The Los Angeles Lakers’ misfortunes this season have been well-documented. Dwight Howard has been banged up, Pau Gasol is playing off the bench and the Lakers are 22-26, which makes them 3.5 games out of the playoff race in the Western Conference.
None of that matters to the Black Mamba.
Through all the turmoil and distractions, Kobe Bryant has been playing some of the best basketball of his career—not the fantasy basketball, huge-point-totals kind of “best,” but the kind of basketball that ensures his team will keep winning games.
The Lakers have won five of their last six contests, and despite being four games under .500, Los Angeles is the only team not currently in the playoff race with a positive point differential (+1.5). During that span of wins, Bryant hasn’t scored more than 21 points, failing to top 17 points four times.
Bryant hasn’t needed to score a lot of points for the Lakers to win. In fact, he has taken on the role teammate Steve Nash has had locked down for his entire career. He’s been a facilitator.
This tweet from ESPN Stats and Info highlights the exact reason for the Lakers’ recent success:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The Lakers are 15-7 this season when Kobe Bryant has at least 6 assists in a game, 7-19 when he has 0-5 assists2/5/2013, 11:30:41 PM
Bryant has scored more than 30,000 points in his career—a milestone he reached in December of this season (via ESPN). He’s always been one of the most prolific scorers in the league, and no one doubts his ability to take over a game. And maybe Bryant relished that role enough to have a hard time relinquishing it at times, but that seems to be ancient history now.
As the Lakers continue to deal with rumors of potential trades involving Pau Gasol (via ESPN) and Dwight Howard (via Yahoo Sports), pressure continues to build, and the expectation that they should be winning at a more furious pace is ever-present in Los Angeles. The toxic situation that has formed has made creating chemistry on the court nearly impossible, especially with Gasol now playing from the bench.
The season is still young, though, and Bryant understands that. He hasn’t pushed the panic button, nor will that likely ever happen. Instead of worrying about the rumors and mounting losses, Bryant has taken control in the way that is best for his team.
In the Lakers’ last six games, the Black Mamba has dished out eight or more assists five times, including two 14-assist performances in wins over Oklahoma City and Utah. In those two particular games, he took a total of 22 shots from the floor.
The thing about chemistry is that it cannot be artificially created by one player. As much as Bryant wants his team to play as a cohesive unit, he had to be the one to facilitate a change in the chemistry of the team by relinquishing his familiar role as primary scorer, and instead, taking a step back and allowing everyone else on the floor to get involved in the offense.
The Lakers will continue to evolve and adapt this season, but Bryant’s play should remain the same. Los Angeles is winning right now because he has taken on a new role and allowed everyone else to find theirs as well. They’re 22-26 right now, but as long as Bryant keeps playing the way he has for the last six games, the Lakers have a good chance at gaining ground in the playoff hunt.