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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Kobe's FGAs

Kobe Bryant is regularly attempting 30-plus field goals a game now, drawing the wrath of the studio analysts on TNT and ESPN. TNT ran a graphic indicating that Kobe has had more 30-plus FGA games this season than studio analysts Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith had in their careers. A moment of comedy ensued when Barkley asserted that anyone who attempts 30 shots in a game is hurting his team and that he never took 30 shots in a game during his career; of course, host Ernie Johnson then immediately pointed out that Barkley did have a few 30-plus FGA games in his career. A larger point (no pun intended) about Barkley's shooting was not mentioned: the Chuckster launched 2020 three pointers during his career, connecting at a .266 rate. Some of those were surely end of the quarter half court heaves, particularly early in his career when the three pointer was not a regular part of most teams' offenses; still, I'd be interested to know how exactly Barkley was helping his team with his bombs away approach from the perimeter.

The issue is not how many shots Kobe attempts but rather the quality of those shots. He is at his best when he posts up, drives to the hoop or attempts a mid-range jump shot after the Lakers run the triangle offense. The problem is that most of the Lakers do not yet completely understand how to run the triangle offense, upsetting the precise rhythm that is essential for that system to work. Sometimes this results in Kobe receiving the ball late in the shot clock with few good options. Other times the opponent's defense ignores Kobe's confused teammates and simply converges on Kobe; Kobe sometimes forces shots in that situation rather than passing the ball. I used to play some pickup basketball with Dale DeGroat (a member of the musical group Zapp) and he had a perfect way of describing what Kobe is thinking in those situations: "I can do bad by myself." In other words, Kobe has seen his teammates miss shots, fumble the ball out of bounds and not know where they are supposed to be on the floor. Even when multiple defenders converge on him, Kobe figures that he has at least as good a chance of scoring as his teammates do.

The worst thing that Kobe is doing now is shooting pull-up three pointers in transition early in the shot clock; these are low percentage shots that the Lakers have little opportunity to rebound if they miss. This is another instance of "I can do bad by myself" thinking. Kobe figures that the offense is going to break down anyway, possibly leaving him facing a double-team as the shot clock winds down, so he would rather take a deep shot against one defender early in the shot clock. If he would drive to the hoop in those situations or have enough confidence in his teammates to run the offense, his field goal percentage would rise.

The assertion that Kobe is selfish ignores the fact that Kobe served as the primary facilitator in the triangle offense on three championship teams. Someone once did a study that showed that more of Shaq's assisted field goals came on passes from Kobe than from any other Laker. Remember the lob from Kobe to Shaq that punctuated the Lakers' dramatic seventh game win against the Portland Trailblazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals? The problem with the Lakers is not Kobe's FGAs but the steep learning curve that the rest of the team is experiencing with the triangle offense--and a lack of consistency on defense. Last night Kobe shot 9-16 from the field and had nine rebounds and eight assists, but the Lakers squandered an 18 point lead, surrendering 39 points in the fourth quarter to lose 113-108 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kobe's inflated FGA totals are a result of the Lakers's struggles, not the cause of them.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:55 PM


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At Friday, December 09, 2005 2:10:00 AM, Anonymous gdavis8848 ("Greg") said...

I agree that Kobe sometimes has to create shots because the other Lakers are not very good and/or have not adjusted to the triangle. But Kobe's "problem" (even during LA's champioship years) is that he takes a few unforced, ridiculous shots during the game. LA was so talented this was not a real problem until the last Kobe-Shaq year (see the playoffs) but I believe it demonstrates poor leadership. In order to get guys to play with maximum effort, he should be creating shots for others instead of jacking them up just when he feels like it, as you pointed out.

Once real difference between him and Jordan is that I don't ever remember Jordan taking a bad shot just to get one up. Jordan may have taken a few too many shots during his 37 point year but at least they were good shots (48 FG%, 56 TSP%).

I feel the same way about Iverson and man no one is close to those two this year and that's not even taking into consideration FTAs which I think would make the shot taking comparison even worse. At least Iverson is shooting a decent percentage (46 to 43 FG%).

Now, I think Kobe's just gotten worse in his quest to show everyone he is the Greatest. He isn't, not by a looong stretch.

At Friday, December 09, 2005 2:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan did not immediately buy into the triangle offense and often shot the ball instead of passing. Even during the Bulls' first championship season there is a memorable sequence (shown on one of the highlight videos) when Phil Jackson called a timeout in the Finals and kept asking Jordan who was open until Jordan admitted that it was John Paxson; Jordan then passed to Paxson, who hit several jumpers when the Lakers left him open to double team Jordan. There is an amazing (in retrospect) quote in Sam Smith's book The Jordan Rules in which Bill Cartwright offers the following lament about MJ: "He's the greatest athlete I've ever seen. Maybe the greatest athlete ever to play the sport. He can do whatever he wants. It all comes so easy to him. He's just not a basketball player." When triangle offense guru Tex Winter told Jordan that there is no "I" in team Jordan retorted that there is an "I" in win. For many years critics sniped that Jordan took too many shots and could never lead a team to a championship. We tend to forget some of those things in the wake of Jordan leading the Bulls to six titles. If Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen had not arrived on the scene Jordan's legacy as a winner may have turned out a lot differently. Kobe's career arc is like MJ's in reverse--he won championships early when he played on a strong team and now his team does not have a championship level roster around him. I agree that Kobe is not the "Greatest" but I think that he is the closest player to MJ among those currently in the league. There are two differences between his forced shots and MJ's: one, Kobe shoots more threes than MJ did and he certainly shoots a lot more forced threes; two, as you mentioned, MJ shot a much better field goal percentage than Kobe does. It is easy to see the relationship between the two factors. I don't think that Kobe is forcing shots to prove something or because he is selfish; I think that each time he takes one of those shots he believes at that moment that it represents the best chance for his team to win--just as MJ did when he shot the ball so much. If Kobe only cared about scoring then he wouldn't play as hard on defense as he does or rack up as many assists--and he wouldn't have won three titles playing alongside Shaq.


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