Busiest Player in the NBA: Kobe Bryant

J.M. Poulard —  December 28, 2011

Prior to the start of the NBA season, FB&G asked how Lamar Odom’s absence would impact Kobe Bryant’s role with the Lakers this season. Given that Odom was good at initiating some of the offense on his own, it not only alleviated Kobe of some playmaking responsibilities, but it also allowed him to place more emphasis on his own scoring opportunities. Emile Avanaessian shared this nugget at the time:

An unintended benefit of the lockout is that it provided Kobe Bryant with a greater opportunity to rest his achy knees (and whatever else is sore) than he’s had in some time. Odom’s departure totally negates that. Now Kobe must not only navigate his body through a brutal schedule, he will be called upon to do so as the Lakers’ only creator on offense.”

And we are now seeing this manifest itself in the Lakers offense. Steve Blake is a good ballhandler but not an adept playmaker while Derek Fisher is a reputed big shot taker (and he makes them too) but needs others to create opportunities for him. Darius Morris may be young and inexperienced, but he did show the ability to create some scoring plays for himself off the dribble in the preseason. The one problem though, he seemed far more enamored with shooting the ball himself than dishing it off to his teammates.

The end result? Through three games, Kobe Bryant has an astounding usage rate (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor) of 39.1 percent. Consider this, the single greatest usage figure in the history of the NBA belongs to none other than Kobe Bryant. He achieved the figure of 38.74 percent during the 2005-06 season, when the Los Angeles Lakers finished with a 45-37 record. And as of right now, he is surpassing that.

The Lakers could almost live with that figure if Kobe was a point guard or a player in his prime; but as the team’s aging primary scorer, the burden on the star’s shoulders is far too heavy. Consequently, the Lakers’ season could go in one out of three different ways:
1. Mike Brown could ride this out until the end of the season. With Bynum set to return shortly from his suspension, it should alleviate some of the ballhandling duties from the Black Mamba since the ball will be going down low to ‘Drew who will occasionally draw double teams and kick it out to shooters for open looks.
2. The Lakers take their early lumps with Darius Morris and hope that he figures out the offense, his teammates and the pace of the game as the Lakers morph into a dangerous playoff team late in the season.
3. Mitch Kupchak uses the trade exception acquired in the Odom trade to bring in Ramon Sessions, Mo Williams, T.J. Ford, J.J. Barea, Jordan Farmar (I’m kidding), or Jose Calderon (completely unrelated but still relevant: Andre Iguodala would look great with this Lakers team) to help the team in the dribble penetration department.

The only problem with the third scenario at this point is that the Lakers may be clinging to the possibility that they have an opportunity to acquire Dwight Howard at some point around the March 15 trade deadline; thus it complicates matters a little given that the team will probably need all the assets in can muster to make an enticing trade proposal to Otis Smith and the Orlando Magic. Although given Smith’s track record as a GM, I would probably low ball him from now until late January and then make a semi-decent proposal and hope he feels overwhelmed. Just remember, the Magic gave Rashard Lewis a contract nearly on par with Kobe’s current one.

Given that Mike Brown is still figuring this team out, it seems as though the most likely scenario at this point may well be that he rides this thing out and hops on Kobe Bryant’s back along with Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher. Through three games, the Lakers are 1-2 but just as well could have been 2-1 if not for the debacle against the Chicago Bulls.

A lot of times, it’s easy to get lost in a narrow view of the season as opposed to stepping back and looking at the big picture. With Andrew Bynum set to return after the Thursday night game against the New York Knicks, we should get a clearer picture of what to expect from the Los Angeles Lakers for the remainder of the season.

Nonetheless, with Kobe nursing a wrist injury and carrying the load like no other player has ever done before in league history, one should pay close attention to how the team fares with and without their starting center. If for whatever reason the former league MVP is still asked or takes it upon himself to do the heavy lifting, Mitch Kupchak may well have to intervene by tweaking the roster for the sake of salvaging Kobe Bryant’s season.

The last thing the purple and gold and its fans want, is a spent Kobe Bryant by the time the playoffs roll around.

Once again, eyes on the big picture.

J.M. Poulard

Posts

56 responses to Busiest Player in the NBA: Kobe Bryant

  1. Scenario 1 is the most likely. Bryant’s heavy usage rate is directly related to Bynum’s absence. After game 20 or so we should have a clearer picture of how the team is going to operate.

  2. Even when Bynum returns Kobe is still the only player on the active roster who can penetrate and even Kobe cant do it the way he used to. It boggles the mind as to why Morris is not playing. Maybe they are trying to hide him while at the same time showcasing Ebanks.

  3. With Bynum and Gasol in the middle, the Lakers will again have a genuine inside-out game going. Then the new shooters will be more effective than they have at this point. It is kind of funny, but I am going to miss Lakers basketball tonight, but they need at least a little bit of rest, right?

  4. This is a classic small sample size problem. Kobe needed to play wall-to-wall in the first two games to try and get the win, and backed off a bit last night in the blowout (his number would probably be dramatically lower had he not played at all in the fourth quarter last night–FWIW, I think Brown probably did the right thing putting him back in to stave off a Utah run). Take these first four games as one data set, then compare them against the first four games Bynum plays in and you’ll see a dramatic difference, I’d be willing to bet.

    Reminds me of….1994? 1995? Penny Hardaway led the league in scoring with something ludicrous like 38 ppg for the first week or two of the season…while Shaq was out. If you looked at his usage rate for those games (or a random sample of any 3 games of that time period), I’m sure it would equal or exceed Kobe’s thus far.

    On a similar small sample size note, one of ESPN’s Twitter people noted Lamar Odom’s PER thus far this season is -3.5.

    Looking at metrics this early in a season, particularly one as weird as this one, is like showing a quarterback rating after three passes: it doesn’t mean anything.

    Of course, it doesn’t stop NFL broadcast teams from doing it. :)

  5. I think Mitch should offer Pau to NJ for DWill. Seems like he has no intention of staying there, and with the Brooks injury they have no shot at Howard. DWill would solve the usage rate problem and make it more likely that Howard would follow to the Lakers (unless the FO prefers to keep Bynum). Best of all, we would be spared the misery of watching DFish turn the ball over, clang shots off the rim and play matador defense with the starting unit.

  6. Rusty Shackleford December 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Is TJ Ford any good anymore? I remember him being one of the faster point guards in the NBA but had limitations on both ends of the floor. Last season he averaged less than 6ppg backing up Darren Collison in Indiana – that doesn’t give me very much confidence. The reason I’m asking is becasue TJ Ford intrigued me in the years past for this Laker team but he’s since then has disappeared.

    Or, baptize Darius Morris in a river of fire and let him learn on the fly . . . Why the hell not at this point?

  7. Definitely too small a sample to extrapolate any real insights, especially with Bynum out.

    The more curious aspect this season, for me anyway, is how Brown is using the rest of the team. Morris not playing is just shocking to me. If Norris Cole can get crunch time burn with Miami and be successful, why not give Morris some burn? I would say something else is going on but who the hell knows at this point.

    Also, Walton getting minutes over Barnes is just pure folly. Luke is the one SF we don’t need to play. And why isn’t Barnes getting any run? Very confusing.

    I’ll be happy when Bynum comes back and we really see what we have. Hopefully Brown can figure out what he has and run a more cogent lineup out there.

  8. Kobe: Has the ball; will have the ball; with/without Bynum; he is what he is; The Black Mamba; there is no off the ball.

    Trades: We will make only one – DH. If/when DH is unavailable to us, we will make others.

    Small Sample: It is big enough. Lakers will be slightly over 500 with current roster (giving them some credit here); Kobe must score alot (he is a stud); Lakers are slow.

  9. Saved me the trouble of writing this: This is the Laker plan to success. Again, I am trying to win a title, if you are content with being “competitive” do not bother clicking the link.

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1001215-la-could-give-up-and-still-win-in-a-dwight-howard-trade

  10. Bleacher Report articles don’t carry much weight around these parts. Around most places, really.

  11. “Also, Walton getting minutes over Barnes is just pure folly. Luke is the one SF we don’t need to play. And why isn’t Barnes getting any run? Very confusing.”

    Maybe they don’t want him injured, so that they can trade him? Surely we don’t need five players whose natural position is small forward, and whereas Ebanks is the youthful player we need, Kapono gives us the shooting we need, and we’re stuck with Luke and World Peace, perhaps Barnes is the logical choice to include in a trade.

  12. On a more positive note –

    It’s oddly refreshing how hard the Lakers backup bigs play. I don’t remember any Lakers who had irrational energy in years. They may not be as good as Odom (or maybe Odom’s efficiency will fall off a cliff this year – who knows), but they sure seem like they always give their best effort. Thats a nice trait for a team that often went through the motions last season – and then proceeded to go through the motions through two playoff series.

    I don’t know what all this clamoring for Darius Morris is about – he seems to jack up irrational shots and is exactly the opposite as an adept passer at this point. While Kobe’s usage rate needs to be less, the person with the ball still needs to be willing to pass.

  13. @9 + 10

    Most observers believe that the Lakers will have to give up Gasol and Bynum to bring back Howard. That is not something manufactured by BR, and I have seen notes to that effect in many places. As to whether the Lakers would win that trade…depends on things we don’t know, which are:

    How well Pau ages
    Whether Andrew can stay healthy
    What else they do to fill out the roster
    How well Kobe can hold his value

    And, of course, we have to assume that Howard would sign a long-term deal. The Lakers are not the primo destination they once were.

    The fact that Nelson’s deal fits the Odom TPE is probably not coincidental, although, again, we don’t know.

    I will say this: if it were on the table, I think Jerry West would do it. I think West’s view is that you do whatever it takes to land a franchise big man. Bynum has not yet shown he is one. Howard has.

    As an aside, PHX is getting blown out at home by PHI. There has been some spec that Otis Smith will try to rent Nash and simply keep Howard this year. Given that PHX appears to be a lottery team, I suspect that they will move Nash in the next sixty days.

  14. andre miller fits into the TE, but I think Denver would be loathe to give him up to a conference rival. too bad, b/c he’s a terrific rebounder and veteran playmaker.

  15. My vote is a hybrid approach that would combine options 1 & 2. Option # 3 could work but much ugh more outside of our control. The fact that Darius M has not gotten any more run is really perplexing.

    And I agree with the point raised earlier by several other posters that drawing sweeping conclusions based on only three games is not statistically sound. However, JMP’s summation of the choices faced by Brown and Lakers’s management is one of the most sensible and clearest I’ve seen.

    One thing is undeniable-we need to either acquire a playmaker or develop Morris into one. The latter is made much harder though if we don’t play the guy…

  16. Darius: Not asking u to believe it based on who wrote it or where it was published. If u disagree, refute what it says.

  17. Why do people want to extrapolate on what the Laker coaches are doing wrong?

    It was mentioned in the last thread that Mike Brown is a very detail oriented coach and wants to examine each of his people personally in game situations before making his playing decision. We only had two preseason games and they were against the same team. In this environment it makes perfect sense to play each member of his team early in the season. That is the only way he is going to see what they can/will do and what they can’t/won’t do.

    Just because you don’t like what Luke, or anyone else, does based on the last two years, don’t bash the coaches for not taking your opinions into account.

  18. I love it when ignorant fans make definitive statements on what players and organizations will and won’t do. Because they obviously know something that the rest of us ignorant peons know nothing about. Therefore they are absolutely sure their opinion is truth and any contradicting thought is folly.

  19. Robert,

    I wrote a reply to 9 and 10, which is either stuck in moderation or was considered unacceptable. It was mild in tone.

    Craig,

    We know at this point what Walton can do. Same goes for Fisher, Barnes, and Kapono. MWP, and perhaps Blake, appear to have more utility in this system. And Brown has not played Morris yet. Not saying he should, per se, but he hasn’t. The basic problem with the wait-and-see/work out the kinks arguments is that almost everybody on the team is over 30.

  20. The reason for the clamor over playing Darius Morris is the fact that he is the only player on the roster besides Kobe who can actually create shots for teammates. This team is virtually devoid of playmakers, and Morris offers the prospect of someone who can take people off the dribble, get into the lane and pass the ball to open teammates.

    He’s green, for sure, but he isn’t going to get any better sitting on the bench (and Fisher isn’t going to get any better by playing more minutes).

    Why Morris has not played a minute through three games is particularly confounding when Luke Walton (probably the worst player in the NBA–and a guy who has at least 4 people better than him at his position on this team) gets minutes.

  21. 11 – TaiChi

    If Barnes is injured at the present time, sure hold him out. If he is being held out so that he doesn’t get hurt… then I feel there are bigger issues with roster management that need to be monitored.

    16 – Craig

    I agree with robinred @ 18.

    Also, I view the current coaching staff as one that actually develops younger players, unlike the previous regime. So I expect to see Morris on the floor. And without any real explanation from anyone as to why that is not the case, I find it to be a bit head scratching.

  22. Knicks and Boston both got taken out by supposedly inferior teams tonight. Clippers were living in Loss City tonight also. For all the hype, the games still have to be played. I’m curious to see Boston play with PP in the line up. They were a couple bad calls away from pulling a comeback on Miami.

    The Lakers don’t pay for my opinion from the cheap seats nor am I obligated to consider their every decision golden. Should Walton leap off the bench floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee he will shock the world. It’s not likely but good luck to him.

    Nevertheless, I am a proponent for testing the wares. Barnes denied having an injury. This transitional period is very interesting and will help keep me invested in the season a bit more as I didn’t feel blowing the whole team up was necessary. Obviously, aside from speculation about Bynum’s health, the Achilles Guard is still the biggest concern.

  23. IMHO, against the Jazz, Kobe had one of his best games as a Laker in a long time. His efficiency was high, his usage was moderate, his teammates were involved, and they blew Utah away.

    As Kobe’s usage goes up, his effectiveness goes down. If Kobe’s usage is too low, and he serves merely as a decoy or facilitator, his effectiveness goes down.

    Finding Kobe’s “Goldilocks spot” for this team’s dynamics could be truly magical.

  24. I wonder if Ron Ron (sorry MWP) starts against New York? Melo is going to be on one based on tonight’s abysmal performance against GState. For all the confidence I have in the kid (Ebanks) I don’t think he’s ready for Melo.

    Tyson Chandler doesn’t fit a team that doesn’t want to play defense with him. New York looked horrible last night. If our bigs can play with some energy, we should win tonight.

    Can’t help but wish that we could have at least garnered Andre Iguodala for Odom plus filler. It would help in so many areas that it would have been worthwhile to make that move. IMO.

  25. Am I the only one that thinks that our Management is saving the Amnesty Waiver for Bynum, Pau, or Kobe down the line?

  26. You should take out the “usi” from the title of the article to make it even more true.

  27. @24

    No. The new tax rules kick in in 13/14; there are scenarios under which Kobe or Pau could be amnestied, depending on how things play out between now and then.

  28. I think the one issue with rushing to judgement regarding the usage of players is that we have too many variables. Odom’s departure, McRoberts and Ebanks added to the starting lineup, MWP going to the bench, Murphy being the primary big off the bench are all moving pieces. With all these independent variables, it’s pretty tough to gauge how “successful” each new lineup is, and I’m not surprised that the coaching staff is trying to control as many of them as possible.

    While I would be sincerely surprised if Barnes and Morris get absolutely no run over the course of this condensed season, I think its fair for our coaching to want to evaluate as few moving parts as possible at a single time.

    As for Kobe being the primary ball handler, while I think he’d rather operate in the post, I believe he has no problems having the ball in his hands the majority of the time when he’s in the game. I think the larger problem is that when Kobe goes out, we have no one to create shots from the perimeter. MWP has managed to stumble his way to some pretty good performances (although most of those shots are UGLY), so he may be able to step into that role.

    All-in-all, I’m quite pleased with the play of Ebanks, McRoberts, and Murphy, as well as MWP showing some signs of life on offense. I think once our guys get the offense Mike Brown has installed (still see some guys running into each other), and learn to play consistently great defense (seen great defense in stretches), I am cautiously optimistic that we could be a monster come playoff time.

  29. 26,

    I dont think that the lakers would amnesty kobe even if he’d be earning 30m by the end of contract year. Remember how much kobe brings to the table in terms of merchandise. He’s still top 2 in jersey sales and he currently owns china’s market share.

    I would like to think that the amnesty is for those players like luke and ron if they dont perform this year.

  30. >I would like to think that the amnesty is for those players like luke and ron

    isn’t it the case that the amnesty waiver can only be used one time? this should be kept in mind in light of the L’s tax problems – Luke OR Ron, although having ‘bad’ contracts, won’t really provide that much relief.

  31. Just curious what folks think about the the recent blowup in OKC between Westbrook and Durant? This is the latest in a long line of spats centered around Westbrook.

    If OKC management begins to feel that Westbrook is a distraction does he become available? Would he be someone that the Lakers would find attractive?

  32. 29,

    I really didnt think of anyone that the lakers would use their clause. If and if they use, it would either be for luke or ron, but i dont see them using it because of just the way the LAKERS is. Remember that they were the ones that have the highest payroll in the previous years. Therefore, it wouldnt surprise me that they havent used it yet.

    On our topic, i believe kobe’s usage rate will be detrimental come playoff time when he continues this type of play. Remember lebron, great defensive teams can find ways in shutting their opponent’s star player. I think they should use the tpe for someone who can be kobe-lite-lite at least.

  33. I don’t think Westbrook is on the market for any of our assets.

    OKC doesn’t exactly have a great backup PG, and if they traded Westbrook they would at least want a moderate one there….. Even if we traded Pau or Bynum for him – I doubt we can fill that PG void.

    Plus – they would have a monster front line if they got either Bynum or Gasol. Their 3 man would be 6-9. It’d be 2008 lakers all over again – just as a thunder version.

  34. 30

    While not the perfect PG, Westbrook would provide some needed youth and athleticism. The criticism of Westbrook is that he needs the ball in his hands – how would he fit with Kobe?

    Because the Lakers really need to look towards the future I would pursue him as well as his teammate, Ibaka. Gasol would be a perfect fit in OKC’s frontline.

  35. I have been hard on Mitch in the past, although I have been defending him recently (why I am not sure). The current GM dilemma is: Does he keep all the pieces in place for a potential DH deal, or does he try to get a PG which might use a piece that jeopardizes the DH deal? Tough call. However I am voting for DH, even though if we wait and do not get him or a PG – this year will be a total bust.

  36. 28) That needs to be balanced against the luxury taxes they will pay due to his contract, and the limitations that the contract puts on the team from a basketball perspective.

  37. I would love to see the Lakers bring in a primary ball handler and put Kobe on the block like Brown had wanted but right now that isn’t an option.

    Good news is Kobe knows how to pace himself really well. As long as Kobe and Pau are playing this team will be ok.

  38. Scott Brooks was the primary reason that OKC didn’t get past Dallas last year more so than Westbrook. Carlisle ate up two young coaches on the way to the trophy.

  39. robinred: Thanks for the effort.

    All: We need another W against NY

  40. I think the lakes keep the amnesty for insurance purposes if Kobe or Pau get seriously injured at the end of their deals they may need to use it. Using it on Luke doesn’t provide that much relief.

  41. #33, Robert: “The current GM dilemma is: Does he keep all the pieces in place for a potential DH deal, or does he try to get a PG which might use a piece that jeopardizes the DH deal? Tough call.”

    IMO, that’s exactly the issue that the FO is debating.

  42. MWP never really got his game together in the triangle. Does anyone else think the change to a more conventional offense, under a coach who coached him during his prime, might have something to do with MWP’s seeming increase in efficiency?

    I am not pretending he will rediscover his youth enough to become an all-star, but he just might be the perfect fit for leader of the 2nd unit on this team. He can dominate and direct against 2nd unit talent.

    IMO – Lamar was not a good fit for the 2nd unit leader because he was essentially a great spear-carrier and facilitator, but not leader material.

  43. 33 –

    I would not give up both Bynum and Gasol in a DH trade. Kobe and DH plus the flotsom that would be left would not make a deep run in the playoffs.

    If Bynum plays like he did in the pre-season and averages 20+/10+ that may be enough to serve as a centerpiece (with minor parts thrown in) for a DH trade. If you can keep Gasol and get DH then you could make a championship run.

    Or, you could then move Gasol for that elusive PG. You won’t get the Kobe/DH/CP3 trio we dreamed about at the beginning of the year but you might get Kobe/DH/Westbrook. That’s not out of the realm of possibility. And that would be good enough to make the L:akers champion contenders for the next 3 years.

  44. 38

    I’m not sure that Orlando gives up DH for Bynum and parts. Without the injury history they might bite. But unfortunately that is not the case.

    I agree with the concensus that the Laker FO realizes that absent a key move or two the only way to get back to Championship form will be the pain of a crash and burn (poor performance = lottery picks). Like us fans the FO wants to avoid that.

  45. 43

    The Lakers as currently constructed are getting close to that no man’s land: Not good enough to win it all but not bad enough to miss the palyoffs. This means that they may be stuck with middle of the pack 1st round picks which will not provide the talent needed to move up to become championship contenders again. All the while Kobe gets older and Pau/Bynum lose trade value.

    The FO is also facing the added pressure of Kobe becomming dissatisfied. Kobe is not shy about sharing huis true feelings – talk about becoming a distraction.

    The Clippers also have to weigh into the equation. While they will never capture the hearts of LA like the Lakers. They could own the attention of the city while the Lakers sort themselves out.

    Human nature wants quick resolutions to probelms. We Laker fans will need to be patient as this plays out.

  46. robinred: Thanks for the effort.

    __

    Short version: no way to know who would win a Bynum/Gasol for Howard trade.

  47. @43 I agree that D12 for Bynum + parts is not an equal trade but you NEVER get equal value when trading a superstar (ie Shaq, Melo, DWill, etc). The problem I see for Orlando is that there are few other potential landing places for D12 and Otis Smith would be stupid to let him walk for nothing.
    The trade with NJ is dead due to the injury to Lopez and Dallas simply doesn’t have any attractive pieces (other than Nowitzki and LO’s contract). Chicago is probably LA’s biggest competition if they agreed to part with both Noah and Deng and take back Turkoglu’s contract but Howard has indicated he doesn’t want to play in Chicago for whatever reason.

  48. Agree with commenters above about LA as the only option other than Chicago.

    I really think that Mitch should take his time on this one.

  49. I remember watching on TV a meeting between Mitch and Dr. Buss a few years ago, it was about spending the money to keep LO at the time. Buss was slightly reluctant to drop the 9m or so with lux tax (18m), but his words were something like ‘It sure does feel good to win.’ I wonder if Jim will be more frugal with the family’s millions than his father was, will he keep up the Laker tradition the same way also. That is the answer to what will happen down the line with Lakers players on this team, is it money management or go for it all and win baby.

  50. It really comes down again to Bynum,his health and production over the next couple months. Howard and Bynum will then have some game stats and Lopez` medical status will be clearer . Then, if a Howard trade seems possible,not including Pau, go for it, if not,go after a PG. Still think Barnes and Morris need to go into the rotation,and Glock and Walton out for the next few games at least.

  51. Well, OK, then.

    Robert

    drop me an email if you can

    wtba72@yahoo.com

  52. If you wanna know why Andrew Bynum had such an easy time blocking Dwight Howard’s shots last year… It’s probably because he is 6-9 :(

    http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/34789/kevin-love-and-height-liars-in-shoes

  53. Force feed Bynum the ball and showcase him in the offense to increase his trade value. It would have the added effect of taking the workload off of Kobe.

    Orlando has nowhere to go to get another big man with any skilz.

    Do this and we don’t have to give up Pau in a trade.

  54. @53, The reports are stating that Orlando is seeking experienced veterans to keep the team competitive, fill the seats in their new arena, and keep their 80+ year old owner happy, rather than go for an all-out rebuilding effort.

  55. 54, But how often do these ‘reports’ have any merit whatsoever? Look at all the chatter around the Chris Paul deal. Look at all the Pau + Drew stuff out there.

    Most of this is utter nonsense and I agree with Mojo that, looking at it practically, Orl needs youth. Is there any conceivable package that would make them competitive this season? Maybe – MAYBE – what Chicago could offer, but I don’t see how anything the Lakers or NJ could offer could make them compete now. Perhaps this is an argument for them going the Cleve route and being willing to let him just walk (obviously hoping he’ll stay)….?