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Contemplating the Kobe-to-Curry Continuum

USA TODAY Sports

There’s something of an ironic mismatch of icons in the NBA this year. While arguably the greatest of the passing generation, Kobe Bryant, is in the embers of his career, Stephen Curry’s is taking on a greatness that’s rapidly becoming something we’ve never seen before.

Kobe is having a stinker of a season, and everyone knows it, even him. But what you might not know is just how bad it is or how much it differs from Curry’s.

Bryant’s true shooting percentage is 40.2, and he’s taking 17.9 shots per game. According to Basketball-Reference.com, since the NBA widened the lanes in the 1964-65 season, no one has taken more than 14 shots a game and had a lower true shooting percentage.

I mean, we’re literally discussing the possibility that Bryant is having the worst shooting season in history here when you factor in his inefficiency, the rules and the volume of shots.

On the other hand, Curry is arguably having the best season ever. Of players who’ve taken at least 14 shots per game, none have come close to his present true shooting percentage, which is an insane 70.7 percent. He’s also on track to be the first player ever to win the scoring title and lead the league in true shooting at the same time.

To match Curry’s current true shooting percentage, Bryant would have to make 354 consecutive two-point shots!!!.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but here’s Kobe’s shot chart:
Shotchart_1449523774732

And here’s Curry’s:

Shotchart_1449523791470

Is that enough red and green to get you in the Christmas spirit?

Lest you get caught up in the percentage of makes, also take note of where they’re coming from. Curry has taken 79 percent of his shots from within six feet of the rim or outside the three-point line. More importantly, 86.9 percent of his points have come from the so-called “Morey Zones,” meaning at the rim, behind the three-point line or at the charity stripe.

Kobe, meanwhile, has made just 16 shots at the rim and 29 from deep. And while, once upon a time, he was as lethal as anyone getting to the basket, that was a long, long time ago. And even at his peak, he didn’t do what Curry is doing this year. Byrant’s best season was 2008-09 when he made 296 shots at a 63.7 percent rate. Curry is on pace to make 295 at 68.1 percent.

That’s not to take anything away from the greatness of Kobe. He was, perhaps, the greatest mid-range scorer the game has ever seen. His skill with the jab step and creativity in generating points is what places him as one of the greatest pure scorers ever. That said, he’s also the relic of a bygone age. The changes that have taken the league, both in terms of how we understand it and play it, mean there will never be another Kobe.

Kids at home now aren’t practicing to be the Mamba. They’re practicing to be Steph. They’re not throwing their socks into garbage cans; they’re bouncing two balls on their driveways and practicing their stroke. Curry’s not just the “latest thing.” He’s the personification of the evolution of basketball.

But don’t think that they’re not also thinking about Kobe’s five rings and worldwide fame and the way he can grab the basketball world’s attention with the sound of his voice. They still respect his greatness, even if they don’t strive to duplicate his game.

It’s easy to see this article as a swipe at a player, but it’s not. It’s an ode. In some ways, there could be no better ending to Kobe’s career than watching him hurl an endless barrage of shots at the rim whether they go in or not. It worked for him before. It got him 81 in a game. It won him five rings. But it’s dated and old, and defenses have learned to adjust to it.

And Curry has perfected the new style of play. He’s taken it to a height and (dare I say it?) beauty that we’ve never seen before. The way he works the ball and creates a shot and fires it off with such a sweet, perfect stroke is just the purtiest version of basketball that you’ll ever see.

But while we’re appreciating the greatness of Curry and struggling to find the place for Kobe’s place in history, let’s remember that the NBA is a timeline — a continuum. Players live and play according to the age they’re in. Measuring Kobe by today’s standards is as pointless as discussing how Curry would do in the ’90s. His greatness should be measured by the standard of his age, not the next. He shouldn’t be faulted for surviving too long.

The current version of basketball, the way the Warriors play it, and the way Curry leads them might be beautiful, but don’t let that take away from your appreciation of Kobe. He might be a dinosaur, but without dinosaurs there wouldn’t be any fuel for today.

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