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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Jamal Mashburn Says Kobe Bryant is the Best Player--AND the MVP

Unlike nearly everyone else who is pontificating on the MVP race, Jamal Mashburn actually knows first hand what it takes to score 50 points in an NBA game; he accomplished that feat twice in his injury shortened career. While many observers draw an artificial line between being the best player in the league and being the MVP, Mashburn argues that Kobe Bryant has earned both titles:

Before he went on this latest run, he was taking seven fewer shots per game and still averaging 29 points per game. He was making his teammates better, Luke Walton and Andrew Bynum in particular, getting everybody involved. And in the last few weeks, when his team needed him to take over in scoring, he did. He's my call for MVP. However, Bryant had an off night Tuesday, scoring 23 in an 88-86 loss to the lowly Grizzlies. That snapped the Los Angeles Lakers' win streak at five. And it snapped Kobe's 40-point-game streak at five, too. Overall, though, he has done more for his team (compared to other MVP candidates) even though his supporting cast isn't as good. The Lakers might not be winning at the level of the Spurs and Mavericks, but without him they're a lottery team. I don't think the award has to go to the best player on the team with the best record, even though I really like what Dirk Nowitzki has done this year. Kobe's popularity might show he's the people choice. His jersey is No. 1 in sales -- when I think MVP, I look at somebody with star power. No shortage of that here. Let's not forget about his defense. There are questions that could be raised about parts of most candidates' games, but there really aren't a lot of weaknesses in Kobe's game.

I would not throw jersey sales in as a factor to be considered in this context, but Mashburn's other points are very solid--and are things that I have raised for consideration in some of my posts.

ESPN.com researcher Michael E. Jackson broke down the Lakers' record this year and found that the team is 6-1 when Bryant scores at least 50 points, 5-2 when he scores 40-49, 7-10 when he scores 30-39, 13-13 when he scores 20-29 and 4-5 when he scores less than 20. In other words, the Lakers are 11-3 (.786; equivalent to 64-18 for a whole season) when Bryant scores at least 40 points and 24-28 (.462; equivalent to 38-44) when he doesn't. The Lakers, as currently constituted, are heavily dependent on Bryant scoring a lot of points; the idea that it is selfish for him to do so or that the team would be better off if he shot the ball fewer times simply is not supported by the team's record--and Bryant has had 50 point games in wins against Utah and Houston, so his super performances are not limited to games against teams with losing records (he also outscored Dallas 62-61 in three quarters last year).

Memphis used a combination of a two-three zone and a box and one zone against Bryant on Tuesday. Have you ever heard of an NBA team using a box and one? That is what college teams do when one opposing player completely overmatches their personnel and/or his teammates are incapable of threatening the defense even with a 4 on 3 advantage. Yeah, Bryant had a poor shooting performance (7-26 from the field)--but the other Lakers shot 26-70 (.371) despite the other team's defense focusing on Bryant. I did not see this particular game (I was in Indiana at the Pacers/Cavs game), so I don't know how many of Bryant's shots were what I call hand grenades--shots that he has to take after he gets the ball back from his teammates with the shot clock winding down. A few of those can turn a bad shooting night into a really bad one. From what I've seen and read about the game, though, it seems that Bryant took a lot of shots from his normal scoring areas but just did not make them. Frankly, I expected him to wear down a couple games ago but he willed himself to 50 points versus the Hornets by putting his head down, driving to the hoop and drawing fouls in the fourth quarter. Scoring 50 points once takes a lot of energy, let alone doing it in four straight games. That is why Wilt Chamberlain--who once averaged 48.5 mpg for an entire season--is the only player other than Bryant to ever do this. With a few days off before Friday's game against Houston, a refreshed Bryant will most likely shoot closer to his normal percentage; after all, he even missed three of his nine free throws against Memphis after only missing five of his previous 59 attempts, a sure sign of fatigue. Whether or not he scores more than 40 will have a lot to do with how much his teammates are able to contribute. Based on the results so far this season, the Lakers will probably need at least 40 points from Bryant to beat a Houston Rockets team that has won two in a row and eight of their last 10.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:59 AM



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