For most of the 2012-13 NBA season, Bryant was leading the league in scoring, but he was also shooting his team in and out of contests with a bevy of contested shots that he kept firing away and eventually missed late in games as fatigue seemed to affect him.
He has since altered his game and channeled his inner Magic Johnson in his last six games, averaging 16.8 points, 10.2 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game on 46.4 percent shooting from the floor.
The Lakers have looked better with this new version of Kobe, but that is mostly because of the end result. Indeed, the Purple and Gold have only lost once since the Black Mamba started playing the role of distributor.
But if we dig into the numbers, we will notice that the Lakers scored 107.3 points per 100 possessions when Kobe was playing the role of proverbial chucker, whereas that figure has dropped to 105.3 points per 100 possessions during his run as the Lakers’ de facto point guard, per NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.
And the defensive numbers are roughly about the same to boot, which seems quite confusing at first glance. But there are other forces at work here, and they do still revolve around Kobe Bean.
Since shifting into distributor mode, Kobe has changed the attitude of his teammates to some extent. He has gotten them to move better without the ball and also look far more engaged in the overall result in comparison to when the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer was stringing along 30-point games.
This has manifested itself in the team’s play late in games.
Earlier in the season, Mike D’Antoni and Co. were allowing the game to get away from them in the fourth quarter and struggled to execute both on offense and defense. This was magnified in the clutch (clutch is defined as the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points).
With Bryant putting up a league-leading amount of field goals per game, the Lakers were scoring 100.7 points per 100 possessions in the clutch but yielding 114.4 points per 100 possessions defensively in the same situations, according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.
Simply put, they were a train wreck late in games and were almost assured a loss. However, with the former league MVP morphing into the second coming of Oscar Robertson, the execution in the fourth has been far better.
Los Angeles hasn’t played flawless basketball down the stretch of games with this new version of Kobe, but the difference is still huge.
The Lakers have become less predictable on offense and generated more high-percentage shots, thus giving them good floor balance. Have a look at the video below, and observe how perfectly placed all the other Lakers are to space the floor when Bryant attacks the basket:
The adjustment has resulted in better defense overall because it has limited the transition opportunities of their opponents late in games, when D’Antoni’s team is awful. In addition, the help defense has been far better as the players have been much more invested on that side of the ball.
According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, the Lakers have produced 105.2 points per 100 possessions in the clutch with this installment of Kobe Bryant and allowed 106.8 points per 100 possessions.
Again, the production isn’t great, but it’s far better than the initial output that resulted from Bryant’s gunning down the stretch of games.
If the Lakers are going to do anything resembling a playoff push, they are going to need for their superstar to continue to play the role of facilitator to dissect opposing defenses and give his team a chance to overwhelm teams late or close out contests with their superior talent.
Kobe has shown the ability to alter his game for the betterment of his team in stretches, but this may need to become permanent if the team is going to make the postseason and still hope to compete for a title this season.