Kobe Bryant Reverting Back to Old Habits Under D'Antoni

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Kobe Bryant Reverting Back to Old Habits Under D'Antoni
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant with jumper over Martell Webster

After starting out the season playing some of the best ball of his career by virtue of his outstanding efficiency, a quick look at Kobe Bryant’s splits would indicate that he is reverting back to his old self so to speak.

The sample size for October is incredibly small and looking at the two games the Lakers played to open the season might not necessarily be a fruitful exercise, thus we’ll ignore his October stats for the time being but include them later when looking at his total figures.

Around mid-November, the former league MVP was hovering around 50 percent field goal shooting, but as of this moment today Bryant has converted 47.7 percent of all his shot attempts, which is an impressive figure.

Mind you, when one digs deeper, it becomes quite evident that the shooting numbers seem destined to plummet if the Lakers keep playing in the manner they’ve operated under Mike D’Antoni sans Steve Nash.

In 14 games in the month of November, the 17-year veteran averaged 27.1 points per game in 37.1 minutes per game on 47.7 percent field goal shooting.

However, as the team entered into a funk and lost Gasol for a few games in the month of December, it invariably increased the Mamba’s workload and led the Lakers’ coaching staff to rely on their superstar to play 40.6 minutes per game in 10 December games.

He’s produced an impressive 33.8 points per game during that very same stretch, albeit on 45.8 percent field goal shooting.

The numbers themselves would suggest that Bryant is wearing down and thus is having a little bit more trouble converting his shot attempts, but that’s not entirely accurate.

Indeed, the recent stretch of games have highlighted the fact that Bryant has slowly drifted away from his early season mentality of attacking the paint in favor of settling for contested jumpers.

In recent seasons, the biggest knock on the four-time All-Star Game MVP was that he was far too willing to subject himself into taking some incredibly difficult low percentage shots, which often bailed out the defense.

Although Kobe had reinvented himself in some respects early in the season under Mike Brown as the team ran the Princeton offense, those days are progressively looking like they happened a few seasons ago.

Harry How/Getty Images
Caron Butler defends a Kobe fade away

The Black Mamba is now reverting back to his old ways that produced a lot of clunkers, and part of the change can be attributed to the arrival of the new head coach to Los Angeles.

After compiling all of the information from Hoopdata on Bryant’s shot attempts this season, a trend became quite apparent: He’s shot the ball far more as a whole and far less efficiently since D’Antoni showed up on the Lakers sidelines.

Prior to the former Knicks head coach’s arrival, Kobe was averaging 17.8 field goal attempts per game. Have a look at the graphic below detailing the location of his shot attempts prior to November 20 (date of D’Antoni’s debut with the Lakers on the sidelines):

FGM* at rim

FGA** at rim

FGM 16-23 feet

FGA 16-23 feet

3PT FGM

3PT FGA

4.1

5.9

1.7

3.6

1.7

4.2

*FGM – Field Goals Made

**FGA – Field Goals Attempted

Under Brown (and Bickerstaff for that matter as well), the 14-time All-Star did a good job of mixing up his game and maximizing his opportunities at the rim.

This came as a result of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard occasionally camping out at the elbows with Kobe taking hand offs all the way to the basket or simply cutting off the ball and receiving a pinpoint pass that led him directly to the hoop.

This meant that Bryant had far less playmaking responsibilities in comparison to last season where the entire offense seemingly lived and died with Bryant’s exploits, thus his usage rate (percentage of a team’s possessions) from opening night to November 19 (last day prior to his new coach taking over) stood at 28.2 according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.

Once the new coaching staff was firmly put into place mind you, his game changed a little as he was called upon to be the team’s point guard by default as well as the franchise’s main scoring option.

Have a look at his shot distribution from November 20 to today:

FGM* at rim

FGA** at rim

FGM 16-23 feet

FGA 16-23 feet

3PT FGM

3PT FGA

3.2

4.4

2.3

5.4

2.4

6.6

*FGM – Field Goals Made

**FGA – Field Goal Attempted

With the Lakers all-time leading scorer now relegated to the role of de facto point guard once again much like last season, Bryant actually increased his field goal attempts to the tune of 22.6 shots per game.

The graphic above illustrates that although he’s increased his number of attempts, he’s sacrificed his looks at the rim for more long two-point shots as well as more three-pointers.

In addition, his usage rate for that same time span has increased to 31.7; and stands at 32.6 for the month of December.

Perhaps the return of Pau Gasol will help alleviate some of the playmaking and scoring burden for Bryant, but it’s entirely possible that given the new system in place that it won’t change his current style of play.

It would have been extremely intriguing to watch Bryant continue to operate with a high level of efficiency but it seems as though this may now be a thing of the past for the Lakers.

It’s worth noting that Steve Nash’s eventual return to the team may in fact help Kobe on this front, but we have yet to get any indication on the level of effectiveness under which Nash will be able to operate, which throws a huge question mark on how his presence will be beneficial to the Black Mamba.

The Kobe of old was replaced with…

Well the Kobe of old.

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