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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014-15 Western Conference Preview

The opening sentence of my 2013-14 Western Conference Preview could not have been more prophetic: "The San Antonio Spurs are the NBA's 21st century version of Rasputin: just when you think that they are dead and gone, they prove that they still have a lot of life left." The Spurs bounced back from their devastating loss in the 2013 NBA Finals to beat the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals and earn the fifth championship of the Tim Duncan/Gregg Popovich era (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014). Duncan now enjoys a 2-1 head to head advantage versus LeBron James in the NBA Finals and Duncan owns three more championship rings than James does. Duncan has never been as statistically dominant individually as James is and Duncan has not been the Finals MVP during the Spurs' most recent two title runs but numbers do not fully capture Duncan's impact as a defensive stopper in the paint, a low post offensive hub (who can also step outside and hit midrange jumpers) and a true champion who has been an outstanding leader from day one. Duncan long ago made a strong case to be considered the greatest power forward of all-time and I tapped him as a Pantheon level player six years ago but because of his soft spoken demeanor and the fact that he has never posted gaudy statistics it seems like his greatness may never be fully appreciated.

The Spurs stood pat this offseason and they have every reason to believe that their core nucleus of Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is good enough to make yet another title run. Their chief rival, the Oklahoma City Thunder, will have to survive for a significant period of time without Kevin Durant, who has won four of the past five scoring titles. This could be an opportunity for Russell Westbrook to shine a la Scottie Pippen in 1994 and Kobe Bryant in 2003; Pippen and Bryant were wrongly considered to be mere sidekicks until retirement (Michael Jordan) and injury (Shaquille O'Neal) respectively enabled them to demonstrate that they were in fact legitimate MVP caliber players in their own right. Bryant went on a scoring binge in O'Neal's absence and some people may expect Westbrook to try to do the same thing but I think that--while Westbrook will likely bump up his scoring a bit--he will focus on showcasing his all-around game and prove that he can be the best player on an elite team, much like Pippen did when he led the Jordan-less Bulls to a 55-27 record in 1993-94.

This preview has the same format as the Eastern Conference Preview that I posted yesterday; the following eight teams are ranked based on their likelihood of making it to the NBA Finals and not necessarily in the order that the teams will be seeded during the playoffs (which is affected by which teams win division championships).

1) San Antonio Spurs: The Duncan/Popovich Spurs have put together a unique dynasty spanning a decade and a half: they always win 50-plus games, they almost always seriously contend for the championship, they have won five titles--but they have never won back to back titles and they have never fielded a particular squad that would rank among the 10 best single season teams in pro basketball history. Other basketball dynasties have been shorter-lived and captured fewer championships but many of those dynasties either won back to back titles or else notched one season of exceptional dominance. The Spurs' dynasty has been interrupted by--and ultimately outlasted--two distinct Lakers' dynasties that claimed three straight championships and two straight championships respectively. It would be foolish to expect anything less than 50-plus regular season wins and another deep playoff run from the Spurs.

2) Oklahoma City Thunder: "Stat gurus" will insist that James Harden's departure has held back the Thunder and possibly even cost them at least one championship but the truth is that during their first two seasons sans Harden the Thunder have posted the franchise's two best winning percentages since 1998. The Thunder's problem has been that they have not been able to keep their core trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka healthy during the postseason. The Thunder were right to jettison Harden and keep Ibaka but they will never win a championship if they do not have those three players operating at a peak level in May/June. This season is already off to an ominous start even before opening night, as Durant is expected to miss extensive time due to a foot injury. Westbrook will more than hold down the fort in Durant's absence during the regular season and Thunder fans can only hope that come playoff time Durant is in peak form.

3) L.A. Clippers: I have long maintained that Chris Paul will never be the best player on a championship team; Isiah Thomas is the only 6-foot and under player (don't believe the listed heights for Paul or Thomas) who was the best player on an NBA championship team and even though Paul's mindset is very similar to Thomas' there is just some element (besides the obvious element of durability) that Paul is missing. The loophole here, of course, is that Paul could still win a title with the Clippers. After all, during Paul's absence last season we saw that Blake Griffin is hardly dependent on Paul to be a great player and that Griffin is in fact the Clippers' best player. The Clippers do not have quite enough to beat San Antonio or Oklahoma City at full strength but if those teams suffer some key injuries the Clippers could very well win the West.

4) Golden State Warriors: Coach Mark Jackson did an outstanding job building a winning culture in Golden State but he lost favor with management and was shown the door. New Coach Steve Kerr will try to keep Jackson's defense intact while adding some offensive creativity. The Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson backcourt is dynamic and if the Warriors get productivity from Andrew Bogut and David Lee upfront then they will be a very scary team during the playoffs.

5) Portland Trail Blazers: Portland was a pleasant surprise last season, finishing tied for the fourth best record in the tough Western Conference. I don't like the word "overachieve" but let's just say I do not expect Portland to exceed what they accomplished in 2014. This is a good, solid playoff team but not a championship contender.

6) Dallas Mavericks: I am not sure why the New York Knicks were so eager to run Tyson Chandler out of town but the defensive anchor for Dallas' 2011 championship team still has at least a little left in the tank. Chandler Parsons will provide a major offensive boost. If Dirk Nowitzki were a couple years younger, I would rank Dallas as a top three team in the West but Nowitzki is not quite the player he used to be.

7) Houston Rockets: Daryl Morey became Houston's General Manager in 2007. In the past seven seasons, they have missed the playoffs three times while advancing past the first round just once. "Stat gurus" love to criticize traditional-minded NBA GMs and make fun of their roster moves and mock them for failing to take advantage of "advanced basketball statistics." How long, exactly, is it supposed to take for the allegedly immense advantages supplied by the use of those statistics to have an impact on the bottom line win/loss statistic? If a traditional-minded NBA GM had taken over in Houston seven years ago and posted the exact same record that Morey's teams have posted, you can bet that the "stat gurus" in the media would be firing potshots at him. I don't think that Morey is necessarily a bad GM but the idea that he deserves credit for swinging for the fences is a bit tiresome. The Rockets have swung, repeatedly, but all of their roster moves have yet to result in creating a team that is likely to advance past the first round.

8) Memphis Grizzlies: Meet the next Houston Rockets. The Grizzlies were on the verge of championship contention less than two years ago. Then they decided to go all-in with "advanced basketball statistics." That led to a first round exit last season and will likely lead to a first round exit this season. Be prepared to read many stories this season about just how forward-thinking the team's front office is, despite the fact that the team figures to be backward-moving in the standings.

There has been a lot of noise about Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers recently. I wish that I had the time to delve into that subject in depth but I will have to settle for just making a few quick observations:

1) No one should put much stock in an article written by someone with no credibility who can only support his weak thesis with anonymous quotes.

2) Whether or not Bryant's teammates have enjoyed every minute that they spent with him, a large number of those teammates enjoyed career years playing alongside him. That group ranges from the sublime (Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol) to the somewhat less than sublime (Kwame Brown, Smush Parker).

3) Do you think that it is terrible for a player to publicly call his teammates "sissies" during the NBA Finals and for that same player to announce during a regular season game huddle that if his teammates don't want to play hard then they should just stand on the weak side while he shoots the ball every time? If so, then you don't think much of Larry Bird's leadership techniques. What about punching a teammate in the face during practice and riding other teammates so hard to test their toughness that he basically ran some guys off of the squad, if not out of the league entirely? If those leadership techniques don't strike your fancy then you must not like Michael Jordan very much.

Let's be real. Julius Erving and David Robinson won pro basketball championships while being genuinely nice guys on and off of the court--but many of pro basketball's greatest players were not always nice to be around on a day in, day out basis. The difference is that media members liked Larry Bird and Michael Jordan--and, in an earlier era, they liked Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle enough to cover up their off-field excesses. We live in a different era now. Media members are not awestruck by pro athletes, nor do they get to ride on the same planes, trains and automobiles with them. Many media members are jealous or incompetent or just like to write/say provocative things. In 2006, Team USA had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony and laid an egg. Then, in 2008 Team USA added Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd and reestablished Team USA's FIBA dominance. Now, media members take potshots at Bryant and Kidd night and day. Bryant and Kidd are not close to being perfect human beings but it is strange to question their basketball leadership abilities and I take anything that the media says about them (and any other subject) with a huge grain of salt.

4) The 2014-15 Lakers essentially have traded Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol for Byron Scott, Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer. The Lakers are not a great team or even a very good one but they won 27 games last season and if Bryant stays healthy it is not absurd to think that they could win 30-plus games this season.

5) Bryant is getting old and he is coming off of two serious injuries. I don't think that his skills have declined dramatically but they have declined and the reality is that he probably will not play more than 60-65 games this season. Pencil him in for 25 ppg, expect the Lakers to be at least somewhat competitive when he plays and expect the Lakers to look pretty bad when he does not play.



I correctly picked six of the eight 2014 Western Conference playoff teams. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2013: 6/8
2012: 7/8
2011: 5/8
2010: 7/8
2009: 7/8
2008: 7/8
2007: 6/8
2006: 6/8

2006-2014 Total: 57/72 (.792)

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:40 PM


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At Wednesday, October 22, 2014 2:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I think you're spot on about Portland not topping what they did last year, and in fact think they're going to be significantly worse. They caught everybody off-guard early last year, faltered down the stretch, and never really figured out how to play defense or manage a rotation. I think they're likely to slip out of the Western playoffs and either Phoenix (if they can find a reasonable reproduction of what Frye gave them), New Orleans (if they get one more piece via trade), or Denver (if it's one of those years where they win seven extra home games because of the altitude) sneak in.

At Wednesday, October 22, 2014 6:28:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Agreed on all counts.

As for that article at ESPN, the grounds is the Lakers' sudden inability to attract free agents in recent years.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 12:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not as sold on Phoenix and Dragic as you are. I can only base my predictions on what we know now, not on a trade that New Orleans might swing or the vagaries of Denver's altitude-based home court advantage, though you could very well turn out to be prescient on both fronts.

It could be argued that Phoenix caught teams off-guard at least as much as Portland did. I like the Aldridge-Lillard duo a lot but I am less sold on the rest of the team and on the team's ability to move up in the Western Conference standings.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 12:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Lakers have never focused on attracting free agents. Almost every great player in franchise history arrived via the draft or via a trade. The Kobe Bryant-led Lakers attracted two big name free agents in recent years: Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Whether or not it was the right idea to pursue either or both of those players is another question (I supported the acquisition of Howard but his injury and the Lakers' unfortunate coaching situation limited Howard's impact).

If ESPN wants to look at decisions that ruined a franchise, a good place to start would be Joe Dumars' Rodney Stuckey obsession that led, directly or indirectly, to the departure of Chauncey Billups, Allen Iverson and Richard Hamilton, plus the use of the resulting salary cap room to sign Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon. While the Pistons sputtered, Bryant led the Lakers to two titles; the Lakers' recent misfortunes have much more to do with Bryant being hurt and the team being poorly coached than the Lakers' alleged inability to attract free agents.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 3:15:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I actually expect Dragic's production to take a dip this year as he figures to handle the ball less and take fewer shots with both a healthy Bledsoe and the addition of Thomas. He's a transcendent scorer but he wants to be Steve Nash when his better destiny is probably more Kevin Johnson or Drazen Petrovic, and it will likely hurt both his own numbers and his team's this year- though it'll be great for chemistry. Still, he could probably do a decent Steve Nash impression on a team without two other point guards if given the chance (two seasons ago he was among the top 3 in the league in assists in the second half of the year), but he simply won't get the touches this year, and any possession run by Bledsoe or Thomas has a lower chance of ending in a PHX basket as neither is the shooter or passer that Goran is.

You're also correct that Phoenix caught teams off-guard last year; the distinction- for me- between Portland and Phoenix is three-fold, though.

1) Phoenix is likely to have their second best player for more than half of the season this year, whereas Portland had excellent injury luck last year and their best case scenario is a repeat. It's also likely that Dragic- no longer playing 40 minutes as the only true shot creator- will be healthier and/or able to actually take the time to recover if he sprains an ankle again.

2) Phoenix has a significantly deeper bench than Portland, and bench depth has always been something I associate heavily with getting those extra three or four wins in the doldrums of the season on the fifth night of a four in five or whatever. It's also relevant if and when injuries come up; I'd rathe rely on an Isiah Thomas or a Gerald Green or a Marcus Morris than a Steve Blake or the ghost of Chris Kaman.

3) Phoenix is a significantly stronger- when Bledsoe is healthy, at least- defensive team than Portland and a comparable offensive one. I have a massive bias for two-way teams over transcendent one-way ones (though as a Suns fan I have to pour one out for the ghost of the Nash era regardless), but teams that finish in the upper 15 on both sides of the ball (PHX's performance with a healthy Bledsoe/Dragic combo last season) tend to make the playoffs.

New Orleans and Denver are pure hypotheticals, but then so is everything at this point. I"d just take the field of those three teams over a Portland team that doesn't figure to be materially any better, though I certainly wouldn't be astonished if Portland is in and some or all of those teams aren't.

PS: Glad you found time to do the previews again! I know we sometimes disagree, but I truly enjoy your writing and you're one of the only basketball writers out there who really knows his stuff.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 3:26:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Oh, on the Kobe thing:

You're absolutely right that Dumars did more damage to the Pistons than Kobe's ever done to the Lakers (though it's very likely they'd have gotten at least another title or two if he and Shaq had been able to co-exist for longer). Mark Cuban dismantled his own defending champions, Isaiah Thomas turned the Knicks from powerhouse into laughing stock, and then Carmelo Anthony turned the Knicks from surprise dark horse contender to Denver East. Kobe isn't in the top ten on this one. Heck, look what Dwight did to the Magic, AND to the Lakers; it's easy (and justifiable) to take shots at D'Antoni, but that teams' a better team if Dwight had bought into the pick and roll style instead of demanding post-up opportunities for his mediocre hook shot.

That said, there is probably some truth to the idea that some players don't want to play with Kobe, whether because of his personality (though I believe Howard and Sessions are the only confirmed cases here, and really, who needs em?), or more likely because of his prohibitively large contract that makes constructing a team around him and any other max-ish level star (Love, George, Rondo, whoever) nigh-impossible.

However, I think more salient is that, even if Abbott's worst case scenario is totally accurate and nobody wants to play with old Kobe, wouldn't the exact same thing have happened with Bird, or Jordan, or any other hyper-competitive type if they'd hung around as long as Kobe has? Pippen was already pretty sick of Jordan in '98, and while playing with peak Jordan is certainly worth it, would anyone really want to play with him after he started to (theoretically) decline? Kobe's obviously still very good when healthy, but he's no longer a one man guarantee of a Conference Finals spot, and I think when it comes to abrasive guys like him, that kinda has to be part of the lure. Abbott's unfairly singling out Kobe when this sort of accusation is at least semi-fair for any great player with Kobe's intensity; Rick Barry is another such example, and it's natural for players to become less potent as a free agent draw as their game ages but their intensity doesn't.

Heck, you could argue the same thing just happened to Dwyane Wade this offseason.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 3:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is a well thought out take on Phoenix' team. I still don't see the Suns making the playoffs but you provide a good counterargument.

I really enjoy doing these season previews (and the playoff previews), so it is good for my mental health to do them even though my schedule is very packed and my days are very long.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 3:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You nailed it regarding the anti-Kobe Bryant noise: (1) A lot of the stuff being said is just not true and (2) even the stuff that may be true could just as easily be said about many other NBA superstars past and present. If Ramon Sessions (or Smush Parker) did not enjoy playing with Kobe Bryant is that really the basis for a big article at a large media content provider? By the same token, a bunch of anonymous quotes should not be the basis for such an article either, particularly when I am sure that Phil Jackson, Jim Cleamons and many others would be more than willing to speak on the record about Kobe Bryant. I can say that with confidence because when I covered Lakers' games with media credentials I obtained many cogent on the record comments from those individuals (and many others)--and I often found that their comments directly contradicted things that had been published or broadcast by large content providers. It is just so frustrating that people who don't know what they are talking about are given such a large platform. At least ESPN figured out that Bill Simmons does not belong anywhere near their pregame show. I suspect that many people had renamed the "mute" button the "Simmons" button.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 4:14:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Yeah, like I said, I'm not even really sure I'm picking Phoenix to make the playoffs, but I think they have a better chance than Portland. I was mostly curious as to why you thought Portland would improve its seeding when it doesn't really have anything new going for it and a lot of the teams around it (Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Memphis, arguably Houston) figure to have stronger seasons.

I'm working on my preview right now, so I don't have my Western seeding done yet, but for the sake of posterity what it reads in pencil is:

1) LAC
2) SA
3) OKC
4) GS (feels too high, but feels too high for everyone else, too; the West is really a three horse race)
5) DAL
7) MEM
8) PHX (might sub in NO or Denver; not sure yet)

And yeah, the Kobe thing is dumb. I get why it might be hard to obtain on-record sources within the Lakers, but journalistic integrity suggests at least including some of the counter-arguments and on-record quotes that speak to Kobe's defense.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 4:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Sessions on record saying he didn't like playing with Kobe? Even so, I only know of 2 players - he and Smush, that have said that. However, Sessions and Smush both enjoyed their best ball of their careers while playing with Kobe. Smush couldn't make the Suns roster in 05, and then played sparingly with the 2 worst teams in the nba in 08, who both cut him, and we haven't seen him since. Every other player/coach speaks extremely highly of Kobe. If you're willing to work, then you'll get along with Kobe. If not, then you won't, and those types of players aren't really going to help you win titles, so doesn't really matter.

Also, how do all these fans know that Kobe is a jerk? They see something, and then think they know him personally. I mean he might be, but I've seen enough of his interviews to say that he seems very outgoing and personable. He's not a clown like James or Howard, but maybe that's what people are looking for.

Kobe/Shaq had their feud, but they actually coexisted very well when it was time to play. Shaq couldn't handle being #2 anymore and Buss wouldn't pay him max money, that's why Shaq was shown the door.

The Lakers were fine acquiring good role players when they were contending for titles around 08-11. For the most part, Kobe's teammates seem to love him and are very loyal to him. Every example that Abbott gave has big problems about it. George only came out with a statement, and the Lakers could never get him anyway. Kobe will still be at least an AS at worst, but he was out last season and is pretty old by nba standards. Guys make a lot more money staying with their current teams. Bosh could've gone to Houston, which would be a much better situation for him than Miami, but didn't, and LA would've been too probably.

At Thursday, October 23, 2014 9:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Where do you post/publish your preview? I would be interested to see the final product.

At Friday, October 24, 2014 10:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Nick believes that this is "confirmed" but I am not aware of Sessions saying that. I know that when Smush was riding the bench in some streetball league he gave an interview blasting Kobe (and Kobe, more than deservedly, fired right back at the fool).

You are right that players who work hard and want to win don't have any problem playing with Kobe Bryant--and you are also right that players who don't fit that description aren't worth signing in the first place.

It's funny that when Shaq talked his way out of L.A. just about everyone but me said that Kobe was the bad guy and that Shaq would keep winning while Kobe was supposedly "destroying" the Lakers. Shaq went on tour around the league, playing with Wade, Nash, LeBron and Boston's Big Three--and Shaq won one more title. Kobe played with Pau Gasol--who has yet to win a playoff game without Kobe--Lamar Kardashian Odom, the ghost of Ron Artest, Andrew "Brittle Knees" Bynum and immortal role players Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Shannon Brown but somehow Kobe "destroyed" the Lakers into three Finals appearances and two titles.

At Friday, October 24, 2014 12:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing how many guys have their best seasons playing with Kobe. Sessions short stint, Smush, Odom, Bynum, Brown, Pau, etc.

Vujacic, Smush, and Odom all quickly are out of the league shortly after leaving the Lakers. Brown is still 6th/7th man with a bad Suns team in 12/13. He then plays only 29 games last year, and nobody seems to want him now, and he's only 28. And Bynum is still a FA. Bynum hasn't done much to help team chemistry with his other teams or anything else since leaving the Lakers.

Kobe had a good cast from 08-10, but so did about 10-12 other teams. What he did with those teams was truly remarkable. No other player has led those weak of casts to 3 straight finals in nba history. Unfortunately, most don't realize that, and a lot of people still think Pau was better than Kobe those years.

Most of Abbott's sources seem to be player agents, not exactly great sources, and they each have their own agendas. I don't remember too many FAs ever joining the lakers, at least notable. Maybe barnes/artest were their best ones during the Kobe/Pau era. And amazingly, they were enemies of Kobe before joining him. Quite different than the friends approach with Miami. If guys like Odom/Artest love playing with Kobe, that says a lot.

At Friday, October 24, 2014 2:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, it is remarkable how many players--from the sublime (Shaq) to the ridiculous (Smush)--have had their best seasons playing alongside Kobe. Several players have left LeBron's side and done better, including Danny Green and Shannon Brown. Neither Wade nor Bosh had their best individual seasons with LeBron, though of course that trio enjoyed team success together.

I would not be shocked if the "sources" for that article are one or two disgruntled anonymous agents who are referred to differently in the text to make it sound like the author spoke with a whole bunch of people. It is kind of like writing an article about the space program but instead of interviewing NASA scientists on the record the author culled off the record comments from people wearing tinfoil hats who are convinced that the moon is made of cheese and the moon landing was staged in Hollywood.

At Friday, October 24, 2014 2:59:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

On the Kobe thing, I think it's a little unfair to compare his and Shaq's post-brekaup careers, as Kobe still had Phil and Shaq as much closer to a physical decline (though admittedly if he had Kobe's offseason work ethic it would have come later). Shaq won a title almost right away, while Kobe took six years and needed Phil, Gasol, and the best version of Odom (we can credit Kobe for that Odom if we like, but still). I always hate comparing guys solely on the basis of titles, because there are so, so many other factors.

Other than that, I mostly agree. You are higher on Kobe than I am (you have him Pantheon, I have him as close as possible without being in, somewhere in the 12-16 all time range) and it's ridiculous to suggest people don't' play well with him, and nobody should listen to anything Smush Parker says.

Danny Green and Shannon Brown are strange examples as they went from an OK coach (Brown) to transcendent ones (Phil and Pop), so I'm hesitant to put that as a black mark against Lebron. Wade declined physically with Lebron, but became more efficient, and Bosh became a way, way better defender and shooter while playing with Lebron, even if his PPG went down.

Steve Nash and Howard both struggled to mesh with Kobe, though of course some of that can be pinned on D'Antoni and/or injuries, but I just bring it up because it's hardly a universal that people play their best with Kobe; much like Abbott should have included quotes defending Kobe, it's worth noting that not everyone peaks alongside him. Caron Butler's another player who did much better without Kobe than with him.

Anyway, Kobe, Shaq, and Lebron are all top 20 all time talents and I'm glad we get/got to watch them play.

As for my preview, until this year it was just something I did on Facebook for my basketball loving friends as sports writing is a bit off-brand for me professional (I'm a crime writer by day).

I was asked to do it for Zetigeeks.com this year; I'd previously done a tribute piece for Lauren Bacalll on their site, and they'd been wanting me to do another piece. I said yes, since they gave my last two books very nice reviews (shameless plug goes here: http://zeitgeeks.com/articles/2014/9/24/asshole-yakuza-boyfriend) and helped me transition from "mostly writing for other people to pay the bills" to "mostly writing for myself".

Anyways, overshare aside, the previews should be up on Zeitgeeks in the next week or so. I'll email you a link when they go live; I really appreciate the interest as you're one of my very favorite basketball writers. Fair warning, my tone is pretty casual and cavalier, but I like to think my analysis is usually legitimate.

At Friday, October 24, 2014 4:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duncan's an all-time great, but he gets too much credit, especially against the discredit that Kobe gets for their respective teams' successes. The Spurs have put forth a contending roster around Duncan every year he's been with them. Whereas, the Lakers' rosters have been up and down throughout Kobe's careers. Once Kobe became a starter, the only 2 years that Duncan's teams outperformed Kobe's was in 99 and 03. Kobe was still 20 in 99. Duncan would've still been in college at that age. The spurs were impressive in 03, but Shaq taking his sweet to come back from surgery was a big reason why the Lakers were only a 4 seed that year. It'd be hard to see Kobe only winning 5 titles if he had played on the spurs for his career.

The west is stacked again. The Spurs have an AS and 2 borderline AS. The Thunder have 2 AS. The Clips have 2 AS. The Mavs have 1 and a deep roster. The Rockets have 2. The Blazers have 2. GS has 1 and 2 borderline AS. The Grizz, NO, and PHO all look solid.

Almost all the GMs in the west are doing great. I don't think Morey gets that much credit. On the contrary, it seems like he's getting bashed for letting Parsons go among other things. He has 2 top players, but his other decisions do seem strange. Houston was the 5th best reg. season last year, very impressive, but doubtful for this year.

It's too bad Mark Jackson was not resigned. The GS backcourt will be better this year, thus the team should be better too, but doubtful Kerr will do a better job. However, Jackson does a great job as a commentator, so hopefully he returns to doing that.

Under normal circumstances, Paul will never be the best player on a title team. However, if he played with DET in 04 or SA in 13/14(Spurs probably win in 13 with Paul instead of Parker), then yea, he could've been. Those are rare situations, and SA is just really deep now and very well coached with no elite players. It can work, but it took them 7 years from their previous title. However, Griffin is now better than Paul, so it's moot. Thomas had a similar situation, in that his team was extremely deep and talented. DET squeaked in 2 titles when the Lakers/Celtics dynasties were ending and before the Bulls were good enough. Come playoff time though, Paul seems to play worse than during the reg. season.

At Saturday, October 25, 2014 1:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaq had Riley and a good team around him right away. And they were fortunate to even make the finals in 06, and then needed very bizarre officiating to then win the finals. After that, Shaq's teams declined rapidly as did Shaq and he didn't make them much, if any, better. Kobe had horrid teams from 05-07 in the middle of his prime. I can't think of any other historically elite player that even remotely had to deal with this.

True, it's more than titles. For all-time, Kobe ranks #1 in 1st team all defense, #2 in total all defense selections, #1 for 1st team all nba and total selections, #2 in AS selections, #4 all-time scoring. He has arguably the 2 greatest games in nba history. Nobody has more elite seasons, save perhaps Kareem, in nba history. If you're going to rank players, he's clearly top 5 all-time at worst.

I agree that saying James didn't make Brown better is mostly irrelevant, only because Brown wasn't good enough to see playing time. However, overall most players have their best seasons with Kobe, and don't, or much less so, with James.

Nash was severe decline and barely played, moot point with him. Howard was also hurt and played well for being such. His defense suffered most from his back injury. Howard was clearly not a #1 option over Kobe, but he couldn't accept this. Butler greatly improved with Kobe from his 1st 2 seasons, still only 24. He then was able to get more shots after leaving LAL, but marginable improvement even entering his prime. But, true always some exceptions for everyone.

At Saturday, October 25, 2014 10:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


Shaq had Riles for one or two seasons, Kobe got Phil for six. Big difference there. My bigger point was that Shaq was near the end of his prime when they broke up anyways, so comparing legacies after the fact- where Shaq had two or three good years left and Kobe had a decade- isn't really that good of a way of measuring their respective impacts.

For me, Kobe clocks in just outside of the top 10, but reasonable men can differ. He's never been an especially efficient scorer (though efficiency is mildly overrated), he only played defense for about half of his career, and he (in my estimation, though I know David disagrees) is probably the only star who's cost his team a title by playing like a jackass and putting himself ahead of the team (2004 vs. Pistons).

That said, he's a transcendent scorer with an unimpeachable work ethic and impressive longevity.

THAT said, it's easy for me to put guys like Doc (16 time All Star who never missed the playoffs, best player on the planet from about '73 or '74 till about '81 with maybe a one-year blip for Walton) over Kobe. It's easy for me to put guys like Olajuwon (no real skillset weaknesses, immediately turns any team into an elite defense), Kareem (20 years, 16 or so of them as a top 5 player, about 8 as the best player in his league), Jordan (obvious), Russell (obvious), or Duncan (wins the longevity argument against anybody; nobody else was the best player on two title teams fifteen years apart. You can quibble with me about whether he was more or less important than Kawhi this year, but I think Duncan had the greater impact, if not the gaudier box scores) over him.

I think part of why it's tough for me to put Kobe at the top of the pile is that I can't think of a single season where he was definitely the best player in the league and won the title. He's probably the best player in the NBA from about '05 or '06 till Lebron takes over in '08 or '09 (you could maybe give '07 to Duncan, though), but he didn't start winning titles again till 2009, by which point I think Lebron (and arguably others) was (were) demonstrably the better player (though granted, James needed a few more seasons to get his head on right).

Everybody I have ahead of Kobe on my list, I can point to a season and go "That guy was the best player in basketball that year, and he won the title." I feel like Kobe's best years weren't his team's best years, if that makes any sense, and that's probably the thing that slows me down with giving Kobe a top ten spot.

The other factor- for me- is level of competition. Post-Shaq, Kobe didn't beat anybody that impressive to win his rings. The '09 Magic were only there because Boston was injured, and the '10 Celtics looked like they had Kobe beat until Perkins went down and they had to start giving the corpse of Rasheed Wallace 30+ minutes per game. Doc had to beat the Showtime Lakers and the Bird/McHale/Parish Celtics (or, if you prefer, the Brown/Issel/Thompson/Jones Nuggets). Magic (who I might have below Kobe depending on the day of the week) had to get past those crazy stacked Sixers and Celtics and Pistons teams.

I don't think all titles are created equal; Kobe's two title Laker teams were really strong relative to their competition: an over-achieving Orlando team and a hobbled, aging Boston squad asking Rajon Rondo to be its best player. Gasol is better than the second best player on either of those teams, and Phil Jackson is a better coach than Rivers or Van Gundy (though both are excellent coaches and Rivers admittedly ate Phil's lunch in '08).

All that stuff- and more, other nitpicky stuff- is why I usually have Kobe in the 12-17 range, historically. It's perfectly reasonable to have him higher, and the case is easy to make, but to me he clocks in a hair below the truly super duper top tier.

You've gone and got over thinking, so this is part 1/2 for character limit reasons.

At Saturday, October 25, 2014 10:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Part 2/2

As to your argument that no other great players had to deal with crummy supporting casts, it's just flat-out wrong. Kareem had crap for most of the late 70s, Olajuwon spent a giant chunk of his career as the only really good player on the team (and while he had a lot of great role players, there's nobody at Gasol's level on the '94 Rockets), Rick Barry spent a large chunk of his career with middling support, Jordan had very little to work with till Pippen got good, and Doc's Squires teams were hardly worth writing home about (his late 70s 76er teams are also sneaky bad, but they have gaudy names on them). Magic, Bird, and Russell were admittedly blessed with elite supporting casts, but that's the exception more than the rule.

As for Duncan…. eh. He always had decent teammates, but Tony Parker still hasn't bothered to learn defense and Manu's only had three or four truly great seasons (when you're the third option, that's ok). Are the mid 2000s Spurs better than the '05-'07 Lakers? Absolutely. Are they great teams? God no. The '07 Spurs might be the worst NBA champions ever, and *Suns homer comment incoming* they needed two suspensions and a crooked referee to get out of the West.

Finally, it's very difficult for a perimeter player to make as big of an impact on defense as an elite big; a few have done it (Doc, because he blocked shots like a center, and Jordan because it just wasn't safe to pass to his side of the court), but while Duncan can give you 70% of what Kobe gives you on offense, I'd argue that even peak Kobe only gives you a fraction of what Duncan- and the threat of Duncan- does for your defense. That's hard for me to say (as a Suns fan I HATE HATE HATE the Spurs), but it's the truth; give me a time machine and a fantasy draft, and I'll take Duncan ahead of Kobe every time and win more games doing it.

At Sunday, October 26, 2014 8:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaq had a good coach in SVG for 1 year, then Riley for 3 years. Shaq had much better pieces around him in Miami than Kobe did from 08/10. The Heat pulled off a major upset/fluke in 06, then got swept in 1st round in 07, then were the worst team in the nba in 08. For the last 5 years of Shaq's career, he didn't have a major impact on any of his teams. Whereas, Kobe had probably the biggest impact on his team of any player in nba history from 06-10. Kobe certainly did much better after their splitup.

You're all over the place with non facts about Kobe. Kobe was one of the few players who actually came into the league and made defensive strides almost immediately and remained so throughout almost his entire career. By age 20, he was already a defensive force. To say he cost his team a title is absolutely ridiculous at best. And to say he's the only player to ever to do this is much worse. The lakers were in the finals primarily because of Kobe. If you're so concerned with players costing their team a title, how about Duncan losing in 1st round to grizz and James quitting on his teams in 10/11 to name a few examples of many.

It's sad that you're so blind to Kobe's accomplishments. Duncan wasn't even an AS last year. I'm pretty sure a healthy Kobe would've been the best player on the spurs last year. Duncan's played a total of 23 more games than Kobe reg season/playoffs combined, while about 2000 min. less. You might want to rethink that longevity thing. And then you blame Kobe for having bad teams for 3 years. And how in the world did Duncan become best player in 07? Strange post. If Duncan was as good as you say he is, 5 titles just doesn't cut it.

The only year that Duncan's teams outperformed Kobe's teams when Kobe actually had even a remotely conpetent cast, was 03. That would've been 4 straight finals for the lakers, which is ridiculously difficult to do, plus Shaq's laziness got them only a 4 seed. Possibly 99 as well, but that was a lockout year and Kobe was only 20, in his first year as a starter. Duncan would've only been a sophomore in college at that age. With Kobe's accomplisments, longevity, elite play, he has much claim to best player ever as anyone. Dr. J. is underrated by most, but to say he was better than Kobe is bizarre.

Regarding efficiency, which is highly overrated to begin with, you might want to compare Kobe with Jordan. If Kobe's not that efficient, then Jordan wasn't much better. Taking into account Jordan played in an era to start his career where shooting %'s were much higher overall, Kobe starting career at 18 while Jordan was 21, and Kobe now accumulating more games played, Kobe was actually more efficient probably, as far as shooting goes.

At Sunday, October 26, 2014 9:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see that the 'incompetent one' is being exposed by pretty much everyone he names in his hit job on Kobe. George, Sessions, and Melo have all now come out to say otherwise. I wish Kobe would sue him for libel, even if he couldn't win.

At Sunday, October 26, 2014 10:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That article about Kobe was filled with conjectures and we know that Abbott seemed somewhat obsessed with Kobe. The other day i listened to an interview he gave and he seemed to get caught up in his feelings and displayed noticeable angle while talking about Kobe's way of playing the game.

And if the Media is going to do revisionist history, shouldn't they look at management as the more logical reason why the Lakers stop contending? or is blaming Kobe a much more inflammatory story line that will generate more traffic?

Lakers management:
1)Traded Butler for Kwame
2)Refused to trade Bynum for Carmelo Anthony in 2011. Same Carmelo we tried to sign this offseason except that he's damn near 30 now.
3)Traded for Chris Paul but didn't wait for Owners to leave NY before announcing it.
4)Gave Kobe a max 3 year extension in 2010 when they knew Kobe's knees were shot and he was going to need way more help to contend for a championship
5)hired Mike Brown so he could make Andrew Bynum more of a focal point in the offense which indirectly marginalized Pau.
6)Traded away 4 draft picks(2 first and 2 second) for a 39 year old Point Guard and signed him to a 3yr27-28 million $ contract
7)Passed over Phil Jackson to hire Dantoni so they can build the offense around said 39 year old PG
8)Common sense said that We would have never be able to win a championship with such weak perimeter defense. Nash being added to team worsened our ability to defend the perimeter.

Why i said Kobe masked their ineptness? Because Kobe took a weaker team than all the Heat, Spurs, OKC to 3 straight Finals. In fact ORL was a better team than we were the year when we beat them in Finals. Our starting PG was Derek Fisher who was 35 and 36 respectively in the both years that we won. In fact I remember ESPN saying he was the worst starting point guard in the nba

Lebron for all his statistical greatness needed way more help than Kobe did to win a championship. Remember in 2007 all we needed was a borderline all star Andrew bynum to actually become a contender.

*Notice i didn't mention the pau gasol trade because memphis was looking to offload him for an expiring contract.

-Dwayne Missed a lot of games last battling yr knee problems. Kobe has had those knee injuries since 2010(the year we won the championship). It got worse in 2011. Read excerpts from PJ's book about that. And he still played 82 games.
-Kobe in 2013 was a shell of his former self and he was still as good as Carmelo Anthony in his prime.

At Sunday, October 26, 2014 10:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part 2--

As far as Kobe being a terrible teammate?
1)Where is Sasha Vujacic?
2) Smush Parker got released in the first year of his contract with the Heat
3)What happened to Odom after he got traded from the Lakers?
4)What about Andrew Bynum? Did you hear the reports out of Philly
5)It ended terribly for SHaq in Miami and he bounced around league from team to team.
6)Dwight Howard? I can safely say that he'll never win a championship.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 12:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The point about comparing the careers of Kobe and Shaq after they parted ways is that the mainstream media thought that this was valid and expended a lot of bandwidth/ink/air time doing so. While you are right that Kobe is younger and thus had more of his prime years ahead of him, at the time of the breakup the consensus was that the Lakers had made a big mistake by choosing Kobe. I wrote at the time that in the short run the Heat would be better than the Lakers and might even win a title but in the long run the Lakers had made the wise choice. That view has been vindicated.

I don't quite understand your point about Kobe not being the best player and being a champion in the same season. One could make a decent case that Kobe was the best player in the NBA from circa 2003 to circa 2009. He had two injury-truncated seasons during that era and he was not very popular with the MVP voters even though he was setting records left and right but Kobe easily could and should have won multiple MVPs during that span. It is not Kobe's fault that his prime years did not directly coincide with the Lakers' best years.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 12:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I lost some respect for Dwight Howard in the past couple years. I used to think that he could be the best player on a championship team but now I am starting to wonder. I give him some credit for playing when his back still was not 100% healthy but he did not display a championship attitude in L.A. overall.

You are of course correct that most of Kobe's ex-teammates have not distinguished themselves. Just the simple fact that Kobe led a team that started Smush and Kwame to the brink of defeating the Suns should be an automatic HoF qualification. Nash had a boatload of talent around him and yet the Lakers were one defensive rebound away from winning the series. Kobe played at an incredibly high level in 2006 and 2007. It is a shame that his supporting cast was so weak at that time.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 1:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I'm not anxious to get into another protracted Kobe argument- David and I have already gone down this road without changing each other's minds, and anonymous dismissing Doc and Duncan offhand the way he has suggests to me it's going to be tough for us to come to much of an understanding either. That said, I suppose I'm up for at least one (likely to be split again) more round.

1) Kobe shot nearly twice as much as Shaq in '04 against the Pistons, despite Kobe shooting in the 30s and Shaq in the 60s. Both Shaq and Phil have made a note of this NOT being the game plan. Yes, a healthy Karl Malone would have helped, but so would have riding the dominant force instead of the brick machine.

2) The James point in 2010/11 is a good one, and I don't have him in the top 10 either. Duncan lost to the Grizz in 2011 because the Grizz outplayed the Spurs, not because Duncan shot twice as many shots as Tony Parker while shooting half as well. Big difference.

3) Duncan's anchored a nigh-elite defense almost every season of his career. His accomplishments go far beyond the box score; putting Duncan on your team instantly makes you an above-average defensive outfit.

4) You're right that Kobe and Duncan played similar minutes. That being the case it's interesting that Duncan has produced significantly higher Win Shares over that span (despite playing fewer minutes); it's an imperfect statistic, but it's imperfect because it tends to undervalue defense and overvalue offense, so if anything it should favor Kobe. Additionally, while we're looking at imperfect statistics, Duncan's playoff plus/minus is +11 while Kobe's is +4; this stat ALSO should favor Kobe as it generally favors the player with the crappier teammates (in your estimation, Kobe). Beyond that, though, it's a pretty hard stat to argue with, as it's simply reporting what happened when the player was on/off the court; Kobe's playoff teams are about four points worse without him, Duncan's 11. That's not nothing, especially over the course of two such long careers. This pattern holds in the regular season as well (Kobe +6, Duncan +15), though you'd think Kobe would have a huge advantage there from three years of playing with Smush & Kwame.

5) I don't know how you can call me blind to Kobe's accomplishments when I consider him a top15 all time player. I just think Jordan/Duncan/Erving etc. were slightly better.


At Monday, October 27, 2014 1:28:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


6) Shaq's Miami teams were good in '05 and '06, but they were old, creaky veterans and were cooked by '07; Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, Jason Williams, Eddie Jones, and Antoine Walker were all below average players in '07, so the sweep- while still pretty sad for Shaq- is not all on him.

7) David- I disagree that Kobe was the best player in the league for as long of a stretch as you claim, with Shaq/Duncan competing with him in the early 2000s and Lebron taking over in the late 2000s. My point about best player + title is an admittedly esoteric one, but it's one I find relevant; Kobe is an outlier among the other greats in that his peak didn't overlap with his titles, which seems odd to me. He probably peaked in '03 and stayed there till about '08, which is exactly the span in which he didn't win (despite two Shaq seasons and a Gasol season in there).

8) Finally, as for Doc, he was a comparable scorer to Kobe (though more willing to share shots, perhaps to a fault), and a much, much better rebounder and shot blocker. He could guard four positions, and unlike Kobe his defensive effort level stayed high throughout his career.

Over an eight year span, Doc either won the Finals or lost to the eventual champ 7/8 times; he played in the Finals six times in ten years (winning three), and he went 6 games twice against the much deeper Magic/Nixon/Wilkes/Cooper/Jabbar Lakers while Doc's best help was Toney (a very good all star, but no Kareem) and Mo Cheeks (ditto) before finally handing the Lakers a sweep when he finally got a Kareem-level teammate in Moses.

Additionally, he never missed the playoffs, and has a higher career O-RTG and a lower career D-RTG than Kobe (meaning his teams were better on both sides of the ball when he played than Kobe's were when he did), he has more win shares (despite playing two fewer seasons), and he's more efficient to boot. He was also perhaps the only perimeter player ever who doubled as a rim protector, and ranks 33rd all time in blocks per game, despite being 6'6 (he'll also rise to 32nd by the end of this season unless Kirilenko has a renaissance).

On top of that, and perhaps most impressively, Doc made the Finals with three totally different coaches/supporting casts; no other great player can make that claim (except, weirdly, for Shaq). He dominated the '76 Finals in every statistical category despite playing against a team so good (featuring multiple future HoFers) in Denver that the All Star game that year was literally Denver vs. the rest of the league's all stars…and Denver won.

Not only is Doc better than Kobe, it's not difficult to argue that Doc was better than everybody.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 4:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make some interesting points about Kobe but I still disagree with your analysis of the 2004 Finals. The Lakers were essentially without the services of Malone and Fisher, plus Payton was washed up and ineffective (at least in terms of playing starter's minutes against All-Star caliber guards). Kobe was certainly fatigued by not only having to carry a heavy offensive burden but by having to pick up the defensive slack for Payton. The Lakers would have been swept if not for Kobe's heroics. Kobe did not have a great 2004 Finals but he hardly played as poorly as you suggest.

I completely agree with you that Julius Erving is criminally underrated. He does not have to take a back seat to anyone who has been mentioned in this conversation and you are right that a good case could be made that he is the greatest player of all-time (a good case could be made for a handful of other players as well, but the point is that Erving is not included in that small group the way that he should be).

The Duncan-Kobe comparison is interesting and difficult because it is similar to comparing Doc to Kareem. A great big guy has his impact in the paint at both ends of the court and it is difficult for a primarily perimeter player to have a similar impact. Doc has repeatedly said that Kareem was the greatest player of his era. Doc and Kobe are special because of the tremendous impact they have despite being "only" 6-6 or 6-7 and despite not being based in the paint at both ends of the court. I have great respect for Duncan but I'd give Kobe a slight edge. Both proved that they can win multiple titles but I think that Kobe can do more with less than Duncan can; Duncan's game might be somewhat wasted with poor teammates (much like Kareem in the mid-1970s) while prime Kobe could literally have a guy off of the street at point guard and still make the playoffs.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 5:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duncan's in the shortlist of greatest players ever. However, as I stated before, when Kobe's had even remotely legit teams, his teams have outperformed Duncan's much more. With Duncan, you honestly don't know if you'll make it out of the first round. A little unfair, but still true. That would never have happened with Kobe. Every time the Lakers were the best team in the west, they made the finals, and a few other times as well.

If comparing years between Duncan/Kobe at similar ages, I would only take Duncan at age 35, only because Kobe was hurt for the season. A case could be made for Duncan from ages 23-26 only, but I still think Kobe's clearly outshines him there.

Longevity with both is about the same as of now. Much less has been asked of Duncan overall, especially when he's gotten older, as compared to Kobe. Duncan could sit out games and not even play 30mpg and the Spurs are a top seed, if not #1. Whereas, Kobe had to scrap all the energy out of of him just for the lakers to remain competitive for several years, which is probably main reason that he tore his achilles.

Elite play is the main difference. Kobe has remained elite(I still think he will be this year) much longer than Duncan ever did. Kareem is the only player in nba history that could possibly match up to Kobe in this regard for # of elite years. And prime Kobe was much better than prime Duncan.

I agree with David that Duncan couldn't even approach to have the effect that Kobe could on bad teams. Duncan's had good teams every year of his career, and he still doesn't have as many finals appearances as Kobe does. And Duncan has only made back-to-back finals appearances 1x, so he's had more time to rest between years. Kobe's had much fewer good teams, but yet still has gotten more success. And individual accomplishments there's no comparison, Kobe clearly on top.

Both clearly top 10 ever, but taking everything into account accurately, Kobe clearly outshines Duncan. And don't forget the bronze medal Duncan owns. There's no way Kobe comes home with a bronze if he was playing.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 6:30:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I agree with almost everything you said there David, though I take Duncan a few spots ahead of Kobe. It's a difficult comparison to make both because of position and because Duncan never played with a team as weak as Kobe's '06-'07 teams, or with any coach besides Pop.

For me, though, Duncan's teams have been legitimate contenders literally every season of his career, and Kobe's haven't. While it's true that Duncan's never had as weak a supporting cast as Kobe's in the mid 2000s, he also never had a teammate on the order of Shaquille O'neal (Robinson was probably Duncan's best teammate, and he'd be the first to tell you Shaq was better).

You think much less of Kobe's '08-'10 teams than I do, if I recall, but I'd argue that Duncan's weakest title supporting cast (probably '03) isn't much better.

The real decision maker- for me- is the combination of Duncan's influence on defense (more on this in a second) and his team's performance with/without him (+-, Rolands, and Win Shares) suggests that even though Duncan had superior teammates to Bryan for much of his career, he made more of an impact on the game when he played than Kobe did; if anything, those statistics should favor Kobe (and by a fairly wide margin), given his relatively thin support post 2004.

Quick note on '04- My argument isn't necessarily that Kobe played poorly, but selfishly. He kept gunning when it wasn't working, and didn't lean on Shaq, for whom Detroit had no answer. Kobe was still a transcendently talented player and indeed all but single-handedly won the single game they won that series, but overall he played a brand of basketball in that series that hurt his team's chances to win, especially since Shaq was being guarded by the half-his-size Ben Wallace.

The perimeter/paint thing is a valid observation, though I'd argue that Doc- between his shot blocking and trolling of the passing lanes, and ability to slow down opposing stars- influenced the defensive end more than just about any perimeter player except Jordan and perhaps Lebron, Pippen, or Havlicek. Kobe- for part of his career- was a very good defender, but he couldn't protect the rim (one of my favorite Doc-isms was he tendency to sneak up on the opposing team's best big early in the first quarter and swat his first shot to mess with his confidence; watching Hayes or whoever look over his shoulder the rest of the game never fails to crack me up) the way Doc did, and the (admittedly) limited metrics we have paint Doc as having as much impact on defense as all but the most elite defensive big men.

Also, while it's true Doc said Kareem was the best ever, it's worth noting that his reasoning- at least in the interview I saw- had a lot more to do with longevity than with peak value. That's of course perfectly viable, but I emphasize longevity I think slightly less than Doc does, and would rather (in fantasy GM mode) have 16 years of Doc than 20 of Kareem, who declined rapidly those last few years, and was surprisingly inept against his best positional playoff competition, getting swept by both Walton and Malone, and losing 5-1 to Olajuwon. He split with old Wilt 1-1, and I think also split with Reed 1-1, but his track record against his (few) peers is ugly.

By contrast, Doc split his playoff series with Bird, and went 8-8 in playoff games against Magic (granted, Magic won 2/3 series, but also had more help). Doc actually went 8-7 against Kareem in the playoffs, as Kareem missed the clinching win in '80.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 6:34:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Point of clarity- I'm not necessarily arguing Doc as the best ever, and agree that there's a good 12 guys or so who can make the argument, but his resume is certainly relevant beside Kobe's and Duncan's, and I personally think his case is stronger than either of theirs. (I currently do have Doc #1 on my personal ranking, but those tend to be pretty fluid as my understanding of a given player or facet of the game evolves).

As an aside, David, what do you think of Roger Brown as a stealth "Pantheon" candidate? I've only seen maybe fifteen or twenty full Brown games, but his success rate and testimonials from guys like Barry and Erving certainly argue for his brilliance. I assume you've seen more of him than I have, so I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts.

While I'm on it, I can't remember if we've talked about this before (and think we may have), but what about Rick Barry? He only won the two titles, but he was absolutely a dominating force in his prime, and his attitude towards the game -and intensity- reminds me a lot of Kobe.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 8:28:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


This is gonna be my last round of this particular Kobe debate, but here's my basic replies to your various points, and a pretty thorough look at what the two of them mean for their respective teams when they're on the court.

*Kobe has more individual accolades- I don't really put much stock in that; it's a team sport, and many of those awards are chosen by fans or media members, or don't correlate to winning.

*Duncan was never as good as Kobe- you and I clearly value defense differently. Every available statistic suggests that Duncan was better than Kobe for most of their careers except for PPG and APG. Duncan is elite for his position in both those categories, though admittedly put up less than Kobe.

*Kobe made more Finals. Yes, but four of Kobe's Finals teams he was the second best player. I consider Duncan the best member of all six Spurs Finals teams, which to me counts for more. If appearances are all that matters, Horry is better than both.

*You claim Kobe is still elite while Duncan is not; I disagree. Duncan remains one of the only true two-way bigs in the NBA, while Kobe is a one-way player when healthy, and may never be consistently healthy again. Duncan plays reduced minutes now, but he remains incredibly effective on both sides of the ball when he does play. For reference, his per 36 minute numbers:

Duncan, 2002:22.6 P, 11.3 R, 3.3 A, 2.1 B .508 FG%
Duncan, 2014: 18.7 P, 12 R, 3.7 A, 2.3 B .490 FG%

His per 100 Net RTG is +8 , which is the lowest of his career. Kobe has a total of six seasons with a +8 Net RTG or better, four of which came while he played with Shaq (who's presence helped control the paint defensively and drew a little attention away from Kobe on offense).

Nerdy stat stuff in part 2 momentarily.

At Monday, October 27, 2014 8:29:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


You can speculate that Duncan would have performed more poorly with Kobe's crappy supporting cast, but there's very little evidence to support it. Per 82 games:

The '05 Lakers were 2.8 points per 48 minutes better with Kobe on the floor than off it; the 2013 Spurs (couldn't find 2014 numbers for this specific stat) were 8.7 PP48 better with Duncan than without. Interesting note: in '05, the Lakers were better defensively without Kobe than with him by about two points per 100 possessions, while the 2005 Spurs were 17.3 points per 100 better with Duncan than without him, much of which came from his defense (9.1, to be exact).

Surely you're not suggesting that the '05 Lakers supporting cast was better than the NBA finalist San Antonio Spurs supporting cast from '05 or '13, right? Because unless they were, Duncan made a bigger difference on the court in both '05 and '13 than Kobe did in the middle of his "peak" '05. Or indeed, in the case of '05 Duncan, than Kobe's '06 (+14.8), '07 (+12.4), '08 (+12), '09 (12.1), '10 (11.7) campaigns. Note that- terrible '05 aside- Kobe's numbers lower as his teammates get better (more on this in a second). In fact, it beats his only Shaq era numbers I could find as well: '04 (10.3). Duncan, for comparison, was at a +14.3 that season. For ease of reference, here's '04-'13

Kobe: +10.3 (04), +2.7 (05), +14.8 (06), +12.4 (07), +12(08), +12.1 (09), +11.7 (10), +4.2 (11), +4.9 (12) +4.5 (13) Average of: +8.96

Duncan: +14.3 (04), +17.3 (05), +7.3 (06), +15 (07), +8.8 (08), +3.2 (09), +6.6 (10) +9.9 (11), +3.8 (12), +8.7 (13) Average of: +9.49

So, of the last ten seasons (not counting most recent, where Kobe didn't play and Duncan won a title), Duncan and Kobe were each more impactful five seasons; remember, this only grades them against their teammates, not against each other, but it's useful metric in establishing how their supporting casts effect them. From this we see that Kobe REALLY benefits from the presence of Phil, and that Duncan had a lull from '09-'12 where the team leaned more heavily on Parker/Ginobili and didn't win anything before a major bounce back year in 2013.

At any rate, post-Shaq, Duncan's teams had a slightly higher average discrepancy between their with/without Duncan numbers than Kobe's, despite Kobe playing with some really awful support for most of that run. Couple that with Net RTG numbers (universally in Duncan's favor), and recent performance (Duncan's been in the last two Finals, Kobe hasn't played in the playoffs the last two years), and I think it's pretty easy to make the argument that Duncan's longevity trumps- or at least matches- Kobe's. Duncan also beat Kobe in Win Shares despite playing much fewer minutes, for what that's worth.

Basically, Kobe's case for being better than Duncan kinda necessitates ignoring what actually happened on the court for the bulk of both of their careers. Post Shaq/Robinson, Duncan's played in more Finals, more playoffs, and won more titles. Kobe's scored more points. The argument for Kobe's weak supporting cast isn't really supported by the data, as the Spurs rely slightly more heavily on Duncan than the Lakers do on Kobe over the last ten years.

And with that, I'm done talking about this for now.

At Tuesday, October 28, 2014 8:30:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

Nick I really do appreciate your insight and believe you are a brilliant watcher of basketball. Which is why I caution overuse of “advanced metrics” to make your case. For example, yes, Duncan’s 05 +/- was much better than Bryant’s, but he only played in 34.8 minutes per game.

Bryant, out of necessity, played in 41 minutes per game. They both played in 80 games, but Duncan played 493 less minutes, or about 10 full games less than Bryant. Perhaps I do not fully understand +/- correctly, but how does it take into account this discrepancy? Duncan’s team was much better, his starting five was much better, which means while he was on the floor with the starters, they performed like the championship team they were. When he was off the floor, the bench wasn’t nearly as good, which boosted Duncan’s +/- numbers.

On the flipside, Bryant’s team needed him out there for most of the game because the team was bereft of talent from top to bottom. Phil would sit Bryant during moments in the game when the other team had their worst possible players on the floor. So the bench was able to hang around.

Bryant missed an entire season and still has more minutes played than Duncan. So, you can point to the efficiency stats for the 29-35 minutes Duncan actually appeared in games and say, wow, he really impacted the team overall—despite the fact that he was mostly playing with starters, and then turn around and look at Bryant playing between 36-40 minutes per game, mainly out of necessity, and say that he and his teams performed worse with him on the floor than Duncan with his teams.

My point is, the numbers don’t tell nearly the entire story. For example, Bryant’s +/- could, in theory, be a lot better if only had to play 32 minutes a night. His efficiency in theory would improve. His defense would improve back to his younger days because he wouldn’t have to shoulder the same burden.

Actual minutes played matter. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something, and if so, please explain it to me, but I can only use the numbers that you have given as a reference point to on court performance. It doesn’t make Duncan better—and it certainly doesn’t make his longevity more impressive than Bryant’s.

Bryant, perhaps to his ultimate detriment, was an elite player, forced to carry his team every season. He played an insane number of minutes year, after year, after year.
Duncan has spent the last decade easing back on the minutes he plays to the point where he appeared in only 60 percent of the minutes in games he played last season. Compare that to Bryant who has basically been playing 38+ minutes a game for the past 17 seasons (one year with only 34 minutes which is Duncan’s high mpg over the past seven seasons).

I’m very interested in how the numbers you’ve brought up account for this?

At Wednesday, October 29, 2014 1:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of problems with most of these stats. I don't give advanced stats individualizing players to a specific rate much thought. There's too many bad examples to say otherwise. Too many variables. Jordan brought up some good thoughts on MP, etc. Even if they were all accurate, which they aren't, there's many variables still involved to affect them. To suggest Kobe barely had a better impact than his replacement during the middle of his prime is absurd, and should be a red flag. Weird way to compare players primarily on advanced stats.

Again, longevity for both is basically a wash. Kobe holds slight edge with many more MP, not sure why you keep bringing this up as such a big advantage for Duncan. Recent performance is pointless. Duncan has champ. caliber teams, Kobe has crap teams. Kobe was much better than Duncan in 13, and will be in 15 if he stays healthy.

Not sure how Kobe REALLY relies on Phil, and somehow Pop is a scrub coach in comparison, which you seem to imply.

Team sport, yes, obviously. But, actually most accolades to correlate with winning. Making AS team more or less equates to top 24 player. 1st team nba equates to top 5 player. Having great/good players is how you win titles. Kobe shines with whoever is on his team. Highly doubt Duncan would as well on poor teams, and certainly has taken a backseat for many years now late in his career to stay fresher and healthy, which Kobe hasn't had the luxury of.

For someone who says they don't like comparing players on titles, you sure bring it up a lot. To say Duncan was the best player on 6 finals teams, even if true, is a bad argument. Duncan was barely AS caliber in 13 and wasn't in 14, in no way was he even close to being an elite player in recent years. Parker was clearly better overall for the past several years. Duncan has been in a great situation for his entire career. Again, you're blaming Kobe for bad teams from 05-07 and hold that against him for not making any finals those years. Making 7 finals in 11 years is exhausting. Duncan spread his 6 out over 16 years and while playing much fewer minutes. Duncan still a elite player? Really? I like Duncan, but he's clearly not been elite for years now.

Again, Kobe's had more team success with less good teams and many more records/accolades. He's been elite longer and had a better prime. That's the bottom line.

You seem to get so hung up Kobe supposedly costing his team a title in 04. Wait, how did Duncan did that year? Or how about Duncan's Spurs losing as a #1 seed to the Grizz without Gay? If Duncan's been elite all these years, and he's playing with 2 other future HOFers, arguably greatest coach ever, and a good cast every single year, then why did it take 7 years to win another title? Or Jordan never winning without Pippen and/or Phil, and costing his team maybe a title or 2 in 94/95 because he wanted to play baseball. Or Lebron's quitting on his champ.-caliber teams in 10/11. On and on and on. Kobe did play poorly in 04 finals, but they were there because of him primarily. Shaq was clearly slowing down and played awful defense. He was up and down in the series. George was probably the lakers' 3rd best player. Even with a miraculous series from Kobe, the Pistons still probably win.

At Wednesday, October 29, 2014 3:40:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan- You raise good points, so despite thinking I was done with this, I'll happily explain the stats and reasoning I used, though I'll try to refrain from introducing new argument.

Sorry, I should have been clearer about which version of plus/minus I was using. I used three statistics primarily in my points, which were the following:

*Net RTG, which goes by possessions; minutes are not a factor here. Duncan STOMPS Kobe in this metric, but it's also the metric most influenced by quality of support (that said, even in the Shaq years Duncan generally has the edge).

* On Court/Off Court per 48 +-, which I cavalierly referred to as +-. These numbers are tabulated by 82games.com (basically by using minutes, O-RTG, D-RTG, and Team O-RTG, D-RTG, Pace, & PPG to calculate out how a team performs with and without given player; this is a fairly concrete stat, though it sounds more complex than it is; it's simply an objective metric of what happens with or without a player on the court; it's no more of an "advanced basketball statistic" than points or rebounds, only a less obvious one).

* Finally, I used Win Shares, which go a long way towards validating the other two statistics; despite Kobe's greater minutes, workload, and usage, Duncan is responsible for significantly more win shares. Win Shares are a slightly noisy statistic (generally, a team's combined win shares for a season have a margin for error of up to about 2 in either direction from the actual win total), but that's a relatively small deviation over the course of 82 games and 12+ players.

You arguments about Kobe's greater workload would be a lot more compelling if not for the winshares; you're absolutely right that his overall performance may have suffered for his workload, or that his teammates may have played against poorer competition (that second one is less stable, as obviously so did Duncan's (better) teammates, and for longer). However, despite Duncan's lower workload/minutes, he accounted for a significantly higher number of wins on a per season, per minute, and career basis; this is largely a function of his impact on defense (Kobe actually has a significant advantage in regular season offensive win shares and a small one in playoff win shares) where Duncan absolutely crushes Kobe in both the regular season and the playoffs; this scans with what David said about bigs vs. smalls, but it doesn't hurt the validity of the case.

Basically, Net RTG tells us that Duncan's teams perform better on the floor than Kobe's do, on court/off court numbers tell us the gap between a Duncan/No Duncan Spurs is greater than the gap of a Kobe/No Kobe Lakers, and Win Shares tell us that Duncan accounts for a greater number of his team's wins than Kobe does. Alone, any of them are easy to argue with; together, they paint a fairly comprehensive portrait.

In general, I think it comes down to "offensive bias"; offense is much easier to see, to quantify, and to remember, and Kobe is certainly a better offensive player than Duncan. A Kobe game-winner makes a much greater impact on us as humans who react to drama than a drive somebody didn't take because they saw Duncan lurking in the paint, but both matter. And every available metric we have tells us that ultimately Duncan had more to do with with the Spurs' success than Kobe did with the Lakers'.

At Wednesday, October 29, 2014 9:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can have your opinion on players, which is fine. But, most of your logic is very flawed concerning Kobe. And you place blame on him for certain things which aren’t justified, plus ignore other things concerning Duncan. Using advanced stats to specifically rate players individually isn’t a good parameter to use, especially +/-. It has its place, but even this stat isn’t generally accepted by most stat guys. The main problem is that this isn’t how the game is actually played. It’s played on the court.

To put blame on Kobe in 04, while indirectly crediting Duncan for losing in the 2nd round, just makes no sense at all. Kobe was the best player on his team that year. He got them to the finals. He was banged up that year, and the #3 guy on the team was either journeyman George, 1-legged Malone, or super scrub Fisher. He played poorly, but had to exert himself immensely on both ends just to give the Lakers a chance. PGs are unselfish, SGs are selfish. Blah. Means nothing. He’s #4 all time in scoring, I wish I was selfish. Lebron has averaged more mpg than Kobe, but has more FGAs/ game as well. Most people wouldn’t realize this, and he’s supposed unselfish, even though he has to dominate the ball all the time.

Say what you want about Kobe’s defense, but the facts don’t support you. I think the voters for all defense are the coaches, who know a lot more than the media. Kobe had 0 votes in 05 for MVP, while P.J. Brown got 1. There’s definitely been a bias against Kobe for MVP throughout his career, which the media vote on. Kobe became an elite defender very early in his career, can guard 1-2-3 very well, phenomenal help defender, and phenomenal lockdown defender. His defensive accolades are rivaled by nobody else for his position. He stands alone. Maybe Duncan has been better defensively overall, maybe not, but it’s very close either way between the two. Obviously, in his 19th season he’s slowed, who wouldn’t be?

Give Kobe all of Duncan’s teams, and Kobe’s the best player on 8-9 title teams at worse. 00-02 Kobe easily best player on 13/14 Spurs teams. Kobe was an absolute beast those years. However, Shaq may have had the most dominant 3-year stretch in nba history. Duncan, Jordan, or whoever would’ve been 2nd option to Shaq. And this isn’t like 1-2 punch with Kobe/Pau. This was a 1-1a punch. Even with Shaq being so great, he was often rendered useless in late-game situations. Kobe saved him so many times, plus outplayed Shaq for some series during that stretch in the west conf.

At Wednesday, October 29, 2014 11:39:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I can't sleep (or help myself, apparently), so one last note for context; we all agree the '05-'07 Lakers stink, but it's not like Kobe spent most of his time on dog teams. He had eight seasons with peak Shaq and three with Pau. Since "anonymous" likes things like All-NBA, All-Star selections, etc, here's Kobe/Duncan's supporting cast honors (and scoring):

All NBA:

Kobe: 12 total, 6 1st team (Shaqx6), 3 2nd team (Shaq/Pau/Bynum), 3 3rd team (Dwight, Paux2)

Duncan: 9 total, 4 2nd team (3xTony, 1x Robinson), 5 3rd team (2x Manu, 2x Robinson, 1xTony)

All Star:

Kobe: 15 (7x Shaq, 3x Pau, 2xEddie, 1x Van Exel, 1x Dwight, 1x Bynum)
Duncan: 11 (6x Tony, 3x Robinson, 2x Manu)

All Defensive:

Kobe: 4 total, all 2nd team (Shaqx3, Eddie x1)
Duncan: 9 total, 5 1st team (5x Bowen), 4 2nd team (2x Bowen, 1x Robinson, 1x Kawhi)

Teammate Scoring Years (excluded Kobe's 2014 out of fairness):

Kobe: 25 ppg (7x), 20 ppg (8x), 15 ppg (23x), 10 ppg (53x)

Duncan: 25 ppg (0x) 20 ppg (3x), 15 ppg (23x), 10 ppg (43x)

What these numbers mostly tell us (beside the fact that Duncan's '04 team is surprisingly bad) is that, while Kobe had 3 terrible teammate years, on average he's had a comparable or better supporting cast; the average Kobe team has more 10, 20, or 25 ppg scorers (and the exact same number of 15 ppg scorers), more All-Stars, more All-NBA players, and fewer All-Defensive players.

TL;DR Kobe had less help for three years from '05 to '07, but over the course of their careers Kobe has arguably had the stronger supporting cast, in large part thanks to how strong those Shaq teams were. Duncan never played beside a comparable force (though Duncan himself WAS a comparable force). Claiming that Kobe's NET-RTG or Win Share numbers are inferior to Duncan's because of the quality of help Kobe had doesn't really scan unless you think those three years where he had a worse supporting cast somehow count for more than those eight years where he had a better supporting cast.

At Wednesday, October 29, 2014 11:44:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Also, just saw anonymous' latest comment. A quick rebuttal, since I'm here anyways and apparently incorrigible:

As David pointed out, even if Kobe's All Defensive team nods are valid (though even Phil claims they aren't), there's a world of difference between an All-Defensive big and an All-Defensive guard, and the numbers bear that out. I've explained my reasoning for blaming Kobe in '04 (he shot his team out of the series while his teammate was red hot), and I can't recall Duncan similarly freezing out a scorching teammate. If we're simply going by playoff losses, Duncan's lost in the first and second round twice each; so has Kobe (technically three times in the first, but he missed one series for injury).

There is no "maybe not" when it comes to Duncan's defense versus Kobe's, and even Kobe would tell you so; a wing player like Kobe cannot influence the game on nearly the same number of defensive possessions as a dominant rebounder/rim protector.

I explained the stats I used in some detail above, and apologize for casually referring to one of them as +-; what I actually used is much more comprehensive, and is far from the only metric I factored in.

Arguing that Kobe would have dominated with Duncan's supporting cast largely ignores the way basketball teams work. Adding Kobe to any of Duncan's title teams (sans perhaps '99) likely costs them the title, as they lose most of their rim protection, rebounding, and pick-setting in exchange for an extra six to ten points per game. Put Duncan beside Shaq, however, and you go undefeated until one of them ages out, as we've seen from multiple title teams ('99 and '03 Spurs, '94 Rockets, '77 Blazers) that you don't need an elite perimeter player to win the title if you completely control the post. Only Jordan's Bulls and Thomas's Pistons really won the title without a dominating interior presence, but both featured multiple All-Stars and way above average interior defenders and rebounders, most notably Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant.

That said, Duncan would likely not have won with the '09-10 Lakers, as that team was built around Kobe, much like Kobe wouldn't win on teams built around Duncan.

Basically, anonymous, stats, win records, advanced stats, common sense, and basically everything other than All-Star appearances and Sports Center highlights favor Duncan. You've provided no evidence for your Kobe case besides insisting that it's true.

Ok. I'd say "this time I'm done for real" but I apparently have the willpower of a toddler. That said, I think I've made a pretty compelling case at this point and at the very least any reasonable person can see why Duncan's a valid comparison, even if they don't agree with me.

One can certainly make a strong case for Kobe if you like, but the cases to be made for him are somewhat more speculative (Kobe could win with Duncan's team! Duncan would have missed the playoffs too in '05!) and less supported by any available metric than those I've found for Duncan, in my opinion.

For the record, I don't like the Lakers but I freakin' hate the Spurs. I'd love for somebody to give me a good reason to take Kobe, but so far I haven't seen anything that sways me.

At Wednesday, October 29, 2014 6:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Bryant and Duncan are both Pantheon-level players in my estimation.

The Bryant-Duncan comparison is complex because of the difficulty of comparing a great big to a great wing and I don't have the time to go into this whole discussion in depth but I have a few quick observations.

Your discussion regarding the relative abilities of their teammates is less than compelling. It could be argued that the success of Bryant's teammates (in terms of awards, scoring average, etc.) can be attributed in no small part to him. At the extreme end in one direction, Bryant went to the playoffs with guys who could barely stay in the league otherwise (Smush, Kwame, etc.). At the extreme end in the other direction, Shaq and Gasol had their best seasons playing alongside Bryant. If one does a skill set analysis of Bryant's supporting cast versus Duncan's (as opposed to just looking at numbers and awards) then I think that the conclusion would be different than the one you reached. Bryant played with mediocre point guards for most of his career, while Duncan has spent most of his career with a Hall of Fame point guard. The Spurs have been so talented during most of Duncan's career that they could afford to bring an All-Star caliber player (Manu Ginobili) off of the bench. Duncan could afford to pace himself in terms of minutes played because his team did not just fall apart when he left the game (side note about plus/minus: there is a lot of noise with such numbers in terms of meaningless garbage time stats, etc.).

Guys like Vujacic and Farmar were highly touted role players when they played in L.A. but no one heard of them before or after they played with Bryant. I think that Bryant, like Jordan, brings out a lot from his teammates in practice and during games. I don't have a number that quantifies this but I see that these guys have limited skills that only became visible when they played with Bryant.

I agree with your comment that it is conceivable that Bryant would not have won titles with Duncan's teammates and vice versa because those respective rosters were built around their stars. However, it should be noted that Bryant won back to back titles while paired with a sidekick who has never won a single playoff game without Bryant. Could Duncan have won back to back titles with a sidekick of a similar caliber at shooting guard? If we take positional considerations out of the mix and take numbers out of the mix and just look at skill sets, Duncan has been surrounded by All-Stars and by balanced supporting casts. Bryant and Shaq were options 1a and 1b for a while but those teams were not deep and after Shaq left Bryant won championships with rosters that had serious holes that he had to patch. Derek Fisher would not likely have started for any Western playoff team during that era. Lamar Odom, who played starter's minutes, would likely not have started for any Western playoff team. How many Lakers other than Bryant and Gasol would have been had significant roles on other Western playoff teams of that era?

At Wednesday, October 29, 2014 8:33:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

It's fair to attribute some of Bryant's teammates' success to Bryant, but its equally fair to attribute Duncan's teammate's success to Duncan; Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker both certainly have benefitted from not only the defensive attention Duncan demands, but also from his pick-setting and superior passing ability (for a big man). It's unlikely either of them would have won any playoff games as the lone star in mid 2000s era Memphis, either. This is speculative, but I'd be surprised if either made All-Star teams playing for those outfits.

You could make the case that they owe their success to Pop moreso than Duncan, but then by the same token you could credit Phil for all of Kobe's teammate's success. Kobe's teammates have NOT put up their best numbers in seasons where people other than Phil were the coach, in fact.

It's true that Shaq's best years were alongside Kobe, but Shaq had already been the best player on a Finals team before Kobe got there, and remained an All-NBA level performer for two years after they separated.

That all said, you're not wrong that despite the numbers/accolades/what have you that post-Shaq, Duncan's had the better teammates and I didn't mean to suggest otherwise; the point I was trying to make was that Kobe got to play his first eight years with teams that would very probably have been playoff teams- even contenders- without him thanks to Shaq. Duncan never played with an equivalently dominant superstar, though of course David Robinson had much more playoff success alongside Duncan than he ever did as an MVP candidate.

The '09 and '10 Lakers teams, as we've talked about before, are below average for championship teams, but were certainly not terrible even without Kobe. While it's true that Pau didn't have much success in Memphis, even without Kobe the triangle was a much better system for him than the one he played for in Memphis (or indeed the ones D'antoni and Brown ran over the last few years) so at least some of the credit for his improvement must go to Phil, since his numbers dipped as soon as Phil left while Kobe remained.

Still, even if I believe that Kobe's teammates were only good because of his presence but Duncan's would be great regardless (which I don't), my greater point is still that every available metric suggests Duncan had a much greater on-court/off-court impact than Kobe did; this is especially noteworthy considering Duncan played much of his career with Ginobili, an alleged star off the bench, so it would stand to reason that San Antonio's second unit would have less of a drop off than LA's; the stats, however, tell us that this is not the case most seasons.

Kobe is obviously great and probably the second best Shooting Guard ever (though somebody older than I am may be able to make a case for Jerry West), but even if his teammates were much worse than Duncan's on average (I'd argue eight Shaq years makes up for two Smush years, but reasonable men can differ), Duncan's teams had a higher reliance on him for their wins, and usually a greater drop off when he didn't play. For me, that's the real decision maker, though I probably have Duncan at about 9th all time and Kobe about 12th or 13th.

At Wednesday, October 29, 2014 9:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea, I have no idea how one could think Kobe's had more help around him overall than Duncan, other than to denigrate Kobe. Very rarely does any truly great player not have at least some really good teams, but Duncan's had a legit chance every year, and is extremely lucky to have stability within his franchise. However, he still has yet to match the # of Finals appearances of Kobe. Not only has Duncan had probably the best 3rd option of any team for most of his career, almost all of his teams have been very deep.

Even with Shaq, the Lakers weren't talented at all after Shaq/Kobe and not very deep. With Pau, they were probably the least deep team in the league. Shannon Brown was 7th man, and he couldn't find time playing before the Lakers, still not a starter on a horrible Suns after 2010, and now isn't in the league anymore. Odom/Bynum/Artest/Vujacic quickly aren't out of the league. And Farmar barely plays.

Pau was just good enough as a #2 option, but he did almost nothing before joining Kobe. The Grizz wanted to dump his salary and were having a hard time finding a team to take him. That should tell you how much the league thought of him. The Lakers then do well with him his first 3 years, and of course he's then thought as some awesome player, and better than Kobe those years by more than a few people. And we keep hearing 'he's the most skilled big man in the game'. Duncan/Dirk are completely ignored in this regard to make sure we don't give too much credit to Kobe.

And no, Kobe didn't have the most help from 08-10. However, he outperformed every other single player. Several other teams had champ. contender rosters. At least in 2010 alone, the Suns and Celtics' supporting casts outperformed Kobe's cast. Heck, the Suns bench outplayed the Lakers' starters at certain times in the WCF.

At Thursday, October 30, 2014 4:31:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I think Shaq's being undersold pretty dramatically here, and I think people are forgetting how crap that 2003 Spurs team was besides Duncan. It was Duncan, the corpse of Robinson (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.7 bpg- for reference, the '02 Laker's 6th best player was Samalki Walker, averaging 6.7 ppg, 7 rpg, and 1.3 bpg ), rookie Ginobili (7 ppg) and rookie Parker (15 ppg w/ 5 assists-a whopping +4 ppg (on +3 fga) and 2 assists better than '02 Fish), and Bruce Bowen (a very good defender, but hardly a superstar). He had Stephen Jackson, too, but it was the year before Stephen Jackson was any good. There was nobody anywhere near a Pau Gasol level player on that team, let alone Shaq level. Heck, there's not even anybody putting up '06-'10 Odom numbers on that team.

Take Duncan off the '03 Spurs, they're not a playoff team. With him on them, they beat Shaq and Kobe in the playoffs and went on to win the title. Tell me again about how Kobe does more with less?

Duncan was the ONLY rotation player that shot better than 47%.

Additionally, those Shaq teams weren't deep, but they weren't shallow, either. Ron Harper, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Glen Rice, pre-old man Derek Fisher, Horace Grant… those guys are all real grown up basketball players, and Rice/Horry/Grant all would have been the second or third best player on the 2003 Spurs. Pau Gasol would have easily been the second best player on that team as well. Odom too.

Despite that, they finished first in the West (I think) and won the title behind arguably Duncan's best season as a pro.

At this point, though, we're more or less quibbling over whether Shaq was better than the Manu/Tony combo; he was. We've perhaps never seen a single player put as much pressure on a defense as peak-value Shaq, and that opened up a lot of opportunity for Kobe, Horry, and the rest. Kobe played nearly half his career beside a guy who could make a case for being the best basketball player in the world from '99 to '05 (though I'd posit that Duncan could make a better one); for me, that's a much bigger deal than playing for three years with Lamar Odom (who was, at the time, actually pretty good) as his second best player.

Moreover, it seems odd to credit all of Kobe's teammate's success to him and not Duncan's to him; Duncan's been cleaning up after Tony's lazy defense for his entire career, and he's been setting the picks the unleash both those guards early in the shot-clock.

However, even if you choose to say "10 years of Manu/Tony (and only 8 of them especially good years) beats 8 years of Shaq, 3 years of Pau, and 6 years of Odom" we're still left with a giant heap of statistics that SHOULD favor Kobe if his teams were so much worse, and yet favor Duncan… because Kobe was a dominant offensive player and a sometimes great defensive player, but Duncan was a dominant two-way player. You can tell me it's not Kobe's fault he missed the playoffs in '05, but I'd posit that '05 Duncan probably drags that team to at least an 8 seed or so; you lose some offensive production without Kobe (7 more points than '05 Duncan on 5 more shots), but Duncan makes up for a lot of it, and the upgrade in terms of paint defense and rebounding from Kwame Brown to Duncan is such a dire shift it probably accounts for an extra fifteen to twenty wins.

All speculative, sure, but since the argument I'm fighting is equally speculative ("Duncan couldn't have done as much with as little even though his '03 team was terrible and won the title anyways!"), speculation's really the only way I can fire back (since extremely one-sided statistical evidence seems to be easily dismissed).


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