Kobe Bryant on his play so far: “I freaking suck”

12 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Through three games, Kobe Bryant has looked older, slower, without the same lift after his injuries, and not willing to accept any of it. He’s averaged 17 shots a game, hitting 31.4 percent of them (20.7 percent from three where he’s launching more than nine shots a night), and he’s struggling on defense. It hasn’t been pretty.

Kobe was more succinct assessing her performance after a 3-of-15 shooting night in a loss to Dallas Sunday.

“I’m 200th best player in the league right now. I freaking suck.”

That’s a reference to ESPN’s NBA rank, an effort by the site to rank nearly every player in the NBA, and they had Kobe 93rd best this season. Kobe always used that kind of doubt for fuel, but that only works if you play above the expectation. Kobe has not, as evidenced by his shot chart so far this young season (notice all the threes).

Kobe 3-game shotchart

As always, Kobe is not afraid to launch a shot with a defender in his face — nine of his 17 shots per game have been contested (a defender within four feet), and he is shooting 25.6 percent on those, according to the NBA’s Sports VU cameras.

Bryant put it more simply Sunday, “I’m just playing like s***.”

He added he’s getting the shots from the spots he wants (such as the elbow area), that rookie D'Angelo Russell is doing a good job setting him up, and that he’s healthy. Kobe has an effective field goal percentage of 44.1 on his 5.7 catch-and-shoot opportunities a game so far, but just 28.9 percent on his 6.3 pull-up jumpers a game.

“You know it’s fun,” Kobe said of playing with the young Lakers. “D’Angelo’s putting me in the right spots. I just have to capitalize better, that’s all.”

Kobe admitted being out a couple of weeks at the end of the preseason with a calf injury may have thrown off his rhythm, but he wasn’t making excuses or pulling punches. He was honest and demanding about his game, as he is with everyone else.

Kobe added he is frustrated. As you’d expect. At points he tries to play through it and take over like he used to — getting the ball on the wing in isolation, pounding the rock looking for an opening or a place to pull up and shoot. None of it has gone well. It will go better at some point, but he’s been off early.

What’s the fastest way to turn things around?

“Well, if I’d make a damn shot, that would help,” Kobe said.

He added he believes that will happen soon, that he had felt in a good rhythm in the preseason before he got injured, and he thinks he can recapture that groove again quickly. Kobe never lacks for confidence, that hasn’t changed.

However, other things change. In recent seasons, the offense ran more through Bryant, and he could become more of a facilitator and not just a scorer if the occasion called for it. Kobe admitted he’d like to do that again, but the young Lakers’ guards need to have the ball and learn how to run a team. Even if it’s the hard way.

“Sure (I’d like to facilitate), but no, you can’t” Bryant said.

As bad as the Laker offense has been, that’s been the better side of the court for them. Their defense has surrendered 111.7 points per 100 possessions through three games (third worst in the league) — and they haven’t played the real offensive powerhouses of the West yet.

Kobe, how would you describe the Lakers’ defense Sunday.

“S***.”

That sums up the feelings of a lot of Lakers’ fans through three games.

Bookie: Derrick Jones Jr.-Kevin Durant video-game result leaked, tilted betting

Kevin Durant and Derrick Jones Jr.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. beat Nets star Kevin Durant in an NBA video-game tournament.

Their matchup was televised Friday night on ESPN. But Jones said they played and record the game earlier, according to a since-deleted tweet by Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel.

That pre-taping has opened the door to a scandal.

Cool Media PR:

The NBA 2K Players Only Tournament over the weekend caused a headache for sportsbooks because it was pre-taped, and information was ultimately leaked.

“We initially made Durant the favorite to win the tournament, but he was taking very little action over the course of the first 24 hours,” Robert Cooper, Odds Manager at SportsBetting.ag, said. “When we posted the first-round matchup lines and the bets were completely one-sided toward Jones Jr., it became obvious that someone knew the outcome of the game.”

That’s a major allegation.

The NBA is embracing gambling, trying to draw the related revenue while remaining secure. That’s easier said than done, and this episode should serve as a grave warning for the league.

Before going forward, this situation alone is serious. There ought to be major questions facing everyone involved.

Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey, likely lottery pick, declares for NBA draft

Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kentucky sophomore Ashton Hagans declared for the NBA draft yesterday.

Now comes the main attraction from Lexington.

Tyrese Maxey:

Maxey will likely be a lottery pick, though that requires significant projection to justify.

The guard sometimes looks like a premier scorer. He handles the ball well and create his own shot. He shot well from outside before Kentucky and made 83 percent of his free throws last season. But he connected on just 29 percent of his 3-pointers. That 3-point percentage must – and could – increase majorly in the NBA.

Maxey’s inside game is more advanced. He can change speeds, and his floater is effective.

He’s also a solid defender who plays hard. His approach to the game is commendable – and it has to be. Maxey is not an especially explosive athlete. That gives him a narrow needle to thread as he enters the NBA.

At 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Maxey could settle in at either guard position. His potential is highest at point guard, where he’d have the ball in his hands more. But he must distribute better – another skill he showed flashes of but didn’t sustain consistently.

2020 PBT Awards: Rookie of the Year

Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson and Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

That Zion somehow lived up to — if not surpassed — his over-the-top hype is “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” stuff. He is (barring injury) going to be the best player out of this class. That, however, is not what Rookie of the Year is based upon, it’s the best rookie of this past season. Morant wins that based on one simple stat: 59 > 19. Or, to use a coaches’ cliché, availability is the greatest ability. Williamson was injured much of the season while Morant averaged 17.6 points and 6.9 assists a game, turning a team that was expected to be one of the NBA’s worst into a playoff team (as of when play was suspended). Morant is special too, and he had the better season.

Dan Feldman

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

Ja Morant is my runaway winner. I want to reward the rookie who produced the most this season. That was clearly Morant, who led the Grizzlies into playoff position – a rarity for a rookie point guard. He was electric. Zion Williamson was even better, but in just 19 games, he didn’t come close to matching the overall contributions of Morant in 59 games.

The actual close race was between Williamson, Nunn and Memphis big Brandon Clarke for the rest of the ballot. Even in his limited availability, Williamson still significantly altered more games than the other two.

Kendrick Nunn gets credit for carrying a much bigger load than Clarke, who was exemplary in his more-limited role.

Keith Smith

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

Had Zion Williamson been able to play the rest of the season, and if he dragged New Orleans past Memphis and into in the playoffs, I may have given him the nod. As it stands, it’s Ja Morant’s award to win. Not only was his play terrific all season, but he had Memphis as the surprise of the year. No one had the Grizzlies as a playoff team, and when the season was suspended, they had a 3.5 game lead. A lot of that is owed to Morant. Kendrick Nunn is a distant third, but his first year in the NBA has been one of the biggest surprises in recent memory for a single player. A G League player who had to scrap his way into the league and a full-time starter, Nunn earned this third-place finish.

Top seeds continue to fall while Bucks, Lakers dominate NBA 2K Players Tournament

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’re through the first round of the NBA 2K Players Tournament — eight players are out, eight remain — and a few trends have emerged.

Starting with: Being the best at basketball does not make you the best at 2K.

This tournament was seeded based on the players’ 2K player rankings, and the top seeds have fallen hard. Sunday, the latest was Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, who was the No. 4 seed overall but fell to No. 13 Rui Hachimura of the Wizards 74-71. Mitchell missed a three — taken by Spencer Dinwiddie — at the buzzer to tie it. But he handled it well.

That means the top seed (Kevin Durant), three seed (Hassan Whiteside), and now four seed have lost. The only top-four seed remaining is Trae Young.

Another trend: Players want the elite teams. In the eight first-round games, the Bucks or Lakers were selected four times each. After that, the Clippers were selected twice (once by Montrezl Harrell on Sunday). Only a couple of players have chosen their own team, and Devin Booker was not about to be one of those.

Here are the first-round results:
• No. 16 Derrick Jones Jr. 78, No. 1 Kevin Durant 62
• No. 10 Deandre Ayton 57, No. 7 Zach LaVine 41
• No. 2 Trae Young 101, No. 15 Harrison Barnes 59
• No. 14 Patrick Beverley 84, No. 3 Hassan Whiteside 54
• No. 8 Montrezl Harrell 71, No. 9 Domantas Sabonis 53
• No. 13 Rui Hachimura 74, No. 4 Donovan Mitchell 71
• No. 5 Devin Booker 85, No. 12 Michael Porter Jr. 75
• No. 6 Andre Drummond 101, No. 11 DeMarcus Cousins 49

Drummond used the Lakers to crush Cousins, but still doesn’t understand the power of Alex Caruso. Boogie tried to explain.

As for insights into actual basketball games, Booker said he would rather go up against the Bucks than the Lakers in a series.

Play in the tournament returns Tuesday night.