Comparing Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, by the Numbers
There are cases to be made for Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, among a few others, but right now, there's Kobe, there's LeBron and then there's everyone else.
One is a 34-year-old shooting guard whose success has been predicated upon scoring in excess for nearly two decades, while the other is a 28-year-old prodigy who does it all and dreams of one day having as many rings as the Black Mamba himself.
Despite their differences in age and style of play, though, Bryant and James are the same in so many regards.
Both are the heart and soul of their team, both are among the most difficult of players to defend and both are currently embarking on historical seasons. Remember, Kobe is fresh off of eclipsing the 30,000-point plateau while James' quest for 20,000 has all but come to a close.
But while much is made of their accomplishments, and though both are relentlessly compared to Michael Jordan, they are rarely dissected side-by-side, mano-a-mano.
Where would these two finish upon being pitted against one another?
The answer to that may not be as readily discernible as most would believe.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 15, 2013.
Kobe Bryant (2012-13): 29.9 points per game
LeBron James (2012-13): 26.0 points per game
Few hesitate to adorn Kobe Bryant as one of the game's greatest scorers, yet he hardly receives the same amount of praise as Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony.
A career-long battle with inefficiency coupled with an itchy trigger finger has undoubtedly marred Kobe's reputation to an extent, yet no dose of the past is enough to eradicate what he's currently doing.
Bryant, at 34, leads the league in scoring. Ahead of Melo and ahead of the Durantula is the Mamba, whose 29.9 points a night is the fourth-best mark of his career.
On the flip side, you have LeBron James, who is currently scoring at a rate below his career mark of 27.6 points per bout. Most would consider this a disappointment, yet James has openly admitted scoring is not his first priority.
Still, it doesn't take much to conclude LeBron is one of the game's most versatile scorers.
Is he as potent of a point-totaler as Kobe, though?
Even if by choice, the answer is still no.
Kobe Bryant (2012-13): 47.8 percent overall; 36.4 percent from deep
LeBron James (2012-13): 54.6 percent overall; 40.7 percent from deep
Kobe Bryant is knocking down a career-best 47.8 percent of his field-goal attempts, an immense improvement over the 43 percent he shot only last season. His three-point conversion rate is up 6.1 percentage points from his 34.6 percent showing last year, as noted.
As previously noted, Bryant has never been considered an efficient scorer. He routinely hoists up 20-plus shots a night and hasn't averaged fewer than 20 attempts per game in nine years.
Toss in the fact that he's never come close to hitting on 50 percent of his attempts, and his 47.8 percent clip this year is pleasantly baffling.
The same cannot be said for LeBron James.
Ironically enough, his 54.6 percent conversion rate is a career best also, as is his 40.7 percent clip from beyond the arc.
While he has never been considered much of a shooter, the Chosen One is now a known threat from anywhere on the floor.
And an efficient one at that. His 54.6 percent shooting from the floor is the highest of any player who attempts 15 or more shots a game.
Not even Kobe's most accurate of seasons is enough to compete with that.
Kobe Bryant (2012-13): 83.6 percent
LeBron James (2012-13): 73.1 percent
What Kobe Bryant lacks in field-goal efficiency, he makes up for at the free-throw line.
Of every player in the Association to attempt at least five shots from the charity stripe per game, Kobe's 83.6 percent clip ranks second.
It's amazing what he is capable of doing when no one is there to contest his shot, right?
Somewhat unfortunately, LeBron James cannot say the same.
Now that James is a lethal jump-shooter, the weakest part of his game is easily his free-throw shooting. He's never converted on 80 percent over the course of an entire season, and of the 19 players who currently get five or more looks at the line a night, his 73.1 percent shooting ranks 15th.
LeBron may indeed be the Chosen One, but I'd sooner choose any number of other players (like Kobe) to shoot free throws with the game on the line.
Kobe Bryant (2012-13): 4.9 rebounds per game
LeBron James (2012-13): 8.2 rebounds per game
As far as guards go, few are better at rebounding the ball than Kobe Bryant.
At present, he's fifth among all guards at glass-crashing, which remains an aspect of his game where he is severely underrated. After all, it's his job to score, it's supposed to be someone else's to grab his and everyone else's misses.
LeBron James is equally as dominant at rebounding for his position.
Not only are his 8.2 rebounds a night the 23rd-best mark in the league, but he is the only listed small forward to be in the top 25 of boards per game. He's also the only one averaging at least eight.
Whilst the difference in position must be taken into account here, there are plenty of guards who rebound at a similar rate to Bryant.
When it comes to small forwards, though, James—in all his athletic glory—is a different story.
Kobe Bryant (2012-13): 4.9 assists per game
LeBron James (2012-13): 6.9 assists per game
Not enough is made of how deft of a passer Kobe Bryant actually is.
Though there may be times when Bryant won't give up the ball, it's well worth it to watch him on the occasions when he does. He boasts superior court vision and is one of the better needle-threaders the league has to offer.
In fact, amongst all shooting guards in the league, Kobe's 4.9 dimes per night rank third. Not bad for a perennial ball hog, eh?
Far from bad, though, is LeBron James' keen eye on the basketball court.
James is currently eighth in assists per game and is the only frontcourt player in the league to be averaging at least five.
Like I previously mentioned, James doesn't consider scoring to be his concern. His concern is facilitating Miami's offense.
And he does that better than anyone at his position, and certainly better than Kobe himself.
Kobe Bryant (2012-13): 1.5 steals per game
LeBron James (2012-13): 1.7 steals per game
Kobe Bryant can be a killer when manning the passing lanes.
His anticipation of where the ball is headed next is not to be trifled with, and he's even prone to poking the ball away when defending on the ball as well.
Let's face it, turnovers lead to points and Kobe loves to score points, so why wouldn't he embrace the art of forcing them?
Like Bryant, LeBron James is great at manning the passing lanes. Though his on-ball defense is superb, he is one of the best off-ball defenders the game has to offer.
The way James moves in and out of the paint, fighting over screens yet never taking his eye off the ongoing play is nothing short of exceptional.
It's also far more effective than Bryant's penchant for taking risks first and asking questions later.
Kobe Bryant (2012-13): 0.2 blocks per game
LeBron James (2012-13): 0.9 blocks per game
To be fair, guards not named Dwyane Wade aren't normally prone to blocking shots. That said, Kobe Bryant is a surprisingly aware shot-contester.
No, his 0.2 blocks a night aren't much, but during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign, Bryant actually sent away one shot a game. And that's impressive.
Beyond that season, though, nothing about Bryant's shot-blocking abilities stand out on paper. Just know that when he's playing the kind of on-ball defense we know he's capable of, not a shot goes uncontested.
Much of the same can be said of LeBron James. Small forward, or even small forwards turned power forwards, aren't known for blocking shot-attempts. James, however, remains an exception.
Between 2007 and 2010, LeBron blocked at least one shot a game. As he began to defend opposing bigs, though, he suddenly didn't have that height advantage he once did when defending 3, and his numbers have subsequently fallen.
Still, for a guy who spends a majority of his time defending out of position, credit much be given where it's due.
Kobe Bryant: 14 All-Star Selections (13 appearances)
LeBron James: Eight All-Star Selections
When it comes to Kobe Bryant and the All-Star game, all we can say is: Wow.
The Black Mamba has been selected to 14 total and 13 consecutive ones, and he's about to add one more notch to his belt.
Let's not balk at what LeBron James has managed to accomplish here either. He's about to rattle off his ninth All-Star selection, all of which will have come consecutively.
Worth noting is the fact that Bryant was selected to his eighth All-Star game during his 10th season, while this will be LeBron's ninth in 10 years.
Will James wind up with more All-Star berths than Kobe? Probably, but for now, Kobe's 14 going on 15 selections, along with his four All-Star game MVPs, are King.
Kobe Bryant: Seven total (one league, two NBA Finals and four All-Star)
LeBron James: Six total (three league, one NBA Finals and two All-Star)
Kobe Bryant has scored and defended his to seven different MVP honors, none more notable than the four he obtained during All-Star game festivities.
I won't pretend like those are as important or sought after as a league MVP award, but essentially being named the best of the best four times is downright incredible.
You know what's also incredible?
LeBron James' three league MVPs. I mean, the man is only 28 and already he's been deemed the league's most indispensable player three times as much as Bryant. Claiming the finals MVP of his only championship is also noteworthy.
Here's where it gets dicey, though. I understand that the numbers give Bryant the edge, but LeBron's three league MVPs arguably trump Kobe's other six.
That said, you can't ignore that Bryant, like James, has managed to distinguish himself from the rest on countless occasions.
So while these two hold the edge in certain MVP categories, as far as tangible awards go, they're nearly deadlocked.
Kobe Bryant: Five
LeBron James: One
There's not much you can really say here.
Kobe Bryant continues his quest for No. 6 while LeBron James has only tackled his first one.
More important than current quantity, though, is that James isn't on pace to win as many rings as Bryant.
Through Kobe's ninth season, he had won three titles and he won his fifth during his 14th. For LeBron to match that, he will have to win a ring in four out of his next five seasons. Even if we give him the extra two years of leeway because Bryant has gone title-less since his fifth, that still dictates James win a championship in four out of his next seven seasons.
Kobe Bryant Career Per Game Stats: 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks on 45.4 percent shooting
LeBron James Career Per Game Stats: 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks on 48.4 percent shooting
I would never attempt to diminish what Kobe Bryant has accomplished. He embodies what it means to be a champion and that must never be lost upon us.
Truth be told, however, LeBron James has proven to be the superior talent in nearly half the amount of time. He can do everything on the basketball court and dominate while doing it. Aside from scoring, Kobe only dabbles in a bit of everything else.
That said, despite James' seeming dominance in every statistical category (except for free-throw shooting) this isn't as clear cut of a case as you would think.
Even when we prorate it, LeBron isn't on pace to dethrone Kobe's championship collection. Where he has been statistically dominant, Bryant has collected an abundance of hardware.
Does this stand to change?
Perhaps. Dynasties are capable of being built, and James is a regime away from coming close. Yet that's not what's important.
What matters is both players are of exceptional value, and while LeBron must be given the edge, understand Kobe has produced at a level that is, at the very least, comparable to James despite being six years his elder.
And knowing that is to know that while there may be only one winner here, there certainly are no losers.
Ultimate edge: LeBron