The Lakers are playing a dangerous game.
I like to call it, The Kobe Show.
I’ve seen The Kobe Show before. To be honest, I didn’t really care for it all that much. It was popular back in the mid 2000s, but thankfully went away in early 2008 not to be seen again, until recently. Trust me, a prolonged engagement of the The Kobe Show is bad news.
What is The Kobe Show, you ask? (I’m assuming you asked.) The Kobe Show is when Kobe Bean Bryant plays 40+ minutes a game and takes about 30 shots (and scores about 40 points in those games). Many of those 30 or so shots start out of isolation, not part of an actual offense. You know, Kobe 1 on 3 fading away from 17 ft. Those shots. When The Kobe Show is in full effect that means an effective offense isn’t. Kobe is such a great basketball player he’ll make more than his fair share of those. That’s not the point. The point is that this Lakers squad shouldn’t have to resort to this. No NBA team should have to resort to this. Things should come easier. I’m not blaming Bryant, solely, for all the shots but as the player who takes them he clearly plays a big part. The Kobe Show means that other players aren’t getting enough shots because over 1/3 (37% in the team’s last five games) of the shots from the field are taken by one player. This means when other players get the ball they have to re-familiarize themselves with the feeling of the basketball to their hands. This means that players aren’t used to being in the flow of the offense. This is not how sustained, effective, winning basketball is played. That’s why I hate watching The Kobe Show.
We had advanced screenings of The Kobe Show before 2004, but it made its premiere after the trade of Shaquille O’Neal. Post-Shaq, The Kobe Show sometimes seemed better than the alternative. During its height the three best players on the Lakers were Bryant, Lamar Odom, and Luke Walton. Smush Parker was running the point. Safe to say not the most prosperous times for the ol’ purple and gold. In the three years following Shaq’s departure the Lakers never made it out of the first round of the playoffs and missed the playoffs in the ’04-’05 season for only the second time since 1976. They had a .492 winning percentage (121-125 record) in the regular season during that three season stretch. After the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol on February 1, 2008 (a holiday of sorts for Lakers fans) The Kobe Show went on indefinite hiatus (*). With The Kobe Show no longer in production a new show aired that was far more exciting and successful. This new show called for a little less but more efficient Kobe Bryant and relied more on supporting characters; it was an ensemble. That show allowed the Lakers to win two championships, make three Finals appearances and win 11 playoff series in the span of three seasons.
(*) This is where I am obligated to thank Chris Wallace for the Pau Gasol trade. Thanks again, Chris! The Lakers wouldn’t have won two championships without you. (At least that trade doesn’t look as one-sided now. Pau’s brother Marc is solid and the Memphis Grizzlies were able to build a team that beat the number one seed in the West in last season’s playoffs.)
I’ve seen The Kobe Show another time, but with a different cast. The lead of that show was LeBron James and the uniform he and the rest of the cast were wearing was that of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The LeBron James version of The Kobe Show was more successful (and of course had its differences). LBJ’s version of The Kobe Show surfaced most when times got tough, when games were down to the wire. It had some really bad endings to episodes, some terrible season finales, and the single most horrifying series finale I have ever seen. There is a current in the recently reemerged Kobe Show and the LeBron James version. Mike Brown playing the role of head coach. I see this more as a coincidence than a true sign, but it obviously crossed my mind. The Lakers haven’t gone to the LeBron/Cavs late-game offense yet nor do I think they will. The LBJ/Cavs late-game offense was this: Lebron dribbles at the top of three-point line running time off the clock as his teammates practically stand out of bounds agape waiting for their “King” to make them as much of a witness as the crowd. Just like Kobe’s patented 17 ft. fade away over three defenders, James’ dribble, dribble some more than put your head down and drive (or possibly pull up) was successful a fair amount of the time. But could it all have been made easier? (**)
(**) Yes. Of course.
The Kobe Show may be coming back for several reasons. First, the uniqueness of this NBA season. There was very little preparation time before the season started, less time between games, fewer games overall, and a long layoff before the start of the season. Another reason may be this Lakers team. With the loss of Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown, many believe the Lakers have the least amount of talent on their roster since Pau Gasol arrived. With the talent level dropping to an extent, the thought may be that Kobe has to take over more than in recent seasons. It could just be that this is what offense looks like under Mike Brown (I doubt this possibility). Most likely this is simply a brief stretch of games and things will return to normal.
Kobe Bryant in the Lakers last 5 games (with player who took second most shots):
- vs. Phoenix: 48 points, 18-31 FG, 31 of 80 total FGA, 39 minutes, Gasol (13 shots)
- vs. Utah: 40 points, 14-31 FG, 31 of 82 total FGA, 43 minutes (OT), Gasol (14 shots)
- vs. Cleveland: 42 points, 15-31 FG, 31 of 76 total FGA, 41 minutes, Gasol (16 shots)
- vs. Los Angeles Clippers: 42 points, 14-28 FG, 28 of 77 FGA, 44 minutes, Gasol (17 shots)
- vs. Dallas: 14 points, 7-22 FG, 22 of 76 FGA, 38 minutes, Bynum (13 shots) (*73 points scored by LAL in the game)
This dangerous game of having Kobe shoot 30 times and/or “take over” for long periods of time is troublesome for so many reasons. First, it’s bad basketball. Kobe has four teammates on the floor with him for a reason. Five players can run an offense and get better shots than The Kobe Show provides. It helps the team as players are more involved and in the flow. Although Kobe looks more spry than he has in a few years he is an older player (33) and more importantly is a player with a lot of mileage playing over 1,100 regular season games and over 200 playoff games. Let’s just assume that Bryant is as healthy as he has been since turning 30. Wouldn’t you want to preserve that? Kobe gets banged up all the time, more and more and although he hasn’t missed many games, I wouldn’t want to play this dangerous game the Lakers have been playing recently.
So, what should the Lakers do? I’m not going to get too detailed here because I don’t think I have to. Less Kobe and attempt to be more balanced on offense. Spread the ball around, run the offense, keep guys from standing and watching Kobe. While the Lakers may have lost some of their mojo, they still have Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Are you telling me these guys are stiffs? And it’s not as if outside of Bryant, Gasol and Bynum the rest of the roster is made up of a bunch of incapable players. I realize that the Lakers have been in some real fights as of late, but looking long-term at this season, this can’t continue. Kobe shouldn’t be playing 40+ minutes per game and take 30+ shots in the process. The team has new players, they haven’t had much time to gel. Having Kobe dominate the offense won’t help that.
Which brings me to the end of the Lakers’ last game. With seconds remaining and the score tied against the Dallas Mavericks I jumped out of my chair in excitement when Kobe passed up the opportunity to shoot a wild three-pointer over two Mavericks in favor of dishing to a WIDE OPEN Derek Fisher who proceeded to knock down the game winner.
The Kobe Show must go back on hiatus.
In that moment, thankfully it did.