It seems like a lot of people misunderstood the purpose of yesterday's discussion of point production. My beef is that many people use a player's ability to score points as a trump card in the discussion of "who's the best." When that happens, the debate basically devolves into a question of "who would win a game of one-on-one?"

However, basketball isn't a one-on-one game (at least, it isn't supposed to be). It's five-on-five, which is why I think if the debate focuses on points, it's important to consider point production rather than points scored. If a player's worth is defined by the points he is responsible for, I think assists should be included in the discussion. Of course, doing so is problematic, since it's difficult (if not impossible) to determine whether an assist led to a two-pointer or a three-pointer, whether a player scored while getting fouled (and made the resulting foul shot), and whether a pass led to a shooting foul (and the subsequent freethrows) without appearing in the box score. It also doesn't account for the relative quality of teammates, the type of offense a teams uses, and so on.

I was simply trying to introduce a slightly modified way of thinking about scoring in the NBA. I'm not a Kobe-Hater. Well, actually, I do hate Kobe Bryant, but not because of the way he plays basketball. I readily concede that he's the best scorer in the league, and incredibly exciting to watch. I just don't think that makes him the de facto best player. One unfortunate byproduct of Michael Jordan's reign is that many people think that the greatest player must necessarily be the most unstoppable scorer, and I don't believe that's the case.

Now, let's talk about what I call "the defensive myth." Most of the people who consistently disagree with me in the Nash-versus-Kobe Debate repeatedly point out how "terrible" Steve Nash is on defense and how great Kobe is. Personally, I think this is a cop out. It's become all too easy to make these blanket statements about the relative defensive abilities of these players. After all, if people say it often enough, it must be true...right?

I said "not so fast," and pointed out in the comments section how well some of the better shooting guards have performed against Kobe this season: Ray Allen had back-to-back 30-plus-point games; Michael Redd dropped 45 on him; Dwayne Wade scored 40 and 35 points; Gilbert Arenas scored half of his 60 points (14 in the fourth quarter, 16 in overtime) after Kobe specifically asked Phil Jackson for the defensive assignment; and Kobe asked to guard Lebron in the last game before the All Star break, and James put up 38 points.

I used these examples because one of the primary arguments that was used against Nash winning the MVP last year was that some of the opposing All Star-caliber point guards had big games against him (most notably Chauncy Billups). But here's the thing: great players are going to score points, no matter who's guarding them. So I don't think it's necessarily reasonable to expect Nash to shut down Billups, or for Bryant to shut down Wade or Lebron. I just figured that I'd use the enemies tactics against them.

In the interest of fairness, however, I decided to take a random sample of how opposing point guards have fared against Steve Nash this season, and how opposing shooting guards have fared against Kobe Bryant. I decided to calculate the opposing players' averages in field goal percentage, points, and assists for the month of January. I chose January because it was after Kobe had recovered from off-season knee surgery and before Steve Nash injured his shoulder.

Steve Nash: Nash played 16 games in January. Opposing point guards shot 36.4 percent (89-244), scored 14.8 PPG, and dished 4.9 APG. The Suns were 15-1.

Kobe Bryant: The Mamba played 15 games in January. Opposing shooting guards shot 45.6 percent (109-239), scored 21.6 PPG, and dished 4.6 APG. The Lakers were 8-7.

So, just by the numbers, Kobe allowed opposing players to score more while shooting a much higher percentage, and they compiled almost as many assists per game. Now, again, this is a very basic statistical analysis. It doesn't take into account team defensive schemes, defensive switches, and alternating defensive assignments. Still, I find it pretty interesting. Not so much that players scored more against Kobe; after all, shooting guards are supposed to shoot the ball. What I find interesting is the descrepancy in shooting percentages. If Nash's defense was so absolutely horrible, would opposing point guards be shooting such a terrible percentage? It's something to consider...

Bottom line: The random sample provides a strong indication that, despite proclamations to the contrary, Nash does not surrender more points than he produces. Is he a great individual defender? No. But he operates very well within the team defensive scheme designed by the Suns' coaching staff. Opposing PGs just aren't lighting him up.

One last note on Kobe's defensive abilities. There's no question that Kobe has they physical and mental capacity to be a great defender (whereas Nash does not). And he has, in times past, put those talents to spectacular use. But capacity does not equate to actuality. I've watched him enough to know that he rarely focuses his abilities on the defensive end (no doubt conserving energy for his offensive duties). Furthermore, Phil Jackson sometimes "hides" Kobe on the defensive end by giving him lesser defensive assignments. (This is a common Phil Jackson tactic; he used to "hide" Jordan as well, particularly during the Bulls' second threepeat. In the 1997 Finals, Jordan's defensive assignment was Greg Foster. In the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, he guarded the nearly immobile Chris Mullin rather than Reggie Miller, and in the Finals he guarded Jeff Hornacek -- who was partially hobbled by chronic knee pain -- rather than the younger, faster, more athletic Bryon Russell.)

Oh, and for the record, I do consider Magic Johnson to have been a greater player than Michael Jordan. But that's a subject for another day.

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16 Comments:
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Good stuff.

I'm sick of how every sports writer and tv/radio guy seems to think it is a law that Jordan is the best ever. I would also put Magic ahead of him, along with Bird, Kareem, Wilt, Oscar and Russell. Or at least have those guys tied with Jordan. Jordan is the most marketable ever and the media overhypes him because of this.

Anonymous Long Time Reader, 1st time poster said...
LOL, I LOVE your last point. SO many MJ worshipers are going to explode after reading that. Me personally, I really don't care, but I do have a sweet spot for amazing passing skills. I demand you discuss that topic!!

Blogger Brandon said...
Good stuff. You make some great points here. I don't completely agree with the math (close, but not all the way). In an attempt to assign a point value to an assist, I would have to give it a value of 1, not 2 - because it takes the involvement of another player. Much like how a football player gets credit for a half sack or tackle on the stat sheet.

As far as the and-1's (which you threw out to be fair), the 3rd point there is scored entirely by the other player - so you really can't count those as anything extra.

Great job here. Very analytical, and very well stated. I read your blog every day. Thanks...

Anonymous Riley said...
I think that it should also be mentioned that most assists are more just passes to a great shooter. They're finding a way to find a way to get a teammate the ball in a great position to score according to that player's skill set.
Nash's ability to do this so well is why his teammates have such great offensive numbers when he plays and (in most cases) such average numbers when he doesn't (or when that player goes to another team).
Were Kobe and Nash to trade places, I have very little doubt that Nash's team would fare better in spite of the "obviously" superior supporting cast in Phoenix. True, it took playing in D'Antoni's system for Steve to really come into his own, but now that he's got that fire and mentality--not to mention the reputation--he could nearly replicate a good deal of his success on almost any team in the league. As long as he has several guys who can score from somewhere when left open, and for several of them that somewhere is around the perimeter, he can dissect any defense in the league.
Kobe... well, now that he's the team player that he is, he might be able to work really well with Amare, but just about everyone else would disappear. They need to be involved in the offense. If they get into "watch Kobe do his thing" mode, they're fucked.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
peedee

my english isn`t great so....sorry!
your points ar just unbelivabule!
you are comparing 1 Month?????
one of your points in your first article was the MVP-talks! as far as i know, to be an MVP you have to be a good player langer than 1 Month! it`funny that you picked (randomly for sure) january! because Steve nash went on to win the player-of-the-month award tha month! why don``t you compare february? `cause in february a guy from L.A. got that award!!!
a nother thing: jackson "hides" kobe (and jordan)? really??? you`re right. why doesn`t he let`s the guard wade, lebron, vince, pierce etc. for 35-40 mintues? so that they are absolutly out of gas at the end of a game...as long as he`s still playing and not in bad foultrouble?
oh and by the way...65...50...and now 60 again!!!!! I bet kobe reads you`re site every Day.
one last point i still think nash will finish better than kobe in the MVP-Race (and the play-offs)...but Dirk has to be #1

Blogger David Friedman said...
Did you actually watch any of the games that you are talking about? Pippen guarded Foster at times when the Bulls went with a small lineup and Pip was at the four spot. I don't think that MJ ever guarded Foster, except on a switch. Far from hiding MJ or Pip (or Kobe), Jackson liked to have them guarding the other team's top threat, the only exception being if they were in foul trouble. MJ and Pip took turns on Magic in the '91 Finals and Jackson loved to put MJ or Pip on Price, Stockton or Mark Jackson during key stretches of playoff games to disrupt the other team's offensive execution.

Back to Kobe; the Nash/Kobe defensive numbers that you cited are completely meaningless. Was Nash actually guarding the nominal point guard in the games that you cited or was he guarding someone else? How much help did he get when he was beaten off of the dribble? What do the players that he guarded normally average?

As for Kobe, one of your previous commenters already mentioned that Bryant was not burned one on one by Arenas or Wade or the others in their big games; those guys got their points because the Lakers bigs don't know how to defend the screen and roll.

Hey, Kobe and Nash are both great players. I have Kobe, Dirk and Nash 1-2-3 in that order for MVP. If someone else has them in a different order, fine. But you simply hate Kobe, as you admit, so why don't you just leave it at that rather than throwing out a bunch of spurious, misleading numbers?

Blogger David Friedman said...
One more point about Kobe's defense: the All-Defensive Teams are voted on by the coaches, not the media or the fans. When you say that he is getting by on his reputation you are saying that NBA coaches that see Bryant on a nightly basis know less about the defensive capabilities of NBA players than you do.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Welcome to statistics, brave Basketbawful commenters. People spend their entire lives determining what is and isn't a meaningful number in any statistic. I can give three different people a stat sheet and ask for an analysis, and I will get three different interpretations of the same numbers.

Stats are facts, but the second someone talks about them they become as subjective as any opinion. Don't call someone else's numbers spurious; they're just as valid (or not) as your numbers.

If you think coaches aren't susceptible to popular opinion about players, too, then you're also on crack. Hell, defense isn't even coached on a third of the teams in the league.

That, in the end of it all, is probably my biggest complaint. Defense isn't rewarded in this leage. It's nigh-impossible to play defense with ticky-tac fouls being called in the perimeter, the post, and probably in the locker room. Players just don't understand that fundamental defense starts by keeping yourself between the offensive player and the basket. Then, make their shot difficult with a hand in the face. A missed shot is a successful defensive play. Blocks and steals are great, but those teams that make opponents shoot poorly and then box out for good defensive rebounding win. You won't get a highlight of your effort, but the win should be worth it.

Anonymous Craig said...
^^^ David Friedman's right. Kobe is an excellent one on one defender. The way teams like the Heat and Cavs get at him is with a high screens up around the top of the key. It's very rare that kobe's getting beat straight off the dribble. He doesn't get hid on defense. He plays a majority of the game against his assignment. But there are times when you have to switch him. Think about the foul trouble physical exercion that goes into covering Dwayne Wade all game.

Conversely, you'll notice that Lebron and Wade very rarely stick on kobe all game too. In fact, most teams send different guys and different looks at kobe. I know Riley likes to put Payton on him when they play the heat.

As far as Nash's defensive ability goes, I've seen select PGs duke all over him. Look at AI the other night. He had 40+ points on Nash which is significantly higher than his average. The suns have Bell. Whenever there is a strong scorer on the floor, they'll switch bell or marion on to him. Nash is a defensive liability.

As far as the issue of MVP goes. Kobe will never get it. I think he deserves it. I think he got robbed last year, but he won't get it. The league seems to be giving it to the guy on the best or one of the best teams; not to the best player. There was a time when Jordan got it and the bulls were the 7th or 8th seed. Those days are gone. Now Dirk or Nash will get it even though they have ridiculous teams. Kobe meanwhile, will probably win the scoring title, the lakers will get the 6th seed, and he won't get anything. It's laughable.

Value. Kobe is the most valuable to his team. I know the suns lost a few games when nash went out, but the lakers would lose a whole lot of games without kobe.

KOBE-MVP.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
In your 1 month comparison, you should probably account for the average shooting percentages of the players being guarded. I don't remember January, but it's seems possible that Phoenix played 16 crap teams and that the Lakers played a more difficult schedule. A percentage differential would help (but be really difficult to calculate).

I have no love for Kobe, but Kobe apologists really, really suck.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Tada, Kobe drops another 50 hahaha

Blogger David Friedman said...
That Suns D looked great against Golden State. What is it you said again about Kobe and the Lakers beating losing teams?

The Suns are 3-4 since that "big" win over Dallas.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
Awwww...s'matter, David? Don't enjoy the taste of sour grapes? I notice you didn't touch the post about what Tex had to say about Kobe's D. Face it: you're trapped. You came onto my site and blasted my analysis of Kobe's D and then said I wasn't as qualified as a coach to rate Kobe's D. Then Tex winter, a certified coaching legend and one of Kobe's current coaches, agrees with my assessment. So you either have to admit you were wrong about Kobe's D or you have to claim that a coach who "gets to watch Kobe every night" is wrong. Which means, of course, either way you're wrong.

So eat it.

Blogger David Friedman said...
First, Tex Winter is actually a Lakers consultant, not a "coach," so you still can't get your facts straight. Second, I already answered your post by placing his comments in the larger context of the overall interview--which you ignored--and his oft expressed views about Kobe's rank among today's players, with which you are apparently unfamiliar. The caption you placed by Winter's book pokes fun at Kobe but if you had actually read the book you would know that 99% of it deals with Winter's pre-Lakers career and none of it is critical of Kobe's defense. Winter also has said more than once that Kobe is the best player in the game, although after last year's Finals he moved Wade into the same class. I have yet to hear or read him put Nash in Kobe's class. So if you are going to cite his opinion on defense then you should cite his overall opinion, which would not be in line with yours. Otherwise, you are simply sloppy or dishonest.

Your larger point about defense is that Kobe is not the "best player," that he is just a scorer. Also, the fact that Winter thinks that Kobe could play "better" defense this year is not the same thing as saying that Kobe is playing "bad" defense. Furthermore, my point about "coaches" is that the coaches have voted Kobe to the All-D team multiple times. Since you now agree with me that coaches--and respected ex-coaches like Winter--do know more about defense than you do I'm sure that you will also concede that Bryant has been a premier defender for years, a fact that the league's coaches have agreed on several times. I find it interesting that when I first brought up the point about coaches voting for the All-D team--which you probably didn't even know--you dismissed it out of hand. Then, Winter says that Kobe could play "better" defense and suddenly you not only agree that coaches know more about defense than you do but think that you have "refuted" what I wrote. What a joke. How about Ian Thomsen's article citing NBA scouts who say that Kobe is the player they would most want to take and defend the last shot?

Anonymous Sean said...
Dave Friedman evidently is a lover of 1 on 5 basketball.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
Dave, you're obviously taking a one-way trip to Loonyville, and I'm not inclined to join you. Nonetheless, I do have a few last things to say...

Winter is a consultant to the Lakers, meaning he is paid to attend and watch games, pointing out weaknesses and providing meaningful ways in which the team can improve. It's hardly a stretch to consider him part of the overall coaching staff. But fine. Whatver. He's a consultant who does coach-like work. But considering his basketball IQ, his job as a consultant, and the fact that he coached Kobe in the early 2000s, I'd say he qualifies as an export on Kobe as a player.

As for "ignoring" the rest of the interview...there simply wasn't any point in discussing it. It focuses on Kobe's offensive skills and compares them to that of Michael Jordan's. That has absolutely no relevance to anything I've said. Well, actually, it does, since I've repeatedly described Bryant as "the best scorer in the league," and Winter's comments seem to support that assertion too.

NOWHERE in that interview does Winter state that Kobe is the best player in the league. He compares Kobe to Michael (offensively) then states Kobe hasn't been playing good defense. That's the interview.

By the way, the book picture and caption are supposed to be there for the sake of amusement, idiot. I'm pretty sure most people who read this site and have a working sense of humor would get that.

You know, you're a real piece of work, David. You come in here and blast me for not citing examples of Winter's overall opinion of Kobe, then tell me he's had plenty of good things to say. Well, why don't you hold yourself to the same standard? Where are your citations? I'm supposed to believe it just because you come in here and tell me that's how it is? Cite something, then we'll talk.

And for the record, have you read "The Last Season" by Phil Jackson? According to that book, Winter had some very unsavory things to say about Kobe while he was coaching the Lakers. Would you like me to cite those passages as well? Because it would certainly appear that Winter has had both positive and negative things to say about Kobe? Maybe you should include both the good and bad in this "overall" portrait you're trying to paint.

And honestly, I have to wonder whether you actually take the time to read what I'm writing, or whether you're too busy jumping to your conclusions and freaking out. When I brought up the defensive myth, my point was that Kobe's lapses on defense are largely overlooked because he has a reputation as an excellent defender. Whereas Nash's defense is often categorically overlooked because he has a reputation as a bad defender. Once these ideas get into the heads of basketball fans and analysts, they are then stated as Truth.

And regardless of what you think, I know the game of basketball. I've watched 70 or 80 Lakers games over the last couple years, and I can tell by watching with my own two eyes that Kobe tends to get caught turning his head a lot by zoning out and playing the passing lanes so he can come up with steals...which runs against the principles of fundamental defense. Tex Winter obviously saw the same things happening, to the extent that he actually approached Kobe and told him he needed to address it (and Kobe apparently ignored him, which is part of why Winter often complained about him, as noted in "The Last Season."

Look, I've got one of Kobe's former coaches, current Lakers consultant, and one of the great scholars of the game agreeing with my assessment of Kobe's D. You can whine and cry all you want, throw your little jabs at me, whatever. You and your mustache can now go off and continue humping Kobe's leg and complaining that there are people out there who don't agree with you. I would be happy to send you some Kleenix and some Pomade for your recovery efforts.

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