Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kobe's Fault

My immediate reaction to the Lakers' loss in game 4 was that it was Kobe's fault.  In the fourth quarter, he was 2 of 10.  Meanwhile, Bynum was a mere 1 of 2 and Pau was 0 for 0.  No wonder they lost!  How did they expect to win, when their second and third best player combine for two shots in the fourth quarter?  This seemed like just another case of Kobe abandoning the game plan and resorting to hero ball.  But after the game, Kobe blamed Pau for not being aggressive enough.  So which one was it?  Did Kobe keep shooting because Pau wasn't being aggressive or was Pau not being aggressive because Kobe kept shooting?  Was it even one or the other?  Maybe the deficiency of the other Laker players on the court allowed the Thunder to focus their defense on Bynum and Pau, thereby putting Kobe on an island.  Who knows?

The problem with analyzing a playoff collapse is that people usually fall into the trap of blaming one person or thing, when the the truth is there are many.  Was it Kobe's shot selection or was it something else?  Because the Lakers had multiple problems:

  • Lack of athleticism- The Lakers were an older team, and were therefore susceptible to transition baskets.  Make a mistake offense and it's pretty much two points the other way.
  • Bench struggles- Jordan Hill was the only good player off the bench.  Exclude Blake's 3-PT barrage in game 7 against Denver (where he went 5 for 6), and he shot 38% from the field and 35% from 3.  Barnes was worse, shooting 27% from the field and 16% from 3.
  • New Coach- Some feel that Mike Brown isn't a good coach.  Even if he is, transitioning to an entirely new system, after a lockout, isn't really conducive to success.  Maybe he's a bad coach or maybe the players didn't have enough time to settle into the system.  Either way, it wasn't exactly a favorable circumstance.
  • No Odom- The value Odom brought to the Lakers was highlighted by his absence.  Not only for the bench scoring he provided, but for his usefulness late in games.  When the Lakers had Odom, they had a second person (after Kobe) who could run the offense and create his own shot.  His versatility would keep the defense honest.
  • Ramon Sessions- With the Lakers, Sessions shot 48% from the field and 49% from behind the arc in the regular season.  In the playoffs, he shot 38% from the field and 19% from 3.  And because the Lakers played more inside-out in the postseason, his percentage of FGAs that were 3's went up from 17% to 22%.  So not only is he shooting a larger percentage of 3's, he's making them 30% less often.
  • Pau Gasol- Pau didn't have a great year.  He averaged the third most FGAs per game in his career.  But with the second lowest FG% of his career (50%), he averaged a personal worst 17.4 PPG.  Reaching a career-low in PPG would continue in the postseason, when he averaged 12.5 points on 43% shooting.

So, do all these things exonerate Kobe?  No, they don't.  He shot 44% from the field and 28% from 3.  However, I do not blame him for their losses and subsequent elimination.  Not because he played well enough to not deserve criticism (he didn't), but because there's too many factors to consider.  How much was his poor performance influenced by the factors listed above?  How much were the factors listed above affected by Kobe's poor performance?  It's impossible to say.  So I refuse to blame Kobe (or anyone else) for the Lakers' defeat. 

But while I don't blame Kobe for why they lost, I do blame him for how they lost.  Why they lost is complex.  How they lost is not.  The fact is, the Lakers have a habit of rolling over.  They don't go down swinging.  They don't give it their all.  They don't leave everything on the table.  Kobe can point fingers all he wants, but his team's poor effort reflects negatively on him.  Why?  Because he's the leader.  

A leader isn't only accountable for their own behavior.  Kobe putting forth maximum effort isn't his only responsibility.  Trying to single-handedly take over a game doesn't absolve him of culpability in the team's loss.  If he truly believed his teammates weren't putting forth effort, then he should've tried to engage them.  Did he not even try to do that?  Or was trying to single-handedly win the game his attempt to inspire his teammates?  Either way, he failed.  If teammates not putting forth effort is the problem, shooting a bunch isn't the acceptable solution.  As he started putting up shot after shot, did Pau suddenly become aggressive?  Did Kobe's effort to win the game transfer to Pau or anyone else?  No.

Which begs the question: why does Kobe's will to win not rub off on his teammates?

Pau is passive and Bynum has reportedly become more and more of a head case who's mainly concerned with his own role.  Why is his own performance more important to him than winning?  Is it just ironic that Kobe's desire to be the alpha dog eventually trumped winning and now the same thing is happening with Bynum?  Does Bynum's attitude really have nothing to do with Kobe?  Look at Duncan.  Was there any problems with the transition from Robinson to Duncan?  Or from Duncan to Parker?  Duncan didn't stage a coup on Robinson and a coup wasn't staged on him by Parker?  Is that a coincidence?  Or is it reflective of his leadership?

Under Kobe's watch, the team has been inconsistent.  They bookended two titles with getting blown out in elimination games against Boston and Dallas.  There have been instances of players lacking effort, acting immature, or being selfish.  Kobe can point fingers at those players all they want.  Maybe they do have bad attitudes.  He should just be aware that attitude reflects leadership, captain.  Either they are following his lead, and this is what his leadership produces, or they don't even follow him?  In either case, Kobe's at fault.

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