Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers could go down in NBA history as the most flexible player of all time. He’s done more to add elements to his game than anyone in recent memory as the league has changed around him. Lakersnation.com has reported he’s ready to continue that evolution, but how might be go about it?
When Bryant entered the league, he was an incredible athlete capable of seemingly anything on a basketball court – except hitting a jumper consistently. As defenses continued to sag off of him to force him into a jump shooter, he essentially moved into the gym to add that to his game. Now, he’s among the best mid-range shooters in NBA history.
In his prime, Kobe maintained elite athleticism but matched it with an extraordinary offensive skill set. Brandon Jennings recently called him unguardable during that period, and he couldn’t have been more right on that front. The scoring binges Bryant went on neared, matched or broke some of the league’s oldest scoring records.
Did he shoot too much? Maybe. But you’d be pressed to find a better option than Bryant isolated on the wing during the early to mid-2000s.
When the Lakers won their two most recent titles, Bryant added a post-up game to his repertoire to punish today’s smaller shooting guards. Then head coach Phil Jackson made a concerted effort to get Bryant the ball at or below the elbows with his dribble intact where he would need one or two dribbles at most to get a shot off. This was probably the most efficient period of Bryant’s career.
Now, a few years and two major injuries later, much of that athleticism has dissipated and Kobe is entering a fourth and probably final era of his career. I wrote that he should consider splitting time at small forward this season to take further advantage of his post skills, and he’s an underrated passer from those spots on the court as well.
His game will probably continue to slow down and move closer to the basket for more pinch-post looks. I’d also look for him to work off the ball more often as well. It would be interesting to see him as the screener in pick-and-pop sets as defenders won’t want to leave him for open mid-range shots.
Defensively, he’ll have to work on his off-ball help positioning, which has become pretty subpar over the last couple years. Too often, Bryant would leave shooters open to go for steals. He’ll have to improve that this season or the Lakers will be too inefficient on that side of the ball to compete consistently.
No matter how he goes about it, Kobe anticipates that he’ll have to make continued changes to his game. He’s shown that he’s more than willing to do so and his evolution has been as successful as anyone in the league history. What he does on both sides of the ball will be an intriguing storyline throughout the season and one that will largely affect the Lakers’ season outcome.