Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Tag Archives: appreciations

Kobe Bryant: over 38 over 34

In a vacuum, I think all of us can agree that what Kobe Bryant’s doing in his 17th NBA season is mostly ridiculous. With a handful of games remaining this season, Bryant has amassed 1,456 games (playoffs and regular season) and spent 53,897 minutes on the court. To list off his accomplishments, both statistical and of the award variety, would be like reading through a ledger that includes every sin any of us committed. It would go on and on and we’d fall asleep out of monotonous exhaustion and boredom and then we’d wake up and the voice would still be droning on.

For me, and I assume, for many of us, one of the most impressive aspects of Kobe’s long, long run has been remarkable consistency of it. So many games and years later and the man is still performing at a level that exceeds his career averages (his career averages are admittedly tipped by his first three years in the league). His game is as identifiable as any player’s in the league. Just when we think he’s lost a step and is on the decline (2011 appeared this way), he bounces back with Orthonkine therapy and back-to-back 27ppg, +20PER seasons—at ages 33 and 34.

Being the lightning rod he is, Kobe’s accomplishments come hand-in-hand with overreaction from the pro-Kobe and con-Kobe camps which are both bolstered by millions of basketball fans who sit at computers or on smartphones pounding away at the keys and venting through Kobe-based superlative arguments. The objective or indifferent fans marvel at Kobe’s resilience and shot-making ability while shaking their heads at the head-scratchingly bad shots or lackluster defense that we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing.

But as I started this post, I’ll reiterate: In a vacuum … I’m not interested in opening up or hashing out or re-hashing debates that have no ending. After Kobe’s game yesterday, a 14-point loss to the Clippers that gave them a 4-0 sweep in the Battle for Los Angeles; a game in which Kobe played 47 minutes (Mike D’Antoni’s never been shy about running guys into the ground and most elite athletes need someone to force them to rest, so the Kobe/D’Antoni combination is mostly a poor match when it comes to the long-term consideration of Kobe’s physical health), I found myself asking: Who does this? Who plays 47 minutes at 34-years-old? Who’s 34 and putting up 25 points and 10 assists? So I did what I do, I had to answer this question for myself and the answer was interesting enough to share it with you:

I took Kobe’s season-to-date stats (as of 4/8/12) and plugged them into Basketball-Refrerence.com and took a look at how this season compares historically at a couple different levels. First off, I just focused on players who have averaged at least 38 minutes/game at age 34 or older. I don’t know what my hunch was going into this, but as I think more about it, it makes sense that only a few times in league history has circumstance demanded a player of this age pour so much of himself into the game and only so many times has the player actually been able to hold up to the rigorous demands of an NBA schedule for so many minutes every night:

 over 34 over 38

It’s an interesting list. Of the 15 seasons included there, only three players went on to win titles (Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in 1972). With the exception of Lenny Wilkins’ Cavs in 1973 and Anthony Mason’s Bucks in 2002, each player did make the playoffs, although it’s worth noting that several teams were low-seeded playoff teams that needed every ounce of production available from their best players—similar to the Lakers dependency on Bryant this year.

To take it a step further in terms of production at age 34 or older with 38 minutes or more played each night, I layered in points, PER and Usage%. Only a single other player compares favorably to Kobe in these measures:

 kobe and mj

MJ edged Kobe in PER (25.2 vs. 22.7) and usage rates (33.7% vs. 31.8%), but in both cases, these teams relied on these shooting guards for so so much production. The results were drastically different and the purpose of this post isn’t to delve into that aspect of these post-34 seasons, but to explore the rarity of what an aging Kobe Bryant’s doing this season which is about as rarefied company as you can come across. As an aside, these explorations often reveal some unexpected random piece of information and in this case it’s Karl Malone’s 2001-02 season where he averaged 38mpg as 38-year-old power forward and had a usage rate of 28.8%. For perspective, that 28.8 would rank 8th overall this season and place him ahead of James Harden—and he was 38.  

Someday we’ll say goodbye to Kobe, but it appears it’ll be a lot later than a whole gang of people thought…

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