There's no denying Kobe Bryant's place in the game.
Two different retired numbers by the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the NBA's all-time leading scorers and the most All-Defensive team selections ever by a guard, Bryant's resume is largely unassailable.
To compare someone to Kobe isn't necessarily to bring him down as much as it is to prop someone else up... to bring more attention to the sterling play of someone that might be flying under the radar.
What follows here isn't to be taken too seriously, but rather as a means to simply give credit where credit is due. Indulge me for a moment and consider the cases of two players.
Before scrolling down, vote for which one in a vacuum is better. Don't cheat!
OK, let's start with Player A.
That's none other than a 33-year-old Kobe Bryant in his first six games of the 2011-12 season. At that point in time, Kobe was still Kobe... All-NBA First Team, a top-5 MVP candidate, among the league leaders in scoring, a certifiable big game player that while maybe just barely past his peak, still had serious game.
Those numbers aren't great, but they would get better as Kobe wound up finishing fourth in MVP voting and second in the league in scoring while leading the Lakers to a top-3 finish in the Western Conference.
As for Player B...
That's none other than a 33-year-old Kyle Lowry in his first six games to start the 2019-20 season.
Remember that part at the beginning where I said not to take this too seriously?
Yeah... another reminder, because let's get one thing clear: Kyle Lowry is not better Kobe Bryant. I'll fire off a wild take here or there, but that's about 81 degrees too hot.
But Lowry is off to a better start than Bryant at a point in his career where many felt he'd continue to decline. After averaging 14.2 points per game on just 41% shooting last season, it would have been perfectly reasonable to expect something similar out of Lowry as he transitions from All-Star foundational piece to high-level trusted veteran role player, ceding control to the likes of Pascal Siakam and even Fred VanVleet.
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It's certainly early, but whispers of Lowry's impending decline appear to be premature at best and amazingly off-point at worst.
Lowry has scored at least 20 points in five of six games to begin the season and currently leads the entire league in minutes per game. While some of that is indicative of a lack of backcourt depth as evidenced by the fact that VanVleet ranks second in the NBA in minutes, Lowry deserves all the credit in the world for doing the absolute most with the time he's had.
The biggest question is whether or not he can keep it up.
Only two other players in the league have seen a larger increase in their scoring from last season to this season and both of them - Devonte' Graham and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - are second-year players and fit the profile of someone expected to make that type of leap.
If Lowry was doing this with blistering shooting percentages that leapt off the page, there's be far more room for skepticism. But he's shooting 39 percent from deep which is worse than he did in either 2016-17 or 2017-18 and is at 47 percent overall which would be a career-high but isn't some unattainable or astronomical figure. The bulk of his twos are coming within five feet where he's shooting 60 percent, right on par with the last few seasons.
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If there is an oncoming regression, it's more likely to come from a reduced workload than it is from any uncharacteristically hot shooting. Given the departure of Kawhi Leonard and the need for creation off the dribble, it's somewhat reasonable to assume that this is simply the player we're likely to see for the remainder of the season.
And aside from the scoring, Lowry's been Lowry... bodying up on D, ranking among the league leaders in charges and pushing pace with a heightened sense of awareness, something he started to do far more of last season especially in non-Leonard minutes. Lowry is Mr. Little Things and this season has been no different even with the added offensive responsibility.
Just as Kobe was far from finished at 33, Lowry is looking to be far from finished at 33.
Through six games, he's been better than the Lakers' legend at this exact mile marker.
Which of course means that Kyle > Kobe.... sort of.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.