In a remarkably short interview with ESPN’s Max and Marcellus Show on Wednesday, Los Angeles Lakers forward Antawn Jamison managed to cram about a lifetime’s worth of insight into the mind of one Kobe Bean Bryant. Insight into his sometimes-charming, often-infuriating, usually-game tilting tunnel vision when it comes to locking in on the rim, and ignoring the nine other players that happen to share the court with the future Hall of Famer.
Jamison, who has played a major part in Los Angeles’ recent 19-8 run toward respectability, pulled no punches in both praising Kobe’s abilities as a team leader, and instincts as one of the more fearsome gunners in NBA history. As transcribed by Dave McMenamin at ESPN Los Angeles:
"Kobe will tell you," Jamison said. "He's like, 'Look, you guys as my teammates, yell at me. Let me know that you're open because I'm so programmed,' and this guy has told me this, 'I see nothing but that basket. You could be open, there could be three guys on me, but the only thing I see is that basket so you have to tell me, Look, I was open. Or yell at me mid-play. That doesn't affect me at all and I respect that.' "
Jamison said the veteran-laden roster has adapted to Bryant's style and the players have no problem with confronting the five-time champion.
"I think the thing we've seen in the past was most teammates might have been afraid to come to him or express, 'Kob' I was open,' or, 'That's not what we drew up,' " Jamison said. "The thing I like about this team, Steve Nash -- who is a Hall of Famer -- and Dwight [Howard] as well, Dwight and Kobe have gotten into shouting matches on the bench because Dwight will be like, 'Kob', that's your rotation. Get there.' And after the game he'll be like, 'Appreciate it, big fella. I needed that.' "
(Ahahahaha, Kobe Bryant’s old man defense is so bad that even Dwight Howard can call him out.)
Bryant, in spite of the presence of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, is leading the NBA in shots per game attempts for the third straight season – and if the trend continues he will have topped the league in this particular stat in six out of the last eight years.
This is only a dis, though, when Bryant is taking bad shots. In 2011 and 2012, sure, Kobe seemed obsessed with pump fakes and long two-point jumpers, chucking away despite the presence of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol’s high-efficiency impact. This season? His shooting percentage has gone way up, despite a Laker offense that is still finding its way, and though his free throw attempts are at about the same rate Bryant is mixing in far more drives and less contested bombs. He’s also back to shooting around 34 percent from behind the three-point arc, a sub-average but still respectable mark.
Despite the ball-hog criticism, though, it’s important to remind fans that Bryant routinely leads all shooting guards in assists per game. It’s true that Kobe’s big per-game numbers are partly a function of him dominating the ball quite a bit, but he leads all off guards in assists per game this season (at 5.8 a game) by a wide margin over Dallas O.J. Mayo at second place, and that’s with a five-time assists per game leader in Steve Nash working alongside him. Nobody rips on Kobe more than me for not taking a page out of the Michael Jordan-playbook and submitting to work off the ball more, but these are numbers that cannot be ignored.
Jamison, in the interview, made a point to talk up Bryant’s obsession with getting basketball just right:
"It's great to be with him," Jamison said. "I love a guy who expects so much from his teammates. He pushes his teammates. After games, we're traveling, guys are on their laptops, their iPads, watching movies, listening to music, this guy is watching film. He's breaking down situations. I'll be watching a movie, he'll tap me like, 'Come here.' He'll dissect plays like, 'This is what we got to do, me and you got to get this going.' I mean, this guy eats, sleeps basketball and the only thing he wants to do is to win another championship and I've never seen anybody as focused, as dedicated as Kobe."
Jamison has enjoyed a needed resurgence, averaging double-figure points for the Lakers in February and March despite playing around 24 minutes a contest, making 48 percent of his shots and over 40 percent of his three-pointers. Antawn’s ability to finish broken plays is a needed asset for a Laker team that is working with a coach that didn’t have a training camp to work through, and a point guard coming off of (basically) a broken leg. His production has been incredibly important.
What’s driving the Lakers to the playoffs, though, is Bryant’s turnaround. And not those turnaround jumpers he used to make 38 percent of in 2011 and 2012. Through one of the wilder NBA seasons we’ve seen, Kobe Bryant’s production has remained steadfast; save for a few wintertime blips. The Lakers may not have the championship mixture in place until Howard gets healthy and Mike D’Antoni figures out just how to put this all together, but the biggest reason they’ll play past the second week of April is Kobe Bryant’s insistence on getting this right.
This year, at least, it has been worth the occasional programmed heave at the rim. Kobe Bryant is having a fantastic season, and all of basketball is better off for his obsession.
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