The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

MJ and Kobe

This all started when I returned to campus on Sunday evening, and over-heard an argument with my friends Dave and Vishnu from across the hall about who is the best scorer in NBA history. Vishnu, our resident Lakers/Blazers/Western Conference fan, argued that Kobe Bryant is the best scorer in NBA history because of his current ability to score whenever he wants to from any position on the basketball court. One example of Bryant’s work is that sick (no pun intended) fade-away jump shot he hit over LeBron James in the Lakers versus Cavaliers game two weeks ago. However, as many of you loyal readers know, I have never been a huge fan of Kobe Bryant’s, and I argued that any answer other than Michael Jordan is simply ludicrous. Now here are the numbers to back that statement up:

Let me begin with Kobe Bryant’s career numbers. He is currently in his thirteenth season in the NBA, and over these thirteen seasons Mr. 24 (formerly Mr. 8) has averaged 25.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 36.5 minutes a night. He has now appeared in eleven All-Star Games (including one his sophomore season when he averaged only 15.4 points in 26.0 minutes off the bench) and has been on the first or second team All-NBA eight times in his career. Assuming he continues his recent play over the next few years, he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, who finally won the Most Valuable Player award for the very first time last season:

Kobe Bryant = 918 Games Played and he turned 18 in August just before rookie season (1996-1997)

Over 60+ = 5 (0.54%)
Over 50+ = 24 (2.61%)
Over 40+ = 95 (10.35%)
Over 30+ = 298 (32.46%)
Over 25+ = 474 (51.63%)
Over 20+ = 633 (68.95%)

Clearly, in the end, Michael Jordan’s career numbers will have the advantage because he went to North Carolina for four years. This means that when he came into the NBA he was already a great basketball player, while it took Kobe Bryant a few years to develop his game and make the physical leap from the high school to the professional level. Let me now cut out the first four seasons of Kobe Bryant’s career, seasons in which he averaged only 15.94 points and 28.94 minutes in 266 games played:

Kobe Bryant = 652 games played since 2000-2001 season right after he turned 22 years old.

Over 60+ = 5 (0.77%)
Over 50+ = 24 (3.68%)
Over 40+ = 94 (14.42%)
Over 30+ = 286 (43.87%)
Over 25+ = 427 (65.49%)
Over 20+ = 539 (82.67%)

In these eight and a half seasons, Kobe Bryant has averaged 28.88 points and 39.76 minutes per game played. He is arguably one of the best shooting guards in NBA history, and he has four NBA scoring titles to his name. Now looking at MJ, let us take for granted his first two seasons in the NBA, cutting him some slack for his rookie year and his 18-game sophomore season. Instead, I want to focus on a ten year-period resembling the number of games Kobe Bryant played in those seasons above.

Michael Jordan = 666 games played between 1986-1987 (third year) and 1995-1996 (twelfth year)

Over 60+ = 4 (0.60%)
Over 50+ = 28 (4.20%)
Over 40+ = 138 (20.72%)
Over 30+ = 421(63.21%)
Over 25+ = 544 (81.68%)
Over 20+ = 622 (93.39%)

It is unbelievable to see that Michael Jordan scored 20+ points in about 93.4% of the games played during his prime seasons. Vishnu gave me the benefit of the doubt, and proclaimed that Michael Jordan is clearly the better overall player in comparison to Kobe Bryant, but he still defended his claim that Kobe was the better scorer. Now just for fun, here is a total recap of Michael Jordan’s epic career including his time in Washington just a few years ago.

Michael Jordan = 1072 Games Played and he turned 22 in February of rookie season (1984-1985)

Over 60+ = 4 (0.37%)
Over 50+ = 31 (2.89%)
Over 40+ = 173 (16.14%)
Over 30+ = 562 (52.43%)
Over 25+ = 769 (71.74%)
Over 20+ = 925 (86.29%)

When Kobe’s career is finished, we will have a better understanding and comparison between these two great players, but as of right now it does not look close. Kobe was only 18 when he first played a game in the NBA, but he still was not as elite of a scorer in his prime years in comparison to MJ. Kobe might be better in terms of the big games, and will probably finish with more career 50+ point games, but MJ was so consistent and efficient that this race is not close.

Kobe Bryant’s career season occurred in 2005-2006 when he was 27 years old, and led a young Lakers squad to the #7 seed in the Western Conference playoffs while averaging 35.4 points per game. In this season, he played in 80 games, and had an impressive line of 6 fifty point, 27 forty, 56 thirty and 77 twenty point performances. While these rates rival the average numbers Jordan had throughout his prime seasons, he goes to show that Kobe was only close to MJ in one single season when the second and third-best players on the Lakers were Lamar Odom and Smush Parker. In addition, Bryant averaged 27.2 field goal attempts during this season while having an under-whelming 0.983 efficiency field goal percentage (Jordan eclipsed this shot total only once during his third season in the NBA when he had a 0.967 efficiency field goal percentage.)

Throughout Kobe Bryant’s career, he has averaged a 0.974 efficiency field goal percentage while shooting 48.2% from two-pointers and 34.1% on three-point shots. For Michael Jordan’s illustrious career, he averaged a 1.017 efficiency field goal percentage while shooting 51.0% from two-pointers and 32.7% on three-point shots. Sure, one can argue that Michael Jordan featured a more explosive inside game then Kobe Bryant, but one must also keep in mind that the game of basketball was much different when MJ entered the league in 1984-1985. For example, here is a look at Jordan’s three-point shooting numbers during his entire career:

First four seasons in the NBA: Shot 0.89 threes per 48 minutes (3.03% of field goals), and shot 16.4% on these shots
Next five seasons before his first retirement: Shot 2.35 threes per 48 minutes (8.13% of field goals), and shot 33.4% on these shots
Final seasons in Chicago before second retirement: Shot 3.42 threes per 48 minutes (11.84% of field goals), and shot 37.5% on these shots
Final two seasons in Washington: Shot 1.01 threes per 48 minutes (3.79% of field goals), and shot 24.1% on these shots

By comparison, throughout Kobe Bryant’s career he has averaged 4.87 threes per 48 minutes (19.34% of field goals), and has shot 34.1% in these shots. In fact, Kobe Bryant has had four seasons with at least 90 more three-point attempts than Michael Jordan’s high three-point volume season of 297 in 1996-1997. Despite this different style of the game, Michael Jordan has more seasons of 175+ three-point shots and 35% three-point shooting than does Kobe Bryant (four for MJ, three for Kobe including this season). Oddly enough, in all four seasons Jordan had more than 126 three-point attempts, he shot at least 35.2%. This shows that while the NBA was a completely different style in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Michael Jordan was incredible enough that he changed his entire offensive game and took advantage of the style.

To conclude this e-mail, here is one final look at how Michael Jordan was an overall more efficient scorer. Although the two players had very similar statures (MJ is 6-6, 215 and Kobe is 6-6, 205,) I think there is no doubt that Michael Jordan was the better, more efficient player in every facet of the game:

From 1986-1987 to 1995-1996, MJ scored 30+ points 391 of the 521 times he had 20+ FGA’s (75.05%)
This means that he also had 30+ points in 30 of his 145 other games during this time span (20.69%)

From 2000-2001 to 2008-2009, Kobe scored 30+ points 250 of the 392 times he had 20+ FGA’s (63.78%)
This means that he also had 30+ points in 36 of his 260 other games during this time span (13.85%)

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February 18, 2009 - Posted by | The Boots | , ,

4 Comments »

  1. This is a great article that is very clear and well thought out.. To be honest, Kobe is not as close as people think to MJ’s greatness.. Oh how quickly people do forget. If you were lucky enough to watch MJ during his prime, you understand that Kobe will always be second to Michael.. But the most important thing that made Michael the greatest was his will to win; his competitive drive. No one, I repeat, NO ONE has ever been or ever will be as competitive as MJ. This is what made him the greatest.

    Comment by quinn cannington | June 15, 2009 | Reply

  2. […] Now for some shameful self-promotion at the end, take a look at this numerical comparison that I wrote about Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant last season. Some of the numbers are clearly out-dated but it is also interesting to see how their game is different. Kobe’s title now makes his repertoire a little more impressive and definitely a first-ballot Hall of Fame honoree. [The Sports Report] […]

    Pingback by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James Roundup: All the News About the Two Stars | WaitingForNextYear | December 25, 2009 | Reply

  3. Hehe I am honestly the only comment to your amazing post?!?

    Comment by Rodney Peralta | May 29, 2010 | Reply

  4. You have done it once again! Great writing!

    Comment by Miguel Maynard | May 31, 2010 | Reply


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