The Curious Case of Kobe Bryant

“En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.” -Miguel de Cervantes – El Ingenioso Hidalgo de Don Quijote de la Mancha

I am going to hate myself in the morning after writing this piece.

Hell yes it's Mamba duckface time

Kobe Bryant is not the greatest basketball player of all time. He’s not in the top ten. He has the good fortune of playing in one of the two most historic and successful franchises in the league and for most of his career playing for the best coach in the league.He’s played with some historically good bigs.  This lucky accident of circumstance has led his reputation far outstripping his merits. Any statistical model worth it’s salt reveals this to be true (see here for Basics behind some of them). He’s not as good as Lebron or Chris Paul. You would not trade Dwight Howard for him. Wade is his statistical superior in every respect. Jordan is not even on the same planet.

Any self respecting basketball geek knows this. For more than a decade we’ve been called crazy for tilting at the windmill that has been the Kobe hype machine and hearing the snide remarks: Don’t you watch the games? You’re just a hater!! KObE RUllZss!! The merciless trolls attacked us but we didn’t care. Because we are men of science and zeal. The numbers do not lie and the truth of them could not be ignored.

They can fuck with you though (Image courtesy of


This is where I believe Henry Abbott was coming from today in his brilliant piece dispelling some of the Kobe mythos. I was flattered to have my analysis included in that piece (twice even, once in a piece I helped Prof. Berri research for Slate and once to a piece from earlier this week). I agree with a lot of the content for the piece ( I called it brilliant for God’s sake) . On the whole, throughout his career Kobe has not been as good as his reputation .

I would be well served to leave well enough alone at this point but science, she is  a cruel mistress. It’s forcing me to have to take up an unfamiliar cause. Because to say Kobe isn’t clutch now or dismiss him as an all time great isn’t really fair because it contradicts the reality of the numbers.


As always, the case of Kobe Bryant has more twists and turns than a bad telenovela.

And yes there is a hidden message here

The numbers are actually very clear on Kobe. He is a very good basketball player who has been remarkably healthy. He works hard at his craft. The big stunner is that he’s been getting better at it.

Kobe is and has been a genuine star (>.200 WP48)  in the league(but never really a superstar at >.300 WP48). Time though is actually helping his case. When I sum out the all-time wins produced list (since 1978) I get:

Kobe was a top 30 player in terms of Wins Produced at the start of the season. By the end of it, he’ll be top 25 and by the end of his career he’ll be top 20 (at least until the current generation knocks him off).

An even more interesting thing happens when I look at clutch numbers for the last 4 seasons using data from (for a full explanation of how I worked this out go here, here and here):

Players Count of Player Point Margin Generated per 48 (Scoring) Point Margin created Avg
JamesCLE 3 9.8 18.5 14.2
NashPHO 4 4.5 20.7 12.6
PaulNOH 4 3.6 16.9 10.2
BryantLAL 4 4.8 9.9 7.3
GinobiliSAS 4 6.5 7.6 7.0
CalderonTOR 3 2.8 11.2 7.0
BillupsDEN 3 3.7 10.2 7.0
WilliamsUTA 4 -0.2 12.5 6.1
NelsonORL 3 2.0 8.1 5.0
CarterNJN 2 3.7 5.5 4.6
RobinsonNYK 2 4.5 4.4 4.5
NowitzkiDAL 4 5.6 3.1 4.4
DampierDAL 2 5.6 2.6 4.1
TerryDAL 4 5.7 1.1 3.4
LowryHOU 2 0.4 6.2 3.3
RidnourMIL 2 0.9 5.2 3.1
HorfordATL 4 3.9 2.0 3.0
RondoBOS 4 -2.5 8.1 2.8
RoyPOR 4 -0.8 6.3 2.8
SalmonsSAC 2 0.3 5.0 2.6
WestbrookOKC 3 -0.9 6.0 2.5

Over the course of the last 4 seasons, Kobe is the 4th best player in the clutch. He’s an above average scorer and he’s the best non point guard distributor/creator  not named Lebron. So not the best in the clutch but Kobe is actually in the conversation.   Age really has made him a better player .

My final thought on the matter is this, the hype on Kobe may grate on our nerves as stat geeks but the numbers cannot be denied.  He is an amazing talent with a significant career and to his credit he has made himself a much smarter and more efficient player in the later stages of his career.

Ok, I now need a shower.

This has just been weird
1996-97 1.1 0.048 1103
1997-98 3.9 0.091 2056
1998-99 6.5 0.165 1896
1999-00 12.6 0.239 2524
2000-01 10.1 0.174 2783
2001-02 13.2 0.207 3063
2002-03 18.4 0.260 3401
2003-04 11.8 0.231 2447
2004-05 10.4 0.185 2689
2005-06 13.8 0.203 3273
2006-07 15.3 0.234 3140
2007-08 16.8 0.253 3192
2008-09 15.0 0.244 2960
2009-10 9.9 0.168 2835
2010-11 13.6 0.214 2711
Total 172.6 0.207 40073.0


  1. some dude
    January 29

    wow, Shawn Marion has more WP than Payton, Kobe, Jackson, Ewing, Miller. ahaha.

    Would anyone in their right mind take Marion over those players?

    Anyway, when the day comes that you realize certain stats are undervaluing certain players, you’ll realize that Kobe is even better. 😀

    Duncan and Kobe are two of the most under-appreciated athletes I can recall (note that I did not say underrated).

  2. EntityAbyss
    January 29

    Well, I’ll say this. I never considered Kobe a bad player. He really is a great player. However (like Derrick Rose and yea I said it), he’s overrated. VERY overrated. That sucks. It’s a problem. I don’t like when players get overrated this much. Also, not just WP, but all advanced statistics support the idea that Kobe is overrated. He constantly gets compared to Jordan and Magic. He’s not even top 5 right now (by any metric). He’s not the best on his team (by at least most metrics). I don’t hate Kobe (it’s hard not to btw), so I have no problem admitting that he’s a great player, but when I see him get compared to Jordan, it hurts inside.

    Now, I gotta live in a world where the media considers Derrick Rose unanimously the best pg in the game. That hurts even more because CP3’s my favorite player. CP3’s the man… period.

    As a matter of fact, you should make a post discussing CP3’s greatness. You can make it a comparison to Derrick Rose. It’s perfect. You can make a post on CP3 and your excuse could be the effect of usage on scoring efficiency and stuff like that. Also, with dberri’s post on D Rose the other day, it would be perfect. Yes, I’ve ventured off topic, but CP3 deserves this.

    “CP3 vs Derrick Rose and the case of usage vs efficiency” <– Epic title is epic. 🙂

    • Chicago Tim
      January 29

      If New Orleans continues to win, CP3’s going to be back in the conversation for MVP. Just give it time.

    • some dude
      January 29

      1. I agree Kobe is overrated when compared to players like MJ and Magic. I’ve watched em all and Kobe isn’t at their god-level. But I think most NBA fans recognize this outside of a few Laker Biased fans and the media trying to make headlines. As a Laker fan myself who has seen nearly every game Kobe has ever been involved with since he entered the league, I cringe when people compare him to MJ or Magic.

      2. Advanced metrics are still too flawed to capture the why over the how. I thought Phil Birnbaun’s post about it makes sense.

      Basketball players are always interacting with one another. It’s probably impossible to isolate most of everything that is going on. A lot of what guys like Kobe, Duncan, Ginobili do are not captured, even if their advanced metrics still rate them highly. This is why people don’t understand why David Lee’s impact is overstated and why a guy like Shane Battier continued to get minutes.

      3. Derrick Rose is the hot new thing (pause) on the block. I think most NBA fans understand CP3 is the best PG in the game still and by a wide margin. Deron’s silver crown is the one in jeopardy. Look, the media is the same people that try to convince us that the Spurs are boring while the Heat are exciting. But the opposite is true. The Heat’s halfcourt offense is painful to watch while the Spurs ball and player movement is beautiful as well as the skill of their big 3. Chris Paul’s game is not flashy and Rose’s game is. That’s the reason behind it. Don’t pay much attention, IMO.

      Kobe’s one of the all-time great perimeter players, even if he doesn’t sniff Michael and Magic territory (hey, no one else comes close either). He’s a much more skilled player than anyone else today. His game was more suited for the old rules (hand checking, illegal D) than guys like Lebron and Wade. Unfortunately, a lot of the little things he does so well gets overlooked, like his footwork and interior passing (which is really superb).

      I think Kobe gets so much respect for the game because no one can sit here and say “yeah, well, maybe if Kobe learned how to do this or adding this to his game, he’d be even better.” He’s done everything to maximize what he’s got. Meanwhile, others seem content at where they were 5 years into the league even if they have a better base (Vince Carter, for instance, should have been a better player than Kobe).

      • Chicago Tim
        January 31

        I think you overestimate the fans. Most of them rarely if ever see Chris Paul play. Even among those who pay attention to box scores, including members of the media, I’m amazed at how much criticism Paul gets for choosing assists over scoring. They may say that Paul is a better point guard than Rose, yet wonder if he is more valuable to his team, because he can’t take over when the game is on the line. Here’s an example:

  3. alvy
    January 29

    Kobe Bryant, gotta love it, he’s always there for ya’.

  4. mick
    January 29

    Somehow Henry Abbott created a turd that was completely wrong. How exactly does anyone defend his piece? Kobe is obviously – from the ability to generate a decent look as well as the above information from Arturo – clutch. That doesn’t mean he is the greatest ever or doesn’t take stupid fall away 35 footers? No. It means that he is a player you can rely upon in the toughest spots of games to generate clean looks at the hoop when the defense intensifies. It also means if Abbott gets a ton of hits on an article (that is biased and wrong) ESPN loves him. After reading the article, you almost feel like “How in the world have the Lakers been able to win when Kobe was trying to throw the game away at crunch time for years.” Sorry Abbott, its called small sample size (shots in the waning seconds of games) and a high school introductory to statistics might prove helpful.

  5. Mark Wylie
    February 3

    Is there somewhere you have the all time wins produced list with WP48 and minutes played? I’m really interested in seeing that and the highest wins produced seasons and Wp48 seasons.

  6. F_22_Fighter
    March 5

    I would just like to say unfortunately Kobe has this bad wrap around him!! Michael had a great team around him but had less scoring talent on his team. This causes different outcomes and the Lakers now are one of the most talented teams by skill set not by stats the league has ever seen. If you take a look at the pure dynamics of Kobe’s offensive skills you would see the most talented player of all time!! And I said talent, plus measurements of greatness are measured by championships and last minute shots and stuff that is gonna capture the eye and ear. I’m not saying he is the best of all time but there has never been a person who can touch kobe’s skill set

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