Obviously, we are only five games into the season so this is a very small sample size that can easily — and likely will — level out as the season goes on. However, we’ll take a look at the trends anyway.
In these five games, Kobe is taking 24.4 shots per game and has a usage rate of 38.6. Both of these are his highest since his infamous 2005-06 season when he averaged over 35 points and carried that Lakers team to 45 wins in route to the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
In that season, only 31.2 percent of Kobe’s shots came inside and he made over 56 percent of those shots. Outside the paint, Kobe shot just under 40 percent (39.8 to be exact). Also worth noting is that 43.7 percent of Kobe’s baskets came on assists, meaning Kobe was able to do some work off the ball.
This year, Kobe is actually in the paint more, with 36.1 percent of his shots coming down low. However, he is only shooting 52.2 percent. Of further concern is Bryant’s abysmal 33.3 percent shooting outside of the paint. Lastly, only 30.6 percent of Bryant’s baskets have been assisted this season — a disturbingly low number.
Looking at Bryant’s shot chart from this season shows what the numbers tell us. Bryant is struggling in the paint, but things are even worse in his mid and long range game.
Bryant’s struggles from the floor are likely due to a number of factors, but one of the major ones has been Bryant’s propensity to go one-on-one against a set defense. This has been magnified in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ last three games, in which he has forced some tough shots at times.
In the last three fourth quarters, Kobe has taken 24 total shots. Of those 24, 15 have come on possessions with one or no passes. Tuesday’s game against Phoenix in particular saw 10 of Kobe’s 13 shots come on possessions of that nature, with only one possession having multiple passes.
The other two games against the Warriors and Clippers saw slightly more ball movement with six possessions having multiple passes before Kobe shots, but four of those involved Kobe stopping the ball before attacking his man one-on-one. In other words, it’s still ‘hero’ ball from Kobe.
All of this would seem to point to Kobe being the issue, trying to force shots on his own and taking his own teammates out of the game. It is also important to remember something Kobe said last week:
Kobe Bryant on teammates: “I don’t want chumps. I don’t want pushovers.”
— Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner) November 1, 2014
Kobe is going to do what he does, but there has to be a couple of teammates who aren’t so willing to immediately defer to him every single time down the court. Someone has to have the confidence to run a play and get the team moving like they do in the first half.
On numerous occasions, the Lakers seemed content with giving Kobe the ball and watching him go to work. The ball movement has stopped with Kobe, but the player movement has ceased as well. The lack of movement by the Lakers makes it easier for defenses to trap and challenge Kobe’s shots.
One fan noted a particular possession in the fourth quarter in which Jeremy Lin was far too focused on getting Kobe the ball:
— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinNBA) November 5, 2014
That possession led to an awful Lin jumper that was thankfully rebounded by Jordan Hill and converted for a foul. However, the image of Lin not even looking at the basket before he was forced to attack is evidence to the issue.
No one is denying that Kobe is the best player to take the tough shots in the fourth quarter, but the quality of his shots have to get better — that is on everyone from Kobe and his teammates to head cooach Byron Scott.
At this stage in his career, Kobe is far less likely to blow by defenders and get great shots. The best Kobe shots are likely to come with ball movement and Kobe doing work off the ball and then immediately attacking or taking the open jumper once he receives it. Take for instance this possession from the first quarter of Tuesday’s Suns game:
A basic set that involved movement and a couple of screens resulted in an open Kobe jumper that he knocks down. Coach Scott must emphasize these things down the stretch and Jeremy Lin, as the point guard and only other capable playmaker on the team, has make sure it is executed on the court.
It’s obvious that Kobe is forcing some shots that he has no business taking. While he has made them in the past and has made some this year, those shots are not falling at the same rate they used to and Kobe’s already shaky efficiency is looking even worse.
The solution lies with everyone. All sides have to figure out how to best work together. Kobe can still be the ultimate closer, but the team can make it easier on him — something they haven’t done up to this point.[divide]
Kobe Bryant Talks About Taking 37 Shots Against The Phoenix Suns