Lakers assistant coach Darvin Ham spent some time guarding Kobe Bryant after a recent practice, watching helplessly at times as Kobe scored on 15 of 20 possessions.
Bryant’s been scoring on everybody this season (30.3 points per game to lead the league on 47.9 percent shooting), and Ham doesn’t claim to be the fleetest of foot right now. But he’s as strong as a bull, and has NBA defensive principles down cold. That didn’t stop Bryant from swishing fadeaways, pull-ups and leaners or getting to the rim at will and finishing with either hand.
When Ham was an NBA player himself, starting in 1996 until finally retiring in 2005, he spent some time guarding the one player he said was as difficult as Bryant: Michael Jordan.
Here’s how Ham described the task of defending two of the greatest 1-on-1 players of all time:
Q: On the similarities and differences between KB and MJ:
Ham: I think Kobe is a far better pure shooter. I think they’re both equal in having initial moves, counter moves, and then if you stop the initial and counter, they have an escape move. They’re totally identical in that aspect. Mike was probably stronger, but Kobe is more fluid. Take nothing away from Mike (because) he had an amazing, amazing arsenal of moves, but Kobe is a lot more fluid. He’s never off balance and he can shoot with either hand, which just makes it really tough on the defender.
Q: On advice trying to slow Bryant down:
Ham: There is no way. You just hope he gets tired. Take a hard foul. You try to neutralize him in some kind of way, but there’s no stopping him. The only thing I can try to do is slow him down. Just switch my feet up when I guard him. When I see him about to crank into a move, I’ll move my feet, but that doesn’t often work either. Once he figures it out, he’ll time you. Once you’re in the process of switching your feet or ready to stand up, he’s gone. He’s quick with it. Pump fake, jab step, take off. You get low to take off, he’s raising up to shoot the ball. That’s Kobe.