Kobe Warming Up
Through 46 games of his 15th NBA season, Kobe Bryant is averaging 24.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals.
Last season, he averaged 27.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals, but those slightly higher numbers came in 38.8 minutes per game, compared to the 33.1 he's averaging in 2010-11.
Despite those 5.7 fewer minutes, Bryant's scoring numbers are nearly as high because his efficiency has increased steadily coming out of a poor shooting start to his 15th campaign as he recovered from offseason knee surgery.
As the table shows, Bryant's converting at nearly 50 percent from the field in January, a mark he hit in only one month last season (November, 50.6 percent)). In 2011, he's been under that 50 percent marker in only 3-of-13 games, and has connected on 57 percent of his attempts in L.A.'s last four contests, three of which were wins over Western competitors Oklahoma City, Denver and Utah.
Phil Jackson, pleased to have his star playing fewer minutes, offered one explanation for Bryant's improved shooting that doesn't have much to do with elevation, stroke or offensive sets.
"His ball handling has probably increased 25 percent," Jackson said, citing fellow ball-handler Lamar Odom's return to the bench since Andrew Bynum came back. "He's taking the ball down in transition a lot, getting the shots he wants and making the play he wants on the offensive end. There’s a lot more expended energy in his game when he has to move out and do that type of game, but he’s very effective at it when he does."
Perhaps Bryant's efficiency has begun to rise due to the simple fact that he's playing fewer minutes and is thus more energized while not having to carry the team as much as he did in November minus Bynum, or last season when Bynum and Gasol missed 38 total games? Or more simply, that his knee has gotten stronger he's built up strength?
Bryant's response when asked about his increased efficiency after practice was only that he's "getting better, becoming a better player," but Jackson re-emphasized his thought that it's more a product of how the Lakers in general are getting their shots.
"It's the way we are playing, the flow of the season, the change of dynamics with 'Drew coming back and Kobe having the ball in his hands more," he said.
Either way, it's been working.
CLIMBING THE SCORING CHART
Prior to the season, we took a look at Kobe's career scoring numbers, noticing that if he continued to score at a pace close to his career average of 25.2 points per game, he'd vault from 12th on the NBA's all-time scoring list all the way up to sixth.
No. 24's efficiency countering the impact of decreased minutes on his scoring this season has combined with his starting all 46 games to already vault him past three all-time greats, with yet another likely coming on Friday night when the Lakers play Sacramento.
Earlier this season, he shot his way past Hall of Famers John Havlicek (26,395), Dominique Wilkins (26,668) and Oscar Robertson (26,710) to reach the No. 9 slot. Against the Kings, he needs only 13 points to surpass Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946) for eighth place.
"In my opinion, he is the best post player ever, with all due respect to Kevin McHale," said Bryant. "Hakeem was phenominal."
Later this year, if he continues his current pace, Bryant will move past Elvin Hayes (7th/27,313) and Moses Malone (6th/27,409), though the top five of still-active Shaquille O'Neal (28,582), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419), Michael Jordan (32,292), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) will take some more time. In that top 10, the Big 0, Kobe and MJ are the only guards, a fact upon which Kobe reflected.
"Typically, big guys have been the ones to dominate the game, dominate the ball for the majority of the game (as) it goes through them, and the bigs that are on that list are the all-time greats," he said. "But yeah, I guess there are a couple of 'little' guys that are feisty, with me being one of them."