In our own ways, we can all appreciate Kobe. His desire to win is matched by few, his distaste for losing is matched by no one and he's a top-five scorer of all-time.
As the Los Angeles faithful know all too well, though, Kobe is not without his flaws.
Mostly though, Bryant attempts to play the part of hero far too much. Not because he's an incubus who despises those around him, and not even because he's addicted to the glitz and glam of hero ball (though he might be).
When put in the moment, in game situations, Kobe often just doesn't understand that there's no need for him to win on his own. His teammates are there for reasons other than grabbing his misses.
I fully believe that Bryant cares more about winning than getting his 25.7 points per game. I honestly do.
But I also place stake in him believing the best way to win is to score. With his team struggling or with the game on the line, his instincts take over. Those same instincts that have carried him to the tune of 30,000-plus points over his career. Of course he's going to try and win on his own.
And yet, that doesn't make it alright.
The Lakers don't win riding Kobe's itchy trigger-finger. Not much anyway.
Knowing that Kobe is currently averaging 20.3 attempts per game, it is. Essentially, we're looking at a Lakers team that wins just 35.9 percent of their games when Bryant takes his normal amount of shots. That they're even still in the playoff picture then is amazing.
Bryant shouldn't be shooting that much. On a team with four perennial All-Stars, he shouldn't be tossing the ball toward the rim 20 or more times every night. He should be deferring more.
On occasions, he has. He's averaging 5.8 assists per bout on the season, his highest total since the 2004-05 crusade.
When he abandons his sense of distributional responsibility, bad things happen. Losses begin to pile up and the Lakers are left clinging to a fleeting championship image.
Kobe has dished out fewer than five assists 35 times this season, and the Lakers are 12-23 in those contests. In games where he shoots at least 20 shots and hands out fewer than five dimes, Los Angeles is 7-19.
Sensing a pattern?
If you're not then you're either an unwavering contrarian or really excited about this summer's draft. Either way, you're basically standing alone. Kind of like Kobe tends to do.
Los Angeles needs the Black Mamba to pass more. Not because that might translate to more wins, but because it will reel in more victories.
Heading into the Lakers' battle against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Bryant posted five or more assists in 44 contests. The Lakers are 28-16 in those instances. And when he attempts fewer than 20 shots, they're 22-11.
Take it a step further and you'll see that when he has at least five assists and hoists up fewer than 20 field goals, the Lakers are 19-5.
These aren't small sample sizes we're evaluating. Some of them account for nearly half the season. There's an undeniably positive correlation between Kobe passing and the Lakers winning.
Which Bryant knows (via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News):
He’s playing phenomenal. We have to figure out a way to get him some more looks down low.
I tried to step back as much as I possibly could to allow that to develop. But with foul trouble and all of a sudden it’s a 19-point game. You can’t sit around much longer. But we have to figure that balance out.
Others, like Howard, need to score, something Bryant readily admits. As for him taking that "step back," he needs to re-evaluate what that actually means.
Watching Howard attempt just eight shots in the debacle against the Golden State Warriors didn't reflect a more cognizant or reserved Kobe. The Mamba shot 11-of-27 from the floor and the Lakers lost.
Bryant needs to get Dwight that ball. He needs to make sure everyone else is getting that ball. Good things happen when he does.
Once Howard shoots and is put in positions to score, the trend reverses.
For the latter half of this, we're not even talking about him merely scoring more. He doesn't have to make all 10 or 12 of those shots. The simple fact is that the Lakers win more when he shoots more.
Exactly the same can be said of Steve Nash.
Los Angeles' point guard is scoring 12.8 points on 9.8 shots per game this season. In bouts where he scores at least 15, the Lake Show is 12-9. In games where he attempts at least 10 shots, they're 15-10.
Though the results aren't as drastic as Howard's, they're still better than what we've discovered about Bryant. Much better. Kind of like Pau's numbers as well.
Again, is this great?
Save for Howard, no. But it's better. It's playoff-worthy. Which is more than we can say for Hollywood at the moment.
If we're to believe that the Lakers can make a deep postseason run amid the alarming number of injuries they've incurred, things need to change.
Howard's free-throw shooting could stand to get (way) better, Gasol needs to find his niche in the offense and sporadically used role players (Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks, etc.) will need to come up big.
More than anything or anyone else, though, Bryant needs to adjust.
He needs to actualize the balance between passing and scoring that he's already found, but yet to sustain. He needs to distance himself from the hero ball culture he has come to embody.
Only then will he help salvage what's left of Los Angeles' season.
Only then will he actually become the hero he is trying to be.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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