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