Kobe Bryant's Improved Efficiency More Than a Product of D'Antoni's System
Jeremy Lin was a product of Mike D'Antoni's system. Kobe Bryant is not.
The Black Mamba is off to the best of a season for his career. He's on pace to shoot a career best 51 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from three-point range and 87.4 percent from the charity stripe. He's also scoring 26.9 points per bout, more than a point above his career average of 25.4.
Now, less than 20 games into the season, such stat lines could be a fluke. However, if we've learned anything over the past 16 years, it's that the first rule of talking about Kobe, is that nothing's ever a fluke.
The second rule of talking about Bryant? Nothing's ever a fluke. Everything's deliberate.
Naturally, you get my point.
Therefore, when trying to surmise what it is that's currently fueling Bryant's cause, attributing it to anything, or anyone, other than Bryant himself is absurd. And, dare I say, against the rules.
Well, according Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, when asked about why he's playing so well, Kobe himself broke cardinal rules one and two:
"I think the system has a lot to do with it," Bryant said Monday. "The floor is spaced out a little bit more. I can penetrate to the basket and get to the free throw line a lot more."
Yeah, right. The system. That's why Bryant is playing so well.
Except that it isn't.
Let's journey back to the not-so-distant past, a time that the Lakers and their fans would like to forget ever existed: the first five games of the season.
It was during that time that D'Antoni was nowhere to be found. It was during that time that Mike Brown's Princeton offense was effectively running the Lakers into the ground. And it was during that time that Bryant was still playing out of his mind.
Through the first five contests of the season, Kobe posted 27.2 points per game while shooting 56.1 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from downtown—better marks than he's actually hitting now.
Yes, I get it, that's a small sample size to go off, but so is the mere eight games Bryant has played under D'Antoni thus far. Together, though, they make for one sizable model that leads us to draw one groundbreaking conclusion—Bryant has somehow managed to take his already impressive game to new heights.
Is this to say that D'Antoni's offensive blueprint isn't right for Bryant or that it has nothing to do with his success? Absolutely not. Though many were concerned about how the Mamba would perform in a run-and-gun setting, he has actually continued to thrive.
But the operative word there is "continued."
D'Antoni's ideals have not allowed Bryant to dominate, they have been a mere vessel that has helped further deliver his re-tooled skill set; they have been an extension—not the cause—of his success.
Remember, D'Antoni's system usually dictates that his shooting guard camp out on the perimeter and hoist up deep balls like Steve Novak after a six-pack of Red Bull.
Take Raja Bell, D'Antoni's starting shooting guard for three years while he coached the Phoenix Suns. In the final two years of Bell and D'Antoni's union, 83.6 percent of Bell's field-goal attempts came outside of 16 feet.
Thus far, just 48.3 percent of Kobe's attempts are coming outside of 16 feet, almost half of what the trend in Phoenix suggests.
Again, this isn't to say that Bryant is deviating from D'Antoni's blueprint; This just proves Bryant's success is more about him picking his spots and evolving as a player than anything else.
This is a guy who is shooting just 17.6 shots per game, the fewest number of attempts he's taken since the new millennium's inception, yet he's still scoring at a rate higher than his career average. This is a guy who is playing without the luxury of a crafty point guard, something D'Antoni's offense requires.
Who is responsible for Kobe Bryant's success thus far this season?
And this is a guy who is 34, playing the absolute best basketball of his career. That means it goes beyond systematic fortitude, into the realm of player evolution and touches down in the province of ageless phenomenons.
Bryant was playing at an astounding pace before D'Antoni came to the Land of Make Believe. He's carved up the stat lines after his arrival and he'll continue his career-breaking pace long after the dust settles and Nash returns.
That's not on D'Antoni, nor is it on Brown or Nash—that's Kobe, embracing the new, improved and more self-aware Kobe.
"Kobe is tuned in," D'Antoni said when asked about Bryant's recent success.
And that, in itself, provides a much better explanation of why Kobe is setting the hardwood on fire more than D'Antoni's system ever could.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 27th, 2012.
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