Lakers and Kobe Bryant each share a nuanced view on his scoring tendencies
This issue will never reach universal agreement. This issue will always spark heated reactions from both sides of the argument. And the validity of those arguments will be based on the details surrounding each game.
We're talking of course about Kobe Bryant and his scoring mentality, an issue that has remained prevalent throughout his 15-year career, but one that has softened the last three seasons because of his supporting cast. Still, the never-resolved debate on when Bryant's ability to score at will becomes a team necessity, or something that just hurts the team in the long run, typically reaches conflicting viewpoints. The issue has popped up recently with the Lakers (23-11) entering Tuesday's game at Staples Center against the Detroit Pistons losing four of their last six games, a stretch where the Lakers have mostly lacked an offensive identity and a stretch where Bryant has taken 103 of the team's 384 shots and made only 45 of them.
The Lakers welcomed the debate after Monday's practice at the team's facility in El Segundo, a day after Lakers Coach Phil Jackson shared nuanced comments about Bryant scoring 17 of his team-high 28 points in the third quarter of the Lakers' 104-85 loss Sunday to the Memphis Grizzlies.
"We get behind early in the third quarter on some stupid plays, poor passing and poor transition defense," Jackson said after the game. "Kobe has to screw up the game and start energizing the team by going one on one. It takes the rest of the guys out. As a consequence, that didn't bring us back in. It did give us a little bit of run. But we couldn't sustain it. We came right back and made the same mistakes again."
Jackson clarified his comments after Monday's practice, aware that the term "screw up" threw out the wrong connotation and made it much easier to take his quote out of context.
"When the game starts getting out of hand, rightfully so, Kobe will crank it up, not screw it up," Jackson said. "I use that term screw it up but not in terms of being an error or mistake, but crank it up and he'll go to another notch to try to get us back in a ball game. That's something we do in the fourth quarter. That's our fourth quarter action. That's how we win ball games. We have to crank it up and do it in the fourth quarter. We didnt have much in the gas tank after that."
Before you conclude Jackson and Bryant are having behind-the-scenes turmoil, take a deep breath. Jackson's comments above and Bryant's comments below characterize the same view in that his scoring spree certainly takes others out of the game offensively, but becomes a necessary evil when the Lakers' game plan in running the triangle and finding shots for Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom isn't working. Bryant scored 15 consecutive points and cut the Grizzlies' lead to 58-56 with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter, but the team allowed Memphis to end the period with a 79-62 lead. Bryant hadn't tried taking over the game earlier since Bynum, Gasol and Odom scored 16 of the team's 18 points in the first quarter. They only scored seven the rest of the way, as the team became plagued with poor ball and player movement while committing 20 turnovers. The fact the Lakers' offense also collapsed after Bryant's hot shooting wasn't a byproduct of his scoring spree because it wasn't there in the first place.
"I've been around Phil for as many years as I have, we all understand that he likes coaching publicly," Bryant said. "I think it's important for the new guys to understand that -- Ron, Pau, guys have issues with that. You see myself, you see Fish, we understand that's how he coaches. It's fine. Let him do his job and you go about your business. But he was right. I totally broke the offense. But I did it intentionally because we needed to get something started. We were doing it and it wasn't working. I tried to kick-start it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But that's my responsibility. When it works out, great. When it doesn't, take the criticism for it but I have thick enough skin to be able to do that.
"I was trying to win the game," Bryant continued. "We were playing like. . . . We all were. I was trying to get something going and pump a little energy to us and get something going. It just didn't work out. Phil doesn't care how many shots I take. He just wants me to take it inside the offense. Yesterday was one of those things where it was [get away from] the triangle, I need to get something going and try to save this damn game."
What adds more intrigue to Bryant's scoring mentality is the other four games revealed other tendencies regarding his scoring spree. Very little of the offense worked against Miami and San Antonio, but his combined 15-of 43 shooting shows his unwillingness to make changes when his shot didn't fall. With Bynum, Gasol and Odom combining for 53 points in the Lakers' 103-88 victory Wednesday over New Orleans, Bryant gladly took a backseat and scored 20 points on an eight-of-14 clip. And with the offense again out of sync last week against Philadelphia, Bryant scored 10 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter to secure a 102-98 victory. Clearly, the appropriateness of Bryant's scoring sprees are based on what's happening in the game, a sentiment Gasol acknowledged.
"We all are familiar with his game and ability to score and ability to take over games," Gasol said. "Sometimes it's a double edged sword. It can keep you in the games and sometimes win you games, but it can also lose you games. We're more effective and more successful when our offense is balanced and everybody is contributing. We all know that.
"We're in good shape when everybody is scoring 10-plus points and getting good looks. The offense will do that for you. Everybody should be responsible for that. We all have to be aware of our advantages and strengths. From our perspective, maybe because I'm one of the inside guys, we should be pounding guys every night. No matter what. Then play off that. I don't think me and Andrew have the need to shoot and get over 20 attempts a game. But if we set the tone early and keep getting the ball in there, it creates penetration and defenses have to adjust. We put guys in foul trouble, That's some things we want to continue to and focus on."
The Lakers did just that against Memphis, as indicated by the front line's strong start. But with Gasol committing five turnovers, Bynum acknowledging he lacked aggressiveness and Odom falling into the same trap, Bryant took matters into his own hands. That doesn't absolve him of blame from his three turnovers or his poor effort on defense. But as far as scoring? Bryant played the right card and put the Lakers in the best position to win. The rest of the team just didn't respond.
"I think we call it Kobedar," Bynum said. "Everybody just gives the ball to him and watches. When we play like that, it's tough for everybody to get into a rhythm."
Clearly, the whole team, Bryant included, agrees in theory on the mechanics over when it's suitable to take over games. But he poses an additional challenge. How does a team measure that in a game that's often based on feel and momentum? Jackson argued last season that Bryant's scoring sprees become warranted when he shoots at least 50%. There's the Lakers' 18-3 mark when he shoots fewer than 20 shots. And Jackson and Fisher have argued in past seasons that teammates shouldn't pass Bryant the ball if his scoring spree comes at the expense of a productive offense. The Lakers have shown a mixed bag in that department.
But at least the Lakers agree in theory on how Bryant should run the offense. The next step entails ensuring consistent execution.
"There've been nights when I've done it and nights where it worked and everything is fine and nights like the other night," Bryant said, referring to the Lakers' loss to San Antonio. "You take the good with the bad. That's part of the job in the seat that I sit. It is what it is."
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