Will Kobe Bryant be a “high-volume, low-efficiency scorer” this year?

4 Comments

Is there any more polarizing question among NBA fans than “What should we expect from Kobe Bryant this season?”

Even his most staunch defenders realize that he is not 2006 Kobe anymore, but they expect him to stay healthy, use his high hoops IQ, and be closer to his old self than people realize. Then there are the doubters that note he played in just 41 games the past two seasons and when he did play last year he shot just 38 percent — they don’t expect Kobe to change, and they don’t expect him to play well.

Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Daily News asked a variety of people around the league, here are a sampling of responses.

NBA executive: “He’ll be a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer. The biggest deficiency will be on the defensive end. He can’t defend quick guards anymore. But he’s still going to get buckets. He’s still smart. He’s going to draw fouls. He’ll average a very inefficient 22 or 23 points a game.”

Rick Fox, former Lakers forward and NBA TV analyst: “He has a lot of miles on his body. But he’s smarter as a basketball player this year than he was last year and the year before. So above the shoulders, he will continue to progress.”

Anonymous NBA assistant coach: “I could see him consistently post 18 to 24 points a game, five rebounds, five assists and a couple of steals. He will shoot well from the free-throw line. He will be more in a catch-and-shoot situation at small forward so his 3-point percentage should go up. He just can’t be in a situation where they throw it to him with six seconds left on the shot clock. He’s not as athletic anymore and can’t beat so many defenders.”

I have trouble seeing Kobe changing his style after 19 NBA seasons, when it matters the Lakers offense will go through him. Nor do I see filling the true mentor role with the Lakers young players such as D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson — at some point he will grow frustrated with their mistakes and try to take over games, which will not go well. As noted by the assistant coach, Kobe is not physically that guy anymore. He’ll put up numbers, hit some big shots and hopefully be healthy at the end of the season, but he’s not the guy who can put a team on his shoulder for any length of time anymore.

Flowing out of the first question is the next one: What he will do at the end of the season? Is Kobe going to retire or keep playing?

Obviously, if he can stay healthy is the biggest factor in that decision. But for fun, let’s say he stays healthy and plays 65 or more games this season, not a lot of people around the league think he can walk away.

Fox: “I don’t think this is his last year. It might be his last year in L.A. But it won’t be his last year in the game. I think he’ll play overseas in China. Or maybe go to New York and be with Derek (Fisher) and Phil (Jackson) and mentor the other players with the triangle offense.”

Anonymous NBA executive: “If the Lakers can get a couple of guys, he’s going to want to be a part of it. But if they strike out, he could get another monster paycheck because they think he’s worth the price of admission.”

Kobe has repeatedly said he will not leave the Lakers (and I tend to believe him, being a Laker is a big part of his brand). No other team is going to play Kobe more than a $10 million, one-year contract — and any contending team will tell him he has to subjugate his game and be a third/fourth/fifth option. The idea that the Lakers would pay him more because he is worth more to them financially is spot on, but the Lakers have to realize it will be hard to land elite free agents if Kobe is still there (top guys will say publicly they will play with Kobe, but they don’t want to be in his shadow and have a fight for touches at points).

In his 20th season, Kobe may not be the most important part of the Laker season — development of the young stars is — but he’ll be the most interesting.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

0 Comments

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

0 Comments

Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

0 Comments

There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.