The Curious Case of Kobe Bryant

Posted on 01/29/2011 by


“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
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