The NBA Award results are beginning to be shown to the public, and among them are the 6th Man of the Year Award and the Most Improved Player Award. The respective awards went to Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz and Julius Randle of the New York Knicks, who both had wonderful seasons. Clarkson won the 6th Man of the Year Award by averaging 18.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while playing in 68 games, coming off the bench in all but one. His performance helped propel the Jazz to the top of the NBA’s standings, finishing with a 52-20 record.
Randle, on the other hand, took a subpar Knicks team that he had been on the season before and completely transformed himself from above average role player to All-Star. During his first season with the Knicks (2019-20), Randle averaged 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists while the Knicks finished with a 21-45 record, good for the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference. This season, Randle became a first time All-Star and averaged career highs in every category, with 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game. The Knicks went from the 12th seed to the 4th seed, with a record of 41-31 in 2021. There is no doubt that he deserves this award, and earned it.
Congratulations to both of these men for making such incredible strides in their development.
With that being said, I couldn’t help but notice a striking similarity when it comes to the two award winners. A fact that I cannot gloss over, and one that makes me realize that even when you are dead, you can still have a massive influence on today’s NBA.
Allow me to introduce you to the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers. Fresh off of winning back to back NBA Championships, the team fell off as Lamar Odom would leave the team in 2011 for the Dallas Mavericks, Ron Artest would sign with the Knicks in 2013, and Pau Gasol would sign with the Chicago Bulls in 2014. In an attempt to win a few more rings (Artest and Gasol did not age very well), the Lakers signed Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic in 2012. They also successfully traded for point god (that was his nickname) Chris Paul in 2011, but David Stern vetoed the trade because he thought it was unfair.
That big three would be the equivalent of today’s Brooklyn Nets, but since there was no Paul, it was just Bryant and Howard, which did not work out. Howard had nowhere near the work ethic of Bryant, a fact that Bryant could not stand. In a short amount of time, Howard had departed to the Rockets, and Bryant was forced to carry the Lakers while they tanked for high draft picks.
This forced Kobe Bryant into working harder than he should have at his age. So it should be no surprise that Bryant tore his achilles on April 12th, 2013, during a game against the Golden State Warriors. With no Bryant, the Lakers deteriorated. The Lakers had no first round draft picks in 2012 and 2013, but with their second round picks they selected Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly, who are good friends to this day.
However, in 2014, the Lakers finally got a top draft choice (the 7th pick to be exact) and selected our good friend Julius Randle. Unfortunately, he broke his shin in his first game, and missed his whole rookie season. Aside from Randle, the Lakers also received Jordan Clarkson in a trade from that same draft. Because of the injuries to Randle and Bryant, the Lakers had yet another bad year and in 2015, selected D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick. Unfortunately, this once more did nothing, and the Lakers received the second pick again in 2016, with which they selected Brandon Ingram. 2015-16 was Bryant’s final season, and after it was over, the Lakers had only their young core and another number two pick, this time Lonzo Ball.
So, with the exception of Ingram and Ball, all of the young Lakers got a chance to learn from the great Black Mamba himself, and while their stats on the Lakers were less then impressive, as soon as they were traded and moved to different teams, they became different players. It was as if the Black Mamba was inside each of them, telling them exactly what to do in order to become the kind of player that he was. Julius Randle has said that he thinks about Bryant on a daily basis, and Clarkson recalled how badly he wanted to win that final season. Before a game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Bryant gave every member on the team a pair of his shoes, but after a blowout loss, he took them all back, saying they weren’t worthy of wearing his shoes.
Once D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, he became a first-time All-Star, led the Nets to a playoff appearance for the first time since 2015, and was traded in a sign and trade for Kevin Durant, a former MVP. Ryan Kelly, the second round pick in 2013 and the last player to ever sub in for Bryant, left the NBA to play overseas in Japan and is now averaging a 20-point 10-rebound double-double. Ingram and Ball must have learned some of the lessons from their teammates who played with Bryant, because once they were traded to the Pelicans, Ingram became an All-Star and Ball began to make his three-point shots.
The other two players from the Lakers’ young core? Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson would play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it wasn’t until he was on the Utah Jazz that he found his role, and became the player he is today. As for Randle, he would soon find himself on the New Orleans Pelicans, and from there the New York Knicks. The fact remains that two NBA award winners were those who studied under Kobe Bryant, the man with the most legendary work ethic on the planet. It’s safe to say that the Black Mamba was a great coach, and might be remembered as one of the greatest coaches ever if he did so professionally.
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