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Saturday, February 21, 2009

GM Survey Says...Kobe is Still #1

In the annual preseason survey of NBA General Managers, 66.7% of the respondents said that LeBron James would be their first pick to start a franchise today, with Kobe Bryant finishing second (18.5%)--but that voting clearly is more of a reflection of James' age than of a skill set comparison between James and Bryant, because those same respondents selected Bryant over James (63.0% to 25.9%) as the player who forces coaches to make the most adjustments.

Stat gurus, members of the media and fans all say that James is having a season for the ages; there is no doubt that he is playing at an MVP level. So, considering James' outstanding statistics and undeniable impact, do the league's General Managers now believe that 2008 MVP Bryant has passed the torch to James? USATODAY recently polled all 30 NBA General Managers and asked them that exact question. Although 11 of them declined to respond, of the 19 who replied 12 chose Bryant as the NBA's best player and seven selected James, which is not a significantly different voting margin than the one that existed before the season began. While stat gurus are slaves to their numbers and the media and fans alike are wowed by highlights of dunks and blocked shots, the General Managers look at the game more clinically and objectively. Bryant and James are clearly the two best players in the NBA and expert opinion still gives Bryant the edge over his younger rival.

Speaking of polls, Sports Illustrated asked 190 NBA players who they would want to take a last second shot and Bryant won in a landslide, taking 76% of the votes. Chauncey Billups, LeBron James and Paul Pierce received 3% each, while Dwyane Wade got 2%. I have repeatedly said that I think that last second shots are overrated as a statistical category because the sample size is small and most such shots are low percentage attempts anyway; I am much more impressed by a player who can take over a game for an extended period of time in clutch moments, such as scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter or making a series of big plays when the outcome of the game is in doubt. I am much more certain that Bryant is the best player in the NBA in that regard than I am that he is the best last second shot maker but the fact that the overwhelming majority of his peers rank him first in the latter category cannot be lightly dismissed.

The February 16, 2009 issue of the Sporting News contains a brief article in which an anonymous NBA scout ranks the league's top five playmakers. Not surprisingly, Chris Paul tops the list, with Steve Nash and LeBron James placing second and third and Jason Kidd fifth. Kobe Bryant is fourth and the scout declares, "He has always been a good passer. There's no one I would rather have with the clock running out and you need someone to make a play under pressure."

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:50 AM

35 comments

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35 Comments:

At Saturday, February 21, 2009 5:40:00 AM, Blogger luncandunc said...

Please write about something else for once. You've made all of these points about Kobe a million times David. I was reading this article and was pretty much able to predict each sentence. I'm not quibbling with the quality of the analysis, but just the repetition.

 
At Saturday, February 21, 2009 1:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luncandunc:

I think that it is highly relevant that even though stat gurus and fans are lauding the "historical" nature of LeBron's season--and LeBron is without question playing at a very high level--NBA GMs have essentially the same opinion of Kobe and LeBron now that they did before the season began.

I am analyzing the sport without hype or bias. If you are interested in "analysis" based on top ten highlights, personal bias and/or misinformed opinions then you are at the wrong site.

 
At Saturday, February 21, 2009 4:58:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

luncandunc, I somewhat hear your point, but this is a blog about the NBA, and a central storyline this year has been the dominance of Kobe and LeBron, and the Lakers & Cavs & Celtics (and possibly the Magic, prior to Nelson going down). Any blog covering the NBA in general this year is going to have a lot of posts about those players & teams. Deal with it.

Any thoughts on the Lakers-Hornets game? A shame about that 6th foul on Paul -- I thought Posey had committed a foul prior to any Kobe-Paul tangle-up. Speaking of Posey, I think the Lakers must be really, really glad he is no longer a member of the Celtics. For whatever reason, Posey seems to have something on Kobe, to be able to get under his skin or something. I've watched all 4 NO-LAL games this year, as well as many other Lakers games, and it seems that when Posey is guarding him, Kobe's decision-making is noticeably poorer and he attempts to go it alone more often than normal, and under ill-advised conditions. Almost as if he can't bear to turn down the challenge being posed to him by Posey's aggressive defense.

Kobe did not have a particularly good 4th quarter, due I thought in part to Posey's solid defense. Kobe had a great OT, but it seemed to me (tho my memory could be off) that in OT the Lakers were able to get switches and Kobe got most of his points against other defenders.

Looking at the boxscore, Posey had a +/- of +16 in 33 minutes played, which is pretty good and the highest on the Hornets, and the only player on NO with a + who played more than 10 minutes.

http://www.nba.com/games/20090220/NOHLAL/boxscore.html

 
At Saturday, February 21, 2009 9:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

As you indicated, Kobe and LeBron vying for the title of the NBA's best player is probably THE storyline of this season. When we look back at 2009 in 10 or 15 years, that will most likely be what we remember most. Knowing what the league's GMs think of both players as Kobe and LeBron are making history is highly relevant information. Also, I just recently did a post with a capsule look at every team that is still in playoff contention, I filed 10 stories from the All-Star Weekend and I have an archive of "old school" stories here that is second to none, so I hardly have to apologize for the depth and breadth of NBA coverage provided here.

Regarding the Lakers-Hornets game, the officials missed the foul on Posey and then when Kobe tripped over Paul they had to call the foul on Paul. I thought that Kobe's contact with Paul on that play stemmed from him trying to retain his balance after Posey pushed him more than Kobe actively pushing Paul. The whole sequence was very unfortunate, because the correct call would have been a foul on Posey--and then Paul would not have been disqualified.

I don't necessarily agree that Kobe's decision making was poor. He missed a lot of shots that he normally makes but if two or three more had gone down he would have been right around his normal field goal percentage. After Fisher made the three pointer to send the game to overtime--an open shot created by the defensive attention Bryant drew--Bryant completely took over the overtime.

Overall, Kobe scored 39 points, dished off five assists and he made several other great passes that led to scoring opportunities/free throw attempts. He had just two turnovers. The visual evidence and the numbers both strongly suggest that his decision making was pretty good. Kobe did force a couple shots but considering his total production I think any coach would accept that tradeoff.

Chris Paul is the player whose decision making in that game could be questioned, particularly down the stretch. He committed an offensive foul against Fisher at a time when the Hornets could have held the ball and forced the Lakers to foul and he was the one who missed the defensive assignment when Fisher hit the three pointer.

I actually thought that overall Rasual Butler did as good a job of guarding Kobe as Posey did; Butler even blocked a couple of his shots. The Hornets did what most teams try to do versus Kobe; they alternated primary defenders--both to keep them fresh and to give Kobe different looks--and they tried to vary when and where the double teams came from.

The Lakers have kept rolling right along even without Bynum, who some people were touting last year as a more important player to the team's success than Kobe. Does anyone in his right mind think that the Lakers would have gone 8-1 if Bynum had stayed healthy but Kobe was out of the lineup? There is often talk about how various players make their teammates better. I don't like that phrase; I prefer to say that legit superstars help to place their teammates in the best possible position to utilize their talents--but, however you put it, Pau Gasol is thriving as the second option in a Kobe Bryant-led attack and now that Odom is in his proper role as the third option attacking from the weakside (as opposed to the second option that he was prior to the trade for Gasol) he also is thriving.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 4:14:00 AM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

I've been observing the Lakers defense for a quite some time now, but I think I've pinpointed a "weakness" in Kobe's game. And not surprisingly, it's on defense. While he is a great rebounder when he desires to be, I've noticed that Kobe frequently does not box out on defensive possesions. He either breaks the other way in anticipation of the transition to offense, or he stands by watching the ball carom off the basket. If the ball comes his way, he has a great knack for going up and getting the ball, but he doesn't perform the fundamental "box out" on the opponent. For this reason, the offense sometimes gets rebounds they would not have gotten if Kobe had boxed out. It's a relatively small flaw, and I'm sure there may be good reasons he doesn't always box out, but it does create some extra possessions for the other team when he doesn't box out the nearest offensive player. See if you notice this the next game. I might be wrong, but I've started to actively look for this the last two games, and it seems to be true.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 4:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

I did notice this happen on a few plays in recent games. This is not something that I had previously seen in Kobe's game, so I'm not sure if this is really a pattern, just some isolated instances or a few cases when he "assumed" that another Laker was about to get the rebound.

While it would be ideal if every player would box out on every possession, this is hardly a realistic expectation. Also, there are two schools of thought pertaining to rebounding: one emphasizes boxing out first, while the other simply involves pursuing the ball aggressively without necessarily boxing out (how often did you see Dennis Rodman boxing people out?).

On some of the possessions when Kobe did not box out, the Lakers rebounded the ball anyway but I have recently seen a couple instances when Kobe did not box out and his man got the rebound. If I recall correctly, though, his man covered quite some distance and may have actually gotten the rebound after someone else deflected it.

The search for a "weakness" in Kobe's game has to dig pretty deep to uncover anything; somehow I suspect that most coaches/GMs would still like to have Kobe on their team even if he neglects to box out once or twice every couple weeks :)

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 12:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - That's a pretty generous account of Kobe's play. My assessment would be this. In regulation, Kobe had a terrible game for Kobe, including decidedly unclutch play at the end of the fourth. That included a pretty significant traveling violation and having the ball stolen from him by Paul on a bad pass after he drove baseline in the final 30 seconds. He then nearly completely redeemed himself with an outstanding overtime performance.

But the best player on the court for the Lakers overall was Gasol. And it was Derek Fisher who saved the Lakers butt.

Paul played one of the best quarters of basketball I can remember seeing from a player in the fourth. He was utterly unguardable, although the fact the Hornets finally started hitting some shots from three added greatly to the effect. He had a hand in probably 85% of their points it seemed like. In your honor, I was watching to see how many questionable assists there were in the final frame, and there were none. At the end of the game, the Lakers even started sending a double team at him as soon as he came across halfcourt, something I haven't seen a team do in a while.

That said, after stealing the ball from Kobe at the end of regulation, Paul made one of the dumbest basketball plays I have ever seen, (although I also thought it was a pretty questionable offensive foul call), a decision which contributed greatly to the Hornets defeat.

As for this post, well, what can you say? In blind taste tests renowned wine experts can't tell the difference between a 12 dollar champagne and 150 dollar bottle. GM's apparently have the same problem. Take a wine, put it in a cheap bottle and an expensive bottle, and critics will come up with wildly different ratings of the wine.

A vast array of evidence shows that expert opinion in a lot of fields is very flawed and often pretty much useless. For instance, if you look at political pundits, their predictions have in study after study have been proved to be less accurate than simply picking randomly. And for decades 80% of mutual funds have underperformed the index after fees.

Of course, why should we trust the stat gurus, who are pretty unanimous in their belief Kobe is not the best player in the game. Good question, good question. I won't bother to answer it, I will simply say that there is not a shred of statistical evidence to support the idea that Kobe is anywhere close to Chris Paul or Lebron this year. Paul was at the midpoint of the year having one of the best statistical seasons in NBA history. And he is currently rated one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA by APM (after being rated one of the worst last year, but that's already a hot topic for discussion in other venues). Kobe is much much closer to Andre Iguodala right now than he is to Paul. Which you will say is ridiculous, as you always do. But is it? We are talking about one of the best defenders at his position, the steals leader, the assist leader by a huge margin (dock him 15 percent and he would be just fractionally behind Williams), who is scoring 21 per 36 on a ts% of 60.5%. Oh, and he has been a better rebounder than Kobe this year. And hey, the +18 isn't so bad.

Btw, I am really looking forward to your take on the Lewis article. I especially love what Morey said about Manu.

"The San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginóbili is a statistical freak: he has no imbalance whatsoever in his game — there is no one way to play him that is better than another. He is equally efficient both off the dribble and off the pass, going left and right and from any spot on the floor."

Which is what you always says about Kobe of course. In fact, it was almost like they were talking directly to you in the article...

"People often say that Kobe Bryant has no weaknesses to his game, but that’s not really true."

Anyway, always good fun....

Owen

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 1:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

Kobe did not have a "terrible" game, though he did have a subpar shooting game prior to the overtime, when he completely took over. Your bias shows when you say that he "nearly" redeemed himself. How does almost singlehandedly winning the game not redeem whatever "sins" you think he committed earlier in the game? If you know basketball history then you realize that Magic, Bird, MJ and other stars sometimes had games in which they were "terrible" most of the night only to make big plays down the stretch. For instance, in Bird's legendary game seven showdown with Dominique Wilkins, Nique outscored Bird 31-14 in the first three quarters but Bird had 20 points in the fourth quarter (and Nique had 16) as the Celtics won. Yet I've rarely if ever heard people talk about what Bird did in the first three quarters, so why focus on what Kobe did prior to the overtime?

As I explained repeatedly last season, Gasol has benefited enormously from playing alongside Kobe. You questioned if Gasol's fg% increase was an anomaly but clearly it is not. He gets to play against single coverage much more often now than he did in Memphis and that is because of Kobe's presence. So even if Kobe goes 0-10, he still is having an impact; basically, that is exactly what Derek Fisher said after the game in Cleveland when Kobe gutted it out (no pun intended) despite having the stomach flu.

The Lakers often struggle to defend the screen/roll and Paul is a great screen/roll player but your description of Paul's impact is a bit of an exaggeration. You might want to look at Paul's plus/minus in this game and compare it to Kobe's. Paul and the Hornets did a good job of coming back from a double digit deficit when Kobe was not in the game, though.

The MAJOR flaw in your analogy is that the GM survey is not a "blind" test. The GMs are watching games with their eyes wide open. I suggest that you and Berri should do the same.

I agree with you that Paul is a very good defensive guard. I said as much last year, when the stat gurus had not yet figured this out. The rest of what you said is not correct. The two best players in the NBA are Kobe and LeBron. I'd still give a slight edge to Kobe but don't have a huge problem if someone else takes LeBron. Paul is the best pg but I would not take him over those two players any more than I would take Isiah or Stockton over Magic or MJ.

You took the Morey quotes completely out of context. He also said that there is nothing that Kobe does poorly but that he does somethings relatively less well than others. Manu is not as good as Kobe but he has fewer "imbalances" in his game in that there is less variation between his effectiveness, say, going right or left. Let's say that I drive right and left equally well but that Kobe drives better to his right. Would that mean that I am better than Kobe? Of course not. I don't drive either direction nearly as well as Kobe (obviously) so the fact that I (for the sake of this discussion) have a less "imbalanced" game is meaningless. You also quite tellingly left out the part in which Hinkie said that Battier can stop many players but that with Kobe it is a matter of picking your poison.

I have written an article about the Lewis article that should appear at PBN shortly.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 1:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

By the way, in light of the Lakers' 8-1 record without Bynum--including wins at Boston and Cleveland--do you still adhere to your inflated opinion of his importance to the Lakers relative to Kobe's? Can you say with a straight face that the Lakers would have gone 8-1 against the same opposition with Bynum and without Kobe?

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 2:51:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

Owen, I'm betting you have read Super Crunchers, by Ian Ayres? It's a very good book, and I would recommend it to you too David.

That said, basketball is just not a perfect subject for statistical analysis, or at least not with our current boxscore. Assists & rebounds are awarded improperly or inconsistently (See Paul; LeBron's "triple-double").

More importantly, so many basketball plays defy any stat-gathering. What is the value of having a Daniel Gibson or Jason Kapono or Peja stationed out at the 3pt line? One of those guys requires defensive attention, which perhaps frees up a teammate elsewhere on the court/makes it easier for a screen-roll to break down a defense with the shooter's defender required to stay at home. (And sure, +/- catches some of that).

Or take the player who drives to the hoop past his man, using considerable basketball skill, but who misses the layup. Current stats assign a negative to that. But perhaps that drive collapsed & disrupted the defense, and then Z or Gasol or Maxiell/Wallace or Duncan is able to escape attention and slam home/tip in a rebound, from the miss by LBJ/Kobe/AI/Parker. Had an inferior player merely tossed up a jumpshot and the rebound clanged 5 to 10 feet away, there's no tip-back possibility. That driving miss, and the ability to drive & disrupt the interior defense, adds possible value whether or not the driver scores on his shot.

Now, if we had a statistic that captured the frequency with which a player's missed shot is followed by a make in the next 2 or 3 seconds, we might be able to capture the value added by the skill I am describing. But so far as I am aware, no such statistic exists.

Likewise, do we award assists when a player's pass leads to a shooting opportunity but the player is fouled (and misses the shot)? My understanding is that we do not. But if the fouled player makes both FTs, then this pass is really just as valuable as a "normal" assist, b/c those FTs would not have occurred without the creative input of the pass.

Nor do we track the "hockey" assists, and certainly there is value to a player driving, collapsing the D, kicking it back to a player at the 3pt line, who then shuffles it around the top one more pass over to a more open 3pt shooter, who scores. Clearly the driver contributed to that bucket, but the driver receives no statistical credit (other than a boost to the +/- rating).

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 4:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yet I've rarely if ever heard people talk about what Bird did in the first three quarters, so why focus on what Kobe did prior to the overtime?"

I guess that kind of epitomizes your way of looking at things. A game where Mchale had 33, Wittman went 11-13, Rivers had 18-16, boiled down to Bird in the fourth quarter.

Your assessment of Gasol is curious. This is the guy who led the Grizzlies to the 9th, 7th, and 5th best records in the NBA from 2003-6. And that was with a supporting cast led by Mike Miller and Shane Battier.

To say Kobe is responsible for Gasol's success this year is pretty shallow analysis given Gasol's track record before arriving in LA. And Gasol's fg% is actually lower when he is on the floor with Kobe at 55% than it is overall this season. He has only played 250 minutes without him, but still, doesn't really jibe with your point. Also, in his last full season in Memphis his ts% was at 59.4%, not far short of the 61.7% he has put up this year.

My point? Gasol has been a little better in LA, but basically he is exactly the same excellent player he has always been. Which brings us back to the wine bottles. Like the wine experts, you can't really seem to distinguish between the same wine in two very different bottles.

I will freely admit Bynum wasn't as good this year as he was last year or as good as Kobe this year. As I said last year, that's a bet I couldn't lose. For now, I can just chalk it up to coming off of microfracture surgery. If next year and the year after it continues, well, then you will have me admitting I made a mistake.

You are creeping into the habit of using +/- as an in-game evaluation tool. It's a bad habit. At some point, you are just going to have to square up to the fact that Kobe's statistics are pretty pedestrian when you compare them to the three best players in the league, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Lebron James.

Your take on Manu and Kobe is pretty typical of your approach. Look, Manu is a more efficient scorer than Kobe. He has been for the last five years. There isn't any question about it.

This year, Kobe is actually shooting better from three this year, has a higher fg%, and is shooting 87.2 from the line. However, his true shooting percentage is 3% points lower. Which is pretty typical. Manu is a more efficient scorer than Kobe and a smarter, better basketball player when he is on the court, where unfortunately he has trouble staying.

Owen

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 4:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Those are some very cogent points about the current limitations of basketball statistical analysis. I have no objection whatsoever regarding the efforts to make basketball statistical analysis something that resembles a science more than an art; I only object to assertions that it is already a science.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 5:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

I did not mean to diminish what other players produced in game seven. My point is that you have to assess the complete body of work--within a game, a series of games, a season or a career--and not artificially isolate a sample. Bird had a pedestrian first three quarters and then he scored 20 points on 9-10 shooting. More importantly, the kinds of plays that he made--and the time of the game in which he made them--stamp him as a great player. Bird used to say that a lot of players will take a last second shot when the score is tied but not nearly as many want the ball when their team trails by one or two points. Bird produced a big performance when his team needed it most; to focus on only his first three quarters or on whatever his overall "win score" or "PER" was for that game would be to miss the forest for the trees. The same is true of the Lakers-Hornets game in which Kobe did not shoot as well as normal but still finished with 39 points, five assists, two turnovers while completely taking over the overtime. Also, don't forget that when Fisher "saved their butt" he was open because the Hornets had to trap Kobe. Take Kobe out and let those guys try to consistently create shots on their own and you will get something resembling the mess that took place (from the Lakers' perspective) in the fourth quarter when the Hornets rallied.

Gasol is playing the best basketball of his career in L.A. One of the reasons that the Grizzlies got rid of him is that they concluded that they could not win a title with him as the number one option, so they hit "reboot" and decided to start over. I don't know that their rebuilding plan will work--that is a separate issue--but I agree with the assessment that Gasol should not be the primary option on a championship level team.

I would assume that in the small sample size of minutes that Gasol is not on the court with Kobe he is anchoring the second unit and playing against reserve players.

Stat gurus like to assert that players play the same way no matter what circumstance they are in but I don't think that this is always--or even most often--the case. Yes, Gasol has the same skill set but his opportunities to use that skill set are different now; he is playing in a different offense and he is facing different defensive coverages.

At this stage of his career, Bynum is a nice luxury for the Lakers when he is healthy, in shape and focused on his primary roles (defense and rebounding). Kobe is far and away the best player on the team. Gasol is an extremely capable second option. The Lakers can absorb the loss of Bynum without missing a beat because he has never been as productive or important as you suggested. However, if Gasol or Odom gets hurt, then the Lakers will have a problem because of who is playing behind those players. That is why Bynum is a luxury, not a necessity. If Gasol and Odom play strong in the paint--as they have done in recent games--then the Lakers can beat the Celtics or the Cavs in a seven game series. We know what the Lakers are going to get from Kobe.

I am not using plus/minus as an "evaluation tool." I freely, openly and repeatedly state that it is a "noisy" stat; I rarely reference it without placing it in the larger context of what I have observed. In the case of Friday's game, the Hornets made their run when Kobe was out of the game. Overall, when Kobe and Paul were both on the court, the Lakers outperformed the Hornets and the plus/minus numbers reflect that. That is all I am saying; I am not making any kind of sweeping evaluation beyond that. This was just one game.

Manu is the second or third option on his team. Comparing his "efficiency" to Kobe's is somewhat like comparing MJ's "efficiency" to Horace Grant's. The first option has to draw double teams and create scoring opportunities for himself and others. Duncan and Parker do that for the most part for the Spurs. Manu has the luxury of playing off of them and/or freelancing in the open court. He also comes off of the bench, plays limited minutes and goes against reserve players for a good portion of the game, though he is often a "closer" too. He is not as dependable as Kobe due to the simple fact that he is out of the lineup frequently and is a limited minutes player. Kobe suits up every night and is capable of playing 40 plus mpg for an extended period of time if necessary.

In last year's playoffs, I correctly asserted that Manu would be the X factor versus the Hornets because the Hornets had no one who could guard him. Manu came up huge in game seven of that series. I also correctly predicted that he would not have nearly the same impact versus the Lakers because he does not enjoy a mismatch against Kobe. That also turned out to be correct. A lot of people talked about Manu's health but he sure got less healthy quickly between that game seven and the next series. I love Manu's heart and skill set; he is a wonderful player but he is not nearly as good as Kobe Bryant. To say that Manu is a "smarter" player than Kobe is absurd; Manu plays a pell mell, reckless style that is part of the reason he is hurt so often. Also, he cannot dominate for long stretches the way that Kobe can.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 6:43:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

Following on with my last comment, here are several other areas where stats are non-existent or deficient (and I'm sure I'm not necessarily the first to come up with these, but just want to throw them out there):

Turnovers may suffer from the same subjectivity as assists. Who gets the TO when player A passes to B and the ball winds up out of bounds? In some cases, A may be at fault for making a poor pass that B barely managed to get a touch on and B lacks fault. Other times, player B may have taken his eyes off the ball & missed a simple pass, or be Kwame Brown. Maybe the box score folks do a tremendous job at this, but I am sure there are errors.

Related to the point about dribble penetrators missing shots that bigs tip in/dunk, I would love to see stats regarding:
--% of a player's missed shots that become an offensive rebound
--% of a player's missed shots where the opposing team scores w/in 5 to 7 seconds or so (the long 3 clanging off the front rim to Nash/Parker-types who push for an easy score).

In baseball, every out is a bad thing. Unambiguously. But AI driving, disrupting the defense and missing a layup that Maxiell slams home was *valuable,* when current stats regard AI's move as negative. Certainly AI's miss was far superior to, say, Rasheed Wallace missing when chucking up a long three that produces a long rebound that jumpstarts a fast break. Surely players differ in the distribution of their misses in the first category (followed by scores and/or offensive rebounds) and in the second (leading to opponents' scores).

Further, these stats probably could be constructed currently given that several outlets record play-by-play info and time of shots/baskets; likewise for the teammates' buckets following a miss. It would be interesting to see these stats compiled and integrated in some fashion into statistical analysis.

Sure, things like PER and some advanced stats have value in that they generally have fairly good predictive powers. Then again, a fairly simple metric like looking at a team's point differential proves to be highly predictive of playoff performance, right? To really get at individuals' contributions, we need stats that (a) are more accurate and (b) measure more of what goes on in a game of basketball, to the extent we can capture such things (i.e., not sure how to measure the need to trap Kobe, which distracted CP3 who wound up leaving Fisher open for the tying 3).

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 6:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My point is that you have to assess the complete body of work--within a game, a series of games, a season or a career--and not artificially isolate a sample. Bird had a pedestrian first three quarters and then he scored 20 points on 9-10 shooting. More importantly, the kinds of plays that he made--and the time of the game in which he made them--stamp him as a great player."

I am not the one isolating a sample of Bird's play.

And it's not his performance in a few memorable moments that stamp him as a great player. That's the mythology sure, but it's his statistics that really do that.

It's interesting that you talk about Manu being the second option since last year he was the leading scorer on the Spurs per 36 minutes, and easily the most efficient also. He also had the highest usage rate. He does play less minutes, but when he is on the court, he isn't a second option to anyone.

Also, that second option argument is interesting to me since in Kobe's case, his scoring efficiency has risen since Shaq left the Lakers, after astonishing consistency for 8 years.

Your point that Kobe's game allows him to stay healthy is a good one. That is a major benefit of low efficiency midrange jumpers. I don't know which thread it was, but that is also a point I made here long ago. As I have said then, his durability and stamina are probably his most outstanding assets.

Re Gasol - At the end of the day, his teams in Memphis were as I said 9th, 7th and 5th in the league. That's a record that compares very favorably to what Kobe did post Shaq. And he has more offensive win shares (Kubatko, not Berri) than Kobe this year. You want to fit him into the Kobe story, but this is a guy who has been a top 25 NBA player in the past 6 years, with and without Kobe.

And Memphis didn't get rid of him because he wasn't talented enough. They got rid of him because of salary.

Alright, going to get back to watching Wade, another guy who is better than Kobe...

Owen

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 8:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, I don't care what Kobe CAN do, I care about what Kobe and LeBron are DOING NOW.

You keep on talking about LeBron's shooting problems but completely ignore what makes him special. His size, speed and strength.
Kobe brings his superior shooting, while LeBron brings his physical gifts to the table, those are the tools that they have that the other doesn't.
You talk about Kobe's versatility, what a bout LeBron's ability to play the 4? Being big and strong is not "valuable"?

This is exactly how Nash and Iverson won their MVPs Because the dominant big men during their time didn't have the "complete basketball skillset."
Nobody roots for goliath. The polls in themselves are completely biased. How well do you think Shaq, in his most dominant year, would fare in "last second shot" polls?
Kobe causes more adjustments than LeBron because, well, have you seen the Cav's offense??

"but that voting clearly is more of a reflection of James' age than of a skill set comparison"
Really? So Kobe was a better player when he was LeBron's age than LeBron is right now? Seriously?

Now, you look at their supporting casts, then you look at their record/point differentials.
Fact is, they have near identical records and point differentials but Kobe has by far, a better supporting cast even without Bynum.
Do you actually think Ilgauskas or Mo Williams could bring those sad Grizzlies teams into the playoffs?

I agree with you that last second shots are overrated. If you can take over, why didn't you do it at the start of the game?
Why wait for the fourth quarter to kick it up a notch? You could, and should, be resting already.
Making baskets when you "need" to is as dumb as Shaq's "making freethrows when they count". THEY ALL COUNT.

Z

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 8:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a huge Ginobili fan, but he's not at Kobe's level. Manu plays with tremendous heart and passion, but he can't sustain it. Durability and endurance are also important basketball skills that people usually fail to consider.

That said, I would not be so quick to dismiss Manu's efficiency. Manu often plays with the Spurs' scrubs, which often means plenty of shots, but a low FG% for most shooting guards. That plus the fact that he is on the floor at the end of games AND he gets plays drawn up for him is a testament to his being a special player.

Z

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 10:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Although I have not actually charted them, I suspect that turnovers are even more subjective than assists. If I were a GM/Coach/Scout, what would interest me much more than a player's turnovers stats would be to watch him play--both in person and on film--and evaluate his decision making. Does he have sound judgment about when to pass, when to drive and when to shoot? On defense, does he understand fundamental principles--individually and collectively--and apply those principles effectively? If you look in the record book, most of the records for most turnovers are held by great players. Obviously, a turnover is not a good thing and it is best to minimize turnovers as a team, but great players have to be granted some leeway in light of their overall production. Doug Collins likes to say of Jason Kidd and Steve Nash that they are not afraid to commit a turnover.

I don't know if there will ever be a stat that details how a great player distorts the opposing defense and creates shot opportunities--at least on plays when the great player neither scores nor gets an assist. As I like to say, you have to watch the game with understanding--and an unbiased mind--to discern such things.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 11:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

Why do you insist on twisting my words around? I am not isolating one aspect of Bird's play, either. You said that Kobe's overtime performance "almost redeemed" his earlier play in that game. I find that to be a very odd choice of words. The ultimate object of the game is to win and the ultimate goal for the player is--or should be--to be productive overall, even if he has some subpar stretches during the course of 48 (or 53) minutes. Kobe did not shoot well in the early portion of the game, but his decision making was good for the most part and then in the overtime he took over and his team won. He finished with 39 points, five assists and just two turnovers; I've already said my piece on the turnover stat but for a player to handle the ball as much as he did in that game and only have two turnovers is pretty impressive. So, Kobe was productive overall and he was especially productive in the last five minutes, which I consider to be much more meaningful than simply hitting a last second shot.

In the Bird game that I cited, Bird had a very pedestrian first three quarters but his fourth quarter performance lifted his team to victory and he ended up with a very productive performance overall. In evaluating a one game performance, it makes no sense to simply speak of the first three quarters--or the first four quarters of an overtime game. That is the point of my analogy. I am not suggesting that Bird's reputation rests solely on that game any more than I would suggest that Kobe's reputation rests solely on this game. You said that Kobe had a "terrible" game that he "almost redeemed" and I explained why (1) Kobe's game was not terrible (the only subpar aspect of his performance is that he shot a little worse than normal) and (2) it seems odd to say that making the plays that ultimately won the game only "almost redeemed" his performance.

I don't really care about Manu's per 36 minute performance. He is not a heavy minutes player and his first "run" in a game is almost always against reserves. He is a very good player who is fun to watch, a matchup nightmare for many teams and an All-Star level player when he is healthy. However, he is not nearly as good as Kobe. I just cannot rate someone who is essentially a part time player--both in terms of games missed and minutes player--over someone who rarely misses games and plays heavy minutes. Disregarding for a moment that Manu simply is not as good a player as Kobe is, if I were a GM and I took Manu over Kobe then I would need to have a great backup player to fill in for all of the time that Manu is not on the court.

Kobe's midrange jumpers are hardly "low efficiency" shots--at least for him--and he still gets to the free throw line at a good clip (sixth most FTAs this year and in the top eight in that category every season since 2001). Kobe has a better postup game than LeBron or Manu, so it is funny for you to act like he is scared of the paint or that he avoids contact. The difference between Kobe and Manu/Wade is that Manu/Wade are reckless/out of control at times; Iverson is able to play that way and not get hurt but Manu and Wade have been less fortunate.

In the immediate post-Shaq years, the Lakers started Kwame Brown and Smush Parker. Luke Walton, who often did not even play in games this season, was a sometime starter as well. Let me know when those guys are regular starters for a playoff contender again. Smush is a young player and he is not even in the league anymore. As soon as Kobe had any semblance of a supporting cast, his team did not have the 9th or 7th best record--they immediately had the best record in the toughest Western Conference race ever and this year they are lapping the Western Conference field. The Lakers went through "three seasons" last year--with Bynum, with Gasol and without either big man--but Kobe kept the Lakers on track despite all of those adjustments to players going in and out of the lineup. Gasol was a one time All-Star in all of his previous Memphis years but he has already matched that total in L.A. and has a good chance of being an All-NBA player this year as well.

Part of what Memphis did with Gasol had to do with money but part of it also had to do with management's belief that they had gone as far as they could with Gasol as the number one option; all you had to do was watch how softly he played in the Finals to understand why they thought that way. I don't dispute that Gasol is an All-Star level player; I am simply noting that he is playing better than ever as a second option to Kobe. When it suits other people's "storylines," they are quick to speak about how Chris Paul "made" West into an All-Star and about Nash's impact on various players, but Kobe has had an obvious, positive impact on the performances of his teammates as well, as noted above with the Kwame-Smush teams and as seen now with Gasol. It is also worth mentioning that Bynum, Farmar, Vujacic and the other younger players on the team have benefited greatly from being mentored by Kobe in terms of how to work out, how to be a professional and many other aspects of becoming a better player. These things have been reported, yet the media does not focus on them because this does not fit their "storyline" of Kobe as a selfish gunslinger. Also, the way that Kobe helped change the culture of Team USA should not be forgotten.

Wade has reestablished himself as an All-NBA caliber player this year. I would think that Kobe, LeBron, Howard and Paul are locks for the First Team, so unless the voters do something funny with the positional designations Wade will end up on the Second Team. He is not the shooter that Kobe is nor--despite his spectacular individual plays--is he as good a defender as Kobe. Also, though this might not be entirely fair, I dock Wade ever so slightly because of the durability issue. Kobe has proven his durability and LeBron has been very durable but Wade has yet to have a prolonged period of good health during his career.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 11:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I don't ignore what makes LeBron special. I have made it clear that my comparison of Kobe and LeBron in many ways boils down to evaluating the value of Kobe's superior skill set versus LeBron's obvious athletic advantages. Kobe had a clear edge in 2006 and 2007, a definite but smaller edge last year and an even smaller edge this year.

Yes, LeBron can play the four and Kobe can play the one, two or three, offensively and defensively. Positional versatility is not a weakness for either player.

For the record, I have said many times that Shaq should have won the 2005 MVP over Nash. While I value players who have complete skill sets, I agree that when there is a player who is extremely dominant in one or two areas that dominance can trump a less dominant player who has a more complete skill set. However, that analogy does not apply here. LeBron is not a postup player who camps out on the block, shoots .600 from the field and ranks in the top ten in rebounding and blocked shots. LeBron is a small forward who mostly plays facing the basket, while Kobe is a shooting guard who actually posts up more than LeBron does. As the fellow over at the "Respect Kobe" site recently pointed out, although LeBron shoots more "point blank" shots than Kobe does, the two players actually shoot a similar percentage of their shots in the paint, because Kobe has a much more developed postup game. LeBron shoots a phenomenal percentage on his dunks and layups but he is average or below average from virtually every other area on the court. Kobe is a threat from the paint all the way out to the three point line.

I have made it clear that I value clutch performance over stretches of a game much more than last second shots but I still found the poll results interesting.

I don't understand your comment about Kobe's abilities at LeBron's age. I am not talking about comparing them at similar ages. I am talking about who is better right now. When the GMs are asked who is better now, they take Kobe; when they are asked who they would build a team around, they take LeBron. Clearly, you build a team around a younger player. That is all that I am saying and the voting pattern makes it clear that my interpretation of their reasoning is correct.

I disagree that Kobe has a "far superior" supporting cast. You are looking at name value as opposed to productivity. The Lakers are a more explosive offensive team, but the Cavs are a more physical team and they are better defensively. Players 1-10 on the Cavs roster can competently play 10-15 mpg if necessary and the Cavs have good balance; they are not stacked at one position but thin at another, as I noted in my recent article for CavsNews.com. I think that the balance and depth of the Cavs' roster is greatly underrated. Of course, the Lakers have a balanced and deep roster as well.

 
At Sunday, February 22, 2009 11:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

As I said, when he is healthy Manu is an All-Star caliber player. I like his game and I enjoy watching him play--but he is not an MVP caliber player. I don't consider that to be an insult. At any given time, there are only a handful of MVP caliber players--basically, the All-NBA First Team players plus, at most, one or two others who may not make the First Team due to positional designations. Some people (not necessarily you or the other people who are commenting in this thread) act like there are 20-30 "elite" players in the NBA; it all depends on how you define "elite." The 10-25th best players in the NBA are All-Star level players, so you could call them "elite" I suppose, but to me an "elite" player should be on the All-NBA First Team or, maybe, on the All-NBA Second Team. So, Manu is not "elite," Melo is not "elite," Arenas was not "elite" and so forth. Kobe, LeBron, Paul, Howard, Duncan are "elite" players. Wade is playing like an "elite" player but I almost have him on "probation" in a sense because I want to see if he can stay healthy for a whole year. There are one or two other names that we could debate but that's about it for "elite" players currently playing in the NBA.

 
At Monday, February 23, 2009 12:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - As I have said before, all you can say is that Kobe plays more minutes and games than Manu. That is really it. And he makes 10 million more.

As for redemption, all I meant to say is that even after overtime, Kobe was still below his average for the season, but just marginally. If the game had ended in regulation it would have been one of his worst of the season. So that is the sense that I mean he almost redeemed himself. He almost brought himself back to his average level of production.

Gasol led three straight teams that were in the top 10 in the NBA. And he yet again had a better game than Kobe, unless other people were responsible for a few of those six turnovers (which is entirely possible)

David West never deserved to be an All-Star....

 
At Monday, February 23, 2009 8:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

I never brought up salary in any of my player comparisons, so what does that have to do with anything? I have explained in numerous posts exactly why I consider Kobe to be the best player in the game today, so I am not interested in rehashing those points again vis a vis Manu. Clearly, we disagree about this and neither one of us is going to make the other person budge.

I still think that your assessment of Kobe's game versus NO is overly harsh but the way that you phrased it in your most recent comment is much more precise than the previous formulation that you used.

Gasol played very well against NO. I did not "chart" the TOs that were assigned to him. It cannot be emphasized enough how much Gasol benefits from the extra defensive coverage that Kobe draws. Does that mean that Gasol would be a terrible player without Kobe? Of course not. Does that mean that Gasol cannot score without Kobe? Of course not. Does that even mean that Gasol cannot on occasion score against double teams, whether or not Kobe is in the game? Of course not. All it means is that on a night in, night out basis over the course of 82 games, Gasol bears a much lighter physical and mental burden because Kobe is shouldering the brunt of the load in terms of the other team's defensive efforts. No one who understands basketball would disagree with this.

OK, I'll bite: who would you have taken over West for the All-Star Game? I agree that his selection this year was perhaps somewhat marginal but last year's selection was solid from my point of view.

 
At Monday, February 23, 2009 8:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between Kobe's shooting and LeBron's athleticism is certainly up for debate. You clearly prefer Kobe's shooting, but as we have seen, there are games in which LeBron's shooting suddenly spikes up to video-game like levels. Kobe's athleticism is at its peak, but he provides a more consistent offense. Whichever you prefer, you can't go wrong with either one.

However, I just do not believe that you or anyone else would actually think that LeBron's supporting cast is on par or even better than Kobe's. Pau Gasol can and still does, draw double-teams. None of the Cavs can say that.

"You are looking at name value as opposed to productivity."
Really? How is Ilgauskas more productive than Gasol? Gasol averaged around 18-9 when he was alone in Memphis, commanding double teams, and reached the playoffs when the West was dominant. Big Z's best seasons don't even match Gasol's averages. He's 33 now! Ever since the Gasol trade you've been acting like he's some scrub. He's not nearly as soft as his reputation suggests!

You would rather have Mo Williams than Odom??? Seriously? Odom is one of the best passers at the forward slots, a great rebounder, and a better defender than Williams! The only edge Williams has is outside shooting!

Defenses have been ignoring LeBron's teammates, while they have to pay attention to Gasol, and watch out for Odom's cuts.
LeBron has 2 teammates who are complete offensive liabilities. They provide zero spacing. The Lakers do not have one completely one dimensional player in their rotation. (Adam Morrison doesn't count)

Name one Cav back court crew who is better defensively than Trevor Ariza. Mo Williams, Gibson, and Wally are better defenders than Farmar, Fisher, Vujacic? Delonte is good, but nowhere near Ariza's level.
"Name" players? Ben Wallace!

I would also like to point out that the Lakers were phenomenal defensively at the start of the season, but now have lost some of that intensity. It's not like they're not capable.

I know that you're criteria for MVP is the overall basketball talent/skillset which I do agree with, but I also place a high value on team performance in the proper context.

Bottom line, the Cavs and Lakers will finish with near identical records and point differentials. Kobe has the better supporting cast, and the better coach. LeBron does as much, with less.

The same reason why my vote went to Paul last year, and I believe, had Kobe not been robbed of his MVP during his best season(carried a bunch of scrubs into the playoffs, career high scoring, stretched PHX to 7 games) by Nash lovers, Paul would have won. But that's another discussion.

I'd like to add that I'm not a Paul/LeBron fan. Paul is a jerk on the court, and LeBron is a gigantic ego-maniac. I just think you're overcompensating for all those "Kobe bashers" out there.

Z

 
At Monday, February 23, 2009 11:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

It's not so much that I prefer shooting to athleticism per se but rather that Kobe does not have a deficiency in any area. He is not quite as explosively athletic as LeBron but Kobe is certainly still one of the most athletic players in the NBA; his athleticism is not a detriment. LeBron's outside shooting is still a detriment to his game. This is why most GMs still say that Kobe is the better player and that it is more difficult to game plan for him.

I agree that Gasol is the best individual player on these two teams other than Kobe and LeBron but that is not what I am looking at when I evaluate the strengths of the collective "supporting casts." What you are doing is simply listing each player as if there were a common draft for the two rosters and concluding that the Lakers' players would go higher than the Cavs' players. My point is that, collectively, the Cavs are a very strong defensive team (even without LeBron), while the Lakers are a very strong offensive team (though less so without Kobe drawing double teams). The teams are constructed differently but the depth and balance of the Cavs is illustrated by how many games this year the Cavs have won so handily that LeBron did not even have to play in the fourth quarter. The Lakers have had a few games like that but not as many as the Cavs.

The Lakers' supposed defensive revolution in the early part of the season was largely a mirage, as I said at the time when so many people were raving about it. If you read my interviews with assistant coach Cleamons, he makes it quite clear that their rotations are not "on point" and that most of the players on the team do not have good defensive instincts. The Lakers' alleged "new" defensive scheme is in fact simply the coaching staff articulating specifically how the players should rotate in various situations because, other than Kobe and probably Fisher, most of the Lakers do not do this properly on their own. In contrast, Cleamons told me that the 90s Bulls did not need such structure because the players had better defensive instincts/understanding.

In contrast, the Cavs are an excellent, physical defensive team. That has been their hallmark since Mike Brown became their coach. Understanding the true nature of this team's strengths is why I have consistently (and correctly) picked the Cavs to do better in the playoffs than most of the so-called experts.

 
At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 2:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

lebron is getting right there in every category with kobe. im still waiting for kobe to have a dominant game vs celtics lebron already has in the last win kobe teamates bailed kobe out even though he hit 3 big 3 he went 10-29. gasol is better than everyone on lebron team and if odom right he is the lakers are the deepest most talented team in league they played well alot of late when kobe didnt play well.

 
At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 2:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I agree that the battle for the top spot between Kobe and LeBron is very close.

As for having a "dominant" game versus Boston, you must not have been watching on Christmas Day when Kobe had a game-high 27 points, a team-high nine rebounds and five assists while shooting 13-23 from the field as the Lakers beat the Celtics 92-83. Considering the defensive attention that Boston lavishes on Kobe, that is a remarkable stat line.

Kobe has not had very many games this year in which he did not play well; even the few times that he has shot poorly he has either made big shots in the clutch and/or he has contributed in ways other than scoring.

 
At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 3:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm having trouble with the "It's more difficult to game plan for him" because it doesn't specifically state if their teammates are involved or not. Kobe holds the sizeable advantage not because of his outside shooting, but because he has teammates that could really make defenses pay for doubling him. So I'd just like to clarify the question, if their teammates are not involved, or if they switched teams, would the survey's results still be the same? I don't know how the question was phrased, or how the GMs interpreted it, but it does give Kobe a possible advantage.

"What you are doing is simply listing each player as if there were a common draft for the two rosters and concluding that the Lakers' players would go higher than the Cavs' players." yes I did, and we both agree that the Lakers' players would go higher than the Cavs'. Phil Jackson is perfectly capable of creating a "defensive system." The Lakers also have all the physical tools necessary.

The Cavs have many more blowouts; yes, LeBron is not playing his regular minutes, again yes. However, he is still leading the league in points, leading all forwards in assists, and leading his team in points, REBOUNDS, assists, and steals. The Cavs are blowing teams out because LeBron did the same damage that he did last year, and needed less minutes to do so! He sits in the fourth because he finished doing in 36 minutes, what used to take him 40.

I agree with you that the Cavs are a very strong team, I even picked them over the Celtics last year, even before Atlanta brought them to game 7.

Z

 
At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 5:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

You are making this way too complicated. The question posed to the GMs prior to the season was, "Which player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments?" Nothing was said about teammates or supporting casts. Kobe got 63.0% of the votes, LeBron got 25.9%. Fans can have their opinions and stat gurus can crunch numbers any way that they choose but GMs have a better idea of what actually goes into making a game plan than fans or stat gurus do. If nearly two thirds of the league's GMs say that it is harder to game plan for Kobe than for LeBron there really is not a lot to debate here. Of course, fans are entitled to have whatever opinions they want but their opinions have nothing to do with the reality of how NBA game plans are actually constructed.

As for the USATODAY survey, the writer asked the GMs whether or not LeBron has surpassed Kobe as the league's best player. Eleven GMs declined to answer but of the 19 who responded, 12 chose Kobe as the best player and seven chose LeBron.

The most interesting part about this is that the media has been trying to say for two months that the MVP race is over (in LeBron's favor) but the people who actually run NBA teams still give the edge to Kobe.

It is funny to me that people who are outside of the NBA really, truly and passionately believe that they have a better understanding of what is involved in making up a game plan than the people who are actually running NBA franchises. If you read Discover and Scientific American do you know more about quantum mechanics than the leading researchers in the field? There is a difference between being an interested amateur, a learned observer and someone who actually works in a given field. My observation is that very few interested amateurs actually put in the necessary time and effort to become learned observers. There is a difference between casually watching NBA games and actually studying NBA games to understand what is really happening.

The other thing that is funny to me is that some people say I write too much about Kobe but the posts about Kobe generate more comments than any other kinds of posts. That is not why I do these posts, mind you--I write about what interests me and what I think is important--but I don't see big discussions taking place when I interview coaches or write about old school players or even when I write about other current players/teams. Obviously, if I based my content here solely on which posts generate the most comments then I would write about nothing but Kobe, instead of dedicating lengthy posts to the ABA, various old school players, league-wide analysis and interviews with various authors.

 
At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 9:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is the question complicated?
It's a loaded question that can be misinterpreted to favor Kobe, but not LeBron.
Let me put it this way, Kobe forces more adjustments because he has Pau Gasol.
Unless you specifically told them not to consider their teammates, GMs and coaches prepare to face teams, not just players.
Also, were the remaining 19 GMs who answered equally distributed among divisions and conferences?
I question the credibility of the survey itself, just like you questioned the scorekeeper's ability to track assists.

I can't believe you actually went there and "pulled rank."
So since I'm on the side of 25.9% of the 19 GMs across the league, I'm just a casual observer?
So what does that make the 7 GMs that do share my opinion? They're interested amateurs too?

When have I ever said that you write too much about Kobe? You do, but hey it's your blog, you should do what you want.
The reason why there are a lot more comments in your Kobe articles, because for most of your other other articles, we usually agree with what you say.
We ask a few questions, offer a few insights, but theres not a lot of to fight about.
They're high quality articles that offer a lot of basketball insight, that's why we get interesting discussions here.
Have you ever noticed that only in your Kobe articles do most of your readers have a conflicting opinion with yours?

He is carrying a bigger load on his team with less help and the Cavs and Lakers have a near identical record and point differential.
Ask GMs, coaches, and players how well the Lakers would fare without Kobe compared to how well the Cavs would fare without LeBron.
I took my time to explain why I would vote LeBron for MVP but your last response offered zero basketball content.

Z

 
At Wednesday, February 25, 2009 5:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

First off, just to be clear, I was not "pulling rank" on you but rather responding to the general tenor of several recent comments, including a few that I elected not to publish (but I assume that the people who wrote those comments may still be lurking here). I apologize if you felt that I was attacking you personally.

That said, I stick with my specific comment directed toward you, namely that you are making this particular issue too complicated. I quoted for you the exact wording of the question in the preseason GM survey. There is nothing in that question about other players on the team and no reason to believe that the GMs considered that factor. The point blank question was "Which player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments?" Kobe has a more complete skill set than LeBron does and therefore the opposing coach has to make more adjustments to deal with him. For instance, Kobe can post up and score on the block, he can post up and shoot a turnaround over either shoulder, he can consistently make midrange jumpers and he is a good three point shooter--LeBron cannot CONSISTENTLY do any of those things (I emphasized that word because, obviously, anyone can cite examples of LeBron doing those things occasionally but they are not a consistent part of his arsenal).

I do not mean to suggest that two surveys make this issue an open and shut case and that should be clear in any event since I maintain that the difference between Kobe and LeBron is small now. My point is that prior to the season, most GMs selected Kobe over LeBron and that in the middle of this season--a season in which the media have been trying to give LeBron the MVP almost from day one--most GMs who responded to USA TODAY's survey still choose Kobe. The significance of those two surveys should not be overstated--but it should not be dismissed, either.

As for your scorekeeping analogy, defining an assist has become almost an entirely subjective matter these days, judging from what I have observed when charting games. GMs are obviously involved in putting together rosters and thus have to interact with the coaching staff to know what pieces are needed offensively and defensively. Therefore, GMs know what game plans their teams are using to defend against other teams and against elite players. This is not a subjective matter or something to speculate about; the GM knows if the game plan for Kobe consists of one or two principles or five pages of detailed instructions.

I can't be sure if readers have conflicting opinions about posts that generate little or no responses. I write about a wide variety of basketball subjects and will continue to do so but nothing generates more comments than posts about Kobe--and it should be noted that not all of the comments disagree with me, either.

The Cavs have a point differential of 10.1, ranking first in the NBA and nearly 25% better than the Lakers' point differential of 8.2 (third in the NBA). That is a significant disparity. Although the Lakers have a slightly better won-loss record, the Cavs have actually been a much more dominant team this year.

Although one night is obviously a small sample size, look at Tuesday's games: LeBron had 15 points on 4-10 shooting, starter Delonte West did not even play and the Cavs blew out the Grizzlies as LeBron did not even play in the fourth quarter; meanwhile, the Lakers squandered a big lead against the Thunder and needed 15 fourth quarter points from Kobe to seal the deal (they also needed a similar performance from him to beat the Thunder the last time that they played them). The Lakers needed five points by Kobe in the final 1:22 to beat Minnesota in the previous game.

The Cavs are a very deep team that plays great defense night in and night out. The Lakers do not play that kind of defense consistently and have a tendency to squander leads when Kobe is not in the game. Also, if you saw the highlights of Kobe's fourth quarter explosion versus the Grizzlies then you noticed that he scored on the post, used his footwork and also drew several fouls. LeBron cannot take over a game by posting up, using footwork and converting free throws.

LeBron's versatility and the athletic ability that enables him to storm his way to the hoop against lesser teams are compelling reasons to vote for him as MVP but I still rank him second behind Kobe; Kobe is also a very versatile player (he is having another 25-5-5 season and will soon trail only Oscar Robertson for the most such seasons in NBA history) and his skill set has no weaknesses.

Also, to be perfectly clear about the hypothetical Lakers-Cavs "draft" scenario, taking Kobe and LeBron out of the equation if I were "drafting" based purely on skill set (and not on salary, age or other factors), I'd take Gasol first but then I'd take Mo Williams and Z next before selecting Odom (he has always been inconsistent, so I am not convinced that his play in the past 10 games proves he has turned over a new leaf). So, Kobe has the best "sidekick" but LeBron has the next two best players on the two rosters. In any case, as I said before, when I speak of the relative depth of these teams I am not talking about that kind of comparison but rather making an evaluation of how well the roster performs overall. Cleveland's rotation of bigs--Z, Wallace, Varejao--is very formidable defensively and on the glass and the Cavs are also deep at the wing positions. I don't factor Bynum into the analysis at this point because I am skeptical that he will return this season, let alone return at full strength.

It is hard to make the case that Kobe has the better or more effective supporting cast when he repeatedly has to save the team from defeat with fourth quarter heroics while LeBron is spending many fourth quarters sitting on the bench. Again, the point differentials show that Cleveland has been the more dominant team overall this season.

 
At Wednesday, February 25, 2009 10:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think were going to get anywhere but its fun.

http://www.nba.com/statistics/plusminus/plusminus_sort.jsp?pcomb=1&season=22008&split=9&team=
LeBron James leads the league in +/- by a huge margin.
Odom, who came off the bench, is third in the entire league.

With LeBron on the floor, the Cavs build a big lead. It might not seem big to you, but look at their pace.
A 10 point lead in a Cavs game is different from a 10-point lead in a Lakers game!
When LeBron sits, he already turned the game into extensive garbage time. All the Cavs bench has to do is not get outscored by 10 by the other team's bench.
As evidenced by Odom's +/-, the situations that Kobe has to come back to lift his team are few and far between.

Kobe "repeatedly has to save the team from defeat with fourth quarter heroics." is a very, very, selfish and egotistical move.
LeBron does the heroics early, to put the game out of reach as quick as possible. That is what you call making your teammates better.
Develop your bench by playing them, and make your starters better by ensuring they'll be as fresh as possible.
That's why i really hate the "clutch" arguments. If you can make plays in the clutch, you have the ability to make them earlier.
You are doing your team a disservice by doing otherwise. There are only 2 things that happen in the clutch, either you fold or you don't.

"Kobe is also a very versatile player (he is having another 25-5-5 season and will soon trail only Oscar Robertson for the most such seasons in NBA history) and his skill set has no weaknesses."
Yet despite LeBron's inability to shoot, he's having 28-7-7, and leading his team in almost all statistical categories. Mike Brown is also using him against opposing teams' best perimeter player so you can't say he's not carrying his team there either.
Despite his inability to shoot(yeah sure, 49% sucks), he is doing more for his team than anybody else in the league, and his team is winning.
Teams have the option of leaving Wallace/Varejao to gang up on LeBron. There are no players on the Lakers that are that inept.

"Cleveland's rotation of bigs--Z, Wallace, Varejao--is very formidable defensively and on the glass and the Cavs are also deep at the wing positions."
http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/statistics?stat=teamstatreb&season=2009&seasontype=2&league=nba
So how come the Lakers and the Cavs have identical rebounding differentials and percentages then?

And aren't the Lakers deep at the wings as well? Fisher, Vujacic, Ariza are solid defenders in their own way. Fisher and Vujacic are dead-eye shooters and Ariza can slash to the basket as well.
I haven't seen much of Farmar, but he was good last season on both ends of the floor. Their back court and wings are full of 2 way players!
The Cavs have Delonte. Gibson only shoots. Pavlovic has been in steady decline since the stunt he pulled last year, and Wally is more valued for his contract than his game.

For the record I'd pick Gasol, Big Z, Odom, then Williams. When William's shot is not falling, he gives nothing else. Odom will still grab boards, and gives problems to the Dirks and David Wests of the league.

Z

 
At Wednesday, February 25, 2009 11:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Plus/minus numbers are notoriously "noisy." If you want examples of how many times Kobe has had to save the Lakers in the fourth quarter this year, all you have to do is go through the archives here or go to any site that has play by play data and look up the score when Kobe sits in the third quarter and the score when he comes back in during the fourth quarter. Obviously, Kobe has not had to save the Lakers every game--there are games that the bench has held leads--but he has had to do this a lot more than LeBron has this season.

I am baffled by your comment that it is "selfish" of Kobe to win the games in the fourth q. It is not his fault that the bench cannot hold leads that he helped build, nor does Kobe control his minutes; he and Coach Jackson had a bit of a dispute last game, because Kobe saw the team going south and wanted to check back in while Jackson wanted him to rest some more. Kobe said that he saw a sleepless night coming if he did not check back in soon and so he basically checked himself into the game (according to an L.A. Times article).

Coach Jackson is certainly trying to "develop" the Lakers' bench but the main thing that has "developed" so far is that they cannot consistently hold leads.

I don't dispute that LeBron is versatile; I was merely pointing out that Kobe is versatile and has been versatile for quite some time. Kobe is also a perennial All-Defensive First team member (an honor voted on by the league's coaches), a status that LeBron has yet to attain, though he will probably earn his first such nod this year.

The Cavs are markedly better than the Lakers in point differential, points allowed and defensive field goal percentage, all indicators that the Cavs are a better defensive team than the Lakers. I did not say that the Lakers are a bad rebounding team; obviously, they are a good rebounding team--but they are not nearly as good (or consistent) as the Cavs are defensively.

The Odom/Williams comparison is really tough because their games are completely different. From what I've seen of Williams, I'd take him because he seems to be more consistent. He is also playing very good defense this year, something he did not do in the past, and that indicates how motivated and attentive he is. Odom's motivation and attention drift at times.

 
At Thursday, February 26, 2009 1:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

i seen the first celtic game you right about that it was a pretty good game james has had more dominant games vs celts than kobe since big 3 kobe has 2 james has had like 6. i agree kobe has played great in most games there have been a few like all players where he didnt and those were games his teamates picked up the slack other gmaes where kobe picked up the slak when the bench couldnt hold leads.

the supporting cast for kobe is better than lebron no doubt,
do you think dwight howard is number 5 best player in league and how is your 6 -10 in the league i know kobe lebron wade paul howard top 5.

 
At Friday, February 27, 2009 8:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I don't agree that LeBron has had more dominant games versus the Celtics than Kobe has but you also have to remember that LeBron has played more total games versus the Celtics because the Cavs and Celtics are both in the East.

In any case, the point is not who put up better boxscore numbers but the fact that Kobe's skill set forces Boston to guard him differently than LeBron, whose erratic jumper enables defenses to sag off of him.

I think that Howard is a top five player.

If Duncan is not in the top five then he certainly is still in the top ten. Yao is a top ten player. KG probably has to be included, even though his numbers are down and the Celtics appear to be able to win without him, at least in the short term. There are a lot of players bunched together around 9-15: Brandon Roy, Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups deserve to be mentioned and Dirk Nowitzki is having a better season than many people may realize. Deron Williams is playing as well as just about anyone but he started out slowly and that initial impression may cause him to not make the All-NBA Team yet again.

 

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