The Imperative: Kobe Bryant and the variance of injury

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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.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: “I did a s–t job defensively against LeBron”

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.

DeMarcus Cousins on re-signing with Pelicans: ‘I’m very open to that’

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New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins is still nursing a torn Achilles injury, the one that kept him from being part of his team’s sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs this year. But he’s getting better, and this summer should be a big one for the 27-year-old. It’s the first time Cousins will be a true free agent, having signed an extension with the Sacramento Kings back in 2013.

There have been rumblings that the Pelicans might not want or need Cousins back. They played incredible small ball against the Blazers, although they fell apart while matched up against the Golden State Warriors in the second round. Cousins, meanwhile, is one of the best centers in the NBA and should demand a sizable salary. Signing Cousins would put the Pelicans deep into the luxury tax without other moves to cut money from the books.

Then there’s the question of whether Cousins wants to be back in New Orleans. He’s said all the right things, but Cousins recently unfollowed the Pelicans on Instagram and it caused folks around the NBA to shift their biases every so slightly on his re-signing in Louisiana.

Still, Cousins says he would gladly return to New Orleans. Speaking to The Undefeated, Cousins maintained that he was going to look out for himself but that he did not hold any grudges, and he would be happy to be a Pelican.

Via The Undefeated:

Are you open to re-signing with New Orleans if the deal is right?

Oh yeah, for sure. This is my first time in free agency, but I’ve been around this business long enough. I know how things work. I’m not out here trying to hold a grudge or anything like that. I’m going to make the best decision for me, and I believe teams are going to do the same thing.

What’s your mindset, your view of how to approach free agency? Do you feel like you owe it to yourself to do your due diligence and hear what everybody has to say?

Yeah, like I said I don’t plan on rushing through this process. I’m going to make the absolute best decision for DeMarcus Cousins. We’ll see what that is. As of right now, I don’t really know. I can’t answer that. Would I like to go back to New Orleans? I’m very open to that. I love what we created. I love what was created after I went down. I would love to be part of it. But I’m going to do what’s best for me, and I feel they’ll do the same.

These are basically the things you expect to hear from a pending free agent, but the NBA is a business and obviously Cousins made reference to that several times.

The “grudge” part is the most interesting part to me. Why would Cousins hold a grudge against the Pelicans? Or is this a reference to the fact the Kings have significant cap space this summer?

I’m mostly kidding about that, but the NBA is crazy. Where Cousins ends up is anyone’s guess, and it’s hard to get true free agents to sign there, even with Anthony Davis on board. The Pelicans are in a position like many other teams in the NBA, where the harsh reality is you need to pursue the best talent you have available to you.

This summer is going to be wild, man.

Could Kansas City be potential expansion city for NBA?

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Most talk around expansion or team movement revolves around one city: Seattle. Obviously, the league hurts from not having the Sonics among its ranks, and the move of the team during the last decade was one of the messier business storylines of that era.

As a resident of Seattle, it always strikes me how odd it is a metro area of this size — one that’s still focused on basketball — doesn’t have an NBA team. It just feels weird, even considering the context of Howard Schultz, Clay Bennett, and Key Arena. “Soon but not that soon” is the general feeling about getting an NBA team here in Washington.

Then again, some other cities may be in the mix, too.

According to a rumor from SEC Network’s Jarrett Sutton, at least one NBA executive thinks that Kansas City is another potential spot for expansion.

Via Twitter:

Kansas City does have the advantage of already being a sports town, a top 33 TV market, and it has an NBA-sized arena in the Sprint Center. KC is also the host city for the Big 12 tournament.

Still, the city hasn’t had an NBA team since the Kings left in 1985, and Adam Silver has said that expansion isn’t really on the docket for the league in the near future.

The question is also whether the NBA needs more teams or fewer. Some folks have started to take the stance that they would actually prefer contraction away from markets that never seem to compete. I’m not sure if that’s realistic, but re-arrangement by teams moving also seems less likely in this day and age, too, especially after the last-ditch effort to keep the Kings in Sacramento in 2013.

When will Seattle get an NBA team? Will Kansas City get a team? Will it be in tandem? This is fun speculation at this point, but we won’t get our answer for some time.