Boston’s victory in six games over the L.A. Lakers will end, for now, any talk about Kobe Bryant moving into a class with Michael Jordan. As I argued before the series, such talk was always ridiculous. Indeed, as I also argued based on a statistical comparison, it’s far from clear that Bryant is a better player than Lebron James.
We can now extend the Kobe-Lebron comparison based on their respective performances against the Celtics. First, let’s note that James’ Cleveland Cavaliers extended Boston to seven games and only narrowly lost the decider, in which James had 45 points. Bryant’s Lakers were blown out in the sixth and final game, with Bryant scoring 22.
When we move to the individual stats for the entire series (which I consider more probative), we find that the regular season pattern held up for the most part. Lebron had more points per game (26.7 to 25.7), more rebounds per game (6.4 to 4.7), and more assists per game (7.6 to 5.0). His assist to turnover number (53/37) was also better than Kobe’s (30/25).
Kobe continued to shoot a higher percentage from the free throw line (approximately 80 percent compared to 75 percent), but that was a smaller gap than during the regular season. Moreover, unlike during the regular season, Lebron had more made free throws per game (9.7) than Kobe (6.5). Since 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, the clear edge here belongs to Lebron. In fact, I would argue that it was James’ ability to get to the line just about at will that helped make the Cavs-Celtics series so competitive.
Bryant, however, outshot James from the field (neither did well — James shot roughly 40 percent and James roughly 35 percent, which shows how well Boston defended). And unlike during the regular this was true from both three point and two point territory. Kobe’s edge is due almost entirely to Lebron’s 2 for 18 performance in game one, but this is largely irrelevant since that game was no less important than the others.
I take away two points from this analysis. First, at least in terms of offense and rebounding, Lebron played as well or better against the Celtics than Kobe did. Second, at 23 years of age and (from a statistical perspective) with only his shooting in need of improvement, it is James, not Bryant, who has a realistic shot at moving up into Jordan’s class.
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