Kobe Bryant is on a mission. And ironically that mission is not to win another NBA Championship. No, Kobe Bryant is much too smart for that. Kobe has won five championship rings throughout his illustrious career. If there is one contemporary player that knows what it takes to win a championship, it is Kobe Bryant. So, given that the current construction of the Los Angeles Lakers is only slightly better than a D-League roster, it doesn’t take a NBA scout or an analytics genius to realize that the Los Angeles Lakers have zero chance of winning a NBA Championship. In fact, they have zero chance of even making the playoffs in the stacked up West.
As of right now, the Los Angeles Lakers have a record of 1-9. They are not only bad, but they are historically bad for a franchise that has always celebrated a winning culture. The only way of salvaging this embryonic season for a legacy-driven Kobe Bryant is by making himself look as good as possible because the Lakers are currently challenging the Philadelphia Sixers as the worst team in the NBA.
And what this means on a very practical level is that passing Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list is Kobe’s top priority right now, not necessarily winning another ring. Kobe is about 300 points away from surpassing Michael Jordan and if he keeps up his current scoring average of 27.3 points per game, he will pass Jordan in the next 12 games or so, which would be something to celebrate in Los Angeles in the midst of all of the losing taking place. However, it will come at a great cost.
Last week, Kobe scored 44 points in 31 minutes against the Golden State Warriors, yet they still lost by 21 points. Kobe’s impressive performance was the fifth most by a player in 31 minutes or less since 1985-1986, and he did it at the age of 36. Yet, there is something to be said of the fact that he finished with a plus/minus rating -34. What’s even worse is that it took Kobe 34 shots to get to those 44 points. And what that means is that the more Kobe shoots, the less everyone else shoots. In essence, the offense of the Los Angeles Lakers is watching a 36-year-old shooting guard, who is recovering from two major injuries, play isolation basketball in a half court offense that cannot generate easy points.
Five years ago, if Kobe Bryant scored 44 points in 31 minutes, that would have led to a 20-point win. Today, those points don’t have the same amount of impact and influence upon the game that it used to have, which means that his presence may actually hurt them more than his absence. In basketball circles, this is called the Ewing theory.
Remember when Carmelo Anthony went down with the New York Knicks and an unknown player named Jeremy Lin redefined the Knicks offense? When Melo was on the court, the ball stuck. When he is off the court, the ball moved seamlessly. Similarly, when Kobe is on the court, the ball sticks, and when he is off the court, the ball moves. And oh yeah, they have the same point guard that resurrected basketball in New York City – Jeremy Lin.
Last year, the Lakers averaged 97.8 points per game with Kobe in the line-up. Without Kobe in the line-up, the Lakers averaged 103 points per game, which is 5.2 points more per game. This begs the question, why would the Lakers score less points per game when an offensive weapon like Kobe was on the floor? It’s because when Kobe is on the floor, the ball stops moving, which prevents his teammates from getting involved.
Thus far into this season, Kobe is shooting an atrocious 37% from the field and 28% from the 3-point line. However, the rest of his teammates in the starting line-up are all shooting above 40%, which is not great, but still better. Jordan Hill is averaging 46% from the field, Jeremy Lin is shooting 43% from the field, Carlos Boozer is shooting 47% from the field, and even Wes Johnson is shooting 41% from the field. Additionally, Ed Davis is coming off the bench and shooting 65% from the field, yet he is only averaging 23 minutes per game. Why is someone that accurate from the field only getting 6.3 attempts per game? It’s because someone else is shooting the ball the bulk of the time. Furthermore, Davis is the best shot blocker on the team with an average of 1.7 blocks per game. If Davis got 30 minutes per game, he could easily average 2.0 blocks per game. And this non-oriented defensive team desperately needs rim protection.
And, I hate to say it, but what’s slowing all of this down is the presence of Kobe Bryant. When players never touch the ball, they get stagnant and disinterested in the game on offense and defense. When players are touching the ball and moving the ball from side to side, they become engaged on offense, and as a result, more on defense. But right now, most of them are just standing idle on the court, as Kobe takes pump fake after pump fake en route to another contested jump shot with a high degree of difficulty.
Make no mistake, this Lakers roster is not that great, but they cannot reach their maximum potential if they do not feel engaged on the offensive end. Should the Lakers be 9-1? No. But they certainly should not be 1-9. Either this entire roster needs a change-up or the player taking the bulk of the salary cap and the bulk of the jump shots need to change. The Lakers have to either be out with the old and in with the new or they will be in with the old and out of the playoffs.
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