In anticipation of tonight’s Nets-Lakers battle royale of the century at the Staples Center, Andrew Kamenetzky of ESPN Los Angeles’ Land O’Lakers blog was kind enough to answer a few of my hottest Lakers questions. I also answered a few Nets questions for Andrew over at that blog, which you can read here.
Kobe Bryant’s having an up-and-down season — he followed up a season-worst 3/21 performance (in which he hit the game-winner) with a dominant 40 points on 28 shots. How would you characterize the season Kobe’s had thus far?
- As far Kobe’s shooting goes, he’s been extremely erratic all season all season long, and lately, has trended towards rough sledding. In February, he shot 40.2 percent from the field. In March, 38.7 percent. I’d like to think his performance against the Warriors on Sunday marked the start of a bounce-back April. However, based on the template established this season, it feels more random than foreshadowing.
As for the reasons behind these struggles, there are many possible explanations. Kobe recently copped to some fatigue, between his league leading 2044 (as of Monday) minutes played, this truncated season’s pace and the yeoman’s efforts demanded of him for much of the season as a scorer and facilitator. That will take a toll on any player, much a 33-year old who, when you factor playoff games, has logged roughly the equivalent of 19 NBA seasons. Perhaps Bryant’s wrist and/or knee and/or ankle is hurting more than he’s let on. He’s also taking far too many 3’s (5 per game) for a guy shooting 29 percent, which factors into his low overall numbers. Whether this volume is the result of Mike Brown’s design or Kobe taking advantage of a green light is a matter of debate, but it’s not helping Kobe’s efficiency. And finally, there was once a more concerted effort to create off-ball action for Kobe, which resulted in some high percentage looks. These days, not as much.
All in all, Kobe’s having a high-end, typically well-rounded season, and remains among the NBA’s elite. But he’s really been struggling from the floor, and tired as this debate may be, there are games when you wonder if the Lakers really would be better off with The Mamba taking fewer shots.
Given the Nets’ depleted front line, do you expect Bynum to get more touches than usual tonight?
- Probably not, to be honest. The Lakers don’t make a habit of milking frontcourt mismatches, for reasons ranging from poor focus, impatience and, quite frankly, Kobe still “eating first,” so to speak. Bynum’s also day-to-day with a left ankle sprained Sunday against Golden State, which could hurt his effectiveness. And frankly, Drew’s recent behavior makes me hedge my bets. For the last few weeks, his on-court body language and post-game comments have reflected detachment and entitlement, and his effort has been erratic. This has been displayed most prominently on the defensive end, but it’s even prevented a consistent willingness to work hard to establish deep position for easy scores. If he’s not involved early, it’s easy to picture him in cruise control.
How do you think the Lakers plan to stop Deron Williams tonight?
- That’s an interesting dilemma. I imagine Mike Brown will start with Ramon Sessions on him, but in this matchup, he’ll be surrendering some size and, quite frankly, defensive ability. If he struggles, I think this will eventually become a by-committee effort between Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace, depending on the other matchups are created by who the Nets have on the floor. Obviously, it’s not ideal to ask Kobe to expend as much energy of both sides of the ball as checking D.Will requires, but if other guys like Sessions, Pau Gasol and Bynum can pick up some scoring responsibilities, maybe Kobe can focus a little more on the defensive end.
Then again, given how sloppy the Lakers’ defense has been of late, “stopping” Williams, which is a relative concept to begin with, may be the least of their concerns. To some degree, a big game from Deron is expected and anything less is a pleasant surprise. You might even say the same about Gerald Wallace, who’s been a recent killer against the Lakers. But if quality nights are also enjoyed by the likes of Kris Humphries, Marshon Brooks, Gerald Green, etc., then the Lakers could find themselves in a tougher game than necessary. Based on the most recent sample size, I’m betting on that scenario.