NBA Top 50: Kobe Bryant (No. 3)
FanHouse's Tom Ziller argues his ranking of the top 50 players in the NBA.
Kobe Bryant will never quiet his critics, and it has nothing to do with his personality, his jersey or his legal history. Kobe's divisiveness can be traced to the most basic quark of sport, the certain theme in one's observation of any game with sides and a scoreboard: the battle between team and individual.
Those who flash cudgels at Kobe think he is selfish, conceited, unsavory, a detriment to the perfect balance in panoramic basketball. If you love Kobe, you consider him a hoops God on Earth, a man who could easily wedge into idealistic basketball if his game wasn't so damn flawless on its own. Kobe ignores friends, or Kobe has no need for friends. Kobe is a hog, or Kobe is realistic about his skills. Kobe is overrated, or Kobe is the G.O.A.T.
Can there ever be a bridge?
(No, probably not: Kobe haters will not listen to reason, and Kobe worshipers will not listen to reason. The devoted in this matter -- the matter of Kobe Bryant, basketball player -- will never read a word of this with an open mind. As a basketball writer on the web, I have firsthand knowledge of this phenomenon: you cannot write a post [positive, negative or ambivalent] about Kobe without igniting a maelstrom of hate in both directions. My fellow bloggers can attest to this. It happens on every site, on every post, every single time.
Those of us with a nuanced philosophy on Kobe will sometimes write about him, and I have no doubt a few people [including other writers] will rationally digest any given Kobe post. But that is a tiny, tiny droplet, a medicine cap full of reasoned absorption amid a vast ocean of erratic, irresponsible passion. Ninety percent of the words spent on Kobe Bryant on the web are stupid, inflammatory and completely useless. I understand that, I await my punishment in the comments here and on various other message boards or blog threads. I have a bottle of sleeping pills and a Coke. I'm ready. Really.)
One of the greatest crimes against Kobe's legacy is that his otherworldly scoring ability isn't sufficiently credited. Eighty-one points gets headlines, and a streak of 40-point nights the same. But for reasons unknown, Kobe's singular ability to explode for massive scoring games carries a heavy discount in our consciousness. We credit Kobe for his all-around game, or his steady consistency, or his heart, or his passion, or his clutch ability, or his touch from unfathomable ranges. But no one ever makes the case for Kobe as simply the most fantastic scorer of our time. It's really that simple.
Bryant hardly wins the scoring title every season -- he has two such plaques to his name. That fact, as well as his spectacular but rarely referenced 25 points per game scoring average (No. 12 all-time), don't really illustrate the depth of Kobe's scoring ability. Perhaps this graph will help. The chart displays Bryant's points scored in each regular season game since the 1998-99 campaign (Kobe's first as a starter) in chronological order.
Literally, Kobe can go off for 50 points any damn night. He's been doing it for eight years, and if you take a second to visually extrapolate the graph out, he's going to be doing it another six years or so. He is a complete monster in the scoring ledger.
There are roughly 65 games a season in which an NBA player goes for 40 or more points, out of 1,230 games. So a 40-point night happens in roughly 5% of all NBA games. Since 2003-04, Kobe has played 370 regular season games. He has gone over 40 points ... 65 times, or in 17.5% of his games.
How often do the league's other phenomenal scorers explode for 40+? This graph compares the top six scorers of the decade. To account for LeBron's late start, each dot represents one game in which the player went for at least 40 points since 2003-04.
Kobe has done it 65 times in 370 games. The next on the list is Allen Iverson, who had 32 such games in 342 regular season matches. Adjust for the number of games each played, and Kobe went for 40+ almost twice as often as the next guy, A.I. (who happens to have a career scoring average of 27.7 points per game). The other top scorers can't even come close to Kobe in the explosive games count.
We continue to attempt to build other cases for Bryant -- he's a good passer when he has good teammates (Kwame vs. Pau), or that his will to win drives the youngsters around him to be better players (Bynum). F(orget) all that noise. Embrace Kobe as he is, not as we wish him to be. There is no one like him. Enjoy him for what he is while he's here, and stop making him out to be something he's not. Kobe Bryant does not need anyone to make excuses for the fact that he likes to score 50 points every once in a while. After the career he has given us, he really doesn't need anyone to make any excuses for anything he does on the court. He might not fit your image of the ideal, but he is quite succinctly a perfect NBA player. Enjoy him.