No. 24 gets the basketball in his hands more than any other Laker for the mere fact that he is Kobe Bryant, one of the most talented and accomplished players the game has ever known.
In his more than 1,400 NBA games (including the playoffs), Bryant has constantly found himself in position to either shoot or pass the ball. If he shoots and makes it, he receives praise. If he passes and gets the assist, he receives praise. But if he shoots and misses, he is called a ball hog. And if he passes and his teammates miss often enough, he’ll take over the game himself, and the scrutiny follows.
It’s a conundrum that faces every star player who has the ability to get his own shot whenever he wants, and it seems to follow Bryant more than most. When do you put it on your own shoulders? When do you involve your teammates? It’s not easy to figure out, and the puzzle changes with each game.
On nights like Friday against Portland, when the Lakers held a comfortable 22-point lead at the end of the third quarter and Bryant sat down after pouring in 27 points, head coach Mike D’Antoni doesn’t mind the Black Mamba take-over at all.
After the victory, D’Antoni poked fun at reporters who had been keeping tabs on how often the Lakers lose when Bryant scores at least 30 points (the 1-9 after the loss to Cleveland earlier this month has since improved to 6-11).
“Let me ask you guys something. If Kobe gets 27, divide that by 3, that’s 9 points a quarter … does his record go up if he’s over 35 points?” he said with a laugh. “Is that right, you don’t do that? It’s just weird, it’s just redundant?”
Things aren’t as jovial on nights like the 79-77 loss to the Indiana Pacers a month ago, when Bryant scored 40 points but also had 10 turnovers.
'He's doing a remarkable job'
What is a star player to do?
Lakers legend and Time Warner Cable SportsNet studio analyst James Worthy, who played with a star in Magic Johnson who seemed to master the right balance, said every star player has to enhance players around him and know when to pass the ball.
Given Bryant’s stats and place as the leading scorer in the league, Worthy said “he’s doing a remarkable job.” Steve Nash’s return has made a difference for the better, he added.
“(Bryant’s) consistency is a lot better, he’s not turning the ball around as much because his natural position is shooting guard instead of point guard,” Worthy said. “I think he needs to continue to allow Steve to be the guy handling the ball down the stretch.”
It could be that Bryant isn’t his best as a point guard, and judging his performance in the shooting guard position would be fairer.
Bryant alluded to something along those lines after leading the Lakers to an overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 22, scoring 34 points on 41 shots.
“Yeah, I mean I couldn’t imagine Michael Jordan not wanting to play with John Stockton,” he said, drawing the comparison to himself and Nash. “I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t imagine. I mean, to me it’s like putting a kid in the candy store.”
'You've got to take the great with the bad'
After the Lakers’ close, 101-100 triumph over the Charlotte Bobcats on Dec. 18, how many points Bryant scored seemed to be the least of D’Antoni’s concerns.
“He plays the right way, he can score over 30 and that’s not a problem, that just meant that he had to shoulder the responsibility to try to get in the position to win,” he said. “If we play the right way, he can score over 30 and we should win.”
As Time Warner Cable SportsNet analyst Dave Miller put it: “With some players, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. With Kobe Bryant, you’ve got to take the great with the bad.”
Miller added: “He’s not selfish. If things aren’t going the way he thinks they should, then yes, he’s going to take over.”
The win at Golden State was a night when Bryant didn’t have to take over, and he sounded pretty pleased about that, commenting that Devin Ebanks and Antawn Jamison were having a good game and the team moved the ball extremely well.
“Everybody contributed, everybody played hard I mean that’s a good dilemma to have,” Bryant said. “I think us as a team, we’ve just got to be unselfish and whoever’s playing well stays in and plays and I think guys on the team accept that.”
And it seems the guys in the team also accept that the guy playing the best is usually Kobe Bryant.
You can follow Jessica Kwong on Twitter at @JessicaGKwong.