Kobe Bryant Must Impose Black Mamba Mentality to Raise Los Angeles Lakers' Play
Not entirely, anyway.
He's tried that aplenty through the first 15 games of the 2012-13 NBA season, and it hasn't quite worked. He's leading the league in scoring, at 27.7 points per game, and is doing so more efficiently than ever.
But that hasn't kept the Lakers from stumbling to a 7-8 mark. He's scored 30 or more points on six occasions, and the Lakers have lost five of them, including Thursday night's 79-77 clunker against the Indiana Pacers in which Bryant tallied a polarizing triple-double (40 points, 10 rebounds, 10 turnovers) while willing his way through flu-like symptoms.
The Lakers don't need more Mamba from the Black Mamba himself. What they need, rather, is more Mamba from everyone else. Which is to say, the Lakers need everyone to fight through pain, fever, phobia or whatever else may ail them with a greater measure of grit and determination.
To be sure, it's unrealistic to expect anyone on any team to play with the same maniacal focus and intensity through adversity that Kobe has throughout his Hall of Fame career. Few players in NBA history can lay claim to the sort of inextinguishable competitive fire that burns in Bryant's belly, in sickness and in health.
If only he could bottle some of that and distribute it amongst his teammates.
Rather than basking in the glow of his 114th 40-point game, deflecting blame to his nonexistent teammates or using the flu as an excuse, Bryant bore the brunt of it himself (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com):
It boggles my mind that I had 10 turnovers. Those are things that I can minimize, and my responsibility is to pick everybody up. ... The fact is, we had 10 possessions we didn't get looks at the basket because I turned it over.
Consider this in relation to the approach taken by Pau Gasol to his own issues. Last week, he publicly vocalized his displeasure with the nature of his shot allotment and suggested that the tendinitis in his knees is to blame (at least in part) for his precipitous decline.
Under Phil Jackson & Mike Brown, 30% of Pau Gasol's shots came from outside the paint. Under Bickerstaff/D'Antoni? 57%.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) November 28, 2012
Further breakdown: Under Jackson, 26% of Gasol's shots came from outside paint. Brown: 43%. Bickerstaff: 59%. D'Antoni: 53%— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) November 28, 2012
Not that Pau's been all that proficient or efficient in the paint (per Bleacher Report's Ethan Norof):
Norof (@Mr_Norof) November 28, 2012
And frankly, it's not exactly productive to judge a player based on his reaction to physical discomfort. There's no way of knowing to what extent Gasol's been limited by his tendinitis. For all we know, a peer with a lower threshold for pain might've shown up in street clothes.
But Gasol's playing, and when you're on the court, there's no use for excuses. What matters is not the absence of production in light of limitations, but rather what an individual can contribute, regardless of the extenuating circumstances.
Excuses aside, Gasol's been patently abysmal this season, posting career-lows in points, shot attempts and nearly every field-goal percentage category imaginable. He's looked tired, slow and weak on the court, particularly on the defensive end.
At this point, Pau can either accept that, at 32 and with bad knees, he's not the player he once was. Or, he can take on more Mamba and fight through it, rather than playing as passively as he has for much of the season.
He could even look to Dwight Howard for help in this regard. Howard has been battling back from spinal surgery and, at times, has looked like a guy who's still far from 100-percent himself.
But that hasn't stopped Dwight from finding other ways to affect the game—a trait that's made him one of the NBA's most impactful players for years now. Even when he's struggled to establish position or garner shots on the offensive end, Howard has continued to crash the boards (10.5 rebounds), turn away shots (2.8 blocks), deflect passes (1.3 steals) and generally dominate on the defensive end in fits and spurts.
Dwight Howard said he recognizes his biggest value to LAL = owning paint on D. Not concerned w/touches, which he said will come w/effort.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) November 26, 2012
Howard said he & Gasol will get more than their fair of touches if both are aggressive/active. Ball finds energy, as D'Antoni likes to say.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) November 26, 2012
Not that he's at all exempt from a lack of Mamba moxie in certain regards. While his effort and energy have waxed and waned, Howard's free-throw shooting has been almost uniformly awful. A 3-of-12 showing against the Pacers dropped him to 47.8 percent on foul shots—a career-low mark if the season were to end today.
Rather than persevere through the struggles and stick to the tips bestowed upon him by Lakers shooting guru Chuck Person, Howard has far too often fallen back to old habits (via Mike Trudell):
Howard said key for him is to focus on elbow & follow through at the line, instead of thinking "I have to make it." Been the latter tonight.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) November 21, 2012
Heck, if Howard can't even beat a hockey mascot in a free-throw shooting contest, how's he going to overcome his own psyche in an actual, meaningful game?
Kidding aside, shooting slumps of any kind are hardly Dwight's exclusive domain. Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, LA's two most important reserves, have combined to shoot 38.8 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from three. Darius Morris, though solid at times filling in at the point, is shooting at a 38.5 percent clip and turning the ball over 20.5 percent of the time.
Which Laker needs most to be like the Mamba?
If these guys are going to help (rather than harm) the Lakers, they need to be more like the Mamba. That is, they need to keep shooting, keep being aggressive, even if the results would suggest they should do otherwise. The Lakers need them to be threats, so they'd better shoot themselves out of their respective slumps before said slumps evolve into season-long debacles.
As it happens, the only Laker other than Kobe who seems to be exhibiting Mamba-like tendencies with any consistency is Metta World Peace. He's had his fair share of poor shooting nights (see: 1-of-8 vs. Indiana) and made some crucial mistakes (see: this).
On the whole, though, he's been arguably Kobe's most consistent sidekick. His numbers (13.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 38 percent from three) are his best in Purple and Gold to date and point to a player who worked diligently in the offseason to reclaim his game. As a result, he hasn't been afraid to launch from the perimeter, drive to the hoop or post up on the low block.
It's no wonder, then, that the Lakers are so much better—offensively and defensively—when The Artist Formerly Known as Ron Artest is on the court, according to NBA.com.
The productivity may be surprising, but his copycatting of Kobe certainly isn't. MWP has demonstrated an almost sycophantic devotion to worshiping at the altar of the Mamba since he first arrived in LA in 2010.
Finally, MWP's impact is catching up to that which a Kobe-lover would hope to have. If only he could teach some of his teammates to be and think more like the Mamba—to fight through adversity, to be aggressive on the offensive end and, when the shots aren't falling, get after it on the defensive end—these Lakers might actually be able to sustain something successful from night to night. As a team, they must learn how succeed—with or without Steve Nash, with or without other injuries and illnesses and slumps—rather than fail with their myriad crutches as Plan B explanations.
If only the Lakers could be more like the Mamba, or better yet, if only the Lakers could be the Mamba.
Now we're getting somewhere...or not.
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