Despite career-highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage—not to mention leading the league in points per game with 27.3—Bryant has yet to translate his points into wins on too many occasions.
At this point in the year, the 2-guard is attempting approximately five less shots per contest than in the 2011-12 season. His ability to score on fewer shots is a miraculous turnaround from years past, but you have to wonder just how many points he'd be averaging if his shots were close to what he's posted over the past decade.
There’s nothing wrong with efficiency, as it has been a point of criticism against Bryant his entire career, but with the Lakers struggling to keep up against the league’s mediocre competition, the 14-time All-Star must show that even he can improve at this point in the process.
*Statistics used are accurate as of November 22, 2012 at 12:00 AM.
New System Calls for More Shots
With Mike D’Antoni officially on board for the Lakers, the team must be ready to push the pace and put up the shots necessary to start outscoring its opponents.
The Lakers have played a slow, methodical style of basketball for years, but Bryant must be ready for the challenge of scoring in transition.
The 34-year-old veteran is averaging the fewest shots per game since his third season in the league, and as a result, his efficiency has skyrocketed. That being said, Bryant is no stranger to shooting, and adding a few more shots per game shouldn’t be a problem at this point in his career.
If the team picks up the pace under D’Antoni, and they begin adding shot attempts to the team total, which players can we really expect to step up? Balance is fine, and it’s what many believed would keep this team happy, but another way to find bliss is through winning basketball games—something the team isn't doing early in the year.
Bryant claimed that the Lakers were his team before the year began (according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin), and while there’s no question he’s leading them at this point, he must prove he can continue his hot streak when the shots increase throughout the season.
More Shots Can Still Be Good Shots
By removing efficiency from Bryant’s mindset, it’s easy to presume that the good shots he has been taking will instantly convert into poor shot selection; but don’t be so quick to assume.
Following a fantastic start to the year, Bryant has shown that he has the energy and desire despite his aging body. He's gotten shots at the rim, he's played well in the pick-and-roll and he's been able to take advantage in one-on-one situations, especially in the post.
High-volume scorers get a bad rap for taking too many shots, and Bryant has been a part of this group in the past. But it shouldn’t be the number of shots that the critics attack; it should be the quality of those shots.
Throughout the years, Bryant hasn’t always been known for great shot selection. He’s proven time and time again that he is willing to put up bad shots, and as a result, his shooting percentages have been low.
However, Bryant has the chance to prove his critics wrong this time around. If he can show the world that he can put up 20-plus shots per game with a majority of them being quality looks, the term "high-volume scorer" could become a compliment in Bryant's case.
Dwight Howard is the Savior in the Middle
If Bryant is able to round up more shots per game in D’Antoni’s system, there is a chance his efficiency will drop. However, with one of the best rebounders in the entire NBA in the paint, the Lakers can play carefree basketball even when Bryant’s shots aren’t falling.
Howard may be coming off back surgery, but he is still one of the best players in the league when it comes to collecting easy points. He is a Top Five rebounder, he can score with his athleticism and when his teammates’ shots are struggling, he can be counted upon to pick up the slack—we saw this season after season with the Orlando Magic.
Of course, you want your star player to be as efficient as possible, and if Bryant can hoist his shots while still shooting better than 50 percent, the city of Los Angeles gets the best of both worlds.
If he can’t, however, and those shots begin rimming out, especially as a long season drags on, Howard will still be there to clean up the mess.
The Lakers can’t afford to have Bryant hold back. They have the weapons around him to make up for any deficiencies, and the team will only go as far as he takes them as long as he remains the star in Los Angeles.