Prior to the 2006 NBA season, even I, an avid Lakers fan felt that LeBron James was the best player in the NBA. All bias aside, as the season ended I had done a complete turnaround and was convinced Kobe Bryant was the best in the NBA.
Two-and-a-half years later, I am still convinced Bryant is the best of the best, but the margin is narrowing.
People tell me all the time they believe James is hands down the best player in the game. I refuse to believe this for a number of reasons. However, the main reason is, I just believe Bryant is a better overall player.
I will now present many arguments that I hear from others that believe James is the best player in the league.
Argument One: James does more with less talent around him.
Yes, I will agree that James has less talent around him right now then Bryant. However, before the Pau Gasol deal, Bryant had just as much or even less talent around him than James. (Remember the days of Kwame Brown and Smush Parker?)
Let’s not forget though, that even though the Eastern Conference is up a little bit this year and the West is down a little, it is far easier to win games in the East than in the West.
Argument Two: James puts up more rebounds/assists on the average than Bryant.
This statement is true, however this season James puts up approximately two more boards and two more assists than Bryant. This isn’t overly huge, but during the course of the year it is pretty impressive.
But, James plays primarily small forward, as well as decent minutes at power forward. This allows him to get more rebounds per game than a player like Bryant who is primarily a shooting guard, with some minutes at small forward.
And although it is not a huge factor, Bryant does average one to two minutes less playing time per game.
As far as assists go, yes James does do a better job of distributing the ball. However, Bryant’s assist totals are way up this year. And once again, Bryant was not getting many assists back in the days of Brown and Parker.
Argument Three: James is a better scorer.
Sorry, this could not be more false. If I have to take one of these two to drive to the basket and finish, it’s a very close call but I will take James. However, every other aspect of offense, Bryant is superior.
James’ jump shot is extremely average, but as shown by his eight three-pointers and 55 points against the Bucks, it is getting better.
Also, and this is one of my biggest arguments that no one seems to ever agree with, free-throw shooting is huge. James free throw percentage is up this year, but is still very average. Bryant’s percentage is in the high 80s.
In early February, Bryant exploded for 61 against the New York Knicks. Despite his outburst, the game was close until the end and one reason the Lakers were able to pull it out, was Bryant going 20-20 from the free throw line.
A couple of weeks later against the New Orleans Hornets (a game the Lakers won by just four points), Bryant made all 12 of his free throw attempts.
Let me go back to that game James had against the Milwaukee Bucks. That too was a very close game, and James missed seven free throw attempts.
In two other games, one in late January against the Golden State Warriors and one earlier this month against the Atlanta Hawks, James went a combined 18-30 from the free-throw line, but his teammates bailed him out as the Cavs won both games by one point.
Argument Four: James helps his team on defense, and Kobe is only focused on offense.
This is my favorite argument to debate because anyone dumb enough to argue it has no choice but to admit how wrong they were. In his career, Bryant has been named to the All NBA-Defensive team 10 times, six times for first team, twice each for second and third team.
James has never been named to any All-NBA defensive team. That does not mean James does not play great defense. It does mean however that Bryant is much more committed to both ends of the court.
When the arguments are all said and done, Bryant is a better shooter, better free throw shooter, better defender, and is just as good of a rebounder as James. James holds a slight edge in assists and perhaps a small edge when it comes to driving to the basket.
As of this moment, Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player in the world, but the margin between himself and King James is getting smaller everyday.