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Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's Wrong with Kobe Bryant? Nothing a Time Machine Wouldnt Fix

After a dreadful shooting night against San Antonio on Dec 28 in which Kobe Bryant went  8 for 27 , including a stretch of 13 consecutive misses, there were more than a few raised eyebrows and loud murmurs (see Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol) about #24's game. One Chicago talk show host called him "Michael Jordan in a Wizards Jersey" saying that Kobe's game has become "upfake,upfake, turn, fadeaway". If you are a hoops follower, you know that the Lakers are significantly better when Kobe takes less than 20 shots per game. There are some in Laker Nation calling for the team to be turned over to Gasol and let Kobe be his Pippen (yeah right, like that would ever happen). Let's take a step back and realize what we are dealing with when it comes to Kobe Bryant.

Because he came into NBA at age 17, many of us feel Kobe Bryant is still a young man. At age 32, he is young for a school teacher, doctor, or accountant but for an elite level athlete, Kobe is closer to 40. He is playing his 15th NBA season (1053 games, 38420 min) and has averaged over 36 minutes per game in his career,  and four times in his career played over 40 minutes a game for a season. Now let's add his extensive playoff career, throw in another 7811 minutes over 198 playoff games. If you are reading this, sorry for not warning that there would be math involved. That bring us to a grand total of 46231 minutes over 1251 games! Kobe Bryant has played 37 minutes a game for 15 years! I don't care who you are, unless you have the number to Greg Anderson and Victor Conte, you are just not capable of doing what you used to. He has played more games and minutes at a higher level than anyone in the history of league with the exception of Kareem and MJ

Many Laker fans will tell you that Kobe is going to be fine and I believe them to a point. Is it in Kobe's makeup to allow someone to be his offensive equal. Scottie Pippen was a great all around player and perfect sidekick to MJ because during MJ's later years, Scottie carried a lot of the workload on defense and rebounding to allow MJ to be an efficient scorer. While Kobe does not have an opposite wing player or backcourt player of that caliber, he has a better offensive player than Pippen in Pau Gasol. Pau Gasol is a the most skilled seven footer in the NBA and can score 20 to 25 a game if Kobe is willing to concede even 20% of his offensive duties. Stat to impress your friends: Pau Gasol in the last four seasons has either averaged 18.3 or 18.9 ppg, a statistical quirk to have only two scoring averages.  In the disaster in San Antonio, Kobe took 27 shots in 30 minutes; Gasol 8 shots in 34 minutes. If Kobe takes 20 shots and Gasol gets 15, is the outcome different? Maybe not, but for the betterment of the team, thats how it should go.  Let Pau do the work and save Kobe's legs for the closing kick.

For the record, in no way shape or form, should the Lakers be turned over to Gasol. Even at an advanced age, Kobe Bryant is still one of the best 3 players in the NBA. An "old" Kobe Bryant is averaging 25-5-5 which still makes him an elite player. Kobe Bryant right now is the basketball Michael Jackson. Like music , we loved the black year of Mike Jack "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" years with the soulful production, club bangers, and some classic duets. Kobe's black Mike Jack years were 1999-2003 wearing the #8, the nappy fro, lightning first step, Hardaway-esque crossover which would lead to a posterization or hanging reverse layup. Then came the "Bad Album" and "Dangerous", you look at the cover and something is different, Mike Jack skin's is lighter, the songs are intense and more angry and while you still like him as an artist, the change is noticeable. Kobe's "Bad Album/Dangerous" was the post Shaq-pre Gasol years. Still a prime performer but darker and creepier. The change in jersey number from 8 to 24, the self-monickered Black Mamba, similar to Mike Jack, Kobe seems hell bent on showing the edgier side. 81 vs the lowely Raptors,  62 in three quarters vs Mavericks, and the unforgettable Game 7 vs Suns in 2006 ECQ where Kobe decides "these guys suck and just to prove it, I won't shoot".  Mitch Kupchak saved Kobe from the same destructive fall that Mike Jack add by sending him a lifeline in Gasol.This was the basketball equivalent of sending  Dream to work on Mike's last album. The move pacifies Kobe and the Lakers are working on a three-peat.

The question going forward for the Lakers and Kobe is transitioning to the end. I believe Kobe has two more years of elite level basketball in him before he and Lakers will have to decide how to end this movie. The wear and tear on his body has been too great to allow him to do what MJ did in his last season with the Bulls and average almost 29ppg and play almost 39ppg  in 1997-1998 (note: do not underestimate the 18 month hiatus for Jordan, and how it extended his career). Will Kobe allow himself to become a second banana to Gasol or another great player? Does Mitch Kupchak have the fortitude to bring in a heir to the throne? Look back at NBA history and look at how many legendary players were allowed to play out their careers with no plan B. Larry Bird retires in '92 ; Celtics make playoffs 5 times in next fifteen years. Magic retires in '92; Lakers only missed playoffs once but weren't a contender until the two headed monster of Shaq and Kobe came to full fruition in '99. MJ/Pip leaves Bulls in '98; no playoffs for next six years. The common thread in every situation, there was no one to capable of stepping into being a capable lead dog.  The Lakers have a centerpiece in Gasol but with Miami's Big 3 together for the next 6 years, the impending Carmelo Anthony move to somewhere out (joined by Chris Paul?), Chicago with Rose and Boozer, OKC with Durant and Westbrook, the Purple and Gold have to think about the future. Joining forces with another great player has become the new wave and while you may not like the trend, this is how it goes and even someone as great as Kobe can't stave off a tidal wave of great duos and trios without another great player. Is he willing to accept help in the name of more championships and a lesser individual resume?  Stay tuned...

http://www.basketball-reference.com/ (All Statistics used in this article are from Basketball Reference)

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