The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t winning games (or hardly winning), but Kobe Bryant has suddenly decided he isn’t going to keep embarrassing himself and his career, taking less shots, making more of them and looking like the kind of player the Lakers actually need in this weird season.
The Lakers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 113-95 with Bryant scoring 22 points in 27 minutes with 6 assists. The Lakers looked like a team that has fun out there. Moving D’Angelo Russell away from Bryant (not all the time, but some of the time) might have been the second good decision Byron Scott has made in almost two years, the other being pushing Jordan Clarkson to get more minutes. Clarkson was the inefficient chucker for one game (5-of-14 from the field, 12 points) while Russell scored 19 points in 30 minutes with 7 assists and 3 steals. In the last four games, Russell is averaging 19.5 points and 5 assists a night. More like what the Lakers thought when they drafted him. But Bryant suddenly not destroying everything for everyone but himself is the big story on an irrelevant team.
And the numbers in this case say it all. Kobe Bryant, through the first 17 games of the season, was averaging 15.9 points per game while shooting 29.6% from the field and 21.8% from beyond the arc. Awful. Terrible. We wrote quite a lot of times about how terrible he is for the franchise in recent years, and this season, up to that point, was no exception. The Lakers were 3-17 after 20 games into the season (Bryant rested on three of those).
Since then? Well the Lakers aren’t running for the title or the playoffs, winning just one of the last five games. But Bryant has suddenly started hitting his shots. He takes less of them, and he cooled off on trying to hit just 3-pointers. He’s scored 18.2 points a night in the last five games, while shooting 47.2% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. That’s some nice, effective, good shooting you’d expect from a smart player who knows what works and what doesn’t for him at this stage.
With Bryant scoring and without, the Lakers are a hot mess of tanking and awful coaching, and winning more than 20 games this season will be surprising in my opinion. But Bryant playing this way – not hogging the ball and sometimes letting the youngsters play the final minutes while he sits on the bench, even if it’s up to him, which shouldn’t be how a basketball team is being run, makes sense. Makes so much sense. Which is the exact opposite of the first quarter of his retirement campaign.