The other day my colleague Albert Burneko worried that Nick Young's return had improbably elevated the Lakers from "gonzo terribleness to bland mediocrity." Worried because the Lakers' spectacular brand of suck has been the most entertaining subplot early in this surprisingly dismal NBA season, and that would be ruined if they were only run-of-the-mill bad.
He worried too soon.
The Lakers got mollywhopped 140 to 106 by the Dallas Mavericks last night. It was the most points scored in the NBA so far this season. If you want a two second summary of the carnage, the above gif will suffice.
It shows Kobe Bryant taking and airballing a shot from approximately Siberia, with six seconds left on the shot clock. The thing is, the Lakers offense was actually pretty good last night! As a team they shot 51.8%, and the non-Kobe members shot 60%! They were dragged down by Kobe's putrid 6-22 performance, yet here he is sending into orbit consciousless moonballs. Just look at that shot chart (via ESPN) and count the 10 missed mid-range jumpers!
It is impossible to describe how bad that shot is more precisely than the gif, but I'm going to try.
According to NBASavant.com, Kobe launched his anti-aircraft missile from 34 feet 7 inches. At its furthest, the NBA three-point line is 23 feet 9 inches away from the basket. Kobe was shooting—with a quarter of the shot clock left, I remind you—from TEN FEET behind the three-point line. NBASavant.com says that since the 2010-11 season there have been 177 shots taken in the NBA from 33 to 35 feet. 22 were successful, for a putrid field goal percentage of 12%. Kobe Bryant—with six seconds left on the shot clock—took a shot that has a historic success rate of 12%, rather than dribbling or passing to one of his teammates, almost all of whom were shooting better, and definitely smarter, than Kobe.
Thirteen games into the season, we have amassed enough evidence that Kobe Bryant just isn't very good anymore. He used to be good enough on offense that you could overlook the ballhogging and occasional head-scratching decisions because he was still a net positive. But now he's shooting a career-low 38.7% (and just 28.6% from three) and taking more shots (24.6 per 36 minutes) than he ever has before. The occasional flash of beautiful footwork in the post is the only evidence of the offensive maestro Kobe once was.
Of course, looking at that score you may have come to the conclusion that the Lakers bigger problem is their defense, not their offense. You would be right. The Lakers are giving up 119.1 points per 100 possessions, and are by far the worst defense in the league. In fact, if it holds, it'll be the worst defense in the history of the NBA, 4.4 points per 100 possessions worse than the 2008-09 Sacramento Kings.
Kobe Bryant's defense has always been overrated, and it was downright terrible by the end of the 2013 season. A season-robbing achilles injury hasn't done anything to help matters, and neither has having Carlos freaking Boozer as the last line of defense. Byron's Scott defensive scheme (whatever they are, it's honestly so helter-skelter that most of the time I can't identify what they're trying to do) haven't benefitted anyone, either.
The Lakers are back. In fact, they never left us. For two games they faked a competence we didn't know they had in them. Maybe they'll fake it again a few times this season. But they're historically bad at defense, Kobe Bryant is chucking historically bad on offense, and they're our favorite team in the NBA.