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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kevin Ding Describes Kobe Bryant's Defensive Focus

A columnist's job is to provide a larger context for a news story or a series of related news stories, while a beat writer's job is to do research, conduct interviews and report the facts; few writers are fully competent in either category and it is exceedingly rare to find a writer who is both capable of ascertaining the facts and logically analyzing those facts. Kevin Ding is one such writer; his articles contain facts and quotes that demonstrate that he has done his homework in terms of research and interviewing but he also is more than capable of stepping out of beat writer mode to provide cogent analysis.

Much has been written and said about Kobe Bryant's defense this season but Ding provides an excellent description of Bryant's dedication at that end of the court:

Just watching Bryant hound Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings into every crevice and corner of the court Tuesday night was proof of Bryant's uncommon determination. He prides himself in having more of that dog in him than anyone else, and it's true that he plays one mean game of fetch.

Put the ball in front of him, and Bryant will do whatever he can to get it. It's not necessarily ideal for solid team defense, but it can make setting up an offense pretty impossible.

That's why even in his 17th NBA season, he can play what Jennings viewed as a downright historic game.

"For the whole game, I don't think I've ever seen a guard put that much pressure on a point guard full-court," Jennings said. "It was a lot different. It's probably the best defense anybody's played on me since I've been in the league. He was constantly putting pressure on me, touching me, hitting me at all time in the game."

Part of it was dedication: With fanatical pregame study of Jennings' tendencies, Bryant was during breaks in the game actually re-enacting the precise rhythm and weight shifts of Jennings' pet moves as self-reminders.

Most of it was relentlessness: Bryant uncharacteristically huffed and puffed, sweat pouring off him in Shaq-like style, from all the exertion. He left some of his hand on the wood on the second occasion he went diving for the ball – the skin coming off via floor burn loudly enough to sound like a sneaker squeak. Even in a fourth-quarter timeout, he was still practicing defensive slides outside the huddle.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:36 PM

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ABA Numbers Ignored as Lebron James Becomes Youngest Member of 20,000 Point Club

LeBron James scored 25 points on Wednesday night during Miami's 92-75 win over Golden State; early in the game he notched his 5000th career assist and then late in the second quarter he became the youngest member of pro basketball's 20,000 point club, breaking a mark held by Kobe Bryant. James turned 28 less than three weeks ago, while Bryant was 29 years, 122 days old when he scored his 20,000th point. Wilt Chamberlain still holds the likely unbreakable record for reaching 20,000 points in the fewest games--499, a 40.1 ppg average--while James ranks seventh on that list (726 games, a 27.5 ppg average).

Only 42 pro basketball players have scored at least 20,000 points and just 13 of those players also totaled at least 5000 assists. Barring injury, James will likely become the only player ranked in the top five all-time in both departments; there is only one player who currently ranks in the top 15 in both categories: Oscar Robertson ranks sixth in assists (9887) and 12th in scoring (26,710 points), though it should be noted that when Robertson retired he ranked first in assists and second in scoring, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain.

James' dual accomplishments bring two things to mind:

1) James led the Heat in scoring and assists (10) versus Golden State while ranking third in rebounds (seven); James supposedly had to leave Cleveland in order to surround himself with a better supporting cast so that he would not have to singlehandedly carry his team but this season James is leading the Heat in minutes, points, rebounds, assists and steals (he is also second on the team in both field goal percentage and blocked shots). This is nothing new; last season, James led the Heat in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentage. James is nominally a power forward now but he is essentially a power point guard on offense--albeit one with heavy scoring duties--and he plays several different positions defensively. The difference between James now and James in Cleveland is not that the quality of his supporting cast has lightened his individual burden/responsibility but rather that James has accepted that burden/responsibility instead of shirking it. There is no more dramatic evidence of that difference than the contrast between how James quit versus Boston during the 2010 playoffs--and then quit versus Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals--versus how James dominated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. James was justifiably criticized in 2010 and 2011; his 2012 performance deserved all of the praise it received but it did not refute the previous criticism.

2) It is disgraceful that the NBA and its media partners act as if the ABA never existed. ABA numbers should also count and those numbers should be mentioned when a current player reaches an important statistical milestone. Three of the top 10 scorers in pro basketball history--Julius Erving (sixth), Moses Malone (seventh) and Dan Issel (ninth)--played in the ABA, as did George Gervin (14th), Rick Barry (who is tied with Reggie Miller for 17th place on the all-time scoring list) and Artis Gilmore (20th). Gervin and Malone are the only members of that group who scored 20,000 points in the NBA, so at least they are "officially" included in the 20,000 point club roster, but Erving, Issel and Barry are neither mentioned nor counted when media members discuss this topic.

The weird thing about this is that contemporary media accounts acknowledged Erving, Issel and Barry when they scored their milestone points (as demonstrated in the next three links cited in this article); it is baffling and infuriating that the NBA and its current media partners blatantly disregard the sport's history.

Here is the rest of the story, the information about the three members of the 20,000 point club that the NBA, NBA.com, ESPN and TNT have thrown down Orwell's "memory hole."

Rick Barry became just the ninth member of the 20,000 point club early in the 1976-77 season. Barry is the only player to win a scoring title in the NBA and the ABA. He fell just 48 assists short of joining the 20,000 point/5000 assist club. On November 12, 1980, Issel--who entered pro basketball one season earlier than Erving--became the 12th member of the 20,000 point club. Erving was a month shy of his 31st birthday when he became the 13th member of the 20,000 point club on January 15, 1981 in the 766th game of his career (26.1 ppg average, which then ranked as the sixth highest career scoring average in pro basketball history). At that time, Erving was the fifth youngest player to achieve the milestone. Erving later joined the exclusive 25,000/5000/5000 Club and in the second to last game of his career he became just the third player--and the first "midsize" player--to score more than 30,000 points.

These accomplishments should be celebrated by the NBA and Erving, Issel and Barry should be included in the "official" 20,000 point club roster--but the very people who have a responsibility to preserve and cherish the sport's history instead present a distorted, incomplete version of that history.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:31 AM

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