Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Even Kobe has areas in which he must improve.
We've already established that Kobe Bryant is a fantastic offensive player, but his defense has been rather subpar during his age-34 season.
Occasionally, he's shut down a ball-handler for a few possessions and given the impression that he's still an elite on-ball defender, but that's not enough to make up for his nonexistent transition and off-ball defense.
Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote a fantastic piece on the subject, one that I'd highly recommend you read in its entirety, and I'm going to leave you with a couple highlights from the article.
In the 71st game of your 17th season, in the midst of a “heated” playoff “race,” why are you still watching your own errant jump shot while your mark, Klay Thompson, beats you back in transition for an open 3-pointer? Thompson doesn’t exactly take off like Corey Brewer, either, and he still beats you down the floor by several steps.
Why is this still happening? It’s almost April, and Bryant and the Lakers still can’t figure out transition defense, or defense in general.
Here's a link to video evidence of the play in question. You can noticeably see Kobe linger in disbelief as his shot clangs off the rim, failing to notice and properly react to Klay Thompson running down the court at full steam.
Bryant, as the whole Internet (including this corner of it) has noted repeatedly, has been an irresponsible off-ball defender all season. He gambles out of scheme whenever he feels like it, often turning his back completely to his man, and several of Washington’s 11 3s during the Lakers’ home loss to the Wiz on Friday were the direct result of Bryant deciding he didn’t want to play team defense any longer.
It gets worse. In the oh-so-simple, but oh-so-terrific words of Randy Bachman, you ain't seen nothing yet from Lowe.
If Bryant makes first or second-team All-Defense again this season, I’m officially ignoring this honor indefinitely when it comes to assessing a player’s status and career accomplishments. There will be no more “Player X has seven first-team All-Defense appearances” in this space as a way of justifying a man’s place in the NBA hierarchy. Bryant isn’t the first player coasting to undeserved All-Defense appearances based on reputation, but if he makes it again this season, it will be his most egregious appearance ever, and one of the most egregious in league history. It’s probably already time to start ignoring these honors, since Carlos Boozer received what I hope was an accidental vote last season, but Bryant’s selection would make it official.
Again, he’s a good defender when he wants to be, and he can still be a huge pain in the ass on the ball against top scorers. But playing top-notch on-ball defense on a few possessions per game does not qualify someone for an All-Defense honor, when all those other possessions of hideous off-ball defense exist.
Lowe pulls no punches—and for good reason.
Again, I'd recommend that you read Lowe's entire piece. He's one of the premier NBA writers out there, and his breakdowns are absolutely tremendous.
Kobe's off-ball defense and ball-watching habits have been horrific at times. He can seem completely disengaged, almost like he's plotting out how he's going to take the next shot once his opponents increase the number of points on the scoreboard.
If Kobe needs to save energy for offense and recharges his batteries on defense—as I suspect is the case in some of these situations—then the fix is quite simple: lower his offensive responsibilities. Blasphemous as that may sound, it's more important that Kobe plays solid team defense and leads by example.
The Lakers simply will not win games if they don't start exerting maximum effort on the less glamorous end of the court. That starts with cutting out the ball-watching, rotating properly and buckling down on each and every possession.