Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: Their Top 15 Current Myths
I have a good friend who happens to be a staunch Portland Trail Blazers fan. When the topics of the Los Angeles Lakers or Kobe Bryant come up in conversation, his irrationality shows no bounds.
You see, to most Portland fans like my friend, the Los Angeles Lakers are seen as the same loathed enemies as Lakers fans see the Boston Celtics (except one rivalry represents the finest in professional sports). Thus, it is hard for these folks to see anything positive in regards to the Lakers or Kobe Bryant, as he is the biggest Trail Blazer assassin there has likely ever been.
Of course, success breeds plenty of similar folks around the NBA’s fanbase. No team has been as successful as the Lakers in professional sports over the past 30 years, and no NBA player has had as much success as Kobe has over the past decade.
Yet, it is funny how polarized many fans are when discussing Kobe Bryant. The amount of effort that some people use to try to bring down his legacy is simply incredible. Perhaps if this effort was used towards producing positive economic profit, this country would have already been out of the recession.
And the funny thing is that one doesn’t see this with other past NBA legends, such as Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. They all had more than their share of imperfections and flaws, but no one questions their greatness.
Most of the myths and lies associated with the Lakers and Kobe are built around cherry-picked stats and by using double standards.
Richard Belzer once stated, “If you tell a lie that's big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth.” By retelling these lies over and over, many smart folks I know are even starting to believe them.
This article is meant to address the top 15 recent lies I have heard in regards to Kobe and the Lakers. I don’t expect to change the minds of Kobe/Lakers haters like my friend, but hopefully this should make a difference among the rational folks, helping to stop the spread of these lies.
Pau Gasol Was the Real Finals MVP in 2010
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One of the biggest lies told today about Kobe Bryant is that he didn’t deserve the 2010 Finals MVP award. Instead, the people who claim this assert that Pau Gasol was the real Finals MVP.
However, the facts don’t support this notion.
Gasol definitely had some standout games in the Finals, but he had a trend of not having the most dominant performances in his team’s losses and games played in Boston, or at least as dominant as Kobe. Gasol outshined Kobe in Game 2, when he poured in 25 points, eight rebounds, and six blocks while shooting an efficient 7-10.
However, in Game 3, Pau only managed 13 points compared to the 29 points Kobe scored (although Kobe did have a poor shooting night).
In Game 4, Gasol had 21 points but managed just six rebounds, compared to the 33 points Kobe scored while making 6-11 three-pointers.
In Game 5, Gasol only scored 12 points on 5-12 shooting and only got to the free throw line for three attempts—a stat that indicates he simply was not being aggressive enough to help LA win. Overall in Boston, Gasol shot just .457 from the field, a poor mark for a seven-footer.
Comparatively, Kobe had 38 points in Game 5 while shooting 13-27. Had Gasol played dominantly in either of the Lakers’ losses in Boston, his team might have pulled out an extra win.
A lot of people look at Kobe’s 6-24 performance in Game 7 as “proof” that he didn’t deserve the MVP award, implying the misconceived notion that the award should be based off of just one game, rather than the whole series.
What they fail to realize, however, is that Kobe’s 23 points led all scorers and his 15 rebounds were second only to Gasol. While Kobe had a poor shooting night, Gasol only shot 6-16 from the field and a dismal 7-13 from the charity stripe. Overall, just about every player on both teams had a poor shooting effort. That was the result of the tough team defenses and high stakes.
While Kobe had a tough time making shots, he refused to lose and found ways to help his team win, such as by being aggressive and earning trips to the foul line—and making the free throw attempts.
In addition, Kobe guarded Rajon Rondo, arguably the best player on the Celtics, throughout most of the series and he did a decent job of containing him. As the leader of the offense, as Rondo goes, so do the Celtics most nights.
Throw in the fact that Kobe averaged 28.6 ppg in the series compared to Gasol’s 18.6 ppg, and it further becomes clear that of the two players, Kobe had the better all-around series.
Kobe Is Not an Efficient Shooter
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The argument that Kobe is not an efficient shooter is often brought up to show that he is overrated. In addition, many of the same people that use this argument state that efficiency is one of the main reasons that puts Michael Jordan into a class much higher than Kobe Bryant.
Even Phil Jackson made this distinction recently. And yet everyone who claims this is wrong.
Looking at the pure field goal statistics seems to lend credence to this argument. For instance, Kobe Bryant has a .455 career field goal percentage compared to .497 for Jordan.
Part of the reason that Kobe’s shooting percentage is lower is due to the higher quantity and percentage of shots that are taken from beyond the three-point line. However, three-pointers contribute 50 percent more points than regular shots.
When free throws and three-pointers are taken into account to form the true shooting percentage, Michael Jordan has a .569 percentage compared to Kobe Bryant’s .556. In other words, the numbers are very similar.
One has to also remember that most of the years that Jordan shot higher field goal percentages came during the 1980s when team defenses (despite the hand-checking) were much less tenacious than the 1990s or 2000s. Hence, teams in general shot much higher percentages and there were many guards who shot greater than 50 percent (compared to just a few today).
Heck, there were whole teams that averaged over 50 percent on their field goal attempts.
There are a couple reasons why team defenses are more effective today. First, after the Detroit Pistons made use of the “Jordan Rules,” other teams took note that tough team defenses can slow down the best players in the game and lead to wins. Second, zone defenses encourage outside shooting more than dribble penetration, leading to a lower conversion rate.
If Jordan had played in today’s league, he would be forced to take and make more outside shots, which is something he wasn’t very effective at early in his career. While he would likely have improved his outside shot earlier in his career, his overall field goal percentage probably would have suffered.
Despite the difference in eras and true shooting percentage to compare Jordan and Bryant, let’s consider one final telling stat that indicates how efficiently the two players were able to score.
When one looks at points per field goal attempt, one will see nearly identical statistics for both players: Jordan scored 1.316 points per shot attempt while Bryant has scored 1.304.
So after this analysis, does it still seem that Jordan is in a class way above Bryant when it comes to efficiency?
The Lakers Are Better Off When Kobe Shoots Less
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This season, quite a few have commented about how the Lakers seem to do better when Kobe Bryant shoots less in games. They have noted that many of the games LA has lost this year featured lots of shot attempts by Bryant.
However, there is a reason why this correlation could be made. Since Kobe already has a lot of mileage, coach Phil Jackson has tried to limit his playing time this season. In fact, Kobe’s playing time is down about five minutes per game compared to last season.
Jackson’s goal for every Lakers game this season is to have his team dominate through the first three quarters and rest Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter. With all of the games that Kobe has sat out much of the fourth quarter this season, his average playing time in wins is lower than his playing time in losses.
When games are close in the fourth quarter, Jackson usually relies heavily on Kobe. Often times, Kobe is asked to take over the scoring load late in games because Pau Gasol and the other players were unable to have good scoring games themselves.
Sometimes Kobe is able to help get the wins for the Lakers and sometimes he is unable to do so. But the fact that in losses he is playing more minutes and taking more shots is the reason why his shot attempts are higher in losses.
Hence, claiming that the Lakers are “better off” when Kobe shoots less is simply a naïve and misguided statement.
Boston Could Have Won the 2010 Finals If Perkins Didn’t Get Injured
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Many Boston fans have whined this season by continuing to bring up the assertion that the Celtics would have won the NBA Finals last season if Kendrick Perkins wasn't injured.
First, most people would agree that LA played so well in Game 6 that Boston would have lost that game anyway, even if Perkins didn’t go down. In fact, Boston was already trailing by a considerable margin when Perkins was injured, and had been playing with far less energy than the Lakers, who were desperate to get a win.
But let’s look at Game 7. True, Perkins could have helped Boston grab more rebounds, but it is doubtful that he would have overcome the 13-rebound deficit that Boston had behind LA. In fact, Boston had already lost the rebounding battle in a couple earlier games that series with Perkins in the mix.
To say that Perkins would have been the difference-maker seems to just be an excuse, especially since Rasheed Wallace played well in the game filling in for him. Perhaps if Kevin Garnett grabbed more than three rebounds that game, if Paul Pierce hadn’t shot 5-15 or if Ray Allen hadn’t shot 3-14, then Boston may have had a chance.
To flip the coin the other way, one should note that Andrew Bynum was only playing at about 50 percent during the whole series. Had he been close to 100 percent (like his recent run since the All-Star break), LA likely would have won the series in about five games.
It would also have been nice to see a healthy Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum play in the 2008 Finals, as the outcome of that series might also have been different.
In the end, none of this really matters. Each team had injury woes, and the harder-working team won Game 7.
Boston Would Have Won the 2010 Finals If the Calls Went Their Way
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Another way Lakers haters like to downplay the latest championship is to insist that Boston would have won if “the calls went their way.” They specifically like to point to how in Game 7, Boston shot only 17 free throws compared to LA’s 37 attempts.
Never mind that LA was clearly the aggressor during the second half. Forget how in Game 2 of the 2008 Finals, Boston only won by six points, despite taking 38 free throw attempts compared to 10 for LA. Leon Powe’s 13 attempts alone were greater than all of the Lakers players’ attempts put together!
Also, please disregard how Boston came back from 24 points down in Game 4 of the 2008 Finals mostly due to their aggressive play and how they got most of the free throw calls in the second half.
It’s true that not all of the calls were made right during the 2010 Finals. Ray Allen got into serious foul trouble in Game 1 with some seemingly “phantom fouls.” Likewise, Kobe Bryant had the same issue in Game 2.
But if Celtics fans are going to gripe about not getting the calls, they are going to look like hypocrites. All other fans around the league can relate to how Kevin Garnett (and previously Kendrick Perkins) constantly gets away with moving screens.
Just watch any Celtics game and look for how Garnett sets screens, and you will see what I mean. Here’s a clip from Game 3 of the 2008 Finals where Garnett gets away with multiple moving screens until he is finally called for an offensive foul. See if you can count the number of moving screens he sets!
Except more often than not, he gets away with them.
If Perkins and Garnett got called for these obvious illegal plays, they would likely foul out of most of their games. While it appears that the NBA has a special rule in place for them, it is laughable that Celtics fans have the nerve to say that the officiating usually favors other teams.
Regarding the Finals, one can complain that their team did not get the calls. In 2008 and 2010, it is evident that the better team won each series.
Kobe Played the Role of “Robin” in the First Three-Peat
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A classic line used against Kobe Bryant is saying that he played second fiddle to Shaquille O’Neal during the Lakers’ three-peat from 2000-2002.
While this is certainly true for the 2000 championship season, it is not entirely accurate for the next two title years.
Even in 2000 playing the sidekick role, Kobe Bryant played a key a role in Game 4 of the Finals against the Indiana Pacers. After Shaq fouled out, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with four clutch baskets to win the game in overtime—the team’s only win in Indiana.
Throughout the Kobe-Shaq era, it was common for the Lakers to run the offense through Shaq early in games. Then when the second half was played out and Shaq became a liability with his poor free throw shooting (remember Hack-a-Shaq?), Kobe was the go-to player as opposing team defenses clamped down.
How can Shaq be the clear-cut leader of the team when his own coach would bench him in fourth quarters because his play would actually hurt his team?
But let’s look at some stats since they tell the story in more detail.
During the 2000-2001 season, look at the averages:
Shaq: 28.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.8 bpg, 57% FG, 51% FT
Kobe: 28.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.7 spg, 46% FG, 85% FT
Both players made the All-Defensive and All-NBA teams.
Here are the averages for the 2001 playoffs:
Shaq: 30.4 ppg, 15.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.4 bpg, 56% FG, 53% FT
Kobe: 29.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.6 spg, 47% FG, 82% FT
Just like in the regular season, both players’ numbers are very similar. Shaq had a dominating Finals series against the thin frontline of the Philadelphia 76ers and rightly earned the Finals MVP award.
But the toughest team LA faced en route to the Finals was the San Antonio Spurs—the team with the best record in the NBA. Most media analysts called this the “Real 2001 NBA Finals,” as whichever team survived would most certainly win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Let’s look at that series averages for the two players:
Shaq: 27 ppg, 13 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 bpg, 54% FG, 52% FT
Kobe: 33.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 7 apg, 1.5 spg, 51% FG, 77% FT
More importantly, Kobe poured in 45 points in the most important game of the series: Game 1 played in San Antonio. Of what the media dubbed the “Real Finals,” that season, Kobe was the obvious MVP.
When discussing the 2000-2001 season, it becomes obvious that Shaq might have been option 1A and Kobe was option 1B, but it would be a stretch to say Kobe was a clear second option in a sidekick role.
Looking at the stats from the 2001-2002 season shows a similar trend:
Shaq: 27.2 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.0 bpg, 58% FG, 56% FT
Kobe: 25.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 47% FG, 83% FT
Shaq: 28.5 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.5 bpg, 53% FG, 65% FT
Kobe: 26.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 43% FG, 38% 3FG, 76% FT
Overall, Shaq edged Kobe in points and interior play and Kobe held the advantages in playmaking, outside shooting and clutch play. Also, during that season one should note that while both players made the All-NBA team, Kobe also made the All-Defensive team while Shaq did not.
Clearly, the coaches in the league thought Kobe was better at slowing down opponents than Shaq was. Being that defense is half of the game, this is a significant distinction.
The following season shows a new trend:
Shaq: 27.5 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.4 bpg, 57% FG, 62% FT
Kobe: 30.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.9 apg, 2.2 spg, 45% FG, 38% 3FG, 84% FT
Kobe’s numbers seem kind of Jordan-like, don’t they? It’s amazing he didn’t win the MVP that year, but it was clear that Kobe was starting to surpass Shaq. Had it not been for a few Robert Horry missed three-pointers in the playoffs, LA probably would have won a fourth championship in a row that season.
Now let’s compare a true Batman-and-Robin scenario in analyzing Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. In the six championship seasons, Jordan averaged 30.5 ppg while Pippen averaged 19.4 ppg, a difference of 11.1 ppg. In the playoffs of those six seasons, Jordan averaged 32.6 ppg while Pippen only averaged 19.0 ppg, a whopping difference of 13.6 ppg.
See the difference between a player who plays “second fiddle” compared to a clear-cut leader?
Clearly, the Batman-Robin analogy does not hold up when looking at Kobe’s role with the Lakers starting with the 2000-2001 season.
Kobe Was the Reason Shaq Left the Lakers
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Kobe critics have pointed out consistently through the years that he was the reason that Shaq left the Los Angeles Lakers. They claim that Kobe forced Shaq out, telling owner Jerry Buss that he would have to choose which one of the two superstars he wanted to keep.
Over the years, much has come to light on this issue. In short, Buss made a sound business decision. Sure, Shaq would go on to help the Miami Heat win its first franchise championship in 2006, but where would the Lakers be today if they were centered around Shaq instead of Kobe?
After Shaq left the Lakers, he only averaged more than 20 ppg in a season once, while getting paid in the range of $20-$27 million in every season up until this year. Meanwhile, Kobe has averaged over 20 ppg in every season since Shaq left, won an MVP award and two Finals MVP awards, while making nearly half the salary that Shaq made in his first year in Miami.
From a business standpoint in saving the team money and getting the most productive player, it’s obvious that Buss made the right decision.
To further damage Shaq’s case, reports over the years have stated that he was a cancer in the Lakers locker room. This has been evident as Shaq has been an issue with every team he has played with since he left LA.
When O’Neal admitted to coming into the preseason camp each year out of shape and healing injuries “on company time” since he was injured while “on the job,” his true character became crystal clear. When it comes to motivation, leadership, hard work and determination, there is simply no comparison between Shaq and Kobe.
Although he has kept quiet about these issues through the years, Dr. Buss obviously factored in all of these intangibles to aid his decision-making. In short, anyone who blames Kobe for Shaq’s departure is not telling the whole story.
Pau Gasol Is the Best Player on the Lakers
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This is perhaps the most comedic myth that’s thrown around in conversations about the Lakers. I already discussed why Kobe rightfully earned his two Finals MVP awards and why the team is not necessarily worse off when the offense goes through Kobe instead of Pau Gasol.
Regarding Gasol, he has the potential to be so much better than he is. He is the most skilled big man in the NBA with superior passing skills, countless moves in the low post, a consistent mid-range jump shot and a high basketball IQ.
In addition, Gasol has improved significantly on defense, rebounding and toughness over the last few years (which, by the way, he has accredited to Kobe’s influence).
If Gasol played with the same determination and work ethic that Bryant brings in every game, he could be the league’s MVP. However, he often gets worn out by physical play in the post, being outworked by numerous smaller opponents this season alone. And despite his improved aggression, he still gets labeled as being a “soft” player by many NBA analysts.
While Kobe for the past three years has made the All-NBA and All-Defensive first teams, Pau has only made the All-NBA Third Team and has failed to earn a spot on the All-Defensive Team. When the Lakers are in a close game at the end of regulation, more often than not the offense goes through Kobe Bryant.
Phil Jackson is one of the best coaches of all time, if not the best. The fact that he trusts Kobe more than Gasol to make the right plays in the clutch says a lot about the difference between the two players.
Once again, it appears that the claim that Gasol is the best player on the Lakers is just another attempt by some to diminish Kobe’s legacy.
Kobe Is Not a Great Defender
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One of my favorite arguments used against Kobe Bryant is the claim that he is not a great defender. People will often compare his averages in steals and blocks to those of Michael Jordan and other players to downplay his impact on the defensive end of the court.
First, steals and blocks can be very important in helping a team win, but they are gambling moves. If a player goes for a steal and misses, often the opponent is wide open for a high-percentage shot. Similarly, if a player jumps up to block a shot, there is a significant chance that he will foul the other player.
Steals and blocks are good indicators of help defense, but not the best measurements for one-on-one defense. This is why players like Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier and Dennis Rodman were all considered elite defenders, despite having low averages in steals and blocks.
Kobe Bryant has learned to do more with sound defensive principles, using impeccable footwork in slowing down opponents. As games get closer to the end, Kobe’s effort on defense goes up to the highest notch. There’s not one player I’d rather put over Kobe on a perimeter scorer at the end of the game to stop a game-tying or winning shot.
Apparently, the NBA coaches and GMs have taken notice. Each year the GMs have rated Kobe as one of the top perimeter defenders in their annual NBA survey. Coaches vote for the All-Defensive teams, and one would think they know who can guard their own players the best in the NBA.
Until the Lakers got Ron Artest last season, Kobe Bryant was asked to carry the scoring load and guard the best perimeter defender each game. Not even Michael Jordan was asked to do so much, as Scottie Pippen was usually assigned to guard the top perimeter players to help conserve Jordan’s energy.
Regarding the All-Defensive awards, Kobe Bryant has made the First Team eight times and the Second Team twice over his career. Only Gary Payton and Michael Jordan have more First Team selections (nine each), but Kobe has more overall selections than both of them.
Only Tim Duncan (13) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (11) have more overall selections than Kobe Bryant.
Evidently, Kobe is in some prestigious company in NBA history when it comes to defensive accomplishments.
Phil Jackson Only Wins Because He Has the Most Talent
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I have heard many folks (especially Boston Celtics fans—probably trying to promote Red Auerbach as the greatest NBA coach of all time) make the argument that Phil Jackson has won all of his championships because his teams had the most talent.
While it is true that all of his teams have had a lot of talent, this argument doesn’t tell the whole story.
All NBA championship teams have had talented rosters. The Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers had nearly the same rosters before Jackson took over as coach of each team compared to after. Yet, the previous coaches could not get the Bulls and Lakers to win a title.
Furthermore, Jackson’s teams have not always been the most talented, top-to-bottom each season.
In 2000 and 2001, the Portland Trail Blazers were regarded as the most talented team, sporting players such as Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, Arvydas Sabonis, Detlef Shrempf, Steve Smith, Bonzi Wells, Damon Stoudemire and Brian Grant.
In 2002, the Sacramento Kings had the most talented roster including Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Gerald Wallace and Bobby Jackson.
The last few seasons, one could make a similar argument in favor of the Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic.
The point is that Jackson has been among the best at making the talent he has into winners. There is no denying the greatness of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Other great coaches like Red Auerbach and Pat Riley had dynasty teams with multiple Hall of Famers, but anyone who makes the claim that either of those coaches or Jackson is overrated is being a bit obtuse.
Derek Fisher Is the Worst Starting Point Guard in the NBA
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There is no doubt that Derek Fisher’s stats this season are not the most impressive. He is averaging just 6.6 ppg and 2.7 apg while shooting 39 percent from the field (although he is making about 40 percent of his three-pointers).
Many NBA pundits look at these stats and efficiency rating systems like PER to “prove” that Fisher is the worst starting point guard in the league.
There are a few rebuttals to this claim, however.
First, Fisher’s stats are indicative of the team’s offensive schemes. In trying to conserve him for the playoffs, Jackson has rested Fisher more this season. Thus, he has less time out on the court to pile up stats. Furthermore, the triangle offense dictates ball movement, so no player (point guard included) is likely to rack up tons of assists.
Second, stats and the PER system do not tell the whole story of how valuable a player is. If stats and player efficiency systems determined who played in the NBA, Derek Fisher and Bruce Bowen never would have made it very far, let alone win multiple championships.
There are many areas of the game that do not show up in the box scores. For instance, Fisher is one of the best players at setting up the triangle offense. When the Lakers tend to over-rely on Kobe Bryant on offense, he is the one player not afraid to pass the ball to someone else.
In addition, Fisher does little things like take charges and fighting through screens that are quite effective on the defensive end.
And everyone by now knows about how Fisher is one of the most clutch players in NBA history, from the “0.4 shot” against the Spurs in 2004 to clutch baskets in the 2009 and 2010 Finals. When the playoffs roll around, there are few players that will display better leadership and perform better in clutch situations than Derek Fisher.
The Lakers Only Win Because the Team Outspends Everyone Else
Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss
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With a payroll this season of $91.6 million, the Los Angeles Lakers have outspent every other NBA team on player salaries. The team is full of talent and there is no doubt that paying the high salaries has helped to attract these players.
However, successful teams usually need more than paying high salaries in order to compete in the NBA. For instance, the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics have also spent heavily over recent seasons. The Mavericks and Magic have yet to experience real success in the postseason and win a title. The New York Knicks were one of the worst teams in the league for much of the past decade.
Only Boston has been able to combine high spending with winning an NBA title.
The fact of the matter is it takes a lot more than just spending to win championships in this league. Teams need talented players, but they also need the right management and coaches that can harness the right talent together so that the players can play as a cohesive and effective unit.
Signing and trading for overrated and over-hyped players can be the downfall for any franchise, as was the case with the Knicks in the 2000s.
In addition, teams need a bit of luck to win it all. Health issues can be a factor at any time. We have seen the impact that serious injuries can have on teams the past few years by looking at franchises like the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.
So while LA may be among the heaviest spenders in the NBA each year, the success can be attributed more to being healthy enough and having good team management in place.
Kobe Is the Biggest Ball Hog
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Many Kobe Bryant haters like to point out that he is the biggest ball hog the NBA has seen. Not only is this an untrue statement, but it is also a naïve claim.
One of the best indicators of how much a player dominates holding the basketball in games is the usage rate statistic. Over his career, Kobe Bryant has a usage rate of 31.48, which is one of the highest (currently ranked fifth). However, Allen Iverson (31.83), LeBron James (31.84), Dwyane Wade (32.56) and Michael Jordan (33.26) all represented bigger black holes when the ball was given to them.
Kobe has led the NBA in usage rate twice, whereas Iverson led the NBA six times, Wade three times and Michael Jordan an astounding eight times.
Yet, all of these players were amazing talents who were able to dominate the NBA. Just because players have the ball in their hands a lot during games doesn’t take anything away from their legacy as a player (especially if they can lead their teams to championships).
Unless one is to say that Jordan (a bigger ball hog) was not that great of a player, trying to critique Kobe for holding the ball too much in games is just another double standard being thrown around.
Kobe Doesn’t Make Other Players Better
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The statement that Kobe Bryant doesn’t make other teammates better is one of my favorite myths.
Like Michael Jordan before him and players like LeBron James today, Kobe’s dominant offensive play constantly draws double teams which leaves teammates wide open, especially on the perimeter.
Unlike Jordan (who had players like BJ Armstrong and Steve Kerr) and James (who has played with Damon Jones, Daniel Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker and James Jones), Kobe hasn’t consistently had premier outside shooters on his team. All of these players with Jordan and James almost always shot above 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Derek Fisher is the only player who might fall into this group, although he has only hit 40 percent in about half of his seasons. Perhaps if Kobe was surrounded by more premier shooters, his assist averages would be slightly higher and the driving lanes to the basket would have been more open, making it easier for him to score.
Besides creating wide open shots for others, Kobe’s influence on his teammates was in part shown in Spike Lee’s film Kobe Doin’ Work.
Many of his teammates have drawn from Kobe’s motivation, desire and strong work ethic to develop into better players themselves.
For instance, Andrew Bynum has spoken about how his recent commitment to hard work and defense has been modeled in part after Kobe’s regimen. Other players who have credited Kobe for improving their games include Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic and Trevor Ariza.
Bryant also had a major impact in the 2008 Olympics, where the coaching staff credited him with inspiring his teammates and working with them to improve their defense. LeBron James also credited Kobe for his improved focus on the defensive end of the court.
If this were not enough, let’s consider the case of Pau Gasol, who also has credited Kobe for much of the improvement in his game. Before coming to the Lakers, Gasol had never been selected to an All-NBA team and only had one All-Star selection.
After the trade, he has been an All-Star every year and has been selected twice to the All-NBA Third Team (although many felt Gasol should have made the Second Team last year).
The difference in his game, including his aggression and defensive abilities, can clearly be seen in simple stats. Prior to his trade to LA, Gasol never averaged double figures in rebounds. However, he has managed to accomplish this the past two seasons, despite playing with two other premier rebounders in Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
In general, Gasol has shot much more efficiently while playing in LA—in part due to the easier shots he gets with Kobe on the floor. Perhaps the most important area Kobe has helped Gasol with is having the mental fortitude to successfully come through in the playoffs.
Like Kobe, Gasol had a poor shooting night in Game 7 of last year’s Finals. However, he found a way to make some key baskets down the stretch while leading all players in rebounds. Like Kobe, he found a way to have a major impact on the game when his shot wasn’t falling.
The evidence is overwhelming. There is no denying that Kobe, like many of the NBA greats before him, has been successful in making players around him better.
Kobe Bryant Is Not Clutch
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Nearly every year in the NBA’s annual survey, the general managers of each team have predominantly voted Kobe Bryant as being the best clutch player in the league. Yet, Kobe haters like to bring up stats taken from sites like 82games.com that show he only makes about 25 percent of game-winning shots. They use this statistic to “prove” that Kobe is not that good in the clutch.
The problem with this conclusion is that it is short-sighted and misses a lot of other facts.
For instance, the same website shows that per minute played, Kobe is among the best in the NBA in all-around production in the clutch including points, rebounds, assists and defensive plays.
What is counted as a game-winning shot is only when there are 24 or fewer seconds remaining in the game. What is not counted are go-ahead shots that Kobe has made to give the Lakers the lead with 40 seconds left in regulation—even if the shot happens to be the last points scored in the game.
The statistic also doesn’t count the amazing clutch shots Kobe made in contests like in Game 6 of last year’s Western Conference Finals against Phoenix. His play was so impressive that Suns coach Alvin Gentry said that he has never seen any player more impressive than Kobe Bryant.
Considering Gentry has been around to see players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, that is quite a compliment!
While Kobe’s conversion rate of potential game-winning shots is low, one would be hard-pressed to find any NBA legend that was able to convert at a high rate. This is because team defenses clamp down in the final seconds of close games and it is rare that a player is going to get a wide-open (and therefore higher-percentage) shot.
One more fact should be considered. While game-winning stats have not been documented well until the past decade or two, one should note that Kobe Bryant has made more game-winners than Michael Jordan over the course of his career.
In fact, I have yet to come across any documentation that any player in NBA history has made more game-winners. While this doesn’t necessarily mean Kobe is more clutch than Jordan was, it is certainly impressive.
Few players in the league even want to take potential game-tying or winning shots. Of the select few that want to, none of them can create their own shot as easily as Kobe Bryant, nor are any of them as big of a cold-blooded assassin.
This is why in the 2008 Olympics on a team that had loads of talent (players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams), it was Kobe that came through in the close fourth quarter that led Team USA to victory against Spain in the gold medal game.
Unless one thinks they know better than the GMs, coaches and players in the league, it still appears that Kobe is among the best clutch players in the NBA.
On a final note, if you made it through this entire article, give yourself a pat on the back and please accept my sincere gratitude. I know it was long, but hopefully by now you realize the absurdity of these common myths.