Consider this a tale of two cities (and three players).
In one city, Charlotte, you have the future rookie of the year in Emeka Okafer. Heâ€™s put up solid numbers â€” PER of 15.85, scoring 16.4 points per 40 minutes, has an impressive rebound rate of 17.3 (percent of rebounds grabbed while he is on the floor) and about 19.6% of the Bobcats possessions involve him when heâ€™s on the floor (a pretty high percentage, and a stat called usage rate).
Others players are getting mentioned for rookie of the year honors, too. Dwight Howard down in Orlando will likely be the best player from this class five years from now, and the combo of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon in Chicago have given their fans hope. But none of those players face one thing Okafer does â€” when Frank Hamblen got the scouting report for the Bobcats, Okafer was the first name mentioned. Thatâ€™s true of every scouting report. He carries more of a load than his fellow draftees, and has done it as well or better.
With Okafer in Charlotte, but from another city, is Kareem Rush. Buried on the bench in Los Angeles, he is now averaging 20.2 minutes per game, scoring 16.6 points per 40 minutes and 11.9 per game since the trade. Last season in the triangle, Rush played a key role as Kobeâ€™s backup, but with the new team and Kobe playing 40+ minutes a night, there was no room for Rush on the floor, and his numbers and demeanor showed it. He is now likely going to get a free agent contract somewhere for next season. A move was best for him.
When Rush was in a Laker uniform his defense was questionable, although so far this year his opponents PER is a very good 13.7. However, Kobe Bryant will test that tonight.
In a comment thread below, Gatinho asked about Kobe and if the stats show just how well he has been playing recently. They do. In the last 10 games, Kobe’s eFG% is 51% (compared to 46.7% for the season), and that is a dramatic improvement from the early part of the season when poor shot selection led to a much lower percentage. He also is averaging 6 assists per 48 minutes compared to 7.2 for the season, although I suspect that is lower because of the triangle as opposed to an offense based around Kobe driving than dishing. Kobe averaging 4.6 turnovers per 48 in the last 10, compared to 5.0 for the season.
I think we can say Kobe is more comfortable and finding better shots in the triangle than he got before, and his shooting percentage has gone up. That will challenge Rush and the Bobcats tonight.
Two wins to start this six-game road trip would be the kind of thing that, if the Lakers make the playoffs, we would look back on as a key stretch. And it is within reach if they play up to their potential tonight.