Complex Dogs

In the midst of their 13-game winning streak, which abruptly came to an end last night, I became endlessly intrigued with the Dallas Mavericks. They made no sense and in a way disgusted me [NOTE: this confusion regarding the Mavs, and much of what will follow in this post, was perhaps more elegantly encapsulated last playoff season by ForEvers Burns here]. The team consists of virtually 12 players who, if they played on the Atlanta Hawks, would be the best player on the team (Jason Terry actually did, and was). Watching the Mavericks play for me, is like eating too much candy--they are comprised of simply a lot of really good players, with very specific deficiencies, who somehow always end up getting the job done. I guess it's to Avery's credit that he can take a team of slightly-below-average defenders (save for Diop and Dampier...ok, Howard on-the-ball) and coach them into the team that allows the second-fewest points per game in the league.

What's more, this type of team composition deems them to be the only team in the league that is quite literally, a collective of individuals. Looking back, I guess the Nowitzki Mavs have always been this way, but they are the only team structured in such a fashion. Some teams come close, but don't quite fit the descriptoin. The Suns, for better or for worse, have a central figure (Nash). The Nuggets may evolve into this sort of team when Carmelo gets back, but are not quite there. The Knicks, one could argue, are the "horribly awry" version of this system (i.e. Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury, Quentin Richardson, David Lee, Channing Frye, on and on--saying those names brings a sparkle to the eye, but placing them alongside one another yields a fairly flat result).

And so, I couldn't have been more enthralled last night, when we witnessed the "collective of individuals" versus the Lakers, the team that more than any other, is defined by the "single individual." To me, this was a battle that would answer questions surrounding the age-old Freedarko favorite topic: the individual as a force within the superordinate collective of The Association. Throw whatever I have said previously on this topic out the window. Last night would tell us, how much this League truly is a league of the individual[style]. Were the Mavericks to win, this would let me know--let us all know--that the collective of individuals is the structure that currently prevails. But were Kobe to win (and it was indeed KOBE, not Walton and Vujacic, who will both make millions off of the open looks they are getting), this would be a victory for Jordan, Bird, and Magic...to a lesser extent, this would be a victory for '00-era Shaq. Ever since those weird Spurs/Pistons championships, it has been, much to my own personal concern, up for debate as to whether the INDIVIDUAL could reemerge as the emblem of the current Association. As far as I know, Wade last year brought us well on our way. But I wasn't convinced. And last provided further support for an affirmative answer.

If watching the Mavericks is like eating too much candy, watching the Lakers is like eating a nice filet mignon. It's all there, in one nice proportionate serving. I'm not quite sure where the (re-)emergence of Odom will take this team when he returns, but as of now, and as it has been for the past couple years, the team is K24's.

It's funny when NBA players earn certain identities that actually grow more encompassing than the player's self itself. Maybe one day the local color guy refers to a player as TEAM X's version of "The Microwave" or TEAM X's "very own Bruce Bowen." What generally happens is that the guy lives up to those monikers, heating things up off the bench or becoming a defensive stopper. And it's not just the player who confirms this expectation; members of the opposing team start respecting the prowess, leading to odd situations where all of a sudden, some castaway who had a fantastic playoff series becomes the object of so much attention. All of this is a long-winded way of saying, just as Kobe has legitimately EARNED his title as "guy who takes over in the 4th quarter," it is hilarious to watch teams respect this to the point of completely disregarding other guys on his team. As I have said before, Kobe has the WORST supporting cast of any superstar in the NBA. And to make Sasha, Luke, and to a lesser extent Smush Parker, look like heroes last night was the true testament to his greatness.

Last night was about the NBA as the triumph of the individual. Not a collective of individuals and not Avery Johnson preaching that "5 guys must play as one." Last night was about the ego--Kobe's, as well as Phil Jackson's as well. For it is Phil who is bold enough to allow that ego lead his team all the way to infinity.


At 1/08/2007 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

he played similarily against the Kings the other night. Check out the write up at www.nasiscoming.blogspot.com

there is no reason why KB24's Lakers can't be as good as MJ23's Bulls. Kobe is playing better basketball this season than anyone in the last 10 years has. Him and Odom definitely suffice as MJ-Pip. You've got a great ballhandler/ facilitator of the triangle in Walton. A rebounder and defender in Kwame. And something Jordan never had was a legitimate center. Bynum could be a top 5 center in the league in 3-5 years.
I would love to see Kobe lead them to the finals and face an Eastern conference alpha dog like Lebron or Dwade.

At 1/08/2007 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



At 1/08/2007 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, the Kobe+Odom~Jordan+Pippen argument makes sense whether I agree with it or not. But where's the Horace Grant/Dennis Rodman in that equation? There's no way you can compare Kwame Brown to the Worm. I think the Lakers could be a great team when/if Bynum develops if KB doesn't hold Odom back, and he's certainly looked great improving the play of his teammates so far this season. I think that a major reason Jordan's legacy is so great is that he proved it was possible to win championships without a dominant big man inside (although, granted he was up against Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and the like, not Bill Russell and Wilt), which Kobe has never done.

At 1/08/2007 12:01 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

here's the difference between this post and burns's: he was claiming that with the mavs, it was a cycle of individual players stepping up and being that guy. dlic seems more like he's saying they do work together, but without ever really gelling or sublimating themselves.

At 1/08/2007 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think you need to be careful of completely dissing mj's big men. while they were obviously not all-stars and were helped immensely by playing alongside jordan, horace grant, bill cartwright, longley/wennington/perdue, rodman aren't exactly slouches. i think kwame and bynum have a way to go before even matching up with the least illustrious of the names

At 1/08/2007 12:21 PM, Blogger T. said...

Top 5 Center, nowadays really isn't saying much. I mean you got Yao and a rapidly declining Shaq. And then you either have to expand your definition of center (to include Howard and Okafor) or start listing a bunch of mopes (Dampier, Kamen, Curry).

Even in 5 years, I don't see Bynum as a top-5 center. Yao, Oden, Okafor, Howard, Bogut, Baragnani at least look better now and for the future.

WV: gosae - a pro-fraternity cheer

At 1/08/2007 12:54 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

AO and Dr. L.I.C. -

Kobe's Mavs game was more like a combination of his game against the Nuggets and the one at Sacto (see B. Shoals' AOL Fanhouse post on the matter from Saturday, I think, or J.E. Skeets' AOL post today)...

I'm not sure that the Mavs "collective" is any different than the Laker team. Dirk is the leader of the Mavs; Avery-appointed, Nellie-appointed, self-appointed, media-anointed (thought I'd throw that media-anointed one in because then it sounds like an Al Sharpton quote). Seriously though, for Dallas, Dirk is "The Man" with a cast players confident in their roles and abilities, who know they too can step up and control certain portions of games. The difference between Jet and Howard (to name two Mavs) and Dirk is that Dirk is "the nightmare," while the other two can only be "heroes" if they have favorable matchups.

So, how about this instead: The Lakers are the Mavs with a younger group of satellites surrounding their planet (Kobe-Lakes, Dirk-Mavs).

It's my feeling that the Lakers' satellites are actually much more talented than the Mavs' satellites - and there are more of them. The difference is, the LA satellites are younger and just learning the "how to be" of their jobs.

Kobe's line against the Nuggs was: 8,5, and 10. His line against the Mavs: 26, 8, and 6. His line against Sacto: 42, 10, and 9.

In the Nuggs game five other Lakers scored more points than Kobe. I'm unsure that ever happens with Dirk, if D-Now plays 35-40 minutes - unless he has an awful game and the Mavs get trounced on an off night. For another example of the mature planet Kobe's effect on a team, look at the box of the Spurs-Grizz game last night. Check out Duncan's line versus his satellites - and the final score. Now think of Kobe with more satellites more secure with their proximity to their primary object.

So, the comparison, Mavs and Knicks is not accurate because the Knicks have no planet, They are a collection of satellites. In the NBA, unless the satellites are relatively mature, a collection of them cannot win and NBA crown (see Detroit's title team for a collection of mature satellites). This is the quandry with the Bulls. Will their satellite collective be kept together long enough to mature together and become a Detroit-type of team, or will there, at some point, be a struggle for primacy between them?

Now, the Denver scene will be very interesting because we will soon get to see the effects binary-planet system on its satellites, plus we get to witness something rare: the gravitational effects of two planets on each other.

It's a great time to be an astronomer.

At 1/08/2007 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

phenomenal post Dwil.

To go with your planet-satellite metaphor, how bout Gil and the Wizkids.

He is clearly evolving into a Jupiter type planet. And his satellites (Butler, Jamison, Haywood) are gelling around him. They have also had 2 playoff runs with Agent Zero under their belt. Now, with a planet emerging liek this and the time alloted for the satellites to gain experience, is it reasonable to say the Wizards should have just as much of a chance at controlling the East in the years to come than any other galaxy?

At 1/08/2007 1:45 PM, Anonymous Ziploc B said...

Calvin Booth= Great Red Spot

At 1/08/2007 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with DLIC, the Mavs are a bizarre team in the way they go from completely team-oriented on D to rotating one-on-one on O. Though in a way, this is somewhat of the inverse of the Suns, who's problem is a lack of team defense (individually, aside from Nash, none of their front-line guys are bad defenders, they are just less than the sum of their parts.)

Incidentally, McCallum's new book about the Suns gets a very high recommendation from Pooh, if only for the portrait of Shawn Marion's fragility and Amare's essential cluelessness.

At 1/08/2007 2:13 PM, Anonymous Ziploc B said...

was this ever properly covered?


At 1/08/2007 2:18 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

Hmmmm, did my most recent comment get lost in the mist?...

If so, thanks AO... what the comment said is I thought Kobe was like Jupiter, possessing the Great Red Eye, a hurricane with no definable eye. Gil reminds me of Mars - volatile, war-like, always ready for action (there was more, but I forget)...

And yeah the Wiz can be a top East team for awhile if management keeps it together - and if they begin to value the beauty of "the stop" as much as they do the score.

At 1/08/2007 3:08 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

D-Wil, great comment there. Where to bring astronomy into the mix.

A couple of points - one, Odom couldn't hold the heat of Pippen's piss (/mixing metaphors). Seriously, people seem to forget that Pippen is a Top-50 all time, and still vastly underrated; he took the Bulls minus MJ to within a BS Hubert Davis call of the Eastern Conference finals (and this is coming from a Knick fan). And yes, the Lakers are missing a rebounder like Rodman/Grant, and the reliable 3PT shooter (Kerr, Paxson, Hodges > Vujanic, who is shooting 40% for the season despite open looks every night). This really is a MVP year from Kobe, and when we look back 15 years from now at why Nash won two (maybe three) MVPs in a row, remember that it was because nobody, especially the media, liked Kobe enough to openly defend his dominance.

At 1/08/2007 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lamar averaged 19 11 and 5 in the playoffs last year. And for anyone who watched, you know he was the person they went to when the offense was sturggling. Not Kobe, HIM. He would just take the ball down to the block and use his freakish athleticism to get it near the rim, and he usually finished from there.

Before he hurt his knee this year, he was averaging 18 9 and 5. If you took the best stats from his best seasons, Pippen's "best season" would have been 22ppg 9 rpg and 6 apg.

Your telling me Lamar, who is just now maturing and learning how to play with KObe, doesn't hold a candle to Scottie. Cmon. You clearly just don't want your image of the Bulls invincibility to be tarnished. LO is the truth.

At 1/08/2007 4:08 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

LO is his own truth, he certainly isn't Pippen (not to belabor the obvious). Odom has a more silky low-post game. Pippen was a more tenacious defender.

It's possible that comparing Odom to Pippen might result in the same damage that Jordan comparisons have done to Kobe.

Kobe = Othello.

At 1/08/2007 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AO: Dude, Lamar Odom is a poor man's Scottie Pippen and we all know it. I mean he's what, 27, so he has some time to improve though not all that long, but you're going to hold him up to Pippen based on the one year's playoffs and 8 or 10 regular season games (in which he was admittedly excellent)? No, he damn well doesn't hold a candle to Scottie, at least not right now.

On the subject of the MVP, what does it really matter? Sports journalists make idiotic, indefensible decisions every year in every sport when it comes to awards, from the Cy Young to the NBA MVP.

At 1/08/2007 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"For it is Phil" - DLIC

If the Lakers go on this season to the highest of heights it will of course be because of K24 and LO.

However, I would personally remove all doubt in my mind as to the sheer unadulterated genius that is Phil Jackson.

He will eschew corporeal form and proceed to look down upon on high with golden triangle held aloft just as Link would proffer the mighty Tri-Force itself. To accomplish such a task can be seen as nothing less.

"Least I have your son." - Leeroy Sinise

At 1/08/2007 4:59 PM, Anonymous Danny said...

I think the teams aren't well aligned with the assumptions in the hypothesis.

It's true that Dallas are a collection of individuals, and their low assist numbers are a reflection of their offense which has the philosophy that every one on one situation contains a calculus of strengths and weaknesses between offensive player and defender, and that a one on one situation favours the offensive player if they understand this calculus and have a couple of go-to moves. Thus, Dirk can always get his turnaround elbow jumper off, Harris can always get to the rack, Howard can almost always beat his man off the dribble. This is why the zone fucks them up sometimes, but they've improved at swinging the ball and hitting the outside shot. On D, as you point out, it's a different story, a team philosophy that's more than the sum of its parts.

The Lakers are unthinkable without Kobe, the best player in the game, but it's last year's Lakers that were an individual team. This year's lakers is about Phil Jackson, the triangle offense, and a Dallas-like collective defense. What I saw was an offensive system which consistently got inferior players easier looks than they could get one-on-one against the Dallas defense. The Lakers have a collective offensive system and philosophy that is even more dominant than the Suns, because it relies on people to follow it rigorously to create the spacing (German soccer), with Kobe carrying the team when it breaks down (e.g. in the 4th) whereas the Suns create spacing through creativity/athleticism/ feel for the game (which is why I am still not yet sold on Amare taking them to the top - he doesn't go with the flow all the time and seems to disrupt their rhythm sometimes).

At 1/08/2007 6:17 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

Danny -
Again, Dallas is not, in fact, a collection of individuals. They are not Detroit or, one the dysfunctional end of the collective spectrum, the Knicks (and in the middle, the Bulls). There is no doubt, at least among the Mav's players, that Dirk N. is "the man" on their team.

The Mavs "low assist total" is actually right on the NBA mean for assists-to-made baskets percentage. Only nine teams have an assist-to-made basket percentage over 60%, for the rest, the average is right around 54% - the Mavs' is 53.4%.

The only reason the Lakers are unthinkable (as you put it) without Kobe is because of their youth. The Mavs are euqally unthinkable without D-Now.

Without Dirk there would be a battle between Howard and Jet for team supremacy. Jet did the same with Atlanta. Though he was very good on a very bad team, his attitude was and is not conducive to pulling team members together - and he doesn't have enough game to force his team to revolve around him. I'm unsure about Howard;s impact on his teammates, but he appears to be too quiet and not enough of a media attractor to fulfill the role of "the man" (at least at this moment in his career).

Conversely, the problem with Dallas' defense is ---- Dirk. Though he tries more than he ever has, he is as much a defensive liability as he is an offense juggernaut. When guys on the wing are consistently beating a defender off the dribble, defenses invariably collapse. That;s what happens with Dirk and the Mavs. The same thing happens to them when their centers are faced with a mobile opponent. Now you potentially have two liabilities sharing the same defensive space - now what? It's amazing the Avery Johnson is able to will his team to the level of defense that it does play. I commend his and the team's effort because it would be really easy for other players to say 'screw it' and not defend at all. However, they know their liabilities are at least putting forth effort, so they stick with the program.

The Lakers have similar problems with Smush Parker gettin beat, except with Smush it's a combination of him being a relatively young player in total experience and his lapses in concentration. He's getting better, but last night's game showed how far he has to go. And again, the Lakers are so young that when a player gets beat off the dribble, they often really break down.

If you notice, Phil is much more prone to call timeouts to remind Parker to concentrate or Sasha to stop gambling, than he is when LA is going through spates of unproductive offensive output.... enough for now.

At 1/08/2007 6:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

dirk really does--mark of a true superstar--make others better. he and howard are like chad and hoosh--one might have better numbers a lot of the time, but we all know why that's happening. terry is the chris henry-like wild card.

this is possible because they are, like i said in my comment earlier, a group of individuals who never meld but never overshadow each other, either. dirk is the most important but not necessarily the focus; at the same time, this year it seems like there's more of a method, and more possession-to-possession variety, when it comes to who's taking the shot.

At 1/08/2007 6:37 PM, Anonymous Ethan said...

It seems to be just a given truth around most of the NBA that Kobe is the best player in the league...by far. But really, where is the proof of this? There is no statistical justification that he is the best player in the league, by any standard. His team is only 7 points better when he is on the floor than when he is off, compared to >10 for many other stars like Nowitzki, Duncan, Wade, etc. I can remember just as many fourth quarters when he went 1/8 as when he crushed the opponents spirit.

I'm not necessarily saying that he isn't the best player in the league, but I really don't think he is even close to head and shoulders above everyone else. All past arguments that I've heard on this point essentially come down to "He's the best because we say so." It's very freedarko to just characterize him on style, swagger and general badassedness, but is that really what makes a man the greatest?

At 1/08/2007 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

t seems to be just a given truth around most of the NBA that Kobe is the best player in the league...by far.

With all due respect to Gil, Wade and Melo (sad that LBJ isn't really worth a mention here), is there a player who viscerally scares you more as a fan if you are up 1 with :10 to play, regardless of what has come before in the particular game?

I hate, hate, hate Kobe, and to me it's still not even close.

At 1/08/2007 7:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

he's the scariest player and the most complete.

At 1/08/2007 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

though there are whispers and murmurs that his defense has fallen off a lot, post knee surgery.

At 1/08/2007 7:50 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

long time reader (thanks so much for this site) and first time poster

i too question the conventional wisdom that Kobe is unequivocally "the best." it seems to be rooted in 2 things:

1) his 35 ppg last year and scoring 81 in one game

2) his "jordanesque" snarl and attitude. somehow he seems like more of a competitor than "nice guys" Wade and LBJ or goofy Gil, because he better approximates the GOAT.

Kobe stats just don't justify the "best" tag - he shots a low 40s percentage (Jordan NEVER did this pre-Wizards comeback) and averages around 5 boards and 5 assists (lower than MJ career averages and far lower MJ peaks).

his results are not "the best" either. yes he won 3 titles, but that was with Shaq. it should be clear to all that D-Wade or LBJ could have won 3 titles with Shaq. D-Wade might still win another...

D-Wade and Lebron both shoot a higher percentage (closer to 50%), average more assists and more rebounds. they also get along better with teammates and don't need to dominate the ball. if starting a team today i would take either of them over Kobe in a HEARTBEAT.

and from a style perspective, LBJ wins over both Kobe and D-wade. the latter are both clear-cut MJ derivatives. LBJ is one of a kind...

At 1/08/2007 7:55 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

to put it more succinctly, people have concluded that Kobe is the best because "he wants it more." but that doesn't automatically translate into results. as someone said before, it's far more often that he chucks up an ill-advised shot at the end of the game, than he hits a game winner.

Kobe to me is like AI. he's of course distinguished by his height, which allows him to do more, but his impact on the game is similar to AI. i wonder had AI been coached by Phil Jackson, whether he would be enjoying the same success as Kobe?

and i should make clear: i enjoy seeing Kobe succeed. i like star-driven basketball.

At 1/08/2007 8:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe stats just don't justify the "best" tag - he shots a low 40s percentage (Jordan NEVER did this pre-Wizards comeback) and averages around 5 boards and 5 assists (lower than MJ career averages and far lower MJ peaks).

A few quick responses. A) Kobe shoots way more threes than did MJ. Additionally, the NBA as a whole is a much lower percentage league than it was pre-MJ retirement-1. (Kevin Gamble shot 55% for a few years in row if memory serves in the early 90s).

B) His assist/reb numbers are lower because of the slower pace of today's game (fewer possessions, etc.) Further, the lower shooting percentages lowers his assists.

C) Wade and LBJ don't shoot threes as much as does Kobe. I'm not a big fan of the stat, but compare Effective Field Goal Percentages: (I found the numbers at 82games)

Wade - .485
LBJ - .510
Kobe - .516

D) If you think Wade and LBJ don't dominate the ball on their respective teams, you're high. My biggest criticism of LBJ especially is the degree to which he 'needs the ball' to be effective, something that 'Melo, for example, has markedly improved on this year before deciding to focus on pugilism.

E) I have no defense to the "better teammate" argument WRT to Wade. The jury is out to a degree on LBJ in that regard.

At 1/08/2007 9:00 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

Again, and I hope for the final time, D-Now is the centerpiece of his team - period. Sure Howard is a running mate, but there is not one single player on the Mavericks who will say that Nowitzki is not the centerpiece of his team - and that's why he gets paid like one.

As far as Kobe goes, his post-surgery "D" isn't up to snuff - yet. Check out this thread by Roland Lazenby - it's a conversation with Brian Shaw about Kobe, who played with both Larry Bird and Kobe.


All of us are ardent NBA peeps, but when I read the perceptions of Shaw, it really halped me see Kobe, as a player, in a completely different light.

At 1/08/2007 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too question the whole "Kobe is the best by a mile" thing. He has never had a year where he has obviously been the best player in the NBA. Not this year, not last year, not ever. I don't know why people never even mention Dirk in the best player discussions. Is it because he has never won a championship (He would have, if not for the refs)? Is it because so many people thought he'd be a massive draft bust (people don't remember this now, but his rookie year vis a vis Paul Pierce was an earlier Darko vs Carmelo)? Is it because people are still judging his defense on what it was when he was young (seriously, he's not that bad)? I think he's been the best player in the NBA the last three years and Steve Nash owes him 2 MVP awards.

As for Kobe, he currently ranks 12th in John Hollinger's pet stat (I know people here hate it but whatever). Even if you move him above a few guys who have missed time (Gasol, Yao, Carmelo, Wade), move him above one guy who for some reason only plays 28 minutes per game (Manu) and one guy who's defense is terrible and is certainly not as good as his stats (Zach Randolph), he is still below (in order) Dirk, Gilbert, Duncan, KG and Lebron. The gap between Bron Bron and K24 is close enough that I'll move Kobe up on account of his less bad defense, and he could also leapfrog Gil on the same rationale. But the others? No freaking way. At best he is the 4th best player in the NBA.

At 1/08/2007 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe's just the guy you expect to have the greatest performances.

At 1/08/2007 9:11 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

d-wil--i guess i'm arguing underneath it all, yes, dirk is the centerpiece. but the added attention he gets gives the artifical impression of a more evenly distributed offense.

At 1/08/2007 9:22 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

pooh -

overall i will not argue that any of your points are "wrong." they make sense to me. but i still can't buy that Kobe is the clear-cut "best"

in response to a couple of your points...

A) the fact that the NBA is lower percentage shooting league doesn't excuse kobe's poor shooting, it just speaks to the decline in shooting (for whatever the reason, the influx of HS kids, AI, etc.) the writers and posters on this site have many times referenced how brutal the defenses were in the 90s (the pistons, knicks, heat, etc.) and elimination of hand-checking, etc., which makes it way easier for perimeter players today, is oft discussed here. Kobe faces much lighter D than jordan did. this should making shooting easier no?

B) i know scoring was way higher during the 80s, but the games were pretty damn low scoring during the 90s (post Bad Boys Pistons), no? also, players like LBJ and Wade still manage more assists/rebounds in this "new era." the 6'4 J Kidd pulls down more rebounds, etc. etc. i'm just saying that Kobe does not impress me, relative to his peers or the GOAT, in those categories...

c) perhaps i'm wrong about his shooting. it just seems to me that he chucks up a ton of jumpers, whereas d-wade and LBJ take it to the whole more. their shooting pcts just seem to back that up, but maybe that's a bogus stat

d) rather than "dominate the ball" i should have said "take so many shots." after all, a good PG dominates the ball so this is not necessarily a terrible thing. even still, when i watch cavs game, i always wish LBJ would shoot more. he is very effective at getting high pct shots...

At 1/08/2007 9:27 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

I think the Chad/Housh comparison is spot on. My only question, though, is if this makes Dirk Ron Jeremy or Vanilla Ice?

At 1/08/2007 9:50 PM, Anonymous danny said...

Many armchair critics argue the stats, but when the players and coaches get asked in interviews who the "best" and toughest individual opponent is, Kobe is almost always the first mentioned. That counts for a lot when one's analytical goal is to try and understand the game in terms that make sense to itself.

At 1/08/2007 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stats arent the best way to compare players..AI would be better statistically than Nash (pts + assists), but Nash is the better player by a mile..

Right now, Kobe is playing at an elevated level. I used to like D.Wade a lot, pre-Shaq (esp that 2004 playoff run with Odom), but since then, he's become a product of the Steinbot..To me, its a tossup right now between Kobe and Nash, as to the best player in the game. Nash isnt as talented as Kobe, but he is the system in Phoenix and helps me enjoy basketball..BTW, T-Mac might want to re-enter this convo abt best player this year, if he feels like it lol! 13 pts in 35 secs didnt become as big a deal as it should've..

At 1/08/2007 10:01 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

Totally astute observation about D-Now and the impression of even distribution. And other folks, I really hope everybody reads that Lazenby interview with Brian Shaw. Whether you like or dislike Kobe and no matter who ranks Kobe where, the players and ex-players who have been on the floor with and against #24 know exactly how great he truly is - and particularly those like Shaw whose career allowed him to cross paths with the absolute greatest players of the most recent era.

At 1/08/2007 10:19 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

@ Abacus + Anon: With regard to why Kobe is the best (or one of the best), it starts with wins and losses, given the talent level of his teammates. His starting point guard last year and so far this year is Smush Parker. SMUSH PARKER. Yeah, he's not terrible, but there are at least 30 points I would value over him. Walton has developed this year, for the reason cited above by Danny. What Kobe has done over the last two seasons is incredible.

Take Nash out of the Suns - the Suns can still maintain a high level of play with their parts (Marion, Amare, Raja, Bo Diaw) plus a tier one point (Kidd, Paul), or even a tier two point (Andre Miller, Mike Bibby). They would still win 50-60 games.

Can any player, even LBJ, win as much as Kobe has with a crappy cast of teammates? LBJ comes the closest, given that the rest of the Cavs are awful, and even LBJ can barely break .500 in the East, while Kobe has the Lakers looking at top-4 seed in the west.

That's the case for Kobe being the best

At 1/08/2007 10:28 PM, Blogger T. said...

To second Danny's point - I got in a long discussion with a couple of NBA players a while back, and during the conversation one of them started us playing the who would you rather have - A or B? - game. And we got to Kobe, and people were making all sorts of statistical arguments and height (for taking TMac) or ability to get to the basket (DWade) and then Chauncey said "Yo fellas. That's all nice and shit, but look. Kobe's cold." Then everyone looked around and nodded in agreement. Yeah, Kobe's cold.

Stats and stuff - it's all very nice (hell, I pull it up ALL THE TIME to show my man Yao's improvement in the league) - but when someone can stop an argument amongst NBA players - including a still active MVP, a Finals MVP, a 20ppg player and some assorted bench fodder, then I'd throw my hat in with them. If his peers think he's the best, then who am I to argue?

WV: xtxxl - Gheorghe Muresan's shirt size

At 1/08/2007 10:31 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

maybe i am just overly enamored with the aesthetics of LBJs game (given his size) and D-wade's "likability"...

but i don't think so. when i watch Kobe play, i just don't feel that he is so head and shoulders above the rest of the league, the way Jordan was. is he unstoppable? sure. typically the best player on the floor? sure. but the surefire best player in the game? i don't know...

at the end of the day, he has yet to win a playoff series without Shaq. i still don't buy that his brand of ball is better. LBJ at least won a series last year, and his teammates are garbage.

and Steve Nash does not even belong NEAR this conversation. he's a great player but gets way too much hype. Nash benefits from some HIGHLY complimentary teammates, a great coach/system, and the dearth of quality PGs in the league. Jason Kidd can't shoot as well as Nash, but in his prime (as recently as 2-3 years ago) Kidd was every bit the passer and a way better defender and rebounder. i would take Kidd over Nash any day.

At 1/08/2007 10:38 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

t., stop being so fucking modest. longtime freedarko readers remember that that conversation was with garnett and billups.

and abacus, i too find lebron a far more exciting concept than kobe, but truth is truth.

At 1/08/2007 11:24 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

it is the "concept" of lebron that appeals to me so much... he's still so young, i hold faith that he will eventually find himself and truly dominate.

until then i can't argue against Kobe being top dog. i just don't find him head and shoulders above the rest, and i don't think he's really all that "cold." he has the style of MJ down (most of it), but none of the personality, heart, menace, etc. etc. etc. at the end of the day he's just kind of goofy.

i even still find T-Mac way more appealing.

much respect to all of you guys. this site is one of my favorite reads on the Web and far and away my favorite place to read about sports.

was kind of expecting a post on the SI Maravich article/book excerpt. quite ham-fisted and ironically feels like attempt to cover the issues you guys expound upon.

At 1/08/2007 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, don't fall into the anti-intellectual bullshit of saying, "well, that's who the jocks say is the best, who are we to argue?" If great players are such awesome judges of talent, then why is Isiah Thomas such a shitty GM, and why is Michael Jordan even worse? Kevin McHale, anyone?

At 1/08/2007 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Phoenix Suns would have made LBJ cry if they met up in the first round of the playoffs. LBJ and Wade play in the Leastern conference. If Kobe in the Lakers played in that conference they would be in the NBA Finals every year.

At 1/08/2007 11:46 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

well, ummm... didn't the Mavs beat the Suns and the the Spurs to win the West, and then get beat by Wade and the Heat?

i know the officiating was suspect, but they still lost and it's not a given they would have won otherwise...

At 1/08/2007 11:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the Kobe haters would look at him differently if they were on their favorite team. Jealousy is such an ugly thing. Would any of you not want Kobe on your team?

At 1/08/2007 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Two words: Phantom fouls...

At 1/08/2007 11:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

abacus, we didn't need to write anything on it since joey did the job for us.

At 1/09/2007 12:41 AM, Blogger T. said...

anon 11:36 Please, don't fall into the anti-intellectual bullshit of saying, "well, that's who the jocks say is the best, who are we to argue?" If great players are such awesome judges of talent, then why is Isiah Thomas such a shitty GM, and why is Michael Jordan even worse? Kevin McHale, anyone?

The difference? Quite simply - CB and KG have played against Kobe. Zeke, Jordan and McHale haven't played against anyone since 1998(Jordan/Wizards never happened).

And I think we've gone well over Isiah's eye for talent quite in depth around these parts.

At 1/09/2007 12:50 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

forgot to write this earlier: also, it's not like kobe is a popular guy around the league, or like it wouldn't be more in the interest of the league/networks for the best to be lebron or wade.

At 1/09/2007 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe is popular; at the very least respected by his peers. The league, Mr. Stern, the officials, and the networks do their best to shove LBJ and D-Wade down our throats. BUT, people tune in to watch the Lakers and turn out in opposing teams' arenas to cheer for Kobe Bryant. Yes, those are MVP chants for Kobe in arenas not called Staples Center. Many people would be singing a different tune about Kobe if he were on their favorite team.

At 1/09/2007 4:02 AM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

Sorry if I'm a little late to the party on the Kobe discussion, but it seems to me that you all are talking past each other a little bit. If "best" means "who would you build a team around if you could pick one guy," well, a whole number of considerations enter into the picture such as which positions are difficult to fill, age, etc. If it means
"who fills up a stat sheet better in the regular season," then yeah, Dirk or KG or somebody is probably going to win that because they get rebounds and blocks and stuff. If it's, "whose team would be worse off without him," well, that's a contingent question that seems kind of irrelevant. I mean, saying that the Cavs would be a 30-win team without Lebron whereas the Lakers would be a 35-win team without Kobe... whatever. a) you have no way of knowing that, and b) who the fuck cares. It just seems to me that comparing the supporting casts is entirely irrelevant.

To me, the ONLY question is, "who has most successfully imposed his will on this league." And that question can only be measured in championships, and the role that player played in getting them. Since Shaq appears to be on the decline, there are only two guys in this argument: Kobe and Tim Duncan. And before you start about how those Lakers were Shaq's team, understand and accept that there is no one in the league who could have filled Kobe's shoes. If you watched the playoffs in those years, you know this in your heart of hearts. Especially if, like me, you were dying to see the Lakers -- and Kobe in particular -- get smacked in the mouth. And anybody with a functioning pair of eyeballs knows he's better now then he was then.

I understand and sympathize with the long-standing FD insistence on the relevance of the regular season. But for the purpose of measuring overall dominance, the playoffs are just a different thing. E.g., Dirk. Great player, impossible to defend. Thing is, he had a chance to take it, and he didn't. End of dicussion, until he can get back there and flip the script.

Is it fair? Of course not. I mean, maybe, with the right team, KG gets there and wins six championships. Maybe I'm wrong about Kobe being irreplacable -- maybe Ray Allen would have won those same three championships, and then some, since the big bad Kobe wouldn't have chased Shaq. You can speculate all you want, and you can try to project players' skill sets into alternate realities, but it's intellectual masturbation because the late rounds of the NBA playoffs are a different beast, and nobody knows in advance how a player is going to function in that setting. You can only measure what guys have done, and you can only measure the guys that have been in a position to do it. And by that logic, it's Kobe and Tim Duncan, and everybody else is about a mile and a half behind them.

At 1/09/2007 6:42 AM, Anonymous Danny said...

anon 11:36 Please, don't fall into the anti-intellectual bullshit of saying, "well, that's who the jocks say is the best, who are we to argue?"

I'm loving this, being the only fan in NBA sports blogs who mentions deconstruction being accused of being anti-intellectual, lol.

There's a difference between talent evaluation when you're playing against that talent during the season, and when you're trying to build a franchise in your own image (which has a whole lot of extra political layers attached to it). I don't take the jock evaluation as the final word, but I have a generic intellectual ethic of thinking that people who do shit day in, day out tend to know something that is inaccessible to the person who doesn't.

So I don't take a single jock's comment as being a strong lead, but when there is a near-consensus amongst a wide range of players and coaches, that for me is a strong indicator of reality that I'd want very good reasons to ignore. And rarely do I find a statistical argument that does that, so even though I don't really like Kobe as an entity, I have to admit that watching his game I can't see any reason to doubt this consensus.

At 1/09/2007 6:54 AM, Blogger El Dave said...

fix_the_knicks said: To me, the ONLY question is, "who has most successfully imposed his will on this league." And that question can only be measured in championships,

No offense, but I can't agree with this opinion. Was Marino any less dominant because of zero rings? Ted Williams? OSU? Is KG? No to all. To argue that one's dominance depends on rings doesn't work because the supporting cast matters, end of story.

The era of one player being able to win a championship is long over. We're past the MAD/Cold War Era of Wilt and Russell, and now even the so-called "Third World" (i.e. Cleavland/Turkey) is looking to get its hands on rings/nukes. As much as the individual matters (and he does very much so, IMHO) there has to be some talent around him to acheive total victory.

And just to metaphorize things a little more

Suns: Babel
Mavs: Flags of Our Fathers
Lakers: Pursuit of Happyness

At 1/09/2007 8:24 AM, Anonymous Duff Soviet Union said...

I agree that playing basketball well and evaluating others' talent are mutually exclusive skills. If asked to name "the best player" or "the toughest matchup" pretty much every player will identify the guy who would win a game of one on one. The NBA is very, very rarely about that though. Therefore, other players saying that Kobe is the best means nothing to me. People love to rag on Kobe's supporting cast as a way to prop him up, but they're really not bad. Yeah, Smush and Sasha Vujacic suck but the others are ok. Kwame catches mucho flak but he's been at least average this year. Odom is very good (please don't compare him to Pip though). Walton and Bynum are pretty good. Brian Cook is very underrated. If you want to say that Kobe is "making them better" well, I think that's a crock. It's a dubious concept to begin with, and the only 2 new guys on this team (Mo Evans and Vlad Rad) are playing worse than they did last year. How are Kobe's teammates possibly worse than KG's or Lebron's or Paul Pierce's (if you want to include him here)? As for the "next Jordan" stuff: yeah it hurts him since it's obviously not true, but he goes out of his way to encourage it so he deserves it.

At 1/09/2007 9:04 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

anon 1:14, i know that kobe's not that pariah his enemies make him out to be. but he's not going to win class president anytime soon. (who is, actually?) respected, feared, those are the key words. much like some other prickly guy we all now think of as adored.. . .

At 1/09/2007 10:31 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

@Duff CCCP: I agree that KG, Pierce, and LBJ have teammates that are as bad as Kobe; that makes the case for Kobe stronger - Pierce and KG couldn't make the playoffs last year or this year with their teammates, and LBJ is still not dominating the clearly inferior league. LBJ comes the closest, but in the end Kobe is the best because he takes what little talent he has (again, if his teammates aren't the worst in the league, they are bottom-5) and leads them to a top-4 seed in the West.

Seriously, aside from Odom, who has proven in various locations (Clippers, Heat) to not be able to live up to his vast potential, who else on the Lakers is even a starter on another team? Smush, doubtful. Brown - he got dropped from the Wizards, who sport Haywood/Etan at center... draw your own conclusions. Walton possibly, but keep in mind that Phil Jackson's strategies have helped him overachieve (IMO). Bynum is too raw still to be considered a starter anywhere else.

I define "best" has the player most likely to lead you to victory no matter who is on his team, and yes, the only other possible competitor for the title is Duncan. KG is great, but he's not a winner like that, and part of it is he's not "cold"; he's just not "takeover when needed" type - he's too much of a passer sometimes, where as Kobe's selfishness actually makes his team better in those situations.

WV: I got something that has either four "v"'s or two "w"'s in a row - how the eff am I suppose to tell?

At 1/09/2007 5:07 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

the only 2 new guys on this team (Mo Evans and Vlad Rad) are playing worse than they did last year

I saw this same idea being floated by John Hollinger yesterday, and it's pure nonsense. Mo Evans got 14 minutes of playing time last year with Detroit and averaged 5 points a game. This year he's getting over 20 minutes a game and is averaging closer to 7 points a game. Nevermind that the stats don't support this, but how would it be possible for anyone who hardly played last year have really fallen off this year?

As for Vlad he has a tendon injury in his shooting hand that will require offseason surgery, and for a guy who is mainly known as an outside shooter that's clearly a problem. So to refute Hollinger's lame theory which is being regurgitated here, come with something better if you're going to try to illustrate that Kobe isn't making his teammates better.

The reality is that pre-season most "experts" were predicting that the Lakers would be lucky to make the playoffs this year now that Utah, Houston and possibly New Orleans were going to be so improved. Instead of wallowing near .500 like the lower-rung playoff hopeful teams are, the Lakers are 12 games over .500 and are 7-2 so far against Phoenix, Utah, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston (despite missing Kobe or Odom for four of those games). In my mind that illustrates that on paper the "experts" believed the Lakers had a shoddy roster, but in reality they seem to be playing much better than was expected. Surely Kobe has something to do with that (not that he's the sole reason by any means, but he's certainly played some role). Right? Certainly Luke Walton's three-point percentage maybe has something to do with wide-open looks he gets as a result of the attention Kobe commands, right? Same could be said about Bynum's field goal percentage.

For years critics said if Kobe shot less it would allow his teammates to become more involved and it would lead to more team success. This year Kobe is attempting 7 less shots per game from what he did last year, the Lakers have much more balanced scoring (7 players averaging over 7 points per game) and the Lakers are 12 games over .500 for the first time since Shaq was a Laker. Wouldn't it seem that Kobe has followed conventional wisdom with the predicted results? His teammates sure look better to me.

WV: smenita - Karl Malone's pickup line used while hunting little Mexican girls

At 1/09/2007 7:57 PM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

Electric Dave Says: "Was Marino any less dominant because of zero rings? Ted Williams? OSU? Is KG? No to all. To argue that one's dominance depends on rings doesn't work because the supporting cast matters, end of story."

Short answers: Marino - yes, Ted Williams - no, OSU - you mean ohio state football? then yes. KG - yes.

My point is, some skills or stats just don't project into the crucible of late round playoff basketball. I think that probably applies to quarterbacking too, which is why I think this argument includes Marino. It's not really true with baseball - a great hitter is a great hitter (A-Rod aside). Plus, the supporting cast plays a much bigger role in baseball - if the eight other red sox strike out, there's nothing Mr. Frozen Head can do about it.

But really, yeah the supporting cast matters, but so what? So it's unfair to KG that he was never on championship caliber team? Who said life was fair? Part of being the best means is being lucky enough to be in situations where you get a chance to prove that you're the best. In the NBA, there is absolutely no regular-season equivalent to the late playoffs, and if you don't get there, we just don't know how good you are.

At 1/09/2007 8:40 PM, Anonymous Ethan said...

Wow, that was an interesting discussion I seem to have started.

I think the point that best summarizes how I feel about Kobe is Duff Soviet Union's comment. I would probably agree that Kobe is the guy who you want with the ball with ten seconds left in a close game. However, that is a situation that doesn't come up that frequently and as such should only be a small consideration when considering who to build a team around.

In nearly all fields, peers cannot be completely trusted to rate their own cohort. There is a big part of the reason why at universities tenure is granted by a faculty committee rather than the department of the professor. It is essential to consider the opinions of people in the field and out to get a fair impression of a person's value. This is why just the opinion of other players is not enough to conclude Kobe is the best.

Also, as was sort of pointed out earlier, Dirk lost Steve Nash and has led his team to 58 wins, 60 wins and a trip to the finals and most likely 60+ wins again this year. The Mavs would be an ok team without him, but you are crazy if you think they would even win 50 games without him and that's probably generous. Consider that he has also made a lot of extremely clutch late shots over the past year and I think it is ridiculous that he is rarely even included in the discussion as the best player in the league.

At 1/10/2007 12:38 AM, Blogger T. said...

Ethan - I don't think that you can just so easily equate other fields (especially teaching and university tenure) to something where someone can produce tangible results - especially when it's head to head competition.

I'll let the blog spokesperson have a word here (from his ESPN chat):

Jeff, Sacramento, Ca: Point Blank.. all i hear about around here is how great Kobe Bryant is.. are you better than him?

Gilbert Arenas: Oh no. I'm not even going to lie about something like that. When you're that good, a lot of people don't like you. But the man is talented. If you ever just break down and watch him play, he's brilliant.

To make it personal - don't you know who is the best player out of your friends you play with in your regular game? I certainly do (it's Matt J. by far) How do I know? I've played against him.

At 1/10/2007 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But T, how do you know you're right? Maybe he's just the hardest guy to guard, one-on-one. As somebody said just above, being the best guy to take a last-minute shot doesn't automatically make you the best player in the league, because that play only comes up a few times a season. However, it's a really, really dramatic play, so people remember it, and maybe they overrate the guys who do it a lot.

At 1/10/2007 2:17 PM, Blogger T. said...

anon @ 11:39am - You're really telling me that you can't tell who amongst your friends is the best player? You really need statistics and 3rd parties to figure that out?

I know who out of my peers is the best basketball player because I have eyes - I can see that he sees the floor better than anyone, is a much better rebounder (per size) than anyone, and is among the better shooters and is MUCH better at getting to the hole, then anyone. I'm not sure what other evidence you would need to crown "best player"

At 1/10/2007 6:55 PM, Anonymous Ethan said...


Are you really saying that you can tell that Kobe has better floor vision, rebounds better for his size and gets to the hole better than, say, Dwyane Wade?

It is not that hard to tell the difference between someone who is in the 80th percentile of a given skill/talent and someone in the 95th. The problem is that the best NBA players are in about the 99.999 perecentile as basketball players and picking out the difference between 99.999 and 99.9995 is often not clear. There was a time when Michael Jordan was without a doubt the best player in the league. But, this was backed up in every possible way. He was anecdotally the best as well as statistically so I don't think anyone would really argue that he wasn't the best player in the league. You simply cannot make the same case for Kobe because he doesn't have the whole package (ie his statistics don't put him head and shoulders above the rest.)

At 1/10/2007 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you really saying that you can tell that Kobe has better floor vision, rebounds better for his size and gets to the hole better than, say, Dwyane Wade?

No, he's saying that the guys on the floor can.

At 1/10/2007 8:34 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

important to distinguish between athletes in the booth (the laziest journalists of them all) and those on the field, who DO have the expert, inside knowledge


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