Kobe Bryant: Beam Me Up Scottie!

That’s it.

It’s over.

The 2010 NBA Finals are not over, but the endless comparisons between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant should forever cease.  Last night, Kobe Bryant scored 38 points, including19 in the 3rd quarter.  He dropped 23 points in a row for a team sporting elite scoring option Pau Gasol; all-world point-forward Lamar Odom; Deep Clutch Derek; and the Big Accidental (aka Andrew Bynum).  While Bryant was making some of the most magical shots I’ve seen, his opponents were busy scorching the nets and locking down his teammates.

In the 3rd quarter, Bryant shot 7-9.  His teammates shot 3-10.  Guess what?  Bryant wasn’t a ball hog.  He didn’t jack up everything in sight.  Did he take a high percentage of shots? Sure.  Were the Lakers going to feed the hot hand?  Of course.  Boston did it in Game 2 for Ray Allen (and that may be the decisive game in this seres).  So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that for all of his talent, Kobe Bryant is not only NOT Michael Jordan, he is NOT a guy who plays with Scottie Pippen.  Could Jordan have single-handedly won last night’s game vs. Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rondo and company?  Possibly.  Could he have done it without Pippen?  Highly unlikely.  Michael Jordan made Scottie Pippen better than he would have been had he become the proto-Rashard Lewis envisioned by Seattle Sonics management when he was drafted.  Post-migraine Pippen was as good a complementary player as has ever played in the NBA.  And these Los Angeles Lakers simply don’t have a guy like that.

How big would it have been last night for Bryant to be able to hit a flashing Pippen on a cut to the hole?  The drive, the contact, the hoop and the harm.  Whistle on Garnett…3 point play.  Next trip down, Bryant continues his Jordan impersonation and hits a twisting, leaning, inverted, fade-away three from 45 feet – swish.  Celtics inbound — Pippen deals the ball, flushes it home.

The Chicago Bulls won games like this all the time.  This Lakers team doesn’t struggle against most teams, but against grinding Eastern Conference powerhouses that are reminiscent of the old-school Knicks, Pacers, Pistons and Celtics (minus the game ejections and fights), these Lakers are missing that Glue Guy who moves the ball from superstar to wide open role player; the guy who snatches the rebound and leads the transition break; the guy who plays help defense and plays passing lanes all while playing chest-to-chest defense on the other team’s best offensive weapon; the guy who can deliver thunderous dunks of his own right over the top of the opposing center.

Ron Artest is not that guy.  Lamar Odom, for whatever reason (certainly not physical), is not that guy.  Luke Walton is not that guy (smile).  As this series comes barreling to its Tinsel Town finale, one thing is certain, Kobe Bryant’s best is not good enough.  Do you EVER remember a point guard jumping OVER Pippen AND Jordan in the 4th quarter of the NBA Finals?  Didn’t think so.

Still, this is not an indictment of Kobe’s many talents.  It does not make his less of a player than Michael Jordan.  This is a measure that belies statistical comparison.  It really comes down to execution.  Usually, when the Lakers turn out an opponent’s lights for good, there is one bullet, one grisly trail of blood — and it leads right to Kobe’s “white Bronco.”  When the Bulls beat you, there were almost always two red-hot smoking barrels…one held by Jordan, and the other by Pippen.  It was always a gruesome way for playoffs hope to die.  No one knows this better than Patrick Ewing, who was routinely posterized by both Pippen and Jordan.

Bryant can still earn his 5th NBA title, but I don’t like his chances this season.  What’s more, for my money, he has dispelled the notion that he is not a comparable talent.  Both were the greatest shot-makers and combination (offense-defense) players of their generation.  Kobe Bryant needs help, but Scottie Pippen is not walking through that door.  The best that the Lakers and Bryant can hope for is that the spirit of Scottie’s game is embraced by someone very soon.

If not, the team will lose.  Doc Rivers will get to write a book entitled, The Zen of Whippin’ Phil’s Ass, and Paul Pierce will embarrass himself, all of Southern California and half of Boston by once again proclaiming himself the best basketball player in the world.

6 comments

  1. Agree completely. Gasol, for all his talent, would have never made the NBA top 50. He probably won’t make the top 100.
    Taht right there is a huge difference.

  2. Thanks, BM.

    The thing is that I don’t expect that from Gasol. Odom is the guy with the skill set to deliver. It’s really on him. He may have other stuff going on. Maybe he just doesn’t want it or need it. Either way, he’s the guy.

  3. Temple, explain to me what Gasol lacks to be the same sort of impact player that Pippen was?
    True, he can’t guard the best perimeter player, but he has all the physical tools to be a lock down defender. If KG can do it, Gasol can do it. Gasol, like his pals Dirk and Nash, benefits from a defensive pass. For some reason, the fact that he’s not “strong” is listed as a reason he struggles on defense, as if strength is not something that can be acquired with hard work. I don’t know if you saw that story recently about how Gasol had to be prodded and tricked into lifting, but it was telling.
    Gasol could be a force on defense, and his passing as a big man is amazing. I can’t think of a better passer, and that includes KG. His intelligence is great, and he has amazing scoring touch with either hand. Bottom line, Gasol has all the tools to be a dominant force on both ends of the court in today’s NBA. If he wants it.
    Odom, on the other hand, hasn’t shown that level of talent. Yes, it’s cute when he dribbles full court and lays it up, but how often does he go right? When has his jumper ever been consistent? When has he ever shown a defensive mentality? When you truly examine his skillset, not just his potential talent, he comes up lacking in comparision to Scottie and has his entire career.
    With Odom, he would have to commit to developing certain skills that he doesn’t currently possess and then have to develop a certain mentality. With Gasol, all he needs is the mentality, just like Scottie. Scottie had the skills when he first came in, but he had to develop the confidence and toughness to use that talent in the crunch.
    Sounds just like Gasol to me.

  4. Gasol and Pippen are in totally different universes. I think the differences are so fundamental and so numerous that you’d be better off looking at another player.

    Pippen could defend just about every position on the floor. He could lead the break. He could make mid-range jumpers and 3’s from deep. He could get his own shot and create for others. He could make plays without dominating the ball or while running the point. He could draw charges and block shots. He could play passing lanes and finish on the break. He was a 5-tool player.

    Gasol is talented, but he’s not a 5-tool player. He is not a dominant defender. His shot blocking is inconsistent and seldom comes when he is the primary defender. He is not a particularly tenacious rebounder. He is limited in what he can do when Bynum is on the bench. He is not as quick or fast in transition as Pippen and he needs to be fed the rock in the half court.

    Gasol’s intelligence, for my money, is overstated. Perhaps the greatest indicator of intelligence in basketball is on the defensive end. It’s about having a spatial and cognitive conception of collective motion and space — within the context of “intention” (what is the other team trying to do?). I’ve never seen Pau Gasol take away someone’s preferred offensive move. Pippen made a career of it. He shut Hersey Hawkins’ water off. He did it to Magic. He did it to every 2-guard or small forward that ever wore a Knicks uniform.

    Passing is considered a sign of intelligence, but it may merely be an artifact of Gasol’s apprenticeship in the wider lanes of Europe. It’s a valued skill, but he’s simply so far behind Pippen that I’m looking and hoping for another nominee.

    He’s got skillz, but give Scottie his due. 6 rings and 57 wins without Jordan — and a really bad Hue Hollins phantom foul call from going to the NBA Finals against Olajuwon’s Rockets. And, there was his second life in the Western Conference with Portland and Rasheed. No Finals appearances, but some serious work was put in. That’s what Kobe needs — a guy he can run WITH, not ahead of.

  5. I think it would be impossible for Gasol to have the same skill set as Pippen, but I don’t think that as a big man it’s necessary.
    I think Gasol has all the tools to be a dominant big men and in the triangle that’s arguably more valuable than great swingman. That was the argument I was trying to make. Gasol, if he played up this his potential, could be just as great a player as Pippen, only in different ways.

  6. My bad.

    I see your point. Do you think Gasol will actually improve — or is he all that he is going to be?

    I guess the reason that I didn’t dwell on your point about Gasol’s role in the pivot is because the championship Bulls, at their best, featured Jordan, Pippen, Harper, Rodman and Luc Longley and Toni Kukoc. Gasol is two parts Longley and four parts Kukoc…but neither of them were as important as Pippen and Rodman…because neither of them did the grunt work and because they weren’t the only passers in the offense. Can you give me an example where big men were more valuable than swing men in running the triangle?

    I believe that Gasol’s greatest value is as a passer and as a reliable 2nd scoring option. I don’t think that’s enough — and it clearly is insufficient against Boston — both in 2008 and over the past few days. That’s the point I was making about Pippen — that his all-around game was sufficiently well-rounded to fix all that clearly ails this Lakers team.

    Pippen could guard Paul Pierce. Gasol cannot. Pippen could guard Rondo. Gasol cannot. Pippen could draw Rasheed/Garnett away from the rim and beat them off the dribble. Gasol cannot. Gasol can grab 15 rebounds and block 5 or 6 shots — so could Pippen.

    I’m not hating on Pau — I think the Lakers need his contribution…but I think the way that this team is playing now requires an infusion of someone with a different skill set. Let me about those big men running the triangle, though.

    Thanks for hollering at me on this one.

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