This is disturbing: .39, .33, .38, and .19. That’s Kobe’s shooting percentages in his last four games.
Being just fans — without inside info on how much this is really affecting Kobe — we can only speculate, but it appears that recently, it’s affecting him a lot. From what I’ve watched, it seems to really affect his touch from about 12 feet all the way to the basket.
When I watch Kobe this year, I don’t see the hops that he once had, or even had last year. You can see when an athlete’s leaping ability has left him: instead of exploding and ascending when he leaps (a la Wade and LeBron), he simply jumps, lacking that rising action.
If you watch Kobe’s early games this season — before the finger, when he could still dunk with authority — he would be in full-stride on a fast break, jump off of one foot, and it basically looked like he arrived at the rim, instead of being truly above the rim. Now going back to his finishing, the lack of springs didn’t really affect this early in the year, because he had gotten stronger and more savvy around the basket.
However, now with his finger affecting his touch, combined with the lack of hops, Kobe has not looked like the Kobe we know when he’s trying to finish in traffic. It just seems that lately, he’s thrown up way more prayers in the lane than I’m accustomed to seeing.
Now it’s Kobe, so that doesn’t mean he hasn’t found ways to compensate and still be effective. If you go back, and watch the last four or five games, Kobe’s distance shooting — 15 feet and out — doesn’t look to be nearly as hindered. This makes sense, because this is where he usually goes to his face-up and pull-up game. In these instances he can compensate for his lack of finger strength with his legs, hand/wrist/forearm, and grip. Perhaps this explains the improvement of his 3 point shooting as of late, and those miraculous game winners.
Speaking of which, my buddy Chris, is a die hard Kings fan. I know watching Kobe drill that game winner — along with the schooling of Tyreke Evans on D, and nailing those clutch treys in the previous matchup — really got to him. So I asked him what it felt like to watch Kobe rip the Kings’ heart out at the buzzer. He said as soon as Kobe caught the ball, he KNEW it was going in; that watching Kobe close out a game in the 4th is not surprising at all, because he’s basically the Jordan of this generation. We Laker fans know this, but that’s some major respect coming from a Kings’ fan.
Anyway, to compound things, and make matters worse, Pau is hurt, Luke is hurt, and Sasha has actually been getting significantly more playing time. Of course this is leading to an increase in Bryant’s minutes, and with the amount of games he has put on his legs in the last two years this is not a good thing.
He’s averaging 38.5 MPG (minutes per game) this year, which scares the hell out of me! In the 07-08 run to the finals, he averaged 38.9 MPG, and in that last series against Boston, he looked a little worn down. I really don’t want to see a banged up and worn down Kobe in the Finals (assuming we get there, of course), because when Kobe is shooting 14-37 we are not winning the Championship.
This raises the question: Should Kobe sit out a few weeks, or even a month? Before I wrote this, I spoke to a friend of mine who happens to be a certified athletic trainer. I asked her what her opinion was regarding Kobe’s injury, him playing with it, and if there was a chance that it could get better during the season and she said: “It most likely will not heal, and if it’s not properly managed it can lead to permanent deformity. It doesn’t seem to smart to me, but I’m sure he has a group of doctors looking after it, whose advice I’m sure he’s going against. I hope it works out okay for him.” Well now that was reassuring.
Look, if this injury is affecting Kobe to the point where he’s shooting .33, then his shot volume may actually be hurting us, and because of our injuries, and lack of a bench, he’s had to log massive minutes. So what we’re left with is a Kobe, who is not producing at the offensive end, but is still killing and running the hell out of his legs. Kobe will never sit out, but perhaps he should.
At first glance, the thought of the Black Mamba sitting out seems suicidal to our season, but it may actually help us out down the stretch. What are the worst things that could happen to us? Well, it can’t be much worse than what’s been happening to us now. We just dropped back to back games to the Clippers and lost once again to the Blazers in Portland (where Kobe was thoroughly outplayed by Brandon Roy). If Kobe sits out, maybe we lose that game that we won against the Kings, or that game we won against Milwaukee.
But maybe Vujacic’s re-emerges, or maybe Bynum figures out how to play with Pau. Perhaps the increased minutes that Shannon Brown and Farmar would see, would further blossom Shannon and help Jordan find his game again.
We would definitely not be a better team without Kobe, and we may drop a couple more games than we normally would, but if the bench finds themselves and it helps some of our role players re-emerge would the extra losses not be worth it? True, we are in a battle for home court, but it doesn’t appear that Boston and Cleveland are just ready to run off with it.
And when all is said done, Kobe’s finger will be stronger, his legs will be rested, and he’ll be ready to take on the post-season. I know Kobe is resourceful, and even if he doesn’t sit (which we know that he most likely will not do), he’ll find a way to still be a great player, but it’s harder to repeat than it is to win the Championship. The Lakers are going to need a full strength Kobe to beat the Cavaliers or the Celtics in a seven game series.
Put it this way: .39, .33, .38. and .19 could be Kobe’s shooting percentages in a four game stretch during the NBA Finals. If Kobe shoots like this in the Finals, does anybody like our chances?