The Los Angeles Lakers have started to get back on the right track. After starting the season out 1-4 with a single win over the lowly Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles has gone on to flip the script to win six of their last nine games, including a win over the Dallas Mavericks, the team that took them down on opening night.
Part of the turnaround for the Lakers has to be attributed to the fact that they just had time to jell together after being mashed together in the offseason, giving them more time to learn how to play together.
That, along with the end of the entire coaching saga, has allowed the drama to fizzle, the sky to un-fall and the Lakers to get their game together.
Of course, part of the credit for their success always has to be given to Kobe Bryant, as it always is. The fact is, Kobe has played a completely different game in the first 14 games of the season for the Lakers in comparison to last season.
Just looking at his stat sheet you can see the obvious difference. The fact that he's shooting 51 percent, compared to 43 percent a season ago, is a definite difference, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he's been getting better shots, rather than chucking up mid-rangers all game long.
Credit better teammates and an out-of-nowhere improved Metta World Peace to Kobe's shot selection, but his attitude has to be complimented as well.
Already this season Kobe has three games of eight or more assists, something he did just seven times in 58 games a season ago. He's taken up the slack for Los Angeles' lack of a legitimate point guard, giving him what would be his most assists per game (5.1) since 2008.
On top of that, Kobe is still averaging incredible scoring numbers at nearly 27 points per game. That's not the 28 points per game that Kobe averaged last season, but he is still leading the league in both average and total points.
Going from that it seems as if there would be no reason for him to worry about scoring more, right?
Well, Kobe doesn't seem to think so. He's said himself that once Steve Nash comes back he's ready to pick up the slack, wherever that may be lacking (quote sic'd):
I’ll be scoring a lot more. I don’t have the facilitate as much. Everybody can kind of go to their natural positions. It enables me to do what I do best, which is to put the ball in the hole.
The problem I have there is that the Lakers don't need him to score even more, they need him to continue playing the game he's been playing and allow the offense to diversify more, getting Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard more involved in the offense.
In fact, Kobe scoring more might be downright detrimental to the team. Kobe has scored more than his 27-point average seven times this season. The Lakers have lost six of those seven games. Obviously that means the Lakers are an impressive 6-1 when Kobe scores 27 points or fewer.
In those seven games in which he's scored more than 27 points, Kobe shoots just under 49 percent compared to over 54 percent when he's scoring 27 points or fewer. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Kobe obviously ends up using more of his team's possessions at a less efficient rate, leading to fewer shots for the rest of his team.
What happens when Kobe ends up taking more shots is the Lakers' offense becomes more obvious to the defense. While they're not usually able to stop him, they are often able to force him into shots he makes left often, usually mid-range jumpers, giving them a better shot at beating the Lakers.
Los Angeles should continue to be keen on getting as many players involved in the offense as possible. With that they'll be able to continue to create a diverse offense, and the more diverse the offense, the easier it ultimately is for your team to score and win games.
Historically speaking, Mike D'Antoni's best teams usually come when he's got a variety of offensive weapons, keeping one player from dominating his offense. This is most obvious when comparing D'Antoni's 2007 Phoenix Suns with his recent New York Knicks teams.
The 2007 Suns were D'Antoni's best team, winning 61 games and looking like championship contenders. That team was led by Leandro Barbosa shooting just under 14 times a game. They were rounded out by Shawn Marion, Amar'e Stoudemire, Nash and Raja Bell shooting between 12 and 14 times per game themselves.
Compare that to the 2011 Knicks and you get a different result. The team won just 42 games while Carmelo Anthony shot the ball 20 times per game and Amar'e pulled up 19 times in their time with the Knicks. After the trade for Carmelo, just Chauncey Billups cracked more than 10 shot attempts per game.
That's the rhetoric that D'Antoni preaches. Spread the ball, score from all angles and keep the defense guessing.
If this Lakers team can continue to keep defenses guessing with Kobe shooting at such a high percentage, a championship could be easily within their grasp.