Editor’s Note: We’re introducing another new writer with this post. This is Pat. Pat is not a Lakers fan.
As I sit here and watch as the Lakers and Magic come to the inevitable conclusion of the Lakers hoisting the trophy, I find myself getting angry and frustrated that Houston, Denver, and now Orlando have failed to take them out. Then ABC flashes to an up close of Kobe Bryant sticking his bottom teeth out like his jaw is dislocated and my Kobe-hating meter is now off the charts. I have never been a fan of Kobe or his frequent ball-hawking style of play. I respect his talents and believe he is a top ten all time player, and getting a ring this year without playing second fiddle to Shaq cements his place in history as one of the best to play the game. Similar to Bryant himself, Kobe fans are often smug and arrogant and for some reason insist that he is the best player ever despite there being little, if any, statistical evidence to back this up. That being said, I decided to write some reasons/facts that fellow Kobe-haters can use as ammunition against the LA fans who undoubtedly will be signing his praises even louder this offseason.
1) Kobe is 4 for 6 in NBA Finals appearances, and he was the second best man on the team for three of his four rings. Kobe had the luxury of playing for arguably the best coach ever during the majority of his career and he played with the most dominant physical force to ever play the game in Shaquille O’Neal. During the 2003-2004 season, Kobe was playing with three other future Hall of Famers (Shaq, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton) and was regarded at that point as the best player on the team and rightfully so. Shaq’s numbers had dipped and Malone and Payton were nowhere near their prime, but the team was undoubtedly stacked and Kobe failed to deliver in the finals. In his second run as the top man on the team, he lost once again to the Celtics. This year by defeating Orlando, Kobe earned his first ring as the go-to man for his team. You need to give him his props for that, but he doesn’t have the other three without Shaq.
2) Kobe’s supposed legendary ability to hit the game winning shot is more hype than truth. If you look at this site, you can see that Kobe, despite taking the most game winning shot attempts out of an extensive list of NBA players, did not hit the most game winners and shot just .250%. Those statistics include the 2003-2004 season up to February 4th of this season. ESPN and ABC want to make Kobe out to be the next Jordan in terms of clutch shots and have done all they can to promote this idea. The fact of the matter is the more attempts you take, the more you will eventually hit. You don’t see the misses replayed over and over, but the makes are made into some sort of iconic shots.
Kobe fans may point to his better record in terms of game winning shots in the playoffs, as can be seen on the same page. However, after watching his performance in this year’s playoffs, including his game 2 game winning attempt that was blocked by Hedo Turkoglu (as Kobe was triple teamed and failed to pass to a number of wide open teammates…but that’s another story), I am confident that his shooting percentage will drop once this year’s playoffs are factored in. Anyone who tries to deny that Kobe takes to many shots, and even more so at the end of the games, just needs to look at the numbers.
3) Kobe and the Lakers are not a young team anymore and the road to the finals will not get any easier for them. While right now they appear to be the team to beat during the 2009-2010 season, a lot could change this offseason. Three of the Lakers starters (Kobe, Fisher, and Gasol) as well as the first man off the bench (Odom) are or will be 30 years old or older at some point during the next season. Bill Simmons of ESPN has an interesting theory (discussed some here, halfway down the page) that as players eclipse the 1000 game mark, performance typically dwindles. Kobe has currently played in 948 regular season games, 175 playoff games, plus the Olympics. While he stays in fantastic shape and guards who can shoot typically have a longer shelf life, age is not your friend in the NBA. Kobe’s free throw attempts per game is on the decline which is a sign of two things: he has taken his jump shooting to another level and he can no longer get the rim like he used to. While I am sure that he will continue to “get his” in terms of points, as he ages defenders will be able to focus more on staying close to him on the perimeter when he is less of a threat to drive.
As for the other players, Ariza was huge this year for the Lakers and because of his performance, he will be getting a nice increase in his paycheck next year. I’m assuming the Lakers will do all they can to keep him, but it will cost them. Lamar Odom is inconsistent and seems to randomly decide if he will show up for a game or not. Pau Gasol is a great player, but as Andrew “fouls like Greg Oden” Bynum spends more time on the bench in foul trouble, Gasol is forced to guard and grind it out down low with players who are much more physical than he is. This year Dwight Howard pounded both Gasol and Bynum in the low post and this series would not be over yet if Howard can hit free throws and Courtney Lee makes that tough game winner. And going back to last year’s finals, Gasol was completely taken out of his game by a much more physical Celtics frontline of Garnett, Davis, Powe, and Perkins. Teams have and will continue to exploit the Lakers lack of toughness in the low post.
Jordan Farmar was supposed to be able to provide some quality minutes in the playoffs in order to give the aging Derek Fisher a break. So was Sasha Vujacic. Neither did. The Lakers got burned by the diminutive Aaron Brooks during the Rockets series similar to how Rajon Rondo had his way with the Lakers guards the year before. With the plethora of good point guards in the Western conference (Billups, Parker, Williams, Roy), expect the Lakers to get challenged to defend the pick and roll all next season.
Basically, my point is that despite the fact that the Lakers won the title, they do have weak spots which I believe a solid team can and will exploit. Other solid teams missing a piece or two to the puzzle (i.e., the Cavs) should emerge this offseason as well. Adding in the age factor working against some of the Lakers stars, you have some hope that this is not the start of another Laker dynasty.
And, if none of these arguments work for you, just tell the Kobe lover in question to YouTube the search term “kobe pass” and you will find that this video of Kobe passing to his favorite teammate. It’s a video of Kobe passing the ball to himself off the glass….and who says Kobe won’t share?