With the All-Star break on the not-so distant horizon, three of California’s teams are in various stages of a positive identity forge, while a fourth remains the stuck in “Fugitive-esque train wreck” mode. (Spoiler alert! The odd team out is the Sacramento Kings!) With that in mind, here’s a look at what’s brewing on the left coast.
Whatever you want to call him, the Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard has drastically changed his style of play over the past two games for the greater good of his reeling team.
And it’s working out quite swimmingly, too.
After suffering 10 losses out of 12 contests, Bryant dropped his quest to lead the league in scoring and decided to put his focus on more important things – at least for the current make of this team – like passing, rebounding and defending. In the last couple of victories against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz – two of the hottest teams in the league over the month of January – he has averaged an incredible 17.5 points on 11 shot attempts, nine rebounds, 14 assists, two steals and a block.
Clearly, a passing Bryant is a winning Bryant, and the numbers back up that notion. When he takes less than 20 shot attempts, the Lakers are an impressive 13-3. The team’s current record is 19-25. You do the math on what happens when Kobe goes into full-on scoring mode.
The only question left to ponder is whether he can sustain the new-found willingness to consistently move the ball. J.A. Adande of ESPN believes it is entirely possible:
Passing isn’t Kobe’s thing. Scoring is. You know how LeBron James scored his 20,000th point a year younger than Kobe did? Well, LeBron was four years younger than Bryant when he reached his 5,000th assist. If we can borrow the promotional hashtag Bryant uses on Twitter, you can #countonkobe to shoot. But I believe Kobe will stay in this pass-oriented mode the rest of the way because traditionally he has pushed the scoring envelope in the regular season, then played more team-oriented ball in the playoffs…and with the Lakers margin for error eliminated by losing 25 of their first 42 games, every game is like a playoff game from here on out. That’s why he’ll stick with what’s working.
As a matter of fact, Bryant’s decision to suddenly pass more was a premeditated decision on his part, from Sam Amick of USA Today:
“It’s trying to evolve and figured out what we need as a ballclub,” Bryant said of his new style. “Instead of me being a finisher, I’m just really facilitating and drawing the defense in and making plays. I game-planned for it, and it seems to be working.” D’Antoni, who has struggled to get his all-for-one-one-for-all message across since being hired in mid-November, is hoping this isn’t an aberration for Bryant. “I think he likes (playing this way),” D’Antoni said. “I think he’s happy as hell.”
It’s one thing for Kobe to feel the need to play this way. It’s another thing for him to want to play this way. We don’t know if he has it in him to continue with this style of play for the remainder of the season, but whichever decision he makes could end up being the difference between squeezing into the playoffs to salvage a wild season and becoming an unfathomable lottery team.
Onto other relevant news from around the league, including plenty more about the Lakers:
Brian Geltzeiler joins Sean Pendergast on Yahoo Sports Radio to talk All Star Game snubs. They touch on the importance of Paul George for the Indiana Pacers as well as dive into the Dwightmare that never seems to end.