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Kobe Bryant is airballing the easiest shots, which is frightening and sad

Kobe used to be the NBA's most precise player. Now he's routinely missing shots by several feet.

Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in NBA history. In 2015, he is a player who cannot consistently shoot threes that hit the rim.

Tuesday night against the Nuggets, he took 11 shots. Four went in. Three missed the rim -- attempts that missed the mark by a matter of feet, not inches. In the first quarter, he pulled up for a three from the left wing with Emmanuel Mudiay guarding him, and hit the lower-left corner of the backboard, short and off line:

A few plays later, he got an open look in transition from beyond the arc at the right wing, and left it well short.

Then, with under six minutes to go and the Lakers down six, he got the ball wide-open after a pretty pump fake by D'Angelo Russell -- and airmailed the ball well past the rim:

Kobe's struggles this year are no secret. He's taking 15.5 shots per game and scoring 15.8 points, woefully inefficient. He's shooting a dismal 32.3 percent from the field and an absolutely horrid 20.8 percent from three, while still taking 8.5 shots per game from deep.

On Tuesday, Mike Prada wrote about Kobe's shot selection on the year. The problem here isn't shot selection, since two of these shots are wide-open looks. The problem here is Kobe Bryant, once the most precise player in the NBA, appears to have lost his precision.

When Kobe came into the league, he was powered by his unbelievable athleticism. But over time, his game developed into one that was supremely refined.

Bryant's shot selection was always gross, but nobody complained because he hit those shots. He'd rise up falling away with two guys' hands in his face, and while most people would come nowhere close, Kobe drilled it like he had a million times in the gym. He'd take shots with no margin for error and shoot them at the exact right angle into the zero-inch window he needed to put them to make them successful shots.

Everything seemed perfectly practiced. His contested fadeaways, his pump fake-pass-off-the-backboard-back-to-himself-catch-the-ball-in-midair-and-lay-it-in and his wide-open jumpers, too.

Not only is Kobe 37 now, but he's spent most of the past two years sidelined with injuries that prevented him from getting up his beloved shots. Where he used to be capable of drilling the most difficult attempts, he's now routinely failing to come close on the easiest ones.

It's clearly getting to Kobe. He said "I freaking suck" on Sunday and called himself the 200th best player in the league. He was so mad at himself on Monday that he was given the day off.

This could go in one of two directions.

It's only been a few games and a few hideous shots. Perhaps Kobe's frustration from his ugly start will spur him to battle back to the point of competence.  Perhaps this is last opportunity for him to convince the world -- and, perhaps more importantly, himself -- that age, injury and critics can't slow him down. Perhaps the only thing that can stop Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant.

On the other hand, maybe he's just done. The guy can't hit rim on open threes. That's not something that should be true of Kobe. That's not something that should be true of the NBA's worst shooting guard. If that's the case, Kobe should hang it up sooner than later. I'd much rather have our final memory of his playing career be a graceful realization that it's not all there anymore rather than 82 games of airballs.

Maybe Kobe can fuel his famously competitive fire and go out with grace. But it's also possible the brilliant flame of his NBA career is already dead and the best he can do this season is furiously dump lighter fluid on ashes.

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SB Nation presents: The time Kobe asked a 10-year-old for advice