Perhaps this is not the right time to do this, but then again, perhaps it is. The off-court legacy of Kobe Bryant should be enough for any sports fan with an ounce of decency and morality to disown him, yet the on-court legacy is extremely overblown, too.
The reality is Bryant is probably one of the most overrated athletes in history, and especially when it comes to the NBA, he is perhaps the most overrated player ever. A lot of noise was made over the weekend before his death about LeBron James passing Bryant on the all-time scoring list, and that’s where we start.
He is just 19th all time with 172.7 Win Shares (WS), and considering he played 1,346 regular-season games over a 20-season career, that is not impressive in terms of a per-season mark. For comparison’s sake, active legends James (233.6 WS in 1,242 games, currently) and Chris Paul (177.5 WS in 997 games, currently) have been much better players in fewer games.
When Win Shares get prorated into 48-minute doses, the length of an NBA game, Bryant falls to 60th (!) on the all-time list. That’s still Hall of Fame quality, but it’s clear Kobe is nowhere near as great as some want you to believe right now.
A lot of noise also gets made about Bryant’s scoring totals, but the counting stats came over those 20 seasons and 1,346 games. How about on a per-game average? Kobe falls to 12th on that list. Yes, the longer you play, the more your average should revert to a mean, but it’s still one of those realities that Bryant’s counting stats inflate his “value” topically.
Bryant wasn’t a top rebounder (averaging just 5.2 boards per game), and even though Kobe averaged 4.7 assists per game, he was well known for not passing the ball to his teammates enough.
He was a mediocre shooter, in truth, making just 44.7 percent of his shots throughout his career. For comparison there, the shooting guard most pundits insist is the only one better than Kobe (Michael Jordan) shot 51 percent for his career.
Kobe wasn’t a threat to nail three pointers, either, making just 32.9 percent of those shots in his career. He ranks 224th in league history for true shooting percentage, and Bryant isn’t even in the Top 250 all time for effective field-goal percentage.
He was not known for blocking shots, although Kobe does reside 17th currently in total steals, but when it comes to average steals per game, Bryant falls to 100th on the all-time list. See a pattern here? We’re not even sure how he made it on the All-Defensive team 12 times during his career, in truth. This is almost like Derek Jeter and his Gold Gloves.
His entire legacy is built on volume: He took a lot of shots, didn’t make them very effectively or efficiently, and scored a lot of points only because he took a lot of shots. That’s why the memes about his lack of passing are well known: He was a chucker, a ball hog, and a teammate that didn’t make those around him better.
So why is Bryant touted as being a legendary player? Great question: Mostly because he played in Los Angeles and won five championships, three of which came when he was a second banana on the team (thanks, Shaquille O’Neal) and four of which came under suspicious officiating circumstances (this doesn’t need to be re-hashed here, but a quick Google search tells many interesting stories).
Bryant was not a great basketball player, nor was he a great shooter. The statistics bear that out: He merely took a lot of shots and played for a long time. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) still ranks 26th overall, yet eight current players have higher PER marks than he does: James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Paul, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kawhi Leonard.
Is that “greatness”? No. It’s hype, Los Angeles spotlight, and self promotion, really. So when “experts” right now want to glorify Kobe as a top player in history, it’s hard to swallow when eight guys playing right now are better than he was—not to mention all the other historical greats like Jordan who outperformed him, easily.