Kobe "Leopard" Bryant Drops 37 Points on Houston in 102-96 Lakers WinSome people seem to believe/hope that 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant is a lion in winter but during the Lakers' 102-96 win in Houston on Wednesday night Bryant reaffirmed what he declared during last year's playoffs: "Better learn not to talk to me. You shake the tree, a leopard's gonna fall out." Bryant had six first half points on 3-6 field goal shooting but Ron Artest figuratively shook the tree in the second half by verbally and physically jousting with Bryant and Bryant responded with 31 second half points on 11-17 field goal shooting. Bryant's efficient scoring explosion carried the Lakers to an important road victory despite the absences of suspended forward Lamar Odom and injured center Andrew Bynum; Bryant also had a game-high six assists, five rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots. Isn't it interesting that when commentators compare the "supporting casts" on various teams everyone seems to forget that Bryant has led the Lakers to the best record in the NBA despite Bynum missing the second half of the season? Whenever I need a good laugh, I just think about that Wages of Wins article from last year about how Andrew Bynum is a more valuable player for the Lakers than Kobe Bryant.
Only two other Lakers scored in double figures (Pau Gasol had 20 points and Josh Powell added 17 points) and their bench players shot 5-15 from the field but Bryant's second half fireworks were enough to hold at bay a balanced Houston team that shot .513 from the field and placed six players in double figures, including two reserves. Von Wafer led the Rockets with 20 points, while Yao Ming had 16 points on 7-9 field goal shooting.
It is particularly interesting that Bryant went off against Houston, because recently the Rockets received a lot of publicity about how they are using basketball statistical analysis to try to devise the best ways to contain Bryant. My recent interview with Cleveland Coach Mike Brown elicited what may be the quote of the year about basketball statistical analysis, particularly since it came from the mouth of someone who many members of the media often mock for being bland. When I asked Coach Brown about the New York Times article that described how much Houston General Manager Daryl Morey relies on basketball statistical analysis, Brown replied, "Not to knock that, because I think it is great to use if you have some solid information, but how many championships has that gotten them?"
Brown's words carry weight because he not only led the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals but he was an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs when they won the 2003 NBA Championship. Brown, who bases his coaching philosophy on what he learned from Spurs' Coach Gregg Popovich, told me, "I was with Pop for three years and he’s not a stat guy. In a 10 year span, he’s won four NBA championships. I know that every game, he doesn’t go up to Bruce (Bowen) and say, ‘Kobe shoots 22% from the right corner and 35% from the left corner’ or whatever. It’s a thing that, yes, if you use it the right way it can be helpful, but if you try to use stats too much I don’t know if it’s going to bring you a championship, at least from what I’ve experienced. We didn’t need those types of detailed stats to win a championship in San Antonio."
Mike Brown never gets enough credit from the media about how good of a coach he is. The media constantly dog him about Cleveland's supposedly poor offense but he has turned the Cavs into a defensive juggernaut who are posting a league-best 9.3 scoring differential this season--the same as Magic Johnson's 1987 Lakers and better than Magic's other four championship teams. Brown employs an excellent defensive game plan and all of his players buy into it.
Even though Popovich and Brown do not believe in relying on basketball statistical analysis, I do think that there is some value to what Morey is trying to do. As I noted in my response to the NYT article, "Morey appears to understand the limits of a purely mathematical approach to the game and thus uses numbers to confirm what his eyes tell him--and vice versa. This is a completely different approach from the one taken by far too many stat gurus who are so enamored with their formulas that they dismiss the importance of actually watching games--perhaps because they are in fact not truly capable of watching basketball games with any real understanding of what is happening on the court."
However, it is important to understand that basketball statistical analysis does not provide some magical Holy Grail that instantly confers success on any team that uses it.
Although a plurality of NBA GMs still consider Kobe Bryant to be a better player than LeBron James, Morey recently said that James is the best player in the NBA, adding, "There's a reason the (NYT) article is about Kobe, not LeBron." Morey laughed as he said that but here are some serious numbers for Morey and his statistics crew to ponder: Bryant averaged 31.0 ppg on .514 field goal shooting (including .444 from three point range) as his Lakers swept the Rockets 3-0 this season; James averaged 24.0 ppg on .409 field goal shooting (including .250 from three point range) as his Cavs split their two games versus the Rockets.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:03 AM