DAR Sports: Ranking The Kobe And Shaq Seasons

By @TrueGodImmortal

Recently, TNT showcased a sit down with two of the greatest of all time, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. They would discuss their history together, how they worked so well together, and what eventually led them to part ways. While their feud was more of a competitive fuel than a legit personality clash, the fact remains these two were at the top of their game when they were together. In memory of their dominance together, I wanted to rank their 8 seasons together in order from the least successful to the most dominant. Let's take a look.

8. 1996-1997 Season
(Shaq: 26.2 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 2.9 BPG-- Kobe: 7.6 PPG, 1.9 BPG, 1.3 APG)

-Ah, the beginning. At the time, Shaq had just come from the Orlando Magic, joining the Lakers on a huge 121 million deal. Kobe would be acquired from the Charlotte Hornets in a draft day move for the 13th pick in the greatest draft ever. Their first season together wasn't terrible, but it is their least significant year together despite some success as a team. The Lakers finished 56-26, good for 4th in the West, and 2nd in their division. Shaq would experience some injuries this season and would miss 31 games, but still finish with a solid stat line on the year. However, Kobe was a non factor in a way, as he was coming off the bench and hadn't had the chance to really showcase his skill. He was willing to step up in the playoffs, but it resulted in one of the most teaching moments of his career, as he airballed a few threes in a pivotal game in the Semifinals against the Utah Jazz. Still, this was the beginning of something special, so it is expected to be a little rough on the first year.

7. 1998-1999 Season
(Shaq: 26.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG-- Kobe: 19.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.8 APG)

-The lockout season was a successful year. Kobe continued to get better, Shaq continued to dominate, even after the Lakers went through their share of personnel changes. They would add Derek Harper, Dennis Rodman, and Glen Rice during this season, though Rodman wouldn't last with the team. In his short time there however, Rodman would be a key rebounder and the Lakers would go 17-6 with him in the lineup. The story here this year is Kobe stepping up as a starter for the first time, and he would average 20 points a game with career highs at that time in rebounds and assists. It was obviously at this moment that the key to a Lakers championship wasn't the dominance of Shaq, but the growth of Kobe. Shaq could be dominant forever, but without that vital and versatile piece in Kobe, their success would be limited. In the playoffs, the Lakers would defeat the Houston Rockets before losing to the Spurs in the Semifinals. It was a good season overall and one that showed more potential for the dynamic duo, but they weren't quite there. Yet.

6. 1997-1998 Season
(Shaq: 28.3 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG-- Kobe: 15.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.5 APG)

-It isn't a regular occurrence to have four players from the same team on the All Star team, but the Lakers had something with Van Exel, Kobe, Eddie Jones, and Shaq. It wasn't quite the time to put over the hump, but this was the season that showed you what could be. Kobe was still coming off the bench this year, but he managed to maximize his time and become a crowd favorite, garnering overwhelming support. That aside, this season would be hugely successful for them, as they went 61-21 and would make the Conference Finals. This was one of my favorite Shaq seasons, as his dominance was in full display, and when the Conference Finals came, I'll be honest: I wanted the Lakers to defeat the Jazz. The Bulls were always going to beat the Jazz. However, if the Lakers could have made the Finals, the idea of Shaq and Kobe vs Jordan and Pippen in 1998 would have been interesting. It is very rare that the current dynasty and the next dynasty actually meant in the Finals so that would have been fun. However, the Lakers weren't quite ready and got swept, but the chemistry between Shaq and Kobe began to build.

5. 2002-2003 Season
(Shaq: 27.5 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.4 BPG-- Kobe: 30.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG)

-Injuries kept these two from making something special happen with a 4 peat, but I personally loved this season. This was the season where Kobe hit his peak and became the alpha dog in the Lakers. It wasn't pretty and for the first time, we saw the Lakers have their backs against the wall. At one point, the defending champions were 11-19 and in fear of not making the playoffs. We had never seen anything like this, and many would say their internal issues and mental fatigue would be the reason why. The Lakers would finish the season going 39-13, finishing with a 50-32 record for the year, and the 5th seed. It would be a battle uphill for them, but they seemed ready. They had become one of the best teams in the second half of the season, with Kobe playing every single game this year with Shaq out with injury. I have always believed that if the Lakers made it out of the second round this season, they would have won another title with Kobe as the MVP. Kobe was focused, but the chemistry seemed off at times, and despite the Lakers managing to defeat the Timberwolves in the first round in 6 hard fought games, they wouldn't be able to get beyond the Spurs, who got a lucky break in game 5 at home in the series, before murdering a Lakers team that felt like they gave up in game 6. This season had so much potential, that's why I ranked it so high. Shaq was still able to dominate, and Kobe had hit his prime. This season should have been so much more, but those last two Kobe and Shaq years have an asterisk next to them, despite this one being an entertaining year all around.

4. 2003-2004 Season
(Shaq: 21.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 2.5 BPG-- Kobe: 24.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.1 APG)

-Yes. It is true that Kobe and Shaq would make the Finals this season with the assistance of Gary Payton and Karl Malone, but the way they got there and how the Finals ended says more about the subpar play of the duo than anything. Sure, their numbers went down some, compared to the seasons before due to the other pieces, but this entire season felt like we were watching them be sluggish and lazy through the season. The Lakers super team didn't finish with the no. 1 seed and they seemed to be coasting until the playoffs. While this strategy is sound for some, for this team, it was a bit taxing. The "Big Four" of Kobe, Shaq, Malone, and Payton would also be a product of circumstance as the Kobe distraction in Colorado came this year, and injuries began to hurt the team. Still, you could see the beginning of the end coming, and with Shaq and Kobe seemingly due to split up. The Lakers utilized their talent to get to 56-26, the second seed in the West, and make the NBA Finals where they were favored to win, but that historical defense of the Detroit Pistons team was absolutely too tough to beat. The end of the Kobe and Shaq era should have ended in a 4th title in 5 years, but their internal issues, age, and the lack of true implementation of Payton and Malone into the triangle offense really did them in. Still, this was a successful season by any other standard, just a bitter ending to the dominant duo of Shaq and Kobe.

3. 2001-2002 Season
(Shaq: 27.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.0 BPG-- Kobe: 25.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.5 APG)

-The third season together showed slight signs of mental fatigue for them. It is impossible to play into June multiple times in a row and not feel mentally burnt out honestly. Especially with the level of competition at the time and how the team worked, it was essentially taxing on the team. Still, the Lakers were the prime example of a team that did more than enough to make the top 2-3 seeds in the West, pace themselves for the playoffs, and then unleash the beast. This was one of those years. Going 58-24 and finishing third in the West, the Lakers went into the playoffs looking for dominance, and in the first two rounds, they did just that. Making easy work of the Blazers and Spurs, the Lakers would run into their biggest adversary in the Sacramento Kings, who would give them their greatest challenge in years. Honestly, the Kings should have advanced, but the league seemingly wanted a Lakers 3 peat. As a result, some controversial officiating took place, and the Lakers advanced to their third straight Finals. They would make easy work of the New Jersey Nets, sweeping them in dominant fashion. This was the end of the true dominance of Shaq and Kobe, but historical because there have only been a small number of teams to go for 3 straight titles.

2. 1999-2000 Season
(Shaq: 29.7 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 3.0 BPG-- Kobe: 22.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.9 APG)

-Despite the 67-15 Season, these two still weren't quite on equal footing yet, but they were just as close as they could be. This was the season however where Kobe began to expand his role even more as an important piece in the Lakers system. He had become the clear cut no. 2 in the offense after the departures of Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones. He had Glen Rice, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, and others as complementary pieces, but Kobe was now the guy. Shaq was still the go to guy, and he would have a legendary season, but Kobe finally saw his name in the lights next to his. This was the true beginning of their dominance and with Shaq winning MVP along with a scoring title, the focus was mostly on him. Kobe would change that more and more through the playoffs, including his clutch game 4 performance against the Pacers in the Finals. Their path to the title together wasn't easy, as they would be pushed to the limit by the Kings in round 1, soundly defeat the Suns in round 2, and nearly lose to the Blazers in the Conference Finals before a hard fought battle with the Pacers in the Finals. This season could be no. 1 in terms of the Lakers in general during this time, but for Kobe and Shaq together, it is no. 2 but just barely. 

1. 2000-2001 Season
(Shaq: 28.7 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2.8 BPG-- Kobe: 28.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.0 APG)

-The greatest playoff team of all team and the most poised championship run of all time. While the first title season was special and features a 67-15 record in the regular season, both Kobe and Shaq hadn't quite reached their full power together it felt like. This year was different. They struggled at some points in the regular season, but that was by design due to the emergence of Kobe as a true star. There was talk of the two stars having issues more and more, and the media let that narrative be the case the entire time. However, this was an important moment for them, as Kobe would lead the team in assists and minutes per game taking more responsibility, while Shaq of course led in points, blocks and rebounds. The difference this year is that the scoring load was almost equal and Kobe would emerge as the 1B to Shaq as 1A, instead of being the clear no. 2, which was likely the cause of their issues anyways. Ego is a detriment at times in team sports, and perhaps that is what happened in this instance. Whatever the case, Kobe and Shaq managed to gain the second seed in the West, then would wipe out every challenger in the West with no problem, going 11-0 to reach the Finals. They would lose game 1 and close out the series, going 15-1 to win their second title. This is the overall greatest season for the two dominant players, and while the previous year was close, the playoff run solidified it. We may never see a duo like Kobe and Shaq again, but there are some possibilities in the current NBA for championship duos. I'll discuss those next week.



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