The concept of the Kobe Bryant retirement tour while the Los Angeles Lakers tank away another season was embarrassing mostly due to Bryant’s own performances. But suddenly, maybe with conditioning finally kicking in and his legs no longer pulling him down, it looks like he’s not just having fun, but actually playing well.
Bryant scored 31 points as the Lakers won 111-107 against the Denver Nuggets, only their fifth win of the season and their first since December 15 against the Bucks. They’re now 3-16 on the road and 5-23 overall. There’s nothing about this season to be happy about, but with the franchise putting Bryant in the front of this season and possibly as the only thing that matters as they try to get another lottery pick, seeing him actually playing well and not hurting the team has to be something of a vindication feeling for those making the decisions.
It all changed for Bryant after another appalling performance (2-of-15 from the field) to end the first week of December. He pulled himself out in the next game, telling Byron Scott to let the young guys finish. If Scott wasn’t going to develop the youngster, it would be Bryant. Kobe doesn’t really care about anything beyond his numbers, how he’s remembered and how he’s being mentioned during his final year on an NBA court, but even he realized that something has to be done while he’s stinking up arenas night after night.
So, it’s about the body and the mind. Bryant has talked about his legs feeling fine and his body feeling fine. But there has to be some mental change in there as well, right? That’s only true if you believe Bryant is capable of thinking of something other than himself and his own legacy, writing its final lines in the few months he has left in Lakers uniform. Going out as one of the more horrendous players in the league simply wasn’t an option, right? For now, it seems like he’s changing the narrative a bit. He’s still a bane on the franchise, but it’s harder to blame him when he’s actually making shots.
In the last seven games, Bryant is shooting an incredible 48.2% from the field while scoring 20.6 points per game. He stopped taking a ridiculous amount of 3-pointers (“only” six per game in the recent stretch), hitting them at a decent amount, 33.3%. In the 17 games before that, Bryant shot an abysmal 29.6% from the field while attempting almost 8 shots from beyond the arc per game, making 21.8% of them and scoring 15.9 points a night.
Against the Nuggets he still did too many things he shouldn’t, with 2-of-9 from beyond the arc. But no one is going to stop Bryant from doing anything. As it’s always been for the Lakers, it’s about him, and the rest simply have to adjust. When he’s scoring and not missing too many shots, the noises of criticism disappear. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep this kind of relative efficiency up, or perhaps there’s an expiration date on his new found shooting ability.