The Kobe effect

Editor’s Note: The following comes courtesy of Chris Yeh (@chrisyeh) from Adventures in Capitalism. You may recall him as a guest podcast we had a few week back. Chris’ insights were great but the audio quality was iffy. I notice Chris is now pitching an improved podcast app, coincidence? Chris is a Lakers fan and a Kobe fan (unlike some editors still bitter over the 2009 playoffs) and wanted to offer up his take on the Lakers performance in the absence of Kobe. Enjoy!

It just so happens that we have a very interesting experiment going on right now.

From March 23 to April 7, the Lakers used a starting lineup of Sessions-Bryant-World Peace-Gasol-Bynum.  They went 6-3.  Thanks to the handy-dandy “Game Splits” feature of NerdNumbers.com, we can check out how the Lakers were winning:

Los Angeles Lakers from March 23rd to April 7th 2012
Player Pos G MP WP48 WP
Ramon Sessions 1.1 10 329.9 0.193 1.33
Pau Gasol 4.3 10 372.9 0.113 0.87
Metta World Peace 3.0 10 303.9 0.114 0.72
Matt Barnes 2.7 10 267.5 0.095 0.53
Andrew Bynum 5.0 9 294.6 0.065 0.40
Josh McRoberts 4.1 10 192.7 0.077 0.31
Kobe Bryant 2.0 9 337.3 0.007 0.05
Andrew Goudelock 1.5 4 1.5 -0.155 -0.00
Darius Morris 1.0 4 1.5 -0.546 -0.02
Troy Murphy 4.5 9 85.5 -0.015 -0.03
Devin Ebanks 2.0 4 32.2 -0.064 -0.04
Steve Blake 1.0 10 180.4 -0.011 -0.04

Starting April 8, Kobe Bryant started sitting out games.  If you asked me on April 8 how things might go without Bryant, I would have theorized that Gasol and Bynum would get more touches and play better.  Let’s see what happened.

Los Angeles Lakers from April 8th to April 18th 2012
Player Pos G MP WP48 WP
Matt Barnes 2.4 6 164.4 0.501 1.72
Metta World Peace 3.0 6 223.4 0.147 0.69
Pau Gasol 4.2 6 228.6 0.090 0.43
Ramon Sessions 1.3 6 189.6 0.104 0.41
Andrew Bynum 5.0 6 216.0 0.079 0.36
Josh McRoberts 4.0 6 87.2 0.091 0.17
Devin Ebanks 2.0 6 145.0 0.028 0.08
Jordan Hill 4.5 3 6.2 0.609 0.08
Steve Blake 1.0 6 145.0 -0.002 -0.01
Andrew Goudelock 1.5 3 4.3 -0.240 -0.02
Troy Murphy 4.5 6 47.3 -0.117 -0.11
Darius Morris 1.0 4 8.0 -1.166 -0.19

As always, small sample sizes demand that we take the results with a grain of salt.  But, some interesting things stand out:

1)      Gasol, Bynum, and Sessions have played notably worse without Bryant in the lineup. (Editor’s Note: I included the 4-18 Lakers game against the Golden State Tanks. We’ll notice that in a small sample size one game brought Bynum up to his Kobe levels, which as of late have been bad.)

2)      World Peace and Barnes played notably better without Bryant in the lineup.   In fact, Barnes went from average to LeBron over the course of those 6 games, while World Peace has been an above average player while starting with Sessions (after being below average—WP48 0.040—in his first 46 games)

3)      Because Bryant wasn’t playing well before his injury, they’ve actually gotten more production out of Ebanks than Bryant

Prior to this year, Bryant has always been an above-average to great player (though not a superstar certainly).  This year, he has been well below average.  Logically, the Lakers would be far better off if Bryant shot less and deferred to Bynum and Gasol.  Yet without Bryant in the lineup, the performance of the Lakers twin towers of Gasol and Bynum has been truly abysmal (though thanks to the power of raw numbers, most NBA commentators have praised Gasol and Bynum for “stepping up” in the absence of the team’s “superstar”).  Only an insanely hot stretch by Matt Barnes has kept the Bryant-less Lakers afloat.  It may be that Kobe’s (somewhat irrational) reputation with his fellow NBA players enables him to serve as a powerful decoy to free up his big men, even when his poor shooting has made him a below-average player.  That being said, I suspect that the decoy effect would still have its positive effects even if he cut down his league-leading usage rate.

Perhaps Kobe’s injury is a blessing in disguise for the Lakers.  If Kobe returns and moderates his shooting, but still serves his role as “closer” (read: decoy), the Lakers can play at maximum efficiency and do more damage in the playoffs, resulting in Matt Barnes hoisting the trophy for his Finals MVP award — joking … sort of.

-Chris

Editor’s Note: p.s. Mr. PL (@pl_2002) has asked me about this several times on twitter. Asking me to post on it would be akin to me having to compliment George Karl’s coaching. Luckily Chris was nice enough to be able to address the subject. Happy?

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