I was running across the NBA forums yesterday and found a very interesting piece on Yahoo.com that listed the top 30 shooting guards at the moment. It was well thought out, well researched, and a very impressive piece as well. Much to my surprise though, I was shocked at who was picked as the NBA's number one shooting guard not being named Kobe Bryant.
Rather than Bryant, it was the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade coming in at number one. Wade has no doubt impressed every NBA fan with his uncanny ability to drive and making difficult shots, come through in the clutch, and carry an entire team of no-names and rookies to post seasons. Kobe Bryant can boast nearly all the same accolades as Wade while also showing off a more complete jump shot with more range to spare.
Both players have had their success and both have had their failures. In the case of Bryant, he has seen success since joining the league when he was traded to the Lakers following a 53 win season. The duo of himself an Shaquille O'Neal would go on to win three consecutive titles before the two separated and Bryant was forced to play with teammates that weren't exactly up to par.
Kobe missed the post season for the first time in the 2004-'05 season as he saw his stats drop, including a near career worse 43% from the field. He was forced to play alongside scrubs such as Chris Mihm, Smush Parker, and Kwame Brown as he won 34 games. The next season would be off the charts for Bryant as he averaged 35 points and leading the Lakers back to the post season.
After a few months of demanding a trade, Bryant would receive a new big man to look to in Pau Gasol and has been to the NBA finals for the past three years, winning two in the process.
Wade joined the Heat after the team won 25 games, so unlike Kobe joining an already successful team, Dwyane was thrown into the fire and joined a starting lineup of Eddie Jones, a sophomore in Caron Butler, and veterans in Lamar Odom and Brian Grant. Originally, Jones and Odom were the team leaders, but by playoff time it was already Wade's team as he led them to their first second round appearance in four years.
Wade would receive help the next season in Shaquille O'Neal and would win a title two years later. The following two years would be disasters as constant injuries would hamper Wade's performance and the team would finish a league worse 15-67 that was complete with O'Neal being traded away and an injured Wade that appeared ready to hit the showers for good.
He was able to bounce back though and lead two awful Heat teams to the post season and now has received what he has deserved for so long by actually getting NBA players to join him on the team. LeBron James and Chris Bosh are now in Miami to help Wade attempt to secure another title.
Both players stories are somewhat similar. Their beginnings aren't nearly the same, but both have had great teams and have then had to recover and show a sense of resiliency when they lost their great team. Kobe suffered with a 35-win team and Wade suffered with injuries and a 15-win squad.
I have always believed there were three players that were on a completely different level than what any other NBA player is on. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade are a part of this elite class and I have believed for the past two seasons that Bryant and James have been duking it out for number one. Two seasons ago, I truly thought that Wade could have been number one after winning his first scoring title, but it was a season much similar to that of Kobe's when he averaged 35 points on a terrible team.
Bryant and Wade are the easiest to compare due to the fact that they play the same position and need to rely on their game that they have developed over their careers, unlike James who usually relies on his on otherworldly athleticism to his advantage.
I have always held Kobe in the highest regards of an NBA player. He is the closest item we will get to Michael Jordan and is the best overall player in the game today when it comes down to offense, defense, and making plays when it matters most. The next Michael Jordan comparison would be Dwyane Wade who on a nightly basis exhibits pure, raw skill that has only been seen by Jordan and Bryant.
Wade has shown that he can show up to the occassion no matter at what stage and considering that he has faced double and triple teams for the past two seasons and still continues to put up the stat's he achieves is nothing short of amazing. Not to mention, his NBA finals performance has been recognized by analyst's as arguably the greatest finals any one player has ever had.
On offense, both players are unstoppable when they hit a few consecutive shots. Obviously, Kobe doesn't have much more to prove when he has scored 81 points in a game, but Wade can boast the same ability to explode offensively at any time. It doesn't exactly translate to 81 points, but he can consistently hit over 30 points in any game.
Without a doubt, Kobe contains the better jump shot and the better range, but Wade holds the advantage when it comes down to driving and drawing contact. Through the number of double and triple teams he has had to face on a daily basis, Wade has learned how to play them. He has learned when to anticipate what defenses to expect, how to slash through double teams, and how to perfect the art of the pick and roll.
Defensively, it is a draw. I might get some flack for believing that the two are equals as defenders, but both have their advantages and both have their flaws. To each of their advantage, Kobe could be a better lock down defender than Wade, but Wade has the advantage when it comes down to shot blocking. Wade isn't just a weak side blocker either, he has blocked numerous dunks going straight up.
Bryant has been known to be a determined defender and will usually play his lock-down , hard nosed defense when he is motivated rather than playing like that in every game. Wade's defense can be too risky and even lazy at times, as he would rather go for steal's in the open court instead of sticking on a defender. While his anticipation skills can be brilliant at times, it can also hurt the team.
In the closing minutes of games, no one can do it quite like Kobe can. He has hit a plethora of shots in the waning moments to go along with his considerable number of game winners. Not to say Wade hasn't either, but Kobe Bryant in the clutch is one of the toughest players in NBA history to defend. Nobody can show up in moments like that better than Bryant, so it is basically incomparable.
While Bryant has played unbelieveable since showing up as a fresh faced high schooler, his age is beginning to catch up on him. I realize that no NBA player contains the killer instinct or the desire to win more than Kobe, but that finger injury took a lot more out of Bryant than what we see on the court. While he was able to learn to shoot with his left hand and feature a brand new post game, the fact of the matter is that Bryant is getting older and injuries can't heal as quick.
Wade on the other hand is just beginning to enter his prime at 28 and now has a team ready to win, rather a team struggling to hang on. By the time Wade has finished his career, he could leave just as outstanding a legacy as Bryant has so far. For those who want to dispute that LeBron is the leader of the Heat, then you need to remember that it was Wade who recruited James and Bosh to come to his Miami Heat.
The strongest advantage Wade holds over Bryant is youth. Dwyane has dealt with his fair share of injuries, but because he was young, they were able to heal quickly and he has since recovered from ailment's that could have ended the career of a player at Bryant's age.
Each player has gone through success and each player has gone through their share of struggles. They have both shown an unbelievable sense of resilience and an uncanny desire to win that cannot be compared with anyone else in the NBA at this moment. Their committment's to their team have been tested with Bryant having to deal without any sort of second scoring presence and Wade having to deal with two consecutive seasons of mediocrity and the possibility of wasting his prime years with a team that simply cannot get better.
At this moment in time and for the upcoming season, I still believe Kobe Bryant is the best shooting guard in the NBA and I say that as a Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade fan. I give him the number one spot now because he still contains the versatility and killer instinct that Wade does not yet quite possess. After this season, it could be a completely different story.
The upcoming NBA finals will be the closest chance we see of both players in their primes facing off against each other in a seven game series if the two teams do meet. Kobe's age and injuries might catch up to him following the end of this upcoming season and then we can say that Dwyane Wade has become the number one shooting guard in the NBA, as well as saying that he is the best player in the NBA.
It's a scary thought that Kobetime might be coming to an end in the near future, but the new generation is showing that they have no problem in following in the footsteps of the great's like Kobe Bryant. In due time, Wade will get his recognition as the number one player at his position, but for now the face of the NBA is Bryant's and rightfully so.
Even with his age and ailment's catching up to him, Bryant still has the killer instinct on offense and defense that no one else can boast. For now he remains as the self- anointed 'Black Mamba', but 'Flash' is waiting in the distance for his time to emerge as the new player to imitate in pick-up games and to lead team's to championships year after year.