It seems like a lot of people misunderstood the purpose of yesterday's discussion of point production
. My beef is that many people use a player's ability to score points as a trump card in the discussion of "who's the best." When that happens, the debate basically devolves into a question of "who would win a game of one-on-one?"
However, basketball isn't a one-on-one game (at least, it isn't supposed to be). It's five-on-five, which is why I think if the debate focuses on points, it's important to consider point production
rather than points scored
. If a player's worth is defined by the points he is responsible for, I think assists should be included in the discussion. Of course, doing so is problematic, since it's difficult (if not impossible) to determine whether an assist led to a two-pointer or a three-pointer, whether a player scored while getting fouled (and made the resulting foul shot), and whether a pass led to a shooting foul (and the subsequent freethrows) without appearing in the box score. It also doesn't account for the relative quality of teammates, the type of offense a teams uses, and so on.
I was simply trying to introduce a slightly modified way of thinking about scoring in the NBA. I'm not a Kobe-Hater. Well, actually, I do
hate Kobe Bryant, but not because of the way he plays basketball. I readily concede that he's the best scorer in the league, and incredibly exciting to watch. I just don't think that makes him the de facto best player. One unfortunate byproduct of Michael Jordan's reign is that many people think that the greatest player must necessarily be the most unstoppable scorer, and I don't believe that's the case.
Now, let's talk about what I call "the defensive myth." Most of the people who consistently disagree with me in the Nash-versus-Kobe Debate repeatedly point out how "terrible" Steve Nash is on defense and how great Kobe is. Personally, I think this is a cop out. It's become all too easy to make these blanket statements about the relative defensive abilities of these players. After all, if people say it often enough, it must be true...right?
I said "not so fast," and pointed out in the comments section how well some of the better shooting guards have performed against Kobe this season: Ray Allen had back-to-back 30-plus-point games; Michael Redd dropped 45 on him; Dwayne Wade scored 40 and 35 points; Gilbert Arenas scored half of his 60 points (14 in the fourth quarter, 16 in overtime) after
Kobe specifically asked Phil Jackson for the defensive assignment; and Kobe asked to guard Lebron in the last game before the All Star break, and James put up 38 points.
I used these examples because one of the primary arguments that was used against Nash winning the MVP last year was that some of the opposing All Star-caliber point guards had big games against him (most notably Chauncy Billups). But here's the thing: great players are going to score points, no matter who's guarding them. So I don't think it's necessarily reasonable to expect Nash to shut down Billups, or for Bryant to shut down Wade or Lebron. I just figured that I'd use the enemies tactics against them.
In the interest of fairness, however, I decided to take a random sample of how opposing point guards have fared against Steve Nash this season, and how opposing shooting guards have fared against Kobe Bryant. I decided to calculate the opposing players' averages in field goal percentage, points, and assists for the month of January. I chose January because it was after Kobe had recovered from off-season knee surgery and before Steve Nash injured his shoulder.Steve Nash:
Nash played 16 games in January. Opposing point guards shot 36.4 percent (89-244), scored 14.8 PPG, and dished 4.9 APG. The Suns were 15-1.Kobe Bryant:
The Mamba played 15 games in January. Opposing shooting guards shot 45.6 percent (109-239), scored 21.6 PPG, and dished 4.6 APG. The Lakers were 8-7.
So, just by the numbers, Kobe allowed opposing players to score more while shooting a much
higher percentage, and they compiled almost as many assists per game. Now, again, this is a very basic statistical analysis. It doesn't take into account team defensive schemes, defensive switches, and alternating defensive assignments. Still, I find it pretty interesting. Not so much that players scored more against Kobe; after all, shooting guards are supposed
to shoot the ball. What I find interesting is the descrepancy in shooting percentages. If Nash's defense was so absolutely horrible, would opposing point guards be shooting such a terrible percentage? It's something to consider...
Bottom line: The random sample provides a strong indication that, despite proclamations to the contrary, Nash does not surrender more points than he produces. Is he a great individual defender? No. But he operates very well within the team defensive scheme designed by the Suns' coaching staff. Opposing PGs just aren't lighting him up.
One last note on Kobe's defensive abilities. There's no question that Kobe has they physical and mental capacity to be a great defender (whereas Nash does not). And he has, in times past, put those talents to spectacular use. But capacity does not equate to actuality. I've watched him enough to know that he rarely focuses his abilities on the defensive end (no doubt conserving energy for his offensive duties). Furthermore, Phil Jackson sometimes "hides" Kobe on the defensive end by giving him lesser defensive assignments. (This is a common Phil Jackson tactic; he used to "hide" Jordan as well, particularly during the Bulls' second threepeat. In the 1997 Finals, Jordan's defensive assignment was Greg Foster. In the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, he guarded the nearly immobile Chris Mullin rather than Reggie Miller, and in the Finals he guarded Jeff Hornacek -- who was partially hobbled by chronic knee pain -- rather than the younger, faster, more athletic Bryon Russell.)
Oh, and for the record, I do consider Magic Johnson to have been a greater player than Michael Jordan. But that's a subject for another day.
Labels: defense, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, points, Steve Nash