Kobe Bryant: the most overrated defender imaginable
Let me tell you a story, about a player who has strong overall impact, great team success, and a kickass narrative that says he always gives 110% on both ends of the court when it’s quite clear that he let’s his defense slide a large chunk of the time.
I don’t enjoy singling someone out in hater fashion, but it needs to be pointed out how glaring things have become in this case. People are going to look at Kobe as one of the great perimeter defenders of all time because of this metric, and the truth is, it’s based almost entirely on reputation. It’s impossible for me to imagine a player in modern NBA history whose defense has been this overrated.
Alright, I’m going to go back to the +/- statistics. I understand not everyone is sold on them, but just keep what they say in the back of your mind, and understand that I wouldn’t be writing this piece if the evidence wasn’t so obvious.
First, let’s look at the regularized adjusted +/- (RAPM) for this year alone. There is a decent amount of error when looking at this sample size, but it’s a good starting place. Here are the top 20 players according to the amount of love they got in All-Defensive team votes this year, sorted from best to worst by defensive RAPM:
Kobe’s there at the bottom. It is well to note that there are others not terribly far away from him. But also important to note that none of them made All-Defensive 1st team, and only 1 of them made 2nd team. That would be Joakim Noah whose rating might be particularly suspect because of the remarkable resilience the Tom Thibodeau defense in Chicago has shown. Literally, Noah quite possibly looks a lot better by this metric in any other situations.
Okay, on to the bigger chart. What I’ve done is taken the 20 defenders who come to my mind as being celebrated defensively in recent years. I won’t claim that these are THE 20 defenders to look at for such a comparison, but again, it’s at least a great starting place.
You’ll see I include 4 sortings:
First, these 20 players sorted first by most All-Defensive 1st teams, then by 2nd teams. If I’ve left anyone off who has received several of these accolades in the last few years, it was a mistake, and you should let me know.
Second, these 20 players sorted by Ilardi’s APM from ’03-04 to ’08-09 over 6 seasons.
Third, these 20 players sorted by Engelmann’s RAPM from ’05-06 to ’10-11 over 6 seasons.
Fourth, these 20 players sorted by Engelmann’s RAPM from ’07-08 to ’10-11 over 4 seasons.
Is the trend clear? There have been 3 players who’ve dominated the All-Defensive team for the past decade: Bryant, Garnett, and Tim Duncan. Over any extended period, Garnett dominates the list, Duncan is near the top of the list, and Bryant is pretty much at the bottom.
Being at the bottom is visually striking, but it’s actually not that damning in and of itself. If my knock on Kobe was that he was only the 20th best defender in the league on average, this would not be that horrendous of a knock. After all, big men dominate these kind of lists, maybe he’s still won of the top 5 or so perimeter defenders in the game, no?
No. The more damning thing is that every metric I’ve broken down here has Kobe’s defensive impact as utterly average. -0.8, -0.6, 0.1, 0.1, these are not numbers of someone who is consistently a game changer on defense. The other guys given even half the love Kobe’s gotten over the year, pretty consistently do turn up on these metric doing quite well.
I’ll point out also: it’s not that +/- considers Kobe vastly overrated across the board. If I were to post the analogous charts for Kobe on offense, he’d typically look like a superstar. Both Ilardi & Engelmann’s 6 year metrics rank Kobe as a top 3 offensive player in the game.
This statistic isn’t saying Kobe is extremely overrated in all parts of his game, only his defense shows such shockingly weak values.
- Howard is the DPOY, but he’s no Garnett (asubstituteforwar.com)