As Tyler Conway of The Bleacher Report explains, Kobe Bryant hasn’t exactly asserted himself offensively and looks a bit out of sync with the rest of the guys on Team USA. He expresses skepticism on Kobe’s behalf to fully adjust to a new system with a true point guard–Steve Nash–and feels that Kobe’s play in the Olympic games will be a measure of how he will play with his new teammate.
I, however, respectfully disagree and see it from a different perspective. (I’m a biased Lakers fan, so of course I would).
Conway compares this 2012 experience with the 2008 experience, where, as he states, Kobe was the “unquestioned leader” of that team and took the most shots among his teammates (104, compared with the second-highest; LeBron James’ 83). Although Bryant took more shots than anyone, he still averaged a point less than leading scorer Dwyane Wade and was a half point behind second-leading scorer, LeBron James who averaged 16.0 and 15.5 points, respectively to Kobe’s 15.0 points.
However, Kobe’s role on that team was to be the team’s first-line perimeter defender and focus on scoring less. Additionally, Wade shot an astounding 67 percent from the field whereas James shot 60 percent. But, many of those shots came in the paint and/or transition, and many were from forced turnovers by the likes of Bryant.
Kobe–having shed 20 pounds for those Olympic games much as he shed 16 pounds for these Olympic games–spent more time around the perimeter and less time in the paint, but still managed to average 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from behind the three-point line. Those numbers, in fact, were exactly the same as his regular season numbers were in the 2007-2008 regular season–the season in which he won his first and only MVP award.
The point I am getting at here is that it doesn’t matter how Kobe is playing at the moment, because in those Olympic games, he showed he can co-exist with three of the best play-makers in the world, get his shots, and still manage to take over in crunch time the way he did in the gold medal game against Spain. The three play-makers I’m referring to are Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Deron Williams, who totaled 33, 30, and 22 assists, respectively; Kobe, in perspective, dished out a total of 17 assists in those games as well, which was fourth on the team.
Kobe was obviously “the man” on that Olympic team along with a couple of others, but he is also “the man” on the Lakers, and I believe he can replicate what he did in those Olympic games in the regular season with Steve Nash.
Having said that, I actually do believe that Kobe has, at least for now, taken a back seat to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. I understand Conway’s concern that Bryant is a player who grew up under the read-and-react style Triangle offense just as Michael Jordan–who also never played with an All-Star point guard in his championship years–did, and may be a player who needs the ball in order to be effective, but I still believe he can and will adjust without much trouble.
Now, on to these Olympic games, which have only been played in the capacity of exhibition games. Conway reveals that he was “shocked” Bryant came in fifth with regards to shot attempts (just seven per game), and believes that Kobe is using his Olympic experience as an experiment to see how he will fare next season with another dominant ball-handler.
He explains that Kobe will likely have to alter his game, which is true, but also declares this small, sample-sized exhibition season as the indicator for what Kobe will look like next season:
He will have to re-learn how to come off down screens and knock down catch-and-shoot opportunities. Bryant will have to move without the ball to help create spacing. And he’ll have to cut down on his patented top-key isolation turnaround jumpers.
Bryant will essentially become the player we’ve seen thus far for Team USA. And the results thus far have been a mixed bag to put it kindly.
With this, I couldn’t disagree more.
Next Page: Kobe’s Role with Team USA