To review, Kobe Bryant's game is ...
B) Hungry Hungry Hippos.
C) Shooting when he thinks shooting is the right thing to do.
The answer is C, and if there was any confusion Bryant cleared it up Monday afternoon in El Segundo, in the wake of his 6-for-28 outing against the Nuggets in Denver the night before. Asked about six different ways if he thought he shot too much Sunday night or if he planned on changing his approach, Kobe was pretty unambiguous:
"I do what I do. If guys are open, I kick it to them, if they're not, I shoot it. I play my game."
"I had shots. If I have shots, I take them. If I shoot the ball 40 times with good looks, that's what it is. (If I shoot it) 15 or 20 times, that's what it is."
Asked if the success of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the block meant they needed more shots: "We always start inside-out. ... If you mean (to ask me) if I'm going to shoot less, the answer is no. It starts with me. I do what I do and we play off of that. That's not going to change."
Nobody should be particularly surprised at Kobe's reaction. It would have been more surprising had he said something else. It has for a while been far more important to watch what Kobe does, not what he says, and generally speaking he does a good job balancing his roles as scorer and facilitator, and chooses his shots reasonably well.
He had a bad game, but has earned the right to have a few more before people decide he's gone permanently off the reservation.
Certainly Mike Brown, who watched game film with Bryant on the flight back to Los Angeles, wasn't stirring the pot Monday. "When you look at (6-for-28 in the box score), you think 'Oh my gosh, there's got to be a ton of bad shots, but if you go back and watch the game you see some of the shots he took, there were a lot of shots he took -- (I know) because I coached against him -- he normally makes," Brown said.
Asked if he thinks Bryant needs to back off, Brown said "No." Then for good measure, he said "no" four more times. Brown did say in reviewing the film, both he and Bryant found instances where Kobe could have made a different and better play. Brown also made it clear Kobe's wrist is a problem, presenting a challenge similar, though perhaps more daunting, than the finger issues he learned to play with over the last few seasons. The wrist is something he'll "work his way through," Brown said.
Which brings up the bigger issue. Set aside long-term concerns about Kobe's shot selection, that it might force a confrontation with Brown, or similar issues -- it's too early to worry about it, and treats Sunday's events like something we didn't know was going to happen from time to time -- that right wrist is a screaming neon danger sign. Brown says Kobe is still learning to play with it, and Kobe agrees.
Brown referenced Kobe's finger injuries as proof Kobe can overcome this sort of thing, and while his handle suffered, big picture Bryant indeed learned to compensate. If anyone is capable of adapting similarly to a wrecked shooting wrist, it's Bryant. But what happens if the process is slow (or worse, if he can't quite figure it out)? Brown, during a conversation about shot selection, Bryant's specifically but the team's generally, made this point about continuity: "The reality of it is we’re still learning each other. We’re still a little disjointed. Going down the stretch, sometimes we don’t know where to go with the basketball, and it looks little ugly. While we get through it, we can get through it and still win ballgames, because I think we’re that good," he said.
Nothing untrue there, but the process only gets tougher if Kobe is simultaneously on a parallel track, experimenting on how to play with his newest physical handicap.
To compensate, Brown needs to find more ways to get Kobe into the mid-post where he can catch and shoot without working much off the dribble, or even keep him in pick and roll situations where Bryant's natural hoops I.Q. can be utilized and he becomes very hard to defend. What needs to be avoided are isolation plays on the perimeter, which force Kobe either to put the ball on the floor or take long, stepback jumpers. Those are the lowest percentage shots in his toolbox.
This year, more than ever, placing Bryant in the best positions to succeed is going to be huge. It's time to start making things as easy as possible. Some of that goes to Kobe -- use your teammates, don't be a hero, know that just because you can doesn't always mean you should and that discretion is often the better part of valor. Some goes to the other guys on the floor, who need periodic reminders not to defer so much. The rest goes to Brown and his staff.
Because as he'll tell you, Kobe is going to play his game.
Full video from today below:
Brown, on Kobe's shot selection vs. Denver:
Brown, on Kobe's wrist:
Bryant, on shot selection, wrist:
Bryant, on Brown, team offense: