Degree Of Difficulty

Phillip Barnett —  August 9, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant shoots a jump shot over Utah Jazz guard Wesley Matthews in the first quarter during Game 3 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoff series in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 8, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

A couple of weeks ago, NBA TV did something fantastic for Lakers fans: they replayed every single one of the Lakers playoff games. Basket Blog’s Mike Trudell watched those games, and found that Kobe Bryant’s three point shooting stood out to him most. He wrote:

With many of his triples swishing through the net at key times for the Lakers*, the five-time champ hit a career-high 49 throughout the playoffs, connecting at least once in all but five of 23 games, including 12 straight from the start of the Western Conference Finals through Game 7 against Boston.?*Game 6 @ OKC, Game 3 @ Utah, the whole Phoenix series, Game 4 @ Boston, etc.

In fact, the 19 triples Bryant hit against Phoenix were more than the total number of three-pointers he connected on in six full playoff runs throughout his career. His previous high came in 2009 when he dropped 37, though in fairness he also attempted more triples in 2010 (131) than in any other playoffs.

What stood out most to me was the number of difficult shots Kobe made during the championship run. From the Thunder series through the Celtics Finals series, Kobe saw a huge number of different defenses thrown at him ranging from single coverage, double coverage, triple coverage, delayed double teams, faux double teams, match up zones and true zones. To counter these defenses, they put Kobe in different scoring situations: isolating him in the pinch post and on the wings, posting him up, putting him in screen and roll situations with bigs, and setting screens for him a la Ray Allen. The one thing that didn’t change throughout the course of the post season was his ability to knock down difficult shots.

One thing that tends to go unnoticed during Lakers games is the number of quality defenders that Kobe sees on a nightly basis. Kobe has a unique ability to make a lot of very good defenders seem average just as he makes difficult shots look easy. There were an innumerable number of shots Kobe made with a defender all over him. Kobe has made shots after he’s had the ball knocked out of his hands, the ball touched as he releasing it, over double teams, over seven footers – and none of that seems to matter to such an amazing offensive player.

One of the biggest criticisms that I’ve always had against Kobe is his propensity to over-dribble, mainly because I love watching offenses that move the ball well as a unit to create their open shots. The majority of the clips in the previous video showed him dribbling three times or more to get to his spots. However, there is a positive to every negative. There are a lot of times where defenders expect Kobe to use his dribble to get to his spots and he just shoots over them. In these past two or three years, Kobe has really mastered his one-dribble, pull up jumper. It’s really a beautiful thing to watch, especially if you’ve ever played the game competitively. No matter how much you practice, this is never an easy shot to make with a defender in your face. The fluidity of it when Kobe pulls up is almost artistic in essence. Equally as hard, pulling up from the triple threat without a dribble. It’s hard to stay balanced without a dribble with a defender at your waist. Kobe hit a lot of these shots against the Suns, unfortunately, I couldn’t find four of the games (including that ridiculous Game 6), but I do have some clips.

Then there are those times where things don’t go exactly as Phil Jackson draws them up, plays get broken and someone is forced to improvise – and nine out of 10 times, that guy is going to be Kobe. Being “the guy” on basketball team, you’re going to be forced to take tons of shots at the end of the shot clock, three guys running at you, falling out of bounds, whatever. We’ve seen it all during the course of Kobe’s illustrious career. Here are a few more of those shots.

Finally, if you take a close look back at all of the videos, the one thing that stands out in all of them is his footwork. Darius had a post last month featuring a video that highlighted Kobe’s footwork. The following video does the same thing. Just look at the way he’s able to create space, the way he’s able to keep defenders off balance or get them up in the air. It’s all about the fundamentals of the game. You don’t need to be ultra quick, have the best crossover or have explosive jumping ability to make defenders look foolish. There is no point where Kobe is utilizing all of his speed or jumping through the roof, but he still gets all of the same crowd reactions a Derrick Rose crossover or a LeBron James dunk would get. It’s all in the footwork. This is the think about Kobe that sets him apart from all of his peers. The attention to detail, the patience, the intelligence, the utilization of angles and the concentration is what makes his game so fun to watch, even in the ladder end of his career.

Phillip Barnett

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41 responses to Degree Of Difficulty

  1. While it is much too early to write off Lebron, these video clips show why Kobe is far and away the most skilled player in the NBA. At this point, LBJ continues to rely on his other-worldly physical skills to get his shots, while Kobe shows how footwork can allow you to remain at the top of your game even while your physical skills start to fade.

    There can be no doubt that Kobe’s athleticism has started to decline, but the corresponding improvement in his footwork and shooting has allowed him to become an even better player. For all the hype coming out of Miami, Lebron James has so far emulated Shaquille O’Neal’s approach to the game more than Kobe’s, and if he doesn’t become more of a tactician, his game will drop off as he ages.

    What is clear from these videos, though, is that we are seeing something very, very special when we watch #24 go to work.

  2. Fantastic post.

    Clips like these are the visual argument for Kobe having one of his best post-season runs of his career. He was so dialed in as a shot maker that even the most difficult shots went through the hoop cleanly. From the end of the OKC series and into the Finals he was on an unbelievable run and even against the Celtics’ fantastic defense he kept up his ability to score and make the difficult look routine.

  3. Kobe has always seemed to me like a cross between Jordan and Bird. Almost as athletic as Jordan and almost as good of a shot maker as Bird. He wasn’t the athlete Jordan was so he was unable to get as many easy shots (why his FG% isn’t close to as good) but he, like Bird, could make very tough shots even if he couldn’t shake the defense.

    And to continue with the title of this post “Degree Of Difficulty”, Has anyone read what JVG said today? Per usual… he was right on. The degree of difficulty of us beating Miami will be pretty high.

    “They will break the single-season win record [of 72],” Jeff Van Gundy said. “And I think they have a legit shot at the Lakers’ 33-game [winning] streak [in 1971-72], as well. And only the Lakers have even a remote shot at beating them in a playoff series. They will never lose two games in a row this year.”

  4. With all the great playmakers in the league, the genius of Kobe is in his feet. Another aspect of his game that seems to relate to the point regarding the way many players need to take that one dribble to get their balance and rhythm for a shot, it seems that Kobe’s footwork provides him a great base on which to maintain his balance and it looks to me like he uses his various fakes to obtain his shooting rhythm. His game is so special that even with all the ball handling he does on the outside, he still manages to remind me of players like Kareem and Hakeem because of how he uses his pivot foot to provide him 360 degrees of angles from which to get a good shot off.

  5. the 3 Miam-egos maybe. Still like the Superfriends though.

  6. MICHAEL ZARABI aka ZERB August 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    ill stick with “the sisterhood of the travelling that is never called”

  7. Why not “the sisterhood of the traveling pains”?

  8. If Wade, James, and Bosh had assembled in Miami last year in a weaker Eastern Conference, then I woud have believed the 72 win mark could go down. Cleveland won 61 regular season games last year, but this year the East is looking a little less of a pushover. A far more competitive conference will test the durability and experience of the Heat squad outside of the Three Amigos.

    The pressure of winning 72 games is nothing compared to the pressure of winning 72 games and a chip. Thats the hangover of a 72 or above win season, you have to win the chip to make it complete. To beat up on the cupcakes during the regular season but fail to seal the deal at the end will make winning all those games for not. Does anybody remember the Patriots magical ride through the regular season and playoffs until the lost in the Super Bowl. No talk about the first 18, just the last game made history for that squad.

  9. Great post Phillip,

    Keep up the out of the box writing.

    I’ve been so bored I’ve been watching some of Kobe’s videos and tried them out on the court.

    Even practicing just the moves is hard enough, let alone make the shot.

    That will help you appreciate Kobe’s footwork and effort after all these years.

    Some people become lawyers, surgeons, and then there’s some people that blow you away with their foot work.

  10. honestly I’m not sure which is more deflating:

    watching LeBron do stuff I can’t even think of trying…

    or watching Kobe do stuff I can’t come close to replicating, even though it seems simple enough.

  11. I hate to say it, but the 3 amEGOS in Miami will win a championship. Maybe not this year, but at some point they will. After each season, they’ll be allowed another MLE to bolster their roster and address any match-up problems that they encounter. Plus, they also get that special once every two years allowance as well (that the Lakers used on Shanwow to sign him to his previous contract).

    72 wins is the gold standard for a team, much like being compared to MJ is the gold-standard for a player. Both seem pretty ridiculous to me as it’s just something to talk about because at the end of the day for both team and individual, it’s all about the Larry O’Brien.

  12. Not enough highlights from the Suns series in my opinion. How about when Kobe went shot for shot with the entire Suns team in Game 6? Hill was no chump on defense and Kobe made him look silly.

  13. Arhithia,
    The MLE and every-other-year exception are fine to have, but you are now spending $2 for every $1 offered. Ask Dr. Buss just how that works out in computing profit and loss. You almost have to get to the finals to make the year credible, from an economic standpoint.

    It’s great to be able to do something, but then you have to pay for it. When you sign people for several years you have to pay them for several years – see Sasha and Luke for reference.

    If Miami makes any mistakes they are going to be paying for them for quite some time – and it will be extremely expensive. This fact slows clubs down from just spending the cash without a great deal of thought.

  14. As a laker fan i have grown to expect those shots to go down as he said when the game is watched for a second is when u can truly understand what type of shots he is draining on a consistant basis. Bryant is a special player.

    As far as Van Baldy’s comments today i think the heat will have a long road ahead of them come playoff time and huge expectations that they wont be able to fullfill.

  15. 12, the MLE may not even exist in 2 years, so we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves.

    I agree with the premise that the Heat seem destined to win a championship “sometime,” but you never know. Injuries can derail careers as well as franchises. Maybe Carmelo joins with Chris Paul and Amar’e in NYC and they get a nice supporting cast. Maybe Lebron goes to Cleveland on Dec 2 and gets attacked by deranged Clevelanders. Thus, that “sometime” is really just another hypothetical.

    However, it remains to be seen how good they’ll be on defense. The only reason the Celtics were able to come together in year one to win the championship is because they played historically great defense. Team USA even showed that a team of stars can be vulnerable if their defense isn’t solid. We all know Miami is going to put a ton of points up; it’s whether they can stop their opponents that will determine whether or not they win the championship.

  16. I can truly say that after watching basketball since the late 70’s, Kobe has provided more
    “holy shit” moments than any other player ever, hands down. The kind of plays where you just throw your head back and yell “OHHHH”!!

  17. This heat team is still another year away from a title. I expect a somewhat cakewalk/cruise thru the regular season but they will be stopped by a team in the east that has a defense first attitude and a strong inside game. I can actually say i would root for the celtics when there is a matchup with the heat.

    That being said i expect the lakers to reign for another year.

  18. Z,

    I know, man. I have Game 1 and the first half of Game two from the Suns series. That’s it. I was going through Synergy trying to figure out which shots I was going to show you guys. I have a list in my notebook of 22 different shots that could have potentially been added to the clips above. Somehow, I have misplaced 8 to 10 DVDs from the postseason, all of them from the middle two series. Sadly, the bulk of the shots that I wanted to show were in the Suns and Jazz series — Kobe was downright deadly in against the likes of Miles/Matthews/Hill/Dudley. I just worked with what I had.

  19. Awesome post Phillip! Very impressed you’re still hard at work over the summer =)

  20. Kobe is the most talented scorer in league history imo. He’s not as clutch or as efficient as MJ was, but his arsenal seems unlimited.. and as #8 (read: when he younger) he scored off some truly unbelievable moves. Not to mention he scored 81 in a game once. He has also produced the most “holy crap I can’t believe he just did that” moments in the league- at least for as long as I’ve been watching (since around 95)

  21. I actually think we are actually lucky to have Kobe hit his career zenith without a legit supporting cast.

    If Shaq was half as diligent, or if Odom was consistent, we might have not seen the 81 point performance and many other of his scoring feats… unbelievable really.

  22. thisisweaksauce August 10, 2010 at 3:51 am

    Igor (21),

    Agree with the efficiency, but disagree with the clutchness.

    Anyway, someone should make a video chronicling Kobe’s development as a player. These videos (and this post) are a very good start. If you haven’t seen “Kobe Bryant – Greatness Personified” on Youtube, you should. It is a great video showcasing Kobe’s skill set, as described by the author. But I think there’s more that can be done. One that showcases every single facet of his game, as it was added in his career. You can start with his air balls against Utah (this is the beginning of his desire to take the shot). The development of his passing. The 3 point shooting. The development of his post game, year by year (his sessions with the Dream included). The ball handling. The footwork (like the stepback). The fadeaway. The rise-up (where he shoots that jumper completely out of rhythm over a defender, like against Grant Hill above). The step-back. The ability to make ridiculously difficult shots (something I believe he didn’t add until recently, as in the past few years). The bounces off the backboard to create his own shot. The step-throughs. The spins to split two defenders. The ridiculously long 3 pointers (Game 5 in 2010 NBA Finals has a good example). His development as a leader (where he counsels his team during time outs). There’s so much more (what else can you guys come up with?). Everything, in chronological order. It’s a tall task, and not one that should be attempted by just one person. But I think it’s doable. And it will be one long video. One done now, as he stands with 5 rings, and one at the end of his career, when he stands with who knows how many.

  23. It seems to me he needs more practice. He shot 38% FG in Laker wins in the finals and tried to be the hero in Game 7 with an atrocious 3 point attempt. Face it guys, he makes difficult shots because he doesnt have the strength and athleticism and even basketball IQ to make better shots for himself. He’s a career 45% FG shooter. C’mon now, he doesnt make great defenders look that bad.

  24. “Face it guys, he makes difficult shots because he doesnt have the strength and athleticism and even basketball IQ to make better shots for himself.”

    Sarcasm?

  25. Thisisweaksauce,

    I would love to do something like that, but I don’t have access to game tapes throughout his career. Before this season, I only have a few of his more memorable games on DVD (and some other Classic NBA games). With limited resources, a post like that would be impossible.

    Dan,
    “He doesn’t make great defenders look that bad.” I implore you to take his box scores and career numbers off of your computer screen and actually watch some basketball. Just take a look back at what he’s done starting with Ruben Patterson, the self-titled Kobestopper, to the Doug Christies, Raja Bells, Ron Artests, Shane Battiers et. all. There hasn’t been one defender who he wasn’t capable of dropping 40 on (or averaging 40 for a season in Raja Bell’s case). Shooting percentages, and all statistics for that matter, only tell a part of the story.

  26. Dan,

    Try slamming your car door with your index finger on the edge, then tape it with a splint then try shooting in your backyard or park. I bet you my car you wouldnt even make 10 out of 100 jumpers from 15 feet out with no defenders. You obviously have not played any form of competitive sports so you don’t know what Kobe is going through day in day out for most of his career.

    ‘Strength and Athleticism’??? again, obviously you have not tried playing competitive basketball. Again, try shooting a fadeaway jumper spinning to your right, or even take a fadeaway jumper after 3-4 pump fakes and pivot moves, i bet your jumper won’t even make it halfway to the rim.

    Basketball IQ?! How can you even score against consistent double teams, triple teams zones, and the defensive schemes of opposing teams geared specifically towards stopping you? If he got defensive attention such as all other NBA players of his time, he would average more than 45pts per game every season.

    As the title of the post implies: “Degree of difficulty” try doing the simplest of Kobe’s moves, and see if you can even put the ball in the basket ungiarded. Nope… not a chance. Most of us take for granted the things that Kobe does on a nightly basis, and we don’t appreciate fully how difficult it is because he a) makes it look so simple b) does it on a consistent basis c) does it against double or triple teams d) and he does it under time, score, or situational pressure.

    We’re very lucky we are seeing such an athletically gifted, immensely driven and one of the hardest working persons on earth

  27. I just read the post but wasn’t able to view the clips on the computer that I’m using. But, i have all of the Laker games from this past postseason. Just need to know how to post them online. Anyone know…???

  28. Oh yeah, Phillip nice post btw. I’ve paid attention to Kobe’s footwork and his many moves on offense for awhile now. He’s had it down to a science for years now, even going back to the Shaq and Kobe years.

  29. Phillip,
    There is one defender who makes Kobe look pretty average… his name is Lebron James. Go look at the game film when Lebron guards him and Kobe has trouble even getting off a shot. But that is the only guy I have seen that can guard Kobe one on one.

  30. @Aaron,
    The fact that only player like Lebron can do that, really should be everything anyone needs to know… ;)

    This post and these videos brightened my day. How long is it until the season starts again?

  31. Such venom. Haha. Im not saying he’s not a great player or shot maker. Im just saying compared to the greats, Magic, Bird, Jordan he’s not at their level. He has never had a dominant season as good as Shaq, Dwade or Lebron. For his career, in every advanced stat metric, Kobe trails most of the guys I mentioned. Yup the stats dont tell the whole story but it helps a LOT.

    Yup, I watch games, don’t give me that condescending crap “you probably have never played blah blah blah… you should probably watch games instead of blah blah blah…” Maybe you guys should think a little harder.

    Just because Kobe shot a difficult shot over 2-3 defenders doesnt mean I should be worshipping him like you guys. That looks good for TV but basketballwise its not really efficient. If you notice in those clips, there are 1-2 or even 3 guys left open and just watching while Kobe forces another one of his 18 foot fadeaways. I dont care if he practices those shots more than the open guy, a wide open jumper has a better chance of going in than a contorted/forced shot. In a lot of those cases, Kobe should have swung the ball, that’s the high bball IQ move, not forcing the shots.

    That’s why Kobe has trouble with great perimeter defenses. (01 finals:40%FG, 04:38% FG, 08: 40%Fg, ’09: 40%FG, ’10: 40%FG. There’s a pattern there. He’s one of the greatest scorers ever but he is too streaky and inefficient to be in the top tier of NBA greats.

    He also is in the top ten worst performances of a player shooting 20 shots, playing at least 30 minutes, in a deciding game. 03 spurs game 6, i forgot the other game. So he is not the best closer in the game.

    So there you have it. Kobe ‘s great but let us not get too carried away. He maybe better than the Barkleys and Malones but maybe not the Olajuwons or Wades of this world. And definitely not better than the Shaqs. Lebron, forget about it. Jordan? Dont even try.

  32. great post and vid caps. Dan, your posts might be better suited for april 1.

  33. #33, Dan,

    You are the one talking about hate? LOL. Everyone knows exactly who you are. As Laker fans we run into guys like you every other day (kobe haters). They are everywhere, like rats they learn how to survive on the bare essentials, spread their disease when they can, and aimlessly reproduce in order to propagate their specias. Vile creatures you are. My uncle is one as well. The hate has a hold of him, the kobe hate. They will do or say anything…ugh, makes me shiver thinking about them.

    PS: To Aaron, lol, Lebron James is one of the most overrated defenders i’ve seen. Gambling for steals and chasing down 1 or 2 blocks a game doesn’t count as defense. There is a reason Kobe was the player put on the best offensive scorer in the 2008 olympics, and it wasn’t because of Lebron’s amazing defense.

  34. Dan,
    If you’re going to make an argument about how good (or not) a player is, please come with more of an argument besides “FG% against great perimeter defenses” or “advanced stats say X”. As if that is a measurement as to how great a player is and the only measurement to be used. All I saw in your post was a bunch of opinion that doesn’t prove anything except that you like other players more. You’re more than welcome to stick around and contribute to the coversation, but again, please bring more than what you did earlier…you’re awfully close to trolling for attention with your comments.

  35. #33, Dan

    If you want to talk about basketball IQ, then you should even bring up LeBron. How can LBJ be described as better player than Kobe when all he has ever accomplished so far is a trip to the NBA final?

    I have seen and talked to Kobe haters like you. Kobe is never good enough for you. If Lakers win with Kobe scoring 20 points, you will say “see! they don’t need Kobe to dominate to win the game” If Lakers win with Kobe scoring 40, then you will say “Lakers could have won easily, but Kobe is too selfish” When the Lakers lose, then it is all on Kobe.

    MJ was more efficient because he had the preferential treatment from the referees. He was made of crystal. Nobody could lay a finger on him without being called for a foul.

    Shaq? better than Kobe? Are you talking about football game? Shaq would be a much better linebacker than Kobe for sure.

    Kobe is not just great. He is phenomenal. There will not be another player as special for years to come. Appreciate this kind of rare talent, rather than trying to find faults that are not really there.

  36. Haha. Look at your rebuttalls guys. You make me look good evrey time you post. I guess OVERSIMPLIFIED Statements like: “How many rings does Lebron have?” or “MJ had preferential treatment form the referees” are better than advanced stat metrics which actually requires analysts to watch and breakdown games play by play to arrive at those stats. Just because they dont support Kobe doesnt mean they are wrong. You guys better use your heads. The usual rebuttal to these arguments from Kobe guys are: “No your wrong, he’s the best!; You dont know anything about basketball! Youre an idiot!”

    (edited for baiting)

  37. #33 Dan

    Dan, lets play a game… I am going to post two stat lines from the NBA finals and I want you to guess who the two players are ok….

    Player A:
    31.1 pts, 5.4 reb, 4.2 ast, 1.6 stl, 0.6 blk, 52.8 TS%
    Player B:
    28.7 pts, 6.2 reb, 5.2 ast, 2.1 stl, 0.7 blk, 52.0 TS%

    Now which player had the better finals performance? Player A has a slight advantage in points and true shooting % (FG% adjusted for 3s and FTs), however player B has better stats in the other 4 categories. To me it is a toss up….

    So who are those players? Player A is Michael Jordan during his second 3-peat (96-98). Player B is Kobe Bryant during his 3 recent trips to the finals (08-10). Sure looks like Kobe has played at a very “Jordan-esque” level to me.

  38. Walter,

    Good argument! Kobe is no longer Jordan-esque. He is a man of his own. It is more like the young players now are trying to become “Kobeistic”.

    Those Kobe haters are stubborn in their guts. Even after you point out all the facts, they will turn their argument to something like: “Kobe is a loner…. Kobe has no street crd….”

    While these Kobe-haters are bitter about how Kobe keeps winning. I am glad we (kobe supporters) can at least enjoy another 2 – 3 years appreciating his fine skills in this fun game.

  39. Well, when FG% is the only thing that’s left for the critics, you know Bryant is nearing the mountain top. While I don’t think he’ll quite reach it, he will certainly finish his journey right there with the best of them.

    I love how he’s nowhere close to the Wades and LeBrons (among others) of this world. Other than getting swept on the big stage, while putting up numbers similar to 2004 Finals Kobe (which was KB at his absolute lowest, imo), what has LeBron done in this league to enjoy being compared to the greatest players ever? Win a scoring title, a couple of MVPs and flame out each and every of his postseason appearances regardless of team record and personnel he had as his disposal?

    Yeah, if that’s that I sure am glad Kobe is nowhere near his level. ;)

  40. Im not just talking about field goal percentage. Please do average all finals stats please when comparing MJ. The truth is Kobe hasnt had a dominating finals performance like Wade, Shaq, MJ and Michael. MJ averaged 31 ppg and 11 apg against Magic. He also ave 41 ppg against the Suns while shooting great percentages. Shaq had ave 35 and 16 in his finals apperances in 2000-2002. While Kobe, although averaging very good numbers in the finals, overall they still lag behind the other greats I mentioned. As I was saying, if you look at every advanced stat metric (PER, wins shares, etc. Im too tired to explain all of these; you guys can look it up) Kobe trails the greats and including current players such as Garnett, Wade, Chris Paul, Lebron and Shaq. Im not saying he’s not great. Im saying he doesnt deserve the hype he’s getting, like the best of his era, best closer or whatever. Top 5 player of his era is more like it. He was better than the Tmacs, Iversons, Carters and the Paul Pierces but not the guys I mentioned.