With the NBA playoffs right around the corner expect to be bombarded with articles chronicling Kobe Bryant’s quest to win ring No. 6 and equal Michael Jordan’s ring tally. Expect nonstop comparisons between the two. Expect Kobe to be crowned the greatest Laker of all time and the greatest player of all time behind Jordan.
Well, not so fast. While Kobe is without a doubt a great player, he does not belong anywhere near Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kareem, Russell and all the other truly elite players.
While fans and analysts have often described him as the best player in the game, he has never even been the best player during an entire season. During his early years in Los Angeles, Shaq was without a doubt the best player on the team, as Kobe took a back seat to the most dominant center the NBA has seen since Wilt. But since Shaq left, the Lakers have been Kobe’s team and despite the stats and championships he has never been the best player in the NBA for a whole season.
Let’s recap Kobe’s career post-Shaq:
Kobe averages 27.6 PPG as the Lakers finish 10th in the West, a year after they go to the NBA Finals with Shaq. Steve Nash wins MVP and is the best player in the league along with Shaq.
Who is the greatest Laker of all time?
Kobe drops an amazing 35.4 PPG and leads the Lakers to a 45-win season, good for seventh place. Steve Nash again wins MVP, but LeBron was without a doubt the best player in the league.
Averages 31.6 PPG as Lakers win 42 games, enough for seventh in the West. Dirk wins MVP, though Nash was the best in the league for the year.
Wins his only MVP award as LA takes the first seed in the West thanks to the acquisition of Pau Gasol. Both Chris Paul and LeBron had much finer seasons. Bryant's regular-season MVP award is almost like a lifetime achievement award.
Averages between 25 and 27 PPG as Lakers own the first or second seed out West. LeBron has established himself as the best player in the game winning two MVP awards. Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose all have better seasons than Bryant.
Awards and Championships
After taking a look at Bryant’s years, it's evident they don’t come close to anything Jordan, Magic, Bird or Kareem achieved. Each of them dominated the league, and established themselves as the best player in the league for an extended period of time. Jordan won five MVPs, Magic and Bird each won three and Kareem won six.
Despite all the talk of him being the best scorer in the league, Kobe has only won two scoring titles. That’s the same amount as Tracy McGrady. Allen Iverson has twice as many as Kobe and MJ of course had 10.
Outside of playing the same position perhaps the biggest reason why Kobe is often compared to Michael Jordan is his NBA title collection. With five Kobe is just behind Jordan’s six, but the gap between the two is much bigger than that. Jordan won the MVP award in all six of the Bulls championship runs; of the five titles Kobe has won, he has only two MVP awards.
Shaq was without a doubt the premier player and go-to guy for the Lakers during their first three-peat and subsequently won all three MVPs. One could also make the argument against Kobe’s second MVP award as Pau Gasol was perhaps the key to the Lakers win. While Kobe averaged 28.6 PPG, his field-goal percentage was 40.5 percent, highlighted by his 6-of-24 performance in Game 7. Gasol averaged 18.6 PPG at 47.8 percent shooting and 11.6 RPG.
Is Kobe Bryant the most clutch player in the league?
People who anoint Kobe as the best player in the league often claim he is the most clutch player in the league and point to his numerous buzzer-beaters as evidence. A lot of these people obviously just watch highlight packages and not complete games as the stats clearly indicate how Kobe does in the clutch.
If you take into consideration Kobe’s entire career, some interesting facts and stats come out.
- According to ESPN’s Stats and Information, in the last 24 seconds of playoff games, Kobe has almost as many air balls as made baskets.
- In one-possession games since 2003, Kobe’s shooting percentage has been 30.4 percent. Comparing him to other stars like LeBron James (48.9 percent) and Dirk Nowitzki (43.9 percent) is almost embarrassing.
- Henry Abbott of ESPN also compiled the following information. Since 1996-97, in the last 24 seconds trailing by two or less, Kobe’s FG percentage stands at 31.3 percent, just 1.6 percent higher than the league average. Vince Carter, Ray Allen, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Mike Bibby, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are just a handful of the players with much better efficiency.
But the most amazing stat is the Lakers are actually outscored in crunch time when Kobe is on the court. Since Kobe joined the league the Lakers have had the league's most efficient offense, mainly thanks to the triangle offense run by Phil Jackson. But when the game gets close and Kobe goes into hero/ball-hog mode, the Lakers rank 12th in the league.
Is Kobe Bryant one of the top ten players in NBA history?
Lakers fans will show you clip after clip of Kobe’s buzzer-beaters, but the simple fact is he is not the most clutch player, he just takes the most shots.
Another overrated aspect of Kobe’s game is his defense. A 10-time NBA All-Defensive team selection Kobe has been called the game's premier perimeter defender on more than one occasion. That may have been true 10 years ago, but does anyone really think that anymore?
Over the last two years he has made the All-Defensive first team twice despite almost never guarding the opponent’s best player. The Lakers used Trevor Ariza as their defensive stopper before Ron Artest assumed that role once Ariza left. So how can someone be a top-five defensive player in the league when he doesn't even guard the opponent’s best player?
A lot of people will come up with the excuse that "he has to use so much energy on offense you can’t expect him to guard the best opposing player as well.” Tell that to Michael Jordan. Just like LeBron James and many other stars, Kobe’s achievements on offense greatly magnify even the smallest plays he makes on defense.
Kobe Bryant is without a doubt a great player, but comparing him to Jordan, Magic and Bird is ludicrous. Kobe is a guy who has benefited from playing alongside other stars such as Shaquille O’Neal and playing with the greatest coach of all-time in Phil Jackson. The three years in which he didn’t have O’Neal or Pau Gasol, the Lakers averaged just above 40 wins a year and missed the playoffs once.
Kobe’s work ethic and focus are legendary as is his determination to win, however he does not belong among the top 10 players of all time, as he has never quite dominated the league as those players did.