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Friday, February 06, 2009

Lakers Outlast Celtics in Overtime, Reclaim Best Record in the NBA

Lamar Odom's two free throws with :16 left in overtime proved to be the difference as the L.A. Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics 110-109. Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 26 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had a team-high tying five assists but the Celtics made him work for everything he got, as Ray Allen and Paul Pierce took turns hounding him into 10-29 field goal shooting. Even though Bryant had a rough shooting night, he came through with three three pointers in the fourth quarter, the last of which put the Lakers up 101-100 with 1:30 remaining, their first lead in the second half.

Pau Gasol came up big with 24 points on 10-14 shooting plus a game-high 14 rebounds. Odom was MIA in the first half (two points on 1-3 shooting, three fouls) but finished with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Allen--who was just named to the All-Star team by Commissioner David Stern as a replacement for the injured Jameer Nelson--led the Celtics with 22 points, while Pierce added 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists but shot just 5-13 from the field. Kevin Garnett had 16 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 4:22 remaining in regulation.

Sometimes players and teams attempt to downplay the importance of a regular season game but the Lakers are not even trying to pretend that this was just another game. Bryant said, "This was not a statement to anybody else, this was a statement to us. Last year they took it from us, and I'm not going to live with that. I'm not going to sit here and let this team get punked any more."

On Christmas Day, the Lakers beat the Celtics 92-83 to end Boston's 19 game winning streak and this victory stopped Boston's current winning streak at 12. Last year, the Celtics swept the Lakers, achieved the best regular season record in the NBA and used the homecourt advantage to full effect during the playoffs as they captured their NBA record 17th championship; this year, the Lakers have swept the Celtics and are on course to fulfilling Coach Phil Jackson's publicly stated goal of making all of the other contenders have to go through the Staples Center to win the championship.

While the Lakers certainly enjoyed the finish of this game, the start was anything but auspicious: Boston raced out to a 9-2 lead. Odom has a tendency to passively drift around the court, so Jackson attempted to get him engaged early in the game, calling his number on the Lakers' first possession; Odom made a strong drive to the hoop and drew a foul on Rajon Rondo but Odom missed both free throws, essentially transforming that possession into nothing more than a turnover. Defensively, Bryant reprised his role as a roamer, assigned to guard Rondo but giving the non-shooter a lot of space in order to attempt to disrupt the other Celtic players. The problem for the Lakers was that in transition there were cross matches all over the place and the Celtics feasted on wide open shots and easy put backs. Odom threw the ball away on the Lakers' second possession before finally scoring a jump hook over Pierce.

After the Celtics scored three straight baskets in the paint, Bryant answered with back to back field goals: first he posted up Allen, spun away from double teamer Kendrick Perkins and nailed a short jumper and then he drove through the heart of Boston's defense to make a layup. Meanwhile, Odom continued to struggle; on one possession he drove into the paint, passed up a short shot and then got the ball back only to brick a jumper. Mercifully, he committed his second foul at the 6:34 mark and had to go to the bench. By that time the Lakers had cut the lead to 11-10 and soon after that Gasol hit a jumper to put them ahead for the first time. Allen and Derek Fisher traded three pointers before Bryant caught the ball on the post and slipped a nice feed to Gasol for a dunk. The Lakers had steadied themselves and they were up 23-20 by the end of the quarter. Bryant led both teams in scoring (10 points), rebounds (four) and assists (three).

TNT's Craig Sager asked Coach Jackson how the Lakers had withstood the early Boston barrage and Jackson whimsically replied, "Luck," noting that the Lakers had played awful transition defense but that the Celtics missed some open shots. Bryant had already attempted 10 shots and Coach Jackson offered this explanation for Bryant's aggressiveness: "If Lamar's going to be bashful six feet from the basket he (Bryant) is going to sense that and take some shots (but) we've got to get other guys involved." I have never understood why some commentators and fans blame Bryant for allegedly "forcing" shots but they don't direct their ire at guys like Odom who turn down open shots; it is very damaging for a team offensively if a player turns down an open shot, because in the NBA with the 24 second shot clock you are not likely to get another good open opportunity on that possession. Bryant "forcing" a shot that he is capable of making is a better option than an open player refusing to shoot and that is why when Bryant senses a vacuum--as Jackson has put it on other occasions--he tries to fill that vacuum.

One thing that really worked well for the Lakers in the first quarter was a screen/roll action involving Bryant. Josh Powell came in for Odom and did a good job setting screens and then either rolling to the hoop or spotting up for open jumpers that he proved he can make. Bryant scored the final field goal of the quarter on a midrange jumper after getting a defensive rebound, going coast to coast and using a middle screen from Powell to get just enough air space to shoot. After the Celtics missed, the Lakers had an opportunity to score again but this time the Bryant-Powell screen/roll went for naught after Bryant swung the ball to Trevor Ariza, who took one dribble and let the clock expire before shooting. Bryant immediately said to him, "Shoot the ball." That is yet another example of the harm caused by a player not taking an open shot.

Bryant went to the bench to get a quick rest at the start of the second quarter. Gasol and Odom stayed in the game with three bench players (Ariza, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar). Gasol assisted on an Ariza layup and then converted a three point play. TNT's Doug Collins reported that Coach Jackson told him that Gasol is capable of scoring versus Boston's bigs but that at times Gasol is "reluctant" to assert himself; Jackson wants Gasol to take the ball to the hoop strongly and not just meekly flip the ball at the hoop.

What I have noticed about Gasol in the year that he has been a Laker is that he has thrived as a teammate of Bryant's; Gasol shot .589 in 27 games as Laker last season after shooting .501 in the first 39 games while playing for Memphis and he is shooting .564 this season. I am not denigrating Gasol's abilities at all when I say that he benefits from playing alongside Bryant. Gasol is an All-Star caliber player and if he were the best player on the Lakers then he would be double-teamed fairly regularly--but because Bryant's presence requires that the defense be "tilted" in his direction, Gasol generally only receives single coverage when Bryant is in the game with him. Gasol plays a finesse oriented game, so he is a lot more comfortable beating one defender by using his finely tuned skills than he is dealing with multiple defenders, particularly if one or both of them bang Gasol around. When Bynum was healthy and playing center, Gasol played power forward and relied on his faceup game but with Bynum out of the lineup Gasol is spending a lot more time in the post; Bynum is more physically imposing than Gasol but Gasol is actually a more polished and skillful low post scorer, so the Lakers' offense really does not suffer much--if at all--with Bynum out, particularly if Odom (who now starts at power forward) is focused on the task at hand (the Lakers do miss Bynum's size and presence defensively and on the glass). The Lakers made it to the Finals with the Gasol-Odom tandem starting at center-power forward and that was without Gasol having the benefit of a full training camp to learn the nuances of the Triangle Offense.

The Lakers led 35-26 when Bryant returned to action and here is where the plus/minus stat can be a little dicey: he had barely taken his warmups off when Vujacic committed back to back turnovers that led to two baskets for Eddie House--a layup and a three pointer. Those were House's first points of the game and, as Collins often says, once a shooter sees the ball go in the basket it makes all the difference in the world; House ended up scoring 16 points in 20 minutes, providing a major spark off of the bench. Not surprisingly, Coach Jackson quickly took Vujacic out of the game but the damage had already been done in terms of switching the momentum.

The Lakers were not able to build their lead back up but with 1:52 remaining in the half they enjoyed a 51-46 advantage. However, they closed out the half very poorly, giving up six straight points, including two layups--and it could have been even worse, because Luke Walton threw away an inbounds pass all the way from one baseline to the other. Since no one touched the ball, the Celtics had the opportunity to inbound the ball at their offensive end of the court with just under two seconds remaining and Allen ended up with a good look at a jumper but he missed the shot. Walton is a good passer but I'm not sure that he is a good inbounder, even though the Lakers often use him in that role; this is hardly the first time that Walton has used bad judgment when inbounding the ball.

The sloppy way that the Lakers closed out the first half seemed to carry over into the start of the second half and the Celtics soon enjoyed a 59-51 lead after making a 7-0 run. Bryant airballed a three pointer and lost the ball while driving to the hoop during that stretch. Fisher committed his third foul but Coach Jackson left him in the game and that decision paid off when Fished nailed a jumper to stop the bleeding. Soon after that, things began to get a bit chippy: Bryant and Rondo were called for a double technical foul after they got into a jawing match, then Rondo was whistled for an away from the play foul on Bryant and soon after that Garnett and Odom started woofing at each other after Garnett committed an offensive foul. What the TNT guys missed is that right after the foul, Odom slapped Garnett on the rear end--and that was why Garnett headed toward Odom to say something. You could even read their lips as Garnett told Odom not to do that and Odom answered that he'd do whatever he wanted to do. For some strange reason, Perkins decided to foul Gasol right in front of a referee, prompting Reggie Miller to quip that Perkins probably did not graduate summa cum laude. It was quite evident that the Celtics had decided to up the ante on physical contact and trash talking but the Lakers neither backed down nor lost their composure.

At halftime, studio guest Karl Malone had suggested that maybe Odom needed someone to slap him to wake him up and after the game Malone said that perhaps all of these little skirmishes did just that. Whatever the reason, Odom became a lot more active at both ends of the court. Nevertheless, Boston led 81-77 going into the fourth quarter after Pierce made a strong drive past Bryant with two seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Bryant sat out the opening minutes of the fourth quarter but the Lakers bench did a credible job of keeping the score close. That said, Bryant returned not a moment too soon, because Boston was up 91-85 with 7:46 left in regulation and the previous two Lakers possessions had ended with Odom and Ariza missing long jumpers. Odom made a layup to trim the margin to 91-87 and after Perkins committed a loose ball foul Odom drove to the hoop, missed a layup, grabbed the rebound, scored and got fouled. His free throw brought the Lakers to within one point but then Rondo hit consecutive shots to give Boston a 95-90 cushion. Now it was Bryant's time to shine; he countered Pierce's excellent defense by draining three three pointers in just under four minutes, enabling the Lakers to take a slim 101-100 lead. After the second of those three pointers, Collins said, "He can miss 10 straight and think he's hot. That's the beauty of great players." During Bryant's three point barrage, Garnett fouled out after pushing Derek Fisher as they pursued a loose ball. The Celtics led 95-93 when Glen Davis came in for Garnett.

After Davis missed a jump shot, the Lakers squandered an opportunity to extend their lead when Gasol drove to the hoop but missed everything on his layup attempt. He grabbed the rebound but the shot clock expired before he could shoot. Collins commented, "That's one of those that Pau Gasol has to go in and try to tear the rim down. You can't flip that shot...That's one of those plays that aggravates Phil Jackson." That was the kind of play that cost the Lakers dearly in the Finals last year. This time, though, the Lakers dodged a bullet because neither team made a field goal in the final 1:30. Pierce split a pair of free throws to force the game into overtime after he and Bryant each made great defensive plays: first Pierce smothered Bryant and did an excellent job of forcing him to shoot a contested jumper and then Bryant blew up Boston's final possession by poking the ball away from Pierce as time ran out, forcing House to launch a desperation shot.

Odom opened the overtime by making a jump hook but then the Lakers gave up three straight layups. Bryant did not make a shot during the extra session but he had an impact with his passing and his defense. Bryant's feed to Gasol for a layup tied the score at 105 and Bryant helped to hold Pierce scoreless in the overtime. Trailing 107-105, the Lakers ran the play that proved to be their bread and butter in the latter stages of last season: a Bryant-Gasol screen/roll action with Odom flashing to the high post. Bryant passed to Odom, who then fed Gasol for a dunk. After Pierce turned the ball over, Gasol split a pair of free throws but Boston took the lead on a Davis jump shot--his first and only points of the game. Bryant missed a tough jumper over Pierce but Gasol blocked a shot by Davis, who then fouled Odom. Odom's two free throws closed out the scoring, as Pierce and Allen missed jumpers in the closing seconds.

The Lakers shot well from the field (.477) but shot just 17-29 (.586) from the free throw line and were outrebounded 47-42. They did not play a perfect game by any means but considering who they were playing and the fact that this was their third game in four nights this is an impressive win. Gasol played over 46 minutes after logging 45 minutes the previous night, while Bryant played 45 minutes on the heels of playing 38 minutes just two days after he had scored 61 points in 37 minutes. The Lakers' two All-Stars are carrying a heavy load but they get a couple days to rest now before concluding this road trip in Cleveland, where the Cavs have not lost a game this season. Most likely, either this game or Sunday's game will turn out to be a Finals preview.

Coach Jackson and Bryant have repeatedly stressed that the Celtics beat the Lakers in the Finals last year because the Celtics displayed more toughness. Toughness is not about screaming loudly or flexing your muscles; toughness is about making the plays that have to be made down the stretch in close games and not backing down when the other team challenges you mentally, psychologically and physically. The Lakers improved to 5-0 on their East Coast road trip, winning the second game of a back to back after their victory in Toronto on Wednesday--and they accomplished this without the services of Andrew Bynum, the biggest and most physically imposing member of their frontcourt. That is how you prove your toughness and that is how you build the foundation for a championship run.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:57 AM

27 comments

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27 Comments:

At Friday, February 06, 2009 11:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a guy with no "weakness is his offensive skill set,"Kobe sure had a tough time shooting the ball last night.

Owen

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 1:03:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

Here's another NBA Player's opinion on the ongoing Kobe-Lebron debate, this time from Joey Graham of the Raptors (National Post):"To me, Kobe's the better basketball player," says Toronto Raptor Joey Graham, who played LeBron in Cleveland on Tuesday night, where James scored 33, and guarded Kobe last night. "We kind of almost know what we're going to do against LeBron -- we're going to throw bodies at him, make him try to shoot jumpers. But Kobe, you can't leave him open. And if you throw bodies at him, he's going to get fouled.

About the Boston game. I'm just glad that the Lakers won, or we would all have to hear about Kobe's bad shooting night. He missed some 15 footers that are usually automatic for him, and I do think that Pierce guarded him very well. Normally Kobe seems to be able to turn the corner on defenders when they are shaded to one side of him, but Paul Pierce seemed to be able to recover. He is a big boy. What won't be heralded, but should be, is Kobe's work under the boards. Also, I was surprised as any one was when Lamar Odom made two clutch free throws. I do like that Pau Gasol is finishing with dunks more often this year.

What to make of Luke Walton? I am always terrified to see him guarding Paul Pierce. Luke is a "giveth and taketh away" type of player. Is Ariza not bulky enough to guard Pierce? I was confused as to Phil Jackson's reasons for not playing Ariza more.

One last note about the Celtics, I am really impressed with Leon Powe. The man flat out hustles and gets his team extra possessions.

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 1:30:00 PM, Blogger luncandunc said...

David, have you ever accused Kobe of taking a bad shot? Because some of those shots coming down the stretch were absolutely horrific. A 20 foot fadeaway with a hand in the face that is about 2 inches from getting blocked is not a good shot for anyone. Kobe makes those type of shots 20% of the time. (In his defense, he did look pretty exhausted to me, and like he wasn't getting the same elevation on his jumpers that he normally does. Did you notice this?)

Anyway, I would have liked to see Kobe work a little bit harder to beat Paul Pierce off the dribble, or at least get close enough to the hoop so that those fadeaways are 15 footers rather than 20 footers. Those are much easier shots to make even with a hand in the face.

In any event, I find it difficult to believe that the Lakers couldn't have gotten better shots had they just run their regular offense in the last few minutes rather than having Bryant dribble the clock down and launch a contested fadeaway every time.

Again, my problem is not with Bryant shooting so often, it's him shooting low percentage shots so often.

PS--I've been saying this for a long time, so I'm not just getting this from the TrueHoop post today.

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 2:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

Wow, Kobe has one bad shooting game but still hits three big fourth quarter three pointers in a come from behind win against the defending champions on their homecourt--ending a 12 game winning streak--and this "proves" that Kobe has a weakness in his skill set. Is that really a serious comment that needs to be answered?

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 2:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

What Graham said is exactly what I have been saying when I compare Kobe and LeBron. GMs, coaches and players understand the real deal. Biased writers, fans and some "stat gurus" don't get it and I doubt that they ever will.

Pierce played very good defense, some of the best defense that I have ever seen him play. This was the third game in four nights for the Lakers and Kobe may have been dragging a bit after the workload that he shouldered earlier in the week. The point is that when the Lakers needed big shots to get over the hump in the fourth quarter he made them, he also helped to hound Pierce into a bad shooting night and he was big on the boards and as a facilitator.

During the telecast, Collins said that Coach Jackson told him that Ariza is too slight to deal with Pierce. I think that is a matchup that the Lakers will use at times but not for long stretches. Ariza is a very nice bench player but sometimes people get carried away and seem to think of him as a savior. I remember that during the Finals last year some people kept asking me why Ariza was not in the game to guard Pierce, as if a rusty bench player coming off of an injury was going to shut down the best scorer on the best team in the league.

Yes, Powe had a big game. He really utilizes his matchup advantages versus the Lakers. We saw this in the Finals, too.

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 3:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luncandunc:

Your choice of words is very revealing: "Have you ever ACCUSED Kobe of taking a bad shot?" I don't think that I have ever ACCUSED any player of anything. I have analyzed the way that a lot of players play and written commentaries about them, though.

In a June 7, 2008 post (links don't work in the comment section but the title of the post is "Kobe Bryant's Missed Shots and the Torrent of "Psycho-Basketball Analysis" That They Unleashed," so you should be able to find it easily if you are so inclined) I wrote:

Kobe Bryant's shot selection is subject to a play by play microscopic evaluation that I have never seen applied to any other player of his status; literally every time he shoots--or doesn't shoot--someone questions his judgment and motivations, alternately suggesting that he is either forcing the issue or else playing too passively in order to allegedly make some kind of point. All great scorers are expected to shoot the ball 20-plus times a game and shots that would rightly be termed "forced" if someone else took them are not forces if they are shots that the great player has a reasonable chance of making or if the shot clock is winding down and there are no other good options left.

That summarizes what I think of Kobe's shot selection in general.

As for this particular game, I thought that for the most part Kobe took good shots. A couple of the late jumpers versus Pierce may have been less than optimal but you have to look at who else was on the court, the time remaining on the shot clock and how those possessions went overall. Also, early in the fourth quarter when Kobe was not in the game the Lakers had some stagnant possessions that resulted in bricked jumpers by Ariza and Odom; I'd rather see Kobe take a contested jumper than see either of those guys shoot an open jumper outside of 20 feet.

If Kobe gets past Pierce then he has to contend with Boston's collapsing defense. I suspect that in those late situations Kobe thought that he had created enough air space to get off a shot that he can make. How close the shots came to being blocked is irrelevant. A lot of NBA shots are "almost" blocked; a great player rarely has the opportunity to shoot shots that are completely uncontested.

Finally, Gasol and Odom have proven to be reluctant to take shots at times, particularly against Boston, and that may also have factored into Kobe's thinking on some possessions. In those late game situations it is very important to get some kind of shot up, to not simply have a turnover or a shot clock violation.

P.S. As for the True Hoop post, Kobe has a proven track record of shooting better and having fewer turnovers than LeBron versus Boston and San Antonio--the last two NBA champions--under the crucible of playoff competition. I have written about this extensively but apparently this does not fit into True Hoop's world view, so he does not link to those posts. Then, Kobe has one bad shooting game that the Lakers win anyway--a game in which Kobe was the leading scorer, grabbed 10 boards, made big fourth quarter shots and was a main facilitator on offense--and True Hoop suddenly takes interest in comparing Kobe's success versus Boston to LeBron's. I find that to be more than a little intellectually dishonest and that is part of what I have been getting at in recent posts and comments when I talk about which sites get featured and which ones don't. If you want to compare Kobe and LeBron's success versus Boston and San Antonio then look at the 2008 NBA Finals, 2008 Western Conference Finals, 2008 Eastern Conference Semis and 2007 NBA Finals as a whole, don't just cherry pick stats from one regular season game--L.A.'s third in four nights--and act like you've invented basketball analysis. The sad thing is that True Hoop's post is going to reach a lot more readers than this one, but that's the way of the world.

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 4:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting to hear you calling True Hoop intellectually dishonest. Let's see if that helps your blog out.

Look, Kobe scores less on a pace adjusted basis and is less efficient from the field this year than Lebron. You have written yards of analysis about their different "skills sets", but you can't seem to get the simple facts correct. And it makes your arguments seem uninformed if not outright biased.

Really, you have it backwards. You should start with the percentages and then use all the analysis to figure out where the numbers come from. Instead, you just totally ignore the numbers and then try to filter what happens on the court in order to fit your preconceived notions.

Kobe is a media myth. He is what happens when a great player ends up as a rookie in the second largest media market in the world playing next to the best player of his generation.

He is a great player, but he is not nearly the best in the league. He never has been.

That honor belongs to three players. Lebron, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard are just head and shoulders above everyone else in the league right now. They ara also the future of the NBA. I suggest you start writing about them more and writing about Kobe less.

Owen

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 4:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here is one more piece of data about Kobe for you to ignore....

From 82games...

"..and then we get to Kobe Bryant. Kobe fans don't like to hear it, but while their man is #4 in the league in total game winners hit, he holds the top spot in a less glamorous category: most game winning opportunity missed shots!

42 - Kobe
35 - Vince Carter
33 - Joe Johnson, LeBron
32 - Crawford
31 - Billups

Now we're not Kobe haters by any means and I will readily give him his due as one of the best NBA players (note however, I didn't say the best) but he certainly has an overblown reputation when it comes to the clutch shot: people remember the ones he hits, but not the ones he misses, and heck you think a 56 FGA to 1 assist ratio might be part of the problem? He does have a better record in the playoffs though, which we'll get to down below. "

Owen

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 5:59:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

So ... you think the NBA will go back and take away some of Chris Paul's "assists" now that they decided to do that to Lebron's one rebound? Yeah, right.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 1:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

You don't know me very well. I call things as I see them and I really could care less if it "helps" me personally or not. I'd much rather tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may than kiss up to anyone. Life is way, way too short for that nonsense.

The True Hoop post referenced here is absolutely intellectually dishonest. He takes a point that I have been stressing for years about Kobe and LeBron's differing success versus elite defenses, twists it around and applies it to one game, without making any mention of the numerous, in depth posts that I have done on this subject--and I know for a fact that he is aware of those posts.

I don't think that there is much difference at this point between Kobe and LeBron and I have made that clear. I'd still take Kobe but it certainly is a valid position at this point to take LeBron--but it is not valid to look at Kobe's field goal percentage in one game (his third game in four nights no less and against the defending champions, a team that owned the best record in the league prior to the game) and then act as if my contention about Kobe and LeBron's success against elite teams is not correct--the irony is that just a couple days ago Alonzo Mourning made exactly the same point that I have been making all along and Kenny Smith and Eric Snow (LeBron's teammate) backed him up.

You rely way too much on numbers. Is LeBron's game less impressive because the NBA took away one rebound? No and I said that in my post even before the NBA acted. I believe in evaluating players based on skill sets, not just numbers.

For you to call me "uninformed" is a joke and not even worthy of response. If you can truly look at the content of this website and conclude that I am "uninformed" about the NBA then I really cannot help you.

"Kobe is a media myth"? It's like you believe that you and David Berri are the only ones who understand basketball and every GM, coach, player and informed analyst is just making things up. Trying to have a rational discussion with a WoW true believer is like talking to a member of the Flat Earth Society.

Kobe and LeBron are easily the two best players in the NBA right now. Paul is the best pg but when has a 6-0 pg been the best player on a championship team? Isiah is the only one. Paul is remarkable but I would not take him over guys who are more than half a foot taller and every bit as skilled. Also, I have good reason to believe that Paul's assist totals are significantly inflated, which does not change my evaluation of his skill set but would affect his stat rankings, which is your basis for saying he is the best player in the NBA.

Howard is without question an impact player but he still has a rudimentary post up game and is not as overpowering as Shaq was in his prime. If Howard becomes more overpowering--i.e., forcing teams to double team him or he scores 35-40-45 like Shaq did in the playoffs in his prime--or if his low post game becomes more refined then we can talk about comparing him to Kobe and LeBron.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 1:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

I have never said that Kobe is the best player because of the number of game-winning shots that he hits. I think that game-winning shots is an overrated stat and I have said that before; I am more impressed by someone who can take over a game for significant stretches of time than someone who just hits a shot at the end. Don't get me wrong, there is some significance to hitting game-winning shots but that is not a category that I use in terms of ranking players overall.

Kobe hit three big three pointers in the fourth quarter of the Boston game. That kind of performance is more significant than someone making one shot as the clock runs out--and someone who can deliver high level performance for long stretches during a game will help you win more games in the long run than someone who is only adept at making last second shots.

For what it's worth, Kobe's percentage on last second shots is most likely affected by the fact that in most cases he has been the only guy on his team even capable of getting off a last second shot, so the defense can key on him and he ends up having to take high degree of difficulty shots because there is not enough time or opportunity to pass to anyone else.

I don't know how 82Games defines "last second" but in a lot of cases a team inbounds the ball and all that there is time to do is fling the ball at the hoop. That is hardly a "skill," make or miss. I'd be more interested to know Kobe's percentage when his team gets the ball down 1,2 or 3 points with between 15 and 24 seconds left on the clock. How often does he create a good shot for himself or a teammate in those situations?

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 1:35:00 AM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

Owen said: "You should start with the percentages and then use all the analysis to figure out where the numbers come from."

WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

You think you are taking the scientific method that is used to such great effect in testing natural processes and simply applying it to basketball. THE PROBLEM with your assumption is that the commonly used statistics of basketball (points, rebounds, assists, plus/minus) are NOT analogous to temperature, velocity, or the gravitational constant. No, these are NOT the same observable phenomenon, which is what you don't seem to understand. Yes, Distance divided by time is speed, but points plus rebounds plus assist divided by minutes (or whatever "sophisticated" calculation Wages of Wins uses) does not equal productivity on a basketball court.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 2:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

Not only that, but too many of the "stat gurus" pretend to be practicing science but blatantly ignore the most basic scientific principles. A "player ranking" should come with a margin of error, much like IQ scores are considered to fall within a range as opposed to being one exact number (not that IQ scores are absolutely correct--that is a whole other debate--but even the people who believe in the value of using IQ scores understand that a person's score falls within a range). Also, "stat gurus" in general seem to have little regard for sample size: when it suits their purposes, one or two games "prove" something, yet other times they will disregard larger sample sizes if the data does not support their preconceived conclusions.

Also, non-mathematically inclined people do not understand how much these formulas are dependent on the weights that are arbitrarily assigned to certain stats.

Finally, most of the "stat gurus" apparently could not care less about the subjective nature of the raw box score data that they are using. I have pointed out inconsistencies in how assists are tracked but they just keep right on plugging in the numbers, without assigning any kind of margin for error.

Again, Dan Rosenbaum, Dean Oliver, Roland Beech and a few others are doing really good work and they understand the limitations that I have listed above--but far too many "stat gurus" and their blindly loyal followers do not understand these limitations or they are simply willfully ignoring them. It is obvious that for some of these guys this has become a pretty lucrative business, so they have good reason from their perspective to not want to look into these issues.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 6:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

My initial response just dealt with the data in your comment but now I have had a chance to actually read Roland Beech's article firsthand.

In typical WoW fashion--using the same kind of reasoning that determined that Rodman was more productive than MJ, Bynum was more valuable than Kobe before Bynum got hurt last season, Gasol was more productive than Kobe in the Finals, etc.--your "report" about the 82Games.com study left out some pertinent details.

Beech wrote, "Ultimately though while this kind of thing is fun, it's not to my mind particularly meaningful, other than indicating that the league as a whole could probably get more efficient in "end game" possessions." In other words, Roland's opinion about these numbers exactly matches mine (which I expressed in a previous comment before I read Roland's take). That is yet another example of why I respect Roland--and Dan Rosenbaum and Dean Oliver--more than other "stat gurus." Roland really gets it and he has no agenda other than doing pure basketball research.

By the way, why didn't you cite Kobe's stats for playoff game-winning shots? Kobe and LeBron are tied for first place on Roland's list.

Even more significantly, you ignored another Beech quote that mirrors my perspective exactly: "For better quality analysis of clutch play, I prefer a filter of "last five minutes of fourth quarter/overtime, with neither team ahead by more than five points." Beech posted those numbers for this season and, lo and behold, Kobe ranks first in the NBA, producing 57.3 points per 48 minutes in such situations. LeBron is second (57.0) and Carmelo Anthony (54.7) is third (I've never questioned Melo's clutchness offensively but have reservations about other aspects of his game--but that is off topic). Kobe turns the ball over in the clutch much less frequently than James and is only assisted on 12% of his field goals during that time, compared to 25% for LeBron and 57% for Melo; so Kobe is asked to do more on his own in those situations than LeBron and Melo yet is still very efficient.

By the way, last season, LeBron ranked first with 56.0 ppg per 48 minutes in "clutch" time while Kobe was second (51.8).

Considering how loudly your comment trumpeted Kobe's alleged failures in this department without providing any of the proper context that Roland Beech provided at his site, it is safe to say that your comment here was every bit as intellectually dishonest as the True Hoop post that elevates the importance of one regular season game completely out of any reasonable context.

I don't mind if someone disagrees with me and I will respond respectfully to anyone who offers respectful criticism--but don't come here lecturing me about what will or won't help my blog or accusing my arguments of being "uninformed if not outright biased." The work that I have done at this site compares favorably with any other source of NBA analysis and commentary that is out there. People who truly understand basketball appreciate the value of what I am doing and I take great pride and joy in providing a unique perspective on this wonderful game.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 6:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'd like to make it crystal clear exactly what I mean by the phrase "intellectually dishonest":

I have no problem with someone saying that LeBron James is as good as or better than Kobe Bryant. I have no problem with someone analyzing Bryant's shot selection or commenting about how he performed against Boston's defense. However, both Kobe and LeBron have extensive track records of how they have performed against elite defensive teams--and this is a subject that I have written about in great detail. It is intellectually dishonest to ignore those track records--and my analysis of all of that data--and use the platform of one of the largest corporate sports websites to suggest that Kobe's individual performance in one game that his team won somehow "proves" LeBron's superiority.

When someone is blessed with the opportunity to reach a huge audience and has the opportunity to present a balanced debate/discussion of an issue but instead makes a biased post, that is intellectually dishonest. This is not about me or my website or "helping" my website. There is a bigger issue: how effectively do large, mainstream media outlets use their platforms to inform and educate their audiences? It is the consistent failure of large, mainstream media outlets to be as informative and effective as they should be that bothers me. Don't tell me that just because something is published with a corporate imprimatur on it that it is thereby infallible. That post was a sloppy piece of work and if I don't say that then I am being dishonest.

I am trying as much as possible to just "tend my own garden," so to speak, because every time I speak the truth about this kind of thing it just leads to controversy but my attention was directed to that post, I read it and I offered my honest take.

If True Hoop truly wants to promote discussion of the issue of Kobe and LeBron versus elite defenses then he should present all of the facts and all of the information.

In my post about that game, I did not whitewash Kobe's poor shooting night; I said that he did not shoot well and I gave Paul Pierce deserved credit for playing good defense. However, Kobe's overall shooting percentage was neither the main story of that game nor is it the main story of Kobe's performance against elite defenses. For one thing, it is stunning that the whole basketball world has apparently forgotten that in arguably the most competitive Western Conference ever Kobe shot over .500 from the field while averaging 30-plus ppg as he led the Lakers to the Finals. I have consistently shied away from making Kobe-MJ comparisons but that was the first time that I could honestly say that Kobe was playing at MJ's level (though MJ reached that level in several playoff years, not just one).

If providing the best analysis and telling the truth does not "help" my blog or me then I don't want to be helped because I certainly would not have the stomach to do whatever it takes to get that kind of "help."

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 7:28:00 PM, Blogger Joel said...

"Kobe is a media myth."

Really? So I guess I was dreaming when I heard/read all those NBA players (including LeBron, repeatedly), coaches, GMs, and analysts call Kobe the best player in the league. Or are they all employed by the 'media' to hype up Kobe?

If I want a medical opinion, I'll consult a doctor. If I want a legal opinion, I'll consult a lawyer. So why should I take all my NBA opinions from an economist and his numbers at the expense of the professionals who have played/coached/managed at the highest level?

Until you can answer those 2 simple questions, forgive me if I take your brand of NBA 'analysis' with a grain of salt.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 7:40:00 PM, Blogger Joel said...

The ironic thing about Owen's comment is that the media has provided a lot of Kobe's most frequent and fervent critics over the years. His peers are the ones who have most vocal in fueling his 'hype' by declaring him the best player in the league, the closest thing to MJ we've ever seen, the best clutch player, etc. To claim the opposite is the height of delusion.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 10:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

Owen's claim that Kobe is product of "media hype" is not only bizarre, it borders on the delusional, which is why I referred to the Flat Earth Society.

As I noted above, Kobe's shot selection is subjected to more scrutiny than any other star player in recent memory. All star players "force" shots at times but only Kobe seems to face a referendum on every pass/shoot decision. Fortunately, informed observers such as Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy have pointed out that Kobe is a tremendous decision maker.

Significant elements in the mainstream media sided with Shaq in the Shaq-Kobe feud, even though Roland Lazenby and other credible journalists documented that Shaq's jealousy and petulance were the main causes of the friction.

 
At Sunday, February 08, 2009 1:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

the diffrence was gasol and odom play gasol has played with confidence this year after he scored the last 7 points in the first celtic game. on christmas day aginst celtic he was not hesitant he made moves this game like he did in that game and of late he put up superstar numbers 24 14 31 15 31 14 last 3 games odom woke up in second half made quick moves and played well.

kobe made 3 timely threes after struggling agian vs celtics 10-29 they dont foul kobe is the key and that shows sign of great defensive team meaning knicks gave up 20 free throws to kobe where celts only 4 2 was for defensive 3 seconds at end of game kobe was nowhere the hoop he shot 56 percent the first game 27 points but since the big 3 the celts have been the only team to bottle up kobe his teamates step up for him in this game but lebron would get to the hoop more and is more of a difficult matchup vs a team like celts.

 
At Monday, February 09, 2009 4:24:00 AM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

As a Laker fan, I'd like to see more screen and rolls (or pick and pops) with Gasol in crunch time instead of Kobe iso plays. Pierce can give him a tough time, especially when he's fatigued (back to back games, fifth game in seven nights). I get the feeling that Kobe's less polished teammates would be more prepared to finish in crunch time when they are more involved in a play, which would probably happen as the result of a Kobe-Pau screen and roll play.

 
At Monday, February 09, 2009 1:39:00 PM, Blogger luncandunc said...

David,

First, thanks for taking the time to respond to the comments.

Don't make too much of my word choice of "accused." It's not like this is a criminal court. If you're saying something negative about someone, it's an accusation. I don't think that's somehow and indication of my bias, if that's what you're implying.

On to your other points:

I think that generally what makes great scorers great is that they have the ability to create good shots for themselves or others, rather than the ability to make shots that are tightly contested. (The latter is certainly a valuable skill too, of course.)

"How close the shots came to being blocked is irrelevant. A lot of NBA shots are "almost" blocked; a great player rarely has the opportunity to shoot shots that are completely uncontested."

I don't think you thought about this before you wrote it because it's just not true that it's "irrelevant." You would admit that a shot that is contested so it's almost blocked, especially a jumper, is lower percentage than one that isn't. So the fact they were almost blocked is highly relevant to how good these shots are.

Yes, contested jumpers are sometimes the best shot one can get considering the shot clock. However, my problem with those possessions is that many of them consisted of Kobe just whiling away the shot clock at the top of the key, the Lakers not really running a play or any kind of offense, and then Kobe shooting a highly-contested shot.

I think that end of game strategy in the NBA in general isn't that good. If running the offense, passing the ball around, and moving the defense is the best way to score in the first 45 minutes of the game, why isn't it the best at the end also? Teams seemingly abandon every principle of what is considered good offense in the last few minutes of games, and I don't understand why other than perhaps the cult of the superstar.

 
At Monday, February 09, 2009 6:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

LeBron is not a more difficult matchup for the Celtics individually. Last year, the Cavs were a more difficult matchup for the Celtics than the Lakers were but that is a different story. In the Finals, the Celtics threw waves of defenders at Kobe and dared any other Laker to beat them. They guarded LeBron by conceding him the jump shot and trying to clog his passing lanes, which is why LeBron shot so poorly and had so many turnovers.

 
At Monday, February 09, 2009 6:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Dude Abides:

I like the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll play very much but my understanding is that Jackson is not as fond of screen/roll actions as other NBA coaches are, which is why the Lakers do not go to that option more often.

 
At Monday, February 09, 2009 7:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luncandunc:

I still think that choosing the word "accused" is indicative of something about your thought process regarding this subject at some level but I will accept at face value your statement that you are not consciously biased about this.

You are correct that what makes a great scorer great is the ability to create good shots for himself and his teammates. You are also correct that in general contested shots are lower percentage shots than uncontested shots but in a late game situation such as the one that Bryant faced versus Pierce the likelihood that the Lakers would be able to get a completely uncontested shot is pretty low. Those "almost blocked" threes that Bryant made are good percentage shots for him in terms of his skill set.

The issue of how teams manage the clock near the end of the game is interesting. In my interview with Coach Cleamons, he said that the other players should touch the ball earlier in the clock and if they can't get an open shot then the superstar can create something late in the clock, which basically mirrors your suggestion. I think that one thing that coaches may worry about is if a lesser player gets the ball and messes up then there might be a turnover which prevents the superstar from even having the ball in his hands at all. My opinion is that the correct strategy varies depending on the nature of your personnel and the nature of the personnel on the opposing team. In some cases, starting out with an iso for the superstar may be the best option; in other cases, it may be better to work the ball around. For instance, if the objective is to get the ball to Ray Allen, it would be better to start out with someone else having the ball while he frees himself using screens--but LeBron is not a great catch and shoot player, so it would not make sense for the Cavs to run him off of screens late in games (at least not with the idea of him shooting a jumper; maybe a screen to set up a backdoor cut would be an option).

 
At Wednesday, February 11, 2009 12:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

tell paul pierce abnd celtics that he is more difficult maytchup why he sand team went farther on top of they was tougher lebron has 5 30 point games vs celts last 9 kobe got 1 in last 9 vs celts since big 3 got together.

 
At Wednesday, February 11, 2009 9:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

kobe hasnt been great against them but has everyone else is my point lebron a tougher matchup vs celts pierce said he was the toughest guy he ever guarded so has tayshaun prince said same thing. and they guarded both so it is definetely true he is harder ro guard he is faster stronger better passer and rebouder he harder to stop in transition. so it is nobrainer he is tougher matchup becuase of the finesse and physical dominance.

 
At Thursday, February 12, 2009 12:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

LeBron may be more physically punishing than Kobe but he is not tougher to guard from a skill set standpoint; you can concede him the jump shot, something that you cannot get away with versus Kobe.

Is the most physically punishing running back in the NFL automatically the best running back?

 

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