With all of the new additions in Los Angeles, we sometimes forget about the incumbents. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol have been with this team through the era of post-Shaq relevance.
For all the criticism of Mike Brown's Princeton offense, neither Gasol nor Bryant has seen their games much compromised. In fact, Kobe has been playing wonderfully.
Bryant's PER is down from past seasons, but the Hollinger metric rewards shooting and Kobe is scaling back on his attempts. In the first four games, Bryant has averaged 16.8 field goals, down from 23.0 last season.
Cutting out some of his more ill-advised shots has helped Bryant's efficiency dramatically. In the early going, he is converting 59.7 percent of his shots from the field. The increased motion of the offense has also allowed Kobe to dive and cut for some easy baskets.
The Mamba has also developed a cool little trick to take advantage of Dwight Howard's size and leaping ability. Every so often, Bryant will drive and act like he's taking a runner. Instead, he'll lob the ball at the rim for Dwight. You can spy an example of this at the 1:28 mark of Bryant's most recent highlight package:
But while Kobe has made a seamless transition, Gasol has not adjusted so swimmingly to the arrangement. He had a very good passing and alley-oop rapport with the traded Andrew Bynum, and could just be adjusting to life with Dwight. I do believe that he'll get there, and that Howard can benefit Pau's game going forward.
For one, Dwight is an even better catcher and slammer of alley-oops than Bynum. He also should dominate the rock less than Bynum did. The former Lakers center would pound the ball flat, probing for a drop step. Dwight is quicker to decide and quicker to move. By Howard not holding the ball as much as Bynum did, Gasol and others should benefit from more opportunities going forward.
Pau's pedestrian shooting so far (45 percent from the field) can be dismissed as small sample size. We're four games in, and that number will change for the better.
But can Bryant's torrid 59.7 percent shooting be dismissed? Well, yes and no. Yes, Kobe will not shoot at or around 60 percent over the year. It's essentially impossible for any high usage guard to do so. But yes, the way Kobe is playing can yield more efficient results.
If Bryant keeps shooting around the 16 field-goal attempt mark of these past few games, instead of the 23 field-goal attempt mark of last year, he should reap the benefits of better, easier choices.
Perhaps 60 percent shooting is out of the question, but Kobe might become an even better contributor by doing more with less. If he trusts both his teammates and the Princeton offense, that is.