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Kobe Bryant's Most Underrated Season Ever: Career Highs In 2003 For Rebounds, Three-Point Percentage, Steals, And Minutes Per Game

Kobe Bryant

When looking back on the late Kobe Bryant's career, what do you think of first? Is it his legendary 81-point game, his incredible 60-point finale, or one of the many game-winning buzzer beaters he nailed during his career?

Needless to say, there are countless moments and seasons that are easy to point out as Kobe's best. But today, we're going to shed some light on, perhaps, one of Bryant's most underappreciated stretches: the 2002-2003 season.

Bryant played without Shaq for the first 12 games as Shaq was out with an injury, and it was the first time he was truly handed the reigns of the Lakers. While the team didn't get very far that postseason, Bryant was brilliant with averages of 30 points, 6.9 rebounds (career high), and 5.9 assists per game on 45% shooting.

By the time he finished, Bryant was the NBA's leading scorer, ranked 3rd in MVP voting, and 8th in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He also had a stretch in which he scored 40 or more points in nine consecutive games.

Putting stats aside, Bryant was just a visually different player than he had been up to that point. Without O'Neal. he was free to command the offense and carry out his will as he saw fit.

The newfound freedom worked wonders for a young Kobe, who had mastered the art of scoring, defending, and leading a team at the NBA level.

Still don't believe me? Check out what Kobe himself once said about his game in 2003:

(via ESPN)

At the end of 2003, my game was complete. Shooting, defense, using the dribble, transition, midrange stuff was all there. Then it was about fine-tuning and trying to improve in each area. People think the footwork stuff is new, but I've always had great footwork.

In the coming years, the Mamba would definitely have more successful seasons, but maybe none as individually as impressive as this one. During the 2002-2003 campaign, Bryant was the total package, and he was at his all-around best.

Sadly, that time often gets overlooked by fans today simply because of how young Bryant was and how early his team was eliminated in the postseason. But despite the failures, we can still recognize what he did that year for a Lakers team that was very much headed downhill.