The Los Angeles Lakers franchise is one of the most renowned in NBA history because they have captured 17 NBA championships and have had some of the best players of all time compete for them. Not to mention, the Purple and Gold had arguably the greatest duo ever with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant competing for the franchise. Together, they won 3 straight NBA titles thanks to their mix of size, skill, mentality, and physicality. Even today, we have not seen a better guard-center duo on the court together.
The Lakers franchise has had some other elite players including Magic Johnson, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain among others. LeBron James is the most recent member of that elite group, as the forward managed to add the franchise’s 17th NBA championship in the 2020 season. Looking back throughout history, the Lakers always seemed to field all-time great players with some of the best skills of their times. But by focusing on the first decade starting in the 2001 season, it will be helpful to name the best player per season until the year ended in 2010.
Here are the best Lakers players from 2001 to 2010, whereby the duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant ran riot between them while the shooting guard won more championships as the face of the franchise alongside another Hall of Fame big man. It is always interesting to revisit the history of the Lakers because they might have had the greatest selection of talent over every other franchise.
2000-01 - Shaquille O'Neal
Stats: 28.7 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.8 BPG
Achievements And Awards: NBA Championship, Finals MVP, All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection, All-Defensive Second Team Selection
Following the 2000 season whereby Shaquille O’Neal won the league’s scoring title, MVP award, NBA title, and Finals MVP award, the big man was the driving force behind the Los Angeles Lakers’ second-straight championship. The center was so physically dominant, that the Philadelphia 76ers team led by the MVP of the league Allen Iverson had to succumb in 5 games. Kobe Bryant was coming into his own and was a superstar himself, but O’Neal was still the best player for the Lakers.
He averaged monster stats on the court, 28.7 PPG and 12.7 RPG while blocking 2.8 shots per game. Shaq tasted championship glory in the prior year and was starving for another title. It was obvious by the start of the year that O’Neal was going to dominate the court for another year, and this time, he had a superstar shooting guard in Kobe Bryant who had come into his own, finally.
2001-02 - Shaquille O'Neal
Stats: 27.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.0 BPG
Achievements And Awards: NBA Championship, Finals MVP, All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection
For the third straight year, Shaquille O’Neal was the Finals MVP of the Los Angeles Lakers team that won the NBA championship to complete a historic 3-peat. The Diesel was unstoppable in the paint yet again, and even with a superstar Kobe Bryant by his side, his numbers were off the charts in the Finals. O’Neal put up 36.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, and 2.8 BPG in the Finals, and the New Jersey Nets had no shot at competing with him.
O’Neal was also fantastic during the regular season, putting up 27.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, and 2.0 BPG. He did not make the All-Defensive Team because he wasn’t always a consistent defensive presence, but his raw size and intimidation gave him the ability to block two shots per game. O’Neal was also helping Bryant blossom, as the shooting guard averaged 25.2 PPG during the regular season and 26.8 PPG in the NBA Finals.
2002-03 - Kobe Bryant
Stats: 30.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Achievements And Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection, All-Defensive First Team Selection
While one can argue for Shaquille O’Neal being the best player on the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2003 season, it is obvious that Kobe Bryant was the man throughout the year. O’Neal was relatively out of shape during the season, missing 15 games during the season but still managed to put up 27.5 PPG and 11.1 RPG. Shaq also made the All-Defensive Second Team and obviously made the All-Star Team. But Bryant was spectacular all year, as his numbers clearly show.
Kobe averaged his career-high in RPG during the 2003 season and was dominant on both ends of the floor. The shooting guard made the All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA First Team, proving that it was time for him to take the throne even if Shaq was still at his absolute prime in terms of production. Bryant was in the best shape of his life and put up spectacular numbers, although the team struggled with the beef between the two stars continuing to brew.
2003-04 - Kobe Bryant
Stats: 24.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Achievements And Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection, All-Defensive First Team Selection
Kobe Bryant was no doubt the best player on the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2004 season because Shaquille O’Neal was not in great shape. The big man looked thicker and slower than usual, posting his then career-low in points at 21.5 PPG, and failing to make the All-Defensive Team. Specifically, it was obvious Bryant and O’Neal were butting heads throughout the season which is why the Lakers were destroyed in the NBA Finals by the lesser talented Detroit Pistons.
Kobe Bryant took the blame for the 2004 Finals loss because he felt he did not do enough to prepare the team for Detroit’s aggressive defense. But it was obvious the superstars were not vibing on the court, because the shooting guard had clearly usurped Shaq as the best player on the team. The superstar center would get traded before the next season, officially declaring the end of one of the most dominant duos of all time.
2004-05 - Kobe Bryant
Stats: 27.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Achievements And Awards: All-Star, All-NBA Third Team Selection
Without Shaquille O’Neal on the roster, it was obvious that Kobe Bryant was the single best player on the Los Angeles Lakers. The franchise committed to Bryant long-term, as they decided to give him their future as they tried to rebuild the team. Obviously, the Lakers were a very poor team as they lacked the talent to win games. That is a major reason why Bryant only made the All-NBA Third Team.
But Kobe averaged 27.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 6.0 APG during the season, and did not have much help outside of Caron Butler (15.5 PPG) and Lamar Odom (15.2 PPG), and the team was in clear transition because Shaq and also Phil Jackson was not on the team. The Lakers ended up missing the playoffs and finished with a poor 34-48 record after nothing was expected of a rebuilding former championship contender.
2005-06 - Kobe Bryant
Stats: 35.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Achievements And Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection, All-Defensive First Team Selection, Scoring Title
Kobe Bryant was on another level during the 2006 season, because he was hell-bent on proving that he could carry the Lakers into the playoffs without Shaquille O’Neal. Luckily for Bryant, his head coach returned to the bench as Phil Jackson certainly had an impact in helping the Lakers focus on the playoffs. But again, Kobe had little to no help. Outside of Lamar Odom (14.8 PPG), the shooting guard was a one-man show throughout the year. Playing with Smush Parker and Kwame Brown did not help either, because both players were starters and lacked the appropriate intangibles to help a team compete in the playoffs.
Bryant scored a season-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors during the season, which marked the second-highest mark from a player in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. The shooting guard finished the season with a scoring average of 35.4 PPG, and also hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history with a game-winner against the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the first round. Unfortunately, the Lakers would end up losing the series with Bryant seeming to quit on the Lakers in the second half of Game 7.
2006-07 - Kobe Bryant
Stats: 31.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Achievements And Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection, All-Defensive First Team Selection, All-Star Game MVP, Scoring Title
Following the 2006 season’s disappointing end, Kobe started the year on fire and ended the season with his second-straight scoring title. The shooting guard was exceptional at scoring the ball, posting over 30 PPG again while also locking down opposing perimeter players. Again, Bryant did not have much help outside of Lamar Odom (15.9 PPG) although a young Andrew Bynum was showing potential.
Bryant held his own on the team, but he had seemingly had enough with the Lakers failing to surround him with the appropriate talent. The shooting guard wanted to win in Los Angeles, but it did not seem it was going to happen, as the Lakers finished with a 42-40 record and lost in the first round to the Phoenix Suns again. Luckily for Bryant, help would arrive the following year.
2007-08 - Kobe Bryant
Stats: 28.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Achievements And Awards: MVP Award, All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection, All-Defensive First Team Selection
Kobe Bryant got his help, as the Los Angeles Lakers acquired All-Star Pau Gasol to pair with their franchise guard. Derek Fisher was back on the team, Andrew Bynum came into his own, and Lamar Odom was still on the roster. Together, the Lakers were primed for a championship and it was expected that a showdown with the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals was destined. It ended up happening, although the Lakers lost in 6 games.
Bryant did win the MVP award, and quite frankly, it was long overdue. The shooting guard was the best player on the best team in the league, and his numbers were MVP-caliber. But losing in the Finals after years of waiting for help did not sit well with the shooting guard, and he returned the following year with a vengeance. It is amazing how long Bryant was the best player for the Lakers, a major reason why he is regarded as the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time. But Kobe knew it did not matter if he couldn’t win championships without Shaquille O’Neal, a player who had won his 4th title with the Miami Heat in 2006.
2008-09 - Kobe Bryant
Stats: 26.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Achievements And Awards: NBA Championship, Finals MVP, All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection, All-Defensive First Team Selection, All-Star Game MVP
Kobe Bryant finally got over the hump, winning his first championship without Shaquille O’Neal and his 4th overall. The shooting guard was spectacular during the season, but he was not interested in the MVP or any other individual awards. Rather, he just wanted his 4th title and he finally got it by being the Finals MVP in the series against the Orlando Magic. No doubt about it, Kobe deserved it.
The Black Mamba was ultra-focused throughout the year, keeping his mean face on for much of the year and even more so in the postseason. Bryant was unstoppable with the ball in his hands and had an amazing Finals series against the Magic by posting 32.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 7.4 APG. With his 4th championship and a smile on his face, Kobe knew he had just as many NBA titles as Shaquille O’Neal.
2009-10 - Kobe Bryant
Stats: 27.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Achievements And Awards: NBA Championship, Finals MVP, All-Star, All-NBA First Team Selection, All-Defensive First Team Selection
The following year, Kobe was the best player for the Lakers and the Finals MVP again as the team defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. Bryant earned Finals MVP in the hard-fought series, posting 28.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 3.9 APG while also doing enough to overcome a brutal 6-24 shooting night in Game 7. Bryant helped elevate the levels of play from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and also welcomed in former rival Ron Artest with open arms.
Kobe’s teammates were there for him in the 2010 Finals, coming up with big plays whenever needed. Thanks to the Game 7 victory, Kobe won his 5th championship and 2nd straight Finals MVP, solidifying himself as one of the all-time great players and easily the most accomplished player in Los Angeles Lakers franchise history. Hilariously, Kobe made it known that this championship meant the most because it was “one more than Shaq”.