Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is not only one of the NBA’s most gifted players in a generation, but he’s also one of the smartest.
That’s why talk of him shooting too much or being a ball hog is always so entertaining, because that sort of ridiculous talk implies that Bryant doesn’t understand what it takes to help his team win. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Bryant has made it his mission this season to take whatever the defense gives him.
“It’s really just predicated on the defense, what they do,” Bryant told ESPN Los Angeles. “They really just have to pick and choose. There’s some halves where they stay home on shooters and I do a lot of scoring, other times they have to collapse on me a great deal and I do more playmaking. It just really depends on the defense.”
Bryant has shifted from being a high-octane pure scorer in the first part of the season, leading the league in scoring to a facilitator who deferred in many critics’ minds too much. In his past three games, however, he’s evolved into a renaissance man who is capable of doing it all by averaging 35.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists while shooting a blazing 57.1 percent from the field.
The Lakers are 2-1 during that stretch. Losing only to the Denver Nuggets on the road at Pepsi Center, an unconquerable venue for many of the NBA’s best (the Lakers right now can not be considered among that group). Unlike some of his younger contemporaries like LeBron James and even his own teammate Dwight Howard, Bryant doesn’t care what people think about him, and that’s one of the things that allows him to play with such freedom and clarity on the basketball court. He knows what he’s capable of, and that’s an ability to do virtually anything he wants to.
To be realistic, Bryant can no longer impose his will on defenses, which is why he’s turned into more of an everyman this season. In a year full of challenges, Bryant has been able to meet them head on by taking on the role he feels gives his team the best chance to win.
The real problem is, he’s probably not surrounded by enough talent for it to matter.