The other day I was hit up by Twitterer pal o' mine, @Windfamiliar, concerning a potential Utah Jazz / Los Angeles Lakers playoff matchup, specifically, what would be the most problematic matchups. Naturally, I gave the good ol' reliable response about Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom's length, which is a valid concern, but that wasn't satisfactory. He also wanted to know how to stop the prolific Kobe Bryant.
Having already been tracking just such a thing (who isn't on the lookout for a way to douse the Lake Show?), I immediately knew where to go with it.
You let him shoot 'em out of it. The Lakers are a more-than-mortal 3-5 when The Black Mamba strikes for at least 30 FGA's a game. But it doesn't end there.
This morning, I evidently inspired a post on Ball the Blog, by another fellow Twitter friend you should be following, @BluesForARedSun, which ultimately became a catalyst for me to return the favor. The New Orleans Hornets' Darren Collison has been lights out, with or without Chris Paul, and the pair shared the floor last night in a win against the Lakers for what amounted to a quarter's-worth of play, out-scoring LA 39-16 in those minutes (yeah, if you follow me on Twitter you know I botched that math. Repeatedly. I'm a bit under the weather today).
These two NBA fanatics got me to thinking, searching out a new angle on why the Lakers lose when they do. The above link took you to Ball the Blog's post about playing what I call a "Pair of Aces" offense, that is, two points guards on the floor together, what I believe was the difference in the Hornets beating the Lakers just last night. Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz also rolled two PG's last night for a spell, reminding me of the reason Ronnie Price is the default back-up PG to Deron Williams; the final game of last spring, when afterward Sloan stated he'd been mistaken in not playing Price more throughout the year, but that's neither here nor there, although it is the reason Ronnie was asked back for another round.
As Paul and Collison showed, it clearly makes a big difference when playing the starting Lakers' aged back court (63,901 combined minutes, or about the price of a used Aston Martin... you know, to jump over?), to have a competent and proficient scorer opposite of Bryant. The super-slippery-quick Collison put up his 17 points in only 21 minutes, mostly with Paul feeding him.
Sure, we all know that the aging Derek Fisher is a chink in the Lakers' armor, however, Bryant is often lauded as the game's most complete player. Eight out of ten analysts will tell you this. But, his defense has sorely lacked in LA's losses this year, something that will surely make Kobe's supporters gasp and clamor for my head on a silver platter, since Bryant is widely celebrated for his defensive prowess.
Shouldn't he be shutting down his counterpart? He happens to be giving up 15 points per game at his position.
For this analysis I rolled through each and every Lakers loss in which Bryant played, often checking the play-by-play to see which opposing player was on the floor at the same time as Bryant, meaning he was likely guarding the particular player at the time. I realize that there are multiple positional switches on defense on any given play, but generally speaking, if he left his man that man is likely to have an open look at the bucket, so it seems like a fair way to determine what Bryant is giving up to his guy on the floor at the time, does it not?
Giving up 15 points a game to his man might seem like a little, until you check out the mean (average) at the position. The man in the middle here is averaging 10.5 points per game, meaning Bryant is giving up 4.5 more than he should/could be. And it gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective of course).
Kobe Bryant lets 47% of his opponents' shots find the bottom of the bucket, a full two percentage points worse than the mean of 45%.
And the same spread is true from the 3-point line, as he's allowing 39% of 3-point field goals through to the league average of 37% at the shooting guard spot. How bad is that? The Phoenix Suns lead the league in 3-point shooting percentage at 40%. Let's just say that's not good.
By the way, 39 is a notable number for Kobe Bryant in another way. He will surpass 39k minutes for his career mid-way through next season (and this figure doesn't factor in Olympic minutes). Typically, 35,000 is the plateau where a basketball player begins declining noticeably. Maybe you've noticed how Tim Duncan's offensive game seems to have abandoned him in the last few weeks? That's because he reached that nearly universal peak, and consequently his game has plummeted in almost perfect proportion to it. Bryant can't be far behind, indeed, his reluctance to go to the rim nowadays has been well documented, a sure sign of failing legs.
There is one other thing that sticks out like a sore pinky... er, thumb, about Bryant's game in those losses; his assists fall to 4.2 a game from his season average of 5.1.
And incomprehensibly, in five key losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers (two times), the LA Clippers, the Portland Trail Blazers, and Orlando Magic Bryant dished nearly 7 dimes a game. In all five of those losses Bryant took 30 or more FG's too, so it's not like he didn't do everything within his power to get the victory.
So, what does this all mean? It's means you want Bryant taking control of the game. His ego demands it of him anyway. He needs to be the man in charge, the director of traffic.
It could leave you clicking your heels, if you're the opposition.