When Kobe Bryant started off the 2012-13 season with four straight games in which he shot 50 percent or better from the field, there was optimism about his improved accuracy. But it was measured.
Yes, it was just the fourth-longest 50 percent streak in Bryant's 17-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. And, yes, he hadn't had four straight games when he made more shots than he missed since Jan. 17-25, 2011. But there was still the question of how long he could keep his hot streak going.
Well, 10 games have passed since then and Bryant is still shooting better than he has at any point in his career.
Bryant is shooting 51 percent overall so far this season (his previous career best was 46.9 percent in 2001-02), 41.5 percent from the three-point line (his previous career best was 38.3 percent in 2002-03) and 87.4 percent from the foul line (his previous career best was 86.8 in 2006-07). He also has shot 50 percent or better in 10 out of the Lakers' 14 games, so his accuracy has been consistent. And with 17.1 percent of the season in the books, the sample size has grown to the point where this can't just be an aberration.
So, where does the credit go? How does Bryant jump from shooting just 43.0 percent overall a year ago -- his worst shooting mark since his second season in the league, back in 1997-98 -- to his best marksmanship as a 34-year old?
"I think the system has a lot to do with it," Bryant said Monday. "The floor is spaced out a little bit more. I can penetrate to the basket and get to the free throw line a lot more."
He is averaging 7.92 free throw attempts per game this season, up from 7.77 a game last year. The improvement isn't dramatic in that category, but Bryant seems to have adopted the mental standpoint that slashing opportunities are there for him whenever he wants them, whereas, last season, he would have Andrew Bynum and his defenders clogging up the paint.
"I think, really, it's just I had more lanes to the basket," Bryant said. "We don't have people on the block, on the post all the time, so it enables me to drive to the rim and draw fouls, get to the free throw line a lot."
Bryant didn't credit his time with USA Basketball or his comfort playing with his fractured index finger or improved health in his knees, either.
"Outside of that, I'm just a bad mother (expletive)," Bryant said with a smirk.
Or as coach Mike D'Antoni put it, "Kobe is tuned in."
Bryant believes that tune may sound even better when Steve Nash finally returns and the two are able to mesh their games in harmony.
"[The shooting percentages will] probably get better because I have to do less with the ball," Bryant said. "I'll have more catch-and-shoot opportunities, more catch-and-go opportunities and I'll really be able to get to the basket, really attack the rim and score." http://espn.go.com/blog/los-angeles/lak ... efficiency