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On the same boat: Kobe Bryant and LeBron James must think pass first to win games

Yash Matange
15 Dec 2014, 14:01 IST
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James

Bryant and James contribution to their teams

Through the first quarter of the NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers are 7-16 placed 13th in the Western Conference, while the Cleveland Cavaliers are 13-9 placed fourth in the Eastern Conference. Given their positions on the standings of their respective conferences and the talent on display on the team rosters, you would strongly believe that these teams would have nothing in common in terms of team statistics such as offensive or defensive efficiencies.

The mission, goals, aspirations and expectations are all different when you compare these two teams, but the one thing they have in common is their team defensive issues. The Los Angeles franchise are the league-worst in defensive efficiency allowing 111 points per 100 possessions and the Cleveland team are 21st letting their opponents score 106 points every 100 possessions. Teaching these teams defensive system isn’t hard as it is for them to execute it on the floor during games. 

So what do you do when you can restrict your opponent well enough?

Simple. Try outscoring them in a high scoring contest.

For that, the teams must have their offense in the top gear and so far both teams have struggled at doing that. Their offense and eventually the result of their game depends hugely on their leader’s play.

Kobe Bryant, the unquestionable alpha dog on the Lakers roster is having a terribly inefficient season despite averaging league’s second-best 25.4 points per game. On the other hand, the best player on the planet and in the Cavaliers team LeBron James is putting up MVP-type numbers with the Cavaliers, but the job of making his teammates win as a team is taking a toll on his patience. 

Bryant and the Lakers

Increasing number of losses have made the return from injuries, a frustrating one for Bryant.

The historic team of the Lakers are currently having what could go on to be their worst season in franchise history. Bryant has had to face and accept a lot of criticism for the team’s losses nonetheless if it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be any wins either. 

  Games Points Field Goal Percentage Rebounds Assists
Wins  7 25 .400 5.6 7.7
Losses 16 25.6 .382 4.8 3.9

Have a look at the difference in the most important stats of Bryant’s when the Lakers win and when they lose. No column shows a bigger disparity like the last one, the assists column. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and recollect the Dwight Howard season in Los Angeles. The team had a championship level starting line up on paper but was playing a disappointing level of basketball on the court where it mattered.

With Steve Nash sitting out with injury, Bryant took over the reigns as floor general for the last 40 games and played point guard which turned out to be the most celebrated part of the season for the team and the fans. In the first 42 games, the team registered a record of 17-25 and out of their last 40, they won 28.

Clearly years and years of offense from Bryant is opening chances for him to facilitate better for his teammates thus helping the team be in a better position to win games. Nobody is expecting the Lakers to qualify for the Playoffs or make it to the Finals, but the least the team can do is at least win games where they clearly have a better roster than their opponents.

Head Coach Byron Scott made the change to bring Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer off the bench which has made a positive change so far. With Lin on the bench, Bryant gets more time with the ball to create chances and get open looks for his teammates. During the early stages of the remaining games in the season, Bryant must come off screens or pin downs thinking pass rather than score because getting his teammates going gives them a better chance to win the game rather than No. 24 trying to do it all by himself.

James and his Cavaliers

Cavaliers win more when James passes more.

James is part of his second Big 3 in the last 4 years, this time teaming up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for the Cavaliers. Considering the style of play of the other two superstars with him, it will take more time and more work from the Cavaliers to find their game as a team than James did in his first season with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010-2011.

With Wade dealing with an older body and Bosh finding it hard to carry a franchise all by himself, the Heat centered their game around James’ game. However, the Cavaliers need his leadership more than his game. Irving and Love are both young superstars who don’t lack talent, but have no Playoff experience in their career so far. James’ averages in wins and losses clearly state what the team needs from him.

  Games Points Field Goal Percentage Rebounds Assists
Wins 13 27.8 .510 5.8 8.5
Losses 9 21.8 .453 5 6

Similar to Bryant’s case, James needs to think pass first in every opportunity he gets to win games instead of trying to do everything by himself. In the team’s most recent game, James scored a season-high 41 points, but recorded only 5 assists in a losing effort to the New Orleans Pelicans who were playing without their superstar Anthony Davis.

Irving, Love, Thirstan Thompson, Andersen Varjeo all benefit when the defense cheats off them to double James. This is what the Cavaliers must exploit if they intend to make their championship dreams come alive. 

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