Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lebron vs. Kobe

With the predicted Lakers-Cavaliers matchup drawing closer and closer, the debate regarding who's the better player between Kobe and Lebron has reached an all-time high. And while the next few weeks will add much more substantial bullets to both their resumes, there's already more than enough material available to compare the two.

...on the defensive end...

Lebron has gone a long ways this season in improving his defense. Youtube is stuffed full with highlight clips of James sprinting the length of the floor to spike down a layup attempt by the opposing team. But outside these highlight reel plays, Lebron is learning to utilize his physical gifts to play sound defense, and shut down opponents. Mike Brown has also said that Lebron is now much more vocal, and taken to initiative to direct Cleveland's defensive stand. With season averages of 1.7stls and 1.1 bpg, Lebron earned a spot on the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

Kobe is no defensive flake either; a fellow All-Defensive First Teamer (6th time too), Kobe has been known to play swarming man-to-man defense. Starting during last summer's olympic tournament, "the Doberman" showed a side of his game that he doesn't always get praised for. Though not as athletic as James, Kobe plays equally (if not more) suffocating defense when he tries. He's also picked up a number of veteran tricks that Lebron has not yet. Statistically speaking, Kobe trails James with season averages of 1.5spg and 0.4bpg.

... if they were D-ing you up...
  • Lebron is the guy that frustrates you because he's quick enough to beat you to your spots, and also blocks everything you toss up.
  • Kobe is the guy that frustrates you by stripping the ball from behind when you drive, or by poking it up as you bring it up for the shot.
It's hard to say who's "better". But if I had to pick, I'd give Lebron the slight edge because of his superior athleticism and improving defensive mind.

...on the offensive end...

While both are extremely effective scorers, they play with a completely different mentality.

Kobe's got the mind-set of an assassin; his natural tendency is to find his own shot - for better or for worse. If you watch any Lakers' game, pay attention to Bryant's extensive offensive repertoire. Kobe is a visual display of every offensive move in the books, refined to near perfection. Spin-moves, fade-aways, floaters, hesitation dribbles...any and every move you've learned since the 5th grade, he's perfected. Kobe's arsenal makes him an extremely versatile player; if his jumper isn't falling, he'll back you down in the post. If you start doubling him, he's a good enough passer to find the open man.

Lebron's playbook isn't nearly as deep as Kobe's, and that's expected given that he's spent less time in the league. But it doesn't need to be because Lebron is an offensive play-maker; he looks to help his teammates get buckets. This keeps everyone involved and happy, something Kobe hasn't always been able to do. Another superior aspect of James's offensive game is getting to the basket. As cliche as it is, the best way to describe Lebron coming down the lane is a runaway freight-train. The only defense against him is either a triple-team, or a foul. And sometimes even that isn't enough to stop him; Lebron is strong enough to finish after contact, and his free throw shooting has also dramatically improved from his past years' percentages. While they're improving, Lebron's biggest weaknesses are his +15ft jump shots and his post game.

... if you were guarding them...
  • Lebron beats you because he's naturally stronger, jumps higher, and runs faster than you. He put's his head down, runs at the rim, and there's nothing you can do about it...other than hope to God that your help-defense is watching your back.
  • Kobe is that guy who catches you off guard. You go left, and he crossed right. You jump for the block, but he just pump faked...and now you just fouled him. You never know what he's going to do, or how he's going to release that ball. All you can do is try your best to stay between him and the bucket.
Here's where the tricky part comes in; on what basis do we judge the "better" offensive player? Kobe's got enough moves and tricks to make Lebron's head spin. But Lebron's relatively limited offensive options are just as, if not more effective than Kobe's. If we just look at ability to score, Kobe is better at this point in time. However, Lebron's superior athleticism, court-vision, and playmaking abilities make him the more effective offensive player.

the intangibles...

So far, Lebron has been a perfect citizen on and off the court. On the court, Lebron is the ideal teammate; he makes those around him better - something that Kobe isn't always able to do. Off the court, James has managed to maintain a positive public image free of controversy. He also leads by example by eating, training, and acting wisely during both the season and offseason.

One intangible Lebron could learn a bit about from Kobe is the mentality to take over games (when it's necessary). He's got the physical ability to do it, but sometimes lacks the inner desire to do so. His willingness to pass and keep teammates involved prevents him from taking too many shots in a row. While I can't really say this is a total negative, this intangible should be a requirement for any superstar being considered to be the NBA's best player.

Though Bryant's behaved admirably for last two seasons, his past holds numerous examples of times when he's rubbed coaches and teammates the wrong way. Kobe's score-first mentality is good only when he's on his game. If not, he sometimes shoots the Lakers into a loss.

But let's be real; Kobe usually succeeds when he decides to take over a game. When that happens, you can count on some new records for the NBA history books. Remember his 62pt-in-3-quarters outing against the Mavs? Or how about that ridiculous string of 40+ point games two seasons ago? And of course, there's the 81 point decimation of the Raptors. This killer instinct is what separates Kobe from the rest of the league. It's what motivates him to hone his skills every offseason, what drives him to take over in the 4th quarter, and what gives him the ability to rise to the occasion during those waning moments of close games. Whatever you want to call it, this "clutch-factor" cannot be taught.

This category isn't as close as the other two. Kobe's got better intangibles than LBJ at this point in time.

And the winner is...

Lebron James.

Kobe is great, but Lebron is the better player. If I had to start a franchise, I'd take Lebron. If I was down one point with 4 seconds left, I'd rather have Lebron attack the lane than Kobe launch a jumper. I won't even get into the statistics because those clearly point to Lebron being the winner. Keep in mind I'm not comparing who's had a better career; though Kobe is currently ahead in that respect, Lebron has plenty of time to rack up the championship rings and personal awards.

If you'd like some more material on this debate, check out these articles on ESPN:


mookie said...

Great take on the Kobe v LeBron debate.

I agree that you're always going to want the high percentage LeBron shot in the lane over the Kobe jumper. I think we're even seeing that in the playoffs so far, with the Lakers showing a bit of inconsistency, whilst the Cavs have yet to slip up... not yet.

Anonymous said...

Now you feel like a dumbass after this season. Lebron chokes and Kobe delivers. Kobe had three championships by now at Lebrons age and dont say that shit that it was because of shaq, Lebron had shaq and couldnt even make it to the semi-finals. Kobes the best in the league right now, then kevin durant, then lebron on a good day, get your shit straight sucka