You don’t have to like Kobe Bryant as a person or as a player to appreciate his incredible 2012-2013 NBA season, which is extremely special considering it’s his 17th NBA season, while playing more than all but four other players around the league. Only Michael Jordan has done this well, not to mention better, at the age of 34 while still playing so much every night.
Bryant is averaging 38.4 minutes a night at the age of 34. This has happened only 15 times in the history of the NBA, with players like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Elvin Hayes, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Elgin Baylor. The interesting thing is that only Michael Jordan has had a better PER (25.2 compared with 22.7) than Bryant at this stage of their careers, going through a season in which they should be playing a whole of a lot less.
Bryant is being run into the ground these last few games, as the Lakers are desperately trying to make a last minute push and somehow make the playoffs (which seems to be working for them). Over the last 8 game, he’s averaging 42.6 minutes a night, including three games of over 47 minutes. Mike D’Antoni has been known to run players into the ground, not really caring about rotation, age and saving them for the postseason.
Yes, Bryant is a physical freak, but it’s only his team’s weird situation, and by weird I mean disappointing and bad, that has led him to be playing so many minutes in a season that should have gone a lot more smoothly if the preseason predictions are to be believed. He’s averaging 27 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists this season, and the Lakers are only barely above .500, currently holding on to the 8th spot in the West.
Jordan at that age? In the 1997-1998 season, the real “last” season for Jordan, he played in all 82 games for the Bulls, averaging 28.7 points per game (best in the league) while playing 38.8 minutes a night. It’s worth mentioning that while the same age, the mileage on Bryant legs at this point of their careers is much larger, beginning to play right after high school. Jordan? That was “only” his 13th NBA season.
It’s not an argument trying to convince you that Bryant is better than Jordan. He’s not, in my opinion, and never will be, even if he wins that sixth ring. Bryant doing what he does isn’t necessarily the best thing for the Lakers, not every night at least. With Jordan, although times dilutes the senses, it feels as if he knew better when to let go and let someone else, like Scottie Pippen or even Toni Kukoc (not to forget Steve Kerr in the 1997 Finals) take control in the end, although that rarely happened.
It’s just saying that what Bryant is doing this season is quite rare, almost unmatched looking back at the history of NBA feats, with only thing in common – it usually had to do with a star on a struggling team, for whatever reason, forced to play more than he’d care to or should be, so they can actually make the playoffs. Only Jordan, Russell and Chamberlain are on that list to have won an NBA title at the end of the mentioned seasons.
Hat Tip – Dancingwithnoah