Breaking Down How Kobe Bryant Can Reverse His Statistical Decline

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2012

Kobe Bryant would never admit it and the Lakers would prefer to ignore it, but there's no denying reality—the Black Mamba's stat lines aren't what they used to be.

But they don't have to stay that way.

Though Bryant continues to put points up on the board and even drop a respectable number of dimes per game, the end-statistic is not everything. Sometimes, how you get there matters more.

This brings us to Kobe's efficiency, one of the more underwhelming aspects of his prolific game. 

Yes, Bryant averaged 27.9 points per game last season, but that came on 43 percent shooting. And for those who are keeping score at home, such a conversion rate ranked 81st in the NBA. That's far from comforting, especially when you consider Bryant led the league in field-goal attempts, jacking up 23 shots per game.

Now, I get that more shots mean more opportunities to miss, but 43 percent? That's low, even for Bryant, the worst percentage since his sophomore campaign, in fact.

And how about his 30.3 shooting percent from behind the arc? That's the third-worst posting of his career, and the lowest he's averaged in 10 years.

And the decline doesn't stop there. His turnover numbers have increased, and he's lost a step or two on the defensive end.

But again, this can all change.

For Bryant, it all starts on offense. Though his ability to read defenses remains unimpeded, he has made a habit of taking difficult shots that have hurt his scoring efficiency.

Why? Because his primary job has been carrying the Lakers on offense, a role he has embraced, yet an exhausting one nonetheless.

So, for Kobe to really improve his all-around statistical impact, to really prevent the inevitable decline that seems to come with age, he must put himself in better situations on offense.

We all know that he is at home in isolation. After all, 12.5 percent of the Lakers offense came from isolation sets last season. But the team, including Bryant, shot just a 38.7 clip during those sets.

As effective as iso-ball can sometimes be, Bryant has to rely on plenty of self-maneuvering to score. He has to decide whether it's best to attack the rim, attempt a pull-up off the dribble or shoot the ball before using his dribble.

No matter what shots Kobe elects to settle for, most of them require a lot of dribbling, exerting a lot of energy. And while he has adjusted his game as he has aged to include more jumpers and less rim-attacks (more than 50 percent of his shots came from outside of 16 feet last season), it's still exhausting to operate within the self-preserving confines of isolation.

Which is where a majority of the problem lies. Since Bryant is now primarily a jump-shooter, spot-up opportunities are his greatest weapon.

You know what I'm referring to, the genre of field-goal attempts that don't require Kobe to expend unnecessary energy dribbling east-to-west or north-to-south, the shots that are more likely to be uncontested. 

Yeah, those shots.

Enter Steve Nash.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Nash stands to make Bryant a more efficient player. Nash's ability to attack the rim and compress defenses ensures that there will be plenty of spot-up opportunities on the perimeter, where Kobe now lives.

Last season, in fact, spot-up opportunities accounted for over 20 percent of the Suns' offense, compared to just 16 for the Lakers' offense. And that's with Nash playing alongside essentially no-names in Phoenix. Just imagine the wonders he will work kicking it out to a threat like Bryant.

Then there's also the Princeton offense to consider.

Nash will have the freedom to attack the basket and draw defenses in as he sees fit, but he will also be expected to run structured Princeton sets when the situation calls for them. And that entails dumping the ball off to either Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard in the high- or low-post.

Poor Kobe, right?


The Princeton offense relies heavily on a team's big man to read defenses, draw in double-teams and know when to kick the ball back out to the perimeter to where Bryant will be waiting. 

So, while this will force Kobe to move without the ball more, it will also allow him to not only see more uncontested looks, but exert less energy shooting from where he already feels most comfortable, from where he was going to shoot anyway.

That leads to a well-rested Bryant who won't have to worry as much about the lift left in his legs, a Bryant who can improve his field-goal percentages from all areas of the floor.

Does it also mean his assists per game will suffer? Yes, but Bryant doesn't need to lead Los Angeles in assists like he did last season (prior to Ramon Sessions); he doesn't have to be the primary facilitator. Not anymore. That's now Nash's burden to bear.

And with the reins of the offense in someone else's hands, the Mamba won't turn the ball over as frequently.

This is the point Bryant has reached in his career. He has already made the transition from perpetual rim-rocker to habitual jump-shooter, but now it's time for him to showcase his penchant for adaptation once more. 

Kobe must become a thriving spot-up shooter, someone who doesn't need to strictly rely on himself to create offense. He should have become such a player and been afforded such a luxury years ago.

But extenuating circumstances wouldn't allow it. For years, he was asked to do everything and anything on both sides of the ball.

Now, however, life in Tinseltown has changed. Bryant has Nash to run the offense, and he has both Gasol and Howard to shoulder the rebounding responsibilities.

This leaves him to score, not in the inefficient demeanor of the last decade, but in a spot-up-oriented, allowing-the-offense-to-come-to-him-type format.

So yeah, that means he will be expected to do less.

But at 34, after almost two decades of overbearing circumstances, after 16 years of borderline efficiency-killing basketball, less actually means more for Kobe.