Kobe Bryant: Best closer in the game?
By Matt "Money" Smith
FOXSportsWest.com | PRIME TICKET
Feb. 7, 2011
I've been doing a lot of talking about Kobe Bryant on the radio show lately, and most of it has come thanks to the re-emergence of the topic surrounding clutch shooting. How Kobe performs in the final 30 seconds of a game that's in the balance. And more than the percentages, more than the players that are ahead of him on that list, is the evidence that showed he's always going to take that shot. And by always, when the study was done, 56 of the previous 57 times (always) he took the shot to tie or win the game for the Lakers. I understand why he's earned that right. He is, after all, the "player you would want taking the game-winning shot" selected by the league's general managers every season in their annual survey. This past year he amassed 78.6% of those votes.
My point in the conversation, which became very argumentative thanks to Lakers fans confirmation bias, is because he's the guy you want taking the shot, doesn't make his choice to actually take it the right decision. If you were to re-word the question for the GM Survey this upcoming season to read-"player you want to have the ball with under 20 seconds and your team down 1" I don't think he's as clear cut a choice.
I would never contend there is a player in the league with a better talent to create his own shot. Bryant is without question, not only the best in the game, but perhaps the best the game has ever seen when it comes to that quality. From fadeaway 30-footers, to creating contact around the rim, mid-range pull-up's, jab-step's at the elbow, the man can do it all. But again, while it's a blessing to have such talent, it can also be a detriment to a team when a possession can be optimized by instead opting for a higher percentage possibility closer to the rim, or in the hands of another player with a wide-open look.
It's something we saw in the loss to the Spurs. On back-to-back possessions against the Spurs Kobe had the ball in his hands with under a minute to play and the Lakers down 4. On one possession he drove the lane, kicked out to Lamar Odom and saw LO connect on a straight away 3, Lakers down one. Following a defensive stop on the next trip down the floor, with the ball in his hands once again, Bryant was triple teamed at the elbow. In games past would have likely pulled up with a shot that could have put them in a position to win, but there was a higher percentage shot available when Pau Gasol was streaking the lane. Bryant, as deft a passer as there is in the NBA, hit him in stride, and Gasol drew the foul. After connecting on both free throws, the Lakers were up one, and in a position to win the game thanks to good decision making.
Poor defense, the lack of a closeout for a couple rebounds cost them the victory thanks to an Antonio McDyess tip in, and it overshadowed the play of Bryant down the stretch that no question had to be a reaction to all the critics mentioning his decision making in those very situations. His near triple-double (he was just one rebound short), despite the loss, looked to be his best game of the season. And it seemed to carry over to the first contest on this 7-game road trip in a victory over the Hornets.
While it got away from him a bit late in the contest, (he went 1-4 with a turnover in the final 5 minutes) prior to that the ball was moving, and along with Pau Gasol the two looked like the most devastating duo the league has to offer with 66 points, 19 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks and just 2 turnovers between them. After the win, Bryant continued to point out in his throwback way (using some light vulgarity) that Pau need to be an #%#hole, demand the ball, and take over the game if he has that advantage. But Kobe has to know that's his role, he's that guy. Pau plays the so-called "good cop" on the team. He's the quiet unassuming superstar who punches the clock, gets his work done, and quietly goes home after a couple questions from reporters. It wasn't Pau demanding the ball in New Orleans that got him his 34 points and 10 rebounds, it was making the right play when the team was on offense.
With the team in Memphis Monday, the smart play would be to go to Pau early, often, late, and perhaps even after the game. Do it in an effort to remind him he is one of the elite players in this league that needs at least 18 to 20 shots per night. A win over the Hornets is good, but a win against a streaking Grizzlies team that's won 8 of their last 10 will build some momentum for the trip. But we know should the Lakers lose on Thursday when roll into the Garden and play the Celtics, even a 6-1 mark on the long journey will come with one glaring caveat.