Kobe Bryant’s season-long quest at reinventing himself just took another twist.
Following Lakers’ practice Wednesday, Bryant threw a baseball in the air behind his back, caught it on his fingertip and spun it like a basketball. He lobbed fly balls for a reporter to catch. Then Bryant repeated the sequence several times.
Bryant did this sequence wearing a Dodgers cap in a promo for the local baseball franchise. With the ball landing the court each time Bryant threw it up, it’s safe to presume the video production team will edit in his catch and spin later.
Meanwhile, Bryant’s continuing to invent his game on whether he will shoot or pass.
It usually remained an easy answer for Bryant, who hasn’t climbed to fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list by accident. But by taking on a new-found facilitating role, Bryant encountered challenges on how he’d ensure team balance without sacrificing his scoring talents.
The Lakers (28-30) enter tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-24) at Staples Center with Bryant averaging 30.8 points on 54.9 percent shooting and 6.8 assists through four games since the All-Star break.
“I found a balance,” Bryant said. “We found a balance in terms of me being able to keep them involved and find my rhythm.”
Bryant did so despite nursing a right shoulder injury and sprained right elbow that contributed to 1-of-34 shooting from 3-point range during a 15-game stretch. In the past three contests, Bryant was 5 of 9 from the perimeter.
“The odds are it was coming,” Lakers guard Steve Nash said. “He hadn’t made his shots for a while. That was very uncharacteristic.”
It’s also uncharacteristic for Bryant to take on a facilitating role, especially with Nash remaining one of the league’s best passers.
But facing a three-game deficit to the Houston Houston Rockets (31-27) for the eighth
playoff spot, the Lakers have embraced the change.
“During the game you have to understand if you want to be aggressive to the hole or be aggressive to pass and try not to blur the two,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but I think he’s doing a good job.”
The Lakers said they’re still finding a balance between running isolation plays for Bryant and pick-and-roll sets for Nash and Dwight Howard.
“Kobe gets in the zone and when he gets in the zone, he’s finding the ball and trying to score,” Howard said. “That’s what he does best. We just have to figure out how to do it together and make it work for everybody.”
For now, though, Bryant said that dynamic really depends on one thing.
“It’s really just predicated on the defense, what they do,” he said. “You really just have to pick and choose. You’ll see some halves where they stay home on shooters and I do a lot of scoring and other times where they have to collapse on me a great deal and I do more playmaking.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org