Ranking Kobe Bryant's 17th NBA Season with Best Ever

Howard Ruben@howardrubenContributor IMarch 23, 2013

Ranking Kobe Bryant's 17th NBA Season with Best Ever

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    Chances are, if you played at least 17 NBA seasons, you are keeping rare company with a small group of superstars.

    Of the thousands of NBA players over the last 60 years, just 42 played for at least that long, making it an amazing accomplishment.

    And, of that elite group, there are but a handful who managed to perform at a high level that late in the game.

    To wonder where Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant might rank among the top 10 in this category is almost insulting, if not downright silly.  At age 34 and playing in season No. 17, Bryant is having a season for the ages.

    Unlike Bryant, most of the players who made this list spent four years at the college level.  Many were 38 or 39 when they reached season No. 17.  That put them at a distinct disadvantage to the Black Mamba, who went straight to the Lakers in 1996 at age 18 from Lower Merion (Pa,) High School.

    Still, 17 seasons is a grind no matter what age your career starts and stops.  Having a great year at that stage is indicative of tremendous skills, physical prowess and mental fortitude.

    One player left off the list gets an honorable-mention nod.  Hall of Famer Moses Malone (19 NBA seasons, two more in the American Basketball Association) missed all but 11 games in his 17th NBA season while recovering from back surgery. 

    Otherwise, the 6'10" rebounding machine would have been a lock.  He won an NBA title, was a three-time MVP and 12-time All-Star.   Malone holds the NBA record for playing 1,212 games without fouling out and, in his final appearance (1995) as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, hit a three-point buzzer-beater from the opposing free-throw line, 80 feet from the basket.

    Ten of the league's greatest ever made the list for outstanding 17th season.  Where would Bryant's rank among them?  You be the judge.

10. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers

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    The former UCLA standout played his entire career, all 18 seasons, with the Indiana Pacers.  A career 18-points-per-game scoring machine, Miller dipped quite a bit that 17th year.

    His 28 minutes per game were the lowest of his career, so his 10-point average can be taken in context.  He averaged 34 minutes over the course of his NBA life.

    Miller still shot 40 percent from three-point range that year and averaged three assists as the Pacers raced to a 61-21 record.   Indiana went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals that season before falling 4-2 to the eventual NBA champions, the Detroit Pistons.

    In 16 postseason games, the 6'7" Miller again averaged 28 minutes and 10 points.  His best days behind him,  Miller still remained one of the most feared outside shooters in the game and went on to finish his career the following year with an average of 15 points per game.

9. Ray Allen, Miami Heat

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    Ray Allen isn't satisfied with one NBA title or that he's the game's all-time leading three-point scorer.

    The only reason Allen jumped ship in Boston for warmer waters in South Beach was because he wanted another ring.  In his 17th year, Allen is doing everything asked of a bench leader, and his game results are as efficient as at any time in his long, stellar career.

    Allen's minutes this season are just under 26 per game, which equates to just over a half per contest.  He averages 11 points and is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc.  Allen also rarely misses from the charity stripe, hitting on 88 percent of his attempts.

    Allen, at age 37, is having the time of his life in Miami as he guns for another NBA title with teammates LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade.  He knows that a career doesn't last forever.

    As he told Ethan Skolnik of the Palm Beach Post:

    Time certainly does fly. But you know, you look up and it’s over with. You look at the young people that come into the game, and you look at your kids, and it’s a different life. I’m in awe that I’m still hanging around.  And it feels like I should be here. Like I don’t feel like I’m out of place, and that’s a beautiful thing.

8. Robert Parish, Boston Celtics

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    A four-time world champion and nine-time All-Star selection, Robert Parish was one of the NBA's greatest centers.

    Parish was 39 in 1992 when he started his 17th season, and it would turn out to be a pretty good one late in his incredible 21-year career.  Parish still holds the NBA record for most games played (1,611).

    Parish spent 14 years with the Boston Celtics and was part of the Big Three that included Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.  The "Chief" averaged 12.6 points on 53 percent shooting during the 1992-93 season, not far off his career marks of 14.5 ppg and 54 percent from the field.

    Parish also pulled down 9.4 rebounds and averaged 27 minutes a game, a number that was on the decline from his earlier years in Boston.

7. Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Steve Nash has missed 24 games this year, but it hasn't deterred him from having a strong 17th season.

    Despite being injured and out for the first third of the season, and despite playing mainly off the ball as a shooting guard to Kobe Bryant's role as point guard, Nash continues to shine.

    Through 45 games (not counting Friday's game against Minnesota), Nash has been the consummate team player.  He is still one of the best pure shooters in the NBA. His averages bear that out.

    At age 39, Nash is averaging 13 points on 49 percent shooting, including an exceptional 44 percent from beyond the arc.  With 9.6 attempts per game, Nash is just one shot lower than his career mark, despite being on a team where Bryant puts up 21 tries per contest.

    Nash is also averaging just under seven assists, which is lower than his double-digit norm, but still worthy of mention. 

    Between Bryant and Nash, the two average about 13 assists per game, which means the ball is getting distributed quite efficiently in Mike D'Antoni's offense.  Nash has adjusted and, finally healthy, is having an All-Star season.

6. John Stockton, Utah Jazz

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    In the dictionary next to the word "consistent" is a photo of John Stockton, the 19-year veteran for the Utah Jazz and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Stockton's 17th season was as efficient as the previous 16.  He started all 82 regular-season games, playing 29 minutes and averaging 11.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 8.7 assists and just under two steals per game.

    Stockton's play that year was exceptional in its consistency, the hallmark of his career.  And he did all this at the age of 38.  The Jazz finished second in the Western Conference with a 53-29 record.

    Stockton was a 10-time All-Star and 11-time All-NBA selection.  He holds league records for steals and assists.

    Though he won two Olympic gold medals (1992 and 1996), Stockton's teams never won an NBA title.  But they sure did scare a lot of teams with the combination of Stockton and power forward Karl Malone.

5. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics

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    Kevin Garnett is one of those players you love to hate.  Unless he plays for your favorite team.

    Known for his ferocious passion, Garnett, now in his 18th season, still has one of the best post-up games and midrange jumpers of any big man in the game.  He's averaging 15 points and pulling down just more than eight rebounds.

    Last year, his 17th, Garnett put up numbers equal to any of his previous four seasons in Boston.  He played 31 minutes a game, averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting, handed out three assists and grabbed eight rebounds.

    Garnett could easily score 20-to-23 points a night but has never been asked to do that in Boston, where until this season he was teamed with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, both big-time scorers. 


4. Shaquille O'Neal, Phoenix Suns

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    Shaquille O'Neal was one of the top five offensive-minded centers of all time, even during his 17th year in the league.

    Strange as it was to see Big Diesel in a Phoenix Suns uniform, O'Neal was still putting up pretty impressive numbers late in his career.

    Though his minutes were reduced to 30 per game (versus a career average of 35), and his shot attempts declined to 11 from 16, O'Neal was more efficient with the time he had on the court.  He averaged 18 points on 61 percent shooting, which was three percent higher than his career mark.

    O'Neal also grabbed 8.4 rebounds that year, not that far off his career average of 10.9.  He helped lead the Suns to a 55-27 record in the Pacific Division, good enough for second place behind the Los Angeles Lakers.

    That 2008-09 season was really the swan song year for O'Neal.  He played two more years, one in Cleveland and one in Boston, averaging just 12 and nine points, respectively, in limited action.

3. Karl Malone, Utah Jazz

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    Karl Malone could score points through sheer intimidation and brute strength. His 17th year in the NBA was an All-Star campaign by any account.

    Playing in Salt Lake City and never winning an NBA title clouded his notoriety somewhat, yet Malone was acknowledged as one of the game's best-ever forwards.

    During the 2001-02 season with the Utah Jazz, Malone averaged 38 minutes while starting 80 games.  He scored 22.4 points per contest, while dishing out four assists and pulling down nine rebounds. 

    The 6'9" Malone was 38 at the time.  Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored more points than The Mailman, who finished his career with 36,928 points (25 per game) on 51.6 percent shooting.

    A remarkable statistic:  Except for his rookie and final year, Karl Malone averaged at least 20 points per game for 17 straight seasons.

2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Arguably the greatest center to ever play the game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still playing at a very high level in 1985 when he entered his 17th season.

    The Lakers were dominant, going 62-20 to finish first in their division.  They eventually lost out to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Final.

    Jabbar's stat line for the regular season: 23.4 points on 56 percent shooting in just 33 minutes per game.  He added six rebounds and 3.5 assists, not far off from his career marks of 7.9 and 3.6, respectively.

    Jabbar would play three more seasons after this one, but never again would he crack 20 points a game.  He finished his 20-year career as the game's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points.

    Someone may have had a better No. 17 season, but no one is going to catch him as the game's top scorer.

1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    This 17th season for Kobe Bryant has been beyond rewarding from a personal standpoint, but extremely challenging as a member of the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, who continue to struggle.

    Bryant is averaging 27.1 points on 47 percent shooting and has kept the Lakers in the playoff race all season, often by sheer will.

    He had 11 assists and 21 points in Friday night's three-point loss to the hapless Washington Wizards at Staples Center in Los Angeles. 

    This year, Bryant is averaging 5.8 assists, the third highest of a career which started as an 18-year old in 1996.

    Bryant is 34 and in the best shape of his basketball life.  Aside from missing two games this past week (ankle injury), he's been rock solid.  He's won games with prolific scoring, producing more than 30 points 29 times.  Bryant has also recorded seven 40-point games.

    Bryant's defense has been suspect at times this year.  It was quite evident against Washington's Trevor Ariza, who lit up the Black Mamba for 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the three-point line.

    Bryant can still lock down an opponent, but he seems to pick and choose his spots to get back and play solid defense.  After 17 seasons, he is slowing down a little, although still playing 38 minutes per game.

    Compared to everyone else, Bryant's 17th season easily goes down as the best.  It's not only been a great 17th year in the NBA, Bryant's play is MVP caliber.

    After all these years, Kobe Bean Bryant is still that good.