Archive for the 'Off-Season' Category

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Lakers Introduce Wesley Johnson

johnsonmedia_ts2One way to amass some young talent despite the roster/salary cap limitations of the Lakers: recruit players with something to prove (a love for the franchise doesn’t hurt, either).

By signing 2010 No. 4 overall pick Wesley Johnson, who underachieved given that draft slot in two years with Minnesota and one in Phoenix, they definitely got the “something to prove” part.

“I think this is probably one of the most important seasons of my life,” he relayed. Johnson also happens to be a purple and gold fan.

“This is a dream come true,” said Johnson, who grew up loving the Lakers thanks to a certain player that shared his family name. “Since I was younger at eight or nine years old, I always wanted to be a Laker.”

Johnson has struggled through portions of his early career on two young teams with few veterans from whom to learn. He said he’s eager to learn from Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and feels he’s developed his game considerably of late.

“I think my game catapulted this whole summer,” he said. “I’ve been in the gym non stop working on everything, as far as conditioning, ball-handling, shooting, agility and everything. I’ve matured a whole lot.”

Last season in Phoenix, Johnson saw some good minutes in March and April, producing the following numbers:

March: 30 minutes; 13.2 points; 3.5 rebounds; 1.2 steals; 41.5% FG’s; 34.7% 3′s
April: 27 minutes; 12.9 points; 3.1 rebounds; 0.1 steals; 46.2$ FG’s; 29.3% 3′s

Johnson’s hopeful that playing in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system will play to his strengths as a long, 6-7 athlete who likes getting up and down in transition. L.A. would surely like to see a rise in those shooting numbers, which given his stroke, should rise with teammates that draw double teams consistently – something he couldn’t take for granted in Minnesota or Phoenix.

“Wesley is a young, athletic player who runs the floor well and is an excellent defender,” said Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. “He’s a developing player who we think could become a good NBA player for years to come. He’s also a great kid and we’re happy to add him to our team.”

Lakers Select Ryan Kelly in 2013 Draft

Related Links
Ryan Kelly Injury Update
VIDEO: Kupchak on Kelly

ts_130627ryankelly_duke500With the 48th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Lakers selected 6-11 Duke forward Ryan Kelly, who averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 28.9 minutes per game while shooting 42.2 percent from the field as a senior.

“He was the player we had rated the highest still on the board,” said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. “It’s unusual to get a guy that’s 6-11, 6-11 1/2 that has the skill that he has, so it’s a unique opportunity, a big player that has an NBA frame that can shoot the ball not only mid-range, but he can make some shots. I think he can become a consistent three-point shooter in the NBA as well.”

L.A. may have found the rare second round pick that can fit into a specific role right away, as Kelly’s ability as a stretch four in the form of New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson is increasingly coveted around the NBA.

“There’s an opportunity there, a guy that can shoot the basketball with the size and length that I have,” said Kelly. “I’m going to have to earn everything that I get, but I think my ability to shoot the basketball and my ball friendliness for a guy my size – I can pass a little bit, dribble the ball a little bit – are the things that are going to allow me to play on a team the Lakers.”

A foot injury that limited Kelly to 23 games in his fourth year under Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski resulted in offseason surgery; he’s 11 weeks into a rehabilitation program that was originally scheduled to last 12 weeks. Kupchak was asked if the injury were a concern.

“No,” he replied. “(Kelly) was cleared to play last week, but I don’t think he’s going to play for another week or two.”

“(I) just this week I got x-rays that showed full healing in my foot,” added Kelly. “I feel great, and I’m ready to get back into it … Every team that I talked to felt like my injury was something that wasn’t going to be (lasting), that once I got healthy I was going to be healthy for a long time.”

All in all, Kelly couldn’t have been more happy to hear his name called as the newest member of the Lakers.

“I feel unbelievably blessed,” he offered. “I’ve been handed a great opportunity, and I look forward to taking advantage of it. It’s hard to put into words how excited I am.”

Lakers Host Draft Prospects

blog_130613predraft_workoutOn Thursday afternoon in El Segundo, the Lakers hosted a workout for six prospective players, including guards Peyton Siva (18) and Brandon Triche (19), as the franchise looks ahead to the June 27 NBA Draft.

Such workouts are commonplace around the league, though teams outside of the lottery like L.A. are a bit limited.

“You try to know all the players, but some of it is out of your control,” explained GM Mitch Kupchak. “For example, the agents aren’t going to let you see the top 10 guys, because they know you don’t have a top 10 pick … They’re going to send them to the teams that are in the lottery. But by and large, we try to figure the draft out one through 60 as best we can.”

The Lakers currently hold only the No. 48 overall pick in the second round, though Kupchak acknowledged that trades to acquire further picks are always a possibility as the chatter picks up in advance of draft day.

USC’s Dewayne Dedmon, Wake Forest’s C.J. Harris, Arkansas’ B.J. Young and Miami’s Kenny Kadji were also in attendance for drills run by legendary scout/coach Bill Bertka and the rest of Kupchak’s staff.

Siva – the point guard for the 2013 National Champion Louisville squad – and Triche – a strong player out of Syracuse – broke down the work out for Lakers.com:

PEYTON SIVA
Q: On how the Lakers workout compares to the other team workouts:
Siva: It compared to one of the top ones because we got to put some sets in, run some sets and get some full court action going. You definitely have to be in condition to come work out.

Q: On how playing at a big-name school like Louisville could help his draft stock:
Siva: Just recognition and shows I’m a winner, and I competed (against) a lot of other people in this draft. It helps we won.

Q: On if he gets drafted by the Lakers, and how playing on a big stage at Louisville will help him:
Siva: We played in front of 22,000 every night. The crowd doesn’t affect me. I’m not scared of the spotlight. We played on the biggest stage in the national championship and in the Final Four the year before. Big stages don’t frighten me; you live for those moments.

Q: On if he talked to former Louisville product Earl Clark:
Siva: I didn’t talk to him before I came out here, but before the tournament run. I love E5. He’s a soft-spoken dude, but a great guy.

Q: On what’s next:
Siva: Going to Golden State’s workout, then a couple more and see what happens on (June) 27.

BRANDON TRICHE
Q: On the predraft workout:
Triche: It was a pretty good workout. We all competed at a high level, and that’s what you want. I think it was the second time where we did full court and 3-on-3, where it touches your stamina. Overall, a great workout for me.

Q: On how the Lakers’ workout compared to other ones he had been through before:
Triche: It was a mixture of learning a few sets and plays, with a mixture of testing your stamina, but still getting to your talents, abilities and skills. Overall, this might have been the best workouts I’ve been through with the variety of things that they taught and I learned today.

Q: On what he thinks of the Lakers:
Triche: I think of them being, obviously, a great organization – tops in the league. I see a vacancy at the point guard spot, and I’m sure they’re looking forward to a bigger point guard. I look for the opportunity to play for these guys and help them out the best I can.

Q: On how he fared today against some of the competition:
Triche: I thought I matched up pretty good. It’s a little different because they have set teams before you go against everybody. Today, you can’t go against everybody; you just go against one person. Overall, a good workout and I thought I competed at at a high level, and brought my best ability and that’s all you can ask for.

Finishing At the Rim

Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles LakersFinishing shots at the rim at a high rate of efficiency is a category that can make a big difference over the course of an NBA season.

Whether through front court or back court players, having an elevated conversion percentage inside goes a long way towards overall offensive efficiency, where the Lakers finished eighth on the season (105.8) amongst NBA teams.

Here’s how each player fared from five feet and in*:
*Statistics courtesy of Hoopdata.com.

Above 65 Percent
Steve Nash: 61 makes in 86 attempts, 70.9%
Dwight Howard: 357 for 507, 70.4%
Kobe Bryant: 264 for 379, 69.7% (highest percentage since 2007)
Steve Blake: 19 for 28, 67.9%
Antawn Jamison: 127 for 188, 67.6%
Pau Gasol: 124 for 186, 66.7%
Earl Clark: 76 for 115, 66.1%
Jordan Hill: 45 for 69, 65.2%

60 Percent and Below
Robert Sacre: 9 for 15, 60.0%
Metta World Peace: 126 for 215, 58.6%
Chris Duhon: 6 for 11, 54.5%
Jodie Meeks: 59 for 110, 53.6%
Devin Ebanks: 10 for 19, 52.6%
Darius Morris: 38 for 74, 51.4%

Bryant’s 69.7 success rate certainly stands out, as he continued his steady improvement of the last four years (from a low of 58.6 percent in 2010) despite his increasing age. Meanwhile, Howard’s 70.4 percent rate is his lowest since 2007, down from 74.4 percent in the previous season, which one could ascribe at least in part to his season-long recovery from 2012 back surgery.

Gasol’s 186 attempts at the rim is very low considering his skill set. Clearly his appearing in only 49 games had something to do with that; however, the Spaniard averaged just 3.9 attempts at the rim, continuing a downward trend from 5.8 per game in 2010. Figuring out how to get Gasol touches in the post with Howard and Bryant attempting nearly 900 shots from that range was certainly a challenge for coach Mike D’Antoni, though it improved late in the season.

On the other hand, certain Lakers struggled to finish at the rim, with Metta World Peace (58.6 percent) joining younger players Jodie Meeks (53.6 percent) and Darius Morris (51.4 percent). Minimal attempts from others (Steve Blake, Chris Duhon and Devin Ebanks) make the respective rate of conversion less impactful.

For comparison’s sake: Always among league leaders inside, Tony Parker made 68.8 percent this season, below both Nash and Bryant. Chris Paul was at 69.5 percent, Mike Conley 57.9, James Harden 63.0, Russell Westbrook 61.6, Stephen Curry 59.2. One guard, Dwyane Wade, managed to make an impressive 74.7 percent of his shots at the rim, way up from around 66 percent in the last two seasons.

The 2013 MVP, LeBron James, hit an absurd 78.3 percent of his shots at the rim. Kevin Durant wasn’t so bad himself, converting 75.1 percent. Those two stand far above another elite wing scorer, Carmelo Anthony, who made just 54.9 percent at the rim.

Amongst other NBA bigs, Chris Bosh hit 75.5 percent, Tim Duncan 71.8, LaMarcus Aldridge 71.2, Marc Gasol 67.1, Joakim Noah 62.0, Brook Lopez 69.4, Zach Randolph 59.4, Roy Hibbert 53.6.

As we can see, L.A.’s top four players rank amongst the league’s best finishers.

Teammates, Management Weigh in on Howard

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers - Game FourOver the course of last week’s exit interviews, many of Dwight Howard’s teammates plus general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach Mike D’Antoni weighed in on the big man’s season, adding their thoughts on the impending free agent’s future.

As relayed by Kupchak, the Lakers understand why Howard will wait until July to discuss his future, as will nearly every free-agent-to-be; that’s to be expected with the way things are set up in the NBA.

With that said, there’s no question that both players and management are hoping Howard decides to re-sign with Los Angeles. Here are some of the quotes about Howard that stood out:

MITCH KUPCHAK
Q: On why he’s hopeful Howard will re-sign with the Lakers:
Kupchak: We have a great legacy, a great history of great players in this city dating back to when the franchise came here in 1960, and he certainly fits the mold. But I don’t want to get ahead of the game and take anything for granted. Obviously, I’m hopeful and optimistic. From what I understand, our players that came in today were very supportive of him returning. If you just look at the opportunity, which is to play for this franchise in this city, with what this franchise has meant to this city and its accomplishments, that’s probably the most any team can offer a player. Certainly, some players might not prefer to play on a stage like in Los Angeles, but I do know that this franchise will continue to be run as a model franchise. This is a very desirable place for players to play. What it comes down to is being comfortable selling the Los Angeles Lakers, and that’s where my confidence lies the most.

Q: On standing up for Howard around the All-Star break in a Lakers.com piece (among other places) when he thought Howard was being criticized unfairly, and how Howard responded:
Kupchak: I think it helped that people recognized what he was going through. Once again, the expectations leading into the season were just so high and so off the charts that any kind of sub performance would result in negative feedback, and that’s what took place. When you’re not performing to the level of expectations, people look for – and rightfully so – reasons why, and for some reason, he seemed to get most of the criticism. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he was here on a one-year deal, and for business reasons, he has to wait until this summer, but nobody understands that … I don’t think people understand it’s been about a year since he had surgery. Here’s a guy that had surgery last April and here it is a full NBA season later, and he played a full slate of games. I asked everybody here to look back at his March performance (17.9 points, 15.2 rebounds), and understandably, people aren’t going to say: “He’s not playing as well as he could because he had back surgery.” When you’re on the court in this league, it means you’re ready to play. I feel as if he’s not been given his due credit and he’s been under appreciated.

MIKE D’ANTONI
Q: On Howard wanting to take his time in making a decision regarding his free agency:
D’Antoni: We’ll just have to go on what he says. I don’t have any insight other than what he said. He will take his time and make a good decision. As everybody said, and everybody knows, and hopes what the right place is. But that’s something he has to come to, and he will … You want everybody to be happy and show them what it could be like. He knows. He’ll take that information and sort it out.

KOBE BRYANT
Q: On his feelings whether Howard will re-sign with the Lakers:
Bryant: I hope he does. It’s just a matter of what he feels in his heart what and he wants to do. He’s reached a crossroads of his career and I think Los Angeles is the perfect spot for him to assert himself, to put his foot down and have his career really take off. There’s no greater place for centers to play than here in Los Angeles … I’ll talk to him, bring him out to the house, chill with him a little bit, watch a cartoon movie or something and we’ll have a good time.

Q: On Howard’s emergence later in the season and prospects for 2013-14: Bryant: You look at what he’s done in the second half of the season, it’s been pretty impressive – coming off of back surgery as well. This summer, he has all summer to get himself in tip top form and next year I think he’ll be unbelievable.

Q: On if the team realized what it had this past season, and if they can achieve their goal next season if the core group of players returns:
Bryant: We understood, but we didn’t have a chance to develop it because of injury after injury after injury. It was crazy. It was a constant process for us, but we finally figured it out. It’s great to bring the group back because we know what to do, and we know how lethal we can be.

PAU GASOL
Q: On how potentially keeping Howard would impact the Spaniard:
Gasol: I don’t think it’s 100 percent attached to that. I think the franchise would like to keep Dwight, will do what it takes to keep Dwight here. But that doesn’t mean that if he’s here, I’m automatically gone, at least as I understand.

Q: On the season, and how the team had to adjust to each other over the course of the year:
Gasol: In the beginning, we struggled more because everybody wanted to assert themselves and establish themselves. Things didn’t work out that well from the beginning. The coaching change had a big role into it, but we progressed as the season went on and put our individual desires aside and found what worked. We finished the season playing the right way as far as a balance.

STEVE NASH
Q: On his feelings on Howard’s decision this offseason:
Nash: I’m very hopeful that Dwight will be back. I think this is the place for him. He’s in the prime of his career, and he has his best years ahead of him. He can play for one of the greatest franchises in sports in an amazing city. I’m hopeful he sees it that way.

Q: On elite players coming together in a short time with no training camp in a systsem:
Nash: We have a lot of guys who have had great careers, great success that have done it in their way. But when you come together you can’t do it in four or five different ways. I think that was really difficult for everyone, for the players, and particularly for the coach. We can make a long list of what (D’Antoni) faced this year: coming in late, the craziest injury situation I’ve ever seen, guys playing when they’re not themselves. It’s hard to find an identity when guys aren’t what they’re going to be in a week, or out of the lineup in a week.

JODIE MEEKS
Q: On his relationship with Howard and whether he believes he’ll re-sign in Los Angeles:
Meeks: I know he loves this city and this team. We got pretty close as friends. I can’t say exactly what he’s going to do, but I know he likes (Los Angeles).

EARL CLARK
Q: On if he sensed playing with Howard in Orlando and Los Angeles if he learned anything this season:
Clark: Once he came to L.A., he realized media here is very different. Here, there’s more pressure and a lot of people are coming to see you. I think he felt more pressure of being in an organization where losing is not an option. I think it was good for his career. I think this summer he’ll continue to work on his game, and get better. L.A. is good for Dwight, and he has a challenge here. I think he’ll answer it and bring a championship here.

Dwight Howard Photo Gallery

Can we interest you in 24 photos of Dwight Howard from Aug. 10, the day he was introduced as the newest member of the Lakers?

PHOTO GALLERY: DWIGHT HOWARD AS A LAKER:

Follow along as Howard walked towards his presser with Mitch Kupchak, held up his No. 12 jersey for the first time and went on about his day.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his Coming Statue

Last spring, the Lakers let it be known that plans were being made to erect a statue in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to celebrate one of the greatest to ever play basketball and his contributions towards five Lakers championship rings.

During an interview with Lakers.com, Abdul-Jabbar expressed his feelings about being so honored.

“For me, I’m just very happy to be acknowledged by the franchise that I spent my most time with,” said the 19-time All-Star. “It’s very satisfying to see it in concrete terms out there on the plaza with the other Laker greats. I’m very honored and pleased that this is finally happening.”

No specific date has been announced by the team, but Abdul-Jabbar is pleased that the process is under way.

I suggested to the Captain that the statue would have to feature him in Skyhook form. Right?

“I would imagine so,” he responded with a smile. “I hope so.”

LAL Player Tracker: Aug. 27

The opening preseason contest for the Lakers, on Oct. 7 vs. Golden State in Fresno, is now a mere 41 days away, meaning the number of players at the Lakers facility will continue to climb.

According to the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Tim DiFrancesco, the following Lakers have been regulars at the practice facility of late: Devin Ebanks; Andrew Goudelock; Jordan Hill; Darius Morris; and Metta World Peace.

DiFrancesco expects newcomers Antawn Jamison, Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks in the weight room and on the court after Labor Day.

As for the two incoming All-Stars acquired in summer trades?

Steve Nash is expected to be in Los Angeles in mid-September, and plans on working out at the team’s facility.

Dwight Howard is currently doing his therapy/rehabilitation from back surgery at a facility in the Westwood/Century City area of L.A. At some point, he will transition over to working with Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti, the team’s head physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto and the rest of Vitti’s staff (a time has not yet been set). Lakers spokesman John Black said Howard will not be doing any basketball/weight workouts until he’s cleared medically, and that there is no target date for any of that at this point.

Pau Gasol* is expected to return to Los Angeles at the end of September, while Kobe Bryant is more than trusted by the team to make his own work out arrangements for the offseason prior to training camp.
*You can follow Gasol’s Twitter feed to find out where he is in a given week.

We’ll have more for you on the player front in the coming weeks as the Lakers ramp up for 2012-13.

Bryant, USA win Gold over Gasol’s Spain

We followed the gold medal game between Kobe Bryant’s Team USA and Pau Gasol’s Spain on Sunday morning from London, detailing how the two Lakers contributed to what was ultimately a hard-earned 107-100 gold medal victory for the Americans.

FIRST QUARTER:
10:00 So key for Team USA in the 2008 gold medal game in Beijing, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to go with six assists, Kobe Bryant opened this one with a pretty dish to a diving Tyson Chandler off pick and roll to get a layup. His LAL counterpart opened Spain’s effort with a slick, left-handed baseline hook over Chandler.

7:00 The triples started to fall for both teams, with Juan Carlos Navarro hitting twice for Spain (the second on a Gasol dish) and Kobe answering with two triples of his own to put the U.S. up 15-12. Bryant had been on fire from distance in the medal round*, nailing six in the second half of the quarters against Australia, and three in the semi’s against Argentina. As a team, the USA was at an impressive 45 percent from deep in the tourney.
*Hard not to notice his play improving as the games went on, helped perhaps by Lakers team physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto heading over to work with him in London.

0:00 Carmelo Anthony checked in for Team USA, going small with LeBron guarding Pau, and promptly scored eight points (two triples and a pull-up banker) to put the U.S. up 25-16 before Gasol could even touch the ball inside (resulting in two free throws when he finally did.) Gasol then flashed the high-low action we might see between him and Dwight Howard for the Lakers, this time with Serge Ibaka, allowing the OKC forward consecutive trips to the foul line before Gasol hit a pull-up J to keep Spain within seven.

SECOND QUARTER:
8:30: Gasol, yet to rest, opened the second with a driving finger roll lay up, scoring easily around Kevin Love, and his brother Marc got the Spaniards within a single point (37-36) moments later with a lofted turnaround J.

3:01 Spain hung tough throughout the second, playing a ton better than they did when the teams met prior to the tournament and Portugal’s Iberian peninsula neighbor played in general in the Olympics, almost playing possum for the Americans, down only four as Gasol swatted LeBron on one and and JCN scored on the other. Meanwhile, we saw a cut shot of Gasol’s girlfriend in the stands (just an FYI).

0:00 Bryant again rested for the final five minutes of the quarter – as has been typical with Coach Mike Krzyzewski giving the oldest U.S. player extra rest – as Rudy Fernandez drew a slew of fouls (tossing his body around a bit) and converted free throws to bring Spain within a point (59-58) at the break.

THIRD QUARTER:
7:52 Gasol continued to play excellent ball for his country, scoring three consecutive buckets – plus the foul on the first – with his running dunk then up-and-under around Love to put the Spaniards up 67-64. His brother Marc, meanwhile, was sitting with four fouls picked up in the first half in a choppy yet high-scoring game, with naturalized Spaniard Ibaka (from Congo but played professionally in Spain #loophole) in.

5:02 Memo to the USA coaching staff: Love can’t guard Gasol 1-on-1. For the fifth consecutive trip, Gasol either scored (this time an and-1) or drew a foul, his 13 points outscoring USA’s 11 in the quarter, giving Spain a 71-70 lead … only to be taken back by Kobe’s third triple.

0:00 Olympics hoops analyst Doug Collins has been calling Gasol the tournament’s best big man throughout, and he certainly proved it in the third, scoring 15 points to keep Spain within one (83-82) heading into a fourth quarter that would decide what color medal each nation would sport. Bryant picked his spots, with the Americans having much more balance as he, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe.

FOURTH QUARTER:
7:40 Having asked to guard Navarro, Bryant showed why in shutting the streaky Spaniard down after that early-game barrage, with Chris Paul (excellent in crunch time as usual) scoring five straight points to make it 90-84. The only thing that sat Gasol on the bench was an inadvertent hand to the face from LeBron, drawing blood that needed tending to on the sideline.

6:00 Time for two big fourth quarter plays from Kobe: 1) Remember when Rudy Fernandez fouled Bryant on a game-sealing three-pointer in China in 2008? Here he did so again, though Bryant missed only his second free throw of the tourney before hitting the second and third (15 points) to make it 95-86; 2) An offensive rebound off Melo’s missed three, which he stuck back in off glass to make it a 10-point lead.

2:40 Yet with LeBron on the bench in foul trouble, the U.S. then turned it over on back-to-back trips (Kobe then Anthony), giving Spain a chance to get within four when Gasol’s leaner in the paint rimmed out. Instead, LeBron’s driving dunk (Spain didn’t know whether to switch a pick) and pull-up three put the U.S. back up 11, sealing the deal.

0:00 The United States of America are Olympic gold medalists in basketball again. The final: 107-100. Bryant was taken out alongside James and Durant in the final minute to a rousing cheer. He could be seen getting emotional in his final Olympic experience, sharing hugs first with his USA teammates, then with Gasol, the two congratulating one another on a terrific game … and who knows, maybe sharing a knowing glance that they’d soon be playing alongside Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

Bryant finished with 17 points on 5 of 10 shooting (3 of 7 from three) with two boards, two assists and a steal, while Gasol carried his country with 24 points (9 of 17 field goals), eight boards and five assists plus a steal while playing nearly the entire game.

So it’s silver for Pau, and gold for Kobe for the second straight Olympics in a spirited game between the two best basketball playing nations.

Team USA Blows Out Nigeria

Just three minutes into Thursday’s Olympic group play game between Team USA and Nigeria, Kobe Bryant had already hit a three, a pull-up J and two free throws for seven points in a 13-0 run from which the Americans didn’t come close to looking back, ultimately setting scoring records with a 156-73 win.

The most the Dream Team had ever scored was 127, the U.S. record was 133 and the Olympic record 138. See ya.

By the 4:20 mark, Kobe had added a turnaround jumper, a contested three-pointer and a breakaway two-handed reverse flush to score 14 points in a 25-10 start before taking a seat on the bench. He was well on pace to hit his season high from the NBA season, 48 against Phoenix, but of course wouldn’t get the minutes.

His teammates, particularly Carmelo Anthony — who finished with a U.S. Olympic record 37 points behind 10 of 12 shooting from three — picked up from where Kobe left off. The Knicks wing pushed a ridiculous first quarter scoring total to 49 points as the Americans nailed 11 triples. That is not a typo.

Bryant played five more minutes in the second quarter, totaling just 11 in the game as the team continues to save his legs, adding another bucket to finish with 16 points plus three boards and two assists. He helped Coach Krzyzewski’s team take a 78-45 lead into halftime.

Team USA’s bench, albeit full of NBA All-Stars, played even better defense in the second half, holding Nigeria to 17 and 11 points in the third and fourth quarters.

Bryant played the role of head cheerleader in the second half, just as he did in the team’s previous win against Tunisia, ahead of Saturday and Monday games against Lithuania and Argentina.

The Americans finished with an absurd 59 of 83 from the field (71.1 percent) and 29 of 46 from three (63 percent), holding Nigerian to 41.2 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three. Team USA assisted on 38 field goals, swiped 12 steals and forced 24 turnovers while committing just seven.

Group A leader Team USA matched the 3-0 records of Spain and Russia in Group B, and boy did they do it in style.