By Chris Le
This past Sunday, Kobe Bryant dropped 50 on the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 109-102 victory, following a 65-point effort against the Portland Trailer Blazers two nights earlier. Though not quite as impressive, these games were reminiscent of last year’s remarkable 81-point and 62-point (in a mere three quarters) performances against the Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. With all due respect to Carmelo Anthony, Gilbert Arenas, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Kobe is unequivocally the best all-around offensive player in the game.
‘Melo can’t fly as high, D-Wade and LeBron don’t possess his consistent stroke and Arenas is a little too trigger-happy (yes, even more so than Kobe). Unlike the aforementioned players, Bryant simply has no flaw in his game. He combines the athleticism and driving ability of Wade and James, the jumper of Carmelo and the range of Arenas.
He’s proven to be the best among his peers, but how about the legends? Is he a better scorer than Michael Jordan, Jerry West or Oscar Robertson? For the sake of some structure, let’s compare Bryant to the top five wing players (because wingmen and post players offensively are like apples and oranges) who own the best career scoring averages (min. of 15,000 total points).
- Michael Jordan – 30.12
- Allen Iverson – 28.00
- Elgin Baylor – 27.36
- Jerry West – 27.36
- Oscar Robertson – 25.68
Kobe’s career average of 24.4 PPG places him behind Dominique Wilkins (24.83 PPG) and Rick Barry (24.78 PPG) and just ahead of Larry Bird (24.29 PPG), Pete Maravich (24.24 PPG) and Julius Erving (24.16 PPG). Now, on to the match-ups:
Bryant vs. Robertson – Though considered to be a point guard, “The Big O” was a gargantuan (for the time, at least) 6’5,” which allowed him to bully pretty much all of the other guards in the league. Still, Kobe possesses a one-inch height and fifteen pound weight advantage. Athletically, favor goes to Bryant, but it’s not that big of a disparity. Despite lacking a huge vertical however, Robertson was a statistical juggernaut, racking up six seasons of at least 30.0 PPG compared to two so far for Kobe. Plus, Oscar dished out around 10 assists a game, leading the league in that category six times.
Verdict: Push. Kobe’s superior athleticism, size, mechanics and range definitely give him an edge, but Oscar’s ability to rack up 30 points while still playing unselfishly is hard to ignore. Put it this way: Kobe is a slightly more dangerous scorer, but Robertson is a better offensive floor general.
Bryant vs. Jerry West – Similar to his match-up against Robertson, Bryant holds a significant edge in height (four inches), weight (around 30 pounds) and hops. However, if you ask anyone who saw West in action, they’ll say that no one had a quicker first step and he had end-to-end speed of which Kobe could only dream. And who knows what West, who had an exceptional shot, would have averaged had he not played before the three-point line was implemented in 1979? Additionally, it is arguable that West was a better clutch performer.
Verdict: Kobe. The difference in size and athleticism is as big as the Grand Canyon, just impossible to overlook. But West’s deadly accurate jumper, better overall speed and passing ability (6.7 APG to Bryant’s 4.5 APG) make him just as dangerous of an inside-outside threat, and they definitely make this an interesting match-up.
Bryant vs. Elgin Baylor – A virtual push when it comes to physical dimensions and ability, both played above the rim and over their opponents. And you think Kobe’s recent scoring run is impressive? Check who they were against: the Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Raptors, and the pre-Avery Johnson Mavericks. Baylor once scored 61-points in a playoff game against Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, arguably the greatest defensive team in the history of the NBA. No one outside of Wilt Chamberlain has averaged more than Baylor’s 38.3 PPG in 1962, and he probably would have won a handful of scoring titles had it not been for “The Stilt.”
Verdict: Push. One could pretty much do anything the other did. On paper, Baylor has the edge, having a higher peak and a more consistently high average, but his numbers are a little inflated considering the number of shots he took. From 1960-1963, Baylor took an average of 28.8 attempts a game. Kobe, on the other hand, aside from the 2006 season, has never averaged more than 23.5 attempts a game. Baylor scored more, Kobe took less shots.
Bryant vs. Allen Iverson – As of right now, Iverson’s career average of 28.0 PPG is the third-highest mark in NBA history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. That’s a mammoth achievement for such a little guy — and at 6’0” and 165 pounds soaking wet, I do mean little. In his prime though, there wasn’t a player who was faster or who possessed a deadlier crossover. Size doesn’t matter when you have a heart as big as Iverson’s.
Verdict: Kobe. His six inch, sixty pound edge simply means he can do things Iverson cannot, such as overpowering opponents while driving to the hoop, straight up dunking on fools and posting up. Also, AI’s .422 career shooting percentage is simply hideous. In the end, Kobe has greater ability to create an open shot.
Bryant vs. Michael Jordan – The match-up we’ve all been waiting for. Like I’ve said many times before, Kobe is the closest we’ve had to another MJ. Though slightly bulkier than Jordan, they were equally as powerful and shared a similar will to not only beat but to embarrass their opponents — and neither failed to do so. In their first 10 seasons, Kobe has dropped at least 50 points sixteen times, while Jordan did it twenty-four times (31 times overall in his career). Yet, there were differences. Some maintain that Kobe possesses a sweeter jumper and range, particularly compared to the younger Jordan. Will this edge be enough to beat His Airness?
Verdict: Jordan. One word: efficiency. What separates Jordan from Bryant and every other wing player is his consistent ability to shoot over .500, doing so six times in his career. His career mark of .497 dwarfs Kobe’s .452 career percentage. And while Kobe’s arsenal is stocked, Jordan, among an assortment of tools in his unstoppable repertoire, had a go-to move. Of course, I’m speaking of his fade away — the second most unguardable shot behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook. No way is Kobe able to score 81 points against the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons of the 80’s or the hard-hitting New York Knicks of the 90’s. I guarantee either of those teams would have knocked Kobe on his ass before he reached 40 points.