Magic Mamba, Kobe Johnson, Magic Bryant, and every other variation of the nickname provided to Kobe Bean Bryant over the past five games is fully deserving of what the Black Mamba is doing.
A career scorer, Bryant completely transformed his life-long offensive focus at the snap of a finger. Five games ago, he went from the top scorer in the league to the best passer in the league at a drop of a hat.
Isn’t "best passer in the league" slightly over-exaggerated?
No, it is not.
Bryant is averaging 11.2 assists per game to go along with his 16.6 points and 8.6 rebounds since entirely changing his game-play five games ago. Rajon Rondo leads the league with 11.1 assists per game, and he is out for the season with a knee injury. So, Bryant may well be the best passer in the league at the moment.
The Mamba redirected his energy away from scoring and decided to focus on the Lakers’ weaknesses: defensive rebounding, point guard defense, and offensive scoring balance.
The Lakers needed some help on the boards, and well, Bryant decided to get involved on the defensive glass. On the season, Bryant averages 5.2 rebounds, and 4.4 of those are defensive.
Over the past five games, he is averaging 7.6 defensive rebounds, about three rebounds higher than his season average.
Bryant is still averaging about one offensive rebound per game, so his increased rebounding numbers display a shift to staying at home and securing the ball rather than running out for a quick break.
In terms of offensive balance, the selfless Kobe set the tone the team. The level of praise Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni deserves is debatable, but Bryant’s desire to share the ball and pass has resulted in LA having five or more players hit double figures in points every game since the transformation.
Against Minnesota, the Lakers finished with six scorers in double digits, and that's the second time that has happened over the past four games.
The Lakers have achieved offensive balance, and it starts at the head of the snake—the Mamba.
To go along with his rebounding and passing, KB24 has taken on the challenge of guarding the best on-ball perimeter player night-in and night-out. Bryant started the trend by requesting the challenge of guarding Chris Paul in the Lakers’ narrow defeat at the Clippers on Jan. 4.
From then on, Bryant guarded Russell Westbrook, Brandon Jennings, Jose Calderon, and any other pacey playmaking point guard facing the Lakers.
Halfway through his 17th season in the NBA, Kobe Bryant has taken on a greater responsibility for the success of the Lakers than ever before. He’s not just scoring anymore; he’s playing the complete game of basketball, and it is a pure joy to watch.
Magic Bryant, Kobe Johnson, and Magic Mamba are ephemeral nicknames. When it all ends, the only name that will be remembered is Kobe Bryant.