Bernstein: Kobe Bryant Made Inefficiency Work

There will never be another Kobe.

Dan Bernstein
January 27, 2020 - 1:55 pm
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(670 The Score) There won't be another Kobe Bryant, because one won't be allowed to exist. Not anymore, not with what we know about good shots and bad ones, expected points per attempt and how to maximize the value of every possession.

There will be plenty of similarly sized and even equally talented players with all of the athleticism and competitive drive and well-honed skill, not one of them permitted to play anything resembling Bryant's game on the NBA level, because now we know that one shouldn't.

Let's not get all bogged down in specific and arcane numbers with this but rather appreciate the extent to which Bryant was a special kind of artifact: not merely something other than the model of offensive efficiency so prized by current analytical understanding, but quite proudly and defiantly the opposite. He was a high-volume shooter of long and often comically contested 2-pointers, exactly the shot that all teams are now conditioned to avoid. He didn't so much work within a system as create one as a byproduct, often helping his teammates by as much accident as purpose -- the "Kobe assist" in fact coined to describe a Bryant miss with a high likelihood of an offensive rebound that leads to an easy putback, the basketball equivalent of just getting the puck on the net.

A confluence of circumstances allowed for Bryant -- who was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday -- to evolve this way. First was his arrival at the late stages of the isolation age, with no zone defenses allowed and the expectation that one entire side of the floor would be cleared for a given star player at a critical juncture. This was also well before the full embrace of internationalization would bring more passing and movement. Second was coach Phil Jackson's reliance on the antiquated triple-post offense that encouraged these shots in two ways. It was designed before the 3-pointer even existed and was trying to get open mid-range shots, and its routine actions often merely ate up enough of the shot clock to result in the superstar player in a bailout one-on-one by necessity. Most importantly, Bryant was so good and made so many of these shots with hands in his face and guys on his hip that there was no telling him not to do it.

NBA writer Mark Deeks of Sky Sports joined the Bernstein and McKnight Show on 670 The Score on Monday, and he put Bryant's game in some historical context.

"He straddles eras," Deeks said. "He joined the league just about as Michael Jordan was still in it. He mimicked Michael Jordan and then became inimitable himself when the analytics era changed the game around him. And yet, you can play like that if you can play to that level."

Deeks' observations end up becoming an obvious confirmation of Bryant's individual greatness, in that it's probably just assumed that he'll be the last to have such an approach.

"Basketball is a bit homogeneous these days," Deeks said. "Where everyone tries to play in the same style, but it's more about ability than style. Some of Kobe's shots were poor. It doesn't matter though. If he wasn't the best of all time, he very nearly was, and if he can do that playing in a style that nobody's used to defending, that just made him more enigmatic."

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.