The last time Kobe Bryant played a full (or relatively full) season, he completed one of his most impressive seasons.
Where ESPN had ranked him number six coming into the season and number seven coming into the previous season, Kobe put on an absolute show and even ended up fifth in MVP voting for the 2012-2013 season.
Obviously team performance is factored into that award and the Lakers barely made the playoffs that season, but Kobe’s level of play was just behind that of LeBron James’ and Kevin Durant’s (who were number one and number two respectively) in my view.
He shot lights out at the start within the confines of the Princeton offense, altered his game after the All-Star break to become more of a play-maker, and put on display plenty of highlight-worthy dunks in the process — all in an effort to help the Lakers make the playoffs, which they eventually did.
Of course I’m a biased Lakers fan, but I’d only concede that perhaps his level of play was on par with that of Chris Paul (who finished fourth in MVP voting), but not below it. Carmelo Anthony came in third in MVP voting that season, after putting up a career-high 28.7 points per game. For edification, Kobe averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists, and 5.6 rebounds that season.
Regardless of whether Kobe finished that season as the third best or fifth best player in the league, two things were certain:
1. He was undoubtedly still a top-five player in the NBA no matter how you sliced it.
2. He was still the undisputed top shooting guard in the league, even after 17 years of professional play.
Kobe had proved plenty of doubters wrong and his level of play earned him the nickname “Vino,” as he was seemingly getting better with age.
Unfortunately, the limits to which he pushed his body towards the end of the season caught up with him as he suffered three injuries in one game — the last one being a devastating Achilles tendon tear.
The tear would keep Kobe out until the following season, where he finally returned only to suffer a fractured leg, which limited him to just six games during his 18th season.
I recently wrote an article on how Kobe managed to outwork, out-perform, and outlast some of his “peers” such as Tracy McGrady, Vince Cater, and Allen Iverson over the course of his career.
I explained how he put separation between himself and the other All-Stars he came into the league with, and how his ability to remain competitive with some of the current superstars in their primes (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, etc.) further cemented his legacy. I also explained how although his legacy in the league has already been cemented, he has nothing to lose going forward. Essentially, no one would blame Bryant for not being the same player he was, entering his 19th season and coming off of two serious injuries.
However, Bryant has something to gain if he somehow manages to play at an elite level in lieu of those factors, which I believe he will.
This brings us to another subject:
James Harden recently declared that he’s the best all-around basketball player in the NBA.
Harden must have forgotten that LeBron James also plays in the NBA, and is a pretty good all-around basketball player himself.
Anyway, Harden followed that statement up by saying he was trying to catch LeBron, Durant, and Kobe and that he couldn’t really back up his claim until he had won multiple rings.
Regardless, Harden sparked some controversy and conversation, so here’s my declaration:
I venture to say that James Harden won’t even be the best shooting guard next season, as that title belongs to Kobe Bryant until proven otherwise.
Three names come to mind when you think of elite shooting guards: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and James Harden. Some may say Kevin Durant plays like a shooting guard, or even that his teammate Russell Westbrook is more of of a two-guard than a point guard. Nonetheless, of players actually listed as shooting guards, Kobe Bryant is still the premier player.
Although Kobe might see more time as a small forward next season or even considering the fact that the distinction between the two positions is seemingly becoming less and less clear and/or important, Kobe’s main responsibilities will include scoring the basketball and setting up his teammates — which are characteristics of a shooting guard.
So, why am I so certain that Kobe Bryant will remain the top shooting guard in the league when James Harden is a star on the rise and Dwyane Wade will be asked to do more for his team following the departure of LeBron James?
Let’s break down their recent performances, first.[divide]
Lakers News: Kobe Bryant Admits He Won’t Be The Same Player