Who will save the Lakers from Kobe?

Despite his reputation, Kobe Bryant's crunch-time play is hurting the Lakers and his teammates. Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- After a recent blowout loss, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant talked about crime. Or, more specifically, Bryant talked about fighting crime, about being a hero.

His metaphor centered on his team trailing by double digits -- nothing new for the Lakers this season -- and the feeling that it was up to him to do something.

To Bryant, that "something" is taking shots -- a lot of shots.

"I'd rather not have to do that, but you can't sit back and watch crime happen in front of you," he said after the Lakers' 136-115 loss to the Golden State Warriors last week, a game in which Bryant shot 34 shots in 31 minutes, scoring a season-high 44 points in a beatdown so lopsided he didn't play in the fourth quarter.

"Hero ball" is best described as the biggest name taking the biggest shot, specifically when the game is on the line. As YouTube footage attests, Bryant has buried many such shots throughout his Hall of Fame career, now in its 19th season.

But his recent late-game misfires have drawn questions from teammates.

"Kobe is going to be Kobe, but somehow we've gotta find a way to put that ball in the hole with somebody else," Lakers guard Nick Young said after a 101-94 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

In the loss to the Nuggets, Bryant shot 6-for-10 in the first three quarters but just 4-for-14 in the fourth and overtime. In the last three minutes of the fourth, when the score was within three points, Bryant missed all five of his shots, including a potential game-winning 19-foot fadeaway with less than a second left and the score tied at 86.

As per the tenets of hero ball, some players prefer isolation plays during late-game situations, and Bryant went iso on four of his last five shots in regulation. Bryant's last shot was well contested by Denver's rangy 6-foot-8 Wilson Chandler. Young was open at the top of the key.

"I could have gotten a better shot," Bryant said, "but that was the shot I've practiced my entire career."

Plenty of his shots have been short lately, leaving Bryant to admit fatigue during recent second halves. He said Tuesday that he wants to tweak his training regimen, while Lakers coach Byron Scott said they might limit Bryant's minutes down the road.

Either way, Bryant has now missed eight consecutive potential game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final five seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Given that the Lakers have the league's second-worst point differential (minus-9.6 entering Wednesday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center), it's not as though they've faced too many "crunch-time" situations -- which the NBA defines as the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points -- this season, but they've had their share.

And in those moments, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Bryant is shooting 36.4 percent (12-of-33) from the field, which is below the league's crunch-time average (39.7 percent entering Monday) and far below his last full season (2012-13), when he shot 42.6 percent in crunch time.

That Bryant's crunch-time shooting is slightly below league average doesn't seem to be that big of an issue, but it's exacerbated by the large volume of the Lakers' late possessions Bryant uses.

Usage percentage measures the percentage of team possessions that a team "uses" -- basically, any time a possession ends with the ball coming out of the player's hands, such as when he shoots it -- when a player is on the court. Entering Monday, Bryant led the NBA with a 36.8 usage percentage overall, but in crunch time, that number skyrockets to 52 percent of the Lakers' possessions -- by far the highest such rate in the NBA.

Worse, among the league's top six leaders in crunch-time usage percentage this season, Bryant has the lowest true shooting percentage -- which accounts for free throws as well as the added value of 3-pointers -- of any of them at 45.2 percent.

In other words, when the game is on the line, nobody dominates the ball more for any one team than Bryant does for the Lakers -- and nobody misses more, either.

Carmelo Anthony, who has a similar crunch-time usage percentage to Bryant (46.3), has a much better true shooting percentage (76). LeBron James, whose clutch-time usage percentage is also comparable (38.6), also has a much better true shooting percentage (66).

Beyond that, Bryant has taken 33 crunch-time shots for the Lakers while the rest of his teammates have combined for 22. In fact, Kobe has taken more than four times as many crunch-time shots as any one of his teammates.

The next closest is Jeremy Lin, who has taken seven.

It's a small sample size, of course, but it's big enough that Bryant's teammates have felt they had to speak out.

"He's a tough shot-taker and a tough shot-maker and he's a superstar and sometimes you've got to give him that freedom," Lin said after the Denver loss, "to go and be who he is and do what he does -- and sometimes you've got to find a way to keep the flow and stuff."

Scott said Bryant's final shot in regulation against Denver -- the fadeaway iso 19-footer -- was a designed play.

"Get him the ball on that weakside on the wing and spread the floor and see if [he] can get a shot off," Scott explained. "If they came to double, we had great spacing."

The spacing was great: Young was open, and Lin too was in position on the right wing. But as everyone in Staples Center knew -- and as everyone in the league has known for years -- Kobe Bryant was without question going to take the final shot.

"We'll take that shot all day," Scott said. "He's made that shot so many times in his career."

Young was asked if the Lakers' offense is too predictable late in games.

"At times, we fall into relying on 24 a lot," Young said, referring to Bryant. "I know I believe in everybody on this team."

Young added that in those situations, he has to "demand getting the ball more."

But now, even late in his career averaging nearly as many minutes (35.7) as his age (36), it's hard to see Bryant, who also leads the league in overall usage but on a career-low 48.2 TS%, giving the ball up when the game is on the line.

After all, consider his answer last week when asked about his increased field goal attempts late in games, which he explained by saying he's trying to rally the team.

"That's my job," said the league's highest-paid player.

Bryant believes it's his job to be the hero, a role he has held on this team for almost two decades, a role he'll likely never relinquish until he retires, no matter how effective -- or in this case, ineffective -- a hero he is at this point in his career.

It all brings to mind a line from a movie, "The Dark Knight":

"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

Some statistics courtesy of NBA.com.