He's back and he's been sharpening his toolkit.
To say Kobe's headed for a great season is kind of a strange thing to say. On one hand, he's had so many great seasons that it makes you question my attentiveness, assuming he could have a relatively better one. And on the other, Kobe will be entering his 15th season, which is longer than the average career. Physical decline is expected.
But every year Kobe surprises me by sharpening another aspect of his game. Whether it's learning to trust his teammates more, polishing his post game or finding a way to nail seven game-winners in a season, Kobe is continually padding his resume and repertoire.
So I decided to come up with some reasons why Kobe will come out with a better version of himself this season. In no particular order:
1. Steve Blake
I know that adding another player isn't a reason why Kobe will improve, but Blake should be a great complement for him. He's faster than Derek Fisher, which allows him to maneuver through defenses better and run in the open court, creating more opportunities for Kobe to score.
Blake will spread defenses because of his long-range shooting prowess, which clears out more room for the Mamba and help get him more assists. Plus, he's a willing passer (unlike say, Shannon Brown or occasionally Fisher), which is something Kobe certainly isn't opposed to.
2. Tough and Cautious
It's a slightly ironic combination, I'm aware, but Kobe has earned recognition for these particular traits in his last couple seasons. After taking a beating playing through so many injuries and still managing great success, Kobe has amassed a lot of confidence in his ability to prevail against adversity.
3. New Knee
His knee is better! Kobe's back to his old, athletic self! Well, maybe not, but after undergoing knee surgery last summer he'll be able to get more leg into his shots and take the ball to the basket more when he gets to full strength. An improvement over last season.
A season without injuries. Imagine the possibilities!
4. Fire Fueled By Heat
No one is buying it when Kobe says the Miami Heat don't give him extra motivation. In almost every situation when some roadblock is in Kobe's path, he puts everything into overcoming the hurdle. With the window closing even further on his career, I don't think he'll just go through the motions with a team like that looming ahead in a possible Finals matchup.
Extra Motivation Honorable Mentions: Tough preseason, overlooked as the premier player in the league by many critics and Michael Jordan's recent comments (top-10 guards? Really?).
5. More Rest
The Lakers are a lock for the playoffs; we already know that. They're also the favorite to make it back to the Finals. Kobe's going to need to be fresh when he gets there, and adding more depth with the additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake are exactly what the doctor ordered. Less minutes for Kobe = more success for the team.
Now Kobe could have a breakout season and the Lakers still might not capture the three-peat. His teammates might get injured, or the Heat might be too good. But this is a player that's tough to bet against when he wants something.
Let's see what he has in store.