Turning Back the Clock

It’s funny that I previously mentioned that there are only three players in the NBA that date back further than Dirk Nowitzki, and just a few days later, one of them was on the court in the opposing team’s uniform. Considering I hadn’t looked at the upcoming Mavericks games at that time, the odds were pretty slim on that. One of the two long-time veterans had the kind of game he might have had in his prime. The other looked sadly past his.

I am, of course, referring to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who made history this year by being the first NBA player to ever play 20 seasons with one team. When Bryant first entered the league, I had just turned 12, which would have put me in sixth grade, when the world of middle school was still new and alien to me. I hated middle school, and I hated Kobe Bryant. Actually, to call it hatred would be overstating it. While I really did hate middle school, I guess I was more indifferent to Kobe, if a little resentful to see this guy who was barely older than I was drawing all these comparisons to Michael Jordan, my favorite player — who was still active with the Bulls at that time, of course.

Nearly two decades later, I can say with the utmost sincerity that I completely respect Kobe Bryant, even if he’ll never fascinate me the way Jordan did and still does. I read an excellent advanced stats comparison of the two at FiveThirtyEight recently that underscored just how much better Jordan was in his career than Bryant has been, but I’m willing to admit that both were prolific scorers, two of the best offensive weapons in the history of the game hands down. I can also respect that when Jordan playfully called out Kobe for stealing all his (Jordan’s) moves, Kobe didn’t even bother getting defensive about it; he just shrugged it off and said the cycle has continued with the younger NBA players of today now stealing his (Bryant’s) moves. Legends pass down their signature on-court tricks unwittingly to thousands of talented basketball players all over the world, and it’s a gift that just keeps on giving.

So it was more than a little sad to see a player I’ve been hearing about since the start of middle school struggle so significantly on the floor in last night’s game. I know Kobe can still hold his own on a good day, and once he shakes off all the rust, he’ll probably still be capable of putting together a solid season for the Lakers, but he sure didn’t have it on Sunday evening, and it’s hard to imagine a youthful version of himself ever performing that poorly.

Since Kobe became a full-time starter in his third NBA season all the way through his last healthy season, a span of 15 years, his effective field goal percentage sat at nearly 49 percent. Since that time, a period that includes a season Bryant played in 6 games, a season he played in 35 games, and the early results this season, that number is down almost a full 10 percent. Sure, we’re only talking about roughly half an NBA season in that sample size, and injuries have marred his abilities, but that’s a steep drop, and age has everything to do with it. Kobe’s 3-for-15 night from the field was hard to watch, even as someone rooting against the team he was playing for.

At the other end of the floor, Nowitzki was masterful, shooting 10-for-13 from the field, including 3-for-5 from three-point range, and he was perfect on a pair of shots from the line. In just under 30 minutes of playing time, Dirk scored 25 points and grabbed 9 rebounds for a very near double-double. The days when the German sharpshooter put up these numbers every game are gone, but he clearly still has a lot left to offer, and it was fun watching him lead the Mavs to their second win of the young season.

It was also great to catch my first glimpse of Chandler Parsons. He didn’t log many minutes, and he didn’t shoot particularly well from the field, but it was nice to see his athleticism on full display. I can already tell Parsons is a well-rounded offensive threat that makes this team much, much more dangerous with the ball.

Overall, it was another balanced attack from a team that doesn’t really seem to have any true number one offensive option at any time. Zaza Pachulia put up a rock solid 16-point, 12-rebound effort that made me a little less sad JaVale McGee isn’t healthy yet — and that the team lost out on both wooing DeAndre Jordan and retaining Tyson Chandler in the offseason.

This was a nice win to watch, a win that never really felt in jeopardy thanks to the incompetent Lakers. I just wish Kobe had been up the task of matching Dirk point for point. That would have been such a showdown from the past I might have mistakenly thought I needed to start figuring out what clothes I was going to wear for the start of a dreaded week at middle school the next morning.

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