Is pass-first Kobe a phase or here to stay?

Midway through his 17th season, has Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant reinvented himself as a point guard?

Over the past three games, Bryant has led to the Lakers to a three-game winning streak, dishing 39 assists while averaging just 16.3 points a game.

Bryant’s new style of play is the key to turning may help his team’s dismal 20-25 start to the season.

Is this pass-first Kobe Bryant nothing but a phase or is he here to stay?

“When I focus in on something, I become obsessed about it.  I want to be perfect at it.  It’s my personality,” Bryant said. “If I was to be a point guard, I’d obsess over it and I wouldn’t stop until I got it absolutely right.”

Is playmaking his new obsession?

“Can’t you tell?” asked Bryant.

If you were to ask some former Lakers, Shaquille O’Neal perhaps, Bryant’s singular focus can get in the way of the team concept. What if Bryant’s compulsion is the team concept?

Over in the other locker room at Staples Center, Chris Paul averages 9.7 assists nightly.
  Bryant’s recent 13 a game would lead the league ahead of the now-injured Rajon Rondo’s 11.1.

“What do you think I’m going to stand here and say I wasn’t going to be the best,” said Bryant about where he’d rank as a point guard.

Bryant has noticed the impact he’s having on his teammates.

“You see everybody else gain confidence from playing well off of it – so first and foremost that’s what I enjoy,” said Bryant.  “Secondly, because most of you guys [in the media] thought I couldn’t do it, so it’s pretty funny.”

The biggest criticism of Bryant’s career has been ball-hogging, even in winning five titles.
Maybe now in his later days, Bryant’s drive will be to rewrite the book.  The Lakers need him to sustain the pass-first mindset if they want to survive the season.

“I can do it. I’m like Neo . . . ,” said Bryant, referring to the Keanu Reeves character from “The Matrix.”

Does Bryant love passing now, like he has always loved scoring?

“I enjoy doing it. I prepare for each game. I look strategically at where defenses are going to be coming from and how to put guys in the right place to be successful,” Bryant said.  “My idol was Magic (Johnson) growing up.”

The sample size is too small to draw any conclusions, but the Lakers have been a notably better team over the last three games. With 37 games left in the season, the margin for error is slim, but the Lakers may still salvage this thing.

In Tuesday night’s 111-106 victory over the New Orleans Hornets, Bryant’s 11th assist came with 1:44 left in the game to Earl Clark with the Hornets down by just a point.

Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison hit the next two field goals for the Lakers. It wasn’t until the final seconds when Bryant hit a pair of free throws, with the game already in hand.

Bryant needs to embrace the notion that he can be the best closer in the game with the pass instead of the shot. Maybe he finally has.

-Eric Pincus