Kobe Bryant: 4 Ways the L.A. Lakers Guard Can Alter His Game in 2011-2012
Next month Kobe Bryant turns 33, and right now, he and Los Angeles Lakers fans are realizing that the twilight of his career is fast approaching. Injuries have begun to take their toll on one of the game’s best athletes, forcing Bryant to resort to extreme measures.
Last month, he had to seek experimental treatment in Germany on his right knee. He suffered an ankle injury in the first round of the NBA playoffs last year as well as playing with an arthritic finger he injured in 2009-2010.
While last season was more about getting healthy, this offseason will be a combination of getting healthier and stronger, as the clock is ticking on how long Bryant will still be effective.
Here are four ways Bryant can change his game to maximize effectiveness, given the state of his body.
Faciliate More, Shoot (Slightly) Less
Bryant led the league in field-goal attempts last year despite having a team-high 4.7 assists. He’s shown quite often over the last two to three seasons that he can get his teammates involved more than before, but at this point, it has to be done more often.
I think Bryant knows that next year’s success depends more on his teammates than just his will. He can’t always rely on bailing his team out, and his teammates know this too, which is why they will work harder to carry their weight. This is why Bryant should look even more to set guys up.
It’ll also take the scoring load off his shoulders and allow him to pick his spots better. Bryant has a career average of 4.7 assists, but he’s averaged over five assists three of the last five seasons. If he averages close to 5.0-5.3 this year, that’ll be more suitable to his game.
Moving More Without the Ball
Thanks to the triangle offense, Bryant handled the ball quite often, and the offense flowed through him as he created plays. With injuries taking their toll, it may be easier for the team to get Bryant the ball in prime scoring positions.
This is an area of concern, as coach Mike Brown was known for running plenty of isolation plays with the Cleveland Cavaliers. One can only hope that Brown recognizes Bryant could benefit from somebody helping him create on the perimeter, but this will be on Brown’s creativity as much as Bryant’s work on the court.
For Bryant, the Lakers can run him off screens to make things easier. Relying on a 16-year veteran to do all of the creating on offense is not only risky—it’s not beneficial to extending his career or getting the most out of the superstar.
Focus on Mid- to Long-Range Shooting
The 2011 Western Conference semifinals gave us a glimpse of things to come with Bryant. No longer able to attack the perimeter at will, he was forced to become a jump shooter with occasional dashes to the rim.
Last season as a whole saw Bryant realize that he can’t attack the rim like he used to. It’s a sight many struggled to see knowing Bryant was one of the game’s greatest dunkers, but it’s the Bryant we’ll see until he retires.
Bryant has shot just over 45 percent on field goals the last four seasons but saw his three-point percentage decline each year, with him making only 32.3 percent in 2010-11. He’s already one of the best mid-range shooters in the league, he just has to rely more on this to carry his scoring.
Whether it is more pull-up jumpers, or using his high IQ to find ways to get to spots on the court, this is going to be Bryant’s bread and butter.
Rely More on His Post Game
The last two years have seen Bryant shift his game from creating on the perimeter, to a balance of perimeter and post play. It’s become a major part of his arsenal thanks to him spending his 2009 summer working with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.
For next season and beyond, he has to find ways to utilize it even more. He already has amazing footwork and technique, as well as upper body strength; it’s only a matter of Coach Brown finding ways to get Bryant established on the low block.
He’s already gotten comfortable developing more post moves, so it’ll be a matter of refining them and going to them more often.
To wrap up, Bryant can do a few things in his 16th season to play at an All-NBA level while lightening his load. Plenty of it will also depend on how motivated and how much better his teammates get during the lockout.
I didn’t add his defensive adjustments because I know Bryant will remain aggressive. Even if he’s lost a step, he’ll most likely benefit from Mike Brown’s schemes and be motivated to pick his spots and matchups accordingly.
Bryant's heading into uncharted water, as a player trying to remain effective past year 15. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal made the All-NBA team past their 15th season in the last 30 years, and Bryant could very well join that club as the first perimeter player, provided he stays healthy.
Overall, it’s going to be a difficult adjustment, but one that Bryant is already prepared to make. If this video is any indication, he appears to be healthier than he was last offseason and ready to prove that he’s ready to give it one last try as an elite player.