Let’s Break It Down: Is Kobe Bryant Getting Old?
Kobe “Bean” Bryant is touted as the greatest player in the league since Michael Jordan for good reason. But as of today, there’s a very valid argument that Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James has surpassed Kobe as the NBA’s best player. One could also make the argument that Kobe may now be playing third fiddle in the league behind Kevin Durant. Upon closer inspection, the argument can be made Kobe is finally getting “old” and in danger of being passed by today’s younger stars.
Blasphemy, you say? Let’s take a closer look at “Black Mamba” and how he’s fared against the field over the past two years.
You’d be lying to yourself if you can honestly say Kobe’s been playing at the same level as King James since the second half of last season. Although Kobe walked away with the ring, you’d have to be a fool to think he did it all by himself. James, on the other hand, was just getting acquainted with his Cavs heading into the playoffs before they were ousted by a very deep Orlando Magic team led by Dwight Howard. But alas, LeBron James lifted the MVP trophy above his head after posting ridiculous numbers of 28.4 ppg, 7.2 apg & 7.3 rpg. Bryant was no slouch by comparison, averaging 26.8 ppg, 4.9 apg and 5.2 rpg. As this season comes to a close, Bryant’s again been posting great numbers (27, 5, 5) but LeBron is obliterating the competition with career best numbers of 29.7, 8.6 & 7.3. He even wipes Kobe in field goal percentage (.503 versus .456) and is shooting 33-percent from behind the arc.
With the Cavs posting the league’s best record heading into the playoffs, it’s pretty hard to argue who the best is right now. And if you look towards the future, the 25-year-old James is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. As a matter of fact, Bryant better start looking over his shoulder as a young stud by the name of Kevin Durant is quickly racing up the ladder and is dangerously close to pushing Bean aside.
Entering his third season in the NBA, Durant has made a living out of excelling expectations. The 21-year-old has taken what used to be a lowly Oklahoma City Thunder and created a playoff contender. But this season has also been surreal statistically for the former University of Texas standout. He’s about to become the youngest player to lead the league in scoring (30.1 with two games left) while averaging 7.5 rebounds and shooting just a shade under 90-percent from the free-throw line. Those are pretty awesome numbers from Durant. Let’s take the analysis a step further and look at what both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were doing in their third seasons. James averaged 31.4 ppg, 6.6 apg and 7 rpg in his third year with the Cavs. Not too shabby, eh? Bryant was averaging 19.9 ppg, 2.5 apg and 5.3 rpg for a Laker team that was already pretty talented and didn’t look to Bryant as its savior like LeBron and Kevin have been for their squads. By comparison, Bryant is a distant third to Durant and James. The great equalizer for Bryant, however, is four NBA titles. James and Durant have some way to go.
I know what you’re saying; Kobe’s 31 and battling injuries. He’s still a better clutch player. There’s no better player you’d want with the ball when the game’s on the line. I get it. But this is quite the compelling argument when you look at what Michael Jordan was doing at 31 against the next wave of talent coming for his throne.
At 31, there was absolutely no argument as to who was better than Air Jordan. None. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. He had just made his return to the NBA as #45, shaking a little rust off before turning 32 during the ’95-’96 seaso, and stomping a hole in the competition en route to another trio of NBA championships. He played all 82 games in all three seasons. He won the MVP award twice. He couldn’t be touched. So you can consider Kobe “old” but the fact is, Jordan arguably played some of the best ball of his life from age 31 until he retired (again) at 35.
With a field of young players lobbying to become the league’s best, Kobe Bryant finds himself in the unique position of trying to prove that he’s still got “it.” He’s not head and shoulders above the competition as Jordan once was. MJ walked away from the game with nothing left to prove. The old head looks like he may still have a lot to prove. He’s not only chasing history, he’s battling the present.
All it takes is for Kobe to “blackout” and smoke the competition, while claiming a fifth NBA championship for this whole argument to become a moot point. But what if the Lakers get ousted before the NBA finals? What if Durant bodies Kobe in the first round and the Thunder knock the Lakers off? What if King James and Kobe finally meet in the NBA finals and LeBron dominates? Then you can go and ask those around you this question while referring to everything I just pointed out: Is Kobe finally old?