Kobe Bryant’s “High-Volume Shooting”: Wrap-Up

Alright, let’s wrap this puppy up. It’s been way too long. This post will summarize everything we’ve done, so if you don’t want to read the pages and pages I’ve written, you won’t miss the conclusions: just the reasoning.

Why were we doing this all again? Oh yeah, because a few months ago, Christopher Reina made the claim that the Lakers are a better team when Kobe isn’t a “High Volume Shooter”. His reasoning was simple: the Lakers were 26-18 when Kobe took 20 or more, but 31-7 when he took 19 or less. Pretty straight-forward, right?

The fellas at Ball Don’t Lie subsequently slammed the analysis for a variety of reasons – mostly, not considering the game situation, and for drawing such an arbitrary cut-off. Their analysis, however, wasn’t backed by any numbers, so it was really a matter of one blog’s opinion against another.

So, what we’ve been trying to do is put better numbers behind both of those blogs’ conclusions. And once we did, it became pretty clear that Ball Don’t Lie is right, while Christopher Reina was wrong (sorry, Chris).

First of all, it’s true that Kobe averages more shots in losses than wins – four more shots per loss than per win. It’s also true, however, that Kobe averages more minutes in losses then wins – by about 4 minutes. With his shooting rate (a bit under 22 shots/game overall), that difference automatically accounts for about 2 shots per game, meaning that – balanced for minutes – Kobe averages closer to 21 shots per game in losses. That pretty much immediately throws out the 20-shot cut-off used by Reina. But, that’s still more shots per game in losses then wins.

Then we considered the fact that blowouts are special instances in which Kobe’s statistics are drastically off. 18 times during the season, the Lakers blew out their opponents by more than 12 points while Kobe played below-average minutes. Only one time were the Lakers blown out in similar fashion with Kobe playing below-average minutes. Averaging without those games, we discover the same thing we discovered above: that Kobe only averages 2 shots less per win than per loss.

But why 2 shots more per loss? Well, we then proceeded to go way too in-depth into individual games to discover when Kobe’s shot attempts increased, and we discovered something interesting. Kobe’s shot attempts and the Lakers’ corresponding winning percentage fell quite plainly into three categories. When Kobe takes less than 17 shots, the Lakers were 9-1. When Kobe took 18 to 28 shots, the Lakers were 28-19. When Kobe took 29 or more, the Lakers were 2-4. Note that these aren’t arbitrary cut-offs like the 20-shot cut-off, but rather they’re cut-offs where the change in the Lakers’ fortunes is most evident. And note that these divisions are not including that special case, blowouts where Kobe plays below-average minutes.

With those categories in mind, there are only two options: either (a) Kobe’s increasing shot attempts are causing the Lakers’ fortunes to change, or (b) some third variable is causing both Kobe’s shot attempts to increase and the Lakers’ fortunes to change. If (b) is true, there should be characteristics that group together all the games in each category.

And, upon examining the games quite closely, such characteristics do emerge. In the games where Kobe takes 17 or less shots, the Lakers are nearly never even challenged. They get an early lead and never relinquish it. Several of these games are blowouts where Kobe still plays his average number of minutes, but the important thing is that the Lakers are really never challenged.

In the games where Kobe takes 18 to 28 shots, the Lakers are almost always challenged. Sometimes they jump out to an early lead but have their opponent come back. Sometimes they fall behind early and comeback. Sometimes the game is close before the Lakers (or, rarely, the opponents) pull away. And sometimes the game is just close throughout. But the point is, all these games are united by one fact: the Lakers are challenged.

And within those games, we discover something very interesting. There are definite particular instances when Kobe’s shot attempts increase. More often than not, it’s in the second half, sparking either a comeback or a run to seal the game. But in a general sense, it’s when the Lakers are most challenged and most at risk for letting the game slip away. In these instances, Kobe becomes more aggressive and shoots more – and often succeeds in shooting the Lakers back into the game.

And in that final category, where Kobe shoots 29 shots or more and the Lakers are 2-4, we observe an extremely clear pattern: Kobe is the only offensive weapon. Gasol played in none of these games, and Bynum played in only one. And, like in the previous categories, these are all games where the Lakers were at risk of losing.

So, we’ve noticed a pattern, an answer to the (b) from a few paragraphs up. The “third variable” is how much the Lakers are challenged. In games where they aren’t challenged, they overwhelmingly win – an obvious conclusion, since they aren’t challenged. In games where they are challenged, they don’t win as often. This isn’t a revolutionary concept: they’re more likely to lose games where their competitor actually competes and plays well. That’s quite simple. And in games where they’re challenged and don’t have two of their top three offensive weapons, they lose even more often. Again, not a revolutionary concept.

This third variable is also what causes Kobe’s shot attempts to increase. As the best player on his team, the primary offensive weapon, and the ultimate competitor, he will tend to see more shots when his team is threatened. In games where they aren’t, there isn’t the need for him to be as aggressive. In games where they are, his aggressiveness and shot attempts increase. And in games where they’re threatened and there are no other options, his shot attempts increase even more.

The problem with the initial study conducted by Reina was misplaced causation: he suggested that Kobe’s high-volume shooting caused the Lakers’ fortunes to drop, but in reality it was the risk of the Lakers’ fortunes dropping that caused Kobe’s shooting volume to increase. Had Kobe restricted himself to the same shot counts in those games where the Lakers were challenged, it is reasonable to assume the Lakers would have lost more because oftentimes, it was Kobe’s shooting that sparked Lakers comebacks. His higher-volume shooting didn’t cause the Lakers’ fortunes to drop – it caused the Lakers’ already-dropping fortunes to not drop as far.

LITTLE WHITE TAKEAWAYS

The Lakers are not better off when Kobe doesn’t shoot as much, despite him averaging fewer shots in wins than losses. Instead, The Lakers depend on Kobe to lift them over their opponents in competitive games. Therefore, Kobe’s shot attempts increase in competitive games compared to non-competitive games. Naturally, the Lakers also are more likely to lose competitive games than non-competitive games.

The proof for this can be observed in a variety of ways. First of all, in most of the games where Kobe’s shot attempts are elevated, the Lakers are challenged at some point; on the other hand, in most of the games where his attempts are not elevated, the Lakers are never challenged.

What’s more, the actual increase in his shot attempts is observed typically in the second half, and typically sparks either a Lakers comeback (if the opponent leads) or a Lakers run to seal a win (if the game was close). Because these increases are typically observed in the second half, it is completely unreasonable to say that the increased attempts caused the Lakers’ misfortunes in the first place.

In short, the Lakers are more likely to lose competitive games, and Kobe shoots more in competitive games to try to prevent that. The competitiveness of the game causes both the Lakers’ lower winning percentage and Kobe’s increased shot count. Kobe’s shot count does not cause the Lakers’ lower winning percentage in those games.

5 Responses to “Kobe Bryant’s “High-Volume Shooting”: Wrap-Up”

  1. andseedlings Says:

    Great study. I bet a thoughtful examination like this would turn up with similar results for other prolific, “high volume” scorers like LeBron and AI.

  2. I Hate Flowers Says:

    Finally, someone does the work and proves what some of us already knew:

    “[Kobe’s] higher-volume shooting didn’t cause the Lakers’ fortunes to drop – it caused the Lakers’ already-dropping fortunes to not drop as far.”

  3. joyner Says:

    I’d love to find an easier way to conduct this type of study to look at other high-volume shooters – the first part of the study would be easy enough, but the latter parts involved actually going through the play-by-plays on Sportsline. I’m not sure there’s a faster way to do that.

  4. Lighting Retrofit Says:

    Good to see someone look a little deeper at the facts to show what really happens. Good article.

  5. Matt Says:

    When Kobe is accused of being a volume shooter, he is being accused of not only taking too many shots, but also shots with high degree of difficulty and keeping the ball in his hands a lot. The assumption that he should take less than 20 shots is not giving him a cutoff, but rather a benchmark that hugely simplified the amount that he makes the offense one-dimensional. I wonder what the stats show about the number of contested shots he takes in the breakdown, and the comparative number of team assists during those games.

    Also, did you adjust your study for possessions? The best teams, and ones most likely to show up for the game are more likely to be strong defensive teams and have less possessions per game. His number of shots might be inflated for blowouts and noncompetitive games just as they were deflated for number of minutes.

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