Bryant makes a passing impression

DALLAS -- The man who never passed up an open shot turning into the man who never passes up an open teammate?

It will never last, the Kobe Bryant doubters said.

Wait until those teammates start missing their shots.

Wait until Kobe Bryant starts missing his name among the league's scoring leaders.

Wait until the Lakers struggle.

When the team lost Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown to injuries last month, surely Kobe Bryant's transformation would end.

But it hasn't. Compared with last season, he is taking fewer shots a game (19.7 compared with 27.2 a year ago), making a higher percentage (47.5% to 45%) and averaging more assists (5.6, up from 4.5).

And with the halfway point of the season nearly here, doubters are becoming supporters.

In Thursday's Dallas Morning News, columnist Tim Cowlishaw named Kobe Bryant as his second choice for league most valuable player, right behind Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks with two-time winner Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns third.

Cowlishaw called Kobe Bryant's switch to playmaker "staggering."

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson didn't dispute the MVP analysis.

"I'd certainly put Dirk out there," Jackson said. "It's hard to throw your own player's name out there, but Kobe's having a really fine season. Everybody thinks Nash is having another great year. His play for Phoenix is contagious."

While Kobe Bryant has sustained his team play over a longer period than ever before, Jackson said it's not the first team he has seen this side of Bryant's game. He pointed to the end of the 2000-2001 season.

"He was absolutely terrific," Jackson said. "At that time, we saw the potential of what he could do."

Jackson understands the inner struggle that sometimes goes on with superstars, having seen the same thing with Michael Jordan when Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls.

"It's placing faith in somebody and seeing the miracle in other people," Jackson said of playing within the team concept. "Generous confidence. That's something we've preached over the years. Sometimes these exceptional players say a double-team [on them] is not enough. They understand that giving a shot to somebody else would probably be a higher percentage [move], but they want to be the controlling person in that situation. It's about giving up something, giving over, trusting."

Kobe Bryant, it would seem, has learned to trust.

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