When Kobe Bryant went to Las Vegas over the summer to compete in the qualifying tournament of the Americas for the USA Olympic team, he looked like he was in great shape and declared he was going to focus on his defense with this team. Unlike with the Lakers, Kobe would not have to put all of his energy into the offensive side of the ball, since he had the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and etc. to help out with the scoring. So Kobe took it upon himself to ask the coaching staff if he could guard the opposing team’s best player every single game.
Kobe’s defense had fallen off over the past few years as was seen last season when other team’s stars would put up big point totals on him (look at Michael Redd’s 45 points or Gilbert Arenas’ 60 points last season at home). This caused Kobe to rededicate himself to get his defense back to NBA All-Defensive team style. Even though Kobe had been put on these teams in years past, it was more out of respect then for his actual play.
Kobe lost almost twenty pounds over the summer and had some good practice in the Olympic qualifier to work on his defense. He looked extremely good on the defensive side of the ball while helping Team USA win the qualifying tournament, by scoring, passing, rebounding, and shutting down the opponent’s best player.
At the beginning of the Laker’s training camp, the question arose about Kobe’s defense and if the quality he showed over the summer could translate into the NBA season. At the start of the season, Kobe was not sure how much effort he would have for defense because no one knew that he would have more help on the offensive side of the ball than in seasons past. (Prior to the season, I told some of my friends that I would be more impressed with Kobe if he won the Defensive Player of the Year instead of MVP).
Once Kobe was able to get some help on the offensive side of the ball thanks to Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum, etc., and now Pau Gasol, the defense that was shown at the Olympics in August was on display during the regular season. This defensive attitude has been contagious and others on the Lakers have stepped their defense. We all know that “defense wins championships”. Some of the problems of the Lakers in years past have been their ability to play team defense and shut down other teams and their playmakers. Kobe Bryant has had some memorable blocks this year on Tim Duncan and Yao Ming.
Kobe is also in the Top 10 in the league for steals per game. In a game in December in Denver, Allen Iverson was torching us, so Phil Jackson put Kobe and Trevor Ariza on him in the 4th quarter and they held A.I. to 2 points in that quarter, which also lead to a Laker victory. With the acquisition of Pau Gasol and the return of Andrew Bynum coming soon, this team has the offensive ability to make it out of the Western Conference. The thing that will decide how far this Laker season will go depends on how their defense comes together during playoff time.
Can Kobe Bryant keep up the intensity on both sides of the ball and make his teammates want to play good defense? I believe that Kobe will be able to motivate his teammates and keep up the defensive level that will see Kobe earn his way onto the NBA All-Defensive first team.