Author: Kurt Helin

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

PBT’s Top 10 NBA stories of 2014, No. 8: Kobe Bryant returns


He’s the NBA’s most divisive player — you love him or you hate him.

But you watch him.

Also, you have to respect his game. He’s going to retire soon with a career that will be looked back on as Top 10, Top 15 all time in the league (depending on who is doing the rankings).

Kobe Bryant returned to the court in 2014 after missing almost a full season battling injuries and the league is a better, more interesting with him in it. He’s been one of the most interesting story lines of the young season, even though the Lakers are terrible.

Kobe had been hinting about retirement back in 2013 before when he ruptured his Achilles, a devastating injury that oddly provided something he needed — an obstacle to overcome. A goal to focus on. There were people saying he couldn’t come back from that in his mid 30s, and nothing motivates Kobe like people telling him he can’t do something. He got back on the court for an entire six games last season before a knee injury ended that first comeback. But that just fueled his fire.

Bryant wanted to come back because he wanted to see how far he could push himself, what he could do at age 36 coming back off two major injuries. How far could he push himself, how far could he carry a rebuilding Lakers’ team?

He can push himself all the way back to averaging 24.1 points a game — fourth best in the NBA. He did it playing 35.4 minutes a game (14 most in the NBA) while using 35.8 percent of his team’s possessions when on the court (second highest in the NBA). Those are amazing numbers for a 26-year-old, let alone a 36-year-old. He pushed himself past Michael Jordan to become third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. His footwork is still impeccable, his ability to get to his spots on the floor amazing. He is incredibly fundamentally sound.

Of course, this is Kobe so those numbers and accolades come with controversy. With detractors.

Kobe has been far from the model of efficiency — he is shooting 37.2 percent overall and 24.5 percent from three. He has attempted more shots in the inefficient midrange (276) than he has in the paint, and he’s shooting just 38 percent on those. Of course, when he does get to the rim (106 shots in the restricted area) he’s not finishing, shooting just 50.9 percent.

What’s more, the Lakers have been predictable — and in the NBA that means defendable — when he has the ball. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report said it best, coach Byron Scott had built a shrine to Kobe, not an offense. The Lakers have had better offensive numbers with him off the court (although the adjusted +/- stats have the Lakers as slightly better when Kobe is on the court). Kobe tends to pound the rock, either in the post or out on the perimeter, and when he gets it teammates don’t move or cut, they stand and watch. His shots are often contested — 93 percent of his midrange shots this season have been contested. When other teams send a double at Kobe he passes out quickly and smartly, and his teammates — mostly guys who need open looks to knock down shots — are getting open looks. The Lakers’ offense looks better. But left single covered Kobe tends to think he can still just beat his guy. Like 26-year-old Kobe.

All the load on his shoulders forced him to miss three games — including Christmas Day against the Bulls — to get rest and reset his body. Kobe’s not the kind of person who loves the idea of a Spurs-style maintenance program, but he seemed to have learned he needs one.

When asked recently if it was foreign for him to have to think about his body this much and in this way, he said, “Of course… It’s frustrating but I have to figure it out.”

On his return Sunday he promised to play a more patient game, and more patient with his body. We’ll see. He has matured as a person but changing his persona on the court is a different process. A harder one.

What we do know is that whether he is chucking up ill-advised shots or playing patiently, we can’t stop watching.

Kobe Bryant is a draw, a guy fans will likely vote in as an All-Star starter again this season (he is currently second in voting among Western Conference guards and is well ahead of third place James Harden).

He’s back. And the league is more interesting to watch with him in it.

Raptors’ Tyler Hansbrough dunks, J.J. Hickson ends up in poster (VIDEO)

Orlando Magic v Toronto Raptors

J.J. Hickson tries to make the right play. Maybe a split second late, but he recognizes that Tyler Hansbrough has cut from the top of the key area straight down the land and is about to dunk. Hickson goes for the block.

He’s not strong enough. Hansbrough throws it down and Hickson just ends up in the poster.

The Raptors got 61 points from the guard combo of Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams and had a comfortable win on the road over Denver.

PBT’s Sunday Night NBA Winners/Losers: Cavaliers shouldn’t hit panic button, may want to locate it

D.J. Augustin, LeBron James

Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while you were detained after trying to bring a midevil war hammer on a plane….

source:  Cleveland Cavaliers. ”Right now we are not very good. In every aspect of the game.” That would be LeBron James assessment of the Cavaliers right now, and they looked every bit that bad in a humiliating, 23-point blowout loss at home to the lowly Pistons Sunday. Yes, the Cavaliers were without Kyrie Irving, but the bigger issue is the defense is struggling and Anderson Varejao is not walking through that door. Kevin Love was never much of a defender but LeBron is not hustling back consistently in transition defense and the rest of the team is following his lead. Coach David Blatt can’t get this team to buy in on defense, rather they are a team of bad habits. Still, this is a six-win Pistons team… well, make that seven wins, but the point is this is the kind of team the Cavaliers should be able to beat with LeBron and Love on the court together. That they can’t speaks volumes to where they stand. Their problems are bigger than ones that can be solved with some magical trade (that may not happen anyway). It’s still just more than a third of the way into the season, there’s time to turn it around and become the team many feared. But a lot of things need to change.

source:  Detroit Pistons. Yes, the Cavaliers have issues, but let’s give the Pistons credit — that was their best game of the young season. Is it a coincidence their two best games of the season (beating the Pacers Friday) came after Josh Smith was cut loose? Probably. First off, they hit 17-of-31 from three, that’s a one-off. Also, Brandon Jennings has these kinds of night a couple times a season — 25 points (13 in the third quarter), and almost all of it on jump shots, as he was 5-of-6 shooting from the midrange and 5-of-9 from three. Jennings also has six assists. (To be fair, he’s played well in three of the last four, maybe he’s finding a groove.) That said, it’s two big wins in a row for Detroit. We’ll be watching to see if this continues.

source:  Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams. The Raptors 1-2 punch at the guard spot put up 61 points on the Nuggets. Kyle Lowry continues to be one of the best players in the Eastern Conference this season — he had 30 points (on 20 shots), 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Then Lou Williams comes in off the bench and put up 31 points on 18 shots including going 4-of-7 from three. When those guys re hitting like that the Raptors can beat anybody. It is the play from these guys that has Toronto having won eight of nine without DeMar DeRozan.

source:  Dallas Mavericks. In what was a really entertaining game against Oklahoma City, Dallas may not have won the big individual battles but they won the war and got a quality victory. This one may have been a toss-up: Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points (10 in the fourth) on 13 shots, while Serge Ibaka had 26 points on 14 shots, plus 10 rebounds. At the point guard spot Rajon Rondo had 15 points, seven assists, and six rebounds, while Russell Westbrook flirted with a triple-double scoring 18 points, with nine assists and nine rebounds. Still, without Kevin Durant that’s not enough from Westbrook. But you knew it was going to be a good night for Dallas when Greg Smith was doing this.

source:  San Antonio Spurs. Speaking of teams getting quality wins, the Spurs are still without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard yet were able to beat the Rockets 110-106. This was another great game for the fans — it was close the entire way (if a bit sloppy, the teams combined for 43 turnovers), but as they do when it got to the end the Spurs simply executed at a higher level than their opponents. The Spurs got 24 from Danny Green, plus the usual strong nights from Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.