LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 06: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives around Ekpe Udoh #20 of the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on January 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Oh, Kobe. I don't know how he does it. Every season it seems he has the basketball world over-analyzing every shot he takes and every decision he makes. It's like a script. Kobe gets hurt, Kobe continues to shoot, he'll miss a lot of shots, we get worried, and discuss our frustrations and get into debates, then he plays great and looks like "vintage" Kobe, we all shut up for a while, then we'll wonder why we ever doubted him. Rinse and repeat. I swear this happens once a month for the past few seasons.
Some of our concerns are warranted, of course. Kobe's sheer will and stubborn pride won't allow him to do anything other than what he's always done. Some of us wonder if Kobe's expectations of himself are realistic or in tune with what's best for the team. So we count his shots, and roll our eyes when he vows to keep shooting. We implore him to go through the post more as he reiterates that his role is to shoot the ball. Then he comes back and shoot even more! Oh boy...
Instead of giving in to injury and age, what we saw out of Kobe is the player we should expect to see from a 33-year old, 16-year vet great with waning athleticism; smart play highlighted by more efficient shots that also create opportunities for teammates. He didn't tone down his attempts, simply took better ones. Then hit them. When he wasn't shooting, he was finding cutting teammates, and rebounding. Gone were the contested 20-footers, replaced with low-post ups, cuts, and pump fakes the one dribble open 17-footers as defenders fly by.
This is why this author is tough on Kobe. I refuse to stop holding him to the highest of standards because Kobe is the smartest kid in the room with the most talent. He can offset his declining hops by using his wit and superior skill set. Or by simply making the shots he takes. That is why he can take 29 shots with nary a complaint, immediately after missing 22-of-28 just the game before. It's not about quantity with Kobe so much as quality.
Last night's game against the Warriors was a perfect example why this is still Kobe's team, and why we still show reservations in our criticisms of Kobe. When the team was clearly out of sorts and worn down from 9 games in 13 days, Kobe's will was the spark that kept this team from letting down. The Lakers were able shake off a terribly sloppy first half to put things together for a second half professionalism that should go a long way in building team cohesion.
Last night was also a game in which Bynum lost this week's award. It proved that Andrew Bynum still has a way to go in being a true alpha. He played in a funk, cllearly stymied by fatigue, Kwame Brown's defense (?!) and Golden State's double and triple teaming. He just wasn't able to look like a guy able to plow through. That will come with experience and willpower. Something Kobe has tons of.
Here are Kobe's stats on week:
30.5 points, 5.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 46 of 109 for 42.2% from the field in 37.5 minutes per game.