Is Kobe New and Improved or Just More Appreciated?Golden State Coach Don Nelson recently said that Kobe Bryant "is not just the best player in the league but probably the best leader."
Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times reports that Nelson had some additional comments about Bryant:
He allows these guys to do their thing and be successful and encourages them. He makes them even better than they are by playing alongside of him. He truly makes everybody better when he's on the floor with them.
And you couldn't say that five years ago. But now you can say it. That's why he's such a complete player. When coaches look at players, we look at them a little bit differently. Do they make their surrounding teammates better? The answer with him is yes, yes, yes.
Coaches and scouts watch game film to break down player and team tendencies, so they know exactly who is creating scoring opportunities and defensive stops and who is dependent on someone else to create scoring opportunities and cover up defensive mistakes; statistics tell (some) of what happened in a basketball game but do not explain how it happened.
Bryant was understandably pleased when someone told him about Nelson's remarks: "That means a lot, because that's always been a big knock toward my game. To hear that coming from him, it means a lot. It means I'm doing the right thing." However, Bryant does not agree with the notion that five years ago he did not make teammates better:
I think my role changed so people looked for me to do that. When Shaq was here, people think that he got a lot of easy baskets because he was Shaq. I was feeding all of those. It's not something that's new to me. I think just the perception of me having a different role has brought to the forefront what I'm doing for everybody else. It's tough to say you made Shaq better. I just think on this team it gets a little more enhanced. It's because of the spotlight. 'This is Kobe's team.' So now everybody is looking at my leadership and what am I doing. The team we had before, I was still a leader...It was more on the lower level, more undercover. Now, you have the spotlight, so people look at that. This is not something that's new to me, to be honest. I think it's just the attention that people paid to it is a lot greater now than it was then.
Numbers don't tell the whole story and assists are a subjective statistic but it is worth noting that Bryant led the Lakers in assists per game (apg) in the regular season and the playoffs during each of their three championship seasons (2000, 2001, 2002). Ironically, even though Bryant is receiving more praise than ever for being a team leader and willing passer, he has had several seasons in which his apg averages exceeded the numbers he posted last season (5.4 apg) and this season (4.2 apg in 30 games); Bryant's career-high is the 6.0 apg he averaged in 2004-05. The reality is that Bryant has been a willing and able playmaker for quite some time; assist averages have a lot to do with scorekeeping and the placement of the players on the court (Bryant often creates shots by drawing double teams but does not get assists on those plays because he makes the first pass out of the trap, not the final pass before the shot). The only way to truly understand Bryant's role as a playmaker (or anyone else's role as a playmaker) is to watch the Lakers play and see how he creates open shots for himself and his teammates.
The ironic thing is that it is almost an annual rite of passage for someone to declare that we are witnessing a "new" Kobe Bryant who is now a willing passer; that may have been a legitimate story angle in 2000, when Bryant led the Lakers in assists for the first time, but it is old news now.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:04 AM