Houston Rockets All-NBA First Team honoree James Harden believes that he’s “the best all-around basketball player in the NBA.” Meanwhile, the agent of Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson recently opined that his client is “the best two-way 2-guard in basketball.” So, where does that leave fellow shooting guard and Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant? Well behind Harden and Thompson as the league’s third best player at his position, at least according to a survey of NBA general managers.
1. James Harden – 63 percent
2. Klay Thompson – 18.5 percent
3. Kobe Bryant – 7.4 percent
3. Stephen Curry – 7.4 percent
5. Kevin Durant – 3.7 percent
Obviously, some league decision-makers classify players differently than they normally are. Curry and Durant, for instance, each received votes as the best point guard and small forward in the NBA, respectively. That wrinkle adds some noise to the voting, but the big takeaway is still the same – GMs think Harden and Thompson are better than Bryant.
Though it makes for an incendiary headline, that’s hardly a bold opinion. Harden is firmly established as one of the most dynamic offensive players in basketball, and there may not be a better combination of long-range shooting and individual defense than Thompson’s. Though those opinions are mostly based off their play in the league, the pair further validated them with excellent play this summer for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup. Harden is a superstar and Thompson isn’t far from that threshold – this is hardly a slight to the 36 year-old Bryant, even if his fans will undoubtedly deem it otherwise.
The fact is that nobody knows what to expect from Mamba in 2014-2015. He’s been very solid offensively in preseason play thus far, subsisting on a diet of difficult jumpers that suggest the change in his game he recently admitted was imminent due to injuries and general and wear-and-tear. But exhibition success has proven fool’s gold in the past; look no further than Derrick Rose’s performance in early-to-mid October last season as evidence of that humbling reality.
We agree with the shooting guard rankings of the league’s general managers, but the above context is pertinent to understanding why. If Bryant were coming off a campaign like his brilliant 2012-2013 season, he’d surely be right alongside Harden as the best or second-best player at his position. That version of Kobe, though, hasn’t only been absent for 18 months, but also suffered an achilles tear and fractured knee in the interim. Those are serious injuries, especially for an 18-year veteran that consistently carries Bryant’s onus and has played into June on seven different occasions. He’s even had USA Basketball responsibilities for two summers, too.
Players age. Injuries happen. Both are debilitating, but it’s a combination of the two that can render players ineffective so quickly. That’s not Bryant – he’ll be a very productive scorer at the very least this season. But have Father Time and the injury bug caught up with Kobe anyway? Of course. He isn’t in his prime anymore, and not even the aging but still dominant force he was two seasons ago, either.
That’s reality. It’s not bias, “hating,” or anything else. In voting Harden and Thompson ahead of him in the NBA’s shooting guard pecking order, that’s all general managers are saying.
What do you think?
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