KOBE vs. LEBRON

Written by kp. Posted in Sport

Published on November 18, 2012 with No Comments

King James and the Black Mamba. Undoubtedly two of the NBA’s greats. If you are looking for a solid LeBron/Kobe comparison, you’ve come to the right place. Through this article, I will explain as objectively as possible why we can (and should) conclude that LeBron James is a better player than Kobe Bryant.

First, let’s look at regular statistics and season awards. LeBron has won three MVP awards, Kobe has won only one. This alone gives LeBron a big edge in their respective regular season performances.

Second, LeBron made an immediate impact in the NBA and transformed the Cavaliers, a perennially terrible team, into a legitimate title contender. He won Rookie of the Year award; Kobe averaged less than 8 PPG in his rookie season. Not to mention Kobe has played with All-Stars and Hall of Famers for most of his career.

Essentially all awards (NBA first team, etc.) that Kobe has more of can be attributed to his longer tenure in the league so those are a wash considering James is acquiring those awards at a comparable rate, if not faster.

Now here is a side-by-side comparison of their career regular season per game averages:

Kobe Bryant

LeBron James

Points

25.4

27.6

Rebounds

5.3

7.2

Assists

4.7

6.9

Steals

1.5

1.7

Blocks

0.5

0.8

FG %

0.453

0.483

Statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com

 

The stats speak for themselves.

Defensively, it’s not much of a comparison. LeBron can guard virtually every position on the floor. Admittedly, it may be easy to be mesmerized by Kobe’s 11 All-Defensive team awards but remember what his own coach, the legendary Phil Jackson, said about Bryant’s defense in Jackson’s book:  “The voters have been seduced by his remarkable athleticism and spectacular steals, but he hasn’t played sound, fundamental defense.” Over their respective careers, LeBron averages more defensive rebounds per game, steals per game, and blocks per game.

 

Kobe fans are eager to point out playoff performances, and before delving into the quality of LBJ and Kobe’s playoffs, let’s look at their playoff statistics:

 

Kobe Bryant

LeBron James

Points

25.6

28.1

Rebounds

5.1

8.5

Assists

4.7

6.9

Steals

1.4

1.7

Blocks

0.7

1.0

FG %

0.448

0.462

Statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com

 

Just like in the regular season, LeBron is ahead in every single category.

 

As we all know, there is one main reason NBA fans and analysts do not unanimously agree that LeBron is better: NBA championships (or in LeBron’s case, lack thereof).

 

As NBA great Chris Mullin pointed out, in order to win a championship all of the stars (literally and figuratively) have to align right. A championship is a team effort and Kobe has played with three great big men — Shaq, Gasol, Bynum — compared to LeBron, who has played with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joel Anthony.

 

Even if LeBron never wins a ring, you cannot default to Kobe as the greater player. Robert Horry has won seven titles and Karl Malone has won zero. No one in their right mind would say Horry is better. Derek Fisher has won five rings (and may get another this year), does that mean he is as good as Kobe and better than LeBron? And they are only a few examples. Adam Morrison has played in as many playoff games as he has won championships (2). There may be a correlation between championships and greatness, but a direct one? If so, the Celtics have the seven greatest players of all time – and Larry Bird isn’t one of them.

 

The reality is, as good as Wade and Bosh are, it is easier to succeed as a scorer when you have offensive role players and dominant post presences, which Bryant had. Look at the Spurs of the 00s and the original Big Three. The 2008 Celtics for example, had a great scorer (Pierce) and shooter (Allen) to complement some of the league’s best big men (Garnett and Perkins). LeBron has a big time scorer to compete with in Wade whereas Kobe has played with Gasol, Bynum, and O’Neal.

 

Career player efficiency rating (PER) also helps give more of the story. Here is a comparison of Kobe and LeBron and players two have played with.

 

PER PER
LeBron James 27.2 Shaquille O’Neal 26.4
Dwyane Wade 25.7 Kobe Bryant 23.4
Chris Bosh 20.9 Pau Gasol 21.9

Statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com

 

James has the second highest PER all-time (behind Jordan), Shaq is third, and Kobe is 18th.

 

Dwelling on championships a little more (because that is really the only argument that can be made for Kobe), let’s look at Kobe’s five rings.

 

During the three-peat, he was the second best player on the team. Shaquille O’Neal was by far the greater player and perhaps the most dominant player of his era. To say that Kobe had “help” is an underestimation. He was playing with one of the greatest players of all-time and didn’t win a single Finals MVP award during the three-peat.

 

If LeBron had played with O’Neal in his prime, LBJ would have at least won three rings. Why would that tandem have been more successful? LeBron is a scorer and a facilitator. Kobe may make tough shots, but it’s because he chooses to take so many tough shots. LeBron generally seeks the best shot whether or not it’s him, and if he had Shaq down low, the duo would have been virtually unstoppable.

 

Kobe’s fourth ring in 2009 was the one he contributed most (and earned Finals MVP honors). His 2010 Finals MVP was merely by reputation – he performed abysmally. Without going into a complete analysis, just remember he shot 29.3% in the fourth quarter of those Finals. (LeBron shot 33.3% in the fourth quarter of the 2011 Finals.)

LeBron’s 2007 playoff domination was more impressive than any of Kobe’s during his rings. The Cavs may have lost to the Spurs in the Finals, but LeBron’s performances were some of the best the NBA has ever seen. He led a comeback in the Conference Finals against the Pistons when the Cavs were down 0-2. The most memorable one was when LeBron scored the final 25 points in a double overtime victory against the Pistons, one of the best defensive teams, no less. This list has that game as the fourth best playoff performance of all-time. While I would argue it should be higher, note Kobe doesn’t even sniff the top 10.

Keep in mind this incredible 2007 performance occurred when the second and third best players on the Cavaliers were Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Moral of the story: LeBron singlehandedly took the Cavaliers to the Finals. The season before he was in the league, they were 17-65. Compare that to Kobe, who was a primary (or secondary) option for most of his career. Again, LeBron (while on the Cavs) was the only sensible option. Teams tried to hone in on him and just about nobody could guard him. In Miami, he has to share shots with Wade and Bosh – but he still has great games. Look no further into the past than Game 4 of the 2012 Conference Semifinals against the Pacers. In one of the most important games in LeBron’s playoff career, down two games to one, he had a monster 40-18-9 game in a big win.

 

In terms of “clutchness,” there is more than just that double OT performance against the Pistons and his recent brilliance against the Pacers. Kobe is instinctually given the nod, but we need to look at the facts, not the GM polls. After all, GMs picked Kwame Brown, Sam Bowie, and Greg Oden over the likes of Tony Parker, Michael Jordan, and Kevin Durant.

According to Chasing 23, LeBron shoots better (41%), than Kobe (26%), in the final 24 seconds of a playoff game (fourth quarter and overtime). The argument that Kobe has taken more shots when it counts doesn’t work, either. LeBron shoots a potential game-winning/tying shot once every 8.25 playoff games and Kobe shoots one every 8.68 games.

How about this shot to beat the Magic when the Cavs were down 2 points in the Conference Finals? LeBron has done his work in the clutch. There is no reason to choose Kobe over him when it matters “most.” In the playoffs, LeBron has made only two less game-tying/winning shots (5 total) than Kobe (7) in less than half as many attempts. Opposing defenses know LeBron is probably going to drive it down their throat and there is still nothing they can do about it. Kobe, on the other hand, does things like shoots 2 of 10 in the fourth quarter and then blames Pau.The reality is that The Myth of Playoff Kobe is just that: a myth.

Before Kobe/Laker Nation gets all over me, remember I started my article saying they are two of the greatest players of all time. LeBron’s “decision” and proclamation of winning title after title were stupid moves on his part, but as basketball fans we should realize we are watching one of the most amazing talents to ever to hit the basketball court. And yes, a talent greater than Kobe Bryant.

 

 

This article was written by Elijah Abramson

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