Without watching the games, you’d probably be surprised to hear that January has been one of Kobe Bryant’s best months. I mean, if you just examine his game log, you’ll see that his scoring numbers, rebounds, and assists are all hovering around his season averages while his long range shooting isn’t any different than it’s been all year either (for the month he’s still averaging a little over 3 attempts while knocking down 30% of his shots from three point land). Even his FTA’s per game are about the same as they’ve been all year. So, why would I state that he’s playing better?
It’s simple really – he’s playing more of an attacking style. Below is a video showing some of the plays Kobe made against the Warriors last week when he went for 39 points in an exciting win:
If there’s one thing that stands out from that clip is that Kobe is doing so much more work going to the basket. Sure, there are some standard post ups and we also saw his patented jumper out of the triple threat that is a staple of his offensive arsenal. But besides those plays, every shot is going to the basket; every play is one where he’s actively using his dribble to either get all the way to the rim or get inside 10 feet to shoot a relatively easy (at least for him) jumper in the lane. If you’ve been watching Kobe all year, that’s a big departure from the player that either did work extensively from the post or fired long range jumpers off one or two dribbles.
I know what you’re thinking though (I was thinking it too) – It was the Warriors! Of course Kobe was attacking one of most porous defenses in the league!
However, this style of play hasn’t been limited to that single game last week. Against the Thunder last night, Kobe consistently attacked off the dribble to try and get to the basket to earn better position on the floor. Primarily working against Thabo Sefolosha (a defender that’s given him problems in years past) , Kobe didn’t settle for long range, contested jumpers but rather used the threat of his jumper to keep his man off balance and then penetrate into the teeth of the defense. When he didn’t get all the way to the rim he’d often pull up to shoot, but if the defender was going to get a good contest on his shot he’d just dump the ball off to a teammate that was moving into open space. (To be fair, Kobe’s jump passing did lead to a couple turnovers, but I balance that with the fact that he was attempting to pass out of trouble rather than firing up a questionable shot.)
And this is the trend we’ve seen since the start of the new year. Kobe’s just consistently been using his dribble with more purpose to get into the paint. Against the Thunder, 6 of his 12 shots came within 10 feet of the basket. Against the Nets the ratio was 10 of 19. Against the Warriors it was 8 of 21. Against the Knicks it was 13 of 28. And when you look at the other games this month, the only ones where we didn’t really attack the paint were Phoenix (whose zone D kept the entire Laker team perimeter oriented) and the Cavs (where Kobe only took 10 shots all game in a historic blowout). Essentially, in every game this month Kobe has been taking nearly half his shots within 10 feet of the basket. This is in strong contrast to his year long average of about 37%.
Also, I sort of lied when I said that Kobe’s standard boxscore stats don’t show any improvement. In the month of January, he’s shooting his highest percentage from the floor this season (48%). In 6 of the Lakers’ 10 games this month he’s shot 50% or better and only been below 45% twice. If you’d rather ignore the stats and go back to the eyeball test, check out a couple of his highlight drives from the Thunder game last night. Needless to say, we weren’t seeing those types of plays earlier in the year. And to that all I can say is welcome back attacking Kobe, we’ve missed you. (Though I doubt wing defenders around the league are saying the same thing.)
*All shot location information gathered from HoopData’s advanced boxscores.