The Ol' Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan Debate

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
1:04
PM ET

Who's better, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant? Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference.com navigated numbers like points produced per 100 possessions used, the percentage of team possessions used when on the court, points allowed per 100 opponent possessions, and "the Pythagorean expectation."

Paine shows a nice big chart, and then concludes:

As you can see, out of necessity Jordan was taking on a large offensive responsibility early in his career; as his teammates got better, he slowly eased back on the workload, and his efficiency improved as a result. Kobe's story is the opposite: with great teammates early, he didn't have to do as much, but when Shaq left before the '05 season, Kobe was actually forced to take a larger role in the offense than even Jordan ever had to.

It's more interesting, though, to look at the efficiency levels the players maintained vs. their % of possessions used. The mark of a truly great offensive player is to maintain a high level of efficiency while taking on a large share of the team's offensive responsibility, and even though Kobe's numbers are impressive, Jordan is consistently more efficient than Bryant no matter if he's using more possessions or not. Also, note the translated defensive ratings: aside from their age-21 seasons, MJ is better (sometimes vastly so) at every turn.

In other words -- and this should be obvious -- when we watch Kobe play, we're seeing a far lesser version of Michael Jordan in action. Similar in style and mannerism, maybe, but when we translate the statistics for era, it becomes very clear that Jordan was actually the one "playing chess" while Bryant "plays checkers."

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