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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Kobe Bryant Moves Past Shaquille O'Neal on the All-Time Scoring List

Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 28 points in a game-high 44 minutes on Monday night as his L.A. Lakers lost 95-90 to the Philadelphia 76ers. Along the way, Bryant moved past his former teammate Shaquille O'Neal into seventh place on the career ABA/NBA scoring list with 28,601 points, five more than O'Neal scored. Bryant has played 79 fewer games than O'Neal did and has averaged nearly two more ppg during his career (25.4 ppg to 23.7 ppg). Just like a year ago when Bryant joined the exclusive 25,000 point, 5000 rebound, 5000 assist club, most media accounts describing Bryant's accomplishment will disregard ABA statistics and simply state that Bryant moved into fifth place on the NBA's career scoring list; this kind of revisionist history ignores the ABA points scored by Julius Erving and Moses Malone. Erving was the first "midsize" player in pro basketball history to score more than 30,000 points, at the time of his retirement he ranked third on the all-time list behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain and he still ranks fifth on the all-time list behind Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Chamberlain. Malone narrowly missed joining the 30,000 point club and he currently ranks sixth on the all-time list. ABA Numbers Should Also Count and the achievements of active players like Bryant should be used to shine a much needed light on the achievements of retired players, much like Drew Brees' record-setting 2011 season reminded fans just how great Dan Marino was to set a single season passing yardage mark that stood for nearly 30 years--longer than Jim Brown's career rushing yardage record lasted.

Bryant moving past O'Neal on the all-time scoring list reemphasizes the important point that Shaq Achieved So Much--and Could Have Achieved So Much More; Bryant has always seem determined to achieve as much as possible before Father Time forcibly removes him from the court, as I noted while Placing Kobe Bryant's Career in Historical Context nearly two years ago. Even before Bryant added two more championships to his resume I explained why Choosing Kobe Over Shaq Looks Smarter Every Day; since the Lakers made that fateful decision they have captured three Western Conference titles and two NBA championships, while O'Neal--despite teaming up with, in succession, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash, LeBron James and Boston's "Big Three"--managed to win just one NBA championship sans Bryant. The individual numbers are even more slanted in Bryant's favor: since Bryant and O'Neal last played together in 2004, Bryant has scored 16,386 points in 567 regular season games (28.9 ppg) while O'Neal scored just 6682 points in 398 games (16.8 ppg) before retiring prior to this season.

However, the way that Bryant surpassed O'Neal provides a telling glimpse into the current state of the Lakers: Bryant poured in 24 points on 8-14 field goal shooting in the first half against the 76ers but despite his sensational play the Lakers were only up 50-46. Bryant cooled off dramatically in the second half--shooting just 2-12 from the field--and, predictably, the Lakers fell apart. The relevant story here is not that Bryant should shoot less frequently--contrary to the bleatings of Mike Wilbon and Jon Barry--but rather that the sad reality is that the Lakers need for Bryant to score 30-40 points while shooting an excellent percentage just to have a chance to win any road game or to beat a good team even at home; the Lakers barely had a lead when Bryant was on pace to have an insanely productive and efficient game and they simply had no answers once Bryant proved incapable of sustaining that amazing pace.

Opposing defenses routinely throw multiple defenders at Bryant and dare anyone else to beat them; Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have their moments but neither player has the mentality or skill set to consistently dominate a game: Gasol seems to be trying to reinvent himself as a jump shooter, while Bynum only gives effort in spurts and looks clueless when help defenders aggressively attack his dribble. At times, both Lakers big men complain that they don't get enough shot attempts but if you actually watch the Lakers play then you know that Bynum and Gasol do not work hard enough to establish post position early in the shot clock (on the occasions that they do so, Bryant willingly gives them the ball). The problem with establishing post position too late in the shot clock is that the opposing team can simply trap and force a kickout pass, leaving no time for Bynum or Gasol to repost and receive another pass; this often results in Bryant shooting long jumpers with the shot clock about to expire, which then sometimes leads to Bryant deciding he would be better off shooting earlier in the shot clock when he has more options as opposed to waiting and then having to bail out his passive big men.

The Lakers are horribly weak at point guard and small forward and their bench is completely ineffective. Bryant has averaged a least 40 ppg for a calendar month four different times, a number surpassed only by Wilt Chamberlain (11), but--even though Bryant's legs seem healthier and bouncier than they have in years and his injured wrist seems to be healing--it is not realistic to think that a 33 year old shooting guard who has played nearly 50,000 minutes (regular season and playoffs combined) can sustain that kind of work load for a prolonged period. When Michael Jordan came back to play for the Washington Wizards he had a lot of games in which he scored a ton of points in the first half before fading badly in the second half, much like Bryant did against the 76ers; Bryant is not on his last legs like "Ground Jordan" was but the Lakers are going to spoil whatever juice Bryant does have left if they don't figure out a way to acquire Dwight Howard to take some of the burden off of Bryant and try to win a championship using the 1995 Houston template: a star center paired with a star guard surrounded by scrappy role players and three point shooters (the Lakers don't have those three point shooters right now but if they can pull off the Howard deal they should be able to find one or two guys who can hit wide open jumpers to make teams pay for doubling Bryant or Howard).

Bryant understands that the end is near, both for his career and for the Lakers' hopes of winning a championship; Bryant has always made it clear that his prime motivation is winning championship rings but at this point it sounds like Bryant would be happy to win just one more ring to add to the five he has already won. After the loss to the 76ers, Bryant acknowledged the significance of moving up the career scoring list but explained what is really important to him: "I just want number six, man. I'm not asking too much. Just get me a sixth one."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:40 AM



At Tuesday, February 07, 2012 6:27:00 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Some dude on twitter a few days ago noted that 5 of the top 6 scorers of all time played for the Lakers. I opted to let his ignorance slide; can't blame him when the media is being so ridiculous. By the way, Sam Smith gave a little ABA write-up a couple days ago : http://www.nba.com/bulls/news/smith_120130.html

At Tuesday, February 07, 2012 8:07:00 PM, Anonymous Maniac said...


Like you, I am not into definite all-time rankings of basketball players, but if I were really forced to make a top 12 list, it would go something like:

Michael Jordan/Bill Russell
Kobe Bryant
Wilt Chamberlain
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Magic Johnson
Larry Bird
Oscar Robertson
Jerry West
Shaquille O'Neal
Tim Duncan
Julius Erving

At Tuesday, February 07, 2012 10:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Sam Smith is a good guy--I've had some interactions with him as a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association--and an insightful writer, two rare qualities.

At Tuesday, February 07, 2012 10:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is a very reasonable list.

At Tuesday, February 07, 2012 10:32:00 PM, Blogger hokwei said...

Matt, 4 of the top 6 played for the Lakers. It's a mistake that could have simply been a missed keystroke.

At Tuesday, February 07, 2012 11:30:00 PM, Anonymous Maniac said...


I know you probably don't have a definitive list in your head, but as you have said in the past, you do have certain opinions about certain player's historical standings. What can you at least agree and disagree with about that list?

I leave room for flexibility. I wouldn't be upset with Duncan & O'Neal being switched and the same applies to Oscar & West (though I personally believe Shaq & Oscar to be superior players). I am also not against Shaq & Duncan being higher than Oscar & West, though I do believe those 4 to rank below the top 7 I listed.

Bird is a solid 7 in my opinion, though he can be ranked higher. The three great centers are interchangeable, though I am a firm believer that Russell has the best case for being ranked the highest of the three. I prefer to rank Magic next to Bird due to them being so closely linked in NBA history, but he can arguably be ranked higher. I usually put MJ as #1 by convention, but by no means is his spot solid seeing as how I have him "tied" with Russell.

Kobe has earned his way up the list and I'm a firm believer that he should be ranked VERY high. Because this list is based around the linking of certain individuals, I may end up putting Kobe #2 by the end of his career seeing as how him and MJ are so close and drop Russell to #3 right next to the other centers.

What do you think?

At Wednesday, February 08, 2012 5:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Dave, any thoughts on the Lakers' offense in recent weeks?

I've noticed they're relying very heavily on Bryant planting himself in the high post and getting the ball to teammates. Since Kobe is almost guaranteed to draw a double team, this does generate open looks. However, it also gets Bryant out of his scoring rhythm. During the Philly game, he came out shooting very well, and then hardly attempted a basket during the 3rd quarter since he was in "passing mode." Then when the Lakers needed him to generate buckets down the stretch, he couldn't knock anything down.

Although I agree that moving for Dwight Howard would be a boon for this Laker team, I also think that acquiring a non geriatric point guard is almost as important to return the team to contention. Kobe having to simultaneously be the go-to-scorer and distributor makes him less effective in both roles. It's not going to be an effective long term strategy.

Anyway, great stuff as always. Look forward to hearing your thoughts!

At Wednesday, February 08, 2012 3:54:00 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Hokwei :

Neither Jordan (#3), Dr. J (#5) or Moses Malone (#6) ever played for the Lakers. If you disregard the ABA numbers and ignore Dr. J and Moses, which was point of my complaint, then he is correct that 5 of the 6 played for the Lakers(Kareem, Malone, Wilt, Kobe, Shaq).

At Thursday, February 09, 2012 3:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that it is very difficult to compare players who play different positions and even more difficult to compare players from different eras. Your greatest players list is very reasonable but the players you chose could also reasonably be listed in a different order and it could also reasonably be suggested that Elgin Baylor or Bob Pettit should possibly have been included.

At Thursday, February 09, 2012 3:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Lakers have been relying heavily on Bryant for years; he annually leads the team in scoring and assists and during the Phil Jackson years he essentially filled both the Michael Jordan scoring role and the Scottie Pippen facilitating role in the Triangle Offense. This year, the Lakers' bench is even worse than usual, Pau Gasol has regressed and Andrew Bynum is still adjusting to being the team's second offensive option.

I agree that adding a "non geriatric point guard" would greatly help the Lakers; watching them play so far this season it is painfully obvious why the Lakers were willing to give up so much size to get Chris Paul, whether or not one agrees that this would have been the best solution to the Lakers' problems (I am skeptical about trying to build around Chris Paul after Bryant retires and thus think that the Lakers should try to get Howard both to win now and also to have a legit anchor for after Bryant retires).

At Thursday, February 09, 2012 6:08:00 PM, Anonymous Maniac said...


I agree. Speaking of Bob Pettit & Baylor though (they round out my top 15 with Hakeem), assuming that you include my top 12 plus the aforementioned two, what other player makes it into your top 15?

Also, what is your take on Kobe as far as his all-time ranking? He is probably my all-time favorite player (along with Russell & Duncan), and sometimes foolish "haters"/critics make me think that I overrate him. I truly believe that he is probably the 2nd greatest ever (behind MJ) due to how close they are. In my opinion, he is the greatest Laker and legends like Magic & West seem to agree. What do you think?

Finally, as far as the Lakers, in all honesty, they suck. I am a huge Lakers fan, but I am also not a fool. I may be delusional, but because I have so much faith in Kobe and how wide open the west is, I think he can lead them back to the finals with some help from the bigs. There is a rumor going around that the Celtics are willing to make a trade with the Lakers centering around Rondo & Pau; I like it. What do you think about this "rumor"? The Dwight and Deron situations are too complicated.

At Friday, February 10, 2012 6:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I prefer to save my thoughts on any possible top 15 list until I choose to update my Pantheon series.

As I mentioned in my previous comment, it is difficult to compare players from different eras and it is difficult to compare players who played different positions. Certainly a good case can be made that Bryant is the second best shooting guard of all-time behind Michael Jordan but how can one realistically compare a 1980s/1990s shooting guard, a 2000s shooting guard and big men who played in the 1960s (Chamberlain, Russell) and 1970s (Abdul-Jabbar)? If I am going to make such comparisons then I will do so in a lengthy, well thought out article and not here in the comments section.

As I have mentioned a few times, the only way that I see the Lakers getting to the Finals is if they go all-in to get Howard and thus transform the team into a new version of the 1995 Rockets; that would certainly not guarantee success but the current team is not a legit contender in my opinion so the Howard acquisition makes sense both in the short run and in the long run.

I don't believe that replacing Pau Gasol with Rajon Rondo would make the Lakers a legit contender; it would help the Lakers in terms of perimeter defense and playmaking but hurt them significantly in terms of size.

At Monday, February 13, 2012 8:28:00 AM, Blogger Adi Vase said...


What do you think of the possibility of the Lakers trading Pau Gasol to add Rajon Rondo, signing JR Smith, and then trading a combination of Bynum and other players(maybe Devin Ebanks and a pick) to Orlando for Dwight Howard? Obviously, one has to also consider the fact that other GM's do not wish to help the Lakers create an all star team that meshes well, therefore making this scenario improbable but not impossible. I believe having a top 4 of Bryant/Howard/Rondo and Smith would help the Lakers have a better shot of success at a title than they do as presently constructed. Depth would be hurt, but it is not as if this Lakers team is particularly deep anyway. They will obtain a center and point guard to play heavy minutes,an additional playmaker, a scorer(albeit a very streaky one), and will still have Kobe. What are your thoughts on such a team?

At Monday, February 13, 2012 4:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Adi Vase:

Why would the Celtics trade their best young player--indeed, arguably the best player on their team period--for Pau Gasol, a former All-Star who has been declining for the past year or so? That trade simply makes no sense for Boston.

J.R. Smith is talented but he is also a knucklehead. He is more trouble than he is worth--and the same is true for Gilbert Arenas, who doesn't even seem to be that talented any more. Lakers' fans better hope and pray that the Lakers are not serious about signing Arenas.

The best case scenario for the Lakers is that the Magic become convinced that Howard will indeed leave as a free agent and that the best deal they will get will be Bynum (without Gasol). If the Lakers can trade Bynum for Howard straight up (with other contracts thrown in to make the deal work) then the Lakers will be in great shape--but even if the Lakers have to part with both Bynum and Gasol to get Howard they should still do this without hesitation: the Lakers as currently constructed are not legit contenders, something that I have been saying for months even though the oddsmakers and pundits considered the Lakers to be an elite team before this season began.


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