Breaking Down Why Kobe Bryant Is Still a Top-5 Player in the NBA

ESPN's 2012 NBA player rankings will never make everyone happy, but they'll stir up an especially contentious debate when it comes to Kobe Bryant winding up sixth.

You can make a solid argument for each player who did fall in the top five, but this isn't about explaining why really good players are indeed really good—it's about being comparative in a discussion about who's better.

And coming from a big-time Derrick Rose fan, there's just no way you can say he's better than Kobe right now. In 2010-11? Sure, he deserved that MVP award. But the 2011-12 campaign was a different story.

It's also hard to stomach the notion that Dwight Howard is a better all-around player, especially if you even begin to take off-court contributions (or lack thereof) into consideration.

Of course, my claim is a modest one—that Bryant belongs in the top five.

Had he ranked ahead of either Rose or Howard, that's exactly where he'd be, so a couple of side-by-side comparisons are in order.

Let's start with Rose.

Before even thinking about numbers and what he did on the court last season, it's worth remembering that as of right now, we really don't have a clue how Rose will play when he gets back on the floor sometime in March (maybe). That makes it hard to rate him one way or the other, especially with respect to "the current quality of each player"—the guidelines given to ESPN's 104 voting experts.

It wouldn't be fair to Rose to saddle him with an artificially low rating, nor is it fair to assume we'll be watching an MVP-caliber point guard at his best anytime soon.

We could make predictions about what he'll do in 2013-14, but those are different rankings altogether.

But fine, let's assume we're really evaluating last season's performance—in Rose's case, all 39 games of it.

While it's true that Rose's player efficiency rating edged Bryant out by a 23...

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