teams you put had better foursome anymous must be deunk to thnk there better than those foursome or all time great foursome only player with pedigreee is kobe.

oh you thought shaq should of did the same thing kobe did in 02 rather than waiting on surgery i think it was a mistake by shaq clearly to wait so long to have surgery.

 
At Saturday, September 13, 2008 2:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Big E:

Yeah, what I meant was that Kobe's statement "could" be interpreted as a swipe, not that it actually is a swipe or even that I think that it is a swipe. I thought that I made that clear with my followup statements in the post, but since both you and Madnice read it differently perhaps I did not phrase this as clearly as I should have.

The bottom line is that I don't think that Kobe was consciously thinking of Shaq when he wrote the statement on his website but I do think that Kobe's approach is markedly different than Shaq's approach of taking nearly annual mid-season "vacations."

 
At Saturday, September 13, 2008 6:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Only Kobe knows how much the finger hurts or how it affects his play. Obviously, he has played effectively for months since the initial injury but that does not mean he is not really hurt.

I certainly have not "overplayed" the injury. Other than writing about it when it happened and reporting what Kobe told me during All-Star Weekend I have rarely mentioned his finger. I don't plan on mentioning it again unless something newsworthy happens regarding it.

Of course Bynum "could" be an elite player; he obviously has a lot of potential or the Lakers would not have drafted him out of high school and hired Kareem to mentor him. My only objection is that no one should assume off of one decent half season that Bynum will automatically and immediately be an elite player this year. Prior to last season there were serious questions about his work ethic and conditioning level, so I want to see him perform well for a full year before making any grand pronouncements about him. However, the idea that he will be better/more valuable than Kobe this season is preposterous, even in the best case, wildest dream scenario of any Lakers' fan; if Bynum averages 15 ppg, 10 rpg and 2 bpg while playing in 70 or more games the Lakers will be ecstatic but that will not be a more valuable contribution than Kobe's 28-30 ppg, 5-6 rpg, 5-6 apg and All-Defensive First Team level play.

Since Shaq had to have surgery in '02 I thought that he should have done it immediately. He chose to enjoy his summer and have surgery on "company time" (his words) since he got hurt on "company time." Kobe's plan is to play the whole season and playoffs. Is he making the right decision? Time will tell, but he certainly is not intentionally going to miss games the way that Shaq did.

 
At Saturday, September 13, 2008 2:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know what I mean about Kobe's stats. They suggest he is one of the best shooting guards in the NBA, but not definitively the best player in the NBA by any stretch of the imagination.

Re: the naked the self promotion, I just think about the interview he did with his kids on his lap. It just felt so bogus. Honestly, that stuff shouldn't matter, what matters happens on the court. But still, a bit irksome.

And I am not sure I feel that Kobe gets a lot of negative media coverage. Every time I watch a basketball game he is involved with people do pretty much nothing other than talk positively about him. Doug Collins, I am looking at you. But that is not an area of expertise for me, so I will take your word for it.

Re Bynum, I don't put a lot of stock in experience. The fact of the matter is that most players are as good as they will ever be by the end of their third or fourth year.

Bynum's numbers were amazing last year. He led the league in TS%, was fifth in rebound rate, had a excellent turnover rate for a developing big man. And he was 80th in the league in scoring, which is pretty solid for a young player on a team stocked with scoring talent.

He may not come back that strong next year. It was just 1000 minutes (although he showed signs of similar ability the year prior, before fading late.) But facts are facts. In the 1000 minutes he did play he was by far the most productive Laker. And if that happens again next year, in extended minutes, the Laker management is going to have a real predicament on its hand. It will seem crazy to you, but resigning an aging Kobe could be a big mistake if it costs you the chance to lock up the most promising young big man in the NBA for a long contract.

We shall see about Bynum. Knee injuries are no joke. But Bryant, Bynum and the Lakers are definitely going to be the story in the NBA.

 
At Saturday, September 13, 2008 7:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

I rank Kobe as the best current player based on him not having any skill set weaknesses. I think that LeBron closed the gap somewhat last season but in the playoffs we saw that against an elite defense (Boston) LeBron's lack of a reliable outside shot is still a problem; Kobe led the Lakers past two excellent defensive teams (Spurs, Jazz) that LeBron would have trouble beating with his current skill set.

I actually agree with you about bringing kids into the interview room but Kobe is hardly the only guilty party in that regard. LeBron does this--I was in an interview room when his son was on the podium and then running around all over the place--and many other players do this also so Kobe should hardly be blamed more than anyone else in this regard. The interview rooms are supposed to be a work area for the media, so in principle kids and other family members should not be in there anyway; media members are instructed to not bring family members or any other non-working personnel into such areas, so why should the players do so?

There is a difference between guys like Hubie Brown, Jeff Van Gundy and Doug Collins versus the media members to whom I was referring; Brown, JVG and Collins are coaches and they are truly professional analysts. That is why they praise Kobe's game: they understand basketball. The ones who speak negatively about Kobe are columnists and self-styled experts who don't actually understand the sport but who play a large role in framing the public's perceptions. They are the ones who blame Kobe for "breaking up the Lakers" and who focus on all of Kobe's alleged shortcomings on and off the court.

You are right that in general most of a player's development happens by his third or fourth year. My point is that Bynum has yet to establish that he can play at a high level for an entire season. In other words, I'm not saying that he needs more experience in order to do so but simply that he needs to do this to prove that he is capable of it not only in terms of his game but also in terms of his health.

According to BasketballReference.com, Bynum did not lead the NBA in true shooting % last year; he ranked seventh. That is still quite good but it is important to understand that to this point he has only shown a limited offensive game. He does not have much of a back to the basket postup game and he does not shoot well outside of the paint; on the plus side, he has great hands, so any time he gets the ball in the paint (either via pass or an offensive rebound) he goes up strong and attacks the rim. However, without Kobe attracting multiple defenders, thus giving Bynum more room to operate, it is not clear how productive Bynum would be--i.e., how well Bynum could create a shot for himself in traffic on a consistent basis.

The reason that Bynum tailed off at the end of the previous season is that he was not in proper condition and his work ethic was not great. Kobe sets a great example in that regard and Bynum and the other younger players have started to take after him. Not only has Kobe led by example but Kobe told me (last year after the Lakers played in Indiana) that Bynum has become a real sponge in terms of soaking up information and tips; Kobe told Bynum before the game how to guard Jermaine O'Neal and this advice helped Bynum to make several big defensive plays (Bynum mentioned this to me and others after the game--without prompting--and then I asked Kobe about it; you can read the details in an 11/21/07 20 Second Timeout post titled "Basketball Clinic: Kobe Mentors Bynum, Lakers School Pacers"). Of course, this kind of leadership by Kobe is the type of thing that does not show up in stats but is a big part of the reason that so many of the Lakers' young players have improved and the team overall became better; purely from a productivity standpoint, I would disagree with anyone who says that Kobe played differently last season or "elevated" his game: he played at essentially the same level that he has for the past several years, when he has been the best player in the league (I am referring specifically to the 2007 and 2006 seasons and also the early part of the 2005 season before Bryant got hurt).

Bynum's contract expires after the 2010 season, while Kobe is signed through 2011.

 
At Sunday, September 14, 2008 10:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Technically, Jerome James led the NBA in TS% last year. But amongst players who averaged more than 6 minutes per game, Bynum was the leader.

Re Kobe and his lack of a weakness. I read that post. Suffice to say, I don't think wellroundedness is the best criteria for judging who is the best. In the NBA, being extraordinary in a few categories can take you a long way. Also, Kobe may have no discernible weakness, but his ts% was less than 1% higher than Lebron's. When you consider the disparity in all their other stats, it's impossible to argue (statistically) that Kobe is the better player.

Re Bynum - It is too early to anoint him the best player on the Lakers. But again, if he is amongst the league leaders in ts% and rebounding, while scoring at rate that puts him in the top 75, and playing significant minutes, you are going to face a real battle convincing people he is better than Kobe. That is my prediction.

I am a Knicks fan, and trust me, if I could acquire anyone on the Lakers it would definitely be Bynum.

 
At Monday, September 15, 2008 3:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

True shooting percentage can be a valuable tool but it has to be understood in the context of a player's skill set. Bynum has a high true shooting percentage because all he shoots are layups and dunks. That is not necessarily a bad thing--Shaq has done that for his whole career--but Bynum has not yet proven that he has a reliable back to the basket game. In other words, you cannot simply throw him the ball in the post 15-20 times a game and build an offense around him as a post player, based on what he has shown so far. Bynum scores off of putbacks and after receiving the ball after screen/roll plays. Maybe Bynum can be a primary low post offensive threat but that has yet to be proven. Unlike Gasol, Bynum cannot catch the ball outside of the paint and then shoot, drive or pass.

Your assumptions about Bynum's ultimate value may prove to be correct but right now they are just assumptions, not proven facts. I believe that it is possible for Bynum to improve his low post game but he has to demonstrate this on a game in, game out basis for a whole season.

Kobe is extraordinary in many--indeed, most--categories, which makes his lack of any skill set weaknesses all the more impressive.

Again, your use of ts% to compare Kobe to LeBron is not valid. LeBron's ts% reflects the number of shots that he takes in the paint. Yes, this is a good thing and we know that most teams cannot keep him out of the paint--but when LeBron faces defenses like San Antonio's and Boston's he is not as effective because they can keep him out of the paint and he can't reliably make outside shots.

I'm not trying to make a case about anything based solely on statistics; I am saying that based on their relative skill sets, Kobe is still a slightly better player than LeBron.

I won't face a battle with anyone over anything; I will continue to analyze and report what I see and people are free to believe whatever they want. The likelihood that Bynum will in fact be a more valuable player than Kobe this season is exceedingly small based on what both players have done so far in their careers. I can't control what most people think about such things; all I can do is provide the relevant information so that people can make educated judgments if they are open minded enough to do so.

The question of which Laker the Knicks would most want to acquire--assuming that any Laker is available--would be impacted by salary cap and age considerations, if you are talking about a real world scenario. Of course, in a real world scenario Kobe, Gasol and Bynum would not be available under any circumstances right now. If you are talking purely about which player will be more productive/valuable next season, no NBA GM in his right mind would take Bynum over Kobe; if you are talking about which player will be more productive in five years, that is a different story, because Kobe will likely be at or near the end of his career, while Bynum (if healthy) should be entering his prime.

 
At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 5:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your take on ts% is curious to say the least. I am not going to tackle it.

Re Bynum - Obviously its not a real world question. The Knicks have zero chance of acquiring Gasol, Kobe or Bynum, or any other quality player, for a long long time.

Given who we have playing center for us, there is very little question that Bynum would help us much more than any player on the Lakers roster. Eddy Curry was one of the worst players in the NBA last year, and center is the most important position in the NBA.

Your faith in the conventional wisdom and the intelligence of NBA Gm's and former coaches is a constant theme. My take? Many GM's and analysts don't understand the basics of statistical analysis in basketball, i.e. they don't understand ts% and they don't understand team offensive and defensive efficiency. For instance, just the other day Brian Windhorst was qouted talking about how bad the Nuggets were on defense last year. In fact, they were 10th in defensive efficiency, one rank better than they were on offense.

We aren't talking Wins Produced here. We are talking about very basic statistical concepts which have unquestioned validity. Yet, everytime you turn on NBA commentary you hear mistakes of this ilk. And when you hear coaches and GM's talk its very often more of the same.

Thats my beef.

Anyway....

Owen

 
At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 5:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

Assuming that all other factors are equal, do you think that a team of five players who have a high ts % purely because they do nothing but shoot in the paint would beat a team of five players who have a lower ts % but are more versatile offensively? Would a team of five "Bynums" (players with his skill set who play each of the five positions, not five centers per se) beat a team of five "Kobes" (again, players with his skill set who play each of the five positions, not five shooting guards). It is valuable to have a center who stays in the paint and shoots high percentage shots but if he can't create his own shots or shoot effectively outside of the paint then he must be surrounded by players who can do those things in order for his team to be successful. In other words, while Bynum would be an upgrade over the centers who the Knicks currently have, without a good point guard or wing player to accompany him Bynum would not be as effective in New York as he was last year in L.A., nor would he add as many wins to the Knicks as you seem to be implying. The Knicks would improve much more if they added Kobe than they would if they added Bynum; Kobe already proved that he can carry a team to the playoffs in the West--twice--with subpar starters at center (Kwame) and point guard (Smush), arguably the two most important positions. Kobe could certainly carry the Knicks to the playoffs in the East, while Bynum would not be able to do so, at least based on the skill set that he has demonstrated so far.

My take on NBA GMs is that they are not as dumb as some writers and fans make them out to be. Obviously, some GMs are really, really smart, some are average and some are below average; that is true of decision makers in any industry. However, I don't believe that a team run purely on the dictates of WoW or any one statistical system would outperform most NBA teams. Statistical systems can be valuable tools and many front offices are already employing them to some degree but you still have to watch the game and apply the knowledge of trained personnel evaluators.

 
At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 6:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is tough. I don't know how to write anything less than 1000 words in response.

In the NBA you have scorers and role players. A better distinction might be between high usage and low usage players. There is a range in quality for both groups. You have Kobe on one end and Jennaro Pargo on the other end. You have David Lee, an exceptional role player, and then you have Ronny Turiaf or Kirk Humphries etc. In the NBA, the best players are mostly high usage players. They excel in every area of the box score, which allows them to be optimally productive. Role players can be phenomenally productive also, but by and large you don't find many low usage players at the top levels.

Which presents a difficulty in forming a team of "Kobes" and "Bynums." There aren't any low usage point or shooting guards who are as productive as Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant. We could pick two teams of similarly productive low and high usage players. We could pair David West vs. Paul Millsap. Ronnie Brewer and Kevin Martin. Kirilenko and Carmelo. etc. But ultimately, and this is the main point, I think its a bit misleading to think this way. The best NBA teams are balanced. They mix low usage and high usage players. There is only one ball to go around. A team of five high usage players would suffer from having too many players who are productive mostly through their scoring. Just look at the Knicks the last few years. A team of five low usage players would have a lot of problems scoring.

High quality high usage players can adapt to anything, as I think the Redeem Team experience showed. But pair two lower quality HU players together, say Iverson and Marbury, and you will have serious problems.

With low usage players, I think there is often more room to expand usage than people generally realize. When iverson left Philly, everyone wondered where the offense was going to come from. They managed to make it work more or less by the end of the season. They ended up having a decent record last year with a lot of previously lower usage players on the court. Their offense wasnt great, 18th, but tha was much better than the Knicks who had three players who were felt to be offensive juggernauts in Randolph, Crawford, and Curry. How did they do it? A major strength was the fact they were the second best offensive rebounding team in the NBA. And they had the 8th best defense in the league, which is pretty solid. It wasn't pretty or glamorous, but it was surprisingly effective.

To return to Bynum, the question is, how much can he expand his usage. At 17% last year, he was way behind the 27% Shaq posted in his first year in the league. Personally, I think Bynum is capable of much more. Maybe not Shaq like numbers, but I have to believe he could carry a much bigger load if asked to. I would add, that just doing what he does now, his rebounding alone for instance, he is already extremely productive.

RE Bynum and Kobe to the Knicks: i don't think you are familiar with the Eddy Curry. He is, literally, one of the worst rebounding center of all time. He was second in the league in turnovers two years ago. He has a statistical category named after him, the "Eddy Curry line." He is one of the worst players in the NBA playing major minutes and has been that way for most of his career. The only reason he is in the league is because people believe his scoring is valuable. I hear what you are saying about Smush and Kwame, but both were much better than what the Knicks fielded at point guard and center last year.

Replacing Curry with Bynum would help the Knicks much more than adding Kobe in the short term, and certainly in the long term provided he recovers fully fomr injury. I hear what you are saying about our lack of outside shooting. It is the kind of thing people say before expressing surprise when things work out completely differently. Let's be honest. Nate Robinson, Quentin Richardson, and Jamal Crawford all have higher 3p% than Kobe. I know the Lakers have Rad, Vujacic and Fisher, but really, that is not the issue. We have enough guys who can fill it up to take the pressure off Bynum. Bynum isn't a product of the players around him. He is a product of his measurables. He is unusually huge, agile, and coordinated, with very soft hands. We are talking about someone who has a physical phenotype that is 1 in a million. Probably more than that. He can catch lob passes from Crawford, who actually throws them amazingly well, just as easily as he could from any Laker. And he would instantly shore up our defense which was abysmal. Our leading shotblocker last year was Chandler at .8 per 36. Bynum was more than triple that.

Re NBA GM's you can't really generalize, I admit. And the opinion of a Knicks fan is bound to be less than objective. But as I have said before, scoring is overvalued in the NBA. The Orlando Magic paid Rashard Lewis six times what they were paying Arixa. How much more productive is Lewis really? What would have happened if Orlando had picked up Varejao and kept some powder dry for the future? Would they not have had enough scoring? What would have happened to their rebounding margin? Would they have been first in defensive rebounding rather than 7th? What would that have done to their victory margin?

Some things are much harder than the casual fan appreciates. Cap dynamics, dealing with ownership, and drafting for instance. But NBA gm's don't take advantage of what they can use enough, which is the statistical record amassed by players.

Is Jamal Crawford better than Ronnie Brewer? Is David West better than David Lee? I know what most NBA gm's would say, and I think they are wrong.

Anyway, rambling terribly, wrapping it up, respond to anything you like, or nothing, it's ok, we both have better things to do....

Owen

 
At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 7:26:00 PM, Blogger JP said...

Guys like Owen crack me up.

The Nuggets were in the top 10 in defensive efficiency all season, but nobody was calling them a good defensive team, and the guys who over-rely on stats were laughing at the TV and saying “actually, the Nuggets are currently 6th in the league in defensive efficiency, Bill Walton.”

The reality is that the Nuggets really were a poor defensive team, but only against certain teams. Undisciplined/weaker teams fell into Denver's trap. Make the game loose, run and gun up and down the court, where the Nuggets can utilize their strengths the best. The game would be high paced, the Nuggets would force a lot of turnovers, and the undisciplined team would get caught in a type of game they didn't want to be in. And taking into account # of possessions, the Nuggets would look pretty good, even though they gave up 100+ points or whatever to a team like the Clippers.

Against “disciplined” teams, the games were much more half-court, far less transition basketball. The result? The Nuggets were screwed and their defense looked terrible.

What's the recipe for keeping it a half-court game?

*Pound the ball in the post on offense to draw opposing perimeter players down
*Possibly have your team forget about offensive rebounds and just get back on d.
*Take care of the basketball
*Selective early offense. Ie no pulling a 20-footer in transition 1 on 3.
*Pressure the outlet

A lot of teams executed the things above and slowing down the game displayed Denver's poor half-court offense, which basically consisted of Melo and Iverson taking turns dominating the ball. This had ramifications on both ends of the floor because it impacted their chemistry. The point being that they were fragmented on both ends much of the time. (when stuck in a half-court game)

 
At Thursday, September 18, 2008 1:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Nuggets were in the top 10 in defensive efficiency all season, but nobody was calling them a good defensive team."

Correct. So, what is wrong here? The concept of defensive efficiency? Or conventional wisdom?

If conventional wisdom is right, why did they allow so few points?

 
At Thursday, September 18, 2008 6:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JP:

That is an excellent summary of how the numbers can lie in situations like these. Denver was not a good defensive team last year and Coach George Karl has admitted as much. You are absolutely correct that some of the weaker teams got caught up in playing at Denver's preferred pace and got blown out. I actually mentioned this in some of my posts during the season; Denver's scoring margin really got skewed by some big wins over bad teams.

You are also right that the way that Iverson and Melo played on offense negatively affected the team at both ends of the court.

 
At Thursday, September 18, 2008 6:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

I think that we saw during the Olympics that a team of "high usage" players can divvy up the roles very effectively, provided that the players are willing to do so. I'd take my chances with having Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Paul versus a more "balanced" team. Charles Barkley likes to say that basketball is a simple game when it is played correctly but that bad players make it difficult. Great players share the ball and they work hard at both ends of the court.

Philly added one of the most underrated pgs in the league (Andre Miller) in the Iverson deal, so it's not like they lost Iverson for nothing. Instead of having Iverson monopolize the ball, Miller got the ball in the right places at the right times. Iverson's absence also provided an opportunity for Iguodala to assume a bigger role.

Whether or not Bynum can expand his usage is purely a hypothetical question right now. He is young and his work ethic has improved, so there is certainly a chance that he can do so--but right now he does not have a consistent back to the basket post up game. Assuming that Kobe averages 28-30 ppg and Gasol averages 17-18 ppg, I don't see the Lakers expanding Bynum's offensive role that much; he will continue to crash the offensive boards, convert lob passes and occasionally score on the block. As you suggest, he can definitely have an impact defensively and on the boards.

I am quite familiar with Eddy Curry. I've seen him play up close and personal on several occasions and I even talked to then Knicks assistant coach Mark Aguirre about him. You are correct that Curry is a very poor rebounder. He also has bad hands, much like Kwame. However, when Curry holds on to the ball he is a legit post up threat; he averaged 19.5 ppg on .576 fg shooting in '07. I'm not a big Curry fan by any means but I'd take him over Kwame in a heartbeat. Kwame has no offensive game and worse hands than Curry; Kwame's only, limited value is that at times he can be a physical defender on the block. Apparently, that was the primary value that Phil Jackson saw in him (Jackson also did not have anyone else to put out there at the time).

Jamal Crawford is an erratic player who shoots too many bad shots but I'd take him in a heartbeat over Smush.

Let's just take a step back here for a moment and consider the facts:

1) In 2006 and 2007, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to the playoffs with Smush Parker as the starting pg and Kwame as the starting center (when Kwame was injured, they also had a young, out of shape Bynum and career journeyman Mihm).

2) Since leaving L.A., Kwame has started one game and Smush has started two. I'd be willing to wager that neither player will ever again be the regular starter (i.e., not a last second injury or suspension replacement) for a playoff team, let alone both of them start for the same playoff team.

The talent on the Knicks from 2-12 now (i.e., not comparing their best player to Kobe) is better than the talent on the Lakers in 2006 and 2007. Part of the reason that the Knicks did not do better is that they do not have a legit number one guy. Kobe could of course fill that role. Bynum would just be another guy on the block asking for the ball and not getting it in rhythm because the guards are jacking up shots. Bynum would help the defense a little but the team is so bad defensively overall that his impact would be limited. He's a good defensive player but he's not an All-Defensive Team level player right now.

Your question about signing Lewis versus Varejao is interesting. Of course, unless one is privy to the private negotiations we can't know what was really possible. I really like Varejao's game and I agree that he could help Orlando (and just about any other team). Orlando decided to add an outside scoring threat, perhaps not even realizing quite how well Turkoglu would play (if the Magic had known that, their thinking might have been different). We've talked about this before: the stat sheet and the eyeball test may assess Lewis' value to be at a certain level but the reality of the NBA is that sometimes you have to "overpay" to get the player you want. This is not necessarily because the GM thinks Lewis is "worth" that much but simply because of the nature of the market. Is some of the nature of the market related to GMs overvaluing scorers? Perhaps, but I don't think it is quite that simple.

 
At Thursday, September 18, 2008 1:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David and JP - The numbers can't lie in this case. This isn't a player metric, where you can cause a player's rating to change dramatically by adjusting the weight of a variable in a formula. This is really basic arithmetic. This is dividing points scored by the number of opportunities to score. If everyone played at the same pace, you could compare points allowed. But they don't. So you have to make a slight adjustment. What really is the contention here? That despite the 106.3 defensive rating, they were actually a below average defensive team overall? That defensive efficiency is a mirage?

The truth of the matter here is that the Nuggets dropped off dramatically on defense at the end of the year. They were in the top 5 at the beginning of the year. Perhaps JP's assessment is based off the last games he watched. But overall, the Nuggets could never have won 50 games without having an above average defense, since their offense, as we all seem to agree, wasn't great.

David - I already made the point in my post. High quality, high usage players can adjust easily enough as the Redeem Team showed.

You are misunderstanding what I meant about balance, easy to do given what a poorly written post it was. Obviously, a team of Paul, Kobe, Lebron, Bosh, and D-Ho would win 75-80 games in the NBA. However, none of them would be as productive playing together as they are playing alone. That's why I made the point about the best players in the NBA being mostly high usage.

Re Philly: Andre Miller is underrated, but not by Wins Produced. If you look at the stats, you can see his value. For the last two seasons, you can see that value translate directly into wins for his team. This stuff works in the real world.

Re: Bynum: The question then is, is he like Iguodala. Is he ready to step in? I agree it's a matter of opinion at this point. There really is no point debating how good he will be. But I think there is a definite range in potential productivity established, barring injury consequences. I think the floor is Sam Dalembert and the ceiling is Dwight Howard. But it's pretty clear he is never going to be a below average NBA player.

Re Curry: You are glossing over the fact that he was second in the league in turnovers that year. He broke double digits for games in which he had more turnovers than rebounds. This troubling habit completely negated his offensive impact, as the +/- data indicate. The Knicks were better on offense with him off the court.

Kwame is definitely a below average center, but he was still more productive than Curry. Curry is also the worst defensive player I have ever seen in my life. Literally. To say Bynum in the middle wouldn't help the Knicks defense because Bynum isn't all-nba. Well, it strains your credibility just a wee bit. The Knicks have gone several years now without having a player average a block a game. Think about it.

Smush was actually pretty good in 05-06. His TS% was nearly 55%. He was slightly above average overall. He was bad the next year. I know you won't like the argument, but the statistics compare pretty evenly with Crawford's. You could argue that Smush isn't a good enough passer to be a true point guard and that Kobe did a lot of that work for him. I would respond that Crawford was getting paid seven times as much while producing worse statistics in 05-06. Smush was a decent player and excellent value for what he was paid. I think off court issues have held him back, which is his own fault. But he has shown himself to be able to play NBA level basketball.

I couldn't disagree more about your assessment of the Knicks talent level. I say that as a stathead, and as someone who has watched at least 65% of the minutes they have played in the last two years. They have one excellent player. David Lee. They have Zach Randolph, who you could replace with Paul Millsap, Chuck Hayes, or Carl Landry and not miss a beat, saving yourself 12-15 million dollars. They have Q who is a quality player when healthy, but who is never healthy. They have a career mediocrity in Jamal Crawford, who has been a below average player in every season but one of his career. Nate Robinson. Below average. Mardy Collins. Execrable. Wilson Chandler. Bad so far. Malik Rose. Washed up. Jared Jeffries. Average role player. Stephon Marbury. Average NBA point guard wildly overrated because of his scoring.

Kobe had Lamar Odom, who is easily better than any player on the Knicks in the last 8 years not named David Lee. They had Walton, who was definitely productive. Smush was productive in 05-06. And they got production from their role players. Mihm, Brown, George, and Turiaf were all close enough to average to help them win some games. They were 15th in the league in 05-06. Was that all Kobe's leadership? Let me guess, he carried so much of the offensive load that they all were able to play much better on defense.

The Knicks 2-12 are bad. It's as simple as that.

Re Lewis: We discussed it previously. I don't know what the options were for Orlando. They may not have been able to sign Varejao. There is a definitely lot of luck involved in building a successful NBA team. Who are the free agents available for instance. Who you draft is a crapshoot. I don't want to accuse the Orlando Gm of stupidity, just to point out the fact that the Magic are doomed by that signing to be the 21st century version of the 90's Knicks. A good to great team that can never truly dominate and be a favorite to win it all. The only way I see that happening is if D-Ho suddenly starts sinking his ft's at an 80% clip.

Another prediction. Dwight Howard isn't going to win a title for awhile. Storylines will develop about how his game isn't suited to the playoffs because he can't take over, how he isn't clutch, how his ft% hurts his team, how he isn't a good enough defender etc etc.

That will be unfair.

The truth in the NBA is that player perception is driven by scoring totals and the quality of your teammates far more than by actual production. If Kobe had started his career in Milwaukee like Ray Allen, you never would be writing half your posts about him.

It's hard to get around the fact that there have been a lot of swingman in the league who could have won a title playing with Shaq in their prime.

Alright, rambling again....

peace and love and all in good fun,
Owen

 
At Friday, September 19, 2008 3:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

My contention regarding Denver's defense is that the overall numbers you are citing are skewed by some of their blowout wins versus poor opposition. For instance:

120-103 over Seattle, 118-92 over Washington (with a hobbled Arenas before the Wiz started playing better when he shut it down), 122-100 over a Cleveland team with no bench (Varejao and Pavlovic were out), 110-93 over Portland before the Blazers got it together, 115-83 over the Knicks, 112-91 over the Bulls. Those scores are just from the first 11 games of the season. Later, Denver beat Seattle 138-96. Just like players can pad their stats, the Nuggets padded their stats--at least in terms of point differential--with wins like these against poor teams (or teams that became good later but were depleted for various reasons at that time). None of this changes the reality that Denver was a bad defensive team for exactly the reasons that JP stated, reasons that I also listed during various posts about Denver during the season.

I feel like we are standing in front of a bridge that has collapsed (Denver's defense) and you are telling me something along the lines of, "It can't have collapsed. According to the design specifications, it is strong enough to withstand this storm, so I must believe that it is still standing." The numbers that you are citing do not match what we can plainly see in the real world.

JP made a very important point when he mentioned that Denver's bad chemistry left the Nuggets fragmented at both ends of the court. Kenny Smith said something similar on TNT. Bad shots led to bad transition defense. It all flows together but the bottom line is that the defense was not good and numbers that suggest otherwise are not telling the whole story. This is most assuredly not "basic arithmetic."

My point about five Kobes/five Bynums was that I'd rather have five versatile, high skill set players than five players who are less versatile and skilled. Unless/until Bynum develops a consistent back to the basket post up game, there is no way that his value can be compared to Kobe's.

Miller is the type of player that WP "likes" but that does not mean that WP is always right. I like Miller based on his skill set/impact, not a blind reading of his numbers. As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Just because WP "likes" Miller does not convince me that WP "works in the real world" on a general basis.

Iguodala showed even before the Iverson deal that he is an athletic wing player who can score, rebound, defend and pass. It was natural to assume that all of his numbers would go up in the wake of the Iverson deal. In order for Bynum to go to the next level he must show something that he has yet to show: a consistent, back to the basket post up game (he must also show that he can stay healthy and motivated for an entire season).

I wouldn't really want Curry or Kwame but if I were forced to choose I'd take Curry in a heartbeat and pair him with a beast defender/rebounder. Kwame can't catch, period. As Aguirre told me about Curry, when he slows down and is in rhythm with the pass, he can catch the ball. Of course, Curry would also benefit from playing with a real pg; if a big guy knows that he is going to get the ball when he is open then he is less apt to force things.

Yes, Bynum would help the defense somewhat. The Knicks were outscored by nearly seven ppg last season. How many wins would Bynum's defensive impact be worth? Whatever the total, it would not match the 15-20 wins that adding an MVP-level player like Kobe would be worth. Any way you massage the numbers, a secondary option like Bynum is simply not more valuable than the best player in the league, a player who consistently draws multiple defenders and is an All-Defensive Team player to boot. Maybe it is cool to be contrarian but this just doesn't make sense. The only case you can make for Bynum over Kobe is if you are talking about five years from now but with Bynum's health even that is a shaky proposition until we see him make it through 82 games.

Crawford is a player who can create for himself and (sometimes) for others. His defense is not great but he has to be guarded. Smush should be a defensive specialist/role player but somewhere along the line he got the strange idea that everything is about him and that Phil Jackson was holding him back. Considering the skill sets/attitudes involved, I'd take Crawford. Again, like with Kwame/Curry, I don't really want either guy but if those are my only choices I'd take Curry/Crawford over Kwame/Smush.

There are two separate issues with the Knicks: their salary mess and the actual talent level of the roster. I agree that several of their players are overpaid but that does not mean that they have no talent. Randolph, when healthy, is a legit 20-10 player. His defense is poor, he's a lousy passer and he has a ton of off court baggage but he's a better scorer than Odom and just as good of a rebounder. Both players have flaws. I'm not giving Odom a decisive edge.

Crawford and Robinson are not great but I'd take either of them over Smush.

Richardson has had injury problems but when healthy he is better than any '06 Laker other than Kobe and Odom.

Marbury is a very talented player but, as I've made it clear before, I wouldn't want him on my team. That said, on talent alone he is better than any player on the '06 Lakers other than Kobe.

In '06, the Lakers had Kobe, who put together one of the great individual seasons in history: 35.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.5 apg. Odom was solid, though you never know what you will get from him night in and night out. Smush, who can barely get an NBA job now, was the third leading scorer. Chris Mihm was the final double figure scorer. After Kobe and Odom, the top players in minutes per game were Smush, Kwame, Mihm, Devean George, Luke Walton and Brian Cook. Walton is a decent player now but he averaged 5.0 ppg on .412 shooting that year. How can you call Walton "definitely productive"? I'd say he was taking up space for nearly 20 mpg because the alternatives were even worse. That Lakers team, other than Kobe, has got to be one of the weakest rosters to make it to the playoffs in recent years.

I would not be thrilled with either the Knicks roster or the '06 Lakers but if I had to choose I'd take the Knicks, waive Marbury and go from there. Kobe could definitely get that team into the playoffs in the East and he could have gotten that roster into the West playoffs a couple years ago (now, with 50 wins being the standard, I'd say no).

Orlando can't beat Boston, Cleveland or Detroit in the playoffs unless something drastically changes, so the Magic can't make it out of the East, let alone win a title right now.

Kobe played for the equivalent of "Milwaukee" from 2005-2007 and I don't think that NBA watchers forgot about him. Kobe is a much better player than Ray Allen. Keep in mind that MJ joined a bad team in 1984 and he was 1-9 in playoff games before Pip came along. Would MJ have been viewed as another Dominique Wilkins if he had never had Pip by his side? Kobe's playoff record without Shaq (and prior to this year with Gasol) was 4-8, which is not great but is certainly better than MJ's numbers prior to playing with Pip. If Kobe had started his career with a bad team he would have turned them into a lower rung playoff team and if the team acquired any kind of help they would become very good very quickly, much like the Lakers became the team to beat in the West after adding a one-time All-Star in the middle of last season. Kobe's ability as a two-way player and his superior ability as a scorer would have netted him more attention that Ray Allen has gotten. Allen never showed much interest in defense until this season.

Ray Allen needed Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to win a title (and they needed him). Shaq and Ray Allen alone (meaning with a cast of otherwise regular NBA players, no All-Stars) would not have won three straight titles like Shaq and Kobe did.

 
At Friday, September 19, 2008 2:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alright, quick response.

The Nuggets won 50 games in the Western Conference. And to do that they had to be above average on either defense or offense. Agreed?

So what gives here, honestly? You can't be an above average team with a below average defense unless your offense is amazing. That's just common sense. And I think we all agree that the Nuggets offense, despite the presence of putative superstars Iverson and Anthony, was actually not all that great.

Pairing Curry with a beast defender/rebounder? They tried that in Chicago with Chandler, who actually was excellent there. Curry stinks. His turnovers make him an ineffective scorer and he doesn't provide the essentials a center needs to, rebounding and defense. Kwame at least gives you those.

I predict a renovation in Kwame's reputation in Denver. He will emerge as a capable role player and suddenly people will start talking about him differently. Nothing will have changed.

I can't believe you call Randolph a 20-10 player. At this point, doing that is sheer provocation. :-) Clearly, he isn't the good kind of 20-10 player, i.e. a reasonably efficient scorer. I think its strange to say he is a better scorer than Odom, who posted a ts% of 58.2% this year. He scores more maybe, but not a better scorer. Odom is a much much better player than Randolph. I don't think you need to look at the stats to see that.

Marbury is a 20-8 player right? You would have gone there a few years ago I bet. Marbury has cracked the 54% ts% exactly once in his career.

Ray Allen isn't as good as Kobe. WP has him at .170 for his career, with Kobe at .200. Edge Kobe.

My point really would be that what people think of the two players is more of a reflection of the circumstances of their careers rather than their actual production. Kobe has played his entire career in the media spotlight of LA, mostly with above average teammates. Ray Allen has played most of his career in Milwaukee and Seattle and never had above average teammates before this year.

Owen

 
At Friday, September 19, 2008 3:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

Denver won 50 games by overwhelming weaker teams with their firepower: Anthony, Iverson, J.R. Smith, Kleiza--a lot of teams simply cannot match up well with that many scorers. Of course, when the Nuggets play the better teams, they lose. Getting back to the original point, their stats are skewed because of their blowout wins against weak opposition. Karl liked to keep his top players on the court well into the fourth quarter of blowout games, in situations when other teams rest their top guys.

Chandler was not the same player in Chicago that he is now, although part of that is also obviously because he did not have Chris Paul as a pg.

Unless I missed something, Kwame is in Detroit, not Denver. I predict that he will not see much playing time, barring injury to their regular frontcourt players.

Randolph is a player who can catch the ball on the block and score. Odom is kind of a jack of all trades, master of none (well, he actually is a good rebounder). I prefer Randolph as a scorer because he has a game on the block. Odom does not have a consistent way to score; his jumper is erratic and he mainly scores in transition or by cutting from the weak side. He really only posts up smaller players. Everything considered (including off court), I'd take Odom but I have reservations about both players. My main point is that there is talent on the NY roster, even if the talent is overpaid and/or poorly utilized.

I would not have gone the "20-8" route with Marbury. In fact, quite the opposite. If you read my recent SlamOnline "scouting report" of Kobe and LeBron I specifically cited Marbury's "20-8" as an example of how numbers do not tell the whole story. As I said, if I had the choice between the 2006 Lakers and 2008 Knicks, I'd take the Knicks, waive Marbury and Kobe would lead the team to the playoffs in the East or to the playoffs in the West in 2006 or 2007.

 
At Friday, September 19, 2008 7:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - Their stats aren't skewed. Not their win totals anyway. They won 50 games, and should have been expected to win one more. A win total is what it is. The point you are making I think is that the Nuggets are only a good team against bad teams. They only won 18 games against playoff teams, and won 32 against the bottom half of the league. Your criteria of good is clearly different from mine. I think if a team posts 50 wins, and underperforms its pythagorean expectation, it's a good team. It's not a great team, sure, but it is barely in the top ten, which isn't bad.

Chandler posted a .341 wp48 in 2004-5 in Chicago. He was at .281 in New Orleans this year. I know you don't love WP, but that at least tells you that hist stats were pretty similar in both places. So, there is nothing surprising about his performance in New Orleans. Yes, Chris Paul has helped Chandler. His ts% has been over 62%, significantly better than the 56.5% he posted in Chicago. And his minutes have gone up. But really, that's not change, that's more of the same. Chandler is a classic case of public perception of a player changing only because he moved to a winning team.

It burns me everyday that we took Curry from the Bulls rather than Chandler. The world would have been a different place if Isiah had understood statistical analysis enough not to overvalue scoring.

I don't believe in chemistry by and large. The chemistry people usually talk about is actually alchemy. But there is some chemistry between Kobe and Odom. The Odom of the last three years is definitely much better than Odom before the trade. That could be growth, being injury free, maturation as a player and a person, or Kobe allowing him to fill his optimal role on the court.

The latter is a major factor I think. You see it in the numbers. You see a dramatic decline in usage with Odom. He was mediocre when his usage was over 22% for his first five years. Last year, below a usage of 17%, he was superb. His ts% jumped to 58% and he did a lot of great things on the court.

Randolph has an average career usage level of 28%. If he dropped his usage like Odom could he turn into what I would think is a more useful player? That basically is the argument I think. i.e. Zach Randolph could play like David Lee if he tried. But he is trying to be Carlos Boozer. Marbury could do what Andre Miller does. That sort of is what talent boils down to when we use it in the context of high usage/low efficiency players like Randolph or Marbury. They aren't really elite high usage stars like Kobe or Lebron, but they get credit for the fact that they could be great low usage players if they allowed themselves to be confined to that role.

And that is the problem with a lot of players in the NBA and on the Knicks. They want to be something they aren't quite cut out to be, high scoring, high usage, and highly paid.

Why is that? Ultimately it's about money. GM's want the next Kobe or Malone, because that is what wins games. Zach Randolph tries to do his best impersonation, rather than trying his David Lee impersonation. GM's want scoring because that is what they associate with stars, they pay for scoring, and they often end up getting it on very mediocre efficiency.

Sort of working through the thought as I go here, but I have to stop there, I will leave you with my favorite sports quote of recent vintage, (nothing can top Nastase about Connors).

“If I didn’t play the way how I played, I wouldn’t have gotten no max contract,” he said. “They can talk about whatever they wanna talk about me, because I got maxed. I’m a max player. Don’t get mad at me, because I’m telling you what’s real. One plus one is two, all day long, and it’s never gonna change. And that’s factorial.” Stephon Marbury

 
At Saturday, September 20, 2008 3:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous (Owen, I presume):

On some of these matters we will just always disagree or at least have a radically different perspective, because my default viewpoint is based on what I see and your default viewpoint is based on what certain numbers say.

If the goal for the Nuggets is to win 60 games and advance in the playoffs (two goals that were stated by Melo and others prior to the past two seasons), then they have to be able to be more successful against the top teams--and the way to do that is to play better defense. I'm actually a little surprised that you disagree with me on this.

Chandler and Skiles did not get along too well, so he was never going to get those minutes/touches in Chicago. I think that Chandler has improved but there is a certain degree of "more of the same," as you put it. He has not fundamentally changed as a player but I think the fact that he is a productive player logging more minutes for a winning team suggests some manner of improvement.

I think that part of Isiah's problem goes back to the old joke about having an unlimited budget and exceeding it. Dolan let him spend however much he wanted, so Isiah just kept acquiring "talent" and assuming that he could mesh it all together--and maybe if he were the pg, he could do that. Isiah made the players around him better, he was a leader and he was a tough guy; he could make players fall in line. Obviously, he did not have that kind of impact as NY's coach. However, in the big picture, having Chandler instead of Curry--much like your dream of adding Bynum--would do little more than rearrange the chairs on Gotham's Titanic; the whole ship needs to be rebuilt or, forgive the morbid analogy, some crew members need to be thrown overboard (metaphorically speaking). I've said for a while that since money seems to be no object for Dolan that he should simply eat Marbury's contract and send him on his merry way.

As I indicated last year, Odom is best suited to being the third option. He was wrongly cast as Kobe's "Pippen" but he makes a nice "Horace Grant" (so to speak). The only problem now is that if Bynum is the C and Gasol is the PF then Odom is the SF or he is on the bench. I don't like Odom as an SF for several reasons, not the least of which it takes him away from the glass and rebounding is one of the best parts of his game. I also don't think he can check SFs on a night in, night out basis.

Yes, I think if Randolph played for Phil Jackson in the Triangle with Kobe Bryant that his "usage" would go down and his efficiency would go up. He is a skillful player--flawed and stubborn but skillful.

That Marbury quote about says it all. There is a reason that every team he goes to gets worse and every team he leaves gets better. I'd give the Knicks at least 5-8 more wins just if they waived him, all other things being equal.

 
At Sunday, September 21, 2008 10:55:00 AM, Blogger JP said...

“It's hard to get around the fact that there have been a lot of swingman in the league who could have won a title playing with Shaq in their prime.” - Owen

Please explain this. What fact? Don't tell me you are plugging Iverson/Pierce/Mcgrady production into Kobe's spot and coming to the conclusion that the Lakers would have won at the same rate.

Re Denver

I didn't get that from the final part of the season. That is the Nuggets, that is their identity. Get in transition as much as possible, beat teams up the court, turn long rebounds in points, force turnovers and capitalize on mistakes. If every game we watched a team engage Denver, and want to play that style, Denver would win a very high rate. But there is another side. A slow game, a half-court game exposes a lot of flaws. No more early offense. The Nuggets have to move the ball and execute. When they don't you see the weaker offense and defense. A tale of two teams really.

So we can call the Nuggets a good defensive team, if you want, but how truthful a statement is that when you pop in a tape of the Nuggets against the Lakers or Jazz, and see them get crushed because the pace is controlled? That's the question.

You are right about one thing, David Lee is a very good player.

 
At Monday, September 22, 2008 4:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - Good posting with you. And the "that's not change, that's more of the same" line was ripped from the Democratic ticket this year.

JP - Not Iverson. Kobe is much better than Iverson.

I absolutely think Pierce would have won three titles playing with Shaq in LA. Pierce's numbers are so similar to Bryant's that I won't defend the point.

Mcgrady's reputation has suffered in the last few years, justifiably. His health problems have hurt him. But for his career, he still has large edges on Kobe in rebounding and turnovers. I will say that Kobe is a much better player right now but that I think that Mcgrady in Orlando was much more productive than Kobe in the stretch of years he was winning his titles with Shaq.

And this is not an original thought of mine. If you google "t-mac and Kobe wages of wins" you can read chapter and verse on this topic. The analysis of the strength of their respective teammates is very interesting. Kobe's teammates have averaged 40 wins per year. T-Mac's have averaged 25.

Note: There are well over 100 comments on each of the posts Berri has done on T-mac and Kobe. So I understand how people feel about this, and the fact its controversial.

Re Denver - I think it would be pretty easy to prove or disprove your point. You can look at the pace games were played at against playoff and non-playoff teams. From eyeballing their game log, I doubt you will find any correlation.

You mentioned Utah and LA. Utah went 3-1 against the Nuggets. In their three victories, they scored 124, 132, and 118 points. In the game they lost they allowed 120 points and scored 109. They averaged 106.2 points for the season on the 10th fastest pace in the league. So it doesn't really look like they controlled the pace much.

Did the Lakers slow it down against the Nuggets? It looks like they scored 127, 111, 116 in their three regular season victories. So they scored significantly more points against the Nuggets than the 108.6 points per game they averaged for the season playing at the sixth fastest pace in the league. In the playoffs they scored 128 and 122 points in the first two games. The last two games of the playoffs were the only two all year where they scored fewer points than their season average against the Nuggets.

So, did the Lakers or the Jazz beat the Nuggets because they slowed it down? You tell me....

Did other good teams slow it down against the Nuggets? Well, the Nuggets split with the Celtics, scoring 124 in the game they won, and 93 in the game they lost. Did the Celtics slow it down that game? Well, they scored 119 points, so it wouldn't appear so.

Against the Spurs they won an 80-77 game and went 1-2 two other faster paced games.

They gave up 136 points in one loss to Detroit and 98 in the other.

Phoenix definitely didn't slow it down against them.

Actually, ok, found the splits for Denver on Basketball reference. They attempted 86.3 field goals and 31.3 fta in games they won. They attempted 85.1 fgs and 30 ft's in games they lost. Pretty similar numbers for games won and lost which hint that pace might not really be the issue.

So, tell me what do you think of all that? Does it make you rethink whether pace really was a big factor in why the Nuggets won or lost?

And thanks, I am glad you appreciate David Lee.

Owen

 
At Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10:22:00 AM, Blogger JP said...

I wouldn't expect the numbers to show a great difference. A majority of the possessions in an NBA game are in a half-court setting. I am talking about executing a few subtle things that could alter Denver's game. I should have been more clear. Denver is still going to play at the fastest pace they can. No team is going to keep them out of early offense the entire game. Limit? Yes, some teams can do that, but we are still talking about a small difference. How big a change in total possessions are you going to see if 8 transition possessions are turned into 8 half-court possessions? A team with Denver's characteristics? Probably not much.

Denver is a jump-shooting team that is prone to bad shot selection at times. They also have three guys who love to pull the trigger very early in the shot clock. All these things promote other teams to run on Denver, and that's where the discipline and good decision making comes into play. A team like the Lakers can beat Denver any way they want. If you watch those four playoff games, you see the Lakers completely controlling the Nuggets, putting Denver in a half-court game much of the time, and then running back against the Nuggets off their own mistakes and having great success. Teams don't necessarily have to “slow” the game down, just not get into a loose game with the Nuggets. That's what I mean by control the game. Don't allow the Nuggets to dictate the way the game will be played.

Many basketball teams have the same characteristics. This isn't new by any means. The Warriors, for example, were a very similar team last year, and will likely try to be the fastest team in the league this season.


I disagree vehemently with the idea that Pierce could have won three titles with Shaq. I don't think he could have come close to making the amount of big plays Kobe made in those three playoff runs. Big shots, yes, maybe. Crucial defensive stops and playmaking? I don't think so.

Not going to touch the Mcgrady. Disagree also.

 
At Tuesday, September 23, 2008 4:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JP:

Very well put. All I would add is that the points you make about Denver illustrate the important difference between actually watching basketball with understanding as opposed to just crunching some stats and saying something along the lines of, "The numbers say this and numbers never lie, so it must be the case."

 
At Wednesday, September 24, 2008 12:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alright, I surrender. If you are going to say one thing, then say something completely different, it's impossible to have a conversation.

And I know a Pierce/Kobe discussion is a deep, dark rabbit hole. Just go to basketball reference, go to full court, do a player comparison, and ask yourself how different Kobe and Pierce really are.

Then think about the best player Pierce has played with before last year and compare that player to Shaq.

Then say to yourself, stats don't matter at all, two players can have exactly the same stats, and have a totally different impact on winning games. So Kobe is much better than Pierce.

 
At Wednesday, September 24, 2008 8:40:00 PM, Blogger JP said...

I never said something completely different.

As for Pierce vs Kobe, the only other person I have heard state that is David Berri, I think. I see why you believe it. I think you are clinging to the stats way too hard. Production equals true value? What stats are you using to measure defensive value? You won't find anybody stating Pierce was on the same level defensively from 00-02. In fact, those are the years Kobe played the best defense of his career.

My other claim was Kobe's superior playmaking and that one is easy. You're not going to find any numbers to suggest Pierce is equal in that field. Of course, you could just watch the two play and figure it out quickly.

"I think it's the best that I've ever seen a player of mine play with an overall court game. I'm asking him to do so much, and he's accomplishing it. I never asked Michael to be a playmaker. That's the greatest player that I've ever had, that I could consider the greatest player in the game, and I never asked him to be a playmaker in those terms. I asked him to be playmaker when he was doubled or tripled. But Kobe has to set up the offense, to advance the ball, to read the defense, to make other players happy, and he's doing a great job of that."

That quote was from Phil Jackson in 2001. You're very likely underestimating the load he carried during that championship run. Paul Pierce has never shown that type of versatility and floor game.

 
At Thursday, September 25, 2008 4:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JP:

What most people don't understand is that during the Lakers' championship run, Jackson was essentially asking Kobe to be MJ AND Pip--to be the top perimeter scoring option on the team and the player most responsible for getting everyone else involved in the offense. Does that mean that Kobe therefore is greater than MJ? Not necessarily--but it does mean, as you indicate, that a lot of people do underestimate just how large of a role Kobe had on those teams. Shaq was obviously a physically dominant and imposing player but he could not run an offense (nor could he feed himself the ball) and he was an unreliable late game scoring option due to his obvious limitations offensively, most notably at the free throw line.

 
At Thursday, September 25, 2008 5:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JP - You started by talking about controlling the pace, and when that turned out to be a myth, you smoothly transitioned to "controlling the game."

Just once, I want someone to say, you know what, I thought Utah slowed the game down, but you're right, when I look at the game stats, it's pretty clear they did the opposite, which is interesting.

Look, the reason the Nuggets don't win against the elite teams is simple. Personnel. Iverson and Melo are not elite talents. Nothing could be more clear. It has nothing to do with pace or controlling the game. The Lakers and Utah were better than the Nuggets last year at any pace.

The counterfactual with Kobe and Pierce is pretty simple. Shaq was the most dominant force of his time. Kobe played with him. What would have happened to Kobe if he had started his career on another team, like a Celtics squad that started Kenny Anderson, Vitaly Potapenko, Antoine Walker, and Tony Battie?

Seriously, what would we be saying about him right now?

 
At Friday, September 26, 2008 1:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kobe took the Lakers to the playoffs twice with the likes of Kwame and Smush manning the two most important positions. If Kobe had started his career with a poorer surrounding cast than the one he had in L.A., then he would have been a starter right from jump, just like LeBron. Kobe would have made mistakes--just like LeBron--but he also would have played exceptionally well and he would have lifted the games of the players around him. He would rapidly have become an All-NBA and All-Defensive Team player (LeBron has done the former but has yet to do the latter, though he seems to be well on his way). If at some point the Lakers hired the right coach, got one one-time All-Star and some solid supporting players, then Kobe would have led the Lakers to the Finals. Great players with great work ethics will succeed no matter what situation they are put in; whether they win three titles or one title or no titles depends of course on some circumstances beyond their control but if you think that Kobe would not have become the best player in the NBA without playing with Shaq then you are defying what history shows us. If Kobe had not played with Shaq then Kobe's individual career numbers would almost certainly be better than they are now and if he got the right supporting cast along the way--like MJ did--then he could have ended up with three rings to boot. The better question is what would have happened to Shaq if he had not gotten the right coach and if he had not been fortunate enough to play with someone as driven and clutch as Kobe is. The scoring and rebounding numbers would always have been there for Shaq in his prime but without those three rings Shaq's reputation would be a lot different and his shortcomings--defense, work ethic, free throw shooting--would not be so easy to gloss over.

 
At Friday, September 26, 2008 9:50:00 AM, Blogger JP said...

And every point I have made suggests the same thing. And that is to not play their style of ball.

The Nuggets had the talent to be better. I have heard Karl talk about the importance of moving the ball and making good, quick decisions many times. He knew their half-court game was the key to their success.

How did the Nuggets win 50 games with that inconsistent half-court offense? The difference was their transition game. You cut their transition down and the game was indeed “slowed down” but the difference in possessions might not be that different. Did the opposing team run or not run on them? Did Denver's half-court game slow down or speed up because early offense was down?

 

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