NBA Debate: How Does Mitchell’s 71 Compare to Kobe’s 81?


Scoring goals isn’t that important in the NBA these days.

This week our panel of NBA reporters – Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman – takes a look at Donovan Mitchell’s 71-point breakout, LeBron James’ dominance in Year 20, and Boston’s ups and downs.

1. How does Donovan Mitchell’s 71-point performance compare to Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance? Are they on the same level?

Rohlin: Kobe’s highlight role stands alone. Whether he had 62 points in three quarters in 2005 or 81 points in 2006, had at least 50 points in four straight games in 2007, or had two free throws after tearing his Achilles tendon in 2013. Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time, and it makes no sense viewing one of his insanely memorable moments in a vacuum. Together they form one of the most impressive resumes in NBA history. And while Mitchell’s 71-point performance was impressive, he doesn’t even belong in the same conversation as Kobe.

Weitzman: Secure? No? Yes? Both are great; 81 is more than 71. But Mitchell shot 32-44 from the field while Kobe went 28-46. Mitchell also racked up 11 assists while Kobe shared just two. BUT, Mitchell was working overtime to get his points. Let’s just say both were wondrous performances worthy of appreciation.

2. Mitchell posted 71, Lukas Doncic scored 60 last week, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 55 goals on Tuesday – to what do you attribute this recent spike in tremendous individual goalscoring performances across the league?

Rohlin: I think advances in technology have a lot to do with it. Athletes are more fine-tuned than ever. There are metrics that measure every aspect of an athlete’s performance, making it easier to determine their optimal oxygen, rest, sleep and nutritional needs to maximize their performance.

Weitzman: Players have never been more talented, and teams have never been smarter about how best to harness and unleash those talents. Floors are distributed. Each team has multiple players who are not only dead-eye shooters, but also deadly when they pull themselves up from the depths of dribbling, a shot you rarely saw 10 years ago. It’s impossible to defend these guys, and that’s how we’re going to see more and more video game-esque box scores.

3. golden state has won five of his last six without Stephen Curry. Will the Warriors get their mojo back?

Rohlin: This is an extremely positive sign for the Warriors. What I find most encouraging is Klay Thompson’s resurgence. After missing 2.5 years with cruciate ligament and Achilles injuries, he’s recently looking like a superstar again. He has at least 30 points in the Warriors’ last three games, including a 54-point performance on 53.8 percent shooting in Monday’s overtime win against Atlanta. If he continues to be such an offensive weapon, the Warriors will be extremely difficult to stop when Steph returns.

Weitzman: The fact that they’ve not only managed to stay afloat, but also managed to pull off a few wins without Steph is without a doubt a good sign. And for Thompson to find his footing (he’s now averaging 20.6 points and shooting 38.3% from deep) is a huge development. But the Warriors are still only 3-16 on the road this season. Eventually they have to figure out how to win some games outside of the Chase Center.

4. Boston is 5-5 in its last 10 games and has lost 150-117 OKC on Tuesday without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Reason for panic or midseason doldrums?

Rohlin: I’m not worried at all. Here’s why: Let’s not forget that the Celtics made the Finals last season after only being ranked 11th in the Eastern Conference on Jan. 16. It goes without saying that they are doing much better this season. They are currently in first place with a record of 27-12 and have the highest win rate in the league. Every team hits a few bumps during an 82-game season. This can be yours. But it’s far, far from a cause for concern.

Weitzman: No need to panic at all. They still own the best offensive rating in the league and are now seventh in defense, making them No. 1 in point difference. Part of that break is because they’ve been missing good looks from 3 and are also reintroducing Robert Williams III into the lineup. The Celtics are and will remain fine and remain the team to beat in the East.

5. Has LeBron James’ statistical dominance in his 20th season made you reconsider if he’s the greatest player of all time if you haven’t already believed it?

Rohlin: LeBron is one of the greatest players of all time and his dominance in the twilight of his career is unparalleled. At age 38, he’s averaging 29 points on 51% shooting, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.6 assists, and is the oldest player to compile those numbers, according to StatHead. We could argue ’til our faces turn blue over whether he or Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant is THE greatest of all time. But this much is undeniable: no player has been as dominant throughout his career as LeBron. That alone could mean he’s the greatest NBA player of all time.

Weitzman: I don’t know if he’s THE GOAT but I’m confident we’ve never seen anything like it before. Think of it this way: LeBron is 38 years old. Do you know what Michael Jordan was doing when he was 38? Shooting 42% for the Washington Wizards. I think we end up looking back at LeBron’s ability to be great for so long as his most impressive accomplishment.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Refueling to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Trial in Professional Sports History.”.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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