March 25, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) looks on during the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Lakers 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers: Why Kobe Bryant Will Still Be Effective

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“Did Kobe die or something?”

Charles Barkley is distinguished for always issuing a reaction to the debates on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James‘ comparisons to Michael Jordan.  It’s hysterical, simply due to the fact people feel the need to spark a comparison every time a player does something outstanding.

Let it stop.  Let it all stop.

It won’t …. but we can beg, right?

Bryant

Apr 12, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) walks with a medical staff member against the Golden State Warriors during the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Each individual is fascinating in their own respective nature, but if you’re going to compare the three, do it logically.  Do it without disrespect, and look at all viewpoints. That will come in the ensuing weeks, here at HoopsHabit.

There’s a superstar that’s making his return on NBA’s opening night this October, after being sidelined with the fractured lateral tibial plateau in December.  It’s not Derrick Rose, although he’ll be returning to action, too.  Between Bryant and Rose, the two have experienced the toughest injury luck you can imagine in the last two years.  We say two years, because that’s when Rose suffered the ACL injury of his life in the first round of the 2012 Playoffs.

Bryant’s journey has been different, as he’s went through two major surgeries (Achilles tendon & lateral tibia) that are completely separate from any ACL issue.

While Rose played in 10 games this past season, Bryant could only lace up for six, and had more rust that we could remember any polished Kobe Bryant have through the years.

He appeared overweight.  He wasn’t mentally ready to come out and take the physical grind with a surgically-repaired Achilles.

Of course, someone named the Black Mamba won’t come out and admit that, but there’s always a truth and actuality.

“He’s too old.”  That’s true, Bryant will play at age 36 next season.

“He took too much money from the Lakers with that doltish contract.”  In the larger context, maybe it was too much for an organization that needs to allure free agents this summer.

“He won’t be the same, ever again.”  Still, those critics may have a point.  In all honesty, can we ever expect him to average 32.4 points and 7.4 assists in the Finals again (2009)?

No, because the Western Conference is so devilish, that even if Mitch Kupchak surrounded Bryant with sensational role players, and Pau Gasol again, the Lakers wouldn’t find themselves competing with this year’s Spurs or Thunder.  They wouldn’t even have the firepower to claim a top six or seven seed in the playoffs.  Send Kobe out East by himself, and you have a chance at grabbing a three spot.

Bryant

Jan 9, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) takes a shot over San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) during the second half at the AT&T Center. The Spurs won 108-105. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

As for the age, let’s stop acting like that’s the main concern.

Before the Achilles tear, we witnessed barely any decline in his game during his 17th season.  The injuries are what matter, not the age.  Manu Ginobili is even more active as a perimeter player — playing with more speed, and having more point guard qualities — and he just put on a show for the ages in the 2014 Playoffs.  At almost 37.

In the six games Bryant was able to suit up for, all we were exposed to was 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game.  Throw in the 5.7 turnovers per contest too, as he lost a little feel for the game taking the whole Summer 2013 off.  The speed wasn’t there, and his passes weren’t crisp to start off his season.

Remember, his first game was on a Sunday hosting the Toronto Raptors, followed by facing the quickest and most fastbreak-happy team in the league, Phoenix.  It’s hard enough to play efficiently against athletic defenses, but there was no break given to Kobe — by the media — for having 11 combined turnovers in those first two games.

His next outing, traveling to Oklahoma City, featured just a four-point game, but he played the facilitating role most of that night, assisting to teammates 13 times.  18 turnovers through three games.

Bryant’s last three games before going down again — Charlotte, Atlanta, Memphis — saw a 16.6 point per game average, with two of those being 21-point performances.  People will fail to remember, though, that Bryant knocked down a demoralizing bucket in the closing minutes of the win at Memphis ….. with a fractured knee.

He’ll be old, and he’ll be living in the final two years of his career.  But, Bryant will be no scrub, because his game and play style don’t designate that term.

First, the glaring changes we’re seeing with his health.

Before the playoffs, Bryant revealed that he was 100 percent from a health standpoint, and that his 6-month training program was designed to help him get into “basketball shape.”

Now, two months later, and he’s appearing on numerous talk shows, offering his intelligence to the people.  Bryant’s helping the production of advanced sports drinks, specifically made for keeping athletes safe.

What’s the biggest difference?

He appears slimmer, more lean.  His body doesn’t appear bloated, puffy like Dwyane Wade appeared in these NBA Finals.

It’s always been remarkable to me how much he takes care of his body, even when he slacks at times.  For example, he admitted to the public that all he ate during the Achilles rehabilitation was junk food.  For an area as vast an prosperous as Hollywood, that could be absolutely anything.  You can just sense Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, bringing him all types of unhealthy nonsense while he’s watching San Antonio and Miami in the 2013 Finals.  Hating every second of it, he would add.

Fed up with it, he worked behind the scenes these past three months, finally getting clearance to move on from the stationary bicycle.  In October, Bryant lost five pounds in one day via workouts and proper nutrition.  He has all summer to get into shape, and people will never realize how much that makes a difference, despite what your age says.

When it pertains to being successful this season, Bryant needs to play his own game.

Many people argue that he has to vanish away from the type of game he used to play — the superstar’s game — and be more of a role player.

What has to be understood, is that it’s easier said than done.  In fact, if you don’t have the DNA that enables you to do it … it becomes impossible.  That statement, shouted by fans and media members, is one that normally holds true for frontcourt specimens, such as Tim Duncan.

Duncan just collected his fifth championship while averaging 15.4 points and 10 rebounds in the Finals.  When he was considered the ultimate superstar on his team, say during the 2003 Finals, Duncan took the Nets by the throat with 24.2 points and 17 boards per game.

Frontcourt players are easier to translate into role players — after being superstars for the longest time — because their decrease in speed and agility is more visible.  It becomes clearer to coaches, general managers, and more importantly, your competition.  More backcourt athletes are brought along on rosters to help carry the load, and produce the scoring.

For guys that have been accustomed to the superstar role for years (approximately 2001-2013 for Bryant), it’s not that simple.

Why?

Well, one reason is that it’s tough for Kupchak to reach out via free agency and find someone with more skill, and basketball IQ than the guy the team has been paying since 1996.  Dwight Howard wanted to be the successor and the first option, but Bryant was on a tear two years ago, in his record-breaking year at age 34.

Bryant still has the offense, the jump shot, the decision-making out of post-ups, and ability to draw fouls.  It gives him more than enough to be on the superstar level offensively.  If you have your doubts on that, re-visit the moves he was making with the ball vs. Phoenix, with one of the better perimeter defenders (P.J. Tucker) draped all over him on Dec. 10.  Then, flash back to his two-man passing ability with Gasol during the loss to the Thunder.

Defensively, a player is dependent upon foot speed, endurance, and size.  That’s where Bryant may cost the Lakers, unless they draft a point guard that’s able to keep him off the opposing floor generals.  Too many times we have witnessed Bryant electing to guard the opposing point guard, because nobody else was capable.  Steve Nash?  Don’t make me chuckle.  Not today.

It’s all still magic when he’s making a defender guess his next move.  It just doesn’t have the rim-breaking aggressiveness in the paint that makes you jump out of your seat.  There will be moments for scowls and posterizations at age 36, and Ginobili proved us right on that during Sunday’s Game 5.  But to expect athleticism to match the Kevin Durant‘s, Kawhi Leonard‘s, or LeBron James’ of the world is absurd.  Put it in perspective, too, and understand LeBron and Durant will both be 36 one day as well.

It makes you wonder if you’re truly cherishing the time these guy’s have in their prime, at their peak.

Father Time is undefeated.

But if anyone had to pick a guy that could put Father Time on a poster, or spin around him for a jumper ….. you know who you’re taking.

 

 

Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and HoopsHabit.com.   For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.

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Tags: Kobe Bryant Kobe Contract Kobe Injury Los Angeles Lakers Steve Nash Western Conference

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