March 03, 2008
Let's start with the obvious, a line of predictable reasoning that (for some reason) we need to be reminded of from time to time: Kobe Bryant is freakin' awesome.
He probably should have been the MVP in 2005-06, though Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James were all justifiable winners (I still can't believe Steve Nash, my second favorite player since high school, won that thing). Bryant shouldn't have been punished for having to do his damage on an otherwise crummy team. Kobe faltered a bit last season, but you'd probably lose your mind sharing a backcourt with Smush Parker or having to run screen-and-roll plays with Kwame Brown.
This year, the man has been fantastic, running one of the NBA's most devastating offenses while regaining the defensive edge that he appeared to have lost last season. He put on a brilliant performance on national TV yesterday, registering 52 points (30 in the fourth quarter and overtime alone) and 11 rebounds while carrying the Lakers offensively in a win over Dallas.
When Bryant went to the free throw line, the Staples Center crowd chanted, "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
And they should stop it.
Actually, they can chant whatever they want. Chant it for Sasha Vujacic, see if he has a Slovenian sense of humor. My issue is in the incessant (in El Lay and on the national airwaves) proclamations of Kobe Bryant as the NBA's best player.
He isn't. Sorry, but he isn't. He's awesome, but he's not the game's best player. He has the best chance of any NBA talent at dropping 75 points on your ass, and that's impressive, but Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Wade (when he's healthy) aren't far behind. And "best scorer" doesn't always mean "best player."
And, while we're at it, Kobe's not even the best scorer any more. James is.
And, in this case, "best scorer" means "best player."
And, to anyone who takes the game seriously, "best player" should mean "M-V-P!"
It's not a huge edge, but it's decisive enough: James has Bryant licked in scoring per game (30.3 to 28.2), assists (7.5 to 5.4), rebounds (8.1 to 6.0) and shooting percentage (48.6 to 46.6). Bryant shoots better from long range (35 percent to 30), and has James' number from the line, but so does Kyle Korver. Otherwise, they're even on steals and turnovers, and James blocks nearly twice as many shots.
James may play two more minutes per game, but he still owns a decisive edge in the per-minute numbers, and has to do his damage on a slow-down team (20th in the NBA in possessions). Kobe has a chance to pad his stats (not that he is, kindly read that carefully) with about five more possessions per game on the Lakers. That's significant.
But that's a mere nuance to national TV types and multi-sport columnists who want to hand the mantle over to Kobe just because his team is winning more. Bryant was working his tail off for years just trying to get a sorry bunch of Lakers up around the .500 mark, and he shouldn't be handed an MVP just because Andrew Bynum can ball now and the Grizzlies decided to hand the Lakers Pau Gasol.
Meanwhile, James is just destroying people in Cleveland. Pulling in more rebounds on a team that owns the boards even without him (there's not a lot of stray rebounds to go around) and racking up assists on a team that can't shoot straight (44.1 percent, 24th in the NBA).
His defense isn't on par with Kobe's, but it's not far off, and it's still pretty damn good. Certainly not bad enough for Bryant to overcome being outscored, outassisted and outrebounded by LBJ. And while both are studs in the clutch, LeBron is better. He significantly outscores, outassists and outrebounds Kobe when it matters.
Worse, James is going to get burned by voters who will credit him for MVPs likely won from 2009-2019 and hand it to Kobe just because he's playing "unselfish" basketball." No, Kobe's playing the same brand of competitive basketball he always has, just for a championship-level team. If he wasn't "selfish" in 2005-06 and 2006-07 then the Lakers win 30 games. Replacing a Chris Mihm with a Gasol shouldn't mean James should be denied.
It stinks, but you watch the groundswell: The "best player in the game" bit will start to become accepted as fact, and voters just make up their mind based on what sounds right instead of doing their due diligence. Then I'm stuck in the unenviable position of having to denigrate one of the best players of my generation, if only to open people's eyes in regards to the sort of -- MVP, mind you -- season LeBron James is having.