Few have ever played the game of basketball as well as Kobe Bryant, and even fewer have been as stubborn and driven in their pursuit of greatness.
It’s that same stubbornness that has kept Bryant coming back for more — at his own expense — as the legend continues to be the least efficient shooting guard in the NBA.
On Synergy,Kobe is actually almost exactly average in Offensive rating. BUT, when u look at aFG%? 81st of 86 players w at least 40 poss used
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) November 2, 2015
That said, in spite of popular belief, Bryant has indeed finally begun to listen to his body and adapt his game to be more in line with what he can actually do.
It’s just not working.
Through four games, the 20-year-veteran has taken 62 shots in 28 minutes per game; with only 11 of those attempts coming from inside 10 feet.
In the Los Angeles Lakers game against the Dallas Mavericks Sunday, Bryant attempted a paltry one shot after dribbling the ball five-plus times. Of his 15 shot attempts, 13 of them came after he possessed the ball three seconds or less.
That’s not the Kobe Bryant that we’ve come to know; but it is a measured and wise approach. However, even with this concerted effort to adapt to his body’s new realities, Bryant is struggling to play this new role at even an average level — because it’s not his game.
Most analysts have concluded his game will gradually look more and more like the Bryant of old in regards to style of play. They’ve suggested that Bryant’s legs are a bit tired and that he’s simply trying to work his way back into game shape via a less taxing shot selection after so many false starts and missed time over the past few seasons due to injury.
They’d be wrong.
Bryant understands that if he plays the game the way he did five years ago he’s not going to make it through a season. His body has told him as much. Thus, he’s played off the ball more and chosen to become primarily a catch and shoot player early this season in order to appease the development of this roster as well as save his body.
Both of these facts display malleability in approach to the game, as well as a definitive concession to Father Time, and one could easily argue Bryant should be applauded for this despite the travesty that is his efficiency.
That said, a sapient man shouldn’t expect for his approach to change much as the season presses on. Should he operate closer to the basket for efficiency’s sake? Theoretically, sure; and at times he will.
However, No. 24 has been taking the shots that are given to him via good passes in a lot of cases, while not charging his way into contested attempts that will likely end in forcible contact. As ugly as the shots have been looking, this is actually a sagacious approach.
Bryant has spoken about being able to put in “enough time and work” in game-play in order to find that elusive “rhythm.” However, the reality is, (if his body holds up long enough for it to be possible) the best the 37-year-old guard can likely expect is eclipsing the 38 percent mark from the field with where his body and game is at.
Since turning age 35 Bryant has a 14 PER, has shot 37 percent from the field, 23 percent from three, averaged 17.8 points, has a +/- on floor of -10.7 and has only played in 45 games. Minutes played and age have beyond caught up with the superstar, and even the most avid fan would be well-advised to adjust their expectations accordingly.
Unlike James Harden — who actually was shooting worse than Bryant coming into Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder — Bryant may get hot for a few games, but he’s never going to “break out of his funk” like Harden did; because what Bryant is dealing with goes well beyond any funk. When posed with the question of what is wrong? Bryant bluntly told the media Sunday “I suck,” and “I’m the 200th best player in the NBA.” He also conceded that he has been the recipient of a lot of good passes and that he’s taking the shots the defense is giving him.
Eventually the shots stop falling and the athleticism wanes. None of these observations of fact and analysis are meant to tear down one of the greatest players we’ve ever seen, rather, they are intended to bring a little realism to both the haters, and the hopeful.
Eventually, the game always wins.