NBA All-Star Media Day is always interesting. In the few that I’ve been to, I always like to see which players draw the biggest crowds of reporters, who gets the smallest crowds, who seems the happiest to be there, and who wishes he could be anywhere else in the world.
Kobe Bryant is always one of the most popular players at Media Day, which is going to present a tough situation for him on Friday, since it seems he doesn’t want to talk to anybody right now.
After the Lakers lost to the lowly Cavaliers last night, Kobe ducked out on post-game interview time for the second straight game. He also avoided the media after L.A. lost in Charlotte earlier this week. When Kobe is finally cornered into answering questions about his team — L.A. has lost three in a row going into the All-Star break — I’d like to hear what he has to say about their perimeter defense.
As much as critics point to Ron Artest’s apparent indifference, Andrew Bynum’s inconsistency, the bench’s ineffectiveness, or Kobe’s individualistic attitude as red flags for the two-time defending champs, it seems nobody is willing to point out that the Lakers are terrible defensively up top, particularly at the point guard position.
Los Angeles Times columnist Mike Bresnahan wrote in today’s paper, “Their defense is horrendous, their legs are getting older by the possession and their interest level fluctuates between bored and horribly bored.” He doesn’t single out any one particular defender, but just checking the games and the box scores, the weaknesses are evident.
Look, we all respect that Derek Fisher is a leader who hits clutch shots and has Kobe’s ear in the huddle, but Fish can’t stay in front of a Shake Weight right now. Steve Blake, who L.A. fans were hyping up as some kind of Junior Glove all summer, hasn’t exactly been Gary Payton-ish either. And Shannon Brown is far from a defensive stopper. Neither of L.A.’s point guards could handle Cleveland backup Ramon Sessions last night, who dropped 32 points and seemed to get to the rim at will. Fisher also spent time guarding Anthony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 9 assists.
For any basketball team, inability to stop dribble penetration is the beginning of defensive breakdown. As soon as the ball gets inside the paint, big men have to move over to help, leaving their defensive assignments open, or wing defenders have to move inside to help, which leaves shooters open from the outside. So when Fisher or Blake or Brown can’t stop the opposing point guard from getting into the paint, it creates opportunities for open threes and open layups.
That said, there is still a place on the Lakers for a point guard who isn’t a great defender. Like I said, Fisher hits big shots in the playoffs and provides leadership and experience in the locker room and on the court. Brown can be a sparkplug scorer off the bench and is one of the team’s best shooters. Blake is a good backup PG on the offensive end who can knock down threes and not turn the ball over.
But somebody needs to be able to guard the other team’s guards. Kobe is a All-Defensive First Team regular, but asking him to defend somebody like Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker as well as score 25 to 30 points per game is a lot for even the (arguably) best player in the world.
So what do they do? The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 24, and L.A. has some pieces (Artest, Blake, Matt Barnes, rookie Devin Ebanks) that could potentially attract a defensive-minded point guard. Otherwise, they’ll have to hope Brown or Blake simply straps up, or just take their chances with what they have.
To be fair, it has worked before.