Kobe Bryant's slipping player ranking reflects reality
His aging basketball mileage and injuries no longer allow Kobe Bryant to remain the explosive and unstoppable player he once was. Even as he makes adjustments to his game, Bryant constantly has to manage his body so he can remain effective for the postseason. And when LeBron James and Derrick Rose won league MVPS the past two seasons, Bryant may not have liked being passed over as the best but said both deserved the award.
So why do Laker fans keep getting bent out of shape when league player rankings don't have Bryant at No. 1? I already know the answer: Bryant remains the best clutch player, he has five championship rings and no one matches his insatiable work ethic. But these rankings, the latest which ESPN tabs him at No. 7, aren't measuring legacies. They're measuring who in this present time has the best basketball skills. We'll soon find out who rounds into the top five, but it's not a slight to suggest Kevin Durant has played better recently than Bryant, whose 25.3 points in 33.9 minutes per game last season marked his lowest statistical output since the 2003-04 campaign.
Bryant will surely use these rankings as motivation and he's correct that some reporters and fans are constantly consumed with his declining play without noticing all the varying ways he's managed to stay among the league's elite through injuries and heavy basketball minutes. But Bryant should actually feel honored he remains in the top 10 after playing 1,311 total games in 48,310 total minutes. It's true very few players will be able to maintain that longevity and maximize the amount of production he has with 27,868 points.
But no one can deny reality. Bryant's determination, championship experience and constantly evolving game couldn't mask the fact that the 2011 playoffs featured him looking less like the Bryant the public once knew. He continuously hobbled on his left ankle. Fatigue hit him in the fourth quarter. And his will and talent couldn't overcome the Lakers' various deficiencies.
A restful off-season and a procedure on Bryant's right knee might jolt him back to full form next season. But for now, Bryant's dominance is a thing of the past. Laker fans shouldn't feel offended by it, though. They should feel proud he even remains in the conversation after such a long ride.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant, left, with teammate Derek Fisher. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times