Interesting Results in NBA GM SurveyNBA general managers annually participate in a poll about league-wide issues prior to the season. You can check out most of the questions and answers here; you will have to do some extra pointing and clicking because NBA.com apparently does not possess the necessary editorial and/or technical know-how to place all of the material coherently on one page (I had a dream that they hired some competent editors but then I woke up and nothing had changed).
Blowhard commentators and fans make a lot of declarations about who is the best player in the NBA in various categories but GMs make their livings figuring out such things. That is not to say that the GMs' evaluations are perfect but their judgments are more informed than those made by people who only see part of the picture or whose statements are shaped by ignorance and/or their rooting interests. It is interesting to see how the NBA looks from the perspective of the 30 people who helm the league's franchises.
The Lakers are the choice as the team most likely to win the 2009 championship, receiving 46.2% of the votes, followed by the Celtics (19.2%), the Hornets (11.5%), the Rockets (7.7%) and the Spurs (7.7%). The Pistons and Magic were the only other teams who received consideration.
Kevin Garnett easily is the GMs' choice as the best defensive player in the league, capturing 44.4% of the vote, doubling second place finisher Ron Artest's total (22.2%). Kobe Bryant ranked third.
When only perimeter defense is considered, Bruce Bowen topped the charts, Bryant ranked second and Artest came in third, which is a bit odd since Artest finished ahead of Bryant overall but neither player ranked among the top interior defenders (Kevin Garnett ranked first in that area, with Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard tying for second); perhaps Artest finished ahead of Bryant in the overall defensive voting because he can guard four different positions while Bryant can guard three different positions.
Bryant edged out Artest, Bowen and Rajon Rondo (three way tie for second) as the best on-ball defender in the NBA. Allen Iverson led the way in terms of defending passing lanes, with Trevor Ariza and Caron Butler tying for second and Bryant, LeBron James and Chris Paul tying for fourth-sixth.
Artest was voted the toughest player in the NBA (37.0%), followed by Bryant (14.8%). A total of 13 players received at least one vote in this category.
Bryant had two of the biggest landslide wins in the voting: he received 88.9% of the votes for the player you would most want to take a shot with the game on the line (Gilbert Arenas, James and Paul Pierce were the only other players to receive any votes). This is the seventh straight year that Bryant has won this category. Bryant received 81.5% of the votes for being the best player at getting his own shot. Tracy McGrady came in second (7.4%), with Manu Ginobili, Ben Gordon and LeBron James also receiving votes.
Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times reported that most of the GMs (56%) expect James to win the MVP, with Bryant (37%) and Chris Paul (7%) receiving the remaining votes. Apparently, NBA.com forgot to include that portion of the ballot when they posted the results; you cannot find those numbers at the NBA.com link that I provided above. It turns out that NBA Media Central, which can only be accessed by media members, has the complete survey results and they managed to place them all on one document; consulting that source, I not only found the MVP numbers that Bresnahan mentioned but I also discovered that James easily wins as the player who GMs would choose first if they were starting a franchise today (66.7%), with Bryant finishing second (18.5%). However, it is obvious that this has more to do with James' youth than a skill set comparison with Bryant, because the GMs decisively chose Bryant as the player who forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments (63.0%), with James placing second (25.9%). Why would the GMs say that James will win the MVP if Bryant is the most difficult player to coach against? This should also be obvious: the GMs were not asked who they expect to be the best player but rather who they expect to win the MVP; James has inherited from Bryant the distinction of being the best active player who has not won the MVP and, barring an injury to James or an absolutely mind-blowing season by Bryant, I also expect James to win the MVP, even though James will probably still objectively be the second best player in the league behind Bryant.
Bryant and James each received 92% of the votes for best player at their position (shooting guard and small forward respectively). Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade received the only other votes at shooting guard, while Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce received the remaining votes at small forward.
Paul (88.9%) beat out Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Deron Williams as the league's best point guard.
Tim Duncan (51.9%) still is considered the best power forward, beating out Garnett (25.9%), Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard.
Howard (55.6%) won as the best center, finishing ahead of Yao Ming (25.9%) and Duncan. Howard and Duncan apparently were the only players who received votes at two different positions.
James received 59.3% of the votes for most athletic player in the NBA, with Josh Smith (22.2%) ranking a distant second. Bryant, Shawn Marion, Jamario Moon, Dwyane Wade and Gerald Wallace also received votes.
Ray Allen (61.1%) decisively won the election for best shooter, followed by Jason Kapono (14.8%), Peja Stojakovic, Kyle Korver and Michael Redd. I am surprised that Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki did not receive more consideration.
Gregg Popovich is the landslide winner as the best coach (53.8%), with Phil Jackson ranking second (23.1%). It is pretty clear exactly how the GMs made that determination: Jackson placed first as a manager/motivator (Popovich is second) but Popovich is the leader in terms of making in-game adjustments while Jackson did not crack the top five in that area. Popovich also won decisively as the best coach in the last two minutes of the game, while Jackson tied for third. Larry Brown ranked second in both of the latter categories.
What do all of these numbers and rankings tell us? The categories that are most interesting to look at are the ones involving individual defense, creating a shot under pressure and defining who the league's best player is. Media members and fans sometimes suggest that Kobe Bryant is overrated as a defender but knowledgeable basketball observers do not agree with that assessment:
1) The NBA's head coaches annually vote Bryant to the All-Defensive Team.
2) The NBA's GMs consistently list Bryant as one of the league's top defenders.
3) Everyone associated with Team USA--from managing director Jerry Colangelo to the coaching staff to the other players--mentioned that Bryant's defensive performance was a key factor in returning the Olympic gold medal to the United States.
The main reasonable objection that is sometimes brought up about Bryant's defense is that he carries such a heavy offensive burden for the Lakers that he does not play lockdown defense for 40 minutes per game but that he chooses his spots. It is undeniable that Bryant could more readily play lockdown defense in a handful of Olympic games at 20-25 mpg than he could in 82 regular season games at 40 mpg but I would like to know who exactly in the NBA plays lockdown defense for 40 mpg during 82 games a year; that is an unrealistic standard to expect from anyone.
Bryant's decisive victories in the balloting concerning creating one's own shot and taking a last second shot are tributes to how fundamentally sound his game is. Bryant is not the most athletic or explosive player in the game--though he still has plenty of explosiveness left--but he is rightly considered to be a far deadlier late game option than anyone else and the reason for that is that Bryant's footwork, fakes, shooting range, dribbling skills and ability to move without the ball make him a scoring threat from anywhere on the court.
As noted above, the GMs expect James to win the 2009 MVP over Bryant but by a significantly wider margin they selected Bryant over James as the player who creates the most problems for opposing coaches. The much younger James understandably gets the nod over Bryant as the best player to build a franchise around but it is actually a tribute to Bryant's status that he was considered at all in that category: one does not usually think in terms of "building" a team around a player who is older than 30.
Taken as a whole--considering defense, shot creation, last second shots--these voting results simply reinforce and confirm the assessment that I have made regarding Bryant and James for quite some time: Bryant is the best player in the NBA right now but James is certainly gunning for that number one spot and he has youth and athleticism on his side to counter Bryant's edges in skill set and fundamentals. James could certainly surpass Bryant this year but what is more likely to happen is that they will continue to be a close 1-2, and simply being close to Bryant may be enough for James to capture his first MVP.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:45 AM