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Kobe Bryant and the Importance of Efficiency

Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Kobe Bryant is killing the Lakers. He’s killing them by taking too many shots, most of them bad, and by refusing to accept the fact that he’s simply not capable of carrying an effective NBA offense anymore. He’s shooting 32 percent from the field and 20 percent from the three-point line through the first four games, and he’s been taking over fifteen shots per game. The rest of the team isn’t playing well either, but Kobe’s poor shooting has been a waste of their possessions.

Here’s a secret about Basketball (and all sports, really): The most efficient team always wins. Since ball possession alternates with each score, it’s impossible to get two possessions in a row without giving the other team a chance to possess the ball. The result is that teams effectively always have the same number of possessions as their opponents, and the winner is the team who got the most points out of their turns with the ball.

A team can net, at most, two extra possessions by taking the final shots at the end of each quarter, but effectively, each team gets the same amount of possessions to score as many points as they can. If one team has 100 possessions, the other team will have between 98 and 102 possessions of their own. This is important to note when talking about a player like Kobe, because when you realize how valuable a team’s possessions are, you realize how damaging Kobe Bryant is to your team’s offensive effectiveness.

Kobe Bryant is leading the Lakers in field goal attempts, despite being third to last in field goal percentage, ahead of only Ryan Kelly and Marcelo Huertas in that category. With Kobe wasting so many of his team’s  possessions on low-percentage shots, he’s squandering points while giving the opposing team more chances to score. Letting Kobe take threes and shoot midrange jumpers that won’t go in is costing the team points and hurting their chances to win.

Of course, it’s not a perfect analogy to compare all of Kobe’s shot attempts to Jordan Clarkson and assume that Clarkson’s percentages would stay the same if he had more. And even if we spread them out over the rest of the team, (who, again, are almost all shooting better than Kobe) their percentages might not stay the same without Kobe on the floor. However, it’s hard to imagine that the rest of the team would start to shoot as poorly as Bryant when all of them are shooting better at the moment.

There is some value, however, to having one guy who doesn’t care about his shooting percentage that will take the ball with four seconds left in the shot clock and try to make something out of nothing. It helps ease the burden off other players who then only have to shoot when they have good looks. Kobe’s been that player for the Lakers almost his entire career, and when he was good, it was one of the many things that made him great.

Every team has bad possessions that don’t have much of a chance. Kobe once squeezed points out of those possessions like no one else, and it gave the Lakers a huge edge. Unfortunately, Kobe’s become less and less able to make something out of nothing these days, to the point where he’s giving up on possessions early and turning something into nothing.

I do hope he starts playing better and finishes the year on a high note. With the way he’s going now, though, he’s the worst player on the Lakers. His inefficient shooting is costing them points, and he’s a big reason they’re losing a lot of these games.

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