How many minutes should Kobe Bryant play next season?
We don't know to what degree rest and an innovative procedure on his right knee will improve Kobe Bryant's health. We don't know when the NBA season will start, or if there will be a season at all. We don't know what Bryant's off-court effort in strengtening his legs will do to elevate his game.
Yup, there's a lot of answers we don't know. But for the sake of opening up a discussion, there will remain a pressing question next season on how many minutes Bryant should play per game. That variable will largely determine Bryant's success in managing his basketball-mileage heavy body.
His 33.9 minutes per game last season marked his lowest average since his second season in the NBA. His scoring output (25.3 points per game) may have been his lowest mark since the 2003-04 season (24 ppg). But the effort proved more efficient compared with his production in the previous three seasons. That included Bryant's 28.3 points in 38.9 minutes in 2007-08, 26.8 points in 36.1 minutes in 2008-09 and 27 points in 38.8 minutes in 2009-10.
Should Bryant pace himself the same way? Or should he use that added rest and treatment as additional jet fuel to accelerate his motor? Should Bryant play with nonstop aggression? Or should he pick his spots based on his teammates' play, matchups and overall health?
Even if Bryant approaches the game based on his health and energy, no matter what kind of magic performed on his knee this summer doesn't erase his basketball mileage toward the tail-end of his career. That's why playing at a deliberate pace during the season would probably become more necessary so he has enough left for the postseason and in case injuries arise again.
The Lakers' putting away sub.-500 teams early would ensure Bryant can enjoy the fourth-quarter rest and save his energy for games that are more competitive. Mike Brown will also need to limit Bryant's minutes during the first three quarters so he can close out in appropriate fashion.
No doubt, Bryant will and should push the envelope. But as last season indicated, monitoring Bryant's minutes will prove critical in ensuring he maintains his aggressiveness without further compromising his body and fatigue.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant shoots defended by Phoenix's Grant Hill. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times