Kobe Bryant in a nutshell

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
11:38
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Kobe Bryant fans, stat geeks and referee conspiracy theorists -- everyone got what they wanted from last night's Lakers win over the Bucks.

Kobe Bryant fans
That's what he does
, right? That game-winner over Charlie Bell is precisely the reason that Kobe Bryant wins all kinds of surveys as most feared player in the NBA.

He knows who's going to be defending him. He knows where he wants to get on the court. He knows what he wants to do when he gets there. He knows how to account for his injured finger. He has practiced everything.

Other players are bigger and stronger. But nobody knows more, prepares better or better embodies sheer professionalism. Any success he has is well deserved.

Think back through his career. How many times have you seen him hit game-winners? 30? 40? A thousand? We can all remember plenty of them. And that's why he has the best selling jersey in the world.

Last night's shot gave Kobe Bryant fans precisely the evidence they need to prove, yet again, that this guy is the absolute best.

Who would question them?

Stat geeks
It's not as fun a way to see the NBA, but it's real.

Every which way people slice and dice crunch time numbers -- field goal percentage, plus/minus, you name it -- Bryant is not the NBA's best in crunch time. A glance at last year's crunch time numbers on 82games.com makes clear Bryant shoots more than anyone else in the NBA in crunch time, but is he more skilled at making those shots? That's what we're trying to judge, right? In crunch time field goal percentage, last season Bryant finished 92nd in the League, right behind Michael Beasley. Others ahead of him include Kevin Garnett, both Gasols, Zach Randolph, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Terry, Jameer Nelson, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, Eric Gordon, Brandon Roy, Andre Iguodala, Jason Kidd, Ben Gordon, and Chris Bosh.

You can remember Bryant hitting all those clutch baskets, stat geeks say. But you're forgetting all the misses. (And if you are learning about Bryant from highlights, then you're not even seeing most misses.)

82games defines crunch time as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, and all of overtimes, when neither team is leading by more than five points. In that period last night, Bryant showed some of the mixed bag of efficiency that the stats show, by turning the ball over, making a shot, missing three straight, and then closing the game in style. He ended fourth quarter Laker plays as follows:
  • 2:40 turnover
  • 2:11 made jumper
  • 1:46 missed jumper
  • 0:31 assist
  • 0:02 missed jumper

In overtime:
  • 1:34 missed 3
  • 1:17 made jumper
  • 0:48 made layup + free throw
  • 0:00 made jumper

Bryant wound up four of seven in crunch time -- which is a healthy 57% from the floor. That's above average crunch time shooting for him, but not as good as those with the the NBA's best percentages. So he had a good night, compared to the 46% crunch time percentage from last year.

But one less make would have put him at 50%, and did you hear the commentary with the highlights above?

Conspiracy theorists
The Lakers won by one point in overtime. They got three points in the final minute on a play that appeared to most observers to feature both a Bryant charge and a travel, when he made himself into a bowling ball and Andrew Bogut into a bowling pin.

The NBA says there are no such things as superstar calls, but was anybody surprised by that? Can you find examples of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant getting whistled for offensive fouls with the ball on the way to the hoop with the game on the line? This is not new. If it happens at all, it happens very little. It's evident superstars operate with a certain impunity. You could argue it's a reason to have a superstar -- so you don't have to worry much about offensive fouls with the game on the line.

Even on the next play, Bryant's game-winner, he gathered the ball, and then hopped noticeably with both feet before pivoting.

It's not alarming or even all that disappointing to me. The game is hard to referee in real time, and everyone wants to see plays like the one above.

And in a way, wasn't last night's game perfect? Kobe Bryant fans, stat geeks, conspiracy theorists ... Just about everyone got what they wanted.

My main thought is: Kobe Bryant probably has the best body control, footwork and sheer skill of any NBA player. If the game were consistently called by the book, he'd adjust faster than anybody, his hard work would be rewarded, and there'd be a new facet of his game: You could show it to high-school players and tell them to copy the same moves.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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