Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 16, 2010

1 Feb 1998:  Guard Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls (left) and guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during a game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.  The Lakers won the game, 112-87. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Al

Going around the league as the Lakers’ exhibition schedule starts to ramp up…

*The big news around the league right now is the strict enforcement of the new technical foul rules.  Whether it’s Grant Hill and Reggie Evans exchanging pleasantries or KG sticking up for Jermaine O’Neal, players are definitely feeling the effects of quicker whistles from the refs.  Personally, I don’t mind the refs trying to cut down on complaining and I think it’s up to the players to adjust to how the game is being called and act accordingly.  If that means that some players get tossed while adjusting, so be it.  However, I also agree with Shaq’s recent statements in that no one comes to the games to see the zebras blow their whistles.  I think it will be interesting to see how far the refs take this when the real games get started and if they’re still quick to issue technical fouls and ejections.  Most think the old standards will return once the games count again and I tend to agree with that.  But if the league really wants to make some progress in cutting down on complaining, they better follow through on what they’ve started or the players will be right back to their normal complaining in a month.

*With the release of the new NBA 2k11 video game, Michael Jordan has been in the news lately giving choice quotes on topics ranging from Kobe’s place amongst the all-time greats to how if he was lacing up his Air Jordan’s in 2010, he’d  be able to score 100 points under the current rules.  Like John Hollinger, let’s just say that I’m not buying what his airness is selling.  However, my thoughts aren’t based off statistics like pace, usage rate, or true shooting percentage but more about getting at the root of Jordan’s statement that he’d match Wilt’s record under today’s rules.  Jordan mentioned the lack of physical play and the illegality of hand checking to drive his claim, but those aren’t the only differences between this era and MJ’s.  The other key difference is the fact that in today’s NBA, zone defenses are legal.  As I mentioned in the comments of a post at True Hoop today, Jordan never had to deal with being double teamed off the ball and typically saw wider driving lanes based off the old illegal defense rules of his day (where defenders guarding players outside the three point line had to be either above the FT line or outside the lane line – creating spacing that isn’t as prevalent in today’s league).  Also understand that while hand checking was legal in Jordan’s day so was slapping off that players hand check – a tactic that many of the bigger, stronger guards (like Jordan and Magic) used to gain leverage and knock defenders off balance in order to get free and create off the dribble.  Essentially, I think that Jordan would have some issues facing strong side zone schemes (like what the Celtics and the Lakers have used) where the 2nd defender is in help position much faster with defenders ready to take charges clogging the lane.  This isn’t to say that Jordan wouldn’t still be amazing and the top talent the league has to offer, but I am saying that 100 points is a bit of a stretch.  Even for the man many consider the best ever.

*Speaking of stats, there was an interesting article today where an ESPN researcher (Alok Pattani) looked at possessions where Kobe guarded Lebron (and vice versa) to determine who would win if the two played one on one.  It turns out that the stats favor Kobe.  All of this stems from Kobe’s comments from a couple of weeks ago that he’d beat the King if they played this mythical game (comments that I agree with – as do many others).

*Staying on Kobe for a moment, in the comments DY asked an interesting question about #24: “I always wondered if Kobe, when he’s 34-35, will transition to the “point guard” position in the triangle ala Ron Harper (former scoring guard, albeit nowhere near Kobe’s skill level). Don’t know if Kobe would sublimate his scoring acumen for that kind of role, but obviously, it’ll depend on personnel moves down the road.” Personally, I’m not sure if we’ll ever see Kobe reduce his role as much as Harper did when he went to the Bulls.  I mean, Harper was a very good player in his prime but Kobe is one of the best players ever so I’m not sure if he’d ever feel comfortable as a 4th or 5th option.  However, I do think one way for Kobe to extend his career and still be very effective is to transition to more of a play maker for others and a floor general rather than being the primary scorer for his team.  As DY mentioned, a lot will depend on personnel and I think what the coaching staff and offensive system looks like will also play a major part in how Kobe evolves at the tail end of his career.  In the end though, I could totally see Kobe being a 16-20 point per game player while focussing more on setting up his mates.  What do you think?

*Lastly, the new FreeDarko book The Undisputed Guide To Pro Basketball History is coming out soon and I’ll surely be picking up a copy.  Not only for the great written words that will surely grace its pages, but because of the art that will be in the book.  You know, stuff like this.  Honestly, I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Darius Soriano

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23 responses to Fast Break Thoughts

  1. thisisweaksauce October 16, 2010 at 2:33 am

    Darius,

    A truly great basketball mind like you would bring up the zone defense schemes. I thought exactly the same thing (not calling myself a great mind, however). Many, including many NBA analysts (ESPN and otherwise), have omitted this change when evaluating MJ’s statements. There are some things the Kobe does better than Michael, with 3 point shooting being a main difference. One reason why Kobe was able to get to 81 was the many threes he dropped. Any other thoughts you guys want to add?

  2. Kinda intrigued about the FD book, since I bought the Almanac and was 100% satisfied.

    As for MJ scoring 100, no way, and I’m not sure he’d sniff 81 under current rules.

    1. Longer 3 pt line, and MJ was never really a 3 pt threat. Kobe, in that 81 game, shot over 50% from the 3.
    2. Zone defense, as mentioned before.
    3. MJ’s own top scoring effort was 69 points or so, and that was with overtime. Kobe, in that same season, had that 3 quarter game against Mavs where he scored 65. MJ doesn’t have any performances chronologically close to his 69 to suggest that he could score that much.
    4. Logarithmic difficulty scale. We’ve had many who scored 40 a game. Not too many with 50. List shortens considerably at 60, and at 70, I think there are only 3 players. So while MJ is a great player, just because he scored in the high 60s doesn’t make him automatically likely to score 100… or even 80.

    There are of course, many reasons to think that MJ could score 81, but honestly if he could’ve done that, he would’ve done it, this system or the other.

    I don’t believe for a second that MJ wasn’t aware of Wilt or Baylor’s record, and really, MJ shouldn’t really be talking since he didn’t even break Baylor’s record, which was set when the system was more like MJ’s.

  3. harold,
    Actually, the game had already evolved quite a bit between the time Elgin scored his in the playoffs and MJ scored his. Remember, Wilt and Russell were starting out (Russell had been in the league, I think, 4 years) and their presence hadn’t yet changed the game’s rules. Then came Kareem – then Magic and Bird. All these people changed the game and the rules because of their play – before MJ came on the scene with his play.

  4. I find it rather petty that Michael Jordan himself would be the one to spearhead this movement of whether or not he could score 100 points. When we talk about things like G.O.A.T. (in any sport) we often come to a conclusion that it’s hard to compare different athletes from different eras. It’s just, and safe, to leave it at that. For MJ to project his abilities to the current era is incredibly self serving and is rather disrespectful to the current stars and how they prepare and train. The only thing I see as a certainty here is that MJ has made sure that his ego is the G.O.A.T.

    MJ was fantastic, we all know this. I think it might just chap his hide a little to know that in his era he was the man and peaked with a 69 point game (even though the Admiral threw up 71 in this era), while Kobe, the man of this era, peaked with an 81 point masterpiece. I wish someone would come out and say that this is all irrelevant and designed to either a) sell a new video game, b) self-promote a retired legend who feels threatened by the new breed of player or c) both.

    I can only imagine that somewhere, the grandkids of Babe Ruth are prepared to release a statement with regard to the “live-ball era”.

  5. I wish Kobe would come out and say that he could have dropped 81 in any era because it was about him being in the zone and not about any particular defense that was coming at him. But he’s too gracious and respectful of the game to do that.

  6. #5, best line of the day

  7. I question the implication that defenses were “better” in the 90s because the game was more physical. I just don’t buy that. (And yes, I watched a lot of basketball in the 90s.) You don’t have to muscle a guy on the perimeter as an example of good defense. Today’s players are quicker, longer, and more athletic than they were in the 90s. While those traits won’t necessarily make these guys better shooters, it dang sure will make them better defenders. That is especially true with zone defenses.

    Guys don’t have to hand check anymore. They will simply back off, spread their arms, and use their lateral speed to close off lanes. Defense is played with the feet now, not with the hands. I don’t think this generation of players is “worse” defenders. They defend differently, and I would argue, just as effectively.

    I get so tired of guys from Jordan’s era trying to call these guys soft because they don’t kick you in the groin on the way to the rim. And no, Michael would not score 100 points in today’s game. He literally would have to take every shot, every time down the floor. The defense would zone him up to force him into contested three pointers or make him pass. And if he is passing the ball and others are taking shots then he is not getting his points.

  8. I think what’s getting lost in all this talk of MJ saying he could score 100 is the other part of his quote. We all know MJ is hypercompetitive and has a supreme belief in himself. No big news there. But saying Kobe is among the top 10 guards of all time? That’s a thinly veiled barb at best, a direct insult at worst.

    Especially considering that MJ and Kobe are supposed to be close, and that Kobe has shown MJ complete respect. Kobe’s got to be seething after this.

    On the flip side, it shows that MJ might be threatened by Kobe (however slightly) for the first time. He’s heaped nothing but praise on Kobe for more than the last decade. But as soon as Kobe is in the hunt for Title Number 6? Jordan’s starts to belittle Kobe’s 81-pt accomplishment and his overall status in the game.

    Maybe Lebron is the next Jordan. They both seem to enjoy putting both feet in their mouths in front of the media.

  9. Great post, T – Rog. I started watching ball in the late 70’s. Dr. J remains my favorite player. I have huge respect for those guys, and Magic, Kareem, Jordan, etc. But I too get so weary of these claims about ‘back in the day.’ The talent pool right now is amazing. The NBA is stocked with not just US players, but those from Europe and South America. The game was certainly more physical – but with both the zone and more athletic players (across the board) now, to imply scoring is easier today or that players are soft is just silly.

  10. T. Rogers,

    I agree. The ability to hand check and use your arms actually raises the defenders center of gravity. This is not a good thing. Think about it or walk up to a wall and press against it and see how it takes a tad longer to shuffle your feet from that position.

    The rule change that prevented hand checking didn’t make defenses more relaxed, it made them more fluid and personally, I think it helped give basketball a more stable identity that put a premium on agility (and passing) rather than momentum and power. Players had to adapt and they did with great success.

    I do believe that around the time of this rule change, there was also a pandemic of anemic scoring in the league where only a handful of teams averaged over 100 points per game. Before this rule, 100+ point per game teams were very common. If anything, this shows that defenses were improved – or at least that poor shooting was exposed by the fact that defenders now had to sag off of their assignment.

  11. >He literally would have to take every shot, every time down the floor.

    well, prezactly! the League Points For median was around 101 last year, and Chicago averaged 97.5 – of course, the Bulls would score more than that if they had a Jordan, but NOBODY scores more than 110 at today’s pace.

  12. all we’d have to do is put Michael Cooper on him.

    and Mr. Darius, do we have a game today?
    hint hint, wink wink nudge nudge, nowhatImean?nowhatImean? (said with an Eric Idle accent)

  13. #12. chris h.,
    Jeff will have the preview up soon. I’m DVR’ing the game and will have some thoughts up late tonight or early tomorrow morning. I’m excited to see this specific game, though. With ‘Melo and Billups and a good bench, I want to see how the Lakers match up. Also really happy to see George Karl back coaching.

  14. A lot of spot-on comments. It’s too bad MJ has to go down this road. It’s one thing to trash talk when you’re still on the court but years later, it just comes off as old and sour.

    Also looking forward to the new FD book… they’ve been posting some great Dream essays over the past week.

  15. I don’t see Kobe having a big problem with increased physicality – remember his wrestling match with HOU Ron Artest, that’s not a guy who is afraid of contact. I can see Vince Carter being affected by this quite a bit, but my guess is Kobe would have done just fine if he in return could have been more physical.

    Also, Jordan faced some good defenders like Joe Dumars in his prime. But who did he really play against who was roughly in the same league physically? Probably only Pippen in practice or Clyde Drexler, who wasn’t known as a great defender if I remember correctly. Guys like Starks and Hersey Hawkins were solid, but I’m not sure we are talking a different level of defense than Sefolosha, Brewer or Dudley.

    If Kobe had the choice to be guarded by Hornacek and Bryon Russell out on an island or having to contend with Boston’s evil schemes, I’m pretty confident I can guess what he prefers.

  16. Snoopy,

    That top 10 remark made Jordan seem really petty. The prospect of Kobe winning a sixth title must really be eating at Michael.

  17. If it was anyone other than MJ making the top 10 guard comment, I think I could buy it at face value, and just think his priorities are different, but coming from MJ, who obviously considers him #1 among guards… ;)

    I’m kinda happy MJ said that, since in a way, it is a true compliment.

    I mean, this is a man who considers himself to be the best and is zealously guarding his position. To go out and make sure that there are at least 9 players between them just lets you know that he feels threatened, which is the true compliment, something that is hidden behind his personality.

  18. I think it was a casual remark so I don’t think Michael is that serious, but what everyone else said and also, let’s not forget that MJ got nearly every call he wanted, much as Kobe does today. I find it difficult to believe that he would get substantially more FTAs in today’s game. Compare to someone like Shaq or even Lebron – if the rules changed so that more body contact was called inside, they could easily add 10 FTAs to their game.

    I still see MJ as the GOAT, but if I was betting my own money I’d have it on Kobe to get 100 before MJ every time.

  19. I dunno. I was always a huge MJ fan and still view him and his game with that same awe. That said, his remarks seemed to go a bit beyond the casual trash talk. It’s not like he’s commenting on some new kid. Kobe’s entering his 14th year in the league, has accomplished everything that the face of a franchise could hope to, including 5 rings. Plus, they’ve been linked and compared in every way over the years, including being shepherded by the same coach. MJ could have done a little better than putting Kobe in the top 10 guards category. Seriously. That’s just lame.

  20. @ 19 boris. “MJ got nearly every call he wanted, much as Kobe does today.” ???

    Kobe gets the least ‘respect’ of any Superstar ever. If you were to examine the games of this past playoffs objectively you would see probably a couple dozen obvious fouls committed on Kobe that weren’t called, plus a fair number of fouls called on him as a defender that were questionable.

    The rule of thumb on players defending MJ was “If you touch him, it’s a foul.” That might be an exaggeration, but not by much. That is why Jordan could be such an aggressive defender. That is why he was so wide open on his jumpshots. Defenders were afraid to get in his grill the way they do Kobe for fear of; 1. the blowby or 2. the foul call). And any contact on the way to the rim was an automatic whistle.

  21. UnfortunateIy I can’t find the video, but re: Jordan getting calls I remember the following anecdote.

    The setting was a photo shoot for the Dream Team, Jordan and Bird were standing up front, Magic behind those two.

    Photographer to Magic: Could you move a little bit closer?”

    Magic: “Can’t stand too close to Michael or it’s a foul.”

  22. It wasn’t always that way for MJ but the Jordan rules got so much press (Chuck Daly wasn’t shy about admitting the strategy) that refs/league started compensating and it stuck.