Kobe Bryant’s first shot attempt of the 2014-15 NBA season was an airball. It wasn’t the type of result you’d expect from one of the 10 best players in the history of the basketball, but he is human after all. He played just six games last season because of a knee injury, and the year before that he suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
After the airball, Bryant came back to make his next three shots. Ah, there’s the Old Kobe.
Those first few minutes in the Lakers’ first preseason game against Denver in San Diego was a sign of what’s to come. Bryant may not have the same explosion and burst he once had at the height of his powers, but he’s still a very capable scorer. Instead of driving past defenders, he’ll post them up and shoot a Dirk Nowitzki-like fadeaway. Instead of pulling up from 25-feet, he’ll take a few dribbles, throw up a few pump fakes, and shoot from the elbows.
This is what Kobe, now age 36, refers to as the “old man” game. It’s the type of game you see on the YMCA with weekend warriors. It may not be pretty, but it’ll get the job done.
Bryant enters his 19th NBA season with a lot of questions. Can he still dominate? Can he play at an MVP-type level? Can he still be the Black Mamba?
“He’s in terrific shape. I think he’s gonna be great when the season starts,” Lakers coach Byron Scott told ESPN’s Colin Cowherd. Scott sees a different Kobe in training camp.
“He’s been a mentor for a lot of our young guys. He’s been very vocal, but he’s also been very encouraging,” Scott said. “He’s taken a different role. He understands this team is gonna need a lot of help from him.”
Scott and the Lakers coaching staff will try to save Bryant from himself as much as possible and watch his minutes, especially on back-to-back games. At least that’s the plan heading into the season. “It’s definitely something we have to be prepared for,” Scott said.
This is the first year of a four-year contract for Scott, a member of three world championship teams with the Lakers in the 1980s. He’s fully aware of the history of the franchise and what the Lakers brand is about. The brand has taken a huge hit the last couple of seasons under Mike D’Antoni, and it will be up to Scott to bring the swagger back to the purple and gold.
For the Lakers to have any chance to be successful this season, they’ll need Kobe to do what he does best: score points.
“I think he’s going to average 20,” Scott said. “He’s still going to be Kobe. He’s still going to average 20 to 22 points a game. Obviously, the minutes [will be down], but I still think he’s going to average 20 to 22 a game.”
Averaging 22 points per game for a 36-year-old NBA superstar is not out of the realm of possibility. Michael Jordan averaged 22.9 a game at age 38 in his first season with the Washington Wizards, and 20.0 in his last season at age 39.
Scott said Kobe looks in terrific shape and seems to be fully recovered from his injuries. Bryant hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his rehabilitation process, and has worked like crazy to get his body in tip-top shape.
“He loves basketball. He loves to compete,” Scott said of his 16-time NBA All-Star. “At his age right now, he really doesn’t have anything to accomplish. He’s done everything you want to accomplish on the basketball floor.
“He’ll be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, but he still wants to compete.”
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him Twitter @onemanfastbreak.