When Kobe Bryant entered the league in 1996, he was fresh out of high school and fresh off watching Michael Jordan win his fourth championship. Jordan was a player that Bryant studied. He wanted to be the greatest of all time, so he tried to emulate the greatest game in the history of the league.
By the end of his career, Bryant finished third all-time in points scored. The person he passed to get to that point was the great Michael Jordan. Now, Bryant ranks fourth all-time since LeBron James passed him on the all-time list in 2020. To finish his career where he did, Bryant had to be the best every night and that was something he believed in his heart.
Here are Bryant’s season-by-season points per game averages.
1996-97 NBA Season: 7.6 PPG
After being drafted and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant debuted in the Summer Pro League in Long Beach California. He scored 25 points in front of a standing-room-only crowd. He finished the four-game summer league with 24.5 points per game. His strong scoring efforts excited Lakers coach Del Harris, where he was rewarded a roster spot.
As a rookie, he mainly came off the bench behind Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. At the time, he was the second-youngest player to play in an NBA game (18, years, 72 days). Then, he became the youngest NBA starter (18 years, 158 days) in league history. Bryant averaged 15.5 minutes per game and made the All-Rookie Second Team.
1997-98 NBA Season: 15.4 PPG
In his second season, he received more playing time and showed more abilities. His points per game numbers doubled because of the increased amount of playing time. The Lakers played a small lineup that featured Bryant playing small forward at times, as well as backing up the guard position. He finished the year runner-up in the Sixth Man of the Year voting.
He became the youngest All-Star starter in NBA history and was joined by O’Neal, Van Exel, and Jones to make it the first time since 1983 that four players on the same team made the same All-Star Game. Bryant’s 15.4 points were the highest of any non-starter in the season.
1998-99 NBA Season: 19.9 PPG
Bryant’s third season in the league saw him become a star guard in the league. Both Van Exel and Jones were traded. Bryant started every game during the lockout-shortened season, which featured 50 games. During the year, Bryant signed a six-year contract extension worth $70 million.
Bryant was drawing comparisons to Jordan and Magic Johnson. Bryant nearly scored 20 points per game for the first time but came up 0.1 points per game short. The team also came up short in the playoffs as well, where the team was swept by the Spurs.
1999-00 NBA Season: 22.5 PPG
The Lakers enjoyed a championship season behind the center-guard combination of Bryant and Shaq. After taking a year off from coaching, Phil Jackson returned to the sidelines and implemented a triangle offense that helped him win five championships in Chicago. This offense made both Bryant and Shaq rise to the top of their class.
To start the year. Bryant was sidelined for six weeks due to a hand injury. When Bryant came back, he led the team in assists and steals. The Lakers won 67 games and Bryant was named All-NBA Second Team. In the playoffs, the team won their first championship that season.
2000-01 NBA Season: 28.5 PPG
Bryant saw his best statistical increase in points. Despite disagreements between Shaq and Bryant rising to the surface, the team won 56 games and went 15-1 in the playoffs to win another championship. The season saw a tough second-round series push from the Sacramento Kings, which saw Bryant score 48 points in the series-clinching win.
In the playoffs, Bryant played a heavy amount of minutes, averaging 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. Bryant finished the year making All-NBA Second Team once again, as well as the Defensive Team.
2001-02 NBA Season: 25.2 PPG
Bryant played 80 games for the first time in his career. On January 14, 2002, he recorded a then career-high 56 points against the Memphis GRizzlies. He finished the year with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. He claimed his first All-Star MVP after leading the team with 31 points. The game was played in Philadelphia and he was booed regularly because the Lakers had defeated the 76ers in the NBA Finals in 2001.
Bryant made the All-Defensive Team once again and was named to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career. The Lakers won 58 games but finished second in the division to the Kings. No matter, the Lakers marched to the NBA Finals to win their third straight championship.
2002-03 NBA Season: 30.0 PPG
In the first game of the season, Bryant scored 27 points and recorded 10 rebounds. He fell short of a triple-double but was able to get that a few days later against the Clippers with 33 points, 15 rebounds, and 12 assists. The new year saw the same Kobe as he set an NBA record for three-pointers in a game on January 7, 2003, when he made 12 against the Seattle SuperSonics.
Bryant embarked on a historic run, posting 40 or more points in nine consecutive games while averaging 40.6 points per game for the entire month of February. He also averaged 6.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.2 steals, which were all career highs. He was named to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team. In the MVP voting, Bryant finished third as the Lakers finished 50-32.
2003-04 NBA Season: 24.0 PPG
After a disappointing playoff exit, the Lakers acquired All-Stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton to make another push towards the NBA Finals. Bryant missed some games due to sexual assault charges. Bryant missed games due to court appearances but would play the same night and travel after. In the final game of the season, the Lakers played the Trail Blazers and Bryant made two buzzer-beaters to win the game and the Pacific Division title. That included making a three-pointer with 1.1 seconds to send the game to overtime and a three-pointer at the buzzer to win 105-104.
The Lakers made the NBA Finals with a starting lineup of Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Devean George, Karl Malone, and O’Neal. In the end, the team was upset in five games by the Detroit Pistons, who won their first title since 1990. Jackson’s contract as the coach was not renewed and Rudy Tomjanovich took over, while O’Neal was traded to the Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant.
2004-05 NBA Season: 27.6 PPG
Bryant turned down a six-year, $100 million offer from the Clippers to stay with the Lakers, but he was scrutinized all season. His reputation was damaged after the previous season. It included a time when Phil Jackson called Bryant uncoachable in his book The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul.
Midway through the season, Tomjanovich suddenly resigned due to health problems. Career assistant coach Frank Hamblen took over, while Bryant finished runner-up in the scoring race. Despite scoring 27.6 points per game, the Lakers went 34-48 and missed the playoffs.
2005-06 NBA Season: 35.4 PPG
Bryant was at a crossroads. Jackson made an inclination that he wanted to return despite his issues with Bryant. In the end, Jackson returned and Bryant endorsed the move. The two worked together and Bryant had his best scoring output ever in a Lakers uniform.
On December 20, 2005, Bryant scored 62 points in three quarters against the Mavericks. Entering the fourth quarter, Bryant outscored the entire Mavericks team, the only player to ever do it since the introduction of the shot clock. It was also the same season that Bryant scored a career-high 81 points in a 122-104 win against the Raptors, breaking the franchise record of 71 points by Elgin Baylor. It remains the second-highest points total in NBA history, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. Bryant also set the Lakers single-season franchise record for most 40-point games (27) and most points scored (2,832).
2006-07 NBA Season: 31.6 PPG
It was reported that Bryant wanted to change his number from 8 to 24 before the season started. The number 24 was his number in high school, but it was unavailable as it was worn by George McCloud, as well as 33, which was worn by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. During the season, Bryant was as dominant as a scorer like Kareem.
On March 16, 2007, Bryant scored a season-high 65 points and then scored 50 points the following game. He then scored 60 points to become the second Laker to score at least 50 points in three straight games. It was a feat that the world had not seen Jordan do in 1987. The only other Laker to do it was Elgin Baylor. Throughout the year, Bryant became the top-selling NBA jersey in the USA and China and he won his second straight scoring title.
2007-08 NBA Season: 28.3 PPG
Two days before Christmas, Bryant became the youngest player (29, years, 122 days) to reach 20,000 career points. The record has since been broken by LeBron James. During the year, Bryant tore his radial collateral ligament, an avulsion fracture, and a volar plate injury at the MCP joint. Despite that, he played in all 82 games and contended for the scoring title.
Bryant was the only unanimous All-NBA team selection and was announced the MVP. The Lakers acquired All-Star Pau Gasol at the deadline and the team made the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
2008-09 NBA Season: 26.8 PPG
Bryant decided to not have surgery to repair his right pinkie during the offseason. To start the year, the Lakers won their first seven games, which led to a 17-2 start, which was the most wins for the franchise in their first 19 games. Bryant was named Western Conference Player of the Month in December and January. He followed that with a 61 point effort at Madison Square Garden on February 2, which was a single-game record at MSG.
During the All-Star Game, Bryant recorded 27 points, four rebounds, four assists, and four steals. He was named Co-MVP with his former teammate in O’Neal. The Lakers finished the season with the best record in the West at 65-17. The Lakers won the championship, while Bryant was named runner-up in the MVP voting behind James.
2009-10 NBA Season: 27.0 PPG
Bryant had a reputation for being clutch, but he certified that this season. The year included six game-winning shots, including a buzzer-beating one-legged three-pointer against the Heat on December 4, 2009. He called it one of the luckiest shots he ever made after the game. One week later, he suffered an avulsion fracture in his right index finger but elected to keep playing. Five days after the injury, he made a game-winning shot against the Bucks in overtime.
Bryant became the youngest player to reach 25,000 career points (31 years, 151 days). He continued a dominant run of scoring all year and he eventually passed Jerry West as the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history. The season was capped with Bryant’s third straight trip to the NBA Finals, where he won his second Finals MVP.
2010-11 NBA Season: 25.3 PPG
Bryant wanted to win his sixth championship to match Jordan’s all-time total. The Lakers won their first eight games of the season. He made numerous record appearances with being the youngest player in history to reach 26,000 and 27,000 career points. He also became one of seven players ever with at least 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, and 5,000 assists.
Bryant was selected for his 13th straight All-Star appearance and led the league in votes. At the game, he won All-Star MVP with 37 points, 14 rebounds, and three steals. With the award, he tied Bob Pettit for the most All-Star Game MVPs. During the season, he moved from 12th on the all-time list to sixth, passing John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes, and Moses Malone.
2011-12 NBA Season: 27.9 PPG
After failing to make it back to the NBA Finals, Jackson retired as head coach. He was replaced by Mike Brown. Bryant also received experimental platelet-rich plasma therapy called Orthokine to treat pain in his left knee and ankle. He also started the year with an injured wrist. Before the year began, Bryant was ranked as the No. 7 player in the league and he took it personally. On January 10, 2012, he scored 48 points against the Suns and referenced the rankings in his postgame talk.
Bryant would then score 40, 42, and 42 points the next three games. It was the sixth time in his career he scored 40 points or more in four straight games, a feat only Wilt Chamberlain did more times. Bryant would also pass Michael Jordan for the most points in All-Star Game history. The Lakers were eventually knocked out in the second round of the playoffs.
2012-13 NBA Season: 27.3 PPG
In the offseason, the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. The team had high hopes of making another run to the Finals, but the team chemistry was never there. After a 1-4 start to the season, Brown was fired and replaced by Mike D’Antoni.
Bryant had several individual accomplishments. He passed Magic Johnson for the most steals in team history. He became the youngest player in league history to score 30,000 career points (34 years, 104 days). Bryant also scored 30 or more points in seven straight games, making him the oldest player to do so. Bryant pushed through major injuries throughout the season to help the Lakers make the playoffs. Eight times he reached 40 points and 11 times he had 10 or more assists.
2013-14 NBA Season: 13.8 PPG
Bryant resumed practicing in November after getting surgery in April. He signed a two-year contract extension worth $48.5 million, which made him the league’s highest-paid player. Bryant missed the first 19 games of the season. On December 17, he suffered a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee that was expected to sideline him for six weeks. He had played six games since returning from his Achilles injury.
Bryant was selected for his 16th All-Star Game, but he felt that he didn’t deserve it. He missed playing in the game due to his knee injury. On March 12, Bryant has ruled out the rest of the season, citing his need for more rehab. The Lakers finished 27-55 and had their worst record in the Western Conference since 2005.
2014-15 NBA Season: 22.3 PPG
Bryant returned for his 19th season with the Lakers, who replaced D’Antoni with Byron Scott as the coach. Bryant recorded his 20th career triple-double. At age 36, he became the oldest player to record a 30/10/10 triple-double in a game. On December 14th, Bryant passed Jordan to move to third all-time.
Bryant averaged 26.4 points in 35.4 minutes per game while leading the league with 22.4 shots per game in his first 27 games. However, Scott held him out the following three games for rest. Part of the benching was also because Bryant was coming off a game that saw him shoot 8 for 30 from the field with nine turnovers. He was suffering soreness in his knees, feet, back, and Achilles tendons. Scott eventually blamed himself for overworking Bryant. The Lakers finished the year 21-61, surpassing the franchise record for most losses in a season.
2015-16 NBA Season: 17.6 PPG
After recovering to play in his final season, Bryant suffered a calf injury and missed the final two weeks of the preseason. He broke John Stockton’s record for most seasons with one team by playing his 20th with the Lakers. On November 19, 2015, Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season. At the time, Bryant was second on the team in minutes (30.8) and led the team with 16.7 field goal attempts per game. He was also shooting a career-worst 31.5%.
On February 3, 2016, Bryant scored 38 points to make him the fourth NBA player ever to score at least 35 points, five rebounds, and five assists, in a game. At the All-Star Game, he led all players in votes with 1.9 million, beating out Steph Curry’s 1.6 million. In the season finale on April 13, Bryant scored an NBA-season high 60 points against the jazz in his last NBA game. He outscored the entire Jazz team 23-21 in the fourth quarter in the 101-96 win. He finished his career as the oldest player to score 60 or more points at 37 years, 234 days old.
Career Average - 25.0 PPG
Bryant is one of the greatest shooting guards to ever play in the NBA. When he played in the league, he was so popular that kids would shoot wadded-up paper balls into trash cans and shout “Kobe.” There were reasons that those same kids didn’t shout Jordan, LeBron, or Tracy McGrady. It was because Bryant was our modern-day version of Jordan that had a killer instinct with every intention that every shot he put up would go in.
Will the Lakers ever see a player like that ever again? History says that might get another great superstar based on all the great players they have ever had. With that said, there is only one Kobe Bryant. His memory lives on, and despite his tragic passing, he lives on in the current NBA world.