Kobe Bryant has always been known as a playmaker. Bryant has always displayed an array of crossovers, dunks, spin moves, and fade away jumpers to become one of the greatest individual scorers in NBA history.
However, Bryant has recently drawn praise for his passing ability. In a recent seven-game stretch from Jan. 25 through Feb. 5, Bryant has led the Lakers to six wins thanks to his court vision; behind-the-back passes, and assists off pick-and-roll plays. Bryant accumulated 65 assists over that span for an average of 9.3 assists per game.
Bryant has reinvented himself as a passing playmaker by making his teammates better around him more than ever before. According to the Lakers, this is the key for Los Angeles to make a playoff run and live up to the championship expectations placed on the team at the start of the season.
Mike D’Antoni believes the key to recent success for the Lakers has been the ball movement and the trust teammates have shown in one another, starting with Bryant.
I asked D’Antoni if Bryant could maintain his role as the primary facilitator for the rest of the season. D’Antoni was confident Bryant could lead the team out of its playoff hole without consistently carrying the scoring load.
“Oh yeah,” said D’Antoni. “He can do it, yeah. I don’t think there’s anything physically keeping him from doing it (smiling). I think he will as long as we win and we play well, he will. He’s just trying to read the game and do what it takes to win. This is a formula we’ve hit on and hopefully we’ll go forward with it.”
Steve Nash, the primary playmaker for D’Antoni during their time together with the Phoenix Suns, agreed with his coach.
“Of course (Bryant) can,” said Nash. “He can do whatever he wants. He’s a brilliant basketball player, even when he doesn’t make shots. Recently he hasn’t shot it as well as we know he can, but he’s still being a threat. They don’t leave him. They want to double-team him. He’s getting the ball out of his hands and making other guys better. His role is huge for us.”
According to Nash, Bryant’s newfound trust in his teammates has brought the team closer together and allowed the Lakers to play more loosely on both sides of the court.
“I think we’re more of a team,” said Nash. “We’re sharing the ball, we’re playing better defensively, and we have a sense of cohesion and camaraderie that’s improved. I think it brings empowerment, it brings belief, enthusiasm, and everyone’s contributing. In some ways we’ve turned a little corner, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”
Steve Blake believes Bryant’s passing ability has been overlooked throughout his career due to his gifted scoring ability.
“He’s always been such a dominant scorer,” Blake told RealGM. “That’s what you want your best player to do, but for this particular team he’s figured out that’s what works for us.”
Jodie Meeks, the Lakers' top perimeter shooter along with Nash, told RealGM the key to the recent winning stretch has been Bryant deferring early before becoming the closer in the fourth quarter.
“I think there’s going to be times where he has to score more when we need him to, or if we play a tougher opponent, or if we’re not playing well as a unit,” said Meeks. “I think the recipe for success for us is him facilitating and getting everybody else going and in the fourth quarter, do what he does.”
While Bryant and the Lakers have found success thanks to his willingness to trust and defer to his teammates early, Bryant reminded the NBA that his bread and butter remains scoring.
After knifing through the lane and taking flight from the middle of the foul line over Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries against the Nets, Bryant joked about the new scouting report on him.
“I think that everybody has been drinking the Kobe pass Kool-Aid so everybody stays on the perimeter with the shooters (smiling and laughing),” said Bryant. “It parted like the Red Sea so I felt like Moses.”