The thought of doing a Kobe vs Ray blog seemed pretty pointless a few days ago. As many have stated, there’s a good chance the two won’t even defend each other throughout the Finals, and plus, they have been world’s apart as far as their playoff form goes – it’s not like this Finals is being billed as “Kobe Bryant vs Ray Allen” (on a side note, isn’t it funny how there’s a perception that Ray Allen is the old, past-his-prime shooting guard vs the young superstar Kobe, when both players came out of the same 1996 draft? Kobe has in fact played more minutes over his career, 37261 to 34474, than Ray has).

But a few things have come to light (or more correctly, landed in my Inbox) the past few days that have changed my perception, making a Kobe vs Ray blog seem a lot more necessary. These being: 1) I stumbled across an article that reminded me of a Kobe/Ray feud a few years back, when Shaq was traded out of LA. 2) The world’s biggest Ray Allen fan (my house mate) sent me an article to back up his point that Kobe wouldn’t be able to stop Ray in the Finals (and upon further investigation, he seemed to make a good case). 3) Several Lakers fans I’ve spoken to the last week seem to think there won’t be any one defending Kobe in these Finals, and that at the other end Kobe won’t really have to guard any body (a clear dig in the Ray Allen direction). 4) One of my work colleagues audaciously stated that Ray Allen was no longer smooth because of his lousy playoff performances. For these reasons, and the fact these two players are probably number 1 and 3 on the list of Best Shooting Guards of the Last Decade (sandwich AI between them), I think there’s enough reason to look into Kobe vs Ray in a little more detail.

The Origins of Kobe and Ray

Ray Allen looking a bit gayAs mentioned, both these guys came out of the same NBA draft back in 1996. Ray was a sharp shooter out of UConn, fresh off dueling with another gun shooting guard from Georgetown by the name of Allen Iverson. Ray was picked #5 in a stacked draft (behind Iverson, Camby, Abdur-Rahim and Marbury) while Kobe, the high school phenom, was picked at #13. Interestingly, both these guys were traded draft day: Ray from Minnesota to Milwaukee, Kobe from Charlotte to Los Angeles. Their careers would begin in very different fashions. Ray was an immediate contributer to a struggling Bucks team, starting in 81 games, averaging 13.4 points and 4 rebounds while shooting the 3-ball at nearly 40%. Kobe on the other hand was mostly relegated to the bench, averaging 7 points and a couple of rebounds in 15 minutes per game.

Kobe at the Rookie Game at All-Star WeekendDespite the massive difference in production, both players found themselves side-by-side in the All-Rookie Second Team, along with other such luminaries like Kerry Kittles, Matt Maloney, and Travis Knight (this seems almost laughable now). From there, their careers went in different directions, and without wanting to retell the full biographies of Kobe and Ray, I think I can sum it up best this way: Kobe Bryant went on to become ‘the next Michael Jordan’, while Ray Allen went on to become ‘the next Reggie Miller’. That analogy goes for more than just their playing style: Kobe has tasted championship glory several times, whereas Ray, just like Reggie, kept coming up short. Many would argue that Ray and Kobe don’t have a rivalry at all, certainly not on the scale that MJ and Reggie did. But those people are forgetting a couple of things. Firstly, real rivalries are fueled by the playoffs and finals, and Kobe and Ray are about to face off in one of the most anticipated Finals match ups in history. You wanna talk about fuel for a rivalry? You won’t get more than a Celtics v Lakers Finals. Secondly, the fire has already been lit. Ray and Kobe have had their war of words in the past, and in case you don’t remember it, it got nasty.

Kobe vs Ray Head to Head

Kobe vs Ray never attracted the same rivalry status that Kobe vs Vince did, or Kobe vs T-Mac, or Kobe vs Lebron does nowadays. But perhaps we should have paid a little more attention over the years, because Ray has been as successful against Kobe, if not more so, than any of those guys. Game 1 of the Finals tomorrow will be the 29th time these two have faced off, and in the previous 28 battles the record stands at Kobe 17 – Ray 11. No doubt, that disparity has a lot to do with Kobe and Shaq dominating for nearly a decade, but when you look at the individual numbers, the disparity is not so great.

Kobe: 23.6ppg, 4.6apg, 4.1rpg, 1.3spg, 42.8% FG, 36.0% 3PT, 82.3% FT, 2.6 TOpg
Ray: 20.6ppg, 5.1apg, 5.1rpg, 1.5spg, 43.4% FG, 37.1% 3PT, 91.4% FT, 2.5 TOpg

Now I’m no Einstein, but from a purely statistical point of view, I’d say Ray has the edge there. But I know what Kobe fans are thinking – it’s only fair to compare the numbers post-Shaq when Kobe had his own team, similar to Ray leading his own team in Seattle. Since Shaq left LA, the two have faced off ten times. Here are the numbers:

Kobe: 29.4ppg, 5.1apg, 4.6rpg, 0.9spg, 44.4% FG, 35.3% 3PT, 81.0% FT, 3.6 TOpg
Ray: 22.8ppg, 4.0apg, 5.2apg, 1.3spg, 45.4% FT, 36.5% 3PT, 91.5% FT, 2.2 TOpg

It’s not surprising to see Kobe’s scoring increase there, the guy did win back-to-back scoring titles. But considering Kobe’s MVP-caliber play the last few years (three straight All-NBA First Team selections to Ray’s zero), and considering the Lakers have been a steady playoff contender, it’s interesting that the last ten encounters have been split in Ray’s favour: Ray 6 – Kobe 4. Is it possible that Ray has the upper hand in this duel? As the old saying goes, numbers don’t tell the full story. So lets look back at some of the more notable Kobe vs Ray encounters of the last five years (I’ll skip Ray in Boston because it’s so recent) and you can make up your own mind.

December 14th, 2004: Seattle Supersonics 108 – LA Lakers 93
It was billed as the big Kobe vs Ray match up. The first time the Kobe-lead Lakers would face the Allen-lead Sonics. Someone forgot to tell Rashard Lewis that. Lewis had 37 points to overshadow both Kobe and Ray in this one, leading the Sonics to a fifteen point victory. “Too much focus was on Ray Allen tonight and I got a lot of open shots and I took advantage,” Lewis said. “Even though it was Ray and Kobe … I felt like Kobe was talking to us as a team. We’re a team and we’re going to back each other up”. Believe it or not, the Sonics were cruising with an 18-4 record at this point, the second best in the league, while the Lakers were coming to terms with their Shaq-less future. It wasn’t the Kobe vs Ray battle everyone was hoping for, but the “W” went to Ray.

April 8th, 2005: LA Lakers 117 – Seattle Supersonics 94
While the Sonics were expecting to wrap up their Northwest Division title, and the Lakers were clinging to the mathematical possibility of a playoff appearance, Kobe Bryant delivered one of his vintage performances. After a recent injury to his right shin, and still not 100% from his severe ankle sprain earlier in the season, Kobe refused to allow the Lakers to fall out of playoff contention, smoking Ray and the Sonics for 42 points on 15-22 shooting, including 7-11 from 3-point range. While the game wasn’t close, there was a five minute period in the fourth where Kobe and Ray went at each other’s throats. With a little less than 8 minutes remaining Ray drained a three, Kobe responded with a strong drive, only to see Ray bomb another three on the next possession. Kobe went back down the other end and made a running jumper while fouled, to convert the three-point play. A minute later Ray drained another three, and then another on the next possession, and the once 25-point margin was down to 16 with five minutes left to play. Ray was smoking, but Kobe wasn’t to be outdone on this day, scoring another ten points over the final four minutes (including two more threes) to give him 21 for the quarter. Advantage: Kobe.

November 24th, 2005: LA Lakers 108 – Seattle Supersonics 96
Kobe scored 29 of his 34 points in the last 18 minutes of this game, and completely shut down Ray Allen in a classic showcase of his end-to-end abilities. Ray had this to say: “He took a lot of our weak-side stuff away. In the third and fourth quarter he stepped his defense up, but offensively we didn’t get anything going and I thought they got more confidence.” Kobe held Ray to 19 points on 6-15 shooting, and upstaged him from three point range going 4-5 to Ray’s 3-7. Advantage: Kobe Bryant.

March 12th, 2006: Seattle Supersonics 120 – LA Lakers 113
This game was played when Kobe was at the peak of his offensive powers – he’d recently had his 81 point outburst, and he was just about to embark on a 40-point average throughout April. So it makes it even more remarkable that he was held to only 22 points in this one, thanks to none other than Ray Allen. “We knew he would get his shots; it’s just a matter of making him take tough shots, staying in his face and rebounding his misses,” Allen said. “I think we did as good of a job as you can do against him. I just tried to keep pressure on him offensively, because if he’s not working on one end of the floor, he can use more energy offensively. So I just tried to keep him moving”. That he did, bothering Kobe into a 8-29 shooting night (including a dreadful 2-13 from downtown) while managing to contribute 19 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists himself. Advantage: Ray Allen.

March 31th, 2006: LA Lakers 106 – Seattle Supersonics 93
The back-and-forth Kobe-Ray rivalry this season continued in this game. Tied at 1-1 in their encounters so far, Kobe went about emphatically dismantling the Sonics and dismissing any notion there was indeed a “Kobe vs Ray” rivalry. He went for 43 in this one (his 22nd 40-point game of the season), including 24 in the second half in a game that meant a lot more for the playoff-bound Lakers than it did for Seattle. This from the ESPN game recap:”Again the marquee matchup was Allen and Bryant. Their relationship is at best contentious, each trading verbal barbs in the past. Both were relatively quiet verbally — Bryant was called for a technical in the first half — but it was Bryant making noise during the decisive third quarter [14 points].” Ray still had 29 in this one but struggled on 10-27 shooting, and missed his first three shots in the fourth when the Lakers ran away with it. Advantage: Kobe Bryant.

November 3rd, 2006: LA Lakers 118 – Seattle Supersonics 112
In Kobe’s debut game of the season he lead the Lakers with 23 points and 6 assists, helping them overturn a three point deficit in the fourth into a six point win. The only problem? He couldn’t stop Ray Allen, who stuffed the stat sheet with a massive 30 points, 6 steals, 5 assists and 5 rebounds. Ray forced Kobe into 6 turnovers on this day, and while his Sonics couldn’t get the win, they would have their chance two days later…

November 5th, 2006: Seattle Supersonics 117 – LA Lakers 101
After winning their first three games of the season, the Lakers were brought back down to earth by a Ray Allen charged Sonics team who at one stage lead by 26 in this completely one-sided game. What’s more, Kobe only scored 15 points and was completely overshadowed by Ray’s 32 on 10-16 shooting. And down the stretch, it was Allen leading the way, scoring his team’s first 12 points of the fourth quarter while Kobe only could manage 2. Advantage: Ray Allen.

After spending hours reading through game recaps of the past few years, I can tell you that this is not the one-sided match up Lakers fans would have you believe. Sure, Ray is step slower now than he was back in Seattle and Milwaukee, and Kobe has continued to elevate his game. But don’t for one second think Kobe will forget the countless games where Ray got the better of him. When you include the two losses the Lakers had this season against Boston, it’s a veritable fact: in the post-Shaq era, the Kobe Bryant vs Ray Allen rivalry has been won, fair and square, by Ray Allen. Yes Kobe had a couple of 40-point games but we all know Kobe is a voluminous shot taker, whereas Ray liked to pick and choose his spots a little more. Which brings me to the bit where I put on my scout reporting hat and try and break down why Ray has had more success against Kobe than you’d think, and why this Finals series is not such a piece of cake for KB24.

The Scout Report: Kobe Bryant vs Ray Allen

Let me first make clear that Ray Allen will not find himself defending Kobe for 40 minutes a game throughout the Finals. It will be a combination of Ray, Posey, Pierce and double teams. Down the other end though, it’s likely Kobe will get the job on Ray, and it’s this defensive assignment that gives Kobe more trouble than you’d realise. Much of what I want to say has already been covered in this excellent blog by the Hoop Doctors, so I only want to emphasize a few points.

Kobe Bryant is an outstanding defender, but he is not the lock-down defender he was back in 1999-2003. In those days I saw him shut down everyone from small forwards like T-Mac to pesky guards like Iverson. His coaching staff was much more likely to unleash him on the opposition’s best offensive player, knowing that their offense was mainly going to come from Shaq. But the last few years we’ve seen a change. Phil Jackson is a lot more weary about assigning Kobe to the league’s premier scorers, at least for long stretches, because the Lakers need his energy at the scoring end. Kobe still plays with incredible focus on the defensive end, but it’s normally in spurts. Against Utah I watched him hounding Deron Williams for patches of the game, forcing the ball out of his hands on the perimeter (not an easy task), and then have the luxury of guarding Matt Harpring for other stretches of the game. Against San Antonio he mostly defended Bruce Bowen and let Sasha Vujacic and Farmar annoy the hell out of Ginobili.

As a Detroit fan I can tell you, Kobe rarely plays well against us – he’s scored more than 30 only three times against the Pistons since 2004-2005. Yes, part of this is Tayshaun Prince’s defense (which has become quite overrated these past two years), but I attribute a lot more of it to Kobe guarding Rip Hamilton. It’s no secret Rip is the most active, constantly moving and physically annoying shooting guard in the league today (and his flopping talent is approaching Ginobili-like status). Kobe does not enjoy defending Rip because he’s forced to move so much. He’s forced to respect Rip’s outside shot, he’s forced to follow him round countless screens, and he’s forced to get a hand in 15-20 shots per game. It takes energy to defend Rip, and it’s one of the reasons that despite Rip’s incredibly predictable and limited offensive arsenal, he still pours in the points, every game.

Whilst Ray Allen isn’t quite as active as Rip these days, he’s a similar player, and makes up for the lack of quickness with a far superior outside shot. Ray doesn’t need a lot of room to jack up threes these days – he’s the quickest gun-slinger in the league not named Michael Redd, and chasing guys out to the three point line takes even more energy than chasing Rip to the elbows. Again, I can hear the Lakers fans: “Kobe is in perfect physical condition, he is fitter than Ray, chasing around an old man with dodgy ankles doesn’t scare him”. But it should.

Kobe’s best two defensive assets these days are his lateral movement and his athletic ability. Kobe uses his feet so well, he moves sidewards so well, that it allows him to guard the smaller quicker players that are used to blowing past their opposition. Kobe’s athleticism means that his defender is never out of reach – whether its the block out of nowhere or the lunging steal, Kobe always finds a way to get his hand on the ball. The problem for Kobe is that his two defensive strengths don’t count for a lot against Ray Allen.

Ray doesn’t dribble and penetrate much any more, he’s not going to try and cross over Kobe on the perimeter. Ray doesn’t need the ball in his hands to do damage, like say Gilbert Arenas does. Ray is a catch and shoot player. He might only have the ball in his hands for 5% of the possession, but its all he needs to torch you. Kobe is a lot less likely to stay focused and targeted on a guy that doesn’t demand the ball like Ray. Kobe is much better at defending guys who will try and break you down, who you know will force a shot no matter what. Which is why Lakers assistant coach Tex Winter this past week stated: “You don’t want to put Kobe on Allen. Allen has always been very effective against Kobe. Kobe just won’t pay enough attention to him”. I’m no expert, but Tex Winter is. I’ve heard Tex pile praise upon praise of Kobe the last 5-10 years, so when he says something critical like that, it’s worth listening to.

The Kobe-Ray Feud

I can’t believe I forgot about this one, and very little has been made of it coming into these Finals. But back in 2004 when Shaq was traded out of LA, Mr. Ray Allen had these choice words to say about Kobe:

He’s going to be very selfish,” Allen said. “And he feels like he needs to show this league and the people of this country that he is better without Shaq. He can win championships without Shaq. So offensively, he’s going to jump out and say, ‘I can average 30 points. I can still carry the load on this team.’

I think the point production is not going to be so much what people are going to look at because [Tracy] McGrady did it in Orlando, Allen [Iverson] did it in Philly. Can you win a championship? I think that’s the question. Carrying guys on your back and making everybody better.”

Kobe’s response?

Don’t put me and him in the same sentence”.

But Ray didn’t stop there…

If Kobe doesn’t see he needs 2 1/2 good players to be a legitimate playoff contender or win a championship in about a year or two, he will be calling out to [Lakers owner] Jerry Buss that we need some help in here, or trade me. We’ll all be saying, ‘We told you so,’ when he says that.”

Seems like Ray was spot on with that, a prediction surely not forgotten by Kobe. The two have reportedly made up since then, but I have no doubt that it has added a little determination on Kobe’s side to silence yet another doubter, and also on Allen’s side, to be the guy that gets in the way of Kobe fulfilling his dream. It’s all water under the bridge right now, but it will take only one hard foul, one strategically placed elbow curling round a screen, one in-your-face moment, to set Kobe and Ray off on another spiteful tangent. Part of me wants that to happen. Part of me wants to see Kobe posterizing Ray, or Ray draining a three in Kobe’s face late in a game, bad-mouthing him as his back pedals down the floor. The NBA Finals has lacked a spark like that for years, arguably since Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone were wrestling (on the court, and also literally) back in ‘98. And if we do get that spark, there’s enough fuel in the Kobe vs Ray saga to burn that fire all the way through to next October. Here’s hoping it happens.

UPDATE!: Just discovered this blog from SupersonicSoul giving a little more background to the Kobe-Ray feud. Apparently Kobe called up Ray one day to tell him “I’m gonna bust your ass”. I believe he said the same thing to someone in a Colorado hotel once…

Comment posted by
at 6/21/2008 5:25:00 AM

Pretty much everything I’ve said was either impartial or based on the facts. I’m a big Kobe fan. I was just as surprised as any one when looking back over the Kobe vs Ray battles.

If you think I’m saying Ray Allen is better than Kobe then you’ve lost your mind.

Comment posted by
at 6/21/2008 3:30:32 AM

Nobody quadruple teams ray allen, thats how you tell the difference.

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