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.

Anthony Davis scores 40, leads Pelicans past Nuggets 125-115

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 10 field goals for New Orleans against Denver on Saturday night. That’s not a bad total, but it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story about how he carried the Pelicans.

Davis added 20-for-21 shooting from the free throw line and finished with 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Pelicans defeated the Nuggets 125-115 Saturday night.

Davis’ performance on Saturday followed a 43-point effort a night earlier in a win over New York.

“It’s pretty hard to stop him, especially when he gets in a groove like that,” said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who overcame foul trouble to finish with 19 points and match Davis’ assists. “We don’t think anyone can guard him in the first place.”

Julius Randle had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Nikola Mirotic had 20 points and 10 rebounds and E'Twaun Moore scored 13 for New Orleans, which won for the fifth time in six games.

Nikola Jokic had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Gary Harris scored 24, Juancho Hernangomez had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Monte Morris came off the bench to add 13 and Jamal Murray had 11 for the Nuggets, who lost for the fifth time in six games.

Davis’ assists tied a career-high and it was his seventh game with at least six assists this season. In his previous six seasons, he had just eight such games.

“I just realized that a lot of teams are scouting for me,” Davis said. “They didn’t want me to go off I guess, so I’m just trying to find guys and guys are playing with a lot of confidence and making shots. They know and I know where they are going to be and they know where I like them to be.”

The Pelicans made 31 of 34 free throws, and the Nuggets made 8 of 13.

“I felt we were doing things that should’ve generated some more free throws,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “Obviously, the referees didn’t see it that way tonight. They saw them getting fouled quite a bit.”

The Pelicans, who rallied from a 19-point deficit against the Knicks, had a much easier time against the Nuggets.

Though Denver got off to a fast start, New Orleans took the lead late in the first quarter and never trailed again.

Davis scored 12 points as the Pelicans held a 37-35 lead after the first quarter. He wound up with 12 at halftime as his team clung to a 70-67 halftime lead and even though he had just four points in the third quarter, New Orleans took a 98-88 lead into the final period.

The Nuggets got within seven points three times early in the fourth quarter, but Davis and Holiday scored four points each during an 8-0 run that gave New Orleans a 110-95 lead midway through the quarter.

The closest Denver got after that was nine points.

“It’s hard to stop him,” Jokic said of Davis. “He’s a really great player. We didn’t do a good job tonight.”

 

Luka Doncic leads Mavericks over short-handed Warriors 112-109

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic gave the Dallas Mavericks a glimpse of an exciting future – and extended a bad week for the Golden State Warriors.

The rookie scored 24 points, including a short jumper that put Dallas in front for good, and the Mavericks beat the Warriors 112-109 on Saturday night.

The 19-year-old from Slovenia arrived in the NBA having led Real Madrid to the 2018 Euro League title. On Saturday, he hit a 10-footer in the lane with 1:10 left to put Dallas up 109-108, then sealed the game with two free throws with seven seconds remaining.

“I’ve been doing this when I was in Madrid, too,” Doncic said. “I love the last-minute shot. (But) of course it’s different. It’s the NBA. It’s the best league in the world.”

Golden State played without injured starters Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and lost for the fourth time in six games. The Warriors dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, and Saturday they led by eight points in the second half before the Mavs rallied.

Kevin Durant scored 32 points, but only three in the fourth quarter on 1-for-7 shooting. Klay Thompson added 22 for the two-time defending NBA champions. Durant missed two shots and Thompson one in the final minute, all of which could have either tied the game or put Golden State ahead.

“You don’t set NBA records being frustrated,” Thompson said. “I’m not going to go over here and dwell on missing a couple of shots, missing a game-tying shot this early in the season.”

Harrison Barnes had 23 points for the Mavericks, who have won four in a row. It was just the second time Dallas has beaten Golden State in their past 19 meetings, the other coming on Dec. 30, 2015 – one of only nine games the Warriors lost that regular season.

An 8-0 Mavs run early in the fourth quarter, capped by Dwight Powell‘s three-point play, gave Dallas its first lead since early in the third quarter, 93-92, with 9:18 to play. After Golden State surged ahead again, the Mavericks hung tough and Dorian Finney-Smith‘s fast-break layup put Dallas back up 107-106 with 1:45 remaining.

“Our guys worked incredibly hard to wear on them throughout the game and we made their shots a little more difficult,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you work as hard as we did, you get luck to go your way.”

In addition to missing Curry (left groin strain) and Green (right toe sprain) in the midst of this rough stretch, the Warriors are still trying to repair the bad feelings caused by Green’s dust-up Monday night with Durant and subsequent suspension.

“Just trying to move forward,” Durant said. “Are we going to talk about this the whole year? We just want to play ball. I know that’s all I want to do.”

 

Donovan Mitchell scores 28, Jazz beat Celtics 98-86

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BOSTON (AP) — Donovan Mitchell had 28 points and six assists, bouncing back from one of his worst performances of the season and leading the Utah Jazz to a 98-86 win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.

Ricky Rubio scored 20 points for Utah, which beat Boston for the second time in eight days and swept the season series. Rudy Gobert had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Derrick Favors finished with 10 points and eight boards.

Mitchell took 35 shots and did not record an assist in Friday night’s 113-107 loss at Philadelphia. He was far more efficient against Boston, going 10 for 21 from the field and 3 for 4 at the free-throw line.

Boston scored its fewest points since a 93-90 loss at Orlando on Oct. 22.

Kyrie Irving had 20 points for the Celtics, who had won two in a row. He also had the move of the night.

Jayson Tatum finished with 10, but no other player scored in double figures for Boston.

The Celtics were just 8 for 26 from the field in the third quarter. They had to play much of the period without Irving, who fouled Mitchell on a 3-pointer with 5:40 left. Mitchell made all three from the line to put Utah up 68-55, and then Irving picked up his fifth foul just 28 seconds later.

Irving returned in the fourth, but Boston was unable to catch up. Mitchell blocked a dunk attempt by Gordon Hayward and Utah took it the other way for an alley-oop dunk by Favors from Geoges Niang to put the Jazz up 83-64 with 9:07 left to play.

Utah ended a two-game losing streak, which started with a 118-68 loss at Dallas on Wednesday.

 

Kemba Walker scores 60 but Jimmy Butler hits game-winner with .03 in OT, Sixers win

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Kemba Walker was putting on a “how dare you leave me off your list of top free agents next summer” kind of show in Charlotte, dropping 60 on Philadelphia while Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler trying to stop him. It was a virtuoso performance.

And then Jimmy Butler did this.

This is why the Sixers wanted Butler (or at least one reason). When it got to the end of games Joel Embiid cannot really create his own shot, Ben Simmons can create but his lack of shooting has defenders playing off him and daring him to take jumpers while clogging the lane. J.J. Redick can create a little, but that’s not what he does.

It is what Butler lives for.

And it’s not the only big play he made late, look at this block and save on Walker to set up the game-winner.