It's been a very long time since Kobe Bryant wasn't consistently in the discussion for best player in the NBA, let alone being considered the top shooting guard in the league. Bryant has had a stranglehold on the title of best shooting guard in the league for a decade-plus and while guys like Dwyane Wade have nipped at his heels. Going into the 2012-13 season, two-thirds of the NBA's general managers selected Bryant as the top shooting guard in the NBA.
Going into the 2013-14 season, the GMs have given the honor of top shooting guard in the league to Houston Rockets star James Harden. NBA.com released the 2013-14 GM survey and Harden was the overwhelming selection for the position with over half of the GMs pegging the Houston star. Bryant received just 20.0 percent of the vote with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Dwyane Wade all receiving votes.
Who is the best shooting guard in the NBA?
1. James Harden, Houston -- 56.7%
2. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers -- 20.0%
3. Stephen Curry, Golden State; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Paul George, Indiana -- 6.7%
6. Dwyane Wade, Miami -- 3.3%
Last year: Kobe Bryant -- 66.7%
You'd have to assume this mostly has to do with the Achilles' tendon tear Bryant suffered from this past April. Otherwise we probably wouldn't have such a dramatic swing in the vote from last year to this year. Going by the numbers, they had very similar offensive seasons in 2012-13.
Kobe averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists, and 5.6 rebounds in 38.6 minutes. He shot 46.3 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from 3-point range, and he made 83.9 percent of his 8.0 free throw attempts per game. For Harden, his averages were 25.9 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.9 rebounds in 38.3 minutes. Harden shot 43.8 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from 3-point range, and 85.1 percent on 10.2 free throw attempts per game.
When you dig into the advanced numbers, Harden and Kobe had the same PER at 23.0. Harden was ahead of Kobe in win shares per 48 minutes at .206 to .174, respectively. When you factor in defense, it would be hard to convince many people that Harden was a better defender than Kobe, even with Bryant's defensive consistency declining.
The main question is can Bryant return from his Achilles injury and be the same player we saw last season?