Since the dawn of time, it’s been said that only three things in life are certain: death, taxes and Kobe Bryant taking a lot of shots. About halfway through his 17th season in the NBA, it would have seemed that the 34 year-old Bryant’s mentality was set in stone, that the prudent, calculated Black Mamba, despite his withering capabilities, would always be the lone striker for a Los Angeles Lakers team that has always catered to his demands. In return, he would bring the franchise victory. To the delight of the majority of California, it’s been a fairly successful relationship.
15 All-Star appearances, two scoring titles, 10 All-NBA First Team selections, and an MVP trophy are nothing but flashy scenery to surround his most prized possessions: two Finals MVP awards and five elusive NBA championships. By the way, we’re still counting. With his terrifying drive constantly shadowing him, Kobe Bryant is a man who needs no introductions.
Kobe has always reserved a special place in his iron-clad heart for his naysayers, and for the most part he’s gotten the best of them (see above). So when on one fateful night, January 25th, at the Staples Center, Bryant led the Lakers to victory with a team-high 14 assists to go with just 14 points, it seemed like an inconceivable event. For the most part, he’s successfully avoided doing the things that the critics said he would have to eventually do. But with the Lakers on the brink of NBA oblivion, Bryant put the blame upon himself for seemingly the first time in his career. Born was #MagicMamba.
Ten games and seven wins later, it’s looking like #MagicMamba is here to stay for the foreseeable future. And like any Lakers-related narrative, it’s sparked about a gajillion new questions.
Can he keep this up? What does this mean for his legacy? Will it change in crunch time? Does this give the Lakers a chance at making the playoffs? How much does this increase the chances of Dwight Howard’s headband scoring this season? With Steve Nash handling the ball less, and the lights of the Staples Center focusing away from him, will he no longer look like the deranged older brother of Tom Cruise?
Well, for starters, it already means a lot of great things for the Lakers. Prior to Magic Johnson reincarnating himself in the body of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers’ were a measly 17-25. In the past
10 games however, they’ve gone 7-3. For a deeper understanding of what this change has meant for Kobe Bryant and the city of Los Angeles, I took a look at some of the things that distinguish the the new-look Lakers from the team that has been the butt of every basketball joke for the past three months.
The biggest statistical change for Los Angeles as a whole has been a huge jump in team assists. They’ve skyrocketed from 16.2 per game in the Lakers’ first 42 games to 23.4 per game over their last ten. To put that into perspective, the Charlotte Bobcats can be considered the NBA’s worst passing team (among other things), with a shade under 19 assists per game. On the other hand, a marker of 23.4 assists would be good for top five in the league.
It’s an ever-so-prevalent fact that needs to be taken more seriously in NBA circles: a team’s collective attitude on the court goes the way its team leader’s does.
For Kobe himself, his changed style of play has brought its own list of benefits. According to NBA.com’s stats tool, the percentage of his possessions that end in assists has nearly doubled, going from 23 to 39 percent. Moreover, while he’s on the floor he’s been assisting on 27.3 percent of his teammates’ baskets, as compared to just 14 percent in the Lakers’ first 42 games.
While this is great, Kobe’s control of the ball movement has resulted in his field goals being assisted just 19 percent of the time as opposed to 39 percent before.
Most staggeringly of all, despite nailing just 14 assisted baskets and going just 1-19 from beyond the arc in the past 10 games over this ten-game stretch, Bryant’s field goal percentage has held more or less steady at around 47 percent.
For the Black Mamba, the gift of giving has performed the impossible: it’s made his ridiculously complete arsenal of scoring moves even tougher to guard by virtue of his newfound unpredictability. In turn, it’s transformed the Lakers into a much more unpredictable squad on the offensive end.
All in all, Los Angeles is clearly much better—and happier—when Kobe shares the ball. It’s a true testament to his talent that at the snap of his fingers, he was capable of changing both his style and his mentality.
Still, it is with astonishing curiosity that we watch one of the league’s most tantalizing scorers turn over a new leaf after all these years. Perhaps, instead of dubbing him #MagicMamba, we should call him the Black Chameleon (sorry, I’ll let myself out). Well, aside from the fact that you know… he doesn’t stay black… because the joke is that chameleons change colours. I’m sorry, I really am.
I’m starting to think we’ve misjudged Kobe altogether. Maybe, he’s less about his scoring than he is about winning. Maybe he genuinely thought that for the past two years the best thing for his team would be for him to lead the league in field goal attempts. It may have taken one of the NBA’s most polarizing players a bit of extra time to get to this point, but now that he’s here (and it almost pains me to say this), it’s kind of a joy to watch.
Maybe, to prove his harshest critics wrong, he first has to prove them right. Maybe. As the clock, or rather the loss column, slowly ticks away at the Los Angeles Lakers’ season, only time will tell.
This is the first of edition of Fansided’s latest column, Backcourt Bias with Seerat Sohi, where she’ll discuss just about anything and everything that’s going on in the NBA. Be sure to tune in this Saturday for her latest.