The Lakers “Chicken or the Egg” Problem

Kurt —  November 1, 2007

Here is what we know — Kobe used 43% of the Lakers possessions against the Rockets, and that is too many. If other players are not more involved and producing more, the Lakers cannot win consistently.

But with that information comes a big question: Is this disparity Kobe’s fault for not passing the ball; or his teammates fault for not doing anything with the ball when they get it?

In the game against the Rockets Tuesday, the Lakers ran the triangle offense pretty well with the first team out there, but things started to change in the second quarter. I’ll let a great note from kwame a. in the comments take it from there:

The Lakers ran the offense until the second unit couldn’t score the ball. Then Kobe (probably rightfully so) began shooting the ball to keep us in the game. The problem I forsee is how will the Lakers get back into offensive balance after one of Kobe’s scoring binges.

By the fourth quarter, it appeared to me that Kobe had stopped looking for teammates. But over at True Hoop a detailed breakdown showed Kobe did make a number of fourth quarter passes, but outside of Fisher’s game-tying three nobody did much with them.

To try to get an idea of how Kobe’s seeing his teammates, let’s examine how (his fourth quarter) passes turned out.

•Five passes to Luke Walton. Four times it comes back to Bryant, one time Walton gets fouled.
•Two passes to Jordan Farmar, leading to two missed jumpers by other players.
•Twice to Ronny Turiaf. One time it comes back, the other time it’s a missed jumper.
•Once to Maurice Evans, who passes it right back.
•Once time to Andrew Bynum, who passes it back.
•Once to Derek Fisher for the game-tying basket.

After considering how productive Bryant was on his own, and how little came out of his passes, one could make the argument that in his head, most of his teammates were not worth passing to with the game on the line.

In almost every case — before that pass to Fisher — Bryant ends up seeing a missed jumper or getting the ball back anyway.

This is not a new problem, and the question of whether Kobe or his teammates are primarily at fault has been an issue for going on three years now (and is in some ways at the heart of Kobe’s frustrations). But the answers are not simple.

On one side, is it simply a matter of a lack of confidence in the other Lakers? Are the other Lakers intimidated by Kobe? Shaq and veterans like Fox and Horry would never have tolerated Kobe not passing like this, then again they would not just have passed the ball back to Kobe when he gave it to them. They wanted to take the big shot. Fisher certainly has never shied away from a big shot, but what about Walton? Or Bynum? Or Odom?

Is it possible for Kobe to take these guys under his wing and turn them into more confident, more clutch players? Or is that the responsibility of said player?

The problem here is there is not a simple black-and-white answer. Kobe needs to diversify the offense, but there are times he needs to take it over, to do what superstars do. And finding the balance between those two things has long been a struggle for Kobe, he trusts himself and no player on the current Lakers — save Fisher — has seemingly earned his trust in those tight spots. When he gets in his “take over the game” mode as he did Tuesday night, he and the rest of the Lakers offense never snaps back.

Maybe some teammates need to have a talk with Kobe (or maybe Phil Jackson does), but those players have to take responsibility and do something with the chances they get. Maybe Kobe needs to learn to trust more. Most likely the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Whatever the case, until some balance of trust and responsibility is found between Kobe and his teammates, there will be a lot more games like the season opening loss.