Kobe Bryant Shines Again, Having Historic 17th Season
Kobe Bryant's Historic 17th Season
With Sunday nights performance vs. the Atlanta Hawks, the Los Angeles Lakers are now in reach of a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. This team has had their point guard, back-up point guard, power forward, back-up power forward and center all miss significant time this season. Some of those guys like Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are of course All-Star caliber performers whose absence is magnified because of how good they are. Despite all of that we have seen 34 year old Kobe Bryant put together a wonderful 17th season to almost single-handedly get his team in a playoff position. It got me wondering where Bean's season ranks amongst the NBA greats so I took a look at some recent legends and how they performed in their 17th season, or in some cases where they did not play 17 seasons I compared the season when they were 34 years old. This is a slideshow article so click through the pages and enjoy (I hope!). Let's take a look...
For the 2012-13 season Kobe is averaging 38 minutes, with 27.2 points and 5.6 assists per game (last time KB had that many helpers per game was back in the 2004-05 season). Throw in 1.3 steals and the fact that his .472 field goal percentage is his career-high and we see how remarkable he has been this season. He has the look of a man possessed as he is determined to lead his squad into the playoffs. He is well aware that his career is somewhat winding down so we have a guy who has always been obsessed with winning and success who sees that window starting to close. This has been a season-long example of why they call him the Black Mamba as he is playing the role of something dangerous that is looking to attack.
The sure place top start the comparisons is, of course, Michael Jordan. Though MJ did not play 17 seasons (he played 15) he did play when he was 34 years old and it was the final championship season in his second threepeat. The NBA lost Jordan to baseball for a while after that, but as a 34-year-old, MJ played 38 minutes and averaged 28.7 points with a .465 field goal percentage. Sure these are impressive numbers, but in the grand scheme of things his close range, long range, free throws, assists, rebounds and steals were all well below his career averages.
Jordan was still a wonderful facilitator of winning offense as a 34 year old, but his supporting cast was healthier than Bryant's '12-'13 teammates have been, so despite MJ not quite reaching his career averages he was still able to be a monster, topped off with another ring.
Of any player we will look at it is likely MJ who, at 34, was still a remarkable and wonderful defender. He did not really take big steps backwards in his Chicago Bulls days with his defense, and KB is not really taking steps back on D either.
Larry Bird...Magic Johnson...Plus Other Legends
What makes Kobe's season even more remarkable is the fact that none of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird or Julius Erving played 17 seasons. Larry Legend retired at the age of 35 after playing 13 legendary seasons. My personal hero, Magic, had a brief comeback in the 1995-96 season as a 36-year-old, but he played power forward instead of point guard where he earned his historic status. The 36-year-old power forward version of Magic did little to remind you of how special he once was. KB plays out of position, especially on defense, as often as it helps the team.
Dr. J played as a 34-year-old and averaged 22.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 steals and had a .494 shooting percentage. All of those are very good numbers, but all are below his career averages.
Isiah Thomas did not get to 17 seasons, and he retired as a 32-year-old.
John Stockton and Karl Malone
John Stockton started all 82 games in his 17th season for the 2000-01 Utah Jazz. He shot .462 from downtown which was a career-high, and even though his points (11.5), assists (8.7) and field goal percentage (.504) were all impressive they were all well below his career averages.
Karl Malone was impressive, even in the later stage of his career as he put together a great season when he was 34, and a great 17th season as well (The Mailman played 19 seasons and to his credit he was awesome annually, even as his career was winding down). As a 34-year-old Malone produced numbers that were slightly better than his career averages, and as a 38-year-old (17th season) he averaged just below his career averages.
These guys had their careers take a back seat to Jordan's Bulls, but they were special. I find it remarkable how good these two were for so long, especially Malone who was in unreal shape and never seemed to skip a beat all the way up to his retirement as a 40-year-old (Stockton also played and produced until he retired at 40).
Charles Barkey, and a Few Other Legends
Charles Barkley played 16 seasons, and his season as a 34-year-old was his worst. The Round Mound of Rebound still was very productive (he averaged a double-double) but it was a down season by his standards.
Reggie Miller also played as a 34-year-old, and he also played a 17th season. Both of those were good seasons, but both were below his career averages.
Clyde Drexler played 15 seasons, and as a 34-year-old for the 1996-97 Houston Rockets he averaged 18 points (good, yes, but career-low as a starter) he also shot well below his career average, and his .750 free-throw percentage was his career worst as a starter (Clyde the Glyde became a full-time starter in his third season).
Legend Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game in his 18 year career, but in his 17th season he was at just 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per tilt. Those are still the numbers of a guy that is producing, but they also show that father time caught up with the big fella as his career went on. Kobe seems to have areas of his game that are somehow improving as his wonderful career continues.
We see a lot of production from these legends at 34 years old and/or in their 17th seasons (for those who got to 17) but Kobe's 17th season is as good as any of them, and better than most. I would say that when you take everything into consideration this is a top three all-time season for a 34 year player. This season is even more remarkable when you add in the fact that Kobe has had to work through injuries for several years now, and when this season ends KB will be just under 1,500 games played yet despite that massive wear-and-tear he is still finding ways to elevate his play.
As a 34-year-old 17 year vet we have even seen KB start a few games as a forward to help the team, and he still is a guy who insists on taking on the toughest match-up on defense for LA. In Lakers' wins KB averages 24 points, seven assists, six rebounds and he shoots .483 from the field.
We have seen Bryant be a major factor in seven Western Conference titles and five NBA titles, and it is amazing to see that he is still able to elevate his game in his pursuit of victories. Kobe has undergone several surgeries and procedures (some were even overseas and some were somewhat experimental) which makes his '12-'13 campaign even more impressive. LeBron James had the We Are Witness ad campaign, but as a guy who feels like greatness is measured over time I am enamoured with Bryant's season and I feel like I am witnessing a historic season from No. 24 in purple and gold.
Craig Ballard is a NFL/NBA/MLB writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @craigballard77, and you can find all of his articles at www.rantsports.com/blog/author/craigballard/