Is Kobe Bryant's Defense Holding LA Lakers Back?

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Is Kobe Bryant's Defense Holding LA Lakers Back?
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant is having a great season, but so much of that is because we define "great season" by what a player does on offense. When you look at the Lakers as a team, you have to wonder whether he's contributing to more wins this year than in years past.

First, let us give his offense its due respect. Right now, Kobe Bryant has the highest true shooting percentage (a stat that incorporates threes and free throws) of his career. Keep in mind, Bryant is 34 years old and has quite the illustrious career. 

Right now, Kobe is sixth in league PER and his win share average is the highest its been since 2007-2008, when he won the MVP. Bryant's PER is actually a smidge higher than it was in that MVP year, back when he was 29 years old.

In theory, this season should be celebrated. Bryant appeared to be on the downslope after submitting the worst true shooting performance of his career last season. He's made a miraculous bounce back from worst to best, in his 17th season.

Perhaps if Dwight Howard was healthy enough to compensate for everyone on defense, Bryant would be getting that credit. Praise is just hard to come by when L.A. sinks further and further below .500. Plaudits are difficult to find when the Lakers rank in the bottom third of defensive teams.

To be sure, Bryant's defense has been abysmal this season. You can practically see a video game energy box above his head, expending energy on offense, and filling back up to full strength while he's on the defensive end. 

Certain fans will cite that Kobe has had his moments when guarding opposing players. This is true, and his D on Kyrie Irving is a testament to that:

That's eye-catching and cool, but the problem is that so much of defense is just the subtle adherence to one's responsibilities. Kobe Bryant is floating away from his man off the ball, and often gambling on steals. This results in penetration and easy baskets, sometimes on the other side of the court. 

Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold has culled some Kobe Bryant defensive lapse clips, including this one of a Kobe steal that results in a corner three: 

That kind of play has been endemic to Bryant's poor defense this year, as has this other off-ball abdication of responsibility. At the first sign of a screen, Kobe wipes out of the play, letting his guy get an open layup: 

In the aggregate, the Lakers are probably helped by having Kobe Bryant on the floor. He's been that awesome offensively. It's just that his poor defense is doing a lot to keep the Lakers from turning that offensive production into some wins.

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