Lakers report card: Kobe Bryant provides a mixed blessing
This is the fifth in a series of posts grading the Lakers on their efforts in the 2011-12 season.
Player: Kobe Bryant, Lakers guard
How he performed: 27.9 points on 43% shooting and 4.6 assists in 38.5 minutes per game in the regular season; 30 points on 43.9% shooting and 4.8 assists in 39.7 minutes per game in the postseason.
The good: Reports of Bryant’s demise proved to be greatly exaggerated. It turns out he simply needed an innovative procedure on his surgically repaired right knee and sprained left ankle to turn back the clock. Bryant provided so many reminders of just how dominant he remains despite the challenging circumstances surrounding him.
He entered the season with a torn ligament in his right wrist. No problem. Bryant went on a four-game tear in mid-January where he scored at least 40 points a game. He suffered a concussion and a broken nose during the All-Star game and needed to wear a plastic mask simply to play. Not an issue. Bryant dropped at least 30 points in the next three games. He entered Game 6 of the Lakers’ first-round series against Denver battling intestinal flu symptoms. That didn’t matter. Bryant played out of his mind by scoring 31 points on 13-for-23 shooting, while everyone else played as if they had a stomach virus.
All the greatness Bryant bestowed upon the Lakers featured everything you’d expect. He operated in the post, making stepback fadeaways and pull-up jumpers off efficient footwork. Bryant drove to the basket so much that he drew the most fouls since the 2006-07 season. In the 2012 NBA playoffs, Bryant dropped at least 40 points in two games and at least 30 points in five of them. For how dysfunctional and unorganized the Lakers’ offense looked at times this season, his league-leading clip for most of the season helped bail the team out.
The body of work left everyone not necessarily amazed at the actual feat. Everyone’s seen Bryant do this countless times. It left everyone in awe because of how many obstacles he had to overcome just to stay dominant. And that’s just talking about his on-court performance.
As far as his leadership goes, Bryant built enough cache both within the team and fan base that it would’ve been understandable if he lost his cool this year. But he didn’t.
Bryant’s stony silence this summer showed his frustration the front office didn’t alert him about the hiring of Mike Brown as coach. But Bryant immediately bought in and supported him, even when Brown weirdly benched him late in a regular-season game for unknown reasons. Bryant remained honest in his disapproval of the Lamar Odom trade and for hanging Pau Gasol’s playing future in the wind. But he still gave the Lakers’ front office public support, both toward General Manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Jim Buss.
As with everyone within the organization, Bryant stayed patient with Andrew Bynum’s maturity issues. Still, he seemed to be the only one Bynum really listened to once Derek Fisher was traded. Bryant could’ve hung out in the trainer’s room as he missed seven games because of a right shin injury. But he sat on the bench and became a de facto assistant coach. Bryant could’ve chased his fourth scoring title had he played in the season finale, but he opted for more rest.
Simply put, Bryant’s on-court brilliance and off-court leadership helped the Lakers appear to be championship contenders even when the rest of the team’s makeup suggested the Lakers had no shot.
The bad: For all the good qualities Bryant showed both in his play and leadership, the Lakers’ start offered a few bad examples that proved too destructible.
First, involves how he carried the Lakers. Brown took a shortcut by leaning too heavily on Bryant’s services. That resulted in Bryant averaging 38.5 minutes per game despite Brown’s numerous proclamations he’s play him between 33-35 minutes a night. It also contributed to Bryant shooting at a 43% clip, his lowest mark since his second year in the NBA. Say all you want about the Lakers’ inconsistent bench and transition period under a new system. But the Lakers would’ve been better served if they worked on finding the perfect balance between Bryant, Bynum and Gasol. Instead, Bryant devoted a 27.9% plurality of his shots on isolation shots where he shot only 37.3%. Meanwhile, Brown found no scenarios to limit Bryant’s playing time until a shin injury left the Lakers’ coach with no other choice.
There were also instances where his high volume shooting hurt the team. Bryant and Brown somehow defended his six-for-28 clip in a New Year’s Day loss to Denver despite Bynum and Gasol going over 60% from the field in that game. Brown first criticized Bryant for shooting nine for 31 in a regular-season loss to Washington, but then quickly apologized even though the film showed they were bad shots. And then in two games of the Lakers-Thunder series, Bryant’s trigger-happy tendencies in the fourth quarter played a huge part in the team’s unraveling.
But Bryant didn’t own up to those mistakes. He showed frustration that Metta World Peace didn’t pass him the ball on the final play of Game 2 even though he wasn’t open. Bryant put too much blame on Gasol’s turnover despite going two for 10 from the field in the fourth quarter. That ending soured an otherwise tremendous season.
As with anything regarding Bryant, his talent remains a blessing and a curse. A blessing because he remains one of the greats. A curse because sometimes it causes teammates to defer to him or Bryant to take over way too much. For the most part, Bryant struck a right balance between the two, but the circumstances varied from game to game. Regardless, the Lakers’ playoff unraveling clearly showed they can’t solely rely on Bryant’s play, no matter how impressive it still is.
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