|What's a Kobe to do? (Getty Images)|
The Los Angeles Lakers might officially be a joke. After falling seven games under .500 on the actual season (and 2-3 since Mike D'Antoni's reset), everybody outside of "Lakers Nation" has been giggling at the misfortune and ineptitude of this team on the court for months now. As they get deeper and deeper into the playoff grave they're digging for themselves, we're starting to wonder if they're going to be able to make it at all.
As things get tense on the court, they appear to be getting intense off the court. Pau Gasol isn't starting for Mike D'Antoni. Dwight Howard is complaining about shots. And Kobe Bryant has scored 64 points on 79 shots in his last three games. The key components to this squad who were supposed to lift them above the dregs of their rotation, bench, and roster aren't able to complete this task. When Earl Clark and Metta World Peace are your two most consistent players right now, seven games under .500 is probably actually playing above your head.
After the Lakers' 95-83 loss to the Chicago Bulls Monday night, Kobe Bryant talked to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski as he is wont to do. The things he ended up revealing about the team and himself. Here are some of the snippets:
On the issue of Howard's belief that the ball simply doesn't go through him enough on offense, Bryant rejected the premise.
"I've tried to go out of my way to get him the ball," Bryant told Y! Sports. "Sometimes I end up looking like an idiot, because I get up in the air, I've got a shot, but I try to find him. But he thinks I'm going to shoot, so his back is turned. I'm trying to think about getting him the ball a lot – take care of him as much as I possibly can. It takes me out of rhythm a little bit, but I'm fine with that. If that's going to help our team, I'm more than willing to do that."
There is something very hilarious about this quote. Kobe says he looks like an idiot when he tries to get Dwight the ball after Bryant has jumped in the air. At this point, Dwight is expecting Kobe to shoot because, well, Kobe shoots a lot. When you're one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, people expect you to shoot. The problem might not be the decision of when Kobe is trying to get him the ball; it might be how.
If he's expecting Dwight to look for jump passes all the time, that's going to be an issue. However, when Kobe does sacrifice his own scoring to get Dwight shots on the low block (because Dwight has forgotten he's supposed to be awesome in the pick-and-roll), he needs Dwight to come through with good solid post possessions.
Dwight has been regressing in the post the last two years. In the 2010-11 season, Dwight was scoring 0.93 points per post possession, making 50.6 percent of his shots in the post, and turning the ball over 14.5 percent of the time. Last season as Dwight battled injuries and trade rumors he initiated, those numbers slipped to 0.88 PPP and 49.9 percent, while his turnover rate of improved to 13.6 percent.
This season? Dwight is scoring just 0.78 points per possession in the post, making 48.2 percent of his shots, and turning the ball over an astounding 19.7 percent of the time. One out of every five times you throw the ball into the post with Dwight, he's turning it over. That can't be a heavy part of your offense. Kobe probably knows that but begrudgingly still attempts to feed him. This is why the quality of the post possessions you give Dwight is so important.
"We need to go back to basics," Bryant said. "We need to put guys in positions to do what they do best. We need to strip it down. Steve is best in pick-and-roll. Pau is best in the post. I'm best from the free-throw line extended down. Let's go back to basics."
"Originally, teams would have to play our pick-and-roll coverage, which left me open on the back side quite a bit. But they've made adjustments, and they've decided to stay home on Kobe no matter what. So I'm trying to space the floor. I'm trying to do my job the best I can. I try to create opportunities. But most of them are trying to take the ball to the basket with four or five seconds left on the [shot] clock, trying to manufacture tough shots."
It's hard to argue with Kobe's points here. The fact that Steve Nash isn't used more in the pick-and-roll might be the biggest indictment against the Lakers. Notice, I didn't just single out Mike D'Antoni here; it's on all of them. Kobe needs to try to do less on offense (like he's comfortable doing) and get everybody to realize the emphasis that should be put on the pick-and-roll. If Dwight doesn't want to be a PnR big man, then let Pau Gasol do it.
The Lakers this year are 15th in points per possession on pick-and-rolls when the picker takes a shot, gets to the free throw line or turns the ball over. But they only get 5.5 percent of their offensive plays out of this type of possession. Considering they have Pau and Dwight on the team, this is frighteningly low.
Last year in Phoenix, Nash's squad was second in the league in points per possession when using the picker. They made 58.3 percent of their shots on these plays, tallying 1.17 points per possession. This was 10.9 percent of their offensive possessions too and it helped set up plays everywhere else on the floor from the defense scrambling to rotate. The Lakers right now score just 0.97 PPP on these plays.
Considering they have Howard and Gasol instead of the Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick, Jared Dudley, and Grant Hill running this with Steve Nash, you'd think they'd go to it more often to make it a serious weapon. The Lakers just settle into roles without accentuating what they do best on the court.
"Listen, no one is more critical of their game, of how they're playing, than I am. And right now, I've got to shoot at a higher percentage, have to play better. "
"On me," Bryant would say again. "I've got to find a way to make shots."
Bryant is taking responsibility for the Lakers, along with doling out blame to everybody on the team who isn't doing their job. That's noble and that's a great sign of leadership. However, all he keeps talking about is making more shots. He's taking the fifth most shots per game for his career and making the sixth highest percentage of his career. I'm not sure shot-making is the issue.
Where the Lakers need Bryant and his teammates to make a better effort is on the perimeter defense and in help defense. We've seen far too many possessions this season in which dribble penetration comes without much resistance, and then the rest of the defense is left at a disadvantage.
This has easily been Kobe's worst defensive effort/production of his career. His help rotations aren't solid, his on-ball defense needs to improve, and he just doesn't seem to have consistent energy out there on the defensive end. This could be because he's not a good defender over the course of a game anymore. Or it could be he feels he needs to save up all of his effort for the offensive end of the court.
Perhaps utilizing the weapons they have (let Steve Nash conduct the orchestra and stop have him just playing the xylophone) would allow more rest for Bryant while he's on the court, which could lead to better defensive production?
Regardless of what the answer might be, we know it's nothing they're doing on the court. Kobe's comments at times may seem a little skewed or misguided, but ultimately it's hard to argue with what he's said. The Lakers aren't working right now. It's up to them to fix it all.
Complaining from Pau and Dwight, complacency from Nash, and a lack of an overall game from Kobe isn't going to help anything.