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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Classic "Cleaner" Performance by Kobe Bryant

Tim Grover divides competitors into three categories: Coolers, Closers and Cleaners. In his new book Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable (co-written with Shari Lesser Wenk), Grover explains how a Cleaner operates: "When things go wrong and everyone else starts to panic, the Cleaner is calm and unflappable, cool and steady, never too high or too low, never too happy or too depressed. He never sees problems, only situations to resolve, and when he finds the solution, he doesn't waste time explaining it. He just says, 'I got this.'"

Kobe Bryant is the ultimate Cleaner. Being a Cleaner is not about statistics--although Bryant's statistics are impressive--but about having a dominating mindset. Bryant is performing at a remarkably high level as he tries to carry his injured and dysfunctional L.A. Lakers to the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth; he is defying age, injuries and desultory play by several of his teammates and he is overcoming a coaching staff that is unable or unwilling to construct a coherent team defensive philosophy: on Wednesday night the Lakers gave up 41 first quarter points to a sub-.500 Portland team that started four rookies but Bryant refused to let the Lakers lose, producing a stat line (season-high 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocked shots, three steals) that has never been seen in the NBA since the league officially began tracking steals and blocked shots in 1973-74. The Lakers rallied to post a 113-106 victory as Bryant played all 48 minutes while shooting 14-27 from the field and 18-18 from the free throw line. It is difficult to decide which of his numbers is the most amazing: a 34 year old shooting guard is not supposed to play an entire game without a second's rest or shoot better than .500 from the field with that volume of attempts or make all 18 of his free throws or block shots like an All-Defensive Team center. Again, though, this is not about numbers; this is about relentlessly doing whatever it takes to win. After the game, Bryant explained his approach: "You don't look for excuses, you don't wait for anybody else to make rotations, you do it yourself and by doing it, it sets an example for everybody else to do the same thing."

Grover writes in Relentless that a Cleaner not only plays at the highest possible level but he insists that his teammates also maximize their potential: "A Cleaner tells you what he expects and demands you deliver. Dwight Howard tells a great story about calling Kobe just before the start of the Lakers' 2012 pre-season, to tell him he was feeling good, that his surgically repaired back was probably at 85 percent. 'That's good,' said Kobe. 'Need you at one hundred percent. Trying to win a ring. Bye.' Get on my level or get out of my way." If Howard is smart, he will take note of the impact that Bryant has had on Pau Gasol's career and Howard will try to squeeze the most out of the brief but precious remaining time he will share the court with Bryant.

In the Lakers' previous game--Tuesday's 104-96 victory over the New Orleans Hornets--Bryant not only scored a game-high 30 points (including 23 in the fourth quarter), rebounded (six boards), passed (six assists) and defended (five steals) but he also coached, instructing Gasol about how to best utilize his skills: "I basically told him, dude, especially when I'm not in the game, you just gotta go to the block and not move. When I'm out there, I can slow the game down, call plays off, and just give it to him--but if I'm not, then listen, you just gotta go to the block and not move. Just stand there." Gasol followed Bryant's advice and had one of his best games of the season (22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots).

Playing alongside Kobe Bryant has transformed Gasol's entire career and legacy, elevating him from a one-time All-Star who had never won a playoff game to a four-time All-Star, two-time NBA champion and three-time All-NBA performer whose NBA resume may now be impressive enough--combined with his FIBA resume--for him to be selected as a Basketball Hall of Famer.

Although Bryant has brought out the best in a host of teammates ranging from Pau Gasol to Lamar Odom (whose career has cratered since leaving Bryant's side) to Andrew Bynum to the infamous center/point guard duo Kwame Brown/Smush Parker (who started on two playoff teams with Bryant despite never doing anything notable in the NBA before or after being Bryant's teammate), Bryant's individual productivity should not be overlooked: he is averaging 27.3 ppg, 6.0 apg and 5.6 rpg this season, the eighth  "25-5-5" campaign of his career (Oscar Robertson holds the all-time record with nine such seasons and LeBron James is on pace this season to tie Robertson's mark). Bryant averaged 29.8 ppg in 45.2 mpg as the Lakers won four of their last five games to slide ahead of the Utah Jazz in the race for the Western Conference's final playoff spot; if the 42-37 Lakers win their remaining three games then they will clinch that berth no matter what 41-38 Utah does but the Lakers have to finish ahead of the Jazz in the standings because the Jazz own the head to head tiebreaker.

Bryant will probably never get the credit he deserves for this season because commentators will be more inclined to look at the high profile names on the Lakers' roster as opposed to objectively evaluating how those players actually performed--and how much injuries/coaching changes destroyed the team's chemistry--but 2012-13 has been one of the best seasons of Bryant's career, which is incredible considering that he is a 17 year veteran who has logged over 45,000 regular season minutes plus an additional 8641 playoff minutes. Of the 14 other players in ABA/NBA history who accumulated at least 45,000 regular season minutes only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone were All-NBA caliber players after passing the 45,000 minute mark. Bryant should make the All-NBA First Team this season and he should finish in the top five in MVP voting.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:08 AM



At Thursday, April 11, 2013 4:46:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

i have a plea for kobe...
start delfecting praises coming his way and share them with the team. share them with pau since gasol needs validation to perform at a high level. share them with dwight most especially since howard craves validation and media fawning more than anyone on the team.
i have never doubted kobe could play at this level. his mental fortitude we could all see from his demeanor on the court the past few games. cool, calm and unflappable. and i most especially am impressed this season with his attitude whenever he had high turnover games. he never hesitate to point that out to media right after games. bashers call him media spinning. i call that owning up to mistakes and setting an example for accountability. great leaders do that.
he could take the team to another level by deflecting praises after these wins to his team. galvanize the team and everyone will start coming together and fall behind this once in a generation basketball legend. and maybe, just maybe, the lakers can go all the way.

At Thursday, April 11, 2013 6:16:00 PM, Anonymous JACKF said...

Why is kobe getting criticized by people for his performance last night? I watched the whole game and kobe was the only player on the Lakers who came to play. Portland were running the Lakers off the floor and Kobe is the only who seemed to believe that they could win. And after the game all Gasol could do was complain?? I just dont get it. I understand there are some nights people can criticize Kobe for the way he approach the game, last night wasn't one of them. Its ironic these comments would come from Gasol when kobe is the one who has supported Gasol the most this season.

At Friday, April 12, 2013 5:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that Bryant has done a very good job of praising and encouraging both Howard and Gasol throughout this season. Bryant has often passed up open shots to feed the ball to Howard and he has insisted that Gasol is valuable even though Gasol appears to be a declining player.

No matter how much praise Bryant offers, he cannot change the Lakers' ingrained (bad) habits, the team's lack of speed and the coaching staff's inability/unwillingness to devise an effective defensive game plan. I believe that the Bryant-Howard duo can lead an appropriately constructed and well coached team to a championship but the likelihood that the 2013 Lakers will win the championship is extremely low; they are wearing Bryant out just to clinch the eighth seed!

At Friday, April 12, 2013 5:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

As I have said many times before when you ask similar questions, I cannot explain why other people say stupid things.

At Saturday, April 13, 2013 10:26:00 AM, Anonymous Alfharidi said...

Hi David,

I was left speechless - as many were I believe - after Bryant's injury yesterday.
I found on the web a photo of Bryant shooting his second freethrow, knowing already what the rest of the world did not know just yet - what an example of tragic irony. I've long said (and written) that Bryant is Odysseus to Jordan's Achilles. This is the proper time to expand this similitude.
Looking forward to an article of yours on that matter.

At Monday, April 15, 2013 6:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At Thursday, April 18, 2013 1:50:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

i am just absolutely angry right now. kobe is out of the playoffs and we lose a chance to see how the lakers will fare against san antonio with an almost intact lineup (nash is questionable right now) and peaking at the right time. also angry that it took 80 games for dwight and pau to get their right mindsets (i blame human frailties) and dominate inside on both ends of the court. if they only fell in line behind kobe and not pout and not bicker about touches and minutes, kobe wouldn't have to overexert himself in that fateful game which ended his season.
i have always said the lakers just needed to buy in coach mda's system and fall behind kobe's leadership, and the lakers will be alright. too bad it had to take this long for dwight and pau to exert themselves. it is hogwash to say that kobe took shots away from both. it is more accurate to say that kobe kept on setting the table for both and had to assert himself when both fail to show aggression both in shotmaking/getting themselves open.
unlike most, i believe veteran teams dominate the playoffs. and the lakers have both veteran backcourt and frontcourt players. damn...


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