Bruce Bowen Bye Bye


So Bruce is hanging up the black and silver, taking his three rings, and going home. Good luck to him! Very few players have managed to leave such an indelible mark with so little conventional basketball ability.

I tried to think of the right player to compare to Bowen, and I honestly couldn’t come up with anybody. He was a legitimate perimeter stopper who had no other specialty outside of floor spacing. Michael Cooper was the back-up for Magic Johnson as the Laker’s point guard and a decent lane filler when he played the wing. Dennis Rodman was of course an incredibly gifted rebounder in addition to being a lock-down defender on the wing as a Piston. Sidney Moncrief, Scottie Pippen, Gary Payton, Mo Cheeks, Bobby Jones… all multi-talented All-Stars. Even less-heralded defenders like Gerald Wilkins, Latrell Sprewell, or Shane Battier had considerably broader skillsets than Bowen. He’s like the Steve Kerr of defense. It’s all he does, and he does it so well it makes him more valuable than a lot of players with more natural ability.

In terms of his style of defense, I think he most closely resembled Michael Cooper. He liked to get underneath shooters and take their space away and hang off of penetrators and take their lanes away. He fought through screens as well as anyone, and he could switch onto any 1, 2, or 3 without a hitch. He did not get up very high and so wasn’t much of a shotblocker, and he did not have the quickest hands, so he didn’t get a ton of steals. Some people accused him of being dirty **cough Kobe cough RayRay** and at least one believed he was just a decent, lanky defender who happened to have Tim Duncan behind him **cough Pippen cough**. I’m not real perturbed by his lack of basic defensive stats or serious athleticism. Bowen stuck to the game plan, bodied up, and held position as the only superior perimeter defender on one of the best defensive teams in league history.

There’s a debate going on as to whether or not Bowen’s number should be retired by the Spurs. Since I’m not a Spurs fan, I don’t have much interest, but I do think Bowen has an interesting legacy. He is one of the players that I think influenced the metrics movement in basketball. Normal statistics ranked this disciple of Pat Riley and Greg Popavich very poorly. He did not score of course, and his offensive numbers were poor. But he also did not rank well in blocks, steals, or defensive rebounds because he spent all his time plastered to the opposing team’s best perimeter player. A sort of litmus test for the ability of a metric to measure individual defensive ability is how it ranks Bruce Bowen as seen here in Dan Rosenbaum’s old blog on Adjusted and Statistical Plus/Minus.

Nowhere, not in Plus/Minus or Defensive Win Share does Bowen ever rank as the best defender of a single season, much less his generation. Nevertheless with the tools he possessed, Bruce carved out a niche and played an important role in an NBA dynasty. Plus he had the best jump kick in NBA history!

One Response to “Bruce Bowen Bye Bye”

  1. Paul Says:

    Takes serious conditioning and willpower to stick on perimeter masters like Kobe and Ray Allen and everyone else he perturbed. He did it all game long. Some of his tactics were thoughtless and dangerous, but I wouldn’t color him as dirty. Wanna learn how to stick your guy, his tape is the one to watch.

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