A while back I wrote a post comparing Kobe Bryant’s best 4 consecutive seasons to Michael Jordan from 1990-93 with a pace adjustment to try to make the contrast a little more even. For what it was worth, to me, the most interesting aspect was that Kobe came out closer in points and efficiency than I expected, and Jordan’s major advantage was in possession retention / creation – in that he got more steals and rebounds and had fewer turnovers. A couple readers were offended by a statement I made in that post wherein I basically said that Kobe Bryant was unquestionably better than Dwyane Wade. They thought I was buying into the hype and ignoring the stats that held Wade higher than Kobe. That’s a fair point, so I’m doing a comparison of the two right here, right now.
The above table shows per game numbers for the three best shooting guards since 1998 ages 22-31 (Wade’s full career so far). I don’t see any special need to make a pace correction when these three played in basically the same era. I threw in Ray Allen because the more I looked at all the numbers, the more I thought Ray would provide a nice counterpoint to the small efficiency advantage that Wade enjoys over Bryant.
The basics are that Kobe gives almost three more minutes per game and four more points per game (he also stayed a lot healthier and gave 90 more total games over that ten year span). The other stuff comes out pretty even. Wade has almost 1 more assist, and Kobe has almost one more rebound. Steals are basically even. Wade has 1/2 a block more but also gives the ball away more by about 1/2 a turnover.
The big difference I think people read into Wade and Kobe is the shooting efficiency. Wade’s field goal percentage is 4.3% better than Bryant’s. That’s huge. Except that it isn’t, because when three point shooting is factored into effective field goal percentage, that advantage slips to 1.4%. And when three point shooting and free throw shooting are both factored into true shooting percentage, Wade’s edge drops all the way down to 0.8%. So basically, what the average fan or “analyst” sees as a 4.3% efficiency advantage to Wade is actually only a 0.8% advantage. Compare that to the 1.7% eFG% and 0.5% TS edge that Ray Allen holds over Wade with only a 2.3 point per game difference in scoring. Would you really call Allen a superior scorer to Wade? If not then you probably wouldn’t consider Wade a better scorer than Bryant. Throw in the fact that Kobe enjoys a 2.7% turnover rate advantage, and the efficiency difference isn’t looking like quite the divide that it was made out to be.
Quick aside – True Shooting percentage is not really a shooting percentage. It is a points per shot estimate. Essentially the stats say that Kobe scores 1.12 pts per shot, Wade scores 1.13 pts per shot, and Allen scores 1.14 pts per shot. That’s a legit difference, but when Bryant is able to get shots up so easily with his size and skillset while the other two have to fight so hard to get shots off (either working with the dribble or running off screens), you see the huge difference in total points scored.
Now in terms of per minute production, it’s true that Wade’s production comes closer to Bryant’s in the same minutes, but Kobe still maintains a scoring edge and a turnover edge and a rebounding edge, AND if Wade played more minutes, who’s to say he’d play them as well? Maybe there’s a reason his minutes per game are under 37. With his smaller size, energy draining defensive style, and lack of a reliable jump shot, shorter minutes may be a necessary product of Wade’s style of play. We can argue whether or not Wade’s game is more statistically efficient than Bryant’s, but there’s no way to argue that it is more energy efficient.
I’m not even going to put the metrics up here, but suffice it to say that Kobe shows better in Win Share Per Minute and WAY better in total Win Share, while Wade comes out almost 1 point better in PER. Of course PER is a per minute measure, and as we’ve covered, Kobe gives way more minutes. So unless Wade’s back up shooting guard also has a better PER than Bryant, that advantage is overblown.
Last point. I’m not a Kobe homer. I’m a Celtics fan with a Michael Jordan tattoo on my right shoulder. If anything my instinct ought to be to rundown Bryant in my posts. But the truth is I believe Kobe is one of the all time greatest players in the league. I don’t know exactly where to rank him, but I’d say top 5 guards ever and probably top 10-15 players ever, maybe higher. If the stats seem to indicate that this isn’t true, the least I can do is to examine the stats themselves or the parameters of the measurement (timeframe / ages / eras) to see why he doesn’t stack up. If he’s just not that good and we’ve all been fooled by his style and volume of shots taken, I’ll gladly report those results. That’s not what I’ve found so far on the instances when I take a deeper look.