Nick Young is no Kobe Bryant

Nick Young of the LA Lakers

Although he is now on the Lakers, Nick Young is no Kobe.


Michael C. Jones is undoubtedly one of the few people who have tried to compare Nick Young to Kobe Bryant. Here’s what he said on October 18th at Yahoo Sports:

The comparisons to Young and Bryant begin when talking about the fact that both are wing players without a shot-taking conscience who love to put up difficult shots from all over the floor. That’s where the comparisons cease, because Young has been one-dimensional and not nearly as efficient as Bryant. Kobe’s a better defender even at his advanced age and has shown an ability (willingness?) to get his teammates involved when necessary.

This is clearly a silly notion. Yes, the paragraph mentions the idea that efficiency is important. But Jones doesn’t seem to go anywhere with it. In fact, here is the very next paragraph:

But if the Lakers are going to win enough to make the playoffs this year, Young will have to embrace Bryant’s complete role and take shots he can make at a relatively high percentage. The good news for Young is that these floor-spaced Lakers of 2013-14 will be in prime position to get him shots in the spots he’s most comfortable in and allow him to surpass his career [PER] mark of 12.8.

One of the reasons that Bryant has been a productive NBA player is that he does more than just score; as a matter of fact, when it comes to scoring, he’s largely average. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that an NBA player’s productivity depends exclusively on their shooting efficiency (and ignore that reference to PER). Even if we do that, this sort of “advice” to Nick Young — “embrace Bryant’s role” and “take shots he can make at a relatively high percentage” — is somewhat lacking.

To illustrate, imagine if I wrote the following about the Houston Astros:

For the Houston Astros to improve, Matt Dominguez has to become like Miquel Cabrera. Both get to the plate at the same rate (Cabrera had 555 at bats this last season; Dominguez had 543 at bats). But Dominguez hasn’t been able to transform those at bats into Cabrera’s production. If Dominguez could increase his home runs from 21 to 44, increase his walks from 30 to 90, and increase his singles from 85 to 122, then the Astros can really get some production from their third basemen.

Such analysis would be (or at least should be) seen as silly. Dominguez doesn’t produce as much as Cabrera because he is not as good at hitting the ball. Similarly, Young is a less efficient shooter than Bryant because he is not as good at hitting shots.

How do we know this? The table below contains the shooting efficiency by shot distance (using effective field goal percentage) of both players over the past seven years:

Player Shot Distance
Rim 3-9ft 10-15ft 16-23ft 3pts
Kobe Bryant 64.8% 47.9% 47.3% 40.4% 50.1%
Nick Young 61.2% 38.5% 39.9% 40.8% 56.2%

Data courtesy of Hoop Data.

The only location on the court where Young has an advantage over Bryant is from three-point distance. Young’s career best true shooting percentage is below Bryant’s career average true shooting percentage. And if Young simply starts taking the shots that Bryant normally takes — effectively replacing Bryant in the Lakers’ offense — his shooting efficiency will be far worse than Bryant’s, because unlike Bryant, Young is not very good at making difficult shots.

However, if Young decided to be like James Harden and focus almost exclusively on taking shots close to the basket, from behind the three-point line, and on getting to the free-throw line, then he would have a chance at equaling Bryant’s shooting efficiency. Such a drastic change in shot selection is very rare among established NBA players; after six years in the NBA, no one should expect Young to move away from what helped him get into the league. But if he could manage it, it would greatly improve his shooting efficiency.

That is the sort of advice that I expect to see when I’m reading about shooting efficiency. Not vague comments about comfort and “relatively high percentage” shots.

– DJ and Devin

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