Kobe Bryant: Scoring Titles or Free Agents?

by Jordan Lee

 lakerholicz.com

lakerholicz.com

Amidst a season filled with losses and disappointment, Kobe Bryant is still looking to make more history.  He already set the all-time mark for most misses in a career earlier this year, but is also on the fringe of breaking several other records held by the player he has always been compared to: Michael Jordan.

Before the New Year, the Lakers’ superstar should pass Jordan’s 32,292 career points, replacing him as the third highest scorer of all-time.  Kobe is also looking to usurp M.J.’s title as the oldest player ever to win the scoring title; Jordan averaged 28.7 points at 35 while Kobe currently leads the league with 26.7 at 36.

And while MJ infamously returned at 38 as a Washington Wizard, averaging 22.9 and 20.0 points in his final two seasons, Bryant will become the first 36-year old wing player to average at least 20 points per game (Jordan was retired at 36).

 bleacherreport.com

bleacherreport.com

While it’s incredible that Kobe can still score 26 points on a nightly basis, I don’t know if his lofty scoring outputs actually help the Lakers or himself.  

With Pau gone, Kobe needed everyone to step up if the Lakers wanted to be competitive in a deadly Western Conference.  But with Steve Nash and Julius Randle already ruled out for the year, the Lakers clearly don’t have enough talent to compete.  Hence, Bryant’s competitive nature has led him to take it upon himself to single-handedly try and win some games.  He acknowledges that he’s throwing up shots at a ridiculous rate, but only because he doesn’t think his teammates are getting it done:

 ftw.usatoday.com

ftw.usatoday.com

The main problem with this is that Bryant is in his mid-30s and far from the player he once was. He clearly doesn’t have the stamina, nor the legs, to continually throw up 24 shots throughout an 82 game season. 

I mean, the only other time we’ve seen Kobe take more than 24 shots per game was in the 2005-06 Season, when Smush Parker and Kwame Brown joined him in the starting lineup.  That year, Bryant averaged 35.4 points, had an absurd usage rate of 38.7%, and took a career high 27 shots per game (he led the league in all three categories), but the Lakers were winning.  With help from Lamar Odom, Kobe led a laughable supporting cast to the playoffs, posting a respectable 45-37 record.  You could have called him a ball-hog, but he was still getting things done efficiently.  He posted a true shooting percentage of 56% and had a career high PER of 28.

This year is a different story.  Kobe’s hero ball clearly isn’t helping as the Lakers sit on a miserable 3-11 record.  His usage rate has rocketed back up to 37.8% (only lower than his 05-06 usage rate), but Bryant has to realize he’s not the same player he was nine seasons ago.  He’s shooting career lows from the field (37.8%) and three-point line (28.6%), while staying just 0.4% above his career low in free-throws (79.8%).  As a result, his PER is below 20 for the first time since the 98-99 season.

I know Kobe’s just trying to win games, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the all-time scoring list is somewhat in the back of his mind.  And while climbing this list would be another nice addition to his jaw-dropping resume, we don’t need to see him break more scoring records.  We already know he’s the only shooting guard that can compare with the great MJ.  

At this point in Kobe's career, the only thing in question is his reputation as a lousy teammate. The spotlight recently found Kobe once again in an overtime loss against Denver.  Kobe is shown having no regard for any of his teammates, especially Xavier Henry.  Before this video, Danilo Gallinari had just missed the go ahead free-throw, and everyone on the Laker bench seemed excited...until Kobe showed up.

Everyone from Lin, to Byron, to Swaggy could not believe what they were hearing.  And who can blame them?   One player was telling his whole team to "get the f*** out the way," because he apparently "got it."

Every great champion from Bill Russell to Michael Jordan had great a supporting cast.  You simply need teammates to win a championship in the NBA, and now that Kobe is 36, he is going to need them more than ever.

Kobe obviously knows this, as he recently discussed how envious he is of the Spurs’ longevity.

"I'm extremely jealous of that," Bryant said this week. "I don't know if I can express to you how jealous I am of the fact that Tim, Tony [Parker], Manu [Ginobili] and Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] have all been together for all those years. Like, I can't even ... I can't express to you how jealous I am of that. Not all this up-and-down stuff."

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have all been together since 2002, winning a record 111 playoff games as a trio.  "It would be like if me, Pau, L.O. and Phil, if we were all just here, still," Bryant said. "It's crazy. That longevity is freaking crazy."

But Kobe needs to realize he must change his attitude towards all of his teammates in order to keep the good ones by his side.  Just think about it...  When’s the last time Duncan’s called out his teammates?  The answer is never; he only takes the blame.  For example, in the 2013 Finals, Duncan dominated the Miami Heat, especially at the end of the series.  In Game 6, he poured in 30 points and 17 rebounds in 44 minutes, followed up by a 24 and 12 performance in 43 minutes in Game 7.  However, it still wasn’t enough.

Duncan could have blamed the series on anyone.  He could have thrown Kawhi or Manu under the bus for missing free throws to ice Game 6, or criticized Pop for subbing him out before the famous Ray Allen three, but all he could talk about was the bunny he missed at the end of Game 7.  It was like Duncan was blaming himself for the Spurs loss in the Finals, even though he had done everything right for 99% of the game.  It’s these characteristics that make people want to play with you.  He only talks about his teammates and coach in the highest regard, and never points fingers, something Kobe is all too familiar with. 

At this point in his career, it’s fair to say Kobe’s ultimate goal is to win another championship and match Jordan’s 6.  Instead of trying to shoot his way to a victory, it would be beneficial for Kobe to prove he’s willing to play team ball and dominate within an offense.  He needs to show future free agents that he’s willing to be unselfish.  Prove that the Kobe who points fingers is gone.  I’m talking about the Kobe who ignored his starting point guard, Smush Parker, because he “need[ed] more accolades to talk to [him].”  And that definitely means no more walking into huddles telling everyone to get out of his way.

If Kobe can do this, it will definitely increase the chances of luring some free agents to LA.  This is his only chance to truly compete for his 6th ring (unless he leaves LA, which isn’t likely).  Look at all the veterans who were willing to go to Cleveland, of all places, just to help the greatest team player of our era win a ring.

LeBron James proved himself as one of the most selfless superstars in his first seven years with Cleveland.  They never surrounded him with championship caliber pieces, but he still tried to get everyone involved.  Mo Williams was an All-Star for crying out loud.  Even Daniel Gibson looked like a real NBA player.  And the Cavs somehow snagged the best record in the league in consecutive years.  Players are always making sacrifices to play alongside the King, and don’t expect any changes when he’s in his mid-30s.

And don’t expect Kobe to change either.  He’s always had an almost unhealthy desire to win and is likely going to keep pulling the trigger, which is understandable considering the Lakers’ bare roster.  Even at 36, you better believe that if the Lakers are going down, they’re going down on Kobe’s terms.  It’s just kind of what makes Kobe…. Kobe.

 nba.com

nba.com

I can see Kobe continuing to shoot 24+ times a game, but I’m not sure he has enough to win the scoring title.  I expect his efficiency to rise, but a scoring freak in his prime stands in his way: Kevin Durant.  I can almost guarantee KD will average at least 28 points per game, and even though he has missed a lot of games, he would only have to play in 50 to meet the 1,400 point requirement to qualify for league leaders (if he’s able to average 28).

LeBron probably won’t be competing for the scoring title this season, as he’ll have his hands full trying to find and build chemistry with a young Cavaliers team.  And Melo’s shot count is the fourth lowest it’s been in his entire career while adjusting within the triangle offense.  

Bryant is the only one who has a real shot at stopping Durant from winning his 5th scoring title in the last 6 years, especially if Kobe continues to try and take over games.  But for once, maybe Kobe should look at the bigger picture and try to win over some free agents instead.