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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lakers Fall to Bobcats in Double Overtime After Bryant Fouls Out

Boris Diaw nearly had a triple double (23 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) as the Charlotte Bobcats toppled the Lakers 117-110 in double overtime. All five Charlotte starters scored in double figures and point guard Raymond Felton came even closer to having a triple double than Diaw did (21 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists). The Bobcats held the Lakers to .434 field goal shooting, outrebounded them 53-42 and outscored them in the paint 54-38. Andrew Bynum had 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots but the rest of the Lakers' frontcourt was missing in action: Lamar Odom sleepwalked to seven points and four rebounds in 33 minutes and Pau Gasol had what Coach Phil Jackson termed his worst game as a Laker, 10 points and seven rebounds while shooting just 4-16 from the field. The task to save the game once again landed squarely on the shoulders of Kobe Bryant, who had 38 points, eight rebounds and five assists before fouling out with 39.8 seconds left in the first overtime. He had just put the Lakers up 103-101 with a pullup jumper on the right baseline but the Lakers were outscored 16-7 after he departed.

The Bobcats have consistently given the Lakers problems, winning five of the last six games between these teams--including three in a row in L.A.--but there are signs that the Bobcats are becoming a decent team, as opposed to a bad team that simply matches up well with the Lakers; since shipping Jason Richardson to Phoenix for Diaw, Raja Bell and Sean Singletary, Charlotte is 12-10, a far cry from the 7-16 mark that the Bobcats posted prior to making that deal. It is interesting to watch Diaw and Bell play central roles in turning this team around, because the storyline in Phoenix was supposedly that Steve Nash turns average players into stars and star players into superstars--but the facts don't support that contention: Nash certainly played at a high level for several years but when he left Dallas the Mavericks became an NBA Finalist and Dirk Nowitzki won an MVP award. Meanwhile, we have seen Mike D'Antoni take his uptempo philosophy to New York and use this approach to get improved performances out of several players. It used to be alleged that many players would love to play with Nash but that it is difficult to play with Bryant but that supposed dichotomy is bogus as well: Shawn Marion was disgruntled in Phoenix, Amare Stoudemire is often complaining about his role and the newly revitalized Shaquille O'Neal--who briefly seemed to accept a lesser role--has been not so subtly suggesting that the offense should be run through him. It is entirely possible that Nash will not even make the All-Star team in his first post-D'Antoni season.

On the other hand, Pau Gasol has played the most efficient basketball of his career in L.A., Bynum's game has grown by leaps and bounds, Trevor Ariza's play has stepped up since becoming a Laker, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar have markedly improved and you can go straight down the line: Bryant sets an example in terms of work ethic and his leadership has rubbed off on his team, particularly after the Lakers wisely got rid of some players who did not have the right attitude, work ethic or skill set to be rotation players on a good team, let alone starters (yes, that is a Kwame Brown/Smush Parker reference). Just this past summer we saw Bryant set the tone for a U.S. Olympic Team filled with All-Stars and All-NBA players--and we saw that when the gold medal game got tight Bryant was the player who saved the day.

I won't let these "old" 2006 and 2007 storylines die because I spent too much time listening to and arguing with people about those very issues (Nash's value, Bryant's unselfishness, how to choose an MVP winner). The truth of the matter is that I was right, they were wrong and that is becoming increasingly evident as time passes.

Getting back to this season, the Bobcats look completely different from the team that I saw in person on opening night but, as I wrote after the Cavs beat them 96-79, "It has been said of Larry Brown that he can watch a play in a game or in practice and instantly recall where all 10 players were and what they did, a kind of athletic photographic memory perhaps akin to the way that a chess grandmaster can process numerous possibilities instantly because he has memorized thousands of standard positions/move orders. If the young Bobcats listen to their teacher and heed his guidance they should improve a lot--eventually." Brown is a tremendous, tremendous coach and he has the Bobcats playing tenacious defense, ranking fourth in points allowed and ninth in defensive field goal percentage; considering their slow start, those numbers are remarkable.

Bynum got off to a quick start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter, but Charlotte led 23-16 after the first 12 minutes; the Lakers' defense in the paint was atrocious and neither Bryant nor Gasol could make a shot. Gasol never did wake up but Bryant quickly got going as soon as he reentered the game at the 7:15 mark of the second quarter. The Lakers trailed 32-26 but Bryant scored 12 points as the Lakers cut the margin to 49-48 by halftime. He got things started with a tough jumper to beat the shot clock, followed that with a turnaround jumper and then picked Raja Bell's pocket before cruising in for a fastbreak dunk; sometimes players get steals by gambling but in this instance Bryant played solid position defense, cut Bell off and then flicked the ball away with his left hand. Lakers announcers Stu Lantz and Joel Meyers noted that Bryant also put his defensive stamp on the previous game by shutting down Manu Ginobili as the Lakers beat the Spurs 99-85 on Sunday. As Lantz said, Bryant likes to guard top notch players from the start and take them out of the game, as opposed to trying to contain them later on after they have already found a rhythm; that is why Bryant guarded LeBron James right from the start when the Lakers beat the Cavs 105-88.

The lead shifted hands several times in the third quarter but then Bryant was whistled for his fourth foul with 2:22 remaining. He also received a technical foul for complaining about the call and after the Bobcats sank the resulting three free throws they led 73-67 as Bryant went to the bench for the remainder of the quarter.

The Lakers trailed 76-70 going into the fourth quarter and Coach Jackson knew that he had to put Bryant back into the game immediately, even with four fouls. It still amuses me to hear people compare the "supporting casts" on various teams and assert that the Lakers are so much deeper than anyone else; LeBron James has had often had the luxury of sitting out most of the fourth quarter while his bench players maintained or even expanded leads, while Bryant has often had to come back and restore order in games that the Lakers seemingly had under control when he went to the bench. Coach Jackson would certainly prefer to rest Bryant for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter and then let him go all out for the final six to eight minutes but he found out the hard way early in the season that this would not work. In this game, the Lakers not only needed Bryant's offensive prowess but they also needed his defense. Ariza, the team's best defender at the small forward position, left the game after suffering a concussion in the second quarter, so the Lakers struggled to deal with the athletic Gerald Wallace. Finally, in the fourth quarter Coach Jackson went with a small lineup, using Derek Fisher or Jordan Farmar at point guard and Sasha Vujacic at shooting guard, shifting Bryant to small forward to guard Wallace. Wallace had 15 points in the first three quarters but did not score the rest of the way.

Of course, Bryant also handled the primary scoring and playmaking duties, scoring 10 fourth quarter points and adding three fourth quarter assists. The Lakers tied the score at 81 after Bryant not only fed Vujacic for a three pointer but set a screen on the play to prevent the defender from closing out on him. A Fisher jumper put the Lakers up 83-81 but then the Lakers' interior defense once again buckled: Diaw scored two baskets and Emeka Okafor converted a putback dunk. Then Diaw drilled a three pointer to put Charlotte up 90-83 at the 3:09 mark. The Lakers had four straight empty possessions on offense: Fisher missed a layup, Bynum committed a three second violation and Vujacic missed two three point shots. Bryant finally took matters into his own hands, hitting a turnaround jumper to cut the lead to five.

Wallace drove to the hoop and Bynum met him with a forearm shiver to the chest. Wallace fell to the floor with a thud, holding his chest and grimacing in pain. Bynum was called for a flagrant foul and Wallace had to be helped off of the court; he was taken to a local hospital to see if he has a broken rib and/or a collapsed lung. One thing that I really respect about Meyers and Lantz is that they are not homers; although they clearly want the Lakers to win, they are objective about their calls during the game and they stated unequivocally that Bynum had committed a flagrant foul and they wished Wallace the best as he left the court.

Bynum's play was bad not only because it led to Wallace being hurt but also because he should be in position to block shots instead of arriving so late that he simply hacks at someone who is driving to the hoop. Due to the flagrant foul call, Coach Brown was allowed to select who would shoot the free throws in Wallace's place (in other cases, if a player leaves a game due to injury the opposing team selects the free throw shooter). Bell is an excellent free throw shooter but the Lakers dodged a bullet when he missed both attempts. On the ensuing possession, Diaw was fouled but he also missed two free throws, so Charlotte emerged with no points instead of possibly scoring up to four points and thereby all but icing the game. After Diaw's second miss, Bynum failed to box out Okafor but Bryant slipped in and stripped Okafor of the rebound. I've mentioned this before on several occasions but it bears repeating: Bryant is an excellent rebounder and he is a great free throw lane rebounder, just another example of the completeness of his skill set.

Bryant hit another turnaround jumper to make the score 90-87 Charlotte but Diaw answered with a jumper to push the margin back to five. A Bryant three pointer shaved the lead to 92-90 and then the teams traded misses, including a wide open Vujacic three pointer from the left corner that was set up by Bryant's dribble penetration. Gasol fouled Diaw in the scramble to rebound that shot but Diaw only managed to split the pair of free throws. The Lakers called timeout. Naturally, Bryant handled the ball on the next possession and after drawing the defense he fed Fisher for the tying three pointer. Felton missed a shot as time expired.

Bryant began the first extra session by hitting a jumper and then he fed Bynum in stride for a fast break dunk. After Bryant used a crossover dribble to drive by Bell and score a layup the Lakers led 99-93. The resilient Bobcats fought back to cut the lead to 101-100. Bryant drove to the hoop, stopped on a dime on the right baseline and made a short jumper, much like a move that Bernard King used to make during his prime with the Knicks. Leading by three with :51 left, all the Lakers needed to do to secure the win was to get one or two more defensive stops and then make their free throws. Instead, Bryant was called for his sixth foul with 39.8 seconds remaining. It was an "excuse me" play in which Bryant backed away and there was little or no contact, a tough way to be disqualified.

Still, the Lakers led by three at home against a sub-.500 team and Bryant's foul did not result in free throws, so all this deep and talented team had to do was hold on for little more than half a minute--but instead they fell completely apart. Lantz spent the whole timeout explaining that the Lakers must not foul nor give up a three point shot and then in the worst case scenario they would have the ball and a one point lead. Literally seconds after he explained that, Odom foolishly left Diaw to double team a driving Felton, who kicked the ball to Diaw for a three point shot--precisely what Lantz had just said the Lakers should not do. The Lakers were equally shaky on offense. They fed the ball to Gasol but he fumbled and bumbled and was not able to get a shot off. As I've said more than once, there are valid reasons that Memphis decided that he is not a franchise player; Gasol is perfectly suited--temperamentally and in terms of his skill set--to be Bryant's "deputy" and to make shots/plays that are created when Bryant is trapped but he is not quite so well suited to be the main guy who gets swarmed by the defense. The Lakers retained possession and Luke Walton was designated to be the inbounder. Coach Jackson often employs Walton in this role but even though Walton is an excellent passer when the ball is in play I am not sold on him as a great inbounds passer; I can recall several occasions when he turned the ball over or made the wrong read, including a 96-95 loss in Cleveland on March 19, 2006. This time, Walton committed a turnover, enabling the Bobcats to call timeout and try to set up a play for a game-winning shot--but Odom snuffed Diaw's jumper, sending the game into double overtime.

If you wondered what the Lakers' offense would look like without Bryant, the second overtime provided a frightening snap shot: seven points on 3-9 field goal shooting. Bynum accounted for all of the points; he made some nice post moves but the Lakers clearly struggled to create good shots--let alone score--without Bryant drawing double teams and either scoring anyway or feeding one of his teammates for an easy field goal attempt. This is why during last year's NBA Finals the Boston Celtics essentially sent their whole team at Bryant and all but dared anyone else to make a shot. After the game, NBA TV commentator Gary Payton offered this analysis:

This game showed me one thing about the Lakers: when Kobe Bryant goes out, these guys do not step up. They do not step up. They're doing just like they did against Boston (in the 2008 NBA Finals). Gasol doesn't have a good game. Lamar doesn't show up. Nobody wants to shoot the ball. Luke Walton turns the ball over in a crucial time in the basketball game when they have to execute. Without this guy (Bryant), this is a whole different team and I think that other teams are going to look at this on videotape and see the same thing, that this team can get beat if you take him out of the game.

The sad thing is that when Mike Wilbon or someone else who has been propped up as an NBA expert--Wilbon is a superb general sports columnist but not someone who I would call an NBA expert or NBA analyst--talks about this game he is going to refer to that stupid, meaningless stat about the Lakers' record when Bryant shoots more than 20 times, as if the Lakers lost because Bryant had 28 field goal attempts; the reality is that if he had not fouled out he would have had one or two more field goal attempts or a few more free throw attempts and the Lakers almost certainly would have won. As Coach Jackson has often said--and he repeated this sentiment during his recent interview with Magic Johnson--Bryant is perfectly willing to share the ball but when his teammates don't step up to accept the challenge then he fills that vacuum or that void. During Bryant's career, the Lakers are 64-30 when he scores at least 40 points--including 16-7 when he scores 50 or more points--so it is ridiculous to assert that any of Bryant's scoring achievements came at the expense of winning.

In a recent post I noted that last season after Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture in the pinkie finger on his right (shooting) hand he went through a brief adjustment period in terms of his shooting but quickly regained his form. It looks like that will also be the case this season in the wake of the dislocated ring finger that he suffered on his right hand last week: in the next three games, Bryant shot .333, .364 and .471 from the field before connecting on 15 of 28 field goal attempts (.536) versus Charlotte. No one is even talking about the fact that Bryant will eventually have to have surgery to fix his pinkie and now he is still playing at an incredible level with a brand new injury to his shooting hand. If Brett Favre were doing something like this, someone would build a statue in his honor and SportsCenter might be renamed "RingFingerCenter," but Bryant has proven his toughness and skill level so many times that apparently those things are now simply taken for granted. It is worth noting that fellow MVP candidate LeBron James missed six games last year with a finger injury that was not as severe as either of the ones that Bryant has suffered.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:54 AM

24 comments

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24 Comments:

At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 10:24:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

watching this game was interesting because the bobcats had the lead or stayed close all game. you knew the bobcats had a great chance to win. as you noted their defense was key.

lamar odom is a space cadet and one of the worst waste of talent in the last 10 years.

that call on bryant was terrible, especially on a player of his caliber in overtime at home. you never see that and probably wont in the next 5 years.

i dont know how the nomad from brooklyn does it but somehow larry brown gets his teams to play and to be better when he gets there. i wont count the knicks because of the chaotic nature happening there. ironically brown is the opposite of marbury in the sense that everywhere brown goes the team gets better but when marbury leaves the team gets better. if you look at his start with denver in the aba and chronicle his career its amazing that there is a positive game improvement when he gets to the new team. it may be one or two years but its usually in the first year. hes an actual coach. a lot of these coaches in pro sports arent coaches but are managers per se. and the managing is not even done that well. when you say brown is a tremendous coach i dont think people realize how tremendous. i wonder the conversations brown and george karl have had about iverson.

 
At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 1:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

there was other games the lakers played well when bryant went out they dont play like this every time kobe goes out of a game so youre assurateing this was just one of those games lakers are a great team gasol a all star bynum is playing great certain teams play you well bobcats do the lakers.

 
At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

Coach Brown definitely deserves a mulligan regarding his brief tenure in New York, especially in light of his unprecedented success in several other locations: only coach to win an NBA and an NCAA title, led the Nets and the Clippers to the playoffs when both of those teams had been moribund, etc.

That is why I twice used the word "tremendous" to describe Coach Brown!

 
At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:12:00 PM, Blogger luncandunc said...

Dave,

I started following your blog during the Olympics and I really appeciated the in-depth coverage of the Olympic team that was hard to find elsewhere. I still enjoy the blog, but enough already on how great Bryant is. Every single post about the Lakers has some note about how he's the best player in the world, or carried the team, or how everybody is wrong about him and doesn't fully appreciate his greatness. Surely he's a great player, but you just jock him way too hard to the point where it no longer appears objective.

I'm not one to normally scream "bias" at columnists; in fact I normally deride people who believe columnists have some sort of agenda. But I really think the blog would be improved if you laid off the Bryant love a little bit.

As for the Olympics, I think you made some good comments about Bryant's importance to the defense, but the fact was that he was also the only player who consistently took cringe-worthy bad shots on offense. He seemed like the only player on the team who was unable to adjust from his NBA habit of taking difficult shot jumpers to playing on a team with other superstars where wide-open shots were easily available with more ball movement. His shooting percentage in the Olympics reflected this. Granted, he did perform well in the last few minutes of the gold medal game, but frankly I think he just did it by getting hot taking bad shots.

 
At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Throughout this season, the Lakers have tended to play markedly worse without Kobe. That is the pattern and what you are describing is the exception--and that is why Kobe's minutes and shot attempts have been steadily rising and why he has to play a lot of fourth quarter minutes: Coach Jackson tried to reduce Kobe's work load early in the season but the results were decidedly mixed.

Also, when people talk about how well the Lakers' bench players perform on an individual basis they fail to consider how often Kobe is in the game with them as an anchor; if those guys had to survive entirely on their own for an extended basis their individual numbers and collective performance would not be nearly as good.

 
At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

luncandunc:

In my game recaps, I provide an in-depth analysis of why/how a particular team won and often make analogies to other other teams/games.

The way that many elements of the mainstream media have covered Bryant's career is bizarre: it is often said that he is the best player but then some excuse is found to award someone else the MVP; every year we are told that he has suddenly become a good teammate and/or learned how to pass, when the reality is that he has been his team's leading playmaker for years, including during the championship run; Bryant profoundly makes the game easier for his teammates at both ends of the court but too much attention is paid to the difficult shots he makes and not enough attention is paid to the fundamentally sound nature of his skill set, which is the real foundation of his greatness.

As a result of the inaccuracies/distortions that I listed above, I go to great lengths to specifically explain exactly what Bryant does on the court. For some people, this may be too much detail; for fans of other teams/players, perhaps this is too much "Kobe love"--but the reality is that Bryant is indeed the best player in the game and I think that it is important to understand exactly why that is the case, just as it is important to understand and appreciate LeBron's continued development, which I have also discussed here in great detail. These are clearly the two best players in the game today and for a basketball purist it is a joy to watch both of them.

In the Olympics, Kobe consistently guarded the toughest perimeter player and in the gold medal game he stepped up when no one else did. You may recall that in the 2006 World Championship, Team USA built a nice lead against Greece but when things started to fall apart LeBron, Wade, Melo and everyone else did not have a clue how to stem the tide. The difference this time versus Spain was Kobe, pure and simple; without him on the team, Team USA would have ended up with the silver medal (or worse).

 
At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 3:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

kobe had averaged 18ppg the previuos 4 wins and they won all easily plus they beat the clippers 106-88 he shot 29 percent they beat the bulls he shot 33 percent they beat the hornets he shot 38 percent he had 12 20 21 in those games they are 10-3 when he shot under 40 percent in a game so they've played well when he hasnt this is the only game of recent memory they didnt play well youre assurateing this game the bench isnt great and it helps to have kobe anchor them but theres time when bynum or gasol out there and they played well as well.


you cant nitpick one game and say the players around him arent great when they played great all season

 
At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 4:19:00 PM, Blogger luncandunc said...

I agree that without Kobe on the team we may have lost. The defense was way better in 08 with the exception of the gold medal game when we couldn't stop anybody.

When everyone complained about how our international losses were the death knell of American basketball, they overlooked the important fact that WE HADN'T SENT OUR BEST PLAYERS. In 08 we finally had all of our best guys except for Garnett and Tim Duncan and we won. In 03 we had our best guys and we absolutely killed everyone in the Tournament of the Americas before they all bailed out before the 04 Olympics. The 02 team was composed of 3rd tier "stars", and even the 00 team didn't have many of our best guys.

06 was a better team, and we almost won there but that team still only had maybe half of the best American players, none of whom were veterans.

I guess I've gone off on a tangent here but I don't mean to diminish Kobe's ability at all, nor his contributions in the Olympics. It just seems like the salient point of every post is explaining why you think Kobe is the best player in the NBA and how awesome his skill set is. For us regular readers, it's become a bit repetitive. I'm not so much disagreeing with your opinion of Kobe (although I think LeBron has been better this year) but simply that it's so often repeated. You're a good analyst; let's hear about something else.

 
At Wednesday, January 28, 2009 11:58:00 PM, Anonymous JK said...

"But the reality is that Bryant is indeed the best player in the game and I think that it is important to understand exactly why that is the case."

Nothing validates that Bryant is the best player in the game except the praise the media places on him. LeBron James is better in every statistical category, efficiency, and even head to head vs. Bryant (though Kobe supporters will bring up this past game, and ignore the entire history between the two) and he does it with an inferior supporting cast.

Its also why its now being widely written that James is having one of the best seasons ever, and is in fact the best player in the game now. The only way one can argue that Kobe is better is through abstract terms, such as he's the one you'd want to win a game 7 or he's more clutch (decidely not true when looking at clutch stats)

James is the best player in the world, period. No matter how much you write it, the premise will always be false because there is nothing to back it up.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 12:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

I did not say that Kobe has to be the leading scorer for the Lakers to be successful; I said that they need his input offensively and defensively. Even when he is not scoring, he is still drawing double teams, which makes it easier for other players to score.

Kobe had 12 assists versus the Clippers, remember? That is why Bynum called him "Kobe Nash."

Although Kobe shot poorly overall in the 11/12/08 game versus the Hornets, he scored seven points in the final 1:08 (!)--as I said, they have needed him to close out games, while LeBron has had the luxury of sitting out in the fourth quarter of many games.

The Lakers are actually 11-2 when Kobe has shot under .400 but that does not address my main assertion: Kobe plays a key role offensively and defensively above and beyond his ability to score. Was Kobe the most important player in every single game the Lakers played this season? Of course not but I am describing an overall pattern, one that has been true not just this season but also for the past several seasons.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 12:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

luncandunc:

You are correct that Team USA was not always comprised of the absolute best NBA talent but there were also issues regarding how well those players/teams understood the FIBA game and their lack of respect for/familiarity with the top FIBA teams. It was a low moment for Team USA after the loss to Greece when Coach Krzyzewski did not even know the names of the Greek players--and I know for a fact that many FIBA people were offended by this.

I felt all along that adding Kobe to the team would make the difference and, however one wants to explain things away, there is no denying that he made the difference down the stretch in the gold medal game. Isn't that what great players are supposed to do?

I think that LeBron is having an MVP level season this year and that he also had an MVP level season last year. The MVP race this season is strictly between Kobe and LeBron, in my opinion; I would still take Kobe but I don't have a serious problem with someone taking LeBron (last year Kobe had a more clear cut edge).

I understand and respect the nature of your "complaint" and I'm certainly not trying to offend regular (or occasional) readers but the bottom line is that I have to write what I see and convey what I believe to be true. I think that it is important to determine who the best player is or at least to have a reasonable set of criteria for distinguishing between MVP level players, All-Star players and so on down the line. When I explain why I think that Kobe is the best player in the game today I am really conveying my philosophy of how to make such a determination. I certainly do not have anything against LeBron or Dwight Howard or the other All-NBA caliber players.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 12:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JK:

"The media" pretty much seems to be in consensus that LeBron is the MVP this year and I even heard some people say that the case was closed before New Year's, so your assertion that the media is praising Kobe too much is odd. I don't understand how the MVP race can be over in December (or January or February, for that matter).

As I have explained for years now, I think that the MVP award should go to the best all-around player in the league, with the only exception being if there is an extremely dominant big man who is not an all-around player per se but is having a tremendous impact--the classic example of that would be Shaq in his prime (I think that he should have won more MVPs than he did but that's another story); I would not quite put Dwight Howard in that category yet, because I would take Kobe and LeBron over him despite his dominance in the paint.

I don't determine my MVP choice based purely on stats, so EFF, PER, WoW or any other stat acronyms have nothing to do with my thinking. I understand that based on PER LeBron is having a historical level season but I don't consider PER to be particularly accurate or meaningful so why would I base my MVP choice on that metric?

LeBron is having a great, MVP level season, as is Kobe. Kobe still has the more complete skill set but the difference has shrunk significantly now that LeBron is an All-Defensive Team caliber defender. I don't have a problem with someone saying that LeBron should win the MVP but I would still take Kobe's skill set completeness over LeBron's raw power/athleticism.

I have never made the case for anything here based on "abstract" reasoning--I cite very specific examples to back up my assertions.

As for the head to head duels between Kobe and LeBron, I have always said that one or two games a year are not enough to make an MVP determination. Certain things that happen within those games illustrate elements of each player's skill set but you have to look at the body of work for the whole season.

The most significant things about the Kobe-LeBron matchups so far are that Kobe tends to guard LeBron as a primary defender more than LeBron guards Kobe and Kobe has rarely been healthy when the two players have met; you can scoff at the latter point as an "excuse" but if you go back and look Kobe has either entered those games with a pre-existing injury or actually gotten injured during the game, as he did last Monday. Also, until last season the Cavs clearly had the better overall team. This year, both teams have improved their supporting casts tremendously and they are each legitimately 9-10 players deep. The Lakers may have more "name" players around Kobe but the Cavs have an underrated pf/center trio with Z/Wallace/Varejao and they have a lot of depth at the 1-2-3 positions as well.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 3:51:00 AM, Anonymous barry said...

so it's not just me that thinks that the kobe love is getting a little tedious.

kobe is a great player, and slowly becoming a player that makes his teammates play better (something lebron has over kobe in spades), but my take is that a legitimate MVP candidate should be able to find a way to avoid fouling out of a close game, especially if he knows that his team doesn't play as well when he's not on the floor.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 3:52:00 AM, Anonymous barry said...

and IIRC, kobe spent the finals covering rondo, not someone i'd consider a 1st, 2nd or even 3rd option for the celtics last season.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 5:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Barry:

The idea that Kobe is just now learning to make his teammates better is ridiculous. In Phil Jackson's Triangle Offense, Kobe has essentially been playing the MJ and Pip roles for years, serving as the leading perimeter scoring threat and as the team's top playmaker. I also do not like the overused phrase, "making his teammates better"--you cannot make a player better than he is; what a superstar can do is help a player to maximize his skill set potential. Kobe cannot make Vujacic into a good shooter, but Kobe can draw double teams that enable Vujacic to shoot wide open shots. Kobe has played that way for years, yet almost every season there is the de rigeur article about Kobe "finally" learning to "trust his teammates." Seriously, people write this story every year, like we're in the movie Groundhog Day. We have reached the point that our collective societal memory lasts for about 30 seconds.

Your shot at Kobe for fouling out of the game is funny. Disregarding for a moment that his sixth foul was a questionable call at best, Kobe fouled out of exactly one game last year while playing 3192 minutes in 82 games, so I don't think that fouling out of close games--or any other kind of games--is really a serious problem for him. It never ceases to amaze me how people will grasp at straws to find something bad to say about Kobe.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 5:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Barry:

In the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers tried several different defensive strategies: at various times, Kobe guarded Ray Allen, Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo. Allen is the natural matchup, since they play the same position, but the Lakers had no one who could really guard Pierce, so Kobe ended up taking that assignment at times. Much like the 2004 Finals, when Billups or Rip took turns going off whenever Kobe was guarding the other guy, Allen and Pierce generally did their damage either in transition when there were crossmatches or when Kobe was assigned elsewhere; you may recall that Allen hit his game-winning layup with Vujacic guarding him and Pau arriving too late to help--and as great as Kobe is, he has yet to figure out a way to simultaneously guard two future HoFers, so Boston was pretty smart to go to the HoFer that he was not guarding.

Does that mean that neither Allen or Pierce ever scored a basket while Kobe was guarding them? Obviously not--but those players did a lot better when Kobe was assigned to guard someone else or when they got free in transition due to crossmatch situations when Kobe was assigned to guard one of them but that player was assigned to guard someone else.

Also, it is worth mentioning that Ariza had missed a lot of time due to injury and was not in good enough condition to be a factor for heavy minutes at that time.

Eventually, Coach Jackson decided that instead of alternating Kobe on Allen and Pierce, he would assign him to Rondo. Since Rondo is a reluctant jump shooter, this freed Kobe to roam around and disrupt whoever had the ball. Doc Rivers commented that Kobe is the best help defender he's seen since Pip was in his prime. Few defensive players have the ability to be a lock down one on one defender at multiple positions, a good team defender and an excellent help defender but Kobe can fill all three of those roles (not at the same time, of course). Coach Jackson sometimes used Pip as a lockdown defender versus Magic or Mark Jackson but on other occasions he assigned him to Greg Ostertag or some other offensive non-entity to take advantage of Pip's skills as a help defender; this all depends on what is going on with the other matchups, foul trouble, etc.

Versus Cleveland, Kobe asked Coach Jackson to assign him to LeBron from the start and for the whole game. Kobe wanted to take on that challenge and he did so quite successfully despite the dislocated finger.

Some of the comments in this thread actually are indicative of the kind of thinking that has inspired me to write more in depth about Kobe in the first place: many people really do not understand what is happening in NBA games from a strategic and tactical standpoint.

Years ago, I became sick and tired of the superficial "analysis" being dispensed in many quarters of the mainstream media by people who either are not watching many games or simply don't understand what they are watching. That is one of the major things that I am trying to correct here, whether it involves going after these bogus "stat gurus" who think that they can understand basketball without even watching games or whether it involves describing skill set differences between various MVP level players.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 1:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

kobe sat out alot of games the last 4 really before the bobcats game, and alot during the first couple months so has lebron both have sat out alot of fourth quarters i meant the earlier clipper they won 106-88 he shot 30 percent. and they won kobe is by far they best player but they are good without him as well gasol a all star or on cusp bynum is playing great odom good off bench this is a very deep and talented you act like kobe does everything.

you praised kobe for guarding lebron when the whole lakers team guarded lebron and trapped him every time he got the ball on the perimeter and looked to drive.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 1:52:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

"Kobe love"? More like "Kobe Truth".

That's like saying that someone who keeps reminding everyone of the utility and effectiveness of science a "Science Lover".

And just as in Kobe's case, if everyone kept saying that the scientific method was bunk, you too would be up in arms and telling everyone they were wrong, for their own sakes!

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 2:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

There have been many games this year when LeBron has sat out large portions of the fourth quarter and the Cavs won going away. That has simply not been the case for the Lakers for the most part and Coach Jackson made a significant rotation change to address this problem: in close games and/or games against good teams he has left Kobe in the game to start the fourth, even though he would prefer to sit Kobe out and then have him come in at the 7 or 8 minute mark to close out the game. If Coach Jackson had as much faith in the reserves as you do then he would not have changed his rotation in this manner.

I've explained this several times, but I'll do it one more time:

1)Kobe had the primary defensive assignment on LeBron.

2) All good NBA defenses incorporate help principles when offensive players reach certain areas of the court.

3) Kobe headed off LeBron in transition better than anyone I have seen--and I have seen a lot of LeBron's games. Some people say that it is impossible to stop LeBron in transition but Kobe used good body positioning to angle him away from the hoop. Similarly, Kobe also used good body positioning to play ball denial defense in the half court set.

It is impossible to completely shut down any great offensive player but Kobe did an excellent defensive job versus LeBron--and he did it after suffering an injury that many players would have used as a reason to not even play at all.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 3:25:00 PM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

Wow. I had wanted to comment on how Phil's decision to remove Bynum with a five-pt lead and two minutes left in the first OT cost the Lakers the game, but it looks like I ran into a full-fledged Kobe hate fest. If you guys don't like reading David's counterpoint to all the negative Kobe arguments emanating throughout the NBA blogosphere, then don't read his blog.

Anyway, David, when Kobe fouled out with a three-pt lead and 40 seconds left in the first OT, what did you think of Phil's decision to bring in Luke Walton instead of Bynum? Bringing in Drew to patrol the paint would have meant that Gasol and his giant wingspan would have guarded Diaw on the three-pt line, instead of Odom "guarding" him. I'm sure you remember Gasol's block on Ray Allen's three in the final minute of the Christmas game.

 
At Thursday, January 29, 2009 3:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Dude Abides:

If I am not mistaken, I think that Meyers similarly questioned taking Bynum out, while Lantz suggested that perhaps Bynum was winded.

I assume that Coach Jackson's thinking was two-fold:

1) He wanted to match up with Charlotte's small lineup.

2) Without Kobe to break down the defense he wanted to have Walton in the game because of his passing ability in the Triangle Offense.

I tend to not trust Odom in clutch situations at either end of the court--though he has played well overall off of the bench this year, for the most part--but it seems like in certain situations Coach Jackson trusts the lineup that made it to the Finals last year more than he trusts putting Bynum in the game in those cases.

 
At Friday, January 30, 2009 11:02:00 AM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

David, regarding your points about Phil's decisionmaking re Bynum or Walton: had Larry Brown taken Okafor out of the game? If he had, then I can understand Phil putting Walton in instead of Bynum (though I still wouldn't agree with it). If Okafor were still in the game, putting Gasol on Diaw with the instructions to not let him shoot a three would have put Diaw at a significant disadvantage, and would also have improved our defensive rebounding at the same time.

 
At Friday, January 30, 2009 3:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Dude Abides:

Okafor was still in the game at that point.

 
At Saturday, January 31, 2009 10:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

the lakers have had bad habit of loseing to bad teams so this is just another example of that te lakers are probably the most talented and deepest roster in leauge they should beat bad teams consistently they dont depend on one guy

 

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