NBA Debate: How does Mitchell’s 71 compare to Kobe’s 81?

Scoring is … not at a premium 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 outburst, 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 outing? Are they on the same level?

Rohlin: Kobe’s highlight reel stands alone. Whether it was the time he scored 62 points in three quarters in 2005 or his 81-point performance in 2006 or when he scored at least 50 points in four consecutive games in 2007 or the time he made two free throws after sustaining a torn Achilles’ tendon in 2013. Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time, and it doesn’t make sense to look at any of his insanely memorable moments in a vacuum. Together, they comprise 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: Sure? Well? Yes? Both are great; 81 is more than 71. But Mitchell shot 32-for-44 from the field, while Kobe went 28-for-46. Mitchell also racked up 11 assists, while Kobe dished just two. BUT, Mitchell needed overtime to get his points. Let’s just say both were miraculous performances worthy of appreciation.

2. Mitchell posted 71, Luka Doncic scored 60 last week, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 55 on Tuesday — to what do you attribute this recent uptick in huge individual scoring performances across the league?

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

Weitzman: Players have never been more talented, and teams have never been smarter about how to best harness and unleash those talents. Floors are spread out. Every team has multiple guys who are not only dead-eye shooters, but are lethal when pulling up from deep off the dribble, a shot that 10 years ago you rarely saw. It’s impossible to defend these guys, and so we’re going to see more and more video game-like box scores.

3. Golden State has won five of his last six without Steph Curry. Are the Warriors getting 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 due to ACL and Achilles’ injuries, he has recently been looking like a superstar again. He has scored 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 are going to be extremely tough to stop when Steph returns.

Weitzman: That they’ve been able to not only remain afloat but rack up some wins without Steph is without a doubt a good sign. And Thompson finding his footing (he’s now averaging 20.6 points and shooting 38.3% from deep) is a huge development. But the Warriors are still just 3-16 on the road this season. At some point, they’re going to have to figure out how to win some games away from the Chase Center.

4. Boston is 5-5 in its last 10 games, and lost 150-117 to OKC on Tuesday without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Cause for panic or midseason lull?

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

Weitzman: No reason to panic at all. They still own the league’s best offensive rating and are now seventh in defense, making them No. 1 in point differential. Part of this lull is because they’ve been missing some good looks from 3, and also they’re re-integrating Robert Williams III into the lineup. The Celtics are and will be fine, and remain the team to beat in the East.

5. Has LeBron James’ statistical dominance in his 20th season caused you to reconsider if he is the best player ever, if you didn’t already believe he is?

Rohlin: LeBron is one of the greatest players ever 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, the oldest player to put up those numbers, according to StatHead. We could argue until we turn blue in the face 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 as LeBron throughout the entirety of his career. That alone could mean he’s the greatest NBA player ever.

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

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She 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 “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.


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