Kobe Bryant Must Focus on Team's Progress Before His Own

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIIJanuary 2, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 126-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant is well aware of the fact that he's playing his best basketball in years. The fact that he's leading the league in scoring is just one example of such a truth.

With that being said, Bryant should be focusing on team progress. Not his own.

This is not to suggest that Kobe doesn't care about winning, as that may be the only thing he thinks about. What it is stating, however, is that Bryant must do everything he can to improve the team.

Especially as they fall to 15-16.

The Lakers have not owned a record above .500 since November 20th, 2012. After a New Years Day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the earliest the Lakers can top .500 again is January 6, 2013.

That is assuming that the Lake Show takes care of business against the 25-7 Los Angeles Clippers on January 4th.

In other words, the Lakers could fall two games behind .500 with just 50 games remaining in the season. Urgency is necessary.

Just don't think Kobe is doing nothing to improve his own game.

"This is probably the best I've played in a while," Bryant said after practice Monday. "I've had years the last few years where I've felt pretty good but we kept my minutes down so the numbers didn't look the same, but this year I feel pretty good."

"I played OK [in 2010-11] considering I was on one leg, but the minutes were also down too so the numbers were down," Bryant said. "It was one of the things that kind of frustrated me. Everybody said I was on the decline but the reality is my minutes were just fewer. That's something I took to heart and wanted to come back this season improved."

Kobe responded to adversity as well as you could ask him to. The question is, does he have another comeback in him?

If he does, it would have to involve his turning around a Lakers squad that is presently on the outside-looking-in for the postseason.

Search for Teammates

Thus far in 2012-13, the Los Angeles Lakers are 12-5 during games in which Kobe Bryant accumulates at least five assists. They're 3-11 when he doesn't.

L.A. needs Kobe to continue scoring. They're just simply at their best when the Mamba is getting his teammates involved.

Some will jump to the conclusion that the return of Steve Nash puts an end to this discussion. The fact of the matter is, Nash's elite facilitating abilities are not quite as powerful as Kobe's greatest strength:

His ability to draw all five pairs of eyes on defense.

The fact that Bryant is averaging 30.3 points per game means that defenses will keep him in their sights at all times. The fact that he's fifth on the all-time scoring list doesn't hurt, either.

What this leads to is the opportunity for Bryant to draw a double-team and hit the open man.

Furthermore, Bryant has become the most dangerous pick-and-roll option the Lakers have. Due to his reputation as a scorer, teams will almost always assume that Bryant is taking it to the hole.

This will lead to countless opportunities for Kobe to thread the needle to an open big. It will also lead to many drive-and-dish situations.

As soon as Bryant starts embracing his necessary role as a facilitator, the Lakers will win games. The question is, will he do so?

Stepping On Toes

The No. 1 concern within the Los Angeles Lakers' current rotation is what can be referred to as a "fear of stepping on toes."

What this means is that each player on the floor is looking to give their teammates an equal opportunity to produce. With five former All-Stars in the starting lineup, it isn't difficult to see why.

Unfortunately, they're also passing up on their own opportunities in order to involve their teammates. The necessary level of aggression is nowhere to be found.

Mike Trudell of TWC SportsNet reports that point guard Steve Nash has acknowledged just that.

Nash used the word “connectivity” to describe some of LAL’s struggles. Said team needs “common experiences” together, and soon.

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 2, 2013

This is where Kobe Bryant comes in to play.

If there is one player on the team that isn't afraid to get the ball, it's Kobe. The issue is, Bryant cannot expect to lead by example for a group of veterans with egos.

They know what it takes to win games. They've simply never been surrounded with this much star power.

With the amount of talent the Lakers possess, they must learn to play off of one another. Not just feed one another's desire to contribute.

Consider it the "Team USA syndrome."

It is on Bryant to step up and change these conservative ways. To place the team on his shoulders and carry them to victory.

Even if it means sacrificing his individual statistics.


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