The title of this article will infuriate die-hard Lakers fans. What will anger them even more is when they find out that I live and breathe Celtics basketball. Probably shouldn’t have said that, but let’s move on.
Most NBA fans will look at Kobe Bryant this season and see that he’s leading the league in scoring at the age of 33 in his 16th NBA season and say to themselves, “That experimental knee surgery must have turned 2012 Kobe into 2000 Kobe.”
Even more impressive, Kobe’s carried a Lakers team that seemed to be on its last leg after their embarrassing loss to the Mavericks in last year’s playoffs to the third best record in the Western Conference.
There is no doubt that the Lakers have already exceeded expectations this season. They went from being picked by many to not even be the best team in their own city, to being a serious contender in the West.
However, if the Lakers are going to make it to the NBA Finals for the fourth time in five years, then things need to change.
Don’t be blinded by Bryant’s impressive 28.2 points-per-game average this season. He has been a jarringly inefficient offensive player, shooting just 42.5 percent from the field and 28.8 percent from behind the arc. Bryant’s field-goal percentage is the lowest since his rookie year, and his three-point accuracy would be the third-lowest of his career.
The most telling statistic of all for Bryant this season is the amount of shots he’s taking. He is averaging 23.4 shots per game, tied for the most of his career, and has taken nearly 1,200 shots this season—200 more than any player in the league.
Not only is Bryant shooting abysmal percentages from both the field and three-point line this season, he is also an aging player who should be taking less shots at this stage of his career.
If Bryant was like Derrick Rose or Deron Williams, and didn’t have much offensive talent around him, then maybe it would be understandable that he is taking so many shots. The reality, though, is that Bryant has the best big-man combination in the league on his side, and he needs to utilize them more.
Pau Gasol is the most skilled big man in the NBA and has the ability to score both from the post and the perimeter. Andrew Bynum has taken major strides this season, becoming the league’s second-best center and a dominating force in the paint. If used correctly, these two players would be nearly impossible for any opponent to stop in a playoff series, and they would give the Lakers a big advantage.
Bynum especially needs to be involved more in the Lakers offense. He is shooting a ridiculous 58 percent from the field, but is averaging just 12.6 shots per game, the least of any top 25 scorer.
The Lakers don’t have a big-time point guard, and Bryant is the team’s primary ball handler. He needs to realize he doesn’t have to do everything on his own anymore. Pau Gasol is an extremely reliable scoring threat, and Andrew Bynum is no longer the young, injury-prone player he once was.
There is no way that Bryant can keep this pace up. He can no longer single-handedly carry a team to a title, and that’s fine, because he doesn’t have to. The Western Conference is as wide open as it’s ever been, and the Lakers have a great shot to make the Finals. What team is going to want to deal with one of the best scorers in NBA history and the league’s best frontcourt in a best-of-seven series?
If Bryant realizes that he needs to use Bynum and Gasol more, then the Lakers will be a major threat in the West. If he doesn’t, the team will once again end their season in an early-round playoff exit.