As Kobe Bryant prepares to play his 15th NBA season -- stop me if you feel old after reading that -- he is battling all sorts of injuries. There are all those miles on his 32-year-old legs, there was the finger injury that will probably never fully be back to normal, and of course there was offseason knee surgery that Bryant is still recovering from.
Yet, there is hope that a summer of relative rest -- Kobe didn't play for Team USA, after all -- the Lakers will have a well-rested Bryant later in the season and as they make a run at a third straight NBA championship. Today, Dexter Fishmore concluded the phenomenal player preview series at Silver Screen and Roll with a look forward to Bryant's 2010-2011 season:
What will change, however, is his health. We saw the beginning of this process last season, played by Kobe at age 31. After he got off to a rocking, MVP-caliber start, Kobe's body decided to spit parts. Both his right knee and right hand got knocked around a bit, and although he still managed to perform at a high level, the injuries took an impossible-to-ignore toll. His turnovers jumped and his outside shooting fell off. He remained an awesome force on offense and a superlative defender, but there were some ugly shooting games along the way. The decline in his personal offensive efficiency was one of several factors contributing to the team's struggles on offense. (In 2008-09, the Lakers scored 114.5 points per 100 possessions, good for third in the league. Last season that mark dropped to 110.4, only 11th in the league.)
What We Expect: A season at least as productive as the last one. At the moment, Kobe isn't at anything close to full strength - Phil says that he's "decidedly not yet ready to play" - and the days of him appearing in 82 games a year are probably over. But a summer spent away from basketball should pay dividends come May and June. One hopes Kobe's learned that sitting out a game here and there won't sink the team in the short run and will strengthen it in the long run. I don't expect him to win the regular-season MVP award, but I do think we'll see him recover some of the efficiency he lost last season and treat us to yet another sterling, first-team All-NBA campaign.
Here are some Lakers franchise milestones that Bryant could reach this season:
- Points: 25,790 (already the franchise leader)
- Games: 1,021 (2nd place; needs 73 games to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
- Minutes: 37,366 (2nd place; needs 137 minutes to pass Abdul-Jabbar)
- Field Goal Attempts: 19,731 (2nd place; needs 441 to pass Elgin Baylor)
Bryant, who is still recovering from that offseason knee surgery, is expected to play roughly 16 minutes, perhaps slightly more, tomorrow night in Las Vegas against the Sacramento Kings.