NBA

NBA Daily: Guards Channeling Their Inner Mamba

Of all the NBA’s tributes to Kobe Bryant this week, the prodigious scoring from the league’s shooting guards has been the most appropriate and lasting.

Douglas Farmer profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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The NBA in 2020 is defined by deep-shooting point guards and increasingly-common unicorns, but its history is marked by shooting guards earning singular nicknames. Jerry West became The Logo. Michael Jordan rose to be the GOAT. Kobe Bryant is remembered as the Black Mamba.

In the wake of the tragic helicopter accident that took Kobe’s life Sunday, it has been a fitting week for the shooting guards of the league to bombard the scoreboard. Of the top-13 per game scorers since Sunday, six of them have been traditional shooting guards. Of the top-7 single-game outputs, five have been traditional shooting guards, as well as nine of the top-16. And the most-emotional, drenched-in-clutch shot of the week? It came from a traditional shooting guard.

Of all the poignant tributes to Kobe this week — the 8-second backcourt violations, the 24-second shot-clock violations, the aptly-narrated videos — the shooting guard binge may be the most appropriate.

Khris Middleton’s 51 without Giannis

The Milwaukee Bucks had no trouble scoring without their superstar, largely because Middleton poured in 51 points in a 151-131 win against the Washington Wizards. Middleton scored with an efficiency that bordered on Kobe-esque, needing only 26 shots to get 51 points and going 7-of-10 from deep. To lend that the context offered Monday, Middleton’s shooting rates would have gotten him to the mythical 81 on only 42 shot attempts, the rare volume-scoring night that hypothetically reaches that mark on fewer than Kobe’s 46 shot attempts to do it back in 2006.

Eric Gordon’s 50 without Harden

Gordon was even more efficient than Middleton, dropping 50 on the Utah Jazz in a 126-117 win. He took only 22 shots to power the Houston Rockets without their respective franchise cornerstone. There was some version of poetry to a shooting guard scoring bucket after bucket on the Jazz on Sunday, as ESPN re-aired Kobe’s final game at the same time, the one where he scored a memorable 60 against Utah.

Bradley Beal’s 40.3 points per game average

Beal scored 47, 40 and 34 points in his three games since Sunday, adding in seven assists per game for good measure. The Washington Wizards went 1-2 in the stretch, underscoring one of the arguments against Beal’s All-Star candidacy, but his onslaught certainly evoked thoughts of Kobe, especially when he went shot-for-shot with Middleton for much of Monday night.

Buddy Hield vs. Andrew Wiggins

Hield came off the bench as the Sacramento Kings’ drama continued, and Wiggins’ team lost in historic fashion, so maybe it was not an ideal night for either shooting guard, but they combined for 78 points the night after Kobe’s death. While Wiggins opened the game hot, it was Hield who channeled Kobe’s closing mentality with a 20-point fourth quarter that helped erase a 22-point fourth-quarter deficit. In fact, Hield did not miss in those 12 minutes.

The only other player to score 20 or more points in the fourth quarter without missing a shot? Kobe.

Victor Oladipo’s emotional and clutch return

After a year and six days away from the game because of a ruptured quad tendon, the Indiana Pacers’ guard’s nine points may have seemed underwhelming. They weren’t.

DeMar DeRozan’s all-around game

The San Antonio Spurs’ guard averaged a mere 29.3 points in three games this week, but as is typical for DeRozan, his shot distribution came in ways only Kobe could create, attempting just one three in three games. By no means were DeRozan’s contributions minimized, though, considering he grabbed 7 rebounds and offered 5 assists per game, as well.

Devin Booker’s 7,000th point

The 16th-highest scoring output of the week being Booker’s 36 at Memphis emphasizes just how rapid the volume-scoring has been this week. In the five days preceding Sunday, that showing would have ranked 10th. Nonetheless, it wasn’t how many points Booker scored that stood out, it was the career mark he reached Wednesday and how it related to Kobe.

And then there’s Damian Lillard, the Los Angeles Lakers’ next opponent

With two of this week’s top-12 nights, the latter of which included his first career triple-double, continuing a scorching four-game stretch, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is evoking memories of Kobe. Lillard is averaging 48.5 points per game in his last four games while shooting 53 percent from the field and 56 percent from deep.

Don’t bother comprehending those numbers. They never made sense when Kobe reached them, either. And tonight, when the Lakers stir the NBA universe’s emotions all over again — tune in to ESPN by 10 ET — keep an eye on Lillard during the game. He may be a point guard, but he is scoring like the shooting guards emulating Kobe this week across the league.

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Contributing writer to Basketball Insiders, based in Minneapolis since 2017 with previous stops in Dallas and Los Angeles. Went 32-of-40 at the backyard free throw line this past Christmas. Twitter: @D_Farmer

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