Kobe Bryant: Is He Even A Top Five Player In the NBA Anymore?

Nathaniel UyFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2010

Kobe Bryant: Is He Even A Top Five Player In the NBA Anymore?

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    Kobe Bryant is now playing his 15th season in the NBA.  It feels like it was just yesterday that he was first drafted by the Charlotte Hornets as a young-and-skinny 17-year-old.

    Since then he's given us several highlight moments playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and he has won five NBA championships.

    Now aiming for his sixth NBA title, people are starting to question if he still has what it takes. 

    Detractors want to know if Kobe's best years are over.  Is he even one of the five best players in the league anymore?

    Let's break this down.

5. No — He Has Already Peaked

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    It's very sad to say this, but Bryant has already peaked. 

    He may have been the best player in the league for nearly a decade but his reign may have come to an end. 

    LeBron James—winner of the last two NBA MVP awards—has widely been viewed as his successor. 

    At this stage in Kobe's career, a host of younger talented players could give him a run for his money.

    Namely James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and even Dwight Howard.

5. Yes — He's Still One Of The Best

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    The MVP trophy is overrated.  It doesn't tell the entire story. 

    Two straight years of LeBron winning it while Kobe added two more championships to his collection proves that the MVP doesn't account for certain intangibles.

    Some are: winning games in the last seconds, carrying a team through tough playoff battles and making on-court adjustments to your own game in order to improve team play.

    All are elements to Kobe's game that separate him from his young counterparts and still make him a bona fide top five player today.

4. No — His Numbers Are Sinking

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    Now in his 15th season, we're seeing an overall drop in Kobe's numbers.

    His shooting percentage is at 43 percent this year, dropping from 45.6 and 46.7 in the last two seasons.

    His points per game average has also sunk to 25.6 points per game, down from nearly 27.0 last year and 28.3 during the '07-'08 season.

    Could this be an indication that Kobe's finally hit a wall and his career could be on the decline?

4. Yes — Numbers Are Misleading

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    Kobe is just coasting.  He's conserving his energy for another long playoff run.

    This possibly being Phil Jackson's last year, Kobe knows that winning another NBA title is the only thing that can make this season a success.

    His numbers may be down but so are his minutes.  He's averaging 32.6 minutes this year. The only other time he has played less minutes was during his first two seasons in the league.

    On November 17 against the Detroit Pistons he didn't even play in the fourth quarter, but he still managed to score 33 points in 32 minutes. 

    That proves he's not slowing down.

3. No — He's Not Even The Best Player On His Team

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    Big man Pau Gasol has distinguished himself as an elite big man with his play this season.

    During the Lakers' most recent game against the Golden State Warriors, he led the team in scoring with 28 points. 

    In fact, he's averaging a career high 22.8 points this season. 

    After 14 games played, some may argue that Kobe hasn't been the reason the Lakers are successful, but rather it is Gasol.

3. Yes — He's The Best Laker Ever

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    Let's not get confused with recent numbers and take a step back and view the whole picture.

    Kobe's presence in the perimeter is what opens up opportunities in the post for Pau.  Playing with Kobe Bryant is what makes Gasol better.

    Pau may be playing the best basketball in his career but he owes it all to Kobe and the triangle offense.

    Not only is Kobe the best player on this Lakers team, he's also the best Lakers player ever.

    He has matched Magic Johnson's five championship rings and he has played more seasons with the squad than anyone else that's been associated with the franchise—including Jerry West.

2. No — He Has Lost His Explosiveness

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    Remember Kobe Bryant, the super-explosive slam-dunk champion?

    He's clearly not as explosive as his younger version.

    And he also chooses to settle for outside shots a lot more nowadays instead of driving hard to the basket.

    Sooner or later that jumper will fade too.

    Gone is the Kobe that relied on athleticism and talent to excite crowds.

2. Yes — He Still Finds Ways To Improve

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    He's a gym rat.  And despite not being able to jump as high as he used to, he still finds other ways to improve.

    A year ago, Kobe—a well known junk-food fanatic—gave up his fixation for fast food after admitting that his body is not as young as it used to be.

    But whether it's working out longer or improving his diet, Kobe finds a way to become a better player.

    He's a student of the game and grasps that maturity coupled with a complete understanding of the game is what takes you to the next level—not just athleticism.

1. No — There Are Too Many Miles

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    Check out that receding hairline.  That's a sign of old age.

    Okay, maybe it's the angle of the photo.  But 15 years in the league is a very long time.

    At 32 years old, his age and total-minutes played is a cause for concern.

    If you count eight NBA Finals appearances and other deep playoff runs over the course of his career, Kobe has logged enough games to count for nearly 18 seasons in the league.

1. Yes — Still The Same Drive and Killer Instinct

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    He loves to win.  And he's pretty addicted to it.

    It's that perfect balance of drive, desire, maturity and talent that makes him a winner.

    Age may be catching up and his numbers may be on the decline, but age doesn't affect heart and motivation.

    That's what makes him different.

    Even among the league's superstars, no one has the same killer instinct and clutch ability as Kobe Bryant.  He's on a tier of his own.

Conclusion: He's Still Got It

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    Consider these names: Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O'Neal.

    All three players entered the NBA after high school and were once tagged as superstars.  And all entered the league nearly the same time Kobe did. 

    Today, Garnett is not even the best player on his Celtics squad while McGrady and O'Neal have been relegated to bench roles on their respective squads.

    Those guys hit walls and were slowed by injuries after logging several years of service in the league.

    Kobe has played through serious injuries, various ailments, off-the-court distractions and locker room drama.  While some stars crumble when dealing with such adversity, Kobe has come out on top several times.

    Don't question the Black Mamba.  You can never count out Kobe. 

    Yes.  He's still a top five player in the NBA.  Without a doubt.