This is not another article about why the Lakers chose Mike D’Antoni over the Zen Master. You’re welcome.
Rather, I would like to focus on the fact that Kobe Bryant is quietly having one of the most efficient seasons of his career in his 17th year in the league. Through eight games, the Black Mamba is scoring 26.4 points per game while shooting a scorching 55.1% from the field, including 44.1% from behind the arc, and 92% from the charity stripe.
Most fans will dismiss this as a short-term phenomenon that will level out by the end of the season. However, when you look at a detailed breakdown of Kobe’s offensive statistics so far this season (provided by HoopData), you immediately notice a few distinctions from recent years that indicate that this season may just be different:
- Kobe is attempting approximately 70% more shots at the rim per game than he did last season (3.5 to 6)
- From 16 to 23 feet, Kobe is taking about 40% of the number of shots he attempted per game last season (7.7 to 3)
- Mr. Bryant is taking 6 fewer total field goal attempts per game than last season (23 to 17)
- This season, Kobe’s 3-point attempts per game have dropped a small amount from last year (4.9 to 4.25)
What these statistics really mean:
- Despite his age, Kobe is driving to the rim more often this year, mainly because he has an easier path to the paint; defenders hesitate to leave the athletic Dwight Howard and lanky Pau Gasol open for alley-oop jams or get caught up in double teams on the post.
- When he has been on the perimeter, KB24 has been taking advantage of the penetration his teammates provide to beat defenders off the dribble that buy pump fakes or close out too strong in anticipation of jump shots, which has also led to easier paths to the rim.
- Since his volume of field goal attempts has been cut down a great deal with the arrival of Howard and Nash, Kobe understands that it is important now more than ever to get quality shots closer to the rim rather than off-balance, 22-foot fadeaways.
- Kobe seems to be shooting a tad less from behind the arc but has performed with ridiculous accuracy, suggesting that he may be launching the three-ball only when he gets high-quality looks.
“Fewer long 2s and more emphasis on shots at the rim and from 3 — factor in a blistering 91.7 percent free throw shooting and you have the makings of the hyper-efficient Kobe Bryant stat geeks always wanted to see,” noted ESPN.com’s Beckley Mason.
From what we’ve seen so far, Kobe’s change in shot selection could help maintain his efficiency the rest of the season. As long as the Lakers’ star-studded nucleus stays healthy, Kobe should have enough penetration and space in the paint to get to the rim and get those same high-quality looks. With Nash returning soon from injury, Kobe should thrive even more off of his penetration. The grind and tear of an 82-game season usually brings initial stats back down to earth, and it doesn’t help that Kobe is nearing the end of his career. But you never know with No. 24.