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Will Kobe Bryant's game age well?

August 25, 2010 |  7:58 am

Kobemj Now that Kobe Bryant’s turned 32, how much of a decline can we expect in his game over the next few seasons?

The only player to compare Bryant’s 30-something performance with, of course, is Michael Jordan. But it’s not a simple comparison because by the age of 32 MJ had been retired for almost two seasons while he tried, and failed, to make it as a pro baseball player.

So, when Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls late in the 94-95 season—at 32—he’d played only 778 NBA regular season and playoff games. By comparison, Kobe Bryant has already played a whopping 1,219 games, 57% more than Jordan at the same age. Kobe is clearly the NBA version of a Ferrari with high mileage.

What happened after Jordan’s 32nd birthday? MJ led the league in scoring in the next three seasons before another retirement attempt.

Still, age forced some adjustments in MJ’s game—and we might see the same from Kobe.

After Jordan turned 27, he began a long, steady decline in field goal percentage (we’ll skip his abbreviated ’94-95 season): from 53.9% in the ’90-91 season, to 51.9% next season, then 49.5%, 49.5%, 48.6% and 46.5% when he turned 35.

Jordan’s playing time also dipped slightly; averaging 39.1 minutes a game in the three full seasons before his 32nd birthday, then 38.1 in the next three.

After turning 32, MJ’s three-point shooting also declined (42.7%, 37.4%, 23.8%), as did his rebounding (6.6,  5.9, 5.8) and assists (4.3, 4.3, 3.5; versus 5.3 in his career).

Bryant’s stats have also dipped in several categories in the last five seasons:
--Scoring per game: 35.4, 31.6, 28.3, 26.8, to 27.0 last season.
--Free throw attempts per game: 10.2, 10.0, 9.0, 6.9, 7.4.
--Minutes per game: 41.0, 40.8, 38.9, 36.1, 38.8.

Late in Jordan’s career, he’d often pace himself to save something for the fourth quarter. Even then, MJ was great, he just wasn’t the airborne legend of his youth.

As Kobe—a hoops historian—readies for his 15th Lakers season, he’s probably got this MJ stat memorized: After Jordan turned 32, he won three more NBA titles.

--Barry Stavro

Photo: Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan in a a Lakers-Wizards game in 2002. Credit: Reuters / Joe Giza.