Kobe Bryant Is Shooting Himself Out of the NBA
Kobe Bryant is one of the best players ever to grace the game of basketball. Let's not forget that.
He's now in his 20th season and has an NBA résumé that's more impressive than pretty much anyone who has ever played ball at a professional level outside of an elite handful of players. He's played 55,751 combined regular season and playoff minutes, scored 38,289 combined regular season and playoff points, been selected to 17 All-Star, 15 All-NBA, and 12 All-Defensive teams, won an MVP award and two Finals MVPs, and owns five championship rings.
Now that the requisite gushing over the Black Mamba's storied career is out of the way, it's time to get real.
Kobe Bryant needs to stop playing NBA basketball. At the very least, he needs to stop playing it the way that he has so far this season.
Through 11 games this year, Kobe is averaging 15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.1 steals, and 2.3 turnovers in 30.5 minutes per contest. The average minutes played ranks him second on the Los Angeles Lakers behind Jordan Clarkson at 30.8, while the scoring average leads the entire team.
Those are admittedly incredible feats for a 37-year-old coming off two straight years of major, season-ending, and career-threatening injuries, but boy is he getting there in the ugliest way imaginable.
He's shooting a career-low 31.1% from the field and an equally putrid 19.5% from long range. To make matters worse, that's coming on 16.4 and 7.0 attempts per game, respectively -- both marks that lead the team by a significant margin. In fact, his astronomical three-point attempt rate of .428 is more than double his career mark of .204, while the 19.5% success rate from long range is way down from his career mark of 33.1%. When your most frequent shot chucker is last on your team in Effective Field Goal Percentage (weighted twos and threes) at 35.3%, that's not exactly what you'd call a recipe for success.
Seriously, Kobe's shot chart is the "Red Wedding" of NBA visuals right now:
As a result of the deplorably low level of efficiency, Kobe's advanced stats are simply hard to look at. He's putting up career lows in Player Efficiency Rating (10.2), Win Shares per 48 Minutes (-0.077), and Box Plus/Minus (-4.6). In terms of our nERD metric -- which is an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would finish a full 82-game season with the player in question as one of its starters -- Kobe is currently posting the sixth-worst mark in the entire NBA at -10.8.
In terms of True Shooting Percentage (which weights twos, threes, and free throws), Bryant is placing himself in an unflattering position:
Kobe Bryant's True Shooting % is .415, which is 775th among the 775 individual seasons in which an NBA player averaged at least 16 FGAs.
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) November 25, 2015
Again, True Shooting Percentage accounts for free throw percentage. Considering Kobe is shooting 83.3% from the line, that little stat nugget is even more cringe-inducing.
By all of the aforementioned numbers, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: Kobe Bryant is costing the Lakers games.
And that's a big part of the reason why they sit at 2-12 and with a team nERD (meant to estimate a team's ultimate winning percentage over an 82-game season based on play to date) of 25.1, a mark that places them 28th in our NBA Team Power Rankings. I mean, we knew they wouldn't be good, but it's becoming harder and harder to deny that Kobe is the reason they're even worse than expected.
That is a shame -- because the Lakers have some promising young talent getting swept aside a bit for Kobe's victory lap (assuming this is indeed his last season). D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson have all shown signs that they will one day be impactful NBA players (if they're not already), but they all trail Kobe and other noted shot chucker Lou Williams in Usage Rate. Things will change once Kobe eventually rides off into the sunset, of course, but it's hard not to feel like the Lakers are squandering a year of developing their youngsters just to appease a legend.
Is the solution for Kobe to retire now? Well, no. He deserves the retirement tour after all this time; the last time playing in Madison Square Garden, the final matchup with LeBron James -- to whom he passed the "best player in the league" torch to a few years back. But, after last night's 1-for-14 shooting performance (including 1-for-7 from long range) for 4 points, it's becoming evident that Bryant needs to take a backseat, and he needs to do it soon. His veteran leadership can certainly help the Lakers, but it can help more from the bench in a reduced role. It's officially time to start focusing on the Lakers' future and letting go a little of what has clearly become the past.
For a competitor like Kobe, that won't come easily. If it doesn't happen at all, though, this has the makings of a pitiful end to an otherwise magnificent career.
Simply put, Kobe, the Lakers, and NBA fans deserve better.