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Gregg Popovich says Bruce Bowen ‘couldn’t dribble and couldn’t pass’

Nov 2, 2013, 10:15 PM EDT

Bruce Bowen Getty Images

Gregg Popovich is known for being surly with the media, but he’s also known for being sarcastic and brutally honest when he does decide to engage in responding to a reporter’s legitimate question.

In Los Angeles on Friday to take on the Lakers, Popovich was asked about Kawhi Leonard‘s defense in comparison to that of Bruce Bowen, a specialist in that area who played in San Antonio from 2001-09 and was a part of three different championship teams.

This opened the door for one of Pop’s more painfully sincere assessments.

From Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:

Gregg Popovich had a pretty good zinger for Mr. Bowtie when a reporter compared Kawhi Leonard to Bruce Bowen …

Reporter: “He’s kind of different than Bowen …”

Popovich: “He’s a lot better than Bruce Bowen. Bruce Bowen couldn’t dribble and couldn’t pass. He shot 3s in the corner and he played good D, he played great D. So we want Kawhi to match Bruce’s great D first and foremost, but after that he’s a much better offensive player.”

Bowen was all defense, al the time in his prime years — essentially like Shane Battier, but more actually deserving of the lock-down defender reputation.

Popovich has a fantastic sense of humor, but isn’t in the business of taking unsolicited shots at one of his more tenured former players. Instead, the response that ultimately disparaged Bowen’s skill set was an appropriate one given how much better of an all-around player Leonard is shaping up to be, on both ends of the floor.

  1. casualcommenter - Nov 2, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    I don’t think Bruce Bowen would be too offended. Based on how Bowen played on offense, it’s obvious he himself knew he couldn’t dribble and couldn’t pass (other than swing passes to move the ball around the perimeter while he’s standing still).

    There’s nothing shameful about “only” being a lockdown defender and 3-point shooting specialist. Bowen has millions of dollars in the bank and multiple championship rings to show for his career.

  2. adamsjohn714 - Nov 2, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    This is why Pop is such a great coach. He knew Bowen couldn’t dribble or pass, so he never put him in those situations or asked him to do anything he couldn’t do. The Spurs’ offense only called for Bowen to stand in the corner and shoot 3s.

  3. legend30 - Nov 2, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    Ahhhh… ok?

  4. rickyspanish - Nov 2, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    What was the point of throwing Battier under the bus? Statements like that lead me to believe that Mr Blogger here has some biases he should probably try to conceal if he wants to be taken seriously.

    • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:27 AM

      Maybe look at what Shane Battier has done in his career instead of what announcers say about him. You might notice that Battier isn’t actually a great defender…. you know, because he doesn’t actually rebound that well, steal the ball, block shots, or stop his man from scoring more than an average defender. Battier is a very smart defender, and is usually in great position, but that doesn’t always translate into great defense because of his limited athleticism.

      • detectivejimmymcnulty - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:30 AM

        I agree 100%. Basically all he does is draw charges.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:40 AM

        “Battier is a very smart defender, and is usually in great position, but that doesn’t always translate into great defense.”

        Great position = great defense. Not steals, not blocks, not rebounds. So if you’re saying he’s usually in great position, that’s the same thing as saying he’s usually a great defender.

        Battier is a very good defender and overall a very smart player. Your team is better if he’s on it.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:49 AM

        I can stand in great position and never record a steal, block, or defensive rebound. Great position does not equal great defense. I’m 5’10” and have a 24″ vertical. Actually affecting the play in a positive manner equals great defense. Great position is useless if you don’t use it to influence the offensive player. Battier is a mediocre defensive player (due to his age, currently. Before, it was due to his passiveness).

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 5:47 PM

        If you’re just standing you’re not going to be in great position for very long. You have to be constantly adjusting – which is what Battier does. Steals and blocks are nice, but they are not the mark of a great defender. Some of the worst defenders in the league get the most steals.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 6:38 PM

        I agree about steals. They can be quite misleading, however, the individual event of a steal is an episode of great defense. The other plays where the gamble doesn’t pay off are bad defense. Battier never gambles, which is smart, but he’s simply too old, unathletic, and not strong enough to guard most of the guys they put him on. He’s only an OK defender and the idea that he’s some sort of defensive stopper is way past it’s expiration date.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 7:30 PM

        “the individual event of a steal is an episode of great defense.”

        Well it depends on the steal – if you got it jumping a passing lane, then I might disagree. That’s more about an episode of great athleticism than great defense. Certainly it doesn’t help if it leads to you gambling for more steals in the future. Obviously other types of steals happen within the framework of the defense – they require less athleticism – but they’re the types of steals that coaches prefer to see.

        No one ever said Battier was a classic “defensive stopper” – not even in his prime. He makes you work and he gets under your skin. And “stoppers” don’t really exist in a literal sense, you can only hope to make scorers uncomfortable and to have them expend more energy than they want to and Battier has always done that.

      • belleby123 - Nov 3, 2013 at 7:15 AM

        Battier has made a career of falling down on the floor. Impressive!

      • mytthor - Nov 3, 2013 at 5:11 PM

        If Battier was a mediocre in his prime I think it’s sort of strange that professional basketball teams paid him millions of dollars over the years primarily to play defense. But I’m sure you know more about what you’re talking about than they do.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 6:31 PM

        You’re right Mytthor. NBA GMs have never made a mistake and always pay players their exact value. Every contract ever signed has always been fair to both parties.

      • mytthor - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:33 PM

        Yes, because that’s exactly what I said.

        So your theory is that Shane Battier played 4 years at one of the top college basketball programs of all time, then 12 years and counting in the NBA, all based primarily on his defense, but what’s actually going on is that the Duke Blue Devils, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, and Miami Heat are somehow inferior to you when it comes to evaluating players’ defensive ability. Not to mention the countless sportswriters and broadcasters and pundits and competetitors who have consistently called Battier an excellent defender over his career. They’ve somehow been Jedi-mind-tricked into thinking Battier is a good defender. And he’s not. But you’re immune to the Shane Battier mind control powers.

        Got it.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:52 PM

        I’ve said battier was a mediocre defender because of his great positioning but inability to capitalize on that great positioning because of his limited athleticism. When he was younger (at Duke) he was a great defender because he was going against a bunch of guys who weren’t in the NBA or ever getting there. He developed that reputation, and sportswriters and pundits have continued to chirp that line even has his age and diminishing athleticism have made it apparent (to some) that his defense is not as good as it once was. When it comes to players with a defensive reputation, confirmation bias is a big factor. You think he’s a great defender, so whenever he makes a good defensive play you remember it and forget when he gives up an offensive rebound, stands there while his man shoots comfortably over him, etc.

        And yes, I consider myself more capable of objectively analyzing the game than almost all pundits who mostly spout nonsense about “heart” and “clutch” and “will to win.” Every time I hear about a coach “changing the culture” or some player having “championship DNA” I want to vomit. Instead, I press the mute button.

    • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:47 AM

      “Basically all he does is draw charges.”

      He is able to do that because he completely understands the importance of defensive rotations and puts that into practice. The same thing with Scottie Pippen, who was also great at drawing charges. That’s what good defenders do – they are always in great position.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:54 AM

        Pippen was also great a grabbing defensive rebounds, blocking shots, and getting steals……

        Battier only holds onto his mediocre defensive rating (imo) because he’s in good position and draws charges. Without his positioning and brains he’d be a poor defender.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:25 AM

        Pippen was also great at doing those things, but that wasn’t what made him a good defender.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:38 AM

        What was it then? His haircut? You’re sounding like a real doofus.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:19 AM

        His understanding of good position and his hustle to get to it. The same thing that makes anyone a good defender.

        LeBron James and Tony Allen are considered the two best perimeter defenders in the game and neither get a lot of blocks or steals. Battier averages more blocks per game on his career than both – but that’s irrelevant when it comes to playing great defense. It’s not about the individual box score. That’s why this new SportsVU system is going to be so great for people like you.

      • kingtotz - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:47 AM

        Comparing Battier to Pippen and Bowen? LOL

        Do you know the difference between Battier to Pippen, Battier to Bowen?

        Battier is a decent defender at best but not a great one. Difference is, Pippen and Bowen can shut down the best offensive player of the opposing teams. Battier? LOL

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 5:46 PM

        They’re different types of defenders, but Battier and Pippen are good defenders for the same reason. I never compared Battier to Bowen.

        Pippen is better than Battier for all sorts of reasons, but that doesn’t make Battier a bad defender – far from it.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 2:13 AM

        Haha. People like me… How dismissive. I agree that great positioning and hustle are essential to being a great defender, but I would rather have a guy who cleans up the defensive boards on the miss and steal the ball from opponent without fouling (this is where Lebron excels. He hardly ever fouls, as does Durant). Fouls are almost always bad (the exception being when you’re forced to foul Howard or whoever down low when they recieve the ball) Which, technically means that a defensive error was made prior to the pass down to the block, whether it be a bad switch of poor negotiating of a screen that allowed the offensive player to gain good position.

        Defensive breakdowns occur dozens of times a game and hundreds of times a season, so they tend to even out, and a players’ statistical contribution can be fairly indicative of their defensive production. This point is further supported by the data that shows players changing teams maintain a consistent level of production. The outlier of course is when a defensive center changes teams. Because centers, and to a lesser extent, PF are much closer to the rim, they effect so many more defensive playes and have a far greater defensive impact.

        True, great defensive players are almost often in great defensive positioning, but what they do with that positioning determines the outcome of the possession. Do they use their positional advantage to force the offensive player to take a low percentage shot? Do they then turn that ill advised shot into a defensive rebound for their team via box out or grabbing it themselves (I agree that a good box out is equally important in securing a good rebound, yet gets zero box score credit). That’s why I value a defensive metric that benefits all 5 guys on the court for such stats. Either way, I’m enjoying talking basketball with you.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 5:44 PM

        tl;dr

      • sportsfan18 - Nov 3, 2013 at 4:12 AM

        adamsjohn

        You said this above… “Without his positioning and brains he’d be a poor defender.”

        So what you’re saying is that one may ONLY be a great defender if they are great athletes…

        Luckily, in all sports, those with brains, knowledge of the game, knowledge of the team concepts, team defense, help defense, film study to KNOW of their opponents tendencies are able to help and be really good players…

        Those who ONLY rely upon their athleticism to be good, to be a good defender don’t help their team as much as they could and should…

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 5:24 AM

        Sportsfan…

        That statement is true in regards to Battier (as I would assume it to be true about most defenders). Being in great position is a sign of good defense. When you cannot do anything about that positional advantage it detracts from said good defense. There are a few exceptions to the rule where a player with limited athleticism (lets face it, these guys are in the top 1% of athletes in the world, so we’re just judging them against their peers) can be a very effective defender because his instincts and understanding of the game. Battier may have been one of those guys before he got old, but at this point in his career he is subpar, though by no means bad. He blocks out his man well, but is unable to grab the defensive rebound himself.

        In the playoffs, Battier was useful because he was an acceptable stopgap while the Heat was waiting for Mike Miller to come back into the game. His defensive value was that you could trust him to not screw up, instead of actually shutting a guy down.

      • belleby123 - Nov 3, 2013 at 7:17 AM

        Scottie Pippen? You mean Scottie Pippen the Hall of Famer, and you’re comparing him to Battier, the guy who nobody will remember what the hell his name was the moment he leaves the league?

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 5:40 PM

        Do you know who Shane Battier is? He’s not as famous as Pippen but he has become the symbol of the “No-Stats All-Star” type of player. Any time a player in the future fits that description you’re going to hear Shane Battier’s name.

        People in basketball aren’t going to be forgetting about him any time soon.

      • belleby123 - Nov 4, 2013 at 7:20 AM

        You’re completely wrong. Battier is nobody. He’s a clown who flops on the ground every time he tries to fake a charging call. He’s also a reasonably good 3 point shooter. End of story. And I have to laugh because you brought in Scottie’s name and then backpedaled saying Battier “isn’t as famous as Pippen”. Nice try, dude.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 4, 2013 at 2:40 PM

        Heh. So you were completely unaware of Battier’s reputation in the league. Okay, well that explains a lot.

        I will keep bringing up Scottie’s name. I could bring up Michael Jordan’s name or LeBron James name as well… they are all good defenders for the same reason Shane Battier is a good defender. That never meant that they were all the same quality – but the foundation is the same.

      • belleby123 - Nov 6, 2013 at 9:08 AM

        You have my permission to do what you want. This happens all the time: nobody players are ascribed more importance than they deserve because they’re on winning teams. Whatever gets you through the night.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 6, 2013 at 2:41 PM

        Since when was Battier a “nobody player”? The Heat have been trying to get Battier on their team for years – and they’re not the only ones.

        Are you new to the NBA?

      • belleby123 - Nov 7, 2013 at 2:17 PM

        No, are you. Other than flopping, is Battier in the top 25 of anything?

      • antistratfordian - Nov 7, 2013 at 3:33 PM

        There’s a reason why he was once dubbed the “No-Stats All-Star” – that’s what he’s known for! So you won’t find him at the top of any statistical category. But this is undiscovered part of the map when it comes to basketball statistics – something that SportsVU camera tracking should reveal to us little by little.

        But you’re doing what elite scorers have been doing for years, as Rockets GM Daryl Morey once put it: “(a) [Elite scorers] don’t think anyone can guard them and (b) they really scoff at the notion that Shane Battier could guard them. They all think his reputation exceeds his ability.”

        Michael Lewis of the the New York Times couldn’t have put it better when he wrote: “Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse.”

        Daryl Morey again: “…everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”

        Finally Erik Spoelstra: “The guy has won at every single level – high school, college, pro and that’s not a coincidence. He has something running through those veins that separates him, makes him a little bit different as a champion.”

      • belleby123 - Nov 8, 2013 at 7:44 AM

        No, I get it. There are some kind of weird, abstract reasons that make him a great player. I’ll make it simple for you: if you can’t name the reasons he’s great, how the hell do you think people will remember him for being “great”? They won’t. At all. Great players are players people talk about decades later. I remember Jordan playing. I remember watching Kareem and Magic play. I remember watching Larry Legend play. Hell, when I was a kid, I can barely remember Oscar Robertson on the court. Shane Battier is a hundred thousand miles away from any of those guys.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 8, 2013 at 6:11 PM

        “I’ll make it simple for you: if you can’t name the reasons he’s great, how the hell do you think people will remember him for being “great”? They won’t.”

        You are waaaay too late for this, brother. He is already universally respected as a great player. Hall of fame coaches are going to be talking about him for decades.

      • belleby123 - Nov 9, 2013 at 7:42 AM

        Proof?

      • notfol - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:54 PM

        Battier does far more than draw charges & you fail to understand the importance of getting great defensive position. A player in great position allows his teammates to get rebounds, to gamble on steal & blocks. Battier gets great position & is a great help defender. He knows what to do when his teammates’ gamble on that steal or block & fail.

        Battier never had the athleticism or quickness of Pippen, Bowen & other elite wing defenders. But he’s a much better defender than many players who are far more physically talented, but don’t understand the game. Battier makes his teams better by communicating as well. The last few years, age has been catching up to Battier, but he was an elite defender in his prime.

  5. bendover09 - Nov 2, 2013 at 11:45 PM

    If Bowen played on a small market team his great D wouldve been nothing but FT’s for the other team. He was just saved being under Air Force Pop

  6. rolltidenj - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    When did San Antonio become a large market?

  7. antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:27 AM

    Leonard doesn’t have something that Bowen had though… a kind of swagger (dirty swagger?). Leonard is kind of like an emotionless Derrick Rose – if that is possible.

    • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:55 AM

      What does that mean? Leonard is clearly better. Or are you just making a comment that doesn’t have anything to do with basketball?

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:26 AM

        It means that Leonard lacks something that is important for success in this league.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:38 AM

        Leonard has had a tremendous amount of success in this league already. Apparently it means that efficient scoring, great rebounding, and fantastic defense don’t matter at all to you. Enjoy all those players with “swag” and crap. I’ll keep enjoying the guys who actually play basketball.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:12 AM

        “Tremendous” is a crock of aggrandizement. He’s had moderate success. Nothing to write how about though. As of right now he most known to the public for choking at the line in the finals.

        You bring up “efficient scoring” but you’re talking about a guy who scored less points last year than guys like Matt Barnes and Kyle Korver. He’s not a real scoring threat. And I wouldn’t call him an efficient player overall either.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:19 AM

        Matt Barnes and Kyle Korver are very good players. To be grouped with them isn’t an insult in the slightest.

        Leonard has been to the playoffs twice, and the finals once (playing major minutes and being a large reason for that success). I’d call that a tremendous amount of success. That’s a lot of team success, and more than 90% of players can claim. Individually, he’s been very impressive. Way more productive than a 3 and D player because he’s a great offensive rebounder. Essentially, you don’t like him as much because he doesn’t have “swagger,” whatever the heck that means.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:28 AM

        In what world are Matt Barnes and Kyle Korver “very good” players? The same one where Kawhi Leonard has had “tremendous” success, apparently.

        They are not “very good” players. Kyle Korver and Matt Barnes are journeyman.

        “Leonard has been to the playoffs twice, and the finals once (playing major minutes and being a large reason for that success). I’d call that a tremendous amount of success.”

        He doesn’t play tennis, His Rotundity. He plays alongside 3 hall of famers and a hall of fame coach.

        The Spurs have had some success while he’s been on the team, but that applies to everyone on the team – from Duncan to Bonner. Individually it’s a stretch to call anything he’s done “tremendous” except his choke job.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:44 AM

        So two free throws trumps two seasons of productive basketball. You’re transitioning from pessimistic and misguided fanspeak into sheer irrationality. He was an above 80% FT shooter for the season. He missed in the finals because people are human. They miss. It’s just bad luck. Now, you’re using that bad luck to color the entire season beforehand. It’s called revisionist history, and comments like that could land you a job writing for ESPN in the near future.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:52 AM

        Well if you’re allowed to exaggerate then so am I.

        You’ve gone from using an adjective like “tremendous” to one like “productive” which suits me just fine – that is much more appropriate when talking about Leonard.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 2:15 AM

        Fair enough. We can quibble over adjectives till the cows come home. I’ll use well above average in the future.

      • belleby123 - Nov 4, 2013 at 7:41 AM

        > It means that Leonard lacks something that is important for success in this league.

        Having a guy named LeBron as a teammate? LOL!!!!

      • bougin89 - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        @Adamsjohn

        Arguing with Anti is just a waste of time. He’s so biased towards the Heat he cannot think rationally.

        I will slightly agree that Leonard isn’t an elite player yet, but he has all the tools to be and played exceptional in the playoffs last year.

    • johngalt1783 - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:07 AM

      Bowen was hard school. A left over from the the way they played in the last century. He had no compunction about laying on pain when he felt needed or just because he felt like doing it.

      A very tough player.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:27 AM

        Don’t think that has disappeared. It’s still there, just more stealthy.

        And Bowen was bona fide dirty. He was trying to hurt guys to knock them out of the game. A cheater, in other words.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:29 AM

        Don’t think that has disappeared. It’s still there, just more stealthy.

        And Bowen was just bona fide dirty. He tried to hurt players with the intention of knocking them out of the game. That’s not old school or hard school, that’s just dirty school.

      • kavika6 - Nov 3, 2013 at 5:26 AM

        “And Bowen was bona fide dirty. He was trying to hurt guys to knock them out of the game. A cheater, in other words.”

        Sounds like you’re describing the entire Miami Heat team.

    • detroitbasketballfan - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:49 AM

      Tim duncan won 4 titles and almost 5 without this silly swagger

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:20 AM

        Duncan has swagger.

      • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 6:44 PM

        Please, Anti, define swagger.

  8. johngalt1783 - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:54 AM

    Pop of course was honest about Bowen. I wonder what Jackson would say about Rodman. Great defender and great rebounder but had no offense. I wonder what Larry Brown would say about Ben Wallace. Great team defender very good rebounder no offense whatsoever.

    Nothing about Pop’s comment about Bowen was surprising brutally honest or anything else like that. I am sure Bowen would entirely agree with what we all know to be the truth about Bowen’s game.

    As far as Leonard goes I think the comparison to Bowen doesn’t hold water other than that they both played for Pop in San Antonio.

    • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 2:35 AM

      To be fair, Rodman and Wallace were both much better than Bowen. Mostly because they played frontcourt positions and were both defensive juggernauts in the middle, as well as dominating the offensive glass (more so Rodman). Pop’s original point was that Bowen was a great 3 and D player, while Kawhi can do the 3 and D thing, but also dominate the offensive glass as well as other areas. He can do many more things while making the same number of limited mistakes, making him better.

  9. detlefschrempfriedrice - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:26 AM

    “ws charges. Without his positioning and brains he’d be a poor defender.”

    lololol yeah and without hands Ray Allen would have a terrible shot

  10. pistolpete0903 - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:29 AM

    And the sun is hot, water is wet.
    it is kind of stating the obvious. Even Bowen would agree to that.
    Let’s face it, some players are uni-dimensional (Steve Nash on defense). Not a knock on them; they at least excel at what they are good at.

    • adamsjohn714 - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:42 AM

      Exactly. A great coach realizes this point, and only puts those players in a position to do what they’re good at. Bad coaches put Andre Igoudala as the ball handler in the Pick and Roll and wonder why a turnover happens… cough George Karl cough..

  11. notfol - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Pop is using the chance to instill some confidence in Leonard, while making it clear that D is what matters. What better way than to pick a guy who won a couple of championships, despite his offensive limitations?

    Smart fella, that Popovich…

  12. wowwowbad - Nov 4, 2013 at 3:40 AM

    Bowen did only 2 things, 3 and D, and he did them damn good, that’s enough.

  13. ProBasketballPundit - Nov 4, 2013 at 8:51 PM

    Kawhi Leonard can’t pass either. I love the kid but he averages something like 0.8 assists.

  14. jimeejohnson - Nov 6, 2013 at 7:18 PM

    The only thing more sports nutty than you guys arguing back and forth about this guy is me following along! Thanks.

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