(Editor's note: The day after Kobe Bryant's historic 81-point game, we asked several of our NBA analysts for their opinion of Bryant. )
Taking a few follow-up shots
Was this the greatest individual performance in NBA history?
Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine: Yes. In this day and age, with defenses far more advanced thanks to technology and coaching, scoring 81 points while shooting better than 60 percent is the most extraordinary accomplishment in league history.
Ken Shouler, ESPN.com NBA historian: No. The word "great" is context-dependent. The greatest performance in NBA history can't come against Toronto in January. I'll take Magic Johnson's rookie performance against Philadelphia in the clinching game of the 1980 Finals, when Jabbar sat out with a severe ankle injury. I'll also take Walt Frazier's Game 7 of the 1970 Finals.
Will Perdue, ESPN Insider: If my math is correct 100 is greater than 81. Wilt's performance still stands out as the benchmark and the number to beat.
Will Kobe or anyone else playing today score 100 in a game?
Chris Sheridan, ESPN Insider: If you had asked me this a month ago, I'd have said it's next to impossible. This has made me think twice, and I have to think Kobe could do it. If it was an overtime or multi-OT game and he scored 100, would people still consider Wilt's accomplishment greater?
Bucher: He clearly has the ability to break Wilt's record. He played only 42 minutes and scored only 18 points from the free-throw line in getting 81. Give him OT and 30 shots from the line -- where he'd made 62 in a row -- and the only elements standing between Kobe and the all-time record is Phil Jackson and Bryant's priority being to make the playoffs, not set a scoring record.
Tim Legler, ESPN Insider: I do not think it is possible for any player to score 100 points again in the NBA. First, no opposing team in today's NBA would allow the embarassment of having one player score 100 points. And it's impossible to conceive 11 other players basically having no regard for anything other than feeding one player the ball all night in an effort to score 100, which is what it would take.
Shouler: No, I don't think so. He would need a kind of orchestrated, artificial effort by his own team to feed him the ball. It would be akin to the kind of effort the Warriors made when Chamberlain got his 100.
Is Kobe the MVP this season?
Legler: He is not the MVP to this point because, as great as he has been individually, the Lakers would have an even better record if Bryant sacrificed some of his scoring to maximize the contributions of Lamar Odom and Smush Parker. Bryant has been the most outstanding player, but Chauncey Billups or Steve Nash has been the MVP.
Chris Broussard, ESPN the Magazine: Right now, the MVP race is between Kobe and Nash. If Kobe continues to play as he has the past month-and-a-half and the Lakers continue to win, he has to be the MVP. But if he returns to earth and the Lakers finish slightly above .500, it will probably be Nash.
Bucher: This would be easier to answer if MVP were ever defined. He's the best player in the league right now, for sure. Most Valuable? OK, just nudging out Nash, because the Lakers are a playoff team right now and without Kobe they'd be duking it out for the No. 1 pick in the lottery.
Shouler: If Chamberlain was denied the MVP in 1962, the year he averaged 50.4 points, 25.7 rebounds per game, and scored 100, then logic dictates that setting individual scoring records should not earn you an MVP this year.
Has Kobe claimed Michael Jordan's throne? If not, who has?
Legler: He has not reached the level of Jordan because he has yet to win a championship as his team's most dominant player. Bryant has three rings playing alongside Shaq, but hasn't even reached the playoffs as the focal point of his team. He must achieve team success as his team's leader to be compared to Jordan.
Broussard: No, Kobe has not claimed MJ's throne. That's heresy! MJ is the greatest and until Kobe or someone else wins close to six titles without a dominant big man, they can't even think about replacing him. Kobe is, however, the second-best shooting guard in NBA history behind MJ. It will take multiple championships to be MJ's true heir. It's clearly between Kobe and LeBron. Let the race begin.
Bucher: There was only one Michael. There is no heir, never will be. Was Michael the next Magic? No. Was Magic the next Dr. J? No. The whole idea of heirs is a bad one. Kobe's blazing his own Hall of Fame path.
Shouler: When Bryant claims the scoring title this year, it will be his first in ten seasons. Jordan had ten scoring titles and does anyone doubt he would also have won two more in 1994 and 1995, the years he was in retirement? Then we can talk about defense, where Bryant is not nearly Jordan's equal. No one is Jordan's true heir.
John Hollinger, ESPN Insider: No and no. If anyone is the heir, it's LeBron James.
Greg Anthony, ESPN Insider: He is the only player I've seen who is every bit as competitive as MJ. The next step is becoming as smart as MJ. Learning to channel all of that competitive spirit and having it bring out the best in his teammates. He's on his way.
How will Kobe's recent performances affect his "selfish" image?
Legler: I think most NBA fans appreciate Kobe's greatness, yet they also understand that he doesn't augment his teammates' games. His ability to score is something to marvel, but will always have a hint of selfishness when the majority of the time his fellow Lakers are mere spectators to his individual talent.
Broussard: Kobe's recent play will help his public image immeasurably. Fans remember victories and stupendous performances above all else. If he continues to play well and doesn't have any more missteps socially, he'll remake himself almost completely.
Bucher: I've never thought of him as selfish, so it's hard for me to know how what I considered a flawed view might change. I saw someone who was emotionally conflicted and immature at times. Someone who was supremely confident in himself but not always in his teammates. That's not selfish, by my definition or Webster's. A selfish player is someone who pursues his own glory at the expense of everything else, including winning. I've never known Kobe to do that. Ever.
Shouler: No, I don't think these performances will change that image. But just as the Warriors' second-best scoring option in 1962 was an aging Paul Arizin, who is Bryant's second best option? We'd rather have him shoot than his mates, even if the team field goal percentage is roughly equal to his.
Anthony: Kobe in my mind is not selfish. Last year was a valuable lesson learned for him, teaching him that no matter how great he is (and he is certainly that) championships are won by teams, not individuals.
How is Kobe's domination of the Lakers affecting the team?
Broussard: As long as Kobe shoots a high percentage and the Lakers keep winning, it's all good. Granted, it's probably not fun to watch a teammate launch 35 shots a night, but if you're winning, what can you say? If they don't win, that's when the problems begin.
Bucher: He's carrying the team to the playoffs, where they have no business being based on the talent they have. He's setting a standard of excellence and effort that if Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown get anywhere close to matching, they will be immensely better players for it.
Hollinger: It's marginalized Lamar Odom to the point of uselessness, but otherwise the impact hasn't been great -- the other Lakers are guys who have played off the ball their whole careers.
Anthony: It's only helping, because the key is winning -- winning breeds confidence and all those young players need confidence.
Kobe Bryant launches the free throw that gave him 81 points
Jason Kidd had a triple-double in the Nets' loss at Utah. It was only the third time this season that an NBA player recorded a triple-double in a losing cause: Dwyane Wade did it on Jan. 4, as did Baron Davis on Jan. 14.
Kidd shot only 3-for-15 (.200) from the field. In the last five seasons, only one NBA player had a lower field-goal percentage in a game in which he produced a triple-double: Sam Cassell was 2-for-11 (.182) in a 14-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double against San Antonio on March 23, 2004
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What will he do for an encore? Kobe Bryant points the way to his next game on Friday, when the Lakers host the Warriors.
Quote of the Day
"It feels good to be healthy. It's just a great feeling from where I started out at the beginning of the year with my back injury."
-- Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who had 41 points and nine rebounds in a 97-80 win over the Bucks.
-- Andrew Ayres
One way to prevent another explosion of 81 points -- or more -- is to focus your offense on Kobe. Normally, you wouldn't do this, of course, but again, we're talking about ways to slow him down.
First, you attack him directly. Kobe's a dynamic defender who doesn't like to back down from a challenge. So challenge him. Make him work. Wear him out.
Second, attack him indirectly, by running him around a lot of screens. If he's playing good defense, this will tend to tire him. Of course, if he's conserving energy for the offensive end, this might not work.
Third, get him in foul trouble. Of course, this requires the cooperation of the officials, who might be reluctant to assign fouls to Bryant on a big night.
Fourth, try to keep your team in the game mentally. When Bryant went off, the Raptors went into a slump, lost an 18-point lead and became deflated. Meanwhile, the Lakers were pumped. That's human nature -- everyone gets caught up somewhat in the emotion of the moment. But you should try to keep your team going on offense.
But sometimes everything fails. Kobe defies logic. He's one of the few people gifted enough to make, against almost any defense, the kinds of shots he made on Sunday.
If I'm coaching Toronto, I don't get too worked up about this one game. As they say, it happens.
Anthony (Detroit): You said in a prior chat that the Spurs have a tougher path to the Finals than the Pistons because they will have to get past Phoenix, while Detroit won't have to face a comparable team. What about Miami? Don't you expect Shaq to be at his best come playoff time, making the Heat a serious threat to come out of the East?
John Hollinger: Everyone in Miami is saying the right thing about Shaq being in top form by the playoffs, but let me offer two counterpoints. First, he wasn't last year, so why should this year be any different. Second, have you seen the guy lately? I was shocked at slow and out of shape he looked. I mean, he can still get 20 and 10 most nights due to his sheer size, but what set him apart was his amazing quickness for a player of his size, and this year he's shown none of that.
Joe Morris (Toronto, Canada): Why would the Raptors let Kobe drop 81 on them without seriously double or triple teaming him in the last 3 minutes when the game was already over. Do you think it's the coach's fault?
John Hollinger: This came up a lot when Michael Jordan played too. The answer is that it's much harder to double somebody when they catch the ball 30 feet from the basket. Could the Raptors have done a few things different defensively? Absolutely. And I'm sure the Knicks would have liked to revist their strategy after Wilt got 100 on them in 1962. But it doesn't change the fact that it was a tremendous individual effort.
Which active player other than Kobe Bryant has the best chance to reach the 70-point mark in a game?
Do you think Bryant will become the second player to score 100 points in a game?
Do you think Bryant will score more than 81 points in a game during his career?
The Lakers (22-19) are currently No. 7 in the Western Conference. Do you think they will make the playoffs?
Is Kobe's scoring dominance good for the Lakers?