Bryant’s Role In the Lakers Offense

Eleven games into the season, the Lakers’ and their 77 years of NBA experience (average experience 5.13 years) are a meager 2-9. Of the fifteen players on roster, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace combine for 34 years (19 and 15, respectively) of NBA experience. This means, of the remaining 13 players on roster, the average experience drops down to 3.31 years of NBA experience.

Why we focus on experience is due to the following facts: Kobe Bryant is on the verge of retirement, coming off injury shortened season, and Metta World Peace came out of a leave of absence to take the final roster spot this season for the Lakers. With the entire team combined, the Lakers are 12th in the league in average experience. Without Bryant and World Peace, the Lakers fall to 26th; just ahead of the Portland Trailblazers (4-9), Milwaukee Bucks (5-6), Utah Jazz (6-5), and Philadelphia 76ers (0-12). While experience does not dictate winning records, we do expect experience to be on winning teams, with the experienced players helping the younger players integrate into the league and provide guidance to other players throughout the season.

In this post, we take an extended look at the Los Angeles Lakers’ offense and distribution around Kobe Bryant.

Lakers Totals Through 11 Games:

For these 11 games, the Lakers have handled 1,109 possessions for a rate of 100.9 possessions per 48 minutes. Over these 1,109 possessions the Lakers have scored a total of 1,093 points for an average of 0.98 points per possession. The Lakers have also totaled 4,322 touches, for an average of 3.9 touches per possession.

So the question is, how often does the offense run through Kobe Bryant?

Of the 528 total minutes played by the Lakers, Kobe Bryant has played a total of 243 minutes over the course of 8 games. In these games, the Lakers have gone a total of 2-6 with Bryant.

Kobe Bryant’s Role on the Offense:

For the 4,322 touches, Kobe Bryant has contributed to 392 touches; or 9.07% of all touches on offense. This breaks down to an average of 35.35% of possessions pass through Bryant’s hands. This percentage is a little skewed as Bryant has missed three games this season. Accounting for these three games, Kobe has control over the basketball in an average of 48.57% of possessions he participates in, whether he is on the court of the bench.

Since Bryant has played 8 total games, the 392 touches translates to 49 touches per game. With a 104.19 pace for Bryant, this equates to 65.93 possessions played per game. Which in turn means that an average of 74.32% of possessions pass through Kobe Bryant’s hands when he is on the court.

Bryant has taken 131 field goal attempts, which breaks down to 24.5% of possessions that Bryant plays in result in field goal attempts. Using Conditional Rules for Percentages, this equates to the following:

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.13.10 PM

Conditional probability that Kobe Bryant will take a shot if he touches the ball during a possession.

Thus, 33.42% of the offense results in Kobe Bryant taking a shot. With Bryant shooting a mere 33.6% on 44-for-131 shooting, this equates to 11.22% of Kobe Bryant’s touches results in field goals, while 22.20% of Bryant’s touches result in missed field goal attempts. Since Kobe touches 74.32% of possessions when he is on the court; and Kobe is on the court for 65.35% of all possessions during his 8 games of action, Bryant therefore accounts for only 5.44% of the true offense!

The question is then, what happens with the other 66.58% of Kobe Bryant’s touches?

Kobe has completed a total of 222 passes of his remaining 261 touches. That is, a total of 85.06% of touches result in passes to teammates. Of the 222 passes, Bryant has been credited for 27 total assists. That is, Bryant’s total point contribution due to field goals is a meager 189 total points; or 23.63 points per game. This reduces to less than 0.4 points per possession. A reason why Bryant has not been much of a factor in games, resulting in a -18 overall plus-minus through 8 games.

The remaining 39 touches have resulted in 19 turnovers and 20 trips to the free throw line. One thing is clear: Bryant rarely turns the ball over; only accounting for a little over 2 turnovers per game. This means that Bryant is either going to distribute the basketball or take a low percentage shot.

Bryant’s Passing Game:

While Bryant is credited for only 27 assists over his 8 games, there have been 75 shot attempts by teammates created by Bryant’s passing. Of the 75 total passes to his teammates, 35 have resulted in field goals made; a 46.67% rate. As Bryant has played a total of 527 possessions per game on offense, when Bryant is on the court, he contributes to only 206 shot attempts. This breaks down to 39% of the shots created on offense involve Bryant; hardly a reason to pump 75% of the offense through his hands.

Therefore, we are interested in the distribution of Bryant’s passes. Since just over a third (33.78% on 75 of 222) of Bryant’s passes results in shot attempts, the question is whether Bryant’s passes are towards or away from scoring opportunities.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.36.32 PM

Distribution of Kobe Bryant’s passing over the course of his first 8 games played in the 2015-2016 NBA season for the Los Angeles Lakers.

We quickly find that 113 of Bryant’s 222 passes are to backcourt players, resulting in 44 of the 75 shot attempts. This means that less than half the passes are worked into the post (49.10%) and even less are for shot attempts (28.44% of post passes are for shot attempts).

This then indicates that Bryant is a guard tendency passer with a penchant for shooting low percentage shots.

What Does This All Mean?

Here, we find that Bryant tends to shoot roughly 33% of the time and pass the ball up 57% of the time. Of his passes, he tends to look for guards who are willing to shoot and score at a rate of 45%. Similarly, post players are shooting 15-of-31; just under 50% when Bryant feeds then the ball.

By the straight numbers, Bryant needs to continue becoming a facilitator until his shooting comes  back into rhythm. However, the Lakers struggle to work the ball into the post for scoring opportunities when Bryant is on the court. It should be noted that Bryant is creating a facilitating role in his game, indicated by his increased percentage of passing this season; compared to his well over 40% of the offense taking shots in previous seasons.

Over the season, watch for younger Laker players to identify openings on the court, allowing for them to create off the ball. If Bryant is able to keep working the ball to the younger players, we may see that 2-9 record get closer to a 24 – 58 record as opposed to the current pace of 14 – 68.

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