Lakers

Kobe Bryant's short shots for Lakers lead to change in routine

Lakers' Kobe Bryant tries to find right balance to improve his shot accuracy but not wear out aging legs

It's an impressive concept, really, Kobe Bryant leading the NBA in scoring at age 36.

It's practically a basketball miracle when considering many thought he was done after a torn Achilles' heel injury and later a broken bone in his knee.

The stat that mattered most last season — he played only six games, basically taking a year off at age 35.

The stat that needs improvement now is a big one: Bryant's shooting accuracy.

He's on pace for the lowest field-goal percentage for a scoring champion since the 1947-48 season, when Max Zaslofsky shot 32.3% for the Chicago Stags. It was the second season of existence for the NBA, called the Basketball Assn. of America at the time.

Bryant is in no danger of that, shooting 38.1% from the field while averaging 26.7 points through 14 games.

There's no guarantee Bryant will win the scoring title, but he is more than seven percentage points below his career shooting average and his shots keep falling short, especially in the second half of recent games.

He's well aware of it.

Bryant is trying to change his routine, including off days in which ice baths will be his main activity. On other non-game days, he will add extra weightlifting for his lower body.

It's a strange balance, Bryant acknowledged. You don't want to wear out aging legs with too much off-court work but they might need more muscle, a main reason Bryant spoke with Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco about changing up his regimen.

Bryant was four for 14 after the third quarter in Sunday's overtime loss to Denver. He was three for 10 in the second half of a blowout loss last Friday in Dallas.

"The second half of games for me have been a struggle lately with my legs," Bryant said Tuesday. "My shot's just been really short even though my legs feel good."

At the same time, he said there was a need to be "working on my legs a little bit, getting them stronger.

"It's a fine balance at 36, trying to find the rhythm of strengthening your legs as the season goes on without wearing them out. We're in unchartered territory in terms of trying to figure this out, but we will."

The Lakers obviously hope that will happen. Coach Byron Scott said he might even shorten Bryant's playing time by a couple of minutes. Bryant is currently averaging 35.7 minutes.

"We can see also watching the tape that everything was just a tad short, which tells me that the legs were a little fatigued," Scott said.

Bryant isn't alone as a high-volume, high-scoring player. More recently than Zaslofsky's run as NBA scoring champion, Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson shot 39.8% while averaging a league-best 31.4 points in 2001-02.

Iverson took 27.8 shots a game to do it. Bryant is currently at 24 a game.

The reasons for Bryant's shot volume are straightforward.

He feels the need to keep shooting based on the lack of production from teammates. Or the supporting cast feels the need to throw the ball to Bryant, then stand around and hope he does something with it. (It particularly irritates Bryant when this happens toward the end of the shot clock.)

Either way, as the Lakers (3-11) try to figure out their season, there's another stat Bryant won't want to approach.

The last scoring champion whose team did not make the playoffs was Tracy McGrady's Orlando Magic in 2003-04. Before that, it was Bernard King's New York Knicks in 1984-85.

Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan

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