Kobe Bryant’s “High-Volume Shooting”: Part 2

Apologies for the delay – it took me forever to find a site that offered archived play-by-plays of NBA regular season games. In other words, it took me two weeks to consider checking the site that I actually use for play-by-play of my Spurs games when I’m following them from Atlanta. In related news, the play-by-plays used in the following part of the analysis is courtesy CBSSportsline.com.

As mentioned in the last post (two weeks ago), the idea that the Lakers’ fortunes fall as Kobe Bryant’s shot attempts increase is overblown; however, the discrepancy is still present. Kobe averaged 23.75 shot attempts in losses while he shot only 21.44 shots in wins (when blowout games in which Kobe plays fewer minutes than usual are thrown out); and the Lakers were 9-1 with Kobe shooting less than 17 shots, 28-19 when he took 18 to 28 shots, and 2-4 when he took 29 or more.

It might seem odd that the intervals are different, but the reasoning behind the division is sound: the Lakers win around 100% of their games when Kobe takes anywhere from 7 to 17 shots; but, they win essentially 67% of their games for every shot amount from 18 to 28. Then, above 29, they win around 33% of their games. The divisions are interesting: they aren’t just the cumulative sum over the range, but they are – to a large extent – accurate for every number of shot attempts within their range. I’m mentioning this mainly because one of the criticisms of the original study was that it utilized an odd cut-off point – but the cut-off points used here are sound.

So, anyway, for the next portion of this analysis, we want to answer a simple question: does Kobe’s “over-shooting” cause his teammates to be out of rhythm and thus drag the team’s fortunes down, or does his teammates’ off nights cause Kobe Bryant to need to shoot more to keep his team afloat? Statistically this is pretty difficult to analyze numerically, so instead we’re going to opt for some “case studies”. Essentially, we’re going to choose some games from each of those groups and figure out what exactly happened.

First, let’s examine games where Kobe shot less than 17 shots – in these games, the Lakers went 9-1. Why? Let’s take a closer look:

January 21st: Lakers 116, Nuggets 99

Here’s an interesting game: in this mid-season blowout, we see Kobe Bryant shoot only 7 shots – his lowest shot total in any game all season long – while still playing 38 minutes. What’s more, the Lakers dominated the Nuggets, winning by 17 points, and they were already playing without Andrew Bynum, and what’s most notable, this came before the arrival of Pau Gasol.

So what the heck happened? A cursory glance would likely pin the entire ordeal on Carmelo Anthony leaving in the 2nd quarter with a sprained ankle; but the Lakers held a 10-point lead after one quarter, defeating that idea. So let’s move on to the supporting cast.

Naturally, for the Lakers to win while Kobe shoots only 7 FGs, one of two things has to happen: either his supporting cast has to show up, or he has to set an NBA record for FTAs in a game. Considering he shot only 8 in this game, the former must be true; and indeed it is. Jordan Farmar hits 8 out of 15 for 19 points, Odom and Brown both pull in 11 rebounds, and most notably Derek Fisher puts in his career second-best with 28 points on only 16 shots.

But that’s not what we’re asking – it’s obvious that if the Lakers win while Kobe shoots only 7 shots, his teammates played out of their minds (which, incidentally, they really didn’t – outside Kobe, Fisher and Farmar, only two other Lakers shot 50% – Crittenton at 1-2 and Turiaf at 4-8). But which came first, Kobe backing off or his teammates’ hot performances?

First Quarter
After one quarter, the Lakers led by 10 points, scoring 39 – most of that came during an insane run in which the Lakers scored 18 points in 4 minutes. Kobe Bryant in the first quarter? Outside an offensive rebound and a turnover in the opening minute, he doesn’t even show up until the final four minutes of the quarter. He takes no shots in the quarter, but has 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a foul.

Now, in games where Kobe takes very few shots, we’re looking for one of two things: either his teammates come out hot (allowing Kobe to take fewer shots) or Kobe comes out selfless (allowing his teammates to get into a rhythm). In this case, it’s difficult to pinpoint which we see. The Lakers open up cold, down 12-4 early. During this time, Kobe does nothing, suggesting the latter – however, beginning at the 9-minute mark, his teammates wake up. From the 12-4 deficit to the final four minutes (where the Lakers went on their 18-point run), the Lakers climb back to within 1. During this time, Fisher shoots 4/6, Brown 2/4 (both dunks), Odom 1/2 (and two FTs), and Turiaf 0/1. Not shabby and certainly load-carrying.

So did Kobe’s early selflessness allow his teammates to get hot, or did their performance early-on allow him to lay back? It’s hard to say in this game: his teammates aren’t on their A-game right from the get-go, but it doesn’t take long at all for them to get into their rhythm. So which is it? I’m leaning towards the teammates-hot side, but it’s pretty close in this case.

Either way, the intended effect of his teammates getting into a rhythm early takes place: the 18-point burst in the final 4 minutes is led by Odom’s 7 points.

Second Quarter
The second quarter saw each team go for 29 points, leaving the Lakers with a 10-point halftime lead. Carrying the load for the Lakers in the second are Turiaf (carried over from 5 points to close the first) with 4 points, Farmar with 7 and Bryant with 6. The second also saw a balanced attack, with 7 Lakers scoring while 9 attempt FGs. In short, in the second quarter Kobe’s supporting cast continued shouldering the load, with Bryant chipping in.

Third Quarter
The third quarter presents an interesting point of analysis – after entering the third quarter with a 10-point lead, the Lakers find themselves down by two 8 minutes later, then up by 9 after another 4 minutes. What caused the Lakers’ slump, and who keyed their reawakening?

The early-quarter slump can be blamed on turnovers more than shooting woes: the Lakers commit 6 turnovers (2 on Kobe) in 8 minutes. That’s not to say the Lakers’ shooting is fine, though: the Lakers shoot only 3/11 from the field, 2/4 from the line and 2/6 from three. Kobe doesn’t try to take over (takes only one shot, missing it), nor are his teammates able to bring anything (only Fisher, Vujacic and Brown hit shots, and only one apiece).

And the Lakers’ resurgence in the final four minutes? Look no further than Fisher – 3/3 from downtown, while Farmar and Turiaf account for 5 more points.

Fourth Quarter
The fourth quarter extension of the Lakers’ lead from 9 to 17 can be attributed mostly to defense (Lakers holding Denver to 17 points) as the Lakers’ offense sputtered (6/20 from the field with one 3) only to be saved from the line (12 points). Like the early third, everyone on the Lakers not named Kobe Bryant went cold, and while Kobe shot well, he didn’t shoot much (2/3 from the field, 3/4 from the line for the quarter).

So, what do we see here? In the first quarter, starting about 3 minutes in, the Lakers’ supporting cast handily carries the Lakers to a 10-point lead, led by Derek Fisher. While Kobe Bryant doesn’t do much about the Lakers’ woes very early, it doesn’t take long for his teammates to awaken and pull their weight. It’s hard to say if this lies on the “Kobe allowed them to get into a rhythm” side or on the “they were already in a rhythm, so Kobe was able to lay back” side, but given how early Derek Fisher’s shooting began (3 minutes in), it likely leans more on the latter side.

In the fourth quarter, the Lakers saw their lead dissipate as the entire team – Kobe included – slumped. With 4 minutes to go, however, Derek Fisher took over, carrying the Lakers back to a 9-point lead. Is this an instance of Kobe allowing someone else to get into a rhythm, or did Fisher’s rhythm allow Kobe to relax? Again, this is hard to say given that the Lakers barely gave up their lead before Fisher brought it back, but this likely leans on the side of Kobe allowing his teammates to work – in the third, Kobe attempts only one shot.

So, this game shows some conflicting evidence, but overall the notable part is that in the instances where Kobe would likely take over (early in the game or with a dwindling lead), another player (Fisher, mostly) was already stepping up and carrying the team, theoretically allowing Kobe to hang back.

That concludes our far-too-in-depth analysis of the first game of this: the subsequent ones will be about half as long, this is mostly to set up the type of logic we’ll be using. An important note about case studies like this is that they really aren’t generalizable at all on their own: it’s entirely possible – even likely – that these results are completely different from other games. That’s why we’ll be doing several of these – probably at least 4 from each group, randomly selected to hopefully catch if there’s any variance.

Since this is only the first analysis, I’m leaving off the takeaways because, well, there aren’t any. I wouldn’t be posting this analysis on its own if it hadn’t been two weeks since the last one, but I figure I’ll let y’all know I’m still alive and not one of those bloggers that writes a ton the first two weeks before quitting.

Next time we’ll have three more game analyses from the “Kobe shot less than 17 shots” category. And depending on how much I can limit myself from getting overly detailed, hopefully that won’t take very long.

2 Responses to “Kobe Bryant’s “High-Volume Shooting”: Part 2”

  1. WildYams Says:

    Great analysis you’re doing here :) I just wanted to chime in that I think there’s actually a really easy explanation for why Kobe’s shot attempts go up in losses: desperation on Kobe’s part. Kobe is a player who varies his game to a wild degree depending on the situation. In that way he’s the polar opposite of someone like Tim Duncan, who plays the same at all times regardless of the situation. Kobe, on the other hand, will defer all game long if his teammates are hot and will be content to ride that to a victory with zero shot attempts if it’s working. On the other hand, the closer the Lakers get to defeat the more desperate Kobe gets and the more likely he is to want to just take matters into his own hand. This is the case whether the deficit the Lakers are facing just continues to grow or whether the time remaining while they’re trailing just gets smaller and smaller.

    For instance, look at Kobe’s 81 point game against the Raptors back in 2006. In that game Kobe attempted 46 shots, an enormous number, but it’s important to know when he had most of those attempts. In the first 27 minutes of the game Kobe had 20 attempts (which is still a lot) but at that point his team was down 18 points. Probably sensing that they were on the verge of getting blown out at home to one of the worst teams in the league, Kobe went crazy with shot attempts and put up 13 over the next 9 minutes, thus giving the Lakers the lead entering the 4th quarter up 6. Kobe then took another 13 in the 4th quarter although the game was still in doubt till the last 5 minutes or so, and after that point he was probably still shooting just to see how many points he could score.

    That’s an extreme example, of course, but in many Laker games if the Lakers are looking like they’re going to lose and it’s in the last 3 minutes of a game, Kobe is prone to suddenly start shooting the ball very early in the shot clock every time down the floor, usually with low-percentage 3-pt shots, in an effort to shoot his team back into the game. I’m of the opinion he often jumps the gun with this approach and shoots his team out of games that are still salvageable by taking nothing but low percentage shots at the end, but that is definitely the time when you’ll really see him shoot it the most. Look at Kobe’s shooting in Game 1 of this year’s playoff series against San Antonio: 14 of his 21 field goal attempts came in the last 17 minutes of the game after the Lakers went down by 20 points.

    I do think there are some instances where Kobe will come out looking to make some kind of statement right off the bat and will shoot it so much early that it leaves his teammates cold, but that’s fairly rare. Usually if he comes out looking to set the tone by scoring early, he’ll back off that towards the end of the 1st quarter and you won’t see him continue it. The only other factor I can think of for why Kobe’s shot attempts would be up in losses is that maybe in those games the refs don’t give him the benefit of the doubt as much, and so rather than send him to the line for free throws he’ll end up with more missed shots (followed by mean stares at the refs or harsh words for them). Anyway, that’s my explanation for the difference.

  2. joyner Says:

    That’s an excellent suggestion, WildYams – that’s the kind of thing I was expecting to happen in this first analysis when the Lakers first fell behind, only I think Fisher beat him to it in this one case.

    But that’s definitely something I’m going to look for in the other games I analyze in-depth – not only the pattern at the beginning of the game, but at different points in the game. I wouldn’t have thought of using the Toronto game, though – excellent point.

    And if that’s true over a bunch of games, it’d support those who defend Kobe despite his higher-shot-attempts leading to more losses – that’d be the idea that he shoots more when his teammates are failing to shoulder the load already. Hopefully it’s that clear-cut :)

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