We got to look at what teams are doing against us in terms of spreading us out and rolling a big and now we collapse and now we’re late to the shooters. This is about the third game in a row where that’s happened to us, so we got to figure out defensively what we’re going to do ... we just got to look at what’s going on and make adjustments.
Last night, after the Golden State Warriors held on late to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers after bombarding them for three quarters, Kobe Bryant decided to pick up the microphone (relatively speaking) and say a few choice words about his team's defense. He talked about the scheme. He talked about the importance of communication. He talked about the need to make adjustments. His comments were 100% accurate. There's just one problem.
Kobe Bryant has no business criticizing the team's defense. Not when he's done this. And this. And this. Those are all posts, by three different authors, two of which are born and bred Lakers fans, criticizing Kobe Bryant for his horrific defense this season. Kobe has not been a consistently awful defender, but for large swaths of the season, he has defended recklessly, idiotically, or he simply hasn't defended at all. Kobe doesn't just gamble, he plays Russian Roulette without taking out any of the bullets. He doesn't just collapse to the paint, he ball-watches as if in a hypnotic trance.
It is impossible to tell if the Lakers have a defensive scheme problem, because first and foremost, their defense has a Kobe Bryant problem. The Lakers defense has rarely been on the same page, whether Bryant is involved or not. But Kobe's defense isn't even in the same book as the rest of the team's. I don't see anybody else on the Lakers double teaming random players off the ball. I don't see too many instances of anybody else comically over-gambling the passing lanes. And at least 80% of the Lakers' most egregious cases of ball-watching (something which does happen to everybody from time to time) seem to involve Kobe Bryant as well. If any of these actions are a part of the Lakers' defensive scheme, then Mike D'Antoni should have been fired the moment he unveiled it. But, since nobody else on the team is doing this shit, it seems pretty clear that Kobe is the one breaking the defensive playbook.
Is Kobe responsible for all of the Lakers' defensive problems? Of course not. The Lakers employ two players who have been known as the worst of defensive liabilities for years (Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison). There is not a single guard on the team (except for, ironically, Kobe Bryant when he wants to) who has a prayer of staying with the quick guards that at least 1/2 the NBA employs. And Dwight Howard, who was supposed to help erase some of these known defensive weaknesses, has been nowhere near his defensive best for most of the season as he has recovered from last year's back surgery. The Lakers have a myriad of defensive problems, from personnel to scheme and everywhere in between. But their biggest problem is Kobe.
Don't believe me? 82games.com keeps track of a player's effect on team defense by measuring the team's defensive efficiency when the player is on and off the court. For example, take Dwight Howard, who is unsurprisingly the team's best defender. When Dwight is on the court, the Lakers give up 105.1 points per 100 possessions. When he is off the court, the Lakers give up 111.7, so Dwight's net defensive rating is -6.6. Metta World Peace's net is a strong -5.4. Steve Nash makes the defense worse with a net of +1.4. Where does Kobe stand? +3.2. Yes, he's worse than Nash. His net is matched by Antawn Jamison. Only Earl Clark's surprising +3.9 (no doubt skewed by his on-again, off-again participation in the rotation) prevents Kobe from being, statistically, the worst defender on the team.
But wait, it gets worse. Kobe Bryant also said this:
It’s just X’s and O’s. If you look at the game, it’s just strategy and adjustments. They put us in positions where we have to pick and choose, and we weren't able to counter that. It’s really that simple. I probably have to take the lead a little bit in that department. It’s not really like a rah-rah situation when I communicate with the guys. It will always be about what the team did to put us in positions where we had to pick our poison and give up something. We just got to look at the film and make some adjustments where we’re putting them on their heels a little bit.
Kobe needs to take the lead in formulating the defensive strategy and adjustments? This is like if a wolf were on the board of directors for a chicken farm, decided to blast the farmer for failing to prevent the mysterious disappearance of all the chickens that the wolf was eating, then provided a plan for enhanced security. Step 1: Stop eating the f**king chickens.
You want some defensive adjustments, Kobe? How about you stop letting your man beat you down court by five steps while you complain to the referees or ponder how on earth you could have missed that shot you just took? How about you don't stare at the ball on the other side of the court like a 15 year old stares at Kate Upton in a bikini? How about you stick to your man instead of choosing which opponent to defend with a random number generator? Then, once you've done all that and the Lakers still continue to struggle defensively, we can talk about what adjustments the team needs to make.
That's the worst part about all this. Not that Kobe Bryant has been comically bad defensively for large parts of the season. Not that his terrible defense is so clearly a matter of choice (and not because the game has passed him by). Conscientiously or not, Kobe Bryant is scapegoating his own terrible defensive play as a team weakness, and in doing so, he is implying that the blame for that failure belongs with Mike D'Antoni because he is known for being weak defensively. Kobe is holding D'Antoni and the team accountable for their inability to build a scheme around Kobe's completely irrational defensive actions. This is hypocrisy in its purest form.
On the surface, Kobe Bryant is doing what leaders do: Preaching calm in the face of adversity, formulating a plan, and holding his team accountable for their collective shortcomings. But team accountability has to start with individual accountability. By camouflaging his own terrible defense under the umbrella of a "team" weakness, and assuming leadership as the provider of answers to the problems that he himself is most responsible for creating, Kobe is undermining his coach and leaving his teammates out to dry so that he can save face.
There is a strong possibility that Kobe Bryant is 100% right. Mike D'Antoni might be a terrible defensive coach with a complete inability to make defensive adjustments to combat a strategy that has been tearing the Lakers apart all season. Lord knows D'Antoni's defensive reputation lends credence to that line of thinking. There is also a strong possibility that, even with Kobe Bryant playing engaged and strategically smart, the Lakers will still struggle with team defense. There are, after all, quite a few old, slow players on the roster, some of whom were never good defenders to begin with. The Lakers may be desperately in need of the help that Kobe's keen basketball mind can bring to the table.
But its really, really hard to listen to what the wolf has to say when he won't stop eating the f**king chickens.
- Hat tip to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles for the quotes used in this piece