Whither Kobe

Kurt —  October 24, 2006

Kobe is not going to win the scoring title this season.

Or, maybe a better way of saying this is: If things go well for the Lakers this season, Kobe is not going to win the scoring title.

I was thinking about this while answering a few Laker questions for an online fantasy basketball Web site. One question asked was about lingering effects of Kobe’s injury, which I don’t think will be much of an impact long term (we hope not, the Lakers need a fast start). But I hastened to add that for fantasy hoops players it mattered that Kobe’s scoring should drop slightly this year.

Now, I’ll add that what I envision is his scoring total goes down slightly but his efficiency should improve – higher shooting percentage (55.9% true shooting percentage last year, which is still good), fewer forced shots because teammates stand around.

I see a couple of reasons Kobe’s scoring will drop.

One, Kobe should have to play fewer minutes. Last season Kobe played a personal high 3,273 minutes, and yet every time he left the game Laker fans held their breath – when Kobe was on the floor the Lakers were +4.5 points per 48 minutes better than their opponents, when he was off the floor they were -7.9. Part of that was that there was no decent replacement for him — Kobe had a PER of 30 when playing the two, his replacements were Sasha (PER of 8.9), Laron Proffit (11) and a little Devin George (7.9). Others picked up a few minutes, but like those three all of them are well below average.

This year there is Maurice Evans – a solid backup. He can defend, he can shoot the three from the corner, last season he shot 51.5% (eFG%) and had a PER of 15, right at the league average. And average would be a step up. Evans may be a more important addition than Radmanovic by the end of the season because rather than Kobe playing 35.4 minutes per game that can drop a few minutes a game. While that is good for the Lakers, it means his scoring should go down.

Second, Kobe should score less because others are taking more shots. Honestly, it felt like that at the end of the last season, when Odom was averaging 16.8 points per game while shooting 55.1%, plus getting, 8.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists (over the last too months). However, if you look at the Lakers last 27 games (the last 20 plus the playoffs) Kobe averaged 35 points per game, pretty much right at the 35.4 average for the season as a whole.

Last season Kobe took 2.173 shots on the season (27.2 per game) a career high. The highest Michael Jordan took in the championship Bulls years is 25.7 per game — and I would expect Kobe’s shots to drop at least that far and probably a couple more. Those other shots will go to Radmanovic, Odom and maybe Walton, and an assortment of other guys.

Kobe should still get plenty of chances — you don’t take the ball out of the hands of the best player in the game. But he can’t carry the team alone if the Lakers want to win, it needs to be more balanced. How much of the load shifts off of Kobe will say a lot about how far the Lakers go this season. If he has to score 35.4 per game again to win games, it could be a long season.