Friday, June 15, 2007

Kobe Bryant Is *Not* The Best Basketball Player
In The World

There seems to be a school of thought that goes something like this: "Well, Dirk or Steve Nash might be the MVP, but Kobe is actually the best player in the league." Stop saying that. It is not true.

Tim Duncan is the best basketball player in the world.

Say it with me one more time, loud and proud:

I know that this might be an odd thing to say tonight, after Tony Parker (deservedly) won the Finals MVP, and Timmy struggled to a 12-point night on 4-15 FG/4-10 FT. But even tonight, he was there doing what he always does: anchoring the team defense (providing 15 boards/2 blocks/2 steals) and commanding double teams (which, oh by the way, really helped open things up for Tony P).

At the end of the day, there are only two players who have truly mattered in the post-Jordan era: Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan. Timmy has now won four titles in nine years, never with an overwhelming roster of talent. Kobe has yet to win a playoff series without Shaq at his side. The difference is mainly on defense. Although Kobe is consistently named 1st Team All-Defense for some reason unknown to me, he is not in the same league as Timmy on D. Duncan is the core of San Antonio's team defense, and team defense is the core of what makes this San Antonio team a dynasty. Couple that with consistent, efficient, unselfish play on offense, and yes, Tim Duncan is the best basketball player in the world.

What a stretch for European basketball: Spain wins the World Championship, a German wins the MVP and a Frenchman wins the Finals MVP.

Even though this was Tony Parker's third championship, it was really the first time he played well in The Finals.

In 2003, he was sometimes benched in favor of Speedy Claxton, and his numbers for that series were the following:
14 ppg, 4.2 ast, 43% FG

In 2005, he struggled as well, averaging this:
13.9 ppg, 3.4 ast, 46% FG

At age 25, he is starting to fully realize his potential. His numbers for this series:
24.5 ppg, 3.3 ast, 57% FG

I know that this has been said by several people, but I think it's important enough to say it again.

I think it's pretty well-accepted that casual sports fans, esp. old white guys, have a lot of problems with the NBA these days.

I'm at the point where I'm just kind of bemused by the things people (most of whom never actually *watch* NBA games, I assure you) throw out there as reasons why they can't stand the modern-day NBA.

The ultimate hypocrisy of the NBA hater is this: they run off this litany of things they hate about the NBA. Then the NBA presents them with the San Antonio Spurs, who gives them everything they say they want: team-first, fundamentally sound, high-effort basketball played by guys who largely conduct themselves with class off the court.

And what happens? No one watches, ratings go in the tank, the Spurs are labelled as boring.

I get a little squeamish in terms of talking about which athletes are "good guys" and which are not, because I don't really *know* any of these guys, I just know their images. But honestly, if you judge based on image, has there ever been a championship team, in any sport, with more of a collection of good guys from top to bottom (give them a mulligan on Crazy Steve Jackson) than the Spurs have had throughout their run? I mean, ever? In any sport?

Tim Duncan, described by Steve Kerr as the most down-to-earth superstar he's ever been around. Manu Ginobili, an All-Star who accepts reduced minutes (read: reduced stats) by accepting coming off the bench. Aren't these the antidotes to everything people think is wrong with modern-day sports? Yet people could care less about this team.

In visiting the San Antonio Spurs team page on, it's rather striking to realize that this team has been damn good for not just its championship run, but really all the way back to 1989-90, when David Robinson arrived.

Pro-rating the 1999 lockout season, the Spurs have won at least 47 games for 17 of the last 18 seasons, and they have amazingly won *53* games or more in 15 of the last 18 seasons. They have averaged 55 wins a year over that stretch. For 18 seasons! That's an insane run.

And in the one year they were ravaged by injuries and won just 20, they hit the jackpot and got Timmy.

It's funny for me to think back to the mid-90s for this team, because I distinctly remember that there was a school of thought that this team couldn't get over the hump in the playoffs because they just had too many nice guys, and you needed more nasty personalities to win in the league. Don't hear that anymore.

What's more amazing is how whisker-close the Spurs are to a five-in-a-row, 7-in-9-years run.

Think about it: if Derek Fisher doesn't hit his miracle shot in 2004, the Spurs likely would have gone on to play Detroit in the Finals (I thought they matched up better vs DET than LAL did). And then in 2006, the classic Mavs-Spurs series obviously could have gone either way. Again, SAS would have likely ended up in The Finals if they'd won that series, and again, I think they matched up better with MIA than DAL did.

Some people think that the Spurs deserve asterisks for their championships in 1999 (because of the lockout) and 2007 (because of the Amare/Diaw suspensions).

I'm already on record as saying that the Suns have no one to blame but themselves for violating a clear rule, and the Spurs have nothing to apologize for this season.

And I don't really get the 1999 thing b/c S.A. was really a dominant team - they had the best regular-season record and then rolled through the playoffs at a 15-2 clip. I can understand having issue with the regular season that year, b/c the scheduling was all screwed up, but the playoffs were played the same way they always are, and the Spurs completely dominated those.

I actually think that San Antonio deserves an asterisk for its 2003 title, if anything, because they were extremely fortunate due to opposition injuries that year:

-I thought Sacramento was the best team that season, but then C-Webb went down with an injury in Game 2 of a Conf Semi series vs. DAL, and SAC was never the same, losing in 7.
-Then, Dirk went down in Game 3 of the West Conf Finals, which SAS ended up winning in 6.
-And in the Finals, Jason Kidd was hampered by an ankle he sprained in the East Conf Finals, even though he didn't miss any time.

At least we can all agree that no asterisk was merited in 2005, I guess.

More comments on Game 4, after talking with Jay Aych, who's suffering from an untimely championship-night internet outage:

-We've already touched upon how Tony Parker richly deserved the Finals MVP award, but it's worth reiterating how he did absolutely everything to get his points tonight in Game 4 - he hit big shots at key moments, knocked down a couple more threes, and finished exceptionally well in both the halfcourt O and in transition.

-The Spurs got quite an Argentinian lift tonight in the fourth quarter after they fell behind. Of course, Manu stepped up big in the clutch, as he so often does, with 13 pts in the quarter, but Oberto was also big down the stretch, too. Fab scored 5 straight points to push the lead to 8 with 2:00 left, and also had a couple big tip-outs to keep possessions alive late in the game.

-Once again, the Spurs' championship experience really showed at the end of the game - they executed better down the stretch. CLE had too many careless TO's and waited too long to foul at the end.

-LeBron's numbers were of course way down for the series. He averaged 21.3/7.3/5.7 on 36% FG with 5.8 TOs a game, after putting up 25.7/9.2/8.5 on 45% FG with 3.2 TOs a game vs. DET. It was a different world for him in this series, as S.A. played great team defense in closing off his driving lanes, after DET had left them wide open. Bowen did his usual solid job on D, and Horry and Duncan were stout team defenders as always.

-LeBron's supporting cast didn't give him much help either, never hitting enough shots to open up some driving lanes, or to generally string together any consistency on offense. The Cavs hit just 22-75 (29%) from the arc for the series.

-We talked earlier about how the Cavs really were an excellent defensive team this season - they held their opponents to just 42% FG in the playoffs. But they really may have been the worst offensive team to play in the Finals in the modern era, as they shot just 42% themselves from the field for the entire postseason, and were held to a dismal 39.4% clip in The Finals.

-One more time, the Cavs couldn't get it done in the area where they had a big edge heading into the series: on the boards. S.A. outrebounded CLE 45-42 in Game 4, and had an avg +3 edge on the glass for the series.

Many thanks to Rob "Ro-Pete" Peterson at for letting Jay Aych and myself contribute our musings and ramblings to The Finals Blog. We had a great time.

OK, it's just three-and-a-half months until guards and forwards report. Good night.


At 4:42 AM, Blogger John said...


At 5:15 AM, Blogger john marzan said...

the spurs got lucky with getting duncan. they were already a good team with david, but he got injured the year before the duncan draft and became a "lottery" team.

i don't care re some people's claims that the spurs have good management. without duncan, nobody would be talking about the spurs culture.

the best management in the nba that have never won an nba title are the suns under jerry and bryan colangelo.

At 6:10 AM, Anonymous G said...

never with an overwhelming roster of talent

Come now, let's be serious.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

In 1999, the starting backcourt was Avery Johnson and Jaren Jackson.

In 2003, David Robinson was on his last legs while Parker and Ginobili were green.

And in 2005 and now, while Parker and Ginobili are All-Star caliber players, it's not like they are Pippen and Rodman, or McHale and Parish, or Kareem and Worthy, or Kobe, or D-Wade.

Go down the roster and teams like Phoenix and Dallas can certainly match, if not exceed, S.A. in terms of talent.

I stand by my statement.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

John and John Marzan - thanks for both of your comments all season.

John - your ARG pride is well-seated after Game 4 - Fab and Manu great!

John Marzan - Absolutely true - Jerry West was very lucky, too, in that Shaw decided to come to L.A. even though Orlando offered him a bigger contract. Luck always matter.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

Typo: Shaq, not Shaw!

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Yes, a Suns Fan said...

Agreed, Tim Duncan is the best player in the world. Agreed, Kobe has done nothing without Shaq. Agreed, fans get what they look for in fundamental, team oriented basketball with the Spurs. But, a team of good guys from top to bottom? I'm not sure that you can make that argument if those guys include Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, and Manu Ginobili. You say that most of the disappointed fans don't watch the games, but did YOU watch the playoffs this year? What part of the playoffs presented these three as "good guys?"

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Shoog said...

"Suns Fan"? I would have never guessed . . .

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Any Realist said...

You don't have to be a Suns fan. Just ask Ray Allen (Bowen's Kick) or LeBron (Bowen's Shove in the Back) to know that he is not a "good guy."

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Call Me Coach said...

Great stuff in this post. The Spurs have become a modern dynasty by a mix of factors, including luck. But winning in pro-sports IS a matter of luck. Was it the skill of Jerry West that allowed Bryant to slip to #13 in the draft? (Though it was his skill to orginize the trade with Charlotte in advance) Can we give Jerry Krause a medal for the Blazers picking Sam Bowie? Did the Spurs catch a break in 1997 when Robinson broke his foot, absolutly. But one great player does not a championship make (Kevin Garnett can attest to this). The bottom line is that the Spurs have a unique and wonderful player in Duncan, and they have managment that perfectly crafted a set of teams around him.

And for the record, the only reason people talk astricks is because people don't like the Spurs. Every NBA season features wrinkles that stand in the way of good teams. Rarely does a team win a championship with no "what if..." being postulated. (1996 and 1998 Bulls, 2001 Lakers, and 2005 Spurs are the four that I think can get away without dispute)

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Fooch said...

For the record Krause did not pick MJ. He wasnt the GM then ..

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I agree completely.

Bryant = terribly overrated. Duncan = terribly underrated.

At 12:37 AM, Blogger john marzan said...

John Marzan - Absolutely true - Jerry West was very lucky, too, in that Shaw decided to come to L.A. even though Orlando offered him a bigger contract. Luck always matter.

haha! the suns had it's share of free agents willing to play for the suns even if they got better offers from other teams. Danny manning, clifford robinson, Tim Thomas and Jalen Rose, and now Grant Hill(?)

what the suns didn't have was luck in the draft. duncan (#1 1997) going to an already great team like the spurs with the admiral (#1 1987) was ridiculous.

and yes, duncan is the best PF in the game, with barkley, mchale and karl malone at 2,3 and 4 respectively.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger Anthony Wilson said...

Tim Duncan is definitely the most valuable, but Kobe is the best individual player. Duncan is more consistent defensively, I agree with you there. Kobe only plays lockdown D at the end of close games or when someone on the other team is going off and needs to be cooled off. But when he does, he automatically becomes the best one-on-one defender in the league because of his size, quickness, and determination. So I can see why he makes first-team defense. Anyways, I'd love to debate you on this, got a blog myself with a buddy, come check it out. It's And keep up the good work.

At 4:55 AM, Anonymous deks said...

Totally agree, Timmy rules

At 9:44 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

To "Yes, a Suns fan" and "any realist": you guys are talking about things from a SportsWorld hero/villain perspective based on what happens on the court.

I was talking about how these guys conduct themselves in real life.

At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim Duncan is arguably still the best player within the team concept, but his overall skill set is not on the levels of Bryant's. Kobe is the best On the Ball player in the world, and has been for some time. He is by far the best pure scorer in the League and is elite level defensively, although he does not go all out all the time.

No other player in the League since Jordan can score against anyone in all stages of the game, from all distances at will. From Triple Threat, Off the Dribble, In the Post, From the Baseline, Mid range, From Deep, In the Lane, From the Baseline, From the Wing, From the Top of the Key, and From the Line.

He has been a solid rebounder and passer, although he does not focus on these areas as much as he could, but most shooting guards are not used as primary rebounders nor passers within their team systems.

Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time, a dominant low post player, rebounder, and defender, but overall his skill level is not as complete as Bryant's, because of his position and use within the Spurs system versus the Lakers, where Kobe is everything.

Kobe has beaten teams singlehandedly by himself on several occasions, no one else in the League can do that.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger umat said...

The biggest problem Kobe has is that he wants to beat teams singlehandedly every night by himself. The problem is that no one guy can do that,even Wilt couldn't and he was physically much more dominant than Kobe.
The sad part is that for all his talent Kobe will probably never again be a winner(and he can thank Shaq and Phil(mainly for keeping him under control enough to succeed) for the three he has. He simply must learn to incorporate teammates into HIS game.
That is why Tim will be the better player,simply because Tim plays to win and not dominate the stat sheet.

At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ur retarded tim duncan wow and shaq without kobe shaq wouldnt ave won any championships and the only reason he won his fourth was bcuz of wade and the 1st of many dallas melt-downs. Kobe was not always my fav player but i had the smarts and respect to acknowledge him as the the best player in the league today. I didnt say best team player, leader, or gets players involved, but he is the best and one of the best ever. Arguably, better than jordan, put away ur personal bias for kobe the person and see kobe the basketball player.

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe has 5 now, and Lakers have there key players signed for 3 years. Duncan is decaying and has 4 and would be EXTREMELY luckey if he wins one more, and its obvious these guys only care about winning, and both have players around them (gasol is better then ginobli or parker NOW) but both have very serviceable teams that are contenders but it seems Kobe has proven supreme, and duncans days are over.

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At 2:02 AM, Anonymous game sportswear said...

I do agree that tim duncan is such a great player.

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