Will Laker Improvement Help Kobe Bryant to Win his First MVP?On the surface, the MVP is an individual award but, as ESPN's Chris Broussard points out (subscription required), team considerations factor in heavily because voters frown on selecting a player from a team that did not win at least 50 games; if that were not the case, Kobe Bryant would most likely have won the MVP the past two seasons. The 17-10 Lakers are on pace for about 52 wins, which would be enough for Bryant, widely acknowledged as the league's "best" player, to finally earn recognition as its "most valuable." The ironic thing is that Bryant's numbers are actually worse this season than they were in 2006 or 2005 but this may be the season that the voters finally honor Bryant's excellence as opposed to looking for excuses not to do so.
Many casual NBA viewers don't really appreciate how good Bryant is; they reflexively dislike him because they don't root for the Lakers or because they just don't watch the game analytically. However, executives, coaches, scouts and players literally speak in awed tones about Bryant. Broussard reports that a scout recently told him, "The crazy thing is that he's so far and away the league's best player. It's not even close. It's like he's playing a different game than everyone else." This scout told Broussard that Bryant is one of the top eight players in NBA history and challenged Broussard to name eight players who are better than Bryant. The only players who this scout would definitely place ahead of Bryant are Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Broussard adds that this scout placed Bill Russell and Larry Bird below Bryant and that Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan were not mentioned in the discussion. I don't have Bryant in my pantheon of the ten greatest players of all-time--yet; right now, Bryant would be in my top 15 all-time but with each year of MVP-level play he is moving up and it is certainly possible that Bryant will be in the top 10 before his career is over. However, this scout is not some lone voice in the wilderness when he proclaims how great a player Bryant is. Mark Jackson adamantly maintains that Bryant is the best player in the NBA and has a chance to be the greatest player of all-time and Dan Majerle, who played against both Jordan and Bryant, recently told me that "Kobe's just like Jordan"--and not just in style, but in ability. That is why it does not surprise me to read what this scout told Broussard, because when I talk to insiders around the league I hear similar things about Bryant. Any doubts about Bryant's status as the league's best player should have been erased last summer when his work habits, skill level and defensive intensity raised Team USA's play to a level that it has not reached in many years. LeBron James, who may eventually become the best player in the NBA, consistently says that Bryant is the league's best player; he reiterated that statement yet again when he was interviewed by Mike Tirico during the halftime of the Monday Night Football game, adding that he has always looked up to Bryant.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:23 AM