Kobe Bryant has been nothing if not stubborn. His tendency to dominate the ball and force the issue – even as his physical limitations have become more pronounced with age – has been discussed ad nauseum. Last year was the first time in several seasons that the Lakers star was primarily healthy, and it showed in his efficiency numbers. But health wasn’t the only important factor, Bryant also showed he is willing to change his game as his explosiveness decreases. Nowhere was this more evident than in his performance shooting off the dribble – a celebrated staple of his game.
From 2007 to 2010 there was a steady decline in how often Kobe went to his pull up. More surprising, however, was that despite fewer possessions, his scoring efficiency in this area decreased each season as well. However Bryant reversed that trend last season as he attempted almost one more shot off the dribble per game and his scoring efficiency on that move climbed from .87 to nearly .90 points per possession.
So what’s changed besides the veteran’s health?
The most significant difference has been how the Lakers get the ball in their stars hands. It’s no secret that Kobe’s greatest number of offensive plays are isolation sets. However, there was a significant increase in plays in which the Lakers ran Kobe off of screens or a handoff from the high post. Bryant isn’t as quick or explosive as he once was but he still has his quick release, and the added space created by screens and handoffs gives him the half step needed to get to the spot he wants and fire before his man can recover.
This trend has expanded in the Lakers first three games where we’ve seen Kobe operating in a system other than the Triangle for the first time in many seasons. So far he’s attempted 47 shots, 19 of which are classified as dribble jumpers by Synergy Sports – a mark that is consistent with his recent increase in this shot type. However, what is readily apparent – even in such a small sample size – is the concerted effort Los Angeles is making to help him create space. It isn’t unusual to see someone like Derek Fisher set a down screen for Kobe in the corner, allowing him to flash up then curl off a handoff from Josh McRoberts.
In fact nearly 40 percent of his 64 total possessions have come via screen, handoff or pick-and-roll. In the previous four seasons, those play-types never accounted for even 20 percent of his offense.
Bryant is an incredibly smart player, and he knows how to use his teammates to help catch his own defender off balance. The Triangle is designed to put an offense’s best players in position for isolation scoring attempts. As Mike Brown replaces Phil Jackson, it’s possible that Bryant may benefit from the shift away from the iconic offensive system as much as anyone.
How Kobe Bryant would adjust to new coach Mike Brown was an intriguing question heading into this season. It appears that both Bryant and Brown understands Kobe’s limitations and strengths, and that the two are working together to allow Bryant to remain at the top of the league.