Kobe Bryant has been one of the most scrutinized players in the history of professional sports. Some of this is deserved, some isn’t. However, there’s no question that his place as one of the most polarizing stars in the athletic realm is concrete. He’s managed to have answers to almost everything thrown at him by his critics, and he simply shrugs off and accepts the things he hasn’t been able to put to rest on the court. It doesn’t get to him.
This season the statistic we’re seeing most frequently is a bit of an oxymoron. Whenever Kobe plays well and scores over 30 points, the team struggles. In fact, struggles might be too kind of a word. When Kobe scores 30 or more points in a game the Lakers are downright dreadful. Following Tuesday night’s embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a game in which Bryant poured in a season high 42 points, the Lakers are 1-10 in games when Kobe surpasses the 30-point plateau. A simple look at their overall record (9-13) and some basic arithmetic will tell you that the team is 8-3 when Bryant keeps his point total at 29 or less. It’s notable to point out that when the team lost to the Utah Jazz on Nov. 7 he dropped 29, meaning he was a missed free throw away from a 1-11 record when scoring 30. But we won’t split too many hairs.
As is the case with many numbers and statistics, I think that this one is very misleading. But not necessarily in the way that some people do. I’ve seen arguments from numerous people that Bryant’s scoring output has no effect on the team, and that he’s forced into scoring obscene amounts of points because the rest of the team is incapable of helping him out.
To me, this is only partially true.
Bryant feels the need to take over games when his teammates are struggling, which results in 30-point barrages in which he takes 30 shots and dominates the ball on nearly every possession. And while it may be fun to watch for those on the other side of the television screen, it ends up taking his teammates even further out of the game. So while Bryant may feel that he’s helping his team by taking a large percentage of the team’s shots, in reality it’s this mindset that is to blame for why the Lakers look so dismal on offense in the first place.
I’ll get back to that point later, but for now I just want to take a look at some numbers from some of the games in which Kobe’s had high scoring nights, and try and pinpoint the exact problem.
Nov. 2, 2012: Lakers vs. Clippers
It was the third game of the season, and the Lakers fell to the Clippers 105-95 despite 40 points from Bryant. He was also relatively productive with a 14-23 FG shooting night, although he did turn the ball over six times, more than any other player from either side that night. He had just one assist. Kobe shot the ball 23 times (as I mentioned above). The rest of the team attempted 45 shots total, spread out amongst eight players. That’s an average of 5.6 shots per player not named Kobe. (Get used to this statistic, you’re going to be seeing a lot of it.)
Sacramento went into this game with a 2-8 record, so naturally the Lakers lost by 16. Kobe scored 38 in this one, on another fairly efficient 11-20 shooting night. But the entire team only took 65 shots, meaning Bryant accounted for 30 percent of their total shots. Again, like their game against the Clippers, this left an average of five shots for every other player on the roster. More disheartening still, Dwight Howard, the so-called second gun in Los Angeles, took just four field goal attempts that night – one less than Darius Morris. Once again, Kobe had just three assists but turned it over seven times, which led all players on the court.
Nov. 27, 2012: Lakers vs. Pacers
Kobe took 28 shots to score 40 points on this particular night, both of which were game highs. His efficiency was down a little, as he made just 12 of those 28 attempts. But again, he accounted for 37 percent of the team’s total shot attempts (76). So while Kobe jacked up 28 shots, the other eight Laker players who made it on the floor that night shared just 48 attempts. How many shots per player is that? Six. Which any mathematician will tell you is 22 shots less than what Bryant had. Beginning to sense a pattern here?
Dec. 4, 2012: Lakers vs. Rockets
On this particular night Kobe took 31 shots. Thirty-one! He made 14 of them and finished with a game high 39 points, which was more than every other Laker player combined not named Antawn Jamison or Dwight Howard. The team as a whole took 83 shots, meaning Kobe accounted for 37 percent of the team’s total shot attempts. He had two assists and three turnovers, and accounted for nine of the team’s 21 three-point attempts (of which he made two). And, as the broken record continues, the rest of the team averaged 6.5 field goal attempts per player, a whopping 25 attempts less than Bryant.
Dec. 11, 2012: Lakers vs. Cavaliers
The low point of the season thus far, as the Lakers lost to a Cleveland team that was 4-17 entering the game. I’m sure at this point you can guess the numbers that are to follow, but I’ll share them anyways. Bryant scored a season high 42 points on 28 shot attempts. He had an efficient night, making 16 of those shots, but again left little for the rest of the team. His 28 FGA made up 37.3 percent of the team’s total (75 FGA), leaving 47 shots for the other eight guys who made it onto the court. The percentage? An average of 5.8 shot attempts for every other player on the floor.
Now these are just five examples, and some will argue that it’s easy to twist the numbers in your favor to prove a point. While I certainly agree with that to an extent, I feel like Bryant’s numbers from the Lakers’ wins are even more indicative than those in the games the team lost.
Here are a few of the games that resulted in Laker wins.
Next Page: Noticing Trends in Laker Wins