Whether Kobe Bryant has been a great NBA player for the last 14 seasons has never been in question; he's among history's greatest scorers, and is quite possibly the most skilled offensive player ever. But if there's a nagging scab on Kobe's illustrious career, through five (and counting) championships and an MVP and an Olympic gold medal, it's that he's considered to be a selfish player.
When the Spurs blew out the Lakers on Tuesday night, that reputation was thrust back on to center stage. Kobe took 27 field goal attempts in the game. Pau Gasol, the team's incredibly gifted pivot, took all of nine, despite playing four more minutes than Bryant. Immediately, fingers pointed at Kobe. (George Hill's, included.)
In post-game comments, Pau himself alluded to the reliance on so many tough jumpers, most of which were fired up by Bryant. From Yahoo!'s Johnny Ludden:
"We didn't play a smart game, put it that way," Gasol said. " ... We have to recognize what's going on and understand what our strengths are against certain opponents, and try to exploit them."
"It can't be an individual effort from nobody," Gasol added. "It has to be altogether on a string, like a family."
No, Pau, it can't be an individual effort from nobody. But it was for Kobe. Here's a graph showing the game's minute-by-minute progression, with Kobe's 28 shots (that's 27 FGAs and a pair of FTAs) denoted in green (makes) and red (misses). Click to enlarge, or procure a magnifying glass.
Let it wash over you for a second. Kobe took most of his shots very early in the first quarter -- six attempts in the first four minutes! -- and during his seven-minute stint in the fourth (nine shots), with the Lakers down big. In Kobe's other 12 minutes from the mid-first through the third, Kobe took 12 shots. That's still a lot, but left plenty of opportunity for the Lakers to establish Pau in the post, right?
The problem is in those first six attempts inside of four minutes. You establish things at the beginning. Sure, Kobe made four of the six shots. But it left Pau with no traction, a condition that continued throughout the game. What Kobe established to start the game was that the Lakers were going to rely on jumpers to win the game. You can beat the Clippers and Kings with that strategy. Not the Spurs.
But it's hard to blame Bryant for unloading his clip in the fourth with the Lakers being pushed out of the game. He hit three straight shots upon re-entering the game, and it would have been surprising if at that point he decided to defer. We know Kobe, and that's not him, and thinking he'll actually repress his machismo gene as his career fades is laughable. That's not Kobe. He will fire biscuits out of the cannons before he go down deferring. (Unless it's Game 7 against the Suns in 2006.)
So, to answer the headline's question: Kobe was selfish, then desperate. He was short-sighted in trying to pull the Lakers out of their funk all by himself, and as such guaranteed that, barring a miracle that did not materialize, the Lakers would remain funky. And not in a good way.