Season Review: Kobe (and other two guards)

Kurt —  May 22, 2006

Yes he led the league in scoring — and there was the legendary 81 — but I’m willing to bet that for Kobe Bryant it is less about those or other stats and more about the big picture, and how the season ended.

This season Kobe started to rehab an image that was tarnished in the media and most places outside of Los Angeles (not to mention plenty of places inside the city). By the end of the year there were writers willing to point out the double standard he faced and others touting him for MVP. It was a sign of how far he has come, but the fact that 22 writers left Kobe off their ballot completely shows just how far he still has to go. (Those writers should have to face serious questioning of their basketball knowledge for leaving him off entirely, but that’s another rant.)

For Kobe, he’s already a top 60 player in NBA history, his number will be retired at Staples (well, one of them) and he’s got three rings. He will likely never get the near-universal adoration that Jordan earned by the end of his career, but you know Kobe wants someday to be mentioned in the same breath as Magic, Bird, Oscar, West and the other greatest non-bigs in the history of the game.

For that to happen, he has to win another championship or two, and be the leader of those teams.

This season we started to see the evolution toward that, as he pushed his teammates at times to get better, and pulled them — or just plain carried them — at others. This is a Laker team that grew over the course of the year, in part because they started to figure out the offense and in part because Kobe helped them grow and figure out how to win. But there are a lot of rungs left on the ladder to the title, as evidenced by the loss to the Suns in the first round.

Looking forward for Kobe, the key will be helping bring up the level of play of those around him (and management bringing in more talent) because it will be hard to have a better statistical season than this one.

Kobe led the Lakers as a +12.7 per 48 minutes this season, meaning the Lakers were that much better with him on the court. (To be honest, the actual Laker +/- leader was Slava Medvedenko, who after his 7 minutes played this season would be a +105 per 48, but I think we can safely chalk that up to small sample size. That or he really is the best player in the history of the NBA and we just don’t see it.)

Kobe’s midrange game became deadly, and despite the constant double and triple teams, he shot 46.3% on jumpers, and he got fouled on 11.9% of his shots. That led to a true shooting percentage of 55.9%, which is quite good considering he carried 35% of the offense when he was on the floor (also a league high). He also shot 34.7% from three-point range and drove in close to take 21% of his shots from around the basket. A few other stats: He had a PER of 28.11, third best in the league; and 11.5% of his possessions turned into assists, while 8% became turnovers.

But the stats don’t do justice to the flair with which Kobe did all this. There was the game against Toronto when he saw the team down by 16 and said “time to take over” on his way to 81 points and a win. There was the three-quarter 62 against Dallas. There were the games, it seemed every other night, where he got so hot he’d take a heat-check shot from three feet beyond the arc, and it seemed like half of them fell. There were thunderous dunks (hello Steve Nash) and deft floaters. Every game, at least once a game, he made you just stunned with disbelief that a human can do that. Sometimes, seeing all his games, you could become desensitized, but we as fans — of the Lakers and basketball — need to soak in those moments because it’s not often a player can come along and take your breath away nightly.

Highlights, however, are not championships. Championships require a lot of things, including depth. Part of the challenge Kobe faced all season long was the lack of support — some of that from the guys on the court with him, but some from the guys who were supposed to back him up.

Combined, Laron Profit and Aaron McKie played in just 39 games. Both showed moments but, like you might expect from players of their age, could not do it consistently and could not stay healthy.

Profit, who played in 25 games, may have had the better season of the two — still the Lakers were 10.2 points per 48 minutes worse when he was on the floor. He shot a weak 30.4% on jump shots but got to the hole for 39% of his shots, raising his eFG% to 49.4% on the season. The good news was 11,2% of his possessions ended in an assist, the bad news was that 18% ended in a turnover. His PER was 11.2, not good, but worse his opponents PER (against two guards) was 20.2. He shot 16.7% from beyond the arc.

There have been a few that suggested the Lakers, who waived Profit halfway through the season to make room for Ronny Turiaf on the roster might look to bring Profit back next season, but I just can’t see that. I’d rather make room for a young player who can grow, Profit is not the future.

McKie may not be either, but he is on the books for next season for $2.76 million so he’ll be back. Last season a serious hamstring injury kept him out for four months he played in just 14 games and when he returned he never really got back up to speed or in the flow of this team,

McKie shot just 25% this season, was a -10.8 per 48 minutes, had a PER of 6.1 while his opponents had a PER of 19.3. The one thing we can say for him is that he moved the ball around, 44% of his possessions ended with an assist (just 7.7%) with a turnover. There were moments he provided some veteran leadership.

Can he do that next season? Maybe, if he’s healthy, and the Lakers need someone who can effectively spell Kobe for 10-15 minutes a game. But while McKie will be collecting checks next year he is not part of the Lakers long-term plans.