With all the confusion the Lakers have experienced this season learning the new elements of the Princeton offense, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed.
Kobe Bryant still scores at a prolific rate. Sometimes he’ll delegate, such as his 15-point performance in the Lakers’ 108-79 victory Sunday over the Detroit Pistons. Sometimes Bryant will dominate, such as his 40-point performance in the Lakers’ 105-95 loss Friday to the Clippers. But one thing remains consistent. Bryant has maintained his shooting efficiency.
Through four NBA games, Bryant ranks fourth overall in the NBA in points per game (26.8) on 59.7 percent shooting. These aren’t exactly earth-shattering numbers. Bryant has averaged 25.4 points per game in his 17-year career. But his shooting percentage bodes a higher significance. Consider Bryant’s team-leading 27.9 points per game last season came on a 43 percent clip – his lowest shooting mark since his second NBA season.
Bryant revealed the reason when he boasted recently to Coach Mike Brown about his 40-point performance against the Clippers
“Kobe said,’That was one of the easiest 40 points I had,'” Brown said. “He got most of it in the system. One of the things we’re trying to do is not have Kobe work as hard as he has in the past.
In other words, the following sequences will become more of a rarity. Bryant handles the ball. Some teammates watch so Bryant does all the work. Other teammates watch wondering when Bryant will pass the ball. That strategy didn’t always work. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Bryant devoted a 27.9 percent plurality of his attempts on isolation shots where he shot only 37.3 percent from the field.
This year, the Lakers elements of the Princeton system and stronger talent around him have enabled Bryant to move off the ball. His 18 of 19 clip from the free-throw line shows Bryant’s attacking the basket with aggressiveness. Bryant’s 52.9 mark from three-point range reflects the decreased double teams and his off-season work (lost 16 pounds and played in 2012 London Olympics).
“It opens up the floor a little bit more,” Bryant said. “I have the ball and I can move a little bit more. The other part of that is I’ve been healthy all summer. I’ve been able to get in shape. I’m strong despite the ankle.”
Oh, right. The ankle. Bryant termed his strained and bruised right foot as an ankle contusion after tripping over Sacramento’s Thomas Robinson Oct. 21 in an exhibition game. Since then, Bryant had missed five practices and two preseason games. After ensuring he’s healthy enough that any on-court contact wouldn’t set the injury back, Bryant’s stayed aggressive.
When the Lakers’ offense stalled against the Clippers, Bryant went into Black Mamba mode and played 43 minutes. When the Lakers offense flourished against Detroit, Bryant looked more intent on setting up the Lakers’ frontline in Dwight Howard (28 points) and Pau Gasol (16 points) in only 32 minutes.
The balance hasn’t always been perfect. Bryant joked he appeared in four minutes, 41 seconds in the fourth quarter so “Mike wouldn’t have an ulcer.” But as the Lakers secured their first win, they made the right step in ensuring Bryant maintained his prolific rate without shouldering the burden. The next step involves replicating that when the Lakers (1-3) go to Utah (1-2) on Wednesday.
“I’m not as sore as I was after the last game,” Bryant said. “My ankle is not as sore. It’s a good thing. We have a tough game in Utah and I have 2 ½ days to try to get to 100%, which it should be.”
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