Why Kobe Bryant's Efficiency Will Skyrocket with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a shot over Arron Afflalo #6 of the Denver Nuggets in the first half in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2012 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant might not shoot the ball at a 50 percent clip this season, but nor is he likely to replicate a 2011-12 campaign in which he made just 43 percent of the 23 shot attempts he averaged.

That ranked the L.A. Lakers legend just 14th among shooting guards, and 24th among shooting guards in adjusted field-goal percentage. You might expect the 4.9 three-pointers Kobe averaged to have improved his standing when judging overall points per attempt, but the opposite is true.

Put simply, Kobe would have been more efficient taking fewer three-pointers, even when you account for the fact that he'd also make fewer three-pointers.

Granted, most of the shooting guards who ranked ahead of Kobe in either measure of efficiency were taking all that many shots. You can't read too much into the fact that Paul George was more efficient, because he took just 9.7 shots a game.

The Lakers depended upon Bryant to bail them out and take over the offense for stretches at a time. Whether you chalk that up to coaching or Kobe, the high-volume hero ball has to be accounted for when assessing efficiency.

No one in the league—not even Kevin Durant—took more than 20 shots a game, much less 23.

But it's still instructive that high-volume scorers shooting at least 17 times a game, a number of players performed better than Bryant, with the most staggering margins coming against Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

So what caused this? Bryant has shot the ball at a 45 percent rate over the course of his career, and something was ever so slightly off last season.

Age could certainly be part of the answer. At 33 years old, maybe Kobe's legs felt the burn of a condensed schedule and lost a little bounce on some nights. Even he conceded the effects fatigue had on him after his worst shooting performance of the season against the New Orleans Hornets (via the Los Angeles Times' Mark Medina):

"Fatigue might have something to do with it," Bryant said. "But I had good shots in the rhythm of the offense and so forth. None of them went down. At that point, be patient, focus on the last quarter and focus on getting some good shots."

But there's also something to be said about the way in which Bryant was used and how a changed role this season will benefit Bryant and the Lakers alike.

Kobe took a lot of his shots from the baseline and elbow last season, to say nothing of all those three-point attempts. He often had to get those looks in isolation or in the post, where defenders knew what was coming and how to contest it (even if they couldn't stop it).

As successful as Bryant is even when a team's best defenders are thrown at him, there's no question that even he benefits from an extra, wide-open layup here and there.

And those better looks will come with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash playing pivotal roles in the Lakers' new offense. Even when they aren't scoring the ball directly, they'll be making it easier for Bryant to do so (and Pau Gasol for that matter).

Though Andrew Bynum may have had a slight edge on Howard when it comes to post-skills, there's no question D12 commands more defensive attention when he rolls to the basket and positions himself near the restricted area. With his explosiveness drawing help defenders on a regular basis, Bryant will find himself with that extra split-second of a clean look that he needs.

Howard puts pressure on defensive rotations, and that will create better opportunities for perimeter scorers like Bryant, who don't need much space to operate in the first place.

We saw it happen with Shaquille O'Neal, when Bryant began making nearly 47 percent of his shots in just his third season—a rate he more or less sustained for four seasons, including his first three title seasons.

No, Howard isn't Shaq, but he'll have many of the same consequences when it comes to how teams defend him.

On the perimeter, Nash will be making Kobe's life easier too, allowing him to make the most of off-the-ball cuts and screens that weren't as frequent when L.A. depended so heavily on Bryant's ball-handling and play-making ability.

Now Kobe will benefit from a motion-based offense (the Princeton) and a floor general who keeps both his troops and the ball moving in perfect sync.

Under those circumstances, it would be shocking if Bryant didn't get some better looks.

In turn, he'll also need fewer looks to make his impact. We won't see as many desperation shots or furious fourth-quarter rallies. 

We probably won't see Bryant approach that 50 percent mark, but seeing it back at around 45 or 46 percent wouldn't be a stretch.