Kobe Bryant: Does He Really Not Make His Teammates Better?
If there is something that everyone knows about Kobe Bryant, it's obviously the fact that he is a selfish ball-hog who simply refuses to pass the ball. Due to this undeniable fact, he cannot be considered a top-tier player in the annals of NBA lore, simply because he is unable to "make his teammates better."
Okay, now that all that dripping sarcasm is out of the way, let's put that theory to the test. Logically speaking, by any form of measure, all of Kobe's former teammates (and current teammates) must have declined in terms of performance, or at least stagnated when they played alongside Kobe.
And again, logically speaking, when they left the Lakers, all of them must have increased their level of performance and posted better stats without the ball-hog that is Kobe being a ball vacuum and depriving them of the opportunity to showcase their skills.
Is this the truth, though? Let's take a trip down memory lane, to the dark times when Smush Parker and Kwame Brown were starters for the Los Angeles Lakers. Times might be sort of bad now, but any Laker fan who have persevered through those terrifying teams will know that the situation right now is still infinitely better than that of five years ago.
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During the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Smush Parker somehow managed to crack the starting lineup of the fabled Lakers, a franchise which has boasted the likes of Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Gary Payton operating at the point.
Needless to say, it was utterly depressing to watch the aptly named "Smush" Parker start 162 out of 164 games during the two seasons. Believing himself to be better than Kobe himself, Smush often refused to follow the flow of the triangle offense and jacked up shots that Kobe would even say were bad.
However, when one looks at his stats during the period, it won't be quite obvious, with him managing to drop 11.3 points and 3.3 assists during the period. Those stats weren't good, sure, but he was at least a serviceable point guard, right?
After the Lakers:
Smush Parker signed with Miami in the summer of 2007. From then until now, he has only managed to appear in 28 NBA games, starting two of them.
His averages during his Kobe-less season? 5.7 PPG and 2.7 APG. After the 2007-08 season, he was kicked out of the NBA and bounced around lower-level teams.
Perhaps what's most telling is that his FG% during his Kobe-less season dropped from an already miserable 44 percent to an absolutely atrocious 34 percent.
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I'm sure that a lot of NBA fans wonder how Kwame Brown is still in the league.
I'm even more sure that every single NBA fan wonders how in the name of God he is getting $7 million a year.
Well, the short answer would be that the Golden State Warriors are desperate, but not as desperate as the Lakers were seven years ago. After the Big Diesel himself was traded, the Lakers went from having a Hall of Fame center manning the post to a barely-NBA-worthy duo of Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown.
In two-and-a-half painful season with the Lakers, he somehow managed to start 91 games. In that span, Brown managed to post the highest FG% and offensive rebounding rate of his not-so-distinguished career.
After the Lakers:
Since getting traded for Pau Gasol (more on him later), Kwame Brown has carved himself a career which can only be said to be the most mediocre career of any No. 1 pick ever. Not bad enough to get completely kicked out of the NBA, but nowhere near good enough to warrant any serious attention.
He bounced around for several teams before finally landing in Golden State this past offseason. Ever since he left the Lakers, his FG% never reached the same heights. Even his rebounding has taken a hit.
He went through a mini-renaissance during his time with the Bobcats last season.
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Unarguably one of the greatest leapers that the Lakers have ever had in their roster, many a Laker fan has fond memories of Shannon Brown throwing down one of his customary monster dunks, which would electrify Staples Center like a Kobe Bryant game-winner.
What most people don't realize is that Shannon Brown used to be the member of the Cavs, a team that is widely noted to be championship-inadequate, even with LeBron James and his otherworldly basketball talents.
Brown's role? 12th man.
After he joined the Lakers, Brown obtained himself the job of the backup shooting guard—honestly because they had no one else—and showcased his skills and impressive dunking prowess to the NBA world.
His best season in a Laker uniform came last season, when he averaged a decent 8.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG and 1.2 APG. Hey, I never said he was an All-Star.
After the Lakers:
Shannon Brown opted out of his contract this season and joined the Suns, led by a player widely acclaimed to be the best at "making his teammates better," the incomparable Steve Nash.
Brown's minutes are comparable to his minutes in L.A., but somehow, despite playing alongside one of the most generous and offensively-gifted point guards of all time, his shooting percentages from all three ranges (FG%, 3FG%, FT%) have all dropped.
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Ah, Trevor. I will always rue the day that Lakers management decided to trade you for Ron Artest—Metta World Peace now, I guess.
If Ariza had stayed, the Lakers' chronic issues at the small forward position may not even exist. But of course, him leaving the Lakers was probably for the best.
After all, with Kobe Bryant hogging the spotlight, there is no way that a young star like Trevor Ariza can develop, right? Kobe wouldn't bother teaching a young player the nuances of the pro game.
Ariza had made nine three-pointers in his first four NBA seasons. During the 2009 season, he made 61 as a prelude to his 47.6 percent playoff marksmanship.Throughout all of the 2009 playoffs, Ariza remained a constant perimeter threat for the Lakers, sinking threes whenever Kobe kicked the ball out to him.
After the Lakers:
Trevor Ariza managed to secure a nice gig with the superstar-depleted Hornets, who now rely on him more as both an offensive threat and a defensive stopper.
While he has managed to score more points, his FG% has dropped from 46 percent during his time for the Lakers to a pedestrian 42 percent. What's most shocking, however, is that somehow his steals average—a stellar 1.7 with the Lakers in only 24.4 minutes of action—only climbed up to 1.8 despite him playing nearly 12 more minutes on average.
His rebounding rate per 36 minutes was also highest as a Laker, despite him playing with more competent bigs back then.
Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic
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Sasha was never a particularly good player for the Lakers, but who can ever forget his clutch free throws which sealed the Laker Game 7 victory over the hated Celtics?
During his time with the Lakers, Vujacic managed to carve himself up the niche spot of late game free-throw threat (career 87 percent shooter) and an occasional perimeter threat (37 percent shooter).
Most people remember him more as a whiny, floppy defensive stopper though, and his (not-so) epic clashes with Goran Dragic. However, some people have somehow gained a view that Vujacic has the potential to be a better player, if given more minutes and a starting role.
So when he was traded to the Nets, he finally had his chance.
After the Lakers:
Despite playing a lot more minutes for the terrible Nets, his productivity overall either remained stagnant or declined. Vujacic is no longer in the NBA and now plays for a team in Turkey.
Oh, and did I mention he's married to Maria Sharapova? Say what you will about him, but the man's got a hot wife.
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During his stay with the Lakers, Jordan Farmar accidentally added to the roster everything that the current Lakers could use (perimeter shooting, a competent point guard, youth and athleticism).
Sure, his decision-making is terrible, he often abandons the triangle offense to come up with his own "Jordan offense" and he also passes up open threes to unnecessarily drive to the basket, but as of right now the Lakers could use him badly.
At any rate, while he did not post any mind-boggling stats in his time at L.A., Farmar was a consistent performer and a spark plug of the bench, good for those times when the Lakers offense stagnated and needed a quick boost.
Kind of what 43 minutes of Mike Brown's offense looks like.
After the Lakers:
His first post-Kobe season was simply terrible. His shooting numbers fell across the board. Although he scored more points, he did it in a much less productive manner.
This current season has been much better for Farmar, as he is posting a career-high percentage from three-point range and an improved basketball I.Q., but it remains to be seen if he can maintain this level of production.
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After the Lakers:
It may seem unthinkable now, but there was a short period of time when Derek Fisher was not suited up in a Lakers uniform.
In a three-year span after the 2004 season, when the team was "blown up" in order to rebuild around Kobe Bryant, Fisher played for the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz, where he was a serviceable starting point guard, despite shooting at a horrendous clip.
Back to the Lakers:
Once he returned to the Lakers during the 2007-2008 season, despite scoring less points, Fisher was markedly more efficient, with his shooting numbers going up across the board.
His per-36 minute averages also increased overall. In fact, he posted his highest per-36 minute PPG the season he reunited with Kobe, with 15.3.
Of course, after the 2008-2009 season, Fisher declined rather rapidly, although that is more of a product of his own age than anything else.
Even now, he is still somehow the Lakers starting point guard.
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Vladimir Radmanovic can only provide one thing and one thing only for any team in the NBA: streaky three-point shooting. His rebounding numbers are atrocious for a man who is 6'10", and he's not exactly a defensive stopper.
However, during his time with the Lakers, he did his job well, managing to set his career high in field-goal percentage in 2008 and starting 115 games during his two-and-a-half seasons with the team.
In his final few seasons, he also managed to hit threes at a very respectable 40 percent clip.
After the Lakers:
Since getting traded by the organization during the 2008-2009 season, Radmanovic has started just 32 games and most of his key numbers have declined, with his first post-Kobe season being particularly atrocious, when he shot an astoundingly bad 28 percent from three.
He rebounded in Golden State however, with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry drawing defensive attention away from him.
Right now, he is a role player in Atlanta. It looks like his starting days are over.
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It still hurts me a tiny bit whenever I see Odom wearing a Mavs uniform. A prodigious Swiss Army knife, Lamar Odom was truly versatile, with the ball-handling skills of a point guard, the shooting touch of a guard and the height and rebounding prowess of a top-tier forward.
Sixth Man of the Year last season, Odom was a good third option for the Lakers' championship teams, although somewhat inconsistent.
Nevertheless, during his time with the Lakers, he managed to set career highs in field-goal percentage and rebounding, and did I mention he won the Sixth Man of the Year award?
After the Lakers:
In short, he imploded.
For many years, we have heard that Odom would start for most teams in the NBA and that he is an All-Star-caliber player, but now the reality is becoming very apparent: Odom benefited tremendously from being the third option on the Lakers with Kobe receiving most of the defense's attention. Odom was only the Lakers' third option because the team was not particularly deep in the first place.
Despite the Mavs having a down year and being more focused on grabbing FAs in the upcoming season compared to actually having title aspirations, Odom hasn't managed to crack the starting lineup. He even suffered the ignominy of getting sent to the D League.
His shooting numbers also fell across the board, but to be fair, each and every single one of his stats declined. Oh, except personal fouls. That's been somewhat consistent.
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"Pau Gasol was the rightful recipient of the 2010 NBA Finals MVP award; they just gave it to Kobe although he shot bricks," is a common sentiment among Kobe haters.
First of all, let me just say that that comment is absolutely asinine and makes no sense whatsoever. It would be the equivalent of people arguing that Jason Terry deserved the Finals MVP last season over Dirk Nowitzki. Both Dirk and Kobe had rough shooting nights on the deciding game, and both Terry and Gasol came up clutch in key moments.
Secondly, logically speaking, Gasol must have been a good player before he joined L.A., right? After all, people all keep asking Kobe to pass the ball more to him and Bynum (which is the equivalent of asking LeBron and Wade to feed Bosh more, but I digress), so his pre-L.A. career must have been somewhat terrific.
Before the Lakers:
In short, no.
During his time with the Grizzlies, Gasol made only one All-Star team, never won a single playoff game and never made an All-NBA team.
There was a reason that the Grizzlies traded him for Kwame Brown: They simply weren't going anywhere with Pau as their first option and one way or another, they needed to blow up their roster to move on.
During the Lakers:
In each and every single one of his first three years playing alongside the man "who doesn't make his teammates better," Gasol made both the All-Star and All-NBA teams. Gasol also set single-season career highs in both field-goal percentage and rebounding, with the stark increase in offensive rebounding being a particular point of note.
Many basketball experts pointed out that Gasol only managed to get those rebounds because all of the defense is tilted towards Bryant, which also helps his field-goal percentage because he often ends up in one-on-one situations with opposing forwards and centers. With his overall range and finesse, single coverage will always be easy to break down.
However, many fans simply take his stats at face value and claim that because Pau is shooting at a high, efficient clip, Kobe should feed the ball to him more.
This, my friends, is what we call a dilemma. Kobe needs to shoot a lot for Pau to be efficient (same goes with Bynum), but Pau and Bynum can't be efficient if Kobe passes it to them.
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Out of all the players in this slideshow, not a single player was better once they left the Lakers or before they joined the Lakers, and, as an extension, Kobe Bryant.
From role players to starters, Sixth Man of the Year winners and second option on offense, there is literally no one who left Lakers a better player, and in the same vein, there is no one who joined the Lakers and became a worse player. (Well, except Ron Artest, but he has been consistently declining at any rate—same with Fisher and Steve Blake.)
Among all of Kobe's teammates in his post-Shaq career, only Caron Butler managed to improve compared to his time with the Lakers. Even then, it's probably more due to his maturation (he was a third-year player during his time with the Lakers) compared to Kobe actually stifling his talent.
If anything, Kobe somehow miraculously makes terrible players look average, good players look great and D-Leaguers Sixth Man of the Year winners. Assist averages does not necessarily determine one's ability to make others better, nor even the ability to share the rock, otherwise Stephon Marbury is a generous point guard (he's not) and Derrick Rose is a shooting guard in a point guard's body (he's not).
Kobe makes his teammates better by doing one thing and one thing only: scoring. By drawing defensive attention away from his teammates, they all have the opportunity to take a much higher-percentage shot with less defensive coverage. Or they can grab a rebound uncontested or even make an additional pass from Kobe's lead pass, which leads to an assist.
Unless, of course, you're Steve Blake, who repeatedly receives wide-open threes and bricks it more often than not.
Coincidentally, LeBron James—the King, the Chosen One, the Oscar Robertson of our era, the pass-first hybrid scoring machine and triple-double god—has a much less stellar record of so-called "making his teammates better," with Wade, Bosh, and even Antawn Jamison playing better in his absence.
Even now, Anderson Varejao is having the best season of his career without LeBron, and despite Mo Williams obtaining his sole All-Star status during his time with the Cavs, he has been much more productive during his time with the Clippers.
Chris Paul is making him better, perhaps?
Before he started winning championships, Jordan was also considered unable to make his teammates better, and he angrily dismissed those reports by reportedly saying "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken (bleep)."
I guess in the case of Kobe Bryant, he not only makes chicken salad out of chicken (bleep*), but adds in some salad dressing and high quality Kobe-grade beef as well.