Kobe Embraces Off-Ball, Small Forward Roles
HONOLULU — Twenty years into his Hall of Fame career, one of the top priorities for Kobe Bryant — and the Lakers as a whole — is to make the most of every minute the 37-year-old spends on the floor.
Head coach Byron Scott and Bryant himself have already alluded to him playing fewer minutes and having more days off during the 2015-16 season, but there are other ways to stretch Bryant’s value, while simultaneously furthering the development of L.A.’s young core.
One of these changes, which Bryant has embraced, is to allow the backcourt of First Team All-Rookie selection Jordan Clarkson and second-overall pick D’Angelo Russell to assume the majority of the ballhandling responsibilities.
“All minutes aren’t created equal,” Bryant said. “I think we’ve got some guys here this year that can really take a lot off me; D’Angelo and Clarkson and their ability to handle and create and make plays, and Julius (Randle) making plays. I think the minutes that I do play won’t be as heavy of minutes as they have been.”
In addition to lowering his workload, playing off the ball — which Bryant says “won’t beat your joints up as much” — is simply preferable to him. Though he has been a ball-dominant shooting guard for the majority of his career, he says that it was at former coach Phil Jackson’s insistence that he became L.A.’s primary ballhandler in the first place.
Now — especially with Russell, whose passing has been raved about by teammates over the summer and in training camp — Bryant is looking forward to having more opportunities to spot up instead of creating so many looks for both himself and his fellow Lakers.
“I do not like setting up the offense,” Bryant said. “I hate it. Phil made me do it years ago, and I had to learn how to do it years ago to set up the triangle. I haven’t played with point guards that are playmakers at heart, and D’Angelo is a ridiculous playmaker. I’d much rather catch and shoot or catch then one, two dribble pull-up. You guys know I like scoring the ball.”
Another minutes-stretching move is, by Bryant’s account, not much of a move at all. Right from the first game of preseason, Bryant is starting at small forward, leaving Russell and Clarkson to keep up with the explosive backcourts of the modern NBA.
Playing the three does have its matchup problems, like Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant, but typically the mileage should be less strenuous for Bryant. Still, having served so many roles in his two decades in the NBA, he says that his transition from shooting guard to small forward is nonexistent.
“I’ve been playing small forward for 10 years,” Bryant said. “It’s old hat. That’s been my spot for years.”