6. Kobe Bryant, LAL, G, 30 yrs
21,262,500 09/10- 23,034,375 (PO) 10/11- 24,806,250
More shocking to me than Melo being only 24? Kobe is playing in his- are you ready for this- 13th NBA SEASON!!! I like Mark Jackson as a game analyst, but its too bad we can't limit his opinions to analyzing games, because when he says something like "Kobe is as good as Michael Jordan", well, he loses credibility. I cannot fathom how this argument continues to fester, but there are few that seem to never go away no matter how little sense it makes. I wrote a lengthy post on this subject a few years back, so here's the cliff notes version: Kobe has won zero titles without Shaq, one of the four most dominant big men in history, whereas Jordan won six as the best player on his team. Not only that, MJ's stats are superior from an age when not only was the competition better, but so was the defense, as hand checking was not only allowed, but encouraged. In today's NBA, David Stern would try to send The Bad Boys to prison for the things they got away with in the 80's. Now, if a guy even breathes near a superstar, he's going to draw a foul. A new piece of information that I didn't share in the post from a few years back is this: let's compare MJ and Kobe in what I would consider a player's prime 7 seasons: from age 23-29. For Mike, this was his 3rd year in the league in 86/87 to 92/93, and for Kobe that was 01/02-07/08 (believe it or not he was 23 in his sixth year in the league). Here is what they AVERAGED over those seven years:
Jordan: 33.2 PPG, 5.9 AST, 6.4 REB, 2.8 STL, 1.04 BLK, .519/.271/.845 FG/3/FT
Bryant: 28.9 PPG, 5.4 AST, 5.9 REB, 1.53 STL, 0.54 BLK, .452/.336/.843 FG/3/FT
I mean people, and specifically Mark Jackson- THAT'S NOT EVEN COMPARABLE!!! It's not even a debate!!!!! Jordan, with less talent around him for the bulk of that stretch, had far superior numbers to Kobe. The only thing you could nitpick MJ for is his 3pt shooting, which is should be noted improved dramatically after his fourth season (his first 4 years he never shot better than 19%, but after that until he retired from the Bulls the second time- and as far as I'm concerned HE STAYED RETIRED- he never shot below 27%, and had five seasons where he shot over 31%. That's not great, but it's not bad either). It's just one of those things where I can't even believe the argument is still being made because it's basically (if I can make up a word) "unarguable". And yet I seem to get pulled into defending MJ, the greatest team sport athlete who's ever lived, everytime. Kobe might be a top 10 player of all-time someday, but there's a sizable gap between himself and The Greatest. You hear me Mark Jackson?
5. Chris Bosh, TOR, C, 24 yrs
14,410,581 09/10- 15,779,912 10/11- 17,149,243 (PO)
I wouldn't put him in the top five players in the league right now, but at 24 years of age he easily belongs this high on the list of values in the league. His career averages are 19/9/1.2 blks and while you might want a higher shooting percentage than 48 from a guy who makes his living in the paint, remember he's also an almost 80% career free throw shooter, which is simply unheard of from a non-Euro big man these days. His only knock is health, as he hasn't played more than 70 games in the past three years. WHEN he finds a new team in the summer of 2010 (any hoops fan outside of Toronto knows it's a foregone conclusion Bosh will relocate south of the border when his contract is up), for his longevity he needs to find a team with a decent center, because he'll have a much longer and more productive career as a 4 than a 5.
Because Bosh will bolt, as would and will any decent American free agent, shouldn't Stern bend the rules so the Craptors get first crack at all the Euro prospects? Hell, shouldn't they just have ALL European players? Americans have proven over and over that if they can get a better deal from an American team they're gone, and yet the Euros just can't enough of the place. As much as I hate Toronto and their media bias (honest to god, if you're ever subjected to having to watch one of Canada's three "national" sports networks, you wouldn't even know there's teams in any other provinces besides Ontario and Quebec. Hell, you wouldn't even know there ARE any other provinces outside of those two!), I will admit it's a very cosmopolitan city with a lot going for it, and I can see why a European player would love it. So since Toronto is one of the five least desirable free agent destinations for American-born players (The top 5 is Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Utah, Milwaukee and Toronto), why not let them have all the Euros they want? And while we're at it, can't Stern relax the bench rules a little to make these guys feel more at home? Why can't we let them roll their own cigarettes and smoke them during timeouts, or even while someone's shooting free throws? Can't you see Bargnani coming over to talk to coach Jay Triano, Triano hands him a smoke, and Bargnani lights up while they chat about the last play, or maybe their favorite new techno song? Vlade Divac would definitely need to be the assistant coach.
4. Dwyane Wade, MIA, G, 26 yrs
14,410,581 09/10- 15,779,912 10/11- 17,149,243 (PO)
Miami will be the road team NOBODY in the East will want to play in the first round. Not only is DWade good enough to win a round by himself right now (what do you even say about a guy who's AVERAGING 28 pts 7 asts 5 boards 2 stls and 1.5 blks?!? What's even scarier is it that he's not even the best player in the league right now, and it's not really close. Knights of columbus!) but when "playoff refing" starts and superstars who drive the lane get every call possible, Wade becomes pretty much unstoppable (not that we've seen this happen before with DWade or anything. Especially in the NBA Finals. That would never happen in a league where a ref was convicted of betting on games he referreed.). Right here, right now at 26 years old Wade is one of the three best players in the league and should stay there for at least three more. My concern with him is the Shaun Alexander/LDT Effect. In the summer of 2010 (or perhaps sooner if the Heat manage to get Boozer) Wade is going to sign a six year maximum deal that will run in his age 28 season until he's 34. For someone like Lebron or Kobe or Chris Paul I would have zero worries locking up a guy like that to max money in those years of his career. But I fear DWade is a much different story. He is fearless, relentless and incredibly effective driving to the basket, but because he's such a terror going to the rim (and the fact he's only 6'4) his body has absorbed an incredible amount of fouls and damage in his six NBA seasons. And thus far, Wade has shown zero ability or desire to develop and/or knock down a mid range-deep jump shooting game. Jordan extended his career a long time by developing the pull-up jumper, and we're seeing Kobe do the same. But if Wade insists on continuing to play his running back-style, there's just no way his body holds up into his 30's. Just like we saw with LDT this year, Wade could very well be dominant for another 3-4 years and then suddenly he's going to completely fall apart. I love watching Wade play and he's going to give the Heat some more great seasons, but I would NOT want to be the NBA team on the hook for max money to him from age 30-34.
3. Dwight Howard, ORL, C, 22 yrs
13,758,000 09/10- 15,133,800 10/11- 16,509,600 11/12 17,885,400 12/13- 19,261,200 (PO)
I almost hate writing about Howard because I feel obligated to mention that I said on this blog more than once that I would have taken Emeka Okafor over him in the draft. While the logic in doing so (experienced player who WAS durable in college who looked to be the next Zo Mourning instead of a skinny high school kid who may or may not have the desire to get better), I was and am really, really wrong. Howard IS the modern day Moses Malone, and as a 23 year old, is averaging 20 points, almost 14 boards and 3 blocks a night. He really has no downside: he's young, smart, from all reports has a great attitude and work ethic, the league's best body (meaning he'll age well and be able to take the pounding in the paint), and has gradually shown an improved low-post game. If he can continue to refine it and ever get close to 70% on his free throws, he'll be a perennial MVP candidate, and at worst he's the best center in the East, and probably the league, for the next decade.
2. Chris Paul, NO, PG, 23 yrs
Great oden's raven I love me some CP3! This year he's throwing up 20 points 11 dimes 5 boards and 3 steals a night. Want more? How about the fact he's .496/.365/.864 from FG/3/FT? Or has a redonkulous 30.56 PER right now? And all at 6'0 and the age of 23. On his ESPN.com bio, the master, the meistro, the professor of hoops Mr. John Hollinger says the following…
"In fact, if you compare how he played at ages 20 through 22 you'd be hard-pressed to find a single point guard in history who was demonstrably superior, which might make it easier to digest the possibility of further ascent. It might be odd to think of a 6-0, 175-pound guy as the best player in the league, especially when iconic talents like LeBron and Kobe are in their primes. But if Paul improves much at all from last season, we're going to have to get comfortable with that idea."
Honest to goodness if he keeps this up, we're also going to have to get comfortable with the idea of putting him in the conversation with Magic as the best point guard ever. And if you're in the same breath as Magic, that also means you're in the equation for one of the best 5 or 10 guys of all-time. Shhhh I know, I know maybe getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but so far so good.
Also, Apologies to the basketball fans in Milwaukee, Atlanta and Portland if they ever read this and now feel like slamming their heads against their desk or giving themselves a root canal with a rusty screwdriver because their teams passed on Paul in the 2005 draft. Of course, fans in Utah are still more in the dark of the truth than Andy Bernard was in The Office until last night's episode, as they can't quite seem to figure out what everyone else already knows: while DWill could be one of the best points in the league, he's nowhere not in Paul's class. Now we just have to figure out a way to make John Stockton give them a Michael Scott-type wake up. Maybe when Jazz fans pile into whatever they're calling the Delta Center for the next game, have Stockton there for some kind of pregame ceremony for "White guy's contribtion to basketball" or "Keeping short shorts alive for far too long" (you could have Jeff Hornacek involved too while we're at it), and then right at the end just casually mention "oh by the way, Chris Paul is and will always be much better than Deron Williams. It's not even close, really. They have statistics and everything to back it up. The rest of the country thinks it's a joke that you guys even keep the debate going. Just thought you should know. Oh, and while we're here, Utah having the name Jazz is a disgrace to the sport and to the good people of New Orleans. We need to give the name back. So uh, yeah, ok, thanks again! Have a great night and go Jazz!"
1. Lebron James, CLE, F, 23 yrs
08/09 Salary- 14,410,581 09/10- 15,779,912 10/11- 17,149,243 (PO)
We wrap up this long and meandering journey to #1 on the night Lebron faces Kobe, and once again, we have people like JA Adande on espn.com who can’t help comparing the two, even though this is his first sentence:
“This month, I've realized two things are overrated: New Year's resolutions and determining who's better between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.”
Really? You think so? You know what else it is, JA? Pointless and ridiculous, because The Global Icon is better than Kobe here, now, and forever more. You’re not going to believe this, but Adande was a beat writer for the Lakers before joining The Mothership, so while he can’t be blamed for his bias he can be blamed with wasting my time with this. Hmmm would you rather have a 23 year old who’s 6’9 and 270 averaging 29/7/7 with almost 2 steals and a block per game or a 30 year old Kobe who’s numbers- ALL OF THEM- are less than Bronbron’s? And if that’s not enough, even though James’ stats are the lowest since he was a rookie six years ago, according to the asteemed Professor Hollinger, The Global Icon has never been better...
"In fact, one could argue nobody has ever been better. At 32.09 going into tonight's game, James is on pace to put up the best PER of all time. Yes, better than any of Michael Jordan's seasons (his 31.70 in 1987-88 is the current gold standard). We're halfway through the season now, so we can't just write it off to a hot start -- James has a serious shot at setting a new mark."
Seriously. Not only that, but now Lebron is finally starting to give a crap at both ends, which means before our very eyes he’s turning into one of the league’s best defenders. But hey, because he’s a Lakers homer, Adande feels compelled to make an argument based on things like what happened at the Olympics (which is so relevant to the NBA when the rules at international tournaments are different making the game very different) or recalling Kobe’s “clutch” shots (even though the idea of clutch is more myth than actual fact). Real, actual statistics? Nope, he casually leaves those out because that would make it rather impossible to make his case. Sheesh, Adande should be a baseball writer so he can help other old-time newspaper writers make made up stuff like “clutchness” and “feared hitter” and “big game pitcher” count for the hall-of-fame voting more than things like actual stats. That way, they can get their favorites like Jim Rice and Catfish Hunter and (probably soon) Andre Dawson and Jack Morris into the Hall instead of more worthy candidates like Dave Parker, Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines who didn’t play in major markets but were better players by every statistic we have.
Where was I again? Oh right, Lebron. Look, he’s the first athlete of the Internet Generation to grow up in front of us, and despite ridiculous and outlandish hype, he’s actually surpassed it, and now that he’s realized playing defense matters as much as playing offense, he could very well start jumping into the discussion for Greatest Player of All-time. If/when the Cavs win a title this year or next, maybe there’s a rationale debate worth having.
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