Kobe Bryant: Kobe May No Longer Be a Top-5 Player, but He Sure Looks Like One

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IDecember 27, 2011

SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 26: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Isaiah Thomas #22 of the Sacramento Kings at Power Balance Pavilion on December 26, 2011 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I knew this day was coming.

Most NBA fans not aligned with the Los Angeles Lakers have been waiting for the various predictions of doom and gloom associated with the team to manifest, and it appears that time has finally arrived.

Actually, for the anti-Lakers crowd, that moment was realized when the Lakers were swept out of the 2011 NBA Playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks, but their current 0-2 start to the 2011-12 season is like pouring salt in an open wound.

You would have to go as far back as 2002 to find another season in which the Lakers started 0-2, and if the Lakers make it 0-3 tonight against the Utah Jazz, get ready to warm up the time machine.

Not since the 1978-79 season has Los Angeles started 0-3, but if it does happen, expect the steady stream of hate flowing in the Lakers direction to turn into a hundred-year flood.

There has been plenty of criticism to go around when it comes to casting blame for the Lakers early struggles, and not surprisingly, most of it has landed squarely at Kobe Bryant's feet.

Never mind that Mitch Kupchak in a fit of obvious madness, decided to trade the team's most versatile player in Lamar Odom. Never mind that Kobe's superstar teammate Pau Gasol has failed to live up to his title thus far.

And, of course, the absence of center Andrew Bynum doesn't have much to do with the Lakers 0-2 start.

It's much easier to blame it on Bryant, and the hits keep piling up.

Earlier this year ESPN and the TrueHoop network compiled a list of the top 500 players in the NBA, and for the first time in recent memory, Bryant found himself outside of the top five at No. 7.

To be honest, I felt this ranking was fair considering Bryant's age and mileage, but others who have actually played the game scoffed at the notion.

Former Laker Rick Fox responded to Kobe's ranking on ESPN by simply saying it was crap, while Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley said via Twitter that Bryant is still the most clutch player in the NBA, and the most feared, and that doesn't equal No. 7.

Of course, those sentiments are just opinion, as is ESPN's entire list, and it really doesn't matter how legitimate you try to make it look by using measuring systems such as the Player Efficiency Rating or Win Share.

Those measuring tools may make you look cool in front of your peers or fans, but in the end, they are still just numbers used to strengthen an opinion since no one has yet found a way to quantify other intangibles, such as heart, passion and drive.

For instance, few would argue that LeBron James has surpassed Bryant as a player, but who would you rather have on your team in the postseason? A healthy, 33-year-old Bryant, or James?

Even with a torn wrist ligament you would still be hard-pressed to justify an argument that Kobe is no longer a top-five player based on actual events that have transpired on the court this season.

Through two games this season, Bryant is averaging 28.5 points per game, 6.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds, which are all a little better than his career numbers.

Bryant's 44.7 shooting percentage from the field is a little lower than his career number of 45, but that is a little easier to understand when you consider that the Lakers are finding points a little more difficult to come by these days.

Those numbers over the course of two games do not prove that Bryant is still a top-five player, but any reasonable person could certainly craft an argument that he still is based on those very same stats.

In fact, Bryant's numbers have pretty much consistently hovered around that range for the past 10 years, many of which he was considered the game's absolute top player.

For the record, I do feel that Kobe's stature in the league has taken a back seat to players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and maybe Kevin Durant, but I don't need John Hollinger's system to prove it for me.

As someone who has played the sport on various levels since I was five years old, I don't need someone who may have never dribbled a basketball competitively to tell me how good another player is.

I can simply watch them play and form my own opinion.