Recently, I've been stumbling upon a lot of articles, social media post, and even memes depicting and summarizing Kobe Bryant's careers with "advanced analytics". Some people have gone as far as to mark Kobe Bryant as overrated based on these growing narratives. I'm here to give you a deeper look and understanding on why advanced metrics paint a deceptive outlook on Kobe Bryant's career.
1. The flaws and inconsistencies with advanced metrics
I believe firmly in never using numbers without the proper context, let alone having them be the end all be all in debates. The issue with advanced metrics, specifically PER, and win shares (the two most commonly used metrics) is that a lot of people don't actually understand how they are calculated, therefore it's hard to find the flaws and inconsistencies.
I'll try my best not to bore those of you not into advanced metrics, but I have a few explains detailing some pretty self-explanatory issues. Win shares, like any other stat, just can't take into account everything positive and negative a player does on the court. They're only able to factor in the end result, which is very unfriendly to a player like Kobe Bryant whose game has never catered to these types of things.
Win shares penalize high usage players. Since Kobe has never been mistaken for a high-efficiency player, win shares punish him greatly. Someone like Reggie Miller, who was an above average player in terms of efficiency surpasses someone like Kobe. Despite the fact, he does a lot less across the board in terms of the full game (scoring, assists, rebs, defense, etc). It also doesn't take into account things prior to ending of a play.
Kobe doesn't get credit for the double teams he causes due to his relentless attacking, or the floor spacing he creates by just being on the court, leaving the 3rd of 4th option in a prime example to score, rebound and just be a disruption to the defense.
However, since he doesn't get the assist or the bucket for those particular plays a lot of his actual impact will be lost on the stat sheet. Just to put things into perspective on how win shares sometimes tell not even 25% of the story, I'm gonna leave some years where player X, finished above player Y in win shares and you can come to your own conclusion on how reliable the stat really is.
Must check this: Why is Kobe Bryant perceived as an inefficient scorer and shooter when he was anything but?
- 1990, Hakeem averaged an astonishing 24 and 14, with 5 blocks, 2 steals, and 3 assists. But because his team didn't finish well, he placed behind Terry Porter, and Reggie Miller despite Miller's team having very similar win/loss records.
- In 1995, the year Hakeem won MVP, and his second title, Detlef Schrempf, Dana Barros, and Reggie Miller all finished above Hakeem in win shares.
- 2002, Brent Barry had more win shares than Jason Kidd, while Elton Brand ending up finishing above Dirk, Shaq AND Kevin Garnett.
2. Kobe played with the best player in the world for nearly half of his career
Now, before everyone starts, I know, I know, if there wasn't Shaq, Kobe wouldn't have 3 of his rings. While I completely agree, and I understand the value of the rings over stats, it did hurt Kobe from a statical point in the long run. Not only did Kobe have to play second fiddle to, at the time, the best player in the world, he had to sit on the bench for the good part of two years. Opposed to someone like Lebron who was given the keys from jump ship.
People will say, well 'It's Kobe's fault he wasn't good enough to start right away', which isn't exactly true. The Lakers had just drafted a shooting guard the year before, with an even higher pick than Kobe who was selected to the All-Star team in just his third season (Eddie Jones). And prior to the season, Kobe had broken his wrist playing pickup basketball. So the fact Kobe beat him out in just his second season says a lot about how skilled Kobe was at just a young age.
In Kobe's first two seasons, he played a combined 3,159 minutes. To put that into perspective, Lebron played 3,122 minutes in his first season alone. So Kobe was already behind the ball in terms of opportunity and when the opportunity finally came for him to take on a bigger role in his third season, Shaq had already arrived on the scene in the form of the best player on the team and in the league.
Kobe, with 6 years of starting basketball along Shaq, still managed to average 25 points before he even reached his prime. Kobe, in his first full season removed from Shaq, managed to have a historical season averaging 35.4 PPG, which featured games where he outscored TEAMS by himself, a whole MONTH of averaging over 44 points and of course, his 81 point game.
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That season followed by another that wasn't too shabby where he won his second straight scoring title and another record-setting stretch where he had 4 straight 50 point games. Scoring, of course, isn't the only aspect of the game. Following Shaq's departure, Kobe had his best passing season, and his 3pt efficiency jumped significantly while taking no noticeable hits to other parts of his game. He also still managed to make defensive teams year after year despite the work load increasing.
This was all to show you that it's expected that players Jordan and Lebron have superior career numbers than Kobe who wasn't thrown into a starting role off the rip and spent nearly half his career alongside the best player in the league, where he didn't have the opportunity to win more MVPs, scoring titles and reach individual feats.
Taking all those things into consideration, it's that much more impressive that Kobe managed to keep a 25, 5 and 5 career stat line. Could you imagine the ridiculous numbers Kobe would have put up if he never played second fiddle? Would you rank Kobe higher all time if he had 3 rings, but had a 30, 6 and 6 career stat line?
3. Play Style
Kobe, I will be the first to tell you, as a long time Laker fan and the biggest Kobe fan you'll know, took alotted of bad shots over the course of his career. A lot to the detrimental to some of his teams and his team and his own career most of all. Kobe retired as the last of the dying breed of isolation players.
Even in the later parts of his career, where his skills diminished and his athleticism dwindled away, his play style stayed the same. Kobe was never the player to stand in the corner and run off screens. He wasn't the player who preferred plays ran for him. Just gave him the ball, and get the hell out of his way. That was what made Kobe so great, his cut-throat plays style, the assassin's mentality.
But at the same time, his biggest attribute was his biggest weakness. His play style has never fitted the advance metrics system. His shot selection definitely didn't either. PER especially has always valued quality over quantity. That has always been the knock on Kobe. Especially as we step further away from his career and look back. His 44% career shooting percentage and the holder of the most missed shots in NBA history will always hang over Kobe's head. It will be the end on, be all for most of his critics.
While I agree, those numbers don't look great for Kobe, I think it's taken a bit out of context. People get shooting percentage confused with the ability to shoot, or ability to score. In reality, it tells you more about the shot selection than the anything else. A lot of people don't really label Kobe as a jump shooter, but that is where a majority of his shots came from.
Early in his career before he had developed a real jump shot, he hovered around 46% which isn't bad at all for a guard, but as his career went on, he relied heavily on his fadeaway, baselines jumpers and sometimes contested jumpers over 2 defenders. Where on this reason, Kobe has no one to blame but himself. I think the criticism gets overblown and overstated. It affects him heavily it terms of advanced metrics, like PER in particular and 44% career shooting just doesn't look good anyway you slice it.
In conclusion, Kobe's full impact will never be felt on the stat sheets. His game was never tailored towards metrics, PER, or win shares. They'll never be a perfect stat that truly captures a player's full impact. While stats will always be important and give people general ideas of where what players do and don't do well, everything should be taken into context. No one stat should ever be the end all be all of any argument.