Kurt Helin

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant says his shots, game demands helping Lakers’ youth learn


This can’t be said often enough (especially since this doesn’t appear to what the Lakers are doing):

The Lakers need to prioritize player development over winning. They need to prioritize the development of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle over — to use the phrase of Kevin Ding — building a shrine to Kobe Bryant. Bryant leads the team in shot attempts, 16.2 per game, which is not ideal for a guy shooting 32 percent overall. He’s taking eight threes a game and hitting 20.8 percent of them.

Are all those Kobe shots taking away from the development of younger Lakers? Not if you ask Kobe, which is what Ken Berger of CBSSports.com did.

But in an interview with CBS Sports on Saturday at John Jay College, where Bryant dragged his aching body for a 2 1/2 hour practice between games, he disputed the notion that all of his shots and demands are detracting from the future plan.

“They’re one in the same,” he said. “Because they learn by observing how I approach it. They don’t want to see me approach it as an average player, or approach it as a player who’s 20 years in. They want to and need to see that focus and that intensity and that energy and that drive. That’s how they learn. They’ve told me that. They want to see that. That’s how they want to learn.”

No doubt the young players on the Lakers, and young players everywhere, can learn from Kobe’s work ethic, his attention to detail, his practice habits, how he approaches preparing himself. But the shot selection we have seen this season — where 63.9 percent of his shots have been contested this season, according to the NBA’s Sports VU tracking cameras — what exactly is that teaching the next generation of Lakers?

Russell, the point guard of the future in Los Angeles, seems to be learning the need for offensive balance.

“Throughout the game, we know he’s known for making tough shots,” Russell said. “So early in the game, get him involved, get his flow going. But we’ve still got to demand offense as a team, knowing that man’s a legend and he’s going to be open a lot and he’s going to be calling for the ball a lot. But you’ve still got to be able to maintain a balance on when to run the offense and when to get him the ball.”

One other Kobe note: He has said he wants to play in all 82 games this season, but with a back-to-back this week in Miami and Orlando, coach Byron Scott is reconsidering the idea. That said, he’s not the guy with the power, he has to get Kobe’s buy in.

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Hawks, Pistons impressing early

Andre Drummond

It’s Golden State then everyone else right now, but after that we have some good teams from the East making noise — Detroit, Atlanta, and, of course, Cleveland. We’re still just a couple weeks into the season so still a lot of volatility in the standings, things likely start to stabilize going forward.

source:  1. Warriors (7-0, last week No. 1). One sign of Golden State’s early dominance: It is beating teams by an average of 19.1 points per 100 possessions, which is 10.3 more than the second place team (Utah). If you’re searching for flaws, they did blow double-digit leads to the Clippers and Kings and had to hang on for wins. But they did.

source:  2. Cavaliers (6-1, LW 4). Slow starts have not kept this team from a six-game winning streak. Kevin Love has flown a little under the radar but is averaging 17 points and 12.6 boards a game, he looks far more comfortable in their offense (at least until Kyrie Irving returns), plus his defense looks improved and more focused.

source:  3. Hawks (7-1, LW 11). They have won seven in a row after their opening night loss, making those of us that predicted a step back look bad. Kent Bazemore has been great, and while this team is not beating the cream of the league so far, it’s beating the teams it needs to beat in the East (Charlotte twice, for example).

source:  4. Pistons (5-1, LW 7). Stan Van Gundy looks smart for his $80 million bet on Reggie Jackson to go next to Andre Drummond right now. When Jackson and Drummond are on the court together the Pistons have an offensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions, and they are +18.8 points per 100. Drummond is averaging 20-20 through six games, which is ridiculous.

source:  5. Spurs (4-2, LW 5). The Spurs have a top 10 offense and defense (the sign of a true contender), but that offense is living in the midrange and you have to wonder if they can sustain it at this level. It’s fine if it’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan taking those shots, right now Kawhi Leonard is taking a lot of midrange jumpers knocking down 50 percent of them. Can he keep that up?

source:  6. Clippers (4-2, LW 3). Blake Griffin is not getting enough credit for a ridiculously good start to the season. He’s averaging 29.3 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 64.1 percent, he’s grabbing 9.7 boards a game, dishing out 4.2 assists, and has a PER of 32.8. He was amazing in the playoffs last season and has carried that over.

source:  7. Jazz (4-2, LW 13). They have the second best net rating in the league, a sign that this power ranking may have them too low — and that they can sustain the fast early start. Remember that this team picked up Derrick Favors in the Deron Williams trade — Favors has been fantastic for them this season, that move looks brilliant now.

source:  8. Raptors (5-2, LW 6). They picked up a quality win against OKC but have lost two in a row, and that come-from-ahead loss to Miami Sunday showed how much they miss DeMarre Carroll (out with plantar fasciitis, that is going to take a while to get right). Soft schedule this week should help them get back in a groove.

source:  9. Rockets (4-3, LW 19). James Harden is back in his groove — back-to-back 40 point games — and the Rockets have won four in a row. Harden has taken over the offense again, there is less Ty Lawson. We’ll see if there is an effort to balance out the offensive load going forward (they can do it against lesser teams, the Rockets needed these wins and this Harden after the slow start).

source:  10. Heat (4-3, LW 12). This is a deep team getting great production out of their bench, which includes Justise Winslow stepping right in and looking good on defense (teams will regret passing on him in the draft). Miami is in in a seven-game homestand, which Dwyane Wade’s knees appreciates.

source:  11. Thunder (4-3 LW 2). They have a net rating (+7.2 per 100) that suggests OKC will climb these rankings and not have three-game losing streaks often. However, this is still a team with a bottom 10 defense and that is in large part about their bench. It has to improve to challenge the elite of the West.

source:  12. Trail Blazers (4-3, LW 22). It’s not hard to picture how Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum could power the Trail Blazers to the league’s fourth best offense because of their ability to shoot the three off the pick-and-roll, but their defense being 11th this young season is why they are above .500 (but will teams keep missing threes against them?).

source:  13. Bulls (4-3, LW 9). Both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler said one of the problems in their losses this season (such as the one to Minnesota) is just a lack of consistent effort, especially on defense. This isn’t Thibodeau’s world anymore, guys are going to have to be professional and motivate themselves. They are talking about starting Joakim Noah over Nikola Mitotic, who has struggled the last three games (but I still don’t like the move).

source:  14. Timberwolves (3-2,LW 16). This team could be in the mix for a playoff spot in the West if they keep playing this way. Karl Anthony-Towns is a better defender in the paint as a rookie than expected, Ricky Rubio is underrated at that end, and their starters lock teams down. Good tests this week with the Hawks, Warriors, Pacers, and Grizzlies on the docket.

source:  15. Wizards (3-3, LW 10). Reports are Bradley Beals injury is not serious, which is good as he’s played at a near All-Star level and losing him would be a massive blow. This team drops off badly when John Wall sits, which is an issue. By the way, some guy named Durant comes to town this week.

source:  16. Pacers (3-4, LW 26). Paul George has put up impressive numbers the past three games — when he started at the small forward spot rather than as a power forward. They have won three of four, including over Miami and Detroit. This team could go on a run of wins when you look at the schedule ahead.

<source:  17. Suns (3-3, LW 14). A tough schedule last week (losses to the Clippers, Pistons, and Thunder) showed this team has a pretty good defense but is struggling to find spacing and put points on the board at the other end. The bench has not lived up to expectations and Jeff Hornacek is searching for rotations he likes.

source:  18. Mavericks (3-3, LW 15). Dirk Nowitzki seems to have found the fountain of youth, scoring 17 points a game with a ridiculous 61.7 percent true shooting percentage, plus he’s shooting 50 percent from three. Dwight Powell has been a great find, averaging 11.3 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting off the bench.

source:  19. Bucks (4-3, LW 27). Jabari Parker is back, and while he looks rusty it’s just good to see him back out on the court. Almost as importantly, John Henson is back and that has helped the Bucks’ defense look closer to last year’s levels.

source:  20. Celtics (2-3, LW 20). Isaiah Thomas has looked good as a starter for Marcus Smart, and he showed some chemistry with Jared Sullinger. Their strong defense and good net rating (+3.1, 10th best in the league) suggests this team will climb the ladder (and I have them ranked too low).

source:  21. Magic (3-4, LW 23). Those four losses are by a combined 14 total points, and two games have gone to overtime. Elfrid Payton’s shooting woes are still an issue dragging down the Orlando offense when he plays.

source:  22. Grizzlies (3-4, LW 8). This team’s record is better than they have been playing — Memphis has a bottom 10 offense and defense. The bench units (with Jeff Green at the four) have been unimpressive (to put it kindly). The GM said coach Dave Joerger is not on the hot seat, but if this team keeps falling someone will pay the price. Their schedule the next couple weeks is brutal.

source:  23. Hornets (2-4, LW 25). Quality win over the Bulls and they are the fourth best offense in the NBA at 104.6 points per 100 possessions. They are shooting the ball very well, particularly Kemba Walker, and as a team they are shooting 36.3 percent as three. Impressive, but can they sustain this is the question.

source:  24. Knicks (3-4, LW 17). Kristaps Porzingis has provided more as a rookie than most scouts expected (even Lakers’ coach Byron Scott admitted as much). And Porzingis has mastered the putback dunk. But why is Sasha Vujacic getting so much run? I know Arron Afflalo is still out injured (he could return this week) but has Fisher actually watched Vujacic? Play Langston Galloway instead.

source:  25. Nuggets (2-4, LW 21). They are more fun to watch and more successful going small with Danilo Gallinari at the five and Kenneth Faried at the four, but they miss Wilson Chandler in that lineup. Joffrey Lauvergne has looked good in his limited minutes per night, but they miss Jusuf Nurkic as well up front.

source:  26. Kings (1-6, LW 18). DeMarcus Cousins missing time with injury isn’t the only issue, the Kings’ offense is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better when Rajon Rondo sits (and the defense is 11.9 per 100 better). Rondo isn’t going to lose time to Darren Collison in the short term because Collison is battling a hamstring injury.

source:  27. Lakers (1-5, LW 28). They picked up a win against Brooklyn, Byron Scott has tweaked the rotation to get better defense off the bench (meaning some Metta World Peace, who played okay on D), but the defense is still second worst in the NBA. The Lakers need to focus on player development ahead of wins, which should be obvious but their rotations suggest it’s not the case. They are on the road a lot for the next few weeks.

source:  28. Pelicans (0-6, LW 24). Anthony Davis is certainly playing better, but the injured Pelicans can’t get a win. Their defense is a disaster. The Pelicans will get it together at one point, but the concern remains the same — will it be too early to dig out of the hole and make the playoffs?

source:  29. Nets (0-7, LW 29). Two things are keeping the Nets from falling to last in these rankings: They get Brook Lopez back Wednesday, plus the woeful Sixers. But the Nets have played the softest schedule in the NBA this young season and their offense is just ugly. And dull.

source:  30. 76ers (0-6, LW 30). If you want points, Jahlil Okafor has looked good, scoring 19.7 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting. His jumper is legit, and he can put the ball on the floor. He and Nerlens Noel are showing some real potential this young season.

Russell Westbrook with the steal, powerful slam (VIDEO)

Russell Westbrook, Eric Bledsoe
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Markieff Morris never saw it coming.

The Suns’ big man got the ball at the elbow and looked to the middle of the court for his next play, when Russell Westbrook came up from his blind side and made the steal, then he was off to the races.

That man can throw it down.

The Thunder won 124-103 behind 32 from Kevin Durant and 21 from Westbrook.

Five Takeaways from an NBA Sunday: Paul George is all the way back

Paul George

The NBA season is crawling into its third week, and Sunday’s five games conveniently were spread from afternoon to evening, and featured a couple huge comebacks. If you were too busy needlessly freaking out about Starbucks’ holiday cups, here are five things you should know from an NBA Sunday.

1) Paul George looks like his old All-Star self again. But the Pacers still lost. Paul George had a couple good games this past week but Sunday he showed he is all the way back — he went head-to-head with LeBron James and held his own. George put up 32 points Sunday against James and the Cavaliers, meanwhile defending LeBron on the other end (LeBron had 29 points on 23 shots). It was an entertaining game thanks of those two, who had great clashes back in the Eastern Conference Finals and Sunday renewed that rivalry —and you could sense the mutual respect. Ultimately too much Kevin Love (22 points), a fourth-quarter 7-0 run, and a couple of LeBron free throws late sealed a Cavs win.

In the two games prior, George put up 36 and 26 points. He has shown he’s back to the All-Star, top 12 NBA player he was prior to his freakish injury playing for Team USA. What’s most interesting about this three-game run? Indiana had gone back to a larger lineup, moving George back to the three. After all the hype about the Pacers going small and George at the four (he’s spending time there still), he’s thriving back at his traditional position.

2) Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson powered the best comeback of the season. In the third quarter Sunday, the Portland Trail Blazers were up by as many as 18 on the Pistons, and were still up 13 entering the fourth quarter. They seemed in control. Then Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson took over — the Pistons went on a 20-0 run at one point and won the fourth quarter 41-11, making it look like a comfortable 120-103 win when the final buzzer sounded. Drummond had 29 points and 27 rebounds in the game — that’s three 20-20 games for Drummond this season, the rest of the NBA has one. And he wasn’t even the best Piston on the floor in the fourth. After an unimpressive first three quarters (14 points on 15 shots), Jackson had 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting in the fourth

In limited run last season, Jackson and Drummond showed real chemistry. Last summer Stan Van Gundy bet on that giving Jackson an $80 million contract that was mocked in some quarters. Nobody’s laughing now. So far this season when Jackson and Drummond are on the court together the Pistons have an offensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions, and they are +18.8 points per 100. Late in games the Pistons’ offense is essentially a Drummond/Jackson high pick and roll with shooters spacing the floor, and those two look like one of the best P&R combos in the league. Maybe SVG knew what he was doing after all.

3) Dwyane Wade passes Scottie Pippen on the all-time scoring list. He’s not exactly at the top of this list — with this bucket Dwyane Wade is now 51st all-time in the NBA in scoring. Still, he moved past Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen on Sunday (in an impressive Heat win over the Raptors), and in the next couple weeks he will track down and pass Dale Ellis and Reggie Theus.

4) Kobe Bryant may have played his last game in Madison Square Garden. The first time Kobe Bryant stepped on the court in Madison Square Garden it was 1996, and he was coming off the Lakers’ bench as a rookie. Since then he has had some of his most memorable games there, like dropping 61 on the Knicks back in 2009. Kobe had averaged 30.7 points a game in MSG coming into Sunday. The reality of where he and his Lakers are right now was on full display Sunday — Bryant had 18 points on 6-of-19 shooting, he was 2-of-10 from three, and the Lakers lost 99-95. Sunday felt like the end of an era for Kobe and his trips to NYC (he’s not coming there as a free agent next summer, just stop talking about that nonsense).

5) Kevin Durant looked good, dropping 32 on the Suns in a Thunder win. Kevin Durant does not want to talk about his pending free agency. He doesn’t have to; everyone else will do it for him. And 29 other teams will covet him so long as he keeps scoring like he did against Phoenix Sunday.

Kevin Durant no fan of free agency talk. Especially his.

Kevin Durant

Tuesday night, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder travel to our nation’s capital to take on the Washington Wizards — and for many Wizards’ fans the game is almost secondary.

Ever since LeBron James chose to go back home to Cleveland, there has been hype in D.C. that Durant would choose to come back to his hometown Wizards when he becomes a free agent next summer. The Wizards have cleared out cap space to make sure it’s a possibility. Durant’s free agency next summer is the story of the NBA season, but the hype and expectations are approaching unreasonable levels in D.C.

Durant hates that.

And he hates how his trip to Washington was treated last year (where the focus was on him coming as a free agent, not the game). He doesn’t like how free agency is its own season, he told Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“(The Jan. 22 visit last season) was kind of disrespectful, in my opinion, because you’ve got a great team there already that deserves your full 100% support,” said Durant, who – among many other things – was featured on the Wizards’ jumbotron wearing a ‘Washington’ jersey during the game. “I wouldn’t like that if I was on that team. I didn’t like that, but it comes with it nowadays.

“Free agency is like a season now, and it shouldn’t be that big. Me, I feel, is you should focus on who you have on your team. It’s easy to get your hopes up, and expect a guy to come to your team or whatever – and I’m not talking about myself, I’m just talking about free agency in the past years and in the future – you get your hopes up as a fan, and then they let you down and you end up not liking the player. There’s a little bit too much emphasis on that type of stuff, but it’s part of the game.”

Durant is howling at the moon here, but I understand his frustration.

Kevin Durant doesn’t know what Kevin Durant is going to do next summer, but the smart money is with him staying in OKC. For one, as good as John Wall and Bradley Beal are (and they can be special), they are not as good as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Sure, the Wizards have the easier path to the Finals through the East, but if KD wants to play with the most talented team, then he stays put (and that may be the best chance to make the Finals again).

One other note: Not every player wants to go home. There are more distractions, more people angling for time, and more pressure to win. That’s not for everyone.

We’ll have to see if it’s worth it to Durant.