Why Kobe Bryant is the Most Overrated Player in NBA History
What do Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, and Wilt Chamberlain have in common? If you guessed they all won NBA Rookie of the Year honors, you would be correct. Furthermore, what do those players and Bill Russell and Magic Johnson have in common? Magic Johnson won Finals MVP in his rookie season. Bill Russell anchored a defense that would help lead the Boston Celtics to its franchise's first NBA championship.
So the answer to that question is that all of these players had immediate impacts. Larry Bird joined a team in his rookie season that finished 29-53, and led them to a 61-21 record and the Eastern Conference Finals. Only to lose, but that very next season, they went on to win the championship. Wilt Chamberlain came into the league and immediately dominated, averaging 37 points and 27 rebounds a game while also taking a team that finished 32-40 in the season before to a 49-26 record.
Michael Jordan took the league by storm by joining a squad that finished 27-55 the season before, and leading them to a playoff appearance in his rookie season at 38-44. He averaged 28.2 points a game, 5.9 assists a game, 6.5 rebounds a game, and 2.4 steals a game.
Shaq was no different. He came into the league and averaged 23.4 points a game and 13.9 rebounds a game though they missed the playoffs.
The common trend here is that all of these players made immediate impacts on their teams. Conversely, Kobe Bryant was the complete opposite. He wasn't a factor at all in his rookie season. He wasn't a factor until his sophomore season. Overall, his numbers in his first three seasons are underwhelming. Many in favor of Kobe like to omit this portion of his career, but this is a pretty big red flag. If Kobe is one of the top 5 all time great players like so many have mentioned him as, then why couldn't he make the immediate impact like those players I mentioned?
The three championships with Shaq
Kobe was absolutely vital in the threepeat. He was clearly the 2nd best player. You could make the case that Kobe was the best player for the Lakers against the Kings and Spurs in 2001. He averaged 35 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists versus the Kings in the semifinals. 33 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists versus the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
Here is where the problem lies. In that threepeat, Shaq was the best player for the Lakers. He was the straw that stirred the drink. He was the guy that was the main focus for the opposing defense. Shaq was fouled ad nauseam, drew double teams, and sometimes even triple teams. Shaq was the guy on those Laker teams. He dominated despite the defense throwing everything at him and the kitchen sink. He made Kobe's job a lot easier by drawing all the defensive focus. He dominated every Finals. No, Shaq didn't make Kobe. Kobe was great in his own right. But Shaq was the guy, and Kobe benefited by not having to see the double teams that Shaq had to. Kobe was a vital part of the Lakers success in the threepeat, but Shaq was the guy, make no mistake about it.
The years after Shaq, pre-Pau Gasol
This was a period where Kobe had a chance to establish himself as one of the greatest players to ever live. He was between the ages of 26-28. Free from the Shaq drama, and free to have the offense ran completely around him. They were great years. The 81 point game comes to mind. One of the greatest games the world has ever seen. This game contributed to a lot of the reason why Kobe is overrated. While it was an all time great game, he took a ridiculous 46 shots, and only had two assists to three turnovers. His 46 shots accounted for .527% of his team's shots. That was a problem. Kobe had great statistical seasons at the expense of his teammates.
Those teams were mediocre. One team won only 34 games, and the other teams won 45 and 42 games. Although he did make the playoffs twice in those three years with a pretty horrible supporting cast.
This wouldn't be held against him if he wasn't in the complete prime of his career. He was at the age where he should have improved his game dramatically and became a legitimate superstar. He did do just that, but it didn't translate to team success. At the end of the day, what a player does for his team is what matters most here. At the peak of Kobe's career, he never got past the first round. His teammates were bad, but is that a legitimate excuse?
LeBron James led a team to the NBA Finals with a starting line up that consisted of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Eric Snow, and Sasha Pavlovic. The East wasn't a great conference, but the Cavs beat a great Detroit team in order to reach the Finals.
In Kobe's best season of his career, he put up MVP worthy numbers. (In a year where he scored 81 points and many considered him the MVP) However, he came up short in the playoffs against the Suns in a series they had full control of 3-1. Was the West so tough that year that The Black Mamba couldn't make the Finals? The Lakers held a 3-1 series lead versus a Suns' team that had no big men to speak of, and played little-to-no-defense. Was that such a tough task? Was it such a tough task to beat the Los Angeles Clippers? Or how about the Dallas Mavericks? It was by far Kobe's best season of his career even until this day, but the way it ended left a lot to be desired. It was a season where Kobe had a legitimate shot to make the Finals even with a poor cast in the way that LeBron did in 2007.
The Pau Gasol years
These are the years where Kobe Bryant established himself in a historical sense with other all time greats. As soon as Pau Gasol was traded to the Lakers, they were an immediate title contender. It would vault Kobe to MVP status. He finally won his first NBA MVP award, and eventually would win two Finals MVPs. That is all great. Here is the problem.
It took, arguably, one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history to make the Lakers a title contender again. Pau Gasol has arguably been just as good as Kobe in each season. He has more win shares than Kobe since that trade to this day. He was arguably the Finals MVP in a tough Finals versus the Boston Celtics in 2010. A series in which Kobe shot 6-24 in Game 7. No, Pau wasn't the best player on those Laker teams, but if you really wanted to, you could make the case that he was, because Kobe never really separated himself from Pau in the way that other all time greats did. Meaning, there was no question that Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, or even Shaq were the best players during most if not all of their championship seasons. Kobe was the best player on these teams, but he left it up for much debate.
Kobe has two Finals MVPs to his credit, and he was worthy of both of them. Before he won those Finals MVPs, it wasn't so rosy for him in the Finals. It's not that Kobe shoots just above 40% for his Finals' career, but it's the shot selection in those Finals. Many have attributed the Lakers defeat in the 2004 Finals to the Detroit Pistons because of his poor shooting and shot selection. That's not really fair to Kobe. You lose as a team. The fact of the matter is though, Kobe had a habit for not playing well in the Finals. He's had his share of great games, but they were few and far in between.
As for his Finals MVPs, he was worthy of both of them, but Pau Gasol was also worthy of one of them. This goes back to the point about Kobe not doing enough to separate himself from the rest of his teammates. Kobe didn't do that in 2010. You can make a strong case for Pau. He was just as important to that championship as Kobe was.
Overall, when stacked up against other all time greats, Kobe's performances in the Finals are underwhelming, and he doesn't have that stand out performance that will be etched in your mind until the day you close your eyes for the last time.
Stats and accolades
Kobe certainly has many accolades and great overall statistics. He is 5th all time on the NBA scoring list. He has two scoring titles. He's scored 81 points in a game which is the 2nd most all time for a single game. He has an MVP. 12 All-Defensive Teams(9 First-Teams). 14 All-NBA Teams(10 First-Teams). Two gold medals. Two Finals MVPs. 14 All-Star selections including four All-Star MVPs.
All certainly worthy of a top 10 player all time. The dilemma here is the one MVP, and the few scoring titles. You could make a case that he didn't deserve his one MVP in 2007. A year in which Chris Paul was better than Kobe in most statistics and his team finished with a record just as good as Kobe's. His second Finals MVP was also debatable.
Kobe simply needed more rings and Finals MVPs to bolster his position on all time list. Five rings is quite an impressive feat, but in three of them, he was the 2nd best player at best, and the other two, he was slightly the best player. When you consider that he has played on title contenders for almost the entirety of his career, is five rings really that impressive?
In Kobe's 16 seasons in the league, he hasn't had a team great enough to win a championship in exactly three of them. Literally every other team he has been on has had the talent around it to win a championship. That's 13 seasons, and only five rings when you consider the franchise has 16 NBA championships. Many seem to think that the Lakers weren't good enough to win a championship last year. Excuse me, but is having a defensive specialist like Artest, two top 5 big men in Pau and Bynum, and a solid bench not enough for one of the greatest players of all time? How about the year before when they got swept by the Mavs? Was Bynum, Pau, Odom, Artest not enough? How do you not threepeat with that team? How do you allow Phil Jackson to go out in a sweep like that?
Five rings is a lot, but when you compare Kobe's situation to that of MJ's, it isn't really comparable. If you had given MJ the amount of opportunities to win championships that Kobe has been afforded, more than likely, he would have won more than five. We know that for sure because MJ won six with lesser teammates. So it could have been somewhere around eight or nine for MJ in Kobe's position.
One could argue, that there is not a single NBA player in history that has had as much support or talent around him as Kobe has. He came into the league on a loaded team with Shaquille O'Neal as the best player. Arguably the best coach of all time, Phil Jackson, has coached him for the majority of his career. To put that in perspective, Phil Jackson coached Kobe more years than he coached MJ.
After the Shaq era, it took no more than three years for the Lakers to reload and become a contender again with the acquisition of Pau Gasol. They recently just acquired the best center in the NBA, Dwight Howard. Putting Kobe in position to win his sixth championship ring
Kobe has been the most fortunate player in NBA history, yet he has just five rings to show for it. One could argue that this good fortune is the very reason why he has so many rings in the first place. More so than his play on the court.
In the clutch
Kobe is certainly clutch. There is no denying that. He has the ability to make big shots. Impossible shots that you don't think are earthly possible. You can't leave him one-on-one in the waning seconds of a game. But here we are with another conundrum. Though Kobe is clutch, the shot selection is not. Bypassing open teammates to shoot Hail Kobe's over two defenders is not the ideal way to try to win a basketball game in the closing seconds. So while Kobe is clutch, he takes many bad shots in the clutch. Kobe being so fearless in the clutch is a gift and a curse. His bad shot selection has led to a very minuscule shooting percentage in the clutch. Since 2001, Kobe has shot .395% in the 4th quarter or overtime with two minutes or less left in the quarter.
Jordan vs. Kobe comparisons
From the point that Kobe was a mere 17 years old, he's been compared to Michael Jordan. He certainly had the talent and the skill set. He had all the makings of being the next Jordan. He has even come so far that he has a resume that is comparable to that of Jordan. But that is only if you look at Kobe's resume in a vacuum. Very often is Kobe's career viewed that way. Many don't identify the intricacies of Kobe's championship success. The great fortune he has had compared to other all time greats. The fact that he came to a loaded Los Angeles Lakers team and couldn't make an immediate impact like other all time greats.
Kobe just doesn't compare to Jordan when you think of his production in terms of time spent in the league, his playoff success, and his legacy. It's not just that Jordan completely blows Kobe away in scoring titles, MVPs, and Finals MVPs. It was his will to win. His memorable moments. His shot selection. How often he came through in big moments(especially in the Finals). How he did so much with less.
Pippen is one of the best players to ever put the ball in the hoop, but when you consider the Bulls' lack of interior presence, you can't help but applaud what MJ did in a Bulls uniform. He simply did more than Kobe, but without the great fortune that Kobe has had.
Frankly, Kobe just doesn't compare to Jordan from a historical standpoint. Regardless of how much he's elevated.
Kobe truly is one of the best basketball players to have ever walked the earth. But when stacked up against the likes of other all time greats from a historical standpoint; such as MJ, Magic, Kareem, Wilt, Russell, Bird, and even Shaq, he doesn't compare. He didn't have the immediate impact that they had. He wasn't the best player on most of his championship teams. When he was the best player on a championship team, it wasn't by much. He has had the greatest fortune of any player in NBA history. Even more so than Bill Russell who had so many Hall of Fame teammates. Although most of Russell's teammates wouldn't have made the Hall of Fame without him.
Kobe has the accolades and stats, but they don't tell the entire story. How he came about those accolades and stats is a subject for debate. Whether or not he legitimately deserved all of those NBA First-Teams or all those First-Team All-Defenses. His longevity which allowed him to attain so many accolades and stats. Or even his MVP in which Chris Paul probably deserved. Pau Gasol was also just as worthy of Finals MVP in 2010.
Is Kobe all time great? Certainly. But is he as good as the media and his fans say he is? Absolutely not. His historical excellence is elevated to a ridiculous degree. There is no shame in saying Kobe is one of the greatest basketball players ever. But when you start putting him in the discussion with MJ, Magic, Russell, Kareem, or even Bird from a historical standpoint, you are going too far. Kobe is great, but his impact on the Lakers hasn't been anything like that of those players on their teams. The Lakers were winning before Kobe, with Kobe, and will win after Kobe.
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