When was the last time Kobe Bryant had to share the floor for extended minutes with another dynamic wing scorer? You could argue Caron Butler for the 2003-2004 season, but Kobe was the de facto point guard that season, with point guard Chucky Atkins more of a spot up shooter.
To find a time where Kobe had to share the wings with another elite off the dribble player, you’d have to go back to Eddie Jones in the late 90’s. Jones and Bryant had almost identical games at the time, which was a testament to their all around skill and shared Philadelphia roots.
Jones was the established star and Bryant the young supernova still finding his way, but it worked for a short time. Bryant quickly became too dominant to take a backseat to Jones and he was traded away for the more complimentary Glen Rice.
Entering his 19th season, Bryant still is garnering attention. And with good reason. When healthy, during the 2012-2013 season, Bryant was still a top 3 player, able to will his team toward the playoffs. There is some question as to whether Kobe can remain healthy and if he can be as productive as in previous seasons, but that is just fuel for him.
Kobe Bryant and Nick Young are the Lakers’ two best scorers and as such will need to play together for extended minutes for the Lakers to close out and win games. With Bryant’s minutes expected to come down, there will still be plenty of time for Young to be the focal point offensively with the 2nd unit. For the Lakers to be good, however, Young needs to evolve into more than just a scoring threat when he has the ball in his hands and he will need to log significant time next to Bryant when it matters.
An awkwardly small sample size of just 6 games from last season, is all that there is to look at how the two might play together. Bryant was returning from months of layoff and rehab and was not sharp upon his return. In the 6 games, Bryant averaged 13.5 points, while Young averaged 17.1 points. In three of the 6 games they both scored in double figures, including one game in which Bryant scored 21 and Young 18.
Mike D’Antoni played them apart from one another for the most part because both are ball centric. Whereas Kobe no longer wastes his dribble, he nonetheless stops the ball with a deliberate triple threat setup. He’s the best off the dribble midrange shooter ever, but he must change.
Swaggy P is at his best when he has a defender on an island, rthymically snake charming with his handle. You know the pull up 18 footer is coming but he’s gonna get the shot off against anyone (ask Lebron) and when he’s going good, he’ll nail most of him. Its a sight to behold, but he must change.
Young needs to attack the rim more, as he did last season when he had a career high in free throw attempts. He also needs to find his teammates more. When the Lakers signed him to a multi year deal, for the first time Young has found a home, now he must adapt to fit the team’s needs.
Bryant can still score to his historical averages but he needs to get them differently. He should be primarily in the post, where his skill, guile, and strength are unmatched at the two guard position. He should be run off screens for catch and shoot opportunities, and lastly he should play point guard in limited minutes and look for offense as a secondary option. We can no longer ask him to do everything all the time, every game. Bryant has to pick his spots.
With both players at crossroads in their career, Young moving into his prime with newfound maturity, and Bryant managing his body and minutes, there is a middle ground where both players can coexist and thrive – together. Young can learn from the legend when to attack and when to facilitate. Bryant can let Swaggy P run around like he used to way back in ’05 and ’06. They need to share the ball with each other and their teammates.
Kobe hasn’t smiled much in his career, weighed down with his own lofty expectations, and scrutinized like no other all time top 5 talent has ever been. Swaggy P brings the fun in buckets. Maybe this is how the last chapter should be, Kobe with a smile, letting us get close to him finally, as he tries to climb the mountain again…one last time.