Duncan is arguably the greatest power forward of all time and is, without a shadow of a doubt, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Sure, he probably was better than Garnett and won more than Shaquille O'Neal, so I’m going to leave those two alone. But Bryant’s legacy I will touch on because, to be frank, it's greatness is far superior to Duncan’s.
Statistically, Bryant has been better—there is no getting around that. He's averaged 25.5 points per game over the course of his 17-year career while appearing in the Finals seven times. He's been on 12 NBA All-Defensive teams and has twice won the scoring title. Probably the most impressive thing about Bryant's career is that he is the fourth-leading scorer in the history of the NBA (via Basketball Reference).
The argument most people make for Duncan is that he has accumulated more accolades than the Black Mamba, but even that isn’t entirely true.
The Big Fundamental has won two MVPs, four rings and three Finals MVP awards in comparison to Bryant’s one MVP, five rings and two Finals MVPs.
Again, I’m not taking anything away from Duncan—Bryant has better career averages in points per game, but Duncan has him beat in shooting percentage. While Bryant is superior in assists (barely), Duncan bests him in rebounding. They play different positions, so stats like assists and rebounds can’t be given too much emphasis.
Duncan is a great player—but to say that he is better than Bryant is outrageous.
While it's hard to distinguish the two in areas other than scoring, what you can compare is a variable like their best season. Duncan’s best year was in 2002 as he averaged 25.5 points and 12.7 boards per night and shot an efficient 50.8 percent from the field. Bryant’s came in 2006 when he put up 35.4 points, 4.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds per night.
It seems like all of the sudden, everyone loves Duncan—so much so that he has almost become overrated. For so long he has been one of the most underrated great players in the history of the game, but now everybody in the world seems to be a huge fan of the soft-spoken centerpiece of the San Antonio Spurs.
Simmons and other analysts are overly infatuated with the Big Fundamental because he has been unfairly underappreciated for such a long time.
Now they’re overcompensating.
When it’s all over, Duncan will absolutely make it to the Hall of Fame and will be respected for his perennial greatness on the court. But Bryant is one of the top five players in the history of the game. Duncan has never drawn comparisons to a player like Michael Jordan, nor has he dominated the modern NBA and become a global icon in the way that the Black Mamba has.
Much respect needs to be paid to Duncan, but Kobe Bryant has had the better career and will go down in history as the superior player.
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