Proving Kobe Bryant Has Been L.A. Lakers' Best Player This Season

Richard LeContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 08:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks up to the scoreboard during their game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on January 8, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Completely engulfed in struggles and adversity in a myriad of forms, there's no doubt that the only consistency the Los Angeles Lakers have had this season has been the play of Kobe Bryant.

Maligned and criticized by the media throughout his career as a ball-stopper and a selfish player, Bryant has responded by having a career year on offense.

Averaging 30.5 points while shooting close to 48 percent from the field, Bryant has been the only consistent offensive threat for the Lakers this season. Furthermore, his field-goal percentage is the highest of his career.

However, critics are quick to point out that Bryant may be stagnating the Lakers offense due to the enormous amount of shots he is attempting. 

Averaging 22 shots per game and having taken a total of 748 shots this season, Bryant has taken 124 more shots than Russell Westbrook, who is second in the league in total shot attempts. 

However, consider these two points.

Firstly, the fact that Bryant is making almost half of the shots he is attempting means he is producing very efficiently. This means that, more often than not, an offense centered around a Bryant shot attempt yields points for the Lakers. He is a scorer, and he is doing his job more efficiently than many of the primary scorers in the league despite his age (34). 

Secondly, Bryant has had to take an enormous amount of shots this season because his supporting cast has been an utter disappointment thus far. 

Consider what was supposed to be the most dominant frontcourt in the NBA.

Dwight Howard has been dealing with lingering back pains for the duration of the season and has just injured his labrum.

Although the big man has been averaging close to 57 percent shooting from the field, his 17.3 points per game is the third-lowest output of his career. Furthermore, he has not made any noticeable improvements in the post, nor has he improved from the charity stripe. 

Most of Howard's points come from easy baskets in the paint. Despite how impressive it is to average 17.3 points off of mostly dunks and tip-ins, Howard's inability to be a consistent offensive threat has forced Bryant's hand.

The Lakers have used the skilled Pau Gasol as a consistent post presence in a myriad of different ways to the tune of two championships and Western Conference dominance for many years.

However, his bouts with lingering injuries this season as well as his inability to conform to two different offensive systems have caused him to average a career-low 12.2 points on close to 42 percent shooting from the field.

With two of the most talented big men in the NBA not performing up to expectations on both ends of the floor, it's no surprise that Bryant has had to shoulder the offensive load.

Even with Steve Nash back in the fold, if the players Nash finds with his impressive passing ability can score consistently, Bryant will still have to jack up shots to keep the Lakers competitive. 

Even Metta World Peace, who has looked a lot better on defense this season, cannot seem to score efficiently. Averaging 13.2 points on close to 42 percent shooting from the field, he is only producing a shade more than Gasol on offense.

Thus, without a strong supporting cast on offense, Bryant has had to shoulder the load. Doing so while averaging a career high in field-goal percentage is impressive. However, there is a drawback. 

Bryant has continued to regress on the defensive end. With most of his efforts focused on keeping the Lakers competitive on the scoreboard, his age and his offensive focus have caused him to lose his status as a premier perimeter defender.

With Bryant slipping on defense, Howard not playing up to his defensive capabilities due to injuries, Nash being the defensive liability he has always been and Mike D'Antoni's allergies to coaching defense, the Lakers' recent struggles are no surprise.

Bryant has been the best player for the Lakers this season. However, the Lakers as a whole have regressed greatly because of their aging core, the fact that their skills aren't a perfect match for D'Antoni's system and their inefficiency on both ends of the court.