(Note: I am a moron and don’t know anything. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I’m sure I made some in this article as well. Feel free to let me know how I screwed up by tweeting me @JacksonKrueger. At the end of the day I’m not an expert, just a guy having fun by talking about sports. Hope you enjoy.)
Kobe Bryant is unlike any other player in NBA history. If fact, he might be unlike in other person to ever live. From having practices where he wouldn’t go home until he made 800 baskets, to watching film of himself at halftime, he would do whatever it took to win. Maybe my favorite Kobe story is that he used to challenge his high school teammates to play one-on-one games to 100. In his worst game he still won 100-12. Kobe Bryant was great, and the main thing that made him great was his scoring ability. So what if we took that away? Instead of him being a great shooter, what if he absolutely sucked at shooting?
To figure out exactly how bad of a shooter I wanted him to be, I found the player with the worst two point field goal percentage (among qualified players) in each of the 20 seasons Kobe Bryant played in. I then did the same thing for three point field goal percentage. I then averaged them all together, which meant that Kobe Bryant now had a .396 two point field goal percentage, and a .277 three point field goal percentage. A pretty significant downgrade being that his career percentages were .479 from two and .329 from three. I also did the same thing with his free throw percentage, however to keep things fair, instead of using the worst free throw shooter period, I used the lowest percentage from a guard from each season to find his new free throw percentage (so basically I used Rajon Rondo’s free throw percentage). So his free throw percentage is now .656 instead of .837. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were such a big part of NBA history throughout the 2000’s, and Kobe sucking at shooting would certainly alter history. So I wanted to see how many more games the Lakers would’ve lost had this happened. To do this I went and looked at how many two and three point shots Kobe took each season he played. Then I figured out how many made baskets he would need to make his averages .396 from two and .277 from three. I then used a random number generator to randomly select which field goal attempts would be makes and which ones would be misses. I did the same thing with his free throws. Doing this kept his averages 3.96 and 2.77, and also changed the score of almost every game he played in. That allowed me to go back and check each game and see what games outcomes were different with Kobe sucking at shooting. I have the changes below.
Looking through the list, a lot isn’t too surprising. In his first two seasons he didn’t have a very big role, so there was very little change. Weirdly him becoming an awful shooter actually helped in 1997-1998. I’m not really sure why that is, but my guess would be due to the fact that Kobe only played 26 minutes per game that season, he didn’t have as big of an impact as he had on other seasons. Throw in the fact that the 1997-1998 Lakers lost a ton of close games that year, and I think they just got lucky on a few of them. In his final three seasons he had a smaller role as well, which meant they only lost 4 more games combined. In his third and fourth season he hadn’t fully come into his own yet, so him shooting poorly would’ve only cost his team 3 and 3.5 games in them. In case you’re wondering where the point five came from, when changing all of these games, some ended up in ties. There’s no way for me to simulate an overtime, so the game ends in a tie. Looking at the middle of Kobe’s career, it seems pretty consistent that him sucking at shooting a basketball would’ve hurt his team in basketball. But not as much as you might think. I mean, I’m literally turning an legend into the worst shooter in the NBA, and they only miss the playoffs three extra times because of it.
There’s several reasons why even with Kobe now sucking at shooting, the Lakers are still doing okay. One of them is the fact that teams would’ve played the Lakers differently if Kobe couldn’t shoot. Defenders wouldn’t have had to play so far up on him, and it would’ve given Los Angeles less space. There’s also the fact that basketball is a team sport, and the Lakers had some really good teams in the 2000’s. Another reason is that Kobe Bryant is a really good basketball player. While it’s kind of a running joke that Kobe never passed, he actually had 6,306 total assists, which is 30th all time. It’s not that he never passed, he just chose his moments, which is probably why he still would’ve been able to make the playoffs so many times. However, I wanted to see how they would’ve done in the playoffs, so I changed the playoff games he played in as well, and I have those results below.
You might’ve noticed that I left off the 2009 playoffs, but don’t worry, I’ll bring it up later. The first thing that has to be mentioned is that the seeding is off. The playoff seeding got changed due to the additional losses in the regular season for most of these seasons. Obviously I can’t go back in time and have the 2003-2004 Lakers play the 2003-2004 Kings in a seven game series, so I’m just playing things out as if they still played the same teams. However if they made the playoffs in real life but missed it due to the simulation, then I’m just counting it as missing the playoffs. There’s definitely some interesting changes, a few championships wouldn’t have been won by the Lakers since Portland would’ve beat Los Angeles in the conference finals in 2000, and Oklahoma City would’ve beat Los Angeles in round 1 in 2010. The Lakers would’ve lost an additional game in each series in 2002, including game 4 against the Kings, which would’ve meant the Kings would’ve won that series in 5 (although let’s be honest, I’m sure the referees would’ve still found a way to make that series go to a 7th game). They also would’ve lost in round 1 instead of round 2 in 2012 for whatever that’s worth. As a whole it’s what you would expect with Kobe now sucking at shooting, they would’ve done a lot worse. In 2001 they would’ve probably won the championship, since the only difference was that they would’ve lost game 2 against the Kings, but they still would’ve been up 3-1 in that series. However in that season they would’ve dropped from seed 2 to seed 7, which is quite the difference. So who knows if they would’ve been able to still win it all.
Let’s talk about the season I left out, because in my simulation of the 2009 playoffs, something weird happened.
Amazingly, if Kobe Bryant was the worst shooter in the NBA, he still would’ve won an NBA championship. I think this is pretty definitive too, despite the Lakers losing 11 more games (which was tied for the most out of any season), they were so out in front that year that they still would’ve been the number 1 seed. And not only did Kobe being so much worse at shots not cost them any games, they actually won an extra game against the Jazz in round 1. Amazingly, even if Kobe completely sucked at shooting a basketball, he still would’ve won an NBA championship, and maybe 2.
So that brings us to the final point, how would Kobe’s career look if he was bad at shooting, but still shot as much as he did. Instead of being third in total points with 33,643, he would’ve had 25,935, which means he still would’ve scored the 21th most points in NBA history. Ahead of guys like Reggie Miller, Alex English, Patrick Ewing and Ray Allen. In his iconic 81 point game, he would’ve ended up with 48 points instead, and there was a drop-off in his 60 point final game as well. If Kobe Bryant was the worst shooter in the league, in his final game he would’ve only scored 59 points that night (He really did take a lot of shots that game).