With his career coming to a close, Kobe Bryant has built up quite the resume:
-Two Finals MVPs
-One NBA MVP *hears a cough in the background, slyly passes Chris Paul a glass of water*
-17 All-Star selections (4x MVP)
-15 All-NBA selections (11x 1st, 2x 2nd, 2x 3rd)
-12 All-Defensive Team selections (9x 1st, 3x 2nd)
Add that to the fact that he’s third on the all-time scoring list (32,482 points) and has accomplished all of this as a member of the most storied franchise in NBA history, and there’s a reason why Kobe Bryant is as celebrated as he is.
In some cases, the comparisons to Michael Jordan get carried away and Kobe is praised a little too much. In others, his shot selection, reluctance to pass the ball in key moments, and (alleged) off-court behavior has led to a lot of unwarranted and unfair criticism.
Like most things, though, the truth about Kobe Bryant lies somewhere in the middle. It’s only fair we get to the bottom of that truth before one of the NBA’s greatest players hangs up the sneakers for good.
MYTH #1: Kobe Bryant is a Ball Hog
NEWSFLASH: Kobe doesn’t mind shooting the ball.
It doesn’t matter if he’s single-covered, double-teamed or even triple-teamed at times. If Kobe sees a shot he likes, or if he’s hot, he’s gonna put it up there.
His mark of 20.98 shot attempts per game as a starter rank him seventh all-time, only behind Bob Pettit, Pistol Pete Maravich, Allen Iverson, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and the NBA’s all-time leader, Elgin Baylor (how’s that for trivia). Via Basketball-Reference, Kobe’s 125 career games (regular season and postseason) with at least 30 shot attempts is second only to Jordan’s 169 since 1985.
Of course, Kobe is so darn talented as a scorer, he can hit shots other players couldn’t dream of making. Fellow Heat fans, just scroll past this video:
Much like Russell Westbrook today, though, people have the tendency to scream “ball hog” when they should be screaming “poor shot selection.” The two go hand-in-hand most of the time, but they aren’t necessarily the same thing.
There’s no question that, while talented enough to get away with it, there are plenty of shots that Kobe takes that he probably shouldn’t take. However, it’s also fair to point out that Kobe really is a talented passer. Like, this is my favorite Kobe pass, and one of the best sequences I’ve ever seen:
The easy argument to make against the “ball hog” label would be Kobe being the sole member of the 30K-6K-6K club — meaning 30,000 career points, 6,000 career rebounds and 6,000 career assists. His 5.2 APG for his career as a starter ranks fairly well among other notable perimeter scorers:
*It should be noted that these are the career averages of the players** as a starter only, 25 PPG minimum
**The starter splits were not available for Baylor, West or Robertson, nor were they complete for Jordan, so I went with their regular career averages
Among players with a career usage rate of 30 or higher, only Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade — all players who fling up their fair share of shots — average more assists per game for their careers than Kobe. Quite honestly, you could argue that Kobe is as skilled or more skilled as a passer than any of them, although they appear to be more willing passers for the most part.
MYTH #2: Kobe Bryant isn’t Efficient
As mentioned before, Kobe doesn’t mind shooting the ball. He’s been the undisputed #1 scoring option of the Lakers since 2004-05, and since then, nobody has shot more (21.7 shots per game) or scored more (28.2 ppg). On the flip side, among the 18 players who averaged at least 20 PPG in that time frame, Kobe ranked 13th in field goal percentage (45 percent), only ahead of Michael Redd (44.3 percent), Allen Iverson (43.9 percent), Russell Westbrook (43.2 percent), Damian Lillard (42.9 percent) and Gilbert Arenas (42.1 percent).
There are a few things wrong with purely judging Kobe’s efficiency, or inefficiency, by solely looking at his field goal percentage. While numbers technically don’t lie, numbers without context can be manipulated to fit whatever narrative you want them to. Kobe’s field goal percentage compared to someone like, I don’t know, LeBron James is going to look bad. Check out their shooting splits since 04-05:
Despite the two being very comparable in terms of points per game and shot attempts, look at how their attempts vary. 11.4 of Kobe’s 21.7 shot attempts per game, or roughly 52.5 percent, come from 15 feet or further, compared to 8.9 of LeBron’s 19.9 attempts per game (or 44.7 percent). That would explain the difference in average shot distance between the two.
Kobe loves the mid-range area, working the elbows or bullying guards in the post. Meanwhile, LeBron’s greatest strength is attacking and finishing at the basket.
Teams try to bait players into long mid-range shots, but the special thing about Kobe is that he’s so proficient in that area, it puts an unusual strain on defenses. Take Kobe’s tweet on last year’s MVP Stephen Curry while he was draining (usually) low-percentage, step-back threes:
Obviously, if you take more low-percentage shots than shots in the paint, you can expect your field goal percentage to take a hit. The argument can then shift to Kobe’s shot selection, which has always been just a tad questionable.
The other reason big reason why using pure field goal percentage to look at scoring efficiency is that the stat itself is incomplete. Enter in True Shooting Percentage (TS%), which factors in two-point shots, threes and free throws into one number.
True Shooting Percentage puts Kobe in a different, more positive light — the complete list of players with career averages of at least 25 PPG, a usage rate of 30 and TS% of 55 or better feature Kobe, MJ, LeBron, Kevin Durant and George Gervin.
That’s it, that’s all.
It’s pretty difficult to be the primary option of an offense, take the amount of shots that Kobe does, take them from where he takes them from and do so efficiently. Contrary to popular belief, Kobe has done a pretty solid job of it, all things considered.
MYTH #3: Kobe Bryant is the Second-Best Player of All Time
Yeah, all good things must come to an end. It’s time to burst some bubbles.
By now, you’ve heard countless NBA players, coaches, analysts and fans say that Kobe is the closest thing we’ve seen — or will ever see — to the great Michael Jordan. To a certain extent, that’s true. I mean, if you haven’t seen this video already, look at how eerily similar the two are stylistically:
So yeah, they’re the two best shooting guards of all time, and they play pretty darn similar to each other. However, the whole “MJ’s the greatest and Kobe’s the closest, so Kobe must be the second greatest!” line of thinking is flawed because, well, there are more talented and accomplished players in league history than Kobe.
I’ll humor the “THEY ONLY PLAYED AGAINST FIVE-FOOT WHITE GUYS” crowd and exclude Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell from this conversation, but I have a hard time putting Kobe over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has six rings like Jordan, an NBA record six regular-season MVPs, two Finals MVPs and is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer while doubling up as one of the best defenders the NBA has ever seen. Even if you go the longevity route, which puts Kobe past a lot of all-time greats, Kareem even has him beat there. You could also make an argument for Larry Bird, Tim Duncan and LeBron, among others, but those are different arguments for another day.
While we’re on that subject…
MYTH #4: Kobe Bryant is the Greatest Laker of All Time
Kobe isn’t a greater Laker than Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
I don’t care that Shaq said it. I don’t care that Jerry West said it. I especially don’t care that Magic said it, considering how humble Magic is in general, and how often he flip-flops his opinions. Seriously, just read that man’s tweets. As great as Kobe was and is, and as much as we should admire his production and longevity in a Laker uniform, he just wasn’t Magic Johnson.
Both are five-time champions, but Magic took the Lakers to the Finals nine times in 12 years — a run virtually unheard of outside of the great Celtic dynasties of the ’60s. Magic has three regular-season MVPs to Kobe’s one and three Finals MVPs to Kobe’s two. The first of his three Finals MVPs came in his rookie year, highlighted by his unbelievable Game 6 performance where he played center for an injured Kareem and dropped 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists to clinch the title.
Magic had an almost surreal ability to impact games without taking a shot, directing the Showtime Lakers in the half court and dazzling fans on the fast break. His 11.2 assists per game average for his career is tops in NBA history and is even more impressive once you consider how strict the rules were for rewarding assists back then. If a player took a dribble after receiving a pass, no assist would be rewarded on the play.
Kobe’s great, but Magic is the greatest point guard and greatest Laker ever. Again, that’s no slight to Kobe, but it is what it is.
BONUS: How Good is Kobe in the Clutch?
Since 2000-01, here are a variety of Kobe clutch stats on shots to tie or take the lead in the 4th quarter or overtime, via Basketball-Reference: