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Is Kobe 'Vino' Bryant Really Getting Better with Age?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 03:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks over Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on March 3, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 99-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2013

As the Los Angeles Lakers square up and make a run for a playoff spot, a lot of attention has been placed on Kobe Bryant's new nickname, "Vino."

There's no real indication of who gave Kobe the nickname, other than the fact that he tweeted this a few days back:

Omg . My man just gave me a new nickname and I love it! Ha #vino

— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 1, 2013

Whoever his man is, at least Kobe went about getting this nickname from somebody else, as opposed to his self-imposed Black Mamba moniker.

Regardless of where it's from, does the nickname actually make sense?

Obviously we've talked about Kobe experiencing the best shooting year of his career, as far as straight field-goal percentage goes, and he's well on his way to becoming a better, more willing passer than ever before.

However, does that necessarily mean that he's "better with age"?

Taking a look at those shooting percentages laid out in front of you makes it seem as if it's a no-brainer. He's a better shooter this year than he's ever been before, even though his three-point shooting has regressed back to the mean.

As the season has progressed, it's been evident that Kobe is no longer taking as many "groaner" shots; shots that he can make, but still bad shots.

He's shooting far less than a season ago, and he's taking better shots when he does shoot.

He's shooting an average of 5.3 shots directly at the rim, compared to 3.5 last year. Going further, he's shooting 5.1 shots per game from 16-23 feet, compared to 7.7 last year.

That small shift in shot location is enough to explain Kobe's entire season.

Once you weigh the shots he's taking, giving more value to a three-pointer made than a normal field goal, Kobe's still having his best season. His effective field-goal rate of 51.3 percent is a career high, which tells you that he's making up for his mediocre three-point shooting with more efficient shooting elsewhere.

However, we can statistically see the limitations he's having as well. There once was a time when he could toss his body into the lane and get a call at will, averaging over 10 free throws attempted per game three seasons in a row.

Now that number is below eight, and it's knocked his advanced scoring efficiency down to his third-best season. His true shooting percentage is lagging just a bit behind 2007 and 2008, years which were buoyed by above-average three-point shooting and lots of free throws going down.

It seems dangerous to call Kobe "better with age," especially when he was so bad a season ago. Kobe was old last year, and he's old this year, just playing differently.

If we were watching Kobe get better with age, we would be watching as he progressively increased his output.

Instead, I think we've seen a sharp correction in Kobe's game. He's always been a smart player. He's always known the weaknesses in his opponents and the strengths in himself. Only now, he's noticing the opposite.

Watching him play now is watching him respond as his limitations become more obvious. They're not detrimental, but they are there.

While I don't want to take anything away from the fact that Kobe has completely changed his mentality at times this season, which has drastically helped the Lakers along the way, his impact this season is not unmatched by his past.

There's simply more impressive basketball to be talked about when it's coming at the hands of a 34-year-old, rather than a 28-year-old.

Kobe can certainly continue to play like this, so long as his body stays strong and his wits stay keen, but to think he's going to improve next season might be a tad off-base.

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