Almost Two Decades In, Some People Still Don’t Get Kobe Bryant
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

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Through the first 14 games of his 19th NBA season, Kobe Bryant is averaging 26.7 points.

That’s the good news.

He’s also shooting 27.9 percent from three-point range, and 38.1 percent overall. The former would be the third lowest figure of his career (in any season in which he played more than six games, at least), the latter, by far, his worst. Nobody in the NBA comes close to Kobe’s 24 shots a game – 336 field goal attempts overall, a whopping 71 more than noted hoops wallflower Carmelo Anthony. On a per-minute basis, Kobe has never shot more, and his league-leading usage rate is just a hair below career highs.

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In the endless debate involving Kobe loyalists, Kobe haters, basketball purists, and just about anyone else who has seen an NBA game over the last two decades, these numbers are that much more grist for the mill. Given the results, both for Bryant and the Lakers, it’s hard to argue his approach to this point has been effective. Points of legitimate discussion: The best ways to maximize whatever talent the Lakers have on hand, the ideal balance of Kobe-to-team, or if as a practical matter of consequential wins and losses (meaning the type getting them to the playoffs, or even close) any of this matters, anyway.

(Hint: No, it doesn’t.)

The easy, low nuance explanation is old-fashioned, stat-hoarding selfishness. An only slightly more nuanced, though even more selfish, Michael Jordan-fueled explanation is making the rounds among at least a few insiders, like this one, dishing to’s Dave McMenamin

…or another, speaking to’s Tom Haberstroh (ESPN Insider required):

So why is Bryant doing this?

“He knows the Lakers are bad,” one top league exec suggested to ESPN Insider. “He thinks the best way to deal with it is to go for the scoring record.”

Haberstroh notes how Kobe shoots more — much, much more — when the Lakers are behind, basically running counter to every other premier scorer in the NBA. All this garbage time shooting, so the (not necessarily endorsed by Haberstroh) argument goes, is evidence of a guy padding his stats in an effort to catch Jordan faster.

As they say, the simplest explanation for something is generally the best. Kobe Bryant needs just over 200 points to catch Jordan on the all-time points list, so the only way the hurrying-to-pass-Jordan-while-healthy theory holds water is if Bryant worries he’s got 10 games or so left before his body turns to goo. He doesn’t. At some point, likely not long from now and all but guaranteed before the end of next season, Bryant will have more points than M.J.. And while I’m sure it’ll be personally meaningful whether he admits it or not, Kobe is smart enough to understand passing Jordan won’t change even a little the consensus all-time rankings for shooting guards. Bryant learned a long time ago it’s not an argument he can win (not that he should) and stopped trying.

The Jordan thing, then, is not the simplest explanation.


Kobe Bryant On Michael Jordan Comparison, Late In Career

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