No player will be like Kobe Bryant ever again.
No player will score 81 points in a game ever again. No player will surpass his records of most field goals and three point field goals in the playoffs ever again. No player will have same stature on offense as Kobe has ever again.
And, certainly, no player will be the offensive weapon on a team like Kobe was in his prime ever again.
The retirement of Kobe Bryant, of which he announced in a touching, poetic piece on the Players Tribune has sent waves throughout the NBA community. Friends, teammates, veterans, coaches, young guns, rookies, and fans alike have taken a time to step back and appreciate Kobe for what he has been, what he is, and how he has influenced this association.
Bryant, much like Michael Jordan, was the purest of volume scorers during his prime time. Bryant won five NBA Finals and, while valuable teammates like Derek Fisher, Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Horry, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and others all were key contributors, has been the heart and soul of this Lakers team for all 20 of his seasons in Purple and Gold.
You can look at all the sadness that will become of his retirement – The tears, the respect given, and the pain of watching Laker games without everyone’s favorite, or least favorite, player not taking almost all the shots. Upon Kobe’s retirement, the league will lose a lot more than a legend. The league loses a play style that, in today’s NBA, has grown to be an inefficient and ineffective way of playing the game, and that loss may very well be a blessing.
The play style of which I write is that of go-to primary volume shooters. The way that Kobe used to play (and still would if he could) is that of a solo game, where one player is the go to offensive player and the sole taker of big threes, end of shot clock mid-range twos, and driving the lane and getting to the foul line on almost all other possessions.
To put his career in perspective, Kobe has taken 1500 shots in ten of his 19 finished seasons in the NBA, and over 1000 all but 5 seasons in his career. He currently has taken 25, 307 shots in his time in the NBA, making 11,388 of them over the course of his career. He has taken almost 10,000 free throws and over 5,000 three pointers in his time.
This isn’t news. This isn’t a revelation being proven with statistics. Everyone knows Kobe shoots the ball a lot. There is an infinite storage of internet memes mocking Kobe’s lack of passing and tendency to shoot the ball out of its leather.
Kobe’s system – shooting until there aren’t any more shots to take – doesn’t work in the NBA anymore.
Just take a look at any contender in the league right now. The NBA has expanded and evolved into much more of a team based game. While the three point shot has grown even more important, the need of one, single go to scorer has diminished.
The Golden State Warriors, winners of the Finals last season led by their fearless MVP, Stephen Curry, may seem to be a counterexample to you. But think again. Curry himself took 1,341 shots last season as the scoring leader of his championship team. That is 583 less than Bryant’s career high, and 256 less than during Kobe’s championship season in 2001.
The Warriors are a team held together by Curry and his leadership and play, but they aren’t reliant solely upon it. The team’s secondary weapons like Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, among others, are more than enough to make up a playoff team in the West. This team doesn’t turn to Curry for every shot, every posession. They also don’t only go to Curry for clutch shots and game winners, either. In fact, according to Basketballreference.com, Steph Curry had a usage percentage – an advanced stat that looks at an estimate of the percentage of plays a team uses a certain player during his time on the court- of 28.9 last season. A high usage rate, no doubt. But compare that to Kobe’s career high of 38.7%, alongside Kobe’s career average of 31.8%, and you see why Curry isn’t a volume shooter like Kobe was (or is?).
But the Warriors aren’t the only team that is successful with a team based game. Look at the top contenders from each conference.
In the West, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles (no, not the Lakers), and Dallas all play team style offenses.
San Antonio somehow manages to keep Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Danny Green, and LaMarcus Aldridge all happy while 4 of those 5 guys average less than 15 points per game. They lead the West, and they are third in the league in assists per game.
The Clippers have a myriad of weapons that, while not so fluid in its early weeks, is still a threat. Chris Paul is the offensive leader of this team, and Blake Griffin is the primary scorer. But neither of them take more than 19 shots a game, and four of the five starters still average more than ten points a game, and they are one of the more explosive offenses in the league, scoring the fifth most points in the league.
The Mavericks have been a surprising team this season. The additions of Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews seemed like grab happy free agent moves at first, but the team is rolling, and it definitely is not because of Dirk chucking up shots all game. No one on the team averages more than 17 points a game, and all but four players on the team average more than 5 points.
The Thunder may also seem to be somewhat of a counterexample due to the volume of Russell Westbrook’s and Kevin Durant’s shooting. But it isn’t as bad as you think. It isn’t like in NBA 2K16 where you just chuck up shots with Durant or Westbrook. The Thunder have two other guys, Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters, who average over 10 shots a game, and Enes Kanter is close with 8.6. Also, all five of these players shoot over 40% from the field, with Durant and Kanter averaging over 50%.
In the East, it is much of the same.
The Cavaliers, Raptors, and Heat are the only teams that truly stick out to me as legitimate, despite Indiana’s hot start.
The Cavs are an interesting yet powerful example. All three of their big three – Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love – were volume shooters with their old teams. Irving was the classic example in the pre-LeBron Cavs era, since he was truly the only option the Cavs had on offense. Kevin Love was the main cog in an otherwise broken offense with the Timberwolves before his eventual trade to the Cavs. LeBron was less so with Miami, but looking back at his time with the Cavs when he was drafted and was the only force of offense for them, he was definitely a volume shooter. Now, they all come together in Cleveland and suddenly, wow, they are a successful team!? Who would have thought?
The team is riddled with other volume shooters, like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and even Mo Williams. Yet somehow the team remains successful. That’s because they all sacrifice their go-to labels to work a more team style game.
The Raptors and Heat both have their main weapons in DeRozan and Bosh, their facilitators in Lowry and Dragic, their post options in Valanciunas and Whiteside, and their wing defenders in DeMarre Carroll and Luol Deng. None of these guys demand touches on every possession, and for that reason they are winning games.
If you look at the only team in the league completely reliant on a volume shooter, you’ll have to look towards the bottom of the Western Conference standings at the Houston Rockets.
James Harden is a Kobe Bryant replica. He can make crazy shots, score 40 points easy every night, and win his team games. But he is also terribly inefficient, and the Rockets are suffering because of it. Harden is taking over 21 shots every single game, a ridiculous number for a player who shoots at just 40% from the field. Trevor Ariza is second on the team with a mere 11 shots, and Dwight Howard follows with 9. The small variety in who is taking the shots for the Rockets is part of the reason they are struggling so greatly. Not enough players are getting touches, and the ball is sticking, which explains why the Rockets sit at 21st in assists per game.
You can also see that the New York Knicks, whose offense has lived and died by the shooting success (or lack thereof) of Carmelo Anthony, and you have witnessed how the team has struggled for the last few seasons. But now, that the Knicks have other options like Kristaps Porzingis and Arron Afflalo, the team is actuallly competing and winning games, again moving away from the volume shooter formula.
When you look at the NBA like this, big picture, it isn’t hard to see that the NBA formula to success is changing. No longer is Kobe Bryant taking 30 shots, or is Allen Iverson holding onto the ball for 22 seconds of the shot clock, or is Derrick Rose hammering the paint and missing more circus layups than he makes.
The NBA has adjusted to a more efficient and reliable system. It doesn’t make sense to put all your eggs in one basket and have one scorer who takes all your end of shot clock or end of game shots. The Warriors and Spurs, two championship winning teams the last two years, have shown that you don’t need a set number one option to win titles. The teams winning games today and leading their conferences are also showing that.
The end of Kobe Bryant’s career doesn’t suddenly deem volume shooters illegal or invalid. They will still be around and, possibly, remain as inefficient byproducts of bad systems – again, see James Harden. But the NBA is moving away from utilizing them like they did in the early 2000s. Kobe’s retirement signifies the end of what was a long era in the NBA spearheaded by himself and Michael Jordan.
However, on a side note, I do want to note that while I bash Kobe’s play style over the years, I still can appreciate what he did for the Lakers and the NBA. He is one of the best sportsman of all time and has showcased that for all 20 years of his illustrious career. His departure from play will be a sad sight to watch as an NBA fan. But Bryant will forever remain among the all time greats.
As Kobe always said:
“I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant.”
He has definitely left his own mark in a way that can never be taken from him, and for that, he has succeeded in being only Kobe Bryant.
*Stats accurate as of December 4th, 2015