Kobe Bryant's Downfall, Dwyane Wade's Rise

Beyond the Arc BasketballContributor IMay 9, 2009

HOUSTON - MAY 08:  Guard Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after making a three-point shot against the Houston Rockets in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center on May 8, 2009 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant vs Dwyane Wade

In the never-ending discussion that is Kobe Bryant’s fans jumping out of bushes and declaring him better than player X, there is always a new turn, always a new event, always a new player.

First it was Jordan, then the evidence as Kobe got older showed he is no Jordan, then he played well again and Kobe fans brought Jordan up, then they were harshly rebuked recently on that front, and now they turn their attention to Dwyane Wade.

For now, Kobe fans are content to act as if the Jordan v. Kobe debate never happened, because Kobe was just eliminated from the playoffs. They’re secretly waiting.

See, they never want to have that discussion when Kobe is down, but when he is playing his very best, all the sudden..that is the way he plays 100 percent of the time, and he’s “the next Jordan only better!” (insert gay [meant literally, not regarding homosexual people] corporate salesman voice)…

Their mission for now? Preserve the “second front.” Jordan fans cannot be fought on one front, so they are content for a momentary surrender there, while they turn their unbridled opinions and pure speculation on Wade fans.

The main arguments appear to be:

“Kobe Bryant is better than Wade. Wade is very good, but he just isn’t as good as Kobe. The reason I know that this is true, is because I think that Kobe is better than Wade. And my factual justification of that is that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA. And I know this because I think so, therefore it is.”

“Kobe Bryant has three rings, and Wade has one.”

“Even if you think Wade led his team to a ring, and that Kobe’s three rings came as second fiddle, it is only because Kobe played with Shaq in his prime, a role that would render any player to second fiddle. Therefore I know that Wade would have been second fiddle.

“Kobe Bryant has the ability to score at any time from anywhere, and his higher PPG show he is the better scorer.”

Let's throw all the unbridled opinion, proof by the negative, and pure speculation out, and go with a factual analysis where I will make my conclusion, and also lay out the possible conclusions.

Opinion vs Fact

Before we can continue on, we must establish parameters for the argument. Everyone has an opinion. But Kobe fans like to give you pure opinion, speculation, and proof based on the negative.

An example would be a statement like, “you can’t prove that Wade would have been the No. 1 option on the '00-02 Lakers.” Okay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone could prove that Wade would have been the second option either.

To have a discussion like this, first it helps to have two players in the same era, which we have. Then you must do it at the same ages. Just like you can’t compare Wade at 25 to Kobe at 20, you can’t compare Kobe at 28 to Wade at 26.

Since their only common ages are from 23-26, that is what we’ll be looking at. We also won’t be looking at their first four years, which would be unfair to Kobe, since he was 17-20 over that time.

You must control for same ages and then look at real objective sources of persuasion; like postseason awards, statistics, rings, and the role each player played on that team.


First let’s take a look at the stat lines from ages 23-26:

Kobe Bryant 01-05 293 games
26.8 PPG 5.99 RPG 5.62 APG 1.69 SPG 0.62 BPG 44.9% FG 83.4% FT

Dwyane Wade 03-07 264 games
23.8 PPG 5.0 RPG 6.40 APG 1.70 SPG 0.80 BPG 48.0% FG 77.7% FT

First let's look at scoring. Kobe is better in PPG, FT%, and although I don't count it as a significant stat, I'm sure he is better at three point FG% and three point field goals made. Wade is better at FG% though, and not significantly worse in PPG.

We're talking a difference of 3.0 PPG (the fact that Wade was a rookie for one of these years and hurt for one of these years is not significant...it is unfair to Kobe to hand lollipops out to Wade for such things).

Before we get into adjusted FG% (which would be tedious to add up for Bryant over the course of four years), let's just look at the amount of points per FGA.

Over these years, here are the FGA per game statistics:

Kobe Bryant 20.55 FGA per game
Dwyane Wade 17.01 FGA per game

Now, here are the points per FGA:

Kobe Bryant 1.30 PPFGA
Dwyane Wade 1.39 PPFGA

So before we get into adjusted FG%, and the perceived importance of the three point shot in today's game, we can see that by any measure, Wade is the more efficient scorer. So that the analysis breaks down like this...add all the stats together:

Kobe = Better volume scorer, but not significantly
Wade = More efficient scorer, but not significantly

The rest of the stats are a push. Bryant leads in RPG, Wade leads in BPG and APG, and they're a virtual tie in SPG. Which leads us to the only statistical conclusion one can make...Statistically speaking, neither player has an edge. It's as close of a push statistically as I've ever seen between two players.

Advantage: Neither

Postseason Awards:

MVPS: None
Defensive Player of the Year Awards: None
Finals MVPs:

Kobe Bryant 0
Dwyane Wade 1

There isn't a wealth of info here, however, Wade wins pretty clearcut. You either win things or you don't. And even Wade's biggest detractors do not allege that he failed to absolutely take over the 2006 NBA Finals.

Advantage: Wade


Kobe Bryant 3
Dwyane Wade 1

However, it is the role a player has in winning that ring that counts. If a ring was a ring was a ring was a ring, Steve Kerr would be better in this than both players. That is not the case.

Kobe Bryant was the clear second option on the 00-02 Lakers, whereas Dwyane Wade nearly doubled the scoring output of Shaquille O'neal in the 2006 Finals.

Shaq was actually the third leading scorer on the Heat in that series behind Wade and the very flawed Antoine Walker. Shaq has also seen his production drop significantly from 01-02 to 05-06.

Wade was the clear leader of the Heat, and leading a team to a ring has always been considered more significant than riding coattails, which Kobe did as Shaq won all three Finals MVPs during the Lakers run.

Even the best second fiddles like Pippen, Havlicek (with Russell), and McHale are only considered as being marginal in any overall discussion of the greatest players.

Wade did something else that is very significant when he led the '06 Heat to the title. Along with Hakeem Olajuwon ('94) he became the second player since 1979 to lead a team to a ring without the help of a star in his prime.

Wade basically took on the second hardest task that a player in my lifetime has taken on in leading a team to a ring. Only Hakeem ('94) was working with less ammunition.

Kobe's fans like to say that Wade would not have led the '00-'02 Lakers. There are two things that counteract that statement.

1. Kobe Bryant did lead the '03 and '04 Lakers, as for the first time in his career, he became the Lakers leading scorer in both seasons, over Shaquille O'neal. The Lakers lost. Once in a Finals series where they were heavily favored and yet Bryant shot 37 percent from the field.

In that 2004 NBA Finals Bryant was the same age (25) as Wade was when he delivered vs Dallas. So Bryant had his chance in that role, and failed.

2. If you look at Wade v. O'neal, from 23-26, you could argue that Wade would have led O'neal from '00-'02, because Wade's resume is actually more impressive. O'neal did not win his first ring until age 27, Wade was 25.

By Wade's age, O'neal had no rings and no Finals MVPs. Now I'm not suggesting that it's automatic that Wade would lead O'neal, just that he makes a more compelling case than Bryant.

However Bryant did win three rings as a second option, so based on the facts, I'm going to conclude:

Slight Advantage: Wade


My conclusion, based on the facts, is that so far, at the same common ages in the league, Wade has a very slight advantage over Bryant. As both players wind down their careers, this really is a neck-and-neck battle that could go either way. After examining the facts, I am surprised to see that it is closer than I thought.

Could one look at these facts and pick Bryant? Sure. This is not as clearcut as Jordan vs Bryant. But, even if one does so, they could not pick Bryant by a lot...not based on the facts


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