Busting five 'elite' defensive reps

Despite big reputations, Kobe and others are merely average

Updated: November 5, 2012, 11:28 AM ET
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com

LeBron James and Kobe BryantIcon SMISince 2005, Kobe Bryant's defensive stats have sagged, though he's still considered a top defender.

Sometimes, everyone can agree about a player's defensive prowess.

Take, for instance, Bruce Bowen, the Spurs' former perimeter stopper extraordinaire. The media long praised Bowen's ability to lock down opposing scorers, and NBA head coaches voted him to the league's All-Defensive Team eight times. Also, the numbers backed up Bowen's skills; in 2003-04, adjusted plus/minus data estimates that Bowen alone decreased opponents' offensive efficiency by 2.6 points per 100 possessions, and in 2006-07 the Spurs' defense was a staggering 9.6 points better per 100 possessions with Bowen on the floor. In Bowen's case, data confirmed what the eye test initially led us to believe.

Unfortunately, however, that's not always the case. Every now and then, a player with the raw physical tools to be an expert defender simply doesn't translate that talent into tangible on-court results. Now, I'm not going to pretend current defensive metrics are perfect measures of ability at that end -- it's still difficult to reliably separate a player's performance from the effects of coaching and/or his teammates -- but if a player has a good defensive reputation, you'd expect it to at least show up somewhere in the adjusted plus/minus or counterpart defense statistics.

With that in mind, here are five players whose advanced defensive statistics don't match their reputations as elite defenders.

Kobe Bryant | Los Angeles Lakers


To read more about the NBA's overrated defenders, become an Insider today.

Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.