Is the Answer More Kobe for Game 7?

J.M. Poulard —  May 12, 2012

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.

J.M. Poulard

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23 responses to Is the Answer More Kobe for Game 7?

  1. Nice write up.

    41% from Pau! Here’s to him getting his game back and making some shots tonight!

  2. On a sunny day in SoCal, it is an appropriate moment to be ever optimistic that Lakers will get this game this time. I believe Pau and Drew have received a laundry list of what to do and sent their dirty uniforms in the washer and dried, ready for action tonight just to prove that they belonged to purple and gold. For Gasol, everything is on the line including his reputation as a future hall of famer, he will be judged based on this game. Yes, it’s only one game but it means a lot to historians. For Drew, this is the test of his Laker career. Will the Lakers renew his contract or trade him at the end of the season? Therefore, for these two bigs, history is on the line with this one game.

    They have done their practices, express their sore feelings in the open, read the nasty posts on blogs including mine, adjust their sights and they are ready for Game 7. What I will watch tonight is the fighting spirit of every Laker? Forget talents, it’s all about the will the win. Can they repulse the onward onslaught of the Nuggets? I think they will.

    Let’s give them a resounding support. Go Lakers.

  3. While I want the Lakers to advance, at this point I have to question the team’s post season desire. Aside from Kobe, are other players playing with post season intensity? Let’s say the Lakers get to the next round. Then what? Get swept by the Thunder? The Thunder are HUNGRY while the Lakers just look like they don’t want to be there.

  4. Getting Metta back is huge. He will make Galinari miserable today.

    I listened to John Ireland on the radio yesterday and he said that everyone but Kobe is playing for their job. If they want to stay a Laker, they had better deliver.
    If the Lakers lose, major changes are SURE to come. They already proved that when they tried to get CP3 after last years debacle.
    As a life-long Laker fan(since 1974) I want the Lakers to win every game, but I’m torn because I really just want to root for players that play hard every night. Watching this series has been eye opening and has revealed the true nature of certain players.
    I think the Lakers will win today but it will not solve any of the issues that this team has with effort and mental toughness.

    Lakers for Life!

  5. Since we’re on the topic of Kobe, competitiveness, and playing to win. (Great post, btw, J.M.) Here’s a great read from Chris Ballard at SI on Kobe, his dad, his mom, and where greatness comes from. Check it out:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/magazine/05/10/kobe.bryant.ballard/index.html

  6. Funky Chicken May 12, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Kobe has scored 74 points in the last two games, neither of which the Lakers were competitive in. The answer is not more Kobe.

    The answer is that his extremely well-paid teammates who have lived off of Kobe’s legacy and hard work need to actually show themselves worthy of their contracts ($35 million for what Pau & Drew have given the team in the last 2 weeks is despicable). If that happens, the Lakers win in a blowout….

  7. Zach Lowe on Pau:

    “Gasol is a center trying his best to play the role of a stretch power forward, and the result has been more jumpers, more assists and fewer free throws. He took more long jumpers per minute this season than at any point in his Lakers career and attempted the fewest free throws per minute of his NBA career.”

  8. Incredible read from Chris Ballard.Thanks Darius!

  9. Rather than more Kobe, how about some ball reversals that isolate Pau in the post against that hirsute dwarf known as The Manimal. That guy barely reaches Pau’s shoulders but Brown has Pau camped out on the three point line to create space for others to operate. If Bynum is going to see double and triple teams, let’s use that to our advantage, clearing him out and exploiting the weakside.

    I think we’ll win tonight, but I am willing to admit this team confounds me and am further willing to admit the possibility that maybe I just can’t even imagine the alternative.

    P.S. Has Drew’s stinker of a game six so rattled Aaron that he has institutionalized himself? Things are awfully quiet around here….

  10. lil Pau,

    Good post. Yesterday I posted that the Game 7s would be “close-ups” for Mike Brown and Vinny Del Negro. This is not to say that it is all about Brown–both victory and defeat have many causes. But I will be looking to see if Brown seems to have the team fired up and if he can make an adjustment or two.

  11. FunkyChicken: +1

    We all have habits one of mine is to look up In This Day In Sports everyday. And guess what it’s George Karl’s birthday. That gives Denver extra motivation for this win.

  12. 9 – The problem is (anecdotal evidence only, I don’t have any #s to back this up) it’s seemed to me like Pau hasn’t been very effective when he actually does get a chance to post up Faried. Faried’s bodied him up and, with his low center of gravity, pushed him out far beyond where Pau wants to post up. I do think a big part of Pau’s decreased effectiveness is his new primary role as a midrange shooter, but the times I’ve seen him get on the block this season (when Bynum is out of the game) haven’t been impressive, especially if he’s matched up with a stronger player like Faried.

    We’re bemoaning the fact that Pau is being limited by Brown/Bynum, relegated to being a stretch 4, because our standard for comparison is Pau at his peak. Pau was a great center 3 years ago. I’m not sure he still is.

  13. I think it all comes down to the perimeter players hitting some outside jumpers (hopefully 3 pointers) and Metta managing to slow down whomever on Denver is causing the most problems for us from outside, be it Miller, Gallo or Afflalo. Slowing their O down a bit and opening things up for our bigs should get everything in synch and hopefully that carries through into the next round.

    We know Metta and Mamba will bring it. The rest of the guys have to let it fly.

  14. @12 Snoopy. I don’t know if thats the problem.

    Isn’t the problem that if #17 is playing and isn’t in the low post, then he’s not really adding a whole lot.

    He doesn’t spread the floor and isn’t a consistently good and mobile picker.

    Plus if they don’t get him the ball he’ll pout and give up on defense right?

    When Pau plays as a center now (with Hill in there) – there is no stretch 4 in there – like they had with Odom. That makes the double teams much stronger and makes getting good post position very tough.

    I suppose they could go Sessions/Kobe/Barnes/Metta/Pau to give him some space – but that only works if Barnes can shoot again.

  15. Cdog – I get the feeling you’re trying to tell us something about Bynum… :D

    No, I get what you’re saying. I was just musing about Pau in general … on top of his excellent passing instincts (which haven’t dropped at all), he used to have the ability to get his points efficiently on the block. And it seems like now half the PFs/Cs in the league can push him off his spots and make him resort to verbal flopping. Again, the #s might prove me wrong, and maybe his recent stretch of games is skewing my memory.

    But the point about the stretch 4 next to Pau is a solid one. More than that, Odom was even better at finding creases in the D and cutting and playing off Pau (more so than he was a floor spacer). They really worked well together. And while most of us put that down to “Odom should be grateful he has Pau,” the benefit went both ways.

    LT Mitchell’s post yesterday on Jerry West was a good one. I’m not convinced we’ll ever be able to maximize the offensive potential of Drew and Pau when they’re on the floor together, and they’re both slow on PnR defense. Now I see why Phil always closed with the Gasol-Odom lineup. That defensive (and offensive) versatility of the old Odom is virtually irreplaceable.

  16. Nice post from J.M.. And much agreed about Ballard’s piece about Jellybean. Ireland’s not the only one saying they’re playing for their jobs – Magic says he thinks Brown will be gone next season if they don’t win tonight’s game.

  17. Kobe Alert: KB needs 8 dimes to move by MJ for 7th all time. He needs 6 Rebs to go by Lambeer for 36th. He is two 3 pointers behind Ray Allen for 2nd.

    Kobe is 5-1 all time in Game 7′s

  18. Bottom line for me: if the Lakers don’t win tonight, wholesale changes should take place. Ship them all out. I’ve followed the Lakers since the mid ’60′s. Without question this is the most lackadaisical, yrt talented team I have seen. Bynum is the 2nd coming of Benoit Benjamin, Kobe is a selfish & thinks he can still do it all, Gasol has returned to Gasoft & Sessions is showing why he better as a bench player.

    Now or never fellows…now or never.

  19. The problem for Andrew is he still doesn’t have a complete post game and he can never become a first option or even a reliable second option until he does. Andrew has great foot work and nice touch but he still takes that little bunny dribble to gather himself. This allows help to get there and often disrupt the play. What he needs to learn to do is just go up for a little jumper or jump hook and stop dribbling. He has the skill set to do it.

    Of course that is not going to happen this year so it really is up to guys to make some out side shots, to keep Denver from sending 3 guys at him every time he touches the ball.

  20. @ 15 – that was kind of my point.

    Unclear whether Pau struggles more now than he used to – or he is just on the block so much less with legitimate players on the floor to give him spacing.

    When the Lakers have that second unit in when Kobe/#17 are sitting, the accomplices to Pau are an amalgamation of:

    Sessions/Blake/Artest/Hill/Barnes/Ebanks/McRob/ or god forbid Murphy.

    Thats when Pau gets his post touches now. No wonder they double. Blake won’t shoot. Sessions is wary of taking too many threes. Artest is streaky. Barnes is streakier. Ebanks can’t shoot. McRob can’t shoot. Hill can’t shoot. And Murphy can’t play.

    But Hollinger did mention yesterday that the Lakers best lineup (from a +/-) standpoint was:

    Sessions/Kobe/Artest/Hill/Pau. I’d be curious to see how Pau’s post game is with that lineup on the floor.

  21. How come there are very few posts about the biggest reason Lakers are struggling. When you lose one of your starters and your best defenders one game before tbe playoffs anyone will struggle.

    Especially when you already have the WORST bench in the league. Metta/Artest put Lakers here and nothing he does will redeem him in my mind.

    If this guy us in a Laker uniform next year I will have lost all respect for the FO.

  22. @ Ko.

    I disagree.

    What Artest did was dumb – but his punishment was disproportionate.

    7 games for an elbow. Thats 5 games more than any elbow in the history of the NBA.

    Thats more games than players get for intentional stepping on someones face, or for linebacker body slamming a player in the air, or for intentionally retaliating in an all-star game and breaking another player’s nose with no remorse, or for shoving a player out of bounds and into the chairs because they tried to clear out space. (I’ll let you go ahead and find those incidences and figure out what the penalties were).

    Plus – the Lakers were up 3-1. They started losing in this series for other, more obvious reasons.