March 29, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) heads down court during the second half of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Staples Center. Thunder won 102-93. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
[Author's Note: Beast or Burden is usually Ben R.'s beat, but he's off writing up his cure for cancer or something like that. #Princeton'd I am but a humble stand in.]
In this space, we usually spend a few paragraphs talking about the guys who are keeping the Lakers afloat and a few more paragraphs talking about who's bringing the Lakers down. Problem this week is, all of those people seem to be the same. This was a week in which beast and burden status alternated by the day. So today's list will highlight the good and the bad for all of our cast of characters.
Andrew Bynum - Much as it pains me to admit it, since I wrote that I'm done with rooting for AB on a personal level after this week's shenanigans, even in a week in which Bynum sat much of the 2nd half of a close game because he was being an idiot, he has still been the best player in a Lakers uniform, at least in terms of on-court production. He's averaged 24 points and a shade under 8 boards, even including the 11 and 5 "Bench-fest", and last night, he responded well to whatever negative feedback he received in the prior two days, going for 25 and 13 with 4 blocks. There can be no denying the man is an absolute beast. But there's no way he can escape burden status for the events of Tuesday night--a monumentally stupid series of moments (from the shot to his subsequent defense to the post-game comments) that created hysteria in some and supreme disappointment in others (i.e. me).
Kobe Bryant - The other contributor in Bench-gate, Bryant is in many ways the opposite of Bynum. He's on the Beast list in part because he dealt with the whole situation of being removed in the late stages of Sunday's game exactly correctly, being honest about his displeasure at being taken out of the game while at the same time supporting coach Mike Brown's right to make the decision. He also nailed two incredibly tough jump shots to preserve the win in Golden State, displaying great leadership in the face of Andrew Bynum's petulance.
But good God, Kobe is struggling with his shot right now. His percentages in the last four games are 29, 47 (ironically, in the game he was benched), 38 and 28. That's just not getting it done, especially on the 24 and 25 shots he's attempted in the last two games respectively. Kobe's earned the right to take that many shots even when he struggles, but the bottom line is that if he can't hit them at a better clip than he has the past week or so, the Lakers are very beatable, because Kobe doesn't have an off switch.
Mike Brown - Coach Brown deserves Beast status for one reason and one reason only: In benching first Kobe, then Drew, he set a precedent of accountability for the team's actions on the court. Neither benching had anything to do with performance, and everything to do with attitude (Bryant letting the physical nature of the game against Memphis distract him, Bynum ... well, you already know about that one). It takes stones to step to Kobe Bryant at all, and to step to Bynum as severely as Brown did, so kudos to him for that.
But the bottom line is that he had to bench his two best players in back to back games, and that is a troubling (though not conclusive) indicator of the temperament of the Lakers locker room right now. Plus, after ceding more and more control of the offense to Ramon Sessions and watching Sessions thrive, Brown has failed to put the new point guard in the best possible position to succeed over the past few games.
Ramon Sessions - Speaking of, even Sessions deserves a little bit of burden status for his first truly poor games as a Laker, back-to-back. Sessions had 7 and 4 on Tuesday, and 7 and 5 last night. He's also starting to show a penchant for turnovers, with at least 3 TOs in each of his last six games. Ramon was due to fall back down to earth a little bit, because the start of his Lakers career was on a superstar trajectory that doesn't match his overall career arc. Still, he just about single-handedly beat the Trailblazers last week, and kept LA in the game against Memphis too.
Finally, we have two entries that deserve only one status.
Beast: Matt Barnes - Barnes has been awesome for the Lakers over the past week. His 18 points and 10 boards in Golden State was crucial in maintaining a W against the W's, and he's averaging 10 points, 5 boards, 3 assists and 1.5 blocks in his last 4 games. That is glorious production off the bench, and he's done it even as he has seen a sharp decrease in minutes played alongside Ramon Sessions, with whom he seemed to have an instantly special chemistry
Burden: Bench players not named Matt Barnes - If Barnes has been awesome off the bench, the rest of his peers have been the opposite of that. The bench has combined for just 16 points a game since Sessions' promotion to the starting ranks. Combined with Barnes' averages listed above, you can see that the rest of the guys off the pine are contributing basically nothing at all. Look, four games is a small sample size to use for basing any kind of long-term judgment on, but considering the Lakers have struggled to beat two actively tanking teams, and failed to beat a decent team and a great team at home (nearly doubling their home losses on the season in just a few days), it seems pretty clear to me that Ramon Sessions isn't having very much impact rolling with the starters, and the impact of his being taken away from the bench unit has been extremely pronounced. But 16 points a game off the bench is a brand of terrible even the Lakers can't afford, and in order to get more out of the unit, the unit needs to see more Sessions time.