Kobe Bryant is taking all the blame as the L.A. Lakers return from their brief dabbling in "not sucking" to again suck. This is all relative, of course, as the Lakers are still tied for third in the West and might have already clinched the otherwise dreadful Pacific Division. L.A. still has the NBA's No. 4 offense. This "sucking" is relative to what the Lakers are capable of and what the team's above them in the standings -- the Spurs, Celtics, Heat and Mavericks -- have done so far.
Kobe is taking the blame, from a lot of writers and now explicitly from his coach Phil Jackson. The two spat after Sunday's embarrassing home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, which follows embarrassing home losses in the past couple weeks to the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks. When proud men get embarrassed, they lash out. These proud men are lashing out at each other.
They should be lashing out at Pau Gasol.
The perception is that Kobe has become selfish, and is taking too many shots. The reality is that Kobe always takes too many shots! This is nothing new. The Lakers' back-to-back titles are laced with games -- December games, January games, playoff games -- where Kobe took too many shots. You don't need to say, "That's Kobe, he takes too many shots." Just say, "That's Kobe." Anything more is redundant.
You'd think the more Kobe shoots, the worse the Lakers perform on offense, right? Because that's the extension of Jackson's blame assignment -- that the Lakers looked awful because Kobe was selfish. The numbers for this season don't really agree, though. (Click to enlarge.)
Let's look at this. True, there is a negative relationship between Kobe's shot frequency and the team's offensive performance. But it's slight. Barely there. True, in Kobe's most shootingest games, the Lakers have performed no better than 1.1 points per possession, which is their (league-leading) season average. But it's not dissimilar in Kobe's least shootingest games; in four of Kobe's lowest shot frequency games, the Lakers have severely underperformed.
There's no story in neon lights in those numbers. The Lakers' offense is typically really good. Kobe typically shoots a lot. Whether he shoots a lot or A LOT has a small effect on the team's performance.
Not the case with Pau. (Click to enlarge.)
The Lakers offense is typically better when Pau shoots more. This is not in question. It has been a reality this season.
So that's a wrap, right? Pau needs the ball more, so Kobe needs to give it up. Right? This is where I depart the conventional wisdom about that which ails the Lakers offense. And this is why.
Pau has played with Kobe for nearly three years. He knows what's up. Jackson has coached Kobe for 10 full seasons. He knows how Kobe works. All three of these guys are grown men, great basketball minds and champions. Pau wants the ball? Get the ball! Jackson wants Kobe to defer? Tell Kobe to defer! The passive-aggressive media wanking is just that: passive-aggressive media wanking. It's tradition, sure. But it's a stupid tradition.
There's a ridiculous double-standard between guards and big men, and in this specific case Kobe and Pau, in terms of responsibility for offense. If a guard takes too many shots, he's selfish. If a big man doesn't get enough shots, he's not being fed properly. This is the only stat in the box score (other than turnovers and fouls, I guess) where being aggressive can actually be seen as a bad thing, and where being deferential is preferred. It's as if a big man in the Triangle offense can't get himself more shots. Is Gasol not touching the ball on all these possessions where Kobe takes a jumper? Does he not have a hand to stick in the air, or a mouth to yell "Ball!"? Is he as incapable of demanding the ball as Kobe is incapable of giving it up?
When is Pau going to be held accountable for his lack of offensive aggression? I'm not saying Kobe's quick trigger isn't a problem. But it's Kobe Bryant. He's played 13 years, 10 with this coach, three with this big man. What did you expect? Have you been asleep for the last decade? The Lakers have the league's best offense because for the first month and a half of the season Pau was dominating everyone. It's time for him to get back in that mode, and it's time for Jackson to stop enabling Gasol's lack of aggression.