The great Kobe debate

The great Kobe debate
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
March 30, 2007

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
Kobe, Kobe, Kobe. Love him or hate him, the guy generates excitement, both on and off the court.

That's why the overwhelming majority of your latest emails dealt with Kobe Bryant in one way or another.

I knew as soon as I wrote that Kobe might be "the most complete offensive player ever" that I'd be stirring up some controversy. Whether it was Jordan backers calling me crazy or Kobe fans thanking me for my comments, it seemed that everyone had something to say.

So here you go, NBA fans: It's your time to be heard.

KOBE VS. M.J. ("L.A.'s comeback kids," March 26, 2007)

While you bring up a good question whether Kobe Bryant should be considered as the best offensive player in the history of the NBA, your statement that "plenty" of players rank ahead of him as the "best" player seems out of place. Many NBA coaches and scouts will attest he is the game's best player today and are even comparing him to Michael Jordan, arguably the best NBA player in history. So, based on those comparisons, it would not be proper to say there are "plenty" of players that rank ahead of him as the best of all time. Kobe has three championship rings, yes with Shaq as his partner when they were together. That is more than Wilt had in his career and same as Larry Bird of the Celtics dynasty. When his playing days are over, I believe Kobe will rank in the top three and definitely top five players of all time.

Syin Chao
Honolulu

Syin, I made a mistake when I said that there are "plenty" of players who are considered better players than Kobe overall. Perhaps the word I should have used is "several." Plenty of you picked up on this and let me have it in your emails, and you're right. The list of players who I consider better than Kobe is not a long one, but here you go: Jordan, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Oscar and Jerry West. Six names do not make "plenty." But it is more than several, isn't it? Does anyone out there have the word I'm looking for?


Kobe the best offensive player ever? You have to be kidding me! In the 80's and 90's, you could play defense. Nowadays they have switched all the rules due to the inability of the players to make a hoop. You can't even sneeze close to a player [without being] called for a foul. Now Kobe is thriving in this new system. I would like to see a Dennis Rodman or Scottie Pippen type of defense on Kobe and see if he would score 10 points. If Dennis Rodman or Scottie Pippen would be playing today, they would foul out in five minutes.

Jose
Winston-Salem, N.C.

Jose, you bring up a good point. The hand checking rule has made life much easier on perimeter players these days. But for the past 20 years or so, I've had a front-row seat watching the world's best players, and I'm telling you that Kobe would have been fantastic in any era. I'm sure Rodman and Pippen would have given Kobe a good challenge, but Byrant would have scored on those guys at will, too. He has no weaknesses, and he's incredibly competitive.


I would have to probably agree with you, Steve, on Kobe being the best complete offensive player of all time. And that's saying a whole lot, since we've had some great ones from Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, George Gervin, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar all the way down to Mr. Jordan himself. I haven't seen anyone this skilled in a long time. I think he's even more skilled than M.J. was in his prime. Michael was just a better leader on the floor in terms of getting everyone to step up their play. Let me know what you think on that comment.

Eric Robinson
Detroit

Eric, when I wrote that Kobe may be the most complete offensive player of all time, I was referring to his overall skill set. His dribbling and long-range shooting are better than M.J.'s were, and his creativity and athleticism are practically on par. But I agree with you about the leadership comment. Michael figured out how to lift up the level of his teammates' play, and his defense and overall game management were better than Kobe's. And M.J. won six titles, none with a dominant big man to play next to. That's why ultimately there's no argument that Jordan was the better player.


Steve, how can you legitimately suggest that Kobe Bryant is the most skilled offensive player in the history of the game when you played with the greatest player of all time in Michael Jordan? I think you have forgotten how great Michael was, especially when the rules of the game allowing hand checking made it more difficult to score. Also, the league was more talented and defensive-minded during M.J.'s greatness. Finally, is it not clear to you that Kobe sets out to score and take over the game instead of letting the game come to him and his teammates? Kobe -- great player, yes. But I'm not impressed.

Glenn K.
Aurora, Ill.

Glenn, I feel the Chicago love coming through! Don't worry. I'm still an M.J. guy. I'd better be, because if it weren't for him I never would have had the career that I did. (Or the one that I have now, for that matter.) But the fact is, there are facets of Kobe's game that are better than Michael's – in particular, dribbling and perimeter shooting. Michael was more explosive, and he's by far the greatest player ever, but in baseball parlance, Kobe's "stuff" might be a little better.


MORE KOBE

I'm just wondering: Isn't Kobe hurting his team right now? Despite his scoring burst and the accompanied wins and the fact the Los Angeles Lakers might just make the playoffs, isn't it time to start building the team and get chemistry to survive during the playoffs? Lamar Odom and Luke Walton are the important parts on this team to get playoff wins, and they aren't as involved as they should be. It looks like the team is watching a Kobe highlights show from the floor and staring in amazement. Thanks.

Sven
Belgium

Hi Sven, I saw a quote from Phil Jackson after his team lost to Memphis Tuesday night and he said something about how his team would have to start playing together now and stop relying on Kobe so much. But that doesn't mean Kobe was hurting his team. When his recent hot streak began, the Lakers had lost seven games in a row. He had to lift his team on his shoulders. Now that the ship has been righted, and now that Walton and Odom are healthy, it's time for Kobe to get back into his "team groove."


I know you haven't played for a few years, but if you were in the NBA right now, which five current players would you most like to play with, and why?

Shabab
Lubbock, Texas

Shabab, love the question: short, succinct and intriguing. Steve Nash is No. 1. Everyone he plays with seems to put up career numbers, thanks to all the open looks Nash provides. Tim Duncan is on the list. He's an incredible teammate – unselfish, hardworking, modest and a winner. Shaquille O'Neal, because he changes games with the double teams he commands. (And he's also a fun guy to be around.) Luke Walton, who has as good a feel for the game as anyone in the league. He plays a beautiful game. And No. 5 would be Kobe Bryant. I played with Michael Jordan, and it was amazing to watch the show he put on night after night. Kobe is similar in that he provides amazing entertainment – for fans and players alike.


THE PLAYOFF PICTURE ("Jockeying for position," March 24, 2007)

One thing perhaps missing from your article about team preferences for matchups in the playoffs: Do you think that the Dallas Mavericks are rooting for the Los Angeles Clippers since Golden State seems to have their number? Don Nelson would love to beat Dallas and just might be able to pull it off. The Don Nelson-Dallas relationship goes back a long way, longer than most people realize. Don was a very close friend of Norm Sonju, the founder of the Mavericks. After Don went to Golden State the first time, the friendship ruptured somehow and it was only after Norm was gone as Dallas G.M. and part owner that Don was brought to Dallas. Now it seems that Don is somewhat on the outs with a second Dallas owner. Anyway, I always enjoy reading your articles. Keep up the good work.

David Welch
Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China

Hey David, Golden State versus Dallas would be intriguing on two levels. No. 1, the Nellie factor. And No. 2, the Warriors have given Dallas all kinds of trouble the last couple of seasons. But in the playoffs, everything changes. There's more time to prepare game plans, more rest between games and more time to make adjustments. The better team almost always wins regardless of matchups. If the two teams face each other in the first round of the playoffs, I'd be shocked if Golden State won more than one game.


Hey, Steve – loved your article on the five things to watch for as the playoffs approach. I had one thought, though – might some of the better Eastern teams (like the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers) want to play the Miami Heat earlier in the playoffs rather than later in hopes of playing before Dwyane Wade returns (or after he returns and before he gets back into his zone)? I imagine, whenever he returns, he'll get better as the playoffs go on.

David Joyner
Tucker, Ga.

Good question, David. I think what every team is hoping for is to avoid Miami for as long as possible, and that someone else knocks the Heat off. The reality is, the playoffs are about surviving and advancing, simple as that.


Steve, I keep reading that Dallas has beaten the Phoenix Suns in the last two playoffs. I am pretty sure we beat the Mavs two seasons ago, in six, and they won last year, in six, when we went without Amare, Kurt and finally Raja. … For the sake of desert dwellers, could you straighten these folks out?

Randy Claybourn
Phoenix

Phoenix and Dallas have met twice in the last two years in the playoffs, and each team won one series. The Suns won a Western Conference semifinal series in 2005 in six games, and Dallas returned the favor in the 2006 West finals. Hopefully people will jog their memories!


Good day Steve. If the playoff rankings for first – third place are normally for the top teams in each division, i.e. Detroit, Toronto and Washington in the Eastern Conference – then why is Cleveland ranked No. 2? If that's the case, why aren't the Chicago Bulls up there as well, as they also have a better win percentage than the Wizards and Raptors.

Justin Kendall
Hamilton, Bermuda

Justin, the standings can be a little confusing, but they represent the seeding change the NBA decided upon after last season. The way it works is that in each conference, each division leader is guaranteed a top-four seed. But if a team that is in second place in its division has a better record than the other division leaders, it moves up to the two seed. (That's why Cleveland is a two right now). For the Bulls to move up from five, they would have to move past the Cavs or Detroit. In effect, if you're third in your division, it's impossible to be seeded higher than fifth. But in the playoffs, home-court advantage goes to the team with the better record, regardless of seed. If things stay the way they are now, the Bulls would face Toronto in the first round, with the first two games in Chicago.


Hi Steve, do you think the Golden State Warriors will get into the playoffs this season? What do you think that will block them from having this chance this year?

Phillips Huynh
Union City , Calif.

Phillips, I predicted on our Yahoo! Sports webcast last week that the Warriors would make the playoffs, but it's going to be tough. Golden State has a brutal schedule coming in, and the Clippers are playing surprisingly well without Sam Cassell and Shaun Livingston. I think for the Warriors to get in, they'll have to get some help from the Clippers.


Will the Mavericks win the NBA Finals?

Ashwath

A short question deserves a short answer. … Yes.


AWARDS TALK

Steve I have a question. I know my answer but I need some proof from a good source. Who votes for MVP? If the answer is sports journalists, as I presume it is, Kobe will never win MVP (unless he happens to save 10 children and a box of kittens from a burning building). I have heard many announcers and read from too many sports journalists that he has a "smugness about him" or he's "cocky" or too "arrogant." And some of these words were spewed from your mouth! So, automatically he is a villain, sort of a Darth Kobe in contrast to a Steve "Skywalker" Nash. And no one likes the villain of the story so there is a bias already set up. What must Kobe do to win MVP?

Raymond Delacruz
McAllen, Texas

Raymond, The MVP award is voted on by journalists around the country. I have never had a vote in the process, but my TNT partner Marv Albert does every year. I think you have a point about Kobe's image hurting his chances to win the award, but I also think he's come a long way the past two years and has changed the way people think of him. My belief is that to win the MVP award, you have to be on a really good team. When was the last time an MVP award was given to a player whose team didn't win at least 50 games? For as long as I can remember, the award has gone to players on excellent teams – Nash, Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, Jordan, Bird, Magic, etc. I don't think Kobe's image is hurting his MVP chances anymore. I think his team's won-loss record is.


The way LBJ – I'm sure Lyndon and Lady Bird must love this – has played in the second half, would he be the no-miss MVP winner if he played this way the whole year?

Mark
Chicago

Mark, if Lebron James had played the entire season the way he's played since the all star break, I do believe we would be talking about him in the same breath as Nash, Nowitzki and Kobe. But the fact is, his play for the first few months of the year was indifferent. He didn't play with the fire he's showing now. And that cost him a shot at the award. Still, I'm pretty sure he would have taken either LBJ – Lyndon Baines or Lady Bird – in a one-on-one.


Hi Steve, the subject of my inquiry is Jerry Sloan, and why he hasn't won the Coach of the Year award. Quite frankly, he doesn't give a rat if he wins it or not, but he is as deserving as any coach out there who has EVER won it. … I would very much like your viewpoint, preferably publicly on Yahoo! Sports, why you do or do not feel Sloan deserves the award this year. It is obvious that most will vote for Avery Johnson, and he is definitely a worthy candidate. However, how do you think Sloan would do with talent like that?

Kelly Burton
Portland, Ore.

Kelly, the Coach of the Year award always seems to go to the coach of an overachieving team. For most of Sloan's career, the Utah Jazz have been so solid that they haven't surprised anyone. They always seem to be in the middle of things, and so voters haven't really given him his due. It's the same reason Phil Jackson has only won the award once. Personally, if I had a vote, I'd vote for Sloan this season. In fact, I would have voted for him many times over the years. His teams play so hard, and they execute their offense beautifully and compete every night. Those are the hallmarks of a great coach.


MISCELLANEOUS MAIL

I am enthralled to see your columns on Yahoo! Sports, and more often than not agree with what you say. However, lately, you have been anointing inconsistent teams with outrageous possibilities (such as taking home the title), despite only mediocre potential from them in reality. In particular, you seem to flip-flop vehemently with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers. One week you praise their teamwork, defense and ball movement, saying they can go all the way, and two weeks later you say quite the opposite by questioning their liability as a team to fear. … Write zealously to proven teams, with all due respect.

Omar Bayraktar

Omar, I can't argue with you on that one. I have written conflicting columns about several teams this season. But that's my job – to write what I see on a weekly basis. The truth is, teams like Cleveland, Denver and the Lakers have at times looked awesome this season and at other times average at best. What you have to remember is these teams all have talent and potential, so they're going to attract my attention more than some of the weaker clubs. Whether they can reach that potential this season, well, that's the question. I try to provide as many different views as possible, based on what I see. And hey, don't forget that last season the Heat won the whole thing after looking mediocre for much of the regular season.


Hi Steve, you stress the talent the Denver Nuggets have by pointing out that they have two of the top-five scorers in the league. In another recent column, you said that, in the absence of LeBron James, Cleveland "had been forced to move the ball" because they had nobody else to create offense on his own. I completely disagree with your understanding of basketball. I actually think that this prevalent conception of basketball is the ultimate reason of American basketball falling behind that of Europeans'. Moving the ball to create offense shouldn't be an alternative in the absence of top scorers; it should be the primary tool to create offense. As evidence, see how the Philadelphia 76ers improved the moment Iverson was sent to Denver and Andre Miller was brought in as his replacement.

Jake

Jake, I think you misunderstood what I wrote. The Cavaliers were "forced" to move the ball with LeBron out because they couldn't rely on him. My take is this: Imagine how good they'd be if they moved the ball when he is in the game! I think NBA players today are more talented than ever, but I think their collective understanding of the game is lacking. The players in the 80's moved better without the ball, and there was less individual play. Watch a Lakers-Celtics finals game in the 80's on classic sports and you'll see how impressive the ball movement was.


Five East teams in the top 10? Hmmm, I thought the East sucked and the West was supreme? I guess the conventional wisdom is often wrong. The Pistons smashed the Suns and played the Mavericks close without Chauncey Billups. Oh, and the East has won two of the last three championships, all the while being called the "weaker conference." (We Pistons fans don't forget.) Thanks for giving the rust belt some love.

Irwin Baker
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Irwin, you're right. The Western Conference has lost a lot of luster, mainly due to the struggles of the Lakers, Nuggets and Clippers. All three teams were expected to be better than they have been, but because of their poor play, the West doesn't look so scary. Of course, the East doesn't look that great, either. Other than your Pistons, it's tough to find a team that looks like championship material. (I'm assuming Wade isn't part of the Heat's equation). I'd say overall, the league isn't that good this year. There are five or six good teams, and everyone else is mediocre at best.


"Most G.M.'s would rather have Deron Williams than Chris Paul" … Are you INSANE? I'd like to see a list of these so-called G.M.'s. Paul is a better scorer, defender, three-point shooter, free-throw shooter and a vastly better rebounder, not to mention a much better ball handler (3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio), passer (averaging 8.8 assists with the Hornets' offensively challenged unit is much more impressive then Deron averaging 9.2 with the likes of Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer to pass to). Oh yeah, and Chris Paul is also a full year younger! Again, show me this list of general managers because I say you are making this up!!

Trevor Jefferson
Detroit

Trevor, take a deep breath, my man. I've spoken with several general managers who have told me they like Williams better than Paul. (I can't tell you who they are because none of them would want to be quoted on the subject.) The truth is, Williams and Paul are both terrific and I'd take either one to be my point guard for the next 10 years. I personally think Williams is a little better based on his shooting touch. He's a more feared scorer than Paul, especially in the half court. I also think he's a bit better defensively as well. But as I said, they're both awesome. And the stats show.


Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Mar 30, 2007 5:28 pm, EDT

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