Whatever the circumstances, a player who is four months away from his 38th birthday scoring 60 points is impressive. The way Kobe Bryant has been playing this season for the Los Angeles Lakers, anytime he scores over 25 points is something of an achievement. After one final year in a downward spiral that included getting called old, washed up and the cause for the franchise being in its current situation, Bryant got the goodbye he was looking for.
Not a hero, not a villain. Just a player. A great one for many years, but no more. Bryant finished this season averaging 17.6 points (his lowest since 1998) while shooting 35.8% from the field. That’s the worst of his career, second consecutive of shooting under 40% and fourth year in a row of gradual shooting decline. His per minute numbers show Bryant hasn’t changed, and hasn’t let age or ability make him think he shouldn’t shoot. He averaged 21.5 shots per 36 minutes. Only in 2005-2006, when he led the NBA in scoring with 35.4 points per game, did Bryant attempt more shots per minute.
But this is Bryant. This has been him for the last few years, and maybe forever. The only two differences are the quality of his team and how Bryant is capable of affecting a game. His defense hasn’t existed for a while, and his presence on offense no longer makes defense change. He sometimes got hot, sometimes didn’t. A lot of the times he did more harm than good. But he still took shots. And still got a green light from the bench and Byron Scott. But what does Scott know about doing what’s right for the team?
In his final NBA game, Bryant took it to the extreme. He took 50 shots, making 22 of them. Dating back to the 1983-1984 season (the furthest we can go back using B/R), only three players have taken 45 shots in one game or more. Michael Jordan with 49 field goal attempts in 1993, hitting 55.1% of them and scoring 64 points; Chris Webber in 2001, hitting 51.1% of the shots and scoring 51 points. Kobe Bryant is the third. This was his fourth time, although it hasn’t happened since 2006. Interesting fact is that on four of those six games with 45 shots or more, the player in question was on the losing side.
Back to the present. Bryant didn’t suddenly #TBT and become the Bryant from 2005-2007, or the guy who led the Lakers to a couple of NBA championships in 2009 and 2010, or even the Bryant from the season with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, breaking his body en route to making the playoffs and getting swept. This was a Bryant that didn’t get the kind of attention from defense he did back in those days. This was a Bryant actually getting help from the defense in front him. The Jazz, no longer capable of making the playoffs at that point, seemed happy to help Bryant get the goodbye he wanted. The Lakers kept feeding him balls, as he attempted 50 of the team’s 81 shots. He was 10-for-12 from the line, but an abysmal 6-for-21 from beyond the arc.
And that’s it. He’s gone. The king of the ball hogs, who just happened to be one of the best players in the history of the game, is gone. Allen Iverson left the NBA before analytics took over and started “poisoning” our minds about volume scorers. Bryant had his down years, although his worst seasons are what some NBA players dream of, when efficiency became a much uttered words by fans. He didn’t fit anymore, but dragged on, worried only about his name and legacy, while sinking the Lakers to the absolute bottom. Now he’s gone, and they’re finally free.