As arguably the greatest player in NBA history watches from the owner's box, Kobe Bryant will be going for his seventh straight 30 point game when the Charlotte Bobcats visit the Lakers. Kobe enters tonight's game as the league's leading scorer at 29.5 points per game, but at the cost of attempting more field goals (515) and playing more minutes (955) than any other NBA player. And thus, many wonder if the Lakers are actually a better team when Kobe carries the bulk of scoring. In this preview, we'll examine the effects of Kobe's usage and how the Lakers will stop a much improved, even at 7-16, Bobcats squad.
After Andrew Bynum came out publicly and said that Kobe had "stunted his growth" (clearly he didn't mean literally) as a player, many basketball pundits wondered how much validity that comment held. Does Kobe handle the ball too much? Advanced metrics-wise, Kobe is a high usage player (meaning the percentage of team plays a player uses while he is on the floor). His 32.8% usage percentage this year is second to only Carmelo Anthony and the seventh highest total of his career. So, to no one surprise, Kobe handles the ball quite a bit when he's on the floor.
However, in 2012-2013, his style of play is being used efficiently and leading to Laker wins (well, the few they do have). For example, Kobe's Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares/game are 25.8% and 4.6 respectively, which ranks fourth and second best in the NBA. Thus, it's reasonable to conclude, that although he handles the ball a lot, Kobe's style of play this year is necessary for the Lakers if they want to right the ship. Kobe's usage might decline when Nash & Gasol return from injury, but for now, Kobe's doing whatever it takes for the Lakers to win games.
Michael Jordan vowed to his fan base that the Charlotte Bobcats would be a better team in 2012 and it has shown in their play. The Bobcats' seven wins already match their win total from all of last year and their offense is vastly improved. Charlotte has gone from the league's worst offense last year at 87 points/game to a respectable 96 points/game mark. They're led by good guard play; Kemba Walker and former Laker Ramon Sessions lead the team in scoring at 18 and 14 points/game respectively and veteran Ben Gordon has chipped in 13 points off the bench.
Where they're susceptible, however, is on defense. The Bobcats struggle on the defensive glass, as well as, defending the three point line (both dead last in those categories). If the Lakers can spread the floor, like they've done in recent weeks, and find open shooters they should be able to exploit Charlotte. Also, look for Metta World Peace, coming off a career-best rebounding game, and Dwight Howard to have big games in Charlotte's soft interior.