Kobe Bryant came to Bakersfield tonight. A few years ago I was given a court-side ticket for the annual visit by the Lakers to Bakersfield, but my source for that ticket (Rich Campbell, a sports marketing professor) has moved on from Cal-State Bakersfield (if Campbell was still here, though, I would have still missed the game since I teach on Thursday nights this quarter).
Although I didn’t get to see Kobe tonight, I have certainly heard much about him over this past week. Earlier in the summer we heard that Kobe wanted out of L.A. His reasoning… Kobe is a great player and great players deserve great teammates. Since the Lakers didn’t supply him with such teammates in a timely fashion, Kobe demanded that he be traded to an organization that could be more accommodating.
After discovering that his wishes were not the Lakers’ command, the story seemed to go away. Unfortunately, Jerry Buss – Kobe’s employer – re-ignited this saga by telling a few reporters that he was indeed willing to listen to offers for Kobe. And so this past week we have once again seen Kobe take over coverage of the NBA. Not to be left out of the spectacle, I thought I would chime in with a couple of comments detailing where the myth that is Kobe doesn’t seem to be consistent with the data.
Myth One: Kobe has “bad” teammates
Table One – which I posted last January – reports the Wins Produced of the “star” player employed by each NBA team in 2005-06 (where “star” is defined as the player who leads the team in Wins Produced). Additionally, this table reports the Wins Produced of Everyone Else on the roster. In other words, this table tells us the quality of the teammates the star is supposedly carrying.
“Bad” is a relative term, and typically it means below average. On a per-48 minutes basis, two years ago Kobe’s teammates were the seventh most productive collection. Such results tell us that Kobe did not have “bad” teammates in 2005-06.
When we repeat this analysis for last year, though, we see a dip in the productivity of Kobe’s mates. Why the dip? Unfortunately, as I detailed last June (when Kobe made his trade demand), injuries took a toll on the Lakers’ chance for success last season. If these injuries had not happened, it’s quite possible that Kobe’s teammates would have maintained the productivity observed two years ago.
And had that happened, perhaps Everyone Else on the Lakers could have demanded that the Lakers accommodate them with a better star. After all, if the Lakers could have traded Kobe for Kevin Garnett in 2005-06 this team could have come close to winning 60 games.
When we look at each of these tables we see that Kobe is indeed the star on the Lakers. But relative to other “stars” he comes up short. He simply is not as productive as Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, etc…
And this brings us to the second myth:
Myth Two: Kobe is the Best Player in the Game
This is probably not a myth that is widely believed (at least, I don’t think it is). Still, here is Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune:
Is Kobe the best active player in basketball? Yes, he is.
Is Kobe the best player since Michael Jordan? Yes, he probably is.
Okay, we can see that Kobe is not the most productive player in the game. And clearly he is not the best player since Michael Jordan. But I thought I would add a bit more perspective to where Kobe ranks.
Table Three reports the productivity of four players: Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce (and yes, I know Pierce plays a bit more small forward than Bryant), Michael Jordan, and the average shooting guard. The data on Bryant, Pierce, and Jordan are from the last eight years of each player’s career. In other words, I am comparing Bryant and Pierce in their prime to Jordan as an old guy.
Okay, neither Kobe nor Pierce is comparable to even an old Jordan. In fact, no shooting guard currently compares to MJ. Yes, he was indeed quite amazing.
Of course, I think people know Kobe is no MJ. But is it understood that Kobe is not much different from Pierce? Kobe gets a few more points and assists, but Pierce gets more rebounds. The net of these differences is about the same player over the last eight years. As far as I know, though, no one is calling Pierce the best player since MJ.
Let me summarize what all these tables tell us. Kobe is a great player. But he is not cursed with “bad” teammates. In fact, his teammates could argue that they are cursed with a star that isn’t quite as good as other stars.
My sense is that this is not well understood because people tend to assume leading scorer means best player. When we look at Jordan, though, we see that “best player” is about more than scoring. To be the best you need to be the total package. And Kobe isn’t quite there. And this is one reason the Lakers don’t compare to the top teams in the West. Their star simply doesn’t compare to the top stars in the game. Now once again, who should be demanding a trade in LA?
Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
The equation connecting wins to offensive/defensive efficiency is given HERE
Wins Produced and Win Score are discussed in the following posts