Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Hugh Hefner of This Shit.

I'll say it again, Kobe Bryant is the greatest scorer in the history of the game. The numbers may never truly reflect it, since he spent almost a decade alongside another dominant scorer, but somewhere even Money's tongue is wagging in admiration. It's always been nothing less than amusing to hear Kobe dismissed as nothing more than a clone, when in fact he has improved the blueprint.

Fundamental ball handling involves a soundness of footwork and a clarity of vision. Good ball handlers recognize and attack openings in the defense off the dribble with either hand. In addition to these balanced and measured steps, keen guards are quicker in their direction and decision making with the ball, maintaining an awareness of exactly when to halt the dribble and shoot or pass. The exceptional player employs a variety of jab steps, back steps, hop steps, spin moves and pivots to acquire space for a scoring opportunity. The more moves a player has, the less decisive their defenders can be. Michael Jordan had all of these moves in spades, including a wonderful crossover jab step. But what he didn't have was a killer crossover, the ultimate ball handling weapon for a player with a jump shot and an ability to attack the rim. Kobe does. One dribble and two steps gets him to the rim like nothing. Just the thought of it made Fred Jones fall over.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Layups are a tricky bunch, you can lay them too hard off the glass-or too soft. That's if you don't have one roll out or hit the back of the rim. Everyone knows that the highest percentage shot in basketball is to just jump up there and cram it in, but the problem lies in the execution. Several basketball players can dunk, just not from either foot, with either hand, in or outside the paint over whomever they please. Kobe's size, strength, quickness and agility make him a constant threat from any angle, but when he loads his springs on the baseline, smart defenders just walk away. Slackers like Doug Christie, Andrei Kirelenko and Kevin Garnett stick around and get dunked on. Word to the wise fellas, his baseline reverse windmill is indefensible, stop jumping.

Jordan's fade away and Cap's sky hook are the two most unstoppable shots in basketball history. They either make it or they don't, they never get blocked. The difference between the fade and hook is that a player has to commit to the hook. Once a pivot foot is chosen and the initial move is made, there is no possible counter move except traveling. An ability to drop step into an easy two off of either foot on the low block opens up options for an offensive player. Turn inside and dunk or fake it, turn outside and fade away. Or fake it, turn outside, and pivot around the defender again for a layup-another classic Jordan move. Thing is, Jordan wasn't using the fade until the end of his career and he was a free throw or below player. Kobe's bigger and stronger and uses the fade away everywhere. The low block, the pinch post, top of the key, three point baseline, anywhere he pleases, Kobe will go into that shake n' fade over either shoulder and if you step into it, he'll fade back further and still make it. Or step through and have a clear shot at the rim.

Anticipating the fade away causes defenders to play off of him in catch and shoot situations, so Kobe just goes into the step back jumper. Life is so unfair.

What's really fucked up is that the scariest part of Kobe's offensive game is on the perimeter. Play him out to thirty feet and he'll still J you without even putting the ball on the floor.

Wait until he busts this one out again...

Ball handling, attacking the basket along with strong post and perimeter play all mean nothing if they cannot be summoned at will. Kobe Bryant can score when it's absolutely necessary, even when the defense knows he's the only option, under any circumstances. He has mastered the fifth element.

And now, some Classic Wiley...

Note to self: Add another nickname to the list of Kobe the Destroyer and Kobe the Finisher -- Kobe the Puppet Master.

Note to all: Kobe Bryant has become the most unstoppable scoring force in the game, in a line with Wilt, O, Zeke from Cabin Creek, Rick Barry, Abdul-Jabbar, the Iceman, Doc, David, Zeke from West Side Chi, McAdoo, Bird, Jordan.

Observing Kobe's most recent scoring jag -- 44.6 per in the last five, nine straight with 35 points or more, best scoring run-out the NBA has seen since the mid-'80s, when Mike Jordan was 24 and 25, the same age Kobe is now -- we may conclude Kobe is the greatest scoring force in the league.


Sit down. Go with me for a minute. Understand that, just for today, we're leaving Dog and all the other Kobe-haters and Kobe-stoppers and Kobe-controllers home on this op.

We are talking raw ball here, not from the exalted seat of a fan or the controlling seat of a coach, but first from over Kobe's shoulder as he posts us up -- from playing off him as he's facing us, reading his body lean; then with him -- keeping the spacing correct, salivating as our man slides his way and we come open for the 18-footer that can win a game; and finally, from inside his head -- God, it's cluttered in here!

First, any guy who can score 42.3 over five in the NBA, and reference Pinocchio's Gepetto at the same time, is a man to be watched, studied, and possibly feared. "I felt like Gepetto," Kobe said after one of his recent exposés. He felt like the defenders were on the strings he held. Admittedly, many fans didn't get the reference. Maybe Kobe should've said he felt like Brando in "The Godfather" -- "... and I refused ... to dance on the strings, held by the big shots."

Defenders aren't the only ones dancing on the strings held by Kobe the Puppet Master. His teammates and coaches and observers are, too. This shock of the new is often exhilirating, but it invariably causes some to seek balance and comfort in the past. Why, I don't know, but it does.

And what we've seen from Kobe in this scoring streak (not to mention coinciding with Shaq's new mortality; the first seven games of Kobe's 35-plus streak were wins; the last two, against the Spurs and Knicks, were losses) is new. Or it's new to me, I should say. I just have not seen many guys make nine straight 3-pointers in competition, make them with no strain, like they were elbow jumpers; I haven't seen those one-bounce-dive-from-a-wing evasive dunks before. Have you? Oh, we've seen where they got started, but ...

I try not to fear, hate or resent him. Or lecture him, or control him, tell him how he failed at some level of hoop.

Besides, even if I'd been in a mood to try it, I didn't think I could back it up. Maybe Jerry West could talk to him like that. Maybe Broke Daddy, Ol' Jingle-Jangle-Jingle, Phil Jackson, one of my favored old Knicks, could do it, maybe. Jordan, sure. Someone should ask Jordan. Do you have any real big problem with the application of Kobe's game? What do you think Jordan would say? "Yeah, I do. He's not running the offense right, or dreaming about it enough."

Right. Last I looked, at 24, Kobe the Destroyer had won three NBA rings in a row, and now is currently looking for a fourth in a row. So me chastizing him, at my advanced age, despite my long history of watching and being on the beats and studying the NBA, from the Rick Barry, Gus Williams, Silk Wilkes, Phil Smith NBA champion Warriors of 1975 and 1976, on through Bird, Magic, Isiah, Dumars, Akeem, MJ, and on until today ... well, no. But, still, Kobe does not know that, and it would only mildly amuse him if he did.

So me telling him what he was not doing in the process of his three-ring accomplishments would be like Ron Turcotte pulling out a knotted whip and beating Secretariat with it as Big Red was in the process of winning the Belmont Stakes by 28 lengths. It would be not only grandstanding, it could even be seen as cruel. So I said what I said to him -- "Kid, you really put on a show" - and then, later on, I thought about what I'd said, a few days after last Thanksgiving, as the Lakes were trying to get by without Shaquille O'Neal.

Kobe had nodded, not as if he understood me so much as he appreciated me not using the whip on him. And while it is true that a thoroughbred responds to the whip and a mule bucks and sucks, the thoroughbred can also become sick of the whip if misapplied too often, and with too much relish.

So a human thoroughbred starts to think about spitting the bit and running elsewhere, where whips and chains and self-important appraisals are not so often forthcoming, for a man without a temper is not worth his salt. Or, if he's Kobe the Finisher, he can also become Kobe the Puppet Master, and let people rant or rave or do St. Vitus' dance however they chose as he pulls the strings and levers of his dominant basketball talents. I'd like to see what Charlie Kaufman could do with this guy's head. In an Association with at least eight other truly great players, and a good 50 or so who can drop 40 on a given night, Kobe rules. As yours truly pointed out in GQ last summer, days after the Lakes had won a third straight NBA title, if Kobe's hands were as big as Michael's, they'd have to shut down the league.

"Would you ever consider playing here?" I asked Kobe the Destroyer. We were in Memphis at the time. He had just dropped 44 on the Griz, yet the Lakes barely won. Jerry West runs the NBA club there in Memphis, as you know. Kobe looked at me strangely. Smart. Didn't say yes or no.

That Gepetto reference he used after one of his recent explosions means not just that he is atypical, but that he also has a much broader frame of reference than one suspected. He must understand what's good for the team, in a ball sense. And also, when someone is reflexively trying to jerk him. He must know that in a perfect world and game of hoop, yes, no question, the ball never touches the floor. It hits all the hands, and when the defense doubles or overcompensates, the perfect team swings it, swings it, swings it, and the last man down gets the look, and makes. So I mentioned this too. "Of course. And you also know we don't live in a perfect world," his look said, "or play on a perfect team for perfect men."

It will still be him who is expected to lift the Lakers, not Shaq, not Phil, not the spear-carriers; and when they lose -- not if, when, because Sacramento is better and deeper, and not even Jordan won them all -- it will all be brought back home to him. I saw it happen to Magic. It is what happens, in the short term, in the day-to-day coverage. The newspaper (and now the website) is going to come out every day, isn't it, Max Mercy?

Kobe the Puppet Master paused. I looked at him and said, "Look, what's good for the team is the ball in the basket."

I did not say he had played stupidly, as Kobe the Puppet Master had made Tex Winter say. I did not look askance at him. I did not feel a disconnect from him, as some fans of the hip-hop generation do, or people in Philly, who despise him because they feel he turned his back on them, or even Jerry Buss, who did not hang out with him and shoot pool and run over to the Playboy mansion or take him under his wing as a business protégé, as Buss did with his boy Magic.

In return, Kobe did not say I spoke stupidly, he did not look askance at me, or act disconnected from me or my boy Cole, also in attendance and studying our brief by-play intently. School was in for everybody.They both looked relieved that such a simple statement would be made by the doddering old man to the youth he could know but never really control, instead of an off-color harangue, or a lecture on some hoop theory on how the greatest scoring machine in basketball could make better use of his court time. He has been told enough that what's good for the team is getting everybody else looks; well, of course, in a perfect world, that is true. But what's good for the team is the ball in the basket -- if he gets his teammates shots, they have to make. It's not physics, but a much simpler kind of math.

You must understand that Kobe learned from Jordan and West that it is will that carries the day ... and so that same will that is essential to beat such good teams as the Spurs and the Kings is difficult to tamp down when teammates don't hit the open shots that your move has allowed them to see. The player of greatness will takes matters into his own hands.

Especially when you are the greatest scoring weapon in basketball, and possibly the greatest scoring weapon in the history of basketball. He is the greatest because he is the latest. He is the greatest now. He must press that edge.

Hope you're still watching R-Dub.


Uzair said...

> Hope you're still watching R-Dub.


I think the only question that remains with Kobe is shot selection. I know he likes to keep the defense guessing, and I know he's got the talent to make them, but I do *not* want to see him chucking the ball up from 30-feet without a single dribble on two consecutive possessions (which I've seen happen at least once in the last 15 games, and possibly also in the All-Star game).

Euhn said...

couldn't have said it better.

too many people allow what kobe is off the court to taint their view of what he is on the court - maybe the greatest offensive player ever. to those peple: stop hating

Max Airington said...

I agree with both of you completely and I am glad you liked the Wiley throwback. I miss him alot this time of year. I've been planning on expanding on those thoughts on Kobe's image for a while, next post is as good a time as any. Thanks for reading.

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