Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks clearly never met Kobe Bryant.
Throughout his illustrious career, Bryant has been known as an elite scorer. He’s never been shy with his willingness to shoot, and his points-per-game average has always been among the best that the NBA has to offer.
But as the 2012-13 season has progressed, we’ve seen the 34-year-old establish himself as a true facilitator for the first time in his career. It has added a new dynamic to his impressive playmaking ability, and it’s given his fans hope that he can adjust his role as his playing days continue.
How long Bryant sticks to this newfound mentality has yet to be determined, but if he can maintain his responsibility as a passer, it will extend his career, as his body will take less of a physical toll along the way to retirement.
On the Court
Bryant has been more banged-up throughout his career than he would ever let on. He constantly has some sort of nagging injury, yet you’d never know it by the way he produces on the court night in and night out.
Still, anybody who takes on the kind of scoring role he has becomes a target for defenses, and as he loses his athleticism, his body will become more susceptible to injury.
There’s no denying that attacking the paint and drawing double-teams fatigues even the league’s best players. When Bryant is looking to pass, he relies far less on his physical tools and turns to the basketball IQ that he has embedded in his genes.
We all know that the Lakers play better as a team when Bryant is facilitating. ESPN made that clear when it released this stat on Feb. 5 (via Twitter):
The question is, though, what will this do for him as his career continues to wind down?
The veteran has proven that he can play with minor injuries season after season, but if he can avoid the major injury that finally takes him down, he’ll be in good shape moving forward.
In His Head
Whether Bryant finishes his career as a scorer or a distributor, a day will come when his body begins to fail him. When that day comes, if he can’t accept a lesser role on the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s going to be beyond tough to watch his points-per-game average fall toward the end of his career.
The more games that Bryant experiences as a No. 2 or No. 3 option, the easier it will be to accept that he can’t be a 30-point-per-game scorer forever.
Bryant has always been a scorer, and he’s not done being a scorer yet. But if he can accept the role of facilitator now, he’ll be able to adjust his game to his athleticism before he walks away.
Can He Keep It Going?
We've seen that Bryant has it in him to become a facilitator. When he looks for others ahead of himself, good things happen, and he has the skill set and basketball IQ to make his team better without shooting the ball.
The problem is that the sample size is small, and the 34-year-old hasn't proven he can play that brand of basketball on a regular basis.
Since the new Bryant began to emerge, his old habits have already come creeping back into play. After a five-game stretch where he averaged 12.8 shots and 11.2 assists, he turned around and began putting up 19.7 shots and collecting three assists in the following three contests.
This isn't to say that the Lakers legend can't do it; it's to say that old habits die hard, and that the scorer in him will never truly leave.
Bryant's career isn't over yet, but you have to wonder how many more years he'll have once his contract runs out in 2014.
Sometime in the near future his playing days will come to an end, and if he can transition into the final stage of his career as a facilitator rather than a scorer, he'll be able to push his NBA expiration date back and continue to dominate the league in a whole new fashion.