Kobe Bryant is 33 years old. He has played over 40,000 minutes in his NBA career. That’s 16 seasons of hard drives to the rim, fall away jumpers, and tenacious defense. He’s accumulated a grand total of 21,578 field goal attempts, and almost as many minor knee, ankle, and wrist surgeries. In theory, Kobe Bryant is at the end of a spectacular NBA career.
Kobe Bryant defies such theories.
Despite a balky wrist and a recently operated on knee, Kobe Bryant is averaging 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in this young NBA season. If this torrid rate continues, these would be amongst the best overall numbers of Bryant’s career. So, what gives?
There has been much talk recently about Kobe’s high volume of shots, with naysayers claiming that Kobe is playing angry and trying to prove a point to his critics – to the chagrin of his teammates. His usage rate is the highest of any player in NBA history, and he’s had six games this year in which he’s attempted more than 23 field goals. Yikes.
But Kobe is also shooting at an incredibly high clip for a perimeter player. Take away his two rough outings vs. Denver (a combined 12-46) and he’s connected on 79 of 162 shots (49%). Also, Bryant has averaged 5.8 assists per game, his highest amount since 2004.
I attribute Kobe’s early statistically explosion to Mike Brown. In Phil Jackson’s system, Kobe did not have the ball in his hands nearly as often as he does now, and when his point primarily came due to the flow of the triangle offense. Also, Phil Jackson limited Kobe to playing 33.9 minutes per night, whereas Brown has given his star a bit more freedom- 36.0 so far this season. Don’t forget about the departure of Lamar Odom, who averaged around 10 points per game for the Lakers during his tenure. Odom was never afraid to shoot the rock, even when Kobe was calling for the ball. Steve Blake and Devin Ebanks may be a little more apprehensive.
In Mike Brown’s offense, Kobe finds himself catching the ball in his scoring spots. On the blocks (Brown calls this the “Karl Malone spots”) , on the elbows, and at the top of the key. This is where Kobe feels most comfortable and is most effective. He is rarely in screen and roll situations where he can be easily double teamed. He doesn’t see as many isolations on the wing where he can be the victim of his own aggression to score and help side defenders. He also is organically discouraged to shoot three point jump shots due to his role in the offense, although he’s still finding a way to jack over 4 per night. Kobe is not having to fight for catches and when he has the ball, he is usually only opposed with one defender. This is where he can use his incredible skill set to score or get to the free throw line (8 attempts per game).
Kobe needs a lot of points (about 10,000) to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all time leading scorer. Why can’t he do it? Michael Jordan averaged 20 points per game as a 39 year old for the Washington Wizards. That’s six more seasons for Kobe! Assuming he plays 75 games a year (a conservative guesstimate) for the next six seasons, averaging 23 points (again, a low number) he would finish his career with 38,750 points- the most in NBA history.