Kobe Bryant's season has started so poorly he took a day away from practice to decompress, so frustrated Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott asked him to step back and clear his head. An 0-3 record isn't great, but it's his 16-of-51 start from the field that has been a glaring issue for the Lakers. There have been open attempts that have rimmed out, yes, but the poor shot selection has been the bigger problem. Still, Scott swooped in and said he's fine with the kind of attempts Kobe is taking:
Byron Scott said he’s fine with Kobe Bryant’s shot selection right now.— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 2, 2015
What does that mean he's supporting?
Let's first take a look at Kobe Bryant's shot distribution and performance chart, which should help gives us an idea of where the majority of his shots are coming. What we see is 43.1 percent of his offense is from above the break three-point attempts, but he's shooting just 22.7 percent in that zone:
Kobe's put up 29 three-pointers total, behind only James Harden, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard on the season. He's shooting a meager 20.7 percent from deep as a whole. That's problematic by the numbers, but let's get back to the actual shot selection aspect of this.
Since Kobe's taken so many shots from this area there's a large pool of film to pull from. The conclusion is very clear after going through the attempts. His three-point shots are against defenders who are in his face:
The offense devolves into Kobe stepping out and taking a contested three far too often, an indicator of a larger problem for the team. Kobe Bryant is many things, but a deadeye three-point shooter is not one of those things. Off-balance threes over outstretched defenders aren't quality shots in any universe, especially not his in his 20th season. The Lakers should embrace three-point shooting, yes, but it's not about chucking for the sake of chucking.
These days the NBA has technology to track defensive pressure on shooters. Kobe has taken a total of 15 field-goal attempts while a defender is within 2-4 ft. of him, the second-most behind Harden (12.5 percent), and is only shooting 26.7 percent from deep when covered by what the NBA.com player tracking stats defines as "tight" defense.
While there's a group hitting tightly defended shots at a reasonable rate, the majority of them are elite shooters. Even still, that zone of players doesn't come close to the total attempts both Kobe and Harden have put up despite how miserable their success rate has been. Here's a chart of the NBA's top-10 in total "tight defense" three-point attempts taken:
So if we connect the dots on what we're seeing from Kobe Bryant's shot selection, we're left with this list of truths:
- Kobe Bryant is averaging 9.7 threes per game, with 7.3 of them coming from above the break
- Those above the break threes are often contested
- When covered by "tight" defense, his field goal percentage suffers
That's where the largest portion of Kobe's shot attempts are coming, and he represents the largest slice of the Lakers' offense. Put those together and it's clearly one of the reasons the offense has looked horrible to start the season. It's not just the three-point shooting though. Let's go back to Bryant's shot distribution chart one more time, with a shot plot display to help pinpoint locations. To no surprise, his second-highest concentrated distribution area is at the elbows:
And what has that looked like within the offense? D'Angelo Russell running up court to pass the ball around the perimeter a few times before someone dumps it off to Kobe for shots like this:
Now consider this: Kobe Bryant is averaging a team-high 17 field goal attempts in 27.3 minutes per game. Scale that up and he's putting up 22.4 field goal attempts per 36 minutes, behind only his career-high 23.9 FGA per 36 during the '05-06 season. Yes it's a small sample size, but it's a fair representation of what we've seen over three ugly losses.
A starting five with a franchise point guard to develop is constantly falling back to dumping the ball to the Black Mamba, hoping his muscle memory can valiantly defy the odds once more. This is not an issue of effort or being soft, but poor execution and direction on the court. It's not about advanced stats, fancy percentages or Sloan Sports Analytics Conference topics. It's a damning indictment on the Lakers complete failure to execute a viable offensive plan.