Why Kobe Bryant Is Still One of the Most Overrated Players in NBA History

Ari HoringSenior Analyst IJune 15, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles during the post game news conference after the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 to win the NBA Championship in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

As I sat there watching Kobe Bryant win his first championship without Shaquille O'Neal, I felt a sudden sadness—a sadness, that the game of basketball doesn't usually cause.

It wasn't the same sadness you get when your favorite team loses, but it was the type of sadness you get when you realize that justice isn't going to be served.

As I watched Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy at the end of the game infer that arguing about who is better between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan is a legitimate argument, that sadness grew even more.

It was obvious due to the talent the Lakers had that sooner or later Kobe would get his ring without Shaq, and I knew the aftermath that would occur. Since the NBA Finals, the Kobe-Jordan comparisons have not stopped, and let me tell everyone, it's only going to get worse. 

When I finally realized the game was out of reach, I went to my room, sat down in utter silence, and realized that the history of basketball had been changed.

The Kobe Bryant we see today is a much better player than Kobe Bryant, who was on the Lakers during Shaq's heydays.

Now that Kobe has won this title, people will forget this, and he may very well in the mind of these so called "experts" such as Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy be elevated to one of the top five players of all time, if not higher.

He now has four titles, and because of his title without Shaq, Shaq's legacy will only diminish and Bryant's will grow as people start to forget who really led the Lakers to those first three titles.

Before I get into the details of why Kobe Bryant's legacy should not be defined by this title, let me answer this one question, first.

As I was reading an article about Kobe and Shaq, a question arose in the commentary.

"Why is it that no one questions the validity of the rings won by other stars that played with stars?" (Besides Kobe).

The answer I read, by Michael T. Penn, could not have been any better.

"I think it is because most great second options aren't hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread like Kobe is. A lot of people love Kobe so much they want to talk about his three championships without even mentioning Shaq. That in turn leads others without the rose colored specs on to say 'what? those were Shaq's teams!' That's really all you're looking at here.

It's kind of like if someone were to turn around and say 'Scottie Pippen is the best player ever because he won six rings'. Of course the rebuttal would be 'Sorry but Scottie was second banana to Jordan, those were Jordan's teams'. Then someone such as yourself may write an article about how even though Jordan was the man, Scottie was still a star. Like that clears up the issue.

Kobe was of course a great second option on those teams! The problem arises when people try to use those three rings as part of an argument to say Kobe is a better individual player than LeBron James or that he's the greatest player not named Mike or other such over the top declarations of his unstoppableness."

On the next few pages, I'm going tell you exactly how a man with four NBA rings, who at times can be unstoppable, can really be considered overrated. To me, Kobe Bryant has been overrated since he first entered the league.

When he first entered in 1997 towards the end of Michael Jordan’s career, the media and fans were looking for that next Michael Jordan. Kobe showed the flash and potential it could take to be the next one. He was immediately deemed the next Michael Jordan, a title that still sadly hasn’t faded away.

However, for you to truly understand why Kobe is overrated career wise, you have to realize what a person being overrated really means. Being overrated career wise, in a sense, means that a person's career is perceived as being better than it really is. Below I have listed the many reasons why Kobe Bryant has come to be overrated.

Before you read what I have to say, I just want to ask you one favor. Please read the rest of the article with an open mind, especially Lakers’ fans, or you will fail to see the truth.


Kobe Bryant Wasn’t As Big of a Factor As Perception Makes it Seem

If you took Shaq off the Lakers during their title runs, the Lakers wouldn’t be guaranteed to make the playoffs. When O'Neal was injured during his three peat, the Lakers had a regular-season record of 12-11 (52.17 percent).

When Kobe was injured, the Lakers' regular season record was 25-7 (78 percecnt). Interestingly, the Lakers’ entire regular season record during their three-peats was 181-65 (73.5 percent), which is a lower record than when Kobe wasn’t playing. The Lakers, therefore, actually had a better record when Kobe wasn’t playing.

But how could this be possible? Well, as a big Lakers’ fan during their championship runs, I watched the games very closely.

The Lakers were most dangerous when the Lakers would play through Shaq, wait for him to get double teamed, and have players such as Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Kobe Bryant, and Derek Fisher spot up for the open shot, or cut in the lane.

However, the Lakers often failed to play through Shaq enough, and it would cost them games sometimes. However, never was this more obvious than at times when Kobe would try to steal the show.

A young immature Kobe Bryant would constantly take difficult contested shots, instead of just playing through Shaq, then cutting into lane or spotting up for that open shot.

I‘ll admit that when Kobe Bryant was playing through Shaq, he was a great asset to have. Unfortunately for all the times he was an asset, he was also a cancer when he tried to be the “man.”

The Lakers’ record without Kobe and without Shaq is not a stat many people know of, as I couldn’t find it anywhere. I personally had to look at every game by game during the Lakers’ championship runs to find those stats out.

As I said earlier, I watched the Lakers very closely. One thing I noticed was that when Shaq was on the bench, the team was just a mediocre team.

I also noticed that when Kobe was on the bench, the team was just as good without him. I therefore decided to do the research and find out if this was true or not.

Not coincidentally, the records I found proved my theory to be correct. As I showed earlier, the Lakers became a sub .500 team without Shaq, but had a better record without Kobe.

Bryant to me is one of the luckiest players of all time. Not many all time greats can say that they started their career playing with the best player in the NBA.

Every time Kobe looks at his first three rings, he should thank God everyday that he had the opportunity to play with Shaq. In reality, the young Kobe Bryant who won three championships isn’t as good as the Kobe leading the Lakers right now.

The record books, unfortunately, will not have an asterisk that says “led by Shaq." When Kobe is compared to the all time greats such as Michael Jordan, his first three championships to the naked eye will looks just as good as Michael Jordan’s first three championships.

If Kobe never played with Shaq, he likely would have one ring. Thus, without most of his rings, Kobe wouldn’t be perceived to be the top five player, like many want.


Kobe Bryant is One of The Most UnderPerforming Finals Player Ever

Kobe Bryant has shot 40.5 percent or under in four out his six NBA Finals appearances (around 36 percent in his first and 38 percent in his fourth appearance). How many all-time greats have shot 40.5 percent or under once, let alone four times in the NBA Finals?

Also, keep in mind that in three of those four in which he shot that poorly, Shaq (not Kobe) was the one being double-teamed.

Kobe is perceived as one of the best clutch players of all time, yet on the biggest stage there is, Kobe consistently performs his worst.

In year 2000, during the regular season, Bryant averaged almost 29 points and five assists per game. How did these stats translate over to the NBA Finals? They lowered to 15 points and four assists per game.

Shaquille O’Neal, on the other hand, raised his scoring average, from 28 in the regular season to 38 in the finals.

In 2001, the Lakers once again won the NBA Finals. Kobe’s scoring average dropped in the clutch once again, forcing O’Neal to step up his scoring from 27 per game in the regular season to 33 in the finals.

In 2002, for the third straight year, Kobe’s scoring and assists declined in the series and O’Neal, of course, stepped it up in the finals.

Most greats like Shaq, Jordan, and Duncan all raised their level in the finals, but Kobe lowered his tremendously. Charles Barkley once said that stars are made in the regular season, but superstars are made in the playoffs.

Well, I would like to add on to that statement and say that stars are made in the regular season, superstars are made in the playoffs, but Legends are made in the NBA finals.

In his first three years, Kobe had the privilege of watching Shaq put up three of most dominant finals performances ever. In fact, at the time of Shaq’s third championship, he was averaging the most points per game in NBA finals history. However, in Kobe’s last two NBA Finals, he cost his team the championship with his poor performances.

In the 2004 NBA Finals, Shaq averaged 26.6 points per game with a .631 field goal percentage, while Kobe Bryant averaged 22.6 points per game with a .381 field goal percentage.

However, the main reason Kobe cost the Lakers the title was that he out shot Shaq by nearly six shots despite Kobe shooting 38.1 percent, while Shaq was shooting 63.1 percent.

In that series, Kobe’s failure to play though Shaq hurt not only the team’s stats, but his own stats, as well. Playing through Shaq more would have helped his FGP and open up more easy scoring opportunities.

Not to mention: logically, why should a player shooting with a much lower FGP average six more shots than a former three times finals MVP who was shooting a much higher percentage?

During the 2004 NBA Finals, Kobe decided that he was going to be the man, even if it cost the team. Not surprisingly, according to Phil Jackson‘s book “The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul," in Bryant’s exit interview with him Bryant said, “I’m tired of being a sidekick.” Shaq already had three Finals MVP’s and Kobe for once wanted that finals MVP.

Watch the tape of that series and you will see a mad man determined to be the “man," despite the consequences the team would ultimately render.

In last year’s NBA finals against the Celtics with this time Kobe being the “man," he again let his team down. Against the Celtics, he shot .405 from the field and averaged 3.83 turnovers a game. In fact, in three out of their four losses, he shot under 35 percent from the field.

All series, Kobe seemed to start off playing well in the first quarter, and then fall off and never recovered. Kobe is perceived to be the best closer in the game, but yet it seemed as though he often disappeared in the fourth quarters of last year's finals.

In game four last year, Mark Jackson, a man who once said that Kobe Bryant will be better than Michael Jordan, even called out Kobe Bryant for not trying to take over the game in the fourth quarter.

I heard all of Kobe’s fans excuses last year. “His teammates didn’t show up," “Kobe can’t be expected to do everything.” However, no matter what anyone wanted to say about Gasol, Odom, or any of the other Lakers players, Kobe was the one who let his team down. If Kobe wants to take all the credit when his teams wins, he should also take all the credit when his team loses.

Now this year was easily Kobe's best finals performance. Kobe led the team to the title and I can't take any credit away from him. But even so, Kobe still underperformed in the NBA finals, as he shot 43 percent from the field. If you at actually look at it, Kobe has had two good finals appearances out of six.

Although his numbers went down in the 2001 finals, he still played well as he shot at a .514 clip from the field. Then of course this year, despite Kobe's FGP going down, Kobe led his team to a championship.  Now two good finals out of six isn't acceptable for a true all time great.

The true all time greats, like Jordan and Shaq, generally always showed up in the NBA finals, while Kobe has repeatedly failed to.


Kobe Is Still Compared to Michael Jordan

There are still people out there who claim that Kobe is as good as and or better than Jordan. I would dismiss these claims and not even mention it, except for the fact that there a large percentage of people who actually believe this.

Every time a Jordan Kobe debate starts, there is always that one guy who claims that Kobe is better than Jordan. No matter what stats you pull out, that guy thinks he’s right and you’re wrong.

Now that Kobe has lead a team to a championship, this will only be more argued.

The Jordan—Kobe debate, to me, is one of the most lopsided sports debates. If you look at it logically, the question shouldn’t even be asked, and on page three I will show why.

Michael JordanKobe Bryant
16 seasons13 seasons
6 Championships4 Championships
6 Finals MVPs1 Finals MVP
10 Scoring Titles2 Scoring Titles
1 Defensive Player Of The Year0 Defensive Player Of The Year

Jordan has better career averages than Kobe in virtually every single category besides three-point percentage (Bryant: .341, Jordan: .327) and and free throw percentage (Bryant: .840, Jordan: .835). Kobe also has inferior playoff averages in virtually all statistics, and inferior career finals averages in virtually all statistics to Jordan. For those of who want to claim that Kobe’s stats are skewed because of his younger days from 18-21 (even though Jordan’s are too because of his Wizards days), look at this stat.

If you take an age-by-age comparison of Jordan and Kobe starting with the age of 22 to the age Kobe is now, Jordan has better stats in virtually every category besides some years of free throw percentage, a couple years of BPG, some years of three-point percentages, and the one year Kobe averaged 35.4 points per game.

Jordan also, besides free throw percentage (.868 to .857), has the higher single season high in every category. Plus, Jordan never played with a player even close to an elite center, while Kobe has had Shaq and Gasol.


Kobe Bryant’s FGP Isn’t Up There With the All-Time Greats

One reason that goes under the radar for why Kobe Bryant is overrated is that his FGP is simply not up there with the greatest guards and small forwards of all time.

Kobe has a career average of a .455 FGP, while, obviously depending on your list, no other player generally considered one of top 20 players of all time has shot that poorly.

Julius Erving shot .506 , Magic Johnson shot .520, Oscar Robertson shot 485, Larry Bird shot .496, and Michael Jordan shot .497 for their career.  Kobe has also shot worse than the two players playing today that will eventually make this list, if not for a drastic injury, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

LeBron has a career average of .471, which should go up as he gets older and Wade has a career average of .483. The main reason Bryant’s FGP is worse than Wade’s, LeBron’s, and Jordan’s, is that as good of player as Kobe is, he simply isn’t as good of an inside player as those players.

Kobe relies on his jumpshot more than these players and because of this his FGP is worse.  This is especially noticeable when he plays against physical defenses, such as the Rockets this year or the Celtics last year.

Before game seven of the Rockets-Lakers series, ESPN showed that against the Rockets, only 21 percent of his shots were within five feet of the hoop.  Now 21 percent just isn’t good enough, and that is one reason the undermanned Rockets took the Lakers to seven games.

As it often said, “you live by the jumpshot, you die by the jumpshot.” When Kobe isn’t driving the ball enough, this statement is never more true. Now Kobe is still a great inside player, but just read what his own coach Phil Jackson has said when comparing Kobe to Jordan in an interview in 2008.

“There are somethings that Michael Jordan had, that Kobe Bryant doesn’t have. He has a bigger body, He’s stronger. Kobe’s strong. He (Jordan) had these incredible hands. Those hands were million dollar hands, where he could do so many things with it. Besides being fouled and still making baskets; Taking the ball to the basket and getting hit and not losing control of the basketball; Being able to pick the ball of the dribble. Those are just things that physically are irreplaceable….When you look at Michael, he shot 49, 50 percent, and Kobe just hasn’t been able to do that. There’s a big difference when you compare those two. The shooting percentages were quite a bit different.”


Kobe’s Team Wins When He Doesn’t Shoot too much.

If you were watching the pregame show before game seven of the Rockets-Lakers game, you would recall that Jon Barry showed a statistic that when Kobe Bryant shoots less than 21 shots, the Lakers were 39-3.

Up to that point, he had taken 150 shots total in the previous six games against the Rockets. Now, can you remember there being a stat like that for a player considered as great as Kobe?

Is there a stat like that for Jordan? LeBron? Wade? Well, of course the answer is no. Not to the surprise of me and Jon Barry, the Lakers beat the Rockets in game seven with Kobe only scoring 15 points.


Kobe Doesn’t Have Any “Amazing Moments”

Kobe is consider one of the most clutch players in history, but I can’t recall him having any meaningful game-winners. Now, Kobe has had some winning go-ahead baskets in the playoffs, but he has never had one of those “Jordanesque” moment that you can replay in your head over and over again.

If you have been watching a lot of NBA games this year, you would have noticed those amazing NBA moments commercials. Well, the one Kobe Bryant moment that they keep showing over again is his game-winning shot against the Suns a few years ago in the first round. Here’s my problem with it. The Lakers lost the series!

Is that really the best Kobe moment that they could find? Well, sadly, it could be.  On the other hand, I can point out to a few plays that LeBron James has made in the playoffs in his career, that would have been better amazing moments, and he is much younger than Kobe.

In reality, during the Lakers’ championship run, it was Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Brian Shaw, and the roles players who had those amazing moments.

Once again in game four in the finals this year, it was Fisher, not Kobe who had that amazing moment.

In that game, I saw an interesting stat that tells it all. The three players with the most three pointers in NBA Finals history are Michael Jordan, Kobe's current teammate Derek Fisher, and his ex-teammate Robert Horry.


Kobe Simply Doesn’t Have the leadership Skills Required To Be One of the Greatest Ever.

There are just some thing’s you can’t teach. Leadership skills are one of those.

As talented as Kobe is, he simply isn’t as good of a leader as most of the all time greats. As I was watching ESPN a few weeks back, I heard a quote similar to this that simply said it all. LeBron’s teammates want to play for him, while Kobe’s teammates don’t seem to want to.

While LeBron gets the most out of his less talented Cavaliers teammates, Kobe doesn’t seem get the most out of his much more talented teammates. Granted, the Lakers won the title; there were many times when they underperformed.

I generally help prove that Kobe isn’t a very good leader by showing an excerpt from Curt Schilling’s post on his official blog, 38pitches.com, after Game Two of the NBA Finals last year.

I can say what I want about Kobe being a leader from watching him on TV, but in reality I don’t have the first hand experience for you to believe what I have to say. The reason I find Schilling’s post so informing is that it’s not often you get to read such a controversial post from an objective well respected athlete about a first hand experience he had. Here is the excerpt from Schilling’s blog.

"From the first tip until about four minutes left in the game I saw and heard this guy bitch at his teammates. Every TO he came to the bench pissed, and a few of them he went to other guys and yelled about something they weren’t doing, or something they did wrong. No dialog about “hey let’s go, let’s get after it” or whatever. He spent the better part of 3.5 quarters pissed off and ranting at the non-execution or lack of, of his team. Then when they made what almost was a historic run in the fourth, during a TO, he got down on the floor and basically said ‘Let’s f’ing go, right now, right here” or something to that affect. . . . But as a fan I was watching the whole thing, Kobe, his teammates and then the after effects of conversations. He’d yell at someone, make a point, or send a message, turn and walk away, and more than once the person on the other end would roll eyes or give a ‘whatever dude’ look."

Now it’s very important to realize again what "overrated" means. Like I said before, overrated means that people perceive you to be better than you are. If you talk to the average NBA fan and even some of the so called “experts” as well, many of them will believe things that simply are illogical.

There are those people who believe Kobe is as good or better than Jordan. There is an also even higher percentage of people who believe that Kobe led the Lakers to the title and not Shaq, or that they both had equal roles.

There are also people who believe that career wise, Kobe, a man with one finals MVP, is better career wise than three times finals MVP's Shaq and Tim Duncan, and other all time greats. Kobe hasn’t done enough yet to prove that he belongs in that same company yet.

As it stands, Kobe has led one incredibly talented team to a championship.

Therefore, before we put him up there with Chamberlain, Shaq, Jordan, and the rest of those guys, let's see what he does in the next few years.

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!