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NBA lockout: How will work stoppage affect Kobe Bryant's scoring?

July 21, 2011 |  5:35 pm

Kobe Bryant

With an indifferent expression, stony silence and a downplaying of each milestone, Kobe Bryant tried hard to show that he wasn't preoccupied with climbing the NBA's all-time scoring list.

But not many believed him, including Phil Jackson. When I asked the former Lakers Coach last season which player Bryant wants to pass on the scoring list the most, Jackson replied without hesitation, "Michael Jordan." Bryant argued that wasn't true and continued touting his sole motivation entails trying to minimize the gap between Bill Russell's 11 NBA titles and his own five. Bryant isn't lying when he says that's his main motivation, but it's misleading to act indifferent about it when teammates, media and the general public know he's driven to be the best player ever.

So as the NBA continues a work stoppage that has no end in sight, it's only natural to wonder how much of a shortened season or even a lost season would affect Bryant's scoring. He's sixth on the NBA's all-time scoring list with 27,868 points, trailing Shaquille O'Neal (28,596), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419), Jordan (32,292), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387). So it's likely that next season, if there is one, Bryant will probably only pass Shaq, a milestone I think is safe to presume means awful plenty to the Black Mamba.

But as far as how a work stoppage would affect where Bryant ends up on the all-time scoring list? There's too many variables that complicate the answer. 

Kobe Bryant

The first question involves how long he will actually play.  

Bryant's signed for three more seasons for $83.5 million, but that doesn't mean the 2013-2014 season would be his final season. Knowing Bryant's thirst for championships, it's conceivable the Lakers could keep him, but no one can predict what will happen because it will depend on how Bryant's physical condition holds up. But given his current state and the fact that the Lakers seem to indicate they're preparing for Andrew Bynum to be the future of the franchise, let's just assume Bryant hangs up his laces then. That means Bryant has at least two full seasons and however long the 2011-2012 campaign lasts to score 10,520 points, the amountneeded to surpass Abdul-Jabbar.

Should next season go off without a hitch and the Lakers are able to host the Oklahoma City Thunder Nov. 1 in their season opener, Bryant would need to average 42.76 points through 246 regular-season games in those seasons to reach him. For clarity purposes, say the 2011-2012 season is shortened to 50-games like it was in the 1998-99 campaign. Bryant would then have to average 49.16 points through 214 regular-season games in those seasons to surpass Abdul-Jabbar. And if there's not a 2011-2012 season at all, that means Bryant would have to average 64.15 points per game through 164 games.

It's obviously impractical to think any NBA player, let alone Bryant, could reach those numbers. So let's go back to recent history and assume Bryant maintains the 25.3 points he averaged last season. Then in three full more seasons, Bryant would score 6,224 more points in 246 more regular-season games, putting him in third place with 34,092 points. If Bryant has only 50 games next season  followed by two more full seasons, Bryant would score 5,414 points in 214 regular-season games, putting him still in third place, with 33,282 points. And if Bryant only has two more seasons because of a lost 2011-2012 campaign, Bryant would score 4,149 points in 164 games, causing Bryant to settle for fourth place, with 32,017 points. 

Before Bryant fans get bent out of shape that this projection doesn't put him on the NBA's all-time leaderboard, just remember what he said in 2010 when asked if he can surpass Abdul-Jabbar.

Kobe Bryant

"I don't know how long I'll play," Bryant said.

It's surely conceivable that Bryant's expiring contract after the 2013-2014 season isn't also his retirement date. But as mentioned before, that will largely hinge on how healthy and effective Bryant remains at that point. Let's say Bryant plays beyond that point and he maintains the 25.3 points he averaged last season. Bryant would eclipse Abdul-Jabbar's mark in 416 more regular-season games with that scoring average. If there is no shortened season, that means Bryant would have to play five more seasons before retiring in 2016 when he's 36. If there's no season, Bryant would hang it up in 2017 when he's 37. And if there is a shortened season to 50 games, that record also wouldn't be broken until the middle of the 2016-2017 season after playing in the NBA for 20 years. 

If your head is spinning, you'll only feel more of a headache knowing there's more variables that complicate this measure. 

Bryant's regular-season averages last season of 25.3 points in 33.9 minutes per game marked his lowest statistical output since the 2003-04 season, but that output proved more efficient when you consider his point total in the previous three seasons, including 2007-08 (28.3 points in 38.9 minutes), 2008-09 (26.8 points in 36.1 minutes) and 2009-10 (27 points in 38.8 minutes). But with a possibly prolonged offseason, will the extra amount of rest cause him to feel more energetic, allowing him to play heavier minutes and score at a more prolific rate?

The Lakers are changing their offense from the triangle to a faster-paced offense emphasizing a high-low set with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol getting touches off pick-and-rolls. Will Bryant still manage to find his sweet spots like Mike Brown promised? Or will Bynum actually get his wish in assuming a larger control of the offense?

Kobe Bryant

How healthy can Bryant stay? The above calculations assume Bryant will play in all 82 games the rest of his career, an unrealistic expectation considering how uncertain his career will last and the possibility of injury. Will this cause Bryant to facilitate more to ensure he stays sound? Or will the time off give Bryant even more explosive offensive moves once he gets back on the floor?Will the controversial procedure he had on his right knee this offseason suddenly turn Bryant into a younger version of himself? Or will it at best just cause a temporary delay in future problems or contribute to everything that currently ails his right knee?

Lastly, how will Bryant's game evolve? There's was a four-season pattern in which his scoring rate had dropped. It went from 2,832 points in the 2005-06 season to 2,430 in 2006-07, 2,323 in 2007-08, 2,201 in 2008-09, 1,970 in 2009-10 before jumping back up to 2,078 in 2010-11. HoopData shows that, with his fractured right index finger, sprained right knee and sprained left ankle two seasons ago, a greater percentage of Bryant's shots were blocked, he finished with fewer and-ones and made fewer shots at the rim, dropping from 66% in the 2008-09 season to 58.6% during the 2009-10 season. That same website shows that last season with a healthier and surgically repaired right knee, a sprained left ankle and an arthritic right index finger, he made more shots at the rim, had more and-ones, had equal amount of shots blocked, proved more efficient from shots within 10-15 feet (49.7% in 2009-10 to 51.5% in 2010-11, but proved less efficient from shots within 16-23 feet (38% in 2009-10 to 33% in 2010-11). 

There's no mathematical equations that can solve these questions, but they're intriguing to ponder nonetheless. There's only thing that's certain, Lakers legend Jerry West, who predicted Bryant would at least get 30,000 points, said one time that Bryant's not going to cede an inch with this effort even if it causes him to kick and scream.

"Health is an important issue and age," West said. "There's one opponent you can't defeat and that's age. He will try that, by the way." 

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--Mark Medina

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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant continuously took a measured approach during the 2010-2011 season because of his injuries. Credit: Mark D. Smith / US Presswire / February 27, 2011

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant launches the final shot of Game 1 as Jason Kiddarrives late to challenge the shot. Bryant missed and the Mavericks took a 96-94 victory. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 2, 2011

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant finishes off a dunk against Memphis during the 2009-10 season that made him the franchise's all-time scoring leader, moving ahead of Jerry West. Bryant finished with 44 points in the loss. Credit: Mike Brown/EPA.

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reacts after a foul was called on a teammate during Game 4 against the Mavericks in Dallas. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011