For our next installment in the Scribes of the NBA Interview Series ETB is proud to present freelance hoops writer David Friedman. David’s work can be seen regularly on his blog 20 Second Timeout, a favorite here at Empty the Bench. It’s one of the most consistently well-written and researched blogs on the net that breaks down all of today’s NBA action while also taking time to break down the great players of yesteryear. Be sure to check it out.
As a freelance writer, David’s work has been featured in a number of publications and websites including Hoop, Lindy’s Pro Basketball, Basketball Times, Basketball Digest, NBCSports.com, HoopsHype.com, ProBasketballNews.com, Legends of Basketball (the official website of the NBRPA), The Biz of Basketball, 411Mania.com and The United States Chess Federation website.
He’s a prolific scribe to say the least, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have him on board.
Without further delay, ten questions from ETB and ten answers from Mr. Friedman ranging from the 2008 NBA Finals, the great Dr. J, the new basketball metrics, living the mustachioed life and more.
ETB: Did Kobe Bryant’s underwhelming performance in the NBA Finals change your opinion of him in any way?
David Friedman: That is an interesting question. Let’s begin by looking at the final numbers for two players from that series.
One player averaged 43.0 mpg, 25.7 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.67 spg and 3.83 tpg. He shot .405 from the field, .321 from three point range and .796 from the free throw line.
The other player averaged 38.8 mpg, 21.8 ppg, 6.3 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.17 spg and 3.67 tpg. He shot .432 from the field, .393 from three point range and .830 from the free throw line.
Without analyzing matchups and examining other contextual factors, which of these players had the better series statistically? The first player scored more, got slightly more rebounds and had a lot more steals. The second player shot somewhat better from the field–particularly on three pointers–and the free throw line. Turnovers were a wash. Of course, the second player’s team won the series and Paul Pierce was rightly selected as the Finals MVP; the first player in this example is Kobe Bryant.
The reason that I bring up these numbers is that I don’t think that most people really bothered to take the time to look at them. There is a perception that Kobe played terribly and that Pierce reached a new level. I covered the first Celtics-Pacers game of the year and this is what I wrote about Pierce:
“…he had an impact on what happened in the third quarter just by being on the court; the threat that he poses offensively means that in future games he can also have that kind of an impact even if he does not have a second quarter scoring outburst because if teams trap him from the start of the game to prevent a Pierce scoring run then Allen or someone else will be open. The only way to fully understand this kind of dynamic is to actually watch a team play and to really pay attention to what they are trying to do and how the other team is countering those things. Plus/minus can hint at some of these things, but Pierce’s impact–and the impact of any other player who must be double-teamed–is no less real even on occasions when his teammates do not make the open shots that his presence creates. Only a handful of players have that kind of effect on a game, guys like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and a few others; sometimes their teammates take advantage of playing four on three and sometimes they don’t but a player who commands that kind of coverage is more valuable than players who don’t, regardless of what their respective statistics might indicate.”
So, I was saying in November that Pierce can have an impact on a game rivaling that of Kobe, Duncan and LeBron. It does not surprise me that Pierce could have the kind of series that he did in the Finals, particularly when being guarded mostly by Vlad Rad, Luke Walton and Vujacic. Many of Pierce’s three pointers came in transition after bad Lakers’ offensive possessions and that was the aspect of the Finals that surprised me. I picked the Lakers to win because I thought that Boston would have trouble containing the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol screen/roll action. When the Lakers execute that action effectively it results in a dunk for Gasol, a wide open three on the weak side or an open shot for Kobe. The Lakers simply murdered San Antonio and Utah (last year’s champion and Western Conference finalist respectively) with that action so I thought that they could run it effectively against Boston as well.
What happened in the Finals is that Gasol played a lot more tentatively than he did in the previous series. He did not set his screens aggressively, he did not roll to the hoop with purpose and when he caught the ball in the post he often made soft moves that resulted in missed shots or steals. How many times did Rondo just drop down and take the ball from Gasol? There was one particular play when Gasol set a screen and halfheartedly rolled to the hoop while Kobe’s pass to where Gasol should have been sailed out of bounds (that’s a turnover for Kobe, by the way, even though Gasol made a bad play). Kobe made a gesture indicating “cut harder” and Gasol pointed to his chest acknowledging that this is exactly what he should have done. Of course, some people watching that interaction who don’t understand basketball think that it reflects Kobe being a bad teammate when in reality he was being a coach on the floor. You may recall Magic doing similar things with a young Vlade Divac, which is not to compare Kobe to Magic or Gasol to Divac from a skills standpoint but just a reminder of how a team’s best player must provide guidance to his teammates to help them perform the way that they should.
In the Finals, Kobe led the Lakers in minutes, scoring, assists and steals. Kobe received little help from his teammates, other than Vujacic in one game, Gasol sporadically and Odom even more sporadically. Also, much like the 2004 Finals, the Lakers had serious issues with guarding the one, two and three positions. Basically, whoever Kobe did not guard went off. The Lakers had some success putting Kobe on Rondo and having Kobe roam to help the players who were guarding Pierce and Allen but the Celtics adjusted well to that by game six. Kobe guarded Pierce better than any other Laker did and most of Pierce’s points when Kobe was assigned to him came in transition.
Kobe Bryant Photo Credit: Icon SMI
I consider LeBron James to be the second best player in the NBA. He averaged 26.7 ppg on .355 field goal shooting (including .231 from three point range) and committed 5.3 turnovers per game versus Boston in the 2008 playoffs. So why did the Cavs push Boston to seven games while the Lakers lost in six? The Cavs are a much better defensive team than the Lakers and the Lakers did not take advantage of the excellent offensive execution that helped them to defeat the Spurs, Jazz and Nuggets. By the way, Kobe averaged 29.2 ppg on .533 field goal shooting and committed just 2.4 turnovers per game when the Lakers beat the Spurs, a team that completely throttled James in the 2007 Finals (22.0 ppg, .356 field goal shooting, .200 three point shooting, 5.8 turnovers per game). The difference between Kobe and LeBron is that Kobe can consistently make midrange jumpers and three point shots. I said during last year’s Finals that the Spurs would not be able to guard Kobe the way that they guarded LeBron (i.e., sagging off of him, daring him to shoot jumpers while sealing off passing lanes) and this year’s playoffs proved that I was correct about that.
For the reasons listed above, the Finals did not change my opinion that Kobe Bryant–based on his skill set and work ethic–is the best all-around player in the NBA, nor did LeBron’s performance against Boston change my opinion that he is the second best all-around player in the NBA.
More Q & A with David ranging from Artis Gilmore to Jim Barnett after the jump…
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