Quick Recap Of My Finals Thoughts

Early in the series, I wrote what the Lakers and the Pistons each needed to do to win. I think since we’re half way through the series I should revisit what I wrote:

For Detroit to win, they should:
1. They can’t fall too far behind, which breaks up into:
1a. Score. They need efficient scoring from Hamilton, Billups, and Rasheed. If they can get an outburst from someone else (Prince), then all the better.
1b. Shut down the non-Shaq Lakers.
2. Stay close in turnovers.

For all you chart fans, here’s one breaking down exactly what I wrote.

Name	G1	G2	G3	G4
1a. -- Efficient Scoring --
Hamltn	N	Y	Y	Y
'Sheed	Y	N*	N	Y
Billps	Y	Y	Y	Y
Others	Y	N**	Y	N
1b. -- Shut Down non-Shaq Lakers --
Kobe	N	N	Y	Y
Others	Y	Y	Y	Y
2. -- Stay Close In Turnovers --
TO	Y	Y	Y	Y
*Game 2 Sheed 11PTS 5-14 - scoring but inefficient.
** Ben Wallace was 2nd best with 12 points in an OT game.

As for the Lakers:

1. Score, and not just Shaq. Kobe, Malone, and one random Laker per game. It’d be nice if Gary Payton would actually do something to earn that ring. If not anyone will do: George, Fisher, Rush, or anyone. By scoring they’ll put the pressure on the Pistons to score as well. The Pistons weren’t a great offensive team, so shutting them down shouldn’t be all that hard.
2. Turn the heat on with turnovers. The Lakers were 7th in the league in net turnovers (per 100 possessions), so they should be able to get some extra points from the Pistons.
3. Get to the foul line, and not just Shaq. Shaq will make Detroit foul more often. Normally Detroit is very good at not putting opponents at the line. The Lakers need to use Shaq to gain an advantage here. The rest of the gang have to drive to the hoop & try to make things happen.

Name	G1	G2	G3	G4
1. -- LA Scoring --
Shaq	Y	Y	N	Y
Kobe	Y	Y	N	N**
Malone	N	N	N	N
Others	N	N	N	N
2. -- Create Turnovers --
TO	N	N	N	N
3. -- Get To the Foul Line --
FTA	N	N*	N	N

*L.A. had 25 FTA, but Detroit had 31
** Kobe had 20PTS but shot 8-25 (2 3PTM)

Look at all the Y’s in the Pistons’ table and the N’s in the Lakers table. It seems clear that Detroit is doing almost everything they can to win. It seemed that the Pistons’ biggest weakness would be scoring, since they don’t have the great scorers that the Lakers have in Shaq and Kobe. However, they’ve been able to get production from 4 guys: Hamilton, Billups, Rasheed, and Prince. They’ve won every game where they’ve gotten offensive production from at least 3 of these players.

On the other hand, the Lakers haven’t done anything they’ve needed to win. Their offense has been horrible. The Pistons have “let” Shaq score, but have tried to shut down everyone else. Kobe has been ineffective since game 2. I can’t blame Karl Malone, because he’s been hurt, but where are the rest of the Lakers?

During the regular season, Detroit turned the ball over often enough (20th in TO/Poss), and the Lakers were 7th in net turnovers. I expected the Lakers to have an advantage in Turnovers, but it has been a non-factor. The other place where I thought L.A. could make a difference would be to use Shaq to get the Pistons in foul trouble. My prediction was way off base here, since everyone knows by now that the Pistons are getting to the line while the Lakers are begging for calls.

This series hasn’t been close. What’s really amazing is if it weren’t for Kobe’s three point shot at the end of regulation in game 2, the Pistons would have swept the Lakers. In fact since that game, the non-Kobe & non-Shaq Lakers are 25-79 (7 3PTM – eFG% 36%). Detroit’s defense is just that good.

Does Phil Have A Legitimate Gripe?

In my recap of game 1, I wrote:

The Pistons only sent three Lakers to the foul line: Shaq, Kobe, and Medvedenko. That was expected by the stat-heads, but I’m sure that Phil Jackson will point this out to the media sometime in this series try to get some calls go his way. I wonder how effective this is, since he seems to do it every year.

Everyone can set their watches to “NBA Finals”, since Phil is at it again. Yes he’s appeared on just about every sports news channel noting the disparity of fouls called in the series. In another one of my posts, I noted how good Detroit was in not fouling their opponents:

Factor 4. Free Throws (FTM/FGA)
OFFENSE
LA	.244	107%	7th
DET	.247	108%	4th
DEFENSE
LA	.222	103%	16th
DET	.202	113%	3rd

The numbers clearly show Detroit as one of the best teams in the league in this respect. They are 8% better than the league in getting to the line, and 13% better in sending their opponents to the foul line. So it comes at no shock to me that Detroit is getting to the line more often in the Finals.

The question becomes does Jackson have a leg to stand on, or is he crying wolf as always? We should be able to figure out how many fouls to expect in this series, but it isn’t as simple as you would think. I hate to switch sports, but baseball makes this analogy easier. Let’s say Ken Harvey, currently hitting .360, is facing Mark Redman, who batters have hit an even .300 against. What would you think Harvey’s odds are of getting a hit.

A. .360 (Ken Harvey’s BA)
B. .300 (Redman’s oppBA)
C. .330 (the average between A & B)
D. .398 (hmmmmm)

If you said D, you are correct. If it doesn’t make sense, think of it this way. Ken Harvey is a good hitter facing a bad pitcher. He should hit higher than he normally does. Here is the equation I used to come up with .398, basically you are comparing both averages to the league average.

So let’s get down to the numbers:

Free Throws Made / 100 possessions
TEAM	G1	G2	G3	AVG	expFTM
LAL	17.0	17.9	9.1	14.7	21.7
DET	25.6	23.8	25.0	24.8	24.0

For those of you that are chart-ally challenged, it says the Lakers should hit about 21.7 free throws (per 100 possessions), but in the series so far they’ve only hit 14.7. Detroit looks right on target with what they’re averaging to what is expected. Let’s double check and check out free throw attempts:

Free Throws Attempted / 100 possessions
TEAM	G1	G2	G3	AVG	expFTA
LAL	21.9	26.3	14.7	21.0	27.6
DET	36.6	35.1	35.7	35.8	27.5

Ouch! The Lakers are nowhere near where they should be, while the Pistons are exceeding their average by a large amount.

There are many reasons why this is occurring. One could be Phil Jackson’s theory that the officials are calling a one sided game. Another is Larry Brown’s theory that the Lakers are taking more three pointers than normal. Is this even true?

Three Pointers Attempted / 100 possessions
TEAM	G1	G2	G3	Fnls	Reg Season
LAL	15.8	17.9	30.6	21.4	14.5

Coach Brown could have a point here. They’re taking a lot more threes than normal. Right now I’ll take the diplomatic approach and say they’re both right. The Lakers should get more calls, and maybe Phil should send some of his players towards the hoop to achieve this.

“Finals Experience”

I haven’t been able to write much recently, and I missed game 3 due to an important family matter. This brings the number of bloggers I know that are going through family tragedies to 2. Luckily there has been some good writing out there recently, especially if you’re a stathead like me. Page23’s Kevin Pelton put out a column about how the Pistons are winning instead of the Lakers losing the series (though we’re still waiting for the second installment of the Future of NBA Statistics). Newcomers to my links section, under the bleachers, are putting out some great stuff about both basketball & baseball. A few days ago they wrote:

Another sports debate that gets me worked up is the one over experience, as in “will the Pistons’ lack of Finals experience hurt them?” It seems like the sort of thing that you can only cite after a team wins or loses — “well, the Pistons lost because they didn’t have enough Finals seasoning.”

These guys hit the nail right on the head with this one. How can something exist if it isn’t a good characteristic of future performance? I can say that adding Shaq to a team gives it a good chance to win a championship because he was clearly the best player on a championship team. Horace Grant played in 6 different Finals. They should both have “Finals experience,” but I would say adding Shaq to a team gives them a better chance of winning it all than Grant.

Two years ago, I’m sure somebody out there attributed the Lakers victory over the Nets to the Lakers’ “Finals experience”, and the Nets lack thereof. However the Lakers simply had the better team. Last year the Nets were the ones with the “Finals experience” advantage, since the Spurs hadn’t been to the Finals in 4 years. Of the Spurs top 3 scorers, only Duncan had been to the Finals before, whereas New Jersey’s top 5 scorers all had “Finals experience.” In this series the Spurs won in 6 games. The most recent lopsided “Finals experience” mismatch is the 1991 Finals. The Bulls hadn’t been in any of the previous Finals, while their opponents, the Lakers, had been in 7 of the last 9 Finals. In this case, having experience meant nothing, as the Bulls won in 5 games.

I can understand this kind of thought process. You perceive that a team that recently has been to the Finals has some kind of advantage over a team that hasn’t been to the Finals, because these teams win more often than not. However is the “Finals experience” the cause for this?

You can look at “playoff experience” the same way. If you look at the history of the playoffs, and took all the matchups where one team made the playoffs the year before, while the other didn’t, I’m sure the team with the previous playoff experience has a high winning percentage. Again is this because of the “playoff experience” factor? No. Most likely teams don’t miss the playoffs one year, then are good enough to win their first round matchup the next year. Turnaround isn’t that quick in the NBA, unless you can get a top notch guy. Even that isn’t a guarantee, as proved by Michael Jordan’s first year. In fact it took Jordan’s Bulls 4 years to get out of the first round. The important factor was not “playoff experience,” but rather being a good team.

The same can be said about “Finals experience.” When you have a team that has the ability to win it all, they should be able to compete at a high level for a few years, and might win a few championships. The “Finals experience” doesn’t make a team win, but rather it’s the other way around. A team wins multiple Finals because the team is great at winning to begin with.

Kurt Thomas, ’03 Knicks Rebounding Leader

I don’t know what I can say about Rasheed Wallace’s “foul” against Shaq late in game 2 that someone else hasn’t already said. So, instead I’ll talk about the Knicks. I think it’s been long enough.

According to Knicks Clicks (and the NY Daily News), Kurt Thomas may be traded. I’ve like Kurt since his early days as a Knick. Back then, I had a running argument/joke with a friend. I was the Kurt Thomas supporter, saying he should get more minutes, while he said Thomas’ fouled too often, and should head to the bench. I’m glad to have won that argument, since Kurt turned out some good production as the Knick starting PF/C the past few years. Let’s take a quick look at Kurt’s fouls over the years:

Year	Min/G	PF/G	PF/48
1998 23.6 3.2 6.5
1999 24.6 3.5 6.8
2000 27.6 3.7 6.4
2001 33.8 4.2 6.0
2002 31.8 4.2 6.3
2003 31.9 3.7 5.6

His fouls per game increased, but only because his minutes did as well. Kurt’s first three years he was committing 6.6 PF/48mins. In his last three, Kurt lowered his average to 6.0 PF/48. It’s not the biggest improvement, but to give you an idea, last year 6.6 PF/48 would rank you 12th in the league (Doleac), where 6.0 would put you about 23rd (Dalembert).

In the Daily News article, Kurt was quoted as saying:

I believe I led the team in blocked shots or was second (he was second to Dikembe Mutombo, 123-80). I think I led the team in rebounding (he did at 8.30 per game), so I think my numbers speak for themselves.

No disrespect Kurt, but that’s damning with faint praise. The Knicks’ these days aren’t known for their blocking or rebounding. Last year they were 19th in offensive rebounding% (28%), and 16th in blocked shots per game. Kurt Thomas got the most minutes per game last year at the PF/C positions, so shouldn’t he lead the team in those stats by default? That the 56 year old Dikembe Mutombo got more blocks than Kurt with 8 less minutes per game isn’t exactly a feather in Thomas’ hat. Neither is out producing Vin Baker (18Min/G), Othella Harrington (16 Min), or Michael Sweetney (12Min) by playing double their minutes.

In his defense, the Knicks were slightly better with Kurt on the court than they were with him off the court. His +/- was the 4th best on the team last season, and the team was +2 points (per 100poss) with him on the court instead of off. Of course this stat has many different interpretations. It’s possible that his replacements were bad, or the first team that Kurt normally plays were better than the second team that his replacements played with. Kurt has a reputation as a good man-to-man defender, but his opponents positional stats were a bit high for my taste. When he played, the opposing PF or C (depending on where Kurt played) had a PER of about 17/18. That’s a bit above average, and to give you an example, Kurt’s PER was somewhere around 14.

So here I am at a crossroads. Thomas was a favorite of mine since coming to the Knicks after his leg injuries, and he was a long shot to stay as the starter for this long. But now, his value to the team is questionable. He just doesn’t seem to fit their team mold anymore. Thomas worked well with Ewing and Camby along side him, since they provided the shot blocking and interior defense. If Isaiah can use Thomas to upgrade the team (the rumor this week is Shareef Abdur-Rahim) I would be happy with the deal.

Game 1 Notes

Just about a few hours ago, I wrote a not-so-little preview of the Finals. In it I said:

“Detroit needs to stop the rest of the gang, especially Kobe…The key for Detroit is to keep the games close. They can do that by keeping the non-Shaq Lakers from scoring, and getting good production out of Hamilton, Billups, & Rasheed.

The key for the Lakers is to score and put the pressure on Detroit. They need points out of someone other than Shaq & Kobe. Malone has done well enough (13PPG), despite facing two great defenders in Garnett and Duncan. Gary Payton has all but disappeared from the offense, scoring 8.8PPG in the playoffs. The Lakers need production from the rest of the gang, whether it be Fisher, George, or Rush. They’ll want to score points off of turnovers, while minimizing any damage the Pistons might cause on the offensive boards and at the free throw line.”

In game 1, Shaq scored 34 points, on 81% eFG while hitting 8 of 12 free throws. The Pistons didn’t stop Bryant, who had 25 points. Kobe did it on a less than efficient 39% eFG. Detroit couldn’t stop the Big two, but they did a great job on the rest of the team. The next best scorer was George with 5 points. Only 7 players scored for the Lakers, and if you take away Shaq & Kobe, the rest averaged 3.2 points with a 23% eFG! That’s just a tremendous effort. When you can reduce a team to just two players, you’re going to win the game.

I also wrote that Detroit needed good production out of Hamilton, Billups, and Rasheed. Hamilton looked bad at times, but still finished with a decent 12 points. Rasheed needed only 4 shots, but hit 3 of them (2 from beyond the arc), and hit all 6 of his free throws to net himself 14 points. Chauncey Billups really shined, by hitting open jumpers he had 22 points with a 64% efficiency field goal percentage.

In the other important areas of the game:

The Pistons had a slight edge in turnovers (15 to 14), but it was close enough to be even. This was suppose to be an edge for the Lakers.

Los Angeles had the advantage in offensive rebounding (33% to 20%), even though Detroit is usually better in this area.

The Pistons only sent three Lakers to the foul line: Shaq, Kobe, and Medvedenko. That was expected by the stat-heads, but I’m sure that Phil Jackson will point this out to the media sometime in this series try to get some calls go his way. I wonder how effective this is, since he seems to do it every year.


As they were announcing the lineups for Game 1 of the Finals, Al Michaels said that all the Lakers starters except Devean George were locks for the HOF. Now Kobe Bryant is a great player, but let’s hold off the HOF ceremonies for now. Just to get a sober reminder, number one on Kobe Bryant’s similarity scores is a player known as Grant Hill. A little further down the list is a former teammate of Shaq’s named Anfernee Hardaway. The only HOFer on Kobe’s list is David Thompson, who was out of the league before he turned 30. There are a lot of things that can happen to a promising young player that can derail a hall of fame career, especially one in the middle of a criminal investigation.


As I re-read my Finals preview column, I didn’t really get my views across a clearly as I wanted to. I want to make it more clear.

For Detroit to win, they should:
1. They can’t fall too far behind, which breaks up into:
1a. Score. They need efficient scoring from Hamilton, Billups, and Rasheed. If they can get an outburst from someone else (Prince), then all the better.
1b. Shut down the non-Shaq Lakers.
2. Stay close in turnovers.

For the Lakers to win, they should:
1. Score, and not just Shaq. Kobe, Malone, and one random Laker per game. It’d be nice if Gary Payton would actually do something to earn that ring. If not anyone will do: George, Fisher, Rush, or anyone. By scoring they’ll put the pressure on the Pistons to score as well. The Pistons weren’t a great offensive team, so shutting them down shouldn’t be all that hard.
2. Turn the heat on with turnovers. The Lakers were 7th in the league in net turnovers (per 100 possessions), so they should be able to get some extra points from the Pistons.
3. Get to the foul line, and not just Shaq. Shaq will make Detroit foul more often. Normally Detroit is very good at not putting opponents at the line. The Lakers need to use Shaq to gain an advantage here. The rest of the gang have to drive to the hoop & try to make things happen. After watching their performance in game 1, they can’t do any worse.

Predicting the Finals (The Long Way)

Predicting sports events is a losing endeavor. There is a reason that gambling is a such a lucrative business, for the bookmaker that is. Professional gamblers, like “psychics”, want to sell you their “knowledge”. Even wonder why don’t they use their “gifts” to make themselves rich without your money? Nobody can see into the future, and nobody’s system is good enough to beat Vegas’ odds consistently.

However for those that write about sports, predicting teams is a winning proposition (as long as there is no money on the table). If the prediction is correct, I can refer to it later. If it’s wrong, I’m sure no one will care, since it’s foolish to be held to that kind of accountability. Everybody has their own way of picking who will win. Some people decide which team is more hungry. Some people use which team has more heart. Other will look at which team has more playoff experience. I’m sure these people have varying degrees of success with these methods. I don’t know how anyone could quantify which team has more heart without getting a cardiologist involved.

I prefer something more tangible. As I’m typing this right now, I don’t know who I will predict to win. I’m going to look over all the data I have & make an educated guess at the end. I’m going to use Dean Oliver’s four factors of winning. Despite digging around, I haven’t found how he came to these results. This bothers me a little, but since his work in Basketball on Paper is so thorough and logical, I can let it slide for now. There are actually 2 sides to each factor, an offensive and defensive component.

Factor 1. Shooting (eFG%)

OFFENSIVE

L.A.	48.1%	102%	7th
DET	46.1%	98%	20th

[NOTE: The first number is eFG%, the second is their percentage of the league average, the last is their rank.]

Los Angeles has the advantage here, and it should be no surprise. Shaq led the league in eFG% with his massive FG% (58%). Payton, Malone, and Kobe all had better eFG% than the Pistons’ team average.

On the other hand Detroit is a poor shooting team. Adding Rasheed (47%) slightly improves their percentage, but their big scorers Hamilton and Billups have an eFG% of 46%. Meanwhile Larry Brown’s Ben Wallace experiment has me scratching my head. Wallace’s offensive contributions used to be limited to put backs and easy shots, which gave him a near 50% FG%. This year Brown has asked Wallace to take a more active role, and he’s been horrible (42%). Brown’s logic is to keep teams honest by using a defender on Big Ben, which should give the other Detroit shooters a small edge. Either it hasn’t worked as Detroit is 20th in eFG%, or the Pistons are a worse shooting team than I expected.

DEFENSIVE

L.A.	47.1%	100%	15th
DET	44.1%	107%	2nd

This is where the Pistons shine. Although L.A. is simply average, Detroit is awesome, only behind the Spurs. Which brings an interesting comparison, since Los Angeles beat the Spurs earlier this year. Here’s a little chart of L.A.’s big 4 scoring in that series.

Name	1	2	3	4	5	6	1-2avg	3-6avg
Shaq	19	32	28	28	11	17	25.5	21
Kobe	31	15	22	42	22	26	23	28
Payton	4	7	15	8	5	15	5.5	10.8
Malone	10	13	13	9	7	8	11.5	9.3
?????	32	33	28	23	28	25	32.5	26

Los Angeles lost the first two games, but won the next 4. The difference seemed to be Kobe Bryant, who averaged 5 more points in the Laker’s wins. The last row is Bruce Bowen’s minutes, Kobe’s main defender. Granted Kobe torched him in game 1, but it’s apparent the less Bowen played, the more points Bryant scored. The reason Bowen played less is the Spurs’ offense fizzled and they needed more scorers on the court. San Antonio’s offense was ranked 14th, slightly better than the Pistons. Detroit should learn a lesson from the Spurs. They have to stay close in the game, so Brown won’t be tempted to take his defenders out for more firepower.

Factor 2. Turnovers (TO/100poss)

OFFENSE

LA	14.2	109%	5th
DET	16.2	96%	20th

DEFENSE

LA	15.4	99%	16th
DET	16.5	106%	7th

Again, the Lakers are better on offense, while the Pistons are better on defense. However the Lakers have the edge here. How? They turnover the ball 14.2 times per 100 possessions, but force turnovers 15.4 times, which is a net of +1.2. Meanwhile the Pistons give it up 16.2 times, and get it back 16.5 times, which is a small +.3 net.

Factor 3. Offensive Rebounds (oREB%)

OFFENSE

LA	28.1%	98%	16th
DET	30.1%	105%	9th

DEFENSE

LA	26.7%	108%	5th
DET	28.3%	101%	12th

Getting this far is seems that these two teams have strengths & weaknesses in the opposite areas in just about every aspect. Detroit is better on the offensive glass, while the Lakers are better on the defensive. I can’t tell who has the advantage here. The Lakers’ great offensive rebounding is tempered by their below average offensive rebounding. Detroit is above average in both respects, but nowhere near the Lakers’ efficiency on the defensive end. I would guess that Detroit has a slight edge, but not by much.

Factor 4. Free Throws (FTM/FGA)

OFFENSE

LA	.244	107%	7th
DET	.247	108%	4th

DEFENSE

LA	.222	103%	16th
DET	.202	113%	3rd

I guess I spoke too soon about their strengths & weaknesses. Detroit is clearly superior here at both getting to the line, and keeping their opponents from the charity stripe. One thing to consider is how will Shaq change this? Surely the Pistons will foul Shaq when it suits them, so will this negate this advantage? For example, maybe the Pistons can get away with a foul here & there, because their big men don’t foul often. Giving a few free fouls to Shaq, will that put them in the penalty sooner? It might, but I don’t think it’ll be as much of a factor, since Detroit is so good in this respect.

SUMMARY:
Detroit has an edge in the weaker categories, free throws & rebounding, and Detroit’s defense should put them over the top. However Los Angeles is very efficient when it comes to scoring and not turning the ball over, combined with Detroit’s weakness in these same categories gives the edge to the Lakers. In simpler terms, Los Angeles has a good offense, and an average defense, while Detroit has a good defense, but a bad offense. It’s Detroit’s lack of offense that will hurt them.

Does this mean that the Lakers will definitely win? No. I’ll spare you from the all too familiar “anything can happen in a 7 game series.” Instead I’ll say that the statistics don’t tell the entire story. This entire column is based on the regular season stats. However, Kobe only played 65 games, Shaq 67, and Malone 42. On the other side of the ball, Rasheed only played in 21 games for the Pistons. We really don’t know exactly what these teams are like at full strength. I won’t write off Detroit yet, but I do think they’ll have to do a few things to keep themselves in the game.

No one can stop Shaq for a long period of time. The Pistons will likely do what everyone else has done, which is to put a body on him as best they can & foul him when it’s profitable. Detroit needs to stop the rest of the gang, especially Kobe. If L.A. can jump out to a lead, they’ll force Detroit to do something they’re not good at, which is try to score. The Pistons move at a slow pace, and turning out lots of points very quickly isn’t how they got here. The key for Detroit is to keep the games close. They can do that by keeping the non-Shaq Lakers from scoring, and getting good production out of Hamilton, Billups, & Rasheed.

The key for the Lakers is to score and put the pressure on Detroit. They need points out of someone other than Shaq & Kobe. Malone has done well enough (13PPG), despite facing two great defenders in Garnett and Duncan. Gary Payton has all but disappeared from the offense, scoring 8.8PPG in the playoffs. The Lakers need production from the rest of the gang, whether it be Fisher, George, or Rush. They’ll want to score points off of turnovers, while minimizing any damage the Pistons might cause on the offensive boards and at the free throw line.

I said I would make a prediction at the beginning of this column, and I’ll stick with it. If Detroit wins I won’t be surprised (or sad), but I have to go with the evidence I have. I know I said over a month ago that the Lakers wouldn’t be holding the trophy by summertime, but I’m going with the Lakers, in a hard fought 7 game series. The Lakers’ offense and the Pistons’ lack of offense give Los Angeles the edge they need.

Karl Malone vs Kevin Garnett… Part 2

My column last Tuesday must have been a hit, because I received a stream of emails larger than any other column before. Yes I beat my personal record of 1 email, and received 2 whole emails on the topic. Technically this will be the third posting in this series, since the one last Tuesday was an email response to my column on May 20th.

…my only point was that since both were all-D 1st team they are by definition comparable (of equal value, etc – the very best for a specific season). often we get people posting to the APBR groups who are young and have seen the players of today but not those of yesteryear (not that malone was great all that long ago). not knowing who you were/are, i had to wonder if you saw malone play. my point was that anyone who had seen karl malone play alot during that time would have come away thinking he was a helluva defender…

my personal belief is that he was a great defender for a long time but himself did not get the recognition from the sports media and public as one of the best because a) he was also a great offensive player, and often people think the two do not go hand in hand, and b) he played in utah, not the mecca of pro hoops, and the jazz were not center stage until 96-97 and 97-98, having lost in the finals both times to the bulls….

bob chaikin

I have to agree with Bob in that I haven’t seen Malone play alot. Being a Knicks fan, and living on the East coast didn’t give me many opportunities to see Malone’s defensive abilities. Maybe I’ve saw him play once or twice a year. Bob is right in a way, that since Utah is a West coast team without appearing in the Finals until late in his career I can’t judge Malone’s defensive game. When Malone did appear on the main stage (for us right coasters), he was a bit older & played against an offensively challenged player in Dennis Rodman. By that time in his career, Rodman’s sole abilities were rebounding & defense. Defending against an offensively challenged player is hardly a way to show your defensive skills.

Bob claims that Malone doesn’t get the respect he deserves because of his offensive skills. So is being a good offensive player is a detriment to winning defensive acclaim? Here are the All-NBA Teams for two recent years.

2002-03
FIRST TEAM

Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Doug Christie, Sacramento
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers

SECOND TEAM
Ron Artest, Indiana
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
Shaquille O’Neal, L.A. Lakers
Jason Kidd, New Jersey
Eric Snow, Philadelphia

2001-02
FIRST TEAM

Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Gary Payton, Seattle
Jason Kidd, New Jersey

SECOND TEAM
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
Clifford Robinson, Detroit
Dikembe Mutombo, Philadelphia
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
Doug Christie, Sacamento

The awardees seem to be primarily in one of two groups: either great offensive players (Duncan, Garnett, Kobe, Shaq, etc.) or horrible offensive players (Wallace, Mutombo, Bowen, etc.). There is a third group with offensively mediocre players (Artest, Christie), but I don’t see how being a great offensive player hurts your chances of getting acclaim for your defensive play.

Bob wasn’t the only one to have an opinion on the Garnett vs Malone defensive matchup:

…I think Garnett’s defensive ability is something that might be deserving of a whole column/blog entry. He’s got all the All-Defense nods, but there are also those that think his rep vastly overstates his actual ability (Kobe Bryant falls into this category to an even larger degree).

I recall a few years ago, the Sonics coaching staff said at a season ticket-holder Q&A that Garnett could be beaten if you went at him — in other words, he’s an excellent team defender, but not as good one-on-one. Dean Oliver said something similar when I asked him about Garnett recently (we were watching Game 7 of Kings-Wolves).

His opponent performance by postition (http://www.82games.com/03MIN12C.HTM) is pretty good, but not in the stratosphere of Tim Duncan (http://www.82games.com/03SAS15C.HTM). Does his team defense make up for that?

Kevin Pelton

I’m sorry to say I can’t answer any of those questions. Right now I think it’s safe to say that nobody can give a definitive answer as to how good a player’s man-to-man defense or help defense is. I think in time we might be able to extrapolate +/- data in such a way that we can verify how good each player’s defense is. Maybe there will be a more advanced way in the future to figure these things out.

One question that we can start debating about is whether being able to play good defense against your man (man-to-man) is greater or less than being able to play good help defense (team defense). I would imagine doing the former wouldn’t show up anywhere on the box scores other than maybe a drop at the opposing player’s points scored (or eFG%, TO/48, etc.) at the same position. For example if Garnett is a good man to man defender, it’s possible that all the PF who’ve played against him will score less than their yearly average. Of course there are many ways this data could be corrupted as well. [For example a team may have a great shot blocker or play a slow tempo game (with few possessions).]

Without evidence to the contrary, I would say that being a good team defender is more important than being a good man to man guy. Being able to stop your opponent is a good thing, but let’s say you’re a SG, and your opposing team’s best scorers are the SF & C. You aren’t able to help your teammates as much. But if you’re a good help defender, you should be able to help your team whoever their scorer is, whether you’re Garnett helping out with a block, or Jason Kidd doubling down to getting a quick steal.