Last season, the Lakers undisputed leader Kobe Bryant suffered an injury that was career threatening. A 35 year old with a torn Achilles tendon is about as close to the kiss of death as an athlete can get. But this isn’t any ordinary athlete, this is Kobe Bean Bryant.
Last season Kobe produced one of the best seasons of his illustrious career. He averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game, on 46.3% shooting from the field. These type of numbers are unprecedented for a player in his 17th year in the league. If Kobe hadn’t suffered such a devastating injury, it would be much easier to predict what type of impact he will have this season. As it stands we don’t have a real timeline for his return, although the video of Kobe running certainly is encouraging.
So what should we realistically expect from Kobe Bryant this season?
Expecting Kobe to repeat last year’s virtuoso performance level is unrealistic. He is older, coming off a serious injury and if Mike D’Antoni wants his team to have any chance to make some noise in the postseason, Kobe’s minutes will have to be reduced. Kobe played 38.6 minutes per game last season, and had an inhuman stretch where he played at least 41 minutes over an 8 game stretch. We all saw how that streak ended and Coach D’Antoni can’t let that happen again. Kobe also won’t be around for the entire season. I’ve been optimistic that Kobe will be able to return by Thanksgiving, but I have no inside knowledge and it is simply a hunch. We know he has yet to participate in basketball related activities, but once he is, there is no stopping him.
For Kobe’s sake, he needs to rely on his teammates more than he ever has before in his career. Kobe’s will and desire to win is legendary, but this is the first time we’ve seen Kobe as a mere human. With a new offensive system firmly in place for this season, Kobe’s heroics shouldn’t be needed as much. The offense is predicated on ball movement and tempo, not on one-on-one ability. Even without Kobe in the lineup, the team should be able to score at a competitive level. Kobe has been incredible at being able to adjust his game to stay on top, but this adjustment will be the toughest for him yet. Kobe has been an alpha dog since Day 1. Even when he came off the bench and was seen as Shaq’s number two, Kobe still lived with the mindset of the top dog. He worked harder than everyone else to make himself as good as he possibly could. This season he will need to focus on staying healthy and building up his teammates.
Offensively, Kobe should be the same killer he has always been. With his impeccable footwork and killer mid-range game, there is no reason his offense should suffer. He hasn’t relied on explosive athleticism for a long time now and it isn’t what makes him a deadly offensive option. His rebounding has been consistent throughout his career and his passing should be just as crisp as ever. Last season Kobe had some of his best passing performances of his life and that experience should help him this year.
Kobe called this portion of his career “The Last Chapter,” which is very fitting. He is returning from an injury that has cost many others their careers. He has been doubted and questioned to the point he changed his twitter profile to show “1225”, which represents the 12th place finish ESPN projected for the Lakers and the 25th ranked player in the NBA according to ESPN’s #NBArank. If there is someone who can come back from this type of injury and excel, it is Kobe. He will play well, but due to lowered minutes, may see a dip in production. I expect him to finish around 23 points per game with 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
If the Lakers have hopes of making the postseason and potentially making a run, it cannot be done without Kobe performing at a high level. With Kobe, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash healthy, the Lakers could be one of the toughest match-ups come playoff time. But if Kobe can’t be the same Kobe we’ve grown accustomed to, the Lakers may be in for a trip to the lottery. If you listen to ESPN, you’ll have already written off Kobe and the Lakers. But me? I’m betting on The Black Mamba.
With the distraction of Dwight Howard last season gone, all eyes will be on Kobe Bryant this season to see if he can return to form after tearing his achilles last season. Watch the Lake Show all season long by securing your Lakers Tickets here.