We in the sports media are in the business of analysis, commentary and prediction—unfortunately, too many also focus on more salacious rumor and scandal—and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant is one of our favorite subjects, for both the on-court and off-court entertainment and drama he provides.
I was sitting here at my computer earlier, trying to research a potential article on Kobe’s upcoming career trajectory. The idea was that I would prognosticate statistics for each of his next five seasons.
Alas, I encountered some difficulty and ultimately realized my attempt would be futile. Now, I know that pundits give incorrect predictions all the time (just look at the NCAA tournament), and I’m not afraid of being wrong, but there are several reasons why I just didn’t feel comfortable detailing his future production in such areas as points, rebounds, assists, etc.
1. You can often predict success, or lack thereof, by comparing the target player with historically similar players at corresponding points in their careers. Since Kobe will be 33 in August, theoretically we could look at how other guys performed after their 33rd birthdays.
However, Bryant is a unique case. He has played more total regular season and playoff games (1,311) than any other elite swingman, Michael Jordan included, so there is no simple comparison.
Furthermore, although Kobe has more miles on his body than other great shooting guards and is also approaching the age at which most players begin to decline, the 13-time All-Star is a special physical specimen. He is notorious for his toughness, durability, training and work ethic. Age might not affect him the way it does some others.
2. There is just too much uncertainty surrounding Kobe’s situation. What kind of offense will new head coach Mike Brown install? Will the front office make any personnel changes this summer or next? Will Dwight Howard become a Laker? How will the new Collective Bargaining Agreement influence team management? There are just so many unknowns that could impact Bryant.
3. I’m no metrics guru, so outlining his numbers would be an extremely inexact science.
That said, it’s still completely worthwhile to discuss where the Black Mamba is headed. Even if I can’t give specific statistics, I can generally predict how Kobe will perform.
But first, let’s talk about this past season.
Yes, he struggled during the playoffs. His numbers were down across the board: 23 points per game, to go along with less than four rebounds and four assists.
However, let’s not pretend the Rapture has come. Kobe Bryant had your typical Kobe Bryant year. Check out the stats:
2010-11: 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 45 percent field goal, 32 percent 3-point, 83 percent free throw, 1.2 steals.
Career: 25.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 45 percent field goal, 34 percent 3-point, 84 percent free throw, 1.5 steals.
Hmm, nearly identical, no?
To be honest, Bryant has already appeared to lose a step. This year he wasn’t blowing by defenders anymore, at least not with young Kobe regularity, and his explosion seemed to come in bursts.
Still, let’s wait and see what we get next year. Remember, this will be Kobe’s first full offseason in quite some time.
Last summer, he had knee surgery. The year before that, he played well into June. And back in 2008, he competed for Team USA in the Olympics following a loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
After the Lakers’ early exit from the postseason, Bryant has plenty of time to rest, recover and recommit himself to training. You’d better believe he will want vengeance and/or redemption after the ignominious end to this year, and he will work his butt off to get himself in great shape.
In my opinion, prepare for more theatrics next season along the lines of his two vicious dunks on Emeka Okafor in the first round against the New Orleans Hornets.
Whether he is slowing down or not, Kobe has negated any physical drop-off with an ever-growing array of offensive moves. In recent years he has added, among other things, a step-through and a lefty floater to his already unlimited arsenal. He should come back next year with yet another wrinkle.
Additionally, Bryant is one of the smartest players in the league, with basketball IQ off the charts. Despite occasionally going into hero-mode and taking questionable shot attempts, Kobe usually makes the right decision on the court. And his intelligence and preparation also make life easier on the defensive end.
Kobe is signed for three more years, at which point he will be turning 36. Until then, expect him to continue scoring in the mid-20s, while averaging around five assists and boards per game.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014. Will Bryant be ready to retire? Doubtful.
We all know how competitive Kobe is. We all know he wants to surpass Jordan’s six championships, and he still might be chasing that mark. Moreover, we can be absolutely sure that he’ll still be chasing the all-time points scored record.
Kobe currently sits sixth on that list, roughly 10,500 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In order to pass the former Laker great, Bryant will need to average about 20 a game for six seasons. Not easy to do, but definitely within reach. Something tells me Kobe won’t be satisfied unless he does everything in his power—possibly to the point of destroying his body—to try to overtake Kareem.
I don’t think we can foretell what will happen to Kobe’s body and game three years down the line. Again, too many variables.
But I can tell you one thing: Kobe is not the type of human being who will fade slowly into the background. He will not accept anything less than high-quality play from himself.
Once Bryant can’t really get it done anymore, he will hang up those sneakers. Who knows exactly when that’ll be?