Kobe Bryant named to NBA's all-defensive first team for ninth time
In an honor that NBA coaches must mostly determine by reputation, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant made a league-tying ninth appearance on the NBA's all-defensive first team list.
That total puts Bryant in a four-way tie with Kevin Garnett, Michael Jordan and Gary Payton for the most All-Defensive First team honors in NBA history, but even the most vocal Bryant supporters admit that he's mostly avoided playing defense this season out of injury and energy-level concerns. There's no doubt Bryant was once a great defender, has a strong defensive awareness and helps with pointing out where teammates need to rotate, but his responsibility playing the centerfield position hardly warrants him having stronger consideration than even some of his teammates.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum took a large ownership of the team's defensive scheme that emphasized funneling drivers to the lane, averaged two blocks a game and intimidated players with his length and size, a huge reason why the Lakers went 17-1 after the All-Star break. Though the effort came with varying degrees of consistency, Lakers forward Ron Artest was often counted on to shut down the opposing teams' top player and closing out perimeter shooters, a quality that gave the Lakers a huge advantage when Artest lived up to that billing.
That doesn't necessarily mean Bynum and Artest should appear on the NBA's all-defensive first team in place of Orlando's Dwight Howard, Miami's LeBron James, Boston's Rajon Rondo, or Boston's Kevin Garnett or on the second team in front of Memphis' Tony Allen, New Orleans' Chris Paul, Dallas' Tyson Chandler, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, or Chicago's Joakim Noah. But there's no question that Bynum and Artest played a larger role in the Lakers' defense than Bryant. This isn't necessarily a knock on Kobe. His role was to score and he played tremendous defense when he needed to, such as when he primarily guarded Paul in Game 2 of the Lakers-Hornets first-round series. But he's hardly the defensive stalwart he once was, even if the awards suggest otherwise.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant cuts off the drive of New Orleans point guard Chris Paul during Game 3 of their first-round playoff series. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / April 22, 2011.