Team USA Basketball 2012: Is Inconsistent Performance Beginning of End for Kobe?
Until the fourth quarter of Team USA's quarterfinal victory against an overmatched Australian squad, Kobe Bryant hadn't looked at all like The Black Mamba that we'd come to either love or hate since he entered the league before the turn of the century.
Could his performance over the past six games indicate that the beginning of the end for Kobe is upon us?
Kobe was forcing up shots left and right, disrupting the flow of the offense as he chose to spurn open teammates in order to loft up contested jumpers with an insane degree of difficulty.
More often than not, his shots clanged off the iron and fell harmlessly into the hands of a board-crashing opponent.
During the group stage, Kobe might have averaged more laughs per game while sitting on the bench than points per game on the court.
He was completely ineffective and the Americans didn't start to open up wide margins until he was picking splinters out of his hind parts on the pine.
Despite his struggles at the Olympics, Kobe isn't done yet. He's just playing in a non-familiar situation and performing poorly as a result.
The leader of the Los Angeles Lakers is used to playing as much as he wants to over the course of a typical NBA game, controlling the ball and having the green light to jack up any shot he pleases.
He takes the same difficult shots during the NBA season that he's been taking in London, but he makes a good number of them because he's allowed to get in rhythm. With Team USA, that hasn't been the case, as Kobe has played just over 15 minutes per game and taken less than 10 shots per contest.
Moreover, the shooting guard hasn't been asked to step up, but rather to let his younger teammates shoulder the heavy burden during the early stages of the tournament. It was Kevin Durant who was given the go-ahead to shoot and LeBron James who was asked to serve as the de facto point guard from the block.
If anything—and this might be a controversial opinion—I've seen encouraging signs from Kobe during his time in London.
For once, he's allowed himself to become a part of the team. He's hung out with his teammates, joked around on the bench and allowed himself to be perceived as human.
Normally, we think of Kobe as some emotionless, basketball-playing cyborg, but in London, that hasn't been the case.
With Steve Nash coming to town and the Lakers expected to run a new offense, that's great news for L.A. fans who were worried about whether Kobe could become more than just a dynamic individual in charge of The Purple and Gold.
Things would be different if Team USA was struggling during the competition, instead of blowing teams out of the water. In that case, it would be catastrophic if Kobe was failing to step up to the plate.
For now, he's simply shot poorly in a very small sample size, but displayed positive signs elsewhere.
Don't think of the 2012 Olympics as the beginning of the end for Kobe, but rather the beginning of the next, more mature chapter of his basketball career. And until we see how the new-look Lakers perform, it's impossible to tell what that chapter will bring about.
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