Evaluating Kobe’s #NBARank

J.M. Poulard —  October 17, 2011

The Los Angeles Lakers have been well represented in #NBARank with four players making the top 50. Indeed, Lamar Odom was rated as the 44th best player in the league, Andrew Bynum as the 30th and Pau Gasol as the 11th. It was clear from the start that Kobe Bryant would be the last player announced, but his spot remained unknown, until now.

With young stars like Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose now making their mark on the league, carrying their franchises and earning the attention from fans all across the world, it’s no surprise that they made the top 10; with Griffin coming in at the 10th spot and Rose at the eighth.

And yet, despite their ascension, they just could not yet outrank the Black Mamba who was rated as the seventh best player in the NBA by the staff of ESPN.COM writers and bloggers.

Bryant’s overall production decreased in comparison to the 2009-10 season, which can easily be attributed to the decrease in his minutes; but he was still one of the best players in the NBA last season.

There is probably a camp that believes that Kobe was robbed and that he should occupy the top spot of these rankings ahead of every other NBA superstar. Indeed, a solid argument could be made that Kobe is a better player than the players left ahead of him (Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade).

The former Lower Merion high school star blends a deadly jump shot with exquisite footwork, terrific ball handling skills, court vision and a series of fakes to more often than not dominate his opposition from the guard position.

In addition, Bryant can play both guard spots as well as the small forward position to give the Lakers the versatility to throw out different line ups to take advantage of mismatches. Kobe’s scoring is lethal, but the attention he attracts helps him create shots for others, which in turn makes the Lakers one of the best offenses in the league, given the finishers on the team.

Furthermore, his play in the clutch is literally the stuff of legends. Short of defending Kobe with five players late in ball games, there is just no way for opponents to feel safe when the ball is in his hands with the clock ticking down. Although there is no way to verify this, I feel confident in stating that no player in NBA history has attempted and converted more insanely difficult shots than the Mamba. Kobe Bryant may not always take high percentage shots, but he has all the tools required in his basketball shed to score on opponents whether single covered or double-teamed.

As far as aesthetics go, no one in the NBA has a better-looking game than Kobe. In a sense, he is a little bit like Randy Moss: everything he does just seems completely natural, fluid and dare I say, beautiful. The things Kobe does on a basketball court tend to get noticed, even if they are basic by his standards. A behind the back dribble followed by a fade away jumper from the elbow is a thing of beauty when Bryant is involved; and it looks extremely difficult for anyone else to replicate.

All of these facets of Kobe Bryant’s game make him one of the best players in the league, but how could he possibly only obtain a ranking of seventh best in the association? One word: defense.

The Lakers superstar is a great team defender; he gets into passing lanes and roams around to disrupt opposing offenses and does a good job of helping out teammates when they get beat.

However, he is no longer the game changer he once was defensively when matched up one-on-one with great perimeter players. Bryant is still a good on that end of the court and occasionally flashes signs of greatness on this front. Indeed, Kobe can guard great wing players for perhaps a quarter or a few possessions down the stretch of games but can no longer consistently shut down his man for an entire contest.

When discussing the absolute best player in the league, one has to expect that he is dominant on both ends of the court and the Lakers superstar’s defense has slipped enough that the title of “best player in the game” is tough to bestow upon him, although one would have to think that Bryant at the very least would outclass Durant at this point.

Nonetheless, Kobe Bryant will continue to be the standard of excellence by which we measure current and future great perimeter players, and that trumps any rankings system today.

J.M. Poulard