[Disclaimer: The author admits that this article may contain something ranging from slight bias to blind homerism. However, Only facts were used in this article. All-Stats from NBA.com]
Summertime is never ending as an NBA basketball fan: a time spent scouring the Internet for clips of our favorite players doing absolutely anything. Summer League crossover highlights? Sign me up. Russell Westbrook at a Taylor Swift concert? Send me the link! Houses for sale in the DC area within Kevin Durant’s budget? Of course!
And inevitably, the summer turns into endless, pointless, hyperbolic debates: Meek Mill vs. Drake. All-Time Lakers vs. All-Time Bulls. Shaq vs. Scottie. Jordan vs. LeBron one-on-one. Donald Trump vs. Everything. John Wall vs. Team USA. RG III vs. Gruden. All of it becomes a source of endless chatter with one specific goal in mind: yo stay alive until the next NBA season begins (or until your NFL fantasy draft).
Unfortunately, there is one debate this summer that has not raged on. One debate that deserves front and center attention in DC. Perhaps it’s because the answer is obvious. Perhaps it’s because the protagonist is so spectacularly likable, and the villain so deeply hate-able that everyone takes to one side. But before the doldrums of Summertime Sports end, the match-up must be addressed:
Best Shooting Guard of His Generation:
Gilbert Arenas vs. Kobe Bryant. Agent Zero vs. the Black Mamba.
Now, let’s get this out of the way quickly: If you’re a die-hard Kobe fan, you will not agree. You will never agree to anything anti-Kobe. You are insufferable. You are most likely either an intolerable person destined to be alone forever, or in a relationship in which you front like you’re hard while your woman is the real man of the house. You cannot be reasoned with. So just close this tab and move on with your wasted life.
Back to the battle: Gil vs. Kobe? It’s no contest. Gilbert Arenas, at his best, was better at basketball than Kobe Bryant. Yes his career was shorter. Yes his fall from greatness was steeper. But yes, his best was better. The proof is on the internet:
That should be everything you need to know. Every Wizards fan remembers this game. Every Kobe fan probably remembers this game, and probably remembers thinking “dammit, there’s ANOTHER guy out there who might beat Kobe for an MVP. Again.” Gilbert took it to the so-called best player in the league, and in a rare case when it was truly mano-a-mano, rather than team vs. team, Arenas came out on top in spectacular fashion.
“But it was just one game” say the Arenas haters. “Kobe had a game where he scored 81.. Arenas never did THAT.” But (and this may come as a surprise to many) it was not just one game. It was an entire season. Gilbert Arenas’s 2005-2006 NBA season was superior to Kobe Bryant’s entire 2005-2006 season, a season most identify as Kobe’s best individual season.
Let’s go inside the numbers:
Look at those numbers. Kobe is superior to Arenas in just three categories. Points per game, shot attempts, and usage rate. And if we learned anything from Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson, the title of league leading scorer does not equal best player (LeBron has displayed the same lesson in an inverse style). Kobe shot the ball almost THIRTY times per game. Twenty-seven shots is A LOT of shots. Particularly on average. But as times have changed and stats have become more modern, efficiency has become the name of the game. And Gilbert Arenas displayed far more efficient scoring than the supposed best scoring guard in the league.
Using less possessions throughout the season, Arenas was able to create more out of those possessions than Kobe. His effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage both surpass Kobe’s, a reflection of his superior three-point shooting and equivalent effectiveness attacking the rim and creating free throws
And not surprisingly, Arenas was a better teammate. He created assists more often than Bryant, despite utilizing fewer possessions.
“But Kobe was in ATTACK MODE. Of course his efficiency might suffer! 😭” Actually….Arenas attacked in comparable numbers to Kobe, and in fact shot even Kobe’s defining fadeaway better! During the 2005-2006 season, Kobe combined for 427 dunk and layup attempts, and shot 60 percent on these shots (along with drawing 10 free throws per game). Arenas combined for 388 dunk and layup attempts, and shot 65% on those shots (while drawing 10 free throws per game, just like Kobe).
And as for that unguardable fadeaway that supposedly no one else could shoot like Kobe during his time? Kobe shot the fadeaway that season at 66%. Arenas shot it at 83%.
Oh, and there’s more. At least Kobe is clutch right? Well, not really. In fact, some experts argue that Kobe is in fact one of the least clutch shooters to attempt as many crunch time shots as he does. And in the clutch, Arenas was better than Kobe too. Through 2009, Kobe shot jus 25% on “game winning shots” per 82games.com, and 12/15 from the Free Throw line (defined as shots under 24 seconds down by 0-2 points, league average of 29.8%). Gilbert Arenas on the other hand shot 32% in the same situation, and shot 18/18 from the Free Throw line. Cold-blooded. And why did I choose 2009? Because that incorporates both players’ primes, but also excludes Kobe’s recent “clutch struggles.” And “struggles” is putting it kindly: The Black Mamba with the killer instinct has used that instinct to make exactly ZERO of his last thirteen game tying/winning attempts.
Here it comes: “Playoffs and rings and blah blah blah.” Playoff success is a product of great teams, not individually great players. And even for that individual season, both Arenas and Kobe went out in the first round. Neither had a great team surrounding them, and the results reflected as much.
But wait! Kobe won MVP in 2008, not 2006! So that’s REALLY his best season, even if it wasn’t quite as awe striking. Well then, let’s look at how Arenas’s banner 2006 season compares to Kobe’s MVP season.
Hmmm. Look closely at those numbers and you’ll realize two things. First, Kobe’s efficiency was clearly improved. He shot better, he shot less often, he created more assists while using less possessions. In other words, Kobe played MORE LIKE GILBERT ARENAS. Second: He STILL wasn’t better than Agent Zero! Arenas’s shooting percentages were still superior, though by not as wide a margin. Arenas was still a better teammate, creating more assists while using less possessions.
So what changed most for Kobe from 2006 to 2008? His team. By 2008, the Lakers had added Pau Gasol to a team featuring Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Trevor Ariza, among others. As a result, surrounded with better teammates, Kobe and the Lakers flourished in a way Arenas and the Wizards could not. So Kobe’s 2008 season was rewarded with an MVP. But even Kobe’s award winning year was inferior to Gilbert Arenas at his best.
Hey, but at least Kobe had video game covers that Arenas never ha- Oh…
Kobe, undeniably has had a better career than Gilbert Arenas. He has been a great player for a much, much, much longer time. And longevity is part of greatness. One or two great seasons don’t make a Hall of Famer. Ask Tracy McGrady. Or Penny Hardaway. Or Grant Hill. Some players take longer to reach their prime. Some players have injuries derail their prime. Some players don’t have the drive to maintain greatness year after year. Some players aren’t surrounded by teammates to maximize their greatness. Some players suffer from all of the above.
But when it comes to Gilbert Arenas, true greatness existed, even if it was fleeting. His greatness was short lived, too short. His best was taken from us DC fans far too soon, as was his infectious, fascinating, entertaining personality. Because above all, Arenas outshined Kobe in personality, in joy, and in fun. Arenas gave us moments like this:
And he continues to give us moments like this:
He is the gift that keeps on giving. He is a talent that managed only a few “best” years, but he gave those best years to DC. And at his best, he gave it to the entire league, including Kobe Bryant.
When ppl say I sucked or analysis say I wasn't a top player….I always knew one thing….THEY NEVER had to come in that tiger cage….I will never be a #HOF'ER but from 2002-08 i rock the shit out of EVERY FUTURE HOF'ER who tried to tame me……ur legacy is how u remember u,not how others do…#nbawasfantastic
So if you prefer long term, stable relationships, following the same routine, day in, day out, with five kids you flaunt to compensate for your misery, take Kobe. But if you prefer the dramatic, the unpredictable, that short lived fling that was the best you ever had and the one you can never forget, take Gilbert. He was the best we ever had.
And at his best, peak Gilbert put Kobe on the Hibachi, and served burning, grilled snake meat to all of DC.