Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in NBA history. He is also, at this point in his career, arguably the worst rotation player in the NBA.
If anyone still feels offended that the basketball writers at ESPN gave him no respect in ranking him 93rd, they can put those feelings to bed. It was decidedly too much credit. In fact, when Bryant self-assessed his play as “only” 200th-best, it was still way too much credit because that would make him average.
And he’s not average. He’s not even below average. Statistically speaking, he’s possibly the worst rotation player in the league and having one of the worst seasons in history. That’s not “hating.” It’s honest, objective observation based on several traditional and advanced stats.
Let’s start with the most striking number of all: his 31.1 percent field goal percentage, which is so low that it’s very nearly unprecedented. In fact, per Basketball-Reference.com, Woody Sauldsberry (whoever that was) in 1960-61 is the only player since the introduction of the shot clock in 1954 to have a lower field goal percentage while qualifying for the scoring title and attempting at least 10 shots per game.
There have been 4,315 seasons by 972 players meeting those requirements. Just one has been worse than Kobe’s. One.
Kobe’s is in the bottom one-quarter of one-one-hundredth of one percent. There’s just no word for that.
And Bryant’s excuse?:
Kobe said that the team's struggle & execution made him frustrated and led to his tough shots. Kobe: "I got out of my Zen tonight."
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) November 25, 2015
It’s everyone else’s fault.
Field goal percentage isn’t the only way of looking at things, though. There are advanced stats which throw an equally morbid light on what Bryant is — or rather isn’t — doing this year.
At ESPN.com, they track Real Plus-Minus. Of the 409 players who’ve logged minutes this year, only 28 have a lower score than Bryant’s -3.96. But once you’re that far into the negative, the more a player is on the court, the more they actually “hurt” their teams.
Of those below him, only three players log 30 minutes per game. Two of those are rookies, Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay, who’ve been tasked with leading their teams at a young age and have an excuse. The other is Ty Lawson, who’s been moved to the bench.
We can also look at Bryant’s Player Efficiency Rating and Usage. PER is a stat which depends largely on usage, and as such by comparing the two we get a good indication of not just how much someone does with the ball, but how much they need the ball to do it. A high PER to Usage ratio means a player is getting the most out of his touches. A low one means he’s getting the least out of them.
Bryant’s PER to USG ratio is .345 (for comparison’s sake, Stephen Curry’s is .997), which is only better than Mudiay’s — not just this year but ever. And again, Mudiay is just a 19-year-old rookie taking charge of a bad NBA team. Sure, Bryant has some pretty awful characters around him too — for crying out loud, Ryan Kelly gets minutes! — I’m not denying that’s bad.
But this is the second-worst ratio, ever. EV-ER! Other teams have played with bad teammates too. They just didn’t play nearly as badly or get paid close to as much to do it. And let’s not gloss over the reality that part of the reason for that limited cast is due to the limits imposed on the team by Bryant’s colossal salary.
That brings up the next point. After he tore his Achilles, he played just six games in 2014 before being forced to sit for the remainder of the year with a new set of injuries. While sitting, he signed a new, two-year, $48.5 million contract, and many supported that by talking about how much he deserved it and had earned it. In retrospect, there’s no way that it was worth the money from a competitive standpoint.
Since he came back from the initial injury, he’s played 52 games and recorded -.7 win shares. In that span, the only player with more than 20 games played and a lower mark is Diante Garrett, who’s been out of the league for two seasons now.
In other words, you can not only argue that Bryant is the worst rotation player in the league, but that he’s been it for the last three seasons. There may be other players you could argue he’s technically “better” than, but their ability to damage the team is limited by role and minutes.
What makes Bryant the worst is his unlimited license to do as many bad things on the court as he wants to, his freedom to blame the woes on everyone else and his unwillingness to accept that he’s the problem.