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Friday, January 06, 2012

Kevin Ding Provides Excellent Lakers Coverage

A large percentage of what is reported about the NBA in general--and the Lakers in particular--consists of various kinds of nonsense: biased commentary, statistics that are either irrelevant and/or based on insignificant sample sizes, gossip, etc. One shining light amidst this darkness is Kevin Ding, the beat writer for the Orange County Register. His most recent article contains solid reporting with excellent insight. Here is Ding's coverage of how Kobe Bryant is dealing with the torn ligament in his right wrist:

Bryant has been taking a numbing injection to that wrist before every game in hopes of performing normally. Yes, it's that bad.

He does not want to publicize all the details of his wrist, which is usable only because the bones were not moved permanently out of alignment without the ligament to hold them in place. But it's now clear just how problematic the wrist is, and it's fair to wonder where all this will take Bryant.

Bryant walked out of Staples Center on Tuesday night with something that looked like an oven mitten over his right hand and wrist. He wears an immobilizing brace over the wrist when off the court, meaning take-for-granted parts of life such as texting on his phone or zipping his fly become rather challenging.

It was much the same aggravation in 2009-10, when Bryant played through the avulsion fracture in his right index finger--another rather useful body part for everyday activities apart from handling a basketball, too...

In 2009-10 Bryant paid a price for overextending himself, with the fracture in the top knuckle of that finger eventually healing, but the main middle knuckle so beaten down by the abuse that it wound up with arthritis.

That finger today remains, well, quite deformed. Actually, the most accurate way to describe the finger? Lumpy.


The L.A. Times, ESPN and other media outlets will try to convince you that Mike Brown is not a very good coach and that Kobe Bryant does not respect him. Ding has a much different take:

Days before Brown and Bryant reviewed video side-by-side on the flight home from Denver after Bryant's brutal 6-for-28 game Sunday night, Bryant shared with me the depth of his respect for Brown.

"I really want to win for him in the worst way, because I see how much he works and I see how much he wants it," Bryant said. "I hear the criticism he takes, and I believe it to be unwarranted. It makes me want to work even harder than I already am."

Brown and Bryant came out of their video study together with a mandate: Rededicate themselves to getting Bryant the ball in his favorite spots right off the free-throw line or in the short post.

"I think Kobe learned something when we sat down and watched tape," said Brown, staying typically humble by adding: "I know I learned something, too."

Brown also mentioned to Bryant the need to follow through properly with his wrist on jump shots. Well, when Bryant does that, the wrist howls in pain. It wasn't fatigue from six games in eight days that left so many of Bryant's shots in Denver on the front rim as much as the wrist failing.

Ding concludes:

Bryant is always the same but is never the same. Whether he's missing 22 shots or making 14, he's analyzing every one. He will travel to the ends of the earth for any possible edge, yet his nose will never leave the grindstone.

What he doesn't understand is why everyone doesn't get it by now:

This is what he does. This is who he is.

Bryant pounded away with that busted finger for six months of the 2009-10 season.

He got up only after he had what he calls the most satisfying of his five NBA championships.


For several years I have emphasized that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum benefit immensely from the extra defensive attention that Kobe Bryant attracts. People who say that Bryant should have a smaller offensive role for the Lakers because Gasol and Bynum's shooting percentages are better than Bryant's shooting percentage do not understand the cause-effect relationship between how Bryant plays and the opportunities that Gasol and Bynum get--but, unlike many media members, Ding knows the difference between putting up numbers and being an elite player:

We said Andrew Bynum was going to be a beast this season.

Now that everyone has seen the 22.3 points, 15.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, let's be clear about something else:

Bynum is not an elite offensive player in this league yet. Not even close.

He has an awful lot to learn before he gets there, and the second half of the Lakers' loss in Portland on Thursday night was an early pop quiz he flunked.

No doubt Bynum has plenty of moves, via both power and footwork, but what he lacks is the ability to handle double teams. He struggled when presented with that challenge late last season, and he will struggle again with it much of this season--probably more so than even Lakers coach Mike Brown suspects.


Some commenters at this site have disputed my contention that Bryant, not Gasol or Bynum, is the main Laker who draws double teams. Ding provides a quote from Coach Brown about Bynum that supports my case:

That's new for him. Not only new for him, but if you think about it, it's kind of new for our team in terms of having a post-up guy who gets doubled. That's something we have to work on, so it was great for Andrew to have to go through that and our team to have to go through it.

Now we just have to work on it, because we know Andrew can score on the front side of plays and in a one-on-one environment. Now he has to understand that when they come to double, it's OK--but we've got to make 'em pay, whether it's on the backside or it's with the re-post.


Before deciding to run the offense through a particular player, that player must prove that he can deal with trapping defenses. Bryant has proven that he is highly proficient in that regard. As Coach Brown noted, it is "new" for the Lakers to put a post player in position to be regularly doubled and it remains to be seen how Bynum will react to this role. If Bynum is capable of performing well in this role then this will make the Lakers a better team and possibly extend Kobe Bryant's career--but it is premature to just automatically say that Bynum should be the focal point of the offense. The Lakers should definitely still be willing to trade the injury-prone Bynum to the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard if possible; Howard is a better rebounder and defender than Bynum, Howard is more durable than Bynum and, even though his post footwork is a bit less polished than Bynum's, Howard is a more explosive athlete. Howard has improved his post game recently and if he played alongside Bryant then Howard's effectiveness and field goal percentage would improve much like Gasol's did after joining the Lakers.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:02 PM

7 comments

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7 Comments:

At Sunday, January 08, 2012 2:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

bynum been playing well alot bettter than i thougt. gasol has regressed, bynum is a terrible passer mainly cause he used to playing one on one for so long. bynum injury prone but they beebn freak accident as well. if he healthy he showing he could do alot and extend kobe career. if howard go to lakers he extend kobe career even more. i think kobe respect howard more and would let offense run through him. kobe yaer 16 still putting up 37 and 39 point games. amazing t me but with bad hand need to take it a little easier. he gonna wear himself out very early. howard to me second best player in the league. after lebron so well see what appens bynum needs a litte more touches.

 
At Sunday, January 08, 2012 4:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

overall this was a good article, although I dont agree with it all. I would probably be a terrible passer too if I knew if I threw it out the post to the black hole, I mean mamba that I wasnt getting it back, or threw it to any of our other 3pt shooters theyd throw up mountain sized BRICKS. Kobe is the greatest player and maybe he means well but dribling around for 10 seconds w/3 defenders draped off of him is not good for anybodys rhythm....#TrustIssues..

 
At Sunday, January 08, 2012 11:23:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

I wonder if the nitwits who think the Lakers should turn the keys over to Bynum have been watching the last few games...

 
At Monday, January 09, 2012 1:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Ding's larger point is that Bynum does not yet possess the skills to read a double team and make the correct pass.

Bryant led the Lakers in assists each time they won the championship during his career (and in most of his other seasons as well). Assists are not always the best way to quantify passing but if you think that Bryant does not pass the ball then you either aren't watching the games or you have been brainwashed by ESPN.

 
At Monday, January 09, 2012 2:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

Bynum shot 3-9 from the field with one assist and four turnovers versus Golden State on Friday and then he shot 5-14 from the field with no assists and five turnovers versus Memphis on Sunday. Meanwhile, Bryant led the Lakers in both scoring and assists in both games as the Lakers notched two victories.

It will be fascinating to see how Abbott, Wilbon and others twist those numbers around to "prove" that Bynum should be the focal point of the offense.

The sad part for the Lakers is that the whole debate will become irrelevant once Bynum suffers his annual injury; I am not wishing that anything bad will happen to Bynum but he has a track record and we are seeing what seems like a record number of injuries to key players in this truncated season.

 
At Monday, January 09, 2012 7:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched the Portland-LA game at it was exactly as was observed in this article: in the first half, Bynum was nothing short of dominant, and no one could stop him as the Lakers continually fed him the ball. In the 2nd half, it seemed the Blazers realized that, while no ONE on their roster could stop Bynum, any TWO players could completely neutralize his impact on the game. It certainly served as a reminder of two things: how gifted a player can look if he can score one-on-one; and how a truly great player can turn an approaching double team to his own teams advantage. I've always felt that the Lakers main problem with their bigs is that they have one (Gasol) who is a gifted all around player who is often hesitant to score, and another (Bynum) who is hungry for points and offensive touches but can be easily slowed by even a half-hearted double team due to his current lack of passing acumen.
Welcome back, David.
Happydaze

 
At Tuesday, January 10, 2012 3:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Happydaze:

Two elements of the sport that "stat gurus" consistently misunderstand are the importance of shot creation and the value of good coaching. Kobe Bryant's ability to not only create shots for himself but to create scoring opportunities for his teammates is a major reason that he has won five championships. Skeptics mock Phil Jackson because Jackson had the benefit of coaching MJ, Pip, Shaq and Kobe but those players won 11 championships under Jackson and just one title under all of the other coaches who coached them. The reason that the Lakers' offense ran through Kobe under Jackson and continues to run through Kobe under Mike Brown is that Kobe can both create shots for himself and create shots for others. As you correctly noted, Gasol is not comfortable in the primary role and Bynum may want that role but he does not yet have the right skill set for it; in that sense, the Lakers kind of have the reverse situation from what took place the first time that Jackson coached the team: at that time, Shaq was the experienced player who deserved to be the focal point while Kobe was the young gun who wanted that role but was not quite ready for it. Somewhere around 2002 Kobe elevated his game to the point where he was ready to be the top option and in the summer of 2004 the Lakers made the logical decision to part ways with Shaq to rebuild around Kobe.

Shaq positioned himself more as a rival to Kobe than as a mentor but Kobe has deliberately taken a different approach with Gasol, Bynum and his other teammates so if Bynum emerges as a legit number one option (or if the Lakers trade Bynum for Dwight Howard) I don't think that the Lakers will have a Bryant-Bynum (or Bryant-Howard) problem like the old Shaq-Kobe feud (although it is obvious that the media is trying to create a Bryant-Bynum feud now by continuing to suggest that Kobe is shooting too much).

 

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