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Lake Show-Stopper: Is Kobe Bryant No Longer an Elite NBA Player?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer ISeptember 9, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics at Staples Center on June 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant would probably love nothing more than to regain some of the youth and explosiveness that made him the NBA's top player for most of the past decade.

A broken index finger and a gimpy knee slowed Bryant for much of last season, and even though he still managed to average 27 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game, many people felt the torch of NBA individual supremacy had been passed.

Trying to determine the NBA's top player is a highly subjective matter, and the end result will always be a matter of opinion. But it is easy to assemble a list of worthy candidates.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade should reside near the top of that list, as should Bryant, but there have been whispers that Bryant may no longer reside among the league's top five players.

An article recently published on this website that ranked the NBA's top 50 players placed Bryant in the seventh spot, just ahead of Kevin Durant and behind Chris Paul.

Really?

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Chris Paul missed nearly half of the regular season, and even the staunchest Durant supporter would be hesitant to label him in the same category as Bryant.

I am willing to admit that Bryant's game has declined, but it's hard to get a clear picture to what degree, considering the injuries he faced last season.

Even with the injuries Bryant still ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring and his season ended in the Finals, where his Lakers won their second consecutive NBA championship and Bryant captured his second Finals MVP award.

Bryant will never win many popularity contests, but it's hard to argue that he no longer exists as an elite player whether you loathe him as a person or not.

Most players would have been hard-pressed to play through the pain of an injury on their shooting hand, but Bryant not only played through that pain, he still excelled while doing it.

That type of resilience rarely shows up when making a case for the NBA's top players, because that characteristic can not be measured in numbers.

Neither can things such as drive, passion, and focus, which are some other elements that deserve consideration when grading the NBA's elite players.

I can understand if people are of the opinion that Wade and James have surpassed Bryant as a player, but what evidence says he is no longer one of the game's top five players?

Some people accuse Lakers fans of living off Bryant's past accomplishments when ranking him in today's game, but was there anything Bryant did last season that excludes him from consideration?

What type of logic or reasoning could possibly be used to prove that Bryant is no longer an elite player without exposing yourself as delusional?

Bryant may not be the NBA's most likable player, but he remains one of the league's very best, and who is to say that after an offseason of rest he will not be even better next season?

Lakers' fans may hold Bryant to a ridiculous standard, but likewise, his various detractors often refuse to give Bryant the credit he really deserves.

Hate Bryant as a person if you choose, but respect the fact that he still managed to be a dominant player, despite the injuries he endured last season.

Some would even go as far to say that Bryant's 2010 postseason performance was another example of why he still remains as one of the top players in the game today.

After all, it's hard to argue against his 30 points per game average throughout the course of the 2010 playoffs.

Whether or not Kobe Bryant is the NBA's top player is a debatable matter, but only a lack of insight or a moment of insanity would compel anyone to exclude him from the conversation.

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