Misconceptions on the Mamba
For some reason, Kobe Bryant is regarded as one of the greatest closers or “clutch players” to ever play the game of basketball, when in reality, he isn’t even remotely close. Maybe, it’s because he has the most game winners in NBA history, but the percentage in which he makes them should speak for itself. He is far from a great leader and team player as well. He hasn’t played well in various playoff series throughout his career, slacked in some of the biggest games, but luckily, had his teammates to bail him out.
The ring argument is old and it’s an unjust way to rank players if you disregard context. In the 2000 NBA Finals, Kobe scored a total of 78 points on 37% shooting. In that same series, Shaquille O’Neal scored 228 points on 61% shooting, Reggie Miller scored 146 points on 41% shooting, Jalen Rose scored 138 points on 47% shooting and Austin Croshere scored 91 points on 56% shooting. Shaq’s series’ averages were unprecedented, averaging 38 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1 steal, and 2.7 blocks per game. Kobe’s performance was not nearly on par with Shaq’s and he still receives a ton of credit from a lot of people because they think “A ring is a ring.” Kobe’s averages in the 2000 Finals were 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1 steal, and 1.4 blocks per game. If you think that’s bad, he also got outplayed by multiple Pacers’ in this series as well. Reggie Miller averaged 24.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game; Jalen Rose averaged 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists per game; and Austin Croshere averaged 15.2 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 steal per game. If you’re questioning how Croshere had a better series, it’s due to Kobe’s abysmal shooting.
The 2001 NBA Finals went a bit differently in terms of Kobe being more effective; however, the end result remained the same. Shaq went on to have another Finals performance for the ages, this time, against the Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo, while Kobe remained the sidekick. In this series, Kobe scored a total of 123 points on 42% shooting, Shaq scored 165 points on 57% shooting and Allen Iverson scored 178 points on 41% shooting. Shaq averaged a monstrous 33 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.4 blocks per game. Kobe was fortunate enough to be paired with one of the most dominant forces the league has ever seen and it helped that for his first three championships, he wasn’t the focal point in which defenses had to focus on. Kobe averaged 24.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per game this series. Lastly, Allen Iverson averaged 35.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. This series was a major upgrade from the 2000 Finals, only being outplayed by 2 players; however, this is due to the fact that Iverson had little to no help on the offensive end.
The 2002 NBA Finals is Kobe’s first very good performance on the biggest stage. He had no holes on the offensive end in this 4 game sweep, but as usual, prime Shaq was a different beast. In this Finals, Kobe scored 107 points on 51% shooting, Shaq scored 145 points on 60% shooting and Jason Kidd scored 83 points on 44% shooting. Shaq really did the Nets a number, averaging 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.8 blocks per game to claim his third consecutive Finals MVP. Kobe averaged 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.5 steals throughout the course of the series, whereas Kidd averaged 20.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Kidd only slightly outplayed Kobe, but it still says something when Kobe won three championships without even being the second best player in any of the series.
Kobe was never the best player on his own team in any of these championship runs and he never outplayed the best player on the opposing team in any of these Finals matches either. This is why the ring argument is flawed and Finals MVP’s should hold more weight in player debates. Kobe only has two to show for his five championships.
2. “Kobe was Clutch! He was a Killer!!”
This just so happens to be one of the worst misconceptions that exist… in life. Sure he had his moments as most all-time greats do, but overall, this belief is simply invalid. You can go back to as early as 1997. The Lakers were down 3-1 in the WCSF against Utah and Kobe shot 29% and air-balled the game-winner. That was only one of his four airballs in that game, too. In Game 2 of the ’99 WCSF, he missed two clutch free throws with 18 seconds left and the turned the ball over which led to Tim Duncan’s game-winner. In 2003, Duncan was more efficient and assisted more than him as the Spurs eliminated the Lakers. In 2004, he got outplayed by Karl Malone who came off the bench in the first round against Houston. In games 3-5 of the 2004 NBA Finals, Kobe averaged 18.3 points, 2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on 32% shooting and the Lakers lost their first Finals of the Shaq-Kobe era in 5 games to the Detroit Pistons. Unable to handle the defense of Tayshaun Prince, Kobe shot 38% for the entire series, a total meltdown. In the 2006 playoffs, the Lakers blew a 3-1 series lead against the Suns. Kobe scored 1 point in the entire second half of Game 7 and the Lakers lost by 31 points. In Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, he posted numbers of 22 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 4 turnovers on 32% shooting and the Lakers lost that game by 39 points to lose the Finals. In Game 7 of the WCSF in ’09, he had 14 points and 7 rebounds on 4-12 shooting while Pau Gasol carried the Lakers, posting 21 points and 18 rebounds on 10-17 shooting. In Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, he shot 25%, including 0/6 from beyond the arc, and got bailed out by Pau Gasol and Ron Artest. In the 4th quarters of the ’09 and ’10 NBA Finals, Kobe shot: 22-74 (29.7%). Lastly, in 2011, Kobe’s Lakers got swept by the Mavericks and he had one of the worst playoff series of his prime. In the 4th quarters of this series against Dallas, Kobe shot 2/7 and missed the game winner in Game 1; 1/4 in Game 2; 2/6 while missing his last four shots in Game 3; and 0/2 in Game 4.
After addressing his playoff meltdowns, let’s take a look at how clutch Kobe has been for his career. Kobe Bryant missed his last 13 straight game-tying/go-ahead field goals in the final 5 seconds of the 4th quarter/OT of his career. His last was in March of 2012. He has the most misses in both finals and playoff history. In the last 24 seconds or less in regulation/OT since 2001, he shot: 47-158 (29.7%). Since 2003, the average margin of defeat for Kobe in elimination games is 24.6 points per game. He also shot 32% in those games. In elimination games, he averages 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 41.4% shooting (19 games). Kobe’s career Game 7 averages are: 22.2 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists on 38% shooting. In the last 24 seconds, with a shot to tie or take the lead in the playoffs, he shoots 7-28 (25%). In the NBA Finals, Kobe shoots 41.2%. His career 4th quarter shooting in the Finals is 38.6%. Last but not least, in six closeout games in the NBA Finals, Kobe averages 23 points, 9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game on 32.8 FG%, 88.6 FT% and 33.0 3P%.
3. How Valuable was Kobe Really?
One thing the NBA did wrong was award Kobe an MVP trophy. People who think he deserved more have no clue what they’re talking about. The 2007-2008 MVP finalists were Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Kobe averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1 steal per game on 46% shooting while leading the Lakers to a 57-25 record. Chris Paul averaged 21.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 11.6 assists, and 2.7 steals per game on 52% shooting while leading the Hornets to a 56-26 record. Chris Paul led a less talented roster to the 2nd seed of the Western Conference (1 game behind the 1st seed Lakers) while putting up better stats, playing better defense and scoring much more efficiently. Chris Paul deserved MVP in the 2007-2008 season and Kobe should have no MVP’s.
Let’s get to the facts and then see how valuable Kobe really was throughout his career. For starters, the Lakers won Game 2 of the 2000 Finals without Kobe (got hurt early in the game and didn’t return), just goes to show his lack of value (“He won a ring though!”). In 2005, the Lakers went 34-48, and even though Kobe was injured, he still had the team on pace to win 34 games when he was healthy. He has never won a playoff series without a Hall of Fame’er as a teammate. In 3 straight prime seasons from 2005-2007, the Lakers missed the playoffs in ’05 and were first round exits in both ’06 and ’07. The Lakers’ regular season record from ’05-’07 is 121-125 and during the Lakers three-peat from ’00-’02, the Lakers went 25-7 without Kobe and 13-13 without Shaq. In 18 games without Kobe from ’08’-’10, Pau Gasol averaged 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.2 blocks on 49% shooting while the Lakers went 13-5 in those games. In the 4th quarters of the ’09 and ’10 NBA Finals, he shot 29.7% (22-74) while Pau Gasol shot 58.8% (20-34). In the 2010 Finals, Gasol had 4.3 WS/48 while Kobe had 3.6 WS/48. His value was truly in question. For his career in the NBA Finals, Kobe shoots 41.2% (333-808) while his teammates shoot a combined 46% (1009-2161). His teams do not win because of him. Kobe did not lead any of his championship Lakers teams in Win Shares. From ’00-’02 it was Shaq, and from ’09-’10 it was Gasol who did so. Kobe also had only one season in his career with over 15 Win Shares. He has no second round appearances in the playoffs without Phil Jackson, a total of 4 playoff wins without Shaq and Pau, and as we already established, he has never won a playoff series without a Hall of Fame’er. During Kobe’s seven championship runs, his teams went 39-19 without him in games he missed. Lastly, from the ’13-’14 season to the ’15-’16 season, Kobe had fewer Win Shares than Len Bias, who has been dead for nearly thirty years.
4. “Kobe was the best scorer of this generation”
Unfortunately, there are people who think that Kobe Bryant is the best scorer since Michael Jordan and it’s pretty tragic. Maybe his athleticism, moves, tough shots and the similarity in their playing style can confuse the casual eye, but it simply just isn’t the truth. Kobe is a great scorer nonetheless, one of the seven best ever as of now but he’s still immensely overrated in that aspect.
A really awful take that gets thrown around occasionally is that “’06 Kobe was the greatest scoring season post Jordan.” This is ultimately laughable when he averaged 35.4 points and 27.2 field goal attempts on 56 TS% and in 2014, Kevin Durant averaged 32 points and 20.8 field goal attempts per game on 64TS%. Stephen Curry also had a better scoring season in 2016, posting 30.1 points and 20.2 field goal attempts per game on 67 TS%. Both Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry averaged over 30 points per game on approximately 7 less shot attempts while being significantly more efficient than Kobe.
Kobe has never shot 47% or higher from the field in a season. To put that into perspective, LeBron’s career FG% at this point in time is 50.0 and he never shot lower than 47% in any season after his rookie year. “Kobe takes more three pointers and LeBron just takes layups and dunks.” Well if that were true, then why is it that LeBron has shot over 35% from beyond the arc six times in his fourteen year career thus far when Kobe has only shot over 35% from deep four times in his twenty year career. Kobe averages 4.1 three-point attempts per game for his career while LeBron averages 4.0. “Kobe had way more drive, definitely a better scorer.” Kobe has thirteen career 40 point playoff games as opposed to LeBron’s sixteen (with more to come) and Kobe has only one career 40 point game in the Finals in seven trips while LeBron has four in the same amount of appearances. You can say that Kobe would’ve had more 40 point Finals games if he didn’t play with Shaq, but then you can take away three of his rings when you decide to debate a different aspect. Kobe has also led the league in missed shots six times and he has shot under 42% more times than he’s shot over 50% in his career. Kobe has eight games scoring 50+ points but on below 50% shooting. He has only won two scoring titles, whereas Durant has won four. In the post season, Kobe was the leading scorer three times as opposed to Durant who led the playoffs in scoring four times. Kobe was also a first round exit in one of the three times he did so when Durant made it past the first round all four times. Durant made the 50/40/90 club in 2013, while Kobe never came close to doing so. In NBA Finals games shooting 50% or better, Durant did so four times in five games while Kobe did so five times in thirty-seven games. All-in-all, it’s undeniable that Durant is a better scorer than Kobe and he is the true best scorer of this generation. Furthermore, in 13 games combined between the ’09 and ’10 NBA Finals, Kobe has never shot above 50% in any of them.
Kobe has achieved many great feats throughout his career and has broken some of hardest records in league history. He has the most missed shots in a regular season; most missed game winners; most missed buzzer beaters; and the worst shot attempt to assist ratio ever. Kobe is the only Finals MVP not to shoot above 50% in a single game and he did it both times he won Finals MVP in ’09 and ’10. He has the worst shooting performance by any Finals MVP in history (40% shooting). Of the top ten scoring leaders of all-time, Kobe has the lowest shooting percentage. In addition, there are only fourteen games in NBA history where someone has shot below 50% to reach 50+ points, and Kobe is responsible for eight of those games. Kobe also has both the most missed shots in a playoff series and most missed shots in a Finals.
6. Teammate Flaws
As far as teammate flaws go, no one thought Kobe was perfect, but let’s bring some things into fruition. In 2004, Kobe ran Phil and Shaq out-of-town (Shaq goes on to win his 4th ring, while Kobe’s Lakers miss the playoffs for first time in years). After giving up a 3-1 series lead, Kobe mailed it in Game 7 against the Suns in ’06. He only took three shots in the 2nd half and he blamed the series loss on his teammates. In May of 2007, Kobe requested a trade to Bulls, even though prior to this he claimed he wanted to be a “Laker for life.” Kobe once sucker punched teammate Samaki Walker for $100 and Walker has told the story on numerous occasions. Kobe argued with teammate Karl Malone repeatedly to the point where they had to be separated once in practice because they were about to fight. After a poor ending to the 2013 season, Kobe ran Dwight out-of-town just as he had done to Shaq and Phil. In a practice during the 2014-2015 regular season, Kobe was fighting with teammates and yelled at the general manager Mitch Kupchak “These mother******* ain’t doing s*** for me.” Last but not least, instead of taking a pay cut, Kobe signed a 2 year/$48.5M contract which crucially affected the Lakers’ Free Agency plans for years to come.
Extra on Defense:
“Kobe’s defense, to be accurate, has faltered in recent years, despite his presence on the league’s all-defensive team. The voters have been seduced by his remarkable athleticism and spectacular steals, but he hasn’t played sound, fundamental defense.”
“Mesmerized by the ball, he’s gambled too frequently, putting us out of position, forcing rotations that leave a man wide open, and doesn’t keep his feet on the ground.”
– Phil Jackson in his book “The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul.”
In essence, Kobe Bryant is one of the most overrated basketball players of all time and the abundance of people who overrate him and are unaware of his flaws is overwhelming. From under performing in various playoff series and shooting his teams out games, to causing trouble with teammates off the court. Not only does his inefficiency resemble the kind of player he was but it also resembles the kind of person he was too. Kobe is a legend nonetheless, but his legacy is often exaggerated.