The last thing I want to see next June is Kobe hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the sixth time, tieing my beloved Michael Jordan, after beating my team, the Boston Celtics. I would rather give up my favorite weekly General Tso's chicken meal, than watch that horrid sight.
Unfortunately—both might happen.
This figure (click on link, then click on image) plots Kobe Bryant's PER (in red) in each season of his career. The blue dashed line represents the average PER in each season over the careers of Jerry West, George Gervin, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller, Joe Dumars, and Ray Allen.
The idea is to get a sense of how Kobe compares to some of the best shooting guards in the league both past and present, with a particular focus on the back-end of his career. If there are any signs of Kobe's decline, this plot would be one way to see them.
Surprisingly, the other star shooting guards typically began a very gradual decline after year six. Kobe, on the other hand, remained steady and even increased his productivity significantly in year 10 (one year after Shaq was traded to Miami). Since then, Kobe has been on a downward trend.
Even so, in his 14th season, Kobe was still nearly four PER points better than the others. And even if Kobe continues on his downward trajectory this season, Kobe will still likely be better than most of the other star shooting guards were in their 15th season. Throw in the fact that the average PER in the NBA is 15, and concerns over Kobe's old age seem greatly exaggerated.
There are other factors to consider that should fuel Laker optimism even more. Among this already select group of shooting guards, only Kobe, Michael Jordan, and Jerry West had a PER of over 20 in their 14th season. Kobe is aging especially well even among the elite.
Kobe's singular focus and determination probably has as much to do with his longevity as anything else. In JA Adande's recent Laker preview, Kobe says, ""I love competing, I love playing, I love working. I don't really need any outside motivation to get me going. I'm just wired that way.
"I'm here. I'm here to win, I'm here to focus and do my job. That's what I'm going to do." It is probably safe to assume that the fanatical Kobe will take meticulous care of his body until the very end.
Lastly, the offseason acquisitions of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff go a long way towards fortifying that Laker bench. A deeper Laker team means that Kobe will be able to expend less energy during the regular season without having to sacrifice wins. This will only aide in prolonging Bryant's already illustrious career.
I need a drink.
The prospect of Kobe matching or even eclipsing Jordan is very real. All the talk of Kobe "losing a step" only gave me false hope. Even in decline, the numbers suggest Kobe should still be better than almost everybody else at his position this season. Miami, Boston, and other contenders better be prepared to battle next June, because grandpa Kobe still has plenty of gas left in his tank.
Ken is a regular contributor for 3 Got Game's NBA-Analytiks www.nba-analytiks.com