According to Basketball-Reference, he hadn't suited up at the 1 since the 2009-10 season, when he spent 1 percent of his minutes running the show at the lead guard spot. Even last year, when he was posting double-digit assist totals, he was playing alongside a natural point guard.
But that changed Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. And while Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. make for a formidable foe and tough measuring stick, they still proved that he has no business serving as the stopgap at point guard for the Lake Show.
Let's be clear that Kobe was lining up in a head-to-head matchup with Westbrook due to the dearth of other options. Not because Mike D'Antoni is insane or anything like that.
With Steve Nash's back continuing to act up, Steve Blake out with a UCL injury in his elbow and Jordan Farmar still recovering from a hamstring malady, the Lakers literally didn't have a single point guard on the active roster for the matchup with OKC. As Jeff Van Gundy mentioned on the ESPN broadcast, that's like an NFL team going to war without a quarterback.
Kobe did some things well in this strange role.
There's no doubt about that, as he recorded 13 assists in only 23 minutes of action. To give you a reference point, only 16 players in the entire NBA had dished out at least 13 dimes during the 2013-14 campaign, and every single one of the 29 performances required 27 minutes or more on the court. In fact, Chris Paul and John Wall were the only ones to hit 13 without getting to 30.
But that's about where the positives end.
Kobe wasn't much of a presence on defense, allowing Westbrook to explode for 19 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists. He also recorded only four points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field, failed to earn a trip to the charity stripe and turned the ball over seven times.
This was the 6th time in Kobe Bryant's career that he started a game and scored 4 points or fewer— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 14, 2013
Kobe fails to score in double figures for just the 14th time in his last 1000 games.— chris palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) December 14, 2013
When was the last time the Mamba had more turnovers than field-goal attempts in a game?
He did so five times during his rookie season for the Lakers, but that was only because he was playing a limited role in purple and gold and not taking shots. The most field-goal attempts he recorded in any of those games was just one.
It's not the turnovers that reign supreme as the most detrimental aspect of Kobe's third performance since returning from his Achilles injury. They're certainly negatives for a team that can't afford to give their opponents freebies, but what's worse is the lack of aggression.
The Lakers can live with the turnovers because Kobe is trying to make things happen with his passing. Well, some of them. The careless plays, ones like allowing Andre Roberson to strip the ball away at the top of the key, aren't acceptable.
They can't survive his unwillingness to go into attack mode.
That's not a typical shot chart for Kobe Bean Bryant.
Not only are there far too few icons divvied up around the court, but there's also a distinct lack of aggression. Kobe made each of his shots in the paint during the first half, both of which coming on uncontested layups, but then he couldn't get to the basket throughout the rest of his time on the floor. Instead, he was settling for mid-range jumpers, shots that require confidence and rhythm to drain with any semblance of consistency.
As NBC Los Angeles' Shahan Ahmed wrote after the game, "With regards to Bryant, the 35-year-old appeared to be moving well, but he clearly did not have confidence in his legs to attack players and shoot over the opposition."
Whether it was the result of confidence or not (though it's hard to imagine Kobe not being confident), the aggression was missing.
Kobe just needs to takeover. No one on the team can do anything, so why not?— Caleb C (@Caleb_Cottrell) December 14, 2013
L.A. really doesn't have many players capable of creating offense for themselves.
When Blake was running the show, he could create looks for everyone else, and he was doing so quite nicely. That allowed the Mike D'Antoni system to work, and it milked as much as possible from all of the mediocre offensive options.
But while Kobe is capable of making some great passes—even some off the back of Serge Ibaka, apparently—and successfully running the show as a point guard, there isn't enough offense around him.
Plus, everything slows down.
The Lakers entered the game playing with the third-fastest pace in the NBA, according to Basketball-Reference. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers were averaging more possessions per 48 minutes.
But that clearly wasn't the case for the Lakers during this contest against the Thunder. The offense was nowhere as free-flowing with Kobe at the 1, and the shot clock often wound too far down before any attempt at shooting was even thought about, much less made.
While the pace was still fast, it was the Thunder who were dictating and taking advantage of the speed.
Kupchak said he doesnt think there's any PG out there who could play ahead of Kobe, Meeks, ect. It will be status quo for the time being— janis carr (@janiscarr) December 12, 2013
That may be true.
Maybe Kobe is the best point guard that the Lakers have at their disposal. Maybe he's better than bringing back Darius Morris, signing either Pierre Jackson or Kendall Marshall out of the D-League or trading for someone like Aaron Brooks or Kyle Lowry.
But that doesn't mean it's in the best interest of the Lakers to let him play there. It was abundantly clear during his three quarters of action against the Thunder that he needed to be in more of an attacking mode.
Can the Lakers win with Kobe playing point guard?
When the Mamba originally was asked by USA Today's Sam Amick whether he was playing at the 1, he responded by saying, "Unfortunately, yes. We'll have some adjustments to make."
Well, the biggest adjustment should be moving him back to his original spot in the lineup. Even if it requires making a trade, the Lake Show can only get back on track and stay alive in the race for a Western Conference playoff spot if Kobe is attacking as a scorer, not a distributor.
He may be the best healthy point guard on the roster, but that doesn't mean he should be playing point guard.
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