Kobe Bryant Would Already Be a Top-5-All-Time Player If He Didn't Score so Much

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IFebruary 2, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles during a 104-88 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center on January 15, 2013 in Los Angeles, 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

I'm not sure if Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will finish his career as one of the top five players of all time, but it would be much more difficult to build a case against him if he had played his first 16 seasons like he's played the last five games.

The Lakers are 4-1 in that span, and Bryant has led them by averaging 16.3 points per game, 11.1 assists and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent from the field.

Bryant's ability to re-invent himself once again may not be enough to salvage the Lakers' season, but it does illustrate and prove that there is much more to his game than prolific scoring, and it also legitimizes his candidacy as an all-time great.

In Friday night's 111-100 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Bryant recorded his 5,672nd assist, which is more than any of the other players who reside with Bryant in the famed 30,000-point club.

That little bit of knowledge will not earn Bryant any credit from his vast army of detractors, but if assists are a measure of a player making those around him better, then Bryant has done that despite a reputation he has helped create.

Kobe has always been recognized as one of the most fundamentally skilled players in the game, but the perception that his singular focus is scoring has drawn attention away from the other parts of his game.

And it's not exactly like Bryant has helped the situation.

Bryant has always been driven to be recognized as the greatest player in NBA history, which is a title that is arguably held by Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.

Jordan was also a highly skilled player, but what he did better than anything else was score, and maybe Bryant felt that the best way to surpass Jordan as a player would be to ultimately win more rings and score more points.

Bryant may at least equal Jordan's title count, and there is a strong possibility that he will finish his career with more points, but imagine how great Kobe would be right now if he would have decided early in his career that there were other ways to establish his legacy besides scoring points?

Lakers fans have always defended Bryant by claiming that the only reason he shoots so much is his unreliable teammates, but the last five games have proved that a lack of patience on Bryant's part may have been the real issue throughout his career.

Distance lends perspective, and with age comes wisdom, so Bryant's latest about-face was probably born out of the desperate realization that his next NBA Finals appearance would not materialize after a string of 30-plus-point games.

The new version of Bryant has not completely ditched his offense, but he has revealed that he has the ability to dictate the outcome of a game without scoring a point.

Bryant's decision to sacrifice his offense for the greater good has propelled forward Earl Clark closer to reaching his true potential, helped Steve Nash re-discover his shooting touch, integrated Dwight Howard into the offense and made Pau Gasol relevant again.

Bryant may have also saved head coach Mike D'Antoni's job and given reason to hope that the Lakers' improved chemistry might be enough to keep Howard around beyond this season.

Ranking all-time-great players is a subjective matter but, by most standards Bryant has already created a legacy that places him firmly in the debate.

Bryant has won titles and awards and scored points at a historic level, and now he's displaying a versatility that only one other player in consideration as a top-five-all-time great can match, and it's not Jordan.

The new Bryant has resembled former Lakers great Magic Johnson more so than Jordan, and that's not too bad when you consider that Magic may be the most well-rounded player in NBA history.

There are still chapters yet to be written in Bryant's career, and if he ultimately decides that his new approach to the game and his team is the best thing moving forward, then it's possible that he can further add to his legacy, if not re-define it.

But would we even be debating Kobe's merit as a top-five-all-time player if he had displayed the depths of his overall talent years ago?