Kobe Bryant is a playmaker, one of the top NBA players of all time and the guy you want to have with the ball when the game is on the line. Kobe Bryant is also proving to the world this season that he is a very skilled passer.
Kobe isn’t primarily known for his ability to pass the ball, but with the trials and tribulations of the Los Angeles Lakers' underperforming season, he has had to adapt his game. Currently, Kobe is averaging 5.6 assists per game, his highest total since he averaged 6.0 APG during the rebuilding season of 2004-05.
Here is a prime example of what he has been doing lately. In this highlight, Kobe sets up in the low post and draws two Boston Celtics defenders. Instead of making a move for the basket, he waits for the driving Earl Clark to show up for an easy conversion.
The results of the pass-happy Kobe have resulted in more involvement from his teammates and a better team record of late. If this style of play was happening from the get-go, Mike Brown might still have a job.
Last season, the team had similar problems, but because of the better win-loss record, those problems were masked. The bench was not as thin, but overall, the Lakers could not play sound defense. But wasn't Mike Brown, the defensive specialist, their coach?
That is true, but the Lakers managed to finish 15th in the league by giving up 95.9 points per game. This season, the defensive holes have gotten bigger, and the Lakers are currently 24th in the league (101.3 PPG).
Yes, injuries occurred from the start of the season, and the Princeton offense was widely criticized even before it was implemented. The Lakers got off to the horrible 1-4 start, and Brown was relieved of his duties.
Kobe should have realized that the only win during the first five games came when he scored less and had distributed the ball more (eight assists in the lone victory).
With Brown gone, the offense looked like it would take a major upturn with the addition of Mike D’Antoni, but sadly, with Steve Nash’s injury, Pau Gasol’s pouting and Dwight Howard’s general disinterest, it didn’t.
Kobe now had a wafer-thin team to run, and he tried to outscore his opponents. With the poor defense on the other end, the task was just too tall for Bryant to overcome.
When the Lakers looked like they were in their darkest hour, Kobe made the shift from being a showstopper to being a distributor. The night of Jan. 25 against the Utah Jazz is when he really turned things around with his passing ability.
As you can see from this video, Kobe takes the nice dish from Steve Nash and penetrates to the basket. The old Kobe would probably have tried to go through both Jazz defenders to get fouled and try for a three-point play. This time around, he draws in the two defenders and kicks it to Howard for the easy jam.
Kobe was one rebound short of a triple-double and recorded 14 assists.
Two nights later, Kobe decided to re-use the same style and get everyone involved. However, this time he had to face the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder, the same team that knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs the year before.
The Lakers had the key parts of the roster available with Gasol coming off the bench. Kobe notched another 14 assists and was again one rebound short of a triple-double.
In this clip below, Kobe drives to the basket in his normal fashion, but once again, instead of driving to the hoop, he dishes the ball off to Howard for the easy slam.
Kobe had three defenders converge on him when he was driving, leaving two defenders to guard four Lakers.
Kobe is that good; he draws multiple defenders when he goes to the hoop.
The biggest benefit, as evident in the Lakers' recent play, is getting everyone involved and winning as a result.
Before Kobe made this transformation, his teammates were running the floor setting up plays for Bryant without really expecting the ball. They would set up the offense with screens or movement, but the players were more decoys than facilitators.
As you can see from this clip, Kobe is one on one with the Brooklyn Nets' Gerald Wallace when he drives to the hoop. He doesn’t involve any of his teammates as he gets by Wallace and goes to the rim for a magnificent slam, posterizing Kris Humphries in the process.
This style of play is great for Kobe highlight films, but it doesn’t go very far in terms of making the Lakers more successful.
Getting his teammates involved spreads out opposing defenses, forcing defenders to actually focus on their own man. There are so many more opportunities that are created when he can dish the ball off to his teammates.
Kobe has a very strong will and is able to adjust his game in order for the Lakers to be successful. The biggest question is why it took this long for Kobe to adapt to passing the ball and getting his teammates involved, especially when they were front page news with the consistent losing.
I give Kobe credit for figuring it out as they struggle to make the playoffs. The constant criticism within the locker room have dissipated since the Lake Show has started to win again.
The recent passing of owner Jerry Buss means there is something bigger on the line this season and that Kobe will do whatever he needs to do to get his team into the playoffs.
He can’t pass up that opportunity.
Follow me @ScottInTheBay
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