Can or Should Kobe Keep Up the Pace?

In his return from missing virtually an entire season due to two very serious leg injuries, Kobe Bryant appears to have not missed a beat physically, playing close to 36 minutes per game. That seems like a lot, but it is his second fewest minutes per game since Kobe’s second season of 1997-1998, in which he averaged only 26 minutes per game. Since then, only in 2010-2011 when he only played 33.9 per game did he fail to be on the floor for less than 36.1 minutes, and in the majority of seasons, between 38 and 41 minutes (other than last year when he appeared in only six games). But, his effectiveness, at 36 and coming off those two injuries, has seen a significant downward turn.

A career 45% shooter, Kobe was never close to failing to hit at least 40% in any season. This year, however, he is at 39%, by far his career low, and dissecting that, it looks even worse, and the fact is that the bad, bad Lakers' team could have had a few more victories if Kobe had come through and hit a clutch shot in the final moments of more than one game, games where he had the shot, but unlike the Kobe of old, he missed. The stats bare that out, as Kobe has shot
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a decent 44% in the first half of games, but in the second half of games, where the old, clutch Kobe Bryant could be counted on to pull the Lakers through tough spots to many a last minute win, he has shot a horrible 34.2%.

Is this due to age, due to lingering effects of his injuries, due to not having that extra edge of playing on a winning team where each game can make a difference, or is it possibly just due to end-of-game fatigue, begging the question that despite the talent-less Lakers’ roster and the fact that there is no one on the team that comes close to his ability, desire or experience, should he be playing even less minutes? And, if so, to what end?

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This is not a playoff team, and and there are few players on the current roster that have a future with the Lakers, or even in the NBA. So, why not just let Kobe play in what is likely his next-to-last NBA season, shoot at will, and maybe pull out a game here and there? Would you rather see Wayne Ellington take that last minute shot? Or. heaven
forbid, Ronnie Price, with his 31.9 shooting percentage?

Even with several players fighting to get to or stay above 40%, the Lakers’ problem is not scoring – their 103.7 points per game is actually ninth best in the league – but rather defense (as might have been mentioned a time or two here in the past), as the team continues to put baskets on a silver platter for the opposition to dine upon, allowing a league worst 111.1 points per game and a second-worst 47.9% shooting percentage.

So, in a season where the Lakers will likely eclipse their all-time worst 1957-58 records for futility, let Kobe play, let Kobe shoot, and make it a little interesting and entertaining. That’s all they have, and they might as well make the most of it.

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