- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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When Kobe Bryant started off the 2012-13 season with four straight games in which he shot 50 percent or better from the field, there was optimism about his improved accuracy. But it was measured.
Yes, it was just the fourth-longest 50 percent streak in Bryant's 17-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. And yes, he hadn't had four straight games in which he made more shots than he missed since Jan. 17-25, 2011. But there was still the question of how long he could keep his hot streak going.
Well, 10 games have passed since then, and Bryant is still shooting better than he has at any other point in his career.
Bryant is shooting 51 percent overall so far this season (his previous career best was 46.9 percent in 2001-02), 41.5 percent from the 3-point line (his previous career best was 38.3 percent in 2002-03) and 87.4 percent from the foul line (his previous career best was 86.8 percent in 2006-07). He also has shot 50 percent or better in 10 of the Lakers' 14 games, so his accuracy has been consistent. And with 17.1 percent of the season in the books, the sample size has grown to the point that this can't be just an aberration.
So, where does the credit go? How does Bryant jump from shooting just 43 percent overall last season -- his worst shooting mark since his second season in the league, back in 1997-98 -- to his best marksmanship as a 34-year-old?
"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."
Bryant didn't credit his time with USA Basketball or his comfort playing with his fractured index finger or improved health in his knees.
"Outside of that, I'm just a bad mother [expletive]," Bryant said with a smirk.
Or as coach Mike D'Antoni put it, "Kobe is tuned in."
Bryant believes that tune might sound even better when Steve Nash finally returns and the two are able to mesh their games in harmony.
"[The shooting percentages will] probably get better because I have to do less with the ball," Bryant said. "I'll have more catch-and-shoot opportunities, more catch-and-go opportunities, and I'll really be able to get to the basket, really attack the rim and score."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
When Kobe Bryant started off the 2012-13 season with four straight games in which he shot 50 percent or better from the field, there was optimism about his improved accuracy.