And so goes Kobe Bryant’s tale of two seasons.
If there has been one constant with the Black Mamba’s 2011-12 season thus far, it’s that there has been no constant. Bryant has wildly careened between brilliant “best player in the game” performances to head scratching, disastrous outings – making fans wonder why Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol don’t regularly snipe at him in the press. In the words of the somewhat un-real, turned pop star, Slim Shady: “Will the real Kobe Bryant please stand up?”
The numbers tell most of the story. Through 48 games, we split Kobe’s season into halves, 24 games where he shot below 45%, and 24 games where he shot above 24 games.
|Games in which Kobe shoots < 45%||24||13-11||23.9||4.9||4.6||34.80%||85.90%||26.70%|
|Games in which Kobe shoots >= 45%||24||17-7||33.1||6.3||4.8||50.30%||83.20%||32.30%|
In the sub-45% games, Kobe has been horrendous, averaging 23.9ppg, 4.9rpg, and 4.6apg on a miserable 35% fg shooting — shooting accuracy that would make Jason Kidd cringe.
In the 24 games above-45% however, Kobe has been brilliant, putting up averages of 33.1ppg, 6.3rpg, 4.8apg while shooting 50.3% from the field. That represents 10 points more per game while shooting 15% higher from the field.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Laker’s fortunes have also vacillated with Kobe’s inconsistency. In sub-45% games, the Lakers are a pedestrian 13-11, an almost unthinkable mark for a team with 3 legitimate All-stars. In above-45% games, their record improves dramatically, to 17-7.
A first guess might be that the compressed season has created performance variability when combined with Kobe’s age and injury history. However, a closer look shows little correlation here. Eight of Kobe’s sub-45% games have come on the back end of back-to-back games, while seven of his above-45% games have come under the same circumstances. In other words, Kobe has played evenly when faced with little to no rest time.
Competition does not seem to play a role here either. Sixteen of Kobe’s sub-45% games have come against playoff competition (teams that would currently qualify for the NBA playoffs), while thirteen of his above-45% games have come against the same group. Again, there is no strong evidence to indicate Kobe’s play has clearly diminished when playing against better competition.
The predominant factor appears to be the home/away variable (not surprising since the Lakers have one of the largest home/away record differentials in recent memory). Fifteen of Kobe’s above 45% games have come at home, while only nine have come on the road. On the flip side, sixteen of Kobe’s sub-45% games have come on the road, versus only eight at home. By and large, Kobe has performed much better in the friendly confines of Staples Center.
So what can we take away from Kobe’s season thus far?
First of all, we shouldn’t be surprised. Kobe’s career to date has been predicated on the supreme belief that he is fundamentally the best player on the court. This deterioration in this confidence, in most cases, occurs more slowly that the deterioration of the skillset. Kobe’s game has also been relegated in recent years to outside jump shots and post plays from the elbow. The nature of his scoring has led to increased highs and lows in his performance from game to game. Put another way, sometimes his jumper is on, and sometimes it’s way off.
There is precedent for this. We saw a similar phenomenon occur during the twilight of Jordan’s career. Jordan’s stats in his final 1997-8 season with the Bulls reflect a remarkably similar phenomenon.
|Games in which Jordan shot < 46%||41||24-17||25.7||6.5||3.3||39.20%||76.50%||12.70%|
|Games in which Jordan shot >=46%||41||38-3||31.8||5.1||3.6||54.00%||80.50%||34.90%|
For half that season, Jordan had games where he shot below 46%. Like Kobe, his overall FG% in these games was 15% lower than in the 41 games where he shot greater than 46% There are even more startling discrepancies. Jordan’s 3PT shooting became highly erratic, as he shot only 12.7% from the 3 point line in his sub-46% games. When Jordan was on that year, the Bulls were nearly unbeatable, going 38-3. When he wasn’t, they were much worse, going 24-17.
There are two questions that are of concern for Lakers fans going forward.
First – what does this mean for Kobe’s future? In the absence of a recognition of diminished skills, Kobe’s worst case is that he develops into a next generation Allen Iverson, settling into a 41-43% FG percentage while consistently taking his team out of games with his need to score. The one mitigating factor in this nuclear (for Laker fans) scenario happening is that Kobe cares about one thing even more than his stats: winning. It is likely, even if it is a bit delayed, that Kobe will make adjustments over the next few years to raise his efficiency over what it has been this year.
Second – can the Lakers, like the ’98 Bulls, win a championship despite the fluctuations of their biggest star? It remains to be seen. The one key factor, given the data above, seems to be home court advantage. The Lakers at this point are destined for at least 2 road series to cross in their path to a ring (OKC, Miami) and possibly 3 (San Antonio). Given Kobe’s statistics away from home, this appears to be a daunting task. Still, if Kobe’s Jekyll and Hyde act has taught us one thing this season, is that all the Lakers need to win is for the right guy to show up at the right time.
- Kobe Bryant vs. Lebron James: Game Winning Shots
- Did Kobe Bryant Quit in the 2006 Western Conference 1st Round Game 7 vs. The Phoenix Suns?
- Is Kobe Bryant a Top 3 Player in the NBA?
- J.M. Poulard: Is Kobe Bryant’s Reputation Undeserved (8/30/11)
- Bill Simmons: Larry Bird Would Love to Play with Kobe Bryant (2/8/12)