Managing Kobe Bryant’s Minutes

This has been an up and down season thus far for the Los Angeles Lakers. A new coach, a new system, and a new bench (for the most part) have created a sense of instability for the first half of the year. On top of that, the shortened season made if difficult for any team, the Lakers especially, to find a groove with their performance. However, during the last two or three weeks things appear to have settled down a bit. Of course, there are still concerns that the team needs to address in order to compete in the long haul.

Yet, there has been one positive constant with the team that comes with no surprise to Laker fans. The performance of Kobe Bryant has been stellar to say the least. Bryant is having a MVP-contending season with averages of 28.9 points per game (leads the league), 4.8 assists per game, 5.8 rebounds per game and a usage rate of 34.9, which leads the league by a solid margin.

At the beginning of the season ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported, “The evidence suggests that Bryant — who has logged 48,326 career minutes, faces a serious challenge if he hopes to be a top-five NBA player in the coming season. While the shortened 66-game season may save him some wear and tear, the back-to-back-to-backs he’ll have to play (a minimum of one and a maximum of three for each team) won’t do him any favors.”

Last December I wrote about ESPN’s John Hollinger’s projections of Bryant for this season, in which he projected Kobe to suffer a decline in statistics. The chart below shows Hollinger’s projected stats versus Kobe’s actual stats for this season to date.

/40 MIN.
/40 MIN.
’11-’12 .444 .826 30.4 6.1 5.1 53.1 13.4 10.8 34.9 8.5 24.24
’11-’12 (Projected) .450 .836 26.3 6.0 4.8 54.8 15.0 10.0 29.3 8.5 21.31

Chart provided by ESPN | John Hollinger

As you can see, Kobe is not only performing above Hollinger’s expectations, but mine as well. In the December article I wrote, ” I would project 27.6 points per game and a .463 shooting percentage for Bryant this season.” With a renewed sense of energy from the prolonged off-season and a renewed strength in his knee due to the procedure done in Germany, Kobe is among the frontrunners in the MVP race.

However, despite the amazement of the numbers he’s putting up, there is a concern that it could affect his performance down the road. Bryant is averaging 38 minutes per game, which is sixth in the NBA. On the road, he is averaging 40.2 minutes per game. There have been too many games where Kobe and the rest of the starters appear to be done for the game, but have to come back into the game when the reserves jeopardize the lead and therefore the probable victory.

The 33 year-old’s minutes have increased from last season, which was 33.9 minutes per game. While this season’s offense has been put primarily on Kobe’s shoulders, this will need to change in the future. However, this is currently needed from Bryant. Knowing Kobe, this is just fine with him. Yet, this is adds to the urgency of adding or trading players to help Kobe on the offensive end. As much as Laker fans try to avoid thinking about it, Kobe won’t be a Laker forever.

I would expect Mike Brown to reduce Kobe’s minutes a bit if the team continues to gel and the bench contributes at a higher rate. When it becomes time to prepare for the playoffs, Brown will most likely will rest Kobe a little more. Kobe’s determination and competitive drive disregards the high minutes he plays. However, Laker fans want Kobe playing at a high level in a Laker uniform for as long as possible. A little more rest might help Kobe physically be able to do just that.

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