Kobe Bryant lit up the NBA world Wednesday night by scoring 60 points in the final game of his polarizing career. Kobe went out in the most unsurprising way…shooting. It should have been no surprise to anyone that in his farewell game Kobe would launch a career high 50 field goal attempts including 21 three-pointers. While the internet was lighting up because of Kobe’s offensive display, I found myself both frustrated and disgusted. I was frustrated because my beloved Jazz was throwing in the towel and disgusted because Kobe’s farewell epitomized Kobe’s selfish career and everyone was loving it.
See the Jazz, one of the NBA’s stingiest defenses all year, were without premier rim protector, Rudy Gobert (sprained ankle) and sat its other rim protector Derrick Favors (knee) and perhaps its best wing athlete Alec Burks (knee). Three of the primary defenders when it comes to stopping Kobe were not available. Kobe attacked the rim like he hadn’t in years and nobody was there to stop him. Rodney Hood played only 18 minutes. I would have liked Coach Snyder to let Hood go at Kobe on both sides of the floor to make Kobe work on defense and see just what Hood has deep inside that chest of his. Instead, he was at the end of the bench as Kobe lit up “slow-mo Joe” Ingles. The Jazz literally had a man with the nickname “Slow-Mo Joe” guarding Kobe! The Jazz knew Kobe was going to shoot every single time and while I am not advocating a consistent double-team to force the ball out of Kobe’s hands, I would expect a little more pride and competitive fire from the Jazz rather than allowing this storybook ending as if the basketball Gods demanded such deference to Kobe. The Jazz made it too easy on Kobe and Kobe lovers will never let us hear the end of just how great Kobe was in his last game.
These same Kobe lovers will conveniently leave out that Kobe was 22 of 50 (44%) from the floor and 6 of 22 (28.6%) from three. His 50 field goal attempts were not only Kobe’s career high, but also the most in any game since 1983! While those shooting percentages look terrible to me, the sad fact is that this performance actually raised Kobe’s field goal percentage all the up to 35.8% on the season and his three-point percentage up to 28.5%. No player in the shot clock era has shot over 1100 shot attempts in a season with a lower field goal percentage than Kobe’s 35.8%. Despite getting more praise than perhaps any player this season not named Steph Curry, Kobe may have been the worst NBA player this year, as evidenced by his -.4 Win Shares this season. That’s right, the Lakers would have won more games without Kobe this season.
Kobe Bryant somehow has become the Donald Trump of the NBA. Everyone seems to believe Trump to be the most successful and richest man in America just because he says it so loudly and so confidently. It doesn’t seem to matter how many failed marriages or failed business ventures the man experiences, people believe he has been nothing but successful. Similarly, Kobe has people believing that he has ended his career with a masterpiece simply because of his masterful Trump-like marketing. His confidence in being willing to launch up 50 shots is somehow awe-inspiring and has the entire NBA world mesmerized into thinking Kobe was good last night, when he was actually really, really bad. This was chucking even by Kobe standards. Kobe is the biggest chucker in NBA history. Since 1983-84, there have been just 8 games where a player shot at least 44 shots, 6 of those belong to Kobe. This game was actually one of Kobe Trump’s better chucking performances but he’s been putting up stinker-high-volume games for years. He’s just convinced the world that he’s an amazing player because he makes it look good in the highlights and has hit shots at key times. Look at these stat lines in games with 44 shots or more.
When MJ shot 49 shots, he scored 64 and shot 55% from the floor. When Chris Webber shot 47 shots, he scored 51 and shot 51% from the floor. Kobe will retire as a 44.7% shooter and just a 32.9% shooter from three. Please show me one other Top 10 or Top 20 all-time player with such poor shooting percentages. MJ, Magic, Bird, Kareem, Lebron, Russell, Shaq, Hakeem, West, Robertson, Duncan, Malone, Stockton, Dr. J, Moses, Dirk, Barkley, Robinson, Garnett, Durant, Curry, Pippen, all of them shot a higher percentage than Kobe. In fact, for a “Top 5 Player” (which I have heard too many refer to him as lately), his top finish in PER in any season was 3rd and he finished in the Top 3 in the league only once! That’s not bad, but when comparing him to other All-Time Greats, Kobe just doesn’t stack up.
Kobe has only 1 MVP award as well. He has more MVP trophies than exactly one of the other players on that list, West (who lost to Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in their hay-days). Even in his MVP season he only shot 45.9% from the floor. Since the merger, only Allen Iverson shot a lower percentage in an MVP season. You know where ESPN All-Time Rank put Allen Iverson? 46th! How can you be considered a Top 5 All-Time player when you were only the league’s top player one time? Because he reminded us of MJ, just watching Kobe Bryant made us conclude he was better than he actually was. He was Donald Trump. He looked good and he sounded good and he was so dang confident with everything he did, he seemed better than he really was.