Kobe Bryant hogs the ball, according to both advanced and conventional metrics. Even if those shots might be the best available for the team, playing with Kobe Bryant limits your touches. Just ask Andrew Bynum. Thus far this season, he leads the NBA in field goal attempts – even with Dwight Howard on his team, and Pau Gasol alongside for most of the way. Because when things go wrong – Kobe reverts to his most primal instincts: acquire ball, dribble ball, shoot ball.
After Sunday’s 111-98 defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers, a game in which Kobe scored 34 points, the media confronted him with this ball hog label. It’s a question he’s dealt with countless times in his career, but rarely has he let down his guard so matter-of-factly.
Via ESPN Los Angeles:
“‘I like shooting,’ Bryant said. ‘I don’t care how it comes. I like putting them up. It doesn’t matter how it comes. I’m being honest.’
‘I wouldn’t say I’m a ball hog. I’m a shooter,’ Bryant said, continuing with his 20-minute postgame media session when he described his love for scoring points the way a millionaire describes every one of the dollars he has made. ‘I don’t necessarily hog the ball, but I put them up though.’
There was more: ‘I definitely much rather shoot it than pass it. That’s just how I am.’
And more: ‘I’m a scorer, man. You don’t get 30,000 points without knowing how to put yourself in positions to shoot it. The ball just finds scorers and I can always, no matter what system you’re in, you can always find a way. Getting up 30 shots ain’t easy. A lot of people don’t know how to do that.’
And even more: ‘That’s what I do. It’s like superheroes. Superman can fly. Spider-Man has webs. Steve [Nash] can pass. I shoot. … I get ’em up! I make no bones about it. That’s what I do. That’s what I do. Some nights they fall, some nights they don’t. But, [Dennis] Rodman was a rebounder, Coop [Michael Cooper] was a defender, I’m a shooter.’ With that, he added a laugh.”
We’d like to point out that Steve Nash is also a shooter, and probably a better one – his career field goal percentage of 49.1 is almost four percentage points higher than Kobe’s 45.4. While that can most likely be chalked up to a matter of volume and shot selection, the ratio of shots made to shots attempted is not an independent variable. Selection and volume matter in an NBA game and therefore should not be discounted.
That said, the bigger point here is Kobe’s outright indifference. His half-hearted deflection of the label reveals a selfish truth, one which he wholeheartedly embraces and of which we already knew. And this bravado is nothing new, Kobe shouldering the scoring burden because why shouldn’t the most offensively gifted player take all the shots? But there’s something to be said for the disappearing chasm between real Kobe and media Kobe, Kobe on the court and Kobe off the court. Maybe five years ago, when Kobe would deliberately pass just to appease perceptual dissatisfaction with his style of play, he would have lauded his teammates and reminded us that basketball is a team game. But now, with his years left dwindling and whatever perceptions that already exist about Kobe fully entrenched in basketball’s vernacular, he has apparently just stopped giving a shit.
But there’s also a flip side to this, one more wholly disturbing yet intrinsically Kobe – that he truly believes there’s a difference between what he’s doing and the repertoire of a ball hog. That shooting 30 times a game really is his team’s best offense, and that sharing the ball will hurt his team’s chances of winning the game. Because while Kobe readily admits that he likes to shoot the ball, he likes to win more. And it just so happens that in his deepest heart of hearts, both of those philosophies directly intersect. And so we have Kobe Bryant, shooting his way to victory.