After his Los Angeles Lakers demolished the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, Bryant was asked about how things might change for him and his teammates once Steve Nash returns from a fractured fibula. His answer (via Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News)?
“I’ll be scoring a lot more. I don’t have the [sic] facilitate as much. Everybody can kind of go to their natural positions. It enables me to do what I do best, which is to put the ball in the hole.”
Because he's not scoring enough as is, right?
At present, Kobe's leading the NBA in that category with 26.9 points per game. This is nothing new for the bucket-happy Black Mamba—he spent most of the 2011-12 season atop the heap before Kevin Durant usurped his supremacy down the stretch.
What is new, though, is the efficiency with which Bryant is piling 'em up this time around. He's scoring nearly as frequently while taking 5.4 shots per game fewer than he did last season, when he led all of basketball with 23 hoists a night.
His shooting percentages—from the field (.510), from three (.415), from the free-throw line (.874), true shooting (.635), effective field goal (.565)—aren't just up; if they hold, they'll stand as new career-highs for Kobe.
By a mile. At the tender age of 34. With a foot injury that's been nagging him since the preseason.
To be sure, Bryant still reverts to "hero ball" from time to time, not always to the most pleasant effect. And it's not as though he's stuffing the stat sheet—including 5.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists—without some negative repercussions. His 3.7 turnovers would set a new career mark, and his usage rate of 30.3 percent, while down from recent years, makes him the fourth-biggest "ball hog" in the NBA—the third-biggest if you don't count the recently-returned Kevin Love (per Hoopdata).
Then again, that's to be expected from a guy who's had to add a slew of duties (i.e. initiating the offense, handling the ball, creating for his teammates) to his usual job of scoring in bunches. With Steve Nash sidelined since the second game of the season—and backup Steve Blake recently joining him with an abdominal injury—the Lakers have called upon Kobe to fill in at the point rather than entrust Darius Morris and Chris Duhon with the job full-time. Once Nash returns, the onus won't fall so heavily on Kobe to fill two roles at once.
And that return could be right around the corner. According to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Nash took part in some on-court activities during practice on Monday. He won't play in Tuesday's tilt with the Indiana Pacers, though the fact that his leg is well enough to do more than just some work on the elliptical would seem to be a good sign for his recovery.
The key, for Nash, will be his body's response to those exercises. If his left leg shows no ill effects in the days to come, then he figures to be back to full basketball activities before too long. And if not, then the Lakers will have no choice but to wait a while longer.
The sooner Steve is fit, the better for Bryant and the Lakers. Kobe's done a masterful job of making up for Nash's absence (though he'd yet to establish much of a presence in the first place). But, at his age and with his extensive mileage, Bryant can't be expected to keep this up for an entire 82-game season.
Not to mention what the Lakers hope will be a lengthy playoff push.
The assumption is that a healthy Nash would be able to handle many of the on-ball duties to which Kobe had become accustomed in recent years and with which he's had to deal for most of the 2012-13 season so far. That, in turn, would allow Bryant to channel his energy even more efficiently toward doing what he does best—scoring.
And judging by how well Kobe's managed to juggle his myriad responsibilities so far, the rest of the league had better brace itself for an even-more-lethal Mamba.