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Friday, May 11, 2012

Kobe Bryant Feels Like the Old Eric Carmen Song: All by Myself

"When I was young, I never needed anyone."--Eric Carmen, "All by Myself"

The last time Kobe Bryant looked this lonely on the basketball court, Bryant was muttering about being armed with "butter knives" in a "gun battle" while Kwame Brown and Smush Parker stumbled and fumbled around. As Pete Vecsey might quip, if the flu-ridden Bryant had not been nauseous prior to game six of the Lakers-Nuggets series he surely was sick to his stomach after that debacle. Bryant scored 31 points on 13-23 field goal shooting in 37 minutes before Coach Mike Brown waved the white flag and sat Bryant down early in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets buried the Lakers under a barrage of fast break layups and wide open three pointers. Bryant could have easily scored 40-plus points even though he needed multiple bags of intravenous fluids to replenish his body after spending the day vomiting because of gastroenteritis. The oddsmakers and various pundits classified the Lakers as legit title contenders before this season began but I wrote that the "Lakers look a lot like the 2006 and 2007 squads that needed superhuman efforts from Bryant just to win games." While I picked the Lakers to win this series--and I still expect them to do so (the Denver role players who thrived at home will not likely repeat those performances on the road in game seven, while Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum surely will compete at least a little harder)--I also noted that "this matchup has more than a slight whiff of upset in the air."

Bynum and Gasol shrank right before our eyes during Denver's 113-96 win. The "stat gurus" and various misinformed media members keep saying that the Lakers' strength is their size--but if that is true then how is it possible that these two supposedly elite big men are being outplayed, outhustled and embarrassed by a frontcourt led by an undersized rookie power forward (Kenneth Faried) and a raw prospect (JaVale McGee) whose most (in)famous NBA play prior to this series was running back on defense while his team still had possession of the ball? Gasol scored three points on 1-10 field goal shooting and grabbed three rebounds in 29 minutes in game six, while Bynum sleepwalked his way (literally, as he loped up and down the court while various Nuggets sped past him) to 11 points on 4-11 field goal shooting in 30 minutes. Bynum, who is significantly bigger and stronger than anyone else playing in this series, did manage to snare 16 rebounds, though several of those caroms came as he gained control of his own point blank misses. Bynum's overall numbers during this series may not look bad on a "stat guru's" spreadsheet but as a purportedly dominant big man he is supposed to be dominating McGee, not watching as McGee dunks on him from various different angles.

This is the second subpar postseason in a row for Gasol; it is no accident that the Lakers tried to trade him prior to this season and it is obvious that his value will only continue to diminish. Since the "stat gurus" are so in love with Gasol perhaps the best hope for the Lakers is that they will find a way to peddle Gasol to Houston's Daryl Morey, who apparently believes that Gasol can be a first option player for a Rockets team that has yet to advance past the first round despite Morey's much-praised mastery of "advanced basketball statistics." Bynum appears to have overcome the physical problems that dogged him early in his career but it is far from certain that he will ever develop the appropriate mental/psychological outlook to be a primary contributor to a championship team. Bynum put up Luc Longley numbers--6.3 ppg/3.7 rpg in the 2009 playoffs and 8.6 ppg/6.9 rpg in the 2010 playoffs--during the Lakers' last two championship drives; now his role on the team has greatly expanded but even though he made the All-Star team this season he has consistently struggled to be productive against double teams and his effort on the defensive end of the court varies wildly from game to game, which is unacceptable for someone who the Lakers are hoping will be their franchise player at some point.

I am sure that some fool will declare that Saturday's game seven is the defining moment of Bryant's career or the most important game of his life--I even have more than a vague idea who is dumb enough to express that sentiment--but that is not even close to being true. Kobe Bryant is a 33 year old veteran with more than 50,000 combined regular season and playoff minutes on his odometer; he came within a final night of the season scoring outburst of becoming the oldest player other than Michael Jordan to win an NBA scoring title and during this series he became the only Lakers player at least 33 years old other than Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (three times) to score 38 or more points in a playoff game--a feat that Bryant has now accomplished twice versus Denver. The list of shooting guards who have had career-defining moments at 33 years old and/or in their 16th seasons is exceedingly short; Bryant established his legacy during his prime by being an All-NBA caliber performer for five championship teams, by setting many individual records and by perennially being selected to both the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team. If Bryant leads this weak Lakers' team to a game seven win that will add another line to his lengthy Hall of Fame resume but failing to win a title as an older player with a non-championship caliber team is hardly something that will diminish Bryant's legacy in any way--particularly if he continues to shine individually even as his teammates shamefully shrink from the challenge.

It is hardly an encouraging sign for the Lakers that Bryant says that Metta World Peace--whose seven game suspension ends just in time for him to participate in game seven--is "the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with a sense of urgency and play with no fear. So, I'm looking forward to having him by my side again." That comment will no doubt result in some backlash against Bryant for being a bad teammate (apparently no one remembers--or cares--that Larry Bird once called his teammates "a bunch of sissies" after a blowout loss in the playoffs).

Longtime NBA assistant coach Johnny Bach once described a young Michael Jordan's playing style to me by saying that Jordan would "attack the citadels": Jordan would go over, around or through any obstacle. Kobe Bryant has had more than a few "attack the citadels" moments--including scoring 62 points in three quarters versus a championship caliber Dallas team and pouring in an astonishing 81 points against Toronto--but no one can "attack the citadels" forever and Bryant himself is the first to admit that the Lakers will not win the 2012 championship if they expect him to score 40 points night after night; now would be an excellent time for the 24 year old Bynum to attack some citadels, particularly since he is hardly matched up against legendary individual opponents--and this would also be an excellent time for Gasol to make his presence felt in some tangible fashion.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:29 AM



At Friday, May 11, 2012 8:08:00 AM, Anonymous Raymond said...

It was literally painful watching the game. As a longtime Laker fan, I had some semblance of hope that Bynum could probably be a productive performer, but it's pretty obvious now that he and Gasol just aren't cut out for intense basketball.

No effort on defense, slogging back on D. I was nearly screaming at my TV watching a 33 year old shooting guard down with the flu playing his heart out, and no one else seeming to care.

If the Lakers end up getting bounced in the first round, they should just trade everyone except Kobe. And maybe Jordan Hill, at least he plays hard every single night.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 2:26:00 PM, Blogger Kion Stephen said...

The "stat gurus" and various misinformed media members keep saying that the Lakers' strength is their size.

Doesn't the result of these last two Laker games prove that point?

When Gasol and especially Bynum are fully engaged, the Lakers are an absolute terror to deal with.

When they are not, you get results like game 5 & 6.

Kobe will be Kobe... he will have his great games on a very consistent basis. But the Lakers only become very dangerous when their two big men step up and assert themselves.

Of course, that isn't a reliable formula since Bynum has a tendency to pout and not give maximum effort. But when he IS fully engaged, and thus allows the Lakers to play inside out, the Lakers are truly terrifying to other teams.

(As a non-Lakers fan,) thankfully, that doesn't happen too consistently.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 4:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are missing my point; the "stat gurus" repeatedly assert that Bynum and Gasol are the two best players on the Lakers' team. This is simply not true--and their lack of consistent "full engagement" is just one reason why (I have discussed other reasons in great depth in previous articles). Obviously, no team can win if only one player--even if he is the best player--is "fully engaged." Championship teams receive great effort from all of their players. The Lakers won back to back championships because Bryant could still "storm the citadels" and he received just enough help from his supporting cast, with Gasol serving at that time as the second best player on the team and Bynum providing Luc Longley-esque production. Now, Bryant is older, Gasol is not as good or as motivated as he was at that time and Bynum is a talented but immature player who is not ready to be the second best player on a championship team, let alone the franchise player that so many people have prematurely crowned him to be.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 6:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is odd that you think that Gasol's 1-10 shooting performance and Bynum's disinterested effort prove that those guys are franchise caliber players; the fact that they performed so poorly with so much on the line while enjoying distinct matchup advantages demonstrates that they are not, in fact, franchise players, particularly since they played the same way in last year's playoffs.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 6:46:00 PM, Blogger Cappy said...

As what shaq said: bynum is selfish. Making a comment about game 5 is EASY. I hate watching him jogging back & opponents were passing him! He should be traded. Did you hear that jimmy buss? You baby him soooo much that he think his Gods gift to the NBA.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 7:45:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

I think this also shows the difference in the support Jordan and Kobe got.

When Jordan played with the flu, he put on a superb performance, while his teammates also picked up their play. Thus the Bulls were able to defeat the Utah Jazz.

When Kobe played with the flu, Bynum and Gasol played horrible games and made it impossible for the Lakers to win the game.

Unless the big men start picking things up, Kobe may have to score 62 in 3 quarters or 81 points in order for the Lakers to win Game 7.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 8:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been in the "trade whatever it takes to get Howard" for months, even if that means losing Gasol AND Bynum. I feel like, even though Howard can sometimes say strange things off the court (like Bynum), he definitely balances that out by having a consistent night-after-night impact (unlike Bynum) -- look at how he did this year, when he still nearly won a 4th DPOY award while being a complete disaster off the court to his team.

After game 1 of this series a lot of my friends were mocking me, asking if I would still trade Bynum for Howard this off-season, and my answer was still "yes", due to Bynum's (in my eyes, anyway) lack of consistency. I just could not envision that effort and impact lasting.

Sadly, games 5 and 6 have put on stage a perfect example of what I was saying (and what has been written here on multiple occasions).

I hear over and OVER again about how the Lakers' strength is their size, and this is absolutely true. But only if the players that constitute the size advantage actually show up to play and use their size to an actual advantage. The last two games were simply the latest examples of the Lakers' bigs -- the "strength of the team" -- get beat down the floor and to rebounds, fail to even TRY to establish post position down low, and forget the meaning of the words "help defense."

What's always struck me as funny is when commentators talk about the Gasol and Bynum not getting the ball enough. Watch the games. Any time they run down the court establish post position early in the shot clock, they get the ball. Now watch how often they put in the effort to getting down the court to establish deep post position early. THAT'S what doesn't happen nearly enough.

Anyway, this is turning (has already turned?) into a rant. On the bright side, Game 7s are exciting. Excellent article as always.


P.S. -- regarding two things the media has been telling me all season: 1) I thought the Heat are supposed to have the worst supporting cast in the history of the playoffs; 2) aren't the Lakers supposed to be unbeatable when Kobe takes 23 or less shots? He was 13/23 last night, and I'd be willing to bet that every Laker fan wishes he could have taken 23 more shots.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 9:12:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...


anybody who has played any sort of organized basketball can easily understand why coach brown called gasol and bynum out. gasol was a step slow on rotations and was not challenging opposing shooters aggressively. same with bynum. though bynum grabbed 16 boards, he is not engaged defensively. though i laud his board work, i think he seems to think that he is doing enough. in other words, he does not understand what it takes to distinguish himself during the playoffs. he needs to get out of his zone and help out aggressively. part of a big man's job is to control the paint on both ends of the floor. and i think he still doesn't understand this fully. and he lacks the passion and burning desire required for playoff basketball.
anyone who has played any level of organized basketball knows that during playoffs you will know who among your teammates has it. just as the lakers are finding out right now. i am impressed with kobe's level of play, and even more impressed with how he has tried to rally his team and have their backs. but i think it is time he calls them out and find out if they truly have what it takes to be champions.
great analysis david as always.


At Friday, May 11, 2012 9:58:00 PM, Blogger Kion Stephen said...

Actually, i never said that I thought Bynum was a franchise player. Nor did i say Gasol was one either.

What i did say is that the Lakers have an advantage with their size. They, as a team, are usually most dangerous when they take advantage of their size inside.

I don't say this as someone who believes that Bynum's high field goal percentage would be maintained without Kobe's presence. I am fully aware that Bynum has extreme difficulty dealing with double teams. But, unless you have a very strong and physical center, an engaged Bynum forces a double team, which tends to disrupt the overall defense of the opponent.
A fully engaged Gasol takes advantage of the attention defenders pay to Kobe and Bynum and feasts on easy putbacks and single coverage.

If those two are not playing well however, the Lakers become a very mediocre team. In other words, if they are not taking advantage of their size inside, the Lakers are just not that good.

Just to be clear, it's obvious that the lack of dominant inside play lies with the lack of effort by Bynum and Gasol (esp Bynum..... that trot he does annoys the living daylights out of me). They just don't give maximum effort consistently. So, they can't, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered franchise players. But when they do push themselves, the Lakers move from mediocre to championship contender.

That was the essence of my point.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 11:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I am sure you know, I also have long been in the "trade Bynum and Gasol to get Howard" camp.

I agree with your other comments/observations as well.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 11:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Bynum and Gasol also played very poorly in last year's playoffs, making the same mistakes and displaying the same lack of effort that you described in your comment. That is why I kept saying that the Lakers should trade both big men for Dwight Howard with the idea of chasing at least one ring with a Bryant/Howard duo and then eventually building the team around Howard after Bryant retires.

At Friday, May 11, 2012 11:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Of course the Lakers have an advantage if Bynum and Gasol play hard and play the right way--but the Lakers' main advantage is Bryant's skill and Bryant's drive. After Bryant retires and/or after Bynum and Gasol end up playing for different teams we will truly see how much of an advantage those two big men can create without the benefit of playing alongside one of the top five players in the league.

The "stat gurus" have consistently been wrong about the relative value of Bynum/Gasol compared to Bryant and that is one of the main fallacies I sought to address in this article.

At Saturday, May 12, 2012 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Derrick said...

David, I have been following your blog for years now, and I absolutely love your take on the game. It is incredibly perceptive compared to a lot of the stuff peddled out these days. I agree with you; I do not understand the focus that people make on giving Gasol and Bynum more touches.

For example, Steve Novak shot an eFG% of 67.5%. That's obsenely high, yet his usage rate is 16.2%. Carmelo on the other hand is shooting an eFG% of 46.3%, yet has a team high usage rate of 31.8%. That should be considered criminal. A more efficient player is receiving markedly reduced usage. However, most people would wave that thought process away, saying that Novak can only shoot threes, and they would be absolutely correct. His skill set and efficiency is completely situational. This holds true for Bynum and Gasol, and even Kobe Bryant (though I venture that his stats suffer negatively due to the situation).

I feel like this Denver series has been an extreme highlight of the importance of the situation, yet so many people are completely missing it. Bynum and Gasol's main strength lie in the post up. That is the situation. There are only so many opportunities to utilize it. They have to be fed the ball. They need the ball with time on the shot clock. It is not a very conducive place on the court for a clock shot running down its last seconds, as it requires time and patience and the double is so easy to bring (especially with modern day zoning rules). Finally, there is only so much space to use it. Thereby, only one player can truly use it at a time. So the Lakers run into the same problem as the much maligned Heat offense. You have too many players vying for the same spots for scoring. Much like Wade, Lebron and Bosh would do their best scoring in the paint, Kobe, Gasol and Bynum do the same - just in a different manner.

So when people clamor for Kobe to drive to the paint more or post up more, they need to realize that is a difficult thing to do when you have two seven footers (and their defenders) constantly parking their butts in your way. Kobe has adapted his game to resemble Ray Allen in a lot of ways. He’s coming off screens, acting as a decoy, catch and shoots, etc. His near flawless skill set allows him to do this while still remaining amazingly efficient. And when people complain that Gasol no longer posts up as much, it’s because Bynum does not have the mature skill set to step out of the paint yet. Gasol does. (This is how the David Robinson and Tim Duncan duo worked: one in the paint, one high post and further. I think we can guess who occupied what.)

How has the Denver series made this obvious? Denver has utilized a simple tactic to neutralize the Lakers’ attack. Sag absolutely everyone into the paint. They bring the hard double to any post up by Bynum or Gasol before the ball even reaches their hands on a post entry pass. And any time they even get a whiff of Kobe getting the ball, a soft triple team is thrown his way, making sure to leave two defenders around the paint. (Honestly, the fact that he is even putting up these kind of numbers is a testament to how amazing of a player he is.) This has warped the Denver defense so much that there is not even a need for a swing pass to find the open man; the first pass leads to a wide open shot.


At Saturday, May 12, 2012 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Derrick said...


For the Lakers to win, three things need to happen. One, the bigs need to ignore the frustration of the constant double teams and focus hard on defense. They are getting the necessary touches to warp the defense. They need to take what the defense is giving them and focus on what they can control (the defensive intensity). Two, the perimeter players need to start taking these wide open threes that they are getting. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen Sessions or Blake receive a wide open three point opportunity for them to simply pump fake, step in, re post the ball, it gets thrown back out to the perimeter, and Kobe is eventually given a hand grenade. (Barnes has been taking those shots, but he has been atrocious shooting the ball.) Three (and this is actually minor compared to the previous two), the couching staff need to be more creative with getting post entry passes. No more just walking the ball up and passing that in. The days of free room for big men to go to work is over. The bigs need to get the ball off screens and quickly making a move.’’

-- Derrick DeConti
P.S. In case you have not seen this post, I submit this article:
If anyone has issue with Kobe being clearly the most versatile and dangerous offensive threat in the game, this post should clear those doubts. It simple visualizes and quantifies what we already see with our eyes.

At Saturday, May 12, 2012 6:17:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...


i understand what you said. i agree that both bynum and gasol played poorly last playoffs. and i also agree that the lakers should trade for dwight howard, but from a personnel standpoint, i think giving up both of them for dwight howard is a bit too much. maybe a straight up bynum for howard, plus another laker (other than gasol) thrown in to match the salaries. i can still remember vividly how gasol battled dwight even and came out a winner (in terms of team results) and how gasol dominated game 7 of the lakers' championship against the magic and the celtics. he is a rare big man with an outstanding skill set and championship pedigree and i will not easily give up on him.
indulge me on this. i have certain beliefs in life, and basketball imitates life in so many ways. an alpha is always an alpha. and a beta will always be a beta. when you don't have the moral high ground, you can't command the same respect that you used to. remember how kobe willed the lakers to those 2 championships? he didn't do it by himself. he had a fully engaged gasol by his side. when kobe was on top of his game, he commanded (not demanded) the respect of all his teammates, and they all fell in line behind him, including gasol and the vastly overrated bynum (those 2 championship years as opposed to this year). last season, where they got swept in the second round by the mavs, kobe barely practiced with the team the whole year. can u expect kobe to command the same respect from his teammates when he did not sweat it out with them during practices? on the other hand, though gasol is a very outstanding big man, he is a beta. can you expect him to lead that laker team?
great points david, but i just had this belief that kobe wasn't there to lead them during last year's playoffs because he was injured, didn't practice and lost the moral high ground to make everyone fall in line. and that the ultimate basektball alpha wasn't there to lead them, and a beta can never be an alpha.

At Sunday, May 13, 2012 9:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your observations echo several points that I have made in various articles. In the postgame press conference after game seven, Bryant noted that he would like to see Bynum react to double teams the way that Bryant dealt with them in game seven: accept the trap and then pass the ball to an open shooter. Bryant said that when he and/or Bynum do this they are doing their job.

At Sunday, May 13, 2012 9:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Last season I mentioned that Bryant's inability to practice with the team had led to an erosion in the team's intensity and precision. You are of course correct that neither Gasol nor Bynum are "alphas." That is my point; the "stat gurus" misinterpret certain numbers and then make incorrect conclusions about the relative value of Bryant, Gasol and Bynum.

At Wednesday, May 16, 2012 7:03:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

this is not a lovefest nor an ass kissing here, but i have to let you know that i really appreciate the way you debunk those supposed stat gurus. the way you present your case, point by point. by reason. by logic.
really great work. i really hope someday you will be given a chance for a bigger platform so that basketball journalism can be brought back to where it once was.
i like stats because it gives us a way to appreciate great players' accomplishments. a way to validate what we see on the court. but i really am infuriated when stats are used as the only basis to evaluate players. simply put, can you say steve kerr is a better shooter than reggie miller?
steve kerr goes to open spots and most often shoots uncontested shots as opposed to reggie who has to run all over the court/curl off multiple screens to get a shot off (more often than not, a contested shot)? both are great shooters, but i definitely think reggie is the better shooter and more valuable player, though steve might have a higher 3 point percentage.



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