At 27.6 points per game, Kobe Bryant leads the NBA in scoring during the young 2014-15 season.
Coming off two serious injuries and celebrating 36 years, Bryant was written off by analysts entering his 19th season in the league. ESPN famously ranked Bryant as the 40th best player in the NBA, and their analysts went a step further to question whether that ranking was too high.
Albeit a small sample size, Bryant has already shown enough to tear apart the preseason rankings. ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi, who has covered the cross-town Clippers' beat in recent years, was one of the voices that felt it necessary to address the preseason rankings.
I think it's safe to say there are not 39 better NBA players than Kobe Bryant. — Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) November 5, 2014
With the discussion of Bryant being an elite player settled for the moment, the same questions that have following the shooting guard throughout his career have resurfaced. Namely, does he shoot too much?
Through five games, Bryant is averaging 24.4 field goal attempts per game. No one else in the NBA averages even 20. Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony are hovering at 19.4 and 19.2 field goal attempts per game, but no. 24 is averaging a full five shots more per game than his nearest competition.
Added to that, Bryant is in the top 10 in free throw attempts per game. Going to the foul line 8.8 times per game implies that Bryant is taking a few more shots that don't get registered as field goal attempts.
Obviously, criticizing Bryant for shooting too much is easy pickings these days, especially considering the Lakers have started 0-5. However, shooting at these levels is not new for the 19-year veteran. Provided thin rosters during the 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, Bryant averaged 23.6 field goal attempts per game during those three years.
Considering the Lakers' current roster, the main criticism of Bryant should not be his shooting; it should be his passing. In the season he tore his Achilles, Bryant averaged 6.0 assists per game. In the 13 seasons prior to that season, Bryant averaged between 4.5 and 6.3 assists per game. Regardless of who was on his team or how many times he shot the ball, Bryant fell into that respectable range of assists.
So far in the 2014-15 season, Bryant is averaging 2.8 assists per game. Even more pronounced in his last two outings, Bryant has missed open teammates and focused on taking his shot. As such, the "Black Mamba" is averaging 32.5 shots per game in the Lakers' last two losses to go along with only 1.0 assists per game.
Of course, Bryant’s assists would be higher if Carlos Boozer was able to finish at the rim with greater efficiency or if Ronnie Price was able to knock down a couple more three-pointers. Even with those factors taken into consideration, Bryant is falling into isolation far too often and, as a result, leaving his teammates feeling isolated.