A Sliding Doors Moment for the NBA

This NBA season was defined by two vastly different storylines, with two California teams providing a dramatic contrast in what will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in history.

In the Northern part of the state, there were the Golden State Warriors, breaking the record for regular season wins and redefining the way basketball should be played and how teams should be built. They were built on ball movement, unselfishness and incredible shooting, with Steve Kerr getting the entire team to buy into the strategy. Look no further than their resident superstar Stephen Curry, a player who led the league in scoring, but also showed a tremendous ability to incorporate his teammates into the game. Steph Curry’s willingness and ability to be so unselfish and to create for his teammates has led to a revolutionising of NBA offenses.

No longer do we see teams playing isolation basketball like the 2000-01 76ers, led by Allen Iverson (shooting 42% from the Field and 32% from deep) making the NBA Finals. The Sixers went on to verse a Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal juggernaut and lost 4-1. But even then, Kobe was playing 41 minutes per game that season, shooting 46% from the Field and 30% from 3.

Instead, we saw Steph Curry get inducted into the 50/40/90 club, averaging the most points per game of anyone to ever achieve the feat. (per Basketball Reference) His incredible mix of efficiency, volume and sharp shooting has resulted in the single most dominant offensive season of all time and his Golden State Warriors earning 73 wins; also an all time record. This season, the entire Milwaukee Bucks team hit 443 threes. Steph Curry alone hit 402. Combine Curry and Klay Thompson’s three pointers and suddenly you have more threes than 12 NBA teams. Two players on the Golden State Warriors have combined for more threes made than nearly half the league, how’s that for revolutionary? Take it back a decade, and Curry alone would’ve hit more threes than nine NBA teams. Nearly a third of the league. Curry also has the 8th highest Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of all time, behind only Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. You may have heard of them. And when it comes to efficiency, his 2015-16 season is the most efficient season ever by a player scoring over 20 points per game, with Curry recording an unthinkable True Shooting Percentage of 66.6%. For comparison, in 2000-01, Allen Iverson’s TS% was 51.8%.

We have never seen an individual season like the one Stephen Curry has had, and we have never seen a better regular season team than the Golden State Warriors. The only thing left for  them now is the Playoffs, and the Championship.

On the opposite end of the spectrum however, is the Los Angeles Lakers, who finished their season on Thursday night with a win over the Utah Jazz at home, in Southern California. This brings us to the second defining storyline of this season. The Kobe Bryant farewell tour. The tour came to it’s final stop at the Staples Center for Kobe’s final game and in true Kobe fashion, he went out on top. 60 points, a win and a sendoff to remember for one of the all time greats of the NBA.

When it came to addressing the crowd at the conclusion of the game, Bryant stated “I can’t believe how fast 20 years went by, man, this is crazy, this is absolutely crazy … and to be standing at center court with you guys, my teammates behind me, appreciating the journey that we’ve been on – we’ve been through our ups, been through our downs. I think the most important part is we all stayed together throughout.” Summing it up perfectly, Bryant has been the face of the league almost since he stepped foot into the Staples Center and has certainly been through many peaks and troughs. Unlike Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe has never flown under the radar, with his game analysed to a fault and his persona – both on and off the court – analysed to a fault as well. Loved by Laker fans, often hated by opposing fans, Kobe was the subject of much discussion between supporters, both casual and those with a more intimate understanding of the game. “Kobe should pass more,” “Kobe is too competitive,” “Kobe is no MJ,” even “Kobe sucks” are often things that would be said, and it is fitting that in his final game, he embodied everything that has been so wonderful and frustrating about his career. He had 60 points on 50 Field Goal Attempts, a record in the last 30 years. He scored 17 of the Lakers final 19 points to single-handedly carry them to victory as he has done so often over his career. His drive and will to win pushed the Lakers over the line for the final time, with two free throws ending his career.

Two free throws. The same fate that ended Michael Jordan’s career. A fitting way to end for Kobe, who so often has been compared to Jordan throughout his career. The drive to be like Mike drove Kobe, possibly to the point of insanity, yet at the end of the day, he could never quite be Mike, no matter how hard he tried.

The Utah game may have closed the door on Kobe Bryant’s career, but it also closed the door on the era of isolation basketball winning championships. Last year, the Warriors and before them, the San Antonio Spurs, have proven that a champion team will always beat a team of champions. The Kobe, AI era of one man wrecking balls is over, and the superstars of today need to find a way to get their teammates involved as well as putting up their own stats. It’s the reason Steph Curry won the MVP over James Harden last season, and it’s the reason why the Warriors are the favourites to win back-to-back championships.

When it comes to comparing the two at their peak, we have to look at Kobe’s 2005-06 season, exactly a decade ago. Whilst he didn’t win MVP, this was certainly Kobe’s best year, being only the fifth player to average over 35 points per game in NBA history (after Wilt Chamberlain, MJ, Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry). He also scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in the 05-06 season. But still, Curry edges him in every single category other than points. Not even the great Kobe Bryant can match what Curry has done this season. It remains to be seen whether Curry can have the longevity to eventually be put into the ‘best guard ever’ conversation, but at his peak, he certainly has a case to bring forward.

Kobe Bryant 2005-06 Steph Curry 2015-16
Points Per Game 35.4 30.1
Rebounds Per Game 5.3 5.4
Assists Per Game 4.5 6.7
FG% 45% 50.4%
3PT% 34.7% 45.4%
PER 28 31.5
VORP 6.5 9.8
Team Wins 45 73
Championship? No ?

The 13th of April will go down as a sliding doors moment in modern NBA basketball. Kobe Bryant farewelled the league, playing 42 minutes, shooting 22/50 from the Field and 6/21 from deep. Everyone lauded the Mamba, and rightfully so, his career has been one from the top shelf and the end was fitting. But, as this was happening, over in Oakland, Curry scored 46 points, shooting 15/24 from the field and 10/19 from deep, hitting his 400th triple for the season in the process. Whilst the torch may have been passed over to Curry as the best player and face of the league last season, April 13th will be the moment historians look back upon and say ‘that’s when the NBA changed.’

Kobe inspired a generation, and as Serena Williams wrote on twitter “You inspire every athlete for a lifetime.” From Kobe’s hardened, battle-worn body to Steph Curry’s effortless play and babyface, the torch has been passed.

In true Kobe fashion, his last words to the Lakers faithful that packed the Staples Center for all those years were simply “What can I say? Mamba out,” said with the trademark smile we’ve come to know and love.

Mamba out indeed. You will be missed Kobe Bean Bryant.

  • Written By Elliott Hoffmann
  • All statistics are from Basketball Reference unless otherwise stated.



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