The Los Angeles Lakers will play Game 7 on Saturday night at Staples Center against the Denver Nuggets, in a series that many thought the purple and gold would be able to close out in five or six games.
George Karl has managed to get the best out of his players, getting them to play their game and at the pace that he wishes while it’s tough to say that Mike Brown has gotten his team to consistently execute their game plan.
Throughout the season, the word around the league has been that Kobe Bryant had no business leading the league in shot attempts when he had the two most skilled big men in the NBA playing on his team. Surely, a player of Bryant’s stature would understand that feeding his twin towers would go a long way towards determining the fate of his team and quite possibly his legacy; or so it was said.
This series against the Nuggets has shown something different to many of Kobe’s detractors.
Bryant is averaging an impressive 31.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game on 44.9 percent field goal shooting in six games against Denver. The Lakers superstar is also averaging 26 field goal attempts per game, which many would argue is too much.
Indeed, Andrew Bynum has voiced his displeasure about a lack of touches during the postseason and with good reason. A big man that is that dominant on the block needs to get a lot of looks at the basket especially when he gets deep post position. Mind you, the Lakers’ starting center has struggled in this series when faced with hard double teams. Instead of allowing the big man to dictate which post move he can use to score on the block, Denver has simply forced Bynum to think with the ball in his hands, and well so far that has proved to be beneficial to the Nuggets.
Pau Gasol on the other hand has struggled. His willingness to assert himself offensively comes and goes, and even at times when he has had the mindset to be an aggressive player, he has failed to produce with his scoring opportunities.
Which obviously brings everything back to Kobe.
If we take a quick look at his plus-minus ratings for the series when on the court and off the court, here’s what we will find:
On the court +/- rating: -3.2
Off the court +/- rating: +3.8
Clearly the problem is Bryant, and they should just bench him the rest of the way right? Not quite.
The Denver Nuggets have actually outscored the Los Angeles Lakers in this series, which means that a player averaging a heavy dose of minutes for the Lakers would surely see his plus-minus rating have negative figure — L.A. is minus-3.1 with Bynum on the court — and that’s the case for Kobe. The Black Mamba has played in 237 out of a possible 288 minutes. That means that Bryant is spending 8.5 minutes per game on the bench.
Hence, it’s not surprising that his plus-minus rating is “bad” per se.
Know what is surprising though? The Lakers may need Kobe to go iron man in Game 7.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been shaky at best when Bryant has gone to the bench in this series against Denver. According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, in six games, the Lakers have converted 38.3 percent of their field goals and 20 percent of their 3-pointers when Bryant has been on the bench. To put that into perspective, the Charlotte Bobcats converted 41.4 percent of their field goals this season and 29.5 percent of their 3-point attempts. You know, the same Bobcats team that now holds the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
And it doesn’t stop there.
The Lakers commit more turnovers and generate less assists while Bryant rides the pine. NBA.com tells us that if we project the Lakers’ numbers over 48 minutes without Kobe, the Lakers would be averaging 87.2 points per game in this series.
Indeed, with Gasol struggling from the field — he is only converting 41.4 percent of his shots — and Bynum’s production being limited with double teams, it sure seems as though the Lakers’ best option at this point is Kobe Bryant.
His playmaking and scoring is a great recipe for success; and given the adjustments made by the Nuggets, the onus may fall on his shoulders to bail the team out.
The wildcard in all this of course is Metta World Peace.
His defense, shooting and scoring on the block will give the Lakers a wrinkle they haven’t had throughout the course of the series, but then again how many possessions can one hope to run through World Peace?
For all the talk about Kobe relinquishing some of the scoring burden, isn’t it fascinating that Game 7 might come down to him having to score more than most anticipated?
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.