While there was much to dissect, discuss and debate with ESPN.com’s #NBArank project, the most controversial ranking clocked in at No. 7 – Kobe Bryant.
Ask any generic NBA fan, and they will likely tell you that Kobe is the second best, if not the best, player in the league. Ask most bloggers, writers and analysts where Bryant ranks, and you get more of a divide. The consensus, however, appears to be borderline top-5.
The resounding and inconsistent argument in favor of Kobe – and against young players ranked ahead of him such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant – has been rings and past accolades. As it currently stands, Kobe is a 5-time NBA champion, and LeBron, Howard and Durant have yet to win a Larry O’ Brian trophy.
If the conversation is career legacy, overall impact, and hierarchy in the so-called basketball pantheon, Kobe is clearly ranked ahead of those three players. There’s no question about it.
But wasn’t the object of #NBArank to rank a player’s current value and quality?
Kobe’s regular season numbers, whether it’s per-game averages or advanced statistics, were about the lowest they’d been in 5 years (his 2010 PER is an outlier). His 2011 postseason was arguably his worst since before the turn of the millennium. It was apparent, at least this past season, that Kobe couldn’t lead the Lakers to the promise land. He’s still an elite player; he’s just a shell of himself.
But let’s say that championships and previous experiences effect today’s rankings more so than that current skill or ability.
Where’s Tim Duncan?
The four-time champion, three-time Finals MVP, and two-time MVP has got to be ranked second (or maybe even first) alongside Kobe. He was 14th in PER, and although he dropped off noticeably in almost all facets of his game, he remains a top-10 big man in the league. Duncan is certainly a Hall-of-Famer, and arguably the top player at his position … ever. No one’s complaining about his No. 19 ranking, though. Nor is anyone protesting for Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Ray Allen or Paul Pierce to be ranked higher.
The inconsistencies in the rings argument are egregious. Using championships and legacy as a trump card to boost Kobe’s ranking, while simultaneously not weighing them as heavily for other great players, is mindboggling.
Granted, Kobe has been better than all of those players (excluding Duncan and maybe Garnett) for most of his career … but that’s not the point. This isn’t an attack on Bryant or his rank. I’m not saying Duncan should be as high as Kobe either. I’m just baffled at the use of the rings argument in current context, and pointing out how it is manipulated to appease certain agendas.
At this point in time, there is no clear-cut way to determine if Player X is currently better than Player Y. Some may rely on PER, others will rely on the eye test, and the vast majority will count the rings. Somewhere along those lines, in the gray area, lies the solution. Determining what factors to take into account, and how much to weigh each of them, is the key.
As with any argument, though, there is a golden rule that should be followed to a tee: if you’re going to use it in debate, at least be consistent.