Another Kobe Comparison

» December 8, 2008 11:17 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

I must have missed the Kobe Bryant comparison week memo. Neil Paine of — inspired by Free Darko’s “Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac” — decided to compare Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan’s percentage of team possessions used, and offensive and defensive ratings.

Check out the comparison here.

Paine’s findings aren’t ground-breaking. Jordan was more efficient than Bryant. Paine argues that Jordan was more efficient defensively, and again, he’ll get no argument from me. But Paine’s defensive rating fails to take into account Jordan’s Bulls being superior defensively to any of Kobe’s Lakers squads. It also fails to note that it was Scottie Pippen — not Jordan — who defended the opposing team’s best offensive player most nights.

I’ve never argued that Bryant is better than Jordan. But I do agree with Phil Jackson’s assertion that Kobe is more “skilled” than Jordan was. The biggest difference between Jordan and Bryant — and Jordan and everyone really — is Jordan’s focus. That’s what made Jordan so efficient. His concentration rarely, if ever, slipped. And that’s what continues to plague Kobe Bryant to this day.

Charley Rosen summed up the issue recently:

Kobe is indeed a great shooter, but his problem is his penchant for taking too many bad shots — as many as 5-7 each game. Even now, as the Lakers lead the league in scoring and winning percentage, Kobe continues to abort the triangle offense in favor of forcing shots in just about every situation and from every angle. The fact that he makes so many of these ill-advised shots, and in such sensational fashion, obscures his perpetual habit of playing Kobe Ball.

Former Orlando Magic general manager Pat Williams devoted an entire chapter to Jordan’s focus in his book “How to Be Like Mike.”

Here are a few excerpts:

The team ophthalmologist for the Bulls and White Sox, David Orth, had a test he used to measure reaction time. A player would peer through a screen into a dark area and Orth would flash sets of numbers on a tick-tac-toe board. They’d appear in increments, from a half-second to one hundreth of a second. The players called out the numbers as they were flashed.

Jordan called out more numbers than anyone.

“What that showed,” Orth said, “was spectacular vision. But it was more than that; it showed a tremendous physical ability to concentrate.”

“In all the years I coached against MJ, I tried to figure out how we could get to him. I never could find a way. You couldn’t get to his mind, his body or his spirit. You just couldn’t go at him in any way. He totally perplexed me. He was unattackable. He’d just break guys. I had a deep-seated respect for him,” said Pat Riley, head coach of the Miami Heat.

First game of the 1997 NBA Finals at Utah. The Delta Center is tricked up like Barnum and Bailey’s Circus: light shows, fireworks, motorcycles, pulsating music, clouds of smoke billowing. The Bulls’ players stand in their pregame line, covering their ears, fighting to block out the noise and the colors and the kaleidoscope of distractions. And Utah general manager Scott Laynden looked over and saw Jordan, his back to the court, his head bowed, lost in meditation.

“It was chilling,” Layden said, “watching him get zoned in like that.”

It is the thrust behind the Zen principles that Jordan’s coach, Phil Jackson, attempts to impart upon his players. But really, this was not Jackson’s influence.

“What did you learn from Phil?” Vancil once asked Jordan.

“I learned that all the Zen stuff Phil had been teaching me,” Jordan said, “I’d been doing all my life anyway.”

23 Responses to “Another Kobe Comparison”

  1. DMiz Says:

    Great read, thx. Love the pat Riley quote…

    Just made plans to go to Jordan’s Steakhouse next week at Grand Central…hopefully his steak is as good as his game =).


  2. ShooterB Says:

    Didn’t you get that memo?

    It’s a fair enough comparison. After all, Kobe has almost the same repertoire as MJ: the indefensible fade-away jumper, the drive, ability to finish, etc. But for all that, it’s exactly what you mentioned that sets them apart.

    I can’t imagine any athlete in any sport having more focus or competitive drive than Michael Jordan did. Tiger Woods, perhaps.

    One other glaring difference between Kobe & MJ is in shot selection. Kobe takes a lot more 3-pointers than MJ ever did. But even with that disparity, their career points per attempt numbers are almost identical.

    Those numbers that Paine displayed prove the point, MJ was more efficient. I’m just glad to see the basketball world start to use a statistic besides PPG. In another 20 or 30 years, they might even be able to convince youngsters not to be ballhogs.

  3. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    Riley’s quote is probably my favorite MJ description.

    I knew MJ had a restaurant in Chicago, but I didn’t know he had one in NY too. Hope the food is good.

  4. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    You’re right, Kobe has shot a lot more 3-pointers.

    Kobe is a much better 3-point shooter than Jordan was. Jordan had three seasons where he shot an unusually high percentage from the three-point line.

    But he had nine seasons where he shot less than 30%.

    Kobe has only shot less than 30% twice.

    We’re in agreement on this one. It was Jordan’s mentality that set him apart from everyone else.

    I think you’re right about Tiger too. I’m not a golf fan, but even Jordan has talked about their similarities.

  5. Tsunami Says:

    Jordan was faster and stronger than Kobe.

    Jordan was physically a man among boys when he was in his prime (before the 2nd 3 peat) – Kobe has never been the most athletic player among his peers.

    Honestly, I think Wade “looks” the most like 1984-1991 Jordan and I think Kobe “looks” the most like 1992-1998 Jordan, mostly because of his release point, and his coach.

    But Jordan didn’t dominate simply because he wanted too – he was athletically superior to the people trying to guard him.

    It is really hard for me to take the Jordan/Kobe comparison seriously. I mean, I really don’t care what Phil Jackson said – He says things all the time – he has an agenda behind 99% of what he says, if you can’t see that, then you’re blind.

    Jordan was the greatest player in the history of the game by almost any metric – wins, stats, highlight reels, reputation, any angle you took with Jordan, it was impossible not to recognize his dominance. People started drafting guys that “looked” like Jordan because of this – and it failed miserably because Jordan had the smarts, dedication, and tenacity to go along with his athletic supremacy.

    Kobe, in my opinion, is a great player, whose talents are a blessing and curse. They are a blessing because he does in fact look much like Jordan – and there are no shortage of people to point this out. I thought it was hilarious, hoff, that in that other article you posted the author talked about how it was disrespectful to LeBron to act like he had mastered something that he hadn’t. I feel that like 3/4 of what people praise Kobe for, they shouldn’t. He’s a great scorer – the most talented scorer in the NBA for most of his career. And he is a very streaky shooter – he can get hot, and is one of the few players that can single-handedly take over a game, without any help.

    But I honestly don’t believe there is any evidence to suggest that he has been the clear-cut best player in the NBA in ANY of his seasons. Statistically he certainly hasn’t – and he hasn’t won anything without Shaq – so it basically takes a lot of hand-waving and aesthetics to convert Kobe into the “greatest player on the planet”. He certainly has failed a heck of a lot in huge situations – situations that everyone forgets overnight. Jordan didn’t do that. He always rose to the occasion – you just KNEW Jordan was going to will his team to victory once he got over that initial hump in 1991. I never feel that way about Kobe – I have no idea how any Lakers fans can, since they haven’t won a title since Shaq left.

    It amazes me though, that the less and less of an impact Kobe makes, and the MORE of an impact the Laker’s bench makes, the most I hear people insist that Kobe’s on a plane by himself.

  6. A-Train Says:

    Tsunami is 100% right.

    I especially agree with this: “I honestly don’t believe there is any evidence to suggest that he [Kobe] has been the clear-cut best player in the NBA in ANY of his seasons.”

    Only in one year did Kobe really impress me in a way only NBA greats could, and that was 2006. Even then, Steve Nash won the MVP, and Kobe finished behind in the voting behind Dirk and LeBron and practically equal to Billups.

    And like Tsunami so rightfully pointed out, in Jordan’s days, there was no discussion on who was the best–everyone knew the answer. It wasn’t even close.

    When people ask me who makes my list of the best players I ever saw, the name Kobe Bryant almost never comes to mind. He’s good but also incredibly overrated in comparison to what the NBA wants him to be, the media sells him as, etc.

    After all, Paul Pierce destroyed Kobe last year in the Finals. So how could Kobe possibly be considered the best player in the NBA? Maybe Pierce is the best player? Maybe Dwight Howard is the best? LeBron? Chris Paul? Wade?

    There’s debate. In Jordan’s time, there was no debate. And in my opinion, basketball in the late 80’s/early 90’s was superior to today’s basketball. Jordan faced better competition.

    I think a healthy Wade is just as good as Kobe. I think LeBron is the best player in the game. I think a healthy Yao is incredible. Howard is a beast. Duncan is still the best, in my opinion.

    Kobe is an immensely talented and highly skilled player. But he isn’t nearly as great as David Stern and the media want us to believe he is.

  7. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    Jordan wasn’t THAT much more athletic than everyone who defended him. There were players that came before (David Thompson) and players that played during his era that were very athletic. Clyde Drexler and Dominique Wilkins were awfully close.

    It’s not like he was a 6-9, 270 pound small forward.

    It was Jordan’s mentality and work ethic that separated him from his peers.

    Jackson has an agenda at times, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t speak his mind too. Phil talked about bringing Lamar off the bench before the season, and a lot of NBA scribes felt he was trying to motivate Lamar. I never bought that.

    Kobe is a better ball-handler, shooter (the only reason Jordan shot a better percentage was because he shot “better shots,” not because he was a better shooter, there’s a difference), and when motivated to do so, he’s a better passer too. That’s why Phil said that Kobe is “more skilled.”

    What “huge situations” has Kobe failed in?

    The guy is universally regarded as the most clutch player in the game.

  8. hamlet9634 Says:

    don’t want to spend too much on this point, as I agree that if you compare their careers to this point, it’s pretty clear that Jordan was a better player than Kobe, but you simply can’t make the statement that Kobe never won a thing without Shaq and use it as an argument to say that Jordan was better.

    Jordan never won a thing without Pippen.

    Also, you’re trying to compare two individuals in a team sport. You can never really know the answer to this. There’s too many variables. Jordan’s supporting cast was different than Kobe’s. Kobe took a team that started smush parker, luke walton, and kwame brown to the finals. The opposition was different. More players today use high-tech training techniques than they did in the 80’s. I don’t think Barkley would start in the NBA today, much less be an all-star.

    But yes, Jordan was better. Though Kobe still has a few more years to define his legacy.

  9. Football Fanatics Says:

    By the time it’s all said and done, Kobe will be ahead of Jordan in every major statistical category except one… championships. I think Kobe can get 1 more, giving him 4 total. It is so hard to compare Kobe to Michael Jordan because Kobe hasn’t finished his career yet.

  10. Brandon Hoffman Says:

    Tsunami & A-Train,

    I agree that Kobe receives a lot of hype.

    That comes with the territory of playing for the Lakers. They’re a storied franchise and they reside in the league’s second largest media market.

    But Kobe’s “greatness” isn’t manufactured by the media.

    Ninety-five percent of his peers regard him as the greatest player in the game — LeBron James (as recently as last season) included.

    I agree that you can make an argument for a few players as being the best in the game. But there are a few reasons for that.

    The “greatest player in the game” mantle tends to stick with the NBA champion. Dwyane Wade was thought of as the best player in the game in 2006. Before that it alternated between Duncan and Shaq.

    Look, Jordan is the greatest ever. There’s no disputing that. But he played on a great team. A team that won 55 games in his absence. If he loses a championship or two, there would have been people questioning his place in the game. But that never happened, partly because of who he was, and partly because of who he was surrounded by. That’s why there was never any room for debate, you can’t argue against rings.

    Kobe and LeBron are getting to that point now. Kobe has a more talented team, but Cleveland could enter that conversation by making a big move before the trade deadline.

    Even still, the Celtics are the class of the NBA. Boston has 3 future Hall of Famers. Jordan’s Bulls had 3 Hall of Famers. Kobe is the only Hall of Famer on the Lakers. LeBron is the only Hall of Famer on the Cavs.

    It will be interesting to see if LeBron or Kobe put a stranglehold on the league over the next few seasons. Both players are on championship-caliber teams. Whichever player leads their team to more rings will probably be regarded as the greater player. That’s just how it goes.

    Train said, “In my opinion, basketball in the late 80’s/early 90’s was superior to today’s basketball. Jordan faced better competition. I think a healthy Wade is just as good as Kobe. I think LeBron is the best player in the game.”

    I agree that Jordan faced better competition. That’s why it’s important to consider the competition when comparing players. I don’t care what LeBron, Wade, or Kobe do against the Bobcats. I think it’s more telling to see what they’re capable of against the league’s stingiest defenses. Watch how they perform against the Spurs, or Celtics, and tell me who’s greater. LeBron shot 36% against the Celtics last season. Wade shot like 19% versus the C’s during the regular season. Kobe struggled too, but not as much as LeBron or Wade. Why? Because Kobe doesn’t have as many weaknesses. He’s a better all-around player.

  11. Tsunami Says:

    Hoff – you make some good points. But I’m going to point out the bad ones.

    Kobe a better ball-handler than Jordan? Are you serious? No way dude. No way at all.

    And arguing who is the better passer Jordan or Kobe is like arguing who was the better rebounder, Steve Nash or Mark Price. Neither player was a skilled passer – most of their assists came because defenses focused so much on them.

    look, Jordan was much faster than Kobe. MUCH faster. He was also quicker laterally. He had better hops, was a better finisher, and on a whole different plane in terms of efficiency. He was also a better rebounder.

    I know you like to bring up the part about Kobe choosing to guard the other teams best player and Jordan letting Pippen do that. Kobe’s got a great nose for the ball – if there was a scramble for a ball I’d definitely want him out there. But he is not some generation-defining defender either.

    Lebron’s weaknesses are becoming less and less apparent with the current makeup of the cavs. He’s improved his free throw shooting, he is getting chances to catch-and-shoot for once in his career (and he’s been pretty solid) – and while his off the dribble deep jumpers have been about the same (spotty) – he’s taking less of them.

    His defensive improvements over the last 3 years have been remarkable, and he continues to improve upon his legendary efficiency.

    There is no reason for me to believe that the Lakers will be a contender for as long as the Cavs (if lebron stays). Kobe is not the Kobe of 2006Iin fact every time I watch him I am less and less impressed), Bynum is not the next Bill Russel, and once teams stop crapping their pants every time the Lakers press the ball, they aren’t going to be leading a defensive juggernaut.

  12. Tsunami Says:

    hoff, for you to think the Cavs are still pretenders UNTIL they trade Szczerbiak’s contract means you are either not paying attention (which I know isn’t true – u have a pulse on everything NBA-wise) or you are just trying to convince yourself.

    They are for real dude. They are blowing out teams on a regular basis without breaking a sweat. That just doesn’t happen.

    you don’t get lucky and win 9 games in a row by an average of 21 points. Everyone is contributing. It’s not like LeBron is dropping 50 a night and you could say “well, they’re relying so much on lebron, he’s going to be tired or injured come june and the Celtics will make others beat them”. No, it’s not like that at all. For the 3rd time this season, every single player on the cavs 12 man roster scored. Do you realize how remarkable that is? Stuff like that doesn’t happen in the NBA. It’s happened 3 times already for the Cavs. And they are doing all this without a lot of what I think of as the “luck factors”. Their 3 point shooting has been pretty bad overall – Gibson, Szczerbiak, Lebron, and Mo Williams are all having like their worst 3pt shooting seasons ever – and opposing teams are shooting like 80% from the ft line – which is just bad luck.

    there is one weakness the cavs have – and trust me it’s not Lebron – I’ll write about it in my cavs writeup that i will submit to you tonight.


  13. xphoenix87 Says:

    This is, quite simply, the dumbest “debate” of all time, I’ve said this for years.

    Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever to play the game. Period. If you want to look at stats, it isn’t even remotely close. If you want to look at “clutch” moments (if you believe in that kind of thing), I don’t think I need to remind you of Jordan’s resume in that area. If you want to talk about longevity, we can talk about a guy who played 15 seasons, and even collected a few MVP votes at the age of 38. You want to talk titles? There’s been no greater winner in the modern era of basketball, and one can reasonably argue that Jordan’s titles are every bit as impressive as those of the Russell Celtics, given the improved parity in the game and the advent of free agency. You want to talk about supporting cast? Talk all you want about how Jordan had two other HoFers, but the Bulls are only the second team in history (along with the 75 Warriors) to win an NBA title without an all-star caliber big man who could score or block shots. Run down the entire list. Every other team out there had a big man who could intimidate at the rim or who you could dump the ball into for a score, most teams had both. The Bulls are unique in basketball history in that Jordan was so good that they didn’t have to fit the traditional mold. Nobody else did that. Talk about Pippen all you want, but there was never any question who was top dog in Chicago, Scottie was a complementary player from day one, Jordan was the driving force. You want to talk about the era they played in? Jordan regularly had to go through two of the league’s greatest historical defenses (Knicks and Pistons) who very famously made is their sole purpose to make his life a living hell (The “Jordan Rules”). He also played before the league cut down on hand-checking like they have today. No way MJ doesn’t average 40+ with today’s rules.

    Why do we insist on talking about this. Kobe isn’t in the same stratosphere as Jordan. I don’t care what Phil Jackson says about him. I don’t give a crap who is more “skilled” (which means what anyway?), what matters is what they did with that skill, and what Kobe has done isn’t close to what Jordan did. That’s not a knock on Kobe. No one is in the same stratosphere as Jordan. This season, through 21 games, we’re seeing LeBron put up the kind of numbers that no one has done since Jordan. Come back to me once he does that for 8 straight years, then maybe we’ll talk about challenging the real King.

  14. A-Train Says:

    WHOA! You tell ‘em X!!! LOL. Dead-on.

    I actually get angry when someone compares these guys. Kobe isn’t even remotely close to Jordan in any one facet of the game. Compared to Jordan, Kobe is a scrub.

    Please, let’s get off this. The people who bring this stuff up are Kobe lovers who have forgotten how good Jordan was.

    This isn’t a knock on Kobe… it’s just an unfair comparison. Comparing Kobe to Jordan is like comparing, say, Patrick Ewing to Bill Russell.

    And someone made this comment: “I don’t think Barkley would start in the NBA today, much less be an all-star.”

    That wins the dumbest comment of 2008 award, hands-down. Barkley wouldn’t start in today’s NBA but meanwhile someone like Kevin Love would, right? Moronic comment, really. Sorry for being harsh, but you need to hear it. Truth is, Barkley would destroy people today. He’d average 30 and 15 EASILY.

  15. A-Train Says:

    “Compared to Jordan, Kobe is a scrub,” was an emotional stretch. The Ewing-Russell comparison is fitting however.

  16. dusty Says:

    the saga continues.

    2nd largest blowout in finals history.

    biggest lead blown in finals history.

    lakers in 5.

    wet the bed

    walk the walk

    ship his ass out

    championship caliber talent

    kobe bryant blog day

    blown 3 games to 1 playoff series lead

    shaq dips, p.j. dips. lakers miss playoffs.


    you might wanna jump on the cavs band wagon hoffman. they got a look about them that i have NEVER seen. these games are over before the 4th quarter even starts.

    legone james hasn’t been on the floor in the 4th quarter THE LAST 4 GAMES.

    don’t let your bias and hatred for all things cleveland ruin what could be a historical season for the cavs.

    you and your media buddies better hurry up with the push for legone to NYC before it’s too late.

  17. dusty Says:

    “Jordan’s supporting cast was different than Kobe’s. Kobe took a team that started smush parker, luke walton, and kwame brown to the finals.”


    yeah, or


    who cares about accuracy when speaking on the greatest player on the planet?

    it’s KOBE!! bryant blog day!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    I never said the Cavs were “pretenders.” In fact, I don’t think I wrote one disparaging word about the Cavs. I said the Lakers are more talented and in better position to contend over the next couple seasons.

    I said the Cavs were contenders, but they don’t have as much talent as LA. That could change before the trade deadline.

    I like what I’ve seen from the Cavs. They’re playing very well right now. But they’re schedule has been pretty weak. I’m not being biased when I say that, I said the same thing when the Rockets won 22 straight last season.

    The only “quality” win on Cleveland’s schedule thus far is Denver. They lost to Boston, New Orleans, and Detroit. They’re contenders, no doubt about it. But I don’t think we’ll know how good they are until February.

    You said, “There is no reason for me to believe that the Lakers will be a contender for as long as the Cavs (if lebron stays).”

    The Lakers are my squad. But they’re going to be contenders as long as Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Ariza, and Odom are in uniform. There’s a chance that LA could lose Odom over the off-season. But they just locked up Bynum, Ariza will be extended next year, and Gasol is locked up. Kobe’s contract is a foregone conclusion.

    The Lakers are a lot younger than the Cavs too. Kobe and Fisher are the only two Lakers who are over 30. Bryant is past his athletic prime, but his game has never been predicated upon athleticism.

    Cleveland’s frontcourt is over the hill. The Cavs aren’t that dependent upon Z and Big Ben but those are two pieces that will need to be replaced soon.

  19. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    No one is denying that Jordan is the greatest.

    You can try and dismiss Jordan’s Hall of Fame teammates by arguing that Jordan won without an All-Star caliber big man, but he did so because he became the best low-post scorer of his era. It’s not as if he accomplished things through traditional guard means. I’m not saying that makes his accomplishments less impressive, but it’s worth noting.

    Without Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen, Jordan doesn’t win a championship. I don’t care if he averaged 50 points a game on 50% from the field, he doesn’t go down as greater than Magic Johnson if he fails to win championships. That’s my point, and it’s more than valid.

    As far as comparing Kobe to Jordan, I think I’ll go with Tex Winters and Phil Jackson on this one. Tex and Phil have coached both players. If they feel it’s a valid comparison, I’ll take their word for it.

  20. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    Lol. Cleveland looks good. I’m looking forward to watching them matchup with the Celtics this season. Boston is their only obstacle in the East.

  21. Tsunami Says:

    I just watched the Lakers barely beat the Suns in LA and the Suns were without half their team. Kobe played horrible, and ESPN just showed ONLY positive Kobe plays. And the anchor said “Kobe starting to take over”. I mean, the Lakers were MINUS 7 with Kobe on the court. The worst of anyone on their team.

    But if you watch ESPN, or FoxSports, or whatever, you’d think Kobe was just being Kobe (god) again. It’s just surreal the way this guy can practically sabotage wins with his shot-forcing and his 5-year old emotions, and yet his reputation is still at an all-time high.

  22. xphoenix87 Says:

    “You can try and dismiss Jordan’s Hall of Fame teammates by arguing that Jordan won without an All-Star caliber big man, but he did so because he became the best low-post scorer of his era.”

    But that’s exactly the point. Jordan became everything his team needed. His ablity to dominate so completely and so efficiently from the shooting guard position is completely unparalleled.

    “Without Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen, Jordan doesn’t win a championship. I don’t care if he averaged 50 points a game on 50% from the field, he doesn’t go down as greater than Magic Johnson if he fails to win championships. That’s my point, and it’s more than valid.”

    There’s not a single championship team you can’t say that about. Nobody wins games without help. My point is that Jordan carried a load like no other single star has, and he won in a way that no other team has been able to win. The Bulls defied conventional knowledge that you have to have a good big man to win, and the only reason they did so is because Jordan was far and away the greatest player of all time.

    “No one is denying that Jordan is the greatest.”

    And yet year after year we continually get articles talking about Kobe vs. Jordan of one form or another. I’m not just saying that Jordan is the best ever, I’m saying that Jordan and Kobe are not even remotely close, and it’s completely ridiculous that people keep bringing this up. To this day I’ve never seen any legitimate argument that the two players should be mentioned in the same breath. Frankly, if people would stop comparing Kobe with a standard he can’t possibly live up to, we’d all be a lot happier.

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