Los Angeles Lakers' Bryant chews on his jersey during NBA game in Los Angeles

The Imperative: Kobe Bryant and the variance of injury


The imperative is an element of urgency based off of observation with some evidence to back it up. But like most anything in the NBA, the imperative is rarely black and white, cut and dried. Basically I’m hedging in case Bryant averages 35 points per game over the next seven games. 

Kobe Bryant scored 39 points on 28 shots Friday night, with 7 assists and 4 rebounds in 41 minutes. He had the entire arsenal going. Jab-step three. Spin to the elbow pull-up jumper. It was as impressive a display of basketball playing as you will see in your lifetime and he did it on the second night of a back-to-back against a much-improved Warriors team.

And it was the worst thing that could have happened to Bryant and Lakers fans.

Last year, there were signs. Games where he would shoot a high volume and the efficiency wasn’t just off, it was bad. It wasn’t because the offense wasn’t working or because he defense was stout. It was very clearly about proving a point. Every player has bad games. Bryant’s had some in his long and brilliant career. But last season was the first time when you could really point to decisions Bryant made in the flow of the offense and say “That cost the Lakers.” Bryant would rise up from 35 to 40 feet for pull-up threes with time on the clock because “he was feeling it” regardless of how his night was going. There’s no way to say that his teammates were in need of a shot like that, that the team needed a boost and that was the way to do it, that that’s the kind of shot that gets him going (it’s not, his one-spin elbow pull-up does that like nothing else; he hits that and you can see the blood flowing through his skin). It was just a mistake.

But it wasn’t just shooting. I started noticing an odd element. Half-court traps started working on Bryant when he would allow them to snare him, which was more often than you’d think. At the time, I believed it had to do with his finger injury, and it doesn’t seem to be a product of age. But the result is the same. It’s carried over.

This year, consider the following.

Bryant is averaging 23 FGA per game. That’s going to fluctuate, but given the kind of role he’s tried to take with the Lakers this season and with Lamar Odom gone, it’s a decent barometer. After last night’s game against the Warriors, the Lakers are 2-4 when he shoots 23 times or more. They are undefeated (3-0) when he shoots less, but that point isn’t really salient; if Kobe’s not involved in the offense, the Lakers will start losing all the same. Also consider that after last night, Bryant has been tied or lead the game in turnovers for either team in five of the Lakers’ nine games. Now, some of that’s expected when he handles the ball as much as he does, his usage rate is ridiculously high as he handles the load for the Lakers’ offense. His turnover ratio is right at the league average. But the cumulative effect is damaging for the Lakers who don’t have possessions to spare.

So what’s the point of all this? Is Kobe Bryant over the hill? Is his effectiveness over? Is he selfish ball-hog that needs to stop hogging the ball and being selfish with his selfish ball-hogging?

Don’t be ridiculous.

He dropped 39 points last night!

But Bryant needs to rein it in. Not because of the damage he’s causing the Lakers’ efforts to win, but because that wrist needs to heal.

It’s clearly bothering him. There have been jokes about Bryant holding it when he gets dunked on, has the ball stolen, or misses. But he has a torn ligament in his wrist. I’ve never torn a ligament in my wrist. But I know enough of medical science to know THAT HURTS REALLY REALLY BADLY. And when the diagnosis was released, everyone said the same thing “If he’s not going to have surgery, he’s got to get it some rest.” Bryant could still play basketball while not putting unnecessary strain on it. But he’s not. He’s shooting more. Let me restate that.

With an injured wrist that is clearly affecting his shot and ability to handle the ball, Kobe Bryant is shooting more.

It’s his body, he gets to do what he wants with it, and Lord knows his rings give him a certain amount of leeway in decision making. But the results have spoken for themselves. Despite Friday night’s barrage, he’s struggled, and the team struggled with them. What’s worse is that this approach to Bryant’s game actually works counter to what the Lakers want to do.

With this assembly of players, guys like Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy, Matt Barnes, you don’t want to try and overwhelm the opponent with talent. You want to play smart, crafty offense designed to confuse and get the opponent rotating to create open looks. When the Lakers have played their best, this is what they’ve done. Bryant can shoot 20 times in the flow of an offense off catch-and-shoot and high post opportunities without going to the dribble ISO.

According to Synergy Sports, Bryant scored 1.02 points per possession in ISO last season, in the 91st percentile of the entire league. He turned the ball over in ISO just 8.3% of the time. In short, he was Kobe freaking Bryant one-on-one.

This year? He’s scoring .763 points per possession in ISO and turning it over 11.3 percent of the time. And that’s accounting for 35% of all his possessions. That’s a huge number.

Is Bryant going to get better as the wrist heals? Yes. But that process is exacerbated with every shot he takes, with every foul he gets on the wrist off jumpers and layups, with the more strain he puts on it. Bryant won’t sit, he can’t sit, it’s not in his DNA. And there are going to be plenty of games like Friday night for the second best shooting guard in NBA history.

But for the Lakers to be the best they’re going to be, Bryant needs to look his game and his wrist in the mirror and understand that he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. There are so many ways he can be great, and no one will take his adapting his game to an injury and a new offense as he gets older as anything but another sign of his basketball cerebral greatness. Kobe’s trying to be Kobe, but he’s not Kobe the scoring shooting guard right now. He just needs to be Kobe Bryant, one of the best basketball players in the NBA.

Quote of the Day: Joel Embiid says he learned to shoot by watching ‘just regular white people’ on the internet

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Embiid #21 and Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers participate in media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid couldn’t endear himself by playing in an NBA game, because he’s been too injured to do that in two pro seasons.

He’s had to resort to witty nicknames, practice-gym dunks, fun-loving stunts, attention-seeking tweets and self-deprecating humor.

Embiid is scheduled to make his NBA debut tonight, when the 76ers play the Thunder. Soon, we’ll judge him more for what he does on the court.

But, first, Embiid went out with one last bang of a quote.

Embiid, via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

“You know how I learned to shoot?” Embiid says. “I watched white people. Just regular white people. They really put their elbow in and finish up top. You can find videos of them online.”

Tyronn Lue says ‘they said’ LeBron James has a body of a 19-year-old, but nobody else knows where Cavaliers coach got that

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LeBron James might be the greatest athlete in NBA history.

But even he has shown signs of decline at age 31.

He has gotten multiple back injections and even took a break during the season to rehabilitate in Miami. The forward has treated the last two regular-seasons as glorified warmups for the playoffs.

Just where does LeBron stand physically?

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue gave quite the answer.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Lue said James, at 31, “had a chance to get tested this summer and they said he had a body of a 19-year old. Maybe he’s getting younger. Benjamin Button.”

It was a little perplexing because neither James, nor his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, nor general manager David Griffin had any real idea what test Lue was talking about.

This reminds me of Derrick Rose attributing the Knicks and Warriors being super teams to “They’re saying.” Who is they, and what are they smoking?

That LeBron, Mancias and Griffin won’t cop to knowing is quite revealing.

LeBron does not have the body of a 19-year-old. Years of other-worldly play and long playoff runs has taken a toll.

Because he’s declining from such a high peak, LeBron should remain elite for a while. His athleticism might even fluctuate as it trends downward overall.

But Father Time is undefeated, and LeBron didn’t just get a mid-career reset to his rookie physical form.

Draymond Green says technical foul won’t dissuade him from yelling after dunks

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Draymond Green has apologized again and again and again in the last year.

But the Warriors forward has also maintained he must remain true to himself.

So, after getting technical foul for yelling (presumably because it was toward LaMarcus Aldridge) following a dunk in Golden State’s loss to the Spurs last night, Green – under more intense scrutiny than ever – dug in.

Green, via Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

“Next time I dunk, I’m gonna yell again,” Draymond declared after the loss. “I mean, it’s kind of universal. I’m gonna continue to be me, and whatever happens, happens.”

Expect Green to keep getting technicals. Even if the one last night was relatively weak, Green nearly constantly toes the line. He had 12 technical fouls last season, and a league-high five in the playoffs (boosted by Golden State advancing all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals).

And if the Warriors are winning, that’s fine. His emotional energy does more to lift the team than hinder it.

But, as we’ve seen, there is a definite downside.

Report: Hawks signing Dennis Schroder to four-year, $70 million contract extension

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Dennis Schroder #17 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Update: Marc Stein of ESPN:

That’s an even better deal for the Hawks.


The Hawks traded a former All-Star in his prime (Jeff Teague). They waived two experienced backups (Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum), leaving only rookie Malcolm in Delaney in reserve.

Atlanta is putting all its point guard eggs in Dennis Schroder‘s basket – not just as the starter on a team that expects to make the playoffs, but a long-term building block.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Paying Schroder $17.5 million per year seems fair, because he could wind up drastically underpaid or drastically overpaid.

Schroder drives into the lane with abandon and usually produces quality outcomes as a result. He possesses impressive tools and is already beginning to utilize them, including in several clutch situations.

But he must make better decisions with the ball, finish better at the rim and shoot better from outside for Atlanta’s bet to pay off. It’s also help if he becomes more than just an occasionally pesky defender.

Just 23, time is on his side.

If Schroder develops into a quality starting point guard, he’ll be a bargain. The Hawks will have done well to lock him up before he proved his ability, and their other moves indicate they believe in him making this step.

But if a larger role just exposes Schroder’s flaws, this could backfire. For all the justifiable reasons to have faith in Schroder’s ascension, it’s important to remember he’s not there yet.

This is a relative high-variance bet by Atlanta, which I like in principle. Teams are generally too conservative with rookie-scale contract extensions.

If Schroder doesn’t break out as they hope, the Hawks will have problems regardless of whether or not they extend him. It’s not as if handling him restricted free agency would be a walk in the park.

Now, if Schroder lives up to the hype in Atlanta, the Hawks’ return on investment will be even greater.