How come Gasol and Bynum have experienced a dip in touches and points, while Kobe’s shot total has risen considerably? Because they are playing more minutes and thus, are having difficulties getting open position in the post due to fatigue. Gasol is only averaging .3 more minutes per game than last season (up to 37.3 from 37.0), but Bynum is playing 34.7 minutes per game this season (up from 27.8 last year).
When they had Lamar Odom filling in for them, the Lakers could confidently rest Gasol and Bynum in intervals, because they didn’t have to worry about Odom failing to hold his own down low. But when they replaced Odom with Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy – while both are veterans with solid experience – the Lakers don’t have that same assurance and quality on the floor, which means Bynum and Gasol can’t sit as long. And in a 66-game regular season that is jammed into four months, they need to be able to rest.
Therefore, if the Lakers can’t work their offense through the post as Mike Brown originally intended, the ball has to go through Bryant first (what, did you really think that Josh McRoberts or Metta World Peace were next on the pecking order?). While playing 37 minutes a night at 33 years of age will not bode well for preserving his career for the future, if the Lakers want to remain competitive with the roster they currently have, that’s what it’s going to take.
If their bigs are going to miss easy buckets time and time again down low, and their perimeter players (Barnes, World Peace and Fisher) are going to brick wide-open jumpers, you better believe Kobe is going to start taking more shots. It doesn’t matter if he’s 33 or 63, if Kobe’s on the court and no one else is making shots, I’d rather have Kobe missing those shots than the other guys out there. At least he has proven himself enough times to make me believe that the ball has a good shot at going in the basket. But the thing is, Kobe isn’t missing shots this year. He’s making them, and doing so at a pretty decent percentage (for Kobe, anyways) at 46.4 percent from the field.
The Lakers are suffering from a lack of players who can get the job done when Bryant, Gasol and Bynum are taking a breather. Because the Lakers have absolutely no one who is capable of leading the reserves, their bench has struggled mightily this season, averaging a league-worst 20.7 points through 14 games and gets outscored by over seven points per game as well.
It’s never good to dwell on the past and stray away from the present, but how smart does signing Jason Kapono, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts to replace Odom and Shannon Brown look now? I realize that the Lakers were stuck financially, and didn’t have a lot of wiggle room, but if you’re going to trade the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, at least get something in return for him. The nearly $9 million trade exception means nothing for this year if the Lakers don’t utilize it to bring in quality help for their bench. Right now, the Lakers have too many question marks coming off the bench – forcing the starters to play increased minutes, which will ultimately haunt them down the stretch.
This may be preaching to the choir, but having a strong bench is imperative for attaining overall success. If the Lakers can’t confidently play their reserves, or are forced to and suffer the consequences, they’ll be lucky to make it past the second round of the playoffs.
I don’t like Bryant having to score 40 points for the Lakers to barely be a competitive team at all, but if that’s what it’s going to take, then so be it. Anyone who has watched Bryant play before knows that he hates losing more than he loves winning. And if the Lakers are going to lose, he’s going to make sure that he does everything he possibly can before time runs out.