Even if you concede that Kobe was the best two-guard in the league during the 2012-2013 season, how will he remain so when James Harden is only getting better and Dwyane Wade may very well come back with a vengeance after losing in the NBA Finals and losing the best player on his team?
Well, first of all, he’s Kobe Bryant. He’s accepted every challenge he’s been faced with and conquered every obstacle put in his path. However, the recent injuries, cumulative miles on his body, and the unstoppable clock of Father Time are certainly not in Kobe’s favor.
At the same time, he’s virtually had a year and a half of rest, minus those six games played last season. While there will certainly be rust, hopefully the nagging injuries are gone and hopefully some of the daily rigors that take a toll on an athlete’s body were alleviated with the time off.
Mentally, the Black Mamba is likely seeing the end of the tunnel and geared up to finish off the last two seasons of his career with a purpose.
Some may say that Kobe won’t even be playing as much at the shooting guard position, which is true.
In Kobe’s last full season, he played two-thirds of his time on the floor as a shooting guard, while the remaining one-third was played at the small forward position. It’s possible that we’ll see Kobe split time evenly at the two positions.
However, when playing as a shooting guard and matched up against other two-guards, Kobe will have the advantage offensively as he likes to back players like Wade and Harden down and utilize his exceptional footwork. The limited time spent chasing around guards on the defensive end while he’s matching up with small forwards should also help conserve energy for when he does match up with the young shooting guards of the league, as he’ll be fresher.
However, regardless of what position he’s playing, Kobe still has the best footwork of any basketball player in the game, and his post game is among the best in the league — if not the best, even among centers and power forwards.
That is one thing Kobe has over any player in the league, and certainly possesses over the likes of James Harden and Dwyane Wade.
The guy is just a natural born scorer, and can find numerous ways to best his opponent.
As he alluded to in a recent Sports Illustrated interview, Vino plans to alter his game, but he believes the evolution will make him a more efficient player. I am convinced that, along with being outside of Mike D’Antoni’s offense — where he had to handle the ball a lot more and run endless pick-and-rolls — Kobe’s evolution will include playing more off-ball and setting up in better spots, particularly in the mid-range area or close to the post.
He may not be shooting the ball as freely or as frequently as he did in the past, which may reduce his points per game, but I believe his shots will be more wisely selected and he’ll certainly continue to dissect opponents’ defensive schemes and set the table for his teammates.
That brings us to another thing that Kobe does better than most players in the league. Whereas Harden and Wade are excellent play-makers while handling the ball, Kobe has the ability to do that as well, but also is exceptional at collapsing defenses in the post and creating plays for slashers and/or big men on the weak side of the floor. With Pau Gasol gone, I anticipate him taking on more responsibility of acting as a hub down low.
When it comes to truly having an all-around game in terms of being able to score from outside, score from mid-range, score from inside, pass from outside, pass from mid-range, pass from inside, post-up, play within a system, play off-ball, rebound the ball, hound players on the perimeter and get physical with players in the post, there are not many other players out there who can rival what the Black Mamba is capable of.
No, he may not exhibit all of those skills exceptionally well in one game or even in one season, but he certainly possesses the skills to do so. He simply works on parts of his game in which he knows he’ll be better suited to take advantage of and be efficient with against his opponents. For example, in the upcoming season, Kobe realizes he’s going to need to become more of a play-maker from inside the post and also the mid-range. Additionally, he’ll handle the ball a lot more in the post and score closer to the basket and in the mid-range area, but perhaps his outside scoring will come more from off-ball movement rather than from gaining separation from an opponent as a result of shaking him with flashy handles.
The ability of Kobe to evolve his game and focus on different parts of it when the times call for it is what makes him one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and certainly keeps him in contention with the best players in the league year after year.
So, there is is. That’s my case for why Kobe Bryant will remain the best shooting guard in the league.
Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll never be as productive of a player again and some of the other shooting guards will finally surpass him.
Even if he doesn’t, just the fact that he will be in the conversation coming into his 19th season at age 36 is a remarkable feat in itself. When comparing him to some of the all-time greats, even if Kobe is able to be just 75 percent of what he was two years ago and remain healthy, he’ll have one of the most productive lengthy careers in NBA history.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar saw his production decline significantly in his 18th season (of 20 remarkable seasons), and Karl Malone saw his level of play decline considerably in his 19th and final season (which was filled with injuries limiting him to about half the games of the season). Among guards, if Kobe can retain a certain level of play for the next two seasons, he’ll finish his career off as having the most productive lengthy career in the history of the NBA (Michael Jordan only played 15 seasons due to multiple retirements and baseball).
But, maybe Kobe’s body won’t hold up and he won’t be able to produce like he has in the past. Maybe he won’t even be the second- or third-best shooting guard in the NBA anymore. Maybe he’ll even drop to the rank ESPN gave him prior to last season — 25th.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned to not do over the years, which plenty of critics seemingly have not learned yet, even after being proven wrong countless times by Mr. Vino, it is one thing:
Never bet against Kobe Bryant.
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