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Kobe vs LBJ

Michael.S.
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Kobe vs LBJ

There is a new column for insiders on Kobe vs LeBron, I know this is a pointless topic to discuss, but can someone with insider post it....please


llperez
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Originally Published: December 23, 2009
Kobe vs. LeBron: Who's better?Comment Email Print Share By David Thorpe
Scouts Inc.
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Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
How do Kobe and Bron stack up against each other in different facets of the game? Let's take a look.

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James square off on Christmas Day (ABC, 5 p.m. ET). So it's time to address the most frequently asked question in the NBA:

Who's better, Black Mamba or King James?

Advanced stats clearly favor LeBron. On the other hand, NBA players say almost unanimously that Kobe is the game's best.

My task is to deliver a verdict using statistics and on-the-court evidence. I'm using eight categories to compare these two heavyweights, and we're scoring it like a championship fight. The winner of each category gets 10 points, with the loser getting a minimum of seven. After eight rounds, we'll tally the score to see who is the best player in basketball today. It's not about the past few years or the next few. It's what we see right now.

Category No. 1: Perimeter shooting

Kobe is regarded as one of the best jump shooters in the NBA. Although he often shoots it a little flat (something he acknowledges) or falling backward (even when the defense doesn't force that type of shot), he has developed an excellent stroke with better arc. Meanwhile, LeBron has vastly improved his own shooting form, getting an excellent follow-through and better balance on most of his shots.

Kobe's shot selection in the halfcourt is noteworthy; he takes most of his shots inside of 17 feet and beyond the arc. This is a smart strategy, especially because he's shooting worse than 40 percent on long 2s. His short-range jumper has been on target (better than 50 percent accurate), but he's struggling from the 3-point line (29 percent).

LeBron, on the other hand, settles for too many long 2s -- they account for almost half of his attempted jumpers. However, he makes these shots more than Kobe and is making almost 40 percent of his 3s. The drawback here is that success causes him to rely on his outside shot a little more than he should.

In the end, I like Kobe's shot selection better, but LeBron overcomes that with a higher percentage of makes overall. As surprising as it may sound, King James is the better perimeter shooter right now.

LeBron 10, Kobe 9

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Category No. 2: Pure scoring

Pure scorers can get buckets from anywhere and against any kind of defense, even in crunch time. They also get to the free throw line a lot. Kobe and LeBron are obviously as good as any who have ever played.

The best scorers attack the paint effectively so they have options on nights when their jump shots aren't falling. LeBron gets to the paint with his size, quickness and ball skills as well as his ability to move without the ball. He's also a strong finisher. Now that he's shooting a career-best from 3, defenses must pick their poison.

[+] EnlargeLisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Kobe's doin' work in the post. LeBron not so much.
The same can be said about Kobe, who punishes defenders with his will to dominate. He's getting about 32 percent of his shots off post-ups (about four times as many as LeBron) while still being a dribble-drive threat and a good cutter. In fact, more than 60 percent of his shots are generated from cutting, driving or posting. (Meanwhile, 60 percent of LeBron's shots are jumpers.)

Both players are great ball handlers, too, which allows them to be prolific scorers without hurting their team by committing turnovers. Kobe is a little more reliable in this area. He's also a better free throw shooter, although LeBron gets to the line more often -- he's scoring more than seven points per game from the stripe.

This is the closest category, as LeBron is also a brilliant scoring machine. I give Kobe the slightest edge because of his wide variety of weapons -- moving without the ball, using ball screens, posting up, utilizing shot fakes to throw defenders off balance, taking advantage of his triple-threat game and twisting around and through multiple defenders. Kobe is a master at every scoring maneuver.

Kobe 10, LeBron 9

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Category No. 3: Making teammates better

This might be the easiest category in which to see a clear separation between the two. LeBron is, simply put, the best passing guard/wing since Magic Johnson. He's terrific with the active dribble in isolation or off ball screens, and he's even better before he uses his dribble, reading and reacting to shifts by the defense in preparation for his drives. This creates easy buckets for guys who normally would have a tough time scoring. Most importantly, he'll make the key pass at any part of the game, including end-of-game scenarios.

Kobe is an amazing passer, too. He has great anticipation in the halfcourt. My favorite play of his is when he dribble-drives or posts up to draw the opponent's center or power forward to take just a step or two toward him. When that happens, the Lakers big who becomes open, typically Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol, runs straight to the rim to catch the perfect lob pass from Kobe. It's a devastating play, one that keeps the defending bigs in constant purgatory.

The one fair knock on Kobe is his desire to keep the ball instead of moving it. That he has such great talent around him only exacerbates the problem. He's still a great passer, but he's not on LeBron's level.

LeBron 10, Kobe 8

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Category No. 4: Primary defender

An athletic freak entering his prime, LeBron is more active when defending the primary action. He applies far more ball pressure than Kobe and generally is more aggressive with his quick feet. But he does this at some risk to the Cavs' defense, sometimes not forcing his man in any direction because he's too caught up in the one-on-one battle or getting beat to the middle by using poor close-out techniques. However, with LeBron, it's a worthwhile risk. His sheer size and physical gifts create havoc for the player with the ball, often resulting in a forced shot or a turnover.

[+] EnlargeJeff Lewis/Icon SMI
LBJ's size and quickness make him a great defender.
Kobe, on the other hand, currently reminds me of the smartest and most veteran player in a very competitive pickup game. He's efficient with his movements, and his technique is the best in the league. The Lakers want him to play the top side on every wing catch, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. It's textbook strategy employed by most good defensive teams.

Kobe does not worry much about getting to the baseline slower because he often has two 7-footers available as helpers, and the baseline serves as an extra defender. He also often guards the least threatening offensive wing in the first half and plays off him (see the "secondary defender" breakdown below), allowing his man room to shoot or make a play. A defense aims to force the opponent into taking the worst shot possible, and inviting its poorest offensive guard to shoot or drive is an excellent result. So Kobe's actions are in line with the team's strategies.

I have no doubt that in five to seven years, LeBron will play exactly how Kobe is playing now. And there is currently not much difference between the two in terms of overall results. But years ago, when Kobe was ballhawking a lot more, he was considered one of the top defenders in basketball. That extra pressure makes a difference. LeBron is doing that now, so he takes this category.

LeBron 10, Kobe 9

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Category No. 5: Secondary defender

Kobe and LeBron both benefit from playing with solid if not excellent defenders who allow them to roam around and muck up the offensive actions of their opponents.

LeBron has a sixth sense for where the ball is headed and will look to cut the action short. And if the offensive player does not account for him, LeBron will go after his shot. He's not blocking as many shots this season, but he still disrupts a lot of plays by adding that one extra defender to the play side of the floor.

But so does Kobe, who seemingly knows what's going to happen before some of the offensive players do. This is due in large part to his now-legendary ability to watch hours of game tape.

Although Kobe sometimes makes the fundamental mistake of turning his back to the guy he's guarding and watching the ball on the opposite wing or post, he always knows exactly where to go when it's time to locate and close out his man. And because he's often guarding the weaker of the other team's guards, he gets to play like a safety in football.

If his man is left open and chooses to shoot the ball, the Lakers call that a "win" on that possession. This also allows Kobe to make plays on the ball, a reason he's stealing the ball at least twice per game. If he does not steal the ball, at least he does what LeBron does so well, which is foul up the primary actions of the opposing offense.

Both players make a big impact in help defense, but with Kobe third in the league in steals, that demonstrates an added ability at the moment to turn defense into offense.

Kobe 10, LeBron 9

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Category No. 6: Impact in transition

LeBron and Kobe are two of the finest wing finishers in NBA history, along with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler and James Worthy. But LeBron also resembles Magic Johnson in transition because he often leads the break and pushes the ball down the middle of the court.

[+] EnlargeAllen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Best to get out of the way when LeBron has a full head of steam.
LeBron is devastating in this area because he typically waits for a crease to open up before exploding through it for the finish and/or foul. He's also a master at waiting for help to arrive to spread out the defense and finding open guys when the defense overcommits to him. Still, he's even better at finishing when he's the guy getting the pass as he fills the lane -- in fact, no player is better at this skill.

Other times, LeBron will pull up and take some long 2s or 3s, sometimes appearing to do so just to get some rest, because the transition game is the one time when he often faces just one defender.

Of course, that's what Kobe has been doing for years. Yes, he'll pull up frequently for jumpers and 3s, but he's always looking to push and attack. He, too, is often the ball handler initiating the break, so he has no problem pushing early and then, if the matchup is right, going right into his post game by backing the defender down.

Being the alert passer that he is, defenders know they can't just sell out to stop him, and this gives him the break he needs. If they close out on him, he'll pop the ball to the open man. However, Kobe forces shots in this part of the game a bit too often, and this, combined with LeBron's ability to rebound and run, gives LBJ the advantage over Kobe in the transition game.

LeBron 10, Kobe 9

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Category No. 7: Rebounding

This category clearly favors the bigger, stronger athlete, so LeBron has better overall numbers as expected. He also plays two positions -- small forward and power forward -- that lend themselves to more rebounds, as opposed to Kobe's situation as a shooting guard.

To be fair, it's better to compare them within their positions than against each other. Plus, we have to consider how well their teams rebound, as a coach does not want his guys fighting for boards to the point where they become less effective.

When studying these two, it's surprising to see that Kobe is the better offensive rebounder. He finds a way to get to the middle of the paint on many shots, the best place to pick up long rebounds or fumbled ones. He's also opportunistic inside, slipping past lazy defenders to grab the ball. Among all 2-guards who play at least 24 minutes per game, Kobe has the best offensive-rebound rate in the NBA. The Lakers are not a strong offensive-rebounding team, so Kobe's contributions make a big difference.

LeBron, on the other hand, has little impact on this part of the game, perhaps choosing to save his energy. He has grabbed more than two offensive boards in a game just twice all season. Kobe has done so 10 times.

On the defensive glass, LeBron is not resting. Among starting small forwards, he has the second-best defensive-rebound rate behind Gerald Wallace. Considering that Cleveland is the second-best defensive-rebounding team in the league, that is impressive.

The Lakers are not a strong defensive-rebounding team, and Kobe is just average in this area. Although there should be plenty of rebounds to grab, he falls out of the top 10 for starting shooting guards. There is a mitigating factor here: L.A. ranks second in the league in margin of victory, so Kobe doesn't have the pressure to rebound as often as LeBron.

So even though LeBron's rebounding stats are better than Kobe's, I don't see a difference between the two as it relates to the position they play. I'm calling this one a draw.

LeBron 10, Kobe 10

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Category No. 8: Intangibles

LeBron has strong leadership skills -- he helps his teammates believe in themselves and the team overall. He's vocal, funny and charismatic. To win, and win big, having a larger-than-life persona helps carry a team to new heights. Think Magic Johnson in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals. Yes, his play on the court was tremendous, but his teammates (especially Jamaal Wilkes) played above their heads thanks in large part to what Magic did behind the scenes.

LeBron has that kind of impact on the Cavs. His team can turn to when under duress and trust that good things will happen. He's not a finger-pointer, either, which boosts his teammates' confidence and allows them to fail without fear of being called out by him.

Kobe, though, has a different personality and. thus, a different impact. He's quieter, angrier, more driven than LeBron. He can be a positive leader with his team and is much, much better behind the scenes with his younger teammates than most people know.

Still, I would give LeBron an edge if this intangibles category were based just on the ability to inspire teammates. But there are other intangibles to consider.

[+] EnlargeNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Better game face? We'll go with the Black Mamba.
Both guys work hard, setting great examples for everyone else to follow. Kobe often does his work before any teammates even arrive at the gym, a constant reminder that their best player is willing to put in extra time to improve. It's hard to imagine anyone working harder on his game than Kobe.

LeBron's growth as a player indicates similar work habits, and both are well-known for their ability to consume hours of tape to prepare for their next opponent. I give LeBron a slight edge in leadership skills and Kobe a similar edge for work ethic.

So who gets the win in this important category?

Well, let's consider one more intangible that impacts every pro sport: The intimidation factor. And in this area, it's no contest. LeBron has evolved into a strong shot-blocker, and his speed and size make for a scary attempt at taking a charge on him. But opponents still focus more on his offense than anything else, not worrying too much about his presence in other areas.

Kobe, on the other hand, can keep opposing guards awake the night before they play him. Nobody wants to be the next guy he hangs 81 on. Or the guy stuck guarding him when he slips into one of his zones. And it's not just his offense that intimidates opponents. Many young players get extra-tight when they know Kobe will hound them on defense.

LeBron is on a fast course to achieving that kind of respect and fear from his opponents, but he's not there yet. In my adult lifetime, three non-centers have scared and intimidated opponents more than anyone else: Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Kobe 10, LeBron 9

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Conclusion

So who's the best player? Our final tally is LeBron 77, Kobe 75. And it's no coincidence that the final margin came down to the third category: making teammates better.

Kobe's fans will point to his recent championship ring as proof of his ability to play the right way with his teammates. I have no argument with that; he is a great teammate. And he's not only a first-ballot Hall of Famer but also probably one of the top 10 players ever.

But none of those accomplishments suggests that LeBron is not the superior player today. Nor does it negate the fact that sometimes Kobe tries to do too many things himself during games. I believe that to get the Kobe we see today -- full of fire and confidence and a readiness to carry his team through any and all difficulties -- it sometimes means he'll end up doing too much at the expense of his teammates. It's not necessarily a flaw. But it isn't the best outcome, either.

LeBron is not perfect. He has to improve his midrange game and learn to do more damage in the post. Teams have a better chance of beating him if he does not address these concerns. But to my eyes, he's the best player in the world right now. His combination of raw power, size, athleticism, basketball skills and feel -- and his willingness to package that combination in a way that emphasizes making the best basketball play for his team -- separates him from every player in this league.

Many smart basketball people think Kobe is the closest thing to Michael Jordan. I agree. They are probably the two best shooting guards in history. But the league has never seen a player like LeBron James.

And in a decade or so, we may be at this again, only this time sending LeBron into the ring with His Airness to settle the debate of who is the best player of all time.

TaylorCondrin
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this will be argued about

this will be argued about forever..but my question is: with a championship ring, many all-star appearances, and amazing game-play: why is d-wade never discussed as possibly the best NBA player?

llperez
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All bias aside, I think you

All bias aside, I think you can argue between Kobe and Lebron all night and it's just a matter of opinion they are so close. Wade is third. I know wade fans will disagree, but I can't justify putting him ahead of either of the other two. That's not to say he isn't better then everyone else in the league and a mvp candidate, but it's a 2 horse right now for number 1.

Michael.S.
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Thanks man

Thank you llperez.

RICO 1981
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I can't believe that guy

I can't believe that guy said Lebron was a better Primary defender than kobe. and better perimeter shooter that's nutz

NYK2010
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Both just roam on the

Both just roam on the perimeter playing D most of the time it seems.

Hale
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I think the peremeter

I think the peremeter shooting one is off. How is Kobe not better at that? I mean really they are both great and its like 1a1 and 1a2, not even 1b. They are so close, Wade is not on their level though, no matter how many people bring up his championship and stats. He isn't as good as those other 2, and I'm betting most gm's agree with me on that.

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