In August 2017, Kobe Bryant began to issue challenges to not only several athletes, but also celebrities. The Mamba Mentality Challenges, as they were called, were a way for Bryant to push the people he believed could make astounding change in the span of a year. These challenges ranged from individual accolades, to making a lasting change in the challengers’ community. While we eagerly await the resumption for the 2019-2020 NBA season, here are some examples of a Kobe-esque challenge for 5 NBA players for the 2020-2021 season.
Kyrie Irving: Stay Healthy and Grow as a Leader
In the game of basketball, there are often situations where plays fall apart and players must improvise in a one on one scenario. When it comes to an isolation style of play, there aren’t a lot of players better than Kyrie Irving. Between a smooth jumper, excellent agility, and one of the tightest handles the NBA has ever seen, Irving can score essentially at will. Despite his offensive talents, Irving has underachieved since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2017. After two seasons with the Celtics, including the first season where Irving missed the playoffs and watched his team that overachieved without him get eliminated by former teammate LeBron James, he promptly left the 17 time NBA Champions to form a powerhouse with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn during the summer of 2019. After playing only 20 games in Brooklyn this season before the season was put on hold, and him refusing to play in Orlando when the season returns later this summer, it’s time for Irving to evaluate what he wants to achieve next season. Irving’s Kobe-esque challenge is to lead the Nets to a top record in the East and lead a deep playoff run. Since leaving the Cavaliers, Irving has not exhibited the leadership abilities that many thought he was capable of. In light of all these issues that have plagued the star in the last few seasons, all eyes will be on him when he returns next season at full health.
Lonzo Ball: Become a 15 PPG Player
The 2nd overall pick from the 2017 draft has gotten off to an unimpressive start in the NBA, to say the least. The third year point guard out of UCLA drew parallels to Jason Kidd during his draft analysis; a comparison that was not far off. Lonzo Ball is a pass-first guard with elite vision and great height for his position, much like Kidd. Another attractive feature of Ball was his stifling defense and incredibly high IQ for a player his age. His instincts and overall talent helped him orchestrate his teams offense while getting his own buckets at the high school and collegiate level, but he has yet to produce the same level of efficiency on the offensive end since he joined the NBA. Take his field goal percentage from his only season at UCLA; Ball was a sniper from the three-point line, shooting 41.2%, while also shooting 55.1% from inside the three. In his rookie season, those numbers understandably dropped, but not as much as people would have expected. In the 2017-2018 season, Ball shot 36.0% from the field and 30.5% from three. Although we have seen flashes of greatness from Ball, such as when he became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, he still needs to elevate his offensive presence. He’s a great facilitator and is already an elite defender, now his Kobe-esque challenge is to elevate his scoring output. He currently is not the #1 scoring option for his team, which takes the pressure off of him to go out and score 25 a night. However, if he were able to raise his scoring numbers to 15 or more per night in this upcoming season, he would become a much bigger threat offensively.
Nikola Jokic: Make the NBA Finals
The talented center from Serbia has to be one of the most underrated players in the league today. He is 7 feet with the court vision, ball handling, and overall finesse of a point guard. He can shoot, pass, dribble, and bang in the post. His game is almost perfect, except for one thing; his conditioning. Jokic’s bigger frame has allowed him to bully his defenders in the post, but at the expense of his athleticism and his endurance. Recently, however, videos have surfaced of Jokic looking much slimmer, and his teammates, coaches, and executives have all commented on how much more athletic he’s become. Jokic seems to have traded his bulkiness for athleticism, which will make him an even bigger threat in the open court. In regards to the Kobe-esque challenge, what Jokic does with his new body remains to be seen. With his old physique, the Nuggets have consistently finished well in the regular season, including being one win away from the Western Conference Finals during the 2019 playoffs. His new build could provide a boost on both the offensive and defensive end. His new athletic ability could be what the Nuggets need to emerge as a threat to the Lakers’ and Clippers’ championship hopes. Jokic’s performance will definitely be a point of focus when the season returns.
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