Kobe could have NBA’s worst shooting season in 55 years

Kobe Bryant’s retirement announcement has left basketball aficionados discussing and debating his place in the pantheon of the greatest players of all time. And after five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs and one regular-season MVP, there’s no denying Kobe’s place on that very short list.

However (and no offense intended with this, Kevin Durant), there’s also no denying that 37-year-old Kobe Bryant, who has fought his way back from a number of serious injuries, is not playing well in the NBA right now. In fact, Kobe is on pace for the worst shooting season in modern NBA history.

Not only did the Lakers face the public shame of being the first team this season to lose to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night, they did so behind another poor shooting effort from Bryant. Kobe made his first three shots within the first 76 seconds then went 4 of 23 the rest of the game.

Kobe’s atrocious shooting night in his own hometown may be symbolic of a season that goes down in the record books and overshadow Bryant’s NBA swan song for all the wrong reasons.

Through 14 games played entering Wednesday, Bryant was shooting 30.1 percent (74 of 246) from the floor, last in the NBA among the 119 qualified players. That’s almost a full 15 percentage points lower than his career average of 45 percent. This season’s total includes a cringe-inducing 20.8 percent (22-106) from behind the three-point arc. To put that number in perspective, Bryant has missed more three-pointers (84) than all but 29 players in the NBA have even attempted this season.


Historically speaking, Kobe’s auspicious start is even more grim. According to the Basketball Reference database, Bryant is on pace for the worst shooting percentage among qualified players since the 1960-61 season. That season, Woody Sauldsberry shot 29.9 percent from the floor for the St. Louis Hawks. No other NBA players (among those who qualified) since the advent of the shot clock in 1954 have shot below 31 percent from the field over the course of a season.

What may be even more mind-boggling is that Bryant actually has some company in the not-being-able-to-throw-a-pebble-in-the-ocean category this season. Denver Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, who was 8 months old when Bryant made his NBA debut in 1996, is shooting 32.1 percent from the floor, which would also qualify as the worst shooting performance since Sauldsberry’s dubious ’60-’61 campaign.

The previous low for marksmanship this millennium was Charlotte’s Kemba Walker in the 2011-2012, when he tallied an overall shooting percentage of 36.6 percent. Last season, Trey Burke of the Jazz was in the cellar at 36.8 percent. Kobe (and Mudiay in all fairness) are on pace to smash that.

The way the Lakers’ season is going, it’s going to take a mid-sized miracle for Bryant to turn around these numbers. Over the past six games, Kobe is shooting just 26 percent from the field as he channels his inner Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy and keeps firing as many shots as humanly possible. His 26 field-goal attempts at Philadelphia were a season high.

With the retirement tour now in full effect, it’s hard to fathom this Lakers season devolving into anything but watching a sad string of air balls and clankers from one of the all-time greats. Given all that Bryant has contributed to basketball over the years and how great he has been as one of the defining players of our generation, it’s tough to watch. Much like watching Willie Mays struggle in a Mets uniform or Tiger Woods’ chipping yips, it’s a rather inglorious final chapter for one of the all-time greats.

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