Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Kobe Bryant and the word "pass" don't usually show up in the same sentence.
It's against his nature. Heck, sometimes I wonder if Bryant is allergic to passing.
That's why I was so puzzled to see the box score from Friday night's game against Utah. Bryant finished the night with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting with nine rebounds and 14 assists in 35 minutes of play.
Bryant had more assists than field goal attempts ... and the Lakers won?
Strange but true.
The oddly unselfish display from Bryant definitely made me scratch my head a little bit. Could Bryant be turning over a new leaf?
Sunday against Oklahoma City I figured we'd see Bryant revert back to his old ways, hoisting up shots left and right in a scoring battle with Kevin Durant.
Instead, the Black Mamba morphed into the Passing Mamba, shredding the Thunder for 14 assists while attempting only 12 shots. Final score: Lakers 105, Thunder 96.
The old Kobe would rather get a root canal than pass the ball to an open teammate. So why is he being so darn generous all of a sudden?
It's simple, really. The only thing Kobe loves more than shooting is winning. And that's something the Lakers haven't done a whole lot of this season.
Through 44 games, the Lakers, even after Sunday's impressive win against OKC, are just 19-25. That's good for a .432 winning percentage, their lowest since 2004-05 (.415), which was also the last time Los Angeles missed the playoffs.
That might be okay where Dwight came from but in Lakerland, being under .500 at the All-Star break just isn't an option. Bryant, who was reportedly the most vocal player in Wednesday's emergency team meeting, decided it was time to shake things up.
Typically when the Lakers find themselves in a rut, they give their opponents an extra dose of Kobe. Giving one of the most explosive scorers in league history more shots seems like a no-brainer but this season, that strategy has backfired.
Bryant has scored 30 or more points 21 times this season. The Lakers' record in those games? Just 7-14.
On the other hand, when Bryant plays the role of a distributor, good things tend to happen. The Lakers are 3-0 this season when Bryant hands out 10 or more assists.
We haven't seen this side of Kobe in a long time. The last time Bryant registered back-to-back double-digit assist games in the regular season was in January of 2008.
The last time Bryant had two games in a row with 14 or more assists? You'd have to travel all the way back to December 2002. The Lakers' starting lineup back then featured Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Shaquille O'Neal and Samaki Walker.
Bryant has actually recorded 72 double-digit assist games in his career but he's only had three since the start of 2011-12. Two of those performances happened this past weekend.
One residual effect from Bryant taking over as the lead distributor the past two games has been the re-emergence of point guard Steve Nash as a scoring threat. Nash is only averaging 8.6 shots per game this season but over his last two games, he's averaged 11 field goal attempts. Nash, who has knocked down 54.5 percent of his shots since Bryant inexplicably decided to start passing, is averaging 16 ppg in that span, raising his season average from 10.9 ppg to 11.5 ppg.
History tells us that when Nash takes more shots, his teams usually win more games. The two-time MVP has averaged 13 or more shots per game three times in 17 NBA seasons. In those three seasons, Nash's teams have won 69.5 percent of their games including 2002-03 when Nash led the Dallas Mavericks to a league- high 60 victories.
Assists are weighted more heavily than points in fantasy hoops so Bryant's switch to a more balanced approach has actually helped him in fantasy. In my league, Bryant has averaged 79.5 fantasy ppg in his last two contests after averaging just 37 in his previous four outings, all Lakers losses.
Bryant's ego will likely be his biggest obstacle. But in the end, I think Kobe would gladly sacrifice all those 30-point games for one last shot at a championship.
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