LA Lakers: 3 Reasons Kobe Bryant Deserves MVP Consideration
First off, let me make one thing crystal clear: Kobe Bryant is not going to win the 2013 NBA MVP, and it won't be anything egregious or conspiratorial.
The fact is the best player in the game right now is LeBron James. Anyone who says otherwise is not being objective.
However, what also has to be made clear is that at 34, Kobe Bryant is having his finest season in a decade. Yes, better than his gaudy 2006 season and his lone MVP season in 2008.
And despite all of the turmoil and drama the 2013 Lakers have provided the sports world, they remain in position to make a late push to the postseason.
The bulk of that credit has to be given to Bryant.
Here are the three reasons why.
3. No One Plays More
The idea seems simple enough: You have a job; you show up to get paid.
But being a professional athlete brings an altogether different set of challenges to that idea. I can write this article with a pulled hamstring or a bum ankle. Athletes can't perform at their optimum level with the same injuries, and those types of situations are supposed to increase with age.
But here we are in early March and the player who has logged the most minutes in the NBA is 34-year-old Kobe Bryant.
Considering the injuries to Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Hill, Bryant's consistent presence in the lineup has been not just remarkable, but required.
Imagine if he missed four to five games and the Lakers lost just two. They would probably be in too deep of a hole to climb out of at this point in the year.
Instead, they are showing signs of peaking and Bryant's force of will is why.
But there are plenty of players who go to work every day, so the argument has to move beyond durability.
What about performance?
Well, Bryant has had that in spades in 2013 as well.
I am a critic of Kobe Bryant, but even I can't help but be impressed with the diversity his game has displayed over the last three months.
A player bemoaned at times for excessive shooting, Bryant dished out an average of 6.2 and 6.6 assists in January and February, right as the Lakers began their push back to the .500 mark.
In his 17th season, Bryant is shooting a career high 47.2 percent, and his effective field goal percentage (a metric that accounts for three pointers being worth a point more) is at .513, also a career high.
In other words, for all the groaning about his shooting, it is as good as it has ever been.
The reason is Bryant has finally begun to live more in the paint and mid-range, getting to the free-throw line over seven times a game. He still shoots too many threes (5.1 per game), but offsets that with his increased assist totals and rebounding (4.5 defensive rebounds per game).
Most of all, while Bryant has slipped on the defensive end, he is still good enough to defend an opponents best offensive wing player in specific situations. When you consider that he is often on the perimeter with Steve Nash defensively, that is an even more important statement.
So, an all-time player is having his most efficient year in a half decade, but the team is still 30-30.
Why in the world does he merit MVP votes?
Here's the top reason why...
1. The Lakers' Roster Is Not as Good as Advertised
Going into this season of expectation, there was a question about the talent of the Los Angeles Lakers once you got beyond their quartet of superstars.
Personally, I anticipated that injuries would be a hindrance early in the season because of age, but even I couldn't see just how much they would affect this team.
Pau Gasol and Steve Nash have both missed 24 games of this writing, with Gasol expected to miss at least another 15-18.
Dwight Howard has missed six but has also been hindered as a result of his balky back and a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Players like Earl Clark, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon have combined for 50 starts in their place. And that doesn't even include reserve Jordan Hill, who was limited to 29 games before a season ending hip injury.
I don't think that injuries have gotten nearly enough focus when the Lakers are criticized.
Los Angeles has had three coaches and lost their Hall of Fame point guard after the second game of the year. Factor in not one, but two elite level big men being hampered by injuries, and in many ways, the Lakers are fortunate to at .500.
That is not to say that Bryant hasn't had his share of blame.
But imagine LeBron James playing 40 percent of his season without Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers with 70 percent of Chris Bosh, or Chris Paul playing without Blake Griffin, a physically limited DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford.
My point is not to say that Bryant deserves greater recognition than those players, but that for the year he's having and the adversity the Lakers are slowly overcoming, he does deserve credit.
For him to perform at this level and be the catalyst to a 13-5 run (including 7-4 without Gasol) that has the Lakers back in the playoff picture, Bryant is worthy of recognition.
For those of you who think that Bryant is unworthy of the award because of the Lakers' record, remember there is precedent.
Moses Malone won his first two MVPs on 47 and 46-win teams. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won his first MVP in Los Angeles on a 40-42 team that missed the playoffs in 1976.
Of course, that was a completely different era. They were big men in a time when big men dominated the NBA.
I don't expect Bryant to win the MVP, and in reality, he'll have to battle just for second place.
That said, you can make a reasonable argument for him over Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Tony Parker. For all of LA's star power, the actual composition of that talent has been lacking for much of this season.
Ultimately, the worth of my claims will be seen over the last 22 games.
If Kobe Bryant can elevate this team from 17-25 and into the playoffs, then it will be one of his greatest individual accomplishments ever.
I'm not devaluing his teammates by saying that.
I am saying that for the first time, there would be little question that Bryant, as the leader of the Lakers, lifted his team to a place higher than they would have been without his presence on the floor.