Best Shooting Guard In The League? Kobe Still Reigns Supreme

Recently, I stumbled across an ESPN article discussing shooting guards in the NBA.  After reading, the conclusion forced upon me was James Harden is the best shooting guard in the NBA today and Kobe Bryant is the most overrated shooting guard in the NBA today.

Now given those comments were from bloggers from other teams, I still feel this is something which needs to be discussed because quite frankly, I believe those statements are unjustified and wrong.

Below is the response to who is the best shooting guard in the NBA, courtesy of Graydon Gordian from the Spurs blog, 48 Minutes of Hell:

James Harden.  The position is in a period of transition. As the older generation of shooting guards — Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Manu Ginobili — has begun to wear down, Harden has emerged as the most dynamic 2 in the game. His vision, playmaking and efficient shooting have propelled him to the top of his position.

Is the position in a period of transition? Of course.  It always is.  As older superstars begin to enter the final years of their career, there are younger players who are making names for themselves in the league. The problem I have with this line of thinking is it names Harden the best shooting guard in the league by default based on age and Kobe’s injury.

Which is wrong.

For me, a player is as good as his most recent season.  That’s what we know to be true because we are physically able to see how they perform.  As with the NBA champion, until that team is knocked off the following year, they are still the defending champion.  The same goes for the debate as to who is better at each position.

Kobe has been the premier player at the shooting guard position for years now.  At 34 years old, Kobe ranked first in scoring, assists, rebounds, and double doubles amongst all shooting guards in the league.  He also ranked third in field goal percentage, behind Dwayne Wade and Jared Dudley.

With that bit of information I just gave, my question is how has Harden emerged as the most dynamic two-guard in the game when Kobe was tops in the league in almost all major categories pertaining to shooting guards?  I’m not going to bash Harden because I feel he is the second best shooting guard in the league and will eventually be the premier player at the position.   Is Harden a better shooter? Yes.  He has a shooting stroke from outside which should keep him above 35% from three for his career.  Is Harden more athletic? As we would expect with a 23 year old, yes.  When it comes to actual basketball, there has yet to be an actual argument to why Harden is superior to Kobe, just that he is younger and Kobe’s injury.

Now in Gordian’s defense, when talking about efficiency, he is talking about efficient shooting, not efficient scoring, which are two different things.  As a shooter, Harden takes the nod over Kobe.  As a scorer, Kobe is king.  While many expect Kobe to not be as efficient as Harden, this is ultimately false.  According to Vorped.com, which keeps shot charts for players over an entire season, Kobe was more efficient than Harden in every spot on the floor except for shots inside the arc along the left baseline and beyond the arc. (Click below for shot charts of each player & click “Shot Zones” to see what I mean.”

Shot Zones for James Harden 

Shot Zones for Kobe Bryant

What about playmaking and vision?  This has always been one of Kobe’s under appreciated aspects of his game. We’ve heard it before, “Kobe doesn’t pass” and “Kobe makes the offense stagnant”.   For all the grief he receives, Kobe’s playmaking ability is very good.   Over his career, he’s averaged 5 APG, which is not bad for a “ball hog.” The gap between Kobe and Harden in this category is not much.  Both averaged 6 APG this past season and both led shooting guards in turnovers per game at close to four.  Nothing in that stat puts Harden over Kobe.

As it currently stands, based on information we have, in addition to what we saw last season, Kobe is still the best shooting guard in the league.  I do understand Kobe is coming off a major injury and there is a very good chance he will suffer a slight decline because of the injury and his age, but it still doesn’t change the fact Kobe continued to prove his worth as the best two guard in the league last season.

To crown James Harden by default is okay for those who simply want to push Kobe out of the conversation, but fact is he hasn’t earned the title of “best shooting guard in the league”.  What’s amusing to me is even at his age, Kobe is still being compared to a 23-year old superstar like Harden which talks to the greatness of Kobe Bryant.  Harden has many more years in this league and he will be a special player, but at the current moment, he ranks #2 in the league behind Kobe.  While the gap is obviously closing, he still has not jumped into the #1 slot.  Those who argue for Harden over Kobe cannot even put together a solid argument as to why. No facts, just opinion and extreme bias.

Kobe uses all the negative words said about him as motivation and is what’s fueling his return to the court. As fans, we know he will return to the court in a big way and we expect nothing less than the elite level we have been so honored to watch over his career.  Fans from other teams think (and hope) that isn’t the case just so they can stick out their chest and say Kobe Bryant is finished, which I’m sure he smiles (and laughs) when hearing that.

To Kobe Bryant, show us again.

But most importantly, show them and prove them wrong…

Again.

Johnny is the lead writer and a senior editor for LakerNation.com. He currently attends Cal State University, Fullerton where he is working to earn his print journalism degree and covers sports for the Daily Titan. At the moment, he works for OCVarsity.com (OC Register) and in the past was a freelancer for the Whittier Daily News.