Top 50 NBA Players: #5 Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
Resume: 27.3 points (3rd in league), 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists (career best), 1.4 steals, 38.6 minutes (2nd in league), 525 free throws made (3rd in league), 626 free throws attempted (4th in league), 46% FG, and 84% FT… Team record in games played: 42-36 (3-1 without)… Playoffs: DNP (0-4)… All-Star, 5th in MVP Voting, 1st Team All-NBA

Yeah, this ranking might be a little high. In fact, I know this is too high for Kobe Bryant. From the time I post my first write up in mid-September I don’t change the list even though as I do more research I’m usually really tempted to do so. I don’t like to be influenced by any other lists out there, including ESPN’s #NBARank, which caused a Twitter riot when a pool of ESPN writers collectively decided that Kobe Bryant was the 25th best player in the league. Needless to say, when I saw such a great difference between my ranking and ESPN’s it created some skepticism on my behalf.

Apr 12, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts in front of Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Rational thought should’ve led to a conclusion that a player attempting to come back at some point from a torn Achilles shouldn’t be considered a top five player league. After all, this isn’t a spry 24 year old who was just hitting the peak of his career;  this is a 35 year old who has roughly 54,000 regular season and playoff minutes on his odometer, plus thousands more when you consider high school games, pre-season games, time spent with USA Basketball and an unknown amount of practice time. Again, rational thought would say that Kobe, as great and accomplished as he is, wasn’t going to be getting any better, and that’s before you take into account the whole torn Achilles thing. It would be easy to believe that his best days were behind him. His defense was curiously poor this season compared to seasons past and he didn’t show the athleticism and burst that was on display nightly when he was playing on younger legs and during one incredibly fun stretch of time, with a mini fro.

On the other hand it’s really challenging to apply rational thought to Kobe Bryant. It’s hard to be rational when you think about one of the most polarizing and competitive human beings alive; someone who personifies the idea of a killer instinct, heart of a champion, eye of the tiger, and any other cutesy way of putting into words when a sport consumes an athlete to the point that it is their life. So yeah, I choose not to think rationally about the 17 year veteran who nearly averaged 27-6-6 last year. Just because of a torn Achilles I’m not going to neglect the fact that during a seventeen game stretch from December 2nd until January 6th last season Kobe averaged 33.9 points on 47% shooting, scoring over 30 points in fourteen of those seventeen games. I cannot just choose to forget about Kobe logging huge minutes (40 per game) over the last month or so of his season as the Lakers were making a final push towards the postseason. You can’t just forget that stuff.

Unfortunately, I’ll also never forget when Kobe tore his Achilles against Golden State. If you play sports or love basketball or feel anything, your heart ached for Kobe Bryant in that moment. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Kobe fan or not, you couldn’t help but feel for him as he knocked down two free throws on one leg, limped back to the locker room and then answered questions with tears in his eyes for seven excruciatingly long minutes, knowing that as he put it, he had no Achilles.

It surely hasn’t been and won’t be an easy road back for ‘The Last Alpha Dog.’ But make no mistake, Kobe will be back. If there is an athlete who can come back from this, it’s Kobe Bryant. His game has evolved over time; he relies more on a deadly midrange game, impeccable work in the post, and a great sense of the big moment than anything else. None of that should be compromised all that much, and his heart and love for the game certainly won’t be stolen by an injury like this. This is a rare breed of athlete and human being. Whether or not rational thought tells me that I should, I’m never doubting him.

If you’re looking to see Kobe play this year, don’t hesitate in grabbing Lakers tickets for any game of the 2013-14 regular season!