We all know that Kobe Bryant is an all-time great. That’s indisputable. With five championship rings and the fourth most points of all-time, which he’ll achieve during Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, his stamp has been put on history already. The problem with Bryant has always been his shot selection. Anyone that has ever consistently watched the Lakers knows what I’m talking about. He’ll take more off-balance fade-away jumpers in traffic in a single game than many guards will attempt in an entire season. He’s incredibly impressive at these kinds of shots, but not impressive enough to compensate for the shot difficulty. Many times in the past, Bryant has been able to get away with some of his lucrative shot attempts, but he can’t this season. The defense has been shaky at best and the team allows 16.0 fast break points per game, the second most among all NBA teams, with only the Kings being worse than them.
Thursday’s loss against the Milwaukee Bucks was a perfect example. On the surface, it looks like Kobe had an excellent game, scoring 30 points–the most in the game by either squad. However, Bryant shot just 6-for-17 from the field and 0-for-3 from three point range. Most disturbing to me though, was the number of jumpers he took. To the right is Bryant’s shot plot from Thursday’s game. He attempted five shots from inside the paint, making four of them. His jump-shots were pretty abysmal–2-12 to be exact. It wasn’t really that his shot was off, either. He just took several low-percentage contested jumpers. In this post, we will examine several of Bryant’s field goal attempts taken in that game and try to decipher whether his shot selection truly impacted the game and what could have been done to prevent them.
You can click on the images for a closer look, but they are all fade-away jumpers from the game against the Bucks and all three of them missed. When I first was looking through these plays, I just shook my head in disbelief of the poor shots Bryant was taking. It’s one thing to take a fade-away if it’s helping you gain separation from the defender, but in these plays, the defenders were draped all over the Mamba, mainly Marquis Daniels, who has played Bryant well defensively ever since his days as a Celtic. These shot attempts hardly had a chance at all. Then I noticed something that gave Bryant a decent case in this debate. In all three of these plays, the crazy Kobe heave came with the shot clock nearly expired. Kobe wasn’t taking these shots because he felt like it–he was taking these shots in desperation to avoid a shot clock violation. So… some of the shots he takes are due to him often being the one with the ball if the play dissipates and the Lakers need someone to create their own shot before the buzzer.
However, there were other times in the game where it seemed like Kobe was the true culprit to his own inefficient play. Take this example from the second quarter (Again, click the image to view it enlarged):
Here is another instance of Kobe pulling up from mid-range for a fade away. However, this time, there are still 13 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Circled in red in the photo is Pau Gasol, posting up the undersized Ersan Ilyasova. This is a situation where Kobe needs to give Gasol the ball. Pau has a huge advantage against Ersan Ilyasova and the Lakers needed to exploit it here. If anything, Kobe could have kicked it out to Steve Blake to either shoot a somewhat-open three or feed Dwight Howard in the post from that side.
Finally we come to this play by the Lakers late in the ball game, with the Lakers down by 5 with a little more than half a quarter remaining in the game
With 8 seconds left on the shot clock (plenty of time to run a quick play), Kobe Bryant tosses up a three in an isolation to him off of the right side. Mike Dunleavy had a hand in his face. The play was an isolation to the right side and the Bucks didn’t double-team. Ilyasova is standing at the high post ready to play help defense. Kobe absolutely needs to drive the lane in this situation. He has a huge athleticism advantage over Dunleavy and, as tightly as Dunleavy was playing on him, could have blown past him. Depending on whether or not Ilyasova came over with the help, Bryant could continue to penetrate to the basket or pull up and attempt an open 15 footer on the right wing.
In a season where the Lakers are struggling to even qualify for the post-season, it is crucially important for them to pay attention to detail and not throw away possessions. Kobe Bryant had been doing a good job with this for a couple of months, putting up the best assist numbers that he’s had in years. He just needs to continue to keep his head in the game and make smart decisions. This Lakers squad isn’t good enough to allow Bryant to bail out defenses several times per game.
My name is Skyler Gilbert. This was my first post here on Lake Show Life and I hope to write many more. I would encourage you to follow me on twitter @SkylerJGilbert.