What struck me as odd on Monday, in the wake of Kobe only being able to muster 43 points while being triple teamed and denied the ball, was the debate in some of the media about whether Kobe’s streak was good for the team.
The argument goes like this: Kobe has been shooting and not been getting his teammates involved, not doing the things that made the Lakers a dangerous team early in the season. He has stifled team play and growth, things that will come back to haunt the Lakers as the playoffs roll around.
My reaction â€” are you kidding me? The streak was not going to last forever, everyone knew that, but what it did was jumpstart a moribund team.
Letâ€™s start with the very basic bottom line â€” the Lakers had lost seven in a row before the streak and had played like crap for a month. Now, they have won five in a row, solidifying a playoff spot just a week after people were whispering that the team would drop out of the postseason all together.
And what about those â€œother playersâ€ who have been left out in the cold. Since he came back from injury (six games ago), Lamar Odom has shot 58% from the floor and averaged 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, including 24 and 19 against Golden State. Luke Walton came back five games ago (timed with the winning streak â€” coincidence?) and is shooting 50% (eFG%) while averaging 9.4 points, 7.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds a game. They are doing just fine with Kobe scoring a ton, thank you.
Then there are the other guys getting room to step up as Kobe has drawn the double and triple teams. Shammond Williams is coming off the bench, shooting 53.8% from beyond the arc and taking care of the ball, which is why he and not Smush closed out the game against Golden State. Ronny Turiaf had 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in the fourth quarter against Golden State off the bench. Against the Nooch, Kwame Brown stepped up with 10 points on 5-7 shooting. Each of the last five games has other examples.
Kobeâ€™s points have come at the expense of some â€” like the slumping Smush Parker (shooting just 45% [eFG%] and 23% from three in his last 10 games) and the injured Brian Cook. But is it really bad when you best shooter takes shots that would have gone to slumping or injured players?
The bottom line is this team needed someone to take over and get them winning again, and Kobe has done that. Heâ€™s done that in spite of the team playing some of its worst defense of the year. Heâ€™s done it without passing much but now his teammates have started to respond and step up to help him.
Heâ€™s brought the team back to doing what it did early in the season, when the offense was so good it won in spite of the weak defense. With some confidence building, players getting healthy, normal player rotations returning and the energy of a playoff drive building, maybe the defense will start to come around. Maybe not. And if not it is that long-porous defense that will stymie the team come playoff time, not the fact Kobe went on a scoring binge.
What Kobe did was get his team back on a winning track. And thatâ€™s what you ask a superstar to do.