By Rob Mahoney
• Kobe Bryant gambles a ton on defense. When those gambles pay off, limited opponents can be completely handcuffed by that additional ball pressure. When Kobe is caught cheating off his man, the Lakers pay for it with uncontested layups, open threes and necessary fouls. He puts his team in a horrible position on an all too frequent basis, as Darius Soriano illustrates in his video breakdown of some of Bryant's more annoying defensive habits:
What further complicates things is that Kobe is a major culprit. His off-ball defense stands out as particularly poor this year. He’s gambling for steals, losing sight of his man, and roaming in ways that make the team’s defense structurally unsound. In essence, Kobe is making the easy choice way too often rather than making the harder play that is more taxing physically.
In a way, this is easy to understand. Kobe is playing heavy minutes (44 hard ones against the Jazz) and is carrying a tremendous burden on offense. The energy he’s expending on that side of the ball is massive and to think that won’t affect him in other areas would be a silly conclusion, especially for a 17 year veteran. That said, he’s clearly coasting on defense in order to conserve energy on offense and that simply won’t do. Not only does it hurt the team in countless tangible ways, it sets a bad example for how the team needs to play on that end of the floor.
• Very much related: Tom Ziller examined the wild variance in the Lakers' defensive performance.
• NBA backstories hardly come better than that of Reggie Evans, the bruiser of a forward (and impeccable flopper) who has turned an undrafted start into some all-time rebounding numbers. Howard Beck tells Evans' story in The New York Times, complete with this great moment of confusion on the part of Evans' one-time Sonics teammate, Brent Barry:
Fifty-eight players were selected in the 2002 draft. Evans listened to every name called, then cried. It was the last time anyone in basketball underestimated him. The Seattle SuperSonics saw enough promise in Evans to sign him to a free-agent contract. It took little time for him to make an impression with his frenetic, borderline-reckless energy.
“The Thing,” said Brent Barry, a former Sonics guard, comparing Evans to the blocky Fantastic Four character. “That’s how I looked at him -- he’s just a thing out there. ‘What is that thing?’”
• Not strictly NBA related, but holy cow is this free-throw attempt something to behold.
• Austin Rivers has been absolutely awful. He also needs as much playing time as he can get. These two truths are not at all contradictory, as Rohan Cruyff explains in a great piece for At the Hive.
• On Friday, Kirk Goldsberry examined an occurrence which he called "the Kobe assist" -- an attempt missed in such a way that it's conducive to offensive rebounding and thus hardly harmful for the offensive team. Today he posted the spillover from that initial column, including a point of clarification that's as crucial to the notion of the Kobe assist as it is to basketball thinking in general:
Also, I believe Kobe Assists are fascinating, and an important component to offensive basketball. I do not believe they will revolutionize basketball analytics. As I explain in the piece, I do believe they expose -- albeit in an admittedly silly way -- a critical limitation of basketball metrics. We chop up the game too much. I also want to clarify something about “crediting” the jump shooter for the Kobe Assist. In no way do I believe that people miss shots on purpose in a way that create second chance points. I do however absolutely believe that teams are units, and good schemes that align shot timing, shot locations, and rebounding positioning can increase second chance points.
• Pau Flannery took a moment to appreciate the unexpectedly competent basketball being played in Orlando, where some might argue the lottery-bound team is winning too much:
... Even in the watered down East, the Magic are not going to the playoffs. What's the point of winning games if you're not going to have a realistic chance of winning them all? Over and over we are told that middling mediocrity is the worst kind of attribute. It's better to be horrible and maybe get lucky in the lottery than try to build anything of consequence in the interim.
This is the Waiting for Godot principle of team building and while it has been proven to work on occasion -- like, say, in Orlando -- it has also been proven to be a colossal waste of time in others. What if there is actually some kind of middle ground here. What if by being competitive, competent and professional, the Magic are actually laying the groundwork for something better down the line?
• Using Google Motion, Ian Levy offers us a fun look at the shot selection and shooting efficiency of three stars -- Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant -- over the course of an average game.
• Josh Bowe of Mavs Moneyball makes a great point regarding the perceived importance of "starting," and the manipulation of lineups in general:
Starting doesn't matter, but matchups and finishing the game do. It's why the Mavericks would start DeShawn Stevenson in the 2011 season, despite him rarely finishing the game. Carlisle liked how Stevenson fit in with the starting lineup, surrounded by better players. Could you imagine Stevenson checking into the game toward the end of the first quarter with J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic? Stevenson's primary asset (floor spacing + defense) would be rendered useless with fewer open looks generated by less-talented offensive players around him and his defense would be negated because he's guarding less-talented players.• A handful of interesting visual representations of Chicago's performance and lineups this season, couched between bits of cogent analysis regarding the state of the Bulls in general.
If Stevenson is playing 17 minutes, wouldn't you rather a majority of them be checking Dwyane Wade than Mike Miller or Mario Chalmers? It's all about maximizing your talent, getting the right players on the floor at the right time. Whether that means you play the first seven minutes of a game is pretty meaningless when you consider the long-term goal of playing well in a 48-minute contest. It's why some players start games and play less than 20 minutes a night, while Jason Terry can come off the bench close.