We are deep into the doldrums of the NBA Summer. We’re a month past summer league and have a month to go until training camps open. This part of the year is the off-season version of a mid-Wednesday night game in the beginning of March. What better time, then, for a nice big list of rankings for NBA players?
Sports Illustrated has obliged us fans and kicked off their annual Top 100 for the upcoming season. You can find their list of players 100-51 here.
Anytime this list (or one like it) is released, Lakers’ fans look for one name: Kobe Bryant. Many do this just to see how upset they can get — I mean, Kobe might do this too — as they find the right amount of outrage in response to where the pundits have placed him in contrast to his peers.
Well, this year, Kobe has come in slotted in spot #54. Here, Ben Golliver, explains the ranking:
Indeed, there is a pretty good case to be made that Bryant shouldn’t be on this list at all. Bryant had the worst effective field goal percentage (.411) of any NBA player to take at least 700 shots. Nevertheless, Bryant’s usage rate (34.9%) was second-highest in the league, trailing only Russell Westbrook. Simultaneously, Bryant had the worst defensive rating (112.6) of any player that logged at least 1,000 minutes, and he ranked 81st out of 91 shooting guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus…
Bryant lands on this list because his lingering skills—his legendary competitiveness and fearlessness, his decades of experience in high-pressure environments, his volume scoring, his ability to command a defense’s attention, his skilled footwork in the post, his shot-creation ability—could theoretically provide real value in a less compromised environment.
All in all, I’d call this number more than fair and, if we’re being honest, probably a bit generous.
Coming the injury plagued seasons he has, the decreasing efficiency, and the declining defense, there are more questions about how good Kobe will be than answers affirming sure positives. However, Kobe still lands right between Nicolaus Batum (#55) and Tony Parker (#53) on this list. That’s an in-his-prime do it all small forward with a knack for defense and the point guard who powers the engine of the perennial contender Spurs. This is good company to keep.
This reflects, at least in part and even through the hardship, a bit of a pavlovian response to seeing the name Kobe Bryant and still wanting to garnish a certain level of respect. While it’s fair to doubt what he will be, there’s still at least a hint of fear he can inspire when he’s firing on all cylinders offensively.
Even last season, when his shooting numbers took major dips, he still had games where he looked like the best player on the floor, scoring with his trademarked arsenal of moves and handing out assists as defenses still treated him as the only player on the roster worth sending a double team at. Coming into a new season where he should be asked to carry less of a load and have more backup defensively at the rim could translate to a more effective season.
And, really, I’ve the feeling that’s more what this ranking is about. While major questions exist, there remains a sense a player as smart and skilled as Kobe, when paired with some talented, though young, players, could have a bit of a redemption season in what could be his final one in the league. Whether that’s likely or not truly is an unknown. But, I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to bet against Kobe.
Love Kobe but he’s been done since the achillis injury. It’s a joke he made this list.
There was a time when Kobe + anyone equaled at least a play off spot. He can’t carry the team like that anymore. Thankfully some help has arrived.
I agree with Darius. Not a single person knows how Kobe will perform for the entire season, not even Kobe. This is obvious from what Kobe/management say with this might/might not be his last season. Nobody knows, period.
Personally, once Julius Randle was injured I felt Kobe/management were quick to pull Kobe out last year considering the organization benefited immensely by losing games. Lakers had to walk a fine line last year losing without obviously trying to lose. An aberration given Laker’s history. There should be a column in that list for “We have no friggin’ clue, but Kobe still frightens us”.
-That places Kobe in the top 12% of current NBA players…what’s the problem?