Kobe Bryant will do absolutely anything to help the Los Angeles Lakers win another world championship. That includes, at age 34 and in his 17th season, becoming a second point guard alongside one of the greatest in league history, Steve Nash.
It's been fun to watch, and the experiment has made the Lakers better, though not good enough to make them serious threats in the Western Conference.
It's no coincidence that the 25-29 Lakers are playing better basketball since Kobe Bryant decided on January 25 that being a facilitator instead of a big-time scorer might just help his team change from mediocre also-ran to playoff contender.
Bryant dished out 14 dimes that night in a 102-84 win over Utah and followed that two days later with 14 more in a nine-point win over the Thunder, arguably the team's best game of the season.
Clearly, the Lakers have become part of the league's new dual point guard system, and so far, the results have been better than expected. The Lakers are still not a championship contender, but their chances to at least make the playoffs have improved.
While the Lakers and Coach Mike D'Antoni are asking Steve Nash to shoot the ball more, they haven't asked him to shed his point guard skin. Doing that to a guy who has rewritten the handbook on point guards would be ridiculous.
Over a 17-year career, Nash has averaged close to nine assists per game. That number is 7.4 this year, and when you combine that with Kobe Bryant's 5.5 dimes, the results speak for themselves.
In what may seem like an odd tandem, the pairing of Nash and Bryant as point guards actually opens up the Mike D'Antoni offense. Instead of waiting for a pass so that he could look to score, Bryant as a facilitator means that defenses usually leave one of the other Lakers open.
If players like Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace are hitting those attempts, the system truly works. The passes were there on Thursday night against the Clippers, but the finishers were not as the Lakers were shellacked, 125-101.
Bryant had 11 assists and Nash had five of his own, but the Lakers made just six of 20 three-point shots. Nash missed all four of his three-pointers.
This new dual point guard system is popping up everywhere, and in an era of small ball, it makes sense to have dual distributors who can stretch the floor.
The Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets all play with two point guards at various times in a game, so the Lakers experiment is nothing new. It's just new to them and their fans.
Since Kobe Bryant went into facilitator mode against the Jazz, the Lakers are 8-4. In his last 10 games, prior to the February 14th showdown against the Clippers, Bryant was averaging 7.7 assists and 18.7 points on just 15.5 shots per game. His career average for attempts is 19.6 with 12 of the last 13 seasons being more than 20 per contest.
As good as it can seem with Kobe Bryant acting like Steve Nash, No. 24 can take it to the extreme. In February 11th's win over the Suns, Bryant seemed to go out of his way to pass the ball and it almost cost the Lakers the game as he turned the ball over eight times and shot just eight times. Kobe scored four points in one of the worst games of his career.
Mike D'Antoni cut the 15-time All-Star some slack after the game, telling the Associated Press:
"I guess every 17 years, he's allowed that. I wouldn't be too tough on him. It was just one of those nights. He was trying too hard to get everybody else involved. You've got to walk the fine line, and he's way over the other line. ... Just write it off and get to the next one."
As an experiment, the dual point guard system the Lakers are employing looks promising and they are a better team for it. The problem is they still don't have the horses to really compete for a title.
Consider that the Lakers have had three head coaches this year. Dwight Howard is playing at about 65-70 percent and has a torn labrum that is clearly bothering him. Pau Gasol may be lost for the season, Steve Nash is 39 and trying to come back from a major injury.
The Lakers are old, slow, injured and lack true chemistry. The 1-2 combination of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will get them more wins, especially against the second-tier teams.
But without a supporting cast who can score from outside on a regular basis, this team is going absolutely nowhere.
The teaming of Nash and Bryant may end up as the highlight this season, but based on bad losses to Miami and the Clippers, the Lakers will need much more than that to be contenders to the throne again.