|Wednesday, November 27
Why Kobe's better than McGrady
By Mitch Lawrence
Special to ESPN.com
And that's where the comparison ends, on this scorecard.
If I had to pick one player I wanted to start a team with and I was limited to perimeter players -- in other words, I couldn't make off with Shaquille O'Neal and guarantee myself a few titles -- I would take Bryant over McGrady, without giving it a second thought.
It's not just me, either. A month ago, the NBA polled its general managers on a variety of subjects, including the question, "Who are the five best players, regardless of position?" You know the only player other than Shaq to appear on all 29 ballots? It was Kobe.
"You know why Bryant is better?" asked one Eastern Conference scout. "Just look at the defensive end. It ends there for me. McGrady is not a great one-on-one defender. But if you tell Kobe, "Go stop that guy,' he will stop him."
During the Lakers' three-year reign, Bryant has been cited by coaches in all three seasons as one of the top defenders in the game. In their annual All-Defense teams, he's been voted onto the first team once and second team twice. Although McGrady did better than Bryant in the GMs' poll in the area of defensive versatility, the coaches have yet to vote McGrady onto any defensive team.
You have to love Kobe's attitude about defense. Like every other facet of the game, he wants to get better and become the best. When he made the All-Defense first team for the first time, in 2000, his response wasn't that he was satisfied.
"It's nice, but I want to win the Defensive Player of the Year award," he said. "That's my goal."
No one laughed, because that typifies Bryant's outlook on the game.
That's another reason I rank him above McGrady, who, at 23, is only nine months younger than Bryant. Not that McGrady doesn't want to have success. But Bryant is never satisfied with his play. He keeps raising the bar, especially when it comes to winning titles. It's that drive that separates him from other great players.
Even Magic Johnson, who takes a backseat to no champion on this scorecard, is constantly impressed by Bryant's dedication to the game. The latest example? Johnson noted how that only 10 days after the Lakers won the title over the Nets, Bryant was right back out on the practice floor, working on his game. Others have noticed, too.
"It's interesting, but a lot of people would relax after winning three titles," Phoenix president and GM Bryan Colangelo said. "But winning drives Kobe. That ability he has to continue to dedicate himself to the game, the way he has, is a very special quality."
You know who else had that quality? Michael Jordan. We hate to make comparisons to Jordan, mostly because every player who was billed as "The Next Michael Jordan" has failed to live up to those unreasonable expectations.
But when Phil Jackson favorably compares Bryant to Jordan -- as he did at length while the Lakers were sweeping the Spurs out of the conference finals in 2001 -- then you know how special Bryant is. Again, that's not a slight against McGrady, but it's not as if he's getting mentioned in the same breath as No. 23. His game just isn't complete enough.
In playoff battles, where the elite players separate themselves from the great ones, Bryant has done nothing but force people to compare his game to Jordan's. This has nothing to do with the fact that Kobe plays with Shaq, a point that often is used against him in judging his greatness.
Just ask the Pacers, Kings and Spurs, in particular. More than a few times, in the heat of the postseason and with games on the line, Bryant has stepped up and inflicted enough damage on those teams, by himself, to where Shaq has been relegated to the position of innocent bystander.
Need a refresher? Just go back to last May's conference semis. Bryant twice took over late in Games 3 and 4 against Tim Duncan and the Spurs, to lead the Lakers to two wins in San Antonio. Those two performances -- Bryant carried the Lakers, Shaq didn't -- effectively KO'd the Spurs.
McGrady, meanwhile, has yet to get his team out of the first round. He hasn't even forced a decisive Game 5. He hasn't willed his team to victory, as Bryant has done several times in May and June.
That's where there's no comparison. Bryant has three championship rings. McGrady has two playoff wins.
"It's not just that people can't match up with Shaq," said New Orleans coach Paul Silas, speaking about what it will take to topple the champs. "But teams also can't match up with Kobe, either. You can't forget that second part of the equation."
In their poll, the GMs certainly didn't forget. On most topics, they listed Bryant ahead of McGrady. In one telling question dealing with their respective positions, GM's were almost unanimous (92 percent) in selecting Bryant as the game's top shooting guard. McGrady, meanwhile, won at small forward, but with two-thirds (65 percent) of the vote. Offensively, it's not as close as you might think.
"The more I see McGrady play, the more I see him keep the ball and try to score all the time," one GM said. "Once he gets the ball, he's not passing it. The thing Kobe will do is get the ball to other people, especially now that Shaq is back. He won't be shooting it 30 times now because he knows he doesn't have to. I just don't know if McGrady has the mentality of making others guys around him better."
Another GM pointed out that the biggest difference in their offensive repertoire is that Bryant has an in-between game and McGrady doesn't.
"Kobe can make the 15-to-18 footer -- he can do three or four moves and get his shot, and he doesn't have to get to the rim," the executive said. "McGrady shoots three's or posts up little guys. And he needs to get to the rim because he really doesn't have that in-between game. But McGrady is still a hell of a player."
We agree. He's just no Kobe Bryant.
Mitch Lawrence, who covers the NBA for the New York Daily News, writes a regular NBA column for ESPN.com.