Kobe Bryant is not a natural point guard. He played back up point guard during his rookie year, and it wasn’t always easy to watch. Imagine, being on a roster with Nick Van Exel and Derek Fisher, and playing back up point guard just to get playing time. That was an early Kobe Bryant.
We as Laker fans were well aware of his poor shot selection early on, but his one-on-one abilities were unrivaled even back then. It forced him to try an initiate an offense, read the defense, and give up the basketball. I recall him walking the ball up-court, getting 10 second violations, losing the ball to backcourt pressure. Hand-checking was allowed back then, but he wasn’t able to shield the basketball well against pesky defenders.
Now we’re watching a different Kobe Bryant. During the game against the Bobcats, the ball movement was a little better, the decision-making was just more crisp, and he picked his spots for his own offense more effectively. Usually when he plays point guard, he goes straight into a pure facilitating mode. That was most obvious against the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he dished for 13 assists, but on 6 total shot attempts for the game. The speed of OKC was a big adjustment for him, but he adjusted much better to the Bobcats game.
He didn’t dive straight to the high post position or other corner situations like he usually does. Instead, he was setting up multiple high pick and roll situations, hitting his role man, usually Gasol, as often as possible. When that isn’t the case, he’ll kick out to shooters. Wesley Johnson and Nick Young were huge beneficiaries of those kick outs. The spacing isn’t as great on the kick out situation, because Bryant is able to get deeper into the paint on his drives to the basket. Guys like Steve Blake and Steve Nash are able to secondary defenders closer to the 20′ mark, and that creates a larger space for baseline 3-pointers. Johnson, Young, and Meeks have all compensated for the spacing issue with shot fakes, jab-steps, or a one-bounce dribble to create the space they need to pull up.
Still, for Kobe Bryant, the position is an adjustment. It’s a mental adjustment at first, but if he’s able to acquire point guard intelligence in terms of seeing the floor, being more fluid finding his own offense within the system, while still creating ball-movement that goes from side to side, the Lakers can roll with that successfully until Steve Blake and Steve Nash are healthy again.