Kobe Bryant: Has He Mellowed as He’s Aged and Become a Better Teammate?
Kobe Bryant has his Los Angeles Lakers at 7-0 and he seems to be doing the little things much better this season.
Bryant has always prided himself as a player that uses the offseason to improve on his game. It seems as though rest and age have been his biggest allies in furthering his reach as the NBA's best player.
But his and his team's early success is not all on his shoulders. It is more complex than just one man.
Kobe Bryant is passing more and getting guys involved. Here are the reasons.
10. Teammates are Better
This seems like a reach for a team that has already won back-to-back championships. But the 2010-2011 Lakers are, indeed, a better team, at least for now.
They have key players on defense that can shut down any team. Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest and now Matt Barnes, can all be counted on to take on the opponents' best scorer.
They also have weapons all over the floor. Their bench scoring is among the best in the league. Not only that, but Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown also seem to have taken their games up a notch.
The Lakers are 7-0 and that is without a useful tool. Their seven foot center Andrew Bynum is still out with a knee injury.
9. Lakers are Deep
The Lakers have not been this deep since their three-peat that started in 2000. With the addition of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, the Lakers have role players that can play defense and score. The faith they have in those players allows Kobe to rest.
While on the court, he can more carefully pick his spots to take over the game. He can go to the bench and feel comfortable knowing that the lead is in hand. A deeper roster is just what the aging star needed.
The Lakers are winning their games by an average of close to 14 points. The sooner that Kobe Bryant can go to the bench and place the ice bags on his knees, the better.
Getting an early lead helps all of the starters. In a league that makes teams suffer through countless back-to-back games, it is a luxury to get some added rest.
Case in point: On November 2, the Lakers took care of the Grizzlies in a blowout win. This helped them look fresh the very next night, as they dispatched the Kings in an away game.
7. Pau Gasol is Better
So far, the 2010-2011 campaign belongs to Pau Gasol. He was one of the best players in the NBA to start the season. He can do it all.
Gasol is one of the best passing big men in the game. With a team that touts a ton of slashers, this helps. He has also been unguardable for the first seven games. Kobe Bryant may not want to be the second best on the team, but the fact remains that he does not have to be the best.
This point should continue the rest of the season. Kobe Bryant can probably still score 81 points during some games, but he does not need to. This does not diminish his ability. Rather, it makes him more clued in to what this team is and what it is constructed to do.
6. Shannon Brown
Bryant's minutes are down because he is nursing a knee that is coming off of surgery. There is also another reason: Shannon Brown.
At exit interviews, Lakers staff like to ingrain in the players that they must always improve. It is important to come back from an offseason with a new set of skills.
Shannon Brown has always been electric and explosive. What he lacked was a jump shot. Early in the season, he is draining a good portion of what he tosses towards the rim. He now has to be considered one of the better guards coming off the bench. Bryant can get 20-to-25 points and feel confident that his partner in crime will fill the void.
5. Understands What Is Important
Now that Kobe is on the other side of 30, some of the awards he was in search for in his 20s now seem trivial.
Bryant could care less about the scoring title or leading in All-Star votes. What Kobe Bryant is all about now is results. He does not take losing easily. He hates to even drop the less-important regular-season games. If Kobe were to have it his way, the Lakers would never lose.
He knows that the Lakers are better when he doesn't score 40 points a night. They are the best when he mixes it up. When he has 25 points with eight assists, they are unstoppable.
4. Kobe's Knee
Kobe Bryant maintains that his knee is giving him no qualms. According to coach Phil Jackson, it is still mending. I will find truth somewhere in the middle. I think that, at least through the first seven games, he was tentative.
That caution has made quite the difference. His outlet passes and deference to Pau Gasol on the inside have all players not named Kobe rolling. That is fine for the Mamba because, as we all know, he can get his at any time.
3. Needs Role Players To Fit
The triangle is a simple system with an infinite number of scenarios. It usually takes players a season to feel comfortable working in it. This is another reason Kobe has taken his foot off the gas.
He understands that, in order to compete with the Heat and Celtics, he needs everyone not only comfortable in the system, but excelling in it. With two new players that expect to get heavy minutes in Blake and Barnes, Kobe must concentrate on giving them the reigns early.
2. Kobe is Wise
Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA. Before you send your hate mail, let me say that he is not the best physical talent, not anymore. His legs are not what they used to be. He slashes much less frequently.
Where Kobe makes up the difference is in wisdom. Bryant understands the game. He knows what most players are going to do before they do it. His mind, mixed with whatever he still has physically, will net these next few years as the best in Bryant's history. You will see more triple-doubles and higher assist games going forward.
1. He Wants a Ring, Not an MVP
All of this adds up to one indisputable truth. His passing, his pace and his assists may all be due to his knee, the team, or other reasons. But no reason is more important to the Black Mamba than winning another title.
Kobe knows how hard it is to be on top. Do not think for a second that he will relinquish the title easily. Everything he does is for a reason. If he chooses to be a passer now, believe it is because he thinks it will help the Lakers complete their second three-peat of the decade.