Kobe or LeBron? Making the Case for Bryant as Today's Best Player

Wesley MairContributor IJanuary 30, 2009

No doubt about it, both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the real deal.

We have witnessed Michael Jordan-like maneuvers from both of these players. Behind-the-back passes, the no-look pass, the windmill, the reverse jam, the in-your-face dunk, the fade-away jump shot with a hand in the face, and of course the clutch shot at the last second in the fourth quarter to win the game.

Don't forget about the 30-plus point nights, the 40-plus point nights, the 50-plus point nights. How about the 62-point game in three quarters for Bryant or that 81-point game that saw him gunning for Wilt Chamberlain's record?

Scoring points is an amazing and a beautiful thing, no doubt about it, but that's not what makes a player the greatest. Reggie Miller was one of the greatest shooters to play the game, but he is not considered when talking about the greatest players of the game.

To be great, a player has to perform at the highest level on both sides of the ball. A great player can dictate a play before it happens. A great player knows all your weakness but you can't find one of his.

Bryant and James are both great players. Both can single-handedly bring their teams back from a deficit to win the game. Both can go on the road and cause the crowd to chant "MVP."

What makes a player the greatest is when he has done something that you have never seen, something that makes your draw drop in excitement, something so special that you have to open your mouth and say "Oh yes, he is the greatest player today."

So which one is the best? Let's break it down.

Offense: Kobe and LeBron are just unstoppable at scoring. When they have the ball, you know something incredible is about to happen. There have been many players that step up to the challenge and think they can guard LeBron, but his unbelievable speed allows him to blow by people, and his overwhelming strength allows him to beast people and score.

Remember Ruben Patterson, the self-proclaimed "Kobe Stopper?" Maybe not, but you probably remember what Kobe did to him. What Bryant lacks in speed he makes up for in the ability to give you a crossover, fake left and go right, drive toward the basket and do some crazy impossible shot.

We all know Kobe is not as big as LeBron, but it doesn't matter. He can back you down, jab fake, then turn around and hit the fade. If you take your eye off either one for a second, they breeze by you for a dunk.

What separates the two on offense is that Kobe hits more of his shots. They can both drive, dunk and hit layups equally, but, from the field, Bryant gets the edge.

Free throws: Kobe shoots in the 80 percent range and LeBron shoots in the 70 percent range. When your team needs a free throw, Kobe is the man. LeBron has proved to be on and off with his free throws many times in his career, hurting his team by missing key shots. Again, advantage, Bryant.

Threes: Have you ever gotten nervous when Kobe shot a three? No, you don't. It's rare that he misses. LeBron has struggled this year; meanwhile, Bryant has tired the record for most threes in a game and has hit some unbelievable game winners from the three.

Mid-range shots:  LeBron is very good from mid-range, even when it seems like the shot doesn't have a chance. But again, Bryant has the edge here. Kobe is just ridiculous from mid-range, making one-handed shots, fade-aways, leaners, and even bank shots. Kobe has mastered the mid-range.

Even when he dislocated his shoulder, or tore a ligament in his pinky, he was still hitting that shot. Recently, when he dislocated his ring finger, he was still killing at the mid-range shot. That same day, he hit two incredible shots over LeBron.

Clutch: My brother and I argued on this point for a long time. Hitting a clutch shot now and then doesn't make you a reliable clutch player.

Granted, James hit a few clutch layups against the Washington Wizards in the playoffs, but you're supposed to make layups. Look instead at the game against Chicago earlier this season and see how many shots he missed. It was about 20.

Cleveland eventually lost in overtime, and during the game the announcer said James is 4-for-22 when shooting with five seconds or less. 

Bryant, on the other hand, has an eight-minute highlight reel of his clutch shots. Recall that game against Portland a few years ago when Bryant hit that impossible three to send the game into overtime and an eventual victory. Do you think LeBron will have a clutch moment like that? Bryant hit the game-winner, by the way.

Defense: LeBron and Kobe are both great on defense. Kobe will always step up to the challenge and would love to guard against the best player on the opposing teams. LeBron will develop that in his years to come. Both of these players make key plays on defense to give their team the edge. The only difference here is experience, of which Bryant has.

Blocking: Both have this down pat. How many times do opposing players think they have a fast break, only to see Bryant or James come out of nowhere and block the shot like the player was nothing? It's nasty to watch.

Steals: Again, both are equal here.

Lockup defense: When Kobe takes on a challenge and really wants to guard you, he'll bring everything he's got. A key example of this is when Kobe's Lakers went up against Lebron's Cavs.

Kobe guarded Lebron and shut him down, forcing six turnovers and some pretty bad shots. He changed people's minds about whether James could be stopped. I have yet to see James lock up a key player; maybe he has done so, but whenever I see him play, his man scores.

Leadership: Another area where both men are tremendous. Both have led their team to the top of its division and into the playoffs. A case can be made for both, but in my opinion, they are equal.

Athleticism: Although Bryant has done things James hasn't done, they are both possessive of great skill and athleticism.

At the moment, I'd give the mid-season MVP to James, but Bryant is right there, and over the long haul he has proved to be the better player. So who wins the debate as the best player in the NBA today?

Kobe Bryant, hands down. Let me know what you think.