Around The World (Wide Web) Kobe Update, Lakers Better Without Kobe?, Trades

Phillip Barnett —  February 22, 2010

There hasn’t been much news on the Lakers front since the team hasn’t played since their Thursday loss to Boston, but we did learn over the weekend that Kobe is (hopefully) on his way back into the Lakers lineup for their Tuesday matchup in Memphis, where the Lakers lost earlier this month. He was able to go through their Saturday practice and said that he’d have to see how it felt on Sunday. The Lakers did not practice on Sunday, but Bryant did go through some personal drills and testing – no word yet on how that went.

We also learned that Sasha Vujacic had a Grade-1 shoulder sprain and will end up missing a couple of weeks nursing that injury. From Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog:

“It’s pretty painful,” said Vujacic, who is receiving ultrasound and laser treatment but has declined to wear a sling. “It’s frustrating.”

That feeling has permeated throughout most of the season with Vujacic playing a mostly limited role. But his minutes had picked up ever since Bryant’s absence, and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson credited his defense in last week’s game against Utah and in Thursday’s game against Boston. There was also a clear increase in production in the last five games during Bryant’s absence compared to his season average, including points (2.5, 4.4), rebounds (1.1, 2.0) and assists (.6, 1.8). Obviously, Bryant’s injury is the most consequential, but Vujacic’s absence definitely strikes a blow to the Lakers’ rotation.

Because of the Lakers’ success without Kobe, a lot of people have began to wonder if the Lakers are a better team without Number 24 on the floor, a ridiculous thing to wonder to say the least. Joseph Treutlein of hoopdata.com wrote an article for the New York Times analyzing the Lakers’ offensive and defensive ratings with and without Kobe and came to the ultimate conclusion that, ultimately needless to say, the Lakers are not a better team without Bryant.

On the surface, it appears the offense must be performing better sans Kobe. But looking deeper into the numbers, the surprising truth is that, despite the Lakers’ dominance over those five games, they’ve actually been performing noticeably worse than normal. Indeed, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency, on average, during the past five games has been 102.8 — 3.8 lower than their season average. While these numbers don’t definitively prove anything, they likewise don’t provide any evidence that the offense performed better without Bryant; the opposite has been the case.

So how do we explain the Lakers’ excellent play these past five games? Surprisingly, it’s on the defensive end where they’ve stepped up their game, playing far above their standard. For the season, the Lakers rank second in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing 99.6 points per 100 possessions, but in the past five games they’ve allowed an average of just 91.5 points per 100 possessions.

…So what exactly have we learned here? Mainly, that anything can happen in a five-game stretch, so we shouldn’t read too much into it; and that nothing that’s happened in the past five games suggests the Lakers are better without Kobe Bryant anyway.

Brian Kamenetzky over at Land O’ Lakers took a look at Treutlein’s article, and was able to break down the numbers a little further and provide some insight as to why there were the slight changes in efficiency in Kobe’s absence.

Treutlein correctly notes five games isn’t a large enough sample size to draw sweeping conclusions, but the numbers seem to confirm what the eye saw. The Lakers were outstanding offensively in Portland, the first with Kobe on the sidelines, posting 113.8 points per 100 possessions. Against San Antonio the Lakers were again strong, at 107.4.

From there, things got increasingly less efficient: 101.3 against Utah, dropping to 98.1 against an absolutely wretched Golden State defense, and 93.5 against Boston, the stingiest team in basketball.

In a pair of those games (at Portland, vs. San Antonio), the Lakers were more efficient than earlier matchups against the same opponent earlier in the year with Kobe available. One was basically a wash (at Utah), and in two they were less efficient (vs. Golden State, vs. Boston). Don’t look for any “smoking guns” in relation to Kobe’s performance, either. In L.A.’s first visit to Portland, Kobe was a high volume, low percentage shooter (14 for 37), In San Antonio on Jan. 12, he was a tidy seven for 10.

What people around the league should be saying about the Lakers is that the team has a much deeper talent pool than what we may have thought before Kobe sitting out as Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated has said.

Finally, Land O’ Lakers have broken down every trade and analyzed it, telling us how it affects the Lakers. Here’s a tidbit on how Kevin Martin to Houston could potentially affect the Lakers, as this is one of only two trades of consequence for a team the Lakers could potentially see in the postseason before the Finals:

As for the Rockets, Martin could pay serious dividends. Houston values efficiency, but could use a little more ‘zazz. Martin supplies both with his low volume high scoring. Dude fills it from inside, outside, at the line, playing off ball, running back cuts, etc. And he already has a feel for Rick from their Sacto days. It remains to be seen how he and Aaron Brooks–a much better scorer than pure point– mesh, but in theory, I like this deal a lot. Landry is a bigger loss than people may realize, but if you can get Martin, the still-developing Hill, and picks for Landry and the burden of one season paying Jeffries (a decent defender), that’s a good return.

The most underrated part of this trade? Martin’s presence means fewer responsibilities for Trevor Ariza, which could be a fantastic case of less being more. Right now, Ariza’s operating well beyond his capabilities and often flailing in horribly inefficient fashion. If/when Yao Ming returns healthy, that’s even less on TA’s plate, which ultimately makes him a better and more dangerous player.

-Phillip

Phillip Barnett

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13 responses to Around The World (Wide Web) Kobe Update, Lakers Better Without Kobe?, Trades

  1. Laker boredom… but atleast Kobe coming back (and dropping 50 on Memphis, book it) gives me a little bit of excitement.

  2. So how do we explain the Lakers’ excellent play these past five games? Surprisingly, it’s on the defensive end where they’ve stepped up their game, playing far above their standard.

    _______

    I said this about 10 days ago; so did some other people here.

  3. The team has been way more aggressive since the Denver game, both offensively and defensively. However, when they play a team that is just as aggressive (aka every team in the playoffs) then they might not play “better” without Kobe.

    Great job Phillip on all the updates, I love how this can be one stop shop for all news around the league relating to Lakers, and not just Laker news.

  4. Great post Phillip about the post Kobe sega this year. I would like him to take off another couple of weeks, but we know that will not happen. I believe the team has stepped up in his absence, and the Lakers are a better team with 75% (health wise) Kobe on the floor, he was just not that before the last injury. This site has taken on a somewhat new look, change is good, right? Now off to the ‘other’ site…

  5. Our old pal Kurt posts on fixing the Dunk Contest: http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2010/02/nba-tnt-sit-down-to-talk-dunk-contest-changes.php

    My suggested solution is simple. If there’s going to be a dunk contest, open the dunk contest up for everyone (NBA, D-League, amateurs, insanely tall Scotsmen, etc). People submit audition tapes and the league selects the top eight. Then it’s a straight up 2 dunks each, three rounds halving the field each time, and let viewers vote on the winners. Basically a dunking American Idol. Who wouldn’t watch that?

  6. Granted Martin is a terrific offensive talent. But that backcourt is now defensively challenged to say the least. Houston may be better overall but match up worse against the Lakers. If Adelman puts Brooks on Fish, who does Martin guard? Kobe would head straight to the post even before tip-off. Artest? I think not.

  7. It’s been fun watching the team win without Kobe, almost like the pressure is off a bit . Losing to a team like the Celtics without the Lakers’ best player is an easier pill to swallow than losing to the Celtics with the whole team in uniform. And should the Lakers win some tough games without Kobe, it’s like a fun-filled bonus.

    I can compare it to the ’94-’95 Lake Show team we discussed her a few months back: success when no one’s expecting much makes for a fun time for the fans. This time off for Kobe reminded me of that season.

    Now that this in-season mini-vacation from the pressures of all the high expectations is about to end, I’ll admit that it’s been fun watching the other guys play well in his absence.

    Vacation’s over – now let’s hope the guys get down to the business of prepping for another run into June.

  8. 6 Apricot, if I wanted to watch some random streetballer dunk I’d go on youtube. I’d rather see LeBron, Dwight, Carmelo etc. the superstars dunk. But the problem is there just aren’t that many superstars who can dunk year after year. They should make some changes to the rules to make it more exciting – like raising the hoop to 12′

  9. New post up. Looking at Kobe’s return and how it affects the rotations, defense, and offense.

    http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2010/02/22/what-it-means-as-we-welcome-back-kobe/

  10. Mojo,
    When there is no news – the talking heads will recycle some.

  11. more than 2/3s of the season is accounted for, but there isn’t a very clear picture of what the playoff seedings will look like for the most part.

    It would take some combination of POR or SA losing more than half of their remaining games and .600+ ball by NO, MEM, and HOU(all sub .600 teams) to make the playoff picture even more chaotic.

    A western conference division champ might have to host the Spurs. 1st round nightmare, thy name is Duncan.

    At the rate they’re winning, either Denver or Utah will take the division crown and at least the #2 seed; the runner-up would have the #4 seed. One will avoid the #1(or #2 if they overtake LA) seed until the conference finals; the other will not, assuming home court advantage holds for all teams.

    Bottom-line, maybe the additional playoff gate revenue doesn’t amount to enough to offset the cost of additional luxury tax payments. However, one fanbase is going to question ownership’s committment to winning for not keeping a Ronnie Brewer(Utah), or adding a Drew Gooden(Denver) if they don’t win it all.

  12. When Milt Plum, a sort of lost in the shuffle NFL quarterback, won the passer ratings, nobody said that he was better than Unitas, Bart Starr, etc. When Mike Tyson was knocking dudes out right and left, nobody suggested that he was the second coming of Muhammad Ali. So then, I ask, why is there such a full-blown effort to deify a basketball player who’s still trying to make his mark? Their convoluted reasoning is probably built on “disparagement of one in order to build up another.”

    Perhaps the most misleading barometer in sports is the “beaten- to-death” homage given to stats. Somebody in the pundit department suggested that better stats makes the better ballplayer. James over Kobe? No way!! Chamberlain over Russell? No way. Plum over Unitas? No way. Tyson over Ali? No way.

    Of course, if you just want him to be the best by billboard proclamation, have at it. All of the lip gloss in the world won’t hide the fact that by hook or crook, you want James to be the face of the NBA, deserving or not. If that is the case, just do it. For the record, he is not the best basketball player in the NBA.

    Hurry back, Kobe, and do your thing.