His team's 13-14 record might not look so stellar, but it's hard to fault Kobe's offense. His defense has been lacking, and the chemistry hasn't been there during the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule, but that's beside the point.
Kobe is averaging 29.7 points per game while shooting 47.1 percent from the field. He's also hitting 37.4 percent of his 5.7 three-pointers per contest, a percentage that trails only the numbers that he posted during the 2002-03 season and his rookie campaign in 1996-97. In those two seasons combined, Bryant averaged 5.9 attempts per game from downtown.
To top it all off, he's knocking down 86.1 percent of his 8.5 attempts per game from the charity stripe. Once more, this is one of the better marks of his career.
As I said above, it's hard to knock Kobe for his shooting output this season. However, it is possible to question his shot selection and wonder if his performance could get even better. It's a critique that the Black Mamba has heard throughout his career, and it's one that is never going to go away.
Turning Two-Pointers into Three-Pointers
Perhaps the biggest reason for Kobe's massive uptick in efficiency has been that, on average, he's shooting the ball further from the basket.
While that may seem counterintuitive at first, it makes sense when you consider the risk/reward of a long two-pointer versus a shot worth one point more from a few feet back. The deep two-pointer from 16 to 23 feet is the most inefficient shot in basketball when you weigh the difficulty of the attempt versus the benefit of a positive result.
Up until this season—and since Hoopdata began tracking shot locations during the 2006-07 season—Kobe has taken at least 5.9 attempts per game from this inefficient spot on the floor:
During the 2011-12 season in particular, Kobe took an inordinate number of attempts. In fact, he took far more attempts from the area of the court in question than he did from any other range, despite his middling efficiency.
This season, Kobe has recognized that flaw in his offensive approach and remedied it. He's now taking more shots per game at the rim (4.9) and from three-point land (5.7) than he is from 16 to 23 feet. As a result, his efficiency from the range has shot up to 43.1 percent, easily the best mark of the tracked portion of his career.
With these extra three-pointers in particular, he's been deadlier than ever before.
Despite his increasing age and supposedly waning athleticism, Kobe is driving to the rim more than he has in years. Both when the ball is in his hands and when he's cutting to the rack while hoping for a pass from one of his teammates, the shooting guard is making a concerted effort to attempt shots from near the basket.
Thanks to plays like the one above, Bryant is shooting 70.5 percent at the rim, better than any season he's had since Hoopdata started keeping track of his shot locations in 2006.
As a result, he's been able to draw more fouls. Drawing 8.5 attempts per game, Kobe is getting to the charity stripe more like the middle 2000s version of the Mamba than the late 2000s or early 2010s version. And once he gets there, he's converting at an 86.1 percent clip.
This aggression has been vital to the success that he's having, and it's something that must continue even when Steve Nash is in the lineup.
Playing to Strengths
As you can tell by the subheading above, the answer to the original question—Is Kobe Bryant taking the right kind of shots?—is a definitive yes.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Kobe's offense has been his tendency to stick to his hot spots on the court.
Provided by NBA.com's statistical databases, here's a full breakdown of the Mamba's shooting percentages from the field during the 2012-13 season. An area in green means that he's shooting significantly better than the league average from that range, yellow means that there isn't a significant difference between Kobe's performance and the NBA's as a whole and red indicates that he's struggling more than a typical player from that area.
The Lakers superstar isn't playing tricks on us that are possible due to small sample sizes. His hot areas—the ones in green—are also locations from which he's taken plenty of attempts.
Moreover, Kobe seems to stick to the areas that give him the most success. For evidence here, you need look no further than his three-point shooting above the break.
Kobe takes the most attempts from the area where he shoots the highest percentage: 40.0 percent on 60 attempts from the right side. The second-most attempts come from the left side, and the third-most attempts come from the top of the key. His percentages follow suit.
Could this be a coincidence? Certainly, but let's not put it past one of the most intelligent players in basketball history to recognize his hot spots and act accordingly.
Quite a few players and certain aspects of these players' games are at fault for the Lakers' underwhelming start to the 2012-13 season, but Kobe's shot selection is not one of them.
Note: All stats used in this article, unless otherwise indicated, are current through Sunday, Dec. 23.