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Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 at 3:00 pm  |  38 responses

Sacrifice Versus Selfishness

Kobe Bryant is having a record statistical season, but has he made the Lakers better?

by Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan

Let me say a few things that I’m sure most of you already know.

Kobe Bryant, in his 17th season and at age 34, is having one of his finest offensive campaigns on his entire resume. Kobe’s having his third highest scoring season to date (28.1, entering Wednesday), his best shooting performance of his entire career (48.1 percent from the field), and the fourth-best PER (player efficiency rating) season of his career. Not since the days of Michael Jordan have we seen someone so senior in his career put together such a campaign, and to be frank, this age-34 season by Bean is eclipsing everything Jordan did at the same age from an offensive perspective.

Yet, in a season of offensive wizardry, the Los Angeles Lakers as a whole have been offensive to our eyeballs. Wild off-season acquisitions, two head coaches, Smush Parker slander, infighting amongst the players, tons of injuries and a general lack of discipline emanating from the team, have many questioning if this team is capable of making the Playoffs. Yes, a team with four future Hall of Famers is more likely to have a pick in the lottery versus making the Playoffs. Oh wait, their 2013 draft pick is headed to the Phoenix Suns. Never mind.

Watching Kobe Bryant play basketball this season has been fascinating to witness. On one hand, he’s been so good in carrying the scoring load that you almost have to consider absolving him of any blame. Just look at him! You’d never think he had a major knee operation and played in almost 1,500 games (regular season, Playoffs, internationally) since age 18. But in almost every game I’ve watched, the same things seem to keep happening to Kobe and the Lakers.

Kobe’s getting beat on the defensive side of the ball, repeatedly. (The Spurs-Lakers game sticks out. Tony Parker said that they knew that could go at Kobe, and Danny Green hits a game-winning three on Kobe’s late reaction? Man.) Kobe’s holding on to the ball so long that he seems reluctant to give the ball up to the open man, repeatedly. Kobe hardly ever gets back on transition defense, his rotations are consistently late, and his only real way of showing leadership has resorted into throwing his teammates under the bus to the national media.

It seems like Bryant’s determined to show us that he can continue to score at this pace, get his buckets and prove to us that he still is the best in the world. (My God! Is that…CM Punk’s music?!?)

It sounds stubborn to me, and it reminds me of another great Laker player who was deemed selfish by many of his peers. That would be Wilt Chamberlain.

Everyone remembers the great statistical feat that The Stilt put together during the ’67-68 season where he became the first and only center to lead the League in assists. (By remember, I mean that you may or may not have heard about it historically, read about it, or just heard of the urban legend. The majority of the SLAM demographic wasn’t watching basketball in the late ‘60s, but I digress.) The ’67-68 Philadelphia 76ers were the defending NBA Champs and had finally defeated Boston in the process. The Sixers had six scorers averaging over 11 per game, and still had their four future Hall-of-Famers in Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and Chet Walker. With the formula of Championship success now in place, it seemed like going on a run of Championships was in place. Instead, Wilt decided he needed a new “challenge.” That challenge was to lead the entire NBA in assists, which he did, as his 702 dimes surpassed Oscar Robertson for the top tally. What an effort by Chamberlain. Except there was one problem…

The Sixers didn’t win the Championship that season. Didn’t even make the Finals actually, as an aged Celtics squad found a way to overcome the mighty Sixers and eventually won another Championship banner. You know what else happened? Chamberlain was traded to the Lakers. (Chamberlain also wanted to move west and date white women.)

What was evident in Chamberlain was that it was obvious that he was capable of literally doing anything on the basketball court, outside of shooting free throws. Yet and still a man’s legacy that holds great statistical achievement has endured stress because of a lack of winning Championships.

With Kobe, doing what Kobe does has always been an entity that ran its own course, with the Lakers as a whole figuring out how to work around Kobe. For the Shaqobe era, Kobe was virtually perfect. Score at will, and defer to Shaq when necessary. During the second era of Phil Jackson, Kobe served as the lead dog, but the philosophy of the team was still based on the triangle, playing tough defense and Kobe could close when necessary. Kobe neither has Phil to lean on now, nor does he have the defensive strength of prior years and a roster that suits his talents.

This Lakers team, when fully healthy, has plenty of guys to score. Scoring isn’t the flaw of the Lakers, (they’re fourth in the League in team scoring and somehow still have a positive scoring differential while being four games under .500) the flaw of the Lakers is that defensively they’re repugnant, they don’t facilitate the ball, they seem to lack leadership and they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves as a team.

These are things that we’ve seen Kobe do in spurts, but now that it’s something they crucially need, Kobe’s nowhere to be found. Grantland’s Bill Simmons noted that Kobe read Bill Russell’s book, Second Wind last year. One of the things that stood out was the fact that Kobe said he learned about Russell’s desire to watch his team play and notice the weaknesses of his own team. Once he figured out the weaknesses, he decided that his focus would be to cover up those weaknesses. Kobe has failed to do any of those things thus far, and he might as well say he wanted to decorate his bookshelf versus say that he’s applying a Russell-ism to his game.

Or he must think we’re fools.

Eddie Maisonet has been a contributor to SLAM since 2010. He is the Editor-In-Chief of The Sportsfan Journal and loves women who wear big hoop earrings. Follow him on Twitter to keep up with more of his shenanigans and tomfoolery.

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  • Jay Cutler

    Kobe, if his adorers were honest, hasn’t played a lick of defense in the last 4-5 years (the only exception is if all you watch are nationally televised Laker games, in which case I don’t blame you for being fooled). Though he has gotten better at grimacing and glaring at his teammates after getting beat on backdoor cuts and jogging back on defense.

    I wonder how many offensively sublime seasons Jordan could have woven over his career if he had the same lackadaisical attitude.

  • LakeShow

    I couldn’t even get through this.

    Yes, Kobe hasn’t been a good defender this year, but he has been a beast in the passing lanes and has had good moments in many games. Besides who on the Lakers has been a good defender this year??

    Blaming Kobe’s defense(lack there of) for the Lakers troubles…. Nice…. Just stupid.
    Slam has yet to write an article on Kobe’s great offensive season. One of the best ever for someone his age. This is the first article we get on Kobe’s season…

    That’s sad SLAM.

  • Dagger

    “This season by Bean is eclipsing everything Jordan did at the same age from an offensive perspective.”

    Kobe is 34. At 34 MJ averaged more points on a higher efficiency with more rebounds, the same number of assists (0.1 assist/game difference), with far fewer turnovers. That’s why his PER and winshares were in a different league than Kobe’s. Oh yeah, and MJ averaged 31/8/5 that year in the playoffs. And won the title. In his mid-30s, Jordan was MUCH more productive than Kobe is now, and his team performed FAR better with, frankly, less talent.

    Might be worth checking the stats before you make grandiose claims.

  • http://twitter.com/edthesportsfan Eddie Maisonet, III

    It seems like everyone’s getting hung up on that age 34 stat, my apologies as I’m an idiot and allow me to clarify.

    If you compare Kobe’s age 34 season compared to MJ’s age 34 season, then Kobe IS trumping MJ. Yes, I realize that the season isn’t even halfway over yet, but the analysis is still worth looking into. Here’s a link: http://bkref.com/tiny/utiEP

  • Jay Cutler

    I can tell from your username that you have an unbiased perspective in all this.

    Your accusation doesn’t make sense. No one blamed Kobe’s defense for the Lakers troubles. I’m not sure why you would be so sensitive and defensive, though I understand it’s been a stressful year for Laker fans.

    Do you have any evidence that kobe has been “a beast in the passing lanes”?

    For someone who is supposed to be a goat and a living legend, his fans sure do seem quick to insist the blame should fall equally on everyone whilst the glory and credit for wins must go mostly to Kobe. Convenient.

  • Dagger

    First of all: Jordan’s birthday is in February; Kobe’s is in August. You’re using the season for which Jordan turned 35; I’m using the season for which he turned 34. Both approaches are somewhat valid, but still: in the mid-30′s a half-year can make a big difference. Given that, it’s really hard to make the comparison on a season-by-season basis. Overall I’d argue that Jordan’s stats while 34 are better than Kobe’s while 34, considering Jordan’s averages in ’97 and his playoff performance, but I don’t have the aggregate stats to combine the latter half of the ’97 season, his playoffs, and the first half of the ’98 season. So take that as an educated guess.

    But looking at that ’97-98 season, in which Jordan turned 35: let’s forget about the different circumstances in which both players find themselves and just look at the numbers. The advanced stats are really similar: the PER is close, though Jordan has a higher win shares. That’s probably because Jordan had slightly more blocks, far fewer turnovers, and he didn’t foul as much. Some of those stats aren’t about offensive performance, yet in the playoffs, Jordan averaged 32.4 PPG that year, and again, he won the title. For the record, only once has Kobe averaged higher than 32.4 PPG in the playoffs (in ’07).

    Which is a long way of saying: no, Kobe isn’t eclipsing everything Jordan did at the same age from an offensive standpoint. Not even close. Had you said, “through 34 games Kobe is scoring more efficiency than Jordan did when Jordan was a bit older,” you would have been right. But then, that’s not as catchy.

  • Dagger

    Kobe IS averaging more steals than Lebron James or Wade. Actually averaging more steals than he has since ’07-’08. But steals, of course, do not a good defensive player make.

  • LakeShow

    Hmm, strange, don’t know where you come up with your biased view of Laker fans…

    Shaq was the best player on all three title teams.

    Pau was just as important as Kobe to winning their two chip’s. Kobe was just the better overall player.

    Odom should go down as one of the most versatile and best 6th men ever because of his contributions to those chips.

    Fisher was the steady rock, voice, and emotional leader during his stint with Kobe.

    “Do you have any evidence that kobe has been “a beast in the passing lanes”?”: Yes, yes I do. Do you need me to show you?

    So your a little off on your thoughts there.

    Appears as maybe you may be wearing the goggles.

  • Conor

    Author: How many games have you seen the Lakers play this season? If you say “most” and continue to argue that Kobe may, in fact, be a detriment to the Lakers because of his refusal to guard his man and Steve Nash’s the entire game while putting the ball in the basket for the likes of Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison, and Pau Gasol (whose open looks – and consequent misses – Kobe creates via playmaking ability) & scoring the bulk of his points within the offensive scheme, then I would argue that your basketball knowledge is limited.

  • Conor

    I mean, do you not see how WIDE-OPEN the three aforementioned shooters are, consistently, because of Kobe’s lane creation? He can’t make the shots for them.

  • Conor

    “Less talent” who actually performed the tasks to which they were assigned so that Jordan did not need to expend additional energy in compensating for their respective failures, you mean.

  • LakeShow

    Also….

    “Kobe’s having his second highest scoring season to date (28.1, entering Wednesday), his best shooting performance of his entire career (48.1 percent from the field)”

    Not only is he not averaging 28.1 a game (actually 30.2) he also isn’t averaging 48.1% FG’s (he’s averaging .477).

    Also, this wouldn’t be his 2nd highest PPG whether he was averaging 28.1 or his actual 30.2.

    30.2 would be his 3rd highest.

    28.1 would be his 5th.

  • roscoe

    i agree w/ you about odom.

    he should never be forgotten on those championship teams.

    although he was a bench player he closed out every game on the floor playing great team ball and defense.

    loved his game those years.

  • LakeShow

    Odom is an amazing player.

    The epitome of the player that should have made an All-Star team that never did. (He and Josh Smith)

  • LakeShow

    I can tell by your user name your a roid raging freak.

  • roscoe

    this article is well thought out and provides a solid opinion w/ a balance of evidence to piss off kb24 fans and kb24 haters respectively along w/ jabbing mj…

    I felt like i was being forced to take sides.

    not too shabby.

  • roscoe

    lol… bro-science approved.

  • http://twitter.com/edthesportsfan Eddie Maisonet, III

    Haha, now that’s funny.

  • Bored

    this is a bad article. lacking correct information and not making any interesting points. waste of time really.

  • Ivo

    “Not since the days of Michael Jordan have we seen
    someone so senior in his career put together such a campaign, and to be
    frank, this season by Bean is eclipsing everything Jordan did at the
    same age from an offensive perspective.”

    oh really check MJ’s stats with 34yrs old and he played better defense when we write something we should actually see the truth about the facts

    96-97 CHI 82 82 37.9mpg .486fg% .374 .833ft% 5.90rpg 4.3apg 1.71spg 0.54bpg 2.02topg 1.90pf 29.6ppg… such a lie

  • LakeShow

    I completely agree man…

    Just poorly done all around.

    There is good merit behind the ‘KB is playing lack luster defense brigade’. This article just doesn’t bring up any good points besides a game here and a game there.

    “Kobe’s getting beat on the defensive side of the ball, repeatedly. (The Spurs-Lakers game sticks out. Tony Parker said that they knew that could go at Kobe, and Danny Green hits a game-winning three on Kobe’s late reaction? Man.)”

    If the Spurs said to “go at Kobe” to DG, what do you think the Lakers said to Kobe about going at DG?

    DG: 11 points- 5 rebounds- 2 assists/33% FG’s

    KB: 28 points- 4 rebounds – 8 assists/63% FG’s

  • yeee

    Getting steals off playing the passing lanes is defensively just lazy and bad team defense. Kobe constantly plays off his man ball hawking. Yeah, he may gamble on a pass and get a couple steals that lead to fast breaks, but most of the time it puts him and the rest of the team in bad defensive positioning. And if he is playing effective one on one defense its because the refs are allowing to hack the heck of his opponent. My opinion def sounds biased, but its what i feel is the truth. Kobe is a good player, horrible teammate.

  • IvoL

    so i made a honest post about some untrue facts of this writer and my post got deleted lol to this

  • The Seed

    To blame the season on Kobe defense is plain idiotic. Nash can’t guard me, Howard is hurt, Gasol is softer by the minute, World Peace is the second best player on the Lakers right now and Dntoni can’t coach YMCA superstars. Kobe is saving himself for Offense and if Howard gets a HEART, Lakers will be fine. I would rather have Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson than Howard, Lakers make the trade.

  • JL

    Wow I would have thought they would at least have 2 appearances between them. Smith still has a chance though. Odom married a Kardashian.

  • JL

    It is true that if the Lakers were able to get some more stops they would be elite again, but that’s easier said than done. These old dogs don’t want to run around anymore.

  • Max

    EXCUSES!
    BOOK IT!!!!

  • shockexchange

    Nice article Ed. It’s pretty balanced. It highlights hHorry Jr’s agenda – to shoot. He must think we can’t figure out why he actually leads the league scoring – (i) he leads the league in shot attempts per game and (ii) he is shooting almost 9 free throws per games – the second most in his career. That sequence of him lackadaisically giving up that game-winning trey to Green, and then getting excited when it was time for him to attempt a game-winning shot sums up the Lakers’ season, and his entire career.

  • Sérgio

    I agree with you, Lake. Obviously, Kobe hasn’t played very well on the defensive end. But, really, no one in the lakers have. Seriously, it’s starting to make me nervous – it was painful to watch the game yesterday. No one rotates over – no one. The Spurs had a thousand of wide open 3s – including all of Stephen Jackson’s ones. I’m starting to miss Mike Brown…last season, we had at lesat a good defense…

  • LakeShow

    I definitely don’t miss MB, but this season has been quite trying haha…

  • LakeShow

    You got a point, he did…

  • Bored

    this whole article seems like its trying to spark arguments in the comment section. too many ridiculous statements.

    Kobes offense right now makes his defense irrelevant. i mean, i dont know how far they are going to get without it but the rest of the team lacking several different things is more worrying and interesting.

  • LakeShow

    I fell for it lol.

  • Bored

    who can blame ya…an article like this comes out and so do the ignorant commenters. someones gotta hold the torch for basketball I.Q around here.

  • LakeShow

    I’m a little biased.

    I still got my Lakers making the playoff’s.

    I still think Kobe is a top 3 player or at worse top 5 player.

    I still think that he can play good defense.

    All these things most people don’t agree with…

    I admit this.

    But this article, basically attacks Kobe, while speaking nothing on the new system, the new players, the injured players, the former All-Star Pau Gasol’s demise, the coaching changes. While only briefly mentioning (false facts btw) that, oh yeah, Kobe is also leading the L in scoring at 34 years of age, all while being at his most efficient in his career…
    It essentially just makes the Lakers woes out to be KB’s fault….
    Nice try, I’m not going to sit idly by when that is a point attempting to be construed.

  • Bored

    i agree with you being biased, Lakers making the playoffs and Kobe playing good D. Kobe is top 5 this season so far. last 4 years i’d have to say different. but youre exactly right about this article. Kobes been doing some crazy things this year. most of them good but the few that are bad have been highlighted too much by the media, all while lacking sufficient praise on the other end. i wonder sometimes if this magazine has an editor?

  • Narooman

    Its just so amusing, every one is saying Kobe is having the best offensive season and goes on and on about it but as a leader he needs to address team chemistry, lack of effoort and many other things but when he lacks on the samme qualities there is no defending him.
    LeBron or KD would not allow there own need to score getting in the way of the TEAM! yes he plays out of the charts late in games but if the team and Kobe himself did not play crapy the first 3 quarters there was no need for that they would be sitting on the bench resting!
    the most important thing is we need to undestand basketball is a TEAM game and every one should sacrefice for the good of the the team just look at Steve Nash and his shot attempts.

  • Narooman

    and the Bulls won most games in the history of the NBA!!
    72 to be exact

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