Kobe Bryant is out again and the Lakers will be missing him for the next six weeks. With him in the lineup, the Lakers were just 2-4. Without him, they’re 11-10. Because of this, the following question has emerged: Are the Lakers better without Kobe?
The answer to this is no. Let’s not overreact. The Lakers struggled with Kobe mostly because there was no chemistry and he was rusty. In his last game, he played a pivotal role in the Lakers road win over Memphis. He took a season high 18 shots and scored 21 points. He also had a season low four turnovers. The rust was coming off and he was taking more control of the offense, but then he got injured once more.
The Lakers went on to dominate the Timberwolves on Friday night at home mostly because of Nick Young’s three-point barrage and a vintage performance by Pau Gasol who scored 21 and grabbed 13 rebounds. They played energized without Kobe and it had many feeling that the team just flowed better without the Mamba.
However, in less than 24 hours reality hit the Lakers as they got blown out of the water by the Warriors. They shot 14 percent in the 3rd quarter. Granted, they were missing Pau, who was out with an upper respiratory infection, but having Kobe could’ve helped.
The fact of the matter is, although the Lakers have gelled to a certain extent without Kobe, they’re nothing more than a .500 team without him in the lineup. They did a great job in the first 19 games of the season keeping their heads above water and they’ll need to do it again for the next six weeks – a stretch that includes a grueling seven-game road trip in the east coast.
It will be possible. The people who say that the Lakers are better off without Kobe have all the statistics in the world to back up their claim.
The Lakers had a better Offensive Rating without Kobe in their first 19 games of the season (101.9) than with him in the lineup (100.1). Their Defensive Rating was also remarkably better without Kobe (102.8 vs. 108.6 with him). Finally, his On/Off numbers were atrocious in his brief comeback, too.
There’s no doubt about it that the Lakers can win without Kobe. It also helps that 12 of their next 20 games are against Eastern Conference opponents. The Lakers are 5-3 against the East this season and their paltry 13-14 record would give them the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the fourth seed in the weak conference.
The Lakers could win games if they continue to receive consistently efficient output from Pau and Nick Young.
In his three games this week, Gasol shot 72 percent from the field, and averaged 19.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Those are vintage Pau numbers. He’s shown moments of productivity throughout the season but he needs to be more consistent. The same goes for Young. He has emerged as the team’s leading scorer and he’s shooting over 40 percent from three point land in December.
It would be nice to see Jordan Hill get more playing time, too. He’s averaging under 20 minutes per game in December but he’s shooting 69 percent from the field and averaging 6.6 rebounds. He could get more playing time in favor of Wesley Johnson, who is averaging over 30 minutes per game in December, but has the lowest field goal percentage among Laker regulars this month (38.2 percent). His three-point percentage is even more atrocious at 25 percent.
Finally, let’s give a warm welcome back to the rotation to Chris Kaman. With Gasol out last game, he grabbed 17 rebounds. He also had a defensive rating of 86.9 in the blowout loss. He didn’t shoot well (5-of-17) but nobody did last night. Kaman has been healthy for awhile now and there’s no reason why he should be getting a “DNP – Coach’s Decision” next to his name every game. He deserves a chance to show the coaching staff what he could do.
The Lakers have a tough week ahead of them on Christmas week. They play the surprising Suns on the road tomorrow before the much anticipated home tilt against LeBron and the Heat on Christmas Day. Then, on Friday they’ll play the Jazz in Salt Lake, a place where the Lakers are 19-34 since 1986-87.