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Greatest Players in NBA History: Kobe Bryant

In this blog I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments…in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest? This week’s player is Kobe Bryant, an amazing player that is either battling Michael Jordan for the title of best player ever or may not even be one of the top-3 players of the 2000s...depending on who you ask.

Kobe is an electric basketball player, capable of hitting impossibly difficult shots regularly enough that we expect him to make them every time.  He is the closest thing that we've seen stylistically to Jordan, from the height  to the swagger to the athletic ability to the fadeaway jumper, Kobe's game (by design) is often a mirror image for his Airness.  And because Kobe has hit the memorable shot so many times he has earned a reputation as an assassin...a player that scares his opponents and makes his fans feel safe when he has the ball in his hands.  His game is aesthetically pleasing, and has a mano-a-mano component to it on both offense and defense that makes him feel something like a gunslinger...and he's won those shootouts often enough that his over-the-top "Black Mamba" nickname actually gained regular use without seeming ridiculous.

We know that Kobe is an all-history level player...so the question is, where does he fit into the pantheon?  Is Kobe as good as Jordan?  Is Kobe one of the top-5 players in NBA history?  Is Kobe even a top-3 player of the 2000s?

My answers to those last three questions are: not as good as Jordan, not quite to the top-10 of All-time (more like top-15), and...no, not a top-3 player of the 2000s.

Wait, what?

Yep, that's what I said.  I've written before that since Kobe looks so much like Jordan on the court, and we've become accustomed to the idea that Jordan was the best, we therefore translate that crown of "best" to Kobe almost subconsciously.  But when you really go in-depth with either the advanced box score stats or the impact-based +/- stats, Kobe wasn't quite as good as contemporaries Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.  And he also wasn't quite as good as former teammate Shaquille O'Neal, nor (preparing myself for the lightning storm) was he as good as LeBron James. 

This is no shame in my book, as all five of those players will end their careers firmly among the top-15 players of all-time in my view...but that is the range where I rank Kobe.  I hope you will weigh in with your opinion below.  But first, four interesting facts about the Mamba...

1) Kobe is one of the greatest scorers in history, and has been putting up crazy points for a long-time.  His 81-point effort is the second-highest single game point total of all time, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.  Kobe scored 2832 total points in 2006, and only Chamberlain and Jordan have ever scored more points in any one season.  And earlier this year Kobe passed Shaq to move into 5th place on the all-time scoring list.  At his current pace, he will pass Chamberlain and Jordan for third place all-time within the next two seasons.

2) Kobe has played on five NBA championship teams, and has won two Finals MVP awards.  The only other players in NBA history with at least five and two are Jordan (six and six), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six and two), and Magic Johnson (five and three).

3) Kobe and Jordan are the only two players in NBA history with 25,000 points, 5,000 assists and 500 made 3-pointers.  If we raise the criteria to include 1,000 made treys, Kobe would be on the list alone.

4) Kobe has shown the ability to play strong 1-on-1 defense when challenged, a reputation that has helped make him one of the most decorated defensive players in history with nine NBA All-Defensive 1st team selections (tied for most all-time, along with Garnett).

Here is his basketball-reference player card which includes career stats.

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