Apologies for the delay – I started graduate school this past month, and I’ve had precious little time to write. But things are started to calm down, so hopefully we’ll be able to wrap up these two studies (Kobe Bryant’s “High-Volume Shooting” and the Box Score Analysis) before the season started in a couple weeks, and then we’ll try to introduce a weekly or bi-weekly feature.
But for now, it’s time to wrap this up. We’ve discussed how Kobe Bryant doesn’t play as much traditionally in Lakers’ blowouts, thus lowering his shot attempts. We’ve discussed how, even in blowouts where Kobe plays just as much, his shot total is lower. And we’ve discussed how, time and time again, Kobe’s shot attempts go up when his team is threatened: either in the event of an opposing team’s comeback, or when the Lakers trail and are running out of time to start a comeback, or in the waning seconds of a close game.
But now let us consider one more type of game: games where Kobe took drastically more shots than his season average. Six times during the season, Kobe took 30 or more shots in a single game – 30 twice and 32, 33, 37 and 44 once each. In these games, the Lakers were 2-4 – winning in Kobe’s 30- and 44-shot games and losing in the others. So, what prompted Kobe to take so many shots in these games?
Analyzing these games in the detail we’ve used previously is a bit silly considering that Kobe’s shot attempts are pretty high throughout the game, so instead let’s look at the overall storyline of each game and try to figure out subjectively what prompted his high shot total.
- March 23rd: Golden State 115, Lakers 111: Kobe goes 13/30 from the field, 3/9 from 3 and 7/7 from the line for 36 points, along with 14 rebounds and 8 assists. In this game, the Lakers play with a very short rotation (8 players play, no Bynum and no Gasol), and only half of those 8 players actually play well (6/19 for Odom though he does bring in 22 rebounds, 3/8 for Radmanovic, 0/5 for Vujacic, 3/10 for Farmar). The Lakers fall behind in the second quarter and trail by as much as 26 before mounting a furious and almost-successful comeback. 18 of Kobe’s 30 FGAs come during this attempted comeback – his first-half shot total (when the Lakers fell behind) matched his season average.
- March 24th: Lakers 123, Golden State 119: Second verse, same as the first. The Lakers play the same team the next day, fall behind around halftime (though not by as much, maximum of 13 points), and comeback. Same short rotation, and still no Gasol or Bynum. And this time, they win in overtime. And, almost identically to the game the day before, Kobe’s shot total while the Lakers fall behind is only slightly above his season average (12 shots for the first half), while his shot total is higher while the Lakers come back and win (18 shots).
- October 30th: Houston 95, Lakers 93: First game of the season, and still follows the same framework of these first two. Lakers fall behind (in the 3rd and early 4th this time, by a maximum of 13) and come back later. At first glance it doesn’t appear that his shot attempts go up significantly during the late comeback (9 shots in the comeback which spans the last 10 minutes, 32 for the game, so only a moderate increase), but if one counts the times Kobe is fouled in the act of shooting as shot attempts (which, in my opinion, they really should), that total shoots up to 15, while his total for the game (when counting the entire game this way) shoots up to 45 – meaning a third of his shots take place during a fifth of the game, when the Lakers come back. (in retrospect, I should’ve calculated ‘true FGA’ for every game we’ve analyzed, but we’ve considered it already when relevant)
- March 16th: Houston 104, Lakers 92: Two against the Warriors, now two against the Rockets. This game was the final win in Houston’s remarkable 22-game winning streak. You might also know that it falls within that same date range as those earlier Warriors games, which means that Gasol and Bynum were on the sidelines. Like the other three games, this game saw the Lakers fall behind (max of 15) and then come back, although in this instance the Rockets did pull away at the end. In this particular case, his shots actually fell evenly across the two halves (17 in the first, 16 in the second). However, 13 of those first-half shots came while the Lakers were still within 4 points – it wasn’t until Kobe’s shots dropped off in the first half that the Rockets pulled away.
- March 28th: Memphis 114, Lakers 111: You probably saw this coming – yet another game in that group of games where the Lakers were without Gasol and Bynum. The rest of the Lakers should’ve sat the came out too: of the 10 players who played, only two shot at or above 45%: Bryant and Mbenga, who was 2/3. The rest of the team combined to shoot a dismal 20 for 64 for 31%. Bryant’s 19/37 shooting elevated the team’s number substantially. Kobe’s shot distribution was fairly even for the game: 12 shots in the 1st, 10 in the 2nd, 9 in the 3rd and 6 in the 4th. The drop-off in the 4th quarter can be attributed mostly to Memphis finally realizing that Kobe was the only one who showed up to play and devoting even more defensive attention to him, as the 4th quarter is littered with shots that would’ve been Kobe assists if his teammates had actually hit the shots.
- January 14th: Lakers 123, Seattle 121: Lakers fans know this game as the game after Bynum went down with his season-ending injury – so, like the previous games, this was one of the Lakers’ games with no Bynum or Gasol. Vujacic and Radmanovic sat out as well, although the rest of the Lakers (excepting Odom’s 3/15 performance and Walton’s 1/6 debacle) played quite well, with Brown, Fisher, Ariza, Farmar, Turiaf and Crittenton – yes, Crittenton – each shooting at or above a 50% clip (although none attempted more than 6 shots). Despite their play, the Lakers still fell behind by 10 early in the 4th quarter. As for Kobe, he shot at a high clip throughout the game, (11 FGA in the 1st, 7 in the 2nd, 12 in the 3rd), but as usual, a disproportionately high number of his shots (12 over 10 minutes) came during the Lakers’ comeback in the final 5 minutes of regulation and overtime. That’s 27% of his shots being contained in 18% of the game.
So, we uncovered a nice little pattern amongst these games. First of all, five of the six games (excepting Houston on October 30th) are played without Gasol or Bynum, while none of the games feature Gasol at all (two before the trade, four during his late-season ankle injury). Five of the six (excepting Memphis) games also saw the Lakers behind by double-digits in the second half, a very rare occurrence for the season, though commonplace amongst this sampling of games. And, five of the six games (excepting Memphis) also saw Kobe’s shot attempts increase during the Lakers’ comebacks.
That’s a pretty clear correlation: Kobe’s six highest FGA games come when Gasol and Bynum don’t play, and when the Lakers are threatened.
LITTLE WHITE TAKEAWAYS
For the six games where Kobe takes drastically more shots than his season average (30 shots or more while he averages 21.44 in non-blowouts), there are three very clear criteria that each take place in at least five of the six games: first, the Lakers are playing without Gasol or Bynum; second, the Lakers fall behind by double digits at some point during the second half; and third, the Lakers come back – in every single game – to make it competitive, while Kobe’s shot attempts increase during the comeback.
It’s a very match between these criteria and the games. The lack of the Lakers’ other offensive weapons will obviously lead Kobe to shoot more, and that the Lakers are threatened at some point has been shown in our study to lead to an increase in Kobe’s shot attempts. And, as we’ve seen, when Kobe’s shot attempts go up, the Lakers come back.
Considering how large this analysis has been, I’ll be posting a wrap-up summary post in the next couple days to re-state our conclusions. And it won’t be another month and a half this time, I swear.