Entering the 2012-13 NBA regular season, it never seemed as if we'd think of having this conversation. With the New York Knicks at the top of the Eastern Conference and the Los Angeles Lakers gasping for air, however, the comparison of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony has become logical.
As for who wins, the statistics don't tell the whole story of why Kobe is still better than Carmelo.
Regardless of what their detractors might tell you, both players are making their respective teams better when they are on the floor. In fact, their teams are significantly worse when they are on the bench.
So what is it that separates Bryant from Anthony?
We could touch upon Bryant's five NBA-championship rings, if that would placate the masses. We could also bring up the fact that 'Melo has never once made a trip to the NBA Finals.
The fact of the matter is, we're not debating legacies. We're simply touching on which player is better in this stage of their respective careers.
Some might cite which player is scoring more points or piecing together a more impressive stat line. Others will allow John Hollinger's famed Player Efficiency Rating to serve as a basis for victory.
For those people, allow the following numbers to hold you over until we get into the meat of the conversation.
Kobe Bryant is currently averaging 29.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals on 47.4 percent shooting from the floor. His Player Efficiency Rating sits at 25.69.
Carmelo Anthony is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists on 47.3 percent shooting from the field. 'Melo's PER is an impressive 26.19.
With that being established, allow the following to offer insight into the debate.
Acknowledging the Numbers
Before we move on, it is important that we acknowledge the numbers.
For instance, when Kobe Bryant is on the floor, the Los Angeles Lakers are averaging 105.4 points scored and 98.2 points allowed per 48 minutes. They're doing so on 47.2 percent shooting from the floor.
The Lakers are putting up 87.3 points and allowing 103.9 points per 48 without Kobe. They're also shooting just 38.3 percent.
As for Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks are averaging 107.2 points for and 95.9 points allowed per 48. The Knicks are shooting 47.1 percent from the floor in the process.
When 'Melo is on the bench, those numbers dip to 93.7 points for, 94.3 points against and 41.0 percent shooting.
In other words, each team is scoring better with their respective superstar. The Lakers are defending significantly better with Kobe, while the Knicks are supremely dominant offensively with 'Melo.
With Kobe's defense rumored to be gone, why is this?
Let's Talk About Defense
According to Ryan Feldman of ESPN Stats & Information, Kobe Bryant remains an elite man-to-man defender. I'll let the Kobe detractors have their moment of disagreement before I hit you with the following statistic.
Kobe is holding his assignment to 32.0 percent shooting from the floor during man-to-man sets.
In fact, Kobe remains one of the top-15 perimeter defenders in the NBA. For those who continue to debate this being true, allow another number to prove that point.
Kobe ranks 12th in the NBA in terms of opponent points per play. I thought you said he doesn't play defense.
As for Carmelo Anthony, he ranks 75th on that same list.
Anthony is clearly impacting his team more on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, however, there is no comparison at all.
Now let's move past the numbers.
The Leadership Factor
Anyone who tells you that Carmelo Anthony is incapable of leading an NBA franchise to the postseason should instantly lose their credibility. Anyone who tells you that he's a better leader than Kobe Bryant, however, risks the same.
It may be too much tough love for NBA reserves to handle, but Kobe knows how to get the best out of the players around him.
If one evaluates history, it is the likes of Smush Parker who claims Kobe is a "bad teammate" (via Blog Talk Radio). It is the likes of Shaquille O'Neal who calls Kobe the "greatest Laker of all-time" (via Los Angeles Times).
Whose word do you value more?
This is not to state that Anthony cannot develop into the caliber leader Kobe has proved to be, just to acknowledge where they are right now. Even if their respective win-loss records don't even out, Bryant has the advantage there.
With the way the Lakers are playing when Kobe is on the floor, they should be dominating their opponents. Unfortunately, they can't get anything going when Bryant isn't out there.
Which is why he edges Carmelo in this instance.
All statistics are as of Dec. 15, 2012 at 12:06 a.m.