Rick Kamla Chimes in on the Kobe-LeBron Debate

» December 30, 2008 4:29 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were named the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week yesterday. Bryant averaged 30.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists over a four game stretch, including a 27 point, 9 rebound and 5 assist performance against the defending champion Celtics on Christmas Day. James averaged 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists over a 3-0 stretch for the Cavaliers.

Which player is better?

Via Dime:

Kamla compares Kobe and LeBron in eight categories: “shooting, playmaking, rebounding, defending, hunger, leadership, toughness and clutch.”

James gets the nod in playmaking, rebounding, defending, hunger and leadership, while Bryant wins in the shooting and clutch departments. Kamla declares the toughness category a tie.

James is a better playmaker and rebounder. But at 6-9, 270 pounds, is LeBron an accomplished rebounder for someone with his physical gifts? Consider that Larry Bird — at 6-9, 220 pounds — and playing the same position as James, averaged 10 rebounds (3.1 rpg. more than James) over his career. Why do I bring that up? Because if you’re going to compare a 6-6 shooting guard’s rebounding average to a 6-9 small forward’s, it’s important to put that small forward’s rebounding average into perspective. Regardless, there’s no denying the fact that LeBron is the better rebounder.

Kamla says that Kobe is a better man-to-man defender, but gives LeBron the edge as a helpside defender due to LeBron’s ability to “play the passing lanes and block shots.” Kamla concedes that “blocks and steals stats are not a true indication of which player is better on the defensive end” but fails to expand upon his belief that LeBron is the better helpside defender. That’s interesting because Celtics coach Doc Rivers called Bryant “the best help defender since Scottie Pippen” in last year’s NBA Finals.

I don’t know how one can measure “hunger,” but LeBron has been incredibly focused this season. He has a different look in his eye. A look that Bryant has had for years. I think Bryant and James are tied in that category. Both players want to win a championship. Kamla argues that Bryant isn’t as hungry because he’s won three rings. That’s ridiculous.

If I was asked to fill out Kamla’s scorecard I would give LeBron the advantage in playmaking, rebounding and leadership. Kobe gets the nod in shooting and clutch. And I would declare James and Bryant equal in hunger and toughness. Both players are good defensively, but from what I’ve seen thus far this season, LeBron has been the better defender.

That doesn’t mean I’m ready to declare LeBron the best player in the world. I have my own criteria. I don’t put as much stock in numbers. I watch how and when a player scores his points. I look at a player’s role within his team. And I consider the competition. I don’t care how Kobe or LeBron perform against the Bobcats. I want to see how they perform against the Celtics. And while both players have struggled versus Boston, Bryant has performed much better against the NBA champs. Kamla pointed out that the Cavaliers took the Celtics to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but failed to mention that LeBron shot 36% in that series. Cleveland took Boston to 7 games because of their team defense. One could argue that LeBron was instrumental in their defensive effort, and that’s true, but he also gave up 41 points to Paul Pierce in Game 7.

I’m not absolving Bryant of his struggles. Kobe deserves blame for contributing to a 39-point loss in the NBA Finals deciding game, but Kobe shot five percentage points better against Boston than James did. Bryant has put up superior numbers against the Celtics this season too. Bryant scored 27 points on 13-of-23 from the field (.565) and added 9 rebounds and 5 assists in LA’s Christmas Day win. James scored 22 points on 9-of-21 (.429) from the field and added 7 rebounds and 6 assists in a season opening loss to Boston. Granted, the Cavaliers are a different team now. But there’s an easy explanation for Bryant’s relative success against the Celtics: he can shoot. “Shooting” is a pretty big category when a player faces an NBA championship-caliber defense.

Kamla gives credit to LeBron for advancing to the Finals in 2007, but discredits Kobe’s Finals appearance because of the “Pau Gasol donation.” Kamla asks “Would Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have made the Finals without the Gasol trade?” I’ll ask, would LeBron James and the Cavaliers have made the 2007 Finals if they would have faced the Phoenix Suns in the first round?

There is no right or wrong answer. There are brilliant basketball minds on both sides of the fence. In my opinion, Kobe was the best player in the world through the first six months of 2008. LeBron has been the best player through the last six months of the year. I can’t wait to see which star shines brighter in 2009.

16 Responses to “Rick Kamla Chimes in on the Kobe-LeBron Debate”

  1. xphoenix87 Says:

    I hate when people do a categorical breakdown like that. First, because we’re supposed to be able to judge nebulous qualities like “hunger” and “toughness”. Second, because it assumes that all of those categories are equally important, which just isn’t true.

    Anyway, you already know my opinion on this. LeBron is better, he just is. Kobe is great, LeBron is on course to challenge Jordan as the greatest player of all time. They were at least somewhat close last year, but this year LeBron has absolutely blown up to epic levels. The gap between LeBron and the rest of the league is huge right now, and Kobe is no exception. Throw in the vast defensive improvement that we’ve seen from LeBron, and I don’t see any real debate here. I’m not going to give Kobe many points for being minimally better than LeBron in 10 games against one team.

  2. dusty Says:

    CLUTCH: adj. Informal

    2. Tending to be successful in tense or critical situations.


    why when basketball pundits think “clutch” they think a long range 3 with defenders hanging on the shooter?

    i’ll take the CLUTCH dunks thank you.

    didn’t KOBE!! miss on 2 game tying occasions just last week?

    this debate was over last year, but the media doesn’t want to show LeGone James any love until he push the pumpkin in the 718!

    until then……………..


  3. Blake Says:

    LeBron is not nearly as hungry and tough as Kobe. In my opinion LeBron is a much better playmaker, but that’s about it.

  4. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    I agree. LeBron has been the better player this season. There’s no disputing that fact. But like I wrote above, I think it’s more telling to see how a player performs against the league’s stingiest defenses. Shouldn’t the best player in the world be able to elevate his play against the best competition? LeBron hasn’t been able to do that the past two seasons. Remember, he shot 36% against the Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals too.

    I might have to put a Part II together and explain a few of my points since I’ve received a few emails along the lines of your comment.

  5. Tsunami Says:

    I will admit that against a great defensive team with a dominant inside presence like Garnet, it helps to have a solid mid-range jumper. Right now, LeBron is shooting 40% on two point jump shots and Kobe is shooting 44% – so I wont disagree with the notion that Kobe is a better jump shooter – although you’ll notice I actually looked it up instead of just basing everything on reputation.

    I have two major problems with this debate. The first is the clutch-ness category. I have absolutely no idea where anyone in the media gets their idea that Kobe is more clutch than LeBron. I mean maybe in 2004-2005 – but in my opinion Kobe has not been NEARLY as clutch as LeBron in the last 3 season. I can prove that he has not been as clutch in the last 2 seasons. It’s pretty easy in my opinion to analyze clutch-ness. You just look at what a player does when the game is in the balance. Fortunately, 82games.com does it for us from a statistical standpoint. LeBron was 1st last year in clutch, first in superclutch, and he is first this year again in clutch. Subjectively? Have you SEEN some of LeBron’s game ending blocks this season? He already has at least 3 – I remember Boozer, Yao, and TJ Ford vividly.

    How is LeBron’s legacy not “clutch” right now? It’s just as dusty explained – it’s because there aren’t a lot of clips of him making fall-away three pointers at the buzzer with a guy in his shorts. Remember B-Roys INSANELY amazing 3 to beat the rockets earlier this year? That goes in 1 time out of 15 – it’s not CLUTCH, it’s luck. (I’m not sayin B Roy is n’t clutch – he is, just that that SHOT is not how “clutch” should be defined) LeBron always makes the best basketball decision in the clutch. Last year the Cavs had more come from behind fourth quarter wins than any team in the NBA – yet somehow LeBron’s image is not CLUTCH. Has anyone done ANYTHING even REMOTELY like LeBron’s game 5 against the Pistons AT the Palace in 07? Nope. Not that I can remember.

    It really boggles my mind. I seriously wonder what more a guy has to do in order to get the recognition he deserves. But then I realize that I’m looking at it all the wrong way. LeBron always DOES more – and it makes no difference. You can’t argue against Lebron in terms of production. And the only reason I always go to statistics when I make these arguments is that I assume people don’t watch the Cavs play when they make these statements about “player x is better than LeBron”. There’s no way they could – because if you watched enough Cavs games, you would see aesthetic things that no one else in the NBA can DO – except LeBron.

    Look at this year. After GAME 1 against the Celtics, Mike Kahn wrote that Free Throw Shooting May Ruin LeBron’s legacy. And among other things he wrote that LeBron couldn’t hit clutch free throws. Really? Because last year in “clutch” situations, LeBron shot 80% from the line. How about this year? Yep, 80% from the line. How about “super–clutch” situations? You guessed it – 80%. So while there is a lot of data to suggest that LeBron shoots free throws JUST FINE in the clutch – someone went out of their way to write an article explaining that he can’t – and that it will ruin his legacy.

    People are pounding on the door for Wade to be the MVP in spite of the fact that LeBron is having a BETTER statistical season, is a BETTER defensive player, and the Cavs have a MUCH better record than the Heat. But Wade is an explosive offensively player who will force and MAKE a lot of “clutch” shots in end game situations. LeBron wont do that – he hardly ever does – he takes what the defense gives him, and makes the correct play – and comes out successful more often than not. Wade and Kobe are much more “like” Jordan than LeBron and I think the average fan has been bred to believe that being a dominant scorer is a better indicator of greatness than the rest of the game.

    Hoff you brought up the argument that we shouldn’t award LeBron more points for rebounding since he has the physical gifts. It makes sense – should we really penalize Rafer Alston for not grabbing as many boards as Yao Ming? Heck no. But there’s a ying to this yang. LeBron’s ball-handling, passing, court vision, and speed are all at ELITE levels. It’s one thing to be a freak athlete – Josh Smith is a freak athlete. LeBron’s a much better passer than Kobe. He has much better court vision – he’s a better ball-handler, and he’s worlds faster – in spite of being built like Karl Malone. I don’t remember anyone taking points away from Malone because he couldn’t do moves like THIS. (notice the SICK inside-outside dribble to just DESTROY posey’s help defense) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhSyIoDUZNk

    Unbelievably, that was just my FIRST problem with this argument. Here is my second.

    LeBron’s passing is WILDLY underrated. I don’t think many people realize this, but LeBron James makes passes than no player in the HISTORY of the NBA COULD EVER MAKE. Yes, I said it. His combination of court vision, unselfishness, speed, ambidextrous hands, ball-handling, reaction time, height, and understanding of defensives and floor spacing makes him the greatest passer I have ever seen. I may be biased, Magic was a little before my time, and I’ve heard that Pistol Pete was an insane passer, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that LeBron has the ability to make passes that NO ONE ELSE has EVER been able to make. I’ll just give a few illustrations. Here is a game recap: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/recap?gameId=260322005
    If not for James’ pinpoint pass at the end of regulation, however, Cleveland would have lost.
    “Trapped by the Bobcats’ swarming defense near midcourt, James found Murray alone in the far corner for a 104-all tie.”

    With the clock running down, LeBron saw the trap coming right at him, he was barely past half-court when he began moving quickly to the left to draw the defense. He jumped and turned in mid-air, and threw a two handed pass over his head ON A STRING to Flip-Murray who was in the far RIGHT corner. The ball hit Murray in the chest – he drained the three to send the game into OT – and in OT LeBron hit a game winner. People might have focused on his game-winner, but his pass was absolutely unreal. No one in the game, past or present could make that pass. And LeBron does things like that ALL THE TIME. I’ve seen him driving towards the left corner, jumping, and making a baseline, cross-court pass when his body is 3 feet out of bounds with his LEFT HAND – as in, without picking the ball up – and he puts it right in someones chest.

    Unfortunately, all players today put into the tiny box we call “MJ” and using that template – scrutinized. LeBron is not the explosive offensive player Jordan was. The only thing about LeBron that reminds me of Jordan is that like Jordan, LeBron seems to be a man among boys on the court in terms of skill, reaction time, and making big plays. But Kobe and Wade play their game much more like Jordan. Always looking to score – never backing down, or backing up – attacking all the time. (at least, Kobe in his prime was like this) Jordan, Kobe, and Wade were never ones to “take what the defensive gives” – they just beat defenses. LeBron is more passive aggressive. He has better court vision and passing than any of those 3 hall of famers. And yet, he is talented enough that he can score 30 points on almost 50% shooting. And that should be the BONUS. Want to see when LeBron is at his best? When he is running the show – like in the FIBA games, or in all-star games. Every single time he has been paired up with the likes of hall of fame point guards like Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, and Allen Iverson – it is LeBRon that ends up with the most assists, and the most nifty passes. This is his game. However, on an NBA team, he’s clearly the best scorer so the offense usually ends with him – and we don’t get to see him in his most comfortable role.

    Anyway, you will never be able to convince me that Kobe is a better player than LeBron. You can argue individual talent with stats (objectively) and with aesthetics (subjectively). LeBron has won the objective battle in 4 of the last 5 years. Marc Jackson recently said that LeBron is the best DEFENSIVE player in the NBA. That might be a stretch – but he is the quarterback of the 2nd best defensive team in the NBA. I can’t imagine anyone would really believe that Kobe is a better leader or teammate than LeBron. And like I stated above – his passing is so good that it is a crime it is not talked about more.

    It just doesn’t even seem like a debate any more – and in fact – it IS! People STILL THINK that Kobe is better than LeBron. I mean, I seriously have no explanation for this other than Kobe is OVERRATED.

  6. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    Yeah, Bryant missed last second jumpers against the Heat and Magic. Both James and Bryant have stepped up in clutch situations, which wasn’t always the case for LeBron early in his career.

    I compared Kobe and LeBron in the clutch last season:

    If I need a 4th quarter comeback against a middle-echelon defensive team incapable of keeping opposing players out of the paint, I’ll take LeBron James.

    If I need a game winning bucket or a comeback against one of the NBA’s better defensive teams, I’ll take Kobe Bryant.


    I’m not criticizing LeBron. I gave him the advantage in four of Kamla’s categories. But shooting is a weighted category for me. LeBron isn’t Magic Johnson. He’s a go-to scorer, and as such, he has to be able to shoot from outside against elite defenses. He hasn’t been able to do that thus far.

  7. Tsunami Says:

    And of course – I MUST clarify – for if I don’t – then no everyone flips out and says things like “i can’t take anything you say seriously” because I said Kobe is overrated.

    Look, the only person that can’t be overrated is GOD. Even Jordan could be OVERRATED. Overrated is simply reputation vs. performance. As an example, I think both Hoff and I agree that Jordan’s defense (while amazing) was slightly overrated. but somehow, overrated has come to mean “sucks” which it shouldn’t. Jordan was an amazing defensive player – but Pippen was better – and the average fan doesn’t know that. Therefore, in my opinion, Jordan’s defense is OVERRATED by the masses.

    It’s not to say Kobe isn’t great – he’s the best player on one of the best teams in the league – and a first ballot hall of famer no doubt. He’s the second best shooting guard I have ever seen play. But he’s really not on or near jordan’s level – and he frankly because so many think he is – it overrates his abilities.

    And Hoff – there is no way the Cavs last season had a better supporting cast for LeBron than Kobe did – and the Cavs took the Celtics to 7. You compare the shooting percentages of Kobe and LeBron ad nauseum – and I think you are skewing things. Let’s look at the TEAM shooting percentages for those games and compare them to the individual shooting percentages.

    Here’s what the Lakers shot from the field in the finals:
    41% 50% 35% 45% 46% 42%
    Here’s what the Cavs shot from the field in the ECSF:
    30% 35% 53% 45% 32% 44%

    So..significantly less from the field. So maybe the reason LeBron and the Cavs make a series out of it and the Lakers got whooped on was because of some of the other things LeBron does other than shoot well from mid-range. Those aesthetics I talked about.

  8. dusty Says:

    yeah but KOBE!! has that killer instinct.

  9. Dave Says:

    LeBron has taken the title of best player in the game this season. It’s his by a fairly large margin too.

  10. Tsunami Says:

    Remember all that stuff I said about LeBron’s passing? for some instant gratification…


    Here’s what Windy had to say:
    “I often tell people that about 99 percent of the time when you come to see LeBron play in person he will do something that will give you a memory and have you telling friends and family about. This is not a homerish statement or some effort to sell tickets, it’s the truth I’ve learned over watching him for 10 years now (I first saw LeBron play in 1999). Even if it comes in something he does in warmups. In this game, he threw a couple of amazing passes. He had a handful of behind-the-back bounce passes, which seem very difficult to me. But the two that caused me to raise by eyebrows were the one where he drove baseline and threw a leaning one-hander 25 feet out to Delonte West on a rope for a 3-pointer. The other was when he was double-teamed under the basket going out of bounds and he threw a back-handed scoop to Andy Varejao.”

  11. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    I agree that LeBron is a better passer. But not because he averages more assists. It’s because of his court vision and his ability to makes passes that other players cannot. He reminds me of Steve Nash in the sense that he can dribble to his left without having to turn his body to pass.

  12. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    I’m not skewing anything with regards to LeBron and Kobe’s shooting percentages against the Celtics. The Celtics defended Kobe the same way they defended LeBron. They sent two and three defenders at him and made him attempt to beat them from outside. Kobe didn’t shoot a great percentage either, but he shot five percentage points better than James.

    We’ve discussed this before, the reason the Cavs took the Celtics to 7 games was because Ray Allen was MIA. Allen had a terrible series against Cleveland. Some of that should be attributed to Cleveland’s team defense, but most of it should be attributed to Allen missing shots that he made in later rounds.

    Look, I’m not criticizing LeBron. But shooting is a weighted category to me. As a go-to scorer, LeBron is going to have to hit from outside to defeat elite defenses. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Shouldn’t the greatest player in the world be capable of maintaining or taking his game to a higher level against elite competition?

    Like I wrote above, I don’t care what LeBron or Kobe do against the Bobcats. I want to see what they’re capable of against the best team defenses.

    We can sit here and debate until we’re blue in the face, but LeBron has not risen to the challenge against the Spurs in 2007 and the Celtics in 2008. And the reason is simple: his shooting is inconsistent.

  13. darryl t Says:

    with a dislocated finger!!!! kobe bryant, BEST PLAYER TODAY



  14. darryl t Says:

    If I need a 4th quarter comeback against a middle-echelon defensive team incapable of keeping opposing players out of the paint, I’ll take LeBron James.

    If I need a game winning bucket or a comeback against one of the NBA’s better defensive teams, I’ll take Kobe Bryant.

    LeBron has yet to develop a reliable outside shot and there are teams in the NBA that are capable of making him a jumpshooter.

  15. hokwei Says:

    First of all, NO WAY is Lebron as tough as Kobe. Kobe has been playing with messed up fingers on his shooting hand for quite some time with little drop in his performance. When he dislocated his finger a few games ago the team trainer called it a pretty terrible injury and his teammates couldn’t even look at it. Kobe was back in the game a few minutes later. When Lebron hurt his pinkie on his NON SHOOTING hand last year he missed 6 games. He’s nowhere near as tough as Kobe. As for hunger? Kobe is like MJ in that regard. There is no quenching his competitive fire. Just because Michael won 3 rings but that didn’t mean he was done winning. And playmaking? Phil Jackson once called Kobe the best playmaker he’d ever coached. Playmaking doesn’t necessarily mean passes and assists. It means making the right play for the team. In the years just post-Shaq the right play was almost always for Kobe to call his own number. When the other 4 players on the court are Chris Mihm Smush Parker Kwame Brown or Lamar Odom do you really think that Kobe taking the shot is a bad idea? If you do then I have to question your hoops acumen.

  16. kb24 fan Says:

    rick you r the most stupid person i have ever seen if you reallythink lebron is a better player than kobe is dude you are smoking crack dont come tv talking stupid you talk about micheal jordon the chicago bulls team micheal play with every player was a great player if he was so great why he did not take the washington wizard to win a championship dude listen kobe is the best basket ball player you will ever live to see it is not even realistic to talk about lebron in the same sentence as kobe YOW RICK KAMLA SORRY DICK GAMBLER GO SLEEP YOUR CRACK OFF AND STOP TALKING SHHHHHH!

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