Kobe and Jordan: A Study in Efficiency

If there’s anything people believe about Kobe, is that Jordan is miles ahead of Kobe Bryant, because of the 5% gap in their shooting percentages. Jordan is the efficient, big-time scorer, while Kobe is the inefficient ballhog who shoots his team out of games. (Something that has been proven factually incorrect…hell, Kobe shoots better when the team is down)

That difference, (and a whole lot of Nike marketing), is what drives people to believe that Kobe is barely a top 10 player in the NBA, while Jordan is the unanimous GOAT. But…is that truly the case?

An interesting statistical tid-bit that most people haven’t realized yet, is that Jordan has shot the ball 236 more times in his career compared to Kobe, despite playing 5 less years.

This can mainly be attributed to Jordan’s ridiculous 22.9 FGA, tops in league history. Kobe, in comparison, shoots a “paltry” 19.6 FGA over his career.

Here’s the thing though, despite the 4.3% difference in FG%, the difference in total number of points between the two is…675.

That’s it.

If we take into account Kobe’s average efficiency per shot taken (PPWS), 31617(PTS)/24301(FGA) = 1.301 Points Per FGA, that means that Kobe will need 675/1.301 = 519 shots to equal Jordan.

What does this all mean? Well it means that over their whole careers, the difference between Kobe and Jordan’s scoring output, is literally 283 shots. This means that had Kobe made 0.23 more shots a game over his career, he would have the exact same efficiency as Jordan. Are you really telling me that 0.23 made shots a game, is the only thing separating Kobe from Jordan? The difference between the 10 - 15th spots in the greatest pantheon of NBA players, and the GOAT?

People might say that my logic is faulty, but fact is, if you take into account eFG%, and TS%, Kobe’s numbers (48.7% eFG, 55.5% TS) isn’t that far off from Jordan’s (50.9% eFG, 56.9% TS). When you take into account their output over their whole careers, it’s surprising that with Jordan’s reputation as the greatest scorer in NBA history, that Kobe is breathing right down his neck.

Another fun tidbit: Had Kobe taken the same amount of shots as the great Michael Jordan (22.9 - 19.6, so 3.3 more shots attempted per game over their careers), Kobe’s career scoring average would be 25.5 + 3.3 * 1.301 = 25.5 + 4.293 = 29.8 PPG

0.3 PPG, that’s apparently the gap between Kobe and Jordan.

It’s a lot closer than you would imagine. I’m willing to go so far as to say that Kobe is the best offensive weapon this league has ever seen. He has sustained a level of offensive production most players can only dream of, let alone guards.

It is obvious to any objective observer that Bryant is the closest thing to Jordan since Jordan retired; they have similar body types, for most of their careers they played the same position in the same offensive system for the same coach and they both were the dominant winners in their sport during their respective careers.

Both Jordan and Bryant did not have any skill set weaknesses once they reached their respective primes and I consider them equal as defenders, rebounders and passers. Bryant has the edge in terms of long range shooting, while Jordan had the more consistent midrange game and finished a bit better in traffic thanks to his larger hands.

For those curious, Jordan’s numbers from 86 - 98: 26556/19733 = 1.346 Points per FGA

Kobe’s numbers from 2001 - 2011: 1.307 Points per FGA

So yeah, prime Jordan was better, although if you look deeper into the numbers you’d see that old Kobe beats old Jordan pretty handily.

Jordan’s PPWS during second three-peat (regular season) : 1.29 (48% FG, 50.4% eFG, 56% TS)

Kobe’s PPWS during championship run (regular season): 1.306. (46% FG, 49.8% eFG, 56.1% TS)

More interestingly…

"Here are Jordan’s playoff averages from 1996-98 when the Bulls won three championships:

1996: 30.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.1 apg, .459 FG%, .403 3FG%, .818 FT%

1997: 31.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, .456 FG%, .194 3FG%, .831 FT%

1998: 32.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, .462 FG%, .302 3FG%, .812 FT%

Here are Bryant’s playoff averages from 2008-10 when the Lakers made three straight trips to the Finals and won two championships:

2008: 30.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.6 apg, .479 FG%, .302 3FG%, .809 FT%

2009: 30.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, .457 FG%, .349 3FG%, .883 FT%

2010: 29.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.5 apg, .458 FG%, .374 3FG%, .842 FT%

Remember that Jordan was playing alongside a Hall of Famer in Pippen, who established himself as a legitimate MVP candidate on his own during Jordan’s minor league baseball days. Jordan also had a Hall of Fame caliber power forward in Rodman, though Rodman may never be voted in for reasons that have nothing to do with his basketball skills. In contrast, Bryant’s best teammate during the past three seasons–Pau Gasol–has still never received even one fifth place MVP vote and he never made the All-NBA Third Team in the six seasons that he played prior to teaming up with Bryant. Also, though Jordan was a bit older than Bryant during the time frames in question, Jordan had played fewer seasons and minutes and was healthier than Bryant, particularly the 2010 version of Bryant.

When comparing the players’ shooting percentages it is important to remember that the NBA shortened the three point line from 1994-95 to 1996-97. Jordan shot .500 from three point range during his 17 game 1994-95 season, .427 in 1995-96 and .374 in 1996-97. Only twice in his other 12 regular seasons did Jordan shoot better than .350 from long distance and in nine seasons he shot worse than .300. Bryant shot three pointers more frequently than Jordan and Bryant made a higher percentage of his three pointers even though Bryant only enjoyed the benefit of the shortened line during his rookie season.

So, even though Kobe’s playoff field goal percentages from 2008-10 were just slightly better than Jordan’s playoff field goal percentages from 1996-98 the difference is actually more pronounced if you factor in the extra points from three pointers: Bryant’s “effective field goal percentages” (EFG%) were .514, .492 and .506 during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 playoffs, while Jordan’s EFG% in the 1996, 1997 and 1998 playoffs were .490, .469 and .474 respectively."

(Quoted paragraphs taken from http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2010/06/placing-kobe-bryants-career-in.html. Give it a read guys, it’s a fascinating article which makes you rethink how Kobe is as a player)

Kobe’s consistency has been pretty damn remarkable, his efficiency has actually increased as he got older. I haven’t seen that trend in any other player in league history.

(Credit to link provided as well as u/Paladinoras from r/nba)

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Made it to here

Yes

But I do have Kobe in the top 10. Somewhere in the 7-9 range

I think this is fine, if you want to say that Kobe could theoretically be higher all time than the 8-12 range.

But when your argument is based on what ifs, that doesn’t really do much.

We can what if any great player as the GOAT.

If Kobe hit more shots, he’d be more efficient. Yeah, that’s pretty much how that works. If MJ missed more game winners, he’d have less titles.

It’s a make or miss league.

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TL;DR

Jordan better

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I agree that Jordan is better but I think the argument laid out that the difference is marginal is fantastic. Kobe suffers a bit from the playing with Shaq syndrome early on in his career. Jordan never had a teammate with as many field goal attempts per game as shaq. Jordan also didn’t come into the league out of high school averaging less than 10 per game his rookie year.

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Basically this. You can’t be like if he took this many more shots and hit them at his normal efficiency than he would be this much closer to Jordan.

The whole thing is basically trying to explain that Kobe is closer to Jordan than people think but in the end it’s still clear that he’s behind and that’s pretty indisputable

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When everybody is trying to tug on your cape, you know you are the GOAT.

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Very well written article. You should start your own site or blog. I read half of the article and I don’t agree. Kobe not better than MJ because kobe not even top 5.

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The section trying to undersell Jordan’s second 3 peat and oversell Kobe’s 2 peat is what completely lost me. Under selling Pau in those years is disrespectful. He brought so much to that team despite whatever “official” accolades he didn’t have prior to joining. If you call Pippen a Hof’er as a sideways knock against Jordan because he had help you have to call Pau a Hof’er as he will 100% be inducted. And I’d be shocked at someone telling me that the aged KG, Pierce, Ray; and Dwight was tougher competition than prime Stockton, Malone, Payton and Kemp

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Kobe’s consistency has been pretty damn remarkable, his efficiency has actually increased as he got older. I haven’t seen that trend in any other player in league history.

Also this one feels pretty easy. Kobe had handchecking early in his career, and the def rules got more lax towards the end of his career.

Granted, I think the rules Kobe played under are a good argument, for why he’s better than his stats suggest. But for the specific point about getting more efficient, I’d argue the rule changes as the reason.

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Im not trying to say anything really, just presenting simple facts and the stats that go along with it. Using said stats one can deduce and decide for themselves. However, when I see people try to discredit kobe, both online and from this forum, they usually start and say Kobe was some inefficient ballhog chucker when given in context, is far from the truth. IMO, Kobe was the closest thing to Jordan despite them both playing in different eras with a much different set of rules to match. Each having their own respective styles and plan of attack.

Im a firm believer in that today’s athletes, and those from Kobes era, are bigger, stronger, and more athletic today than they were say 25–30 years ago. There are athletic freaks all over the NBA – and not just guys that can jump high, but guys that are speed demons, agile, and quick. With so many guards that are just faster today along with their ability to spread the floor in ways that the NBA just didn’t see 25 years ago, Jordan may not be the defensive pitbull he was back in his time when he faced slower, less agile, less skilled players who didn’t spread the floor, and whom he could just handcheck and/or grab with impunity.

You conveniently ignore that the elimination of hand-checking wasn’t the only defensive rule change in the early 2000s. The NBA also modified the illegal defense rule, allowing teams to play hybrid man-zone scheme all over the court.

That change affected post players big and small — from the likes of Shaquille O’Neal to, yes, His Airness. Defenses could now send a soft double-team at you before you even caught the ball, instead of having to wait to help under the old rules.

Schemes became more sophisticated, thanks to visionaries such as Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich. Teams defended areas of the floor, taking away scoring superstars’ comfort zones.

I did not mean to ignore that one.

Like I said, that rules argument for Kobe vs MJ is a great one, and I agree with it.

I think Kobe is better than “stats” people think as well.

I’m talking about the specific exercise of pointing out what ifs. It’s fun, and thought provoking. But if you put too much stock into that kind of stuff, over results, you can create a narrative for anyone being the GOAT.

Which I realize sounds dismissive of all your points. That’s not how I meant it sorry. I really enjoyed your post. It just doesn’t change my mind about where I’d rank him historically.

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damn lebron’s efficiency stats gotta be crazy

Bryant made the All-NBA, All-Defensive and All-Star teams each of the years he won a championship and he is in a select group of players with five championships plus two Finals MVPs (Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Duncan). We are supposedly in the middle of an era dominated by so-called analytics, yet discussions of concepts like “leadership” and “getting the most out of your teammates” repeatedly focus on players like Steve Nash and Chris Paul, neither of whom has made it to even one NBA Finals. Bryant’s leadership and his ability to motivate/inspire his teammates are demonstrated by the bottom line, incontestable reality that he has led his teams to more championships than all but a handful of basketball superstars. Of course, some people will counter that statement by arguing that Bryant’s first three championships should be properly credited to Shaquille O’Neal but if we are going to apply that line of reasoning then Magic Johnson’s championship total should not include the years when Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy won Finals MVPs, Larry Bird’s championship total should not include 1981 (when Cedric Maxwell won the Finals MVP) and two-time champion LeBron James–another player who is often lauded for his ability to bring out the best in his teammates–must explain not only his pedestrian 3-9 Finals record but also why during key moments in various NBA Finals he has been outplayed by the likes of Tony Parker, Jason Terry and Kawhi Leonard. Most championship teams feature what O’Neal calls a “one-two punch” and anyone who wants to subtract titles from Bryant’s resume is obligated to apply a similar standard to every other elite player.

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One thing I might add about MVP’s, Kobe could’ve easily won 1 or 2 more if not for the rape charge. He was dominating during those years after, but the NBA would never let him be the face of the league at that time.

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  1. LeBron
  2. Jordan
  3. Kobe

He’s top 3 imo.

Nash wasnt even a top 5 player at the time. Kobe robbed from atleast 2 arguably 3

Nash was pretty incredible tbh. Top 5 most fun players to watch ever but he played the kind of basketball I love. I can understand why some people didn’t care for him

Both Jordan and Kobe did not benefit from the analytics revolution that has taken over basketball. Players nowadays have that at their disposal and improve their game to be more efficient. So a player like Kobe when compared to others like LeBron in terms of analytics will look like an inefficient volume scorer when those who saw him play know that there was more to him than that. Having said that, Jordan still has the highest career PER of all time, imagine if he had all those tools at his disposal.

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