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JA, Kobe, and a Bunch of BS…

Yesterday Kobe Bryant passed Jerry West to become the Lakers’ all time leading scorer. The inevitability of this achievement led to a plethora of “Greatest Laker of All Time” lists, which certainly seems like something I’d dwell on, but as John Hollinger’s list basically mirrored what I’d say, much better than I’d say it (although I’d probably move Kareem over Shaq, and West at five seems a little low, but…), so instead I’ll just give you the link and move on.

Kobe’s achievement, and don’t get me wrong I do think it’s a considerable achievement, also led to ESPN’s JA Adande making an appearance on the BS Report, ostensibly to talk Kobe, but really just to talk hoops for an hour. If you haven’t given it a listen, you should, because it’s deep fried goodness.

Now, let me preface what’s coming by acknowledging that I’m a JA fan. I think he’s a solid writer, with a savvy understanding of hoops, and a modern outlook on the state of sports, but having said that, he is the worst Kobe-homer I read regularly.

In the podcast JA claims he’s far from a Kobe guy and that he used to regularly rip him, and maybe he did, but in the time I’ve been reading his work (basically since he joined ESPN), JA has been a rabid Kobe supporter. What makes me say this? Well, Adande keeps saying things like:

This year, and for all time, I’m picking Kobe to take the last shot.

Seriously JA? Him? Over Michael Jordan? Or Larry Bird? Over Carmelo Anthony, who’s been much more “clutch” in his young career. Ok… but it’s a good thing that you’ll never have to make that statement with your life on the line. There is an abundance of evidence at this point that despite the flashy shots that everyone remembers, Kobe misses his fair share of buzzer beaters. Yes, Kobe is a great player and he has a full arsenal of shots that allow him to get solid looks at the basket, but… the reality is that Kobe just doesn’t make those shots as often as we believe. Not acknowledging that, and ridiculing the numbers as your defense, is just asinine. Saying that you’d take Kobe to take the last shot over anyone all-time, well that’s almost as absurd as this:

Bill: … I do think he’s got that side of Wilt that is driven a little bit by individual records and, Laker fans are going to be mad, I’m sorry, but I think one of the reasons he doesn’t want to sit out four weeks, is that’s 500 points, that brings him 500 points closer to the record.
JA: The numbers matter to him, it’s all about him building his case as the greatest ever. If he can wind up with the most points, and if he can wind up, I don’t think he can get to Bill Russell, but if he can get to six maybe seven…
Bill: He’s got to get to six. He’s got to tie MJ.
JA: Yeah, then he can start having that conversation…

Now, I hope you understand why that made me drop the fry basket, spill hot oil down my leg, ignore the searing, burning pain, and ask… I’m sorry, WHAT? But, just so that we’re on the same page here, there is about a 0.02% chance that when Kobe retires he’ll be regarded as the NBA’s Greatest of all Time (from hereafter referred to as the GOAT).

There are small pockets of people who will tell you that Wilt, Kareem, or Magic is the GOAT, but if you polled most NBA observers, I think that the overwhelming majority would say that Jordan was the best. Kobe might get to a point, actually he might already be at that point, where a very small minority (say obsessive Laker fans under the age of 25) think he’s better than MJ, but… well… there are people who believe that the moon landing was faked, know what I’m saying?

For Kobe to pass MJ on the majority of ballots, he’d have to successfully accomplish three things. First, he’d have to win at least three more titles. Despite what JA and Simmons allude to, it’s not enough for Kobe to match Jordan’s title count. Kobe has to beat six, preferably going away. Jordan won six titles with six finals MVPs, Kobe only has one in four titles. I know that Jordan wasn’t winning those titles on his own. Scottie Pippen was a great second banana, but for Kobe’s first three titles, he was the 2nd banana. Hard to be the GOAT when you weren’t the best player on the majority of your title squads.

Second, Kobe will have to surpass Kareem and become the NBAs all time leading scorer. Kobe, like MJ, is building his GOAT resume on the premise of being a scorer. Yes, they were both outstanding defenders, but come on… It’s not like we’re talking about Bill Russell here, they’ve built their legacies on being assassins on the offensive end.

However, as a scorer, Kobe is lagging well behind Jordan. Right off the bat, Kobe has led the NBA in scoring twice, Jordan led the league ten times. Kobe’s career average is a very impressive 25.3, but Jordan averaged 30.1. Given that Kobe has yet to enter his decline phase, and hasn’t averaged 30 a game in three years, I think we can be confident that he wont match MJ’s per game average. So, for Kobe to be considered the best of all time, he’s going to have to entrench his name in the record book by climbing mount Kareem (climbing mount Kareem? Yikes, that was awkward… just be glad I didn’t write, “by mounting Kareem.”).

Finally, Kobe will need to win another couple of MVPs. This is another area in which the Mamba’s lagging well behind the crowd; Kareem has six, Russell has five, Bird and Magic each have three. And, (not to turn this into a head to head, but if you’re going to knock out the champ, you have to first meet him in the ring) MJ has five, but he should have won in 1997, and had very strong cases in 1987, 1990, and1993.

Kobe? Well, Kobe has one, and it’s hard to argue he should have many more. He wasn’t the MVP of his own team until probably the 2003 season, but he wasn’t better than Kevin Garnett that year (actually he finished fifth, which give or take a spot was about right). In 2004 he wasn’t better than the Nash-Shaq pairing that spearheaded a weak ballot. You could argue that Kobe should have won in ’06, but then you could argue that Chris Paul should have won in Kobe’s year, so… basically, you have a player trying to be in the discussion as the best of all time, who was only the MVP of the league once? Yeah, that doesn’t make much sense.

So, what are the odds of each of those three things happening? Hollinger tackled the odds of Kobe catching Kareem and set them at about 44%, so there’s some hope there. The odds of Kobe winning a few more MVPs though? Well… I think this year he finishes a distant 2nd or 3rd, depending on whether his finger continues to hamper him (and note, I’m saying where I think he’ll finish, not where I’d place him). Next year? The King will still be the prohibitive favorite, but if voters are suffering from “LeBron fatigue”, Dwayne Wade, Paul, Carmelo, and Kevin Durant will all be hounding that award like a Rick Pitino full court press . Basically, I think Kobe’s MVP years have passed him by. I’d put the odds at an optimistic ten percent that he wins another and somewhat less than 5 percent he can win more than one.

Now, there is a real chance that Kobe can win another title or two, but of course that’s hard to predict at the best of times and harder still to predict before we know what will happen in the Summer of LeBron. For instance, if the Lakers were to trade for Chris Bosh, I’d have to they’d be the favourites for the next three years, but if LeBron, Wade and Bosh all team in Miami, or LeBron and Bosh pair up with Derrick Rose in Chicago, well then it’s suddenly an uphill battle for the Lakers.

So, long and short (well, really more long and longer) of it, I think the 0.02% I pegged at the start is about spot on. Now, LeBron on the other hand…

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