One of the greatest arguments about the legacy of Kobe Bryant is the fact that Kobe had Shaquille O’Neal as a teammate, the most dominant basketball player in NBA history. In this article, we take a closer look at how valuable Kobe Bryant was in the Laker’s 3-peat.
The 2000 NBA Playoffs
From a statistical standpoint, the 2000 NBA Playoffs and Finals dictate every reason for one to believe that Shaq carried the Lakers to a ring. Shaq had ridiculous playoff numbers of 38 points per game, 16.7 rebounds per game, and 2.7 blocks per game! However, there are a few factors that you must be aware of.
Firstly, the Lakers played against the Indiana Pacers, a team that was widely known for a tremendous backcourt in Mark Jackson, Reggie Miller, and Jalen Rose. The team lacked a talented front-court, particularly a center, which is why it seemed reasonable for the Lakers to run the offense through Shaq.
Secondly, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant suffered an ankle injury when Jalen Rose intentionally stuck out his foot with the intent of harming Kobe. Despite this injury, Kobe returned in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and played in the 47 minutes to lead the Lakers to a clutch OT win when Shaq was fouled out.
Thirdly, Kobe Bryant led the famous comeback against the Portland Trailblazers in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. After trailing by 13 at the end of the 3rd quarter, Kobe would lead his team to the NBA Finals. With little production from Shaq, who was in foul trouble and ended the game with only 18 points and 4 turnovers, Kobe Bryant scored 25 points along with 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 blocks to earn the duo their first trip to the NBA Finals. Kobe would end up averaging 2.1 blocks per game that series, compared to Shaq’s 1.9 blocks per game.
The 2001 NBA Playoffs
Before we look at the NBA Finals, we must first glance at the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs. Pitted against the Twin Towers in David Robinson and Tim Duncan, the Lakers were forced to adapt their offense away from Shaq. In this series, Kobe absolutely demolished the Spurs. Kobe averaged a ridiculous 33.3 points per game, 7 rebounds per game, 7 assists per game, and 1.5 steals per game while shooting nearly 52% from the field against the defense-oriented San Antonio Spurs. His highlights included blowing by his primary defender while posterizing Duncan and Robinson.
Again, similar to the 2000 NBA Finals, the LA Lakers played against a team that was led by guards. The Iverson-led 76ers simply had no answer for Shaq, which gives every reason for him to average 33 points per game and 15.8 rebounds per game. However, Kobe’s efforts should not be undermined. Possibly the biggest thing that gets unnoticed is the fact that Kobe had the task of guarding and locking up Allen Iverson in the series.
The 2002 NBA Playoffs
This may sound familiar, but the 2002 NBA Finals was against the Nets, a team that was led by star guard Jason Kidd. Again, a team that lacks a true center can only pray that Shaq averages less than 35 points per game. However, where Kobe’s true value came in was in the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings, one of the most controversial series in league history. There, Kobe averaged 27 points per game while defeating one of the greatest teams to not win a title.
Unfortunately for Kobe, Shaq’s performances in the NBA Final’s were against teams that lacked a star center. As a result, the offense ran primarily through O’Neal, which is a great reason why he deserved and won Final’s MVP. However, Kobe Bean Bryant’s value to the team’s journey to the Finals is arguably more valuable than Shaq’s.