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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Comparing the Nash Effect with the Bryant Effect

ESPN recently ran a graphic depicting how various players achieved career-highs in a particular statistical category while playing alongside Steve Nash in Phoenix. Steve Nash is a great point guard and there is no doubt that his teammates have benefited from his playmaking and from the way that his shooting skills space the floor. I very much dislike the cliche about Making Your Teammates Better; what great players actually do is create openings and opportunities for their lesser talented teammates to do what they do well. Nash certainly creates such openings and opportunities but it is also important to remember that he has hardly been surrounded by a bunch of scrubs during most of his Phoenix career; three of the players listed in ESPN's graphic made the All-Star team before and/or after playing with Nash (Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson).

We are often told that Nash and Chris Paul are among the best in the NBA at this nebulous skill of "making teammates better" but while it is undeniable that Nash and Paul are great players it is also true that their impact on their teammates is a bit exaggerated at times while the impact of other great players who are not point guards is diminished. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal anchored 10 of the 14 post-Michael Jordan NBA championship teams while Nash and Paul have combined to produce exactly zero championships yet we rarely hear discussions about how much Bryant, Duncan and O'Neal "make their teammates better."

Obviously, listing a player's name followed by one accomplishment is hardly a very scientific way to prove that Nash, Paul or anyone else "made that player better"; that is why I have done so many lengthy, in depth articles explaining the impact that various great players have on their teams but, just as a fun exercise, I thought it would be interesting to make a list about Bryant that is similar in structure and content to the list that ESPN made about Nash:
  1. Pau Gasol earned one All-Star appearance in seven seasons with Memphis (and never won a single playoff game or made the All-NBA team), but he made both the All-Star and All-NBA teams in each of his first three seasons playing alongside Bryant. Gasol also set single season career highs in field goal percentage and rebounding.
  2. Lamar Odom established career highs in field goal percentage (2011) and rebounding (2008) as a Laker and he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2011--but this season in Dallas he is averaging career lows across the board and was actually briefly assigned to the D League before the Mavs reconsidered. I always have said that Odom is a good player who has been vastly overrated by some commentators but even I never imagined that after leaving the Lakers he would barely be a functional NBA player. For many years we have heard that Odom would start for most teams in the NBA and that he should have made the All-Star team multiple times but now the reality--the truth that I have consistently stated--is becoming starkly apparent: Odom benefited tremendously from being the third option on the Lakers with Bryant receiving most of the defense's attention and Odom was only the Lakers' third option because the team was not particularly deep in the first place. The Mavericks dumped several players from their championship team in order to save cap space for next summer and Odom still cannot work his way into the team's rotation, let alone the starting lineup. Of course, if Odom were still a Laker he would be one of their main options because the Lakers have lacked depth for years, not just this season when the rest of the world suddenly woke up and figured out that the Lakers have a subpar bench (and subpar starters at both small forward and point guard).
  3. Shannon Brown barely got off the bench during his first three NBA seasons but he set career highs in field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage as a Laker. This season in Phoenix (where he is now Nash's teammate) Brown's minutes are comparable to his minutes in L.A. but his shooting percentages from all three ranges (FG%, 3FG%, FT%) have all dropped precipitously.
  4. Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic set his single season career highs in FG% and 3FG% as a Laker but his productivity declined in New Jersey and he is no longer in the NBA (he plays for a team in Turkey).
  5. Smush Parker started 162 of 164 games during the 2006 and 2007 seasons for the Lakers, establishing career highs across the board as the Lakers made two playoff appearances. Parker signed with Miami in the summer of 2007 and has since appeared in just 28 NBA games, starting two of them; for the past several years he has bounced around the D League and lower level foreign leagues.
  6. Kwame Brown started 91 games in two and a half seasons with the Lakers. He set his single season career high in FG% in 2007. The Lakers traded Brown in the Pau Gasol deal and since 2008 Brown has been an undistinguished performer for three teams and he has participated in just three playoff games after playing in 12 playoff games during his two full seasons as a Laker.
  7. Vladimir Radmanovic set his career high in field goal percentage in 2008 as a Laker and he started 115 games during two and a half seasons with the team. He has started just 32 games since the Lakers traded him during the 2008-09 season and most of his key numbers have declined.
There are two ways of looking at the "Nash Effect"; one is that it is clear that a lot of the players who Nash "affected" were/are pretty good on their own (Johnson, Marion, Stoudemire)--and the other is that if Nash's "effect" is so great then one would expect evidence of a corresponding "effect" in his absence (unless he were replaced by an equally "effective" player), which is why it is so intriguing that the Dallas Mavericks replaced Nash with Jason Terry without missing a beat. In fact, two years after Nash's departure Terry was the second leading scorer on a Dallas team that advanced to the NBA Finals and the next season Terry was the second leading scorer on a Dallas team that went 67-15. Last season, Terry was the second leading scorer on a Dallas team that won the NBA championship and he often outdueled LeBron James in the fourth quarter during the NBA Finals. I have yet to hear a convincing explanation of this aspect of the "Nash Effect"; in fact, I have yet to see anyone even acknowledge the "Nash Effect" in terms of Dallas' success after Nash's departure.

Is it more surprising that the Suns had good teams (yet failed to even reach the NBA Finals once) while stocked with talent at multiple positions or that the Lakers made back to back playoff appearances in the stacked Western Conference with Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and Vladimir Radmanovic starting a significant number of games? No member of that trio has been an important contributor to a playoff team since departing L.A. Everyone realizes that the Lakers' bench is terrible this season but--based on how former Laker reserves have performed since leaving the team--it seems as though whatever success the Lakers' bench players experienced in prior seasons had less to do with their individual talent and more to do with the talent around them (namely Bryant); Odom, Brown and the others had some of their finest moments when they played alongside Bryant and benefited from the extra defensive attention he attracted.

Other than Caron Butler--a young, improving player who had one injury riddled season with the Lakers (during which he still managed to post career highs at the time in scoring, FG% and rebounding) before becoming an All-Star in Washington--and possibly Jordan Farmar (who struggled in his first post-L.A. campaign but has played very solidly in 30 games as a New Jersey reserve this season) it is difficult to think of anyone who has played significantly better without Bryant than he did with Bryant; interestingly, that is not true of LeBron James, who can list a host of All-Star teammates who performed better without him as a teammate than they did with him--including Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Antawn Jamison. Zydrunas Ilgauskas made the All-Star team once in five injury-riddled seasons prior to James' arrival in Cleveland and then made it once in eight seasons playing alongside James in Cleveland and Miami. Ilgauskas was 28 and healthier than he had ever been before when James became a Cav, unlike Shaquille O'Neal and Ben Wallace--we can give James a pass for not helping those aging former All-Stars to produce career-high numbers. Mo Williams earned his only All-Star appearance thus far as James' teammate but that 2009 season was not actually the best season of Williams' career; he was more productive prior to playing with James and he has been very productive this season as a Clipper (must be the "Paul Effect").

For many years--until he started winning championships--the knock against Michael Jordan was that, unlike Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, he did not "make his teammates better," a charge that Jordan angrily dismissed by declaring that you cannot make chicken salad out of chicken (you know what). I don't know if Bryant can make chicken salad out of chicken (you know what) but for two seasons he led his team to the playoffs with scrubs starting at the sport's two historically most important positions (point guard and center) and with a bench manned by guys who have not exactly covered themselves in glory since leaving L.A. so maybe Bryant can indeed turn manure into something that is edible. It will be interesting to see if James and Wade--long the darlings of the "stat guru" set--can manage to win a championship when paired with a perennial All-Star big man (Chris Bosh). James is not being asked to make chicken salad out of chicken (you know what); he is just being asked not to mess up the chicken in the fourth quarter when the outcome of the game is in doubt!

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:11 AM

30 comments

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30 Comments:

At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 6:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharp

The only thing I disagree with is that Lamar Odom can't function away from Bryant. He played five years in the NBA before coming to the Lakers, in which he was a very solid NBA player. He may have struggled with maturity issues and an inconsistent shooting touch, but there is a reason that the Lakers were willing to accept him as the centerpiece of the Shaq trade.

I consider his problems this year to be more the result of a slew of personal/emotional issues than any real decline.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 9:27:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

Good observations, as usual.

Slightly besides the point: I would add that some of the success of sub-par players like smush parker can be attributed to playing in Phil Jackson's system. This system really maximizes the talents of the entire team, especially those without much talent in the first place.In other words there is also a "PJ Effect" for those playing in LA.In the same way there is probably a "D'Antoni Effect" that inflates offensive numbers for mediocre players and so on...

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 11:30:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

This is one of my favorite basketball topics. Nash has certainly been a very good player, but the amount of praise he receives compared to Kobe and others is so disproportionate. He's played on teams that have had at least 1, if not 2 other AS around him for most of his career, and still has never made the finals even once. And Dallas actually got better once he left by basically just replacing him with Terry. Yea, it's telling to see what these players did before and after playing with Nash. And once Amare left after the suns made the 10 WCF, the suns completely fell apart, but I can't even blame Nash too much for that, but maybe there's something to that as well.

The other thing I don't understand is that Nash goes from being a non AS in 2004 to winning consecutive MVPs in 05/06. Who does this? I don't know of any other player in nba history to go from a borderline AS player to the best player in the league just as they're on the downside of their career, and I don't think Nash ever had any MVP votes before 05. It's the wacky MVP voting process that whatever is the 'best story', then that guy wins the MVP usually. And nash's stats really didn't improve much from 04 to 05. In fact, he's arguably doing better this year as a borderline AS who barely made the AS game than 05, which is a credit to Nash, but also brings to light how undeserving he is of his MVP awards and overrated he is, though for some reason I often hear how underrated Nash is. The way Nash is rated reminds me how people often say Odom is underrated, that you once said makes Odom actually overrated.

The only definitive thing I can say about Nash is that he's better than Marbury, which Marbury gets bashed correctly for a lot of things, but he still was a decent player for several years, so some credit to Nash here.

Also, I think that the D'antoni system is advantageous to making players' stats increase and can be misleading. So when ESPN shows these players' stats with the suns, they are misleading, as it's an uptempo system that will most likely increase everyone's stats offensively. Not every PG is made for the d'antoni system, but even someone like duhon was 10th in the league in assists one year in NY, and he doesn't even seem like a good backup PG.

My main problem about Nash or Nash supporters is that he never thought it necessary to try to improve on defense. The offense was fine, but at some pt., you have to play a little defense, maybe not have to be great defensively, but at least be competent on that side of the ball.

Smush is my favorite example. He couldn't even make the 12 man roster with the suns in 2005, then is the lakers starting PG for 2 years. Then, he only plays 28 games the next year for the heat(worst team in the league in 08) and I think the clips, who were also terrible. After enjoying himself in china for a time, the last time I checked he's been playing in Iran.

I checked Odom's stats one day, and I was surprised by what I found, but maybe shouldn't be. His FG pct. skyrocketed immediately in his first year with the lakers, and stayed much higher during his entire laker career than on his previous teams, and that's even with him being the #2 guy for a few years with the lakers.

I was wondering if this article you mentioned writing about before, comparing lakers' players playing with and without kobe, or were you just responding to the latest nash story on espn or just found it a convenient time to write about this?

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 1:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the "Nash Effect" is usually only acknowledged when there are direct stats -- usually assists -- to point to. Although anyone who consistently watches Laker games can tell you that when the defense tilts 2-3 defenders into Kobe's area it usually results in an easy scoring opportunity for someone, the fact that it's not recorded as a direct assist for him often works against Kobe in the eyes of the statistician.

Likewise, it's tough for big men as well to get a lot of credit for making teammates better. Dwight Howard is another person who, while he doesn't put up eye-popping individual offensive numbers, is usually the reason behind any easy score for the Magic. Not to mention the fact that he makes four below-average defenders into a cohesive above-average defensive unit. Don't hear much about Rashard Lewis nowadays, do we?

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. It's always interesting to me how the perception of the star, the person responsible for "making his teammates better," affects the perception of his teammates.

Compare James and Nash to Kobe, for instance. For years, I feel like Kobe's teammates have been pretty overrated. I won't comprehensively review the list of players thought to be valuable rotation players or even starters on the Lakers who then fell to obscurity or even out of the NBA entirely once leaving the Lakers, but the list is quite long. Conversely, Nash and James are seen as very unselfish players (which I believe they are) by the media, and so are automatically assumed to be the reason for most of their teammates' success, and thus some of those teammates' individual abilities become somewhat underrated.

Thanks for an interesting read.

Happydaze

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 3:01:00 PM, Anonymous EdPak said...

David, I can't begin to tell you how refreshing your article is to me. Granted, as a Lakers and a Kobe fan, I feel like I've been saying this for years now. That, in deed, Kobe has a HUGE effect on the effectiveness and success of his teammates and RARELY, if ever, does he get proper credit for it.

As you put it, playing alongside Kobe made Gasol and Odom relevant to the national media. Even more so, who were Kwame and Smush before playing alongside Kobe? One, the biggest #1 Draft Bust Ever and the other, an unknown street baller. For one to say that Kobe doesn't make his teammates better is to undeniably declare that that person, as you've accused many times before, either doesn't watch enough Laker games to see the entirety of the plays or is ignorant of what basketball is all about.

Also, for those that claim Kobe doesn't pass the ball. He's only been the leading assist man for the Lakers the past, what, 13years! All except 2005-06 when Kobe averaged 35.4pt/gm and Odom led in assists at 5.5a/gm vs Kobe's 4.5a/gm (2nd on the team despite the 8th highest scoring average in NBA history). Even then, Odom's assist number was his highest of his career, except for 2001-02 when he averaged 5.9a/gm BUT only played in 29games. And, who do you think Odom's assists went to? KB8?

It seems to me that there's this generation of basketball "fans" that just look to deny Kobe his due for whatever reason. As a Laker fan, I've always felt it was the Purple and Gold, but, I think it's also those MJ jockers that can't accept the fact that another human could even come close to their famed basketball god. Maybe it is that possibility that if another person was to play at about the same level as MJ, then, maybe MJ is not the GOD people make him out to be. Ahhhh!!!!

In any case, I appreciate MJ's successes along with Kobe's just the same. Kobe deserves better than what a lot of critics are saying about him. I appreciate you being one of the rare objective analysts of basketball we as fans can resource and discuss with.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 3:06:00 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

Great post. You left Trevor Ariza off your list of young Laker role players who the media hyped as "budding stars" and then entered the witness protection agency soon after leaving the Lakers.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 4:13:00 PM, Blogger Dodgerblue15 said...

Terrific article. I can't believe how many people dismissed the back-to-back phenomenal seasons Kobe put up with absolutely zero talent around him. I just have to add a few guys to your list:

Chris Mihm: Career high in points scored and shooting percentage (04/05-05/06). Perhaps could have become a great backup center if not for injury, but was relied upon as a starter.

Brian Cook. Career high in shooting percentage and points scored (05/06) and games started. Third highest three point percentage of his career. Cook played 70 plus games and was needed. Don't think anything else has to be said.

We can even throw Derek Fisher (I love Fish, not just for his on court presence, but for what he did this past offseason for the league), widely considered the worst starting point guard in the league for the past two seasons. Fish posted his career high shooting percentage with Shaq and Kobe (02) and with just Kobe (07/08), and was the Lakers starting point guard during their recent back-to-back-to-back finals trips.

I also wanted to add that the 05-06, 06-07 Lakers teams were so bad, that the Lakers needed guys like Tierre Brown and Laron Profit to play. I remember being crushed when Profit went down with a season ending (knee?) injury.

Furthermore, Devean George (1500 minutes) who was "replaced" by Maurice Evans (1700 minutes) were major contributors to those teams.

20 years from now, people will look back and marvel at how Kobe didn't win the 05-06 MVP.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 4:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sharp:

I didn't expect him to be completely unable to function, either, but I have long insisted that he is overrated. Prior to joining the Lakers he was an inconsistent, immature player. The Lakers "accepted" him in the Shaq trade because they had little choice; Jerry Buss did not want to give a max deal to Shaq so the rest of the league knew that Shaq was going to be shipped out. The Lakers' long term plan was to find another player to be Kobe's wing man and that ultimately happened when they acquired Gasol.

Odom's best skill set attribute is his ability to rebound but this season he is not even rebounding well.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 4:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent post as always David.
It is really annoying and saddening to see some people trying to denigrate/diss Kobe even though not only he is a great player but also he does make players better when playing with him.

cheers,

Nimble

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 5:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yogi:

I agree that there is a "Phil Jackson Effect" because his Triangle Offense provides a structure that enables players with limited or one dimensional skill sets to still contribute.

The "D'Antoni Effect" results mainly from his willingness to tolerate turnovers provided that his players shoot a high percentage and from the fast pace of his offense that inherently inflates his players' statistics.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 5:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

Steve Nash is this era's Mark Price, with the key differences being that Nash has been more durable and he has played for teams that received more national recognition. By the way, comparing Nash to Price is in no way an insult--at his peak Price was an All-NBA First Teamer.

I have written several times about this subject from a variety of angles. I compared Bryant to Nash when Nash was winning back to back MVPs, I wrote the article that I linked to about "Making Teammates Better" and I often have pointed out in various articles that assists are a very misleading metric for trying to measure passing ability and/or unselfishness (the stat itself is recorded inconsistently and it also does not reflect plays when someone draws two defenders and then makes a pass to someone who delivers the assist pass as the defense is rotating).

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 5:13:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Happydaze:

As I mentioned in my response to Boyer, I agree with you that assists are a poor metric for measuring passing ability and/or unselfishness.

I agree with you that Dwight Howard's impact is underrated. I have said that the Lakers should be willing to give up both Bynum and Gasol to get Howard and that if they did so they would be legit title contenders with Bryant, Howard and a cast of role players. Bryant and Howard are just that good.

I have documented in many articles just how overrated Bryant's teammates are and every time one of them lands on another team my evaluations have been confirmed. Odom is just the latest and most dramatic example.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 5:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ed Pak:

Kobe's playmaking is the most underrated aspect of his skill set. Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy--two excellent former NBA coaches--praise Kobe's playmaking but most of the fools who commentate about the NBA game overlook Kobe's vision and his ability to deliver a variety of different passes on target despite heavy defensive pressure.

I think that the visceral negative response to Bryant comes from a variety of sources. Part of it is old Jordan fans who do not want anyone to be compared with MJ. Part of it is fans of various teams that are rivals to the Lakers (Celtics) or perceive themselves to be rivals to the Lakers (Blazers--that is Abbott's favorite team). Part of it stems from the Colorado incident, though Bryant was a polarizing figure before that time. Part of it is that Shaq skillfully worked the media to his side during the Shaq-Kobe feud. Part of it is that "advanced basketball statistics" are flawed so those numbers inflate some players' values and deflate other players' values. For whatever reason, Bryant's value is not well captured by those numbers and thus the "stat gurus" feel compelled to continually downgrade Bryant. The technical reasons that the "advanced stats" don't accurately assess Bryant is that they overvalue assists and individual field goal percentage while not properly valuing the importance of shot creation and drawing double teams that tilt the defense.

There are probably other factors as well.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 5:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Chris:

You are right. Since Ariza left L.A. to become a full-time starter elsewhere he has yet to match the shooting numbers that he posted while launching wide open jumpers as Bryant drew double and triple teams. "Stat gurus" often insist that a player does the same things regardless of who his teammates are but people who actually understand basketball realize that a player's role and his effectiveness can be greatly affected by who his teammates are.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 5:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nimble:

Thank you.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 5:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dodgerblue15:

You cited some excellent examples that further emphasize my point. You are correct that in addition to main rotation players like Smush, Kwame and VladRad the Lakers of that era also had a number of low quality players coming off of the bench. Those 2006 and 2007 Lakers just had a brutal roster and if you swapped Bryant for Nash the Lakers would have been a Lottery team while the Suns would have probably won the championship (Amare and Marion were hardly a worse duo than Gasol-Odom with Bynum playing sporadically and the Suns were a deeper team than the Lakers' squads that ultimately won two titles). I was not trying to make a comprehensive list but merely draft a counterpoint to ESPN's list that included a handful of players.

Back in 2006 I said that when objective people in the future look back at this era they will be astounded that Nash won two MVPs over first Shaq and then Kobe.

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 10:24:00 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

Nice post, David.

One of my pet peeves with "conventional basketball wisdom" is the rarely disputed assertion that LeBron left Cleveland because they failed to provide him with help and that he posted the best regular season record two years in a row despite having bad teammates.

This is nonsense. An elite player and terrible teammates don't post consecutive 60+ win seasons and be unanimously declared title contenders by every pundit covering the league. An elite player and terrible teammates post mediocre records and get knocked out as low seeds (05-07 Lakers, 01-04 Magic). As good as Gasol is, he was a mid-tier star before arriving in LA, and now suddenly Kobe is supposed to defer to him more. It's like we're in bizarro world (as an aside I think Larry Hughes can be considered to be another good example of a player LeBron failed to 'make better', though he may get a pass due to Hughes' injury problems)

 
At Tuesday, March 06, 2012 10:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Charles:

Those are excellent points. I considered mentioning Hughes in the article but Hughes' injury problems are a mitigating circumstance to some degree. The larger issue is that despite LeBron's obvious greatness and despite the regular season success of his teams there is yet to be one example of a top level player who performs better with LeBron then he did before or after teaming up with LeBron--and this lends credence to the idea that, at least to some extent, LeBron is padding his individual stats as opposed to "making his teammates better." How can he do that? He can score a ton of points early in games yet disappear with the game on the line. He can neglect to make passes that will lead to other players getting assists and instead focus on making passes that are likely to be scored as assists. He can pad his rebounding totals by making sure that he gets a lot of easy free throw rebounds. LeBron would not be the first NBA player to do any of those things and I have not charted LeBron's games to see if he is doing those things or to what extent he may be doing them--but there is a disconnect between LeBron's individual statistical dominance and his performance against elite teams in postseason play.

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 12:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't agree with lebron he took probably the worst team ever to make the finals. Wade bosh and Jamison are great players anyway. gasol got better under Kobe and Phil Jackson triangle offense. Lamar had a great season the year. before with Miami. he is and always was and has been inconsistent where ever he gone. Shannon brown been OK with Phoenix Trevor ariza had his moments with hornets. players are either good or bad no one player makes another player great he was already great before he put him in good spots where his talent is maximized. great players are great players good players are good players terrible one are terrible ones

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 12:45:00 AM, Anonymous Michael Joseph said...

I cannot deny his talent, and I can’t deny his physical giftedness, but I have argued for years that Lebron is not that great of a teammate, despite his high APG totals. My view of a good teammate is this; a player who knows his role on a team, and plays his absolute hardest within that role, at all times.

Lebron seems to have some confusion as to what role he wants to play on his team. As far as I can tell, he wants to be the leader/ dominant player when his team is doing well, but he wants to be the “distributor” when things are going badly. There is no player in the league that has the match-up advantage over Lebron, so there is never an excuse for him to not try and dominate the game. He should always strive to be the most dominant player on the court. That’s not say he has to hit every game winner or be brilliant ever night, but he should certainly try to do so. Failure is okay, lack of effort is never acceptable.

I’m not saying that Lebron is a locker room cancer, but rather that his high assist totals do not automatically make him a great teammate. There is much more to it than that.

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 12:50:00 AM, Anonymous Chris said...

David, even flawed "stat guru" John Hollinger kind of agrees with you about LeBron padding stats. Prior to the season he said this about LeBron's "low assist value" in an ESPN podcast:

"He gets more of what I call the flaming bag assist where he starts with a pick and roll, then he backs up to half court, and then he kind of drives against the stagnant defense, and if he doesn't have anything, sometimes he'll just pass off to a guy who's covered and has 4 seconds. And if the guy makes the shot, [Lebron] gets an assist, and if it's a turnover [or miss], he gets nothing. But if you look at over the course of a season, those are the least valuable assists."

This reminds me of how you point out that Kobe often has to take "grenade" shots at the end of the shot clock where teammates just hand him the ball with a few seconds and hope he can create something. It seems like LeBron is doing the opposite and handing his teammates "grenades".

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 3:24:00 AM, Anonymous Victor said...

David,

I just wanted to say your blog has basically turned me against 95% of the basketball writers going. I really enjoy, and appreciate, such well thought out and researched article and find it sad that so few follow your lead so to speak. I just wanted to commend you on your efforts and say you have a fan in me for as long as you continue to write.

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 5:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

James' 2007 Cavs were not even close to being the worst team to make it to the NBA Finals. I wrote a couple articles on the subject of worst NBA Finalists, one published in the Summer 2003 issue of Basketball Digest and the other published on 12/11/06 at NBCSports.com. The 2007 Cavs would not come close to cracking either of those lists.

You are missing the point regarding Wade, Bosh and Jamison. I understand that they are great anyway--but they played worse with James than they previously did. Pau Gasol played better with Bryant than he previously did, as did the various Lakers I listed in this article.

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 5:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Michael Joseph:

You summed up the whole problem with Lebron in one sentence: "Failure is okay, lack of effort is never acceptable." I will never forget watching in person when LeBron quit during game five in 2010 versus Boston. I have never seen a player with that much talent put forth such little effort--at least until he essentially did the same thing versus Dallas in last year's NBA Finals. LeBron is a great talent and as long as he plays the way that he does during the regular season I will insist that he deserves the MVP--but there is something missing in him that shows up when he is challenged mentally and/or physically by elite competition.

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 5:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Chris:

When Hollinger forgets about PER and just writes/says what he sees he is not a bad commentator. That observation about LeBron is right on target even though it cannot be proven by looking at either box score stats or "advanced stats."

You are right to take that analysis one step further and note that Kobe ends up taking these "grenade" shots (as I call them) while LeBron lobs the "grenades" to his teammates. This helps LeBron to preserve his FG% and, if his teammate makes the shot, gives LeBron an assist as well.

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 5:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Victor:

Thank you.

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 8:17:00 AM, Blogger Matt said...

In all fairness to Lebron, who exactly did Lebron play with who is significantly or even straight up better than Gasol at the time he played with them ? Also who are the players who improved their numbers after they were relieved from playing with Lebron (other than Carlos Boozer) ?

Furthermore, as David pointed out ( http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2009/03/pro-basketballs-five-tool-players_25.html ), most of the players who have lead their teams in all 5 major statistical categories have been on mediocre to average teams (including Tracy McGrady in #03.) The outliers? Dr. J who did it on the championship Nets in "76 Lebron who did it on a 66 win-team.

 
At Wednesday, March 07, 2012 3:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Matt:

As I noted in numerous articles during LeBron's time with the Cavs, the 2009 and 2010 squads were at least 10 deep with players who had started for playoff teams. When Jamison came to the Cavs he was coming off of a 22.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg season and was a two-time All-Star. Gasol has never averaged more than 21 ppg and was a one-time All-Star before landing in L.A. I'm not saying that Jamison was as good as Gasol at that time but the Cavs had both talent and depth--they had several recent former All-Stars (talent) and they had several solid players who could start for playoff teams (depth). The Cavs had so much depth during LeBron's time in Cleveland that Shannon Brown--a key member of the Lakers' vaunted (at least in some quarters, though not here) bench during their recent title runs--could barely even get on the court for them.

We have also now had the benefit of seeing a season and a half worth of LeBron playing with Wade and Bosh; the Heat have yet to match the Cavs' winning percentages nor have Wade and Bosh performed better individually than they did before playing with LeBron. The Heat's lack of dominance relative to the expectations of the "stat gurus" is actually a good test case for the limitations of "advanced basketball statistics": most "stat gurus" would tell you that the Heat have two players who are better--perhaps significantly better--than Kobe Bryant and yet this has not translated into historic dominance on the court. When MJ and Pippen were truly the two best perimeter players--if not the two best players, period--in the NBA the Bulls were almost unbeatable in the regular season (72-10) and went on to win three straight titles, after earlier winning three straight titles when MJ was the best player in the game and Pip was a rising star (but not yet a top five player in the NBA).

 
At Saturday, March 10, 2012 12:53:00 AM, Blogger JP said...

David,

I wanted to explain or attempt to explain the "Nash effect" or lack there of in Dallas.

The year after Nash was traded the Mavs started off the season 42-22, which was worse than how they played the season before. They then fired their coach, Don Nelson and hired Avery Johnson.

The Mavs then went 16-2 with Avery Johnson at the helm. There defense improved considerably.

They also got rid of Antoine Walker' and his abysmal shooting, added Jerry Stackhouse, Keith Van Horn, Jason Terry, Erik Dampier and Devin Harris, and got improved play from Josh Howard. So quite a lineup overhaul from the year before.

Where the Mavericks biggest improvement came was on the defensive end. I give all the credit to Avery Johnson for this,and his impact was probably exaggerrated due to Don Nelson's ineptitude to practice anything that all closely resembles defense.

The Mavs went from having the league's 26th best defense in 2004, to having the 11th best defense in 2006. That was the reason for their leap to title contender.

 
At Saturday, March 10, 2012 1:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JP:

Those are certainly valid points; on the other hand, the conventional wisdom (based on MVP/All-Star voting) is that the Mavs replaced a two-time MVP point guard with a non-All-Star and still were able to improve significantly after tweaking their rotation and changing their defensive philosophy. Historically, MVP caliber players are worth at least 15 wins--and often even more than that--so it strains credulity a bit to say that Nash is a legit two-time MVP who is on par with other multiple MVP winners and yet he could be more than adequately replaced by Terry, who is a fine player but hardly an MVP caliber performer.

 

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