Through 14 games this season, Kobe Bryant is averaging a staggering 24 shots per contest, 336 overall—60 more attempts than the second place chucker, Carmelo Anthony. This is the second highest of his career, a mind-blowing statistic considering his age, mileage and, well, common sense. But is it common sense? Do you have a problem with the amount of shots Bryant is taking? Are the Lakers losing because those looks aren't being distributed throughout the team? Is Kobe hurting the team more than he's helping, or is this tremendous volume of shots the only reason the team has even stayed in games this year?
24 shots per game is too many for Kobe Bryant to be taking at this stage in his career on this roster, where defenses can already key in on him more due to the lack of real offensive threats. I also do not think that "there is no one else on the team to take the shots" is a particularly great argument for this usage either. Kobe's rampant gunning is actually somewhat understandable for him, given how overly deferential his teammates often are, and with the seeming lack of any other type of play being coached. However, the inefficiency displayed by Bryant that most analysts are harping on (he currently holds an EFG% of 41.7%, which is sub-optimal to say the least) is evidence enough that the ball needs to be out of his hands a tad more. If his usage rate were to go down, it is likely that Bryant's efficiency would slide up a bit so that he could be more effective for the team overall.
I do have a problem with this workload being foisted upon Kobe, who is, once again, 36 freaking years old and returning from two major injuries. He may market himself as some type of gunslinging, indestructible superhuman, but I would consider it highly unlikely that Kobe can make it through an entire season healthy under this usage. The problem is that Bryant is not going to ask to do less, and he needs to be saved from himself, something that Byron Scott promised back at the time of his hiring but is seemingly unwilling or unable to follow through on. I also do not think that it is as simple as either "Kobe's gunning is the reason the Lakers are losing" or "Kobe is the only reason they are in games". On this roster, Kobe should be the leader in field goal attempts. The real issue is the types of shots he is getting right now have a such a high degree of difficulty (often in isolation against a set defense that is almost solely focused on him, knowing he will most likely shoot), that almost no NBA player could expect to be efficient in such a situation. If the Lakers wanted to win more games, Kobe should be utilized more on off the ball actions (coming off of screens, cutting to the rim, etc), while also taking about four to five fewer shots per game. At the very least, his individual effectiveness would go up, and that would probably help the offense as a whole as well. I do not expect this change to be made. The best that Lakers fans can realistically hope for is Kobe avoiding another major injury.
The short answer is no, I don't have a problem with Kobe taking all those shots, mainly because this team isn't going to do anything anyway. He could be 1987 Magic Johnson right now and it wouldn't make these Lakers any closer to being a playoff team, let alone a meaningful contender. Kobe has always been a much better passer than he has ever gotten credit for, but there aren't many opportunities for other players' shots right now. Kobe has always had the ball in his hands. Assists have come from Kobe dishing when he thinks he can't score to other talented players that are usually in a good spot, because that's when the defense is overplaying Kobe. I've seen him make a number of good passes this year that result in nothing but a missed shot because Wes Johnson can't hit a corner three or Carlos Boozer misses an easy shot in the paint.
Do I think the offense could be a bit better if the Lakers chilled a bit on the Kobe isos? Yes. Run more pick and rolls with Lin. Hell, run them with Kobe. He's a much better P&R ball handler than most realize, and this is one of the reasons he actually was great in D'Antoni's system. Also I think having Wayne Ellington on the floor more could help because none of the other wings provide much at all in the way of floor spacing.
But, the Lakers suck. They're going to suck, and there's nothing they can do to not suck. All they can shoot for is sucking a little bit less. And do any of us really want that at this point? Let Kobe get his points. I'm sure when the backlash becomes a bit much, Kobe will pass more and look for easier shots to up his shooting percentage, but for now, I would expect most of the same, and I wouldn't waste time being too outraged over it.
As with most things surrounding this team, this is a complex question. Yes, on its face, the issue is plain: Kobe abrogating the offense unto himself has led to stagnation as he hoists one incredibly difficult shot after another and the rest of the team stands and watches as he goes on his merry way. Inevitably, Kobe runs cold, the opposition takes advantage on the other end, and the Lakers crash and burn into a predictable loss. Needless to say, Kobe is no longer the same player as he was in '05-06 that could handle such an insane usage rate and proceed to carry the team by converting volume into reasonably efficient points.
Before we explore the issue more in-depth, we should note that there has to be a certain amount of giveback Kobe has to provide here. The team has been at its best this year when they're able to operate in the open court, run the pick-and-roll extensively usually with Jeremy Lin handling the ball, and provide a smidgen of the spacing that has otherwise eluded this offense. Bad teammates or no, a 37.4 usage rate on Kobe's part is ridiculous and some of those possessions have to be distributed throughout the team as a practical matter. Not only for the team's general well-being, but his own, mind you, as at this rate, Kobe will be half-dead by Christmas.
And this is one of the key underlying problems with analyzing Kobe's shot selection since Byron Scott is more or less sabotaging his production by attempting to ride him as long as possible each game. It's not an accident that a lot of Kobe's misses nowadays are short, a sign of tired legs. So while Kobe does need to generally reduce the degree to which he dominates the offense, let us operate under the assumption that for as long as he's on the floor, Kobe's going to operate how he usually does in a shot-friendly manner. By playing him long minutes, Byron is hurting the team's overall offense by leaving him out there for so long, as his effectiveness will ultimately decline as the game goes on. This is a classic instance of diminishing returns.
On top of this, by leaving Kobe out there, Byron has made it very difficult for everyone else to get into a rhythm on offense. The primary victim is again, Lin, who is reduced to a spectator role most of the time he shares the court with Kobe. It is fairly uncontroversial that Lin's and Kobe's playing time should be staggered such that the former gets some breathing room, yet Byron has more or less failed to accomplish this. Even under the auspices of Byron's rather horrid offensive system, the Lakers should be getting more production from certain personnel and Byron's personnel management has largely stifled this.
So to sum up: yes, Kobe needs to adjust his approach appropriately, but the way that Byron has handled his minutes has more or less compounded the issue into absurdity. The confluence of these problems is why you have a team that is one of the worst in the league.
This is the Lakers' conundrum to figure out, more or less. On one hand, Kobe Bryant is far and away the best player on the team, and it feels as if nine times out of ten he should probably be the one shouldering the offense. On the other, putting up 24 shots per game for any player is problematic for various reasons on an individual level, but it also saps some of the life out of teams. To put it bluntly: When players don't touch the ball, it's a natural tendency to be less engaged on both ends of the floor. That's an issue for a Lakers' team that needs every ounce of defensive effort they can muster.
This is problematic for Kobe because he's not a young guy who won't be affected by an exorbitant amount of minutes. Pushing Kobe to play huge stretches where he's the focal (read: only) point of the offense is not going to get the Lakers very many wins. The fact that the touches aren't coming off of screens and cuts is what makes the offense come to a screeching halt at times. A little motion, and a lot less isolation, could go a long way in making those 24 shot attempts look a lot better.
Kobe putting up 24 shots with this team is probably "helping" more than "hurting" the Lakers, just barely. If those 24 shot attempts were more than finding a new place on the floor for Kobe to get the ball and go to work, it might actually amount to a winning formula at some point.
The Great Mambino
In short, no, I don't have any problem with Kobe's shooting volume for this season. The Lakers are at a -9.6 point differential per game, putting them second to last in the league, most of which has to do with their putrid defense that's the NBA's worst. LA is losing, and losing by a lot on a nightly basis. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the team simply cannot defend, not because Bryant is putting up such a massive number of attempts. Now, there are some that would say that NBA players, generally speaking, defend with less vigor when not getting touches on the offensive end. According to NBA.com, the Lakers have a few line-ups with a positive point differential without Bryant on the floor, but they're in such small sample sizes that it's difficult to glean any definitive conclusions.
These Lakers are so, so bad defensively that I don't even know if a pass-first Kobe would help them to win games, or even keep them closer than they've been.
There's no telling what type of damage Bryant is doing to his body with such a ridiculously heavy offensive workload at age 36. This season is a throwaway--that's almost guaranteed at this point. Presumably the Lakers will be more competitive next season (they can't be worse, can they?), but it's hard to say what shape Kobe will be in after shooting at such a insane rate this year. I'm much more concerned about how he'll look one year from now than anything else because of how he's playing this year.