December 18, 2017 marks the day that the Los Angeles Lakers retire Kobe Bryant’s jerseys.
The future Hall of Fame has treated fans worldwide with a generous display of excellence and competitiveness throughout his 20-year career.
While it is impossible to find another replica player who is exactly like Bryant, one can attempt the challenging task of finding a pseudo-Kobe who exhibits some similarities and flashes of various elements of this legendary NBA player.
In terms of the mindset, emotion, and passion for the game, Russell Westbrook comes to mind naturally when finding a Kobe-esque player. He also resembles the Lakers great for his ability to score in huge bunches when the team needs him to.
The characteristic set of intangibles that Kobe Bryant brings to the table has led to the famed “Mamba Mentality,” espousing the never-say-die attitude. It stands for playing the game with a great deal of intensity and tenacity. It stands for an unleashed persona filled with rage and killer instincts.
Needless to say, the 2016-17 version of Westbrook has personified the Mamba Mentality to the fullest in his MVP season.
The exit of former MVP Kevin Durant left a huge vacuum in the Oklahoma City Thunder formula. Refusing the bend under such unfavorable deficit, Westbrook went on rage mode. His competitive desire is likened to Kobe Bryant. Not only did he not crumble under pressure, Westbrook thrives like the alpha dog which Bryant evidently was.
The dominating thirst for winning is shown in Westbrook’s push to elevate every aspect of his game, hence resulting in the historical triple double average throughout the season.
When the team gets into a funk, you can bet your last penny that Westbrook will, like Kobe does, take on the whole responsibility of carrying the team on his shoulders. He will be the spark to spur the team on with his explosiveness in transition play, kicking out to the big men or keeping possession by fighting for rebounds.
When Russell Westbrook runs the lane and takes off for a slam dunk, even the most athletic big men cannot stop his explosiveness. The kind of heart and passion he plays with resonates with the Mamba Mentality that Kobe Bryant represents.
Whatever the team needs to win, Westbrook provides in torrential efforts. When the team is lagging behind in points, Westbrook pours in big numbers. He led the 2016-17 season in scoring with 31.6 points per game. Sounds familiar? Kobe Bryant had a very similar prolific ability to score at will, owning scoring titles in the 2006-07 (also 31.6 points) and 2005-06 (35.4 points) seasons.
One other aspect of his game that mirrors the Lakers icon is Westbrook’s isolation plays. This is perhaps linked in part to his similar ball dominance in taking multiple dribbles per possession.
In terms of work ethic, footwork, and mid-range offense, DeMar DeRozan is a candidate that show flashes of Kobe Bryant.
DeRozan earned his spot in this conversation through his immense work ethic. We can all recall that the Toronto Raptors star was not half the player he is now when he entered the league. Run through some old Raptors game and you can see how much progress this All-Star has made through sheer diligence.
Playing the same position of shooting guard as Kobe, DeMar DeRozan has modelled his game after Bryant to the extent of imitating some of his signature moves.
DeRozan has successfully improved his athletic fitness and body type to easily execute the difficult contested shots which Kobe Bryant so familiarly did.
These days, his staple moves include running into the midrange, post up, footwork, contested fade away, or a cool drive for the dunk. Like Bryant, the Raptors guard loves to exhibit some creativity in the dunk department too, showing off frequent 360-degree slams, windmills or tomahawks, in-game.
DeMar DeRozan is also a top five scorer in the 2016-17 season and a top nine scorer back in the 2015-16 season. His ability to consistently knock down mid-range shots, post up smaller guards and go for the athletic dunks has made him, just like Kobe, an offensive expert.
As you can see, it is challenging to find just one current NBA player that embodies the amazing qualities and fascinating skills of Kobe Bryant. That is why we have two players chosen.
As much as we can say that DeMar DeRozan and Russell Westbrook show semblance of the Laker great, there is still a gap in terms of the level of excellence and consistency that the two show in the various discussed aspects, compared to the legend himself. Thus, the choice will always remain an open debate until, perhaps, one day someone steps up and claims the honor.