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Monday, February 23, 2009

Cavs Blow Out Misfiring Pistons

The Cleveland Cavaliers improved to 43-11--the best record in the Eastern Conference--with a 99-78 rout of the Detroit Pistons, who have now lost six games in a row and are in serious danger of not making the playoffs, a stunning collapse for a team that has appeared in the last six Eastern Conference Finals. Delonte West returned to action after missing five weeks because of a fractured right wrist and he scored a game-high (and season-high) 25 points, including 20 in the first half alone. Allen Iverson led Detroit with 14 points.

LeBron James added 20 points, nine assists and five rebounds in just 31 minutes as he once again enjoyed the luxury of sitting out the fourth quarter as the Cavs built a huge lead. On the heels of a season-high 55 point performance versus Milwaukee in which he scored 24 third quarter points, made eight straight shots, shot 16-29 from the field and connected on 8-11 from three point range, James came back to Earth a bit, shooting 6-13 from the field and 0-3 from behind the arc. Even after his remarkable shooting display against the Bucks, James is shooting .313 from three point range this season, making this the fourth straight year that his three point percentage has declined (though this year's decline is minimal). James has improved his free throw shooting to a career-high .773 but his midrange jumper and three point shot are still erratic. His performance against Milwaukee must have sent a cold sweat down the spines of a lot of NBA players and coaches, though, because if he ever becomes a consistent midrange jump shooter and improves his three point stroke then, as my man Delvis Valentine would say, you can ring the bell and school is out: the only hope that defenders have now is to concede James the jump shot and try to keep him out of the paint but once James extinguishes that hope on a regular basis he will not only be clearly the best player in the league but he will essentially be unguardable. That Milwaukee game provided a glimpse of a possible future that must be absolutely terrifying to anyone who has to guard James and/or devise a game plan to stop him.

Tayshaun Prince opened the scoring with a nice postup move versus James but the Cavs soon took command with a 15-0 run midway through the first quarter. Remarkably, the Pistons never seriously threatened after that, a highly unusual occurrence considering that the 48 minute NBA game is more of a marathon than a sprint. Basically, the final 40 minutes of the game were what Marv Albert likes to call "extensive gar-bage time."

Detroit played with no energy or effort at either end of the court. Coach Michael Curry lamented to ESPN's Ric Bucher, "We look like we don't know each other and we don't like each other." It is easy to try to pin the blame for Detroit's problems on the trade that shipped out Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess (who re-signed with the Pistons after a 30 day waiting period) to Denver for Iverson but Iverson is leading the Pistons in minutes, scoring, assists and steals; he is not playing poorly and is not the reason that the Pistons have become so inept. If any one move can be blamed, it is the decision to bench Richard Hamilton and install Rodney Stuckey as the starting point guard; despite a slow start during the month that McDyess was not with the team, the Pistons had a 23-17 record on January 19 and were still in contention for the fourth playoff seed. However, since that time--with Stuckey starting and Hamilton coming off of the bench--the Pistons have gone 4-10, including their current six game losing streak. The reality is that the Pistons have not replaced Billups with Iverson; they replaced Billups with Stuckey, shifted Iverson to Hamilton's starting spot and turned Hamilton into a sixth man.

It is breathtaking to consider how quickly and completely the balance of power has shifted in the Eastern Conference. In 2006, the Pistons were coming off of an NBA Finals appearance, posted the best regular season record in the NBA and beat the Cavs in seven games in the East semis before falling to the Heat. In 2007, the Pistons had the best record in the East but lost to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. Last year, the Pistons posted the second best record in the East but could not get past the powerful Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, the Pistons rank seventh in the East and are just 1.5 games ahead of eighth seeded Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, during that same three year period the Celtics and Magic have improved from being sub-.500 teams to being a championship team and a strong playoff squad respectively, while the Cavs have ended a seven year playoff drought by making three straight postseason trips, with a fourth one clearly on the horizon this spring. Not too long ago, the Cavs were struggling to figure out how to beat the Pistons but now Detroit is nothing but an afterthought as the Cavs focus on being prepared for likely playoff showdowns with Boston and possibly Orlando.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:32 AM



At Monday, February 23, 2009 3:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"he is not playing poorly and is not the reason that the Pistons have become so inept."

At some point you need to confront the fact that Iverson's ts% is only 50.6% this year, 6% lower than last year. It's also well below league average. Von Wafer is scoring more per minute and is 3.8% more efficient this year. Meanwhile, Billups is posting his customary 59.6% in Denver.

I agree Iverson isn't the only reason the Pistons are struggling, but the dropoff in his performance relative to Billups is the primary reason the Pistons have dropped from near the top of the league in offensive efficiency to 23rd this year.

You are definitely a guy who sticks to his guns, and I appreciate that, but frankly I don't think it's credble to say Iverson isn't a huge part of the issue in Detroit.

As for Lebron, as I always point out, his ts% is 2% higher than Kobe's this year, and he is scoring more while playing at a slower pace. You seem to hold it against Lebron that he hasn't fully realized his potential yet, but the numbers don't lie, he is the most potent scoring force in the NBA right now.


At Monday, February 23, 2009 8:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not say that Iverson is playing better than ever. Part of the problem is that the Pistons are not using him--or Rip--correctly, from my point of view. Dumars said he brought Iverson in to create scoring opportunities with the shot clock winding down but Iverson does not always have the ball in his hands in those situations. I think that one of the best offensive actions for the Pistons is a screen/roll involving Iverson and Sheed but they seldom use that option now.

The Nuggets have done a much better job playing to Billups' strengths than the Pistons have done playing to Iverson's strengths (and yet the Nuggets only have a slightly better record now than they did last year at this time, though their seeding is better thanks to poor showings by NO, Dall, PHX and Utah).

It's not about "sticking to my guns." I've watched the Pistons play and I've looked at the numbers. He is not a "huge" part of the problem, at least in terms of his production. Did the deal alter locker room chemistry in some way? Have Sheed and/or other players tuned out because they don't think that they will be in Detroit next year anyway? Very possibly, but those things are out of Iverson's control. All he can do is play. He is reasonably productive considering his minutes and opportunities.

I agree that LeBron is a very potent scorer but he is not a more potent scorer than Kobe. LeBron's ts% is a function of him shooting a very high number of dunks and layups. There is nothing wrong with that but elite defensive teams will not so easily concede such shots, as we saw when LeBron bricked his way through most of the Boston series last year. Without Cleveland's extraordinary team defense to fall back on, the Cavs would have been swept long before LeBron had the opportunity to, as you might put it, "redeem" himself with an excellent game seven showing (albeit in a losing cause).

At Monday, February 23, 2009 10:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - you might find this interesting. CREZ is a basketball software package that performs advanced statistics (+/- by player and lineup; defensive statistics e.g. how many offensive rebounds does a particular lineup give up?; all of Dean Oliver's stats).

Also, the software is able to read in NBA stats files to perform statistical analysis over multiple games. Very powerful and unique software.


David Clausi

At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 3:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - Look, I don't know, but it seems to me not much has changed with the Pistons other than swapping Billups for Iverson. Yeah, Mcdyess was gone for a while, but they were 8-8 when he was out and have been 16-19 with him back.

Right now, the Pistons have a pythagorean expectation of only 25-29, which is sort of shocking. They trail the Bucks, who have played a lot more games than them, at 30-29 (although obviously its wins that count for the playoffs). Basically I would like to think they are underperforming, but in fact the opposite is true. And they have three tough games coming up.

It may be chemistry, but I think this year will really end up damaging Iverson's reputation.

As for Kobe and Lebron, someone started a thread over at APBR, "Where Does Kobe Rank?" You might take some time off from bashing the Wages of Wins and bash these guys, since none of them thinks Kobe merits being called the best player in the NBA either.


At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 5:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


1) The Pistons changed coaches.

2) Some players on the roster are not performing up to past standards.

3) Whether or not this season "damages Iverson's reputation" in certain quarters is not at all relevant to the question of whether or not Iverson is the primary reason that the Pistons have slipped in the standings.

A lot of people want to make a comparison between Iverson's Pistons and Billups' Nuggets but the reality is that although the Pistons have gotten worse the Nuggets have not really gotten better, which is a good indication that in both cases more than one player/factor is affecting those teams. The Nuggets have roughly the same record that they did last year, though they have a better seed because Utah, PHX, Dall and NO are doing worse right now. Utah is getting healthy and looks very tough. I'm still not convinced that the Nuggets are going to get out of the first round and if that turns out to be the case it would be hard to argue that Billups really improved the team and thus by extension it would also be obvious that Iverson did not singlehandedly wreck the Pistons. If Iverson were still with the Nuggets I think that they would have about the same record that they do now. The Pistons have problems that extend beyond the trade and I really don't like inserting Stuckey in the starting lineup and benching Rip; the Pistons are 4-10 since doing that.

At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 6:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As for APBR's take on Kobe vs. LeBron, I have not read it and don't plan to do so. I have not visited the site in quite some time. When I left, a significant decline in the quality of the posts there was already evident--that is why I left in the first place--and I doubt that the situation has improved since that time.

I watch the games and I know what the GMs/insiders say. I don't believe that a player's value can be measured solely by stats. LeBron has excellent stats and he is a tremendous player but I would still take Kobe over him, narrowly. I don't have to visit APBR to realize that a plausible case can be made to take LeBron, narrowly, over Kobe as well--and I'm not particularly interested in hearing how the numbers can be manipulated to allegedly prove that LeBron is far superior to Kobe. As the saying goes, every barking dog does not have to be answered; I'm more interested in finishing up the "old school" posts that I am currently working on then trying to straighten out whatever is being said at APBR.

At Tuesday, February 24, 2009 9:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge Billups fan, and I would love for this trade to validate his worth, but the point David made briefly here and in another thread is a huge one -- it's not just a straight AI for Chauncey swap (plus the Pistons lose McDyess for several weeks). The Pistons did also basically toss Rip to the bench and start Stuckey at PG. (And the new coach). So really it's a Stuckey for Billups and an AI for Rip switch, to some degree. Now that I type this, I realize I haven't closely analyzed the minutes, and it may be that Rip is still playing nearly as many minutes as before, but I know Stuckey is getting a lot, lot more run, and the minutes have to come from somewhere (tho maybe it's Maxiell & Amir & others, who knows).

At Wednesday, February 25, 2009 4:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James had a ts% of 48% against the Celtics, scoring 187 points on 195 scoring possessions. That compares not unfavorably to the 154 points Kobe scored against the Celtics using 154 possession.

You talk about Kobe like he picked the Celtics defense apart, but he was only marginally better as a scorer against the Celtics than Lebron. It's a tiny difference statistically. And Lebron's numbers include the first two games, in which he was 8-42. After that he showed the ability to adapt and became much more productive the rest of the way.

In other areas of the game Lebron struggled, averaging 5 turnovers per game. But overall, they were roughly equal in their performances against the Celtics.


At Wednesday, February 25, 2009 10:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If you read my game recaps during that series--I covered Cleveland's home games and watched the Boston games on TV--then you know that I fully appreciate the impact that LeBron had on the game even while shooting poorly. However, there is no dressing up the fact that his shooting was at a historically low level versus Boston. In the first three games, he had the worst field goal percentage for any player in the postseason since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger. That is because his midrange and long range shot is subpar and the Celtics made sure that he did not get into the paint. Obviously, it is tough to play that kind of defense for seven games and he started to find some cracks and crevices to drive through in later games--but that does not change the fact that his skill set is not as complete as Kobe's.

I've cited these numbers so many times that I am just going to quote from my SlamOnline article:

James averaged 22.0 ppg, shot .356 from the field (including .200 from three point range) and committed 5.8 turnovers per game as the Spurs swept his Cavs in the 2007 NBA Finals; he averaged 26.7 ppg, shot .355 from the field (including .231 from three point range) and committed 5.3 turnovers per game in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals versus the Celtics.

In contrast, Bryant averaged 29.2 ppg, shot .533 from the field (including .333 from three point range) and committed just 2.4 turnovers per game as the Lakers beat the Spurs in five games in the 2008 Western Conference Finals; he averaged 25.7 ppg, shot .405 from the field (including .321 from three point range) and committed 3.8 turnovers per game versus the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals.

James' inability to make an outside shot allowed the Celtics and Spurs to sag off of him, leading to his low FG% and high turnover rate. James' team obviously lost both series, while Kobe led the Lakers to a series victory over the defending champion Spurs. It is also worth noting that in last year's Western Conference playoffs--the culmination of arguably the most competitive Western Conference race ever--Kobe averaged 30-plus ppg while shooting better than .500 from the field. His numbers would have been even better if not for the back spasms that momentarily slowed him versus Utah. I shy away from comparing Kobe to MJ because (1) I believe that MJ was the superior player and (2) I think that it is much more relevant to compare Kobe to his contemporaries, at least until he is retired and his "resume" is complete--but Kobe's performance in last year's Western Conference playoffs was absolutely Jordanesque in terms of his overall level of play. Of course, since the Lakers lost in the Finals the way that Kobe played in the previous three rounds tends to be forgotten but that was a sustained level of excellence that has not often been seen in postseason play by a shooting guard.

At Thursday, February 26, 2009 7:37:00 PM, Blogger Joel said...

Let me preface my comments by saying that Billups is one of my favourite players and I'm not surprised that he has been part of (but not the only reason for) Denver's unexpectedly good record this season. Conversely, I've never been a fan of Iverson and I think his flaws and style of play make him very difficult to build around for a player held in such high regard.

With all that said, there is a lot more going with Detroit than what Iverson is or isn't doing on the court. Consider the following:

1. Billups was the leader of a close-knit core group of castoffs which had been together for several years, earning a title, a second trip to the Finals, and a string of Eastern Conference Finals appearances along the way. I believe there was a story about Billups, Richard Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince crying in Billups' hotel room after the trade was completed. No matter who he was traded for, moving him was always going to have serious repercussions with regards to the chemistry which was such a big part of Detroit's success.

2. The Pistons hired a rookie head coach in Michael Curry. Coaching this team under the current circumstances would have been an onerous task for anyone, let alone a guy in his first year on the job. (I'm more or less ignoring his 4-0 start, which was achieved against Eastern conference juggernauts like the Bobcats, Pacers, Wizards, and Raptors.) Which brings me to my next point...

3. Since trading for Iverson, Curry has yet to settle on the correct way to use Iverson. He tried a Hamilton-Iverson starting backcourt, then a small team with Hamilton, Iverson, and Rodney Stuckey together and Prince at power forward, and has now settled on Iverson-Stuckey with Hamilton as the sixth man. Which brings me to my next point...

4. By trading Billups (and then moving Hamilton to the bench), the Pistons were implicitly handing the keys to the franchise over to Stuckey. Notwithstanding a flurry of strong performances in December and early January, he has yet to prove worthy of that faith.

All of those are issues that are linked to the Iverson trade, but how many of them are really his fault? I'm not a Pistons fan so I haven't seen enough of them to say how much he has contributed to their demise, but I would think the factors I mentioned above have been significant as well.

At Thursday, February 26, 2009 7:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Not only do I agree with you but your comment reinforces what I have said to several people on numerous occasions: not only would I put what I am doing here at this site up against anything that is being published about the NBA anywhere else, but a lot of the people who comment at my site understand the NBA and write more coherently about it than the so-called experts do.

In a brief comment, you made more sense about Detroit's season than Dave Berri and his merry band of blind followers have over at WoW in several posts/threads about this subject.

At Thursday, February 26, 2009 8:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"However, there is no dressing up the fact that his shooting was at a historically low level versus Boston."

Again, against Boston, James' ts%, was 2% points less than what Kobe offered against the Celtics. Now, that is a difference. But it's not a huge difference. That is less than the difference between Manu's career ts% and Kobe's for instance, a difference you have always ignored. It is also 3% less than the difference between Kobe's career 53.5% playoff ts% and the 58.7% Manu has put up in the postseason.

And really, taking into account how much worse Lebron's supporting cast was at shooting the ball, how much of the load Lebron had to carry, Lebron's scoring performance was arguably better. They were just the 19th best offense in the NBA last year, while the Lakers were the 3rd best. Not the kind of argument I generally make but I will throw it out there.

As for Kobe and MJ, Kobe's best playoff season (2000-1) falls short of MJ's career playoff average. You can't even compare the two.

What is so interesting to me is that you see such an enormous difference between Kobe's scoring performance and Lebron's against the Celtics.

I grant that they looked totally different. Lebron got off to such a horrific start as you said, that that became the story I think. Lebron couldn't shoot over Boston. Which was true in a sense. But he adapted. And by the end of the series his performance fell, as I have said, just short of Kobe's, and the Cavs were able to extend the Celts to seven games, coming much closer than anyone else to winning the series.

The story of that series really was Lebron realizing he wasn't shooting well or couldn't shoot well, and then attacking the basket with vigor. He got to the line 67 times in the last 5 games of the series and shot 76%. That enabled him to post a ts% of 54.5% over those last five games. Kobe got to the line 49 times in six games and hit the same number of 3s as Lebron did in those last five games.

I tell you what, the next time you see Lebron, ask him about all those foul shots he took against Boston and if he learned something about how to be effective against tough competition when his shot isn't falling. Ask him if that was what made him realize he needed to work on getting his ft% up this year perhaps. Might be interesting...


At Friday, February 27, 2009 8:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The fundamental source of our disagreement about many different player evaluations is that you base your conclusions largely--if not solely--on the numbers and thus fail to consider how exactly players play and what impact they have that is not quantified by numbers.

You are very enamored with the TS% stat but that is not the only or even the best way to evaluate a player's impact.

The reality in this particular instance is actually quite simple and irrefutable: LeBron is a below average shooter from virtually every area outside of the immediate vicinity of the basket, as shown in the "Hot Spots" charts, while Kobe is an above average shooter from many different areas. As Josh Tucker pointed out at Respect Kobe, even though LeBron shoots more point blank shots (i.e., dunks) than Kobe, Kobe shoots just about the same number of shots in the paint as LeBron does. Contrary to popular belief, Kobe is neither shying away from the paint nor is he unable to get there; he just gets there by posting up instead of bulling his way to the rim. Kobe has a much more developed and complete offensive skill set than LeBron but LeBron is still very difficult for most teams to stop because if they are unable or unwilling to "build a wall" around the paint then LeBron will simply keep dunking on them. The problem for LeBron arises when teams don't let him just waltz into the paint. He has not developed a post up game, a consistent midrange jumper or a consistent three point shot.

You can manipulate numbers however you want but with LeBron's current skill set he would not have been able to lead the Cavs to a series victory over the Spurs the way that Kobe did last year.

What you are calling an adjustment by LeBron I would say is more accurately described as Boston simply wearing down; some "holes" developed in their wall around the paint as the series progressed. That is because LeBron is a great player and it is hard to keep him out of the paint for a whole seven game series. However, the Celtics got their wins when they needed to and then they survived a hot shooting game by LeBron in game seven.

There are two interesting aspects of this story that you completely ignore:

1) If LeBron's supporting cast had not played great defense and made some clutch shots then the Cavs would have been swept.

2) I am not comparing Kobe and MJ, at least not in the sense of saying that Kobe is as good overall as MJ was. However, Kobe's performance in the Western Conference playoffs last year was absolutely Jordanesque: 30-plus ppg, .500+ fg%, better than 5 rpg and 5 apg. MJ did not shoot above .500 for a playoff season after 1991 and in two of his final three championship seasons his floor numbers (rpg, apg) were worse than the ones Kobe posted during last year's playoffs. Kobe's performance in last year's Western Conference playoffs is comparable to MJ's performance in, for instance, the 1991 or 1992 playoffs, with the obvious difference being that MJ's teams won titles in both of those years--and the other obvious difference being that MJ had a Top 50 player (Pippen) by his side, while Kobe had Pau Gasol, a solid All-Star who disappeared in the Finals.

Kobe's '01 playoff performance was also outstanding but then we get into the whole thing about whether Kobe was the "lead guy" or whether he benefited from Shaq attracting defensive coverage. Last year, Kobe was obviously the "lead guy" for the Lakers.

At Friday, February 27, 2009 8:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


LeBron's struggles versus Houston on Thursday are yet another example of what happens when a team keeps him out of the paint. LeBron's lack of a postup game and a consistent jumper were very evident. Kobe has shown that he can post up bigger players--including LeBron himself--but LeBron has yet to show that he can even postup smaller players on a consistent basis; this is something that he can only fix by improving his footwork. Gary Payton and Sam Cassell proved that you don't have to be big or jump high to be effective on the block. LeBron would be wise to watch some tapes of Kobe on the block and try to learn some of the footwork that Kobe uses. Of course, LeBron will also have to develop a solid jump shot, because Kobe uses the fadeaway jumper as a counter move if his defender stops his initial postup.

No matter what you think TS% tells you, it all comes back to LeBron not having a consistent jump shot. If he were not so exceptional in other phases of the game, this would be a really serious weakness for a faceup perimeter player but it is to his credit that he is so big, strong and talented that he has become the second best player in the league even though his game is not yet completely well rounded.

At Friday, February 27, 2009 11:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam Cassell was a fairly efficient scorer, 54.4%. But it's interesting you bring up Gary Payton, who had just a 52.8% career ts%. Why do you remember him as a great scorer when he clearly wasn't? Is it because you have vivid memories of his postup prowess?

What's clear reading your work is that you have a very aesthetic mindset. You evaluate basketball players on a range of criteria that seem to relate as much to artistic appreciation as to winning basketball games. You value having a well rounded scoring skill set with no visible weaknesses despite all the games and championships won by players who are one trick ponies. You seem to discard the fact that perimeter scoring is a relatively abundant good, while guys who can score a lot and very efficiently at close range are very rare commodities.

In that vein, you seem to devalue Lebron's scoring because so much of it comes at the rim. And it's not clear why. One would think that the ability to shoot 70% on 40% of your shots would be something every NBA player would aspire to. You would think that the fact that Lebron has demonstrated the ability to do this against the toughest defense in the NBA on the playoff stage would mean something. You would think also that you would ascribe some value to the fact he has scored more this year than Kobe and done so more efficiently. But at the end of the day, you don't seem to put much value on those facts.

Really, what I find interesting here is that you are an expert. You have spent a great amount of time thinking and writing about pro basketball, picking the brains of the people involved, watching games, etc etc. You have developed a set of instincts for the game and you go with that. Which is probably essential for a writer . Reading your stuff, it really strikes me as if you think of NBA players like paintings hanging on the wall, and you are the art critic.

And I don't think there is anything wrong with that. But I think that's why I think this Kobe vs. Lebron debate is so fascinating. It's very cut and dry example of the numbers being in conflict with gut opinion. Not just you but many others who put a higher value on Kobe, imho, simply because he is easier to appreciate and more "beautiful" to watch, for lack of a better word.

Which I understand, because frankly, I like Kobe's game better too. For emotional impact, for how much I feel watching the game of basketball, there is no one like Kobe. No one can match him for dramatic value and showmanship. There is a real difference in the impact he makes with a dagger turnaround jumper, as opposed to some other guy sinking two free throws. It's palpable, even if it makes no difference to the outcome of games. He has the ability to do things that you don't believe can be done, and that stays with people.

Which is why I like the numbers. They allow you to separate how a player makes me feel from what he is actually doing on the court. Those aren't always the same thing.
Lebron had a terrible game last night, his worst of the year. Poor scoring and his floor game was worse. But I thought I would pass this along from this morning's post at True Hoop, it's a quote from Morey.

"Yes, (Lebron)'s the best player in the league – by a good margin, I think. If you had first pick in the all-free agent NBA draft, you'd take LeBron James. I get that question a lot, too, so I figured I'd answer that as well. He's unbelievable. We have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league and it is going to be extremely difficult for both. They're going to give it their all but, more than anyone, he's a tough guard. There's a reason the [Michael Lewis] article is about Kobe, not LeBron (laughs)."


At Sunday, March 01, 2009 2:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not say that I "remembered Gary Payton as a great scorer." I listed he and Sam Cassell as two players who did not possess great size or jumping ability (relative to other NBA players) but were able to score on the block using postup moves. I described one particular aspect of each player's skill set. I did not provide an overall evaluation of their games. Cassell and Payton both had better post moves--from the standpoint of footwork and body positioning--than LeBron James currently does.

I don't know why it is "clear" to you that I have an "aesthetic" mindset. I think that I am pretty familiar with my work--forgive the sarcasm--and I cannot recall ever saying that Kobe is a better player than LeBron because Kobe's game is more aesthetically pleasing. I am pretty sure that I have never made such an assertion in any player comparison, for that matter. If you cannot provide a specific example of me making such an assertion then you should refrain from categorizing my work in that fashion and simply take what I say at face value.

Whether or not "perimeter scoring is an abundant good," well rounded players with complete skill sets most assuredly are not. Currently, in fact, there is only one such player in the NBA: Kobe Bryant.

I do not "devalue" LeBron's ability to score in the paint. If I did, then I would rank him a whole lot lower than the second best player in the entire league. How is calling LeBron the second best player--and by a small margin this season--devaluing him or any aspect of his game?

Contrary to what you wrote, LeBron has not proven that he can score efficiently against elite defenses. In fact, the opposite is true, as seen in the last two playoff series that his team has lost.

Again, you are losing me with the whole "aesthetic/art critic" business. When I compare players or analyze games in recaps, I am striving to as objectively as possible explain what the players can and cannot do and why they and their teams are successful (or not successful).

I cannot speak for other people who may have various reasons for how they rate Kobe. I rate Kobe slightly ahead of LeBron at this stage of their careers because the completeness of Kobe's skill set is still more valuable than LeBron's combination of athletic power married to an erratic shooting touch outside of the paint. LeBron will eventually surpass Kobe--either due to LeBron improving, Kobe aging or some combination thereof--and it's not like I am going to go into mourning or denial when this happens. It just has not happened yet.

Morey's opinion is in the minority on two counts. Most GMs still rank Kobe ahead of LeBron and, therefore, it is obvious that it is an even smaller minority that not only would take LeBron but that believes that he is the best player "by a good margin." Am I to believe Morey's words or the actions of his team's defense in completely shutting LeBron down in that game? Also, although Morey suggested that it is easier to guard Kobe than LeBron, here is a quote (from the same article) from Sam Hinkie--Houston's Vice President of Basketball Operations and the head of the team's front office basketball analytics staff:

"With most guys, Shane can kick them from their good zone to bad zone, but with Kobe you're just picking your poison. It's the epitome of, Which way do you want to die?"

In case you missed it, I interviewed Battier after Houston's game in Cleveland earlier this year. I asked him about guarding Kobe and LeBron. Here is that exchange:

Friedman: "When you guard someone like LeBron, what is your mindset coming into the game? What are you trying to force him to do and what options are you trying to take away?"

Battier: "You know that he is going to score his points, so you don't go into the game thinking that you are going to shut him out. He's too good of a player. You try to make him work. You try to make him hit tough shots with a hand in his face. If he takes long two point jumpers while you stood in front of him and you keep him off of the foul line then you live with the result and you move on."

Friedman: "What are the similarities and the differences between how you would guard LeBron and how you would guard Kobe, based on their body types and their skill sets?"

Battier: "There are some similarities. Obviously, you want to keep both of them off of the foul line. You want to take away their easy buckets in transition. You don't want to give them anything that gives them confidence; it's a lot tougher to do than to talk about (laughs). They are such great, phenomenal players that you just try to work, you try to stay in front of them and you try to make them shoot tough jumpers."

Friedman: "I know that LeBron has improved his jump shot but at this stage is there a difference in how you would guard them on the perimeter? Kobe is considered to be a better perimeter shooter, so would you guard him differently if there is a screen/roll?"

Battier: "In transition, you really have to find Kobe (on the perimeter). LeBron has improved his three point shooting but with Kobe you really have to start looking for him once he crosses halfcourt. But with LeBron, you better know where he is when he crosses the other free throw line because if he has a step and he is going full bore he is tough to stop in transition."

Friedman: "So with LeBron you are more worried that he is going to get that head of steam and get in the paint, like the play where T-Mac fouled him and he scored anyway."

Battier: "Yeah, you can't do much about that."

At Sunday, March 01, 2009 8:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - So the argument is this.

In the regular season this year, Lebron has scored more than Kobe and is more efficient also. But Kobe is actually the more effective scorer because his skill set allows him to perform better than Lebron in the playoffs against great defenses."

That is your opinion. Obviously I don't agree and don't think many people will be agreeing with you for very long. We shall see how it all turns out.


At Sunday, March 01, 2009 10:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, I am saying that Kobe's skill set is more suited to scoring against elite defenses than LeBron is.

As for your other statements, I don't know which player will score more points by the end of the season. Anyway, LeBron led the league in scoring last year but Kobe rightly won the MVP. I thought that you don't place much value on "counting stats," so what difference does it make if LeBron scores .5 ppg more than Kobe or vice versa?

It is your opinion that LeBron is a more efficient scorer than Kobe. That is not a fact. LeBron's skill set as a scorer is more limited than Kobe's and LeBron's role on his team is different.

I don't know how many people agree with me or for how long they will agree with me--and, frankly, I don't really care. I am interested in the opinions of people who know what they are talking about but I am not trying to win some popularity contest. I will continue to write the truth to the best of my ability and people can react to it however they feel like reacting.

At Monday, March 02, 2009 2:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is your opinion that LeBron is a more efficient scorer than Kobe."

Actually, that's not an opinion. That is a fact. You can check the true shooting percentages. Lebron has been 1.9% more efficient this year than Kobe.

And given that they score exactly the same amount (despite Kobe playing at a faster pace) and play the same role in the offense, there aren't really any mitigating factors to consider.

At some point in the future, if Lebron starts bricking free throws for instance, Kobe may regain the lead in efficiency. But right now he trails. And until that changes, you can't truthfully say he has been a better scorer this year.


At Monday, March 02, 2009 3:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This is just another example of your blind usage of numbers at the expense of actually understanding the game.

Neither LeBron nor Kobe rank in the top 20 in TS%. Does that mean that guys like Jose Calderon, Troy Murphy and James Posey are more efficient scorers than LeBron and Kobe, just because they have better TS% numbers? You have to consider a player's role on his team, his skill set and how defenses cover him. Kobe's TS% does not tell the whole story about either his efficiency or the efficiency that he enables his teammates to enjoy by continually drawing double teams. Shooting percentages are just raw data. That data is important to some extent--if someone is shooting an insanely good (or bad) percentage, that is important to know (but we'd also probably figure that out about the player even without looking at the numbers)--but it is not more important than making an objective and thorough evaluation of a player's skill set, looking at what exactly he does and does not do (and what he can and cannot do).

In your opinion, LeBron's TS% shows that he is a more efficient scorer than Kobe--but that does not make that statement factual. It is just your opinion.

At Monday, March 02, 2009 12:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a fact that Lebron's true shooting percentage is higher than Kobe's this year, one which I guess you will continue to ignore. But he is closing the gap. It is no longer a fact that Kobe scores less on a per 36 basis. He just passed him, although per 100 possessions Lebron still scores more.

The apples to oranges debate, Calderon vs. Kobe for instance, is another issue. There are no questions about usage vs. efficiency here. we aren't comparing one player to another who scores 15 more points per 36. Lebron and Kobe play the same role on the court and they are perfectly matched on volume.

As for this:

"looking at what exactly he does and does not do (and what he can and cannot do)."

Again. Why is this important? This isn't ice skating. You don't get graded on technical merit in basketball. There is no bonus for the completeness of your repertoire or the difficulty of your routine. And we aren't discussing the platonic ideal of a basketball player.

Hopefully, by the end of the year Kobe will have passed Lebron on both measures, and then we can move on to arguing about what Lebron's massive advantages in other areas of the box score mean.

At Monday, March 02, 2009 6:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not contesting your listing of who ranks higher in these statistical categories; I did not even bother to check if you are right or not. The only thing that I looked up prior to responding is that neither Kobe nor LeBron rank in the top 20 in the NBA in TS% this year.

TS% is just one statistic. It is one piece of information, not a total summation of a player's shooting ability, scoring ability or total value. You believe that LeBron's TS% proves that he is a more efficient scorer than Kobe. I interpret the overall picture differently. The Hot Spots charts show that Kobe is an above average shooter from a wide variety of areas on the court, while LeBron is well above average when he is right around the rim but he is also below average from many other areas. So, to slow down LeBron (relatively speaking), the defense only has to keep him out of one area. Slowing Kobe down is much more complex. From my perspective, that makes Kobe harder to guard/more efficient/a better scorer.

Your ice skating analogy is completely off base. I am not grading on "artistic merit." I honestly don't know if you really simply cannot understand this or if you are just trying to be argumentative. I will try to explain this one more time:

Kobe Bryant has a more complete and versatile offensive repertoire than LeBron and that makes Kobe harder to guard. This has nothing to do with beauty or artistic merit. I am comparing skill sets, the way that a scout would (of course, scouts do not always agree and we can see that NBA GMs do not agree about Kobe versus LeBron, though a majority would choose Kobe).

Kobe's offensive skill set--as a scorer--includes one and two dribble pullup jumpers, shooting range that extends beyond the three point line, a post up game, the ability to finish in traffic with either hand, and cutting hard to the basket off of the ball. He is also an excellent free throw shooter who is good at drawing fouls.

LeBron's offensive skill set--as a scorer--consists primarily of driving to the hoop in the open court or half court set and the ability to draw fouls. This year, he has improved his free throw shooting to an acceptable level. His post up game is not great and his jump shot from all ranges is erratic at best. He does not have the ability to consistently make one or two dribble pullup jumpers.

Due to LeBron's skill set weaknesses offensively, opposing teams can go under on screen/roll plays, conceding him the jump shot and clogging his passing lanes. Sometimes, LeBron will make the open jumper. Sometimes, he will thread the needle with a pass. Sometimes, either the defense does not completely close off the driving lane or he uses his superior athletic ability to force his way through into the paint. However, LeBron's offensive skill set is not as complete as Kobe's. Defenders cannot go under screens versus Kobe. That means that Kobe's screener is more likely to pop open and that his other teammates enjoy better spacing.

Is LeBron remarkably skilled and effective despite his weaknesses? Obviously. That is why I rank him as the second best player in the NBA, just behind Kobe. It is not easy to guard LeBron, even with his weaknesses.

At Tuesday, March 03, 2009 1:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Kobe Bryant has a more complete and versatile offensive repertoire than LeBron and that makes Kobe harder to guard."

I understand he is really difficult to guard. But could you define harder to guard? I mean the obvious question is if this is true, why aren't Kobe's scoring statistics better? With all his varied weapons, why isn't his true shooting percentage higher?

The premise of your skill set analysis is that by having no flaw he is able to be efficient no matter what the defense throws at him. So why don't the numbers reflect that?

What is different about Kobe's way of scoring that makes it worth scoring 2% less frequently?


At Tuesday, March 03, 2009 6:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have addressed this issue in various posts and comments, but I'll take another stab at it.

I am evaluating NBA players from a scout's/coach's/GM's perspective. I look at what a player does well and what he does poorly (scout's eye view), how I would deploy a player/deploy my players against him (coach's view) and whether I would rather have player A or player B (GM's view).

When I look at LeBron, I see an athletic freak (in the best sense of the word) who has great court vision, who is a very good rebounder and who (now) plays aggressive defense, both on his man and also in terms of fitting in to his team's defensive scheme. If he has a straight line attack to the hoop he is very, very difficult to stop. His free throw shooting, once a weakness, is now adequate. However, his shooting touch outside of the paint is very erratic and despite his physical gifts he is not a great scorer on the block. The Cavs cannot just post up LeBron like he is Shaq or Kareem and depend on him to shoot a high percentage via low post moves; he scores in the paint by driving, not by posting up, and those driving lanes can be shut down. So, if I am coaching against him, I tell my players to go under all screens and to sag into the paint as much as the defensive three seconds rule permits. It is not easy to guard LeBron because he is so big and fast and because he is a willing and able passer but there is a recipe to deal with him. Of course, on one of those nights when he is making the outside shot there is not much that can be done, but I'd still stick with the same strategy--make him shoot those long Js, don't give up dunks/free throws and don't give up open spot up shots to guys like Williams, Gibson and West.

When I look at Kobe, I see a player who is not only athletically gifted but one who has mastered the nuances and subtleties of the game in terms of footwork and body positioning, both offensively and defensively. Kobe can score facing the basket from beyond the three point line but he also has a deadly midrange and postup game. He is not as powerful a finisher as LeBron but he is nonetheless a very, very good driver who draws fouls and shoots a much higher FT% than LeBron. Kobe is top of the line for his position in terms of rebounding, passing and defense, also.

While Kobe does some things better than others as a scorer relatively speaking, he is not weak at anything. That means that there is not one recipe/scheme that can be used against him. Going under screens with him is death, because he will make that shot consistently. Bryant has to be trapped, but he has to be trapped carefully because he is more than capable of splitting a careless trap and driving all the way to the hoop. He requires so much attention that his teammates can consistently play four on three. Gasol rarely sees double teams when Kobe is in the game (unless the Laker spacing is poor or the defense traps Gasol very late in the shot clock). Fisher and other perimeter players get tons of open jumpers on the weak side. Passing lanes are usually open for Kobe because the defenders dare not sag off of him (and he is big enough to see over them even when he is double teamed tightly).

So why doesn't Kobe shoot .800 from the field and get 15 assists per game if he is the best player? That, with only slight exaggeration, is what you are asking and, seen that way, it is a bit of a naive question. The NBA game is played with a 24 second shot clock. As Hank Egan, longtime defensive guru who is currently an assistant coach with the Cavs, once told me, the shot clock is "the monster." Bryant does not have unlimited time to play one on one versus a lone defender. Sometimes he has to take contested shots with the shot clock winding down because the possession broke down and the ball ended up back in his hands. Just looking at shooting percentages does not tell the whole story. A player who shoots a great percentage because all he does is dunk the ball is not more valuable or harder to defend than a player who shoots a lower percentage but is reasonably accurate from various areas of the court. Obviously, LeBron is not "just" a dunker but his lack of a consistent outside shot is a skill set weakness. That said, he is so good at everything else and such a strong driver that I assess Kobe to be only a slightly better player at this point; last year, Kobe had a larger edge because LeBron's defense and free throw shooting were not at the levels they are this season.

If I were a GM, I'd take Kobe over LeBron right now because Kobe has no skill set weaknesses and has proven that he can be effective in a playoff situation against elite level defenses. I think that LeBron is capable of leading a team to a championship and would take him over Kobe if the question were which player would I want to have for the next three to five years but for right now Kobe poses more problems for a defense. As I have noted, that is what most GMs and coaches say, too; I'm just explaining the rationale behind their thinking.

Forget all of this TS% business for a minute. Kobe's career regular season FG% is .455, which is very good considering how many three pointers he shoots. This year, he is shooting a career-high .474. People are acting like he has gotten old, but he actually is more efficient than ever. His career playoff FG% is .445. Most players shoot worse in the playoffs because the competition is tougher and because teams zero in on one opponent (instead of playing four teams in five nights). In his last three playoffs, Kobe has shot .497, .462 and .479--and that .479 was well over .500 before he ran into the Celtics, one of the best defensive teams in recent memory.

LeBron James' career regular season FG% is .470 and he is shooting a career-high .490 this year. However, his career playoff field goal percentage is .433 and he has never shot above .476 in three playoff appearances. When he faces tougher defenses that wall off his driving lanes, his shooting percentage plummets.

I don't rate players based purely on numbers or formulas; stats are just one piece of the puzzle.

At Tuesday, March 03, 2009 4:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Forget all of this TS% business for a minute. Kobe's career regular season FG% is .455, which is very good considering how many three pointers he shoots. This year, he is shooting a career-high .474. People are acting like he has gotten old, but he actually is more efficient than ever."

This is incorrect. His fg% percentage and effective fg% may be at an all time high, but his ts% crested at a career high of 58% two years ago. That mark is below what Lebron is currently offering.

The reason he has been less efficient this year is largely because he is only getting to the line 7.3 times per 36 last year as opposed to 8.8 times two years ago.

To me, I just don't understand why you would quote one kind of number, than tell me to ignore a different kind of number that statistical experts unanimously agree is the simple best basketball statistic available.

At the end of the day, all I can say, is that the statistics don't back you up. Which is generally the way our discussions go. As always, what you do with that information is up to you, but I continue to believe that your analysis could be strengthened with judicious use of statistics.


At Tuesday, March 03, 2009 10:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Even according to your precious TS% stat, Kobe is enjoying the third best shooting season of his 13 year career and his past three seasons have been his three best shooting seasons, which means that the larger point of what I said is correct: Kobe is a better shooter in his "advanced" age than he was when he was younger, even though some people try to suggest that he is declining.

I have not "told you" to ignore anything. I have said that you rely too much on stats in general and this one particular stat in particular.

Whether or not you think that your favorite stats support my arguments is irrelevant. By the way, since you are so interested in TS% why have you neglected to mention that Kobe has a better TS% in his playoff career than LeBron and that he outperformed LeBron .577 to .525 in the 2008 playoffs? You only cite TS% when it supports your subjective belief that LeBron is a better player than Kobe.

Let's cut to the chase here: You don't actually watch the games and analyze how each player plays or understand how NBA offenses and defenses are structured. You just smugly look at a spreadsheet and assume that you understand player evaluation better than the GMs who do this for a living.

I have explained the basis for my skill set evaluation of Kobe and LeBron. You choose to rely solely on your interpretation of certain statistics but numbers only tell part of the story. If the numbers provided perfectly accurate information then there would be no need to play the games; we could just plug the numbers into a computer and declare who the NBA champion is but that is not how the real world works.

At Wednesday, March 04, 2009 1:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe certainly isn't a spent force. I never suggested he was. His Wins Produced this year is above his career average and he has been one of the 15 most productive players in the league at minimum. And Kobe's scoring efficiency has increased lately. In fact, it rose after Shaq left. Which is interesting, since the CW is that it is harder to score without other great players like Shaq on your team drawing defensive attention.

And Kobe has been solid in the playoffs the last three years. But two of those years he played just one series. His career playoff stats show that his productivity drops off substantially in the playoffs, just like everyone else. And his career playoff ts% of 53.5% reflects that.

TS% isn't everything, I am not saying it is, but if you focus just on scoring it looms pretty large. In general though, it's just one factor among many. Kevin Martin and Danny Granger are both prolific scorers and each has been more efficient than Kobe this year. Martin in particular has demonstrated over the last few yaers that he is a much more efficient scorer than Kobe. But Martin trails Kobe by a huge margin everywhere else. He has actually been below average this year overall, while Granger is just above average.

As for me, I don't live in my mother's basement and pore over spreadsheets. And the reason I believe that some NBA Gm's can be total idiots is because it is a fact. I am a New York Knicks fan. Do you really care to argue the point?

In finance, you can outperform 80% of the "experts" by buying an index fund. In medicine, there are many areas where a rote formula outperforms human judgment.

Is the NBA different? The evidence suggests not. In fact, the salary data, showing compensation is highly correlated to scoring per game, without regard for efficiency, suggests that NBA Gm's are as subject to broad based cognitive error as experts in other fields.

For all the vitriol you have directed towards the Wages of Wins, I haven't really seen you grapple much with that fact or what it suggests about how GM's make their decisions.

At the end of day, your blog is your blog. My basic point re Kobe and Lebron is that there seems to be pretty broad consensus in the stat community about who the better player is this year. What you do with that information is up to you.

I think what really sparked this most recent dialogue on my end was reading a book called How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. I will leave you with something from a very interesting section about political pundits, examining why they performed worse than random chance in their predictions about future events and what makes a good pundit.

"One of the best ways to distinguish genuine from phony expertise is to look at how a person responds to dissonant data. Does he or she reject the data out of hand? Perform elaborate mental gymnastics to avoid admitting errors? Everyone makes mistakes. The object is to learn from mistakes. Tetlock notes that the best pundits are willing to state their opinions in "testable form" so that they can "continually monitor their forecasting performance." He argues that this approach makes pundits not only more responsible - they are forced to account for being wrong - but also less prone to bombastic convictions, a crucial sign that the pundit isn't worth listening to. (In other words, ignore those commentators that seem too confident or self-assured. The people on television who are most certain are almost certainly going to be wrong.) As Tetlock writes, "the dominant danger (for pundits) remains hubris, the vice of closed-mindedness, of dismissing dissonnant possibilities too quickly."


At Wednesday, March 04, 2009 5:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


However you want to spin it, Kobe's TS% is better than LeBron's under the crucible of playoff competition and I find it odd that you never brought that up while making all of your comments about TS%.

I agree with you completely that TS% is just one factor among many and I have explained quite clearly why LeBron's slight regular season edge over Kobe in TS% does not "prove" that he is a more efficient scorer than Kobe, let alone that he is a better all around player.

As I have said many times before, NBA GMs are no different than people in any other fields: some of them are outstanding, some of them are average and some of them are below average. Nevertheless, even the below average ones understand basketball better than the casual fan, if for no other reason than that the GMs have access to more data (by that I don't mean just numbers, but information in general about a player's skill set as well as his personality, character and coachability).

If a GM makes a mistake does that prove that fans know better in general? Do you believe that if you ran an NBA team strictly according to the dictates of your favorite statistical metrics that you would never make a mistake? Moneyball is an interesting book but I've yet to see the A's win a World Series. Morey sounds very knowledgeable but his Rockets have yet to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

Do you think that just because there are some examples of a formula "outperforming rote judgment" we should not rely on the observations and wisdom of trained professionals?

I have "grappled" on many occasions with the question of how GMs make decisions and I have stated explicitly the flaw in Berri's basic contention that the NBA salary structure "proves" that the GMs overvalue scoring. Berri does not take into account the effects of the salary cap, the CBA and the influence of meddling owners on the actions of GMs. GMs can not simply go on the open market and pay precisely what a player is "objectively" worth. If a GM wants a certain player and someone else is willing/able to overpay, then the first GM has to either overpay or look elsewhere. Perhaps the Magic "overpaid" for Rashard Lewis but so far the results look good. Berri might have advocated that the Magic spend their money elsewhere but he fails to consider that there are a finite number of players who are available at a given time. Sometimes, the choice is between "overpaying" for a guy who can help you now or doing nothing and then facing the wrath of the owner, the sponsors, the fans, etc. Berri is looking at the game from the comfort of his ivory tower and not giving the GMs enough credit for dealing with the real world situation of running an NBA team.

As for the closing quote that you cited, I agree with you completely that the folks who are employing basketball statistical analysis as their sole method for understanding the game should be less certain of the correctness of their conclusions and less bombastic about declaring that everyone who disagrees with them is wrong. They should be much more open minded to considering what GMs, coaches and scouts glean by actually watching the game with understanding. I would very much like to see them state their opinions in "testable form"; in fact, one of my criticisms of the stat gurus is that they don't provide a margin of error for their player rankings. Player X is supposedly exactly 33.4 (or whatever) but that is a naive statement; the player ranking is derived from manipulating raw data that is not perfect (as I have shown when tracking Chris Paul's assists), so by definition there has to be a margin of error even if the stat guru's formula is perfect--and it should be obvious that any such formula is far from perfect.

So, the quote you cite provides some very good reasons to disregard the bleatings of anyone who says that he can definitively rank NBA players in precise order. Of course, what I have been doing here all along is quite different from that: I list the skill set strengths and weaknesses of players and explain why one player is better than another based on an analysis of that information. I don't consider what I am doing to be fool proof and my conclusions are certainly subject to modification as more data becomes available. Thank you for appreciating the difference between what I am doing and what someone like Berri is doing.

At Wednesday, March 04, 2009 6:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are doing something different from what Berri and other statistical analysts of all stripes are doing. Which is great. Frankly, I often enjoy your work and find it informative. For me, as a place to go to understand why players produce the statistics they do, it's often excellent. And your other areas of emphasis, like the historical pieces, are good too.

But obviously, I feel like there are a lot of areas where you could improve your analysis. Forget Wins Produced, adjusted +-, regressions etc. Just simple stuff, like incorporating pace and rate statistics, using per minute statistics to evaluate bench players, maybe a little ts%, and looking at offensive and defensive efficiency, etc. Those statistics are here to stay. They don't land on the cover of the NYTM and just disappear. And you could use them profitably.

Let me ask you this question. How many NBA GM's, if you asked them, would say the Denver Nuggets were a below average defensive team last year because they allowed the second most points in the league. And how many would point out that they were 10th in defensive differential?

And assuming you would get both answers, which would be right?


At Thursday, March 05, 2009 6:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I use statistics as part of my evaluation process, even if I don't explicitly mention them all the time. What I don't use are these various player ranking formulas that assign one supposedly definitive "value" to each player in the league. I think that +/- is useful but only if you actually watched that game and can describe what happened; if I ran a team, I would use adjusted +/- as one way of seeing which lineup combinations are effective but not necessarily as a way to evaluate one player's absolute value. I also would not trust the adjusted +/- numbers without some film footage to show why certain lineups were effective.

I have not asked GMs or coaches specifically about Denver's defense. During the summer league play, George Karl was interviewed on NBA TV and he said that he thought his team's set defense in 2008 was not bad but that the transition defense was poor and that he intended to emphasize that aspect in training camp. My opinion about Denver is that Melo has never bought into the importance of defense and that when the team's best--or, at the very least, most prominent--player does not buy into defense then the team's defensive effort is going to be sporadic at best. Regardless of what the numbers say, Melo is an awful defensive player, constantly out of position and often just disinterested. He will go through spurts when he is active and gets some deflections and steals but he is primarily focused on scoring points.

As for which answer would be "right," if you look at Denver's overall record last year, the Nuggets fattened up their differential with blowout wins against subpar teams (particularly a few games against Seattle), so I would contend that their differential is deceptive. They certainly never played championship or elite level defense and they were completely undressed in all phases of the game by the Lakers in the first round. Kenny Smith said something about their bad offense--in terms of shot selection, one on one play, etc.--hurting their defense at times and that probably gets back to what Karl said about transition defense, because when you take bad shots you tend to feed the other team's fast break.

With Billups in and Camby and Najera out this season, I can't really envision that I am going to poll a bunch of GMs about Denver's 2008 defense at this point...

At Thursday, March 05, 2009 10:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a note. Lebron, after shooting 10-12 in the last two games, has now passed Kobe this year in three point %. Probably won't last but interesting nonetheless...

I am not sure how you fatten up your defensive efficiency differential. But as for the Nuggets, I didn't say they were a championship level defense. They weren't a great team last year. But they were ranked one slot higher on defense than they were on offense, despite the fact the perception was much different because of the pace they played at and the offensive "stars" they had on the roster.

I agree about Melo. The box score stats point to him being closer to an average player than a star, although apparently the adjusted +/- numbers say something different.


At Thursday, March 05, 2009 8:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I'm actually working on an article about LeBron's three point shooting this year. His recent outburst has boosted his season percentage nearly to career-high levels but he has done this in the past (.391 in December 2006, .400 in January 2005, etc.) and not been able to sustain it. Obviously, if LeBron can sustain a good three point percentage and shoot well from the midrange then he will essentially be unguardable.

Maybe we are talking about two different things regarding Denver. I was referring to their point differential.

Melo is a very skilled scorer but not a great all-around player, as I noted in my recent article about him.

At Friday, March 06, 2009 9:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Raw point differential? I am looking at offensive and defensive efficiency differential, i.e. points per 100 possessions scored and allowed, which you net out to see how good a team is. That's similar to point differential but a little more precise, as it adjusts for pace.

Again, you can't inflate your defensive efficiency differential by running up the score. You have to actually prevent your opponents from scoring.


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