ESPN reported on Thursday that Lakers coach Phil Jackson plans to limit Kobe Bryant’s minutes while his superstar continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. When asked about the matter, Jackson said he "[doesn't] anticipate Kobe's going to be playing heavy-minute games to start this season."
On the surface, this makes sense, given Kobe’s preseason struggles, obviously brought about by continued discomfort in his right knee. He’s been severely limited and largely ineffective on offense in the 2010 preseason. In the Lakers’ six games, Kobe’s played just 20 minutes per game and shot just 27.2% from the field (18-for-66, or 3-for-11 per game).
However, while it’s clear that lightening Kobe’s considerable workload is vital to the Lakers’ shot at a three-peat, I don’t know that shaving a few minutes off of his floor time in each game is the optimal strategy. Rather than having Kobe play in as many of the Lakers’ 82 regular season games as possible, only for 8-10 fewer minutes per game (implies 28-30 mpg, compared with 38.8 last season), why not continue to have Kobe go for ~40 minutes per contest, but get him his rest by having him play fewer games?
The reasoning here is pretty straightforward. Every minute that Kobe plays in a hard minute. The wear and tear on Kobe’s knees is not so much the result of minutes 31-39 in a given game as it is the result of simply preparing for a game, warming up and getting up to full speed. Thing is, once he’s out on the floor and fully into the flow of the game, a couple of minutes here and there aren’t a huge deal.
However, sitting Kobe altogether for a couple of games each month seems like it would be a more effective way to give Kobe the rest he so clearly needs. Rather than asking him to go through all of his pregame preparation (Kobe’s doesn’t do anything half-speed) and go all out for 30 minutes against the likes of Cleveland Toronto or Detroit, wouldn’t an entire night off be more beneficial?
Last season, Kobe played 2,835 minutes in 73 regular season games, or 38.8 per game. If he takes the floor for roughly 2,300 minutes (~20% decrease from 2009-10) in the 2010-11 regular season, he could do so playing 30 minutes per game in 76 games. However, if he we were to log the same number of minutes in 66 games- sitting out one half of selected back-to-backs and some games against the NBA’s bottom tier (against whom a still-deep, Pau Gasol-led Laker team will likely still prevail)- the Lakers would have Kobe’s services for 36 minutes per game, and Kobe would have an additional 10 full days of rest.
This would allow Kobe to not only rest the knee during the regular season (10 full days of no wear!), but to shoulder a full workload every time he does take the floor. Come playoff time, the fact that the Lakers occasionally left their Ferrari in the garage during the regular season's dog days will pay dividends.