Joe-Pinions: Sports

14 Mar 2011 – The Only Thing Kobe Has Left To Prove

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 14/03/2011

Kobe Bryant is certainly in the thick of things when people discuss who the greatest Laker of them all is.  He is on many people’s short lists of the greatest ever professional basketball player.  He has done it all:  He has won championships in the NBA, gold medals in the Olympics and in other international tournaments, scoring titles, and league and NBA Finals MVP awards.  He is rocketing up the all-time scoring lists, currently in sixth position all-time as I write this.  Through the course of his long career (through the 2010-2011 NBA season, he will have completed fifteen seasons as a pro), he has seen it all, and he has done it all.

You can correctly say that he has nothing left to prove.

In my opinion, though, this would be slightly (just ever so slightly) off the mark.  

I think Kobe has just one last thing to prove.

Kobe has to prove that he can trust his teammates.  Kobe has to show that he can use his teammates’ talents, even during crunch time, if doing so represents the Lakers’ best chance to win games.  Kobe has to demonstrate that his evolution into the ultimate player the game of basketball has ever seen is complete by being able to defer to his teammates judiciously, even when the game’s outcome is on the line.

For him, this is the ultimate test; for Kobe Bryant, to choose not to shoot when every cell in his body, when every single line of code in his DNA is screaming and demanding that he should keep the ball and take the key shots, this is the ultimate leap of faith.  

Logic says this is what Kobe ought to be doing.  As a consequence of his absolute devotion and commitment to the game of basketball, Kobe’s body has been ravaged by an accumulation of injuries and broken body parts.  The list of his injuries is frankly too long to recount.  Ultimately, all these injuries all add up to a reduction of Kobe’s capabilities as a basketball players.  It’s only logical.  You hurt your knees, your feet, your ankles, you simply don’t leap as well as you used to.  You slow down inevitably as a consequence of simply aging.  You break enough fingers on both of your hands, you just won’t be able to hold and control the basketball as well as you think you could.  You don’t shoot as well, either, simply because too many fingers are broken.  Through no fault of his own, his adventure living the life of one of the greatest of all basketball warriors has wrecked so many parts of Kobe Bryant’s body.  It is the price he pays for his greatness, and it is a price that I’m sure he is so willing to pay for his love of the game and for winning.  

Yet despite the litany of physical issues, Kobe’s will is so indomitable, his courage so extensive, he constantly amazes you by finding, or making, a way to overcome.  It is one of the best parts of his character and is the greatest reason why he has earned my admiration.

As usual, though, the sword cuts both ways.

The simple fact of the matter is an injured player is a limited player.  Kobe’s got so many injuries right now, and this is surely affecting his game adversely.  He is so far from his potential best, much more the absolute peak of his form (since he is older and is now on the downside of his career).  He has always been what people call a “volume shooter” (he takes a ton of shots to put up a ton of points), but with his efficiency much reduced due to both his age and his injuries, he is now starting to hurt the team with more and more shot attempts.  His injuries have also affected his ability to play defense one-on-one.  He simply has lost enough foot speed so that he can no longer afford to gamble on defense:  He simply cannot recover position if he and the man he’s guarding have enough separation.

As a Laker fan, I am (and forever will be) grateful to Kobe Bryant for his significant contributions to the team’s history.  He’s one of my guys.  But it is as a Laker fan who loves to see his team win as much as Kobe wants to lead his team win that I say that Kobe should start evolving into the most difficult role that he can ever assume.

Kobe must learn to now be the ultimate decoy.

Now is the right time for this stage of his evolution.  

He’s got a great team, punctuated by the NBA’s most unique offensive asset:  The Laker Twin Towers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.  Together, these two seven-footers represent an almost unstoppable 1-2 punch.  Most NBA teams don’t even have a legitimate big man to anchor their low-post defense; Gasol and Bynum are an embarrassment of riches for the Lakers, and to me it’s an absolute and unforgivable sin for the Lakers to not exploit this most unique advantage much more often than they presently do.

Beyond Gasol and Bynum, Kobe’s also got people like Ron Artest and Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom to help him carry the scoring load.  All three can shoot from the perimeter, albeit with varying degrees of success, and Artest and Odom are skilled enough to operate close to the basket as well.

And from the bench, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake can be opportunistic on offense.  Barnes, in particular, is an asset since he knows how to slash and cut to the basket; he can move without the ball very effectively, and he has a decently reliable jumpshot.

The key here is that Kobe really ought to start believing that his teammates are able to come through for the team.  He should start believing that he doesn’t need to dominate possessions, especially at the end of games, for the team to win.  I’ve always believed that a team with multiple offensive options is harder to defend than a team with just one known option.  Related to this is the idea that a ball that’s being passed around and moving is harder to set a defense on than a ball being handled by just one person.

At his absolute peak, Kobe was the ultimate one-on-one basketball weapon.  Kobe at his absolute best was almost impossible to stop.  Sadly, time and the accumulation of injuries have done a great job at imposing limits on his ability to do what he wanted to do on the basketball court.  Time and injuries are now doing what single defenders have always had problems doing, and that is make Kobe ineffective as an offensive weapon.

If Kobe wants to keep on winning (and I’m sure he does; it’s a hunger he will never fully satisfy), he now has to make the ultimate change to his basketball modus operandi.  He has to become the best decoy threat we’ve ever seen.  

To do so is not a declaration of surrender; it is not a capitulation, nor a means of merely saving face.  

If Kobe is to become the greatest of all winners, he has to prove he can lean on his teammates and trust them and utilize their varied and considerable talents.  In my opinion, this will prove he is the greatest of them all.


3 Responses

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  1. I think last year was the last Lakers championship for a while. I don’t think they can hang with Oklahoma City if OKC continues to play good defense and if the Spurs can find some way to disguise their age when the playoffs start.


    • txtmstrjoe said, on 17/03/2011 at 16:44

      Well, I’ve got the Thunder pegged as the Lakers’ most difficult playoff matchup in the west, so we agree on that point. The Spurs will fight hard, as well, but I think the Lakers don’t fear them as much, especially if Andrew Bynum continues his stellar play.

      One thing’s for sure: It will be a very interesting thing to see just how far the Lakers can go this year. As a Lakers fan, I obviously hope you’re wrong. 🙂 But whatever happens, it’s going to be fun to see it all unfold.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Johnny Johnson said, on 05/05/2011 at 14:17

    Wow, you right.

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