60 More Reasons That Kobe Bryant is the NBA's Best PlayerKobe Bryant may just keep scoring 50-plus points per game until every single person on the face of the Earth is forced to acknowledge that he is in fact the best player in the NBA. He erupted for 60 points on Thursday night in a 121-119 L.A. Lakers win over the Memphis Grizzlies, becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50-plus points in three straight games (Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan are the others). Bryant shot 20-37 from the field (including 3-7 on three pointers) and 17-18 from the free throw line. In his last three contests--all Lakers wins--he has scored 65, 50 and 60 points while shooting 60-111 from the field (.541), 15-28 from three point range (.536) and 40-44 (.909) on his free throws. Let those statistics wash over you for a minute: .541, .536 and .909 in three wins while scoring at least 50 points in each game. Could anybody else in the NBA put up numbers like that? The answer is clearly no, because Bryant's 175 points in three games is the best such streak in the last 40 years; he also holds down second place in that category with a 169 point run in three games last season. Bryant is the first player to have three straight games of 50 or more points since Michael Jordan did it during the 1986-87 season. Bryant tied Michael Jordan for second place on the career list with his fourth 60 point game; Wilt Chamberlain scored 60-plus points an amazing 32 times. Bryant also moved into a tie with Elgin Baylor for third place on the career list for 50 point games (17; the Lakers are 13-4 in those contests).
Why is Bryant consistently able to score at such a prolific rate while shooting such phenomenal percentages? The answer to that question is also the reason that he is the game's best player. Bryant has no weaknesses in his arsenal: He has honed his footwork to perfection; he is a master of the shot fake; he has almost unlimited range; he can finish with either hand; he can dribble with either hand in traffic. Bryant is beautiful to watch from a technical and fundamental standpoint. He is not just jacking up shots; he reads the defense and sets up whoever is guarding him with moves and countermoves. Just watching the highlights of the Memphis game, you can see his use of the jab step, the pump fake, the escape dribble, the ability to pivot and many other fundamental moves. Then, on top of his mastery of fundamental skills, Bryant has been blessed with tremendous athletic ability and he has conditioned himself to an incredible level. Memphis' Mike Miller said, "When he gets going like that there's not a whole lot you can do. That's why Kobe is who he is. He doesn't get tired. He's in great shape. He's got his foot on the accelerator the whole game." That is something that I mentioned after Bryant's 81 point game last year: when he walked off the court, he did not even look tired. When Jordan scored 63 points in a double overtime playoff game versus Boston, he looked exhausted coming down the stretch--and he also was in great condition. Bryant's physical conditioning and mental toughness play a big part in his ability to score the way he does--but none of this would be possible without his mastery of offensive fundamentals. Young players should TIVO Bryant's moves, replay them and learn how to use proper footwork, ball fakes and so forth.
I know that somebody is going to say, "But Kobe Bryant did it against Memphis, the worst team in the league." I have two words for that somebody: "Shut up." It's not like Bryant has such a great team around him--despite his sublime effort, the Lakers only won by two. Without him, they could very well have a worse record than Memphis. Bryant is doing things that have not been done in decades, feats that have only been matched by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan--the best of the best in the history of the game.
The most significant thing about these games is not who the Lakers have been playing but when the games have been played: down the stretch in a tight playoff race. The Lakers need to keep winning in order to maintain or improve their position in the tough Western Conference and it is apparent that they need for Bryant to score a lot of points to do this. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has been urging Bryant to be more aggressive offensively and Bryant has certainly responded to the challenge, so anyone who would say that Bryant is playing selfishly by shooting so much does not understand a thing about basketball.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:05 AM