This graph makes me think Kobe is not that good, he just shoots a lot

January 31, 2012
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(This article was first published on Simply Statistics, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

I find it surprising that NBA commentators rarely talk about field goal percentage. Everybody knows that the more you shoot the more you score. But players that score a lot are admired without consideration of their FG%. Of course having a high FG% is not necessarily admirable as many players only take easy shots, while top-scorers need to take difficult ones. Regardless, missing is undesirable and players that miss more than usual are not criticized enough. Iverson, for example, had a lowly career FG% of 43 yet he regularly made the allstar team. But I am not surprised he never won an NBA championship: it’s hard to win when your top scorer misses so often.

Experts consider Kobe to be one of the all time greats and compare him to Jordan. They never mention that he is consistently among league leaders in missed shots. So far this year, Kobe has missed a whopping 279 times for a league leading 13.3 misses per game. In contrast, Lebron has missed 8.8 per game and has scored about the same per game. The plot above (made with this R script) shows career FG% for players considered to be superstars, top-scorers, and that have won multiple championships (red lines are 1st and 3rd quartiles). I also include Gasol, Lebron, Wade, and Dominique. Note that Kobe has the worst FG% in this group.  So how does he win 5 championships? Well perhaps Shaq and later Gasol made up for his misses. Note that the first year Kobe played without Shaq, the Lakers did not make the playoffs. Also, during Kobe’s career the Lakers’ record has been similar with and without him. Experts may compare Kobe to Jordan, but perhaps we should be comparing him to Dominique.

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