Point/Counterpoint With True Hoop's Henry AbbottTwo recent posts at Henry Abbott's True Hoop have recently inspired some discussion in the comments section at 20 Second Timeout. Here are links to the posts in question:
One Shot, with the Game on the Line
Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James vs. Boston's Defense
I have made it very clear that I strongly disagree with certain elements of both of those posts. After thinking things through, I decided to reach out to Henry via email, list my specific concerns and ask him to provide a response that I promised to publish in full here, much like I provided "equal time" to David Thorpe on the subject of J.J. Redick's potential to become a starter for a playoff team.
Here is the message that I sent to Henry, followed immediately by his response (which I have placed in italics):
I think that my passion for this game and for doing things the way I perceive to be the right way may at times make me come off as harsh or argumentative and I am continually trying to refine my style to find a happy medium between staying true to what I passionately believe without antagonizing others who believe differently. I had a teacher once who called that kind of self-improvement "working on one's rough edges." So I am reaching out to you to explain exactly why I disagree with a couple of your recent posts. I understand that you are busy and so I usually keep my emails to you brief--this one is lengthier but I would appreciate it if you take the time to read it and I welcome your response if you are so inclined.
I disagree with the methodology/lack of context of two of your recent posts. Taking the second one first, you made a big deal about Kobe's shooting percentage on last second shots but you buried the lede, which is Beech's comment about his own study:
"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...one easy place to start might be to try and be less predictable! It's nice to have a go-to guy, but when the other team knows without much doubt that a certain guy is getting the ball, it is going to be a lot easier to defend!" He then added, "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."
At the time of your post, Bryant ranked first in the league in that category, though when I just checked the updated list a moment ago I see that after the "gastroenteritis game" he has now dropped to third behind James and Anthony. James was first and Bryant second last year.
Yes, your readers can click on the link and find that information just like I did but it seems wrong to me to emphasize the results of the study without mentioning that the person who did the study finds another metric to be more meaningful.
In your post titled Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James vs. Boston's Defense, why did you choose to cherry pick one regular out of context as a focal point of a discussion about Kobe and LeBron's relative success against elite defenses? The Lakers were playing their third game in four nights and, while Kobe obviously did not shoot well, his three three pointers in the fourth quarter played a critical role in forcing the game to overtime. Kobe has a proven track record as a very good midrange shooter and reliable three point shooter, while LeBron has a proven track record that is very poor from both of those areas. One subpar game--or one above average game, for that matter--does not materially alter those facts.
I have written extensively about this very subject and I chose to focus my attention on the recent playoff games that Kobe and LeBron have played against the past two NBA champions (the series in question are the 2008 NBA Finals, 2008 West Finals, 2008 East semis and 2007 NBA Finals). In the playoffs, teams lock in on each other's strengths and weaknesses and there are not any scheduling anomalies of three games in four nights. As I noted in Scouting Report: Kobe Bryant Vs. LeBron James: How they compare in the skills that matter:
"James averaged 22.0 ppg, shot .356 from the field (including .200 from three point range) and committed 5.8 turnovers per game as the Spurs swept his Eastern Conference Finals versus the Celtics. in the 2007 NBA Finals; he averaged 26.7 ppg, shot .355 from the field (including .231 from three point range) and committed 5.3 turnovers per game in the 2008
In contrast, Bryant averaged 29.2 ppg, shot .533 from the field (including .333 from three point range) and committed just 2.4 turnovers per game as the Lakers beat the Spurs in five games in the 2008 Western Conference Finals; he averaged 25.7 ppg, shot .405 from the field (including .321 from three point range) and committed 3.8 turnovers per game versus the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals."
While this could be called a small subset of games, this subset is certainly more representative in quantity and quality than one regular season game. Also, in discussing Kobe's skill set/shooting abilities you probably should have noted that in the 2008 Western Conference playoffs--which involved teams from the most competitive Western Conference race ever--Kobe averaged 30-plus ppg on .500-plus field goal shooting. I have always said that MJ was greater than Kobe but the Western Conference playoffs were the first time that I really thought that Kobe played at an MJ-esque level for an extended stretch against that type of competition (just to be clear, I'd still take MJ over Kobe).
How can you possibly believe that one regular season game provides a more meaningful basis for comparison between Kobe and LeBron than the accumulated evidence provided by the games that I just cited?
The fact that Cleveland took Boston to seven games while the lost in six is not relevant to the individual player comparison; LeBron shot a hideous percentage in the first four games of the Boston series but Cleveland split those games because of their great rebounding and defense, qualities that the Lakers did not display in the Finals. I find it interesting that a lot of people reference the Cavs lasting longer against Boston than the Lakers but few people mention that the Lakers beat a Spurs team that swept the Cavs the year before.
I shouldn't even have to say this but let me be very clear: I don't have a pro-Kobe or anti-LeBron agenda; I have written a lot of pieces lauding LeBron's greatness and I defended him in print when some people criticized him for passing to late in a . LeBron is a wonderful talent.
I rate Kobe slightly above LeBron right now but certainly realize that a good case can be made for LeBron, but that case is based on his superior power and athletic ability, not on a cherrypicked example purporting to prove that Bryant does not enjoy a skill set advantage that he most assuredly does in terms of midrange and longrange shooting.
Since your post about this issue has attracted a lot of attention--I did not see it initially on my own but found out about it when one of my readers mentioned it--I feel compelled to respond to what I consider to be the post's glaring shortcomings. I offered my take in the comments section to one of my posts when someone asked me about it but I plan to do a full post about this soon, with the gist of the message being what I have just said in the above paragraphs. If you have a response/clarification that you would like for me to include in that post, please send it to me and I would be glad to run it in full, much like I did a while back with David Thorpe when he and I disagreed about J.J. Redick.
Here is Henry's response:
Our issue here is not our differences of opinion, but our differences of topic.
My post about Roland's research was not about . It was about Roland's new research. That was the goal of the post, to show people his new work, which was interesting.
The older research, about the last five minutes, has been linked to on TrueHoop probably a dozen times. Like a zillion things out there, it may be more important. But this wasn't the be-all end-all post of Kobe in crunch time. This was hey, look, a new way to look at game winning shots. What do you think?
The topic of my post was the new research. And it happened to have a very surprising and newsy finding: the player everyone agreed was the best in that situation, is actually not all that great. No good reason for me to hide that.
On the post about LeBron vs. Kobe, I had really just one mission: To refute the notion that you can look at highlights and pick the best player. I saw Eric Snow do that on NBA TV the other day. Saw highlights of Kobe, declared LeBron couldn't do that, and therefore Kobe was the best.
That is sloppy thinking. My point, and I'm sure you'll agree with me, was simply that there are boring basketball plays that are often more effective than exciting ones.
And as for the idea that Kobe catches the ball far from the hoop, don't quote me without double-checking it, but I'm pretty sure that comes from Tex Winter. And it's true! He does catch the ball far from the hoop. He does shoot a lot of heavily guarded long shots in key moments. That me makes a lot of them is impressive. But he also misses a lot of them, because they are insanely difficult. A more boring play closer to the rim could well be more effective.
That's all. I have no quarrel with Kobe Bryant. He just happened to pop up as a vehicle to make two points: Roland has new stats, and boring plays can get the job done.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:03 PM