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Twenty Players Better than Kobe

I can't help myself. Perhaps it's the 2009 playoffs; perhaps it's the Lakers fans I sat next to at the Pepsi Center while I watched the Nuggets lose game four of the 2012 NBA playoffs. Regardless, I just cannot believe the hype Kobe gets. I inadvertently got an infographic trending among my followers that compared Kobe to MJ (no, I won't be linking to it), and that's absurd. Kobe would have a hard time being a top three Laker of all-time, let alone a top three player in NBA history. With that, I set out on a challenge: could I name 20+ players who had better careers than Kobe? Of course I could. Here are the metrics I used:

Wins Produced (of course!) - An all-encompassing boxscore stat to estimate player productivity? Best on the market!

Career above average wins - I looked at players' career win totals. However, I only counted seasons where the players had over 1000 minutes and played above average (WP48 > 0.100) I'm interested in players that had long careers, but less interested in their tailing off years and/or injured seasons.

Brocato Prime Wins - I looked at the six best seasons of each player's career. Why six seasons? Because the average NBA career is around six seasons long. This gets us the player at their peak, which can be filtered out by players with long careers (like Kobe) The Brocato method also handles any gaps due to injury, or seasons where the player was just "off".

Arbitrary Fan Stats - I wanted to make sure I had some popular backing to justify my claim. So here were the arbitrary criteria I used:

  • Player won an MVP OR
  • Player won multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards OR
  • Player made it to multiple finals and won at least one OR
  • Player leads the NBA as an all-time leader in a stat

Yes, this did mean I left out some players who I think were/are easily better than Kobe (Chris Paul and Shawn Marion, for instance), but this means that I at have at least one casual fan "reason" to use. For instance, I got crap for saying Nash is better than Kobe. But it's worth noting that Nash has two MVPs to Kobe's one, so there's at least a popular leg to stand on. And of course, using only stats from the "complete boxscore era" means I'm leaving off historic players like Wilt and Russell. But I'm fine with that, as I still easily found twenty names.

The Winners Are...

I am just going to list the winners in order. All players that had a higher Brocato Prime than Kobe had more career wins (in above average seasons) than Kobe, and also met one of my arbitrary fan criteria. I was able to find 26 names. Here they are listed in order of Brocato Prime (With such a plethora of stats, I'm leaving the list clean. Feel free to add stats in the comments):

  • Charles Barkley
  • Magic Johnson
  • Michael Jordan
  • John Stockton
  • Dennis Rodman
  • David Robinson
  • LeBron James
  • Larry Bird
  • Ben Wallace
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Dikembe Mutombo
  • Jason Kidd
  • Clyde Drexler
  • Moses Malone
  • Shaquille O'Neal
  • Dwight Howard
  • Hakeem Olajuwon
  • Scottie Pippen
  • Tim Duncan
  • Steve Nash
  • Karl Malone
  • Horace Grant
  • Maurice Cheeks
  • Robert Parish
  • Gary Payton

Yes, each of these players had a career I'd take over Kobe's. Some of their careers are still going. And there are a few active players who will make this list soon (why hello there, Mr. Durant). Now, the truth is that many of these names won't shock anyone. Placing Magic or MJ above Kobe is usually at least met with "I can see your point". But there are a few reasons some other names on the list don't get the same respect, so I figured I'd run them down.

Count the Rings

Offenders: Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Steve Nash, Karl Malone

It's really hard to win a title. Now, that's not to say that once you have a title team, it's unlikely you'll repeat, but getting that team together is rough in a league with a draft, restricted free agency, and a salary cap. For instance, MJ and Kobe were drafted to teams that got them surrounded by talent (although not as quickly as you'd think for MJ), whereas Charles Barkley was put a on a team whose stars were fading.

Luck can effect you too. In the 1993 Finals Charles Barkley's teammate, Cedric Cellabos, went down with an injury right before the finals. The Suns outscored the Bulls, but still came away empty handed. Steve Nash got unlucky when Amaré decided to hop off the bench and get suspended for a key playoff game. Karl Malone forgot how to shoot free throws in the finals.

In short, getting a ring is often used a barometer of success. And this can ding multi-MVP winners and some of the greatest NBA players of all time in some people's minds.

Yay! Points!

Offenders: Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace, Dikembe Mutombo, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Maurice Cheeks, Gary Payton

Basketball is a multi-faceted game. It's about more than just scoring, and oh yeah, defense is really important. These things are repeated over and over to me on Twitter. And yet this logic often goes out the window when someone argues that Kobe is better than another player. Take Jason Kidd for instance. In 2002-2003, he was able to put up almost 19 points a game. He also dished out 9 dimes, pulled down 6.3 boards, and averaged 2.2 steals a game. Kidd was almost a team by himself! But the fact that his points don't crack 20 a game, and his assists sometimes fall short of 10 a game, instead of looking holistically at Jason Kidd, people just say "Hey! He's not on Kobe's level!"

Super great defenders like Rodman, Wallace, and Mutombo definitely get snubbed because their stats aren't as sexy. Yet, if the "defense matters" crowd is serious, how the heck are the players who combined for 11 Defensive Player of the Year Awards not in major consideration for all-time status?

Pippen Syndrome

Offenders: John Stockton, Dennis Rodman, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Maurice Cheeks, Robert Parish

When great players play beside other great players, it's sometimes hard to notice how good they are themselves. For instance, Michael Jordan was great, but he needed a lot of help to get to 72 wins. Jordan racked up 2 MVPs and 3 Finals MVPs during the greatest threepeat in the history of the NBA. But Pippen and Rodman definitely didn't get the same love. And while Pippen does get some respect, the honest truth is that until this guy named LeBron came along, an astute fan could make the argument that Pippen was neck and neck with Bird in the race for the greatest small forward ever (that's right, I said it Arturo!)

Robert Parish, who will show up again shortly, definitely got hit by this too. No one could believe I'd take Parish over Kobe. The 1986 Celtics are considered by some to be the greatest single season team ever. Parish was a 16 point, 10 rebound player that season, and it was a down year for him. From 1982-1985 Parish was a 20-10 machine on a team that also had Bird and McHale. Playing next to an all-time great hurts your overall stock. On most teams Parish would have been a legend, never to be forgotten. On the Celtics, he's an afterthought behind Bird.

Market Forces

Offenders: Any player from the 80s, Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish

Here's the thing, the NBA wasn't always as popular. Part of Michael Jordan's dominance of the NBA landscape has to do with the fact that his peak coincided with the NBA's reach. Magic Johnson reached the NBA finals as a rookie as a point guard. He then swapped in for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the reigning MVP and a center, to win the NBA finals MVP! Oh yeah, the game was played on tape delay.

Moses Malone was a three time MVP, and part of the famous "fo-fo-fo" 76ers. Yet I seldom even hear him mentioned as an all-time great.

Ironically the booming popularity hurt Robert Parish. As I mentioned above, he was a key member of one of the greatest dynasties ever. Parish was the ultimate iron-man, playing the most games of any NBA player. That means that, to many, he's that role player from the 90s who played next to Jordan, and not that force of nature from the 80s.

And bringing this back to Kobe, he definitely benefits from being in the largest NBA market of all-time. Playing in Los Angeles and having international reach has definitely spread his name a lot more than someone like Kevin Garnett, who wallowed in obscurity up north for most of his career (Editor's note: at just under 45°N, Minneapolis is hardly what I'd consider "up north". Maybe that's just me though).

Summing Up

Kobe probably ranks a little lower than 26 in my book. That said, he is definitely a top 100 player, and he's easily a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Remember, I'm making the claim that Kobe is "overrated", not "bad". Kobe has a big place in NBA history and has had a very impressive career. It's just not one of the top twenty careers in NBA history, and hopefully that's not too shocking!