This is the first on a series grading the Lakers’ efforts on their 2012-13 season.
Player: Kobe Bryant, Lakers guard
How he performed: 27.3 points on 46.3% shooting and 6 assists in 38.6 minutes per game in the regular season
The Good: So much for that whole theory that Bryant would face a physical decline. All it took was losing 16 pounds, stricter dieting and a sheer amount of Bryant’s will to ensure yet another productive season.
So the Lakers had little clarity on offense because of Dwight Howard’s injury limitations, Steve Nash’s long-term absence and Pau Gasol’s frustration in becoming a stretch four under Mike D’Antoni’s system. No problem. Bryant still lit things up with proficiency in November (27 points on 47.7 percent shooting) and December (33.8 points on 46.6 percent shooting).
So the Lakers griped about their offensive roles, including Howard (fewer touches) and Gasol (too much facilitating). No matter. Bryant and Nash switched positions. Nash became an off-ball shooter and Bryant morphed into a facilitator. The formula ensured Bryant’s highest assists totals (6) since the 2004-2005 season.
So Bryant is 34 years old, has logged 45,390 total minutes and suffered numerous injuries. Who cares? Bryant still attacked the basket enough to draw 626 foul shots, his highest since the 2008-09 season. Bryant threw down thunderous dunks over the likes of Atlanta’s Josh Smith, the Clippers’ Chris Paul and yes, both Brooklyn’s Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. Bryant scored at least 40 points in seven games and at least 30 in 28 other games. He also went on a six-game tear in April where he posted 30.5 points, seven rebounds and 7.5 assists in 45.2 minutes per contest.
And then there’s the most impressive feat of all. Even after suffering a season-ending torn left Achilles’ tendon, Bryant still managed to make two free throws to help secure the Lakers’ 118-116 win April 12 over Golden State on one foot. He then hobbled off the court, determined that he’ll overcome the latest challenge. As he showed in all of the 2012-13 season, Bryant has provided an extensive resume in defying the odds.
The Bad: Bryant’s sheer will came to crashing halt when he suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tendon. Outside medical experts agree with Lakers trainer Gary Vitti and Bryant’s personal trainer Tim Grover when they described Bryant’s torn left Achilles tendon as nothing more than a “freak injury.” But those experts also believe that injury remains more susceptible to happen if the body is fatigued and overused. In other words, the Lakers and Bryant should’ve scaled back his usage rate. It’s not exactly guaranteed Bryant would’ve stayed healthy had the Lakers scaled back his minutes. But there’s a stronger likelihood Bryant could’ve stayed in the playoffs had he and the Lakers showed willingness to ensure he plays no more than 42 minutes per game.
Unlike in past seasons, Bryant mostly struck a good balance this year between tapping into his scoring efficiency while maintaining team balance. He also struck a much more even keeled approach in staying relentlessly positive and providing positive reinforcement to Gasol. Yet, Bryant didn’t take the same approach with Howard. Some of this falls on the Lakers’ center’s willingness to take such criticism constructively, but there’s no denying that Bryant’s approach occasionally caused Howard to feel resentful.
A. There’s really not much to nitpick in Bryant’s performance. His play served as a the lone highlight of an otherwise underachieving season. Bryant’s absence in the playoffs also reinforced that he was mostly justified in taking on such a large load despite the talent around him.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at email@example.com