You can’t go anywhere in the NBA without hearing the never-ending argument about who is better, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. Yes, it’s over-hyped, although we’re happy to get into it to some extent.
The way I’ll get into it is through a little protest. Let me point out that in terms of the question “Who is better, Kobe or LeBron?” I’m not sure I necessarily agree with its limits. Is it between LeBron James of the Cavs and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, wholly and exclusively? Are there other contenders? I felt, even before Kevin Garnett got to Boston, that he was the best all-around player in the league, and that particular thought was reinforced after putting the Celtics on his back and taking them to a title. Garnett demonstrated three things to me that were critical: (1) That he didn’t even think twice about giving something up on his personal scoring numbers in order to focus on the bigger picture, which was to win; (2) That he could, pretty much by his lonesome, create a defensive culture that was enough to win a title, keeping in mind that the other two elements of Boston’s “Big Three,” Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, had never gained a reputation as defensive “stoppers” and (3) That he was the leader, on and off the court, pure and simple.
To me, looking at pure scoring figures means very little (although, incidentally, Garnett’s career average of 20.2 ppg, with a career high of 24.2, is more than respectable enough). An NBA team is going to score X amount of points per game; who gets to score those points is dependent on a lot of different factors, including who creates the opportunity for that score, by way of a defensive play, a great pass, a screen, drawing multiple defenders, etc., or who gets the plays called for him. Almost everyone who comes into the NBA can score points, In a sense, that is how they got there. In other words, if I was a coach, and I chose to designate one guy on my roster to be the guy who takes 30 shots in an effort to score 25 points, I am confident that I could find several players who would be able to fill that role. All they would have to do is shoot enough to get it done. It’s basically a function of how I structure the offense and who I call the plays for.
On the other hand, I can’t simply designate someone to be a guy who can stop the other team’s best scorer, could I? I couldn’t pick out any individual on my roster to trade blows with someone in the paint, to control the boards, or to make passes out of the post to open men. I could try, but they wouldn’t necessarily succeed. I know what Garnett can do defensively. Yet I have always doubted the credibility of those All-Defensive team selections which have found people like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on them consistency, or LeBron James this year. That’s because I wondered how many times those guys were really tabbed to do battle with the other team’s top scorer, as someone like, say, Shane Battier or Bruce Bowen often are. What I found is that they often took advantage of the flexibility of being able to guard any of two or event three different positions, in order to avoid the energy they would have to expend on the defensive end against a foe’s big gun.
With Garnett, let’s face it – he usually has no choice but to guard the other team’s power forward, and as we know, there are some absolute monsters at that position. He’ll go against centers too. The Celtics, who were the second seed in the East this season, were quite obviously a much different team – a less defensive team, to be sure – as he was out of the lineup in the post-season.
I’m not drawing any conclusions here, but I would make the suggestion that from the standpoint of the total player, the argument could and should remain open, whether it’s with Garnett as a major candidate or even others.
Charles Jay, a long-time sports columnist and handicapper, enjoys helping people pick sports winners at http://totalactionextra.com If you are in need of top-quality sports information, from an insider’s perspective, come and check out what’s available at http://totalactionextra.com