Kobe Bryant could retire today and be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
His accolades, accomplishments and statistics rank up there with the all-time greats, but to Kobe and so many others, only one number counts—titles.
Kobe Bryant, entering his 17th season at the age of 33, will have to change his game if he wants to reach the same number of titles as his idol, Michael Jordan. I don't just mean "change" as in Kobe will have to dip his scoring a bit and put his assist numbers up a little—rather I mean a bit of a drastic change.
To put it plainly, he's going to have to become a "role player." Even though it sounds harsh, I can't find many other ways to put it. It's essentially saying that the offense can't and won't go through Bryant anymore.
When the Lakers were bounced out of the playoffs by the eventual Western Conference champs, the OKC Thunder, most people weren't surprised, as the team was expected to lose. But to be honest, the Lakers had the best shot of beating the Thunder because they had what no other team in the West did—two legit skilled seven-footers in the paint, in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Bynum had his breakout year this season, averaging about 19 points and 12 rebounds and officially becoming the only challenge to Dwight Howard for the best center in the league title. Gasol, while getting up there in age at 31, is still a highly skilled PF who's been severely under-utilized in the Lakers' offense this season.
The main reason the Lakers lost the series against the OKC Thunder was simple—Kobe Bryant.
Bryant's unwillingness to let the offense go through the bigs down low and play inside-out was the main reason for the Lakers' loss to the Thunder. Bryant would dribble down the court numerous times and, without even setting up the offense or letting one of the bigs get a touch, would immediately jack up a shot that usually resulted in a miss.
Bryant was on his own mission this year to prove the doubters, who said he was over-the-hill at age 33, wrong. In the process, he cost himself and, more importantly, his team at the chance of a championship. I can show you Bryant's shooting numbers in the OKC series:
Game 1: 7-18 for 20 points - Lost
Game 2: 9-25 for 20 points - Lost
Game 3: 9-25 (18-18 FTs) for 36 points - Won
Game 4: 12-28 for 38 points - Lost
Game 5: 18-33 for 42 points - Lost
You compare these numbers with Bynum's and Gasol's shot attempts and see the vast difference.
Bynum's shot attempts (in order of games): 12, 19, 13, 15, 10
Gasol's shot attempts (in order of games): 11, 11, 8, 10, 14
So as you can see, Bryant routinely out-shot both Bynum and Gasol in the series. You can make excuses and say that was because Gasol wasn't aggressive or Bynum was too nonchalant in the series; I can say from experience that if you don't feed the bigs down low, then they get disengaged. Period.
It's hard enough for them to get touches, and if you have someone like Kobe, who had the most shot attempts in the regular season by far, it just makes it harder. Bryant made his point by coming within decimal points of winning the scoring title from Kevin Durant, so we get it. You can still score, Kobe.
If Kobe Bryant's goal is to challenge Kareem Abdul Jabbar's all-time scoring record and accumulate the most points in NBA history, then he's on the right track, but if his goal is to match Michael Jordan in championship count and win his sixth title, then he needs to change his game.
It's nothing new actually for veteran players. We've seen numerous Hall of Famers change their games and no longer have the offense run through them. Perfect examples are Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd. Each has sacrificed his offensive touches so his teammates can get more shots and thus have given themselves a better chance at winning.
Bryant must realize that the Lakers are most successful when he's moving the ball, feeding the bigs and playing off them. Not when he's routinely trying to outscore his opponent.
Kobe, you've got a choice to make.
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