Kobe Bryant is having a career season. Leading the league in scoring at 30.1 points per game, the perennial All-Star and five-time NBA champion finds himself, and his Los Angeles Lakers squad, at a crossroads in regards to his role as a scorer.
Despite being the league's premier player to put the ball in the basket, Bryant must start to take more of a backseat to the offense if he and the Lakers want to be successful down the stretch and make a postseason run.
There's no doubt Bryant is putting it on opposing defenders in a way we haven't seen since he was sporting an Afro and wearing No. 8.
According to a report by ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin, Bryant is encouraged by the health of his once-troublesome knee and the rest of his performance—particularly shooting the ball at an efficient percentage.
His shooting percentage is at 47.8, the highest of his career and the highest since the 2001-2002 season, when he shot 46.9 percent. He's also feeling great, in large part to consistent health and large minutes due to the coaching and medical staff not having to worry about monitoring his ability to stay on the court.
At 1202 total minutes, Bryant is leading the league in that category, as well as field goals made, field goals attempted, turnovers and total points scored.
Here's a Bryant quote from the article:
"This is probably the best I've played in a while," Bryant said after practice Monday. "I've had years the last few years where I've felt pretty good but we kept my minutes down so the numbers didn't look the same, but this year I feel pretty good."
That's all great—particularly for the illustrious career of Bryant and his chances to supplant Michael Jordan as the greatest champion the NBA has ever seen.
However, the team sits at 15-16, the boys in the locker room across the hall are killing the league with a 17-game winning streak and things haven't been all lollipops and rainbows for a Lakers team that was penciled in as an NBA Finals participant in June. But for the Lakers, is it really the right move to allow Bryant to dominate the stat sheet?
Evidence would suggest no.
According to ESPN's Stats and Information on Twitter, the Lakers are at their best when Bryant is more of a distributor, taking less shots and scoring less points.
The Lakers are now 6-13 when Kobe Bryant scores 30+ points, 6-3 when he scores 20-29 points and 3-0 when he scores 0-19 points— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2013
Lakers fans have been seemingly dealing with this problem for the last decade. When Bryant scores 30 and 40-plus points, it's great for business, but it doesn't always equal success. When Los Angeles has been at its best, even during the early Shaquille O'Neal days and then with Pau Gasol, Bryant hasn't had to turn it on that often.
In the team's most recent setback, a 103-99 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Bryant came out and declared the Lakers too old to brandish the style of play that head coach Mike D'Antoni brought with him from the unemployment line.
As ESPN Stats and Information points out, he might be right.
Are the Lakers too old to be playing a fast pace? Lakers are 2-9 under Mike D'Antoni when they have 96+ possessions, 8-2 with 95 or fewer.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2013
Simply put, there are many angles to attack the recent struggles that Los Angeles has been having. Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace are two. Team defense is another. Pace of the game, as shown in the previous tweet, is yet another, and Kobe's ball dominance could fall anywhere in the scope of that list.
Still, since Bryant is leading the league in turnovers, shots and points, we must be able to look to his play as one of the causes of the inconsistencies we see with the Lakers on a nightly basis. Especially in this system, the ball can't stop and be shot by one guy. Team basketball and lack of a true go-to wing have been hallmarks of D'Antoni's success.
With Steve Nash healthy and playing at a high level, Bryant is going to get open shots. I'm not advocating Bryant to stop shooting—or even scoring. But ball dominance is one of the best aspects of Kobe's game. He thrives in the one-on-one, but does his team benefit in the long run?
Stats don't lie. Right now, Kobe is leading the league in scoring, but his team is 6-13 when he eclipses 30.
Something has to give, or we might be seeing just the beginning of the Lakers' up-and-down start to the 2012-13 season.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.