HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Our sample size is just two games, so we know our science is a bit limited in this latest theory on how to cure what ails the Los Angeles Lakers (if that is indeed still possible).
Twice this season Kobe Bryant has finished games with 11 or more assists and the Lakers are 2-0 in those games, including Friday night’s trouncing of the Utah Jazz, and won by a combined 29 points.
Even for the math-challenged members of our hoops tribe, that essentially means a giving (assists) Kobe is much more beneficial to the Lakers than a taking (shots) Kobe. He only had 10 shot attempts in the win over the Jazz to go along with his season-high 14 assists, one shy of his career-high set in (wait for it) 2002.
Kobe’s near triple-double in the win over the Jazz inspired some interesting praise/feedback from Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni (above), who described the performance as Kobe “playing the right way.”
Even Bryant admitted as much (via Twitter):
But will he be able to resist his scorer’s instincts every night for the good of the rest of the team? That remains to be seen. This afternoon’s matinée against the Oklahoma City Thunder (3:30 p.m. on ABC) will provide our first glimpse into whether or not Friday night’s game was just a temporary statistical anomaly or if it is indeed a fresh and new approach to things for the man called Mamba.
His teammates, one large one in particular, know which way they’d like to see Bryant’s game trend. My main man Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com explains:
Bryant’s 10 shot attempts also tied a season low, but by limiting his shots, it spread out opportunities to Dwight Howard, who was 8 of 12 from the floor for 17 points, after totaling just 19 shots combined during the Lakers’ four-game losing streak entering Friday.
“I think for a lot of bigs, when we’re fed and we eat a little bit, we’re happy,” Howard said on Saturday. “Just like men. Give us some food, we’re good. We don’t eat, we’re grumpy.”
Howard said Bryant’s adjustment on offense helped not just him, but the entire team.
“We have to play for each other to win,” Howard said. “All of us have to sacrifice part of who we are, part of who we’ve been, especially on the offensive end for the team. Still bring the same kind of energy, but we have to figure out a way to all put it together. I’m sure everybody on this team wants to be the guy to score, make plays and all that stuff, but we have to figure out ways to do it together. If you get everybody else involved early and throughout the game, it just makes it tough for teams to guard.
“(Bryant) did a great job of that (Friday) night. When he plays that way, it makes it tough for teams because he’s passing. He’s throwing lobs. He’s picking the defense apart. Now he can get the chance to go one-on-one, where he’s dangerous.”
After the game on Friday, Bryant told reporters that the passing plan was premeditated.
“I tried to make a real concerted effort to force the game upon my teammates a little bit and just have them play with confidence,” Bryant said. “Even the shots that are not going in, just try to push it on them a little bit.”
If Facilitator Kobe was as deliberate as we’re being told it should be easy to recognize against the Thunder, who will no doubt challenge Kobe’s ego in a matchup against two of the league’s other elite scorers in Thunder All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook, who much like Bryant has never met a shot attempt he couldn’t justify one way or another.
As much as D’Antoni and others would have led us to believe that Steve Nash (and not Kobe) would serve as the director of on-court operations for this team, we’ve seen enough now to know better than that. As long as he draws breath in a Lakers uniform, this is Kobe’s team and only Kobe’s team.
And we are talking about a player, in Kobe, who hasn’t exactly given up the ball at a record clip in the name of the greater good. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Friday night’s game marked just the fourth time in his 17-year career that Kobe played 30 or minutes and finished a game with more assists than field goal attempts.
Stunner, the Lakers are 3-1 in those games.
Again,we’re working with a terribly small sample size. But there’s a Hollywood saying that dates back decades, one that is regurgitated from time to time when convenient and appropriate, that might apply in this case.
“Big things,” it’s been said, “have small beginnings.”