Kobe Bryant & The #NBARank Project

Darius Soriano —  October 24, 2011

Full disclosure, I was a member of the committee of writers and analysts that contributed to ESPN’s NBA Rank project. What I, and everyone else that participated, was tasked with was giving a numerical score of 1-10 (with 10 being best) for every NBA player in the league. The only criteria we were asked to use was the “current quality of the player”. That’s it. For each voter that could mean a variety of things. But, for me, it meant I was judging every players’ place in the league and using every variable – tangible and intangible – that I knew of about that player to then give a score.

It was a tedious task and one that I tried to execute with as much fairness that I could. I looked up stats, watched video of the players, and did everything I could to inform myself of the players I was going to score. As you know, the results are in and they’ve caused quite a stir across the blogosphere and other media outlets. Some people agree with how the rankings played out, some disagree, and some people likely think we’re all crazy.

In any event, I thought I’d lay this out before I go into any real thoughts on where the Lakers’ players ended up.

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From a Lakers’ fan perspective, the thing that jumps out right away was Kobe’s placement at #7. Personally, this “rank” doesn’t offend or upset me. In fact, it seems fair based off the criteria we used.

Kobe’s always going to be an interesting player to evaluate because he’s both a supreme talent that can still put his imprint on and dominate a game as few others can. Few players are as feared when possessing a basketball and I can’t name a single player that possesses the variety of skills in a single package that Kobe does. However, he’s also a player that preserves his energy by taking defensive plays off and doesn’t always conform to the team structure put forth by his coach. As glorious at it can be to watch him break his man down in isolation and make the most remarkable moves look polished, it can be just as frustrating to watch him force a shot over a defender (or two, or three).

Kobe’s will to win is legendary and his skill set is elite. He’s the best post-up wing in the league and could rival even the elite big men in terms of back-to-the-basket effectiveness. His jumper is still streaky from beyond the three point line but there aren’t many mid-range shooters better than #24. His feel for the game remains one of the best for any player in the game, reading defenses like an elite quarterback and making the right play more often than he gets credit for. Watching him every night is special soley for these reasons. When you add in the ability to make the spectacular play seem routine or turn a random mid-March game into his canvas to paint another masterpiece of basketball art, his place among the elite is deserved.

However, he’s aged now. He does more pointing and standing on defensive possessions than he used to. His ball handling has suffered from mangled digits and his turnover rate has jumped. His usage rate remains too high for a player with as many capable teammates as he possesses. He’ll force the action – whether out of perceived or real necessity – too often and the game can become weighted too heavily in his direction even when his effectiveness doesn’t warrant it. This is the balancing act of watching Kobe play and while I’d want him on my side when walking into any battle it doesn’t change the fact that he’s not the perfect player.

Which is nothing to be ashamed of. Kobe’s played the 16th most minutes all-time. He’s entering his 16th season as a pro and has missed the playoffs only once in his career. The wear and tear on his body is tremendous, yet he continues to be one of the handful of players who can instantly lend championship credibility to a roster. Kevin Garnett was drafted the year before Kobe and Tim Duncan the year after. Their rankings of #22 and #19 (respectively) show players in steady decline while Kobe continues to stay at elite level in terms of real production and stature in the league. Continuing to stand among the league’s special talents at this advanced stage of his career is so rare that there are few players throughout the history of the game that he can even be compared to in these terms.

So, rather than get worked up about Kobe’s place in the league, I embrace it. He’s still one of the game’s very best even as his body shouldn’t allow him to be. For that, I’m grateful. As a Laker fan, you should be too.

Darius Soriano

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9 responses to Kobe Bryant & The #NBARank Project

  1. I’ll respectfully disagree. Kobe should still be in the top 5. Only those who have shown the ability to win it all can be ranked above him – that means only Nowitzki and Wade can be ahead of him. Dwight, LBJ, and CP3 are fantastic players, but none have carried their teams to a ring by combining their elite skill sets with superstar intangibles.

    In other news, the final piece to this year’s championship puzzle has been added – http://es.pn/ujhMdC

  2. Darius,
    Great write up. You hit every major category on Kobe’s plus/minus list as he ends his historic basketball career aside from one big one. Kobe last year didn’t attract much attention from opposing defenses in isolation. Now some of that of course has to do with his world class teammates. I mean Ron Artest who most would say is the Lakers fifth best player (unless you are like me and beleieve defense is half the game) was a prime time scorer before coming to the triangle. I think the biggest impact Kobe’s decline has made on the team is his lack of penetration. Kobe has been the Lakers only penetrator since Nick Van Exel was traded when the Forum was still called Great Western. Eh… Maybe for Lamar had a couple seasons in LA where he could breakdown defenses off the dribble.

  3. Great write-up Darius. While Kobe is still a remarkable player, one can’t really claim he’s top two or three in the league anymore. LBJ, KD, Deron, CP3, DWade, DRose are clearly better than him. That said, to be in the company of those gentlemen-to be in the PICTURE-this far into his career and with the mileage he has on his body…..is amazing, as you correctly note. I imagine if you polled players about who they least wanted to face down the stretch in an important game that he’d still be top seven or eight. No, he’s not the highest echelons of the elite any more, but it’s pretty amazing company given, as you say, how far he is into his career.

  4. I think I’m fine with his rank at #7, although I’d still put him before Wade, CP3 and Durant. Dirk-LeBron-Dwight I have little problem with(in that order, just to give Dirk props). But the rest? Not so sure as long as we’re talking about ‘now.’

  5. @2

    Kobe can still penetrate,only the beloved Lerefs do not allow him that much.

  6. Darius, well said.

    And for those who still argue about #nbarank, its a rank. Who cares. Kobe is a top 10 player of all time OF ALL TIME of all time. You are a fortunate man to have witnessed him add to his trophycase and legacy.

    Kobe will always and forever be a polarizing figure. Even for Laker fans, he is regarded as both the hero and the villain – and thats what perhaps makes his saga so damn special. Magic will forever symbolize the LA Lakers in no other way possible, as will Kareem, Shaq, Wilt and other giants… Pau Gasol deserves his due despite being here for just 3.5 ssns but Kobe will always and forever be the line drawn for love and hate.

    The beauty with Kobe is that he gets his respect not out of the words he utters but from the figures and actions and performances he displays. He is the clearcut example of someone who works too hard – even to a fault – and someone who just doesn’t know where to stop.

    Kobe is gifted, but his resolve is never in question. He never takes days off – he has too much pride in his work. He doesn’t let an ingrown nail hamper his running ability, and he is a guy who is never 99% when on the court, even though he is merely 65%.

    Kobe has stood the test of time, and like KG and TD, 2 of the greatest PFs of all-time, whose “burn” isn’t as much as Kobe’s in terms of minutes, usage and exertion, have significantly dropped of the list. Thats because of injuries. When you talk of Kobe you never mention his damn injuries or he’ll kill you with his bare hands.

    I guess I’m just a fan… but I recognize KOBE BEAN BRYANT beyond #nbarank will ever give him.

  7. This thread more than any other has made me realize what a gaping hole the lockout has left in my life….

  8. What has to be considered is how Kobe plays no matter what ails him. He does not call in sick, ever. And, it is this work attitude that has caused his body to break down more than it would have. You know, constantly playing with some type of injury, and they are never really healing throughout the season.

    I really miss basketball.