Kobe Bryant began the season shooting bricks, air balls all while producing some of the worst shooting performances of his 20-year NBA career.
After officially announcing his retirement and going on a ridiculous eight-game road trip that spanned over two countries in two-weeks, Kobe is beginning to show some remnants of the man who has had the NBA in his hands over the last 15 years.
During the Lakers’ recent road trip, myself and Lakers beat reporter Mark Medina asked Kobe what has he done to flip the script. Being the wildly old veteran he is; Kobe simply said, “My legs are finally catching up with my body, and now I’m able to do some of the stuff I want to do on the court.”
In the five games since that conversation, Bryant has played in four of the Lakers five games and is averaging 25 points on 50.7 percent shooting, which is on par with his career 25.4 points per game average on 45.7 percent shooting. On the team front, it is no accident the Lakers play has improved and they are a respectable (2-2) with Bryant on the court during this span.
Kobe’s recent stretch is a stark contrast from the guy who was playing and moving as if he was already retired in the first 17 games of the season. In what could be the worst stretch of Kobe’s great career, he only averaged 15.9 points on 29.6 percent shooting while the Lakers produced an abysmal (2-15) record.
“I just feel good. My legs feel fine. I feel like me,” Bryant said to ESPN after a recent win. “I feel good. I feel like I can control the game. I feel like I can read everything. I can get to the spots I want to get to — not as quickly as I want to get to them. [But] I can get to them.”
The 37-year-old Bryant came into last night’s game against the Denver Nuggets as a big question mark after sitting out the Lakers 40-point blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder over the weekend because of a sore right shoulder.
He even uncharacteristically gave reporters some inside into his rehab to get ready for the Nuggets.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said via ESPN. “I just rested completely. My shoulder was a little too sore to be moving around, things like that. I just rested completely.”
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, rest is exactly what Kobe needed to get back to the high level he has been playing at of late.
The future Hall-of-Famer tied his season-high by scoring 31 points on 10-of-22 shooting and five assists in 32 minutes. Just as impressive as his offensive exploits was Kobe displaying the defensive form that has allowed him to be named to the All-Defense team 12-times in his illustrious career.
In the first half, Denver reserve guard Will Barton posted 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
During halftime after being asked by Lakers head coach Byron Scott, Kobe let him know he was willing to guard Barton in the second half. He would go on limit the hot shooting Barton to one field goal and two points the rest of the game.
The throwback two-way performance led reporters to ask Kobe after the game: What does he relish more, his impact on offense or defense?
“Both. Because it’s a great test for me tonight to be able to see if I could still play both ends of the floor,” Bryant said via ESPN. “I felt like I could do one. I didn’t know if I could do both. It felt good to be able to do that.”
Bryant’s recent throwback performances has led the same reporters who were writing him off just two weeks ago to wonder if he would reconsider his plans to retire after the 2015-16 season.
“Zero,” Bryant said to reporters after the Nuggets game. “Not even an inkling.”