Kobe Bryant is officially back! Well, almost. According to reports, Kobe has finally been cleared for full basketball activities following his season-ending shoulder surgery back in January. With just a week until training camp kicks time, now is the perfect time to predict how Kobe will perform in his 20th NBA campaign.
With an inexperienced roster and tons of mileage under his belt, can Kobe have a productive season in what may end up being his swan song?
Last year, Kobe definitely had a few nice moments displaying his unwavering ability to make difficult plays and clutch shots, though he battled overall inconsistency and injury throughout. The fact that opponents locked in on Kobe, coupled with Coach Byron Scott’s desire to continue to run his offense through a 36-year old, did not do wonders for Kobe’s efficiency. He ended the season at 37% from the field, a career-low.
Part of it was Kobe’s own doing but the Lakers frequently found themselves in early holes, as he famously explained, “Obviously I’d rather get guys involved early, but if a purse gets stolen in front of you, how many blocks are you going to let the guy run? You going to chase him down and keep him in sight yourself or just wait for the authorities to get there, or decide to let him run and wait for the authorities to get there? It’s a tough thing.” (via ESPN.com)
#MambaMentality? Or an aging superstar struggling to adapt during the twilight of his career? However you wish to spin it, Kobe simply needed more ball-handlers, shot creators and floor spacers to play next to.
Over the summer, Los Angeles actually did a decent job securing guards who can dish and score. They signed Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams from Toronto and drafted combo guard D’Angelo Russell (#2 overall, Ohio State) to go along with 2015 All-Rookie First-Teamer Jordan Clarkson and irrationally confident, bucket-getter, Nick Young (or Swaggy P as the kids call him).
Williams and Young figure to get nice minutes at both guard spots (and even small forward for Young), so scoring off the bench should not be much of an issue. However, the two mirror each other since they look for their own shot nine times out of ten. Swaggy P, in fact, averages a little over an assist per game over his 8-year career…which is awful (or hilariously awesome?).
So to maximize Kobe’s talents, Coach Scott might have to play him with Clarkson and Russell the majority of the time. It makes a ton of sense for Kobe to play some minutes at the three while Clarkson and Russell take control of the 1 and 2. The trio would get torched defensively but it could pan out on the other end.
At 6’5, both Clarkson and Russell are skilled penetrators and emerging floor generals who can kick it out to Kobe for easy shots in the flow of the offense.
We’re not saying the Black Mamba should be reduced to strictly as a spot-up shooter but he has an excellent chance to thrive playing a role similar to the one Paul Pierce played with the young Wizards last season, albeit with added responsibility. Kobe’s hunger and desire to continue being the best player on the Lakers could give him pause to “play off” guys like Russell, Clarkson and even Roy Hibbert (HA!) but at the same time, a lessened load gives him a better chance at a productive year.
But while it sounds good for Kobe to let his teammates (Russell, Williams, Young & Clarkson) handle the bulk of shot creating and ball-handling, it has a slim chance of actually happening. Kobe’s free reign, as a result, will lead to sub-43% shooting from the field and many difficult looks.
But knowing Kobe, he’ll also have some throwback performances like this one:
When it is all said and done, Kobe’s final 2015-16 stat line will be something close to: 22.5 points/game, 4.5 assists/game & 3.5 rebounds/game on 42% shooting. Whether it translates to a playoff appearance (or beyond) is the big question.
Whatever happens though, it will be interesting to witness what the Mamba does in his (possible) last go round.