What Does Kobe Bryant Have to Do to Enter the MVP Conversation?

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes a free throw against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 126-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Despite the "M-V-P" chants that are showered upon him each time he steps to the free-throw line, Kobe Bryant has only captured the coveted hardware one time in his first 16 NBA seasons. 

Bryant currently leads the league in scoring at 30.1 points per game, and is showing that despite his age, his jump shot is still among the most lethal in the NBA.

According to ESPN's Stats and Information department, if Bryant can maintain his current scoring pace, he would reach a historical NBA milestone:

Kobe Bryant is averaging 30 PPG. He would be the 1st player in NBA history to avg 30+ PPG in a season at age 34 or older.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 28, 2012

Despite his impressive scoring, however, Bryant can't seem to fight his way to the top of the list of MVP candidates, a common trend throughout his career.

Bryant captured his only regular season MVP trophy during the 2007-08 season when he led the Lakers to the Western Conference's best record (57-25) and scored 28.3 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting.

In addition, Bryant has finished in the top three of MVP voting five times (2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10), per Basketball-Reference.

One of the big problems is that Bryant is widely viewed as one of the league's elite scorers, but the MVP trophy is typically doled out to players who contribute more than just scoring by volume.

So if scoring isn't enough, what does Kobe need to accomplish over the next four months to enter the MVP conversation?

Making the playoffs (and with a decent seed) would be a nice start, but that burden shouldn't fall solely on Bryant's shoulders.

Statistically, Kobe's numbers this season are falling in line with where they've been throughout his career, with a slight bump in the scoring column.

With a line of 30.1 points, 4.9 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game, there isn't much Kobe can do to improve in the basic statistical categories.

In fact, Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com reports that Bryant is coming off the most productive month of his career, one that included more than just scoring:

The evidence is in the numbers. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the month of December Bryant just finished playing was historic for him, as he had never reached the averages of at least 33.79 or more points, 5.57 or more rebounds and 4.64 or more assists all at the same time for an entire month before in his career.

When we dig deeper, we find that Bryant's effectiveness is evident well beyond your average box score line.

According to 82games.com, Bryant has the second-highest "simple rating" of any player at +16.3, which is defined by the site as, "a production measure (a variant of John Hollinger's PER rating) for a player's own stats versus the counterpart player on the other team while he is on the court, as well as a simple on court/off court plus minus."

Not only that, but Kobe has the highest on court/off court net rating of any player in the NBA. Simply put, Bryant has tremendous value to the Lakers, evident by the team's -14.2 scoring margin when he sits on the bench.

Ultimately, there are a combination of factors hurting Kobe's bid to capture a second career MVP trophy.

Kobe's doing plenty, statistically speaking, to warrant serious MVP consideration, but the perception that he's a selfish, score-first guard, blended with the Lakers' underachievement, has taken a toll on his chances to be considered for the award.

When you look at the other candidates in the field, the understanding is that they do more than just score.

The field consists of the usual suspects—namely LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.

Durant, for instance, is averaging nearly two points per game fewer than Bryant, but is on pace to become one of a select few players to finish an NBA season in the exclusive 50-40-90 club.

Not only that, but Durant ranks second on the Oklahoma City Thunder in rebounds (eight per game), just .5 behind teammate Serge Ibaka's pace. 

LeBron James and Chris Paul are in the same boat, in that they're threats to post a double or triple-double on any given night, which is a quality that Bryant doesn't boast.

So really, it's not that Bryant isn't doing enough to capture the hardware that seems to allude him. His team's overall standing in the Western Conference and his perceived lack of versatility will, in all likelihood, be detrimental to his hopes of triumphing over a ridiculously qualified field of contenders.

Note: All stats accurate as of Tuesday, January 1.