And Mike D'Antoni has helped show us why.
We all remember the massacre that became the New York Knicks last season. Talented roster in tow, the Knicks stood at 19-24 without a semblance of direction. And as it went, then Knicks head coach D'Antoni resigned—because of Anthony.
New York's star didn't support D'Antoni's uptempo offense. Doing so would have dictated he put his needs for iso-oriented sets aside, which would have changed the makeup of his entire game.
Now, I fully believe that Anthony is one of the best—if not the best—scorers in the NBA. Just like Kobe. But where the two differ is in their ability to evolve.
Far be it from me to call 'Melo a stagnant talent or detrimental leader. He has proven just the opposite this season. Yet it has taken him nearly a decade to find his niche within a multifaceted system, one that often deviates from his once preferred isolation blueprints. More importantly, it took him almost two years to embrace a fast-paced offense, a similar offense to the one that D'Antoni walked out the door fighting for.
Can the same be said of Bryant?
Kobe has been anything and everything the Lakers need him to be. Yes, his weak-side defensive rotations make Dwight Howard cringe, but he's been both a playmaker and a scorer on the other side of the ball.
Bryant leads the league in scoring, but he's also second on the Lakers with five assists per contests. He accounts for 35 percent of Los Angeles' points when on the floor, a near carbon copy to 'Melo's 36 percent in New York. That said, he is also accounting for 31 percent of the Lakers' assists when on the hardwood, compared to 'Melo's current 12.
At the same time, however, he understands that his role stands to change on this team, that he's not always going to have the ball in his hands at all times.
And per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, he embraces such a challenge:
Bryant doesn't want to handle the ball so much, and he understands that changes when Nash steps on the floor. Within the locker room, Nash has made it clear that he has no desire to score the ball for these Lakers. He's running D'Antoni's system, and playing traffic cop between Bryant and Howard.
Is this state of mind on D'Antoni personally? Of course not, but his systematic changes have brought out some of the best in the Black Mamba.
Could we have pictured a 34-year-old Kobe converting on a career-high 47.1 percent of his field-goal attempts despite jacking up more than 21 shots per game? Could we have predicted that he would be posting a PER of over 25 in his 17th NBA season?
Could we have pictured him excelling within an offense that was tailored to meet his needs specifically?
Truth be told, yes, we could.
Unlike Anthony, Kobe is a bona fide chameleon. Like 'Melo, he prefers to have the ball in his hands to create, but it's not a necessity. His main concern is winning, and he finds his niche within whatever offensive blueprint he plays under. He's said as much already this season.
"The end-goal is to win a championship," Bryant told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. "It's not playing a certain way."
Once again, this is not to diminish Anthony's evolution as a player this season. Coming into this year, he candidly expressed his desire to win at all costs. But was that desire there last season?
I will never question 'Melo's will to win, but until this year, I had questioned whether he was able to win outside of his comfort zone. I had wondered if he was willing to adjust to his surroundings instead of the environment catering to his preferences.
With Bryant, though, I have never had such concerns. And D'Antoni's presence has only accentuated such a notion.
That's what truly separates these two stars, even more so than stats. Anthony has learned to play off the ball more and has had no qualms about seeing fewer isolation sets than he did with the Denver. He wasn't always committed to adjusting his offensive tendencies, though. Not under D'Antoni.
Only last season, we were watching a dejected and reluctant 'Melo play point forward. We watched him actively stave off the offensive morals that D'Antoni was attempting to instill. But we have seen no such hesitation from Kobe.
With Steve Nash riding the pine, Bryant played the part of distributor. Now that he's back in the fold, he's aware that he'll have to play off the ball and, more often than not, out of position. And it's taken him about five seconds to accept his role as an interchangeable—albeit indispensable—talent, not the better part of two years.
Forget about the Lakers' record. Forget about the Knicks' record. But do place as much stake as you possibly can in Anthony's gradual evolution as a player.
Also remember that Bryant got there first, that he accepted a mandatory transformation without disinclination and that D'Antoni's structural alterations served—and continue to serve—as a vessel for Bryant's success, not a deterrent to his production.
Then remember that this disposition is what will forever separate Kobe Bryant from Carmelo Anthony.
*Stats in this article are accurate as of December 24, 2012.
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