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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kobe Bryant Tops 40 Points for the Third Straight Game

On Friday night, Kobe Bryant led the L.A. Lakers to a 97-92 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers by scoring 42 points on 15-31 field goal shooting. In the seven games since Bryant had his worst shooting game in nearly two years--and thus renewed the endless fascination many members of the media have with his shot selection--Bryant has averaged 37.2 ppg while shooting 98-196 (.500) from the field. The Lakers won six of those seven games and they have won five games in a row, with Bryant topping the 40 point barrier in each of the past three games. Bryant's 48 point game versus Phoenix on January 10 is not only the highest scoring game by any player in the young 2012 season but it is also the highest scoring output ever for a player who has participated in at least 16 NBA seasons.

Bryant has played at least 36 minutes in each of the past seven games and he played more than 40 minutes in three of those games. As I recently noted, Bryant's per minute productivity was very high in 2010-11 but Coach Phil Jackson limited Bryant's minutes to preserve Bryant's legs and try to keep Bryant healthy for the playoffs (a good plan that nevertheless went awry after Bryant sprained his ankle in the first round, an ailment that reduced him from an All-NBA First Team caliber performer to "merely" an All-Star level player as the Lakers were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round). Bryant's wheels are spinning better than they have in years but Bryant's heavy minutes and sensational scoring totals underscore the fact that the Lakers simply are not a very good team; the Lakers need this kind of durability and productivity from Bryant just to beat the likes of Cleveland, Utah and Phoenix, none of which are currently seeded higher than seventh in their respective conferences.

Bryant has averaged 34.8 ppg so far in January 2012, with eight games completed and nine more left to go. This is not even close to being the highest scoring month of his career; Bryant averaged 43.4 ppg in January 2006 (including his 81 point outburst against Toronto), he averaged 41.6 ppg in April 2006 (that month consisted of just eight games at the end of the season; Bryant's other 40 ppg months each included at least 13 games and my understanding is that for these kinds of records the Elias Sports Bureau counts any month that includes at least five games), he averaged 40.6 ppg in February 2003 and he averaged 40.4 ppg in March 2007; Wilt Chamberlain is the only other player in NBA history to average more than 40 ppg in a month on multiple occasions (Chamberlain accomplished this astounding feat 11 times).

This is the seventh time that Bryant has had a streak of at least three games of 40-plus points but the first time he has done so since March 2007. His best such streak lasted nine games (February 2003, when Bryant singlehandedly kept the Lakers afloat while Shaquille O'Neal slowly got back into shape after delaying his toe surgery) and four of his streaks took place in the infamous Kwame Brown-Smush Parker era when the Lakers needed Bryant to score 30-40 points just to have a chance to win.

The current version of the Lakers is not as talent-depleted as the Brown-Parker Lakers but the Lakers are who I thought they were when I declared that they would need for Kobe Bryant to play like he did back in 2006 and 2007 in order to make the playoffs--but perhaps I was wrong when I wrote, "the Kobe Bryant who worked miracles in 2006-07 and who carried a good team to great heights in 2008-10 will only be appearing at the Staples Center in highlights played on the video screen above the court." Is it really possible that a 33 year old, 16 year veteran with 48,000-plus regular season and playoff minutes on his legs (and a torn ligament in the wrist of his shooting hand) will lead the league in scoring and pile up enough 40 point games to carry the Lakers into the playoffs? The fact that Bryant can still play at such a high level is all the more reason for Mitch Kupchak to do whatever he can to acquire Dwight Howard; a Bryant-Howard tandem would be an improved version of the Hakeem Olajuwon-Clyde Drexler tandem that won a championship in 1995, even if the Lakers have to give up Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol: the Rockets won it all without a true power forward and the Lakers could do likewise with Bryant dominating the perimeter, Howard locking down the paint and Coach Mike Brown's defensive schemes covering up some of the weaknesses at other positions.

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Kobe Bryant's 40 Point Game Streaks

9: February 2003 (7-2 record)
5: March 2007 (5-0 record)
5: December 2005-January 2006 (3-2 record)
4: March-April 2006 (2-2 record)
4: March 2006 (3-1 record)
3: January 2012 (3-0; streak is still active)
3: December 2004-January 2005 (2-1 record)

Total: 25-8 record

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:22 AM

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kobe Bryant's Tank is not on "E"

Prior to an important game, Coach Bill Parcells once placed a gas can by the locker of one of his older players, thus asking a wordless but not so subtle question: "Do you have anything left in the tank?"

Before this season began it was only logical to speculate about how much Kobe Bryant had left in his tank. In 2010-11, Bryant was very productive and efficient when he was healthy--his per minute averages and his shooting percentages were comparable to the numbers he posted during his 2007-08 MVP campaign--but knee and ankle woes limited his effectiveness during the 2011 playoffs; Bryant is an "old" 33 because he is a 16 year veteran who has logged over 48,000 combined minutes (regular season and postseason), roughly the same number that Michael Jordan had tallied by the time he had transformed from "Air Jordan" to "Floor Jordan" as a 40 year old Washington Wizard. After the Dallas Mavericks swept Bryant's L.A. Lakers, I looked back at what Bryant accomplished from 2008-2010 when he led the Lakers to three straight Finals appearances and concluded that for the declining Lakers to be successful in 2011-12 they would need for Bryant to once again become a scoring machine, something that I considered to be unlikely not because Bryant's skills have declined but because his body seemed to be failing him.

The truncated and compacted 2012 season has only just begun, so there is still reason to question whether Bryant can sustain his current pace but the numbers--not "advanced stats" and not selected numbers taken out of context but simply the meaningful box score numbers--show that he is playing as well as he has played at any time in the past several years. Bryant ranks second in the league in scoring behind only LeBron James and Bryant's points per minute average is the highest it has been since he claimed back to back scoring titles in 2006 and 2007. The torn ligament in his right wrist has wreaked havoc on his three point shot but his overall field goal percentage is slightly above his career norm and his free throw percentage is only slightly below his career norm. Bryant just won the Western Conference Player of the Week award for games played between January 2 and January 8 and he has authored the two best individual scoring performances of the season: 39 points versus Golden State on January 6 and 48 points versus Phoenix on January 10. The Lakers won both of those games and they also beat Houston on January 3 when Bryant racked up 37 points, his third highest scoring total so far (and tied for the fourth highest scoring game in the NBA's young season). Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum's efficiency has plummeted after his much celebrated first ever 20-20 game and Bynum has shot just 12-31 from the field in the past three games while amassing two assists and coughing up 10 turnovers. We can safely discard any notions of the Lakers building their offense around Bynum any time soon.

Bryant's 48 point outburst versus the Suns was not only a vintage performance but, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the highest scoring game by an NBA player who has played at least 16 seasons, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 46 point game in 1985-86. Bryant's 324 points through the first 11 games of the season are the third most since 1985 by any player who is at least 33 years old but the two players ahead of him on the list--Bernard King in 1990 and Michael Jordan in 1996--both had logged fewer seasons and fewer minutes than Bryant (though, to be fair, King was the first player to come back from reconstructive ACL surgery to make the All-Star team, so his 1990 productivity is remarkable in its own right considering the full context).

Bryant's impeccable footwork and deadly midrange game force opposing teams to swarm him and this creates easy opportunities for Bynum, Pau Gasol and other Lakers. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Bryant's teammates are not taking full advantage of those opportunities to the extent that they did from 2008-2010, so this season's Lakers look a lot like the 2006 and 2007 squads that needed superhuman efforts from Bryant just to win games (the Lakers are 74-34 in the regular season when Bryant scores at least 40 points, including an 18-9 mark during the 2005-06 season when the Lakers went just 45-37 overall).

The long offseason (and perhaps the well publicized treatment that Bryant received in Germany) seems to have rejuvenated Bryant's legs and enabled him to regain some explosiveness: he once again can drive around defenders and finish with authority at the rim and he also has excellent elevation on his jump shot. It really would be interesting to see what Bryant could do on a nightly basis in this condition if he had a fully healthy wrist. As long as Bryant's wrist does not get worse and Bryant's legs stay healthy he can score enough and create enough open shots for his teammates to get the Lakers into the playoffs but if the Lakers are serious about winning at least one more championship during Bryant's career then they need to pull the trigger on a Bynum for Dwight Howard deal; Howard would be the perfect anchor for Coach Mike Brown's defense and Howard's already impressive field goal percentage and offensive rebounding rate would improve from playing alongside Bryant, much like Gasol's numbers in those categories went up after he joined the Lakers. Bynum is too injury-prone and too raw to be counted on as a championship team's defensive anchor and second offensive option; he ranked just sixth on the Lakers in playoff minutes for both the 2009 and 2010 championship teams, so it is wishful thinking to assume that he can maintain his health and be productive if the Lakers expect him to suddenly not only log heavy minutes but to do so as a key factor at both ends of the court.

The 31 year old Gasol may never completely emerge from the funk that he entered during last season's playoffs; Gasol was a good second option on the 2009 and 2010 championship teams but he seems content to be a third option now and that is not good enough if Bynum is then expected to be the second option. If the Lakers can keep Gasol around as a third option behind Bryant and Howard that would work well but if the Lakers have to ship Gasol out with Bynum to obtain Howard it would be worth it: Howard is a perfect second option for the current Lakers and then the Lakers can build around Howard after Bryant retires.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:55 AM

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

What if ESPN's Main Basketball Blogger Wrote About the Chicago Bulls the Way that He Writes About the L.A. Lakers?

The following article is satirical but all of the cited box score statistics are true (they are deliberately taken out of context but the raw numbers are accurate). Some names have been changed to protect the guilty. Hopefully, most readers understand the nature of satire but in case you don't and/or are new to this site, here is a serious, detailed analysis of how Derrick Rose and other elite NBA players perform: Selecting NBA Award Winners: The Battle of Stats Versus Storylines Versus Logical Analysis.

Derrick Rose Refuses to Trust his Teammates

by Aenry Habbott

Before I started the False Bucket website I had a variety of different jobs and I met people from all different walks of life. One time on my lunch break I went to Starbucks and I was standing in line behind an elderly, somewhat shabbily dressed gentleman. He looked like he had not had anything to eat or drink for days. He ordered a coffee and a sandwich but then realized that he was a dollar short. I gave him a dollar and he smiled at me. I felt good all day and I will never forget how good it felt to help someone.

What does this have to do with basketball?

Basketball is part of the tapestry of life. On the court five people must work together in harmony, just like we all should work together in harmony to make the world a better place. Sharing is good on the basketball court and in life. Being selfish is bad.

Using all of your dollars only for yourself is selfish. Most of us understand that this is bad.

But a basketball player who shoots too much is just like a person who spends all of his money on himself.

Shooting is not sharing!

Derrick Rose is a very gifted basketball player. It is exciting to watch him cross over hapless defenders. It is cool to see him dunk over much bigger opponents. I get that. Derrick Rose is fun to watch!

But is Derrick Rose really an effective, efficient player? Before the advent of advanced basketball statistics we would have just had to rely on how we felt watching Derrick Rose play. And like I said, Derrick Rose is fun to watch. No one can deny that.

Derrick Rose is a point guard. Point guards are supposed to be the ultimate basketball sharers. They are supposed to give out dollars--i.e., shots--to all of their friends. I am sure that Derrick Rose is a good person. But advanced basketball statistics show that he is not a sharer.

Bave Derri is an economist at Southwest Northeast Central Eastern College in Looneyville, Texas, an institution that is to economic research what the Institute of Advanced Study was to physics back when Albert Einstein worked there. Derri does not deny that it is fun to watch Rose play but he recently sent me an email explaining exactly how the numbers show that Rose does not share as much as he should.

In the 2010-11 season, Rose attempted exactly 31 shots in a game once--and the Chicago Bulls lost. They also lost three of the five games in which Rose attempted exactly 27 shots. The Chicago Bulls were pretty good last year. They had the best record in the NBA (62-20). But four of their losses came when Rose attempted either 27 or 31 shots.

I get that Chicago fans want Rose to be the next Michael Jordan but Rose only ranked sixth on the Bulls in true shooting percentage. That means that when Rose shot the ball it was less likely to go in the hoop than it was when Rasual Butler, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver, Keith Bogans or Omer Asik shot the ball. Luol Deng's true shooting percentage was barely less than Rose's (.549 for Deng compared to .550 for Rose) but Rose attempted 1597 shots while Deng only attempted 1155 shots.

Sharing is caring, whether you are helping a homeless person in Starbucks or a Sudanese friend on the basketball court.

I know that advanced basketball statistics make some of you feel cranky but true shooting percentage is not only an advanced basketball statistic but it contains the word "true." If you are against using true shooting percentage to rank basketball players then you really are a primitive person who has not learned to value truth.

The sad story of Rose hoarding shot attempts carried over from the 2010-11 regular season into the playoffs. When Rose attempted 29 or more shots the Bulls went 0-2 but in the three games in which he attempted 18 or fewer shots the Bulls went 3-0. If Rose had attempted 18 or fewer shots in every playoff game the Bulls would have had a perfect playoff record! They would have been the greatest championship team ever!

What about poor Carlos Boozer? He went to Duke for three years so he probably is smart enough to understand the value of advanced basketball statistics. When he played for Utah, a team with a point guard who shared the ball, Boozer had two straight seasons in which he averaged at least 20 ppg and at least 10 rpg. That all changed when Boozer became a Bull and started playing alongside Rose. Boozer's scoring average plummeted to 17.5 ppg last season and in the playoffs it dropped to 12.6 ppg.

Rose tried to win those playoff games all by himself. He did not trust his teammates. He did not share the ball with them. If Carlos Boozer had been a homeless person in Starbucks, Rose would not have given him a dollar.

Derri came up with a new advanced metric to quantify the importance of sharing. He calls it Derri's Ultimate Methodology (DUM). This DUM formula is so advanced that only an economist could understand it so I will not even attempt to describe it here but Derri informs me that Rose has a -206.5 DUM number. Derri says that the only two guards he can find in NBA history who were more selfish than Rose are Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson. Derri estimates that Thomas and Iverson have combined to ruin 10 NBA franchises. Derri is still investigating what impact Iverson's brief stint in Turkey had on Derri's beloved Detroit Pistons but preliminary indications are that Iverson is the reason that the Pistons are still struggling.

But, wait a minute. Didn't Isiah Thomas win two championships? Didn't Allen Iverson carry a thin Philly roster to the NBA Finals in 2001? Derri has all of the answers to your simple questions. Thomas' Detroit teams were successful because of Dennis Rodman. Derri notes that Rodman was a greater player than even Michael Jordan. Rodman had a DUM number of 666! Rodman's DUM number was more than three times larger than Einstein's IQ. That means Rodman was a basketball genius! Similarly, Iverson's Philadelphia teammate Dikembe Mutombo had a DUM number of 319. Mutombo was not quite the basketball Einstein that Rodman was but Mutombo was at least at the Kurt Godel level.

I spent half a day on the phone with various NBA executives talking about Derrick Rose and the DUM numbers but after I said my piece each of them just replied "Dumb----" and hung up the phone. I am mystified why NBA executives would not want to use every means available to improve their teams.

Joakim Noah, Omer Asik and Carlos Boozer are not basketball Einsteins or even basketball Godels but Derri's DUM numbers show that they at least are equivalent to some of the lesser known figures at the Institute for Advanced Study. It would be smart for Rose to pass the ball to them more often.

After all, a hero is nothing but a sandwich and a player with a low DUM number like Rose would not even buy a sandwich for a starving man.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:29 AM

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