Coming into this season, no one knows exactly what to expect from Kobe Bryant. The last time he was fully healthy, he was averaging 27 points, five rebounds, six assists and garnering MVP consideration.
But after two serious injuries and missing all of last season, it seems unreasonable to expect Kobe to be the same player of even two years ago. Kobe, however, understands this.
Kobe admitted to Sports Illustrated that he won’t be the same player he was, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be just as great. Kobe spoke about evolving and adapting his game. He will adjust to his body’s limitations and maintain the efficiency he showed in 2012.
But in what way can he evolve that will best benefit the Lakers. The team doesn’t have another definite star that is ready to take the torch so Bryant may feel the need to try and turn back the clock, and carry the Lakers himself.
Bryant has already shown the ability to develop the other assets of his game, but what must he do now to maintain his greatness?
We asked our panel of experts: With Kobe Bryant saying he must evolve to maintain his greatness, what change do you want to see in Kobe’s game this season? This is what they had to say:
Kevin Chan (@Kevin_Cruiser): Kobe started out his career as a hyper athletic guard who could get to the hoop at will and finish with stylish dunks.
Next he developed a mean post-up game and eventually solidified his mid-range game. He might have the best mid-range jumper in the NBA, but unfortunately he has a penchant for taking incredibly difficult and inefficient shots.
So where does Kobe go from here? It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to out-quick the younger guys so slashing to the rim might not be the best course of action for Kobe at this stage in his career. However it would behoove him to slash a bit in order to get to the free throw line – where he is excellent.
In my mind it’s clear that Kobe will need to improve his three-point shot and also lean heavily on his post-up game. Kobe’s post game is stellar so he shouldn’t have too much of a problem there. But his three-point shot has always been just a tad below average.
He is 33.5% from long for his career. I don’t expect his mid-range game to completely disappear, but I do think he needs to take less 15 footers and more 24 footers. If Kobe can tweak his game to be more efficient he will be more effective as he enters the twilight of his career.
Russell Valenzuela (@RussVal4): I would like to see Kobe Bryant comfortable with less playing time. Not including his first and last season, he has averaged 37.9 minutes a game in his career. I’m not saying he needs a dramatic decrease, but seeing him on the floor for around 34 minutes would be good.
The last time he averaged around that mark was in 2010-11, a season in which he scored 25.3 points a game while shooting 45.1% from the field. Over the last couple of years, he has gotten more efficient shooting from the mid-range and elbow areas.
If he were to continue getting to those shots, I think he should be fine and have a good production line. I have never been concerned about his ability to get more assists. He is a scorer and that’s what he’ll be, he just needs to work on getting even more efficient with his shots so that he can still score points in less time.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): Kobe Bryant has already proven that he is capable of evolving his game. As his athleticism began to leave him, he developed an excellent post-game and arguably the best mid-range game in the NBA.
Now, Kobe needs to change his game again, and I believe the best way for Kobe to thrive would be to maximize his ability off-the-ball.
Throughout his career, Kobe has always had the ball in his hands, trying to be the creator of everything. He is an excellent catch-and-shoot player, that should be on full display this season.
Allowing Steve Nash (if healthy), Jeremy Lin, and even Julius Randle to create for everyone will allow Kobe to expend less energy on a regular basis, as well as conserve him for late in the fourth quarter when his heroics will be needed.
By embracing more of an off-ball role, Kobe will allow his teammates to do what they do best, while also maintaining his scoring and efficiency. This could be the best way for both Kobe and the rest of the Lakers to shine.
Nathan Kim (@Kimchiz): As an ecology and evolutionary biology major, I hear about evolution all the time. One thing about evolution is that it is a process of give and take. That is to say, as one trait is selected for another is diminished; this is true of Kobe as well.
With Kobe losing his athleticism, he must compensate with a different part of his game. If his greatness is to be maintained, he must evolve and a tradeoff must occur. I believe Kobe will have an added mental aspect to his game. He’ll still have his infamous midrange fadeaway jump shot, but I see him more as a facilitator.
We saw glimpses of this when he came back from Achilles tendon injury. In his comeback game against Toronto, he made a number of passes to the inside, getting the big men involved. Perhaps we’ll see a similar sort of interaction with Kobe running the inside lane and dishing dimes to Ed Davis, Carlos Boozer and the other Laker big men.
Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner): Kobe Bryant needs to take yet another page out of Michael Jordan’s book. Not Jordan from the Washington Wizards days, but the Jordan that won three straight titles in his last three years with the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan altered his game in the twilight of his career in Chicago by taking to the post. Jordan utilized his incredible footwork and shooting ability to continue lighting up the scoreboards on a nightly basis while also leading the Bulls to three consecutive championships in his 30s.
Kobe will need to go the same route. The five-time NBA champion has already adapted his game with his athleticism on the decline, but after two serious injuries, Kobe will have to take it to another level.
One move that could benefit the future Hall of Famer is moving to small forward.
As of right now, the small forward position is arguably the weakest position on the roster for the Los Angeles Lakers. Wesley Johnson will likely get the nod as the starter, but head coach Byron Scott might roll the dice and go with Kobe at the three spot.[divide]
Lakers Coach Byron Scott Talks Nick Young, Kobe, Defense