COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Lakers beat writer Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily New s made an observation via Twitter last week about the NBA 2K14 video game slated to hit the shelves this fall as it relates to Kobe Bryant. His ability to come back from a devastating ruptured left Achilles' tendon remains a hot topic around Laker-land, and Medina weight in with some solid insight.
Via his timeline:
"NBA2K14 video of Bryant shows him using footwork to create space for open jumper. Will likely rely on that more post-rehab from Achilles"
First, the caveat: This is a video game, and does not have any real bearing on what happens next season or how Bryant or any player will approach the game.
With that disclaimer out of the way, it's worth noting that the NBA2K series is as real as any sports video game gets. The attention detail is incredible, and when it comes to high-profile players like Bryant, the game historically nails every nuance. It's likely to do the same with the fact that the Black Mamba is now 35 years-old and in the twilight of his career.
The injury to the Achilles' tendon, which is particularly restrictive for a slashing guard like Bryant, figures to limit his arsenal and make him more predictable on offense. Now, the threat of him beating NBA defenders nearly half his age off dribble penetration consistently seems non-existent. In fact, it was a tall order to ask a season ago, but he proved a lot of folks wrong when he finished third in the NBA in scoring with an average of 27.3 points per game. He was less efficient, but still managed to surpass his career average of 25.3.
How did he do it? And more importantly, can he do it again after injury?
A deeper look into Kobe's mid-range and long-range game
Bryant could be relegated to taking more jump shots next season based on the balky Achilles, but that may not hurt his production. From 15 feet out, Bryant made 37 percent of his 836 field goal attempts in 2012-13. Since the 2000-01 season, he's taken more field goal attempts from the same distance five times. That would indicate that he's not necessarily trending toward getting fewer inside looks due to age, only adjusting his game as he sees fit.
The injury should change that per se, but if there's one thing that fans should expect from Kobe, it's the fact that he's made a career of proving doubters wrong.
That's not to say he won't adjust his game next season again. In the past, he's developed a post game and a more consistent three-point shot to become a better scorer, so he's proven he's masterful at adjusting. Last season was supposed to be another year of tread on his aging tires where he was a step slower and presumably unable to create his own shot as effectively.
He then proved that theory wrong by becoming an even better shot-creator. On 306 field goals made in 2012-13, only 41 percent came from assists. That's the lowest total he's had for mid-range jump shots since 2000-2001. In other words, Bryant at his slowest and oldest was able to create enough separation to trust the same mid-range shot that's been deadly for most of his career.
How he can use the injury to his advantage
Since the injury (and his age) will force Bryant to rely less on quickness than he ever has, he can use it to his advantage by using the shot fake effectively to get to the lane where he can finish as well as anyone, even with limited athleticism. His body control and footwork are among the best the NBA's ever seen, and once he gets into the second and third level of the defense, he scores much more efficiently, just like most players at the NBA level.
Inside of 15 feet in 2012-13, Bryant shot 57 percent. There were five separate seasons where he shot a worse mark from that range since 2000-01, indicating that he is still effective at scoring against the second and third layers of the defense at his oldest. Assuming that the upcoming season will be his most challenging physically, it stands to reason that he'll make whatever adjustments necessary to be an effective scorer from all three levels -- inside, mid-range and the perimeter.
Like Medina said, Bryant will likely rely on jumpers more because of the injury, but like he's done several times before, he will adjust, use his new weakness to an advantage and probably surprise all of us with his ability to score in a variety of ways.
That's why determining how Bryant will create his shots next season is going to be one of the more subtle, yet most entertaining aspects of Lakers basketball.
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Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was the 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and contributes regularly to SB Nation.
- Sports & Recreation
- Kobe Bryant