Smush Parker, Chris Mihm and Lamar Odom. Those were the three players not named Kobe Bryant to average at least 10 points per game for the 2005-06 Los Angeles Lakers. After the 2004-05 season -- the first and only time Bryant has missed the playoffs -- Kobe realized the issue with his first Shaq-less team: too many other people were taking too many shots. Kobe fixed that problem in 2005-06. He led the league in field goals attempted by a whopping 350 over second place LeBron James.
That season Bryant also set the modern (since 1946-47) professional basketball record for usage rate, a statistic that measures a player's involvement in his team's offense. Between his many field goals as well as his free throw attempts (819, along with a league-high 696 makes) and turnovers (250, or 3.1 per game), Bryant was responsible for using 38.7% of his team's possessions. Only four times has a player even used 37% of his team's possessions: Bryant in 2004-05, Michael Jordan in 1986-87, Allen Iverson in 2001-02, and Bryant again this season. But this season, Kobe's field goal percentage is down to 42.9% after averaging 45.3% over the course of his career, and due to his domineering status in the Lakers' offense, we shouldn't expect that to change down the stretch.
Bryant has always been very involved with the offense, but 2004-05 was a different level. This season is the closest we've seen Bryant to that level of ball domination since then:
Outside of the shooting percentage, the results have been pretty solid for Bryant and his Lakers this season. The squad leads the Pacific Division by three games over their arenamates the Clippers, and Bryant is having his best individual season in years. He leads the league in scoring for the first time since 2006-07 and still adds solid rebounding and assists (5.6 and 4.7 per game respectively).
More points will come with more attempts, but there are consequences. What we're seeing with Bryant this year is a typical effect of increased shot volume. Many of the added shots -- particularly when you consider the burden Kobe already shouldered -- are extraordinarily tough, coming at the end of the shot clock, far away from the basket, or all of the above.
Bryant leads the league in shots taken from 26 feet or more. According to 82Games.com, Bryant has taken three percent more attempts within the last three seconds of the shot clock than last season, and according to HoopData, Kobe is taking nearly two more shots per game in the 16-to-23 foot range. These are the three most inefficient shots in basketball. Put it all together, and you have a poor field goal percentage that makes an awful lot of sense.
The real question now is if the presence of Ramon Sessions will do anything to change the situation. Bryant has been playing without an effective point guard for years now, and having somebody who can at least take some attention from the opposing defense should help in theory. Still, it's incredibly difficult for any player to shoulder the kind of load Bryant has without taking at least some sort of ding to his efficiency, and particularly a 33-year-old playing almost 40 minutes per game in a condensed season.
Bryant has backed off a bit from his shooting with Sessions on the scene, using under 30% of the Lakers' possessions in both of Sessions's first two games. Although he probably won't stay down that low -- the game against Memphis on Sunday was odd, as Bryant was benched late -- distributing some of those absurdly difficult shots around will be key for Kobe to find his percentages again.
This year's Lakers team is not like the 2005-06 version which inspired Bryant to shoot first and ask questions later. Pau Gasol is no Chris Mihm. Andrew Bynum is no Smush Parker. Maybe with Ramon Sessions, the offense will begin to balance out, and what little bit Kobe loses in volume should be made up for in efficiency. It would take but one fewer missed shot per game for Bryant's field goal percentage to return to his career norms.
Fantasy owners will gladly take the current version of Kobe Bryant -- he leads the league in scoring, after all. But for his shooting percentages to stop denting his owners' squads week in and week out, the conclusion is unavoidable: he'll have to defer to his teammates.