Kobe Bryant: Closer Look at Masked Mamba’s Heroic 2012 Campaign

This was supposed to be the year Kobe Bryant took a step back. His 16th season was supposed to be the one where his less-than-100-percent knees finally slowed him down. The 33-year-old wasn't supposed to hold on to his superstar status.

Well, someone forgot to tell all that to Kobe.

Despite offseason knee surgery, despite torn ligaments in his shooting hand, despite a divorce that could have clouded his head and now despite a fractured nose and slight concussion that has forced him to play in a plastic mask, the Black Mamba has been especially, well, Mamba-ish this season.

Let's take a closer look at Bryant's impressive season.

Despite the countless injuries, Kobe has started all 37 games for Los Angeles and he is averaging 38 minutes per contest. That's over four minutes per game more than he averaged last season.

Maybe it's because he has that German engineering in him now—Bryant received knee surgery in Germany this offseason, an act that was criticized by many—or maybe it's just because he's not actually human.

Whatever the reason, Kobe's minutes per game might just be his most notable stat.  

But it doesn't stop there.

The Black Mamba is averaging 28.9 points per game, the most he's scored since the 2006-07 season, and his peripheral stats haven't been affected.

He's averaging 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest, both just above his career averages.

What's most important, he has the Lakers at 23-14 and first in the Pacific division just ahead of the rival Clippers. Again, a place the Lakers weren't supposed to be at this year.

LeBron James is likely this year's NBA MVP, and with the year he's having there really is no debate about that, but Bryant is making it a closer race than it should have been.

If "games played with the 'day-to-day' tag or 'questionable' tag" or "defiance...

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