It’s a tough question, because different games have completely different flows, and demand completely different things from various players. Perhaps the best way to answer it is to ask assistant coach Brian Shaw, who played with Bryant and now coaches him. We’ll get to that in a second, but the other way to shed some light on the issue is to crunch a few numbers.
Kobe in W’s vs. Kobe in L’s
Here are Bryant’s shooting and scoring numbers in L.A.’s 23 wins (prior to the Boston win) vs. their five losses:
When L.A. Wins
25.1 points per game; 18.9 field goal attempts; 47.5 percent shooting
When L.A. Loses
30.8 points per game; 26.2 field goal attempts; 43 percent shooting
A few points we can take from that data, which obviously refers only to this season and deals not with Bryant’s past shooting numbers, follow:
A) The Lakers are a better team when Kobe generally stays at or below 20 field goal attempts, as Shaw explains below. In fact, when Kobe shoots 21 or more times in a game, the Lakers are only 9-5 (including Boston). When he shoots fewer than 21 times, L.A. is 15-0.
B) While the Lakers need Kobe’s scoring to win, they don’t need him to put up huge scoring numbers. That he averages five more points per game in Lakers losses is indicative either that his teammates depend upon him too much in close games, or that he himself is taking too many shots at the expense of running L.A.’s effective offense. His season-high 41-point game was a 106-103 loss at Orlando, when neither Pau Gasol nor Andrew Bynum were much involved in the offense.
C) Kobe shot very poorly in three of L.A.’s five losses (@ ORL, @ SAC and vs DET), but the Lakers managed to beat Washington, New Jersey, Phoenix and Denver when he shot just as poorly. Point being, it’s not so much Kobe’s shooting percentage as his volume of shots that dictates L.A.’s success.
With that said, here’s what Brian Shaw had to say about the topic:
Lakers Assistant Coach Brian Shaw on Kobe
MT: On how many shots the coaching staff would like Kobe Bryant to take:
Shaw: It’s going to fluctuate from game to game, but an ideal situation, the number is probably around 20 shots. If he gets 20 shots and everybody else is in the six-to-twelve shot range, I think we’ll have really good balance, and teams can’t just key on one guy. There are certain situations where it’s better for Kobe to be a decoy, especially if someone else is hot, because Kobe’s going to draw attention regardless of if he’s shooting a lot or not. We can use that to our advantage.
MT: On approaching the game as a player playing with Kobe, as Shaw did 1999-2000 to 2002-03 (earning three rings):
First of all, if you want him to pass you the ball in certain situations, you have to knock down the shot when you get the ball, and particularly when he gives you the ball. Then he’ll be less reluctant to give you the ball when he’s double-teamed, or in a crowd. I knew from playing with Shaquille O’Neal that he liked a certain side of the floor on the block, and when he got the ball down there they’d double-team off me. I knew I was going to get shots anywhere from the corner to the top of the circle in our offense, so that’s where I practiced shooting. I was even probably more focused when the ball came from him or from Kobe, because if you knock down shots when they give it to you, they know the defense has to play you more honestly and that’ll open it up for them.
MT: On if his experience playing with Kobe and Shaq helps him coach L.A.’s current supporting players:
Shaw: Well, we tell them. A lot of times guys get caught up in how many touches they get or how many shots they’re taking, and we try to get them away from that. But one hand washes the other, and it’s always been that way. If he sets a good screen for me, I’ll get open. If I knock down shots, he’ll have more space. We try to preach and teach that to the guys, and some are more receptive to it than others.
MT: On how sometimes you need your best player to be “selfish” on offense:
Shaw: In some situations, you have to be selfish as a scorer. I say that because our team counts on the points that Kobe provides for us every night. There are certain situations where it may be more advantageous for him to pass the ball, but he needs to get himself into a rhythm so that he can feel comfortable for when we need him to score down the stretch. And if they don’t double-team him (like a late play against Memphis on the block on Monday), you’ll take your chances with that against anybody in the league.