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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Kobe Bryant: Perception Versus Reality

This article was originally published on February 25, 2005 at HoopsHype.com but the link no longer works, so I have reprinted the article in its entirety below.

Kobe Bryant (27.8 ppg, 6.6 apg and 6.2 rpg), LeBron James (25.4 ppg, 7.7 apg and 7.1 rpg) and Dwyane Wade (23.5 ppg, 7.3 apg and 5.2 rpg) are three of the top perimeter players in the NBA. Each ranks in the top ten in scoring and is a nightly triple-double threat, yet James and Wade are lauded for making their teammates better while Bryant has been widely labeled as selfish. Among those who consider that criticism unfair is veteran NBA player, assistant coach and head coach Fred Carter, who currently analyzes games for NBA TV.

"For some people perception is reality," Carter said. "The echoed word becomes the accepted word. It becomes the choice phrase. But he won titles and he does get the assists. He does get steals and he does get blocks. He's not a guy who just plays on the offensive end. What happens is that people have the tendency to echo the words of everyone else. It's unfortunate."

Bryant's field goal percentage is hovering around the .410 mark, which would be a career low. This is the main statistical ax that critics grind against Bryant, saying that he is more focused on winning the scoring title than making his team better. But that argument has flaws, according to Carter. "Any time a guy is a volume-shooting guy like Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson, the shooting percentage is going to be down because they attract a lot more defensive attention. Spot-up shooters or stand-still shooters, plays are run for them and that's basically all they can do, spot up and shoot, so they get open shots and knock them down. People kind of get confused with field goal percentages and the quality of the baskets that you make. Kobe makes a lot of quality baskets. I don't look at his field goal percentage. I look at the productivity of his shots in terms of the fourth quarter and what shots he makes then."

Bob Chaikin, whose fine statistical research can be found at bballsports.com, ranks shooting efficiency with a statistic called scoring field goal percentage. The formula is: (Two point field goals made + 1.5 X Three point field goals made + Free throws made/2) / (Field goals attempted + Free throws attempted/2). This method provides a more complete picture than field goal percentage does because it accounts for the added value of three-pointers made plus the points produced by drawing fouls and making free throws.

James (.491) and Wade (.478) have better field goal percentages than Bryant does, but neither makes as many three-pointers or free throws as Bryant. Consequently, as of February 22, Bryant's scoring field goal percentage of .529 is not much worse than James' .551 and Wade's .544.

The league average for scoring field goal percentage is around .520, a figure that Bryant and each of the Laker starters exceed. Bryant is not merely padding his individual scoring numbers. The defensive attention that he attracts and his playmaking skills are leading the team to an above average level of shooting efficiency. This is significant, especially considering that the other four starters are Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm, Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, none of whom has played in even one All-Star Game. Meanwhile, James and Wade are each teamed with All-Star centers. Laker center Mihm, a career journeyman, has benefited greatly playing alongside Bryant, enjoying career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists. In addition to their above average scoring field goal percentages, each Laker starter (other than Bryant) is also posting a career high in traditional field goal percentage.

NBA analyst Fred Carter notes that by getting to the free throw line frequently Bryant does not just enhance his individual statistics, but he also creates more free throw opportunities for his teammates and causes foul trouble for the opposing team.

"When Kobe is out of the offense the Lakers do not get into the bonus as quickly as they normally do. Check free throws attempted and see how they were with Kobe playing versus now (when Kobe missed 14 games)."

Another area worth examining is versatility. One would expect that a selfish player does nothing but shoot. Nine NBA players have amassed triple doubles this season. Bryant and Chris Webber are tied for second with four, trailing only Jason Kidd's five. James has two and Wade has one. James has 18 double doubles, while Wade has 13 and Bryant 12.

Bryant's critics are quick to counter that he leads the league in turnovers at 4.4 per game, but Wade ranks second at 4.2 and James is seventh at 3.2. MVP candidate and league assists leader Steve Nash ranks eighth at 3.1. Turnovers have only been recorded by the NBA since 1977-78, but since that time it has been common for great playmakers such as Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas to rank among the league leaders in this category. Players who commit a lot of turnovers generally fall into one of two categories: great players who have tremendous scoring/playmaking responsibilities and big men with bad hands.

Ultimately, making one's team better is reflected in wins and losses and most NBA games are decided down the stretch. While great players strive to keep their teammates involved throughout the game, in the closing moments it is often necessary to take over the game. Tracy McGrady's 13 points in the final 35 seconds to defeat the San Antonio Spurs earlier this season are perhaps the ultimate recent example of this.

Bryant consistently elevates his game in clutch situations and this year he is leading the NBA in fourth quarter scoring at over 8.5 ppg. Carter says that Bryant has two traits that enable him to thrive in crucial moments. "One is competitiveness. He stays at a high level of competitiveness. Also, energy level. A lot of players get tired (but) the great players don't get tired. They have a special level of energy; they can tap that source and they can still stay at a high level of efficiency and proficiency. That's Kobe Bryant; he is able to do that. MJ was the same way. There are certain players who can raise their energy level for the fourth period and Kobe Bryant can do that."

Of course, offense is only part of the game. Second-year players James and Wade have each made notable progress this season on the defensive end, but Bryant has already made the All-Defensive Team five times during his career, including three First Team selections. Bryant made the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team each of the last two seasons.

When Bryant missed 14 games due to a severe right ankle sprain, the Lakers struggled to a 6-8 mark and his absence was felt at least as much on defense as on offense, Laker coach Frank Hamblen points out: "He is one of those guys who is talking defensively and helping defensively. The way he plays, as hard as he plays, the other guys feed off that."

TNT analyst Charles Barkley has mentioned on several occasions that he believes there are only three true superstars in the NBA: Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. A glance at the Western Conference standings shows that Garnett's Timberwolves and Bryant's Lakers are among the teams fighting for the final playoff spot. Garnett has two former All-Stars playing beside him and basically the same nucleus that made it to the Western Conference Finals last year, while Bryant's Lakers have been almost completely reconstituted. Postseason success is the best way to silence critics. If Kobe Bryant stays healthy for the remainder of the season, he will have a great opportunity to refute not only those who question his ability to make his teammates better but also Barkley and anyone else who denies that he is a true superstar.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:35 PM


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

We Are Family

Note: Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" was released a few years after the NBA-ABA merger, but it is the perfect theme song to represent how ABA players feel about each other. This article was originally published on March 2, 2005 at HoopsHype.com but the link no longer works, so I have reprinted the article in its entirety below.

Loyalty and togetherness.

These unbreakable bonds connecting most ABA players were renewed and strengthened throughout the "ABA Ol' School Reunion," which took place in Denver during the 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend. The Reunion was organized by Fatty Taylor, who played seven years in the ABA, and his longtime friend James Render.

"I got the idea for the Reunion because the NBA All-Star Game was coming to Denver, Colorado, which is an ABA city," Taylor said. "So it is only fitting to have a Reunion for all the ABA guys. I just decided to get all the guys together in a spirit of fellowship. We figured that it is a chance just to see each other again. There is no telling when your day will come. It started off as a big party, but it turned into more than I thought it would."

The ABA Reunion is not an "official" NBA All-Star Weekend event and this does not bother Taylor at all. "I just thought that it was something that I really wanted to do--getting in touch with guys who I haven't seen in years. They were happy and wanted to see each other. See, the ABA players are a little different from the NBA players. We had a close-knit league. The NBA tried to destroy us and never wanted to see us make it. We played hard and we tried hard (to not let that happen)."

Taylor would like to make the ABA Reunion an annual event. "This is something that could be for us every year at the All-Star Game--an ABA Reunion, having different festivities. Everybody likes each other and we are happy to see each other. When we played against each other, we went out there and played hard, but after the game we would go out and party and have a good time. We just want to relive some of those good times."

The festivities began on Thursday, February 17 when several ABA players--including Rick Darnell, Mike Davis, Willie Davis, Joe Hamilton, Eugene "Goo" Kennedy, Warren Jabali and James Silas--gathered at Denver's East High School to sign autographs and reminisce. Riding in a yellow Hummer stretch limo to the school, the players regaled each other with stories. Not surprisingly, Julius Erving featured prominently in several of them--both for his ABA exploits and for his summer-league displays.

Joe Hamilton described a Dr. J move that was so otherworldly that Hamilton fell off of the bench in amazement and was fined by his coach for not keeping his mind on the game. Several players mentioned the Doctor destroying Sidney Wicks in a summer-league game after Wicks had proclaimed that he was going to shut down Erving. Asked about this later, Erving remembered the incident, saying that it happened at the Willie Naulls game in Los Angeles.

Mike Davis described a Rucker League encounter when Connie Hawkins blocked Wilt Chamberlain's patented fadeaway jumper, except that he was not satisfied to just block it--he wiped the ball all over the backboard before sweeping in the rebound. After that, Chamberlain discarded the fade away for that evening and proceeded to dunk on everybody in sight.

Davis, who lives in New York, got up at 4 am and had to take a flight with a Las Vegas connection to arrive in Denver. When the pilot said that the plane was flying over Colorado, Davis felt like saying, "Hey, drop me off here!" He was tired and hungry during the drive to East High School, but would not have missed the ABA Reunion for the world. Signing autographs and interacting with fans has a special meaning to Davis, who explained that he'll never forget meeting a professional basketball player for the first time when Carl Braun, the New York Knicks' star guard in the 1950s, spoke at the Boys and Girls Club that Davis went to as a child.

Many of the fans at the East High School event had not even been born when the ABA existed, but others had vivid memories of the league. One older gentleman brought with him a program from the 1984 NBA All-Star Game, which was held in McNichols Arena in Denver and featured several ex-ABA players. When he seemed a bit reticent about asking for autographs, Darnell came over, talked with him, asked him which players he was looking for and made sure that he got the signatures he wanted.

Warren Jabali is a very interesting figure. When it is suggested to him that it is amazing that one year he averaged 10 rpg as a 6-2 guard/forward going against much taller players, he says simply, "They couldn't jump." There is no pretense to his comments and no extra words--he gets straight to the point. Most of the ABA players are quick with a joke or a comment, but Jabali is more reticent, perhaps because he feels that he has been misquoted and misrepresented previously. He has a Jim Brown-like presence--quiet, but strong and confident.

After the appearance at East High School, which was covered by the local Fox television affiliate in Denver, the players headed back to the Doubletree Hotel for the Welcome Reception. While a DJ spun songs from the 1970s, the ABA players renewed acquaintances and interacted with fans who bought tickets for the event.

That night Hamilton told me about playing on the 1974-75 Kentucky Colonels team that won the ABA Championship. He recalls that when Coach Hubie Brown arrived, things changed. "We're like, 'Hubie, come on, we're veterans.' We practiced like it was the first day. It could be February the 15th and we've played 60 games. We're still practicing like it's the first day, but that's Hubie. Hubie knew every nook and cranny of this game. Any situation that would come up, Hubie Brown had something for it. His knowledge of the game was just so amazing."

Hamilton indicated that Brown's encyclopedic understanding of basketball mirrors the football wizardry of the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick. Hamilton knows something about football. He used to work as the Athletic Director for Louisville's youth programs and his son Joey III is an assistant coach at Male High School in Louisville, winners of three state football championships under the direction of Bob Redman (father of NFL quarterback Chris Redman).

On Friday, the players did more autograph signings. During the Reunion weekend, Lelands.com donated its expertise to coordinate in person signings by over 20 ABA players--including Hall of Famers Julius Erving, George Gervin and Moses Malone--of 300 basketballs and will sell the limited edition balls over the next year, with some of the proceeds benefiting the Colorado Hawks, Taylor's AAU team for fourth through twelfth graders.

Friday night's "Ol' School ABA Reunion Party" at Invesco Field featured a performance by India.Arie, daughter of five-time ABA All-Star Ralph Simpson. She performed several of her hits, including "Video" and "Talk to Her," plus material from her new CD. Throughout the evening, video screens showed montages of ABA highlights, which were provided by Arthur Hundhausen, webmaster of the Remember the ABA website

ABA players frequently point out that at the time of the merger, the NBA needed what the ABA had: the best young players--like Erving, Gervin, Malone, David Thompson and Artis Gilmore--and an exciting, free-flowing game. Hundhausen's videos provided evidence of this, showcasing a fun, fast-moving game featuring ball and player movement, good shooting, dramatic dunks and devastating blocked shots.

It is amazing that Gilmore, one of the great all-around centers in the history of the game, is not in the Hall of Fame and is not even among this year's finalists for the honor. Gilmore is stoic and resigned about the mystifying snub, although he poignantly notes that induction would have meant more to him if he had received it before the passing of his mother within the last year.

Saturday was an open day for the players to rest and unwind. On Sunday morning, hundreds of retired NBA and ABA players attended the NBA Retired Players Association's annual brunch at the Hyatt Regency/Denver Tech Center. Cedric the Entertainer served as emcee and several ABA players and coaches received awards--including Byron Beck (Original Denver Nugget), Larry Brown (Coach of the Year; he was unable to attend the ceremony), Spencer Haywood (Legend Award), Dan Issel (Founder Award), Doug Moe (Humanitarian Award) and David Thompson (Mr. Denver Nugget Award). Lafayette "Fat" Lever (Community Service Award) and Kiki Vandeweghe (Basketball Executive Award), who both played for the Nuggets in the NBA, were also recognized.

The ABA Reunion concluded Sunday evening with a gathering at the Seawell Ballroom in the Denver Center of Performing Arts, just a few blocks from the Pepsi Center. The ABA players joined fans to watch the NBA All-Star Game on big screen TVs. After the game ended, the party was just beginning, as the screens switched to Hundhausen's ABA highlight video montages. The After Party lasted until past 1 am. Some retired NBA players stopped by as well, including current Hall of Fame finalist Adrian Dantley.

Four-time All-ABA guard Mack Calvin put the whole weekend into perspective: "I think that what is important and special about this is that the ABA players--Doc and Gervin and all the guys--have always been a unit. A lot of guys can think about doing their own thing, but those guys have always been team guys. There has always been some camaraderie. I think that this exemplifies the overall attitude for over 30 years. The ABA guys are like a family. We had to stick together in order to survive. It's all about seeing these guys and talking about the old days."

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:49 PM