Now that the season is at the halfway mark, and all players have had a chance to take a breath during the All-Star break, let’s take some time to evaluate each player from the Los Angeles Lakers and grade their performance thus far.
When it comes to the Lakers, there is only one goal: Win a championship. Therefore, we will grade each player based on his role relative to the team and the level of play needed in order to achieve the aforementioned goal.
Let’s jump right in, starting with the Lakers’ franchise player:
Kobe Bryant (Grade: A): Bryant is averaging the second most minutes played per game (38:12) in the league, and is also the current scoring leader this season with 28.4 points. He has been aggressive, and his scoring average this year is the highest it has been since the 2007-2008 season, in which he won the league MVP award. However, his field goal percentage (43.5 percent) is down from previous years, as is his three-point shooting percentage (28.7 percet). His turnover rate (3.9) is close to a career high as well. A lot of this can be attributed to an injury to his wrist sustained in a pre-season game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Supposedly the wrist has fully healed, however.
Bryant’s rebounding (5.8) is up compared with the last few seasons, as are his assists (4.9) from last season. Much of the added scoring and assists per game have to do with his added role in the new offensive system. Early on, much of the offense was run directly through Kobe, which was a difference between this season and seasons past. In Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, Bryant dominated the ball a lot, but the offense was a “read an react” type of system, wherein Bryant didn’t necessarily make all the decisions. Under Mike Brown’s system early on, Bryant was forced to facilitate the offense and be the primary scoring option as well, as the team was still adjusting to the new offense.
Widely considered the most dangerous player when the game is on the line, Bryant hasn’t shown the kind of heroics we saw in the 2009-2010 season, where we saw an array of game-winning and buzzer-beating shots. Defenses appear to be bothering him when they really focus in on him, but his decision making can also be scapegoated due to the new offensive system. We expect Bryant to regain some of his magic, so to speak, in the second half of the season and playoffs.
The biggest positive for Bryant this season, however, is his health. The fact that he is averaging almost five minutes per game more than last season is a testament to his legs feeling much better. On top of that, he’s been doing this during a harsh condensed season, and hasn’t shown many signs of fatigue. Yes, he has had more “off games” than we normally see from Kobe, but at 33 years of age, he has held up exceptionally well.
Not many players can accomplish what Bryant has in his 16 year career, and somehow he remains an elite player despite all the mileage on his body. We expect Bryant to regain his shooting touch, and even look to attack the basket a bit more as the second half of the season gets underway. Bryant really zones in once the playoffs begin, so right now he is right on pace in terms of championship level play. He is playing at a very high level, but there is some room for improvement and even he knows it. Therefore out of respect for Kobe’s ability, we cannot give him a “Straight A” just yet.
The man takes no days off, and even during a season of uncertainty, never seems to lose his focus. He will always receive an A for effort.
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