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The Value of Kobe Bryant

NBA Statistical Analyst Kevin Pelton

by Kevin Pelton, 1/17/05

Imagine a team that owns, at the same time, both the NBA's best defense and its worst offense. This scrappy bunch of overachievers, not blessed with a ton of offensive talent, nonetheless manages to stay in most games before falling just short.

This team exists not just in your imagination but in reality - sort of. This team is the 2005-06 Los Angeles Lakers, sans Kobe Bryant. Through Friday, this Web site's database indicated that, without Bryant in the game, the Lakers were scoring at a rate of just 90.2 points per 100 possessions while surrendering just 95.7 points per 100 possessions. No full NBA team is scoring less than 100 points per 100 possessions; the only team with a Defensive Rating below 100 is San Antonio (99.6).

You might think this is a common effect for a team with its superstar off the floor, but the Bryant-less Lakers take this to an extreme. Bryant's presence has been worth 22.0 points per 100 possessions to the Lakers offense this season, far and away the biggest difference made on offense by any NBA player:

Players     Tm   Diff
Bryant     LAL  +22.0
Wade       MIA  +17.0
Szczerbiak MIN  +15.0
Howard     ORL  +14.9
Nowitzki   DAL  +14.9

Last year, Steve Nash led the NBA with a 17.6 difference in Offensive Rating, so what Bryant is doing is rather remarkable. It's also probably not as dramatic as it seems, given that Bryant is usually out of the game for short stretches -- he's averaging 40.4 minutes per game -- and often with other starters also on the bench.

When Bryant missed two games because he was suspended for elbowing Memphis' Mike Miller in the throat, the Lakers offense struggled, but faired better than it has overall, scoring at a rate of 103.1 points per 100 possessions -- still well below their mark of 112.2 points with Bryant. (It was the defense, which surrendered 113.8 points per 100 possesssions, that really let the Lakers down as they lost both games to the Jazz.)

No matter what measure you use, Bryant's importance to the Lakers offense is evident. Yet this hasn't silenced critics that demean Bryant as a ballhog. To the extent that the term is defined as a player who shoots a lot, it is inarguable. Bryant is attempting an amazing 39.4% of the Lakers' shots while on the court this season, twice as many as an average player. Tracy McGrady (35.6%) is second in terms of percentage of his teams shots and only 15 other players are attempting even 30%.

Bryant's so-so efficiency makes it tempting to label him a ballhog. After all, his True Shooting Percentage of 54.1% is lower than fellow Lakers starters Lamar Odom (54.9%), Smush Parker (55.3%) and Chris Mihm (56.4%) as well as occasional starter Brian Cook (57.6%). It's also scarcely above the league average of 53.2%.

While I'm a big believer in the importance of True Shooting Percentage, it doesn't tell a complete story. For one, it ignores the role of turnovers. Bryant's turnover rate is in the NBA's top 15. If we look at points scored per possessions used (FGA + (.44*FTA) + TO), Bryant -- who averages 98.8 points per 100 possessions -- shoots past every Lakers regular save Cook (103.8) in terms of efficiency. Still, this alone is not enough to explain Bryant's dramatic impact on the Lakers offense.

For that, we have to look deeper into Bryant's on-court/off-court statistics available on this site to take a look at how his presence has affected the performance of his teammates. Of the 10 other Lakers who have played at least 100 minutes this season, only two -- Mihm and reserve forward Devean George -- have shot a lower field-goal percentage with Bryant on the court.

We can take this a step forward by going to the points per 100 possessions rating I referenced earlier, which takes into account the extra turnovers other players pick up with Bryant on the bench. Here is how the Lakers regulars' Offensive Ratings look with and without Bryant:

Player     with    w/o   diff
Brown      76.8   68.5  + 8.3
Bynum      66.9   49.5  +17.4
Cook      104.6  100.9  + 3.8
George     92.0   80.2  +11.8
Mihm       96.4  81.1   +15.3
Odom       92.9  91.9   + 1.0
Parker    100.5  73.3   +27.2
Profit     90.5  86.1   + 4.4
Vujacic    95.9  72.7   +23.2
Walton     81.2  64.2   +17.0

Remarkably, every single player has improved his Offensive Rating, if only by a little in a couple of cases. However, Parker and his backup, Sasha Vujacic, have seen their efficiency cut into by about a quarter when Bryant leaves the court.

George is a particularly interesting case that illustrates why field-goal percentage is not sufficient to address this issue. While George's field-goal percentage has basically been the same with and without Bryant, his Offensive Rating drops dramatically without Bryant. George hits twice as many 3s per field goal with Bryant on the court, and turns the ball over far, far less. He has just eight turnovers in 433 minutes when teamed with Bryant, 13 in 236 by himself.

Is it possible that other players make this kind of difference? Perhaps, but a glance at the statistics with and without other key offensive players, including Nash and Shaquille O'Neal from last year, reveals a less consistent pattern. Nash, for example, had a major influence of the shooting of Amaré Stoudemire -- perhaps adding context to Stoudemire's "breakout" season -- but had no effect on Shawn Marion.

Without Bryant using as many possessions as he does, the Lakers become a much more balanced team on offense. Here's how their percentage of possessions used compare with and without Bryant on the court:

Player   with   w/o    diff
Brown    12.2  21.4   + 9.2
Bynum    11.2  27.6   +16.4
Cook     17.5  17.0   - 0.5
George   12.6  20.5   + 7.9
Mihm     17.6  24.6   + 7.0
Odom     17.3  24.4   + 7.0
Parker   16.0  19.3   + 3.3
Profit   16.4  23.0   + 6.7
Vujacic  10.1  14.4   + 4.2
Walton   14.2  17.9   + 3.7

It's a bit surprising that Odom hasn't stepped forward as more of a go-to player with Bryant off the court. While he's never been an aggressive player, Odom used about as many possessions in 2003-04 in Miami despite playing with Dwyane Wade. He's probably got the capability to step up his role in the offense even more.

I see the difference in his teammates' performance with and without Bryant as relating to the age-old notion that a player can "make his teammates better." To many APBRmetricians, that line of thinking is anathema, but I've always had more problem with the haphazard manner in which the claim has been used to denigrate star players blessed with untalented teammates than the concept itself. It's theoretically obvious that playing with a star player should help a player's statistics. Not only does it produce more open shots because of double-teams drawn by the star, it also forces the teammate to take fewer contested shots because of being asked to create his own shot.

Kurt from the definitive Lakers blog, Forum Blue and Gold, sees the other Lakers adjusting to and playing off of Bryant much better recently.

"Brian Cook has developed a very consistent outside shot since he came into the league, so you have started to see him run a pick-and-pop with Kobe that works well. Parker and Vujacic are figuring out where to be to get kickout passes. Mihm in particular but also the much-maligned Brown have started to find good spacing under the basket when Kobe penetrates, leading to them getting easy baskets off passes or putbacks on misses.

"Regular Laker watchers have long thought Kobe does make his teammates better - did you see the year Chucky Atkins had in 2004-05?"

Really, you can't look at statistics to determine whether a player is a ballhog. Like pornography as defined by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I know a ballhog when I see one. Given the positive effect Bryant has had on his teammates, it seems to me that the amount Bryant is shooting is not only not hurting the Lakers, it's the reason for the team's offensive success. Considering how much Bryant has helped his teammates, they certainly can't complain.

Mailing List

Back in the old Hoopsworld days, I had a mailing list that notified readers when my columns were posted. Now that I'm writing several different places, it seems appropriate to bring it back. If you'd like to join, please e-mail me at

Kevin Pelton formerly wrote the "Page 23" column for He provides original content for both SUPERSONICS.COM and, where you can find more of his analysis of both the NBA and the WNBA. He can be reached at

Also see Kevin's previous columns for
The Year in Stats
Why I'm an APBRmetrician
Wanted: Open Minds
Investigating Dwyane Wade's Injury Risk
The Similarity of Eddy Curry and Mike Sweetney
Rating the Rookies: Projected Fantasy Stats
Valuing the Preseason
Every Play Counts: Kobe Bryant
Comparing the 50 Greatest
Every Play Counts: The Phoenix Pick-and-Roll
Every Play Counts: Antonio Daniels
Every Play Counts: Detroit-San Antonio

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