Posted by Neil Paine on November 9, 2009
Today at ESPN, J.A. Adande wondered if Kobe Bryant is playing better now than ever before, ultimately concluding that if not, then he's doing a pretty darned good approximation of his peak. Well, that's a sentiment I can agree with -- Kobe Bryant is nothing if not mega-consistent, and this year he's defying both the aging curve and the natural complacency you'd expect from someone who just won his 4th title. Take a look at his career numbers, adjusted for pace (after the jump):
What's great about Kobe is that you always know what you're going to get from him, each and every season. Since wresting away "The Man" status from Shaq sometime during the 2002-03 campaign, he has essentially had the same season value-wise every year (aside from 2005, which I think we can give him a pass for since the entire franchise was in disarray). His best season remains 2005-06, when he transcended scoring barriers that we had previously thought unattainable in the modern NBA (given what we know about the slower pace in today's game, there is zero doubt that Bryant's 81 was more impressive as a scoring feat than Chamberlain's 100. Zero.), but how many 31-year-old guards coming off of a championship they had worked single-mindedly towards for the better part of 5 years would come out the following year and be even better?
Obviously it's still quite early in the season, but even so, you have to be impressed with the way Kobe has come out with guns blazing these past few weeks. That L.A. is 6-1 without Pau Gasol, and with only the 14th-best offense in the league (thanks to some uncharacteristic early-season inefficiency from Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, & Jordan Farmar -- and some characteristic inefficiency from Ron Artest), is a testament to the way Bryant and Andrew Bynum have been playing so far. When everyone else gets acclimated on offense, this team is going to be as scary as any in the NBA (even including the juggernaut Celtics), especially if Kobe continues to have the second-best season of his career in 2010.