The 2015-16 NBA season tips off in less than a month, and this generation’s greatest player is entering his twentieth season in the league with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant is unquestionably one of the greatest players of all-time, and is certainly the closest thing to Michael Jordan the game has ever seen. The 5-time NBA champion has done it all. He’s won MVPs (1 regular season; 2 finals), won Olympic gold, and currently ranks 3rd on the all-time scoring list, just to name a few. Bryant has nothing left to prove, but the self-titled “Black Mamba,” who has built a career fueled by his unmatchable, competitive nature, might have some new motivation.
ESPN just released Nos. 91-100 in their NBA Preseason Player-Ranking Countdown, and guess who came in at No. 93. Yep, Mr. Bryant. Now although Bryant is no longer the freakishly athletic, dominating force he once was, the criticism of Bryant has simply gone too far. Never mind the critics who claim he shoots too much, or the ones who say he needs to pass the torch and move on. This ranking is personal, and although Bryant will likely write this off completely, it’s downright disrespectful.
The most popular explanations for Bryant’s ranking are that “the rankings are based solely on the last two seasons,” and “Kobe’s player efficiency rating is around 100th in the league.” Some also attribute it to his low shooting percentage over the last two seasons. Although stats rarely lie, the latter explanations don’t hold up in Bryant’s case.
First and foremost, players are people, not robots. Ranking each player based on statistics and neglecting the mental aspect of the game contradicts the way the greatest players have been ranked throughout history. Jordan, Magic, Bird, and Kobe are all notorious for their gaudy stats, but are arguably more known for their intimidating mentality. If the “greatness” of a player was based solely on statistics, than Jordan himself would be considered the 4th best player of all-time. I think we all know how preposterous that sounds. Furthermore, the biggest criticism of Lebron throughout his career has been his mental toughness, yet I’m sure he’ll come in at number 1 based on statistics alone.
Secondly, by ranking Bryant No. 93, ESPN is saying that there are 92 players in the NBA who are better than Bryant right now. Not only is this far from true, but this is also where the argument falls apart. Here’s a list of some of the players ranked higher than Bryant: Brandon Knight, Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, Tobias Harris, Marcus Smart, and Jahlil Okafor. Arguments could be made against each of these players being ranked higher than Bryant, but the most obvious arguments can be made against Marcus Smart and Jahlil Okafor. Smart is entering just his second season and Okafor is entering his rookie season. In other words, neither player has played two full seasons (much less 1 game in Okafor’s case), yet are ranked higher than Bryant. Furthermore, Smart missed 15 games last season due to injury. So much for the rankings being based on the last two seasons.
This is not an argument to put Bryant in the top 10 based solely on his reputation. It’s a reality check on how ranking 92 players ahead of him is ridiculous. Bryant spent the majority of the last two seasons injured (only playing around 40 games), and although some use this fact against Bryant, it does not hold up when compared to the rest of these rankings.
Last, and now that we’re not restricting the rankings to the last two seasons, people do not realize that Bryant was averaging over 25 points per game, and shooting just under 50 percent while leading the Lakers to the playoffs in his last full season (2012-2013). These statistics would rank him easily into the top 10 today. Also, any other superstar would have shot just as much had they been in the same position as Bryant the last two seasons. Who was he going to pass to?
We are still waiting to see what Bryant has left in the tank, but make no mistake, he’s not the 93rd best player in the NBA. I think the other 499 other players would even agree with that.