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