Let’s take a moment and think about an issue I will call “The Kobe-versy”. Or “The Kobe Conundrum”. “PanKobe’s Box”? Damn you, Kobe. It’s too hard to use your name in a clever play on words. Let’s just go with… “The Kobe-racy”. Failure to come up with a clever title aside… what is going on with Black Mamba?
In the gold corner, we have Kobe Bryant: The Man Chasing 38,387. This is the guy who wants to be the all-time leading scorer and he’s only 4 spots away. www.basketball-reference.com tells us that as of 6 April 2012, Kobe sits at 29,440 points. He trails Wilt Chamberlain (by 1,979 points), Michael Jordan (by 2,852), Karl Malone (by 7,488), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (by 8,947).
Let’s crunch those numbers, shall we? Including this year, we’ve got 16 seasons to work with (and we’ll pretend, for a moment, that he doesn’t play any more regular season minutes this year—he still will have played 6 more games than he did in his first season as a starter). I’ll take his rookie season out of the equation because he only played 1,103 minutes. Every other season, he logged at least 2,153 minutes (except in 98-99 when he played 1,896 minutes… which offsets 02-03 when he put up his high mark of 3,401)… so we’re looking at him playing an average of 2,746 minutes and 20 seconds every season.
Again, taking his rookie season out, Kobe scored at least 1,220 points every year (and again, in 98-99 he scored 996… which is offset by his high of 2,832 in 05-06)… which means he scored an average of 1,926.73 points per season.
If we go by the averages, he will pass Wilt at the beginning of the 13-14 season and Michael Jordan later in the same season—finishing at 35 years of age. He’ll pass Karl Malone sometime during the 15-16 season, which will conclude with him being 37 years old. And finally, during the 16-17 season, Kobe will surpass Kareem… turning 38 years old in the process.
Doable, right? Yeah, it’s doable… but keeping those averages in mind, let’s consider things with reality factored in. Other than this year, Kobe hasn’t played less than 2,746 minutes a season since his 66-game season in 04-05… and he’s topped that number 9 of the 15 seasons. Similarly, he hasn’t scored less than 1,926 points since that same 04-05 season (other than this one)… and again, he’s topped that amount 9 of 15 seasons.
So what? Well… looking closer at the numbers will reveal a few things. First—except for the small increase of 52 minutes between 06-07 and 07-08, Kobe’s minutes have been declining. From 3,277 down to 2,153… an average of 187 minutes and 20 seconds each year. Second—except for the 108 point increase from 09-10 to 10-11, Kobe’s points have also been declining. From 2,832 down to 1,572… meaning he’s losing 210 points a season. Now let’s apply what we’ve discovered. If we assume that he continues to lose 210 points a season, does it have a significant impact? Well, he still passes Wilt and MJ in 13-14. But that loss of 210 points a season means he doesn’t pass the Mailman until 18-19… the season he turns 40. And that rate of decline won’t take us past age 42 because at that point he will only score 36 points that season. Seems a little off, but then again, only 5 people have ever played an NBA game at 42 or older (age facts found on Wikipedia).
We also need to consider those minutes. They are on the decline. The numbers say Kobe is losing an average of 210 points per season… but the number of minutes played is going to change that number. Obviously, the fewer the minutes, the fewer the points. So the projections based on the decline represent the catch-22: If we assume Kobe still gets his 2,746 minutes a season, then losing 210 points a season is realistic due to age and declining skill and Kobe doesn’t pass Kareem. But if we assume he continues to lose 187 minutes a year, then he might not lose 210 points a season—but he’s definitely not scoring 1,926 either and he’s still not passing Kareem. Conclusion? It doesn’t look like Kobe’s gonna grab that #1 spot.
**Besides, remember that best-case scenario? The one where he gets the record in 16-17 when he’s 38 years old? Well consider this… of the 17 oldest players ever in the NBA… aged between 40 years, 3 days to 45 years, 363 days… Kobe’s already logged more minutes than 12 of them! So yeah… I don’t think Kobe’s going to be able to play until age 38 because…
In the purple corner, we have Kobe Bryant: The Guy With the 28.1 PPG Average. This is the guy who holds a slim margin over Kevin Durant in scoring average. This is the guy who has sat out the since 6 April, missing the last 7 games at the time of writing this, because of an inflamed tendon in his left shin. The guy who… went to Germany for an experimental procedure on his nagging knee so that it was “as close to 100 percent as it’s going to get”. The guy who played with a ligament injury in his wrist earlier this year.
But isn’t this the guy who wants to be the greatest scorer ever? Well, I started thinking about that and I can only think of one explanation. Jealousy and spite (is that two explanations?). Wrap your mind-grapes around this: Kobe is great. But some might say he’s no longer the hottest thing in LA. Heard of this kid named Blake? Yeah, he’s the highlight machine that Kobe used to be. And this: the Lakers are still a very good team. But some might say they’re no longer the hottest thing in the West. Heard of the Oklahoma City Thunder? Yeah, the team that refused to back down to the Lakers in 09-10. And finally, we come to the tipping point. The guy who will probably outscore the guy who wants to be the greatest scorer ever: Kevin Durant. As in Durant: the back-to-back scoring champ. As in Durant: the year-5 guy with 9800+ career points already–more than 3600 points more than when Kobe was in year 5 (or almost 1/3 of Kobe’s total so far… despite being 23 years old…) As in Durant: the guy trailing Kobe by tenths of a point this year.
It’s not like Kobe is scared, right? I mean, he scored 40+ in 4 consecutive games back in January. Well let’s break it down real quick:
KOBE: 28.1ppg… 9 games this season with less than 20 points… 28 games with 21-30 points… 16 games with 31-40 points… 3 games with 40+ (and none with 50+)
DURANT: 7 games with less than 20 points… 36 games with 21-30 points… 15 games with 31-40 points… 3 games with 40+ (1 with 50+)
Seems pretty even. Granted, Durant has played more games. But the Lakers are only averaging 97ppg as a team to Oklahoma City’s 102.7ppg. I think Kobe might not be as injured as he claims because he’s desperately trying to hold onto that scoring lead. Possible, right? If he’s vain enough to deny anyone else on the Lakers the number one scoring priority, he’s vain enough to sit out and preserve one last scoring title.
So here’s where we’ve arrived. Is Kobe the guy chasing the scoring title? Or is he the guy trying to steal some bragging rights? If he’s chasing that scoring title, it makes sense for him to refuse to acknowledge that it might be time for the offense to run through Bynum and/or Gasol. But it doesn’t make sense for him to be missing out on all these games and points when he has a history of playing through injuries. But if he’s realized that he might not get the all-time scoring record and it’s time to get what he can get, then it makes sense for him to do what he can to preserve one more scoring title. But then why is he even in the title picture to begin with? Shouldn’t he be focusing on the goal most people would place #1? You know, an NBA championship?
Who knows… this must all be part of the Kobe System.