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Tuesday, May 04, 2021

My Third Appearance on Benbo's Podcast: Kobe Bryant

I recently made my third appearance on Benbo's podcast, hosted by Dr. James Ben Guest. We discussed how to evaluate and rank Kobe Bryant. Bryant is in my Pantheon, while Benbo ranks Bryant as an average player who had a few above average seasons. Benbo's evaluation is based on field goal percentage, rebounding, and individual turnover rate.

Longtime 20 Second Timeout readers know that I vehemently disagree with Benbo's take, but the podcast is worth listening to in terms of comparing and contrasting different player evaluation methods.

Here is the link to the podcast: The Great Kobe Debate.

At the start of the podcast, I mention that I have multiple player evaluation criteria. However, in the course of the conversation, we did not explore all of those criteria. So, I have appended my criteria, and how I would apply those criteria to evaluate Bryant; the evaluation of Bryant is based on his whole career, but describes his peak performance level, which corresponds to seasons 1999-2013--in other words, after what I would term his "apprenticeship" and prior to when he ruptured his Achilles.

Player Evaluation Criteria:

1) Skill Set Analysis

Physical characteristics (Including height, weight, strength, speed, agility)

Mental characteristics (Including mental toughness, coachability, ability to handle pressure) 

Basketball specific skills:

Shooting (including ability to make a variety of shots, shooting range, ability to create off of the dribble, ability to finish in traffic, free throw shooting) 

Rebounding (relative to position/role)

Defense (including one on one defense, help defense)

Passing (including the ability to read the defense, the ability to make various passes)

Footwork (including post moves, face up moves)


2) Statistics/Accomplishments

3) "Expert witness testimony" (Observations and statements by coaches, scouts, credible media analysts)

Using the above criteria, here is a brief "scouting report" of Kobe Bryant (a full scouting report would go into greater depth):

Kobe Bryant is the prototypical height and weight for an NBA shooting guard (6-6, 210). He possesses elite jumping ability, speed, and agility. He possesses superior strength for an NBA shooting guard. He has demonstrated the ability to perform well while leading his team to victory in elite level competition (NBA Western Conference Finals, NBA Finals, the Olympics). He has demonstrated the willingness and ability to play through injury, and to adjust his game when he is physically limited by injury. He is not intimidated by physical play, and he will play through contact at both ends of the court.

He can make any shot (one dribble pullup, two dribble pullup, midrange shots, etc.). He has legitimate three point range. He finishes well in the paint and is an excellent free throw shooter. 

He is an elite rebounder for his position. In high-pressure games (most notably, game seven of the 2010 NBA Finals), he has shown that he can get double figure rebounds, and thus have the impact of a front court player while playing guard.

He reads defenses well, and he can make any pass, including difficult cross-court passes when he is trapped. His passing ability stretches out the opposing defense and puts great pressure on the opposing defense. He leads his team in assists, but even that does not fully measure his passing skills because in the Triangle Offense or in screen/roll actions (most notably with Pau Gasol) he often makes the pass that leads to the assist pass.

He has elite footwork in all areas of the court, including the post and the wing.

This player averaged 25.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.7 rpg over a 20 year career. His "average" season was an MVP-caliber season. He won the 2008 regular season MVP, and he finished in the top five in MVP voting 11 times. He won five championships and two Finals MVPs. He made the All-NBA Team 15 times (tied for second all-time), including 11 First Team selections (tied for second all-time). He made the All-Defensive Team 12 times (tied for second all-time), including nine First Team selections (tied for first all-time). He made the All-Star team 18 times (second all-time), and he won four All-Star Game MVPs (tied for first all-time). He won two regular season scoring titles (2006, 2007) and three playoff scoring titles (2003, 2007, 2008). 

Jerry West called the 17 year old Bryant the best player in his draft class (subsequently considered one of the best draft classes of all-time), and he described Bryant at that time as better than anyone on the current Lakers' roster. After coaching against Bryant in the NBA Finals, Doc Rivers called Bryant the best help defender since Scottie Pippen. Respected commentators Hubie Brown, Jeff Van Gundy, and Doug Collins--three veteran NBA coaches, with Brown inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor--often praised Bryant for his complete skill set, his toughness, and his impact on winning.


During the podcast, I mentioned a seven game stretch during the 2011-12 season during which Kobe Bryant did not play due to injury, thus providing a glimpse of what Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum looked like without having Bryant alongside them to draw double teams and create wide open shots for his teammates. Here are the numbers, quoted from an article that I wrote during that season (Seven Games of Life Without Kobe Bryant):

Andrew Bynum's performance in 51 games with Bryant this season: 18.3 ppg, 12.5 FGA/g, .583 FG%

Andrew Bynum's performance in seven games without Bryant this season: 23.1 ppg, 19.6 FGA, .467 FG%

Pau Gasol's performance in 56 games with Bryant this season: 17.0 ppg, 13.6 FGA/g, .510 FG%

Pau Gasol's performance in seven games without Bryant this season: 21.1 ppg, 18.3 FGA/g, .469 FG%


Further Reading: 

A Scout's-Eye View of the Game

The Strengths and Limitations of "Advanced Basketball Statistics"

Here are the links to my previous appearances on Benbo's podcast:

Interview with David Friedman: Great Sportswriting is Great Writing 

My Second Appearance on Benbo's Podcast: The Chosen Game, Coaching Philosophies, MVP Criteria, Interviewing Techniques, and More  

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:35 AM



At Wednesday, May 05, 2021 3:49:00 AM, Anonymous Salution said...

Great refutations of his points. My biggest problem with NBA "analysis" nowadays is the obsession with treating stats as these objective infallible metrics. They want quick and easy stats to validate their points, but that's not how that works. Just going by your example of Kobe and last second shots. The argument isn't whether Kobe's FG% is better than X player. It's whether that FG% reflects his actual skill and ability as a scorer. Or his assists reflect him as a passer. Kobe didn't care about individual statistics, no one who sits out games that could win them scoring titles, or sits out 4th quarters (Like he famously did against the Mavs after scoring 62) would care. He would take those last second shot clock shots before the violation, or the quarter ends, or to win the game. They did no favors for his FG%, because his peers like Bird, LeBron, etc. cared about those things, but to those that have watched understand the flaw in that approach and appreciates when players play to win, regardless of how the boxscore may look. The amount of shots that he took doesn't really matter, because we know that they happened often enough to have SOME effect. Another thing this ignores is the unique defensive attention he created that only a handful of players have ever replicated. Defenders respected Kobe as a 3 point shooter, even though his numbers don't spell "threat". Conversely, they have NEVER respected LeBron as one, even though his numbers do spell threat. Kobe was simply guarded in a way few players were guarded. It's ironic that you brought up the defensive breakdowns that he created that don't always create assists, because I was just watching the 04 Lakers vs Wolves series and time and time again, there are either 2 defenders doubling him, or one defender on him with 1-2 more zoning enough to create some space for his teammates. These don't show up in stat sheets. He is perhaps the quintessential "You have to watch him" players ever, because so much of his impact stems from things that can't be quantified. I've seen some stats that try to do it: Box Creation and Shots Created, but like all stats it tries to make a one size fits all solution to an issue that requires more nuance. Anyways, good conversation!

At Thursday, May 06, 2021 12:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you. I agree with your entire comment; this portion of your comment is worth emphasizing: "The argument isn't whether Kobe's FG% is better than X player. It's whether that FG% reflects his actual skill and ability as a scorer. Or his assists reflect him as a passer."


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