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No question that Kobe is NBA's best overall player

Posted: Monday March 26, 2007 3:40PM; Updated: Tuesday March 27, 2007 11:39AM
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With a 43-point performance Sunday, Kobe Bryant fell short of Wilt Chamberlain's record for consecutive 50-point games (7).
With a 43-point performance Sunday, Kobe Bryant fell short of Wilt Chamberlain's record for consecutive 50-point games (7).
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1. Who is the NBA's best player?

ANSWER: "We ask that question all the time," says an NBA advance scout. "When a bunch of us (scouts) are together, we say, 'Who is the best player in the league?' The answer is always Kobe.

"'If you needed one basket, who would you want to have shoot it?' Kobe.

"'If you needed to make one defensive stop, who would you want?' Kobe.

"If I was starting a team, he's the guy I would build around. He's the best player in the league, there's no question."

2. If Kobe Bryant is the best player, then why hasn't he won the MVP?

ANSWER: Because, as Bryant noted last Friday in New Orleans after scoring 50 points for the fourth game in a row, the MVP is awarded to a player from one of the best teams. The Lakers (38-32 as of Monday morning) are No. 11 overall in the NBA, 20.5 games behind Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks.

Which is not to say that the Lakers can't become the rare underdog to cause a scare in the playoffs. As detailed here last month, and reiterated by coach Phil Jackson last week, the Lakers have played impressively against the contenders in the West (including 2-1 vs. San Antonio, a possible first-round opponent). The league's leading talent is capable of beating anybody in a seven-game series, as evidenced a year ago, when the Lakers took the No. 2 Suns to a seventh game. And Bryant has been even more impressive than ever this year.

3. How is Bryant improving?

ANSWER: More important than his four straight games of 50 or more -- a run last accomplished by Wilt Chamberlain 45 years ago -- was that the Lakers won all four. Their winning streak reached five as Bryant went for 43 on Sunday against the Warriors.

What Bryant has been doing the last two weeks brings the Michael Jordan comparisons back into play. I remember reading a lot of the tributes that were paid to Jordan each time he "retired," and most of them never quite put a finger on what separated him from everyone else.

It wasn't his athleticism, his killer instinct or his grasp of the fundamentals, because other Hall-of-Famers possessed those qualities to varying degrees. What made Jordan unique was his universal ability to lead the league in scoring while leading his team to championships.

Before Jordan came along, those two categories were the yin and yang of the NBA. There were scorers and there were winners. Everybody had to choose one or the other. Young Chamberlain led the league in scoring seven years in a row, but he didn't win a championship until 1966-67, when he wisely trimmed nine points off his average (to finish third overall with 24.1 ppg) and raised his assists to a career-high 7.8 per game in leading the 76ers to the title.

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