Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kobe vs. Duncan: A Complete Comparison of Two Great NBA Champions



Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan quite literally owned a generation of basketball. From highlights to championships, these two have made their mark on the NBA in the nearly two decades they’ve been in the league. In the 12-year span from 1999 to 2010, Kobe’s Lakers and Duncan’s Spurs won nine championships. Can you be any more dominant?

Yet somehow Kobe and Duncan have never been considered much of rivals. Likely because of the different positions that they play and Kobe’s constant desire to be compared to Michael Jordan, the TD vs. Black Mamba comparison has not been given much thought and publicity. That’s where this column comes in.

Nobody is questioning the greatness of either player. What I seek to provide with this column is a comparative analysis of two players that had spectacular careers. So, here is my take as to how these two compare in terms of what they have accomplished.

Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant played different positions which makes a direct statistical comparison inadequate. Each player is ahead in the traditional categories that their position dictates that a great player should excel in. Kobe’s got points, assists, and steals; Duncan’s got rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage. A great indicator of the equality in this statistical comparison: Kobe’s PRA (points plus rebounds plus assists) is 35.5 and Duncan’s PRA is 34.6.

Per game statistics
Kobe Bryant
Tim Duncan
Points
25.5
20.2
Rebounds
5.3
11.3
Assists
4.7
3.1
Steals
1.5
0.7
Blocks
0.5
2.2
FG percentage
.453
.507
Games played
1188
1138
*Stats as of 12/23/12

Advanced stats will shed some more light into a direct comparison.

Offensively, Kobe and Duncan are close. TS% and offensive rating are nearly identical, Duncan has a higher eFG% and Kobe has a higher offensive win shares (which is the estimated number of wins contributed by the player because of their offensive contribution). Defensively, TD owns the comparison. Defensive rating is an estimated number of points allowed per 100 possessions and Kobe allows 10 more points per 100 possessions. Defensive win shares show the greatest discrepancy of any statistic between these players.

Advanced statistic (career)
Kobe Bryant
Tim Duncan
Player efficiency rating
23.5
24.8
True shooting percentage
.555
.551
Effective field goal percentage
.487
.508
Offensive rating
112
110
Defensive rating
105
95
Offensive win shares
119.4
89.2
Defensive win shares
47.8
90.5

And one final consideration regarding PER: Duncan owns the ninth-highest PER of all time. Kobe has the 18th best PER.

Now let’s look at the peak regular season performances of their respective careers:

Kobe Bryant’s best season, 2005-06, ended with 35.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game on 45 percent shooting. One could certainly make the argument that the following two seasons were his best, but since Kobe is regarded primarily as an elite scorer it only seems appropriate to choose the season where his PPG was highest (even though his FG% was below his career average).

Duncan’s best regular season, 2001-02, was the first of his back-to-back MVP years. With a FG% above 50 and 80 percent shooting from the line, Duncan dominated the game and stuffed the stat sheet with 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.5 blocks per game.

Which season was better? I’ll leave that up to your judgement because both had multiple seasons like the aforementioned where all you could do is watch in amazement. Kobe had his Hollywood style that gained a lot of attention in a big market; Duncan was content with the quiet, small San Antonio market. Both players exhibited greatness throughout more than a decade's worth of regular seasons in order to get them to the playoffs.

One final variable that should be mentioned in the regular season equation is the head-to-head matchups. When great players meet, regardless of the time of year, it’s safe to assume that they treat it as a particularly significant challenge. And while each player owns similar statistical categories as overall regular season numbers, the final record of 46 games shows Duncan over Kobe: 26-20.

So, in terms of regular season performance, the slight edge has to go to Tim Duncan. Head-to-head win totals, a clear defensive edge, and most importantly the MVP count are what have to put Duncan on top here despite Kobe's scoring supremacy.

Kobe Bryant
Tim Duncan
5x NBA champion
4x NBA champion
2x NBA Finals MVP
3x NBA Finals MVP
1x NBA MVP
2x NBA MVP
14x NBA All-Star
13x NBA All-Star
10x All-NBA First Team
9x All-NBA First Team
2x NBA scoring champion
NBA ROY
17-season career
16-season career

But the regular season is only part of the equation. As the title of this column suggests, the defining feature of Kobe and Duncan is their championships résumé. Kobe is a five-time champion and Duncan has four rings.

Those numbers alone are misleading.

Part of being a great champion is your singular contribution to the team’s title.  Great champions contribute particularly heavy loads to the success of their franchise—or in the case of Kobe and Duncan, their dynasties. This is where NBA Finals MVPs is a helpful and more effective judge of a players greatness. Kobe and Derek Fisher have won five titles together, but nobody considers them in the same sentence when discussing greatness. One measure of differentiation between those two is Finals MVPs, of which Kobe has two and Fisher has zero.

And Kobe’s two Finals MVPs come up short to Duncan’s three. This is due to a variety of factors, but the simplest explanation boils down to teammates. For his three-peat, Kobe Bryant was the second-best player on his team. This isn’t debatable—it’s a fact. Shaquille O’Neal took home all three Finals MVPs and was in the prime of his career at that time. It would be inaccurate to say Kobe was merely “tagging along for the ride,” but he was clearly not the primary reason for their championship success.

Duncan, on the other hand, won Finals MVPs in three out of his four championships. The only title that Duncan didn’t win the award for was in 2007, which was also the least competitive Finals series that the Spurs played (it ended in a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers). Furthermore, a closer look at the 2007 playoffs shows that for the duration of the playoffs, Duncan provided the foundation that got them in a position to play in the Finals.

After winning the 2007 championship, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said this of Duncan: “Tim is the common denominator…He's [had] a different cast around him [in] '99, '03 and '05. He's welcomed them all. He's found a way to help them all fit, feel comfortable in their roles, and not many players can do that."

The same cannot be said for Kobe Bryant.

One more specific comparison that must be made when comparing the greatness of these two players in the playoffs is the peak of playoff performances. Similar to the analysis of regular season peak, playoff peaks gives us a glimpse into what the absolute best of each player can accomplish. Furthermore, it is the best means to evaluate clutch ability when comparing these two players because Duncan, as a big man, is not as relevant in last second situations as Kobe is. (Not to mention that, as Chasing 23 discusses in-depth, Kobe is not quite as effective in those situations as is commonly assumed.)

ESPN lists Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan each once in the 25 greatest playoff performances of all time. Kobe’s 48 and 16 game in the 2001 Western conference semifinals is 19th on the list. Duncan’s 32 point, 20 rebound, and seven block game in the 2003 NBA Finals is four spots higher at 15.

Thus, consideration of the totality of playoff greatness comes to the same conclusion as that of the regular season: a slim margin leans in favor of Tim Duncan.

Kobe and Duncan are great, and it’s amazing that they are still performing at extremely high levels this late in their career. Duncan and the Spurs are near the top of the Western conference yet again, and Kobe has virtually single-handedly kept the Lakers’ heads above water. But what they do from here on out is icing on the cake and their legacies will (likely) not change drastically from this point until their retirement. However, if there's one thing we have learned from the careers of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, it is to never count them out.

In terms of a comparison, though, Tim Duncan bests Kobe. In a discussion of their careers as a whole and ultimately where they fit amongst the NBA’s greatest players of all time, TD has the edge. Popular opinion may state otherwise but that’s the size of the Los Angeles market talking. The faces that Kobe makes after making a shot mean he would probably be a better actor that Duncan but they don’t make him a better player. Duncan’s NBA career speaks for itself.


If you liked this comparison, check out our series of comparisons that includes: Kobe vs. LeBron, LeBron vs. Jordan, and Jordan vs. Kobe.

13 comments:

  1. just read your kobe vs lebron article, and i thought hey you make some good points, but you leave many out. You write very subjectively and your 'conclusions' have been decided way before you started typing.
    if you were making a basketball team from the get go, and you had the choice between duncan and kobe, if you chose duncan, i could safely 'conclude' that you are retarded.
    "kobes own coach said he was an overrated defender"- you
    kobe won how many all defensive's ?
    I understand your hatred for Kobe, i fkn hate the cunt too, but you jump to ridiculous conclusions
    you state a statistic, then you conclude something ridiculous
    Im an AI fan, he has more scoring titles than kobe, that does not mean he is a greater scorer than kobe
    duncan<shaq
    duncan<kobe
    iverson<kobe-despite me owning about 8 iverson jerseys its undeniable
    lebron better than kobe
    kobe greater than lebron
    jordan better than lebron
    jordan greater than lebron
    duncan is insanely good dont get me wrong, but comparing them is impossible and you have not done it well.
    dont mean to discourage ill still read your stuff, but this last article i find ridiculously biased to your veryyyyy obvious kobe hatred. you believe kobe is overrated, and you hate him.
    i hate him, i dont think hes overrated.

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  2. LOL come on man i can understand the kobe vs jordan and lebron comparisons but to compare kobe to duncan and say duncan comes out on top shows just how bias against kobe you are. Of course a center is going to have a better field goal percentage than a shooting guard. Then all you have to do is take a look at kobes supporting cast when he was at the peak of his game. He was unstoppable despite he had know one to take defenders away from him like lebron is enjoying in miami and jordan enjoyed at the bulls, or the type of point guard duncan has enjoyed to feed him the ball in the right spot. That in itself would take his field goal percentage down having to take tougher shots. If kobe had the supporting cast he had of atleast the 08-09 and 09-10 championships 3 years earlier when he was at his peak then he would no doubt have more MVPs and championships than now. Different eras and the right supporting cast at the right time of their career, not to mention the physical toll on ones body by missing hardly any games since playing as a teenager all make comparisons as bias as these not as clear cut as the stats might show

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  3. Undoubtedly, this Kobe vs. Duncan was the most difficult comparison to make because of that very fact that one is an SG and one is a PF/C. This is why I mainly compared each player's legacy here and Duncan has accomplished more both in the regular season (more MVPs) and playoffs (Finals MVPs). Now if you were to have asked me, who would I take to start a franchise, that would be a very tough question and my response would largely start with (it depends..."). I could make an argument for Duncan and I could make one for Kobe..


    As for "right supporting casts," let's not forget that Kobe did have an incredible "supporting" cast in the early 00s, he just chose to alienate that guy.

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  4. Didn't you know guys? Unless you are the absolute best player in your team, your titles don't matter. If the other guy is a 10 and you're a 9.7, it mean's your teammate won it and you were just tagging along (and no, you denying that Kobe was tagging along for the ride, doesn't mean jackshit, as you were basically implying it by comparing him with Derek FIsher)

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  5. "Kobe and Derek Fisher have won five titles together, but nobody considers them in the same sentence when discussing greatness. One measure of differentiation between those two is Finals MVPs, of which Kobe has two and Fisher has zero...And Kobe’s two Finals MVPs come up short to Duncan’s three."


    I clearly separated Kobe and D-Fish.

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  6. lol i've been reading these all night tonight and you are extremely against Kobe Bryant. Not only do i think that Kobe is way greater then good ol Timmy D, but i also would without a doubt say he is better then Jordan. I grew up watching basketball and besides Jordan's end of game clutch shots i don't know what he had. Kobe was better at dunking, better at post up, more athletic, better at shooting from anywhere on the court and has consistently put up and made the hardest shoots in the game. Comparing basketball players should have nothing to do with any kind of stats. You have to watch the games and compare what you see. One on one Kobe would smoke Jordan, 1 on 1 Lebron James would smoke Jordan. He played the game when it was the most famous, but go back and look at it and compare it to today's players. The teams were shit, the Defenses were shit. The whole game has became much better product. Mich but up mostly easy shots (much like Lebron today). Any NBA allstar could put up 30 points a game and 50% if they got played one on one all day and were never denied a dunk at the rim. Kobe puts up the hardest shoots in the most blanket coverages and still almost puts up the numbers. Only one comparable in my opinion is Dirty Dirk and his rainbows.

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  7. Thanks for checking out these comparisons. As for your comment about Kobe being greater than Jordan, as you probably already know, you are the only person in any comparison to have said that. Most of Kobe's No. 1 fans wouldn't even claim Kobe > Jordan. Also to say that Kobe and LeBron would both demolish MJ in one-on-one...no. Just no.

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  8. You can hardly dismiss Bryant’s role on those teams as merely being along for the ride with which you did but I feel like you underrate him because of the dominance of Shaq. He did average 25.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists during that span.

    All three of those averages are more than Dwyane Wade’s production since James has joined the Miami Heat. I doubt many Heat fans would readily dismiss Wade’s contributions to last year’s title.

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  9. kobe is a great player, he is all time great as an SG for me he is better than MJ, Timmy on his part is also and all time great, i would say he is best PF in NBA history, carl malone only comes second

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  11. fully agree with that

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  12. You misspelled Karl and you expect me to think you know what you're talking about?


    Jordan's career averages are only slightly below Kobe's best seasons. I'll let that sit.

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  13. Yeah saying that Kobe is better is pretty funny. Spelling Karl wrong definitely doesn't help his argument, either.

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