Even if the NBA didn’t have a lockout this summer. Even if the league wasn’t cramming 66 games into a four month season. Even if the CP3 trade wasn’t vetoed, or the Lakers didn’t jettison Lamar Odom in the aftermath of the veto, one thing was already certain heading into the 2011-12 season.
Kobe Bean Bryant is no longer a top-10 player in this league.
Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo. All players that any intelligent general manager would take right now over Kobe Bryant. And rightfully so. Bryant is still an elite player, just not upper crust elite. He’s barely hitting 40 percent from the field yet still forcing shot after shot as though this were 2006, and he’s routinely turning the ball over (league high 28 through six games) at the worst times. The injury to his hand has only exacerbated the fact that his handle is one of the worst among players currently starting at the two guard position (seriously, the only players still falling for his crossover move are the ones older than he is). Its not a knock, its just an accurate observation.
Grade Bryant’s play in the fourth quarter of the last two games against the Denver Nuggest through the lens of an NBA2K My Player, and you’d end up losing so many skill points that you would quit, erase the data, and start create an entirely new guy. Take a look:
12/31/2012 – (Kobe enters the game at 9:17 for Metta World Peace): 8:45, 22-foot jumper made Bad Shot Selection/Made Basket. 7:37, 25-foot jumper missed Hold Ball Too Long/Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket. 7:13, 17-foot jumper made Good Shot Selection/Made Basket. 6:26, 26-foot three-pointer missed Hold Ball Too Long/Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket. 6:11, Kobe gets a rebound Defensive Rebound, and tries to drive on Rudy Fernandez, has the ball stolen, and is called for a technical foul Hold Ball Too Long/Lose Ball/Turnover. Three minutes pass, and despite some poor defensive possesions by Kobe, the Lakers make a late push to get within five points, 89-84. 3:23, Kobe has an assist to Andrew Bynum Assist/Pass Leading to And-One. 1:37, Kobe grabs a defensive rebound Defensive Rebound, misses an open 23-footer Good Shot Selection/Missed Basket, 0:49, loses the ball in the post Lose Ball/Turnover, 0:07, misses a 25-footer. With seven seconds left, he allows Danilo Gallinari to beat him back to the defensive end of the court Hold Ball Too Long/Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket/Poor Transition Defense, but Gallinari misses the layup. Bryant grabbed the defensive rebound Defensive Rebound and was fouled with one second left. He missed one of two free throws Missed Free Throw/Made Free Throw.
The very next night…
1/1/2012 - (Kobe enters the game at 8:27 for Jason Kapono with score tied at 76-76) 7:45, misses 25-footer Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket. 7:07, makes a 4-foot runner Hold Ball Too Long/Made Basket. 6:52, misses 22-footer Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket. 6:20, misses 11-footer Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket. 4:28, turnover on a bad pass attempt Bad Pass/Turnover. 4:05, assist to Pau Gasol layup Assist. 3:44, makes 20-footer Good Shot Selection/Made Basket. 3:12, misses 22-footer Bad Shot Selection/Missed Shot. 3:09, poor defensive rotation allows Danilo Gallinari to score Allow Inside Pass/Allow Man to Score. 2:47, scores on a cut to the basket Good Shot Selection/Made Basket. 2:13, misses 25-footer Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket, and fails to get back on defense, allowing Gallinari a dunk Bad Transition Defense/Allow Man to Score. 1:21, bad pass is stolen by Andre Miller Jump to Pass/Turnover leading to a fastbreak layup by Ty Lawson Turnover Leading to Fastbreak Score. 1:07, misses another 25-footer Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket. 0:23, misses a 26-footer Bad Shot Selection/Missed Basket.
He’s still a quality player, and if the right thingss are in place, you can still win with Kobe. New Lakers head coach Mike Brown’s defense-first approach has already had a impact on this team, and from this observer’s vantage point, the last remaining piece needed is for Kobe to realize his shortcomings and make the proper adjustments (namely feed the big men, play team defense, and realize that he is to rising star Andrew Bynum what Shaq was to young Kobe back in 2000).
Though the sample size is small, Bynum has shown in his first two games back from suspension that at the very least he should be the Lakers secondary offensive option. He’s averaging 23.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks while shooting 67 percent from the field. Bynum carried the Lakers to victory in the first matchup against the Nuggets on New Year’s Eve, and seemed prime to do th esame on New Year’s Day were it not for Bryant insisting upon launching 25-footers and giving the ball away. From almost the nine minute mark up until the game’s final ten seconds, Bynum was frozen out (zero shot attempts) while Bryant took ten shots, hitting on only three of them. In fact, Bryant took more shots in the fourth quarter than Bynum and Pau Gasol combined, even though Pau led all scorers with 20 points, and Bynum had 18.
Kobe was 6 for 28 from the field… Those are Game Seven NBA Finals numbers… Those are Denver Broncos quarterback numbers…
At thirty-three years old, Kobe Bryant should apply the less is more addage to his play on the court. He can’t carry an entire team by himself anymore the way he could in 2006, and the good news is, he doesn’t have to. The Lakers aren’t even asking him to. They’re asking him to be a team player, something the previous administration tried, failed, and won championships in spite of.
Through a jam packed week’s worth of games, the Lakers have proven that they have acquired the right blend of talent and personailities to compete in the Western Conference this season. They are in no way prohibitive favorites, but they have an identity: tough, scrappy, defensive minded team with two bigs who can score, and a guy who used to be the best player in the NBA.
SLAM Online’s Marel Mutoni assessed 2012 Kobe Bryant through a tweet after last night’s loss. “Kobe’s no-trade clause,” he said, “plus his stubborn refusal to accept his basketball mortality will make the next three years a hilarious disaster.”
This could be true, or Kobe could acknowledge those things we all know to be true, and adjust his game accordingly. Either way, say goodbye to Kobe Bryant as the best player in the NBA, because he’s left the building.