January 5, 2010

Is Luol Deng as Good as Kobe?

Filed under: Uncategorized — wwinston @ 4:16 pm

I got lots of criticism today for stating that this year, after adjusting for who they played with and against, Luol Deng(+20 points Adjusted+/-) was playing better(so far this year) than Kobe (+15 Adjusted +/-.

Let’s try and see why Deng is having a much better year than people think and Kobe, while still great, should not be in the MVP conversation. Simply put, Kobe has much better teammates than Deng. Let’s look at a few numbers.

  • When Deng is on the court the Bulls play 2 points better than average and when he is off the Bulls play 24 points worse than average.
  • Let’s see how the Bulls do with Deng out and combos of their other starters (Rose Noah Hinrich and Salmons) on  the court. All 4 on court -34 points; Noah Rose Salmons -18 points; Noah Hinrich Salmon -48 points; Hinrich Noah Rose -14 points.
  • From this data I conclude either that Deng is really good or his temmates are not that great. If his teamates are not that great, then Deng is probably the major reason the Bulls are not one of the league’s worst team,

Now to the Lakers. Here are some numbers

  • With Artest in and Kobe out the Lakers are only 4 points worse than average. How can this be? Without the world’s best player the Lakers are ok.
  • With Kobe in and Artest out the Lakers are only 2 points better than average.
  • With Kobe out and Gasol, Odom, and Artest in the Lakers are great: 17 points better than average.
  • From this data I conclude that Kobe has some really good teammates. The Lakers have played a really easy schedule and have only played 5 points better than average , so I do not see that Kobe is an MVP.


  1. Ok not even trying to disrespect what you do but it is ridiculous to state something like that. You cant measure everything with stats believe it or not . Lineups are changed every 5 minutes just because 1 might have had a short burst against a worse lineup in the opposition doesnt make that lineup better then anything the team can put out there. So basically your saying if the lakers traded kobe for deng they would be better off for the team i find that completely ridiculous and an insult to one of the best the game has ever seen(top 10)

    Comment by Steven G — January 5, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

  2. How did the Lakers with Kobe do without Shaq or Gasol (2004-2007)? Not well with the world’s greatest player.

    Comment by wwinston — January 5, 2010 @ 11:06 pm

  3. I wish this was how they judged the MVP candidates every year. A couple years back now when Nash won the MVP twice and Kobe had a terrible squad surrounding him and yet made the playoffs. Meanwhile, Nash had Marion, Amare, Barbosa, Diaw & Bell a combo that I thought would of made the playoffs easily without Nash. So sadly I don’t think the league/the people who count and vote on MVP year-in and year-out are using this logic.

    Comment by Zack — January 6, 2010 @ 5:44 am

  4. @Zack. As a Suns fan, I may be biased, but I believe Nash was deserving of the MVPs. Before Nash’s 2nd go around with the Suns (and D’Antoni) the Suns were terrible. The uptempo offense could not run without him. Actually, they still struggle to run the offense without him. I would think Winston’s stats could back me up on that.

    Another thing to consider for future Winston critics…I don’t think these +/- ratings are arguing for who would win a 1 on 1 ballgame. No doubt Kobe, LeBron, DWade could beat most NBA players 1 on 1. These ratings are for how well a player helps his team win.

    Comment by Mike — January 6, 2010 @ 10:16 am

  5. GREAT BLOG. Thanks. Any idea on what characteristics of Deng’s game are contributing to this? Defense?

    Comment by jevan — January 7, 2010 @ 1:50 am

  6. Deng is 8 points better than avg on offense and 10 pts better than average on defense. Thx for kind words!

    Comment by wwinston — January 7, 2010 @ 10:45 am

  7. Do you really mean Deng played better? Or do you mean that Deng’s overall performance results into a better adjusted +/- value?
    Some of your comments just imply that Deng seperates himself more from his teammates than Bryant does from the rest of the Lakers. If that is the way to interpret your adj. +/-, a better value doesn’t mean that someone is playing better overall. It might be just semantics for you, but it would still be nice, if you could clarify this.

    Anyway, thanks for providing such data.

    Comment by Christian — January 7, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

  8. Adjusted +/- gives effect of player after adjusting for temmates and opponents. Point of blog was to give some data to corroborate the fact that Deng’s adjutsed +/- was higher than Kobe’s at this point in season. In blog I showed that no matter what you put on court without Deng the Bulls are bad while Lakers can be ok without Kobe. Adjusted +/- basically averages this stuff over all combos played to estimate “value added” by a player.

    Comment by wwinston — January 7, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

  9. Thanks for your reply.

    I know that Deng has a higher adj. +/- value (Barzilai gets a similar result). But you explicite wrote that Deng played better so far in this season than Bryant. That is the point where it comes to the interpretation of the results. I honestly think Deng didn’t play better than Bryant so far, the Bulls just don’t fit well together when Deng is off. With Deng on the court the whole team defense works way better, not necessarily of Deng’s superior play, but the whole skill set of the players complement each other (at least better).

    The numbers imply that Deng is more important (valuable) to the Bulls than Bryant to the Lakers. Well, I agree to that. But I guess the reason for the criticism (I guess you are referring to the comments on the ESPN/Truehoop article) might be that you make it sounds like Deng is really the better basketball player so far in this season in comparison to Bryant. Would you really take Deng over Bryant, if you want to build a team which should have success in this season?

    Comment by Christian — January 7, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

  10. Christian,

    I think there may be a similar situation going on with the Knicks and Jared Jeffries. Few would argue that Jeffries is the best player on the Knicks, but the team seems worse without him. He seems to be the glue that makes the defense work. So when he is on the court, they play much better. However, I don’t think that’s an argument for thinking Jeffries is anything special as a player. He might actually be a disaster on a team that was constructed differently. Perhaps he would add little on the defensive end on team with several solid defenders and just be his usual huge liability on the offensive end.


    Comment by Italian Stallion — January 7, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  11. How can you honestly think Luol Deng is better than Kobe Bryant? Is it his 470 less points in 82 less minutes? Maybe it’s his terrible 46.9% eFG, or his pedestrian 51.7% True shooting percentage, compared to Bryants 56.2% TS% and 50.2% eFG? What does Deng do better than Bryant, other than play with teammates who are severely less talented than he is?

    Comment by Sane Person — January 8, 2010 @ 12:16 am

  12. When Deng plays Bulls shoot 3% better and give up 5% lower EFG than when he is out. When he is on court they get shoot 3 more FTA per 48 minutes than opponents. When Deng is out they give up 12 more FTA than they take. Don’t ask me why but look at the facts.

    Comment by wwinston — January 8, 2010 @ 12:29 am

  13. The facts? How do any of those irrelevant numbers prove that Luol Deng is “as good” as Kobe Bryant. His terrible teammates play better when he’s on the floor? Holy cow, what a break through. Players playing better when their best player plays with them. Gosh, good thing you went to college and wrote a book. I never would have known that the terrible Bulls play less terribly when their best player is playing for them. Wow, you have opened up a whole ‘nother world for me man. Truly groundbreaking stuff.

    You want facts? Kobe Bryant is a better and more efficient shooter and scorer than Deng. He is one of the best scorers in the history of basketball. He is a better passer, a better defender, all of his statistics are better, his game is more polished, etc. etc. If you asked any player in the NBA INCLUDING Luol Deng who was the better player, you would never, I repeat NEVER hear one player say that Deng is even close to the level of Bryant. Bryant is a Hall of Famer, and top 5 shooting guard of all time, who’s prime is shortly coming to an end. Luol Deng is a footnote in NBA history, who will not be remembered once he retires. Those are the “facts” my friend.

    Comment by Sane Person — January 8, 2010 @ 1:00 am

  14. Wow, any time that ballhog Kobe is not mentioned as being the greatest player in the history of the game, all the bandwagon Laker fans come out ready to attack. Anyone can shoot the ball as many times as Kobe does in a game and score a decent amount of points. Look at his field goal percentage, LeBron and most other star players blow it away. Kobe is going all out for stats and he just happens to have the team around him that he can do that and still win. Remember Kobe’s Laker teams that didn’t have dominant big men? They barely had winning records, all the other stars I’ve ever seen on bad teams at least make their teams capable of winning any game on any day.

    Great site Mr. Winston! As someone who has always been interested in sports statistics, this is good stuff to read.

    Comment by Jordan — January 9, 2010 @ 1:53 am

  15. I’m not a Kobe Bryant fan, or a Lakers fan. I’m a Knicks fan. I’m from New York. I don’t care what Kobe Bryant does, unless he’s coming to the Knicks. Kobe Bryant is the second best player in the NBA behind LeBron James. He’s not even a top 5 player of all time let alone the greatest. That belongs to Michael Jordan. On some days he’s the greatest player in the league, but on the whole James is better. But Kobe Bryant is leagues better than Luol Deng. Bryant is a Hall of Famer, what is Deng? Please.

    Funny how you say anyone who shoots the ball as many times as Kobe a game would score a decent amount of points. First off, leading the league in scoring is not a “decent” amount of points. Bryant takes on average 23.6 shots per game. The other four in the top five in scoring are Carmelo Anthony, who is shooting 22.0, LeBron James is taking 20.0, Kevin Durant is taking 20.1, and Dwyane Wade is taking 21.1. Bryant is only taking 2-3 more shots than players and is scoring more points than all of them.

    Look at his field goal percentage? It’s a career high 47.2% Look at his eFG% which is 49.8%, and his True Shooting percentage which is 55.6%. Lets take a look at how he compares to the other top five scorers in the league.

    L. James: 50.2%
    K. Durant: 47.8%
    K. Bryant: 47.2%
    C. Anthony: 47.0%
    D. Wade: 44.3%

    L. James: 54.3%
    K. Durant: 51.1%
    K. Bryant: 49.8%
    C. Anthony: 48.9%
    D. Wade: 46.6%

    L. James: 60.0%
    C. Anthony: 56.9%
    K. Durant: 58.9%
    K. Bryant: 55.6%
    D. Wade: 53.4%

    Wow, Bryant clearly is getting BLOWN AWAY by those stars. Oh wait, no he isn’t. Bryant is shooting a completely respectable percentage, right behind LeBron James, who I think is the best player in basketball, and Kevin Durant, who is a rising star in the league, and a very effective shooter. You don’t know what you’re talking about, and you’re hating on a great player. Dwyane Wade is shooting terribly this season, and is totally mailing it in, but I’m sure you think he’s playing well better.

    Bryant has been without a dominant big three season. He started 66 games in 04-05 and his team went 28-38 with him playing. The next season he started 80 games, and his team went 45-35, and in the final season without a dominant big-man he started 77 games, and his team went 38-38. Compare that to players who play in the pathetic Eastern Conference like Tracy McGrady, Dwyane Wade once Shaquille O’Neal left, etc. etc. Stop hating on Bryant. Everything you’ve said about him is wrong.

    Comment by Sane Person — January 9, 2010 @ 5:33 pm

  16. I’m not sure how you consider Bryant the 2nd best in the league if your defense of him is as a scorer and his TS% (the most important of the three stats you named) is fourth of the players you list, and not fifth only because Wade is having a miserable season. That conclusion doesn’t seem to follow. Unless this part was purely to demonstrate that he’s not blown out, which is true, but he’s still beaten, and solidly. One of the best scorers in the history of basketball? If just points are considered, than sure.

    The other defense based on results I can’t argue as I don’t know enough about his teammates at the time. I’d say a lot of the wins those seasons were attributable to Odom as well as Bryant, but either way, an argument based on pure team results (W/L) is far, far vaguer than adjusted +/- stats and alone, tells you little about individual performance. There needs to be a step where team results are connected to the player, +/- tries (and I think is at best an indicator- it’s more useful when describing effective lineups) and Sane Person has not tried to make that connection.

    I think the fair conclusion from the +/- data presented is not that Deng is better/more productive/more skilled than Kobe, rather the claim should be that so far this season, the Bulls have done better compared to their expected values than Kobe has done with the lakers. That’s not to say Kobe isn’t a great player (I think he is, though definitely not top 5 in the nba). I prefer aggregate boxscore stats to +/-, and those say Kobe’s been personally more effective than Deng (though again, not the best or second best player), it seems that Deng works better in the flow of the offense and defense though.

    Comment by Cool Hand Luke — January 12, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

  17. This might have the chance to turn into another Kevin Durant type embarrassment.

    As of today Kobe is just crushing Deng in net +/-. In fact, he is number 1 in the entire league among full-time starters. Yet strangely enough, Deng is ahead in adjusted +/-.

    If you are going to use statistics, you had better be sure you do the stats right. My guess is that Deng is benefiting hugely from some sort of statistical effect. Even though he is not much better than the other Bulls regulars, all of them have extremely similar +/- ratings. He also plays by far the most minutes on the team.

    But even if it isn’t a false statistical effect, The Lakers are at +12 when Kobe plays, and 0 when Deng plays. It is vastly more impressive to take a team from bad to elite, than from terrible to average. Adjusted +/- makes zero adjustment for this obvious fact.

    Comment by dave — January 18, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

  18. One more thing while I am here. You also use another false comparison.

    “When Deng is on the court the Bulls play 2 points better than average and when he is off the Bulls play 24 points worse than average.”

    So why didn’t you put the same stat for Kobe?

    As of right now, The Lakers are 12 points better than average when Kobe plays and 9 point worse than average when he doesn’t. The Bulls are right at 0 when Deng plays and 15 points worse when he doesn’t.

    Comment by dave — January 18, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

  19. I consider Bryant the second best player in the league, because shooting percentages alone, do not dictate who the best players are. All I listed was the top scorers and their shooting percentages, to illustrate that Bryant is not blown out by his competitors.

    About Bryant being one of the best scorers of all time. You’re out of your mind if you think I’m just considering points. Outside of Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Chamberlain (the last two who ARE only considered because of raw scoring production) Bryant has one of the widest arrays of basketball moves. He is an effective driver and slasher (and was much better earlier on in his career), has some of the most beautiful layups (including circus shots) the game has ever seen, is a good mid-range and three point shooter and is very good at getting separation, who when he catches fire is almost unstoppable.

    Watching Bryant in a heat check might be better than even Jordan on scoring alone. 81 points in a game (on 60.9% shooting), in a situation where his contribution was actually needed in the flow of the game. 62 points (58.1%) in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks; the Mavericks scored 61 by the end of the third. No player in the history of the league has done that. He shares the record for most three pointers made in a game.

    Bryant scored 25,000 points faster than any player in the history of the league. He’s the 12th all time leading scorer, and his career PPG is better than seven of those twelve. This is with limited playing time his first two seasons (if you want to bring up that he came straight out of high school). Bryant has scored over 40 points in 104 games (115 if you count the playoffs), 24 were 50 point+ games (25 if you count the playoffs) and 5 were sixty point+. That’s third behind behind Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. In 2007, Bryant scored 50 points or more in four consecutive games; this accomplishment is second in NBA history to Chamberlain. So yeah, it’s not just his “points” that make Bryant one of the greatest scorers ever…

    The other defense based on results I can’t argue as I don’t know enough about his teammates at the time. I’d say a lot of the wins those seasons were attributable to Odom as well as Bryant, but either way, an argument based on pure team results (W/L) is far, far vaguer than adjusted +/- stats and alone, tells you little about individual performance. There needs to be a step where team results are connected to the player, +/- tries (and I think is at best an indicator- it’s more useful when describing effective lineups) and Sane Person has not tried to make that connection.

    Stats alone can never tell why a team is doing good or bad. Winston wanted to know how Bryant’s teams fared without Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol. Did your adjusted +/- statistic tell you that the Lakers (who blew up their entire team and were expecting to need to find new pieces) new head coach retired halfway through the season. Tomjanovich led the team to a 22-19 record and Frank Hamblen (who had never been a coach before except for one stint in the exact same situation, interim coach, 12 years earlier) led them to a 12-29 record. Bryant and Odom both missed 15+ games. Kobe Bryant was not nearly the main factor of the Lakers troubles.

    He grew into a better leader, and he wasn’t nearly as good a player as he won this past season (and even now). He was more athletic, but far less cerebral.

    As for your final paragraph. The article title is “Is Luol Deng as Good as Kobe?” That’s exactly what he’s trying to present with his data, and he’s wrong. His data is totally unrelated to measuring the worth of a player. Just random statistics devoid of all basketball context. Kobe Bryant is clearly a top five player in the NBA. Even if it was questionable (which it isn’t), there is no way he DEFINITELY isn’t top 5.

    Comment by Sane Person — October 25, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

  20. Luol Deng is not as good as Kobe Bryant. Deng is a very talented player and one of the best teammates in the league but. Bryant is a much better player and cannot be compared to Deng who is more of a role player than a superstar.

    Comment by Steven — July 5, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

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