Kobe Bryant's surpassing Hakeem Olajuwon on NBA's all-time scoring list brings focus on his continual study of the game
It would have been fitting had Kobe Bryant surpassed Hakeem Olajuwon for eighth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list in the Lakers' 100-95 loss Friday to the Sacramento Kings with a signature post-up move, a fitting symbolic tribute to the work the two put in two summers ago to enhance Bryant's post game.
Instead, Bryant surpassed Olajuwon's 26,946 career points with a breakaway dunk with 3:29 remaining, but perhaps the rest of Bryant's 38-point performance on 14 of 27 shooting properly showcased how his ability to score in numerous ways reveals his hunger in mastering all the facets that go into scoring. His performance featured a wide-range approach on how to score, with Hoopdata revealing he went 2-of-2 at the rim, 3-of-7 from shots within 10 feet, 4-of-6 from attempts within 10-15 feet, 2-of-4 from jumpers within 16-23 feet and a 2-of-8 mark from three-point range.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson downplayed the influence Olajuwon had on Bryant with his postwork, saying Bryant's always been an effective post player and adding a dig at The Dream.
"Hakeem had this move that bordered on a walk or travel," Jackson said. "You guys always laugh at that stuff. [Kevin] McHale had that one too and it was very hard to duplicate that. It was a shoulder-shrug, shake and bake thing that he had and he came back in the opposite. He was so quick at it. Kobe has good post up moves. I'm sure he learned some about posting up, but he couldn't imitate Olajuwon's move."
"It's not so much important to what degree Olajuwon influenced Bryant. It's that it's part of an ongoing effort in continuously finding new wrinkles to help him remain an offensive force. That's revealed in the various ways Bryant has gotten on the scoreboard in the past six seasons. According to Synergy, most of Bryant’s offense during that stretch came in isolation plays, ranging from 29.4% to 38%. But this season, Bryant's areas of scoring came in isolation (29.4%), post-ups (16.3%), pick-and-rolls (15.1%) and transition baskets (9.9%). Considering the jump from October, November, December and January in points per game (24, 27.2, 23.7, 23.7) and field-goal percentage (45.45%, 42.37%, 47.25%, 49.78), it also shows Bryant's increased his level of efficiency. That's why it's not surprising that Bryant's work with Olajuwon reflected both players' appreciation for fine-tuning their craft.
"It's always the detail that separates the great players from the greatest players," Bryant said. "It's no different with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], Michael [Jordan] and the others, it's the attention to detail that separates those guys."
It's also something that separates Bryant because that attention to detail goes beyond his post-work with Olajuwon, which the Black Mamba said, "I learned a great deal obviously from him in the post game, recognizing double teams and how to deal with those." Nursing an avulsion fracture in his right index finger and a sprained right knee for most of last season, Bryant's shot understandably proved more difficult. The effort to overcome that obstacle involved Bryant simply grinding it out and playing through it. But it also entailed fine-tuning his shooting approach to maximize efficiency.
"When his index finger had an avulsion fracture on it, we just transferred more of the pressure on his release to his middle finger," Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person said. "It takes him some reminding and some thought process on his part to remind himself [he] can't shoot the ball the same way and that [he has] to put more pressure on [the] middle finger and ... ring finger. But it also helped me correct some things in his shot. When his right knee was hurting at the time, we had him put more pressure on the left side of his body, which he understood some of the things I was trying to do. Some of the shots he couldn't orchestrate, but he knew his spots and where he needed to get to in order to make baskets."
Should Bryant maintain his season-average of 25 points per game, Bryant (26,972) would move to sixth place by the end of the season, surpassing both Moses Malone (27,409) and Elvin Hayes (27,313). With Bryant nearing closer and closer to toward the tail end of his career (his contract ends after the 2013-2014 season), it'll become necessary in remaining open to finding nuances to elevate that skillset. It's surely a role Bryant will be eager to take.
"It's just fun for me," Bryant said. "I enjoy what I do. So you love what you do, you're constantly looking for ways to do it better or do it different. I just love the game so I'm constantly around it."
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant soars to the hoop for a breakaway dunk against the Sacramento Kings for his 20th and 21st points of the first half Friday night, when he passed Hakeem Olajuwon for eighth on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times