Kobe Bryant or LeBron James: The Debate Continues

Torey ZiskaCorrespondent IIJanuary 24, 2010

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Western Conference walks across the court in front of LeBron James #23 of the Eastern Conference during the 58th NBA All-Star Game, part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 15, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The NBA season is nearing its midway point and the race for MVP seems to be a familiar three-headed monster of Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, and the defending MVP, LeBron James. All three have solid arguments; however, I am not here to discuss MVP, but the best player. 

Wade is incredible in every aspect of the game and will go down as one of the best players this league has ever seen. However, Bryant and James remain the only two players in the conversation for best player. 

The Bryant vs. James debate is one I have had with many people over the years. However, my cousin and I have had the argument more times than the Kobe puppet has irritated the LeBron puppet in those vastly overplayed television commercials. 

So, putting my Lakers bias aside, I have taken it upon myself to crunch the numbers and try and determine who is truly the better overall player.

First, I wanted to see who had the better first six years of their career. I looked up the stats for every full year James has played (all but this year) and the first six seasons Bryant was in the league. The results were as follows:

LeBron James:

79 games per season

26.4 points per game

6.7 rebounds per game

6.4 assists per game

3.1 turnovers per game

1.6 steals per game

9.8 FGs made per game

20.1 FGs attempted per game (48.7 FG %)

1.35 three-pointers made per game

4.1 three-pointers attempted per game (32.9%)

40.3 minutes per game


Kobe Bryant:

69 games per season

19.8 points per game

4.6 rebounds per game

3.8 assists per game

2.5 turnovers per game

1.3 steals per game

7.1 FGs made per game

15.4 FGs attempted per game (46.1 FG percentage)

.7 three-pointers made per game

2.2 three-pointers attempted per game (32 percent)

32.4 minutes per game

I would include free throw percentage, but it seems fairly irrelevant because Bryant in his first six seasons was at 82.6 percent while James was at 73.9 percent. Bryant takes this with his eyes closed.

Now, I would never be dumb enough to say Bryant’s first six seasons were better than James’ first six. However, considering how much more playing time James got, it is logical to assume Bryant’s numbers would have increased, though still not likely to that of James. So, if the argument is who had a better six-year start to their career, the answer is James. Fair enough.

However, the argument is who is better now, and since James took the league by storm, I am going to use his past six seasons (even if it is his first six years) and Bryant’s past six seasons. 

So the averages for the two from 2003-2009 look like this:

LeBron James:

79 games per season

26.4 points per game

6.7 rebounds per game

6.4 assists per game

3.1 turnovers per game

1.6 steals per game

9.8 FGs made per game

20.1 FGs attempted per game (48.7 FG percentage)

1.35 three-pointers made per game

4.1 three-pointers attempted per game (32.9 percent)

40.3 minutes per game


Kobe Bryant:

75 games per season

29.2 points per game

5.7 rebounds per game

5.2 assists per game

3.1 turnovers per game

1.6 steals per game

9.9 FGs made per game

21.8 FGs attempted per game (45 percent)

1.74 three-pointers made per game

5 three-pointers attempted per game (35 percent)

39.3 minutes per game

Once again, I left the free throw percentage out, as Bryant’s was 84.7 percent and James’ was 73.9 percent.

So, what do these statistics tell us?

They tell us that Bryant scores more, takes one to two shots more per game, and shoots at a slightly worse percentage. However, we know Bryant’s game is mostly perimeter oriented and consists of mostly jump shots, whereas James’ game is much more concentrated on driving to the rim. 

Now, I wasn’t sure where I could find certain stats, but we can all agree that a significant portion of James’ points do come from inside the paint, while a good majority of Bryant’s come on jumpers and fadeaways. 

This is a big factor in James shooting a higher percentage from the field than Bryant. Considering where each takes a large number of shots from, it is hard to say James is better because his percent is higher. He takes far more shots from close range; therefore, his percent should be higher. The fact that it is only three percent higher than Bryant’s tells us their overall percentages may be even, or even an advantage to Bryant.

Next, I want to look at rebounding. James averages one more board per game. That is really not very significant, especially when you consider their size. James is 6'8" and (listed at) 250 lbs., but closer to 260. Bryant is 6'6" and 205 lbs. 

Also, Bryant typically plays shooting guard, and on occasion plays small forward. James plays small forward and many times power forward. James is under the basket more on defense whereas Bryant is often on the perimeter, thus giving James more rebounding opportunities. On offense, James often collects offensive rebounds off of his own misses, whereas Bryant is often on the perimeter. 

Granted there are times when these are not true, but considering the difference between the two is just one rebound per game, it’s hard to say James is a better rebounder.

Moving on, I want to discuss assists. James averages barely one more per game than Bryant. With that said, yes, James will pass more often than Bryant, even I can admit that. But to simply state James is the better passer might be a bit much. Bryant is a superb passer, he just doesn’t do it quite as often.

Many of you may think, well these are stats from the past six years and James is getting more than one assist more per game than Bryant. Yes, I realize that. However, and don’t just read what I’m about to say and laugh and call me an idiot, James is surrounded by far superior shooters. 

Notice I did not say talent, but shooters. Anthony Parker, Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, and I will even throw in Delonte West, are all fabulous shooters. Excluding West, all three are better than any shooters that Bryant has around him. 

Also, because this is the past six seasons, let’s not forget that Bryant was forced to play with the likes of Devean George, Smush Parker, Luke Walton, and Kwame Brown for a few seasons. That cast is far worse than any Cavs team James has been a part of so far; therefore, it is logical to assume Bryant’s assists numbers would be higher with some manageable talent around him.

So, the free throw edge goes to Bryant in a landslide. Three-pointer percentage also goes to Bryant, which in turn proves Bryant is a better jump shooter all-around. They both average the same number of steals and turnovers. The rebounding is a draw, for all the reasons mentioned above, while James takes the edge in assists (especially this season). 

It would appear as if Bryant takes it, but I’m not convinced. Their statistics are very close all around. Let us take into consideration that James has never played with the talent around him that Bryant currently has. Let us not forget, however, Bryant did play on a team for a couple of seasons that was worse than any team James has ever been on. Also, let’s realize the six-year age difference and how much more mileage Bryant has on his body compared to James.

James is a physical beast that can play nearly any position on the court, can jump through the roof, and can get to the rim at will. However, his jump shot (albeit drastically improved this year) is not on the same level as Bryant’s and his free throws (also improved) are still inferior, especially in crunch time. 

I love a nice swat on a fast break as much as the next, and James does it on a regular basis; nonetheless, Bryant is still a superior defender, though the gap is narrowing, evidenced by James recording his first All-Defensive first team award last season. Disagree?

If you need to shut down a player for one game, or better yet for one possession, who do you take, James or Bryant? The correct answer is Bryant. James has proven he is a very solid defender, but there is no one in the league better for one possession than Bryant. He has been named to the All-Defensive first team seven times and All-Defensive second team two times. 

So, what’s the verdict you ask?  As much as I want to sit here and tell you Bryant is the best player (which I still personally believe), it’s not that easy. It’s nearly impossible to say who is "better," all things considered. 

If you need one defensive stop, you take Bryant. If you need a game winning shot, you take Bryant. Bryant appears to still have a slight edge in most categories, but James has improved greatly in every aspect in the past two seasons. Should he continue at that pace, he is going to do things in this league we have never dreamed possible; especially if he is able to play alongside of another true superstar. 

However, I believe that for now, Kobe Bryant is still the best overall player in the NBA, though the gap is narrowing everyday and he will not hold that title much longer. 

Let's get some nice debates going, but please, if all you're going to say is LeBron is better because Kobe's a rapist or Kobe's better because LeBron's a tool, I don't want to hear it.