Mike D'Antoni Likes the New Kobe Bryant, but How Long Will It Last?

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2013

With wins over the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder, there's something different about Kobe Bryant's game, and it's the reason the Los Angeles Lakers are winning.

So will he keep doing it?

Over the past two Lakers wins, Kobe is averaging 17.5 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists while shooting 68 percent from the floor.

The most obvious difference in Kobe's game is that he's starting to act as a facilitator, something he did at the start of the season. But when Steve Nash returned from injury, Kobe reverted back into "shoot first, think about passing later" mode.

Against the Utah Jazz, Kobe posted 14 assists, a mark that he has eclipsed just six times in his career and just once since 2010. Then he went and did it again against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Only one other time has Kobe had this many assists in 2 games: Dec. 2002, when he posted back-to-back 14s vs. Utah + GS. #Lakers

— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) January 28, 2013

With Kobe scoring just 14 points, the Lakers saw five players cross the double-figure scoring mark in the game against Utah, which they ended up winning 102-84.

In their next game, a 105-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, six players posted double digits, while Dwight Howard had eight points and 10 rebounds.

The active ball movement and at times energetic defense got Mike D'Antoni riled up as he realized what this team can do when everybody pushes their chips to the center of the table. Sacrifice might not actually be sacrifice when it means good things for the Lakers. 

If you win, is it really a sacrifice or is it, "Yeah, you played the right way?" I don't know if it was a sacrifice, is all, but (Bryant) set the tone. There's no doubt about it. He played like Oscar Robertson played back in the day—14 assists, nine rebounds, and he got easy shots all over the place. Some nights it's 14 points, some nights it's 30 points, but he'll read the defense.

It's a privilege to play the game and it's a privilege to win and to me, you do everything possible to win. Whether that's a sacrifice, I don't know. That's like saying, "OK, you really play hard tonight," and that's a sacrifice for the team by playing hard.

Even better for the Lakers, the win over the Jazz elicited a few comments from Kobe that make it seem as if he's intrigued by the way the team played. Some form of permanent change is likely to come if this style of play works out best for the team.

"@imjustsam_: @kobebryant you should pass more often bro"u know what? In this situation, I think u r 100% right

Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2013

Moving past the game against the Jazz, Kobe had himself another night as "Kobe Johnson" with a near triple-double for the second game in a row, putting up 21 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists.

You have to think that after winning only 19 of the first 44 games, Kobe has realized there's something more he can do to help his team.

He's done just that in these past two huge wins.

After the win over the Thunder, Kobe seemed to hint that he's liking the impact that his distributing is having on the team. Maybe it's even going to be a new part of his game.

We're doing a good job right now of just being real with each other and holding each other accountable. That makes a huge difference. I'm trying to evolve and find out what we need as a ballclub.

Even stranger, D'Antoni admitted that the real difference that the Lakers have had offensively is that they're just not running an offense.

This isn't necessarily any offense. This is bringing the ball down, calling over a pick and playing the game and because we have good players on the floor, when (Bryant) distributes we can make them pay for leaning too much to Kobe. When they lean too much to us, he makes them pay.

Everybody can contribute and Kobe starts it, just sharing the ball and he hasn't forced a shot.

In a way, this is a lot like what Phil Jackson allowed Kobe to do in the triangle offense. While Jackson's offense was structured, it allowed the team the freedom to interpret what the offense should do based on the defense.

It seems like it's allowing him to have fun playing basketball in a way that he's never really had fun before.

This isn't going to be a situation where he starts doling out double-digit assists for the rest of the season, but seeing him pass on a contested jumper or whittle down his total shot-clock isolation possessions shouldn't be surprising as we move forward.

If Los Angeles misses the playoffs, it is going to be looked at as one of the biggest disasters in the history of the franchise and the NBA. For now, the Lakers seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to make it.

That includes playing like a real team.

As long as the Lakers keep winning, Kobe should continue to play the way he's been playing over the past two games.