As we are heading into the final week of preseason and training camp, the Lakers have placed themselves in a position that we the fans are very familiar with. Some will say we are spoiled, and to be frank, we are. Yet, it is only because the Lakers have the best front office in the NBA that has kept the Lakers competitive and in a position that non-fans roll their eyes at and even hate. When it comes down to it, it’s not luck. It’s hard work and employing individuals with genius minds like Mitch Kupchak.
The value and prestige of hard work is probably why Kobe Bryant has made nothing but logical sense as a Laker. Kobe’s dedication and work ethic is unmatched with other players who have played in the league since 1997, either with him or against him. All NBA players have a deep passion and love for the game, but Kobe’s drive, competitiveness are commitment to hard work seperates him from the others.
The championships, MVP titles in the Finals and the regular season, the points scored, the All-Star appearances, etc. are amazing accomplishments. However, it is his pure devotion to the game and the characteristics described above that has propelled Kobe to be considered one of the greatest players to ever to play the game, perhaps the greatest.
It is that dreaded time for any Laker and Kobe fan that we are starting to hear more and more questions, stories and analysis of when Kobe will hang it up and retire from the game. Whether he stays true to his initial comments of retiring in two years (when his contract is up) or not, I would rather focus on what he can do in the upcoming season. There may be a little denial in my goal as I don’t want to think of the day when Kobe is not in purple and gold. However, I think it’s a necessary focus for him and the fans.
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Kobe has recently stated that he wants to ensure that he is playing and able to prepare to play at a high level. That is essentially where the “two years” comment came from. Yet this year Kobe has the opportunity to play at his highest level in years. Because of the additions that Kupchak and Jim Buss made to the roster over the summer, primarily with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, Kobe has the real ability to do less. In turn, this will allow him to do more and become more efficient.
Bryant led the NBA in usage rate by a wide margin and very nearly led it in points per minute as well, finishing a 10th of a point behind Kevin Durant in points per 40 minutes — an amazing feat for a player age 33. Bryant looked spry coming out of the lockout in particular, racking up four straight 40-point games in January. However, he cooled off considerably the rest of the way, most notably while shooting 38.7 percent in March. He was in the top five in player efficiency rating (PER) in the first half of the season but finished 17th.
Last season, Kobe had his worst true-shooting percentage (52.7 percent) in his career and saw his turnover ratio (10.2) hit double-digits for the first time since the 2004-05 season. However, at the age of 33 he did average 27.9 points per game and still showed that his competitiveness, drive and passion for the game remains at the highest level. Of course, there were too many times that he chose to play “hero ball” and shot ill-advised shots, but that was last season.
A new dawn has arrived in Los Angeles that will usher in a new era for the Lakers. It is drastically different since Kobe and Nash are in the final phases of their careers and Dwight Howard is at the start of his prime. However, the goal remains the same in Lakerland and what is most reassuring for fans is that each player is strongly committed to that goal. There’s a reason why the Lakers have been breaking their huddles with a “1, 2, 3, championship” chant.
With the presence of Steve Nash, who will take over a lot of the play creation and ball handling pressure that Kobe has been responsible for for the majority of his career, Kobe will have more options in front of him that will naturally unfold. Bryant can take a step back from iso plays, which have been a hurdle for him, and be able to recognize and take advantage of high-opportunity plays, either via passing or shooting.
Additionally, having Dwight Howard dominate the paint, an improved Metta World Peace on the wing and several options that have opened up for Pau Gasol will only benefit Kobe’s performance as well as the team’s.
Last season, Kobe shot 43 percent from the field. He has a career shooting percentage of 45.3 with the 2001-02 season being responsible for his highest shooting percentage season throughout his career at 46.9. ESPN’s Chris Palmer has Kobe shooting about 46 percent this season. I personally believe he will end the season with a 46.3 shooting percentage averaging around 24 points per game. Kobe’e efficiency is already showing improvements in the preseason, as he is averaging 20.4 points per game on 50 percent shooting.
The team has been assembled. Mike Brown has set up a workable offensive system. The bench has been improved, despite their overall performance in the preseason. Kobe has already made adjustments to his game to answer father time.
Now, Kobe must make adjustments to become more efficient. He needs it and the team needs it, and if anyone has the work ethic and dedication to make it happen, I’ll put my money on Kobe Bryant.
In case you missed it: Dwight Howard talks about his Lakers debut.
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