Even after averaging an impressive 27.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 4.6 APG last year, the shooting guard was snubbed yet again. Evidently, earning a seventh straight All-NBA First Team selection didn't sway the voters into placing him in the Top Five.
The choice was unbelievable.
After all, the numbers, accomplishments and skills that Bryant displayed last season all speak for themselves and clearly show why he should be recognized as one of the top-five players in the NBA.
Let's evaluate his game and compare him to the rest of players ESPN recognized as the top five:
As noted earlier, Bryant averaged 27.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 4.6 APG in 2012. It's tough to understand how a player who averaged numbers like these was snubbed. So let's break them down a little and compare them to the numbers of the NBA's best.
Bryant finished second in scoring last year, averaging 27.9 points per game. He actually led the league in scoring for the vast majority of the season until he conceded the title to Kevin Durant in the final week of regular season to finish second.
Despite his impressive scoring numbers, some critics were still quick to point out that Kobe shot a lowly 43 percent from the floor. But those critics also forget that Bryant's true shooting percentage was 52.7 percent—a far better percentage than the majority of players in the league today.
Also, Bryant did not benefit much from the Lakers' stagnant offense that Mike Brown implemented last season. Without the solid offensive flow of the Triangle Offense, Bryant relied heavily on isolation plays and contested jumpers that resulted in misses.
But aside from scoring, Bryant also managed to pass and rebound the ball to the best of his abilities. It's a little unfair to compare his passing abilities to Chris Paul, whose sole duty is to pass; or to compare his rebounding skills to Dwight Howard, whose height and athleticism allows him to grab close to 15 boards a game. So to be fair, let's see where Bryant ranked among players in his position.
In the rebounding category, Bryant actually finished third at his position averaging 5.4. In assists, Bryant finished second to Monta Ellis, averaging 4.6 per game. Although some of these numbers are not as eye-popping as LeBron's or Dwight's, they do represent how effective he was despite his height or his role.
For those still not convinced, let's look at these numbers when they are all summed up. The NBA keeps a record of players who tally up the most points, rebounds and assists in the league. At the end of the season, those totals are added up and divided by the total number of games played. To the surprise of some critics, Bryant actually ranks fourth in this category behind Love, James and Durant. But he did manage to surpass elite players like Howard and Paul.
Stats are not absolute, but they do help show where players stack up amongst the NBA's best. Statistically speaking, Kobe was undoubtedly amongst the top five in the NBA.
Bryant is arguably the most successful player in the NBA today. A lot of that has to do with the awards he has received over the years. There is no question that the total accolades he has received over the years trump the vast majority of all the other players in the league.
But in trying to prove why he deserves to be among the top in today's NBA, one must look at his most recent awards, not at his lifetime achievements. Fortunately for Bryant, he earned more than enough accolades in the past year to help his case.
Bryant was once again voted by the fans to start in the All-Star game. It's a rare feat, but not one that automatically places him in the top five, especially considering that 10 players (five from each team) are selected to start.
Luckily for Bryant, he managed to accomplish more than that this past year.
When the season ended, Bryant was selected to the All-NBA First Team and to the All-Defensive Second Team. Just to understand how rare of a feat that was, the only players to earn a spot in either of the two selections were James, Paul and Howard. Durant and Rose failed to make it to both selections.
This clearly shows how complete of a player Bryant was last season. Not only was he recognized as a great offensive player, Bryant also managed to receive recognition as an outstanding defender as well. In comparison, that's something that elite players like Durant were not able to do.
Even if Bryant had been left out of the All-Defensive selection (which was almost the case), he still would have been voted on to the All-NBA First Team pretty decisively. After all, he finished with the third most votes last year. And for most fans, a spot in the All-NBA First Team automatically equates to top-five status.
Aside from an all-star appearance and a couple of All-NBA selections, Bryant also finished fourth in MVP voting last season. Although he only received a few first-place votes, Bryant still managed to receive enough recognition to place him among the top five in terms of the league's most valuable players. This is a kind of recognition most critics will have a tough time arguing against.
Bryant still clearly possesses the accolades and numbers needed to be considered one of the NBA's best. Not only that, his skills and work ethic automatically put him head and shoulders above the vast majority of elite players in the NBA. But since skills and work ethic are impossible to measure, those areas were left out of this article.
Nevertheless, Bryant still has more than enough to prove his worth among the league's most elite. His stats and accomplishments were enough to elevate him to the top five in the NBA.
Bryant may have been left out of ESPN's top rankings, but for what it's worth, Kobe will still be the same replete player. He'll still post the same Bryant-like numbers, he'll still receive the same awards he receives year in and year out, and he'll still score, defend, pass and rebound better than most players in the league.
ESPN may not consider him a top-five player anymore, but his numbers, talent and awards don't lie. Kobe Bryant is still one of the NBA's best.