Last year, Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers and Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers both fell to the Boston Celtics during the NBA playoffs. That prompted me to compare the statistical performances of the two superstars during their respective series with Boston. I concluded that James played as well or better than Bryant, just as he had during the regular season.
This year, the Lakers and the Cavaliers both faced the Orlando Magic during the playoffs. The Lakers prevailed in 5 games, while the Cavs lost in 6.
This means that Bryant and James aren’t quite similarly situated this time around. It may be worth noting, however, that the Cleveland went 0-1 in overtime against Orlando (Lebron had 44 points in that contest), while Los Angeles went 2-0 (with Kobe scoring 32 and 31 points). Thus, the two series weren’t as disparate as they may seem. In fact, but for a missed lay-up at the buzzer by Courtney Lee and two missed free throws by Dwight Howard at the end of another game, Orlando would have won three of the five games played.
In any event, and just for fun, let’s compare how Kobe and Lebron did against Orlando.
As usual Lebron’s “output” was better than Kobe’s. James averaged 38.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. Bryant numbers were 32.4, 5.6, and 7.4.
James also shot a higher percentage from the field than Bryant (almost 49 percent, compared to approximately 43 percent). Bryant had a better free throw shooting percentage (approximately 84 percent vs. approximately 74 percent). But James got to the line more often (almost 16 times per game vs. 9 times). Last year, I wrote “it’s better to get to the line 13 times per game and shoot 75 percent than to get there 8 times per game and shoot 80 percent,” I think the same analysis applies to this year’s numbers.
Kobe shot better from three-point range than Lebron (9-25 vs. 11-37). That probably translates into about one point per game of extra value produced by Kobe. But Lebron’s edge in two-point shooting (64-117 vs. 49-110) translates into around three or four points per game of extra value, by my rough calculation.
Kobe also had about a turnover per game less than Lebron and a better assist to turnover ratio (about 2.5 vs. about 2). That might translate into close to two points per game of extra value from Kobe.
When you consider all of these numbers (and keeping in mind that none of them measures defense), I think they suggest that James played as well or better than Bryant. But, of course, the fact that the Lakers succeeded where the Cavaliers failed counts in Bryant’s favor. And the fact that the Lakers were in command much of the time while the Cavaliers weren’t, meant that the demands on the two players weren’t consistently the same.