At the end of January, Kobe Bryant began a stretch of five straight games in which he dished out at least eight assists per night. The Los Angeles Lakers went 4-1 in those contests, and could have gone undefeated if Dwight Howard had not been injured in the fourth quarter of a 92-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 30.
That said, the primary reason that Kobe Bryant will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer is because of his incredible ability to put the ball in the basket. He's a natural-born scorer, and nothing—and no one—is going to convince him to change his game at this point in his career.
"I'm a scorer first," said Bryant when asked by Rick Reilly of ESPN about his penchant for shooting last season. "I'll try to make the good play, the good pass, kick it out when my teammates are open, but I'm a scorer first."
Anyone who has ever watched Bryant for more than a handful of games knows that's the case. But when he goes into full-on "Black Mamba" mode, it often winds up being to the Lakers' detriment.
When Bryant scores 35 points or more in a game this season, the Lakers are 1-9 (Bryant scored 40 in a 111-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 22). Conversely, LA is 9-4 this season when Bryant tallies eight or more assists.
It isn't a matter of efficiency: In the 10 games this year in which he's had at least 35 points, Bryant shot better than 54 percent on six occasions. And Bryant's field goal percentage this season (46.6 percent) is a few ticks off of his career high.
The fact is that when Bryant is in a scoring mind-set, the Lakers' offense is completely stagnant. The other four players on the floor are primarily concerned with getting out of the way, and the team's half-court sets are reminiscent of the 2008 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Bryant is skilled enough that he (and the Lakers) can get away with hero ball at times—but by not keeping the rest of the team engaged, it makes it that much harder for them to convert at the end of games. This season, when the Lakers have been down by five points or less in the final minute of a game, the team (Bryant included) has shot a mere 3-for-23 from the field (13 percent).
Getting Bryant to pass on a consistent basis is almost like pulling teeth, and that five-game stretch a few weeks back was simply his version of Wilt Chamberlain's 1967-68 season. That year, the Philadelphia 76ers' big man made it a point to lead the league in assists simply because no one thought that he could do it. Few people believed that Bryant would facilitate at the expense of his own offense, so he gave us all a taste of what he could do, if he were so inclined.
Bryant's talents allow him to adapt to any set of circumstances: In the span of six minutes, you might see the "Black Mamba" put up a dozen shots, only to see the lockdown defender version of Bryant completely smother the opposing team's best perimeter player. For example, in the game against the Trail Blazers in which he scored 40 points, Bryant didn't attempt a single shot in the second quarter.
Plain and simple, the fate of the Lakers' season rests in the hands of their uber-talented shooting guard and his willingness to modify his game. For the team to ultimately right the ship, Bryant needs to be more of a playmaker and less of a scorer—and hope that Dwight Howard becomes the player that the Lakers expected when they traded for him last August.