A UC-San Diego economist and a Microsoft researcher from New York have disproven the long-held conventional wisdom that Kobe Bryant is a patient teammate who reacts to Laker struggles by trying even harder to get his teammates involved on offense.
Just kidding, of course. What researchers Matthew Goldman and Justin Rao actually found, in the course of researching a Sloan Analytics Conference paper about how teams’ strategies change depending on whether they’re trailing or leading, was a striking visual demonstration of just how extreme Kobe’s hero-ball tendencies become when games are slipping away from his team. (The paper’s main argument is intriguing as well — the authors believe that teams with a lead become too conservative about taking three-pointers, and that trailing teams’ desperation often inspires them to play with more strategic effectiveness than they would otherwise.)
Looking specifically at Bryant, the authors came up with the striking chart below. In most game situations, Bryant’s usage rate — a measure of how often his team’s possessions end with him shooting or turning the ball over — are on par with a typical star offensive player. But when it’s getting to be crunch time and the Lakers are tied or trailing, Bryant goes nuts. And the worse they’re losing, the more he shoots. Look at this illustration rocket upward in the left front corner:
To put that number in context, Allen Iverson’s usage rate at his ball-dominating peak was 37.8%. In other words, when the Lakers are in trouble in the fourth quarter, Kobe — a guy whose teammates have included Shaq, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash — becomes a bigger ballhog than Allen Iverson was in the era in which the 76ers officially changed the name of their team to “Allen Iverson and Eleven Random Guys Named Bill.”
UPDATE: Study co-author Goldman emails to note a surprising fact about Bryant’s late-game bal domination: “Kobe actually maintains and even slightly increases his efficiency in those situations… This doesn’t make Kobe any less insane/competitive, but it is a very impressive testament to his ability to shoulder an incredible offensive burden with much greater efficiency then Allen Iverson was ever known for.”