The Ever Efficient Kobe Bryant

J.M. Poulard —  November 14, 2012

Prior to the start of the regular season, I predicted that Kobe Bryant would have his most efficient ever season shooting the ball. His health will probably be a concern until he retires given the toll his 17-year career has taken on his body and thus it stands to reason that his physical skills will continue to erode, but the difference this season in comparison to previous ones is simple: Bryant no longer needs to carry the entirety of the load, and he is playing like it.

The way I saw it, the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard would mean that Kobe would get more opportunities to simply stand around on offense and watch things unfold as opposed to being part of every single offensive possession or worry that a play might be doomed without his involvement.

Last season, the Lakers often seemed lost when Kobe went to the bench because it meant that either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol would see swarms of defenders attack them since the purple and gold lacked good knockdown shooters or other players capable of creating good shots for themselves on a consistent basis.

But this season? Forget having any chance of putting the clamps on Kobe Bean.

He is playing just about the same amount of minutes, but he has been less of a dominant fixture as far as handling the ball so far this season. His usage rate (percentage of possessions he uses up) is down from 35.7 to 28.8 thanks in large part to Dwight Howard’s dominating presence in the paint. Bryant now gets more opportunities to play away from the action and then cut to the basket where he can simply catch and finish with defenses worried about D12′s damaging plays on the low block (our very own Phillip Barnett and Andrew Garrison from Silver Screen and Roll wrote an amazing piece on this last week, you can find it here). Also, Bryant has been masterful at running hand off plays or back cuts with his big men — particularly around the high post — where he has simply caught the ball and exploded to the basket. Add it all together and Kobe is shooting a career high 55.1 percent from the field, albeit in eight games.

Given the small sample size, should this be viewed as a fluke or perhaps a trend for the remainder of the season?

I would side with trend.

The Black Mamba is one of the most devastating shooters — especially off the dribble — in league history, but his willingness to at times force up long contested shots or simply get caught with the rock in his hands late in the shot clock have long contributed to his field goal percentage looking pedestrian at times. The difference this season mind you is that the Laker superstar has done much less of this than in recent seasons. Once again, we are looking at a small sample size, but Kobe has completely altered his shot selection thanks in large part to the personnel around him.

The long-range 2-point shot has always been a huge weapon for Bryant given his ability to rise and take the jumper when the offense bogged down and the paint clogged; but this season he has decreased these attempts in favor of getting the ball to the rack. Hoopdata tells us that the former Lower Merion star is averaging 2.6 long-range 2-point shots, which represents a career low for Bryant (the site started tracking this data in 2007). He hasn’t stopped shooting the ball though, he has instead replaced those inefficient shots with the most efficient ones: attempts right at the rim.

According to Hoopdata, the perennial All-Star is attempting a career high 6.7 shots right at the rim. For the sake of perspective, his highest figures prior to this season came in both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, also known as seasons in which he was still an athletic marvel. Some might say that Bryant is following in the foot steps of what Dwyane Wade — and to some extent LeBron James — accomplished last season, in reducing his amount of long-range shots, but that would be inaccurate. Wade reduced his 3-point field goal attempts in favor of slightly increasing his amount of mid-range jumpers whereas Bryant has morphed into a rim attacker.

For the sake of perspective, have a look at some notable players that generate shots at the rim and where Kobe fits amongst them so far this season :

Player

Shots at rim per game

Dwight Howard

7.9

Zach Randolph

7.5

James Harden

7.7

Carmelo Anthony

7.0

Kobe Bryant

6.7

LeBron James

6.0

As you can see, Bryant compares favorably to interior players as well as some bigger, taller and stronger perimeter players; and yet he is right up there with them despite his advanced age. The Black Mamba should be at the stage of his career where he floats out to the perimeter and tries to do most of is damage from there, but instead, he has other ideas with respect to spots where his attempts come from.

The change in his shot selection has been assisted by the decreasing rapidity to which defenses have rotated to him because of the tandem of Howard and Gasol. Consequently, Bryant is attacking faster and spending less time with the ball in his hands trying to anticipate how he is going to be defended. The stats bear this out as well.

MySynergySports tells us that last season Kobe spent 27.9 percent of his possessions in isolation situations, and his field goal percentage in such instances stood at 37.3 percent, which isn’t much of a surprise since he often ended up settling for a tough contested jumper after a plethora of pump fakes. This season he has been much better in this respect. According to MySynergySports, Bryant is only utilizing 17 percent of his possessions in isolation situations, and is shooting a blistering 56 percent from the field in these scenarios. Even his post up opportunities have somewhat diminished as he has focused on mixing up his game and striking from all over the court. He is spotting up more (yes, he’s getting more open looks), is much more involved in the pick-and-roll and getting more transition opportunities.

Kobe Bryant, at the tender age of 34 years old, is reinventing himself as a player and taking the ball to the basket more, at an age where these attempts should be progressively decreasing with each passing season. The knock on the superstar throughout his career has been that he has been quick to put up low percentage shots, but far too often the context of some of his attempts were simply ignored. This season, he’s made the necessary adjustments to take advantage of defenses as well as the gifts of his teammates. The scariest thing for the rest of the league is that Kobe’s efficiency might actually improve (!). Most of the Lakers regular season games have been played without Steve Nash, which seems incredibly relevant given the amount of open shots he helped Kobe generate in the preseason.

Between the Lakers’ poor record to open up the season, the firing of Mike Brown, the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, the James Harden trade and the Knicks undefeated record, Kobe’s shooting figures has flown under the radar; and yet one could make the argument that it should be one of the biggest stories of the season given that it’s happening so late in his career.

At some point, the Lakers will have a winning record and this will become a huge topic of conversation, but why wait until then right?

J.M. Poulard

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32 responses to The Ever Efficient Kobe Bryant

  1. Great article. Almost everyone was saying that this will be Kobe’s most efficient season yet. Lakers must turn last night’s loss into a winning streak. No more fooling around.

  2. Kobe has been incredibly efficient, but two years ago, he started the season at an efficient rate as well before he injured his wrist and had knee issues. Last season, he started the year playing efficiently, before he wore down from playing a ridiculous amount of minutes. Dwight is certainly helping his efficiency this season, but I think the bigger factors are his health after losing 16 pounds and getting picks, rather than being forced to play in isolation. Just imagine how efficient Kobe could be if he was surrounded by another playmaker on the perimeter, and some outside shooting.

  3. I’m glad that Kobe has attacked the basket more this season, but I would caution that continuing along that path makes him a lot more vulnerable to injury. Kobe takes a beating just about every game from all the ” Kobe stoppers” around the league. I do love that his assists are up and that he’s looking to involve Dwight at all times.

    Off subject, I saw one play last night that really ticked me off. It was when Tony Parker snatched an offensive rebound right out of Pau’s hands and laid the ball in for an easy 2 points. I’ve seen that far too many times from Pau. He and Dwight have got to control the defensive boards. I know that Pau had 10 rebs. last night but I don’t think that rebounding totals always tell the story. It’s the tough rebounds in traffic that separate the men from the boys.

  4. Kenny T,
    I think you are just going to have to put up with that aspect of Pau’s game. He has had a hard time holding on to the ball in traffic for as long as he has been a Laker. I don’t know whether his hands are small or not overly strong, but I have often seen other players knock the ball out of his hands down low.

    Every player has his + and – and this is one of Pau’s -.

  5. I agree with JM – I think this is more of a trend, as long as his (and the team’s) health holds up.

    As an aside, when was the last time Kobe had a team-mate that was as motivated/driven as Dwight (and Nash)? I mean, LBJ has Wade, Durant has Westbrook, KG had Pierce (and Jesus), Jordan had Pippen, Magic had Kareem – Shaq was the only “alpha” that Kobe played with, and even there, the Diesel only took the post-season seriously.
    With Nash and Dwight, Kobe can really afford to pick his spots, and that means he can be really efficient.

  6. Pau plays much better when he is feeling passionate. More often he plays a ‘finesse’ style that comes off as ‘soft’. Then he has those games where he plays strong to prove otherwise. Someone needs to give him some angry pregame pump music…

  7. Kobe is shooting 55% from the field, 44% from the 3 point line, and 92% from the foul line. The Lakers are shooting 45% from the field – which drops to 42% without KB. They are shooting a dismal 68% from the foul line and this drops to 62% without KB (that is a level hard to reach in pro basketball). From the 3 pt line we are shooting 33% and this drops under 30% without Kobe.

    We have 9 guys shooting 40% or worse from the field.

    The alpha is the one who kills the prey, and therefore “He Eats First”. In the pack, there is no need for cooking or dishwashing, so the rest of this roster better learn how to hunt quickly.

  8. any_one_mouse,

    Kobe had a player like that in 2009 and 2010. His name is Pau Gasol. They would’t have won the title those years without him. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that Pau Gasol in quite a while.

  9. I still believe Pau can be effective when used as our 2nd string center. While the idea of two seven footers is tantalizing, Pau is just too slow to deal with power forwards. Unless we get Dwight to defend power forwards, I just don’t think playing two at the same time is feasible unless it’s a very late game situation in-bounds play where length matters a bit more.

  10. Robert: I agree Kobe’s the only person that’s played up to expectations this year. Maybe the fo is doing more than a coaching change they could be evaluating the roster through this homestand.

    Great post. Hopefully Dwight can get his number up in the 10 range and he might if he keeps grabbing mwp bricks for putbacks.

  11. As good as Kobe is playing, we’re still going to need someone to provide quality minutes when he’s not in the game. Meeks so far has failed to live up to expectations (namely hitting those 3′s he’s getting).

    Watching what Barbosa is doing with the Celtics for the minimum? We missed out big time.

  12. Noticed that Sessions has scored 18 tonight. Appears to be out scoring our PG all by his self. To bad because he was born to play Mike D type of offense. Redo please!

  13. … Since we have our eyes on other squads, this Grizzlies team is serious. As in, a Serious Threat.

  14. Tra agree. Gay, Conley, Gasol and Z are as good or better then our big four right now.

  15. Ko, it’s regular season. I don’t want to be the best team now. I want to be the best team coming June. MDA has plenty of time to figure this out with the help of Kobe and Nash. He never had this kind of experience/pressure before.

    It’ll be a challenge for everyone.

  16. Agree Magic

    Van Gundy blasting Lakers for handling Phil Gate. Sounds bitter because he wasen’t on the A,B,C to Z list.

  17. Ko,

    See we are all hearing now some reactions to what happened this weekend. Anyway you dice it, Lakers did a whack job in reaching a decision. What if they asked help from PJ himself that they’re wrestling another criteria to go on a run & gun offense than the triangle, what would have been his reaction? I think he would welcome that change and help the Lakers reach the decision without displaying animosities in the public.

    How would you treat a close member of your family when you changed your mind on certain propositions?

  18. Man I have watched 4 really good teams tonight.
    Memphis
    OKC
    Clips
    Heat

    3rd are in the west. Ouch

  19. Of for the halcyon days when the Lakers were actually watchable on TV. The a–holes at DirecTV still don’t offer the new channel, yet last night’s Spurs-Lakers game was blacked out on NBA.TV here in Vegas — even though the satellite provider doesn’t carry another channel on which the game was aired. Unbelievable.

  20. Jamal Crawford averages more points than the whole Lakers bench. Not ideal.

  21. 100,000 switching from Dish to TW at $70 a month means $7,000,000 a month in new revenue. If you were CEO of TW and you gave $1.2 million per month to the Lakers for rights what would you do?

    It’s not nice but it’s a good business decision.

  22. Pops I mean $10 million a month to Lakers $120 million per year.

  23. Clippers reminded me what a real bench looks like. They kept a lead even with LeBron and Bosh still in the game in the 4th. 

    Some impressive wins over Heat, Grizzlies, Spurs… Oh yeah, the Lakers as well. I’m not worried because, honestly, if the Lakers can’t get their act together, it won’t matter how good the Clippers will or won’t be in the playoffs. 

  24. Kobe is so more focus this season as you can see, the numbers in not lying…he is productive in all his play..His EFG% is up, FG% is more efficient than ever, but he needs MORE i mean MORE eupport from his teammates

  25. I think the only thing that makes this whole situation awkward is the fact that the call came in the middle of the night – if they weren’t have probs getting contracts etc… to and from D”antoni – Kupchak woulda been calling PJ in the evening instead and this all wound’t have seemed so dramatic. Phil gets to play the spurned lover role but he damn well knew he was being a pain in the ass by saying he needed a couple days – And Mitch was right to say I’m going to continue my search and did so and decided on D”antoni – PJ’s ego caught up with him and he just assumed that he was naturally the first choice when he wasn’t. If he had said yes immediately or by Sunday had called and said lets make this work – then fine – he prob woulda had the job. But again, this hire was made for the longer term specifically with the fact that in two years, only Nash and howard will be on the roster and the Lakers could look dramatically different.

    Don’t bet on Pau being traded this year – Buss’s have 2014 in mind and don\t want any contracts on the books besides Nash and Howard unless a really quality young player comes along. Also keep in mind – this isn’t just about paying the tax – which is prohibitive but the Lakers have shown they will pay if it means a serious run at a chip – but the fact that the rules coming in mean over the cap teams will lose the ability to use mid level exceptions or ability to extend certain contracts etc… meaning that you can be stuck with your team and you can’t spend anymore because the league won’t let you. And once certain contracts that are over the salary cap expire they won’t be able to fill that expiring cap space. trades will be severely limited as well if you are over the cap, so in a way this will be the last year that a really big time huge money run by the lakers or any team (like ny etc..) make.

  26. Kobe has always been helpful one way or another.FG percentage does not tell the whole story.It is only for Abbott Shrine.

  27. Nice article… great with a break from all the Pau bashing and whining about our bench. If Kobe’s minutes will be kept down he should be able to keep this up all year long.

  28. T. Rogers:

    I don’t think Pau was ever an Alpha – he’s too nice to be an alpha. Even in ’09-’10, he was still the same Pau – just that he played a lot closer to the basket. Pau may have gotten a little older, but I don’t think, he’s a lot worse. He’s the ideal soldier – he will do whatever the team requires him to do.

  29. 5 ex-Lakers on that Clips team!

    Our lack of depth at the 3/wing still makes me wonder why Barnes wasn’t re-signed as I thought he was well worth (he was cheap) the energy he brought

  30. Any word on when Ebanks will be back?

  31. By Christmas time, we would know how the Lakers will be doing? Clippers, OKC, Spurs and Grizzlies are the teams to beat in the West. It would really take time for the chemistry to work now that they have a new Coach. The second unit is improving in every game but there are still two or three players who are weak and inconsistent, they are way behind competition’s 2nd unit. Perimeter shooting is one of the Lakers disadvantages, so far only Kobe is proving his worth and others are seasonal shooters. What I fear most is that if we will be far from standing by March, how can we cram to be in the top seed in the West? How will it affect our veterans during the playoffs if there are too many minutes played during the season?

    Anyway, welcome to Mike D’Antoni to the Laker fold. The best way to reach the Laker fans heart is to have a winning record. Focus more on the games ahead than meddle with Phil Jackson drama.