Player Capsule: Kobe Bryant
A devastating injury two games before the regular season ended couldn't change the fact that Kobe Bryant, in his 17th season in the NBA, was dominant enough to be named to the All-NBA First Team for the 11th time.
In his 15th season as an All-Star, Bryant put together one of his better statistical years, averaging 27.3 points (third in the NBA) on 46.3 percent shooting (his highest since 2008-09) with 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds. Bryant even managed to get to the rim more effectively than he had in six years, converting 69.7 percent of his shots (264 for 379), better than all guards not named Dwyane Wade or Steve Nash.
If he slipped at all from seasons past, it was on the defensive end, where his occasional lapses accrued to the point that he was left off the All-NBA Defensive team for the first time since 2005.
That lack of consistent D could be attributed in part to the continually huge role Bryant played on offense, and all the miles he's put on his legs. Consider that Bryant has already played more combined regular season and playoff minutes (54,031) than all but six players in the history of basketball (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Jason Kidd, Wilt Chamberlain, John Stockton and Elvin Hayes).
Speaking of best-of-the-best career accomplishments: Bryant in 2012-13 surpassed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth on the all-time scoring list and became the youngest player to score 30,000 points. Only Michael Jordan, Malone and Abdul-Jabbar have scored more. And the latter two of that group are the only players to match Kobe's All-NBA nods (Malone with 11 First Team selections, and Kareem with 15 total).
Unfortunately for the Lakers, it all came to an end against Golden State on April 12, when Bryant tore his Achilles tendon on a routine attempt at a drive to his left. Ever the warrior, Bryant sank two clutch free throws in a game L.A. desperately needed to make the playoffs, then limped off into the locker room knowing his - and ultimately the Lakers' - season was finished.
It was the toughest of blows for a team that rallied from the depths of a 17-25 record in January to finish the season 28-12, but also indicative of how the season went. Bryant was playing ridiculously heavy minutes by his own insistence, going the full 48 once and just missing complete games on several other occasions in part because so many of his teammates were beat up. Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and several other Lakers battled a motley crew of ailments that kept the team from truly being whole.
“We didn’t have a chance to develop because of injury after injury after injury," said Kobe at his exit interview. "It was crazy. It was a constant process for us, but we finally figured it out. It’s great to bring the group back because we know what to do, and we know how lethal we can be."
Indeed, Bryant expressed his hope that the band will be back together for 2013-14, but that remains to be seen. He acknowledged that all he can control is his own health, and since getting almost immediate surgery to repair the Achilles, has been working constantly at rehabilitating the injury with Lakers head physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto and others.
"For me, I’m willing to work and be patient," he said. "I’m confident I can be ready for next season.”
And so will continue one of the most brilliant careers in the history of the game. To what degree Bryant can regain the rarified excellence that led to his outstanding individual 17th season remains to be seen ... but betting against Kobe has never been wise.