Monday, December 15, 2014

Kobe's #3

Lo and behold, Kobe Bean Bryant is now #3 on the all-time NBA scoring list, having passed his alleged hero Michael Jordan. The only two remaining above him are Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Were all the above great players? Sure, but a couple things should be noted.

Bryant has already played 200 more games than Jordan ever did. This roughly equates to the lost seasons when MJ thought he could play major league baseball. He couldn't. Over the course of their careers, Jordan averaged better than 30 points a game. Kobe checks in just north of 25.

And while both have won multiple NBA championships, there's a big difference in their games. Besides being a prolific scorer, Jordan was known as a tenacious defender as well. Kobe -- not so much.

Jabbar was certainly known for his unstoppable "sky hook". And he played a little bit of defense in his own way. That is to say when one is far and away the tallest player on the court, they're going to block a few shots and grab a bunch of rebounds along the way, almost by default. While Bryant and Jordan are/were supreme ball handlers, Jabbar was not. Kareen dribbling the ball in the open court was a turnover waiting to happen. His job was to sky hook or dunk on one end, then lug his lanky frame the length of the court and post up underneath the basket on the other in a defensive position. But he was very good at these things, and did them for a very long time -- he played until he was 42 --hence he remains #1 on the scoring list. His list of career accomplishments is long. His championships, All-Star teams, blocks, rebounds, and MVPs is impressive indeed. But like Kobe, he wasn't much of an "assist" man. When either got the ball, they were likely going to shoot it one way or the other. Passing to an open teammate wasn't their first choice. They could rightfully be called "ball hogs". Throw up enough shots every game for enough years, and the points will eventually add up.

Karl Malone, currently #2 on the scoring list, was a terrific player. But for all his years with the Utah Jazz, he had a built-in advantage named John Stockton. They had mastered the "pick and roll" like no others before or since. Stockton was a supreme ball handler himself -- and could not only shoot in his own right, but was deadly from the free throw line. Yet he spent the majority of his career passing the ball to Malone, who would score. There's a reason why Stockton remains far and away the all-time assist leader in the NBA. Stockton made the passes and Malone took the shots. Multiply that by enough years and it's little wonder both achieved the career stats they did. They're both in the Hall of Fame, though one is left to wonder if either would have made it without the other.

But all these guys were in times past, and Kobe is now. Maybe he'll catch Malone to be #2. Perhaps even Jabbar, if he hangs around long enough and keeps throwing up a ridiculous amount of shots a game. Kobe's career shooting percentage is .452, so he makes slightly less than half his shots. A decent percentage, but hardly eye-popping. And he's only 36. Imagine if he hangs out until he's 42 like Jabbar. Six more years and another bazillion off-balance, contortionist, double/triple teamed falling away shots and anything's possible. Some of them are going to wind up in the basket. And hey, if one can continue to con ownership out of $24 million a year, while being a one-dimensional player on an otherwise terrible team, who WOULDN'T continue to hang out for as long as possible?

Kobe is still highly relevant. Just ask him.

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