Is LeBron James Really a More Potent Scorer Than Kobe Bryant?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2013

Jan. 19, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (left) and Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (right) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant is one of the best scorers the NBA has ever seen, but can he rack up points like the ever-efficient LeBron James?

As one of just five members in the 30,000-point club, the Black Mamba's scoring abilities are adorned to no end, and rightfully so. Even at 34 years old, he has proven to be the type of scorer who can rattle off 40-point performances with a flick of the wrist.

Kobe's accolades and seeming scoring dominance may be impressive, but LeBron's are often considered better.

While Bryant's 27.4 points per game outguns James' 26.9, the latter has averaged more points a night (27.6) than Kobe (25.5) on his career. However, the manner in which they have done it is a better indicator of their potency as scorers than the actual point total.

LeBron has been asked to assume more of a point forward role his entire career. That responsibility as a facilitator first, scorer second only strengthened when he joined Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. And as the offensive catalyst, his shot totals aren't as voluminous as Bryant's.

James is averaging more shot attempts per game (20.3) for his career than Kobe (19.6), but he has hoisted up 20 or more just five times in the last 10 seasons (including this one). Bryant has jacked up more than 20 shots in nine of the last 10 years, all of which have come in succession.

In this instance, the career averages are misleading. Bryant wasn't as integral a part of the Los Angeles Lakers' game plan upon entering the league as James was to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Mamba took a combined 8.8 shots a night through his first two seasons, while LeBron was at 22.5.

Over the last decade, though, that trend has been vastly different. Kobe has taken 21.5 shots per game during the last 10 years to the 20.3 of James. Bryant is averaging 28.1 points during that span to The Chosen One's 27.6.

From there, it seems that Kobe has scored slightly more points, while taking slightly more shots, which makes sense. But where Bryant's scoring is marked by volume, James' is fueled by efficiency.

Not only is LeBron currently shooting a career-best 56 percent from the field, but he has also converted on 50 percent or more of his attempts from the floor in each of the last four seasons.

Bryant has never shot 50 percent for the season. Hell, he's never even shot 47 percent.

Kobe is averaging 1.3 points per shot taken over his career, while James is at around 1.35. Despite the small difference, it's clear LeBron's increased efficiency renders him the more lethal scorer.

And if you ask Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, he'll tell you the same (via Brian Windhorst of

If he was a total pig and only shot the ball and only looked for his opportunities, the sky's the limit on what he'd score. He'd put up big, big numbers. He scores so effortlessly. He's arguably the best scorer who is the facilitator in this game. He's a facilitator. He thinks the game is [about] trying to get people involved and trying to make the right play. Scoring is so often a second thought to him and he does it as well as anyone in this league.

Just imagine if James were taking 25 shots a game. His scoring would be through the roof, and we wouldn't have to question whether or not he was more robust of a scorer than Kobe.

Or would we?

I won't argue that scoring comes effortlessly to LeBron. His previous assertion that he could lead the league in scoring if he wanted is spot on, and it's true that scoring isn't his primary responsibility. But that's not enough.

James has taken 20 or more shots 19 times this year. On those 19 occasions, he's averaging 30.1 points per game. By comparison, Bryant has attempted more than 20 shots 30 times thus far, posting an average of 31.2 points.

To put it in an even clearer perspective, both Kobe and LeBron have taken 23 shots four times this year and are averaging 33 and 31.8 points, respectively, on those occasions.

We can't refute James' efficacy from the floor. As Wade himself notes, James really is playing out of this world (via Windhorst):

To put it in some perspective, the best shooting season in Kobe Bryant's career was 47 percent. Kevin Durant, rightly regarded by many as the most talented pure scorer in the game at the moment, is currently at a career high of 52 percent this season. Michael Jordan's best season was 54 percent.

"He's off the planet," said Dwyane Wade, who is having the best shooting season of his career at 51 percent and is still eating James' dust. "He's not even the best player on the planet. He's somewhere else right now -- the galaxy."

There really isn't another player like James in the league. It's a common belief that he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and it's one that I too share—to an extent.

Going back to Spoelstra's declaration that James could continue to be as efficient as he is if he were a "pig" is actually a pretty massive assumption. There's no way to guarantee he continues shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc if he's taking as many three-pointers as Bryant.

Kobe is shooting just 33.1 percent from the behind the rainbow, but he's attempting 5.4 deep balls a game to James' 3.3. When you take more shots, you have more opportunities to score, but you also have more chances to miss.

In the interest of full disclosure, when James attempts five or more three-pointers, he is converting on just over 41 percent of them, just a smidgen below his season average. He's more efficient than Kobe, and therefore, more potent.

Except he's not.

LeBron is averaging 28.6 points when he attempts five or more threes. Though that means nothing by itself, it means everything when pitting him against Kobe. 

Considering that James has attempted no more than eight threes in a single game this season, we must adjust our scope a bit. Removing the 10 occasions when Kobe hoisted up nine or more threes, he is averaging 28.7 points when taking between five and eight. That's actually more than James, albeit not so much.

But it's still more.

While I'm prepared to admit that James is the more complete and efficient player, I'm not sold on him as the more potent scorer. Bryant's field-goal percentages pale in comparison to the King's, but when you break down the points they score next to the shots they take, they're really quite similar.

Yes, when James has shot more, he has scored more—but not necessarily more than Kobe. 

Bryant has always taken shots in excess, and his self-restraint (or lack thereof) continues to be criticized. Thus far this season, though, his point totals when shooting excessively match up or even exceed those of James when he shoots too much.

If we could cap the number of shots either player could take per game for the duration of the season, we would have a better idea of who's truly more powerful a scorer, but we can't. As such, it's premature to designate James the more potent of the two, especially given how they stand when attempting a similar number of shots.

And especially when you consider these are the same two guys who have totaled the most points since James entered the league during the 2003-04 campaign:

This is not to say James is an inferior player or even scorer. His recent string of offensive production cannot be ignored. It's not enough to deem him more almighty a scorer either. If anything, it's a testament to his efficiency as a scorer.

But that efficiency isn't enough to overshadow the cogent effectiveness of Bryant's volume shooting.

Kobe isn't as accurate a shooter, nor is he as explosive a penetrator. Yet like James, his scoring is potent enough that he could lead the league in scoring if he so chose.

It just wouldn't be as pretty.


*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and unless otherwise noted.


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