clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What Kobe Bryant can learn from the way Michael Jordan ended his career

New, comments

Diving into the stats from Jordan's final two seasons with the Washington Wizards to see what knowledge can be gleaned on how to use Kobe Bryant more effectively as he ages.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant being compared to Michael Jordan is an inevitability, as has been proven time and time again over the past 17 years or so of Bryant's career. The two are so stylistically similar, multiple YouTube videos have been made showcasing their nearly identical dominance.

Bryant is getting set for what will in all likelihood be his last ride, and thus it is time to compare the two greats one more time. After a 2014-15 campaign by Bryant that can charitably be described as "sub-par", what could Kobe potentially learn from the penultimate year of Jordan's career, one in which the 38-year-old shooting guard came back to the game after a three-year hiatus?

While Jordan was older and had a higher career usage rate (the ball was in his hands more than Kobe while he was on the floor over their careers), Kobe had already played 9,680 more minutes by age 36 than Jordan had by age 38, all while taking 2,688 more total shots to that point. The comparison is not perfect, but the overall extra wear and tear on Bryant (especially coming off of two major injuries) is more than enough to make up for Jordan being two years older. The defenses of 2014 were also significantly more intricate than those of 2001-2002 (last years' Lakers aside, but Kobe did not get to play against them).

With all that said, there are still a few things one can learn from the ways Jordan was able to be more effective in his final go-round. For all of the justified criticism Byron Scott took for both Bryant's minutes per game and usage rate, both Bryant and Jordan played just over 34 minutes per game (34.5 and 34.9, respectively) and Jordan (36) actually had a higher usage rate than Bryant (34.9).

The difference was where that usage came from. The types of shots Bryant was taking made things much more difficult on himself than necessary, which falls on both Kobe for his extreme self-confidence, and on Scott for making little to no effort to either reign him in or make adjustments to his system to make things a little easier on Bryant.

Jordan almost exclusively utilized the post and mid-range in his declining years, while Bryant utilized the perimeter much more frequently:

Heat Maps Courtesy of Basketball reference

Kobe took 131 more threes in 25 fewer games in 2014-15 than Jordan did in 2001-02. He did shoot a bit better (29.3% to Jordan's ghastly 18.9% from that distance) but since neither was shooting particularly efficiently from three, Jordan's lack of threes definitely helped his effectiveness more than it hurt it, as evidenced by his nearly 4% higher field goal percentage and almost 9% higher effective field goal percentage.

Now, before Byron Scott gets too excited and cites this as proof threes don't win championships, it actually is a roundabout way of arguing that the Lakers do need three-point shooting on the floor, just not the types Bryant was taking, which if you watched the Lakers last year you would know were far too many were of the off-the-dribble variety after the Lakers' other "options" had been exhausted on offense. While I do not have the data for all of Bryant's attempts, less than half (46.3%) of his made threes were assisted, reinforcing that earlier point of too few of them coming off of ball movement and open looks. Compare that to Jordan, who was the beneficiary of an assist on 7 of his 10 made threes for the entire season.

Number of assists does not always correlate with having a better or worse offense, but that is because the numbers are skewed by really talented players scoring in isolation. Kobe should obviously get his chances to go one-on-one, but to make sure those opportunities are as close to actually being as close to one-on-one as possible, the Lakers need to spread the floor with more shooting around Kobe when he wants to utilize his excellent footwork and post up ability from those "Jordan Areas". This would allow new kid D'Angelo Russell an opportunity to play off ball and get some relatively open threes to adjust to NBA distance, something he was not able to do enough of at Las Vegas Summer League. Nick Young (career 37.6% three point shooter) playing some minutes alongside Kobe could help stretch the floor, as could Jordan Clarkson demonstrating something close to league average three-point shooting, or Lou Williams raining fire from the corners.

If Kobe is going to shoot threes, they need to come more in the rhythm of the offense. Let him spot up behind the arc at times to clear space for Julius Randle, Russell, or Clarkson to get into the paint and make things easier on his body from a wear and tear perspective.

As previously discussed, Jordan was not recovering from injuries like Bryant is and had significantly less minor wear and tear on his body from sheer volume of minutes played. But utilizing a similar plan he was able to get through all 82 games at age 39, two years older than Bryant will be when the 2015-16 season tips. He did so at a reduced usage rate (28.7%), but was slightly more efficient than the prior year in those lessened opportunities. If Bryant can drop his usage rate anywhere close to the 7.3% Jordan was able to and pick his spots a little bit more, there is some hope that maybe he can do the same and leave the game on a relative high note rather than once again walking off the court with the assistance of his teammates, this time for good.