Pinpointing What Has Made Kobe Bryant so Efficient at Age 34

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Pinpointing What Has Made Kobe Bryant so Efficient at Age 34
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum-wrapped parable.

Get what I'm saying? I didn't think so.

And that's the point.

Bryant has defied everything we know about age, about basketball and about the ability evolve as a player and person. Simply put, the Black Mamba goes against everything we thought we knew.

At 34, most NBA players would be pining for the day they get to ride off into the California sunset, not generating MVP chatter. For the 34-year-old Kobe, however, this has been a time for, well, both.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, though Bryant's competitive drive remains unrelenting, he's never been more cognizant that the end is near:

The possibility of retiring when his contract expires in 2014 still looms large in his mind. He's weary of the toll that his rigorous workout regimens take on him. It isn't the winters that wear him out, but the summers.

"It's a lot, a lot of work," Bryant said. "My competitive spirit comes from like every little inch, your body is slowing down, the younger guys are passing you up. It really keeps me on edge."

Bryant's self-imposed mindset is a riddle in itself.

The devotion to title contention isn't something that wavers with age, but the ability to perform at a championship-caliber pace is.

Sure, we watched as a 34-year-old Michael Jordan navigated the rigors of an entire NBA season to claim his sixth NBA championship, but his performance was an exception, a rarity.

Bryant's performance thus far—the struggles of the Los Angeles Lakers aside—is the exception to the exception. A phenomenon, if you will.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
What has allowed Kobe to perform at a higher level than Jordan did at age 34?

In his last season with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan averaged 28.7 points on 46.5 percent shooting from the floor and 23.8 percent shooting from three-point range, none of which were career highs. Currently, Bryant is averaging 29.5 points on 47.8 percent shooting from the field along with a 38 percent clip from downtown, the latter of which are both career highs.

No, this is not meant to spur another Jordan-vs.-Kobe debate; its intent is to show you that Bryant's level of efficiency is extremely hard to maintain at his age. His Airness couldn't even do it.

Yet Kobe has. Which begs the question: Why?

Why is Bryant's rate of field goal percentage the highest it's ever been? Why is he still leading the league in scoring? Why is he producing offensively at a level superior to that of Jordan (at the same age), despite taking nearly three fewer shots per game? Why is any of this possible?

One word: adaptation.

Kobe's 2012-13 shot chart via NBA.com.

Bryant is no longer the perpetual rim-rocker he once was. Instead, he has become a habitual jump-shooter, someone who can thrive off the ball and thus expend less energy in his quest to score.

No, Kobe has never shied away from heaving up contested jumpers; he hasn't taken fewer than four three-pointers per game in a decade.

That said, the Mamba has converted on more than two of his three-point attempts per game just once before this season. But it's been a different story this year.

Kobe now understands the value of being a spot-up shooter, someone who capitalizes off the spacing that big men like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum or Shaquille O'Neal create. He is no longer the same ball-dominator who needs the rock in his hands. Rather, he has developed into someone who "doesn't want to handle the ball so much." 

That's huge. 

Bryant has become more of a shooter than a penetrator.

Journey back to the 2008-09 campaign and you come to find that just 42.8 percent of Bryant's made field goal attempts came from outside of nine feet. Fast forward four years later to the early goings of the 2012-13 season, and you see that 53.1 percent of the shots he converts come outside of nine feet.

Has Kobe Bryant's willingness to become more of a spot-up shooter helped him improve his efficiency?

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Relegating himself to the perimeter as a shooter has created higher quality shots. With rim attacks come able-bodied defenders who are ready to contest your every move. Just ask Dwyane Wade.

As an outside scorer, though, your effectiveness isn't predicated on drawing contact (and fouls), but hitting open, higher-percentage shots.

That's what Bryant is doing right now. He's someone who is at home playing off the ball and can exploit opposing defenses with his ability to score from most anywhere on the floor.

He's someone who has adapted his game to fit the needs of his aging body.

And someone who has subsequently become a better, more efficient player for it.

 

All stats in this article are accurate as of December 18, 2012.

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