AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- It was fitting that of all the players Kobe Bryant could have passed to move into third place on the all-time free throws made list on Friday, it was Oscar Robertson.
Bryant is playing a lot like "Big O" these days.
Robertson famously averaged a triple-double in the 1961-62 season for the Cincinnati Royals, putting up 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game.
Bryant has been in triple-dip territory lately, averaging 16.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 11.2 assists over the past five games.
He finished one rebound shy of a triple-double against both Utah and Oklahoma City, two rebounds shy of the mark against the Hornets and two assists short against Minnesota on Friday -- but he insists he doesn't have anyone tracking his stats throughout the game for him (however, most NBA arenas display players' stat lines in real time somewhere during the game).
"Sometimes it comes to you, sometimes it don’t," Bryant said after practice on Saturday in preparation for the Lakers' game against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday. "I mean, I’m in there with a bunch of trees. I’m not the tallest guy in the world, so sometimes it’s just kind of luck of the bounce."
Bryant took care of the rebounding category early against the Timberwolves, grabbing six of his season-high 12 boards in the first quarter.
"I knew Dwight [Howard] obviously wasn’t going to be there, I think we all did, so we knew we all had to get in there and pick up the slack a little bit on the boards," Bryant said, referring to Howard flying back to Los Angeles to receive treatment on his sore right shoulder and missing the game. "Plus, there was more room to get boards. When [Howard] is in there, he takes up a lot of space."
Of course, with the rebounds taken care of, Bryant's assists dropped down to eight as the Lakers' shooters went cold against Minnesota's zone defense in the second half. Even with that happening, the 56 assists Bryant has racked up over the past five games is still a career high for any five-game span in the 17 seasons he's played.
"I’m not tripping," Bryant said, laughing when a reporter suggested he didn't want to become like Ricky Davis and miss a shot on his own basket to pad his stats in pursuit of a triple-double. "It’s one of those things where you could probably string together a streak of consecutive triple-doubles, you just never know when the ball is going to bounce your way."
Bryant has just 18 triple-doubles in his career.
"I’ve never tried to get them," Bryant said. "The times that I have tried to get them, I’ve gotten pretty close [or] where I’ve gotten them."
While Bryant claims to not be chasing triple-doubles, they seem to be on his mind. When a reporter asked him if he remembered the one game in which he got a triple-double this season, he immediately answered, "Houston," recalling his Nov. 18 game against the Rockets when he finished with 22 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds in a Lakers victory.
Boston's Rajon Rondo led the league is assists this season at 11.1 per game before going down with a season-ending knee injury. The Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul is second at 9.7 per game. It may be a small sample size of five games, but Bryant has pretty much gone from leading the league in scoring for the first 42 games of the season, to leading the league in assists as soon as he decided to take on that role.
It brings to mind another all-time great, Wilt Chamberlain, who incredibly decided to lessen his scoring in 1967-68 and wound up leading the NBA in assists as a center.
"That shows that I’m versatile, obviously," Bryant said. "If I put my mind to it, I can do it. It just comes from playing the game at an early age, I guess. I’m able to do a myriad of things."