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For nearly two decades, Kobe has poured in points, weathered bangs and bruises, gone to Germany and back and kept on producing at an elite level. Yet he has not been invincible as much as indestructible—a paragon of recovery and success through injury rather than one of flawless health.
Of course, his torn Achilles suffered late in the 2012-13 season was his most debilitating to date. When he returned in December 2013, he had yet to work himself into his usual form, averaging 13.8 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting in 29.5 minutes a night.
Then, in just his sixth game back, he fractured his lateral tibial plateau. Per the Lakers team Twitter account, he was initially expected to miss just six weeks, but he did not return at all in 2013-14.
When significant injury befell Kobe Bryant,he could not regain his star status. Entering next season at 36 years old, this mortality in health and ability appears to be the new normal.
However, small sample size must be taken into account. We can't gauge the level at which Kobe would have reached last season based on a week-and-a-half of play, and, as Will Carroll reported for Bleacher Report, Bryant's knee fracture likely wasn't related to his Achilles tear:
Dr. Bob Baravarian, one of the top foot and ankle specialists in sports from St. Johns Hospital in California, spoke with me and said it's unlikely the Achilles had much to do with this injury. He agreed that it was more a traumatic injury.
'Conditioning is more of a factor, especially with elite athletes,' he explained. 'There could be some bone loss with the time he was non-weight bearing, and even when he was ramping up.'
"Fractures tend to heal cleanly, so there should be no long-term issue," Carroll also noted.
So we don't know if Kobe permanently exited the ranks of 20-point-per-game scorers when he tore his Achilles, and Carroll doubts Bryant's most recent injury will work to his detriment in 2014-15. And considering he will be returning nearly 11 months following the initial break, he should be at his fullest health in two seasons.
Back then, at 33, he averaged 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. Even if he doesn't reach those marks, he can still be a true cornerstone of this team.