Sunday, December 15, 2013

What Can We Say About Kobe?

Kobe Bryant is 14th in NBA history in total regular season minutes played.  45,502, as of this writing.  He's 2nd in playoff minutes played, at 8,641, with only a playoff series or two separating him from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  That's 54,143 minutes played over his 17 years in the league.  That's almost 38 days of playing basketball, and that only counts game time.  He's amassed these totals despite being only 25th and 4th in total games played (regular season and playoffs), and 37th and 43rd in minutes per game (regular season and playoffs).

That, my friends, is longevity.  It is also the combined luxuries of frequently sharing the court with other great players and having a traditionally deep bench, allowing Kobe to get a bit more rest than teams that have leaned heavily on one superstar, like Kevin Durant's Thunder (16th and 12th in regular season and playoff minutes per game career averages) or Lebron James's anything (6th and 6th in minutes per game averages).

To add a little more context to the Kobe story, he currently ranks 10th in career points per game (regular season).  Two active players are above him - Lebron and Durant.  He is 12th in postseason points per game, .01 points behind Carmelo Anthony (lol).  3 players in NBA history have averaged 25 points per game or more in 12 different seasons: Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Kobe.

Why am I telling you this?

Because you just cannot write off Kobe.  The Lakers are 11-12, currently 4th in the Eastern Conference 12th in the Western Conference (but only 2.5 games behind 8th-place Dallas).  No, I do not think the Lakers will make the playoffs this year.  The West is just too good and the Lakers do not have depth or youth on their side.

A lot has been made over Kobe's contract extension.  The truth is, the Lakers are the Lakers.  If Carmelo and Lebron both wanted to come play next year, you think they'd flinch at shelling out that much money, given the revenue they would make and their chances at a title?


The examination of Kobe's contract should be more about what the Lakers can expect to get out of Kobe.  I've read about achilles injuries; I know how long it took Derrick Rose to come back from his ACL tear, and how quickly things went south again; I know that Kobe is 35, and I know that, compared to career averages, so far (small simple size alert!) he is averaging 9 fewer shots per game, has seen a drop in his shooting percentages, and has nearly doubled his turnover rate (old man alert!).

But he's also dished the ball more in an "emergency point guard" role.  And against the Bobcats (10-14 and 6th in the East) Kobe showed he can still create a shot (and hit it) when needed.  The question is, if (and probably when) the Lakers bring in a new star, could Kobe handle playing second fiddle?  Could he realize he has to rely more on role players, creating more moments like this?

I think the answer is yes.  It isn't terribly difficult to imagine Kobe morphing into a Paul Pierce-type player over the next two years.  He wants to shoot, he wants to score, but he's going to have to be more deliberate about when, how, and where.  Over the last three years, that's how I've described Pierce's game: deliberate.  Some may have said slow, but he got to his spot more often than not and created a quality shot.

Imagine Kobe getting to pair with a Rajon Rondo-type point guard, while keeping a quality big down low (Pau, as much as I like him, may be getting a shade too old).  Imagine Rondo opting out, signing with the Lakers, and Detroit unloading Greg Monroe.  Is that a good enough trio to get you to the playoffs out West?  Probably.  Is it enough to take the load off of Kobe, allowing him to score, chase Kareem's point total, and keep a 6th title within reach?  Probably.

Would Kobe have to be vintage-Kobe to win a title?  Probably.

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