Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kobe Bryant Is The Lakers Lone MVP

With the NBA season near its halfway mark, and the Lakers having the best record in the Western Conference, it's about time we handout some midseason awards for the LA Lakers' strong 2008-'09 season.
For this round, I'd be giving four awards—MVP, sixth man, most-improved, and their Mythical Five. Feel free to comment and suggest other awards.

Most Valuable Player: Kobe Bryant

Even without looking at the stat sheets, I think nobody will argue that Kobe is still, and would continue to be in the next few years, the Lakers' best player. The Lakers still don't have a One-Two Punch, or a Big Three, or the Strong Five. They only have one MVP and that's Kobe Bryant! No more, no less.

But let's be objective and look at his numbers.

His stats are a bit off this season (27.2 points, 4.7 assists, 1.32 steals) compared to his last year's performance (28.3 points, 5.4 assists, 1.84 steals) that made him the league MVP. But this is attributed more to the improved performance of his teammates rather than his diminishing contributions.

He's playing less minutes this season (36.2 vs. 38.9 last season) but his performance efficiency rating (PER) improved from 24.09 to 25.06, the second best this year behind Miami's Dwayne Wade. Wait...let me check that again.

Oh, sorry. The Lakers lost in their last two games and Bryant's PER dropped to 24.97, just good for number three behind Portland's Brandon Roy.

Bryant also increased his contributions to the team this January when the level of competition increases as we approach the middle of the season and the trading deadline. He averaged 30.1 points on 49.2 percent shooting (45.9 percent from beyond the arc), 7.1 assists, and 6.0 rebounds in nine games this January.

And for those who think that Kobe shoots too much and misses a lot: Well, he has the best field goal percentage (47.8 percent) for shooting guards with PER of 20 or more (Roy is second, Wade third).

Sixth Man Award: Lamar Odom

Just by watching their games, it's not easy to see Odom's contributions to the team. He's coming off-the-bench; he plays shorter minutes; he usually doesn't score much; his rebounding is off; etc. etc.

Moreover, his stats are all off from last season. Last year, he averaged 14.2 points on 52.5 percent shooting, 3.5 assists, 10.7 rebounds in 37.9 minutes of playing time. This season, his averages dipped to 9.1 points on 47.3 percent shooting, 2.4 assists, 6.1 rebounds in 26.4 minutes of playing time.

So why am I giving this sixth man award to Lamar in spite of his seemingly diminished performance? Well, this award should go to the player who contributes the most to his team by doing the other things that bench players are supposed to be doing when they are on the court. The little things that current statistics don't track like setting screens, taking charges, drawing double teams, etc.

And that's what Odom keeps on doing.

By looking at his on-court/off-court statistics, which measures a player's contribution to the team when he's on-the-court and how the team performs when the player is on-the-bench, it's easy to realize how the Lakers could dominate their opponents when Odom is on-the-floor.

Odom's net on-court/off-court stat of +15.4 is the highest on the team. It's even better than Bryant's +8.7 and Fisher's +4.8 stats. This doesn't suggest that Lamar is more important than Kobe for the team. It's just that Odom is very good playing in his position (power forward) that he's either outscoring his counterparts or limiting their productions by his active defense.

Odom is No. 5 in the league on the net on-court/off-court performance per 100 possessions, behind New Orleans' dynamic duo, Chris Paul and David West, Miami's Dwayne Wade, and Cleveland's LeBron James.

All the top 16 players in this category are regular starters on their team except for Odom and Utah's Andrei Kirilenko (No. 10).

With this stats, you'd wonder why Phil Jackson continues to have Lamar come off-the-bench. I also do. In fact, I wrote an article last month regarding the need to have Odom return to their starting lineup.

Most Improved Player: Trevor Ariza

Trevor Ariza really improved a lot this season. Last year, he averaged 6.5 points, 1.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 24 games he played for the Lakers. Those stats are already a marked improvement over his performance in Orlando (3.3 points, 0.7 assists, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.5 steals)

This season, he raised his averages to 9.2 points, 2.1 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. His PER has improved from 15.83 to 17.66 and now ranks 10th among small forwards in pure point rating. Ariza ranks second among small forwards in free-throw rate, eighth in rebound rate, and fourth in field-goal percentage.

So you wonder again why Jackson keeps Trevor coming off the bench? More on this later.

Mythical Five: Fisher-Bryant-Ariza-Odom-Gasol

This combination should be the Lakers starting lineup. It is their strongest unit producing +70 and 72.7 percent winning percentage in the rating vs. the +57 and 48.0 percent winning percentage for their current starting lineup.

But why Jackson in not putting this combination on floor to start the games? Because he feels this unit is just a minor upgrade from the lineup that was routed by the Celtics in the NBA Finals last season. Admittedly, Ariza in place of Radmanovic is a minor upgrade.

So he's really is trying to get Gasol and Bynum play together. He's very strategic-minded. If he succeed, the Twin Tower of Gasol and Bynum would be very formidable, indeed.

Jackson is trying to develop Bynum to be a defensive-minded center while Gasol, an unstoppable offensive power forward. But the problem is, the two are not getting it yet. They are taking away scoring opportunities from each other.

Pau Gasol's scoring dipped from 18.8 points per game on 58.9 percent shooting last season as a Laker to 17.6 points at 54.8 percent shooting this season. Andrew Bynum's 13.1 points on 63.6 percent shooting last year also went south with 12.6 points on 53.7 percent shooting this season.

In fairness to Gasol and Bynum, they are very good at center position. They combined to make the Lakers the third-best in that position in terms of PER difference. The best in that category is Dwight Howard's Magic. No wonder they couldn't beat Orlando.

The second-best in that category is Cleveland. And they would be playing them tonight. Watch their performance.

Gasol ranked sixth among power forwards in the league in efficiency rating at 21.77 PER. But he only plays around 50 percent of the time at that position, the other half being played by Odom. Half of the time, Gasol is playing center, which is where he's more effective.

He produces +162 net points in the rating with net48 of 12.7 with 75 win% as a center. As a power forward, he's only +76 with net48 of just 5.5 and 50 win percentage.

In contrast, Odom, playing at power forward, is +303 with net48 of 16.5 and 85 win percentage. Andrew Bynum is +183 with net48 of 8.2 and 66 win percentage.

These stats are quite complicated but it clearly shows that Odom and Gasol should be given more playing time at their natural position—that is at power forward and at center, respectively.

I'm not suggesting that Gasol and Bynum split the 48 minutes available playing time for one position. They are both too good to be playing just 24 minutes each. Sure, play Pau some minutes at forward but reduce it a bit to give more time for Lamar to be more effective.

So please Mr. Jackson, put Odom back to the Lakers starting lineup.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP