It’s been three games since Kobe Bryant suited up for the Lakers, his tenosynovitis of the shin getting in the way of 138 consecutive games played. That absence has had varying short term affects on his teammates.
Perimeter-oriented players like Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake have used the extra minutes and shots available to find a nice collective rhythm on offense. Pau Gasol and Ramon Sessions stayed pretty consistent with or without Kobe, while the lone Laker that really struggled in his absence, Andrew Bynum, has had a more difficult time getting open looks through quicker-than-usual double teams.
Here’s a closer look at the increase in efficiency for MWP, Barnes and Blake, and decrease for Bynum from a small sample size of shooting numbers:
Three Games Sans Kobe:
World Peace: 21 of 32, 66%, 17.7 ppg
Barnes: 9 of 20, 45% FG’s, 8.0 ppg
Blake: 7 of 14, 50%, 6.0 ppg
Bynum: 24 of 64, 38%, 19.0 ppg
Three Previous Games With Kobe:
World Peace: 14 of 30, 47%, 12.7 ppg
Barnes: 4 of 20, 20%, 3.7 ppg
Blake: 4 of 12, 33%, 4.3 ppg
Bynum*: 26 of 41, 63%, 24.7 ppg
*Including games vs. Houston (4/6), at L.A. Clippers (4/4) and vs. New Orleans (3/31), as he missed the New Jersey game and most of the Golden State contest due to a sprained ankle.
Among the conclusions we can draw:
- Bynum is very clearly struggling to get the same kind of looks he gets when Kobe Bryant draws so much attention, compared to his replacement, Devin Ebanks (whose effort has impressed teammates and coaches nonetheless). Shooting 63 percent with Kobe and 38 percent without as the primary focus of the opposing defense is telling. Instead of letting Bynum have time and space to put the ball on the floor or get into his post moves, he’s been blitzed immediately, even more quickly than he has throughout the season (generally speaking).
That said, Bynum’s focus on defense and rebounding (30 boards against San Antonio, an NBA season high that had been accomplished by only four Hall of Fame Lakers (George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was perhaps the biggest factor in L.A.’s back to back road wins at New Orleans and San Antonio despite Kobe’s absence.
- The perimeter players have indeed taken advantage of the increased opportunity to get into rhythm, as Matt Barnes described after the win at San Antonio: “Playing more minutes with more chances to get shots up can’t help but get you into rhythm as an NBA player.” That said, Barnes was quick to mention that he and his teammates “of course” and “absolutely” want Kobe back as soon as possible, adding that it’s on them to maintain the rhythm they’ve found when No. 24 returns.
- Gasol is so talented offensively that it’s tough to get him out of rhythm, as he can take whatever the defense gives him, inside or out. He hit 14 of 25 shots in a loss at Phoenix for a season-high 30 points, and averaged 23 points in the two subsequent road wins, but was also well over 50 percent from the field in the three previous games with Kobe.
- Despite initially hurting his shin against New Orleans on March 31, Kobe went on to shoot 57.1, 62.5 and 68.4 percent in his next three games while playing through pain, before noticeably limping his way through an 8 for 20 shooting night (11 for 11 free throws) against Houston on April 6. He was shut down after that one, and continues to be listed as day-to-day in advance of Friday’s game against Denver.
What would be ideal for Mike Brown? A healthy Kobe helping make Bynum’s life easier, with the other perimeter players continuing their upward trend. Easier said than done, of course; he’ll surely start with just getting Kobe back on the floor.