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Friday, March 05, 2010

Heat Victory Over Lakers Calls Into Question Assertions About Lakers' Depth

Prior to the Miami Heat's 114-111 overtime win versus the L.A. Lakers, TNT's Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith repeatedly insisted that the Lakers are so talented that they can win even if Kobe Bryant has a subpar game--and Smith added that if Bryant scores at least 28 points the Lakers are virtually a lock to win on any given night because Bryant's teammates are so good. The reality is that Smith--normally an astute analyst--and Barkley--who is sometimes astute but sometimes just seems to speak off the top of his head--both shot wide of the mark with this particular evaluation of the Lakers. Bryant scored 39 points on 15-28 field goal shooting versus Miami--including the Lakers' last six points in the fourth quarter and their first six points in overtime--but the Lakers lost to a team that Barkley continually refers to as "Michael Jackson and a bunch of Titos" because Barkley believes that Dwyane Wade (who finished with 27 points on 9-21 field goal shooting plus 14 assists and six turnovers) has to perform at an extraordinarily high level just for the Heat to be competitive. While Barkley is obviously correct that the Heat do not have a contender-quality roster, it is worth mentioning that in 2005-06 Bryant led the Lakers to a 45-37 record with Lamar Odom--who turned out to be a good sixth man for a championship team--as his second best player and Smush Parker, Kwame Brown, Devean George, Chris Mihm and Brian Cook ranking third through seventh in total minutes played; just four years after Bryant led that motley crew to the NBA playoffs none of those players except for Odom is a rotation player for a playoff team. Extending Barkley's music analogy, it could said that compared to Bryant's 2006 "garage band" Dwyane Wade is surrounded by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers this year: Michael Beasley, six-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal, Udonis Haslem (starting power forward for the 2006 NBA Champion Miami Heat), Quentin Richardson, Mario Chalmers and Dorell Wright.

Including Thursday's loss, the Lakers are 22-8 (.733) when Bryant scores at least 28 points; that is virtually identical with their overall .742 winning percentage (46-16), so Smith is wrong to imply that the Lakers are such a dominant team that when Bryant meets or exceeds his scoring average the Lakers win almost every time. While much has been made of Bryant's buzzer beating shots this season--the fact that the Lakers have needed Bryant to bail them out so frequently is yet another indication that the Lakers are not as stacked as some people suggest--it is even more significant that on many occasions the Lakers have needed exceptional performances by Bryant for the entire game just to beat mediocre teams; here are some examples:

1) 12/22/09, Bryant scores a season-high 44 points on 13-27 shooting and has 11 assists as the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors 124-118.

2) 12/15/09, Bryant scores 42 points on 15-26 shooting as the Lakers beat the Chicago Bulls 96-87.

3) 11/4/09, Bryant scores 41 points on 15-30 shooting as the Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 103-102.

4) 11/6/09, Bryant scores 41 points on 19-30 shooting as the Lakers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 114-98.

5) 11/17/09, Bryant scores 40 points on 17-29 shooting as the Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons 106-93.

Look not only at Bryant's point totals but also his shooting percentages; Bryant had to be highly productive and highly efficient for the Lakers to win those games. It is also worth noting that four of those five games happened before Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture to the index finger on his right (shooting) hand; for the first six weeks of the season, Bryant was the best player in the league and he led the Lakers to the best record in the league even though Pau Gasol missed the first 11 games (the Lakers went 8-3 without Gasol, a statistic that for some reason is not mentioned nearly as often as the Lakers' 4-1 record sans Bryant).

Not only have the Lakers quite often needed Bryant to play very well just to get by teams that are--at best--average, contrary to Smith's assertion the Lakers have only been a .500 team when Bryant struggled. Bryant has shot worse than .400 from the field in 16 games this season--13 of which took place after he suffered the aforementioned broken finger--and the Lakers went just 8-8 in those games. That sample size is more than three times larger than the sample size of the games that Bryant missed and it provides a better indicator of how the Lakers would perform long term without an efficient and productive Bryant leading the way.

The Lakers' dependence on Bryant is nothing new. Barkley, Smith and other commentators who perpetuate the myth about the Lakers' depth should have learned their lessons during last year's playoffs, when Bryant led the Lakers in scoring (30.2 ppg) and assists (5.5 apg) en route to defeating the Orlando Magic to win the NBA Championship. Bryant scored at least 35 points in six of the Lakers' 23 playoff games; the Lakers won each of those six contests but they lost two of the three playoff games in which Bryant failed to score 20 points. The Lakers relied even more heavily on Bryant in the Finals; he averaged 32.4 ppg and 7.4 apg versus the Magic, recording the fourth highest scoring average in a five game NBA Finals series (15 of the 63 NBA Finals have lasted five games). Any assertion that Bryant is not a top level playmaker can be refuted by the fact that only Jerry West, who averaged 37.9 ppg and 7.4 apg in the 1969 Finals, ever averaged more points and more assists in the same Finals than Bryant did.

Bryant was understandably delighted when the Lakers shipped out Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and the rights to Marc Gasol in exchange for Pau Gasol; being paired with Pau Gasol meant that Bryant no longer had to go into gun battles with "butter knives" and so far has already resulted in back to back trips to the NBA Finals, but I may be the only commentator who has repeatedly pointed out that Gasol's statistics have markedly improved since coming to the Lakers, enabling him to earn two All-Star selections plus his first All-NBA nod. Gasol had an 0-12 record in playoff games prior to teaming up with Bryant. No one ever thought of Gasol as an elite big man until Gasol had the opportunity to benefit from the extra defensive attention that Bryant draws. Bryant has helped lift Gasol from being a player who was a fringe All-Star (what else can be said about someone who made the All-Star team once in six years?) to someone who could quite possibly receive Hall of Fame consideration if he earns another three or four All-Star selections and one or two more championship rings as Bryant's sidekick; that is not to say that Gasol is as good as certain players who are already in the Hall or that he is better than some players who the Hall has shamefully snubbed but the reality is that if Gasol ends up with five or six All-Star selections and two or three championship rings then he will be perceived by many as a Hall of Fame player, particularly considering the fact that he also has a good FIBA resume.

In other words, part of the reason that so many people are raving about Bryant's supporting cast now is that playing alongside Bryant is making those guys look better! In addition to Gasol's progress, Andrew Bynum has benefited from Bryant's mentoring and Shannon Brown has gone from being an afterthought with several other teams to being a solid member of the Lakers' rotation; the reverse effect is evident with Trevor Ariza, a journeyman who became a starter on a championship team alongside Bryant and who is now once again a journeyman--and an inefficient one at that--for a non-playoff team in Houston.

Furthermore, consider the impact that Bryant had on Team USA; after repeated failures in various FIBA events, Team USA won the 2008 Olympic gold medal with Bryant taking over down the stretch in the final game versus Spain much like he repeatedly takes over down the stretch for the Lakers. When things went bad for Team USA in the 2006 FIBA World Championship versus Greece without Bryant on the roster LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony proved unable to stem the tide--the difference in 2008 was that when Spain made a run to cut Team USA's lead to 91-89 Bryant answered the bell. Bryant's impact on Team USA extends well beyond even winning the gold medal, though; it is very evident that Bryant's work ethic and practice habits set an example that has resulted in James, Wade, Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and other Team USA players elevating their overall games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:11 AM

27 comments

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27 Comments:

At Friday, March 05, 2010 9:25:00 AM, Anonymous Jag said...

You buried the lead. The lead is Wade's 14 assists. Wade's passing won the game for the Heat. Did Quentin Richardson make a shot where he wasn't assisted by Wade? JO? Haslem? Dorell Wright? All their key buckets were set up by Wade. Wade has as high a basketball IQ as anybody in the league. He knows exactly where to get his teammates the ball in order to take advantage of their moderate abilities, especially when he's doubled. If his players hit their shots, the Heat are actually a decent team.

Wade's game is essentially identical to that of LeBron; he's just four inches shorter and more prone to injury. When he's healthy and in peak-form, he's every bit the player that either LeBron or Kobe is. Kobe may be the most talented guard in the NBA, but last night exhibited why Wade is the most complete one.

 
At Friday, March 05, 2010 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

I totally agree with your post, David.

Some scribes have written that Wade is unhappy that 2008-09 and 2009-10 were "wasted seasons" in Miami. But, as you point out, he has a fair amount of talent around him. (Although, J.O. and Shawn Marion before him are on the downslope of their careers.) If you were to replace Wade with LeBron or Bryant, Miami would be in the top 4 in the East, in my opinion. Same goes with Bosh in Toronto: if you replaced Bosh with LeBron or Kobe, Toronto would be top 4 in the East.

 
At Friday, March 05, 2010 4:23:00 PM, Anonymous Jack said...

David,
I think last night's loss could be laid at the feet of Kobe Bryant. I'm a big Kobe fan, but i can't deny that he and Fisher have been two of the laziest laker perimeter defenders all season. He left Richardson and Wright wide open for 3s all game. If i was Artest, I'd be frustrated because i'm here killing my butt on defense while Kobe just camp 4-5 feet away from his man. When Kobe wasn't in the lineup, what really won the Lakers those games was Defense. That has been the biggest difference with kobe back in the lineup.
Reasons: Maybe Kobe's finger has had a bigger impact on defense then we think because at the start of the season, Kobe was playing aggressive perimeter defense. him and Artest were shutting down guys. But once his finger fractured, it almost seems as if he was protecting it. And you wonder if Kobe shouldn't have sat out and let the finger heal.

 
At Friday, March 05, 2010 5:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jag:

A player cannot get assists if the players he is passing to cannot finish plays. Richardson is a proven three point shooter. O'Neal is a former MVP candidate who is still a quite solid big man. Haslem started for a championship team. The cupboard is not completely bare in Miami. As I noted, Kobe carried a much more talent deprived team to the playoffs in 2006 in a Western Conference that was much more competitive than this year's East, where Wade's Heat are struggling to stay above .500.

You are wrong to minimize the significance of height/size differences. As I mentioned in Size--Specifically, Height--Matters in the NBA, it is precisely because of the size difference (Wade is closer to 6-2 than his listed 6-4, while Kobe is a legit 6-6 and LeBron is at least 6-8) that Wade does not quite measure up (forgive the pun) to Kobe and LeBron.

 
At Friday, March 05, 2010 5:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

Two seasons ago, I made the point in a post titled Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat's Hard Knock Life that Wade essentially got a free pass for presiding over one of the most stunning declines ever by a championship team that was not completely broken up by roster changes. This year, there is no question that Wade has a better supporting cast than Bryant had in 2005-06, so it is really funny to compare how Wade and his team are talked about to how Bryant and his team were talked about back then. Also, I have yet to hear anyone say that Wade has to "validate" his one ring by winning a ring sans Shaq, though for some reason a lot of people felt that Kobe had to "validate" his three rings by winning one more without Shaq--and now some people seem to be trying to diminish Kobe's newest ring by alleging that he has such a stacked team.

 
At Friday, March 05, 2010 5:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack:

Kobe scored 39 points on .536 field goal shooting and dominated the late moments of the fourth quarter plus the early portion of the overtime yet you say that the loss can be "laid at his feet." In a word, "No."

The play that Coach Jackson singled out after the game was when Farmar ignored Bryant in the post in overtime and instead passed to Odom, who did not score. Jackson was mystified why Farmar would go away from a player who the Heat clearly could not stop. It is also fair to ask why the Lakers, with their supposedly huge talent advantage, could not get a single stop that mattered in overtime.

If you watched the game then you know that Kobe was assigned to Richardson specifically to be a disruptive roamer (mainly because some of the other Lakers are deficient defensively and need help) but that he generally got back in time to contest Richardson's shots; Richardson simply made several really tough shots over Bryant. Richardson also got some hoops in transition when Bryant was switched onto someone else.

Bryant's finger injury would not heal any faster if he had sat out (unlike the ankle injury) but I do agree with you that it has affected the way he plays defense in some situations (he is understandably less apt to go for deflections with his right hand).

If you look at who the Lakers beat when Kobe did not play, when they beat those teams and where they beat them then you will understand not to read too much into those four games.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 2:04:00 AM, Anonymous Jag said...

David, Kobe and LeBron know that belongs in their stratosphere. It's only some of you media types, low and high profile, that don't see it (even in a year like this one where Wade hasn't been able to fully get in rhythm)

When Wade is at the top of his game, he has actually played better than both Kobe and LeBron at times. After the All-Star Break last year, for about a month, Wade played better than anyone since late 80s Jordan. Look up his 13 game stretch right after the ASG. He averaged something like 37/ 6/ 11.

Also, it's just willful blindness on your part not to see that Wade was the best player last evening. Anyone could see it. Kobe may or may not still be the better player overall, but Wade was better on Thursday.

Yes, Wade's teammates made shots, but that because he's a more willing and MUCH better passer than Kobe. He's an elite point guard level passser, in fact. Kobe can beat a team by setting himself up. Wade can beat a team by setting himself up or his teammates.

Also, you might want to look at your boy when you ask yourself why the Lakers went off last night. Yes, kobe had a great offensive game. But, that was made a lot ewasier because he let Artest check Wade. And that left Kobe on Richardson. Except Kobe didn't really stick to Richardson did he? Instead, he played free-safety. How'd that work out?

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 6:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jag:

You have missed the entire point of this post; the subject is not Bryant versus Wade but rather the accuracy of Barkley and Smith's assessment of Bryant's supporting cast. I cited what happened in this game as just one example of a larger trend this season and then backed up my point by showing that the stats from this season do not lend credence to Barkley and Smith's assertions--namely, the Lakers are not so talented that they can win without Bryant playing well nor are they assured a victory when Bryant plays well.

My response to your initial comment refuted your contention regarding Wade versus LeBron and Kobe but I must emphasize again that comparing those three players was not at all the subject of the post. However, if you are interested in the opinions of the people who know the game the best--GMs, coaches and scouts--they have consistently said for the past several years that Kobe is the league's best player. Starting last year and definitely this year, LeBron has taken over that mantle from Kobe. This has nothing to do with media perception but rather an objective, skill set based analysis of these players. Like many All-Star caliber players, Wade certainly can have stretches of games in which he is exceptional but, overall, he is not quite as good as LeBron or Kobe--and size is certainly a factor in that evaluation; suggesting otherwise just betrays your lack of understanding of the NBA game.

I never said that Wade is not a good passer; he obviously is a good passer--but you are vastly underrating Bryant's capabilities in that regard. He has been the leading playmaker for four championship teams. He racks up 25-5-5 seasons regularly. Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy consistently rave about Bryant's court vision, decision making and ability to make various kinds of passes on time and on target. Did you watch any Lakers' playoff games last year?

I'm not going to engage in an endless back and forth with you (or anyone else) about issues that I have examined in depth in numerous posts. If you are truly interested in understanding the NBA game better then read some of the posts that are archived on the main page here and try to learn to watch the game the way that GMs, coaches and scouts do; if all you want to do is have a childish argument that your favorite player is better than the top two players in the league (LeBron James and Kobe Bryant) then you can create your own site and write articles to that effect.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 1:27:00 PM, Blogger Codysseus said...

What I don't understand is how someone can claim Wade is a more complete player than Kobe. I don't really have a preference for either one of them, but it's obvious that Kobe's game is far more "complete" from skillset standpoint than Wade's. Wade's a better slasher at this point, but he's not even on Kobe's level when it comes to shooting and posting. Kobe's spent years working on every single aspect of his game, the work has clearly paid off.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 3:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Codysseus:

Kobe is a better post player, midrange shooter, three point shooter, free throw shooter, rebounder and defender than Wade. Their passing skills are similar but Wade gets more assists because of the nature of the offense that the Heat play; MJ averaged between 3.5 apg and 6.1 apg playing in the Triangle Offense, while Kobe has averaged between 4.5 apg and 6.0 apg while playing in the Triangle Offense--not that "stats gurus" and/or fanboys understand that the offensive system a player plays in affects his opportunities to rack up assists. Kobe turns the ball over less frequently than Wade and gets nearly as many steals despite supposedly being less athletic and definitely being older and more banged up. Kobe is listed as two inches taller than Wade but is probably three to four inches taller, so Kobe has a significant length advantage, which was evident earlier in the year when Kobe shot right over Wade to hit a game-winner and also in the most recent game when Kobe shot right over Wade near the end of regulation (Wade clearly fouled Kobe--though no foul was called--on Kobe's airball jumper near the end of regulation in the most recent game).

Other than that, they're pretty equal :)

Does everyone understand why I will not waste my time having a protracted back and forth debate about this?

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 3:28:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

David,
I understand what you are saying but too many times the lakers Role players and Pau Gasol have taken the blame for kobe's mistakes. I understand spot up shooters are kobe's weakness on defense as he tends to lose interest in guarding his man. But that still doesn't excuse him from not guarding his man and allow his man to lit him up like that. This has happened all season, even more after kobe suffered that index fracture. There was also a lot of times where Gasol or Bynum worked hard to get into position in the post and kobe just ignored them and hoisted shots after shots.
ON lakers going 4-1 without Kobe and 8-3 without Gasol: What you failed to mention is that when gasol was out, Lakers got worst both on offense and defense. While Kobe was out, lakers better defensively and the small sample size thing doesn't hold since they beat both Portland(at home) and Utah which was playing the best basketball in the league at the time.
Kobe feels the need to "protect" his teammates because they can't play defense on their own but that is misguided as Kobe sometimes is the biggest culprit in messing up the team's defensive rotation. I can't sit there and watch the other players get blamed for Kobe mistakes and when something good happens, he gets all the credit.
I cant see the Lakers repeat as Champions this year.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 5:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

The role players have been very inconsistent all season long. Gasol is a very skillful player but against physical defenders he is often soft, losing the ball in crucial situations.

Did you watch the Heat game or are you just talking off the top of your head? Kobe heavily contested several of Richardson's shots but Richardson made them anyway. Richardson also hit some shots in transition against other defenders.

Would you prefer that Kobe always stay at home and thus have the Lakers give up layups because of other players' mistakes or would you prefer that Kobe roam even if that roaming occasionally leads to an open three pointer? Somehow I suspect that Kobe and Phil Jackson understand the Lakers' strengths and weaknesses defensively better than you do.

Both sample sizes you reference are small but back in 2007-08 we saw the Lakers get off to a great start in the first half prior to the Gasol trade with Bynum as the primary big. Then Bynum got hurt and Kobe held the team together until Gasol arrived, as I described in my article Breaking Down the Lakers' Three Seasons

Portland did not have Roy when the Lakers beat the Blazers. Please note that the Blazers are a sub.-500 team this year without him. All that win showed is that the Lakers can beat a sub-.500 team sans Kobe.

The Lakers had some down moments last season--and even during the playoffs--but still won the title because Kobe took over at key moments. The same thing could happen this year, though the Cavs clearly look like the best team when they are at full strength. A key issue will be whether or not the Lakers can seize the best record now that Shaq and Z are out.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 7:02:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David,
If i remember correctly, that same portland team beat the Lakers without Brandon Roy before Kobe got injured. I think something might be going on with the team internally because their play have dropped off considerably since Kobe came back. They aren't responding to him like before in previous Season. And a as a teammate the act where "i'm mad at them" instead of "i should have stayed with the man i was guarding" got to wear thin after a while.
I saw the whole game. Kobe didn't constest Richardson the way u say. He contested the shot sideways(instead of straight up), leaving Richardson a clear view of the basket. Other times, he stayed in lane(while Andrew was there), and left his man wide open in corner.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 8:04:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

JackF,

Roy played the first game for Portland and scored 31 points. Kobe does have an annoying habit of not contesting shooters though, and he's had it for years.

I wouldn't read too much into the 5 games without Kobe. This Lakers team has mixed good/great basketball with indifferent basketball all season long regardless of who is on the court. The offensive execution in particular has been extremely erratic.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 8:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JackF:

You're wrong; Roy not only played in the earlier game but he had 32 points, six assists and five rebounds: Portland 107, L.A. Lakers 98. The Blazers are a sub-.500 team sans Roy and it is not particularly impressive that the Lakers beat them without Kobe.

The Lakers' play has "dropped off" because this supposedly deep team has been inconsistent all year and was also inconsistent last year; the Lakers are at their best primarily when Kobe is in peak form, but Kobe is banged up and has just recently returned from injury. Kobe is apparently not able to dominate on a night to night basis right now and the Lakers will continue to be inconsistent until he is able to do so simply because the roster is just not as good as so many people insist that it is.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 8:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

During the 2008 NBA Finals, Boston Coach Doc Rivers called Kobe the best help defender in the league since Scottie Pippen. I trust Rivers' analysis--and Kobe's defensive decision making--more than your superficial comments about one game out of an 82 game season. However, since you insist on beating this dead horse, let's look at what happened on each of Richardson's 11 three point attempts versus the Lakers (game times listed are based on the play by play data at NBA.com and may be off by a few seconds):

1) 10:41, 1st Q: Carlos Arroyo runs a s/r with Beasley. Fisher and Gasol are defending. Bryant sags into the lane to deny dribble penetration/Beasley's cut. Arroyo passes to Richardson, who hits a three pointer from the top of the key. Bryant did not react much to the pass, clearly indicating that the Lakers' early strategy was to make Richardson beat them from the outside, as opposed to allowing the Heat to get shots in the paint.

2) 6:07, 1st Q: Bryant sags into the paint to cut off Wade's driving lane and discourage Wade from making a pass to a cutter. Wade makes a bailout pass to Richardson on the wing. Bryant sprints to Richardson and heavily contests the shot, which rims in and out.

3) 3:49, 1st Q: Wade uses a screen to get by Artest, sending the Lakers' defense into full rotation. Bryant collapses into the paint, then rotates to Michael Beasley, forcing him to eschew a short jumper to pass to Richardson, who hits a three pointer over Artest.

4) 4:58, 2nd Q: With the shot clock winding down, Bryant strongly doubles Beasley on the post, forcing him to pass to Richardson for a desperation heave (which misses) from three point land as the buzzer sounds.

5) 4:35, 2nd Q: Wade drives by Artest and gets into the paint, forcing the Lakers' defense to collapse. Fisher deflects Wade's pass to Beasley, but Beasley retains possession and kicks to Arroyo, who swings the ball to Richardson. Richardson airballs a three pointer with Bryant flying at him; Bryant had sagged into the lane to pick up Joel Anthony as Gasol slid over to guard Wade on the block (the Lakers were in full rotation and properly denied the Heat a shot attempt in the lane).

6) 3:01, 2nd Q: Wade uses a screen to get by Artest and penetrate the lane. Gasol steps up to block Wade's path, while Bryant sinks into the lane to lend support. Wade jumps, has nowhere to go and flings the ball at the last second to Richardson, who hits a three pointer with Bryant running out at him.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 8:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

(I split my reply into two parts because a comment can only contain a limited number of total characters)

7) 7:48, 3rd Q: Bryant is matched up with Wade, while Artest is guarding Richardson. Artest is nursing some kind of hand injury and thus leaves Richardson wide open. Wade swings the ball to Richardson, who buries a three pointer.

8) 4:48, 3rd Q: Wade uses a screen to get by Artest, Bryant sinks in to help and Wade kicks the ball to Richardson, who makes the three pointer as Bryant scrambles back and gets a hand up.

9) 4:26, 3rd Q: Bynum goes up softly and gets stripped. Bryant is deep in the paint awaiting a pass or possible offensive rebound opportunity, so he signals ahead that someone should pick up Richardson in transition. Gasol and Fisher both fly at Richardson, who makes a three pointer anyway.

10) 1:00, 3rd Q: Bryant sags into the lane after yet another screen frees up Wade. Wade swings the ball to Richardson and Bryant fully recovers. Richardson misses a low percentage, step back three pointer with Bryant fully contesting.

11) :11, 4th Q: Bryant sags off of Richardson to discourage a Wade drive, so Wade swings the ball to Richardson. Bryant recovers so quickly that he may have even fouled Richardson, who falls to the floor after making a three pointer.

I can't prove whether or not you watched the game but you give no indication that you have any understanding whatsoever regarding Bryant's defense. The Lakers provided significant help to Artest during s/r plays and Bryant's responsibilities included denying middle penetration plus rotating to Beasley in the event that a Lakers' big stepped up to assist Artest. Far from aimlessly gambling as you suggest, Bryant's roaming led to Richardson attempting 11 three pointers that might otherwise have been higher percentage shots in the paint taken by Wade or a Miami big. Bryant was not even on Richardson for two of Richardson's three point makes (7:48 3rd Q, 4:26 3rd Q)--one time Bryant was guarding Wade and the other time happened in transition.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 8:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

As I indicated above in my detailed play by play of each of Richardson's three point shots, the only time that it could possibly be said that Bryant intentionally did not contest Richardson's three point shots was on Richardson's very first attempt of the game. Clearly, the Lakers wanted to make Richardson beat them from the outside while denying layup attempts to Wade and the Miami bigs. Richardson had made just two of his previous seven three point attempts in the four games prior to facing the Lakers. Is it even possible that maybe, just maybe, Phil Jackson, the coaching staff and Bryant took that into account in deciding how to defend Miami on Thursday?

Richardson deserves credit for making the shots. As Bryant said after the game, Richardson hit several shots with a hand in his face. Sometimes you play good, high percentage defense but the offensive player makes shots, so you tip your hat to him and move on to the next game.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 9:27:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

David,

I should have made it clear I wasn't referring specifically to Thursday's game. Actually, without the benefit of re-watching the game, the only specific instance I can think of is the one you mentioned.

 
At Saturday, March 06, 2010 10:38:00 PM, Blogger Ben said...

let's just call this blog "David friedman defends kobe"

No doubt Kobe is an amazing player and 2nd best in the world, but reading this blather gets tiring.

 
At Sunday, March 07, 2010 1:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ben:

Do you actually, by chance, have a refutation of any of my analysis? Or do you just think that calling my website "David Friedman defends Kobe" is the height of cleverness?

 
At Sunday, March 07, 2010 11:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually like your articles but I don't understand why you keep bashing Gasol.
You keep on saying he's not a franchise player, that he's a second banana. Well what team right now has 2 franchise players playing at or near their peaks?

We will continue to disagree about Allen's HoF candidacy, but you can't be serious if you say Allen is playing at a HoF level the last few years. KG didn't play at an all-star level this year (but got voted in anyway). Jermaine is not even close to having an "MVP caliber" season. The Nuggets? Billups is over-hyped and I think you agree with that. Melo's "franchise player" status is still debatable. The Mav's come close, but Kidd is no longer a force defensively (and indeed is a liability in some match-ups). Utah? They were trying to get rid of Boozer because his backup could do the same thing he does(put up a lot of points and get burned defensively). Mo Williams is not an all-star caliber player. He wasn't voted by the fans, he wasn't voted in by the coaches, he wasn't even selected by David Stern the first time.

You keep on hyping up other team's supporting casts while putting down the Lakers especially Gasol. Why don't you ask Kobe if he would prefer playing with Varejao or Rashard Lewis. Isn't Odom a legitimate starter who comes off their bench? (He was a starter of the team that went to the finals.) Artest was the 2nd best player in a 61 win Indiana team and a DPoY winner, but you didn't mention that with your "Jermaine was an MVP candidate" statement. Haslem started for a championship team, but Derek Fisher's 3 rings don't count??

Barring Injuries, why would the Lakers' "lack of depth" be a problem in the playoffs? Rotations get tightened up and you rarely see teams go 10 deep anyway. I couldn't care less about whoever the Cavs have at the 9th and 10th spot and how much better they are than Vujacic and Morrison (they probably are) since they won't be playing anyway.

At the start of the season, the Lakers' had the most talented supporting cast in the league. When Big Z does go back to the Cavs, the Cavs will be. (I think Delonte and Big Z are underrated) Why do you talk like it diminishes Bryant in any way?

Z

 
At Monday, March 08, 2010 4:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Objectively analyzing a player's skill set strengths and weaknesses is not "bashing him."

The term "franchise player" is overused. Each team obviously has a best player but that best player is not necessarily an MVP level player. When I say that Gasol is not an MVP level player I am not "bashing" him but I am criticizing commentators who are mistakenly inflating his value. Gasol made the All-Star team once in six full seasons prior to teaming up with Kobe. He never made the All-NBA team during that time. I don't think that he has substantially improved his skill set in the past two years, yet he has made the All-Star team twice and will likely earn his second consecutive All-NBA selection soon. So what changed? Simple--the shift from being the best player on his team to being the second best player has provided Gasol with more high percentage scoring opportunities. Jackson and Bryant have also done a good job of coaxing Gasol into being a more aggressive player at both ends of the court, though Gasol seems to need constant prodding in that regard.

When the Celtics were a dominant team in 2008 Allen played at a very high level, as did each of the other two members of the "Big Three." Clearly, age and injuries have affected KG, Pierce and Allen since that time.

I am not "hyping up" various teams' supporting casts. What specifically do you disagree with in terms of my comments about Wade's supporting cast? Wade has several solid veteran teammates, plus some young teammates who have promising futures. Wade certainly has more help than Kobe had in 2006 and 2007 but Barkley keeps babbling about "a bunch of Titos."

Varejao and Rashard Lewis are completely different players. Varejao is a center/power forward who rebounds, defends and is excellent at diving to the hoop for layups/offensive rebounds. Lewis is a small forward playing power forward who shoots three pointers and occasionally drives to the hoop. Odom is widely praised for his versatility but, at least at this point of his career, his only above average skill is his rebounding. His shooting is subpar, his decision making/ballhandling is often suspect and his defense is inconsistent.

I didn't mention Odom, Artest and Fisher in my evaluation of Miami's supporting cast because I was not directly comparing Miami's team to this year's Lakers (I compared Miami to the 2006 and 2007 Lakers). As I have stated in previous posts, this year's Lakers have a very good starting lineup but their depth is suspect; if you watched the Lakers-Magic game on Sunday then you know that Jeff Van Gundy said exactly the same thing. Maybe he is a 20 Second Timeout fan--or maybe what I am saying fits in with the way that GMs, coaches and scouts see the game.

The Lakers' lack of depth could be a problem in the case of injuries and/or foul trouble--but my larger point has more to do with media coverage than figuring out whether or not the Lakers will have a "problem." I disagree with media members who call the Lakers a deep team. The Lakers had a reasonable amount of depth in 2008 but that was not the case last year or this year--and the Artest for Ariza swap has not boosted the quality of the starting lineup enough to compensate for this. That is why the Lakers will win fewer games this year than they did last year.

The Lakers certainly did not have the most talented supporting cast at the start of this season, particularly if you recall that Gasol did not even play in the first 11 games. The Lakers have a good starting lineup--which becomes a great lineup with Kobe--and they have a solid sixth man with Odom. After that, their "depth" is very suspect; that is why former Cavs' 13th man Shannon Brown has become such an important part of the rotation.

 
At Monday, March 08, 2010 9:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The West was flooded with franchise level forwards during the 2000s.
During the early 2000s, Duncan, Garnett, Webber, Malone, Wallace were all the best players on stacked playoff teams.
They were franchise players on not only playoff but championship contending teams who had better supporting casts than the Grizzlies.
Later, we saw the emergence of Dirk, Amare and Carmelo. Their teams were stacked too.
You keep on mentioning Gasol's failure to make the all-star and all-NBA teams without even recognizing how difficult it was.
Gasol has not won a playoff game? Did you even take a look at which teams they faced? San Antonio, Phoenix, and Dallas at the height of their powers.

You don't even consider the possibility that Gasol improved because he is now in his prime, and that he now has the experience of leading a good Spain team to success.
Wouldn't you even think that his motivation level changed when he went from Memphis to L.A.? Leaving a loser environment does wonders for your game as well.
Look at his free throw percentage. It's steadily improving. His improvement is not all Kobe as you keep on insisting.
Shannon Brown was raw when he was still with the Cavs. He got older when he joined the Lakers and it's natural that he gets better.
Caron Butler wasn't impressing anybody when he was with the Lakers, but was great in Washington.
I do not think that the Lakers held him back. He just matured as a player, worked on his game, and got better.
That's what young players do.

"Wade has several solid veteran teammates, plus some young teammates who have promising futures."
So Fisher, Artest and Odom are not solid veterans? Brown and Bynum don't have promising futures?
Remove Kobe and Wade from their respective teams and the Lakers will still wipe the floor with them.

Jermaine is nowhere close to "MVP caliber" when he joined the heat.
Haslem was part of the Heat's championship team, but he was also a part of the spectacular collapse of that team.
Is he a "championship caliber starting power forward" or a "starting power forward of a 15 win team"?

If you are going to talk about the Lakers' lack of depth, stop bashing Gasol and Odom. Gasol is as good a second banana as you can get.
Odom is a legitimate 6th man candidate. The Lakers are perfectly fine at those positions.
If you are going to complain about the Lakers' lack of depth start with Vujacic, Morrison, and Farmar.

Z

 
At Monday, March 08, 2010 10:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

You are making my case for me: I agree with you that Gasol is not as good as most--if not all--of the forwards you listed. Coaches, fans and media members did not vote Gasol to All-Star and All-NBA teams precisely because Gasol was not a "franchise" player. The Grizzlies traded Gasol and started over because their management understood that they would not win a title with Gasol as their best player. Gasol is very well suited to being the second best player on a championship team.

I also don't think that his skill set has substantially improved, which is why I disagree with those who suggest that Gasol is now a "franchise" player. Free throw percentage is a category in which players tend to improve as they get older but the main areas in which Gasol's productivity has improved as a Laker--field goal percentage and offensive rebounding--are directly related to Kobe being double-teamed. Furthermore, field goal percentage and offensive rebounding are not categories in which a player tends to improve as he gets older. Bottom line: Gasol gets easier scoring opportunities because he plays with Kobe. This does not mean that Gasol cannot create his own shot or that he cannot score without Kobe; it means no more and no less than exactly what I said: it is easier for Gasol to score because he plays with Kobe.

If you look at Shannon Brown's stats and his per minute productivity, the main thing that has changed since he became a Laker is his field goal percentage has increased (like Gasol). There is little evidence to suggest that Brown's skill set has substantially changed. The difference is that the Lakers are not as deep as the Cavs, so he is getting more playing time. That is why the Cavs got rid of Brown in the first place--and if Brown were on their roster now he would not get much playing time, because Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson would all be ahead of him in the rotation. The Lakers' backcourt rotation is weak. Derek Fisher would not start for any other playoff team in the West.

Reread the post: I am not comparing the Heat's current supporting cast to this year's Lakers team. I compared Wade's supporting cast this year to Kobe's supporting cast in 2006 and 2007. All that I said about this year's Lakers is that they are not as deep as some people suggest.

Do you believe that Wade far outplayed Kobe in the most recent game? If not, then how can you say that if you take both players out of the equation that the Lakers would "wipe the floor with them?"

 
At Tuesday, March 09, 2010 2:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your article "calls into question assertions about Lakers' depth" but somehow you end up criticizing Gasol's softness and his lack of accolades.
Gasol is as good a second banana as the Lakers can get. Odom is a terrific 6th man who could start for most teams.
How much they "benefit" playing alongside Bryant has very little to do with the Lakers' depth.
Farmar, Vujacic, Walton and Fisher's decline are not even mentioned in your article.
What's wrong with their games? Whatever happened to Chris Mihm? Is Morrison the next Darko?

"The Lakers' backcourt rotation is weak. Derek Fisher would not start for any other playoff team in the West."
Well why didn't you start with that? We are supposed to be talking about depth aren't we?

Gasol's physical skills have not yet started to decline. His experience leading Spain's national team helped him mature as a player and an individual.
He has accumulated a ton of veteran tricks over the years. He now has a front court teammate to help him in the paint.
Yet somehow Gasol's improvement is all Kobe??
Of all the Lakers, Gasol is the LEAST dependent on Bryant creating shots for him.
Surround him with enough decent weapons to prevent double teams and he's good to go.
Replace Bryant with a Kevin Martin, and it won't be Gasol's game who would suffer the most. He's not Shawn Marion.

I don't think that Wade is better than Kobe, nor that he outplayed him in the recent game.
I do think that Kobe has a better supporting cast than Wade.
"While Barkley is obviously correct that the Heat do not have a contender-quality roster,"
You said so yourself.
Despite the Heat's victory, I still think that the Lakers will beat the Heat consistently minus both their stars.
In the same way, I do not believe that the Lakers are better off without Kobe despite their win-streak a few days earlier.

Z

 
At Tuesday, March 09, 2010 5:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

In this post I did not criticize Gasol's softness, though that is certainly a valid critique of his game that Coach Jackson has frequently (and quite publicly) made.

I don't understand how a simple recitation of the honors that Gasol has won is twisted in your mind to be some kind of criticism. Would you feel better if I invented some awards for Gasol and said that he has made the All-NBA Team five times? Sorry, but I am writing non fiction here, not fiction.

Whether or not Odom could start for a non-playoff team is irrelevant; let's look at the playoff teams (there may be a few changes by the end of the season but the current standings are a good enough sample for our purposes): In the West, Odom would not start for Dallas (Nowitzki), Utah (Carlos Boozer), Phoenix (Amare Stoudemire), San Antonio (Tim Duncan) or Portland (La Marcus Aldridge). Odom and Kenyon Martin (Denver) is a push; I'll give you Odom over Jeff Green (OKC) but not by much. In the East, Odom would not start for Cleveland (Jamison), Orlando (Rashard Lewis), Boston (Kevin Garnett), Atlanta (Josh Smith) or Toronto (Chris Bosh). Odom and Udonis Haslem (Miami) is a push; Odom would start for Milwaukee and Chicago, two mediocre teams.

I will never understand the infatuation that some people have with Odom; he is an excellent rebounder but his shooting is below average, his ballhandling and decision making are questionable and his defense is inconsistent. He has never made the All-Star team because in any given season there are quite a few players at his position who are clearly better and more productive than he is.

The reason that the Lakers' players you mentioned are not discussed in this post is that this post is not about them. For the last time I will point out to you that this post primarily compared the Heat's roster to the Lakers' rosters from 2006 and 2007 to refute the contention that Wade is playing with a "bunch of Titos."

I made my skill set evaluations of the Lakers' current roster here.

I'm not sure what, if anything, Gasol's FIBA experiences have to do with his NBA productivity; Sarunas Jasikevicius led Lithuania to some impressive FIBA wins but he never stuck in the NBA. FIBA ball and NBA ball are two different things. I know that several of the NBA stars benefited from being on Team USA because of their exposure to Kobe's work ethic and practice habits but that is a different story.

I never said that "all" of Gasol's recent progress is because of Kobe. I would really, really appreciate it if you would read as carefully as I write; I choose my words very meticulously to say exactly what I mean--and I specifically have explained (in many posts as well as in my responses to you here) exactly in which ways Gasol has benefited from playing alongside Kobe. I will not continue to repeat myself just because you are refusing to pay attention.

 

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