So far this season, Kobe Bryant has won our Player of the Week award three times. In each of those wins, no other Laker even came close to being given serious consideration over Kobe as the Lakers struggled through learning each other and Mike Brown's new system and way of doing things.
Each Kobe win came during the Lakers first month of the season. While Black Mamba went on a tear, proving to the basketball world that he was far from declining, the rest of the Lakers were a frustrating bunch looking like a team long removed from championship aspirations. Good for Kobe, bad for the team. Not bad because Kobe's dominance came at the expense of his teammates, but because no other Laker matched Kobe's play and the team looked mediocre at best. They seemed nowhere near being a group of players worthy of helping Kobe compete for championships as his prime winds down.
Since those first three Bryant wins, we've seen Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Matt Barnes, and Pau Gasol win. During Kobe's first three POTW's, the Lakers went 10-8. Since then? They've gone 12-6 (including 5 of their 6 road wins). Obviously, the Lakers are much better off when another Laker gives Kobe a run for his money. It can't be all Kobe.
This week, Kobe wins his fourth POTW by actually earning it over other deserving teammates. Namely Andrew Bynum.
The competition was far from great (or even good), but the chemistry the team displayed leaves you wondering just how much these Lakers might have in them. The Timberwolves minus Kevin Love, and the Sacramento Kings aren't teams worth celebrating wins over. What should be celebrated is the teamwork the Lakers showed in going 2-0 on the week. If these were the only games I watched all season, I'd be left with the impression that this team actually likes each other (not saying they don't). Not only did they exhibit a trust in each other we haven't seen all season, but they seemed to have tons of fun playing together.
The chemistry seems real because Kobe makes it so. As much as fun as watching Kobe chuck is, seeing him fully embrace Rip Hamilton not only in mask, but style of play, is better for the team. Kobe ran all over the floor without the ball, in transition and in half-court sets, and made everything flow better because he got virtually any shot he wanted by being smarter than his man, not just better. Kobe's cutting and posting creates more space for Bynum, Pau, and even give-and-go's to Derek Fisher all because Kobe forces attention without the ball. All of a sudden, the Lakers look like they have an offense to go with their defense.
It's bigger than X's and O's. When Andrew Bynum spins off of his defender, dunks, gets fouled, then immediately walks over to Kobe Bryant for the dap/hug combo, and all of this happens after the Lakers spend multiple possessions actually looking to take advantage of Bynum (instead of making the kid force his offense), you get the feeling that the gelling you sensed last week is indeed real. Not just a trial period of a season until what once seemed like an eventual blockbuster trade. If the Lakers are going to ride with Andrew Bynum, it's only going to work if Kobe fully embraces Bynum as a guy he needs on his side. As we wait for the test against the Heat tomorrow, we'll see if this week's encouraging play was due to poor competition or the prelude to something real.
Bynum? His post All-Star break starts with the biggest two weeks of his professional life. With Dwight Howards' name looming over his head, everything he does until March 15th
should will be heavily scrutinized. There's an awful ton of pressure being the guy who nets Dwight Howard, or the guy who the Lakers refused to part with because of. A little over halfway through the season, he finally seems on the cusp of being the guy who led the Lakers to a 17-1 post All-Star stretch last season. Being a guy good enough for the Lakers to make a minor move to improve the Lakers with him, and not the major piece being moved because he isn't. More on him tomorrow....
Here are Kobe's stats for the week:
34.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 4.0 turnovers per game in 35 minutes per game. He shot 24-of-47 for 51.1% from the floor, including 1-of-6 from 3-Point range for 16.6%.
2/29 vs. Wolves:
3/2 vs. Kings:
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