Has Kobe Bryant Ever Been Better?
by j.a andande
Perhaps you made the mistake of thinking the Kobe Bryant narrative effectively ended on a muggy night in Orlando five months ago. With a Most Valuable Player award, a scoring title and finally a championship without Shaquille O'Neal to go with the three they won together, it seemed there was nothing more to be said about him. On to the next story.
How will LeBron and Shaq work and where will LeBron end up? How about that rookie Brandon Jennings? Check out Carmelo Anthony -- he's going to be the MVP.
Um, have you checked the stats leaders? Notice the K. Bryant, LAL, at the top of the leading scorers' list?
He's come out firing, a 25.3 shots-per-game average that's on pace to put him over 2,000 field goal attempts for only the second time in his career. He is connecting at a 49 percent rate, better than any other season. And his 33.6 points per game rival the standard of 35.4 he set in 2005-06. Yes, it's possible that Kobe at age 31 is doing work as well as he's ever done it, rather than just quietly slipping into the next phase of his career.
What, exactly, could he be trying to prove when there's nothing left to prove?
"I don't really play for that," Bryant said. "I know Michael's speech [at the Hall of Fame], he played for a lot of those things. I don't. I'm already there. I don't need that stuff. It's icing on the cake, but my motor's already running. I just can't stop. [There's] not something that motivates me. It's just how I am."
It turns out that last season, when his scoring average dropped below 27 for the first time since 2004, was just a glitch, an aberration brought on by two years of playing in the NBA Finals interspersed by two summers playing for the USA national team.
"I didn't like doing it last year, but I understood that we were playing for the long haul, so it was something I had to do," Bryant said. "Last year I just couldn't, because of the long schedules that we've had ... it was like, 'OK, let me dial back a little bit.'"
Now he's turned the dial all the way to the right. He's gone for 40-plus three times already. The 28 points he scored against New Orleans on Sunday might not seem that mind-boggling unless you realize he scored 26 in the first half and played only five minutes in the fourth quarter because the Lakers were in the process of beating the Hornets by 16 points.
Some of this is attributable to the Lakers' lack of big men. Pau Gasol has yet to play this season because of a hamstring injury, and Andrew Bynum missed the past two games with an elbow injury. So Bryant is taking it upon himself to replace over 14 feet of players and almost 40 points per game of offense.
"Nothing surprises me anymore, so I'm honestly not surprised at all," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Bryant's early scoring outburst. "Well, some of it certainly is. But he's the kind of guy [where] it doesn't mater if things are going well like that. He's going to want the ball and make them have to come double-team him, make them play him ... he's been doing a good job."
These days he does most of his work in the post. The Lakers are spreading the floor well, and feeding him at the edges of the paint, allowing him to go to work with his back to the basket and shoot fallaway jumpers over defenders. All but four of his 21 shots on Sunday were within 19 feet.
"With the two big guys out, I heard Phil out there yelling, 'Go block to block' -- every time, every possession," said Hornets guard Devin Brown. In his first start of the season, Brown had the misfortune of guarding Bryant. "That's all he was doing. I told one of the coaches, 'I don't think he went above the free-throw line in the first half.' It didn't seem like it to me. So when he gets on that block, he's very aggressive."
If Bryant hasn't been finishing at the hoop as strongly as he used to, he's looking comfortable dropping in soft jumpers.
"Even when I was a kid, I migrated to the post," Bryant said. "It's not something unnatural to me, like I'm trying something new. I'm used to playing down there."
Just doing what comes naturally, forcing his way into the NBA conversation. He's a big story ... because he's the same old story.
Kobe has always been one of my favorite players and right now winning the Championship and being without Bynum and Gasol not only motivates Kobe to perform better but rejuvenated him. He wants to be in that Championship position again and we all know Kobe Bryant's work ethic is phenomenal. He is a consistent performer and I can only imagine how deadly the Lakers are going to be with a healthy Gasol and Bynum.
"I don't really play for that," Bryant said. "I know Michael's speech [at the Hall of Fame], he played for a lot of those things. I don't. I'm already there. I don't need that stuff. It's icing on the cake
He is talking about proving himself I think, hes saying he doesn't need to anymore because he already has and proving himself even more would just increase his reputation.
oh alright, thought he meant stats.
yeah, kobe was just talking about using negative stuff to motivate him. He say's he's past that and just plays to win, he doesn't need outside stuff to motivate him anymore.