Ranking the Best Seasons of Kobe Bryant's Career

J.M. PoulardContributor IIMarch 24, 2013

Ranking the Best Seasons of Kobe Bryant's Career

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    Kobe Bryant’s best seasons have been amazing in their own respect, which makes ranking them a fairly difficult exercise.

    His 17-year career has produced a multitude of impeccable basketball plays and memories. Given his spectacular and consistent production, it’s only fair that we look at his best seasons and rate how they stack up head-to-head against each other.

    Specifically, his 10 best campaigns will be the topic of discussion.

    In order to rank his seasons, three criteria will be the area of focus: statistical dominance, his value to his team in comparison to his peers (shooting guards more specifically) and the historical context of his performances.

10. 2003-04 Season

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    Stats: 24.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 43.8% FG

    The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Karl Malone and Gary Payton in the summer of 2003 and instantly became the favorites for the NBA crown.

    The one issue many assumed could potentially derail the Purple and Gold was Bryant’s accusation of sexual assault. Despite his legal issues, Bryant suited up for 65 games and led the Lakers in scoring.

    Although the Lakers acquired two Hall of Fame-caliber players, Bryant’s level of production remained on par with previous seasons in every category save for point production.

    Based on the player efficiency rankings (PER), the 2003-04 season ranks as the superstar’s eighth-best season.

    The Lakers were upset in the 2004 NBA Finals partly because Karl Malone was injured, but Bryant’s play in the finals that season was well beneath his usual standards.

    From a historical perspective, this is Bryant’s worse season since he began sitting atop the league leaders in scoring. He played poorly in the championship round and his rift with Shaquille O’Neal led to the big man being traded out of town.

    In addition, Tracy McGrady was not only better statistically that season (superior PER), but he was far more valuable to his Orlando Magic than Bryant was for a star-studded Lakers team.

9. 1999-00 Season

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    Stats: 22.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, 46.8% FG.

    The 1999-00 season let the world know just how sensational the shooting guard was. It was the starting point for his playoff reputation as well as the campaign that marked his ability to close games.

    His offensive production was quite frankly pedestrian by his own lofty standards, ranking as his 14th best.

    His performance in Game 4 of the NBA Finals will forever be remembered. With league MVP O’Neal on the bench after fouling out, Bryant scored the final eight points in overtime and led the Lakers to victory.

    Laker fans might rank this season in their top five from a historical standpoint, especially with the Bryant-to-O’Neal pass in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. That moment will forever symbolize the 2000 Lakers.

    It’s worth noting Bryant’s statistical productivity was average by his standards, and a handful of guards were argued as being better.

    Allen Iverson and Vince Carter joined Bryant on the All-NBA second and third teams, respectively. They actually had a decent case at arguing they were better talents and thus more valuable given their superior production.

8. 2007-08 Season

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    Stats: 28.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 45.9% FG.

    Bryant requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2007 as a result of friction he encountered with the front office.

    The move never came.

    Bryant went into that season and played some of the best basketball of his career. He enjoyed his sixth-best statistical campaign and led the Lakers to one of the best records in the league.

    The franchise then acquired Pau Gasol, and all of a sudden a potentially disastrous season became one of destiny.

    An argument could be made that no swingman outside of LeBron James was on the same playing field as Bryant during the 2007-08 season. Can we really it hold it against him that his apex coincided with the rise of one of the NBA’s most dominant perimeter players ever?

    I say no.

    And the rest of the league seemed to share my sentiment and rewarded him with his lone MVP trophy that highlighted his season.

    Many considered the outcome of the 2008 finals an upset, but the Boston Celtics had the better record and their roster was mostly intact by the time the championship round started.

    The Lakers, on the other hand, were missing a key rotation player in Trevor Ariza, and Andrew Bynum missed the entire postseason.  

7. 2006-07 Season

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    Stats: 31.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 46.3% FG.

    Based on player efficiency rankings, the 2006-07 season is Bryant’s third-best statistical season. Mind you, it tends to get completely forgotten because it’s the year after the superstar poured in 81 points in one contest.

    Bryant filled up the stat sheet and produced at one of the best rates of his career. Unfortunately for the future Hall of Fame player, this yearlong journey succeeded Wade’s championship season.

    Consequently, many were enamored with the former Marquette guard and even argued he was a superior player in comparisons with Bryant.

    As a result, his statistical brilliance form that season is barely noticeable and thus holds little to no weight from a historical perspective.

    Had the Lakers advanced past the first round of the playoffs, perhaps this campaign would have gained some attention. However, the Purple and Gold were eliminated in five games by the Phoenix Suns.

    Steve Nash earned a lot of praise for involving his teammates and making them look great while Bryant was essentially labeled as a one-man show. Falling at the hands of the player that stole his MVP award in back-to-back seasons was unquestionably the lowlight of that year.

6. 2001-02 Season

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    Stats: 25.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 46.9% FG.

    After fighting for control of the team the previous season, Bryant took a slight backseat to O’Neal and accepted the Lakers’ pecking order. Consequently, the pair cemented their status as one of the most legendary duos in league history.

    Bryant’s scoring and usage percentage decreased a little and it afforded more opportunities for his teammates.

    The 2001-02 season ranks as Bryant’s 10th best from a statistical standpoint despite the reduced scoring. He did on the other improve his marksmanship from the field in comparison to his previous season and played his stellar brand of defense.

    The Lakers guard made the All-NBA Defense second team and reminded basketball fans everywhere he wasn’t merely focused on one side of the ball.

    Bryant’s all-around play helped the Lakers win a championship that season, their third in a row.

    His production on a team that three-peated is significant considering the feat has only been done five times since the NBA’s inception in 1950.

    The 2001-02 campaign was highlighted by the Lakers' terrific seven-game series against the Sacramento Kings. The Purple and Gold won Game 7 on the road and earned themselves a finals berth with Bryant and O’Neal combining their powers to dispatch the Kings.

    The shooting guard played brilliantly in the championship round as evidenced by his 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game on 51.4 percent field-goal shooting. Sadly, his performance was completely overshadowed by O’Neal’s dominant play.

    This is unquestionably one of Bryant’s best seasons. However, McGrady was the better player that year. The Orlando Magic player outpaced his counterpart in scoring, rebounding and steals. In addition, he turned the ball over at a lesser rate.

    Ranking this season any higher would have been incredibly difficult given the nonexistent gap in favor of Bryant vis-à-vis his peers.

5. 2012-13 Season

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    Stats: 27.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.8 APG, 46.8% FG.

    This one feels a bit like cheating since the season has not yet been concluded. But Bryant has simply been far too great this year to ignore.

    The Lakers’ leading scorer has appeared in 68 of 70 games and played terrific all-around basketball.

    After playing uninspired defense at the beginning of the season, Bryant has been a pest in the second half of this season and may very well earn All-Defensive honors once again.

    And he’s 34 years old.

    Only eight players in the history of the league have averaged 25 points or more after hitting that age, and Bryant is one of them.

    At this current rate, the Lake Show’s all-time leading scorer should finish the year with his 11th-best statistical output. It’s worth mentioning that in the second half of the season he’s been surprisingly dominant in late-game situations.

    NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us he is tied for second in the NBA for total clutch points (clutch defined as last five minutes of regulation or overtime with scoring margin within five points) scored this year.

    His performance at home on March 8 against the Toronto Raptors summed up Bryant’s second-half play this year. His fourth-quarter three-point bombs to send the game into overtime and eventually win it were typical of No. 24.

    The one “knock” on Bryant is the collective talent in the league. James Harden and Wade have both played great at the off-guard position this year, and it could be said that they’ve been every bit as good as the legend if not better.

4. 2009-10 Season

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    Stats: 27.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.0 APG, 45.6% FG.

    Bryant’s legacy as an all-time great was secure prior to the start of the 2009-10 regular season. He was the proud owner of four championship rings, an MVP trophy and an NBA Finals MVP trophy.

    In addition, he had finally won a title without O’Neal, which proved that Jerry Buss made the right decision in keeping the superstar guard and trading away the big man. But for historical purposes, defeating the Boston Celtics would elevate his career to new heights.

    The Celtics defeated the Lakers countless times during the 1960s and had done so as recently as June 2008.

    The 2009-10 campaign would give Bryant an opportunity for vengeance.

    Bryant’s offensive production didn’t stand out when compared to his other years in the league, but it was on par with his career averages.

    Wade was spectacular that season with the Miami Heat and earned an All-NBA first-team spot alongside Bryant. Normally, this would be somewhat of an indictment for the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer.

    It would signify that the gap between Bryant other shooting guards wasn’t quite wide.

    Mind you, Wade was in his prime for the most part and playing the best two-year stretch of his career. Bryant, on the other hand, was 31 and playing just about on the same level as the 2006 NBA Finals MVP.

    That year was one of the best of Bryant’s impressive resume. He was excellent form start to finish and closed off the season with a Game 7 victory over the Celtics for a championship.

    At the conclusion of the game, the four-time All-Star Game MVP raced down the court and celebrated. It set the stage for the superstar to get on the scorer’s table with the confetti falling where he simply showed off his right hand before the crowd. The message was simple: five, as in five titles.

    A fact he reminded everyone about in the ensuing postgame press conference.

3. 2008-09 Season

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    Stats: 26.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 46.7% FG.

    Wade and Brandon Roy played the shooting guard position about as well as anyone could during the course of this season. Bryant was (and still is) the modern standard by which all 2-guards were measured, and the 2008-09 season was no exception.

    Bryant enjoyed his fifth-best statistical season. Both Wade and Roy required career-best performances in order to match or surpass Bryant’s level of production that year.

    The former league MVP wasn’t quite in a league on his own when compared with his peers, but his accomplishments alone in the spring of 2009 elevated the status of this season.

    Aided by a solid supporting cast, Bryant was the catalyst for a Lakers team that finally broke through and won a title after trading away O’Neal.

    Many questioned whether the superstar guard would ever regain the mountaintop after becoming the face of the franchise. Actually, several doubted the Lakers lifer would win another championship, Bryant included.

    The 17-year veteran proved his detractors and himself wrong with a stellar run of postseason performances that resulted in the Lakers claiming the 2008-09 Larry O’Brien trophy.

    Bryant’s impossible shot over Dwight Howard in the finals perfectly captured his season in a nutshell: difficult, aesthetic and yet successful.

2. 2000-01 Season

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    Stats: 28.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.0 APG, 46.4% FG.

    The emergence of McGrady, Ray Allen and Carter in the 2000-01 season coupled with Iverson winning the MVP should have drastically reduced the perception of Bryant’s value in this season.

    Except it didn’t.

    His rivals performed quite well that year and consequently earned themselves spots on the All-NBA teams.

    Bryant separated himself from his adversaries by playing superior defense. Indeed, he turned himself into the most destructive two-way player since Gary Payton and gave early signs that comparisons to Michael Jordan might be warranted.

    The future Hall of Fame player shut down perimeter players and raised his game in the playoffs by producing 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game on 46.9 percent field-goal shooting.

    In addition, Bryant scored north of 40 points in back-to-back games in the playoffs for a Lakers team that won 15 of 16 games. That run resulted in a championship celebration in downtown Los Angeles.

    The five-time champion enjoyed his fourth-best statistical season as well as All-NBA second team and All-Defensive second honors.

    The highlight of Bryant’s season came in Game 4 of a second-round game against the Sacramento Kings. Channeling his inner Neo, the Lakers superstar dismantled the Kings with 48 points, 16 rebounds and three assists in an elimination game.

    Some of his peers were recognized as enjoying better seasons, but his impressive production coupled with the Lakers winning the title in a record amount of games give this season an edge over just about every campaign save for one…

1. 2005-06 Season

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    Stats: 35.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 45.0% FG.

    This season passes every criteria with flying colors.

    Bryant enjoyed his greatest seasons of productivity during this time frame and put the ball in the basket at a historic rate.

    Since 1946, only five players have averaged 35 points or more in a season: Wilt Chamberlain (five times), Michael Jordan, Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor and Bryant.

    Bryant accomplished this feat during the 2005-06 campaign.

    In addition, the NBA had 12 instances in that very same year in which a player scored 50 points or more. Bryant by himself had half of those occurrences and made news that season with an outrageous 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors.

    In scoring the second-highest total in NBA history, Bryant assured that his name will forever be in the record books.

    No off-guard could truly hang with the vet that year and honestly, it might be a while before anyone can match the gaudy numbers produced by the Lakers superstar during that campaign.

    Statistical support provided by NBA.com.