I promise I’ll give Kobe a break soon. After all, he took a break himself last night, in a game where Bynum played great (8-13 shooting, 15 boards), Kobe shot awful early and backed off from trying to score 40 (7-22, 14 points), but the Lakers won with their defense. Before I give it a rest, I wanted to link an interesting alternative approach to the numbers that I’ve been presenting.
Zach Lowe at SI breaks down Kobe’s decision making in a series of videos (granted, they are probably cherry picked). Lowe reminds us that the Lakers have no other perimeter “creators,” and that Kobe has a very high assist rate this year, but, in general, the videos support the opinion that Kobe holds the ball for bad shots rather than using open teammates early in the shot clock (which Lowe admits).
I agree with Lowe that Kobe is truly great. He shoots an incredibly high percentage for the shots that he takes. I disagree that it’s uninteresting or unimportant that Kobe has bad shot selection. Here’s what Lowe says:
And that’s what makes [his terrible shots] uninteresting. Great scorers take bad shots, because they think will make them (and sometimes do), because their selfishness is one of the things that drives their greatness, and because sometimes tired teams with limited players just need scorers to take up the burden.
While this is the current state of Kobe’s world, I disagree that great scorers have to take as many bad shots as Kobe does. Kobe could still be selfish without launching heat checks all the time (he is still under 25% on the season on 3 pointers, but takes 4.4 per game). Instead, he could work for a better shot for himself. And by the way, I’m not sure he even needs to be selfish to be a great player. Kobe has the ability to create shots for his teammates like a top passing point guard (Paul, Rondo, and Williams), if he chose to. This wouldn’t magically kill his aggressiveness or shot-making ability.
It’s worth watching the videos. I did my own analysis of the first two quarters of last night’s game. The Lakers ran four curl plays for Kobe; he shot on all of them (after all, the plays were designed for him). Of the four, he made an open two and a contested two and missed an open two and a contested three (50% conversion, not bad). The contested three was his only terrible shot. He also took (and made) a tough fadeaway but had the mismatch on Jason Kidd and hoisted another tough one with no time on the shot clock.
Despite the numbers focus on this blog, I’m a big proponent of video to answer the unanswerable — in this case, could Kobe make easy improvements to his offense game? Last night he didn’t take many bad shots. However, he missed his first four, helping him decide that the 40 point streak was over. I still think the answer is yes overall. Kobe didn’t go into killer mode last night, but when he does, he kills his own team at least as often as the other guys.