The Imperative: Kobe Bryant and the variance of injury

13 Comments

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.

Report: Carmelo Anthony has multiple NBA options, expected to pick one before trade deadline

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Leave a comment

The Rockets leaned heavily on Carmelo Anthony then promptly declared him unplayable. Anthony remains in limbo with Houston, on the roster but no longer part of the team. It seemed he might be finished in the NBA.

But he might get another chance soon.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

According to​ two sources​ with​ knowledge​​ of Anthony’s situation, the exiled 10-time All-Star who remains on the Houston Rockets roster has multiple options available and is expected to pick one before the Feb. 7 trade deadline. There is no clarity as to whether he would be traded in these scenarios or waived and subsequently signed, but there are strong signs that he will play in the NBA again.

These options can’t be great. Otherwise, why wouldn’t Anthony have joined his new team already? My only guess is he’s waiting for a better offer.

Anthony has been most commonly linked to the Lakers. But that’s seemingly due more to his friendship with LeBron James than the Lakers wanting him. That said, LeBron’s voice carries a lot of weight in Los Angeles.

It’s tough to find a team that would actually benefit from acquiring Anthony. He looks washed up.

But if someone wants him and he wants to keep playing, he should go for it. He doesn’t owe it to anyone else to retire so we feel better about his legacy. It’s his life, not ours.

Watch Bulls coach Jim Boylen get bowled over by Denver’s Torrey Craig

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen received a raise as part of the team deciding he deserved additional compensation after moving up from an assistant position.

Of course, what Boylen probably didn’t expect when he took the head job was to literally be in a more vulnerable position on the floor.

During Thursday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, Boylen was it standing on the sidelines in front of his bench when an errant pass from Nikola Jokic sent Torrey Craig hurdling into Boylen.

Via Twitter:

Everyone appeared to be okay after the collision, but even still it feels like with the way things have gone for Boylen in Chicago, this could only happen to him.

Charles Barkley isn’t buying Kyrie Irving’s apology to LeBron James (VIDEO)

Getty
2 Comments

Kyrie Irving made headlines on Wednesday night when he won the game for the Boston Celtics against the Toronto Raptors, then proceeded to call LeBron James to apologize about how he treated the Los Angeles Lakers star when the two were on the Cleveland Cavaliers together.

To many, the move seemed like a quick maturation of Irving as well as a surprising about face by the shifty point guard. Even LeBron thought that Irving calling him was out of character, saying as much to media on Wednesday.

However, some saw Irving’s comments and actions a little bit differently. Speaking on Inside the NBA on TNT on Thursday, Charles Barkley said that he felt Irving’s conversation with LeBron was actually a swipe at his current Celtics teammates.

Via Twitter:

To be fair, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst expressed a similar sentiment to Barkley’s on “The Jump” on Thursday, and I have to side with both of them. Their explanation of Irving’s comments make more sense than some kind of overnight maturation on the part of the Celtics star.

Irving is a very good player but he’s also a transparent marketer. His flat earth comments, his commercial that became a terrible movie … it’s all about his personal brand. Part of that is shifting blame away from himself as Boston — currently fifth in the East — continues to struggle.

I don’t think Irving is magically more mature. If anything, his apology is a self-serving attempt at comparing himself to LeBron and by association, the rest of the Celtics as the flotsam that has traditionally consisted the Cavaliers roster.

That’s really not a fair view of either side, and I don’t trust much of what comes out of Irving’s comments beyond their obvious marketing value.

Russell Westbrook hanging with his son Noah before the Lakers game was extremely cute (VIDEO)

Twitter
1 Comment

Russell Westbrook seems like a pretty intense guy. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard has won an MVP not by being a pushover, but by pushing past opponents for triple doubles.

We have really rounded out Westbrook as a individual over the past couple of years, particularly after Kevin Durant decamped Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors. Part of that has been seeing Westbrook as a father, which we got more of on a Thursday before the Thunder took on the Los Angeles Lakers.

Before the game, Westbrook was seen on the floor hanging out with his son, Noah, and generally having a good time.

The result was, admittedly, extremely cute.

Via Twitter:

Noah Westbrook will be draft eligible in 2036. Set your calendars, I guess.