Calls for Kobe Bryant to rest need to be diverted

The list of injuries Kobe Bryant has sustained this season is long enough to make a porn star blush.  While most of the injuries have come and gone, he still has that pesky avulsion fracture on the tip of the index finger on his shooting hand, and it has clearly affected his play.  Since the injury, his shooting has declined dramatically, his turnovers have increased quite a bit, and he hasn't been the force of nature we saw in the first two months of the season.  Also, the initial prognosis was that the injury would heal in 4-6 weeks.  It's been six weeks, but the injury persists.  As a result, plenty of folks, including members on from both the pro and con Kobe camp, and the national punditry, have suggested that the Lakers would be better served if Kobe Bryant took some time off.  I don't know whether Kobe should sit or not.  On the one hand (no pun intended), if it becomes clear that the finger will not improve unless Kobe sits out, I'm in favor of Kobe sitting out.  On the other hand, Kobe's refusal to do so is part of what makes Kobe tick, and I do trust him to make decisions that are in the best interest of getting him another championship.

What I do know is that getting Kobe to sit shouldn't even be the highest priority on the team right now.  That honor goes to Ron Artest and his messed up feet. 

No one would argue that Artest is more important to the team's suceess than Bryant.  Bryant has always been the most important player on the team, and if sitting him is the only way to guarantee he's at maximum performance in the 2nd season, it needs to happen.  But, the truth of the matter is that, as debiliatating as Kobe's injuries have been, he is still definitely improving the team by playing.  The team is not worse off with Kobe on the floor, no matter how badly he's shooting.  With Artest, I'm not so sure.

Lost amongst the headline grabbing injuries to Bryant and Pau Gasol and even his own more dramatic head injury, Ron Artest has plantar fasciitus … in both feet.  It's debilitating enough that one could associate Artest's recent play with the one negative term that should never be associated with Ron-Ron ... defensive liability.  If you re-watch the first 4 games of this road trip, it's easy to see times where Artest can barely move out there.  He's been easily beaten on quick cuts and first steps routinely over the past 4 games.  Don't get me wrong, LeBron James is spectacular, he could probably blow by just about anybody.  Caron Butler is a terrific player as well.  But when Wilson Chandler is blowing by without you even trying to stop him, that's a pretty serious problem.

Early in the season, Ron Artest's defense was amazing.  He was the main driving force behind the Lakers having the best defense in the league over the first 1/3 of the season.  Don't take my word for it.  A few pundits were talking about Artest as the DPOY early in the season.  It's no coincidence that his head injury and subsequent missed time marked the beginning of the end of the Lakers dominant defensive performances.  Since his return from the concussion, either through rustyness or because of the foot problems which have emerged, he's been a shell of his former self on the defensive end.

Over that same time period, the Lakers went from the best defensive team in the league statistically to 3rd.  That doesn't sound too bad, but the actual numbers paint a much darker picture.  Going into Cleveland Loss #1, the Lakers were allowing 99.2 points per 100 possessions, over 27 games.  Now, they are at 102.1 per 100 posessions, over 45 games.  Using some sort of futuristic math theory called algebra, I calculated the Lakers defensive performance since Christmas to be 106.45 points per 100.  That's barely better than the league average, good enough to be ranked 14th out of 30 teams.  The blame for that freefall doesn't belong solely to Artest, not even close.  But the fact remains that Artest was one driving the Lakers defensive success with his intensity and ability to shut down his man.  Without either of those factors, the Lakers have reverted back to last year's formula of simply outscoring people.

Call me crazy pills, but I think these numbers show that the health of Ron Artest's feet might be more important to the Lakers success than Kobe Bryant's finger.   There's also the fact that Kobe at 80% (or whatever it is that he's at) is still far better than whatever his replacement would be, while Artest's defense has been so bad at times that I wonder if Luke Walton might actually be an improvement overall.  Plus, plantar fasciitus is even less likely to heal without rest than an avulsion fracture. 

Throw all these factors together and I think the message is clear.  Making Kobe take some time off might be a good idea, but forcing Artest to rest might be a necessity.

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