When all was said and done, Bryant averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting and tied a career-high with six assists per game in 2012-13. However, Bryant's year came to a screeching halt when he blew out his Achilles shortly before season's end.
Now, entering uncertain waters, Bryant is on the mend from a devastating injury. His availability for opening day on Oct. 29 against the Los Angeles Clippers remains up in the air.
With tipoff just around the corner, it's time to break down what Kobe must do upon returning to improve in the months ahead.
1. Fine-Tune His Three-Point Stroke
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but Kobe Bryant's effectiveness from beyond the arc has decreased steadily over the past four years. In fact, since shooting 35.1 percent from deep in 2008-09, Bryant has been unable to top the 33-percent mark from three.
That's problematic, especially for a player who became more reliant on the three-point shot last season and is recovering from an injury that could limit his explosiveness.
Kobe attempted 407 treys last year, the third-highest mark of his career. Bryant jacked up more threes per game in 2012-13 than he had since 2006-07. So while his scoring productivity may be holding steady, the way in which he's looking to score is changing with age.
And according to Basketball-Reference, Bryant's 407 attempts from three were his most from any range on the floor (16-23 feet ranked second with 378 attempts) in 2012-13.
Last season, Bryant hit 32.4 percent of his threes. One reason may be that he attempted very few corner threes, which are the most efficient long-range shots on the floor.
Examining Kobe's shot chart, we see that he only attempted 55 corner threes last season and shot a lousy 32.7 percent from the left and right corners combined.
Kobe spends the majority of his time above the arc, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he didn't drift to the corner—where Metta World Peace and Earl Clark often camped out—much last season in Mike D'Antoni's spread attack. However, one has to wonder, with fewer perimeter weapons and a healthy Steve Nash, if Bryant will be used more as a spot-up shooter and less as a facilitator at times.
It should also be noted that Kobe was not particularly efficient from above the arc or on the wings either. He posted either average or below-average shooting percentages from those locations.
According to NBA.com's shot chart, the Black Mamba struggled mightily from the left wing, converting 34 of 119 attempts. In addition, Kobe didn't inspire much confidence from above the arc; he hit just 31.34 percent of his 67 shots from that spot.
The preferred area of the floor for Bryant turns out to be the right wing, where he attempted 39.3 percent of his three-point shots, hitting 35.63 percent of them.
As the season gets underway, keep an eye on Kobe's reliance upon the three-pointer, particularly from his favorite spot on the right wing.
2. Take Better Care of the Ball
With Nash sidelined for portions of last season due to left leg and hamstring injuries, Bryant was tasked with not only being the Lakers' go-to scorer, but their primary ball-handler as well. Although the six assists per game (469 total, 12 shy of tying a career-high) look nice on his stat sheet, the new responsibility meant that Bryant was liable for a significant percentage of the team's turnovers.
Kobe accounted for 287 (23.3 percent) of the Lakers' 1,232 total turnovers last season, which fell one shy of tying his career-high of 288 set during the 2002-03 campaign. Averaging 3.7 turnovers per game, Kobe's assist-to-turnover ratio clocked in at 1.63, which tied him with Al Horford and J.R. Smith at No. 70 overall.
Bryant's turnovers have increased in each of the past two seasons, which is a concerning trend for a team that ranked 23rd in turnovers committed and 29th in turnovers in Year 1 under D'Antoni.
With a defense full of holes, the Lakers can't afford to sacrifice possessions the way they did last year.
In the video above, some of Kobe's flaws as the team's primary ball-handler are exposed in a 79-77 loss to the Indiana Pacers last November.
Bryant set a season-high for turnovers on Nov. 27, coughing up the rock 10 times against Frank Vogel's stingy defense. It's evident in the clip that Indiana was intent on collapsing on Bryant every time he entered the paint, but several of the turnovers were unforced errors or the result of sloppy ball-handling in the half court.
With transition defense of paramount concern for the Lakers, Kobe can't afford to give away possessions.
If Nash can remain healthy, perhaps Kobe's ball-handling duties will be diminished a bit and his turnover average will regress closer to his career mark of three a game.
3. Defensive Intensity
However, Kobe hasn't been a reliable perimeter defender of late, and 2012-13 was a prime example. Whether he was conserving his energy for offense or D'Antoni's system encouraged switches on the perimeter, Kobe simply didn't look juiced on defense.
One statistic that lends credence to this observation is the Lakers' defensive ratings with him on and off the floor. According to NBA.com's stats database, the Lakers allowed 104.7 points per 100 possessions with Bryant on the floor last season as opposed to 100.3 in the 938 minutes he was on the bench.
Although it came in a relatively small sample size, were that mark of 100.3 sustained over the course of last season, it would have tied the Lakers with the Chicago Bulls for the league's fifth-best defensive efficiency, per HoopData.
Back to perimeter laziness. Let's take a look at some tape from the Lakers' 100-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers last December.
As you can see, the Lakers' propensity to switch leaves World Peace trailing defenders while Bryant simply sits and watches plays develop. There was a considerable lack of burst from Bryant on the defensive end last season, and it's particularly evident here.
One burning question that comes to mind when watching these breakdowns: If a solid defender like World Peace lagged so far behind on switches, how much trouble will Nick Young (career defensive rating of 113, per Basketball-Reference) and Wesley Johnson (career defensive rating of 110) have should the Lakers employ a similar strategy?
Simply put, Kobe no longer has a competent defensive counterpart like World Peace playing alongside him on the wing as a security blanket, and his own flaws may become even more evident this season if he doesn't step up his efforts.
In order for the Lakers to transform themselves from one of the league's 10 worst defenses into even a respectable unit, Bryant will need to take the reins and utilize the tools that earned him nine All-Defensive First-Team nods.
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