Even with a talented starting lineup, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will still… ( Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
This is the second post in a series focusing on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2012-13 season.
1. Kobe Bryant needs to score off easier looks. With a much more talented supporting cast, Bryant will no longer need to carry an overwhelmingly significant chunk of the offense. But that puts the onus on Bryant to ensure that his shot attempts become more efficient. It was never a good idea that Bryant scored 21.7% of his points last season in isolation sets. He shot only 37.3% in such plays. Though his scoring last season ranked second in the NBA only behind Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Bryant's 43% clip from the field represented his lowest shooting percentage since the 1996-97 season, his second year in the league. Yet, Coach Mike Brown and Bryant opted for that look partly because the Lakers didn't have a reliable enough point guard in either Derek Fisher and Ramon Sessions to set him up with better quality shots.
There's no such excuse this season. Steve Nash's ballhandling skills, Dwight Howard's paint presence and Pau Gasol's versatility should allow Bryant to receive more shots off cuts to the basket, along the elbows and in the post. Should Bryant take this approach, It's possible he could replicate last season's mark of 27.9 points per game at a more efficient rate.
2. Bryant needs to play fewer minutes. All season long, Brown talked openly about the need to limit Bryant to 33 to 35 minutes per game so that he would stay healthy and fresh. But that never really happened in the regular season. Bryant averaged 38.5 minutes per game, a sharp increase from the 33.9 minutes he logged in the 2010-11 season.
Such a heavy workload partly reflected the Lakers' flimsy roster. Guard Andrew Goudelock became the team's definitive backup shooting guard, and his only consistent strength rested on his outside shooting. Brown also leaned on Bryant's scoring since he didn't have time to fully implement his offense in a shortened training camp. But this also reflected Brown's insecurity on not putting faith in the big picture. Bryant only rested for the last eight games because of a left shin injury, a circumstance that helped fuel Bryant's 30 points per game average in the postseason.
Brown can't use such excuses this season in playing Bryant heavy minutes. He'll have a full training camp. The Lakers have three other Hall-of-Fame starters in Howard, Nash and Gasol. And the team acquired backup shooting guard Jodie Meeks, who's expected to play behind Bryant. Monitoring Bryant's minutes more consistently will ensure that he's not burned out when the Lakers need him in the postseason.
3. Bryant needs to delegate appropriately. His time in the 2012 London Olympics provided the perfect template on how he should approach this upcoming season. Hit the open man. Allow teammates to have their moments in the limelight. Don't worry about single-handedly carrying the team.
Of course, the circumstances are different playing with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. It's easier sacrificing for the U.S. national team when there's overwhelming talent and the team plays only over a two-week span. But following the same approach will allow Bryant to conserve energy while the Lakers fully tap into their offensive depth.
Doing this goes beyond ensuring consistent post touches for Howard and Gasol as well as pick-and-roll schemes with Nash. Bryant should also delegate defensive responsibilities to Metta World Peace on the wing and the post players on help defense. Doing so will maximize Bryant's energy and help him be more accurate when he shoots the ball.
4. Bryant still needs to have a large stake in the offense. Make no mistake. Bryant's not playing a supporting-cast role. He'll still need to lead the Lakers in points. He'll take most of the game-winning shot attempts. He'll command the majority of the team's field-goal attempts. It may be a tight balancing act Bryant will need to follow so the Lakers maximize their offensive skill-sets. But those parts become more dangerous when Bryant's at his most aggressive. That draws the most double teams, helps Bryant attack the basket and find open jumpers and establishes Bryant's shooting rhythm in quicker fashion.
5. Bryant needs to lead the team. Regardless of the Lakers' talent, no one matches his experience or intensity. So it's going to be on Bryant to continue shaping the Lakers' attitude in their quest for an NBA championship. This year brings a few new dynamics. Bryant's presence will largely influence whether Howard will adopt a more serious championship mind-set. Bryant's intimidating presence will complement Nash's positive reinforcement. And the Black Mamba's unyielding work ethic should set a positive example on the bench newcomers (Antawn Jamison, Meeks).
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