Upon Further Review: The Best Players in NBA History, #8

In what will become a daily entry over the course of the next month, Waiver Wire writers Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi will release a list of the the 25 players who they believe to be the best in NBA history. Players were judged on their careers as a whole rather than short stretches of dominance (for example, Bill Walton didn’t make the list due to injuries cutting his career short).

Number: 25 | 24 | 23 | 22 | 21 | 20 | 19 | 18  | 17 | 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9

Number Eight: Kobe Bryant

Vinny Ginardi: Depending on who you talk to, you might hear that Kobe Bryant is the greatest player of all time, or the most overrated player ever. Some point to his five rings, his elite performance on both ends of the floor, his fearlessness in crunch time situations, while others focus on his selfishness and suggest that he couldn’t have won his titles without the help of bigs Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol.

The truth is he falls somewhere in between. For most of his career, Bryant has been a top five player in the league. He’s been named to 14 All-NBA teams (10 first) and 12 All-Defensive teams (nine first). He’s earned two NBA Finals MVP awards and one regular season MVP award. He’s led the league in scoring twice and is closing in on 30,000 career points.

But, for me at least, it’s hard to ignore that the Lakers missed the playoffs when Kobe was entering his prime. Yes, I realize his supporting cast was bad, but LeBron brought a team to the Finals with a supporting cast that was just as weak. NBA teams are extremely star-powered. If you have one of the league’s best five players, that should be a lock for a playoff spot. The fact that Kobe’s Lakers didn’t make the playoffs when he was 26 reflects how selfish he was early in his career. Elite players are suppose to make their teammates betters. For a good portion of his career, Kobe Bryant didn’t.

That being said, he does have five championships while being the best or second best player on all five of those teams. And now with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard as teammates, it’s possible he could end his career with even more. In my eyes, he will never crack the top five, but has cemented himself in the 6-10 range.

Greg Kaplan: Kobe Bryant is an interesting guy to rank in terms of how he stands next to some of the greats that have ever played this game. There seems to be a “yeah, but” for just about every career milestone accomplished by the Black Mamba.

Kobe Bryant has an opportunity to go down as one of the most prolific scorers of all-time. Yeah, but he did it playing in an uber-athletic, highly offensive era that took steps towards the turn of the century to speed up the game and create more shooting opportunities.

Kobe Bryant has a chance to win more rings in his career than Michael Jordan. Yeah, but he’s played with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol and now Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. If Jordan had those types of teammates besides Scottie Pippen, he probably could’ve won 10 titles.

Kobe Bryant is one of the most feared players in crunch time. Yeah, but that’s because he’s going to take every important shot anyway and almost refuse to get his teammates involved if the game is remotely close to being on the line.

You get what I’m saying. There are a lot of critics out there to pick apart Kobe’s game, call him selfish, label him this or that. But, there is still no denying that throughout his career, Kobe Bryant has been one of the most polarizing and electric players the league has ever seen. Some even go so far to say that criticism is the most common form of flattery, and there’s a reason why people care so much about where they evaluate Bryant among his peers.Its because we recognize he’s a great player, but don’t want to give too much credit where credit is due.

And I do agree with one critical point Vinny made previously. Unlike LeBron James, who we currently have ranked two spots lower than Kobe, I don’t see Bryant moving much higher than this ranking regardless of what he could accomplish during the remainder of his career. We’ve certainly already seen Kobe’s appex (which was iconic enough to garner serious comparisons to MJ, though that proved to be too lofty of standards), and we know that he is being partnered with a fantastic foundation of talent around him. I mean, the Lakers easily have a “Big Four” to counter anything the Heat, Thunder, Celtics, Knicks, Nets or whoever can march out against them. Kobe, plus Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard is flat out unfair. We are expecting Kobe to get another ring or two. I don’t think additional jewelry at this point in his career raises his standings on the list.

We’ve seen his greatness. We should appreciate that greatness. He’s a Top 10 player of all-time. But, he’s not moving ahead of anyone that we haven’t named yet on this rankings. That’s a fact.