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Boxscore Breakdown: Finals, Game 5

Posted by Neil Paine on June 15, 2009

And so it came to pass that Game 5 of the NBA Finals, at home in Orlando, would be the site where the weary Magic would make their last stand. Having allowed two games to slip through their fingers in the series already, Orlando now faced the sobering reality of needing to win 3 consecutive games against the Lakers, a team that did not suffer a 3-game skein all season long, to capture the prize. The odds were heavily against a comeback, but then again, the odds had been against the Magic all season. Did they have one last epic surge left, or would the Lake Show permanently crush their collective will in Game 5 on Sunday night?

(Special thanks to PopcornMachine.net for helping me get the player minutes -- wrongly tabulated at NBA.com -- sorted out!)

Name Tm Pos Min Poss PProd ORtg %Pos Floor% Stops Stop% DRtg
Trevor Ariza LAL SF 41.5 14.6 13.8 94.2 18.9 0.430 8.6 0.556 96.1
Pau Gasol LAL FC 42.2 11.2 15.6 139.1 14.3 0.695 10.8 0.682 90.6
Andrew Bynum LAL C 16.9 10.6 7.7 72.9 33.4 0.355 3.7 0.592 94.5
Kobe Bryant LAL SG 43.3 22.4 28.7 128.1 27.7 0.563 11.9 0.736 88.2
Derek Fisher LAL PG 32.0 8.2 11.9 146.0 13.7 0.629 5.4 0.448 100.7
Lamar Odom LAL PF 31.7 14.5 16.1 110.9 24.5 0.461 6.9 0.584 94.8
Luke Walton LAL SF 14.1 2.0 2.8 138.6 7.7 0.667 2.1 0.405 102.7
Jordan Farmar LAL PG 13.6 2.4 2.2 91.5 9.6 0.447 1.9 0.367 104.3
Sasha Vujacic LAL SG 4.7 0.7 0.0 0.0 7.7 0.000 0.6 0.367 104.3
Los Angeles Lakers 89.7 99 110.4 95.9
Name Tm Pos Min Poss PProd ORtg %Pos Floor% Stops Stop% DRtg
Hedo Turkoglu ORL SF 42.1 10.7 11.5 107.2 13.7 0.492 5.8 0.367 115.9
Rashard Lewis ORL PF 44.5 21.2 18.3 86.5 25.5 0.375 8.4 0.507 109.8
Dwight Howard ORL C 39.2 12.3 10.6 86.5 16.8 0.439 9.0 0.611 105.2
Courtney Lee ORL SG 26.3 10.4 11.1 107.6 21.1 0.514 4.6 0.468 111.5
Rafer Alston ORL PG 33.0 17.4 12.6 72.0 28.3 0.335 6.6 0.539 108.4
Mickael Pietrus ORL SG 16.7 4.2 3.3 78.9 13.3 0.395 1.9 0.305 118.5
Jameer Nelson ORL PG 12.6 7.9 6.5 82.6 33.6 0.343 1.9 0.400 114.4
Tony Battie ORL C 3.5 1.4 1.2 85.5 21.0 0.388 0.7 0.545 108.1
Marcin Gortat ORL C 8.8 3.2 3.0 94.7 19.4 0.474 0.8 0.248 121.0
J.J. Redick ORL SG 13.3 3.6 6.7 185.1 14.6 0.724 1.3 0.254 120.8
Orlando Magic 89.7 86 95.9 110.4

Unfortunately for the Magic and their faithful, while the team came out strong in the early going, this was never really a game after the middle of the second quarter. Trailing 40-36 with 7:11 left in the first half, L.A. went on a 16-0 run that, in retrospect, was the most significant nail in Orlando's coffin. The Lakers never looked back after the run, outscoring the Magic by 17 points in the 2nd and 3rd quarters combined, and cruised through the fourth to the 15th championship in franchise history, leaving Orlando with just 1 win in club's last 9 Finals games. When the dust cleared, Kobe had earned MVP honors and his 4th championship ring as a player, while Phil Jackson secured coaching title #10, passing the Celtics' great Red Auerbach as the league's all-time leader in that category.

People will make much of Bryant & the Lakers' offensive performance in Game 5 over the coming days -- and don't get me wrong, they played very well in that department, notching a 110.4 offensive rating against the NBA's top D -- but the real secret to Los Angeles' success, not just last night but all series long, was their defense. In the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland, Orlando had their way with the Cavs' D (which ranked 3rd in the league during the regular season), averaging 113.2 points per 100 possessions and raining down 3-pointers from all over the court. By contrast, against L.A. in the Finals the Magic averaged just 100.5 pts/100, and their vaunted 3-point attack never really got off of the ground (in the Game 5 clincher they were limited to just 29.6% shooting from beyond the arc). Over the course of 5 games, that's an extra 58 points the Lakers saved versus the Cavs' defensive performance against the same Magic team, and that ultimately proved the difference between a 5-game championship victory & a disappointing 6-game loss in the conference finals.

And Now, Let's Close 2008-09 With One Last Rant About Kobe Bryant

Kobe was terrific in this series, of course, and no one can take his accomplishments away from him, but I fear that in the upcoming Kobe lovefest, many will forget his talented teammates and the way they contributed to title #15. First of all, no one man can make a defense -- especially if that man is a guard -- so the Lakers' defensive credit against Orlando belongs to all of Los Angeles' players, especially Pau Gasol, who made life hell for Dwight Howard inside, and Lamar Odom & Trevor Ariza, who hustled their butts off on D to shut down the Rashard Lewis/Hedo Turkoglu duo. With all due respect to Kobe, he may have won this ring "without Shaq's help", but he also won it with the help of a really great collection of supporting players, without whom there's no way Kobe would be hoisting another Larry O'Brien trophy.

That's why it was more than a little insulting to everyone involved (Kobe's teammates, the home viewers, hoops historians, etc.) when ABC's announcers tried to artificially pump up Kobe's performance -- and his playing abilities -- as "the best there's been since Jordan" and "among the best ever" (culminating with Jeff Van Gundy calling Kobe "Machiavellian" and Mark Jackson actually saying Kobe was "the best we have seen at the shooting guard position") in an effort to make the fans feel like they were watching something as special as MJ in his prime. Because look, folks, it just wasn't that special. I hate to drag out the tired, played-out LeBron James comparison again, but here's how they stacked up in their respective series vs. the Magic -- the same team, the same players, the same defense:

Name Tm Pos G Min Poss PProd ORtg %Pos Floor% Stops Stop% DRtg
LeBron James CLE F 6 265.5 199.7 234.8 117.6 40.1 0.558 49.6 0.499 112.8
Kobe Bryant LAL G 5 218.9 148.2 163.9 110.6 37.3 0.512 43.3 0.546 100.1

The Standard Sportswriter Take™ this week will be that Kobe has definitively reclaimed the mantle of "NBA's Best Player" with a Jordanesque offensive performance that carried the Lakers to the NBA title. Don't believe it for a second. As you can plainly see, James actually performed better than Kobe on offense against Orlando's top-ranked D; the defensive end is where Bryant would hold any edge, and we all know that the difference between Cleveland's defensive performance vs. the Magic and L.A.'s had far more to do with the two superstars' supporting casts than it did with Kobe and LeBron themselves.

So remember: although many Kobe fans will attempt to use this championship as "proof" that Kobe Bryant is a superior player to LeBron James, Kobe is still not definitively "better" than LBJ. In fact, to the contrary: every shred of statistical evidence we have still suggests that Bryant is inferior to James, and by no insignificant margin, either. The fact that the Lakers won a title Sunday night proves nothing except that the Lakers are a better team than the Cavaliers (actually, check that, it doesn't even necessarily prove that either, but that's a rant for another post). So don't be fooled. Bryant is a fantastic player, an Olympic Gold Medalist and a 4-time NBA Champion, but team honors should not be confused with individual ability. Sorry I had to go into rant mode, but the utility of this public service will become clear to you over the coming weeks and months...

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98 Responses to “Boxscore Breakdown: Finals, Game 5”

  1. Michael Says:

    Just a question, do some of you think Carmelo Anthony is a better player today? or is he also declining, since his numbers are?

  2. Jason J Says:

    I'm a gigantic Jordan fan. Enormous. Have a Jumpman tattooed on my right shoulder, and I'm really not averse to the Jordan / Bryant comparison. I never was and don't see why people get so riled up.

    To the point that Mark Jackson and the ESPN crew are ramming the idea that Kobe is the second coming down our throats, and convincing many people under the age of 30... that's probably unavoidable, but I'm not sure it's a big deal. In the end the numbers may actually have a bigger impact than they do now. Right now what people see is a big deal to them. Ten years from now when people don't remember Kobe in his prime and are comparing him on his old knees to Durant and LeBron, they'll rely more on numbers, and the numbers and honors are in MJ's favor.

    But actually I'd like to take a look at those stats and just see if we can maybe backup what Mark Jackson says even if he can't.

    Real quick (crude) comparison for the decades where Mike and Kobe won their rings (since most GOAT evaluators consider titles to be paramount):

    Jordan in the 1990s - 38min, 31ppg (50%fg / 36%3ptrs / 83%fts), 6rbs, 5asts, 2.5stls, 1blk, 29PER, 18WS per 82 games

    Kobe in the 2000s - 39.5min, 28ppg (46%fg / 34%3ptrs / 84.5%fts), 6rbs, 5asts, 2stls, 0.5blks, 25PER, 13.7WS per 82 games

    Basically if we knock off the early years when Jordan was crushing the league but winning nothing (85-89) and those years when Kobe was backing up Fox & Jones (98 & 99) and winning nothing, we see Michael took 2 more shots to score 3 more points and had higher defensive stats. Otherwise they were basically even in production. Jordan shot 23.4 times per game and missed 11.4 shots. Kobe shot 21.5 times per game and missed 11.7 shots. I spot-checked player possessions and they are pretty much the same - Kobe played more minutes / Jordan played in a faster era.

    Now it's true that this comparison is very favorable to Bryant in that it ignores Jordan's most impressive statistical seasons and only includes Bryant's most productive years, but I think it again underlines what it takes to win. Team ball, shared responsibility, singleness of purposes, and no one person doing EVERYTHING. When LeBron's team is really good enough to win titles, I have a feeling we'll see his stats come down as well, not because he's worse at anything, but because more players on his team will be making decisions and contributing to their own success on both sides of the ball.

    As an example: over the last two months of the 1989 season Jordan averaged 30.4 pts, 9rbs, 10.4asts and shot over 50% from the floor - that's for about a third of the season (27 games), so clearly it's not a fluke. And his team lost a lot of games in that span. When Phil Jackson replaced Doug Collins he moved Jordan back off the ball, implemented the triangle, and "robbed" Jordan of a chance at Oscar Robertson's triple double record, but in the process he maximized what Pippen, Grant, and the role players had to offer and created a champion.

  3. Anon Says:

    @Michael

    "Just a question, do some of you think Carmelo Anthony is a better player today? or is he also declining, since his numbers are?"

    Carmelo is only 24 with 17,000 minutes played, and hasn't even entered his athletic prime yet. Nice try though.

  4. KC Says:

    Since the Laker's won I've been bumping Ice Cube "Today was a good day" and waking up with a gigantic smile on my face. The weather seems nicer, the girls are glowing a little more and the traffic isn't quite as bad (ok that's a lie) but still...

    This is going to be a great off season and summer for Los Angeles - I'll probably even hit up a few dodger games before we roll into College Football season.

  5. Michael Says:

    @ Anon

    Just trying to point out the fact that on a good team, one shouldnt over-do things. Most all-time greats have their best statistical seasons when the team maybe dont even make the play-offs. Wilt, Jordan,Kobe, Wade etc. And none of them won before they had other greats on the team.

    Expect LeBron`s numbers to fall a little to when he wins a championship :)Or if they could get him a point guard and let him be a scoring option, not 1 on 5 maybe he could get alot more points?

  6. Larry Says:

    Great post by Jason J, you're a true fan of the game.

  7. asmj Says:

    Excellent post Jason J.

    There's a reason why it has been a near consensus among coaches, GM's and his peers that Kobe Bryant has been the best in the league.
    They recognize talent.

    Our friend Neil Paine here, recognizes numbers and is a prisoner to follow everything they tell him.

    I'd make a lengthy post about the triangle offense and compare it to the Cavaliers' rather primitive pick and roll offense and how it affects each players' production and numbers, but it seems that it would quickly get lost in the pile of responses and simply ignored by those who just choose to follow the numbers and nothing else.

    Quite an ignorant approach to take, and sometimes just makes me question how much these stat crunchers really know the game and appreciate what they are seeing.

  8. Tsunami Says:

    @Asmj - The "primitive" pick and roll offense doesn't offer a higher "efficieny" than the triangle.

    It's one thing to postulate that LeBron gets more assists because he handles the ball more than Kobe, but how are you going to explain his consistently higher FG%? All season long the Cavs played a dynamic offense - after the first 2 rounds of the playoffs, it became increasingly clear that not a single Cavalier not-named LeBron was going to step up and hit shots (it got to the point where they wouldn't even TAKE shots). So the offense often broke down into LeBron at the top of the key. Should be way easier to defend that the triangle - but LeBron shot a much higher percentage anyway.

    I don't think people even realize how dominant LeBron is. He just took his game to an entirely different level this postseason.

    There is no comparison between Kobe and LeBron.

    Trust me when I say this, if you replaced the two, the Lakers would have easily won the NBA championship this year. And the Cavs would not have even had the top seed in the east.

  9. asmj Says:

    I never said it did offer higher efficiency, but when Lebron is the main cog in the pick and roll 90% of the time, his assist numbers are higher than what they would be in a triangle system.
    Also it allows him to get to the basket with much greater frequency as well.

    And as for your question, I'd just answer it with another question.
    Why does Shaquille O'Neal have a higher FG% than Lebron James, consistently?

    You can occupy yourself with asinine hypotheticals all you want, but it doesn't take away from that fact that Lebron James failed to win a title with a 67 win team. Don't blame his teammates, blame Lebron for making them become spot-up shooters while he bulldozed into the lane time after time.

    Keep wasting your pathetic little life posting on your foxsports blog about how much better Lebron is than Kobe, when the entire world just witnessed a monumental collapse by the Cavaliers and Kobe rising to the top of the basketball world once again.

  10. Jose Says:

    You guys are going too far. Suggesting that Neil is ignorant just because he's saying that the Lakers won as a team, that it's an exaggeration to put Kobe on the same level or beyond MJ, and that LeBron is better than Kobe (an opinion, but certainly an informed one)?

    How well did Kobe shoot for the series? 43%? What I saw in the last few games of the series was a demonstration of the fact that Kobe has a great supporting cast. Fisher hit a key three-pointer in Game 4 to send it to overtime and another in that very overtime to put a dagger into the Magic. In Game 5, it was Ariza who sparked the Lakers with 13 points in the third quarter when they made their big run. Odom played well for most of the series. Gasol played well for most of the series, scoring 7 points in the overtime of Game 2 to seal that particular victory. Truly, his supporting cast showed up in a way that Lebron's did not, and combined with Orlando's inconsistent shooting, the Lakers outplayed the Magic when it mattered most. What did I see from Kobe in those road games? Some poor decision-making in late-game situations, to be honest. He had a tendency to jack up threes (which annoys me to no end; you just can't defend the perimeter anymore with the handchecking rule) with plenty of time left on the shot clock and he was the one who tended to cough up the few turnovers they had in those games. Rather than playing the role of the ultimate closer, Kobe was more the opener in those games, playing very well in the first quarter and then fading away somewhat as the games progressed.

    Anyway, Neil hasn't actually said anything which warrants some of the angry responses he's getting from Kobe fans. Personally, I share his frustration with the way the media hypes up Kobe as the second coming of Jordan, because it's just dishonest and delusional. The love for Kobe gets ridiculous sometimes, and it's interesting how the analysts already forgot the way the Boston series went last year, wherein Kobe was outplayed by Paul Pierce. (let's put all the blame on Lamar Odom, right?) Jeff Van Gundy said that if Kobe were to win this one title, he would go down as the greatest Laker ever. Really? I thought Magic Johnson had 5 rings, last I checked. (speaking of Magic, he himself partook in some silliness, telling Kobe that he had an opportunity to become the greatest to ever play the game - what, by winning his first championship as the driving force of the team? Really?) And Mark Jackson...well, he's known for saying some questionable things, like putting Dirk Nowitski on the same level as Larry Bird.

    In closing, Kobe is one of the greatest shooting guards of all time, and now that he has arguably more talent around him than MJ ever did, he has a great opportunity to win a few more titles before he retires. Not only that, but today's league is tailor-made for his abilities, with the rules and style of the game favoring wing players like himself. If he ever reaches six rings (he won't get six Finals MVP awards, but the analysts and commentators have been downplaying that and focusing entirely on the rings, which is odd considering that Bill Russell and Robert Horry aren't thought of as superior to MJ), the debates will rage on as to whether or not he's as good or better than MJ, but when you look at what each player brought to the table on a consistent basis, the only honest answer will be that MJ was better.

  11. Jason J Says:

    To be clear, I'm not saying definitively that Kobe is better than LeBron. And I'm not trying to talk down Neil. I'm just saying that when a player produces less for the greater good, that should be recognized as a good thing, not a bad thing.

    In LeBron's case he HAD to produce insane numbers when his teammates disappeared (Cleveland guards, we're all waiting for you to show up in Orlando). The fact that he did it so well is immensely impressive. His PER for this playoffs is ludicrous for someone who made it to the conference finals (37!! that's over 14 games - and yeah Detroit has proven to be completely incapable of matching up with him, but still almost every #1 team gets a cupcake in the first round). However, no coach wants one player to have to carry that kind of load.

    I think it's just as dangerous to look at the Laker's championship and arbitrarily use the team success to say definitively that Kobe is better. I hate to use hypothetical examples, but honestly... Give Bron to Jackson, and see what happens.

    If people want to compare the two, let's do it right. Break down their games. Analyze. Conventional wisdom says that LeBron is the better passer. I'd say he's better at orchestrating a break and has better court vision. Kobe may be better at reading a defense and finding the right pass. Conventional wisdom says LeBron is the better rebounder. And I don't see an argument against that. He's bigger, more athletic, and spends time at the 4. You can break down every element using stats, which claim to be unbiased but don't tell you what happened to produce the numbers, AND using your eyes which are inherently biased but can pick up the nuances of how and why a player accrued the numbers he did.

    To me that's where you start to figure it out. Factor in the production. Factor in the team play and coaching style. Don't just look at rings or look at metrics and assume they tell the story. I used to post on Dave Berri's blog and ISH (dejordan), and I always tried to stress that when you look at the game, how a player accomplished what he did is as important as what he did. Maybe not to the masses, but to the educated fan who is going to take the time to really form a justified opinion.

  12. Anon Says:

    @ Asmj

    "I never said it did offer higher efficiency, but when Lebron is the main cog in the pick and roll 90% of the time, his assist numbers are higher than what they would be in a triangle system.
    Also it allows him to get to the basket with much greater frequency as well."

    Ah yes, the "triangle doesn't allow as many assist opportunities" cop-out. Didn't know Kobe is lacking opportunities to run an offense even though he carries at LEAST 30% of his team's offense pretty much every season.

    But I see what's going though. It seems that Kobe's fans want to angrily overrun the board and throw around the unfair accusation that he's not being "appreciated" (FALSE!!!), when they are unknowingly doing the SAME THING to a player like LeBron. Do THEY appreciate the fact that unlike Kobe in his offense, where other players with decent enough playmaking skills can take some of that load off of him in the triangle so Kobe can concentrate more on doing his thing as a scorer, LeBron in his offense has to play an ever LARGER role of being BOTH his team's primary scorer AND playmaker? Not only is this evident in watching the games, it's also reflected in LeBron's HIGHER offensive possesion %. And when his usually reliable teammates weren't hitting the shots that they were in the regular season during the playoffs, LeBron found himself taking an even LARGER role in the offense than usual. Yet, he still played off the charts...and Kobe's fans still want to criticize him.

    The hypocrisy really has to stop.

  13. Dave Says:

    Hilarious to listening to the abc announcers gushing about Kobe being as good as we've ever seen at the 2 guard spot after he...makes a jumpshot. It was just laughable. Kobe vs. Jordan is no debate. There is no credible way to argue that Kobe is on Jordan's level from the numbers standpoint, or any other.

  14. Neil Paine Says:

    Jason, when we say a player's "stats go down as his teammates get better," what we really mean is that a metric like his possession % will go down with better teammates as he shares offensive responsibility. But that does not mean his efficiency cannot stay the same -- in fact, according to our theory about the relationship between possession % and efficiency (which matches the conventional wisdom, by the way), his efficiency (measured by ORtg) will actually go up with less offensive burden. Unfortunately, Kobe's efficiency was lower than LeBron's even at a lesser level of responsibility! There's simply no logical way to make the case that Bryant is a more effective offensive player than James without resorting to subjective mumbo-jumbo arguments. Defensively, I'll again grant you that the Cavs' D was much worse than L.A.'s vs. Orlando, but here's some additional food for thought: during the playoffs, Cleveland's defense was 1.56 efficiency points better with LBJ on the court than when he was sitting; conversely, the L.A. defense was actually 1.56 points worse with Bryant on the floor. So I think it's more than fair to say that Cleveland's defensive no-show against the Magic was far more James' teammates fault than his own, and that L.A.'s dominating D vs. the same opponent was far more to the credit of Bryant's teammates' than himself. Again, when using the numbers, the objective records of what actually happened on the court, instead of subjective criteria that ultimately boil down to mere opinions, there is still absolutely no evidence that Kobe Bryant is the best player in basketball. Then again, I warned everyone that Mr. Bryant's devoted fan base would flood these comments with responses, perhaps because they still find it difficult to accept that the Lakers' championship this past week was a total team effort and not the product of one man playing by himself. But for the life of me, I can't figure out why it is so difficult for Los Angeles' fans to give their own players credit when their jersey number is not "24"...

  15. Lawrence Says:

    Kobe is the only finals mvp in history to fail to shoot 50% for even a single game of the series. He was quite poor in the clutch in games 2, 3, and 4. Next coming of MJ? Hardly.

  16. Jason J Says:

    Neil - Take a look at my last post, where I clarify that I'm not 100% in the Kobe camp. My whole point up there was that production does not necessarily equate to ability. There's really no argument to make for Kobe vs. LeBron (or Michael) based on efficiency. He's not as efficient, and all the metrics bear that out.

    If I was a Lakers or Kobe fan (I'm actually a Celtics / Bulls fan and sticking up for the boys in yellow makes me a little queasy), I'd argue that Kobe cedes inside touches for easy hoops to his bigs which in turn means he winds up taking harder shots even though he's sharing responsibility (a tenuous argument since he's really never shot a fantastic percentage I guess, but in a certain sense it's accurate to say that the offense may be a little less Kobe-centric now and so not as prone to creating easy shots for him).

    also while he's not as good at manufacturing lay-ups for himself as LeBron, when a good defense takes away lay-ups, he has more options because of his diversified offense. In fact if I was a Kobe fan, I would sort of hang my hat on this concept. Here's a guy who can score against just about any defense with his array of dribble moves, step-backs, post moves, etc. Is it as reliable as Shaq or LeBron against weak defenses? No. But it may be the least effected by great defenses. In theory.

    It's sort of a "sure, 95% of the time you're better off with Bron, but against that 5% of great defensive teams like 2007 San Antonio, 2008 Boston, or 2009 Orlando when the inside slashes are taken away, you'd be in better shape with a player who can score from the outside." (of course if I was counter-arguing I'd punch me in the head and ask if I watched Kobe bomb in the finals last year against one of those defenses).

  17. Neil Paine Says:

    I understand exactly what you're saying, but once again, we already debunked the idea that Kobe is more effective against elite defenses. While it is accurate to say that he is less affected by great Ds than James, his less-affected self is still worse than LeBron's more-affected self. Does that make sense?

  18. asmj Says:

    @Lawrence
    Michael Jordan also shot pretty awful in quite a few of his NBA finals appearances.. I believe 43% vs Utah in 98 and 42% vs Seattle in 96.. Are we giving him grief about that?
    Can we stop treating the man as an infalliable figure and realize that every player has his shortcomings?

    @Neil
    Just give it up. You have not "debunked" anything. Your "theory" of more offensive posessions = lower efficiency is just that, A THEORY. Because he took a larger role in the offense against better teams does not give you right to be an apologist and disregard the fact that he objectively played worse against the better teams? Lebron James performed absolutely horribly against elite teams this year and the Cavaliers couldn't get it done against the only good team they faced in the playoffs. What was their record against the top 3 teams in the league again (Boston, Orlando & LA)? The Magic CHALLENGED him to try to win this series on his own and he obliged, phasing out his teammates in the process.

    Your Lebron jocking/Kobe hating is just becoming embarassing and ruining your credibility.

  19. Neil Paine Says:

    I know I shouldn't keep feeding our lovely troll population, but "Lebron James performed absolutely horribly against elite teams this year"? And I'm ruining my credibility?

  20. Owen Says:

    Neil - Great great post. I have been banging this drum in a lot of places since suggesting two years ago on Knickerblogger I would much rather have David Lee on a rookie contract than Kobe Bryant on a max contract.

    I think this will become pretty much a perennial argument, people calling Kobe one of the all-time greats, and statisticians coughing loudly.

    Whatever people say, Kobe hasn't changed the game the way MJ and Magic did, revolutionizing their position the way Lebron is changing the way we look at the small forward.

    Have to say, I am excited for David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout to get wind of this post, may even have to drop him a line about it, should be very interesting to see his reaction.

  21. Anon Says:

    Me, my favorite line from Asmj is this one:

    "Can we stop treating the man as an infalliable figure and realize that every player has his shortcomings?"

    If he kept his OWN point in mind he wouldn't have much of a problem with Neil's insightful analysis on Mr. Bryant in the first place.

  22. Neil Paine Says:

    "Have to say, I am excited for David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout to get wind of this post, may even have to drop him a line about it, should be very interesting to see his reaction."

    You mean he hasn't already been posting anonymously? (Just kidding, Doc! I know you're a Kobe guy, but be gentle!)

  23. Neil Paine Says:

    In fact, for any future flamewars involving Kobe Bean Bryant, from now on I'm going to simply refer to this comic by the guys over at Garbage Time All-Stars.

  24. Tsunami Says:

    @ asmj -

    "Keep wasting your pathetic little life posting on your foxsports blog about how much better Lebron is than Kobe, when the entire world just witnessed a monumental collapse by the Cavaliers and Kobe rising to the top of the basketball world once again."

    lol - finally figured out who you are. Thanks for taking the time to read my work :) It makes my pathetic little life that much more meaningful. How quickly your points turn ugly when you aren't in a forum with 40 other trolls.

    @ Anon -

    The Kobe winning arguments never cease to amaze me. Because if you look strictly at winning and role in the offense, and then performance in the NBA - Kobe looks a hell of a lot like Manu Ginobili (only Ginobili has never lost in the Finals) - And Kobe/Manu comparisons are more valid than Kobe/Jordan comparisons. But the Kobe hype machine might be the biggest force in the NBA today.

  25. Owen Says:

    Tsunami - I have been beating that Manu/Kobe drum for years, good to know I am not the only one. It's just amazing how no one ever seems to notice that Manu looks like the better player per minute, while also topping Kobe in adjusted. Like a dirty little secret. Kobe is a lot more durable though.

  26. JD Says:

    I've been reading a lot of these type of articles and blogs since the end of the finals. The premise and responses are all pretty similar; anti-Kobe, pro-Kobe, pro-Jordan, pro-LeBron, with a bunch of numbers and arguments to back up each position. For just about every position presented you could make a sound, reasonable argument for, with one exception. Somewhere in post 60 it is said that "Kobe arguably has more talented teammates than MJ ever had". If you think this Laker team could when 55 games and a playoff series like the Bulls did sans Jordan then you're nuts.

  27. Chip Says:

    C'mon! They won the Finals! It doesn't matter that Kobe's not the best! Okay, okay! It's LeBron... but it will forever be in history that he won the first Bill Russell award! The Lakers won it all this year!!! That thorn in your backside will be there for a whole year!!! Scream and Shout!!!

    Just proud of the Lakers... not joking... so don't write hate!

  28. Jason J Says:

    Hey Neil - Thanks for sticking with this discussion so long. It's a fun one.

    I just wanted to get back you on the last point above re: http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=1827

    I had read that a while back, but to me it more illustrated how Wade raised his game against top Ds than LeBron.

    In terms of ORtg it actually shows us what we expect. Against the whole league LeBron's ORtg is 6 points higher than Bryant's, but against top 10 defenses, Kobe's ORtg is 4 points higher. That's a 10 ORtg swing when the going gets tough, though the sample size is pretty puny. And sure Bron does more, but as we've said over and over, Bron has to do more, and operating in an offense that features no one else, he also has the opportunity to do more.

    That's what I see anyway. I can't argue against LeBron's better versatility, and I wouldn't try. As I've stated above, I personally believe James is the better player because of his ability to impact the game in so many ways. But I don't see how we've debunked the idea that Kobe becomes the superior scoring option against tough defenses, and I think his supporters can lean on that claim a little bit.

  29. Anon Says:

    "The premise and responses are all pretty similar; anti-Kobe, pro-Kobe, pro-Jordan, pro-LeBron, with a bunch of numbers and arguments to back up each position. For just about every position presented you could make a sound, reasonable argument for..."

    Sorry, but if you really think Kobe is "the best player in the game today" and "the best SG ever" there ISN'T an argument to be made for him. And that's why Neil came with this rant of his (and trust me, he's far from the ONLY one who notices what's going on)...there no "anti-Kobe" sentiment here, it's simply that Kobe's legend is getting way too blown out of proportion and there is NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER TO SUPPORT IT. If Kobe's fans (and yes that includes YOU, Mark Jackson) simply kept the man's career in its proper perspective, people wouldn't have to continuously blow the whistle on it. These guys need to get their head out of the clouds and appreciate the man for what he IS (still a top 5 player today and a true all-time great) instead of making him into something he ISN'T.

  30. Jason J Says:

    Out of curiosity, where do people have Kobe All-Time at this point? Obviously he ought to be the #2 shooting guard, but overall, he's tough to place - hell everybody is tough to place! I could probably rattle off a top ten, but putting it in order would be tricky. Do we consider him a top ten player?

  31. Tsunami Says:

    Jordan
    Wilt
    Russel
    Magic
    Oscar
    Shaq
    Kareem
    Duncan
    Bird
    Hakeem
    Kobe

    He's a top 10-top15 player in my book. And in spite of that, I think he's the most overrated player of all time. That's saying something - because he is truly incredible. But it also speaks to his mythical reputation.

  32. Michael Says:

    Do you really have to go all the way down to Manu, i mean sixth man of the year(s), you cant really compare Kobe there sorry, even as good as Manu is thats just stupid. (please explain me otherwise)

    Also, and im not saying Kobe is the greatest ever, but why belittle everything he does, its just fine for Melo`s number to decline(as Anon stated) if he is on a better team, but if Kobe doesnt put up unbelivable numbers, well then he is just not as great.

    And the one thing that do go against Kobe, everyone seem to have forgotten. All-time you really wouldnt start building a team around Kobe, he made Shaq leave and broke up a championship caliber team. But his talent is kinda undeniable.

    Also to the guy who stated the Lakers were so lucky cause of Garnet/Yao Ming etc, well Bynum who was supposed to be the big difference this year wasnt excatly a big difference now was he?

  33. Anon Says:

    @Jason

    "And sure Bron does more, but as we’ve said over and over, Bron has to do more, and operating in an offense that features no one else, he also has the opportunity to do more...I don’t see how we’ve debunked the idea that Kobe becomes the superior scoring option against tough defenses, and I think his supporters can lean on that claim a little bit."

    Your last point is a little puzzling, and I don't know if you've fully grasped this important concept yet. As Neil has pointed out several times already, players become LESS efficient when they have to carry larger offensive loads. This is not only something that is observed when watching basketball but it has also been verified in several studies on the matter (the exact correlation is still being investigated, but the evidence STRONGLY suggests a 1-point decrease in ORtg for every 1% increase in offensive possession %). You need to keep this in mind when looking at ORtgs.

    "Out of curiosity, where do people have Kobe All-Time at this point?"

    I think that top 20 or even top 15 is fine. Top 10 at this point is pushing it, especially when you consider that Kobe is not even the BEST player of this decade (Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal have better cases for that claim, and both should be ranked ahead of Bryant).

  34. Tsunami Says:

    @Michael

    I don't believe Manu is a better player than Kobe.

    What I said was that if you look at many of the arguments Laker fans use in support of Kobe - Manu is actually better. He's undefeated in finals appearances. He is a better defensive player, he is a better shooter, and his per-minute stats look eerily similar to Kobes.

    The point is, that if you made a post comparing Kobe and Manu (I know, cus I did it a while back: http://community.foxsports.com/blogs/Tsunami/2008/08/23/KOBE_OverUnder_Rated_KOBE) you get eviscerated. I got 500 Kobe loving trolls come on my site telling me my credibility was now ruined.

    But it is a much more valid comparison than Kobe/Jordan.

  35. Anon Says:

    @ Michael

    "Also, and im not saying Kobe is the greatest ever, but why belittle everything he does, its just fine for Melo`s number to decline(as Anon stated) if he is on a better team, but if Kobe doesnt put up unbelivable numbers, well then he is just not as great."

    If you're going to paraphrase my posts, please do a better job at it.

  36. Anon Says:

    @ Tsunami

    If Kobe is a prime example of overrated players today, Manu is the COMPLETE opposite. Glad that you brought up the comparison.

  37. Michael Says:

    @ Anon

    Sorry didnt mean to single you out really, i enjoy everyones posts here, and there are many valid points. But still i cant help but feel that Kobe has to prove so much more to satisfy some of you.

    @Tsunami

    I bet you saw those 500 forum trolls coming hehe:) at least you shouldnt be surprised, even a non-Laker fan would find that one a bit tuned to your point...

    Still the Spurs in their prime would probably easily beat these Lakers, I actually picked the Spurs to win it this year, had there been no injuries.

  38. Jason J Says:

    Anon - I meant to address the -1 ORtg per each increased Poss assumption, just to say that I'm not sure there's evidence of it being true for Bryant on a season by season basis(which may be worth it's own topic - if his efficiency is not greatly impacted by possessions, then is he not taking advantage of good teammates the way he could by taking smarter / easier shots?).

    If I'm seeing the numbers right, it doesn't hold true for Kobe's history generally. http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bryanko01.html His ORtg doesn't seem to directly correlate to possessions. Doesn't seem to work for Jordan or Wade either btw - it did seem to for LeBron, though it's tough to say since there's really only one season worth of data showing a major change (but it is MAJOR).

    It's difficult to determine since - season by season - we can't control for a player aging (getting better or worse with age I mean) or playing through injuries or whathaveyou.

    Can someone check my findings as regards Kobe? Maybe I'm looking at things the wrong way.

  39. Jose Says:

    For the guy who took issue with my comment about Kobe having arguably more talented teammates around him than MJ ever did:

    The funny thing about this Laker team is that they aren't very tough, they rarely play with great chemistry (if they did, they would be nearly unstoppable with so much height/youth/talent, but Phil Jackson insists on playing through Kobe as if this team doesn't have more offensive talent around him than his Bulls teams had around Jordan [hint to Phil Jackson: it does]), and their defense is inconsistent. For example, I think this Laker team is arguably more talented than the Laker team which featured Shaq as the driving force (something Kobe himself believes), but that doesn't mean they'd be able to achieve the same kind of playoff success that the Shaq & Kobe three-peat team did. Things like dominance and *offensive/defensive* discipline aren't always direct reflections of talent. That being said, except for the consistent presence of Scottie Pippen (who was great defensively, but not all that great offensively), MJ's championship teams did have a lot of *role* players who were less talented than the likes of Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, and (assuming that he ever returns to pre-injury form) Andrew Bynum. I doubt that Bill Cartwright or Luc Longley ever scored 45 points in a game (a feat which I believe Bynum achieved this season), and they certainly weren't as talented as Pau Gasol. In fact, the only guy who I can think of to put with those Lakers I mentioned might be the underrated Horace Grant from the first Bulls three-peat teams, and yet that's based more on effectiveness than talent. Dennis Rodman was certainly a factor when he arrived, but except for his uncanny rebounding skills, he hardly possessed the overall talent and versatility of a Lamar Odom.

  40. Gils_Keloids Says:

    I am mentioning Kobe and Jordan in the same sentence.

  41. Lawrence Says:

    #68, ASMJ. Yes, Jordan shot poorly in certain finals, only one worse than Kobe in this year's finals, however, Kobe DID become the ONLY finals mvp in history to shoot under 50% every single game of the finals. OUCH!

    Kobe's career finals FG% is just over 41%, or..what Jordan shot in his WORST finals performance. Worst Jordan = Average Kobe. Jordan's finals statistics put Kobe's to shame.

    So let us end the Kobe = MJ crap. As well all truly know and the statistics back up, MJ > Kobe, especially in the finals.

  42. Roland Says:

    JD, #76, no it is not nuts at all to think this Lakers team could win 55 games. A Pau Gasol led Memphis team already won 50, and they had less talent than this Lakers team.

  43. Anon Says:

    @ Jason

    The process that is used to show that there is an inverse relationship between a player's offensive rating and offensive possessions % is much more involved and requires a thorough understanding of statistics. But here's a little exercise that can help elucidate things for you: take the above numbers for Kobe's performance in the Finals. He posted about a 111 ORtg against the Magic while carrying 37% of his team's offense. If you adjust the load to what he usually carried during the regular season (32%), that gives you an ORtg of 116, which is right around how he usually performed during the regular season (115). Now do the same for LeBron...he had a 118 ORtg while carrying 40% of his team's offense. His usual load during the regular season was 34%; do the same adjustments and you get a 124 ORtg, which is close to his regular season ORtg of 122. Of course we're dealing with paltry sample sizes, and this is also a pretty rough method of showing the process at work here but nevertheless it should help demonstrate this principle.

  44. Jason J Says:

    anon - it sounds like i'm out of my depth here (and i'll need to go to CUNY and take a stats class rather than try to have you teach me here i guess), but what we're doing then is factoring in a generally accurate correcting agent (-1 ORtg per +1% offensive possessions) rather than looking at the actual numbers, right? i'm not trying to be obstinate here, just want to understand if we're seeing actual loss of efficiency w/ increased possession or just assuming that the adjustment holds true.

    my non-math brain is still not quite gathering in why it is that, when comparing the reg season and playoffs this year, LeBron's ORtg went up as his Usage increased. i guess it just seems to me that the concept of an inverse relationship between efficiency and offensive possessions should be at least somewhat apparent when we look at changes in ORtg and Usage.

    Even bringing in total possessions - Cleveland's possessions per game dropped by approximately 2 between the reg season and the playoffs. But LeBron's possessions increased because he played 4 more minutes per game. His Usage jumped 1.6% in the playoffs, and his ORtg spiked by 6 points (any way you cut it he had a ridiculous playoffs this year. his number are out of this world!).

    Of course I'm using the game's best / most productive / most versatile player as an example here, which is just stupid. it does make me wonder if this inverse relationship was determined according to total league weights and is thus more apparent with role players / non-superstars who are being asked to move out of their more limited skill sets. Asking Steve Kerr to take a bigger hand in anything except shooting is going to immediately lower his effectiveness. Asking Michael Jordan to take a bigger hand in anything seems far less likely to impact efficiency just because one is a specialist and one is versatile.

  45. Tsunami Says:

    It shouldn't be too difficult to understand the conventional wisdom that goes along with the relationship between usage and efficiency.

    1.) More usage means more activity, which leads to more fatigue, which leads to some flat jumpers and slower feet.

    2.) On a team like the Magic, where every single player not named Dwight Howard can pass, dribble, and shoot shoot shoot, you can't just hone in on one guy. When someone's usage starts going up very high, defenses are going to pay more attention to that person (especially if he is playing at a high level)

    Great posts: Jason J, Anon

  46. Anon Says:

    @ Jason

    "my non-math brain is still not quite gathering in why it is that, when comparing the reg season and playoffs this year, LeBron’s ORtg went up as his Usage increased."

    I would think that a 14-game sample versus an 82-game sample could very much be the culprit here. He just happened to hit a great performance stretch at the right time. But I think that the old saying "What goes up, must..." would definitely apply here, had he played in alot more games.

    Or perhaps, given that he's only 24, it might also mean he could still be tapping into the depths of his immense potential that he still hasn't utilized yet. Now wouldn't THAT be something?? :)

    "Of course I’m using the game’s best / most productive / most versatile player as an example here, which is just stupid. it does make me wonder if this inverse relationship was determined according to total league weights and is thus more apparent with role players / non-superstars who are being asked to move out of their more limited skill sets. Asking Steve Kerr to take a bigger hand in anything except shooting is going to immediately lower his effectiveness. Asking Michael Jordan to take a bigger hand in anything seems far less likely to impact efficiency just because one is a specialist and one is versatile."

    Yup, and that's EXACTLY what this model does a pretty good job of capturing. Steve Kerr had an insane offensive rating for his career, but seeing how he never really used more than about 10% of the offense in his career (by the way, just to let you know usage is not the same thing as offensive possession %...it's similar but there are differences in the calculations that yield different numbers) if you were to ask him to take on the role of His Airness (who carried THREE TIMES of the offenses that Kerr did) his ORtg wouldn't even reach triple digits. Neil actually explains all of this in the blog's glossary section; players who carry a mid-teens or less % of their team's offense are usually role-players or specialists while players who take on around 23% or more are the all-stars. And that's what makes guys like MJ, Kobe, LeBron, etc. so great; they can maintain tremendous efficiency even when carry large offensive loads. They still have their efficiencies drop however, they're just simply less impervious to larger loads (which is the mark of a great player).

    Anyway, you articulate yourself well and I'm glad that you're asking questions and trying to learn more about the data that is presented. This is not the perfect model of course (it still relies on box score data, which we all know doesn't capture all the nuances of the game) but it's one of the stronger set of basketball metrics out there. I think that if you want to learn more Dean Oliver's "Basketball on Paper" is calling you for some light summer reading, if you haven't done so already. :) I hope all of this helps.

  47. mamzi Says:

    come on now come on,please enlighten us with the FT anomalities and referees' and medias' unbound love for both MJ and LBJ and even for DWade in 2006.This is off the charts.Who could have T'd MJ back then?Basketball reference is a great site,but come on,everybody's bashing/degrading/trying to nullify Kobe on false arguments.This is not about being a fan,there are people who really objectively can write pieces.Not a sane person is saying Kobe is best all time.He simply is in the pantheon of greats and certainly a different version of MJ.Fully capable of lots of things,and as graceful nearly as athletic.Give their dues to players that make the game fantastic,will ya?Think if football did not have Pele,Maradona,Hagi,etc...Be grateful for Kobe,T-Mac,Vinsanity,Shaq,LBJ,etc.I would not watch Smush and Co for NBA.Sorry but I am European,have a love for basketball for 30 years,and Kobe Bryant is one of the best to ever play and most fun to watch with MJ.LeBron is a Tractor,powerboat,yoked oxen.I love him,but it is not as entertaining.He would be breaking all the records maybe but it is different.Kobe when and if he can play 80*6 or 7 seasons will be awesome in sheer numbers as well.Just give him his normal FT's.Nothing else..

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