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Wednesday, October 16, 2013
No. 25? Is Kobe Bryant underrated?

By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Information

David Sherman/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant is entering his 18th NBA season.
Kobe Bryant was revealed as the 25th-best player in the NBA this season, according to ESPN.com’s #NBArank.

Are we really predicting that 24 players will be better than Kobe this season?

Even as he returns from a torn Achilles tendon, it’s difficult to fathom that Kobe will drop off that much.

Kobe is not the same as any other 35-year-old entering his 18th NBA season.

He’s coming off a season in which he had:

• His highest field goal percentage since 2008-09
• His highest 3-point percentage since 2009-10
• His most 3-pointers made since 2007-08
• His most rebounds per game since 2007-08
• The most assists per game and highest assist percentage of his career
• The highest effective field goal percentage of his career
• His highest true shooting percentage since 2007-08
• His most win shares since 2008-09

Kobe averaged 27.3 points per game last season, the second-highest scoring average by any player in NBA history who started the season at least 34 years old (Michael Jordan averaged 28.7 PPG in 1997-98).

Only twice in NBA history has a player averaged at least 24 points per game in a season in his 16th season or later: Kobe in 2011-12 (27.9 PPG) and Kobe again last season.

As you can see, we’re not dealing with a normal aging superstar. According to the numbers, age hasn't been a factor for Kobe.

He ranked third in the league in points per game last season. He has ranked in the top five in scoring average in each of the past 11 seasons.

It appears that Kobe hasn’t regressed as a scorer. Just look at the numbers to the right, and you can see that his numbers last season compare well to the previous four seasons.

Is it possible that Kobe is even better now than he was a few years ago? His scoring is comparable, and other aspects of his game have improved.

Kobe posted career highs in assists per game and assist percentage last season. Even if his scoring deteriorates, he has improved his ability to get his teammates involved.

Sure, nobody in his 18th season or later has averaged 21 points per game in a season, and only one player in his 18th season or later (Karl Malone) has even averaged 18 points per game in a season.

Sure, only two players in their age-35 season or older (Alex English and Karl Malone) have averaged 25 points per game in a season.

Sure, Kobe is coming off a torn Achilles tendon.

But we’re talking about a player who has done things that no other player has done at his age or with his mileage.

Kobe’s PER (player efficiency rating) last season was the highest by any player in NBA history in his 17th season or later.

Kobe has consistently remained one of the elite scorers in the NBA, and he did so even more efficiently last season than he had done in the previous few seasons.

Once Kobe returns after recovering from his Achilles injury, there’s little reason to think he won’t rank among the NBA’s elite again this season.