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Monday, March 07, 2011

Bryant Leads the Way as Lakers Pummel Spurs

I have been diligently working on an article about how underrated the San Antonio Spurs are and how history shows that most teams that win at their current rate at least advance to the NBA Finals but now does not seem like the ideal moment to publish that piece of analysis; I have followed the NBA for far too long to believe that one regular season game outweighs a body of work consisting of dozens of games played over several months but when the two-time defending NBA champion L.A. Lakers roar into San Antonio and pillage the Spurs 99-83 it only seems fair to analyze that carnage before praising the Spurs.

"What is wrong with the Lakers?" has been a very popular question this season and I have even gotten in on the act a couple times (most recently about a month ago), if for no other reason than to refute some of the nonsense that other people have written about this subject. The Lakers won their first six games after Kobe Bryant's scintillating All-Star MVP performance but those victories were just warmup acts for Sunday's showdown in San Antonio; the Spurs have all but clinched the top seed in the West, meaning that the Lakers will likely have to win at least one playoff game in San Antonio in order to advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year. The Spurs defeated the Lakers in both prior meetings this season but yesterday, to borrow Mark Jackson's witty line, it looked like the Miami Heat's big brother showed up to avenge the way that the Spurs pounded the Heat on Friday: the Lakers raced to a 34-13 lead by the end of the first quarter and were never seriously threatened the rest of the way.

Kobe Bryant missed his first three shots but still paced the Lakers with eight points and three assists in the opening stanza. Bryant led the Lakers with a game-high 27 points but he also ranked second on the Lakers with seven rebounds, a performance reminiscent of his 39 point outburst versus the Spurs in the Lakers' series clinching game five victory in the 2008 Western Conference Finals. Bryant has tormented the Spurs for years and, after two subpar games versus them this season, he undoubtedly wanted to reassert his dominance before the 2011 playoffs begin.

The Spurs' three All-Star caliber players did not distinguish themselves: Tony Parker had a solid though slightly subpar outing (14 points, six assists) but Tim Duncan finished with two points and seven rebounds and Manu Ginobili posted a nearly invisible six points and three assists. Backup point guard Gary Neal led the Spurs in scoring with 15 points.

The Spurs look awfully small next to the Lakers--not just on the scoreboard during this one particular game, but physically: it is not just that the Lakers' bigs are, well, bigger than the Spurs' bigs but the Lakers' key wing players--most notably Bryant and Ron Artest--are bigger than their San Antonio counterparts. If the Lakers did not have Bryant then the Spurs could try to counteract the Lakers' size upfront with speed and trapping but leaving Bryant single covered is simply not a viable option.

Although the Lakers used their size advantage upfront to good effect--most notably via Pau Gasol's scoring (21 points) and Andrew Bynum's rebounding (a game-high 17)--it is still puzzling to hear people like ESPN's Chris Mullin talk about how the Lakers can overwhelm teams by putting Gasol, Bynum and Lamar Odom (who was solid with 15 points, six assists and four rebounds) on the court at the same time; the reality is quite different, as I correctly predicted back in 2008:

"Odom is not an ideal small forward, so a frontline of Bynum-Gasol-Odom is not feasible, despite what some people may try to convince you; the only way that those three players can effectively coexist is if one of them comes off of the bench. Gasol is the second best player on the team, so he is not going to be a reserve. Bynum is the best postup player, so it does not make sense to sit him either."

Not only did many "experts" incorrectly predict that Coach Phil Jackson would play Bynum, Gasol and Odom together as starters but many "experts" still act like that is a lineup that Jackson often uses when the truth is that those three players have only been on the court at the same time for very brief stretches (and not just because of Bynum's injuries, but because that lineup is not feasible for the very reasons that I described three years ago).

Coach Jackson wisely uses Gasol, Bynum and Odom in a three man rotation, with Bynum or Gasol playing center and Gasol or Odom playing power forward. A major reason that the Lakers' bigs are so effective is that opposing teams must focus on containing Bryant; the Lakers do not seem nearly as big or imposing when he is not on the court and that became evident in the fourth quarter when the Spurs cut into the Lakers' lead. Coach Jackson inserted Bryant back into the game, a decision that Coach Jackson surely did not make lightly considering the limitations he has placed on Bryant's minutes to preserve Bryant's balky right knee. After the game, Coach Jackson curtly explained, "I didn't like the way the bench was playing. They were settling for outside shots." The reality is that Bryant had helped the Lakers to build such a big lead that strictly speaking they probably did not need for him to return in the final quarter just to preserve the win but it was quite evident that Coach Jackson did not want to let a blowout be reduced to a single digit final margin. Players and coaches will generally not publicly admit to "sending messages" but this game had "Western Union" written all over it; the point was not just to win but to win convincingly and to provide nothing positive for the Spurs to look at on film.

The Spurs are a very good team and they are having a tremendous season that I will analyze at length in an upcoming article. Even though this game indicated that the Spurs have some matchup problems versus a fully healthy, fully engaged Lakers team I still expect that these two squads will engage in a competitive and entertaining Western Conference Finals showdown this season.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:40 AM



At Monday, March 07, 2011 11:50:00 AM, Anonymous Charliegone said...

David, great stuff. I think the Lakers looked great on offense and defense. I'm curious what you think of those that say that the Spurs simply had a bad game and if that contributed to the Spurs' loss. Personally I think the Lakers just took it to them early on that pretty much took them out of the game. Also what do you think of Bynum's role this year. It seems to me that he's been focusing on grabbing rebounds and playing defense since he came back and Gasol has been focusing more on the offensive end.

At Monday, March 07, 2011 4:35:00 PM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

A healthy Bynum is the difference between the Lakers merely winning the championship like the past two seasons, or winning the championship in 2001-like dominant fashion. He blocked or contested so many shots in the first half that when any Spur ventured into the lane in the second half, he didn't have to raise his arms to contest their five to seven-foot shots. His mere presence intimidated them into missing these uncontested shots. More of this in the final 18 games and he deserves 2nd team all-defense consideration.

At Monday, March 07, 2011 7:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Usually, a blowout results from a combination of one team playing really well and the other team being out of form for some reason, so it would not be accurate to simply give all of the credit to the Lakers nor to simply dismiss this as an off game by the Spurs. The Lakers played better than they have at any other time this season and that had an effect on how the Spurs played but I doubt that the Lakers will beat the Spurs so convincingly in future matchups; the Lakers have advantages but the Spurs can do a better job of countering those advantages.

Bynum seems to finally understand that on this team his role primarily revolves around defense and rebounding, not being a primary (or secondary or even tertiary) scoring option.

At Monday, March 07, 2011 7:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Dude Abides:

The Lakers have already won two straight titles--and made three straight Finals appearances--without a healthy Bynum, so it can hardly be said that he is essential to their success but I agree with you that if he is healthy and productive he can help to elevate the Lakers from championship quality to dominant. Unfortunately, he has not shown the ability to be healthy and productive for long stretches of time, so I am somewhat skeptical that he is going to remain healthy all the way until June; I am of course not wishing ill on him but I am just being realistic based on his track record/health history.

I am not sure that 18 games of dominance--if Bynum indeed produces 18 such games--is quite enough to merit All-Defensive Team consideration; on the other hand, after Dwight Howard--who is a lock for the All-Defensive First Team--there are not many great (healthy) defensive centers in the league. I would rank Tyson Chandler, Kendrick Perkins and Joakim Noah ahead of Bynum defensively but all of those guys have missed substantial playing time this season.

At Monday, March 07, 2011 7:59:00 PM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

David, thanks for the reply. My optimism lies in the fact that Bynum's surgeon repaired his meniscus and spread it laterally around his kneecap, rather than just removing it. Greater recovery time, but more long-term stability in the joint. This has resulted in his healthiest and most stable knees since January 2009 when Kobe crashed into him, causing him to tear both his MCL and his meniscus, the latter of which went undiagnosed for 18 months.

My other cause for optimism is the more dominant the Lakers are in the early rounds of the playoffs, the more time Bynum will get to rest and strengthen his knees between series.

At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Dude Abides:

My understanding is that even now Bynum is not 100% healthy. Playing low post basketball at the NBA level puts a lot of strain on the body and many big men break down eventually during their careers; it is not a good sign that Bynum's body has been breaking down almost from the start of his career.

The bottom half of the West is tightly packed, so it is not clear who the Lakers will play in the first round. I don't expect that the Lakers will be pushed quite as much as they were last year, though; Kobe's knee was in terrible condition and the Thunder posed some matchup challenges (one of which, Westbrook, Kobe finally took care of after getting his knee drained). If everything goes according to form, the Lakers will likely face Dallas in the second round. The Lakers' challenge the rest of the way is to secure the second seed and thus earn homecourt advantage for that series.

At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 7:54:00 AM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

Correct, Bynum isn't completely back yet. I doubt he'll ever have his 33" standing vertical again, but the difference in his explosion between December and March is significant. He's had some dunks since the all-star break that were eye-opening...stuff I hadn't seen him do for two years. He's still only averaging about 27 minutes per game. It's obvious that they're trying to limit his minutes so that he'll be fresher in the playoffs.

As for Kobe, his knees are discussed a lot more than his mangled fingers. To me, much of the athleticism drop off we've seen from him can be attributed to his diminished ballhandling ability since his December 2009 index finger injury.

At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Dude Abides:

I agree that Bynum looks better now than he did earlier in the season. My point is that I don't think that he will ever be completely healthy and that he is unlikely to become a dominant, full-time NBA starting center--i.e., when Kobe's role really begins to diminish or when Kobe retires, I don't expect that Bynum will become a 20-10 player averaging 35-plus mpg, though some media members seem to think that this will happen.

Kobe's right knee is almost bone on bone (according to what Kobe told Pete Vecsey earlier in the season). That is why Kobe does not practice as much now and it certainly puts an expiration date on Kobe's career--I can't see him playing to 38 or 40, something that he probably could have done from a conditioning standpoint but is not realistic with a knee that is already so worn down.

I agree that the finger injuries are probably still affecting Kobe to some degree but he also has smaller hands than MJ or Dr. J, so Kobe has always been a bit more apt to lose the ball in traffic than those guys were.

At Thursday, March 10, 2011 10:35:00 AM, Anonymous Boyer said...

Dr. J/MJ may have had larger hands, but it's not like Kobe has small hands. His hands are still large.

And remember, larger hands aren't necessarily better. This is probably one of two reason why lebron/MJ are/were poor 3 pt. shooters. The other reason being that they don't/didn't practice enough from long range.

At Thursday, March 10, 2011 4:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe himself has mentioned--both to me and to others--that his hands are not particularly large compared to guys like Dr. J and MJ who can palm a basketball like a softball, easily moving it around without fear of losing control or having the ball deflected.

I don't think that large hands have much to do with shooting touch; that sounds like an excuse. Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki are just two examples of players who are 7 feet tall with large hands who have very soft shooting touches. Pau Gasol has huge hands and this does not affect his shooting touch. MJ had a great shooting touch out to about 20 feet; he just never made the three pointer a regular part of his arsenal, except for those few seasons when the NBA moved the three point line closer to the hoop.

At Thursday, March 10, 2011 5:05:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

I know and everyone else knows Kobe's hands aren't as large as Dr. J/MJ's hands. I'm just saying they aren't small either. He can definitely palm a basketball, and that's large in my book.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'large' now. I think almost every NBA player has large hands, so saying yao/dirk/pau have large hands seems kind of redundant. When I see these guys play, they don't seem to have extraordinarily large hands, except maybe yao. But, other than dirk, pau/yao aren't shooting 3's. If Dirk truly has really large hands, then kudos to him and he's the first player with huge hands to shoot well from deep. But, I'm betting huge hands with skinny fingers makes it easier to shoot than huge hands with fat fingers(shaq).

What I'm basically saying is that it's going to be harder to shoot from long range if you have larger hands. Like I mentioned before, there's 2 main reasons why guys with extremely large hands aren't good from distance: their hands are too large(similar to soccer players' feet being too big isn't good for ball handling) and not practicing enough from long range.

Rondo/shaq have huge hands and are absolutely awful shooters outside 2 feet. I think jordan could've improved his 3 pt. shooting, or maybe he did, but re remained a bad 3 pt. shooter. So, to a fault, jordan didn't do everything possible to perfect his game. Lebron has huge hands, too, and I'm sure he works on his game, but not to the extent that kobe does, but the fact remains is that he's a below average shooter at FTs, midrange/long range, I'm betting his large hands are one contributing factor.

At Thursday, March 10, 2011 5:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


By your definition of "large," John Stockton had large hands; he could palm a basketball and this did not prevent him from becoming a very good three point shooter.

Most guys in the NBA can palm a basketball. When I say "large" hands in the context of the NBA I am talking about players whose fingers are roughly a joint longer than the fingers of someone who can palm a basketball. I am about 6-2, I can palm a basketball and my hands are about as large as a person who is typically 6-5 or so; when I met Dr. J, I measured my hand against his and the tips of my fingers barely reach the bottom of the final joint of his fingers. Unless you have played a lot of hoops you may not realize the significance of this difference, though David Halberstam tried to explain it in his brilliant book The Breaks of the Game: someone like me can palm a basketball or even pick up a ball off of the ground one handed if it has decent grip but Dr. J can catch a bullet pass one handed full speed and elevate for a dunk without breaking stride. This extends the range that he can cover and this extra control also helps him to better protect the ball in traffic. In Halberstam's book, other NBA players spoke in awe about the size and dexterity of Dr. J's hands.

I see no reason to believe that there is much, if any, connection between hand size and shooting touch, whether from the free throw line or three point range. Most of the NBA's good free throw shooters have large hands by your definition (being able to palm the ball) and some of them have large hands by my definition. Shooters become great through dedicated practice. The best shooters that I have ever seen in person (Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash among them) are the guys who work on it the most and keep working on it even after setting shooting records in the NBA.

At Thursday, March 10, 2011 6:36:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

We're not seeing eye to eye. I think we're both confused by what the other thinks as large hands.

In general, by society standards, 99% of nba players probably have large hands.

I'm talking about by nba standards: mj, dr. j, dwight howard, shaq, rondo, lebron all have enormous hands. And credit to a few of these guys being able to shoot from 20 ft. out somewhat well. I guess that's only mj from 20 ft. out. Lebron is extremely streaky, and sometimes has it going, but usually not.

But, yea, you're right, if you work on shooting a ton, you can get better, regardless of your hand size, but lebron could never be anywhere near as good as ray allen at shooting. Sure, regardless of your stance on this issue, neither side can be proven. But, we have yet to see a good deep shooter with nba large hands. You say dirk is the exception. Maybe, but his fingers are skinny, and I know that's better for shooting.

Personally, I am a great shooter. I've won numerous FT and 3 pt. contests growing up. Doesn't make me an expert n this issue, as probably nobody is, but I know what I'm talking about. I have very skinny fingers, and am just short of being able to palm a basketball.

At Thursday, March 10, 2011 7:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I thought that I understood what you meant and in my previous comment I clarified what I meant regarding large hands.

LeBron could not become as good of a shooter as Ray Allen now because Ray Allen has something like a 20 year head start. It would be interesting to see what kind of shooter LeBron would have been if he had shot as much as Ray did from a young age. Of course, LeBron can do some things that Ray cannot do.

My comment about Kobe's hands specifically related to turnovers, not shooting ability. I think that it is well documented that players who have small hands--by NBA standards--sometimes have problems with turnovers (Moses Malone, Artis Gilmore), though in fairness to Kobe he actually does not have that bad of a turnover rate overall; it just seems like a disproportionate amount of Kobe's turnovers stem from hand size as opposed to poor decision making (in terms of risky passes, overly fancy dribbling, etc.).

The issue of how hand size may or may not affect shooting is really outside the scope of what I discussed in this article. There may be some merit to what you are saying but I think that there is a very small sample size to choose from when speaking of people who have large hands with thick fingers who play in the NBA--and most such players would be 7 footers who would have no need or inclination to develop a three point shooting stroke. In other words, how can we prove or disprove what you are asserting? All I am saying is that I know of many players--not just in the NBA--who have large hands (even by NBA standards) who are excellent shooters.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your experiences. If I may ask, which shooting contests have you won and did you ever compete against the famous Ted St. Martin? I am a good shooter by rec league standards but I know that I am not in the same league as someone like St. Martin.

At Thursday, March 10, 2011 11:59:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

I was mostly responding to your last paragraph of you responding to 'dude abides.'

I do think hand size is extremely important for shooting, if your hands are huge. I have yet to identify one great long range threat with huge hands. I know that doesn't prove a thing, but it is worth noting. As I mentioned before, it's similar to soccer. Soccer players with big feet struggle with ball handling a lot more, but then again, you can't prove that, but doesn't mean it's not true.

I just think that when you or someone else credits MJ with huge hands, which benefits him in many areas which I agree with, you have to discredit him the same for not being able to shoot 3's very well because of those hands. Or, if you don't think that's the case, you still have to discredit him then for not putting in the time to be at least a respectable long range threat. Got to choose one or the other, at the very least.

Kobe doesn't have small hands for a ball handler, and he is actually good with TOs for the amount of game time that he handles the ball. But, I do see a difference the past few years in his ball handling once he started having numerous finger injuries. You may disagree, but that's what I've noticed.

I don't go out and shoot much anymore, but when I did, I shot 100 3's, and had to make 75, around the arc, or else I'd start over, rarely had to start over. My record for consecutive FTs is 183, and surpassed 100 at least a dozen times, so I'm no slouch. I love to shoot. And I had 14 3's in an intramural game once. That was a good game.

Oh, I just found your blog recently, and got to say, I love it, keep up the good work.

At Friday, March 11, 2011 5:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Welcome aboard and I am glad that you enjoy my writing. If you are a fan of old school hoops then be sure to check out the right hand sidebar on the main page--it contains many articles about/interviews with great players and coaches from the past several decades, particularly focused on the 1970s-90s.

I haven't played much soccer since elementary school and I don't follow the sport at its highest levels so I have no comment regarding the effect of foot size on one's ability to control the ball. As for hand size, it is usually correlated with height and big men generally play close to the hoop as opposed to shooting long range shots. I haven't actually measured Dirk Nowitzki's mitts but he seems to have large hands even by NBA standards. Pau Gasol's huge hands don't affect his soft shooting touch. I just don't buy your idea that having large hands is detrimental to shooting well.

For most of MJ's career, the three point shot was not as big a part of the game as it is now. MJ started his career as a slasher (the shot to win the NCAA title notwithstanding) but he developed into a deadly midrange jump shooter. He was always an excellent free throw shooter. When the NBA moved the three point line in for a few seasons late in his career, he added the three pointer to his arsenal. I just don't see how one could reasonably argue that hand size hindered his shooting at any point during his career and, frankly, it is a bit ridiculous to even suggest that MJ lacked a work ethic as a basketball player: he worked relentlessly on his game and that is how he transformed himself from a very good college player into one of the greatest pro players of all time.

Kobe has average sized hands for someone who is 6-6. His turnover numbers are actually quite good for someone who handles the ball as much as he does. Dude Abides theorized that finger injuries have affected Kobe's ballhandling but I disagree (except for the specific games during those seasons when he got hurt and right afterward when he was still adjusting to the problem). The numbers show that Kobe's turnover rate has been fairly constant throughout his career and did not spike even during the seasons when he had the avulsion fractures to his pinky and index fingers. My observation is that when Kobe turns the ball over it is often because he has dribbled into traffic and had the ball stripped, as opposed to Kobe making careless passes or useless dribbles--and I think that some of those in traffic turnovers may not have happened if Kobe had some Dr. J/MJ size mitts squeezing the ball.

Shooting 75-100 from three point range is impressive and even more impressive if you are talking about NBA threes (23-9) instead of high school/college threes (19-9 until the NCAA moved the line back slightly).

At Friday, March 11, 2011 11:01:00 AM, Anonymous Boyer said...

I'd like you to compare shaq's hands to MJ's hands. I don't think there's any comparison. If MJ had the size of hands that shaq had, MJ would not do well from even midrange.

In no way am I discrediting MJ's work ethic in general. You misconstrued my saying MJ's poor 3 pt. work ethic into overall poor work ethic, which is not the case. And I do think it's a cop out, regardless of what era of basketball you played in, to say that 3's weren't that big of a deal, thus you didn't worry about that part of your game. It's true, 3's weren't that big of a deal in the 80s, but how do you explain guys like Pistol Pete being phenomenal long range shooters without the 3 pt. line?

All I'm saying is that either hand size is a factor or MJ didn't work on his 3 pt. game, or both. There's nothing I've seen that says contrary. When the 3 pt. line moved in, it was just a long midrange shot, so most guys ended up shooting great from 3's for those 3 years. Even Kobe had an excellent rookie season 3 pt. shooting %, but then he dropped off when the line moved back until he really worked on that part of his game, and became a deadly 3 pt. shooter. MJ's 3 pt. % immediately dropped off, too, when the line was moved back, further evidence that he wasn't a good 3 pt. shooter from the customary 23-9distance.

All I'm saying is that at least one of these 2 things occurred, and that MJ didn't do everything possible to become as great as he could've been. If hand size isn't a problem, what's MJ's excuse for being a bad 3 pt. shooter? Kobe and MJ probably have the 2 best work ethics in NBA history, but I put Kobe ahead of MJ for work ethic. Kobe works on everything, and learns from past greats better than anyone else, as far as I've heard/seen.

At Friday, March 11, 2011 3:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have never been close enough to MJ in person to size up his hands, though from watching him play it is obvious that his hands are huge (just think back to all of those one handed ball fakes that MJ used to make, treating the ball like a yo-yo). Shaq's hands are, as you suggest, huge and thick but I still am not convinced that this has much to do with his shooting. Wilt Chamberlain was, by most accounts, a great free throw shooter in practice but he was terrible at the line in game situations. Did Wilt's hands get bigger during games or was something else involved?

Maravich was both a shooter and a scorer, while MJ was a scorer who eventually developed a very good midrange shooting stroke. Maravich played most of his career without the three point rule so we don't know what percentage he would have shot or how frequently he would have fired away from long distance.

Why should MJ have focused on three point shooting if he knew that he would not regularly be shooting from long distance? When MJ warmed up before games he shot turnaround midrange shots, faceup jumpers from various locations and free throws--the shots that he most frequently took during games. I think that this is a great approach: repeatedly practicing the shots that one actually uses. It would make no sense for Shaq to shoot warmup threes and I still don't understand the fascination that LeBron and other players have with launching half court shots in pregame warmups. MJ worked on and perfected the shots that he actually used. I am sure that if MJ were playing today, an era in which most shooting guards are expected to shoot a lot of threes, he would have developed a very good three point shooting stroke.

By most accounts, Kobe's work ethic is at least equal to MJ's and may very well be, as you suggest, even superior.

At Friday, March 11, 2011 10:47:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

I understand that about FT shooting. Don't know if what you say about Wilt is true or not. But, indeed, there's a lot of mental ability involved, either way.

All I'm saying is that hand size is probably a factor, but as you suggest, there's probably other factors involved. We agree to disagree about hand size being a factor. I stand by my take, and you yours.

Yes, right on practicing shots you actually take. But, MJ pretty much took 3's every game, right? So why didn't he practice them more? For a big, I can see why he wouldn't, but not as a SG.

To MJ's credit, he didn't take many 3's. But, I also discredit him for not learning that skill. And we're not talking about the 60s/70s. Even late 90s/early 2000s, when 3 pt. shooting was now prevalent, he still hadn't learned that skill.

I still think it's a cop out to say that not many people were doing it, so why should I do it? Kobe does all sorts of things to improve his game that others don't do: work with the dream, study past legends on tape, etc. So, I stand by my take that Kobe's work ethic is tops of all time. MJ is a not too shabby #2, probably.

At Saturday, March 12, 2011 1:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not "saying" something about Wilt in the sense that I personally saw this; I am repeating what others (teammates, coaches, Wilt himself) said: Wilt was a good to very good free throw shooter in practice but we know that he was a poor free throw shooter in games.

Yes, at this point I think we need to agree to disagree regarding the importance of hand size for shooting touch.

In each of MJ's first five seasons he attempted fewer than 100 three pointers--and many of those were last second, end of quarter heaves, not shots in the flow of the game. Many people may not realize or remember that even though the ABA used the three pointer throughout its existence and the NBA adopted the rule in the 1979-80 season it is actually a fairly recent development that the three pointer has been used as a regular part of the half court offense (as opposed to merely being launched as a desperation heave at the end of the quarter or fired up at the end of a game when a team is trailing by three points).

As I documented in The Evolution of the Usage of the Three Point Shot, the three pointer became much more prevalent starting in the 1994-95 season, when the league moved the three point line closer to the hoop (that is the season in which MJ came out of retirement to play the final 17 regular season games). MJ shot 16-32 from three point range in that abbreviated campaign and then shot .427 and .374 from behind the arc in the next two seasons. In 1997-98, the league moved the three point line back and MJ cut back on his three point attempts by two thirds. He averaged less than one three point attempt per game during his two seasons as a Wizard.

However, while MJ had the sense to stick with what he does well, many other players kept shooting three pointers even after the line was moved back to its original distance (23-9).

The three pointer was not a major weapon throughout most of MJ's NBA career. When the line was moved in, MJ took advantage of it, but otherwise he stuck with what he did best. As I said before, if MJ were starting his career now I am pretty sure that he would add the three point shot to his arsenal, much like Kobe did after initially being a slasher.

MJ and Kobe are two of the hardest working, most dedicated NBA players of all time, so it is really difficult to say that one or the other had a better work ethic. MJ has his supporters in that regard, as does Kobe.

At Saturday, March 12, 2011 4:27:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

Kobe was awesome at 3's in 1997, too, as were most players who shot 3's. The 2 ft. shorter or whatever it was, was a huge factor. But, interestingly, if I remember correctly, scoring was down from 95-97. The shorter 3 pt. line wasn't the only factor because of this, but probably the main factor, even with guys shooting better. Also, defense was becoming more prevalent, and the pace was getting slower. So, the nba moved it back to it's customary distance.

Almost all 80%+ FT shooters can make 95 out of 100 in practice routinely. It's just a lot easier in practice, regardless of your mental aptitude. It's almost unbelievable that wilt could shoot 90 out of 100 in practice, and underhanded at that. I believe you of what you heard, but that's kind of hard for me to believe it. Just doesn't make sense to decrease your FT % by 30%+ from practice to games.

Agree to disagree with MJ's 3 pt. shooting. It was prevalent in many of his later years, and he still hadn't developed it. And Kobe has done numerous to improve his game, that nobody has never done before, and there still were many players utilizing the 3 pt. line even during mid 1980s. All I'm saying is that Kobe seems to have done everything possible to become as great as he can be in every possible way, and MJ didn't quite do that. There's really isn't a move Kobe can't do.

At Saturday, March 12, 2011 4:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've heard a lot of discussion about Bryant versus Jordan in regards to hand size over thee years.

Phil Jackson said it best in a interview a few seasons back: Kobe has small hands, but good hands. He can't palm the ball off the dribble like Dr. J did, but not having massive hands hasn't proved to be a liability. He's never had problems executing one handed dunks, even with contact from the defender.

I will say that I'm fairly that Kobe can no longer palm the ball with his right hand due to an arthritic finger (at least without difficulty). I believe he said something about this last year.

I disagree with Boyer's assessment that Bryant's loss of explosiveness has more to do with the finger injury than his chronic knee problems, however. Kobe's knee surgery this past summer was the third of his career, by my count. Each one of them has chipped away at his athleticism...this is a trend going all the way back to the 03-04 season. Kobe in his early 20's was a ridiculous athlete. But even by the 2006 season, when he was only 27, he'd already lost a significant amount explosiveness. His vertical leap didn't decline, but he had to gather himself more. He didn't have "quick hops," anymore.

As for the three point shooting issue, there are a lot of reasons why Kobe is a better outside shooter. One reason: Bryant might just be naturally more gifted as a shooter than Jordan. Michael probably did not spend a lot of time on his outside shot in his early days, because there was no point. He played against rough defenses, but nobody could stop him from getting to the basket. Later on, he became a post player for the triangle. Bryant's championships have always been won with dominant post scorer as his running mate. He plays more on the perimeter than Jordan did, and shoots more three pointers as a consequence.

At Monday, March 14, 2011 12:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't know the exact free throw percentage that Wilt hit in practice but it has been well documented in various books/articles about Wilt that his teammates and coaches observed that Wilt shot his free throws much better in practice than in games. Similarly, I recall reading somewhere that Darryl Dawkins had some nifty jump hooks and other post moves that he used effectively in practices (against active defense) but that, for whatever reason, he lacked the confidence to regularly use those moves in games. There is obviously a large psychological aspect to any form of competition.

I am not sure how much of a correlation there is between three point shooting and overall scoring. The rules have been changed in recent years to favor the offense--or restrict the defense, depending on your point of view--and I think that has affected scoring more than either moving the three point line or the general evolution of the usage of the three point shot.

MJ did "develop" the three point shot in his later years with the Bulls when the line was shortened; he took advantage of that rules change to add another aspect to his game. I don't think that his two years as a Wizard mean all that much in terms of his work ethic to develop new skills; by that time he was 40 years old and he not only had a very bad knee but the index finger on his shooting hand had been mangled after he had an accident with a cigar cutter back in 1999.

So, I look at this issue a little bit differently than you do; I give Kobe credit for adding the three point shot to his repertoire since three point shooting is a regular part of most NBA offenses today but I don't think that it detracts from MJ's game/work ethic that he only heavily used the three point shot during the "short arc" era.

I also think that both field goal percentages and the "eyeball test" indicate that while Kobe is a better long range shooter than MJ it is also true that MJ was a better, more consistent midrange shooter than Kobe. Kobe is difficult to guard because he has no skill set weaknesses and his range extends beyond the three point line but MJ was difficult to guard because he was so deadly from 15-18 feet and in. T.J. Simers recently asked Phil Jackson to compare MJ and Kobe and Jackson said he agrees with those who say that the comparison just is not fair: Kobe is the only heir apparent (or "Air Apparent") who has fully lived up to the hype--and that is a tremendous accomplishment--but it is very difficult to fully measure up to what MJ achieved individually and from a team standpoint. That has always been my position as well; Kobe is the best player of the post-MJ era but if I were forced to choose between MJ in his prime and Kobe in his prime I would take MJ--and even though I have made my view on this clear I know that there are people out there who, for some inexplicable reason, insist that I say that Kobe is greater than MJ.

At Monday, March 14, 2011 1:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My understanding of the finger problem Kobe had is that when he would get hit on the finger he would lose sensation for several minutes but now the injury is healed and what remains is scar tissue/arthritic changes (as opposed to a numbing sensation when the finger is hit). Kobe had to adjust his shooting motion because of the initial swelling and I think his shooting motion is still different now because of the scar tissue/arthritis.

Kobe seems to be favoring two handed dunks now, so you are probably right that it is more difficult for him to palm the ball. Kobe can still get up, though, because dunking two handed requires more elevation than dunking one handed. What I think Kobe has most noticeably lost is some lateral explosiveness and I also think that, like a lot of players who are over 30, he looks more explosive after he has had a day or two off.

As for the three point shooting, I think that many people have forgotten--or never knew--that it is a fairly recent development for three point shots to be a regular part of the half court offense of most NBA teams. When the Rockets and Magic were shooting threes after Hakeem and Shaq respectively kicked the ball back out of the paint in the mid 1990s this was considered a novelty but now it is a regular part of NBA half court offenses to either drive and kick or else pass to a post player who then kicks the ball if he is double-teamed. If you look at the stats of many of the great scorers of MJ's era (80s and 90s) they either did not shoot the three a lot or they only started shooting the three a lot toward the end of their careers, like MJ did. If the coaching staff does not believe in using the three point shot as a weapon then it is somewhat pointless to waste practice time working on that shot--and that is why MJ focused on his midrange game for most of his career.

At Monday, March 14, 2011 1:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's something that I didn't personally become aware of until a few years ago. You can definitely see it when you go through the statistics of some of the great scorers.

Alex English, for instance, shot only 83 three pointers through the course of his career. Kind of ridiculous to think of a time when a 6'7 player didn't have the three point shot as a major part of his arsenal.

Even players who used to be known for not shooting three pointers, like Dwyane Wade, have started to make it a big part of their repertoire.

One thing that the whole three point shooting issue in regards to Jordan/Bryant is Kobe's 81 point game from 5 years back (strange to think that it's really been that long since that game).

Jordan said that he felt that because of the rule changes, and his style of play, he could have scored 100 points in a game if he played today. Any thoughts on this?

Personally, I call BS. Kobe wasn't even really that close, and he had almost a perfect night for scoring. The Raptors never double teamed him, and he made almost every off balance shot he attempted (which is unusual, even for him). Kobe put up 21 points off of three pointers, which as the comments here have shown, was not a prominent part of young Jordan's game.

Wilt posted 100 points with a significant physical advantage. Jordan and Bryant in their physical primes were amongst the top 1% athletically, but Wilt was a man amongst boys. The amount of stamina necessary to get up enough shots/free throws to get to triple digits, while also playing against slightly more athletic perimeter players in the 2000's, would put it out of reach.

I think the way defenses are oriented would make things difficult for Mike at the basket. Defenses obviously were more physical in the 1980's, but they are more complex now. When Jordan attacked the rim in the 80's, he was going at big men looking to block his shot. Playing today, pretty much every big man except a select few is more likely to take the charge. Jordan's playing style probably would have put him in foul trouble a decent amount of the time.

None of that is to say that Jordan wouldn't have excelled in this hypothetical situation, of course. Just that he'd have to make significant adjustments.

At Monday, March 14, 2011 2:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Alex English was actually one of the specific players I had in mind when I made that comment about great 80s scorers who rarely shot threes. English had a sweet shooting stroke and I'm sure that he could have extended his range to outside the three point line, but that just was not done during his era; even the guys who were three point specialists in that era did not attempt a large number of threes compared to the amount of threes that players attempt today. I think that a lot of fans would be shocked to see the small number of threes that Larry Bird shot during his career; the three point shot was actually a relatively small part of his overall repertoire, even though he was perhaps the premier three point shooter of his era. It is interesting that even though most fans think of Bird as a three point shooter, he never really considered himself a three point shooter--and Red Auerbach of the Celtics actually voted against adding a three point shot prior to the 1979-80 season (it is a tribute to Auerbach's flexibility that after the rule was passed he figured out how to assemble one of the better three point shooting teams of that era, with Bird, Ford, Ainge, etc.).

I believe that it was Tex Winter--who coached both MJ and Kobe--who said that it wasn't for lack of trying that MJ's career high was 69 as opposed to 80-plus. I am sure that if MJ could have scored 80, 81 or more in a game he would have but Kobe holds the "non-Wilt" record (Wilt not only had a 100 point game but also a 78 point game; David Thompson had the previous "non-Wilt" record with 73).

I don't think that anyone is going to score 100 points in a game unless there is some gimmick to just force feed a player--and even then it would be difficult. Think about it this way: if a player averages 19 ppg for his career he probably has a decent shot at the HoF--and the difference between Wilt's record and Kobe's total is 19 points! I think that Kobe could have had multiple 70-80 point games, though: he sat out a fourth quarter versus Dallas after scoring 62 in the first three quarters and he had another game in which he dropped 56 versus Memphis in three quarters. Neither of those teams could even come close to stopping him in those respective games, so if he had played in the fourth quarter he almost certainly would have scored 70 on both occasions and probably could have made a run at 80. Kobe was actually an underrated player in 2005-06 and 2006-07 and I maintain that when people look back objectively in 10 years or so they will be flabbergasted that he did not win the MVP in both of those seasons: he was unstoppable offensively, he carried a craptacular (yes, I am making up a word) supporting cast to the tough Western Conference playoffs and he also was a top level defensive player.

At Monday, March 14, 2011 12:24:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

I agree with you on most things, except hand size/ 3 pt. shooting/Kobe's skill level vs. MJ's skill level We'll leave it at.

At this pt., you can't say Kobe is elevated past MJ. But, kobe's already surpassed MJ in games played, and is still pouring it on. MJ was more consistent than Kobe, but that doesn't necessarily mean more skilled. I think Kobe is the most skilled player I've ever seen, agree to disagree again.

And I think Kobe has at least the top 2 games of all time: 81 against raptors, which the defense really wasn't as bad as most like to think, and 62 in 3 qtrs. against mavs, outscoring them 62-61.

Also, kobe had 42 against jordan's wizards at half, before sitting most of 2nd half. So, when MJ said I would never let kobe score 81, he's wrong. MJ is turning into a sour grape these past few years. And his backers are getting scared because Kobe is nipping on his heels.

Also, I dont' think it's fair to say that MJ developed his 3 pt. shooting when the line was shortened, because it wasn't truly a 3 pt. shot anymore, just a long midrange. When, the line moved back to its customary spot, what happened to his 3 pt. shooting? Oh yea, it disappeared again. So, I don't think you can accurately say he developed a 3 pt. shot.

Also, during most of MJ's career, or at least half of it, pace and scoring were way up when compared to today, this is something to factor in when debating top scorers. If defense was better then and it was harder to score, then why was everyone scoring more then? Just something to think about.

At Monday, March 14, 2011 7:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There are "hardliners" on both sides on the subject of MJ versus Kobe: MJ "hardliners" say that MJ was much better (more championships, more MVPs, more scoring titles, Defensive Player of the Year, better FG%), while Kobe "hardliners" say that Kobe is much better (faced tougher defenses/stronger competition, did not have a Pippen so he had to be the chief scorer and chief facilitator for the Lakers, career is not over so he could yet match or surpass MJ in chapionships). I take the middle ground: I rate MJ above Kobe but--unlike the "hardliners" on either side--I certainly think that it is valid to compare the two players, though difficult to effectively do so because of the differences in their respective eras and their particular roles on their teams.

In many ways, Kobe's 62 points versus Dallas--a top level team--is even more impressive than his 81 points versus Toronto; Kobe outscored the entire Dallas team for the first three quarters!

I know that Kobe really gave it to MJ when MJ was a Wizard but MJ did the same kind of thing to an older Julius Erving; you cannot really make a fair comparison of two players' careers based on what a young guy did against an old guy. If Kobe plays until he is 37-40 then someone is going to give Kobe 40 or 50 points but that won't necessarily mean that this player is better than Kobe was in his prime.

The shorter three point line was still a bit longer than where MJ typically took his shots, but MJ extended his range because he saw some value in terms of getting an extra point for those shots. MJ never became fully comfortable at the 23-9 distance because that simply was not a shot that was a regular part of his repertoire. Do you really think that MJ should have focused inordinate practice time on mastering a shot that he was only like to try once or twice a game (and usually in fairly desperate situations)? The three pointer simply was not a primary offensive weapon during MJ's prime--and the main players who shot it were specialists, the kinds of players who were dependent on MJ and Pippen to create shots for them. It would not have made much sense for Paxson to be handling the ball while MJ spotted up behind the 23-9 line. The game is different today and I am sure that a young MJ would have become a very good three point shooter in today's game, just like a young Julius Erving would likely be a shooting guard, not a small forward. Interestingly, Erving was a top ten three point shooter in the ABA but he rarely shot the three pointer in the NBA because the 76ers did not use the three pointer as a regular part of their offense.

Pace/scoring were very high in the 1980s but then dropped off in the 1990s thanks to the Bad Boys and the Knicks. The rules at the time made it easier to rough up individual scorers and the Bad Boys and the Knicks showed how to push the rules to the limit, with the end result being that the NBA changed the rules to open the game up. I think that defense during MJ's era was more physical but less sophisticated; now the defenders cannot use so much body contact but they have access to more detailed scouting reports because of the use of video and computer technology. Several coaches and scouts have told me about how video and computer technology have revolutionized the sport, a subject that I wrote about in an article titledThe Art and Science of NBA Defense.

At Tuesday, March 15, 2011 1:50:00 AM, Anonymous Chris said...

Good points about Kobe being underrated during that 2005-2007 stretch. It's interesting to think about how far he could've taken the 2006 Lakers had Tim Thomas not hit a lucky three pointer in Game 6 of the Phoenix series. They probably would've been favored against the Clippers in the next round and I think they would've at least had a puncher's chance against Dallas in the WCF.

At Tuesday, March 15, 2011 6:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you on both counts, though I think that Dallas would have prevailed over the course of a seven game series. What Kobe accomplished during those years is, in its own way, just as remarkable as what he accomplished during the Lakers' threepeat and what he is accomplishing during the Lakers' attempt to threepeat now. Smush Parker, the Lakers' starting point guard, was out of the league almost as soon as the Lakers got rid of him and has not been back since. Luke Walton started at small forward and it is difficult to think of many other playoff teams in recent years for which he would have started. Kwame Brown has been in the NBA for a decade and the only time he started a playoff game was when he played alongside Kobe.

Every time I hear someone say something about a player supposedly carrying a team singlehandedly I think to myself, "That guy is not carrying the load that Kobe carried from 2005-07."

At Tuesday, March 15, 2011 2:34:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

I still don't understand why you think it's a valid argument that just because most other players don't do something, then there's no reason for you to do something to improve your game. If that's the case, then MJ would never have developed a fadeaway, etc., etc. I just think your argument here holds very little weight. MJ and Kobe both developed pretty much everything possible to improve their games, with the exception of MJ's 3 pt. shooting.

I don't think MJ developed a 3 pt. shot from 95-97. I think he just shot more of them, because they were shorter than before. I'm guessing his 3 pt. shooting those years were still worse than the rest of his midrange, and if it wasn't, I"m guessing the defense against him behind the 3 pt. line was way worse than the midrange defense against him. I mean Kobe didn't develop a 3 pt. shot in 97, but he shot excellent for 3's, and then in 98, he sucked, same with MJ and lots of others.

I understand it's not fair when 02 wizards MJ allowed Kobe to score 42 in the 1st half, as you pointed out. The reason why I say it is because just recently MJ said he would NEVER allow kobe to score 81, that's why I bring it up. MJ brought it upon himself. MJ said it, and he's wrong, that's my point. And I do remember pippen coming out recently and saying MJ sure tried to score 80, but obviously couldn't, something to this extent.

At Tuesday, March 15, 2011 4:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We seem to be going around in circles here but I will try to explain my point one last time: during the bulk of MJ's career, most teams did not utilize the three point shot as a major part of their half court offense. Focusing a lot of effort on one's three point shooting during that era would be akin to a baseball player who plays for a power team working on his base stealing skills; if something falls outside the range of your team's game plan then it makes little sense to work on it, especially at the expense of skills that are part of the game plan. For a long time, many NBA coaches looked at the three point shot as a gimmick and they only used it late in games when their teams trailed by three points--or at the end of quarters when players would fling half court shots to beat the buzzer.

Kobe benefited from the shorter three point line as a rookie but the three pointer did not become a major part of his arsenal until his seventh season (2002-03), by which time the three pointer had been established as an important part of most teams' offenses.

The shorter three point arc was still further out than MJ's normal midrange shot; MJ's midrange game usually extended out to roughly the foul line extended, while even the shorter three point line was several feet behind the top of the key. Whether we say that MJ "developed" a three point shot during the shorter arc years or that he merely was smart enough to "utilize" the three pointer, the fact is that the three pointer did become a part of his repertoire at that time.

I didn't see the exact MJ quote that you are referencing but (1) Kobe never did score 80 on MJ and (2) I am pretty sure that MJ meant that Kobe would never score 80 on MJ in his prime, not that Kobe would never score 80 on MJ ever (ever is a long time and I don't think that an MJ who is pushing 50 can guard elite NBA players now).

At Tuesday, March 15, 2011 11:38:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

I don't understand your take on 3 pt. shooting, but moving on.

On 81, kobe had 42 at half, and it was a blowout, so limited 2nd half minutes. I know it's not 81, but it's safe to say if kobe gets to play the entire 2nd half, he's at least going to be in the vicinity.

MJ said it. Decipher it all you want, he said it, and he didn't give a time frame. Ok, I found what I was looking for. MJ doesn't quite say he'd never allow kobe to score 81, but more or less, he does.


At Wednesday, March 16, 2011 4:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are free to disagree with my take on three point shooting but I am puzzled that you say you don't understand it: I don't know how to state my position any more clearly than I did.

Who cares about an old video of Stephen A. Smith talking about a Michael Jordan quote that was probably taken out of context?

At Wednesday, March 16, 2011 1:30:00 PM, Anonymous Boyer said...

I meant that I don't understand why you think it's ok to dismiss one thing that few others do(3 pt. shooting), while that same player works on something that even fewer guards work on(fadeaway, post ups). All I'm saying is that MJ didn't do everything possible to make himself better and/or his hand size had something to do with why he wasn't a good 3 pt. shooter. I think that's evident, you do not, and that's where we stand.

I understand what you say about the video. It's not necessarily the video. MJ said the quotes, and Smith talked about it on his show. I don't know where the article is talking about MJ's quotes. All I'm saying is that MJ said this stuff, and I think he's wrong. You can dismiss it or think about the motives behind it all you want, but MJ said this stuff.

I mean people make a big deal about what Phil says from time to time. Phil said recently that nobody should be mentioned in the same conversation as MJ. Phil has also said in the past that kobe and Mj are basically equals. He's also said that he never asked MJ to facilitate in the offense, but he asked Kobe to, and Kobe had to do a lot more different things in the offense than MJ was asked to do. And Phil also said that Artest knows the offense better than kobe. So, obviously, you can take one quote and use it anyway you want or look at a lot of Phil quotes and figure out who knows exactly sure what he's saying

At Thursday, March 17, 2011 6:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


MJ's main weapon early in his career was his ability to drive to the hoop. Teams--most notably the Pistons--responded to that by hammering him physically and as MJ got older it became progressively more difficult to drive to the hoop play after play, game after game. Therefore, he mastered the post up game and the midrange game. It is also worth remembering that the Triangle Offense is ideally anchored by a great low post center, which the Bulls never had; essentially, MJ became the Bulls' center on offense (in terms of penetrating the defense via the post up). The skills that MJ worked on and mastered not only added to his individual offensive repertoire but directly contributed to Chicago's ability to win championships; in light of both Chicago's offensive scheme and the overall way that the NBA game was played/coached in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s, it would have added little if any value to MJ's game if he started shooting more three pointers. In fact, it seems pretty obvious that had he devoted more practice shots and in game shots to the three point game he likely would have hurt not only his stats but, more importantly, the team's effectiveness. The Bulls had Hodges, Paxson and Kerr as three point options when MJ was double-teamed; if MJ relocated himself behind the three point line then would you have posted up those guys to initiate the Triangle Offense?

I understand quite clearly how much you respect Kobe's game and Kobe's work ethic and it should be obvious that I also have great respect for Kobe's game and work ethic; I just don't think that it is necessary or accurate to belittle MJ in order to praise Kobe. You seem to be desperately looking for reasons to knock MJ down a notch.

I don't want to start over with the hand size stuff but there is no evidence to support what you are saying; there is a very small group of people who have large hands and a very small group of people who are great shooters, so while it may be technically correct to say that there are few great shooters who have large hands it is not logical to therefore conclude that large hands prevent someone from becoming a great shooter.

Again, what difference does the MJ quote make? I just don't see how this is particularly relevant to anything that I discussed either in the article or here in the comments section.

I agree with you that Phil Jackson sometimes says contradictory things on various subjects. That could mean that his opinion changed over time, that he alters what he says depending on his audience or even that he forgot what he had previously said. In general, Jackson has been hesitant to definitively choose between MJ and Kobe but the way that he discusses the subject seems to imply that he would give MJ the edge.

I don't ever remember Jackson saying that Artest knows the Triangle better than Kobe and if he did say that I can guarantee you he was joking; even Artest admits that he does not really know the offense, while Tex Winter has marveled at how well Kobe knows the offense.

At Friday, March 18, 2011 7:56:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

This game illustrated why I don't think the Spurs have a realistic chance of beating the Lakers in the playoffs, even though they will almost certainly have home court advantage.

Odd as it is, the Spurs have become a bit like the old Suns. Not in their style of play, but in the fact that the things they do to win lots of games in the regular season are not going to work in the postseason. The Spurs have been winning because they beat the teams they are supposed to, and because they have a balanced team and role players who regularly make a difference. Their stars have been unspectacular at best. In the playoffs, the Spurs aren't going to beat a team like the Lakers with their big three having bad games as frequently as they have been during the regular season. They can win a game or two in a series with a Gary Neal or DeJuan Blair having a surprisingly good game, but not four games. When it comes down to it, it's the stars who are relied upon to consistently pull out close playoff games, and the Lakers have Kobe Bryant.

Another major weakness for the Spurs against the Lakers is their front court. The Spurs have two players (Duncan and McDyess) who can credibly compete against the Lakers' front line, and both are old and can only play limited minutes. There's no way that Blair or Matt Bonner can guard any of the Lakers' bigs. Gregg Popovich has been starting McDyess recently, probably because he realizes he needs a credible front court for a successful playoff run. But that forces him to play a Blair/Bonner combo quite a bit, which has been disastrous.

Also, if you don't mind me deviating from the subject, what do you think of the way the Bulls are surging? Can they come out of the East if they get homecourt advantage? I've been skeptical of them for a while. To me, they seemed like Utah East (with Rose instead of Williams): 50+ wins a year, but not a real contender. But they have been proving me wrong in the way they've taken the number one seed.

At Saturday, March 19, 2011 3:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is a bit extreme to say that the Spurs don't have a "realistic chance" to beat the Lakers in a playoff series. While I would pick the Lakers over the Spurs as things stand now, the Spurs are a dangerous team and they have been underestimated by most observers throughout this season (I picked them to be the second best team in the West but they have been a bit better than even I expected).

The Spurs have altered their style of play because the composition of their roster has changed: Duncan has aged, they don't have a second shotblocker and their best players other than Duncan thrive in a fast paced game. The Spurs will be better in the playoffs than they have been in the regular season because the extra time off between games will enable Duncan to play more minutes and to also be more productive during those minutes.

I will say more about the Spurs when I post my article examining their 2011 season (the article should be up in a few days).

The Bulls are better than I expected and they certainly could end up winning the East. They are a better defensive team than the Utah squads you mentioned. The Bulls' main weakness is that they don't have a second reliable dynamic perimeter scorer; can they beat an elite team in a playoff game if Rose is trapped or just has an off game? The Bulls have benefited from the Perkins trade (and Boston's injury woes), Orlando's self-destruction via two midseason trades and Miami's inconsistency. I expected those three teams to be better than Chicago but Chicago has been more consistent team than those teams so far. All that being said, I still expect Boston to win the East but the Celtics will miss Perkins and their margin of error has been greatly reduced (i.e., one key injury or foul trouble at a crucial moment could impact them more than it would have if Perkins were still in the fold).


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