Can Kobe continue his recent vintage-esque play?
In the first 20 games of the season, Kobe Bryant’s level of play wasn’t just ugly and uninspiring, but borderline embarrassing. If just about any other player in the league played that horrifically for the first 20 games of the season, he would not just be benched by his coach, but most likely out of the league.
Just when about all hope was lost in the Black Mamba, there has been a resurgence in Bryant’s performance over the last six games. Bryant hasn’t changed the number of shots he is taking per game and isn’t reducing the amount of attempts he hoists from behind the three-point arc, but somehow he has dramatically improved not only his statistics, but also his level of play.
Here’s a look at the full comparison of the Mamba’s stats from the first 20 games compared to the last six games:
So what factors have changed Kobe’s statistics so dramatically?
Reason for the Hot Streak
One expects Kobe’s shot selection to be the main factor for his current success, but shockingly, the Mamba is still continuously taking bad jumper after bad jumper. The only thing that has changed is that Kobe’s tough contested shots attempts are actually falling, especially in the mid-range.
Just look at the disparity between Kobe’s shot charts from earlier in the season compared to the last few weeks.
Earlier this season Now
Another factor that has contributed to Kobe’s recent vintage-esque play is his newly found shooting touch from behind the three-point line. In Kobe’s first 20 games, the Mamba was shooting an abysmal 22 percent from behind the three-point arc, but in the past six games, KB24 has been connecting on over 39 percent of his long range attempts.
Is this streak sustainable?
Unfortunately, after diving into the film, Kobe’s recent hot streak seems to almost certainly be a trend that cannot continue, due to the fact that Kobe hasn’t made any major changes to his style of play to propel this current hot streak.
There are still way too many possessions that end with Kobe taking a heavily contested jumpers. Just like this:
In the prime of Kobe’s career, a shot like the one above could have been defensible, due to the fact that Bryant was undeniably the best bad shot maker in league. At age 37 though, it is impossible to expect Kobe to have any sustainable success while continually taking shots like the one above, especially early in the play clock.
Also, it is unrealistic to believe that Kobe has any chance of keeping his hot streak going from behind the three-point arc. Over the entirety of his 19 years in the NBA, Bryant has been a career 33 percent three-point shooter. That is six percentage points worse than what Kobe has been shooting over the past six games.
Over the next few weeks, one should expect Kobe’s three-point shooting to regress back to around his career average of 33 percent, or maybe drop back as low as his early season average of around 22 percent.
What could help Kobe continue his current success?
It would be more beneficial for not just Kobe himself, but also the entire Lakers team, if the Mamba decided to make a concerted effort to get his teammates more involved in the offense.
When Kobe chooses to play a facilitator role, it forces the defense to respect the other offensive players on the court, instead of focusing all of their attention on Kobe. Passes like the one below allow Kobe to gain less attention on the offensive end of the floor, which in turn leads to more open shots for Bryant himself. Passes like the one below force defensive players to no longer cheat off their man to help onto Kobe.
Saying Kobe needs to become more of a facilitator does not mean he needs to average 10 assists a game, but instead means taking less pull-up jumpers early in the shot clock and making more easy ball reversals to the open man. This simple change allows the Lakers to get into the flow of their offense more often, which will produce more open looks for Kobe.
The clip below is a perfect example of a time Kobe should have made the simple ball reversal to Jordan Clarkson at the top of the key instead of taking the tough jumper over the long wingspan of Al-Farouq Aminu.
Contrary to the beliefs of many, Kobe Bryant has been an extremely good passer throughout his entire career. The problem has been that the Mamba just hasn’t been a willing passer for most of his 19 years in the NBA. Kobe has shown the tools and ability to be a great passer, and when he decides to become more of a facilitator for this Lakers team, his game will benefit greatly in the form of more open shots and less defensive attention.
When Kobe decides to become more of a facilitator, to go along with his scoring role, and improve his shot selection dramatically, his success will start to become more sustainable throughout the rest of the NBA season.
But if the Black Mamba decides to continue his current style of play, expect to see Kobe’s game revert back to it’s ugly early season form, because no 37-year-old shooting guard can average 20 points a game on 46% shooting while consistently taking low percentage contested shots of this difficulty:
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