Let’s begin by breaking down Kobe’s last full season (2012-2013) played compared with Harden and Wade’s most recent ones:
Kobe Bryant: 27.3 points, 6.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 50.4 percent eFG%
James Harden: 25.8 points, 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 50.4 percent eFG%
Dwyane Wade: 21.2 points, 5.1 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 52.8 percent eFG%
Taking a look at each player’s PER from the 2012-2013 season, Wade (24.0) actually had the highest when compared to Kobe (23.0) and Harden (23.0).
What exactly does that mean? It means that stats and advanced stats don’t always tell the whole story. Neither of those two (Harden or Wade) were legitimately considered in the MVP race in 2012-2013, although some of their stats and advanced stats were in the same range as Kobe’s and some were even better than the Black Mamba’s. Wade obviously had the MVP playing alongside him, which didn’t help his case.
Last season (2013-2014), Harden improved his PER to 23.5 and Wade held one of 22.0. Kobe held a PER of just 10.7 in six games coming off the Achilles tear. Kobe has since had time to fully condition and get healthy and has said that he’s 100 percent going into next season — although his game will have to evolve as he’s an older player with more limitation on his athletic ability following the injuries.
Defensively, in Kobe’s last full season, he held a defensive rating of 107, whereas Harden (107) and Wade (106) held similar ratings last season.
Those numbers don’t always tell the full story, either, and it’s often hard to measure defensive effectiveness. Harden, however, is notoriously known as a sub-par defender whereas Kobe possesses solid defensive ability, but at his age is unable to exert the required amount of effort to consistently lock players down.
Just for argument’s sake, however, in Kobe’s 2012-2013 campaign, he held opponents’ PERs at the shooting guard position to 12.8 while Harden’s opponents held an average PER of 13.9 and Wade’s held an average of 14.2 last season.
Now, some may consider shooting guards such as Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal as players who are knocking on the door as top two-guards in the league, and they are:
Klay Thompson: 18.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 53.3 percent eFG%
Bradley Beal: 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 47.9 percent eFG%
Those stats are solid for a couple of younger players on the rise, but they are not quite on the same overall level of Kobe, Harden and Wade.
Additionally, Thompson (14.7) and Beal’s (14.3) PERs are nowhere in the same range as the aforementioned three players. Using the opponents’ PER method for measuring defensive abilities, Thompson held counterparts’ PERs to 12.4, which is the lowest among any of the players in this discussion.
Now for the case in favor of Kobe Bryant remaining the best shooting guard in the league.
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