Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tale of the tape: Roy vs. Bryant (it's all about the defense)

Yesterday as I was sitting at It's a Grind with my brother, both of us reading our daily dose of NBA news and blogs, I started talking to him about a specific element of the Blazers win over the Lakers on Tuesday night. Specifically, I was working out an idea that came to me concerning the Roy-Bryant match up. In his Late Wednesday Mini-Bullets, Henry over at TrueHoop quoted Michael Jordan from an article Jack McCallum wrote about him in 1989. Have I mentioned that I love the new SI Vault? The gist of the quote from Jordan was that the best way to defend him was to make him play defense against a guard who had a physical offensive game. This tired him out and kept him from being as physical against them on the other end. When I read the quote it reminded me that Jordan was an exceptional defender who focused on that even more than scoring.

What does that have to do with Kobe? I was shocked as I watched the KCAL 9 broadcast here in LA that Roy could play as well offensively as he did against Bryant. Several times Roy broke Bryant down on the edge, beat another guy, and made an easy layup. Bryant didn't do that to Roy nearly as badly on the other end. By my count, four of Roy's eight field goals were layups.
One of his field goals was a three, one was a wide open 22-footer, one was an eight-foot jump shot early, and the other was a nine-foot runner in the fourth. Of his seven missed shots, five were jumpers from outside the key, including two three point misses. On the other hand, Kobe made 11 of 26 from the field. Twelve of his fifteen misses were jump shots from outside the key, including five failed three point attempts. Of the ones that he made, one was a dunk, two were layups, two were three-pointers, two were four foot running j's, one was an eight-footer, one was a 21-foot jumper, and two of his shots don't have a distance on the ESPN play-by-play. If you aren't already bored by reading what shots were taken, you might be wondering why it matters. I mean, Bryant scored 34 and Roy only had 23 – Kobe was 10-13 from the stripe while Roy was 6-8, showing a good effort by each of them getting inside.

As I thought about the ways Roy scored on Bryant compared with the ways Bryant scored on Roy – and, in fairness, Outlaw – I realized that Kobe was working a lot harder for his shots than Brandon was. Roy was taking the lane when it was given, shooting open jumpers when they presented themselves, and directing the flow of the offense. But Kobe was often taking the time to force his way into the lane, or else use some combination of moves to set up his beautiful turn-around jumper. This is where the difference between Bryant and Jordan (as evidenced in the aforementioned quote) really stuck out to me: Bryant could have shut Roy down. He's that good of a defender. But instead, he spent more energy on making sure he got his points. And yes, he scored more than Roy. But I looked at the assists for each and what those assists led to, and it tells the tale that Roy actually contributed to more offensive production than Bryant did.

Bryant had five assists. Three of them were to Lamar Odom for layups (two) or dunks (one). The other two assists were from hitting Radmanovic outside for the three. That means Bryant scored 34 and was directly responsible for getting his teammates the ball for 12 more. In total, I'll say that Kobe created 46 of the Lakers' 103 points. Roy had a career-high tying 12 assists. Four of those set up three-point field goals, and the other eight went to guys making mid-range jumpers or layups. So Roy scored 23 of his own points, and was directly responsible for getting his teammates the ball for 28 more. In total, I'll say that Brandon created 51 of the Blazers' 112 points. Of course this doesn't take into account the fact that the Blazers might have given up points to the Lakers because of the way they defended Bryant, plays on which he got no statistical credit. I wouldn't suggest that those sorts of plays would be even with the same type for Roy on the Lakers' side, but I don't think they would be too far off, either, and since they are immeasurable I really can't speak to them.

Being the type of defender that Kobe Bryant is, I believe he had the ability not only to stop Roy from scoring 23, but from directly creating as much as he did for teammates. Certainly some of the blame must go to other LA defenders, but when you're as talented and highly regarded as Kobe is, you need to shut down the opposition. If Kobe had decided to make Roy work harder for his offense, he might have scored a few less points. But I really think that the reduction in Roy's contribution would have been far more significant. Yeah, there were many other factors in the game, but for the Lakers to win in the playoffs it's Kobe's defense that needs to be at its best, not his offense. His offense will take care of itself.

One last note: I realize that the Lakers were without any real low-post presence on defense, which also contributed to Roy's ability to drive. But the Blazers have been without their chosen low-post presence – Oden – all season, and were without their next best option – Joel Przybilla, thanks to a broken hand – in this one. That left the ├╝ber-tough Channing Frye as the center. I love me some Channing, but he is not my first (or second or third or fourth) choice for a tough inside presence on defense.

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