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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Chris Palmer's NBA Player Rankings by Position

ESPN "Insider" Chris Palmer recently wrote a series of articles ranking the top five players in the NBA at each position. Here is his list, with a brief quote from Palmer's evaluation of each player:

Point Guards

1) Chris Paul: "If his commanding performance against the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs showed us anything, it's that Paul is the game's most complete point guard."

2) Derrick Rose: "The excitement quotient soars when Rose goes into attack mode."

3) Russell Westbrook: "Westbrook is arguably the best athlete in the NBA."

4) Deron Williams: "Tough to find a pure point guard with a better offensive game than D-Will."

5) Steve Nash: "Although his 37 year old legs make him a defensive liability, he still possesses the purest point guard skills in the league."

Shooting Guards

1) Kobe Bryant: "Thanks to an absolutely tireless work ethic, Bryant is the most skilled player in the league with virtually every weapon at his disposal."

2) Dwyane Wade: "Wade is smack in the middle of his prime and finished the season stronger than anyone at the position."

3) Monta Ellis: "Ellis' in-between game is what puts him in such elite company."

4) Manu Ginobili: "With great shot selection (only once has he shot below 43 percent) and feel for the game, he opens up the floor and fits in perfectly between Tim Duncan and Tony Parker."

5) Eric Gordon: "Gordon could be, pound for pound, the strongest player in the game under 6-foot-4."

Small Forwards

1) LeBron James: "James is simply the best player in the game and on his way to being considered the best small forward of all time."

2) Kevin Durant: "Durant is the purest scorer in the league and one of its most versatile shooters."

3) Carmelo Anthony: "Melo is right up there with Durant in his pure ability to score the basketball."

4) Paul Pierce: "'The Truth' is one of the most respected and cagiest veterans in the league."

5) Rudy Gay: "Is it possible to be this underrated if you've been in the league for five years?"

Power Forwards:

1) Blake Griffin: "Think it's too soon to anoint Griffin? His talent, skill and numbers say otherwise."

2) Dirk Nowitzki: "We're all still buzzing about the Mavericks' championship march, but after a thorough inspection of Nowitzki's skills, he simply doesn't have enough of an all-around game to pry the top spot from Griffin."

3) Amare Stoudemire: "Stoudemire can flat-out fill it up, and after nine seasons is still the most explosive scorer from the 4."

4) Kevin Love: "Love surprisingly has the highest player efficiency rating (24.39) on this list and improved his rebounding by a whopping four boards per game."

5) Pau Gasol: "I won't sit here and try to pretend that the dismal postseason during which Gasol was a virtual nonfactor--with averages of 13 points and 7.8 rebounds on 42 percent shooting--isn't affecting his place in these rankings."

Centers

1) Dwight Howard: "No player at any position can lay more claim to the top spot than Howard."

2) Joakim Noah: "For pure enthusiasm and energy, you can do no better than Noah who takes great pleasure in going all out to lock someone down or harass the daylights out of them."

3) Al Jefferson: "Jefferson toggles between power forward and center, but because of his brawn he often draws defensive center assignments so I'm plugging him in here."

4) Andrew Bynum: "The storyline of Bynum's career has been his shaky health."

5) Tyson Chandler: "Major bonus: Chandler led the league in true shooting percentage with a whopping .697, which is the third-best single season mark of all time."

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Palmer's rankings are not terrible but they are very subjective and his unpolished writing skills detract from the final product. The subjectivity in Palmer's rankings is not limited to the inherently subjective nature of making such lists but also encompasses the way that he continually shifts the value he places on various criteria and how the words he chooses lack consistent meanings. For instance, he calls Chris Paul "the league's most complete point guard," asserts that Deron Williams has a "better offensive game" than any "pure point guard" and says that Steve Nash "possesses the purest point guard skills in the league." What exactly do such bold but vague declarations mean? Such comments do not provide the reader a greater understanding of the sport or any particular insight about why Palmer ranks the point guards in the order that he did. Palmer never even attempts to define the sweeping generalizations that he repeatedly makes and thus his articles read like they come straight out of the pages of Slam.

Here is a breakdown of each of Palmer's articles, including an attempt to objectively rank the top five players at each position:

Point Guards

Contrary to Palmer's breathless hyperbole, Chris Paul's performance against the Lakers did not mean that Paul has proved he is the best point guard in the NBA; Paul proved (1) that Derek Fisher simply cannot stay in front of quick point guards anymore and (2) that even a hobbled Kobe Bryant can defend such players more effectively than Fisher can; if we accept Palmer's statement at face value then J.J. Barea must be the second best point guard in the NBA, because he torched the Lakers almost as badly as Paul did. No, it simply does not make sense to base a player's ranking on a small sample of playoff games against one team whose elderly point guard has little remaining lateral quickness and whose defensive stopper was playing on one leg. During the 2010-11 regular season, Paul had the lowest scoring average of his six year career and he had his worst performances since his second season in both field goal percentage and apg. Paul's best season was 2008-09 but then he missed nearly half of the 2009-10 campaign due to injury. Perhaps his performance against the Lakers showed that Paul is rounding back into form but it is premature to draw that conclusion based on a six game series, particularly considering that Paul was ineffective in the game six loss at home that ended New Orleans' season.

Even though Paul was briefly the best point guard in the NBA, size and durability are key factors to consider when evaluating players. Paul is generously listed at 6-0, 175 pounds and he has already missed at least 18 games in two of his six seasons. How many small point guards have been the best player on an NBA championship team in the past three decades? That list begins and ends with Isiah Thomas. Tony Parker won the 2007 Finals MVP but Tim Duncan was still the Spurs' best player, the hub around which both the team's offense and defense revolved. Chauncey Billups won the 2004 Finals MVP as "first among equals" (to borrow a phrase used to describe World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik) for the talented Detroit Pistons but at 6-3 and 200-plus pounds he is hardly a small point guard. If Paul ever wins an NBA championship he likely will be the second best player on his team.

Derrick Rose should not have won the 2011 regular season MVP but he is the best point guard in the NBA. I don't evaluate players based on Palmer's "excitement quotient" (whatever that means) but Rose has the complete package: size, strength, explosiveness, work ethic and a level head. Rose is an excellent scorer and passer, a good rebounder and an improving defender. His main skill set weakness used to be shooting but he has improved from both the free throw line and from behind the three point arc; he still needs to work on his midrange shot but even with his inconsistent 15-18 foot shooting stroke he still presents more problems for opposing defenses than any other point guard.

Like Rose, the only thing that Russell Westbrook lacks is a consistent midrange shot. I don't know how to prove or disprove Palmer's contention that Westbrook is the "best athlete in the NBA" (Steve Nash may be the best athlete in the NBA) but Westbrook has size, speed, explosiveness and work ethic; some of his shot selection issues and emotional outbursts during the playoffs raise concerns about whether he is as level headed as Rose but Westbrook has shown enough to establish himself as the league's second best point guard.

Chris Paul ranks third on my list. Despite his size and durability issues, he is still a very tough cover because of his quickness combined with a feathery shooting touch. Paul is a scrappy, quick-handed defender but he can be overpowered by bigger guards and he can be worn down over the course of a game or a playoff series. Paul's toughness and clutch shooting are reminiscent of Isiah Thomas but it remains to be seen if Paul can follow in Thomas' footsteps and lead a team to a championship.

Deron Williams has all of the necessary tools to be the NBA's best point guard but he did not have a great 2010-11 season by his high standards; Williams played some role in Jerry Sloan's decision to abruptly retire and then Williams talked his way out of Utah, landing in New Jersey only to post mediocre numbers in 12 games with his new team. Williams is an excellent shooter and passer but he is just an average defender and he does not rebound as well as he should given his size.

In 2010-11, Tony Parker had one of the best seasons of an already distinguished career. Despite his thin frame and relatively short stature he is amazingly adept at scoring in the paint. Parker has a scorer's mentality but he has developed into a very good floor general and playmaker. He is not a great shooter but his shot selection is very good, resulting in a very high FG% (.519 in 2011).

Nash is sixth on my list. Palmer's comment about Nash's defense is funny, because Nash's defense was subpar long before Nash had 37 year old legs. Years ago, TNT's John Thompson once declared that it seemed odd that Dirk Nowitzki possessed enough athletic ability to score on anyone in the NBA yet struggled defensively (Nowitzki has since improved his performance at that end of the court) and the same issue should also be raised regarding Nash; Nash is certainly tough--he does not hesitate to take charges against bigger players--but his overall defense is so subpar that for many years the Suns have hidden him at that end of the court, relying on Grant Hill--a small forward with a rebuilt ankle--to check top level point guards. Nash is one of the greatest shooters in NBA history and he has wondrous passing skills but when objective historians examine this era they will be mystified that Nash won as many regular season MVPs as Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant combined.

Shooting Guards

Palmer is correct that Kobe Bryant should still be ranked ahead of Dwyane Wade because of Bryant's complete skill set. I have written about this many times and I get the impression that some people do not understand what it means to say that Bryant has no skill set weaknesses; it does not mean that Bryant is better than every player in the NBA in every single area and it does not even necessarily mean that Bryant is the best player in the NBA in any one particular area: it means that Bryant does not have any weakness that the opposing team can attack. Opposing teams can "shrink the paint" against Wade and try to take away his pullup jumper when he drives left but Bryant can strike from anywhere on the court: "shrink the paint" and he will kill you with jumpers but if you try to take away his jumper Bryant can still drive and finish (albeit not as explosively as he did when he was Wade's age). Age and some nagging injuries have limited Bryant's explosiveness and even seem to affect his stamina at times (Bryant used to take over games for longer stretches than he seems to be capable of doing now) but despite averaging his lowest mpg since his second season Bryant still scored 25.3 ppg on .451 field goal shooting while contributing 5.1 rpg and 4.7 apg; on a per minute basis, Bryant was a more productive scorer, rebounder and passer in 2010-11 than he was in 2009-10 and his per minute numbers in those categories were comparable to the numbers he posted during his 2007-08 MVP campaign. Bryant's minutes and health will have to be monitored carefully by the Lakers for the rest of his career but he is still the league's best, most productive and most complete shooting guard.

Dwyane Wade is more explosive than Bryant--which is not a new development--but his midrange game is still erratic, he gambles too much defensively and he plays with a reckless abandon that results in him being continually banged up/injured. Wade was great in the last four games of the 2006 NBA Finals but he also presided over one of the worst collapses ever experienced by a championship team (the Heat were swept in the first round of the 2007 playoffs and then had the worst record in the NBA in 2008). A relatively healthy Wade was certainly more productive in the 2011 playoffs than an injured Bryant but over the course of the entire season Bryant still had the edge over Wade due to the completeness of Bryant's skill set. Also, the "stat gurus" declared that Wade would be unstoppable once paired with LeBron James--and that either James or Wade could have easily filled Bryant's shoes alongside Pau Gasol with the Lakers--but what actually transpired on the court last season hardly supported such thinking.

After Bryant and Wade there is a bit of a drop-off; Bryant and Wade are the only legitimate franchise players at the shooting guard position (Tracy McGrady has declined significantly from the All-NBA level that he once maintained). Monta Ellis may be this generation's World B. Free, a high scoring player who can pass but is not thrilled to do so and whose defense is largely a rumor; Palmer ranks Ellis third but Ellis does not crack my top five. I rank Manu Ginobili third; Ginobili does not have any skill set weaknesses but he is not as explosive as Wade and he cannot match Bryant in any skill set areas other than long range shooting and free throw shooting. Like Wade, Ginobili throws his body all over the court and thus is always dealing with various nagging ailments; that is one reason that Spurs' Coach Gregg Popovich limits Ginobili's minutes and often uses him as a reserve player, enabling Ginobili to play against the opposing team's bench performers (though Ginobili also is usually on the court at the end of the game if the score is close). Eric Gordon is often injured and has yet to play in a playoff game during his three season career but Gordon is such a deadly scorer that Palmer is probably right to put him in the top five (Gordon is fourth on my list). The fifth spot could be capably filled by several players, including Ellis, Kevin Martin or Joe Johnson but I like Ray Allen: he is not as explosive athletically as he used to be and his role as one member of Boston's Big Three (or Big Four counting Rajon Rondo) means that he does not have the opportunity to post the gaudy scoring numbers that Ellis and the others do but Allen is still a deadly shooter from all three ranges (.491 FG%, .444 3FG%, .881 FT%) and under Doc Rivers' tutelage he has become a committed defender.

Small Forwards

LeBron James is clearly the best small forward--and best player--in the NBA. He is an exceptional scorer, rebounder, passer and defender. His three point shooting is acceptable but high variance; he is not a consistent long range shooter but rather a streak shooter who alternates from great to horrid. James' greatest skill set weakness is his midrange shooting. When he and Wade get into the open court they are an unstoppable duo but the Miami Heat look shockingly ordinary when opposing teams force the Heat to execute a half court offensive set; James and Wade cannot consistently punish teams by making midrange jumpers. James has performed well overall during his playoff career but he quit against the Boston Celtics during the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals and he quit against the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals; those two deplorable performances cast a lengthy shadow over James' reputation: he is still a great player but he is a great player who has twice lacked heart/tenacity/toughness precisely when his team most needed for him to display those qualities.

Palmer is incorrect that James is "revolutionizing the small forward position with his approach as a pure passer." In a December 2001 Basketball Digest article I listed several forwards who were great passers before James was even born. While it is true that some of those forwards did not play point forward--they did not bring the ball up the court like a point guard--Paul Pressey played point forward for Don Nelson's 1980s Milwaukee Bucks, a concept that Nelson likely borrowed from watching the way his teammate John Havlicek performed as a Boston small forward/shooting guard in the 1960s and 1970s. Then Scottie Pippen took the point forward position to the next level both offensively and defensively as a key performer for six Chicago championship teams in the 1990s. James is a great passer but I am not convinced that he is a better passer than Larry Bird, Rick Barry or Scottie Pippen; such distinctions should not just be based on assist totals (numbers that are very subjective) but also on a player's effectiveness in his particular role for his team.

Palmer's assertion that James is "on his way to being considered the best small forward of all time" is a bit premature. Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird and Julius Erving (listed alphabetically) are the three greatest small forwards in NBA history; Bird and Erving each won multiple championships, while Baylor helped lead the Lakers to multiple NBA Finals only to be thwarted by Bill Russell's Celtics (and once by a stacked New York team). James has twice played on the best regular season team in the NBA and his teams have reached the NBA Finals in two other seasons but he has yet to win a championship. While it is true that James is playing a team sport, not an individual sport like chess or tennis, if James fails to win a championship despite playing for several contending teams it will be difficult to rank him ahead of great small forwards who led their teams to multiple titles. The fact that it is impossible to fully appreciate a player's greatness--and limitations--until his career is over is why I did not include active players in my Pro Basketball Pantheon.

Kevin Durant is the obvious choice as the league's second best small forward. He is a better shooter than James but does not measure up to James in any other skill set area. Durant is a good rebounder, a fair passer and an adequate--though still improving--defender. Durant still has to prove that he can be an efficient scorer against elite competition during the playoffs. Palmer calls Durant "the purest scorer in the league" and then says that Carmelo Anthony is "right up there with Durant in his pure ability to score the basketball." That may sound great but what does it really mean? What is "pure" scoring? Is there such a thing as "impure" scoring? Durant is the two-time reigning scoring champion but he also ranked first and fourth in the NBA in field goal attempts during those seasons; Anthony has yet to lead the league in scoring but he usually ranks in the top six in field goal attempts. LeBron James could certainly contend for the scoring title every season if that were his goal, as could Kobe Bryant (at least until last season when Bryant voluntarily reduced his minutes to preserve his body). I don't know what "pure" scoring is but I suspect that--all things being equal--James and Bryant could match Durant and Anthony point for point, in addition to being better all-around players than Durant and Anthony. Durant and Anthony are not better scorers than James and Bryant; they are simply more one dimensional. The jury is still out about whether Durant can lead a team to the Finals but after years of watching Anthony's teams flame out in the first round I doubt that Anthony will ever be the best player on a championship team. Anthony may be a better "pure scorer" than Paul Pierce but Pierce is tougher than Anthony, he is a better all-around player and he is a proven winner, so I rank Pierce as the league's third best small forward. Anthony is fourth in my book.

The fifth spot is somewhat wide open, much like the fifth spot at shooting guard. I like Gerald Wallace because of his toughness and versatility. Luol Deng deserves consideration because of his defense and his midrange shooting. Palmer's choice of Rudy Gay seems odd; Gay has yet to make an All-Star team or an All-NBA team--meaning that coaches, fans and media agree that he is not one of the top 24 or so players in the NBA--and the Memphis Grizzlies hardly missed him after he got hurt last season. Danny Granger is a gritty, hard nosed player who probably would be effective for a winning team but may be what TNT's Kenny Smith calls a "looter in a riot" (Smith's colorful description of players who put up big numbers for losing teams, which is the way I perceive Monta Ellis).

Power Forwards

I like Blake Griffin's game a lot and he may soon become the best power forward in the NBA but Palmer lost his mind when he ranked Griffin ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, a proven playoff performer who led the Dallas Mavericks past the two-time defending champion Lakers and the Miami Heat's "Big Three" despite not playing alongside a single current All-Star. Nowitzki is just an average defender and he does not rebound as well as he did when he was younger but he can score from anywhere on the court and he is a good passer who is vastly underrated as a leader. Nowitzki is renowned for his outside shooting prowess, yet it has been five years since he made at least 100 three pointers in a season and he has only attempted 200 three pointers in a season once since 2005-06; Nowitzki is at least as good of a "pure scorer" as Durant or Anthony--and he is better than both of those players at both shooting from long distance and posting up. Nowitzki deserved to at least be mentioned alongside Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett even when those guys were in their primes but now that they are "merely" good players Nowitzki is without question the league's premier power forward.

LaMarcus Aldridge carried the Portland Trail Blazers after numerous injuries depleted their roster and by the end of the 2010-11 season he was the second best power forward in the NBA; I count Amare Stoudemire as a center but even if I follow Palmer's lead and put Stoudemire at power forward I would still take Aldridge's back to the basket scoring prowess, rebounding and defense over Stoudemire's explosiveness.

Perhaps Kevin Love is the ultimate "looter in a riot" but I don't think so; his three best skills are rebounding, three point shooting and passing and I think that he would be productive in all of those areas even if he played for a better team. Love is the league's third best power forward.

Griffin looks like he will be a 20-10 machine for years and just in the course of one season he improved as a passer and shooter. Griffin is clueless at times defensively, which is not surprising for a rookie (let alone a rookie playing for a franchise like the Clippers), but he will likely improve in that area as well; LeBron James was not a good defender as a rookie but he is now a perennial member of the All-Defensive First Team. Griffin has not yet surpassed Nowitzki but he is already the league's fourth best power forward. Love's game is a little more polished than Griffin's game right now but with one more season of work Griffin will likely surpass Love and possibly even move up to second behind Nowitzki.

My fifth power forward--based on current productivity, not reputation or lifetime achievement--is Zach Randolph, a scoring and rebounding machine who has improved his passing a little bit. Randolph is still not much of a defender but he must be double-teamed on the block, which makes him a tremendous asset.

It is funny how the reduction in Kobe Bryant's minutes--which thus forced Pau Gasol to assume a larger role and face more double teams--suddenly led to a more realistic assessment of Gasol's status. Gasol was never considered an elite player during his time in Memphis and it is laughable that anyone called him the league's best (or most complete) big man over Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki (not to mention Duncan and Garnett) but last season provided a glimpse into the future for the Lakers and Gasol. I put Gasol on my All-NBA Third Team as a center simply because he spent a lot of time at that spot and because the league does not have many great (or even above average) centers but if I stick with Palmer's positional designations and place Gasol at power forward then he does not crack my top five based on last season. Pau Gasol had a good first month of the season but was ordinary--or worse--the rest of the way.

Chris Bosh is an interesting case; Palmer did not mention him at all, even though Bosh has made the All-Star team for six straight years and has twice received MVP consideration (including a 12th place finish in 2009-10 and a seventh place finish in 2006-07). Based purely on the numbers, Bosh is not currently a top five power forward; despite playing alongside arguably the two most highly lauded talents in the NBA--LeBron James and Dwyane Wade--Bosh was both less productive (i.e., lower scoring and rebounding totals) and less efficient (his field goal percentage declined). It would be natural to expect that playing alongside great players would increase one's efficiency even if it did not increase one's productivity; that is what happened when Boston's "Big Three" joined forces and that is also what happened for Pau Gasol when he teamed up with Kobe Bryant but playing with James and Wade clearly did not help out Bosh very much in 2010-11. If Bosh played for another team he likely would vault back into the top five at his position.

Duncan and Garnett deserve special mention; neither is an elite player any more but both of them are more effective than their numbers suggest and both of them play significant roles for elite teams.

Centers

For decades the NBA literally revolved around the pivot, home to most of the league's MVPs until Julius Erving, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson heralded the rise of the mid-size, all-around player. Now the pivot is the NBA's vast wasteland. Dwight Howard is the only current center who even deserves to be compared to the legends who once patrolled the paint; the league's other centers are all either limited role players or else power forwards masquerading as centers. Howard is a great rebounder and a great shotblocker who is developing a solid low post offensive repertoire to accompany his voluminous dunks/put backs. Howard is not a great passer or shooter and it remains to be seen if he has the right temperament to lead a team to a championship.

It is hard to criticize Palmer's center rankings too much simply because the pickings are so slim but my selections differ greatly from his in this category. Amare Stoudemire is currently my All-NBA Second Team center and, as mentioned above, I tapped Pau Gasol as my Third Team selection. Stoudemire is a great screen/roll player and a good faceup shooter but he has no postup game, he does not rebound as well as he should and his defense is atrocious (don't be fooled by his occasional highlight reel blocked shots). The Knicks brought Stoudemire in to be their franchise player, added Carmelo Anthony to the mix in the middle of the season--and "vaulted" all the way to the eighth seed in the weak Eastern Conference before quickly departing in the first round of the playoffs.

Gasol is equally adept at scoring in the post or shooting the faceup jumper and he is also an excellent screen/roll player (though former Lakers' Coach Phil Jackson preferred to run the Triangle Offense as opposed to using screen/roll sets). Gasol is a very good passer and he is capable of playing good defense but relentless, physical players wear him down--mentally and physically--at both ends of the court. Coach Jackson and Kobe Bryant consistently had to poke and prod Gasol to get him to play with maximum effort and intensity during the Lakers' run to there straight Western crowns/two NBA titles and last season Gasol stopped responding to Jackson and Bryant's exhortations, culminating in an embarrassing and shameful disappearing act during the playoffs.

Joakim Noah is very limited as a scorer but he is an excellent rebounder and defender and a very good passer. I rank him as the league's fourth best center, just ahead of Al Jefferson. The Utah Jazz brought in Jefferson to play power forward but he spent a lot of time at center because of Mehmet Okur's injury woes. Jefferson scores and rebounds but he is below average as a passer and defender. There is a "looter in a riot" quality to Jefferson's play.

Three other centers deserve mention but do not crack my top five. The hardworking--but undersized--Al Horford is a good scorer and rebounder who has turned into a two-time All-Star due to the lack of depth at the center position. Tyson Chandler is a role player would have come off of the bench in earlier eras. Chandler rebounds and defends superbly but has no offensive game other than dunking the ball; he fits in perfectly with the Dallas Mavericks because he provides exactly what they lacked in the paint defensively and is willing to accept a minimal role offensively. Palmer lauds Chandler's gaudy true shooting percentage but all that statistic means in this instance is that Chandler is smart enough to know his limitations: he rarely shoots the ball unless he is within three feet of the basket. Does anyone really believe that Chandler had the third best "true" shooting season in the history of the game? If that is the case, then Ray Allen, Larry Bird and many others must be "false" shooters. Andrew Bynum has shown flashes of ability but he is injury-prone and immature. He may cure the latter problem--though he has yet to do so after six years in the league--but it is highly unlikely that after missing at least 17 games in each of the previous four seasons he will suddenly become an iron man; keep in mind that as Kobe Bryant's minutes and role inevitably decline the Lakers will likely call upon Bynum to have a bigger role and that increased activity makes it even more likely that Bynum will continue to suffer injury problems: if Bynum cannot stay healthy as a 20 mpg role player then why should anyone assume that he will stay healthy if the Lakers need for him to play 30-plus mpg?

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:43 PM

26 comments

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26 Comments:

At Wednesday, August 03, 2011 3:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis David,thanks a bunch.

 
At Wednesday, August 03, 2011 6:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharp

Very interesting read, David! Here are some thoughts I had afterwards.

Someone once explained to me how they felt that John Stockton was the superior point guard to Magic Johnson, even though Magic is easily regarded as the better overall player. That's kind of how I feel about Paul and Rose right now.

And while I feel that Paul would still be the better player right now if he hadn't gotten hurt, if I had to pick a point guard to start a franchise around at this point in time, it's Rose. But if I had a team with plenty of firepower already, I would go with Paul instead.

Russell Westbrook can fill up a stat sheet and is one of the best athletes I've ever seen at the point guard position. However, the 2011 postseason highlighted a lot of the things that are wrong with his game. VERY bad shot selection in several of the games. As in Jamal Crawford circa 2003 level bad. He gets a lot of assists, but he's not a great passer. A lot of times he forgets to pass the ball altogether. His chemistry with Durant isn't great, and his decision making lead to the perception that he was trying (and failing) to prove that he was actually the team's best player.

To me, any argument over Wade versus Bryant should be put on hold until we see how Kobe's knee recovers (looks pretty good from this vid - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDLlc_vmpnI ). I think a lot of people were prepared to write Bryant off after the Dallas series, since he was unable to reel off miracle 40 point games in order to save the Lakers. We'll know sometime next season (whenever the heck that is) whether or not that inability was the result of actual decline or rather the result of a LOT of injures. Will the man stop wearing low top shoes already? I felt like he was spraining an ankle every week.

Monta Ellis is probably the fastest player in the NBA, even over Rose or Westbrook. But his willingness, or lack thereof, to pass is an issue. He's playing two guard, but at 6'3 there's really no getting around it: he's a tweener. Golden State isn't going to go far starting two small guards, and the thinking in Oakland seems to be that if they need to part with one, it's going to be Monta.

A little off topic, but it does make me sad to see Brandon Roy drop entirely off the list after he was the consensus 3rd guy for a few years. But nagging knee injures have a way of doing that to players.

I think everyone has had their say on LeBron James, so I won't add to that discussion.

About Durant though...

I can't remember if I ever mentioned it in here before, but until his career assist per game average (2.7) is higher than his career turnovers per game average (3.0), I don't think he should be seriously considered as an MVP candidate. He may have actually been a better player in 2010 than in 2011. At the very least, his shot selection was better two years ago. Someone I know called him "this generation's George Gervin." Funny enough, Gervin also averaged more turnovers per game than assists for his career.

Addressing the assertion that Kevin Durant is the best "purest scorer," in the game:

While the label of a "pure scorer," is completely meaningless, I will say without hesitation that Carmelo Anthony's offensive repertoire is MUCH more complete than Durant's. Durant operates almost entirely off of mid range/outside jumpers and free throws. Anthony can hurt you in a larger variety of ways. Good post game, good shooter with outside range, can take people off the dribble, athletic/strong enough to finish over people in traffic, etc.

I certainly can't imagine Ron Artest doing to Anthony what he did to Durant in the 2010 playoffs. One single player shouldn't be capable of shutting down the game's "purest scorer."

 
At Thursday, August 04, 2011 4:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sharp:

I think that I understand what you mean regarding Magic/Stockton and Rose/Paul but as much as I respect Stockton I would not take him over Magic nor would I take Paul over Rose now; if Paul played a whole season the way that he played two or three years ago then maybe I would put him on par with Rose but Rose is bigger, stronger and more durable, three advantages that Paul cannot do anything about.

I don't think that Westbrook's shot selection is even close to being as bad as Crawford's used to be and I don't think that the chemistry between Durant and Westbrook is nearly as bad as some people have said. Westbrook is a point guard with a shooter's mentality who is still learning how to play the position, so the fact that he already clearly ranks among the top pgs in the NBA is very impressive.

I don't think that Kobe's shoes had anything to do with his ankle injuries; the first sprain was so violent that the side of his foot almost touched the court and I suspect that many players would have missed the rest of the season after such an injury: no shoe could have prevented that sprain. The problem with playing through that type of injury is that it never gets a chance to completely heal and thus is susceptible to reinjury, which is what happened in the playoffs. Again, the kind of shoe Kobe wore had nothing to do with what happened.

I don't think that Kobe can reel off a string of 40 point games now due to stamina issues (relative to the seemingly superhuman stamina he displayed circa 2005-07)/general wear and tear but I do think that a fully healthy Kobe can score 40 points in a given game at will.

I agree with you that Roy would have been third on the shooting guard list not too long ago and it is sad to see physical ailments chip away at his game.

Assists and turnovers are both subjective stats to some extent and there is not a correlation between assists and turnovers; even though some people like to look at assist/turnover ratio there is not an either/or relationship between those stats. Durant is not relied on to be a playmaker and thus he is not going to accumulate a lot of assists. He could cut down his turnovers a bit but three turnovers a game is not excessive for someone who handles the ball as much as he does. One thing that Durant must improve, as Jeff Van Gundy mentioned during the playoffs, is his passing out of the double team (whether or not that pass results in an assist); Van Gundy pointed out situations in which Durant made poor passing decisions and contrasted those decisions with the way that Nowitzki makes excellent decisions when he is double-teamed. Kobe has mastered making that pass, even though the guy that he passes to usually ends up making the assist pass.

Durant is a better shooter than Anthony, while Anthony is a better inside player. The "pure scorer" designation is just empty hyperbole; both Kobe and LeBron are better scorers than Durant and Anthony but team dynamics determine how frequently a player gets to shoot the ball. Anthony's playoff career FG% is just .419, so it is certainly possible for Anthony to be "shut down" in postseason competition and I don't think that he was only "shut down" by double teams; Anthony forces shots, bails out the defense and sometimes lacks the patience to draw the double team and make the correct pass a la Kobe/Dirk.

 
At Thursday, August 04, 2011 1:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

point guards.

1. rose.
2. paul
3. willams
4. westbrook
5. rondo.

i give rose nod cause he had great year last year. as much as i luv paul and he would be best if he was healthy. he aint done a whole lot last two years im not gon overreact after one great playoff series. rondo underated willams still great.

2 guards

1. bryant
2. wade
3. ellis
4. manu
5. johnson

to me kobe still best till i see him dip under twenty points a game. wade still great rite there wit kobe but kobe hasnt dipped enough to put him over him yet. ellis a beast a scoreing machine. manu still gud had productive year. and joe johnson been consistent had gud playoff run


small forward

1.lebron
2.durant
carmelo
4.pierce
5.gay


clearly bron the best he needs to bring it in big games more and stop letting teams steal riongs he came up small in finals obvisouly.
durant the future he a great scorer and only 22 so will prove he can do more in time. melo a great scorer but im not convinved he a championship leader player. i think everything got to fall in place for him lik it did dirk both play no d and avg rebounder. but dirk more dominant shooter and better scorer.

power forwards.

1.dirk.
2.stoudamire
3.love
4.randolph
5.bosh

dirk been the best power forward last three years. people where u been at ever since kg and tim duncan went down he took over. he not great all around he a great scorer but he proved he was tougher than i thought, and won ring.

i think love proved the last couple years he more than looter in a riot. stoudamire had monster year for ny proved a great layer without nash. randolph had two great years last two years. so he go in at 4. gasol dipped after the first month of the season he was avg. he been overated by people he a very gud player not great.

bosh was consistent in post season and during season he prob higher but i would rate him 5 rite now.

centers.

howard
noah
gasol
bynum
chandler

howard by far the best noone close he a frnachise player a true beast. noah a gud rebounder defender. not a offensive player at all. gasol for memphis been great for memphis last two years and this year in playoffs. bynum had gud second half of season he played gud in post season. chandler was a big reason dallas one title he brought def presence that others on team cant.



this is marcel my bad david

 
At Thursday, August 04, 2011 2:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I thought that you had made the earlier comment but I was not sure; I deleted the first one since you attached your name to this one: no need to have duplicate comments on the site.

Your choices are very reasonable. I was tempted to put Rondo in the top five but he is such a horrible shooter and he has a lot of help around him so I am still not convinced that he is a top five pg, particularly considering how well the five guys I chose have performed.

Marc Gasol is certainly a valid pick for one of the top five center spots, though he is another guy who probably would have been a backup center in an earlier era. He is still improving and is on the verge of being an All-Star caliber center in today's game.

 
At Sunday, August 07, 2011 3:54:00 PM, Blogger the unnatural said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one that thought the term "pure scorer" was something made up by ESPN analysts.

 
At Monday, August 08, 2011 11:14:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

Good analysis overall. I'd have to say that Palmer's analysis seems a lot better than the 5 on 5 'truehoop' loyalists on espn that commented on these same position ratings, though, though you're right that his writing seems disheveled at best.

I'm always confused as to why people think paul is so good. I have him 3rd best PG as well.

As I've mentioned before, and you have talked about some, too, basketball is a team sport, and james just doesn't quite understand how to truly play team basketball, and not only hasn't been able to lead a team through 4 playoff rounds, and he's had several very good chances, but he has often quit on his teams. I just can't say he's the best player in the league with all this evidence that says otherwise. Dirk has to get the nod for this past season.

Which brings me to the PFs. How does this guy have anyone other than Dirk #1? Weird. But, I'm still confused with your love of Love. You really think he's the #3 PF in the game? I just don't see it. If he was so good, why did his team only win 17 games? I know, I know. His team stunk, but 17 games? At least give me 27 games, which isn't saying a whole lot either. I think a lot of his high rebounding #'s is because there isn't another good rebounder on his team. If he replace Gasol on the lakers, his reb. #'s would go way down. And while the heat botched bosh's season more or less, I would definitely not take Love over Bosh. Love's lack of athleticism has to be factored in here, as well does his paltry defense. He's almost as worse as Nash, defensively.

Bynum's an interesting case. He's just a desirable player, but still 0 AS appearances.

 
At Monday, August 08, 2011 3:49:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

I'm also curious as to why you think Baylor was better than Pippen. A lot of what I've read about Baylor, not from you, is that he was an awful defender and/or he didn't care about defense. Is this wrong or misinformed? He could score well, but I think he's only #22 on the all-time scoring list, and he played in the best era for scoring. And the season that he gets injured and has to retire early on, eventually becomes the first season that west/wilt lead the lakers to the title. Coincidence? Who knows, but unlikely. He probably would never been the best player on a title team, and while the same case could be made for pippen, I think pippen couldv'e been the man if he was given more than one year to do it.

Pippen is arguably the best help wing defender of all time, and probably a top 5 wing defender overall all time. And pippen was very skilled offensively. While MJ wasn't asked to facilitate much, this task was assigned to pippen mostly for those bulls' teams. Pippen probably could've scored a lot more, even with jordan, but as you've correctly written before, he stayed within the triangle offense, and the team was much better off for it.

If baylor was so good and better than pippen, him being the 3rd best player on his team wasn't even enough for 1 title, whilst pippen as the 2nd best player on his teams won 6, and pippen narrowly could've won 1-2 finals mvps.

 
At Tuesday, August 09, 2011 12:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

The True Hoop "5 on 5" garbage is so bad that it is not even worth analyzing; that is just a forum that ESPN provides to Abbott's amateur hour bloggers. At least Palmer made some good points in his articles.

LeBron is still the best regular season player in the NBA and he is still the best small forward but his performances against Boston in the 2010 playoffs and against Dallas in the 2011 playoffs hurt him in terms of his standing among the all-time greats and in terms of being someone who can be counted on to produce in clutch situations against elite teams.

I think that Love was the third best power forward in the NBA last season. I am not saying that his career resume equals Bosh's--it clearly does not--nor am I saying that Love will be the third best power forward in the NBA this season (if there even is a season). All I am saying is that Love's productivity in multiple areas (rebounding, passing, three point shooting and scoring) should not be overlooked. If Love were an All-NBA First Team caliber player then perhaps he could lift Minnesota's weak roster to more than 17 wins--much like Kobe carried the 2006 and 2007 Lakers--but I rank Love as an All-NBA Third Team caliber player. If Love played for the Lakers perhaps his rebounding numbers would go down but I suspect that his field goal percentage and assists would go up. I do not think that Love is one of Kenny Smith's proverbial "looters in a riot" who is just putting up gaudy stats because he is on a bad team.

Bynum is a desirable commodity because he is a big, mobile seven footer with a solid skill set but he is not a franchise player--or even an All-Star--because of his durability and maturity issues.

Your comparison of Baylor with Pippen is interesting. Pippen is my second favorite player of all time behind only Julius Erving (which is not to say that I dislike Baylor but I rooted for Erving as a kid and for Pippen as a teenager/young adult) but from a purely objective viewpoint I would take Baylor over Pippen. Baylor was a dominant scorer and a dominant rebounder who also ranked in the top ten in assists four different times. You are right that defense was not his strong suit but the numbers he put up in the other three areas--particularly before he suffered some devastating knee injuries--are awesome. Baylor's career numbers are hurt by the fact that he played the second half of his career on bad wheels, which caused him to miss games and also diminished his productivity. It is a bit unfair to "blame" him for not winning a championship; he played in the Bill Russell era and no one other than Wilt and Pettit managed to beat Russell's cast of Hall of Fame Celtics.

So, I agree with your praise for Pippen but I think that you are being a bit harsh on Baylor and overall I would still take Baylor over Pippen.

 
At Tuesday, August 09, 2011 9:57:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

I'm not necessarily being harsh on Baylor. I guess I would take Bird, Erving, and Pippen over him for sure, so he'd be 4th right now. It's just that I don't see how I could consider him better than Pippen. Pippen's versatility on offense is matched by very few players of all time. And the fact that he stayed within the triangle offense should be praised and he should be rewarded, especially if guys like Kobe are blasted for straying out of it. And pippen was still a very good scorer and rebounder, and probably could've scored a lot more if he wanted to, but stayed within the triangle. Also, you must factor in pace and scoring during baylor's day as compared to pippen's day. If pace was equal for both, their stats in many of these areas would make pippen look even better. As far as defensively, it's obviously pippen by a landslide.

I don't know how good a passer baylor was, but I would guess he wasn't better than pippen. You always talk about passing not correlating with assists. Have you seen much video of baylor, and if so, who do you think was the better passer?

It's not that I blame Baylor for not winning a title necessarily, well, I do a little, but it's more that I praise Pippen for winning 6.

And baylor was the 3rd best player on his team, with the first 2 guys arguably top 10 players of all time. I know the c's were stacked, but come on, those lakers teams had the 3 best players out of either team probably, at least 3 of top 4, I'm not talking about 6 titles or even multiple titles, just 1 title. Obviously, some blame has to be given to wilt/west, too.

 
At Tuesday, August 09, 2011 11:30:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

James is obviously the best SF in the game. But, I don't think durant is that far behind. We all thought james is on pace to be the all time nba scorer, but watch out durant, he might be the one. Anyway, you can make the case james has recently been the best reg. season performer, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's the best player. Still have playoffs to deal with, which are much more important than the reg. season. Part of it is james failure in the playoffs over last 3 years. No excuse for not winning at the very least 1 title, if not 2-3 if you are truly the best player in the game with the talent he's had around him the past 3 years. But, it's also that he just mentally checked out. There's just no way I can call him the best at this moment. Maybe that will change. His team is stacked. I think it'd be hard not to win multiple titles with the talent around him. Ridiculous how so many people cater to him.

I know what you're saying about Love. But, there's comes a time when you have to win some games. It's not like the clippers were any good either, but they managed 15 more wins than the wolves, almost double the wolves wins output. Love didn't help elevate his team to hardly any success at all. 15 wins in 2010, increased that by 2 for 2011.

 
At Tuesday, August 09, 2011 6:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

I don't think that pace comparisons are quite as straightforward as they may appear to be on paper (or on spreadsheets). It is true that when Baylor played team scoring was higher than it is now so he had more field goal attempts but it still requires skill and stamina to average 30-plus ppg; there is no way to prove whether Pippen could have matched Baylor's numbers in the 1960s nor is there any way to prove what kind of numbers a young Baylor would have produced in the 1980s and 1990s.

I am not saying that Baylor was a better passer than Pippen but Baylor's passing/playmaking skills are often overlooked because his scoring and rebounding totals were so huge. Baylor was one of the top playmakers in the NBA during an era when assists were not given out by scorekeepers as freely as they are now.

Baylor was the first or second best player on most of the Lakers teams that lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals. By the time Wilt joined the Lakers all three superstars--Wilt, West and Baylor--were past their primes. Baylor's knees completely gave out early in the 1972 championship season but the Lakers still had not only Wilt and West but HoFer Goodrich plus a good cast of role players. Those Lakers certainly could have also won a title with a healthy Baylor but Baylor retired because he was just a shell of his former self; it has been widely reported that if he had not retired he would have been benched in favor of the younger and more mobile Jim McMillian, the player who ultimately did take Baylor's spot after Baylor retired. Keep in mind that Baylor was 37 by that time. I think that many fans have this image in their minds that Wilt, West and Baylor played together as young stars but they were all well into their 30s by the time they teamed up, while the Knicks were a much younger team. You can read more about the 1970 Knicks-Lakers Finals in The NBA in the 1970s: The Hawk Soars Into the NBA; Willis Reed Limps Into Immortality , while I covered the 1972 Lakers-Knicks Finals in The NBA in the 1970's: Mr. Clutch Finally Gets A Championship Ring.

 
At Tuesday, August 09, 2011 6:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

The All-NBA Teams and the MVP are selected based on regular season performance; there is a separate Playoff MVP award to recognize postseason excellence. LeBron has earned his All-NBA First Team honors and his two regular season MVPs but he clearly has not earned (or received) any Playoff MVPs.

LeBron's playoff resume is still better than Durant's at this point.

The Clippers and the Wolves are both horrible but the Clippers do have more talent (including Eric Gordon, who seems to be a rising star) than the Wolves do. I am not tapping Love as a future perennial All-Star but in my estimation he was the third best power forward in the NBA in 2010-11.

 
At Wednesday, August 10, 2011 3:47:00 PM, Anonymous Martin said...

I don’t always agree with your conclusions (or your clumping together of “stat gurus”) but as ever this was an enjoyable and high quality piece of journalism. Certainly the notion of “pure” scoring is one that needed taking down (and it is indeed a label frequently applied to Carmelo). Palmer is also loose in his use of the term “pure” point guard and you are right to tackle him on this.
I don’t see the point in attacking the “True shooting %” (or its sister stat effective fg%). No one is saying that Chandler is a great shooter, just as they wouldn’t say that of Mark West or Artis Gilmore (the latter I believe holds the highest ts% season). What they are saying is that such players show restraint in not taking shots they can’t make. Obviously shooting from distance, and the ability to manufacture (good) shots are abilities too, but that doesn’t mean ts% can’t be a useful tool, and most sensible readers know that it is just that, a tool. For this reason most people come up with the names you mentioned plus Miller, West, Price and (to some) Jordan as great shooters.
I am also slightly disappointed that you buy into the media story of LeBron “quitting” when he has wilted (an unfortunate turn of phrase) under pressure. Whether those poor performances were as a result of injury (in the case of 2010), chance (everybody has bad days) or some mental deficiency at dealing with pressure, the repetition of the notion he quit just adds to the media hype and lazy journalism you tend to rail against.
Also with regard to the Chandler/M. Gasol would be backups comments I asume you are not reffering to an era with 20+ pro teams. Certainly the modern center position is weak though I would argue significantly less so than it has been for most of the past 10 years, with regard to depth (rather than elite talents).

 
At Thursday, August 11, 2011 4:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Martin:

I have mentioned on several occasions that some "stat gurus" are serious about their work and make reasonable, measured statements but that far too many "stat gurus"--particularly the ones who receive the most publicity--make tendentious and misleading pronouncements.

Palmer seemed to be suggesting that a major reason he ranked Chandler so highly is TS% but, if anything, TS% highlights Chandler's weaknesses (no offensive game other than at point blank range). TS% has some value when used in the proper context but Chandler's high TS% does not automatically make him a top five center.

I cannot speak for other media members but I witnessed LeBron's game five performance versus Boston firsthand--in addition to witnessing many other LeBron James playoff performances firsthand--and I can say with a great degree of confidence that he quit. When I say that he quit I mean that he did not play with a high degree of effort or intensity. His performances in key moments versus Dallas similarly lacked a high degree of effort and intensity. I don't know why LeBron displays so little effort and intensity in such moments but I do know that there is a marked contrast between the way he performs when he plays hard (2007 playoffs versus Detroit, 2011 playoffs versus Chicago to cite just two of many examples) and the way he performs when he quits. Choking/wilting implies that a player is trying so hard to do well that his efforts backfire; Karl Malone would be an example of a player who often choked in playoff situations. LeBron's numbers and impact did not go down because he was trying too hard; his numbers and impact went down because he stood around and watched the proceedings at both ends of the court instead of being actively involved.

LeBron was not injured during the 2010 playoffs--no one would have even given his elbow a second thought if he had not shot those late game free throws left handed. Prior to several playoff games after he did that LeBron shot half court shots effortlessly with his "injured" elbow, which he would be highly unlikely to do if his elbow were truly bothering him; it would have been too painful to do that and it also would have been foolish to do that.

Do you think that Chandler would have been a starter for very many teams in the 23 franchise NBA circa 1987?

 
At Tuesday, August 16, 2011 2:44:00 PM, Anonymous Hank said...

As a Spurs fan who fears the Spurs may not see another WCF for years to come, I just wanna thank you for giving them their props. I think Parker is still underrated though I wouldn't be opposed to seeing him traded for an all star big.

Also appreciate that you are one of the few who still acknowledges that Duncan is still a great player despite limited minutes.

 
At Tuesday, September 20, 2011 5:44:00 PM, Anonymous workhorse said...

David,

I completely disagree with your assessment that Kobe Bryant does not have weaknesses that the opposition can attack. Bryant is undoubtedly extremely skilled across the board, however I believe that you overrate his inside game tremendously.

Kobe does not have the ability to get easy shots for himself, and as a result, relies heavily upon his outside jumper and lower percentage shots. Defenses of course have countered with lengthy defenders (i.e. Shane Battier, Teshaun Prince) who may not be the most athletic, but are nonetheless excellent perimeter defenders who are good at responding to sophisticated footwork. The evidence in this is Kobe’s shooting percentages (FG, EFG, or TS) which is typically lower than players such as Lebron or Wade. Put another way, I could care less how “skilled” a player is. If he is repeatedly missingt shots, his skills are certainly not being put to good use.

Also, your assessment of Wade’s playoff collapses actually pale in comparison to Bryant’s career playoff underachievements:

In 2003, he was the Alpha Dog of a Laker team that lost to a Spurs team with Tim Duncan and no true #2.

In 2004, he had arguably the worst NBA Finals showing of superstar in which he shot 38.1%, 22.6 points a paltry 2.8 reb, and 4.4 assists while essentially quitting in Game 3 (yes, he quit: Watch the tape).

In 2005 his team failed to make the playoffs despite holding the 6th seed when he returned from injury.

In 2008, he shot 40.5% in the NBA Finals and was miserable in a pivotal Game 4 going 6/18.

In 2011, he was a virtual no show along with Pau Gasol, once again shooting a low percentage and missing the GW shot in Game 1.

Moreover, you are only spilling half truths regarding Wade’s 2007 and 2008 performance. In 2007, the Heat undoubtedly underachieved. However, Wade was also injured and Shaq a shell of himself with only 52.9% TS. No excuses however, but I am find it curious that you conveniently overlooked Wade’s injury in that series in which he could barely raise the ball over his shoulder.

In 2008, Wade was a shell of himself after recovering from knee surgery, missing nearly 30 games, and playing on one leg. OF COURSE his team failed to make the playoffs.

I am not saying that Wade is exempt from his own set of flaws, but lets not over glorify Kobe’s skill set. A low TS% amongst scorers as well as 4 playoff failures as the favorite are nothing to write home about.

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 2:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Workhorse:

Kobe Bryant has better footwork and mechanics in the post than any shooting guard in the NBA today--indeed, he is the best post up player at the shooting guard position since Michael Jordan.

Bryant's shooting percentage does not reflect his ability to create shots for himself and others but rather the heavy load that he has to carry offensively. Bryant has always been asked to be both Michael Jordan (scorer/finisher) and Scottie Pippen (playmaker/facilitator in the Triangle). I am not saying that he is better than Jordan--in fact, I have clearly stated otherwise more than once--but it is important to understand that the Lakers ask Bryant to carry a very heavy burden that the Bulls used to split between Jordan and Pippen (Jordan led the Bulls in scoring while Pippen led them in assists, but for years Bryant has led the Lakers in both categories and he actually creates even more shots than he gets credit for because he often makes the pass that leads to the assist pass).

You should look at Bryant's missed shots in the context of the Lakers' offense. Bryant shoots a lot of "hand grenades"--he is often given the ball by lesser skilled teammates right before the shot clock is about to "explode." Those shots lower Bryant's individual field goal percentage but the important consideration is that the overall way that he plays and the defensive attention that he draws maximizes his team's offensive efficiency. That is why Gasol's field goal percentage soared after he became Bryant's teammate and that is why the Lakers made it to the Finals three straight years, winning two titles.

Your list of Bryant's supposed "playoff underachievements" is tendentious. If you are truly interested in educating yourself on this subject then I suggest you read the articles in the Kobe Bryant section on the right hand sidebar of 20 Second Timeout's main page. For instance, the true story of the 2003 season can be found in an article titled Shaq Achieved So Much--and Could Have Achieved So Much More. Here is a brief excerpt:

"The simmering feud between O'Neal and Bryant came to a head during the fateful 2002-03 season; O'Neal delayed offseason toe surgery--infamously declaring that he got hurt 'on company time' so he would get treated 'on company time'--and he missed the first 13 games of the season. Even after O'Neal returned it took a while before he got into shape and could reassert his dominance; meanwhile, Bryant lit up the scoreboard, posting nine straight 40 point games (the fourth longest such streak in NBA history) and then averaging 40.6 ppg in February. As O'Neal regained his conditioning he wanted the offense to once again center around him, while Bryant chafed at the idea that the team should slow down and wait for O'Neal to establish post position. Bryant played in all 82 games and led the Lakers in scoring (30.0 ppg), while O'Neal averaged 27.5 ppg in 67 games. The Lakers finished fifth in the West (50-32) and lost to the eventual champion Spurs 4-2 in the Western Conference semifinals. For want of a (healthy) big toe, a dynasty was derailed."

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 2:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Workhorse:

Down the stretch of the 2005 season, the Lakers were starting the likes of Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm and Jumaine Jones. You cannot honestly consider it a failure on Bryant's part that the Lakers did not make the playoffs. Of course, you conveniently left out the fact that Bryant carried the Lakers to the playoffs in 2006 and 2007 with Smush Parker starting at point guard and Kwame Brown starting at center, two players who have never been regular starters for any other playoff team, let alone regular starters for the same playoff team.

As for Bryant's Finals career, kindly consult my definitive article on this subject:

Kobe Bryant's NBA Finals Resume

That article takes you up to the 2009 Finals. I then updated the article here (check out the segment titled "Postscript #3).

If you are truly seeking knowledge then I have pointed you in the right direction. If you are just looking for someone to argue back and forth with, you have come to the wrong place. International Master Rashid Ziatdinov quotes an old Russian proverb:

An old chess player invited his five sons to his deathbed. He challenged them each to break one stick. The sons easily accomplished this task. The father then put all five sticks together, and challenged the eldest son to break the bundle -- and the eldest son broke them all at once over his knee. The father's last words were: "What can I say? All your life you were stupid and you'll never learn anything."

Ziatdinov concludes, "There is only so much a teacher can do; only so much a student can do!"

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 8:03:00 PM, Anonymous workhorse said...

David,

Thank you for the response. A couple of thoughts:
“Kobe’s Footwork/Skills”: I never understood this argument. Or in other words, So what? I will not dispute that Kobe Bryant has the best footwork in the league. I will also not dispute that he is the best post-up SG since MJ. However, what good is all of the dancing if you are missing shots, which the stats show that Kobe consistently does? Put another way, it can be argued that David Robinson or Patrick Ewing is a more “skilled” player than Shaquille O’Neal, given their arsenal of “moves” and weapons However, Shaq, with his 2 or 3 weapons is far more effective and as such, in my opinion a better player. Just because a player has fancy footwork and moves and the “potential” to make a H-O-R-S-E, does not mean that they are scoring with consistency unless they actually “make” the shot. There is no good in creating unless you are actually making. In the end, Kobe’s lower shooting percentage speaks for itself and remains a differentiator versus Wade.
“Bryant's shooting percentage does not reflect his ability to create shots for himself and others but rather the heavy load that he has to carry offensively.
Bryant has always been asked to be both Michael Jordan (scorer/finisher) and Scottie Pippen (playmaker/facilitator in the Triangle). I am not saying that he is better than Jordan--in fact, I have clearly stated otherwise more than once--but it is important to understand that the Lakers ask Bryant to carry a very heavy burden that the Bulls used to split between Jordan and Pippen (Jordan led the Bulls in scoring while Pippen led them in assists”
I am confused by this statement. No doubt that Kobe has the ability to “create” more than any other player. However, as previously mentioned, what good is it if you are making at a low clip.
I am also struggling to understand how Kobe’s role as scorer faciliator has been different from Dwyane Wade who undoubtedly wore both hats from 2005-2009 (once Wade became Alpha-Dog) yet still managed to shoot a higher percentage (56.3%) and average more assists (7.0). I have watched a number of Heat game over the years (just as I do Lakers) and Wade too has been asked to serve as both Jordan and Pippen for the Heat. As such, I do not think it is fair to declare the role of Scorer/Facilitator as something that his unique to Kobe.
Jordan Comparison: You are absolutely correct that Scottie Pippen helped to offload responsibilities both offensively and defensively during the Bulls’ title runs. However, if I understand you correctly, you are attributing Kobe’s lower shooting percentage to his heavy burden which I don’t buy, especially relative to Jordan. We are debating whether it is possible to shoot a high percentage despite the larger burden, right? Prior to 1991, and before Pippen matured, Jordan was asked to carry the same burden as Kobe and absolutely wore both hats as scorer and facilitator, leading the team in assists his first 6 years in the league. In fact in 1988, he averaged 8 assists. More importantly, he shot lights out (nearly 60% TS each year) while scoring over 30 points per game, and proving (as did Wade and even Lebron) that you can absolutely shoot a high percentage as both primary scorer and facilitator. Again, this is not a Jordan vs. Kobe discussion. However, since your brought up Jordan, it is important to note that a more apples to apples comprison would be to look at how Jordan performed when he DID wear both hats. Jordan, Wade, Lebron – all have proven that shooting a high percentage and scoring 30 points per game can be accomplished. As such, there are no excuses for Kobe.

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 8:04:00 PM, Anonymous workhorse23 said...

Kobe’s assist total: You are correct that many assists, particularly out of the high/low post are generated off the second pass, because of basic ball movement from strong side to weak side. However, Wade (and Jordan) ensured the same limitations, yet still averaged more assists. Moreover, Kobe did not live exclusively in the post. He played at the top of the circle as well, where many assists are generated off the first pass. The assist off the second past is not exclusive to Kobe. Wade too creates even more shots for his teammates, and there is overwhelming statistical evidence to substantiate this. Therefore, I do not think that making excuses for Kobe’s lower assist total is fair.
Grenades: Once again, I disagree that this scenario is limited to only Kobe. I have watched Wade, Lebron, Durant for years, and every one of them are tasked with taking low percentage shots with the shot clock running down. It is an absolute myth that Kobe Bryant endures this burden alone, and there is not a shred of evidence (other than the biased pleas of Lakers fans which I am not sure whether you are or are not) to substantiate. Even, if we take those shots out of the equation, there remains a significant disparity in missed shots that would not offset the delta between Kobe and Wade. Kobe misses shots because relies far too much on perimeter shooting, which consists of more difficult, lower percentage shots. Conversely, Wade has proven that he can get easier, more higher percentage shots for himself, while still maintaining a perimeter game that may not be as good as Kobe’s, but nonetheless effective.
2003 Playoff failure: I am still failing to understand your point on this one. I appreciate the education on Laker drama, but disagree that Shaq’s toe injury proves anything other than the fact that Shaq made a poor decision and there was dissention between Shaq and Kobe throughout the season – just as there was tension between Wilt and Greer in 68, Magic and Kareem in 81, Jordan and his entire team from 91-93, Dr J. and McCinnis in 77, etc.. . Shaq missed the first 13 games of the season, but was nonetheless “in shape” 67 whole games later and by the time playoffs started. Using an injury 8 months earlier does not excuse an inexcusable loss to an inferior team whose second star (David Robinson) was a shell of himself. Are you really blaming Kobe’s inability to shoot well (43.4%) on a fued that took place in November? Regardless of disagreements with teammates, it is still incumbent on a player, especially a leader, to bring their ‘A’ game, which Kobe did not. I do not think that blaming Shaq, who averaged 27 points , 14 rebounds, and 56% shooting in that series is exactly fair. There needs to be some responsibility shoulders by the Alpha Dog for that loss.

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 8:07:00 PM, Anonymous workhorse said...

Before I respond to the playoff failures, let me state this: Every single excuse that you provide (blaming teammates, refs, etc..) are excuses that can be used to excluse ANY other Alpha Dog that has lost in NBA history. Name the Alpha Dog, and I will find provide you with the excuse.

2003 Playoff failure: I am still failing to understand your point on this one. I appreciate the education on Laker drama, but disagree that Shaq’s toe injury proves anything other than the fact that Shaq made a poor decision and there was dissention between Shaq and Kobe throughout the season – just as there was tension between Wilt and Greer in 68, Magic and Kareem in 81, Jordan and his entire team from 91-93, Dr J. and McCinnis in 77, etc.. . Shaq missed the first 13 games of the season, but was nonetheless “in shape” 67 whole games later and by the time playoffs started. Using an injury 8 months earlier does not excuse an inexcusable loss to an inferior team whose second star (David Robinson) was a shell of himself. Are you really blaming Kobe’s inability to shoot well (43.4%) on a fued that took place in November? Regardless of disagreements with teammates, it is still incumbent on a player, especially a leader, to bring their ‘A’ game, which Kobe did not. I do not think that blaming Shaq, who averaged 27 points , 14 rebounds, and 56% shooting in that series is exactly fair. There needs to be some responsibility shoulders by the Alpha Dog for that loss.

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 8:07:00 PM, Anonymous workhorse23 said...

2004, 2008: I read your post and decided to combine my response into one since it centers around 2 central philosophies:
1.) You only get to blame your teammates when you yourself bring your ‘A’ game.
2.) At some point, excuses become meaningless.
You only get to blame your teammates when you yourself play well: My contention with your article is that you paint Kobe out to be a victim in which everyone else is to blame except Kobe, who garners little culpability. Kobe Bryant shot horrendously in both series.
In 2004, there is no doubt that Payton played poorly and Shaq defended the pick and roll poorly in this series. However, I strongly believe that as an Alpha Dog, you have the right to point the finger when YOU yourself play well and give maximum effort. Kobe Bryant was the Alpha Dog of this team and played aweful. If we are really going to allow players to point the finger at their teammates rather than shouldering responsibilities, I can make excuses for every single Alpha Dog that has underachieved throughout the history of the NBA: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem, Bird, etc..Again, you only get to make excuses when you yourself come with you’re ‘A’ game. Kobe Bryant did not. No one forced him to take low percentage fade away shots against 2 defenders when his big man was shooting 63%. Blaming Teshawn hitting Kobe’s arm, the refs, his teammates (Payton’s performance on Chancey, Shaq’s defense and rebounding) or the odor in the areans, are secondary contributors when you yourself fail to play well.. Again, I am not necessarily blaming him for his teams losing as much as I am his poor performances AND his teams losing. Had the Lakers lost and Kobe played well, I would look at his legacy completely differently. I am however, blaming Kobe Bryant for failing to meet up to his own AVERAGE potential.
Similarly in 2008 Kobe once again shot poorly with his 40.5% shooting. And his 10 of18 points in the 4Q of Game 4 is misleading, considering that his last 4 points were concession with the game already decided.

I understand the argument that Kobe faced double teams and went up against a great defense, however, so have many great players when facing great defenses, yet they do not shoot 40%. Jordan destroyed the Pistons in 90 and 91, Wade destroyed the Celtics in 2010 (shooting a blistering 56.4%). Kobe by his own admission played poorly in this series. More importantly, had Kobe shot well, I truly believe that the Lakers win this series which is why I consider this to be a failure.

Again, blaming everyone else except yourself does not fly with me. Kobe has to take on some responsibility.

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 8:08:00 PM, Anonymous workhorse23 said...

2005: On March the 14th, the Lakers were 32-29 and held the 6th seed of the playoffs. During the final 19 games, they went 2-17 in which their 3rd best player, Caron Butler played in 17/19 games. However, to your point, Lamar Odom played in only 4 games which certainly impacted the team will concede that not having Lamar Odom hurt the team and will back off my original position.
2006, 2007: I am not sure where this was even a discussion. I never disputed that Kobe Bryant carried this team with an inferior cast of characters and should have even won MVP (imo) both of these years. However, this does not excuse his failures, which was our original debate.

In sum, way too many excuses. Regardless, that was not our original argument. The original argument is that you conveniently cited Wade’s failures in playoffs while overlooking and making excuses for Kobe. My point is simple: If you are going to point out Wade’s failures when comparing him to Kobe, it is only fair that you point Kobe’s out as well
Regardless, good discussion.

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 11:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Workhorse 23:

Addressing your last comment first, we did not have "an original argument." This article is about Chris Palmer's player ratings and only pertains to the NBA today, not the NBA in previous seasons. Some of the stuff that you brought up is interesting but very little of it has anything to do with this article. You have never commented here before, so after reading your first comment I did not know if you are sincerely seeking knowledge or if you are just a troll looking for a fight; that is why I answered you and provided direction to articles that can improve your understanding of the NBA game in general and of Kobe Bryant's career in particular.

Since most of the things that you brought up are irrelevant to this article--and all of them have been addressed previously in articles that can be found in the right hand sidebar of the main page--I see no reason to fill up this comments section with point by point refutations of what you said but I will make a few quick observations:

1) "No excuses" seems to be a favorite theme of yours but I am not making excuses for anyone; I am simply analyzing basketball from a coaching/scouting perspective, talking about skill set strengths/weaknesses and matchups.

2) The stats do not show that Bryant is "consistently missing shots." Bryant is a very effective inside scorer, which is why opposing teams consistently trap him; the traps that he draws enable his teammates to get easy layups and wide open jumpers. The shots that drag down Bryant's field goal percentage are the "hand grenades" that I described previously.

3) Michael Jordan is the gold standard for shooting guards and I do not dispute that he was more efficient offensively than Kobe Bryant but it is important to remember that Jordan shot fewer threes than Bryant and that field goal percentages in general are lower now than they were during Jordan's career. Jordan's TS% and EFG% are not that much higher than Bryant's numbers in those categories.

4) Wade is a better slasher than Bryant now but Bryant is still better than Wade in the post, from midrange and from long distance. Therefore, from a team defensive standpoint it is more difficult to matchup with Bryant because Bryant can attack from everywhere; elite defensive teams can simply pack the paint against Wade and force him to shoot jumpers. It also is not generally necessary to double team Wade in the post.

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2011 11:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Workhorse 23 (continued):

5) The Lakers were not the favorites in the 2003 playoffs; they were the fifth seed, in no small part because of Shaq's toe fiasco. The Spurs won three championships between 2003 and 2007, so they were hardly the weak team you portray them to be; they won their first two home games in the series versus the Lakers and that proved to be the decisive factor but things may have been different if Shaq had taken a more professional attitude during that campaign. It is also worth mentioning that no team other than Bill Russell's Celtics has won four championships in a row, so what the Lakers were trying to do is very daunting. I find it odd that you are searching for ways to attack Bryant but that you do not give him any credit for his major role on five championship teams; he has won more titles as an All-NBA performer than any player since Michael Jordan.

6) The 2005 Lakers had no business being in playoff contention at any point during the season but Bryant carried them as far as he could despite his severe ankle injury; when Odom went down that proved to be too much for even Bryant to overcome.

7) The Lakers' two primary problems in the 2004 Finals were Karl Malone not being healthy and Gary Payton being completely unable to guard either Chauncey Billups or Rip Hamilton.

8) You focus a lot on individual field goal percentages and you appear to operate on the assumption that a player's field goal percentage is a permanent part of his identity; a player who shot 60% on X number of field goal attempts may not have been able to get open for a greater number of attempts or he may have shot worse than 60% if he increased his attempts. You are assuming that the shots that Bryant made at a 40-45% clip in certain situations would have gone in at a higher rate if someone else had taken them but without actually watching those games and analyzing those possessions that assumption is unfounded.

Again, the answers to your questions can be found in the meticulous game recaps and the in depth analytical articles that I have posted here in the past several years so there really is nothing further for me to say about issues you raised that do not even pertain to the subject of this article.

 

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