This is the first in a series of posts awarding midseason grades to some members of the Lakers.
Player: Kobe Bryant
How he performed: Averaged a league-leading 28.7 points per game on 43.5% shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists.
The good: Bryant discovered the fountain of youth again after having innovative procedures this off-season on his surgically repaired right knee and left ankle. Even with a torn ligament in his right wrist, Bryant strung a four-game stretch where he scored at least 40 points, the first time he's done so since 2007. As erratic as the Laker offense is, they would be in even worse shape had Bryant not performed at such a prolific rate.
Bryant also delivered some tremendous locker room leadership. Though he criticized the team's decision to trade Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks, Bryant still gave the front office a vote of confidence. That is, until last week when he blasted Laker brass for not providing clarity on whether Pau Gasol would be traded before the March 15 deadline. Bryant's comments helped rally the team together.
The bad: As amazing as Bryant's scoring output has been, it hasn't always been a good thing. He went on a seven-game stretch in February where he shot 37% from the field. The Lakers' fourth-quarter execution also routinely breaks down because the offense mostly features Bryant in isolation sets. That has resulted in both Andrew Bynum and Gasol being underutilized.
Lakers Coach Mike Brown has also mishandled Bryant's minutes. His average of 38.2 minutes a game exceeds the 33-35 minutes Brown hoped to assign Bryant. Say all you want about the Lakers' poor depth, Bryant will be much more valuable with maximum health and energy in the playoffs rather than by playing extra minutes to improve the team's playoff seeding.
It's easy to overlook Bryant's greatness. He entered the 2011-12 season with injury questions, but has shown thus far that his off-season medical treatment and full-time determination can keep him going.
Still, Brown needs to use Bryant differently in the second half of the season. It's unhealthy for the team's development for Bryant to have such a heavy burden on offense with both his minutes and production.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant, right, Shawn Marion. Credit: Larry Smith / European Press Agency.