My friend Tas Melas will tell you that Kobe Bryant’s early season numbers won’t hold up. That he won’t continue to lead the league in scoring or continue to post the highest shooting percentages — all of ‘em, including the fancy ones like true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage — of his career. That he won’t be the most efficient Kobe we’ve ever seen.
And he might be right, but the fact of the matter is Kobe is killing it right now, in a good way. And when a player plays this well, we need some sort of explanation. That’s what Dave McMenamin of ESPN got, but there are two parts to Kobe explaining how he’s playing so well. First is the technical part:
“I think the system has a lot to do with it,” Bryant said Monday. “The floor is spaced out a little bit more. I can penetrate to the basket and get to the free throw line a lot more.”
He is averaging 7.92 free throw attempts per game this season, up from 7.77 a game last season. The improvement isn’t dramatic in that category, but Bryant seems to have adopted the mental standpoint that slashing opportunities are there for him whenever he wants them, whereas last season, he would have Andrew Bynum and his defenders clogging up the paint.
“I think, really, it’s just I had more lanes to the basket,” Bryant said. “We don’t have people on the block, on the post all the time, so it enables me to drive to the rim and draw fouls, get to the free throw line a lot.”
Fair enough. Dwight Howard is more of a pick-and-roll big man than Andrew Bynum, so it does make sense that there should be less congestion in the lane for Kobe to attack. Plus, the Lakers have moved from 20th to 4th in the league in pace and they are shooting about five more threes per game compared to last season, so all of this checks out from a logistical standpoint.
But the main reason Kobe is doing so great is because of the second part of Kobe’s explanation, the “I’m Kobe Bryant” part.
“Outside of that, I’m just a bad mother [expletive],” Bryant said with a smirk.
I have a feeling that this is Kobe’s real reason for why he’s playing so well at age 34. Yeah, he understands that all that system stuff is true, but I’d wager he chalks most of this early season success up to simply being great. He has to be thinking, “Well we do all this and that, but at the end of the day, I’m Kobe Bryant.”
And really, that is a pretty fair assessment. Put a legendary scorer in a system that emphasizes spacing and encourages scoring and the odds are pretty good that they’re going to do well. It’s called science and even that makes sense because Kobe is a scientific dawg. It all just works together perfectly sometimes.