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Friday, November 28, 2008

Hornets Edge Nuggets, 105-101

The New Orleans Hornets defeated the Denver Nuggets 105-101 in the second half of TNT's Thanksgiving doubleheader. This game involved some interesting subplots and storylines.

1) I have written several times about questionable scorekeeping regarding assists, most recently in a post titled Smooth All-Around Performance by Paul Lifts Hornets Over Heat. One of the recurring themes when I have charted Chris Paul's assists is that he received credit for assists on plays when the recipient of his passes made several dribbles and/or fakes before shooting; an assist is only supposed to be awarded when a pass played an important role in creating the shot opportunity and not merely because it was the last pass before a shot was attempted. At the 6:31 mark of the first quarter of the New Orleans-Denver game, Paul passed to David West, who took two dribbles, made a jump stop and then hit a short jumper; in the previous games that I charted (all of which took place in New Orleans), Paul received assists on such plays but on this occasion he did not.

If the definition of an assist has been liberalized to include such passes, then all such passes should be deemed assists--not just passes thrown by certain players or passes thrown by certain players in their home arenas. Otherwise, this statistic loses meaning.

This is not about slamming Paul--who is of course not at all responsible for how his statistics are recorded--or some scorekeepers. All I am saying is that there should be a more consistent standard regarding exactly what an assist is and that standard should apply equally in all arenas and to all players. With the video technology that is available today it would not be that complicated for the league to monitor this and to make appropriate rulings when necessary; the NBA has stepped in on a few occasions when a generous home scorekeeper helped a player obtain a triple double by awarding a dubious late assist or rebound, so what I am suggesting is that instead of just looking at such "high profile" cases the league take advantage of technological advances to ensure that its statistical legacy is as accurate as possible.

The interesting subplot to all of this is that Paul only scored two points and was credited with just four assists in the first half but Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley both correctly noted during the halftime show that Paul was controlling the game (New Orleans led 52-46 at the time); Denver was frequently double-teaming Paul and he was accepting the trap, passing the ball and then the second pass out of the trap created open shots (just like Hubie Brown always preaches when he does a telecast). A more extreme example of this is the recent game in which college sharpshooter Stephen Curry was double teamed constantly; he simply stood in the corner, enabling his team to play four on three while he went scoreless for the first time in his collegiate career. Any player who is good enough to draw that much defensive attention is extremely valuable, even if the boxscore cannot prove it because he did not score; I have been saying this about Kobe Bryant for years: he impacts the game even on possessions when he neither shoots nor passses because his presence distorts the defense. Bryant is not the only NBA player who has that kind of impact but that aspect of his value is often overlooked in order to focus on his scoring prowess.

Down the stretch of the New Orleans-Denver game, Paul exploded for 13 points in the final 8:22--including a long three pointer at the 2:07 mark that tied the score at 92--so he did end up with good boxscore numbers (22 points, 10 assists) but Smith said afterwards that Paul's impact in the first half was just as significant as his impact in the second half. This is the kind of truth that "stats gurus" will have to find ways to quantify in order to accurately assign credit to players; there is a value to Paul's presence and unselfishness in the first half that is not recorded in the boxscore.

2) Carmelo Anthony scored 24 points on 8-13 field goal shooting but his overall scoring and shooting numbers have plummeted since Denver shipped out Allen Iverson in exchange for Chauncey Billups. Anthony's rebounding and assist totals are at career-high levels but one of the supposed advantages of playing with Billups instead of Iverson is that Billups would create higher percentage scoring opportunities for Anthony. Iverson has received a lot of public blame from various commentators for the recent decline in Richard Hamilton's scoring average and field goal percentage, so it seems strange to not apply a similar standard vis a vis Anthony and Billups. Perhaps these numbers are just an artifact of small sample sizes. Perhaps Anthony and Hamilton are simply getting used to playing with their new teammates and will soon be producing at their previous levels--but it makes no sense to say that Iverson has hurt Hamilton's offensive game unless one is willing to say exactly the same thing about Billups' impact on Anthony. The real problem here is that too many members of the media prefer to deal in stereotypes and stock characterizations as opposed to actually analyzing the game; Billups has been assigned the role of unselfish point guard, while Iverson has been assigned the role of shoot first player, even though reality is much more complex than that: Billups often takes the responsibility on himself to shoot the ball late in games, while Iverson has demonstrated the ability and willingness to pass to open teammates. Near the end of the New Orleans-Denver game, Billups attempted a tough three point shot with Denver trailing by three even though there was still enough time to try to score a quick two pointer and commit a foul; if Iverson takes that shot he would get killed in the media but when Billups tries it then this is an example of him trying to step up in the clutch (it is worth mentioning that Barkley said point blank that Billups took a bad shot).

When the Nuggets first acquired Iverson, the spin was that having another player on the court who demands a double team would free up Anthony's game and Denver would become an unstoppable offensive juggernaut. Now the new story is that Iverson held back Anthony's game--though Anthony's offensive statistics while playing alongside Iverson suggest otherwise--but that Billups will help to create open shots for Anthony. It is funny how the same people who claim that Hamilton's catch and shoot game will not mesh well with Iverson's style completely ignore the fact that Anthony is a one on one player who creates his own shot, not a dependent player who spots up and waits to receive a pass. Frankly, it is more likely that Hamilton will ultimately benefit from Iverson's ability to break down defenses with speed and dribble penetration than that Anthony will shoot and/or score any better with Billups than he did with Iverson.

3) A lot of attention is being paid to the fact that Denver is 9-3 with Billups while Detroit is 5-5 with Iverson. This supposedly proves that Billups has helped Denver to become a better half court team and a more sound defensive unit while Iverson has allegedly damaged Detroit's delicate chemistry--but let's take a closer look at those records.

The Billups era in Denver started with three straight victories against teams that do not currently have winning records (Dallas, Memphis, Charlotte). Then came a loss against Cleveland, an impressive win at Boston, home victories versus Minnesota and Milwaukee and a win at San Antonio over a Spurs team without Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Denver lost on the road versus the Lakers, beat the Bulls and Clippers and then fell to the Hornets yesterday. The Nuggets are 5-1 at home with Billups but all five wins are against teams that are currently at or below .500.

In Iverson's first game with the Pistons, Detroit lost at New Jersey. Then the Pistons fell to the Celtics in Boston. Detroit next played four road games in six days, winning three of them, including one over the Lakers, the only defeat that the Western Conference Champions have suffered this year. In their last four games, the Pistons beat Cleveland, lost again to Boston, got blown out by Minnesota and then bounced back to rout the Knicks. The Minnesota loss at home is bad, no doubt about it, but over the course of an NBA season every team has some bad losses. Iverson's Pistons have played six of their 10 games on the road.

The Anthony-Iverson Nuggets piled up wins--even blowouts--against the weaker teams but they could never consistently beat the good teams. That is why they were always a low seeded team that got bounced in the first round of the playoffs. The schedule has been a bit kinder to Denver than Detroit in the immediate aftermath of the trade but I see no reason to believe that the Nuggets are any more equipped to beat good teams now than they were previously.

The developing situation involving Iverson skipping practice on Thanksgiving could turn out to be significant or it could just end up creating one more Iverson soundbite to go along with the constantly replayed "We talkin' about practice." I suspect that after Iverson is disciplined this will not have a lasting effect. It will be interesting to compare Detroit and Denver's records after both teams have played a larger, more representative sample of their schedules.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:19 AM

16 comments

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16 Comments:

At Friday, November 28, 2008 3:28:00 PM, Anonymous Allen said...

I thought of the perfect way to frame the argument against many of the statistical metrics used for the NBA (Wages of Wins, PER, etc.).

Regarding INDIVIDUAL stats, isn't it possible for two players on the same winning team in the same game playing the same or similiar position with the same EXACT stats (points, rebounds, assists, turnover plus/minus, etc.) to have significantly different contributions in producing the win? And I don't mean just different, I mean more or better production.

The statistical pundits would say the difference is neglible, but I can easily envision a case where the impact of a player could be much different than that of another player with the same set of statistics, because of the factors you've talked about in your past analyses (spacing, hockey assists, attracting a defense's focus, ad nauseum).

If it's true that players with the exact same stats can produce different results in a win, then that blasts the basic assumption of how statistics are used in these systems, namely that statistical production correlates to actual production.

Now I understand that some might say that this means statistics don't matter at all, but I still think that these stats are mildly appropriate and useful (using the right adjustments) on an aggregate team level, as well as comparing a players' productivity relative to his past performance.

But comparing two individuals based on stats alone is going to lead you to some erroneous conclusions, as I've shown just in the simple case of two players with the same stats having different and larger or smaller influences on the outcome of a game. If it's improper say that players with the same stats had the same effect, then it is utterly misguided to say that one player had more of an effect than another because he had better stats than the other player.

 
At Friday, November 28, 2008 4:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

Although it is unlikely that two players on the same team would have identical stats (pts, rebs, assts, fg%, ft%, stls, blks, tos) in the same game, the point behind your example is sound. Another way of looking at this is that there is a difference between a low post player who shoots a high percentage and draws double teams--say, Dwight Howard--versus a low post player who shoots a high percentage because he has a teammate who draws double teams--say, Andrew Bynum. Howard has already established that he is a franchise player, while in his brief career Bynum has established that he can have an impact but has not shown that he is a franchise player, particularly on offense.

 
At Friday, November 28, 2008 5:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the difference between Howard and Bynum is pretty clear. Howard scores a lot more and rebounds better.

Bynum's ts% is now up to 57% by the way. My diagnosis of his offensive game would be this. They went to him and said, look. We know you can score 20 per 36 with high efficiency. But we have a lot of excellent, high profile offensive players on the team, and there aren't that many shots to go around. Here is 15 million per, focus on dominating on defense and converting a limited number of opportunities, until it's time to give you a max contract.

Allen - It may be true that in a game two players can have the same stats and have different impacts. Over the long run, over a year or even better three years, the numbers just don't lie. I think that it is abundantly clear that Billups is simply a better basketball player than Iverson. A lot of people think that's because of his defensive impact. It's not. Or at least, there is a lot of very tangible impact you can see in his stats.

Things could change, though I don't think they will, but for the moment the stat gurus are chalking up yet another Iverson related prognostication victory.

 
At Friday, November 28, 2008 6:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dave!

I'd also like to point out that AI was logging time at SG in Denver which sent Smith to the bench. It's a big deal since Billups basically plays alongside better teammates than Iverson did.

Could you talk a little bit about the defensive impact of the trade for the two teams? Iverson is NOT in any way, a defensive stopper, but he'll fare better at PG with a good defensive cast behind him.

I haven't seen a Pistons game since the trade, but what can you say about the kind of shots that Hamilton is taking?

Z

 
At Friday, November 28, 2008 8:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous (Owen, I presume):

If the Lakers "knew" that Bynum could score 20 ppg in 36 mpg with a high shcoting percentage then they surely would run the offense that way, unless you believe that Phil Jackson is not a smart enough coach to utilize his personnel most effectively. The reality is that the Lakers know that Bynum cannot score 20 ppg in 36 mpg with a high shooting percentage at this stage of his career and that is why they have asked him to focus on defense and rebounding. So, I agree with you about the message that they have delivered to him but completely disagree about why they have delivered that message. Bynum's skill set is not yet as complete as you appear to believe it to be.

It is way too early for anyone to claim a "victory" in reference to anything pertaining to the Billups-Iverson trade. For one thing, part of Detroit's plan is to get under the cap and go after free agents, so we cannot completely assess this deal until we see how that goes--but even in terms of this season, matters are not as clear as you suggest. I have yet to see the Nuggets do anything with Billups that they did not previously do with Iverson; the Anthony-Iverson combo was good for a lot of regular season wins against bad teams and a first round exit. If the Nuggets end up with more wins and make it to the second round then you can perhaps speak of "victory." All the Nuggets have done for sure at this point is cut costs by getting rid of Camby.

 
At Friday, November 28, 2008 10:47:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Thanks for talking about the stereotypes regarding the A.I-Billups trade. There does seem to be a double standard for Iverson.

And thanks for not getting caught up like the rest of the media over Detroit and Denver's records with thier new players.
Yes, Denver has a better record with Billups, but the Iverson-led Pistons have had to play the Celtics twice and the Lakers. It doesn't get much tougher than that. And Denver still isn't a favorite to win the title, while Detroit still has somewhat of a chance.

What are your thoughts on starting Stuckey and Hamilton, bringing Iverson off the bench (along with McDyess)? I think that both Hamilton and Iverson are better playing off the ball. Plus, would there be a better second until with Iverson, McDyess, and Maxiell?

 
At Friday, November 28, 2008 11:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was me....

Bynum scored 16.5 last year per 36. And committed less than 2 turnovers. Do you honestly think he couldn't score two more buckets if he was featured more prominently?

I can tell you, put him on the Knicks and he would average 20 easy. There is just no question about it. There are a lot of teams on the league he would be averaging 22-11 for this year, health permitting.

I am watching the Lakers game right now. As always, it's clear to me that he is a lot better than you think he is. People just can't handle his size and quickness on the offensive boards and he is a beast defensively.

At some point, I am pretty sure I am going to be right about this one.

Also, you are sleeping on Trevor. The dude is having a phenomenal season. I don't think I have ever seen numbers like what he is posting from a low usage sf. It's honestly sick how well he has been playing, not that too many people have noticed...

Owen

 
At Saturday, November 29, 2008 3:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

"Last season" for Bynum was less than half of a full season. We are only 15 games into this season and Bynum already has bone chips floating around in his foot. My reservations about Bynum are two-fold: (1) I am not convinced that he can stay healthy/in prime condition for an 82 game season while playing 36 mpg; (2) He still scores a large percentage of his points on the weak side, i.e. receiving lob passes from Bryant (and others) and getting offensive rebounds because the defense is slanted to the strong side. Bynum certainly has improved his skill set each year and it is reasonable to expect him to continue to improve--but if, hypothetically, he becomes a 20-10 player eventually that will not "prove" that he could have done so this season with more touches. Again, if Phil Jackson thought that he could run the offense through Bynum to that extent I'm sure he would do so. Bynum's defensive skills, which I have praised several times, have nothing to do with his skill set as an offensive post player.

I have not "slept" on Ariza. I have mentioned more than once that adding him to the team this year--he really only had a cameo role last season--is significant. I've always liked Ariza's game and he fits in perfectly with the Lakers.

Did you notice during the Lakers-Mavs game that the Lakers were looking dead in the water until Kobe took over, not only with his scoring but also diving on the floor for a loose ball that led to a score, tipping an offensive rebound to Ariza for a layup, feeding Bynum for an easy dunk and several other clutch plays? The main reason that the Lakers are a special team is what Kobe is able to do; once he started to take over the Mavs had to trap him and that is what opened things up for the bench players, who contributed nothing in the first half. People talk about the Lakers' bench but most of the time it seems like those players perform best when Kobe is on the court with them. I know the Lakers just won a game in which Kobe shot terribly but that is the exception not just this season but for the past several seasons.

The funny thing is that Kobe's 35-6-5 line stands out this year because his minutes have been reduced but he averaged that for a whole season and not only did not win the MVP but did not finish second either! Imagine playing at that level for an entire season and not winning the MVP--simply ridiculous. Kobe played like that, carried Kwame and Smush to the playoffs and then this year you have the Suns with two-time MVP Nash, one-time MVP (albeit elder statesman now) Shaq, Amare and many good role players and those guys whine about their shots and their roles and can't figure out how to put everything together. How many games do you think Kobe would have won in '06 if you gave him this year's Phx team minus two-time MVP Nash? I think a Kobe-Amare-Shaq-Hill-Barbosa-Bell nucleus would win 60 games at least, barring injuries.

 
At Saturday, November 29, 2008 9:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Lakers were looking dead in the water becaue Kobe was 4-13 with two turnovers in the first half. Then he played a great second half. For the game his ts% was 61.1%, which is excellent. In 05-06 it was at 56%, so he didn't average that kind of 30-6-5.

We can argue back and forth forever about Kobe, we already have. Again, it's very clear that he isn't the best player in the league right now. That honor could go to Wade, Bosh, PAul, Lebron, or Howard. It isn't close. Right now Paul is outrebounding Kobe per 36, averaging almost a steal per game more, shooting nearly 40% from three and 52% from the field overall (ts% is a sick 62.5%), and is averaging 11 assists on only .4 of a turnover more. As I said, it's not even close even if you take out some of those assists that you think are so dubious.

The injury issues are a wildcard with Bynum, as I said before the season started when we argued about him. But the bottom line is that he is an agile, athletic, huge 7 footer with very soft hands who makes 73% of his free throws. That's a very dangerous combination. But they have Gasol and Bryant to run the offense through.Again, put Bynum and the Oklahoma City Thunder and 20-10 would be easy.

The Lakers aren't great just because of Kobe. They have more depth than any team in memory. They are bringing Lamar Odom off the bench and he has posted a +20 on=off. They have Gasol playing the same kind of lights out ball that got the grizzlies into the playoff for a few years. Arixa is playing sick basketball. Farmar is secretly awesome.

As for Kobe and the Suns, I would love to see him try to win a championship with Shaq and Stoudemire and the collection of mediocrities they have in Phoenix (Bell, Diaw, Barbosa).

Owen

 
At Sunday, November 30, 2008 4:21:00 AM, Anonymous Allen said...

Owen - a few prognostications does not make a system better than another.

You could "chalk one up" to Mr. Friedman's analysis every time he was right and say that proves he is right, couldn't you?

Be scientific with the track record of these "prognostications". I'm guessing they'll be no better or worse than a Vegas bookie.

How do these systems do against Vegas' over/under for wins before the season starts?

If you could show me a consistent, 5 plus year track record of clearly beating the odds (and I don't mean through back-testing), I might be inclined to think that a system was on the right track - for team statistics.

That still leaves the thorny issue of extracting an individual players' value from the aggregate team data.

Again, as David showed in his example, if teams were to play Mr. Curry the way they played recently, pretty much every stat system would say that Mr. Curry was the worst player of the starting five, when in fact, he is the one creating the majority of his team's opportunity to win.

In fact, teams do play Mr. Bryant of the Lakers in a certain manner unique to Mr. Bryant every game, so it is some degree of the defense that Mr. Curry saw in that one game.

Even over the long run, the stats will not necessarily correlate to actual production, as shown in just a few examples.

 
At Sunday, November 30, 2008 4:33:00 AM, Anonymous Allen said...

One more point for Owen - let me extend my argument that two players on the same team playing similar positions can have the same stats for a SEASON, even a CAREER(TS%, usage, plus/minus) and yet one could still have had a much larger impact on winning than the other.

If you agree that this is possible, then it vitiates any argument of an individual player's productivity based on statistics alone.

This also doesn't mean that I am diametrically opposed to any conclusions the "stats gurus" may come to, it's just that I believe that their opinions are only opinions, no matter how much they try to couch their arguments in
"science" that is based on the flawed assumptions that stats necessarily relate to productivity.

 
At Sunday, November 30, 2008 4:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I never agreed with Denver's idea of playing two small guards at the same time when Iverson was still on the team and I wrote about that subject here and in my Lindy's previews about the Nuggets. If acquiring Billups finally convinced Coach Karl to abandon the mini-guard lineup then that is an advantage for Denver.

Frankly, it is a bit early to assess the defensive impact of the trade. You may have noticed the recent contretemps about "practice." Iverson has not had a chance to learn Detroit's defensive system. For that matter, since the Pistons have a new coach it is fair to assume that all of the players are undergoing a bit of a learning curve.

Detroit's defensive problems in recent years have not been so much at the pg position but rather in the paint; when Larry Brown was the coach and Ben Wallace patrolled the paint it was almost impossible to score in the paint against Detroit either off the dribble or on postups. However, in the 2007 playoffs LeBron dunked all over the Pistons and that is not just because he is a great player; he did not dunk all over the Spurs in the 2007 Finals or the Celtics in last year's playoffs. The Pistons have to reestablish their strength in the paint to be a great defensive team. I don't think that will happen. I think that Dumars' vision is that Iverson will draw fouls, get the Pistons in the bonus and be able to create a shot for himself and others in the fourth quarters of tight playoff games. The Pistons' offense has really bogged down in key moments in recent postseasons. Since no fix was available for the defense, Dumars elected to spice up the offense. If this does not work, then he can get rid of Iverson and Sheed and rebuild the team.

In his first game playing alongside Iverson, Rip attempted a team-high 20 shots but only made eight, while Iverson shot 6-12. Rip's FGAs per game this season are nearly identical to his numbers from last year but he is shooting much worse from the field and from three point range. Part of the problem is that Detroit played Boston twice since acquiring Iverson and Rip went 0-8 and 4-9 in those games; in the rest of his games with Iverson, Rip has attempted between 10 and 16 shots. From what I've seen, he's missing shots that he normally makes, so I don't see how Iverson can be blamed for Rip misfiring. If Rip were only attempting five or six shots a game then one could argue that he is pressing because his role has been diminished but that is not the case. I suspect that as the season goes on Rip's numbers will move back to his career norms or pretty close to them.

 
At Sunday, November 30, 2008 4:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Steve:

I don't like the idea of bringing Iverson off of the bench. He has been a 40+ mpg player his whole career and he hates sitting down; if he is out for the first five or six minutes of the game then he will either have to play virtually all of the remaining time in order to continue to be a 40 mpg player (he is averaging about 37 mpg right now with Det., which would be the fewest minutes of his career; I think his minutes will go up a bit the rest of the way). I also think that Iverson would have a very negative reaction to being asked to come off of the bench on a regular basis. I don't see why Iverson and Rip cannot play alongside each other. Iverson will attract more traps and double-teams than Billups did, so Rip (or someone else) should be open and Iverson has always been a willing passer when he has teammates who can hit shots.

 
At Sunday, November 30, 2008 5:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

You are missing the forest for the trees. Yes, Kobe shot poorly in the first half--but when he took his rest near the end of the first quarter the Lakers led 28-25; when Bryant returned at the 7:53 mark of the second quarter, the Lakers trailed 37-34. With Bryant on the court the remainder of the half, the Mavs outscored the Lakers 20-17, mainly because the Lakers had trouble containing Barea--that was an issue with pg defense and pick and roll defense involving the bigs, neither of which are Bryant's fault.

Even when Kobe is not shooting well the defense has to account for him and that opens things up for other players. Kobe also has an impact defensively, both on the man he is guarding and also on the whole defense because he is the "quarterback" who calls out the signals and makes sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing (of course, everyone does not always follow directions but the Lakers straightened out their defensive problems at halftime).

After the Mavs pushed their lead to 11 in the third quarter, Kobe took over, starting with his offensive rebound/pass to Ariza and then continuing with three tough jumpers in a two and a half minute stretch. Bryant also dove on the floor and saved the ball, a hustle play that led directly to a score. Any objective person watching the game could clearly see that he had "taken over" in a multitude of ways. When the Mavs reacted by shifting even more defensive attention on Bryant this provided the bench players an opportunity to redeem themselves from their poor first half performance and they succeeded.

How significant is it who is the best player in the first 15 games of the season? Kobe has proven to be the best player in the NBA for the past four years at least. You may recall that he got off to a bit of a slow start last year as well. Kobe is still the best player in the NBA; his minutes and scoring average are down because the Lakers have been dominant but he is the major reason that the Lakers are a dominant team, so to punish him in MVP consideration is silly. It's funny to me that Wade is even in the MVP conversation while the Heat have a sub-.500 record. Wasn't Kobe discounted as an MVP candidate because the Lakers were "only" a seventh or eighth seed in the tough Western Conference, even though he was doing things that had not been done since Wilt and Elgin?

Of course, LeBron is playing at an MVP level, as he has for the past several years. I still maintain that Kobe has a better all around skill set. I would not have a big problem with someone saying that LeBron is the MVP right now--and at a similar stage last season I said that LeBron was the MVP--but let's see how the season progresses. Over the course of 82 games, the value of Kobe's skill set will be more and more apparent as the Lakers go on the road, play four games in five nights, battle injuries, etc. He will have a run of 35-40 point games or do some sensational things, the Lakers will be 30-4 or some absurd number and right around January or February people will realize that Kobe is still the best player in the game.

If Bynum were traded to OKC, he'd average about 15-16 ppg and 10-12 rpg, with a much lower shooting percentage than he had last year. OKC has no pg to feed him the ball on the post or to throw him lobs, they have no one who draws double teams like Kobe and they have no outside shooting threats to spread the court. Durant was the College Player of the Year and he had to jack up shots left and right to get to 20 ppg last year. Bynum depends on being fed the ball and would not have a chance of averaging 20 ppg in OKC with his current skill set.

The real interesting question is what kind of player Bynum would be now if he had not been coached by Jackson and Kareem and mentored by Kobe. Bynum had problems with work ethic and conditioning early in his career, so if he had started out in OKC he could have developed into an out of shape, underachieving player. He owes a lot of his success to the leadership that is around him, though it is course to his credit that he accepts that leadership and learns from it.

As for Phx, Bell is an All-Defensive player who has become a very good three point shooter, sort of a poor man's Bruce Bowen. Barbosa is a top flight sixth man. Diaw is a talented player who drifts a bit, a la Odom. Amare is a stud, at least on offense. Shaq is still a presence in the paint. Put Kobe on that team and they would be the best team in the West (in part because the Lakers would drop off without Kobe). I agree that they would not win a title; they would not be able to beat Boston in a seven game series.

Think about it this way: in '06, Kobe damn near beat Phx when he had Kwame and Smush. Switch Kobe and Nash and how do you suppose that series would have gone? If Kobe were on the Suns and Nash were on the Lakers that year, the Suns would have rolled over the Lakers, much like last year's Lakers cruised through the playoffs now that Kobe had some help.

 
At Monday, December 01, 2008 11:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who the best player is through the first 15 games doesn't matter of course. Look, you know how I feel. I don't think there has been a year that Kobe has been the best in the league. I have done chapter and verse on that, so let's not argue it. I understand you feel very differently.

And we can argue what numbers Bynum would put up in OKC, but that one won't get settled. I will just say that if you look at per minute numbers, player's stats just don't change very much from team to team. This is one of those statistical insights that I never see get argued, no matter which school of analysis you come from. There are a million examples to illustrate this, as well as notable exceptions. But to take one, Iverson and Billups are posting nearly identical WS numbers since the trade. When you account for changes in pace and playing time, nothing has changed with the players, and that is the general rule. The same thing is true for Camby, who is posting identical numbers,( but it looks completely different on the Clippers doesn't it? )

I watched the Lakers game last night and saw the second unit for the Lakers run the Raptors off the floor with Bosh there most of the time. I saw Bynum catch three lobs with Kobe off the floor. Your argument always is that Bynum succeeds because of the presence of Kobe on the floor. To me, that isn't true. He seems to catch lobs from every player on his team whether Kobe is on the floor or not. Honestly, I don't think Kobe throws a lob any better than most players in this league. I think what's going on here is that Bynum is the best player in the league to throw a lob to, other than D-Ho. Huge, long, agile, with very soft hands. He also completely stymied Chris Bosh and got him to play his worst game of the season.

Re Raja.and Leandro - A lot of mediocre players get big reputations because they experience succes playing next to very talented teammates. The stats say Barbosa is nothing special, a slightly above average player. Pretty good off the bench but nothing else. They say a similar thing about Bell. And the +/- data says the same thing. Bell like Bowen got a lot more credit than he deserved. I think it might be fair to say that if Bell really had been a highly effective player, a la Posey (who comes out smelling like roses by WS) the Suns might have gotten over the top. It wasn't there top trio that let them down, that much is clear to me.

Re Kobe and Nash - Look, Nash is a point guard. And yes, he may not be a stellar defender. But the record is pretty clear. He quarterbacked the best offense of all time in Dallas. Check the numbers. Since 2001 he has led the 4th, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st (in Phoenix), 2nd, 1st, and 2nd best offenses in the league. And this year, after early struggles, they are at 8. Do you think that is a coincidence? It might be, but I certainly don't think so. Nash really is an offensive genius, to a much greater degree than Kobe, and he deserved at least one of those MVP awards.

And re the Lakers. Right now, with 20% of the season done, they are posting an efficiency that would be the best ever. And that is actually what you would expect with the talent they have on their squad and the way that talent has performed in the past. Kobe isn't an afterthought, he is a great player, but without Gasol and Bynum, the Lakers would probably be a 500% team and might fail to make the playoffs in the Western Conference this year. They were 5-5 without them last year.

 
At Monday, December 01, 2008 7:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous (Owen, I presume):

If I had chosen the NBA MVP, I would have picked Shaq in 2005 and Kobe in 2006-08. I don't think that Kobe was the best player in the NBA for an entire season prior to that, though one could make a case for him in 2003 (he finished third in the MVP voting that year, his best finish--along with a third in '07--prior to winning the MVP last season).

I question whether Bynum would be a 20-10 player in OKC right now for two reasons, as I have repeatedly said:

1) Bynum has yet to prove that he can maintain the proper health and conditioning to play 36 mpg for a whole season.

2) Bynum's skill set at this stage would not allow him to average 20 ppg on a bad team without drastically lowering his shooting percentage and increasing his turnover rate. If you are saying that Bynum could average 20 ppg for OKC while shooting .520 or lower and committing 3+ turnovers per game then I might go along with that, assuming that he could stay healthy with that workload; last year he played less than half a season and this year he already is hurt after fewer than 15 games.

Obviously, one game against Toronto is a pretty small sample size. The Raptors were also without the services of Jermaine O'Neal, who would have been matched up with Bynum.

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that only Kobe can throw lobs or that Bynum flat out cannot play without Kobe. Obviously, neither of those statements are true. I am saying that over the course of an entire season Bynum benefits significantly from playing with Kobe--not just on the court and not just when Kobe passes to him but also because of Kobe's work ethic and attention to detail. It is no coincidence that the Lakers' young players (Bynum, Vujacic, Farmar to name three) are developing so well while playing alongside Kobe and at various times all three of those players have mentioned how much Kobe has helped them.

I disagree that Barbosa, Bell and Bowen are overrated. Barbosa is a great change of pace player off of the bench; it is very difficult to match up with his speed and he is also a good shooter. Bell and Bowen are excellent defenders who also shoot the three pointer very well. They are not All-Star level players but they are better than simply "slightly above average."

In Dallas, Nash played with future MVP Nowitzki plus perennial All-Star Michael Finley. In Phoenix, Nash played with (at various times) Amare, Marion, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Barbosa. It's not like he took a bunch of scrubs and turned them into top scorers. Nash was the best pg in the NBA circa 2005-2007 but he was not a better player during that time than Kobe--or LeBron, for that matter.

My article about the Lakers' "three seasons" addresses what took place in the games without Bynum and Gasol in terms of road games/strength of schedule. The reality is that Kobe helped them survive a very tough stretch without the two big guys and when he had either big guy alongside him the Lakers were a dominant team. Gasol is a one-time All-Star and Bynum has yet to make the All-Star team, so for Kobe to lead the Lakers to the best record in arguably the toughest Western Conf. race ever last season is really remarkable, particularly considering that Bynum is still a raw player and Gasol was playing for a brand new team. The other West contenders all had multiple All-Stars who have played together longer than Kobe has played with his big guys.

This year, the Lakers have a deep team in terms of good players but they are not deep from the standpoint of great players, a subject that I will be writing about in depth soon. Long story short: Kobe is a great player, Gasol is a fringe All-Star and Bynum is a young player with great potential; contrast that with previous championship teams, most of whom either had two MVP level players (Shaq/Kobe, Magic/Kareem, Bird/McHale, Moses/Dr. J to cite four examples from the past 30 years) and/or multiple All-Star level players. The 2004 Pistons did not have an MVP level player but they had four All-Star level players--and, arguably, a fifth if you include Tayshaun Prince. I think that when people talk about this year's Lakers they often confuse talent with depth; the Lakers have great depth but not overwhelming talent--they have 10 guys who are all worthy of getting NBA minutes, which is not true even of some playoff caliber teams, but at the top of the roster they do not have the talent of the other teams that won 65+ games.

 

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