Monday, November 30, 2015

Where does Kobe Bryant rank among the all-time greats?

ESPN reports that Kobe Bryant, who is in his 20th season with the Los Angeles Lakers, has announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2015-16 season:

Kobe Bryant, who has helped the Lakers win five NBA championships over a 20-year career spent entirely in Los Angeles, announced Sunday on The Players' Tribune website that he will retire after this season, writing that "this season is all I have left to give.”

"I've known for a while," Bryant said. "A decision like this, you can't make that decision based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision, and finally I've decided to accept that I can't actually do this anymore, and I'm OK with that. It takes a weight off my shoulders and everybody else's."

This morning, I heard a sports bloviator, Stephen A. Smith, declare that Kobe Bryant is “clearly” one of the top 10 players of all time. I am not sure. I think he is close.

Kobe is presently 19th all-time in games played. The 2-14 Lakers still have 66 games left on their schedule. If Kobe plays in 50 of them — considering his injury history it is likely he won’t play in that many games — he will finish 12th in the games played category.

Although Kobe was a 17-time all-star in his career, he won only one MVP (2007-08). Most impressively, 11 times he was voted on the All-NBA first team; and another 9 times he was picked for the defensive first team All-NBA.

It is good that he is 6th all time in career field goals made. However, Kobe is 1st all time in career field goals missed.

What makes me wonder most as to whether he truly belongs in the top 10 players all-time is his career PER, which places him 21st all-time. He is also somewhat low, 50th best, in career Win Shares per 48 minutes, despite playing on many great teams. Additionally, his Box Plus/Minus (31st best) and his career VORP (16th) place Kobe outside the top 10.

He gets a lot of credit for having won 5 rings. However, it must be said that for the first 3 of those, Shaquille O’Neal was at least as important as Kobe, if not more.

Having gone over all the relevant numbers, here is the list of my top 10 players all-time:

  1. Michael Jordan;
  2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar;
  3. LeBron James;
  4. Bill Russell;
  5. Magic Johnson;
  6. Tim Duncan;
  7. Wilt Chamberlain;
  8. Shaquille O’Neal;
  9. Kobe Bryant;
  10. Larry Bird.

So Stephen A. Smith is in accord: Kobe is a top-10 all-time player. However, at No. 9, it is not entirely obvious.

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