Lakers guard Kobe Bryant acknowledges shooting problems, but presence is still valued
On one half of the sideline in the Lakers practice facility stood the media, either engaged in one-on-one interviews or watching what was happening on the other half of the practice court. There was Lakers guard Kobe Bryant with two kids of a friend. The competition featured a game of H-O-R-S-E and then a game of one-on-one with one of the kids that featured Bryant dribbling around him, blocking one of his shots and displaying some of his post up moves.
"No mercy," Bryant said, laughing afterward. "There’s nothing wrong with posting up a little kid. If he wants to play one on one, he knows full well what he was getting into."
While Bryant dazzled the youngster with his presence and skills, there were also times Bryant earned letters in H-O-R-S-E. This whole session was all in good fun, obviously, so there's really nothing to draw from it rather than some chuckles. But the reason I bring it up is that some of the missed shots mixed with his usual greatness symbolized the dichotomy Bryant is currently experiencing. And it's something that left Lakers Coach Phil Jackson saying, "Kobe playing like how he is, it's hard to judge who we are right now."
Since returning from a left ankle sprain that kept him sidelined for five games, Bryant returned last week against Memphis and put together a dazzling 32 points on 13 of 19 shooting as well as his sixth game-winner. But in the following three games, Bryant went 19 of 56 (33%) from the field. But in the last two games he provided a facilitating role. In the Lakers' 99-90 victory Friday over the Philadelphia 76ers, Bryant had eight assists and was largely responsible for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combining for 43 points. In the Lakers' most recent win -- a 95-89 victory over the Denver Nuggets -- the Lakers veered out of the triangle offense in the second half and used Bryant on the post drawing double teams. It resulted in more open space, a season-high 12 assists and more opportunities for other players, such as Lamar Odom (20 points), Ron Artest (17 points) and Gasol (14 points). It's an effort ESPN Los Angeles' Kevin Arnovitz and the Kamenetzky Brothers documented well.
I asked Bryant whether there was a correlation between his shooting problems and his willingness to embrace the facilitating role, or if the adjustment is based more on the defensive matchups. He tactfully dismissed the former factor ("I think people make too much of it") and highlighted the latter factor ("I just do what the defense dictates"). The spirit of my question was more for clarity and insight into his thought process, but the reason really doesn't matter.
That's because he has helped the Lakers win games, both with his scoring tendencies (six game-winners) and his recent facilitating role. His recent role isn't something that's exciting fantasy league owners or fans wanting Bryant to win the league MVP. But even though the Lakers and Bryant are eager for him to improve his shooting numbers, it's really nothing to fret about so long as Bryant is productive in other facets of the game.
Bryant appeared to embody that willingness to adapt, while also speaking candidly to reporters about his overall game. He said he's not worried about his current shooting numbers ("I had a lot of time off where I wasn’t able to shoot the basketball"). He didn't seem concerned with his decreased lift in his jumper or how healthy his ankle is ("For the most part, I felt fine"). And he was perhaps a bit too honest about his three of 17 clip against Denver ("I would say it is a little [messed] up").
Bryant's shooting troubles aren't new. His aggravated right index finger led to a field-goal percentage of 41.2% in January. And though there were games in which he did play a facilitating role during that stretch, there were others where his hurt finger didn't stop him from taking too many shots. This time around, however, Bryant has stayed consistent with one thing. Whether it's through a game-winning shot (Memphis) or by directing the offense (Philadelphia and Denver), Bryant's return has had a positive effect on the Lakers' offense (the following charts, courtesy of Statsheet.com, show his statistical effect against Memphis, Philadelphia and Denver)
Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.orgPhoto: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant splits the defense of Denver guards Chauncey Billups, left, and Arron Afflalo in the first quarter Sunday. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.