"Facilitator Kobe" has become a laughable cliche, a descriptor dropped by broadcasters seemingly any time Kobe Bryant successfully completes a pass. Against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night, however, Kobe really was in facilitation mode for much of the game, racking up 9 assists in his 36 minutes.
Bryant had a near triple double, but was far from flawless. The 37-year old guard also had four turnovers on the night, but only one of them came while seeking to set up a teammate, the others were from dribbling the ball off of his leg, stepping out of bounds, and travelling.
Kobe still took 19 shots in the victory, making just 6 of them, but this game was still a step in the right direction in looking to set up his teammates in a variety of ways, sometimes off of fancy no-look passes, and sometimes just making the simple read while coming off of a ball screen or out of a post up. Let's dig in to the tape:
Bryant's first assist was nothing too groundbreaking, just a simple read of passing to the trailing (and currently shooting a scorching 42.9% from three) Jordan Clarkson. Ersan Ilyasova did not show hard enough on the contest, and as Kobe loves to yell after a pass, "bang-bang." One assist in the books.
Kobe's second assist was a bit of home-cooking from the Staples Center statistician. Kobe set a nice screen on this action Russell took three full dribbles before pulling up and scoring. It was the right pass though, so #FacilitatorModeKobe still deserves some credit:
Bryant captured most of the Pistons defenders' attention with his dribble and lookaway, while Brandon Bass' cut pulled Anthony Tolliver towards the rim, leaving Larry Nance, Jr. open. Nance, Jr. mad a nice move to finish, but Kobe did a good job quickly initiating the offense on the break. Whether this should have counted as an assist is a question, but Kobe made the right read, which is what's most important anyway.
Bryant's fourth assist of the night was probably his best, and arguably the best Lakers highlight of the night, again finding Nance, Jr. The tireless rookie forward freed himself up by running towards Bryant, acting like he was going to set a screen, before turning and cutting to the basket. Poor Anthony Tolliver almost broke both of his ankles, and Bryant put the pass right on the money. This was really good nonverbal communication between two new teammates.
Another good read by Bryant. After taking two separate ball screens from Roy Hibbert, he saw Ilyasova sagging towards the basket, and passed Julius Randle open for an And-1 basket.
The Pistons clearly did not respect the Lakers' shooters on this possession, with all five defenders crashing into the paint to quintuple team a Bryant post-up, apparently. Kobe made a simple read, D'Angelo Russell finally got the ball to bounce his way, and Kobe had assist number six.
After taking another ball-screen from Hibbert, Bryant again sucked all five Pistons defenders into the paint (I guess they took Stan Van Gundy's speech about "forming an [expletive] wall" a little too much to heart). Hibbert saw this, moved back to his beloved elbow area, and all Kobe had to do was make another simple read out of a quintuple team.
Sometimes you just get an easy assist. This was the case for Bryant when the ball just bounced into his hands after Reggie Jackson tripped, and all he had to do was drop back to pass on NFL Sunday and find Nick Young on the deep route.
After taking another ball screen from the indefatigable Hibbert (who was playing with a broken nose at this point) Bryant used a hesitation dribble to hold the eyes of the Pistons' defense, giving Hibbert a wide open lane to the basket. Bryant still did well to get the pass over the extended arms of Marcus Morris, but this was another simple read.
Perhaps that is the biggest takeaway from Bryant's assist extravaganza: most of these passes were just simple reads. Instead of forcing shots over two or three defenders, or early in the shot clock, Bryant was looking for teammates off of simple actions. If Bryant can improve his shot selection, coupled with this type of passing, he could still be an effective player (at least on offense) even at age 37.
And Bryant is 37. He also played nearly 36 minutes against Detroit, with a usage rate of 29.5, the highest on the team. Seeing vintage Bryant clutch jumpers is fun for Lakers fans, but if he is going to finish out close games (which he is because duh), he needs to have his minutes cut back so that he is not dropping quotes like this to reporters after the game:
Kobe: "I'm barely standing up. My back & my legs, it's killing me." He added, "I'm not looking forward to walking to the car. Seriously."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 16, 2015
It is the Lakers' tenth game of the season. They still have 72 left to play. Bryant will not play tomorrow against the Suns, or even travel to Phoenix, but nights like tonight cannot happen if he wants to finish the season healthy. Kobe should be passing more, but not while still firing up 19 shots. The team needs to find a middle ground. "Facilitator Kobe" is nice, but "sensibly used Kobe" sounds a lot better.