Both players have their strengths and weaknesses. Bryant excels more as a pure scorer, whereas LeBron features a more multi-faceted game.
LeBron backers will cite King James' ability to facilitate an offense and fill up a stat sheet, while Kobe supporters will argue that no one is a better closer than the Black Mamba.
The best way to settle the Kobe-LeBron debate right now would be to ask yourself, which player would you rather have if you were building an NBA roster from scratch.
You would need to determine which player would give you the best chance to win immediately, but also in the future.
This debate is not about which player will ultimately go down as the better player at the end of their career. It is purely based on which player gives an NBA team the best chance to win right now.
So, let's break down the scoring, defense, passing and intangibles for the NBA's two biggest lightning rods and settle the LeBron-Kobe debate once and for all.
Utilizing the advanced statistics available from Hoopdata allows for a complete analysis of the offensive games of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
LeBron's true shooting percentage, which accounts for three-pointers and free throws, was 59.4 last season, while Kobe's lagged behind at 54.8. LeBron also shot a better percentage from all areas of the court: at the rim, three to nine feet, 10-15 feet, 16-23 and three point range.
The more advanced metrics like player efficiency rating (PER), offensive rating and win shares also support LeBron. He has lead the league in these categories for three years running.
No player gets to the rim better than LeBron James, but is King James really a pure scorer? No one can match his first step and ability to get to the line, but LeBron still struggles with his jumper at times.
There is not a spot on the court from which Kobe would hesitate to hoist a jumper. LeBron has still not mastered the mid-range game, where his jump shot is inconsistent.
Bryant is not afraid to post up against smaller guards, while James seems reluctant to utilize his physical advantages in the post. At the present time, LeBron does not need a post-up game when he gets to the basket so frequently. He will eventually need to develop this part of his game as his speed starts to leave him.
The Verdict: At one time, Kobe probably exceeded LeBron in the scoring department, but age and the pounding of 15 NBA seasons has sapped his legs. When the legs go, so does the jumper.
There are some things that LeBron does not do well on offense, but he has clearly figured out where his strengths are. If he adds to his offensive repertoire, there will be no debate over who the best offensive player in the league is.
In the debate of which player is better right now, LeBron wins out due to the fact that Kobe's knees appear to be betraying him.
It is difficult to compare the defensive abilities of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant because they play different positions and have different roles.
Because of LeBron's size, he is expected to contribute on the defensive glass. Kobe's role is limited more to shutting down his man on the perimeter.
Advanced defensive statistics show that LeBron and Kobe both allowed approximately the same number of points per hundred possessions last season. That is about the extent to which they can be compared using defensive metrics.
LeBron beats Kobe in rebounding, but for a player who does not leave his guard position to play forward like James does, Kobe grabs his fair share of rebounds.
The Verdict: LeBron, and the chase-down blocks that have become his calling card on defense, generates more flashy results on defense, but in an end of game situation, Kobe is the player I would choose if I needed a defensive stop.
LeBron excels at freelance defense, and when he intercepts a pass, the results are spectacular. It also leads to him getting beat when he gambles on a steal.
Kobe is arguably one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, even as he ages. In the NBA, stopping your man is more important than getting one or two fast break dunks. That is why Kobe Bryant is a better defensive player than LeBron James.
Assists are simply not a part of Kobe Bryant's game. He is a scorer to the core and has never been anything else.
The same cannot be said of LeBron James. Even when he was surrounded by role players in Cleveland, LeBron still got everyone involved.
When Kobe did not have a star to run with during the Lakers' slump in the middle of the decade, he simply upped his scoring. Put in the same situation, LeBron made his teammates better.
The Verdict: This is probably the easiest part of the game to choose between LeBron and Kobe. LeBron blows Kobe away when it comes to setting up his teammates.
He may go a little too far with it at times, but that's a topic for another slide.
Kobe is the Black Mamba, and his killer instinct shows at the end of every close game. You can just see it in his scowl and demeanor.
He needs to win.
LeBron has shown an ability to take over games in the playoffs. There were his epic battles with the Pistons and then with Paul Pierce. He lead a team of no-names, the Cavaliers, to the NBA Finals, but his success in the playoffs since has been more fleeting.
The Verdict: Just like LeBron won passing hands down, Kobe wins this one easily. LeBron's disappearing act against Boston last year, and this year in the Finals, where he simply looked scared to take a shot, are too much for him to overcome.
When it comes to leading a team, there is no one like Kobe Bryant. Earlier in his career, his leadership might have been questioned, but right now he is one of the best leaders in the NBA.
Playing with Kobe makes other players around him want to win more. The desire to win oozes from his pores and those around him cannot help but follow him.
Kobe may be a little hard on teammates at times, but that is because he so obviously wants to win. There was one major off-court distraction in his career, the rape allegation, but there has been nothing since.
Kobe Bryant is focused on basketball, winning titles and not much else.
The fact that LeBron James was able to lead the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals has to say something about his leadership abilities, but he seems to be lacking in this department.
Perhaps due to the AAU culture in which he was brought up, LeBron seems too loose on the court. He does not always appear to be taking the game as seriously as Kobe. His paling around with the opposing team has rubbed many former players and fans alike the wrong way, and he seems reluctant to get in a teammate's face when the situation calls for it.
The Verdict: Kobe is the superior player when it comes to leadership. This goes hand in hand with his closer mentality.
It is really very difficult to choose between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Both will likely be in the discussion for greatest player of all time after they retire.
Since this article is about which player you would rather have right now, the 26-year-old LeBron James trumps the soon to be 33-year-old Kobe Bryant.
LeBron's struggles in the postseason aside, he is probably the more complete player at this time. His rebounding helps set up Dwayne Wade in transition and his ability to penetrate a defense leads for opportunities at the rim or an easy pass to an open teammate.
Kobe is the more accomplished postseason player, and his five titles cannot be ignored. What can also not be ignored is that like LeBron, he always had a star player at his side. Kobe and Shaq did not dominate right away. Like the Heat, they needed to learn how to play together.
LeBron is going to figure out how to win in the postseason. The pressure of his big decision to join Miami probably weighed on him more this season than he let on, and in Cleveland he simply did not have enough talent surrounding him to beat the Celtics.
In the long run, it is going to be difficult to determine if LeBron or Kobe was the best player. At the present time, however, LeBron is on the rise while Kobe is clearly declining, as 15 years in the NBA take their toll.
That is why, if given a choice today, LeBron James would be the first choice for an NBA general manager building a team from scratch.