Notable Numbers: Kobe Bryant Edition

Here in «Notable Numbers,» we attempt to unearth a plethora of interesting statistics and fantasy-relevant facts each week. Today, I’ll discuss a few players exceeding expectations in 2020, and wrap up this column with some incredible stats and personal remembrances of Kobe Bryant. 

Follow Tommy Beer on Twitter: @TommyBeer

* LMA: 3-Point Specialist?!?
LaMarcus Aldridge is playing the same exact number of minutes this season (33.2 mpg) as he did last year. Yet, he’s averaging two fewer points in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19 (from 21.3 ppg down to 19.1), nearly two fewer rebounds (9.2 rpg down to 7.5) and shooting a lower percentage from the floor (52% vs. 51%).

Still, despite the dips in these important counting stats, Aldridge has actually increased his fantasy value this season! In 2018-19, he finished the year ranked 25th overall in nine-category formats. He currently ranks 17th this season. How, you ask? The secret has been his accuracy and production from downtown.  

Coming into 2019-20, LMA had never made more than 37 treys in any season of his career, and that 37-trifecta season was back in 2014-15, during his final year in Portland. Over his previous four seasons in San Antonio, Aldridge averaged just 15 made triples per year. 

Aldridge did not play Monday vs. the Bulls due to a sprained right thumb, but over his previous 17 games, he had knocked down 37 treys – matching his previous full-season-high. During this17-game stretch, LMA averaged 2.2 made 3-pointers per contest while shooting a scorching 49.3% from behind the arc.

The other factor propelling Aldridge’s fantasy value has been his boost in blocks. LMA is currently averaging a career-high 1.7 blocks per contest. (His previous career-best was 1.3.) Sum it all up, and, per Basketball-Reference, Aldridge is on pace to become just the fourth player in NBA history to average more than one made 3-pointer and more than 1.5 blocks per game, while also shooting over 50% from the floor. The other three are Karl-Anthony Towns (last season), Kevin Durant (2017-18) and Shawn Marion (2005-06). 

* Brooks is Balling
Dating back to New Year’s Day, there are four players averaging more than 16 points, more than three made 3-pointers, and more than three boards per game, while also shooting over 46% from the field. Given a few guesses, you’d probably be able to name three of the players in this club: Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Zach LaVine. However, even die-hard fantasy folks would be surprised to learn the fourth member of this group is Memphis’ Dillon Brooks

Brooks, who has been playing the best ball of his career over the last few weeks, poured 24 points in a win over the Nuggets on Tuesday night. It was his third consecutive contest with 20+ points and his sixth in his last seven games. During this seven-game stretch, Brooks is averaging 22.6 points, 3.9 boards and 3.0 made treys, while shooting 49.6% from the floor and 82% from the charity stripe.

Brooks ranks inside the top-60 overall in January, and 36th overall over these last two weeks. If you are looking to trade for points and/or 3PT’s, Brooks is a player to target, as he might be significantly undervalued in your league.

* Schroder Shooting The Lights Out
Another player that has dramatically exceeded expectations this season has been OKC’s Dennis Schroder.

When the Thunder traded for both Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander this past summer, it was assumed Schroder would be buried behind two stud PG’s and see his minutes decrease. Instead, OKC has found a way to feed all three guards. In fact, Schroder’s playing time has actually increased this season, from 29.3 minutes per game in 2018-19, to 31.2 mpg in 2019-20. And Schroder has earned that time, as he is enjoying the most impressively efficient offensive season if his career.

Schroder is shooting career-highs from the floor (47.1%) and from downtown (38.2%), which has resulted in a career-best 2.0 made trifectas per contest. Here’s something I did NOT see coming this season: Dennis Schroder is on pace to join Kevin Durant as just the second player in OKC/Seattle franchise history to shoot above 47% from the floor and 38% from 3PT territory while attempting at least five 3-pointers per game. 

Schroder has missed just one game this season and has scored in double figures in 35 straight contests. Over OKC’s last 21 games, dating back to mid-December, he’s averaging 21.2 points, 4.0 boards, 4.6 dimes and 2.5 treys. His lack of defensive stats hurts his nine-category value, but he could be an interesting trade target due to the fact he may be under-appreciated in most fantasy leagues.  

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* Gordon Gets It Going
Gordon Hayward scored 29 points (10-of-14 FGs, 8-of-10 FTs) with nine rebounds, two assists, one block and one 3-pointer in 38 minutes in Tuesday’s victory over the Heat. It was his third consecutive game with at 20+ points, which is his longest such streak as a member of the Celtics.

Back when Boston signed Hayward to a four-year, $128 million max contract back in July of 2017, they assuredly didn’t expect to have to wait until late-January of 2020 to see him hit the 20-point plateau in three straight games. However, after the crippling injury that cost him all of 2017-18, he wasn’t 100% last season either. Yet, he’s logged over 37 minutes in each of his past three games and is averaging 24.7 points (on 56.3%) and 9.7 rebounds in those contests. His playing time and FG attempts will dip back down a bit once Jayson Tatum (right groin strain) returns to action, but Hayward is still doing more than enough to keep fantasy GM’s content in 2019-20.

His all-around game is extremely fantasy-friendly. Consider this: According to Basketball-Reference, Hayward is on pace to join Larry Bird as just the second player in NBA history to average at least 17 points, six boards and four dimes, yet less than two turnovers in a single season. Hayward ranks inside the top-50 overall in nine-category formats in 2019-20.  

Last-Second Shots – Kobe Bryant Edition:
I usually use the end of the ‘Notable Numbers’ column to highlight a handful of impressive stats from the league’s studs over the past week. However, today I’ll list some of the jaw-dropping statistics the late, great Kobe Bryant posted during his legendary career.

* Kobe’s 81 points vs. the Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006 (the Lakers scored 122) is the highest percentage a single player had of his team’s total output (66%) and the highest percentage of points one player has ever scored in a single game for both teams (36%) in NBA history.

* Bryant is the Lakers’ career leader in games, minutes, points, field goals made and attempted, 3-pointers made and attempted, free throws made and attempted. 

* Kobe was 37 years and 234 days old on the night of his final NBA game, when he poured in 60 points in a win over the Jazz. He was over five years older than any other player to score 60 (the most by any player in his final game). Wilt Chamberlain is the only other player to score 60+ after turning even 32 years of age.

* Bryant has six 60-point games, the second-most in NBA history behind only Wilt Chamberlain (who had 32 of them).

* Over seven days in April of 2007,
Kobe did this:
3/16 vs. Blazers: 65 points (on 59% shooting)
3/18 vs. Wolves: 50 points (on 49% shooting)
3/22 vs. Grizzlies: 60 points (on 54% shooting)
3/23 vs. Hornets: 50 points ( on 56% shooting)

* Kobe had 135 40-point games, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain (284) and Michael Jordan (211).

On a personal note, as I tweeted the other day, when it comes to Kobe’s greatest highlights and career achievements, it’s weird, but I keep thinking back to Game 5 of the 1997 Western Conference semifinals vs. the Jazz in Utah. And those four airballs. 

As an 18-year old rookie who averaged just 15.5 minutes per game that season, Kobe was thrust into a leading role in overtime that night because Byron Scott was sidelined due to a sprained wrist, Robert Horry had been ejected in the third quarter, and Shaquille O’Neal fouled out with 1:46 left in regulation. So, with the Lakers down 3-1 in the series, and their season hanging in the balance, Kove decided he’d try and put the team on his back.

With the score tied 89-89, Bryant air-balled a 14-footer in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. With the score still tied at 89 all with 4:39 left in overtime, Nick Van Exel passed the ball to Bryant for another open jumper. Another airball. Yet, even after two straight airballs, this kid still had the confidence and gall to take another one. With the Lakers down by three, he attempted a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 43 seconds left. Nothing but air.

Finally, with LA still down three, they had one last shot to save their season. Kobe wasn’t afraid to take it. With less than four seconds remaining in overtime, Bryant attempted another 3-pointer. Yup, another airball.

We later learned that Kobe drove straight to the gym once the Lakers team plane landed that night, and shot jumpers until the sun came up. Reflecting back on the experience years later, Kobe would say it was a defining moment that would shape him as a player and as a person. «It was an early turning point for me,» Bryant told reporters in 2016. «At 18 years old, it was gut-check time. I look back at it now with fond memories of it, but back then, it was misery.»

«It helped shape me,» Bryant said. «A lot of times as a young player, you don’t see how a situation like that can pay off in the end. But if you use it to drive you, use it to motivate you, then, you can stand where I’m standing now and look back at it with a lot of fond memories.»

Following that brutally disappointing night in Salt Lake City, Kobe would go on to win five championships and score more than 33,000 points. And he’d also go on to make 62 go-ahead baskets in the final minute of the fourth quarter and/or overtime in his career, more than any player in league history.

It seems only fitting that he played the Jazz in the final game of his career, and magically score 60 points to carry his team to over Utah, nailing clutch jumper after clutch jumper in the contest’s closing moments. 

Rest in peace, Kobe Bean. We miss you.