Those who gripe that Kobe Bryant shoots too much must concede one point.
Actually, two or three, on nearly every Lakers possession.
The veteran guard has been scoring almost any time he wants thanks to a career rebirth that features the best shooting accuracy of his 17 seasons with the Lakers.
He also just concluded a December in which his averages of 33.79 points, 5.57 rebounds and 4.64 assists were the highest cumulative marks in those categories in any month in his career.
At 34, Bryant has essentially flipped the calendar backward heading into 2013.
“It’s probably the best I’ve played in a while,” Bryant said Monday, citing an improved diet and Coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense, among other factors. “I’ve had years the last few years where I felt pretty good but we kept my minutes down, so the numbers didn’t look the same.”
Now they’re prompting double-takes around the NBA.
Bryant leads the league in scoring, averaging 30.1 points per game, his most prolific output since he averaged 31.6 points during the 2006-07 season.
“I’m sure if he wanted,” forward Metta World Peace said of Bryant, “he could go out there and get 50 some nights or maybe even 60 or maybe more.”
Bryant scored at least 30 points in 10 consecutive games before producing 27 points in only three quarters Friday against Portland. His 47.8% shooting for the season would represent a career high if he can sustain it.
Not that Bryant isn’t hoping his shooting accuracy improves now that Steve Nash has returned from a lengthy absence. “You get so many easy backdoor cuts and things like that,” Bryant said.
Bryant said D’Antoni’s offense has already enhanced his shooting efficiency by allowing him to play with the court spread.
“In the past, in the triangle,” Bryant said, “you always had somebody in the post, somebody in the block, so there was really no room to penetrate and get to the basket, so you end up shooting pull-up jump shots most of the time.”
Bryant has produced one number too high for D’Antoni’s liking: his 38.7 minutes per game, Bryant’s most in three seasons. D’Antoni hopes to lower that figure by having Bryant sit out fourth quarters of blowout victories as he did Friday against the Trail Blazers.
Ultimately, Bryant said, his improvement started with the realization that there were things even a player bound for the Hall of Fame could do better.
“I think that’s the thing that catches guys most of the time is they don’t do self-assessment,” he said. “They feel like they can go out there and do some of the things they did when they were younger. ...
I’ve been able to be honest with myself and had to cut down a lot of things and eat very healthy.”
Bryant drastically modified his diet, helping him lose 16 pounds before last summer’s Olympics. No more pepperoni pizza and grape soda, the calorie-laden meal he consumed the night in 2006 when he scored 81 points against Toronto.
“It’s been really tough for me to go see a movie and not have Sour Patch Kids,” Bryant said. “I would get popcorn, Sour Patch Kids, a soda. I just can’t do it. I might have a little bit of popcorn with a bottle of water.”
The approach has worked for a player who has been a smorgasbord of production for the Lakers.
“You watch him from Phoenix and New York and you get one opinion, which is good,” D’Antoni said, “but you coach him and then you start to appreciate what he goes through and how he gets himself ready every game. You have to really respect what he’s doing.”