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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Basketball Reference Elo Ratings Reveal Extent of Fan Bias Against Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant

Ranking the greatest basketball players of all-time is a challenging and, to some extent, subjective exercise; there are so many factors and variables that it is difficult to make a completely objective evaluation, though it is possible to reasonably classify players into various broad categories such as top 10 or top 20--but even that cannot be done without controversy. My Pantheon series examines the careers of 10 of the greatest retired basketball players of all-time, plus four active players who also deserve consideration for Pantheon status. I do not dispute that the placement of players within the Pantheon can be intelligently debated, nor do I deny that a good case can be made for some players who I did not include.

Physicist Arpad Elo, a chess master who won the Wisconsin State Chess championship eight times, developed a rating system that not only ranks players but can also be used to predict the probability of victory based on the rating differences between players. The Elo rating system is most widely identified with chess, though it can and has been used for a variety of different games.

BasketballReference.com publishes so-called Elo player ratings for all NBA players who reached at least one of the following statistical levels: 10,000 points, 5000 rebounds, 2500 assists or 1000 steals plus blocked shots. BR.com assigned each qualifying player an initial rating of 1500 and then created fictional matchups between various players; visitors to BR.com can vote on who they think would win a given matchup. The matchups are generated randomly, so visitors cannot deliberately vote up (or vote down) any one particular player.

BR.com describes this project as "a community-based project with the goal of rating the best players in NBA history." Presumably, the idea is that by collecting the votes of a large number of people, bias will be smoothed out and a reasonable consensus about pro basketball greatness will be reached.

The ratings fluctuate but certain trends are consistent. Michael Jordan is usually ranked first by a fairly sizable margin and he is the only player currently rated above 2400. Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Julius Erving, Karl Malone, John Stockton and David Robinson fill the next spots in various orders and players in that group have ratings clustered between 2300-2360. One could quibble with some of those choices--I would not put Malone or Robinson in the top 10--but Stockton is the only player who never came close to winning an MVP and who does not even belong in the top 30, let alone the top seven.

The BR.com ratings look objective superficially--each player has a four digit rating, just like chess players do!--but of course the ratings are not a product of actual competition; they are a product of fan voting, which is little more than a popularity contest. It is revealing to look at the list as a whole and see which players are so hated by the fans that the fans are unwilling or incapable of separating hate from reality.

For instance, an excellent case could be made that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest basketball player of all-time. He holds the career regular scoring record (38,387 points), he holds the record for most regular season MVPs (six), he won six championships and he was a dominant player for most of his 20 year career (winning the Finals MVP as a 23 year old and as a 37 year old). It would be very difficult to rationally argue that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not at least a top 10 player of all-time. However, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not very popular and thus in the BR.com rankings he barely cracks the top 50, trailing Ray Allen, Chris Mullin, Dikembe Mutombo and Reggie Miller, players who had a fraction of the impact that Abdul-Jabbar did.

However, by far the most ludicrous rating for an all-time great player belongs to Kobe Bryant. The last time I checked (ratings change continuously), Kobe Bryant ranked 326th out of 560 qualifying players, just behind Darrell Armstrong, David Wesley, Joe Smith and Caron Butler and just ahead of Michael Adams, Johnny Green, Kurt Thomas and Mo Williams. One can have an intelligent conversation about Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James or Kobe Bryant versus Michael Jordan; one cannot have an intelligent conversation that begins with the premise that Bryant is not just outside of the 50 Greatest Players list but that he misses the cut for the top 300! If you hate Bryant that much, then why vote? How does that vote contribute to the conversation or add value to BR.com's Elo ratings? Placing Bryant in the midst of players who were fringe All-Stars at best makes BR.com's Elo ratings look amateurish and silly.

Then there is Bill Russell; the greatest winner in the history of North American professional team sports barely makes BR.com's top 40. I don't think that fans hate Russell the way that they apparently hate Abdul-Jabbar and Bryant but I do think that fans fail to understand the nature and extent of Russell's greatness. I am baffled that Russell's accomplishments are not more widely appreciated and that so many fans denigrate his skill set, particularly as an offensive player; he scored at least 16 ppg for six straight seasons en route to posting a solid 15.1 ppg career average, he ranked in the top 10 in assists four times and he ranked in the top four in field goal percentage four times. No, Russell was not an offensive powerhouse but he was hardly a liability at that end of the court and the things that he did well offensively--run the floor, pass and rebound--would translate very well to the modern era. Furthermore, the idea that a player of Russell's size could not play post defense in today's game is belied by the success of players like Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace.

In theory, having fans vote about thousands of player simulations in order to rank the greatest players of all-time sounds like a fun idea that should produce a fair list, but in practice BR.com's Elo ratings simply reveal widespread ignorance and bias even among the subset of fans who are interested enough in analytics to visit BR.com.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 PM



At Thursday, October 22, 2015 5:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I'm often maligned on this site for ranking Kobe around the 13-17th rating all time, but even by the harshest standards I can't see any reasonable list marking him much outside the top 20. That said, he's likely the most hated basketball player ever- largely due to non-basketball related reasons- so it's slightly less surprising that he would underperform on a popularity based list like this. The extent to which he underperforms, however, is staggering.

For Jabbar and Russell, my assumption is that it's less about "hate," and more mostly about recency bias (though the presence of Doctor J in the top 8 is a refreshing surprise that runs counter to that supposition, he is in many ways more visible than Jabbar or Russell, and is the only player in the top eight who did not play in the 90s). There are a much lower number of people active on the internet who saw Jabbar or Russell play in their primes, even after the fact, than there are who grew up on Stockton, Malone, and Robinson.

Also, as a devil's advocate, there are semi-cogent arguments to be made in favor of all three of those guys being ranked in the top ten, though I would pretty loudly disagree with them. I would probably place all three of them in the top thirty or forty, at least, and certainly not far outside of it. Once you're looking at the MVP-level guys, the difference between #3 and #40 is still relatively small; you could conceivably win a title with one of those guys as your best player, though none of them did (I suppose you could argue Robinson was better than Duncan in '99, but at the very least it was close enough between them to render the point moot).

I'm also a little disappointed to see Jordan so head-and-shoulders above the rest of the list; while Jordan certainly has a legitimate claim to being the greatest ever- and the media likes to sell him as such- there are about a dozen other guys with comparable resumes. I personally have him fourth behind Doc, Duncan, and Jabbar, but those guys, for me, are separated by the slimmest of margins, so much so that my opinion between them could likely be swayed by a single heretofore unaccounted for datapoint.

At Thursday, October 22, 2015 9:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, when you often tell us your Kobe all-time rank, and look for some type of sympathy saying something like 'he's one of the top 15-20 players of all time - that's pretty dang awesome(like you're actually giving him a compliment-which really isn't one in reality)', that's like saying 'the sky is blue.' Even Kobe's most ardent haters like yourself can't possibly rank him lower than that.

The hatred towards certain players(Kobe is clearly #1 in this regard) and the love towards others plays a huge role in how they're viewed, even by those who claim, whether true or not, to do it in as much of a non-biased way as possible.

Russell is such a hard one to rate. He's the only supposed elite player in history who wasn't an elite offensive player. While he may have been a good offensive player for his era, he certainly wasn't close to being an elite player on this end. Joakim Noah does all the little things Russell did, and while Noah isn't a good shooter, he's still much better than Russell was. I don't think anyone disputes Russell being able to play great defense today. Russell would be a PF today as well, if not possibly a SF at times. He'd excel more at help defense than man defense. His scoring/rebounding would both be much lower. There's no scenario where he'd be able to even approach 11 titles, and it'd be hard to build any resemblance of a true contender around him. Rodman was a phenomenal defender/rebounder, very close to Russell in this regard at worst. Maybe slightly worse as an offensively than Russell, but not much. Even if Rodman wasn't a headcase, there's no chance any team would even think about building a team around him. For a limited time, he could guard centers well, but not over the long haul. And Ben Wallace couldn't guard Shaq one-on-one, as Russell couldn't guard Wilt by himself there. Rodman was also a lot stronger. And neither Wallace/Rodman were elite players. I can say Russell was the 2nd best player in his era, but that's it. I have Wilt beating him by a country mile. Wilt absolutely destroyed him. Ranking top 10 in assists when there's only 8 teams isn't a huge accomplishment, especially when you're not focused on scoring that much. If you actual rate a player based on skills/athleticism like David often does, putting Russell just inside top 40 seems about right, if not too high possibly.

This list basically just shows where the bias is. Kobe is consistently ridiculously low, and he's the only true great player to be rated like this.

At Friday, October 23, 2015 4:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I'm beyond tired of arguing about Kobe right now, but FWIW David's initial Pantheon articles posit that the 14 guys in there are more-or-less interchangeable (although I assume from his other writings he'd take Kobe over at least Lebron, Shaq, and Bird). I actually have Kobe quite a bit above Baylor, and usually just ahead of Magic & Lebron and probably Shaq (though I'd easily take Shaq's best 8 years over Kobe's, Kobe was good for longer), but I have a few guys who didn't make David's Pantheon ahead of him (Olajuwon, Barry, Pippen, maybe Pettit who I just haven't seen enough of, maybe Roger Brown who I just haven't seen enough of). That being the case, it's not inconceivable that somebody could make an at least somewhat defensible list that placed him 20th or so, depending on what they valued most heavily, and how much credit they do or don't give him for those first three LA titles. If I'm an "ardent hater," then I'm a pretty lazy one, consistently referring to him as one of the best players of all-time and ranking him ahead of guys like Magic (a popular pick for best ever) and Lebron (a trendy pick for best ever). Recently rehashed arguments about 2004 aside, I happen to put less of an emphasis on raw scoring than you guys seem to, and I attribute less of his teammate's success to him (and more to Phil) than you seem to, given that in every season he played without Phil his teammates seem to have below par seasons. I also don't think his defense stayed as consistent as you two seem to after about '04 or so (though he still played elite D in crunch time), and especially after about '09 or so. I also don't think all titles are created equal, and beating the '09 Magic or getting bailed out by injury against the '10 Celtics is as impressive as stuff like Barry's one-man show in '75, Doc's one-man show in '76, Duncan's solo act in '03, or Jordan beating that stacked- and healthy- Suns team in '93. Finally, in my personal ratings perimeter players tend to rank lower than bigs- or someone like Doc who could emulate bigs- due to the increased defensive and rebounding value a big guy presents, which hurts Kobe/West/Jordan/Oscar all. That doesn't mean I don't think he's stellar, though.

Calling someone who disagree with you a hater doesn't really accomplish much, by the way, beyond making it seem like you don't have anything more cogent to say. Ad hominem rarely helps to make a case.


At Friday, October 23, 2015 4:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Onto your second point, I disagree quite a bit about Russell. He was a stellar passer- and while you make a good point about where he ranked in assists in a small league, the definition of an assist then was much stricter than it is now. His 5 or 6 APG would probably be 7 or 8 with today's definition. His timing on blocks and rebounds also bordered on otherworldly; Rodman may be a fair comp for rebounding, but I'm not sure one exists for his shot blocking (think a cross between Ben Wallace and Hakeem Olajuwon). Rodman was not that kind of shot blocker, nor Wallace- arguably minus an admittedly stellar '03 season-that kind of rebounder. Additionally, neither was anywhere near good of a cutter, passer, or pick-setter on offense, and while Russell's FG% was unimpressive for a big man, he was taking much more difficult shots than Rodman or Wallace, and in an era where the style of play lent itself to lower FG% across the board. He'd likely shoot around 50% today, if not higher, with more room to operate (thanks to three point shooters spacing the floor), more sensitive foul-calling, and a less extreme pace. Beyond that, he was brilliant tactically, both in terms of getting in his opponents' heads, and in terms of leading his own squad emotionally.

11 rings probably wouldn't still happen as the average talent level has gone up considerably, but he'd absolutely still be an MVP candidate, and it's ludicrous to place him outside of the top 40. It's difficult to place him even out of the top 10. Stacked as those Celts teams may have been, he's still the best guy on 11 title teams; that's 5 more title teams than the next best guy in that category.

At Friday, October 23, 2015 11:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, my main problems with your analysis regarding Kobe is that you don't get all facts straight plus you blame him for certain things while pretty much disregard even bigger failures from other players. I was wrong about Duncan though, he actually missed the finals 4x as a #1 seed. That should not be taken lightly. Duncan is probably a top 10 player all time, but he came up short so many more times than Kobe. Duncan, elite in your view in 2011, only averaged 12.7ppg in the 1st round loss to MEM, which was good for 6th best in the series, and Gay didn't play. There's more to the game than just scoring, but points and minutes continue to be two of the best correlators to success/greatness, if not the top 2.

Who, regardless of how much they hate Kobe, wouldn't say he's one of the best players all-time? Don't act like you're actually complimenting him like that. Most of the greats had great coaches. Phil can set up a plan, but he can't do anything for the players on the court. No matter how good Phil, he can't make opps double team Kobe, allowing his teammates great opportunities for success. Kobe would remain active in any system, drawing huge defensive attention. The real nba experts usually vote for all-defense. I think they know a bit more than you do about nba defense. The fact that you extremely confidently easily elevate a player who has 1 all-nba defense over a 12x all-nba defense player speaks highly of how little you understand nba defense.

You can try to denigrate Kobe all you want for 09/10, but even making it to the finals was a huge accomplishment. Barry's 1 title run was impressive, but Barry only did it once. He is an all-time great, but Kobe's body of work clearly shines over him. Duncan's 03 team won 60 wins. He had 3 other guys on the team who will be HOFers. While 2 were young and one older, he had a lot of help, and at least as much help as Kobe did from 08-10. ORL was a very good team in 09, and beat the favorites in the ECF, then Kobe and LAL dominated them in the finals. LAL beat 48, 53, 54, and 59-win teams, very impressive. Duncan and a 54-win SA team flopped and underachieved again, losing badly in the 1st round to DAL.

In 2010, LAL beat 50, 53, 54, and 50 win teams, even more impressive probably. PHO sweeps SA in the 2nd round, and Duncan had lots of help. What injury bailed LAL in 2010? Perkins missing game 7? Really? You could make injury excuses every year. Bynum didn't even play in the 08 finals, and was injured/barely played in the 09 and 10 playoffs. And Ariza barely played in the 08 finals. Farmar was 7th man, sometimes 6th man when Bynum was hurt during their title runs. Kobe had so little to work with compared to most other title teams, especially teams who won back-to-back and/or made at least 3 finals in a row. PHO's casts and BOS's casts outplayed Kobe's casts in 2010. At times, PHO's bench outplayed LAL's starters, and Vujacic's feud with Dragic almost cost LAL the series.

At Friday, October 23, 2015 5:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking around the internet for other commentary on this topic (big mistake on my part) and I saw comments saying that Kobe's absurdly low ranking is justified because he "chased Shaq and Dwight out of town" and that he "actively hurt the Lakers and cost them championships". The individuals expressing these views are clearly ill-informed, shamelessly biased morons but these are not fringe views. The propaganda against Kobe is frighteningly effective and many people are completely convinced that Kobe is nothing more than a selfish gunner who made his teams worse and that Shaq won all three championships by himself. It doesn't matter what Kobe does or does not do; they will have something venomously snarky to say about it. Of course, this type of thinking isn't limited to Kobe Bryant's legacy as many people in this world are seemingly incapable of processing any kind of truth or reason that conflicts with their petty, unenlightened bias.

At Saturday, October 24, 2015 12:22:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Two points of clarification, but I'm still not really interested in arguing about Kobe:

1) I wasn't suggesting that '09 or '10 don't count or aren't impressive, only that they impress me less than the performances I was referring to. Winning the Finals is always a major accomplishment, as is being the best player on those Finals teams, but Duncan/Doc/Barry all did so largely singlehandedly in the series I mentioned, and I feel like that '93 Suns team- or the '83 Lakers, or the '69 Lakers, or the '95 Magic, or any number of other Finals losers- was extremely stacked relative to the '09 Magic or '10 Celtics. I do believe that Perkins' injury was a big deal, but most title teams have some injury luck; it's still less impressive than beating them with Perkins would have been.

2) I don't disagree that Duncan losing to Memphis is probably the low point of his career, but all the greats just get beat sometimes, and most of them have had it happen in the first round, including Kobe (and that Grizzlies team is a lot better than the '06 Suns team that beat Kobe with a starting front court of Boris Diaw and Tim Thomas). That Memphis team was better than their record and a uniquely good matchup for that Spurs team, similar to the '84 Nets team that surprised Moses and Doc's 76ers. I just don't see losing in the first round as being as big of a deal as missing the playoffs entirely, or repeatedly being the best player on a title team. For my money, Duncan was the best player on all 5 Spurs titles; that puts him in pretty elite company, as only Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, and arguably (but probably not) Kareem can say the same.

Put more simply, obviously ever great player has little flaws or failures you can point out (even Russell didn't win two years); I happen to think Duncan's achievements do a better job of outweighing his than anyone but Doc's. I think- relative to those two guys, at least- Kobe's resume is slightly less impressive, and his failures slightly more damning. If that makes me a hater, then that makes hater a misleading term. I don't hate Kobe, I just think a few other people are better.

At Saturday, October 24, 2015 5:56:00 PM, Anonymous Tokez said...


Its clear that you're biased in your analysis of top players. Yes, you don't hate Kobe, but you sure as hell don't appreciate him either. Tim Duncan was not the best player for their last ring are you high? Cmon now. Everybody knows kawhi erupted and hence, finals MVP. Even Kobe's worst playoff series had him averaging over 20 a game with the most dominant big man in the league on his team. By any of your seriously weird metric of analysis Kobe should deserve more credit in 2000 playoffs than Duncan in 2014. Do you even read the things you type? Just say you hate kobe since you're so biased it's actually quite amusing. How were the 2010 Celtics not stacked? Wasn't it an historically defensively great team? If we are going to talk about quality of competition then Duncan should get some flak for being lucky to face lebron the quitter and his injured teammates. By your logic, he should get none at all because that team was nowhere near stacked by the time they got to the finals. Grizzlies team being better than the 06 suns team? What? You're talking about the Nash led suns that generated the most potent offense that even YOU had a hard on for in another thread? And the grizzlies that was never a threat to any serious contender ever? The ones that couldn't score to save their lives? that suns team would have smoked the grizzlies like a ham. The amount of mental gymnastics required to even keep track of your wildly fluctuating arguments is overwhelming. Kobe did everything Duncan has done and then some. Get back to me when Duncan wins a back to back. Oh wait. And for the last time, don't say you don't hate kobe. Its annoying because its obvious to anyone who can walk upright that you dismiss him no matter the evidence presented to you. Bottom line, kobe always smashed on Duncan whenever they faced each other. I bet you Duncan himself will say that kobe is better than him if anyone actually took the time to get it out of him.

At Sunday, October 25, 2015 6:44:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Tokez: I would say it's unfair to say that Kobe "smashed on" Duncan every time they faced each other considering Duncan and company swept the Lakers in their first championship season in 1999 and also knocked Kobe and Shaq out of the playoffs fair and square in 2003.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 4:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


1) The '06 Suns were without Amare Stoudemire (otherwise that team's second best player), and only went 6 deep because for some reason D'Antoni doesn't believe in a bench (Kobe would learn this the hard way a few years later). Kobe and LAL lost a very winnable game 6 with Raja Bell suspended (only 5 deep), and a series against a team that was starting both Boris Diaw and Tim Thomas. The '07 and '10 Suns were legitimate title contenders; the '06 Suns were not.

2) That Grizzlies team was a slow-it-down, pound-it-out team that lost a 7 game series to a stacked- and fully healthy- OKC team that still had Harden. They were absolutely contenders, and matched up well against the Mavs and Heat. They had the usual Memphis problem of not-enough-depth, but with Shane Battier they had a little bit more shooting and even better perimeter defense than their most recent incarnations, and they happened to match up very well against a Spurs team lacking a second interior defender to deal with the Randolph/Gasol pairing. Having both Battier and Allen also allowed them to guard the Parker/Ginobili pair arguably better than anyone before or since. Also, they were an 8 seed mostly as a pre-Battier team; after the Battier trade, they won at a 50-win rate (the same number of wins the '10 Celtics had, and in a harder conference).

3) Kobe did not "smash on" Duncan. He's got a losing record (by one game) against him for his career. He has a winning record against him in the playoffs- but all but one of those series involved Shaq, who until about '03 was better than either of them. Kobe certainly deserves some credit for those wins, but it's silly to suggest he "smashed on" a guy he couldn't consistently beat even with another Pantheon player in tow. To his credit, the one series they did play without Shaq, LA won. and Kobe was definitely the MVP of that series. On the other hand, Duncan was the clear MVP of both the 1999 and 2003 series. In '01 and '02, Kobe was the team's MVP on offense (though Shaq did his share as well), but it was Shaq's work against the Duncan/Robinson duo inside both defensively and on the glass that allowed the Lakers to win. In '04 Shaq was easily the best Laker against SA. At any rate, it's disingenuous to suggest that Kobe somehow had Duncan's number given that most of his success against him came as the second best player on his own team.

Without Shaq, incidentally, Kobe is 13-18 against Tim Duncan.

4) The 2008 Celtics were a historically great defensive team. The 2010 Celtics weren't even the fourth best defensive team of 2010. They were a good defensive team- and one that relied heavily on a pre-ACL Kendrick Perkins to play physical inside defense to free up Kevin Garnett to do awesome Kevin Garnett things- but hardly a great one. In fact, the '2010 Lakers were a better defensive team than they were that year. Also, the "Big 3" started showing noticeable signs of decline that year, scoring about 5.5 fewer PPG between them than in '09. Ray Allen had his worst shooting season since '99. They'd also lost most of that killer '08 bench (most notably James Posey). They were literally a 50 win team; good, but hardly elite. The team I mentioned being more impressive above: '93 Suns (62 wins). The teams I mentioned as exampled of guys beating them mostly singlehandedly (i.e., w/o an All-NBA big man riding shotgun) '75 Bullets (60 wins), '76 Nuggets (60 wins), '03 Nets (49 wins).

The '10 Celtics were a good team, but they were by no means the '08 Celtics.


At Monday, October 26, 2015 5:05:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


5) It is a defensible position to take that Leonard was more valuable than Duncan in '14. I personally disagree, as I feel Duncan's impact as a rim protector and deterrent was more important than Leonard's allegedly great work on Lebron in a series in which Lebron played better than his playoff averages for that year and shot 57%; it was every other member of the Heat that SA was able to "stop" and Duncan's the key to all of that. Duncan lead the series in rebounding (helping to neuter Miami's deadly transition game), actually won his matchup, and challenged what felt like every single would-be Dwyane Wade layup at the rim. Leonard did score a whole two more points per game than Duncan, though, so bully for him there.

6) " Kobe did everything Duncan has done and then some." He won fewer MVPs, Finals MVPs, playoff series, titles as his team's best player, All Defensive Nominations, and basketball games, and he's recorded less than half as many rebounds. Duncan also beats him on every advanced stat I could pull up, from Box +/- to Win Shares to VORP. Kobe's a better scorer and passer, but that's pretty much it. He won less, did fewer things, and tended to get his ass kicked by elite teams. Which brings me to...

7) The best team- by record- Kobe beat in the Finals post-Shaq was Orlando, who's second best player was limited to 15 mpg off the bench after a career-altering injury. Both Orlando and Boston had an injury to a starter. OTOH, Duncan beat healthy defending champs Miami and Detroit (Kobe has never beaten the defending champ en route to a title), as well as a healthy New Jersey team. Kobe has never beaten a 60 win team without Shaq, and only once with him; the famously controversial '02 Kings series. He also hasn't won a title against a team with its usual starting lineup.

Duncan, for his part, has beaten 3 60 win teams (weirdly all Steve Nash teams, as an aside). You harp on Duncan losing in the first round, but he tended to beat better teams than Kobe did in the playoffs. Kobe did lose to a bit better teams than Duncan, though the margin's much slimmer if you limit it to post-Shaq era (and Kobe's helped by his worst teams having missed the playoffs entirely). Basically, Duncan could beat anybody or lose to anybody. Kobe could only lose to 53+ win teams, but he also couldn't beat 60 win teams.

8) I wasn't kidding when I said I was sick of arguing about Kobe, especially since you've now devolved mostly into what appears to be loyalty-driven rage and insults, so I'm going to excuse myself from this conversation now.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 11:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In other threads we have discussed most of your points regarding Bryant/Duncan, so I will not rehash those conversations, but there are a few points worth considering when comparing Bryant's overall career with Duncan's.

1) You often minimize Bryant's impact on his teammates because Bryant spent much of his career playing with Phil Jackson. Applying that reasoning, Gregg Popovich should receive the credit for how well Duncan's teammates performed. For that matter, you often credit Nash and Dragic for making their teammates better but--by your standards--coaching should receive the bulk of the credit for that; after all, you blame bad coaching for changing Dragic's role, so then you should credit good coaching for bringing out the best in Dragic during the one season in Dragic's career when he was an above average player.

2) Another method you use to denigrate Bryant is to give O'Neal most of the credit for the Lakers' 2000-02 championships. O'Neal played 11 seasons sans Bryant, resulting in one championship. Bryant won two championships and made it to a third Finals in 11 seasons sans Shaq so far (and Bryant missed one postseason due to injury and barely played in the last two seasons due to injury, so to be fair he won two championships in eight playoff runs sans Shaq). You focus a lot on Shaq being the primary option for the 2000-02 Lakers but the reality is that Shaq and Kobe were 1a and 1b. They were both All-Stars/All-NBA players and the Lakers would not have won those titles if either of those players had been unavailable. Therefore, they both deserve "credit" for those titles in a way that the benchwarmers do not; when ranking players we don't elevate Sasha Vujacic over Reggie Miller based on championships won but both Bryant and O'Neal deserve full "credit" for all of their titles when making comparisons among Pantheon level players.

3) Bryant won two championships with a big man who prior to playing with Bryant had never made the All-NBA team and had never won a single playoff game. O'Neal never made it to the Finals without an All-NBA guard by his side. If you are going to downgrade Bryant's first three titles because of O'Neal's presence then you must at least consider the question of whether or not O'Neal could have won a championship with the guard equivalent of Gasol, a player who made the All-Star team once in seven pre-Bryant seasons. Some recent examples of such guards with one career All-Star selection would be Steve Smith or Sam Cassell.

I would argue that Bryant in his prime could (and did) win championships with a good but not great big man, a decent but not exceptional starting lineup and no bench. O'Neal won his championships playing alongside great perimeter players (Bryant/Wade) who made a lot of clutch shots and attracted a lot of defensive attention. O'Neal never won a championship without playing alongside a great perimeter player.

Perhaps you will argue that Gasol is better than Smith or Cassell but that is not really the point. The point is that, prior to playing with Bryant, no one considered Gasol to be great. Gasol was not--and is not--a player who can be the best player on a championship team. Bryant won two championships with Gasol. O'Neal never won a championship with a player such as Gasol as his best teammate.

If you are going to downgrade Bryant's first three titles because of O'Neal's presence then you should also put O'Neal's championships into a larger context.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I didn't expect you to jump in, but since you did, I'll try to answer your points. I'm still tired of the discussion, but I feel like they're points worth addressing as opposed to arbitrary claims of who "smashed on" whom.

1) The Popovich point is a fair one. It's a difficult comparison to make because Duncan has only played for one coach; we have a clear distinction between the play of Kobe's teammates with/without Phil, but not Duncan's. My belief in Duncan making his teammates better is rooted mostly in watching him out there with them, and in their performance without him (even while still on the Spurs), but it's totally fair to suggest that Pop deserves some/more of the credit. In Kobe's case, I feel like the statistics suggest Phil had the greater impact, especially since with the exception of Lamar Odom, Kobe's teammates- including Pau- have had better seasons without him than they had with him sans Phil.

2) I give Kobe quite a bit of credit for those titles, but not as much as I would if he were the best player on those teams. Shaq won a title with a much lesser 2 guard- the sophomore version of Dwyane Wade (who admittedly played out of his mind in the Finals)- so I feel confident that Shaq could still have won titles without a pantheon level teammate; he may not have won all three (and probably not in '02), but if you gave him, say, Tracy McGrady or Reggie Miller, he would still have done very well. He was the defensive and offensive fulcrum for those Lakers teams, and everything ran through him. According to Howard Beck, a big part of the issue between Shaq and Kobe was that it was, so long as Phil was in charge, always going to be that way. I feel comfortable in assuming, then, that Phil agreed with my estimation of who was the better player at that point in time. Beck may be wrong, but he was more in a position to know than you or I.

My bigger point in those instances, though, is that even if we say Shaq and Kobe are equal, Duncan generally did not have someone at his level (you could make a case for Robinson in '99 or Leonard in '14, but I'd respectfully disagree). I'd also argue that in three of Duncan's titles, he didn't even have someone as good as Pau.

3) I agree that Shaq did not win without an elite perimeter player. While I'd take Shaq's best years over Kobe's, Kobe's had more good years and I usually rank him about a spot ahead of Shaq all-time. The argument above is about Duncan, who won in '03 without any kind of All-NBA help (or even another All-Star). In fact, in four of his five title seasons, none of Duncan's teammates made the All-NBA team, so if that's the metric we're using this time, then it's yet another metric in Duncan's favor.

It's also to Kobe's benefit to compare his years without Shaq to Shaq's years without him, as Kobe played with Shaq during most of his prime, while Shaq only played with Kobe for about half of his. This is a credit to Kobe's longevity, but in Shaq's two years before and after Kobe he made the Finals twice and the conference finals all four times; he declined pretty sharply starting in '07 or so, but by the time Kobe was that age (34) he was having serious health issues and hasn't played a playoff game since.

Duncan, on the other hand, has played in the Finals twice since turning 35.

Lastly, as for Gasol, it's fair to say that nobody considered him elite pre-Kobe... but nobody considered Wade an All-NBA player before he played with Shaq, either. Gasol just had arguably his best year playing without Kobe- or anyone at Kobe's level- so the argument that Gasol's greatness is a product of Kobe is, I'd argue, a flawed one.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 1:10:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

As for Nash and Dragic, in Nash's case he had that effect on teammates with three or four different coaches. I feel comfortable giving him the credit there, especially when those coaches haven't necessarily otherwise gotten career bests out of most of their guys.

Dragic is harder to pin down, and perhaps time will tell a clearer tale, but mostly given that his teammates thrived with him under Hornacek, and floundered without him (or with less of him) under Hornacek, I'm more comfortable giving him the credit than Hornacek.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 3:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


1) I am not sure what standard you are applying but by my reckoning most of Bryant's teammates--from the sublime (O'Neal, Gasol) to the ridiculous (Kwame, Smush)--played better with Bryant than without him.

2) I agree that O'Neal could have done "very well" with McGrady or Miller--but "very well" is not at all the same as three straight titles and four Finals in five years. Bryant made contributions offensively and defensively during those title runs that McGrady and Miller could not have made (though prime McGrady was at least close to prime Bryant and certainly better than prime Gasol).

My point is that if you are going to critique Bryant because he was the number two option to O'Neal then you also have to acknowledge that O'Neal never won a championship without an elite perimeter player while Bryant won two titles without an elite big man. The fact that Bryant won two titles without an elite big man at least suggests that he "could" have won more titles with a good but not great big man. In other words, Jackson may have had good reason to make O'Neal the focus but that does not prove that the Lakers would not have won with Bryant as the focus while playing alongside a good but not great big man. We have no proof, on the other hand, that O'Neal could win a championship with a good but not great perimeter player as his best teammate.

Bryant is a perimeter player who entered the NBA straight out of high school, so it would be expected that he would not have the same longevity as a big man who went to college; Bryant is a smaller player who had endured more wear and tear by his mid-30s than O'Neal. That said, I disagree with your implication that O'Neal aged better than Bryant. We know that injuries greatly limited Bryant the past two years but at age 34 Bryant was fifth in MVP voting and a member of the All-NBA First Team. That was his 17th season. From seasons 10-17 he finished in the top five in MVP voting every year. When O'Neal was 34 he finished 12th in MVP voting (that was O'Neal's 15th season). O'Neal finished in the top five in MVP voting in seasons 10-14 and then never reached that level again. MVP voting is a shorthand, imprecise measure but I would definitely take "old" Bryant over "old" O'Neal.

I disagree that last season was Gasol's best or even that it was better than his best L.A. seasons. Gasol set a career-high in rpg last season and had his fourth best bpg season but I think that reflects Thibodeau's emphasis on defense as much as anything else. Gasol's top three offensive rebounding seasons came alongside Bryant and I predicted this effect right after Gasol arrived in L.A.; Bryant attracted defensive attention that gave Gasol a free run to the hoop. Gasol's ppg last season was the seventh best of his career, his FG% was 11th and his apg was 12th. Since you like "advanced" numbers, three of his top four Win Shares seasons came in L.A. (last season was his fifth best) and his TS% last season was his 10th best. Gasol had a good season last year but it was hardly his best and did not come close to measuring up to his best L.A. years.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 3:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not convinced by your coaching analysis because you seem to be applying a double standard. If Hornacek held Dragic back then it is reasonable to assume that he also held other players back. How can you give Dragic credit for what went well but blame Hornacek for what went poorly? Hornacek was coaching the team the whole time. Maybe Hornacek coached better in one season than in another but either you believe that coaching is the primary factor in role player performance or you believe that the team's best player has the most influence in this regard.

I have interviewed several members of the Lakers' coaching staff over the years and several Laker players--in addition to following the team and the league in general very closely--so I am not so sure that Beck has a better handle on what happened than I do. I can assure you that I have spoken with many NBA insiders who have a much higher opinion of Bryant's impact on his teammates than you do. Bryant works hard, pushes his teammates and holds them to a high standard. This leads to better performance. In addition, Bryant attracts so much defensive attention that his teammates are often wide open.

The Bryant-Duncan comparison is complex because they play different positions and because their career circumstances are so different. You make some valid points regarding Duncan's greatness but some of your criticisms of Bryant are not well-founded.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 3:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

While I certainly believe that peak Dwyane Wade is better than peak Gasol, I'm not certain that third year Dwyane Wade constitutes an "elite" player to the extent of a Bryant or Oneal. He was awesome- made the All-Second Team- but was hardly Pantheon level. Both Oneal and Bryant have won with a very strong- but non-pantheon level- teammate. I agree that Wade is better than Gasol, but I think winning with him is proof than Oneal could win with a non-pantheon level player. I also don't much think that Kobe circa 2000 was yet all that much better than a T-Mac or a Reggie Miller; in fact, Reggie pretty soundly outperformed him in the Finals that year. It was in '01 that Kobe's scoring jumped by six points and it wasn't until '02 that he started making All NBA First teams. O'neal won without "elite" help in '00 and arguably in '05.

I'm not suggesting that O'neal, for his career, is better than Bryant. I'm suggesting that Duncan is better than both.

Kobe absolutely aged better in terms of total seasons- and I said as much above- but to some extent that may have been a function of starting younger. I didn't mean to suggest Oneal aged better, only that penalizing O'neal for not winning a ton of titles on the other side of 34 is perhaps unfair. Shaq won four titles in six years during his prime; Kobe won five in eleven (or four in 10 if you don't count '00 as his prime) during his. My point above was that Kobe's prime is undoubtedly longer, but I think that during their time in LA O'neal was the better player, and therefore deserves the lion's share of the credit for those titles.

As for Gasol, he scored more last year than in four of his seven LA seasons. His shooting percentage was better than his last few LA years- but not better than the years when Phil was his coach, which is largely my point. His rebounding was a career high, and he made his first All-NBA team since Phil retired. It is unlikely that Gasol suddenly improved at age 34, and much more likely that he simply played much better without Kobe than he did with Kobe-without-Phil. You're right that Kobe attracted defensive attention that allowed Gasol to thrive... under Phil. But without Phil, his FG% dropped sharply as did his rebounding- including offensive. His offensive rebounding numbers from last season are better than any without Phil, as are his scoring numbers. His win shares last season also beat all of his non-Phil Kobe seasons, as do his wins hares for several seasons in Memphis. If Kobe, not Phil, is chiefly responsible for Gasol's play in LA, then this makes no sense. Gasol played his best ball for Phil Jackson (with Kobe), his next best ball for Tom Thibodeau (no Kobe), his next best ball for Memphis, and his worst ball for the Lakers without Phil (with Kobe). Suggesting that Kobe is responsible for Pau's best years ignores the evidence.

Also, while Gasol's peak LA FG%, scoring, and offensive rebounding numbers are slightly better than his Chi #s, it is not unlikely that if you switched the 28 year old Gasol of '09 with the 34 year old Gasol of '15, his Chicago numbers would be the best of his career and his LA numbers somewhat less impressive.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 3:34:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"How can you give Dragic credit for what went well but blame Hornacek for what went poorly?"

Because what went well went well when Dragic had the ball in his hands, and what went poorly went poorly when he didn't. What happens when Dragic has the ball is Dragic's responsibility; who has the ball is Hornacek's.

"Maybe Hornacek coached better in one season than in another but either you believe that coaching is the primary factor in role player performance or you believe that the team's best player has the most influence in this regard."

False dichotomy; it's entirely situational. In '14 Hornacek put Dragic in a position to make the team around him better by putting the ball in his hands. In '15, he didn't. Dragic cannot create offense for his teammates by standing in the corner spotting up (nor could Kobe, or Doc, or any player, though those greats would have been harder to justify taking the ball away from).

"The Bryant-Duncan comparison is complex because they play different positions and because their career circumstances are so different."

I agree with at least that much. I just struggle to find any category besides scoring and assists in which Bryant wins the comparison. Duncan's won more, sometimes with less, impacts more possessions defensively, and is generally dominant by every advanced metric we have; all of those metrics are various degrees of noisy or flawed individually, but taken altogether they're a pretty compelling case. Ultimately, I feel Duncan won more often against tougher competition and with less help, and I feel that having Duncan on your team basically any year except perhaps 08-10 gives you a better shot of winning a title.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 4:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Gasol's stats spiked when he joined the Lakers primarily because (1) Bryant pushed him (in practices and in games) and (2) Bryant attracted so much defensive attention that Gasol had wide open shots and wide open lanes to the hoop for layups/offensive rebounds. Jackson also pushed Gasol and Jackson's Triangle Offense played a role as well but the primary difference for Gasol is that Bryant took the load of being the first option off of Gasol. If Jackson had coached Gasol sans Bryant and Gasol had been the number one option then Gasol's stats would not have spiked, particularly his FG% and his offensive rebounding.

You assert that Gasol's subsequent decline related to Jackson's departure but the main factor was that Gasol was injured. Last year, Gasol was healthy for most of the season. A lesser factor in Gasol's L.A. decline is that D'Antoni--who does not believe in post play--changed Gasol's role. The latter factor is similar to what you think happened with Hornacek/Dragic, though peak Gasol is a much better player than Dragic. However, the fact that D'Antoni's bad coaching hurt Gasol does not in any way diminish Bryant's impact on Gasol. When Jackson coached the Lakers, Bryant did a lot of screen/roll actions with Gasol that were not a part of the Triangle and were not called by Jackson. Bryant would often motion to Gasol to set a screen and then hand deliver a layup to Gasol. That was not a result of Jackson's coaching and, in fact, Jackson has often stated that he does not like screen/roll plays, preferring to deliver the ball straight to the post.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 5:23:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I mean, Mike D'Antoni wasn't coaching the Lakers in 2012. Gasol played three more MPG that year than 2015, got the exact same number of offensive rebounds, and scored a point less on .007% better shooting. He grabbed fewer total rebounds, and posted fewer win shares. He missed 13 more games that year than in 2015, but it seems odd to blame everything on a relatively minor injury.

Also, if the role change is the problem, then at least some of his success is because of being put in the right role by Phil Jackson. It is worth noting that his three best scoring seasons, his second and fourth best shooting seasons, and his best shot-blocking and passing seasons all came in Memphis. He did generally shoot better in LA, but the only real reason those are his "best" seasons are because he was on a better team. He doesn't seem to have been a materially better overall player statistically, though at an eye test level I'd take LA (Phil era) Gasol over Memphis or Chicago Gasol. I just think it's convenient to claim that Kobe has the responsibility for making him better when of the four phases of his career we're discussing, both his best and worst came with Kobe.

Ron Artest, Caron Butler, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, Glen Rice, Ron Harper, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher all had better or comparable seasons shortly before and/or after playing with Kobe. Pau's best scoring, rebounding, passing, and shot-blocking seasons all came without Kobe. Shaq had his best seasons with Kobe but was still able to make the Finals twice without him, and would still have been an MVP caliber player without him. Everyone who did perform at a career-best level around Kobe did so specifically while Phil Jackson was there, which I suspect is not a coincidence.

I don't disagree that Kobe often makes his teammates better- particularly less talented guys like Shannon Brown or Sasha Vujacic who feed off the defensive attention he draws but might not be able to score otherwise- but I think you over-sell the degree and frequency with which he does so and that guys like Steve Nash, Magic Johnson, etc. who usually get the buzz for that sort of thing have much stronger cases for it.

PS: Whether or not peak Pau Gasol is better than peak Goran Dragic is entirely a question of whether or not you correlate Dragic's teammates' success with his play or not. Otherwise, they're comparable scorers, but Gasol's rebounding is enough of a tiebreaker to give him the edge. As far as team success as the first option goes, Dragic led a team featuring no stars to 48 wins in the toughest conference in history; Gasol had a much better team in a less ludicrous conference and peaked at 50 wins. In those respective seasons, Gasol played 78 games while Dragic played 76. I'd argue Gasol also had the much stronger supporting cast, as personally I'd rather have Shane Battier, PJ Tucker, James Posey, Mike Miller, and Jason Williams coached by Mike Fratello than half a season of Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, Channing Frye, and Miles Plumlee coached by Jeff Hornacek, but maybe that's just me... and all the other coaches that started Battier/Posey/Miller/Williams for most of their careers while benching Green/Frye/Plumlee/Tucker for most of theirs.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 8:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Gasol's numbers did not fall off the map in 2012, nor was he injured that season (he played 65 out of 66 games in the lockout shortened season). I thought that we were talking about 2013 and 2014 compared to 2015. Gasol's numbers fell off in L.A. after he got hurt, Bryant got hurt and D'Antoni stuck Gasol on the perimeter.

My correct prediction before Gasol's arrival in L.A. and my contention after Gasol's arrival in L.A. was that playing alongside Bryant would result in Gasol increasing his FG% and offensive rebound average even though those are stats that typically do not improve at that stage of a player's career.

If you believe that coaching and assigned roles play a larger factor than anything else in player performance that is fine but be consistent about it. I think that coaching is important--that is one of my many disagreements with some of the "stat gurus"--but in this particular case concerning this player and those two stats I ascribe a lot of Gasol's increased efficiency to Bryant. If you go back and read my game recaps from those seasons I provide detailed analysis supporting my contention.

If I listed David Robinson, Steve Smith, Sean Elliott, Stephen Jackson and Steve Kerr as players who performed better before and/or after playing alongside Duncan you would rightly assert that I am taking those players' careers out of proper context. The same thing applies to your selective list of Bryant's teammates. Regarding O'Neal and Bryant, no matter how you try to finesse it, the truth--without the equivocations that you added after acknowledging the truth--is that O'Neal had his best seasons with Bryant.

Also, regarding your interpretation of Beck's reporting (I have not seen the article/articles in question), if ego broke up the O'Neal-Bryant duo the problem was O'Neal's ego. O'Neal could not accept that he was getting older and that Bryant should be the number one option but O'Neal could accept that reality when he played with Wade. If O'Neal had been willing to accept that reality in L.A. then he and Bryant probably would have won at least three more rings, with the 1a and 1b roles being flipped. Instead, O'Neal won one ring with Wade and Bryant went to three Finals/won two rings as the undisputed number one option.

Regarding Dragic, you place a lot of stock in one fluky, career-best season by Dragic. I predict that he will never match those individual numbers again and that if he is on a 48 win team again in either conference he will clearly not be the first or second option on the team.

At Monday, October 26, 2015 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

My point was that Gasol's numbers in Chicago were better than his numbers in LA without Phil; this includes both the Brown and D'Antoni eras. Kobe was present for both, so it is odd that Gasol's offensive rebounding numbers in LAL that year are no better than his Chicago numbers, and his overall scoring and rebounding numbers are worse.

I think we're basically arguing over split hairs to some extent here; I agree that Kobe benefitted Gasol, I just feel that the facts suggest that Phil benefitted him more. The presence of Kobe, by itself, was not enough to get his best out of him without Phil's system in place, and his career highs in scoring, rebounding, assists, and blocks all happened outside the influence of either of them. I would take the '06, '07, and '15 versions of Gasol all over the '12, '13, or '14 versions of him. I'd be tempted to take the '02 and '03 versions as well, but would be concerned about young-Gasol defense (even prime Gasol defense was never anything to write home about, though he did eventually emerge as a competent rim deterrent).

As for Shaq, I'm not equivocating at all; he absolutely benefitted from Kobe's presence. But he was still good enough to get to the Finals twice without him, and played at an All-NBA or MVP level before and after his time with Kobe.

I didn't really cherry pick the rest of that list; it's all the best players Kobe's played with. Basically anyone I thought of who was an above-average starter; I already commented that guys like Brown and Vujacic (and Devean George etc.) benefit from Kobe's presence quite a bit; my point was more that he doesn't seem to make teammates who are already good much better, at least not consistently. By contrast, Steve Nash- my vote for the ultimate "makes his teammates better" guy- got career bests out of almost everyone who played with him between 2002 and 2011 or so. Both guys make their teammates better, but I think there's a difference of degree. Duncan is again difficult to separate from Pop but given his excellent leadership and off-ball smarts on both sides of the ball I believe that he made most or all of his teammates better as well. It is perhaps unfortunate we don't have a control group away from SA or with just one of Pop/Duncan for guys like Manu and Tony to compare with, but we can only use the stats we have.

Put most simply, I think you overstate the impact Kobe's presence had on his best teammates; most of them did as well or better without him. Even Shaq had two of his best three scoring years, his best few FG% years, and his best rebounding years all without Kobe. Yes, playing with another elite talent helped him win titles, but that's true of basically anyone and goes both ways. I don't think there's much or any evidence that Kobe "made his teammates better" to a significantly greater degree than most/all of the other Pantheon guys, so I don't really buy it as an argument for why he might be better than Duncan. I still struggle to find a credible case for Kobe on that front that doesn't boil down to "he scored more," which for me is not enough.

Regarding Beck, I don't remember the quotation perfectly but it was on a recent podcast with Zach Lowe. It was to the effect that the rift between Kobe and Phil (and to some extent between Kobe and Shaq)- later healed- revolved around Phil's insistence that if he remained the ball would go through Shaq. The pod as a whole made both Kobe and Shaq sound like passive agressive children, so listen at your own peril.

I'm really not interested in arguing Gasol vs. Dragic. I frankly don't care enough about Gasol, and it's quite clear that your estimation of Dragic is set in stone for the time being. Also, I'm disappointed in him for coming into camp out of shape, so I'm not presently feeling up to defending him much more tonight. When he loses his baby-weight I'll start batting for him again.

At Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, you'll never accept even facts about Kobe. And for the millionth time, if Nash was the 'greatest teammate' ever or whatever you believe about him, please win something, just make one finals. Is that really too much to ask? He played on multiple teams that had multiple AS. Most of his teams has current AS, past AS, and future AS on them. DAL immediately gets better after he left by basically just replacing him with Terry. Either your assessment of him making his teammates better is wrong or his past coaches did a much better job after he left their teams or both.

It's silly to discredit Kobe for not making his teammates better. It's clear that he did. Duncan's still a good player, but his role has been greatly limited for many years now. He hasn't averaged 20ppg since 2007, and he hasn't averaged more than 31.3mpg since 2009. He has been asked to focus on defense/rebounding primarily for awhile now. All of his teams he has played have remained stacked. Duncan hasn't been a better player than 00-02 Kobe for awhile now either. Kobe was an absolute beast during the 3-peat. To say Duncan led SA and was the best player on his team for the 2014 title is one thing, though most would disagree. This doesn't mean he was better than Kobe was from 00-02. Duncan wasn't even an AS in 2014 either. I know you believe you it, but he hasn't been an elite player for years, and the fact that he's had many playoffs duds and 1st round losses in recent history brings light to that. Duncan would've been the 2nd best player on those LAL teams as well. The fact that Kobe made 3 finals and won 2 titles without Shaq, all in consecutive years, with a talented, but certainly not great, and weaker cast than most nba champs, and not very deep, speaks volumes to how great Kobe was/is. Kobe has clearly surpassed Shaq in greatness. It's interesting how highly you regard Dr. J, which is fine, but he never led an nba team to a title. You hold this fact against Kobe, at least comparing him to Duncan and others, and also try to belittle his 09/10 title teams along the way.

The facts remain that Kobe has accomplished more as a player than Duncan. And his teams have still outperformed Duncan's teams, and he's had less to work with as well. When Kobe has the team, they make the finals every time. Every time they've been a #1 seed, which was only 4x. Duncan, in contrast, has failed to make the finals as a #1 seed 4x, including once in the 1st round to a team playing without their leading scorer.

At Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duncan did well in 03, but you're overstating this by quite a bit. His team was the best team during the regular season, sure, this had to do with him leading them, just like any other great player. James led CLE to the best record in the nba in 09/10. You don't need another elite player to do this always. CLE played awesome defense and was very deep. 2nd team all-nba defense Varejao was coming off the bench, too, and Mo Williams was at least a borderline AS. Duncan had an aging HOFer in Robinson, and 2 young, future HOFers in Parker/Ginobili, plus another quality wing in Jackson, and a very nice well-rounded, deep cast after that. He had more to work with than another star that year, save perhaps Dirk, which I'd disagree with. What it boiled down between SA and DAL, is which best player played better in WCF, and that was Duncan. LAL was hampered by Shaq's laziness to start the season and earning only a #5 seed, which is almost death in the stacked West. After Kobe/Shaq, LAL had very little. Fisher as their #3? That's not going to work. Couple this with the fact they were trying to reach 4 consecutive finals, no surprise SA finally broke through against them after Kobe became an all-league performer. Kobe/Shaq both played great in the 03 series vs. SA as well. SA's only real threats were SAC and DAL. They drew the #1 seed, which meant they would only have to face 1 of them at most. Duncan had plenty of help enough, and was better than Dirk. This shouldn't be such a big surprise or some truly amazing breakthrough.

At Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:44:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Respectfully, I'm really not interested in arguing with you about Kobe any further. It's clear that your understanding of basketball is completely alien to mine, and neither of us has anything to say that has any impact on the other.

As to your comment about Duncan's help in '03, I suggest looking at that team a bit more closely. Robinson was a ghost of his former self, shooting a career low from the field and posting career lows in almost every statistical category (many of them even when adjusted to per 36 minutes). Parker and Ginobili, regardless of how good they eventually got, were not yet good. Both were far, far from All-Star consideration and both would be considered below average for starters at their position that year (though Ginobili did not start). Stephen Jackson was the team's second best player, and was an above average small forward, though he shot poorly and did not score well. Malik Rose was a slightly better than average bench big. On the entire team, only Duncan was a significantly above average player on both sides of the ball. Robinson's offensive game was greatly diminished, Parker couldn't guard anyone and hadn't yet become a serious threat on offense, Ginobili was below average on both sides of the ball, and Malik Rose and Bruce Bowen have never been meaningful offensive players. SA defended very well thanks to the Duncan/Robinson/Jackson/Bowen combo, but the team lived and died by Duncan. It is, I'd argue, easily the worst title team of all time from players 2-12, elevated only by a transcendent Tim Duncan season. LA, Dallas, Utah, Portland, and Sacramento were all much stronger 2-12 teams.

As for Doc, you're absolutely right that he was never the best player on an NBA Finals team. However, context is important; he played during the era of the Boston/LA super teams. Even if Doc is the best player ever, it is too much to expect him to single-handedly beat a team that has both the third (Kareem) and maybe 12th (Magic Johnson) best players ever, as well as former MVP Bob McAdoo, and All-Star level players Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon, as well as All-Defensive ace Michael Cooper and a deep bench. Doc's second best player was generally either Andrew Toney or Maurice Cheeks; both solid All-Star level guys, but neither anything approaching a Magic Johnson or Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The Celtics were similarly deep, with Bird as well as a bevy of All-Star talent like Kevin McHale (possibly a top 25 all-time player), Dennis Johnson (Finals MVP) or Nate Archibald (perennial All-Star), Robert Parish (probably a top 50 all-time player), Cedric Maxwell (Finals MVP), Danny Ainge (borderline All-Star), and Bill Walton (diminished former MVP). Still, Doc went about .500 against those Celtics teams, and actually went 8-8 in the Finals against the Lakers; unfortunately for him, all eight of his losses were in the first two series. Once he had MVP-level help in Moses Malone, he easily swept LA.

Additionally, Doc authored the single greatest Finals performance of all-time in '76. Neither Kobe, nor Duncan, nor Jordan has ever put up a sustained Finals performance that compares to the 37.7ppg, 14.2rpg, 6.0apg, 3.0spg, 2.2bpg, 59.0% FG he put up while being guarded by arguably the single greatest perimeter defender of all time in Bobby Jones.

Additionally, Doc, in his prime, made the Finals five times in eight years, four of them as the best player on his team (Moses was probably slightly better in '83). Other players who have made five Finals in eight years as one of their team's two best guys: Jordan/Pippen, Bill Russell/Havlicek, Shaq, Jerry West/Elgin Baylor. Of those, only Doc and Shaq did so on more than one team. Doc effectively did so on 3, as the '77 76ers and '83 76ers have no other common players. Doc, Wilt, Rick Barry, and Shaq are the only elite players to make the Finals with three completely different teams, and only Doc and Wilt did so in an eight year window.


At Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:44:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

So, yes, I rank Doc as #1 All-Time despite the fact that other players have won more NBA titles as their teams' best player based on his incredible peak performances, his unbelievable consistency (All-Star and playoffs every year of his career regardless of playing for effectively four different teams), his two-way brilliance, his unbelievable rebounding and shot-blocking for a 6'7 player (effectively giving his teams a third big man on the court without any of the downsides that would normally entail), and his unbelievable combination of scoring and efficiency; over 24 ppg for his career on over 50% shooting (I believe he's the only perimeter player to post those career numbers, though Lebron might by the time all's said and done if he can improve his efficiency without lowering his scoring average).

Perhaps more importantly, Doc is one of the only players ever with no real skill set weaknesses. He was a mediocre three point shooter (though roughly average for his era), but rarely took them, and a dramatically above average scorer, passer, rebounder, shot-blocker, and defender. He's a 6'7 guy who somehow ranks 22nd all-time in blocked shots, 32nd in rebounding, 7th in steals, and 6th in scoring. The only other player to rank in the top 35 for all four of those is the 6'10 Hakeem Olajuwon. Doc is also 55th in assists, despite often playing with other ball-dominant players like Maurice Cheeks, World B Free, and George McInnis.

Simply put, there is no other player in NBA history who I believe can match the combination of consistency, versatility, and success that Doc had. Wilt and Shaq had the achilles heel of terrible free throw shooting, Kobe and Jordan were arguably (though I'd disagree) better perimeter defenders but lacked his rebounding and shot-blocking ability and seemed to need more help to win, Kareem never got near the Finals without another Pantheon level guy, Hakeem couldn't stay in contention, Duncan spent half his career as too iffy of a free-throw shooter, Jerry West and Oscar couldn't win as the best guy on their team, Magic and Bird weren't especially good defenders, and Bill Russell was only a mildly above average offensive player. And none of those guys seriously contended in as many different situations as Doc did.

If I had to bet my life on a team built around one guy, I'm going with the guy who could do everything and was basically always a threat to win the title no matter who he had around him.

At Tuesday, October 27, 2015 1:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

*Six times in nine years. I actually forgot to count the year he won the NBA title. Brainfart. Only Jordan/Pippen, Russell/whoever and Kareem/Magic can match six finals in eight years. Nobody's done it while changing teams except for Doc. I believe Doc's also the only guy in basketball history to twice make the Finals the year after being traded (winning once).

At Tuesday, October 27, 2015 4:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Nick, no player has won 60 games by himself before. Duncan had a lot of help in 03, and plenty of help to win it, especially with the issues LAL was having as I already mentioned.

Context is important, and Dr. J is one of the all-time greats, but to never lead a team to an nba title is as much of a prerequisite as any to even be considered in the GOAT conversation, and he had his chances. Kobe had to show this, and he had. He had very limited chances, but he cashed in.

For 76, statistically the best? Possibly. Necessarily the best? Much harder to say. Not that his stats should be disregarded, but this 76 title you speak of was in the much weaker ABA. The NBA was obviously the main league. Both leagues were a little watered down during this time until they joined. 20 teams in the nba, only 9 in the ABA in 76. There were 2 champions in 76, which is very important to remember. This is a lot different than today. Dr. J did awesome, but he had help, too, and using your words - context is important. His scoring/rebounding went down drastically immediately once joining the NBA in 77. Steals/blocks are great, but they don't necessarily say anything about defensive prowess, look at Bruce Bowen for one example. Also, you have to seriously ask yourself why did he only make 1 all-defense team while playing in an offensive explosion, little defense era. His era for most of his career was known for high scoring, high efficiency shooting, and a much faster pace. Obviously, stats are going to be enhanced. And playing in the ABA enhanced a lot of stats as well, which is evident if you look at his yearly stats before/after joining the NBA. He had a great career and an all-time great. Putting in that very top elite tier is stretching it, though, if you look at everything

Kobe averaged less rebounds obviously, but eras much different. Dr. J maybe slightly better in this regard, but not necessarily for position. Kobe was a guard mostly, Dr. J mostly a SF. SFs closer to basket more, will get more boards likely just based on position only. Dr. J very good defensively, but doesn't come close to defensively to Jordan and Kobe, there's just no way you can honestly argue otherwise. 1x all defense vs 9x and 12x. And he could qualify for 4 of the spots: both guards and both forwards spots, unlike Jordan and Kobe. If Dr. J is roughly average 3 pt. shooter for his era, this explains how terrible his era was then for shooting. He never had this skill. Kobe was clearly more skilled and more well-rounded offensively. While we wait say someone has no or little weaknesses, Kobe actually excels in every part of the game, and we can say not only does he have no weaknesses, but that he has all the strengths.

At Wednesday, October 28, 2015 3:45:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

(part 1)

A few points:

1- The ABA was not appreciably weaker than the NBA, and in fact had a winning record in cross-league games if memory serves. Its reputation for inferiority is mostly a product of history being written by the victor. It's reputation for bad D has more to do with it's comparatively faster pace- meaning higher point totals- than with the actual quality of play. Some of the all-time greatest defenders, from NBA stars like Artis Gilmore and Bobby Jones to lesser known awesome dudes like Willie Wise and Don Buse played in that league, and they played defense about as well as anybody before or since in it.

2- I defy you to name a weaker championship supporting cast than Duncan's. No other All-Stars, no All-NBAers, one All-Defense second teamer, not rotation players shooing over .500, scoring 16+ points, or recording double figures in assists or rebounds.

3- As for '76, Doc was being guarded by Bobby Jones, who made 10 consecutive All-Defensive 1st teams and a guy frequently considered to be the best, or nearly the best, perimeter defender ever. He's one of the few players in history to make All-Star teams (5 of them) on the strength of his defense. The Nuggets also had two NBA Hall of Famers in Dan Issel and David Thompson; they also had a Hall of Famer coach in Larry Brown (who later won a title against Kobe's Lakers in the NBA). The team was so dominant that the conventional All-Star game was thrown out in favor of having Denver vs. everyone else's All-Stars...and Denver won. The '76 Nuggets would have absolutely been a threat to reach the NBA Finals that same season, and likely could have beaten both the overachieving Suns and aging Celtics that played in the NBA Finals that year. They were an absolutely elite level of competition by any metric.

4- As for Doc's rebounding stats, the ABA played at a slightly faster pace than the NBA... but it's not like other 6'7 players were putting up 15 rebounds a game over there. Doc's rebounding did decline somewhat in the NBA (though it was still far beyond most 6'7 players) both due to role (he tended to play with good rebounders) and losing some of his spring due to the heinous travel conditions and lesser medical/training technology of the era diminishing his knees; mind you, he was still the best athlete in basketball, but most who've watched him in the ABA will tell you he'd lost some of his leaping ability.

At Wednesday, October 28, 2015 4:01:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

(part 2)

5- Doc played quite a bit of 2-guard, and beyond that generally guarded the opposing team's best or second-best (when playing with Bobby Jones) perimeter player regardless of position; he guarded plenty of guards, but still put up nearly 7 rebounds a game during his NBA career and closer to 8 during his prime. For comparison's sake, even his NBA average rebounding is higher than the career season highs for Jordan or Kobe. As for the shot-blocking, it was as frequently on help rotations (frequently swiping big men's jumpers from behind, coming from the perimeter) as it was at the rim; it was not a function of positionally. Incidentally, here are the other elite SF defenders' career BPG (Doc's is 1.7): Pippen 0.8, Bowen 0.4, Jamaal Wilkes 0.3, Lebron 0.8. Here are some great PF defenders' averages: Rodman 0.6, Malone 0.8, Horace Grant 1.0.

Literally the only guys ahead of Doc are Centers, Larry Nance, Elton Brand, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin McHale and a couple of PFs (Josh Smith, Serge Ibaka) who haven't had their "down" years yet and may end up behind Doc. Literally all of them are taller than Doc, and I believe all but one of them (Elton Brand) are at least two inches taller. Most are centers.

So, out of retired non-centers, Doc is 5th all-time in blocks per game. Overall he's 34th. The next guy not listed as a PF or Center by Basketball Reference (Doc's the first) is George Gervin at 86th with a 1.02. The first guy shorter than Doc on the list is David Thompson at #92, at just over half of Doc's number. It wasn't about position; Doc was just a transcendent shot blocker. He's the only non PF or C in the top 50, and one of three in the top 98.

For the playoffs, he's 25th all time in BPG, with only Nance and Ibaka ahead of him among non-centers. The next guy on the list not listed as a PF or C on the list is Wade at #53.

6- I'd rather judge a guy by his consistently great defensive teams than by how many All-D teams he made. Despite your claims that he played in an "offensive explosion, little defense" era, Doc's teams put up D-RTGs above 103 only 5 times in his career (including his last four seasons, incidentally). 103 was exactly the league average last season. He also had six teams below 100, most of which would have been #1 in the NBA last year.

His personal D-RTG for his career* is 99.53. Deduct his last three years (after he'd lost some athleticism), and it's 98.2, the same ranking as GS' league-leading defense last year. His career D-RTG is better than Jordan's or Kobe's- again, despite allegedly playing in an era with crappier defense- though it is a whole .23 points worse than Kareem Abdul Jabbar's. As David pointed out last time D-RTG came up, it's a stat that favors big men. Among Pantheon guys** Doc trails only Kareem and Duncan by that metric.

*Individual D-RTG #s are not available for his first two seasons, but those Virginia teams were strong defensively and he played big minutes so it's safe to assume they're strong given context.

**D-RTG does not exist for the 60s guys like Russell and Chamberlain.

Let's look at some other fun stats:

Defensive Win Shares: 14th all-time, 3rd among non-centers. Pippin is 18th, Jordan 21st, and Kobe is 46th. Worth noting is that Win-Shares favor players who play more games/minutes; Doc played 45227 minutes and 1243 games; that helps him a bit against Pippen and Jordan who played slightly less, but puts him 37 games and 1547 minutes behind Kobe, though he's still up 23.64 Win Shares on him (the same gap as between Kobe and... I don't know who; the list ends at 250 with Tim Hardaway's 27.24).

Defensive Box Plus Minus: Doc's 57th all time (though only Pippen and Kirilenko are ahead of him among non-bigs), Jordan's 161st, and Kobe is not in the top 250.

At Wednesday, October 28, 2015 4:02:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Part 3

For the playoffs:

DRTG: Pippen is 55th, Erving is 57th, Jordan 94th, and Kobe 169th. This stat favors big men, but these guys are all within an inch of each others' height and play the 2/3, so it's pretty close to apples-to-apples here.

Defensive Win Shares: Here Doc trails Jordan (6th) and Pippen (4th), finishing 13th. Kobe is 31st. This stat, again, benefits guys who've played more games; Kobe- owing largely to the longer playoffs during his era- has played 31 more playoff games than Doc. Pippen and Jordan also played more, but their per-game D-win shares still beat his.

DBPM: Pippen's 28th, Erving's 112th, Jordan's 127th, and Kobe's 211th.

So, yeah, ok, Doc made fewer All D teams than Kobe or Jordan. But his teams played consistently better defense than theirs with him on the floor, and all the advanced defensive stats I'm aware of place him as better defensively than Kobe, and most of them place him as better than Jordan. The All-Defensive team, while cool, is totally subjective (i.e., picked by men), while those stats reflect what actually happened on the court. In this case, I'll side with the stats, and also the basic common sense that Doc could do everything on D that Kobe and Jordan could do (on-ball coverage, great help D, steals) but Jordan and Kobe could not do what Doc could do (shot blocking and rim-protection).

Ultimately, you're claiming though that because Doc played Small Forward- not a position that traditionally leads to killer blocks or rebound titles- and because he played in the ABA- which beat the NBA more often than not- his defensive contributions somehow don't count. None of that makes much sense to me. Your claim that if he was so good defensively he would have made more All-D teams presupposes that the All-D teams are infallible, and that all All-D teams are created equal. It's entirely possible that if Kobe or Jordan had to compete with Bobby Jones and Dan Roundfield for spots on All-D teams, they would have made fewer, and it's equally possible that Doc would have easily beaten out, say, Bruce Bowen or Ron Artest for a few of his own. Comparing All-D teams that far across eras is nearly pointless. The flaw is that it's ten guys no matter what; if the best fifty defenders in the NBA retired tomorrow, there'd still be 10 guys on the All-Defense team at the end of the season.

In (hopefully) closing, Doc was absolutely at bare minimum a comparable perimeter defender to Kobe or Jordan, and he was definitely a better shot-blocker and rebounder. That he played more Small Forward instead of Shooting Guard- generally the two most interchangeable positions, incidentally- does not change those facts. That being the case- and a case well-supported by every defensive statistic I could find- I feel comfortable continuing to place him atop my personal pyramid.

At Wednesday, October 28, 2015 1:50:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

More on the alleged weakness of the ABA, just because I think it's interesting, and kind of a tragic misconception.

1) The aforementioned Nuggets finished with the second best record in the NBA the following year (losing to the eventual champion Blazers). They also made the ECF the next season, before falling off dramatically.

2) Despite only being a 7 team league at the time of its folding (compared to the 15 of the NBA at the same point), the ABA had 4 out of ten players on the All-NBA teams (there were only two back then) the following two years after the merger, 2 in '79, 4 again in '80, and 3 in '81. They also placed 15 players on the All-Defensive teams over the next five years.

3) In 1977, the first year after the merger, two of the four ABA teams made the NBA playoffs, one with a great record. Additionally, the best or second best player on Finals winner Portland, Finals runner up Philly, ECF finalist Portland, and weaker playoff teams Chicago and Golden State were former ABA players. All told, of the 12 teams in the 1977 playoffs, 7 of them had an ABA player as their best or second best player (and in the case of Philly, Denver, and SA: both).

Three of the best four players in the '77 Finals were ABA-ers (Doc, Lucas, and McInnis).

4) The two ABA teams that did not make the playoffs were the Nets- who had just given away their best player (Doc) for cash, and the Pacers- whose ABA dynasty had crumbled over the last three years with the departures of stars George McInnis, Mel Daniels, and Roger Brown. They were sub-500 in the ABA, too.

5) The ABA accounted for 9 of the 24 All-Stars in the 1977 All-Star game. Again, the ABA had 7 teams when it closed to the NBA's 15. They had 9 again in 1978, and 8 in 1979.

6) Basically, what I'm getting at, is that while the NBA may have had more total stars, the ABA had more per-team. It's not hard to make a case that the ABA was in fact that more challenging league in the early 70s.

At Wednesday, October 28, 2015 1:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Nick, but DRTG and defensive win shares are mostly garbage stats that don't really tell us anything. David has talked about this quite a bit. You really think some madeup formula in a spreadsheet can really tell what's happening on defense? Kudos to you then. And computers are just as biased, if not more, and even if they aren't, they still fail in accounting for everything, especially in a fluid game like basketball. Their programmer weights certain things differently in his opinion, etc. The all-defensive teams are as close to being non-biased and objective as anything. They are picked by the coaches usually. The coaches might not do their entire homework, but they know are the real experts, and know who's the best. I could see a little bias if players did all the voting, but less so than with the media. They know who's the best as well. You might have an argument if it was 8-5, but 9-1 in favor of Jordan, and 12-1 in favor of Kobe. I'm sorry, this doesn't work.

Kobe and Jordan could do it all on defense, too. Dr. J maybe slightly more versatile, but much less elite. Kobe and Jordan top lockdown defenders, and Kobe a top help defender, he truly did it all. Kobe could guard positions 1-3 phenomenally well, and in a current league where guards are the most stacked position by a large margin, having someone like Kobe is key to a team's success.

Really? You're really saying the ABA was better than the NBA? To my knowledge, only one former ABA team has won a title, and that's SA. 20 teams vs. 9. ABA joined NBA, not vice versa. ABA might be disrespected, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm sure it was mostly across the board, but it's clear Dr. J had his stats enhanced playing in the ABA. Not to denigrate him or anything, but he wouldn't even come close to approaching 10-12rpg today.

I never said all-defense teams are all equal, or even implied it. The same could be said about champions, all-nba teams, etc. Sorry, but defense is much better today than 30-40 years ago. Players are bigger and much more athletic on average. Dr. J would have a much harder time making a team today than during his day. What bias or agenda did voters have against him during his day? And why couldn't they see how great he was defensively? Make all the excuses you want, but it doesn't add up when comparing him defensively to Jordan and Kobe. I know this is a huge factor in you rating Dr. J as high as you do and Kobe as you low as you do. It's unfortunate you can't see a lot of the facts still. Maybe one day, but I doubt it.

At Wednesday, October 28, 2015 4:35:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I don't know how I keep getting suckered back in. Last post for this thread.

1) "Defenses are much better today than 30-40 years ago." Are you sure? What's your evidence? The league average defense in 1977 allowed 99.5 points per 100 possessions. That'd be a top 5 rate today. It jumped up to about 105 in the 80s with the advent of 3pt shooting. In Kobe's best scoring year, the league average was 106.5. In Jordan's, it was 108. Last season it was 105.6. There's little evidence that it's improved. In fact, the improvement of 3pt shooters and the increased emphasis on spacing has made offense much better, and has cleared more space for the Kobe/Jordan/Doc type penetrators. Additionally, the hand-check rule's made life a lot easier for offensive players. It is much easier to score today than it was in the 80s by every metric except your opinion.

2) The ABA "lost" to the NBA because of things like TV deals and shady owners. Not because of lack of talent. David knows more about this subject than I do so I'll defer to him if he'd like to chime in on the topic.

3) I'm not only relying on Advanced Stats. Yes, the advanced stats back what my eyes tell me. So do the traditional stats. And the team stats. And the career stats. And the opinions of basically everyone who actually watched Doc play.

4) My point about the All-D teams seems to have escaped you. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Doc, Kobe, and Jordan are all tied for the 10th best perimeter defender ever. Now, let's say Doc happened to play during the same era as #2, #4, #6, #7, and #8. It'd be hard for him to make a lot of All-D teams, no? Now, let's say Jordan only played while the #3 was around, and Kobe while nobody else in the top 10 was around. Doc's not missing out on All D teams because he's not as good a defender as Kobe or Michael, he's missing out because he's not as good a defender as Bobby Jones and Dan Roundfield or whoever. Comparing All-D selections between Kobe and say, Raja Bell or Jason Kidd is fair; they were competing for the same spots. Comparing them between Kobe and Doc is largely fruitless, however.

That said, I admit to being confused by how few he made. Sometimes stuff doesn't make sense.

5) How many former ABA teams have won NBA titles isn't exactly the point, since after the merger most NBA teams had an ABA player or three and after 1983 or so, none of them did. An ABA player was one of the best three players in NBA Finals in '77 (actually 3 out of 4), '80 (arguably the best), '81 (arguably the best), '82 (arguably the best), and 83 (definitely the best and probably also the second best).

What is relevant is that ABA tended to outplay the NBA, and produced a disproportionately higher number of All-Stars, All-NBAers, and HOFers per team than the NBA did.

6) You are, as usual, underestimating the value of both rebounds and blocked shots. A rebound, on average is worth at least one point, and when you factor in denying the other team a possession, usually a little over two. So right there, even the NBA-only version of Doc is saving you an extra 4+ points per game on defense. A blocked shot in and of itself is probably only worth a point or two, but the threat of a blocked shot is incalculably valuable; notice that most of the best defensive teams in history had an elite shot blocker, but that guy still only blocked maybe three shots per game; that's because for every shot he blocked, he changed or discouraged another 15. It's hugely, hugely valuable.


At Wednesday, October 28, 2015 4:35:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Doc was also a capable lockdown guy, a great help defender, and a perennial top-of-the-league guy in forcing turnovers. What is it, exactly, that you think Kobe and Jordan did on D that was so much more valuable than his rebounding (even discounting his ABA numbers under the delusion that the ABA was inferior) and shot-blocking?

Doc played for 9 top 5 defensive teams in his career (including IIRC think 5 #1s) across three different supporting casts. Jordan played for 6 (almost all of which included two other All-D players). Kobe played for 3 despite spending half his career with Shaq clogging up the lane.

What is more likely: that Julius Erving wandered Mr. Magoo-like onto elite defensive team after elite defensive team, or that Julius Erving tended to make teams elite defensively? Doc's 77 team allowed only 97 pp100 despite playing an army of one-way scorers in McInnis, Free, and Collins (also average point guard Henry Bibby). They did have a young Caldwell Jones, 7th on the team in minutes, a solid but not yet mature defensive center. Kobe's 2010 team had a mostly healthy Bynum, former DPOY Ron Artest, famous flop master Fisher, and the length/rebounding of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. It allowed 103.7 pp100. And don't try to tell me Artest was washed up; he started all season and made your precious All-D team the year before.

Can you find me anyone who thinks McInnis/Jones/Free/Collins/Bibby/Jones is a better defensive package than Bynum/Gasol/Odom/Artest/Fisher/the admittedly crummy Shannon Brown? Note that LA's worst defensive player there is 7th in minutes; so is Philly's best.

Again, ultimately, we're arguing one piece of evidence (all defensive) against boatloads of pieces (rebounds, blocks, D-RTG, D-Win Shares, DBPM, team performance, common sense). Doc's defensive resume is pretty much unimpeachable; consistently a top ranked team D despite playing for basically four teams, elite stats orders of magnitude beyond other players his size, elite advanced stats orders of magnitude beyond other players his size, etc. He did have Bobby Jones- usually off the bench and often busy guarding a 4- for a few years, but his teams thrived even when he didn't. He also spent more of his career guarding the other teams' best guy, as Jordan had Pippen to do that and Kobe had Jones/Artest/Ariza at various points for his.

It's pretty safe to say he was an elite defender, and he was obviously a better rebounder and shot-blocker than Kobe or Jordan, which was my original point.

At Wednesday, October 28, 2015 5:36:00 PM, Anonymous Tokez said...

Here we go again with the inconsistent arguments. All defense teams are supposedly not a great indicator of anything because the choices are manmade, and yet these "stats" that you claim are so much more reliable are ALSO MANMADE. Where do you think the equations came from? They aren't fundamental concepts like quadratic formula or Pythagoras. some fool like Morey sat down and concocted some arbitrary formula. But because they support your biased views they're reliable indicators right? I'd trust the people who play and coach the game with their opinion. Like anonymous stated above any coach or player in the league while kobe was slapping everyone around knew how dangerous he was and drew up defensive schemes to stop him. There are so many videos floating around that verify this. But hey, all of those players are men right? So their opinions are manmade, therefore rendering them worthless. Grasping for straws. Kobe won 5 regardless of what you say about his play. That is reality. Several of those came at the expense of Duncan's teams. You like to cherry pick your info man. Your blatant disregard of the entire spectrum of information explains your love of dragic as well. Let's just rave about his pnr numbers but not consider that he has done nothing meaningful in the real world we live in.

At Thursday, October 29, 2015 11:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Regarding the ABA, I agree with Nick for the reasons that he cited; the ABA was loaded with top level talent, particularly after the league's first couple years of existence (one could perhaps argue that the leagues were not equivalent at the ABA's inception, but that is not relevant when discussing Erving, Gilmore and most of the ABA stars, because their careers took place when the ABA was just as good, if not even better than, the NBA). The NBA had the money and the infrastructure and the TV deals but the ABA had some great players (and coaches such as Larry Brown, Bill Sharman, Alex Hannum and Hubie Brown).

Regarding Erving, Jordan and Bryant as defensive players, Erving is underrated by the general public and by the media. I am not sure why Erving did not make more All-Defensive Teams. Nick makes a good point about competing against Jones, Roundfield and others. That is surely part of it--but Larry Bird made the All-Defensive Team a few times and I think it is clear that he was a much worse defender than Erving. Bird could get steals but he was not much of a shotblocker--particularly for a 6-9 player--and he always was hidden on the worst opposing frontcourt player regardless of position. Erving was a better one on one defender than Bird and at least as good, if not better, as a help defender. Erving was certainly a better help defender in terms of rim protection, as Nick has emphasized.

I think that Jordan and Bryant are better lock down, one on one defenders than Erving. Erving was a very good one on one defender but he focused more on overall team defense and help defense.

Overall, I do not put as much stock in the "advanced" defensive numbers as Nick does. I do think that Nick makes a good point regarding Erving being a heavy minutes player who got a lot of steals and a lot of blocked shots for some very strong defensive teams. Erving was never being hidden on defense and his teams were very good defensively, so it is a reasonable inference even without eye test/"advanced" numbers to argue that Erving was a very good defensive player.

I also agree that defensive rebounding is an important statistic (that is one area where Bird excelled, though that should be taken in the context of him guarding guys like Tree Rollins who were not threats and then just scooping up rebounds after Parish and McHale boxed their men out). Erving was without question a better rebounder than Jordan or Bryant. Erving averaged over 20 rpg in college and rebounded like a power forward/center for the first half of his career. Rebounding tends to decline with age, plus during the latter part of his career he shared the court with some younger, very dynamic rebounders like Malone and Barkley.

At Thursday, October 29, 2015 11:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree with Nick that a good greatest of all-time case can be made for Erving--but a good case can also be made for Jordan as well. I don't rate Bryant quite as highly as I rate Jordan, so it would be harder for me to make the greatest of all-time case for Bryant, but I do think such a case can be made based on longevity, very high peak value, ability to win titles as an All-NBA player in two completely different situations, ability to carry garbage teams to the playoffs and incredible ability to score prolifically against any kind of defense. Erving and Jordan had bigger hands (distinctions like this matter when trying to separate the best of the best from each other), Nick is right about some of the things that distinguish Erving from just about any player who has every played and I think that Jordan's mid-post game was a trifle more effective than Bryant's. Bryant is the best three point shooter of this trio but if Bryant has one weakness I think he settles a little too much for three pointers, though I also give him credit for not caring about his stats and taking "hand grendade" shots to give his team at least a chance to score/get an offensive rebound.

I generally try to avoid ranking players in the Pantheon because I have so much respect for all of them and such an exercise inevitably comes across as diminishing an all-time great but this is an interesting discussion so I thought that I would reiterate some points that I have made about these three players over the years.

At Thursday, October 29, 2015 12:42:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"but Larry Bird made the All-Defensive Team a few times and I think it is clear that he was a much worse defender than Erving"

Just speculating here, but I wonder if part of it- in the early 80s, specifically, this doesn't explain '72-'79- was that Doc played on a team with 2-3 other All-Defensive type players getting votes? Playing alongside Bobby probably really hurt him the most; there's basically no precedent for two forwards from the same team making All-Defense teams together until Rodman/Pippen, and that's the only pairing I can really think of- unless we're still pretending Duncan's a forward, in which case Duncan/Bowen, too. Pippen and Grant/Rodman at least had the distinction of guarding different types of players; Bobby and Doc both guarded 1-4 (Doc less on 4s, but sometimes) as needed, and often switched assignments with each other throughout the game. There's also, to my knowledge, no precedent for a team placing four players on All-Defense in a single season; with Malone/Caldwell Jones, Bobby Jones, and Maurice Cheeks making teams/getting votes, coupled with Doc competing with Bobby (who was actually a better one-on-one defender than Doc) for forward votes, it's less surprising that Erving didn't make any All-D teams in the early 80s.

TL;DR I wonder if Doc not only playing on a team with multiple other All-D contenders, but also competing with his own teammate for votes at the forward position, explains some of it.

I still can't explain the 70s, though.


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