Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan: Who's Better?

Alex BudaContributor IMay 11, 2010

Nowadays, this seems to be the age-old question.

Who is better, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant?

Mostly everyone would agree that Michael Jordan is the superior player but do not really take the time to closely examine how alike these two players are.

The major difference between the two is that they played in two completely different eras, but that doesn’t make them incomparable.

I’m just looking for ways to compare them on an unbiased level. I’m not writing this article with an answer in mind, I’m simply going to do the analysis as I write and come up with the logical answer on the spot.

Let’s begin.

When comparing athletes, you must have a set of criteria in mind.

The fact that Bryant and Jordan played the same sport, in the same league at the same position makes this analysis that much easier.

Keep in mind, a criterion is used to compare players to it, not the other way around.

Most people make the mistake of putting out the players’ skill and setting that as a criterion which doesn't make sense because you need to be able to use that criterion so other players can be compared to it as well.

Also, speculation makes for a very weak analysis regardless of what your point is. For you to say, if you take this player and switch it with this player, this would have happened.

Uh, no, it’s weak.

So there will be no could of, would of, should of, analysis.

We will begin with statistics.

Let me start out by saying that statistics is one of the most overrated criteria used when comparing basketball players.

Allow me to demonstrate how it is overrated.

It doesn't matter which team you put Kwame Brown in, he's still going to suck.

This is how it works for a lot of players in the NBA; however, there are selective players where individual statistics are completely situational. This is true for a lot of role players; it doesn't have to be all-star caliber players.

I'm going to use Trevor Ariza as an example, as he is one of many players that fits this description.

During the 2008-09 season, Trevor Ariza played in 82 games averaging, 8.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.8 APG while shooting 46% from the field.

During the 2009-10 season, Ariza played in 72 games averaging, 14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.8 APG while shooting 39% from the field.

Despite a 7% decrease in field goal percentage, he still averaged 6 more points and had an overall better statistical season than the previous year.


One could argue that Ariza is a youthful energetic basketball player who is only playing to his potential.

Yada, yada, yada.

Let’s stick to the stats.

During the 2008-09 season, Ariza was playing as a bench player for most of the season before being promoted as a starter but still had to defer to All-Stars, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

Because of this, his minutes in those 82 games were limited to 24.4 MPG.

Needless to say, minutes are extremely vital to statistics.

If you don't play as much, you can't have any gain on statistical attributes.

It's that simple, you cannot argue that. 

During the 2009-10 season, Ariza played as a starter for the rebuilding Houston Rockets. As a starter, he averaged 36.5 MPG.

That's 12 more minutes of play.

12 more minutes to score six more points. 

Because of this up boost in minutes he was able to shoot 400 more shots despite playing in 10 games less in the previous season.

That's huge!

What never seems to amaze me is how black and white sports writers make statistics to be.

The only reason a writer will not explain the statistics is because if they do, it will hurt their analysis.

Most people believe that since Player A's statistics are better than Player B's statistics, that alone is the reason why Player A is better than Player B.

Can you think of how many times you have seen this?

Too many.

Using what we've just learned. Let’s apply this to Kobe Bryant.

So far in his career, Kobe Bryant is averaging, 25.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, at 46% from the field, and playing 36.6 MPG.

Also note that despite being known as a volume shooter , Bryant is averaging 19.3 shots per game in his career.

Now, listen carefully.

You can't judge his statistics alone; you can't say their good or bad.

You need other players’ statistics to compare to his in order to create some sort of standard as to what is good and what is bad.

Since we are comparing Bryant to Jordan, let’s pop out Jordan’s’ stat sheet.

Michael Jordan averaged 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 5.3 APG at 50% from the field, and playing 38.3 MPG.

For his career Michael Jordan averaged 22.9 shots per game.

That's right ladies and gentlemen.

For the ball hog Kobe critics make him out to be; at the end of the day, Jordan averaged more shot attempts than Bryant, 3.6 more shots to be precise.

So what does this mean? How do you challenge that?


All you have to do is say that since Jordan's shooting percentage was 50% and Bryant's was 46%, you can conclude that even though Jordan shot 3.6 more shots than Kobe, they were better quality shots.

To add icing on the cake you can say that Jordan had an overall statistical output than Bryant.

He averaged more points (4.8 PPG), rebounds (0.9 RPG), assists (0.6 APG) while shooting 4% better than Bryant.

It's true, Jordan was an excellent shooter.

50% for a shooting guard is way above average as a usual percentage for shooting guards can vary from year to year but it’s usually around 44%.

You could therefore make a correlation and say that since Jordan was so precise on his shooting, his percentage and shot attempts is the reason why he averaged 4.8 more points per game than Bryant.

But that's still too inconclusive for me as I have a problem.

I have a problem with comparing their career statistics.

Bryant was drafted at age 17 straight out of High School into a lottery NBA team and then traded to a well-developed championship contending NBA team.

Jordan was drafted at age 21, out of college into a lottery team that had no star to call their own which made Jordan the main man his rookie year.

Bryant had to play the bench warmer role behind Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel.

See, statistics are not black and white.

You can't judge skill level solely on that premise.

I think it would be far more efficient to compare Jordan’s best years against Bryant’s best years as both players have seasons in their career where they clearly did not perform at their best.

For Bryant, his best seasons are the ones between 1999-00 and 2009-10 which are 10 total seasons.

Looking at Bryant's career between those seasons, he averaged 28.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 5.1 APG while shooting 46% from the field and playing 39.4 MPG.

During this period he averaged 21.5 shots per game.

For Michael Jordan, I will take the 10 best seasons of his career as well.

I'm going to erase the first two seasons of his career, the last two seasons of his career along with the 1994-95 season where he appeared in only 17 games.

Looking at Jordan's career between those 10 seasons he averaged, 32.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, while shooting 51% from the field playing 38.9 MPG.

During this period he averaged 23.8 shots per game.

As far as rebounds and assists are concerned, it’s a tie.

I’m not going to say that Jordan was a better rebounder and passer than Bryant since these numbers are way too close to call it one way or another.

This is interesting to me though since a lot of people claim how much better Jordan was at setting up his teammates, and how great of a rebounder he was compared to Bryant.

Clearly, that’s not the case.

He averaged 0.5 more rebounds and 0.3 more assists.

Also note he was shooting 2.3 more shots than Bryant is.

This is also interesting since Bryant is known as the volume shooter—which is the nice word for ball hog—and Jordan was the one putting up more shots.

In my opinion, I feel that since Jordan was more efficient than Bryant, his shot attempts were overlooked.

When it comes to putting points on the board though, Jordan was clearly better than Bryant at that.

He averaged 5 more points than Bryant and he did that 5% more efficiently than Bryant.

  When it came to putting points on the board Jordan was better.

However, I would not call Jordan the far superior shooter since throughout Bryant’s career; he has shot a longer distance than Jordan.

When you eliminate the 3-point shots, Bryant is averaging 48% while Jordan is still at 51%. 

Jordan was a smarter, more selective shooter but that doesn’t change his shooting ability, it just means that Jordan was able to use his ability to shoot more efficiently.

Because of that, I believe Jordan was a better shooter than Bryant; it’s just that most people fail to see how great of a shooter Bryant really is because they see statistics as Black and White and don’t really watch him play day in and day out.

Trust me; I’ve been following Kobe since he entered the league. He is the best shooter since Jordan retired.

The next part of my analysis is defense.

Defense is the most important aspect of basketball because it is in your complete control.

When I play basketball, I don’t know how well I’m going to play on the offensive end because I don’t control the intangibles of shooting a ball; however, when I play defense I know that the offensive player is only as good as I allow him to be.

That’s the difference between offense and defense.

There are a few different ways the NBA judges defense.

There is a defensive accolade call, The Defensive Player of the Year, handed out at the end of the season to the best defensive player decided by the media.

There is also the All-Defensive Team, which is decided by the head coaches of the league every season.

Basically, the coaches have to comprise two teams of who they believe are the best defensive players in the league. The only rule is they can’t select their own players.

Bryant was selected to the First All-Defensive Team eight times and was placed on the Second All-Defensive Team two times.

He has never won The Defensive Player of the Year award and I don’t think he ever will with centers such as Dwight Howard hanging around.

Jordan was selected to the First All-Defensive Team nine times which is a tie for most First Team honors with Gary Payton.

By the looks of it though, Bryant will surpass this record by at least three to four selections by the time he retires.

Jordan was awarded The Defensive Player of the Year award once in his career.

It is rare for a shooting guard to win this accolade which makes Jordan winning the award that much more memorable.

As far as statistical record of defense, Bryant averages 1.5 SPG and 0.6 BPG; Jordan averaged 2.3 SPG and 0.8 BPG.

Both players were not major blockers in their respective careers and as far as steals goes, Jordan would be average and Kobe would be a little below average playing as guards.

Bryant is a lock-down defender when he needs to be, but his idea of defense is usually to pick the worst player on the other team to defend so he can cheat off him and roam on defense.

Although, I would say that Jordan and Bryant are about equal in their ability to defend, Bryant is sometimes a lazy defender which makes me say that Jordan is the better overall defender.

Then you put in the championships, Jordan had six in six appearances winning the Finals MVP all six times.

Bryant has four on six appearances winning the Finals MVP only once. Even though it is entirely possible for Bryant to win seven to nine championships by the time he retires, it is merely speculation and some things you won’t be able to look over until he actually does retire.

Jordan won the Season MVP five times, Bryant won it once.

At the end of the day, there is no denying it, as it stands; Michael Jordan is the better player.

It’s hard to stack up against him.



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