Dwyane Wade's edge on Kobe Bryant a result of mileage, injuries
The on-court performances bolster the argument, but many don't buy it.
And even if the analysis is well reasoned, plenty will simply conclude this is another example of Kobe Bryant not getting his proper respect.
On face value, it sounds blasphemous to Laker fans that a panel of True Hoop bloggers considers Dwyane Wade a better shooting guard than Bryant. Many Laker fans also scratched their heads in wonderment when Jerry West said two years ago that LeBron James surpassed Bryant as a basketball player.
But don't think The Logo or ESPN is simply drinking Kobe Bryant haterade, with flavors ranging from Lower Merion mango, five-ring raspberry and clutch cherry. They're simply being honest in this debate. The statistics show Wade performed better last season than Bryant, according to their respective Hoopdata breakdowns, in points per game, attacked the rim with more effectiveness and proved more productive on defense.
But here's where the debate gets lost. Just because Wade is a better player at this point in time than Bryant shouldn't suggest anything about their legacies. The last I checked Bryant's five championship rings, two Finals MVPs and sixth-place standing on the NBA's all-time scoring list trumps what Wade has accomplished so far with one championship ring and being outside the top 30 list of all-time scorers. If I were starting a team from scratch, I'd pick Wade over Bryant. But if I had to pick who's more equipped to lead his team to another NBA championship, it's still Bryant, whose competitive fire and unmatched work ethic were only doused last season because of nagging injuries.
The fact that Bryant remains in the conversation about the league's best player overall or at his position is a compliment in itself. He's still in the mix despite the surrounding obstacles around him. Wade may be quicker, but let's see how he'd respond with 48,310 minutes burned in his engine. Wade may be more athletic, but let's see how he'd respond with wearing the equivalent of a prison shackle with a sprained right knee, sprained left ankle and an arthritic right index finger. And Wade may be better attacking the rim, but let's see if he'd be able to dunk the way Bryant posterized New Orleans center Emeka Okafor in the 2011 NBA playoffs despite severely hurting his ankle.
Bryant's going to remain stubborn in conceding his athletic abilities, trying to prime as much juice as he can out of his aging body. The latest venture involved traveling to Germany in May to undergo a derivation of platelet-rich plasma therapy on his knee, an operation The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner report, is controversial because of its uncertain effectiveness.
There are times where Bryant openly acknowledges how these injuries affect him and that he's no longer the player he once was. Although he draws extra motivation from some of this kind of objective analysis, Bryant's correct in arguing that too much focus is placed on how the areas in which he's declined rather than how he's evolved with his mileage and injuries to remain relevant in the game.
This debate may fall on deaf ears to some Laker fans, but don't feel offended that others correctly argue that Wade, among others, are better at this point than Bryant. Feel proud that Bryant's topped his natural talent with an unmatched work ethic, competitiveness and toughness in staying relatively dominant despite the challenges surrounding him.
-- Mark Medina
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Photos: Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant have had memorable matchups over the years. Credits, from top: Doug Benc / Getty Images; Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times